The Castle of Cagliostro (1979)

The Castle of Cagliostro Movie Review

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The Castle of Cagliostro Movie Review

The Castle of Cagliostro is a 1979 anime heist film directed by Hayao Miyazaki. It is pretty solid and admirable as the director’s feature debut.

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Lupin! Don’t you dare die before I get to arrest you!

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The Castle of Cagliostro Movie Review

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It follows a gentleman thief named Arsene Lupin III who heads to the small country of Cagliostro and there he attempts to save the princess from forced marriage. This is a very classical, old-fashioned heist flick with comedy, romance and mystery overtones to it. I definitely liked its charming, old-fashioned approach, but I also disliked its overwhelming action.

The film is the best at being a mystery as the exploration of the castle and such scenes are very interesting. The romantic scenes are also fine and the heist action scenes are mostly really well done. But still the chases and fights went on for too long and the movie surely needed a more sophisticated, calmer approach.

The characterization is solid albeit far from great. Arsene Lupin III is a pretty good protagonist. He is fun and amusing, but not particularly likable and overly cocky for my liking. Lady Clarisse is a typical love interest meaning that she is just there to be Lupin’s girlfriend. She’s charming, but a weak female character nonetheless. Others are solid and the villains are competent, but none of them stand out from the crowd in any particular fashion. The voice acting is terrific though.

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The Castle of Cagliostro Movie Review

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The Castle of Cagliostro features animation that most would deem dated nowadays, but for its time it was terrific. This 1979 animation is not as polished and is sometimes too crude, but the character design is solid and some of the backgrounds are very nice. The interiors and the castle are particularly beautiful and some of the film’s imagery truly is arresting. That intriguing imagery definitely helps the plot and mystery a lot in the process.

I found the pacing weak as the film is overly quick and rushed in pace with way too many action sequences. Most of the action is solid and fun, but some of it is overlong and also goofy. The humor definitely is not the strongest and the film is too comedic in my opinion and a more dramatic approach would have been more fitting for this type of film.

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The Castle of Cagliostro Movie Review

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The dialogue is pretty good and the film has its memorable scenes such as that moving ending and all of the scenes in the castle which are the most memorable parts of the flick. The film lacks any themes or message and is thus far from Miyazaki’s later efforts when it comes to sophistication, emotion and also world building. This film does explore and execute its charming setting superbly, but is definitely confined in space. Overall, I liked the film, but it is just solid and never great. For a debut, it is nonetheless very strong and it proved promising.

The Castle of Cagliostro lacks thematically speaking, the characterization is solid but not great and the film has overwhelming action in it, but it is overall a pretty solid feature debut for Hayao Miyazaki with memorable imagery and an interesting story with a fun heist angle to it with comedic, romantic and mystery elements also thrown into the mix.

My Rating – 3.5

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Yeelen (1987)

Yeelen Movie Review

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Yeelen Movie Review

Yeelen is a 1987 Malian historical adventure film directed by Souleymane Cisse. It truly is a very interesting, fascinating film.

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Only a cursed son talks of his parents’ ties

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Yeelen Movie Review

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Yeelen gave me a look at the culture that I hadn’t been acquainted with before and I am grateful for that. It is a great geographical/historical lesson without a doubt. But it is also a strong adventure film above everything else as it a calm and slow, but involving adventure that transports you to its setting and time period so well.

It is set in the 13th century and it follows a young man with magical powers who goes on a quest to search for his uncle who can help him defeat his father who’s a sorcerer. The premise itself makes it sound like a Hollywood fantasy blockbuster, but the execution is exactly the opposite. It is deliberately paced and non-climactic for better and for worse.

Certainly it needed more fantasy elements and a bigger punch plus it is in some segments not as engaging, but I still liked quite a bit its more grounded and realistic approach as that only made its magical ending all the more powerful. Despite being slow, Yeelen is constantly involving and intriguing owing to its strong atmosphere and attention to detail.

