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Film: Recent Movies

Time for another movie round-up, featuring every film I’ve watched over the past two weeks. There aren’t many here this time so they’ll be in chronological order (in the previous mega entry I sorted them by preference, but there weren’t any films here that I thought were average or bad):

Vanilla Sky

I had to break my 425x90 image rule to get this one to fit properly. Click the image for a link to the source.

Vanilla Sky (2001)

Summary: Playboy David enjoys his superficial life until he meets Sofia and quickly falls in love with her, which angers his fling Julianna.

First Viewing?: No, I think I’ve seen it at least twice before.

Thoughts: The summary above doesn’t really do it justice, but Vanilla Sky is a fairly odd film (Wikipedia informs me it won a LoveFilm poll for the most confusing film, though looking at the other choices makes it look like a lot of voters were just easily confused), seemingly changing its themes as it progresses and builds up to the big reveal at the end. Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz, Penélope Cruz, Jason Lee and Kurt Russell all give good performances and I like the ideas it explores, so despite the relative strangeness (which it doesn’t really do as much with as it perhaps could have done) I can’t help enjoying it each time I watch it.

Rorschach at the grave.

Click the image for a link to the source.

Watchmen (2009)

Summary: When The Comedian is killed, the remaining vigilante heroes of the Watchmen start to suspect somebody is targeting their group.

First Viewing?: Yes.

Thoughts: I don’t read many comics but I have read Watchmen and enjoyed it. It’s not a typical superhero story, the alternate history setting is an interesting one and there are some great characters. The film is incredibly faithful to the comic for the most part, reconstructing the story almost scene by scene and line by line, though it reworks the ending into something that is a little less farfetched and actually made it a little tidier in some respects (but it does kind of change the meaning behind the resolution quite a bit).

Having read the comic I can’t say how well it holds up as a film for those who aren’t familiar with the source material but I liked it a lot. The actors do a good job with each of the characters (Jackie Earle Haley is particularly good as Rorschach, possibly my favourite character in the story), all convincingly damaged enough that you can almost understand them becoming masked vigilantes, and being a Zack Snyder film means it has a unique visual style to it (which includes making it appear that most of the main characters have superpowers, which they didn’t in the book). Despite the three hour running time of the Director’s Cut – which is generally a bit too much for me in one sitting – I’ve already found myself occasionally wanting to give the film another watch. I probably won’t for some time because three hours is just too much time to allocate for a film I’ve only just seen, but I think the fact that I’ve even considered it says a lot about the film.

Moon

This was a surprisingly difficult film to get a suitable image for, even after filtering out all the New Moon pictures. Click the image for a link to the source.

Moon (2009)

Summary: As his lonely three-year stint on the Moon comes to an end, something happens that puts Sam in physical and mental jeopardy.

First Viewing?: Yes.

Thoughts: I knew almost nothing going into this except it was sci-fi starring Sam Rockwell and that it was supposed to be very good (the review quotes on the DVD, which admittedly are always fairly hyperbolic, compare it to both Blade Runner and 2001: A Space Odyssey). I think that blindness helped because I really didn’t know what was going to be happening at all, allowing me to properly try and guess what the film was going to be about as it progressed and be truly surprised at what happens.

I think I’ve mentioned before on the blog how much I like sci-fi movies about an isolated crew trying to achieve something in the face of adversity (films like Sunshine, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Solaris and even Alien), and Moon slots into the genre perfectly. A lot of the time Sam Rockwell is the only actor on screen and he carries the film well, the problem his character faces is a fascinating thing to think about and the film doesn’t really put a foot wrong. It’s far too soon for me to be able to say whether I agree that it’s a sci-fi masterpiece, but certainly of all the films in this round-up Moon is the one I liked the most and one of the best new films I’ve watched this year.

Will does some maths.

I'm not sure if the site I got this image from is a piracy site, so be wary if you click the image to go to the source.

Good Will Hunting (1997)

Summary: Janitor Will Hunting is discovered to be a secret genius and is encouraged to embrace his gift and improve his life.

First Viewing?: Yes.

Thoughts: This is a film that had repeatedly passed me by even though it’s been heavily praised, simply because I’ve never managed to catch it on TV or made the decision to buy it before viewing. It really is a good film, filled with great characters and performances (Robin Williams is somebody who I mostly enjoy anyway when a lot of people don’t, but he really is good in serious roles like this), including the extended cast of people I didn’t realise were in the film like Minnie Driver and Stellan Skarsgård. It seems obvious early on that they will successfully break through Will’s barriers and get him to embrace his genius but the film doesn’t go quite in the direction I expected, and though he’s the focus it isn’t just about Will’s problems. It definitely deserves the praise and accolades that were heaped upon it.

The iconic image.

Click the image for a link to the source.

E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (1982)

Summary: When he’s accidentally abandoned by his crewmates, the alien E.T. is taken in by young boy Elliott and his family, where they quickly form a friendship.

First Viewing?: No, but I think I’ve only seen it once before.

