The sea of cinema is huge. It’s also unfair. The movies that deserve eternal oblivion buried on the sea bottom end up sailing on forever, taking everyone aboard, seemingly unsinkable. And the true gems that you wish everyone would get the chance to see inevitably pass unnoticed, out of view behind the large waves from the large budgeted ferries.
All is Lost is one of those movies that got lost on the ocean. It was close that I hadn’t watched it either, since it didn’t get any wide cinema distribution in Sweden; it was screened at a film festival and that was it.
Even if I don’t agree with the decision not to show it to a large public, I can sort of understand it, from a commercial point of view. Basically it’s a movie about one man who is alone in his boat way out on the ocean. After an accident, his boat starts to take in water and without a functioning radio and navigation he suddenly finds himself fighting for his survival. And that’s the entire plot.
He’s not kidnapped by terrorists. He’s not facing morale issues about who is going to eat who on the ship when starvation sets in. Because there is no one else, just him. There’s no one else to talk to. He doesn’t hallucinate like James Franco in 127 Hours and he doesn’t talk to ball like Tom Hanks in Cast Away. He barely says a word throughout the entire film. The only sound you hear is from the ocean, the wind and the creeks from the boat.
When I describe it I realize that it sounds like an experiment more than like a movie – something that can amuse cinephiles, but hardly a film that could attract a large audience. So I can see why it went this way. But I think it’s a shame, because it’s a lot more accessible than it appears to be.
Somehow this works, against all odds. I was on my edge all the way through as I watched Robert Redford heroically fighting against the elements, determined to stay alive and stay calm, no matter what. It’s a lot more exciting than you would think. With only one actor in it, the film stands and falls with his performance. And he absolutely nails it – physically as well as emotionally. I was drawn into the film and the elements and I almost expected to fall into the film, like Eustace, Edmund and Lucy fell into the picture in the beginning of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. And that is an evidence of just how good this film is because I watched it under the worst circumstances possible, as I was travelling to Cambodia earlier this year.
It takes quite a remarkable movie to make such an impact, seen as on-board entertainment on a screen smaller than a laptop. I’m glad I caught it before it was washed away in the tide of time.
All is Lost (J.C. Chandor, US 2013) My rating: 4,5/5
It’s been three years since Rise of the Planet of the Apes (and don’t get me started on how weird this is. THREE years? I would say six months. Once you’re past 35, you’ll see how your life accelerates out of control, like a Snowpiercer train. All you can do is to hold onto it for as long as you can. It won’t be long, believe me).
When I wrote about it, I said that it was good entertainment for a Friday night after work, a fun ride that didn’t expect you to think all that much. The apes were a lot more interesting than the humans and Caesar delivered my favourite line of that year, brief but distinct and memorable. The film was a little disappointing in terms of gender aspect; the only woman was an utterly uninteresting love interest. But I was mesmerized by the wonders of the motion capture technology, which made the apes absolutely believable and I ended up giving it a 4/5.
Now that I’m writing about the follow-up Dawn of the Planet of the Apes I can’t help thinking that I could as well post that review over again, just updating the title.
It’s the same kind of film: a near future adventure in San Francisco, apes gracefully swinging between rooftops and high trees, mankind facing the negative consequences of actions taken by evil individuals. It’s got an old-style matinee vibe to it, with a cute message about how we all should trust and be kind to each other.
There are a couple of things that set the films apart:
- This one has Jason Clarke as the “good guy” instead of James Franco. I liked Franco better, but I haven’t any particular reason for it; it’s just my personal preferences. They’re both generic characters. They serve their place as background to the ape show, but they’re not particularly memorable.
- There are a few more female characters in Dawn than in Rise, but none is a leader and they’re all assigned to do what women usually do I cinema. Clarke’s girl friend is kind and takes care of the sick and injured. Caesar’s partner is there to give birth to cute ape babies and to be a victim of a disease, to suffer so that a human can come and rescue her. For an inexplicable reason she carries a silly head decoration – I suppose it’s there so we can identify her because as we all know, the first priority of every female – ape or woman – is to care about her good looks. I’m not suggesting it’s a sexist movie. But it is a little bit lazy and I think they easily could have done better if they’d wanted to. Even in the original movie you can see the female apes doing more than giving birth and tending to babies: one of them is a scientist.
