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I never could get the hang of Thursdays.
Oldboy (2003)

Oldboy is stylish revenge thriller, in which Oh Dae-su, played by Choi Min-sik, is mysteriously kidnapped and imprisoned for 15 years before being equally mysteriously released with the mission to find out who imprisoned him, and more importantly, why. The tension between Oh Dae-su’s thirst for revenge and his dependence on his tormentor for the reason for his captivity makes this a cut above your standard revenge movie plot; although there is vengeance of unflinching brutality, it is the unwrapping of the puzzle surrounding Dae-su’s kidnap which drives the plot.

The violence and sheer horror of some of the events in the film would be difficult to stomach were they not perfectly counterbalanced by the equally extraordinary beauty in the colours, music and visual inventiveness. Korean director Park Chan-Wook’s style is a masterclass in how to handle ultraviolence with restraint and class (take note, Mr. Tarantino). The most disturbing parts of the film are not the most violent or showy, but the quiet scenes, such as the flashback to what happened at the school between Woo-jin and Soo-ah.

Without giving too much away, I also liked the shadowing within the film – Dae-Su taking revenge on Woo-Jin, while Woo-jin takes revenge on him; Dae-Su’s arrest at the very beginning foreshadowing his subsequent kidnap and imprisonment.

This film has been unfairly criticised by some for being contrived and unrealistic which is quite unfair, as Oldboy doesn’t inhabit the real world, it inhabits a hyper-real film world where everything is intensified – including colour, sound, and the abilities of both the protagonist and antagonist.

To sum up, a work of quite dizzying brilliance. 5/5

Thursday Next's Avatar
I never could get the hang of Thursdays.
The Leather Boys (1964)

If the idea of a British kitchen-sink drama from the 60's doesn't appeal to you, hold on, don't stop reading! I must admit that it didn't appeal to me either, at first, but I was pleasantly surprised by this film, which is apparently quite well-regarded by many people, including Morrissey.

Watching it, I realised that although it is, in part, a domestic drama, following a young couple who marry young but find their expectations of marriage wildly different, and although there are plenty of arguments, it isn't nearly as grim as the phrase kitchen sink drama led me to believe it would be.

Rita Tushingham plays Dot, who gets married chiefly in order to leave home, not have to get a job and be able to get her hair dyed. Dot was a sadly believable character, excited by all the possibilities of being married and grown up, but less keen on the responsibilities - like cooking, cleaning or putting up with her husband's family.

The film seems to shift its focus onto Reggie, the husband, whose irritation with his wife is channeled into his growing interest in motorbikes - where he makes a new friend, Pete, who, inevitably, has a more than friendly interest in Reggie.

There are moments of dark humour - such as Reggie's family's attempts to move his Nan into an old people's home. British viewers may also laugh at Johnny Briggs (Coronation Street's Mike Baldwin) who appears as Dot's beau.

There is nothing extraordinary about this film, but the way it blends moments of tenderness and the characters' youthful hopes with moments of bleakness which makes it compelling. I liked the way it slowly becomes clear that it is not so much outside forces but the characters' own flaws and their inability to tolerate each others' flaws that stand in the way of their happiness.

A must-watch if you are at all interested in the period detail - the motorbike cafe and the honeymoon at Butlins stand out. If you are interested in gay film, as well, this, alongside the more overt Victim (1961) is an interesting example.


*Review edited and revised from a post in Movie Tab

The People's Republic of Clogher
Glad to see you've joined the 'Big, Long Opinion' club, Thursday.
"Critics are like eunuchs in a harem; they know how the Tatty 100 is done, they've seen it done every day, but they're unable to do it themselves." - Brendan Behan

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I never could get the hang of Thursdays.
Red Road (2006)

Red Road, the debut feature of Andrea Arnold, concerns a woman, Jackie, played by Kate Dickie, whose job involves watching CCTV footage of the streets of Glasgow. One day, she sees a face from her past on camera, leading to obsession. To say more than this would spoil the film, not because it relies on plot twists, but because it is the atmosphere of tension and dread suffusing the film which make it what it is.

Red Road, the ‘first British dogma film’, is one of three films by different directors using the same characters and actors. It won the Jury Prize at Cannes 2006 and Arnold won the BAFTA in 2007 for most promising newcomer. These were well deserved wins, in my opinion.

The direction is excellent, seeing the city through CCTV cameras add a layer of menace and detachment. It is an ideal visual style for a film about a woman who watches the minutiae of other people’s lives, but seems detached from life herself. Colours are used very deliberately and the menacing tower blocks of the title become almost a character in themselves. The central performances are strong, effectively conveying the characters’ guilt, grief, regret and compassion. You do not need to understand why Jackie is obsessed with Clyde to feel that her obsession rings true.

