Iro's One Movie a Day Thread

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You mean me? Kei's cousin?
I like Billy Wilder's Sabrina, but this is one of the rare occasions that I like the remake better.
One of the few times I've found myself interested in a remake. I'm a fan of Harrison Ford, so that's probably why.
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#391 - The Silence of the Lambs
Jonathan Demme, 1991



An agent-in-training for the FBI is brought in to interview an incarcerated serial killer in order to try to catch a different serial killer who is still at large.

Reviewing a renowned classic is more than a little difficult - while there's no doubt that everyone has their own individual opinion about a film, how does one express it in any unique manner? In any case, after having watched both Hannibal and Red Dragon earlier this year and found them both wanting, I had been meaning to revisit this for the first time in I-don't-know-how-many years (it has to have been a few years because the last time I saw it I don't remember recognising "Hip Priest" by The Fall playing during the climatic confrontation - man, what a weird choice of music to crop up in a Best Picture winner of all films). It's also not hard to see how much it changed the game for thrillers since its release, which ironically just makes it feel like a slightly above-average thriller in the process. As it stands, I'm ready to consider it the definitive '90s thriller, but that doesn't automatically mean I consider it an especially personal favourite.

The film does have a lot going for it - Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins understandably won Oscars for their roles as a rookie FBI agent and the cannibalistic psychiatrist she needs to interrogate in order to catch a loose murderer (Ted Levine) who skins his female victims. In a film that's scattered with outwardly suspenseful scenes of external action, it is their interactions with one another that stand out the most and are accentuated by cinematography that relies on close-ups and frequent stares into the camera to really leave a mark on audiences. The mind games that Hopkins plays with the other characters are what give this otherwise rote procedural plot some much-needed personality. As such, The Silence of the Lambs is definitely a good movie, but I'm not inclined to think of it as anything than just an all-around great film where the somewhat simple plot is lifted by a great ensemble cast and the addition of an interesting dynamic with a murderous consultant.

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I think I'd have Se7en held up as the definitive 90's thriller. I think that's the thriller version of Blade Runner. Apart from the fact that I actually like it, of course.
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I think I'd have Se7en held up as the definitive 90's thriller. I think that's the thriller version of Blade Runner. Apart from the fact that I actually like it, of course.
Granted, it's kind of a toss-up between the two (you can definitely see a lot of Se7en's style in a movie like, say, The Bone Collector), but Silence... came first and also came with an added dynamic (read: Lecter) to distinguish it somewhat from other investigative thrillers, while Se7en is by and large a rather generic detective movie underneath its memorably dark and gory exterior (and I say that as someone who still prefers Se7en to Silence... for some reason). The Bone Collector probably isn't the best example, because in that case the "consultant" was a quadriplegic former detective assisting a young rookie...eh, you get what I mean. They're both definitive in their own ways and picking one over the other is difficult.



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#392 - Guardians of the Galaxy
James Gunn, 2014



A mismatched group of space-faring criminals are drawn into the search for an extremely valuable and powerful object.

Now that the hype has worn off, it's not hard to think that, underneath its colourful and humourous exterior, Guardians of the Galaxy is way too fundamentally hollow a film to be genuinely appreciable even on the level of sheer cinematic fun that it apparently aspires to achieve. In a way, its greatest strength - introducing an almost completely different side to the Marvel Cinematic Universe with its all-new space-opera setting - pretty much demands the necessity of its greatest weakness - an extremely basic plot. Like several of the Marvel films that predated it, Guardians... is centred around a magical MacGuffin and the various characters ranging from lovable rogues to amoral materialists to genocidal villains trying to get their hands on it by any means necessary for many different reasons ranging from personal profit to world-conquering. Of course, seeing as this was a film that was banking on the comically outsized vibrancy of its characters and setting more so than a sufficiently original plot, you can sort of forgive it for its extremely basic narrative...

