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Monthly Archives: November 2008

Private eye Harry Angel (Mickey Rourke, looking like “an unmade bed”, as I read somewhere) gets the strange job of finding out whether pre-war schmaltz singer Johnny Favourite is still around on this planet, as he supposedly owes to a Mr Louis Cyphre (Robert de Niro, having the understatement time of his life and very nice and increasingly long hair) for services to foster his carreer. Wherever Angel goes, however, his interview partners tend to end up dead, and at the end of his journey, Harry Angel will have found out more than he was paid for.

The nostalgia weeks continue with another of my all-time favourites. Alan Parker being one of my favourite directors, anyway, in this one there is a fascinating mix of surreal camera angles, settings in America’s exotic South, Voodoo Chicken Sacrifices and (pseudo)religious motives all trhough the film. Acting is brilliant from Mickey Rourke and from de Niro, but also every side character is very well cast and played. Honourable mention to Denise Huxtable … to Lisa Bonet for being the most sexy women I have seen on a cinema screen since … the beginning of times? Oh and the elevator going down and down and showing where all this leads. And the tap dancers on the streets, and the blood on the wall and dripping from the ceiling… beautiful film!

Roger Ebert likes it, too.

Sam Tyler, London police detective, is in the process of catching a serial killer when being struck by a car. He wakes up to find himself 30 years in the past, in 1973 Manchester. Still a cop, strangely fitting into his new role, but disconnected from his environment and on the quest to find a way back. Is he mad, in a coma, are these the final moments of his life we are witnessing? He does not know, neither do we. But over the length of two seasons with 8 episodes each, he follows the traces to find a way back, while managing the day-to-day routine of having to catch the bad guys of his new home.

Sam Tyler (played by John Simm), Gene “the guv” Hunt, Ray, Chris, and Annie – it’s a bit like those “5 Friends” of the Enid Blyton novels. Not all of them are nice people, but once you get into it, you cannot but love the ferocious humanity that Guv Hunt oozes, the big bad bloke with heart, liver and the biggest balls in town. One of the best-designed characters, played by an incredibly credible Philip Glenister, without whom the whole setting would surely fall apart in a heartbeat. How wicked do you need to be in order to do what cops are for? He impersonates that question, and provides the antagonist to the ambitious, talented Sam whose naivite about right and wrong occassionally turns out to do harm both to his job and his quest for home. They all evolve, and they become the most lovable team of tv law enforcement that ever was. No kidding: the hands-on, no shit Guv, jumping right into the middle of a football hooligan brawl, or shoving the drug dealer over to “The Toolman” for further killing so that the burden of the law is spread more fairly between public and private sector, that guy is one of the best tv characters ever. And Sam, handsome Sam with his tight leather jacket that fits as if made form him, invented for him, alternates between dilusional visions of hospital rooms, listening to the voices and watching the faces shimmering through the veil of reality, trying to be good and learning how to be better. Being tempted and lured into staying, being forced back to his old life, discovering a love interest and being abandoned by his wife, suffering terribly under his torn existence and more than once being shaken about through fits of mediaction and medicine machinery that he does not understand or could affect. Maybe a life in helpless state of coma, or a time traveller torn between the worlds, he finally has some heart-breaking truths to discover, and when the show comes to an end, one wonders whether ever has there been a better finale to a story told on television. So perfect and logical, yet unpredictable that whoever wrote that bit of teleplay deserves his seat in Heaven on the right-handed side of the Lord. The Lord Gene Hunt, that is, at his favourite spot on the bar, with a pile of beer in front of him and a bottle of booze in the jacket pocket.

I watched episode 1 of the US remake and do not want to see more.

America is at war with Russia, India, China, whomever. The president is on his way to a peace summit where he will (for reasons beyond script control…) play a pre-recorded message on nuclear technology which will save the world from apocalypse. But his plane is taken down by American terrorists and crashes into Manhattan. Problem is: Manhattan is a high-security prison, whoever gets in will not get out again. An anarchic world has evolved, ruled by the Duke, plagued by The Crazies, entertained by cheesy Broadway musicals that only cab drivers enjoy. Snake Plissken, former war hero but now scheduled for spending the rest of his life in the manhattan prison for treason or theft, is offered the job to go in, get the president, get him out before the summit, and get a pardon if he manages. Death if he fails. He goes in, and with the help of Cabby and The Brain and the brain’s girlfriend with the nice boobs (of “The Fog” fame, too), his mission to stir up some Manhattan dirt starts.