Its weakest point is the characterization. The characters are solid but definitely underdeveloped and far from full developed entities. I wanted more scenes with his father, but the mother is memorable and the protagonist is very likable and handsome. The girlfriend is unfortunately disposable. The acting is very strong for amateur actors and actually quite impressive.

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Yeelen Movie Review

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Yeelen is beautifully made. The direction from Souleymane Cisse is superb and both the script and the dialogue are very strong, but I wanted more dialogue for sure. The film acquainted me with its culture so well and although I did not understand everything, most of the magical items and the people’s traditions, rituals and beliefs are so well put to screen.

The score is also quite strong and fitting for its story and time period. And of course the cinematography is one of the strongest aspects of the film as the desert, the various landscapes and water are all wonderfully photographed and captured on camera. The attention to detail is definitely admirable.

Yeelen is deliberately paced for better and for worse and the characterization is not particularly strong. However, the film is a terrific look at Malian culture and history owing to a very interesting, magical storyline, an adventurous tone, excellent direction, fantastic cinematography and a phenomenal attention to detail. Its beginning and ending are particularly memorable.

My Rating – 4

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Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984)

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind Movie Review

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Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind Movie Review

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is a 1984 anime fantasy film directed by Hayao Miyazaki. It is a pre-Ghibli film which is his first signature movie. It’s very good.

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Why does everything that’s good for you have to taste so bad?

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Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind Movie Review

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The story here is obviously ecological and the film is imbued with a strong environmental message. And although it may seem standard for today’s time, it was authentic in 1984 and Miyazaki first made this film and then all of his next ecological tales. Thus this film should be respected for finally introducing those important themes to animation.

The story here is very interesting and admirably proactive. I loved its amazing world building, but it also came at a cost of character development. The film is almost too ambitious and too epic as it has too many characters and plot points for a two-hour film. The war elements are overabundant and the calmer scenes are better in my opinion.

So the characterization definitely needed some work. It is solid, but far from great. Nausicaä herself is a competent female protagonist, a lovely princess and she’s great with animals. She is very endearing and brave, but she pales in comparison to Ghibli’s greatest heroines. Princess Kushana is memorable, but underutilized. Lord Yupa and Asbel are also solid, but then again the supporting characters are somewhat forgettable and they are much weaker than the central figure.

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Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind Movie Review

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Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is simply gorgeously animated. This animation is honestly groundbreaking for 1984 as it truly is powerful and magnificent. The spores, the desert, the various creatures – they are all wonderfully animated and designed. The human designs and clothes are also really well done. The colors are not as smooth, but the film is colorful and very pleasing to look at. Some of the imagery here truly is breathtaking with the flying scenes, the spores, the animals and the desert being the highlights.

The voice acting is terrific as is the direction from Hayao Miyazaki. It is amazing how he managed to make such a competent film in his second attempt and this truly is an improvement over ‘The Castle of Cagliostro’. He seems confident in direction already and this signaled the arrival of one of animation’s biggest directors.

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Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind Movie Review

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The pacing is not great and the film is sometimes too slow while also being too action-oriented at times. Honestly the fights and wars bored me and I wanted much more dialogue from it. The dialogue that we get is quite good, but the film is not deep enough mostly because it isn’t calm or meditative enough. It is moving emotionally speaking, but it needed a stronger sophisticated pull.

So the film looks great, but it also sounds beautiful thanks to such a fantastic, truly wonderful score from Joe Hisaishi. Some of the scenes here are not only beautiful visually speaking, but accompanied by very pleasant music which I loved. Technically speaking, the movie is marvelous. I just wish that it was stronger in characters.

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind has a strong protagonist, but it needed better developed supporting characters. It has too much action, but the story is imbued by a wonderful environmental message and terrific world building. The score from Joe Hisaishi is wonderful and the animation is truly fantastic and even groundbreaking thanks to beautifully designed creatures, plants and landscapes. It’s an admirable early effort from Hayao Miyazaki.

My Rating – 4

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The Red Turtle (2016)

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The Red Turtle Movie Review

The Red Turtle is a 2016 French animated film directed by Michael Dudok de Wit. An acclaimed film of the year, I myself found it boring.

