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It Comes at Night (2017)
Disjointed, confusing and unresolved.
I am a fan of post-apocalyptic movies and for the first 20 minutes this film shows promise, good visuals and mood. But then it crawls repeating the same shots and mild shocks until after the hour mark. At this stage you are left wondering when the real story is going to start. Plot elements are started but then abandoned. A little mystery is a good idea in this genre, it heightens the fear but at some point you need an actual narrative to draw it all together.
The ending did force a climax but it seemed botched somewhat by the director so you are left wondering exactly what happened.
The biggest failing is I didn't feel interested enough in the characters to care enough about them during the attempted resolution.
I understand that the budget would have been small but that is no excuse. The camera work was fine. The frights were well done and the tension was well maintained but it gets boring when repeated. The actors did a good job though some were miscast. It was the writing and direction that let the story down.
For a better example of a post apocalyptic movie with a similar setting look at One Hundred Mornings.
Underwhelming so far
First episode in and I am underwhelmed. Wikipedia claims the budget for this episode was $25M and if so, you have to wonder where the money went, on Anthony Hopkins? The plot is completely predictable if you know anything about the premise. The visuals were nice, but nothing on the level of "The Battle of the Bastards" which also was around $25M Neither does it have the hook that Lost or Breaking Bad or The Sopranos did in their first episodes. Some of the plotting just seemed unimaginative. Are we expected to believe that the Newcomers really pay $40k per day just to walk up behind a robot and shoot him in the neck? I would imagine that once gaming culture has evolved to build actual robots the plot lines will be at least on a par with Call of Duty or some such immersive game, with a degree of challenge and risk. The writing was interesting enough and there were seeds of lots of mysterious plot lines sown for future episodes.
In the second episode there is a scene which reeks of self-referential pretension. Ford rejects Sizemore's new plot line which is full of titillation and cheap thrills. Instead he says he has been working on "something quite original". Of course Westworld is promising us viewers the same thing and two episodes in, I'm still waiting.
One Hundred Mornings (2009)
Post apocalyptic Ireland
Given the parlous state of the Irish economy, this movie at least seems to have got it's timing right. If there is to be an Irish apocalypse, then this feels very much what it might look like.
I am a fan of post-apocalyptic movies, and as far as I know this is the only one set in Ireland. This is a pity because the Irish landscape is a testament to boom and bust, feast and famine. Apart from the newly-built, never-lived-in ghost estates, the country is dotted with abandoned farmhouses, huge mansions, and ruins of all ages going back thousands of years. Most movies of the type involve some kind of journey, where a plucky band of survivors have to reach some destiny to perhaps build the world anew. Skillfully the director has avoided such clichés and perhaps taking a leaf out of Cormac McCarthys "The Road", the actual cause of the apocalypse is not described. Two couples have decided to hole up in a lakeside holiday home having stocked up on necessities in the hope that electrical power and civil society will return.
Unlike "The Road", hope is not entirely extinguished for the survivors. There are hints that order and civilisation might return, if they can hold out in their lakeside retreat. There is game in the fields and a self-sufficient hippie neighbour, so survival seems possible, if they can get their act together. Naturally it is not so simple and things go downhill quickly.
Cinematography is beautiful and the characters are well drawn. You get a real gut feeling how desperate their situation is as they try to deal with hunger, depression, looters, infighting and betrayal. But the problem with this movie is that it is nearly all mood, and very slow plot and character progression. It's true, they have to make choices to survive and they are changed, but progression is quite slow the ending is quite muted. I was not looking for a happy ending or dramatic catharsis, but something a little less ambiguous. It did not seem worth all the scenes of gnawing hunger, looting, boredom and bickering in the claustrophobic cottage that the viewer is sat through for 83 minutes.
Of course the options for the director were severely limited by the tiny budget. At around 275k (around $350k dollars), it is amazing to see what was achieved with such meager resources. I imagines that off screen life on the set might have been close to that depicted on screen, with actors and crew huddling around campfires drinking bovril and scavenged canned food.
It is a mystery why it has not as yet been released on DVD, because it is definitely worth catching for fans of the genre. I look forward to what Conor Horgan does next.
Some nice camera work, stylish blurring, but pretty clichéd police drama. Jason Statham does what Jason Statham normally does, he's utterly typecast as kind of British Dirty Harry, but it's not new anymore like it was in Snatch/The Transporter.
His sidekick is not nearly as interesting as the little guy in Snatch or the girl in Transporter.
