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Monthly Archives: April 2009

An Antarctica mission gets surprised by a Norwegian team chasing a dog to the camp and almost blowing everybody up. When the Americans investigate what happened at the Norwegians’ camp, they find out that a flying saucer was dug up and something inside must have gotten released. Too late fr protection, as The Thing starts working its way through the camp staff (literally), and the survivors need to find ways to identify who is still human and how to get out of this mess.

Another one in my Carpenter marathon, and another one of my favourites. The atmosphere is claustrophobic by definition and location, and the guys in the camp all have different forms of cabin fever to show. The coolest man in the room is, of course, Snake Plissken, who wins the audience’s heart in minute three when he rewards the chess computers’ winning streak by pouring some whiskey on the rocks onto the machine’s motherboard. Even with full beard and not many lines to speak (but when does Kurt Russel ever do?), he still is on top of developments. He will try to remain his calm and cool, despite madness and physically not very nice things breaking loose around him. Some beautiful shocker moments (the re-animation efforts ending inside the guy’s chest, the test of the blood samples with the glowing piece of wiring! Yiiek!).

The story of a monastery / boarding school, where the slight modernisation tendencies of Father Brendan Flynn shake some of Sister Aloysius Beauvier’s moral foundations. In her effort to maintain her desired high level of integrity for the school, The Good Sister is willing to follow her gut feeling when suspicions come up against the Father that his relationship to an altar boy went beyond the level of fostering. A quiet stand-off develops that must lead to the departure of one of them.

This is a very simple, naked film, without any cinematic arabesques: the Father is doing his thing and we think he is a nice and modern dude, the Sister is doing her thing and we think she is an old dried-up hag. We do not know whether the suspicions are correct, we are following the Sister’s perspective mostly, and we have to make up our mind in the same way she has to. The narrative trick is just that: to allocate sympathies through choice of performance, leave out the necessary facts, and only towards the end seed the doubt by allowing some successful bluffs that reveal more about the characters’ past than they had previously admitted. All this would not be sufficient to carry a film, it would call to leave the sory on a theater stage, but then again, you have Meryl Streep and Philip Seymor Hoffman, who may be too big for the confinements of a wooden stage. Their interaction is thrilling, especially with Hoffman maintaining his natural (or naturalistic) cool, and Streep building up the Wicked Witch of the East façade that she needs to perform in her role as benevolent dictator of her bees’ hive of a school. It is thrilling to watch that while it goes on, and the abrupt ending allows you to continue wondering who was it that got you, and where on the way you took a moral mis-step yourself.

Two unlikely brother: Andy, the supposedly successful one, gets into some bit of trouble when his excessive drug consumption makes him reallocate some company ressources. Hank is more of the loser type, unable to sustain his daughter’s desire for school excursions and the regular payments to his ex-wife. But pretty enough so that his sister-in-law appreciates the weekly shag. Brother Andy suggests drastic measures to relieve the home-grown credit crunch: a break-in into a jewellers’ store to get rid of their worries once and for all. Everthing goes wrong, people are dying, and all families of everybody concerend suffer severe blows.

It is somehow frightening how Philip Seymor Hoffman establishes himself the epicentre of any movie I have seen with him over the last 10 years. There is always so much more energy and naturalness about his performances that there is always a danger of the other cast drowing next to him. “Before the devil…” takes this fact and uses it by contracsting him with Ethan Hawke, whose slightly frantic helplessness explains immediately why he is in for any suggestion his big brother comes up with – he would not be able to come up with his own.

As crazy as the initial idea is to rob their own parents’ shop is, Hank’s panic not to be able to pull it off makes him bring in a hopeless thug with a gun. The way the film narrates this culmination of calamity is backwards, and while I was wondering whether this editing trick is strictly necessary, it works well and is a nice effect to leapfrog beackwards in certain instances and learn more about some other characters build-up to the heist and the aftermath. How much it is a family film (a film about a family) gets clear towards the end, when the boys’ father, battered by fate and (slightly illogically) arriving at the end of his quest to solve some crime riddle, gets the center stage and has to decide on behalf of both kids what the right way would be to clear up the mess. Not a nice solution he comes up with, but a very logical and plesantly non-compromising one.

Ebert’s Review here.

The little boy Oskar must be a rather lonely kid. He plays alone, suffers occasionally from school bullies and has this sad glance around his eyes that loners tend to feature. His new neighbour Eli is a girl a bit older than him, no mother, just what goes as her father, and it looks as if she would be his match. They make friends, even though it is only at night that they meet on the playground and hang out. They become closer friends, maybe they are going out with each other, and they love each other a bit. The girl’s life takes a turn that forces her to go away and start somewhere else. And Oskar is willing to come along, even though she feels cold at night.

Is it a spoiler to say……. (now is your chance to get out of here if you read reviews, but cannot stand spoilers) ….. That the girl is a vampire, a niece of Vlad Dracul, Impaler of the Carpats, so to speak? It is the advertising catchline, after all, so no big surprise here when we see that she actually is one of these night creatures, indeed confined to the night, and to some other rules we know from vampire heritage: she can only enter the house when somebody invites her, and there is a heart-breaking scene where she shows her new friend that even though he is nasty to her, she is willing to trust him a long way. She goes into his house before he invites her, and shows him that she is willing to suffer.

It is a gory film, with people getting killed, decapitated (no big difference here, I know), pouring acid over their faces, ripping off body parts and taking bloody vengeance. The are scenes that glorify revenge and make us cheer when the bad guys get what they had coming. Even though it is about kids, the kids their age cannot be the target group. It rather is the charme spread by kids, creating sometimes false clichée reactions among the grown-ups, with which the film confidently plays. The girl is, when it comes down to it, a compulsive killer, the boy is a ruthless collaborator, and there is no need to like the two just because they are little. We like them because they are very human and lost and in love and desperate. The fact that one is a vampire and the other factual orphan does not matter.

It was said that the film is transgressing the genre boundaries, but I think that’s not true. Vampire films have always been interesting when the vampires had a strong core of humanity in them – and when their non-human nature and their human desires tore them to pieces. Ask Count Orlok, and also those lost creatures of Abel Ferrara’s genre venture. If they were superhuman creatures, they would have much less to suffer. The film does, however, provide a very nice and warm-hearted story about loneliness in a violent environment, and by adding the feature that one of them has to take on this violence as a means of survival, and the other one is at liberty to do it out of love, there is a new and interesting perspective, indeed, that makes a film that is worth watching anyway for its night and snow images and its crunching snow sound carpet, also an interesting character study

Mr Ebert also loves it, as does almost everybody else.

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