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Monthly Archives: December 2009

He always wanted to be an inventor – and one day his dream of inventing the ultimate machine to turn water into hamburgers finally comes to pass. But while Flint Lockwood has saved his desperate town from the fate of becoming an open air sardine museum, now he has to fight off the greedy mayor and hordes of tourists. All that while he must conquer the pretty girl reporter Sam and live up to the expectations of his sad old father.

Absolutely stunning: a crazy ride through a psychedelic child’s dream, with heart-warming father figures (oh when the father finally wears the think-to-talk-cap!), killer monkeys on the rampage (ever seen an angry monkey rip a jelly-bear’s heart out of the chest, chuckling madly? Indiana Jones would have loved it!), a wicked mayor whose greed bloats his body and his ego, leading both himself and the city towards destruction. I think children would be creeped-out or left flabbergasted, but I enjoyed myself a lot. While I do tend to like the clean and super-professional politically correct Pixar output, whenever I come across material more edgy this comes as a great relief and I realise immediately what is missing in the Disney factory ingredients.
I guess best animated film I have seen over the last 12 months, and surely among the 5 most entertaining films of the past year.

Four guys head towards Vegas to make sure their friend Dug is having a good last impression of bachelorhood before he subjects himself to marriage two days later. The night starts off well with booze and drugs, but zap! – they wake up next morning without any recollection of what happened during the night. And the groom is missing. And there is a tiger in the bathroom. And one of them lacks a tooth and has one wedding ring too much.
Surprisingly funny. I might get the hang of those comedies if they manage to keep the characters somehow real and avoid the slap stick goofball comedy approach. After “Funny People” some weeks ago, now another one I actually enjoyed. I have never heard of the director or the actors before, and that may be one of the movie’s strong points, there is no distraction with individual mannerism or the ever-returning comedy faces. Every character can be surprising (including Mike Tyson…). Those dudes try to work their way back through the night like detectives in a CSI episode, only what they find is a police car, crazy Chinese guys with small dicks, strippers with a heart of gold, chapel ministers with a return policy and some drugs you don’t want to try out.
Nice end-credit sequence with the pictures they boys had taken during the lost night on their camera.

The superhoeroes are out of fashion: after threats of litigation because of all the damage they have caused, the government deems it wise to send them into retirement. This also affects the Invincible family, with superstrong Mr Invncible getting a job in insurance (nice boss he has, does he remind me of some William H Macy role?), Mrs Invincible-Elastogirl taking care of the kids and trying to keep the depressed husband happy. When Mr Invincible gets called into a new job on a remote island, where his superpowers are called for, he does not hesitate long, but gets the superdress fixed and starts fighting giant bubble robots and his nemesis Invinciboy-Geekfreak whatever his name was again.
Interesting that the opening sequence that I liked at first watching (interviews) got across a bit boring this time. Now what really got me are the action sequences, the amazing speed of the chases, the choreography of the flying saucers that serve as Star Trooper reference one-man-vehicles in the jungle. And again, the same “favourite scene” as five years ago: when Elastogirl walks by the mirror and stops to throw a sceptical glance and a sigh at her buttocks, nicely played!
One other stunning thing, stressing my previous suspicion that maybe this is not for the smaller kids: a lot of people are dying in this, because their saucer-scooter explodes, they fall from great heights, get sucked into jet engines or suffer similar fates. In some case kind of casual in the scene background, but in other cases affecting main characters… it’s not that they paint the engine fans red with blood… but you you it’s there…
Still not my favourite animation film, but ok for the kind of tired evening mood where some kinetic action is all you need to avoid going to bed at 7pm.

