#41 – A Bittersweet Life (Director’s Cut) – by Nick Andersen

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A Bittersweet Life (Dalkomhan insaeng) is a 2005 South Korean R-rated action film written and directed by Kim Jee-woon, starring Lee Byung-hun, Shin Min-a, Kim Yeong-cheol, Hwang Jung-min and Kim Roi-ha. After refusing to kill his boss’s cheating girlfriend and escaping his own death, a gangster goes on a violent revenge path.

NO SPOILERS (Don’t watch the trailer!)

It’s a refreshingly realistic action film with outstanding performances by the whole cast. Co-star Kim Roi-ha shows a great character development throughout the film and is fun to watch. I admire the respect and discipline of Asian cultures such as in Korea, Japan and China. Kim Sunwoo (Lee Byung-hun) is a straight-faced enforcer loyal to all his boss’s orders. We don’t need to know about his personal life nor his background. We only see him on the job and this makes him look like the ultimate asset. Almost robotic. The star’s fighting skills and agility brings more to his gangster role and the fight choreography is good.

The film is beautiful and elegant without having to show excessive blood for one that has an air of Kill Bill. The music is wonderfully composed to each scene both calm and action, which when combined with the actors’ facial expressions and limiting words, delivers an amazing result. Most of the shooting is still which I enjoy much more than handheld shooting as it gives a higher professional touch. I must say that the production’s lighting is very pleasant. The story, the characters, the interactions, the music, the decisions and the consequences deliver a tasteful work of art, and the ending… Well you’ll have to watch it to find out for yourself.

This is my first Kim Jee-woon film and I loved it. A film speaks more to you through facial expressions and music than words could ever, and A Bittersweet Life does exactly this. I highly recommend not watching the trailer as it gives away much of the points of the plot.

Thanks for reading my review!

– Nick Andersen

#40 – Contact – by Nick Andersen

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Contact is a 1997 science fiction drama film directed by a great visual storyteller, Robert Zemeckis. It stars Jodie Foster, Matthew McConaughey, William Fichtner, Tom Skerrit, James Woods, John Hurt, David Morse and Jena Malone. An incredible cast. It is a film adaptation of Carl Sagan’s 1985 novel of the same name. Carl and his wife Ann Druyan wrote the story outline for the film. Jodie Foster plays the lead role of Dr. Ellie Arroway, a SETI scientist who discovers undeniable evidence of extraterrestrial life, and is chosen to make first contact.

NO SPOILERS (don’t watch the trailer!)

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#37 – Knight of Cups – by Nick Andersen

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Knight of Cups is a 2015 R-rated experimental film written and directed by Terrence Malick, starring Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Freida Pinto and Natalie Portman. Basically, it’s about a man (Bale) trying to find his place in the world going through the strange events happening around him. While successful in his career, he feels empty inside and surrounds himself with women and the Hollywood scene that become a temporary distraction from depressing family issues and his ongoing questioning existence. You know how you watch one video on YouTube and then another and so on in the Related Videos sidebar? That’s how I stumbled upon Knight of Cups. The trailer intrigued me with its many different unsteady shots and interesting imagery. The whole air of it told me that this was no ordinary film and that you’d have to pay close attention to it, to understand its deeper meaning, and that fascinated me and I challenged myself to watch the almost two-hour film with the hope of coming up with my own interpretation. Sadly no such thing happened.

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#36 – Mr. Holmes – by Nick Andersen

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Mr. Holmes is a 2015 drama mystery film directed by Bill Condon and written by Jeffrey Hatcher based on Mitch Cullin’s 2005 novel A Slight Trick of the Mind. Now retired and near the end of his life, Sherlock Holmes struggles with his fading memory as he recounts the unsolved case that led to his retirement with the help of his housekeeper’s upcoming-detective son. The film stars Sir Ian McKellen as Sherlock Holmes, Laura Linney as housekeeper Mrs. Munro and Milo Parker as her son Roger. This is no ordinary story about Sherlock Holmes. In fact, we have never seen him like this and they explain it quite well. No wonder the tagline for this film is, “the man behind the myth.”

