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Monthly Archives: March 2009

A documentary about the dark side of Australian movie heritage, the film show extensive footage from the subgenre of “Ozploitation”, and has many of its representatives chat about the good old days when you could do everything with a movie camera, a D-cupped girl and a bit of chainsaw. Most intersting protagonist weirdly enough is Quentin Tarantino, who qualifies only by being probably the only person to have seen all those flicks, and Dennis Hopper, about whose method acting approach to playing useless alochol and cocaine addicts we learn a bit. Apart from that, it is not really clear why this genre is particularly interesting. I sat there with a pen to immediately take note of any film I must lay my hands on, but there were not really inspring recommendations to be found. Maybe re-watch Mad Max to indulge in ca. 12-year-old Mel Gibson.

See also here for a more detailed description

It was supposed to be a normal morning, sending off the son to school and discussing dinner with the maid, when all of a sudden a group of brutes breaks into Jessica Martin’s house, shoots the maid, and takes her captive. They are asking her about her husband and where he is, and threaten to kill her and her whole family. She believes there is a big misunderstanding (“You have the wrong family!”), but it increasingly seems that this husband – a mere real-estate agent – got involved in something nasty and dangerous. From her prison cell, she manages to cross some wires of a broken phone and establishes a call with a complete stranger: Ryan’s interest is to chill out in the beach, gets into his girl’s scantily used pants and show off his sixpack and the pretty-boy face on Venice Beach. She manages to convince him, however, to help her safe her and her family. A chase taking him all through the city starts.

The idea is very simple and hence rather good (nothing worse than a complicated setting for me): we only learn very late about the actual reasons for the kidnapping, and through this it is maifested McGuffin-style – it does not really matter for the film to be a decent thrill, because for most of the time the acting persons are completely unaware of the reasons, either. The car chases are too long (I mentioned on occasion I find car chases terribly boring, did I not? Why is nobody listening???), the characters are flat (the Porsche lawyer…), but there is Jason Statham doing his Jason Statham thing, and there is Kim Basinger doing her mature desirable woman thing (works even better for me when her face is a bit battered after a hard kidnapping, wakes my protector instincts), there is William H Macy as a cop doing his William H macy thing in a seaweed mask and with a gun. Would you ever expect Macy to jump sideways, pulling the trigger in the fall 10 times, Bruce Willis style? That was a new aspect of his screen personality for me. And there is the cute kid who is a bit scared, but then again has the time of his life playing cop and robber and being a clever hero. Quite fun, if you are in a hotel room, it’s late and the concentration span is not enough for a complicated “Lost” time-warp episode.

With a crew of four, apparently on the road for years, the last remaining trees and plants of the US (strangely, or the whole worlds? They don’t say) are on their way through space, in a giant spaceship arrangement where the controlled conditions allow for growing what cannot survive on spoiled Earth anymore. When the mission is cancelled and the astronauts are instructed to nuke the remaining plants before returning home, one of them decides to resist and disobey the orders. He replaces his human colleagues with the more reliable and more human androids, and continues the trip into … not really knowing where.

I took the opportunity of the film being screened at the Hyde Park Movie House in Leeds and watched it more or less simultaneously at home, honouring the nice idea and feeling very linked into the BBC and Dr K. It is a weird movie experience, with the moderate pacing films of the time display, but at the same time it has a certain subjective franticness to it (the car races trhough the spacecraft) and certainly a strong influence of substance abuse on part of the film makers. How else to explain the important role the droids take on, the crazy man versus droids card game sequence, the generally very plausible depiction of a man in solitude losing it, but on a well-reflected level. Maybe the story is about somebody who consciously decides that going crazy is better than many of the alternatives. The excentricties of Wall-E have indeed their roots in this film, no doubt, with the lack of cheesy love story positively working in favour of Silent Running.
I would not go as far as saying that the film works as well today as it did when it was made, but it is clearly one of those films of movie history that will still be watched in many years with great interest and also entertainment. Justifiedly so!

