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Monthly Archives: January 2011

A rather unknown and, if you believe the rottentomatoes rating, quite average director on the helm of a film that has a seriously heavyweight cast of young (Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, Ikea Knightley) and … er … mature (Charlotte Rampling) actors, is based on a success novel by a celebrity author, and comes with an intriguing and unsettling plot.There are interesting choices for directors who could make this an impressive, disturbing film. As it is, it is slightly too… hm… straightforward in a way.

Without giving away anything about the plot: despite there happening unspeakable things and people living in unspeakably inhuman worlds, this is all a bit dull. I thought that somebody (probably the Japanase-British author of the novel with the unspeakable name) had a very interesting idea, and was so happy about it that he forgot to make anything of it. What a waste! A pitch-black dystopian fantasy waited to unfold, and what did we get: kids holding hands.

I appreciate that there was not jolly happy ending, and there was the effort to carry the atmosphere of hopelessness beyond the film’s ending. That atmosphere of resignation I did feel, but I would have expected it to be wrapped in a plotline that I could be interested in.

As it was, I was fascinated by the first 20 minutes, and after the scene where one teacher reveals more to the students than she should have, and after I realized that this conflict is not carried on through the film, I started getting distracted, and finally a bit bored… however: Carey Mulligan is very watchable again, Andrew Garfield is a bit overdone, Charlotte Rampling is creepy, and Ikea should get something to eat.

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/never_let_me_go_2010/

If all terrorists were like those guys, then the world would indeed be in mortal peril: you never know what explodes when these English guys starting their local Djihad start gluing explosives to pigeons, go on Hezbollah training camps or try to run marathon  races in London and blow up the city at the same time. It is slip-on-the banana humour with explosive devices, meaning that plenty of major and minor characters end of blown to smithereens, and it seems ok to laugh about it. There is only so much humour in idiots trying to pursue a plan, so after a couple of messed up situations you kind of stop worrying, knowing that yes, it will go wrong and another martyr will go to heaven. Nice for a laugh, but nothing more. At least we now know how Osama Bin Laden got accidentally terminated.

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/four_lions/

With the high number of high quality animation movies comes along a certain indifference, I realize. Ok, Megamind is nicely put together, and has some prominent voice cast, if anyone is interested in that. On that note: I could never understand why a prominent actor should be better at voicing animated characters than somebody who is completely unknown, but has voice skills. If it was up to me, no Jack Black or Brad Pitt or Tina Fey would be cast for that kind of film, that money could easily be saved and used on … screenplay! There is not too much of that I Megamind. A Superman setup turns into a Spiderman and Batman trouble situation, with not even too many cute creatures populating the scene (which was the game saver for Despicable Me). I just did not like the people in Megamind: the little camera guy prick, the annoying Metroman and the halfway evil Megamind… not a single original idea in something like 85 minutes is not a lot. It was not really boring – too many explosions and chase sequences for that – but it became non-existent five minutes after it was over.

A French …. er … person hangs out in Los Angeles, gets bored with selling clothes, starts filming every aspect of his life, gets involved with street artists, and becomes one himself. While he originally intended to make a documentary about street art guru Banksy, at the end of the day Banksy makes a film about Thierry’s odd career.

The film is great in depicting fascinating works of art, not just from Banksy, but also from a range of other supposedly well-known artists (or “vandals”, whichever position you take) such as Shepard Fairey or Invader. I have no interest whatsoever in the debate about whether or not what these guys are doing is art, what is see is highly creative, sometimes funny, often stupid, but mostly hilarious and very marketable in a way pop art is supposed to be.It seems they certainly sold enough to make the sheer task of putting together one exhibition was worth the effort.

Whether the story told in this film is real is yet another question hard to mull over. Yes, it is certainly true, because this is the way it is depicted by a film, which always is a lie the same way a photograph is. It seems all the persons exist, it seems all the objects exist. Is Thierry  the goofy Frenchman himself an object of art, created my the mastermind that goes under the name of Banksy? Maybe, I would even say probably, but it’s perfectly possible to enjoy “Exit through the Gift Shop” without giving a damn.

