Monday, March 19, 2012

Time, Goblins, Ghosts and Bandits

Four more films watched recently, and this time they're all pretty different from each other.

First off, a new science fiction movie which could be referred to as 'high concept'. In Time presents a scenario where the world has moved to using time as currency. Everyone has a digital clock imprinted in their arm at birth, which only starts ticking down once you reach the age of 25 ... and then you have only one more year to live, unless you can earn more time through working. People can give each other their time - clasping hands can transfer time from one to the other - and this doesn't have to be willingly done, allowing various lowlife scum and gangsters to steal time from others. You pay for everything through time taken off your counter, and if your counter reaches zero, then you just drop dead there and then.

This is quite a hard concept to get your head around, and raises all manner of ethical questions, but the best way to approach a film like this is just to go with the concept and not worry too much about it. And the film is certainly worth the effort. Justin Timberlake (yes, the pop singer bloke who once went out with Britney Spears) stars, and he is superb as Will Salis, a down on his luck worker in the poor district, who unexpectedly finds himself the recipient of 100 years donated by a wealthy man who commits suicide. Will decides to try and change the system, and travels to the wealthy quarter where he meets the daughter of a millionaire businessman. Together they try and stay alive while sharing time with those who need it ... but the government has this covered - as the poor become wealthier, so their taxes and costs increase so that relatively, they are in exactly the same position. It's how they control the masses, and ensure that the rich stay rich, and the poor die in poverty. Millionaires live forever, and they want to keep it that way.

It is nice to see Johnny Galecki (Leonard in The Big Bang Theory) in a very different role, and Amanda Seyfried as Sylvia Weiss, millionaire daughter is also very good - believable in the role of a girl who 'goes native' with Will and totally buys into his cause.

The effects are well done and believable and overall the film is really enjoyable and thought provoking as to how using time as currency might really work, and what the downsides might be. I think we may add this to our collection (this was a rental watch) as we'll want to see it again someday.

Next up is a new horror called Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark. I didn't realise that this was based on a 1973 TV Movie of the same name, and doing a little research, it seems that the original film might be superior. The new one is produced and written by Guillermo del Toro because he saw the earlier film as a child and it made a big impact on him. Unfortunately putting Katie Holmes in as a lead is not a good idea as she comes over as wooden and unemotional throughout. Guy Pearce as the father does a little better, but the film is driven by the child, Bailee Madison as Sally. What is strange is that the film has a child lead, is pitched in part like a Disney feature with animated titles, and has a 15 certificate, but starts with a scene where a man trips a maid down some stairs and then uses a hammer and cold chisel in her mouth to knock out her teeth so that he can offer them to something which lives in a furnace in the cellar. The scene is hard to watch, and I had to look away when the chisel scraped across the girl's teeth as it's forced into her mouth ... hardly 15 year old fare I thought. Then at the end, when one of the characters is dragged into the furnace, we see (and hear) legs snapping backwards as they are bodily pulled in. I thought at first I had mis-seen this, but no, it is gruesome and gory and conceptially very nasty indeed.

But enough of my pondering on the acceptible age for someone to watch a film ... if I had my way, the Care Bears Movie would be Restricted for everyone! The plot follows this perfect family as they settle into the old pile they have bought to renovate. There is something nasty in the wainscotting though which turns out to be an unexplained infestation of little goblin creatures who are evil and vicious and who wield Stanley knives, razors and awls and attack people. They whisper about Sally joining them, and it seems they eat children's teeth as well ... they are excellently realised through CGI and are very creepy. Sally is initially quite taken with them (as she has no other friends and doesn't want to be in the house anyway) but soon realises that they are no good at all.

The film is enjoyable in a horror hokum sort of way, but eventually the characters start acting totally irrationally - your daughter has been attacked by what she claims are creatures in the house, she is crying and screaming, and you are also advised to get out of the house by someone else who was attacked ... so what do you do? Drug your daughter and take her back to the house to stay another night ... madness!

I also don't get the title at all. The creatures like the dark, and so if anything it should be Be Afraid Of the Dark ... or Don't Go In The Dark ... I cannot for the life of me see where Don't Be Afraid of the Dark comes from as that is exactly what you should be!

After a slew of goblins, next up are ghosts in The Awakening, an elegant ghost story in the tradition of The Devil's Backbone and The Orphanage, both of which it remixes into a tale of a boy's boarding school haunted by the spirit of one of the students. Enter intellectual and sceptic Florence Cathcart (played excellently by Rebecca Hall), who is encouraged to come and investigate a 'real' ghost by Robert Mallory (Dominic West). Overseeing the boys is Matron (Imelda Staunton), and Florence starts to figure out what is really going on - convinced that there are no real ghosts present and that the sightings and happenings are due to some human hand.

The film is very watchable, and the central performance from Hall is brilliant. There are a lot of touches which seem to come from other films - the snooker ball bouncing down the stairs echoes a similar moment with a child's ball in the 1980 George C Scott film The Changeling, and the aforementioned The Orphanage is recalled by the secret room behind the cupboard. The only scene which seems to make no sense in context is where Florence falls in the lake after losing her cigarette case and is rescued by Robert. The editing here is confusing - perhaps deliberately so - and the whole scene adds nothing to the narrative (save that the missing case strangely finds its way back to her room). The ending of the film is delightfully vague as to what has happened ... leaving it up to the viewer to decide.

I enjoyed it a lot. It has a style and approach which is excellently maintained, and the images of the screaming ghost boy are very well done and provide for some good jump scares. Certainly something to see if you like a more intelligent horror film.

The final film is a strange one. A Korean western called The Good The Bad The Weird. This stars Kang-ho Song (who played the priest in Thirst) as The Weird, a criminal who steals a treasure map. On his tail are The Good (Woo-sung Jung) - a bounty hunter out for the money on the Weird's head - and The Bad (Byung-hun Lee) - a brilliantly vicious and intense performance and probably the best in the film. The movie is certainly action packed, from a fight on a moving train, through various traders markets, and ending with a very lengthy chase across a desert with cavalry, bandits, and assorted others all on horses and motor bikes and cars with guns and arrows and mortars and machine guns, all firing at each other as they race across miles and miles of desert for what seems like hours. This section is certainly impressive but goes on way too long.

Overall it's a cinematic experience which mixes action/adventure with a Korean flavour and is fast and furious with the action. I liked the characters and the way they interact, plus the cinematography and the lighting design - very different from a Hollywood film. Definitely one to seek out.

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