Viewing blog entries in category: Films that are Underrated
Jacob’s Ladder is underrated. I know that some people might have heard of it, and I can already hear the ‘but it’s inspired so much’es but bear with me. After my last two reviews about films made in and about Germany, and one joke review about Battle Royale, I wanted to do a review about something different – something that does not involve my love of the bottom quarter of the screen – and so I shall review an American horror film from the early 90s, a film that is rather close to my heart.
The story itself is interesting, well thought out and well developed, even if it does borrow heavily from the Ambrose Beirce short story An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge. The overall message of the film is nothing we have not seen before: the entire message could be boiled down to ‘A man’s worst enemy is himself’ something Tom Clancy cannot help but masturbate over the blurbs of all his books. The film also uses the military as a kind of backdrop too – again, strangely not unlike Tom Clancy - but don't think Tom Clancy has anything to do with this film! – as it uses the MK Ultra project as a backdrop to the events of the film. This must not make the film director, Adrian Lyne, very popular with his own government.
As said before Jacob’s Ladder has inspired a lot of modern horror, and it started the ‘Rubber Reality’ films like Donne Darko. The Silent Hill video game series also takes a lot from this movie, ranging from actual inspiration to actual plagiarism veiled as 'homage'.
The film opens with a brief friendly scene in which soldiers in an unnamed Vietnam village sit around talking like they just left high school before a stark and brutal fire fight between members of that largest of NRA fan clubs that is the US army and a then unknown, unseen enemy. Jacob Singer is.... the protagonist, and is also stabbed and left to die in the bush by an assailant. Then he wakes up. He’s on a train in New York years later and proceeds to live a normal life. But things quickly turn against him, and he comes to find – not just believe – that he is being stalked by things not-quite-human.
The whole effect is that after a blistering opening and some truly graphic scene with legs blown halfway to hell, and soldiers having convulsions and throwing up, the next part of the film is very tame and subtle. The film suffers from this because the opening is very strong and memorable, leading you to believe when you watch it for the first time that you are watching a war film, and then for the film to settle and it become a very subtle, psychological film the change in mood is almost jarring. The aim here was to presumably make us feel safe in this urban environment, but because there is no sense of any real danger to the protagonist we begin to feel less like something is wrong and more like nothing is happening.
This is not to say that this part of the film is bad. Far from it, its well shot, well acted, well scripted and has a number of subtle symbols that are extremely rewording to find. It’s just that the clash of tone between the opening and this part is so great it feels like two different films which is both a point in its favour and a real problem.
The film starts to build quickly in the second half of the film as Jacob’s life spirals out of control. Symbols and horrific imagery are aplenty here, and the effect is truly horrifying. It is here when the film comes into its own, and we begin to sympathise with Jacob a lot more now that reality and nightmarish fantasy start to mix together; resulting in one of the most intense and deeply disturbing scenes in cinema. This part of the film just builds and builds and builds until the ending: which is perhaps one of the most beautiful and meaningful endings to a film that I have ever seen. However, with a film like Jacob’s Ladder the ending could either leave you spellbound or thoroughly confused. What you feel at the end relates entirely to how much attention you paid to the dialogue, which leads me to a very lazy, and poor complaint about the narration in the film. Throughout the film Jacob is shown as very intelligent, a man who earned a degree in philosophy sometime long before the films events. However, he has to be told a quote from Eckhart. The reason is obvious: to tell the viewer something important about the plot, but the style of delivery is poor. This is not good storytelling: surely if Jacob Singer has a degree in philosophy then he should already know of Eckhart and his ideas?
That said though, the film extremely well made, and a personal favourite. The ending is astounding in its beauty, and it is the sort of film that stays with you long after you are finished watching as you reflect on it, and work the films finer points out, which is something I really appreciate. I must admit that this review was hard to write from an unbiased position because I am such a fan of Jacob's Ladder.
[In order to make these reviews a little more interesting I’ve decided to review the 2000 film Battle Royale in the style of 18th century poets and use Heroic Couplets.]
'WHAT dire Offence from am'rous Causes springs,
What mighty Contests rise from trivial Things,'
Alexander Pope - The Rape of the Lock
BATTLE ROYALE is a film that’s real bad
But somewhere inside it makes me so glad.
What is it about this film that’s shitty?
MUSE! Aid me in explaining this myst’ry!
The story is silly, and poorly done;
Seems the director wanted to have fun
With an island, some school kids, and some guns,
And have one boy who all the girls love tons!
SHUYA can’t see that NORIKO Love’s him,
But they stay together because... it’s him;
The result: a romance that makes milk curdle...
To hell with just MUSE! I need VIRGIL!
The acting is bad, just beyond compare,
A lot of the characters are just ... there;
Getting themselves killed so the film can end.