Thoughts: I haven’t watched E.T. since I was a child and only vaguely remembered a few key scenes, so it seemed a good choice for a film to watch with my nephew when he was after something to do. I don’t really have that much to say about it beyond the obvious: It’s a good film, the child actors do well, the puppet – and in the special edition some CG – work really does a good job making E.T. feel like a real creature, and it’s a fun, sweet film.

Lolita

Click the image for a link to the source.

Lolita (1997)

Summary: Teacher Humbert Humbert falls in love with the teen daughter of his landlady and they soon embark on an illegal relationship.

First Viewing?: Yes.

Thoughts: I was initially a little confused watching this because it was clearly a fairly recent film but I thought it was much older. I was of course thinking of the Stanley Kubrick version made in 1962, which I also haven’t seen but which is apparently fairly different from this and the source novel. This version is good anyway, with Jeremy Irons and Dominque Swain doing a great job playing each side of a difficult relationship. Humbert’s fixation with Lolita is explained by a teenage tragedy that saw the death of the girl he loved and which he has never truly been able to get over, while Lolita is obviously flattered by the attention.

While the film doesn’t exactly condone the relationship (and it certainly doesn’t turn out well for them) I don’t think it was particularly judgemental either, showing two people who really are drawn to one another and enter into a destructive relationship knowing full well how dangerous and wrong it is. Humbert in particular really does seem to love her, even if it’s not a wholly sane or healthy love.

There was one piece of music on the soundtrack that really reminded me of a piece from American Beauty (which released two years later), and considering the similar general themes of the two films (older man falls for teenage girl) it makes me wonder if Thomas Newman did that intentionally or if it’s just coincidence. Anyway, I liked Lolita and the ups and downs of their time together made for an interesting film.

Empty London.

Click the image for a link to the source.

28 Days Later (2002)

Summary: Bicycle courier Jim awakens from a coma and discovers Britain has fallen victim to an epidemic of rage-filled ‘zombies’, and tries to stay alive and find help.

First Viewing?: No, I’ve seen it once before.

Thoughts: I mostly watched this again because the sequel was on TV soon after and I figured I may as well give it another watch, but it is a good film anyway. The scenes of a deserted London really are pretty powerful (more so for me than the deserted New York of I Am Legend, simply because I’ve been to London), the fast-moving zombies (technically they’re called ‘infected’ but they’re still functionally zombies) help make for some tense scenes and Cillian Murphy (who teamed up with Danny Boyle again for Sunshine) is great as Jim. I’m also a big fan of Brendan Gleeson’s so the first time I saw the film I was pleasantly surprised to find him in it, and I like the little arc his character follows throughout the film.

Another thing I like about the film is that the actual outbreak of the rage virus is wholly accidental. There’s no conspiracy or deliberate plot, just some animal activists doing what they think is right and accidentally causing the infection and death of millions of people. It gives the whole thing an origin without being bogged down by it or giving it too much importance, focusing instead on how people survive when the country collapses. I’ve not seen enough zombie films to properly compare it in the same way that I can compare Sunshine to similar sci-fi, but I think 28 Days Later holds up as a good film in general anyway.

Run Robert, run!

Click the image for a link to the source.

28 Weeks Later (2007)

Summary: With the infected all starved to death the US military launches an operation to return British citizens to London, in the process reuniting a family who were separated in the initial outbreak.

Thoughts: As with Brendan Gleeson in the first film I’m a fan of Rose Byrne, who is excellent in Damages and Sunshine, another Danny Boyle project (though he didn’t actually direct 28 Months Later), and along with Robert Carlyle (who has also worked with Danny Boyle before), Idris Elba and Harold Perrineau it means the film has a strong cast (Jeremy Renner was also a main character and played the role well, but this is the first time I’ve seen him in anything).

I’m not keen on anything focusing on military (especially the modern US military) but it’s not overplayed in this film and the main story is still mostly about civilians. If anything the US soldiers are more villainous than the infected, choosing to exterminate everybody when things inevitably start going wrong, ultimately killing more civilians on-screen than the infected do. There’s a bit more spectacle in this film thanks to the fully equipped military but the core of the film is the same as in 28 Days Later, a group of civilians trying to get to safety, in this case protecting Carlyle’s children and ensuring they get to safety.

It seems to move along at a faster pace than the original film, taking place in a much shorter time frame with little time to rest or reflect, and once it kicks off the action is a lot more relentless and doesn’t really let up until the film’s conclusion, apart from one incredibly tense section near the end with a nightvision scope that’s reminiscent of The Blair Witch Project. It all gives the film a fairly different feel to the original but that doesn’t mean it’s bad, just different, and apart from an ending that was a little too neat I thought it was a consistently good film, even if 28 Days Later is ultimate the better of the two.

Vanilla Sky
Watchmen
Moon
Good Will Hunting
E.T. The Extra Terrestrial
Lolita
Lolita
28 Days Later
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  1. January 12, 2011 at 15:49
  2. January 13, 2011 at 15:08

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