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4 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Flawed but Unbroken - A Fitting Finale, 20 July 2012

Following a movie event like Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight" (2008) is a dangerous game, but then Nolan is a dangerous player. His curious obsession with masculine identity, psychological schisms and the dark night of the soul gave "Batman Begins" (2005) a sense of edgy 'reality' that ingratiated him to critics and a good deal of the public, even if it alienated some hard-core Batfans with its customized and highly Nolan-esque take on the Caped Crusader. When his second installment braved the frontier of openly post-9/11 superhero parables, and in so doing gave the late Heath Ledger platform to truly wow audiences and critics the world over, the British director seemed to have galvanized 'superhero noir' as the new benchmark in comic book film adaptation. "The Dark Knight Rises" (2012) is his final word on the subject, and while this reviewer feels that it is not a film fit to win over any dissenters or greatly deter any fanatics, it is very largely successful in what it tries to do and its failings are certainly not for a lack of trying.

The first hour or so of the film is a whirlwind of plot necessities that, despite the running time of 165 minutes, probably needed another half an hour or so to unfold with sensicality. They involve introductions to John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) - a rookie cop raised in a city orphanage who apparently "still believes in the Batman", even though as far as the audience is concerned he may as well have just moved to Gotham last week – Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) – a cat-burglar who is therefore Catwoman – and Miranda Tate (Marion Cottilard) – a high society Gothamite monetarily invested in a renewable energy program at Wayne Enterprises that has apparently gone bust, even though it seems to work just fine. Excusing a twist in the tale that seems to be there for its own sake, however, Nolan and his co-screenwriter (also known as his brother Jonathan) do not really abide loose ends, and by the commencement of the film's some hour-long climax all the story elements that feel disparate and murky in the beginning have intertwined and solidified into the kind of philosophically powerhouse narrative that made the first two films so effective.

What makes the Nolan films effective is how they appropriated the inalienable tenets of the Batman legend in pursuit of an apocalyptic allegory about the post-9/11 western world. "Batman Begins" was a film about fear; the double edged nature of fear's power over a people and how the conquering of fear is invaluable for the pilgrimage of moral valor. "The Dark Knight" was a film about Terror, the kind George Bush Jr. declared war against in the early twenty-first century, and about how the greatest tool against Terror is the adherence to moral principles, even if sacrifice and compromise must be allowed for.

"The Dark Knight Rises" provides a more accurate depiction of terroristic motives in its central villain of Bane than the "The Dark Knight" did with The Joker, because he holds Gotham in contempt for its status as a symbol of American first-world 'imperialism'. There has been some critical backlash against Bane as a Villain Without A Face, but this severely undermines Tom Hardy's performance, which actually achieves remarkable presence through nothing but body-language, vocal theatricality and disturbingly expressive eyes. Even without a face, Hardy effortlessly paints a convincing portrait of one who wants to dismantle the lie of Harvey Dent's legacy and incite Gotham into class-warfare riots. He purports to "liberate" Gotham's people, but his ultimate goal is to feed Gotham false hope before destroying the whole darn thing and everyone in it. Bane's genuine ideological conflict with western civilization is centered around the power of hope in the eventuation of despair. More than it is a film about fear or Terror, "The Dark Knight Rises" is a film about hope.

In accord with the rest of the trilogy, Bruce Wayne is not the only protagonist whose arc is built around the movie's central thematic concepts. Even the arc supplied for Selina Kyle ends up justifying her seemingly arbitrary insertion into this filmic imagining by providing a suitably dubious object of moral faith for the fallen Dark Knight. She begins with similar outlook to Bane, but the Nolans don't buy into Ra's Al Ghul's assertion that criminals aren't complicated. Everyone, and everything, is complicated.

Oddly enough, it's this principle that is behind most of the shortcomings of the film. It's a little *too* complicated, with the rushed series of first-act events seriously paling in comparison to the emotional impact of the conclusion, and an aforementioned twist that doesn't make much sense. There are also a lot more impossible feats performed by Bruce Wayne here than before, including a near-superhuman healing ability. And where "Batman Begins" and "The Dark Knight" stood alone very effectively, one can't help but feel that both films are practically required viewing for this one.

