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1429 reviews in total 
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2 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Samey apocalypse, 9 September 2014

God, another one of these superhero juggernauts. Perhaps other viewers find each one so much different than all the other Marvel clones, I don't know. They're all a big blur of samey rush to me. I don't find real invention going on in any of them, any freshness in the mythos, any actual difference (which is touted as the big theme here). You'll know this is just tired by the whole apocalyptic / time-travel storyline.

So another attempt to construct fate; there's something wrong about humanity at large and where we're headed as a race, in the film this culminates (in the beginning) with humanity defeated at the hands of our own desire to root out difference, and the effort to reconstruct the past, we land back in Nixon's America where things apparently started going wrong, to replay it so that we can be inspired by the message that doom is not inevitable and hope can alter courses.

No, the only thing worth seeing for me is what new contraptions these Hollywood teams devise each time to propel the camera. It gets a bit tiresome having to throw out heaps of story to focus on cinematic flows which become merely mechanic without it (story), meaningless, such is the case here.

In X-Men, each character is an opportunity to ripple in an unusual way. Someone will erupt in flames or change shapes, okay. The two arch rivals can leverage the most awesome forces. For the bad guy this is confined to matter, the ability to command the material fabric, to undo and rearrange - usually this is an opportunity for awesome scenery, last time a submarine was lifted out of the sea, here a whole stadium is airborne. It's daft destruction, rather suitably as will without empathy.

More interesting is the good professor who can enter mind, command vision. This should be the most tantalizing opportunity for scenery of another kind, which also chimes with a recurrent interest of mine; how can we envision a mental space? A girl with similar mental powers propels the journey back in time, through her we have the first glimpse of this, the camera enters inside an eye to swim in a gaseous space of consciousness. Near the end, the professor searches in a similar constellation of minds.

And however much they manage to perfect the material physics, there's a nifty scene where time is slowed that almost exists in the story as comedic demo-reel of what can be achieved, so much more lacking seems the inner dimension.

Fulci goes Hollywood, 30 August 2014

There were three masters of horror at the time driven by vision, Hooper, Argento, Carpenter, perhaps two films each.

Then the bulk of horror, either studio or gonzo. This is studio, pretty awful in its basic gears. Story and acting are wooden, editing is artless. I can feel a workmanlike hand in the story, a hack in control, always some narrative noise going on and cut to someone talking with hardly a moment of quiet. But for whatever reason it's also shrill, crazy, nonsensical. Unusual. I'll take this over polished horror like The Omen. If we make nonsense after all, it hurts no one and may open a few doors of the imagination.

This lack of finesse is funneled here into a kind of demented energy, I would describe it overall as a hellish mix between Fulci and Raimi. A young TV model moves into a New York apartment with a creepy blind old man staring out the window in the floor above, soon hell is unleashed. I will keep with me all the scenes that show a snooping around in dark corridors and up the stairs to the old man, they are perhaps no more than 2-3 of them but hacked raw from the walls of nightmare. So a strange thing, silly and yet disturbing as another reviewer said.

12 out of 17 people found the following review useful:
Mind-numbingly tired, 30 August 2014

The second was mildly enjoyable, the third time it's tired, the attraction has lost any charm and they still haven't figured out a way to create a sense of world. Terminator, Lethal Weapon, all these films created their own world. Even Cobra had a home to come back to, that marvelous Venice beach apartment next to the Pepsi logo where he forked pizza with a knife.

There's absolutely none here. There's an action plot with actors mouthing their lines when they have to, then on to the next scene. Willis is swapped for Ford but it's again the same thankless plot function of a few minutes. Arnie hovers around in spots - he says 'choppa'. A few amusing scenes with Snipes and prison. And the action mechanics are completely slapdash, overall it feels like the second album after reunion of old heavy metal stalwarts, still polished but all the passion has gone out a long time ago.

Banderas is the only one who manages to charm and that's because he's the only one written with a tiny smudge of life - a screw loose because of what he witnessed.

Brick (2005)
Fresh world - schematic exploration, 30 August 2014

This gets full marks from me in the creation of cinematic world, a detective mystery taking us through a high school underworld of whispered intrigue, drugs and murder, and bounced off against a stretch of quiet suburbia somewhere off the Californian coast with its empty parking lots and bland houses with the nice lawn, the clear air hiding secrets.

I'm a sucker for American landscape of this kind especially when it involves noir, the most powerful genre in cinema - The Long Goodbye mastered this mood, Mulholland Drive scaled new heights. Normalcy sets the backdrop for discovery, the darkness is next- door or down the street, secrets prickle the mind for insight of how we are caught in desire and dreams in plain day.

