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Movie Review: “Casablanca” – A Timeless Masterpiece –

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Movie Review: “Casablanca” – A Timeless Masterpiece –

A staff report

“Casablanca,” directed by Michael Curtiz and released in 1942, remains a cinematic gem cherished by audiences and critics alike. Set against the backdrop of World War II, this classic romance-drama unfolds in the exotic Moroccan city of Casablanca, a haven for refugees fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe.

The film stars Humphrey Bogart as Rick Blaine, a cynical American expatriate and nightclub owner, whose world-weary demeanor conceals a deep sense of morality. His life takes a dramatic turn when his former lover, Ilsa Lund (played by Ingrid Bergman), re-enters his life with her husband, resistance leader Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid). As political tensions rise and personal dilemmas intensify, Rick is faced with difficult choices that test his principles and define his destiny.

“Casablanca” is celebrated for its impeccable storytelling, memorable dialogue, and stellar performances. Bogart’s portrayal of Rick Blaine is iconic, capturing both the character’s toughness and vulnerability. Ingrid Bergman shines as the enigmatic Ilsa, torn between love and duty. The film’s supporting cast, including Claude Rains as the charmingly corrupt Captain Renault and Dooley Wilson as the soulful pianist Sam, adds depth and richness to the narrative.

The film’s cinematography, evocative of film noir with its shadowy interiors and smoky atmosphere, enhances the mood of intrigue and romance. Max Steiner’s haunting musical score, highlighted by the timeless melody of “As Time Goes By,” underscores the emotional depth of the story.

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Beyond its cinematic achievements, “Casablanca” resonates as a poignant exploration of love, sacrifice, and redemption amidst the turmoil of war. Its themes of honor, patriotism, and the power of personal integrity remain relevant and compelling to this day.

As a classic of American cinema, “Casablanca” continues to captivate audiences with its timeless charm and universal appeal. Whether revisiting it or experiencing it for the first time, this film promises an unforgettable journey into the heart of one of cinema’s greatest love stories and moral dilemmas.

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Movie Reviews

DEADPOOL & WOLVERINE Review

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DEADPOOL & WOLVERINE Review
(PaPa, C, B, H, LLL, VVV, SS, N, A, DD, M):

Dominant Worldview and Other Worldview Content/Elements:

Strong pagan, slightly mixed, irreverent, often lawless worldview, but the movie’s premise has a solid redemptive, moral aspect to it where the main character wants to make a difference, save his friends, be a hero, and defeat two power-mad villains, and sacrifice ultimately solves the movie’s plot problem, and this is overtly referred to in the dialogue, plus the movie takes place in a humanist multiverse, though the movie appears to acknowledge the monotheistic idea that there are ultimate values that transcend the individual multiverses (thus, for example, Deadpool truly does want to be the kind of hero that his girlfriend wants him to be);

Foul Language:

At least 139 obscenities (including many “f” and “s” words), one possible Jesus profanity, seven GD profanities, and 13 light profanities;

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Violence:

Lots of extreme and even bloody and well as strong violence includes Wolverine gets really mad at Deadpool two or three times, and they fight and try to kill each other even though the bodies of both men have regenerative power, lots of stabbing from Wolverine’s claws and Deadpool’s swords against each other and against bad guys, Deadpool decimates a bunch of Time Variance Authority soldiers with bones from a skeleton that have been infused with unbreakable adamantine steel, some explosions, a villain is able to infiltrate and control the minds of other people (this is depicted as if one of the villain’s hands is poking through the person’s head – there’s no blood, the action seems to be more metaphorical or taking place on a non-physical plane), explosions, gunfights, people are shot multiple times (for example, both Deadpool and another character shoot Wolverine multiple times in two plot twists), and-to-hand combat, villain with telekinetic powers kills one character by ripping his skin away, and people go flying during the movie’s many fight scenes;

Sex:

No sex scenes but the dialogue has a smattering of crude sex jokes, including a joke about a Boy Scout leader exposing himself;

Nudity:

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Brief upper male nudity;

Alcohol Use:

Some alcohol use;

Smoking and/or Drug Use and Abuse:

No smoking, but an older side character enjoys cocaine, and there are jokes about her cocaine use, though it’s never depicted; and,

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Miscellaneous Immorality:

Deadpool lies to Wolverine about an important matter, but Wolverine eventually forgives him and accepts Deadpool’s perspective on why his lie wasn’t really a lie.

