Film Reviews by WS

Welcome to WS's film reviews page. WS has written 24 reviews and rated 289 films.

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A Woman Under the Influence

A tragedy of manners

(Edit) 02/09/2019

Made at a time when mental illness was more stigmatised than it is now, “Woman under the Influence” is far from being a period piece. The question of how we should treat mentally-afflicted people with compassion while preventing them from harming themselves and others – especially when so many cases resist an easy diagnosis or classification – is of ongoing relevance. People are terrified of being “sectioned” and drugged up, or having their loved ones subjected to this treatment . . . but what if the alternative is even worse?

Mabel is a married mother of three whose eccentric and uninhibited behaviour, not to mention her libertarian attitude to child-raising, have a habit of landing her in hot water. On one occasion, she treats a conservative neighbour, who has brought his own offspring round for a homework- and play-date, to a rendition of “Swan Lake” in the backyard – his bafflement turns to fury when he ventures upstairs and finds that the unsupervised children are playing dress-up and one of the girls is running around naked. Nick loves his wife the way she is and has no desire to suppress her individuality. But Mabel’s condition gets to the point where there is no alternative but to have her committed. At work Nick is tetchy and defensive about his wife's state of health and lies to the children about the reason why she's in hospital. He does his best to adjust to being a single dad while Mabel is institutionalised, but his own style of parenting turns out to be an odd mix of authority and anarchy.

The film steers clear of trite sentimentality and pop-psychology, and even more notably it avoids racial and class stereotypes and even subverts them to a degree. In Cassavetes’ world, working-class people still suffer from “middle-class” problems, such as uncertainty about how to behave in social situations. For instance, there’s the scene where Nick has prepared a big homecoming party for his wife, but belatedly realises that someone who’s recovering from a nervous breakdown will feel overwhelmed by that much company. Nick’s ethnically-mixed (but mainly Italian) colleagues are portrayed with dignity – no signs of racism or "toxic masculinity" here even though it’s the South in the 1970s – and I like the way that Nick effortlessly switches between brusque and affectionate without appearing to be two different people. Some viewers might find fault with the lack of significant female supporting characters, but I assume that Cassavetes wanted to emphasise that work was an important part of Nick’s sense of identity, being the family’s sole breadwinner, while underlining the relative isolation that Mabel experiences as a suburban housewife.

A heartbreaking yet life-affirming film that celebrates the resilience of the nuclear family and the value of love within marriage, which, while it may not necessarily conquer all, at least ensures there is a well to draw upon when the castle is under siege.

Notable also for the blend of expressive camerawork and naturalistic dialogue, which seems to be a trademark of this director, and very strong performances by the two leads, Gena Rowlands (who teamed up with director in several other films) and Peter Falk.

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November

November spawned a monster

(Edit) 11/11/2018

I had the good fortune to see this at Leeds International Film Festival and I hope it will go on wider release in 2019. Whether you choose to see this lurid tale of golems, shape-shifters, satanic pacts and bleeding crucifixes as merely an exercise in sensationalism, an anti-romance, a celebration of Estonian national resilience, or an oblique criticism of our own present-day fetishisation of wealth and technology, you certainly won't find it unmemorable.

It appears to owe little to the conventions of Hollywood or Western European genre films. Certain elements stand out which are perhaps more reminiscent of Polish, other Eastern European or even Asian cinema. The action scenes, which tend to be abrupt, with little build-up or aftermath; more emphasis on atmosphere than character development; the predominance of close-ups and half-shots for filming the principal characters; a cynical world-view; and the deployment of very dark and understated humour, to the extent that it's hard to tell whether some scenes are meant to be funny or not. The evocative high-contrast monochrome photography is evident from the stills, the score is outstanding too. Anyway, it's great to see such a tiny country (population 1.3 million) punching above its weight by making such a high-quality film.

6 out of 6 members found this review helpful.