- We get to know the apes a lot better this time around. We’re introduced to different characters with different agendas, some of them evil and plotting. There’s also a lot more of communication going on, both among the apes themselves and between apes and men. Especially in the beginning, most of this communication is done by the usage of a special ape sign language, which is translated to us with the help of subtitles. This is beautiful to watch and once again I’m reminded of that I’d really like to learn sign language myself. Sadly they start to rely more on ordinary speech the longer we get into the film. If the decision was on me, I’d rather have seen them using signs all way through.
All in all, despite my minor grumbling about poor female characters, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a perfectly fine movie. It’s unapologetic escapism, but there is also a stroke of seriousness in it, especially now with the news reports we get from Ukraine and Gaza about the seemingly unsolvable conflicts between groups of people. Distrust breeds distrust and violence follows on violence in a never-ending circle. Voices of reason on both sides will drown in the tide of fear and anger, over and over again.
When the next movie in this series comes out in a couple of years I assume it will contain some kind of hope and resolution to the conflict, the mandatory third-part-in-a-trilogy closure. Sadly I doubt we’ll have come as far in the real world.
I’ll finish by giving the kind of consumer information that I look for when it comes to this type of movies.
- As always look for a big screen. I watched it in 2D and didn’t feel as if I missed out on anything.
- Yes, there is a stinger after the text credits, but it’s very subtle and consists only of sound. If people around you are talking as they’re leaving the theatre you might miss out on it altogether and you can as well look it up on the webs and see what it’s about. I was more intrigued by a sign towards the end of the credits that informed me that, if I remember it correctly, this movie had created jobs for 15 000 people. Considering how long it took to get through the text credits, most of them were mentioned by name.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (Matt Reeves, US 2014) My rating: 4/5
Some actors don’t seem to act. They ARE their role figures. And we praise them, saying it’s a “match made in heaven”, which is a ridiculous thing to say. The perfect casting doesn’t come out of nowhere, by divine intervention or by chance.
Someone came up with the idea. We rarely know her name (it’s often a woman). It might appear quickly among the text credits alongside with all the other workers in the film factory of lesser importance. But regardless what impact her work had on the movie, regardless what a different creature the film would have been with a different cast, no sparkles of glamour will fall on her name and no Oscar statuette will end up in her hands. There is no Academy award for this category of film workers.
They’re called “casting directors”. Until recently I barely knew they existed. I vaguely remembered Juliet Taylor, Woody Allen’s long time casting director who I think appeared briefly in a documentary about him. But that was as far as my knowledge went. Then I watched Casting By, and from now on I’ll never think of casting in the same way. Or rather: from now on I’ll think about it, which I never did before.
This is a documentary where we get to learn a lot about this profession and about some of its leading stars and particularly one: Marion Dougherty. You’ve probably never heard of her, but you’ve heard of the movies she worked on. She did the casting for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Sting, Midnight Cowboy, The World According to Garp, Slaughterhouse Five and Lethal Weapon, just to mention a few.
Marion Dougherty is also one of the reasons why many of our most successful actors were given a chance to make a career in the first place. She spotted talented actors who until then only had made smaller parts or played live theatre and picked them for roles where they might chance. Jon Voight, Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino, John Travolta, Mel Gibson, Jeff Bridges and Bette Midler are just a few of those who she pushed for early in their careers. In this film they all give her the credit that she and her colleagues deserve.
Love and sadness
“Hollywood-celebrating-Hollywood” films are often rather bland and forgettable, with too much of generic praising from too many people and too little of substance that sticks with you. However this documentary is a great deal better than that. You can sense that the love that is pronounced is for real and not just politeness and that the ones who have made it are serious and engaged in the topic.
