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Monthly Archives: December 2007

It is funny to watch that film on DVD, with all the extras, including plenty of deleted scenes. I could not but think that those scenes (most of them to do with interviews with the freed hostages) would have given a very different touch to the film. It would have been more sophisticated, even, as the search for the bad guys would have had more room in whoch it could be shown that not everybody who robs a bank is a bad guy and not everybody who gets taken hostage in the course deserves our sympathy.

But this point was made clear early on (if with less impetus, maybe) by chosing Clive Owen as the lead (who happens to be one of my favourite current actors – he has this touch of reality to him). That guy is on one level with Alan Rickman as a crime mastermind of whom you never really believe the police could get the better of. In this case, however, there is a really interesting counterpart with Detective Frazier ("Make sure they spell it right on the cover of the New York Times"), who starts off as a guy in trouble after some crook tries to frame him on some lost contraband money – but then he emerges like Phoenix from the Ashes as soon as he is in the midst of the action. As police negotiator, he must be permanently alert, witty, he must be more alert and witty and rude and whatever the other side is. And he is, and maybe culminating in the plot point which firstly I did away with as nonsensical: he gets into a physical fight with the kidnappers, trying to push them to the point where they would kill him were they ready to kill. Great, great! acting here from both Denzel Washington and Clive Owen.

Nice thing about the title (maybe I’m wrong…): had they left in the scene where at the police station talk was about having an "inside man", a guy working in the bank to deliver details, on the job, nobody would have wondered about the film’s title, I guess (even though the guy in question wasn’t one). Now there’s nothing about Inside Man in the film (in the great tradition of all those "Transpotting ain’t got no trainspotting in it" movie trivia quizs), meaning that it could mean a lot more – and my favourite interpretation is the task of getting into each others’ heads in order to be able to (a) plan the heist and (b) keep it from being successful. My favourite line in this respect maybe: "We’re playing it by the book. But that guy has read the book, too."

The only downside was maybe the role Jodie Foster had to play as all-too-cold special envoy for special tasks, whose bite may be worse than her bark, but who nevertheless failed to match the two heroes around which the film circles. Honorable mention to William Dafoe, who supports in a way support cast should support.

Of course the plot "smells fishy", as Mr Ebert points out, and the motivation is never too tighly knotted to the persons’ actions. But what the hell: it allows those great actors to outsmart each other, and that is what is at the heart of films about stalled situations such as hostag taking.

Roger Ebert: http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060323/REVIEWS/60314002/1023
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0454848/

Will Smith is a cool MF, not doubt, and every film in which he stars, especially if he is more or less the only character, is worth seeing and usually fun to watch. Same with “I am Legend”. However. If you look at the more spirited performances in “Independence Day” or “Men in Black”, and compare it with “I, Robot” or “I am Legend”, the alarm bells start ringing. His films are getting less entertaining one by one, and now, with the filming of the Richard Matheson story, we are at a point where watching the film is a very distanced experience, an observational one rather than an immersive one. It just does not drag you in. Or it does, actually, in the first half hour, when the dull and depressive life of the Will Smith character, being left behind by all these billions of people being annihilated or mutated into raging beasts, is rolled out. His routines, his simulations of real life, his breakdowns.

It is when the action kicks in that the film starts limping, and it is getting worse every minute. The personification of a “lead rabie” who seems to have something like a personal dislike for Smith, is the one thing getting on my nerve. The other is the woman with her kid, who may be called the most superfluous movie characters in living history (maybe with the exception of the mutant Roger Rabbit that was involved in Star Wars – Phantom Menace… you know whom I mean… whatshisnameagain… JaJa).

There are some nice cgi goodies, such as a bunch of dog mutations or a herd of deer, and the hunting scene at the opening is actually a very nice bit of cinematography. The “drama”, however, is only backstory, and the new plot is so simple and straightforward that you have seen it in just about every Vampire-Zombie-Rabie-film of the last 20 years. A Shame, really, as the setting would have allowed so many possibilites.

