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Monthly Archives: August 2014

Dieter Hallervorden is a legend in German comedy, not always for subtle irony, but more for straight slapstick and and in-your-face embarrassing situations. He is also a subtle observer of everyday madness, though, which he puts on stage for decades at his Berlin comedy stage. Now around 80ish, it is very interesting to see him leave behind the slapstick public image for good, but retain somehow his rebellious streak in a film about a former marathon runner who decides that life in a retirement home with people forcing you to do chestnut handicraft for half the year and singing along to Christian campfire songs for the other half is not what he had in mind for his final years.

You could play this hilarious, but director Kilian Riedhof decided to play it straight, and sad, and depressing, which works all the better because he has Hallervorden at centre stage, with his credible down-to-earth personality and the twinkle in his eyes that defies authority and saves the audience from getting put off by the sometimes bleak prospects provided.

The story is as straightforward as it can get: he decides to break out of the routine, and despite massive resistance from the institution and also his family, to run the Berlin marathon one final time, more than 50 years after his careers ended in glory. The way this plays out is well developed, with a clarity of narration and drama that cannot be found in German cinema too frequently. It has a bit of a Hollywood story arc to it, but with this story I felt this was exactly what was needed. It balances the laughs with the tears, and there is plenty of both. The film does not shy away from the terrible aspects of ageing and dying, but it also does not shy away from staying relaxed about it. As there’s nothing you can do about it anyway, you can just as well have some fun while you’re at it. This is frank and uncompromising at times, and embraces you with warm-heartedness and joy at others.

Maybe it sometimes plays out a bit too slick, and maybe not all the supporting cast can keep up with it, but all in all, I was pleasantly surprised by this very professional approach to telling a somehow local story in a global way.

If there is a case for a new take on Sleeping Beauty, I will just as well Angelina Jolie be the evil stepmother, or the good stepmother, or both. That’s actually the interesting bit about the script: the characters are hardly ever one-dimensional, both the lovely cute boy who meets the lovely little fairy at the border of their kingdoms and brings the promise of friendship and understanding between the segregated tribes (humans vs. … well, non-humans) turn out to be not half as cute as you would expect in a Disney fairy tale.

On the other side: The old fairy who is full of revenge and hate turns out to have some softer sides to herself. The beautiful Prince who shows up without invitation turns out to be not as important as the typical fairy tale would suggest. Yet it still all is about true love, as it needs to be in that kind of story. The animation is lovely, too, with gorgeous floating dragonfly-thingies and funny mud-throwing troll creatures, and vicious yet friendly tree-people with whom you do not want to pick a fight.

I was positively surprised that a Disney production such as this can be as pleasant for an adult audience. No tacky songs, no jolly animated sidekicks, a bit more dark and brooding, and a bit more substantial. And with Angelina Jolie’s cheek bones amped up to 11, what can go wrong?!


There are those actors… after seeing Tom Hardy’s solo performance in “Locke”, I can just write the same about Brendan Gleeson: Nothing can go wrong when you build a film around Gleeson’s presence, nothing! I 100 per cent trust in Gleeson either elevating whatever he plays in to something at least very good, or to turn down the part if he decides that’s not possible. But there is little to worry in a film written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, who some years ago already teamed up with Gleeson and made an unforgettable nasty little local cop film, “The Guard” ( “Bad Lieutenant” with Irish characteristics).

“Calvary” starts with a confession in which the confessant does not confess, but instead announces that sometimes it is necessary to commit evil in order to highlight the evil of others. He will, this dark figure in the confession booth declares, kill Father James in a couple of days. The priest has done nothing wrong, but he represents an evil tribe of priests that tortured Ireland and the world with their pedophilia and cover-up for such a long time. Killing the good one only stresses the point more profoundly, is the logic.

