Samsara (2011)

Samsara PosterSamsara is one of the most beautiful, disturbing, elating and haunting films I have seen. It is the third film collaboration by director Ron Fricke and producer Mark Magidson.

Their first film was Chronos (1985) was a 43 minute IMAX film that is regarded as the first non-verbal non-fiction motion picture. Sadly in Australia I have only ever come across a 4:3 version of this film and have not seen it in its full 65mm 1:78:1 aspect, but it is still a beautiful piece of film showing the grandeur of our planet to a very elegant musical score.

Their second film Baraka (1992) was a far more impressive film. Shot on 70mm in 2:20:1 aspect, it was released in Australia in 1994 and had a profound effect on me. Featuring footage of 24 countries, filmed over to an epic musical score, the film displayed some of the epic wonder of our planet and the people upon it, while also showing a number of the ills of our modern society. I have seen this film over 20 times since its release and it is one of the few films I have found that truly benefits from the Blu-Ray High Definition format. Baraka means 'blessing'.

Samsara (2011), released to the general public this year, is an intellectual and thematic continuation of Baraka, once more offering a range of visuals from 25 countries and filmed over 5 years. Samsara means 'the cycle of death and rebirth to which life in the material world is bound.' The name informs the viewer of the nature of this venture, being a weightier film than the 20 year old Baraka. The visuals that the team has put together must have been a logistical nightmare to obtain, ranging from Thiksey Monastery in India, to sweat shops in China, the Hawaiian Volcanoes to the Chateau de Versailles, the Ninth Ward of New Orleans to Mecca.

From the moment the film begins you are entranced, ensnared. For the next 100 minutes your life belongs to film. The musical score controls the rhythm of your breath, the images your thoughts. It is a meditation on the world and your place within it, taking you from calm to elated glory at the wonder of the natural world, human rituals, as well as the traditional and modern world we have built, then through to roiling distressed horror at the inconsistencies of how human life operates, before returning you to the epic beauty of our world and the people upon it.

Samsara is a wonderful film project that engages you, emotionally and philosophically, and the experience can not be shed immediately upon leaving the cinema.

A joyous and concerning film that I think everyone should watch. 9/10 for sheer epic brilliance.

Samsara (2011) Trailer

Baraka (1992) Trailer


The Raid (2012)


Every year there are a slew of action films that come to the cinemas and DVD outlets. For the most part these are relatively generic films suffering from uninspired plots/script and starring cookie cut actors. It is a genre where you check your head at the door and watch the mediocrity for two hours with the occasional cheer and/or chuckle, and rarely an incredible action sequence that you talk about later.
Then along comes an action film that stands apart... this is one of them.
The Raid doesn't sport a new or unique plot: A Police unit must raid a tenement to capture a gang lord – hijinks ensue. But, oh the hijinks.
The film opens with our protagonist (Rama, played by relative newcomer Iko Uwais) enjoying marital bliss – waking with his pregnant wife and preparing for his job – establishing that Rama is just like us, an Everyman. Dressed for action he joins his team in a truck driving towards the tenement and is given his briefing. Who the bad guy is, who his bodyguards are, etcetera etcetera. Lieutenant Wahyu, who is commanding the Raid, makes the point of singling Rama out as a rookie amongst the elite team and gets him placed at the back so as not to cause trouble.
The Raid begins easily enough, the team infiltrates the complex easily enough with some nicely shot manoeuvres, scaling the tower. As always though, after a while they are not quick enough and the alarm is sounded. What follows is a beautifully shot battle between the scum and villainy of the tenement and the 'elite cops', culminating in the film's conclusion.
One of the things that sets the film apart is the form of martial art used, the traditional Indonesian Pencak Silat. The style as portrayed in the film is efficient and brutal in its elegance. The camera work in this film, particularly during combat is brilliant, conveying inertia and potency that leaves almost all of the big budget actions films I've seen these last years, well behind. There is care and forethought to how the actors move on set as well as to what the viewer will see of it. Very rarely does the camera not move fluidly, which keeps the audience's adrenaline running rather than making them queasy, which is surprising considering how close into the fray it gets.
I can't really speak to the acting as I've only been to Indonesia a few times and am not sure what the standards or nuances are for actors there, but it does hold up well compared to western action heroes. Although, being that most of the movie is an action scene, most of the extras just throw punches and take hits with the appropriate screaming and gurgling and thus not requiring Academy Award winning dramatists.
Watching this film I look forward to seeing what Director Gareth Evans, Cinematographer Matt Flannery, and Iko Uwais have in store next. As a second film for the team, this is a great outing keeping me engaged throughout.

