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The Devil All the Time (2020)
Nihilistic and miserable
I kept waiting for the various threads to weave into a whole and, eventually, towards the end it seemed to have done so, while perfectly maintaining the depressive and nihilistic mood of the piece.
I'm not sure this film had a point. It felt like a Coen brothers film in places, and I think that's what kept me watching, expecting some sort of whimsical or philosophical denouement. But no. Nothing but misery and death for no particular reason at all.
Perhaps this represents something real for some unfortunate people, and they have my sympathy, but the point o storytelling is to find meaning in live, not to bleach it of all hope.
If there are any redeeming qualities to this film I missed them. My advice, for what it's worth, is give it a miss.
A vapid flick featuring nice hardware
I am supposing the blame has to lie with Philip G. Atwell. I've not heard of him before; he seems to have a career mostly of pop videos. I hope I never hear of him again.
Who is this film for? Not romance film lovers, though perhaps the best acting is by the wives of the two cops at the start. Not sci fi fans. Not sword and sorcery aficionados. There could be marginal interest from watchers of spy films or cowboy films or swashbuckling adventures; but I would imagine the majority of people attracted to this title would be modern martial arts fans to see Jason Statham, who has a history of working hard to offer good action movies with well choreographed fight scenes, and Jet Li, one of the pre-eminent martial artists in modern films. Well, fight fans, don't bother.
Any moves the actors do in the fight scenes are cut to pieces with this fashion-victim director preferring fast cutting to confuse the eye and raise the heartbeat, as if these two guys and the constellation of other actors around them were incapable of playing out a convincing fight scene. While the action is not actually intercut with big comic book letters saying "wham" and "craackkk!", at least there would be a laugh if it were. There are some scenes shots of Jet Li wielding a katana with great energy very convincingly, but these are long shots and most of the fight scene moments seem to be edited together from cuts of scarcely 1 second duration .
The plot is very arch, like the 60s Batman series with supervillains everywhere and gritty heroes who never give up. Yet the characters are sketchy and puffed up by swagger and rumour and there's not a memorable line in the script. Tragically all the best action shots appear to have been left on the cutting room floor.
This is, really, a pretty appalling film dressed up in a superficial slickness which is mostly delivered by some rather tasty sports cars. And that's the best this film has to offer: a few automotive gems, a couple of swish motorbikes and while I know nothing about guns the shots of them are clear and sharp enough that they seem to be "featured" and so I wouldn't be surprised if gun lovers might enjoy a look too.
Otherwise this fluff of an offering is surely going to stain the CVs of some otherwise very good genre actors
Shang hai bao lei (2019)
Amazing and surprising
I expected a young people's movie with teen romances but liked the look of the Sci-Fi so I gave it a try.
What I found was teen romances, for sure, but in the surprising and gritty bitterness of a deep melancholia.
This film was very much a war film, but had a very old fashioned feel, both to the war and to the Sci-fi element, which I personally like since I like classic Sci-Fi. The explosions and CGI were pretty good, though not cutting edge, but I was wowed by the design and the effort put into the artefacts in the film: architecture; design of the alien robots, and the overall look of the city were very well put together.
The thoroughly pyrrhic victory and the very realistic deaths of so many, along with the stiff upper-lip grief of characters who lost people had the feel of WWI in the RFC, where teenage pilots usually only lasted a few flights.
I found this film very surprising, much more watchable than I expected and it excelled in design and in its tone.
Well worth a watch.
Horse Girl (2020)
a loco flick
It's been a while since I've seen a film that's made me wonder at its originality. The last flick I felt this for was Being John Malkovitch: that sense of just having seen something unusually creative, with a twisting unpredictable narrative, something which I would not have thought could be made in this day an age with such high production values.
So praise to all the actors involved who did a fine job, and praise to the directors and scriptwriters for letting nothing slip and keeping the vision, and praise for the amazing producers and funders and money people who knew how to believe in something genuinely fresh.
This is a one-off and will surely be a cult classic joining many other revered films in celluloid heaven.
Mano destra (1986)
Stillness and sound
Yonks ago this flick impressed me deeply. It's closer to a music video than narrative film, though drama there is. The sound is immensely important in allowing the viewer to feel the passage of time, while the camera captures almost-stills.
The obvious theme is domination and submission, but also light and dark, stillness and motion, freedom and constraint. A beautiful short essay in yin and yang, with a brilliant sound track and compelling visual composition. The superficially sexy theme seemed less erotic than stylish, though it scores on both counts.
I remember this as one of the most poised and elegant moments of cinema.
Memories of the future
There are many fuller reviews so I want to say that in the ones I've read so far no one has mentioned the actual sound of the UFO. That was a pretty odd noise back in the day, and young as I was I found it creepy and a bit scary but more distinctive than the programme's signature tune (though harder to hum or imitate).