In DEADPOOL & WOLVERINE, Deadpool wants to make a positive difference in the universe to regain the love of Vanessa and teams up with a reluctant Wolverine to stop a power-mad bureaucrat from the Time Variance Authority who’s trying to destroy Deadpool’s universe. DEADPOOL & WOLVERINE takes the crude language and extreme violence in the first two Deadpool movies to new depths of degradation, which ultimately overwhelms the movie’s redemptive heroic premise and dilutes the movie’s enjoyment level.

In the story, Wade Wilson aka wants to regain the love of his girlfriend, Vanessa, to become a true hero. However, The Avengers turn him down, so he stops using his Deadpool identity altogether and just enjoys being with his friends, including Vanessa. He still wants to get back with her though, but she nixes the idea.

Two years later or so, a power-mad bureaucrat from the Time Variance Authority (TVA), calling himself Mr. Paradox, picks up Wade. Paradox thinks Wade has matured enough to be a hero. He wants Wade’s help for a special assignment. Wade is gung ho and gets Paradox to build him a new Deadpool suit. However, he rebels against Paradox when he discovers that Paradox is trying to destroy Wade’s universe, including Vanessa and his friends. Apparently, the death of Logan, aka Wolverine of the X-Men, in Wade’s universe has set off a chain of events that will lead to the universe’s destruction sometime in the future anyway. So, Paradox decides why wait for all that pain and misery to develop? Why not just destroy Wade’s universe now?

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A fight occurs Paradox’s offices. Wearing his Deadpool suit, Wade manages to escape in one of the TVA’s multiverse time travel portals. Deadpool travels back to Wolverine’s burial place to revive him. Things don’t go according to plan, and Deadpool finds a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. He eventually figures a way around it, but only to find another obstacle. Wolverine is not interested in stopping Mr. Paradox, and certainly not to work with Deadpool, whom he loathes.

Even when Wolverine finally reluctantly agrees to help, he and Deadpool encounter the biggest obstacle of all, a new, even more powerful villain. This villain wants to destroy the whole multiverse except for one area.

Can Deadpool and Wolverine stop this new villain and Mr. Paradox too? Can Deadpool save his own universe? Will Deadpool stop his incessant talking?

Except for some exposition, the jokes and action in DEADPOOL & WOLVERINE don’t stop. The movie also has some surprising, funny cameos. However, the movie takes the crude language and extreme violence in the first two Deadpool movies to new levels, or depths.

For example, Wolverine gets really mad at Deadpool at least twice. They fight and try to kill each other, with Wolverine stabbing Deadpool repeatedly with his claws, and Deadpool stabbing Wolverine repeatedly with his samurai swords. As fans of the two characters know, the bodies of both men have regenerative powers, so these scenes seem to go on forever with no resolution. In another long scene, Deadpool slices and dices multiple TVA policemen. Also, in a third long scene, Deadpool and Wolverine wade through a horde of assailants together. The brutality of the violence is clearly too extreme.

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The number of obscenities in DEADPOOL & WOLVERINE has also sunk to new “heights,” going well over 100 to about 140 or more. There’s also some strong lewd dialogue, including a joke about a Boy Scout leader exposing himself. Unlike the first DEADPOOL movie, however, this third movie has no explicit sex scenes or nudity.

Ultimately, the brutality of the violence and the amount of obscene language in DEADPOOL & WOLVERINE dilutes the enjoyment of the story. It also overwhelms the movie’s redemptive ending. Shock for shock’s sake is a flawed concept that ultimately turns off more people than it attracts.

