It Doesn't Have To Be Right…

… it just has to sound plausible

A moving picture’s worth a thousand words


… But I can’t be arsed to write so much, so here’s a couple of lines each on some of the films I’ve watched recently. I’ve been a bit slack in documenting here what I’ve seen this year, and not just because some of it has been rubbish. But with being computer-less for several weeks, and then a reading binge for the Hugo, things around here have been left to slide a bit and I’m still trying to get back into the swing of blogging. Anyway, the movies – this is only some of those I’ve watched in the past couple of months, the notably good and the notably bad…

Oblivion, Joseph Kosinski (USA, 2013)
Looks pretty, set-up doesn’t make sense, smells of Cruise’s ego, and owes a little too much to Mad Max 2, Independence Day and assorted other sf blockbusters of the past couple of decades. Cruise trying to recapitulate the history of sf cinema since 1980. And failing.

Man of Iron, Andrzej Wajda (Poland, 1981)
Sequel to Wajda’s Man of Marble, which I’ve not seen but really must. A dramatisation of events at the Gdańsk shipyard, with a protagonist stand-in for Wałęsa (who actually appears in the film – in documentary footage, and as a character played by an actor). Excellent stuff.

Zero Dark Thirty, Kathryn Bigelow (USA, 2012)
Completely not what I was expecting. I knew going in it was about US torture and human rights abuses, and had expected an “ends justifies the means” message. But Bigelow chose to present it all as value-neutral, and torture is not something that should ever be value-neutral.

Man of Steel, Zack Snyder (USA, 2013)
In which Snyder gets confused between a superhero film and an alien invasion film. America’s First Boy Scout is given a make-over better suited to something by Michael Bay. Rubbish.

Upstream Colour, Shane Carruth (USA, 2013)
Carruth returns with another film that forces the viewer to work hard, but it’s worth it. We need more films like this.

Riddick, David N Twohy (USA, 2013)
In which Twohy tries to remake 300 with a cast of one. Admittedly, that one is Vin Diesel. Such testosterone very CGI so yawn.

Desk Set, Walter Lang (USA, 1957)
Spencer Tracy is absent-minded computer genius determining whether his Giant Computer Brain can replace Katherine Hepburns’ research department at a New York television network offices. Not the best film either have made, together or separately.

Call Girl, Mikael Marcimain (Sweden, 2012)
Tense political thriller set in the 1970s about corruption in the Swedish government, especially in regard to call girls. Similar atmosphere to Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Excellent.

Toward the Unknown, Mervyn LeRoy (USA, 1956)
William Holden is tortured USAF officer, back in the US after being brainwashed by Koreans. He wants to be a test pilot at Edwards, but the general in charge is reluctant to take him on. But he does anyway. Holden gets to fly the X-2 (and a XB-51 masquerading as the “XF-120”). Cold War aircraft, excellent aerial photography, 1950s melodrama… what more could you want?


The Burmese Harp, Kon Ichikawa (Japan, 1956)
The end of WWII, a Japanese soldier remains in Burma as a monk, determined to bury all the Japanese soldiers whose bodies lie rotting about the country. The film focuses mostly on the company he leaves behind, who all enjoy choral singing. A piece of stone-cold classic cinema.

Queen Of Outer Space, Edward Bernds (USA, 1958)
Typical B-movie sf of the period which, bizarrely, makes a nod in the general direction of actual science – by remarking that the Venus the heroes have crash-landed on bears no resemblance to the one science had led them to expect. In other words: jungle! And, er, a women-only civilisation. Starring Zsa Zsa Gabor. Enough said.

Riverworld, Kari Skogland (Canada, 2003)
I reread the book a few years ago and only vaguely recognised it from this television movie. Don’t remember quite so much Randian bullshit in the novel.

Pacific Rim, Guillermo del Toro (USA, 2013)
Big dumb tentpole sf from last summer. Emphasis on big. Emphasis on dumb. Mecha versus kaiju. Best watched after numbing brain with copious amounts of alcohol. Or with the sound off, so you don’t have to hear the monumentally stupid dialogue. This is Hollywood sf by numbers.