...that is, until said characters and setting fall significantly flat. Guardians... never purports to be a dark film even by the standards of other Marvel films, even though it gives its anti-heroes sufficiently tragic back-stories; the very first scene involves the protagonist's younger self refusing to confront his mother's death from cancer, which causes emotional whiplash when the next scene tries to set the intended tone of the film with his adult self (Chris Pratt, who is decent enough but not nearly worth the hype) dancing to disco music while on a scavenging mission. Unfortunately, what little depth is afforded to its protagonists just showcases just how little effort goes into developing the antagonists, whether they're the blandly evil blue ones behind the main plot (played by Lee Pace and Karen Gillan) or the amoral opportunists (Michael Rooker and Benicio del Toro). At least the latter have a bit more personality, which is better than none. Zoe Saldana's green-skinned assassin is a shining example of wasted potential that she gives, while Bradley Cooper's turn as the diminutive raccoon-like bounty hunter is sort of charming but probably shouldn't make me think that the voice should have been provided by Jason Alexander in full George mode. Dave Bautista and Vin Diesel round out the main cast as a pair of deep-voiced brutes that at least have enough personality to compensate for their superficial differences - one's a comically serious man out for revenge while the other is a giant and generally good-hearted tree only capable of saying a few words - and they do tend to provide a couple of the moments that hold up on a second viewing.

Unfortunately, even in its attempt to present itself as a bit of goofy light-hearted fun that's not meant to be taken seriously, Guardians... doesn't even manage to deliver all that well on that front. Just because you're trying to be funny and awesome doesn't mean that the sheer impracticality of so much of the universe can be totally ignored; whether it's Rooker's signature weapon or Pratt being able to survive in space without adequate coverage of his extremities (flimsy justification for the latter be damned because it just feels like a cop-out no matter how true it might be) - and then there's the longevity of the Walkman...It may look extremely colourful and aesthetically appealing, but unfortunately it's not enough to compensate for the weaknesses in the plot and characterisation and, pretty though it may be, it's not the best way to keep me entertained for two whole hours, especially when the story does nothing new and just tends to descend into a lot of the same action-movie beats that characterise Marvel films. Here is a chase scene, here is a shoot-out, here are our male and female leads having belligerent yet comedic banter, here are the rest of our heroes getting into shenanigans, here is an epic finale involving a cast of thousands...despite the inherent weirdness, it's all too familiar to make any kind of genuine impact on its own (though the finishing move from the end is a genuinely impressive moment for...some reason). Guardians... does come across as the kind of movie that attempts to dictate its own terms and audiences and critics alike have definitely responded well to its treatise, but even approaching it on its own terms it just leaves me cold. Far from the worst movie ever, but beyond the visuals and the odd moment of pure entertainment it still feels too empty to genuinely enjoy, and seeing as genuine enjoyment is the film's ostensible aim I can't help but think of this as a failure.




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#393 - Red Beard
Akira Kurosawa, 1965



In feudal Japan, a young doctor is unknowingly assigned to work at a medical clinic in a rural village under the tutelage of a notoriously strict senior doctor.

Red Beard is a bit of a tough sell because it manages to be of similarly epic length to Seven Samurai and Ran yet its fundamentally down-to-earth narrative deprives it of the action beats and arresting visuals that made those films so great. Even the scene in the header image I have provided, which showcases Toshiro Mifune's veteran physician singlehandedly taking down a group of dissenting citizens with his bare hands, is more or less the only remotely action-oriented scene in the whole film. Instead much of the film involves a novice doctor (Yuzo Kayama) being sent to Mifune's village under false pretences, which naturally leads to instant antagonism between the two. Eventually, Kayama adapts to life in the village and having to tend to the needs of some of its more afflicted patients and thus he learns to see Mifune as a mentor, and thus a series of vignettes occur over the course of the film's three-hour running time.