You also get some insight into the development of the film industry in this area. Casting nowadays is much more of a corporate decision than it used to be. Outside of the indie territory, actors are picked for strictly commercial reasons, rather than out of an artistic vision. Inevitably you get a bit sad watching all those testimonials about how things used to be better back in the days and about how some essential contributors in the film industry never get recognition but are consumed, spit out and then forgotten. But you also get to hear a lot of inside stories about the casting of various films, stories that are fun and interesting to hear and in some cases even inspirational.
One of my favourite moments is when the director Richard Donner talks about when Marion Dougherty casted Danny Glover for Lethal Weapon, and how shocked everyone was because the script didn’t say anything about the character being black. So they all took for granted it would be a white person, as always. “The script said Riggs and Murtaugh. It didn’t say colour”, Dougherty argued. And this, says Richard Donner, “was like a nail in his heart. It made me think I’m bigoted and narrow. It was on the paper and I didn’t see it. It changed my life in casting and more important it changed my life in reality. This is a casting director who really changed my life.”
A change of perspective
I know that some film fans don’t care the slightest about the production side of movies. They don’t want to hear about what happened on the set or about the people who make it happen. They just want to enjoy the film. There’s nothing wrong about that, but if you’re one of them, this film isn’t for you. But if you share my curiosity for the machinery as it looks behind the curtain, I would recommend you to see it. It brings a great change of perspective, and for once it’s not about how the special effects were made. It’s about something that is a lot more exciting: the people.
Casting By (Tom Donahue, US 2012) My rating: 4/5
So it happened one day that Charles Dickens grew tired of his wife. She had given birth to enough children to fill a sports team and you all know what that does to a woman in terms of body shape and fatigue. Of course he dumped her. He didn’t tell her or his children about it in person; he posted it as an announcement in the morning paper. (I suppose it was the equivalence to if Brad Pitt had dumped Angelina Jolie through a public Facebook announcement, if Angelina Jolie hadn’t been a famous actress, but just an anonymous wife.)
After this he felt free to engage more with his new love interest, which he already had been dating, or rather stalking, for a while: an 18 year old actress, half his own age. Young enough to be her child, young enough to give him the fulltime attention and admiration that he thought he was entitled to as a Big Name Writer. Dickens put her in a house well outside of London, conveniently out of reach of the public life. However he kept refusing to acknowledge her existence to the world. He was a famous man with a reputation to think of, she was nothing. So she became yet another invisible woman.
I left The Invisible Woman with a large lump of anger in my stomach. I was fuming thinking about the selfish, lying little creep, who personified what his name suggested. A full-fledged dick.
The question is: is this working as intended? Did the director Ralph Fiennes indeed want to put the light on what condition women lived under in the 19th century, how they walked in the shadows of men, invisible and always in survival mode? Was it on purpose that he played Dickens in a way that I found him almost as bad as Voldemort?
To be honest I wasn’t entirely sure of the answer to that. I might very well be a harsher judge of Dickens than Fiennes is. Perhaps he found something sympathetic in the man. Maybe he believed in the connection between the author and his mistress, that there was more than just an old man’s horniness, that this love affair was genuine and worth giving up everything for? However, if he believed so, I’m afraid he didn’t manage to convince me. I didn’t sense any chemistry whatsoever between the two of them, and this makes the movie a lot less engaging than it otherwise would have been.
As a costume drama this film is absolutely ok. Without being a historian, the art direction looks flawless to me. The dresses and hair styles are – as they should be in this kind of movie – fantastic. And if you like to see people taking long, upset walks along the beach while the waves are roaring and sad violin music is playing in the background, this is definitely for you.
My lack of sympathy for Dickens and lack of interest in the young actress, who is portrayed in a rather vague way (typically you see her mostly from behind), kept me most of the time at a distance, apart from those moments when I got really annoyed with the dickishness. More than once did I think that I’d rather have seen this story told from the perspective of Dickens poor wife. She’s just a minor character in the film, but every scene that she’s in stands out compared to the rest.
If you want to see a truly remarkable costume drama which involves authors and love with hindrance on the way, I would rather recommend you to see Jane Campion’s Bright Star. See there’s a love story you really believe and engage in! And no dickishness, at least not from the love couple.
