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Monthly Archives: October 2011

There are many things the film gets right, and a few it gets wrong: to have a modern, non-camp version of that often-told story is certainly brave, and they approach it with the seriousness and technical proficiency that is required to avoid stepping into the old men-with-ape-masks trap. The story of raising an artificially improved baby monkey, and dealing with the consequences of its intelligence, is well developed. To position the apes on the receiving end of cruelty and inhumanity is the obvious thing to do, and they do it well, that is to say in a way that allows you to sympathize with the apes, and develop solidarity with their rise, even though it will mean the end of mankind. The problems I see mostly in the terrible pacing: I found the effect of the drugs unnecessarily quick – so quick that it got me out of my cone of credulity. One shot and Alzheimer’s is cured? One shot and the monkey can write? And after a good dose of cleverness anti-perspirant, any monkey can learn sign language in a good evening of lessons?  And through increased intelligence, what monkeys learn is basically behave like humans, is that what we are led to believe? All in all, the proximity to human behavior was a bit too much all through the film, and wasted a bit of its plausibility for the effect of cuddliness or spectacle.

Still: James Franco is cute and solid, Freida Pinto is cute and cute, unfortunately not enough of her on screen, and I very much like John Lithgow as the father who falls in and out of Alzheimer’s. The opening scene where a monkey goes on a rampage through a lab is breathtaking, and sets the tone for the way the motion-captured apes are integrated in the film: as real characters, as physical as they can be in this day and age. The end of the film sets the stage for a couple of transition movies (Ape’s “Revenge of the Sith”, if you want), and I am actually rather looking forward to these. I want to see Caesar rise and lead the mutiny the way I want to see Robb of Winterfell lead the battle against all odds. And I am sure somebody unexpected will turn to the dark side before this war is won…


This film comes with high praise from the reviews – and that praise is not really justified. Yes, having those kids is a memory of films like Stand by Me, or also the Goonies – but while those (Stand by Me in particular) lived off the charm of regular kids with regular interests experiencing a regular adventure, “Super 8” wants to deliver a super-alien super-adventure. The result is an odd mix of Godzilla, that other rather boring Abrams monster-movie, E.T. and many other motives from the history books of juvenile movie making. The early parts of the film are quite fun to watch, actually, with nice relations between the kids, and even interesting conflicts within their families (again, the reference is the all-time brilliant Stand by Me) – these plot lines get dropped as soon as that generic monster comes to town, though. Then it is all loud and explosion and monster  screams and people’s screams and running and shouting. And a rather rushed way of getting rid of the threat. Hm… it seems that I still have to wait for the first Abrams movie that I really and unconditionally enjoy.

I did not like the first “Cars” film too much, and I don’t like the second one too much, either – oddly enough, these films seem to be out to compile all the movie motives I really do not care for. James Bond-like gadgets and plots, shiny cars of all sizes and forms, car chases and races, the supposedly charming nature of simple-minded mid-westerners. No, not my piece of cake, even though Mater, the tow truck was a likeable enough character in the first film. With too much screen time here and too many twisted plot convolutions, this all does not work too well in the sequel. Characters like the Italian race car pop up and disappear, the love interest from the first film virtually disappears, the friendship and trust plot is a fragment at best. It seems messy, and it feels messy. After redoing  the Toy Story in 3D for 3D’s sake, after the underwhelming Toy Story 3, this is yet another rather disappointing piece of Pixar. Have they finally run out of steam?

my old “Cars” comments:

What the hell was this?? A Kevin Smith movie??? The person who entertained us and provoked others with hard hitting filthy dialogues about Star Wars and boob sizes? The porn comedy director and perennial dope smoker? This is way strange: The film starts as a raunchy teenager comedy, stays there for some 5 minutes, and then turns into something very different: a religious horror thriller torture-porn movie. Something like that. I was actually a little bit offended when it did, wondering briefly whether every director and author has the right to do every kind of movie, or whether as a director of raunchy comedy, you have to work your way through coming-of-age drama, teenager angst drama, crime thriller, cop thriller and sci-fi comedy first before being eligible for religious horror. Smith did not care, it seems, he obviously is done with what he did and has become a different kind of filmmaking animal. He gives you one twist because he knows that you will wonder what that means, and when it does, you wonder whether this is an ironic diversion, leading back to the raunchy starting point – and you are surprised about the results. And when the trumpets of Jericho go off…

