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Monthly Archives: July 2013

Sometimes I can be forgiving. After delivering what in my eyes is still the worst film of the last two years, I still decided to check out “the other reason” why anybody would give Kim Ji-woon a bunch of million dollars to make a fool out of Arnold Schwarzenegger (as if he needed Korean help for that). One reason was “I Saw The Devil”, I suppose, which many loved (myself? Not as much as others…). The other reason was “A Tale of Two Sisters”. This one managed to wangle a major US release and become a stunning success (some 70 Million US, I think). Which is a bit surprising actually: This film is very quiet, mellow, moody and atmospheric, you will not find the trademark mutilation or other forms of violence today are so typical for the new Korean cinema. It may not even be a horror film, but a film about how horrible life sometimes is.

I suggest to watch the film without knowing anything about it, then sitting down with several grams of alcohol and thinking hard about what it was about, and then read the plot summary on Wikipedia. I needed it (but maybe that was because I opened a bottle halfway through and lost focus). While the story arch is somehow easy to write down (“two girls being shoved into father’s new family and not getting along with stepmother, plus being haunted by ghosts of the past”), that description may include at least three contentious claims. It does not matter, though, whether at any point you feel you know what is going on. The film is about the atmosphere of adolescent fears, rejection, and guilt (as so often with “horror” films), and that atmosphere is crafted in style. If the audience is sometimes left alone with the question of what is real and what is not, it is consoling that for the film’s characters, this also applies, and with much more severe impact. The teenage actresses are also very convincing in conveying this, the adult actors a little bit less so. (The stepmother always appeared to over-act, and I could not figure out whether this was intentional or whether she is just not a very good actress. Looking at her oeuvre and seeing that she mainly worked in Korean TV shows before, I am leaning towards the latter, but that may be unfair…).

Hence, Mr Kim, I appreciate you are not in general a useless director. “A Tale of Two Sisters” is a pretty good movie, even though it lacks original elements (unless you count “audience confusion”). I just wished you would pick your projects a bit better in the future. If I take the succession of “Tale of Two Sisters”, “I Saw the Devil” and “Last Stand” as an indicator for what’s next, you are not riding a good vector… What about making a film at home again, and proving that you are not a one-hit wonder?

A collection of three “shorts” (not really, 40 minutes each, very good length actually in my opinion!) by three of Asia’s most exciting directors:

I have seen “Jiaozi / Dumplings” by Fruit Chan before, actually, when it premiered at Berlin Film Festival in feature length, and the memories of that particular screening will never wane, as I was sitting next to (NEXT TO) the film’s frighteningly beautiful star Bai Ling (oh so fragile and white skinned, the scent of perfume and … never mind…). I am sure she was 65 at the time, but looked like a stunning 27. Why that is we learn in the film, which reveals some depths about human vanity few ever cared to learn about. Very disturbing! (Oh and she was wearing this glittering nothingness of a dress, providing hints on this and that that are still haunting me.. Stop it!).

Anyway… Park Chan-Wook: Cut! Park (of Lady Vengeance, Mr Vengeance and most prominently Oldboy fame) is maybe the most achieved of the three directors here in terms of directorial style. He throws you into a beautifully crafted film set which, we will learn, is build on the model of this film-in-film director’s own home. Returning back to this home is what starts his misery, as he finds an intruder in his house, who is seeking revenge for … well, no, should not give it away, as it is part of the absurdity of this piece. It is a cruel story, of cruel choices imposed on our “hero”, and do I say too much when I say that some choices are just too hard to make without causing serious damage.

Takashi Miike’s (Audition, 13 Assassins) “Box” does have something of a plot, but at the end of the day it is more of an allegorical statement on guilt and jealousy. It (maybe) deals with the memories of a former circus artist (one of those little girls who can bend their tiny bodies to fit into impossibly small boxes), tortured by the guilt about her sister’s fate. As it pans out, there is plenty more to it, more allegory maybe, or more nightmares.

These three films team up almost perfectly in their differing aesthetics, morale and approaches to disturbing the audience. All three are seriously disturbing, but – thank God! – not in a “Hostel” way. These are serious cinematic achievements, they dig deep into humanity and its flaws, and do provide neither easy remedy nor catharsis. I love them for that!

