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A turd of biblical proportions.
I want to take the time to give this thing a longer review, but it's shockingly bad it just doesn't deserve it. The acting is atrocious, the dialogue is appalling, the bastardisation of the tale unforgivable, and the simple truth is the writer must be assumedly so ashamed they probably didn't mind giving up the credit.
Yes, they put transformers in a bible tale. Whichever development idiot did this deserves state execution, not just industry pariahdom. It's a *stunning* new depth of dumb. That meeting must have been a crack-pipe fest.
- The apocalyptic Hunger Games-style world is back. Only this time, they don't land on Mount Ararat; the dreadful Emma Watson gets to try to look sincere on the beach where they probably filmed "Lost".
- Animals all get special magic gas to sleep.
- Noah is a child-killing religious fanatic who is very concerned about the environment, like a good West Coast liberal voter Hindu who's just really a bit irretrievably tormented by his own self-loathing and inner conflict. Or an American Indian.
- God is now pretentiously and sanctimoniously referred to as "the creator", by execs who can't quite stomach calling him God. How awkward.
- Noah's grandfather has special magic powers, like Gandalf. And lives on a magic mountain.
- All the old, worst God tropes: man justifying himself, moral relativism masked as "truthy" rhetorical Instagram "wisdom", praying to an empty sky, isn't love all that matters even though we are violent murderers etc.
- All Judeo-Christian references, gone. Presumably not to turn off atheist viewers who would never watch it in the first place, or to be politically correct (or something).
it just goes on in how embarrassingly stupid it is: nauseating, superficial nonsense from superficial people. Reading it on paper must have been painful, and i have no idea how anyone kept a straight face at any stage of it.
This is what happens when screenwriters go so militant on the rules they make up in order to patronise each other with. There needs to be an "enemy" to create "obstacles"; whilst the character has to go through a "struggle" to find a "motivation" on their "journey" and be "likeable". It needs "tension" and a circus-style build-up.
These are things you emphasise if you have no story. "Stories" that apparently "need" this template nonsense shouldn't be made into films, full-stop. Yet again it's meddling studio people thinking they need to make the story "better" after their 44th 3rd-grade read of "Save the Cat" or the "Hero's Journey". The kind of people who make your favorite rug "better" by urinating all over it.
You'll end up wishing you were the one drowned or sacrificially murdered. If i ever meet the guy who thought up the transformers, truly, i am going to punch him in the face. The only things they forgot to include were Russell Crowe's poetry, dinosaurs, and explosions. Do not insult yourself with this listless trash.
American Sniper (2014)
Voted 10+ by Americans for being American, <6 by anyone else
I'm just not sure what to think about this. I don't get why films have to have "American" in their name, other than for nationalism-peddling studio marketing scams. I don't get why they didn't just call it "Sniper", and it'd be interesting to see whether the same people voting this 9+ would give an equally good film the same score if it was called "Islamic Sniper". Propaganda is propaganda is propaganda is propaganda - whether it's produced in California, East Berlin, or in Pyongyang. I also don't get why Clint Eastwood chose this route, as his direction has been abjectly gorgeous again and again: the subtlety and elegant build up is always masterful. Nevertheless, i wanted to be open-minded, and not cynically write the piece off in the reactionary spin of labeling it American exceptionalism.
It does seem very badly-timed and insensitive in a period of public battle fatigue, and it has clearly been extremely divisive. As one commenter pointed out, "when America makes a film about a war with a country that can fight back, i'll watch it." All i could think about was the very old WWI quote that war is old men talking, and young men dying. War is horrific: everyone who's never been in one is in favor. Listen to any veteran's stories from the Middle East (burning bodies etc) and you instantly sense the ambiguity and nightmare-ish disillusionment. 1M+ civilians have died in Iraq, and now we have the phoenix of ISIL.
The terrifying statistic is that veteran suicides are now classed as an epidemic: 6.500 former personnel killed themselves in 2012 (22 per day over the last decade), and at least 20% suffer with PTSD (Shell Shock) - 50% of whom never seek treatment. More die from suicide than from enemy bullets, 22M receive some form of benefit, and 1M+ claims are hopelessly backlogged.
There is clearly something to say about the US military with spending more than the next 25 countries combined: it's training, tactics, post-battle care, and its invasive ideology. There is no apparent community "hearts and minds" strategy (e.g. the British manipulative rule book), just bomb and burn. The fact the US has had 20+ wars in its 200 years - most of dubious success - and it's the most sensitive patriotic tender-spot for the US public despite being the most neglected, implies there is some real material here to be explored.
And thankfully, the film slowly gets into gear to try to do that - to some extent. The first 30mins are fairly nauseating nationalism, but as time wears on, so does Kyle's disconnection with his ordinary self. The trouble is: one read of his book shows that the film character is a fabrication, or a pastiche caricature. He admittedly felt nothing of taking 200 lives, and was somewhat of an unquestioning military automaton: whether that should be celebrated as "heroic" is a matter of debate; "skillful" perhaps, maybe even virtuous at a stretch.
Soldiers can always be elevated for their bravery, and causes can be celebrated in the case of their validation of the Just War doctrine. But this did clearly not pass the Just War test; nor was the nobility of the troops' conduct evidenced in the sympathies of the local population; and the site of women and children resisting foreign troops is abhorrent, no matter how vicious TheTerrorists (TM) are portrayed. No matter how unjust or unsympathetic either side is, we can all understand brotherhood/camaraderie, loyalty, skillfully disciplining oneself to the task, suffering the personal consequences, our basic humanity, and so on. Heroism is differentiated from duty by the fact it is an exceptional act, and this worship is beginning to feel like narcissism.
I'm not sure what Eastwood's motivations were when parsing the script, but it sadly feels like dispassionate, sanctimonious back-patting. And if 6,500 men and women who offered to put themselves in harm's way have killed themselves and not even seen the counter-productive rise of the Islamic Caliphate they fought against for Halliburton, it's a gross disservice to ignore their testimonies in favor of an attempt at a serious version of Team America.
Shallow people hopelessly clueless about tough character
Zamperini's story is one of ridiculously bad luck, and unimaginable suffering. And this film is what happens when possibly the most shallow town anywhere crashes into a wall attempting to portray something it doesn't get at a basic level - the hard, gritty toughness of character itself. It's Hollywood's lame idea of tough; not our grandparents'. One review talks about it feeling more like a Hallmark card, and that's bang on the money. This is a movie about suffering brought to you by people whose general idea of hardship is not being able to get their cappuccino in a timely fashion: they simply have no clue, and are giving it their best guess as to what it might be.
The essence of character is what lies in the destitution of hope; what keeps up defiant in the dace of desolation. Being stranded in this is apparently more like a bad summer bootcamp, with a few beatings thrown in to make it look unpleasant; days on end at sea look like being grounded by your parents, with some sharks; not reading radio propaganda is just an ideological-but-patriotic disagreement; and running a few marathons is what makes you not give up. It's feelgood fluff dressed up as as attempted grit, avoiding all those feelings that aren't very nice and wrongly hoping for an award or thirty. There's apparently no disease in the camps with their civic toilets, your family back home are fine, you get to stay athletic and muscly, you even get a nice scenic view, the abuse is a bit of punching, and after all of it, you get a nice refreshing swim in the river.
The two British leads are, of course, top notch - as always. But even their most vicious stares can't quite save direction that's as harmless as their perfectly-styled hair. The cruelty of the Japanese and the misery of passage was on a level hardly any of us can comprehend (Watanabe, a serious war criminal, confessed to getting a "sexual thrill" out of torturing prisoners), where mere survival itself was heroism. Truly depicting it with any degree of realism needs a sense of perpetual exhaustion and powerlessness that seems to never end, with hope being ripped from underneath you time after time - *that* is what is remarkable about Zamperini. What we're left with is the wishful thinking of the writer adapting the book, not the emotional substance of the actual human story.
