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Monthly Archives: June 2009

Roger Ferris is a CIA agent working the Middle East, plotting and killing and trying to get to the heart of the terrorist organisations on the ground directing a series of attacks on European cities. His missions are being controlled by Ed Hoffman, who is sitting in his Langley control rooms, watching the proceedings trough live high-resolution satellite feeds, moving about the troups.

There is Leonardo di Caprio and there is Russel Crowe, and the one’s anger and energy and the other’s slick relaxedness and business-like attitude creates the tension of the film. They work together, but they are entangled in a constant struggle about strategy and tactics, they will never become friends. Hani Salaam, the chief of the lebanese intelligence service and key cooperator on the operation, steals the show for both of the other stars, though. He is more sophisticated, more charming, and more in charge of the situation. Apart from him, the true star of the movie will be the satellite imagery, which is even more impressive to watch than the one used in that other film, was it “Enemy of the State”? It conveys the distance between the player and the gameplay, the killer and the killed, and the high-tech setting and production design of the whole movie, together with the footage of the ground, actually is done really well to show that there is life behind the control room screen.
The annoying thing for me is that in this specific genre, people are often chasing around the region so frantically that at some point you either don’t know anymore why they are where and what they are trying to achieve there, causing me to lose attention and interest, sometimes to the point of losing comprehension. After the fifth or sixth “Amman”, “Baghdad”, or “Damaskus” insert you just switch off the brains and wait for the next small-alley chase scene. Ridley Scott tends to lose himself in this kind of high-tech frantic, but the film still looks good, and so let him do it. Maybe he should sit down with Michael Winterbottom ( at some point to re-learn some of the lessons about cinematic story-telling that he seems to have forgotten.

Kazakh report Borat travels with his colleague through the USA to make a documentary about the country for his home tv channel, but reroutes in order to get to California, where he wants to marry Pamela Anderson.
What to say about it? Through the hype around the new Sasha Baron Cohen film to be released in 2009, I felt compelled to check out the previous one at last. Reading and hearing about it never got me interested enough before, as I thought this would very much not be my kind of humour. Having warched it now, I have to say that this assessment was slightly wrong: it is very very very much not my kind of humour. Showing stupid people being stupid is nothing I would have a problem with on a moral scale (let the rednecks be exposed, let the hypocrites be exposed, let everybody be exposed for what they are), but funny it ain’t… there is some slapstick bit with the nude wrestling that can be considered to be provoking some laughs, but then again… not really after an initial impulse. There is a scene where Borat sits in a trailer with some dudes, drinking beer and watching the Pamela Anderson home porn movie – while pretending to expose them for the chauvinist idiots that they doubtlessly are, I kept wondering whether it is not those people who would find the Borat movie most funny. It can be appreciated how brave Cohen and his co-start Ken Davitian are. But that does not yet make anything more interesting than … well, than what Borat is. Nothing to write home about.

A chemistry teacher gets diagnosed with cancer. He decides to “break bad”, grabs a young crystal meth dealer and teams up with him to do some applied chemistry. By cooking the best meth ever, he stirs up some mud in the local drug scene, and soon becomes entangled between police investigation (his brother-in-law, actually), the drug lords, and his family trying to help him through his cancer treatment.

How did I come across this: you have to read the Stephen King column at EW, that’s how. Then you know that this was the best new show of last season (more accurately quoted: “The best scripted show on tv.” wham!), and you also know that Life on Mars (BBC) is the best show of the last decade or two. Also some other stuff, but those are the important findings. There is a physical evolution of Walter White, he gets skinnier and loses his hair through therapy – and the disease hence drags him to look his new profession, a badass drug cooker and ballsy dealer, who even in the face of the big fat drug cat does not twitch, but rather throws a little chemistry toolkit bomb at him. He is a great character because he does not know he has all that in him, he is scared to hell, weakened through cancer and chemotherapy, coughs or pukes his guts out every other minute, and gets up to remove bodies, blow up drug lord townhouses, break into chemistry depositories and run a big-style meth operation. In other words, he is the way everybody who suffers his fate would love to be (he was the bright guy at university, but got outsmarted in terms of patents and business by his buddy, now the rich boss looking generously down on his environment): The message is: if you want to turn bad, you can, just be diligent with the recipe. Great acting by Walt (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse (Aaron Paul), the former student who happens to stumble into Walt at a drug raid. Jesse the cool slacker learns some lessons from the wise man, and gives some inspiration back, and maybe even some love.