I would only change here the dialogue that tries to hard to replicate a hardboiled lingo, a silly quirk ultimately; they might as well have put 40s hats and trenchcoats on the kids. But the rest is lovely, I'm captivated by the freshness, the dark switch to teenage dynamics works spectacularly.

But stories for me are really vessels for the exploration of self, they are what tangles up with us, a love or betrayal, so that in trying to shake ourselves free of the mess, we'll have insight of our part in creating our own ignorance and illusion in life. Noir is all about this, not about how a story is resolved but how a narrator succumbs to one with his soul, finds himself tangled up in his own distortions, noir then is not about how logic prevails over confusion (this is Sherlock) but ruminations on ignorance and illusion, a softer more Buddhist kind of insight.

In this key way then this is detective fiction and not a noir, the focus is all 'on' the story, its convolutions are not reflective threads leading inwards but mere riddles to solve, to that effect the film ends with a clean recap by the master sleuth. We're left with the simple irony of his and the femme fatale being teenagers, though viewers may be contented with the freshness, fair enough. So instead of tracing youthful anxieties using noir as the light, we end up exploring simply a story with youthful characters.

See it in spite of my qualms.

Dark Skies (2013)
A force in the walls that possesses, 30 August 2014

I like to mull over what makes horror work, this is part of a larger quest to understand what drives vision, the shape our unfathomable inner life (horror being another urge) takes ahead of the camera, almost every one of my IMDb comments talks about this.

This was competent albeit ordinary, horror fans who are after a fairly restrained take on the supernatural will be more or less pleased, emphasis on buildup and apparitions. I prefer more searing vision so I leave it to be enjoyed by them, but I note a few things.

There are not the usual ghosts but the gist is the same, something that extends, that lurks beyond the merely physical, defies and challenges comprehension, this is what the supernatural entails. It is about a metaphysical anxiety. The anxiety is that something's wrong around this American family, a fairly typical one with a house in the suburbs and two kids. What's wrong is they are hit hard by recession and nothing looks certain anymore, this is the whole subtext around the thing; 'system malfunction' an alarm guy says. It climaxes on the 4th of July with footage on TV of fireworks and the Statue of Liberty being disrupted by this 'force' that lurks and threatens to engulf.

The question then is about the nature of this force. Now there's a tendency in films to latch on to an agreed, external reality, this comes naturally from our everyday experience of what we think as a clean, objective world. Horror however demands holes in this reality, unfathomable urges or apparitions that go against that experience. Because of this tendency, the apparitions happen but have to be sooner or later explained, usually it's either madness or monsters really exist.

Here a family tries to make sense of weird goings on around their house, but eventually internet clippings suggest conspiracy, an expert is tracked down and provides the story of explanations. Several characters hallucinating, we have a few shifts to and from. But they're also ordinary, we are hardly ever really at a loss. Obvious hallucination is another form of explanation, positing us clearly in either madness or sanity.

I imagine a different version here, this is too clean. The blueprint is there, a fine one. On the level of the imaginable kid the scary story involves monsters, a Sandman he's told about, on the level of the parents the scary story is about tension in the home and a neglectful husband/father. We can read from both ends, a father who skulks around the house, the fear of having your kids whisked into the night.

So I imagine it raw, unflinching, visually possessed by urges that cannot fit explanation - there are a few potent scenes, the father 'possessed' caught in their garden staring out into the night.

Hooper in his masterful early days was all about this force that possesses the walls and moves them to create violent contortions, it was not the chainsaw wielding monster that inserted evil in Texas Chainsaw, himself only a jack-in-the-box spat out by this force.

His Funhouse annotated this idea, a film also about an imaginable kid on his way to a scary place, where the monster was merely a distraction and story merely the trip to the place that produced it. Watch it. From there it's only a short step to Possession.

(A year later, literal-minded Spielberg would use in Poltergeist, a Hooper-originated project taken over by him, all sorts of SFX gizmos to clarify this force in the walls, making us all more childish.)

Looking in, 21 August 2014

How do we understand film? Roughly two types of it, a matter of focus and placement of the eye; outside and inside. Most films that won Oscars are the first, most brilliant makers who furthered the craft of capturing images compete in the second.

Just the first few sequences reveal about this, an ominous-looking camera looking straight at us as if to point inwards, a man in his lab bringing images to life, followed by happy birthday party footage as a way of saying that life is a matter of what images you choose and keep to remember. But the study feels obvious and watered down, a voice-over pontificates.

The only thing of note is a softer ambiguity around suffering, this; the film begins with the man interrogated by police, this is so we know that something bad has taken place except we don't know what or how bad. Our mind races ahead, imagining the thriller. A whole sequence near the end as police storm the hotel room toys with just this anticipation of images, the camera enters the bathroom and we expect some atrocity.