Banksy’s website with some nice pictures of his work that you can freely download and use for non-commercial purpose: http://www.banksy.co.uk/

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/exit_through_the_gift_shop/

http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20100428/REVIEWS/100429978

It’s interesting to see this film just after having seen “127 Hours” – while both share the situation of being stuck and requiring the protagonists to go at great lengths to wangle their way out of a tight spot, the contrast between great film-making by highly talented people and straightforward handicraft by not too talented people was probably never shown more clearly. While the situation our “heroes” find themselves in is quite useful to start a thriller from, the script authors do not really know what to make of it. They create some contrived twists to make sure our friends are stuck in that ski lift for long enough to be in mortal peril (has anybody ever heard of a ski lift shutting down for 5 days in the middle of winter season???). And when they have the kids where they need to be – stuck – the only way they can think of for getting rid of them has to do with a pack of wolves. Even if you follow them to believe that wolves are dangerous, you have three people, yet only for two of them the wolves turn out to be pretty dangerous? And you can freeze your limbs off and just carry on as if nothing happened? A little bit more effort into story development, and this could have been good. As it is… not very good.

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/10012051-frozen/

Quite an interesting and entertaining mix of stories taken directly from the highly successful book, some of them further developed into a post-book life (such as the Sumo corruption case, which took on a dynamic of its own) and newly conceived experiments that are unfolding in the film (the bribing of students into getting better by way of a bunch of 50 dollar bills). In some cases the story to be told is more interesting as a case of investigative journalism than as an example for the economics of life (again the example of Sumo, where the incentive scheme for cheating is clear after five minutes, but where the directors could not resist the temptation of telling how the story unfolded into a decent crime story, including murder).

The segments are directed by different directors, most of them well-known, sometimes in a straightforward fashion, sometimes with innovative animations. In particular the “It’s (not always) a wonderful life” shows some interesting and fun optical fancies, on the brink of being over the top, but not quite.

I read some not very enthusiastic reviews of the film, and they usually coincide with scolding of the books as being superficial and non-scientific. I disagree, I do like both, because they show how economic instruments can shed light on real-life phenomena, which is what economics is supposed to be about.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/30/movies/30freak.html?_r=1

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/freakonomics/

It was a wise choice to go into Tron: Legacy with profoundly low expectations. This way, the film had a chance to pleasantly surprise me – and it did! Once everybody has reached the Grid and the actual action starts, mostly nice surprises happen: first and foremost, Michael Sheen and Jeff Bridges are in there, and with those two masters, one completely bonkers, the other almost completely Zen, not much can go wrong. Also, some nice variations on the motorcycle races of the original Tron movie (one involving flying things that also leave these wall-tails behind), well-fitting leather catsuits for the programmed escorts, and more evidence that nobody really knows who Tron is and why he is in those movies.

Jolly entertaining, if not for the mushy sound design that makes many of the distorted computer voices hard to understand, and the 3D, which not only is not very impressive, but in a film that mostly plays in a dark blue night-ish environment takes away so much light that more often than not you have to make guesses about what’s on the screen.

Oh Yeah: and terrible dialogues…

NYT review and RottenTomatoes page.

I do not comment on every tv show I see (or I would have to write a lot about the joys of “Breaking Bad”, “Dexter”, “The Wire”, “Entourage” or “Californication”, to name my regular fixes), but “Boardwalk Empire” is the rare “expected  triumph”: Martin Scorsese helps to develop a tv show about a city treasurer in Atlantic City, “Sopranoes”-famed Terence Winter writes it for HBO, Steve Buscemi is cast for the lead role, and the pilot was the most expensive in tv history. Often, the “what can go wrong” question is answered with “oh so many unexpected things”, leading to disappointments (“Caprica”) or at least shows that search for their center, if at a high level (“Treme”). “Boardwalk Empire” is just bliss: after a tentative look into the pilot and two more episodes on day one, I finished the remaining eight or nine episodes the next days – and exhaustedly cried for more. A magnificent prohibition-age portrait of crime without punishment and the inseparable link between mafia and government. Cannot wait for season 2!

Official Homepage: http://www.hbo.com/boardwalk-empire/index.html

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boardwalk_Empire

Edgar Wright can be fun: I really enjoyed “Shaun of the Dead”, even though I do not agree that it is the Citizen Kane of ZomCom, as some say. But fun in its very British way. It was not good enough to make me see Hot Fuzz, which seemed to be rooted a bit too strongly in the UK tv tradition of crime time tv.

What I did not expect to see from Wright was “Scott Pilgrim”: a pretty high budget (it looks) movie with fancy formalisms, especially 1) the use of animation over the real footage and 2) the merging of normal plot with console game face-offs. I think that probably started the project, in the form of “what if we did a movie that merges animation and real shots, but not in a Mary Poppins way – and that merges normal movies and games, but not in a Tron way?” Nice idea, well executed, but … it reminded me of what I thought about “Run, Lola, Run” at the time: the formal framework is kind of fun, but two repetitions would have been enough.

