The Best Films I’ve Ever Seen:RoboCop aka What it is to be Human

(contains spoilers)

Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 action/sci-fi classic RoboCop is not just a hilarious satirical masterclass, a special-effects showcase replete with religious symbolism (RoboCop is Jesus!), or one of the best action films ever made. It absolutely is all of these things, but it’s also a study on identity and what it means to be human, and what better way to explore such a complex subject than in a film that features a shoot-out in a cocaine factory?

To explore how RoboCop does this it’s beneficial to consider phenomenology. Phenomenology is the philosophical study of how the human experience and consciousness is shaped by phenomena (any existing thing, “something that exists and can be seen, felt, tasted, etc” (Cambridge dictionary definition)). How does this apply to film, and especially, how does it apply to RoboCop? There are many avenues of phenomenological exploration in film:

“the emphasis can either lie on the film-as-intentional-object or the viewer-as-experiencing-subject. Moreover, one can distinguish various degrees of generality and specificity: from a general description of the experience of film as such (Harald Stadler, Vivian Sobchack) to an investigation of very specific aspects that we experience when watching films. Think of the lived body experience of senses like touch (Laura Marks, Jennifer Barker) or smell (Vivian Sobchack), the spatial experience of video images (Steve Lipkin) or depth in film (Trevor Elkington), the temporal experience of documentary films (Malin Wahlberg) or slow cinema (Jakob Boer), the collective experience of the cinema auditorium (Julian Hanich) or the aesthetic experience of film worlds (Daniel Yacavone).” (Ferenc-Flatz & Hanich, What Is Film Phenomenology?)

German philosopher Edmund Husserl describes phenomenology as “the reflective study of the essence of consciousness as experienced from the first-person point of view.” (Smith 2007), and if we consider the “first-person point of view” to be that of the camera, we can see how it can be imagined that a film is something that actively perceives phenomena, as well as consider the viewer’s experience of what the camera shows them, and how it is presented. In The Film and the New Psychology, Maurice Merleau-Ponty talks about how films are constructed in a precise way which elicits a particular response from the viewer, a rhythmic amalgamation of sound and image, “the ensemble tells us something very precise which is neither a thought nor a reminder of sentiments we have felt in our own lives.” (Merleau-Ponty 1964 pg. 56). In the most simple terms, film can make us feel.

But what does this have to do with RoboCop? We can compare two scenes to get an idea of the different ways film can make us feel, both in emotionally (laughter, sadness, anger, etc) and physically (discomfort, pain, etc). In both the ED-209 boardroom scene and Murphy (Peter Weller)’s death at the hands of Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith) and friends we witness the gruesome and bloody murder of a man, but the audience response to each is entirely different. In the boardroom, newly designed enforcement droid ED-209 malfunctions while being demonstrated and shoots an executive named Kinney to death. The tragedy is brushed off as a “glitch”, and the atmosphere in the room is one of annoyance due to money lost in developing a malfunctioning product rather than horror at the needless loss of human life, with the violence being so excessive that it ventures into the cartoonish. The audience doesn’t feel any tragedy or horror, only a satirical jab at corporate America, entirely down to what we are shown and the tone that is set by how it is shown to us. When we watch Murphy’s death scene, we come away with an entirely different feeling. It’s uncomfortable, it’s horrifying, and there’s a much greater feeling of pain and tragedy. What we see, what we hear and the way see and hear it creates an entirely different tone, and creates an entirely different feeling. When Clarence brings Murphy to his knees by striking him with his shotgun, there’s a close-up of the impact and an accompanying meaty thud to drive home the force for the audience. Clarence toys with Murphy, taking his time and revelling in his torture of him, the camera lingering as Clarence slowly aims his shotgun at different parts of Murphy’s body, the stoic yet faintly fearful eyes of Murphy contrasted with the joyful malice etched in Clarence’s face. When the shotgun blast obliterates Murphy’s hand there is a short shot of the impact, enough to see the devastation, before quickly cutting to Clarence and friends’ reaction of laughter. The criminals take glee in the violence they perpetrate against Murphy, and it serves to emphasise the cruelty and malice of the event. Much more time is devoted to Murphy’s experience of this violence compared to Kinney in the boardroom scene. We see Murphy cradle the ruined stump of his hand as he staggers in pain around the room before hearing his anguished screams when the rest of the criminals unleash volley after volley of shotgun blasts into him. The violence here, while still graphic and abundant, is much less excessive and gore-filled than Kinney’s obliteration, keeping the horror grounded in reality. We also see the shock and horror in Murphy’s partner Lewis (Nancy Allen)’s face as she witnesses the assault, unable to help. The difference in the depiction of and reaction to the violence in each of these scenes creates two entirely different feelings for the viewer, and when Clarence shoots Murphy in the head at the end of the sequence, “killing” him, the camera focuses on Murphy’s lifeless face and glassed over eyes, and it’s at this point that the film begins to explore what it means to be human.