Red Road is not without its flaws – the confrontation which takes place towards the end of the film is not quite as cathartic for the viewer as it is for Jackie, for example. It is certainly not for everyone – there is a particularly strong sex scene which although essential to both the plot and tone of the film may be too much for some.

It isn’t perfect, but it is extremely powerful, and a more than promising debut from a director to watch in the future.


Thursday Next's Avatar
I never could get the hang of Thursdays.
Jude (1996)

The first of Michael Winterbottom’s Hardy adaptations, Jude removes most of ‘the obscure’ from the content as well as the title, which is no bad thing. A stripped down version of the novel, Jude does away with Hardy’s political ranting about marriage to concentrate on the eponymous hero, a stonemason with dreams of going to university in Christminster and his doomed relationship with his cousin, Sue Bridehead.

The relationship is not unlike the forbidden relationship explored in Winterbottom’s 2003 film, Code 46, but slightly more successful, mostly due to strong performances from the leads, Christpher Eccleston and Kate Winslet. Eccleston, always good value, effectively conveys Jude’s descent from optimism to despair as he loses everything he loves and hopes for in his life. Winslet is convincing in a difficult role as the free-spirited, odd Sue who eventually succumbs to a religious mania brought on by grief.

It is a solid enough film, but can’t quite seem to decide whether it wants to be modern and edgy in feel, or a traditional costume drama, and gritty scenes are undermined by a slowing down in pace and traditional music. A small point, but although the deaths of animals and the birth scene are horribly realistic, the dead children did not all look realistic, which took away some of the impact of that scene.

If there is one thing you can expect from a Michael Winterbottom film (and his films are so diverse in other respects it is perhaps the only constant), it is frank nudity and sex scenes. These are present and correct in Jude, although the question of Sue's sexual relationship with her husband is skimmed over.

The ending felt too abrupt, although after the wallow in misery the final part of the film becomes, it is not entirely unwelcome. In the end, the biggest problem with the film is simply the story itself.

And finally…Jude is also notable for a scene in which both the most recent Dr. Who’s are on screen together, Eccleston joined in a bar scene by David Tennant playing a ‘drunk undergraduate’!


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I never could get the hang of Thursdays.
Gegen die Wand (Head On)

Gegen die Wand, which translates more literally as ‘against the wall’, a much more apt title, is a brilliant story of love and redemption.

Cahit (Birol Unel) is a washed-up 40-something German-Turkish ‘dosser’ with an alcohol problem. One night, he crashes his car into a wall. Sent to a clinic for the suicidal, he meets Sibel (Sibel Kekilli), who will do anything to escape her oppressive Turkish family, including asking Cahit to enter into a marriage of convenience. At first surly and distrustful, Cahit inevitably falls in love with Sibel, even though she is enjoying her new found freedom by pursuing one night stands and drugs.

So far, so Greencard, albeit with more sex and drugs. The first half of the film is very funny – Cahit’s visit to his prospective in-laws, complete with fake uncle and non-alcoholic chocolates, is a highlight. But one fatal mistake in a bar sends the film spinning off into another direction, and the second half is much more downbeat with Sibel’s flight to Istanbul and the problems she encounters there, leading to a bittersweet conclusion.

Written and directed by Fatih Akýn, Gegen die Wand manages to feel real and life-affirming, without ever becoming too heavy and miserable or too light and cheesy. It is a fine balance which is difficult to pull off, but Akýn succeeds, assisted by some very believable performances from his cast. The love story is very convincing, with the characters slowly realising their feelings for one another. The soundtrack, a fusion of traditional Turkish music and the kind of goth-rock you would expect to hear in German nightclubs, is perfect for the film.

This is not just the best German film ever made, it is one of the best films ever made anywhere in the world. It is impossible to praise this film highly enough.


Thursday Next's Avatar
I never could get the hang of Thursdays.
The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005)

Mr. Lazarescu is a 62 year old man who phones an ambulance after experiencing headaches and stomach cramps. The film follows his progress as he is taken from one hospital to another, asked the same questions, examined and ignored by doctors and given increasingly serious diagnoses of his condition until, eventually, he dies.

Sounds awful? It isn't.