Father James is a good man, has lived through a life of experience and had his share of suffering. He did not plummet into priesthood by accident, but at a mature age, after marriage and having a kid. It is no surprise that his reaction to the announced murder is not to run and shout, to call the police and call bloody murder. He is mostly doing his job, talking to dysfunctional families, giving last blessings at the hospitals (where Aidan Gillen awaits him and unloads his frequent share of acid cynicism on whoever stands in front of him or lies on his surgeon’s operating table – it’s Thomas Carcetti and Patyr Baelish all over again), or getting wasted in the pub. There is plenty of tension in his community as it is, and the few times the pressure of his possible fate gets to him he takes it on in a rather Welsh-manly fashion, bare knuckle pub fight included. He appears all the more human for these failings, he is no superhuman spiritual person, he is a man whose job it is to provide comfort and spiritual guidance to others, but he is out of gas, a vulnerable human about to be killed, the clock ticking.

Great film making, with that particular local flair and beautiful seaside and countryside backdrops that are sometimes in painful contrast to the wretched things that are happening in the foreground.

If anybody tells me that there is a film with 90 minutes of Tom Hardy, that film could be about a man studying algebra and I would still watch it. As it is, “Locke” is quite a bit more interesting, and plays that brilliant actor to full potential, while confining him in the generous but still limited space of his BMW on his way to London. What he is doing is making phone calls. One after the other, to his colleagues, his boss, his wife and sons, and some other people that play a part in the unraveling of a personal and professional life. Locke has made a mistake some time ago, and he is now about to pay the price for it. He has no way of fixing things, it’s not that kind of film, but he can make decisions about the available options. How to do the right thing prevails over how to live with the consequences.

What is most gripping is that Locke is a professional, he plans and executes his catharsis the same way he usually plans the concrete filling of skyscraper foundations he is responsible for. We learn some details about his job that make us understand that this is somebody who is used to handling extremely complex procedures, who is used to dealing with high stakes, and who can only be one of the best in his job because he understands the right sequence of action and communication. The concrete filling business background may sound a bit odd at the beginning, but the more we are engaged in his life and in his professional duties, the better we understand what kind of a man he is. While watching this, the idea springs to mind that the script stems from an evening in a bar where Steven Knight met some stranger who enlightened him about the terrible complexities and perils of that crucial moment of filling a concrete foundation, with the fate of a large building being in the hands of mere mortals, and the pressure this puts on them every step of the way. No idea whether this is true, but this motif plays all through the film, that it takes a special kind of person to handle that pressure, and we are witness to lesser men trying their skills on that task, and heading towards collapse and disaster.

If it was a chamber, this would be a great chamber play. As it is a car, it is something of a road movie, with the brooding and dark atmosphere that the frequent night commuter will recognise. It enhances the solitude, it accelerates the thoughts shooting through the driver’s mind, and it heightens the atmosphere in a thriller setting without a crime, but maybe with a hero.

“Dawn” follows 10 years after the outbreak of a virus that happened in part one of the reboot / prequel, and the apes used the time to develop sign language, some form of voice skills, and have established themselves happily in the woods, appearing like a regular pre-industrialised society. While the first part was mainly about the human’s ethical considerations and worries, about how to treat animals and whether there is a limit to “improving” on evolution, this second part is mostly about the apes. Which, by the way, are astonishingly well CGI’ed… Only in a few mass crowd scenes with plenty of apes running and climbing did I ever get the feeling of being in a special effects scene. From the very beginning, I was fully immersed and completely accepted that it’s the primates I am witnessing now, that I am sitting in their midst and do not even worry about the fact that they are signing and talking and teaching their little ones simple writing skills. Wow, spectacularly well done!