Good work from Aiden Gillen (the guy who played Tommy Carcetti in The Wire) as the bad guy. Zawe Ashton is also interesting as a WPC with a drug problem.
Mainly the plot seemed a bit disjointed and contrived. Overall it felt like a TV police drama. Nothing special.
The Hide (2008)
Overlong, stagey, but memorable
Cinema and theater are two different things. I think it has something to do with your attention. On stage I am sure this would be gripping, especially with McQueen as Roy, because you are forced to pay attention to the actors. On TV it's OK, a bit too long and with a fairly obvious twist, but it holds your attention. However, if I had paid to watch this in the cinema, I might have walked out. I loved the characters and McQueen is perfectly cast as Roy, a middle-England birdwatching cannibal.
Its a good play, a reasonably TV movie, but would make for a very boring evening on the big screen. I think it might have worked better as a black comedy.
To be sure, this movie is innovative. The point of view of the tank commander, the claustrophobic interior of the tank. But really thats all. There is no meaningful character development and no change of scene. The basic message is war is hell, but that has been done so many times before.
Essentially it is 90 minutes of various shots of dirty unshaven men complaining, tank interior rumbling, oil and blood. periscope views of the outside where civilians get killed.
To call it Das Boot in a tank is an insult to that fine film, which has great characters, proper character development, genuine suspense and a crippling emotional climax. This movie has none of those.
Added to this is a long list of inaccuracies about tanks and tank warfare that have been written about elsewhere.
There are a few token allusions to the Lebanese war, evil Phalagists and the murder of civilians. Perhaps that's why it got a prize. I am no supporter of the Israeli Defence Force, but I prefer my movies to have more depth and nuance.
You will hate this movie... but I liked it
What I and the other people who liked this movie share is a particular demographic, techno-geek, fond of puzzles. If you don't fit that profile, you simply will not like this movie.
Here are the reasons that most normal well balanced people would not like this movie:
1. Certain production values are just not up to scratch. It is hard to see how the director could have got more out of his miniscule budget, but these days unless you have kick ass cgi and perfect cinematography, most people will be irritated. Seeing it again, I am really impressed by the simple hacks the director pulled off to save money.
2. The plot is impossible to follow on the first viewing, and in fact it probably needs a little research and discussion before you begin to figure out what's happening and only then does it begin to be fun to watch. This is a big no-no for conventional film making. It is generally considered unfair on your audience to require them to watch a movie twice before enjoying it. Christopher Nolan did something similar with Memento, except that it was possible to at least feel you "got it" after seeing it the first time.
3. Acting is a little patchy in places and the voice-over is a pretty dated cinematic trick.
4. The director made a movie he did not quite intend to make, so the tag line and trailer don't really convey what the movie is actually about. Carruth intended to show how two friends become alienated when they invent a machine which makes them all powerful. It is a character arc based on Maslow's hierarchy of needs. What happens when you have everything? Actually the movie turned out a little different. The character arcs are still there, which, in my view marks it out as a decent movie to start with. But what has everyone buzzing is the innovative method of time travel described and the possibilities that it opens up. The plot and its various interpretation have become a kind of puzzle which appeals to people who like puzzles.
Personally, I don't think there is one valid way to interpret the plot. I think Carruth ended up putting nearly all of his film stock into the finished print, so the end result was to an extent dictated by the small budget. It is therefore not nearly so well worked out as people tend to think it is. But it nevertheless fun trying.
Murphy's War (1971)
All war is personal
This movie should be compulsory viewing for all those who sigh and say that it is an unfortunate necessity to kill a few civilians during war. This is the simple story of Murphy, merchant seaman sole survivor of a U boat attack on his ship. His mission: to wreak revenge on the sub and all its crew. The utter folly of a single man attacking a fully armed military vessel is as nothing to Murphy's determination. This is not calculated retribution as a dish served cold, this is hot-blooded, crazy mad-as-hell-not-going-to-take-it-anymore bloody vengeance.
There are tremendous scenes. Murphy fixing up a seaplane. Murphy teaching himself to fly said seaplane by climbing in and giving it some gas. Murphy driving a tugboat as his own personal dreadnought. The final scene is a masterpiece, which does not dwell on its simple message. War is personal, unpredictable, murderous and ultimately pointless.
Sure, there are flaws, Peter O'Toole's Irish accent is way too stage-Irish for my liking, despite the fact that he is Irish. The German sub is actually a British one repainted, and the Germans are painted just a little too murderous. It would have been better to portray them as normal soldiers, who killed a few non-combatants unintentionally.
