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Monthly Archives: July 2009

The New York Times’ Economix Blog has an interesting bit about how to calculate blockbuster success properly and how to compare movie success of 1938 (Gone with the Wind) with one in 2008 (The Dark Knight). It is inflation, ticket price develpoment, maybe purchasing power development, sure, but also population rise (or decline), number of screens, maybe average distance to the next screen, number of children eligible for reduced admission fee, etc etc. The analysis the article refers to looks into some of them, not all by far, but already re-affirms that the truly hugely successful movies of all times are those you expect them to be from your gut feeling. Does “Dark Knight” coney this? Not really. “10 Commandments”? – Absolutely, as does “Gobe with the Wind”, “Star Wars” or “E.T.” is there any comprehensive analysis with the development of a logical and stringent measurement system around?

The simple girl Holly who lives with her father (Sissy Spacek) falls in love with James Dean lookalike and James Dean non-conformityalike Kit (Martin Sheen). When her father resists the new boyfriend to strongly, he gets killed with a shot in the belly. From there on, the couple is on the run, leaving a trail of useless and often unprovoked death behind. The level of irrationality behind the killings even makes Kit a media hero.

Terrence Malick is a strange guy to me: the name well known, I consider him to be one of the leading creatives in the cinema of the last 30 years, believe him to be able to use brutality in a non-compromising way similar to Peckinpah. I think he is a perfectionist of the Kubrick category. And a studio outsider who manages to pull off big budget movies using studio money. The thing is: I don’t know any of this. I have never seen a single of his films. Maybe “Days of Heaven” but I am not sure. He only made five films since 1968, but still his impact seems to be everywhere. What is he doing the rest of his time? What he did in “Badlands”, in any case, is absolutely fantastic. He lets loose the trigger-happy Kit, teams Martin Sheen up with Sissy Spacek, one of my all-time favourite actresses (and not just for “Carrie”. Watch “Night, Mother”!) and lets his ravaging pride and ludicrous attitude, his controlled anger and lack of moral safeguard switch be countered by this fragile and simple girl with the freckles who is only to happy to stand by and watch in wonder why that boy is doing what he is doing, why is so completely unaffected by all those deaths. At least he apologizes once in a while to her, especially when killing off her family members. Martin Sheen at the time was a stunningly handsome bloke. Mallick did whatever he could to make him a movie star and a serious actor. I think Malick may be a little bit disappointed by how things turned out, but at least we can be glad that watching this film finally led to Coppola bringing in Sheen when it came to replace Keitel for the Willard role.

A prototypical road movie on the one side, with stunning landscapes and sunsets – yet a category on its own in many, truly orginial masterpiece.

Inspired by (I have to repeat again and again, by the filmspotting marathons)

A documentary team follows “Anvil”, one of the founding fathers of modern heavy metal, around, witnessing their (possibly perennial) efforts to at last make the breakthrough, cut the record deal, get the big arenas boiling over. It would almost be a sad story, if the main characters, band founders Steve Lips Kudlow and Rob Reiner, were not so heartbreakingly open and honest and simple and … hard to say … so naively willing to make themselves vulnerable to the humiliation of being an ageaing rock star. Or not even a star. This band has been around forever, has played the big festivals with Black Sabbath and Lynyrd Skynyrd and Iron Maiden and Bon Jovi – but at some point (as the drummer of Metallica observed) everybody else in this rock festival family took off and became huge, and the band to which everybody used to look up as powerful and innovative forerunners of the metal scene – they were left behind.

So they are now working in school catering or other regular jobs, keeping up the band as their lifeline to which they have to hold on, and trying to balance their own life and the life of their families between shattered dreams and the possible breakthrough, which could just be around the corner. And even during the course of the film there are indicators: they manage (with the help of a warm-hearted sister’s money) to complete another record with a well-reputed producer – but then they fail to sell to a distributer. They get a concert tour through Europe – but nobody pays them. And at the end, they play a gig at a Japanese rock festival, only to realise on the spot that they have been scheduled for the early morning. When the worst fears of a rock band seem to come upon them, they are faced with a roaring crowd have has not forgotten the great band that Anvil used to be.