Sometimes it happens: years after its theatrical release (if there was any), you come across a gem, and you wonder how the world (or myself, more specifically) could have missed it. Why I missed “The Disappearance of Alice Creed” in the first place, I don’t know. I don’t know whether it ever made its way beyond the festivals. How I found it I do know, however: Thanks to and their list of the best movies that I’ve missed. Klicking through the last couple of years, there were indeed some promising movies that I will have to catch up with.

“The Disappearance of Alice Creed” is a kidnapping story, and a straightforward one: five minutes into the film, I loved it for its depiction of the kidnappers diligently preparing for their hit,preparing the room they plan to keep their victim in, and the casual showing of the actual deed. Every move, it seems, has been professionally prepared and rehearsed, and it all goes down smooth as silk. That means, of course, that something will not be the way it appears to be, or that something will go not according to plan. Setting this turn of events through the sheer flawlessness of the preparations and initial stages is masterfully efficient story telling. After s short while, it will become sort of clear what the flaw in the plan is (or flaws, rather), and you are allowed to speculate which of the domino pieces will come down first. The three actors who take up all of the screen time are all splendid: In particular the ever-brilliant Eddie Marsan (who appeared to be kind of creepy even as driving instructor back in Mike Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky) pulls off the stunt of criminal mastermind and emotional wreck, trying to keep things from falling to pieces.

For what it is, the film is almost perfect: a genre thriller that plays with the audience and its characters’ emotions, and with the interesting message that sometimes crime does pay off, if sometimes not for those you thought it would.

I am always happy to hear of horror movies that are above average, so I listen particularly careful to darker corners of the Web that are dedicated to this particular taste. Now when the good people at “Twitchfilm” say that the forthcoming “The Conjuring” will be above average, and mentions that James Wan’s previous effort “Insidious” was well scary, why not check it out? I did like the first “Saw” movie, and I don’t mind a good ghost story, even though the chance of finding something interesting and original in that particular sub-genre are slim at best.

So I obliged and watched “Insidious”. And watched. And watched. And a good 40 minutes in, I realised that I have seen it before. Not metaphorically, but literally. Metaphorically too, of course, which is the problem: this film is so generic that it is very hard to identify any distinguishing features. Even now, not a day after seeing it (again), I am having a hard time figuring out whether there is anything specific to be mentioned. There are a few things: One is a grisly gas mask that deserved its own “gas mask point of view designer”, as the end titles explained. The other one a “dream sequence” (not really, but let’s not be too particular about this) which except for its boring and not well directed sequences in its best moments reminded me of some Lynch-ian dreamscapes with a bit of the old Edgar-Allan-Poe films sprinkled over for decoration. And above all rises the memory of Poltergeist, which at times is so blatantly exploited that you are sometimes wondering whether they changed the kid character last minute from “Carol Anne” to “Dalton” so as to avoid a healthy lawsuit.

That means, of course, that some sequences work well: attics, demons, possessed kids, blurry camera images… there is a reason why so many less talented film makers are happy to rely on always the same ingredients. “Insidious” uses those maybe as well as you can today, and if you are an infrequent consumer of ghost ware, you may well be creeped out at times, and jumpy at others. Myself, I was rather constantly annoyed at the succession of one cliché genre element after the other. I still finished watching, because the alternative would have been to bravely tackle Ben Wheatley’s “A Field in England”, and sometimes the brain is tired enough to make its choices despite better taste.

I am picky when it comes to British coppers: the best ones are the grumpy crooks with a heart of gold (“Life on Mars” still ranks way up there with the best television shows I have ever seen, thanks to Philip Glenister’s “guv”). That means that the diligent and over-eager Nicholas Angel played by Simon Pegg in Hot Fuzz is not to my immediate liking. From minute one, there is no doubt, of course, that this bore-master with the 100 metres dash school record and the Japanese lily pot plant will move towards guv territory over the duration of the movie, and that’s a good thing.

What Wright and Pegg do in their script, however, is take a genre that always lived off its satiric oddball main and side characters and satirise it – the way they satirised the zombie genre in “Shawn of the Dead”. It does not work the same way here, of course, seeing that there is not much to be satiric about satire, they are looking for other weird perspectives, and find them in action and horror.

