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Female Agents (2008)
A worthy message, enjoyable to watch but ultimately baloney.
18 June 2016
Warning: Spoilers
This movie begins promisingly with a montage of images (during the titles) that squarely establishes the ideal of highlighting the role women played in WW2. Lets be frank, the defeat of Hitler depended on armies of women mostly on the "Home Front": in factories, on farms, as pilots ferrying aircraft, working in all the roles previously reserved for men, apart from the merchant navy, mining and, barring a few exceptions, combat.

This film of course takes the "glamorous" option of concentrating on those exceptions. Exceptional people did extraordinary things during that war and they deserve every admiration, especially as they could receive no acknowledgement at the time. The women who in real life were infiltrated into NAZI occupied territory deserve their story be told. Unfortunately this film doesn't do that. Instead its a complete fiction.

The entire scenario is hogwash. If a reconnaissance operative had been caught as is the central plot driver, the standard procedure would have been to kill him to protect secrecy, not send over a whole team including a man who knows all the secrets that needed protecting and thereby jeopardising the very secrets that the mission was to protect. The likeliest course of action at the time was to bomb the hospital into oblivion killing everyone and thereby protecting those secrets. Only an idiot would have put together the cock-a-mamie enterprise depicted. To ensure a hospitalised agents death would have required only one assassin timed to precede the bombing and willing to die if necessary in the process. Not a team of five.

What is worse is the tendency that seems increasingly prevalent in French movies of inserting gratuitous and tasteless scenes of a sexually provocative nature that do nothing to advance the story, are entirely unnecessary and, in this context, rather sick. The worst here being the perverse sexualisation of a woman of necessity taking her own life, turned into a kind of sick striptease for no audience but the viewer, overladen with a corrupted form of specious religious overtones that only cheapen the act and border upon blasphemy. It may not matter to non-believers, but as the victim was depicted as devout, that seems more of an abuse and an insult than a gesture of respect.

Compounding these deficiencies is the blurring together of a real project and fictitious characters, their names borrowed from real people who had nothing to do with it. The Oberst Karl Heinrich shown here never existed but the real life Karl Heindrich was actually one of the plotters who attempted to kill Hitler, not prevent the Allied invasion.

Then the project herself is abused and misrepresented. It wasn't called "Phoenix" but "Mulberry" (which I had lectured into me throughout my childhood by a man who had actually worked on it). It was so secret that Grman officers never had suspicions of its relevance to D Day. Those sent to study Normandy beaches (such as the Geologist in the movie) would have had no knowledge of the project, only the task of examining the suitability of shorelines for landings. Mulberry was not even related to that, the caissons only being taken over four days after the invasion. The project was indeed critical to the invasion however, permitting the creation of a logistic supply line. However, contrary to the impression given at the close of the movie, the Americans had little to do with this. Of the two harbours created, the British one was used to great success whilst the American one was misused, not supported by US leadership, allowed to fall apart and was swiftly abandoned. The project was British, not American, yet it is presented otherwise in this movie.

Altogether, the movie is a disservice to the truth and a dishonourable reflection on the real life heroines of WW2. I nonetheless give it a "5" because, in spite of this, it cannot be denied that it is very well made and gripping entertainment. It could have been so much better, especially had the final dedication been to the real female agent who was the inspiration for the story, as opposed to one of the fictitious characters depicted.
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The Prestige (2006)
Excellent story, multi-layered, enjoyable, bears repeat viewing but far from perfect.
20 February 2016
Warning: Spoilers
I have a particular perspective on this movie, being myself a stage hypnotist. Whilst my art is quite distinct from that of illusionists such as are depicted in this movie (although I have performed as such also) the two fields do overlap and in the broadest common usage I am often referred to as a magician. Many aspects of the story I found to resonate with me on a personal level.

I emphasise the story because that is what sustains this production. I have'nt read the original (though I have earlier work by the same author) but the screenplay sustains attention through what might otherwise be judged an overlong piece. To be frank, the movie starts slowly and dwells excessively on many scenes, some of which are irrelevant to the plot and could have been omitted with no loss. For example the one with the prank on the prison warder.

The sets, photography, costumes, performances are all excellent but one would not sit through it just for those aspects. Until the story cranked up some momentum I regarded the movie as yet another to make jokes about rather than being engaged by. Indeed I chuckled when a magicians "secret" is revealed in mysterious seclusion as what appears to be a gigantic metronome with its cover on(it isn't, but looks like one). The slow start is not entirely the directors fault and in this respect the writing falls short of its overall quality. Deliberate humour is actually one thing entirely absent from the movie, which may be appropriate given the dark subject matter. However, the early parts, with a story told using intercut viewpoints and time-frames, flash-backs and flash-forwards is really rather confusing.

There are sub-texts in the story which extend beyond the immediate tale itself and these are subtly flagged up in the script. The ambiguity of identity is only the most obvious theme. The best feature of the realisation only become apparent when one has already watched it and the metaphors hidden in plain sight throughout become retrospectively apparent. In a way, this is something of a magic trick in itself. Perhaps the attention spent on what I have suggested to be "irrelevent" scenes are after all a kind of mis-direction. A kind of magic!
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Red Eagle (2011)
Good fun retro-action swashbuckler.
10 February 2016
Warning: Spoilers
An enjoyable unambitious modestly budgeted historical action movie.

The limited budget is apparent in the small scale of the scenes requiring extras. Otherwise this movie looks good and some of the costumes are excellent and none appear too tawdry. The story is in the genre of romantic action hero along the lines of Robin Hood.

There are multiple side-threads woven into the story, involving relationships, tragedy and comedy. All the cast turn in a decent to excellent performance. The principle continuity figure throughout is neither the hero nor any of his adversaries but the classic "fool" of a servant somewhat reminiscent of Sancho Panza in Don Quixote.

A good length but not overlong. Would be suitable as family viewing except for some elements (such as graphic fight scenes) that might make it unsuitable for the younger viewers.

The comedy element was sharp enough to get some laughs out of me even in sub-titled format (I don't speak Spanish).
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Great story squandered on empty posturing.
25 October 2015
Warning: Spoilers
I will admit that I watched this film having previously, repeatedly, watched and loved the later "Ripleys Game" with John Malkovitch as the eponymous eminence gris. So I cannot consider the Wenders version without comparison. Really though there is no comparison.

I am staggered at how Wenders fans at this site seem to be preoccupied by the directors indicated in other work.I prefer to try to see what is before me. It isn't impressive.

Compared to the Malkovitch rendition, Hopper is utterly unbelievable. Malkovitch is the cool, manipulative, patrician sophisticate and sociopath that fits Ripleys form. When he talks art we believe it. Hopper is just a bumbling joke. In no sense can we believe the proposition that such a flake could succeed as a player in the world of fine art dealing. He wouldn't get through the door. Ray Winstones clubland villain in Ripleys Game is totally believable. The French guy in this movie is just a vacant nothing, the echo of a fart that Winstone might deposit in passing. The American gangland henchmen are utterly ridiculous. They don't have a muscle between them and are as menacing as a tea lady. The fight scenes are a pathetic joke, reminiscent of something out of a Sixties spy spoof, one tap on the head and a guys dead. Yeah! The movie is padded out with empty scenes that serve no discernible function, such as Hopper playing with a polaroid camera. One senses Wenders trying to create "iconic" images, Ganz leaning bout of a train cab screaming...but they just don't work. How the heck would he gain access to the train cab anyway? The whole thing is amateurish, pretentious and glib. Nothing has substance. Its badly edited. Sloppily shot. Inconsistently lit. The music is dire and doesn't segue properly with the cuts of each scene.

Ganz is superb, but Hoppers "performance" undermines that. He looks like he thinks the film is some funny foreign farce that he will take part in just for the fee but indicates his disrespect via various tells in expression amounting to a suggestion that he is playing "tongue in cheek" yet flatly without irony. I greatly enjoy him in other movies, even B-movies, but in this he was embarrassing to watch.

I suspect that most of the high scorers here would agree with at least some of my opinions had they seen the movie without knowing its author.
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In Bruges (2008)
Comical and absurd yet profoundly thought provoking.
20 March 2015
Warning: Spoilers
I started watching this with my usual scepticism: "Probably yet another Brit Gangster movie attempting to tread where much better has gpne before" I thought. Well, not in such words, but that sums up my expectation.

