"Let life enchant you again." - Fernando Gros
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Blog // Thoughts
May 11, 2007

Some Brief Film Reviews

Time to clear out the backlog of film and DVD reviews (again). Here’s some brief comments on a few things I’ve seen recently. The Painted Veil – Beautifully shot reflection on marriage, colonialism, the expatriate “experience” as well as the harsh costs of disease and political upheaval. “Takes you on a journey” and despite a […]

Time to clear out the backlog of film and DVD reviews (again). Here’s some brief comments on a few things I’ve seen recently.

The Painted Veil – Beautifully shot reflection on marriage, colonialism, the expatriate “experience” as well as the harsh costs of disease and political upheaval. “Takes you on a journey” and despite a risible epilogue and a patchy performance from Naomi Watts, leaves you satisfied with the ride.

Wah Wah – Another exquisitely shot ex-pat period film – Wah Wah reveals the underside of late-colonial Africa through the eyes of a child watching the collapse of his parent’s marriage. Adapted from Richard E. Grant’s own life story (Grant wrote and directed the film), the movie is not as good as it could have been, but more than worth watching. Wah Wah is not as dark as it could have been given the subject matter. Whilst that mirrors the way joy can break into the midst of tragedy and how differently time passes for children compared to adults, in this instance it makes for a somewhat disjointed “tone.” One disappointment is that the DVD lacks any extras. Since Grant gave so many interviews at the time of making this film and the story is so rich with historical anecdotes I hope this omission is rectified in future editions.

Jesus Camp – A completely different set of childhood experiences; a documentary about some aggressively fundamentalist vacation Bible camps. Watching it chilled me to the bone, especially as I am already uncomfortable with a great deal of the more conservative agendas towards children and youth. The film-makers claim they tried to be objective and let the material speak for itself, which aside from the harsh music selections at certain points of the soundtrack, might have been their intent. Sadly, Jesus Camp feels a little like a beat-up, even if those who participated (with the notable exception of the ever un-meek Ted Haggard) were happy with their portrayal.

Children of Men – Is a world without children a world without hope? That’s the idea Children of Men prosecutes it a tight, well filmed and brilliantly scored dystopian piece of Sci-Fi. Although the most obvious parallel is with 28 Days Later, this film also draws deeply on the paranoid Sci-Fi of Planet of the Apes, Soylent Green and Logan’s run. The extended panning sequences in the opening scene, main car chase and the final battle are some of the most thrilling and inventive shots I have seen in a long while.

Starsky And Hutch – I surprised and disappointed myself by watching it to the end. Maybe I need a less comfortable sofa?

Shut Up And Sing – Confession time: The Dixie Chicks have always been a big hit in our household. We both fell for them after seeing the clip for Wide Open Spaces on the Country Music Channel when we still lived in Australia and have followed every album release since. Sadly, we missed the UK concert where those famous words indicting President Bush were spoken, but couldn’t miss the irrational uproar that followed. This is a nicely shot biofilm that follows that backlash, the subsequent writing of their latest album and explores in a humane way the costs of fame and controversy on a talented and thoughtful group of people. As a fan I loved it, but as a musician and occasional social commentator it left me wondering how much courage I would have had in the same circumstances.

Paris Je T’iame – Thematic collections of self-contained short films from different directors don’t always work – but Paris Je T-iame does. Funny, sad, tough, witty, dark, absurd, warm – this film covers all the bases and gives us more than just a “snapshot” of urban life. At a much deeper level it is a film about how people connect to a place, to people, to a community. Beautiful.

Breakfast On Pluto – I wrote an extended but faulty review of this film when I first saw it some time back. Cilian Murphy is simply brilliant in the disarmingly witty lead role. This one has “cult movie” written all over it. Some powerful scenes on the role of faith in the life of a community, in the practice of forgiveness and in times of tragedy. Perhaps the most unsettling thing is the keener of fun and lightness that is imposed on the harsh realism of the storyline. In the end, we might not choose many of the circumstances of our life, but we can choose the way we interpret them. Given that, it is any wonder that the more grey and depressing the social conditions the more extreme and exuberant the identity choices that people make?

Stranger Than Fiction – High concept film that sadly doesn’t live up to its promise (but far exceeds The Truman Show). Some memorable moments and decent performances from the main cast, but probably most interesting for it’s depection of one of the central problems in fiction – that we are seldom satisfied with neat happy endings for characters in books and films, yet we typically hope for neat happy endings in our lives and the lives of those we love.

Zwartboek (Black Book) – This is Paul Verhoeven’s most mature and reflective film, which sadly is not as high praise as it might sound. That said, Zwartboek is a solid, brooding and tough film, exquisitly shot and with some great acting from Sebastian Koch and mesmerising scenery-chewing from Carice van Houten. But the limitations that plauge so many of Verhoeven’s films are still on display here. He picks great philosophical ideas for his films, creates compelling narrative frameworks and has a clear eye for the collision of beauty and ugliness. While, yet again, we have superficial and shallow characters, nudity (loads of it) without either tension or danger and the sense that many of the characters only exist to keep the plot and the action going. Not that it is isn’t entertaining, visually compelling and in the end satisfying – just be prepared for the nagging (and familar) feeling that it could have been so much more intellectually satisfying.

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Paul 17 years ago

children of men was amongst my fave films from last yr – the beauty of the shot when the fighting stops in wonder at the sight of a lil baby and then resumes as soon as he is safely out of sight was one of the most poignant, tragic and comic i can remember. It brings it home to be how precious and fragile every life is – something we lose when life seems so abundant…

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