If you want a better picture of the senseless, genocidal horror these PoWs were thrust into, google for "Unit 731", or the "rape of Nanking". If you're feeling brave, watch "Night and Fog". Any of these will illustrate what a gross insult it is to the Greatest Generation to editorially blunt their stories for the sake of their grandchildrens' emotional "fragility".
We know it will eventually end, and we got to eat through it - they didn't. The study is in what keeps a man defiant despite that, and it doesn't take a filmmaker to sense how phoney the Disney version is. It even ends with cutesy uplifting music, as if it was written to be shown to American teens as some cheesy "don't give up" motivational video: it's a slowly crushing disappointment, unless you're the shallow type who'll pull out a hankie watching the Pearl Harbor credits.
The fact you don't really care about Zamperini enough is the greatest injustice of all of it - because the script continually and cowardly opts out of the reality of suffering. But the saddest damnation of the whole thing is that it's the audience, not the man, who are left unbroken.
Attempting to be too clever for its own good.
You have to praise the balls of anyone who wants to try and explain quantum mechanics via dialogue and/or objects, particularly over a dinner party of mediocre middle-class LA denizens that specifically uses dialogue designed to sound "ordinary". It immediately reminds you of "The Man From Earth" - a fine, excellent film - with the only difference being that the latter has the wisdom of deliberately leaving it ambiguous as to whether the whole thing is an elaborate yarn. There's an old saying that if you think you understand Quantum physics, you don't; nobody does. But most importantly, artistically, nobody cares - it's an entirely theoretical game that's not emotionally affective to the human experience.
The sad thing is the film is so interested in explaining the physics that it neglects the whole idea of a film: to tell a story. There is no real story or plot going on here at all, other than a group of people freaking out that there are lots of copies of them around and nobody knows which copy they are (aside from a later jealousy subplot). That's an interesting idea, but it's not a story.
The first thing to bear in mind is that Schrodinger was trying to point out that larger objects could not possibly exist in simultaneous states; the cat is alive or dead, and the whole thing is arguably absurd. The writer has taken the opposite of the point, i.e. what seems like a cool idea (a perpetual quantum superposition triggered by a comet - wtf?) and extended it into metaphysics - minus any of the interesting human stuff. I would suspect this is a branch of quantum "mysticism" at worst. The problem is quantum phenomena occurs in an entirely different context, and extrapolating it onto the larger world is next to impossible, unless you're misguidedly hoping to co-opt it like a lame "higher consciousness" trope in true brainless Angeleno style.
The truly interesting stuff isn't the cleverness of the idea itself (and explaining it), but our reaction to it - the most curious parts are Em's: she suggests they have a unique opportunity to interrogate a copy of themselves in real life; later, she murders her own copy. These are the fascinating questions: what happens to us *humanly* when there are 8 different versions with differing timelines and outcomes? Humans being humans, we're going to start doing some very disturbing and illogical things, which play out crazily on the screen - IF you can get the premise set up properly at the beginning, and not use the whole film to elaborate, springboard, and explain the premise itself.
There are some fantastically dark scenarios to be explored in the "many worlds" core concept: what if one of the characters went on a spree to murder all their copies? What about a narcissist who fell in love or made love to/with themselves? What would the copies say to each other as "therapy", and what would the consequences to them be? What would they force each other to do in front of each other if they know they could use another version of themselves to do the things they couldn't/wouldn't? Could they use their weaknesses against themselves?
At that point, who gives a damn which glowsticks they use, what the textbook said, or whether there are 2,3, or 15 competing realities? If the writing weren't so infatuated with its own smartness, a trip down those rabbit holes would make it an unstoppable cinematic force.
There is, of course, the problem with the camera-work: it's tough to watch. The hand-held stuff isn't done too elegantly, and at some points is more like frantic tremors than exciting unease. The low-budget means the outside lighting is potentially too dark to see what's happening.
All in all, it's a cracking idea to strip things down and do something interesting on the metaphysical level with science, on a cheap budget - aiming in the right direction to make film smarter for an audience that doesn't need hand-holding. The trouble is always balance: don't be too involved in being smart to forget what makes us human in the first place; our depravity.
Puts every time travel movie ever made to shame.
Primer is one of the finest low-budget movies ever made. Period.
Just imagine if this was done with the scale and majesty of Nolan's "Interstellar".
On a budget that's less than any Hollywood movie's chauffeur bill, one filmmaker has written something that makes every single time travel story seem completely ignorant, insufficient, and completely off-par. It demands intellect to understand, and doesn't compromise. Us, the audience, need to work out the mystery, and it doesn't expose it to you. So many films these days are predicated on the idea that the viewer is entirely stupid and needs the idea explained to them like a five year old. If you can't go big, go smart; the greatest works of art expand your worldview and perspective. Penicillin was discovered in a petri dish by accident, as was the first theory of gravity under a tree on a lazy day; massive discoveries are always on a very small scale.
Primer takes the opposite approach: just as the characters go through iteration over iteration and loop over loop, so the viewer has to watch the film iteration over iteration to understand what's happening in the story - you have to go through the same thing to follow the event timeline, as the guys are doing. And that's what's so special about the film: it explains why time is such an interesting concept, because we only experience it in a linear way; the moment we don't, everything becomes apparently incoherent. It's the dimension that makes everything else intelligible.
If you're struggling with it, the key is to understand how the device works - so stop the film at the point where they make the discovery, and take a day to get your head round it before you go any further. When the machine starts (from the delayed switch), the "copy" of the person exits before they go in hours later, when they exist at the same time; the first/earlier person's future disappears and is only destined to enter the box -forming the loop. The "sleep" in the box is waiting things out as it experiences time at 1370x the rate. Multiple copies are creating different iterations on top of each other, although the story is told from the blond guy's linear view.
Time and causality are incredibly, incredibly complex and it's unnatural to comprehend them any other way than we are able to, so understanding it is a challenge. You learn more about time itself from 1.25hrs of this film than any other documentary or feature - any other film about the same subject looks hopelessly simplistic.
There are few films that display this level of uniqueness, or "puzzle" quality that demands solving, rather than offering passive resolution. Primer is a starter course in physics, underlying a simple story about self-interest ruining a friendship. If one guy in his garage - not a physics major by admission - can, like these guys with their machine in the garage, make something like this for a dinner cheque, imagine what we could do with 100M budgets.
Starry Eyes (2014)
Relies too heavily on the grotesque
"Selling your soul" is a fairly clichéd trope, but where this film gets it right in the gory details of the contract. The solid performance of the lead carries the whole thing, as the supporting cast are entirely forgettable. The make-up is horrific and visceral as Sarah's transformation occurs, and all in all, it's a great starter movie on a smaller budget that delves into a very nasty idea.
Saying all that though, you can't help but think the writer(s) would have done well to indulge themselves in a good study of Faust or Paradise Lost to add sophistication to what is, in itself, a Satanic version of "The Fly". The curiosity is *why* fame is so important to the person that they would do anything, even if they are just shallow. The alluding to a sadistic side here and there is a nice touch, but no explanation is given to why Sarah is specifically chosen. Faust is bored, and espouses all the worst in scientific nature, claiming Mephistopheles as his servant to have all upside until the consequences come - the deal is more of a credit card loan deception that needs to be paid in blood, giving a degree of ambiguity that is fascinating; the intoxicating reward comes first, hiding the true cost.
Then there's the comparison to "Rosemary's Baby", which isn't equitable. Polanski's epic was profound because it was a normal couple in an everyday setting, where the evil was completely hidden inside the American dream: the horror was in the normality of the circumstances. "The Fly", in turn, was a tale of obsession, ethical violation, and man's madness with technology, which parallels the grotesque prosthetics. Each of them feature some form of nobility or higher idea (academic learning, scientific advancement, happy family life) corrupted by something inexplicably horrifying. All of the comparisons are, at best, superficial: Starry eyes sadly doesn't have that layered depth, and calls in a debt without spending the reward first: a deal with the devil is a deception/con that appears to have no downside; otherwise no-one would make one, even in desperation.