It’s not as effective as in “Shawn”, I have to say. While there are very funny lines (my favourite being a phone conversation about “decaffeinated bodies”), the whole film bounces up and down the funny ladder rather randomly. The local shopkeeper “Skinner” (played by Timothy Dalton who looks like the dude’s barstool drinking companion these days) is supposed to be the evil centre but is drawn in too broad strokes. An abundance of splendid character actors, many of which have proven to be very apt at comedy, populate the film, but most of them have very little to do (most sadly Bill “Christmas Is All Around You” Nighy and Steve Coogan). There is a finale stressing that Neighbourhood Watch is something to run away from, but then again it is too slapstick-heavy to be really funny in a clever way. The hero’s companion is treated as a walking fat joke. And there are moments of violence that just seem out of place in the overall atmosphere of the movie. I was entertained, no doubt about it, but was very much hoping that the last part of the whatever it’s called trilogy will be a bit more coherent than this.

Superhero movies are done, this film says, and I liked it for that, because it’s true. Even if you appreciated the achievement of some of the recent Batman / Dark Knight franchise, or had a bit of a good time with “The Avengers” – if nobody would release any more superhero movies starting today, I would probably realise five years from now. I would not miss them.

Seth Rogen seems to think so, too, and together with Jay Chou (did he know what he was signing up for? Seems some language challenges pertained…) engages in some form of satirical deconstruction of the genre. The “Green Hornet” is a dick, as is almost everybody else in the film apart from Cameron Diaz (who is not overwhelmed with complex acting requirements, however). But he is a kind of dude-ish dick, not very dissimilar from the last 20 roles Rogen played, just with more money at his avail and somebody who does the thinking for him. That is rather funny at times (and he can be very funny! Especially if you only watch one out of every 10 films he makes), unless you don’t like him. Then it’s hard to endure.

Trouble is that After the Green Hornet has been established as a character, the requirement was felt to have him and Cato engage in action and shooting and racing, and that’s where the film falls into its superhero trap. A car chase and a shootout is not funny, and if your film runs on the premise of being funny, well… then it starts to get a tad boring when the guns are ablaze. Did Michel Gondry want to prove he can direct big budget crashes and explosions? I would rather he goes back to what he did before, to be honest….

I am not complaining about the film, it caters to the needs and desires of the Seth Rogen audience and the superhero / action audience. I only wished that they had dared to push that envelope a bit more and do away with the action for good. A rich-boy-come-Batman dude who plays with expensive toys,  while forgetting to fight the fight of the righteous and smoking a bong instead … something along those lines.

Audience Alert: film contains less dope than you would expect from a film (co-) written by Seth Rogen.

I steal this idea from‘s movie section (even though they abandoned it in the meantime). I immediately liked the concept: a list of the films I watched and commented on here, in the order of how I like them. A ranking! I also like Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir’s liberty to not keep the ranking constant. When you look weeks or months later at a list that is based on your subjective impression right after watching a film, you can have a new impression – some films you imminently liked, but each time you see the list they end up a bit further down or have since disappeared from your memory. Others you found hard to access, but they lingered and worked their way through your guts and brain:

So from now on, my effort to maintain such a list, including mostly new films that have been released not too long ago. Next January I can then just pick the best picture winner from this list, and save the Academy the boring nomination and award procedures. “Winter’s Bone” should win next year, as well. And the year after that. But it won’t … dropped out of the list for old age reasons, unfortunately..

Last Update July 14, 2013. With broken heart, I got rid of the 2011 movies. Because so many of them were so good, I could not quite do it, however, so I decided to create a historic list for 2011-2012, and won’t touch that anymore this one below), while I keep updating the 2012-2013 list from now on:

This is the list for the 2011-2012 films. For the list that will get updated, klick here