So next time you hear someone say a few civilians accidentally killed in Iraq, Afghanistan is "collateral damage", tell them to watch this movie.
A Serious Man (2009)
What to make of this?
A hard working math professor, Larry Gopnik is a troubled man. His family is falling apart, his wife is running off with the therapist and his kids are wasters. His deadbeat brother is sleeping on the couch and getting into trouble with the law. A Korean student is trying to bribe him to get a passing grade and the sexy neighbour next door is sunbathing naked. Larry is a sort of combination of Job and King David living in the sixties.
I am still scratching my head about this one, which is an endorsement of sort. Quite funny in places, but in the end it's too bleak to be a comedy. I liked the humor, the quirky satire on Jewish life and the characters, and I even liked the ending, after thinking about it for a bit.
It's foolish to look for a message or a moral. The problem I have is that you get all psyched up to see something like "The Big Lebowski", a gem which was panned by the critics, but this is not it.
Mainstream appeal, this does not have. There were about 8 people in the cinema when I saw it and 3 of those walked out. I have read several reviews of this movie and for the first time recommended both positive and negative ones.
It is that sort of movie. As one of the characters says "Accept the mystery".
Daddy, where's my spaceship?
This is the fascinating story of Project Orion, an interplanetary spaceship designed in the 1950's by a team of top physicists and engineers at General Atomics. Although never built, this spaceship would have been 10,000 tons in weight, 10x faster than any spacecraft ever launched and could take hundreds of men to Mars in a matter of months. The design could have been the base for an interstellar craft which in theory could reach the nearest stars in 40-50years. Compare this with Voyager 2, the fastest spacecraft ever launched. Voyager would take 40,000 years to go the same distance.
The key point about Orion is that it used nuclear bombs as a propulsion system. Despite the obvious destructiveness of nuclear bombs the engineers proved that the concept was practical and economically feasible. However, in order to try to get the billion dollars funds to build it, the project leaders tried to enlist interest the military establishment. This proved to be a fatal mistake. The generals were so keen on Orion that the project turned from a scientific endeavour into a kind of Death Star. President Kennedy's concerns that Orion would provoke a nuclear arms race in space eventually killed the project.
The documentary is centered on Freeman Dyson and his son George. Freeman Dyson is one of the greatest physicists and mathematicians alive today, who was recruited initially in 1958 to give the Orion project intellectual credibility. Freeman's son, George, was a young boy when his father told him he was building a spaceship. He remembers feeling disappointed, because his father would never promise to take him with him into space. In his teens, he fell out with his father, partly because he could never hope to measure up to him in physics. He went to the west coast and lived tree house and built kayaks for a living. Later in life George became a writer and went back to try to piece together the Orion story, before the key members of the project died off. His father would never talk to him about it. George tracked down many members of the project team and gathered thousands of pages of documents and rare footage. Despite the 50 years elapsed since Orion was canceled, much of the project remains highly classified, particularly because Orion depended on a reliable supply of thousands of small and cheap nuclear bombs.
Also interviewed is the late Arthur C Clarke who made the point that if you want to move large payloads around the solar system, the Orion concept is the only way that this is possible. According to George Dyson, NASA keeps an Orion spaceship design available in the contingency that the Earth is ever threatened by an asteroid or comet.
Essential viewing for space-cadets, Orion may yet fly someday.
There are spoilers in this review, but if you know about the life of Darwin, this won't spoil the movie for you.
Many people have speculated that Darwin was inspired to write chapter three of the Origin (The Struggle for Existence) by his own experience of watching his beloved daughter Annie die. This movie dramatises this concept and extends it by speculating that Darwin was haunted by this memory (and even by Annie's ghost) and only finds peace by finally publishing his magnum opus. It is a good concept and was the basis of a best selling book, Annies Box.
Much of this movie is well executed. Let me list what is good about this movie:
1) Paul Bettany & Jennifer Connelly & whoever played Annie Darwin. They were perfect, period detail was beautiful.
2) The premise. The concept is simple and accurate to the history of his life. Darwin's life is changed utterly by the death of his young daughter Annie. He sees that nature is merciless and loses his faith in God. He was a polite society man, a loving father and never wanted to cause a controversy. He was therefore tortured by his theory and procrastinated endlessly about publication. Haunted by the memory of Annie, the insistence of his friend, and finally a letter from Alfred Wallace (who has independently come to the same theory) Darwin finally decides to publish.
