10 “Must-See” Japanese Films

This list excludes anime, and, to ensure variety, includes only two films from any one director.

I. Tokyo Story [1953]

Tokyo Story is one of the greatest films of all time. Director Yasujirō Ozu’s trade-mark subtlety in rendering a picture so quietly powerful is seen here as in no other film as a story is told about the post-war perception shift and the young generation’s disregard and failure to care for their elderly.

II. The Ballad of Narayama [1958]

Keisuke Kinoshita’s version of The Ballad of Narayama (1958) is superior to the now more popular 1983 version directed by Shōhei Imamura. The film is based on a 1956 novella of the same name by Shichirō Fukazawa and tells of one village and its ancient practice of ubasute, whereby the elderly, upon reaching a certain age, are taken to the mountain to die. The 1958 film’s colourful, theatrical vision gives this story much potency, emphasising its more thought-provoking elements.

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Top 10 “Mary Poppins” Songs: Ranked

I. Chim Chim Cheree

This is the catchiest tune in the whole film. It is so simple and yet so inexplicably endearing. Bert nearly steals the whole film from Mary Poppins with this song, showing his cheery disposition, but also hinting at the underlying injustice – “the social ladder has been strung”. Pavement Artist is the same tune, but set to different lyrics. No wonder then that Chim Chim Cheree won an Academy Award for Best Song in 1965.

II. Feed the Birds

Walt Disney’s favourite song, Feed the Birds is the ultimate Song Queen of Mary Poppins and another example of the Sherman Brothers’ genius. Meaningful, with its veiled message that calls for compassion, social justice, and to pay attention to those that are vulnerable and disadvantaged, Feed the Birds is that quiet, reflective moment that this film needs, especially since it was accused of sugar-coating the hardship that people from the lower classes go through.

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7 Films Based on Graphic Novels/Comics

In no particular order and excluding “superhero” comics, including Batman, Superman, Spiderman, and the Marvel Universe.

I. Alan Moore is a force to be reckoned with. He is the creator of so many epic graphic novels, from Watchmen and Batman: The Killing Joke to Jerusalem and V for Vendetta. His graphic novel From Hell (1999) re-imagines the mystery surrounding the identity of the infamous serial killer Jack the Ripper operating in London in 1888. It was the basis of a rather underrated film From Hell, starring Johnny Depp and Heather Graham.

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7 Films Based on Japanese Manga

I. Edge of Tomorrow is a great sci-fi film about one Major who wakes up with each day being repeated, but the catch is that this day is the day of the invasion battle with aliens. This Groundhog Day-concept works brilliantly in the story, and Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt’s chemistry is unbelievably good. However, this film is based on a light novel called All You Need Is Kill (2004) by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, which, in turn, was then adapted into a 2014 manga by Ryōsuke Takeuchi.

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10 Great Films Based on Plays (Part II)

I enjoyed so much compiling the Great Films Based on Plays list last year that I thought that a sequel was in order. As Part I, this list is in no particular order and excludes adaptations of Shakespearean plays.

I. Doubt [2008]

Play: Doubt: A Parable [2004] by John Patrick Shanley 

Did he, or didn’t he?” This is an adaptation of a play about an uncertainty regarding one priest’s moral standing at a Catholic school in Bronx. Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman find themselves on the opposite sides in this drama, and the viewer never quite knows whom to believe, with so many shifting perspectives shown. Doubt is not only a clever, thought-provoking film, its nuanced direction and acting, including from Amy Adams, will ensure full engagement.

II. Death of a Salesman [1985]

Play: Death of a Salesman [1949] by Arthur Miller

“The difference between dream and reality is the true hell” (Patricia Highsmith). This is actually a TV film, but Dustin Hoffman and John Malkovich are so good in their respective roles, and this is such a moving adaptation, it will be a crime not to include it here. Based on one of the greatest plays of all times, Death of a Salesman is a quintessential film about the “Fall of the American Dream”, focusing on one family whose high hopes and dreams clash violently with the reality.

