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Monthly Archives: February 2012

I am the perfect audience for The Muppets. A middle-aged guy who has never been a fanatic about the Muppets, but who has frequently watched the show as a child, often enjoying it, sometimes being a bit bored by the celebrity hosts (or most of the times not even knowing these American old people), and who has lived a life with frequently recurring Muppet references. They are a cultural phenomenon today more than they are a tv show, after all. Miss Piggy may be the most well-known star of her generation, Kermit the Frog certainly outshines any other tv show host in terms of popularity and green-ness.

If you were a devout Muppets fan, “The Muppets” might let you down a bit … many of the beloved show elements are missing (no cooking with chef, no scientific experiments with the lab professor and Mimimi – even though both they all are in the film and contribute their share), the voices are different from the original voice cast (Henson died, Oz not involved here), the plot slumps a bit in the middle, and even the announcement of a montage does not save the film’s middle part from slightly dragging along.

But: There is the Muppet spirit all over the film. Walter the initially enthusiastic and then heartbroken hero. His brother giving him all the support he needs to find the Muppets, to bring the gang back together and set up a tv show to save the Muppet studios. The evil Mr Richman who has nothing in mind but to accumulate wealth while laughing maniacally. And the songs… awesome songs conjuring the spirit of 1950s musicals, great big dance-alongs and sing-alongs, Jason Segel (whom I did not know before, to be honest) playing humbly and feebly next to those real superstars who are cast as superstars: Kermit et. Al, formerly performing in the Greatest Show on Earth, THE MUPPETS SHOW!! There are at least three songs on that soundtrack that I will torture my environment with for months to come, I already developed the habit of spontaneously and unprovokedly erupting into “Am I a maaaaaan, or am I a muppeeeeet, ‘caus if I am a muppeeet I am a very manly muppet”…

In short: hardly ever has an icon of entertainment been treated so well so long after its heydays were over. Well done!

Months ago I was checking this out, look at some minutes, loved it, decided to watch it very soon, and forgot about it. Now it came back with a vengeance, animation weeks at home, checking out all those forgotten master pieces that somehow never manage to grab the attention while the big Oscar contenders or the Summer blockbusters are around. Good animation, it seems, is so terribly subtle and humble. “Chico and Rita” the other day certainly was, this one is, and The Illusionist (to follow) is the master of this below the radar greatness. “Sita Sings The Blues” is basically a bunch of Indian people telling the story of the Ramayana, the Indian mysticism about Sita and Rama, lovers and semi-gods (as far as I understand) , torn apart by intrigue, bound by love, reunited by adventure, separated by etc. etc. The animation style(s) is (are) lovely, alternating between the three or four levels of the narration. The plot is driven by what sounds like the script writers in the writing room arguing about the story line of the Ramayana. The structure then is a bit twisted, as the Hindu backstory is told in two or even three different ways of animation. Parallel to this runs a story of a New York couple that suffers separation, and seems to reflect the worries of Rama and Sita in the tale. Whether it is necessary to twist it the way they do, it is great to watch  and to listen to – an integral part is a list of songs by a 1920s singer crying out her emotions about love lost and found … sounds interesting? It is, and great fun, too!

The film is available for free under the Creative Commons license. The production story itself is amazing, as this is virtually a one-woman production… incredible achievement!

Free Download of the Movie here:

And general homepage:

And the Wikipedia page as back story:

And Rotten Tomatoes, where they still hold a solid and unbeaten 100% on the Tomatometer:

A rough bit of entertainment for those not faint of heart. I don’t remember how I came across it, but I was surprised that I had not heard of it before. Man crush and up-and-coming superstar Michael Fassbender co-starring in a cruel nightmare about a young couple meeting the wrong people during what was intended to be a romantic weekend at the lake. It took me a while to realize that this is not “Wolf Creek 2” – the atmosphere of isolation is about as overwhelming as it is in that unpleasant bit of Oz-Horror. More threatening, actually, because here our “heroes” stumble across a bunch of kids who don’t have more than bad teenager habits to begin with, who discover their own potential for evil while we are watching, and this is not a nice process to witness. The setup is simple and predictable, the execution of the story is intense – soon you realize that the regular rules of horror movies only partly apply, director James Watkins takes the genre away from teenage slasher movie and brings a form of realism in that may only be possible in a setting that geographically avoids prom nights and spring breaks. This is blunt, barren England, and it may look nice, but nice it ain’t… While I am a rather experienced consumer of horror movies and thrillers, there were plenty of moments when I had the urge to cringe and hide away – not in a Saw-Hostel splatter way of maximum gross-out, but because of the tense direction and inevitably unpleasant fate of some of the characters… a nice bit of nasty!

