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One Hundred Mornings (2009)
Post apocalyptic Ireland
Given the parlous state of the Irish economy, this movie at least seems to have got it's timing right. If there is to be an Irish apocalypse, then this feels very much what it might look like.
I am a fan of post-apocalyptic movies, and as far as I know this is the only one set in Ireland. This is a pity because the Irish landscape is a testament to boom and bust, feast and famine. Apart from the newly-built, never-lived-in ghost estates, the country is dotted with abandoned farmhouses, huge mansions, and ruins of all ages going back thousands of years. Most movies of the type involve some kind of journey, where a plucky band of survivors have to reach some destiny to perhaps build the world anew. Skillfully the director has avoided such clichés and perhaps taking a leaf out of Cormac McCarthys "The Road", the actual cause of the apocalypse is not described. Two couples have decided to hole up in a lakeside holiday home having stocked up on necessities in the hope that electrical power and civil society will return.
Unlike "The Road", hope is not entirely extinguished for the survivors. There are hints that order and civilisation might return, if they can hold out in their lakeside retreat. There is game in the fields and a self-sufficient hippie neighbour, so survival seems possible, if they can get their act together. Naturally it is not so simple and things go downhill quickly.
Cinematography is beautiful and the characters are well drawn. You get a real gut feeling how desperate their situation is as they try to deal with hunger, depression, looters, infighting and betrayal. But the problem with this movie is that it is nearly all mood, and very slow plot and character progression. It's true, they have to make choices to survive and they are changed, but progression is quite slow the ending is quite muted. I was not looking for a happy ending or dramatic catharsis, but something a little less ambiguous. It did not seem worth all the scenes of gnawing hunger, looting, boredom and bickering in the claustrophobic cottage that the viewer is sat through for 83 minutes.
Of course the options for the director were severely limited by the tiny budget. At around 275k (around $350k dollars), it is amazing to see what was achieved with such meager resources. I imagines that off screen life on the set might have been close to that depicted on screen, with actors and crew huddling around campfires drinking bovril and scavenged canned food.
It is a mystery why it has not as yet been released on DVD, because it is definitely worth catching for fans of the genre. I look forward to what Conor Horgan does next.
Some nice camera work, stylish blurring, but pretty clichéd police drama. Jason Statham does what Jason Statham normally does, he's utterly typecast as kind of British Dirty Harry, but it's not new anymore like it was in Snatch/The Transporter.
His sidekick is not nearly as interesting as the little guy in Snatch or the girl in Transporter.
Good work from Aiden Gillen (the guy who played Tommy Carcetti in The Wire) as the bad guy. Zawe Ashton is also interesting as a WPC with a drug problem.
Mainly the plot seemed a bit disjointed and contrived. Overall it felt like a TV police drama. Nothing special.
The Hide (2008)
Overlong, stagey, but memorable
Cinema and theater are two different things. I think it has something to do with your attention. On stage I am sure this would be gripping, especially with McQueen as Roy, because you are forced to pay attention to the actors. On TV it's OK, a bit too long and with a fairly obvious twist, but it holds your attention. However, if I had paid to watch this in the cinema, I might have walked out. I loved the characters and McQueen is perfectly cast as Roy, a middle-England birdwatching cannibal.
Its a good play, a reasonably TV movie, but would make for a very boring evening on the big screen. I think it might have worked better as a black comedy.
To be sure, this movie is innovative. The point of view of the tank commander, the claustrophobic interior of the tank. But really thats all. There is no meaningful character development and no change of scene. The basic message is war is hell, but that has been done so many times before.
Essentially it is 90 minutes of various shots of dirty unshaven men complaining, tank interior rumbling, oil and blood. periscope views of the outside where civilians get killed.
To call it Das Boot in a tank is an insult to that fine film, which has great characters, proper character development, genuine suspense and a crippling emotional climax. This movie has none of those.
Added to this is a long list of inaccuracies about tanks and tank warfare that have been written about elsewhere.
There are a few token allusions to the Lebanese war, evil Phalagists and the murder of civilians. Perhaps that's why it got a prize. I am no supporter of the Israeli Defence Force, but I prefer my movies to have more depth and nuance.
You will hate this movie... but I liked it
What I and the other people who liked this movie share is a particular demographic, techno-geek, fond of puzzles. If you don't fit that profile, you simply will not like this movie.
Here are the reasons that most normal well balanced people would not like this movie:
1. Certain production values are just not up to scratch. It is hard to see how the director could have got more out of his miniscule budget, but these days unless you have kick ass cgi and perfect cinematography, most people will be irritated. Seeing it again, I am really impressed by the simple hacks the director pulled off to save money.
2. The plot is impossible to follow on the first viewing, and in fact it probably needs a little research and discussion before you begin to figure out what's happening and only then does it begin to be fun to watch. This is a big no-no for conventional film making. It is generally considered unfair on your audience to require them to watch a movie twice before enjoying it. Christopher Nolan did something similar with Memento, except that it was possible to at least feel you "got it" after seeing it the first time.