There have been a few reviewers who seem to have suggested the show was cheesy or have become apologists trying to defend it, but it needs no defence. People who make anachronistic criticisms are simply showing their lack of insight. This was cutting edge stuff. That it was, at the same time, very much of its own time is quite natural
The sad thing for me is that the future was never as swish as they promised. There are still almost no car manufacturers (a few Italian crazies aside) who have had the nerve to produce a car as interesting as the ones used on set - I mean homologate, when I say produce. I believe the cars were from major manufacturers, but were futuristic styling exercises which were always, and still are, watered down to accommodate the tastes of fuddy-duddies before tooling up for production. The fashions were a bit closer to what was available from Quant or Courreges et al, but such out and out sparseness was never really widely marketed.
And I will get one of those wigs one day ... maybe with some salt n pepper grey thrown in, because my figure is not up to those fashions, but I could get away with being, perhaps, a retired and gone to seed moonbase maiden: and maybe one in 5,000 people would get the reference.
From a design point of view this show was superb. The dramas were great stuff. The acting was good. The scripts were sound and thoughtful. Anyone who thinks this show was cheesy probably thinks Metropolis is Kitsch rather than a stunning trailblazer.
Sorry, not really a review, just the rant of a fan.
Gone Baby Gone (2007)
Agon Baby Agon
One of the best dramas I've seen in all the areas usually considered: fine acting and directing, good cinematography, great costumes, great casting - but all excellent without being obtrusive. The film as a whole is crafted beautifully to bring the viewer to the brink of a full-on argument between their own emotional will to see the best deed be done and their rationing mind's desire to be just and to do right.
I found the film surprisingly emotional, marvellously understated and raw and challenging morally. If drama has a purpose, this film takes us to the core of where the best drama has always come from, throwing a mirror to our souls and leaving us wondering who, in such a situation, would we have been, and indeed, do we really know ourselves?
Peeping Tom (1960)
A photographer's joy
I had a rather odd viewing of this film in that I half-watched it at a the house of friend of mine who happens to be colour-blind. We were talking and the sound was down for much of the time and I didn't see the beginning or the end. But what I saw mesmerised me.
Having not really caught much of the plot except for moments when my host was making tea, I am reminded more of Blow-Up, made several years later, than of any other film. The main character of the film seemed to be photography itself, and the psychology of the antihero and his victims faded into insignificance in the fragmented view of the film that I had.
Not only did cameras abound in the film, and were at once the means of vision - both in the sense of the making of film itself and also in the sense of being the main agency in allowing the protagonist to fulfil his aims - they are perhaps also cyphers for seeing and for viewpoint and for perspective and outlook, drawing the viewer into a world of questions on these subjects.
What fascinated me most about the film though was the colour. This was frustrated by my only having my colour-blind friend to discuss it with, and while he does see quite a lot of colours he doesn't see them all and this undermines his interest in colour generally.
This film was made long after 2-colour films were obsolete, yet the film is shot to look like 2-colour Technicolor. IMDb credits it as using Eastmancolor 35mm film, so the colour set-ups in the film are self-consciously reproducing an earlier era of film by controlled use of hair colourings, set design, light gels and costume. The palette of the film is fascinating and beautiful, revisiting the stylised colour gamut which had decades earlier - after it's initial impact - come to leave film audiences unsatisfied by its unrealism. By the time this film was shot audiences were accustomed to rich full-spectrum photography and the colouring of the film subverts that, while highlighting the beauty of the older films at their best with, perhaps, an added glow that memory and nostalgia and better technology can create.
Having missed most of the plot of the film, I have no idea if this colour lushness is purely a sensual layer of technical beauty this film is imbued with or whether it has an important interaction with the film's philosophical or psychological elements - but it sure was good to look at.
Gravity, atmosphere, space and a big ending
This seemed to me a very emotional yet restrained film about which I really didn't know what to think at first. It left me dissatisfied, perhaps feeling slightly cheated, but also feeling that there was more there than I could quite grasp. I gather from other reviews the film struck a chord with some who have suffered depression: I am, then, lucky to not quite get it, as my down moments are not so absolute.
Yet there was an engagement of the senses in the film while at the same time a disengagement of the sense of time and of the sense of reality. This unrealism set in a large venue with so many people had, for me, some resonances of Last Year at Marienbad. There were moments where the flooding with late Classical music and the sight of planetary objects perhaps alluded to the slow dance-like scenes from 2001: A Space Odyssey and there were, no doubt, other allusions I missed. The film maker uses these motifs like colour washes to cast a vague background landscape to the disturbed and disturbing characters and relationships played out in the foreground.
I found all of the said characters unsatisfying and irritating which was, of course, the point of them. The script seemed unremarkable. The music I had to turn down when it flooded in so as not to wake the neighbours! Yet the whole was beautifully shot and had a poise that felt pregnant with a meaning I couldn't quite reach.