What went wrong:
1) The direction. This movie has very frequent flashbacks and flashforwards. OK that's good, but not if the viewer is sometimes confused as to whether this is the past or the present. In the present Darwin sees Annie as a ghost or a hallucination who goads him to finish his book and in the past she is his real living daughter. There were scenes when I had to ask myself was this Annie as the ghost or was this in the past? The only way to tell was to look at Paul Bettany's hairline!
2) The script: Was this about Annie? about Darwin? about the publication of the Origin? I think it is meant to be about all three and perhaps that is too much to take on in one movie.
3) The pace. The first 30-40 minutes were excellent and set the movie up for some dramatic point where Darwin is finally goaded to publish. However the remaining hour is spent with scene after scene about Darwin tortured about his theory and his illness in the present, Darwin tortured by watching Annie die in the past, Darwin tortured by his losss of faith and increasing distance from his wife. It seems like it takes a full hour for Annie to die. This was viewer torture.
Perhaps the life or Darwin is not really suited for cinema. The man was the ultimate patient nerdy scientist. It took him decades to develop his theory and decades longer to publish. He was a loving father, he was tortured by his theory, and he became an atheist in the end, much to the chagrin of his wife. He wrote so many letters that there are many excellent and fascinating biographies of him. He remains one of the most fascinating men of all time, which just adds to the tragedy that this movie is not better than it is.
There are some good scenes in the movie, but ultimately it was sadly a bit boring by the end. Don't believe the nonsense talked about this being too controversial for the US, in reality it is simply not controversial enough.
Public Enemies (2009)
Hit and miss, mostly miss
This movie tells the later stages of the crime career of John Dillinger, famous bank robber. What's good: Johnny Depp and Christian bale are good, the pacing is good, the sets and period detail are perfect. The score is quite good too.
What's bad: a shootout sequence is obviously shot on a video camera looks cheap and has a major discontinuity in it. Other scenes the camera is shaky.
Also for a movie that prides itself on historical detail, it plays fast and loose with the facts about the Dillinger gang. For instance the death of "Baby Face" Nelson is complete fiction. You are duped into thinking the director cares about historical details with all the period sets, cars, news stories on the radio etc, but actually major parts of the plot are just made up. Of course the reason that historical movies rarely follow history exactly is that real events don't naturally follow standard narrative.
So it is not a documentary, which is fine, so it must be a character movie right? This brings me to its biggest flaw. An important goal of a movie like this is to build an emotional connection with the central character. This ought to be easy with a character like Dillinger, because he actually built a huge public fan base as a latter day "Robin Hood", despite being a murderous bank robbing crook. It tries hard and it does get close, particularly with the scenes involving Billie, one of Dillinger's many girlfriends. In the end, though, I just did not care all that much about him..
It is competent, but ultimately it fails to match up in comparison with other movies of this genre. Right now the IMDb rating for this movie is higher than "The Untouchables", "Once Upon a Time in America" or "Goodfellas", which is a testament to the cinematic ignorance of the majority of IMDb voters. No doubt the same people will rate this comment down, probably without even reading it, simply because I did not give the movie a 9 or 10.
Angels & Demons (2009)
Where did it all go right?
OK, so having read the reviews excoriating this movie I allowed myself to be dragged along to to see it with low expectations. I have now realised that Irish Times journalist Donald Clark is in fact a reverse barometer. He gave it 1 star out of 5. OK so it is not 5/5 but it is a respectable 3/5 and an amusing way to spend a couple of hours, even exciting. It is in fact much better than the Da Vinci Code mainly because it has better pacing, some genuinely exciting scenes and it is better visually.
It is a chase movie and like the airport book it was inspired from, it is pretty vacuous abusing the disciplines of history, physics and logic in equal measure. But it's fun. You don't go to a movie like this expecting a watertight plot or expecting a message to humanity. You go because you want a bit of entertainment and popcorn. You don't expect the hero to die, you know he will save the day in the end. But so what? When you go on a fairground ride you know how it will end, but you expect thrills none the less.
And if you are a physicist who is offended by scientific impossibilities, then you are in the same class as the religious types offended by the Da Vinci Code, unable to suspend disbelief.
Does what it says on the tin.
PM has resigned so can Tucker save the Nutters and his own job?
This is a truly masterful episode of The Thick of It, a fitting climax to the whole series. As with all of the other episodes of "The Thick of It", to enjoy this properly you really need to understand the characters, who is who. The whole thing moves so fast, that if you don't know, it will just seem like a load of people running around in offices swearing at each other.