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Spotlight on Editing & Directing: Verhoeven’s RoboCop (1987)

With its “body-horror” preoccupation, excessive violence, and tongue-in-cheek dialogues, RoboCop (1987) is a quintessential 1980s film, inspired by Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) and made on the back of the success of The Terminator (1984). There are many things that made it good, including its cinematography provided by Jost Vacano (Das Boot (1981)), its unusual director choice – Paul Verhoeven (who had to be persuaded for a long time to do this film), and the choice to cast lesser-known actors, but on some reconsideration, it is also clear that its editing (choice of shots and their sequence)/directing (position of shots) simply awe – these are the things of beauty in his film. In fact, RoboCop was nominated for film editing at the Academy Awards 1988, but, sadly, lost to Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor. This piece will contain spoilers.

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Back to School: 10 Incredible Films

This is a list of ten great films that are set at school or academic environment. It is in no particular order.

I. The Browning Version [1951]

This film is based on a 1948 acclaimed play The Browning Version by Terence Rattigan (The Deep Blue Sea (1952)). Michael Redgrave gives a touching and memorable performance in the role of unlikable teacher Andrew Crocker-Harris at a boys’ boarding school. As his personal life crumbles and leave looms, Crocker-Harris is forced to reconsider his position in school and in life.

II. Heathers [1988]

This great 1980s black comedy is based on an equally great script by Daniel Waters. Winona Ryder plays beautiful Veronica Sawyer who falls for the bad boy of a class J. D. (Christian Slater). Their “Bonnie and Clyde” days begin, as they take on and challenge a powerful school clique.

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“March of the Penguins” Review

March of the Penguins (La Marche de l’empereur) (2005)

Penguins are living lessons in caring for the earth and its creatures, in all their beauty and vulnerability.” Charles Bergman

This beautiful documentary, narrated by Morgan Freeman, gets close and personal with emperor penguins, marvellous, unique animals that reside in one of the harshest environments found on Earth – Antarctica. From penguins’ tricky courting rituals to the hatching of an egg, a remarkable moment, and the raising of chicks, March of the Penguins follows every step in emperor penguins’ lives, providing much insight.

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15 Great World War II Films

Schindler’s List (1993) The Pianist (2002) Life is Beautiful (1997)

The Bridge on the River Kwai (1953) Fires on the Plain (1959) Downfall (2004)

Ivan’s Childhood (1962) The Red Thin Line (1998) Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

Come and See (1985) Dunkirk (2017) Rome, Open City (1945)

Letters from Iwo Jima (2006) Saving Private Ryan (1998) The Cranes Are Flying (1957)

“Downfall: The Case Against Boeing” Review

Downfall (2022)

I love scrupulously-put-together documentaries that deal with criminal or social justice issues, and Downfall is one of them. It shows the rise and fall of the engineering company Boeing in the context of two airplane disasters that happened in October 2018 (Lion Air Flight) and March 2019 (Ethiopian Airlines Flight) and involved the same aircraft manufactured by Boeing – 737 MAX. The company’s culture of never hearing bad news and hiding important documents, a new airplane system MCAS, as well as Boeing’s concealment of it from the pilots to save money, all led to the total loss of 346 human lives. Starting from the foundation of the company and ending with the lessons drawn from the two disasters and the grounding of the Boeing fleet, Downfall painstakingly shows every development in this tragic story, demonstrating the full extent of the American corporate greed. Treating everything as “mere business” is very dangerous, especially when human safety is concerned and human lives are potentially at stake.

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“Titane” Review

Titane [2021] – ★★★★

🔥 Titane hypnotises and mystifies as it repels and shocks, delivering not only a story, but also “an experience”.

Titane is the second feature film of French director Julia Ducournau (Raw (2017)) and the Palme d’Or winner of the 2021 Cannes Film Festival. The film is not for the faint of heart. Alexia (Agathe Rousselle) is a girl who suffered a brain injury as a child and now works at striptease car shows. Her encounter with grieving father Vincent (Vincent Lindon), who works as a fire-fighter, unveils the full extent of both his and her mental disturbances. People say that there is no art in shock value and Ducournau is set to prove them wrong. In her horrifying picture, she demonstrates that films with violence, nudity, sex and drug abuse do not need to be “trashy” and can be as stylish as any high-end production. There is nothing “cheap” about intense Titane which shines with inventiveness and brims with its own special intellectual, emotional and physical rawness, finding its own appreciative viewers.

