“The Third Murder” Review

The Third Murder Poster The Third Murder (2018)

People hardly understand members of their own family, let alone strangers” (Shigemori Akihisa in “The Third Murder”).

This film by an acclaimed Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda (“After the Storm” (2016), “Shoplifters” (2018)) begins with a scene of a murder in progress. A man kills his boss in cold blood and burns his body. The man – Misumi (Kōji Yakusho) – has previously been in prison for around 30 years for other two similar crimes he had committed. A legal team prepare a case, but since Misumi has confessed, there is nothing much to debate or investigate, and the sentence of death penalty looms over his head. The case of Misumi seems to be an open and shut one, or does it? When a new lawyer Tomoaki Shigemori (Masaharu Fukuyama) takes over the case, he slowly begins to realise that something does not make sense in Misumi’s confession, and the centrepiece of confusion is the motivation of the killer. It also does not help that Misumi starts to change his story of what happened with an astonishing ease and conviction. In Kore-eda’s legal drama, it is interesting to uncover both personal connections to the case and the foreign legal system’s intricacies, but the quiet beauty of the picture can still be found in the slow unveiling of the truth.

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“Burning” Review

Burning Poster Burning (2018)

You don’t have to convince yourself that a mandarin orange exists, you have to forget that it does not exist.” (Haemi, when explaining the art of pantomime in “Burning”).

In Chang-dong Lee’s film “Burning”, Jongsoo (Ah-In Yoo) is a country lad who rekindles friendship and begins a romance with Haemi (Jong-seo Jeon), a girl from his childhood, only then to discover that Haemi vanishes soon after meeting the handsome and wealthy Ben (Steven Yeun). “Burning”, which received much praise at the Cannes Film Festival 2018, is the kind of a film commenting on which people would pride themselves by saying that they liked it, only for others to secretly tell themselves that they do not. Slow-moving or “burning” films with intricate psychological character studies and with unhealthy doses of inexplicability are fashionable nowadays, and, in that vein, “Burning” also would like to take its place among this elite unfathomable group of films. However, the result is a clumsy, uncompelling and excruciatingly tedious film that is as much of a mystery as any non-mystery and that has as much high tension as waiting patiently for a catch when fishing (only then, predictably, not catch anything substantial at the end of the day).

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Classic French Animations: “Fantastic Planet” (1973) and “The King & The Mockingbird” (1980)

La Planete Sauvage Poster Fantastic Planet (La Planete Sauvage) (1973)   

Once in awhile comes one animation which is so powerful in its message and so unusual in its presentation, it becomes quite unforgettable. “Fantastic Planet” is precisely such adult-themed animation, co-produced between France and Czechoslovakia. A winner of the Cannes Special Prize in 1973, this French-language animation has even been named one of the greatest (Rolling Stone). In its presentation, “Fantastic Planet” is highly imaginative, inspired by some psychedelic art and, as some commentators put it, by “cut-outs from Soviet science magazines” (CinePassion). Based on Stefan Wul’s 1957 science-fiction novel, Oms en série, the animation is about blue-skinned giants, the Draags, who keep as pets a human race of Oms on the planet Ygam. The animation may be a tad too disturbing in its content, but, because the world it creates is so fascinatingly strange, and because its concept of the fight to have freedom is so relatable, it is well worth all the attention and praise.

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Jean Renoir: “La Règle du Jeu” (1939) and “La Grande Illusion” (1937)

Yesterday was Jean Renoir’s 124th birthday, and, to pay tribute, I am reviewing two of this eminent French director’s most famous cinematic creations, which both influenced numerous films made after them and are now considered cinema classics – “The Rules of the Game” (1939) and “La Grande Illusion” (1937).    

