Category Archives: film

RocknRolla

I went to see RocknRolla yesterday with fairly low expectations, which were partly fulfilled and partly exceeded. Though on the whole, I found the movie unsatisfying, it was stylish and pleasing to the eye; and had just enough humourous moments to keep me from nodding off altogether.

The biggest problem with the film is its beginning, which was overly loaded with exposition and took about as long to get started as a bomby car in a horror movie. Probably the entire first half hour of the film was devoted to tediously introducing the various characters one by one, without much of interest occurring at all.

The second problem was the plot, which, though conceivably attractive in synopsis, didn’t really go anywhere. Too much seemed to be going on, but not in a good way (if I may put it that simply). There were many threads to the storyline, all interacting, but because this was poorly executed, the result was lacklustre and at times confusing. The plot centres around a deal between a shady London mobster and a Roman Abramovich clone (down to the football stadium); and the involvement of other criminals, junkies and miscellaneous ne’er-do-wells with the deal and the criminal underworld, united by a McGuffin in the form of the Russian businessman’s “lucky painting”.

Though this may sound good in concept, it was poorly translated to a film of just under two hours (but one which seemed a lot longer). Though a great fan of multi-thread storylines which demand the complete attention of the viewer (i.e. Pulp Fiction, 21 Grams), this particular one could not pique my interest and thus, for me, failed with respect to its plot. This could perhaps be excused if the characters were interesting or developed in some creative fashion, but unfortunately, this aspect of the film was also lacking. Though the film featured a large and varied cast of characters, they remained through its duration rather one-dimensional and uncompelling. In addition, the dialogue was often unconvincing or pretentious.

One redeeming feature of the film was its visual appeal, being gritty and stylized. At least this aspect of directing was carried out well, with a variety of colourful settings, decent cinematography and stylish costumes. Another positive was the humour throughout the film, which was, admittedly, quite funny and well-done (less amusing was the raucous laughter of the person of indeterminate gender about rows in front of me). Particularly funny was the slow-dance scene and the seemingly invincible Russian thugs.

However, for a film primarily about violent gangsters and with an MA rating (in Australia, R in America), there seemed to be a conspicuously low level of violence and mostly concentrated in the latter half of the film, as if inserted as an afterthought. Perhaps it was my fault for expecting more action in the film, but I felt that a touch more excitement would engaged the viewers more, given the lack of engaging characters and compelling storyline. This grievance of mine is perhaps best summarised by critic David Stratton, who says:

“Scenes of violence are downplayed in ROCKNROLLA, which may disappoint Ritchie fans. The trouble is that nothing all that interesting replaces them”

One particularly (for me) cringeworthy aspect of the film was the awful Russian accents of some of the actors, which detracted from the appeal of their characters. In addition, the subtitling of the Russian dialogue sometimes seemed quite bizarre, as in one scene where one character said “I don’t like her” in Russian, but the subtitles read “Hand me my gloves”.

All in all, RocknRolla was not a terrible film. It was not even a completely boring film, but nonetheless it was less than satisfying. Its undeniable visual appeal did not make up for what was an essentially confusing and flat storyline. It seemed as though the director brainstormed as many interesting ideas for a film of the gangster genre as possible and then failed in putting them into a successful and coherent whole. Perhaps one main reason for my largely negative response to it was its first half, which actually had me wishing for the film’s conclusion. However, the second half was more interesting, and the humour and wit were well-done. Despite a good deal of “cool”, some quite enjoyable scenes and a decent soundtrack, my overall impression of the film was lukewarm. 3 stars.

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Children of Men

Thou turnest man to destruction; and sayest, Return, ye children of men.” Psalm 90:3

A truly fascinating film, Children of Men is an unusual spin on the dystopian genre: mirroring the Nativity story in “a world without children’s voices”. The year is 2027 and the world has gone to shit: for a mysterious and inexplicable reason, the world’s women have become barren and no child has been born for over eighteen years. Unlike in many other films, there is no single apocalyptic event that threatens mankind; there is only the more frightening prospect of extinction by infertility: the world is to end, as T. S. Eliot might say “not with a bang, but a whimper”.

