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Monthly Archives: August 2009

The life and times of a variety show and their preprarations for the big show that will be shown live on tv. Jealousy, drugs, feline fellatio, sexual obsession, tender love – A Chorus Line meets The Muppets, and they all drown in a sea of machine gun shells, for hell hath no fury but a cake-addicted hippo with a gun and a walrus husband.
Rellay funny in parts, maybe because the film allows itlsef to be almost forgetful about its ridiculous starting point: Muppets for adults, letting loose and crossing all boundaries, including an ode to sodomy, sung by a fox, which because of this is actually a brain twister. The sweet and the schmaltz of all these backstage productions bringing fame and glory are being drowned in vile and blood. It is wonderful to see the technical finesse with which the production pulls it off, mixing the larger-than-life costumes with small hand-operated puppets, bringing it all together so that you never wonder what kind of a strange world this is supposed to be. It just is. And it’s outrageous. And often funny. And actually: In the end, it is also a liitle bit of a tear jerker, if you are prone…
The BBC review here.

The bite of a nasty little monkey thing durin g a zoo visit turns Lionel’s Mama into something first falling apart, then dead, then worse. This is contagious, as – once infected – the victims tend to spread the disease by biting chunks off innocent bystanders. Loving son Lionel is willing to take care of the situation by hosting a group of braindeads in the family basement. The situation escalates when his cousin and his girlfriend cannot be kept away from the premises.
What can you say? Nurse head not quite coming off. Copulating corpses. The Lawnmower Man. The hunt of the digestive tract, no: by. The giant Supermama finale. Tons of Blood. A blender that mixes and blends everything. A nasty baby that meets the blender. How to feed a headless woman?
Yes, this is … special interest cinema. As such it is very funny and in parts very original. I would not say that you could exactly see Jackson’s future to become the director of the most massive movie of all times, but actually: if somebody pointed out that fact to a first-time audience, there is no way of denying the possibilities indicated here.

Interpol is following the works of a Luxembourg-based bank involved in arms dealing and murder. For Louis Salinger this has a personal meaning, because he has been trying to bring down the bank for many years. When a police colleague apparently got murdered in the process of investigating the case, Salinger tries to get closer to the bank’s machinery, and by doing so causes massive retaliation against himself, his colleagues, Italian politicians and also the bank management itself.

For me, you cannot do anything wrong when you cast that most prestigious of second list actors, Clive Owen. He is way better and more subtle and more handsome and more everything than all the A-listers, but he still maintains (whether he likes that or not, it surely will affect his cash check) this appearance of second row, non-obtrusive play (“I like heroes who look as if they could die” is what Ebert wrote about him, exactly!). Really one of my favourite actors at the moment. He gets a bit beaten up here, he gets a bit grumpy and rude when realising that he cannot move within the confinements of his position, and that makes him become a little bit of a rogue, which suits him well.
The film suffers from Tykwer’s desire to show off every bit of architecture coffee table book that he has in his shelf, so a lot of almost fetishist camera approaches to fancy buildings have to be endured. He also endulges in the possibility to use all this money to switch between nice locations, and whether or not it is necessary to at one point have a set piece in Istanbul or Milan or Berlin or Geneva is of no concern to him. As long as it looks nice… That seems to be his problem for a while now: making things look nice is tempting when your budgets grow, and already in “Perfume” did the density of the story suffer from that obsession with beauty and ugliness. This film now again looks splendid, but there could have been more attention to character detail: Naomi Watts’ character is more or less useless. Armin Mueller-Stahl is cast in what slowly becomes his stereotype (or is it his stereotype since “Music Box”?). Some nice grumpy cops, and a rather well-orchestrated destruction of the Guggenheim Museum (with interesting details on how easy it is to get away from a shooting scene undisturbedly, bleeding to death and carrying a massacred man…). The script would have deserved some red markings “excessively annoying dialogue”, but the next bleeding is never far.
Altogether a jolly bit of entertainment, with a nice touch of Germanness about it (sometimes the film can be pleasantly silent, with a very reduced music score).

A new breed of cockroaches gets developed in order to fight an epidemic in New York. Years later, it turns out that the kind has mutated into something big and dangerous, feeding off the city’s citizens and threatening to get out of control. The group of researchers involved in the development have to find and fight the big bugs.
An astonishingly straightforward film by del Toro. It is a gruesome creature hunt, and one by one, the pack of hunters gets smaller. Some characters are not really necessary, such as the shoe-shine man and his son, who stumble into the whole thing by accident. The other characters, the tough girl, the nice following man, the grumpy police man facing a sure fate… The end is maybe not as well played out as it could have been, with some people not dying who should and some dying who don’t need to, but all in all, a perfectly entertaining horror flic. Not as inspired as del Toro’s other movies, but surely a door opener for what he is doing today.