I am not really into that kind of music anymore (apart from the occassional Iron Maiden fix), but I very much appreciate the great energy coming from the music, especially at festivals. And when checking the line-ups of the big festivals (e.g. see Wacken here), you can only guess how many of these bands of former glory are still around. This line-up reads like the mixed tape of my 16th birthday… and they all still play? We have seen the Metallica film (of course a band for the younger friends), I have thoroughly enjoyed Iron Maiden’s “Flight 666”, so why not follow up with “Saxon – a real story”, “Raven – Wiped Put Still”, or “The Moetley Crue Diaries” … so many stories to tell…

Nice piece by the film’s author:

Madame Souza lives with her bored and lonely son in a dark tower in Paris. Only when she gives him a bike does the boy find a passion in life. He trains, makes it into the tour de france, and gets kidnapped by the French mafia for sinister betting games in Belleville. Souza and the famous Triplets girl band decide to find and rescue him, killing and eating many frogs on the way.

Art design, characters, atmosphere – the film is absolutely fabulous in many respects. It has a very unnerving surreal atmosphere, it is outright creepy, especially the weird and actually quite gruelling household the three heroes share (mother, son, dog). And the weird and gruelling household the triplets share in Belleville, moloch of fast food, fat people and ruthless capitalism…
The film is terrific two thirds through. It loses a bit its story line when everybody has been been introduced, the scene set, the kidnapped abused and the frogs mutilated – when it then turns towards the cyclist liberation act, it does not really know where to go with them – a bit of a car / bicycling chase, actually a rather extended one. And a very nice final shot, and that was it. So while the overwhelming creativity of the first half did not hold up for the whole movie, it is definitely a masterpiece of animation and of story-telling.
Summarising Roger Ebert’s review is about as easy than summarising what is great about this film, so he probably got it right: “It’s one of those movies where you keep banging your fist against your head to stop yourself from using the word meets, as in Monsieur Hulot meets Tim Burton, or the Marquis de Sade meets Lance Armstrong.”

Two men are waiting at an old Gatehouse for the rain torrent to be over. When a third one joins them, they share a disturbing story they just witnessed. It is about a rape and a death. At the trial, the involved parties (the maybe raped woman, the maybe murdered husband by way of a medium, and the maybe murderous thug) give witness – but their stories are all very different – and also the one man at the Gatehouse, a woodcutter who maybe found the body in the first place, has yet another story to tell.

What is the film about? About men’s perception of reality when it affects themselves, probably. About subjective reality. About the role of women, too. Various perceptions about honour play a role. Interesting to see this film today for a variety of reasons: it looks strangely older than it is. It is from 1950, but has a look that reminds of the silent era, which maybe makes it even more distubring that the film is not only not silent, but occassionally mad shrill laughter erupts, as if right out of the mad house. Sometimes that laughter is genuinely mad (the woman, when realising that her plot has worked out against her), or sometimes it means a crazy man is having the time of his life (“we crossed blades 23 times, noone has ever managed that before! Hahhhaaaahahaahaahaa!”). Or amused, when the bypasser listens to the story his two fellows tell him and is more amused by their desperation than touched by life’s drama.

Great acting, by the way, and not just by an over-the-top Mifune (a Japanaese Kinski, I would call him, I still have to find out whether he ever did a silent, reflective role), but by everybody, maybe most subtly by Takashi Shimura.

At the end of the film, the audience is left with four alternative realities and a baby, and that is as beautifully ambiguous an ending as it can get.

Why did I watch it? I got inspired by the filmspotting podcast, maybe finally I will manage to catch with those guys. They are frequently doing marathons on film-makers or themes (most recently “New Hollywood”, now “Kurosawa”) and all of them are worth checking out to update one’s own backlist.

And where is a very intelligent review? Of course, as always, here, which reviews the Criterion collection DVD edition, worth checking out.

For German-language, there is an episode on Rashomon by the brilliant “Jansens Kino” radio feature series (vol. 16).