I soon realised how far from the case this is. The movie is quite original. The characters are compelling. The script is of that quality you do not notice because it seems totally natural. The acting from the trio of leads is of course excellent but also from the unfamiliar supporting cast. The originality really hit with the contrast between the almost "Carry On" characters and the realisation of what they do and one of them has done. Not depicted flippantly, as in the typical crimeland flick, but with cold honesty.

This dissonance between comical absurdity and moral darkness is shocking and disorientating. It is the main force in the story. It isn't a flash in the pan either, but is developed cunningly as the ethical maze of arguments, actions, intentions and jumbled consequences unfolds.Truly, this is a movie that is both comical and yet philosophically profound within the ambit of complete realism. Just one scene on its own poses a question most of us will never before have considered: can a mans moral debts be paid by the taking of his life without that being by his own hand? If that puzzles you, just watch the movie.

Of course, no movie is perfect. One thing that slightly diminishes the freshness of the movie is that Fiennes character tends to remind one of that played by Ben Kingsley in "Sexy Beast". In fact, his manner of speech seems almost identical. Nonetheless, it works in context and, as with other aspects of the movie, produces both comedy and profundity. I think the appearance of movie extras echoing the visions of Bosch could have been bolder. One characters ultimate leap was the one thing a bit far-fetched, not because he would not have attempted it but in that it worked out as intended. On the other hand, the way the loose change used in that scene was "primed" in our thoughts earlier was maybe the best example of this technique I've ever noticed.

I was staggered to discover that this was the directors first full piece.
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The Fixer (2008–2009)
Slow, simplistic, silly, boring, banal, irritating, corny...
14 April 2014
Warning: Spoilers
I don't watch TV but bought the entire first series of this rubbish before discovering that I simply couldn't bear trying to watch it. The whole idea is ridiculous and a cliché to start with. But we set that on one side as its a staple format.

However, it also tries to imitate the superb Sixies TV series Callan to a disgraceful extent. Hence the relationship between the main character and his side-kick, a direct plagiarising of the earlier series. The sidekick is also the shows most awful point. Why on Earth would such a useless, incompetent, idiot be employed in a highly secret, sensitive and critical operation such as depicted? The main character describes him as unbearably irritating. well, surprise, he whats the idea, do the makers want us to be continually irritated start to finish. If so, then they succeeded.

Then its slow you could watch icebergs melt in the longeurs.

The action...I didn't see any in episode one, none whatsoever.

Plot less, directionless and docile, whats the point?
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Avatar (2009)
Engaging but crass collection of clichés and plagiarised ideas of others.
19 September 2013
Warning: Spoilers
The rendering, of the arrival, base and mining operation is stupendous. Well conceived and executed. However, we are already in a world of cliché. The whole kaboodle is not a stones-throw from Starship Troopers thought bigger and better. And the entire Viet-Nam analogy is utterly so obvious that only the pace gets one beyond it.

After the clichés of briefing by a card-board stereotype of a movie colonel we are introduced to the technological conceit at the heart of the plot. There's a basic problem of logic with it. How is it that if some kind of spinning hardware like an MRI scanner is necessary at the "driver" end of each exchange of consciousness no such thing is required at the "Avatar" end? I mean, to send a radio message, or any other kind of exchange requiring a piece of hardware at the "sending" end its usually necessary to have a receiver at the other end?

Well there's really no answer to that, we just have to overlook it.To anyone watching this for the first time I recommend you just skip the middle hour and a half entirely.

Its worth seeing the end of the movie just to witness the shameless lie-merchandising mode into which Cameron et-als puerile mind-set defaults when their mask finally slips. As I say, nobody should be surprised, but what is surprising is that these "sky-people" from Planet Hollywood think they can colonise our minds with their air-headed ignorance. First up the Eco-lie stated quite clearly by the guy who describes Earth as a dead planet on which there is no foliage. Well, however far in the future its set, on present trends that's just simply a lie. Earth is experiencing, partly due to rising CO2 levels, an extraordinary greening. Desertification which had been threatening much of the world for decades is now very palpably reversing. The eco preach is not simply a cliché, it's a cliché stated in contradiction of simple facts. it's a lie.

The second lie is the stereotyped Imperialist Horror!. Yes there was and in some places still is an Imperialist Horror. Apocalypse Now ("The Horror") was based on Heart of Darkness and that story was based on fact. BUT, and that's a big but, whilst Imperialists have desecrated the sites and communities of cultures they have oppressed, for example the destruction of the Buddhas of Bamelan, or burning down of churches that has become an epidemic in much of the Conflicted World, the scale of destruction envisaged here is quit literally exorbitant. You do have to watch it, I'm afraid, to grasp that the Humans in this movie wreak a destruction on the indigenous people that is, one hundred or on thousand times as grievous as anything that ever happened in Western Imperialist history. To find anything similar we would need to look at the actions of the Inca Empire or, indeed, the Third Reich. What Belgium did in the Congo chills the heart, but it pales into insignificance compared to the destruction of the arboreal heart of the Navi. This isn't about numbers killed (millions on Earth compared to hundreds in the movie) but the profundity of the assault. Again, unfortunately, you have to sit through this movie to appreciate the way the analogy with Western Imperialism has been blown out of any Earthly comparison.

Finally we come to why I think the movie is ultimately disgusting. It comes when the renegade pilot says that she had hoped that there would b a tactical plan that did not involve "martyrdom".

Now who talks of "martyrdom" as a tactic? And how many times have "martyrdom missions" been conducted? Where and against whom? In the decade after 2001 there were in excess of 20,000 such "martyrdom" missions and the overwhelming body of victims were civilians, non-combatant men, women, children, across the Middle East, Africa, South East Asia, South-West Asia, China, Eastern Europe and yes, western Europe and the USA. However, the overwhelming abundance of targets were not even arguably Western Imperialists as Cameron et al undoubtedly want us to think, they were not even "Westerners", but people of many cultures who happened to be of the wrong tribe, sect, religion, in conflicts that for the most part date back long before the USA even existed. This movie, by cueing us with the word "martyrdom" in that specific context, attempts to justify such acts, romanticising them as the self-sacrificing actions of underdogs against oppressors. Sometimes they have been. Overwhelmingly they are not. Cameron must really have good yoga skills to insert his head where it must be for him not to have noticed this.

We must not forget the sheer arrogance of Cameron et al in ripping off without credit the source artists for this "vision", particularly the Russian Noon Universe novels of the Strugatsky brothers (about the Nave people of arboreal planet Pandora…kind of similar eh) and Ursula Leguins "The Word for World is Forest". Most blatantly of all, the floating mountains from the work of Roger Dean…a favourite of my teen years…although here they tend ultimately to remind one more of the Flash Gordon movie. The scene with thousands of Navi riding winged creatures to battle almost absurdly reminiscent of Brian Blessed and his winged sky-warriors in that earlier (vastly superior) movie.

Cameron et al attempt to beguile us, weave a web of fairy-tale fancies and pass off upon us two howling lies and an ethical equivocation that is utterly disgusting. The bottom line is the irony that the shallow, morally simplistic dufus character at the heart of the movie pretty neatly sums up the kind of air-heads these Hollyood sky People themselves are. No doubt this commentary will antagonise many who read it: people who cannot process long sentences with multiple sub-clauses and people with the same superficial mind-set as Cameron and his mates.
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Banal clichés held together by spit and elastic.
21 October 2009
Warning: Spoilers
This is drivel.

Just look at the clichés. Everything in it is a cliché. From the man with a shameful episode in his past ( such a cliché already thirty years ago that it was the key joke in one of the Airplane movies ) to the newly spaceborne astronauts taking viewers on a camera tour of their vessel.

The main problem as with every such TV show that has ever been made is that it bears no relation whatever to the realities of spaceflight. The idea of sending Humans to such places as Venus is utterly preposterous. To land a crew there...several tons pressure per square inch and hot enough for lead to flow like water, that the physical constraints would make it pointless if not actually impossible.What would they do in Venusian orbit they cannot from Earth. What would be the point? Six planets in six years, doh! Utterly preposterous. It would take nearly two years to reach Mars alone.

The space-vessel as it is shown betrays a complete ignorance of engineering principles. The spacesuits look like they are from a fancy-dress shop. The behaviour of the astronauts is absurd ( in one shot the women are portrayed as like giggling schoolgirls, in another shot a man on EVA is clutching and peering into an engine nozzle...doh ). They might as well portray the correct vehicles...the Orion CEV in development now and its Ares booster, to be test-flown next week, would still be in operation in the time-frame depicted, so why cant they be shown instead of the completely fictional machines that we see. Presumably because the writer knows nothing whatever about the subject and is stuck in the era when he wrote "Six Million Dollar Man".