A clock-like mechanism, created and hidden hundreds of years ago, turns up in the antique shop of Mr Gris. This comes to the attention of a Mr de la Guardia and his nephew, who have been looking for the device for many years, believing that it has the powers to make the user immortal. Gris and his daughter against the de la Guardias – a chase starts that leaves many victims behind…
Firstly, I enjoyed the multi-linguistic setting of the film. Through the mix of Spanish and English, a certain ancient atmosphere is evoked, maybe because it reminded me of Salvatore’s multi-coloured rants in “Name of the Rose” (the same Ron Perlman as here the nephew, so no wonder I had to think of that). Gris is a noble-looking man, with a proud headfull of white hair and very erect demeanour. Of course, in the face-off with the mad millionaire he can only lose, but he does it in style. He has to suffer a lot in this film, not only pain, but also being thrown around a script that cannot really decide whether it wants to be a thriller, crime story, action flic, horror movie or surreal metaphor on mortality and finiteness of existence. The actors are the highlights, and if you stick to them, you can survive the less plausibel or sensible plot developments. I love Ron Perlman, and will watch “City of Lost Children” right away again! As for the director, Snr del Toro, of course he showed his talent here, but he also showed that he is not always perfectly clear what style of movie he intends to make – and instead of merging styles into a new one, it sometimes appears he is content with having them stand next to each other (the horror-zombie movie and the thriller here, the war story and the fantasy tale there, at Pan’s Labyrinth). Still, an entertaining experience for the lovers of slightly weird movie nutrition.

To escape eviction from his home, Carl attaches some balloons to his house and takes off to South-America, following the dream that he always dreamt with his late wife to go out on adventures. As it happens, an annoying boy scout joins him, and together they tumble into an adventure involving a lot of dogs, a zeppelin-like airship and a theoretically extinct giant dodo bird.
The film is very good. It would have been absolutely brilliant had it ended after 7 minutes or so. There is a sequence in which Carl meets his future wife when they are both kids, how they get along and play and fall in love, how they build dreams and houses together and how they age and end. Poof. That’s it, a stunningly perfect mini-feature, heartbreaking and wonderful. After this, you can literally hear the movie take a breath again, recovering from its own completeness. What is it with these Pixar opening sequences recently? The Wall-E silent movie masterpiece, followed by a not so interesting human intervention, was a similar phenomenon. Now we have a chase for peace and rest at the end of a life span that turns (of course) into a heroic adventure ride. As for the characters, the one I really did not like was to nice little dog, because I do not like nice little doggies drooling stupidly all over the place. But there is compensation when he gets a decent throwing and thrashing by the fierce Rottweiler and Bulldog competition that is running the villain’s air ship. That villain is nothing special, but solid evil, and he allows our heroes to shine the way they should.
When talking Pixar, there are always a couple of technology or craft that pop into the eye, I find: There is, for example, a spectacular use of space in the film, of people standing alone on wide deserted spaces, or of houses flying tiny-looking through the gigantic skies. This gives more stress to the vastness of space in the deserts and jungles they travel, and of course also the sky which is their way of transport. On top of that, there is the 3D thing, which by now has become solidly controllable. My summary on this: I enjoy watching it. I would not miss it. Pixar makes animated movies starting from the story and the movie, not starting from the animation, I believe. That means that whatever comes in through animation technique does not turn a bad movie into a good movie, it may turn a good (or bad) movie into a slightly more spectacular movie. Sometimes you want this, sometimes you don’t. And I am wearing glasses, so these additional things on my nose pressing into my skin annoy me out of my patience rather quickly. Even with “Up”, there were plenty of scenes where I wanted to take them off, so I can see a brighter picture with less flagellantist pain in my face.
Oh, and the Chinese dubbed version is not very well dubbed, if that is of interest…

When the curator of the Louvre is killed, his last action is to leave hints that point to Robert Langdon, Professor for Symbololology. What Langdon discovers when he comes to analyse the hints is that there is a chase underway: Apparently the Brothers of Zion are trying to track down and possibly destroy what goes as the Holy Grail – and for some reason, Langdon finds himself, together with a French police woman who was the curator’s granddaughter, in the midst if it.

