The Illusionist (2006)

The Illusionist Movie Review

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The Illusionist Movie Review

The Illusionist is a 2006 historical fantasy romance mystery film directed by Neil Burger and starring Edward Norton. It is a pleasantly old-fashioned film.

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Everything you have seen here has been an illusion

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The Illusionist Movie Review

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Yes, this film is a very unique mix of genres. It is above all else a mystery, a historical mystery set in 1889 Vienna but it also has very strong romantic and fantastical elements as his “illusions” are never properly explained and are thus to me fantasy. It achieves that awesome mix really well while also being stupendously traditional in its approach. They just don’t make mysteries like this anymore and this is one of the rare examples that sometimes these can happen so naturally I liked every second of it.

It follows a romance between a magician and his childhood sweetheart but eventually she disappears after the fight she had with her set to be husband Prince Leopold. The mystery of what happened to her and who killed her is actually very intriguing and I wanted so badly to see it resolved that I found the ending itself not that rewarding.

It was actually a really solid twist and a fine conclusion, but it came off as awfully rushed which was to be expected owing to the film’s oddly established structure. Basically you get the mystery around an hour and ten minute mark and the movie’s runtime is about an hour and forty five minutes. So the first half is way too prolonged and the second half is awfully rushed when that mystery should have been emphasized and elongated much more.

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The Illusionist Movie Review

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Edward Norton is quite good in The Illusionist, but not great and another actor maybe would have done a better job. Jessica Biel is solid in her role and Rufus Sewell is not that great as Prince Leopold. I also had a big problem with him acting guilty in the scene with an inspector. It was an obvious method to distract the audience from the actual solution. And in my opinion Paul Giamatti was by far the highlight here in such a great, complex role as an inspector and he gave such a strong, evocative performance in terms of emotion and facial expressions.

My favorite scenes are the ending which was rushed but very interesting and all of the magical scenes were naturally a lot of fun and visually arresting. The scenes with Paul Giamatti, all of them, are magnificent and he is the standout actor and character here. But the very best sequence is the mystery itself which was so gorgeously filmed and in such an intriguing, authentic manner as the viewpoint is that of a neighbor and thus we as the audience look through his eyes at this odd incident. Very clever and offbeat.

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The Illusionist Movie Review

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The Illusionist is beautifully shot and gorgeous in both cinematography and costumes as well as the interiors. It looks and sounds good with a pretty good score, but pacing is just all over the place and in my opinion the direction from Neil Burger is very weak and a bigger, better director would have made a difference for sure. But it is still a pleasing, very engaging film that mostly did work.

The Illusionist has problematic pacing, the direction from Neil Burger is quite weak and the structure of the film is very odd as the mystery begins only at the half-mark and thus the first half is prolonged and the second one is awfully rushed. However, this is still such a pleasing, wonderfully old-fashioned mix of genres with the fantastical elements being intriguing and a mystery being very well thought out and fascinating. The movie also looks and sounds good with pretty good performances among which Paul Giamatti stole the show with such a terrific performance in such a great role.

My Rating – 4

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The Beguiled (2017)

The Beguiled Movie Review

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The Beguiled Movie Review

The Beguiled is a 2017 period piece directed by Sofia Coppola and starring Nicole Kidman, Colin Farrell, Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning. It’s a very good, but still flawed film.

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What have you done to me, you vengeful bitches?!

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The Beguiled Movie Review

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The film follows a girl school in Virginia during the American Civil War in 1864. A Union soldier arrives wounded on their estate and they nurse him back to help, but the problematic dynamic develops between the man and the women all resulting in tragedy eventually.

That is the story here and it is a film that is simplistic at first, but more thought-provoking and complex after the end when you are left pondering who was right and who was wrong. To me the problem here is that the film isn’t as deep or as emotional as it should have been and the film only skims the surface of this very interesting men versus women subject. It’s a feminist film, but not as accomplished as one would hope.

All of those problems stem from Colin Farrell’s character, at least in my opinion. He did an excellent job and definitely gave such a strong supporting performance. But the character Corporal John McBurney is highly troublesome because he is at first portrayed as too nice and polite and thus his transition to the darker side felt somewhat unrealistic. And, spoiler alert, because I did not buy his ascent into madness, I was left feeling sorry for his death and feeling that the women were not fair to him which is exactly what the movie did not need me to question.