As a satire, it works when you consider the ugliness of what is happening on the outside reflects the shallowness of the inside - but for that, you need a glimpse into the external world of Hollywood and the person's relationships. A little more exposition on the cult itself, the ritual/mechanism taking place, and the end result would have been useful to understand the story, because as it stands, it's a character study with her scalp rotting away.
Why don't her friends notice and get her to a doctor? Where are her parents, and what is the cause of her emptiness? Is she dying like a vampire? Is she giving birth to something? How do the weird cloak people get around in LA without being spotted, doing weird auditions, or wearing pentagrams to photo-ops? Who are the cult members, and why do they choose her? Was it ultimately worth it or was the price unfair? Is it all a hallucination? The story elements don't join up and it's far too much of a stretch to try and put them together.
There's a great way to doing a story like this, but unfortunately only some of it's in there. A perverse take on her "ascent by descent" would be a great theme, and the Polanski "normality" take typically scores - complete with the inescapable debt being called in later a la Faust, combined with a more subtle "rebirth" procedure (that maybe gets Fly-like later). The attention-grabbing grotesque just feels like too blunt an object for such a powerful subject.
The true horror is in the demonic deadness of her face - who can imagine the horror of giving up their beauty, humanity, or very soul to become as damned as the Devil himself? A walking dead haunted body carrying the demonic - no laughter, no love? Would you give up your capacity for joy, compassion, feeling, love, - but why? Imagine attaching/bonding deeply with the character on screen, only to be powerless to lose her to her spiritual death. That's the most painful human button you could press in a film like this, and it feels like the filmmakers brushed their fingers over it - but decided not to push it.
These Final Hours (2013)
Hollywood, take a lesson about VFX.
I don't think i've ever seen a more violent or terrifying end of the world depicted on film before. You've seen Armageddon, 2012, Doomsday etc, but not quite like this. The fire cloud coming across the water at the end of this flick is something right out of hell itself, and absolutely petrifying. Hollywood VFX companies always make the tsunamis, meteors, and earthquakes look so ridiculous that they're about as frightening as a Disney park. This film does it differently, and presumably on a budget. What you're looking at is all-consuming evil; from the ash flakes to the seething temperature, to the bright atomic frenzy, to the inescapable powerlessness of it all. There is no fear in the event, just anticipating it as it burns closer and closer. The only sadness is the death wave only gets a minute of screen time, when it would be very powerful to have loaded it in much earlier to compound the powerlessness and fear. The heat and coloring reminds you of the physical fierceness of Danny Boyle's "Sunshine".
The Aussies enjoy their films like their drinks: strong. If you reveled in the sheer brutality of Wolf Creek, you'll like this. Redemption comes at a very painful price, and there's no science unit saving the day. I've always been convinced that the end of the world would showcase our worst, not our best; without any rules or limits, human nature is on full display: rape, murder, hedonism, selfishness, emptiness, abandonment - the revolting core of what we are. There's little good available here, and rightly so. The backstory is deliberately left out, and you can only assume that's because of the low-budget; wise storytellers know that when you don't have the cash, the smartest thing to do is focus on the human elements and use the ambiguity to heighten the mystery.
Ultimately, apocalyptic tales are about our powerlessness to stop them, and our nightmare- ish vulnerability. Hollywood, of course, has to placate the American public with a happy ending where NASA saves the day just-in-time, which negates the most dramatic part of the staging - we are not in control, nature is our destroyer, and the scariest thing is running out of options into unavoidable submission - that our favorite Beverly Hills capitalists cowardly abscond from. The drama is in the unfolding and inevitable tragedy, not childish Exceptionalism.
The film, in my view, is about fatherhood: the protagonist knows the girl he actually loves - but has abandoned - is pregnant, and it's a fascinating coming-of-age scenario that's bleak, dark, and as punchy as it gets. The sweltering heat only gets hotter, and you can almost feel the acrid, sweaty claustrophobia get worse and worse (never felt the Aussie sun, but apparently it's nasty and gets you good). Ironically, the filmmakers seemed to have set out to pin one story (e.g. redemption from selfishness), yet touched on other, more salient, themes instead: dignity in death, abandonment of morality, the sheer terror of the natural phenomena, and more. And the fact that the girl is more affected that he left her to die alone than her impending immolation, speaks volumes for the emotional depth of what's going on - when we're facing the end, all any of us are going to care about is who we love, and whether they are with us. The question art of all forms needs to ask is, -- why, if we're just apes? Are love, morality, justice, etc, transcendent by nature, and what happens when we are stripped down to what we are?
A solid flick that asks tough questions with wonderful Aussie forthrightness. And if Perth really even gets Armageddon 10hrs late, i'm bringing bottled water.
La migliore offerta (2013)
Only missing Kaizer Soze
Goodness, what a film. Like the Usual Suspects, it needs to be watched a second time.
Very much under the radar; tucked away into the VoD menu like one of the artworks portrayed in it. I thought Geoffrey Rush would forever be the Tailor of Panama, but here he is in the most exquisite form as his more neurotic and successful cousin. The cleverness of the script is in how the viewer is fooled as elegantly as the protagonist, experiencing his disbelief. You can see it coming, but you don't want to believe it - just like him. We thought we were watching a sensitive biopic about two people helping each other to overcome their separate phobias, only to discover you were watching a profoundly targeted and flawless forgery.
There's also something regal about the underrated Sylvia Hoeks, even if it is difficult to categorise: a maturity for her age, or a perfectly-cast "old soul" vibe that works perfectly for the older man theorem. It's a subtle, robotic simplicity that could so easily be overdone, but is masterfully held back.
On one side of the mirror, we have an auctioneer - an expert in detecting forgery - breathing life into his greatest artistic work: bringing an agoraphobic heiress back to life, whilst healing himself.
On the other, we see another artist creating the perfect forgery: renting a mysterious house with an even more mysterious inventory from a dwarf savant, in order to draw his mark into madness so he can steal the most personal, priceless collection of artwork.
But the final reveal is the painting supposedly obsessed over our heiress, apparently of her mother. The grand revenge scheme has been orchestrated by the protagonist's embittered partner-in-crime and shill-bidder, who was the artist. Before Virgil leaves London, Billy announces he's sent him one of his paintings, almost as if they were never going to speak again. When Virgil returns to see his emptied collection, all that is left are the remains that allow him to connect the dots: after a lifetime of being patronised and criticised by his friend for his supposedly meagre talents, Billy has co-ordinated the elaborate heist involving the girl and the robot, and rubs his friend's nose in his cleverness by signing and leaving Claire's special painting, with his thanks and admiration.
Structure is everything in screen writing, and this script was beautifully constructed in itself as a piece of art, complete with eccentricities, contrasts, and its own signature. There is no reconciliation, just denouement. Perhaps a little more exposition would have been useful, but like all art, it was made to make you wonder what the artist's inspiration and plan were.
If you're going to write about exorcism, read the manual.
Martin Shaw has a gravitas that is mocked by stories this bad.
It's hard to know where to begin with the stupidity, but it's mainly related to the editorial "theology", which is laughably ignorant, regardless if you're a religious type, or a hardcore atheistic cynic. At one moment, the series has a very credible edge in the discernment of demonic activity from mental illness (i.e. the place of religious ritual in a modern context), then it's spinning off into Catholic silliness about Mother Theresa and WWF battles between priests and demons. All of it is dressed up in very credible BBC photography and heavy mood music.
Essentially, - and 2mins of research indicates this clearly - the Catholic Church has a lot of wordy rituals that have no apparent scriptural basis, and are at best inaccurate, and more likely, absurd/aberrant - that every other denomination considers extremely suspect. The writers, of course, have a field day with it, inflating these One-True-Church -specific theatrical follies into devices that are more similar to witchcraft "spells" than anything eschatological: 5min rituals with Latin-y words, symbols, Virgin Mary and water for "protection", invoking names of "saints", "reverse" exorcisms, demons "sheltering" themselves and/or being "freed" from hell in human flesh, the devil "exorcising" Catholics (wtf). Satan exorcising a priest? Come on, BBC. Even the Bible explains why that is stupid, let alone a logical impossibility.