Yes, I admit it (no point in denying as I wrote it in the comment to Doomsday): Escape from New York is one of my all-time favourite films and probably the one that I have seen most often. That Video 2000 tape has really done its due. I have, however, never before seen it in the none-dubbed original version. The film’s atmosphere of completely bleak desolation is unsurpassable. Kurt Russel’s Snake Plissken (“Call me Snake!”) is the coolest motherfucker that ever set a foot on cinema screens (“it is the president’s plane.” – “Whose president?”). The cast is perfect, with a slimy Donald Pleasance as president, Harry Dean Stanton, Adrienne Barbeau, Lee van Cleef, Isaac Hayes! Music, set design (the fight in the arena!), sound design (the flight in the plane when getting in… swoooosssshhh). Of course it is not half as intelligent as I remembered, not half as dramatic, not half as well edited, but hey, it’s from 1981! I do not dare to think about what kind of utterly forgettable piece of mainstream nonense the remake to be released next year will bring about. There should be a list of films for which remakes should be outlowed by threat of castration: I am compiling the enumeration for the Annex to that law, but “Escape from New York” should be there together with “Lawrence of Arabia”!

When recording their new album, Metallica members invite a documentary film team to prepare some nice promotional footage. When during the recordings, the band starts breaking apart, with the lead singer taking off for a year for rehab and the others trying to decide on what to do, this documentary turns out to become a psychological name card of ageing rock bands. It is surely not by any means an excellent documentary, but the subject matter turns out to be luckily picked: One of the highest-grossing rock bands in history behaving like a group of pre-school kids because they are forced to stick to each other despite them hating each other (or rather, in my interpretation: Lars Ulrich being sick of jealousy about the frontman’s role in the band – and that frontman and lead singer (Jack? James!) again despising Ulrich for his simplistic world views and reduced perspective. Band managers, psychologists, producers, children play all their part in this, including a former band member that got kicked out years ago, had considerable success with his own band (if I only remembered…) but apparently suffered a massive trauma from being considered one of the prime losers of the Heavy Metal genre.
Very weird, with actually only a few bits of music (which is all for the better given that the album in question is not considered one of Metallica’s masterpieces) and a focus on the strange normality of millionaire headbangers trying to grow up.

The Host

Following some ruthless neglect in an American lab, a river monster evolves in Seoul, eating its way through the population. Some are only being carried away to experience some regurgutation in a sewr system. One of them, little whatever her name was, has an older brother, and his mission is to fight the monster and get the baby-sister back.

Another case of strange realism in a not very realistic overall setting. The monster is well done, and is trotting through the scenery like a big dog off the leash. Very unspectacular in its way, and very convincingly done, including the way the city and the people react to it, like an alligator on the loose, just bigger. Much bigger, actually. The family setting is affectionately done, with them running a little kiosk on the riverside, the son a loser, the other one – … as well. They all love the baby girl, but then again she gets eaten a lover of his sister, the father (was it the father? I watched it some time ago…) a strange character guiding them through life. It is all more of an upscale rubber monster movie without rubber monster, and it is somehow fun to see how much of the Godzilla charm comes through the bad effects. With good effects, those films change their charm completely! Very strange… but good entertainment once you get over the out-of-place realism.

A group of American tourist kids want to follow a German guy who tries to find his brother, apparently lost on the quest to an archeological site in Mexico. When arriving at the site, a green hill in the middle of the the woods, the locals will not let them go anymore. The kids realise they are in very deep trouble when they find the remains of previous visitors on the hill.

This needs to be very short in order not to insult the Gods for waste of energy and abuse of lifetime: the book (even though praised highly on the cover and sold in millions) is rubbish, a boring depiction of events leading to many people’s ghastly deaths. The film is even more boring, because… what do I care? Because it’s even more boring. The shlock effects of pocket-knife leg amputations and hungry vine (or whatever grass) eating its way through the unwelcome visitors are of the “if I don’t know how to thrill, I just gross out” category masterfully described by Stephen King in “Danse Macabre”, and one wonders continually why one should care. One does not.

A group of Japanese students in some post-apocalyptic setting is being carried off to an island where each gets “weapons” of different quality and it is explained to them they now have to engage in a battle against each other until only one is left alive.