The Invisible Woman (Ralph Fiennes, UK 2014) My rating: 3,5/5
A few other Swedish bloggers have also seen. See what they had to say about it (in Swedish):
A bunch of Swedish movie bloggers decided to write posts about “men who run” and that’s how I ended up watching The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, a classical British movie from 1962.
I chose it after having dismissed a bunch of other alternatives, such as: “Tom Cruise’s ten best running scenes” (too obvious), Chariots of Fire (probably too sleep inducing for me these days, even though I remember that I liked it a lot when I watched it a long time ago) Run Lola Run (she runs so well, but alas, she’s a woman) and The Running Man. I actually gave The Running man a shot, but after five minutes I had had enough of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s underwhelming acting performance. This was probably not good when it came out in the 80s, but at this point it’s really ugly.)
I knew nothing about The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner; it was just a title that came up in a web search that seemed familiar to me.
Looking at the title I imagined that it was mainly about running. Perhaps you’d follow the career of a long distance runner who runs and runs and runs, sacrificing everything, including family and friends, in order to reach his goal, whatever that is – a golden medal, a world record or a championship And then when he’s achieved all that he suddenly stops and asks himself: was it worth it? But actually it’s not that film. Not at all. This is more of a war-between-the-classes movie, but with running.
The plot goes like this: Colin Smith is a young man who comes from poor conditions. When his father dies he starts to do petty crimes in company with a friend. Not to support his family, which perhaps would have been understandable, but more for the fun of it, as an act of defiance against authorities. He’s sent to a reformatory institution for young men where it’s suddenly found that he’s got a talent for running, which could give him a new career. The question is: does he want this?
A bit dated but still good
There are parts of the movie that feel a bit dated. Regardless your political opinion and what background you’re coming from, I think it’s a little hard to relate to this simple, black-and-white view on society, classes, capitalism and work. This kind of rhetoric was probably relevant at the time the movie was made, but for modern eyes, many of the characters feel more like caricatures than like real human beings.
Nevertheless there are a number of things about this film that I love:
1. The very opening, before the text credits appear.
We see Colin from behind, running alone on a road. The voiceover line captures everything that this movie is about, but also what running is about. It will haunt me for the rest of my life.
Running was always a big thing in our family, specially running away from the police. It’s hard to understand. All I know is that you’ve got to run, running without knowing why, through fields and woods. And the winning post’s no end, even though the barmy crowds might be cheering themselves daft. That’s what the loneliness of a long distance runner feels like.”
2. Tom Courtenay in the leading role.
I can’t quite identify or sympathize with this constantly sullen characters, who keeps taking decisions that won’t make his already miserable life any better. He’s somewhat incomprehensible to me, but it’s clear that Tom Courtenay understands him. He’s one with his role.
3. Every scene that includes running.
While he’s style is somewhat inefficient and I’m not entirely convinced that Colin would win any races in real life, there’s such a joy and freedom in them that you’re inspired to go out and run for yourself. Not to win, but to live.
4. The reoccurring theme of And Did Those Feet in Ancient Time (known as Jerusalem).
I’m not entirely sure of what this poem and hymn is supposed to mean in this context, perhaps it’s just the idea of a hope about a change. Whatever it is, I’ve always thought it’s a beautiful song and here you get plenty of opportunities to hear it in various versions.
5. The title,
which comes from the original source of this film, a short story by Alan Sillitoe.
There’s poetry in those words, enhanced by the rhythm and the alliteration of “loneliness” and “long”. According to Wikipedia there are about ten songs in pop culture by various bands who have picked up the title for their songs, among them Iron Maiden, which made a whole song text based on the short story. I’m not surprised. It’s a damned good line.
The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (Tony Richardson, UK 1962) My rating: 3,5/5
This post is a part of a blogathon arranged by Filmspanarna, a Swedish community of movie blogs. Here are links to posts on this theme by my fellow bloggers:
Two years ago I gave John Carter a two star rating. Compared to other reviewers I was kind – many gave it a 1/5. It had been appointed to be the laughing stock of the year and there was an ongoing competition in who could write the most scathing post about it.