Top 10 Films: http://www.top10films.co.uk/archives/4007

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0480249/

Admittedly, I never heard of Shaun Meadows before, and admittedly, I only watched the film because everybody wrote that it is the best British film anyone will see this year or last or the one before or the next one. I really sometimes fall for those blunt messages, when they are coming from the right bunch of people. Kermode sometimes, Guardian / Observer / Independent writers, often. So in this case I followed their unisono cry and was rewarded by a film extremely well done, well narrated and well acted. It reminded me of those old days when Riff-Raff and Raining Stones, Local Hero and That Sinking Feeling proved that the British movies are a league of their own. Back to form, or just individual genius?  Whatever: a very strong protrait of a little boy’s carreer from bullied to bully, from victim to collaborator, from kid to spoiled kid – and all those transitions do not mean that you would lose sympathy. If you manage to feel sympathy with the little brat, that feeling stays, and if you find him annoying to begin with, the film only underlines what has gone wrong. He gets entangled with the local skinhead scene, becomes buddy and friends and enjoys finally having friends so much that he completely loses track on what the hell he is doing there and who is friends with. Great and maybe authentic (how would I know?) characters like the brute who just returns from prison, the punk girl who is ugly beyond believe, but willing to try out the little one, the English-Jamaican with the nice smile and the funny name, the mother who is not desperate enough to understand what’s going on, and and and … As I learned, a depiction of a very specific moment in the UK skinhead history, when they started teaming with the National Front and developed their xenophobe branches. Told as an individual kid’s story, this is still an utterly believeable and very good film. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0480025/

 

Oh wow, the Austrians are different. And exciting, when they make films. Ulrich Seidl (the director of this one, Hundstage), or Michael Haneke  are only the most prominent examples, there are other gems in the history of Austrian tv (Kottan ermittelt), cinema (Komm Suesser Tod) and literature (Thomas Bernhard Elfriede Jelinek and more digestibly Wolf Haas). Seidl is on the more depressive side of existence in his work, it seems, and in Hundstage (Dog Days – don’t expect Al Pacino) there is not a single character of any likeability. It is a disgusting world that is being depicted, a world consisting of the worst of conservatism: abusive husbands or boyfriends, accepting wifes, girlfriends and cleaning women, values that do not reach beyond a cool smoke, a fast car, a gun and booze. Very normal people, and normality is being shown at its ugliest. Everybody – and that will be the trick – will consider these people as a disgusting side-effect of every average city suburb: all clean on the surface of the gardens, and all the more rotten inside, behind the façade. It does not need to be Austria, but it surely works very well here, where the tension between history and presence is so tangible. (Warning: contains candles and naked old women). http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0290661/

Rogert Ebert Review (he appears to dislike the film because he considers it depressing, while praising its quality – odd review): http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20031017/REVIEWS/310170302/1023

Hollywood Reporter: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/hr/imdb/reviews/article_display.jsp?rid=1057819&vnu_special_account_code=thrsiteimdbpro

NYT: http://movies2.nytimes.com/2003/08/22/movies/22DOG.html

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  (with his trademark fake grin, switching it on and off like Batman’s Joker) 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.  Whenever he is “on camera” (in the British media, that is), you can read a whole book in his face, entitled “How do I get out of here?” 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.

Emir Kusturica is always worth a mayhem. Just as a reminder for myself, what did he direct that I saw? "Time of the Gypsies" (1988: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0097223/) – "Arizona Dream" (1993: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0106307/) "Underground" (1995: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0114787/) – OH! That was before "Black Cat, White Cat" (1998: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0118843/)?? Time flies when you’re having fun… Oh yes, those are some brilliant pices of work, with Time of the Gypsies clearly leading the pack of outstanding achievement for the history of European cinema.

Now he got a bit into trouble for the Underground setting, with accusations basically being founded on the fact that he took a simplistic and Serbia-friendly stance on the Balkan conflict (or war? Civil war? All of it, I am afraid). This accusation, I have to say, is outright nonsense when you see the film. Everybody is equally guilty and innocent, the film is from the perspective of one particular family and that’s how the story is being told. They kill and get killed, laugh and get mocked, drink and drown. Very democractic in that respect. And what’s the name of the main actor? Lazar Ristovski? What a face and attitude and charm! I need to re-visit the other films again! And buy the soundtracks!