This Romanian film is not, as the quote from the Guardian on the cover of the dvd would have it, a ‘comic masterpiece’, by any stretch of the imagination. It is rather a searing indictment of the medical profession and humanity at large. Everybody Mr. Lazarescu meets is more occupied by their own concerns than his illness, from the neighbours who don’t want to ruin their Saturday night by going with him to the hospital to the arrogant doctors in one appalling scene who ignore the paramedic’s pleas for them to operate quickly, preferring instead to harangue her for daring to give a medical opinion when it is they who are the doctors.

Filmed almost in real-time, with long takes, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu is the antithesis of flashy medical dramas like E.R. or House. Instead of a race against time to save lives, here a life slips away while time is wasted. By turns fascinating, boring, grim and above all, frustrating, this feels very close to real life on screen, albeit with a deliberate path. The banal conversations of the medical staff ring true. And yet somehow the film itself is anything but ordinary.

The cleverness of the film, for me, was in the way that his trips to various hospitals and conversations with different doctors at first appear to be repetitions – they tell him off for drinking and initially assume that he is only suffering from a hangover – but it gradually becomes clear that Mr. Lazarescu’s journey is a downward spiral. Each time the diagnosis is more serious, time is clearly running out and yet he is getting further away rather than closer to salvation. Mr. Lazarescu himself slowly slips from a spirited and cantankerous, if scruffy, old man, to a weak, confused and frightened patient, to a still corpse, in an excellent performance by Iaon Fiscuteanu.

It is not an easy film to watch, certainly, at times it is quite dull, although you are never in doubt that this is entirely deliberate. It is, however, quite mesmerising. Worth watching, it will stay with you for some time afterwards.


Thanks for the great reviews I have added a few to my must see list, Thanks
Health is the greatest gift, contentment the greatest wealth, faithfulness the best relationship.

Thursday Next's Avatar
I never could get the hang of Thursdays.
I believe that there might be some humor in Death of Mr. Lazarescu, but most of it has been lost in translation.
Possibly. Or else it was just too oblique for me! The one thing I did find funny was when the doctor in the first hospital, having spent ages haranguing Mr. Lazarescu for drinking, asks him if he smokes, then says, 'good, keep it up'.

Possibly. Or else it was just too oblique for me! The one thing I did find funny was when the doctor in the first hospital, having spent ages haranguing Mr. Lazarescu for drinking, asks him if he smokes, then says, 'good, keep it up'.
Yeah, that part was funny. Maybe the point of the movie is funny: how man's life can be down to nothing because of how some people are arrogant or careless.

Thursday Next's Avatar
I never could get the hang of Thursdays.
Gohatto (Taboo) (1999)

What exactly is the ‘taboo’ of the title? With whom is the central character in love, if anybody? What kind of mysterious power does he possess? What is the film about? Is it, in fact a good film at all?

If this review is more questions than facts or even opinion, it is because the film itself is more about questions than answers, more about mystery and beauty than plot or character.

Sozaburo Kano becomes a Samurai and enters a strange world ruled by loyalty, secrecy, ritual and violence. The Samurai possess a code of honour which requires the execution early in the film of a fellow samurai who has violated this code by borrowing money. Kano is chosen to carry out this task and it is this initiation by blood and the pleasure both he and those watching him seem to take in this act of violence that give a clue to the aims and themes of the film.

Tashiro joins the Samurai at the same time and is instantly smitten by Kano; he is the first of many who become maddened with desire for the beautiful, enigmatic, androgynous Kano. The film is largely seen through the eyes of Captain Toshizo Hijikata, who may or may not be one of those in love with him.

The film is not so much a puzzle with a solution as a visual poem mediating on the nature and contradiction of beauty and violence and the dangers of desire. There are even times during the film where the story is told through titles on a black screen rather than performed by the actors, adding to the poetic effect. The final scene in which Captain Hijikata cuts down a blossom tree is loaded with symbolism, but the reasons for certain actions and the nature of certain relationships remain maddeningly elusive. This could lead people to view it as a film with no point; but I think to see it that way would be to miss the point of the film; like the story told by one Samurai to another towards the end of the film, it could have many interpretations. It is also clear that this is a lost and foreign culture, the rules and taboos of which are probably beyond our comprehension.

Visual poems, however, have their limitations. It is frustrating to watch a film with no answers, where we cannot tell what the characters are thinking. For a film whose main themes are sexuality and violence, it is surprisingly short on both. As with Kano himself, Gohatto is lovely to look at, but sometimes it isn’t easy to tell if there really is any depth or feeling behind the beauty, or whether we have been beguiled by beauty alone.


Thursday Next's Avatar
I never could get the hang of Thursdays.
Great review Wednesday
Just out of interest, have you seen the film? I'd love to discuss it on here; tried searching but got nothing, so I guess it doesn't have a discussion already...