But the women are all excellent and very well developed for such a short screen time. Nicole Kidman is excellent in a typical role for him, Elle Fanning is unlikable but necessary and Kirsten Dunst is one of the highlights here as she gave a very strong performance in such a good role. Everyone did a really good job honestly.

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The Beguiled Movie Review

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So The Beguiled basically showcases how the women of 1864 needed to be smart to deal with men as they were oppressed back then. It also shows the power of female maturity and sexuality in a very strong, realistic manner. All of that is due to Sofia Coppola’s involvement as her directing here is superb and the highlight of the film along with a good, slow pace with menacing atmosphere and such strong visuals as the costumes and both the interiors and exteriors look lovely.

The Beguiled has one problem and that is Colin Farrell’s character. He actually gave a very strong performance, but the character was portrayed awkwardly and thus the ending of the film felt problematic to me. But other than that, this is a very strong film which looks great thanks to lovely costumes and interiors. It is so well acted across the board, Sofia Coppola’s direction is superb and it is a slow-burn movie with interesting themes and effectively conveyed menacing atmosphere.

My Rating – 4

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The Piano (1993)

The Piano Movie Review

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The Piano Movie Review

The Piano is a 1993 New Zealand historical romance film directed by Jane Campion and starring Holly Hunter, Harvey Keitel and Anna Paquin. It is an extremely overrated movie.

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Undo your dress. I want to see your arms. Play. Two keys

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The Piano Movie Review

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It is about a mute piano player who tries to regain her piano after it is sold. She is in a loveless arranged marriage, but meets another man and the two start a passionate romance. I honestly found the story not all that interesting to begin with and, needless to say, not particularly authentic. Its mid-19th century period and the setting of New Zealand make the difference, but other than that, it is a regular story.

My main problem with The Piano is that it is not romantic. At least it wasn’t for me. It relies too much on erotic scenes and those scenes weren’t as erotic or as romantic as the movie thinks they are. Everyone talks about how incredibly romantic and sweet the film is, but I never felt anything whatsoever and to me it the atmosphere was too cold to make me feel anything.

There are some good scenes such as the ending and some of the piano scenes were quite wonderful, but most of it was honestly not great. The cutting of the finger plot point was unnecessary and too gruesome and the film was obvious in its storyline and character relationships from beginning to end and highly predictable.

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The Piano Movie Review

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This may be the most controversial thing about my review, but I have to be honest and I have to say that even the acting is overrated. I don’t mean to say that these actors were bad, they were definitely quite good, but to me not as great as the showering praise they received would make you think.

Holly Hunter gave the best performance, but her character is too underdeveloped to lead to an amazing performance. So it wasn’t her fault, but the character’s fault. And that is why I don’t blame the actors as the character development here is quite weak. Harvey Keitel is fine in a different role for him, but not great. Sam Neill is typical and Anna Paquin did a good, but not great job and I just really disliked her character. She betrayed her mother and that was just glossed over which was to me highly problematic.

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The Piano Movie Review

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The Piano is definitely well shot, but mostly too dark and its atmosphere is too depressing. The film is well edited and paced, but it was still boring to me in its first half and I found some of the scenes in the second half rushed. It is well scored, but the direction from Campion is quite weak. It got eight Oscar nominations and three wins. The actresses deserved the nominations, but not the wins. And all of the other non-technical nominations were not deserved at all. It is one of the most overrated films from this period.

The Piano is the definition of an overrated movie which is okay, but far from great and I just don’t get the praise that it gets. Almost everything here is just okay and even the acting is not great and Holly Hunter and Anna Paquin did not deserve their Oscars. All of the performances are fine, but not great as the character development is so weak and most of the characters are unlikable. It is a well shot and scored film, but I just never felt anything as it was too cold for me so it utterly fails as a romance. It is a quasi-romantic, quasi-artistic film.

My Rating – 3

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Princess Mononoke (1997)

Princess Mononoke Movie Review

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Princess Mononoke Movie Review

Princess Mononoke is a 1997 historical fantasy anime film directed by Hayao Miyazaki. It is one of Studio Ghibli’s weakest offerings.