  1. Once Upon A Time in Anatolia (2011)
  2. Paradies: Liebe (2012)
  3. We Need to Talk about Kevin (2011)
  4. Le Quattro Volte (2011)
  5. Beginners (2011)
  6. Tyrannosaur (2011)
  7. A Separation (2011)
  8. Meek’s Cutoff (2011)
  9. Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)
  10. Hodejegerne (Headhunters) (2011)
  11. The Tree of Life (2011)
  12. Oslo 31. August (2011)
  13. Magic Mike (2012)
  14. Barbara (2012)
  15. End of Watch (2012)
  16. The Master (2012)
  17. Looper (2012)
  18. Zero Dark Thirty (2012)
  19. Melancholia (2011)
  20. Rampart (2012)
  21. La Piel Que Habito (2011)
  22. The Muppets (2011)
  23. Lincoln (2012)
  24. Bernie (2011)
  25. The Ides of March (2011)
  26. Contagion (2011)
  27. Lore (2012)
  28. Argo (2012)
  29. Django Unchained (2012)
  30. Killer Joe (2012)
  31. Killing them Softly (2012)
  32. Hanna (2011)
  33. Trollhunter (2011)
  34. Chico and Rita (2011)
  35. Real Steel (2011)
  36. The Raid: Redemption (2012)
  37. Sightseers (2012)
  38. Jane Eyre (2011)
  39. Moneyball (2011)
  40. The Impossible (2012)
  41. Margin Call (2011)
  42. Kill List (2011)
  43. Arbitrage (2012)
  44. Halt auf freier Strecke / Stopped on Track (2011)
  45. Tabloid (2011)
  46. Source Code (2011)
  47. Prometheus (2012)
  48. Bridesmaids (2011)
  49. The Descendants (2011)
  50. Warrior (2011)
  51. Flight (2012)
  52. The Angel’s Share (2012)
  53. The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
  54. Yellow Sea (2011)
  55. Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
  56. Everyday (2012)
  57. Lawless (2012)
  58. Jack Reacher (2012)
  59. Total Recall (2012)
  60. The Hole (2012)
  61. Hobo with a Shotgun (2011)
  62. Brave (2012)
  63. Skyfall (2012)
  64. Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
  65. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
  66. Piranha 3D (2011)
  67. The Avengers (2012)
  68. Les Miserables (2012)
  69. Senna (Doc. 2011)
  70. Jeff, Who Lives At Home (2012)
  71. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2010-11)
  72. Red State (2011)
  73. Life of Pi (2012)
  74. The Dictator (2012)
  75. Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
  76. Men in Black III (2012)
  77. The Bay (2012)
  78. Hunger Games (2012)
  79. POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold (2011)
  80. The Artist (2011)
  81. Water for Elephants (2011)
  82. Cloud Atlas (2012)
  83. Tinker Tailor Solider Spy (2011)
  84. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
  85. La Casa Muda  (2011)
  86. The Bourne Legacy (2012)
  87. The Amazing Spiderman (2012)
  88. The Innkeepers (2011)
  89. Attack The Block (2011)
  90. The Interrupters (2011)
  91. Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2012)
  92. The Adjustment Bureau (2011)
  93. Pina (Doc. 2011)
  94. Rio (2011)
  95. Lockout (2012)
  96. Battleship (2012)
  97. War Horse (2011)
  98. The Hobbit (2012)
  99. Super 8 (2011)
  100. Stake Land (2011)
  101. Ice Age 4 (2012)
  102. Anonymous (2011)
  103. Searching for Sugarman (2012)
  104. Conan O’Brian Can’t stop (Doc. 2011)
  105. Hysteria (2011)
  106. 13 Assassins (2011)
  107. Unknown (2011)
  108. Cars 2 (2011)
  109. Cowboys and Aliens (2011)
  110. The Mechanic (2011)
  111. Midnight in Paris (2011)
  112. The Ward (2011)
  113. Priest (2011)
  114. Killer Elite (2011)
  115. The Thing (2011)
  116. Battle: Los Angeles (2011)
  117. Sinister (2012)
  118. Abraham Lincoln – Vampire Hunter (2012)
  119. Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark (2011)
  120. Wrath of the Titans (2012)
  121. Sucker Punch (2011)
  122. Chernobyl Diaries (2012)

Part I (1996), directed by Brian de Palma (oh the memories… Dressed to Kill!), seems a bit old-fashioned today. It seems it is still on the wrong side of modern action cinema, more Dirty Harry than Bourne, so to speak. This is not necessarily a bad thing – but here it felt like one, because I associated Mission Impossible with stylish high tech thrillers, and part I does not really deliver on that expectation. Of course there are beautiful shots and scenery: Prague, the Aquarium restaurant that will soon spill all its fish. A classical setting with an agent (Tom Cruise) being set up, a boss of a secret service agency working for the wrong side (and who could do that better than Jon Voight),  a McGuffin to get the story moving (some list of secret service cover names – ah, the pre-Wikileaks innocence about how to create nonsense plot devices…), and a nice villain who is not really that villainous (Vanessa Redgrave). A grand finale involving the Eurotunnel train and a helicopter – and that actually does not look so good, because technology apparently was not yet ready to pull off that particular stunt. Not always the kind of tight and slick action that I would have hoped for.