The setting is standard model one against all – or rather all against all, with the expected grouping of friends, falling apart of groups, surprising enemies and unexpected allies, and a pretty interesting character supervising them and steering the whole battle for the military. Trouble is that none of the combatants has a character developed making him / her interesting enough to allow for empathy. Instead, a relatively blunt and cold plot evolves, people die, the clock is ticking, but “drama” does not really happen. In that respect the film is actually quite creative, as it does not create artificial drama, but decides to rather show the mixture of dirt and boredom and hard work that is required in that kind of setting. This almost neo-realistic touch is the interesting bit about the film, the rest is less interesting than even Schwarzenegger’s variety on the Running man topic.

Scully is hiding Mulder, who apprently is being sought by the FBI, at home, but she brings him in touch with the old office again when an abduction case and a strange psychic medium require all the dodgy resources FBI can think of… namely the old x-files team. Their investgation leads them to reveal that there is a whole series of missing persons and that there is considerable time pressure to find one of them.

The summary is: it is one long x files show. As it is one involving Mulder and Scully, this is always entertaining. As it is not one out the “X Files Mythology” (miltary industrial government conspiracy breeding alian-human hybrid thing or whatever… kind of lost track towards the end), it is not of the kind one must see. X Files was maybe the only show that could produce good shows in both cataegories (mythology-related, one-off), as opposed to most recent “deviation from mythology” disasters in “Battlestar Galactica” (Strike) or “Lost” (buried alive). It does here, too, I enjoyed the film, I enjoyed being back with the characters, but I just felt that sense of loss… perfectly reasonable not to bother the non-initiated with a highly complex alien invasion theory that took 5 years to develop in the tv show, but for those who loved X Files (and who else would go to see that movie now, anyway?), it is the alien shape-shifting killer and the smoker and the geeks in their trailer watching UFOs and tabbing into the White House computer systems and the Area 51 stories that you were waiting for (at least Skinner turns up twoards the end to help clean things up). I still have the season 1 DVD collection on the shelf, may need to buy some more of those box sets…
Oh the story itself and its execution: actually quite gory and feels like an ironic nod to all those crazy scientist 1950s movies, but I wonder whether the irony is intended.
Odd: just beofore watching the movie, I saw an episode of “Entourage” and was creeped out by having a continuous Callum Keith Rennie evening. One of the most impressive tv actors at the moment, and he must have some smart agent, given the roles he gets (think Leoben, too!).

The little cleaning robot that was constructed to compress and shove away all that rubbish mankind left behind when fleeing Earth is alone on that lost planet. Men gone, colleagues broken. Mission: clean up and if there’s anything interesting: play with it. So he plays with cockroaches and Hello Dolly video tapes until one day a reconnaissance mission comes in, checking for recurrence of life, but only finding him and taking him (by accident) on the spaceship where humanity has been cruising and growing fat over the last 700 years. We want to go back and resettle on Eearth, of course. And finally so they do.

The mission is the same as in Battlestar Galactica, that’s a good start, and let’s hope it ends better than there, and the heroes are kind of nice, too. Wall-E looks like “Number 5” of “Short Circuit” (“bbbbbbrrrrr… mooooorrre INPUT!”), speaks like R2-D2 (no wonder, same voice designer) and his girlfriend looks like a electrical salt dispenser, quite nice. The animation is absolutely stunning, and the first 20 minutes when the scenery lives off his adventures on Earth and he behaves like the guy in that African film about the Coke bottle falling off a plane into the Kenyan desert (ok, I will check… “The Gods Must Be Crazy”, and it plays in the Kalahari desert. Now is that Kenya? I have no idea…) – magic!
However, when the setting changes and humans come in, the old problem of animated movies comes back with a vengeance. Humans, as a rule of nature, look never good in animation, and even when you try to make them look ridiculous, they are always more fake than the poorest artificial objects. And more boring. Wall-E is the star of the show, and nobody can steal that show – but whenever he interacts with those nerdy fat humans, there is a slight pffft sound when interest evaporates.

The praise for the film’s brilliance that caused some critics to cure it the first Oscar contender for next year was in my opinion exaggerated – it is a very nice animated film, kind of hard to sell between enthusiastic, but slightly disappointed grown-ups and their slightly overburdened kids who start shifting on their butts after 10 minutes without talking (“why is the cockroach not taaaalkiiing?” – “Because it’s a cockroach, they don’t talk” – “But Nemo taaaallked” – “Not a cockroach either. Shut up, we are at the movies. Or go to the toilet and talk there. Come back in no less than 60 minutes.”).