But the movie itself opens with a bang. The protagonist, Theo, witnesses a terrorist bombing following a news report detailing the stabbing of the world’s youngest person, the last person to be born. There is very little exposition of the setting in which the film is placed but for some news reports:

[first lines
Newsreader: Day 1,000 of the Siege of Seattle. 
Newsreader: The Muslim community demands an end to the Army’s occupation of mosques. 
Newsreader: The Homeland Security bill is ratified. After eight years, British borders will remain closed. The deportation of illegal immigrants will continue. Good morning. Our lead story. 

Later, another news report shows the state of the rest of the world and the collapse of (apparently) all other societies. As a result, millions of refugees have flooded Britain, which has become a police state. For me, one of the best things about Children of Men is that there is a refreshingly small amount of exposition. Nothing of the world situation or the reasons behind the infertility is revealed, unlike in other movies in which the viewers are given a priviliged position, told information that the movie’s characters do not know. I feel this enables the viewer a greater deal of connection and empathy with the characters. Director Alfonso Cuarón says in an interview with the Seattle Times:

“There’s a kind of cinema I detest, which is a cinema that is about exposition and explanations. Cinema has become now a medium — well a lot of mainstream, and even indie sometimes — it’s become now what I call a medium for lazy readers. It’s illustrated stories. You can close your eyes and you can follow the movie. What’s the point of seeing the movie? Cinema is a hostage of narrative. And I’m very good at narrative as a hostage of cinema.”

The film centres on Theo’s journey to get the first pregnant woman in eighteen years, a refugee named Kee, to safety, facing danger both from the government and the activist movement intending to use her baby for political reasons. The journey takes them to a refugee ghetto reminiscent of Schindler’s List and into a firefight which freezes at the sound of the baby’s cry. Without giving the ending away, it is possible to say that, consistent with the rest of the film, it departs from mainstream film and does not have a definitive ending which gives the audience closure. Instead, Cuarón says that he “wanted the end to be a glimpse of a possibility of hope, for the audience to invest their own sense of hope into that ending”.

The theme of hope is developed along with the parallels to the Nativity story: Theo as the protector (but not father) escorting the mother and the child for which the world is waiting on a perilous journey. This mystical religious sense is highlighted by contributions to the soundtrack by Eastern Orthodox composer John Taverner. In addition, the film contains several elements of social criticism: including depiction of extreme anti-immigrant sentiments, human rights abuse, totalitarian government. The use of newsreel footage is particularly effective, as it draws parallels with contemporary society and acts as a warning: referencing detention camps such as Guantanamo, the War on Terror, the PATRIOT Act, etc… The round-up of the refugees is reminiscent of Nazi images (such as Schindler’s List mentioned before) but the idea of allowing the government to take such radical measures in response to crises resonates with a post 9/11 audience: “It shows what people can become when the government orchestrates their fears for its own advantage” says commentator Richard Blake.

The visual aspects of the film are particularly appealing: namely its lengthy single-shot sequences. One apparently single-shot scene goes for over seven minutes and is set in the middle of a fierce urban battle. Although it seems like a single shot, scenes like these were actually filmed in several parts and stitched together using CGI. However, they are still extraordinarily effective, and according to the director, notoriously difficult to film. The visuals are wonderful and the decision not to make the future terribly futuristic makes the film look not too much different from our own world. Another visual aspect is the pervading bleakness throughout the film’s urban settings, originally in East London and then in the refugees’ ghetto. Here, as in the other visual aspects, special effects were used and to much greater effect than they normally are. Whereas most action films use special effects as a technological crutch, often as a trick to distract the audience from a lacklustre plot, Children of Men utilizes them excellently, in a way that it is not obvious they are being used at all. Colin Covert of Star Tribune says: “In most sci-fi epics, special effects substitute for story. Here they seamlessly advance it”.

Children of Men is a most effective film, combining an refreshingly unconventional approach to the dystopian futurist genre with themes of both social criticism and hope. Plot, acting, cinematography and soundtrack are all excellent. A compelling and emotionally powerful film. 4.5 stars.

An effective unofficial video synopsis of the film, with Muse‘s “Apocalypse Please“:

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Jumper

I thought I may as well include negative reviews along with the positive reviews on this blog, just to give a bit of balance and perspective. Because if you mention what isn’t so good, that which is good seems better. It’s all relative, really.

