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Monthly Archives: March 2007

why does every film these days has a tag on it, like "special issue about this film, which have nothing to do with the film:… " In the case of "Departed" it was Scorsese’s lack of golden things on the mantlepiece, in the case of "Last King…" it is the strangely unanimous call for a best actor’s Oscar. Not that Whitaker does not deserve it: I think he is fabulous, and he was fabulous in every single film I have seen him in, and his best roles (Bird, namely, but also Smoke or Ghost Dog – I even liked him in the otherwise dull "Panic Room") were clearly award candidates. So now he’s got the Academy Award, and we have that out of the way. People will be able to talk about the actual films again next time around (and "next time" is already gone – have a look at the impressive number of films and tv ("ER"?!?) he did since "Last King":

Is the idea of fictionalising a dictator’s biography working? In principle, I would say yes, there are enough examples of it, and recent efforts like "Downfall / Der Untergang" about Hitler’s last days have shown serious research and truth to as many facts as you can find still allow for enough artistic liberty to produce a cinematic experience worth watching. (I was trying to sneak around the word "entertaining", but why should I? Of course, any film must have an entertainment value. This does not mean escapism or fun, it means structuring and producing it in a way that is adequate to the topic and professional in technique and story-telling. "Downfall" was entertaining, so was "Holocaust", so are Tarkowski films – "Life is beautiful", on the other hand, was not, because I found it ill-made and poorly played.)

I found the Idi Amin experiment less rewarding. Creating an artificial side-character for a real-life person creates some problems that the film did no perfectly manage to tackle. The Good Doctor is a bit too artificially ensaminated, his motives and actions fit too well into the film’s necessity to follow some relevant milestones in Idi Amin’s career. In short: the film is cheating, and cheating a film shall not! I would rather have less insight, or characters that I am less able to identify with (such as the Health Minister who clearly could have served as an interesting point-of-view).

Despite that, has it been mentioned that Forest Whitaker’s performance was… hm… very good? And everybody else’s, too? And there is fun involved, too, mainly seeing Agent Scully serve once again as a helpful aide to a greater purpose (took me a couple of munutes to recognice her, and a couple more to find out why: I never saw her without the standard X Files hairdo).

Guardian and Observer Reviews:,,1921817,00.html

This will definitely be the next sleeper on international screens – after the fake seriousness of "Live of Others", now life in Germany as it really is: mysterious, erotic, adventurous, dangerous. It is apparent that a film in which a little boy seeks to escape from an afterlife in hell or purgatory, facing eternal fire torture by a bunch of rabbit ghouls longing  for vengeance for their untimely death, by trying get his primary school teacher laid, or alternatively by achieving artistic immortality and becoming a rock guitarist, must be a voice heard by the world. Time will tell, but it may well be that the scene where the kid’s father is crawling stark naked under the table to escape from the gift of a birthday cake, only to meet the love of his life down there, will be quoted as the scene where German cinema finally breathed life again after decades lost to the dark valleys of Werner Herzog’s narcissm and Bernd Eichinger’s … ehm … narcissm. I see a curious mixture of traditionalism and at the same time utter ignorance of moral authority, a big creative liberty to fight the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune the rural Bavarian way that makes films like "Wer frueher stirbt…", or "Dahoam sterben die Leit" the peak of cinematic storytelling – what I mean is… hilarious fun to watch!

After having read James B. Stewart’s amazing book about the “Disney War”, it was essential to watch at least one of the films, the first in many years. The only one around was Cars, so here we go. [Early diversion: it is kind of creepy that after a couple of years of incredibly ill-informed decision-taking, incurring billions in losses and a really messed-up company structure, one single product – like “Who wants to be a Millionaire” on tv, or “Pirates of the Carribean” in the theaters – can completely turn a round such a juggernaut of a company. One key aspect of the book (or rather of the company as such) was its relationship to Pixar. While Disney Animation was struggling to the point of swimming belly-up, Pixar was coming around, suggesting to use all this fancy technology to improve film and animation production. It took many years of struggling until the animation wizards of today saw the light of day. Since the first feature output, Toy Story, Pixar has proven one of the major cash cows of the Disney Empire, however. With John Lasseter (also director of Cars, among others) as head of Disney animation, it will be very interesting to see how strongly the traditional Disney culture will be influenced by the hotshots who only hesitantly abandoned their headquarters that featured a squash court in the lobby. One of the interesting early developments is: Disney will be doing hand-animated features again – after closing them down after some desasters in 2004…]

What the secret behind Pixar is is rather unclear to me. It could be that they, while pushing photo-realistic animation, they never once try to make you believe that you are dealing with people. Most characters in their films are non-human, the others are sufficiently clicheed-over to make them comic-book characters. In Nemo it’s fish, in Monsters, Inc. it’s, yes, monsters (and some kids, admittedly) and in Cars it’s exclusively, yes again, cars. I am sure those were fierce discussion in the early script development process: will it work out, can we make the cars act humanely enough to make sense? If we include that Porsche Carrera love interest, will making love not cause scratches and dents? Will the airbags go off prematurely, causing embarassment? How do you use a gas station in a world where everybody has a couple of wheels, but noone has a hand to use the gas pump?

