Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Three Films Make A Post: Know the Mark

Mystery Road (2013): I am full of admiration for Ivan Sen’s rural Australian crime movie: admiration for the photography of huge, empty spaces that suggests a lot of what they mean to the people inhabiting them; admiration for the calm way it approaches rural power structures based on racism and disinterest, somehow managing to not yell about a truth and making it even starker by just telling it; admiration for the film’s unwillingness to look down; admiration for its calm and silent empathy; admiration for the way it tells so much through small gestures, glances and avoided glances; admiration for Aaron Pedersen’s central performance; admiration for the decision to not explain the crime plot to the smallest detail but let the audience sort it out for themselves; admiration, finally, for the sheer flow Sen gives his film without ever avoiding the fact he has something important to say about a very specific time and place.

Ice Station Zebra (1968): If you thought the bloated, overlong, substance-low Hollywood film is an invention of the blockbuster age, or at least of 70s disaster movies, think again. This two and a half hour thing directed by the usually – though not this time – brilliant John Sturges (who started having quite a few off-days at this point in his career) based on the inevitable Alistair MacLean novel is basically a fun, 90 minute cold war thriller bloated up to 150 minutes, mostly by things like an overture, a musical intermission (as if Michel Legrand’s annoyingly over-present score weren’t bad enough during the actual movie), and many a scene of rousing music playing while the camera stares at an atomic submarine for no dramatic reason at all, also dithering. Just imagine the first half hour of the first Star Trek movie trampling on your face forever.

There’s a great cast with Rock Hudson, Ernest Borgnine, Jim Brown and Patrick McGoohan but following the rules of this sort of film, they basically have sod all to do, which is something of an achievement in a film this long, but then, at least it manages to achieve something.

Spores (2011? 2013?): Clearly, if study of the cheap and the curious in world cinema has taught me anything, it’s that there is such a thing as a universal human tale speaking Deep Things about the Human Condition. Like Russian director Maksim Dyachuk’s Spores, these tales are all about a bunch of young people – clichés all - going to a remote place (in this case a ruined factory building) to mostly die by something evil (in this case alien CG creatures). I’m still not quite sure what exactly this says about the Human Condition but I’m working on it.

Be that as it may, I found this Russian version of the age-old story on the more entertaining side: the acting is semi-professional at best but at least the worst actors die first; the CG monsters look bad, but at least they are not badly designed; the film has a competent flow and decent photography, and doesn’t overstay its welcome. That’s a win in my book.

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