Easily the most ridiculous movie I’ve seen for ages (with the exception of movies that go out of their way to be ridiculous, such as the Scary Movie franchise), Jumper is the story of a guy who discovers that he has the ability to “jump” through space, to teleport. After running away from his deadbeat dad and sleepy town to New York, David makes a living by getting through doors without having to open them.

However, things go wrong when his carefree life of disobeying various physical and federal laws is interrupted by the arrival of a strangely-clad Samuel L Jackson, who belongs to some secretive religious order that holds a grudge against teleporters (suddenly, fanatical religious assassins seem all the rage…). In short, the film goes: bad guy goes after good guy, good guy is too quick, bad guy is temporarily foiled, good guy gets a girlfriend, bad guy goes after the girlfriend, yadda yadda yadda, his estranged mother is part of said religious order (WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT?!)

I can’t even be bothered explaining the plot, which is absolutely ridiculous. The main redeeming feature of the film (“redeeming” as in I didn’t give it zero stars) are the special effects, which seem to be the main premise of the film. The biggest appeal of the film is the visual aspect: that the character can teleport from New York to Cairo to London to Rome, etc…, but the special effects upon which the movie is primarily based get boring after a while: after all, we’ve seen them in other films that actually had a plotline.

The film tries to be more exciting by bringing in the whole idea of the religious order going against these “jumpers”, but that is never developed; neither, unfortunately, are the characters. The action in the film is good enough and one scene involving some dangerous car driving/teleporting in the streets of Tokyo is probably the most interesting scene in the film, but the ending is a massive anti-climax (you’d think in a ridiculous action flick, you could at least get the ending right!) which attempts some sort of moral vindication of the protagonist. Unfortunately, the audience didn’t want him to be a “goodie” but to kick the bad guy’s ass!

The consensus review on Rotten Tomatoes is pretty much spot-on: “Featuring uninvolving characters and loose narrative, Jumper is an erratic action pic with little coherence and lackluster special effects”. 16% of critics gave it a thumbs up and their average rating was 4/10. I’ll have to agree with that. 2 stars.

Trailer for the film:

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Death Monologues

WARNING: THIS POST IS ABOUT FILMS AND CONTAINS SPOILERS!

I like monologues. I do. In fact, I was thinking about Samuel L. Jackson’s “Ezekiel 25:17” speech in Pulp Fiction; and ended up finding a whole bunch of monologues on google (some of which I wouldn’t mind memorizing for dramatic effect). But undeniably the best kind of monologues are death monologues: the dramatic passages when a character is about to die. I realize that there are probably heaps of great ones out there I’ve never seen, or even ones I have and have forgotten about, but I wanted to share my (at the moment, to the best of my recollection, etc…) favourite “death monologues”. On second thoughts, that sounds a bit morbid…

I also wanted to include the death monologues of the three Irish Catholics in Brian Friel’s Freedom of the City, but I don’t have the book with me and can’t find the complete quotes on the internet, so I’ll update this ASAP. Watch this space!

Bronze Medal: At the end of Donnie Darko, Donnie sits in his car with the body of girlfriend, Gretchen and awaits the prophesized end of the world: the famous “Twenty-eight days, six hours, forty-two minutes and twelve seconds” have elapsed. Its complicated if you haven’t seen the film, but it involves tangent universes or something like that. In the end, Donnie, saved from death at the start of the film, puts into motion a series of events that lead to the very death he initially avoided- but doing so puts everything that is wrong right again. His final spoken words in the film are in the form of a letter written to another character, narrated in voiceover: “Dear Roberta Sparrow, I have reached the end of your book and… there are so many things that I need to ask you. Sometimes I’m afraid of what you might tell me. Sometimes I’m afraid that you’ll tell me that this is not a work of fiction. I can only hope that the answers will come to me in my sleep. I hope that when the world comes to an end, I can breathe a sigh of relief, because there will be so much to look forward to.”