For a while (from age 14 to 34, I think), I kept saying that before I die, I want to have accomplished some feats in the world of arts:

1 read and understand Ulysses in the original English version and live to talk about it at least for one dinner party
2 read "Buddenbrooks"
3 quit smoking, because it intolerably decreases my chances of achieving 1.

As I have accomplished 3 and 2, life is somehow on the edge. But The Movie Ness (http://www.themovieness.com/2009/03/25/100-films-to-see-before-you-die/) has pointed to another challenge that is sitting between me and the grave now, the 100 movies that "one" needs to see before dying. I suppose the idea behind this is that when you run out of great movies to watch, life has nothing to offer anymore, implying if you reach Nr 100 you are about to drop dead on the spot. So save one! I will save "Blazing Saddles", because if it is what I seem to remember what it is, then there is no loss in stopping at Nr 99.

So I mark below those films I have seen in bold, and comment that such a list without (after just 10 seconds of consideration, there should be some hundreds more) "Once Upon the Time in the West / in America" or "Local Hero" should be thoroughly ashamed of itself.

Where I cannot for the life (or death) of me remember whether I have seen them, I mark a "???", and where seeing the name on the list made me shout "OH, NEED TO WATCH (AGAIN)!", I marked "OH, NEED TO WATCH (AGAIN)!"

12 Angry Men
2001: A Space Odyssey
400 Blows
8 1/2

The African Queen
Alien

All About Eve ???
Annie Hall
Apocalypse Now
The Battle of Algiers ???
The Bicycle Thief
Blade Runner

Blazing Saddles
Blow Up
Blue Velvet
"OH, NEED TO WATCH (AGAIN)!"

Bonnie and Clyde
Breathless ???
The Bridge on the River Kwai
Bringing Up Baby

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Casablanca

Chinatown
Citizen Kane
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Die Hard
Do the Right Thing ???
Double Indemnity ???
Dr. Strangelove
Duck Soup
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Enter the Dragon
The Exorcist
Fast Times At Ridgemont High
The French Connection
The Godfather
The Godfather, Part II
Goldfinger
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Goodfellas

The Graduate
Grand Illusion ???
Groundhog Day

A Hard Day’s Night
In the Mood For Love
It Happened One Night
It’s a Wonderful Life??? Yes, well, probably 111 times, but cannot remember

Jaws

King Kong (1933)
The Lady Eve
Lawrence of Arabia
The Lord of the Rings

M
M*A*S*H
The Maltese Falcon
The Matrix

Modern Times
Monty Python and the Holy Grail

National Lampoon’s Animal House
Network??? I think I did, but
"OH, NEED TO WATCH (AGAIN)!"
Nosferatu
On the Waterfront
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Paths of Glory ???
Princess Mononoke
Psycho
Pulp Fiction

Raging Bull
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Raise the Red Lantern

Rashomon ???
Rear Window
Rebel Without a Cause
Rocky
Roman Holiday
Saving Private Ryan
Schindler’s List
The Searchers "OH, NEED TO WATCH (AGAIN)!"
Seven Samurai
The Shawshank Redemption
The Silence of the Lambs
Singin’ in the Rain
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Some Like It Hot
The Sound of Music
Star Wars
Sunset Blvd ???
Terminator 2: Judgment Day
The Third Man
This is Spinal Tap
Titanic

To Kill a Mockingbird ??? "OH, NEED TO WATCH (AGAIN)!"
Toy Story
The Usual Suspects
Vertigo
When Harry Met Sally…
Wild Strawberries
Wings of Desire
The Wizard of Oz

Women On the Verge of Nervous Breakdown
The World of Apu

Young Michael starts an affair with a much older woman, learns love and passion from her, and does not understand why she walks away from him as suddenly as she had appeared.

Years later, law student Michael finds Hannah again, when he stumbles into her court trial, where she is being challenged for mass murder. She was a warden at a concentration camp. Unable to forget her, he takes on the old habit from of reading literature to her, somthing that bonded them during their relationship.