Allegedly the Satanic mission is all about "breaking someone's faith" like a currency or "converting" them to evil (whatever that is meant to mean or look like), etc etc ad nauseam. The writer's cynicism is quite apparent, naturally, by the constant implication that it's priest's video game "belief level" that wins the spiritual martial arts battle of "fighting" the Devil on an equal basis: (i.e. religious faith is a subjective idea, despite the fact your story revolves around presenting absolute evil etc etc). A phone call to someone - anyone - would have steered writers away from the p**spoor idea that a priest's "faith" is like a Ghostbusters laser beam which expels demons.
The theology research is just very, very weak, as usual - and sensationalist to a really ridiculous degree. Screenwriters can never, ever seem to simply pick up a book and actually study what it's about - if they did, there's a treasure trove of interesting editorial material to be found. It's not more dramatically interesting to lazily sass up these same implausible tropes, it just makes serious actors and production crew look hopelessly lost to cliché. If you attempt to "broaden" the ideas around exorcism (e.g. "reverse" exorcism) but don't even have a basic understanding of the theology behind it, you're going to come off as dumb no matter how much sepulchral piano you add.
Saying all that, though, there is an interesting angle inviting a moral conversation: the demonic characters' impassioned plea that Hell is akin to the Holocaust: there's a lot of meat to that missed opportunity. And as it's Auntie Beeb, it's one of the better-produced of the genre.
Do not write a series about anything when you haven't the faintest idea what it's about: irrespective of whether you personally believe in it or not.
The only thing dumber than this in the genre is the newer "Constantine" series, which takes religious parody to a new depth of terrible. And if you think the judgment on both of these is harsh, take a quick read through CS Lewis' "Screwtape Letters" or Scott Peck's "People of the Lie" for a more interesting and twisted approach that has a considerably more heightened intellectual spearhead, and actually offers insight into the human condition that is far richer than simple sensationalism. As the immortal line of "The Usual Suspects" goes, the greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was the camouflage of transforming himself into a fairytale: far more intriguing and sinister in its cunning than a blatant jihad-with-toys.
The power of "The Exorcist" was in the juxtaposition of childhood innocence with absolute, inexplicable evil; the inexplicable nature of it is what makes it so terrifying, as is the "final" nature of Hell itself. The primal fear of "The Omen" arguably came from the sense of powerlessness over evil's plan, and the answer was murder - not prayers to saints and wrestling showdowns. All simple principles that this - and every other - writers' room, completely missed. And there are far more horrifying manifestations of evil in the Catholic Church, like the political corruption and paedophilia.
For those wondering, Christian theology on the matter is actually fairly simple: God and the Devil are not even comparable, let alone evil - the Devil is a narcissistic cockroach. Christ explicitly extended his power over evil to his followers, meaning the ass-kicking comes from that command, not objects, a priest's faith, saints, etc etc. God himself does the eviction (apparently somewhat in league with the patient themselves) upon request from one of his own, somewhat similar to pest control. Hell is a final, inescapable quarantine over which one judge has authority, and nothing gets "sent" back/forth from like a Starbucks - the only thing that gets anyone sent there is believing they can save themselves. Quite where the Vatican gets holy water, saints, coins, oil, ropes, Latin prayers and weird incantations from, is anyone's guess, but presumably writing around it makes for good TV. But it doesn't, because it's obviously silly and shallow. And you might enjoy this if you are, although it's presented as a serious BBC drama.
If you were looking for a controversial, hard-hitting British piece examining the darker side of spiritual life, ritualistic behavior, psychiatry, and/or historical mystery/relevance of exorcism, you'll be left short-changed. Don't be fooled: this is Harry Potter witches, spells and stakes from a Cosmopolitan reading, Facebook-posting BBC commissioning team, who wanted to make it sound cleverer with a few bible quotes and Shaw's serious voice.
The British thriller genre at its best
If Jack O'Connell carries on like this, he's going to have the best resume of any young British actor out there, right next to Tom Hardy. From the magnificence of "Harry Brown", to the brutality of "Starred Up", the guy seems to be found in every brilliant piece that's come out in the last few years. That said, it'd be nice to see him in something where he isn't beaten half to death.
Being a British-funded film, it's slightly weighted towards the plight of the Tommy, unlike other NI-based dramas such as "The Wind that Shakes the Barley", but what more can you say than what's already been said: it's beautifully shot, nerve-wrackingly tense, and brings the personal nature of urban war right into your living room with all its horror and mindlessness. The sinister streets of Belfast have never looked so frightening on screen: if "24" needs a director for its next series, they know who to call. What a debut; what a fantastic talent. When you read British newspaper tales of "dark forces" the old Empire has nurtured so well, you'll know what they were talking about.
"The Hurt Locker" and other urban war tales are excellent in their own right, but always have a glossy "hero" veneer for the audience. 71 takes us straight into the darkness and evil, which is 50ft thick on all sides, wherever the camera is. This is a SCARY place to be lost in, even with women and children all around you. Good doesn't save the day here: survival is good enough in somewhere so toxic; where the evil of tit-for-tat has consumes everyone, badge or leather-jacket.
The color is just extraordinary: orange, cold green; over an incredibly claustrophobic backdrop that is the last place you'd ever want to be stuck in at night. But it does beg the question: why not just use a payphone to call into base?
The only criticism i'd have, other than the flatness and/or two-dimensional nature of Jack's character, is that perhaps there wasn't enough exposition and/or backstory about the rival factions, and their motivations: it's slightly difficult to follow who is doing what, and why - it fades into the Fog of War, maybe intentionally. What the MRF, the Det, and the SAS did in Northern Ireland was truly malicious and sinister, if brilliant in terms of State control. A thriller like this opens up a whole new editorial world for the genre, and a landscape of stories against the intrigue, espionage, and evil perpetrated by both sides in a battle of symbols. There is the Middle East, American espionage tales, or even classical European conspiracies, but Belfast has a darkness of its own that's been waiting to be explored in film for decades - finally the tip of the iceberg has arrived.
I say, sequel. A darker one, with more intrigue, and a deeper look at who those British bad guys are, and what they did in Ireland.
Ask Me Anything (2014)
Misses the mark because of the genre packaging
If, like me, you instantly recoil at the thought of listening to teenage angst narration and/or female coming-of-age first world problem melodrama, persist with this one. The film's beginning is deliberately deceptive. It's an interesting take with a subtle darkness that's worth the time, and the mystery is back-loaded (Usual Suspects-style) into the last ten minutes. It's similar in theme to the magnificent "White Bird in a Blizzard", but sadly lacks the structure to give it the same mounting discomfort.
The main problem with the piece - and i suspect it comes from the original book, which is written as blog posts - is that it seems it would be more strongly packaged as a foreboding suspense thriller, rather than the way it's been predominantly presented as a coming-of-age drama: darker, more vicious, and more twisted. What's lack is a sense of dramatic irony - in this case, you need a foreshadowing of the tragedy that's coming to keep you hooked, but the hook only comes when you've invested all the time to watch til the end. The payoff isn't quite there. It plods, rather than builds up.
SPOILERS AHEAD - if you need the reason to persist past the first impression:
This film is about an previously-abused teenage girl who has become pregnant, and mysteriously disappears without a trace after receiving threats from confessing all the secrets of her promiscuity on an pseudo-anonymous blog. The story and characters are ultimately fantasy representations she's writing about (as she's changed the details she's put out publicly), and the real-life people are revealed at the end: all the people we see are from her imagination, and/or ours. You have a girl who has been abused taking on all the subtle narcissistic traits of youth, swimming amongst other perceived selfish companions, reflecting on the millennial preoccupation with recording everything online without considering the consequences.
The central driver of the entailing mystery seems to be cyber-bullying (from talking about planning to have an abortion publicly on her blog), but not much attention is paid to it - odd, when you consider her mysterious disappearance at the end is hung on it. Personally, i'd have thought the hardest-hitting finale would have been a reveal of the nicey-nicey sex offender boss having killed her, but it's entirely left open (it's implied she's dead, although we don't know). That would certainly have hurt to watch and been a killer twist.