It tells the story of a man who becomes shipwrecked on a deserted island where he meets a giant red turtle which eventually becomes a human woman. Needless to say, I don’t know what this is all about and to me it felt pointless and I don’t know what is the message here.

It is a French film distributed by Studio Ghibli and is one of the most acclaimed films of the year, animated or not. It has no dialogue, but it features sound and score. I of course don’t mind and actually quite like silent movies, but here the problem wasn’t the lack of dialogue, but the lack of story and the familiarity of the premise. Those led to a very tedious experience for me and I was bored immensely from start to finish.

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The Red Turtle is the quintessential example of a movie that was born to be made as a short and not feature film. As a short, it would have actually been very good and fascinating, but as a feature, it is boring, prolonged and awfully slow.

The reason why you should see it of course lies in its technical aspects. The animation truly is terrific. It is hand drawn and very artistic in style. Every movie should also have a strong plot and characters in order for it to be considered great, but this one only has the animation and that I just find troublesome right there. But at least it was great to look at, very pleasant and very colorful. The designs are good and it seems like a moving painting at times plus some of the imagery here is truly inspired.

Another great thing about it is its sound design. Wow, is it worthy of an Oscar. Everything here sounds awesome and realistic from the animals to the waves. It is another reason why the film would have been wonderful to see on the big screen, but on the small screen it is much inferior and I unfortunately watched it like that. The score is also solid, if not as great as the sound.

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The Red Turtle is technically marvelous with superb animation with some of the imagery being breathtaking plus the score is solid and the sound design in particular is amazing, but the technical aspects do not make movies great and you also need strong characters, message and story and all of those are lacking here. It is a movie that was destined to be made as a short film and to be watched on the big screen, but watching it on the small screen as a feature film was a tremendously boring experience.

My Rating – 3.5

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The Tin Drum (1979)

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The Tin Drum Movie Review

The Tin Drum is a 1979 German historical drama film directed by Volker Schlondorff. It is an undeserved, very frustrating Oscar winner.

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Look, if you please, at this extraordinary potato…

this swelling, luxuriant flesh, forever conceiving new shapes…

and yet so chaste. I love a potato, because it speaks to me

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The Tin Drum Movie Review

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So a boy growing during WWII is constantly drumming on his tin drum and doesn’t want to grow up. That is the entire story here which lasts for almost three hours. You can say that it is about childhood versus the evils of humanity but honestly the film felt bland and hollow to me. It was a waste of time with in my opinion no message or anti-war statements. I totally agree with Roger Ebert’s review of this film as he sums it up so well why it’s weak.

The characters are all very forgettable and the acting is not all that great. Oskar Matzerah is one of the worst protagonists in all of German cinema. He is the center of this film and the one who should make you feel something, but because he is so unlikable and just a brat overall I did not feel any sympathy toward him at all. Thus the film was ruined because of him.

The Tin Drum has its good scenes such as the ending and especially the beginning with the filming of the birth being very interesting and original. The cinematography is quite good as is the score. The film is well made for the most part, but weakly directed by Volker Schlondorff and very weakly scripted with annoying dialogue too.

There is one scene here that takes the cake as the most horrible one and that is its sex scene between Oskar and a girl. Not only is the scene extremely uncomfortable and I do get why some called it child pornography, but it is also incredibly unrealistic and simply stupid as children do not have sexual urges at all.

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The Tin Drum Movie Review

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So the film definitely isn’t terrible and is only just mediocre. However, it is too weird for the sake of being weird, metaphorical but not really metaphorical and lacking any strong emotion and characters to make it worthwhile the effort. It got an Oscar and it is another really bad decision from the Academy during this category in the seventies.

The Tin Drum has its interesting scenes and is certainly well made. However, this is still such a mediocre movie with an uninteresting story stretched to unnecessarily long runtime, a very unlikable and annoying protagonist in Oskar and one simply horrible, uncomfortable and ridiculous sex scene. I entirely agree with Roger Ebert’s assessment of this mediocrity.

