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19 reviews in total 
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6 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Accomplished short., 15 September 2009

Mizugumo Monmon (or Monmon the Water Spider) is one of six short films shown exclusively in the theatre at the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, a short train ride out of Tokyo. It is perhaps the best-suited for foreign visitors, being as it is completely free of dialogue.

It follows the titular Monmon, first seen carefully manoeuvring a precious air bubble back to his lair. On the way, he bumps into a (seemingly female) water strider, and is enraptured. When the object of his affection is endangered, Monmon is forced into action...

Hardly a totally original premise, then, if you ignore the fact that it's about an aquatic arachnid in love with an insect of another species, but it is exceedingly well executed. Monmon himself is a beautifully endearing protagonist, and the slapstick is superbly handled. A good comparison would be to the first half of Pixar's recent Wall-E, not only in terms of comedic style but right down to the nature of the leads: a timid, eccentric heart-of-gold weakling infatuated with a strong, feminine beauty.

The animation, as always, is top-notch, with a genuinely thrilling action sequence to boot. While not quite up to the standard of the other short this reviewer has had the pleasure of viewing at the museum (Hoshi o Katta Hi, or The Day I Harvested a Star, absolutely superb) it is nevertheless a privilege to have experienced.

Those planning to visit the museum should be aware that tickets are best booked at least a month in advance, more if you wish to go on a weekend or public holiday. It may not be possible to determine which film will be showing on the particular day one visits, either....

Dora-heita (2000)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Engaging and amusing, though slightly disjointed., 7 July 2009

As a random pick from the shelves of a Japanese DVD store, largely chosen simply on the basis of having English subtitles and the words 'Kon Ichikawa' in big roman letters, the list of names attached to Dora-heita comes as quite a surprise, though it never really stacks up against the best work of any of its four writers. Which is not to say it's a bad film; far from it. It is, though, a rather uneven one...

The story is solid enough; Mochizuki Koheita is the newly appointed magistrate in a small rural fiefdom, sent to clean up the corrupt town of Horisoto in his own unorthodox way, facing off against a trio of gang bosses and the complacent and complicit council. In the lead, Koji Yakusho plays the part perfectly, making Koheita both genuinely likable and credibly hard-nosed. Support ranges from the fairly good to the utterly mediocre, though none of the actors come off too badly. The strongest scenes of the film are those set in the streets of Horisoto, Mochizuki's first visit to the slum being the most striking sequence in terms of visual flair. Elsewhere, there are a few great scenes; the visit to Nadahachi's abode in particular, despite the paint-by-numbers action scene that follows.

It's certainly a film with plenty to keep the viewer's attention, but it never really coagulates into a sleek, unified whole. There are problems with some of the comedy elements and with the Kosei character, both of which feel as though they were shoehorned in at the last minute, in the misguided fear of putting off viewers with too serious a story. In actual fact, it would probably be possible to cut Kosei out completely; contrary to expectations, she actually has no connection at any point to the main thread of the story, instead providing only a couple of laughs, an underwhelming brawl with some smugglers and a penultimate scene that errs the wrong side of ridiculous.

Still, it's entertaining enough, though it'd be best not to have too high expectations simply because of the names on the screenplay...

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Solid franchise anime., 22 June 2009

It's worth noting before I begin that this was my first encounter with the Patlabor series - I went in knowing nothing of the characters or overall plot of the series. I mention it because, though it posed absolutely no problems for my understanding of the piece, it does relate to the one criticism I have.

Positive things first, though, of which there are many. Most impressive, as with much of Ishii's work, is the scenery. From the highly industrialised city streets to the run-down shacks mastermind Hoba made his homes, each location is fantastically rendered and informs the mood of the piece easily as much as any of the characters. Not that Patlabor - The Movie is really lacking there, though; Both Asuma and Gotoh make for brilliantly likable protagonists, while aforementioned and never-seen villain Hoba is a more than worthy foil. The plot moves along at the right kind of pace - brisk enough to keep the viewer interested, but relaxed enough to allow one to savour the rich atmosphere of the world Ishii creates.

If there's a problem, then, it stems simply from the fact that this is what it is; a spin-off movie which is only part of an ongoing series. As such, and great as the characters may be, there is very little in terms of development - next to none, in fact. Yes, this is an expected and necessary result of the movie's very nature (it can't do anything that's really going to significantly affect the plot line of the series); still, it dulls the impact of an otherwise excellent film. Of course, there may be (and I expect there are) many nuances of dialogue, story etc. that are lost on a viewer with no prior knowledge of the series and perhaps viewing the film in context would provide a more rounded experience. Regardless, as a stand-alone film, it's less involving than it could be.