I really like Ralph Fiennes. Since seeing “Spider” (at the latest, maybe since “English Patient”), I believe he is so good that he can easily safe a film single-handed from its own flaws. He can draw the attention away from script and fellow actors, can shine in the centre of a less shining environment.

Same here. The slow, depressed way with which he is shuffling through his memories, and the hesitant and tortured approach to face his past in the person of his former lover Hannah Schmitz, is where the film kind of works. I understand why he is hesitant, why he is moody and brooding. The thing, however, is: The quality of his performance distracts the attention from the fact that the film is terribly boring. While his character is very credible, he is far from being interesting. I do not understand why I should care about these characters. Michael does not know whether his life’s love is tainted because of what he learned about the woman’s past. This is important to him, but not interesting to watch.

The woman Hanna herself, on the other hand, displays very little character features in the first place, she used to be a coward, then she was naked, and finally she is in prison. I do not see how there is any tension, thrill or other sentiment that should make us sympathise with her.

What the film tells, at the end of the day, is not very important, nor is it interesting: you should not kill people just because you cannot read (would it have been a more interesting story if she had chosen her concentration camp career for other reasons? Not sure, but could be.). There is no moral dilemma anywhere to be seen, no crossroads that challenge the intellect. People chose their actions, some are right, some are wrong. If wrong, sometimes they have to pay for that. There is no reason not to wish her in prison, there is only slight pity for Michael, the lover who had almost forgotten her and during her trial not only has to discover that she still exists, opening the old wound of sudden abandonment, but also learns things about her that for some reason make him question his previous emotions – an utterly nonsensical reaction from a man of his intellect.
One of these films designed for Award season, from actors over costumes to make-up and score (make-up not too convincing, by the way, the over 60-year old Winslet looks like a 25-year-old with a lot of wig and make-up work). My category description for this is “mainstream arthouse” – and that’s not a compliment here.

Roger Ebert likes the film much better than I do.

A group of rubbish actors are locked up in the jungle with a rookie director to film the memoirs of a ‘Nam veteran. When the director decides to spcie up things a bit by exposing the spoiled cast to the real threats of jungle combat, things go wrong: A real war starts, and it takes the actors a while to realise what it is all about.

There are a couple of good things about the film:
* the performance of Tom Katzenberg Cruise
* the perenially fabulous Robert Downey Jr
* perennially Nick Nolte’ish Nick Nolte
* The fact that the Ben Stiller character towards the end of the movie looks like a retarded Sylar out of Heroes

Apart from that, there is one great laugh, which is when the film’s director departs the scene. It is quite stunning how much production value can be used for not funny jokes and situations. Has there been a single funny comedy in 2008? But then again, reading through Ben Stiller’s oeuvre, no wonder, because out of the 85 entries in his list as an actor, there is not a single one that I both watched and enjoyed. Not one. ’nuff said.

Listen to the Kermode review

A group of German Wehrmacht officers and civilians puts together an assassination plan against Hitler. When they take in Graf Stauffenberg, frictions about the proper strategy and the best design for a post-Hitler Germany arise. Several failed attempts further, they actually pull of the assassination, blast the bomb under his table, but because of a combination of unplanned events, Hitler survives. Despite the rebels having taking control of the Berlin government quarters, they are being pushed back and the failed attempt on their leader’s life is slashing back on them.

This film has stirred quite a few questions around its making, and some are actually interesting: There is the question of whether this is a story that needs to be retold again at all, as one would expect it is pretty well-known. But that is probably not true, I suppose the majority of the audience at which the film is aimed (that would be young Americans) will have never heard of Stauffenberg and will be completely unfamiliar with the story and its “heroes”. Also: those who believe to be familiar with the events should be challenged to give a brief account of persons, locations and the course of events. I admit that I got a couple of things wrong in this (such as the location of the “Wolf’s Lair”, where the attempt took place, or the degree to which the SS had already been disarmed and arrested at the time of turning tides in Berlin). It is the great skill of Hollywood script authors that they are (at the best of times) able to condense a complicated scheme into an understandable plot, without denying that they left out things, without pretending to be complete historic accounts.