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Film Scene Spotlight: Ingmar Bergman’s Autumn Sonata

This will be the first in my series of posts where I discuss individual scenes in films. Ingmar Bergman’s film Autumn Sonata [1978] centres on the relationship between a mother, a self-centred concert pianist Charlotte Andergast (Ingrid Bergman), and her already grown-up and married daughter Eva (Liv Ullmann). One of the greatest film scenes in history takes place at Eva’s home when Charlotte asks her daughter to play Chopin’s Prelude op. 28 no. 2 in A minor.

Ingmar Bergman was a master of showing repressed thoughts and desires on screen and, here, Ingrid Bergman’s silent performance conveys brilliantly all the hidden emotions and thoughts brewing inside the character. In those few minutes as her daughter plays the Prelude, Charlotte is “living through things”… What memories cross her mind at this moment? What turbulent feelings arise in her? As she patiently listens to this “imperfect” performance of her daughter, what “judgement” is she passing on it? Are there simply criticism, pity and disappointment or also guilt, and touches of love, kindness and pride? Probably all of the above. This scene displays the level of subtlety and psychological depth which is simply rare in cinematography, and Ingrid Bergman, Liv Ullmann and Ingmar Bergman truly worked something magical here.

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5 Foreign Films That Should Have Been Nominated for an Academy Award (Part II)

This is the second part of my list of foreign films that should have been nominated for an Academy Awards. As my previous list – 5 Foreign Films that Should Have Been Nominated for an Academy Award (Part I) – I am listing only those films that were officially submitted by their respective countries for consideration.

I. In the Mood for Love [2000]

Directed by Wong Kar-wai (Chungking Express [1994]), this film follows a man and a woman living in Hong Kong who find out that their spouses are having an affair. Confronted with this bizarre state of affairs, the pair also grows closer. Subtle, moving and profound, In The Mood for Love is a modern classic of a film, whose score Yumeji’s Theme by Shigeru Umebayashi (first featuring in Seijun Suzuki’s film Yumeji) brings out all the nuances of Su and Chow’s unusual situation and contributes to the film’s unforgettable atmosphere.

II. The Seventh Seal [1957]

Probably Ingmar Bergman’s greatest films, The Seventh Seal is set in the Middle Ages and follows a group of people who try to escape the plight of the majority – becoming victims of a plague sweeping the Earth. Steeped in religious nuances and symbolism, The Seventh Seal is an entrancing cinematic experience and few know that it is actually based on a play (Wood Painting) by Bergman himself who first devised this story for his acting students.

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Soviet Winter Animation: The Mitten (1967)

This sweet stop-motion animation from the Soviet Union titled The Mitten (“Варежка“) was directed by Roman Kachanov (director of The Mystery of the Third Planet (1981), but who also worked on such animations as The Snow Maiden (1952) and The Scarlet Flower (1952)). The 10-minute silent animation is about a girl who longs to have a puppy or a dog but whose family is against the idea. Although sad, she does not despair and in her childish make-believe world starts to pretend that her mitten is a little puppy, feeding it and participating in a dog competition. The girl’s touching devotion to her new pet is not lost on her mother.

5 Foreign Films That Should Have Been Nominated for an Academy Award (Part I)

The Academy Awards have always had a very difficult relationship with experimental and artistic films or with films dauteur, but, nevertheless, below are five films that should have received at least a Best Foreign Film nomination by the Academy (if not a win) and were unjustly ignored. I am listing only the films that were officially submitted by their respective countries for consideration.

I. Wings of Desire [1987]

The Academy’s ignoring of Wenders’s masterpiece Wings of Desire in 1988 now sounds like a crime. Was this film really worse than others, such as Course Completed (Spain) or The Family (Italy) – films that were nominated in that year? No, it was probably simply too artistic and complex to understand. A philosophically entrancing cinematic experience, Wings of Desire tells of two angels in Berlin who observe the behaviour of people around them, and things take a more complicating turn when they slowly realise that they can no longer be simply impartial observers.