Part II (2000) was directed by John Woo, and yes, you get a lot of John Woo to chew on, for better or worse. Probably the most hilarious car-motorbike chases ever, the wildest crane and helicopter shots, the strangest combination of high-tech action and fist fights – he loves his fist fights, to the point that the fight scenes are extended way beyond anything bearable. When Ethan Hawke throws away the knife he could have used to kill off the bad guy towards the end, I cringed, not only because this was the red-lettered announcement of what the last twist of this fight was about to be, but also out of sheer annoyance / boredom… on the other hand, there should be plenty of Hongkong action fans who do appreciate the more of this the better. The whole film is torn between trying to be ultra-kinetic and over the top full of action, while being stopped again and again by Woo’s mannerisms, especially his taste for slow motion and pigeons (see Face/Off for further reference). That there is some poisonous virus and some antidote and a cute master thief / eye candy girl and Ving Rhames and a lot of other stuff… nice, but overshadowed by the choreography of fighting, chasing, jumping (off planes, helicopters and buildings). More thrilling than part one, that’s for sure. And maybe the prettiest Cruise of his career, too.

What is the reason why anybody would try to make a “Die Hard”ish movie involving the hijacking of the White House and the kidnapping of the President? Because “Die Hard” is awesome of course. Why is it awesome? Because it is the perfect storm of ruthlessly violent action mixed with politically usually un-correct humour and an adorably vulnerable hero.

Now “Olympus Has Fallen” has some bits of action, especially involving a bulky Korean airplane rampaging its way through the Washington airspace like a bull through a China shop. Everything else it does not have:

Gerard Butler is not a very interesting actor to begin with, and what he is most is not funny (well, he can be” “Sparta says NO” was funny, in a bad way).

  • Aaron Eckhart is given absolutely nothing to do as the President of the US, being tied to a rail and to Melissa Lei. While at it, he is constantly un-funny.
  • Morgan Freeman is probably bored by himself after playing Presidents or Gods in 20 movies and counting, and is not funny (with the exception of one scene where he stuns his staff with the request for a cup of coffee. Seriously the comedic highlight of the film).
  • The opening sequence involving the President’s wife is even less relevant to the rest of the film than a pre-title Bond sequence is. It’s not funny, either.
  • The villain is almost a caricature of all the Die Hard villains, only that he’s not funny.
  • The plot device that drives the whole story, the evil dude’s more evil plan against America, is lame to say the least. Needless to say that it is not even funny.

In short, that film is a bit of nonsense, even though there is no reason for that. How difficult can it be to write an even more blunt copy of Die Hard by just MAKING SOME JOKES??? One-liners? Funny t-shirts? A comic relief character that is then killed off in a hilarious fashion? Who thinks that playing such kind of story straight would make any sense? Not me… Disappointing waste of talent (i.e. of Melissa Leo).

A book about a suddenly emerging global plague, eliminating most of mankind, with the survivors in desperate need of reorganising themselves to avoid complete extermination. That was some déjà vu… had the book been called “World War R” I would not have been surprised, it really looks and feels like an author had an idea about global annihilation and wrote two possible scenarios to see which shoe fits better.

That is not to say that this would make “Robopocalypse” worse than World War Z. It’s rather a bit like the two “Capote” films that happened to be produced at the same time some years ago, where one (arguably the better one) had the disadvantage of ill scheduling and was forgotten. “Robopocalypse” is unlikely to be forgotten, as Steven Spielberg is trying for a couple of years to get a decent script out of the material. And how I so very much him sitting in his soft chair, reading the reviews and production stories of “World War Z” and scratching his beard…

Word War Z came out a couple of years earlier, so any speculative criticism of author Daniel Wilson freeriding on the Apocalypse train is only fair. Still, both books have something going for them, and they are both easily consumable in their pseudo-documentary style that allows the reader to quickly get through less interesting scenarios / characters, as the next one is never more than 10 pages around the corner.

