Film Reviews by DJ

Welcome to DJ's film reviews page. DJ has written 13 reviews and rated 229 films.

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The Houses October Built

underwhelming - back to film school

(Edit) 06/02/2021

Haunt is 1000 times better than this trash. Nothing scary or even remotely interesting about this film. The filming is so amateurish as to make wonder whether it’s trying to be an abstract parody of found footage films. There is no development only the merest excuse of a plot, which allows one character to go “I’ve head shady stuff happens” and THAT is his documentary.  Every character is paper thin, and yet still manages to be annoying... but not so much that you want them to die, because that implies that you might care. They’re such abysmal nothings that you’d rather have the whole world end than have to actually spare them a thought. The ending - which might’ve rescued it to some small degree - is utterly tedious and feels like it’s been executed the way an unjustifiably confident teenager writes - no need to plan, edit or have a second look, for sure this’ll be gold: after all, we’ve got clowns and everyone thinks clowns are scary! 

Please do yourself a favour and do not rent this. Rent Haunt (again if you need a haunted house fix) and avoid anything any of these hacks does in the future. 

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The Quiet Earth

Surprisingly brilliant

(Edit) 29/01/2021

I only chose this film out of a vague interest in Antipodean cinema, and when it got allocated i was a little disappointed. However, it really is a remarkably intelligent, well performed movie, with some interesting ideas and great lines. Bruno Lawrence - i think it is the eyes - is especially good, and it's with him that we spend the first 45 minutes or so. I would recommend not reading anything too much about the movie. Suffice it to say, if you like cerebral sci-fi, this will appeal.

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The Passion of Joan of Arc

Mind-blowingly powerful

(Edit) 16/10/2020

I’d read the reviews calling it a masterpiece but felt I was going to be left cold by a film this old and this alien to my own atheism. But my goodness. Not only is the style of it absolutely gripping, accomplishing so much with, for the most part, a series of shots of faces, but when there is action - especially at the climax - it is both surprisingly accomplished, quite modern and incredibly moving. It is a masterpiece quite unlike any other I have seen, and the central performance is quite probably the best ever committed to celluloid  

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Ciao Ciao

Channelling some Jia Zhangke ... but without the heart

(Edit) 04/10/2020

It’s well photographed, and the performances are all on mark, but there isn’t much going on beyond a basic pointing toward rural urban divides in China. A lot of the other reviews I have read have waxed lyrical about this film, but there isn’t the depth or sympathy or even interest in people that’s evident when a Wang Xiaoshuai or a Jia Zhangke gets hold of these kinda of stories. Chinese reviews I’ve read are closer to the mark - this is a film with European festivals in mind, and the sheen of relevance has taken precedence over heart.

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Not Quite Hollywood

Tedious if energetic homage to obviously terrible films

(Edit) 15/09/2020

I watched Wake in Fright recently which kindled an interest in Australian film. Picnic at Hanging Rock, The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, Ten Canoes, Sweet Country... all cracking films. I thought i'd give this doc a go, but the truth is its energy is a smokescreen. These are, with few exceptions, terrible films that have been lost with good reason. These films are either empty headed reflections of an empty headed culture, or else derivative rip offs of Hollywood trash. Tarantino might love them, but I agree with Broomfield's assessment of much of his work - "It's like watching a schoolboy's fantasy of violence and sex, which normally Quentin Tarantino would be wanking alone to in his bedroom while this mother is making his baked beans downstairs. Only this time he's got Harvey Weinstein behind him and it's on at a million screens" - and his enthusiasm for Ozploitation is more proof if proof be needed.

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24 Frames

not a great intro to kiarostami... but a magnificent coda

(Edit) 29/08/2020

Apparently kiarostami said if you fall asleep while watching 24 Frames he doesn’t mind, just so long as you remember it weeks after... it succeeded for me. It’s a very meditative film, and some of the “frames” are more successful than others, but the ones that do grab your attention won’t let go. It has lingered with me for far longer, and gone much deeper, than films I’ve otherwise thought I enjoyed far more.  

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Wake in Fright

Unforgettable and not even a little dated

(Edit) 21/08/2020

A truly remarkable film - the atmosphere it creates is profoundly disturbing. I’ve found it very hard to shake after having seen it about two weeks ago. The Australian landscapes are a big part of the impact, but it is not just that kind of Wolf Creek horror at work. It feels, I think, more a comment on settler-colonialism of Australia — a kind of empty, culture-less imposition on a landscape that can’t be lived in in the way these characters want to. It does feel deeply critical of white Australia, and it is hard not to think this film pairs well with more recent films like Sweet Country and Charlie’s Country.  

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Charlie's Country

Painful to watch, and honest about the possibilities for redemption

(Edit) 13/06/2020

A very sad and very honest movie. The awful plight of the Australian aborigines - and aboriginal people everywhere - continues unabated. It is hard to think how such a situation can be redeemed, and this movie does not offer anything in the way if easy solutions.