My short review after first watching it in Germany some years ago:
Subject: “Die Unglaublichen” (Bad Reichenhall, Parkkino, 06.01.05)
So, haben wir den jetzt also auch gesehen. Die beste Sequenz kommt zu beginn, wenn die Superhelden noch zu ihrer aktiven Zeit in TV-Interviews das prototypische TV-Interview-Gefasele von sich geben, das nur hartgesottene VIP-Verehrer speifrei überstehen können. Nach dieser Exposition gibt es eine Durchführung, die mich persönlich ein wenig beklommen machte, da ich immer besorgt auf die Kinder im Publikum schielte, auf die der Humor und die zuerst eher bedächtige Erzählweise so gar keine Rücksicht zu nehmen scheint. Ich habe die befürchtung, die amüsierten sich nicht recht dabei. Ich mich schon, alelrdings nicht weil es die großartigsten Schenkelklopfer gegeben hätte, sondern weil der Film sich so erfreulich viel Zeit nahm, Normalität zu simulieren. Als die Story dann mit der Rückkehr von Mr Incredible in seinen alten Job (= Superheld) an Fahrt gewinnt, gibt es kein Halten mehr: viele (gute Gags), hohes Tempo (wiederum: das Kleinkind, das die Verfolgungsjagd durch den Wald ohne Gleichgewichtsstörungen überlebt, hat, glaube ich, in seinem Leben schon viiiiel zuviel fern gesehen!) und nette Leute (meine Favoritin ist die Elastogirl-Ehefrau, die es nicht schafft, an Spiegeln vorbeizulaufen, ohne herzzerreißend seufzend auf ihren eben nicht mehr 19-jährigen Hintern herunterzublicken). Ein Macht-Spaß-Film, den man kommendes Jahr wieder vergessen haben wird, der aber in der Summe deutlich unterhaltsamer und durchdachter war als das meiste, das man sonst an US-Animation bekommt (incl. Pixars eigenem “Nemo”).
Schönes Kino übrigens mit sehr (!) gutem Programm, in dem ich den Film angeschaut habe. Wenn man mal zufällig in Bad Reichenhall ist…

Following the call for suggestions in the Chinese Cinema Digest, I first have to say that I was a little bit depressed about the state of Chinese cinema in this decade. Still some gems among those that I watched, but is there a trend towards more ambitious and professional story-telling? I really cannot see it… but then again, as you can tell from the movie selection, I am more on the Chinese mainstream side and am not aware of too many young film-makers that may change this perception.

In more or less ranked order (I hope the HK and Macao films qualify):

1) Still Life (Jia ZhangKe)

2) Blind Shaft (Li Yang)

3) In the Mood for Love (Wong KarWai)

4) Isabella (Pang Ho-Cheung)

5) The world (Jia Zhang-Ke)

6) Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles (Zhang Yimou)

7) Lust, Caution (Ang Lee)

8) 2046 (Wong Kar-Wai)

9) Infernal Affairs (Andrew Lau, Alan Mak)

10) Summer Palace (Lou Ye)

Just got this through the Chinese Cinema Digest Newsletter, looks very interesting, even though I have bot yet read myself: the publication of Tang Xiaobing‘s essay "Why Should 2009 Make a Difference? Reflections on a Chinese Blockbuster."

The paper starts with a "The Founding of the Republic" and introduces a larger question of how to regard and rethink contemporary Chinese culture. The author argues for the recognition of the Chinese cultural production as a vibrant and complex ecology that we cannot afford to reduce or ignore.  It is not just a question of knowledge or appreciation, but also has to do with different memories and visions of history, which then raises further questions about our ability or willingness to accept them as such.

Full paper can be found here:

And following the ambitious amateurs, here comes to pro: Roger Ebert, Godfather of film critique, cheated himself into a top 20 list for 2009, which has the unique feature of featuring Werner Herzog in the “Mainstream” category (the person most likely to ever anticipate that to happen would be Werner Herzog, I presume).
Same treatment as with the filmspotting list: the watched ones (new title for “Watchmen” sequel? “The Watched Ones”? Please don’t…) are highlighted. And it’s so annoying that apparently awards season is shifting so strongly towards New Year that with most of the really anticipated films I did not have a chance to watch yet, grrrr…

Top Ten Mainstream Films:
Bad Lieutenant (as all Herzog fillms: overrated by US film critics, but worth watching, and always a good laugh)
Crazy Heart (should / must / want to see!)
An Education (must see)
The Hurt Locker (yes, very good)
Inglourious Basterds (yes, very good fun, with some outstanding elements)
Knowing (puff, puff, puff…. Hyperventilation may make this pretentious thing go away)
Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire (must see)
A Serious Man (must see)
Up in the Air (must see)
The White Ribbon (excellent!)
Special Jury Prize: Avatar (must see)

The Top Ten Independent Films
Departures (on my list of must-see)
Disgrace (almost watched it two months ago… or maybe read the book first?)
Everlasting Moments (don’t know)
Goodbye Solo (I have it, yet awaits watching, as do the director’s all other films – this promises to be a feast!)
Julia (not yet, but will)
Silent Light (promise, very soon)
Sin Nombre (I always wanted, but then … not yet)
Skin (don’t know)
Trucker (what? Rubber Duck?)
You, the Living (They Live was groovy)

This is depressing… but let’s call it my official holiday to do list!