Robots turn against their makers, and as the book plays out in an age when electronic and mechanical household and work aides have deeply penetrated human society, their sudden killing rampage is hard to escape. All over the planet, we learn, there are isolated building blocks of a resistance, be it in the form of a special skilled little girl, a tribe of brave native Americans, a robotic engineering wizard in Japan (who happens to be in love with his house robot) or a computer and telephone geek who turns from evil hacker to freedom fighter.

The book is readable, but what makes it interesting and fun is that Wilson knows what he’s talking about. He is an export on robotics, and even if you don’t know that, at least I seemed to feel it in how he carefully crafts the peril coming from exactly the next generation of machinery we currently long for (the mail distribution robots, household aid robots, and he even gives a nice twist to what a true “love robot” would all be about). He tries to paint a realistic scenario, there is very little suspense of disbelief other than maybe the arch villain “brain” (it DID remind me a bit of the Starship Troopers brain…) behind the whole affair. In this it reminded me of the better Stephen King books: taking normal people, exposing them to extraordinary events and seeing how they react. This is not great literature, but in no way less fun to read than the off “WWZ” or “Hunger Games” paperback.

Interesting: this is what I wrote in 2008 after seeing “Burn After Reading” for the first time:

John Malkovich is a government agent, George Clooney is some Finance Department administrator with a gun. Frances McDormand is working in a fitness club, where Brad Pitt works out day and night, but just his arms, never his brains. Clooney screws Malkovich’s wife, Malkovich gets fired, Clooney shoots Pitt in the face, McDormand tries to sell Malkovich’s laundry list to the Russians, Juno’s father is running the CIA and is trying figure out when exactly did the world around him go loopy (“Is that all now?” – “There’s one more thing…”). Then the film is over.

The Coen brothers may be responsible for some of the funniest moments I have experienced in cinema, in particular “Raising Arizona” and some bits from “The Big Lebowski” involving John Torturro stand out. The last 5 years of comedy, however, was a letdown. I could not bring myself to watch “Intolerable Cruelty”, and when I dared watching their remake of “Ladykillers” I almost lost faith. These days, their comedy is much more funny when injected through the syringe of drama, as “No Country” showed, but also “Fargo” had proven earlier. Plain comedic adventures by the Coens, I have now confirmed after watching “Burn after Reading” are not my piece of cake, to say the least. While there are funny moments (the scenes in the CIA headquarters with JK Simmons getting almost emotional about all these pillars of secret service crumbling around him; and – yes! – the moment that marks the death of the Brad Pitt character caused everybody in the room to laugh out loud), but there is little humour and certainly there is very little fun beyond some screwball moments. In the words of Dr Kermode: That’s alright if they a “Burn after Reading” to clean their systems and be able to make another “No country for old men”.

And then the update 2013: How come that China Eastern Airlines had exactly one film worth watching among their 100 inflight entertainment choices, and that was “Burn After Reading”? Strange, but hey, have not seen it in years, and the only thing I remembered was that I laughed heartily upon the premature demise of Brad Pitt. Having seen Brad Pitt just a day ago trying to be all superhero and brave and cool, it was refreshing to see him here in his different self: wearing shorts, trying to find Gatorade, trying to make conspiratorial phone calls, trying to sneak into a spy’s house… I just realise that the guy is a failure in everything but getting himself killed in a hilarious way (oh yes: spoiler alert… hey, that film is from 2008! And it IS funny).

I enjoyed all these people goofing around the script much more than I did back then, it seems. Frances McDormand is brilliant as ever, George Clooney is very George Clooney, but like the bad George Clooney, the one that only pretends to be such a great person, and we kind of wish that behind the façade there is a really rotten guy so we don’t feel so bad about our own underperformance and that our grey hair looks different from his. And Tilda Swinton is very good at being a proper bitch, so good in fact that I started disliking Tilda the actress rather than the character. Still the funniest moments (apart from Brad Pitt’s untimely… etc.) at the CIA where JK Simmons tries to figure out what went wrong. “What did we learn from it?” – “I am not sure, Sir.” – “That we don’t do it again. But what did we do?” – “That’s very hard to figure out, Sir.”