Charlie is a basically decent man, surrounded by other basically decent people, but all of whom seem unmoored from worlds that could give some purpose to their lives. de Heer is never heavy handed in these scenes, and never entirely deprives these characters of all their agency. But the odds, we know, are stacked against them.

Only with the final scene, and that in a bitter sweet way, does a path toward some kind of redemption emerge. But a whole world has been lost, and much of value too. And it was a world within which people whatever else they lacked, did manage to preserve a kind of harmony with the natural world, a harmony now unstuck to such an extent that the conditions for life as know it are being undermined 

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Certain Women

A quietly staggering, beautiful portrayed modern American masterpiece

(Edit) 04/06/2020

If you can tune into Reichardt's wavelength, and allow yourself to slow down and match the pacing of her films, to explore her uses of landscape and the quiet moments of seeming irrelevance, a whole world and way of life open up to you. I won't say anything about the plot, or even the performances, which are magnificent. I will describe a single scene, not even a scene, just a moment, that i thing sums up Reichardt's powers as a filmmaker.

There is a moment where the camera starts at the counter between a diner's kitchen and the counter. We see, slightly obscured, a cook putting together a meal of burger and fries. We hear the clatter of equipment and sizzle of food. The cook moves the plate from the kitchen onto the counter, where it is picked up by the counter waitress, and then moved into the hand of another waitress, who fumbles with some cutlery in her hands. It then cuts, not yet to any character with whom we are familiar, but to a native American eating his food.

This sounds mundane, even dull, and it is. But because Reichardt has measured, so beautifully and with economy, the interior lives of the all the characters in these different stories, you cannot help but sense the interior lives of these people, too. The cook, the waitress, the other patron, all of whom share the strange, cold and epic landscape of Montana, feel like real people, in real places doing real things. In so many films, things feel staged and thus empty. A good enough representation of stuff, but ultimately flat. From Old Joy to Certain Women (and undoubtedly in First Cow, too) the full weight of humanity is felt in every single character. There seems to be nothing in her films that does not come with some deep truth attached to it.

For my money PTA, Malick and Reichardt are the three true American masters making films today.

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Eureka

Intriguing failure

(Edit) 20/04/2020

I’d rather watch Roeg fail than lesser - and less interesting - directors succeed. Eureka is, ultimately, a failure. The last third in particular, when it shifts to a very strange and very tedious courtroom drama, is more or less unwatchable. Prior to this disappointing ending, Roeg’s aesthetic and some interesting scenes - especially the beginnings in the Yukon - are enough to recommend it to Roeg fans. To others, there’s probably too little in the way of plot to wholeheartedly recommend it as an introduction. Better to start with Walkabout or Don’t Look Now.  

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The Happiest Girl in the World

Another brilliant, low key and offbeat film from Romania

(Edit) 01/03/2020

The Romanian new wave - If wave it is - has produced some of the last few decades’ most interesting films. While this does not rank up there with Aferim! Sieranevada or 12:08 East of Bucharest it is another remarkably well told, brilliantly performed, insightful and often hilarious film. The set up is so scaled back, that it’s amazing Jude was able to build 100 minute story out of it, one which never flags, not for a second. So many films scream from rooftops, whereas here everything is gently done, through repetition and subtle touches, achieving with whispers what larger films attempt with shrieks. 

Long live with the Romanian New Wave - and the European funding they desperately need to keep going. 

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After Life

Koreeda’s masterpiece

(Edit) 24/02/2020

Koreeda does not seem capable of making even a mediocre film. However while he ordinarily charts the territory Japanese cinema has excelled at - melodrama - this, his second feature, is something altogether different. As profound as anything produced by Beckett, and around 1000 times as warm, humane and beautiful, this is a stunning depiction of memory, loss and the meaning of life. Where existentialism of the French variety usually comes across as horror for people who don’t read newspaper, in Koreeda’s hands we have something moving - i more or less couldn’t stop crying - Precisely because it does not reduce life to waiting or to the abstract perilousness of existence -  is capable of capturing the complexity of life, both its difficulties and its triumphs (both of which almost always involve other people whom we care about). Koreeda has gone on to make some wonderful and unforgettable films - all of which made me cry for several days - but for my money, he has never made anything quite as special as this.

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Behemoth

The costs of production

(Edit) 23/02/2020

The kind of film that is best viewed with others, at home, where everyone can hold forth on their views about the costs of “progress”, the incredible forces unleashed by capitalism and the toll it has taken on our planet. I thought the final third - when we finally see what has been made and what it has built - was deeply moving. The persistent use of mirrors to fracture the scenery and the scattering of naked bodies as a framing device for the narrative I found less convincing, but I shall rewatch to give that motif a more thorough reflection. 

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