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Monthly Archives: December 2013

Sometimes you have these films in your list or on your shelf where you know exactly that they will at least be interesting, probably great and exciting. Still it takes months or years to get down to watching them, wasting the time in-between with superhero nonsense and part 3 of films that should not have had a part 1 to begin with…

So now, after years of waiting, I finally got around to seeing this film, and it’s touching in the best possible way. A boy of around 12 years, Cyril, abandoned by his father, seeking acceptance from his peers, being unable to understand that fighting any authorities is not the best way of finding a new family. He has no idea how much he saddens the people who really care about him, he stabs them in the heart (and in the arm) so frequently that any sane person would have long abandoned him. But a bit similar to what could be witnessed in “We Need To Talk About Kevin”, some people do not give up on others easily, even if it hurts. And that is astonishing to watch, his part-time foster mother has all the exits wide open, just needs to make the call and get rid of that complicated creature that makes her life a misery. She doesn’t, and apart from Thomas Doret as young Cyril, it is Cécile De France’s depiction of Samantha, the hairdresser, that makes this film great. She is not a tough one as such, she is vulnerable and cannot help being hurt by the behaviour of Cyril, but each time she is on the brink of giving up on the project of creating a caring family for Cyril, she decides against it, and tries some more. And even though she does not like it, she also steps in to clarify the fronts between Cyril and his father, if only by forcing that pussy of an abandoning dad to (kind of) speak out some harsh truths.

Cyril himself is in many ways like all boys his age are, rebellious and ignorant and slightly adventurous and always keen on pleasing his peers. This gets him into deep trouble, but maybe towards the end of the film he has learned some fundamental lessons, and the final scene shows him in a rather spectacular act of what can be seen as redemption.

Splendid art house cinema!

This is about the “feature length” (i.e. ca. 60 min) film that actually consists of the three previously released animated shorts “Everything will be OK”, “I Am So Proud of You”, and “It’s Such a Beautiful Day”.

I cannot claim to understand what this animated masterpiece by Don Hertzfeld, the rock star and cool kid in the class of animation artists, is about. But it is about life, the universe and everything, birth and death. It is about Bill who will die (as we all will), and soon, maybe. He lives in a constant state of heightened perception of his environment, floats through his daily routine like an alien in constant observation and interpretation mode. When he gets sick, the observations turn into visions, and then into nightmares, and maybe nothing is real, or all is surreal.

What comes across as simplicity of characters is actually very sophisticated animation, the main character Bill may only consist of a few pencil strokes, but he is a profound and profoundly sad character, and it is interesting to observe how quickly one can accept this odd little creature as a fully-fleshed character in a story about life and death.

I loved it when towards the end, the author steps in to protect his character from falling victim to audience expectations. Bill is elevated to new heights, quite literally and metaphorically, to stand above a normal life span, to become a symbol for … and that’s when I, again, don’t know the answer, but he is a beautiful and sad symbol.

Anybody who ever stayed for more than just a holiday in the UK feels familiar with the premise of “The World’s End”: The ultimate pub crawl a bunch of kids has tried to manage decades ago turned out to be a failure (or the kids were the failure, rather). So there will be at least one of them who cannot process this defeat, and won’t rest until he gets “the band together again” for one more try at the Newton Haven “Golden Mile”.

As the guy initiating this initially harmless adventure is Simon Pegg, and as among his former school mates there is Nick Frost, Eddie Marsan and Paddy Considine, there can be little doubt that this will not end as expected. That the troubles they encounter on their long march to recoup their juvenile memories not only involve weaker livers and a more settled lifestyle (with all the physical limits that this puts on an alcohol-centred weekend trip), but also aliens and robot-like things and references to a whole lot of 50s SciFi movies and some more recent Cornetto-movies … that is not surprising within the framework of said Cornetto trilogy (they did manage to officially make this part of the trilogy, albeit almost in the last minute). As the previous installments, it is an unorthodox mix of down-to-earth British pub humour, with excellent comedic actors top to bottom, with sudden bursts of only slightly comically concealed violence. A man on his mission is at the centre of events, and he will not stop nor hesitate until all has been fixed that the past has wronged. Including the fate of the world, if it comes to that. While I will never call the Cornetto trilogy the decade’s greatest achievement in movie comedy, I am hard pressed to come up with better or more lasting examples (not in the movies, at least, the most funny things I have seen in the last decade were tv:”The Thick of It” or “The Trip”, most notably). It is not a very good time for comedies, so tip to the hat to Pegg and his friends for making some very entertaining entries to this terribly complicated genre. Cheers!