Official winner of the Kermode award 2011, and they almost lost it when being surprisingly nominated for the 2012 Oscar, this love letter to Cuba’s energetic Jazz music scene of the 1940s brings together heart-warming, and heart-breaking love, smooth rhythms, interesting animation with pleasant ocher colours, dynamic motorbike chase sequences, and great panoramic views of Havana and New York. What can I say? A wonderful film, with a wonderful and sad love story and a sad but wonderful (if not terribly creative) ending, and characters that really have rhythm in their blood. What better compliment to give them than to say that I would have loved to share their time, even though it’s mostly not even my kind of music?!

I have no idea what that was about, it was one of these cases where a moment of distraction can take you completely out of a story. I needed to check the Wikipedia plot explanation while watching (including this chart about partly jumping back to the location in time as a safe house, er, safe time)

and while I believe that what they write is true, I had no way of confirming it from the film… Meaning I should watch it again, but I won’t, the look of the film, the acting, the whole idea of out-nerding your audience did not really appeal to me. If, however, you enjoy films like “23” and similar tech-prone world conspiracy jamborees… try it on, it might fit your brains where it failed to fit mine. It’s about accidental discovery of time travel, I am told. Will personally rather go back to watch “Back to the Future” twenty more times…

Bloody hell! This is one of the more painful, while impressive movie experiences, a cruel and unmasked depiction of life in rural China, among people with little or no education, with values and habits rooted in the most basic survival instincts, The story of one of the many girls that were sold as wives, in this case based on a proper con-style kidnapping, as is not unusual even today in China’s South, as is sometimes reported. This one suffers more than her predecessors, because she is rather well-educated, she is stubborn, she is not willing to accept what everybody around her seems to be considering her fate. Resistance, escape… all only extends, and intensifies her suffering. The few people in the village she could consider normal are of no help either, too deeply entangled in the prison of family and Guanxi.  The inevitability of the story line may be the worst to endure – also because it means that parts of the film are kind of superfluous, you know exactly where this is going, and despite its drama, there is a certain hiatus in the middle act, where she is floating quietly towards the story’s climax.

Li Yang has made a film that is not only painful to watch, I imagine that it was also painful to create these often half-improvised scenes with semi-professional actors who seem to be not so far away from the culture and habits they are performing. I am not sure whether this is the closest that you get to a Chinese neo-realism, but if I take the two Li Yang films I have seen (the other one was “Blind Shaft”, which may have been even more painful and maybe even better), and then Jia Zhangke’s Still Life (still one of my favourite films of the last decade), there is a stylistic coherence not just born out of budget limitations, but out of the stylistic requirements these stories bring about. These are dirty, gritty and cruel stories ripped out of one segment of Chinese society, and these films reflect this brilliantly.

Why has this film been a disappointment to so many? Maybe because Viggo Mortensen and Michael Fassbender have built up enough star power by now that audiences follow them wherever they go? Even if that involves a David Cronenberg film? Who himself has tricked the adult moviegoers into believing he was a commercial auteur – after all, he had chases and murder and knife fights and shootings and mobsters and professional agents in his last two well known films, “History of Violence” and “Eastern Promises”? And there is Keira Knightley, who tries to establish herself as a character actress, taking daring choices for her roles, and by doing so suggesting to her fans that “A Dangerous Method” is some form of nice costume celebrity biopic? Seems a lot of things come together to create the illusion that this is not a proper Cronenberg movie – allowing people to take a chance to watch it who usually would not go anywhere near his movies.

This is proper Cronenberg, there is no way escaping that fact. He makes films that used to cover the tormented body and soul, and since Dead Ringers this are more interested in the soul, these days the body is often left alone. “A Dangerous Method” is maybe not the most consequent and painful effort in this direction (that prize may go to “Spider”), but it is a very good effort nonetheless. The relationship between Fassbender’s  Jung and Mortensen’s Freud may be floating, pointless, arduous and long-stretched – but that seems to be why it affected especially Jung’s biography so strongly. There is no coherence in the relationship between the persons forming this triangle, and how could there be? A partnership turning into a competition, a doctor-patient relationship turning into a sado-masochistic affair… this is erratic and arbitrary, and it should be. The held-back intensity of the male stars keep up the tension and lend credibility to the claim that this relationship actually is important. The Keira Knightley / Sabina Spielberg character is a bit distracting, on the other hand. She seems overplayed (probably historically accurate), which in the case of Knightley is not a good idea – as she has a history of the terribleness of her first performances to shake off in the first place. Distorting her features the way she does here may not do the credibility of the character a favour. But still, actually she portraits the haunted woman well and watching her getting relief through some Dr-Jung-applied spanking is pretty nice to watch, too. I keep telling her she’s too thin, though, but she won’t listen…

Now that would be an interesting double feature for those of us whose life is just a bit too happy for comfort: first, see how a little family trying to cope with a seriously depressed sister / in-law now also has to deal with the impending and inevitable end of the world. Everybody knows it’s happening, and only the one person who is not even able to get out of bed alone finds the right attitude to cope with it (that would be this movie).

