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Monthly Archives: March 2011

Sometimes this hyperlinked world yields great benefits: a friend tells me he saw a great list of movie quotes (AFI), on that list I stumble across “You want to know the truth? You can’t handle the truth!” and am immediately captured by the idea that I have not see “A Few Good Men” for a decade. And the great surprise when you visit it today is: it looks crazily modern! As the setting is mostly on military campuses or in courtrooms, it is completely timeless in an East Coast way. The uniforms are all “fagotty navy” anyway (in the words of Tom Cruise’s character), and the hair cuts are uniform marine style. When the drama evolves, it does so as freshly as it did 20 years ago when the film came out. An unconventional take on the courtroom drama, not just because of the military setting, but also because it is clear who did it. We see it. What’s at stake for the lawyers is allow their clients to come out as being subjected to an order – and the way the jury finding at the end resolves this is actually perfect, a tale of morale and responsibility. The acting is… interesting: an over-the-top Tom Cruise, paired with Demi Moore, who is not a particularly good actress, but has a nice raunchy voice, reminding me of the Sopranos psychiatrist, only less sexy. The film plays the big absence very well, too: in a rather ill-placed opening scene, we see Jack Nicholson briefly interact with his disciples at Guantanamo Bay base, but then we only see him again in the last 15 minutes of the movie. Yet he lingers around the story, people are scared of him, and owe him great respect for the regime he has established. And then he comes on… half-asleep, outrageously arrogant in his controlled marine demeanour, with this arrogance in particular digging his own grave. He is brilliant and witty, and has some excellent lines written for him (“Has was in danger” – “Great danger?” – “Is there another kind?”… and of course “You can’t handle the truth!”, his lengthy final rambling about the walls people like himself have to protect from the negligence of the others). This is a fabulous movie by Rob Reiner, one of the kind woerth coming back to at least once every  decade.

The story of DJ Ickarus, who seems a bit overwhelmed by the task of producing his new album, the need to party all through the night and then the day, diligently trying all the drugs the scene can provide. He is slowly losing his grip, and when he even has a bad trip after he is given some odd pill, he ends up in a mental clinic. There he … basically does what he did before, music and drugs, and … I really don’t know. You would do the film more justice than it deserves by claiming that it would allow its characters to evolve, or merely develop. They don’t, and hence it is not really clear why we would need to follow them in the first place. Ickarus only wants his music, his girlfriend has too blunt an expression to make you understand what she wants, the record label manager is so poorly written and played that any word would be too much (“embarrassing” comes to mind, but why bother). There is every cliche, there are lesbians and hookers and drugs and mean corporate executives, there is the good and simple boy in the centre (oh, and his brother and father), there is everything that you would rather not have in this film. There are exactly two reasons to watch this despite the poor acting and the atrocity that does for a script: the hot 50-something that is the head of the clinic (Corinna Harfuch, who is also the only person in the film who knows how to act), and of course the music – the reason why it has been produced in the first place. The loose plot is frequently interrupted with opportunities to main actor and real-life DJ Paul Kalkbrenner to introduce his new tracks. If you are into this music, and if you can play it with sufficient decibel, that’s just great. In all other cases… rather stay away.

Michel Gondry is a bit of a directing star, Charlie Kaufman is the odd exception of a superstar screenwriter, Jim Carrey is the actor who never makes good movies, and Kate Winslet is the fat girl from “Titanic”. There was no way of predicting whether this (at the time highly anticipated) film would turn out to become the career downer for all involved, or a brainy masterpiece beloved by everybody. I think it turned out to be a mix of the two.

While I had been eagerly anticipating the project at the time, I completely missed its cinema release. I am not sure about the US market, but outside it kind of disappeared quickly, probably supported by the impossibility of translating the title or selling it as a RomCom despite the basic setting… I caught up upon its DVD release in 2006, I think, but was put off by a specific sequence halfway through that is just not suitable for watching when jet lagged and unconcentrated. This is a film for cinema, asking for full attention and no distractions. Partly this is because the film knows its weakness: the idea of losing touch with reality (or partly doubling reality) following a non-perfect memory erasing is good, but it requires to have the audience suffer with the protagonist, creating confusion. At some point this is too much, I assume most people would get a bit annoyed and bored by Jim Carey’s character shifting reality levels and times – and the film is good because it accepts this, allows you to go there, and only reliefs you a little bit later. It wants to you share this suffering, because if all this was just a happy comic experience, the whole movie would be a waste of time.

