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Monthly Archives: December 2010

Very unpleasant, but not very original, and yet the series used to be quite some fun … the seventh and as it seems final installation seems more like special Olympics for torture victims or an elaborate computer game (is there a Saw game? There must be… all these opportunities to count down 30 seconds followed by the disintegration of some vital body part). I might also be getting old, but it is kind of hard to watch steel rods slowly getting closer to eyeballs and then piercing them, maybe I should abstain from this kind of entertainment in the future. I still felt more comfortable than with the Jackass and Salo feces, but only to a degree. Next time a romcom maybe…

Neil Marshall is one of these strange directors whom I would never take seriously, but usually does not fail to entertain me. I remember that I was one of the few people who liked his previous post-Apocalyptic, post-MadMax craze called “Doomsday”, the sheer level of ridiculousness made it worthwhile. Here we have another genre movie, but now no road warrior, but straightforward knights, or rather the fighters travelling with the knights on their crusade. They fight viciously, and they run after their foes – or from them mostly – as if there is no tomorrow. I have not seen such running since Atanarjuyat and Lord of the Rings, it is impressive and completely over the top, especially big blokes that they are…
The fight scenes look amazing, I have to say, especially the computer animated blood spattering all over the place in slow motion, that has some style. And the actors getting involved in all this are not of the typical C movie style: David Morissey? Michael Fassbender?? Adam West???
Oh and I was wondering whether the modern swear words were actually in use at the time… amongst Roman soldiers in particular. But guess what: they don’t give a damn, and neither did I watching. Just wondering…

There are scenes that looked familiar, but at the end of the day, I am quite sure I never consciously watched this film. Strange, given it is a classic Christmas movie not just for US television, but surely in all other countries that have a taste for emotional approaches to the fest of love. This film stars James Stewart in a role that he is perfect for: the fundamentally good person, sometimes caving in under pressure and releasing some nasty character aspects, but in this only becoming more human and allowing for all the sympathy in the world when things go pear-shaped around his company and his life. The narrative structure appears a bit odd, as the story would, I think at least, be equally powerful without the intro and the interludes in heaven (or in the sky, as it is). I imagined a “Sunset Boulevard” moment in the writers’ room (which was in this case maybe just Frank Capra’s study), when somebody came up with the idea of adding a “Before the Play” episode so that the angel that is supposed to show up later on is easier to understand even if your belly is full of Christmas roast and your senses slightly dimmed after excessive mulled wine consumption. But without doubt the film still has great charm and quality, and even after more than half a century is a heart-warming story about true values.

Dont’s miss’s interesting approach to the film: “He finally knows the world as it really is, what his friends are capable of, the dark potential coiled in each of them.” – which is true, this film does not have a happy ending as such. What it has is spelling out one alternative, waiting for the darker side of things and people to come up again later.

I never finished watching the trilogy, as I was so incredibly bored by the confused and incoherent script of the second part that I just could not be bothered ever watching the third one. But now, some years on, the nights are long and cold, and why not give it a try and sit down with the whole trilogy again, plus a couple of beers to make the pseudo-philosophical gibberish more bearable… and indeed, the first film is still holding up, a good scifi action opera with good optical values, decent character outlines and cool sunglasses (even though I do not think Lawrence Fishburne was well advised to use his model… that looked like a mix between real sunglasses and double accountants’ monocles – and in a bad way). The second part is still a tad boring, but I remembered the religious / cult scenes in the underground city to be more lengthy than they actually are. Still terrible, but at least only a couple of rhythmic aboriginal dances. The thing is: the action gets long and repetitive. You can only be worried about so many sperm-looking robot thingies attacking the heroes’ ship. If that happens for the fourth time, and if it happens with 500 sperms instead of five, it does not really make a difference anymore. The grand finale with the drills digging through the city has actually a kind of charming low-tech aspect to it, it’s a bit like the village people holding on to dear life while the Glorious Seven are riding like hell to come for their rescue. I would not have been surprised to see a John Wayne matrix thing to gallop in.
Yet still: once all is over, you wonder what the point was, and when thinking back to it now (some weeks after I saw the films) it is hard to remember anything specific that is not in the first film. But the night was long and cold, so never mind…

