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Monthly Archives: April 2012

The film is discussed as a study of a New York sex addict – I am not sure whether this is not misleading. Brandon’s problem is not so much addiction to sex, but inability to behave like a functioning human being. Those two may be related, but in my reading this is a guy who fills his otherwise vacuous life  with mostly purchased sexual distraction in order to avoid depression. He would not be an addict anymore would he learn a way to normally communicate, express his desires and fears. Brandon would so much prefer to live in a self-controlled world, but he has to deal with colleagues and family, and his inability to judge when his support is necessary and how to provide it drags him further down.

As it is, he gets easily frustrated (e.g. when his Carey Mulligan sister abuses his goodwill by taking his boss to his apartment for a fling) and rather than discuss or explain, he explodes and runs. Sex is his valve, it is not the fire that makes his kettle boil. Michael Fassbender plays this Brandon as a deceptively charming-looking successful guy who can easily be shoved off-track, made extremely uncomfortable, squirming in his chair if the social situation is one he cannot deal with. His restless eyes give him a away, especially as his hunting mode for single subway women involves a treatment of unflinching and fearless eye contact. A very intensive look into some very dark corners of the modern city dwellers…

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/shame_2011/

Steven Soderbergh’s movies I find either rather uninteresting (the Ocean’s franchise) or quite interesting (most of the smaller, low-budget efforts). I think I was never enthusiastic about one of his films, even though I recently liked Contagion and The Girlfriend Experience quite a bit with their respectively cool approach to their  subject matter. It seems Soderbergh never really left film school, plays around with new formats, and takes an intellectual approach to finding out how to use them. Fine with me, but leaves me at a distance. In Haywire, he does this with Bourne and Bond movies, injects a female lead, sprinkles A-list actors aplenty over it and tries out some very physical approach to action set pieces: people beating each other up, strangling each other, trying to break bones. That is something I can appreciate, but do not really love when it is used excessively. He clearly wanted to make a film with Gina Carano, and that’s what she does, so here we go. She is actually an attractive lead, not even for her physical  prowess, but for her attractive looks and unpretentious acting. As a story of the super agent being crossed and double-crossed, Haywire does not have too much going, but style, action and Michael Fassbender make it an entertaining and interesting movie nonetheless.

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/haywire_2011/

2008 comments (2012 Update below):

I am pessimistic that I will manage to catch up with all the best films of the year before all the best films of next year come in, but – hey – if you don’t start… The greatest wave of attention Zodiac enjoyed was about the strange fact that a new film by David Fincher did not receive any public attention at all, not to speak of box office. I was completely puzzled by this, because never since I first saw a film of his did I see anything boring or non-interesting.

I think the reason is that audiences have a general reservation about “True Stories”. I wrote before (I think in the context of “Ray” and “Walk the Line”, among others) that I think it is in general a bad idea to do biopics. Even under the best of circumstances (say, an interesting life, on the edge, live hard, die young, let’s say “The Doors”) does reality suffer from a severe lack of cinematic pace and narrative structure. Even more so when the “case” does not have a proper ending, as it is an unresolved crime case. Grissom would have cracked that jackpot within 42 minutes, of course, but this story plays in California, and so there is no CSI team at hand, and consequently the story stretches basically between 1969 and somewhere around the year 2000.

You have to admire Fincher for what he is able to pull out of this stop-and-go narration: the intensive quest for more information, the reversal of roles between the newspaper cartoonist (Gyllenhaal), the investigative reporter (mbllmmbbll rbert dwney jnr) and the only guy who has a mandate to catch a murderer, namely the police detective (Mark Ruffalo). They are all manic in their own way, they all get off and on track over time, and all that time you have to admit that nothing really happens. That murderer was a bit lazy, he was also a bit of a show-off, and at some point some character realised it in the movie: “Come on, of how many murders do we really know that he committed them?” and it is not even enough to call him a particularly monstrous example of his profession.
All is beautifully shot, beautifully designed, beautifully played (if you like rbrt dwney mmble jnr’s mumbling, even he will appeal to your taste), and a little bit too boring to make it match expectations. It is also one of the few films I will want to see again, because there is a truckload of information that is delivered through dialogue, and there is a bit of rapid-fire dialogue getting out of control on this at times. It is what I call the “JFK Trap”, with the ambition of really shedding light on the mystery, all these really interesting and really important bits and pieces coming together to make a really mysterious mystery… script writers fall into this reality trap sometimes when they fall in love with the story. Fair enough, but it is not good for the film!
I am quite on the side of the Guardian review on this
While the Observer is a bit more enthusiastic
And Robert Ebert
And Salon.com

