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Monthly Archives: September 2010

Inspired by Dan’s enthusiastic review at Top10films, I did not hestitate and gave my last open Spielberg slot a try. Yes, I even had seen that one with the guy claiming to be a pilot – and got almost killed with boredom… I think before watching The Terminal my mind was firmly set on the concept: Spielberg as a director of light-spirited adventure and action (from Indiana Jones to A.I., Jurassic Park to Close Encounters…): first choice, creating immortal cinema moments. Spielberg as director of thoughtful reflections on humanity and its darker sides (Schindler, Munich, Colour Purple): well-intended at best (Schindler / Munich), clumsy and embarassing at worst (that slavery film… what was it called? Amistad! Or Empire of the Sun… Always!!!). Spielber as a director of light-hearted comedy: nope, not my piece of cake at all. So: that pilot film, Miracle on something Street (did he direct that or only produce? Writing offline, so cannot check now), and The Terminal… this is terribly medicore entertainment to me. I am not a fan of comedies in the first place, I admit, so any comedy that comes my way has to fight against my preconception that I would rather watch some horrorthrilleractiondrama than be asked to laugh about people I dislike. Over the last three years I saw maybe 3 or 4 films that I would call good comedies, that I really never regretted having seen.
The Terminal is not among them. Tom Hanks’ incommunicado situation at the outset does not work for me, I find that rather embarassing and hard to watch, the impossibility to get your opinion across, the inability to behave like the person you actually are… that is hard to watch, I find, and does not tickle my funny bone at all – rather makes me angry why this cliché needs to be taken on again. The romances … weak, not played to their potential (even thoug Zoe Saldana… always worth putting in front of a camera). The one element that kind of worked for me (but that I found to be underutilised) was the airport security team and their boss, who is losing control over his usually tight operation. Stanley Tucci plays it straight and tough, and is funny at what he does. There is also one scene that I found almost hilarious, when Navorski sets up a fake “Canteloni” restaurant in the airport to impress the slightly annoying and boringly written Amelia Warren character (Zeta-Jones). Zeta-Jones surprisingly does not get involved in poor acting, for once, but decently fils a slot that is written in a strangely non-funny way for a comedy.
Maybe someone is more inclined to watch comedies will like this film – it wasn’t for me. I’d rather wait for the next… dammit, now I cannot remember what the last good comedy was that I watched…

The Terminal 2004 – IMDb.

Jackal

Those Filmspotting guys… through their marathons they keep pointing my nose to all those things that I never properly watched. Now through the Hitman Top 5 list they got me onto this one. Have I seen it? Maybe some night on tv in a dubbed version, maybe half an hour from the end, but from opening to end credits? Never. And a great film it is. Slightly off because of its pacing. Not necessarily the editing or the chases, but rather the flow of information in the film. The pre-handheld and pre-electronic communications time allowed you to kill a crook, travel in your car for hundreds of miles, cross a border, check into a hotel, leave the hotel, kill a girl, repaint a car… it is crazy how many things you can do and the police knows exactly what you do last, but they just won’t catch up!
The assassin is not necessarily very cool, he is not Le Samourai, but he is just very ruthless in what he is doing, and seems to have a very British way of being completely emotion-free.
Nice how the chase for the killer and the killer’s preparations are intercut, and how the focus sometimes shifts, so that we for instance seem to lose a little track of our killer towards the end. And then he comes back… and the showdown may be the only scene where I wished they had used some more modern approach, that was a bit quick for my taste… but otherwise a perfect thriller, with some nostalgic moments for us elderly to shed a tear about (drive to a bar to make a phone call from the public phone there… buy Old Spice aftershave to make better use of the nice bottles… have coffee in the lounge after dinner).

The Day of the Jackal 1973 – IMDb.

PrinceI don’t know what it means that some critics (Dr. K, in particular) stress the comparison with the “Pirates” films (if that is not a big word for the latter), but I completely agree that “Prince of Persia” is the better, the more entertaining, more cinematic, better written, better acted and better edited movie. And Jake Gyllenhaal is some pretty-boy, all right – and one who does not look like a strip of wallpaper, but like a real guy, too.

The film does not make the mistake of trying to emancipate from its game legacy, but rather takes on the motives of “step only in my footsteps or the walls will come down” and “replay the last scene so you can catch all the snakes before they bite us”. In the logic of the plot, that works well. And Alfred Molina is in it, what can go wrong? I honestly believe he never ever failed to make me a little bit happy even in most mediocre cinematic ware.