The result is a sometimes strenuous, sometimes formidable experience with good acting even by those actors involved who clearly cannot act (no names here…). A bit too brainy for its own good, another proof that Gondry and Kaufman are great talents to be considered – but also indication that this is all not happening automatically, and that there is a need for forces controlling both of their creative tendencies for arabesques…

To complete the trilogy started with “Sympathy Mr Vengeance” and “Oldboy”, I once more dived into the realms of Korean anger… and again it is the anger of a woman, what does that tell us about the Korean mindset… You can understand she is not a happy girl: not only jailed for a crime she did not commit, but in jail also confronted with a bunch of less pleasant characters (a nasty huge lady that seeks, let’s say, to steal pleasure).

I admit that due to lack of concentration at the beginning, I was terribly confused. The narration jumps and bounces, back to prison, and back to now, the time after she is released. Had I not checked the linear plot narration provided at Wikipedia, I would probably have completely missed the reason why her daughter is where she is, and how that relates to the crime she committed. While it is clear where the story is heading (an extended finale of revenge activity, let’s say), it is not clear that it will be a group exercise, and that allows for nice and funny revenge cinema. I do, however, believe, that director Park Chan-wook was a bit too keen to show his cinematic craftsmanship, and created some story loops that the film could have done without. His strengths are when paintings need to be put on canvas. He finds amazing pictures for dreams about revenge (dog with man head), group action (the army of avengers clad in protective plastic uniforms), and he has the sense of humour to get you through his twisted revenge fantasy: when the revenge deed is done, of course the group photo is the most natural thing to do.

I do think it is the third-best movie of the trilogy, certainly very strong and distinguished in terms of images, but no match to the intensity of Old Boy in particular.

Slate Spoiler Specials — This one has a great concept: The spoiler-filled podcast is only meant to be heard after you see the movie. It includes all the spoilers, remarks, etc. that would never fit in a review, and the commentary is insightful and might inspire one to watch the film a second time.

via Pop Podcast Primer: My top 10 film podcasts – Pop Candy: Unwrapping pop culture’s hip and hidden treasures.

I started listening to some of the podcasts, and I think that is a great addition to the general review shows and podcasts, that are usually confined by their efforts not to spoil. This (as the Filmspotting Spoiler editions, which are also great) is for grown-up people who have seen the movie. The full-frontal nudity version of film reviews, well hosted, sometimes with interesting guests (after my first testing, the guests  might be the weak point sometimes).

Oddly, the podcast does not seem to have a homepage on, but you have to go to the regular reviews and then see whether they offer one on the film you are interested in. Or do they do a spoiler podcast on each movie they review? Will find out…

In any case, you can subscribe to the spoilercasts here directly.

I have now seen two films by Andrea Arnold, and I am very happy about that fact. It’s as easy as that: with a film-maker like her, you will find flaws and deficits in all her work, and you will see how the confinements of low-budget film-making affect the overall product. But all that does not matter, because this is so much more interesting and inspiring and thrilling than whatever else you get from the shelve of fancy polished movie-making.

Red Road was set in the gritty suburbs of Glasgow, and if you thought that was bleak, then wait until you see the Essex area where “Fish Tank” plays out. There is so much to see: a desolate family with a single mother, two teenage daughters (the older of which is our film’s heroine, played by the amazing Kate Jarvis), a new boyfriend who is just too gorgeous and great and perfect to be true (no wonder, as he is played by gorgeous and great and perfect Michael Fassbender). There is a permanent disruption of expectations, not just for the viewer, who almost never gets what would be convention to give him next (a man follows a girl through across a field because she has been massively messing with his life, he is chasing her, he reaches her, and then…. ), but also for the characters, who start obvious lines of action, but halfway through realize that something is a better idea before you actually start doing it: Release a horse from captivity? Abduct a child? Real people will realize that it is easy to follow your impulse on this, but not easy at all to go through with it.

And it is the degree of reality, sad reality at times, that makes the film so interesting: the lead character has one dream, and that is to dance. With all her efforts and all her practice what she can achieve with this is to get invited to a hanky-panky dance parlor. That’s all, there is no hope beyond that, because she clearly does not have too much do offer. But different people have to work with different levels of hope and perspectives, and this one is all she has. The only alternative she has after she and everybody else produced a real mess, with not many exist options, is to reset her whole existence, and see whether a clean slate will by chance bring about some better cards.

