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Monthly Archives: May 2011

A woman goes blind and kills herself when she realizes all remedies have failed. Or did she? Or did they? The film by Guillem Morales (apparently another protégée of Guilermo del Toro) sets up a chilling atmosphere where you don’t really know what to most afraid of: blindness, strangers in the house, ghosts even, crazy neighbours, hospitals and doctors … it serves plenty of phobias, and most of them worked for me. The idea of going blind while somebody is stalking me does not belong to those thoughts making me comfortable at all. This is not consistently a great thriller or horror movie – but it is enough of either to make pleasantly uncomfortable watching at night, and make you feel wonder whether you really should go down the basement to fetch another drink…

It depends a bit on your movie experience and your geographical origin how long you can enjoy this movie: After 20 minutes at the very latest, you will have figured out that something is very fishy about the plot – if you ever saw an insomnia-based thriller before, it will probably only take you 16 minutes to realize that something is off and what exactly it is. After that, you may like car chases, this gets you through another 10 minutes or so – only that those 10 minutes come much later. Ideally, you have never seen a movie before, and you are from Berlin. Then there is a chance that you are sufficiently entertained by the plot and by the way Berlin is depicted in a certain cold war style (snowy, cold… just the way it is most of the year). For the rest of us, there is Bruno Ganz and the Stasi character he plays to be happy about (and yes, he did go out “very well”), and the fact that they are blowing up the Adlon Hotel and that everything seems to take place in Friedrichstrasse – but that brings it back to Berlin Folklore again… I was not terribly bored, but terribly annoyed that for a twist-driven thriller, there is not a single surprising twist (with one minor exception), and that the script authors believe this was all original.

It starts off as a very conventional thriller: a couple of young and pretty people, a boat, the sun shining, one slightly deranged character… things happen and things get weird in a … let’s say … Jakob’s Ladder kind of way, one would think. Well, I thought so, anyway, and allowed myself to be a bit disappointed at how obvious the development looked. This actually did keep me from appreciating the strange setting as it was, with a creepy thunderstorm and an even creepier large cruise ship. If you are still willing to bear with the story after this premise has been established, and can ignore your strong expectations about the film finale for a while, you are rewarded with surprising developments, well-scripted plot loops and some good thrills. As there is a repetitive cycle to be endured, timing is crucial, as these things tend to get boring quickly. At least for me it just had the right length and rhythm so that when I almost started to get bored, I was in for real surprises …  a bunch of girls lying on the upper deck, a bunch of pigeons next to the road, when you get to those you should have decided whether you are happy about the way the film mislead you … I was in for it, even though occasionally interrupted by the more rational considerations that they managed to introduce yet another loop on the way to my expected finale.

When we see the main character towards the end in a situation like the one at the beginning, and we now understand her distraught face and her hesitation in answering on the wehereabouts of her son… then the movie is actually pretty damn well done. It cannot fully repair the flaws on the way, but at least  in retrospect it is a success.

I realise that there have not been too many films noted on these pages over the last half year or so. Well, guess why: Six Seasons of The Sopranos I had to deal with, and let’s just note that this has been an experience often more compelling and stimulating and hilarious and dramatic and heart-wrenching and engrossing and …  as currently Terrence Mallick is featured a lot: watching the Sopranos was like watching a 70-hour Mallick film (and it is so much better, I believe, when you all have it in one DVD box and can treat it as one ridiculously long feature). Not in terms of visuals, but in terms of the epic representation of what the world is about. About all these normal things like violence and sex and raising children and killing brothers-in-law and dealing with employee jealousy and coordinating the girlfriend with the wife and new people entering one’s life and others leaving it. We don’t get to see how this life of Tony Sorprano has been built up, but we get to see how he tries to maintain and develop it, a rather arbitrary 7-year stretch of his life standing in for arbitrarily picked stretches in all lives, sometimes a bit tedious, sometimes a matter of life and death. Interesting also to compare it with the similar approach “The Wire” took: the latter changed perspective to highlight features of this society, to detach itself from individuals as far as you can in  commercial tv product. The Sopranos is in contracts excessively subjective: at the end of the day, the script lets nobody count but Tony S., because for Tony, nobody else counts. The whole show is filled with absolutely despicable characters, sometimes bluntly so (Ralphy), sometimes subtly (what the show creator  called the “whore wife”, corrupt to the bone Carmela). After thinking about it for a minute, I believe there would be one single character in the whole show that I would call pleasant and of moral integrity, and that is the psychiatrist Dr. Melfi who has to endure Sopranos self-indulgent claptrap for so many years, and only very late escapes the star-struck mob fascination.

What a portrait of society this is, what a fascinating elevation of tv to the level of proper narration that takes its characters and audience seriously. I guess we all have to light a candle at the next Italian-catholic church we pass to thank HBO for its courage at the time.

Heroic acting, stunning visuals, dream like enchanted forests, speaking foxes, genital mutilation,… there are so many things I heard and read about Antichrist before I watched it, maybe that is the reason why it took me two years to get around and actually watch the thing. All of the above is true, and more, but the film manages to emancipate itself from its reputational burden quickly, and especially Willem Dafoe’s character, with his effort of maintaining a rational approach, his need to be the strong pillar holding up the family when his wife’s psyche is crumbling, provides credibility  and roots the movie. It is all a highly stylized investigation into grief and pain, but it is (almost) never a caricature, or ridiculous. Over the course of the film, dreamlike sequences enter, and  I accepted them as visions of pain and suffering, both physical and emotional.

Despite all this symbolism and allegorical frame, there is actually – to my surprise – a story to be found. When the man finds out what had been going on, it is a bit too late for him to fix it, but we learn some details about the female history that will certainly allow other film makers to create some more gruesome spin-offs. Note to self: check copyright for “Gynocide – The Movie”.