Prince of Persia is mediocre but quite entertaining, just nice for a rainy Sunday afternoon.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time 2010 – IMDb.

I expected something completely different, along the lines of some Russian Nightwatching nonsense, ghosts, monsters, the odd angel and explosions. What I found was an observation on the social tensions in the everyday work life of a Budapest subway ticket control squad. Well, and about bears without tickets, pimps and their girl currency, guys pushing people in front of subway trains, kids spraying and running away from the control teams as a sport. And some other things (e.g. the curious question of whether our story’s hero and the pusher might be one and the same person). A fascinating study of the creepy parallel society that occupies the underground world, with that nice Eastern/South-Eastern European atmosphere to it. The director still has a name that somehow reminds me of Lovecraft stories (Nimrod… wasn’t that some ghoul?).

Control (2003) – IMDb.

SithI saw that one when it hit the screens some years ago, and seem to remember … very little apart from some lava-dominated finale. Watching it again now reminded me of many scenes of incredibly dumb and plump dialogues and direction. Most strikingly when Jedi Windu got engaged in his final battle – I had to skip back and watch it again because I could not believe how terribly amateurish that scene was “mis en scene” – wrong timing, wrong moves, everything wrong. Also the CGI is far from cutting edge – I could not help but laugh at the dragon-lizard thing Kenobi kept riding, it looked like a very sophisticated paint-over job from the 1960s, slightly more dynamic, but with equally little connection to the texture of the environment is was supposed to move in. Or the poor animation of Yoda’s movements… crazily low standard!

Then I wondered what it was that attracted people to watch it, and the only result I came up with was “landscaping” – the backdrops are beautiful and impressive, there are large canvasses you can spend a long time investigating for details, if you are inclined to do so. But then you get dragged out of any kind of fascination by the world’s most moronic pieces of dialogue delivered by poor (Anakin Skywalker) or misguided (Obiwan, Windu) actors.
It remains an unanswerable question what would have happened had the idea-spinner Lucas handed over the artisitic interpretation and execution of the story to somebody with the necessary skills. As it is, Star Wars is probably the Great Unfilfilled Promise among Science Fiction movies.

Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith 2005 – IMDb.

I had only seen Avatar in the 2D Home cinema version (albeit HD), so I was pleasantly surprised that it made a final appearance at a 3D cinema near me – not the extended version, I think, but just the final run of the original film.

When I watched for the first time, I had to do in two sessions – not because it was too boring, but in retrospect I kept wondering whether it would have been had I watched it in one go. Mr Cameron is susceptible to unnecessary length. In Titanic, the first 90 minutes were more or less irrelevant once the boat started leaking – in Avatar it is less easy to depict: yes, the first bulldozing of some white tentacle tree could be cut out without doing any harm, but it would still be a very long film. I think I cannot really come up with suggestions on how to tighten the plot, which means that maybe my sometimes slightly bored reaction is not due to the script not being tight but the plot just not being very interesting.

It is now public property to make jokes of the Dancing with Smurfahontas plot line and the overall emptiness of the drama. It’s kind of true, nothing unexpected happens beyond what you think will happen after all the characters have been introduced, so that the film frequently falls back on its optical values.

And here, of course, it scores: There are breathtaking landscape designs, steel cold interiors that have nice depth effect when shown in 3D. There are nice creatures and critters (my favourite is the odd parachute-chamaeleon that seems to strangulate itself when jumping up and extending its rotating chute), good mass scenes with  ecstatically dancing “blue monkeys” (the females of which always somehow manage  to hide their nipples behind a little woodwork bikini).

The villains are nice, and the sidekicks either sexy (Zoe something) or surprisingly successful (Max the Scientist has not played in many movies, but having Avatar and Inception on your CV ain’t so bad…).

An overall entertaining experience, with frequently recurring periods of bum-ache. In an r-rated version, I would have loved to hear the swearing that very obviously would have suited Colonel Quaritch (Stephen Lang) better than his half-domesticated bad-assing.

Avatar (2009).

