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Slightly paranoid allegory of English society
It's no wonder this film gets such a bad rating : it's too ploddingly repetitive for true horror aficionadoes, and too offensive, as well as too deep and surrealisticly cryptic for the average film viewer. Personally, I found it oscillated between the gripping and the boring, with a vast overdose of gratuitous gory detail thankfully only the short images of the faces and bodies of the victims after the fell deed, but nevertheless obscene and prurient. And while the suspense was masterfully evoked, it only really worked the first hundred or so times ; after that you just felt numb and apathetic.
I had the advantage of a fast-forward button to shorten the boring bits where yet another victim was getting cut up, violated, roasted or otherwise disposed of, so I never actually fell asleep or vomited, but I feel sorry for those who suffer the full assault of the movie without such escape tools.
And yet, I feel the film had a powerful message, which revealed itself more and more to me as I slowly recovered from the trauma a truth so vital that it almost justifies the vicious vehicle that conveys it. The film is actually a parable of the moral decay of England a parable of prophetic importance in view of the major breakdown of law and order that the world witnessed in the English riots of 2011, when the streets of London looked like they'd been fire-bombed, and people the country over feared for their safety.
The film portrays an old teacher who refuses to adapt to modern mores, and who is ground down mercilessly by a system which cannot allow fundamental challenges to its "liberal", politically correct principles. He is the only authority figure in the film prepared to acknowledge the existence of a menacing evil, whilst all the others seek to deny or excuse it. He is a Churchillian throwback trying to rouse and rally the people, but he is helpless against the overwhelming forces of appeasement and indifference. Apart from him, every other authority figure in the film - the career mother ; the security officer ; the headmistress and her board ; the law courts, and, ultimately, the police - are unwilling to use their power to restrain the evil-doers ; instead, they ridicule, alienate and persecute the one man who dares to sound the alarm.
When finally the violence erupts, in the form of impossibly agile, monkey-like young hoodies with ghostly black faces - knives in their hands and murderous devilment in their hearts the teacher is vindicated, but too late. Even as he saves the life of his daughter, she tells him she will hate him forever. He is a tragic Cassandra, doomed to prophesy truth to a people who will reject and resent him.
It's a grim picture, and overly pessimistic, but if you've got the stomach for it, and are not of a nervous disposition, it's a scream worth hearing.
The Jacket (2005)
Stick with it - you won't be disappointed !
Starts out like a slam-dunk action shocker, but soon reveals a heart of pure emotional and imaginative gold. What happened to Jack to get him into the psychiatric prison is weird enough ; falling into the hands of a doctor with a grudge to grind is even worse luck ; but the time travel whodunnit love story that then unfolds is even more breathtaking in its fantastic scope and symmetry. Full marks to everybody for this one : the acting is totally seductive ; the characterization sensitive ; the morality uplifting. Thanks, guys, this one's unique.
I'm just paying my dues here in order to express my excitement for this gem of a film. I've seen it 3 times now, and each next time just confirms my first impression.
Lost in Translation
Despite the rather pathetic screenplay in this TV version, Agatha Christie's original story is so riveting that even Mark Gatiss was unable to ruin it. Nevertheless, when one thinks of the potential that is latent in such a brilliant cast and such a powerful and perfectly structured drama, it is a crying shame that the scriptwriter failed to honour the memory of the book's author. I was particularly disappointed by the jarring inclusion of a cameo homosexual relationship into the plot ; it was so obviously NOT a part of the dramatic build-up of the story that one almost had the impression of the screenwriter taking us aside and whispering, "Just look how noble and virtuous and persecuted these people are," rather like a TV commercial, and with just about as much relevance to the mystery.
I would recommend the film despite the criticism : it remains in essence a typically wonderful Christie whodunnit ; the acting is superb and the direction also excellent. But I'll be the first customer for the next version of this great book ; a film classic this one certainly ain't.
Looks like a drama - turns out to be a Socialist Worker comic strip
What a waste of great film-making talent. Ken Loach has the intuitive touch of the great American directors, but almost invariably mars his creations by forcing them into the service of a dubious ideology, at times to a comical level.
This one is not quite such a rip-off as "Hidden Agenda" - a brilliant, gripping drama right up to the last few minutes, when the story veers hilariously into a ludicrous anti-Thatcher conspiracy theory - but it suffers from the same problem : they say love is blind, but the one-sidedness of this film suggests that hate, too, is equally capable of distorting one's vision.
I was hoping for some poignant depiction of the complex moral dilemmas this conflict is so pregnant with, and which other film-makers have explored so sensitively, but instead I got oversimplified black-and-white propaganda (the bad guys are the ones with the English accents pulling out the Irishmen's fingernails ; the good guys are the attractive downtrodden ones that articulate Marxist political doctrine in heroic settings).
