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Monthly Archives: January 2009

Now let’s see. I had a period of depression on the tv output of the fall. Writers’ strike after-effect? Tiring of concepts? Just a bad streak? Fed up with the format of weekly deliverables again (as I was for the most part of my adult years)? Don’t know yet, but I am sure come Summer I will be able to tell. Because: Now that quite a few shows have finished their odd half-seasons before Christmas (Heroes, Dexter, CSI, Life, Fringe) and some of them will not come back in a while (I hereby solemnly declare to myself that “Heroes” is officially off my radar), the master class has started again. If those don’t catch my attention again, I am back to arthouse cinema:
* 24 – with a big hiatus after prison and strike time, it would be fatal if the show’s 7th season is anything but fantastic, making the disoriented season six forget.
* Battlestar Galactica – it is the final, there is no room and excuse for distractions. These are my favourite characters over the last three tv years, and what better can happen to writers and directors than to know exactly that the quest will end now. This season. In an od dozen episodes. The only thing I have to decide is whether to follow week by week or just tie myself to a chair and wait until I can watch it all in one go.
* Lost – others were shivering in excitement about their new president (for us 24’ers, nothing but a prettyboy copy of David Palmer, wise ruler of the free world as early as six years ago!) – I, at the same time, had to keep me from reading all the Season 5 previews of “Lost”. That show is in danger of strangulating on its own complexity and ambition, but with a clear target (like BSG, but slightly further away at epside 100, so more dangerous to get “Lost” on the way, haha).

That should be a great tv spring, if not, the boxed set of “Sopranoes” is all that is left for me…

Baron Frankenstein has a heavy German accent and a big problem: He is on a quest to create the perfect “zombies”, one male, one female, which will then mate and reproduce until a new race has been bred, answering only to Frankenstein’s will. Unfortunately he does not have the perfect nose for the male yet. He therefore kills a young guy coming out of a brothel, but does not realise that his mean at the same time hires the guy’s friend for … “in-house services”. When the new service guy sees somebody being introduced to the family with the head of his just deceased friend, but completely different body, he sets out to solve the problem and unveil Frankstein’s secrets. The family children help him…

The only useful thing to be said is how I came to see it: because in a review of “Stuck” it was mentioned that the last gore film of value was “Flesh for Frankenstein” – and both the title and the “Andy Warhol’s …” made me nosy. It was fun enough, terrible acting, some funny liver transplants and decapitations. And a happy ending at least for the kids who only wanted to play. For everybody else a Hamletian ending.

In the battles between ever stronger Gotham City Mobsters, a new force appears: The Joker offers the mob family leaders his services if they want to get rid of the Batman, and to make sure they can avoid their pension money to be stolen by a Hong Kong crook. The Batman has an ally on his side, though, the rising star of Gotham’s DA office, Harvey Dent. Dent, Batman and police chief Gordon come up with a plan to arrest the Joker and put half of Gotham’s mafia into jail.

Now – I watched the movie less than 12 hours before writing this, but it is already very hard to get the strings and pieces together. In order to create a breathless atmosphere, a situation where every plot device forces the next upon itself, there is a multitude of characters, plot lines, motivations and events sometimes converging, sometimes diverging, not all of them towards a joint finale, but creating interim peaks of attention, leading one to believe that the audience has reached the grand showdown. This has upsides and downsides. Of course the feeling of constant irritation and the generous number of set pieces linked to the culmination points makes an often breath-taking movie experience. I sometimes wondered, however, whether the authors know where they are actually going. Building up the Joker to be the prime villain, getting rid of him at some point and still having plenty of movie runtime available is irritating. Replacing him as key counterpart with a character that does not have half the gist and power might be called a plain-out mistake.

As very often in sequels of franchise movies (and let’s call this one the second part of Batman Begins to make things easier, even though there are some earlier Batman installments that are really fun to watch and have an equally interesting interpretation of what a comic book movie should be like – I love both Jack Nicholson’s Joker as well as Danny de Vito’s Penguin!), the sequels tend to overload themselves with plot, drama, twists, even production design and props: this one is perfectly designed, of course, but has a tendency to look like a James Bond movie, only that it is Morgan Freeman who needs to give the “Q” role, being the master of gadgets and cars.