My Rating – 2.5

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Faces Places (2017)

Faces Places Movie Review

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Faces Places Movie Review

Faces Places is a 2017 French documentary film directed by Agnes Varda. It is a very overrated film with limited appeal.

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I’m feeling the sense of greatness.

I’m big, I’m strong

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Faces Places Movie Review

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By limited appeal, I mean that the film is very much just for the artists and those interested in art. I am not particularly interested in art and thus I found this film unappealing and very dull. Certainly it has its moments and some portraits are beautiful, but I just wasn’t fully invested in these people or their job.

Agnes Varda directed the film really well and she is definitely a great presence felt throughout the film. She has a great personality and some of the things she had to say are great. JR is not as memorable as she is, but the relationship that develops between the two is fantastic and those two share some wonderful moments with each other and most of the film’s highlights concern the two of them chatting.

Faces Places (Visages Villages) promised me a look at the lives of rural people in France, but I didn’t really get that. I got that in its first act, but the rest of the film was more concerned with art which is unfortunate. I liked some of those experiments quite a bit, but for the most part the conversations intrigue me more personally and stories and those are rarely present in the second half.

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Faces Places Movie Review

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Some of the conversations and stories are very interesting and I liked some of the places and people the two visited, but mostly the movie deals with not particularly interesting people and half of the dialogue here wasn’t all that profound. The film is short, but it still felt long to me owing to its slow pacing and limited appeal. But I loved how it was shot as the cinematography is particularly strong and some scenes here are certainly very artistic which was the intention from the director all along.

Faces Places is very well shot, it has some interesting conversations as well as some fine experiments plus the relationship at the center of the film is great, but this movie nonetheless has a very limited appeal, it doesn’t have enough powerful conversations and overall I found it not particularly engaging.

My Rating – 3.5

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The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013)

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya Movie Review

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The Tale of the Princess Kaguya Movie Review

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is a 2013 fantasy anime film directed by Isao Takahata. It is one of the best Studio Ghibli films in recent years.

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I was born to truly live!

Just like the birds and the beasts

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The Tale of the Princess Kaguya Movie Review

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The film is based on an ancient Japanese folktale The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter. A man finds a princess in a bamboo shoot and he and her wife raise her well. She gets proper education and starts training to be a real princess. Eventually, the suitors arrive but she doesn’t want to marry. All of this sets off a series of events ending in her eventual departure for the Moon when her people come for her.

This is a wonderful story and very traditional but also modern in its approach. It is an old-fashioned fairy tale which I of course loved. It has a terrific style to it, excellent and charming storytelling and many interesting plot points. I loved its mix of fantasy and drama, but the fantasy elements are easily the highlights here.

The modern undercurrent here is of a feminist nature. She is a brave, strong and wonderful woman and the film spotlights how societal and patriarchal norms can have a really bad effect on women. The film deals with feminism in a very subtle and sophisticated manner.

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The Tale of the Princess Kaguya Movie Review

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But the highlight was easily that ending which I adored. That entire extended final scene stole the show for me as it was so beautiful and poignant witnessing her leave her parents and the entire planet. I loved the message in the end that no matter how bad people on Earth can be, there is still a lot of happiness and wonder to be found here too and that was a wonderful, truthful sentiment.

Let’s talk about the characters. Of course the princess herself is such a wonderful, yet not too great of a human being and is just a realistic, still sweet girl whom I really liked. Sutemaru is very likable and their relationship is quite moving. The flight sequence is gorgeous. The parents are both very sweet, caring people and seeing them suffer her departure was heartbreaking. The princes are too goofy and the rest are unimportant.

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The Tale of the Princess Kaguya Movie Review

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The standout aspect of The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is undoubtedly its glorious animation. This animation is simply a work of art. This is a rare animated film done in watercolor painting style and thus it is unique and astonishing to look at. It is simplistic, yet sophisticated, elegant and very artistic. The woods, the ending scene and especially those running sequences provided stunning, unforgettable imagery. The movements are polished and the character design is fantastic as well. Watching this film is like witnessing a moving work of art or a painting come to life and is thus to be respected on a more significant level than usual. It is one of the best animated films of all time.

