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Monthly Archives: September 2008

One in an endless stream of moving Paul Newman moments, but one that really feels special:

Never mind what happened in 1969. I’ll dig up the old magazine and put it on the web site. Let’s move forward to 1995, and listen very carefully. When I walked into his room, he said, “Aw…it’s you again.” The point is not that he remembered me. The point is how he said “aw…” Imagine it in Paul Newman’s voice. It evoked feelings hard to express in words. The “aw” wasn’t “oh, no,” as it sometimes can be. To it me it translated as, “Aw, it’s that scared kid, grown up.” Whatever it meant, it put me right at home.

Less interesting for the audience abroad, more a technical tool for reviving the memories of the 2004 presidential election defeat the Democrats suffered, the documentary is covering a tour Michael Moore organised through more than 60 cities in the four weeks before that election. Including local celebrities and international stars from the region, he is calling for the people to register and to vote, the turnout having been the most important reason for the Democrat’s previous defeat.

There is nothing really interesting in terms of arguments or presentation style – it is long clip of enthused people for one side or the other, with the unavoidable polemics like the depiction of the Democrats as the cool slackers or the converted war supporters, versus the Republicans as the religiously fanatic morons, but the actual policy debate between the two fractions is not touched upon. It is definitely not “the new Moore film”, but only another element in Michael Moore’s multimedia activism campaign. Fair enough, but really not very interesting. Only highlight in terms of entertainment: Roseanne Barr’s rant – but only after 1:30 hours.

Some years ago (30? Ca.) Scotland (of all places, again, wasn’t that already suffering from British incompetency in “28 days later“?) was scourged by an apocalyptic plague. A virus infection turning every human being into a ravaging – and soon dying – power-zombie emptied the lands and threatened to eliminate all of UK’s – and the world’s – population. Just in time, Scotland was sealed off by a giant high-security wall and fence, what’s in stays in, noone wants to cross that line from the outside, anyway. But the virus is back, and is plagueing London, soon itself a disaster area of unheard-of dimensions. When surveillance discovers that within the new Hadrian’s Wall there actually is life – and plenty if weird variations on it – a rescue mission is being sent in to find the cure to immunity and hence to a vaccine to save the world.

That’s some story, hah? Shamelessly beyond comprehension the script writers steal genres and films – there are motives reminiscent of the Lord of the Rings trail, there is Mad Max so much all over the place that you already hear Tina Turner singing, and in the midst of it all, there is this film that – honest to God! – I would still call one of my favourite 20 movies of all times, “Escape from New York” (may the makers of the announced remake burn in hell, with chicken eating rice corns off their belly buttons all day till that same corner of hell freezes over, please). Now there is no Mel Gibson or Kurt Russell anywhere near to provide a centre of gravitational cool and sex and there is also no mission leader of Lee van Cleef’s stature or hairdo. But the characters are, how to put it? thoroughly re-assembled from the cliches of film and action history: With The Girl (orphanaged when her father let her escape from New York , er… from Edinburgh) being the tough heroine with licence to break noses if appropriate, with knights and cold-blooded horses countering the high-tech world Bob Hoskins tries to steer from the outside, with brilliant Malcolm “Clockwork Orange” McDowell (or maybe rather “Entourage-Hater” McDowell, these days) as the mean bastard in the centre… this is all hilarious fun, and even sometimes the jaw pops wide open when a chase scene results in dismembering the opponents in a ways that forces you to giggle, even if the castle and falcons and swords and wizardry in the old kingdom of the North are nothing short of RIDICULOUS, this is the most fun I have had in a film since ca. 2005 – when I watched Escape from New York the last time. Have to find that DVD…

The US president is being assassinated on a Spanish town square while trying to set up an international peace conference against terrorism. In slightly updated Rashomon style, the events leading to the assassination and beyong are being re-told from various characters’ perspectives.

If you approach a story with this script twisting technique, you need to turn the plot upside down in every iteration. Here, this surprisingly does not happen. The first interesting plot twist happens after 50 minutes, when you have already fallen asleep after the first 34 or so repetitions of the same story, without each perspective adding anything surprising. With the unravelling of the assassination plot, the film actually gets quite thrilling – but very soon all mysteriousness is gone and all is reduced to a giant car chase. I keep repeating that I find car chases seriously boring, but Hollywood does not listen to their audiences. You have to give them that the scenery is nice, and it may be the first major Hollywood car chase involving an Opel Corsa. And wasting Forest Whitaker like that… having him run around with a camcorder in his hand… a shame. Oh and Sigourney Weaver sits around, as well.

What is happening is unclear, but in effect, people start killing themselves in great masses. A group of people is on the run, and slowly it occurs to them what is goind on and that there is very little they can do about it.
1) the film has surely been written because the scriptwriter came up with the idea of showing 18 different ways of people committing suicide. They show this, and it is kind of interesting, but after half an hour, you know…
2) It is absolutely clear that the old farmer and tree-hugger the refugee group meets must be the only person in the world to understand what is the true character of the attach against humanity.
3) most certainly you have to end a film about extinction just avoided with… yes, starting over with “it” “happening” again in some other remote location.