One of those shows for which US cable tv should get a Nobel price of sorts.

Coraline moves with her family into a new house, and as her parents both decide to mainly ignore her and catch up with publication deadlines instead of helping her adjust to the strange new neighbours or the huge old house, she explores that house on her own. Through a small door, she finds a parallel world that at first glance looks like her own, but with nicer people – strangely, they all have buttons on their eyes and some of them seem to change character and features daily. She is tempted to stick around that jolly bunch, until she realises that she is about to step in a big honey-trap, made particularly for her.

Made in stop motion technique by Henry Selick who was also responsible for the look of “Nightmare before Christmas” and the like, the film by nature of its animantion has this somehow creepy feel to it. I never felt comfortable with these moving clay things when I was a kid, and through Selick’s oeuvre, today I know why: these creatures are more eerie when they are eerie, and they are more wicked when they are wicked. The witch of the other world (or “Other Mother”) reminds me of the bored kid who transforms all his family into puppets serving his entertainment in the “Twilight Zone” movie, she manipulated and creates worlds around her, and makes things worse by economizing about it, so that you can actually reach the limits of what she created, and where she could not be bothered anymore, and you walk into the “nothing”, the same stuff as in the “Neverending Story”, just white this time around. The vicitms of her moods, namely the creepy and talkative (one world) or silent (other world) Wybie and the boring (this world) or over-tuned and outburned (other world) Father, are evidence that you do not mess with the Other Mother, but when Coraline is not just brave enough to escape, but actually goes back into the other world on a rescue mission… very nice adventure-horrow-comic stuff, with subtle humour (“told you I don’t like rats at the best of times”) and stunning animation.

The research assistant of a Westminster MP dies, as does a supposed drug dealer, and a motorbike courier gets shot at. A team of reporters from the “Herald” newpaper set out to dind the story, and when they start linking the bits and pieces, they realise many events are interlinked. Reporter Cal uses his old friendship with the MP Stephen Collins to protect him from a withchunt when it turns out that Collins had a relationship with the researcher and wanted to leave his wife. Offering shelter, at the same time he digs deeper with his team into the doings of the Engery Select Committee, the Minister, some lobbyists, and a powerful oil company. It all, however, does not turn out the way he expects it to.

If one thinks – as one should, believe me, just ask me, the rest of my family and Stephen King – that “Life on Mars” not only was one of the best tv shows ever conceived by humans (might be a slim possibility that Venus TV has come up with something more coherent, sly, intelligent, warmhearted and funny – but I cannot comment, have not been there in a while), then it is an easy guess that if two of the reasons for this quality, the actors John Simm and Philip Glenister, are in another show, it also must be at least very very good. Assumption correct? With a sample of one: yes, absolutely! The cast here is brilliant, with the mentioned John Simm up front, and the first time I saw David Morrisey in action (“Hello to David Morrisey” – at last I can understand!). Morrisey / Collins is excellently written and played – he is solid and big and tough, at the same time he has the soft side to him that his researcher no doubt found attractive, he enjoys the power of office, and he surely is haunted by something more than he admits. He only gives away the information he is confronted with, and he never enters a breakfast room without grabbing a whiskey bottle. And Polly Walker, and Kelly McDonald and Bill Nighy and and and. It is, of course, not too uncoventional a story, it is like a provincial level “All the President’s Men”, with the usual lot of smoking and drinking that you have to do in serious nvestigative journalism, and with the piles of old newspapers on everybody’s desk (anybody ever wondered why they need to be there in 2003? You can save it from the online edition, for crying’ out loud!). Slimy intermediaries (Mr Foi, did you get your name awarded by the writers to honour that instrument of hope for all researchers, the freedom of information act?), ruthloess spin doctors, haunted politicians who ever only wanted the best for country and constituency… but could not restrain from making some sacrifices on the country’s behalf for a nice shag.
The format of State of Play is also just perfect – I increasingly believe that the seasonal shows the US tv offers are a misunderstanding, and that reasonable mini-seasons of a maximum of five to seven shows allow the authors to maintain a decent storyline. If you cross that line, you have to start cheating and becoming irrelevant to the main narrative – especially if you cannot decide in advance how long the story will get milked.
On all accounts: wonderful cinema? “Cinema”, he said? Yes, this was one long very good thriller, that I happened to watch on tv, but that had all the qualities of good cinema.
Do I need to mention that there is no reason to remake this as a Hollywood production? There is not a single reason!

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