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Balthazar-5

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119 reviews in total 
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92 out of 147 people found the following review useful:
What a massive disappointment, 13 November 2014
6/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Though I am not a Bat-person, and do not wish to become one, I have admired Christopher Nolan for his early films and 'Inception', though, with the exception of 'Insomnia', I always regarded them as, in the immortal words of Andrew Sarris 'less than meets the eye'. I do not like to call films pretentious, but with 'Memento' and 'Inception' the word certainly came to mind. They seemed shallow pretending to be deep.

The same is, in my opinion, certainly true of 'Interstellar'. Yes, it carries you along for a ride, and yes the special effects are great, and yes, it might give us pause to think what will, in fact, be the destiny of our species. But, my dear Mr Nolan, surely you must realise that our species will not survive by planting American flags on distant planets. And, like 'Gravity' before it, the search for a happy ending has totally destroyed any shred of credibility of what might have gone before. The image of Cooper floating around Saturn without his spaceship, waiting to be picked up by a passing probe (just before his oxygen runs out, of course) is so ridiculous that if Stanley Kubrick were to be told that it is a respectful reference to the 'starchild' at the end of '2001', he'd punch you in the nose.

'Interstellar' - for all of its attempts to incorporate relativistic time dilation and very clever (I do not use that word in a derogatory sense) visual representation of multi-dimensional string theory towards the end, is void of any real cultural insight.

The film simply extends 'The Wizard of Oz' into the space age and decides at the end that there is really somewhere better than home. It is TOSH! Great films tell us something memorable about the human condition, or the nature of cinema itself. This film, for all its quotes from Dylan Thomas does neither. It is for people who think that the word 'awesome' has some profound meaning and not, as is the case, an excuse for not finding a more appropriate and restrained reaction.

Any suggestion that it deserves a Best Picture Oscar is a sad comment on the way that those awards have become debased in recent years.

Signs (2002)
2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
70% Tosh, 13 November 2014
4/10

As a passionate cinephile I get intensely annoyed when modern directors steal the ideas, situations etc., from great, and even not so great films from the past. 'Signs' is, in effect, little more than 'War of the Worlds' re-couched in a family environment that is reminiscent of 'The Birds' with a splash of 'The Wizard of Oz' thrown in. One has the idea that M Night Shymalan might claim that is film is some kind of homage to these films, but that is nonsense. It is a load of tosh (English slang for rubbish), that is interesting, up to a point, all the time it is 'about' crop circles, and disintegrates into ridicule when it becomes an apocalyptic vision. 'The Sixth Sense' was clever, well-constructed and thoughtful. This film is none of those.

Miss Oyu (1951)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
A minor Mizoguchi, but exquisitely constructed, 2 October 2014
8/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

It's funny how, sometimes, one has to see a minor film by a great director to really understand the essence of their art. 'The Lady Vanishes', for example, is minor Hitchcock of his late British period, but it reflects the joy that he had found in turning expectations inside out and directing the eyes of the audience through camera and character movement.

A few weeks ago I bought a box set of the last eight films of Kenji Mizoguchi, and I am finally getting round to watching them. Of all major film directors, Mizoguchi is the one whose work I know least – I had only seen two of his films (albeit two great masterpieces – 'Ugetsu Monogatari' and 'The Life of O-Haru').

From those two films, I thought of the director as a great weaver of mystical tales and adherent of tracking shots, both of which are fine as far as they go, but perhaps limiting in films of lesser stature. However, taking the films in this set chronologically, I encountered first 'Oyu-sama' - a tragic melodrama about the forbidden love of a young middle-aged artisan for a widow of higher social station in turn of the century Japan.

In spite of being toted as a minor work, it impressed immediately with two aspects: first the painterly precision of the film's early rural exteriors that closely resembled, structurally, several major Japanese artists – with nested planes of activity and visual interest drawing the spectator's eye irrevocably towards the focus of dramatic interest. The second and more important quality was that of the precision and the exquisite expression of the mise en scène.

