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Monthly Archives: December 2008

Brandner Kasper, almost 70 years old, gets a visit by Father Death, who seeks to take him away. Kasper tricks him into drinking half a bottle of cherry schnaps, followed by a game of cards where 21 more years of lifetime are at stake, and where Kasper feels justified to bend the rules to his advantage. While Death feels bound to the agreement, St Peter in the Bavarian segment of Heaven learns about the mishap, and asks for a quick resoltion that gets Kasper where he belongs (purgatory) and hence the heavenly history back in order.
I am sure not a single person outside Bavaria will play with the idea of watching this, but actually, I could imagine it is fun for foreigners German and abroad. The story is a very old one, the tv version on a sacred re-run loop on Bavarian tv. This film version allows Vilsmaier to play with his greatest talent, and that is to show the shrewdness of the Bavarian and Austrian Alpes people. Grumpy and warm-hearted, rough and cruel, incredibly jolly and musical – all comes together with long-standing traditions that will appear as exotic to outsiders as the tribal rites of Amazon cannibals. Only more funny. The two main actors are near brilliant: Franz-Xaver Kroetz, well-reputed stageplay and occasional tv actor establishes himself as sly old poacher – and comedian Bully Herbig visibly has a great time creating Faces of Death – Drunk Death, mostly.
Complete nonsense, of course, but about 15 times more well-conceived, coherent and intelligent than – say – latest Woody Allen atrocities.

Vicky and Cristina, two well-off US girlies, decide to spend the Summer in Barcelona. When they meet an artist who looks like Javier Bardem, both have sex with him, and one of them gets married, but not with the painter. Then they fly home again. During this adventure, they talk a lot about their adventure, which consists of being in Barcelona and having sex with an artist who looks like Javier Bardem.
It is not very surprising that a film with Scarlett Johansson is not good, and that she cannot act her way out of her pants. The terrible thing is: even Javier Bardem, who looks like Javier Bardem, talks as if the sheer presence of Scarlett Johansson depletes him of all actor skills he may have acquired during his Almodovar years. What is left is his ability to speak the most ludicrous script sentences in a most profoundly non-interesting manner. The only reason for the film’s existence must be the director’s wish to have a chance to direct some scene involving Penelope Cruz, hopefully naked and wild. This did not work out, Ms Cruz is more fully dressed than in most other films of her that I have seen. Even though she is completely detached from the rest of the film, and her contempt for the other characters extends way beyond the screen, feels as if it generously is extended to most of the other actors, she still is the only redeeming feature the film has. She will safeguard its immortality, because hopefully someone will create a 6-minute version with all her scenes and upload it to YouTube. This person shall be praised, while Allen shall be damned and banned for life from putting his increasingly demented old man’s fantasies on film. (Another extra life-tim ban he shall receive for the voice-over narration, which is a disgrace to the history of cinematic narrative.) The sheer amount of American intellectual’s cliches about Europe processed within the 90-something minutes of the movie are enough to drown the whole of European history in a sea of vomit.

A camera and reporter team follows the night shift of the Barcelona fire brigade for a documentary. When thet are being called into a house where neighbours heard screams from the apartment of an old lady, things turn bad. Apparently, a disease is spreading in the house, turning whoever is inside into raving crazies. Health authorities seal off the house, leaving those inside alone in their fight, and in their search for what is behind the whole epidemic. The solution may be found in the penthouse flat.
Shaking hand-camera, off-camera reporter voices, shouting and screaming and moaning from all over the house, patchy or no light, infrared shots, biting senior citizens and children, and a proper ghoulish monster thingy. The film has everything you expect a film to have that sets out to scare you. It has been designed following clear genre profiles, and works extremely well at that. Frightening atmosphere of ignorance while the epidemic unfolds and the people trapped realise how bad their situation is. Even a back story explaining about the source of the infection – necessary or not, it allows for a nice final drama stage, where the ill fate of the tv crew culminates. From what I hear, vastly superior to the US remake released in late 2008, and I truly do not see a reason to remake this film in the first place, as part of the charme for an international audience comes through the Spanish character of the setting.

Where is Jack Baur? Somewhere in an African crisis country. What’s he doing there? Helping an old buddy from special forces times to run a missionary and school. He has retired form all those Los Angeles evils, and he needs to retire as remotely as possible, because the Congress is looking for him for questioning about inadequate torture methods. When the revolutionary forces start rising and recruit more and more kids as child soldiers, Jack needs to help them get to the embassy for evacuation. He does not know that the coup is being supported from within the White House, where the new president is about to be inaugurated, unaware that there are forces at work who will make her administration a nightmare.

An interesting experiment to provide a two-hour real-time episode, but there are some flaws: the usual effect of being bounced around by fate and tragedy and plotting does not take place, as there is not enough time for plot twists. Even for the key action, they run through the jungle, pursued by some avenging revolutionaries… not enough substance to make it really interesting, as the nature of the film is serving as a preparatory setting for the forthcoming season. And that means the parallel setting in Washington needs to be pursued, the new president introduced, her background villain presented, and some separate drama placed there, as well, to avoid boredom.

Altogether nice and entertaining, but not more special than a half-episode of a regular season. The hope remains that all that time the writers and producers had to think about how to revamp the 24 principle will pay off and we will be rewarded with something special and fresh.

When a plane hits the World Trade Center on Septer 11, 2001, port authority police, firement, city police all converge towards the buildings to support evacuation. In the middle of the rescue, the building collapses, trapping Nicholas Cage and a colleague under the rubble. Badly injured, they survive buried under dozens of meters of debris, and wait for rescue.

The only word for Oliver Stone’s films I have these days is “solid”. The intensive particularity of the first five or so movies (even though even Platoon or The Hand are not the kind of cinema I would call intelligent or subtle) disappeared under a pile of message, later ambition and size. And today it is no more than … solid. WTC bounces between the expected and the not very interesting. While half of the story is not just completely known, but actually documented in film in exactly the same way as reproduced here, the other half (the two men trapped under an incredible amount of steel and concrete) not very thrilling. It is a desperate situation, all right, but it does not lend to drama – one of these things about real life, it never follows the three-act structure a Hollywood drama is asking for.

Nicolas Cage and his counterpart play solidly, as well, but on the other hand, they are buried in dirt and blood for two thirds of the movie, so not much room for subtlety, either. Ah well, one of these films that are trapped in reality and never make it into artful entertainment.

I don’t feel able to write a substantial comment on Quantum of Solace, as I ended up watching it in a Chinese version of which I understood enough to confirm that the expected happens, but not enough to explain why that was so. But after the screening I went back to the Casino Royale disc and made up my mind about the new film based on the previous one and on general observations with respect to film and cinema. I know this is unjustified and unfair, but who gives a damn and if Ebert can form judgement based on 8 minutes of film, then I can form one based on a Chinese dubbed one. Both those opinions are completely correct. His on that Indy thing “Tru Loved” he watched on a screener DVD: sucks. Mine after two hours in a cinema: boring and lost track. Watched too much Bourne and felt compelled to copy hole sequences (chase through small alleys in exotic setting? Kinetic fist-fighting in hotel room? I really thought they were kidding me and are about to provide some comic relief and spoof it, but no! They just copy!).
Little irony, miniscule remarkable moments, you can watch that film in any language you desire and what you are missing is near 10 per cent tops. There is no subtlety in the design, just the desire to stun with action. Well done, but why not leave that to Bruckheimer and Bay and all those guys who do not have any other talents but to blow things up or break them. Those guys cannot write or direct, so why waste those who can, excellent directors (Foster) and scriptwriters (Paul Haggis!), to copy those good-for-nothings? I suppose there is so much pressure on the Bond franchise that an accidental outbreak of excellence such as Casino Royale causes panic in the exec producers’ floor, because it cannot be explained, and neither can it be replicated. Bond appears to be back to his mediocrity that made the franchise irrelevant for so many years.

Four Twilight Zone episodes, directed for the big screen by John Landis (racist gets what he deserves – creepily enhanced by the fact that the main actor died on the set in what is usually referred to as a “freak accident”…), Steven Spielberg (Scatman Crothers’s on a mission to bring back youth to those who want it), Joe Dante (creepy little bugger with too much fantasy) and George Miller (justified flight scare).

I only remembered about that film when trying to explain to somebody why I feel uncomfortable in the presence of person X – the reason being that X’s eyes keep rolling about just like the eyes of one of the monsters in segment 3, specifically the monster-thingy that keeps blowing out steam like the monsterised version of a train’s steam engine. Anyway: with great affection, but little memory I was looking forward to this one, and it is stunning what kind of high-flying directors came together to pay tribute to the tv show that scared som many over the decades, or left them in unease, more likely. I like the setting and design of episode 1, and it is easy to imagine that the racist does not just face death (which he experiences a couple of times while we watch), but that he is entangled in an eternal loop of dying, and bouncing between the various roles. Very nice. Episode 2 is slightly boring, and can only be explained by imagining how Spielberg was in his “miracle of 53rd street” production or whatever it was called and had a very nostalgic fit about old age. I like Scatman Crothers, though, who gave something special to “The Shining”. Then the candy-coloured cartoon craze of Joe “Werewolf” Dante (what’s he doing these days??), with panicking “Uncles” and “Parents” faced with their little Anthony’s cartoonish wishes and abilities, highly disturbing! Finally a rollercoaster action segment, but within the limits of a plane and a guy’s fears: would you go crazy if you saw a monster from the green lagoon shredding your airplane’s engines at 8000 feet? You would, and he does.
Really like a number of Twilight Zone regular episodes (or X Files, for the younger ones…): some are brilliant, some are solid, some are a bit dull, but it is always a pleasure to have them around!

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