3. Acting is a little patchy in places and the voice-over is a pretty dated cinematic trick.
4. The director made a movie he did not quite intend to make, so the tag line and trailer don't really convey what the movie is actually about. Carruth intended to show how two friends become alienated when they invent a machine which makes them all powerful. It is a character arc based on Maslow's hierarchy of needs. What happens when you have everything? Actually the movie turned out a little different. The character arcs are still there, which, in my view marks it out as a decent movie to start with. But what has everyone buzzing is the innovative method of time travel described and the possibilities that it opens up. The plot and its various interpretation have become a kind of puzzle which appeals to people who like puzzles.
Personally, I don't think there is one valid way to interpret the plot. I think Carruth ended up putting nearly all of his film stock into the finished print, so the end result was to an extent dictated by the small budget. It is therefore not nearly so well worked out as people tend to think it is. But it nevertheless fun trying.
Murphy's War (1971)
All war is personal
This movie should be compulsory viewing for all those who sigh and say that it is an unfortunate necessity to kill a few civilians during war. This is the simple story of Murphy, merchant seaman sole survivor of a U boat attack on his ship. His mission: to wreak revenge on the sub and all its crew. The utter folly of a single man attacking a fully armed military vessel is as nothing to Murphy's determination. This is not calculated retribution as a dish served cold, this is hot-blooded, crazy mad-as-hell-not-going-to-take-it-anymore bloody vengeance.
There are tremendous scenes. Murphy fixing up a seaplane. Murphy teaching himself to fly said seaplane by climbing in and giving it some gas. Murphy driving a tugboat as his own personal dreadnought. The final scene is a masterpiece, which does not dwell on its simple message. War is personal, unpredictable, murderous and ultimately pointless.
Sure, there are flaws, Peter O'Toole's Irish accent is way too stage-Irish for my liking, despite the fact that he is Irish. The German sub is actually a British one repainted, and the Germans are painted just a little too murderous. It would have been better to portray them as normal soldiers, who killed a few non-combatants unintentionally.
So next time you hear someone say a few civilians accidentally killed in Iraq, Afghanistan is "collateral damage", tell them to watch this movie.
A Serious Man (2009)
What to make of this?
A hard working math professor, Larry Gopnik is a troubled man. His family is falling apart, his wife is running off with the therapist and his kids are wasters. His deadbeat brother is sleeping on the couch and getting into trouble with the law. A Korean student is trying to bribe him to get a passing grade and the sexy neighbour next door is sunbathing naked. Larry is a sort of combination of Job and King David living in the sixties.
I am still scratching my head about this one, which is an endorsement of sort. Quite funny in places, but in the end it's too bleak to be a comedy. I liked the humor, the quirky satire on Jewish life and the characters, and I even liked the ending, after thinking about it for a bit.
It's foolish to look for a message or a moral. The problem I have is that you get all psyched up to see something like "The Big Lebowski", a gem which was panned by the critics, but this is not it.
Mainstream appeal, this does not have. There were about 8 people in the cinema when I saw it and 3 of those walked out. I have read several reviews of this movie and for the first time recommended both positive and negative ones.
It is that sort of movie. As one of the characters says "Accept the mystery".
Daddy, where's my spaceship?
This is the fascinating story of Project Orion, an interplanetary spaceship designed in the 1950's by a team of top physicists and engineers at General Atomics. Although never built, this spaceship would have been 10,000 tons in weight, 10x faster than any spacecraft ever launched and could take hundreds of men to Mars in a matter of months. The design could have been the base for an interstellar craft which in theory could reach the nearest stars in 40-50years. Compare this with Voyager 2, the fastest spacecraft ever launched. Voyager would take 40,000 years to go the same distance.
The key point about Orion is that it used nuclear bombs as a propulsion system. Despite the obvious destructiveness of nuclear bombs the engineers proved that the concept was practical and economically feasible. However, in order to try to get the billion dollars funds to build it, the project leaders tried to enlist interest the military establishment. This proved to be a fatal mistake. The generals were so keen on Orion that the project turned from a scientific endeavour into a kind of Death Star. President Kennedy's concerns that Orion would provoke a nuclear arms race in space eventually killed the project.
The documentary is centered on Freeman Dyson and his son George. Freeman Dyson is one of the greatest physicists and mathematicians alive today, who was recruited initially in 1958 to give the Orion project intellectual credibility. Freeman's son, George, was a young boy when his father told him he was building a spaceship. He remembers feeling disappointed, because his father would never promise to take him with him into space. In his teens, he fell out with his father, partly because he could never hope to measure up to him in physics. He went to the west coast and lived tree house and built kayaks for a living. Later in life George became a writer and went back to try to piece together the Orion story, before the key members of the project died off. His father would never talk to him about it. George tracked down many members of the project team and gathered thousands of pages of documents and rare footage. Despite the 50 years elapsed since Orion was canceled, much of the project remains highly classified, particularly because Orion depended on a reliable supply of thousands of small and cheap nuclear bombs.