II. Ivan’s Childhood [1962]

This cinematic debut by Soviet director Andrei Tarkovsky must be one of the greatest film debuts ever. Thematically significant, visually poetic and unbelievably touching, it tells the story of a twelve-year old boy during the World War II whose zeal to be part of the Red Army fighting the Nazis gains him the admiration of all men around him. The Soviet Union submitted this film for consideration for the 36th Academy Awards and it was unjustly ignored, with the Academy, surprisingly – if not shockingly, nominating such films as Los Tarantos (Spain) and Twin Sisters of Kyoto (Japan) over Ivan’s Childhood. Incidentally, the country’s great anti-war film Come and See [1985] was also later bypassed by the Academy.

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BFI London Film Festival 2021: Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog

The Power of the Dog [2021]★★★★1/2

Deliver my soul from the sword/My darling from the power of the dog” (Psalms, Preface to Thomas Savage’s novel The Power of the Dog (1967)).

The Power of the Dog centres on two very different brothers Phil and George Burbank (Benedict Cumberbatch and Jesse Plemons) living on a big ranch in Montana in 1925. If Phil is the very definition of a brutal force and “no-nonsense” attitude, his brother George is more subdued and caring. When George takes notice of a lonely widow Rose (Kirsten Dunst), falls in love her, and moves her and her alienated teenage son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee) into Burbanks’ property, the gap between the brothers only grows and soon full psychological warfare is raging. Through the film’s atmosphere alone (including production, camerawork, score and setting), as well as Cumberbatch’s mesmerising-in-its-zealousness performance, The Power of the Dog is a film of uncanny beauty and subtle power, whose biggest asset is the curious interplay of contrasts of all kinds: physical power vs. powers of intellect, kindness vs. ruthlessness, refinement vs. roughness, innocence vs. corruption, hypocrisy vs. honesty, and love vs. hate.

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Actor Spotlight: Montgomery Clift

Today, 17 October 2021, marks 101 years since the birth of American actor Montgomery Clift (1920 – 1966). This talented actor was a four-times Academy Award-nominee and is known for such films as The Search (1948), From Here to Eternity (1953) and Judgement at Nuremberg (1961). He often played smooth-talking, melancholy and mysterious men who rebelled against the establishment. Despite the immensity of Clift’s talent and charisma, however, Hollywood never seemed to know what to think of him and he was often portrayed “a black sheep” of the cinema business, a perpetually tortured soul who privately fought many mental and physical battles. Though never openly gay or bisexual, Clift always had his private life under wraps and struggled to fit into the image that Hollywood wanted him to fit into: the image of the Golden Boy who is after money, financial success and women. Though now often overshadowed by, and even compared unfavourably to, such cinematic icons as James Dean and Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift deserved and still deserves much more, especially since both of these actors looked up to Clift and was inspired by his image to forge theirs. Clift was one of the most talented American actors and, unfortunately, one of the most misunderstood ones, who valued the craft of acting above financial success or even critical/public opinion, who wanted desperately to retain his unassuming, independent and original inner core despite the environment that constantly wanted to mould him into something else, a Hollywood environment that favoured flashy displays of wealth, stereotypes and double-dealings. Clift’s story is as much a tale of one talented and intelligent actor following a tragic path as a story of Hollywood’s callousness and complacency.

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“The Last Black Man in San Francisco” Review

The Last Black Man in San Francisco [2019]★★★1/2

There is no place like home”. Housing is an important but often overlooked topic in films (see my discussion of two notable films about housing here). The Last Black Man in San Francisco, which first premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2019, tells the story of Jimmie Fails (actor playing “himself”), a young man stuck in a series of menial jobs, but dreaming of a better life and still attached to his old childhood home, which is now an expensive Victorian house in an affluent area of San Francisco. His loyal friend and aspiring playwright Montgomery Allen is always ready to offer Jimmie his own place or rather the place of his parents to sleep in, but Jimmy is set only on one thing – to get one particular house which he believes his father built in 1943 and is prepared to do anything to reclaim it. This cinematic debut from Joe Talbot may be an imperfect film, but it has so many distinguishable characteristics and particular eccentricities that it becomes quite impossible to compare it to anything else. Visually-entrancing, The Last Black Man in San Francisco puts the concept of nostalgia, the spirit of ordinary, under-privileged people, their hopes, dreams and rights, as well as one touching friendship, at the very centre of its low-key drama.

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