I hate mob mentality for many good reasons. As much as I can I try to stay away from the crowd when I do my movie writing. I don’t want to be infected by other people’s thoughts. I want to think for myself, trust my own judgement.
The question is: did I give John Carter a fair chance when it came out? Would I have been as critical as I was if there had been a thousand headed choir singing its praise instead of bitching about it?
John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood
This nagging thought has been with me for a while, but it became even more urgent when I recently read Michael Sellers’ book John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood.
This is not exactly a behind-the-scenes book; Sellers had no personal part in the making of the film. But it’s a book about the making of the 2012 movie, starting with Edgar Rice Burroughs’ pulp stories, going through previous attempts to make film of this franchise, explaining in depth what went wrong with this film, and finally sharing some thoughts about what the future looks like.
It’s written with the perspective of a true fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ books, but unlike most fans Sellers also works professionally in the film industry. He’s not rich or famous but it’s clear that he knows what he’s talking about. When he criticizes Disney for their missteps, it’s not the clueless rant by some random fan boy. It’s all well-argued and gives a new and much more nuanced picture of Disney’s actions.
Bad usage of social media
While some ill-judged decisions were taken during the production, the biggest problem according to Sellers was in the marketing. Compared to other movies there was very little effort put into it.
It was said that social media would be used to great extent and a supposed expert in the field was hired for this purpose. But in reality, the activity level on Facebook and Twitter was a joke. A comparison with The Hunger Games, which came out around the same time and competed for the public attention, makes it very clear. Lionsgate used several Twitter accounts, which were used actively. For instance they tweeted stories, warnings and encouragement in character. This helped to build a cool factor, and The Hunger Games ended up with over 400 000 followers on Twitter, compared to 9 400 for John Carter. Only on the opening day, The Hunger Games account put out over 40 tweets. Three weeks in to its release the John Carter account had managed a total of 240 tweets, all “largely uninspiring”, such as “John Carter is now in theatres; are you going?” And it hardly retweeted anything at all, which Sellers points out is essential to generate buzz.
The Facebook marketing was, if possible, even worse. All the updates consisted of canned “spam” announcements that could have been written months earlier. Examples of lacklustre updates are given: “In the film, Edgar Rice Burroughs is the nephew of John Carter. He inherits his uncle’s journal, which details Carter’s journey to a strange, new world”. “Bring Barsoom home with these John Carter items from the Disney Store.”
Meanwhile The Hunger Games had “daily updates with all kind of special offers, free downloaded games that were actually fun and inside activities with plenty of “cool factor”” For example there were 13 Facebook pages for the film, representing each of the districts. Fans could become virtual citizens of each district, and since there was a large novel fan base, familiar with the context, it worked. The John Carter books don’t have that size of audience nowadays, but there is a fan base that could have helped out to build a community and spread the word. However Disney didn’t bother to reach out and cooperate with them. And the social media marketing ended up being close to non-existent.
I go into a lot of detail here as I refer the part about this particular aspect, but it’s because I find it so interesting. Anyone who is interested in PR can learn from it; you don’t need to be a John Carter fan.
The alternative trailer
I also loved to read about the efforts that the fan community made to “save” the film when they realized that the marketing was poor and that Disney had given up on it even before it opened. The official trailer was so bad that Sellers put together an alternative trailer by material he found online, cut and presented in a different manner, which made more sense and caught the essence of John Carter to an audience that wasn’t familiar with the franchise. He put it on YouTube and within short the link had spread all over the net, through forums, blog posts and tweets. It was an instant success. If this had been a Hollywood film, it would have been the turning point that ultimately saved the doomed film, but alas that didn’t happen. It was far too late at that point to turn the ship. It was a nice try though.
Campaign for a sequel
In the final chapter the author argues why it’s totally doable to make a sequel to John Carter and why this even could be profitable. There is a way forward, he says, and reminds us that the literary property is good (or actually “exceptional” – yes, I told you, he’s a true fan) and that there is a substantial fan base in place and ready to support future films. He also points out that John Carter didn’t do quite as bad in the box office as the rumours have led us to believe. It did far better outside of US, particularly in Russia and China, yielding close to 300 million dollars in global sales. There is no reason to believe that a sequel has to be a loss, says Sellers, and explains how it could be done way cheaper than the first movie.