Clarence Boddicker torments Murphy as one of his fellow thugs looks on laughing

As Murphy’s lifeless body is wheeled through a hospital corridor we witness the pronouncement of his death through Murphy’s POV. The tubes and harsh lights visible in the shot accompanied with the closeness of the men attempting to resuscitate Murphy create a claustrophobic and dire atmosphere. When the medical staff use the defibrillator on Murphy, we hear the jolt of electricity and cut to Murphy, eyes glazed and wide open, jolting along with it. The marriage of what we hear and what we see here magnifies the impact of it, creating an impression that the viewer can almost feel the shock themselves. Inserted in this sequence is a shot of Murphy’s wife and son standing outside his home, waving goodbye and smiling, and the camera pulls back from them at a rapid pace signifying the death of what makes Murphy human; his memories, emotions and personality. The medical staff verify Murphy’s death, the screen fades to black, a moment of stillness, and then the film seems to boot up like a computer, the POV now noticeably different. There seems to be an overlay with scan-lines and green text, like a computer system. It is through this difference that the change from Murphy to RoboCop is evident. We see engineers testing his vision, hearing, and other capabilities and see these functions represented graphically on screen such as soundwaves modulating what he is hearing, and a textual representation of the “program” that is being used, e.g. “Voice/Stress”. All of this serves to emphasise the now mechanical nature of our protagonist and his change from Murphy to RoboCop, but also allows the audience to feel the life in these interactions as we experience them in the same way that RoboCop would, all from his POV, which somewhat paradoxically makes him seem somewhat more alive and present for the audience, rather than just the object or property that Omni Consumer Products now views him as.

Engineers test RoboCop’s capabilities

The film continues in this way, with various scenes establishing RoboCop as different from the usual police officer, with shots of his robotic and unnatural way of walking and accompanying mechanical sounds of his limbs and joints moving, the shooting range scene showing the difference in his weaponry and capabilities, and a series of scenes showing RoboCop thwarting crimes in his own, somewhat impersonal style. At this stage of the film, it seems RoboCop has lost his humanity with even his voice seeming more robotic in pitch, tone and delivery. He seems not much more than a machine designed to fight crime, only stopping to recharge in a specially constructed chair and consume a nutrient paste (‘It tastes like baby food!’). Even at this stage however traces of Murphy still remain, such as the signature spin of his pistol before holstering it, in some of the phrases he uses and in his style of driving, but these seem buried deep in whatever subconscious that still remains in the brain contained within RoboCop. His old partner on the force Lewis (Nancy Allen) recognises these behaviours and comes to believe Murphy is still alive through RoboCop.

RoboCop “sleeps” as engineers monitor his activity

RoboCop begins to experiences memories of his previous life as Murphy, including something of a nightmare replaying his death at the hands of Clarence & co, and becomes fully aware of his previous life as Murphy after an encounter at a petrol station with Emil (Paul McCrane), who was one of the thugs involved in Murphy’s murder. RoboCop comes across Emil in the midst of an armed robbery and proclaims ‘Dead or alive, you’re coming with me.’ in much the same manner as Murphy did when he came across Emil and friends in the steel mill before his murder. Emil reacts in shock exclaiming ‘We killed you!’, before causing a fire and explosion at the petrol station. We see RoboCop react to Emil, frozen by the revelation, and feel his shock and burgeoning understanding. This is played against the replay of Emil’s exclamation through RoboCop’s memory, which plays to the audience through POV in a mechanical way with the overlay of scanlines and a “playback” caption. RoboCop subdues and arrests Emil, then finds information on Emil’s associates and suspected crimes through the police database, accessed mechanically with a spike built into his hand.

RoboCop replays Emil’s revelation in his “memory”

This leads RoboCop to visiting the address listed for Murphy, his old home, and this sequence definitively blurs the lines between Murphy and RoboCop through its use of POV and choice of shots to convey memory and flashback. As RoboCop walks through the now empty and for-sale house Murphy lived in with his wife and son not so long ago, there are various flashbacks, and it is how these flashbacks are presented that effects the impression the audience gets about who is remembering. What is most important is that first, RoboCop surveys the scene in the usual POV style we have come to associate with him; with overlay scanlines and green text as if on a computer screen. There is a burst of static and the scene changes to signify that this is now a memory of Murphy. The POV during the memories is devoid of the signifiers we have come to associate with RoboCop, the scanlines and green text are now gone. This is important because we have already been shown how RoboCop remembers things, he literally plays them back in his head using his operating system, but when RoboCop’s memories begin to manifest in the house this is all gone, it’s organic and much more natural than mechanical. This signifies we are seeing Murphy’s memory, and that Murphy is slowly becoming a greater part of RoboCop. If Murphy’s memories are RoboCop’s memories too, then it stands to reason that Murphy and RoboCop are one and the same.

