Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014): 8/10
Ridiculous but surprisingly thrilling, and even somewhat politically relevant, in a way that the Marvel films haven't been since the first Iron Man. In addition to which this is the first true 'game-changer' in the Avenger film series--assuming that they don't just wind up immediately undoing many of the more serious developments that occur here. I do wish that there were more character moments (I still don't think the 'time-travel' element of Captain America's story has been satisfactorily explored on a character level), but ultimately it's pretty hard to find anything to really complain about here. Great summer movie fun, and it's not even summer yet.
The Grandmaster (2013): 7/10
It wasn't until after I watched it that I learned with some distress that I had seen a heavily edited version of The Grandmaster--and after doing some reading, it seems like some of my problems with the film (the explanatory inter-titles, especially) can be directly attributed to this particular cut that I saw. Nonetheless, after the film's rocky opening it was hard to tear myself away--Wong Kar-Wai is a great visual director, so even though the film never gels in a satisfactory manner outside of the Gong Er 'subplot' it was still worth watching, if only for the physical beauty of the images that unspool throughout the film. I'm not overly familiar with the Ip Man story, and have not seen any of the very numerous 'Ip Man' movies, but can confidently state that The Grandmaster fails as an Ip Man film. I didn't know anything more about the man's history or personality by the time the credits began to roll than I did when I first popped the DVD into the player, and throughout the movie Ip Man seems to be more of a footnote in his own story than anything else. Indeed, this is more Gong Er's story, and the film's storytelling works best when it's focused on her. I can't say that I'd recommend this film (or at least the version of it that I saw), but film fans who can appreciate powerful visuals on their own merits will find a lot to love here.
The Great Beauty (2013): 9/10
Its thematic ambitions may slightly outreach its grasp, but the film's title is a fine descriptor for the film itself: great performances, breathtaking cinematography, and a beautiful soundtrack married expertly to the film's visuals (Can anyone tell me where this film's version of 'My Heart's in the Highland' originates from?) all work together to create an experience that veers between garish comedy and absolute cinematic poetry, with very few seams visible. I could easily see some film fans accusing it of being over-done, but its richness worked on me like a drug--this is probably a film I could watch over and over again without regretting the time I've spent on it.
Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai (2011): 8/10
Surprisingly restrained for a Takashi Miike film--in many ways, I actually found the 1962 original by the great director Masaki Kobayashi to be the more difficult of the two to watch. Miike's take on the story is a fine refreshing of an old film, though I can't help but wonder why Miike felt the need to re-make it, if he was going to change so little--especially considering how well the original has aged (though yes, it is a black-and-white film) . It's not as assured as the original either--that film was better paced, and the 'revenge' moments there were enough to make you want to stand up and cheer, in no small part thanks to Nakadai's great performance as Hanshiro. Not that the actor here, Ichikawa, is bad. He's just no Nakadai. And Miike is no Kobayashi. Still, it's worth checking out, whether you're a fan of the original or have never seen it.
Edited by metalsonata - 4/13/14 at 10:40am