If you like movies and don’t listen to Filmspotting podcast, I cannot help you. But if you like year’s end, year’s middle and year’s sometime-in-between top-10 lists and top-5 lists, and still don’t know their podcast, bury yourself. Or better, go to the site and indulge in the last years’ lists about anything and everything related to movies. Best taboo relationship movies. Best Halloween entertainment movies. Best first date movies, etc. Now to celebrate the end of the year and the decade, here are the moderators Adam and Matty’s year’s top 10 movies, and also guest commentator Michael Phillips of Chicago newspaper and “At the Movies” fame. I marked those I watched:

1. Inglourious Basterds (good entertainment)
2. Humpday (must see)
3. An Education (must see)
4. The Hurt Locker (really gripping)
5. A Serious Man (must see, if only out of Coen habit)
6. Up in the Air (must see, if only for the man crush)
7. Summer Hours (never heard)
8. Brothers (why should I see that again?)
9. The White Ribbon (excellent – my movie of the year)
10.Where the Wild Things Are (looks good, will see soon)

Michael Phillips
1. Up (impressive – but slightly straightforward in the 2nd half)
2. Where the Wild Things Are (looks good, will see soon)
3. Waltz with Bashir (hmmm… yes, but maybe it’s only form over function)
4. Of Time and the City (so much want to see this)
5. The Hurt Locker (really gripping)
6. A Serious Man (must see, if only out of Coen habit)
7. In the Loop (really hilarious film based on a really really hilarious tv show with one of the best villains ever)
8. Sugar (what?)
9. Me and Orson Welles (not sure)
10.A Single Man (where did I hear that before?)

1. Inglourious Basterds (good entertainment)
2. An Education (must see)
3. The Hurt Locker (really gripping)
4. A Serious Man (must see, if only out of Coen habit)
5. Brothers (why should I see that again?)
6. Sugar (what? another mention? need to research…)
7. Treeless Mountain (never heard…)
8. Up in the Air (must see, if only for the man crush)
9. O’Horten (lovely, and gets the shrewd Scandinavian bonus prize)
10.Summer Hours (never heard)

At DAR Constitution Hall, Robin Williams gives his first solo special in seven years. He covers – in the words of the producers – “such topics global warming, sex and politics, the state of health care in the country (suggesting a cash for clunkers program for elderly relatives, among other things), drugs – recreational and otherwise – and more personal topics, including his recent heart surgery” – and that heart surgery thing actually is when, after about one hour, he really wins his audience back, they are rolling on the floor with laughter, waiting for their own coronaries to burst. Who will win the post-surgery battle of Viagra falls: heart or dick?
Williams has good moments such as the LSD visions in a football stadium, and some straightforward equal offender jokes covering fairly all breeds, nationalities, races and origins. There are some moments of brilliance and hilariousness. It is never boring, it is well-timed, apart from the energy that is not the same as twenty years ago he really seems to be on old form. Nice to see the unchallenged champion of stand-up comedy on his home turf, and to see that he can still do it.
And a very nice Walter Cromkite joke hommage at the end – need to remember that for future use…

Part 1: Underworld (Len Wiseman 2003)

A story of Vampires and Lycans (werewolf-like creatures), the war between which reaches the life of Michael, who then kind of transforms into a merged converged superthingy, because several hunts and fights later, usually won by a pretty woman in black tight leather pants, he ends up bitten by the wolf and the vampire, being the supposedly only hybrid creature around. Unfortunately on the way, they have built up antipathies not only by Lycans and Vampires (by killing one of their elder statesmen), but also of some strange government institution that is apparently hunting down that kind of creatures.

Part 2: Underworld Evolution (Len Wiseman 2006)
The two pretty ones are on the run together, and they are now being followed by the new elder in the order of things, Marcus. And those government guys. And then they go to see yet another vampire that has werewolf guardians and …
Stopped watching after half of it, abandoned the project, it is really a stunningly boring waste of time.