John Conner, considered by some to be the saviour of mankind, fights as solidier in the battle against Skynet, the computer network that at some point started to consider its human creators the enemy. A man from the past appears and leads Connor to meet the boy that will become his father, Kyle.

Every Summer has its surprises and its disappointments. If this Summer will be the same, then we are looking forward to some astonishingly great movies over the next months. So far, each blockbuster has been terrible in its own way, and this week culminated in the horrible double feature of Tranformers 2 and Terminator 4. At least you have to give to McG, the director of this latest spin-off, that he occassionally is interested in the direction, and the first major action sequence, involving a truck, a couple of cyborgish motorcycles, a bridge and a very tall robot with no head, has its moments of kinetic mayhem. (I was wondering: the gas station where the sequence starts, is that intended to be the one where the original Terminator movie ended?).

Apart from this, the film is arduously boring and tries to surprise with plot or character twists that are too obvious from minute one (literally) to be of any use. The women stand or fly around pointlessly, clearly that director does not know what to do with somebody long-haired other than have her hit somebody in the face. The desctruction of the resistance headquarter… just happens. The fact human test lab underground is never used to its gruelling effect, but just to shoot around in it a bit. I need to repeat my stance on Bale: he is not a good actor, or – quite possibly – an actor with very poor choice of roles (not economically speaking), who always plays as if he were as stiff as his neck is in the Batman movies. His address to the resistance: poorly written, and falling flat on the face when he delivers it (does anybody remember Harrison Ford’s famous remarks during the Star Wars shoot: “nobody can say that shit!” – remember the wisdom of the elders!).

As it happens, the whole script also is annoyingly intermediate as it clearly seeks to provide a transition to the forthcoming sequels. I don’t mind them, if they are a bit more post-apolcalyptic, a bit more “The Road” and “Mad Max” and a bit less “Transformers”. But it’s not really necessary, and with the team currently working on those films, I do see a danger of making a mess of the time-lines, over-stretching the credibility of the time-travel construct. There are already some indicators in the movie that seem to proof that the script doctors are losing it.

When, I am trying to remember, was the last truly original blockbuster?

Some robots come from Saturn to Earth because some other robots are here and keep something that is very important. Or both look for the same thing. Robots punch each other in the face several times. One very big one climbs up a pyramid over an extended period of time for no obvious reason.

Sorry but I cannot be bothered to spend more effort on this sorry excuse for a plot. Whatever you think about the rest of the film, the plot is a very narrow bridge on which you are occassionally forced to climb from one set piece to the other. The risk is to fall off, i.e. to lose interest each time, which will happen if you more than 8 years old. If you are more than 12 years old, you will also lose interest during the set pieces, because as has been established before, Michael Bay is just not the director to present complex bits of action in a way that anybody without Down’s syndrome could follow. Somebody wrote that watching Transformers is like watching a little boy hit two Transformers toys against each other, shouting “bang”, “pow” and “argh”, plus 200 million dollars. Only more boring. I took 2 minutes to reflect on the moments of the film that I enjoyed, and came up with, one second, … er … no, sorry. The marine soldier leading that battle in the desert (or all of the battles in the deserts) was kind of attractive, maybe you have to give them that much credit. And I increasingly dislike Shia LeBeouf, who a couple of years ago I thought had some form of nice screen presence. I also think that Megan Fox is not pretty, which again you will realise if you are older than 8 years and manage to throw a look into her face.
In the words of the Great Ebert: “Those who think “Transformers” is a great or even a good film are, may I tactfully suggest, not sufficiently evolved.” Amen!