Story-wise: not so well done…  the humans have been reduced by the virus released in the previous film to become a struggling minority breed on the planet, and they take a minority position in the script. There are good ones (Jason Clarke, the torture guy from “Zero Dark Thirty” seems to have decided that it’s about time he is fixing his screen image) and there’s the bad guys (who do get what they deserve, of course). But the story is driven by ape considerations and ape straegy, and by an ape palace revolt, with Caesar in competition for the leadership position with one of his less gentle and more scarred peers. So it’s basically Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesear”, but in ape society, plus stolen machine guns. An action version of a straightforward story with plain vanilla heroes and plain vanilla villains, and this is where it gets a bit silly…

At some point, the film seems to surrender to the fact that it is, after all, a silly action film about apes taking over the planet. That is when there is an attack by the apes on horseback, wielding machine guns and pretending to be something like a mix of Braveheart and Die Hard. Nobody can watch this with a straight face. You need to very good at scripting this kind of film in the first place. If you put apes in the “shoes” (no shoes, of course, maybe next time) of the warriors, you need to extremely good, indeed, to avoid getting ludicrous. I got the feeling that it was all a bit ludicrous, and the lack of surprise elements or interesting turns in the plot did its own bit. This would have been a slightly disappointing, if impressive, action flick if it was set in a human environment. With them apes… a bit more disappointing still.

The standard sentence to be included in every review of a Terry Giliam film since… well… maybe since Brazil is “Better see Terry Gilliam fail in style rather than see most other authors succeed with their lesser vision”. With Zero Theorem, that idea may have reached a new level of truth. It is not, by any means, a thrilling film, it is a weird assimilation of visual ideas and special effects hampered (as it looks) from budgetary constraints.

It has a strangely reduced Christoph Waltz as the central character, limited to mostly looking haunted, and it never really tells you what the plot is all about. As a result, it looks half as shiny as the recent “Transcendence”, but still but allowed me to like it five times as much. Gilliam has this honesty about wanting to tell a story and about wanting to share his visual ideas that I cannot but approve of his efforts.

Of course: it is somehow cute to the level of slightly embarrassing to see a 90s style cube-fitting video game to be given a somehow existential role for the fate of humanity. I wished he had teamed up with some younger persons’ vision of what this undefined task of Waltz would need to look like in order to carry some gravitas. On the other hand, what is almost always right with Gilliam films is the battle of the individual against the system, and it is no coincidence that the term “Brazil” comes up a lot when people talk about the film. The term “Don Quixote” also comes up a lot, but that is Gilliam’s self-inflicted fate, and will not go away even if he does actually manage to complete that next film sometime next year.

In the best tradition of Gilliam production experiences, apparently in this case there is some serious friction with the distributor, leading to Zero Theorem being available since a couple of months ago in some countries, and being available as VoD first, before it can finally be seen on screens in the US over the next couple of months. He does not do things simple, this Mr Gilliam, and you have to love him for his Quixote-like stamina alone…

A slick movie, a great looking movie, a visual feast as you can expect it from Pfister, that fantastic DP. An ill-begotten variation on the end of humanity, on the status usually known as Singularity, here introduced as Transcendence, but same thing, equally abstract and incomprehensible and humanity-ending. Innovation turns its teeth against the creators, good intentions lead to catastrophic results, and doom is hard to avoid. What’s nice is that there finally is a chance again to see Johnny Depp not in drag, as a somehow grown and aged actor who still can carry a more serious role. Unfortunately, he does not get much screen time, and the bad thing about this has nothing to do with Johnny’s pretty face, but with the plot development of removing this key character away from the drama, and into a Thron-like netherworld. From then on, Transcendence wants to be a SciFi action thriller, MK14 and larger calibers included. What is wasted along the way is the opportunity to discuss the ethical questions of what they are doing, to reflect on the future of mankind and to see whether the clever minds that are assembled (next to Depp there are Rebecca Hall and the always delightful, almost equally always under-utilised Paul Bettany) can come up with a strategy averting doom.

As it is, the fate of humanity is (again) decided on the (solar panel) battlefield, with heavy weapons rather than heavy thinking. That is a letdown in a film that had all ingredients to be much more substantial.

While the film in general has received rather mooted reviews, here is Kermode in defense of its lasting influence and qualities.

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