Silver Medal: In The Shawshank Redemption, veteran inmate Brooks Hatlen is finally released from prison, but is unable to cope outside the penal system and takes his own life. His final words are in a tragic letter to his friends: “Dear fellas, I can’t believe how fast things move on the outside. I saw an automobile once when I was a kid but now they’re everywhere. The world went and got itself in a big damn hurry. The parole board got me into this halfway house called “The Brewer”. And a job bagging groceries at the Foodway. It’s hard work and I try to keep up but my hands hurt most of the time. I don’t think the store manager likes me very much. Sometimes after work I go to the park and feed the birds. I keep thinking Jake might just show up and say hello. But he never does. I hope wherever he is he’s okay and makin’ new friends. I have trouble sleepin’ at night. I have bad dreams like I’m falling. I wake up scared. Sometimes it takes me a while to remember where I am. Maybe I should get me a gun, an, an rob the Foodway so they’d send me home. I could shoot the manager while I was at it, sort of like a bonus. I guess I’m too old for that sort of nonsense anymore. I don’t like it here. I’m tired of being afraid all the time. I’ve decided not to stay. I doubt they’ll kick up any fuss. Not for an old crook like me.”

Gold Medal: Probably the most effective death scene I have ever scene. In Blade Runner, the “replicant” Roy (Rutger Hauer) is literally running out of time as all of his kind have been genetically designed with a lifespan of four year to stop them developing powerful emotions and becoming a threat to human society. Towards the end of the film, he pursues Deckard(Harrison Ford) after the death of his girlfriend and the two end up on a building’s rooftop. When Deckard falls, Roy pulls him back up onto the roof. Deckard retreats uncertainly from the volatile Roy, but Roy sits down and delivers a dramatic monologue before dying. A very good end to a very good film, with spacey but emotional music by Vangelis. Roy’s speech (written by the actor himself!) goes: “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.” No wonder this is often counted as one of the greatest movie monologues of all time.

I would be very interested to hear other people’s opinions and their favourite monologues, especially if I’ve missed something really deserving; or perhaps a movie I haven’t seen.

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Lost Highway

Another Lynch film, I know. But I saw it for the first time last night and wanted to blog about it while it was still fresh in my memory. I’ll review a non-Lynch film one day, I promise…The film is sort of a spiritual predecessor to Mulholland Drive, and opens in a similar style- driving along a highway (see left) with a very effective and mood-setting soundtrack (the song in this case being David Bowie‘s I’m Deranged. In fact, the entire soundtrack (as with all Lynch films I’ve seen to date) works very well, the likes of Rammstein adding to the nightmarish freakishness of much of the film. 

Having seen Mulholland Drive first, I could see how the ideas, motifs and structure of that film were a continuation of Lost Highway, could see how his style involved. However, the latter (made in 1997), though by all means a fascinating and original film, is by no means as sophisticated and complex as the former (made in 2001). Similar motifs in both films include the use of dark corridors and corners to heighten tension- as you cannot see what is lurking around the corner!, psychological breakdown and repression, relationship breakdowns; as well as common visual motifs such as Mulholland Drive (the highway) and in fact the same type of telephone is used in both films. The films also follow a similar structure: what Slavoj Žižek calls a “bipartite structure”, creating a contradictory storyline that can be very confusing. Without giving too much away, halfway or so through the film, everything changes and it no longer makes sense (at least, in the literal sense). In both films, the action of the film (can be interpreted to) represent(s) the psyche of the protagonists, in terms of dreams or hallucinations. An interesting comparison of both films can be found here

The film begins with protagonist Fred Madison being told the cryptic words “Dick Laurent is dead” by an unseen visitor at the intercom. This directly ties into the end of the film (a satisfying full-circle at the ending, complete with a rehash of the opening credits and Bowie), but I won’t tell you how, because that would spoil all the fun! Another example of the postmodern nature of the film is the intense focus upon the inner character, his psychological state– mostly twisted and pathological. As in Mulholland Drive, the development of the protagonist is shown in the action of play; and the surreal, contradictory plot reflects the breakdown of the character’s psyche. The use of the device known as “unreliable narrator” means that we experience the events of the film through the protagonist’s phenomenological field, not from the objective, privileged perspective we are accustomed to.