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First Reformed

The human face of the church

(Edit) 24/09/2018

I was previously unacquainted with Paul Schrader's work, except for Taxi Driver (for which he wrote the screenplay). You can see the parallels, in that they both concern a hard-working, conscientious loner who is ill at ease both with himself and society.

I did not find Pastor Toller's descent into political radicalism in the second half of the film wholly convincing, but Ethan Hawke is wonderful in the role - his performance conveys just the right blend of spirituality and suppressed anger, and even in his character’s heavy, over-emphatic gait as he walks from one room to another you can sense his inner turmoil. Some of the best scenes are the meetings between Pastor Toller and his mentor, Pastor Jeffers (Cedric the Entertainer), who is concerned about Toller's intense and erratic behaviour as the church's 250th anniversary celebration draws near. Both are strong-willed men who are passionately devoted to serving God and their local community, but have very different visions of how to achieve this goal.

Further dramatic interest is provided by the ambiguous relationship between Pastor Toller and Mike's widow, Mary (Amanda Seyfried) – does she see him as a spiritual guide or a potential lover?

The film is does not reach any firm conclusions about the value of Christianity in modern society, but illustrates one of the key lessons in any religion - that it’s no good trying to save others if you can’t save yourself!

3 out of 4 members found this review helpful.

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The Square

The Square - a review

(Edit) 24/08/2018

Some familiar themes from Ruben Östlund's other work are quickly recognisable here – embarrassment, guilt, male insecurity and the fact that no code of etiquette or morals can ever prepare you for the ridiculous and perverse situations that life throws at you.

There are two main threads to the story – one is Christian and his colleagues preparing for the opening of a new exhibition, whose theme is to be kindness and trust. We witness a press conference, the team planning a promotion strategy, and later, the fall-out from a disastrous viral marketing campaign. The other strand is when Christian has his phone and wallet stolen on the way to work. Using the tracking device installed on the phone he locates the thief’s multi-storey apartment building – but he doesn’t know the thief's exact address. His co-worker Michael tells him he should post a letter to every flat threatening unpleasant consequences if the items are not returned. When Christian voices doubts, Michael tells him to "stop being so Swedish" and that "now's not the time for political correctness". The plan works but their actions have unintended consequences later on.

I liked the central character, Christian - he is polite and considerate to others, takes his professional and family responsibilities seriously - but is believably flawed, prone to occasional outbursts of passive-aggressive behaviour and denial of responsibility. One of my favourite moments was when a homeless woman in a diner asks Christian to buy her a chicken panini without onions. He orders her the panini, onions and all, saying "take them out yourself!"

The film is elegantly photographed, with excellent use of light, and makes good use of the large interior spaces – notably in the “apeman” performance art scene in the banqueting hall which you have seen in the trailer. Some may find it slow-moving; it’s not that any of the scenes feel redundant, but they often seem to progress rather slowly, with static long takes and rambling conversations, so that at times it almost has a mock-documentary feel to it.

Watching it at the cinema I found the slowness and the lack of a clear-cut ending a bit frustrating, but it grew on me afterwards. It makes you think about the value of modern art whilst gently poking fun at the wackier side of it, and asks us if it is possible to be a good person in an increasingly fragmented and chaotic world. Yes, it's very much a film about middle-class problems, but I can't imagine a better film about middle-class problems being made this year.

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Bamboozled

Bamboozled

(Edit) 27/04/2018

Back in 2012, Sight and Sound magazine published a chart of the 100 greatest films, as selected by critics, which led to a debate about how we decide which films pass the threshold of “greatness”. Is it the most influential films? The ones that best capture the spirit of the age? The ones with the most consistent artistic vision?

But how then do we judge films that are bold but messy, visionary but rough around the edges? The ones that you’ll still be thinking about days after, even though they are not technically brilliant and contain elements that don’t quite work?

“Bamboozled” is such a film. Never drily intellectual, it nevertheless requires engagement rather than mere passive reception from its audience. Possibly the most outrageous comedy about race since “Blazing Saddles”, it is also a powerful satire on political correctness, cultural appropriation, the entertainment industry, and more.

