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Kwaidan (1964)
4/10
Style over story
3 April 2011
I love Masaki Kobayashi's movie Harakiri, I really do. What that movie has that this one doesn't I'm not sure. But what this has an abundance of is over stylization.

The backdrops here are painted in a grand style, the actors have a lot of makeup and act super-theatrically. Not that I don't enjoy theater, it's just that this is over the top.

And somehow this detracts from setting a mood for me. I did not feel scared once, nor felt drawn into the storyline. And it's not even very aesthetically minded however subjective that may be.

Lafcadio Hearn was important in bringing Japanese culture to Europe, now however there are better options.
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Close-Up (1990)
7/10
Inventive cinema from Iran
3 April 2011
This is something of a mixed movie, it's a fictionalized documentary or maybe the other way around? I don't grasp how this movie came into being, but for sure it's a beautiful moment in movie history. A guy is impersonating famous Iranian movie director Mohsen Makmalbaf when given a chance to do so on a bus-ride. He plays the game too far though and ends up in court suspected for fraud. This is based on a real story and Abbas Kiarostami got unto this quite early on.

The strength here is the way you get to sympathize with the impersonator given his background, lack of future prospects and general innocence. Besides his crime is very minor.
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8/10
The metaphysicality of fruits
3 April 2011
Mr. Badii is ready to die, his grave is dug out and he just takes one last trip around with his car. The people he meets gives him some perspectives on the value of life, or lack thereof.

Abbas Kiarostami is a master, and this is the best movie I have seen from him so far. It is poetic and harsh at the same time, which is a fine balance.

Truly this must be one of the best movies from the nineties, I will not attempt at a ranking, but inventive cinema like this has few competitors.

Ershani does a very fine role with his Mr. Badii indeed.
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8/10
This is as good as I hoped
3 April 2011
Norwegian Wood is a wonderful adaptation of the novel of the same novel by Murakami Haruki. Whereas I stopped reading the novel because of it's non-stopping namedropping of British/American pop-culture and bad metaphors, I picked up many of Murakami's other books and have a very ambivalent relationship to them. There's something addictive about his stories that I can't deny.

For this movie version I didn't have much doubts though and I am so happy it doesn't fall into the obvious traps that put me off the novel initially. Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead fame creates a wonderful minimalist score without the obvious 60's American hits that you'd expect. And whatever descriptions the book had is in great hands, as always, with cinematographer Ping Bin Lee.

The story is one about tragic love and a powerful one at that. I will pick up the book again and finish it. For whatever it's flaws it has strong content.
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The Way Back (I) (2010)
4/10
The loooong way back
3 April 2011
Some convicts escape from a gulag in the middle of Sibiria. One of the jail guards said that the Siberian was the real prison, so this tale is how to get out of that prison.

Essentially this has a very weak story, it is about the hardships they encounter on the way and a few of them fall off, but so what? First they walk to Bajkal, then China, then Tibet, then India, then done.

One reason to stay clear of Hollywood for me is that it's bound to have the standard story to appeal to all audiences and in the process not managing to tell anything, but instead pervert the whole experience. This has: evil vs good, romance between main characters, the wise, the weak that fall ... Bah.

Peter Weir, you used to be so good!
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8/10
Decay and perversion
3 April 2011
Tokyo Decadence follows a prostitute on her way through the six gates of perversion forced upon her as her work demands. One of the imperatives of the trade is to never leave the client, something which makes her stay put in some pretty strange situations.

Miho Nikaido does a good job in her role and shows a great range from subservient prostitute to desperate woman in search for love.

The funniest part is when excellent whiskey-folk-punk musician Kan Mikami plays the bourgeois necrophiliac in search for a classic rape case where a girl got murdered.

This is most likely Murakami Ryu's best work and is a excellent commentary to Japanese bubble-economy moral decay.
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7/10
The allure of die dritte Reich
3 April 2011
This is a brilliant movies about how kids were given a chance for great fortune in the future German empire, happily without the morality a Hollywood movie would portray the same material with. This is a movie that asks the viewer to think for himself instead of being predisposed. However much this is filmed in a style akin to that of Leni Riefenstahl, master director of nazi-propaganda films, it is a critical movie. And it also shows how people could sympathize for the cause, however brutal it was seen with historical hindsight.