What a year 2007 was for epic movies! When I watched “There will be Blood” for the first time on its theatrical release, I decided I did not want to write about it on the blog before I had watched it a second time. I had the clear urge to treat this film the same way I would treat a painting or sculpture: appreciate, savour, digest, revisit. I keep saying that about movies: why do they usually not get the proper “art treatment”. A movie of 158 minutes has 9480 seconds times 24 images / second – 227,520 images altogether, and I am supposed to take it all in in one go, without a chance of going back, stopping it, looking at the details??? The imagery of this film is stunningly beautiful, from the gritty digging in oily wells at the beginning, over exploding derricks, calm seaside sceneries or wide-angle encounters between father and abandoned son. There are very few directors and DPs who have the ability to create such a mass of beautiful images without seeming artificial, guilty of mannerism and annoying the viewer with its context-free beauty. P. Thomas Anderson and Robert Elswit are different, they can make the images serve the characters, create personal distance through camera distance, they can show us the awe the workers and David Plainview feel when the oil bursts through the ground, because to them it is as religious as they will ever get, and the images reflect that and the audience in the cinema is as stunned by the raw beauty of the events as is the audience standing in front of the well.

Is Daniel Day-Lewis over-acting it? I don’t think so, watching this performance is painful at times, but that is because the Plainview character is such an eerie one. He plays jovial, but is cold at heart, he is vicious in pursuing his aims, business and family alike. He uses a façade to sell himself as an entrepreneur, and he uses the same façade to act into his family, i.e. towards his son. Only catastrophe can cause him to become natural, emotional, but then again, he is not in control of his emotions, he is victim to his rage and sorrow.

The film does not leave much room for many characters next to mighty Daniel Plainview: even his key opponent, Eerie Eli of the Third Resurrection Church, is overwhelmed by the brute presence of the Oil Man. But Eli is needed, Plainview needs him to project his rage and disgust, and to blame all the emptiness of his heart at somebody. Eli is disappointingly weak, I am sure Plainview would have desired are more worthy opponent than this false prophet, but he takes them down where he finds them, be it the priest or the fake brother or the Union Oil representative. He is drinking their milk shakes, all of them, but as if he was suffering from tapeworm he stays hungry and dissatisfied and empty all towards the end.

Fantastic movie, and don’t get me started about the ending. Dear Roger Ebert, this ending is the way it has to be!

This was the most boring film I have seen in quite a while. There is an alien invasion of the Earth, and we have some Marines running around frantically to complete a mission that is rather irrelevant, to be honest??? After 800 minutes of shooting and shouting and dying of the minor characters, the film is over and I had no idea why I was supposed to be feeling any form of excitement about it. It sucks as a marine-combat action movie, and it sucks as an independence day and war of the worlds rip-off. The only redeemable feature would have been Aaron Eckharts man-crushingly handsome face, but as it’s mostly hidden under helmet and dirt, no points for that, either –  you cannot distinguish the characters amidst all that mayhem. And why do alien war machines scream like injured dogs when being damaged??? Is that not a very dumb feature for a combat robot? Talk to your interstellar war equipment customer complaints hotline.

I saw that film three weeks ago, and now I can hardly remember anything but the plot outline I read before watching it: father and daughter go into house in the forest, father goes upstairs to check out the noises. Bad stuff happens. I guess that is not necessarily a bad thing, but as the film sports a “surprise twist” at the end, it is not a good sign that I have to think about it so hard to remember what that was. Ah, see, now I remember, and the film would have been exactly as good or not good without that end (as most films with final twists). No doubt La Casa Muda is interesting for the family of horror and haunted house aficionados who enjoy their occasional Paranormal Activity or [Rec] spectacle for the goosebumps. Also it has some interesting technical approaches to it (it pretends to be filmed in one take with a small HD cam), and as it will be one of very few Uruguayan movies you will see this year (decade, life…).

Interesting question is why people are so enthused about this movie: because its director has shown two years ago that he can pull of a solaris-silent-running-like fusion of arthouse and science fiction, so that you can expect a brainy and slow reflection piece – in the case of Source Code on the issue of time travel? Or because the film’s premise and plot promise yet another fusion: between action thriller and a bit of brain, but with a focus on the entertainment and the optical values. A family of films fathered by Inception, in other words. Depending on where you come from, Source Code will disappoint a bit more or less. It is not slow and reflective, not by any means, but it does have the courage to stay with the inner torment our hero feels when being trapped in a situation that provides him with no exit. It is not too brainy or twisted, actually quite simple in comparison with what you could expect with all those repeated layers of reality they keep producing with each time jump, but you get compensated with pretty images and pleasant explosions. The brain and the bombs never fit together too well, however, at least not from where I was watching. I did enjoy the film, but in a distanced fashion, wondering for instance how they would manage to keep the tension even during repetition 5 or 8 of the loop our world saving soldier is stuck in. I kept thinking back to “Run, Lola, Run”, which had the same problem, and also did not really master it. I kept thinking about alternative approaches to the adventure-video-game-like challenge that is at the centre of the film, and while I figured out some ways, I also kept thinking that a film that provides its hero with an infinite number of possibilities to try again after the mission has failed is in the same danger of being frustrating as a video game is where you could save the situation just before that dangerous jump and start over if you fall down and die. After 20 times, maybe you do not want to try it one more time. I was wondering why I had all that time to think about all these things, and then the film was over, and I thought yet another thing: that you could have resolved the whole thing in a slightly more thrilling way. There is a final to the terror plot, but it has to step back against the final of the human story, so at the end of the day any season of “24” has more satisfying closure. Still: a good night out at the movies, and I watched the most ridiculous of all trailers, ever: The Priest…

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