Best Picture Project

Rotten Tomatoes

I like Angelina Jolie, I like Liev Schreiber (don’t even know why, I cannot remember having seen any of the films listed on IMDB), I like “24” and sometimes even Russian spy movies. What I do not like is car chases, stupid plot developments and the suggestion that breaking into the White House is just a piece of cake. Come on, why did they not just hit the secret service guy at the door on the nose  while walking and shooting? Now it’s about 10 hours since I watched it, and I already cannot remember how the film ended. Was there a sunset into which she walked? oh no, it was the threat of a franchise that I am quite sure will never happen. box office and public opinion is too much against this, and rightly so. But it gave me the idea of actually casting Jolie for a forthcoming sequel to the 24 show, maybe “26 and a half”? could not be any more embarassingly stupid than this.

Salt 2010.

I remember that I very much liked the first film of Stieg Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy, Män som hatar kvinnor / The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and that was  in particular because of the very… how to say… Swedish atmosphere, snow crunching under boots, all a bit slow and reflective, slightly depressed and hostile atmosphere, but not in a Kaurismaeki kind of way, the characters actually can be imagined to not die of depression.

At the time of watching, I knew very little about the books, and only afterwards learned that quite a bit of back story of the female lead character Lisbeth was moved from the second book into the first film, to better indicate how deep an abyss we are dealing with here. Even though, I found it a bit odd that ocassionally the focus was so much on her, while in terms of storyline she really did not have a particularly big part. I liked the journalist on his hunt for a family mystery, and I liked the weird setting on a remote island.

Now in the second part the focus is a bit more on Lisbeth, the setting is less strange, and the plot a bit less interesting to the point that I had to read it up at IMDB – while the first film’s plot is still firmly stuck in my brain. I think the second film’s story is just not as good – or at least not as well written as the first one.  The actors are all very fine, and I repeat my notion that it is a sheer idiocy to refilm the whole thing in an American setting. But the movie experience is disappearing in a big blur of violence and lesbian affection (I remember that).

Maybe it’s worth re-visiting the film once the third part is out and doing a big triple play, but for now it feels as if The Girl Who Played with Fire is somehow stuck as a transition between different stories that have been and will be told.

via The Girl Who Played with Fire (2009).

A film about a family that keeps their children (teenagers, almost twens, actually) in complete ignorance about the outside world, locks them into their house and garden and tells them the outside world is plagued by man-eating cats? Just my kind of movie! Of course bringing in the outside to provide a pressure valve for the boy’s sexual steampot sets off all the audience’s alarms about not being a good idea. However well designed, all order eventually slips into chaos, and the chaos in this film is violent and existential. It seems the author wants to stress that the violence is coming from inside, and the need to interact with the outside world, to  socialise and compromise is what keeps us from being barabrious, barbie-doll-torturing monsters – which is an interesting counter-position to the often-repeated notion that violence would be a product of environment. So this little nasty Greek movie manages by way of absurd theatre (could have been von Trier) to get across some ideas in an original and (if your taste is a little bit off, as mine is) entertaining fashion. Well done, one of the most interesting films I have seen this year.

Dogtooth 2009.

I have no idea why I never saw this one before, as it has the best of European cinema on offer: director Michael Haneke, Daniel Auteuil, mystery plot, relationship drama… here we go, what an excellent picture. The only flaw is not the film’s problem, but rather the viewer’s or maybe the distributor’s: I realised that I caught myself several times expecting more of a mystery thriller, wondering whether the crime element would come on top more at a later stage.

Thing is: it is a stalled mystery, with nothing really happening, but a constant atmosphere of peril. You can, as Roger Ebert does in his review (here and here), analyse the various  shots in detail and have a good time trying to solve the riddle, only that it will leave you back slightly frustrated. There may be relatively clear clues (especially in the final shot), but only to the effect that “something’s off”, without providing the information that  would help you solve it. That’s the way I like it. Or would “Inception” have been more interesting if the top at the hand had toppled or stayed up forever? Nope!

(And yes, I was desperately looking for familiar faces and context in the final shot, and could not find them, I had to re-watch it to see the characters that I was supposed to be seeing, but that were hidden in plain sight.)

IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0387898/

Ok, I now watched it twice, and I read the huge plot synopsis at IMDB http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1375666/synopsis (thanks, nerds, that really helped! But who has the time to do that kind of thing…???)

Strangely enough, my impression now is that watching it for the first time with an open mind and a rather high level of alertness is sufficient, because second viewing makes you cramp up and look for details. While this film is stuffed to the brim with details, it is much more enjoyable when being seen as a big ocean of pictures and ideas – breaking it down to the molecule level would just not be the same thing. Looking at those details only reveals some plot holes or at least unsatisfactory arbitrainess in some elements. And it’s damned tiring to watch a two-and-a-half hour movie like you watch a bug under a magnifiying glass…

The highlights of the film for me:

Thomas Hardy!