UPDATE Dec 2010:
I only realized after a couple of minutes that I had seen it before, and only after re-considering it I read the old notes I took upon me first seeing it. Back then, I was (I think today) surprisingly critical. I liked it much more today, maybe in particular because I like Casey Affleck even more today than I did back then. The plot still suffers from a “Zodiac”ish problem reality often brings about: there is no clear resolution when you need it (which is after a short period of time and at the end of a dramatic build-up). Some kidnappers get away, only to be punished the later and harder in a ruthless scene reminding of “Seven”, and some kidnappers even get away with being morally superior, leaving Casey Affleck’s character with the most ungrateful and complicated decision a film character had to face in a long time.

Original entry:
Two private Investigators get the job to follow up on the police investigation of a child abduction. The aunt has hired them, the police does not like it, the parents are useless. Investigating the case, the PIs Patrick and Angela discover that the story has reported to the police has been a fabrication, but instead of this clarifying the case, they find themselves entangled in more and more investigation thicket.
I like Casey Affleck, his face and voice have a certain fragility to them, which here – again – suits his role perfectly well. He is not the elbowy thug-like PI, he is the nice guy from next door who is just asking questions, and everybody is surprised to learn that “next door” in this neighbourhood means that he can get as rough as he needs to.

The construction of the film is a bit over-done, I think: several options are given to the audience along the way, similar to the simulations in a CSI episode. There is no way of getting involved in the riddle, you are merely observing other people’s considerations. So when the case nears its resolution, it comes as yet another option, and not as a really surprising one. At that point, a certain indifference to the plot line has developed.

Acting is strong, though, and the Boston atmosphere is pleasantly blunt (is this a Boston film location renaissance: Fringe on tv, this film, what next?). Altogether a quite pleasant experience, with plot and structure flaw.

Ok, nice chamber play around five people stuck together in an elevator. One of them, we learn through the completely unmotivated ramblings of a security guy in the surveillance room, is probably the devil. Consequently, people start getting hurt, and are being played to suspect each other. Then they start dying and the whole building is in turmoil. One goes down after the other inside the elevator and outside with the rescue teams. If you want to figure out which one is the devil, don’t try too hard, because trying too hard gets you there after 7 minutes. Not caring gets you there after half an hour. Not that it matters. Kind of nice genre piece, but nothing more than that.

Why do I have such a bad opinion about Tony Scott? I cannot even remember a single title apart from Top Gun – which was, of course, terrible, but also like 45 years ago. Checking his filmography, however, reminds me of a basket full of perfectly entertaining, yet utterly forgettable movies made since. Enemy of the State may be the only one that I would call a good film, but most others were ok at the time (not the previous ones, however. I remember being terribly bored when watching Pelham 1-2-3).

And that is his topic: pretty pictures and quick edits wrapped around a black hole where other movies would have a script. Same here: Unstoppable (or “Stoppable” as it was correctly renamed by BBC film critics) looks nice, has great editing involving on-train. Off-train, helicopter shots and whatever else the big action playbook lists. It has some good faces (the slightly over-used Denzel Washington, the hot Rosario Dawson, they boyish Chris Pine and the weird Ned Oldham. And Rosario Dawson. Rosario Dawson… ). It has high pace (up to 75 miles / hour) and some corporate sponsors that are slightly too visible. When it was over, I was surprised how entertained I was.

The concept of being buried in a box is nothing I would look forward to experience at some point in my life. It is kind of hard to concentrate on the merits of a movie when the only thing that is on camera for the whole duration is the thing that you really loathe. But anyway, it’s only a movie, right, only a movie… no problem, he is an actor, he could get out any time. Unless something goes wrong with the equipment on set, and then he might be stuck. Or they forget him in the box after shooting ends.

