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Monthly Archives: November 2014

Steven Soderbergh, Clive Owen… there is no need to add anything once those two names have been pronounced inside one sentence. But of course in the case of “The Knick”, it gets even better, because I happen to enjoy stories of medical challenge, progress and failure. Need to check out “Dead Ringers” again… No, strangely enough, independent of The Knick, I was recently engrossed in (and sometimes grossed out by) the oeuvre  of that New Yorker surgeon column writer, a Mr Gawande, who greatly reflects about the challenges and borders of modern medicine and surgery. On the spot to illustrate this a bit with the history of surgery, as in the case of Dr Thackerey of the Knickerbocker hospital in New York around the 1900s. Even though sometimes it has a bit too much Upstairs Downstairs (or Downton Abbey, as you would call it today), and an abundance of love interests some of which we could do without, the depiction of this driven surgeon who is always on the quest for better solutions, who is driven by scientific urge as much as by vanity, and who is powered by the ever-burning fuel of cocaine and opium. … that is fascinating and splendid television.

Where to begin… maybe with the technical disclaimer that I did not see the IMAX version of “Interstellar”, but a regular digital projection, in a decent but not overwhelming cinema with only minor disturbances from next door’s “Big Hero 6” screening. That may explain why the film did not bring me any of the “ooohhh woooow” moments that I have seen quoted so often in the blogs and reviews. The other reason for the lack of those moments may also be that as impressive as the outer space visuals are, if you have seen a lot of movies in the last ten years, you also have seen a lot of depictions of outer space, and pretty impressive ones too. While Interstellar does this very well, and probably “better” by whatever standard you want to apply compared to, say, “Gravity”, “Moon” or “Sunshine”, I do not consider this achievement to be sufficient to call this an exceptional film.

From what I had heard about the film, the best I could hope for was some form of Terrence Mallick-ified Kubrick’ism, a modernised “2001” with more straightforward plot and story and more focus on the characters. Actually, the choice of actors promised that: Matthew MacConaGullyewthingy and Jessica Chastain and Butler Alfred and some very famous guy on some remote planet who apparently is supposed to remain a secret (because he is a bit self-conscious as he got a tad fat, I guess)… they can hold up a complex and emotional story, Matthew McC certainly can evolve over the course of almost three hours and can come back to reflect upon what he learned. But did he, did they? Did Nolan manage to create something special?

Executive Summary would be: no, not so special, certainly worth watching, and worth watching a second time, too, but nothing that will be remembered in 20 years as an indispensable entry into the 21st century catalogue of immortal science fiction films. For that, the script is just to weak, the diaglogues too clumsy, the story loop to simple and actually the visuals – despite their spectacle – too unconvincing in some crucial aspects. I will add a spoiler segment below to give an example.

The strength of the film to me was the first bit, the earth-bound bit with the depiction of a family that is trying to survive in a future reality that has experienced something devastating Earth’s vegetation. Those who want to be engineers or artists or philosophers or poets are all just farmers now, and farmers of the world’s most despicable product, maize (“pig’s food”, it was called in my family, shouldn’t eat that… ). Given that it seems to be the only thing still growing, I would have expected the American population to have even gained some waistline, but maybe whatever cataclysmic event came along made them forget how to spoil every food with corn syrup. In this world, a father has to struggle with his kids’ ambitions and the lack of them, has to deal with twisted variations of an educational system (quite a silly scene about quite a silly variation  on a history text book, in my opinion). No wonder that as soon as there is a chance to escape from it all, he takes it. Only that his daughter takes him leaving Earth and trying to find a habitable spot in some other galaxy personal, sees it certainly for what it is, him abandoning her, despite there being signs that the trip may not be as short and controlled as he says it should be. In all isolation, independent of all the space-time hocus pocus and the bangs and pows… this bit of family drama between a father who has to leave and a daughter who just won’t have it is heartbreaking and very well done.

As soon as Interstellar The Movie goes into Interstellar The Space, curiously the film rocket thrust. It becomes soheow conventional in taking us from here to there, showing us pretty sights of vast almost empty spaces, making us trying to follow some elaborate plot explanations on why we should go there instead of here, and actually… boring us a bit. There are interesting and spectacular landscapes on planets where I personally would not like to settle (frozen clouds? No thanks!) and thrilling set pieces with giant waves and close escapes. There is also always the feeling that things you see and perceive to be somehow odd-looking (the worm hole, the support robots) must certainly be based on latest scientific research, or at least on science-based speculation. Still odd those robots move around, and more odd how they communicate with a level of artificial intelligence that does not seem to match the level of technology the rest of the film claims.

So many things to wonder about and to discuss, which means “Interstellar” is – like all Christopher Nolan films – a bold and brave experiment by an outstanding film maker with a very special position in his profession. An experiment that went wrong, but it is very interesting and mostly entertaining to look at the wreckage.