RoboCop remembers his life as Murphy, the digital overlay melts away

All of this leads to a quest for justice for RoboCop, seeking to punish those who were responsible for Murphy’s death. This results in the aforementioned shoot-out in a cocaine factory where Clarence is arrested and puts RoboCop on the trail of Dick Jones (Ronny Cox), a senior executive at OCP responsible for much of the ills and crime inflicted on the people of Detroit, and in confronting Jones, RoboCop (and the audience) is served a stark reminder of his mechanical nature and the restraints that represents. When RoboCop attempts to place Jones under arrest, a hitherto classified directive in RoboCop’s programming makes itself known, stating RoboCop is unable to arrest any senior OCP staff, and attempting to violate it sends RoboCop’s systems haywire. We see this through RoboCop’s POV, the word’s “Product Violation” flashing in green text on the screen and bursts of static affecting the video feed of RoboCop’s vision as Jones explains ‘We can’t very well have our products turning against us, can we?’.  Another OCP ‘product’ ED-209 is called in to finish RoboCop off, but RoboCop manages to escape, heavily damaged, and is rescued and taken to an abandoned steel mill by Lewis to recover.

A helpless RoboCop attempts escape

It’s at the steel mill that we first see RoboCop without his helmet, and the construction of the shot where we first see how he looks reveals multiple layers. The shot focuses on Lewis holding up a sheet of metal as a mirror for RoboCop which we can see his reflection in, and also shows the back of RoboCop’s head and part of his shoulder, slightly out of focus on the far left of the frame. So here we are seeing Lewis’s sombre but muted first impression of her old partner’s new look alongside RoboCop’s himself seeing it for the first time, as well as seeing what human elements remain of RoboCop ourselves as an audience. The distorted reflection itself helps to highlight the blurring of the lines between man and machine, and reflects the doubt and struggle RoboCop is himself having about his identity as Murphy.

Murphy (and Lewis) see what he has now become

RoboCop chooses to leave his helmet off for the remainder of the film, and it is in this manner that he bursts in to the OCP board-room in the final scene of the film to once again confront Dick Jones. He lays out Jones’ charges in front of OCP chairman the Old Man (Dan O’Herlihy) and explains he is unable to act against an OCP executive due to his programming. RoboCop presents his proof using the data-spike in his hand to playback a video of Jones admitting to the murder of another executive, and Jones reacts by taking the Old Man hostage at gun point and making demands. All the while, there are shots of RoboCop’s POV throughout the sequence, with “Directive 4” flashing in green text to highlight the mechanical restriction against his free will to act. Jones is fired by the Old Man and we see the green text disappear, RoboCop thanks the Old Man and, in true RoboCop fashion, riddles Jones full of holes and sends him through the high-rise window to fall to his death. The film ends as the Old Man asks for RoboCop’s name, who replies ‘Murphy’ with a smile and the film cuts to credits.

This is why I love RoboCop. Not only for it’s glorious action set-pieces, suitably slimy and irredeemable villains, dark sense of humour or hilarious satirical elements, but also because it is, rather unbelievably, a potent and stirring philosophical study on identity and what makes us human. The film shows us Murphy, then shows us RoboCop, and finally shows us how the two are one. The fact that it explores all this us while also featuring a shoot-out in a cocaine factory, a Toxic-Waste Man, a robot falling down the stairs and about two tonnes of broken glass is just a bonus.

The Best Films I’ve Ever Seen: Don’t Look Now

Don’t Look Now (Nicolas Roeg, 1973)

(contains spoilers)

Don’t Look Now has the unique honour of being the first (and so far only) thing that I have studied for a class and ended up enjoying even more afterwards. Usually, when you put something under the microscope and try to pick it apart and analyse it, it can take away a bit of the romance and mystery of it, but when I went back and looked deeper into the construction of Don’t Look Now, especially its editing, it made me appreciate it even more. It leads you long the same way of thinking as its main character John Baxter (Donald Sutherland), but on subsequent viewings when you know the full picture, you can see that everything was there for you to find the truth of it, if you only knew where to look. As John himself says in the beginning of the film, “Nothing is what it seems.”.

Synopsis

Shortly after a tragic accident at their home in which their daughter Christine drowns in a pond, John and Laura Baxter (Julie Christie) are in Venice where John is doing work restoring churches. They meet a woman named Wendy and her blind sister Heather. Heather claims to be psychic, and tells Laura that she can see Christine, and that she is happy. John scoffs and doesn’t believe, but Laura is taken in by them, with her mood even improving after these interactions. John himself keeps seeing a child-sized figure  around Venice wearing a red coat similar to Christine’s. Laura returns to England after receiving a phone call from their son’s boarding school that he has been in an accident, and after she leaves John sees her on a boat in Venice with the sisters. Fearing she has been tricked or abducted, John contacts the police who arrest and hold the women until John receives a call from Laura in England. Their son is fine and she is returning to Venice. John goes to the station to have the women released, and after seeing then back to their hotel leaves and walks in the Venetian night. He sees the red-coated figure, and follows them to a deserted building. John approaches them, thinking it is a child, saying he is a friend. The figure turns and we see that it is in fact a monstrous female dwarf, who slices John’s neck with a large knife, killing him. The film ends with Laura and the sisters on a funeral boat on the Venetian canals, just as John had seen them in what is now revealed as his own psychic flash earlier.