Thanks to the Coen boys for entertaining me with this. In exchange, I withdraw my rather cool 2008 initial reception of the film and say: funny!

That is the perfect film when you have to make the decision whether to fall asleep on the plane or risk starting another movie, where it wouldn’t matter if you snoozed through the middle part. Of course it comes with a great burden, the name tag “Luc Besson” is all over it, and that has not been a good sign for the last, say, 20 years.

But you have to give him: he is not afraid of camp entertainment (and that is not even beginning to play on the double meaning of “camp” in this film). You take a butch hero (more beefy version of Snake Plissken, played by Guy Pearce, who I keep forgetting, but always looks kind of fun when I stumble across his films), task a scriptwriter with providing him with a staccato of misogynist and sexist one-liners, and make him kill all the bad guys. Apart from the bad guys that the very very bad guy killed. That very very bad guy is a lunatic and enjoys running his space station into other space stations, almost cries when his brother keeps denying him the chance to rape the girl that has been hired to provide some decorative background for Pearce’s action, and has tattoos to show that he’s the very very bad guy.

I was hardly ever bored, I did not fall asleep in the middle part, all the many clichees were … how to put it … honest in that the producers did not even begin to suggest that there is anything original hidden in the film.

A WSYWIG movie, what you see is what you get, and with the Luc Besson name badge, it’s almost exactly what you ordered…

The problem with media blitzes for new blockbuster movies is that you know so many things you actually don’t want to know. What if I had never about and read the book on which it was based?  What if I never learned about the apparently slightly amateurish efforts of the Plan B production team to get that film off the ground? What if I never heard that there was a showdown on Moscow’s Red Square all filmed and edited, then dumped and changed into a “The Thing”’ish WHO lab claustrophobia with Zombies segment?

For once, I did not mind the deviation from the book. I think it was the right choice to take the core idea suggested in the book (world population more or less eliminated by Zombie outbreak) and make something out of it. The film zombies are fast, not slow, there is a hero, there maybe even is a proper countermeasure (that last one was a bit cheap…) … all that does do no harm in a movie. As an entertainment product, the book may be more interesting, but then again, it does not come with popcorn and air condition, so there is room for both.

There are scenes that are spectacular and admirable: the attack on Jerusalem in particular, how the Zombie masses when triggered turn into outright waves of movement, floating around the corners and over walls just like they were an incoming tsunami. Brad Pitt is handsome as ever, and even manages to look a bit helpless at times, which is always a good thing to do for somebody who will later save the world.

It is weird, however, how after the Jerusalem outbreak (or maybe during the flight out of Jerusalem) this film suddenly ends and decides to become a different animal. Why would you start in ferocious speed and then hit the breaks just when you established how well you can do mass effects? Even Peter Capaldi could not save the lab scenes from being… sorry … boring. I wanted to see more ideas on how the Zombie assault would play out, and how humanity fought back. And they completely denied me this. A very weird choice whether you know of the late rewrites and reshoots or not.

As most reviewers wrote: given the circumstances, the film is surprisingly not-terrible. But dammit! It looked as if it could have been borderline awesome…

Occasionally there are productions that are more remarkable than others. I usually do not check out films about the often sad, sometimes terrible life in post-war Eastern Germany. Let’s say: it’s a topic that doesn’t appeal to me… But in the words of a book critic “I am not interested in Eskimos – But if someone tells me an interesting story about Eskimos, there is no reason not to like it.” “Barbara” is such a story that is interesting because of the people involved, defying the rather depressing setting.

Barbara is a physician who has been transferred to one of the more remote places to be found in Eastern Germany, with the intention of keeping her from having any more stupid ideas about emigrating to the West. She stays cold and distanced from her new colleagues and her new location, now fixed on the idea of escape, and she carefully plans her steps. We realise she is very competent at what she’s doing and not at all immune to human relationships, actually suffering, it seems, from the need to suppress them for the sake of her escape plan.

All this plays out in front of the Eastern German dictatorship and the perennial invasion of the secret service into everybody’s life. Barbara herself is under scrutiny, but so is her colleague at the hospital and the young girl delivered with serious cases of meningitis and unintended pregnancy. Barbara needs to process this, needs to decide what her role in all this can be, how far she can fight back without endangering the future she has planned with a Western German business man. This all can’t go well in a good (i.e. honest) film, and when drama erupts, I was not surprised by the choices she makes. But still moved.