But none of that really outweighs the sheer, touching veracity of this finale and its philosophical/moral ambitions, which are all up to par with the predecessors and pay off a great deal of things with a genuine craftsmanship. This "Batman" series has always been about the power of symbols in a corrupted world and personal accountability in a society of structural shackles, and when Batman returns to Gotham at the top of the final act to brand his symbol in flames upon the city's largest bridge structure, we are reminded of the paradoxical purity of his message. Even as part of a system that is broken, even funded by a wealth that would perhaps do more good dispersed amongst the third world, even if no one ever knows his name, the Batman fights for the goodness of fallen people (be they cops, cat-burglars or orphans) who may otherwise have never had the chance to rise.

Saw V (2008)
4 out of 9 people found the following review useful:
I've been holding my peace, but this one's a dud and here's why, 24 October 2008

NOTE: The following comment is written under the assumption that readers are familiar with the franchise and its general plot arc.

Saw V is a pretty lackluster film, a retread of themes, plots, characters and even specific events from the previous films of the canon. It fails on a lot of levels, but the main one is its insistence on telling us things we already know. The identity of Jigsaw's operative in the police force was revealed at the end of IV (a much better film in every way), and if we even WANTED to know the reasons that this particular cop 'went over to the dark side', we certainly wanted it to be a much more interesting and involving story than the one V gives us. We could, and a lot of us probably already have supposed every generic plot point in this character's origins story. We wouldn't have guessed the specifics, but as usual, the specifics don't matter.

Once this recurring flashback tale of transformation has revealed itself to be pretty un-challenging, we're left only with the even blander present-day plot of The Other Cop (excluding the cutaway sequences of an ongoing five-person 'game', which is robbed by its very cutaway nature of any tension and which feels pretty irrelevant throughout). This non-flashback story has nothing to it: the cop who survived the last three films without being Jigsaw's buddy is onto the one who is, and he very stupidly spends all his time walking from dark room to dark room, talking to himself and failing to report his incriminating findings to anyone. Needless to say, things do not end well.

And it *is* needless to say this: that's another thing Saw V seems to forget. The film treats its fatalistic and unhappy ending as though it retains the shock that the first film's equally fatalistic and unhappy ending delivered. It doesn't. We are by now very, very wise to the franchise's policy on endings and closure, and we know that the good guys are all doomed. When we get what we know is coming, the natural response is to be quite profoundly unimpressed.

I loved the fourth Saw film. I thought it did really new and exciting things with a premise that didn't even originate with the intelligence that was eventually given it. I thought it made really relevant points about ideological warfare and the fundamental horror of terrorism. And I thought it set the series up for some great explorable terrain. What follows is a monumental backslide, a film that does nothing new and doesn't even revert to used material very well (fans who are just after gore are also going to be disappointed - there's not much of it). I came out of the theatre feeling like I was still waiting for the fifth Saw film to get made.

28 out of 32 people found the following review useful:
The Last of the Greats, 6 July 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The notion of User Comments for individual episodes of television series' seems at the outset an elaborate and nerdily elitist exercise. Of all the T.V. shows that I love, I'm pretty convinced "Buffy" is the only one this function of IMDb is really useful for. Insofar as you have to already be an avid follower of the show to appreciate them, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" did harbor some of the most amazing and unforgettable singular works of serial narrative ever put on the small screen. It had, in my opinion, more truly great episodes than any other television series of its time (with the possible exception of "The X Files"). "Conversations With Dead People" was the last of them.

The episode is perhaps the most strongly themed of the entire show - while the motifs of loneliness and disconnection had been prominent in the series since the beginning of its sixth season, "Conversations With Dead People" is the only single episode to really commit itself thoroughly to these ideas and their bearings on 'our beloved characters'. From structure and form (five separate stories involving five separate people who never intersect or move from their isolated settings) to the focus of the dialog and nature of the narrative events, the episode concerns itself *only* with the very secret, deep and personal feelings of each of the characters, and the varying degrees of lonely pain that they experience. It's quite a daring and firm shift from action to meditation, and although Dawn's story involving a poltergeist preventing her from communicating with her dead mother has multitudes of violence, loud noises and explosions, the emotional need driving her character through the mess speaks for itself.