11171613_oriIt is tres chique at the moment to find Paul Greengrass brilliant. He appears to follow some kind of Soderbergh path, with a clear line between his more intimate productions on the one side, a bunch of serious blockbusters on the other. The thing is: while Soderbergh decided to have brain twisters (Schizopolis) and star-spangled claptrap (Oceans whatever) following in succession, Greengrass manages to create rather consistent and entertaining hybrid products: The Bourne films he directed have a clear blockbuster ambition, but with a hero who appears more twisted and messed up than the Nicholas Cages or James Bonds who usually fill the slots. On the other hand, the mainstream arthouse he creates (as Bloody Sunday or United 93) are – apart from all creativity and intelligence) extremely entertaining and thrilling. Should he just maybe be the better narrator, the better director, the better person who should be doing better films than most others? I think so, that is a wild but very interesting notion. Give him 10 more stories to tell, and I am sure there will not be a single boring and a single dumb film coming out of this.

Oh yes, and the film: wildly entertaining, even if you do not particularly like that kind of lone fighter superhero movie, and even if the epic chase through Tangier starts boring you halfway through (just not into car and motorbike chases…). Matt Damon (see http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0372588/ for further reference) is getting interesting, and slim, and sometimes refreshingly violent. That’s a good path to follow, I reckon. Now that the trilogy is over, it will be interesting to see whether he builds on that or falls back into boy-dom again. I read he plays in the Coppola movie – and that may be a serious peril for his career, of course. Hope he saved some of the Bourne cash.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0440963/

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/bourne_ultimatum/

Quick, get all the old blog entries out of the way before the new year arrives and Oscar buzzing screener DVDs start piling up on the desk. It is not very original to find “Fog of War” a very interesting film. Even if one does not have an interest in US domestic policy (as I do) and if you believe that a superficial knowledge about the US involvement in World War II, Vietnam, Korea or Cuba is all you will ever manage to accumulate in this short life that has plenty of more interesting and rewarding and sustainable topics on offer (as I do, too) – even then a character like Robert McNamara, representing a certain political decision-making family more than being an individual representing himself, is outstandingly interesting. This lengthy interview, the mixture of arrogance and brilliance, the sometimes stunningly clear analysis of world politics as a process reduced to very simple questions of which activity do undertake next, a certain (well-deserved, I guess) old-age stubbornness about topics on which he got challenged for the better part of the last century. All his creates a showcase for how power works. How creatively at times the power-brokers have to work, how blue-collar-ish action is required at other times. A bit scary, but a nice – if politically superficial – lecture in US and hence world history.

 

IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0317910/

 

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/fog_of_war/

 

As found by Jim Emerson of Chicago Sun-Times (http://blogs.suntimes.com/scanners/2007/12/stages_of_a_cinephile.html) when he read the Grish comments: http://www.girishshambu.com/blog/2007/12/defining-moments-in-moviesrosenbaums.html

Stages of a Cinephile:
1. Ages 6-13/ marvel at the lights, learn about adult life, eat sugar/Disney, Spielberg, John Hughes
2. Ages 14-19/ age of discovery, excitement and inspiration/ Rear Window, Bicycle Thief, early Godard
3. Ages 20-26/ O.C.D. attempt to see everything by every major director/ Dreyer, Ozu, late Godard
4. Ages 27-33/ burn out period, start seeing films rarely and complain about how bad movies have gotten, sell your old videos/ Straub, Snow, Dziga Vertov Group

5. Ages 34-41/ burn out continues, fall asleep in one two many Sokurov films, stop watching art films and start watching blockbusters again, become a faux-populist and develop inane arguments about movies you’ve never seen

6. Ages 42-45/ watch only Reality TV and Internet porn, get drunk alone, send mass emails linking to Armond White reviews

7. Ages 46- /after therapy and anti-depressants repeat steps 3-6.

Recently proper horror zombie vampire rabies films are in fashion again, I suppose thanks to the success of 28 Days and the like. This one is clearly in that tradition, but also in the one of The Thing and any other setting far away from civilization and help. Perfect place to have a bunch of people trapped and exterminated. That’s what’s happening. Rather conventional in style and direction, also in establishing of a rather sophisticated vampire leader who knows his predecessors, or has at least read Stephen King’s more vampiry books. Fair enough, and they run fast and jump high. It’s only that everything is quite predictable and not particularly well done. I think the scriptwriter has to dragged to the light of day to burn in the sun for some of the things he almost got away with: why do the planes stop going just because it’s dark? What did the guy who apparently was sent by the vampires actually do, what was his mission? Just do away with some dogs? Tell the humans that something dark is coming? They could have guessed that when corpses were piling up. Why is it always bright as day? And if it is not: why does nobody seem to bother about an attic that is bright as day, and which has window slits through which a polar bear could dance? If the vampires are so allergic to daylight, how come they show up immediately after the sun sets – where have they been? A decent B-Horror picture would have had a nice sex scene at minus 25 degrees, with goosbumps of any size imagineable. Not even that… All in all entertaining, but makes me wish that I can see John Carpenter’s gory "Thing" version again.

