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Monthly Archives: January 2007

I have not seen a James Bond movie in maybe 12 years, partly because I did not find the productions too interesting as they were (more or less plain chasing movies, and I’ve never been a fan of chase movies), and I also did not think re-filming the same story all over again could be really entertaining. And as I am not interested at all whether the actor for that kind of franchise is Scottish or Lybian, has blond hair or green, wears Omega watches or Rolex, the whole hysteria around the last couple of Bond movies was just not directed at me, I guess.

One thing works for me, however: if I hear or read that there is a good film around, I am likely to have a look. And this time the right people said that this might actually be a pretty good movie with a pretty good lead actor and some nice ideas on the action side. So I went, and I will not regret: Daniel Craig is just a very good actor for this role, with the necessary edges and scars, with that certain cruelty in his eyes. There is this nice scene where Bond not only has to wear a dinner jacket and a bowtie, but some other jacket than his own. Standing in front of the mirror, looking sceptical and unpleased, he very well confirmed the notion from a conversation he earlier had with his femal interest on the train: he does not come from money, he has not been born into dinner jackets, he still looks more comfortable in a sweaty t-shirt chasing a murderer up or down a 50 meter ladder. This guy is much more physical, much more body than any of his predecessors, and I am sure people will savour this. The James Bond character of old was established when Fred Astaire and Dean Martin were still role models. Today’s role models are much more attached to their physical being, and Bond sweats so much as if he has to proof that he is up to this.

While all the ingredients for this kind of amusement have been put together rather well and professionally, there is the fate of all modern action films: you need much more than just one culmination point for the action. It very much feels like "24", when the first plot unveils, and it is about a bomb in a plane, and the reaction will be: come on, just a bomb on a plane, you can do better than this! Here it is bombing a plane on the ground, which is even less plausible to be the real highlight. You know you have to wait for more… and here it comes, but none of it is the really big thing, just a look into the dull work routine of a professional killer, sorry: agent, who does not need to save the hole world every day, and it’s not the whole world collapsing if he fails, but maybe just (as this time) the accountant of Her Majesty’s Treasury, who has lost a bit of money and cannot find it anymore. Maybe sign of the times is: James Bond is taking care of the petty issues, and the big wheels are being operated by other people these days. A bit of a symbol of what Bond’s government is experiencing these days, isn’t it? But never mind, those little conflicts can make an entertaining afternoon or evening all right.

Sometimes, films have "one single best thing". Certain dialogues or one-liners or actresses’ busts or their length (the films’, I mean). The single best thing about Happy Feet is … there’s two, actually: 1) Robin Williams 2) the Sea Elephants (if that’s what they are called? Or Elephants Seals?). (1) I really like Robin Williams a lot, and the more often I listen to his synchronisations, the more I tend to believe that this may be a talent he has at least equal to his acting (and I like both his hilarious comedy appearances –  mostly I don’t like the films, however – and his sad and melancholic parts: Fisher King, One Hour Photo). Listening to him in two parts is great fun, and worth seeing the film again to get every single bit of craze he offers. (2) I have never seen animated creature textures of such a brilliance as with these Sea Elephants. These enormous beasts (which I always liked, even though I always had my doubts on whether they might not be just very useless in nature’s big game of evolution) spit and grunt, they make Jabba the Hut’s body look rock-solid and they have this air of wisdom engulfing them. They just look brilliant! As does the whole film: this opening sequence with its red-black-white snowstorms… made the Genesis look like a picknick.

The rest of the film is entertaining enough, with a lot of well-choreographed dancing and well-practiced singing by people who usually have other jobs (Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman, in particular). There is an issue about where the story goes towards the end of the film. There comes a bit of eco-depression into the movie at a rather late stage. Maybe it actually is too late: when Mumble gets sent away by the community of bad old pricks (aka Elrond) with a Scottish accent ("sent West", is what they used to call it…), that eco-thing about the disappearing fish appears to be nothing but some McGuffin to get him out of there on to new adventures and true love. It is rather unexpected that George Miller (the director of Mad Max and Pig in the City esteem – and as so many reviews praise the latter, I guess I should get around to finding it somewhere soon) will not leave it at that. He follows the thread into very nasty territory, actually, he lets his hero pretty cruelly abandon his beloved one, he gives a hint of what he thinks of the way we treat the animals in this world’s zoos. He provides images of how crazy all the machinery is humans use to exploit their environment. And not the least he gets rid of the annoying cliche of seals being cute little fellas mainly concerned about lying lazily on top of rocks.