Also interviewed is the late Arthur C Clarke who made the point that if you want to move large payloads around the solar system, the Orion concept is the only way that this is possible. According to George Dyson, NASA keeps an Orion spaceship design available in the contingency that the Earth is ever threatened by an asteroid or comet.
Essential viewing for space-cadets, Orion may yet fly someday.
There are spoilers in this review, but if you know about the life of Darwin, this won't spoil the movie for you.
Many people have speculated that Darwin was inspired to write chapter three of the Origin (The Struggle for Existence) by his own experience of watching his beloved daughter Annie die. This movie dramatises this concept and extends it by speculating that Darwin was haunted by this memory (and even by Annie's ghost) and only finds peace by finally publishing his magnum opus. It is a good concept and was the basis of a best selling book, Annies Box.
Much of this movie is well executed. Let me list what is good about this movie:
1) Paul Bettany & Jennifer Connelly & whoever played Annie Darwin. They were perfect, period detail was beautiful.
2) The premise. The concept is simple and accurate to the history of his life. Darwin's life is changed utterly by the death of his young daughter Annie. He sees that nature is merciless and loses his faith in God. He was a polite society man, a loving father and never wanted to cause a controversy. He was therefore tortured by his theory and procrastinated endlessly about publication. Haunted by the memory of Annie, the insistence of his friend, and finally a letter from Alfred Wallace (who has independently come to the same theory) Darwin finally decides to publish.
What went wrong:
1) The direction. This movie has very frequent flashbacks and flashforwards. OK that's good, but not if the viewer is sometimes confused as to whether this is the past or the present. In the present Darwin sees Annie as a ghost or a hallucination who goads him to finish his book and in the past she is his real living daughter. There were scenes when I had to ask myself was this Annie as the ghost or was this in the past? The only way to tell was to look at Paul Bettany's hairline!
2) The script: Was this about Annie? about Darwin? about the publication of the Origin? I think it is meant to be about all three and perhaps that is too much to take on in one movie.
3) The pace. The first 30-40 minutes were excellent and set the movie up for some dramatic point where Darwin is finally goaded to publish. However the remaining hour is spent with scene after scene about Darwin tortured about his theory and his illness in the present, Darwin tortured by watching Annie die in the past, Darwin tortured by his losss of faith and increasing distance from his wife. It seems like it takes a full hour for Annie to die. This was viewer torture.
Perhaps the life or Darwin is not really suited for cinema. The man was the ultimate patient nerdy scientist. It took him decades to develop his theory and decades longer to publish. He was a loving father, he was tortured by his theory, and he became an atheist in the end, much to the chagrin of his wife. He wrote so many letters that there are many excellent and fascinating biographies of him. He remains one of the most fascinating men of all time, which just adds to the tragedy that this movie is not better than it is.
There are some good scenes in the movie, but ultimately it was sadly a bit boring by the end. Don't believe the nonsense talked about this being too controversial for the US, in reality it is simply not controversial enough.
Public Enemies (2009)
Hit and miss, mostly miss
This movie tells the later stages of the crime career of John Dillinger, famous bank robber. What's good: Johnny Depp and Christian bale are good, the pacing is good, the sets and period detail are perfect. The score is quite good too.
What's bad: a shootout sequence is obviously shot on a video camera looks cheap and has a major discontinuity in it. Other scenes the camera is shaky.
Also for a movie that prides itself on historical detail, it plays fast and loose with the facts about the Dillinger gang. For instance the death of "Baby Face" Nelson is complete fiction. You are duped into thinking the director cares about historical details with all the period sets, cars, news stories on the radio etc, but actually major parts of the plot are just made up. Of course the reason that historical movies rarely follow history exactly is that real events don't naturally follow standard narrative.
So it is not a documentary, which is fine, so it must be a character movie right? This brings me to its biggest flaw. An important goal of a movie like this is to build an emotional connection with the central character. This ought to be easy with a character like Dillinger, because he actually built a huge public fan base as a latter day "Robin Hood", despite being a murderous bank robbing crook. It tries hard and it does get close, particularly with the scenes involving Billie, one of Dillinger's many girlfriends. In the end, though, I just did not care all that much about him..
It is competent, but ultimately it fails to match up in comparison with other movies of this genre. Right now the IMDb rating for this movie is higher than "The Untouchables", "Once Upon a Time in America" or "Goodfellas", which is a testament to the cinematic ignorance of the majority of IMDb voters. No doubt the same people will rate this comment down, probably without even reading it, simply because I did not give the movie a 9 or 10.