These defining, formal peculiarities aside, "Conversations With Dead People" also makes my top ten on account of two quite astounding performances: Alyson Hannigan as series regular Willow turns out one of her most amazing crying sequences, as she mourns openly to a ghost medium about the sudden death of her lover from the previous season. Deemed by fellow Buffy actor Tom Lenk as "one of the best criers in the biz", Hannigan makes good on that quote in this episode, creating some of the most real and heart wrenching emotion seen on commercial T.V.

More surprising though, is the thoroughly compelling performance of one-time guest Johnathon Woodward, as Buffy's undead, Freudian confidante and old, unremembered high school companion. Woodward went on to have cameo spots in each of Joss Whedon's television ventures, but he works enough magic here for all three: his comic balancing act between deep, three-dimensional character and mere physical opponent for Buffy's obligatory fights works splendidly with its own good-humoured ridicule.

Moreover, his remarkable psychoanalytical insights into Buffy, while making no sense by the principles of Vampirism that have been established in the show (Woodward's vampire seems, like James Marsters' Spike, to be some kind of miraculous deviation from the Vampiric model that classically has no human emotion), are dead on and as poignant as any comments made by any character in the history of the series. His compassionate yet matter-of-fact summation of her problem stands as one of my favourite lines of the show: "It all comes down to you feeling alone. But Buffy, everybody feels alone... Everybody *is*. Until they die." His and Buffy's incredibly short-lived relationship establishes such a strong bond so succinctly that for the first time, there actually is pathos in a no-name vampire's death. It's an inarguably bizarre usage of the standard Buffy-kills-a-newborn-demon-in-a-graveyard shtick, but also an incredibly successful one.

Although very clearly *meant* to be a different and radical take on the "Buffy" episode formula, "Conversations With Dead People" benefits beautifully from its very late status in the series by existing against all the expectations built before it. While there had been episodes earlier on in the show that had stood as pretty universally innovative television (that is, unusual for TV) this final-season oddball was able, due to the strength of the series' innovation up until that point, to get by on simply being unusual *for a Buffy episode*. It is perhaps more thematically impenetrable than most, but for the fans in the know, it's a goldmine.

82 out of 95 people found the following review useful:
Whedon Attack, 21 September 2007

I'm amazed that "Buffy" fanatics don't like this episode. I honestly had more faith in them than that. I assumed that because this series was a remarkably innovative and intelligent production which recognized the boundless potential of the television medium that its followers would largely share similar traits. The feedback I've heard on this Season Four closer is that it's dull, confusing and pointless. I sorely beg to differ.

What I understood of "Restless" the first time I saw it (and have been consolidated by every further viewing) is that it is an unadulterated Freudian character study, realized with lite David Lynch methodology. It's true that there is SFA of the formulaic Big Bad plotting that "Buffy" episodes usually revolve around, but I was actually somewhat thankful for this. "Restless" is a denouement - a reflection and a meditation, and although there is an obligatory evil at work, the villain here is vague and besides the point. "It's all about the journey," says Giles and despite the obviousness, he's right.

I don't know about everyone else, but I love these characters. In that cathartic, fanboy, TV-show way, I care about them. And by God, I'm excited when I get the chance to learn something about them - I loved the in depth character studies of other such low-key episodes as Season Three's "Amends" and "The Zeppo", Season Five's "The Body" or Season Six's "Hell's Bells". And I'm not saying all this to alienate non "Buffy" nerds or prove myself "Buffy" nerd supreme, just to illustrate that the episodes that have enough impact on me to make me remember their names are the ones where I feel like we've gotten somewhere with the people we watch, and we understand them just a little bit better. To me, no episode ever did this better than "Restless".

So have your way and think your thoughts, but I like to have a little shared humanity with the objects of my fandom now and again, and "telling statement" dreams of hidden fears and desires just does more for me than fist fights with interchangeable Evil Dead. As far as I'm concerned, this mid-series nap by our drama-heavy protagonists gives more multi-viewing rewards than most feature length films. Not only this, but it is essential viewing in any attempt to understand how Joss Whedon's cheesy-by-premise, Supernatural soap opera became and holds a place as one of the most compelling television experiences of all time.