I remember good review of this one, so I picked it up, waiting for things to happen, but having rather completely forgotten any information I may have had about the film when it was released. The first surprise came when the director’s name showed up, and it comforted me immediately, because the day has not yet come where a Michael Winterbottom film would have let me down. The second sting of surprise came when I remembered the story, and the true story behind it. That may have been the reason why I did not watch it earlier: I do not really like real-life stories. It is much harder to make an interesting film out of those, because one key element (the ability to surprise your audience with surprise development and hold them thrilled about the outcome) is missing that is central to narration. I also find authors and directors sometimes to be rather enslaved by the facts, disallowing the fiction required to make a story become a good drama. Most biopics share the fate of being dull because the persons they depict are mostly, well, dull. Famous but dull. Ray Charles and Johnny Cash may have been exciting characters in real life, but that does not mean  their life would have followed the requirements of a good cinema narrative.

A bit similar with Daniel Pearl. If you rememer the news, you know the end. If everybody knows the end, the film must find other anchors to keep the audience interested and thrilled. Winterbottom’s tool of choice is Angelina Jolie. She is a beauty of almost indecent magnitude, and she showed before that she can be one hell of an actress. She has, together with the exotic and chaotic setting of Karatchi, to carry the whole movie. And she manages in an impressive way. She is the centre and she alone is the centre of the movie, and appropriately enough, the culmination point of the film is not whatever happens to her kidnapped husband, but the outbreak of emotion she displays when she learns about it.

It is again not the comprehensively perfect film Winterbottom has delivered, rather a piece shedding light on one specific aspect of the human drama: the ability of a strong woman to endure war against her family. This seems to be actually the interesting thing about his movies: he appears to have realised for himself  that he prefers detailed answers on specific questions rather than saving the world with his films. I hope there’s many more to come.

The film was surprisingly well received for a RomCom in many critics’ circles, partly I’m sure for the fun everybody had in the nastyu language in the outspoken use of narcotic substances, but also for the quality of acting, I think.  The plot and script and directing are rather straightforward, I suppose, but then again I am not really a RomCom expert, and maybe this is exactly what you have to deliver in that particular genre. I enjoyed it while it was lasting (and some of the more subtle insults deserve a second listening for sure) but it is a bit the same with all those comedies – they never make me want to come back.

Quite a find – as always with tv productions, I am kind of two or more years behind, but that means I can catch up with two seasons in one go, which keeps one busy if the episodes are real 60 minutes such as with this one.

* Season 1-01: Incident on and Off a Mountain Road (by Don Coscarelli: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0181741/)
Ok, there is not so many people who watched Bubba Ho-Tep, the Curse of the Ass-Sucking Mummy, or whatever the working title was, but I did after continuous mention by some cinema weblogs. And now that director has the honour of opening one of the more uncompromising tv shows in history.

* Season 1-02: H.P. Lovecraft’s Dreams in the Witchhouse (by Stuart Gordon: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0002340/)
For some reason, Stuart Gordon does not call it a day in his films before he had some eyes being popped out of their sockets with the necessary gush of blood to go with it. That’s actually quite entertaining. Lovecracft’s stories pose some challenges, however, because that guy obviously was crazy as a craphouse rat and hence the rats have human faces, which are a bit ridiculous to play in a low-budget production. But Gordon has Lovecraft experience aplenty, so he uses the blood-drenched version, which is rather convincing. Oh Abdul Alhazrad, mad Arab wizard – oh Necronomicon, oh unspeakable horrors from beyond, you entertainers of my innocent youth! Audience advice: contains full frontal female nudity, both fresh and rotten.

       
* Season 1-03: Dance of the Dead (by Tobe Hooper: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001361/)
Good fun, among the more convincing post-Apocalyptic visions of a depressing future, with nice backstory about the Blix that falls down occassionally and burns people to death, with Zombie-fluid and with Freddy Krueger as the Conferencier of the Doom Room Show that makes you want to swing along. Extremely disrespectful for a tv show. Audience advice: contains decent amounts of necrophilic blow-jobs and excursions into the ugly side of blood donation. And we wonder whether Richard Matheson the scriptwriter is Richard Matheson the author of gruesome esteem? Aha, just checked, it’s his son: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1075295/bio.