Despite this minor quibble, though, Patlabor - The Movie is a great introduction to a series I plan to familiarise myself with further in the future.

7 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
Extraordinarily pleasant., 24 February 2009

It's pretty easy to see why The Magic Hour went down so well with audiences in its native Japan. Ridiculously light-hearted, enough to put even Jeunet's Amelie to shame, with a sort-of all star cast that includes Haru no Yuki/Dororo star Satoshi Tsumabuki, delightful young up-and-comer Haruka Ayase (sadly given little to do here) former Monkey star Toshiyuki Nishida and perennial Kitano stooge Susumu Terajima amidst a host of other recognisable faces. It even has a cameo from Kon Ichikawa, sadly shortly before his death. The show really belongs, though, to Koichi Sato, verily hamming it up as, well, a very hammy actor...

This kind of self-reference permeates the film, occasionally to its detriment. Ayase's short monologue early on, for example, enouncing her feelings of being in a movie, is particularly grating. It's not the film's only problem; it suffers from a particularly weak female lead (in fact, all of the female roles are criminally underwritten), a total lack of logic or flow and a fairly bloated running time that the material doesn't really justify. Luckily, these concerns matter little in a film clearly intended solely to entertain - a feat which it accomplishes in abundance. Particular highlights include Sato's bizarre knife-licking antics during the first meeting between Murata/Togashi and Boss Teshio, the dialogue between Sato and Terajima about "where you're shooting from" and the sight gag early on involving cement shoes and painted toenails. As with any out-and-out comedy, the jokes are hit-and-miss, but it easily scores enough hits to warrant a viewing.

As throwaway as they come and not without its flaws, but ultimately satisfying nonetheless.

5 out of 15 people found the following review useful:
Superbly entertaining., 14 July 2008

The central premise of Death Note is one that, to say the least, left me rather sceptical, the whole idea seeming like something dreamt up for someone's high school creative writing homework.

It doesn't take long, though, to realise the error of such a judgement. The skill and precision with which the story unfolds is rather breathtaking - the central battle of wits between Light Yagami and his nemesis 'L' must surely rank amongst the subtlest ever laid out on screen, yet the pace never seems to drop for a moment. A mere self-introduction has surely never been as electric in any other story as 'L's is to Light here...

Much of the success of the story can be put down to the brilliant characterisation of these two protagonists, engaged in a life-or-death struggle that essentially boils down to a difference in moral opinion - each considering himself a bastion of justice. It's a story that's been done many times over, sure, but it's kept fresh here by the particularities of the set-up. Indeed, Death Note is a story where everything comes down to the minutest of details, where one simple slip-up could mean total failure or death.

The supporting characters work exceedingly well too; the Shinigami (Death God) Ryuk in particular, playing the role of the voyeur, providing some blackly comic moments of respite from the ever-present tension. Amane Misa is, perhaps, a little grating at times, but even she eventually charms.

If there's anything to criticise in Death Note, it would probably be the slightly disjointed final act. The events at the end of the second act are understandable from a storytelling perspective, and a very bold move in terms of writing. From then on, however, it somehow fails to quite measure up to what has come before. A shame, really, but it doesn't do much to dampen the brilliance of a quite extraordinarily entertaining story. Highly recommended for fans of quality anime. Or, indeed, anyone.

Beowulf (2007)
1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Highly amusing, if little else., 12 December 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Robert Zemeckis' Beowulf is the tale of a man whose hobbies include killing monsters, embellishing stories and shouting his own name (often combining the three). During the course of the movie he fights a huge, rather nasty-looking bloke while completely in the nip, shags his demon mother and then marries what appears to be a transsexual; thus putting his sexuality under serious question. The fact that he looks like a beefed-up David Beckham but speaks like Ray Winstone doesn't help either...

It's in Beowulf's best interests for this review to refrain from venturing into the realms of a serious appraisal. The story, heavily re-jiggered as it is, is feeble to say the least. The voice acting ranges from decent to absolutely atrocious (to give some credit to the actors, though, they hardly have a fantastic script to work with). The animated actors, though highly impressive, still fail to resemble actual human beings consistently enough to convince. In reality, the only things in Beowulf that really work are the two monsters - Grendel and the dragon. The former in particular is fantastically rendered and his loss at the midway point is a major nail in the movie's coffin. Never again does the movie really thrill, although there are a couple of mildly stirring moments near the end.