So if you like that stuff – do not pretend –
There is enough killing to make it fun
But if you like a good story, just run:
There is nothing for you here, it’s just all
Killing, with one scene with a basketball
Game, and a ball in reverse gravity.
Just you try explaining that one to me.
But, despite all this; it does what it does –
And I’d not mind it if there weren’t a buzz.
(Stuff you! I know these rhymes are really bad)
But after watching it you are quite glad
And not just because the film’s over, either,
If I said I hate this film ... I’m a liar.
It has this weird charm that I can’t describe:
It’s feels somehow mature, and I ascribe
To this. It’s easy to feel that social
Commentary is it’s – well - it’s so called
Aim (if you excuse the pun) the people
Of this future JAPAN do not mind the game,
And some of its winners even find fame!
So what any message might be, I don’t know -
It can’t be very original though;
And I still don’t understand the ending!
What message, BATTLE ROYALE, are you sending?
[My god that was painful]
Goodbye Lenin! – A review
If Downfall shows a sophistication in German cinema, then the film Goodbye Lenin! proves that Germany has a fantastic film industry that is largely and criminally ignored. Goodbye Lenin! (2003) is a very good film, and it is shows another side of Germany that is often overlooked in that the film is also genuinely funny.
Goodbye Lenin! tells the story of Germany’s reconciliation, and the morphing between Capitalist west and Communist East, and the personal difficulties that many East Germans had in accepting and coming to terms with their new, freer if less structured life. All of this is seen through the eyes of Alex Kerner the protagonist, a young East German who longs for a freer life. This reunion is where most of the emotional impact in this film comes from; the comedy comes in the story of Alex trying to stop his staunchly Socialist mother (who suffered a heart attack during the reunion, and is told that if she suffers another large shock she might die) from finding out that the Cold War is over. He does this in a number of ingenious ways while he also tries to live his life, and embrace the new culture developing around him.
What is great about this film is that it pokes fun at the distrust between East and West born out of the Cold War instead of relying overtly on simple jokes, and the comedic elements of the film serve to also develop the characters. Because of this character development we are more attached to Alex as a person rather than just a character and we feel his frustration when the illusion he tries so hard to build becomes impossible to maintain. We also get a real sense of his sadness when he finds his father, who defected to the west when he was young.
Overall the film is a very funny and original piece that is greatly overlooked and underrated. There are a few anachronisms; but this is literally a small picking-point rather than a major problem with the film. The only real problem with the film is that the ending and some of the scenes are largely forgettable.
However, if you can look past some forgettable moments and a few anachronisms then Goodbye Lenin! is a film very much worth checking out; it is emotional, unique, well written and above all very well made.
Downfall – a movie review
Berlin, 1945. The Russian Red Army are closing in on the tired, war-weary city, while the Fuhrer Adolf Hitler raves in an underground bunker and slips into madness and depression. This is the setting of the 2004 German film Downfall (or Der Untergang) and the film tries very hard to have a realistic and vaguely sympathetic depiction of the end of the Second World War in Europe, the Battle for Berlin, and Adolf Hitler’s state of mind.
A cynical person might think something would be strange about a German film portraying this period of history in such a way, but this film is actually very natural with this subject. This film is, I think, a great sign, as it shows a maturity in German cinema – and in cinema in general – which is very refreshing. Also, the fact that this film is spoken in German adds a more realistic feel to the film, unlike other films about this conflict which involve Russians or Germans conversing in English and with either British or American accents. The Germans, who are obviously the focus of this film, are often fully developed characters with flows, a sense of humour, and a moral ambiguity which makes many of the characters very memorable.
However, this does not apply to every character in the film, but considering the sheer number of characters in this film it would be very difficult to give equal light to every story thread. The film is very long though, over three hours, and yet not every story thread is fully explored, or fully rapped with the main plot. The film tries to do too much and very often suffers for it, but the viewer never loses track of the overall story. I will not here give a summary of the plot, the story is so well known it seems pointless and it would be much better to simply watch the film anyway.
The before mentioned moral ambiguity of the film is perhaps where the film draws a lot of its power. It gives a sense of humanity to the characters, even to Adolf Hitler, who is played excellently by Bruno Ganz. The overall effect of this is to make you appreciate the sophistication of the film, which is very welcome when compared to other films about the period.
Downfall is also a very well made film. Some moments are almost Lynchian in their nightmarish atmosphere and intensity, whereas other scenes (especially of street fighting) are amazingly intense. But saying this there is a lot in the film that betrays its origin. A lot of the explosions, especially near the beginning, are clearly CGI which takes away much of their intended impact.
The film, then, is very much worth watching. However, the length of the film could turn many away from it, and some might find it difficult following every story thread. However, if you do sit through the film you might find a unique, satisfying and very sophisticated take on the end of the Second World War in Europe.