This is reflected in that daft idea of a quick six year flit round the planets. When the logical setting for this "drama" ( sans drama ) would be the lunar systems of either Saturn or Jupiter, where there are innumerable settings for exploration and adventure. But the writer would have to actually have to know something about astronomy or space exploration in order to avail himself of such a possible setting. Instead, we are here given a load of tired old outdated terminology like "pods" this and "pods" that. And the most ridiculous excuse for the obvious lack of weightlessness I've ever heard...the crew are kept on the floor by nano-bots, pleeease! But if so, why does the ship need centrifuges as well? Presumably the "designer" has seen them somewhere before and stuck them on his "ship" without even knowing what they are or are for. Certainly without realising that the centrifuge modules are a full ninety degrees misorientated to the mast.

Still, lets not get technical, spaceflight is only the most technical setting a TV maker can put characters into, so you have to allow them to cover their ignorance with visual waffle.

So there is this "international" crew with a token Indian. The reality is that any manned missions even remotely ambitious in the future are almost certainly going to be ENTIRELY Indian or Chinese affairs. The US will be lucky if they can ever afford to get back to the moon. India and China are the only nations motivated to sustain manned space exploration in the longer term. Don't take my word for it, check out the encyclopedia astronautica.

At every turn, more clichés. The darkly hinted hidden agenda "would they go if they knew?" Arguments about authority, rank, status, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. When TV science fiction doesn't pretend to be "realistic",giving us flights of sheer fantasy ( Aurora or Farscape ) it is at least entertaining. But as soon as they try to be "realistic" it ends up a bunch of boring hack and never even remotely based on anything in reality.

This programme is a case in point.
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Contempt (1963)
The Discrete Charm of The Emperors Robes.
18 September 2009
Warning: Spoilers
The striking thing is that although some comment writers here at IMDb appear not to have understood such basic aspects as which character is which, or what sequence of events actually occur in the story, they nonetheless manage to award it maximum credit and declarations of "masterpiece".

One "viewer" here has said that Mr Prokotsch carries a little book from which he is fond of quoting banal aphorisms. In fact the character who is fond of making these utterances is the real-life Fritz Lang ( played by himself ). They are not "Hallmark trifles" but quotes from playwrights and he utters them not from a little book but from memory! Indeed, I don't think such a "little book of quotations" appears in the movie even once! Clearly the reviewer in question didn't know which character was which, what it was they were doing, or what in actuality ( rather than their imagining ) was happening on the screen.

Several "viewers" refer to the alleged significance to the psychological play of one character leaving a second alone with a third. Yet in fact, the true weight of this is not demonstrable upon the basis of what we actually see. It is, on the contrary, only one of several conjectures uttered by one of the characters and is neither confirmed nor denied. Similarly, in another comment here we are told that one character despises another because he is selling-out rather than pursuing his dream. And yet in the actual movie ( as opposed to the version in that viewers imagination ) it is this character himself who declares this, not having it echoed or endorsed by any of the others.

On the contrary, every "clue" as to the psychology of the relationships shown is carefully balanced with others in such a way that we are denied any so simple an explanation for what transpires. Just as the characters ponder and conjecture the psychology of Homers characters in the film they are making we are left to wonder which of any number of possibilities explains the relationships in this story! Which raises the alleged auxiliary narrative of the making of the film itself. Despite what at least one person writing here states, this tells us virtually nothing about the practical experience of the movie-making process. Rather, the movie-making process acts as a framework or scaffolding defining an abstract space within which the relationships unfold. Similarly, this sense of an abstract space, a "virtual proscenium" as it were, is made boldly and visually in the scenes that take place on the rectangular, flat sun-blasted roof of a building. It is so like a stage. It is accessed by the characters via a tiled flank that steps down in a broad stair-like manner reminiscent of the pedestal of a Greek temple. Echoing the Homeric themes of the movie the characters are working on.

That so many reviewers can be so factually mistaken about what they think takes place in the movie, to the extent of confusing characters and conflating events, yet nonetheless resoundingly endorse it as a "masterpiece" poses very basic questions about the objectivity of their judgement.

Had none of them been primed by the reputation of the Great Godard to expect it to be a "masterpiece", perhaps they would either have thought otherwise of it, or perhaps even have watched it more closely. Dare I say, more appreciative of its genuine attributes.

For this is a little recognised problem with the ready flow of hyperbole in praise of an Emperors Fine Robes. It actually deprives the artist of a fair assessment. I, among many, find myself encouraged by the all too abundant flow of automatic accolade by those who are keen to be seen as "sophisticated" by their "appreciation", to be unduly hostile of the actual work even before seeing it.

So I have to pause to take stock of the actual merits of this movie, rather than be provoked by the reactions of they who are blind to all but reputation.

The principle strength of the film is in the very denial of an explicit narrative interpretation such as some writers here have referred to. The movie is visually "flat". Most strikingly in the scenes in the apartment which uses the architecture of the interior to compartmentalise the characters into different "boxes" in a flat plane. Entirely consonant with concepts being explored in painting contemporaneous with the making of this movie. But the story is also rendered "flat" by the way in which insights into the psychology of the characters are offered and yet at once contradicted or withdrawn. Thereby creating an impenetrable cryptic "surface" of Human affairs that may seem to be an artistic conceit yet is on reflection, true to real life. In Hollywood's version of "reality" there is always one final narrative. In real life there never is. Nor is there in this movie. Watch it with an open mind as to what happens in those relationships, taking into account all of the evidence rather than just what fits your preconceived notions, and you will be forced to come to an "open verdict". A position of irresolvable enigma rendered final by the tragic event near the end.

At first my reaction to this, and its occurrence off screen was to think it a "cheap shot". But it indeed serves this function of rendering the mystery of the story as to why one character reacts to another, irrevocable by removing one of those characters forever from the prospect of revealing that truth. As the character in question actually says in almost the preceding scene "Not even death will force me to tell you".

Overall, the film is of academic interest like a challenging piece of art in a gallery. So it might be thought of as part of Godards "work in progress" at that time. It has zero value as entertainment.
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Pretensious incomprehensible and veering towards garbage.
21 March 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Warning, "spoiler" here...the comic book Mr Big of the piece is shot dead in part 1 ( 1973 )...but somehow hes walking around giving out alibis for people in 1983...dressed in the same turtleneck. Or was that a "flash-back" from 1983 to 1973? But wait a minute, the bloke he was giving an alibi for was being tortured and citing him for an alibi in 1983! So hows that work? Its anyones guess really.

Oh, that rat, are we supposed to think of 1984? Why how terribly clever!

One of my brothers was a policeman throughout the period covered in the series. Another of my brothers quit "The Force" in the sixties largely because he couldn't tolerate the daily tide of corruption that he witnessed. So I have no illusions about what a corrupt, venal institution the police was then or the kind of characters who were, and very often still are graced by Her Majesty's uniform. The character of Gene Hunt in Life On Mars was uncannily reminiscent of my own brother at that time, except for lack of the almost regulation moustache.

Well, Red Riding got the moustaches right, as well as all the other period detailing. But the goings on portrayed as regular activities of the local Bobby, shooting up bars with MP5 submachine guns, having Wild West shoot-outs in the station basement, "extraordinary renditions" of troublesome journalists to Chilean style work-outs for days on end at a warehouse...are utterly and ridiculously over the top. Can anyone name a single case of incidents such as these on record? Deaths in custody. Yes. Beatings and even murder of suspects, yes. But running around doing "deals" with submachine guns like Snake Plisskin in LA, give us a break! As for the much prior vaunted "atmosphere" created in these films, all it amounted to was the digital equivalent of a tobacco-filter giving everything a sepia tint. Comically crass. Almost like the workmanship of that satirical movie-director character created by Benny Hill.

The first episode had, in effect, no plot whatsoever. OK, Mr Big is linked to a serial killer and protected by the police who keep beating up the journalist who tries to expose the truth. So far, so simple, so cliché. So trite. Then in Part two The Names start to roll. The cast list of named characters continues to roll throughout part three. If you cannot keep up with this continual "he said, she said, he would, she would, the other said, his son and his daughters boyfriend" ...and I certainly couldn't...then you have no chance trying to make head nor tail of whats happening. Except The Cops Are BAD! Thats all it amounts to. Then at the end of part three we learn that, surprise, surprise, its everyones favourite candidate for local nonce that did it! Why should understanding a movie depend on the viewers ( I stress "viewers" ) ability to remember great lists of names and correctly attach them to characters glimpsed briefly in fleeting earlier scenes. Heres a clue to the director, its supposed to be a MOVIE, or TELEVISION, NOT a book or a radio play.