Susan gets radiated by a meteor falling onto her garden on the day of her wedding. She grows into a Giant and gets transferred into that super-secret governmen holding facility where they keep all those monsters: the smart cockroach, the jelly amoeba, the giant XXX, or the amphibian muscle-master. When an alien invasion of robot drones threatens life as we know it (because of some “Mars Attack” lookalike alien mad scientist who wants to steal whatever that magic resource was called), the government unleashes Ginormica (now Susan’s s artist name) and her colleagues to fight back the threat. A butterfly will, Godzilla-style, decide on the fate of the Earth.
Never got my attention. Too straightforward, nothing you have not seen a million times. The monsters, the threat, the sidekicks, the aliens, the government… I got bored right away, as the plot is of course predictable to the last moment, and the way the animation is being done is also nowhere near interesting. Perfectly fine for smaller kids, I suppose, but there is not much the accompanying adult would get as compensation for spending the Sunday afternoon away from the garden.

Hooker (Robert Redford) is a happy little crook, earning his bucks with simple cons. When he happens to cheat the local betting mafia out of some dollars, they send their avengers, killing Hooker’s partner, and looking for him. He teams up with Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman) and plans the Big Con, earning them enough cash to disappear. A betting shop, a Wire and a local banker need to be brought together.
Legendary music and legendary acting. It is the slyness of Newman, the young energy of Redford, but also that fact that even those incredibly cool characters get the chance to feel desperate and lonely (such as when Hooker turns up late at the bar girl’s door). The script is cleverly twisted, but not so much that you would lose track or interest, performing the art of making me feel very smart by being able to follow (and I don’t follow easily – I still don’t know what Transformers really was about). No need to put this film in any context of the time when it was made, it just stands solid as a rock, a great piece of movie-making.

One among a group of former costumed self-declared super-heroes, called The Commedian, is found killed. His former Watchmen colleagues, triggered by Dr Rohrschach’s suspicion that the death was murder directed at the whole group, follow the leads linking their hero past with their mostly blunt present. Turns out the suspicion is correct, and they discover a machinery that is working towards destroying or saving the world – or both at the same time.

To be honest, I stopped following after some 10 minutes. The pretentious dialogue blabbering, a direction so self-important that you could literally see the director’s erection when editing the slow-motion scenes, the constant feeling of apocalyptic relevance in the face of all its nothingness… very hard to stand. The static art of a graphic novel may be able to live with these overwhelmingly designed images of space, energy, desert and whatever – in a movie it is mega-kitsch designed by somebody who has nothing to say. What is the film about? Zip. What does it have to tell? Even less. After “300” it is now a fact to me that I do not ever want to see a Zack Snyder film again, as what he does is the opposite of what I would call a movie. “Wacthmen” actually is even worse than, say, “Transformers”, as it even lacks the slightest bit of humour or irony, is so full of itself that it literally explodes to pieces. Those sick, lost creatures with erectile dysfunction outside their superhero costumes could have been presented in many ways – to show them as if they were just straightforward world-saviours is terribly poor choice. A shame about actually the only comic movie that I was looking forward to this year. What a terribly dull year this will have been…

An interesting question is the filmability – many seem to agree that the book can justifiedly called unfilmable, but all agree that it looks like a movie storyboard.  “Watchmen wasn’t unfilmable, it was unreadable. A script doctor might have helped de-clutter the often incoherent story line and tart up the leaden chatter.” as I read somewhere, indeed!
More enthusiastic and willing to give it analytical credit
Entertaininlgy pissed-off review in the Washington Post

Nicholas Cage is an MIT professor who explains to his students that maybe everything is determined, or maybe everything just happens. When his son gets a sheet with figures that were buried in the ground 50 years earlier by a strange little girl, the professor stumbles across patterns specifying events of the last decades. While trying to figure out what it all means, he meets the sheet’s author’s daughter and her kid, he encounters strange blonde men distributing pebbles, and he discovers the meaning of the remaining lines on the figure sheet.