And then watch Take Shelter, where Curtis LaForche, played by the ever-amazing Michael Shannon, is confronted with the impending storm sweeping away maybe just the neighbourhood, maybe the whole world. Here, only he apparently can see the signs, and his life history gives him very little experience how to deal with forthcoming apocalypses. So he does what he does best and by profession: he digs a hole in the ground and builds a shelter. No, what he actually does is “believe”: he has no reason to believe that the storm is coming, his family runs a history of schizophrenia, all the factual evidence points to him just another case of crazy. But belive he does, and act upon it, even though this estranges him from his dog, his colleagues and his family. Maybe he is just insane, maybe he has legitimate visions  and precognitions, he has no way of telling which, but he still has to decide what to do. Shannon plays this with the pain-ridden expression that I so much love since Revolutionary Road and Bug, but in particular since his he grabbed the attention away even from Steve Buscemi though his torn and tormented Nelson Van Alden in “Boardwalk Empire”. It seems Shannon invented a new genre of type-casting just for himself: the man who should know what is right, but doing the right thing hurts. The rest of the cast does what is necessary to showcase this, the omnipresent Jessica Chastain and the other Boardwalk remnant Shea Wigham have mostly very subdued parts to play. Each has one plot-changing moment of outburst – and each time they show how capable they are.

The film takes place in Ohio, I suppose because of its mixture of suburbia dullness, wide horizons, open skies – just the place where you can see a storm coming from far away if you dare open your eyes…

That was really entertaining! Technically it’s a mess, of course: I am sure the script authors had a blast coming up with completely contrived reasons to move the action from A (forgot) to B (Moscow) to C (Dubai). The product placement managers pulled all stops to the point of annoying the audience (“oh no, another BMW in the film – I wonder what decisive plot point they have invented for that car to save the world!”). The humour is clumsy at best (the message does not self-destruct, so you hit the metal box to help…). But then the helicopter shot races across the desert, passing hordes of camels – or Tom Cruise jumps down the glass façade of the 120 floor skyscraper. Maybe the biggest impression: the apparently just cleaned and repainted Kremlin , all shiny on the crystal clear IMAX screen… never mind all the talk about digital projection, 3D etc.: a 70mm IMAX movie is more impressive done by somebody who understands cinematic imagery is pretty mind- and eye-blowing. You can almost forget the weak script construction that is an uninspired rip-off of everything James Bond has ever done. Whenever there is a trace of boredom, Simon Pegg comes in with a funny intervention, or that terribly pretty girl with the nice green dress walks across the scene – and all is good!

Seems it is the day to slack off the Rotten Tomatoes 97 plus per cent films. “The Artist” is of course overrated, it is a nice enough effort in style, using a regular love story, without fear of hurting or exciting anybody for the running time. It is, as was said somewhere else, one of these movies that people who have fallen out of the habit of going to the movies tend to love. Just like “Les Choiristes” or “King’s Speech”, they manage their way into the heart of the unspoiled … meaning those who have not seen the same love story up and down the alley 300 times and more. Who are fascinated by the use of an “unconventional” film style (b/w and silent, in this case), without realizing that every year there are more interesting films that use this form of storytelling, and who fail to acknowledge the movies that were made when silent films where at their artistic peak.

So the only thing surprising about “The Artist” how successful it was to establish itself as everybody’s darling – it is certainly a nice enough bit of entertainment, but nothing more than that. A tad boring at times maybe…

The Interrupters have been talk of the movie critics circle all year – first because of its unmasked look into the reality of Chicago’s  underprivileged areas and the omnipresent violence, and the story of fearless interrupters jumping into the middle of erupting violent conflicts, risking their own health and life by doing so. Later, the film made the headlines by not getting shortlisted for the Oscar race for best documentary, a category most people only observe cursorily, but usually do not actually see the films listed. I am very often underwhelmed by documentaries: even highly praised ones, such as this year’s “Tabloid” or “Senna” (the latter also Oscar-snubbed, I seem to remember), tend to take an interesting story or message, and end up creating a format around it that I find exaggerated. You do not need 90 minutes and more to tell the story of “Tabloid”, or two hours for “The Interrupters”, or more than three for the DVD extended version of “Senna”. While I am impressed with the story told in The Interrupters, from a film perspective, it does not have much to offer. It feels like the newspaper clip from which a film maker should start to write a script, and create more dramatic suspension than real life usually can offer. I believe the more interesting documentaries are those that mix core facts with challenging imagery, such as the way Errol Morris  does it in his more interesting films like the McNamara portrait; another example this year was “TT3D”, a film about the least interesting thing in the world, a motorbike race, that managed to create images that were stunning, that built up a hero at its center, and that was lucky to have interesting things happening at appropriate times. All I can say about “The Interrupters” is that everybody should see it and learn from it – but life, not for the cinema.

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