Skip navigation

Monthly Archives: March 2008

4:52 min into the film, the scriptwriters had the nerve to actually write the infamous German line “das wird ein Nachspiel haben” (this will not be the end of it!” or something tacky like that). At this moment, I lost all hope that a film with one of the most virile German actors Heiner Lauterbach may be interesting despite the fact that it was produced as a tv movie for RTL. German private tv drama, it needs to be said, is of the poorest quality, and that is particlularly sad because the money is there, the training is there, but acting and storytelling is missing completely! Oh so completely. A train crash of a tv movie.

It is to be recommended to do that now and again: check the classics, and if you do it, do it big time. So here was the Godfather Triple Feature, and guess what: I am not sure whther I have actually seen the second part before. I know for sure I saw the Third, but could not remember at all, only Number 1 sticks to the memory like the blood of a chopped-off horse’s head, so to say.

It is, of course, very rewarding to sit through the whole trilogy, even though the original release dates very pretty fat stretched, there is a beautiful continuity between definitely Nr 1 and 2, and also in principle a sensible continuation to Nr 3 (even though that one is already blurring).

Nice chance to catch up on historical reviews:

Part 1: Roger Ebert:
Part 2:
Part 3:

So the earlier film by Guillermo del Toro I see after I watched Laberinto del Fauno for the second time, which may be important to mention, because had I seen Devil’s Backbone first, I am pretty sure my assessment might have been considerably different. Devil’s Backbone (of 2001) also takes war into the lives of children, this time the children in some kind of orphanage. The mansion they inhabit houses not just the typical social relationships a newcomer initially has to endure when joining such a group, but also a proper ghost, the ghost of Santi, a previous inhabitant of the orphanage who is believed to be missing since a couple of years. The new kid (Carlos) decides that interest is better than fear and seeks to investigate the mystery around the ghost. He succeeds, and this leads him and his buddies into darker territory, where it’s not the ghosts they need to fear, but those who created them.
The film is a “ghost story” in a very traditional sense, in one line with the recent “Orphanage” (for which del Toro serves as producer, I believe), “Los Otros” or the whole tradition of gothic Haunted Hill House-style literature. This appears to be one of the darker traditions of the Spanish people in Europe and America (just read Marquez and Allende and Llosa…), and it is very nice to see it in such a pure fashion, not spoiled by the (perceived) need to add gore and gruel to the ghost because the narration is insufficient. Here it is done very well, and – just as in Laberinto del Fauno later – real world and fantasy world continue to convergence, and find each other in the end.

Roger Ebert Review
And plenty of praise from Guardian / Observer
And Scott Weinberg actually wording “masterful”

Sometimes it is worth listening to the elderly, and in this case it was the surprisingly Malcom McDowell of Clockwork Orange fame who mentioned in a radio interview that he enjoyed playing in this US tv show of the title “Entourage”. Simon Mayo confirmed it was good fun, so I checked it out and enjoyed four seasons of perfect-length HBO cable format (24 minutes) that gets you addicted or annoyed after a very short while. Addicted, in my case. The entourage around new movie superstart Johnny-Depp-clone Vinny Chase, his older brother of past fame (Viking Quest), Turtle the chubby driver and self-declared rap producer, and E – Eric the Little One, who tries to manage Vince’s carreer while keeping the buddy boygroup together in their efforts to chase women and spend Vince’s money. The star of the show undoubtedly is Ari Gold, agent, maniac, evil charmer, roller and shaker, who is the way anybody wants to be in that shark pool – especially as you cannot but love him. The only guy getting on my nerves is the arhouse director who manages to mess up several things over the course of several seasons: E’s ego and Vince’s carreer, for example.
Sugar coating being provided through nice cameos by people like Dennis Hopper, James Woods, Paul Haggis or James Cameron (and most likely dozens of others of whom I have never heard before). Season 5 in preparation, I hear!

Must be a pretty fascinating life when the whole set of media forms on offer, including stage plays and musicals, take care of your life after it ended. So happended to Edith Piaf, the French Chansonnier who partly grew up in a brothel, had a life long history of sickness, became the symbol of her art form, and broke down under the fame and glory to go down in drugs. Not knowing how authentic it is, seeing the late Piaf I still was reminded of Clint Eastwood’s Charly Parker film, “Bird”, where the coroner guesses the dead Jazz musician’s age at 60, while he was actually around 35. Same with Piaf, she is fading away, and she dies a real wreck, destroyed by medication and drug abuse, way before her time.
While that life surely was exciting and dramatic (or melodramatic, if you wish), the film only scans it. All the stages of her life need to be covered, like on a checklist the scriptwriters had, and hence none is given the time it would probably deserve in order to unfold its emotions and drama. Only towards the end of the film, when the death of her boxer boyfriend shatters her life, the film develops some artistic element that lifts it above comparable musicians’ biopics. At the end of the day, I find those films not too necessary, they hardly ever contribute anything exciting to what you knew already (on the information level) or what you go to the movies for (on an emotion and aestheticism level). The music was nice, however, even though also on this, only a tiny little fragment was touched upon. And with a musician, I still believe the music is more relevant than anything an adoring biography can provide.