In fact, it just occurred to me that this focus on the character and the inner (in Lynch’s case, SICK!) self is the polar opposite of Greek drama. This talk of characterisation affecting plot reminded me of the time we studied EuripidesMedea in Literature class and an essay I wrote on that, with reference to Aristotle’s seminal work Poetics, in which he states that characterisation is secondary to plot and significant insofar as it affects the latter. I found this really interesting, especially considering the way the medium of the fiction affects the story’s focus and the way it is told. For Euripides and other Greek dramatists, their plays were acted out in large auditoriums where the actors could not be seen closely and often wore masks (to make obvious their “mood”) and large gloves (to help accentuate gestures). In this setting, it would only be natural that the playwright would not be able to manipulate very many factors in the presentation of the play, so language and plot would be of utmost importance to communicate the message of the play. On the other hand, the medium of film, especially with special effects and the use of cinematography to influence the way the viewer responds to the film, gives the director an incredible level of control over the way the story is told and enables a complex exploration of characters and their psyches. (I’m well aware this paragraph is clumsy, but I’m tired and can’t be bothered making it more coherent- as long as you get the point that the postmodern focus on characterisation is the polar opposite of the prime importance of plot in ancient Greek drama).

A word of warning: Lost Highway is rated R18+ (in Australia) and features both quite a bit of sex (heterosexual this time) and a high level of violence. Otherwise, though not as good as Mulholland Drive (in my opinon), it is still very good and excellent to watch to see how Lynch’s filmmaking has evolved. Thrilling, suspenceful and completely bizarre throughout, Lost Highway is another fascinating piece of insanity from the twisted mind of David Lynch (again, I do promise to talk about a non-Lynch film one day…). 4 stars.

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Mulholland Drive

Here it is. The first real post. I think I’ll start with a review. A review of a very interesting film. It’s not the kind of film you watch, but rather the kind of film you are told to (or made to) watch and thereafter you spend your time trying to make everybody else watch it so they can share in the experience– and subsequently lose all your friends (“Oh no! He’s brought the DVD again!”). So in some ways, its like The Ring (the Japanese horror film, that is; not the main plot device of Tolkien’s epic trilogy), except people rarely die while watching it. A movie review would also be good because it would give me an excuse to put in a picture or two and brighten up this otherwise fairly monotone blog. The film? David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive. (link to Rotten Tomatoes website for reviews)

Having only seen Lynch’s work in Blue Velvet, I was by no means prepared for the type of film that Mulholland Drive was. In contrast to the former, which while certainly featuring Lynchesque weirdness and the recurring theme of the darkness which underlies the veneer of society, but follows a conventional narrative structure; the latter is so disjointed and confusing that it is impossible to understand what is happening until (perhaps) the very end of the film; and even then only if you have an experienced viewer of the film or a guide to the film handy. 

For those who haven’t seen the film, I can attempt to explain it in terms of other films: Nolan’s Memento follows an achronological narrative (scenes of no more than five minutes, starting at the end and moving backward through time, interspersed with expository flashbacks– in order to reflect the protagonist’s fractured consciousness), Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction consists of six achronological vignettes, not giving the viewer the full picture until the end but still straightforward; and Iñárritu’s 21 Grams consists of a fractured narrative, which, taken together (as the reader’s mind does by the end of the film) forms a non-contradictory whole.
However, Mulholland Drive is a whole different kettle of fish. Without giving too much away (and spoiling the fun!), the film’s surrealist bent and contradictions puzzle the viewer throughout (I know I was begging for answers!) and even at the end may be interpreted in a myriad of ways. The contradictions cause the viewer to question what is, in fact, real- both in the narrative of the film, and in life (going back to the Lynchian favourite: appearance vs reality). 

 

The film is dark and frighening, particularly so for its constrast of the ridiculously sunny, romantized Hollywood dream to the torturous labyrinth of what lies beneath. The use of dreams and illusion both contributes to the appearance/reality dichotomy and the sense of frightening uncertainness: more nightmare than dream. In this way, it is similar to Blue Velvet, but in terms of its complexity, is in a league of its own. As in Blue Velvet, the soundtrack is expertly utilised to manipulate mood and create an aura of mystery.

 

It is difficult to review a film such as this because it is notoriously difficult to explain without giving too much away and ruining the fun. However, I do highly recommend it; although I warn that you must be in the mood for a fairly long film (146 minutes) and that it is essential to watch and pay attention to the entire film, owing to Lynch’s penchant for detail. Keep in mind that you will be confused throughout the film and even after; however, there are interesting websites that provide various explanations and interpretations of the film. In my opinion: a masterpiece, possibly the most interesting film I have ever seen. Five stars.

 

A scene from the film:

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