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Film Review: Brush of the God (2024) by Keizo Murase

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Film Review: Brush of the God (2024) by Keizo Murase

A tribute to a late special effects modeler leads to fiction and reality intertwining.

Following a prolonged absence, tokusatsu veteran Keizo Murase returned to film as a sculptor for Daisuke Sato’s wonderful short film “Howl from Beyond the Fog.” Recently, he’s made his directorial debut with the independent feature “Brush of the God.” Originally conceived as a story written by the director, it has now been adapted, with a screenplay by Takeshi Nakazawa, and Sato producing and directing the special effects. With a small budget, the project would receive additional funding through donations on Motion Gallery and Kickstarter. The final product is a movie with a promising setup but underwhelming payoff.

Renowned special effects model artist Kenzo Tokimiya passes away, and a memorial service is held for him to honor his legacy. His work is on display, and his daughter is organizing the event. One of the attendees is Kenzo’s grandaughter, Akari Tokimiya, who feels torn about the event because she doesn’t have the fondest memories of her late grandfather. While there, she runs into her classmate, Takuya Kido, a big tokusatsu fan, and they discuss the artist’s legacy and what will become of his work. Then, they meet a man named Hozumi, a proclaimed acquaintance of the old master, who shows the two teens an outline for a film Tokimiya had planned but never got around to making called “Brush of the God.” He then pulls out a brush and requests that they find it and save the world from vanishing. The duo is then transferred into a fantasy world that turns out to be the fictional reality of the unfinished movie, with the script being their only major resource available. They come across numerous creatures, including a friendly winged bunny creature called Mugumugurus, yet realize that the stakes are high when they encounter the legendary monster Yamata no Orochi, an eight-headed serpent capable of devastating catastrophe.

The premise for “Brush of the God” is very promising and, on the surface, endearing. It is a passionate tribute to the special effects art form of tokusatsu while channeling the filmmaking mode of meta-cinema. There is prominent self-insertion, with Kenzo Tokimiya meant to represent Keizo Murase and reflect on his career. The work of the deceased artist within the movie humorously references Murase’s real-life contributions to the medium, including films like “Matango,” the “Daimajin” sequels, and “The Mighty Peking Man,” yet the fictional movies showcased still feel like they could exist. There’s even referencing real independent productions, prominently “Howl From Beyond the Fog.” Additionally, there are themes of family reconciliation, with Akari reflecting on who her grandfather was as a person beyond his craftsmanship, material that can make for compelling drama.

There’s undoubtedly passion behind this feature, yet “Brush of the God” fails to deliver a compelling story, largely due to lackluster direction and writing, further dampened by awkward staging. The plot is incredibly rushed with how it progresses, reliant on continuous convenient contrivances that stretch subversion. It never feels like things happen naturally, which becomes a glaring detriment when the film attempts to insert drama, primarily with Akari reflecting on her relationship with her grandfather. All the characters are forgettable, with the only attempts at development being with Akari Tokimiya, but even she feels underdeveloped, and the intended resolutions to her conflicts don’t feel earned by the end, due to the lackluster screenplay. These narrative faults are not helped by almost all the dialogue being blatant exposition, frequently spelling things out for the audience, which becomes irritating.

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In addition to dull characters, the acting is generally poor here. Rio Suzuki and Takeru Narahara are distractingly subpar in their roles as Akari Tokimiya and Takuya Kido, with some especially clunky line delivery and emotional conveying. While intended to be mysterious, Takumi Saitoh looks more lost than engaged in playing Hozumi. There’s also a handful of cameos from recognizable faces in tokusatsu media, like Yumiko Shaku, Shinji Higuchi, and Shiro Sano, yet they are sadly just as wooden as the film’s leads, which can also apply to the rest of the cast here.