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You cannot change fate. However, you can rise to meet it, if you so choose

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Princess Mononoke Movie Review

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I never really cared for this movie and now upon second viewing, I can confirm that it truly is the most overrated Studio Ghibli film ever and also one of their weakest. That puts me in the vast minority, but I have to be honest and say that this is one of a handful of highly respected animated films which I deem very overrated.

That does not mean that Princess Mononoke is a bad movie. It is a solid film which has its strengths. Technically, the film is very strong and more on that later. In terms of story, it is ambitious and its attention to detail is remarkable. It has a strong environmental message and its characters are not painted black-and-white but are rather complex and realistic.

However, I still disliked those characters personally. That is because I could just never connect with any of them. Neither of them was remotely relatable or likable to me and that was a huge hurdle for the movie which never managed to overcome it. And it has too many characters and most are highly forgettable.

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Princess Mononoke Movie Review

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Ashitaka himself is very boring. I do not know why Miyazaki stated that he is an atypical protagonist when he couldn’t be more standard as heroes go. He’s bland and uninteresting. San is underdeveloped as is their relationship. Lady Eboshi is the only very good character in the movie as her motifs, her background and her goals are well realized and she is a complex person in the grey area of morality. But even she was not great.

As I said above, the only truly excellent thing in Princess Mononoke is its animation which is expected from such an art-driven studio. I really enjoyed the forests here and the animals are so realistically designed. The film features very polished, but still old-fashioned type of hand-drawn cell animation. The mix of traditional animation and the computer animation (present in demon flesh) is really well executed.

The film is very well animated, but even its animation is nowhere near the quality of Ghibli’s best films such as ‘My Neighbor Totoro’ for instance. The film succeeds as a historical piece as it has a great eye for detail and it recreated this period in Japan’s history so well.

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Princess Mononoke Movie Review

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But even though the dialogue is strong and the script is quite good, the execution is far from great. The film is just overlong, clocking in at over two hours. I was honestly bored. It is ambitious and epic for the sake of being ambitious and epic. I am not a fan of epic fantasy and thus this did not suit my tastes.

The film also features overwhelming action. Certainly some of it was great and so well executed with the fight between San and Lady Eboshi being the highlight, but still the film favored action and spectacle over substance. The gore is also overwhelming and not really needed so every bloody scene felt like a big distraction for me. All in all, even the environmental message is done better and more subtly in some of the studio’s previous classics so this surely is one of their weakest offerings.

Princess Mononoke is one of the most overrated animated films. Certainly the animation is excellent and frequently even stunning, the script is good and the characters are realistic and quite complex, but none of them was remotely likable or relatable to me and the film bored me with its prolonged runtime, excessive gore and overwhelming action and spectacle. And even its environmental message is done better in some of the studio’s previous classic films. It truly is Studio Ghibli’s most overrated film and one of their weakest offerings.

My Rating – 3

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Raise the Red Lantern (1991)

Raise the Red Lantern Movie Review

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Raise the Red Lantern Movie Review

Raise the Red Lantern is a 1991 Chinese period piece starring Gong Li and directed by Zhang Yimou. It is a pretty strong, accomplished picture.

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Good or bad, it’s all playacting.

If you act well, you can fool other people;

if you do it badly, you can only fool yourself,

and when you can’t even fool yourself, you just can fool the ghosts

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Raise the Red Lantern Movie Review

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It is about a young woman who becomes one of the concubines to a wealthy “master” during the Warlord Era. This film is actually very clever and thought-provoking in its storyline and rich in themes. Some such as Roger Ebert may say that it is about sexual enslavement, but I disagree. The film is great as it thankfully stays away from any sexual approach and thus becomes much more than a mere movie that shows how awful Chinese women were treated around hundred years ago.

It is actually about a change in one’s nature as the protagonist is such a fantastic, complex character who changes throughout the movie’s runtime. At first, she is just the latest concubine, but eventually she incorporates herself into this whole lifestyle and routine and instead of fighting it, she fully embraces it. Instead of fighting the man, the master in this instance, she starts fighting the other concubines. The film cleverly shows how a system can ruin one’s nature and cement the terrible fate of the oppressed even faster.