All in all, I was massively disappointed. The preceding hype for this series of films can only have exacerbated that. When one is persuaded to spend six hours of ones precious time on something, one feels cheated when it turns out to be such dross.

I think that young actor who, in the trailer, pompously boasts that "...if it had been an ordinary cop show I would not have taken part in it" will, I fear, live to regret that statement.

I would have awarded the series one point out of ten, but for its at least serving the purpose of showing the British police in a dim light ( quite literally ), which certainly constitutes something in its credit. Hence my awarding it "4".

Postscript.Before anyone cries "foul", we saw no submachine we didn't SEE them, but remember the scene when the weapons used in the attack on the bar are enumerated. Two of the guns used, it was revealed, had been MP fives.
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Vampirism and relationships metaphor movie.
18 March 2009
Warning: Spoilers
The director, Simon Lewis, sets out to create an entirely visual telling of a story. The movie is almost entirely without dialogue. These are its strong points. What arises out of this is something like a ballet without ( for the most part ) dance.

At the first showing, the movie was presented with a lengthy supporting promotional piece which contains some unfortunate aspects that detract from the finished work. The interview in which Simon Lewis comments upon the Vampire genre that "I don't like vampire films…they are always the same…the vampire is a baddie …" is most unsettling right before what is a story about vampires. The director ought really watch some more of the diverse range of vampire movies that have been made since Christopher Lee hung up his cape before making such a sweeping statement.

Undoubtedly constrained by resources, the decision to shoot on location near his base in the British city of Bristol was certainly an effective strategy. Lewis has chosen well, Bristol's amazingly named Zed Alley and its cobbled environs. Alas, he has tried to spread this one location too thinly, as the setting for multiple scenes. The constant return to this same spot contributes to the sense of the production being like a ballet, its incidents revolving about one set upon one stage. However, there is an awful lot of anguished running about by characters that never seem to be arriving anywhere other than where they started. This creates a sense that, quite literally, the story isn't going anywhere! It is a pity, because I know that city well and can say that within five hundred metres of that spot are dozens of potential locations that might have served marvellously as way points in the drama. Stations on the journey of the characters into and through their anguish. Locations every bit as Gothic and atmospheric as Zed Alley itself.

I say "drama" instead of "story" because, as in a ballet, there is very little by way of plot. Rather a network of relationships between the main characters. These mostly borrow their names from the characters in Bram Stokers Dracula. One must wonder why, if Lewis really wants to break away from the conventions of the genre? Given the intended emphasis upon a visual impact in a "larger than life" way, it is a pity that more thought was not given to the dress of the characters or indeed their make up. Mina appears to have just turned up in her day clothes and got on with the shoot. As does Harker. Any night in the real Bristol one can see couples out and about dressed up for effect. So why not this couple? The lighting in most of the shots is flat, with more of a documentary feel than the expressiveness of drama. The feel of the shots, in terms of lighting, angle and proximity ( focal length ) is monotonous. The only break in this monotony comes near the end when a potentially interesting duality is introduced, showing the characters both in the real street and simultaneously in a digitally treated "purgatory" shot on location in Wales. However, this visual metaphor is only slowly explained in terms of the characters interaction once in their "damnation" and the episode is too long, becoming again monotonous. Nor do I understand how Mina and Harker came to be redeemed and restored to Humanity at the end. Perhaps it was due to the saving grace of vampire Vivia's sacrifice of herself and her evil consort to the rising sun. Who knows. It seems this takes us beyond the limit of what can be done without dialogue.

This limitation in narrative instruction to the viewer imposed by the abrogation of dialogue is tied to a fundamental problem with the movie. If Lewis wishes to use the vampire as a device for exploring the dark side of relationships, he must make the terms of that metaphor explicit. Its all very well eschewing fangs ( if you'll pardon the pun ) and "horror" make up or effects, but in the absence of such visual cues, he will need instead some other way of distinguishing all the oral activity indulged in here from normal Saturday night snogging.

One thing stands out from the rest of this movie. That is the newly discovered talent who plays the vampire Vivia. This is Aliese Kellner Joyce. A German-Irish actress whose extreme expressiveness through bodily and facial contortion is the one thing that, in the absence of make up or other "cues" creates a sense of something super-natural in our midst. She is truly an extraordinary being contorting there before us like the tormented victim of a daemonic possession! I hope to see a lot more of this extraordinary young woman in future.

In conclusion, having written about this movie I now realise that there is a lot of potential for further sense to emerge from its initially somewhat opaque presentation. I would certainly like to see it again. This time without the troublesome preliminary documentary about its shooting.

I believe that Simon Lewis could improve this work considerably by means of some further editing of the material into a tighter package. Nonetheless, Kiss of The Moon is a brave effort which I salute wholeheartedly.
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Mars Attacks! (1996)
Comedy-Coated Subversive Sub-Text.
15 January 2009
Warning: Spoilers
This movie certainly is not going to suit everybody. Its directors personal tastes are stamped all over it in such loud fashion that the result is a buzzing agglomeration of idiosyncrasies. However, if these characteristics are to ones liking, then it is a potpourri of fantastic fun.

The colours are loud, the music is weird, the characters are…as one would expect…caricatures. The Martians are wickedly sick. The office of The President is held up to ridicule. The secret service are amazingly shown as straight, efficient professionals and well-meaning vapid young men are billed as a joke. "You must have seen a load of weird s**t in your life granny: people must have been scared when the train was invented".

One thing about the production which bothers me is that there are way too many stars! Why is this. Every insignificant schmuck in the story is played by a name actor. "Rude Gambler" ( unnamed ) who gets two appearances lasting about five minutes is portrayed by no less than Danny Devito. Perhaps this itself was a gag? Or there may have been some other thinking behind such a "stellar" cast, even that pun itself? I don't know.

That said, it was a delight to see Rod Steiger reappear ( a surprise to me he is still alive ) as the belligerent general who urges the military option at every juncture in events.

This leads me to the subversive backbone of the movie. It is a cliché in Hollywood movies that the military is gung-ho and wrong-headedly so. That peace is jeopardised by wild belligerent military men. A cliché that started to roll from at least as far back as "Dr Strangelove". In this story, however, it turns out that the belligerent general was right from the very outset. It is those who persist in believing their own fantasies of interplanetary brotherly love and peace who are disastrously wrong.

The subversive message is actually more specific than that. It is that there is a dominant attitude in our culture which has it that if you treat folks from other places nicely they'll do the same to you in return. This movie loudly declares that to be self-delusion and just plain wrong. If you treat some folks from elsewhere nicely they'll turn around and burn you anyway.

Time and again, the Humans insist on forgiving the Martians their murderous antics, until, ultimately, it's too late to do anything to avert catastrophe. This subversive message being underlined in bold type when we see a Martian running through the streets carrying the Human scientists' ungainly translation machine, shouting through it "Don't run, we are your friends" as his buddies blast everyone on sight! This movie boldly and courageously dares to declare that the dominant credo of today's media and political classes, "peace through diplomacy" is a fairy-tale itself.

The movie is choc-full of gags, slapstick and visual invention. The ingenious plasticky aspect of everything Martian both harks back to the crude production values of old Sci Fi movies and potentially lends itself to spin-off toys. Although I don't think I have ever seen any. Specific movie references include of course "This Island Earth", "Godzilla" and various products of the Nineteen-Fifties. The final denouement is obviously a reference to the saving grace of microbiology in "The War of The Worlds", but in this case coming via a "culture" of a different kind.
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Entertaining, nostalgic, romantic and very very daft.
13 January 2009
Warning: Spoilers
I like this movie and have watched my copy twice since acquiring it a few weeks ago. But you have to view it in the right context.

I haven't checked on the dates, but I bet this movie came out after and certainly around the same time as the Collier and Walt Disney popularisations of the vision of spaceflight being promoted by W.Von Braun. This is reflected in the attempt to seem factually correct and scientific. However, whilst certain ideas are put across ( step boosters, for example ) roughly correctly, other things are hilariously wrong.