The PM has resigned and rival party leader Tom is all but crowned as the new leader. This is a problem for Tucker because he has never been in with Tom's faction (aka The Nutters). So what should he do, should he take Tom down and put a rival in his place or can he inveigle himself into the Nutter faction? The way Tucker lies, cheats, spins and swears his way past his rivals is truly a sight to behold and should be compulsory viewing for all party hacks and PR spin-meisters.
The counterpoint to Tucker is the hapless Ollie Reader, who is looking after Ben Swain MP, junior minister, but is promised a place in Tom's cabinet after the transition. Ollie sees his opportunity to be in his own words "catapulted into the political f**koffasphere" out of the moribund Deparment of Social Affairs and Citizenship and onto "the bridge of starship government". Ollie is very clever but at the same time utterly clueless. If ever there was a character who illustrated the difference between book smart and street smart, Ollie is it.
Poor old Glenn, loyal to his minister Hugh Abbot who is out of the country. If you watch carefully, you can see Glenn being beaten down at every turn by everyone's withering put-downs until finally he completely cracks and breaks down.
In the background there is the night desk of the Daily Mail, where the editor is desperately trying to figure out what is going on, so that he can put it on the front page. Sadly his only source for the political maneuvering is Ollie via his ex-girlfriend Angela on the news desk. Ollie's reliability as a source is alternately described as "shallow throat" or "a complete spasmoloid." At one stage the editor memorably tells Ollie that the headline on page six will be "Junior Government Gimp wrecks Ex-Girlfriends Career"
In the Loop (2009)
Funny and entertaining for 30 minutes, boring over 2 hours
What a disappointment. Two hours of swearing and clever comebacks makes for repetitive tedium. A pity because the characters are memorable, funny and there are some great lines and scenes. Also the material, satirising Alastair Campbell, Donald Rumsfeld and the rush to war is a rich resource. However because the characters all seem to have the same quick witted comebacks, their dialog almost seems interchangeable. Some of the best laughs are from the physical and situation humour, e.g. when a character smashes a fax machine, when a general calculates the US troop deployments on a child's toy laptop, when the secretary of state's teeth start to bleed.
Part of the problem may be that it follows the format of "The Thick of It" but that is a half hour comedy. When you stretch this to two hours, it just drags. A good, biting satire is possible from the material here, if it was cut down and the plot given more prominence. I suspect that for many people, the plot is merely incomprehensible. To see the difference between a well plotted political comedy and this movie, simply watch an episode of "Yes, Prime Minister" or even "The West Wing". Successful, movie length political satires are rare, "Bob Roberts" or "Primary Colors". In both of these cases there is a plot element driving the progress to the climax, an election campaign. In this movie the plot driver is the rush towards war, and the climax is a vote in the UN security council. That is fine, but it doesn't seem to work. The only way you could tell how far along the movie is to look at your watch. In fact Ianucci's "The Thick of It Special - the Rise of the Nutters" has excellent pacing and climax.
Most of the ingredients are there, but the mix is not right. It is entertaining, but it does not merit repeat viewing.
Låt den rätte komma in (2008)
A movie loved by critics - but a bit tedious for me
I realise by writing a mostly-negative review that it will be voted down. Despite this I have always found that the negative reviews are the most honest and informative. If I want to know about a movie on IMDb I always read the negative reviews.
This is exactly the kind of movie that critics love - genre busting, anti-Hollywood, foreign language, low budget. It is all of these things and in truth it is a pretty good effort. But it is a very long way from being the greatest horror movie this century, as the Irish Times movie critic Donald Clarke calls it when he fatuously compares it to The Shining and The Exorcist.
Traditionally a vampire has been a villain, lives the glamorous lifestyle of an immortal in a castle. In this movie, the vampire is a child, lives in a crappy flat and has no friends. Set in 1970s Sweden in winter, it is about as bleak as it gets. Oskar, a friendless, bullied child who lives next door meets the vampire and the two of them find that they are kindred spirits.
There are two things which recommend this movie, the new take on the vampire genre and the acting of the child vampire. Detracting from it is the movies slow pace. Even the opening credits (plain white text on black) took an age. I hate that, unless you have really fancy credits that are worth watching, just get on with it. Visuals are pretty good though the incessant darkness and cold tends to get dreary after two hours. The child vampire is really excellent and she expresses the right kind of other-worldliness. The main child-protagonist (Oskar) however is very awkward and frankly annoying. He seems to be put in mainly because of his goofy "children of the corn" looks, and the camera takes full advantage of this taking rather too many opportunities to show him semi-naked.
The other main flaws are a very silly scene involving CGI cats and the climax, which is too contrived and too "Deus ex machina" and utterly predictable. The horror/gore aspect does not succeed and the director's efforts at shocking moments are good but for me they do not really shock. The movie is most memorable for its mood in the tender scenes between the two children.
Just Like Heaven (2005)
Pass the bucket
How does Reese Witherspoon, an otherwise competent actress, end up in pot-boiler stuff like this? I guess it must be the money. It also might be that she is so expert at acting the cute girlfriend next door that she has stolen market share from Sandra Bullock. From the other comments and the votes it seems that quite a lot of people actually like this movie, which is fairly inexplicable to me. It is so completely predictable that it could have been written by accountants and in fact it probably was. The plot is so old it was actually stolen from the Brothers Grimm.
The plot, to save you from 90 minutes of wasted life is as follows: Man moves into apartment occupied by girl ghost, ghost does not know she is dead. Man falls in love with girl ghost. Only Man can see girl ghost. Man and girl ghost find out girl ghost worked in a hospital and had accident. Apparently girl ghost was so hard working she never had time for a boyfriend (awww, how convenient). Girl ghost is not dead (Shock!!!) but in coma. Girl ghost tries to join up body and soul but fails. Guess what, doctors want to turn off life support. Man tried to convince family Girl is still alive. Family think man is insane. Man then tries to steal body. Man fails,life support is turned off and ghost fades but Man kisses girl. Girl and Ghost are reunited! (Hurray!!) But no! Human girl cannot remember ghost relationship with man while in coma (boohoo). Finally Man gives apartment keys back to human girl and their hands touch. Memories come flooding back!! They fall in love and live happily every after. end credits.
Famous political meetings and their repercussions
This documentary series takes as its premise that crucial moments in history really are dependent on the whims of powerful men and their meetings at political summits. Whether or not you agree with that, it is an interesting precisely because the reportage of summits has always been so completely smothered in propaganda and later revisionism that the actual personalities and events have been obscured.
Each episode focuses on a different meeting. The first covers Chamberlain-Hitler 1938-39, the second Kennedy-Krushchev 1960 and the final one, Reagan-Gorbachev, 1986.
The series is full of fascinating little details such as the fact that Kennedy was in constant pain and pumped full of amphetamines during the summit with Krushchev. Sometimes Reynolds analysis of the motivations of the participants are quite daring. For example Reynolds contends that Krushchev looked down on Kennedy because he reminded him of his wayward son Leonid who died in the war. Also he claims that Neville Chamberlain was partly motivated by rivalry with his half-brother Austen Chamberlain after the latter's success at Locarno. These assertions are probably unprovable, but they do yield novel insight into the personalities involved.
There are some quirks. For dramatic effect, Reynolds actually plays the characters himself, adopting a stern facial frown for Hitler and a Haavad accent for Kennedy. This actually works rather well but sometimes he takes it a bit too far, for example when he tries to imitate Jackie Kennedy.
It is unfashionable to view history through the personalities of great leaders. However, in my opinion, the series proved its case, personalities and relationship chemistry really do matter.
Church of Acceptance (2003)
I caught this short a few years ago on RTE and it stuck in my memory. It is a clever little work which is no longer than it should be and has a satisfying dramatic kick in the end. George is a lonely man of middle age. Although highly educated he has lost all faith in religion and life and is utterly depressed. He is on the verge of suicide when he gets a visit from two be-suited evangelists from the mysterious Church of Acceptance. He is skeptical, but they explain that they don't force any dogma on their members and accept everyone who accepts them. They don't explain any details but he will understand if he accepts their invitation to their next meeting. George is curious and decides to attend. What follows rekindles his desire for life in a highly unusual,ironic way.
Pandora's Box (1992)
Tales of science and society
Pandora's box is a set of six documentaries concerning the impact of science and technology and society the 20th Century. Each episode is a story of how leaders of different societies strove to create a better, more controllable world based on science and technology but in the end their efforts failed when they came in contact with human desire, emotion and politics.