The key problem for me: The Batman is a very good comic book character as a principle. He is the invisible force of the night, turning up suddenly, disappearing as quickly. He usually does not use lethal force when fighting, but has such superior fighting skills that he more often than not can come with his fists to a gunfight and still leave it as winner. This, to be honest, does not transport very well into film. Especially because he is just a regular guy, without any superpowers other than his couple of billion dollars at his avail, what he achieves aqnd how he achieves it is a display of incredible skill. Put on film, this stretches the boundaries of credulity too much, and what he does, how he fights, borders on ridiculousness. To expose these abilities to the realism of movie means that you have to provide concrete skills and protection – leading to the authors mocking the character themselves when allowing Fox to ask Wayne whether in the next iteration of his armour suit he wants to be able to move his neck.

The reason for all these Batman films over the years being very successful, and the character apparently now being next to immortal on film, might be that this kind of regular guy who as of himself is really not very interesting as a superhero, means that you can put all the creativity into the other characters surrounding him: especially the villains. It is very easy to be a fantastic villain facing off Batman, because Batman himself has not enough esprit to shine himself (is this reflected in the choice of actor: I spent half the film trying to remember the name of the Batman actor, being tortured by the notion that he is being treated as the hottest lead actor of the moment in Hollywood. I could not for the life of me remember it, and you know what: because he is not the hottest actor of the moment. He is also pretty non-descript, a “pretty boy” as the film recognizes. Look at his oevre, is there anything memorable beyong “American Psycho”? But in this perfect for playing somebody who is not supposed to be recongnized when the upper part of his face is hidden behind a carbon fiber mask). He is a cinematic screen that gives more brilliance to anything or anybody reflecting in his armour. That was true for most of the previous villains – even Schwarzeneggers Ice Man is more memorable that any of those Spiderman or in particular Superman villains (yes, I know, Lex Luthor… but all I remember is that Kevin Spacey looked bored in the film. What great evil did he do? Anything spectacular? Can’t remember…). And this Joker may be the most brilliantly written and played superhero villain in quite a while – not because is has flying skateboards or giant steel tentacles, but because he has a wicked character and a more wicked sense of humour. And because he needs the combination with boring Batman to be complete. Heath Ledger’s acting is, indeed, marvellous, in particular because he is very physical: the slumped shoulder even in the opening scene, where you can identify the weirdo by just the way he is walking, most brilliantly when leaving a hospital after blowing it up, in a mock slapstick walk that is decorated by the nurse costume he is wearing. When talking, he is smacking and spitting, you can hear his body at work. And all this in a much more naturalistic way than any of the other characters, which makes the threat emenating from him more immediate than the possible protection by everybody opposing him.

In the end: Too much Harvey Dent, too many twists and turns, a lot of “knight” before you get to the “dark”, but most certainly a rewarding cinema experience. With a bit of courage, you give the film to an editor who takes out one or two characters and gives you a much better 110 minutes film. Maybe that’s an idea for a truly courageous “director’s cut one disc edition”?

Things are not going too well in Franz Brenninger’s life: his wife is sick, his business is pushing towards insolvency, he has manic-depressive fits and a general tendency to insult everybody coming near him, including occassionally the bank clerk who tries to do everything to keep Franz alive, at least for another while. His kids are estranged and desperate. The only refuge he finds in music, which he listens to at full volume on the headphones while drinking and smoking away his desperation and trying to de-numb his life. He sees a chance of getting rid at least of his financial woes (deepened by a necessary eye operation for his wife) when he is approached by an African businessman who seeks his help for getting 15 Million dollars out of his country. When the transaction gets troublesome, Franz decides to travel to Kenya to sort it out.