The general idea is not too bad, actually, and was the reason why I thought the film would deliver something of interest. It is actually not a complete failure, just very boring in large stretches, because the core of the drama (being trapped in a place with intruders closing in) has been done so much better since Romero that maybe it was just a bit pointless trying it again. Probably quite thrilling for people who watch one film in 5 months.

Ursula is more than 60 years old, and falls in love with Karl, who is 75. The victim of this very unintended family upset is her husband Werner, who is strangulated by despair, but unable to find a strategy to cope with it.
Andreas Dresen is one of the very exciting current generation of directors. His form of New German Ultra-Realism is characterised by very ordinary people leading their very ordinary lives in a way that you just have to love them – whether they are well- or ill-minded. “Wolke 9” may not be his best film ever (“Halbe Treppe” stays on that spot unchallenged), but is interesting in that it may be the one that is most easily accessible for an international audience. You do not need to know anything about life in Germany (or the differences between life in Germany’s East and West). The challenge of love ripping families apart is universal, and the additional torture being applied by that fact that when it happens to the generation 60plus, it means that the relationships that are breaking down are often 30 years and older. Love in that age brings more burden in the form of responsibility for the partner’s fate – and this is the topic of the film, more than having “mature” sex (“how do 80-year-olds screw? She is standing on her head and he is letting it hang in.”) or having to get used to a new partner with all his / her habits. It certainly is an interesting mix of beautiful and cruel impediments life offers.

Bruce Banner has disappeared into a Brasilian day job, but he is still trying to find a cure against his Hulk nature. Meditation helps, science does not. The military is still chasing him, and when they find his trace, they (namely William Hurt and Tim Roth) get some new ideas, such as greening themselves up a little.
At the core of the Hulk issue lies the problem that it is not a very interesting character, at least not when he is Hulk. It does not help to introduce great (Hurt, Norton, Roth) or pretty actors with interesting teeth (Tyler), the story remains what it is: hide, seek, chase. I don’t really understand the dislike of many against the Ang Lee version, and I am equally surprised at the enthusiasm towards the new “Louterrier” (who is that??) version. It is nice green entertainment with some fancy ideas (the sonic cannon, for instance, or Tim Roth’s transformation), but all in all, it is very conventional, up to the point where you have to say that having a big one-Hulk-against-the-Other final fight is just very boring after having had Transformers and Iron Man within the last year. I am almost sure this is the end of the franchise, where would you want to go? Have Hulk vs. Iron Man – The Movie? Who would like Hulk to win in that one??

After Arthur Eden, a lawyer representing an agricultural corporation in a lawsuit against some residents suspecting the products of the company to be harmful to their health, breaks down and becomes a threat to the corporate interests as well as to the existence of the law firm, his partner and friend Michael Clayton is being sent to fix it. The desperation boils high on all sides, and a rogue corprate board member unleashes all forces to stop the threat to her carreer and her company.
I guess it needs proper Hollywood craftsmanship to create such a good film – indy talent only takes you halfway there. With perfect production design, creating a rather blunt and unglamorous atmosphere quite in contrast to earlier John-Grisham-ish lawyer thrillers, with both good and bad guys torn and destroyed by their carreers, makign the border between the two sides more blurry than ever, embedded – or rather: not – in dysfunctional families, and in particular with those brilliant actors: George Clooney, say no more. Tom Wilkinson (known from Exorcism of Emily Rose, Batman Begins, Eternal Sunshine, Girl with a Pearl Earring…), I also like seeing David Zayas, because he always makes me wonder where I have seen him before (Dexter, of course, thanks, IMDB) and Sidney Pollack in what I suppose was his last role. And a Tilda Swinton who makes believe that she is permanently fighting beyond her capabilities, always on the edge of breakdown, sometimes beyond (just checking, to me, most memorable Swinton roles have been: Orlando and Young Adam, but I have not yet seen all those Derek Jarman films).
Read Ebert’s Praise here

A little boy trapped in a religiously fanatic family finds his dream counterpart, a spoiled brat who is completely disobeying any rule the world has ever invented for 10-year old kids. Through the joint work on a "screen test" movie, "Son of Rambow", they both learn a bit about the charms of leading other lifes.

If not for the high praise that travelled ahead of the film, I might have enjoyed it more (but probably would have missed it, too). It is a charming little film with surprising high production value, even a fantasy dreamworld is being developed that is sprouting out of the hero’s fantasy. For a grown-up audience, the drama evolving and the mix of slapstick elements in a real setting, with a rather undecided director, not sure whether to go for the hilarious comedy, the religious critique or the boyhood / coming-of-age transition… all this leaves a grown-up observing rather than immersing. The French class visiting the English school is a bit eery and displaced, the stunts performed during the film shooting are in a slapstick mode that does not really want to fit the rest of the picture. Jolly entertainment, but not there to stay. Maybe with the exception of the final scene, where tear-jerking moments of "Cinema Paradiso" quality are being summoned.

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