6 out of 12 people found the following review useful:
By its very nature, what we've been waiting for. It delivers as well as it can., 28 July 2007

Here's what I think: a good portion of the world has waited for a long time to see the Simpsons on the theatre screen. This kind of anticipation for a film has no precedent, as far as I know. It's absolutely huge. The logical, human extension of this anticipation is that many people are going to be disappointed. Others are going to be thrilled that the moment has finally arrived. I tend to think of it this way – recall the dizzying excitement that you felt as a child when you were going to stay the night at a friend's house. You would stew it over, hype it up, bounce up and down at the thought the entire day before. Sometimes you couldn't sleep. Now imagine that excited anticipation, subconsciously preserved for fifteen years.

Because I think it needs to be understood that for a lot of us, "The Simpsons" is more than a show. It's a cultural load bearing pillar of our childhood. It's a resource of knowledge and life. So as much as it is impossible to live up to the expectations of a generation still bouncing up and down at the thought, and as much as no film could ever encapsulate the breadth of "The Simpsons"' brilliance (from 1992 to 1997), there is still a part of me that feels some deep untouchable itch put to blissful rest at the mere sight of Springfield on the big screen.

Is it a good movie? I think so. Kinda. It has a plot, and character arcs, and jokes, and all that. But truth be told, it's just about impossible to think of it as a film. When people ask if it's good, they don't mean "Was it a good film?" They mean, "Was it good "Simpsons"?" The answer to this question is, again, I think so. Kinda. There are definite upsides to it: writing credits include some of the most prolific writers from the series' golden years: Mike Scully, David Merkin and John Swartzwelder highly amongst them. These people were big believers in taking the show "back to the family", and though the character stories cooked up for the film are retreads (Homer endangers the family, then endeavors to save them; Marge's relationship with Homer is put into question; Bart feels he'd be happier with another father), they're at least done by writers who know the characters better than any. There's also some of that good old fashioned *tasteful* celebrity cameo usage which has grown short these past few years: Green Day, Albert Brooks and Tom Hanks lend their voices to mostly great effect.

But there are problems as well. Some computer animation here and there puts us just a little bit out of it, we're not used to seeing the camera of Springfield move in that bizarre two dimensional three dimension way that computer assisted cartoons do. This isn't as big a distraction as the fact that "The Simpsons" simply works best in an episodic format. It's hard work to enjoy them through one solid plot for feature length. It can be done, but it's a slightly strained kind of enjoyment. Like you're giving the film a hand when it slips a little. Kind of an interactive experience, if you want to be optimistic about it.

And the film does slip. I'd say roughly sixty per cent of the jokes got laughs out of my full theatre, and me personally. This is no criticism – at the rate the show's been going, it's practically a miracle. Add that to the aforementioned fact that the film format isn't what "The Simpsons" was made for, and you've got yourself what's really a pretty funny production. The film's opening scene, of the Simpson family watching "The Itchy and Scratchy Movie" and making amusing parallels, Homer's "spider-pig" bit and Bart's naked skateboarding sequence are even downright hilarious (see also 'President Schwarzenegger'). And even though the scenes that cop the ungainly task of moving the plot forward do feel something like awkward punctuations, they need to be there to keep the relatively consistent laughs coming and they don't stop the show completely. We may be able to see the seams, but like an old soft toy, we love it anyway. And really, if you don't; if you're not willing to cut this movie some slack for old time's sake, what are you doing watching it in the first place?

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Not all life-stories are cinematic, 8 April 2007

"Running With Scissors" is a film that perfectly demonstrates the difference between what's important to one person, and what's important to everybody else. You can tell somebody that your cat died, and they will feel sorry for you, but they won't feel your pain. And they probably won't feel that your cat's death was a time in your life that would be a well rounded exploration into your character or have any specific thematic resonance.

Somebody should have explained this to Augusten Burroughs before he decided to turn his memoir (which, for all I know, is a ripping read) into a star-studded feature film. His young life, the sole subject matter, was probably interesting at the time, but on screen, it goes exactly like this: Young Augusten (Joseph Cross) has a mentally unbalanced mother (Annette Bening) and a hopeless alcoholic father (Alec Baldwin). The dad gets sick of it, and leaves. The mother, who fancies herself a brilliant poet, sees a shrink (Brian Cox) about all the grievances she has with her life-long oppression. His solution is to, ultimately, adopt Augusten and act as both his father and psychiatrist in a home only fractionally worse than the one it replaces. Everyone in this home is ludicrously damaged in the head. It's strange, and at times it's a little sad, but still, no one really wants to hear all about your dead cat.

