Baraka (1992)

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I can’t see how someone couldn’t like this film.

A bold statement certainly, however Baraka has an immense beauty that is surely universal in appeal. It is a documentary that’s without  narrative or narration, it captures a veritable plethora of imagery that reminds us that Earth is indeed a baraka, which is Arabic and Hebrew for ‘blessing’.

Any attempt to derive meaning or identify connection becomes merely incidental as you’re presented with the hypnotic scenery that Ron Fricke and his team have captured; it must have been difficult for them to cut their glorious footage down to 97 minutes. The film traverses verdant jungles, epic mountain ranges, sweeping temple complexes, arid deserts,  imposing cityscapes and haunting landmarks of evil such as Auschwitz and the Cambodian S-21 prison. Its human subjects are of all colours and creeds, with much of the film focusing on those who are less fortunate and sometimes utterly destitute. It is a sensational and occasionally disturbing cross-section of the planet’s landscapes, cultures and history.

The stunning wide shots and time lapses are scored with heady ambient music by Michael Stearns. His music is a cacophony of tribal chants, chimes and drums that’s vital in creating Baraka’s truly sensory immersion. My favourite piece is Baraka Theme, its broad, sonorous notes create a vast scope that perfectly accompanies the boundless panoramas.

There are so many moments I could talk about, I could throw effusive adjectives at almost every frame, however I feel mere words can’t do it justice. Baraka is a purely cinematic experience that’s somewhat futile to describe.

However, one memorable sequence I will mention is the factory processing of chicks that’s interspersed with the frenetic pace of Tokyo railway commuters; it is fascinating and ultimately quite unpleasant as the birds’ destiny in battery cages is revealed after having their beaks burnt. The camera offers insights into an array of factories, showcasing their subjects’ perfectly rehearsed skills in computer hardware assembly, textiles and poultry.

It is a film that demands to be shown on good equipment, a film that serves as a benchmark for one’s TV or projector. Apparently, it was the first film to receive an 8K transfer, what an awesome experience that must be, most likely better than real life!

When Baraka sadly finishes, you eventually move your eyes away from the screen for the first time in 97 minutes and realise that you’ve been dead still the whole time as you check your watch, surprised to see that many hours haven’t passed. It is a triumph that the moving image alone can achieve such engrossment.

86%

The Inbetweeners 2 (2014)

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I tried to find a picture of a turd, alas I couldn’t.

It’s somewhat hit and miss, but perfectly enjoyable in the end.

In the first Inbetweeners film, they followed the well established comedy TV to cinema route of taking everything the viewer was familiar with and putting it in a foreign country. This trite formula provoked scepticism, but it was much better than many others and I expected. When I left the cinema feeling rather cathartic back in 2011, I was fairly sure that there wasn’t much room left for success for characters Will, Simon, Jay, Neil and writers Iain Morris and Damon Beesley.

The formula is the same second time round, only now they’re even further away in Australia. The characters haven’t changed, and neither have their ambitions of  finding that elusive female and generally just fitting in. Neil, however, seems to be even more stupid, relentlessly firing gags that didn’t quite fit the Neil that I knew.

The vulgarity the programme is famous for is been amped up, we are immediately inundated with obscenities in a set-piece where Jay runs us through his Australian playboy lifestyle that’s clearly a figment of his imagination. In the first quarter or so of the film, the incessant jokes about mothers, banter and female anatomy wear thin at times, it becomes rather hit and miss, with the emphasis perhaps on ‘miss’.  However, the film’s sometimes flat vulgarity is punctuated with moments of truly gross-out humour, including an outrageous sequence involving a water slide and irritable bowel syndrome, or as Neil amusingly calls it – ‘irritating bowel syndrome’.

It’s not all ‘clunge’ though, there are moments of slight insight and drama, particularly with Jay’s raging inferiority complex beneath his ridiculous testosterone fuelled veneer. Naturally, any pathos is swiftly interrupted by a gag waiting around the corner.

The best thing about the film is its satire of the archetypal ‘gap yah’ travellers. This genie-trouser wearing community is represented chiefly by Ben (Freddie Stroma) and Katie (Emily Berrington). Ben is an insufferable, sanctimonious poser who preaches how ruinous tourism is as he hypocritically engages in it. He swaggers around with his deadlocks and his wispy vest pretending he is love and peace personified when really he is a malicious, vapid rich boy. Katie, Will’s ill-advised love interest, is even more vacuous, but she’s mostly just an ‘amaaazing’ excessively confident numbskull rather than a bully. I’ve found Will too ranty before, however I very much welcomed his cutting, eloquent condemnation in this instance, it’s as if he heard my every acerbic thought.

Although it may only provide several big laughs, those who have watched the series since 2008 – large swathes of British young adults and more – will have a smile on their face for much of the running time.

68%

Only God Forgives (2013)

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While the cinematography and lighting regularly highlights Gosling’s beautiful blue eyes, it isn’t enough to engage you on any truly meaningful level.

This is a film that concentrates far too heavily on insubstantial metaphor rather than characters, narrative and things of true resonance.

In contrast with ‘Drive’, Refn and Gosling’s last collaboration, ‘Only God Forgives’ is very much an art film, a film that’s sheer metaphor. They’re completely different.

The film focuses on Julian (Ryan Gosling), an American drug dealer operating in Thailand who is laconic in the extreme (he speaks just 22 lines according to the IMDb trivia section.) When his sordid brother Billy (Tom Burke) is killed by the father of the girl Billy has murdered, Julian’s mother Crystal (Kristen Scott Thomas) arrives in Bangkok seeking revenge. Her wrath brings her, Julian and their associates into the path of Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm), an ex-cop who displays God-like abilities.

The characters are incredibly bland, as are their relationships and indeed the film itself. Its attempts at depth comprise blatant Oedipal elements that are both unoriginal and uninteresting. However seeing Kristin Scott Thomson remark about heartthrob Gosling’s inferior penis size at the dinner table is quite amusing.

The behaviour of the characters made me cringe; watching Julian and particularly Chang robotically saunter along while sporting their best moody poses became plain embarrassing after a while. Whenever a character strung a few sentences together I breathed a sigh of relief; although no line in Refn’s script is of any value, it was a welcomed development every time the suffocatingly absurd lack of dialogue was broken.

What’s even duller are its themes of religion and redemption. The irritating Chang is apparently the omnipotent moral arbiter of Bangkok, apparently he is ‘God’, whatever that means. I just thought he was a portentous prat.

Then there is the problem of the film’s violence. The violence in ‘Drive’ was explosive and shocking, it gave the film energy; it informed you of both the sheer danger of the situation and The Driver’s disconcerting readiness for extreme retaliation. In ‘Only God Forgives’ however, Refn’s violence is protracted, gratuitous and, like other areas of the film, ultimately embarrassing. Refn has admitted that he is a ‘pornographer’, and the film’s main moment of violence, a lengthy and vicious torture scene, is certainly testament to that.

‘Only God Forgives’ tries to be profound, however it doesn’t really mean anything. There is nothing real about it, it simply doesn’t resonate; the only modicum of empathy I began to experience during the film was for Julian and his complicated, broken relationships with women.

Apart from making you feel uncomfortable for all the wrong reasons, the film just does not affect. This is because the film is sheer metaphor. Symbolism and ambiguity can be very interesting and powerful, but this is usually when it is combined with good acting, strong narrative and credible, interesting characters. Unfortunately, ‘Only God Forgives’ lacks all of this.

40%