77topaz's Movie Reviews

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I've thought about starting a reviews thread for a while, but I haven't gotten around to it until now. So, here it is! I'm not sure yet how often I'll be able to post reviews, but hopefully a few times a month.

Reserved post for listing reviews etc.

1. Cashback (United Kingdom, 2006) (reviewed 2015-07-07)
2. The Seventh Continent (Austria, 1989) (reviewed 2015-07-10)
3. Requiem for a Dream (United States, 2000) (reviewed 2015-07-11)
4. The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared (Sweden/France/Germany, 2013) (reviewed 2016-08-06)
5. Ex Machina (United Kingdom/United States, 2015) (reviewed 2016-08-26)
6. Awakening (Nigeria, 2013) (reviewed 2016-10-01)
7. Meshes of the Afternoon (United States, 1943) (reviewed 2016-10-07)
8. Automata (Spain/Bulgaria, 2014) (reviewed 2016-10-17)
9. The Discovery (United States/United Kingdom, 2017) (reviewed 2017-04-07)
10. Le Mans (United States, 1971) (reviewed 2017-04-14)

And here is my first review!

Cashback (United Kingdom, 2006)
Director: Sean Ellis

Since the millennium change, numerous great independent films have been made, but these are often little-noticed and underappreciated; one film for which this is the case is Cashback.

What is Cashback about? It is about an arts college student whose girlfriend leaves him for another, and in his resulting depression he becomes completely insomniac. Eventually, he decides to work the night shift at a local supermarket - and finds out he has the power to freeze time.

But, what is it about? It is a film about love, about beauty, about English culture, about pursuing your dreams, about time.

The plot is very well-written, but it is not the only interesting thing about this film. The film overall is somewhere between comedy and drama, and there are even snippets of satire throughout - for example, at one point the film gleefully parodies sports movies, and simultaneously the role sports have in English culture. There are also numerous beautiful pieces of cinematography and scene transitions. And yes, there is some nudity, but it is handled very tastefully compared to a lot of other films.
In summary, Cashback is a highly commendable independent film, with a well-written and multi-faceted plot, and beautiful cinematography.


Here is my second review, and a somewhat longer one this time.

The Seventh Continent (Austria, 1989)
Director: Michael Haneke

The Seventh Continent was the debut feature film of director Michael Haneke; many of the skills, techniques and themes he would develop and explore in later films can already be seen here.

A number of Michael Haneke’s films have as an important aspect/concept the deconstruction of the “veneer” of civilisation held by people and even communities as a whole; The Seventh Continent is one of them. The film, which is reportedly inspired by a true story, consists of three days in the life of an Austrian family, consisting of Georg, an engineer; his wife Anna, an optician; and their daughter Eva. They are not satisfied with their lifestyle, and discuss moving to Australia, the “Seventh Continent” of the title.

The cinematography of this film is a key aspect, as it does a very good job of portraying the tedious, repetitive and oppressive nature of the family’s life. The way the camera rarely moves, the lighting and framing, and the complete absence of non-diegetic sound all intensify and develop this, giving a very palpable and deliberately unpleasant atmosphere, and it is clear Haneke has worked very carefully to achieve this. The acting, too, fits well with the atmosphere and the plot.

The Seventh Continent is without a doubt a very dark and disturbing film, due to both the overall atmosphere crafted by the cinematography, and the events that unfold in the final part of the plot. In fact, at some places the “darkness” is somewhat overwhelming for the viewer (in fact, when I first saw this film, I considered it the darkest film I had ever seen); and, the film’s portrayal of the tediousness of the family’s life somewhat has the effect of causing it to be tedious itself. Nonetheless, this is a film I’d recommend, for its technical expertise and also the plot’s message about modern society, and furthermore it plays an important role in the context of Haneke’s later filmography, which further explores and develops themes and techniques related to those of this film.


Bright light. Bright light. Uh oh.
I pretty much agree with what you wrote, and I've seen 11 of Haneke's films. But I rate it
It's what you learn after you know it all that counts. - John Wooden
My IMDb page

Here is my third review. Sorry for the two dark films in a row, but I just saw this film today and I thought I should write a review of it while I still had it fresh in my mind.

Requiem for a Dream (United States, 2000)
Director: Darren Aronofsky

Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream is a film about a dysfunctional family in New York, consisting of an elderly widow and her son. Two other characters also play a major role: the son’s girlfriend, and one of his friends. They all have one thing in common: an addiction to drugs.

Requiem for a Dream shows a strong anti-drugs viewpoint. Many different drugs are featured, and the film shows the negative effects of each one with a horrifying panache. I think that, perhaps, showing this film might be more effective than many, if not all the campaigns that have been undertaken by governments and organisations to stop people from turning to drugs.

