Film Review : Still Life (2006)

IMDB Score – 7.3

Directed By – Zhangke Jia
Starring – Tao Zhao, Zhou Lan, Sanming Han, Lizhen Ma, and Hongwei Wang

Citizens return to a flooded town to salvage what they can and say good-bye to things they lost.

It’s funny how my Netflix queues tend to come together at weird points. Two films directed by Zhangke Jia managed to find their way into future viewing by me and I didn’t even plan the damn thing. “Still Life” came in the mail yesterday and I have “A Touch of Sin” lined up for my next viewing in my Instant Queue. I’ve never seen any of his films before and did not plan this is the slightest. Weird.

Anyway, obviously I sat down to watch Still Life” first, as the mail service is longer and more expensive. Gotta get those discs out of here quick so that my monthly bill is worth it. The film ended up being a pretty interesting watch, albeit very slow, which is not a negative. The film centers around two people who never meet during the duration of the film, as they try to seek out their spouses whom they haven’t seen for years. The story told in the film is a loose one. Neither story arch comes into full focus and only briefly concludes by the end of the film. However, this is a unique film. Zhangke Jia managed to tell and show a lot more than what was most likely written down in the script. The film takes place in the area near the Three Gorges Dam that is to be demolished before eventually being flooded by the dam. Some parts have already been flooded and the rest is being taken care of as the Dam project begins to progress. We are literally seeing people having to move out of areas where they spent the majority of their lives, and they can’t take everything. They have to choose. What is important? What is to stay behind. It is this theme where the emotion comes from in the form of our two protagonists quests to find their spouses. When they find them, will they try to salvage what is left? Will they let them go to nature? Powerful stuff.

The film is gorgeous by the way. In an almost Michael Haneke style, Zhangke Jia let the camera sit a lot and just take in the silence and body language of what was being shown. There were many shots of characters standing before a lush and open landscape that was both beautiful and frightening due to its humongous scale. Images of boats traveling through huge gorges painted most of the scenes and still camera shots of town inhabitants smoking who knows what as they take a break from their labor fill in the cracks. I love this kind of film making. By leaving the camera still on a subject, and letting the scene play out, I get a more realistic feel and can enter the world easier. It also lets the powerful moments register with more weight when you’re not having a rising maelstrom of lights and music to scream to the viewer that what they are witnessing is important. Don’t pander to me film. Let me do the work occasionally.

“Still Life” is a very unique but ultimately rewarding film with subtle imagery galore and packed with symbolism. It may not be a re watchable film, but the photography and heavy message of letting go gave me a unique experience and a good reintroduction to Chinese cinema. I’ll be watching Zhangke Jia’s most recent film “A Touch of Sin” next.


Suggested Viewing – Still Walking, Poetry, Certified Copy, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives

Film Review : A Lonely Place to Die (2011)

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IMDB Score – 6.3
Rotten Tomato Score – 77%
Netflix Watch Instant

Directed By – Julian Gilbey
Starring – Melissa George, Ed Speleers, Alec Newman, Karel Roden, Kate Magowan, Garry Sweeney, Sean Harris, Stephen McCole, and Holly Boyd

A group of mountaineers in the Scottish Highlands discover a kidnapped girl and are pursued by her captors.

Being an adult is hard. I’ve been so busy lately that I’m starting to unintentionally neglect my hobbies which includes things like reading, writing, film, and music. Luckily for me, The week is going to be rainy and my workload had been light. I started off my lazy hobby life again by getting back to the service that I shell out twelve dollars a month for, Netflix. I’m somewhat of a movie hoarder. I always have the maximum amount of films on my Netflix queue and while it helps me keep unknown films in mind, it also gives me the horrible dilemma of choosing what to watch. I ultimately went for a shorter film towards the front of my queue and we landed on this, a thriller about mountain climbing and the perils of such an activity that includes murder and kidnapping. I never knew these fun activities were associated with each other but now I do. Thanks movies, now I’ll never go to Scotland.

The movie starts out pretty tame but soon accelerates into full on thrill ride. I’ve always enjoyed films that depict crazy events happening out in the middle of nowhere. This is where you get to see some creative story telling because James Bond can’t just pull a pen out of his ass and have it turn into a helicopter. This group of mountain climbers, led by Aussie actress Melissa George, stumble upon a girl who has obviously been kidnapped due to the fact that she was found in a hole with nothing but a breathing tube. The climbers are then tasked with outrunning the kidnappers while carrying along this little girl who while I understand is pretty exhausted, couldn’t be more of a pain in the ass.

I ended up liking the film. The middle act ended up being a pretty balls to the wall thriller that rarely let up. I’ve always been into those kind of films. The fact that it took place in the beautiful Scottish highlands also was an added plus because goddamn is it gorgeous out there. The cast did their jobs well and while the film certainly fell apart near the end I can’t really complain too much given the nature of the story. It could have been worse, but the end just seemed cliche and countered the uniqueness of the first two thirds. The film also happens to fall victim to having the badass evil villains be way to badass for their own accents. You know how Clint Eastwood stares down the people he is talking to and speaks in a tone of voice that screams how he doesn’t give a shit if you can understand him or not? Well, Clint is an American. The villains in this film have that hard and cold way of speaking, but since their Scottish I can’t understand a damn word of what they were saying. I had to turn the subtitles on and I hate having to do that when the language I’m listening to is English.

It was a completely serviceable movie though, with some great actions scenes including a couple falls where they either actually threw somebody off a cliff or they had a really awesome stunt dummy because it shocked me how real it looked. Certainly worth a watch on Netflix.


Suggested Viewing – Frozen (2010, not the animated one, the one with the ski lift), Touching the Void, The Loneliest Planet, Vertical Limit, Cliffhanger