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Raise the Red Lantern Movie Review

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So Raise the Red Lantern actually gives us the answer to why and how the oppressed never rise against the system by showing us how the system is so powerful that it can literally destroy your soul. The “master” is actually shown here a couple of times. I myself saw him once quite clearly. But most think that he is not shown in the movie which just goes to show how powerful the film is and how it was so well approached with making him portrayed just as this oppressive figure and never becoming a proper character in his own right.

I liked all of the concubines and how memorable they were. The movie is very flawed for at times verging into soap opera territory. I do realize that it was important to show the main character fighting with other concubines, but at times the movie was too focused on intrigue and affairs and that was the only major problem here. Otherwise, the movie is excellent.

Zhang Yimou’s direction is absolutely superb and his every choice was excellent here. Gong Li is particularly absorbing as the Fourth Concubine. She shines in this movie as she is not only incredibly beautiful which she was supposed to be, but she was wonderfully cast as she also can act as evidenced by a powerhouse, incredibly strong and layered performance.

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Raise the Red Lantern Movie Review

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Raise the Red Lantern sounds good, but it had too much annoying singing in it. The cinematography is naturally its selling point as it utilizes on the color of red stupendously. Those red lanterns looked amazing and the interior design here is simply splendid and quite breathtaking. The film really knows how to capture the period and especially the place. We never really left this palace and I did not mind as every  one of its corridors and especially the rooftops were gorgeously shot and so well incorporated into the imagery. Some of the shots reminded me of silent films with those long and artistic takes and that was a particularly potent filmmaking choice.

Raise the Red Lantern did at times verge into becoming a soap opera. However, this is still an excellent Chinese period piece with a very artistic and potent approach to the cinematography and a layered, magnetic performance from beautiful Gong Li. Zhang Yimou’s direction is also phenomenal and the film is very absorbing owing to its thematically rich and complex narrative.

My Rating – 4.5

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Gandhi (1982)

Gandhi Movie Review

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Gandhi Movie Review

Gandhi is a 1982 historical biographical film about India’s leader Mohandas Gandhi, it is directed by Richard Attenborough and it won Best Picture in 1983.

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The only devils in the world are those

running around in our own hearts,

and that is where all our battles ought to be fought

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Gandhi Movie Review

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This is the film that, like ‘Chariots of Fire’ the year before, won Best Picture and did not deserve that at all. This is the story that is of course important and always relevant, but the major problem I have with it is of course the extended running time. There is no need for 3 hours here and it highlights how the movies that win Oscars are usually very long which is super frustrating and needless. It starts off great but it quickly gets boring, repetitive and simply tiresome.

The character development is weak here, except for the main character understandably, not one of them stands out. And the direction and of course the editing and pacing are incredibly troublesome. As is the plot development and characterization.

But, why I think that, unlike ‘Chariots of Fire’, Gandhi is nonetheless not a mediocre movie? Well, largely of course due to incredible Ben Kingsley who is masterful in the role, he literally embodied and became the man. And all of the performances are good. I especially liked the character development of Gandhi in that he is not portrayed as a God-like figure, but a human with his troubles and problems and that is crucial to his character’s success along with of course Kingsley’s powerhouse performance. Also, the first act with about 40 minutes or so is absolutely excellent and very engaging and well done. It is interesting to watch and an incredible history lesson and an origin to the movement. It is unfortunate that it all went downhill afterwards when it clearly started off incredibly strong with a lot to offer. The movie turned out definitely disappointing because it had a lot of potential.

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Gandhi Movie Review

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The first act is very good and the character development of the lead character is superb along with a powerhouse performance from Ben Kingsley, but Gandhi nevertheless ends up being an incredibly disappointing and troublesome film because the editing and pacing are problematic due to unnecessarily long running time, the film is incredibly boring and tedious afterwards and it all just went downhill after the first half which is a real shame because it could have been a great film. It is all a solid and watchable fare, but very flawed and problematic nevertheless.

My Rating – 3

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The Last Emperor (1987)

The Last Emperor Movie Review

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The Last Emperor Movie Review

The Last Emperor is a 1987 biographical film directed by Bernardo Bertolucci and it won nine Academy Awards including Best Picture.