However, there's something else at work here - something which lifts Beowulf from the "take-it-or-leave-it" doldrums into the heights of "worth a look." Simply this - it's funny. At times, uproariously so. Rather than raising memories of previous action/monster flicks, Beowulf is much more likely to call to mind decidedly comedic predecessors. The titular character's fondness for screaming his own name at times recalls South Park's Timmy (particularly in one hilarious moment involving him bursting from a creature's eyeball). The Malkovich character's penchant for arbitrarily beating his servant is somewhat Pythonesque. There's even a 'hide-the-sausage' sequence to rival Austin Powers.

It's difficult to say how much of this is intentional. It's certainly hard to believe lines like "We swam for five days neck and neck. I was conserving my strength for the final stretch" were ever intended to be taken seriously. Whatever the intention, though, the fact remains - a stirring, thrilling epic it ain't, but a bloody good laugh it most definitely is.

9 out of 18 people found the following review useful:
Exhilarating, visceral cinema., 22 February 2007

It seems many critics are either getting hung up on searching for some kind of political meaning in Children of Men or endlessly theorising about the possible cause of the global sterility that is central to the plot; missing the point on both counts, in this reviewer's opinion, as both the political and science-fiction aspects of the movie are merely means' to an end - the end of crafting a breathtaking, human and incredibly visceral cinematic experience. If you'd like a sketched-out political message (let's face it - when it comes to politics, there's little room in any movie for more than a mere sketch) then, hey, the internet is your big, fat, rusty-coloured pearl vomiting oyster. Likewise, if you would like a dry and quasi-scientific or laughably mystical explanation of a highly improbable scenario that adds absolutely nothing to the story then, well, I believe The Outer Limits is available to purchase on DVD. If, however, you'd prefer a magnificently filmed, brilliantly acted and absurdly thrilling depiction of a society tearing itself to shreds in the face of the ultimate despair, and the fragile glimmer of hope struggling through the darkness at the centre, well, welcome to Children of Men.

The movie plunges us into a society without children - a society, therefore, with no future, no hope. In the effort to keep some kind of order, the British government has resorted to ruthlessly hunting down and detaining all illegal immigrants/refugees. The country is riddled with terrorist factions, the most prominent of which being The Fishes, a radical group ostensibly fighting for immigrant rights. It is a country teetering on the brink of an abyss into which the rest of the world has already fallen. Amongst all of this, we follow Theo (Clive Owen); a man who, along with everyone else, has little left to look forward to. That is, until he gets involved in the increasingly desperate struggle to protect a miraculously pregnant young girl who just might hold the key to mankind's survival...

It's a plot of very grandiose proportions, to be sure, but Cuaron does the sensible thing and keeps it tight on Theo; throughout the movie we never really leave his side. It's a part Owen pulls off with aplomb, a performance of wearied charm with glimpsed moments of emotional turmoil seeping through the cracks. The support cast is uniformly excellent, too, particularly Claire-Hope Ashitey as the rather-too-symbolically-named Kee.

What really makes Children Of Men, though, is the dazzling technical brilliance of the film-making. The two central action pieces, filmed in extended, continuous hand-held takes, mark a triumph of carefully planned, visceral cinema over effects-laden bombast. The near-final sequence, in particular, set inside the explosive battleground of a disintegrating refugee camp, really has to be seen to believed. Reportedly a nightmare to shoot, it's worth any and all effort expended and ranks among the finest achievements in cinematic history.

This is not to say that this is a movie without any flaws - in the first half, certainly, there are a few moments of rather clumsy plot exposition and, as mentioned above, some of the symbolism is a little too on-the-nose. However, these are largely minimal complaints when faced with a film as arresting and exhilarating as this. Children of Men is a brilliant study of humanity on the brink, of a society gripped by fear and despair, turning on itself, and of a man at the centre struggling to salvage some kind of hope. It is an action movie, sure, but one with a deep understanding of human weakness at its centre. Despite what some might say, it doesn't attempt to preach any kind of message, contenting itself with an investigation of our deepest fears. Some might argue that it is undeserving of an Oscar as it presents no significant political or moral message; this reviewer would argue that that is precisely why it should get one.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Conclusion to mutant saga lacks human element., 26 October 2006

The prospects for X-Men 3 were, on the face of it, fairly promising - the same able cast as the first two instalments, bolstered with the (quite frankly, genius) casting of Kelsey Grammar as Hank 'Beast' McCoy. Indeed, the movie starts very well, introducing some genuinely sympathetic characters in the form of Angel and Leech (the early scene of Warren's attempt to hide his mutation is an extraordinarily affecting one for a movie of this kind). Even more impressively, it then goes on to bravely dispense with some of the series' key characters, creating a genuine sense of unpredictability (although, it has to be said, these deaths could have been handled with a hell of a lot more respect). From then on, though, the film gradually descends into what can only be described as a bloated mess.