I can imagine why so many people refer to this film as an absolutely enchanting fairy tale, of a magic that can hardly be found in the cinema. With supervillain kings and superhero pirates, with giants of gigantic heart and witches and warlocks to bring you back from the dead if necessary. In order to imagine the fascination emenating from this tale all you need to do is to imagine that you’ve never read the book! But if you cannot forget the fabulously twisted plot stumbling over pages and pages of suitcase packing or the cultural specifics of wedding day preparations of Proincess Buttercup, giving Grandpa a hard time because the rotten kid rightly complains about the boring level of household detail surprisingly to be found in this piece of adventure and mortal peril, and if you only watch the bit that was reduced to the plot in this movie (at least adapted to the screen by William Goldman’s own hand), then the film is perfectly fine and entertaining. I cannot find too much of the book’s magic in it, however, it reminds me of the executive summary films that were based on the Harry Potter franchise and that apprently were mostly made fro those who do not like to read. The film did not really bore me, but was on the verge of it and made me want my nice two-colour-ink hardback edition which, I realised with pain, is boxed a couple of thousand kilometers away.

Funny that last week I watched two Stephen King-based films (“Dreamcatcherrubbish” and “The Mist”) and two William Goldman-written films (“Dreamcatchermoronicnonsense” and “The Princess Bride”). The overlap is the worst, but the other two ones are actually rather decent. “The Mist” is engraved in my memory as a brilliant audio experience, as it was recorded in some 3-dimensional Kunstkopf-Stereo when it was released some 20 years ago. I must have the tape somewhere – but no tape player, dammit! I

always liked the story, because it combines some well-established and reliable motives (say “The Fog”, “The Birds” and “Dawn of the Dead”), and combined it with King’s ability to depict the relationships between real human characters pushed to the edge, and a bit over.

This “Mist” now, with the production qualities of Frank Darabont – the old Stephen King hand of Shawshank Redemption and Green Mile reputation – is equally reliable, and surely provides from some nice thrill and gore in a cinema. On DVD, it is not as effective, as the blindness one is exposed to when the Mist hits the screen is just too small on the TV screen and does not engulf you the way it is supposed to.

A pretty good, yet rather unknown cast around Thomas Jane as the artist faced with madness from another world and more madness from his own. The fuss around Marcia Gray Harden as religious loonie is a bit exaggerated, I find, but still she contributes the required and gets what she deserves in the end.

The deviation from the story’s original ending is acceptable if you are not too religious about an author’s intentions – I very much like the new ending, I admit, but would have liked it more had it not been a bit predictable (which may be the reason why King had chosen another path in his story).

Anyway: the film deservedly enters the top-15 Stephen King film adaptations. It is a long shot away from The Shining, Carrie, or Stand By Me, but on the other end, it is gratefully out of sight of Children of the Corn…

Mr Ebert does not like it too much, I see, and check out Variety’s Review.

Lawrence Kasdan? Laurence Kasdan, whom Star Wars tie-in readers may remember… ! William “Marathon Man” Goldman’s script! Morgan Freeman, Tom Sizemore, Timothy Oliphant!! It is absolutely incredible what a big pile of talent and money can be thrown into one Golden Pot and after some months or years of boiling and stirring out comes the most dramatic cinematic failure outside the Spiderman and Pirates franchises I have encountered in a decade or more.
The film is a sensational mess. Based on one of Stephen King’s weaker books, which tries to merge a childhood reminiscence involving “special” boy Duddits (which is the book’s good part) with a horror development introducing into their hunting weekend (which is a bit gross., but fun reading) and with a queer alien invvasion story (which is rubbish) – the film now stresses the nonsense bit of the book and adds another ridiculous element, namely Morgan “I play anything for a Million Dollars” Freeman as the manic leader of some special alien hunters army squad who goes on a rampage. The interaction between the guys in the hut, the flashbacks to their youth when they met Duddits, and that Duddits himself, the boy who changes the people he encounters, who has this special air about him – all missing or so reduced that if you have not read the book, the bits about the memory storage and the Dreamweaver and the mind-reading abilities remain next to incomprehensible. I need to check the book’s ending again, maybe it’s the novel’s fault, but there are two alternative endings on the DVD and you cannot really decide which one is more rubbish.
And Roger Ebert correctly asks how those stupid teeth-monsters could ever steer a spacecraft – or build one, for that matter.

Interesting to see that the Russian cinema has changed strategy a bit (if that can be judged from watching one film… at least it’s actually two, with Day Watch already waiting on the desk): from reflective parables (sometimes political, such as Askoldov, or philosophical, such as Tarkowski’s oeuvre), now there appears to be something more of blunt elbow-like style: Matrix meets Vampires meets Lord of the Rings and what else. The fight good versus evil, and the world’s fate is at stake, and there is the chosen one, but he can pick sides and hence decide the eternal battle.
After I had heard quite a bit about it, and remember a spectacular trailer I watched some years ago, I expected the visuals of the film to be way more spectacular. The “vortex” looked nice and dark, but that was because it was an ugly apartment house circled by a couple of thousand animated crows, and at night, for that matter, so no wonder. The director or editor also liked it, so much, actually, that it was given more screen time than most of the actors. Apart from some nice graphical gimmics, the rest is just Moscow at night, which may be a nice setting in principle, but I guess the transfer from big screen to DVD revealed that even the visual concept of the movie is not up to snuff – not to speak of the nonsense script that even I understood and that just does not provide any mystery, drama or thrill. It is easy to get distracted during the film, so better provide food and drinks to the sofa, otherwise you will take on eny opportunity to jumo up and change rooms in-between.