For example, we are told that a rocket ascends to an altitude and then turns ninety degrees to enter reaching the top of a flight of stairs and turning onto the landing! Then we are told that by turning in the direction of the Earths rotation the total velocity of the ship is increased accordingly.

This is an hilarious misunderstanding of what really happens. Most space launch centres are located as near the equator as possible where the Earth and anything on its surface is rotating at roughly a thousand miles per hour, including any rocket departing to space, in an Eastward direction ( the same as the rotation of the planet ). Of course, if the ship turned to travel westwards once in space, its speed in relation to the surface of the Earth would be greater, but it would add nothing to the actual velocity of the vehicle. Decsribed in this movie as "air speed"!

Similarly, we are told that the travellers only feel free-fall, or "weightlessness" when they reach some thousands of miles from the Earth, outside of the planets gravitational field. Again, comically incorrect. Most crewed spacecraft travel no higher than a couple of hundred miles up, but as long as they ( and, their contents, including crew ) are travelling at an adequate velocity that their momentum in an outward direction balances the pull of gravity inwards, they will orbit in free-fall. Of course, travel far enough from Earth and even a slow object will coast outside the Earths gravity well, but in order to leave Earth orbit, outwards ( towards the Moon for example ) requires the attainment of "escape velocity", around twenty one thousand miles per hour. So the vehicle will have already attained "orbital velocity" ( and "weightlessness" ) by definition.

But the movie has vastly more hilarious stuff than this. Someone decided it would be more fun if they missed the moon due to a technical problem, fell asleep for a few days and then woke up to find they had accidentally gone to Mars! The captain then ruminates to the effect that this must have been divine intervention! At which point, any pretence to being scientific is torn into little pieces like confetti and thrown upon the wind amid the merry dance of an increasingly barmy plot.

The strength of a film like this in fact is in illustrating "how far we've come". Not least in attitudes to women. The patronising drivel heaped upon the female crew-member is both hilarious and also shocking.To think that such attitudes were so recently "normal".

As I said at the start, I find this film very entertaining, as a late night, lights out romp through the romance of travel in outer space, from the perspective of the days before it had actually happened. An antidote to the cold routine of spaceflight as it has now become in the Twenty First Century.

I won't reveal the ending. It is both brave and shocking for a movie of this vintage and character.
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Lord of War (2005)
An allegory wrapped up in lies passed off in a deception.
23 August 2008
Warning: Spoilers
The Lord of War.

This movie seems on the face of it intended to be "read" literally. On reflection, it ma\y have been intended as a metaphor. The reason being the beginning to end litany of wild factual errors and blatant un-truths. Indeed, some of these are of such magnitude that they even render the production's perspective invalid as a metaphor, let alone something that can be taken literally. Moreover, there are few "cues" to indicate to the unwitting that this is not meant to be taken at face value as a depiction of anything in reality.

This is illustrated by the way that the Cage character is shown being pursued around the globe by Ethan Hawkes "Interpol agent" and his gun toting team. There is no such thing in the real world as an "Interpol agent". Interpol is an information and liaison exchange, it does not employ investigators or field officers of any kind, let alone ones armed to the teeth whizzing into foreign territories around the globe. The "Interpol agent" and his team could, however, be interpreted as a metaphor for the real life pursuit of arms-traders which is an office-based, data-chasing operation by that agency. But there is nothing to indicate to anyone unaware of these facts that the gung-ho "Interpol agent" and his gang are not based in any reality. Therefore, far from operating in the realms of metaphor, it simply becomes a lie.

Similarly, the Cage character tells us that his trade is based in the plentiful availability of the AK47. We are told that it was the standard weapon of the Soviet Union up until the collapse of the USSR. Wrong: The standard weapon of the Soviet Union became the AK74M twenty years before the U.S.S.R collapsed. A weapon based on the same design but in a much smaller calibre and quite different to the older 7.62mm weapon encountered around the world today. The Cage character was shown buying up large quantities of AK47 at the end of the Cold War from Russian units that had long before ceased to posses that weapon. It was on the basis of such deals that we were told that the AK47 ended up in the "wrong" hands all over the world today. In fact, quite the opposite is true: that it was the Soviet Union that exported the AK47 in immense quantities to virtually any government or terrorist organisation that could be relied upon to make trouble for the West and our allies. They did so on such terms that they were virtually given away free, to states and thugs all over the world from Cuba to Cambodia. This is easily verified by anyone who stops to consider how long the AK47 has been in use in every region, decades before the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Of course, there are new AK47's but these are marketed by both the Russian state and the U.S. government. They obtain theirs from a factory in the Ukraine which has recently been in a patent dispute over this with the original manufacturer, Izshmash Baikal.

The entire thrust of this movie is predictably an attempt to portray the plentiful and easy availability of weapons in the Third World as being the responsibility of irresponsible American or Anglo-Saxon capitalists. It isn't. The facts show it. Even that hoary old chestnut about Britain and the U.S having supplied Saddam Hussein with his weapons is a myth: his main armourer was the Soviet Union, second to which being France, whose opposition to the 2003 invasion may have been not unconnected to the fact that they were hoping to claim billions of Dollars back-payments for weapons already supplied. They still are seeking this money from the present Iraqi government.

By the way, the AK47 is a copy of a WW2 German design, the MP44. Mr Kalashnikov merely reverse-engineered it to suit low grade Soviet manufacturing standards and ill-educated peasant soldiery. If you want to pin that evil products bloody legacy on anyone, it is his responsibility!
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The Omega Man (1971)
Prophetic parable of our time.
2 January 2008
Warning: Spoilers
The Omega man may now receive renewed attention as a result of the current and third re-make of the original story from which it derives, "I Am Legend".

Whilst "I Am Legend" may well be more faithful to the original book, that text, however, is an unremarkable piece of escapist sci-fi. Whereas The Omega Man, using the story as a vehicle, developed it into what may now be read as an uncannily insightful analysis of latent undercurrents of late twentieth century culture.

The Omega Man replaces the rather puerile vampire theme with that of a reactionary cult of anti-science. The epidemic that supposedly turns people into blood-sucking Buffy-beasts in the original story is replaced by a rather more believable illness of which symptoms are aversion to light and insanity. A TV news anchorman, using the technology of mass communications that science has put at his disposal, is shown as opportunistically exploiting the biological disaster to create a religious cult that entirely renounces science, with himself as its head.

Aspects of this scenario reflected elements within the "hippy" movement that was nearly contemporaneous with the movie's making. The nascent "Luddite" reactionary element that was in hippiedom has swelled in prominence in the years since the movie was made, as the less harsh themes of Sixties "counter-culture", libertarianism and the renunciation of top-down political dogma, have evaporated. Today, in the mature, even decadent technological societies, the principal themes of culture and politics are a renunciation of science and the reassertion of mediaeval religious dogmas. These two elements frequently intertwine. Whilst the "environmentalist" political dogma seeks to dictate from above every aspect of everyday life for every citizen, the state has launched into a millennial conflict with renascent mediaevalist religion as it is expressed overseas in "terrorist" movements.

Seen from today's perspective, Charlton Heston's depiction of the isolated, besieged man of science, Dr Neville, seems eerily evocative for the embattled minority of us who cling to the ideal of scientific truth that is now under attack. As in The Omega Man, we now see the mass media that is a product of science used by that media's own opportunistic elements to generate a hostility to science that they can then play to their own advantage. We have reached the point at which to dare raise the pseudo-scientific nature of the dominant political ideology that is environmentalism is to risk being rendered an outcast, like Neville.

A far-fetched fantasy adventure at the time of it's making, The Omega Man now seems to have uncannily anticipated the major political themes of life in the early Twenty-First Century. A truly prophetic parable of our times.
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Engaging paranoid fantasy but fundamentally detached from reality.
12 May 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Arlington Road is based on a fundamentally absurd premise: a secret terrorist campaign.

The first priority, arguably the central purpose of any terrorist campaign is publicity. Any terrorist, from the Una-Bomber loner to Al Qaida has ready access to the mass media. Today, we all do. The argument presented here, that solo-terrorists are a cover for the actions of secret conspiracies, of which the government wishes the public to know nothing or indeed itself knows nothing is fundamentally preposterous. There would be nothing to achieve by blowing up public buildings if nobody, even the government, knows that it is part of a campaign.

