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The Darkest Hour (2011)
Not Bad, But Certainly Could Have Been Better
Like so many things, having low expectations always makes something mediocre more enjoyable. And make no mistake about it, The Darkest Hour really isn't very good. I think poor acting is the killer in this film.
In a nutshell, The Darkest Hour is about 5 twenty somethings, trapped in the city of Moscow, during an invasion of what is best described as electro-magnetic space aliens. These plucky kids band together and, with some help along the way, manage to not only escape from the aliens but figure out a way to defeat them.
However, what really harms this film is the acting. I never really get a good sense of the stakes involved. The actors seem more agitated then scared. To be sure, they, "act" scared, but to me it's never really believable. The poor acting also doesn't translate well into their being a credible ensemble. In other words, they don't seem like they belong together, let alone, facing an alien invasion. The most egregious acting comes from the actor playing the Swedish ex-pat. He's the feel good villain in the group. After stealing the two male leads internet idea, he is shown closing the door on an attractive young woman trying to escape the aliens. She doesn't make it, much to the dismay of many male film goers I'm sure. Later, he gives a speech about finding out who you are in 2 seconds of time and blah, blah. The actor does a poor job. It was cringe inducing. Fortunately, he soon gets vaporized in a predictable attempt to redeem himself.
So, why do I say it's not so bad? Well, I liked the aliens and as clichéd as much of the film is, it had a refreshing feel to it. Again, keep in mind my expectations were low. The electro aliens were kinda cool. Different then many of the more recent alien invaders to hit the screen. I particularly like the way you get to see a glimpse of them as they are about to be destroyed. There are also a few nice scenes sprinkled about. I thought the eccentric inventor hiding out in his apartment developing weapons worked pretty well, and it was nice to see some reasonable acting pop in. The guy playing the inventor did a nice job.
The Darkest Hour would work much better on the small screen then on the big screen. Although, the way cinema screens are shrinking and TV screens are getting larger maybe they're more comparable then I think. Nevertheless, this isn't a terrible film, on a slow night, or a bout of insomnia, The Darkest Hour might be a perfectly acceptable viewing choice. Just keep your expectations in check.
Well Made And Great Fun !
Troll Hunter is a Norwegian film that, perhaps unsurprisingly, takes place in Norway and centers around 3 college students shooting a documentary about some mysterious bear killings. The students comprising of two men and a woman, stumble upon a hunter who they decide must have something to do with the killings. He doesn't. And they soon find out, by traveling with him, that it's actually trolls doing the killings and the adventure begins from there.
It's shot in The Blair Witch Project style, in the same way that Cloverfield, REC and many other films have been produced since Blair Witch. In fact, Troll Hunter does a fair job of poking fun at The Blair Witch Project. It's opening graphic declares the students missing and only their tapes recovered in much the same way as The Blair Witch Project.
I like the fact that Troll Hunter from the very first scene acknowledges that, yeah, we joined the shaky camera POV club. Let's put the Blair Witch comparison right in your face. For me, that set the right tone coming out of the gate.
Troll Hunter really has only three main characters. Hans the troll hunter, the trolls, and the three university students. I'm combining the students into one character since they seem to take a back seat to the other two characters and it's hard to get much of a feel for them as characters since they essentially function as the camera point of view.
Really, it's troll hunter Hans who makes the film. Hans, played by Otto Jespersen, is the focus of the film. His strong performance strengthens the film and gives the viewer a character to focus on amidst the herky jerky camera moves. Jespersen, like the film itself, is able to alternate between comedy and drama effectively. One moment he's complaining about his lack of overtime pay as a troll hunter and then next he's frantically running from the trolls with every bit the fear of God on his face. Perhaps my favorite scene is the students introduction to trolls. Hans comes running towards them yelling "troll!" Captured nicely the mood of the entire film. Funny and frantic. Trust me, it's funny when you actually see it.