Here, it’s kind of fun, but the film’s fun level is dragged down by a star (Michael Cera) who is just a bit too dull for an action adventure, and too many X’es (levels) that need elimination (completion). Half an hour less, and it would have been a jolly good ride.

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/scott_pilgrims_vs_the_world/

Of course it is easy to make fun of all the Star Trek and Star Wars nerds, and did I not some days ago see another film (Fanboys) that played that tune? This one is much better, of course, mainly because it has Alan Rickman’s pain-stricken face and Sigourney Weaver’s cleavage in it. They are part of a team of Star Trek-alike actors who suffer from being reduced to opening fan conventions and electronics markets, but they are rescued by some real aliens who think the  Galaxy Quest show they watched from out there was a documentary. So together they fight against some green things that look like fat versions of Jim Carey’s Grinch, and wreak some intergalactic havoc. Weaver’s zipper goes further and further down, and the earthly star trek … sorry, Galaxy Quest geeks at last get their chance to save the galaxy. Mostly harmless fun!

 

Part of the list nominated for last year’s animation Oscar, I wanted to see this for such a long time. Now that I did, I am a bit hesitant: there is no reason not to like it. Interesting colour scheme in brown and ocker tones that convey the muddiness of the middle ages. Dark and grim villains, be it wolves or Vikings (even though I would like to protest: why is it always that the Vikings are depicted in such a pernicious way? Come on, these poor guys came from dark and cold places, and had to eat fish or fur seals all day – no wonder they were a bit off). Enchanted forests and lovely white spirits on the other hand, and a little hero mini-monk called Brendan who needs to complete the mysterious book of I can’t remember the name.

The film is very nice, but also a bit slow-paced. Not because it would be for small children – that it is definitely not (too much stabbing and burning and wolves with bred teeth). Rather because it just decides to be so, conveying its slow rhythm in the way grandfather would narrate the story from his armchair in front of the fire, slowly puffing away on his pipe. The voices (Brendan Gleeson, among others) support that, always keeping a low level of excitement, and keeping the atmosphere at low flame.

All in all a nice film, but I had hoped for a bit more.

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the-secret-of-kells/

There is reason to be doubtful whether the story of a not too pleasant person who gets stuck between a rock and a canyon wall and stays there for 127 hours is very thrilling a premise for a 90 minute movie. Especially so as the majority of the audience knows in advance whether he gets out dead or alive and in which shape. It is not just based on a real story, but the film’s promotion is very open with the way the finale turns out. I was a bit surprised that they are, but don’t mind it. Movies that merely rely on the quality of their final scenes, on whether “he gets her”, “he gets out” or “they win” are rubbish or made by M. Night Shamalalalaly – usually both.

After 10 minutes my skepticism felt confirmed: the expected things had happened, and he was stuck. Now it was waiting time, waiting for the surely not very pleasant final act. I am sure the producers felt the same skepticism when Danny Boyle approached them with the script, and I am also sure that there are few moments in few directors’ lifetimes that open the window for this kind of film: having just been drowned in a tidal wave of Oscars for Slumdog Millionaire certainly helps create that kind of window.

And to my surprise, this actually works: Boyle and actor James Franco lead us into an (almost) eternal nightmare and the complete range of available emotions: starting with utter incredulity (which seems odd at first, but is a perfect fit once we learn more about the guy’s character later on), rage, despair, cynicism, humour (yes! Great radio show he puts on), and never without vanity. He documents every step of his fate with his camera, and even if he claims it is for his parents in case he does not make it out of his calamity, it is actually because he cannot help but act and pretend and be cool.

The flashbacks on his life, the visions of his friends and his family confirm that we have met a person who should not be surprised to end up rotting in a ditch – and in the best way of the classical Bildungsroman we find out he is able to learn, if the hard way. He has 127 hours of education and catharsis to work through, and it is enjoyable, if grim, to watch him in his process. And good luck he’s an engineer…

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/127_hours/

I remember I truly loved that film when it came out in the cinemas, and I also remember the hype especially around de Niro’s method acting approach to Al Capone – namely to wear underpants tailored following those that Capone was wearing at the time. Did it hold up? I think it did, actually: The film looks stunning, opulent in its imagery, especially when using church interiors or large courthouse staircases as backdrops, filmed from low angle. I was thinking of images Scorsese made use of, the big, operatic pictures used from “Gangs of New York” onwards. There are fabulous mini set pieces such as Capone’s speech about “the team”, the meeting between Elliot Ness and Al Capone on the hotel stairs, and there is, of course, the deepest koutou to Battleship Potemkin I have ever seen. Apart from some strange rhythm in the narration that you would probably do differently today, the only downer is the soundtrack: too often is there a score drowning whole scenes under a wave of 80s sound carpet…

