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Monthly Archives: September 2007

Working my way through some Oscar candidates of the last years, I realised that I had not felt like watching Syriana for so many months it’s a nice opportunity to wonder in principle how long that kind of "made for awards films" stay fresh. Nobody asks about the film these days, nobody wonders whether it marks a certain landmark in Clooney’s carreer, nobody even follows up on its slacking of international politics mingling with commercial interests in a way, for example, that people continuously refer to films such as "Wag the Dog" or "The Insider". I am not sure whether Syriana is worse than the mentioned as a film, or whether it’s just too bloody complicated to make you want to think about it too often. I twisted my brains a bit and think I can still feel some sore spots from trying to figure out what happened and why and how the hell did he know about this and that.

Thanks to the Gods at IMDB for their new plot synopsis feature, which saved me from dying stupid – well, die stupid I will anyway, but at least I will have the benefit of knowing about the plot to grab the world’s oil resources…(Spoilers at: There is the story of CIA man Bob (Clooney), of broker Bryan (Matt Damon – remember "Team America"!), of the Persian prince’s ambitions to become a benevolent dictator, the teenagers who fall for the idea of becoming extremist because it’s near impossible for them to get a decent work in a hostile environment. All this links through atmosphere rather than through plot points – or at least to me, the atmosphere of some kind of melancholic bitterness prevailed. Sadness about a lost child, and about a lost marriage because the wife is unable to stay clear-minded after the loss dominates Bryan’s life. Sadness about the loss of a mission that means something to him dominates the life of Bob, and new missions get processed in a routine way, even torture happening does not really change the air of pointlessness of what he’s doing with his life. This atmosphere clearly dominates any story developments, and when the story culminates with a bang, what is left is some form of shrugging: it surely will not have changed anything, life goes on, as does politics and business.

All in all, the film is a bit too pointedly aimed at awards season, and pays for it with a subjective feeling of length and the question why they did not bring together the storylines more stringently. But maybe (probably) Rogert Ebert gets it better when he writes "the studio e-mailed critics a helpful guide to the characters. I didn’t look at it. Didn’t want to. I liked the way I experienced the film: I couldn’t explain the story, but I never felt lost in it."

NYT (A.O. Scott): (honourable mention for the nice phrase "semiclandestine collusion")

As apparently there is hardly any chance of getting the full Grindhouse experience now that it busted out of cinemas and the first generation of related DVDs is being published seperately, what the hell, start with one of them and see where to find the other and the trailers later. So Death Proof came along my way first, and even if I had preferred Planet Terror to be the first one, I took it and I watched it and I enjoyed it. Until it was halfway through.

The very strange thing about this project is that apparently the producers / initiators, whoever, in any case: Tarantino knows about the benefit of brevity and the economics of narration. That’s why they made two short features and strung them together, wasn’t it? Now once you start from that idea, and remember the ups and downs of the “Four Rooms” piece back yonder, and when – while you have all this in you mind – you approach a point in your script where the story was fun and cool, the chicks were hot and dead, and there is nothing else to be told… why don’t you just bloody stop there and then, call it a day, put it into the same shoe box as the Planet Terror script and see whether you can make some nice 2:20 / 2:30 thing out of it – short feature, trailers, long feature? More marketable, more fun, less irritating, less depressing. Why the hell do we have to live through a second run of the same story in “Death Prood”, that is not even written as well as the first time around? If you have to use both, turn them around! The second one is boring and uninspiring, did noone ever tell him that?

Anyway: that flick shows that Mr Tarantino is in for some renewal of carreer plan, because I do not believe that the Weinsteins will let him get away with referring to the good old times forever. It costs too much money and reputation.

by the way: writes why “Inglorious Bastards” will not have Stallone, Willis and Schwarzenegger in it… also see at

