Friday, February 10, 2012


At the moment I don't have a lot to report so I thought I'd post a few film reviews that I've written on These are all fairly new movies (2005-2011), and ones that I either really liked or really disliked. These are movies that are either "arty" or "spiritual". Here we go...

 (Benny Chan)

Shaolin philosophy for real!

... or at least as real as it gets. I'm not a fan of people flying in the air and other 'Kung Fu tricks' that have become popular. The action scenes in this movie feel quite real, even to the point where the protagonists make mistakes, and it becomes part of the story. Perhaps with the exception of Jackie Chan's intervention, which is not very realistic but spices things up a little. He has definitely improved with age... he used to irritate me a great deal.

It's not a particulary happy film but it has a sturdy moral storyline that makes you feel you are watching something meaningful and memorable rather than just mindless entertainment. People have revelations and are able to rethink their mindless behaviour. One has to remember this is within the framework of a Buddhist belief system, which could explain why the changes of heart happen suddenly. Behind it all, is after all, the potent philosophy of karma, sustaining life and how to attain a real peace of mind. The actors are likeable and you get a sense of the community behind Shaolin. There is a scene at the end which is memorable, even a bit tear jerking. It's a visual film, and the palm of Buddha's hands at the end is a great conclusion.

(Tarsem Singh)

Stunning visuals, original story...

An almost perfect film in my mind, as the narratives interwine with the most breath taking visuals and two wonderful actors, one of which is the most unlikely 'favourite actress' I could ever have imagined (a child with the most adorable way and spontaneous way of talking). I want more!! A nice take on silent movies too, original yet almost a bit humorous due to the contrast between the silent allure and the real person behind the 'mask'.

The plot is effortlessly told, and there is great panache and accuracy in the digitally produced imagery. It could be contrived, but it just isn't. It's such a neat little package, just the way you expect a film to be!

It's a while since I saw this film, but unlike my normal ways I actually saw it three times in order to show it to some people I care about. That's how much I liked it. I'm still rating it one of my favourite films.

(Darren Aronofsky)

Life isn't black and white - that's the problem

This film plays with the idea of a dual self, the good and the bad, the white and the black. I have to say I expected more... more complexity, more subtlety, more intricacy. I thought it quite contrived and simplistic. It's no doubt worth watching (especially if you're a woman, as I would think this appeals to women more than men) but leaves you feeling as if something was greatly missing.

I didn't feel much for the characters, and this is of course a major problem. You are an onlooker and observer, not an empathic viewer. There was a lot of ado about the cost of perfection but not that much substance. In other words, I feel sorry for anyone like the protagonist who pretends to be an artist but appears to have such limited imagination and depth of spirit. The emotional issues and the consequences thereof could have been explored in a more cunning way. Come on, life is NOT that black and white! it's the grey tones that make life interesting and films should be a mirror of this. Simplistic symbolism doesn't make anyone happy.

Read someone else's thoughts on the occult symbolism of this movie here. This person believes this is a great film. Aronofsky made a movie called The Fountain which is a reasonably interesting exploration of reincarnation or at least something to that effect.

(Pedro Almadovar)

This only goes skin deep - and the skin is thin!

From reviews around the internet I get the impression people are taken in by this film. I really cannot see why. It's just old Almadovar farting about as usual, with a lot of fussy relationships, family ties and leads that don't really make much sense and certainly don't take you anywhere really interesting. All I can see is just intellectual snobbism, where all the paintings and books are supposed to be representative of a great intellectual mind and deep thought but really - don't be fooled, it's just for show. With the possible exception of the appearance of Louise Bourgeois's work, but you have to know a lot about her art to get the references.
Apparently Almadovar changed his mind about the story in the original book a hundred times if not even more... yes yes let's just add this... and this... and this... and some more of this... and voila, we will have a great and meaningful movie, tadam! There is allegedly a lot going on inside of the main characters, it's just sooo symbolic... well I'm not sure I saw much evidence of that. There are just a lot of 'meaningful glances' (i.e. an easy way out of expressing real emotion). The acting is wooden and the story is stifled and contrived to say the least. I just don't believe in any of it, and worse still - I don't care.

The ending must be the worst ending in the history of cinema. 'It is me, Vincente'. Horror turned into parody as the man turned woman will eventually be the best thing that ever happened to his best friend. It's supposed to be a horror film, if you didn't know... I didn't know until afterwards. I think the horror must be that of men feeling attracted to a lovely lady who had her penis cut off! I'm sorry it's really all I can think of. Fear of castration and all that Freudian gaga... I'm sure Pedro is no stranger to such horrific thoughts. It's pseudo-intellectual "Euro-trash' if you ask me. Sorry to be so blunt. I know this probably offends a lot of fans.I just had to finally express what I always felt about a certain kind of European cult directors.

 (Ryan Murphy)

Unconvincing spiritual quest...

It's a shame... this is quite a sweet movie. But really, it's just too sweet. It has everything 'modern' in it; the desire amongst middle class white women to seek their inner self, the traumas and taboos in regards to food and the rebellion against the imposed need for 24/7 dieting, and of course, prince charming who has all those qualities women want i.e. he's a superhuman being who can be both woman and man at the same time. While women are still just women, of course. It is so much a sign of the time, a script written for a very typical modern female audience. Sure it has some charm but that lies mostly in the beautiful (yet oh so stereotyped) views of foreign land. Well, to be honest I liked the pretty scenery and the dream of the perfect life where everything is quaint and lovely and sorrows are temporary hickups that go away in the blink of an eye.

Having said all that, I found Julia Roberts quite sweet (again...) but totally disconnected from the spiritual quest she was supposed to be on. My impression is that she only did it because someone had told her to... that makes it all very unconvincing.