The problem here is too many characters, too little development. After spending two movies (plus the opening of this one) fleshing out the backgrounds of the X-Men we are left with a film that is, for the most part, a series of increasingly OTT fight scenes tacked on to a cheesy paint-by-numbers plot. Perhaps the most important character in the movie, Famke Janssen's Jean Grey, does little more than walk around in a daze, occasionally becoming either angry or horny. Elsewhere, stories are either underdeveloped (see Rogue's sub-plot) or completely unfinished (despite his being one of the few characters in the movie to retain any kind of pathos, Warren/Angel's contribution to the final third is simply a blink-and-you'll-miss-it enactment of one of the biggest superhero clichés of all time). Even such essential characters as Wolverine and Magneto are left with little to do but fight and look cool, while new addition Juggernaut fails to even muster the latter - Vinnie Jones appearing, quite frankly, ridiculous in every scene he intrudes on. Furthermore, comic-book fans will be disappointed to discover that the considerably important relationship between Professor Xavier and Cain Marko/Juggernaut is not merely glossed over but totally unmentioned.

Stir in one of the most atrocious and intrusive scores since Batman & Robin and you have a film that is enjoyable bombast at best and, at worst, a lactose-dripping nonsense-festival. In its favour, it has a few great set pieces and some rather impressive special effects. Little recompense, though, for the total lack of involvement and the rather offensive stench of Camembert that it frequently emits.

2 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
A harrowing gem of a film., 2 September 2006

On paper, perhaps, Dead Man's Shoes is a revenge thriller that is much of a muchness, bringing to mind a whole range of films with similar plot lines, most notably Mike Hodges' seminal Get Carter (1971). Indeed, comparison with Carter is, to an extent, entirely justified - both revolve around a 'soldier' of sorts returning home to exact revenge (in Carter's case a Mob gunman, here an actual military man), both feature an assortment of unpleasant small-town lowlifes caught in the firing line and both provide increasingly unsympathetic lead characters with little chance of redemption. The difference, however, is largely in the nature of these leads.

Where Carter was an ice-cool, confident and calculating vigilante, Richard is here a desperately seething mass of rage, a man struggling to hold onto his sanity. From the outset he exudes menace, as exemplified by his early encounter with Herbie in a local café. Rather than a man entirely accustomed to doing questionable things, as with Carter, we are presented with an otherwise upstanding citizen trained as a killer, released back into a community where he can no longer resolve his disputes in any other way than the violence to which he is now accustomed. If Carter's menace came from our knowledge of his character and what he was capable of then Richard's comes from the complete unpredictability of how far he is willing to go, of what he has left of his morality.

It is a part Considine wears with terrifying intensity, maintaining a degree of sympathy even while exuding an air of pure hostility. What's so scary about Richard is the blind forthrightness of his demeanour, such as in the confrontation between himself and Sonny in their early exchange on the street ("Yeah, it was me.") His intentions are clear at the start; the tension, therefore, comes from the question of whether he is actually willing to carry out these intentions. This tension builds to a suffocating intensity during the final act, a dizzying and chaotic orgy of violence and emotion with a conclusion simultaneously harrowing and poetic.

Director Shane Meadows amply proves his worth here, working on what is, even by the standards of a movie such as this, a microscopic budget. Particular praise is reserved for the sequence where Richard drugs his hapless victims before submitting them to a nightmarish ordeal; a slight stretching of plot credibility, perhaps, but an exquisitely torturing scene nonetheless. Much credit also to the supporting cast, who provide the film's light relief in the first half and manage to inject a degree of sympathy into even the most loathsome of characters during the second.

Really, though, this show belongs to Considine and Meadows. Between them they provide a magnificent showcase of what the British film industry is still capable of when it's not busying itself with endless remakes of Four Weddings... and Lock, Stock.... A visceral, chilling and strangely moving gut-punch of a film that, like its folky soundtrack, stays with you long after the last drop of blood has been spilt.

5 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Please do., 2 September 2006

It would be considered a humanitarian act.

Apparently, according to IMDb regulations, I have to fill 10 lines of text about this show. So let's just say this - Shoot The Writers is, quite simply, the worst UK comedy show I have ever seen. That makes it worse than Gimme Gimme Gimme. Think about that for a second, then stab yourself in the eye with a bleach-filled syringe while rubbing your genitals on a red-hot belt sander. You may then come close to understanding exactly how painful this show is. Ah, but I still need more lines. Okay, how about this:




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