Sometimes one wonders whether Ron Howard was forced to do this film. Maybe he was blackmailed with nude pictures from the Apollo 13 set, or his old buddy Tom Hanks was in trouble with the Tirads (or some religious cult) and coerced him. There is no trace of a filmmaker’s enjoyment in what he is doing to be found. The most obvious this becomes when strange flashbacks into the medieval and pre-Christian times are inserted, that are directed and edited with so little enthusiasm that you wonder whether somebody found this contractual agreement to do at least 4 minutes of flashback per hour of the movie, and they on;ly realised after the last day of shooting, while still suffering the hangover from the closing party.

If you want to make a film out of a book that goes at great lengths to explain historical background, you may want to have a look at how this is done in “The Name of the Rose” – the intelligent re-shuffling into a thrill in a setting gleaming with historical colours. “Da Vinci Code” on the other hand, does not gleam, it is dull, because the script tries to jump from story stone to story stone, but never really constructing the logical link between the steps, not proving how it becomes necessary to rush from here to there. Saying it does not help, there is way too much talking in this anyway (and I watched the extended version – 25 more minutes of inspiring explanations of the self-eplanatory). It is more that the film seems to miss the breathless drive of the book, which was the one factor forgiving rather flat style or characters. And the culmination point if it all, in book and film, is just massively anti-climactic. Ok, that has been resolved, so what? It’s a sledge, she’s a boy… I do not say that I was not entertained at times, but I was glad that I could stop after a couple of hours and continue the next day, that is never a good sign. Sylas the Albino was fun to watch, but then again he was taken out of the action so suddenly and abruptly that I wondered whether he did say something bad on the set, maybe steal some coffee whitener, haha. Alfred Molina as Cardinal was wasted, as they could not decide whether they needed the character or not (they did not), Audrey Tatou did what most French acresses in Hollywood: stand around woth the mouth in gaping position. And Ian McKellen was, let’s say, better as Gandalf. Ah Jean Reno: he who would do anything to become a permanent A-List actor in the US, which only brings him closer to becoming a new Rutger Hauer.

Turn the Lights On!

Robert Langdon, Professor for Symbol science, is summoned to Rome, where a group of supposedly ancient religious fanatics has kidnapped four Cardinals and threatens to kill them during the Conclave for finding a new Pope. His expertise in the Illuminati sect allows him to read the hints left on the way, trying to prevent the worst, the destruction of Vatican City.

It is pretty spectacular to see how a book gets not transposed to the screen, but jammed onto it, with bits and pieces of the Dan Brown novel being thrown rather arbitrarily at the actors and the director, with major plot holes and the script authors having the guts to just ridicule them away. Specific example where I had to laugh out loud: you keep wondering for the better part of an hour why the Assassin does not just kill Langdon the way he kills everybody else within a 50 meter radius. And when you decided it’s just a plot device better left unchallenged, the Asassassin actually makes a fool out himself by trying to explain why he did decide not to kill him even though he had the chance so often. The guilty conscience of script doctors ringing, there is no way out but certain foolishness.
The only remarkable thing about the film is the massive accumulation of clichees, about evil German cardinals, cunning Scottish Caramalegos (or whatever his job was called), brave blond security forces, cool Italian speical ops squads – that are too stupid to discover a whole in the wall of the Pope’s Angel’s Castle. A door! They just ignored it, left poor Tom Hanks and that woman all alone in the place where they are sure the plot comes together?!?
Sometimes one should abstain from making a film if it seems impossible to write a script that does not want to make you cry. And a director such as Ron Howard can not make anything interesting and exciting out of this script – after checking his filmography again, I have to assess that he has never made a film that I would call “really good”. The depressing averageness and harmlessness of “Apollo 13” and “A Beautiful Mind” is all there is.
Much more amusing than the film: Kermode’s rant!

A documentary following tv comedian Jerry Seinfeld when he was starting a revamp of his stage stand-up routine after the many years of successful tv sitcom.
I must admit … no: I am happy and lucky to admit that before that film, I would not have recognised Seinfeld if I had met him on the street. I watched two or three episodes of the tv show, and one soup nazi youtube clip some friend recommended to be the funniest clip ever. I don’t like the show, I don’t think he is a particularly gifted commedian, at least the tv show is not too interesting.
That made it all the more interesting to watch this documentary, just knowing that he is huge, but not being burdended by this feeling of awe if I was a fan. I can see him struggle on stage, hitting home some jokes, falling on the face with others. What is clear very soon that he has stage presence and dominance, that he is a real comedic personality, and it takes a lot to throw him off-track. But he is human, and so is his programme, flawed and in need of practising and permanent revision. The handicraft of stand-up comedy is actually presented from another angle, from the perspective of a young comedian who is on the verge of breakthrough, but who accepts this as a huge mountain of effort and work, but already equipped with arrogance and jealousy about the colleagues / competitors. While for Seinfeld it’s a game, for the other one (sorry, mate, forgot the name) it is the centre of existence and worth every bit of reflective capacity you have. Showing how they get mangled through the impro, stage and tv machinery makes this an interesting documentary, even though on a formal level of filmmaking, there is not too much originality.