An anguished John pulls Christine’s lifeless body from the pond

When I think about what I like about Don’t Look Now, I always think of its editing,and how they are put together to create distinct associations in our minds. I think about an editing experiment devised by Soviet film-maker Lev Kuleshov in the 1920s. In the experiment, he used an image of a man’s face and juxtaposed it with a variety of different images.  Each sequence would elicit a different response, if the man’s face was paired with an image of food, the viewer would think the man looked hungry, if it was paired with an image of a girl in a coffin, audiences would find him to look mournful. This is the known as the Kuleshov effect, and the idea is that the way in which you sequence images can be manipulated to elicit the desired response from an audience. I think of this in relation to Don’t Look Now because there is so much juxtaposition between the images it shows us, and I was totally led by these images down the same path as John in the film, focusing on the red-coated figure.

The opening sequence in which the main characters John and Laura Baxter’s child Christine drowns introduces the audience to three main images and associations that appear throughout the film; the colour red, water, and glass. The sequence features John and Laura inside the family home cross-cut with shots of their two children playing outside out of sight of their parents and a fair distance away. We see Christine’s red raincoat reflected in the water followed by a graphic match cut to the fireplace in the home, then shortly after a close-up of a red hooded figure in one of John’s slides graphic match cuts to a shot of Christine in her red coat reflected in the water. John spills a glass of water on the slide causing the red dye on it to run, expanding in size, and in the climax of the sequence there is another graphic match cut from this slide to John pulling Christine out of the water, with the red shape on the slide appearing foetal in nature and matches Christine’s body position in the next shot. The shot of the slide is intercut with John pulling Christine from the water in anguish and is shown multiple times, cementing the image in the mind of the audience.  The red of Christine’s coat is burned into our minds and the colour becomes intrinsically linked to Christine herself.

John’s slide, with colours running after he spills water on it

Glass and water are also prominent in the opening sequence, with a telling cut that marries the two together. A shot of Christine’s foot splashing into a puddle is followed by an immediate match cut to her brother cycling over and shattering a pane of glass on the ground, creating an association of fragmentation and adding violence to the displacement of water.  The breaking of glass itself becomes a powerful image in the course of the film; whenever we see a shot in which glass is broken, it marks a fatal (Christine’s drowning and John’s murder) or near-fatal (John’s fall at the mosaic) incident. This is further underlined in the scene where Laura faints in the cafe and knocks over the table, sending its contents to the ground. We cut to a shot of two glasses on the floor, still intact, and following this accident Laura recovers and seems in better health and mood than before, strengthening this association and importance of glass in the audience’s mind. Water and glass seem ever-present in Venice (water more-so, of course), so it’s never long before John and Laura (and by extension, the audience) see it again to remind them of Christine’s death.

The editing of Don’t Look Now also contributes greatly to the audience’s impression of the strength and love of John and Laura’s relationship, and closeness of the family. For example, in the beginning of the film, Laura puts her hand to her mouth and there is a graphic match cut to Christine making a similar gesture outside as she plays, and in the same sequence as Christine throws her ball in the air there is a cut matching this motion to John throwing a packet of cigarettes to Laura. Shots of this type help to emphasise the closeness of the family and show them as intrinsically linked members of a unit.  In John and Laura’s sex scene this feeling of love and tenderness is deepened as shots of their lovemaking are cross-cut with them getting dressed and preparing to go out together afterwards. The passion and intensity of their lovemaking is juxtaposed with the normality and peacefulness of their preparations for the evening, and the association created by the use of these images is that there is love and tenderness in even the more banal aspects of the Baxter’s relationship, and again we see the film’s associative editing in action.

Thrashing rain dissolving to a shot of the glassy, unseeing eyes of Heather

There are many other examples of editing of this type throughout Don’t Look Now, and generally work towards creating a feeling of uncertainty and ambiguity in what we are seeing, leading us (like John) to the wrong conclusions.  One such example is when John is in a police inspector’s office and talking to him about Heather and Wendy. The inspector looks off-frame, and there is a cut to the two sisters outside in a courtyard seen through the window as if matched to the inspector’s eyeline, but we cannot be sure if this is what the inspector sees as he passes no comment on it. This type of editing, where we are shown carefully selected images which create specific associations, cause the audience to react in a certain way, though we do not realise the true nature of these images and their importance until the film’s conclusion.