We follow the Investigation of the murder of an immigrant family in New Orleans by Lieutenant McDonagh. He steals dope, threatens suspects, harasses girls and is altogether not a very nice guy.
It needs to be said: the Werner Herzog as grand auteur phenomenon is as inexplicable as the reputation of the Germans for continuously eating pork knuckles. Both has been witnessed, but both is far from granted in any given moment. Especially after his documentary-driven US renaissance, Herzog has become a creator of extremely self-confident movie burlesques. Those are sometimes professionally done, sometimes just with the wide-eyed naivete of a film student who is allowed to take his camera on the first trip to New Orleans. In the midst of a sometimes straightforward cop thriller, you find here surreal scenes involving alligators and lizards, break-dancing spirits of gangsters just shot, and a Nicholas Cage whose over-the-top performance would in other contexts have cause reprimands by the director, while here I am sure it only caused wide eyes and a fascinated “I think that was a very good performance, you are crazy” exclamation with a Bavarian accent. Is this a new congenial symbiosis like the Werner Herzog – Klaus Kinski axis of yonder times? Absolutely not, because Cage, with all due respect, does not have the seriousness a Kinski had – Cage is acting crazy, and is not too good at it. Especially when breaking into hysterical laughs towards the end of the movie, it is slightly embarrassing to watch him let loose. A more serious and controlled director would been able to put of control fences and guide the actor towards a hysterical and rotten and impressive and mad and aggressive performance. But then again, that director was Abel Ferrara and the actor to pull it off at the time was Harvey Keitel. Different league.
It may be the best career performance of Val Kilmer, because he has nothing to do but stand around – almost flawless.

Saw VI provides a critical glance at US Health Policy and the the impact it has on the tormented individual, with a well-balanced glance at patients’ and corporate interests… er, no: it takes the oldest and cheapest from of injustice US script writers can come up with (the treatment unfairly withheld because of the greedy health insurance company) and uses it to show some more ways of playing people to pieces. Or to show what supposedly happens to a human body if you pump some litres of Hydrofluoracid or something inside. And the only balance is shown right at the beginning, when a Lear-like competition is encouraged to fill more punds of one’s own flesh onto the scales of fate.
I am not perfectly sure why I keep watching the franchise, maybe because the films are never longer than 90 minutes, which is just fine for an in-between snack of irrelevance. I do not even understand them, because there are so many cross-references to previous installments that I feel as lost as halfway through Goodfellas. Good thing is that they can draw on so many previous films that most of the film consists of montages taken from old films, so that at some point I will surely have seen scenes from Saw 1-5 so often that I know what they are about at last.

She had great hopes: Christine is working her way up in a bank, and that sometimes, she thinks, involves tough choices. So she rejects a loan extension for an old gypsy woman, causing humiliation. She gets cursed for it, quite literally, and has to fight with bad dreams and strange events from then on. A paranormality expert explains what happened: she has only a few days before she will be dragged to hell by some evil creature, and she has only very few options open.

It is a very straightforward, well-directed and –designed horror flic we’ve got us here. Sam Raimi knows what he is doing, he is on home turf when he makes the normal world more and more fragile, allowing dark things to happen and hope to disappear. Humans reacting to non-human events – that is at the heart of all horror tales, and that is what Raimi shows us here. Solidly entertaining for the fans of the genre, way above the average horror merchandise of the decade. And I always appreciate a nice happy ending … 😉 and a nice review at The Best Picture Project:


Infernal Affairs: Watched it about three years too late, but what is ever too late…: the same story as below-mentioned Departed, but imagined six years earlier by what played then as HongKong’s finest: Leung, Lau and the rest of the impressive cast. The antagonists are intense, the setting is cool, the suits and tieless shirts super-cool, and now would be the time to go to HongKong’s Peak and watch look down looking very Leung’ish. Quite limited, rather … stark in its direction, but effective nonetheless.

And upon watching The Departed again right afterwards, I really have to stress how much genius there is in Scorsese: the direction is richer, fuller, more arabesque, but in a nice and savory way. Of course the setting demands that, and even more than upon watching it for the first time, I see the achivement here. Very good Alec Baldwin, de Caprio, Matt Damon acting.