The lead (Robertson) is fantastic, and carries herself incredibly well next to some serious heavyweights who are well placed.
Overall, with a stronger, layered structure and unraveling pace it could have been a real masterpiece. Not that anyone should want films to be too obvious, but in this case the "mystery" vagueness is too foggy to punch the story home with a bang. Usually you want a film to be faithful to the original book, but on this occasion, it doesn't translate well to screen without a stronger story arc for the medium: 3 acts of "observational" material doesn't give you the right impetus a twisting film plot needs.
However, it's definitely worth the time to savor what it could have been, if you can get past the idea of what you think it probably is.
5th & Alameda (2011)
40/60 for just far too long, for a film that doesn't know what it is
My entire raison d'etre for watching this was Saye, having had her picture coincidentally flick on a corner of my screen earlier in the evening and disturb a fantastic bottle of Chilean red. If it's convinced me of anything, it's that i need to scour Los Angeles for an trace of her, in order to propose marriage immediately simply on account of how intoxicated i am with her beauty. That, and to enforce the production company's site overhaul into the 21st century. I am of course now, an entirely biased reviewer.
That said, it's a very odd film. As a director, it's frustrating: you want to take the potential of what's on offer and realise it to its full potential; but i'm not sure what that is as it's a syncretic mish-mash of ideas that are trying to go somewhere, but never arrive. One thing's for sure: Persian screen presence is unbeatable; there is a goldmine of undiscovered drama in Iranian expat culture and its pseudo-turbulent clash with what is now known as Tehrangeles. You just simply cannot ignore a Persian when they're on screen: that mystical allure is a trump card.
Firstly, 2hrs is far, far too long: the editor should have pointed that one out, as the director should have cleaned up the script itself. There's at least an hour of redundant material in there. There's probably a story in there somewhere, with a powerful punch; but it's not evident at all. It could be a sick suspense black widow chiller, but there's too much compassion. It could be a vulnerable biopic, but it's too cold. It could be a multicultural document, but it's gritty and americanised. It could have depth, but it doesn't connect with anything more meaningful. The best word for it is schizophrenic, but that indicates an intensity it doesn't have. The only words that come to mind are "unfocused", "diluted" and "meandering".
It's not bad, but it's not good. The violence approaches visceral (particularly the rape and domestic assaults), and the historical character development starts in an interesting place, only to never actually connect the person who is the focus of the film - it just doesn't join up. The photography is "urban" bleached well, only to be inconsistent for most of the piece. The acting is horrendously wooden in places, yet authentic and moving for specific parts: it's just confusing. Character motivations aren't clear, the pacing is lacklustre, and you're left wondering if it's a case of talented actors being stuck in a bad film, or a good film with bad actors. I suspect the direction is heavily to blame, as it has very little. I also suspect too much collaboration is to blame, from the lack of a singular vision or message. "Mediocre" doesn't do it justice - you can't hate it, you probably won't like it, so it ends up so bland that you can't really rate it. A highly unusual type of scenario.
Is it a film about Iran and it's attitude to women? The intoxicating and twisted dynamics of dysfunction and/or domestic abuse? Is there a Machiavellian conspiracy or moral that was meant to draw you in? I have no idea. I doubt any of the production staff know either. What i do know is i did manage to get through that bottle of Chilean red quite nicely, and wasn't any the wiser, other than that i should somehow spend more dreamy screen time with Saye, when i probably should be engaging with the film itself - which isn't a good sign of professionalism by any standard.
This piece needs a second chance: a re-write, a paced story that viciously twists and has a conspiracy at the centre of it, some tough talk to the actors, and a bit of a sick tone to turn the knife and give it a painful edge - heading to a solid theme, message, and moral.
But then again, that would make it an entirely different film.
TL;DR Idiot watches film because he wants to marry the girl in real life, suggests re-writing the film which he doesn't much about anyway. Take review with a shovel of salt.
Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014)
Just add 300 more horses, or something
No wonder the critics hate this film.
Someone needs to sit down and have a very honest conversation with Ridley Scott. Along the lines of: "you can add all the horses you want, but if your story sucks, eventually the audience slowly get that your whole film just sucks". I can't remember seeing so many people drip out of a cinema one by one over 2 hours.
This disaster is what happens when closet Humanist types decide to "polish" up what is already one of the greatest stories of all time by removing the central theme (err, God). When the Bible is given the Hollywood treatment, everyone loses: humanists, naturalists and atheists look cynically manipulative (and/or ignorant), entire audiences are lost because it deviates from the original (rightly or wrongly), and everyone else is just standing there wondering why Hollywood is yet again hoping the spectacle will make up for the lack of substance. The only thing worse is Christian filmmaking.
Whoever came up with the idea of representing God as a psychotic, vengeful 10 year old boy from a Japanese horror who drinks tea, isn't actually there, and gets moral lectures from Moses, is an idiot, pure and simple. It's creepy at best, and offensively cynical at the other end of the scale. Likewise for the "brotherhood" narrative that ends in a needless tsunami stand-off without any authentic emotion whatsoever. At least he didn't utter the horrifically awful "i'll do what i have to do to protect my family". Just plain bad ideas where the "drama" is laughably phoney. You can almost here the development execs berating the writers' room to "add more conflict", "change it to be a saga of 2 brothers", "put in a love subplot", etc, etc, ad nauseam.
More interesting angles the 4 (yes, FOUR) screenwriters might have looked at, if they'd put down their conceit and taken a few weeks to speak to a Rabbi/historian or two in advance:
- A people enslaved for 400 years were conditioned and beaten down into helplessness, never having even known anywhere else other than Egypt - not a 1949 Palestine terrorist militia in training. Moses' story is of constant struggle to lead a people who continually turned their back on him.
-Moses was so enthusiastic to lead a revolution that he cold-bloodiedly murdered an Egyptian guard - not a "faithless" man needing to be convinced, or the calmest guy in the room.
- He was also so badly-spoken that Aaron had to speak for him, making his leadership extremely mysterious - not a highly articulate philosopher type.
- Pharaoh was a bloodthirsty, unbelievably stubborn man who ruled the known world, and was being humbled into submission - not a cutesy brother with daddy issues;
- The Hebrews were kicked out so fast under such unbelievable pressure that they got to leave with the contents of the Treasury - not just slovenly marched out in rags;
- Women were possessions, and religious belief was all-encompassing, not some philosophically-liberal free-for-all where relationships were Dr Phil sessions.
- The death of the first born was carried out - so the story goes - by the unbelievably terrifying idea of the Angel of Death, not some eclipse shadow: WAY more imagination- provoking. The plagues weren't Starbucks coffees that finished after 5 minutes: the suffering was horrific.
- He led a journey he never finished, started when they didn't know where they were going, didn't want to go, and had no hope for: one that took 40 years of wandering in circles for no reason.
Why point these things out? You could literally have taken almost any of those points from the classic, with its phenomenal story - whether you have a Judeo-Christian world-view or not - and made it a more interesting and challenging dramatic story that the development tards here ended up writing. The historical character of Moses is 10,000x more interesting as-is, compared to this American Hero template.
And as visually fantastic as Scott's epic's almost always are (if you don't count the disastrous casting in other spoiled gems like Kingdom of Heaven), no amount of sandals or sweeping landscape shots is ever going to fully make up for the fact that your story and its character don't work like homoeopathy, in that they don't get more profound the more diluted they are.
There's an old Hollywood adage - a desperately thirsty writer and a producer are in the desert sitting about to drink from the only water puddle for hundreds of miles. The producer unzips his fly and starts urinating in it. "What are you doing????", the writer asks. "Making it better", the producer replies. You can't polish a turd, but you can take a diamond and cover it in turd.
If there is a lack of character development, story compulsion, or even emotion: it's simply because the team behind it either a) didn't actually read the source, or b) never *got* the intensity of what they were reading. I'm inclined to believe it was b), and still is. Moral of the non-story: understand the story you're telling and why it's powerful, instead of telling the story you kinda think would be a bit awesome.