Funny thing is: after getting over being startled, I did like the film. In particular, I did like the main character, a preacher for a fanatic sect of mid-western jerks, acting the life out of this part, preaching for hours without end, and being ruthless beyond limits. Everybody else does play his or her part well, John Goodman is a little bit underused maybe, but take away his fame and his part is perfectly fine (and I am sure he was needed to get the financing for the film done).

Does this mean Kevin Smith tries a different genre with each film from now on? We will see – he certainly is interesting enough of a script writer to make me stay interested.

It seems “The Trip”, one of my favourite films of this and last year, has many fathers. I mentioned it owes a lot to Kerry Reichardt’s “Old Joy”, and it merges this with the hilarious nonsense that is “A Cock and Bull Story”. I have no idea whether this Michael Winterbottom film has anything to do with its literary source (by Laurence Sterne). Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon are – just as in “The Trip” – very convincingly playing versions of themselves, actors on the set of a too-low budget production of “Tristram Shandy”. I can’t really say what it is about, there is the regular chaos of any film production, the catastrophes of useless battle scenes, there is Agent Scully and Stephen Fry for decoration at points, and there is the little boy who gets his little boy caught in a falling window frame.  It is good fun, and it has the despair of vain actors fighting for their reputation and career and against their age that can also be found in “The Trip” and that makes both films deeper and sadder than they could have been. Michael Winterbottom cannot make uninteresting movies, quod erat demonstrandum.



An intense little movie with just the role Michael Caine surely had wished for towards the end of his acting career. He plays a retiree, soon a widower. He has very little left in life that entertains him, and these things are taken from him one by one. At some point it is too much, and he does a Michael Douglas – a “Falling Down” Michael Douglas, that is. Not that he really would run amok, but he decides that he has had enough, and pulls together his plenty skills (good luck the authors remembered to give him a suitable back story!) to clean up the neighborhood. Despite the fact that the script is pretty contrived, and that the Caine’s character plays on the fringe of credibility, the film is tense and gripping. The atmosphere of peril and devastation in a random UK suburb is well caught on film, the pointless aggression may have looked exaggerated at the time of filming, but proved to be spot on a couple of months later when the British cities went up in random street violence. And Michael Caine gives his Harry Brown the sad, melancholic, bent look that comes with accepting the fate of an old age without too much perspective – and provides the interesting challenge to the viewer of whether to sympathize with a man full of rage and out for revenge.

It took me two efforts to get through it – but it was very rewarding when I did. It seems a bit odd when you watch this film these days – as “these days” are the days after “Bands of Brothers” and “The Pacific” have been out for a while. If you have seen “The Pacific”, you have seen “The Thin Red Line”, in a way – and in another way, they are perfect companion pieces. They share their merciless depiction of a battle for some godforsaken hill on some godforsaken islands in the middle of the (yes, godforsaken) South Pacific. Most of the soldiers are not perfectly sure of where they are, nobody really understands why it is so terribly important to get up and over that hill. While “The Pacific” establishes a series of cruel battles, wearing out the soldiers and the equipment, continuing a terrible ordeal that we were following at this point for quite a while already, “The Thin Red Line” throws us right into a singular situation, but then pauses occasionally to reflect on life, war, and everything, and takes its time to adore the beauty of the grass and the trees, to establish silent moments of watching the children play after the battle, of swimming with the locals and not wanting to go away again. While they fight, this fight us ruthless against the enemy and between the rivals for leadership in the battles. While they rest, they all are but a bunch of dudes with nonsense in their head who were thrown into war before they were even allowed to drink alcohol. Terrence Mallick seeks to show (I think) the absurdity if this situation, the many facets that makes war a surreal experience, from which there is no sane escape. It is beautiful to watch, sometimes it tortures the audience with an intended stalling, a removal of all pace, and forces you to empathize with the filmmaker in his desire to reflect upon the topic of humanity, conflict, and loss. The impressive cast around Nick Nolte, Sean Penn, and many others carry the film without being oppressive – maybe with the exception of George Clooney, who has an oddly out-of-touch part, apparently just to show off.