A further two examples of this type of ambiguity are delivered through shots of the sisters placed at opportune and sinister moments. The first example comes as Laura implores John to come visit Heather and Wendy with her as they attempt to contact Christine, and John refuses. Laura says, “She’s going to try and reach her.” and there is a cut to the sisters laughing uproariously in their room, then back to John and Laura’s conversation. This of course appears unsettling, as if the laughter is in the face of Laura’s comment, but no ulterior motives are revealed during Laura’s visit to the sisters. A second example occurs when John is working and inspecting mosaics which had recently arrived. As he climbs the ladder to the platform high above a shot of Wendy laughing is superimposed over him, These shots associate the sisters as something sinister and underhand, to be suspicious of, but as we will come to see by the film’s end, this is not necessarily the case.

Wendy laughing, ominously superimposed on a shot of John ascending a tall ladder

Though we have been shown many images throughout the film that have created specific associations in our minds, we will come to realise what was important and what was misleading through the sequence at the end of the film in which John is murdered. A small woman in a red coat slashes at John’s throat and as his death throes are intercut with images we have seen throughout the film, as if to remind us what we have seen throughout the film and where we went wrong in coming to the same conclusions as John in the film. We see Laura, Christine, their son Johnny, Heather, images of the water of Venice and the pond in which Laura drowned, the slide with the red hooded figure, glass breaking and rainfall, as well as the film’s previous associations for images of glass reiterated with a graphic match cut from John breaking a pane of glass with his foot to the shot of his son Johnny running over a pane of glass in the garden we saw early in the film. Through the associative editing throughout the film we are misled, just as John was, that the figure in the red coat was Christine and this slide show of images as he dies shows us the associations we had made may not have been as clear or telling as we thought. The choice of shots throughout the film, their placement and length and the juxtaposition created by these choices all contribute to the power of the associations they create in our minds such as in the examples throughout this post, and show Don’t Look Now’s power to be in its editing. It’s a fairly simple story, but told and shown to us in such an incredible way. I struggle to think of a film which has editing quite like Don’t Look Now. If there are any others done quite so well, I’d love to see them.

Note: This post was adapted a bit from an essay I wrote about this film for class, so I had read some books/articles about the film to prepare for that. These included, but were not limited to, J. Izod (1992), R. Barsam (2013), Reisz et al (2009), J. Gomez (1981), A. Patch (2010), M. Demspey (1974) and M. Hubris-Cherrier (2011).

Last Week’s Films (11/06 – 17/06)

Hereditary (Ari Aster, 2018)

This film was very well received critically, but it left me a bit cold. While it was fairly creepy, I just didn’t find myself getting invested or sufficiently into it. Maybe I just prefer something more tangible and simple in a horror film, but oh well. It was fine, but not for me. 5/10

 

Last Week’s Films (28/05 – 03/06)

Well, it seems I have a lot of catching up to do…

Sisters (Brian De Palma, 1972)

A woman witnesses a man being murdered through her window in the apartment building across the street. The police are skeptical as she happens to be a journalist who writes unflattering pieces on police practices, so when they don’t find anything she gets a private detective to help her investigate. It was alright, a little strange in places, but well-enough made. 5/10

Batman Ninja (Junpei Mizusaki, 2018)

A Batman animated film where he ends up in feudal Japan fighting the usual rogue’s gallery. The idea of it was a little interesting, as was the animation at first, but the story was really dull and some of the voice acting (particularly the Joker) was awful. 3/10

Batman: Gotham By Gaslight (Sam Liu, 2018)

Another animated Batman film. This time it’s set in a Victorian age Gotham with Batman trying to catch Jack the Ripper. Like in other Batman animated films the animation is not great, it just looks like an extended episode of a TV show. The voice acting was a little better in this one than Batman Ninja but overall I couldn’t get into this one much either. 4.5/10

Last Week’s Films (21/05 – 27/05)

Solo: A Star Wars Story (Ron Howard, 2018)

This is yet another Star Wars film that has fallen a bit flat for me, much like Rogue One and The Last Jedi (although those two are probably more enjoyable than this one). You can tell that they changed directors halfway through production, the film doesn’t seem particularly well focused and is a little bit messy at times, and overall the film is a little bland and uninteresting. None of the performances were particularly interesting either, Alden Ehrenreich’s Han Solo has none of the effortless cool and aloofness of Harrison Ford’s equivalent, and although I like Donald Glover in general his Lando didn’t seem like anything more than an imitation of Billy Dee Williams rather than anything unique. The worst thing though was the cinematography (particularly the lighting). Everything was painfully dark, and it was hard to make out faces or details in most of the scenes that weren’t set outside in daylight. It’s fine, but fairly bland like most of these big franchise films. 5/10

Last Week’s Films (23/04 – 29/04)