Clearly, this absurd premise is inspired by the conspiracy theories surrounding the Oklahoma bombing. Those conspiracy theories have been soundly trounced by successive examinations in the past. More fundamentally, if Timothy Mc Veigh had been part of a conspiracy, for what reason would his organisation not claim "credit" for their "successful" operation? The movie is particularly interesting in crystallising aspects of the liberal Hollywood mentality prior to 9/11. In the liberal Hollywood view of the world, the most likely source of terrorist attack has to be American and has to be from a right-wing anti-government source. Although the terrorist group in the movie is not specifically described as right-wing, it's principle co-ordinating aspect is a youth group whose uniforms make them look for all the world like full-blown Nazis.

Yet this movie was made at a time when the terrorist intentions of genuine foreign conspiracies, whose leading figures are now household names, were already well known and apparent to anyone who chose to open their eyes to the news. It was made at a time when Osama Bin Laden had already declared war on the U.S and his operatives had already launched one major bomb attack on the World Trade Centre. When Al Qaida affiliates had already set off bombs on the Paris Metro. Yet Hollywood, Tim Robbins, Jeff Bridges, et al, still preferred to imagine that there was a serious threat to U.S. citizens from unknown organisations with an un-announced agenda not actually known to exist! These things aside, the movie has strong points and weak points. The plot builds nicely to the point where the Bridges character and we the audience together realise at the penultimate moment what has happened. That is the movie's strongest feature. However, whilst Bridges acts believably a lot of the time ( as in the scene when he is first confronted and wrong-footed by the Robbins character ) he at other times vastly over-eggs the show of desperation. For example after extracting a clue from a reluctant bereaved man, suddenly and without a word of explanation running out of the room. Indeed, a lot of the time, he appears to be running about like the proverbial "headless chicken". Moreover, it is pushing credibility to ask us to believe that such a "ballsy" dogged pursuit of truth is coupled in this character with such a complete "lack of balls" at every critical moment. Rarely have I seen a movie in which the "hero" so lets all manner of s81t be kicked out of him without a murmur of complaint, let alone a fight. Utterly unbelievable is the scene when he finally gains the upper hand and then simply runs away from it, allowing his antagonist to get up and go back into action. Why?

The most interesting aspect of the direction is the way in which shots of the espied conspirators evoke scenes from "Invasion of the body snatchers". Characterless faces, automated body language, exchanging mysterious packages, passing in and out of vehicles and buildings.

However, overall, the entertainment value of the movie is undermined by awareness of its subliminal attempt to inoculate the viewer against a healthy realisation that Democracy's enemies are not primarily home-grown neo-NAZI's but as 9/11 demonstrated two years later, fascists of a different kind.
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Unsubstantiated assertions unsupported by any facts.
21 April 2007
This series proposes a pair of arguments: That ( 1 ) the principles of Game Theory applied to domestic policy resulted in a loss of freedom and ( 2 ) the same principles applied to foreign policy, specifically in Iraq, caused Islamic extremism making the West a target for terrorists.

The second thesis contradicts historical facts. The invasion of Iraq took place in 2003. The destruction of the World Trade Center happened in 2001. The first attempt to destroy the same complex using a giant truck bomb, killing and injuring several, took place in 1992! The Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards took the 50 American hostages in 1979.

Regarding personal liberty and the effect upon it of Game Theory, the argument is advanced via two tactics: avoiding difficult questions and the assertion as fact of contentions without evidence.

The film-maker repeatedly asserts that a central assumption of Game Theory is the self-interested behaviour of individuals. It is repeatedly asserted that this is a "bleak" vision, as though that bleakness were itself sufficient reason to reject it. Never once in the entire series is it asked whether this bleak vision is or is not correct! It is as though in the mind-set of this film-maker and his intended audience the mere undesirability of a thing is sufficient reason for us to regard it as not true! This is, indeed, instructive. It does explain a great deal about the behaviour and posturing of Western "intellectuals" who endorse freedom and the revolutionary pursuit of the liberation of oppressed and minorities yet who consistently support those movements and institutions that most obstruct such trends: previously the Soviet Union, today reactionary Islam.

As far as asserting facts unsubstantiated by evidence, the series contains numerous examples but one, in particular. It is asserted as a fact that a result of the widespread use of objective assessment and diagnostic criteria in psychiatry is that an entire generation of people took to applying such tests to themselves and as a result presented for psychiatric treatment of their behaviour. Thereby producing a self-imposed conformity effect. The only support for this assertion in the series is an anecdotal comment by a psychiatrist, in his office, that this was his personal observation. This clip is shown twice in the series. No other support for this contention is offered.

A contention, easily contradicted. Ask yourself, have you ever set yourself a formal diagnostic test for psychiatric disorder and gone to a doctor as a result? Do you know anyone in your family to have done that? Have you ever heard even indirectly of any person in your wider circle of associates who has done that? Have you ever before heard of such a thing at all? I have observed psychiatry throughout the entire three decades that the claim applies to. I have never come across such a bizarre assertion other than in this series.

If I try to argue the case for the assertion, I can only imagine that it refers to one of two things: The popularity of quizzes in magazines along the lines of "Take this months test to find out if you are a workaholic". Or the widespread phenomenon of the "worried well" who present at therapy for the treatment of non-existent conditions, in effect, life's dissatisfaction.

As far as the latter goes, it has been known for about a century that such "worried well" form the multitude of those who seek "therapy". Such behaviour has nothing whatever to do with either objective diagnostic criteria or Game Theory. Nor do such clients but rarely alter their behaviour in any significant way.

On the other hand, pop-quizzes of a self-questioning kind have been popular for almost as long as the kind of magazines that they appear in. A long time before the emergence of objective diagnostic criteria in psychiatry and owing nothing to either that or Game Theory.

I do not know if these are what the film-maker refers to but they offer no support for his contention that Western societies have become in some way self-straight-jacketed by conformity as a result. It seems, rather, that this is merely what he would like to believe, and hopes that by asserting it boldly, repeatedly and each time quickly passing on to something else, he will like an after-dinner illusionist convince us that something has happened that in reality has not! Only in the last few minutes of this series is any alternative vision to the "bleak" contention that Human behaviour is self-interested offered. It is that we...may...instead... assume... and act upon the ...assumption ...that Human Nature is capable of change! Not only is this a major contention, offered as an assumption without any supporting evidence, but it implicitly concedes that there is substance to the "bleak" contention, such that an "alternative" is warranted, whilst yet again dodging the real issue: is it or is it not true? The "retro" montage of archival material is edited for the most part according to principles of affective consonance or non-rational association. Images are mainly matched to the narrative according to the associations that they evoke, rather than to illustrate facts. Typical is the repeated use of a pairing of reference to post-war ideals of personal freedom with what appears to be a snippet from a film of housewives at a workshop for jive-dancing from about 1965. Why? The function of such a technique is to massage the viewer into the acceptance of assertions whilst de-potentiating rational engagement. It is like the "programming" scene from "The Parallax View". The effect is the unpleasant sense that the film-maker is attempting to make us accept that against which we might otherwise be guarded.

Replace that monologue with a sound-track of dance-music and the programme would look little different from that one-time staple of late night viewing "The Trip".
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Frida (2002)
Disappointing, corny, uninformative, confused and cliché-ridden,
9 April 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Having studied the history of art academically for five years at college and university, I was aware of Kahlo only vaguely, as a shadowy player on the fringes of the Surrealist movement. I was familiar with a few of her self-portraits and knew about the appalling accident that had such an impact on her life. My first criticism of this movie is that it adds very little to this outline.

Very old fashioned in style making repeated use of corny montage sequences to depict happy periods of the artists life. Many of the scenes, such as the argument between Diego Rivera and Roberto Siqueros have a "We Are History" quality about them: "...and now, comrade Danton, it is time for the French Revolution!" We see nothing of the intellectual context of Kahlo's existence, merely hoary old clichés about the passions of the vie-revolutionairre! Nor, later, is it mentioned what became of Rivera's being suspected in the assassination of Trotsky. Nor was it mentioned that Siqueros was suspected of the first, botched, attempt on Trotsky's life.