Lars Von Trier remains for me difficult, even irritating, but has shown himself again, with Melancholia, to be consistently interesting.
Leaves of Grass (2009)
This film is a lovely, playful and thoughtful romp through the conflicting forces that make up our modern world.
Disguised as a wacky comedy sketching a chiaroscuro of moral, economic and educational themes, the film begins in a charming idyllic intellectual landscape where people delight in epistemological, ethical and ontological questions. To hear unabashed philosophical dialogue and playful joking about classical ideas in such a popular medium as mainstream film is a rare delight, especially done as it is as an affectionate spoof of the sequestered world of academia.
Having set the piece in this intellectual arena, to then pull the philosopher out of his element into a world of childhood fears, sensual promise and madcap amorality creates the tension necessary for drama to occur. And there is drama indeed, with sweetness, bitterness, tenderness and violence all stewed together to boil down to some fairly basic and perennial questions about human nature.
The Words (2012)
A well acted, professionally made but phoney movie
All the technical boxes seem to be ticked in cinematography and acting making a slick visual product. The music was desperately trying to trill the heart strings, over egging the pudding somewhat since the most moving points in the story were so far removed under layers of who was actually, really, narrating it that they had no impact, though the poor actors acted their hearts out.
What fails, I think, was the overall conception and idea and, therefore, the script. There are a couple of good lines worth thinking about, but for the most part it's hot air. We, the viewers, are set up to expect something literary, something truly arty and intellectual, something where the medium is not the message, but the *message* is the message. Instead we are sold short: there is no message and the medium is just the medium - phoney smoke and mirrors just waiting for Toto to pull back the curtain.
Damsels in Distress (2011)
What if Woody Allen were a high school girl?
A feelgood movie which passes the Bechdel Test with flying colours. Not the usual vapid college kid schlock but a warm and gentle antidote to that genre: a bit of fluff with an off-the-wall script of philosophical spoofing, quirky speculation and some rather unconventional - though possibly worth trying - ideas to cure teenage angst and the ills of the world.
Grappling with the big ideas of drama, such as sex, suicide, personal worth, dishonesty and human relations, the script seems to somehow superimpose the normally perceived polar opposites of the intellectual and the airhead to offer a perfect harmony of nutty thinking and altruistic intent.
Grabbed me when I least expected it
I'm not much into superhero stuff but I like Sci Fi so I risked watching this after a little prevarication. Some of that trepidation continued for the first few episodes, but the series slowly got a grip on me and I finished it with a very positive impression.
The stories themselves were okay, the powers the characters had were more DC comics than anything even vaguely scientific, but it was all nicely dressed up and I found it less irksome than I'd expected it to be to suspend my disbelief. The acting was really pretty good, industry standard, I suppose, which seems quite good these days. The actual characters themselves were an interesting bunch, each with their own plausible strengths, quirks and problems.
What I felt was best handled in this show, though, and better than in any other I've seen, was the way the various characters struggled with their personal moral responsibilities to themselves and to the community at large, and their sense of loyalty to their leaders. The distrust of high level decisions, the damaged trust at bad decisions, the situation where rebellion would mean effective defection to a "terrorist group" but acquiescence meant becoming a "government flunkie" and the various ways in which each character was less than perfect were all facets which were scripted and handled well.
We live in a time when one does not need to be in the slightest paranoid to understand how sometimes malevolent and sometimes stupid government decision-making can be. Recent history has shown there have been many dark conspiracies and dastardly doings by almost all governments: the more powerful the government the worse their misdeeds seem. Usually, in screen dramas with this sort of derring-do scenario, this is dealt with by perhaps a scapegoat at the top who gets caught, or maybe the heroes directly fighting uniformly evil government baddies, or the issue is just played down while the government tries to lead everyone in doing the right thing. I felt that Alphas was well written and acted and directed around this issue and served as a nice exploration of the moral quagmire surrounding the questions of public and private politics and power and our decisions as to how we should act.
Schöne Frauen (2004)
Gently understated situational drama
Gently sexy, mildly quirky, shyly arty and very human.
An accidental meeting of a group of not-quite-so-strong women grappling with life and auditions leads to their heading off on a day's adventure. I watched this in German with English subtitles and found it to be one and a half hours pleasantly spent. The thoughtful script maintained a dry whimsical tone with moments of sadness.
The interesting trope of not showing any of the men's faces keeps the film firmly focused on the women's stories while allowing a glimpse at how several of the characters relate to men. Acting, shooting and script were all excellent and the music was tasteful and well performed and then incorporated into the plot.
It had a possibly slightly oversaccharous, feelgood ending, but by that time I had been won over by the characters and could cope with the sweet send off.