Considering how I liked Ikiru, another Kurosawa film where he also avoided his usual flair for action-oriented visuals in favour of telling a tale grounded very much in non-violent but dangerous reality, it makes sense that I wouldn't completely hate Red Beard. The performers are in fine form (and just as well, considering how this would turn out to be Mifune's final collaboration with Kurosawa) and their performances are captured with noticeably lengthy takes, though they are seriously hampered by haphazard development of the various plots. This means that Red Beard ultimately comes across as a largely fragmented film where the only consistent plot is the relationship that develops between Mifune and Kayama, which starts off hostile but gradually develops into hard-earned respect. Kurosawa exercises his usual balancing of restraint and passion when it comes to depicting the stories within the script, but it's not quite enough to truly sell what had the potential to be consistently compelling drama. It's good enough as far as straight period dramas go, but if I have to spend at least three hours on a Kurosawa film I've seen already, the odds of it being this one are rather slim.




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#394 - Through a Glass Darkly
Ingmar Bergman, 1961



Four people - a father, his son, his daughter, and his son-in-law - are holidaying on the same island when various personal issues start cropping up and causing problems.

Trying to cram for the upcoming MoFo Top 100 of the Sixties list by frantically trying to watch as many Bergman films as possible probably isn't the best idea since these aren't the kind of films that can be easily consumed and processed. Through a Glass Darkly is an especially prominent example even by Bergman standards in that it centres on a handful of related characters trying to enjoy a holiday but who find their relationships with each other undermined by not just their undiscussed issues with one another but also the personal issues that eat away at themselves even after supposedly achieving catharsis through openly confessional monologues and soliloquies. The film is amply carried by its small ensemble (which features Bergman regulars Gunnar Björnstrand and Max von Sydow as the literary-minded patriarch and his son-in-law respectively). It is also considered part of Bergman's unofficially thematic trilogy about God's silence, which is probably due to how the mental issues affecting Björnstrand's daughter (Harriet Andersson) manifest themselves as hallucinations regarding God's potential existence on a plane understandable to human beings and naturally leads to uncomfortable discussions with the other three characters.

Stylistically, it's Bergman by numbers. Monochromatic cinematography, an almost complete absence of diegetic and non-diegetic music alike, verbose musings on difficult subjects that are delivered by one character in crisis to another character who either refuses to understand or is capable of understanding, the occasional piece of external action that serves as a very real metaphor for the characters' own conflicts (case in point - the storm that hits the island during the last third or so)...it's all here, and it's all accomplished reasonably well. I guess it's not an easy film to give an instantaneous rating to (especially when you utilise a rating system as idiosyncratic as my own is), but I definitely found it to be an interesting film that I would not be opposed to re-watching, but its greater themes and the characters' extremely vocal ruminations on said themes are alternately effective and alienating. In other words, it's like every other Bergman film I've seen, but that naturally doesn't distinguish it as the best, even though Bergman is not the easiest filmmaker to rank.




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#395 - Kony 2012
Jason Russell, 2012



A film dedicated to raising awareness of Joseph Kony, an African warlord responsible for commandeering armies filled with child soldiers.

Even before checking MoFo's review database to see if they would permit a proper review of Kony 2012 (but I guess if they allowed my review of Kung Fury, then one half-hour YouTube video starting with the letter K is as good as another), I had never actually seen the notorious half-hour documentary that went extremely viral back in 2012 and convinced the world that this Kony should be stopped, preferably in 2012. Fast-forward through multiple ignored implorements to watch and share said video (in addition to director Russell's public breakdown soon after the release of this film that became notorious in its own right) and I am only now getting around to watching it even though, as far as my own cursory research indicates, Kony himself was never actually "stopped" per the goals and desires of the people behind this film (though the activity of both him and his army has been drastically undermined and restricted, so hooray for compromise).

From a film-critic perspective, Kony 2012 is an extremely difficult and irritating watch regardless of its good intentions. Russell may introduce a young Ugandan refugee as the face of victimhood in the face of Kony's regime, but he seems much more concerned with showcasing his own five-year-old son in order to manipulate audiences in a manner that condescends not only to a five-year-old but also to the audiences themselves. Graphic footage of those affected by Kony and his army is included, sure, but the way in which it's presented is enough to make one's intelligence feel insulted. The same goes for Russell's narration, which sounds sincere but the film itself and its focus on home-front activism (most notably the kind that involves the purchasing of material merchandise) makes one doubt its makers' sincerity. Regardless of Kony 2012's status as a piece of politically justified propaganda, it is still an extremely poor piece of filmmaking where even the fundamentally good intentions of its creators are almost completely obscured under all sorts of tactics that seem too concerned with grabbing the attention of the masses even for a film that is primarily dedicated to spreading awareness of a serious issue. Even trying to fill out an appropriately lengthy review of the film feels like a bit of a waste of time, and if that's how your work dedicated to making one care about global injustice makes one feel about an issue they hitherto had no knowledge of, then you've kind of failed at what you were doing.