Some background. From the 1830's up until about 1910, minstrel shows were one of the most popular forms of mass entertainment in the USA. Comprising monologues, comedy routines, songs, dances and sketches by performers in blackface make-up, they presented an exoticised and caricatured version of black culture. Post-Emancipation, troupes of genuinely black performers began to take to the stage, but still blacking up and offering self-caricaturing routines, because that’s what audiences had come to expect. Undeniably demeaning, if not always intentionally racist, minstrel shows arguably helped to create a culture in which even legitimate black entertainers, well into the 20th Century, felt compelled to adopt a buffoonish stage or screen persona for the sake of commercial success.

Once his boss, Thomas Dunwitty (Michael Rapaport) has given him the go-ahead for his new show, Delacroix throws all his energy into developing it. He recruits a team of white writers to create skits for the performers – even encouraging them “channel their white rage”. The show quickly becomes a huge cult hit, with even the (racially mixed) studio audience turning out in blackface. But Delacroix and his two star performers gradually develop a crisis of conscience, and he faces growing opposition from his PA Sloane Hopkins (Jada Pinkett-Smith) and more ominously from a militant underground rap collective, the Mau-Maus.

We also learn that Delacroix has self-esteem and identity issues of his own. His father, it turns out, is a stand-up comic whose earthy routines draw upon his own experience of being black. Pierre has rejected his own background to the extent of changing his name (really Peerless Dothan) and even modifying his speaking voice so that he sounds white.

Yes, "Bamboozled" has its flaws – there are cultural references that virtually nobody under sixty years old will get, and it fluffs the opportunity to lampoon hip-hop culture. To its credit, however, it does not attempt to prettify the historical racism of the entertainment industry. I learned from the featurette that some of the scenes were shot with a subtle blue filter so the burnt cork make-up would look like cast iron. It's as if the performers are not only disfigured by their make-up, but imprisoned by it. It implicitly criticises many aspects of modern culture without letting anyone off the hook – including faux-antiracists like Dunwitty – and raises many questions about the representation of minorities. Who gets to decide how other races should be represented on screen? Who gets to decide what’s offensive? And can just about anything be made acceptable if you dress it up as “irony”?

In this age of "micro-aggressions", "safe spaces" and "trigger warnings", in which there are ever more restrictions on what can be said in public without inviting censure, it is more relevant and vital than ever.

1 out of 1 members found this review helpful.

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Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

A great idea but poorly developed

(Edit) 18/03/2018

This is unmistakably an outsider’s view of the southern Mid-West and one that verges on parody - not a very affectionate one at that. Apart from the strong accents and some twangy banjo music near the start, very little attempt is made to create an authentic sense of place. We get no establishing shots of the town’s main street or residential neighbourhoods, and very little sense of what everyday life is like, how people make a living and spend their leisure time.

The film often prioritises stylised violence set-pieces at the expense of thoughtful character development and human interaction. Some of the plot developments are either downright silly or have insufficient build-up to make them plausible (such as when a character gets thrown out of a window in broad daylight and the perpetrator doesn’t getting charged - only suspended!). Development of the supporting characters is minimal. For instance, Peter Dinklage is a very good actor but he is given very little to do. James, the character he plays, is sad and pathetic and his entire contribution to the story, such as it is, is defined by his dwarfism. We get a trio of memorable characters – the stoical and obstinate Mildred, the rough diamond Chief Willoughby, and the ball of impotent rage that is Jason Dixon. But even here some aspects of the character development feel perfunctory. It struck me as odd that Mildred appears to have no outside interests or female friends her own age, and I'm not altogether clear about how she earns a living - she works in some kind of touristy gift ship but it's unclear whether she owns the business or is just employed there. I didn't find it very funny either - the humour is crude and unimaginative and I could count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I laughed, although I was in a minority.