The film is no historic account, but it works perfectly well as a thriller, and what better indication of this is there than to watch yourself being thrilled during a plot the result of which everybody knows (for similar script stunts see “Titanic”, “King Kong” – yes, the ship will sink, the monkey dies, it’s a ghost, it’s a sledge…). It definitely works much better than the most recent attempt I have seen, the German tv production about the same chain of events.

The one flaw I see is the main actor, who may or may not be a religious jerk, but who definitely does not have the stature to pose as German army officer of noble heritage. He does not look old, noble and military enough. Also, the language challenge (refer to the Kermode review) leaves a bad taste – there is an initial moment where Tom Cruise speaks German with a heavy American accent, then he falls into American, there are English accents and Scottish, if I am not wrong, there are English speakers with German accents and Germans with American accents. It is a bit of a mess, and one wonders whether the film industry will ever reach a level of taste where for a film with all-German characters all-German cast will be used (they are there, believe me). If Mel Gibson can pull that off, why not Bryan Singer and Tom Cruise? It is, at the end of the day, of course the problem of the local film industry not to bring out a blockbuster movie themselves – the capacities in the German studios of Munich and Berlin would certainly exist, but only every couple of years is there a producer daring enough to play along with the big boys and have a production of international value (always the same producer, as it is). As long as this is the case, the funny accents will prevail.

Ebert’s Review


1968: in the year that saw Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy assassinated, the US Democratic Party assembled for their annual party convention in Chicago, to prepare for Lyndon B Johnson’s next electoral run. The anti-Vietnam war movement prepares, too, and activates the “MOB” and “Yippie” forces to celebrate and demonstrate in Chicago, too. After massive riots, the supposed leaders of the anti-war and civil rights movements are brought to jail for conspiracy and malconduct.

Am I the best audience for the film? Don’t know, but it needs to be said that the events around that party convention (probably perfectly well known to every American my age) is something I have been completely ignorant about. I have to use the film’s depiction of it to assess the magnitude of the event, and what I saw was a mid-sized turmoil, not really completely out of bounds, but surely sever enough on both police and demonstrator sides as to stir up emotions AT THE TIME. There has been worse after, I suppose, albeit maybe not in the context of the Vietnam war, where demonstrators had a love and peace attitude after all, and were often too stoned to fight properly with the police forces. Plus, as you could learn in the film, Allen Ginsberg had this method of pacifying everybody by singing the oooommmmhhh.

The film mixes documentary footage with paint-over animation “Scanner Darkly”-style. This is being used in particular for the courtroom scenes, allowing to include courtroom footage based on the protocols even though cameras were not allowed at the time. The altogether 10 people that ended up sentenced (including two of the lawyers for misconduct in court) are what the film is about, and the core focus is on Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, two prominent figures, pop stars maybe, of the anti-war movement at the time, and two outspoken critics of warmongers, police state, US fascism and some other niceties.

It is easy to understand how the political and civil establishment could not cope with these people (even interviewees in the black districts of Chicago cannot find words of sympathy for the hippie demonstrators getting beaten up by the anti-riot squads). While today, one could think of tolerant and relaxed anti-escalation strategies, learned in decades of political demonstrations and sports-related security drills, in 1968 the understanding of such group behaviour was different. Kicking some thousand people out of Chicago’s parks at 10 pm, because that’s the park’s closing hour, would only create the unrest the police then would have to sort out, of course, but then again, that’s the park’s closing hour and everybody knew it all along, didn’t they…

As a film, this works pretty well, it is a thrilling and entertaining run through the events building up to the party convention and the related demonstrations. It is slightly anti-climatic, because the actual “events” do not look that severe from today’s perspective, but the reason for making the film must have been reading the court protocols, where the anti-war, pro-civil rights, anti-establishment battle continued and the defendants, state attorney, judge and the media staged their respective after-shows to exploit the situation as best as they could.

Not a very sympathetic glance at US history, all in all, but an enlightening and entertaining one!

Background on the 1968 Party Convention and on Allen Ginsberg

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