Plot Spoiler Special (ok, that’s pretentious, the actual Spoiler Special (including the Spoiler Special on “Interstellar” can of course be found over at, but still… ):

  • “They put it there”: if you cannot decide what kind of aliens you want in your film, don’t use aliens. Without any reference to alien life forms, with just some worm hole sitting behind Jupiter the way a black stone sat on the Moon some years ago in a different film… with just Cooper hanging in limbo in the middle of a black hole, the way some other guy hung in a nursery with himself as a baby in some other film some years ago… you don’t need all this talking about aliens creating three-dimensional representations of five-dimensional situations. All those explanations only serve to build Michael Caine another house, and he has plenty of houses already.
  • “The Hanging Library Gardens”: The visuals of Cooper hanging suspended in the future back side of his daughter’s childhood library I did not care for too much. It was explained to me who built this space and why it is there, and for me this just did not click, it was not convincing that it would look like that. The act of communication by way of clock ticking… it was a bit too much Patrick Swayze and “Ghost” for me, too specific and mechanic in a situation that had no reason to be so specific. Why would the creator of this black hole maze create a way of communicating between space and time? And what does the sentence “Only gravity can cross time. And Love.” even mean??
  • “Fistifight on Planet Dr Mann”: why can we not just all fly back together? I understand that Dr Mann is a bit bored after decades on that ghastly planet, but why not just hop on board the newcomers’ ship and call it off? More importantly: in terms of suspense it makes absolutely no sense to pretend that the hero of your esoteric space odyssey is in mortal peril an hour away from the end of the film, because some other dude who just recently appeared punches him in the face. This is like threatening to have James Bond killed in minute 20 of any Bond movie, it just won’t happen, there is no threat for our star, because our star still has to do something meaningful and tear-jerking within the next 50 minutes.

In the words of the great poets: “Jaw” is not about a shark, and “Little Miss Sunshine” is not about the Little Miss Sunshine contest. If it would, it would be ghastly – but it is about hell, or about the specific pit of hell that the American family can be (or any other family, I suppose). Everything is there: the overambitious father who might be a loser despite trying to sell a motivational programme for winners, the overwhelmed mother who tries to be more protective of everybody than is good for either them or her, the coke- and heroin-snorting grandpart pa who might be the good spirit of the family, but in a devilish kind of way, the Nietzsche-reading son who took a vowe of silence because he hates everybody too much to talk with them, and the little daughter of the family, who has developed a taste for talent and beauty pageants, and is working hard with grandpa on the moves, which is surprising until … well, until it is not.

It is a nightmare family, no doubt, and maybe not the best environment for a suicidal uncle to be thrown into, but when he shows up this triggers a road trip to California that will clarify some things about life, universe and everything.

Carried by splendid actors (especially Paul Dano, Steve Carrell and Alan Arkin), this is some cruel bit of film making. While it is funny, it exposes many aspects of modern life in its ludicrousness, and is actually without mercy in confirming the worst preconceptions about family life. And then, without negating those dark sides, it also shows uplifting moments, or moments of utter hilarity, where you really want to be Part of this very family, despite all their crazy bouts and hopeless future.

Serbuan Maut / The Raid was a very compact and intense bit of film making, almost like a video game where the hero needs to work  / fight his way through the various levels (of a decrepit housing block in Jakarta), applying his considerable fighting skills against increasingly vicious opponents (and against a wide range of fighting styles, I was told, even though I could only recognise the “hit and kick him” style). Until then, at the top of the building… the way it is supposed to be.

As a contrast to this very straightforward structure, The Raid 2 is a very very different film. It is not confined in space or story, it is actually sprawling the way Hongkong epics sprawl, and as a matter of fact, the Hongkong school of action cinema can be recognised all over this picture, much more so than in the first part. The visually brilliant,  occasionally slightly stupidly choreographed fights (always only one guy out of 200 running towards our hero? Really? Still?), frequently shot in slow-motion and with plenty of bad weather for decoration. There is a prison yard mud fight that has it all, that pulls all the stops, that does not care whether the audience recognises who is fighting whom (I did not – all muddy). What is important is that the violence and the energy is amped yet again a bit. Where part one was a man on a mission, part 2 is a couple of cartels fighting for survival, so everything is a bit more grandiose and a bit more lethal and a bit more confusing. I can’t say that this is to the benefit of the film. I believe the first part gained so much attention and so many positive reviews because it was such a compact and simple bit of work. Part 2 is rather generic in contrast, but of course visually impressive and serving the needs for all the friends of martial arts who cannot stand the nonsense of lifting people around on strings, but want to see true artistry and kinetic fun.

Plenty of individual scenes to be enjoyed, even though my memory is a bit murky when it comes to what this was all about. Infiltration and exposure, I guess, and not trusting in old loyalties…

Even though Indonesian martial arts film making has arrived in Hongkong, it is still the more enjoyable way of Hongkong martial arts film, with Indonesian characteristics.

Thanks to the limited selection of on board entertainment, I ended up with one of those films that was certainly on my radar, but way down on the list in the “if it’s raining and somebody happens to have forgotten this very DVD in my home” category. When you read the premise (frustrated chef starts anew by starting up his food truck) you will know exactly where this is going, there is no surprise or  edge to the story or its development. No need to, either, because this road trip from Florida to California is just a pleasure trip for the eyes and the tongue – virtually, unfortunately, they should hand out those dishes to the audience watching the film. John Favreau is actually quite pleasant in the role as somehow maniacal but good-hearted chef, the warm heart of the film may be John Leguizamo as his Latino sidekick and sous chef, rounding up the Cuban troops in Florida and giving some rhythm to the show. Oliver Platt has these tiny little parts these days that should make the audience believe that he is something like a retired superstar, that I found a bit confusing, but he still is somehow watchable as the real life equivalent to the “Ratatouille” restaurant critic, just more fat.

Is there a book with “the best recipes as seen in the film”? I would certainly buy that, those Cubans apparently know how to do a sandwich.

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