The attempts to bring political themes into the film are clumsy at best, manipulative at worst. For example, early on it seems to be trying to make a point about police racism. We learn that Officer Dixon has recently been accused of unjustified violence towards a black suspect but was never disciplined for it. But we never get to learn what really happened, we see no evidence of Dixon being racist in everyday life, and all the main characters in the story are white. So why even bring up the subject in the first place? We also learn that Mildred is a survivor of domestic violence, but again this hardly seems necessary to explain her motivations, and I felt it was bit cynical to create a strong, assertive female character only to make her the victim of male violence twice over. Yes, police misconduct, racism and spousal abuse are serious issues, but when a film has nothing meaningful or original to say about them, and is apparently only using them to give itself a liberal sheen, this leaves a rather bad taste in the mouth.

I'm torn between giving this 2 and 3 stars. It's well-paced and well directed. The characters played by Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell are compelling if a little hard to relate to, and it explores the psychological themes of projected guilt and externalised self-loathing leading to violence (although not, it goes without saying, with the same degree of subtlety as that shown in "Manchester by the Sea"). And I liked the ambivalent ending - you feel the characters have learned something from their experiences . . . but have they learned to be better people, or just to make different mistakes in place of their old ones? But in the last analysis, Martin McDonagh's attempt to meld compassion, vulgarity, and Tarantino-lite violence into a coherent and satisfying whole does not really work, at least not for me. A great idea for a movie, but it could have been so much better if he had: 1) employed a script consultant; 2) spent a few months living in a small-town America to gain some empathy with its people.

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Orphee

If you liked “A Matter of Life and Death” you’ll probably like Orphée.

(Edit) 10/11/2017

Orphée is based on the Greek myth in which Orpheus, a musician who is the son of the god Apollo, goes into the Underworld in search of his recently deceased wife, Eurydice. Hades, the god of the Underworld, agrees to release her under one condition; Orpheus must not look back at his wife as she follows him back to the surface world. He complies at first, but makes the mistake of stealing a backward glance to check that Eurydice really is following him, and thereby loses her a second time. He is later killed and gets to be reunited with Eurydice.

In the film the story is transposed to the artistic scene of 1950s Paris, in which Orphée (Orpheus) is a poet. I did not find the love triangle element of the story wholly convincing, and it has a somewhat contrived happy ending. But it is an ingenious take on the myth, it cleverly integrates modern artefacts into the story (car radios and mirrors) and the special effects are charming although low-tech. The Underworld is portrayed as a deserted and decaying city in a state of perpetual night, in actuality an abandoned military academy. Jean Marais is very convincing in the lead role as the poet torn between his obsessive dedication to his work and his love for his wife.

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Volver

Volver - a review

(Edit) 10/11/2017

A wonderfully energetic and life-affirming film about female friendship, initiative and entrepreneurship, the pain of having to keep secrets from your children, the contrast between city and village life in modern Spain, ageing, ghosts, and much more besides.

Romance doesn’t play much of a role in the plot – all the women are either single, widowed or in rapidly failing marriages. But their singularity isn’t dwelt on or lamented - it’s just the way things are. The men generally don’t get much screen time. It wouldn't be accurate to say they are all swine, however, since Emilio responds sympathetically on learning that Raimunda has re-opened the restaurant without his permission, after hearing about her financial problems. Great performances from the cast, I especially liked the interaction between Raimunda and her sister Soledad (Lola Duenas), but it still wouldn't have been the same film without Carmen Maura as their elderly mother. Yohana Cobo is also very convincing as the teenage daughter who has had to grow up fast to cope with the strain of living in an economically insecure and fractious household - her body language is very much that of a 14 year old but she speaks with the wisdom and experience of an adult.

I feel obliged to say that there is a possible plot weakness involving the death of a male character early on and its cover-up; even if he was unemployed with no close relatives I found it a little implausible that there be would no-one who could report him missing and spark an investigation. But despite this flaw I still enjoyed it a lot more than the other two Almodovars I have seen, "Talk to her" and "All about my mother".

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Toni Erdmann

Won't win everyone over

(Edit) 07/10/2017

Inevitably a divisive film, it seems to have been more of a critics' than an audience favourite. I can think of a number of reasons why many viewers will find it alienating and unapproachable.