As it happens, a cat does die in this movie. Not to give too much away, or give the wrong idea, but the pet dies as a result of a sorely dysfunctional household that, despite the profession of its patriarch, is entirely tolerant of mental illness. Yes, that's a shame. But this is the film's only punch line. A dead cat, a few broken homes, a demolished kitchen ceiling, wasted human potential, a lot of wasted money. All because of what? A sorely dysfunctional household that, despite the profession of its patriarch, is entirely tolerant of mental illness.

There are points that seem like they might have had a greater social relevance, commenting on things like feminism, sexuality, psychology. Sadly, these things don't ever really leave the Finch house, so even in such an obviously 70's set and style, nothing has much of a context. I, more than anyone, hate a film being dismissed as the sum of its parts, but in all honesty this felt like nothing a hell of a lot more than two hours of strange people doing strange things. I will say, however, that despite all these gripes, it's very hard to take it out on the actors, and given everything this is an achievement and a half. The performances here are all of a respectable standard, with particular attention being demanded by Bening and more subtly roused by Joseph Fiennes and Evan Rachel Wood (Baldwin and Paltrow are very generous here and they come out richer for it). The problem is not at all the acting, it's the characters themselves. Nothing happens to them. Even things that should create change in personalities or arcs, such as losing virginity at 14 to a much older male, don't seem to have any such effects. And yes, it is misguided to criticize lack of character development in a memoir piece, but that doesn't change the fact that a key part of the decision to film this autobiography should have been to acknowledge popular expectation of the film medium, and people expect movies to entertain.

"It doesn't matter where I start" Burroughs tells us over a black screen in the opening segment "You won't believe me anyway" I can't help but think that the mentality that it doesn't matter where you start (or where you go from there) is probably what brought this ship down, and not to be overly mean about it, but for future reference, audiences will believe what you tell them. They won't necessarily care.

The Fly (1986)
11 out of 15 people found the following review useful:
Exceptional Horror, 23 March 2007

Just last week, in one of my Screen Analysis tutorials, our tutor good-naturedly decided that if we were going to be film students we needed to be exposed to disturbing things. What he showed us was an excerpt from an expressionist French film made in the late 20's, the name escapes me. Before we had reached the climactic scene, every one in the class had already guessed it, as we had seen images so far of a man purposely sharpening a razor blade, and then approaching a complacent woman in a chair and holding wide open one of her eyes. At this point one of the girls in the room rather loudly asked of the tutor, jokingly but in something of a shaky voice, "Why are you doing this?"

This question, I think, could well be the definitive mark of really effective horror, and it was certainly in the back of my mind nearly all of last night as I was watching David Cronenberg's "The Fly" for the first time. True horror films, by their nature, should strive to get their audience to ask this question, because it means that they are transcending the illusion of moving pictures and becoming a film – suspending disbelief and getting under your skin. Effectiveness aside, however, I believe that the mark of exceptional horror is when the question stems from a concern for the characters' wellbeing, and not your own. With both these thoughts in mind, I suspect that "The Fly" could well be the second best horror film of all time (behind Kubrick's "The Shining", which, I admit, got to first place by completely different criteria. Such is life, I'm afraid).

Remade from a 1958 concept starring Vincent Price (and later popularized by "The Simpsons"), the film follows a pretty archetypical horror premise: science gone (of course) horribly wrong. In this case, Jeff Goldblum (in his tour-de-force performance) plays Seth Brundle, an independent scientific visionary who has been slowly designing a device that will "change the world as we know it" – a Teleporter. When he shows his invention to romantic interest Veronica (Geena Davis), it is not quite ready to handle living tissue (demonstrated on screen in the first instance of quite confronting gore), but as the two grow a relationship and fall in love, the wrinkles in the technology are ironed out and so Brundle takes one small step for man and tests the machine on himself. Unfortunately, in the process of teleportation, his DNA is mixed up with that of a common housefly, and although not immediately transformed, as in the original, the two species soon begin to genetically merge and transform Brundle into a creature that has never existed before – and for damned good reasons.