I only came across the film through some box office top 10 list where – sometime before the Summer blockbusters, no doubt – it actually hit number 1 for some weeks. The reason must be the main actor, Shia the Beouf – and he is actually some amazing screen presence. Cool, relaxed, not pretending big drama where there is none, but relaxedly playing with the camera, and you can really imagine that it does not really make a difference to him whether the cameras are rolling or not. Especially the opening sequence, which has some father-son romanticism to it, benefits from this, as there is no way he could fall for the awkwardness of father-son talk. You must have writers to accommodate this, but apprently here was one at work, and the minutes before the turning point into not so pleasant territory by way of a stunning sequence would deserve a better film to follow. What actually does follow is am often-repeated scheme about the murderer or not murderer neighbour, this time flavoured with hot-bodied teenagers and some efforts into modern technology (James Stewart’s broken leg being replaced by an ankle-beeper for house arrest victims actually adds some nice possibilities). All professionally done, only that I do not want to believe that the nice warden “Brutal” from “Green Mile” is actually a killer, because he treated the mouse Mr Jingles so nicely back then. But at some point the mystery is revealed and the boy gets the girl (Sarah Roemer, never heard nor seen) for sexual encounters, which is the whole point of the film (apart from watching Aaron Yoo make funny faces, which sometimes is quite entertaining). Could have done with a bit more disturbance – family friendly thrillers are just not very thrilling, after all. Nice entertainment when you can’t sleep from jetlag and need the opposite of an intelligent drama to pop into the notebook’s DVD drive.
An amazing 68% fresh rate from RT:

In terms of tv shows, I am a late adopter (maybe in all terms, but here in particular). Until two years ago, I would have insisted that the only tv shows I watch or watched are / were "Twin Peaks", "X Files" (only the Mulder ones, of course), and "24" (well: "Kir Royal" and "Monaco Franze" for the Germans out there – but that is a completely different league and will never be matched by anything). Meaning all those that had a story with a beginning and something like an end to them, in other words (in the case of X Files that would be the promise of a forthcoming end that was never kept and killed the show. I hope it died in pains. Didn’t watch). With (1) more interesting stuff coming up recently, and (2) the best invention since bicycles: DVD box sets! … that changed a bit now. "Heroes", "Lost", "Jericho". Now that the "Sopranoes" are done I am considering catching up with those, too. But at the end of the day, I guess I am in for thriller, mystery things more than for the drama. So even though I never liked Quincy, the hardcore version of Quincy is just my thing, as it combines best of "Seven", "Silence of the Lambs", and Jeffrey Deaver’s "Lyncoln Rhyme" books. So then: CSI.

Now this posting is more like a justification for the poor record on film watching and reviewing lately: that is what happens when you are hooked up with a show that you never watched before, start enjoying, and realise that seven seasons have already gone bye – not to speak of the two or three spin-off shows that I haven’t even touched yet. So the world had to arrange itself into little 43-minute clusters (sometimes multiple 43-minute clusters. Most of the times, actually) over the last months, and now that we are moving towards the end of Season 7, there is room to spread some praise for a show that not only evolved quite a bit over the seasons, but that showed some particular improvements especially in the latest one: with the introduction of what the "X Files" or "Lost" makers would call a "mythology" thread, or at least a red thread resurfacing again and again and having some great potential (miniature killer). Also the development of characters, them getting shot (Season 6) or tired (season 7), falling in love (Season 6) or starting to admit it (Season 7). Great stuff, even though I think I will for the moment stay away from those Miami and New York sister shows, as it is hard to imagine that the characters established in the original Las Vegas CSI can be matched if you start watching the other ones that late in life. And you learn so much about what to do and what not to do when committing a crime that one should compile some form of handbook for junior murderers.

CSI Season guide at IMDB:

Might be one of those German things… in the 1960s and partly 70s, a series of films based on Edgar Wallace crime stories was hugely successful in Germany. They were home-made in Germany and the actors and producers are still hugely popular. Spectacular ratings every time they were shown on tv. The Wixxer films spoof those originals, but basically by trying to be as serious about them as the originals were – and that is exactly the right approach, because there is no way around the fact that our parents were in for some strange taste here.

Written by German prime tv satirical masterheads Oliver Kalkofe, Oliver Welke and Bastian Pastewka, these two films (the first one having been "Der Wixxer", obviously) are rare examples for German cinema humour not being embarassing. The films are being done in good style, well paced, a bit over the top, and with a nice and sober atmosphere of hiliarousness. Never get excited, but always day with a smile. There is probably no point in trying to sell the films internationally, but if one can get a hand on the DVD with subtitles, I suggest to check it out, because it’s a good opportunity to see relexed German humour at work… on the other hand… maybe you shouldn’t, it’s kind of too strongly linked to childhood tv watching experiences….

