by James Gilmore
Restrepo is the first documentary reviewed on this blog (and hopefully not the last) but is worth discussing due to its vigorous storytelling qualities.
The film documents the most combat-intensive atmosphere known to US soldiers since Vietnam, wherein American soldiers find themselves engaged in 4-5 firefights a day for 15 unbroken months. Transcending the normal objectivity of the format, Restrepo thrusts the viewer into the startling subjective experiences of young soldiers right from the beginning. Illustrated by intense first-hand footage of combat, poignant interviews, and daily losses and gains, the film recreates the surreal daily life of these soldiers. Footage of “boys being boys” punctuated by ghostly silence and heart-stopping combat. What we see in the often unspoken psychological aftermath of war is devastating.
The filmmakers quickly get a bead on what is human and interesting in the story. These men aren’t just soldiers in another American conflict, but youths who barely understand anything about their own world, let alone the incomprehensible foreignness of the world they have been dropped into. To these young men the war is not about ideology, the fight for freedom or any other such lofty goals. It is about surviving in an alien environment they will never understand.
Restrepo is more emotionally intense than any synthetic war movie. At times it is beyond heart-wrenching. It is ultimately compelling. One of the best military documentaries of the decade.
Rating: 5 / 5
by James Gilmore
In an attempt to branch out in review material, Blue Gender is this blog’s first Minimalist Review of a TV series—a Japanese anime TV series at that.
Seemingly inspired by another anime series called Neon Genesis Evangelion (and occasionally approaching near plagiarism of it), this 26-episode animated series proves to be an incredibly dark, violent and gory sci-fi that is externally centered around a chosen few individuals who pilot exoskeleton suits (read: big robots) to fight off a global alien invasion. Internally, the story is about one individual trying to find his purpose in a seemingly pointless existence.
Although the series stays afloat with decent execution, it suffers from numerous logic holes, a unique but blunted concept (a directorial issue, see below), and a bloated, inefficient plot spread too thinly over 26 episodes. Even though it improves somewhat over time, the whole series still feels two episodes longer than is necessary. The plot is sometimes too predictable due to directorial shortcomings in dramatizing big reveals, even if they do occur on cue in a solid over-arching structure. The underlying emotional/relationship content remains adequate for the genre but could have been taken much further given its powerful seeds. Barely worth mentioning is the all-too-frequent laughable dialogue and occasional clips of unnecessary nudity (justified as “fan service,” which is typical of the anime supergenre).
Despite its numerous shortcomings, Blue Gender remains coherent, well structured, directed, animated and characterized, ultimately leading to a surprisingly entertaining end result, even if the commendable main character has a habit of becoming irritating a little too often. Testaments to the series’ impressive visuals are its gruesome imagery, realistic future technology, intimidating foes and intense battle sequences, most notable in the first six episodes. Most striking of all is the uniquely remarkable soundtrack which combines dirty grunge and dark choral with the experimental.
In the end, Blue Gender is worth a look for those into adult sci-fi series featuring an alien invasions, big robots and wholesale slaughter.
Rating: 2 / 5
by James Gilmore
Exterminating Angels (Les anges exterminateurs) by Jean-Claude Brisseau should have been a short film. Bloated with too many shenanigans and not enough story, the film contains all the elements of a deep story but fails to take the necessary steps required to achieve its goal or to adequately explore its thematic material. In short, it doesn’t provide a qualitative, coherent examination of the subject matter.
Not to downplay the surrealism of E.A., but many of the film’s elements are completely superfluous while the plot is not as solid as it needs to be. Instead, it seems to act as a vehicle to justify extended scenes of sexual indulgence.
Brisseau makes an attempt at unraveling the ambiguity of sexuality and sexual love, but the result is shallow despite its proposed depth and, if anything, comes across as simply old-fashioned. One can’t help but feel like the filmmaker thought he was being clever while sending a personal message of defiance directed toward his critics. However, the result is incoherent and superficial.
Rating: 2 / 5
by James Gilmore
The Trip is a comedic film reconstituted from a short-lived improv TV series of the same name, starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon as fictional (and sometimes not so fictional) versions of themselves. Off-beat and off-color, this hybrid mockumentary/traditional film narrative delivers comedy that might not be to taste for the general American viewing public. Although presented as a low-key comedy, the film is really a sad coming of middle-age story at heart.
The plot follows a foodie pilgrimage taken by non-foodies, unfolding to reveal the life of an aging, professional actor as he approaches a sort of mid-life crisis. But beneath the façade of this simple story is one man’s journey as he is confronted with the revelation that he hides in a fantasy world and must face the brutal truth about his own life, and in so doing transcend from the idles of youth into the maturity of adulthood. For this the film and especially the direction are commendable. Unfortunately, in part because of its conception and in part due to its nature as an ad-hoc film edited together from a TV series, The Trip fails to deliver a strong story arc, resolution of sub-plots or character relationships. The true core of the film cannot be better illustrated than by Steve Coogan’s line: “It’s not about the destination; it’s about the journey.”
The film’s comedy is both passive-aggressive and extremely understated, often to the point of there being no joke or gag at all, merely subtext and unspoken situation which presents itself as genuinely humorous. Especially entertaining is the continuous battle of dinner table impressions, namely those of Michael Cain and Woody Allen.
Coogan’s acting proves to be one of the most impressive aspects of the film as he demonstrates his chops for more serious roles (not to mention that he won a BAFTA for his acting in The Trip).
Rating: 3 / 5