Christian Petzold is a very competent German director, one of those who can turn a relevant story into a cinematic experience, not just an intellectual essay. I have not seen all his films, but “Die Innere Sicherheit”, “Wolfsburg”, “Gespenster”, “Yella” and “Jericho” would be enough to secure his rank among Europe’s finest. A pleasure to see how he manages to put the person in the foreground, and fill the background with all the information and atmosphere necessary, without turning his film into a boring educational.

I saw this months ago and could not decide what to write. Now, before I am about to see the second part of Ulrich Seidl’s “Paradies” trilogy (first one was the breathtaking “Paradies: Liebe”, coming up: “Paradies: Glaube”) I feel compelled to catch up and make a stand. Is “Import / Export” likable? I actually don’t think that any of Seidl’s films are “likable”, they dwell too deeply into the darkest pits of human fallibility, get too close in observing what people consider “normal” behaviour and what makes it sometimes really hard to watch these films is Seidl’s solid conviction (my interpretation, of course) that a scene needs to be played out to the end, because truth cannot be found in an executive summary. Fading out is mercy, and providing mercy is not what he’s making films for.

It is next to impossible to describe the plot of Import / Export, because (again, my interpretation) life has no plot, it has paths to follow, and traps and dead ends, sometimes it comes up with surprises, but usually it just drives you along, and if you happen to be born or bred in the wrong surrounding, there are only a few moments where you can try to steer and navigate the next steps. This is what “happens” to Olga, a Ukrainian girl who ends up as a housemaid and as an online porn performer (I could not decide which of the two was more depressing), and also to Paul, a would-be security guard and action hero and a failed slot machine refiller. They stumble along, move from East to West and back to East, and get disappointed on all sides by all people. I think the only scenes of relaxed and jolly chatter we get when Olga is joining a colleague of hers around their porn show rooms, where they engage in efforts to practice “relevant vocabulary” for the German-speaking online customers.

Why see this? See “Paradies: Liebe”… because it is brilliant and honest and important, and it is also very humane in that the director / author seems to suggest: you know why we are following these people with the camera? Because they are important, because they  are humans. And if you don’t like what they experience, if you detest the world Seidl shows you – why, you get your butt up and start changing it. Seidl leaves no doubt that there’s a couple of things to be fixed.

That was a strange experience…

I was bouncing between being surprised at how serious Emmerich took the task of focusing on the emotional side of his characters, the pain the Earl of Oxford feels and the suffering he puts his whole family in through his dedication to writing, pushing aside all the supposed chains and cuffs his family traditions pushes upon him – and the feeling that I do not want to see this kind of film from Emmerich… my fault, certainly, but then again if it wasn’t for his name, I would never even begin to consider seeing a costume drama/comedy about some apocryphal Shakespearean origin story. It’s all a bit nonsense, and cannot decide whether to fall on the comedic or on the dramatic side. I would not say that the film is constructed in an excessively complicated way – but it is constructed in an excessively complicated way if you expect a straightforward and entertaining plot about some kings and queens bashing each other over the throne succession and some illegitimate children trying to follow their true dedication. Again, my expectations were so mis-matched to what I saw that my brain refused to follow all those time layers and editing extravaganza. When I read the plot summary in Wikipedia after watching the film, I was not sure whether that was the same film that I saw. Oh mind, how doest thou betrayeth thyself…

“Anonymous” has a bunch of quite remarkable performances (especially Rhys Ifans as Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford and true author of the Shakespearean plays, as well as Vanessa Redgrave as a quite wicked Queen of England – that Queen in underwear is a sight not soon to be forgotten…). Some characters are, however, remarkably uninterestingly written and performed. Most remarkably unremarkable is William Shakespeare himself, who could have made for a pretty solid comic relief element, but whose script appearances are as seemingly random and disengaged as a witch’s nose hair.

All in all, there is not too much I can blame on the film, what it does it does solid, sometimes splendid and atmospheric. Maybe it just does not do the right thing, or it does too many things, or it is done by the wrong guys? I was a bit bored, and also a bit intrigued by what was going on.

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