The crime was that he was robbed of what every human being needs, warmth and affection. The suffering is that the images he inhabits are not his own.

In the end we see the images he did capture in the hotel room, lays them out on the interrogation table. I don't understand what the filmmaker is pointing at here, judging by how watered down feels the rest I'm inclined to think it just means he was harmless, not prurient. But it feels powerful and apt, viewers here can imagine how it completes.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Floating eye acquires anchor, 21 August 2014

It's a joy for me when a film tackles the great matter. What is this? You are a person, alive in the midst of things, there's something soulful in you, against the reductions of science something that contemplates appearances and itself, invents, questions, the great question then is what is that in our perception of things which is true and soulful.

This is the project great makers undertake without exception from Welles to Iwai; if those things which you can't touch with the hand can be felt to exist, yearning, memory, thought, if right now you can recall an image, it means this space extends around us and is a part of us, so how can this be surrounded with the camera, acknowledged beneath the story and allowed to float as life?

It's a great joy to have this, Wenders repeatedly tried. He knows Buddhism, how narratives of the mind obscure a true perception, how dust settles on mirrors. He may or not know that both Buddhists and contemporaneous Greeks early on identified liberating wisdom as the right use of appearances, the link is Alexander's travel to India. And he must know that since the Greeks divinity in the West, apprehension of god, has been implicitly woven with the mind that attempts to transcend self.

So Wenders here is at his most ambitious about exactly this, liberation in life, about death and (literal) god we can only have imaginations anyway. One of these imaginations is used here, the notion of angels in the heavens, this is only the tool though for floating observation of life unhindered by story, to swim into narratives of mind, then see if we can push beyond and transcend.

So an angelic eye swoops down into murky life, the place is Berlin as it contemplates wounds and walls. What do we see there?

Our eye floats from one life to the next, one person to another, on one level the film offers a contemporary tapestry of German anxieties. On another the device lets us see more clearly the shape of these anxieties - as we approach individuals we are flooded by that extended self lost in thought, nothing but disappointment, vexation, desire. Parents fret about their son's loud music in the next room, a young acrobat worries that her circus dream may have amounted to nothing.

These are the appearances being surrounded here, the self who narrates. This is typical Wenders, that side of him that keeps me at bay - Chris Marker in Sans Soleil playfully unfolds ribbons of remembrance, Tarkovsky rich clouds of appearance as they calmly empty out, Wenders can be as evocative as both but plods in rumination, he's overbearing in how weary life can be. The monologues grate as in previous films, they're too long. But here he reaches out for more.

The higher ('angelic') view that brushes with earthly despair but flies off again finds no purpose or solace and only cyclical suffering - what the Buddhists call samsara. All considered, Wenders offers a powerful rendition of mind. Mind as the view that fleets from one thought, one story, to the next. Suffering as rumination and as inability to escape narration.

Good, so far. An examination of suffering even if he partly wallows in it - look by contrast at Antonioni and soon after Pasolini, how calm and ascetic the first as he looks at this self that extends, how ambiguously appreciative the second. Wenders being German can only feel the burden of history pressing on him, silly zeit and sein.

But then finally we have the return to things, the limits of narration were small, as one of the angels decides to enter time and mortality. How does Wenders enter this shift?

If we could somehow only know this ethereal life of pure spirit in eternal peace that we've always yearned for, a disembodied mind that hovers above things without ever getting tangled up with them (all our notions of an afterlife converge on this), what would we think? Touch would be a profound mystery, having a body that feels wind or heat. I can't stress enough the importance of limits, it's what energizes life, that I don't know all, that I can be surprised and curious, that I can travel from here to there and discover, that it's all in flux and changing, it's why this whole circus matters.

So I can see him stressing all the important realizations. Touch, being free to tangle with things and love. Spontaneous appreciation.

I find myself rooting for this German as he shucks off the worry about meaning to be able to find it in the tremendous richness of things as they come to be and vanish again, what Herzog for thirty years had to travel to the most absurd corners to witness and pilgrimage, wash logic with doing. What Tarkovsky meditated inwards in memory, Marker in bemused preoccupation with revolution (never attached like Godard), cats and Tokyo.

But Wenders meets his own limits once more. Whereas all these guys could transcend, Wenders only limps. A bit of wandering but without real wonder. In place of any of the small possible encounters he could create around Berlin, he gives us a Nick Cave concert again - style. The camera tracks forth and back in a crowd - style. The two lovers finally find each other - but swap empty monologues again and profound promise.

More dust.

Now the Buddhist achievement of The Passenger becomes apparent.

