The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared (2013)
I’d wanted to watch this Swedish film at some point as I absolutely loved the book it’s based on. It tells the story of Allan Karlsson, who runs away from his care home on his hundredth birthday: the film simultaneously shows the adventures that elderly Allan gets up to, and flashbacks to his earlier life that took him all over the world and led him to blow a lot of things up. It has quite a lot in common with Forrest Gump: like Forrest, Allan travels all over the place and meets a number of historical figures, doing so by letting life take him where it will rather than by having real aims of his own. It makes for a diverse, wide-reaching story, and the film does quite a lot right: the music matches the black-comedy atmosphere very well (yes, there are quite a few deaths in this story), and the cut-away editing of different events is pretty much exactly how I would have imagined. On the other hand, the whole story is condensed a bit clumsily, and the characters aren’t as interesting as they are in the book, where we have time to learn a lot more about them. So ultimately, I preferred the novel, though it’s a fairly amusing film on its own. Rating: 3.5/5.
Apocalypse Now (1979)
Based on the novel Heart of Darkness, and set during the Vietnam War, this film follows Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) on a mission to track down the rogue Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando) in his isolated jungle location, and kill him. I think this is a film that will have a real emotional impact on most people who watch it – it’s just incredibly intense. Other war films emphasise how hellish war is, but Apocalypse Now takes it to a whole new level; here, it’s like being in a completely different world. Right at the beginning, we see Willard going crazy in a hotel room, with surreal superimposing of imagery over the scene. As the film goes on with Willard and his men taking their boat down the river, conditions get worse and worse; there’s a lot of use of fog, and very good use of music, such as distorted circus music in one scene.
Everything is very well filmed: the battle scenes are chaotic and frantic, and there always seems to be something going on in the background. The Americans’ attitudes to the conflict, making time for surfing and watching Playboy girls while gunning down the Vietnamese, makes you wonder what the point of the whole thing is. As the journey progresses, it’s not just the horrors of the environment that keep building: we learn more about Kurtz and how he went rogue, and Willard becomes less detached, seriously wanting to confront him. When we finally get to the end, the character enters an unrecognisable world and seems to be completely shattered, and the simple order of the military office that sent Willard on his journey feels like a lifetime ago. It’s a strange and uncomfortable experience, but just about every element is done perfectly, and I’d say it’s a must-see if you haven’t already. Rating: 5/5!
The Raid (2011)
And now for an action movie. The setting up of this Indonesian film feels like a video game: a squad of Jakartan police are sent to raid a multi-storey building controlled by a crime lord and populated by the criminals who work under him. There’s no messing around: the police are arriving at the building in the first few minutes. At first, things seem too easy, as if the film is lulling you into a false sense of security – but before long, all hell breaks loose, and the focus gradually comes onto a solo hero named Rama as other officers are killed around him. I liked the action in this film a lot: at first, there’s a sense of efficiency – both sides are prepared and have plans – but all too soon both of their battle plans just fall apart. There’s a constant sense of the good guys being inches from death, and some creative kills. It’s not all gunfire, either: there’s some exciting (albeit clearly choreographed) hand-to-hand combat, with a brutal two-on-one fight at the end that’s particularly good. The characters aren’t complicated, but then, they don’t really have to be in a film like this. The Raid is a solid action film, and I’ll definitely watch the sequel at some point, as I’ve heard good things about it. Rating: 4/5.
I’ve said before that I love most of the Christopher Nolan films I’ve seen, but I hadn’t gotten round to watching Memento before. When I did, it didn’t disappoint. The main character, Lenny (Guy Pearce), suffers from a condition where he cannot retain short-term memories, and thus is unable to remember things that happened more than a few minutes before: the film actually runs backwards, beginning with Lenny killing the man whom he believes raped and murdered his wife, then the scene that immediately preceded that, and so on and so forth. This gimmick – which reflects how Lenny perceives the world – turns what would otherwise be a straightforward story into a really interesting film that you get really caught up in. You notice things like cuts and bruises on the characters, and wait for the film to show you how they were sustained. It’s so well constructed that even though we’re seeing the story in reverse, it flows as well as a linear story, becoming more complex as it goes on.
Nolan tries to make you think a bit in all his films: here, it’s about the nature of memory, how it works, and what it can mean for us when our memories are unreliable. Part of what makes Lenny a great protagonist – besides the quality of Guy Pearce’s acting – is the fact that it gradually becomes evident how vulnerable his condition truly makes him: his inability to remember makes him easy to manipulate, and the audience in turn becomes unable to trust what they’re being shown in any one scene. This idea ultimately comes full circle with the twist at the end, but I’m not going to spoil that. Another must-see. Rating: 5/5!
The Princess and the Frog (2009)
Known for being the first 2D-animated film released by Disney in several years at the time, and for having its first black princess, I’d been unsure about this one due to hearing mixed reviews – but decided to try it out. When it first started, I thought it was absolutely fantastic. I loved pretty much everything I was seeing: the animation is dynamic, the facial expressions are well done, and there’s a lot of detail in the background. Setting the film in 1920s New Orleans gives it a enjoyable and unique atmosphere, and all the songs in the first act are very catchy, with the villain song “Friends On The Other Side” being particularly good. I loved the characters too: the proactive heroine Tiana; her friend Charlotte, who has some very funny moments, and actually manages to be a genuinely caring friend despite being rich and spoiled; the villain Dr Facilier; and Prince Naveen, who is likeable and charismatic despite being an irresponsible layabout. The setting, and the plot involving voodoo magic, are an interesting new way to approach the story of the Princess and the Frog, which isn’t a very deep story on its own; much like with Rapunzel and Tangled, Disney gives it plenty more layers.
Unfortunately, the film takes a bit of a downturn in the second act. Most of the story now takes place in the bayou, which isn’t as compelling to see. We get more supporting characters who aren’t as fun as the ones we’ve already met, and come in one at a time, each needing time for their own introduction. The songs from this point aren’t nearly as good. The inevitable character development comes on a bit too quickly. The villain’s ultimate plan doesn’t make much sense: I couldn’t quite see just how and why certain things needed to happen to get him what he wants. However, once we get back to New Orleans for the climax, things pick up again; plus I like the film’s overall messages about working hard, and differentiating between what you want and what you need. An average Disney flick overall. Rating: 3.5/5.