I gladly give this film 8/10 for pure entertainment.


Ghost Rider - Spirit Of Vengeance (2011)

Ghost Rider Spirit of Vengeance Movie posterWhen I first heard that there was going to be another Ghost Rider movie I was cautious, especially when it was said to be a sequel and a reboot. It sounded like it was complete BS from Columbia Studios to get people to ignore the first film, which while it made money it didn't survive the critics wrath as other comic book adaptations have and was treated almost as poorly as the dismal Catwoman. It wasn't that the first film was bad per se, more that you had to remove certain parts of your brain to enjoy it.

Then I heard that it was to be directed by the guys that did Crank and its sequel, which made me feel a little iffy – Would this be a serious attempt to make an action-horror or would it just be a series of over-the-top explosions with little in the way of plot? Then came the first trailer for Spirit Of Vengeance and the trepidation went away. It looked good and the story, while cliché, sounded like it could be pulled off reasonably well. It seemed like there was going to be a melding of the crazy action that these guys do plus a decent good versus evil plot that if anything should at least be entertaining. And there was Idris Elba in there for good measure.

I should have known better.

This was one of the worst comic adaptations I've seen. It would be easier to say what I liked than what I didn't as the film left such a poor taste in my mouth I've started to think better of the first film. Spirit of Vengeance feels similar to the Punisher: War Zone that came out a few years back – Half Hearted, poorly funded, ill-conceived, and a dozen other ways of describing dreck.

Where to begin? How about Nicholas Cage. Over the years I've come to get used to Nicholas Cage and the performances he delivers. Sometimes they are fun (Drive Angry) at others creepy (Adaptation) sometimes enjoyable in an Elvisy way (Matchstick Men), but most of the time it's the same bland character saying different lines. This time out, Cage plays his character as a junkie with a moral code who understands he's a dickhead and doesn't even try to change. That should say enough about this movie to make you put it back on the shelf and walk away.

As to the other actors: Violante Placido (The Damsel in Distress), Idris Elba (The Drunken Monk), Christopher Lambert (The Zealot), and Ciaran Hinds (The Devil) – their performances are far from being their A game let alone their C game. They are bored and uninterested.

As for the story itself? Well, it is less a Good versus Evil story as it is boring versus boring. In order for a film of this genre to engage you it needs either or both of the following:

An excellent Hero or Villain or at least someone charming enough to make you leave reality outside for two hours.

A brilliant script that enable the viewer to ignore poor performances because they are so engaged in the dialogue.

This film has neither. The Characters are just dumb and the actors really do nothing to make them anything more than cardboard cut-outs parading on screen. With not a single one of them redeemable you really don't care if they survive the film let alone the next minute or two (secretly you hope that they won't because then you wouldn't have to listen to them speak again). The dialogue is atrocious and the story labours from moment to moment like an amputated meth-head (not easily).

Probably the only thing this film has that can offer it up even an iota of redemption is the special effects. They honestly look good even if they are used in many a stupid and irritating way and aren't entirely consistent. How the studio or directors thought they'd be able to use the scene of Ghost Rider taking a leak more than once is beyond me, but they do and to the detriment of the product.

All in all, this film was a very poor outing for the Character and Columbia and should be avoided unless you take pleasure in badly made movies, and not bad in a good way, but actual bad. Thankfully this film didn't do particularly well (although it did make some money) so we probably won't have another offering from this soiled slate.

1 out 10 because even I don't have the heart to give something 0.


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