26 August 2009

Movies - Last Seen

Short reviews for these films are below.

Razorback, Australia (1984)

The vast landscapes of the Australian desert are natural habitat for kangaroo, wild boars and people who hunt them. But into this violent and merciful environment comes new creature - a giant razorback, strong enough to turn over trucks and big enough to eat humans like snacks. His attacks bring together number of completely different people, and the ultimate hunt begins, although it is not clear who is hunting who.
This movie, first of all, is beautifully shot. Expressive colors from different range, strong rays of light in the darkness, very atmospheric images of open space and the skies, everything creates almost surreal environment. Visual side of this film, together with haunting and ambient soundtrack, have very strong impact and takes this movie from simple B level to something truly unique and artistic.
The story is no less impressive, quite twisted and entertaining, and includes wild and edgy characters. It is a story of revenge almost of Moby Dick proportions, a story of how people, placed in primal conditions against the tough nature, can descent into their primal instincts and can do anything to survive and to prevail. Not an easy film, but for people who like this kind of over the top expressionism in film, where the cinematography and imagery maybe more important than the actual story, it's a real treat.


Queens of Langkasuka, Thailand (2008)

Not bad at all. This Thai film mixes martial arts, special effects and folklore mythology to create entertaining fairy tale full of decent action and involving drama. But it is not without flaws. In addition to a little confusing story, it is sometimes too melodramatic and sentimental, emphasizing blind patriotism and promotes specific moral and behavioral heroic principles. Which make this film a bit naive in it's attempt to glorify and romanticize the sacrifice in the name of the ruling class. Subversive and cynical movie it is not.
One of the positive things I can say about Thai cinema in general, as oppose to, for example, Hong Kong movies and even Russian cinema, is that storytelling is very thorough. The plot structure and its development, the logic of causality, the mixing of real with mystical, and some other screenplay elements that may seem ridiculous without proper context, are done surprisingly right. I can roll my eyes at many things here, but I have to give the credit for the structural depth and complexity of the plot.
Good alternative to Hollywood's adventure movies.


Kaena: The Prophecy, France/Canada (2003)

Surprisingly smart and entertaining animated film with not so subtle subversive political content.
The animation style is crude and unpolished, computer graphics remind some cheap video game, some plot holes and unanswered questions makes the film a bit confusing, but it is also complex and entertaining, and goes to places you would never expect.
Science fiction fans will be able to appreciate the level of fantasy and imagination, the adventure through this odd world helps to ignore many of the film's shortcomings, and after first 20 minutes of confusion and weird feeling of misplacement, the movie becomes appealing and enjoyable. The overall effect from this movie is very positive, it is not for people that prefer to pay attention only to details without being able to look at the big picture.
For the movie that presents completely unfamiliar world, it manages to create interesting story and even intellectual stimulation.


S.S.D, Russia (2008)

Decent Russian horror slasher with some social commentary, specifically against shallow popular culture of reality shows for the youth.
Ten young people were selected to compete in new reality show at abandoned children's camp from Soviet era. Upon their arrival, mysterious voice on the speakers tells them a scary story, after which one of them is killed. The remaining group quickly understands that the elimination from the show means death, and the winning prize is survival.
The film successfully translates the sense of fear of the trapped youngsters, their behavior in given situation is quite realistic and not ridiculously stupid as in similar American examples. They are really trying to escape the deadly situation and use logic and rationality to evaluate their chances.
But the movie is lacking action and gore, focusing mainly on conversations. There are some killings and mild violence, but it's not very emphasized and not graphic enough to satisfy horror junkies. It also becomes overcomplicated toward the end, desperately trying to tie all the lose ends and inventing all kind of silly "out of nowhere" plot solutions.
This movie has its moments and share of smart decisions (especially the part of scary stories), but in general it cannot overcome the genre limitations and rise above the mediocrity, to show something really special. Good ride, but leaves no strong impression.


Valkyrie, USA/Germany (2008)

Nice try. This suspenseful thriller about failed attempt to assassinate Hitler and take control over Germany is predictable and had no potential of surprise, maybe because of the subject itself, so the decision was to make it by the books. And indeed, the formulaic structure of the story and character's design is seen through this very transparent film. The main point is clear, the production is flawless, the ending is known from the start.
The only thing I can extract out of this film, that with all the talking about risks involved in such plan and the will to sacrifice their lives for the cause, no one considered strapping explosives to their body, hugging Hitler and exploding themselves to hell with a push of a button. Just to be sure. I guess self survival instinct was higher than the patriotic one, but didn't they end up dead anyway? They could as well die in a useful way instead.


District 13: Ultimatum, France (2009)

Too much action and fighting and not much logic or sense. The main point of this film is to humiliate police, government, president, or anyone related to the upper elite. Sort of "look how we fuck them up, our dicks are bigger than theirs".
But while the first movie had more anarchistic approach, promoting individual strength and desire for self achievement, this movie is superficial mainstream product for dumb. All gangsta attitude and no brains.
As stupid action movie with explosions and crude humor it's working quite well and entertaining enough (using Van Gogh painting as a weapon was very amusing), but the direct attempt for social commentary is all wrong and intellectually repulsive. At least for me.
In the end, instead of creating stupid smile on the face, like the first one did, this sequel feels tiresome, heavy and unoriginal.


