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The Man from Earth (2007)
Give this a read before watching...
I generally like to know as little as I can about a movie before watching it. I don't read blurbs or watch trailers. And so with this, The Man From Earth, I had only in my head "Sci-Fi Drama, mostly dialogue, rated highly on IMDb". However, having watched it I think there are a couple of things people should be wary of before watching so as to approach it at the right level.
1. This looks and feels very much like an American TV-Movie. Now, my issue here is not budget or special effects - I knew it had none. But for other non-Americans like me you need to be aware that the format, direction, cinematography and especially acting is very much of that style. It's somewhat... stylised and cringe-worthy. It's just something you have to get accustomed to.
2. If you're a sensitive Christian, be wary. The film doesn't particularly hide it's scepticism of the religion. It takes quite a long, hard pop at it. I'm not saying it's malicious, but it isn't subtle, and it dominates the second half of the movie.
As for the film... I actively spend my spare time searching for thought-provoking science fiction movies. I like minimal effects and interesting ideas that make you go "what if?". And as such, I admire this film for trying to sweep you along on the strength of a fairly unique premise. It is an engrossing watch. However, this isn't exactly what one would call 'hard sci-fi'. It's ideas don't go a lot further than the premise, and ultimately they do reveal themselves to have a definite agenda, which is sad and probably the source of such a high IMDb rating.
The more you think about it, the less daring and intelligent it seems, but I would cautiously recommend it for people looking for a film of ideas.
A Warning to the Curious (1972)
Simple, surprisingly effective ghost story
This is a very slight but creepy tale of an archaeologist who goes to a remote English village looking for a crown, supposedly guarded over by a ghost. You have to appreciate that this is a very low budget TV movie (50 minutes) with very small production values, but it still manages to summon up an eerie atmosphere and some chilling moments through very effective direction and a minimal score. The photography is wonderful and the performances are effective, including a young(ish) Clive Swift who could later be seen in Keeping Up Appearances.
Worth watching with the lights off to achieve the best atmosphere. It's not super scary, or as effective and well done as the BBCs later adaptation of The Woman In Black, but it is a good example of how to create atmosphere with the barest of plot and resources.
Bridge to Terabithia (2007)
Fundamentally flawed non-fantasy film with questionable messages
The problem with this movie... no, wait, the problems with this movie, are numerous. I never saw the trailer and was fully aware this movie had something traumatic happen half way through: that is not the reason for my anger at it.
Killing a main character half way through is not genius, or clever writing, or dealing with important issues. It's just exploitative, a cheap trick to give the movie emotional weight where there previously was none. But the problem is deeper than that. You can't kill off a main character and then have the other character deal with it by escaping into their imaginary world. That's basically telling kids - who this is most definitely marketed for - that this is an acceptable way to deal with grief. This is not a movie to show kids if you want them to understand death, it's one to avoid at all costs.
This problem is further muddled by the way fantasy is represented in the film, which is to have dodgy CGI creatures appear whenever the two characters start imagining stuff. It doesn't make much sense for us, as the audience, to see their (somehow collective) imagination randomly appear in the middle of a very real forest. Films like Narnia understand you can have a fantasy world and the real world, but there's a barrier between them. You can't muddle them up like this on film, unless you're Terry Gilliam and the film is Brazil.
And then there's the quietly disturbing subplot involving the teacher, whom Jess has a crush on, and goes on a field trip with - ALONE (seriously, what the hell?) - which is the indirect cause of Leslie dying. It's just so badly thought out and impossible to engage with.
This is not a bad movie so much as it is a seriously flawed one. There are good moments and the acting is fine, but it's a badly realised concept, atrociously marketed and with a more than questionable way of introducing death and grief into a seemingly light-hearted film.
Don't let young kids see it, especially without someone to explain it to them.
Dante 01 (2008)
Brilliantly conceived, directed and edited, but ultimately disappoints
Got the chance to see this at the Sci-Fi London last night in a packed cinema. As a big fan of City of Lost Children and Delicatessen I was suitably excited. The film establishes itself from the off with a very confident and distinct visual style and sense of (the deep, dark void of) space.
A man arrives at a colony circling the fiery planet Dante, his name and history unknown. The ship is a base for psychiatric research on a handful of criminals, held as guinea-pigs and cut off from outside contact. The new man is seen as a messiah by some of the convicts, a trouble-maker by others, as the psychiatrists carry out routine and risky genetic experiments with their DNA.
The film maintains a heightened feeling of tension and claustrophobia that is almost migraine inducing but transfixing. The editing is first rate and the film is well acted (Dominque Pinon, a Caro and Jeunet regular, appears). Unfortunately, the plot keeps promising to go somewhere but ends up disappearing down a black hole of messianic symbolism, and the dialogue is fairly bland and perfunctory. The violence is also almost sickening at times, though this may not bother some.