The Departed: A lot of expectations, and too much chattering about whether or not the film would enable its director some oddly belated lifetime achievement Oscar. The story is well-organised, given the usual danger in mobster films of having too many characters plotting at the same time against too many government depaartmens, police squads, other gangsters and whomever. It was easy to follow, and the characters were established in a sufficiently pleasant and oversketched way so that their motivations were never obscure. I like that, I have to say. I keep being overwhelmed by plot or character complexities, getting angry at scriptwriters who try to prove that they can keep it all together, that they can add a couple of smaller and bigger issues, bring in more fistfuls of support characters with their own problems and still finish the film within 125 minutes. So: the film is sufficiently simple to be good. The actors are quite interesting, too. Casting De Caprio in this role of Billy Costigan was rather apparent, but Matt Damon was a bit of a dangerous choice. Too slick, to much off-the-shelf Kevin Bacon material, a bit too boring in appearance, I think. It works, though. He must be the straight police goodie to make his evilness work (or is evil? Maybe he is just on the same level of outright commercialness that we all are, just in another environment). I admit that I do not know where the hype about mark Wahlberg’s performance comes from, as – without trying to discredit it – it’s a comic relief part he is playing there, and overdoing big style is not what you should get an Oscar for. Or may it is, see Rain Man. Overcraziness is a good part of this film, and it’s a good opportunity to mention Jack Nicholson and his pleasant madness that I find much more decent than in, say, About Schmidt’s slapstick moments (this is in direct opposition to what Dargis writes in the NYT, if anyone cares:

While there are a couple of issues I have with the film that I did not find too pleasing (more comprehensively analysed by the press reviewers, but let’s mention the apparently desperate effort to get a woman into that film, and the failure of the script writers in doing so), all in all I stick to what you are supposed to say it: Scorsese not 100 per cent up to form, but as close as he got in 20 years. I do not expect anything drastically independent and artistic in style of him anymore. I think you lose that once you get chewed up by the film establishment. But as long as now and again he comes up with things like “Departed”‘s final minutes, or some “Bringing out the Dead” darkness, or some “Casino” title sequences, I will keep loving him and thanking the world of film for making the world a better place.

Here’s the overview over the most important reviews:, and special reference maybe to the one by

A small bunch (platoon? Ah, group, anyway) of US military is parachuting into Nazi-occupied France in order to kill and scalp as many Nazis as possible and spread fear among the remaining ones. A German soldier falls in love with a French cinema-owner and seeks to convince her of his human nature. A surviving member of a massacred Jewish family lives under a new name and waits for any chance to take revenge. A dealer-and-wheeler Nazi Jew Hunter bathes in the glory of his reputation and interprets his job as a burlesque of vanity.

As usual, Tarantino plot lines are not easy to describe. Does not matter, though, because in Inglorious Basterds, it never gets overtly complicated. The strands of narration start off neatly separated, touch occasionally and converge sometimes. Some characters are disappointingly taking out off the equation too soon (Michael Fassbender’s cutely over-Englishified Lieutenant Hicox, in particular, how sad he had to leave so early) or spend a very short time in the movie after receiveing a grand-style introduction – all the “Basterds”, actually – the film could as well be called “Operation Kino”, as much more time is spent on that plot line. The film projectionists are much more busy than the Brad Pitt killing squad in this film.
Almost no need to repeat the praise for Christph Waltz’s interpretation of the mean and genius Hans Lander, it is the kind of villain that receives audience applause and award recognition. It is the kind of dialogue to learn by heart and use to annoy your friends over dinner with for the next ten years. But most of the other cast also performs very well, excluding maybe the slightly annoying Diane Krueger as German film star Ms von Hammersmark – each time she started talking I could feel her wishing for a tele-prompter, or actually looking at one. Daniel Bruehl is pleasantly well-mindedly slimy, and all the Nazi staff is doing surprisingly well (honourable mention to Ulrich Muehe, one of the greatest living German actors, anyway, quite some Hitler you got us here!).

The intensity and fun of the first half is not permanently maintained through the second. Once it became clear that many lines would converge towards the end, and how that would be, the individual stories lost a bit of their touch.
Throroughly entertaining, though, and definitely worth a second viewing.

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