Hurt Locker, USA (2008)

Efficient and well made thriller about harsh reality of Iraq war. Self destructive attitude of the main protagonist, whose job is to disarm bombs, is shown quite well as he becomes addicted to the thrill of danger. This is why he leaves his wife and kid, and time after time volunteers to the military service.
The problem is, that his wife is Evangeline Lilly, Kate from Lost, and any man, who leaves such hot wife just to get some adrenaline excitement in company of man, is simply insane.
The movie is really entertaining to watch, and it actually suggests a reason why Americans fighting this war - they want to bring to Iraq huge supermarkets with lots of products to buy.


Chemical Wedding, UK (2008)

Intelligent and sophisticated B movie, probably the best I've seen since From Beyond. Yes, it is maybe not gory and graphic as films based on H.P Lovecraft stories, but it sure is wild and outrageous one.
Based on the real life cult figure Aleister Crowley, an English poet, a leader of occult sect and extravagant celebrity in his times, that lived some hundred years ago, this movie loosely using his personality in this mysterious and supernatural horror thriller.
Stuttering professor in Cambridge becomes possessed by Crowley after scientific experiment goes wrong. As result he stops stuttering, shaves his hair, pees on his students (literary), kills bunch of people, fucks prostitutes, quotes bible, preparing occult ceremony to become god and in general creates quite impressive mayhem. The result is enjoyable and sleazy movie with many religious and cultural references and with fantastic sound track. It is pure pleasure to watch it. Terrific performance by Simon Callow as possessed professor, one of the best antagonistic characters I saw in movies. Highly recommended, but not for everyone.


Sex Drive [Unrated], USA (2008)

Typical American sex comedy for teenagers. Filled with vulgarity, nudity, sex jokes and gross images, this film is actually quite amusing, despite some awkward and embarrassing moments.
The unrated edition has more of it all, with more cool additions and bloopers from the filming set inserted directly into the film.
Light and entertaining, good for laughs.


Antikiller 2: Antiterror, Russia (2003)

This Russian action flick is a sequel to the quite impressive Antikiller, but without experimental and refreshing vibe of the first one. Reminds a lot Hong Kong action films with long shootouts between the police and the criminals, and with epic standout between the good and heroic cop and merciful and despicable bad guy. The bad guys in this film are Chechen terrorists, trying to free their leader captured by Russian special forces, and on their way they create lots of destruction and explosions in Moscow.
Many characters from the first film are here, so it's nice to see them, but the movie has many flaws, and despite few good dialogs and few nice action scenes, feels old, heavy, predictable and hard for digestion. The first film was very anarchistic and all the time was looking for extreme and for unusual, with desire to surprise and to fascinate.
This one is lacking all of it, like a person who had satiated meal and now lying on the couch. And it goes for the story and for the execution.


The Gambler, USA (1974)

Interesting film about the nature of addiction and delusion. James Caan, in one of his best roles, is Axel Freed, an English and Literature professor that addicted to gambling and to danger it involves. The film reveals step by step his disturbing state of mind, how he is constantly looking for the thrill of a chance, the thrill of danger, and how he is deluding himself into thinking he has some kind of control over his luck.
Directed with calm efficiency, there is no irrelevant or weak scenes in this film, neither unnecessary emotions. Good example of 70's dramatic cinema, that is not exploitation of any kind.


The Girlfriend Experience, USA (2009)

In the big city with tall buildings, far, far away, live small people with their small problems. Of course they think their problems are serious and big, so they walk around the big city, meet with other small people, drink from small cups and eat their small meals, use big words like "economy" and "business opportunity", and discuss big politics and big events of their small world as they try to find something big in their small lives. These people are so small that sometimes we can't hear them talk or see their faces.
Super smart Steven Soderbergh always knew his system, it's enough to see his brilliant Schizopolis to understand that the man sees the bourgeois western society and middle class reality completely through. So in this film he cuts the system open and brings the camera to show us what's going on inside, to show how this big machine works and how small parts in it spin and interact with other parts. He is using all his familiar tricks, like turning the real sound off and playing ambient music instead, because it helps to break off the illusion of cinema, creates bigger distance between the viewer and the movie and helps to focus on form and structure, rather than on emotional connection with the character. Soderbergh also using disordered editing, cutting and mixing the chronological time continuum to create an intellectual puzzle, where the pieces of the story are not organized by the rules of the clock and reality.
But there is a center story, as vague and dissolved as it may look. A story about independent female escort and her small life in the bleak reality of the big city, and about all the small men that hire her to fulfill missing parts in their small and boring lives. They all want something from her, she wants something too, but not from them, and everybody just dance around in the system, as small parts performing their exact functions. Welcome to machine.


District 9, USA/New Zealand (2009)

Good example of how original form can upgrade used content. I actually didn't expect this movie to have such coherent story, but apparently all the semi-realistic and documentary stylistics are just a cover. Behind the shaking camera, amateur actors and social commentary lies conventional plot done by basic rules of fiction storytelling.
The outer wrap and visual presentation make it look new and exciting, it is interesting to watch this film and in the end it leaves slight impression and good sense of satisfaction, but there is no surprises in the story at all. As suitable for the novice director that wants to make a big splash with his first film, Neill Blomkamp proves that old Hollywood themes and stories can be wrapped up and shown in completely different way. Some plot holes and unclear details make this film interesting to think and speculate about, but the biggest achievement is refreshing approach toward aliens, which reduced here to the level of street cats and have no mysterious and superior allure to them at all.
Good idea, good execution, but too overrated, in my opinion.


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