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/untouchables/

After Aronofsky made such a bold impression over the last two years, first with The Wrestler and now with Black Swan, I went back to catch up on a film that I had missed at the time. The Fountain is …. about … eeerrr. Let’s put it that way: it is fair to assume that the sick wife of a researcher writes a story about a brave Spanish knight who seeks the Fountain of Youth for his Queen. The researcher himself has to add a chapter, which then gives us the third of three levels of narration. In the beginning, however, we know nothing about all that and are being tumbled about between melancholic yoga, furious battle scenes, and modern brain surgery. Part of the fun of this film is that there is no need to understand the distinction between the layers – confusion is an intended part of the movie-watching experience. The script is carefully crafted to give you the information when you need it. And it all looks fabulous: the people, the trees, the universe are all crafted spectacularly to contribute to this… and now that’s a bit of the point: to this film essay. It is not really a movie, in that it lacks most of a “story” or “plot” or “conflict”. What it does instead is allow its characters to reflect on life, universe, everything, on immortality and love between man and tree – metaphorically, of course.

Surely interesting to see how Aronofksy went from this film to make the rather straightforward “Wrestler” and then almost merge the two concepts into “Black Swan”. No doubt he is one of the directors of our time!

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the_fountain/

A French film set in a prison that is a microcosm for all the conflict zones of multicultural France, “Un Prophete” sometimes lost me in cultural subtext between French, Arabs, Italians, Corsicans and who knows who else. But the hero of this film is in a similar spot: he grew up bilingual Arab-French, and through a tragically unfortunate timing of his incarceration he ends up being with the Corsican group, led by all-mighty Luciano (Luciano… how would I know why he hates the Italians???). Despised by the Corsicans for being “The Arab”, hated by the Arabs for sleeping with the enemy, he stays a loner all through his six years of prison. He decides to play along with the rules of prison mafia, and becomes part of a violent and lucrative system. In terms of style, the film is a mix of bluntly violent prison drama and personal study of the character at its centre. There are dream sequences and visions, but mostly what is conveyed is the stark reality of life in a terribly unpleasant place. No wonder the film got to become a critics’ darling. Even though it is some half hour too long and leaves you alone with climatic events very early on, it picks up pace again once Malik starts his career outside prison and with his innocent demeanour manages to play along with very unpleasant characters. Good stuff for those who are not faint of heart…

Maybe this is the perfect movie: 1 hour and 19 minute net of exactly what it promises in the title, Piranhas. Spring break setting allows for generous amounts of gratuitous nudity, piranha teeth allow for even more generous amounts of gory ways of eating away people. Doc Brown is in it and the guy from Jaws who by now should have understood that his fear of water is completely justified. And honestly, for the first time ever, I was sad that I did not see a film in 3D – the pleasure of the fish jumping out of the water, spitting body parts at you and the sheer amount of human and fish tissue being dispersed at high velocity makes this the first film to justify enduring the 3D glasses. Best film of 2010? Maybe not, but certainly one of the most entertaining!

I cannot really note a list of the best films of 2010, because given the godforsaken place I live in, I usually will see good films only when they are out on DVD. So rather than “My best films of 2010”, here is the “Interesting films I have seen in 2010 that have been released either in 2010 or 2009” . Actually, the best films I have seen this year have all been older: Real highlights were Michael Haneke’s “Hidden / Caché” and Charlie Kaufman’s “Synechdoche, New York”. Among the 2009 and 2010 releases, nothing really has blown me away. Maybe that is the reason why I watched a lot of older movies and caught up on my backlist from the previous decade 😉

The most interesting film s from my 2010 / 2009 category were:

The Social Network

Black Swan

Bronson

Monsters

Dogtooth

Inception

Toy Story 3

Cloudy with a chance of meatballs

Goodbye Solo

The Cove

Kick-Ass

Same, Same But Different

 

The also rather interesting films I have seen, but at the end of the day were not interesting enough, or execution was disappointing:

Catfish

The Lovely Bones

Green Zone

A Serbian Film

The Killer Inside Me

Ghost Writer

Avatar

Book of Eli

Despicable Me

The Road

A Serious Man

Up in the Air

An Education

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