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This isn’t a school; it’s a prison. A real prison

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The Last Emperor Movie Review

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This is another 1980s Best Picture winner that not only did not deserve the honor, but it also is not a good film, rather a mediocre one. It is better than ‘Chariots of Fire’, but it is worse than ‘Gandhi’.  This is another not so much relevant story that spans decades and that is told in three hour long running time which is again totally unnecessary.

The characters are forgettable and the acting is literally nothing to write home about. But the tone and pacing is so slow and the movie is definitely incredibly boring and dreadfully uninteresting. I literally almost fell asleep watching it. Nothing ever happens, nothing interesting or mildly intriguing and that is why it was a total waste of time.

Granted, the technical aspects are solid here. The cinematography is good, but the production design is of course excellent and quite remarkable as is the costume design. However, the direction and of course the editing is pretty mediocre and does not stand out.

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The Last Emperor Movie Review

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This movie is not only overlong and tedious, but also too incredibly old-fashioned and dated in its approach which is just too casual and straightforward. There is no energy or investment shown here, not to mention that the character development is awfully weak and the emotions are not present at all. The message and point here also escaped me leaving me to the conclusion that this a cold, pointless movie without a doubt.

The Last Emperor has good production and costume design, but great technical aspects do not make movies good. The story is boring, the tone is tedious, the character development is literally non-existent, the emotional investment is definitely lacking, the running time is expectedly overblown, the direction and acting are nothing to write home about and the film lacks any message, point, emotion and energy in its execution whatsoever. It is again a testament to how bad Academy’s choices were in this decade leading to what is arguably an overrated, overlong and dreadfully uninteresting movie that is best to be forgotten.

My Rating – 3

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Out of Africa (1985)

Out of Africa Movie Review

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Out of Africa Movie Review

Out of Africa is a 1985 Oscar-winning period drama film directed by Sydney Pollack and starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford in the lead roles.

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Perhaps he knew, as I did not, that the Earth was made round

so that we would not see too far down the road

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Out of Africa Movie Review

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This movie is again all the same as with ‘Chariots of Fire’, an overhyped and awarded film when it actually didn’t deserve any of the awards. The story is so typical, standard and without any lack of charm, passion or energy in its awful execution and direction. Everything moves at awfully slow pace with weak editing and it is never ever interesting or engaging to watch.

The characters are so-so and the acting is fine, but both of the actors have given much better performances. They never do anything spectacular here that would earn them nominations. Plus Streep is incredibly annoying with her fake and overly theatrical Danish accent. And unfortunately the movie did not know to make use of its setting as well. There are some interesting sequences with the lions, but unfortunately they never used Africa as much as they should have.

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Out of Africa Movie Review

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The movie has good technical aspects, there is no doubt about that. The cinematography is absolutely splendid as is the costume design and of course the beautiful scenery. Also the score is quite remarkable with a very beautiful music throughout the whole film that evokes natural imagery in the head. Unfortunately, all the technicalities are spent on this mediocre story and boring characters when in reality it did not deserve this treatment which again draws comparisons to ‘Chariots of Fire’. I have to compare the two constantly because I cannot emphasize enough how the Academy screwed this entire decade. And yes, the dramas were incredibly weak in the eighties but there are still those that deserved it a lot more than such films like these two. It is a shame that they chose them as winners and I think that they have definitely been regretting those decisions ever since.

Out of Africa has magnificent cinematography, beautiful music and great scenery, but it is in the end a very mediocre film thanks to a boring story, tedious characters, annoying Streep’s accent and a lack of any energy and charm in its execution and direction. Consequently, it did not deserve Best Picture, it did not deserve any of its nominations besides the technical ones and it nowadays has the critics ratings it deserved to have at the very first place because it really is a mediocre film.

My Rating – 2.5

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Cabiria (1914)

Cabiiria Movie Review

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Cabiria Movie Review

Cabiria is a famous 1914 epic silent film directed by Giovanni Pastrone. It is a very ambitious and fantastically looking film, but a very flawed picture nevertheless.

It follows the Second Punic War and more melodramatic plots. That is the problem to me. It is split into five episodes with five different stories, but it is unfortunate that they rarely connect with each other. They are very dramatic stories and are well  told, but they just did not connect to me and another reason for that is the character development. It is weak and none of the characters are particularly developed which is really troublesome.