The three students are mostly non-descript. And this might be one area where the film is lacking. There are two males, Thomas and Kalle and one woman, Johanna. A few days after seeing the film I'm not even sure I'm getting the names correct. Their main function is to ask Hans questions for us, the viewers, and, obviously film the goings on. Later, after the death of one of the males, Malica, another university student and a Muslim, is added. This prompts the question to Hans that if Trolls can smell Christians might they also be able to smell Muslims. "I honestly don't know," Hans, replies. Her addition, much like the other three, adds little. Rarely do we see or hear her and may really have been added only for the punch line about whether the trolls could smell Muslims.
The trolls on the other hand are quite memorable. They are wonderfully fairy tale like. An excellent job was done with the look of these creatures. I imagine they were copied from fairy tale books. Honestly, with the many, many creatures I've seen through the years on the big screen, these guys were refreshingly original. A nice blend of scary and comical. I actually felt more empathy towards them then I did towards the students. There were several different varieties of troll as well, so with each discovery, we get treated to a new troll. Of course, the most spectacular troll, is saved for the final scenes.
Although I've given away a fair amount, I'm intentionally not going into too much depth, since some of the best moments come as surprises. And I believe much of the entertainment value would be lost if too much is given away.
Troll Hunter is a lot of fun and has some nice comedic scenes. Unless you speak Norwegian though, reading the subtitles while watching the herky jerky cam may try your patience a bit, but nevertheless, Troll Hunter is worth seeing, if only for the trolls.
I'm a believer.
It would also make a nice double feature with the Finnish film Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale.
Rare Exports (2010)
Fun and Strikingly Entertaining
I had seen some of the short films that lead to the making of this feature, so I already had a pretty good idea of how it would unfold. However, this fact didn't spoil the film for me and only added to the anticipation.
Set in Finland on Christmas Eve, a father(Rauno) and son (Pietari) prepare for a reindeer hunt, that will sustain the small family financially for the new year. A parallel event, above the herding area for the hunt, is proceeding. A group of miners are preparing to unearth a mysterious creature under direction of an equally mysterious patron.
Things go downhill from there. And what make the subsequent events interesting and entertaining is the skill the director has in pacing the film and the actors in creating believable characters. Particularly charming is Onni Tommila the actor playing Pietari. I wish I could think of a better term then "warms my heart," but that's exactly how I feel when I see little Pietari running around dragging his little stuffed animal behind him. The point being that when you like a character, like Pietari, the tension is raised because you care what happens to them. The actor playing the father, Jorma Tommila (real life father to Onni), is also quite good at soliciting sympathy from the audience. It's clear from his expressions that, when the reindeer hunt goes awry, the family is in dire straits.
My main criticism might be that once the action starts, things fall so quickly into place, that it feels a little contrived. And, this is no small thing considering, we're talking about a movie that has a ghoulish Santa Claus that hunts children. But, that very same premise, in its novelty, saves the film from getting too bogged down. It's simply interesting to watch. You have Santa and his elves presented in a very, VERY different light.
I can't tell if I would have been satisfied with the ending since I already had a good idea of what was going to happen from the short films, but nevertheless, from start to finish, I found Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale quite entertaining and even a little scary in some places. And, I will forever be charmed by the films hero, Pietra.
Who knows, maybe this film will replace It's a Wonderful Life as the new Christmas standard. Probably not, but it's certainly a welcome addition to the genre and will be one I'll look forward watching again this time, next year.
Los abrazos rotos (2009)
Rather Shallow and Contrived
I've never been a huge fan of Almodovar, but, generally, I've always found something to enjoy in his films. Unfortunately, I had more trouble finding something to enjoy in Broken Embraces then I would normally think I would.
I find the biggest failure in Broken Embraces to be the characters and the lack of depth they display. The film is essentially a love story, one that is tragic, and one that wants to involve the viewer in their stories. I found this problematic from the beginning.
In the opening scene, our 'hero' the director/screenwriter, Mateo, is having sex with a very attractive young woman whom he just met. His agent comes in as the woman bashfully leaves.
In the opening scene, our 'hero' the director/screenwriter, Mateo, is having sex with a very attractive young woman whom he just met. His agent comes in, and rolls her eyes, as the woman bashfully leaves. Mateo babbles something about needing to enjoy life as the only thing he has left. Having been blinded in a tragic car accident that also killed his 'true' love Lena, played by Penelope Cruz, the viewer might buy into to this notion except the rest of the film really never illustrates why Lena was the love of his life or any depth to his character or any other.