Winfried is an oddball who doesn't readily fit into any stock-character mould. An irrepressible prankster, he lacks the swagger and bombast that you would expect to go with it – he has a sort of sadness and air of permanent defeat about him, and you can't help wondering whether his clowning is just a way of coping with some unknown tragedy or setback he has had in past. His daughter is also rather difficult to read – she comes across as highly-strung yet never fragile or vulnerable, good at coping with pressure but never really letting her guard down even when she’s with her friends.

Structurally, it feels a little messy. There are redundant scenes that fail to advance the plot or give additional depth to the characters, and I believe at least ten minutes could have been trimmed painlessly from the running time (not including the notorious “petit-fours” scene). And as one other reviewer has observed, it is competently shot but not very visually rich – for example, little thought has been put into giving it a consistent palette or “look”, unlike that other recent German hit, The Lives of Others.

It has a political dimension but lacks real political punch – I don’t mean this in a derogatory way, just that it is understated and non-didactic. We learn early on that Ines' assignment is to promote outsourcing at any oil company, implying loss of jobs and worse employment conditions for the workers - but it’s not clear why we should care. We don’t get to meet any ordinary, working-class Romanians until fairly late, then we see one man get fired but that's partly his own fault. One might also expect some incisive comments about workplace gender politics. But despite encountering some fairly mild, non-malevolent sexism, you don’t really get the feeling that Ines is undervalued just for being a woman. Maternity leave, for example, is never raised as an issue (she has no evident aspirations that way). In fact the one power relationship that struck me as particularly iniquitous was between Ines and her Romanian PA, Anca. There was something queasy about the latter's eagerness to please and willingness to follow orders unquestioningly. For instance, when Ines gets blood on her white blouse before a presentation, she gets Anca to swap tops with her, and Anca even apologises that it's not her best one.

The ending is one that can be interpreted it in different ways; it could be seen as either sad or happy depending on what mood you’re in, but either way it doesn’t seem to provide a clear-cut resolution to any of the characters’ life problems.

It is a film about a clash of cultures and world-views, and perhaps articulates a particularly German sense of unease about whether their country can be a force for good internationally. It is about what we are in danger of losing as a society and perhaps have already irretrievably lost. The idealists of the late 60s-early 70’s are sometimes dismissed as wreckers and nihilists, but Winfried’s idealism is really a species of conservatism – he values kindness, hospitality, human interaction and the dignity of the individual, all of which is, unintentionally, being put at risk by Generation X’s “pragmatic” embrace of free-market capitalism.

For me it doesn’t quite achieve “flawed masterpiece” status – I don’t know whether it’s the unevenness of the comedy, the absence of a traditional character arc, or uninspired cinematography. But still it improved on second viewing – I found more laugh-out-loud moments and I found some of the father-daughter scenes moving in spite of the kookiness of the characters and situations. And I like films that don't tie up all the loose ends - after all, real life doesn't tidy up after itself, so why should cinema?

So, three-and-a-half stars rounded up.

6 out of 6 members found this review helpful.

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La La Land

So-so Land

(Edit) 13/09/2017

I enjoyed this a bit more than I was expecting to. The cinematography and production design is gorgeous, I found the characters relatable, Emma Stone's performance was very affecting and I felt she deserved her Oscar. Ryan Gosling doesn't dazzle to the same extent but again I was pleasantly surprised. I'd mainly seen him playing amiable rogues or tough guys (Ides of March, Place Beyond the Pines, Half-Nelson) and was sceptical of his being a convincing romantic lead, but was won over and thought the two of them made a very nice on-screen couple.

The dance routines were just okay (in Hollywood's Golden Age, I guess producers would have looked for dancers who could act rather than actors who could be taught to dance - clearly not the case here) - and the songs ranged from acceptable to quite good. The plot is well-structured but rather conventional.