The Double Life of Veronique (Krzystzof Kieslowski, 1991)

I think the best word to describe this film is interesting. It follows two young women, Weronika, a singer from Poland, and Veronique, a music teacher from France. They are identical, and don’t know anything of the other’s existence, but seem to share a transcendental emotional bond. We follow the lives of these women (both played by Irene Jacob) but there is not much of a plot to get our teeth into, instead the film seems more concerned with exploring ideas about connection and emotions. I’m not really one for arthouse films, I prefer an engaging story coupled with solid characters, but this film was certainly interesting, and very aesthetically pleasing. Irene Jacob gives a subtle, intriguing performance as the two main characters, and it may be a film I come back to in the future, but overall it wasn’t a film I was too enthused with. 6/10

Avengers: Infinity War (Anthony and Joe Russo, 2018)

First of all, I won’t be posting any spoilers or anything (though I think most people who want to watch this will have seen it already), I’ll just give some general thoughts. I went into this film with the same expectations I have for every superhero film: it’ll be fine, fairly safe, and there might be some nice character interactions or cool locations to enjoy. Those expectations were met. The plot is the same as we’ve seen a thousand times, a powerful villain has a diabolical plan to cause chaos in the universe, and our heroes must fight to stop them. In Avengers: Infinity War, that villain is Thanos, and his plan is to gather all the infinity stones and use them to kill half the universe due to what he perceives overpopulation and lack of resources to sustain so much life. I was a bit bored by Thanos, he’s so powerful that all the action scenes involving him are foregone conclusions, and his plan makes no sense. I won’t go into any details, but the film has all the failings of any other superhero film. No real threat considering we know of all the films planned for the future, and the same old story as always. That being said, the film is a fine example of the genre, it’s just not a genre that is made for the likes of me. There are some scenes of fun interactions between characters, and plenty of fighting and action, but nothing I can really get invested in. If you already know you like Marvel films, you’ll like this one too, but it’s not for me. 5/10

Last Week’s Films (16/04 – 22/04)

Day of the Dead : Bloodline (Hector Hernandez Vicens, 2018)

Watched this out of morbid curiosity and it was bloody dreadful. Ropey acting, daft plot and incredibly strange-acting zombies. I’m not really one for watching bad films for ironic enjoyment, so I couldn’t even get that out of it. Stick with the original. 3/10

Night Train to Munich (Carol Reed, 1940)

A wartime thriller set just as World War II is about to break out, the Nazis kidnap a Czechoslovak scientist working on a new type of bomb as well as his daughter, and a British secret service agent goes undercover in an attempt to recover them for the British war effort. The film is well-paced and not too overbearing with comedic touches to add a bit of levity, particularly from the characters of Charters and Caldicott (who I recognised from a similar film of that era, The Lady Vanishes). There’s a nice set-piece at the end involving a cable car, and the dialogue is always interesting and keeps the plot moving along nicely. The chemistry between Rex Harrison’s secret agent Dickie Randall and Margaret Lockwood as the scientist’s daughter Anna Bomasch also works extremely well, with the supporting roles such as the various Nazi officers or aforementioned Charters and Caldicott also contributing nicely to the overall picture. 7/10

Last Week’s Films (12/03 – 18/03)

Considering I only watched 1 new film the week before, I certainly made up for it last week. You’ll see…

Morvern Callar (Lynne Ramsay, 2002) 

This was one I had to watch for class. It was fine, I saw it described as a “quirky, enigmatic mood piece” and that’s pretty accurate, but it’s not really something I have any interest in revisiting. 5/10

Dark Star (John Carpenter, 1974)

There are a good few John Carpenter films I enjoy a hell of a lot, but this wasn’t one of them.  This was his first theatrical feature and it’s impressive what he was able to do on such a small budget, but even at 80 minutes or so it still felt like it went on too long and not that much was going on. Interesting to see where Carpenter started but again, not one I’ll be going back to. 5/10

The Man Who Fell To Earth (Nicolas Roeg, 1976)

After recently re-watching Don’t Look Now I had the urge to check out some more of Nicolas Roeg’s work, and settled on The Man Who Fell To Earth. David Bowie plays an alien who has come to Earth to try and find water to save his home planet. It’s beautifully made, but very strange and slow. I think Bowie’s performance fit the film very well too, and I’m glad I watched the film, but it doesn’t compare to Don’t Look Now as Roeg’s best (out of the ones I’ve seen, anyway). Also, I didn’t realise Roeg had directed The Witches, the 1990 adaptation of the Roald Dahl novel. I watched that all the time when I was little and never noticed… 6/10

Annihilation (Alex Garland, 2018)