This film is based on  the bestselling memoirs by Elizabeth Gilbert, which is quite hard to believe given the rather "chickflick" feel and content of this film. If it's all true, then I guess the lady was a very lucky person indeed.

(Paul Morrison)

A gem that is easy to miss

It's been a while but I still recall this movie as one with believable characters and an interesting insight into the lives of these remarkable artists; Salvador Dali, Luis Bunuel and Garcia Lorca. I would welcome more movies like this - what can be better than real life stories, eh. It's easy to miss this film, as it's not a block buster and was hard to find among the film rentals. I personally try and see films about artists, but often feel that the portrayals are unsatisfactory. This film could possibly have been even better, but it's certainly as interesting and somewhat heart wrenching as films like Modigliani, Pollock or Sylvia Plath.

 (Mark Romanek)

Save your money by watching the trailer!

Save money - watch the trailer! I'm serious, the film offers nothing more than what you already see in the trailer. In fact, the trailer was quite promising - the movie on the other hand is a very disappointing movie about nothing. A social commentary? I found it hard to see how the fact that these people were so resigned to their fate could be a reflection of the way we behave within our society. At least that's what I think the movie is about, but does anyone know for sure..? Surely, when it's a matter of life and death, people have more reactions regarding their fate. The acting is quite wooden too, the main character has two facial expressions.

This film is based on a book by Kazuo Ishiguro. It's a science fiction with all the typical references to the Orwellian reality, but there is no suspense, no panache, no interesting twist or ground breaking plot. It's just so boring!

(Aleksei Popogrebsky)

Barren landscapes are interesting settings for personal drama


This is a competent film about an incompetent person and his counterpart, set in a very barren landscape that in a sense reveals or highlights the processes these protagonists go through. It's as if the simple and bare environment helps make the inner processes more graphic. Still it's a bit annoying to watch the clumsy urban brat make a mess of things - and it's a long time to watch his entanglements. The end doesn't make much sense. What's a isotope beacon anyway?? The social commentary remained a bit vague. The good bit is that it's an anti-Hollywood film in as much as it attempts to stay realistic. I do enjoy this rather thoughtful way of looking at the world but while the actors are doing a good job, I was left somewhat indifferent to their escapades.

(Terrence Malick)

If only this was about the Void, but it's just empty

This film has been hailed by some as being very spiritual in a deeper and non-denominational way. Unfortunately I thought it was more akin to some form of spiritual propaganda, probably ecumenical Christian ideas. You do ask yourself if Brad Pitt or Sean Penn, who are starring in it, had something to do with the attempt at getting a message across. The film is set in the 1950s. People are walking around looking lost. This goes on forever There are flashes of the big bang (a lot of colourful clouds filmed for quite some time) and dinosaurs with empathy (sic!). People are angry and upset with each other. People come to some conclusion that life is worth living in spite of grudge and emotional confusion. Was there anything more to it? I'm not even quite sure where the tree of life comes in, maybe here it's just a metaphor for evolution. If there was more to it, then I am greatly mistaken. But maybe that's really what the film is trying to say. Don't expect more from life than this. Shut up and be grateful...

And finally, some Finnish films (from my home country) thrown in for good measure!

 (Jalmari Helander

Dreadful translation ruins authentic speech!

I speak Finnish and was absolutely horrified to see the translation. This is a film that attempts to defy all the other Disney stories about Santa, but the translation tries its very best to disneyfy it nonetheless. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry when expressions such as 'fiddlesticks' and 'stars above' came up. I can tell you they use swear words in every second sentence, this is very much part of the culture and while they are powerful expressions, they just underline a certain attitude about survival in the wild and being a real man, and no one takes these words too seriously as such. It's an energy, and if you can't pick up on that because you're distracted by the silly childproof phrases, then you have lost a great deal of the impact of the movie. There is something about the authenticity of the way these guys speak that makes the story even funnier, I guess it's the realism opposed to the rather unrealistic story.

This is also not a 'child proof' movie (I'm talking toddlers here...), the whole point is to turn things upside down. To be honest one of the weaknesses of this film is probably that it's not very clear who it's directed to, which is the market? On the other hand I have to commend the Finns for just going for their vision and not worrying too much about how well it's going to sell in Disneyland.

(Antti-Jussi Annila)

A well constructed mythic atmosphere

The atmosphere in this movie is very pleasant and definitely has a mythical feel to it. I like the attention to detail and how at the same time it all looked comfortably ordinary rather than blown up to 'American proportions'. By the end of the day it also made some sense from a mythological/spiritual point of view, but you have to pay close attention and maybe go back to get the details. For me, it took a while to piece the bits together. The movie includes reincarnation in a way that feels unforced and natural, this was a positive thing.


I want to mention a few films that I haven't reviewed but feel that I would recommend. One is the atmospheric and seemingly simple story of a monk's self-retribution in the Russian film "THE ISLAND" - here the baren landscape is yet again set against the inner turmoil of the protagonist. Another somewhat similar film is the dark and sometimes quite humorous Finnish film "FROZEN LAND" (based on Leo Tolstoy). I often find films too short and would almost say I prefer TV-series. They are rare and far between though. There are two that I saw recently which I would recommend. I greatly enjoyed the stylish British two-part TV film "WOMEN IN LOVE", based on a couple of D.H. Lawrence books.


And finally, a British miniseries in three parts made for TV called "BLACK MIRROR". 

This is an excellent, poignant, chilling satirical description of modern society - I can't see how it could leave anyone cold, hah! I would give it almost full points... the only objection is they are not a feel good stories and you may have to watch a comedy afterwards to shrug of the unease!

From the Russian film "The Island"

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