But the real reason I can't give it more than three stars is this: the different elements just don't gel together. It doesn't ever really feel like a musical; it feels like a romantic drama with a few song and dance routines plonked into it. Some might say that's all a musical ever is. But in order to work, screen musicals need to have a sort of staginess or contrived artificiality to them - you don't want excessive naturalism because that just makes it look even more blatantly artificial when the characters break into song or start hoofing. And in the non-musical portions of La La Land, the style of direction and dialogue are quite naturalistic, and so the song and dance routines are bound to seem ever so slightly incongruous.

At one point, Ryan Gosling's character Sebastian, having earlier stated his passionate belief in the beauty and profundity of jazz as an art form, joins a touring band playing a sort of 80s-style jazz-inflected pop rock with as much likeness to true jazz as Dairylea has to real cheese. The band leader, Keith, tells Sebastian that jazz needs to change in order to survive, and that there's no point in "keeping it real" anymore if the kids won't listen to it. This may be intended as a criticism of the modern philistine obsession with making culture "accessible". But it inadvertently highlights what's wrong with this movie. Just as Keith's combo is producing jazz for people who don't like jazz, La La Land is a musical for people who aren't sure whether they like musicals.

4 out of 4 members found this review helpful.

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Moonlight

A Black mirror?

(Edit) 09/08/2017

Rarely if ever have I seen a film that gives such a relentlessly negative portrayal of Black working class life.

It depicts a world in which lethargy, casual violence, and self-destructiveness rule, in which drug-dealers are the only positive role models in their community, and in which there is seemingly no-one around with the guts or the self-awareness to challenge the way things are. Chiron's mom is a respectable citizen in the first segment of the film; by part two she has become a drug addict for no apparent reason. At one point some teens play "get down, stay down" - a sort of endurance game in which one boy gets voluntarily punched in the face repeatedly and the aim is to see how many blows he can take before he rises no more. What better illustration of the levels of male self-loathing in this community?

It's bleak and often very uncomfortable viewing. At least the writer-director had the courage to remain true to his fatalistic, cyclical vision of humanity - I respect him for doing something different instead of falling back on cliches about redemption and social justice. Perhaps sometimes it is also necessary to hold a mirror up to the disreputable aspects of society as a challenge to them to improve themselves and stop blaming others for their degradation.

But I would not want to see it again - I would rather watch films that portray multi-faceted urban black communities and emotionally complex individuals.

3 out of 3 members found this review helpful.

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Total Recall

An unfairly dismissed futuristic thriller

(Edit) 17/04/2016

I suspect the reason many people dislike this film is because they consider it a form of blasphemy to remake the original. For my part, I have little time for this sort of fundamentalism, especially when the "definitive" version with Arnold Schwarzenegger was itself only a very loose adaptation of the source material, a story called "We Can Remember It For Your Wholesale"!

Colin Farrell acquits himself well as a generic Hollywood action hero, the pace is almost unrelentingly fast with no wasted scenes, it has astounding chase sequences and fantastic set design and visual effects. It parts company with the 1990 version in several ways, including being somewhat more restrained in its portrayal of graphic violence, and there being no mutants!

I accept the structure is conventional, that some aspects of the plot make little sense, or that it owes an obvious debt to Blade Runner. It is not very cerebral but if you approach it as a futuristic thriller rather than science-fiction it's a very good example of its type.

1 out of 1 members found this review helpful.

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Anomalisa

Sometimes, less is more

(Edit) 13/04/2016

I found Anomalisa to be the equivalent of peeling a ripe satsuma only to find that half the segments are missing - well-structured and beautifully packaged, but strangely unsatisfying.

The morose, lethargic Michael Stone endures a banal and joyless existence. It's difficult to feel sorry for him, though, as his unhappiness is largely self-imposed. We learn that several years ago he walked out on long-term girlfriend for no explicable reason, and even though there's nothing evidently amiss in his present marriage, he seems to find it a chore just to talk to his wife and son on the phone. All the human beings Michael interacts with have the same face and voice - one assumes that this is really just an externalisation of his own misanthropic world-view and his refusal to see meaning or beauty in everyday life. Until, that is, he meets Lisa - who, significantly, doesn't have the same production-line face as the other inhabitants of the hotel, and is voiced by a different actor.