The actors of Albrecht and the boxer both do a good job here and the strength of the movie lies in what is cuts out, it's a sparse tale with just the bare necessities left, at least in what we're used to with western cinema.
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5/10
Cooking on a landmine, delineate the borders of your own country by weeing in a circle; this is a naive tale of the Korean tragedy
2 April 2011
'Demilitarized Zone' is not unlike the Japanese 'Grave of the Fireflies,' but instead of being based in a post-nuclear bomb attack in Hiroshima it is based in the split Koreas. The chemistry between the two are similar and in both movies they try to survive by their own means.

In it the older brother takes care of his sister in the wasteland between Republic of Korea and Democratic Republic of Korea.

With child actors and a simple story it doesn't offer much to modern audiences that doesn't have a strong relation to the division of the countries themselves. But if you love children and/or are sentimental you might enjoy this.

For others it might be too naive, might have too much crying or simply be irrelevant.
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5/10
Cruel and sadistic
6 February 2011
This first installment in the Sasori (scorpion) series featuring Kaji Meiko and is much more of a exploitation movie than the follow up. That means girls running around naked in punishment for whatever lack of discipline and getting raped by idiot prison guards.

Showing the making of Matsu the vengeful prisoner, we understand her motives quite well and it turns out to be a dense action movie.

In the end though this is more or less a display of sadistic torture in both a campy way and a more artistic way. As such it is not quite my cup of tea.

Kaji Meiko is not as developed as an actress as in her later movies here, but still puts up a good show, and a brilliant antihero although inferior to the more psychedelic Jailhouse #41 follow up.
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9/10
Stronger than acid
6 February 2011
This might just be the ultimate trip, as it takes in the tibetan book of the dead and alludes 2001 - a space odyssey to expand it's imagery in a metaphysical sense. I for sure have never seen anything quite like it, including one other Gaspar Noe movie Irreversible. Enter the void is a bit like Lost in translation, but goes so much deeper and bizarrely more realistic even, if you consider it not to be about Tokyo itself, but rather a set of values (or lack thereof) you can find there.

The pumping techno soundtrack, the acid visuals, the camera-work hand-held or steadycaming in inhumane ways, the shock and spectacle, only Gaspars previous movie Irreversible can prepare you for this, but then again not quite.

This is probably the best movie I will see this year and I will never forget it. That being said the last third is a bit dragging and Noe repeats his motifs almost ad nauseum here so I have to take away one star from top score. And sometimes you suspect him to be shocking just for the sake of it.

Noe does push the envelope one step further.
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The Mountain (2011)
4/10
Lesbians in the mountains
6 February 2011
This is overambitious. It tries to problematize surrogate motherhood and the feelings this gives towards the respective parents and lesbian parenthood in itself. You see one of the characters read Bergmans 'Fanny och Alexander' at one point, but that is a huge contrast to this movie's drama. It needs a bit psychological depth than the ones accusation of not doing this and that the right way and the other not understanding and looking away or getting emotional in return, at least to measure itself against a master like Bergman. Someone like Jon Fosse should have helped with the screenplay.

The actresses are not very good, both giving a one sided performance.

However using mountains as locations is underestimated, so kudos for bringing the equipment out into harsh weather to bring the beauty to the audience.
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Yojimbo (1961)
8/10
For a few bowls of rice more
1 February 2011
This seems like a classic plot for a western, but instead of a cowboy a poor masterless samurai comes into a town torn between two gangs and tries to cash in on them as he is the key to victory with his unsurpassed sword-technique. A game starts.

Toshiro Mifune is able to carry this movie on his own, his presence on screen, like his sword-mastery is second to none. Luckily this movie also has the visual mind of Akira Kurosawa and a fitting set. This town is on the verge of becoming a ghost town, by senseless killing and rivalry.

Under Kurosawa's supervision this movie has no dull moment whatsoever, and once the action picks up you're locked in for the rest of it. It's also well cast, I just wish the giant would fight with his club. The old man in the restaurant next to the coffin maker is my favorite character next to Yojimbo. And some poor guys arm get cut off so the blood spurts out like from a fire-hose, Kurosawa invented that.
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7/10
70's stoners in Oslo try to hit just one more deal
31 January 2011
This is at the end of the 70's, the dreams of the hippies are to some degree still alive, but shadows of the cold and greedy 80's throw it's long shadows into some "idealistic" drug traders.

The movie is an ode to that culture and how it destroyed itself. It is much fun and has funny episodes and characters aplenty.