Leave Her To Heaven, John M Stahl (USA, 1945)
Gene Tierney as pathologically jealous wife. Classic 1940s melodrama which loses it in the last third as it turns into a silly courtroom drama with Vincent Price bellowing “But did you love her?” at husband Cornel Wilde. Worth seeing, though.

Daisies, Vera Chytilová (Czech Republic, 1966)
Bonkers Czech film in which two young women set out to do exactly what they want – which involves, among other things getting drunk in a night-club, and trashing a buffet. Lots of weird cinematic effects. Love the line in the plot summary on Wikipedia: “There is significant action here, with Marie I looking through the window at a parade and Marie II eating.” Um, yes. Good film.

Europa Report, Sebastián Cordero (USA, 2013)
Disappointing. Hard sf monster-in-space movie done better in Apollo 18. Interesting non-linear narrative – although you do spend half the film wondering where one of the characters has disappeared to. The spacecraft is typical movie overdone, though not as bad as some. And Europa apparently has a surface gravity of 1G and not 0.134G.

The East, Zal Batmanglij (USA, 2013)
Brit Marling proves she’s still one to watch with a thriller about a corporate undercover agent who infiltrates a cell of eco-terrorists. So the terrorists are all privileged scions, biting the silver spoon that fed them, but the corporate intelligence angle puts an interesting spin on it all.

Free Zone, Amos Gitai (Israel, 2005)
An American, an Israeli and a Palestinian meet up in Jordan’s free zone to conduct business (well, the American is only along for the ride). Somewhat heavy-handed use of them as stand-ins for their countries, but the three – Natalie Portman, Hanna Laslo and Hiam Abbass – play their parts extremely well. Good film.

7 thoughts on “A moving picture’s worth a thousand words

  1. Ian:

    For the life of me, I can’t figure out why a smart cookie like you watches some of these movies.

    “Man of Steel”? “Pacific Rim”? Is it because they’re genre films and you feel obligated to view them? Or (heard this one before) it’s been a hard week, so why not relax with some mind candy?

    My problem is that every time some motherfucker ponies up cash to watch one of these idjit blockbuster films, it’s like you’re casting a vote for shit. Isn’t it about time the smart people of the world voted with their wallets and stopped (at least tacitly) supporting mediocrity and drek? Let’s spend our money on obscure art house films or shell out some bucks for the Criterion box set of Jacques Tati’s flicks, know what I mean?

    Can we all swear a sacred pact to raise our cinematic standards in 2014, and deliberately seek out films that we know will challenge, inspire, elevate us…or, at the very least, not insult our intelligence?

    Sorry, chum, but lately there have been some spectacular films out there (“The Great Beauty”, “Dallas Buyer’s Club”, “Nebraska”, “The Act of Killing”, etc.) but too many people are plunking down good money and allowing Zack Snyder and JJ Abrams et al to use their brains as asswipe.

    Plus the coffee is particularly strong this morning…

    • Those films I rent, so the studios aren’t getting a penny from me as LoveFilm will have already bought their rental copies. These days I tend to buy only arthouse films, world cinema, hard-to-find films or TV series on DVD or Blu-Ray. The last sf films, for example, I bought were three from

  2. Daisies is one of those films I keep meaning to see but so far haven’t. Vera Chytilová died recently.

  3. I actually don’t agree with your assessment of The Europa Report. I enjoyed it. The non linear narrative doesn’t work but I rather liked it apart from that. At least it was trying to do something interesting.

    I kinda understand why you might not like it though…

    In any case you’re completely wrong about Apollo 18 being better. That film is utter tripe.

    • Ha! How can you say that!? The two films have the same plot. The only difference is that Apollo 18 uses Apollo hardware and actually gets it right. It even uses real footage of Apollo astronauts on the Moon. Europa Report, otoh, makes the usual mess of near-future space travel, with giant spacecraft, poor depiction of micro-gravity, and a surface gravity of 1G on Europa. For a better depiction of near future space travel, track down the BBC tv series, Space Odyssey: Voyage to the Planets (parts o fit were actually filmed in the Vomit Comet).

  4. Pingback: Moving pictures, #2 | It Doesn't Have To Be Right...

  5. Wow that was unusual. I just wrote an very long comment but
    after I clicked submit my comment didn’t appear.
    Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again.
    Anyhow, just wanted to say wonderful blog!

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