Erwin Wagenhofer’s documentary world tour shows some of the absurdities of food production, from hybrid Aubergines over hald of Almeria covered with greenhouses, to the absurde pictures industrial chicken production provides. He spares us some of the more grisly images you could expect, as most of the film is not devoted to, for instance, the inhumanity of animal breeding and slaughtering, but rather to the absurdity with which the allocation of food is being managed by global production and distribution companies. Nothing one would not have seen before if you are interested in tv documentaries and the frequent food scandals that pop up in investigative tv reporting magazines. But well filmed, with interesting expamples showing the wide range of the global food production and destruction madness. What I found odd was the fact that most production bosses or enterprise CEOs interviewed are so boring you can hardly believe it – must be the sector they work in?
Variety Review

Is it just me, or:
* was the second season of Heroes lying in a heap of uninspired and all-over-the-pace shambles, with nonsense plot lines (virus) and boring new characters (this latino chica/chicko team), a miserable patchwork abruptly ended by the strike. For some reason beyond me, the makers decided to pretend this was a closed season instead of just having the breath for a 6 month break.

* was the last season of 24 (was it 6 or7?) fatally stuck to a concept that became so formulaic that even the impending death of millions was not able to create tension anymore, and the repetitive "crisis-resolution-more-crisis-more-resolution" pattern was used up for good, probably making the authors grateful for a strike that gave them another year of thinking time.

* should Jericho have ended after one (maybe slightly longer) season, because the effect of being cut off from a world about which you don’t know anything, struck by you don’t know what, could not hold forever. And once the post-Apocalyptic action sets in, the show loses a lot, because re-building an anarchic society is a completely different story, one which requires larger patterns and larger pictures – in both of which the Jericho production is not as good at as in the chamber drama of "Locked in our little town".

* did "Lost" modulate dangerously between fascinating and desperate efforts to make it to the show’s finale, with catastrophic blackouts such as the "I am paralysed by a spiderbite" episode last season, and with an eerie effort to get more things resolved within one episode. This is not necessarily benefincial to a drama that needs to pace towards its finale, and where every resolution along the way only takes away this pace.

The only real high-quality constants of the shows I watch have been CSI (I guess those guys are just too routined to get distracted by anything) and Battlestar Galactica, where there is hope that with the end in sight, there is no danger of losing faith and the path. But then again, we have not yet seen the start of the final season, and dammit, has that last season been long ago!

Update after second viewing:
Still thank God I don’t need to decide on anything here, but if I had to, I would shed more sympathy on the film than I did after first watching it. I still think the script is tumbling over its own feet when alternating a very classical (and hence hery simple) "Three Tasks" structure with a "Evil Stepfather" narration, not making very clear why not concentrate on the one or the other. And I still think that each element (each task, each character, each dramatic turn) does not get the time it would deserve, and that the film should have been much much longer or much much more concise. But I was more enchanted than the first time around, by the desperate girl more than by the fairies and the monsters. So while there is still no Citizen Kane anywhere near – it is one of those films where the desire of watching again (and again) may be really rewarding.

Initial article (May 07)
Thank God I do not need to decide on the best films of the year, the best foreign language films, the best arthouse films, or what an arthouse film is and what is not, for that matter. There have been a couple of interesting films in the foreign language sections, and argument is out whether those were not partially better than what contended in the main sections of the main awards. Pan’s Labyrinth is clearly a very well made and original film. It is among those films that allow themselves the clash between reality and fantasy, hence enabling stronger contrasts through the switch between the two domains than would have been possible if the film was exclusively set in one of them.

Both worlds are powerful: the vicious brutality of civil war military leaves no room for sympathy with the Franco troops, they fight a brutal war against their own people and do not hestitate to torture, humiliate, kill and abuse. The creatures our little heroine encounters on the other side of reality, however, are at times equally blindfoldedly murderous (as the guy with the eyes in the hands – whatever his name was) or at least of intransparent and ambiguous moral standing (as the Faun, who – I have to say – disappointed a bit in terms of animation, which was sad given he has so much screen time). The plot is easy and drives the story finely along through the tasks that are being given to the "chosen one". Yet not all of these have a satisfying resolution, sometimes the scenes end as if the director was glad enough to have gotten her out of this new trouble alive and in one piece, disregarding issues of dramatic build-up and scene resolution.

As a fairy tale, however, the film has the right to all these liberties, of course. Not all of them are intentional, however, and I really do believe that the film suffers from incoherence in script quality. In total, I loved to watch it, but with expectations having been as high as they were ("the Citizen Kane of fancy cinema" – "easily the best film in the last couple of years"), a bit of a stale feeling lingered…

%d bloggers like this: