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Monthly Archives: December 2011

Unter Kontrolle (2011) – 84/100

Director Volker Sattel makes a study of nuclear energy’s aura in Germany by segmenting the film into tours of several nuclear institutions, inside and out. Immediately striking is the grandness of scale captured, the enormous physical tribute made to something totally invisible. Though there are many sites visited, there are four that can be said to thematically describe the entirety of the film.

The employees of the first so called “very modernized” plant give a tour of a mock control room during a simulation of a failure. The room is an exact replica of the plant’s functioning control center, the simulation running is similar to the failure that caused the meltdown at 3-mile island (the employees in training are not successful in preventing a hypothetical disaster). Particularly alarming in the scenario is how immaterial and disconnected the employees are from the problem. Their senses are reduced to a series of dials; their ability to interact, a series of knobs. At the same time, the control room looks just like those from War Games (1983) and The China Syndrome (1979). The technology appears to be very dated, heightening the sense that the situation is out of anyone’s hands. Having been shot on analogue film, Unter Kontrolle overlays grain, dust and scratches (a limitation of last decades’ non-digital cameras) over an image of the bland control rooms that appear to be relics of the past. The huge size of the plant surveyed may have, at first, seemed to physically overshadow the unseen nuclear forces within, but now that the workers and their tools appear helpless, the scale of the plant seems like a comically futile physical compensation for a great intangible threat.

In the past, it has been customary to explain the unexplainable by accrediting the supernatural and spiritual realms. As depicted in Unter Kontrolle, the nuclear institutions start to remind the viewer of religious institutions. For me, this idea became evident during a scene where the camera shoots an eagle’s eye view over the pool of nuclear cooling liquid. The facility is perfectly still, except for one worker taking off his gloves. The facility is creepily peaceful; the only sound is the echoing of the latex snaps of the gloves through the vast cavities of the building, all while the camera centers on the nexus of energy in the facility: the submerged nuclear rods. This peaceful stillness in the face of unimaginable great power cannot help but bring up connotations of the house of God. To name nuclear power plants “The Church of Atom” does not seem to be a stretch within the context of the documentary. Though it has a certain dystopian ring to it, the employees are servants to the invisible force: they respect its power, learn how to worship it, but ultimately all the phenomena surrounding nuclear power are not scientifically known, and the power may be unleashed in ways they cannot anticipate.

In two other locations, direct allusions of dystopia are made by reference to established films in the genre. A waste management plant is shown where workers manipulate mechanical arms that are connected to robotic arms within a sealed containment. This is an exact scene out of Lucas’s THX-1138. Both in the documentary and the 1971 film workers manipulate radioactive fuel sources, the only (possible) difference being that in THX-1138 the fuel powers the workers’ automaton overlords. The other reference is to (one of my favorite films) Gilliam’s 1985 Brazil. This time, Sattel is documenting a nuclear power-plant that has been shut down and repurposed to be a children’s amusement park. Within a giant cooling duct, that like in Brazil, has been painted baby-blue and adorned with clouds, children whirl around on a fun ride screaming for joy. Such a display of happiness can only be horrific in the façade of a deteriorated nuclear plant.

Though by all means neutral in content, the presentation of the film guides the viewer towards a distaste of nuclear power. Although I would initially have been confused and startled to learn that Germany is getting rid of all their nuclear power sources within the next 10 years, after the strong impression of the film, this seems like a natural inclination.

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10 More Film Reviews of 2011

Moneyball (2011) – 96/100

Perhaps the best film of the year, either tied for 1st place with Drive, or an overall winner in my book. Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill are incredible. The dialogue is genuine and funny. This film entangles elements of spiritual type camaraderie with cerebral economics, and with some perfect use of post-rock, it totally absorbs the viewer. Special interest in baseball is not required.

Shame (2011) – 92/100

Fantastic stylized view of a sex addict. It’s surprising, in a way, how such a potentially detestable character becomes so involving and so moving. For me, this film is a very close number 3 for the year.

The Future (2011) – 89/100

It starts off with slightly witty but completely ridiculous humor, and follows with a the dilemma of what to do when there’s nothing to do. If you can’t tell already, this film is totally representative of the current generation (in my eyes). In story and presentation, it is experimental, new, and original. It may seem dissatisfying in that it presents the problem of, but not the solution to contemporary despair, however this does not mean the film is not a unified picture. A very, very close 4th best film for the year.

