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  • Ashoka the Great 2001

    Watched 04 Mar, 2015

    •I suspect people would be slightly more enamoured of biopics if they regularly took the form of colourful, song-studded, epic, melodramatic romances (that demand a lot of adjectives). Aśoka may be long but it's also aggressively made - cuts are commonly preceded by zooms and whip pans - and it prioritises entertainment over historical accuracy. (Oscar nitpickers wouldn't know where to start.)

    •It has an interesting two-fold approach to violence. Some of it is designated as guilt-free action, in which…

  • Shanghai Triad 1995

    Watched 02 Mar, 2015

    Shanghai Triad takes the familiar approach to 1930s Shanghai as a place of wealth, opportunity and corrupting vices that sits in stark contrast to a simple virtuous countryside. The truth is considerably more nuanced: most of Shanghai's residents worked as pedicab drivers, factory labours, taxi dancers and the like while living in hovels or in cramped, sublet houses. In many cases they were actually worse off than "country bumpkins". The "money and sin" approach does mirror the contemporary, popular perception…

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  • The Babadook 2014

    Watched 26 Feb, 2015

    The tormented and the tormenter being one and the same seems like such an obvious metaphor for mental illness after watching this film that I'm surprised I haven't seen it anywhere else before. (Of course that description is not entirely accurate - this is a horror film after all so something else - in this case the dog and the kid - has to be at risk.) It also does an excellent job of getting across mental illness as an…

  • Birdman 2014

    Watched 10 Jan, 2015

    Birdman is so in your face that it makes a motif out of characters speaking directly to the camera. It's a manic, propulsive, eager little thing driven by a relentless drum score, a swooping camera and restless actors who talk as though they could burst into flames at any moment. It's populated by caricatures and filled with the kind of passionate nonsense that regularly fills columns exclaiming that Hollywood has run out of ideas, or that theater is a dying…