A Teacher (2013)
A difficult, moving, heart-wrenching piece
Firstly, ignore these stupid reviews: if your highest idea of film is a typical brainless Hollywood structure with the inciting incident, setback, climax and happy ending - as i suspect the reviewers so far hold - you will be disappointed. And good riddance. The less we have of this mindless, brainwashed notion that every film should conform to a 120-min clichéd set of min-by-min peaks and troughs, the better.
It's only 75mins instead of 120mins? Boo hoo. It doesn't have a happy ending? Shut up. It doesn't have your stupid clichéd "plot" structure you get in every film? Waaah, waah, waah.
If that's the basis of your criticism, it's not the writers to blame: it's you. You, the viewer, are an idiot.
I experimented with this on Netflix as a wildcard watch, despite the cheap, smutty cover which does it a horrendous disservice. I was genuinely surprised and heartened by what i discovered in it. And you know it's done well when your chest hurts afterwards.
The film is absolutely carried by Lindsay Burdge, who gives an unbelievably sincere, empathetic, moving, and sensitive performance: one of the best i've seen in years for an indie flick. I say that as someone who works in film every day, and who forwarded the piece on to a few people as a classic example of first-class artistry. The supporting cast are perfectly reasonable, although perhaps the male counterpart is slightly implausibly mature - it ultimately countermands the relationship to make it more sympathetic.
The story is essentially of one woman's descent into obsession and madness, laced over a very tense and awkward contrasting ascent of tension and difficulty: it's touch-sensitive stuff, with a strange quality that does very much keep you involved with the heavy air of tension. I suspect the writer was tempted to tone it down; the Shakespearian touch would have done well here: a murder at the end of it, or some vile, terrifying conspiracy to really anchor it down. The sex scenes are erotic, tastefully filmed, and coarsely authentic.
I'd compare the subtlety of it to "Notes on a Scandal" (2006) with Judi Dench: centred around an apparently harmless female lead, who sinks under the weight of her increasing needs and compulsions. If one theme emerges, it's the idea of loneliness: you can *feel* the loneliness of the character; coldly alone in her apartment, emotionally isolated, foolishly childish, and of course, hopelessly naive.
It's not event-driven per se, and that's absolutely fine, no matter what the idiot i-want-bruce- willis-don't-make-me-think hoard says. It's a character-driven piece, and a refreshing internal look at an alternative side where the apparent sexual predator is the fool. We don't find out how it happened, why, or where it concluded, and we don't need to - it's showing us the world from her point of view, which is ambiguous, convoluted, and blinded.
The sad point about a title like this is that the marketing and distribution people clearly dumped it, and it may unjustifiably disappear into the ether. It needs a better cover, maybe an HBO slot, a different sales angle, and a more agreeable pickup team.
If you're one of those idiots who watch something like this and whinge that it's not a usual, familiar Hollywood-style happy-ended turd, please do the rest of the world a favor and just throw yourself off a bridge. Stick to comic book movies and stuff about jaded ex-law enforcement types killing TheTerrorists (TM). You're the reason interesting little pieces like this drop down the list, when they should be moving upwards on it.
An intellectually dishonest apologist diarrhoea
I was strongly pushed to watch this as an alternative perspective on the "toxicity" of conventional masculine identity, and to gain a wider understanding around scientific "advances" i allegedly may have missed. Wary of my own views and the degenerative nature of confirmation bias, i tried hard to retain an open mind. It's difficult to stay friendly to this film, because like a lot of LGBT material, it can be disingenuous, and bordering on potentially manipulative. Strong words, perhaps - but justified.
First thing to know is that Gore Vidal was a) gay, and b) a very strong campaigner against gender "essentialism"; even going so far to advocate human pansexuality. It's also disappointing to see Indian-born Anthony Thomas being responsible for this kind of editorial guff.
Those looking for an objective or circumspect - dare i say, critical - look at the fascinating subject of gender and human sexuality will feel cheated. There is a real bias at work, and it's the fact that the doc presents itself as an honestly naturalistic, rounded look at scientific issues such as foetal development and social determinism, is what makes it so distasteful.
And speaking of science, you'll get steadily angrier if you work in a scientific profession as the minutes go on and on. Using science to make an argument is one thing; misrepresenting it is another. Add that to the "objective" sales tag, and you have a toxic combination. If, of course, you *want* to believe the suggestions because you already believe them anyway, and don't care whether its validated as reliable, it won't matter too much.
For example: if you can watch pseudo-scientists explaining that all animals actually breed just because it "feels good" (like male black widow spiders who have a sexual "experience"), that sexual "rules" appeared subject of natural variance that the West somehow misinterprets, or how gender identity disorder apparently is a misunderstanding of Karma (because we all are ladyboys - no, seriously), you are a much more patient person than i am. There are unquestionably biological factors that come into play, but when you hear narration using politically charged terms like "intersex" (i.e. hermaphrodite) and "binary" genders, straining to use it a basis for disqualifying male/female normality, you can't take the interviewees seriously.
You also can't make non-sequitur/straw-man arguments about the same lower hormonal activity producing "underdeveloped" genitalia as infant gender variance, when your next point confirms that the same subjects have... fully-developed genitalia.
The simple fact is that this is apologism masquerading as legitimate scrutiny, pure and simple. And that's fine, if you just want to watch something that confirms the bad ideas you have that you'll never challenge anyway.
The same old clichés and poor thinking are around every corner: Eastern religions are more accepting in their enlightened wisdoms (when they're not doing animal sacrifice, honor rape etc), humans are actually pansexual, sexuality is fluid (yawn), everyone's so judgemental, nobody is actually heterosexual, sexuality is about feeling and relationships, boys have nipples, anyone who has boundaried views on sexuality is actually afraid of their own confused feelings (homophobes are closet homosexuals), on and on.
The loudest, most obnoxiously absent smoking gun in the whole rotten abyss of bad ideas is the abject lack of any conversation or examination of sexual *morality*, in any form: the existence or variance in moral sexual reasoning, or even the idea that humans subscribe to a moral framework around identity/gender, sexual behaviour, or any contemplation on the negative consequences of sexual choices (aggression, infidelity, disease, distress etc). Absolutely none, of any viewpoint. The filmmakers don't seem to hold any moral perspective, of any form - good or bad, left or right - there is no acknowledgement it is even linked.
This film is trying to sell you something - and it's really, really trying. But it doesn't want you to think it's selling, so it's lacquered in a "compassionate" or "intellectual" guise.
The most worrying aspect of films like these is that people who wouldn't describe themselves as scientifically or philosophically-minded watch them, and are fooled into concluding they've seen an insightful, "smart" or "deep" look at something, simply because it *appears* legitimate. This kind of defensive grade-school reasoning belongs in a tedious college philosophy class of short-sighted San Francisco backpackers, not on a DVD shelf.
A Perfect Ending (2012)
Deep? Like, OMG, If you own a small stupid dog, and live in the Valley.
Just like the protagonist, watching this film for me was an act of experimentation in a genre i'm not particularly familiar with (LGBT). The reviews describe it as a stunning masterpiece of cinema, but i felt compelled to comment simply to redress the balance.
TL;DR: this is a sales pitch for the lesbian lifestyle - targeted at the US middle class - attempting to masquerade as a "deep" film.
The pretentiousness and disingenuousness are what stand out the most, but simply the most frustrating point of the whole two hours is that it's misses an incredible opportunity to examine the powerful and interesting issues it so nearly touches on: female sexual dysfunction, the moral ambiguity of prostitution, the awkward navigation of sexual fantasy, the family dynamics of terminal diagnosis, and more. It scrapes the 0.1% sludge off a barrel ten miles deep.
This is what it *could* have been, if it weren't such a blatant and craven agenda-driven Trojan horse. It doesn't touch on any of these.
The message: being a lesbian is awesome, and you should try it if you're a middle class white housewife. It's the solution of all of a woman's problems, and the only route to true and safe sexual experience, which will ultimately heal you from your emotional repression (see the name of the film). Fulfilling your sexual fantasies is a way to cope with your cancer diagnosis, whilst being surrounded by all the terribly abusive masculine influences in your life you never cared about anyway.