Unfortunately, he seems to have run out of time or budget to really get into it (or he was too scared to get rid of some of the brighter stuff? Two les of those dancing scenes to more or less interesting pop song cover versions could have improved the film, anyway): after a very short glimpse into those dark places where the world of inhumanity meets the animal, we are back to happy, dancing penguins again and all is fine and fair. Still better (a lot better, actually) than what  you get out of the regular Disney fabrication, but oh these opportunities foregone…

I watched this one in its IMAX version, by the way, and I wonder whether I ever want to see anything else again… brialliant brilliance! Just give me back the old days of 70mm film, please!!


The MPAA movie rating system is by no means a natural topic for an entertaining documentary. There is not much star glamour to be expected (because stars from either behind or in front of the cameras have enough reasons to avoid clashing with the MPAA), but rather some arthouse-ish directors and authors on their personal crusade for artistic and creative freedom and against US hypocrisy. If you like to listen to these people (and an indication whether you do or not would be whether you have enjoyed Peter Biskind’s books about all these ridiculous backstage proceedings), this is an extremely entertaining film. It mixes methods from early Michael Moore films with "Supersize Me" self trials, has some glorious characters in its center (most importantly the ever-brilliant John Waters) and entertains the viewer with spicy and hence controversial footage. The aim of identifying the rating board’s identity is not much more like a McGuffin in my eyes, because while the fact that it is anonymous can be criticized and the fact that there are no "experts" on it, too – the actual identity of the persons is of no interest whatsoever. But it provides the red thread along which stories can be told, dramas can be re-lived and utter puzzlement about rating standards that apparently lack any intelligent coherence can be illustrated by way of split-screen editing.

The audio commentary is quite interesting, where producer, director and private investigator are being moderated by a journalist, talking about some of the issues in more detail. The key criticism raised in the reviews was not resolved there, either, however: Does the film enjoy itself a liitle bit too much for bashing an existing system that is far from being perfect, and does the author shy swai from the logical next step to come up with a suggestion for reform. That question is asked in audio commentaries: "How can this system be fixed?". But the response is very vague, indeed. A bit of expert opinion on the ratings board and a more transparent process, please … pause … "I don’t know." Had he known, the film would have been less entertaining and had to tackle some rather dull issues (such as appropriate content classifiers, or more in-depth analysis of what psychological studies have taught us over the last decades). So I would not blame him for sticking to the provocative, while less constructive, side of the story, because as can be learnt not the list from the big spin doctors such as Valenti: the message has to be easy to reach your audience.

Highly enjoyable, at least for movie buffs, and some good recommendations for missed films can be found, as well (in particular the reference to the "extra scenes" on "Team America" make me want to buy the DVD NOW!).
LA Times:,0,1263356.story
Guardian / Observer:,,1841808,00.html

Reuters writes that Martin Scorsese's "The Departed"
( will not be shown in (mainland)
Chinese theaters. The reason apparently is the plot line in which Chinese
government agents attempt to purchase advanced weapons technology.
According to Reuters' source, censors believed the Chinese portion of the
story was "unnecessary." What they meant by this, it seems, is that it was
unnecessary for the weapons purchasers to be Chinese. Said the source: "
The regulators just cannot understand why the movie wanted to involve China.
They can talk about Iran or Iraq or whatever, but there's no reason to get
China in."