Cruz plays Lena the mistress to an industrialist named Ernesto Martel. From the outset, their union is rather a pathetic one, as Martel clutches jealousy to Lena, and Lena avoids uncertainty of being on her own by staying with the much older Martel. To skip ahead, Martel finances a film for Mateo so he can keep tabs on the star of the film, Lena. Naturally, without any back story, Lena and Mateo fall in love. And, in Almodovar's world it really is that simple. Mateo, in the opening scene, has sex with a sexy young woman, now Mateo falls in love with Lena, later it's revealed he had a son with his agent after their love affair. Her son responds to this information with a laugh and an, "Oh, well." Again, no depth, no understanding for any of these characters, it all just happens. From the beginning of the film to the end, I got no depth of emotion from Mateo. He is flat, and doesn't act much different from one scene to the next.
The one scene I did enjoy was when film producer, Martel, is watching video footage his son recorded under the guise of doing a documentary of Mateo. There are nice a moment of Martel watching obsessively as a lip reading confirms his worst fears. Later, Lena confronts Martel as he's watching the footage and speaks her part out loud matching the video footage of her lips as she talks. Some quite brilliant moments. Rather contrived, but still really fascinating.
Unfortunately, for me, the rest of the film left me rather bored. I couldn't care about these characters or their situations, so no amount of cleverness on Almodovar's part can make up for this lack of depth. I think if you're a fan of his work you'll enjoy this movie, but if you're like me, in between, then you'll find it lacking.
In Bruges (2008)
Nice Blend Of Drama And Comedy
One of the problems with seeing a trailer for a film is it creates an expectation. If it raises expectations, and the film delivers, great. However, if the film is less then expected, then the viewer feels cheated. The best case scenario is the one I found myself in before I saw In Bruges. Low expectations.
After seeing the trailer, In Bruges looked like a plodding British comedy with little originality and repetitious humor, hence the low expectations. Yet, In Bruges exceeded my minimal expectations, and, unlike my impression from the trailer, was an original drama with good acting and a nice blend of comedy mixed in. It was funny in the right places and appropriately dramatic when the story shifted into high gear towards the end.
Set in, no surprise here, Bruges, Belgium, the plot focuses on two London hit men, Ray played by Colin Farrell, and Ken, played by Brendan Gleeson. The pair is sent to Belgium after Ray botches his first hi. And therein lies the humor, Ray has no interest in being in the medieval city, and Ken wants to sight see.
I've never really liked Colin Farrell but who knew he had such a good sense of comedic timing? There is a running gag involving fighting with a bottle, and karate, that he manages to keep fresh as it pops up throughout the film. Brendan Gleeson's character provides the moral center and plays the straight man to Farrell's Ray. This works well as the movie turns more serious towards the end. However, for my money, the best performance is delivered by Ralph Fiennes who plays Harry the pair's criminal overlord back in London. Whereas Gleeson character embodies the moral center, Fiennes's Harry fills the role of principled immorality, if there is such a thing. Fiennes creates a character with a dubious moral center and is a quite believable figure of menace when he travels to Bruges to square off with Ken. Also, of note, is Jordan Prentice, an irritable dwarf who's in town to act in a movie filming there. His ramblings in one scene, about a coming race war, is worth the price of admission right there.
The only aspect of the film that didn't work for me was Ray's love interest. Early in the film he manages to woo Chloe, a drug dealer with, drum roll please, a heart of gold. For my tastes, the budding romance seems a little forced and comes across more as a vehicle for jokes and drama. But it's a small thing and I doubt anyone but me would notice.
I intentionally left a lot of plot points out, because, as I've mentioned, this film surprised me in a good way and I don't won't to ruin it for anyone else.
In Bruges is a good film. Go see it.
At the very least, it'll make you want to visit Bruges.
Clerks II (2006)
The Emperor Is Not Wearing Any Clothes
A review of CLERKS II, or any of Kevin Smith's films, must begin with the obligatory reference to CLERKS.