I had been looking forward to this one for quite a while 2015’s Ex Machina by the same director but found this disappointing to say the least. The production design was excellent and everything inside “The Shimmer” looked great, but the kind of decisions made by the main characters took me out of the film. I won’t go into specific examples so as not to spoil anything but one thing that struck me is if you realise you are suffering from memory loss inside this place, why not use the video cameras you have taken with you or even just simple writing to record what is happening so you won’t forget? It felt as though it was going for something lofty and intellectual, which is commendable in today’s cinema landscape, but for me at least it fell flat. 4.5/10

The Monster Squad (Fred Dekker, 1987)

This one was a bit more fun, with the titular “Monster Squad” being a group of horror film-loving children who have to defeat Dracula and other classic Universal horror monsters like the Mummy and Wolf Man who have arrived in their town to destroy an amulet that is keeping evil at bay. While not in the league of the likes of The Goonies, I’m still sure I would have enjoyed this a lot as a child, and had a bit of fun with it as an adult anyway. Some good jokes and nice sequences even if some of the characters are a bit cliched, enjoyable overall. 6/10

Wonder Woman (Patty Jenkins, 2017)

I had heard a lot about this being the first DC film since they rebooted their universe that is actually good, but wasn’t really compelled to watch it since all these superhero films are basically the same to me regardless of whether or not they happen to be well reviewed. This was true of Wonder Woman as well, for me. It followed the same sort of bad guy set on destroying world story as most of them do, and it was fine, I guess. The fish out of water sections/jokes were probably the most enjoyable parts of the film, and the Wonder Woman character was fairly well realised and believable in the comic-book world the film is set in. Superhero films aren’t really made for me, but this one was at least as watchable as the other well-received ones recently. 5.5/10

Baby Driver (Edgar Wright, 2017)

Another one I had heard a lot of praise for but hadn’t yet gotten around to watching. I didn’t enjoy it as much as others seem to, but it was good. The sound editing in particular was excellent, and there are some great chase sequences in it as well.  It ended up getting The Damned’s “Neat Neat Neat” stuck in my head again too, so there’s that. 6/10

The Ox-Bow Incident (William Wellman, 1943)

Starring Henry Fonda, this film was a little like a western version of 12 Angry Men (although released around 15 years earlier, of course). It follows Fonda’s character as he joins up with a posse in a small Wild West town who are searching for cattle rustlers. The posse captures 3 men and the group are divided on their guilt and what should be done with them. It is a well-told and simple story with a powerful message about mob-justice and its dangers. The last ten minutes or so are especially powerful. I won’t give anything away, and instead just urge anyone who hasn’t seen this to do so. 7.5/10

Multiple Maniacs (John Waters, 1970)

Having seen Pink Flamingos in the past I had an idea what to expect with this one, and this film delivered on that front. I found myself laughing a fair bit in the first few scenes surrounding the “Cavalcade of Perversion” but after that everything seemed so stretched out and boring. Probably the most infamous scene with the “rosary job” felt like it lasted forever. This is a film I found to be distasteful not because any of it offended me (it didn’t), but because I was bored. 4/10

Serial Mom (John Waters, 1994)

This is a more mainstream (i.e. not filled with over-the-top trashy-ness) John Waters film and I have to say I enjoyed it a lot. It’s a black comedy with Kathleen Turner as a housewife who happens to be a crazed serial murderer. Turner is excellent in it, particularly in the court scenes, and the film is just the right amount of silly and nonsensical. 6/10

Loving Vincent (Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman, 2017)

An animated film depicting events from the life of Vincent van Gogh. It’s done in the same style as his paintings (it was shot live then the frames individually oil-painted to create this effect) and this is beautiful to look at, but the story of the film leaves a bit more to be desired. It’s told in more of a crime/detective style than a biographical one, with the main character of the story attempting to deliver a letter after Van Gogh’s death and finding out about the end of his life from the people who knew him around that time, and it’s not particularly compelling. 5/10

A Boy and His Dog (L. Q. Jones, 1975)

A post-apocalyptic film following…a boy and his dog, who communicate telepathically. Set in 2024 after World War IV, it follows the two as they navigate the wasteland caused by nuclear wars. The best part about this film was probably the interactions between the boy, Vic, and his dog, Blood. I especially liked Blood’s dry sense of humour. The costumes and roving bands of raiders made me think a little of Mad Max (although not so BDSM-y) and I had fun watching this. The sequence near the end set underground was a little slow, but still interesting to look at, and the ending was suitably grim and dark-humoured. 6/10

Cria Cuervos (Carlos Saura, 1976)

This was another one I had to watch for class, and I don’t really have much to say about it. It was fine, I suppose. 5/10

Halloween II (Rick Rosenthal, 1981)

I love the original Halloween, it’s an incredibly well-shot and paced slasher film, and the lighting in it is incredible. I had never seen the direct sequel, so decided to rectify that. It is set directly after the first Halloween film (and I mean directly, it’s still the same night), and follows Michael Myers as he tracks down Laurie Strode and tries to finish the job he started. The film dragged a little in parts, but there are still some nice creepy shots and sequences that bring to mind the original. Donald Pleasence’s Sam Loomis character seems crazy in this as well, which was a bit distracting but still fun. Overall I’m content to have seen this but don’t feel as though I had missed anything by not watching it for so long. 5.5/10

 

So yeah, I watched a fair few films last week I suppose. I imagine it won’t be so many this week as I’m going to try and finish my first “Best Films I’ve Ever Seen” post, but we shall see.