It is very nice to see these people again, even though I could not for the life of me remember where actually I know them from. Reading it up does not help, either: Penelope Cruz (according to my friend Franco the most beautiful woman in the world, having replaced Julianne Moore and Gina Lolobrigida or however she spells her name in this capacity)’s last film I saw was "Todo sobre mi madre (", which I hated, and the only one before was "Carne Tremula (", which I liked, but maybe for the wrong reasons, if you know what I mean.  Carmen maura, on the other hand, had some excellent movies in the 80s (with Almodovar, of course), and looks as if she had always been there to play well. Ms Cruz is actually not just incrompehensibly pretty (beautiful may be the more appropriate word, indeed), but she acts with natural casualness, doing away with dead men, kitchen chores and family ghosts with equal vigour. It’s not her who makes the film a bit… hmmm… dull? It is the maybe too-well established system of Almodovar’s world, the mixture of women on the verge of… sorry. But indeed, they are all excited about just about everything from ghosts to the sweet stuff they brought home from family holiday.

Films tend to lose my sympathy when others figure out the ending before I do (which happens all too often). It definitely happened here, but with a strange touch to it:

While I expected from the beginning that the ghost was not a ghost, I did not think it mattered at all. I don’t mind ghosts intervening a bit in people’s biographies. That was already an odd feeling, but what was much odder was that when (to me all of a sudden, to my fellow-viewer long-expected) the incest story broke, I mentally shrugged and wondered what to make of this now. Either it was just me being embarassed by not realising it earlier. Or that twist was really so detached from the rest of the story that we could have done without it. Do Almodovar films need plot twists of this magnitude? I don’t think so, these films are doing perfectly well without pseudo-surprise. Leave it to less talented story-tellers of Shamalayan-size, who need to play with it. From Pedro A., I hope for a more intensive and more human story again next time. Even though "Volver" is a pleasant enough watch, it is far from achievements of the "Hable Con Ella" dimension. Still better than many others, of course.

NYT Review:

Wang Jia Wei / Wong Kar Wai is the man with the strange preference for disillusioned youngsters: people looking for love, maybe for the love of their lifetime, but usually ending up sitting in a barren hotel room staring at the ceiling fan. In the case of his early "Days of being Wild" (1991) this ends more dramatically, of course (being the days of being _wild_ …), but the principle of unidentifiable areas of hope in everybody’s life that one would just need to catch if one could only see it…

It’s not so easy to catch what actually happens: Yuddy (boy) tells Su Lizhen (girl) that, while she insists he buggers off, if she only tried to like him for one minute… which she does, then two minutes, then we find them living almost together. Not quite, because before it gets too close, Yuddy has a tendency to withdraw. Su Lizhen keeps loving him, but ends up with a Policeman who is roaming the streets at night, compulsively walking away his solitude. Yuddy, in the meantime, has found a new admirer for his well-kept hair in Mimi, who is the kind of annoying lower-range showgirl that you would meet in Celebrity Big Brother these days. When Yuddy gets out of there, searching for his mother, but on his quest he finds a supporter…

No seriously, there is not much story about it, and I had to check IMDB in order to get that little bit together (after only 5 days, how sad is that?). But it is the silence of people depending on each other, the lack of articulation when it comes to wanting or not wanting things that appears to be Wong’s theme here. With a cast of brilliantly talented then-young then-new actors, he manages to get this weirdly surreal Hong Kong atmosphere across that has become a bit of his trademark in the years to come.

Review Overview:

Zhang Yimou may be the Chinese director with the greatest gap between proven ability and practicing performance (“unrealised potential”, I think they call it), but “Riding Alone…” shows that when he breaks out of his supposed mainstream history money-spinning 5-year-plan production rubbish, he comes down to being a great narrator (sorry, but but my way of remembering Chinese directors’ names and their films goes like “there’s the one who is doing the good films, and one who’s doing the multi-coloured films” – and Zhang is in charge of the colour department). He developes his story around Tanaka-San, who is travelling from strange Japan to even stranger China in order to do one (last?) favour to his dying son. He gets into the expected trouble and has a hard time completing this mission, but in the process he gets many things back that he did not expect to get: the realisation that he still is a warm-hearted human being at times, the experience of Chinese local-community decision-making bodies, the love of a new son (of sorts), and a video capture of a Yunnan mask opera “aria”. I am not sure whether the film manages the balance of being deeply moving and hilariously funny also for somebody who has never experienced the sometimes awkward logic of the Chinese adminisitration. Maybe it’s even more funny if you don’t know it could all happen exactly this way: the approval to your request is only half as valuable if you are not allowed to introduce it with half an hour of speech about all the calamities involved in the decision-making…

Ken Takakura apparently is a big star at home in Japan – I have only seen him in Black Rain before, I think (in which I have seen all Japanese actors I remember, maybe with the exception of those who played in “Ai no corrida” and “Seven Samurai”, but those groups may overlap), and he has exactly the sadness and quietude about himself that is necessary to stress his strangeness to most of the things he’s doing and to most of the environments he is exposing himself to.