I am not a big fan of Conan O’Brien. I watched his shows a couple of times, and never connected to his humour. As I almost compulsively watch Jon Stewart and often see what Craig Ferguson is doing, I guess I just belong to a different world of humour. Still: you can sometimes see in the Conan shows that he could be a rather funny stand-up comedian had he not sold his soul to prime time tv, or at least the prime time fringe in the networks. This documentary follows him on a little tour he prepared while he could not get on tv as a consequence of the deal he struck with NBC after Jay Leno took back his late night spot. The “Contractually forbidden to be funny on tv”tour is hinted at in this film, but you do not see too much of it. What you see is a comedy and tv star who has chosen to go through the treadmill of stand up live comedy again to see whether he still can (similar to that other documentary where Seinfeld does a similar thing to himself) – and we can watch him enjoying it and suffering terribly at the same time. An excessive influx of fan’s sisters and cousins in the dressing room, pictures taken, sponsors’ parties (before and after the shows). It is as if he can already feel the end of his career looking over his shoulder, with car dealership openings and ribbon cutting events at bridal wear shops. This time it’s self-inflicted, Conan, but beware what the future has in store… He is funny during this trip, even under stress, but unfortunately he is most funny when he is not on stage, but when he is hanging out in his wardrobe, or sitting on a bus to the next shitty town. There he can let loose, he forgets what he has heard about audience expectations, and becomes a great impro comedian. He should do more of that.

I have no idea why I had never seen this truly excellent film before, the classic that it has become, but here we are: at last I had the chance to watch a very good movie with a very good Robin Williams, Stellan Skarsgård, Ben Affleck, Casey Affleck and with a decent lead set of Matt Damon and Minnie Driver. There is only one scene where Robin does the Williams, which is a good thing, and there are many scenes where the melancholy of growing up in a not too exciting place on the US East coast plays stage center. This is what the film is about: high hopes, faded dreams, and the fear of change. All the characters know about it, but only the least educated one (played by Ben Affleck) understands it, and this becomes his film close towards the end when he gets a speech to open the eyes of the hitherto ignorant and self-indulgent, obnoxious Matt Damon character. It is one of these interesting cases where you have a character at the center of a film who cannot be loved, as he is arrogant and selfish and ignorant to a painful degree. Yet you are inclined to suffer and sympathise, because he is the only one with a hope of change in all this. In a curious genius of script writing, this completely sad and desperate setting makes a light-hearted, often funny and always agreeable movie, without losing sight of the stakes at hand and the slings and arrows to be suffered. Again: Excellent movie!

Another one of these English classics that I never read or saw and that was fascinating and entertaining  despite all my preconceptions against the girly source material. (is there actually an earlier film version? I would be surprised if there wasn’t). This is not half as good a film as “Jane Eyre” the other day, but then again, the original story seems to be lighter and less burdened with feminist clutter, which allows for the kind of film Kenneth Branagh would have made out of the Shakespeare comedies some decades ago. Now this is a new generation of filmmakers and actors, so Branagh is now called Joe Wright (who will only some years later shine more brightly with “Hanna”) and Emma Thompson is called Keira Knightley, and even though Knightley is neither great nor beautiful, she is pretty watchable as Elizabeth Bennett (despite her efforts of smiling girlishly, which always makes her lower lip hang down rather sheepishly, sorry…), who wants to marry the wrong people and wants to be married by the wrong people in turn. Some of the actors and characters are more remarkable (Donald Sutherland!), some less (Mr Bingham and most of the Bennett sisters). All in all, they do not help to create the atmosphere of high  stakes that I would expect this story to have. It is all a bit too light and banal, perfectly entertaining, but at least for someone like me who is unfamiliar with the book there is no edge to be seen.