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#396 - Harakiri
Masaki Kobayashi, 1962



An old ronin arrives at the gates of a castle with the intention of committing "harakiri", the traditional Japanese act of ritual suicide, in the castle's courtyard.

If you were ever looking for a film that perfectly embodied the concept of dramatic irony, then it'd be hard to look much further than Harakiri, a film so fundamentally rooted in fatalism and honour (in both the positive and negative facets of the word) that it practically demands to be watched. Starring Tatsuya Nakadai (an actor who has appeared in quite a few of the last few Japanese films I've watched and has thus started to become an actor of note for me) as the main character, it juggles its framing story (arguably its A-plot) with various episodic recollections that initially seem disconnected but soon go on to form a disturbingly coherent plot that explains Nakadai's motivations for wishing to present himself before a respectable house and commit harakiri despite the polite yet restrictive requirements laid down by the house's ruling body.

If I had to pick out a flaw that threatens to unravel the otherwise masterful handling of Harakiri, it's that its fatalistic nature in regards to its themes means that the narrative is, for much of the film's runnning time, actually somewhat predictable despite its considerable number of twists. However, Harakiri is one of those rare cases of a story where being able to accurately predict how a given narrative plays out doesn't actually ruin one's enjoyment of a film but actually enhances it. The film's second act, which entails Nakadai's character relaying his own tale of tragedy to a rather indifferent group of individuals, is predictable mainly because it's not hard to fill in the dots that led to the developments depicted in the film's surprisingly graphic first act. As a result, the second act ends up being the weakest of the three as it exists mainly to fill in the gaps, though its tale of familial tragedy brought on by dramatic irony (I told you that's what defines this film) isn't any less heart-rending as a result. As a result, by the time the second act concludes one might very well wonder as I did where the story could possibly go from there.

Well, suffice to say that the third act definitely does not deserve to be described to those who have not seen the movie (and I try to write reviews for those who have not seen said movies). While Harakiri's second act may threaten to drag the film to a halt, it manages not to and instead sets up one of the most compelling third acts I've seen in quite some time. Nakadai may have been about thirty around the time of this film's production but he perfectly embodies a very worn-out and embittered protagonist whose awareness of his own narrative does little to deter him, and when the film does deliver on the promises of violence that its title and narrative makes, it is not titillating or awe-inspiring. It is merely the inception and conclusion of a narrative that has been very well mapped-out before it has been carried out, but that does not matter in the slightest. What matters is that people on both sides of the camera give their all to an emotionally draining story that may possibly bore some people but is compelling through its introspective moments and its intense action-oriented moments. It's a credit to this film that it doesn't play the absurdity of the situation for any kind of basic satirical points, but instead demands one's full commitment to understanding how such an absurd situation can be completely serious depending on your perspective. If you haven't already seen Harakiri, do consider it highly recommended.




Wow. It happened again! I watched Harakiri for the 7th HOF. I went into it not expecting much, but found the story really intriguing and the choreography of the fight scenes (which used real swords) was very impressive. I believe I gave it the same rating as you. Excellent film.



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#397 - Elysium
Neill Blomkamp, 2013



In a future where Earth is ruined and left to the poor while the elite class live on the eponymous space station, a terminally ill working-class man tries to reach the station in order to cure his condition.