Lovelt story with a warm-hearted core and the side effect of Yunnan now being definitely on my holiday agenda, beautiful scenery!

The Illusionist is, I am afraid I have to say, the worst film I have seen in a couple of months. It consists exclusively of standard formulae from Hollywood narration classes, neglecting that these narrative structure are supposed to be linked by some basic form of credibility, logic, or at least pace or overboarding phantasy that make you forget the former. Of course it is possible to draft a plot in a way that a revelation at the end sheds a completely different light on many of the things you have seen before Sixth Sense and Usual Suspects tell stories about this possibility, so does Jacob’s Ladder). Of course you can trust the omnipotence of a great illusionist and his ability to trick and cheat everybody and anybody by sheer skill. The cheap exit out of a story that has been set up in such a way, however, is to allow the "hero" to have predicted everything, to have unlimited planning skills and technical expertise beyond belief. This is the way "The Illusionist" goes. If the last two minutes were cut, the film would actually be much better, because the audience would be left with a number of possibilities, including: "Wow, he might have had real magic." The author does not afford you, the audience, the luxury of interpreting the plot. he drops his own conclusion at your feet the way you would drop some leftovers for the dog to swallow. When Edward Norton’s love interest dies, the question may occur to the casual viewer be whether she really died or whether this is some game they are playing. To be honest: I couldn’t care less. If you look at the story development from that point on, it also does not make a difference whether she’s dead or not. Shortly before the ending, one then wonders what options there are left for the script-doctor rather than to just  end the story the way it was, and there are not many apart from those mentioned. Unfortunately, they opted for the one that I consider the more primitive one, the "Superman solution".

The lack of originality includes casting and dialogues, with a bit of actorial embarassment through Jessica Biehl, who now has with the new Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Elizabethtown and The Illusionist a CV that would crush anybody else’s carreer backbone. Paul Giamatti, the awkward Chardonnay-hater known from "Sideways", looks as if he is overacting, which, however, must partly be blamed on the near-grotesque costumes and make-up department. Edward Norton looks nice as ever, speaks a bit dull as ever, and will surely look forward to a less "Illusionist" and more "25th Hour" future. 

I had quite high expectations on this, as this seems to be the darling of thriller critics since it showed up in the late 1980s – and it surely help to stabilize its acclaim that the US remake has apprently been a completely useless attempt, even though the same directior tried his best. The film has its moments, but at the end of the day, I felt left with a certain want for more that did not get quite satisfied. The starting situation is, of course, a very uncomfortable one, with the woman disappearing all of a sudden, without any clue, any trace, anywhere to look for. That situation must be horrible, as everybody surely has realised who could not find his friend, relative etc. and for a second, just for a second thought into this possibility: what if he/she does not show up again, if there is no trace. What emotions would there be if you just for the life of you cannot do a bloody thing?

Spoilers from here on:
The way we get a look into the ordinary life of an ordinary kidnapper and murderer is of pleasant casualness, as is the man himself. Murderer more out of intellectual nosiness than out of any more human interest such as hate or disappointedness or bad youth or whatever else serves as an excuse. He wants to do the worst imaginable thing to somebody, and he creates himself the chance of doing it. Rex, the guy who lost his girlfriend at the gas station, can only stand or sit around for the rest of the film, with the script having not too much to offer for him than a mixture of rage and paralysis, with the balance between the two shifting now and again.

There are multiple time levels involved, the narrative jumping between pre-kidnap, kidnap and post-kidnapping time, filling you in on the background of the supposedly brilliant kidnapping professor (interesting question: is it just my personal taste, or is this guy a disgusting prick from the very beginning? Culminating in my utter distaste for people who sit at the dining table, calling “my glasses!” and expecting some family member to jump up and get them).