UPDATE 2012-04: Indeed it was worth watching it again, I was less bored by the script being too chatty and overburdened with information (I was, however, reminded again of JFK and how some writers just dump information on the audience as if they were a garbage disposal site), I could follow it a bit better, and I could appreciate, even admire the beauty of the images and the camerawork more than first time around. It is no coincidence that, despite the lack of audience box office enthusiasm, the film has gathered a steady following: it is frequently quoted as Fincher’s most mature work (no wonder), and many name it their favourite  by this particular director. While I am not sure about that (I am still on the Team Seven for this), I liked it much more than in 2007, and I believe it is one of those films that will stick around as a classic, lending itself to repeat viewing.

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

This is not the kind I usually admit to liking… adolescent fart and ball-kicking humour, nerdy future visions of mentally decrepit society, rubbish special effects. It is fun, though… I cannot really pin down why I liked it, but I laughed most often about the details with which the production designers filled the background (and sometimes foreground): how the name of restaurants (from Fuddruckers to … well where could you go with that?!) or the business model of coffee shops changes over the centuries (“let’s got to Starbuck’s!” – “we really don’t have time for a hand job right now.”). How media presentations (see the news hosts of Fox News) and Friday night entertainment do not change at all (panem et circenses goes under the name of “rehabilitation”). The rubbish backdrops with skyscrapers leaning over drunkenly, being patched up with string and spit, the tv softchair that includes a toilet, or the law school in the shopping mall. A lot of effort went into designing this world to become a ludicrous place, populated by a ludicrous people, degenerated over the generations by overconsumption.

The downside is that I find Luke Wilson as annoying as Owen Wilson, to the point that I did not know Owen had a brother and kept thinking that it was Owen until the end credits rolled… Maya Rudolph, on the other hand, has a special place in my heart since “Bridesmaids”, I would have played up her part in this much more than they did, she would have brought more comedy to the science fiction.

Still: entertaining 1:24h, while food is on the stove and the spring rain is falling…

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

 

First time I heard about these books was just before the film came out. This means when I started reading the first book (“Hunger Games”) I was under the misconception that this is a one-off book, with two sequels cashing in on the success. 250-odd pages I was all the wiser: this trilogy is a little bit of a cheat, there is no way anyone could stop reading when (s)he reaches the end of the first volume. Not that everybody would make it that far: the writing style is not sophisticated, the characters are not original, the emotions are not subtle. But the setting is great (the people have to pay tribute every year for starting a revolution ages ago by sending their children into battle to the death), and is used to imagine a pleasantly elaborated dystopian endgame. By elaborated I mean the game, the cunning details of setting off teenagers to battle each other in royal style (yes, of course, Battle Royale must be referenced here, as must be all these other media spectacles, from the German tv movie Millionenspiel over Rollerball through Running Man – you can all find them here, but that strange Japanese movie seems to be the closest relative). I do not mean society as such: you hardly learn anything about how people are, what they do, how they relate to these games. That is a deficit, as it does not really allow for empathy, it is also a strength, as it results from the very subjective narration. The narrator is the heroine of the story, she uses a present tense that allows the reader to expect the worst at any time (not seriously, though, we expect her to make it to … well, to make it for a very long time). Often she is ignorant of what’s happening around her. Sometimes she is knocked out and misses the showdown of wars and battles. It is these details and the courage to take her out of the action, the courage to be very bleak at times and to terribly cruel to even the most beloved characters that makes these books likeable. It does not  play to the expectations of sugarcoatededness that young adult novels frequently bend to. Sometimes the plot lines get a bit out of hand (especially when the author is balancing the various love interests of the coming-of-age heroine revolution leader). And building up to the third volume’s finale, there is a little bit too much of female Schwarzenegger going on. But despite the weaknesses, I could not put those books down until they were finished, until the battles were lost and won (and how true this is in this case). There are very few characters in the book that are terribly likeable (the heroine’s little sister maybe), but all these people are stuck in a dismal and dysfunctional world and deserve sympathy.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hunger_Games_trilogy

