Movie Review: The Wall

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The Wall (German: Die Wand) is a 2012 Austrian-German drama film written and directed by Julian Pölsler and starring Martina Gedeck. Based on the 1963 novel Die Wand by Austrian writer Marlen Haushofer and adapted for the screen by Julian Pölsler, the film is about a woman who visits with friends at their hunting lodge in the Austrian Alps.

Left alone while her friends walk to a nearby village, the woman soon discovers she is cut off from all human contact by a mysterious invisible wall that surrounds the isolated countryside where she is staying.

With her friends’ loyal dog Lynx as her companion, she soon encounters an elemental world ruled by nature’s laws, and spends the next three years living in isolation looking after her animals and trying to survive.

It has been a while since I came across a movie that I would choose to describe as profound, but Julian Pölsler‘s deft adaptation of Marlen Haushofer‘s 1963 novel The Wall (Die Wand) rises to earn that accolade.

While a visually beautiful movie, the story does move at a glacial pace, a word I use deliberately not as a criticism because this also applies to the film’s slowly building, inexorable emotional force for those with the patience to withstand it.

It is, as well, deeply philosophical, weaving in themes of humanity’s relationship with nature, with animals, indirectly with civilization (by way of said’s absence), and most eminently with the terror and majesty of our own relationship with an uncaring universe that was Friedrich Nietzsche‘s own famous obsession.

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Marlen Haushofer’s story represents a rare example of pure Science Fiction, meaning she changes one scientifically unknown thing – in this case, the instance of the mysterious, invisible Wall – and then lets everything else follow naturally and correctly from that. Some have described it as dystopian as well, though I think I would argue it to be instead deeply existentialist.

If there is one flaw to both book and movie, I would suggest it is that so much information about the protagonist’s past has been deliberately scrubbed from the work – we never even learn her name – that it was difficult for me to relate or care about the protagonist until quite late in the story, something that the film’s deliberate pacing does exacerbate.

Obviously, I understand why Haushofer chose to do this, but I do think a few more ties to what her protagonist has lost would not have irreparably damaged her “Everywoman” aspect.

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This is a film that could never have been made by the mainstream film industry; it encompasses a tremendous amount of introspective ruminative narrative, features a single actress who is definitely not in her 20s, and does not fit cleanly into any commonly expected genre (though as noted above, I believe it to be most accurately defined as “pure SF”).

It is, as well, a rare, profoundly powerful examination of the themes of isolation, despair, love, loneliness, and hope. Deep stuff.

Five out of five severed zombie heads.

Quoted text via Wikipedia.
The movie on Amazon.
The book on Amazon.

Movie Review: Monsters

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After a NASA deep-space probe crash lands in Mexico, alien life forms spread throughout the U.S.–Mexico border region, leading to the quarantine of the northern half of Mexico.

Mexican and United States troops battle to contain the creatures, while a wall stretching along the American border ostensibly keeps the United States protected.

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Monsters is that odd fish of a movie that transcends genres. It’s part monster movie, part war zone movie, and part drama all wrapped up in fascinating bundle.

It is, as well, very much an indie film, though it doesn’t look it. The acting is solid, the special effects perfectly respectable, the camera work professional.

The film was devised, story boarded and directed by Gareth Edwards, who also worked as the visual effects artist. The filming equipment cost approximately $15,000, with the budget coming in at “way under” $500,000.

Any settings featured in the film were real locations often used without permission asked in advance, and the extras were just people who happened to be there at the time.

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I. Loved. This. Film.

There are very few movies I can honestly say I loved, as opposed to merely liked, or even was entertained by.

Let’s see:

Anyways, my point is that this film is incredibly well put together if you appreciate movies that defy easy genre classification and aren’t afraid to mix their Science Fiction with their drama.

Some people don’t appreciate that, and that’s fine, they probably should take this as a warning and avoid this movie like the plague.

Edwards had the idea for the film while watching some fishermen struggling to haul in their net and imagining a monster. He had the idea to make a monster movie set “years after most other monster movies end, when people aren’t running and screaming, but life is going on” and “where a giant, dead sea monster is considered completely normal.”

As the chemistry between Edwards’s two characters was so important, he wanted a real couple, and luckily McNairy’s [the male lead] then-girlfriend (and now wife) Whitney Able is an actress, and joined the project.

Now, all this being said, there are a couple of caveats:

First, the film was primarily shot in Belize and southern Mexico, though most of it took place in northern Mexico. For those who aren’t aware of the differences in geography, Belize and southern Mexico feature lots of Romancing the Stone, Indiana Jones-style jungle. Northern Mexico is more like Texas – very dry with a great deal of desert.