Melancholia (2011) – 84/100

More disturbing than you might imagine. It is essentially a character study of a severe depressive whose terrible view of the world starts to come true in the events of Melancholia. While everyone breaks down around her at their intense new realizations of illimitable chaos and nonexistent personal agency, the protagonist is unchanged, since this is how she felt about the world in the first place. As everyone’s spirit is pressed down and leveled to a pulp, the protagonist rises above and helps the people around her, comparatively uplifted by the accuracy of her dark perception of the world.

Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011) – 81/100

Subject matter is the draw here. It was a mystery to me when I started watching, and as the story continues, telling the haunting past through intermittent flashbacks from the present, it gets intriguing and horrifying.

50/50 (2011) – 71/100

I had to see this because of my crush on Judd Apatow, and overall, although predictably too unnecessarily crass at times, the film is a funny and appropriate telling of a young man with cancer.

Ides of March (2011) – 68/100

Bad things about this film: annoying recurring inside jokes referring to some massive hidden world of politics (comes across as unconvincing), the only personalization of Gosling’s character is a 5 minute insert about morality (i.e. the protagonist remains totally vacuous of personality), the music, and that the actual specific events in this film are minute and pathetic (only within the shroud of mystery can they function as plot points). Good things: George Clooney appears on screen for very little time appropriately making him seem hidden and powerful, personal manipulation and lack of integrity are shown as the only consistencies of the lonely people in politics, the president to be is portrayed as a figurehead of interest groups rather than an individual decision maker.

Take Shelter (2011) – 68/100

Anything about insane people, I generally like.

Contagion (2011) – 60/100

Just not very exciting. My favorite part was the font, nice spacing.

Adjustment Bureau (2011) – 52/100

The trailer hit hard, made it seem like an emotionally charged story of desperation. However, though I could easily get over the initial plot assumptions, the film doesn’t stay desperate. Although the characters keep running, it feels like it slows down. Ridiculous and not exciting is not a good combo.

The Debt (2011) – 41/100

Terrible. Just terrible. The final climax is laughable while it is taking place. If you want a nationalist film about revenge, specifically for Israel, watch Munich, not this. There are some well directed parts, and some nice fight choreography, but the majority of the story that takes place in present day with the old half of the cast is a boring, slow, and tired version of the 30% of the film with the young half of the cast.

In Time (2011) – 32/100

In Time goes down in flames spectacularly. It starts off with some improbable assumptions, though they are not too hard to come to terms with. Time is literally money, once you accept this, the first 20 minutes are pretty pleasing. It turns into an intriguing darkish sci-fi flick. Then, the story picks up, things start going well for the protagonist. The film turns into a fantasy fulfillment, taking on the “if I were a rich man” spiel. It refers to classic fish out of a barrel, poor boy in a rich world, street smarts trump book smarts, type stories. Though cliche, these remixes of the old are always appealing on the level of day-dream fulfillment. Halfway through, low budget scars signal disaster. Immediately after a not so convincing CGI car crash, the story starts to take a serious downturn. Improbable micro-events, the sort of: “wait how did he get there so fast?” and “how does he know that?” plot holes start showing up. Disgustingly cliche shots start appearing, and the whole naive “crime is fun” attitude is overemphasized. The protagonists appear indestructible, and somehow are excellent shots and naturally intimidating to everyone but the audience. Such great success is unwarranted, and the film starts to seem like empowerment propaganda. Then to top it off, morality is brought into the picture: a fight for personal survival turns into a social quest to redistribute wealth, or in this case time. There is also an incredibly pathetic standoff near the end, which is not in the least convincing, and is too easily manipulated and won by the protagonists.

Of course, sprinkled in between is weak dialogue, and inconsistent arguments of why hierarchies exist and why they shouldn’t. The film can be summed up in that it is a dissatisfied rant: it  voices distrust in capitalism, and competitive systems, with no coherence and under the guise of a poorly cut action flick. Seriously, the scenes are forced together after the 1st hour, in total parallel to a fragmented argument lacking all unity. In Time is a collage of anti-hierarchy sentiments, as shakily pasted together as the second half of the story. I am very disappointed in the film. The trailer looked too low budget, but then I was impressed by the first hour, and finally the second hour was an ideological train wreck of an overtone tainting a very unconvincing series of events. However, I’d like to see Justin Timberlake in some more films. His role in this film wasn’t too convincing, but he has an amiable screen presence. And, Amanda Seyfried is definitely the best part of the film; so so ridiculously sexy.