Not clear to me why I did that, but I happened to stumble into a Kevin Smith marathon the other day, starting with watching “Clerks” again, a film that I had not seen since its original theatrical release, I believe. It quite grabbed me, and one after the other, the Smith Oeuvre came down on me. My general assessment is: whatever you say, but if a guy makes films of which you can watch five or more in a row, that’s some achievement…

Clerks (1994)
The movie describes a day in the life of two clerks in New jersey. Dante Hicks (Brian O’Halloran) called to work in his day off, and his daily problems starts: His girlfriend wants to leave him, his friend Randall (Jeff Anderson), a clerk of a video store next to him, make him ashamed constantly in front of his customers, his ex-girlfriend getting married, he need to go to a hockey game in the noon and none can replace him, he has to go to a friend’s wake, he has to deal with annoying customers, a pair of drug dealers outside his store annoys him, etc. Just about everything goes wrong and he is not even supposed to be working that day… Dante is a great character developed for this film that turned out to be the moral backbone of many of Smith’s movies – sometimes even without being present. He is in the midst of all this hilarity, tries to keep a sober head, has all these girls fighting about him because he is such a nice guy, and bit after bit, his life falls to shambles. But never mind, because it kind of always turns out to be better that way, in a “Candide” fashion at least.

Clerks II (2006)
In New Jersey, when Dante arrives to open the convenience store “Quick Stop Groceries” for another labor day, he finds the place on fire. Dante and his friend, Randal, find another job at the fast food restaurant Mooby’s, managed by Becky, and work with the Christian employee Elias. Drug dealers Jay and Silent Bob also move their traffic spot to this new location. Dante is planning a new life in Florida getting married with his fiancée Emma while his friend Becky is a woman that does not believe in romantic love. On the eve of Dante’s departure to Florida, Randal decides to throw a farewell/bachelor party for his best friend. However, things go wrong and Dante rethinks his future.
I watched this right after the first part, so it was nice to see the continuity of these slightly aged, a bit chubby characters. Actually, they all have matured as characters, became wiser, but trying to hold on the looks of ten years earlier. The film is actually equally entertaining as the first one, but more flawed at the same time. The combination of melancholy and comedy, merged into one continuous world view in “Clerks”, is sequential here: first a comedy more straightforward (and more easy to digest) than the earlier film, then the melancholic bit, with monologues and deeper expressions of love and schmaltzy proofs of friendship in the last third. That was unnecessary – and it is not as clever. Still good to have those guys around.
The ending is really messed up, though: after a montage with a crappy song, they realise that, oh, the film is over, and you have another crappy song. Script-writing mess-up, sorry.

Dogma (1999)
Two Fallen Angels try to con their way back into Heaven by playing some tricks involving an Earthly church and what turns out to be a very special girl.
Matt Damen and Ben Affleck, Alan Rickman and Linda Fiorentino, this is a blast of a cast. Never mind the story, which may or may not make sense, but leads to a big finale involving God herself, the Stygian Hockey Players, Jay and Silent Bob, and some more. Slightly too long for its own good, and slightly undecided about the moral underpinning it wants to carry, it is still good fun as long as those angels fo not take themselves too serious.

Mallrats (1995)
Brodie Bruce, a Sega and comic book obsessed college student, and his best friend, TS Quint, are both dumped by their girlfriends on the same day, and to deal with their loss, they both go to the local mall. Along the way, they meet up with some friends, including Willam, a guy who stares at Magic Eye pictures, desprately trying to see the hidden image; Gwen, one of TS’s ex-girlfriends; and Jay & Silent Bob, of Clerks fame. Eventually, they decide to try and win back their significant others, and take care of their respective nemesises (TS’s girlfriend’s father, and a store clerk who hates the two for not having any shopping agenda).
The one where I slightly Iost my patience. The plot builds up in a very forseeable fashion, and that culmination is not very original – if you see a boring ending coming 80 minutes in advance, that does not make for very good entertainment. Of course there is a decent amount of swearing and existentialistic hanging out, but it clearly fell off from the level of cleverness “Clerks” had established.