This is a very confidently directed film that is clearly the unique vision of one very creative visualist, I only hope Caro could have applied his touch to better material and not surrender to pretensions of the religious and philosophical. I'm not suggesting that no film should try to tackle these things, but this film doesn't deliver enough of anything else. Many will call the film deep but ask them what it's about before you believe them.
Worth seeing, though. Definitely deserves better marketing, but I wouldn't want to be the one to do it.
Brief Encounter (1945)
Dated? Obviously, but that's not the reason I don't like it...
Two reasons I don't like this film: The two main characters are two of the most boring people imaginable: frankly, they deserve each other. Secondly, the dialogue is among the most banal I have ever heard. This has little to do with the time it was made. Didn't they have subtlety in 1945? Implied meaning? Good God woman, you don't have to tell us you sat down, we can see it on the screen. I think the direction is actually very good: excellent use of limited settings, some good lighting and camera angles. But the dialogue. Oh God. "I love you, with all my heart and soul", the good doctor says. "I wish I was dead", Laura sensitively replies. I was in audience with my Film colleagues and we just cracked up. Is this kind of dialogue "quaint" or "British" or "typical of the era it came from" or just plain bad? I'll go with the latter. I don't think there's much problem with the plot really, and I like the way it was told. But Celia Johnson was neither attractive (not her fault) or interesting (her fault) in anyway. She always had a self-pitying look on her face, and this was reflected in her dialogue. As someone else said, she didn't seem to care so much for her family, but more about personal risk in having an affair. Her decision is made for her in the end, which left me feeling that she was lumbered with a family that deserved her more than she deserved them. You know she would of carried on seeing the bloke if she could. So, to summarise, poor acting and poor dialogue. They're usually quite important to a film. David Lean's direction was fine, but I really couldn't give a toss about such silly, selfish and dull characters. The thought that this is considered one of the all-time great tearjerkers is enough to draw one from me, that it's considered one of the best British films ever made is downright depressing.
Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes (1972)
I didn't enjoy it, to say the least
Looking at the reams of adoring praise in the comments section, and the high average score of 8.1 on the film's page, this is not likely to be a popular review with most people.
But I feel entitled to give my opinion. I have never seen a Werner Herzog movie before, but after hearing about this and discovering the IMDb page I thought it would be worth a rent. I sat down to watch it this afternoon devoid of any prejudgements, and watched attentively. I'd like to think I don't have a short attention span: if a film is good enough to keep me interested, then it doesn't matter what pace/colour/language/style/length it is. However, it did not take long for this movie to leave me somewhat frustrated. The story is very simple: an Emperor and his men set off searching for El Dorado. Fair enough. But this film fails to keep things interesting. Its first mistake is to not introduce any of its characters in a meaningful way. The crew are just faces, none of them play any significant part in the film. You do not see their lust for El Dorado. You only see their frustration in one exchange of dialogue late in the film.
Aquirre, the main character (played by Klaus Klinski), is the only one of any real interest. The emperor is fat, greedy and generally cares only for himself. The monk (and narrator) just wants to convert the savages. Ursua seems like he should have an important role, but is shot early on and remains silent for the rest of the movie. None of these characters have depth. Only Aguirre, but even then he possesses little more than an odd fascination, which I guess is credit to the actor and definitely not the script. The way he moves and talks, he is egocentric and clearly a little mad. Yet this is not a progression. He seems mad and selfish at the beginning, and at the end he is still mad and selfish, only slightly more so.
Another problem with the movie is the pace. Despite being only 1hr 30 minutes, the director successfully sucks all potential life from the film. The editing is abysmal. Nothing interesting going on, and shots linger for way too long. Most will probably claim something to do with art and beauty, but the fact is the editing is poor. There early two early shots of the river that linger for almost 30 seconds each, never shifting. You are just staring at a fast-moving current. Maybe to some people this is evocative. To me, it's just tedious.
The film would have a better atmosphere if it wasn't filmed almost documentary style. I hate to compare it to Apocalypse Now, but that film managed to create a thick atmosphere, through music but more specifically the excellent cinematography and editing. It had montages that helped to convey the feeling of madness, an almost dreamlike feeling. No such effects are used here. It is very plainly directed, in fact the direction is what lets the film down the most. When the music occasionally kicks in the film improves considerably, especially as in the end scene with Aguirre's daughter. But most of the music is completely silent, and unfortunately this doesn't convey any feeling of eerieness or tension, just boredom.
It doesn't help that half the dialogue seems dubbed even though I watched it in the original language with subtitles. It doesn't help that nothing eventful happens in the entire movie. It may not be an action movie, but something has to happened to keep our interest. Characters die, but I had no reason to care for any of them.
If people could reply to this I'm sure they'd say that I missed the point of the movie, and I guess they'd be correct. I see no point to this movie. I tried to enjoy it, but it is slow, tedious, uneventful, sometimes badly acted, lacking characterisation, poorly scripted... yeah, you could say it's beautiful, but only because the place where it was filmed was beautiful in the first place.
Overall, I'm put off Werner Herzog movies for the foreseeable future.