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Shows what can be done with a minimal budget
I read online that the budget for Love was $500,000. At a personal level this would be a nice lottery win, but in the film industry just a catering budget. The result is impressive to say the least, especially the Civil War scenes, which are incredible, a bravura piece of inventive film-making and editing that looks like it cost millions. The story isn't entirely original, but it is handled in an interesting way that maintains interest to the last frame. A good companion piece to Solaris (the Soviet version) for a sci-fi double bill.
Dead Man's Shoes (2004)
A template for great film-making
Probably the best way to recommend Dead Man's Shoes is to say that it rewards repeated viewing even after you know there's a twist in the tale. This is low-budget film-making at its best, there really isn't anything that could be improved. From the music and location to the engaging characterisation and plot, this is simply a great British film.
Short on ideas
There have been a lot of positive reviews for this film, but I suspect that these are from people who aren't that familiar with classic sci-fi. My impression of 'Sunshine' was that it is devoid of new ideas and just cherry picks from other much superior films from the past 40 years. Take a pinch of '2001,' chuck in a bit of 'Alien' and a drop of 'Event Horizon' and then simmer with assorted bits and pieces from a dozen other films and you get this mess. It would be bearable if the film knew its place. but it has pretensions way beyond what it delivers. Boyle did pretty much the same thing with '28 Days Later' and (sort of) got away with it because that film was low-budget and low-pretension and quite fun, whereas 'Sunshine' strives for an epic quality that ends up as meaningless drivel. The switch from sci-fi adventure to 'horror-in-space' two-thirds of the way through is particularly jarring and seemed to be pandering to the popcorn brigade.
Two marks for special effects, but sfx do not a great film make. Overall a disappointment, but not a surprise.
The Road (2009)
Better than I could have wished for
I've read 'The Road' about five times and consider it a modern classic and well-deserving of its Pulitzer Prize. When I heard that it was to be adapted into a film I had mixed feelings, but when I saw the cast and heard about the time being spent on the production I was prepared to give it the benefit of the doubt.
My wife and I went to see the film last week and I'm not embarrassed to say we both came out of the cinema in tears. It has been many years since I have watched something so emotionally engaging and at the same time draining on screen and although it is hard to say it, in some respects the film is actually better than the book. Kodi Smit-McPhee's performance is incredible and all through the film I kept thinking of my own son and how I would acquit myself in the same situation. My wife said that she would not have behaved the way Charlize's character did (she's a country girl and a bit of a survivor), but she fully understood why the mother did what she felt she had to do and in its own way it was part of the survival story.
The characters were rounded and more realistic when brought to life on screen, a little less inward-looking and I felt I was travelling the road with them. My only criticism of the film was that I felt it had been cut for length reasons and perhaps certification and hope that somewhere out there exists a full-length cut that might make its way to a DVD some day.
There are some scenes that will live with me for a long time and one in particular that moved me possibly more than anything I have seen on screen in years. This is finely-crafted story-telling of a sort that Hollywood seemed to have all but forgotten about.
For those looking for a post-apocalyptic sci-fi yarn, stay at home. This film is not 'The Road Warrior' or even 'A Boy And His Dog,' but only uses the setting to tell a deeper tale of the love between a father and son, loss, humanity and redemption. The setting is an extreme version of the western world (the US), but this is a story that could have realistically come from Bosnia, Iraq, Rwanda or anywhere else where people have been forced to flee for their very lives. For something comparable, but less accessible, consider 'The Time Of The Wolf' by Michael Haneke, set in a post-apocalyptic France.
Der Himmel über Berlin (1987)
I've had this film recommended to me by several people and I finally got around to watching it and like a few others on here I could only suffer about ninety minutes before I gave up and switched it off.
The cinematography is excellent although the mixing of monochrome and colour was a cliché even in 1987 (only good use is in 'A Matter Of Life And Death') and it was for that alone that I gave the film the time that I did. In fact, that's really what this film seems to be, one long exercise in camera and lighting technique. There is no plot as such, the acting doesn't exactly stretch any of the players and the script is juvenile and gets tiresome after about ten minutes. At best the film was making obvious points about life and at worst it was deliberately obscure and inaccessible.
I get the impression that this piece has a touch of 'the emperor's new clothes' about it; that to say you think it's rubbish labels you as a philistine, but the truth is that it isn't very good and a classic example of style over content. I'm just glad that there are a few other brave and intelligent souls using IMDb that felt the same way that I did. I'm sure a lot of pseudo-intellectuals will pore over this film for years finding all kinds of meaning in it, but it just says nothing to me except 'pretentious nonsense.' This sort of exposition on life works well in print, but just isn't suited to cinema, so I've been generous and given the film three stars for the cinematography, but that really is about it. Others have said it before and they are right, this is the sort of film that gives art-house cinema a bad name. Better to watch 'Lola Rennt,' an accessible piece of German art cinema that manages to say something tangible and have a lot of fun at the same time.