After the kidnapper reveals himself to Rex after three years, there is new motion, driven by the kidnapper, and accepted by Rex in a fashion that puts the credibility framework of the film under considerable strain. Why would you give yourself up into the hands of somebody who most likely killed your girlfriend? He did not really make it a secret that whatever happened to the girl will happen to Rex, too? Yes you can either drink the Schirling cup or leave it, there is always choice, but if you drink it, you don’t deserve too much sympathy if it turns out to be poisonous. Of course, Rex realises at the end of the film that other options may have been more beneficial, but he does not have much choice but to play along to the very end, does he?

A bit overrated, I would judge, but still a pleasantly unpleasant story, unless you happen to be claustrophobic, in which case I recommend to stop the DVD around minute 95…

DVD Verdict:

I may be a lot of things, but a royalist I am not. Neither am I interested in the latest gossip about Fergie’s weight problems, nor about the length of Charles’ tampons. However, it seems (judging from the last sentence) that I have had my share of royal input over the last years, and inevitably part of that input was about the Prince of Wales’ former wife. I was completely astonished at the time at how long and how extremely this dominated the media, and after watching Stephen Frears’ latest production, I come to the conclusion that I may have had this in common with Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II herself. It took me exactly 10 seconds to completely believe the characters (maybe not caring too much about them and hence not knowing them too well helps with this), and even if Hellen Mirren is  much too young and Queen Mum much too, say, robust, there was no doubt that I was invited to become an intimate part of their royal chores. They appear to be watching a lot of tv, have their hobbies such as hunting and talking bad about relatives, enjoying their one-liners and wondering about why the rest of the world can possibly be as ignorant as it is.

A newly-elected Tony Blair shooting star jumping into this and helping out with some fundamental ideas about how to simulate humaneness must have come as quite a disturbance. That he himself basically reacts to the electrical pinpricks of his spin doctor without himself appearing to be much more than a dish-washing, Ikea tray carrying and Everton-(I hope I got that right) jersey wearing regular household accessory does not matter: it’s the facade that counts, be it in the form of a "flag" at half-mast, or some catch-phrases for the press ("She was the people’s princess.") He is the natural ally for a Prince of Wales who does not have the guts to modernise royal procedures, but dances around the concept of modernisation like around a golden … horse, in that case.

The cast is all brilliant, honorary mention for Prince Philip (is that the Queen’s husband’s name?), whom I recently forgot to praise for "The Green Mile", but who has this sadness about his looks which enriches every role he plays, and the beasty Queen-husband with his snotty side-comments in particular. It seems to suggest that that guy despite everything has a human side? A lovely family soap opera, all in all, with excellent actors and a good and tender humour.

This film makes me very, very, very uncomfortable. I HATE the idea of crawling under tons of stone and debris, squirming my way through gaps in the stone just a little bit too narrow for comfort. In particular, I HATE the idea of all this rubble coming down on me and locking me up forever. Of the batteries of my torch going low and finally ending my life in pitch blackness. I hate to be buried alive. How can anybody be stupid enough to go cave-climbing in the first place? And even more: in a cave that has no huge information kiosks, electric light, ice cream vendors and tour guides being at your side all through the way.

Of course I am right with my discomfort, as everybody will know who sees this film. They really all deserve whatever they get, even though maybe they don’t get anything, or there might not be anybody who gets anything. That depends on your reading of the film, but this little academic questions did not really bother me while watching these incredibly stupid people doing incredibly stupid things in too narrow caves too deep down. (There are, of course, very early hints that things may not be what they appear to be, most prominently a scene in a hospital corridor where the extras behave in a very “Owl Creek Bridge”‘ish , or “Jakob’s Ladder”‘ish fashion.).

The reading of the film’s quality does not depend on the final scene: the movie takes you down into this bottomless pit with the (incredibly stupid, I have to repeat it, who wants to go down a cave!!) girls, and the suffering begins long before some uninvited guests arrive (however: I have to think of “Lost” and the notion that who is a guest and who is an intruder very much depends on which group you happen to belong to). Contrary to expectations, it is not clear at all how to get out again, and the notion of crawling deeper into something as horribly horrible as a narrow cave gnaws on the girls’ nerves, as well (so it’s not just me: they realise they have been VERY stupid, indeed).

