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Monthly Archives: January 2010

The result of the Dgenerate poll on the best Chinese films of the decade is out. An excellent list to catch up on I frankly admit, some of the films I never heard of, and more I have not yet seen. But I am working on it now. The interesting thing to me: the expected "winner", but apart from that very few Hong Kong movies on the list:

1. In the Mood for Love, Wong Kar-wai (of course, brilliant)

2. Tie Xi Qu: West of the Tracks, Wang Bing (ahem… I got the DVD now)

3.  Platform, Jia Zhangke (I cannot remember, to be honest, whether I saw that)

4. Yi Yi, Edward Yang(must have missed it)

5. Still Life, Jia Zhangke (yes, one of my favourites)

6. Devils on the Doorstep, Jiang Wen (I think I saw that, but cannot remember at all)

7. Oxhide, Liu Jiayin (never heard of it)

(tie) Summer Palace, Lou Ye (I have the DVD, but…)

(tie) The World, Jia Zhangke (yes!)

10. Blind Shaft, Li Yang (yes, yes!)

(tie) Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Ang Lee (funny choice, I never even thought if that)

Full article and list:

Hilarious! But what is the film with the policeman sacrificed by the villagers??

Ryan Bingham travels around the country (and a bit of the world) to sack people. He is a mercenary of the economic downturn, his company is eating off the flesh of corporate carcasses. He himself is quite pleasant at it, he has the skill to express sympathy and show the bright light on the horizon. His passion is travelling, is being on the move, feeling like a shark that is in danger of dying as soon as he stops. The change comes with two women he meets: the new kid in the office who seeks to get rid of all the travelling expenses by introducing a remote sacking software – and a mature woman of style with whom he can swap frequent-flyer stories and body fluids.

At last a film that only and exclusively serves as a vehicle for George Clooney’s essence: charm and handsomeness. It is a clever understanding of what charm is really about to set these features loose in a job to serve as a hired hand systematically sacking employees of companies that “are too much of a pussy to do it themselves”. Charm is not, this states, about seducing a woman who wants to sleep with you anyway, but about creating an atmosphere of comfort where all facts point to despair.
The film is far from perfect: some elements get forgotten over time, such as (thankfully) the annoying teenage assistant that starts traveling with him to learn and improve the system. The philosopher’s side of his lifestyle also gets a lot of attention at the beginning, and gets picked up occasionally, but it is never really elaborated why it is that we are supposed to respect what he is doing instead of just shrugging it off as something some people do, others don’t. Why would we care that he states he wants to live alone and flexible? That’s only relevant insofar as it concerns us, and it only concerns us when he needs to discuss the virtues of partnership and marriage in a scene where he suddenly needs to play the devil’s advocate, trying to talk his potential brother-in-law into a marriage, while standing as a role-model for marriage being superfluous. More of that quality would have been nice.
With its generally light touch and pleasant humour, the film is nice enough to never drop us from too great a height into the less pleasant moments, and even the almost final turning point is cushioned and prepared in a way that we do not feel to shocked when we realise what is happening. I would have appreciated a more cruel approach, especially as the life Ryan Bingham leads is one that is built on absence of empathy, but the mere simulation of it. But then again, now it’s a family-friendly warm-hearted film, almost a rom-com with a little bit of an edge.
And that guy looks so gorgeous! (nice cameo by the narrator from “Big Lebowski”, by the way, good to see you again)

The Earth is the aim of a small ferocious creature that has been designed by a mad scientist on a faraway planet. Escaping from captivity was easy for the ugly thing, but now the scientist and half the planet’s star fleet is chasing the little guy to bring it back. But on Hawaii, where it lands on his escape flight, there is little Lilo with her sister, and they happen to look for a pet anyway on their mission to show what a well-functioning family they are. Stitch – as Lilo calls the little monster – wreaks havoc, of course, but also learns to control its inner demons, so to speak.

There are some absolutely hilarious ideas in this: my favourite one is the fact that the Earth – useless as it is – is only protected from destruction by the fact that is has been established as a breeding station for the endangered Mosquitoes… and when the alien scientists visit, they go at great lengths not to interact with the local population of strange animals, such as humans (as they are the most important element in the Mosquito food chain and you don’t want to mess that up).
All the creatures are hilarious, the humour is rough, there is the physical fun of a Tom & Jerry cartoon, and the dress-up humour of a Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau film. The setting on Hawaii is new and at least to the like of me exotic (it’s a strange idea that people actually live their living normal lives… how can you not fall into a permanent state of holiday mood? Or maybe you just have to embrace the holiday mood…). But first and foremost, the characters are all that: characters. The sisters love and hate each other as sisters do, the old sister is overwhelmed with her task as sister-mother, at the same time on the quest for boys and jobs. The special agent ex-CIA ex-Area-51 who is assessing whether Lilo should come into foster care is a rough piece of wood with a warm heart, the scientists from outer space are dumb madmen of Stooge quality.
Rarely have I seen a film that was so surreal in setting and yet so real in storytelling and emotions. The heart-breaking and heart-warming ending proves that it does not matter whether you are a monster from outer space – if you can fight the inner monster, all be well … 😉

Jenny is supposed to take a proper education at a British boarding school, carry on to read English at Oxford, and finally become a decent member of the establishment. She likes Piaf and Sartre, and chooses smoking French cigarettes over studying Latin any time. David, the handsome older guy with the fancy car and the generous savoir-vivre lifestyle, naturally appeals to her. She follows his “school of life” approach, doubting the benefit of boring stuff leading to more boring stuff.
This is the category “mainstream art house” that I usually do not like too much: happiness, followed by sorrow and despair, followed by relief and a bit of sadness. What distinguishes “An education” from less interesting films like “Les Choristes” of the same category are primarily the actors, namely Alfred Molina as Jenny’s grumpy but well-intentioned father, Peter Sarsgaard as the exciting David who shakes Jenny’s life, and finally Jenny herself, played by Carey Mulligan who looks the French femme fatal that she so strongly desires to be, paired with Lolita and all other dangerous things. (Rosamund Pike as teacher Helen is actually also quite good, but seems too pretty for the role, and looks a bit as if in a carnival mask when trying to look the grey and unsexy teacher). Director Lone Scherfig (of “Italian for Beginners” fame, at least that’s what I associate with her: showing that Dogma films can look great and be fun). The story itself crouches along the lines that you would expect, only with a bit of odd pacing, as the script gives ample time at the exposition, but when the drama ensues, suddenly the film is over (I understand this kind of film relies a lot on what the theatres can accommodate, but really: allow five minutes more and the film has a proper resolution).
I am not sure why the film is a serious Oscar contender, but no doubt it is a substantial drama about temptation and convention, about conservatism and rebellion – and as such it almost works out. I am not sure whether the final scene (the final real scene, there are some more quite unnecessary minutes after that) should be called strong and consequent, or just again fulfilling expectations (maybe because I just don’t know whether everybody would have the same expectation at this point). An engine starts, a car departs, and the film leaves you wondering whether a catastrophe just happened, or whether all is fine now. That ambiguity is at least something.

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