Children of Men (2006)
A great film, but not 'The Children of Men'
This is a very difficult review to write, because I am torn in two very opposite directions over this film, its relationship to P. D. James' book and the political statements it makes.
As a film, it is probably the best piece of British cinema made in years. It is extremely well shot, obviously had a decent budget and the attention to future detail has you scouring the screen to make sure you miss nothing. There are two long single takes that are technical tours de force and one in particular will probably go down in cinema history. These takes, filmed with hand-held cameras had me thinking of Stanley Kubrick and that perhaps he at last has a worthy successor.
Clive Owen gives a career-defining performance and is the ultimate reluctant hero and Michael Caine is just wonderful and obviously enjoying himself immensely. The supporting cast, especially Ferris and Mullan are excellent and inject the film with a useful dose of humour and colour.
Unfortunately, great cinematograpghy and even great acting does not a great film make. That has to lie in the story.
In the opening credits it reads 'Based on the book by P. D. James' and therein lies the problem. The additional words 'very loosely' should probably have been included. James' story is one of great beauty and is concerned primarily with the cycle of life, of death and re-birth and there is an overt spiritual element to the book. The screenplay abandons most of this and instead becomes a polemic statement about the treatment of illegal immigrants. The issue of universal infertility, the centrepoint to the book, is buried under these political statements to the point where it is barely relevant.
Whether or not you will be emotionally engaged by this film will ultimately depend on your views on immigration and can accept that at any point in the future the UK, with the most liberal attitude to immigration in the western world, would ever start to close its shores.
Perhaps the director's nationality has something to do with this, I could understand that and empathise with it, but why not give the film a different name, a slightly different scenario and make a better film for it.
As someone with personal experience of infertility, I expected to have my heart strings tugged by this one, but it didn't happen because the film isn't about infertility or the effect it would have on our society. James' story goes into lots of detail on how people cope with having no children and it is this that shapes their attitudes. The film has none of this except the odd nod and even the Quietus, a key element in the book, is reduced to almost nothing and not even properly explained.
Finally far too many points of plot are left unresolved. Maybe this is an attempt to highlight the confusion of the times, but I found it frustrating and a destraction. A few important things appeared to happen for no particular reason except perhaps as the set-up to a piece of action.
Definitely worth seeing, but read the book if you really want to explore the concept.
8/10 for technical achievement and acting. 5/10 for writing.
Devil's Rock (1938)
Nonsense, but I like it!
"The Devil's Rock" is a really strange two-reeler from the late 1930s and not really of much interest to anyone not from Northern Ireland, but as my family lived where it was made I have an affection for the film.
It is a typical Richard Hayward affair with a mixture of songs and blarney tied together by the most contrived 'plot' ever to reach celluloid Hayward allegedly secured finance for the film by agreeing to include various elements in a sort of 'product placement' deal, so the plot meanders to include these. Hence you have the Tonic cinema, at the time the largest in Northern Ireland, standing in as the Craigadown village hall! There are several scenes filmed around Bangor and both Pickie Pool and the Crawfordsburn Inn make an appearance, but most of the action was filmed around Cushendun, which looks little different today as it did in 1938. The cast are much the same players that appeared in "The Early Bird," but here struggling with the amateurish script and confused plot.
The War Game (1965)
I saw The War Game thanks to my local branch of CND in 1979 when they showed it in a hall in our town. My mum was vehemently anti-communist so I had to sneak out to see it. The local paper kicked up at 14-year olds being encouraged to see an 'X' film. Was it worth the fuss? Yes, without a doubt. I had already seen Watkin's definitive 'Culloden' earlier that year and was bowled over by the documentary style applied to a drama, but The War Game surpassed even that. I will never forget the scenes of the helmeted English bobbies shooting people in the head to put them out of their misery, or the bucket full of wedding rings or most of all, the line of kids being asked what they wanted to be when they grew up and the replies of 'nuffink.'
For me, that summed up the futility of war, nuclear or otherwise.
'Threads' is good, but 'The War Game' is still the best portrayal of a nuclear attack on Britain ever made. It should be shown more often.
The Early Bird (1936)
A wee gem
Although probably not of much interest to anyone outside of County Antrim, this is a little gem of a film all the same. Very undemanding, but genuinely quite funny in places, 'The Early Bird' proves that there was an Ulster film industry at one time. My favourite character has to be the slow-witted Archie Macready ('your not sorry you're for the soiree, Shusan?') with the drunken vet a close second.
Who Dares Wins (1982)
Good honest hokum!
I read the book that inspired this film, 'The Tiptoe Boys,' and to be honest, I prefer the film to the book, which is unusual. The movie is a bit over-long, but the characters are quite well developed and the action sequences are among the best in any UK production and highly realistic. The legendary Roy 'Get Carter' Budd provides the score and we have a minor 80s action classic. Without doubt the assault at The Mews is outstanding and I will never forget the rush the first time I saw it. 'You don't muck (sic) about with the SAS...'