Of course it’s not necessary to make a new Superman movie, the first one with Christopher Reeve is funny and stupid enough to cover that particular genre until the end of times. Why be too serious about that superhuman superboy with his x-ray vision and supersenses and heat beam eyes and funny cape? (What’s the cape for anyway? I never understood that bit. At least for Batman I think it’s bullet-proof… Superman could be naked for all means and purposes…). You can make a new film, of course, if you find a new approach, and the script of “Man of Steel” takes that starting point and kind of delivers. That does not mean that this could be a good movie – there’s too much wrong with it: the director, for one, who is not the person to be really interested in the character of an outcast fighting his way into a the heart of a society onto which he was merely dropped. Or Russel Crowe as Superman’s daddy, who is not just the wrong choice, I think, to take on a role burdened with a legendary Marlon Brando performance (not legendary because of its quality, that’s not what I mean…), but who also sports a terrible accent. I really heard him say “you can sniff her” the first time around, and Hannibal Lecter associations came up … thank God he repeated a bit more clearly a second later: “you can save them all”.

On the casting: Kevin Costner is actually not bad as country folkster with heart of gold, and Michael Shannon is great in whatever he does. However: Mr Shannon, I would really like to read the chapter in your memoires where you describe how it was to say sentences like “Release the world engine” or “Bring the phantom drive online”… It must be followed by some memorable Michael Caine quote about how he never watched the finished movie, but very much likes the house it built him.

Some nice Independence Day ripoff, same obtrusive Hans Zimmer marching bands as usual, superheroes  engaging in devastating fist fights in which it is not clear why anybody could win without adding some cryptonite in the gloves. And a final scene that sets the agenda for the sequel and makes Clark Kent disappear behind a pair of black-rimmed glasses.

One of these blockbusters that will be forgotten in the near future. Rather entertaining while it lasted.

Is David Bowie embarrassed today that he took part in this spectacular-hair adventure? He shouldn’t be, it is jolly good fun for the most part, and Bowie seems to know it. Even when he’s forced into performing a song mid-action, he takes it with the necessary humour. And what else would you do when you are cast alongside goblins and trolls, huge horned monsters and little foxes (apparently knighted) riding some fluffy dogs like a gentleman. I am not even sure whether I like the film as a film, it seems a bit arbitrarily put together at times, the labyrinth tasks reminding me of some form of scheduled computer adventure game. Still it is very entertaining, and there is Jennifer Connelly to look at, and the topic of labyrinthine riddles is taken quite far, with some stunning visuals in particular towards the end, when an Escher-like stair system is the only thing between Sarah and her little brother whom she is tasked to get back. The fun is in the details, and many of the creatures Henson creates to help Sarah or keep her from making it through the labyrinth are cute, terrifying, or just outright weird (the two-headed doorkeepers spring to mind). 

Not on the same classic level as “Dark Crystal” is, lacking a bit of depth and story, but an inspired adventure all the same.

This is a treasure to be rediscovered! The fight of good (the Mystics) versus evil (the Skeksis), with the surviving Gelfling in the middle, needing to fix the Crystal that will bring back equilibrium and save the world from eternal Skeksis rule… this is as good as any fantasy story gets, and Henson’s indefinite capacity for creature creation gives these creatures character and soul. This is the Lord of the Rings or Avatar of its time, populating a world with vultures and cute furry dog-thingies… there is not a bit of patina to either the story or to the way it is set in scene, and there are unforgettable images such as the slow but persistent march of the Mystics to the Castle for the final showdown. Seeing “The Dark Crystal” today gives great insight into how influential it has been for the fantasy genre, with the Avatar flying parasol plants being close to a direct copy, or the recent Stephen King novel “Doctor Sleep” borrowing and directly quoting the idea of the evil creatures feeding off the “essence” of their victims for rejuvenation. Oh what would Jim Henson do today? This is something to be asked whenever some run-of-the-mil fantasy spectacle hits the screen for a week and is forgotten the week after. I am quite sure that Dark Crystal will not ever be forgotten who had the pleasure of seeing it as children.

It is somehow surprising that James Wan is able to squeeze some more or less creepy moments out of the most used and abused haunted house cliches… but you have to concede that he does that probably better than anybody else these days. On the other hand, anybody else would not get the idea of making yet another movie about a house that is haunted and inflicts its various evil spirits on its inhabitants so that they cannot even move out to get rid of it anymore.

So here we go: Amityville-Exorcist-Poltergeist mashup number 37 (roughly), and hard to be distinguished from those others. Why it is that the film is getting rave reviews is beyond me, maybe because it is positioned to attract an audience that has not seen the three original movies and only 3 of the 37 rip-offs. For that audience, this is no doubt a functional ghost story, with footsteps, creaking doors, haunted basements, and misogynous main spirit boss bitch. What I found slightly odd is that they decided to focus on the build-up to the confrontation, and did away with the family’s efforts to get rid of the unwanted tenants rather casually. I can only guess that they were running a bit out of play time: in contrast to the usual setup, they did not only need to focus on introducing the family, and have the weird things getting started. They also have to deal with the family of ghostbusters, who get their own back story and only merge the main narrative line late in the film. Hence not so much time for a full-flavoured exorcism, but merely a bit of blood spitting and elevating, bargain edition. As it’s that time of the year, with sun setting early and the occasional autumn storm banging the tree against the windows, it’s good to have “The Conjuring” on the playlist. Groundbreaking and innovative it is not.

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