Joner is great as always, he is one of the most versatile actors in Norwegian cinema. The ever-present Bjørn Sundquist makes a good Stalin-Knudsen, the chief of the drug-police who is omnipresent at the wrong times. Robert Skjærstad from "Junk Mail" makes a good role also as the shady dealer Svarten.

Will these children of the revolution get out of it alive?
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8/10
Psychedelic tour de force of convicts on the run
31 January 2011
In a female prison we have two sides, the sadistic prison wards (men) and the vengeful prisoners (women) and although we know these women must have committed some heinous crimes to be in such a prison we also see that the treatment they get must only result in one thing, revenge! 7 girls manage to escape the prison and their sins are not echoing the 7 deadly sins of the bible, it boils down to crimes of jealousy or hatred for loved ones. This simplifies their motives and they are simple creatures also, but so is the other side. At any rate are few movie heroines unbreakable like these are as they are somehow restoring some justice in a male chauvinist world, those pigs deserve it.

Kaji Meiko is as cold as the blade of her butcher knife and is great as mute and tougher than Clint, the others were well cast also, but I could wish for some better acting, in specific from the child killer. Anyway, this is not a Bergman movie.

The end result is much more than mere exploitation and visual shock, this is for fans of Dario Argento who also knows who Valerie Solanas is.
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5/10
Argento's directorial debut
18 October 2010
Compared to his nightmarish other movies this is on par with Poirot. Many call this a masterpiece, but for me it just looks like a good debut. Maybe watching this with "La sindrome di Standhal" fresh in mind makes this as a kind of anti-climax? The plot is very similar, but there's less of tension, more dead time, a lot of loose ends and clues and furthermore not as strong a lead as Asia Argento was.

"The Bird with the Crystal Plumage" does have Argento's style, it is indeed a bit like Hitchcock, only less clever, and it twists and turns like a giallo should. Morricone delivers a nice experimental jazzy soundtrack. It's well photographed. That is all well, but it is tedious. This movie has some historical significance, however this kind of straightforward whodunit plot needs something more.
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9/10
A sobering account of genocide and occupation in Iraq
18 October 2010
The plight of Iraq, and especially the Kurds in Iraq, double struck by the worst imaginable disasters during the past 20 years, first the war with Iran where men where drafted into suicide and the genocide of the Kurds by Saddam and then now in the present carnage of the US occupation, serves as the premise and backdrop of this powerful movie.

Ahmed tries together with his grandmother to find his father, a soldier missing for 12 years. Saddam has just fallen and his mass graves are uncovered all over the north area. This is of course very difficult. They hitchhike their way through the country with what means possible, including a body transport.

The fact is that more than 1 000 000 people have gone missing in Iraq during the past 30 years or so and this is not internationally recognized in some (including Arabic) countries as what it is. This movie highlights this.

An important movie.
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9/10
Lost in the most quirky way
18 October 2010
The English title reminds me of something horrible with a screaming mongo called Tom Hanks in it, but quite luckily this is it's counter pole. This is original, witty and honest at the same time.

Two oddball characters finds each other in the strangest way from their chosen isolation from everyday life and pressure where they in respective ways create their own realities.

This also asks the important question, how can you ever get back a dish of black bean noodles, once refused? In other words a movies about the important things in life.

The lead actress was amazing and the castaway did well also.
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Revenge (1989)
3/10
Kazakh - Korea - Soviet connection falls flat on it's arse
18 October 2010
Soviet-Korean writer Anatoli Kim is unknown to me, but judging on the basis of this movie he seems like a 14 year old trying to write like Boris Pasternak. I hope I am wrong.

This movie about the Korean diaspora traces this revenge through a long historical span from the pre-Japanese colonization Chosen dynasty in Korea to the relative modern Korean diaspora in the 80's in Soviet-Union.

There's something about scale and budget, ambition shouldn't overreach capacities or resources. What tries to be epic end up being incomplete in every sense. Atop of that there's many sequences that doesn't actually serve much purpose.

Bonus points for bad acting and some inane poetry at the end! I will never forget those lines about the birds flying from the sun and not burning.
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6/10
Life flowing with the river
18 October 2010
Typically for Indian movies this has it all, evil capitalists that destroy the property of the poor peasants, a man struck insane by the abduction of his newly-wed wife from arranged marriage, compassionate families that end up turning against the one they help and a lot of smoking from water pipes and chewing of betel nut.

The film starts by announcing that not many people know about and much less care about the people living in this region which is one of the world's poorest places. And by the end of it most things look very unfortunate for them still. It is realistically made, shot on location so that doesn't feel contrived. That being said, some of the acting looks funny and artificial by our standards. As we move focal points also it can be a little difficult to follow the numerous plots.