Another frustrating aspect of “Brush of the God” is the inconsistent production values, particularly the special effects. While this movie aims to stay true to classic tokusatsu techniques, the quality is all over the place. Granted, even with crowdfunding from Motion Gallery and Kickstarter, finances are more limited here than in a big studio production, and it’s admirable how determined Sato and the team remained. Yet, for every great visual effects moment, such as Orochi’s rampage on a city, there are numerous bad ones, with some very shoddy digital effects and green screen work. This issue also applies to the cinematography by Yoshihito Takahashi and Yoichi Sunahara, sometimes looking good while other times not so much. However, the music score by Shota Kowashi adds a nice mystical flare to the movie, and the ending theme song, “Kaiju,” performed by the pop band Dreams Come True, is an endearing tune.

Keizo Murase’s “Brush of the God” is a disappointing film, especially considering the talent the filmmakers have. There are elements to admire, yet a lot to criticize. Its heart is in the right place as an intended loving tribute to the special effects art form of tokusatsu, yet its narrative execution fumbles. For every visually stunning moment, numerous sections look incredibly poor. Keizo Murase and Daisuke Sato don’t quite capture the immersive magic here that they did with their previous and vastly superior creative collaboration, “Howl from Beyond the Fog.”

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Film Review: The Right Moment (2022) by Fang Chen

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Film Review: The Right Moment (2022) by Fang Chen

“The Right Moment” is a very competent short that manages to eloquently present a series of social and political comments.

Fang Chen, from the Chaoshan region in Guangdong, China, holds a Master’s degree in Film Making from the China Film Art Research Center. She is dedicated to creating genre films with a personal touch, navigating the space between commercial and artistic cinema while continuously exploring and uncovering unique perspectives in female narratives. In 2022, her feature film script “Ms. Wang Cailing” was selected for the 13th “Supporting Outstanding Youth Film and Drama Program”. Her short film “The Right Moment” was officially selected by the 29nd Beijing University Student Film Festival, and the Macau International Film Festival, among others. Additionally, several of her short films have been showcased at various film festivals.

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The film begins with a letter circulating in a classroom while the teacher is talking, with the last girl giving it to a male student who doesn’t seem to want to get involved, making her rather anxious. It turns out it is a joint petition asking for signature from students in order to complain about a teacher, and everyone in the class have signed it. Two girls, obviously good friends, seem to be the ones that started the whole thing and are quite happy about the outcome, although they are worried they will be discovered, as the whole thing seems to be anonymous.

The girls then split up, with one, Sheng Lan, obviously lying about the place she lives in, mentioning a high-rise place, although she lives in a rundown house across the aforementioned area. Furthermore, it seem her mother does not want her to get involved with anything political. Eventually, however, the letter is discovered, forcing the two girls to choose between protecting or betraying each other. A flashback showing the two, Sheng Lan and Tang Yanyan, reading the letter, reveals what it was all about.

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Fang Chen directs a 15-minute short that unfolds in two narrative axes. The first one one is sociopolitical, with the director commenting on the fact that, in the current era in China, reporting on each other has become a routine, thus highlighting a setting that can easily be described as suffocating. The second moves into coming-of-age territory, with the decision Sheng Lan makes essentially forcing her to mature and realize the concept of taking responsibility in life. On a lesser extent, the discrepancies that are found in students due to their parents’ financial situation, even for those attending the same schools, is also commented upon.

This last aspect is also well embedded in the cinematography, with DP Xiaojie Huang highlighting the difference of the two settings, the rich and the poor, in the most intricate fashion, in frames that include how one looks when witnessed from the other. Fang Chen’s own editing also works well, with a relative fast pace that allows the story to unfold nicely, without rushing.

Lin Jingtong and Huang Siyan give realistic performances as Sheng Lan and Yanyan, with the former having the meatier role, and being quite good in highlighting her discomfort about what is happening.

“The Right Moment” is a very competent short that manages to eloquently present a series of social and political comments.

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