I liked Neill Blomkamp's mainstream debut District 9 because of its ability to combine somewhat rudimentary socio-political satire (unsurprisingly aimed at apartheid thanks to its lower-class South African setting) with a fun plot about an alien ghetto filled with explosive superweapons and the hapless schmuck who finds himself stuck in a Kafkaesque situation due to alien interference. Letting his last couple of cinematic features slide in and out of theatres without me paying attention was probably not the greatest sign of faith in his talent, but I have only recently decided to rectify that with the free-to-air playing of his follow-up to District 9, District 9 2: Dist Harder - sorry, I mean Elysium.

While District 9 at least managed to distinguish its own take of class warfare with its use of crustacean-like aliens and a body-horror plot for its bureaucratic human protoganist, Elysium somehow manages to take some of the most distinctive aspects of that particular film (South African setting, technology-centric effects, class-divide theme) and either disregard them completely or run them so far into the ground they might as well bury out of the other side of the planet. In the year that gave us the exceedingly generic Oblivion and (technically) the masterful yet no less fundamentally nonsensical Snowpiercer, Elysium fails to distinguish itself in either a positive or negative manner (though you'd think that failure to be positive would automatically designate it as negative, but it fails to be even be that much of a failure). It's the sort of have-versus-have-nots that is characterised by a protagonist (Matt Damon) that is generic to the point of coming across as parody. Of course, the blandness of Damon and many of the other characters is counter-balanced by the two villains whose hammy performances may offer the film some personality but at the expense of general quality. As the film's corrupt executive villain, Jodie Foster delivers a bizarre performance with an inconsistent European accent (which might be justified by Elysium's multi-cultural population, but still sounds pretty ridiculous). District 9 lead Sharlto Copley plays her monstrous South African henchman, who is extremely one-note underneath his thickly but consistently accented performance.

While Elysium does promise an interesting dystopian narrative with its protagonist doing what he can to escape the ruined slums of Earth and reach the titular station (which includes having an implausible-looking exoskeleton grafted onto his body to supposedly give him super-strength or something) while helping his friends along the way, it spends perhaps too much time on Earth and thus feels far too much like a retread of District 9 for its own good, especially when it comes to its protagonist alternating between hiding and fighting. Not even the scenes that actually do take place on Elysium make much of a difference as they just run through trope after trope without having any impact. Even the plot holes aren't of sufficient enough interest in this slick yet soulless dystopia-by-numbers. You're much better off watching Snowpiercer, which does cover the same rich-versus-poor dynamic but with a lot more grit and personality. (Addendum: I like how there was one scene that featured "Loner" by Burial. Truly a song that deserves to survive into the 22nd century).




Just saw the Through A Glass Darkly review. Not sure how I missed it before.
I felt it was one of the strongest of the Bergmans I've seen, but I agree they're a little hard to rank, beyond Persona anyway, which I think is an obvious standout.



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#398 - Taken
Pierre Morel, 2008



A former commando goes after a group of human traffickers after they kidnap his daughter.

Liam Neeson is a great actor and I am sort of glad that he's getting regular work thanks to his renaissance (or is that re-Neeson-ce? No, it's renaissance) as an action star, but it's a shame that the film that started the whole thing off, 2008's Taken, is actually the kind of action thriller that I generally don't have much patience for, and not even Neeson's gravelly Irish brogue (which still seeps through into what is presumably an American accent - hey, if Connery and Schwarzenegger don't bother to hide their accents, why should he?) and handsome mug are quite enough to sell what more or less amounts to Death Wish for a new generation.

For starters, the whole first act almost plays out like self-parody as it gives us Neeson as the overly cautious and paranoid ex-commando who resorts to bodyguard jobs while trying his best to maintain ties with his teenage daughter (Maggie Grace) even after his ex-wife (Famke Janssen) has remarried someone far wealthier. Neeson is portrayed as out-of-touch and well-meaning through his overprotective attitude that you obviously know is going to be vindicated by the end of the first act. Once Grace and her friend fall prey to a trap almost immediately after landing in Paris. Neeson jumps at the call to use as many connections and personal skills as possible in order to track her down and make the culprits pay for what they've done. What follows is a fairly rote series of events. Neeson tracks down a lead. Violence and chases ensue. There is the occasional (and I do mean occasional) quiet scene that's intended to be a breather, several of which involve his French contact (Olivier Rabourdin). Repeat until conclusion.