Cronenberg, of course, never shortchanges his audience with graphic gore, and even viewed with the critical eye of Generation Y, the film's mid-eighties effects are still quite sickening, none more so than Goldblum's slow physical transformation. What makes this whole affair really outstanding, however, is his psychological transformation: the truly disturbing thing is how front and centre the humanity of these characters and their world is kept. Davis and Goldblum are the heroes in this regard – their chemistry is palpable, and her affection for him struggling against her disgust at what he is becoming, coupled with his own struggle to keep the fly in check, create the kind of riveting discomfort usually only commanded by train-wrecks.

I was, in fact, quite strongly reminded of Darren Aronofsky's 2000 film-adaptation of Hubert Selby's novel "Requiem for a Dream" – although the subject matter differs greatly, both films derive their horror elements most strongly from a place that is completely removed from Horror – and in both examples the source is basically Love. In this sense, the film affects a lot like real life tragedies do, because it begins in a place truly pure and good and unsuspecting, lets its characters discover how wonderful life can be, and then Horror is unjustly, and irrevocably, forced upon them. This is why it is genuinely moving, instead of tacky, when Goldblum resigns to Davis with a regretful and yet matter-of-fact air that "(he is) an insect who dreamt (he) was a man, and loved it. But now the dream is over… and the insect is awake". And in true Cronenberg style, this prophecy becomes quite literal in the third act (think Vincent D'Onofrio in "Men in Black").

Now, in a film that had spent more time on sinister close ups of flies and haunting music cues and not on the bare and essential humanity of the doomed lovers, at this point I probably would have asked "Why are you doing this to me?" and that could have been the end of it – dismissed as senseless disturbing cinema and forgotten. As Cronenberg, Goldblum and Davis have done it, what I asked was "Why are you doing this to them?" And that's the kind of film that you don't ever forget.

0 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Unique And Inventive, If A Little Unclear, 28 January 2007

I saw an advanced screening of "Perfume" at a local revamped theatre with Christmas vouchers. When I told my parents of my plans before leaving they, having read the book, gave me a look which read "Good Luck". Around three minutes in, I concluded that I probably needed it. My main mistake in retrospect was, I think, that I chose to interpret the deliberate stark contrast between the film's title (Perfume) and subtitle (The Story Of A Murderer) as tacky. In truth, it's more or less the entire film in a nutshell: a promise of beauty facilitating hideous dark action, and this realization could have saved me some bewilderment and, I won't lie, horror. It also could have brought my appreciation of the film forth a lot sooner.

Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (Ben Whishaw) is a gutter birth in 1600's Paris and he is raised by a rather indifferent orphanage until he is turned over to a brutal tannery owner. He is also one of the most extraordinarily gifted "personages of his time", narrator John Hurt informs us. His gift is unique, and is more or less the fuel for the existential fire that burns, almost without much thought as to whether the audience quite understands, throughout the film: he has an unfathomably strong and accurate sense of smell. To give you an idea, this guy can smell underwater, through glass and over twenty or so miles. He can also instinctivey recreate any perfume he smells, even in trace amounts.

This gift of his draws him to work in the perfume shop of Has-Been perfumer Giuseppe Baldini (Dustin Hoffman), but when he catches a whiff of a beautiful red haired girl selling plums on the streets, the film's true nature, and his defining obsession begins – he wants to learn to preserve the scent of beauty.

I won't go into any more detail, suffice it to say what I'm sure you all know anyway, which is that this obsession of John-Baptiste's leads him singularly and irrevocably down a path of darkness and murder. It's a path on which the light that began it - the dream, if you will - soon becomes obscured to the audience until what we see is no more a 'gifted personage', nor a 'murderer', but a madman.

And here "Perfume" joins the ranks of the all time great filmic portrayals of mad people – it declines to relate to them, it refuses to excuse them, but it offers something of an explanation, presents something in the way of their mindset so that we are put off just enough to wonder if there might ever have been hope for the lost cause we're watching. In this case, it's the amazing representation of smell – tracking shots across landscapes and through intimate spaces, a swelling and yearning string-based sound track and rather remarkable acting from Whishaw. These things all, for most part, manage to give the impression of a man who, although sociopathic, hasn't set out to cause harm, only to find cathartic relief. The film's grandiose treatment of the least film-friendly of the five senses creates a sort of awe in the audience that leaves us actually able to conceive of just what Scent means to John-Baptiste… even if we're still not sure what it all really means in the grander sense.