Setting a whole film inside the box in which a man is held captive is a bold experiment. It provides challenges aplenty in terms of camera, light, directing, acting. And story, which is where the problems come in: after about 15 minutes I was convinced that this will not be a very thrilling ride, because there is only so much you can do within the limits of this setting. You have evolving panic and despair, you have communication efforts. That’s about it. They top it with a little bit of, let’s call it natural disaster that does not change the living conditions for the better. But all in all this situation is rather static. This is terrible enough for the hostage, but also not pleasant for the viewer. If you have seen 100 movies in your life, you get some thrill off the question whether he will get out of that box. If you have seen 1000, you will not. The last 10 minutes in particular are lame, and neither ending could have saved it from being too predictable (quite a feat, actually). That is not to say that I would not have enjoyed watching it. Ryan “Sexiest Man of the Planet” Reynolds (whom I have never seen before, I think) is a good guy to watch being angry and sad and frustrated and in mortal peril. And the film is short, so you get a good hour of solid entertainment out of some 85 minutes of movie. Not bad.
Could have been better had they done away with rather gratuitous “bad guy” plot lines like the HR guy of the contracting company.

Comic or fantasy fans are an easy target for ridicule – and have frequently been abused to good cinematic purpose. Whether or not it is necessary to create a McGuffin like the one used here (one of them has terminal cancer…) to set off a trip to the holy land (Skywalker Ranch) to find the Holy Grail (a copy of the yet-to-be-released Star Wars Episode I movie… goodness, had they known…) is a futile question. That’s the way it is, and allows the three guys and one almost-like-a-guy girl to cross the country in a crappy Millennium Falcon van. Is it because the film seems to be made for 12-year-olds? It is lame. There is no edge to the humour, it is never offensive, never hard-hitting, always kind of compromising between the good guys at Skywalker Ranch and the odd little fellas at the Star Trek conventions. I can only imagine what the reason for this smoothened and explicitly breast-free interpretation of geekdom was: I suppose they could use the Lucas machinery only if they made it part of a terribly family friendly product. They did, but it is… terribly family friendly.

It is easy to get interested in ballet dance: spectacular pressure and physical stress, emotions abound and all in all a ridiculous combination of high-level sports competition and way of artistic expression. It’s like movies about assassins or Barbarians: while I never wanted their job, I love watching them trying to survive. In ballet, this seems to be pretty tough, and next to impossible if the ambition is to survive beyond the age of 30. A slim chance for glory at a young age, followed by a life of misery as a teacher. The number of former dancers who make it into class choreographers or directors is, according to my own rough calculations, about the same as becoming a professional football player and being bright at the same time. Aronofsky seeks to show the pain of combining the desire for art and the masochism of practice, and he uses the example of a girl coming from the diligent side, trying to perfect the mechanics of the job. Forcing her to let go, to let loose and allow her inner beast some room is not too subtle a foundation for a movie, but it works quite well within the confines of a stage play that lives off black-white contrasts. The white swan needs to be able to be blacker, while the black swan (Mila Kunis, if I may, is much hotter than Princess Amidala) seems to do everything necessary to fake some whiteness. The head of the dance company, played by Vincent Cassel, plays with the clichés of innocence and sin, and is established as a cunning or at least careless manipulator (even though I cannot take villains with that kind of curly hair for serious, sorry … ).

The film is gripping where reality is messed with, when Natalie Portman’s character realizes that something is fundamentally wrong with her life or brain or reality. Some hypnotic scenes allow us to dive in with her into psychoses and desires. And again: her wanting to let loose, allow her inner demons to take over and make her a more complete woman … the images of masturbation and lesbian sex that Aronofsky finds may be pretty to watch, they are not too subtle (some said that they are rather the male fantasy version about of female fantasies … I tend to agree, but at least they gave us a lot of Mila Kunis!). All in all, it is the images, the cinematography and production design more than script or direction that makes Black Swan a special experience.

It took me a while to collect the courage necessary to overcome the tsunami of terrible reviews that drowned this Peter Jackson “small project” (as compared to the Rings and the Monkeys, sure, but the film does not really look cheap) upon release. I only heard ghastly things about the film and its depiction of afterlife in particular. But, hey! It’s the guy who made “Beautiful Creatures” and Gollum and it’s about a serial killer, what can possibly go wrong? Let’s say: I was not as offended by the film as some of the reviewers I had read. After about 40 minutes, however, I started to get terribly bored. The story was going nowhere, it was not really a killer movies or a coping with dying movie or “what’s it like to be in heaven?”-movie. It’s just plenty of empty screen space covered with indeed very annoying colour and special effects schemes. There are some nice moments, such as when our heroine gets actually caught and (spoiler alert, haha, this is a film about a guy killing a girl, remember?) killed. The 30 seconds the film takes until it actually tells us (and the girl realizes) something is wrong are well played out. Stanley Tucci with a Russell Crowe hair is workable creepy, Mary Mark from the underpants ads is a bit over the top, but pretty as ever …

