Thursday, 22 September 2011


Pandemics have always been an intriguing subject for me. A critically-acclaimed star-studded (with Matt Damon, no less) pandemic film by Steven Soderbergh was therefore a sure bet. So in the midst of my pre-Europe madness, I ran out to see Contagion. To say I regretted it would be strong, but I was certainly disappointed.

Contagion has a unique matter-of-fact style, which was fascinating and frightening on the one hand but failed to engage me on the other. By telling its story of the mysterious virus in bits and pieces spread over four and a half months, it loses a sense of continuity, with far too much left unexplained. For example, much is made of the exponential rise in riots, looting and missing workers of all kinds (including police) but nothing is ever said about how or if these were brought back under control. Never mind the disease, how did the world survive the chaos for so long? Panic is a serious scary subject, but it doesn’t go anywhere in Contagion.

On the positive side, Contagion is well-paced (especially the first hour), well-acted (many good understated performances, led by Damon and Laurence Fishburne), well-photographed and has lots of believable dialogue. It just doesn’t hang together and feel like a story.

So Contagion gets only ***. My mug is up but it’s full of another one of those bland blends.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011


Okay, I admit that there are times when going into a film cold (i.e. knowing absolutely nothing about it, the way I prefer to watch a film) can be dangerous. Drive is a perfect example. All I knew was that it was getting good reviews and it starred Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan. That’s all I needed to know to rush out to my nearest cinema - or so I thought.

Drive is a beautifully-filmed, quiet and original thriller. Sounds great so far. It is also a very dark, very intense, stylistic (in a European way) neo-noir film. Slightly more risky, but for me we are still on very safe ground. Then it gets violent - extremely and disturbingly violent. That the violence is disturbing is both good and bad. Violence should be disturbing, but I’m not a fan of watching disturbing violence and I wasn’t expecting it.

Drive is the story of a nameless stunt driver/mechanic, played very well by Ryan Gosling. Dark and intense are also the words that best describe this driver. From the opening line, we know he is an intense guy and it does not take long to recognize that there is something a little too intense about him, something that hints at a dark past. When he meets his new neighbour, Irene (Mulligan in another great role), light enters his life for a few days, until Irene’s husband returns from prison. Then Drive takes a sharp turn into a back alley most of you will want to avoid.

For me, Drive was not a fun ride but it was certainly captivating to watch, with great performances by all concerned (besides Gosling and Mulligan, both Bryan Cranston and Albert Brooks were standouts), wonderful cinematography, a good soundtrack (though it features a song called “A Real Hero” which was almost as disturbing as the violence), an original screenplay (and solid direction) by Nicolas Winding Refn and lots and lots of style. So it just has to get ***+. My mug is up for some classic film-making, but the violence will keep it out of my top ten.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Another Earth

What if there was another planet Earth hidden on the far side of the sun that suddenly became visible, filling the night sky like a large blue moon? And what if this planet was an exact parallel of our own, with every person and action duplicated? What if something happened which suddenly allowed events to unfold differently on each planet? What would you say if you met your double on this other Earth?

This theme was explored in an interesting sci-fi film from 1969 called Journey to the Far Side of the Sun. It is not really explored in Another Earth, where this theme is primarily a backdrop to the story of a young woman (Rhoda, played by Brit Marling) who drives while drunk, kills a mother and child and tries to figure out a way to live with herself after spending four years in prison. Living with herself includes befriending, incognito, the father and husband of the deceased, whose life Rhoda has shattered.

This quirky low-budget indie drama about two lonely broken people who find temporary relief in each other’s company is strangely compelling. The acting is not outstanding, the cinematography is of the jerky handheld variety that I don’t usually like, and the writing and directing by Mike Cahill has its share of flaws. And yet Another Earth is always engaging and thought-provoking and the characters real and sympathetic enough to make me care.

Another Earth left an impression on me and made me think (e.g. about the different directions life can take because of one small choice), so I am going to give it ***+. My mug is up.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

I enjoyed an evening out to see Rise of the Planet of the Apes - have to see one "big" kind of film in the summer, and this was the right kind of fun for that. As we've said before, it helps when one has few expectations (don't expect much in terms of characters or depth, please). I'd have to say that the apes were pretty impressive, and the way the movie sets up the starting place for the old classic worked quite well (if not entirely new and creative). Unfortunately, the acting was not a great boost to the movie, and somewhere along the way - whether the fault of the writer, director or editor - there were quite a few sudden shifts in characters and direction that really didn't work at all. James Franco makes at least two sudden shifts that are simply unreal or undeveloped. The evil research centre boss makes a sudden change that is incredibly poorly "sold." The potentially helpful role played by Freida Pinto was left shallow and one wonders where her early passion went. Really, I shouldn't have written this at all because the more I write, the more I realise that the characters were all really badly portrayed. I'm not sure I ended up liking anyone but the main chimp. Maybe that's the point - it's certainly a misanthropic film.

Vic, there is nothing to impress you at all in their take on redemptive violence. Obviously the chimps have some natural aggression when threatened, but nothing like the aggression of the humans. Yet, overall the film simply has nothing new to say about that theme.

What it does say - like Limitless to which it bears some distinct resemblance - is that we are probably already long past the point where our morality and wisdom can keep up with our scientific creativity. That warning, familiar as it is, is the most realistic part of the movie. For that and some light summer sun, I'll give it ***