The problem with trying to make it somewhat realistic in terms of Neeson's fighting abilities is that things do get far too repetitive within the confines of an extremely rote and episodic plot. Things don't get much better when it shows that Neeson is willing to go to increasingly violent ends in order to find his daughter, whether it's straight up torturing someone to death for information or giving innocent people flesh wounds as a coercive measure. Not even attempts to balance things out such as having him rescue a drug-addicted sex slave manage to compensate for his more extreme actions, especially since he does so mainly as another way of gathering information. Even Death Wish at least tried to show how Charles Bronson's actions were still fundamentally unjustifiable no matter how much the film may have drifted into garish titillation (to say nothing of the sequels, of course). I'll grant that Taken shows a somewhat appropriate approach to its human-trafficking plot, though it just ends up being sidelined for the sake of giving Neeson an excuse for beat up a large number of villains. The fact that it managed to develop two sequels may imply that they examine the ramifications of Neeson's actions (though there's no telling if I'll watch those ones since they don't sound as good as this one anyway), but since that is all but skipped over completely in this film it's not even a decent examination of vengeful vigilantism underneath its rather generic action.




From what I can tell with the Taken sequels, the second is the first with the wife instead of the daughter and the third they just don't bother with anyone being taken.



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Red Beard and Through a Glass Darkly are both very good films, but neither is quite in the upper echelon for me from their directors.

I'm another Harakiri fan-great flick!



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#399 - The Virgin Spring
Ingmar Bergman, 1960



In medieval Sweden, the only daughter of a well-off Christian family is sent to run an errand to a nearby church.

Wow, this is like a really boring and artsy version of The Last House on the Left. One out of five.

But seriously, the fact that my main point of reference for The Virgin Spring is Wes Craven's 1972 film, it's a credit to Bergman and his collaborators that The Virgin Spring ends up being not quite up to Bergman's usual standards due to its confrontational choice of subject matter but at least manages to avoid resorting to the same sort of gratuitously graphic tackiness that defined Craven's film. Fundamentally, though, both films follow the same plot, which I'm hesitant to discuss in detail because I'm not sure if this is the kind of movie that can afford to be spoiled (though I already knew what was going to happen before I started it, so I'm not totally sure). Actually, it deserves to be somewhat spoiled because of its potentially triggering nature, so I'll put that part under spoilers:

WARNING: "The Virgin Spring" spoilers below
The crux of the film's plot rests on the fact that the family's daughter, while running an errand involving candles for a mass, encounters a trio of shepherds who proceed to rape and murder her.

Even by the standards of early-1960s European cinema, that is a somewhat difficult scene to watch unfold - fortunately, Bergman is at least able to depict such an act without resorting to cheap sensationalism (but then again when does he ever?) In any case, as with many a Bergman film it is awfully preoccupied with faith and religion (Christianity in particular), and the faith or lack thereof belonging to the members of the family (especially Max von Sydow as the family patriarch who has no faith compared to his much more devout wife, daughter, and servant), though the acknowledgment of the guilt it lays on human nature becomes challenged when human nature begins to rear its ugly head. Knowing what happens gives the film a serious sense of fatalism that does translate to a lot of the performances and to Bergman's trademark visual vibe. Its extremely straightforward narrative and disconcerting events does make me think of it as my least favourite Bergman film as of writing, but that doesn't automatically make it a bad one.




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#400 - Mad Max: Fury Road
George Miller, 2015



In the aftermath of a nuclear war, the titular survivor is dragged into the middle of a situation involving an evil cult leader and a group of escaped sex slaves.

Original review found here.




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I don't necessarily think The Virgin Spring is one of the best from Bergman, but it is one of my favorites. It just suits my taste very well. Not coincidentally, The Last House on the Left is a big favorite of mine.



You're on a roll lately, Iro.

My feelings on The Virgin Spring mirror your own (my least favorite Bergman, but still good), though I loved Mad Max: Fury Road a little more than you did.