All films based on Edgar Wallace stories (a lot!) at IMDB and at Wikipedia

I refuse to call it "Live free or Die Hard", because it did not say so on the poster I saw (it said something in Russian actually, wherever they got that from), and the film is not about living free, but about dying young, especially if you are what they keep calling a "hacker" in the film, meanining supposedly someone who looks a bit nerdy, has high electricity usage and is either as fat and beardy as Kevin Smith or skinny and coolly dressed as all the rest of the bunch. And you are supposed to be Star Wars fan, apparently, which is nonsense, of course, as all those pimply computer nerds prefer Star Trek and have small penisses. Which is the same, of course.

The film is completely over the top, but that is the only way to make such a Quadrupquel bearable, and after McClane being blown out of a tunnel ventilation system by a couple of million tons of what after a breached dam last time around, nothing matters anymore. Now joyriding Harrier Jets (yes, I know, they are not real Harrier Jets), blowing up bridges, being about as interminable as a T2 – the biggest stunt is building up a relationship to his stupid cow of a misbegotten daughter again, and he promptly fails and will never be happy again, because now she calls him Daddy and takes on his name. Many things explode, I remember, the truck cockpit in which he is driving up a collapsed bridge segment among them, and that looks actually quite cute, when little Bruce Willis is sitting in his oversized Mac convertible, trying to keep the thing from doing the inevitable, which is going to hell.

Ah anyway: Bruce Rules!

Halfway through the film, I remembered I had seen it before. That was when Costner called the pilot if the surveillance plane and told him that, whatever happened on that forthcoming flight, he will not be shot at, did he understand that? Yes, Sir, I will try to be careful. No, you don’t understand… whatEVER happens… Very good scene, actually, and a shame about those sparrows hitting the plane and making a couple of dozen 11 mm holes on the wings. A strong scene, you have to give them that. That whole film is a bit undecided whether it wants to be really hard-hitting and gulp-inducing about what’s happening during the Cuba missile crisis, or whether it wants to stay with on Hollywood road to joy and try to cash in some millions without really stepping on anyone’s toes. It has both, and well, appparently the former is more interesting than the latter. The film is more cinematic than comparable produce like JFK, and relies more on the drama of the moment than on the speculation about the background. That means that the end (as ends do in real life all too often) is more like air out of balloon rather than big bang showdown, but as substitute for the showdown you get a well-done buildup for the decisive confrontation of the diplomats during a Security Council (I think) session.

All in all, for me more a history lesson than a film event, but I love well-made documentaries, and assuming in a way it is just that it was a very entertaining and edutaining watch.

Some form of fun to catch up on the old ones while preparing for the new one. And what fun it is. What better villain has there been in an action movie than Alan Rickman’s Herr Gruber? How emblematic can the condition of a human body get  – Bruce Willis in his undershirt lying on the side, firing too many shots at too many terrorists, bleeding all over the place, still wearing the sardonic grin. Of course the second and third one cannot keep the level, especially number two almost paralyses itself by being so full of its own seriousness. The third one is at least over the top enough to remember the comedy and almost survives as a good buddy movie. A very enjoyable session, altogether, and three seriously whole-hearted "yippieh-yai-yeh, Motherfucker!"

See an excellent contribution by Imagethief about a Chinese “film official”‘s successful effort to make a fool out of himself. Unfortunately the attitude by the official is one very much representative for many parts of China’s “culture industry”.
It does not happen too often that one reads a lengthy article and shouts “YEAH” at every full stop. I did with this one. Only have to add that the Michael Bay example is a brilliant one, because it shows how super-patriotism frequently coincides with lack of talent by people who get drowned in cash. Bay should become Chinese, he could make exactly the films he likes, and about 5 billion US dollars every year could be spent on less lobotomic output. (In the words of Matt Groning: Bay would realise that his films are mere comedies, but he doesn’t, because he is a turd.)
The one feature of the Chinese government-approved culture industry I find the most telling is the complete lack of self-confidence, which then again must lead to crapping your pants when anybody makes fun of you or critizices you. Those cultures are able to create powerful cultural produce that are able and willing to play with their own strengths and weaknesses at equal measure. I think the culture officials of any country should start watching some movies for a change – and learn to judge what it means that one cultural domain is able to produce the range of “Taxi Driver”, “Apocalypse Now”, “Thank you for Smoking” and, yes, also “Transformers” – and why another is unable to rise beyond “WuJi”.

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