The film has its flaws such as the runtime which is unnecessarily prolonged and the humor which is not all that great and it proved to be a distraction this time around. Some middle section scenes were dragging and uninteresting. But even though the pacing is not great, the direction from Isao Takahata is of course as splendid per usual, the dialogue is fantastic and the voice acting is magnificent as is its wonderful score. It ended up being one of the very best of the later Studio Ghibli offerings and certainly in the top ten for the studio.

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The Tale of the Princess Kaguya Movie Review

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With absolutely stunning animation, well developed characters, well crafted story and emotionally powerful ending, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya certainly doesn’t disappoint and it is one of the finest animated films of the year. It is sometimes slow and uneven, but it is such a wonderfully animated film with authentic and rarely seen watercolor look which seems both original and artistic plus the score is terrific, the ending is imbued with strong emotion, the story is involving and the whole film is executed with such grace, wonder and simple beauty that it is hard not to get in love with it. It is not one of the best Studio Ghibli films, but it is definitely one of their finest recently and it’s a movie every true animation fan should watch and enjoy the admirable artistry and expected quality this entry adds to Ghibli’s impressive pantheon of awesome pictures.

My Rating – 4.5

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Baahubali 2: The Conclusion (2017)

Baahubali 2: The Conclusion Movie Review

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Baahubali 2: The Conclusion Movie Review

Baahubali 2: The Conclusion is a 2017 Indian epic fantasy action film directed by S. S. Rajamouli. It is a pretty good, very entertaining conclusion to this franchise.

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This is my word!

My word is my law!

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Baahubali 2: The Conclusion Movie Review

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Now I really liked the first film and this one is not quite as good as its predecessor. It is again a very good blockbuster, but I thought the first one was more entertaining and tonally diverse. This film has its tonal differences, but whenever they threw in comedy and intrigue, they did that to much lesser results. Some of the dialogue was ridiculous.

Baahubali is again a standout character as is Devasena who was much better in the first half than later on. Most of the acting is very good, but some of it felt weak. The story is serviceable. Some of the plot lines were silly and too sappy, but some were actually quite interesting.

But Baahubali 2: The Conclusion is better watched as a spectacle than for storytelling purposes. At least it has solid characters, quite memorable personalities and it is moving and sweet at times and never as cold as this type of film could have easily been.

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Baahubali 2: The Conclusion Movie Review

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The visuals here are absolutely fantastic. Indian cinema truly has grown in these last couple of years and they now can make blockbusters as impactful as their American counterparts. And actually I would say that in terms of epic scale, fun and world building, they are much better than most American blockbusters.

The scale truly is epic and this world is huge and so well explored. The film has a lot of highly memorable imagery and tremendous set pieces. It looks colorful, wonderful to watch and above all exceedingly fun and exciting. The special effects truly are amazing as most of the film looked so polished that I could not see the CGI in there. The costumes and the interiors looked superb as well.

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Baahubali 2: The Conclusion Movie Review

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The pacing of course could have been better as the film is once again very long and messy. It isn’t boring as it is very entertaining, but it could have been shorter in some areas. The romance was unfortunately lacking this time around, but the soundtrack is mostly pretty solid, if far from great. I found the action very silly at times, but as entertaining as US superhero flicks. Some of the action scenes are just such a lot of fun that I could not resist but to enjoy them.

Baahubali 2: The Conclusion is not quite as good as its predecessor with a somewhat weak storyline, but the film is visually dazzling to behold with great costumes, interiors and phenomenal set pieces and special effects. Colorful and exciting, it is also exhilarating, though silly in its action and it thus succeeds as a pretty good conclusion to this story. But above all else, both of these films are very enjoyable as they are incredibly epic in scope and world building and in that aspect are much better than most American blockbusters.

My Rating – 4

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The Square (2017)

The Square Movie Review

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The Square Movie Review

The Square is a 2017 Swedish drama film directed by Ruben Ostlund. It is one of the most disappointing films of the year.

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The Square is a sanctuary of trust and caring.