And to be honest, I think the film mainly works on the level where these aspects don’t matter: where cars are racing around a NASCAR curcuit or through the desert, where the chrome reflects in the sunlight – if you have an interest in that kind of thing (the races are esay enough to be understood – I sometimes wonder, however, whether American authors can possibly imagine how little knowledge or interest the rest of the world has in their national monuments, such as NACAR or that cup everybody appears to be longing for in the film…) . Also the humour comes over allright: Mater (“just like tow-mater, but without them te”, he explains the vegetable origin of his name) is a nice enough fellow and is responsible for the best running gag involving a horn and a couple of tractor-cows (but when Frank comes: run!). Some of the more funny promises are not kept, however, with most of the characters who could supply some sardonic edge (Sarge the Jeep, maybe, or Fillmore the VW camping bus with the Hendrix record) look as if they got lost on the authors’ way through script writing. The film at large is a bit… empty? The hero finds his higher morale and helps the old mate when he gets into trouble, he falls in love with the Porsche and they will surely have a couple of nice white-wall-tired … what: Matell toys?

It may be that I am just not interested (enough) in racing cars and car racing to be thrilled by all this. I am not interested in corporate intrigue, either, but then again, Monsters, Inc. had the more sympathetic characters and more edges to it and I could really like it. And on top of that, I find the car-worshipping attitude presented rather questionable, to put it mildly. Maybe next time (Ratatouille), there is again more in it for me: Gourmet rats, that’s at least better than cars. The stars will surely be more love-able.

I may be one of the few people who, while linking the word “Enron” to a company bankruptcy involving some crime or the other, had no clear understanding of what actually happened, as I just did not have any media access at the time and could not be bothered to follow up later. That’s an interesting starting point for watching the film, as the filmmakers’ approach seems to start with the assumption that everybody agrees on the sheer incredibility of what has happened and the stunning numbers involved.

Watching it from my perspective shifted that perspective quite a bit: All through the film, the only thing I really found remarkable about the “Enron case” was the amount of money involved, which apparently was a lot. Apart from that, I saw a film about a company that tried to swallow too many meals at a time, threw up big time and disappeared. Whenever such a thing happens, it’s sad for employees and shareholders, and if management misbehaviour is involved, it sometimes makes a nice courtroom drama. Apart from that, the “why are you telling me all that?” feeling lingered.

From a cinematic perspective, the film offers little surprises, it is solidly filmed and only occasionally loses the ground under its feet: e.g. when the director apparently did not think mentioning the fact that one of the executives had shot himself was sufficient. Instead, that scene had to be reenacted with great drama and a lot of fancy editing. In other cases, adding newly shot material with reenacted scenes was ok, even though I am in general not one who would easily understand why this is necessary. The authors of the investigative research book on which the film was based I found to be rather dull, but on the other hand the story they had to tell just is not very sexy…

As there are so few documentaries available, I am still pleased to have seen one and look forward to the next…
Official site:
Roger Ebert:

I expected to see a light comedy along the lines of the da Sica original, which was that bittersweet kind of film typical of the period. The Chinese version now has discarded much of the light moments and the funny elements of the original: The story of the guy from the countryside who comes to Beijing, wears a sceptical face even at the beginning and gets confirmation by his environment that the scepticism is justified. He is rejected as a peasant, his job as a bike courier hangs on very thin threads, and the lack of morale around him even threatens his existence when his working instrument (his bike) gets stolen – an experience every Beijingren is quite familiar with.

The film is cruel, it shows a world where stealing and stealing back is the modus operandi, and the author is clearly eager to show that today’s China, even though it brings about wealth for quite a few, throroughly lacks the humanity that is of such vital importance especially in this kind of overpopulated place.

In contrast to many ambitious films coming out of the Chinese studios, this one is prefoessionally produced and well shot, well-paced and an easy-to-swallow piece of arthouse cinema.

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