The soundtrack, especially behind the falling scenes of the van off the bridge and in limbo, some strange sound backdrop as if there is a slow and powerful movement in the fabric of reality and of the dreams, stressing its material to the limit and threatening to burst.

Leonardo diCaprio, slowly but surely looking like a proper male human being

Limbo’s cold design, now crumbling after probably centuries of neglect, looking like a mixture of real-world early Brasilia, the nightmare cities of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, Caprica before the invasion, A.I.’s future landscapes  and Potsdam Square in Berlin… grissly.

Some hell of a high-definition slow-motion camera that got installed in the van falling off a bridge in a heck of a rain scene

The rain makers of the movie have earned their money. I have never seen such beautiful rain, honestly!

Does that make a brilliant movie? A bit hard to say, but there were very few films in the last years that I wanted to see several times (and I think I am not done with this one yet after two times), so that may be an indication of being terribly interesting and fabulously beautiful in some scenes. There are also quite a few scenes that I could have done without: there are just two many minutes of people shooting at each other or chasing each other while shooting at each other. That brings the film slightly off-blance to me. Had Nolan dared to be a bit more Cronenberg-eXistenZ and less James Bond, this could have been a wicked arthouse masterpiece of Brazil qualities. As it is, it is a wildly original and mostly excellent-constructed blockbuster.

http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20100714/REVIEWS/100719997

http://www.filmspotting.net/reviews/2010-shows/564-fs-308-inception-the-apartment-top-5-dream-sequences.html

Inception 2010.

The documentary show bits from various stages of the “This is It” farewell shows Michael Jackson was rehearsing for when dying in 2009. Added are some clips from the video clip material shot for the show, such as a new video for the “Thriller” performance.
Firstly, it needs to be said that there is no coherence in the material. Apparently, it was not planned to prepare a substantial “making of”, so there is very little interesting backstage material, there is little emotion or human interaction. The most interesting bit about the film is the way Kenny Ortega (who, I guess, has had many years’ experience with Jackson) carefully tread the minefield of interaction with the “King of Pop”. Careful suggestions, wrapped in simple sentences, like a jester at the court. You would hear the same form of communication at the court of the Emperor Nero, I guess, where all bearers of unpleasant news, and everybody showing his head at the wrong time or happens to have the misfortune of existing while the dictator is in the wrong mood, will be thrown into the lions’ den without hesitation. You cannot see any of this behaviour from Jackson on screen, but it is reflected on how the staff hired for this adventure behaves around him. It is clear that the great economic (and probably also artistic) opportunity that these London shows present to everybody involved could be shattered at the slightest whim of the man in charge.
That man has a hard time expressing what he feels (“it is like a big fist jamming down my ears” – “do you mean we should turn down the volume?” – “yes, turn it down”) and altogether oozes a weird mixture of utter fragility, sickness and stunningly casual control over the moves required by the choreography. Not by any means the monumental artist he was built up to be and maybe was, rather a broken and crazy ex-star who still goes through the motions of the past, because nobody has told him that the world has moved on (see “Sunset Boulevard”…).

This Is It (2009).

the story is about Ebenezer Scrooge who … now come on, it’s the Christmas Carol! Which has been produced “Zemeckis style” one could say, in the technology already uesed for Polar Express, with scenes being filmed and then overlayed with computer-animated 3D rendered graphics, motion-capture technology, I guess they call it. The look is better than it was in Polar Express (for which I did not care at all, to the point that I never even wanted to see it), it is soft and lively, Scrooge’s features are worn out and his cheeks red and old… a very vivd imagery. What’s always decisive about “Scrooge” movies are the ghosts, and these are quite good, too: Christmas Past being a bit of a nondescript candle light, but Christmas Present having good stature and a massive red Barbarossa beard. Christmas Yet To Come is the regular Father Death creature, maybe not played to full grisly effect because of the child audiences the film is targeting. The atmosphere created around Scrooge’s increasing desperation is impressive: dark scenes, sad funeral parlors, creepy graveyards, tear-jerking sitting rooms where Tiny Tim is missing and his crutch is the constant reminder of the missing piece of flesh in this family’s life.
And Jim Carey, as so often, is brilliant in giving life to all these characters. Witty, goofy, terrified, old and mourning, young and refreshed, all in very short order and sometimes at the same time. It is a joyful watch because of this, not anywhere near my favourite Scrooge film (which, of course, is “Scrooged”)

A Christmas Carol (2009).