Within it we all share equal rights and obligations

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The Square Movie Review

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I really disliked this film and that is unfortunate as I like this director, but this is so far away from the majesty and brilliance of ‘Force Majeure’ that I was honestly shocked how bad of a follow-up it is. And the fact that most prefer this one is honestly baffling to me.

So the film tries to be a satire of modern art, museums and their curators. It tries to portray the ridiculousness of some of their actions as well as their pretentiousness and cluelessness. But even though it does have some interesting things to say and a couple of good ideas and conversations, most of the film is very unappealing and too silly for its own sake.

The problem with The Square is that it is overly ambitious and it never really accomplishes its satiric take. I liked the acting, the cinematography and some of the imagery. And as I said, some of the conversations were admittedly interesting and they explored some great themes, but most of them were lacking and the film needed better and much more dialogue.

The main character is unlikable, not at all memorable and all of the others are also very forgettable. The film is tonally very diverse but not in a good way. It is a messy film that is at times funny, at times dark and at times serious, but it never really sticks the landing with either one of those.

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The Square Movie Review

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But it was just too ridiculous and silly in that annoying Fellini fashion which I despise so much. That kind of approach is beneath Ruben Ostlund and I was so disappointed that he went there. The dinner scene is a great example of that – it is an overrated, stupid and pointless scene that everyone loves, but I disliked so much. The same goes for that theft inclusion which was totally unnecessary. Only the relationship between Christian and Anne is a good subplot as all of the others are very mediocre.

The Square is a frustratingly mediocre film from Ruben Ostlund and such a major step back from his last brilliant film. It has some good performances, it is well shot and it has some interesting conversations and themes, but is mostly too ambitious for its own sake, overlong, very messy structurally speaking and annoyingly silly and pointless in some scenes. It is such a disappointing, overrated film and a major misfire in my eyes.

My Rating – 2.5

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120 Beats per Minute (2017)

120 Beats per Minute Movie Review

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120 Beats per Minute Movie Review

120 Beats per Minute is a 2017 French drama film directed by Robin Campillo. It is a flawed, but very strong, emotionally resonant film.

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Either we’re dead or we’re alive

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120 Beats per Minute Movie Review

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The film is set during the early nineties and it follows the HIV activists and their movement while also focusing on a romance between two men and the eventual death from AIDS of one of them.

The problem with this film is that its structure is rather odd, unappealing and it just doesn’t work all that well. Basically you get two movies here as one is about this romance and eventual tragedy so it is a pretty personal story whereas the other is a docudrama which is the opposite of that as it focuses on the whole movement and portrays the politics behind it.

Now I liked that story to a degree, but there is no denying that it was overlong and too much like a documentary. Some of it was fascinating, but some of it was boring. But the romance works perfectly and I enjoyed it quite a lot.

Sean and Nathan are such well developed, likable, realistic characters so well acted by their actors and so well written too. Their relationship is stupendously portrayed as you follow it from the beginning to the very end and some moments between the two are highly moving and the final scene is heartbreaking for sure. I just wish the whole film was as personal as that storyline.

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120 Beats per Minute Movie Review

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120 Beats per Minute is weakly paced, edited and with an excessive runtime. That is not to say that the film was boring. Quite the contrary is the case actually as it was a very engaging story for me and quite interesting to watch. But there was no need for two hours and twenty minutes here and those twenty minutes could have easily been cut in some parts.

I really liked all of the performances here and the film is very well shot, scripted and with very strong dialogue. It also gives us a lot of facts about the AIDS pandemic and everything about this disease. It follows a horrible time in history filled with chaos and despair and it does portray it realistically. It is thus a very important history lesson and also a very emotional film to watch.

120 Beats per Minute is basically two movies combined into one. One is a docudrama which closely follows the politics and the organization of the ACT UP activists and that one is overly factual and although solid, it is not as interesting as the second storyline which is a heartwarming and eventually tragic romance which is so well crafted and emotionally resonant from start to finish. Overall, the film is overlong and messy, but very well made, interesting and important in its subject matter.

My Rating – 4

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