I was thinking: if anybody wants to learn about the difference between US and European approaches to film-making, just watch how the life and times of a teenage girls is depicted in “Fish Tank” and in “Juno”. You will probably learn all there is to learn if you watch hard enough.

The film could have been brilliant, had it been a little bit more courageous. It starts off with some form of third-person narrative, where a radio anchor gets in reports about strange events around his remote and snow-plagued Canadian town. Crowds go crazy, reporters go missing, eye witnesses start babbling during the live interview and eventually crack up. Just imagine telling the whole film from the confinement of the radio studio, what a creepy and claustrophobic little bugger that would be. Instead, at some point they decide to show what is actually going on, they bring on the zombies or infected (you have to be careful these days about those distinctions. I think we learn at some point that it’s some form of rabie infection, transmitted through sound, and highly contagious).

Apart from the general setting, and the main character, the grumpy and alcoholic radio news anchor who needs his first shot of Johnny Walker into his coffee before he can even thinkl about starting the breakfast show, there are some gems in the film, stressing how creative these guys are: a crazy montage where some of the recently deceased are introduced, together with an list of whome they killed and ate before they themselves were subjected to one form of extermination or the other. Or a sequence that follows the discovery that the infection only gets transmitted through the English language, and consequently everybody tries to gather the bits of poor French, poor Russian and poor Hebrew that they can scrap from their brain cells (actually, I think that was a very Canadian joke…). The exclaim “shit!” when a zombiething attacks, only to correct themselves to “merde!”.

Because the movie lost a bit of its originally very dense atmosphere, I lost some interest over time, but still it was an original bit of horror movie, with some new angles.

This was a serious gap in my knowledge about the Oeuvre of Nicholas Cage… How do you find out whether somebody is the world’s worst actor? You team him with a terrible director and together task them to do a scene where the actor watches a funny programme on tv and laughs at it… There was a time when you could excuse cage for his role choices because he had a considerable set of good movies on his CV. That is not the case anymore, he has become one of the world’s most reliable actors in terms of camp performance, and all the late additions are just embarrassing. Actually the last film with him I liked may have been either the “National Secret” one or maybe even “The Rock” – and in both cases he is still a poor actor!

Now Ghost Rider… that is also a not very good film. Terribly messy and careless script, where people wait for other people in vain while these other people have not yet even been interrupted and hence do not have a reason for being late. And on a technical note: how can a skeleton talk when all the speaking equipment has been burned away? Why does Peter Fonda create some kind of superhero when all he wanted was somebody to save his contract thing? Why do metal spikes make a metal on metal sound when they come out of a leather thing??

I have now learned why sometimes it’s worth to add a non-talented girl with plenty of secondary sex organs. It worked the other day with Zoe S. in “The Losers” and now here it worked with Eva Mendes as well. They sooth the audience, that’s all. They can play as crappy as they want (and Ms Medes is trying hard), but you cannot blame a girl with that kind of lip-cleavage combination, can you?

That is not to say that I was not entertained. In between the very embarrassing situations, I was pretty much entertained. Reading on IMDB that there will be a sequel, however, made me shiver…

My double feature of questionable taste brought about some interesting results:

With “Takers” I stopped paying attention to the plot after some minutes: some people are police, some are not, and they all run around and shoot at each other. Mildly entertaining, but really… mildly… maybe it’s a good idea to do something else while watching, such as cooking or listening to some football matches.

Now “The Losers” is a different beast: for one thing, it has a real cool Jeffrey Dean Morgan with an open shirt and a six day stubble, pleasantly balanced by what is easily the hottest chick in Hollywood at the moment, the not very talented but gorgeous Zoe Saldana. Give those two a truck full of weapons, a container full of cash, and a suit full of villain (it can even be not very convincing, as Max is), and you have 90 minutes of entertainment. The sidekicks work fine, wither the sniper with the hat or the Poosh with the mouth. The downside was that the film seems to be a PG-12 cut or something, so there is an odd discrepancy between what the film builds up in terms of violence, language and sex – and what it actually executes. Family friendliness is not a good thing when it comes to kick-ass action movies. Next time I want to see the Saldana in NC-17 mode!