This is nowhere near the worst film of all times, as some dear friends at the BBC 5 live show discuss it could be. It is, however, trying hard. While I was thoroughly entertained by the whole thing, I was realising that the list of very concrete flaws is so long to grant the film an entry in cinema’s record books:
• Nicholas Cage cannot act
• The film merges various genres along the way (thriller, mystery, science fiction, even horror) without giving the audience a chance why it would be necessary to do so. The plot only comes together in the last 10 minutes, when the cranking script fills every gap and explains the life out of itself: why did they hear voices, why do some of the people have a certain gift, who are these strange men, why is the question of determinism so important at the film’s opening, etc? You can nod at the film’s end, but you cannot be entusiastic: it is rather lifeless repaying of the debt the film has built up over the previous 2 hours.
• The film is terribly pretentious in what it wants to be. You could forgive the makers to present a little mystery sci-fi thriller that ends in desperation, death or surprise, but the wide apocalyptic perspective that suddenly comes in at a certain point us undeserved. You cannot change the tone from “The Road” to “Armageddon” within 2 hours, the audience does not buy that and never grasps the largesse of the last part.
• Those big vehicles that play a role at the end are really getting on my nerves. If somebody is, say, very intelligent and technologically advanced, why does he construct a means of transport that is constantly wasting energy by twisting, twitching, re-assembling, and by having all the lights on? Is this an OsramBot Transformers version that I missed when I was little?
• Nicholas Cage cannot act. When he tries, he ends up standing with spread legs, facing the big challenge with a gaping mouth and hair fluttering in the wind. Or on his knees, with his hair fluttering in the wind. Gaping mouth.
• The special effects are awful, with a plane crash that was clearly bought from or sold to the latest “24” season, tv quality in any case at best. And the burning moose… well, judge for yourself. It is not bad atmospherically, the “catastrophes” look quite absorbing, but that is despite the fact what they look like. I think that might be the gap in quality between the director and the rest of staff, he appears to be much more solid than anybody else in the crew.

Chris and Lisa move into a new house, the neighbour Abel, bad-ass cop and neighbourhood watch afficionado, shows them that he does not approve of their lifestyle. A neighbourhood battle begins, washing up some hidden layers in everybody.

I don’t like that kind of film: a completely unlikeable main character, played by Samuel L. Jackson, who can be really annoying, and – as it turns out – who gets more unlikeable every minute. There is no development, no twist or turn, there is only escalation and some form of blood bath at the end. Not enough for good entertainment, just that feeling of unpleasantness. That makes the whole effort a bit boring, as it leads to those most pointless of things, a boring thriller.

Claire and her husband Norman move into a new house, send their daughter off to college, work on Norman’s carreer as a physicist, and try to arrange their lives. But in the new home Claire encounters strange things, hears noises, suspects it to be haunted by a ghost. Maybe by the disappeared wife’s of the strange neighbour? She tries to find out.

It is great to see Michelle Pfeiffer again – how beautiful she is and how well she plays the fragile while competent manager of this family seeking to come to terms with the new set of tasks at hand. She convinces when she has her moments of sorrow about the departing daughter, and also when she realises that there is something worth being scared about.
Also good to watch is Harrison Ford, who may have a not too convincing twist of role in the script to tackle, but is doing it without too much embarassment.
It is that scrip that is the problem, and there is no acting talent in the world that can save the film from that: the daughter shows up once and is never seen again. The The neighbour fulfill their role and are dropped. Most importantly: the film is a pure cliché – or rather it is two cliches, because it does not decide whether it wants to fit the haunted house drawer (of the – say – El Orfanato kind) or of the family member going all twisted kind (Enemy in my Bed, or whatever that one was called). Should you not mix the two genres? I say you should not, especially if on both ends you do not have anything new to add. You can be solid on either motif, and give some new twists. But here, everything is predictable from minute 5, and what is not belongs into the “You are kidding!” catgegory. The strangest thing may be to see the director’s name – is it me or should Robert Zemeckis be doing other kinds of movies, more entertaining business? I kind of lost track of him and when looking it up, I saw he is still pulling off a lot of blockbusters, but the specific talent that you would need for a genre piece like this… maybe that was not what he was made for. He is making all the obvious move of a family friendly director: introducing accessories like hair-dryers at one point when he needs them later. He uses some camera tricks like a glass floor that allows some new perspectives. Maybe the direction is just to visible, too blunt? In any case not convincing for me here. But then again, the only two films of his that I really like are “Roger Rabbit” and “Back To The Future”.
But Michelle Pfeiffer…wow…

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