Last Week’s Films (05/03 – 11/03)

A more apt title for this post is probably “Last Week’s Film”, since I was actually only able to find time to watch one new film given how busy I was with both school work and having a social life (shock!). No snow days last week to watch films on 🙁 Here we go anyway! :

Slumdog Millionaire (Danny Boyle, 2008)

One I had been meaning to watch for quite a long time but never really got round to until now, I enjoyed the idea of it (flashbacks during the quiz show to show the reasons that he knew the answers) but wasn’t really that engaged with the film itself. It was fine, but didn’t really blow me away. 5.5/10

Hopefully this week I’ll be able to watch a lot more and have something a bit more meaty for next week, but we shall see, I’ve only managed to watch one film so far this week as well…

Last Week’s Films 26/02 – 04/03

Before I quickly run through the films I watched last week I’ll have a look at how I did with my Oscar picks last night. 14/16! I got Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay wrong and am probably happier with what they chose for each than what I had predicted, especially with Get Out winning the writing award. Pretty nice.  Quite a few films to go through this week, given that it’s been snowing a lot and work was cancelled. Here’s a wee glimpse out my back window from Wednesday:

Onto the films!

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (Shane Black, 2005)

A kind of “buddy cop” Shane Black crime mystery film here, with Val Kilmer as a private detective and Robert Downey Jr. as a petty criminal who end up joining together to solve a murder mystery. I enjoyed this quite a bit, the pair have really good chemistry together and the story, while a wee bit convoluted, wasn’t too hard to follow. The repeated breaking of the 4th wall got a little grating however, but it was funny and sparingly enough that it wasn’t too off-putting. 7/10

Best in Show (Christopher Guest, 2000)

A mockumentary about a dog show featuring a large cast of colourful characters. It has its moments and is fairly short so a very easy watch. Fred Willard’s commentator character gets the most consistent laughs and was probably my favourite, but overall it was an enjoyable film. 6/10

Duel (Steven Spielberg, 1971)

Since Steven Spielberg is one of my favourite directors and I hadn’t yet seen his debut film, I thought I’d rectify that. Duel is basically just about an unseen truck driver terrorising a man driving a smaller car. It was well shot and had one or two nice sequences but the story is far too insubstantial to carry the film for the full 90 minutes. 5/10

Call Me By Your Name (Luca Guadagnino, 2017)

A touching and quite sad story of first love, set in 1980s Italy between 17 year old Elio (Timothee Chalamet) and the older Oliver (Armie Hammer). Oliver is a doctoral student working with Elio’s father for the summer, staying at the family’s Italian villa, and we watch as the two interact and eventually grow close. It was a believable and beautifully portrayed romance, but my favourite thing about the film may just be Elio’s parent’s reaction to the affair: that of understanding and sympathy. 7/10

Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1927)

Maybe the most well-known silent film of all time, this one had been in my collection for a while but I hadn’t been in the mood to watch it, until now. The easiest thing to say about this film is how great it looks, the art direction and set design are incredible and it’s fairly hard to believe this was made 90 years ago now. It can drag a little given that it is 2 and a half hours long but I was suitably engaged throughout and enjoyed the sights. 7/10

Key Largo (John Huston, 1948)

Humphrey Bogart is great, and it was nice to see him a little more restrained in this film than I’m generally used to. Bogart plays a World War 2 veteran who visits is late war comrade’s family hotel in the Florida Keys to pay respects. When he gets there he finds that the hotel has been taken over by mobsters, and the film follows the conflict that arises from that. Edward G. Robinson as the villainous Johnny Rocco was probably the best thing in the film, and Bogart was excellent as usual too. 6/10

Gomorra (Matteo Garrone, 2008)

I had high hopes for this one and was disappointed. I expected some sort of Italian Goodfellas but instead found the story incredibly slow and dull, and didn’t really care about any of the characters. 4.5/10

Half Nelson (Ryan Fleck, 2006)

Ryan Gosling plays a teacher with drug problems in an inner-city public school who develops a close bond with one of his students. Gosling was nominated for an Oscar for this performance and it’s not really hard to see why. It’s believable and engaging, and you can feel the loneliness of the two main characters. 6.5/10

So it seems I had much better luck last week than the week before, managed to watch some very good films. The snow is clearing up now though, so there’s no ready-made excuse to stay inside all day anymore. Oh well, I doubt I’ll let that stop me anyway!