I suppose that as a propagandist Loach is a genius, but it is at the expense of both truth, balance and art. If anyone wishes to see what the man was (is?) really capable of, watch his masterpiece, "Raining Stones", and weep with me for a lost David Lean.
Five Minutes of Heaven (2009)
An excruciating depiction of the agony of conscience, portrayed poignantly by the two main actors. The film is not by any means a pleasant experience, but the very fact that it IS an experience is evidence of how greatly it can affect the viewer.
Do not seek easy answers to the great problems of the human condition here - apart, that is, from the crucial lesson that group identities can be vehicles of great evil, and that once inside the group, the only criticism the group-member can hear is that which comes from within the group itself (hence, for example, the need for Muslims to denounce terrorism from inside the mosques) - but if you're interested in understanding the powerful forces of spiritual and emotional dynamics in the context of an irreconcilable dilemma, and if you're sick of saccharine-sweet PC superficiality, send the kids out of the room, turn off the lights, and let this masterpiece move you.
American History X (1998)
At last - a film-maker with courage
10 out of 10 for daring to let an attractive character articulate the arguments for racism, including the legitimate grievances that can fester the sickness. Full marks for avoiding the trap of painting evil as repellent and ugly, or furthering the fiction that humanity divides neatly between the perfect ones and the monsters.
Hannah Arendt surely had it right when she spoke of the banality of Evil ; she might have added that it usually comes in charismatic disguise, as with the main character in this film. Only when we can deal authentically with the strongest of the enemy's arguments, are we really in a position to overcome him. This movie contributes powerfully to this struggle ; it is a gripping film that speaks both sides of the argument, pulls no punches and leaves us gasping with the pain of sin.
The Precious Blood (1996)
The Exquisite Pain of Love
I know of no other drama to equal this film for sheer intensity. The passion of the main characters is almost unbearable, rendered the more so by the brilliance of the acting and the fact that every facet of the story reflects only too truly the tragic reality of recent Northern Irish history. The personal, the spiritual, the social and political dimensions are perfectly interwoven to produce a dramatic masterpiece.
There is plenty of humour, and a fair bit of sub-plot, but the shocking twist towards the end is what really makes the film inspirational. If anyone needs to experience the difference between love and sentimentality, or to feel the outrage of hypocrisy and betrayal, this is the film. In view of the superficiality of modern taste, it's no wonder it's been buried !
The Haunted Airman (2006)
Not Dennis Wheatley - more like watching paint dry
If anyone deserves haunting, it's got to be the guy who has used the Dennis Wheatley name to conjure up an audience for this pathetic movie. It belongs in a film museum, in the "Dismal Failure" section, or we could use it in school to teach how not to.
It's pretentious and plodding and oh-so-politically correct, and would be bad enough in its own right, but to drag poor old Dennis down to the same depths of drawn-out inanity, with a plot that has virtually nothing to do with the book (!!), this is surely a case of tomb raiding.
If I've saved anyone a wasted evening with this warning, some good might yet come of my having watched it.
The End of the Affair (1999)
How to Exorcize the Soul of a Book
Neil Jordan has produced a travesty of Graham Greene's book. He has completely omitted the central confrontation between the local militant atheist and the heroine, and has so diametrically changed the ending as to trivialize her passion and strength. It seems he has tried to tackle a subject far too deep for him, and has settled instead for a shallow reinterpretation that signally fails to convey the dramatic agony of the original. As a consequence, not even Julianne's brilliant acting can give life to her limp character.
If I was a grandchild of Greene's, I'd demand that the studio change the name of the film so as to protect Graham Greene's reputation.
Love Actually (2003)
Infects Parts that Other Films Can't Reach
I've rarely seen a film that so brutally desecrates the sensitivities and defiles the soul. I refuse to believe that anyone can watch such a relentless assault against human value without emerging scalded and tainted. I mean, mankind is more than merely an insatiable appetite for sex ; here even the act of sex itself is depicted as a totally mechanical, impersonal sexercise - something that would even degrade a dog. Don't give me that rubbish about this being a fantasy : it's a compilation of the most sordid and vulgar aspects of city life in luxurious and godless decline, cameo'd together with slick , slimy and cynical one-liners that we are somehow expected to find funny.
There is no justification for a film like this : "American History X" could justify its violence because it was necessary as a context to a powerful, ennobling message ; "Eyes Wide Shut" portrayed sex in such a way as to show us its dangers and to contrast it with authentic, self-sacrificing Love. Curtis' film has no such artistic purpose, except it be to prove that no-one ever lost money by underestimating public taste.