Film Roundup (12/15/2018)

Here are some of the more interesting choices of the past few weeks.  Watching movies is much like trying new dishes:  you just have to “consume” them and judge for yourself.

The Warning (2018)

Director:  Daniel Calparsoro

This is by far the best of the lot.  I’ve known for a long time that Spain’s film industry turns out some of the most creative and compelling movies in Europe.  This dark and fascinating film is no exception.  The plot:  a ten-year-old boy, a victim of bullying at school, enters a gas station and discovers a note warning him not to come there on a certain day and time, or he will be killed.  Another character witnesses a man get shot and killed at the same gas station ten years earlier.  He investigates further and finds out that people have died there in 1976, 1955, and 1913.  He becomes increasingly obsessed with the curse and tries to warn friends, but (of course) no one is listening.

Everything hurtles to a conclusion that we all know is both necessary and inescapable.  A tautly told narrative, with manic acting that never feels too “over the top.”  The message here seems to be that, while we cannot escape the jaws of Fate, we can redeem our existence with acts of heroism and courage.  And this is a message that the ancients would have strongly endorsed.


The Duel (2016)

Director:  Kieran Darcy-Smith

This was a big disappointment.  The plot:  a smoldering Texas Ranger (Liam Hemsworth) trots into an isolated town with his attractive wife to investigate a series of strange murders along the Rio Grande.  He soon finds out the town is dominated by a religious fanatic (Woody Harrelson) who has no intention of ever letting them leave.  There were some promising notes here in the first 30 minutes, but ultimately this movie is so unbalanced that the viewer is left wondering whether this was supposed to be a horror tale or a drama.  The violence is disproportionate and out-of-place; the acting is substandard; and even Woody Harrelson’s inner maniac can’t save this convoluted mess.


Terminator:  Salvation (2009)

Director:  McG

I never saw this when it first came out, and now I know why.  This is filmmaking by the numbers, without any heart or soul.  Pile on the explosions, mechanoids, chase scenes, and special effects, and just overwhelm the audience with razzmatazz.  Sadly, this approach often works in today’s dumbed-down world of video-game conditioned audiences, and director McG knows it.  But I’m not buying it.  The plot is the usual “Terminator” bullshit:  some guy is sent back in time to save something or other, and there is a new supa-dupa Terminator model coming out that everyone’s afraid of, and there is an incipient revolt against the mechanoids about to happen, etc., etc.  You get the idea.

The sad thing here is that the cast has talent.  Christian Bale is here, as well as Sam Worthington; even Helena Bonham Carter shows up.  I know actors have to work like all the rest of us, and maybe there is only so much a director can do with a franchise that is showing every sign of being played out.  But at least give us some honest emotion, some passion and soul.


Transcendence (2014)

Director:  Wally Pfister

Another failure.  The plot:  a smug, arrogant artificial intelligence scientist (Johnny Depp) meets a fatal accident.  He wants to live forever, so he has his “consciousness” uploaded into a computer.  So disembodied, he gradually begins to hunger for more and more power, eventually hoping to build an army of drones that he controls.  His girlfriend (Rebecca Hall) huffs and puffs about how nervous she is about everything, but of course enables his evil scheme every step of the way until it’s too late.  She actually seems comfortable having this 1984-like computer screen in her apartment with Johnny Depp’s voice talking to her at all hours of the day.  Government bureaucrats led by Morgan Freeman show up to try to shut things down, but make a complete mess of it.  The ending rings about as false as everything else in this production.

The sad thing about this movie is that the story actually has a lot of potential.  In capable hands, this could have been a profound tale about the limits of mortality and the human psyche.  But we don’t get this, of course.  What we get is more soulless, paint-by-numbers filmmaking.  The action scenes are staged so unbelievably ineptly that I wondered if the film had run out of money in the middle of production.  I am not kidding about this:  we see random junk artillery pieces hauled across the set that look like something out of 1950s monster movie.  All in all, a big letdown.