I liked CLERKS when I first saw it years ago. But since then, the quality of Smith's films, including my interest, has dropped steadily since, culminating in the god awful JERSEY GIRL. My interest was piqued, however, when CLERKS II was announced. I thought it was a mistake for Smith to do a sequel, but since it was the one film of his I enjoyed, I figured I would give him the benefit of the doubt.
Nope. Mistake. Smith's trajectory downward continues unabated. I really wanted to like this film. However, just because I wanted to give CLERKS II a pass and like it, couldn't prevent the fact that it's a poorly written, acted, and directed film. And at it's very core, it was created by a lazy auteur. Little attempt is made to create realistic dialogue, believable characters or even a credible fast food restaurant.
Taking place some 10 odd years in the future, CLERKS II finds our heroes, Dante and Randal, played respectively by Brian O'Halloran and Jeff Anderson from CLERKS, still slaving away at their dead end jobs at the Quick Stop and Video Store until a fire forces them to finally move on. Moving on, however, only means moving down the street to another dead end called Moobys, a fictional fast food restaurant Smith resurrected from his View Askewniverse. The other cast of characters includes Mooby's manager Becky (played by Rosario Dawson) with an inexplicable crush on Dante, Emma (poorly cast Jennifer Schwalbach, Smith's wife) with an inexplicable engagement to Dante, and goody two shoes employee Elias (played rather bizarrely by Trevor Fehrman). Also, the previously defunct Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Kevin Smith) make appearances as well. Also, several of Smiths celebrity friends, Wanda Sykes, Ben Affleck, and Jason Lee make uninspired cameos.
So, Dante is moving to Florida with his fiancé, Emma, to live happily ever after. The movie takes place on his last day at Moobys. Dante's co-workers are unhappy with his decision to leave for the sunshine state for their own various reasons. Becky, Dante's occasional lover, secretly pines for him. Randal, his long time co-worker, wants his best friend and foil to stay put in New Jersey. And the plot line that follows, is, in spirit, if not in story, a rougher version of JERSEY GIRL, with the same sappy and forced sentimentality, but with profanity and lots of sex jokes.
I could accept the contrived plot, if the film was funny, but it really isn't. What worked in CLERKS, was that it seemed fresh and original. Hearing, essentially, the same dialogue, ten years on, doesn't prompt laughter as much as it does boredom. Smith's characters have always been mouthpieces for either his sophomoric philosophy or his humor. But, as I've mentioned, they might work once or twice, but seven films in? It's the same thing over and over. His characters sound exactly like the writer, himself.
This is most evident during a argument between Randal and Elias about Lord of the Rings vs. Star Wars. Randal, in defense of Star Wars, points out that LTR, is merely a film about walking, and proceeds to demonstrate. This is the same bit, Smith used once on the Tonight Show a awhile back. Interestingly, no one in Leno's audience really laughed at the bit, a harbinger of things to come for CLERKS II,I guess.
The acting is pretty poor and the ensemble cast comes across more as a group of friends getting together to play with some camera equipment they found then actual actors. The exception to this is Rosario Dawson and Jeff Anderson. Both do pretty well with the material they're given. As for everyone else, well, there wasn't much there. Trevor Fehrman plays Elias as an exaggeration and as such, the character comes across as retarded and almost non-functioning. Either Fehrman isn't a very good actor or Smith didn't give him much direction, probably a combination of both. As for Jennifer Schwalbach, did anyone mention to Smith that since she's already sleeping with the director, he didn't have to give her a part. Schwalbach isn't a good actress and comes across fairly wooden much in the same way that O'Halloran does, and was clearly miscast. She looks much older then the others, 40ish to their 30ish, anorexic and, with her bleached hair, completely out of place. Not only did I have trouble believing that she'd be interested in Dante, but also that she'd even live in New Jersey. The make out scene between Dante and Emma is one of the most unnatural love scenes I think I've ever scene. Awkward and unnatural for both the performers and audience.
It's easy to pick on Smith for his weight, or, make other personal attacks, but he may find the following the most insulting. Kevin Smith needs to either read some books on film-making or take some film classes, probably both. I'm certain they have some good screen writing classes out in Los Angeles. Whatever indie rebel status he once had with the quirky gem CLERKS, is now completely lost as he churns out one tiresome dud after another.