The visualization of afterlife… I remember a Robin Williams movie with similarly goofy-coloured afterlife scenes, and I was thinking that that older movie had been much more terrible. No, it was not that vain effort that made Lovely Bones a bit of a waste of time, but just the absence of anything really interesting.

And some terrible terrible music towards the end.

Best Christmas Movies to be chosen for a long Christmas evening movie marathon? Took a bit of reflection, but the playlist for December 24 looks like this (suggestions welcome, there is still time):

Woodland Critter Christmas, South Park, Season 8 Episode 14 (Trey Parker 2004)
As I do not like the Christmas Specials involving Mr Hankey, the Christmas Poo, I was very grateful to discover that here, it is replaced with a bunch of diabolic wood creatures trying to breed the antichrist. The finale involving the mountain lion cups who just in time return from their internship in the abortion clinic is terrific, and brings the concept of “Happy Ending” to a new level (and everybody lived happily ever after, except… but I do not want to spoil).

Die Hard
Bruce Willis looks best barefoot and only in his undershirt, lying on the side and firing out of at least two handguns. John McClane does exactly that for the better part of this film, and has a worthy opponent in the Sheriff of Nottingham. Now he has a gun, hohoho! How do you write „yippieyaeyeah“?

Scrooged (Richard Donner 1998)
Bill Murray at his prime, a film written around his cool demeanour (“I am afraid I will have to kill you all”), a bunch of awesome ghosts (“A TOASTER!”) – and all that with a script that never betrays the Dickens tale. Heartwarming and terribly funny!

Robot Chicken Christmas Special
I am sometimes a fan of some scenes of the Robot Chicken episodes, so sometimes I watch and occasionally enjoy it. The Christmas Special is like that: 20 per cent hilarious, the rest to be understood as transition period. Just like life, right?

The Nightmare before Christmas (Henry Selick 1993)
If I was a teacher, I would have bloody hands from writing comments into Tim Burton’s assignment books along the lines of “Did not live up to its potential. Try Again!” But still: the puppets and the production design and the graveyard and … whatever has to do with looks is well kept in Burton’s hands.

The Muppet Christmas Carol (Brian Henson 1992)
you should not see this one too often, as it ages a bit in its humour. Michael Caine, Kermit and the Tiny Tim frog, however, perform for their lives, and wasn’t even the music bearable?

Honourable Mention / Backup List:

A Christmas Story (Bob Clark 1983)
I learned the other day that this has become something like the official Christmas film on US network tv. I had never heard of it, watched it yesterday and really liked it. Nice kid actors, good story with a bit a sugar coating that manages to stay under the puking level because of the good humour in action.

A Charlie Brown Christmas (Bill Melendez 1965)
Don’t we all have the Christmas blues now and again? Charlie Brown certainly does, but his friends help him through it and make his Christmas school play an uplifting and enlightening experience. However… Charlie Brown does not age well, I am afraid to say, and especially towards the end, the all-American Christmas grease drowns all humour that would have been able to save the damn thing. Even Snoopy is tame.

It’s a Wonderful Life (Frank Capra 1946)
It’s a must, isn’t it? Good to have as backup. Unfortunately… I have never seen it… will catch up this year, really!

The story of a girl growing up in Iran, based on the autobiographical comic book by Marjane Satrapi, showing us the evolution of the Persian / Iranian society and her family’s personal experiences with suppression and democratization, communism, incarceration and silence … I am having a hard time describing the historical background, as I do know so little about it. For me, hence, the film was a little bit of thrilling personal story of this girl and woman torn between her Iranian home and her European exile, but in particular a terribly interesting lesson in regional history. The main character is absolutely charming, witty and energetic, and the form of narration, the very original graphical style, mostly in black and white, adds a certain dreaminess to the film and detaches it from its historical roots, making it a universally applicable allegory about growing up, being political, losing family, losing and gaining hope and loved ones.