Of course Cameron Diaz looks gorgeous – and boy! can she wear a bikini…  and of course Tom Cruise is kind of cute and has the necessary stamina to give the action hero and immortal super agent. And Peter Sarsgaard has established himself sufficiently to be the wicked arm of evil to convince nobody that he has anything good in mind, but could start shooting any second. It is all in place, but… the film tries to replicate a James Bond pattern that Bond’s makers have abandoned a while ago: the immortal superhero with humour. Because: we have seen it too often and you need to have very good new ideas to pull it off. “Knight and Day” has few of those. There is the hero with a heart (oh how he treats his parents, isn’t it adorable?), and the car chases (which I don’t like.. cheap way to get rid of screen time), and plane crash and exotic sceneries and scenic European town centres including fighting bulls. And American intelligence agency or something. And evil arms dealer. And many cars sponsored by Mercedes to finally get those Smart cars off the shelves. It looks too designed, and it is. Which does not mean that I did not have a laugh or two, especially around Cameron Diaz’ truth serum escapades and her libido fits.
But now that I have seen it 48 hours ago, I am already having a hard time remembering many details – it is fair to assume that in one more week, that film will have disappeared from my memory without leaving a trace.

Knight and Day (2010).

Ah well, gave it another shot, upon a friend’s request, I spent some more hours with Woody Allen’s late works, and while it was not as insulting and infantile as “Vicky Braindead Barcelona”, it was still not much more than a slightly embarassing glance back into Allen’s career. Now he does not play himself anymore, but asks other like-minded mysogynists to do so (Larry David), and it looks a bit like a parody on what Woody Allen films used to look like. A perfectly annoying mother of a girl whose motivation is obscure top the bill of oddities, but also Larry David strolling around in his morning coat and reproducing wooden dialogue that clearly Woody Allen would have loved to perform himself thirty years ago do not make a good film. If anything, they make me want to go back to the three or four masterpieces that I find in his career.

Whatever Works (2009).

The film stuns through its optical rather than its narrative values. Very high contrast, with an almost black and white feel to it, you feel to be in the midst of a severely burned world that is cold and hostile despite its strong sun. Unsurprisingly it reminds of “The Road”, but choses to go for a more heroic approach, with a sword-toating Denzel Washington and plenty of Mad Max road warriors in rags. Count Dracula (Gary Oldman, I mean – but these days he looks as old as his make up made him appear in Dracula…)is bit of a clichee, and the female lead at the end wants so much to look like Sarah Connor that it is almost confusing whether she will next have a baby with Arnold Schwarzenegger or go and kill the bad guys. There is a strange lack of story, as somebody walks West and when he arrives there, he has arrived and that is the end of the story… the King James Bible is not much more than a McGuffin, I think the notion that the fate of the world will somehow be changed if only people were able to read the old testament again is a bit … let’s say it did not really convince me. The very end at least has a surprising little twist, including a nice if ridiculously-haired cameo by Malcolm McDowell.

The Book of Eli (2010).

ok, I give them that they are trying to take a new perspective on the old story, the origin of Robin Longstocking… no, sorry, Longstride and how he became the outlaw to live in the bushes with his merry men wearing green stockings. Well taken, and some nice Private-Ryan-like Normandie invasions, only on the other side of the Channel this time, and with ridiculous sets of ships. But hardly ever was a film so lacking originality in its approach. I will remember a melange of Gladiator, Prince of Thieves and of Braveheart in particular, and in five years my guess is noone will be able to say for sure anymore which scene was from which movie when stories are being told about the good old movies involving archery. Not even the villains were colourful and splendid, even though I have to admit that just neglecting the Sheriff of  Nottingham because it is clear nobody will ever stand up against Alan Rickman’s interpretation was a wise move. Godfrey as cunning double-agent who is negelected his chance for a noce final scene or battle but just gets shot cowardly from the back? Some non-descript Prince / King John whose face I kept forgetting during the film so I had to keep asking who that bloke on the horse was who kept shouting at other people? why all of a sudden he declarde Robin an outlaw was lost on me. And scandalously not a glimpse of Sean Connery!

Robin Hood 2010.

oh dear, so much looking forward to Scorsese’s new adventure… this could shame the Godfather …

Boardwalk Empire: An Interview with Martin Scorsese and Others – The Daily Beast.

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