I am all for honoring Martin Scorsese. His oeuvre certainly makes him one of the great living film makers – and one of the greatest of all times. What is funny about his career is that he starts being appreciated for his movies since he makes mediocre films, at least if you take his older work in comparison. It looks as if the Academy awarding Oscars in particular remembers past mistakes – and does anything not to repeat these mistakes. Let’s call it the Hitchcock  effect: suddenly you realize that you just missed out on one of the style-defining artists, and there is no way of taking it back. Hence, Scorsese started receiving awards around the time of “The Departed”, and it has become something like a bad habit. The reason for the great love of “Hugo” is a contextual one, the film being a celebration of the history of cinema, one of Scorsese’s great themes parallel to his feature film career. The film makers in the Academy, the film journalists, the movie buffs love feeling treated as insiders, love the not very subtly hints to movie history, love being confronted with Ben Kingsley standing in for Georges Melies, so they can tell their friends “you know, he really existed!”.

A surprisingly dull experience altogether, however, despite some nice camera tracking shots and certainly pretty production design. Sigh… I will now watch GoodFellas again to cleanse my system and re0establish my Scorsese admiration.

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

I don’t like this film, mainly because I don’t like Tintin. Never did. I always found he had stupid hair, and he has a silly-looking, no – actually a rather ugly dog. I don’t like pet dogs. I don’t like slapstick police officers, or chases on motor bikes and cars. There is very little in this film that I could have liked. It is also exactly what you would expect when somebody tells you they are making a Tintin movie. All well done, if you like this motion capture animation that creeps me out more than it fascinates me, it all looks like people stuck in virtual realities, caught in a Tron-maze, never being able to get out again… but mainly, it is all not very surprising or original. Maybe for a target group that never read the comics? They will not care a bit about it. Or for those who devoured the books? Why should they watch it? I do understand that it has been a project close to the heart of Spielberg for many years, and I am happy he has got it out of the way now. I was trying for years to throw away these folders with university documents, and now that I finally managed, I can move on. Hope that Spielberg can move on now, too, and focus a bit on being this great developer of fantasy and adventure that he can be, sometimes… War Horse and Tin Tin were two very mediocre films. Focus, man!

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

After all the dismissive comments in the reviews, most of which seem to focus on the terribly irrelevant fact that the film is not yet profitable, let me state: it’s ok. It is certainly more interesting than, say, Clash of the Titans or The Thing or Battle Los Angeles or X Men or or or … it is a better Summer blockbuster, in other words, than the previous summer blockbusters, and it’s not even out in summer! Director Andrew Stanton knows how to deal with material he was given, regardless whether it’s little fish looking for their family or big fish jumping across Mars. The problem about the film really is it’s hero, and the way he has been conceived some 100 years ago: would you develop his character today, you would probably decide against his ability to bounce across Mars like a rubber ball, because various efforts at Hulk have proven that this always look stupid. On the other hand, there are several attractive and scantly clad girls with olive-brown skin and exotic accent that make up for any plot deficits, there are magnificent landscapes that prove  again that nothing beats on-location shots (who DID they get all the equipment to Mars??) and there is my personal favourite, “The Wire” ’s McNulty dressed in antique nipple-free warrior gear (where the nipple and several other body items seem to have been cgi-improved), fighting the fight for … against … I cannot remember. That may be a weak point: at some point I stopped caring which Martian sub-tribe fights which other and why, I just remembered the girl does not want to marry the guy. But most of the guys with four arms and a turtle head were nice, and one of them was voice-cast by Willem Dafoe, which really was not necessary.