Reminding me of the naturalness I have only recently seen in “Wolf Creek”, the camera and the colours take you very close to this little posse of fun-seeking ladies, mostly without the artificial beauty and the overacting known from big-scale productions. These are just some formerly good friends, and they want to try whether they can still manage to have a great day out together. They are all in good shape (“nice ass shot, thank you”, as one of them complains in the audio commentary, and it’s a nice shot, indeed), but nobody would offer them model contracts. Very good casting, mostly.

In the confrontation with their underground enemies, the use of some form of accelerated movement, strobe effect-like and in general very tricky and skillful lightning creates 80 per cent of the feeling of threat and horror. Not so much fun watching that without a strong Xenon lamp illuminating a 35mm strip, but it brings me back to the notion of earlier that whoever claims that he cannot see anything when watching “Alien” on tv has learned a very important lesson in his life and only needs to take the appropriate countermeasures.

The film is not completely beyond standard horror tackiness, with blood-smeared faces, hands protruding zombie-like from earth, a bit of over-acted horror here or there. On the other hand, who wants to blame some twens who got caught in a very stupid underground situation for screaming too loud or glancing too horrified?

The audio commentary by the director and some of the lead actresses has its questionable moments. It’s not very telling from a cinematographic or artistic point of view, and the comment on a scene with a vicious death right at the beginning could be called either tasteless or just a bit stupid. But then again: how many directors (not to speak of actors) are there to whose interpretation of the world it is worth listening anyway? Not too many…
Rotten Tomatoes Overview

Monsters And Critics

Slightly revised posting from my old blog, after watching the “film” again on DVD. The re-assessment is that the episodes with Tom Waits/ Iggy Pop (“you can call me Jim or Iggy”), Alfred Molina / Steve whatever, GZA/RZA/Groundhog Day will remain classics, while the others require a bit of Jarmusch passion. Which we have, of course.

Ich finde Roberto B. jetzt immer noch abartig nervend und liebe Alfred Molina weiterhin und noch herzlicher und tiefer als zuvor (oh wär ich nur ne Frau und er würde mich so lustig anfunkeln wie den bekloppten Steve Wasweißich). Isofern hat der Film nichts an meiner Grunddisposition geändert. Aber: nachdem ich vor 4,5 Monaten das Rauchen aufgehört habe und derzeit in sporadische Experimente mit Teebeuteln und heißem Wasser verstrickt bin, war der Film ein seeeehr intensives Erlebnis für mich. Jetzt ne Fluppe, ach wär das schön! Und zwar
muss die zwischen Zeige- und Mittelfinger der Hand stecken, die auch den Kaffee-Mug lose umfasst. In dieser Position (am besten noch leicht über eine Bar gebeugt, so halb im Stehen, halb im Hängen) kann man mit Stil so Sätze sagen wie “Cigarettes and Coffee, the perfect combination.” oder sich mit Sätzen begrüßen wie “Word, bro’!” (the GZA zu the RZA, klar).
Natürlich ist das – wie es auch im Film Tom Waits zugibt – so eine Generationen-Geschichte. Vielleicht kann man heutzutage nicht mehr gleichermaßen standfest stundenlange sinnentleerte Kaffee-im-Café-Sitzungen durchhalten. Aber damals konnten wir das. Damals waren wir “Coffee and Cigarettes People”, so wie es früher “Pie and Coffee People” gegeben hat.
Und die von den qualmbedingt permanent zugeschwollenen Stirnhöhlen immer leicht nebelige Wahrnehmung der Existenz führte manchmal zu Erleuchtung (“Man, that’s some world, man!”), manchmal nur zur Notwendigkeit weiteren Meditierens.
Sehr schön jedenfalls, und auf jeden Fall auch die Erinnerung daran, dass keiner so gute Abhänger-Filme macht wie Jarmusch (Preisfrage: wie hieß nochmal der Indianer in “Dead Man”? “My name is Gezepache – he who talks loud saying nothing”).
epd film Kritik
[Auch interessant und mir beim Suchen nach der Film-Hompeage über den Weg gestolpert: das etwas skurille Blog eine C&C-Aficionados:]