The story revolves around the mistake made by the central male character, Shinnosuke, when being introduced to a potential wife. He sees from 'afar' the party of young women and falls for the elder, widowed, sister (Oye) instead of the bride on offer (Shizu). This is brilliantly managed by Mizoguchi by following the party of women in several long-shots largely from Shinnosuke's point of view, where Oyu takes the lead and Shizu is totally occluded by the other women. It sounds contrived, but in the context of Shinnosuke's ignorance and eagerness it fits the situation perfectly.

As the film progresses, the precision of the mise en scène becomes even finer. There is a scene late on in the film when Shizu is undergoing a personal crisis in her marriage and she runs out of the house onto the beach to free herself from her woes. Oye follows to comfort her, but Mizoguchi places the camera to show this as a pursuit with Shizu as running away from Oye – and, dramatically, that is exactly what is happening, even though Shizu is trying to conceal it.

It is said that Mizoguchi was unhappy with the film, partly because the studio insisted on a linear narrative even though the novel on which it is based and the original script were structured as three long flashbacks. But there is enough complexity and resonance in the film to make it a valuable part of the director's work.

The well-known film that this most resembles, in my view is Renoir's 'Une Partie de Campagne', with which it shares a moving account of the way in which social conventions can devastate the lives of those who love unconventionally. It doesn't have the lyricism nor humour of Renoir's little masterpiece, but it does illuminate the film-maker's art as mentioned above and, through its modest achievements, show Mizoguchi to be the great director that his reputation announces.

3 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Meaningless catalogue of grotesques, 3 February 2014
5/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I have seen thousands of films in my life, but I cannot remember one in which every single character was a disgusting example of the worst elements of humanity. At last I have found one. Is this the 'truth' about Wall Street? I have no idea, but it corresponds almost exactly with my own beliefs. So I should like it? Right? It panders to my prejudices. It tells 'the truth'.

Oh, no. That is not what makes for great cinema. Great cinema surprises you, it opens new vistas, it invites one to question things that had been assumed.

All of Scorsese's films - even since 'The Big Shave' - have featured characters who exhibit aspects of masochism, or self-destruction. In 'The Wolf of Wall Street' it is moral masochism writ large that is on display. That is not necessarily a problem, but this is a film without a moral compass. If it could be reasonably described as a 'cautionary tale', it might have some merit. But it isn't, because the film is seen through the eyes of a human cockroach.

Scorsese knows the cinema well. He knows that the audience will identify with, and try to rationalise the actions of, the character who is on- screen for the most of the time. Thus it has been since the cinema began. And, without a shadow of a doubt, an enormous number of people whose own personal avarice is well advanced, will see the film and rationalise it as a series of errors of judgement by the eponymous Jordan Belfort.

Of course, there are some positives - the visual catch-line to Jordan's miraculously fortunate drive while stoned with his drugs raises a laugh, and certain ironies emerge in the final quarter of the film, but it is Jordan's story and it is clear that he thinks he was justified and just made mistakes (viz the final scene).

If it were possible to get all of the right-wing finance ministers from around the world and lock them in a cinema that showed this non-stop for a few weeks, it might just change their mind about the thrust of economic policy that encourages unbridled avarice, but that is a vain hope.

In the end we see Jordan all set to make the same mistakes in another territory. He evidently hadn't learnt a thing. And what is a thousand times worse is that he had evidently benefited financially from the film - it being based on his own book.

People who know me and my philosophical approach to cinema will probably find this review strange. In general, I detest the idea of judging the moral stance of a film. But this film doesn't, it seems to me, take a moral stance in a story that concerns itself with a subject that most blights the lives of the majority of our species - inequality, and one man's efforts to increase it. And it doesn't provide us with psychological or cinematic insight into its subject either... the film is inhabited by a bunch of grotesques that are barely human in their blind avarice.

Avarice is the most evil of the seven deadly sins, because it leads to all of the others. This is not something which emerges from either this film's form or content.

Gravity (2013)
16 out of 23 people found the following review useful:
Massively over-rated, 14 December 2013
6/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Don't get me wrong, it's not worthless, but like 'Children of Men' and unlike 'Y Tu Mama Tambien' it fails at a simple level of being convincing over it's entire length. I really don't mind when films make scientific gaffes, but this film simply changes situations that it has, itself defined when they prevent arriving at an artificial and totally improbable happy ending.