They also included a…I can’t say it. You’ll know what I mean when you see it, but maybe if you never took anthropology or archaeology you might not sob uncontrollably as I did. See there, I’m man enough to admit it, though it was my concentration in college, so maybe that gives me a special excuse.

Second, whomever was in charge of the marketing and naming of the film should be taken out back and shot in the head and crotch with rabid feral hamsters. “Monsters” … really? That is what you came up with? No wonder some of the YouTube trailer comments were so negative.

Why is this a problem?

It has aliens. It has monsters and dead people and blood. It’s not a monster movie. At all. It’s a road trip/war zone/romance movie. Seriously. What it isn’t is a Battle: Los Angeles or even aSkyline – not that I have anything against either of those movies, but this just isn’t that kind of film.

Four and three-quarters severed zombie heads out of five.

Yes, I’m docking a quarter of a severed zombie head for the heinously misleading title and putting a shot of pyramid in a jungle in northern Mexico. Sorry guys, but there has to be a penalty or future film makers will get the idea that it’s okay to pull that kind of crap.

Movie Review: Another Earth

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Another Earth begins with the sudden, inexplicable appearance of a literal twin Earth in the sky. The science of this is neither important to the story nor particularly explored, and frankly, that’s just fine in this case.

Instead, the movie focuses on the very personal journey of a young woman whose life is shattered at the moment of, and because of, the appearance of the other Earth.

Much like Melancholia, Another Earth is very measured in its pacing and very psychological. It is certainly not a feel-good movie, but rather it explores loss and the act of facing your own inner demons, which is done here in a very subdued, subtle manner.

Four out of five severed zombie heads.

Movie Review: Melancholia

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Melancholia begins with the end of the world.

It’s a good technique, as you are then free to watch the rest of the movie knowing that there will be no last minute reprieve, allowing you to focus on the themes of depression and despair, and how those who are depressed are in some ways better equipped for moments of despair.

The approach to the story is heavy on the artistic side with very methodical (some might unkindly just say slow) pacing. The story is, however, beautiful, awkward, disturbing and a particularly artful performance by Kristen Dunst. Not a recommend for every palate, but for those who like the psychological steeped in drowning pathos, nevertheless appealing.

Three out of five severed zombie heads. Since I do kinda like this sort of thing.

Movie Review: Black Death

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This. Is. Awesome. Festering buboes, crucifixion, drawing-and-quartering, witch hunters, decapitation, necromancers, hallucination and madness…and no, it’s not fantasy. No actual magic, which in this case actually makes the movie work even better.

Set during the time of the first outbreak of bubonic plague in England, a young monk is given the task of learning the truth about reports of people being brought back to life in a small village.

Four and a half out of five severed zombie heads. It almost hit five out of five, but I wasn’t quite sold on the execution (heh, heh) of the ending.

Also, I’m sorry, Sean. You had to know where this was going, right?

Movie Review: Cloud Atlas

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The movie Cloud Atlas, based on David Mitchell’s novel of the same name opened to tumultuous reviews, which is a nice way of saying some people loved it and some people hated it.

The story interleaves different stories in different time periods ranging from the 19th century to far in the future, and takes the additional fascinating step of presenting each of these stories in a different genre, from adventure to thriller, from romance to dystopia, from comedy to post-apocalyptic.

It’s undeniably dark in places, even beautifully gruesome in concept and specifics, and although it invites comparison to The Fountain, it is far more confidently executed. Where The Fountain frequently slipped into obscurity, Cloud Atlas doesn’t seem afraid to let the viewer understand what is going on both in theme and in its multitude of layered connections.

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Cloud Atlas is undeniably a complicated film, and it almost demands multiple viewings to fully comprehend all of the subtleties. It requires a significant intellectual investment, but the payoff is empathically worth the effort.

Four and three-quarters out of five severed zombie heads.

Movie Review: Primer

With a $7000 budget and a skeleton production crew, Shane Carruth has made a film in the vein of Memento – smart, uncondescending, unapologetically fast moving and driven less by explicit action than by simple actions and science that seems so down to earth at times as to seem entirely plausible.

Two friends accidentally make a profound scientific discovery out of their fly-by-night, garage operation. Once you watch it and have only the barest idea of what the fuck just happened, never fear, there are diagrams and explanatory YouTube videos to help you swim.

If that sounds like too much work, it may be for some people; this is a movie that requires some serious investment, and though the payoff is, ultimately, I think worth the effort, it is no cakewalk.

Four and a half out of five severed zombie heads (the last head was partially decomposed).

Via Wikipedia.