Whilst Salma Hayek manages to look something like Kahlo, albeit more attractive, even with that giant cyclops eyebrow, her enacting the teen-age schoolgirl Frida is risible. Hayek is a gorgeous, curvaceous mature woman. As a schoolgirl she was entirely unbelievable. In common with most movies about artists, this one made almost no effort to try to get inside why the artist made the work that she did. We instead get, more or less, the old romantic cliché of the artists spontaneous and unaccountable stream of invention. There is no explanation of the undoubted fact that Kahlo was part of the Global Surrealist diaspora. No clue as to the influence upon her imagery of such painters as Paul Delvuax, Rene Magritte , Dorothea Tanning and Giorgio DeChirico. No hint, therefore, that her work was part of a global movement, rather than being simply some idiosyncratic flash in the pan. These influences on Kahlo are immediately apparent to anyone familiar with those artists' work, but to others not so versed some indication of that influence is needed if we are to see what she painted in context. If we are to understand, for example, that she may be seen as having taken the techniques of Surrealism and applied them to a very different sense of the "subconscious" and the "mind" than had it's mainly Francophone, mainly male, originators. Otherwise it appears, as I say, unaccountably idiosyncratic, arbitrary, solecistic and perverse. We are given no sense of Kahlo's mental landscape, her intellectual concerns or her taking on such issues. Nothing to indicate that, in fact, her art makes that of husband Rivera the "genius" seem plodding, dullard and dated. There is no real attempt to address the possibility that Kahlo was a talented and intelligent woman over-shadowed by an egoistic oaf. We are not even given any hint that she had an intellectual landscape or indeed anything going on in her head apart from lust and jealousy! And even this is treated in a trivialising and prurient "lesbian-romp" style.

Instead of any such guidance or context, what we are treated to is a collection of visual gags, tricks and tromp-loel animations of selected images that serve only to sprite up the story and divert our attention from the virtual absence of the real paintings. This is the stuff of pop-video's rather than any serious attempt to understand an artist. The very nadir is reached when a foolish cavalcade of cut-and-paste images lifted from various paintings rolls across the screen in advertisement of the directors absolute lack of understanding of visual art. You cannot divorce a detail of a painting from the rest and expect it to still equal the whole.

Faint attempts to show the continuous influence of physical pain upon Kahlo's iconography are undermined by the fact that said pain is occasionally referred to but almost not shown at all. Kahlo here never once actually looks like she has so much as a headache, let alone persistent ischemic and anatomical agony as a result of dozens of simultaneous fractures and tissue damage caused by being smashed to bits in a collision and impaled by a three foot steel bar! We are notified that this is the case. It is stated. But we are not given any real sense that the character we see is actually experiencing the persistent aftermath of such a trauma. Through most of the film she appears to be just swell! As happy as Larry! Tip top old bean. Only near the end do we see a few winces and a bit of a stagger appear. Yet we are told that the pain is omnipresent and we know that her paintings dwell on this. So why does this director so utterly fail to show us anything that connects the facts with the depiction!

There is nothing here to disavow me of my suspicion that Kahlo has been given such extensive attention as she has received in the past twenty years merely on account of her being (a) a woman in a man's world ( that of latino machismo and revolutionary artists ) and (b) one of the few well known artists from the "third world". There was nothing here to contradict my suspicion that the attention accorded this artist has largely been lead by feminists and leftist revisionaries on the basis of what they would like Kahlo to have been rather than what she actually managed to be.

I would have liked to have discovered otherwise. But I did not discover otherwise by watching this movie.
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Solaris (2002)
24 April 2006
Warning: Spoilers
The trouble with trying to film Lem's story ( rather too short to call a novel ) is that the events are all "internal" and subjective. There is almost nothing "external" or objective to depict. Why then try to make a movie of it? I am of the opinion that Tarkovsky ( you'll pardon the spelling ) did it because he wanted to make a science-fiction movie to compare with Kubrick's 2001 of four years earlier. In that he undoubtedly failed, producing a sprawling undisciplined behemoth that compensated for the lack of action with a surfeit of to-camera monologues. That he unconsciously aspired to the KJubrickesque is revealed by his preoccupation with the circular motif that was the visual signature of 2001, the space station depicted in Bob McCall's poster for the movie. Yet, whereas that wheel in space corresponded to the engineering requirements for the centrifugal simulation of gravity, in the Tarkovsky version, the circularity of the space station has no meaningful relevance whatsoever ( the floors are perpendicular to the direction in which gravity would be simulated ). It is, rather, a kind of stylistic Freudian slip, echoing the influence of Kubrick's masterpiece on the Russian wannabe.

Why would Soderbergh choose to re-make the story? Possibly, by relay, there is an echo of Tarkovskies motivation, in that the Russian's movie, for all it's inadequacies, has been hailed a classic in the west. Maybe Soderbergh was drawn to that. But maybe he was also interested in those very themes which make the story so challenging to enact. Maybe he also falls into the same trap. But, whereas the earlier version relied on talk, here the drama is conveyed entirely in another medium, also not visual, yet entirely cinematic: the score.

Cliff Martinez' score is undoubtedly the star of the movie without which it would be almost nothing. The music is an accomplished pastiche of compositions by John Adams, Philip Glass and, appropriately, Gyorgi Ligeti. I had not noticed Martinez' music for Sex Lies and Videotape or Traffic. I really cannot remember it. But I love the monumental quality of John Adams' music, and here Martinez has copied that to breathtakingly emotive effect. In particular, it is the use of gigantic floating chords that characterises John Adams' most dramatic work,a kind of aural surf repeatedly breaking in a suspended, ever imminent crescendo like a musical tsunami. This technique Martinez borrows in a number of scenes, even introducing wind instruments into what is a predominantly string sound-scape. The effect is to paint in the drama of shifting emotions that no one can either see or make visible. This he couples and juxtaposes with the excitement provided by his bright, high-temp rhythmic line. The effect makes the movie.

The supporting star of the movie is the design of the sets. The steel and alloy effects are highly technical, impersonal yet not harsh or intrusive. However, we again find a further continuation of the circular motif echoed down the decades from Kubrick's 2001. Here those circles are every bit as meaningless in engineering terms as they were in the Tarkovsky version. And in all the various other sci-fi movies where spaceships are designed in the circular by people with no grasp of engineering or any understanding why the structures in Kubrick's timeless vision are that way.

The movie at hand seriously lets itself down at the very end when it seems to trip into some kind of superficial religious cliché: "Everything is forgiven" indeed!
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Ancient Egypt: populated by Chinese people and Londoners.
8 April 2006
Warning: Spoilers
The Scorpion King.

One of the most ridiculous rag-bags I've ever seen and surely the most ridiculous depiction of "Ancient Egypt" ever made. Here we have the Essex Pharoah with a mullet, living in an Egypt populated by Chinese people, Indians and Londoners. In fact, his court appears to be almost entirely Chinese apart from the henchmen, who appear to be from Delhi.

"The Rock". What a ridiculous notion in itself. All the acting skills of, well, a rock. Oh, and again we see the timeless axiom that muscle-men wear the hairdo's of women! Then there are the desert renegades, whose community resembles the fiefdom of Tina Turner in a Mad Max film. They couldn't get her, so instead they cast a black Rock with even more lithian acting skills and …hold on, not really a "woman's hairdo" but, another extreme mullet-cut! The plot: predictable. The action: hum-drum. The humour, formulaic.

Oh, yeah, I waited for that Elton John song but where was it…. "The treacle of life".
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Gattaca (1997)
Timeless and poetic exploration of issues of identity.
4 September 2005
Warning: Spoilers
This movie does a number of ingenious and remarkable things : 1. It makes the extraordinary ( space exploration ) seem completely routine in a way not accomplished since 2001 A Space Odyssey. But in total contrast to the latter, instead of achieving this effect through the vivid portrayal of technology with engineering exactitude, it does it by showing almost no technology whatsoever. Rather scenes of the completely anodyne. The "astronauts" wear business suits and work in an office.

2. It creates a sense of timelessness by using almost featureless sets reminiscent of a classical play and paraphernalia re-cycled from other times ( such as the cars and the back-projection displays ). The feel of the film is in a very positive way reminiscent of Alphaville.

3. It employs completely impractical technical devices in such an effective theatrical way as to render their impracticality irrelevant. For example, it is possible to identify someone by a genetic "fingerprint" generated from a hair follicle ( but not in itself a hair ) or skin, but such traces would not facilitate a break-down of the persons genetic character, as pretended here. These are two different orders of measurement. Indeed, urine, which features centrally in the plot, is of no use on either account, not being a body tissue in any case. Only the blood tests would facilitate both identification and genetic analysis as shown in the story. Yet, in spite of knowing these things, the use of such devices as a plucked hair in the story is made so poetically as to become effectively a perfect metaphor and so beyond criticism on grounds of mere realism. To me, this seems almost unique. To do the wrong, obviously, yet aptly.