When one exits form a cinema and reflects on the film, one shouldn't feel cheated at a level of logic, with spectacular technical effects being used to mask the logical inconsistencies. The use of the fire extinguisher was clever, however. For some cheap temporary thrills and a glimpse into the psychology of astronauts, fine, for anything else, forget it.

Elysium (2013/I)
2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Helplesly derivative and totally unbelievable, 29 September 2013
4/10

I wasn't one of those that found District 9 original and compelling, but it was, for certain, much more original and compelling than this nonsense.

I know only too well that Hollywood studios look for the formulaic as films made to a 'successful' (ie financially rather than culturally successful) formula are less risky than those 'on the hoof' so to speak. But one would have thought that someone, someone along the line would have said 'Hey, wait a minute' this is just a re-working of bits of 'Avatar', or 'Aren't we in 'Children of Men' territory? or 'Hey this is treading on the toes of 'Metropolis' etc.

OK, to use are moderate, mediocre or great (respectively) film as a launch-pad for a new work can be justified, but 'Elysium' doesn't even seem to bother to conceal the origins of its 'inspiration'.

And there's the rub (Hamlet), the film uses thematic and structural cast-offs to hide the fact that it actually lacks its own inspiration.

The first fifteen or twenty minutes of the film is engaging enough, but thereafter its lack of originality, for me, at least, became increasingly irritating, as did its clumsy ways of papering over plot holes.

Along with the undigested 'references', the characterisations are weak as well, with the arrival of that cliché of clichés.... the sick little girl. Pur-leeeeeease!

And, oh, yes, ignoring the laws of physics is a dangerous game... 'open to space' space stations can NOT have breathable atmospheres.....

Society (1989)
Exquisitely disturbing allegory, 29 March 2013
9/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

First, I must say that I am not an enthusiast of horror films, and that many of Brian Yuzna's subsequent films I find by turns stupid and vomit- inducing, but... this is, in my book, close to a masterpiece.

What do we have here? A full-blown assault on masonic (and other) corruption. Bill (Billy Warlock) lives in a very upper class neighbourhood close to some LA-like city. But Bill feels 'different'. In the course of the film, he finds that maybe it's not himself who is different, it is everyone around him.

What 'Society' is saying is that to get on, one has to be corrupt. That is as subversive a theme as one can find in all but a handful of modern films.

The film is truly, truly and gloriously shocking. Do yourself a favour, get shocked.

A treasure chest of jewels, 29 March 2013
8/10

I have just watched this little gem for the first time since my childhood. Of course then, I didn't know much about classic cinema, it was just a ripping good yarn with funny and pointed dialogue.

With the benefit of a life in cinema behind me, it is much, much better than I remember. Think somewhere midway between 'The Lady Vanishes' and Ford's 'Stagecoach'. Perhaps this should not be so surprising as the writer of the original screenplay from which this is adapted is Frank Nugent, scenarist of 'Fort Apache', 'She Wore a Yellow Ribbon' and other classic, if less apposite John Ford films.

So from Nugent comes the 'army against the Indians' and from the very British situation come the characters who could easily have stepped out of a Hitchcock comedy. In fact there is a moment in the film which is almost identical to a moment in 'Lady Vanishes'. Kenneth More is handing out the guns and the lovable English colonialist, Bridie (Wilfred Hyde White perfectly cast)reluctantly takes one, and then admits that he once won something in a fairground.

This is almost identical to the scene towards the end of 'The Lady Vanishes' when, again, the guns are being handed out and Naunton Wayne, as Caldicott admits to having won something at a fairground.

Of course, J Lee Thompson is not Hitchcock, so there are some lesser moments, but really this is so much better than so much of the hyperbolic tedium of modern cinema.

There is a lot more in this than one would either hope or expect. It's funny too!

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Two hours of tedium sandwiched between ten minutes of wonder, 27 March 2013
4/10

I'm not at all religious but there is something in the Bible about hiding one's light under a bushel. When Lars von Trier burst on the scene with The Element of Crime, one immediately knew that there was a talent there. From there it has, for me, been a largely downward spiral - plumbing the real depths with the Dogme debacles.

But, in this film, the opening sequences and the closing one, there is evidence enough the the talent is still there, but the judgement as to how to use it has vanished.