However, Requiem for a Dream is not a film about drugs, any more than A Clockwork Orange is a film about ultra-violence. Drugs and addiction play a major role in the plot, of course, but there is also a broader criticism of society present here. The aggressive, manipulative “self-help” television show; the ill-intentioned “diet” company; the vicious abuse of power by men over women; inequality in general… these are the true villains of the film. This dysfunctional, shallow and most of all abusive modern society is what creates such a deep personal hell for some people that it causes them to turn to extreme measures such as drugs to escape from it, which of course only drags them further into their hell. The themes of this film are important for society, and they’re portrayed very well.

Darren Aronofsky uses a multitude of visual techniques in this film. Rapid editing, extreme close-ups, static shots, peculiar lighting, split screens… there are too many to list. In Requiem for a Dream, Aronofsky uses these extremely effectively, brilliantly portraying the effects of both drug addiction and the larger societal abuses inflicted upon the characters. The overall effect is horrifying and disturbing, and parts of this film are perhaps the most Lynchian scenes not created by David Lynch himself.

Sound is also used very effectively in tandem with the visual effects. In general, the visual effects and cinematography of Requiem for a Dream are perhaps the best I’ve seen in any film outside of the filmographies of Stanley Kubrick and David Lynch, and Aronofsky’s work here is definitely worth comparison to those two directors.

The acting also fits very well to the plot. At times it feels shallow, at times it feels over the top, but that’s the point. These are damaged characters, and they do not act or think like sane people would.

Requiem for a Dream is a film whose cinematography and plot work together very well to make a pointed and important criticism of drug use, but on a larger scale also the shallowness and abusiveness of parts of modern society. It is definitely a very dark and disturbing film, and at times it is almost painful to watch, thanks to how well the effects are executed, and that’s perhaps the only thing that keeping me from giving this film a full five-star rating. Thanks to its disturbing nature and content, this is not a film for everyone, but if you feel up to it, this is certainly a film I would recommend you to see.


Wow, it's been a year since I've posted in this thread...

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared (Sweden/France/Germany, 2013)
Director: Felix Herngren

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared is an adaptation of Jonas Jonasson’s best-selling novel of the same name. It is a fairly faithful adaptation of the novel and, importantly, it does a good job of conveying its mood/atmosphere, which is probably the main reason the novel was successful in the first place.

What’s the plot? Well, the first part of it is already conveyed in the title, which with its sheer length is funny in itself. It would be fair to say the plot doesn’t really make a lot of sense, but that isn’t quite the point. The plot consists of a series of weird coincidences and strokes of luck, beginning with the titular hundred-year-old man leaving his retirement home and coming across a mysterious suitcase, combined with slapstick and Forrest Gump-style historical insertions, which is humorous because of the sheer absurdity of it all. It might seem messy or contrived to some, but it conveys the humour of Jonasson’s original well.

The acting, too, is humorous. Though there aren’t any particularly notable individual performances, both the main and supporting cast act well, reinforcing the mood of the film.

The film doesn’t have a particularly noticeable soundtrack overall, though the jovial main theme fits well with the atmosphere of the rest of the film.

Additionally, the cinematography is good, with several clever jump cuts and rapid montages.

In conclusion, The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared is a good adaptation of Jonas Jonasson’s novel, convincingly conveying his absurdist humour.


Ex Machina (United Kingdom/United States, 2015)
Director: Alex Garland

Ex Machina is a film about a computer programmer who wins a lottery at his workplace and is thus selected to visit his reclusive boss, who lives in a secluded mansion in the beautiful forests of Norway. The boss thinks he has created an artificial intelligence, and he wants the programmer to test whether he has been successful in doing so. This is an interesting set-up for a film, and Ex Machina is certainly an interesting film.

From a technical standpoint, this is an extremely good film. Firstly, Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander and Oscar Isaac act very well as the three main characters of the film, creating palpable tension and chemistry between them. The cinematography is also excellent; Ex Machina makes frequent use of inventive and unusual camera angles, but they are never obtrusive. Additionally, the special effects of the robot that houses the artificial intelligence are very convincing. The scenery of the house where the film takes place and the surrounding forests is also beautiful.

The soundtrack is also commendable, accentuating the suspense of the film effectively without ever being jarring. There are also a few snippets of popular songs, which highlight the film’s attention to detail - note the subjects of the songs that appear.

My one issue with Ex Machina is philosophical rather than technical: the ending. I will not go into much detail to avoid spoiling anything, but what I think the film is trying to communicate doesn’t seem to be what the ending actually communicates, leaving me uncertain as to the intentions of the creator of the film. Though, it should be noted that there are lots of philosophically interesting moments in the film, and the plot is definitely intriguing.