All in all, one of the most fascinating and most beautifully narrated films of the last couple of years.

We learn that “Troll 2” has nothing to do with “Troll” and that there are not even Trolls in it, but only goblins. And we learn that turning this terrible cinematic atrocity into a cult object does not necessarily work on command – and in particular that a very good sign of a movie being absolutely bonkers is that 25 years later the director still believes it was good. On occasion I will try to apply that rule to other films, but here the devotion of an obviously slightly retarded and massively failed director is only the last proof that something about “Troll 2” is and was absolutely wrong. And that is: just about everything. The documentary follows most actors (one the actresses … well, she is clearly off-track and does not want to go out because it could be … “complicated”), the director and plenty of fans they assemble for public screenings. The triumphs are counterbalanced by the devastating experiences they make at comic and horror conventions, where everybody is equipped with sufficient poor taste to distinguish rubbish worth watching from the unworthy. Dismissed by popular taste … Our hero (the former main actor and today’s everybody’s darling dentist living in some godforsaken place) is slightly put off, but recollects his good humour after abandoning the unpronounced but clearly omnipresent dream of a late movie career, if only in the occasional schlockfest…
Exec Summary: “Troll 2” is not a good movie, “Best worst movie” is not a terrific documentary (directed by one of the child actors playing in Troll 2, by the way), but this documentary with this subject matter make enough of an interesting ride through the more twisted side of moviemaking.,40399/

We witness a hulk of a man, entering a theatre stage – and a theatre stage is what he considers his life to be. A perennial prisoner, who spent the majority of his life in solitary confinement, the man who calls himself Charles Bronson because of his affection for the lonesome avenger of the movies, has not learned anything but to survive – and he has elevated this survival to an art form. And while you are at it, why not enjoy yourself during this existential fight? So we, the audience witnessing Bronson declaring to yet another audience the story of his life, see a lovable beast on stage, proud of the fact that someone declared him to be “Britain’s most violent prisoner”, and we are allowed to revel in the beauty of this beast: Bronson in masquerade, Bronson in a cage, Bronson in a surreal mental hospital that makes “Cuckoo Nest” pale in comparison.

He is a ferocious beast, but not a bad person, yes, well, a ferocious bad person, but we learn that there are ways to sympathise with that kind of creature, and never during the film did I feel regret about anything that happens either to him or to his opponents.

The sensation of this production is Thomas Hardy, a fearless actor, physical, ugly, strong – and naked. They say that only the best warriors can fight to their ability when being naked. Here is one – and one that actually tends to take off the clothes and put on the war colours before taking on a bunch of armed prison guards coming for him. I have not seen many actors pull this off in style, but now Viggo Mortensen ( has a worthy peer in full frontal nudity warriorship…

And never walk a prison corridor without “Twilight of the Gods” weaving you a soundtrack of heroism and adding to your self-perceived largess…

I observed that there was plenty of talk about the show for a while, but only when Denis Lehane on a talk show praised The Walking Dead as e of the best shows currently on, I decided to check out what t is with these zombies in a tv show serial format. The short show (six episodes in the first season) reminded me strongly of Jericho and some other shows that played with life in a post-apocalyptic setting. The threat out there is not really imminent, the zombies are not too quick, so a bit of vigilance gets you a long way. That means that social relations, leadership issues can become more important than in situation where everything is only about mere survival. The production designers and make up people are clearly having a blast chopping heads off, impaling zombies, turning human beings into goo, sawing off limbs and what other pleasures are available. We will see how long that pleasure lasts – I am not familiar with the source material nor do I know whether they want to follow the books closely. But I could imagine that authors clever enough to start ignoring the zombies at some point can create a true classic out of these dead dudes. I think I will have a look at the comic books now, judging from Wikipedia they could be pretty good .
The Comic Books:
The tv show:

A story that I was familiar with in principle, but without any detail: the documentary explains some background on Jim Jones’ career as preacher and leader of the Peoples Temple “cult”, or “religion”, or “sect” or whatever it was, culminating in the giant mass suicide (and murders) that took place in the Guayana settlement in 1978. More than 900 people died, whole families were erased, very few survivors made it out by way of escape or coincidence. A cult of sexual and personal dominance, a leader that – at least in the earlier years – seems to have had an immense capability to charm his counterparts in politics and culture. Religious fanatics are always hard to understand for me, I cannot see how anything or anybody could earn my unconditional devotion the way this happened in Jonestown. Seeing it happening is then not only terrifying, but also utmost bewildering. Follow somebody into oblivion who claims that all people on the planet except himself are gay?