Although the premise sounds deadly dull, Adam Curtis' documentaries are always entertaining. The irreverent use of fifties music and clips from old movies serve to enliven otherwise dry subjects such as Keynesian economics versus Monetarism (Episode 3 "The League of Gentlemen") or the story of DDT (episode 4 "Goodbye, Mrs Ant"). The story behind the story is another constant theme and it is here that the documentaries really shine, there is lots of footage and material and interviews with key people showing that a great deal of work went into the researching of this series. The interviews in particular are of real historic interest and could never be repeated, as many of the individuals and institutions have since passed away.
Where he tends to fall down is that he sometimes makes some very tenuous links and comparisons. For instance in comparing the causes Three-Mile-island Disaster with Chernobyl, ("A is for Atom", Episode 6) Curtis seems to ignore the obvious point that in the Soviet Union safety standards were looser and life was cheaper than in the US. In episode 5 ("Black Power"), Curtis relates the story of the Volta Dam in Ghana and how the dreams of its leader Kwame Nkrumah to industrialize fell apart when big business got involved forcing him to accept poor business terms to get the dam built and the country descended into corruption. Curtis seems far too soft on Nkrumah's own responsibility for the mess his country ended up in.
Although decidedly left-wing, Curtis is no communist and even if your political views are right wing you will find this series thought provoking. For example Episode 1 ("The Engineer's Plot") on the Soviet Union is the best expose of the failures of state planning that you will see. Curtis has footage from the last days of the Soviet Union's planning system with interviews with the poor benighted Russians actually trying to make it work. Taxi drivers have to drive in circles to meet their mileage quota. Shoe manufacturers discover that their customers want platform shoes but by the time the factory is built, the shoes are out of fashion. The story of DDT (Episode 4 "Goodbye Mrs Ant") showed how the sciences of entomology and ecology were abused for political means by the environmental movement. The lawyer behind the case gleefully showed his strategy of showing that even minuscule amounts of chemical can be harmful. When it was subsequently proved that DDT was detectable in mothers milk, the public outcry was sufficient to get it banned. The fact that DDT itself is actually harmless to people is demonstrated rather shockingly by one advocate actually eating the stuff. Curtis is careful not to say that DDT is good or bad per se, just that when politics and business got involved, genuine science was drowned out.
You definitely get the feeling there is a moral to each of these stories but it is hard to say precisely what that message is. Perhaps it is we should be more skeptical about science. Perhaps it is that rationality is impossible outside science. In any case this is not unbiased history, Curtis has very particular and even unique slants on the stories that he tells. Despite this it does not suffer from being opinion. It is both entertaining and informing, whatever side of the argument you prefer.
The recommendations and visuals would lead you to believe that this is a really thoughtful, unique movie. Indeed the first two chapters "Spring" and "Summer" were promising, leading up to a plot which manages to hold the attention. After this is starts to go downhill and the final third is just awful, with a few very silly scenes.
Also lacking is any kind of subtlety. You expect a quite thoughtful meditation, but really you get a series of really simple dumbed-down messages like "it is bad to hurt animals" or there are consequences to evil acts. The director is not content with making a point once, or obliquely, he has to make the point three or four times each chapter.
This points to a basic lack of editing directorial concision. For instance, the child monk in "Spring" is naughty, mean to three wild animals, a fish, a frog and a snake. The master chastises him an makes him rescue the animals. The whole series of scenes where the child finds each animal in turn and then has to rescue each animal afterwards are needless filler. One animal would have made the point far more clearly and forcefully.
Given the quality of the visuals available and the basic concept of the story a much better movie could have been made.
No Country for Old Men (2007)
Understanding this movie without spoilers
A lot of people dislike this movie when they see it first. I confess to being a bit shocked by it myself and left the theatre feeling a bit bleak.
However, this is precisely what is intended by the writer.
Anyone who has not read the book will be surprised and probably confused by certain events in the film. It is not that it is ambiguous per se, but it does not follow the conventional thriller/pursuit movie narrative, even if it appears to at first. If you are confused or a bit disappointed after viewing this movie, you are not an idiot or Philistine. It is a great movie, but there are problems with transferring it from book to screen, despite it being very faithful to the text. Firstly, the dialogue is one of the best things about the movie and unlike in a book where you can re-read a paragraph if you missed something, in a movie theatre once it is gone, you can't rewind. The opening and closing monologues are the most important parts to pay attention to and again, because it is a movie, you may not see the closing monologue coming or you may not be paying enough attention to it when it comes.
Again dialogue is more important in a book than a movie, where everything is highly visual. A movie like this can suck you in with its violence and suspense, so you start to ignore the dialogue, or at least let it wash over you.