In conclusion, Ex Machina is an excellent film from a technical standpoint, though its philosophy leaves me a bit uncertain.


And now for something completely different...

Awakening (Nigeria, 2013)
Directors: James Omokwe and Ethan Okwara

Nigerian folklore is little-known in the western world and rarely featured in cinema compared to that of, say, Japan or Egypt. Therefore, Awakening, a film whose plot involves said folklore, might seem interesting. The fact that it was nominated at the Africa Movie Academy Awards also suggests it could be a good film. However, Awakening is not. African cinema of course does not have as much money or resources to draw upon as western cinema; Awakening seems like it would be able to utilise a larger budget than most African films due to corporate sponsorship (and, not to forget, there exist plenty of good films that were made on low budgets), but it is nonetheless a very amateurish film.

Is there anything good about the film? Well, as I mentioned before, the plot’s subject matter is interesting due to its obscurity in the western world. Even the plot, though, has flaws, as there are a few points where characters make cringeworthily stupid decisions, and other clichés. The plot, however, is practically the least of the film’s problems.

Firstly, the acting. Or, more accurately, the lack of it. Throughout the film characters react to situations with less emotion than you’d expect (“dull surprise!”, and all that), and at several places the characters simply seem to be reading out their lines from the script.

Awakening’s cinematography is also poor. One particularly glaring moment for me was a car crash where the car suddenly seems to speed up just before impact, as if to cover up that the film’s creators were unable to create adequate special effects for the crash. Though, there is one animated segment in the film which is certainly better-made than all the live-action parts.

The film’s soundtrack consists mostly of just two pieces of music which are repeated so often they become annoying and never seem to relate to what is happening in a scene. In fact, they seem more like random pieces of royalty-free music than what you’d expect from a film soundtrack. And, the one exception I recall is the playing of a hip-hop track during a scene in which a policeman beats up several criminals rather brutally, which just accentuates the inappropriateness and out-of-place-ness of that scene. (And I think that policeman was intended to be a sympathetic character, too…)

Finally, as I mentioned in the introduction, there is corporate sponsorship rather obviously displayed in the film. In particular, an office building where several scenes take place belongs to a real company, and their logo is prominently displayed. However, despite that sponsorship, the film’s creators managed to create a film with a production quality more like that of a media student project than a feature film.

In conclusion, Awakening is a film with an interesting and (from a western perspective) unusual concept, but the amateurish quality of many aspects of the film makes it rather hard to watch.


Meshes of the Afternoon (United States, 1943)
Directors: Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid

Meshes of the Afternoon is a 14-minute short film made in 1943 by experimental filmmaker Maya Deren and her husband Alexander Hammid. It is an example of surrealist cinema, created a decade after Salvador Dalí and Luis Buñuel invented the movement with Un Chien Andalou and L’Age d’Or.

Meshes of the Afternoon is about a woman who sees a strange figure with a mirror for a face and undergoes a sort of time loop. Thanks to the film’s surrealism, that’s perhaps the only accurate description that can be given of the film’s plot. It doesn’t make clear exactly what is really happening or what the meaning of the events shown onscreen is, but there does seem to be a lot of symbolism regarding the woman’s seemingly unhappy marriage.

What makes Meshes of the Afternoon interesting is the inventive cinematography used to show these surreal events, especially when one considers how old the film is. David Lynch has cited the film as an influence on his work, and one can certainly see parallels between Meshes of the Afternoon’s cinematography and surreal symbolism and that of Lynch’s films like Mulholland Drive. Despite its short length, Meshes of the Afternoon has many interesting scenes and techniques such as a flower transforming via a jump cut into a key, the camera shaking as the woman tries to ascend a set of stairs (with an effect not unlike the stair scenes of the later film Vertigo), and three iterations of the woman from different loops sitting together at a table.

Notably, the film had no score when it was first released and the official soundtrack, consisting of Japanese classical music by Teiji Ito, was not added until 1959. Ito’s score works fairly well, though I must say I somewhat prefer the 2011 score by Seaming To, which fits especially well with the film’s visuals. However, both these scores interact with the visuals by, for example, using percussion to underline a rapid series of jump cuts.

In conclusion, Meshes of the Afternoon is a surrealist short film which contains many examples of interesting cinematographic techniques and, notably, it forms a clear inspiration for the works of David Lynch.


Automata (Spain/Bulgaria, 2014)
Director: Gabe Ibáñez

Automata is a science fiction film set in a dystopian, post-apocalyptic world, where nuclear weapons have rendered most of the Earth’s surface uninhabitable. The remnants of humanity live in densely-populated cities where, despite some technological regression, there are robots everywhere, fulfilling many of the society’s menial roles. These robots are governed by two protocols, and the plot revolves around a robot inspector who investigates several robots which somehow don’t obey one of these protocols.