I really want to love this film, because I believe in the great talent of the young director, the boundless abilities of Hans Steinbichler as an actor, and the congenial situation created when they wirk together (for which “Hierankl” is evidence, case closed!). But there was a point in the movie where I was about to shout out loud “No, don’t spoil it all with this stupidity! Try harder, for Christ’s sake!”. Franz falls for a scam that most people know today (and did in 2006, when the film was made), only Franz and the young girl helping him with the translations are the only people on the planet never to have heard of it. While the assistant suspects a scam, she never insists or shows Franz the evidence that surely can easily be found anywhere by a half-wit twen with internet access. A film can fall apart and you never know what happened and where it went wrong. Not here: what is wrong is easily to be identified, the only question is whether a viewer can live with it or not.

Now what do you make of a film that is beautifully shot, fabulously played by a lead actor who is a force of nature, and who has a blast at playing his manic and his depressed phases, plus wonderful locations in both Bavaria and Kenya – what do you make of it when the story that is driving the characters is so annoyingly simplistic, on the verge of insulting the intelligence and experience of its audience, which is educated and bright enough to watch German arthouse movies? I cannot really forgive that, it leaves a big scar on my memory of the film, but I can develop independent appreciation of all the film’s virtues. And the greatest virtue apart from Bierbichler’s acting may be the use of music. While Franz is usually blowing his brains out with some indy rock, the film contrasts this with the use of Schubert’s Winterreise, an eerily beautiful piece of music that does not only reflect Brenninger’s own journey, with all its dark places and dangerous turns, but that actually shoves itself into the centre of attention when Franz encounters it twice: once during a nightly car ride, and once during the culminative events in Kenya. There he takes ownership for this travel, he sings it himself, and allows it to guide him through the rest of the story.
If only it had not been for this damned stupid Kenya scam plot device! Errr!

Just found on IMDB, Golden Globe award results

Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy

Winner: Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)

You are fucking kiddin’ me… behold, the end is nigh. Horsemen of the Apocalypse closing in any second, “Goodbye cruel world, I’m leaving you today”!

Or maybe just the end of brain functions?

Horten is celebrating with his pals at the Oslo (I think) train depot – his last day as train conductor is coming up, after 25 years or more of service. His life gets a bit out of tune when he gets caught in the appartment of a little boy and misses his own party as well as his last day of work, but more interestingly, his efforts to design a life after retirement are being characterized by odd encounters. The oddest one clearly with a man who sleeps on the street in the snow and claims he can drive a car blind-foldedly. While that effort somehow fails, Horten gets new courage out of this encouter, realises a handful of old dreams involving ski-jumping and visiting a nice woman in Bergen, and lives happily ever-after.

A mellow, calm film about the numbed senses you acquire in a life of service and order, and the beauty of breaking out of this occassionally. While the film has nothing that would allow to call it a masterpiece, it is a solid piece of work out of the “mainstream arthouse” corner of easily accessible, feel-good movies with loveable characters and a positive message. I preferred Brent Hamer’s “Kitchen Stories”, as it had some more edges and corners, but despite the lack of edge, “O’Horten” is just the right bit of fun for a night out with the girlfriends. Prosecco afterwards compulsory.

John Malcovich is a government agent, George Clooney is some Finance Department administrator with a gun. Frances McDormand is working in a fitness club, where Brad Pitt works out day and night, but just his arms, never his brains. Clooney screws Malcovich’s wife, Malcovich gets fired, Clooney shoots Pitt in the face, McDormand tries to sell Malcovich’s laundry list to the Russians, Juno’s father is running the CIA and is trying figure out when exactly did the world around him go loopy (“Is that all now?” – “There’s one more thing…”). Then the film is over.

The Coen brothers may be responsible for some of the funniest moments I have experienced in cinema, in particular “Raising Arizona” and some bits from “The Big Lebowski” involving John Torturro stand out. The last 5 years of comedy, however, was a letdown. I could not bring myself to watch “Intolerable Cruelty”, and when I dared watching their remake of “Ladykillers” I almost lost faith. These days, their comedy is much more funny when injected through the syringe of drama, as “No Country” showed, but also “Fargo” had proven earlier. Plain comedic adventures by the Coens, I have now confirmed after watching “Burn after Reading” are not my piece of cake, to say the least. While there are funny moments (the scenes in the CIA headquarters with JK Simmons getting almost emotional about all these pillars of secret service crumbling around him; and – yes! – the moment that marks the death of the Brad Pitt character caused everybody in the room to laugh out loud), but there is little humour and certainly there is very little fun beyond some screwball moments. In the words of Dr Kermode: That’s allright if they need a “Burn after Reading” to clean their systems and be able to make another “No country for old men”.

Henry Indiana Jones is still teaching archaeology, but despite old age these are no quiet days for him. When searching some artefact (can’t remember which one), he gets hunted by Russians, blown up by a nuclear test bomb, needs to come back to the US government warehouse where all the secret reasures are hidden away, and help the Russians find the remains of an alien body killed decades earlier. Then for some unrelated reason he goes to Peru to find a former colleague of his who disappeared, and when he finds him and a crystal skull out of HR Giger’s private collection, he helps him return the skull to where it came from, because … er…. People chase each other a bit, some Russians die and get shot or eaten by killer ants. Not Indiana Jones, who takes the skull to protect themselves. And then all jump down some waterfalls. And then they go inside a Maya pyramid and find treasures and traps and some alien crystal skeletons, one without head. And then they destroy Machu Pichu and go home again. And marry each other.

Is it stunning or not that towards the end of 2008, with all the year’s end reviews and all the lists about best and worst films and performances and surprises and whatever – nobody mentions the long-anticipated, hot-commodity Indiana Jones revival? No turkeys or razzies, no best support actors or cheeky references to the ageing prophets, not even the hilariously (or was the word “stupidly”?) brave decision to discard a Frank Darabont script and replace it with an idea out of the every-creative George Lucas mental institution to confront Jones with an Alien recovered from Spielberg’s closet was mentioned agai – not even this previously unknown level of creative bankruptcy was but mentioned!

Indiana Jones was the most-hyped film of 2008, and the one most quickly and most thoroughly forgotten! Justifiedly so, byt the way. It took me three days to work my way through it, so dull is it and drags along like a mudslide on a very shallow slope. It is all there, no doubt about it, everything that you are used to from the old days of Indiana. But: it is all there in the same way it was 20 years ago, and a film that comes along like that just does not work very well these days. It used to be a state of the art, super-production-design, kinetic action joyride. It defined the genre of the adventure movie in a new way, and at that was copied times beyong measure. If you want to stick with the genre, give me Nicholas Cage and his stupid, but very entertaining, high-tech-ish “National Treasure” franchise. If you want to bury Indiana in style, give me “Indiana Balboa”. But for Heaven’s Sake, do SOMETHING and do not just pretend that today is 1987, and films are supposed to look the same way they did in 1986. Even Shia The Beef is not cool in this one, because for his cool he needs a modern environment – he had that in Transformers, a terrible film, but one that was in tune with its time. “Crystal Skull” does not only have the most stupid of all McGuffins (does anybody really know why he needs to return that skull to where?), but the action set in motion by that skull is just out of tune with the reality of the audience. At the end of the day, this is a completely forgettable experience, and will definietely be forgotten in two years’ time. Maybe that’s not even sad, as it may put at least one of Lucasfilms’ ghosts to rest.

Ray and Ken, two professional killers, have to hide away after a job that did not go as planned. They are being sent to Belgian Bruge, ordered to lie low and wait for further instructions by their boss Harry. As they are there anyway, they start the tourist programme, and while one of them (Ken) certainly has more appreciation for the place than the other, they roam about like an old married couple on their 45th vacation trip together. Go to the pub or yet to another museum? Ray meeting a nice girl and a weird film crew helps to get him more excited about the place, but the idea of having a nice and quiet time in Belgium is terminated when Harry comes around himself to sort things out and clean up his company records.

If 10 years from today I look at the films of 2008 and need to pick a single one that I want to see again: this is the one with very little doubt. This may well have been the most perfect film of 2008. The charcters are brilliantly written, excellently played, with a combination of ruthlessness, whiningness, comic grumpiness, and true despair to be found in every single character, if in various degrees. The town of Bruges provides the perfect setting for an experience of alienation, this must be the place where a London pro-hitman wants to be the least. But as all small towns, Bruges has a way of dragging you in and becoming part of the neighborhood, and bringing out any bit of humanity residue that still may be find inside you. Individual highlights include: Harry’s rants while chasing his employees, the barfight with the “American” which results in a sincerely felt apology when realising that it’s actually a Canadian. Need to see again right away! Direction by Martin McDormagh (who now has a 2 out of 2 record of bloody brilliance) is absolutely flawless and stunningly controlled with such a young guy.
Update: just watched “6 Shooter” again, also with Brendan Gleeson in the lead (aside an absolutely psychotic Rúaidhrí Conroy). Traveling on the train after seeing his dead wife in the hospitak, he meets a crazy young Irish fella, and a couple of mourning parents. Everybody is so desperate that the Irish guy has a blast mocking all of them – and even though the mourning husband feels a bit of sympathy with the Irish Crazy bloke, the day still does not turn out well form him.

A family moves into the house that was the mother’s home when she was a kid and lived as an orphan there in the orphanage. While planning to re-open a small orphanage, the feeling that something is wrong with the house gets stronger. Maybe there are still inhabitants of old who want to play games with the new dwellers? Maybe the kid with the mask wants to have revenge for the insults and bullying it was subjected to years ago? Then suddenly, during a party, Simon, the family’s own kid, disappears without a trace, and the mother suspects the house to have drawn him in. After months of looking for him, a final desperate effort to call on the ghosts of the place reveals the secret.

“Guilermo del Toro presents” works fine with me, plus the film got a bunch of rave reviews while on the festival circus and probably also on limited release around Europe and the US. I cannot say much more than: it does what is supposed to do, create an atmosphere of uncertainty, and fear, and horror at times. The complete lack of traces on the boy’s whereabouts gets the parents more desperate every day, and causes them to get estranged, losing faith in each other. It is the woman who finally accepts the possibility of the house being haunted and the boy being abducted into a parallel world, but she does not understand why that was and why he does not get in touch with her. The setting for the final showdown, where she is re-creating her childhood setting orphanage, trying to lure the ghosts of the past over into the present so that she can at least ask or see what has been happening, is of frantic intensity. It is surely very hard to resolve this satisfactorily from a film-makers perspective, but the authors find an excellent twist, establishing a credible and straightforward story-line, but at the same time holding on to the ghosts and spirits that haunted the film all the way through. A nice chill, well done.

The film follows the days of a student and skateboarder, doing his school and boarding routines. He is not too good, but ambitious enough to try to hang out at the stakeboarders’ place called Paranoid Park, a place for those trying to step outside their regular lives, trying to probe bits of rebellion. The rebellion ends when an accident happens that gets the school and the Park under scrutiny of the police.

What is this film about? About Gus van Sant trying to dig ever deeper into the minds of people he finds particularly interesting – teenagers, apparently. There is no plot to speak of, just that desloate feeling of a life slightly empty, where even the leisure of skateboarding feels somehow tired and grey. The places where the kids hang out are backlots, islands of wasteland in the middle of the big city. Life is full of obligations, there is a demanding girlfriend (played by a terribly untalented or misguided actress), non-interested parents, touchingly effortful ambitious police investigators, and death. This death breaks the routine, by way of being very sudden and very gory, and no wonder the reflecting kid gets only more reflective.
I actually believe that the film was overhyped by the reviews, I think that there is very little that has not yet been investigated during “Elephant”. It is a worthwhile effort on the inner life of a school kid, but not much mor than that. The excitement attributed to the movie by some may have more to do with those people being already so far away from high-school reality that the very depriction of school realism strikes them as exotic.

Tsotsi is a crook and a murderer, he steals and stabs, intimidates and hits hard on anybody, be it the rich, the poor, or the crippled. He lives in a township of Johannesburg and together with his gang makes a living out of being a criminal. This simple and regular fact of his life is being turned over when – after shooting a woman and stealing her car in one of the rich-peoples’ quarters – he discovers he accidentally has stolen a baby. He decides to give it a go and takes care of the baby, making serious attempts of raising it in his township shack.

African week’s at the home cinema – at last time to catch up with some pretty exciting films that came out over the last years and caught dust on the DVD shelf. This film is seriously flawed in a key notion: it is pretty much unclear why Tsotsi decides to keep the baby, why he not only does not leave it back together with the car (which he gets rid of very quickly as well), but why he is taking on great pains to actually create something like a home for the kid – through his means, which means often involving threats and weapons to other people, such as the lovely woman living near his home whom he forces to breast-feed the baby. Once you have accepted that this boy is torn enough to not only be a bad-ass, but also a bad-bass with self-questioning tendencies, the drama is actually quite touching. Tsotsis problem is that he never thought about alternatives to his life in crime, and a (literally) small thing such as a baby with very basic needs and functions turns around his life. The thrilling thing to watch is how he decides to allow this experiment, even though he must know that it will completely uproot him and probably destroy his existence.

When the Rwandan president’s plane gets shot down, supposedly by Tutsie rebels, the Hutu groups rise and start a massacre among their compatriate Tutsies. In the midst of all this is a five-star hotel run by a Belgian group, where (Hutu) manager Paul sees himself in the role of hotel director, refugee camp director, diplomat, and potential victim at the same time (having a Tutsie wife and not being a fanatic “cockroaches” hater get everybody in danger). While the international community hesitates and finally refuses to intervene, more and more attacks are being launched against the hotel, where supplies and bribery resources slowly run out.

In principle, you know this kind of film. African or South-American civil war situation, human rights being violated by all parties, ignorance of the world in the face of the atrocities, and a brave individual in the midst of it, struggling to survive and help as many as (s)he can. That is to say: it is pretty tricky to make a surprising and thrilling movie out of the setting, because you have seen it so often. While it will more or less automatically be touching (not the least because at some point, the “based on true events” will get inserted), a routine feeling seeps in. “Hotel Rwanda”, through a combination of excellent acting, well-developed narration, and the sheer magnitude of the events scorching Rwanda in the 1990s, the incredible level of inhumanity plus the cunning preparations leading up to the murders of a million people (only indicated in the movie by a crate of machetes that shows up early in the film, before any assassinations could have stirred the “sudden” outburst of violence) adding power, can avoid this. An excellent film, great craftsmanship on part of director, production designers, photography, and cast, grants a vivid glimpse into the events during what probably was the biggest massacres of the 20th century. There is no over-dramatization, but mostly the atmosphere of helplessness, of very few options being left apart from calling the European parent company and saying thank you for past support before one gets killed. The film also encourages to learn more about the events of around 1994, and once one gets started with this, the ignorance and paralysis of the rich world becomes only more stunning. Maybe a new member in the club of great all-time civil war films, sitting next to “Salvador”, “Cry Freedom” and “The Killing Fields”.

In Westworld, an amusement park of the most modern fashion is opened, where wealthy visitors can indulge in carnival dreams becoming reality: they can be sheriffs and knights, noble gentlemen and murderous villains. The worlds are being created most accurately, and they are being populated by highly sophisticated robots who have the look and feel of humans, but they are programmed to have sex with anybody who paid entrance fee and also to get killed by anybody whose ego requires a bit of a shootout before going back to the bank management next Monday. Until one of the Cowboy robots forgets the programming, and quickly all hell breaks loose.
In Westworld, two reporters are being invited by the company running the park to collect information about the re-opening and the new features. This marketing stunt to create trust and attract new customers is being met with scepticism by Chuck, who briefly before had a man dying in his arms who wanted to tell him a secret about the park. Together with a mechanic, they climb into the belly of the machinery and discover the secret of the operations and the reason why the park seeks to attract so many global leaders.

Now Westworld is a lasting childhood memory and really a film I have been longing to watch again for years. Of course it does not live up to expectations, not really. What it does is remind me of the fright the Black Cowboy caused when I saw him as a child, his robotic, irresistible walk, the feeling that there are not many things that can stop him from getting you, even though he never runs. Mike Myers meets the Terminator, in a setting that is exotically rich in colours and flavours (Knights, Kings, Castles, Cowboys, Romans, grapes and sex and Whiskey and bar fights and brothels, all there) and at the same time aseptic and cold, in a kind of scientific atmosphere Crichton is insurmountable in achieving (see Andromeda Strain for even higher level of perfection). That is all: the atmosphere is overwhelming, the plot is thin and acting is poor, never mind, every gets what they deserve in the end, and the feeling lasts that you did not just watch a Science Fiction movie, but indeed a parable on decadence and lower human instincts that are reflected in their leisure behaviour.
Futureworld, in contrast, does not have anything parabolic. It is very straightforward in creating a James Bond-ish world conquering setting, and pretty ridiculous at that. Terrible directing, especially in what counts as action scenes (some Samurai fighters being summoned out of thin air… what hell of an idea was that?!?). If the stunt coordinator or editor or second unit director (if they had all that) of Futureworld would ever get exposed to a minute of any “Bourne” installment, his brains would fry.
Harry the Mechanic actually gives a bit of human flavour to the otherwise terrible pseudo-SciFi gravy, and Peter Fonda – even though he clearly was young and needed the money for the next haircut – is cool and confident enough not to care about the incredible rubbish being created around him.

If I ever have the idea again that watching those two films would be a good idea, in sum I would suggest: stop me!

David, a literary critic (Ben Kingsley), starts an affair with student Consuela (Penelope Cruz) and actually falls in love with her. His raging jealousy, paired with an inability to commit to relationships costs him dearly when he repeatedly disappoints the woman he loves. Years after the disappointment, a new form of relationship starts between the two, and David needs to prove whether he has grown up beyond the stage of irresponsible skirt-chaser.

I am baffled at the question who ever developed the idea of making a movie out of this Philip Roth book (you don’t need to know the novel has been written by Roth, by the way – it is so full of Roth prototypical people and situations that no other author these days would probably dare touching those subject matters of ageing, sex, fetish, desperation and dying). Hard enough to write a plot summary, as the plot is next to irrelevant. What is relevant is Ben Kingsley and Penelope Cruz, he at last showing again that he isn’t one of Britain’s finest for nothing and can do more than make a fool out of his abiliites in US C-movies. He gives a slightly too insecure older lover, desperate about his own inability to shut out his jealousy, addicted to the beauty and liveliness of his beloved one. He literally falls for her, but his effort to possess her without allowing her to possess him and draw him into her life dooms their love. And Penelope Cruz… Penelope Cruz… she is pulling off the roles where most stunning beauty is paired with sheer lust and pleasure and loveability. There is no pretentiousness around her, no playing with the power her amazingness gives her over her environment. Here she plays a woman who has all the powers she wants over the older lover, but instead of being the controlling vamp she shows a very straightforward desire to open up and merge her life with the life of the man she loves. Cruz is able to convey this desire by showing a naturalness that is almost not credible in combination with her stunning looks. Yet she does it: maybe the most beautiful most perfect actress to have appeared on the screen in half a century? I am only writing this in oder to be on the safe side, but I honestly cannot remember anyone, ever!, to match this combination of incredibleness. (Liv Ullmann may be the closest call.). Watch Volver again. Watch the Academy Awards, when she will probably win the Prize for what will go down in history as the greatest discrepancy between individual acting performance and film quality. She can polish you know what to shine.
This is a film consisting of one perfect performance and one that is very good. Plus extra appearances by a Dennis Hopper who tries hard not to play his clichee, and most of the time actually manages. Patricia Clarkson is fighting the emptiness of success and the desperation of age in the same way that David is fighting the need to allow other lifes to touch his. These characters are all caught in a downward spiral of ageing and wasting. That does not yet make a great film, but it provides a platform for very good actors to play on the topic of life and death. And the director shows again that disease and death are not just facts of life, but also drivers of character and catalysts of life.

I found this on The MovieNess’s blog, and fun as it is to pick a “One”, it is much more satisfying to do a “Three”, so first the “One”, to show I am disciplined, followed by the “Three”, to prove that I am not.

1. One movie that made you laugh: Ghostbusters
2. One movie that made you cry: Local Hero
3. One movie you loved when you were a child: The Rescuers
4. One movie that you have seen more than 10 times: Escape from New York
5. One movie you’ve seen multiple times in the theater: Dances with Wolves
6. One movie you walked out on: Land and Freedom
7. One movie that you can and do quote from: Lawrence of Arabia
8. One movie you loved, but were embarrassed to admit it: Dances with Wolves
9. One movie that you keep meaning to see but just haven’t gotten around to watching yet: The Seventh Seal
10. One movie you hated: Vicky, Christina, Barcelona
11. One movie that scared you: The Descent
12. One movie that made you happy: The Commitments
13. One movie that made you miserable: Kammerflimmern
14. One movie musical for which you know all the lyrics to all the songs: Pink Floyd – The Wall
15. One movie that you have been known to sing along with: Rocky Horror Picture Show
16. One movie you would recommend that everyone see: Lawrence of Arabia
17. One movie character you’ve fallen in love with: Epiphany Proudfoot (Angel Heart)
18. One actor that would make you more inclined to see a movie: Clive Owen
19. One actor that would make you less likely to see a movie: Steve Martin
20. One of the last movies you saw: This is Spinal Tap
21. One of the next movies you hope to see: The Assassination of Jessie James by the Coward Robert Ford

1. Three movies that made you laugh: Ghostbusters, Tootsie, Laurel and Hardy: Way Out West
2. Three movies that made you cry: Local Hero, Cinema Paradiso, Local Hero
3. Three movies you loved when you were a child: The Rescuers, Bringing Up Baby, Quo Vadis
4. Three movies that you have seen more than 10 times: Escape from New York, Once Upon a Time in the West, The Bible
5. Three movies you’ve seen multiple times in the theater: Dances with Wolves, Lawrence of Arabia, Once Upon a Time in the West
6. Three movies you walked out on: Land and Freedom, Rollerball (1975 version), no other
7. Three movies that you can and do quote from: Lawrence of Arabia, Escape from New York, The Godfather
8. Three movies you loved, but were embarrassed to admit it: Dances with Wolves, Tootsie, Mama Mia
9. Three movies that you keep meaning to see but just haven’t gotten around to watching yet: The Seventh Seal, The Tulse Luper Suitcases, Tideland
10. Three movies you hated: Vicky, Christina, Barcelona; Pirates of the Carribean – Dead Man’s Chest; Melinda & Melinda
11. Three movies that scared you: The Descent, Spoorloos (1988 Dutch version), The Fog
12. Three movies that made you happy: The Commitments, Local Hero, I am sure there was a third one…
13. Three movies that made you miserable: Wolfsburg, Krótki film o zabijaniu (A Short Film about Killing), The Pianiste (The Piano Teacher)
14. Three movie musicals for which you know all the lyrics to all the songs: Pink Floyd – The Wall, Blues Brothers, Jungle Book
15. Three movies that you have been known to sing along with: Rocky Horror Picture Show, The Commitments, Singing in the Rain
16. Three movies you would recommend that everyone see: Lawrence of Arabia, Ta’m e guilass (Taste of Cherry), Before the Rain
17. Three movie characters you’ve fallen in love with: Epiphany Proudfoot (Lisa Bonet in “Angel Heart”), Raimunda (Penelope Cruz in “Volver”), Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier in “Wuthering Heights”…)
18. Three actors that would make you more inclined to see a movie: Clive Owen, Sigourney Weaver, Harvey Keitel
19. Three actors that would make you less likely to see a movie: Steve Martin, Jim Carey, Julia Roberts
20. Three of the last movies you saw: This is Spinal Tap, The Dark Knight, Paranoid Park
21. Three of the next movies you hope to see: The Assassination of Jessie James by the Coward Robert Ford, Mei Lanfang (Forever Enthralled), Slumdog Millionaire

New Year time is list time, and this is a good one. The Washington Post’s movies of the year stay pretty clear of the mainstream productions, and this year this is pretty much justified, as mainstream arthouse has had a disappointing record so far. Ann Horday’s list looks like this:
1. “The Visitor”
2. “WALL E”
3. “Milk”
4. “The Edge of Heaven”
5. “Man on Wire”
6. “Chicago 10”
7. “Happy-Go-Lucky”
8. “Rachel Getting Married”
9. “I’ve Loved You So Long”
10. “Tell No One”
And almost all of these films I have either seen and liked, or are on my list of desperately anticipated DVDs (lacking cinemas that would show them…).

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