How do you know it's a sales pitch? Sales only emphasises one side of an equation: the "beneficial" one the salesperson wants you to buy. Journalistic or cinematic integrity demands both sides are examined. There is no downside to the character's choices.
Aside from the horrendous cliché around every corner (straight girl's OMG lesbian besties!, sexually abusive stepfather, noble 2nd career escort, cynical brothel madam, lesbian liberation, ungrateful kids etc), the forced acting, the wooden dialogue, the unlikable characters that are impossible to attach to, the endless piano soundtrack covering up bad background noise over slow-mo porn, the faux/feigned/forced sentiment, the sanctimonious message, the erotica laced with feigned "philosophical" therapy talk, and the almost sociopathic disassociation from a central issue as devastating as terminal cancer, the most redeeming thing about this walking advertisement for gay normalcy is it's done with a degree of tasteful sensitivity and got a well-used switcharoo trope that approaches surprise.
If you think this is somehow "deep", you clearly must be the type of insincere person this kind of film appeals to, who thinks it means "slow motion shots with piano". It's pure self- indulgent claptrap with a self-involved character from a self-indulgent director trying to sell pink ideology whilst willfully ignoring the challenging issues it could really have bitten into.
If you're going to try to extrapolate a "milf" porn scenario into a serious film, at least add some blowback to decisions and/or make your characters remotely human. You want your audience to actually care if your protagonist dies.
Go rent "Milk", "Circumstance", or "Boys Don't Cry" instead.
The Anomaly (2014)
Worse than bad, worse than very bad.
It's rare that i am so motivated to write a review by the total, godawful, abject horror of how bad a film like this is. it's a level below basic indie filmmaking, and the English language just seems to lack the appropriate vocabulary to do the nightmare justice.
Do not watch this film - or even waste valuable hard disk space. Do not even try. It's not "The Room" funny in how bad it is. It's simply monstrous in every aspect, and how these people get funded to produce this nonsense is beyond me. Where do you start? The atrocious acting? The pretentious, erm, everything? The dire script? You get lost in the editorial abyss, as it desperate tries to even reach basic mediocrity. Imagine a collection of the most talentless actors imaginable trying to fake their way through an attempt at a thriller with an over-enthusiastic wannabe-Hollywood crew who obviously serve a penchant for over-lighting anything in sight, and you're about 10% there.
I really don't get the point of Noel Clarke. And whoever picked this up in the acquisitions department at Universal needs to be taken out the back and shot. AVOID.
The Invention of Lying (2009)
A thinly-veiled attack on religion
Before you watch this film, consider this Gervais quote from the Sunday Times as it will help you understand the writer's intentions:
"I remember the day I became an atheist," says Gervais. "I was doing my homework. I'd been to Sunday school from the age of five to eight. I had gold stars and used to win Jason in the Lion's Den books, and everything was great. And, er, I ****** loved Jesus, I thought he was brilliant. What a great man." Then his brother Bob, who was 19, came in and took an interest in the homework. He asked Ricky why he believed in God 'And my mum got nervous. My mum went, 'Bob' (in a warning voice) and I thought, something's up. Then he went, 'Well, what proof is there?' My mum said, 'Of course there's a God.' He went, 'No, I'm just asking.' And I said something ludicrous: they've found evidence, they've found his blood in a bottle. I was just guessing. And Bob laughed. I could tell just by looking, that he was telling the truth and my mum was lying. I knew the truth in that instant."
What is billed as a romantic comedy with an amusing premise turns out to be a rather slimy and political undermining of religious faith. Fair enough. The opposite of the promotion of Scientology in "Knowing". But come on, don't be disingenuous about it. I'm glad i didn't pay for it simply as i wouldn't want to be putting money into the hands of smug people who think they've scored a highly thought-out point on an otherwise oblivious audience. It's a cowardly and cheap shot dressed in pretty clothes. I'm a Brit myself and i hate it when British "cleverer than you" writing snobbery does this.
You get the impression the writers wanted to write a story about religion but felt they had to slide it under the radar to get the studios to buy into it for mass appeal, hence wrapping it up in a cheesy plot and the associated feel-good clichés so its sell-able as a "Liar, Liar" re-working. At least have the guts to go indie and do it with a degree of honesty (e.g. The Golden Compass, for all its faults as a studio creation) instead of hiding behind audience platitudes.
Act I: guys loses everything and tells a lie. Act II: guy lies some more and invents religion. Act III: guy gets the girl, film attempts to be moving. Come on.
The one good thing i can say for it is that Gervais has finally decided to try playing another character than David Brent. You'd be better off filling your bookcase with Richard Dawkins than watching this double-minded turd.
Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
Wonderful in every way
Wow. Rarely am i so blown away by a movie. You can't go anywhere at the moment without someone telling you to watch this film and the industry yaddering on consistently about how its the much amazing thing thing to arrive years. Hype aside, this is one hell of a film. Every part of it is just wonderful. I want to watch it again but i don't want to ruin it. I was so much more moved than i ever thought i could be - disturbingly and unexpectedly so.
The very first thing is the incredibly beautiful photography. The colour grading, depth of field, use of lighting and overall feel is just aesthetically perfect. Every single shot has been thought out for the purest stunning film-making beauty. You absolutely cannot fault the camera-work, editing or cinematography. Every director, DoP and production team aspires to make a movie that looks this stunning on screen.
It's a fairytale of course, but brutally underpinned by the savage brutality of corruption, exploitation and abuse. It woke me up to the work done by children's aid agencies and the sheer darkness of Homo Sapiens, but also to the steadfast driving power of romantic love and hope itself.
The story revolves around a boy from the slums (a "slumdog") who is appearing on a game show and has answered all the questions correctly despite his lack of education because each one answer is provided by a memory in his past. The message is that destiny has led him to be there, and he has gone through each situation so he can gradually answer each question at that moment and get to the prize that he was always going to get to, and give everyone hope simultaneously. The reason for the tragedies was so he could get the prize. Suffering has a purpose and is all part of a grander plan - it is written.
All the pieces are there - the helpless girl, the corrupted brother who redeems himself, the evil barons exploiting the vulnerable, the romanticism of poverty (as much as there can be one), all in a unique cultural setting. A lot of people will have been cynical of Bollywood (me included) but for me the truly wonderful thing about this film is the real-life pride and hope it has generated in India.
The young lady who screamed at me down the phone to watch it as soon as i could is getting a big kiss!
Bad Santa (2003)
Darker than you think
I think i was expecting the mood of this film to be very different. With a name like "Bad Santa: it implies a very tongue-in-cheek and rude comedy that is the antithesis of childish innocence. But it's actually a very dark and sad film - more of a tragedy than a comedy. Don't get me wrong, it has some hilarious moments that have you howling ("you won't s**t right for a week" comes to mind), but this is also a flick where Santa has chronic depression and is almost beyond hope or help. Seeing the man in a car with the exhaust pipe stuck in the window isn't a laugh-out-loud moment. It's actually incredibly sad.
The lead character really is absolutely miserable in every way - rude, self-adsorbed, mean, selfish, uncaring, and just downright horrid. The guy in himself doesn't understand humour and never cracks a smile, which is what gives it it's dark humour. The fact he is accompanied by a retarded child and mental dwarf is a brilliant juxtaposition that lifts it from a very dark place to something more. The dwarf's abuse is outrageously funny, especially when he's cussing the black cop attempting to exploit them.
If you want to feel better about your life by pitying someone else, this would be the movie for you; if you want silly stupidity you need a spoof; but if you want what the name implies, you may just be slightly disappointed.
Seven Pounds (2008)
Moving, but not moving enough
When i first saw the title i was already deducing the theme of the film - it clearly wasn't a reference to British currency, so it had to be Shakespearian and about pounds of flesh - taking them, or giving them. Will Smith's a feelgood actor, so serial killers were out. It could only be about a man giving them, so must be about guilt somehow. I spoilt the whole thing for myself by looking it up and knowing the story before i watched, as the beauty of the build-up is the way parts of the main character's background are drip fed to slowly illuminate the audience as to who he is and why he is doing what he is doing.