Watching CLERKS II is like watching a very poor public speaker give a presentation. Just as you'd cringe at every stutter and nervous rambling with a poor speaker, hoping they'll get better, the more I cringed watching CLERKS II and hoped it would get better. It never did. Relief came only when it was over.
The best way to sum up my experience with CLERKS II is with Becky's line upon entering the donkey scene, "It's disgusting and revolting yet I can't look away." Kind of how I felt throughout CLERKS II. However, in the future, as far as Kevin Smith's films are concerned, I intend to look away.
My 50 Cents Worth
This is not a sequel to WITCHBOARD. It's written and directed by Kevin S. Tenney, the director of WITCHBOARD. In fact, on the VHS copy I purchased, there's a notice on the back declaring WITCHTRAP a non-sequel. It's also, included, no kidding, as a notice right before the title sequence for WITCHTRAP. I guess Tenney was threatened with a lawsuit? Was Witchboard that successful that he'd be hassled about his obvious sequel to it? Also, on the packaging is the tag-line, "This time, it's not a game." So, what was the "last" time? WITCHBOARD, maybe? Sequel, perhaps? Please see disclaimer.
Anyway, I picked WITCHTRAP up, amongst other gems, at a local library sale for a whopping 50 cents. It was a rental from a now defunct video store called Top Video. Pretty beat up copy, and I usually prefer to stay away from rentals, but couldn't resist, plus it had Linnea Quigley in it. How bad could it be? Pretty bad, actually. The acting is quite awful. It helped that they drove around in vintage 1980s cars, wore Members Only jackets and sported the latest hairstyles. However, the people driving the cars, and sporting the funky clothes, couldn't cut it as performers. It's about the level of porn acting, maybe a little bit better and I suppose, the guy playing the detective, James Quinn, was okay, sometimes, but that's about it. Quigley, doesn't have much of a part and does what she's hired to do. She has a shower scene and she appears to be laughing when she gets killed.
The premise of the film is fairly typical for this genre. A man named Devin Lauter inherits a mansion from his long deceased uncle, Avery Lauter. Avery, it seems was some kind of warlock or other, and died brutally in the home and, naturally, possesses the place and kills erstwhile inhabitants. That's why the nephew, Devin, hires a crack team of paranormal experts and some detectives, for security, to figure the place out. Of course, once they arrive things go horribly wrong. If only they had gone horribly wrong in any kind of an interesting way. The pacing is very slow and the gruesome deaths aren't very gruesome. Flying hatchets were never that scary to begin with, and WITCHTRAP proves that they still aren't.
There is, however, a certain production value to WITCHTRAP. The pacing sucks but the editing and camera work is clearly professional. In fact, there were a couple of things I thought were kind of neat, here and there, like a scene where some hands come through a door. But, believe me, those moments were few and far between. And, by professional, I mean they had some money behind it, so it's watchable, unlike, say, a lot of the stuff from Full Moon video. I have to also say, that compared to a lot of direct to video digital cheapies I've seen in recent years, some of these ultra low budget filmmakers could learn a thing or two from WITCHTRAP. Unfortunately, that has more to do with how bad some current filmmakers are then any particular quality WITCHTRAP has. Again, there is some technical competence in the film but, unfortunately, not enough to redeem it.
Almost twenty years on, it's a bit tricky to consider recommending WITCHTRAP. There's no arguing that it's a pretty bad film. It fails on some of the most fundamental levels consistently enough to irritate just about anyone interested in these types of films. The gratuitous nudity is pretty uninspired, as is the violence, and the poor acting exceeds camp into just plain awful.
Still, if you're a connoisseur of 80s horror, if there is such a thing, you might be able to tolerate the bad film-making. Linnea Quigley is in it, after all and that helps. It also helps that it is so dated. If you grew up in this era, nostalgia might get you through.
So, if you see it for 50 cents, or maybe a dollar, and need something to play in the background as you do other things, WITCHTRAP just might be up your alley. Otherwise, you're better off with almost anything else.
Jesus Camp (2006)
Interesting But Needed More Focus
I missed seeing Jesus Camp in the theaters, so I was looking forward to it when it came out on DVD. For people who have not yet seen it, there's a benefit to watching it on the small screen, since it allows for deleted scenes. Of even more benefit is being able to rewind and watch selected scenes over again, to make sure you're hearing things right. There's a lot of rewinding in Jesus Camp. It's that kind of movie.