Very positive: no famous actors for the voices, but mostly people who can do proper voices – how I HATE these half-prominent B movie actors in other movies (and yes, I mean YOU: Mike Myers, and YOU: Jack Black!), the lack of talent only enlarged when reduced to the means of voice.
Two reviews I enjoyed:
Roger Ebert
LA Times

Late review… the story of storming the small but in terms of psychological warfare apparently meaningful island of Iwo Jima, told from the respective perspectives of the opposing armies. The Japanese coming in early, creating an anthill of a fortress out of this gordforsaken place, and trying to remain discpiplined within their often unhiumane leadership concepts. The Americans, coming in with slight arrogance and too many kids who have no way of assessing the peril and approaching this with care and fear as appropriate.
Hard to judge, to be honest, and at the end of the day, I need to admit a slight case of boredom, up to the point where the “Iwo Jima” part made me nod off at times, and wake up to the realisation that I could not have missed too much. A lot of people being very depressed because trapped underground for weeks, facing imminent death, but still nobody attacking, still not, still not… thing is, even when the waiting is over, the film is accurate enough not to throw everybody right into battle. The feeling of death around the next corner (or behind the next hill, more accurately) remains a permanent presence defining the atmosphere, and that atmosphere is skilfully crafted. Still, the films both lack a sense of drama and story development, and seem to me born more out of the formal idea about the two perspectives than because there was a clear story to be told that would last through 4 hours of screentime.
All in all, I found “Flags of our Fathers” to be the more lively and better structured film, be it because the caracters are more familiar, or bei it because (my guess) the script has been better designed – with Paul Haggis in charge, that is a likely possibility.

Iwo Jima at IMDB
Flags at IMDB

A kid working a dull office accountant job gets entangled on a professional hitman association when a pretty lady killer with botoxed lips tells him his father was a top assassin within their fraternity and he should have the same talent. He gets trained to bring down the baddy super killer, but what he gets instead is new insight into the larger mechanisms of the world, a new father and Morgan Freeman.

I don’t mind that kind of film, actually. When you are home from work, already tired, only just able to slurch towards the sofa corner and pop on the tv and turn the volume to “braindead”, this is exactly the thing that should be on (the best for that purpose is actually “Enemy of the State” – ah no, maybe “The Rock”, but you cannot watch those two every day. Maybe two week breaks required). Problem with this one: Angelina Jolie looks like an Ethiopian stravation victim on heroin, Morgan Freeman looks like God with a remote control (in this case: a big weaving machine, no kidding…), and the boy is called Wesley like the hero in Wiliam Goldman’s “Princess Bride”, but cannot fence, and looks like James McAvoy. Would be much better if he was called Derek and looked like a proper man. (check out the amusing BBC 5 live Mark Kermode review as always – McAvoy with a six-pack… ridiculous!). Also ridiculous the most superfluous train crash in the history of too many (only justified ones: “Runanway Train”, and that “find the one-armed killer” thingy with Tommy Lee Jones and Harrison Ford). Also I don’t like car chases, of which there is one that’s too long.
Otherwise: enjoyable rubbish by a director who will spend the rest of his life trapped in slow-motion, is what he deserves!
Angeline Jolie is still in good shape when filmed naked from behind, even after spending the last two years in childbed.

What is the film about? Now fair question, that… about life in a depressing part of the world that is probably only depressing if you look at it from the outside, but a regular patch of grass in Southern Italy where families lead their family life, kids play their kids’ games, companies go about their company business. Only that most of this involves crime, drugs, killing, and trating each other in pretty inhuman ways. Crime destroys people, and drugs destroy crime and disallow you to treat crime like a propoer business, as we learned from Don Vito back in the days. This is the run-down version of organised crime, with protagonists who are so ridiculous on their efforts to be macho, and clearly are at loss if forced to exlpain what they have achieved themselves. Everybody lives off the bredcrumbs that the mafia / camorra machinery drops off the table, and this rotten life destroys a whole society. No wonder the plot synposis at IMDB is empty – this is a patchwork of impressions, highlighting individual efforts to perform within the system, to move inside the system, or of turning around the system. Nobody seeks to escape it really, which is surprising, because everybody knows that the system of organised crime has very few happy endings in stock. The two kids who want to be cool, steal mob weapons and drugs and would so much love to be appreciated by the hookers and the ganster bosses certainly pay for getting it all wrong. Everybody else pays.

As depiction of real life, this is hard-hitting. As a film, it is slightly flawed, as there is little identification to be had. Nobody deserves warm-hearted looks, and noone gets any. There is no focus of action, and no action, or plot to speak of. That makes a double painful viewing experience: because it is such a thoroughly unpleasant life that is under scrutiny, and because director and script-writer do not offer dramatic development. Surely worth watching, but prepare to consider this work.

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