* Season 1-04: Jenifer (by Dario Argento: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000783/)
Iiiiek, well, ooooh. Both, I mean, the film is terrible, but you get rewarded for staying with it frequently by being exposed to the nice and nicely naked body of the title heroine. If she was only wearing a bag over her ugly face … Dario Argento may be one of the godfathers of modern horror movies, but this one was a bit uninspired and predictable. Plus the

* Season 1-05: Chocolate (by Mick Garris: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0308376/)
A bit dull of a starting point, with a guy having visions of being in somebody else’s body (I am absolutely sure the impules for writing this episode came from the author wondering "What would it be like for a man to dream to be be in a woman’s body – and then get laid?"). They are taking whatever is in this situation, but it’s not too much.

* Season 1-06: Homecoming (by Joe Dante: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001102/)
Some approach their attitude to war and politics with subtlety, some are more blunt about it. This episode can be counted into the latter category, with formerly deceased veterans coming back from their graves to take civil action against those who sent them into useless battle. While the initial idea is pretty funny, the episode is not, as the idea does only yield a handful of hilarious situations. Disliking the political establishment can be done better, see "Wag the Dog", even without zombie soldiers.

* Season 1-07: Deer Woman (by John Landis: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000484/)
The most important thing is of course the self-reference to that wold that showed up at Picadilly in the 1980s… yes, I remember what fun that werewolf theme was at the time, and for some reason, that’s one of the motifs that seems to be wearing off. You cannot do a serious werewolf flick anymore, you have to use it with irony and boobs. Both included here, and both very nice. The best part is the dream sequence where our hero visualises all the possible scenarios for those hoof prints on the poor trucker fellow.

* Season 1-08: Cigarette Burns (by John Carpenter: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000118/)
Udo Kier, formerly known as the Baby that came out of Lars von Trier’s crazy Kingdom dreams, …  A nice episode for all film buffs, and are we not all on the quest for the ultimate movie experience. This would certainly be one to remember, even though the motives are well known from previous Carpenter films (what’s the one with the author whose books make people go mad and violent? Probably the last Carpenter film I watched apart from that whose name thou shalt not speak LA thing). The violence is pleasantly gory, if you are in that kind of stuff, and the creature that apparently was captured out of "the film" and chained to the living room door may well be remembered in one nightmare or the other.

* Season 1-09: The Fair-Haired Child (by William Malone: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0540532/)  
Starting with this one (which I did, it was the first of the season I watched) is a bit misleading, as it is more weird than offensive or gruesome. The kidnapped girl shall be the twelveth one, but the fair-haired child’s plans are differing from it’s parents. So fortunes are reversed, and the devil gives a bargain, two for one, and she shall live and they together happily ever after. Audience advice: contains Gollum, but with teeth.

* Season 1-10: Sick Girl (by Lucky McKee: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1031246/)
The effort to be funny goes slightly awry, in this tale of a bunch of girls struggling with a bug infection. That bug is quite nasty, indeed, but in the end, they are all family.

* Season 1-11: Pick Me Up (by Larry Cohen: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0169540/)
I liked that one. The plot about two not very nice people taking their sports out into the woods and creating collateral damage on the way (with hitchhikers, punks, bus drivers, and paranoid travellers who see murder around every corner…) evolves nicely and slowly, the showdown is cracking and the final twisted in a way I savour it.

                                               
* Season 1-12: Haeckel’s Tale (by John McNaughton: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0573796/)
Based on a story by Clive Barker, the story of Ernst Haeckel is the one of Frankenstein (who is quoted, actually), with silly experiments on dead bodies. Hard to say whether there is anything of redeeming value, but now that I think about it, the only thing I actually clearly remember is the very nice and very naked body of Haeckel’s young wife, so I guess it is worth watching if you like that kind of thing (very nice very naked female bodies, I mean).

* Season 1-13: Imprint (by Takashi Miike: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0586281/)
Gory Japanese geisha variation, although I am not perfectly sure what it was about. Stretching audience patience to some limit with the torture scenes, but apart from this, there is not much interesting to be said about it.

IMDB Series overview: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0448190/

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