The Rules of the Game PosterLa Règle du Jeu (The Rules of the Game) (1939)

This film is, arguably, Jean Renoir’s greatest achievement. In the story, a circle of rich socialites meets up in a country house of Christine and her husband Robert de la Cheyniest. The complications then follow as it becomes apparent that aviator André Jurieux is deeply in love with Christine, and Christine’s own husband, Robert, is entangled in a love affair of his own. Coupled to this, Christine’s personal maid Lisette becomes interested in the recent addition to the servant staff – a poacher Marceau, despite having a husband. An intermediary between the couples is Octave, Christine’s trusted friend, played by Jean Renoir himself. “La Regle du Jeu” is very much an “upstairs/downstairs” film where the director satirises the life of the bourgeois on the eve of the war, often contrasting them with their servants. The socialites’ frivolousness, including the fleetness of their passions, are exposed and ridiculed, and, in the end, the characters’ paths and motivations collide and the ultimate sacrifice is made on the societal altar to self-absorption and complacency.

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“L’Amant Double” Review

double_LoverL’Amant Double (Double Lover) (2017)    

François Ozon (“Frantz” (2016), “In the House” (2013)) is a French director who is uninhibited when it comes to portraying sexuality/erotica on screen and was exploring it freely in his past films “Jeune et Jolie” (2013) and  “Swimming Pool” (2003). His latest psychological thriller “L’Amant Double” is another testament to this director’s fascinating way of portraying psychologically interesting scenarios and sensuality/sexuality on screen. Based on a book by Joyce Carol Oates, “L’Amant Double” presents Chloé (Marine Vacth), a young woman who seeks help for her psychosomatic stomach pains from a psychoanalyst Paul (Jérémie Renier). It is not long before Chloé and Paul fall in love and move in together, and all is going well until Chloé becomes troubled by her lover’s personal secrets. This erotically-charged film is not without its problems, but it explores the nature of personal identity from an interesting angle, portrays sexually-charged romance unflinchingly, and plays with our beliefs, expectations and what-if questions. In the end, ‘L’Amant Double” becomes a film not so much about an obsessive romance and morbid fascinations as about the question of the extent to which one’s imagination can overrun one’s sanity and eventually completely undermine one’s perception of reality.

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“Hereditary” Review

Hereditary Poster Hereditary (2018)  

**SPOILER ALERT** 

Ari Aster’s debut feature horror/drama film has caused quite a stir so far. With such quality horror films that have come out in recent months/years as “A Quiet Place” (2018), “Get Out” (2017) and “The Witch” (2015), to name just a few, it may be safe to say that the calibre revival of the genre is in full swing. It also seems like a long time has passed since we had to rely solely on James Wan (“Insidious” (2010), “The Conjuring” (2013)), horror sequels or classic movies for some kind of decent horror entertainment. “Hereditary” is an impressive and scary film, but not in the way most will assume. Its tricks, twists and general horror content may have been recycled from previous movies, and its inner intelligence and coherence will no longer awe discerning horror/thriller fans that have followed recent movies. Nevertheless, where “Hereditary” really impresses is in the setting-construction, in the unhurried building of the right, creepy atmosphere, in its attention to detail and characterisation, and, of course, it impresses with its top-notch acting, the kind that we probably have not seen in a horror film, maybe even since “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991).

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“The Bookshop” Review

The Bookshop PosterThe Bookshop (2018)

Leo Tolstoy once said that all literature can be divided into two types of stories: a man goes on a journey, and a stranger comes to town. “The Bookshop” falls into the latter category. The film first caught my attention when it won a number of Spanish Goya Awards, including the Best Film, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay Awards, and also two Gaudi Awards. It is based on a novel by Penelope Fitzgerald and is set in England in 1959. In this story, Florence Green (Emily Mortimer), a widow, opens a bookshop in a small coastal town and is taken aback by all the amazement of its inhabitants at such a move. Florence begins friendship with a reclusive book-lover Edmund Brundish (Bill Nighy) and employs a schoolgirl Christine to assist her bookshop, not even realising the strings that a local woman of power Violet Gamart (Patricia Clarkson) is willing to pull to whisk Florence out of her property and turn the premises of the bookshop into an art centre. It is clear that this little movie can work its charm to the hearts of the audience. However, it has so many problems, including the incredulous tension/antagonist moves and the slow pace, that the film may be best described as a beautifully-wrapped gift in a mawkish gift paper which really takes too long to open and when it is opened – nothing but a pile of saccharine and a bitter sense of disappointment are to be found inside.

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