That's where the picture is a bit of a let-down and, incidentally, a lot like another of this year's ambitious art house attempts, "Babel". It's clear there's supposed to be an epic relevance to the whole thing, it's just not clear what it is. There are, as mentioned, fierce existential themes (highlighted by a scene in which Jean-Baptiste realizes he has no scent of his own and perceives it as an invalidation of his earthly existence). There's also surplus evidence to suggest we're seeing a study of dark human desire, necessity and obsessive nature. And, perhaps most confounding, unmistakable religious overtones (I doubt many will forget the 'execution' scene as long as they live) that may have, in a film less certain of itself, sought to excuse the actions of its protagonist. It does not seek to do this at all, however, and by the end most will be wondering what exactly was being sought all this time.

Remember once again, as those of us who haven't read the book must, that it is indeed an adaptation and it becomes probable that "Perfume" seeks to do nothing more than interestingly, inventively and (I imagine) faithfully bring Patrick Süskind's novel to the screen, do disturbing justice to its dark central character and put us inside his perception of the world. Say what you will, you probably won't see a film this unique again anytime soon. What on Earth Süskind was thinking, or what he was trying to say is, I think, quite another matter.

Broken Saints (2003) (V)
9 out of 11 people found the following review useful:
A broad web of appeal, 29 September 2006

It's a funny thing that in this day and age of internet society through which it was able to take root and grow, the first I ever heard of "Broken Saints" was by old fashioned window shopping. This alone, I think, means that I have missed out on a gigantic part of what made the series so enticing to many; not only that it was completely free but that it stood as a testament to the Internet's fulfilled promise of a global community and prosperous mass medium for independent artists. This was not the first internet series I have purchased on DVD; Rooster Teeth's "Red vs. Blue", an online Machinema production created by independent Texan film-makers, remains one of the most delightful discoveries of my life. However, "Broken Saints" is the first independent internet project I have bought entirely on spec, and this goes towards proving that there is more to the series' appeal than its initial medium.

Brooke Burgess' flash creation is one of the most unique works of art I have ever encountered. Consisting of 24 episodes of increasing length (beginning at 10 minutes and eventually running for over an hour), the series uses a fusion of comic narration, flash animation, music and, in the case of the remastered DVD version, voice acting to propel its story, the premise for which is inherently twisted. As the slow reveal is a major part of the series' deep intrigue, I will try to reveal nothing further than might be read in a blurb: On the unsuspecting cusp of a new technological age, four complete and diverse strangers begin to simultaneously receive violent spiritual turbulences; seizures, visions, crises of faith, inexplicable emotions. Strange, disturbing events in each of their lives drive them desperate for answers, and the harder they search for absolution, the closer they come to each other and the higher the stakes climb.

Now what I am about to say is something that really confused me at first: as a story, I didn't like "Broken Saints" all that much. It uses a very David Lynch style kind of linear narration (borderline nonsensical), and although all the vague poetry and metaphors are probably all made clear in the end, this happens in an overly preachy and bombastic sort of way. As a fierce atheist, I actually quite like bold agnosticism in a film, which is probably why I cared enough for the plot to see it through to the end (uncertainty of a higher being is held brilliantly throughout most of the series). But by the end I couldn't help but feel that the collective twelve hours I had spent watching the series had been a ploy to impose some kind of Faith on me. Hey, maybe I'm just interpreting the whole thing in a defensive way.

But what drove me to nonetheless give this series full marks and resolve to watch the whole thing again is really a deep respect for the creators: Brooke Burgess, Andrew West and Ian Kirby. These guys may hold a slightly different opinion to me on a spiritual level (I happened to agree with their politics, though), but they sure know how to argue their point. The sensory impact of "Broken Saints" is quite remarkable; the artwork and music cues (by Tobias Tinker, check him out on Myspace) are some of the most haunting and beautiful I have seen. The genius of this is that it keeps you interested long enough for other things to grab hold; empathy for the characters, intrigue into story development, and all that.