The one-eyed Viking warrior with visions of terror and blood… if you take this outline as a starting point, you will form a certain expectation on what this film will look like. It does not look like that. It is terribly violent, grotesquely silent, and barrenly beautiful, with great visuals of the Northern European landscapes, and Vikings or Scottish crusaders wandering through it.  They do not have an aim to begin with – Jersualem comes later, when the crusaders come by -, but moving seems to be a way of surviving by creating chances to encounter other tribes – and ideally slaughtering them. And then the world turns red, and the visions come, and all seems like hell has come to earth, and then everybody is dead, kind of.

I would love to say that it is a great art house variation on the topic of Viking movies, but it is not, really. It is dull and boring at times, and altogether half an hour too long. The long and silent shots, with an eerie score on the soundtrack, make me imagine what it would be like to see that film while sitting in the projection hall of a modern art museum. That sounds about right. It is not so much a movie, but a media installation with Vikings.

If you are a sucker for movies and movie business (and if you are not, why would you write or even read movie blogs??), then this film is greatly amusing. Not because it would reveal anything that you had not heard of before, but because it provides a first-hand example of the anarchic and creative ways you have to apply in order to get your films financed. Product placement is one way of doing that, and unless you are in bed with one of the big agencies who have their multi-billion dollar brand names lined up, you have to do serious cold calling, walking, presenting, and pitching.

Morgan Spurlock has it easier than the average film maker: he is a brand of his own, having killed the McDonalds Super-Size menus single-handedly with his documentary self-poisoning experiment that got his doctor almost to tears some years back. Now he can ensure his potential partners in placing their products that firstly the film will be seen by quite a bunch of people, and secondly that he has the good humour to place all products in the center of his film. Shampoo that goes for ponies and people alike, pomegranate juice in vertical-boobs bottles, gas stations that look oddly like fast food franchises are just examples for what he gets: not the big names, but plenty of small ones.

The film shows how he approaches them, what he promises, how he keeps it, and is a good laugh in these parts. It is not as interesting in trying to convey the background and Hollywood perspectives, the interviews with JJ Abrams or whatever the director of the Jacky Chan car chase movies is fall a bit flat. But of course – did he expect them to say “when Pepsi came in, we changed the lead character from casual alcoholic to pimple-plagued teenager with a soda preference”? And Spurlock realizes this, so he keeps it at the necessary minimum to be able to use the talking heads of his celebrities for poster advertising…

All in all a not too provoking, but perfectly entertaining insight into some not too glamorous bit of the movie industry, with some sneaky hits against the mostly appalling world of advertising and marketing. And he is so lucky to have the Mini Coopers instead of the shitty Volkswagens!

The spectacular thing about The Fighter is Christian Bale’s physique – he is starved down to half of his usual self, and looks the crack addict he plays as Dicky, the older of the Ward half-brothers. Mark Wahlberg, on the other hand, is all the pretty boy, only bulking with muscles from head to toe. The two boxing brothers apparently both had their moment of fame in real life, the older one when Sugar Ray Leonard tripped fighting him and stumbled to defeat, and the other one when actually conquering the World Championship title of some federation or other by bringing on some crazy strategy – and despite his family that is just over-the-top lunatic.

The performances of both Bale and Wahlberg are impressive, even though I generally do not like Bale, here he delivers exactly what is needed, a slightly hysterical, always delusional crack addict who cannot let go the one moment in life in which he found glory, even though it was all fake glory, and everybody else came out of it much better than he himself (there is a nice scene where Dicky Ward is trying to get into touch with Leonard, still a superstar, who clearly has little memory of this “great defeat”).  The fanatics behind the scenes of boxing, a group of people you would not want to meet in a dark alley in general, have been shown before, comprehensively in “Rocky” and “Raging Bull”, but also so many other movies. One interesting aspect about The Fighter is that the professional entourage is oddly quiet and restrained, not very big on talking, just doing their thing – this seemed a more realistic approach to these backyard warriors, just getting their job done, getting the boxers fit for the fight, and then carrying on. “The Fighter”adds the sibling relationship, and does it with a very good script that keeps up the tension despite limiting the fighting scenes to a necessary minimum. Those scenes, when they come, are very well done, and Wahlberg seems to have practiced quite a bit of punching when preparing for the film. Enough glamour and drama to make a gripping movie, enough realism and grit to make an interesting one.

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