The Burroughs fan community is campaigning for a continuation of the John Carter franchise on the movie screen. They know that it may take some time before this can happen.
“Before there can be continuation, there must be a gradual rehabilitation of the image and reputation of the film and the underlying property it depicts”.[…] “Continue to use your voices; you will be heard”
3D, 2D or b/w?
I hear you loud and clear and once again I’m asking myself what role the mediocre 3D played for my assessment. There’s no way around it; it looked truly horrendous in my theatre, as if I had been watching it through a Viewmaster toy from the 60s, all characters looking like paper dolls, which was so distracting that I hardly could think of anything else. There was no 2D alternative in my city. What if there had been? Would I have liked it more? There is a way to find out. It’s currently available on Netflix. Perhaps I should give it another chance while I’m still under influence of the enthusiasm of a hard core fan?
Still: like I suggested last time, I think it would be very cool to make a black and white silent film based on John Carter, a piece of fan love, similar to the one that the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society has made of Call of Cthulhu. If the Edgar Rice Burroughs fans ever run out of steam trying to convince Disney to make another film, I hope they consider this as an option.
Do you remember the green goblin who hijacked a model in the graveyard scene in Holy Motors? Imagine him entering the life of a dysfunctional, wealthy family in a neat suburb in Netherlands. Pour equal amounts of folklore, horror and humour into the pot. Spice it up with some Doogtoth flavoured absurdity.
This is my best attempt to explain the flavour of the Dutch movie Borgman, a film that isn’t altogether easy to label. IMDb has slapped a “thriller” tag to it, but I don’t think this is quite spot on. There may be someone out there who finds it scary. I wouldn’t recommend it to children, though clearly inspired by fairy tales, it would probably cause bad nightmares. But for me it was more funny than creepy, fascinating rather than thrilling. It’s a brew that doesn’t set out to make your blood boil. It’s one that you sip well chilled, with a smile on your face.
A modern Grimm story
The story begins as a party of armed men, ventures into to the forest to deal with the mysterious, demon-like man Borgman and his henchmen, who all live in small underground pits. However they fail and Borgman flees and ends up knocking on the door of the house where this wealthy family lives. He asks for them to let him have a bath. The man refuses, but the woman takes pity on him and secretly lets him into a guest room, unknowing of the evilness that she just has let in.
This is a dark and twisted story, where innocent people are manipulated and in some cases ultimately killed in the most horrific ways. But the way it’s told, you’re hardly likely to waste tears over the victims. Rather than being real human beings that you care about, they’re like puppets. It’s as if one of the Grimm brothers has risen from the grave and collected another story, an adult, uncensored one, with classical elements but put in the modern world. And the moral isn’t painted all over the place.
I’m certain that anyone who is into the combination of symbolism, religion and psychology will find plenty to dwell on in this film. It’s an excellent object for analysis. However analysis isn’t required to enjoy it. For instance I have absolutely no idea about the possible interpretations of the method they used to dispose with the corpses. It probably means something. However I could admire how imaginative it was and the visual effect of it. It’s an image that I won’t forget anytime soon, a piece of art in itself, in a good sense.
Not for everyone
I will probably think twice before I recommend Borgman to other people. It’s definitely not as challenging as Holy Motors or Dogtooth, but it definitely goes outside of the familiar territory of standard movies.
It doesn’t always make sense. In fact it isn’t realistic at all. It doesn’t follow the standard curve in plot development. And it doesn’t engage you emotionally in a way that you may expect from a thriller. On the other hand it’s not the most difficult, incomprehensive, artsy movie I ever saw either. You don’t need to be an introvert, pretentious elitist film snob to like it. But you need an open mind, which not everyone is fortunate enough to have.
Borgman (Alex van Warderdam, NL 2013) My rating: 4/5