Guilt is a very hard subject to do simply because it's deeply uncomfortable and sad, which is not an encouraging premise when you are hoping for a roller-coaster ride - you know its going to be unpleasant. I wouldn't say the movie glorifies suicide; it delves into the most extreme form of self-sacrifice - martyrdom.
It's also brimming with symbolism everywhere, which is a surefire tell-tale sign that the writing is cleverly thought out in great detail and driving at multiple meanings and a deep reflective nature. The most prominent theme that struck me was that he was not only giving his heart to the girl he loves emotionally and metaphorically, but was giving it to her physically as the greatest gift he could. Determined to die, but his plan is thwarted by falling in love - what a 2nd act complication. Absolutely masterful.
Yes it is very slow-paced, but i'm undecided as to whether it would have been better slotted into a smaller timeframe. I didn't feel the strain and his terrible inner turmoil as much as i could have, but maybe that's just me having ruined it for myself beforehand. Saying all that though, it is a deeply moving and original film that is an incredibly powerful and thought-provoking tragedy that deserves the awards it will inevitably get.
The Man from Earth (2007)
A brilliant high-brow film for the open-minded
This film was recommended to me by a friend and i probably wouldn't have seen it otherwise. So i checked IMDb to see what it was about and was shocked to see such a high rating for a relatively unknown flick, as well as the glowing reviews about its originality and simplicity.
The beginning flustered me slightly as the acting seemed a little off and i got the impression it was one of those low-budget indie movies that had a great idea but a sucky production. But soon enough, things kicked in and i was knocked backwards. Don't be fooled or misled by a relaxed opening as its definitely needed as a setup to the much more intense hour ahead.
Make no mistake, this is a film about religion. It's a profound idea. I couldn't believe how intelligent the script was, and how they managed to cram so much high-brow material into such a small amount of time. It won't appeal to everyone and i suspect that it will leave a lot of Christians very defensive and unassured. I'm quite versed in the historicity of the Jesus Myth theory so it didn't phase me, although i was a little put out that the issue was covered dominantly from one side.
The most incredible thing to take back from watching this movie is that it is about challenging your beliefs and opening your mind. You find yourself as one of the people in the room, questioning what you know just as they do. The realism of the character's reactions is strong and distinct, just as it should be. But good sci-fi is all about stretching your mind. I was completely drawn in by the discussion with the characters themselves. The science of ageing is fascinating in itself. It's a very brave type of film to make when the current trend is for SFX and event-based storytelling. All based just on - an idea.
Compulsory viewing for every thinker, student and movie-lover.
Enjoyable defiant but transparent
I loved how rebellious and intense this was. I read the criticism on Wikipedia before i watched it so was well aware of which parts to look out for as i put it on. Bill Maher is one of my favourite American presenters and its criminal we don't have someone with his cynical and punchy attitude in the UK to take the same kind of perspective. In a country like the US with its fundamentalist Christian base, it's a brave thing to do.
As a Christian myself i found myself getting more and more angry the longer i watched - but not with Maher at all as i agreed with him on almost everything. It was obvious he'd gone out of his way to pick the worst examples of ignorance he could find to make his point as dramatically as possible. Nothing wrong with that, but i was frustrated i couldn't just reach out and give him the answers. Maybe its a US thing but the majority of religious friends i have are all evolutionists and have a very grounded view of the politics, scripture and a love of science that doesn't lead them to the same ridiculous asinine viewpoints.
The narrative is very strong, especially the intro and outro. The film shows how utterly stupid, self-obsessed, ignorant and stubborn mankind can be once it adopts religion as its flag. Many of the characters were fascinating and i couldn't understand how they could believe the things they do - that they were Christ reborn, that they had been converted from being gay, that Cannabis was religious and more. If Maher wanted to prove a point that a lot of religious people are crazy, ignorant, dumb and completely delusional, he completely succeeded.
I loved the idea of keeping things humorous as the subject is very difficult, and taking no prisoners to make an exceptionally strong argument, as its what good films should be about. I did find one thing distasteful and slightly dishonest though: Maher had added his responses as titling onto the screen in the edit afterwards, as well as flash graphics being placed as sarcastic interstitials and the interviews clearly being heavily edited. That smacks of cowardice and a lack of journalistic integrity/objectivity in my mind, which slightly ruined the overall impact. In the original Wikipedia entry many people seem to have been critical of him "obtaining interviews by deception".
I can imagine the meeting room when the film was being planned and it seems that what they essentially did was decide to attack religion as a whole one-sidedly (fair enough), but then simply made a list of nutcases/renegades to interview and juxtapose serious commentary around to give it some kind of credibility. Don't get wrong - it's extremely funny and makes some powerful points, but if you're looking for a serious and objective take (what we'd normally term a "documentary") that would present the issues on balance to you to challenge you to make a decision, this isn't it. It's a one-sided argument that is equally challenging, but is simply singing to the choir.
Transporter 3 (2008)
Please, please, please - no more Transporter
Just terrible. Words fail to describe how dreadful the female lead is. "Wooden" doesn't quite go far enough. I want to hurt this person. Please let her die or crash into an acting school somewhere. And the "writer" who came up with this turd of a script deserves a smooth crack around the chops. Some scripts are bad, but this one is BAD. Some heroic under-desk casting couch favours were obviously called in here.
I'm an hour through and i can't take any more, even though i'm loathed to make a judgement on something before i've seen it all and given it a chance. But that's the problem with these lame action franchises because due to the sheer predictability in order to please the testosterone crowd you can safely assume it's not going to be getting any better.
No, no, no. Yes we love the cars flying everywhere, the marshal arts, the cleavage and the absurdly mindless violence. But if you're looking for something more, you know, like...i don't know, plot, characters, twists, meaning or a satisfying cinema experience, look elsewhere. hang your brain up on the door and pray for your soul. An absolute waste of time unless you're absolutely off your head drunk and/or just come out of the gym.
Righteous Kill (2008)
A mediocre story made by 2 giants
Righteous Kill demonstrates very palpably how actors and how we relate to them can make a weak film a masterpiece. The plot itself isn't the best or most revolutionary you'll ever come across, but when you have professionals of their calibre delivering the lines, any kind of writing gains an authority it probably shouldn't have. So many films these days rely on events rather than characters and value effect and shock more than they do the subtleties and nuances of interplay between the cast to deliver the drama itself. We often forget that we respond to people, not things or what happens. It's the effect on them that they portray that gets us hooked - the human experience on tape is what we become involved in and remember.
The director tells the story from the classic double perspective that doesn't remain hidden particularly well and fails to be misleading as the end switch between the presumed suspect and supportive colleague who is actually the monster is telegraphed early on. It's predictable and slightly cliché no matter how good the leads are in their roles. What is good is the simmering testosterone all around them and the air of dark cynicism that pervades almost every scene and turn the story makes.
If anything it's a fantastic example to a newer generation of actors of how the genius of Hollywood talent is to own and personify the role - to carve out the personality you've been given, and crucially, to see it in perspective with your opposite and be able to compliment them to make their own performance more powerful and their character more distinct. The scenes are following people, not events. The story is focused around them rather than trying to fit in as much actions and as many turns as you possibly can to make it look clever. Simplicity is the order of the day.
The idea of righteousness could have been pursued more deeply, which is what is lacking to give the characters themselves more depth. Both tread a fragile moral line and vigilantism is something actually most of us somehow agree with in the delivery of justice, whether that be in defence of the weak or in the persecution of the evil. In that context, with that emphasis, both Pacino and De Niro's impact would be have been far greater. Sadly the old-fashioned cop drama won the day when the philosophical ambiguity could have given it considerably more weight and intensity.
All in all its a masterclass for acting schools but leaves you with the dreaded feeling of an unfulfilled promise of a film that could have really hit the mark if it had the courage to take the heavier road and used substance to allow both industry giants to have wowed audiences the way the hype wanted us to believe they would have.