So: not really good, better than others, very strange how this film got so thrashed by that little public that actually bothered seeing it…

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

I don’t see Ben Affleck often enough. Not sure why that is, he has the looks and the skills to be a leading man in good movies –  maybe he is a bit too bulky and handsome, so casting agents are worried that you would mistake him for a an action lead? I guess one way to avoid this worry is to write produce and direct your own film, casting yourself  for the lead role. Affleck does that in “The Town”, and to complete his home game, the film plays in Boston, where he belongs. As he is quite somebody by now, this film is allowed to look big: car chases, fancy bank robberies, I seem to remember the odd explosion… and then a tender love story with a slightly clumsy Affleck trying to move in on the girl that some days earlier he has taken hostage in his capacity as a professional and serial bank robber. This is cleverly woven into the developments on the professional side: how do you do a “final heist” and not end up dead, even though not only the police, but also your Irish mobster (Pete Postlethwaite, was this your final part? It was a great exit!) bosses are very angry at you. How do you manage a controlled hit when your best friend and partner is pretty much a gun-toting psychopath (with the unsettling facial features of Jeremy Renner… he looks unstable whatever he plays, like an evil little Sean Penn brother). Ben Affleck’s life challenge seems to be to define his relationship with his home town, and that adds a layer of melancholia to “The Town” that is just enough to offset the sometimes excessive action sequences.

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

I almost forgot how enjoyable and light-hearted Kaurismäki is, despite his tendency to show not very  happy people get involved in not very jolly situations. Admittedly, I lost him out of sight since around “I Hired a Contract Killer”, without ever being disappointed by one of his films. Maybe it is because other films have tried to emulate and duplicate his stoic approach  to arthouse, turned this specific category of slightly artificial play and dialogue into a mannerism and covered the whole genre with slightly too much saccharine, burying the original Finnish R.W. Fassbinder underneath as a collateral? Or not, I am not sure. In any case, I felt right at home again when meeting his strange hero Mr Marx, with strange and sick wife and strange relationship to strange neighbours. A very joyful set of odd characters populate this film, the oddest maybe being the Inspector investigating the case of an escaped African refugee boy – a mixture of the inspector from Fantomas, a Grey Man from Momo and the Tintin inspectors whose names I keep forgetting. So: refugee, warm-hearted strange shoe polisher, neighbor baker woman, vegetable salesman and a bunch of guys hanging out at the local bar and look like the sisters of the Rolling Stones’ parents… oh yes, and the unavoidable musical homage, in this case to some very very very irritating-looking stage hero called “Little Bob”… what’s to be said: there is no reason not to watch Kaurismäki’s movies, it is thoroughly enjoyable and uplifting, even in French …!

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/le_havre_2011/

How much British barrenness can one endure? Here is another addition to the family that has great siblings such as most recently “We Need To Talk About Kevin”, earlier “Red Road”, “Fish Tank”, even “Harry Brown” … and even the uplifting tales of coming of age are painted on a canvas that reeks of desolation and decrepitude. “This is England”, I am talking about you… “Tyrannosaur” is about an angry middle-aged-turning-old man, played FANTASTICALLY, subtle, ferocious, vulnerable, decisive … played by the great Peter Mullan  (insert dismissive comment about Oscar Academy here… ah why bother!), his character Joseph has lost everything that is to lose, and there are few to blame but himself. He is an alcoholic, he has a bad temper, he shies away from any help the few nice people around him are willing to offer. Until he meets Hannah, who is working in a charity shop basically to get away from her own considerably wealthy but dysfunctional marriage. These two people are not meant to form a romance, or turn around their fates because of the light that shines on them – but they do get just enough inspiration and courage  out of each others’ company to turn from mostly passive endure to willing helmsman of their own fate. In the bleak English working-class reality, this cannot be enough to lead to a happy ending, but it can lead to a new and better path for both of them, after considerable suffering and pain. Great British cinema with great actors – you need to be in the mood for this kind of dirty brick realism, but then it’s among the most rewarding things you will have seen in a very long time!

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

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