Does that sound familiar to you? The two protocols are shown in the opening titles of the film, and they closely resemble Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics. The rest of the set-up, involving robots breaking these laws, is also rather reminiscent of I, Robot, a film based on Asimov’s stories. The Earth being mostly irradiated save from a certain few locations is also a concept that has appeared in numerous science fiction films, such as the 2012 version of Total Recall. Overall, the film’s premise is rather unoriginal, and this initially gave me a poor initial impression of the film.

However, the film does eventually go in a different direction to I, Robot and similar films, and explores interesting philosophical issues related to artificial intelligence. However, some other clichés of the genre appear throughout the film, somewhat limiting its effectiveness.

Automata’s acting is also of mixed quality. Antonio Banderas gives a generally good performance as the main character, but he does over-act at a few points, and some of the minor characters also don’t act well.

Automata generally has good cinematography, and impressive (if sometimes derivative-looking) CGI - though, some of the robots definitely inhabit the “uncanny valley”. The soundtrack also works well, featuring a lot of classical music (which, I have to point out, is also not original).

In conclusion, Automata is a science fiction film that explores interesting philosophical issues related to artificial intelligence, though it is let down somewhat by the frequent appearance of genre clichés and resemblance to earlier sci-fi films.


Here's a film that, as of the time of writing, has been released only a week ago...

The Discovery (United States/United Kingdom, 2017)
Director: Charlie McDowell

A scientist who discovers proof that an afterlife exists. This revelation triggers an epidemic of suicides amongst the general populace. The scientist’s estranged son, travels to meet him when he makes a new discovery, and during his journey happens to come across a troubled woman. This is the premise of The Discovery, which sounds highly interesting, and the film develops it in highly interesting ways, too.

The film deals with many philosophical and existential questions surrounding this discovery. What is the nature of this afterlife? If an afterlife exists, what is the meaning of life itself? The Discovery handles these themes very well, along with more personal questions about the lives of the characters. Although some of its themes may be familiar, the plot casts them in a fascinating new light, and in general the film is one of the most philosophically interesting ones I have seen. And yet, the film also managed to contain well-done moments of comedy, which prevent its heavier themes from becoming overwhelming. Additionally, unlike some other more philosophical films to come out of the United States, The Discovery also has a good ending.

The scientist, his son and the woman he meets are played by Robert Redford, Jason Segel and Rooney Mara, respectively, and each of the main cast portrays their characters well, adding to the credibility of the film. The cinematography and soundtrack are not obtrusive, but are more artistic than those of many recently-made films, and they work well to support the film and its themes. For a particular example, the film makes good use of long shots.

In conclusion, The Discovery is a film I highly recommend, for its highly interesting exploration of the meaning of life and its philosophical concepts, and the good acting and production with which it supports them.


Le Mans (United States, 1971)
Director: Lee H. Katzin

Le Mans isn’t a documentary. It contains a fictional story, about a racer played by Steve McQueen, and a former acquaintance of his played by Elga Andersen. Yet, a lot of the film feels like a documentary about the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans sports car race, and this may actually make it more interesting than either a purely fictional film or a straight documentary would have been.

McQueen and Andersen’s acting isn’t exceptional, nor is their character’s plotline particularly interesting or unique. But, they don’t really need to be. There are many extras who don’t get much screentime individually but act well enough, and, interestingly, the main characters and their plotline doesn’t take up as much of the film as you’d expect, either. There isn’t even any significant dialogue until the forty-minute mark, more than a third of the way into the film. And yet Le Mans didn’t bore me. The reason for this is that the flaws of the film’s main plot are made up for by the way it acts as a very good time capsule. On the one hand it is about McQueen and Andersen’s characters, but on the other hand it is at least as much about Le Mans itself: the race, the crowds, the crews, and the general spectacle surrounding it all. There are many amusing or interesting little details in the film, such as a barrier arm which someone put a teddy bear on, or a spectator wearing a comically small, yellow hat. A lot of the film’s shots were actually filmed at a real 24 Hours of Le Mans race in 1970, which really helps the film, giving it a very authentic feeling.

The film’s also has a good soundtrack and sound design. One particular moment of note is when, just before the start of the race, the main character shuts the window of his car and suddenly all external sound is cut out, leaving just the sound of his heartbeat, which creates a nice tense moment. The cinematography also works well, with several montages that interact nicely with the soundtrack. There are numerous shots of the crowds and other surroundings of the track (such as the fairground attractions set up to keep the audiences entertained during the night portion of the race), effectively functioning as pillow shots, which help the film’s authenticity.

In conclusion, Le Mans inhabits a curious space somewhere between a film and a documentary, but it is well-made and entertaining, and a worthwhile watch for anyone interested in motorsports.