This is why, eventually, you never really hold much against a series like this. "Broken Saints" is a pretty broad web of appeal; if it loses your interest in one regard, it will catch it somewhere else. You don't like the alien culture of Shandala's Fijian islands and Oran's Saudi Arabian deserts then maybe Raimi's dark, post-modern America and filthy mouth will make you feel more at home. You don't like the preachy, new age gospel of the believers, then maybe you'll buy the more understated search for purpose; not necessarily God, just purpose. You don't like the politics, then just enjoy the art. You don't love the art, then respect the history of the project. In the end, whether you've been converted to a higher perception of life or just entertained for a few empty nights, the closing credits of "Broken Saints" will see you, however subconsciously, respecting one of the most finely argued contentions of artistic creation the world has ever seen. Word is Bond ;).

"Extras" (2005)
11 out of 12 people found the following review useful:
A testament to one of the world's most brilliant comic minds, 22 September 2006

What is it about irony that tickles us so? In some ways it reminds me of films that I find delightful in their atrocity: "Doom", "DOA", "Snakes on a Plane" are some recent prime examples of Goodness By Antithesis; films that are so brazenly and proudly bad that you have to like them. Irony, as we like to see it, is similar in that it is Humor By Antithesis: situations and events that are so mundanely tragic, so cringe-making and excruciating that we just have to laugh. It is a bizarre logic, it's a twisted logic, but it's also worth noting that it's a line so fine that only the cleverest and subtlest of writers can really make it work. America's Larry David is one. England's Ricky Gervais is the other.

In creating a follow-up series to "The Office", Gervais risked destroying a damn-near flawless career. It's hard to imagine there wasn't a niggling in his ear telling him to quit while he was ahead. What would really be the harm in letting the world remember him as David Brent? Apart from the nature of the character, the real harm in this would have been that to deny us Andy Millman would be to deny himself status as one of the world's most brilliant comic minds. "Extras" doesn't just further establish Gervais' incredible comedy prowess, it deepens it.

On the surface, the series patiently shows us the mundane and rather fruitless life of a working film Extra, Millman (Gervais), who fancies himself a "real actor" but has never gotten any real acting work. He bitches about this to his friend, confidant and fellow Extra Maggie (Ashley Jensen), who also shares her problems with him. Deep down, however, "Extras" is a deliciously satirical look at the ambitions of the human heart, the ironic overthrow of those ambitions and the emotional chaos of breaking the unspoken rules of society (such as 'Don't Lie To A Catholic Priest About Your Nonexistent Catholicism', and 'Don't Tell Your Best Friend's Colleague That Your Best Friend Said He Was "Too Gay"').

Other reviews have called "Extras" a watered down "Office", and I think this is a fair observation, but not at all a bad thing. After all, despite sequential order "Seinfeld" is much more diluted than "Curb Your Enthusiasm", but the former is still a far superior show. Not that any inferiority between Gervais' shows is being inferred, of course. Where "Extras" is softer than "The Office" is not in humor, or intelligence, merely in character. Andy is really quite a nice guy; insensitive at times, but only in a mild, charming kind of way. Your pity for him is genuine, and not the result of a deeper emotion such as bewilderment or frustration.

The David Brents of "Extras" are not Gervais at all but the transient side characters, and often (brilliantly, fantastically) the celebrity cameos. In short, and this is said with no inflation whatsoever, Celebrity Cameos as a film/television device has its worth made and sold in "Extras". We thought we'd seen self-parody work before. We were wrong. The sheer reckless abandon with which Gervais and the gallant celebrity meat send themselves up (and up and up) practically creates fireworks. Ben Stiller, Kate Winslet and Patrick Stewart are not only the draw cards but the dazzling high lights. They are forever heroes in my eyes.

Maybe it's this ultimate irony that galvanizes "Extras"' brilliance: the celebrity personalities who live the life Andy dreams of reveal themselves exclusively to him as being petty, irresponsible, greedy, insensitive, sexually perverted megalomaniacs, while he, the nobody Extra, cops all sorts of cosmic flack for, mostly, trying to do the right thing. Naturally, this kind of thing borders on cruel, but just before we begin to feel bad for laughing at his hopeless misfortune he lets us know it's alright by cracking a smile himself, telling a joke to Maggie and shaking it off. Then Cat Stevens washes us clean with "Tea for the Tillerman". Yes sir, Ricky Gervais knows how to make it work.

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