Thursday Next's Avatar
I never could get the hang of Thursdays.
Der Untergang (Downfall) (2004)

An extraordinary film of humanity and monstrosity, Der Untergang is the story of the last days of Hitler and the third Reich. To the film’s credit, the scope is much broader than the downfall of one man: the film continues a good 45 minutes after Hitler’s suicide, showing the effect of the war and the collapse of the Reich on those left to pick up the pieces – secretaries, soldiers, children.

Bruno Ganz gives an astonishing performance as Adolf Hitler, so much so that by the end of the film I had trouble picturing Hitler without picturing Ganz. Hitler ages visibly throughout the course of the film, he becomes frailer, weaker and his physical tics – a shaking hand most noticeably – become more pronounced. The downfall is not merely physical, however, the arrogant pride of a dictator slowly gives way to suicidal resignation.

Downfall is an important film in that it is a German film about German history and in that it shows us Nazis as human beings. This is not to say it in any way makes excuses for the violence of the regime. Nazis were human, and to simply demonise them as the cartoon villains would be to pretend that what happened could not happen again. Here we see those who are brave, cowardly, cruel and caring. They laugh, they cry, they fight, they love. There are those who are in the wrong place in the wrong time, those who have no choice and, yes, those who are downright evil and insane. Into this last category fall Goebbels and his wife, who, in one of the film’s most horrifying sequences, gives sleeping potion to her six children by pretending it is medicine, murders them one by one in their sleep before sitting down and playing a card game.

But it is not only in content and political and historical importance that Der Untergang is a noteworthy film. Stylistically it is also very effective. To watch the film is to be in the bunker or on the streets of Berlin. The sound is essential in creating the mood – the hum of machines, the echo of boots in the corridor. There were also some striking shots, conversations glimpsed through doorways - altogether it is quite mesmerising to watch. There is a pervasive atmosphere of doom, lights flicker, soldiers get drunk, lynch mobs and orphaned child-soldiers roam through the rubble of Berlin. The horror and madness of war are represented convincingly – soldiers of a war already lost line up to receive medals in a busy hospital while their comrades scream and die around them.

The pace of the film may put off less patient movie-goers; at nearly 3 hours long it is not a snappy action flick, despite no lack of explosions and shootings, but it is ideal for creating a sense of realism and showing that the downfall of the title is not so much a dramatic toppling as a slow ‘going under’, as Der Untergang could be more strictly translated.


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I never could get the hang of Thursdays.
The Counterfeiters (Die Fälscher)

The Counterfeiters is really about one counterfeiter, Salomon Sorowitsch, who we first encounter as he checks into a hotel and visits a casino, shortly after the Second World War. Part way through a night of passion, the girl Saloman has picked up at the casino – and the audience – discover a number tattooed onto his arm, and make the realisation that he has been in a concentration camp. The rest of the film is a flashback back to those days, beginning with the night of Sorowitch’s arrest. This framing device is significant, because as Saloman sips champagne pensively alone at a table and thinks back on his time in the camps, it is almost as if this is the first time he has allowed himself to think back and reflect on what has happened to him.

Sorowitsch is different from the other Jews he is incarcerated with in that he is a criminal, arrested for his counterfeiting, but ultimately prized by the Nazis for this ability, as they want to manufacture pound and dollar notes to disrupt the British and US economies. For some in the camps this makes him an object of fear or disdain, for others, an object of admiration. As a career criminal, though, he is focussed one thing: saving his own skin. This brings him into conflict with idealist Adolf Burger (August Diehl, in a memorable performance), who wants to sabotage the counterfeiting programme as a way of getting back at the Nazis.

The tension underpinning this film is not whether Sorowitsch will survive: we know from the beginning that he does. The nail-biting question is how will he survive? Will he sell out his fellow prisoners? Will he collaborate with the amoral Sturmbannführer or will he sabotage the programme? The morality of the film is complicated by the Nazi threats to shoot prisoners unless they start producing results. The film gives us both sides of the question, with some prisoners arguing for survival and others for sacrifice. There are, of course, no easy answers.

On the downside, some of the characterisation doesn’t move beyond the cliché – there is the second in command of the camp who is a simplistic thug, the obvious counterpoint to the treacherously friendly Sturmbannführer; then there is the young Russian student with the cough whom Sorowitsch befriends. At one point, one character receives a letter telling him that his wife has died in Auschwitz – would a concentration camp prisoner really receive letters from Auschwitz? And while thought-provoking, the film lacks any real stylistic flair.