The documentary follows a few kids as they go from their homes in Missouri to a bible camp in North Dakota called Kids On Fire. The camp is run by Becky Fischer, a likable, albeit a bit nutsy, middle-aged woman hell bent (pun intended) on molding future Christian leaders. The kids themselves are also awfully likable, if not down right adorable. We follow these kids, Levi, Rachael, and Tory, as they participate in, a hip hop gospel dance routine "Kickin' It For Christ," a prayer vigil involving a cardboard cut out of President Bush, a smashing of cups symbolizing the oppressive U.S. government, and a very unusual pro-life lecture, amongst other activities.
By following the kids through Kids On Fire, the viewer gets an awfully good education of the main tenets of the evangelical movement in the United States. For people unacquainted with it, Jesus Camp will be eye opening. I was already familiar with much of the ideas and concepts in the film, but still found it fascinating. However, although there are interviews with the three kids, their parents and Becky, I felt that Jesus Camp needed more background on the main players. As a counter point, the filmmakers chose to include Mike Papantino, a radio host decrying the evangelical movement. Later, in the film, we get to hear a phone call between Becky and the host. Interesting, but not very helpful. So, some people reject much of what Pastor Becky and others are trying to do. It didn't inform the film much, and wasn't given enough depth, in my mind, to really make any insightful statement. I think most people not associated with the evangelical movement will already draw their own conclusions, and evangelicals already involved aren't going to be persuaded much by the briefs cut-aways to Mr. Papantino. I would have preferred more time with the kids and the camp.
We also travel with the kids to Colorado Springs and the New Life Church, run by the currently disgraced, Ted Haggard. Because of the gay escort and drugs scandal, I can't say whether or not I was expecting Ted Haggard to come across as bizarre as he did. But, boy oh boy, does he seem flat out weird. In the brief clips we see of Haggard, he seems a little drugged out with his behavior. Haggard's attempts to joke by speaking directly into the camera, in both the final cut and deleted scene, are quite odd. His further discussion with Levi about being a child minister also comes out as cynical and uninspired. I've watched a fair amount of evangelists in my time Dr. Gene Scott, the Bakkers, and even Ernest Angley, but Haggard competes with the best of them in terms of out right creepiness. And, compared with Haggard, Pastor Becky and her group seem almost normal. I stress, almost.
The film closes out with a field trip to Washington, D.C. and a prayer vigil at the Supreme Court. It's not clear to me whether or not these side trips are actually part of the Kids On Fire bible camp, and, as interesting as they are, these side trips detract from the main story of the camp and the kids. Again, I think Jesus Camp would be better served focusing more on what motivates these children to pursue Christianity in the way they do or what prompts Pastor Becky to be as involved as she is with these kids. The information is there, at times, I just wanted more background. By viewing the deleted scenes, I get a better understanding, but can't help but wonder why so much of these scenes were left out of the final cut. Jesus Camp is a really fascinating documentary, but an even better one was left on the cutting room floor.
Jigoku no keibîn (1992)
Nice Illustration of Kurosawa's Emerging Style
Kiyoshi Kurosawa was blacklisted for four years by the Japanese film industry powers that be after turning in a film that was intended to be a nudie sex romp, but conveniently left out the nudie sex. The producers were not pleased.
THE GUARD FROM THE UNDERGROUND was his first venture on return from his exile. I've read that "GUARD" is Kurosawa's homage to early 80s American slasher films. I think this does the director, who also wrote the film, a disservice. I think saying "GUARD" is merely an homage neglects a great deal of Kurosawa's unique style and talent that is evident throughout the film. He manages to take a fairly straightforward story; a killer on the loose in a building filled with trapped employees, and makes it stylistically interesting. There is humor, some social commentary, and more then one intriguing death scene.