I remember that the second part of the Millenium trilogy left me rather distanced ( The story less clear cut compared to the first one, some people seem to be waiting for something bigger to happen in part 3. Now in part 3, indeed things happen, but again, it is not as big a deal as it is in the first part. Again, it is hard to recollect what actually happened, but one thing that did happen is revenge, with Lisbeth steering things from her hospital bed, a government group trying to wangle their way out of trouble, a biker gang that has a row with Lisbeth’s step-brother, and our hero Mikael who looks as wrinkly as ever and seeks to expose a lot of conspiracy while Lisbeth tries to avoid being sent back to the mental hospital where she had spent some years as a kid already, being exposed to cruel Dr Teleborian. Contrary to my earlier posting about part 2, I now believe there is a case for remaking the film with a bit more ambition. It has a rather television-like look to it at times, and not in a good way. Production looks a bit sloppy and bleak, but if the bleakness is intended, they should have spent some more effort into making it look bleak in an expensive way. A decent thriller trilogy altogether, but shows that it could have been much better. The density and quality of part 1 was never reached again.

This is a very odd film project: a documentary about a joke that is not really a joke, but rather like a formal possibility for standup comedians to ad lib on a topic during a show. Like a piano player reaching a fugue notation on the score, a comedian using the Aristocrats joke will find himself at a point where very few elements are fixed at the beginning and the end of the piece, but in-between everything is possible. A man comes into a talent agent’s office and says he has just seen somebody do the greatest showpiece ever. He describes in as much graphic and repulsive detail as possible whatever to shock the audience, here is where the comedian can shine … and the joke ends with basically a fixed conversation of two lines (here is the background, for those who are curious:
This is odd enough to justify a documentary, even though a short one would have done it. The joke serves as a comedian’s signature and in-joke among the professionals at the same time. This allows the filmmakers to get a big number sometimes more, sometimes less known stand-up comedians to show their version and their experience with shocking the audiences. Robin Williams, Whoopy Goldberg, Drew Carey and Sarah Silverman… the list is very long and online: An amusing look behind the scenes of a very hard business, with very few people of really extraordinary talent and skills. If you like that scene, and enjoyed “Comedian” or also “Funny People”, then The Aristocrats is just the thing to watch.

A much hyped film (documentary? Pseudo-documentary? Mockumentary? Whatever… but it seems to be clear that this is a work of fiction) that made its ways through the festivals, but seems to have lost some steam since it was actually released. The story of just a guy who meets a family on Facebook, starts some kind of relationship with one of the girls and receives the artwork of a little girl, plays with the question of reality versus fiction a bit, but mainly lives off the suspense on how the film ploty is about to evolve. Will they meet, are these Facebook characters real, is he about to discover a big scam?
Everyday technology creates an immediate bond, because we know what it’s like to make friends on Facebook, to look for people’s addresses on Google Earth or Street View, what the odd moment is like when you are actually talking or even meeting with a person that you built up a friendship only through written words before. Actually, I expected the film to turn into something dramatic, some form of Blair Witch twist. I believe that everybody can fill in his own expectations and preferences, but what happens when the film reaches its final chapter? Some people would get disappointed, because the perceived tension evaporates? Or is this anti-climax something you would savor? Had the film gone the way of a decent Manson Family or Texas Chainsaw Massacre, I would have been quite happy. Some psychopaths, killings entrapments… what you get is so terribly disappointing. From about minute 60, the whole affair is a terrible drag, clearly not developing anymore and having lost all its narrative elements of the first part. I wished to the very last minute that they fooled me and some additional change of directions would finally get me some place more interesting… but no.

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