I never wanted to see this film. I am an economist, and as such take the right to say that the perennial talks about “the financial crisis” is unbearably tiring. I am not interested in financial markets, or derivatives, or collateralized debt obligations, or credit default swaps… I do not work in that area, I believe most of the people who do are terribly unlikeable, and most of them confirm the notion that every economist at university  learns about business students: business “science” is ill-applied micro-economics, leading people to strive only for money – and if money is all you strive for, money will be all you will ever get out of life. And if you have the habit of spending your spare time watching stock developments online or one of these ridiculous teletext offerings with video inserts that come under the name of “business tv”, sorry again – you are not my type!

Now this documentary, “Inside Job”: it is about exactly those people, and about how they together put a serious dent into the global economy. How the companies dealt with it, hand in hand with government. There are some stunning observations to make about them. People earning hundreds of millions of dollars are not able to speak a straight sentence (I am talking to you, Hank Paulson, or you, chief lobbyist of the investment bankers, or Mr Mishkin). Of course director and author Charles Ferguson gives them a hard time. He is bold, he is fearless, and he can be, because he is probably the wealthiest person ever to make a documentary film – his risk of his subjects turning against him is slim, he is as independent as you can be. He has done his homework, comes with facts, and is aggressive about them. He is not the Michael Moore kind, playing pranks on camera. He is invisible, off-camera, but you can hear his questions, and you can also hear his responses to the interviewees’ statements:  “But that’s wrong.”, “no, you did not.”, “you’re kidding me” are common sentences, and he always follows up with the facts showing that what we just heard was utter crap. You have to give his interview partners that they were at least man enough to engage (many prominent players were not), but when they get angry about being confronted with the unpleasant fact that most of their professional life is built on a foundation of cheating, stealing, lying, being corrupt and academically unsound – and generally being delusional about their own integrity (Mr Hubbard, Mr Mishkin, this is to you), I still start losing respect when they are squirming being confronted with actions they would most probably find despicable when observed on any other person but themselves.

Why did I find the film thrilling despite its subject matter? Because it’s about human choices, incentives, free-riding, ignorance, information processing, acting under complexity, and about whether there is a human propensity to be evil. About everything an economist should really be interest in, in other words. 😉

The main achievement of Restrepo as a documentary is its incredible proximity to the everyday life of soldiers fighting in Afghanistan. Fighting as in “fighting”, not “waiting, playing video games and jerking off”, as we know it from other films about soldiers in combat areas, where we learned that the worst part of a soldier’s life might not be engaging with an insurgent, but sitting around without apparent purpose for weeks at a time. Not so in the valley where Restrepo takes place. This is the front where US intervention troops meet whoever covers the border to Pakistan. Winning a battle means moving that border and pushing the insurgents back, losing it means allowing them a greater influence towards Kabul. In both cases people die, and the camera is with the platoons, gets shot at and ducks away, and incredibly enough has enough material at the end of the day to edit the fights to even show different camera angles (I can only assume, maybe hope, that there are some fake cuts, involving material from other battles).

It would be easy to assume that this kind of films sweeps the documentary Oscars (especially as it is well done in terms of handicraft). It did not, the aftermath of the economic turbulences swept “Inside Job” to the top spot. I have not seen that one, but I can imagine it was not only the spirit of the times, there is also something odd about “Restrepo”: you cannot learn anything from it. Imagining what life is like for a soldier who was sent to war in Afghanistan by his government will yield exactly these images. There is no morale to it, it does not help you answer the question whether you should or should not have sent them in the first place. In this sense, Restrepo is a bit like a Discovery Channel documentary (oh, well, it actually IS a National Geographic documentary…): one part of the wildlife is under the magnifying glass, and there is a brave and very patient camera crew to film it (apparently they spent one year at this godforsaken place). Then we watch it and after that?

At 4:28 Jason Statham rids himself of his shirt for the first time… that is all there needs to be said about The Mechanic. The film has the courage to be humble about its running time, clocking in at 1:22, which is clever, as the script authors clearly did not have more material to squeeze out of the generic plot.  A solid bit of slightly ironic entertainment with a bulky Statham, some Asian girl for the average looks, a plot to turn the professional hitman against his own mentor (Donald Sutherland!), and some well-choreographed fights on the way towards the end of a 90-minute session well-spent. Dumb and noisy kinetic action. I do not know when Jason Statham really became an action  hero, but it seems he is one now.

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