What follows could have been an exceptionally tender and well-observed story about 21st Century romance and dating, about chronic discontent and our illusion that the grass is always greener on the other side. The problem is that there is insufficient screen time devoted to the development of the central story (at least, what I assume is meant to be the central story) - Michael and Lisa's romance. This is partly because of the relatively short running time, which I suppose may have been the result of financial constraints as it was a crowd-funded endeavour. But the frustrating thing is that Charlie Kaufman could have done a lot more with those 90 minutes if he had left out some of the diversions, sub-plots and other unnecessary boondoggles. The film contains one of the most tediously over-extended sex scenes I've ever witnessed (yes - that's right - puppet sex!). Then there's a sequence half way through where he is summoned to the manager's office and it seems we're about to venture into sci-fi or conspiracy thriller territory. But just as we're seemingly on the brink of a "big reveal", Michael wakes up and realises he'd been having a nightmare! I can't remember the last time I felt so cheated! There is also a creepy subplot involving Michael's infatuation with a mechanical geisha doll he has bought from a sex shop - is this supposed to be saying something about objectification of women? Or that we don't really desire human interaction as much as we think we do? To make things even more confusing, there are hints that some of the scenes involving Lisa may have been figments of Michael's imagination.

Of course you have to admire the craftsmanship involved. The sets are amazingly detailed and realistic, and I've learned that over 100,000 separate still shots had to be undertaken, which is an astonishing undertaking in itself. So giving it less than 5 out of 10 might seem a bit mean-spirited. But it could have been so much more if Kaufman had shown a bit more self-discipline, had kept his eye on the ball and hadn't tried to overcomplicate things.

6 out of 6 members found this review helpful.

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Jauja

So you think you like slow movies?

(Edit) 18/11/2015

Well, think again! This makes "Once upon a Time in Anatolia" look like Mission Impossible 6!!

I found myself wondering whether I could be watching result of an auteurs' contest to see who could produce a film telling the simplest story possible in the most dilatory way possible. This is achieved partly through long pauses in the dialogue, but principally by the device of sustaining a shot as the character walks or rides off into the middle, then the far distance, before finally disappearing over a ridge or behind a hummock.

Mortensen's powerful and affecting performance as the intrepid engineer struggling to fulfil his self-imposed mission while dimly aware that he is hopelessly out of his element, helps to keep you interested in the story. But the developments that occur in the last 20 minutes are incomprehensible, and I suspect, intentionally so - an old woman in a cave who may be a ghost or a time-traveller, and the tailpiece set in contemporary Denmark. There are echoes of David Lynch's mystery dramas here, as well as Kieslowski's "Double Life of Veronique".

The unconventional choice of 1.33 aspect ratio, so that the image appears as a fat oblong with rounded corners in the middle of the TV screen with a thick black band either side, is something that I found very distracting and didn't seem the best way to present the stunning landscapes. In an accompanying featurette, Viggo Mortensen gives an explanation for this decision, but I didn't follow it.

1 out of 1 members found this review helpful.

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Blue Velvet

A poor transfer and no subtitles

(Edit) 06/10/2015

I can understand why even fans of David Lynch's work rarely seem to rate it as on of their favourites. There's a good amount of weirdness, and it's quite clever in the way that it takes staples of popular culture such as film noir, and '70s cop shows and melds them into something strange and unsettling. But some of the acting was wooden (or maybe this was intentional?) and it doesn't quite transport you into a believable alternative reality (or surreality) like, say Mulholland Drive or Lost Highway.

I would happily grant it 3 or even 4 stars were it not for the poor transfer. I noticed throughout how fuzzy the picture was. At first I thought it might be just my eyes! but when it got to the end credits they were too blurry to read. So the fault must lie in the process of transferring the film to digital.

2 out of 2 members found this review helpful.
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