I know I'm reading more into the film then is probably there, but "GUARD" seems to touch on the styles of many films and genres. With the protagonist being trapped in an unfamiliar environment with a menacing hulking man stalking the halls, I was reminded of the old Universal horror films, most notably, FRANKENSTEIN. I think pushed a little further, and if shot in black and white, "GUARD" would have made a unique homage to that film period. Also, I thought of Dario Argento when the slow moving killer would make his appearances. Like Argento, Kurosawa is slow to reveal the face of the killer, even though his identity had been established early on. There are also many close ups of hands and shoes as the stalking menace makes his way to each victim. Unlike Argento, however, there is relatively little graphic violence and most of the killings involve the thuggish creature clubbing his victims to death. An exception to this is a unique scene involving a locker. I thought it was inventive so I won't reveal the exact nature of how the locker is used so as to not spoil it.
I think fans of Kurosawa will appreciate GUARD and enjoy seeing some of his earlier more mainstream work. The film shows indications of a style he would expand upon in his later projects. Non-Kurosawa fans might find GUARD a little slow paced and might enjoy some of his later work, like PULSE, as a good starting point, or the exceedingly brilliant CURE.
Kurosawa is one of those rare directors who always seems to present something interesting in his films no matter what the genre or subject. THE GUARD FROM THE UNDERGROUND, while not one of his best, is certainly another example of what a talented director can achieve with a fairly simple storyline.
I was at an advantage and disadvantage in watching BAADER. My advantage was that I know relatively little about the Baader-Meinhof Gang or Red Army Faction (RAF). I believe this allowed me to view the film more objectively. As a fictionalized representation of the RAF, I figured I could see how well BAADER worked as a film. My disadvantage was that, well, I know relatively little about the RAF, so would be unable to figure out just how much liberty the filmmakers took with the real events. Ultimately, I'm not sure it mattered that much as BAADER falls rather flat as an accurate representation or inaccurate representation.
I found it hard to feel any real connection to the characters. And, by connection, I mean I didn't feel any great animosity towards the RAF or any sympathy. To feel so dispassionate about a group of revolutionaries/terrorists, is a failing in both the writing and directing.
Andreas Baader, as portrayed in BAADER, is supposed to bring an understanding to what brought these people together under his leadership to commit the acts they committed. However, I don't get any sense of why the other members of the RAF were drawn to him or even to the cause. Unlike some other reviewers, I didn't have a problem with Frank Giering being cast in the role. Giering seems capable and competent, it's the script that lacks dimension.
For most of the film, the characterization of Baader is nothing more then political rants and raves. It's possible that Baader was similar to this in real life, however, in the film it got old quickly. I wanted more insight into who this man was, and if not him, then more insight into the RAF as an organization. We don't get either in BAADER. The film doesn't give us enough insight into Andreas Baader and it never gives us much information about Ulrike Meinhof or the other members.
My impression is that the filmmakers wanted to romanticize the Baader Meinhof gang as a group of sincere idealists. It's brought out that the RAF didn't, at first, want to harm anyone. At least, that is what we hear through one of Andreas Baader's rants. Also, there is an attempt to draw almost a father and son type connection between Kurt Krone who is the federal policeman in charge of capturing Baader and destroying the gang, and Andreas Baader. There is a meeting between the two towards the end of the film and, inexplicably the film shows Krone's sympathy for Baader. Krone, at one point, says that the RAF almost managed to change society. My question is, change it to what, exactly? From watching BAADER, I have no idea, so therefore, one way or the other; I see no sense of urgency to the group and the film, in general. This is unfortunate, since the RAF was a big part of German consciousness during their reign of terror. And I certainly could have done without the fictionalized ending. Andreas Baader dies in a highly romantic way reminiscent of the American film BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID. I have since found out that, Andreas died in a much less dramatic and romantic fashion.
If the film had been centered on Kurt Krone, the more interesting character in my opinion, BAADER would have worked much better. Krone's orchestration of the federal police and his ability to second-guess Baader, was fascinating. Again, I'm unclear how much of his character was fictionalized, but I much preferred the film when it focused on his character.
In the end, BAADER is neither a real life account of the RAF in the 70s nor an engaging fictionalized vision of how Andreas Baader and the group might have operated. If you have any interest in radical groups of this time period, it might be worth a look, keeping in mind the historical inaccuracies, otherwise there's not much to recommend.