RoboCop (2014)
Solid engineering misses the charm, 10 August 2014

Just tonight before popping this in, I saw a TV report about supposedly the most advanced robot, something the Japanese built and showcased. Anyway you hear about robots, you expect to finally see something like what movies have shown should be possible. And the thing that came up was essentially a toy, woefully primitive from the perspective of that's where we are in our quest to construct humanity; it would go up a flight of stairs, move over for you to pass. But looking for a few more moments, I could appreciate that its movements and joints were a little more fluid, that it was a remarkable feat of carpentry, that this business is so profoundly complicated that it's a cause to celebrate when we master the most intuitively simple things.

It always depends on what it is we measure, observe.

So, compared to the original this one feels fussy, missing the charm and overly serious. But stack it up against Marvel and as a comic-book it lacks nothing. As a film about ideas, one that asks about the extent of what makes us human, about how a human being can surmount the machine that surrounds him, it feels manufactured to ask these things. But the cinematic carpentry and the way it has been engineered to move are good enough.

The satire is all packed in the Jackson segments; a TV show rigged to convince us of the need to 'pacify' the streets using giant killing machines; a child is blown to smithereens by a ten-foot robot because the 'suspect' wouldn't drop his knife. But it feels as labored as everything else.

Copycat (1995)
Scatters images, 4 August 2014

Detective films, of which serial killer films are a branch, are about the apprehension of truth, the investigation of our own minds as they stretch to comprehend some absurd machination out there.

Of course there are many that brush with some degenerate madness, many that thrill in the usual ways, few that leave me with insight. Manhunter is my favorite; a film that stretched us to inhabit the damaged world of the killer in a way that stretched our capacity to reason with the urges, finding them to be about touch, contact.

This is minor in some ways. It is not as taut as others of its type, it feels telegraphed. Several notes are off; the ill-fitted Chinese shooting, awkward hint of romance with the cop, the villains are stock (Southern yokel and soulless yuppie) and all we know about them comes from the mouth of experts, we do not inhabit their world. And all that stuff about hippies are puzzlingly out of date.

So I will not recommend this to you as a deep and lasting encounter, but we must be able to salvage in this or any film the bits that personally matter and hold potential.

For me this is the notion that a woman was deeply wounded, psychologically scarred by an encounter that she carries with her. This is rendered as willingly having shut herself in her own house, distraught to even open the door to pick up the newspaper. She was an expert on serial killers, methodically explaining motive and pattern.

Of course a new case that is puzzling police worms its way into her fragile self. The case as an opportunity to gather her fractured pieces and go back to being able to surmise a coherent narrative. The case itself is about revisiting the past, murders that re-stage old famous ones. A marvelous sequence fittingly shows the mysterious killer having sneaked in her place looking for her, the memory and hurt surfacing again. The finale revisits and re-stages the moment that fractured her, letting her relive it in a way that pushes her out of debilitating confines - it ends with another marvelous floating eye shot as she finally opens a door and finds herself in open air for the first time in a year.

So there's a powerful contrast here that a better film could be made of, between trying to order a stack of images into a narrative and the puzzling draughts of air that blow through open windows of the soul and scatter the images about.

Even so, with the pieces we have, the film is much less thrilling than Silence and Seven but probes a bit deeper.

Tectonic divides, 31 July 2014

Arid land, poverty, suffering, this is the visit here. The story is about a poor family who eke a miserable life in a homestead in the Brazilian wilderness, but this isn't about a story, it's going through the motions of life, embodying, suffering the hardship.

I like here how it conveys the meaninglesssness, the limits of a world that goes on forever but offers so little to do. Drag your feet under the sun from here to there, pick up firewood, stir a thankless meal, herd bony cattle for the town rancher; a leather bed is their dream, denied until the end.

I'll have you imagine the film like sheets with patterns of life stitched on them that someone hung out in the sun and forgot, the sun has bleached the patterns, the wind and dust have battered them to a lean rough texture, the film is their aimless flapping in the wind.

So overall there's a godforsaken purity here that feels stumbled on to. This poses a dilemma. I can't watch something like this as aesthetic token when it involves the suffering of people, it wholly defeats the purpose. The question for me is how far or close is real life? Of course every shot has been staged, I'm talking about the registered perception; how much truth has seeped in with the dust?

With Bela Tarr, see, we know, reality is the canvas of place and history on which we draw cosmogonic abstractions with time as the brush. With Rossellini, it's the stage on which a play is enacted, often about the pursuit of a real fulfillment, a real self. Herzog is about this dissonance between staged and real (so much more effectively than Godard), with jumps of madness that blur and edge to purity.

Here it has all been so effectively bleached of difference. So I'm swept. But to a world I can only parch in. It works, in the end I can't wait to leave the place just like the characters who drag their feet away from there. As they do, the question on the children's parched lips is when will they finally become 'real people'? Meaning, in the context of this, that real life is a life of possibility, that lets you envision and create, look beyond suffering.

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