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Cabiria Movie Review

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But this is a marvelous film when technical aspects are concerned. The imagery is so iconic and memorable and the cinematography is incredibly good. The direction from Pastrone is absolutely superb and the acting is good. But it is so well filmed and shot that you don’t fail to be amazed. It is very artistic and powerful. The set designs are absolutely gorgeous and probably better than in the works of Griffith. Also the costume design is terrific and all of the costumes and places are wonderfully recreated. The pacing is solid and the running time is appropriate, but the stories should have meshed together better.

When historical films are concerned, this is nowhere near as good as ‘The Birth of a Nation’. But technically it is even more impressive because it preceded that classic Griffith movie. But I am annoyed with these big-budget epic spectacles of the 1910s because they are rarely as emotionally investing as they are well filmed. And the characters are so weak here that they diminish the movie’s impact. And also because it is episodic in nature, there are those stories that are good but there are those that are very forgettable and very boring. I just wish that the stories were better connected and that would have made it a better movie.

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Cabiria Movie Review

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Cabiria is a flawed movie. It has interesting stories, but those stories are weakly connected and that episodic nature just feels wrong. Also the characters are weak and it is not emotional at all, but it is a breathtaking film visually with terrific costumes, excellent set design, great direction and fantastic cinematography. It is a movie undone by its ambition and flat characters, but it is still a powerful and very artistic movie and most especially for its extraordinarily old age.

My Rating – 3.5

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The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)

The Last Temptation of Christ Movie Review

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The Last Temptation of Christ Movie Review

The Last Temptation of Christ is a 1988 epic drama film directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Willem Dafoe. It is one of the director’s best works.

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What’s good for man isn’t good for God!

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The Last Temptation of Christ Movie Review

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I absolutely loved this movie and it is in my opinion Scorsese’s most underrated work. Again this is one of those spiritual films where being an atheist such as myself helps and surely I loved it, but I can understand why people of faith would object to it. It does change too many of the story parts and it doesn’t follow the Gospels faithfully.

But it is its own thing, its glorious own thing. It wonderfully explores the temptations of a religious person and in my opinion Jesus here is not just Jesus, but he can be any spiritual person and thus I think the film should be relatable to all of them. We see doubt and depression, but most importantly lust plays a big part here and that struggle within his being was so well explored and it gives the movie immense strength.

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The Last Temptation of Christ Movie Review

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That is why The Last Temptation of Christ is a true spiritual film unlike Mel Gibson’s ‘The Passion of the Christ’ which is too literal and straightforward. This film is wonderfully artistic and ambiguous at times and I always felt its sense of spirituality which is not easy to accomplish but is expected from a deeply religious person such as Martin Scorsese (‘Silence’ is another great religious film of his). It is both emotionally and thematically deep and sophisticated and of course I loved that ending. It was out there and bold, but different and unique and the titular last temptation only strengthened and deepened an already deep and moving film.

This Jesus is excellent owing in no small part to Willem Dafoe’s terrific performance. He truly shines in this role and almost becomes Jesus. Judas is a great character, but I am not a fan of Harvey Keitel and another actor would have done a better job. Barbara Hershey is so good as Mary Magdalene and her performance truly elevated the role. The problem with this movie is that it sounds too American, but that is the only flaw in an otherwise strong and realistic period piece.

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The Last Temptation of Christ Movie Review

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The Last Temptation of Christ is superbly directed by Scorsese and it is one of his best directed and most elegant works. The same goes for the editing and pacing as the film is surprisingly engaging for such a long running time. It is also very well filmed and I liked its fantastical scenes which featured solid effects work. And the technical highlight has to be the score. Wow, Peter Gabriel’s work is terrific here. Surely, the more timely musical pieces helped bring a sense of realism to the film, but the more contemporary cues were also great as they elevated the more emotional and beautiful scenes even more.

So well acted, wonderfully scored and being emotionally and thematically deep and spiritual, The Last Temptation of Christ is one of the best religious films ever made and one of Scorsese’s finest films. The ending is out there, but very interesting, temptation is so well explored, this version of Jesus is phenomenal and there are a lot of scenes here that are unforgettable. The movie is also very engaging which is commendable given its long running time. A hugely underrated film.

My Rating – 4.5

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