That said here is a guide to understanding this movie to those who have not yet seen it.
Sheriff Bell is the principle character and he is only one given dialogue or monologue of more than a couple of sentences at a time. He is near to retirement and reflects on his life as a law officer at a time when crime has become so bad he describes it as a "war". In the opening dialogue, Sheriff Bell says "Somewhere out there, there is a true and living prophet of destruction and I don't want to confront him. I know he's real. I have seen his work." This is important, remember this. So you know it is coming, there is a closing monologue about his dreams, which you can find in the quotes section of this title.
Llewellyn Moss is a hunter who stumbles on a drug deal gone wrong in the desert and makes off with $2M he finds on a dead drug dealer.
Anton Chigurh is a killer hired to track down and recover the money.
The rest of the action is concerned with this pursuit and its consequences.
After this I will say no more about the plot, except that to say that if you are expecting Llewellyn Moss's great adventure, or a grand showdown between the good guy and the bad guy you will be sorely disappointed. This film is bleak and uncompromising. There may be a buried message of hope but it is communicated by allegory and allegory is not something we are used to seeing on screen. Like all great movies, it gets better with a second viewing.
Le cirque de Calder (1961)
The crazy genius that was Alexander Calder
Alexander Calder was one of the most imaginative individuals of the 20th century. Fascinated with mechanical things, he surely would have become a mechanical engineer if he had not chosen the path of an artist and sculptor. Famous for his invention of the mobile, in this short movie you can see Calder as the ring master of his own tiny circus, made up of wire models of performers and animals. More than mere models, these little machines move in lifelike ways which you would not believe for things made out of wire and fluff. There are acrobats, cowboys, a lion tamer and a man is shot out of a cannon. The original models are now in the Whitney museum in New York, but without the mind of Calder to drive them, they are static toys.
Calder use to give regular performances of his circus in Paris. Groups of avant garde artists would gather and watch Calder bring his miniature creations to life.
Also to watch out for is his wife, who you can see in the background with a bemused expression on her face.
Frontline: A Company of Soldiers (2005)
Watch this before you sign up
This is one of the best documentaries about the war in Iraq from the soldiers perspective. Despite the criticism leveled at "embedded" journalism, the film-makers used this to their advantage to give a unique portrayal of life in an ordinary US unit "Dog Company" as they try to carry out their mission. The impression is that this mission is impossible. They are trying to police and rebuild a society that dissolving faster than they can rebuild it.
Several incidents stand out. A sergeant organizes the rebuilding of a market to facilitate local traders. It is impressive to see him knock heads together and slash through red tape to get the market physically built and serviced with electricity and water. Yet despite this when it is finished, he returns to find all the traders set up outside because a local strongman is charging exorbitant fees to use the market space.Another night a patrol is ambushed, a civilian is killed in a taxi. A second ambush and one of Dog Company is killed. The documentary does not dwell in sentimentality or patriotism. A local sheik is interrogated by a Captain, he looks bruised and he is clearly in great fear. Under threat of being arrested and sent to an internment camp, he gives names.
Later the company goes on a mission to search an area for illegal weapons and a soldier maliciously shoots a dog. A local Iraqi waves his hands in weary despair and then goes to comfort the dying animal.
It is strange, but despite the horror of dying civilians and soldiers it is this sticks most in my mind. The casual cruelty of the act contrasts shockingly with the earnest efforts of the other members of the company.
This documentary says more about the US mission in Iraq, its successes and failures, than a solid months worth of news reportage.
Garden State (2004)
Doesn't add up to very much
This pleasant and inoffensive movie touches on themes common in US art house cinema. The angst of twenty somethings as they struggle to build careers from dead end jobs, the quirkiness of small town America, estrangement from friends and family.
This movie is clearly influenced by such films as The Graduate and the Good Girl. However it is terminally slow moving and never rises close to either of those two movies. It has its moments spread thinly amongst endless scenes of is Zach Braff looking wan and Natalie Portman talking funny.
The central theme of father-son estrangement is continually put off in favour of some blackly comic asides. For me the humour was more dead than dead-pan. The quirky details are nice enough by themselves, but you can't build an entire movie out of this and the central plots, estranged father-son relationship and finding true love have been done so many times before and better. Ian Holm's talents were barely stretched. Some of the scenes touch on controversial subjects but are only peripheral to the storyline and don't add much bite to the plot. The big reveal was not so big and the ending in particular was a great big howling romantic cinema cliché.