4. The plot is so contrived as to convene three parallel stories into convergence: Vincents story, of course. But also the directors story, which is oddly similar ( his life's ambition in the flight of the mission can only be fulfilled by killing the man who would have axed it ). As is that of the son of the biologist mentioned at the end.

5. The movie actually achieves what most dramatic art strives for but fails to do: the story resonates far beyond the limited scope of the dramatic enactment. Vincents dream and the challenges posed by society's prejudices is a story that is eternal and universal. As are other issues brought up: sibling rivalry, the "straight" way to a mediocre life as against the "crooked" yet heroic path toward a greater truth. Most profound is the way in which the paralysed Jerome actually becomes an immortal, historical space-farer Vincent, destroying his mortal self to do so, leaving as his legacy the realisations by the other man of his dreams. This is both incredibly ingenious and thought provoking, creating a mood that lingers long after the credits roll. I doubt that vicariousness has ever before been made so realistic a possibility.

The atmosphere, mood and languid tempo yet with a sense of inevitability is greatly aided by Michael Nyman's score.

This is one of the very few movies in which a narrator is entirely apt and not a mere convenience.
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The Chris Isaak Show (2001–2004)
Similar in concept to Seinfeld, but better.
28 August 2005
I see this on Channel 4 ( UK terrestrial ) where it goes out at about 4.00 a.m and they have the diabolical policy of putting out one episode every night of the week ( two on one ) every week until they run out. Having watched one episode tentatively for lack of anything else to watch, I was intrigued and went to it a second time. Now I am hooked and have to see every episode! It is similar to "Seinfeld" in that a real person is turned into a character and surrounded by actors with guest spots by other people playing themselves. Unlike Seinfeld there is no continuing plot line. But the big difference is that the production quality is much higher, it is shot on location and the stories are within the frame of reality rather than being off-the-scale ( such as when Seinfeld mugs an old lady for a bagel ).

Unfortunately, most of the guest stars are a complete mystery to an English viewer. Even that English one ( Gavin Rossdale ). Who the hell is Bob Cole? And Isaaks songs, although technically good are for the most part suicidally miserable. So I have taken to turning off the sound when he's at it. On the other hand, the interpolation of about three musical spots per episode works very well and the songs usually relate thematically to the plot as well as the performances playing a part in the story. It has to be said that almost no one in the UK has heard of Chris Isaaks ( I see he was on Top of The Pops twice in nine years ) and his kind of music has to be a niche appeal product, mainly, I suspect, for grannies and gays. He is, after all, as the theme tune states, the original "American Boy". And those jackets! Even in one episode getting a heckle from his mother!

That aside, the show is great, being at times truly hilarious. I especially like Jed Rees ( who, if I am not mistaken, was the lead alien in "Galaxy Quest", although I have not checked that, he sure looks like him ). Chris Isaak is great acting a version of himself and the chemistry with Kirsty Dattilo as his manager, intimate but non-sexual, is the back-bone of the scenario and totally believable. Ultimately, I suppose, it is the character "Yola" that drew me into the series: vapid and a bit of a blonde but cute and lovable. She also happens to be gorgeous from top to toe! My favourite episodes so far have been the one where they crash on a remote farm and the one where Chris competes for the affections of a woman with another woman and they both lose out to the "boring" guy dumped by Yola!

One thing I don't totally understand. Is the woman modelling the fish-tank supposed to be real or only in his head or are we not supposed to know? I think she poses an interesting "All American Girl" counterpoint to the Isaak style, but ultimately those scenes actually clutter the story unnecessarily and it might be better without them.
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From Hell (2001)
Entertaining rubbish, in itself like a Victorian penny dreadful.
26 June 2005
Warning: Spoilers
This piece is immensely silly but quite entertaining, often in spite of itself, on account of being unintentionally hilarious from the start.

I watched it on TV and the jump from the presenter's dire warning of "Contains strong language from the very start" to the stereotype Cockney's declaring "bloody" this and "bleedin" that was hysterical! The depiction of Whitechapel low-life reminded me of my all time favourite Jack The Ripper movie, made as part of a "Mad" compendium, in which the murderer is exposed as being none other than...the Loch Ness Monster!

Some years ago, before the film was finished, I interviewed and photographed at a comic convention the publisher of the original graphic novel. He was adamant that this was going to be definitively the true story of Jack The Ripper! No fantasy licence about it! Seen in the context of his earnest claims the end product seems every bit as daft as the conjecture that it was Nessie wot did it. For although the story is woven in and around some of the facts of the case, it is really a complete flight of fantasy. And utterly fantastical at that.

For a start, even in modern Britain, anyone not "well spoken", let alone someone who yardles on like Depp does here could never rise to the rank of inspector in the Metropolitan Police. Let alone in the Nineteenth Century. The unreality of his "Mockney" speakin' jack-the-lad druggie cop is fundamentally not of this world. The same is true of the idea that people of the period commonly sat at home listening to gramophone recording's as do a couple of the characters here. The disc gramophone had only been invented the year before! More unreal even than that is that in one scene the gramophone is playing music from the score of the movie! And what, in the end, if anything, did John Merrick have to do with all this? Were we were supposed to think, yep, it's the Elephant Man wot did it ).

These matters aside, Ian Holm turns in a superbly entertaining performance that knocks the tired Hollywood slasher-stereotype into a cocked hat. Although one cannot help in passing momentarily seeing him as a kind of psycho-Bilbo. However, unlike the tedious likes of Freddy Kruger and Jason Voorhees, Holm's monster is genuinely chilling, because he is totally believable. The scenes in which we are shown his tenuous grasp on reality, the paranoiac visions and time-slips unravelling in his head, are definitely the best thing here. Although the black contact lenses are another detail hard to reconcile with reality. Even more so the weird gloaming from the windows which the cabman spies, suggesting that Jack's murdering plan in objectively does release an awesome ethereal power! It's as though the two directors could not agree as to whether it should be "all in the mind" or a real force of black magic.

The same dichotomy is found in the closing scenes. However,the depiction of Kelly's happy ending with the often mentioned but not previously seen "Baby Alice" is possessed of an idealised unreality that strikes an effective note of ambiguity. Does it work out well or is it only in the drug-addled mind of the wishful dreamer on his deathbed.
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Chilling and provocative.
31 May 2005
Warning: Spoilers
This movie tells a story that has been echoed in many details in others since. But with the difference that it is genuinely a true story. It is both a chilling horror story and also a powerful depiction of the argument against any irreversible punishment, here being the death penalty.

It has become a cliché that evil is banal. It is the heartless emptiness of such banality which we find in Attenborough's depiction of evil. There are other things that point up the evilness of his character. That he abuses the trust of the vulnerable who turn to him for help, so that his victims are already victims in their life and thus their murder all the more undeserving. Most of all, that he is prepared to allow an innocent man to die for his actions. The plot lines of many tales of the wrongly accused and pursued come to mind. Except that this is not fantasy.

The domestic settings are both banal but also claustrophobic. I am even reminded of "Eraserhead". Moreover, this movie captures something peculiarly nightmarish that those who have lived in "bed-sit land" have often encountered, when incompatible domesticities lived cheek-by-jowl interact in a malignly dissonant manner. That malignancy here highlighted by the macabre practices of the secretive landlord.
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Ridiculous idiotic drivel.
31 May 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Some may object that I am only going to refer to technical considerations in this comment. But the scenario in this movie depends entirely upon such technical considerations. So I feel justified in claiming that it's technical illiteracy sinks it completely.

The mission shown uses a version of the F117 "Nighthawk" stealth bomber. Firstly, this is a plane big enough to carry one pilot and a bomb. Here, however, it is shown as having some kind of cargo bay big enough for the entire team.

Then again, the outside of the plane in the film doesn't correspond with the size of the inside. Nor with the size of the airliner.

When aircraft in real life dock to re-fuel in mid-air it is a lengthy, slow and precise procedure that requires hours of training, is carried out in the straight and level, with the pilot of one plane gradually meeting a boom in front of them. Even then, it requires a specialist operative in the tail of the tanker plane to steer that boom. But in this film, they just fly up underneath an airliner that in reality would be bobbing about all over the show. It doesn't know they are there. It mates with it even though the pilot cannot actually see the point of contact. Then they extend that ridiculous contraption which in reality, at the speeds involved. would have been ripped away in aerodynamic torque, probably pulling both planes out of the air in the process.

I know some will say it's all just "fun". But to anyone with half an education in such matters it certainly isn't "fun" to have to sit through such garbage.
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