Interesting to watch this film another time. I am not sure whether I’ve seen it more than one time, actually, but all the images are very clear and present in my memory. Part of this owes to the brilliance and the special circumstances of the 6-installment novel which kept me eager over half a year back when it was published (I seem to remember that I was not utterly pleased with the book when it was published, but oddly enough in retrospect I find it thrilling and clearly on the list of "Better King Books").  The other aspect is the sheer brilliance of the movie, and of every single actor involved in particular. Tom Hanks, of whom I am not a big fan, and whose movies tend to be a bit over-professionalised and unpersonal Holywwod-machinery output (Apollo 13, Private Ryan, Castaway… all a bit too big. And I loathe Forrest Gump.). But here I find him (or maybe rather his character Paul Edgecomb, whom he represents brilliantly) excitedly human, humble and tough at the same time, exactly the right combination of features necessary for this more dodgy of professions (death row warden and electric chair operator). And at his side there are brilliant faces such as huge Michael Clarke Duncan as John Coffey, David Morse as Brutal or Barry Pepper as Dean (whom I love since "25th Hour", because he has this very pleasant un-Hollywood look about his face). Maybe Wild Bill Wharton (played by Zaphod Beeblebrox, no what’s his name? Sam Rockwell) is a bit over the top, but after all he was written that way and the story benefits from a wild man who rips the omnipresent peace and melancholy out of the inmates’ and wardens’ hearts. Same applies to Percy Wetmore (Doug Hutchison), who needs to be really nasty, and that’s what he delivers. And every film is worth watching that has Harry Dean Stanton in it, just to mention that.

I have no clue how Frank Darabont managed to get together this amazing cast, him being mainly a director of tv shows and movies. And I am equally lost at how he holds this huge story of humanity and evil together. Part of the success is surely that he takes the time of more than 3 hours to establish the hot and steamy Summer atmosphere, the human interrelations on death row, these very Stephen King moments with Mr Jingles, the mouse, enchating all personae, wardens and prisoners alike, with its little miracles. Maybe nobody ever told this tv director that for the Big Screen, you have to economise on narrative time, so he did not give a damn, and the story deserves this generous use of screen time. This seriously looks like a director who is up for more, but strangely, there has not been much since. But "The Mist" has been announced, and I am looking forward to what he does to this story of claustrophobia, of being lost in the dark (or greyish-white, rather), and how he avoids the traps a story about monsters in the mist and dinosaur-like creates from other worlds is likely to pose.

The worst about the film is the song over the end credits: I tend to refer to it as “Chu Hua Cha” (Chrysanthemum Tea), but I think the real title is slightly different. That Jay Chou is the God of Chinese pop at the moment and that this song is the peak of his achivements tells so much about the state of music in China and the attitude of the Chinese youth… Anyway: the film is, like the previous Zhang Yimou movies (apart from “Riding alone…”, which I have not seen yet, but which claims to be different), a masterpiece in production design and costumes, and has little to offer on dramatic development and characters. Or rather (as the Variety reviewer pointed out, see link below), it has too much of all this: too many twists and intrigues, too many cgi soldiers clashing in fancy gold and black, too many sweat drops of suffering empress Gong Li, and too much shivering in her fight against the poison but her heroic power forbidding her to give in. With superhuman power she fights the disease and comes back with a vengeance, only to … and so on. No doubt she is nice to look at, as the whole film, but a bit less of the surele Weta-powered mass battles and a bit more a silence and contemplation would have been beneficial. I honestly could not care anymore when as a nice next-to-final twist the incest was revealed, when the odds on the battlegrounds turned again, but just concentrated on the nice hairdo of Chow and the amazingly uninteresting face of Jay Chou. I guess this is as good as Chinese mainstream cinema gets at the moment. At least it was way beyond the last Chen Kai-Ge’s embarrasment .

IMDB entry:
NYT Review:

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