Chasing Amy (1997)
Holden and Banky are two average guys who just need someone to bring out their hidden secrets. Enter Alyssa Jones and Hooper LaMont, two homosexuals who are slightly more experienced than the former two. Together, Hooper and Alyssa show Holden and Banky that being gay isn’t as bad as they might think. Meanwhile, Holden develops an ‘untainted’ love for Alyssa, one which she finally sees in him as well, taking Holden on a journey through the complexities of love in the 90s.
The weakest one I have seen in this marathon so farm, even a bit more boring than Mallrats. The film appears to work hard to make everyody involved grow up, but frankly it is … well not mature enough to do so. The hilarity of the earlier scenes, when life is all about comics and sex, is perfectly fine. When the tide is turning, and Alyssa is throwing some serious fits, it appeared to me that this way of acting is a bit over the head of either the actors and actresses, or maybe of the director in his role to give them guidance. Having plenty of moist eyes is not enough to evoke drama, you have to earn it, and then you have to play it out. Maybe the film is evidence that Kevin Smith has a very clear niche in film-making, as defined by “Clerks”, and would be well-advised to further develop his strengths there.

Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001)
Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is a tale of adventure on the open road. When Dante and Randal (of Clerks fame) get a restraining order to keep the punchy Jay and his hetero life-mate, Silent Bob, from selling drugs in front of the Quick Stop convenience store, their lives are suddenly empty. They find new purpose when their friend, Brodie, informs them a movie is being made featuring two infamous characters based on their likenesses. After visiting one of the creators of the Bluntman and Chronic, Holden McNeil, they set out to get what fat movie cash they deserve and hopefully put an end to people slandering them on the Internet. Along the way, they learn the rules of the road from a hitchhiking George Carlin, ride with a group of gorgeous jewel thieves, and incur the wrath of a hapless wildlife marshal for liberating an orangutan named Suzanne. The quest takes them from New Jersey to Hollywood where a showdown involving the police, the jewel thieves, and the Bluntman and Chronic filmmakers will decide the fate of Suzanne, Jay, Silent Bob, and their good names.
This is not work of cinematic genius, but more like a reverence to Kevin Smith’s most famous creations (the characters oddly ineptly played by Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith – especially the latter is no actor, no he ain’t!). A bit of a brainless fun ride over to Hollywood (I always thought Miramax was in New York? Never mind…). And the film gets special bonus for providing the clearest definition of the Internet I have seen so far: “The Internet is a communications tool used the world over by people to come together, bitch about movies and share pornography with each other.” The scenes on the film set at the end are nonsense, not in a very good waym, though.

Zack and Miri make a porno (2008)
Zack Brown and Miriam have been friends since high-school and share an apartment with many unpaid bills. In a reunion party, they find that the former high-school star is now a porn actor, and this inspires them to make a porn film to pay their bills. They cast the actors, actresses and crew, and Zack writes the screenplay.
In any respect the most predicatable of all the movies, in as it has a clear plot, a simple development, clearly cut characters and a proper three-act structure. That allows to focus on the characters and their performance, which is nice, as Seth Rogen is, well, Seth Rogen, with all you can love or hate about him, Elisabeth Banks – whom I did not know before – is just lovely, and the rest of the crew (including some ever-cast like Jason Mewes) clearly enjoy what they are doing. A streightforwardly entertaining night out at the pornos.

Jersey Girl (2004)
Ollie Trinkie is a publicist, who has a great girlfriend, Gertrude, whom he marries and they are expecting a baby but while he is looking forward to being a father, he doesn’t lighten his workload. Gertrude gives birth but dies in the process. Ollie doesn’t live up to his responsibilities as a father. Eventually the strain and pressure of losing his wife and being a father gets to him and he has breakdown, which leads to his termination. So with nothing much to do he tries to be good father to his daughter, Gertie. He also meets a young woman name Maya, who likes him but he is still not over his wife.
I almost skipped that one due to the devastating reviews I have seen and heard. Would have been a shame, as it is – despite being of course surely a letdown to the average pottymouth-and-pothead-expecting fan crowd, it is a very nice simple film, warm-hearted and inoffensive. The story is nothing much, but the film lives off its actors, and through my Kevin-Smith-athon I grew increasingly fond of Ben Affleck. He, together with ever beautiful Liv Tyler and a very nice little girl actress the name of which eludes me, creates an unspectacular tale of family values. Works well if you do not expect something else. And you get to see Will Smith, which you will enjoy if you are a girl and into gorgeous and very funny and incredibly hung… anyway, whose house? Will’s House!

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