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#34 – We Are Your Friends – by Nick Andersen

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We Are Your Friends is a 2015 R-rated musical drama directed by Max Joseph in his directorial debut and written by himself and Meaghan Oppenheimer, based on a story by Richard Silverman. The film stars Zac Efron, Emily Ratajkowski, Wes Bentley, Shiloh Fernandez, Alex Shaffer, and Jonny Weston. The film follows Cole Carter, a struggling 23-year-old DJ in the (EDM) electronic dance music scene, who meets and becomes the apprentice of an older DJ, simultaneously falling in love with his mentor’s girlfriend. Being the psytrance lover that I am, this film was fun to watch and see the process into building a track and a name for yourself, since there aren’t many DJ films out there; but for a Hollywood version, I have to say I’m impressed. When it comes to EDM you’d expect a European take on it, so when I read it was going to be American I immediately thought about all the comercialism that it could go through (like the title), but it’s not so present. Go watch the first trailer they released. It’s pretty good; and like the trailer, so is the film.

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#25 – Southpaw – by Nick Andersen

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Southpaw is an R-rated 2015 sports drama film directed by Antoine Fuqua and written by Kurt Sutter. It stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Forest Whitaker, and Rachel McAdams. It tells the story of world champion boxer, Billy Hope, who loses his wife in a tragic accident, and has to fight to win back his life for his young daughter. We get to see excellent performances by Gyllenhaal and Whitaker, as well as Oona Laurence who plays Hope’s daughter, Leila. It’s tough, it’s raw, it’s emotional, it’s motivational; it’s an amazing film and I highly enjoyed it.

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#24 – Seeking a Friend for the End of the World – by Nick Andersen

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Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is a 2012 comedy drama film directed and written by Lorene Scafaria as her directorial debut. It tells the story of Dodge, a recently divorced man, looking for a meaningful way to spend his last 21 days on Earth before an asteroid wipes out all of humanity. It stars Steve Carell and Keira Knightley. Somewhere in the related videos section of films like The Way Way Back (2013) and Dan In Real Life (2007), I found this little independant one. While very funny at times, Steve Carell can also play the drama roles. The ones where he becomes the victim of some type of loss in his life yet in the end finds a way to be happy. To see the light out of all that darkness. This movie surprised me a lot of how good it became in the second half.

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#23 – De-Lovely – by Nick Andersen

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De-Lovely is a 2004 musical biopic directed by Irwin Winkler and written by Jay Cocks; based on the life and career of Cole Porter. It stars Kevin Kline, Ashley Judd, Jonathan Pryce and Kevin McNally. I personally do not enjoy film musicals. When people break into a song, I roll my eyes and count the seconds until it’s over. But I love biopics and this one came as a good recomendation, so like any other film, I gave it a try. In fact, I watched it with a friend because they wanted to see it again and in turn, I ended up liking it a lot. It’s a beautiful and entertaining journey through the start of Cole Porter’s career, his meeting with Linda Lee Thomas, his love interests and finally his death.

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#21 – What’s Eating Gilbert Grape – by Nick Andersen

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What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? is a 1993 drama film directed by Lasse Hallström and written by Peter Hedges. The film is an adaptation from Peter Hedges’ book of the same title. Its lead actors are Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio and Juliette Lewis. It’s the story about Gilbert, man of the house, who cares for his younger brother Arnie who has a development disability and for his morbidly obese mother with the help of his two sisters. They live in Endora, Iowa, a place where nothing really happens or ever will. It is the life of Gilbert and his dealings with family, work, and love.

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#20 – Ex Machina – by Nick Andersen

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Ex Machina is an R-rated 2015 science fiction thriller film written and directed by Alex Garland. It stars Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, Sonoya Mizuno and Oscar Isaac. It tells the story of a programmer who is invited by his employer to perform the Turing test to a humanoid android with artificial intelligence. This is Alex Garland’s first film as a director and after watching it you could say that he struck gold, so to speak. It’s brilliant, clever and psychological. Some say it’s a masterpiece. I say it’s one of the top best of 2015.

Spoilers at the end of the post

Continue reading #20 – Ex Machina – by Nick Andersen