Antropologically interesting too.
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6/10
For Murakami fans
18 October 2010
Technically brilliant movie about memory, love and superficiality. Well it deals with a lot of things, in a humouristical way. It is easy going and tries to raise some questions as well, but just don't take them too seriously.

Searching for the Elephant is jam packed with comedy, romance, sex, violence and a wee bit of despair. It wouldn't be too far off to mention Murakami Haruki in this context, actually come to think of it, it is quite apt. Though it is no "Tony Takitani".

I took me a little time to be able to separate the male protagonists because of the style of direction, even as they're quite different.

6.5 / 10 stars
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Symbol (2009)
5/10
Some good laughs from this outlandish bizarre movie
18 October 2010
Comparisons to El Topo and 2001 A Space Oddysey are counter-productive with regards to this movie. It has the surreality and meta-physicality of neither, nor is it as well put together as those two. This is a bizarre comedy, nothing more. As such it's quite entertaining at parts.

A guy in a dreadful yellow and green pajama finds himself in a white room totally empty except for some strange bumps in the walls. What follows here will keep you laughing long after the movie finishes.

The director Mattchan is a man with a lot of ideas, some of them good, some of them not. For instance, the parallel stories serve almost no purpose (at least successfully).
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The Housemaid (2010)
9/10
Wonderful homage to Kim Ki-young's 1960 classic
18 October 2010
For once a remake that's not a blueprint of a classic movie with its integrity taken from it to cash away on its acclaim. This I watched the following day from watching the 1960 one, a bit sceptical I must admit. That turned out to be unwarranted as this adaptation is more inspired by than copying the original.

What we get here is a uncharming view of the nouveau riche and the naive housemaid picking up what is thrown to her. The direction is amazing, location is stunning, sultry sex-scenes abound, clever plot and a breathtaking ending is some of the things this movie will reward you with. All main actors/actresses fit their role perfectly.
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The Housemaid (1960)
10/10
Domestic downward spiral
18 October 2010
A hardworking but successful happy family encounter big drama when their house gets so big they need a housemaid to be on the top of things. Hanyo starts off typical for it's time (in Korea) with a clear distinction of class and desires for climbing socially. I was a little worried if it could be worth the acclaim in the beginning, but it creeps in on you soon enough with hitchcockian tension, slapstick humour and lyrical sequences reminiscent of Yasujiro Ozu.

The housemaid herself is amazing, she lures you, twists you around her little finger and disgusts you at the same time. The special east-Asian resignation towards tragic fate makes it double tragic and by the end you'll be gasping for breath.

I also warmly recommend the 2010 version of hanyo which is not as much a remake as a inventive homage, they go very well together.
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10/10
A cosmological poem
18 October 2010
Just ten minutes into this movie the first people started to leave the cinema, what ignorami I thought to myself, they cannot have given it much chance in this short time. But people continue to leave at various points throughout it, even if the tickets were quite expensive. It's a crowd-divider for sure.

For people unfamiliar to concepts of Buddhism I can understand it's a hard movie. There's no regular story or even conflict to think of here. It manages to pull it off without, and that's quite an achievement I think! Rather than your regular drama it's a meditation and an expression of underlying experiences of things which cannot be understood by intellectual means such as reincarnation and the true essence of self and nature.

I would still recommend this to everyone as it is such a beautiful description of balanced lives. It reminds me of the universalism of Tagore and cosmological Buddhist poetry.
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The Hunter (2010)
7/10
Dark and nihilistic hunting-movie
17 October 2010
Rafi Pitts directs himself in a portrayal of a man left with a very compromised life after serving time in jail. All he has/cares about is his girlfriend and their daughter, but because of the past he is locked in a situation that gives them few chances to meet. As he works and lives in chaotic and overpopulated Teheran feeling chained to circumstances he finds some outlet in hunting, or rather just walking around with his rifle in the forest. While driving there's speeches from the supreme priest Ali Khamenei.

Then things takes for the worse as the only thing he held onto was taken away from him. First he looks for answers and help, but gets neither. What is then left? This is a grim and well-crafted thriller. The chase through foggy landscapes kept me on the edge of the seat. Look elsewhere if you want a optimistic sunshine story though. Recommended to people who have been to Iran and has a balanced view of the situation there. Don't come here for a first-impression of an amazing country.
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