While I am happy to acknowledge that the spectator must, in a complex film, put in effort to obtain the 'hidden gems', in the bulk of this film, one sadly concludes that the hidden gems are not there, it is all dross without meaning or subtlety of any kind.

Film directors like von Trier should realise that they have made a contract with the viewer: (s)he will sit in a darkened room and stare at a screen, and the film maker will provide an experience BETTER than that of the previous two hours in the person's life. This film fails the test.

93 out of 158 people found the following review useful:
Explain nothing, show everything. A great ethereal love story., 8 March 2013
10/10

Some people say that film is like a language, but that is not exactly right, it is like language itself, and just as there are different languages, there are different cinemas. It seems to me that, in his last two films, Terrence Malick has been creating a very special type of cinema, that had hitherto existed only in an embryonic form. While most films have maybe 50-100 scenes, replete with dialogue and action, Malick's new cinema (MNC) has over twice that number of scenes, but they are fragmentary and consist of only the essence of meaning that was in a scene that would normally have been much longer. This can be sometimes several minutes or only a couple of brief shots.

Last evening I drove the 25 miles to see the early performance of 'To the Wonder'. I did that with the intention of returning to write this review while the film was still fresh in my mind. But after it I was so drained that I couldn't write a summary, let alone a review. At the current (late) stage in my life, what interests me most about the cinema is its limits. How far can the cinema go, and what exactly is a film?

Given the above, Terrence Malick is evidently the man for me, and I am convinced that 'The Tree of Life' is among the five greatest works of this greatest of the arts. So, after a masterpiece 30 years in the gestation and three + in the creation, how would Malick fare with a film relatively thrown together in a year or so?

On the face of it, this is a story of the relationship which starts in Paris between an American (environmentalist?), Neil, and an otherworldly French woman (Marina). When they return to mid-west America, Marina suffers from a sense of dislocation made greater when he daughter decides to go and live with her father in France.

But Malick seems much less interested in the *events* which he depicts than in expressing the feelings of the characters. Just the same way that 'The Tree of Life' was an *impression* of childhood, rather than the story of a childhood, 'To the Wonder' is an impression of a love affair, rather than its story. This is cinema infused in every shot with Heidegger's *dasein*. The logic of Malick's cinema is to *perfectly* catch the moment, and in doing so extract the truth of the experience. Hence, for Malick, a film story, is simply an assembly of 'essences'. These essences stay in the mind to thrill and haunt us.

There have been other examples of great filmmakers who have made films exploring the cinema's intimate connection with mental processes - Resnais and Bunuel come immediately to mind. But with Malick, it seems, the cinema's similarity to the mental processes of memory, dream and conjecture, have ignited a wildfire of creativity that has advanced the film art at a greater pace than has occurred since the sixties.

Here I have to admit to being only at the beginning of being able to appreciate what seems to be dizzying complexities in the film. My French is not up to totally understanding much of Marina's dialogue which, as I am in France, was not translated in the subtitles, so I am sure I have missed an entire dimension of the film. But Olga Kurylenko's performance is so magnificent, that this 'comprehension gap' didn't seem a problem.

Then there is the obvious question of the film's theme. Love, the very 'different' nature of women, dislocation in the physical, emotional and cultural senses - these are all up there writ large. But they are mixed with a nagging worry that, to return to my earlier concern, Malick has stretched the cinema to its limits, but sometimes, maybe beyond them. I do not think of myself as stupid, but I found great difficulty in grasping the relevance of certain shots or scenes. I rest convinced, however that this is another example of a film that it is necessary to watch dozens of times to find all of the poetic and meaningful connections.

I have great sympathy with those who go to the cinema wanting to be told a great story in the clearest manner possible. That is honourable and reasonable, but it is not the only experience that the cinema, this great and wonderful art of the cinema, can give. And it is certainly NOT the case that films that don't take the more prosaic approach are pretentious, meaningless or boring. 'To the Wonder' is to popular cinema what lyric poetry is to airport novels. So, if that is all you are looking for, it is best to avoid Malick's film.

But for those of us who know that beyond the sky is the limit for great cinema, Malick and MNC is the route to the stars, and 'To the Wonder' is a step, if a somewhat halting one, along that route.


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