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Monthly Archives: December 2014

It does not happen too often that I am sitting on my own in a cinema and burst out laughing for minutes. It happened in “Big Hero 6”, when BayMax, the “designed to be huggable” medical aid robot suffers some minor punctures in a chase, and – his buddy Hiro talking to that policeman without end anyway – takes the time to fix himself with some Scotch tape from the policeman’s desk. A scene more hilarious than any chase sequence or large-ass battle… As so many films these days, “Big Hero 6” is much better before the action starts, during the characters’ introduction, when there is no hectic chase and fight and frantic battle for the survival of mankind or what not. The film is fabulous when it introduces those quirky characters, chief among them BayMax, but also some of his friends and brothers in arm are quite amusing in their ordinary nerdiness and their lack of relevant skills for combat. As soon as they have the necessary equipment and skill set, all gets a bit more straighforwardly boring. All the extra equipment for the five heroes and the robot hero are fair and nice, but nothing special. The villain riding on waves of microrobotic particle waves or something looks a bit fun at the beginning, but the effect wears off quickly. 

In total, it is a BayMax film, but with not enough BayMax in it, maybe one of the better mainstream animations of the year, but nothing special all in all.

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/big_hero_6/

There are so many pleasant experiences in this film: the first one is the lack of excitement about its own structure. While some critics and all the non-specific media have made a big deal out of the lengthy production time of the film, when you actually see it, this is not dealt with as such a big deal. It is dealt with casually, the way life passes through time. There is a boy, he grows up, we follow him. Some segments we witness are a bit longer, others a bit shorter, some are a bit more dramatic, others less so. Sometimes we feel there is big drama building up, only to realise that next time all is forgotten. It was just one of those episodes where people argue, but the arguments are not to last, they are mere episodes in a family life.

The other nice experience is to witness Ethan Hawke being a good and subtle actor, something I had not seen before. He usually is better in Linklater’s films than in other productions, but even in the “Before…” films I find him slightly obnoxious. In “Boyhood” I can understand his honourable battle for his children, and him using all his creativity and as much of his honesty as he can afford to give to his children without losing his dignity as a father figure. That Patricia Arquette is great is no news, on the other hand, but it is confirmed here. She is bearing a lot of burden, but never loses her love and lovability as a mother and as a woman, as the actual hero of this story, the one person who needs to constantly make decisions that count. The father is mostly just goofing around, hopping in and out of other people’s lives. The others are mere temporary guests. Both kids are mostly content in their role as being on the receiving end of adult decisions. In that sense, if the film was called “Motherhood”, it would be at least as appropriately titled. The title role is played by Ellar Coltrane, and he is a pleasant and eerie presence in this: he is a good kid all in all, displays good manners, is a relatively passive observer of the things happening around him and is accepting that as a boy, it’s mostly other people who make the decisions that affect his life severely. The actor Coltrane communicates this with calm demeanour, we don’t see him agitated, even when he gets angry, it is the calm anger of a rather lonely child who has learned to cope with his problems on his own.

There are individual scenes of smalltown childhood / teenage horror to be highlighted: maybe the image of the coming-of-age birthday presents rifle / bible “where the words of the Lord Jesus are printed in red” stand out, scenes of loss of old friends, of home after moving again and having to paint over the growth markings on the wall, of betrayal when the son has to realise that the father’s decade-old promise of a certain gift was long forgotten on the father’s part. But mostly it is about the utterly terrifying and wonderful experience of growing up, having to deal with mostly grown-up people who do not quite understand what a kid or teenager is all about, who have no time to learn it and other worries that – then again – a kid won’t understand for a while. And of walking a thin line between being appropriately rebellious and inappropriately endangering your live and that of others through immature actions.

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

I steal this idea from Salon.com‘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’Heir’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..

 

Update December 2014: As I have failed to update this list in many months, here is a new one for the 2013 and 2014 films I have seen over the last months:

  1. Under The Skin (2014)
  2. Paradise – Faith (2013)
  3. American Hustle (2013)
  4. Calvary (2014)
  5. Boyhood (2014)
  6. Locke (2014)
  7. The Lego Movie (2014)
  8. Blue Ruin (2013)
  9. Snowpiercer (2014)
  10. Interstellar (2014)
  11. Paradise – Hope (2013)
  12. The Armstrong Lie (2013)
  13. Philomena (2013)
  14. Gone Girl (2014)
  15. Nymphomaniac (2013)
  16. The Monuments Men (2013)
  17. The Congress (2014)
  18. Maleficent (2014)
  19. The Zero Theorem (2013)
  20. The Hobbit – The Battle of The Five Armies (2014)
  21. Sein letztes Rennen / Back On Track (2013)
  22. Godzilla (2014)
  23. Saving Mr Banks (2013)
  24. Chef (2014)
  25. Transcendence (2014)
  26. Big Hero 6 (2014)
  27. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)
  28. Robocop (2014)
  29. Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes (2014)
  30. Fury (2014)
  31. The Raid 2 (2014)
  32. Escape Plan (2013)
  33. 3 Days to Kill (2014)
  34. Wolf Creek II (2014)
  35. Thor – The Dark World (2014)
  36. Ender’s Game (2013)
  37. Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014)
  38. Pompeii (2014)
  39. Transformers – Age of Extinction (2014)

 

Last Update Febr. 8, 2014:

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. The list below is the one where I will keep updating the 2012-2013 releases.

Finally managed to update the list for plenty of 2013 releases. And it allows me to make an interim assessment of my 2013 favourites:

  1. Jagten / The Hunt (2013)
  2. 12 Years A Slave (2013)
  3. Pieta (2013)
  4. Mud (2013)
  5. Drug War (2013)
  6. Dallas Buyers Club (2013)
  7. Inside Llewyn Davies (2013)
  8. Her (2013)
  9. Side Effects (2013)
  10. Ain’t Them Bodies Saint (2013)

This is the list for the 2012-2013 films: 

  1. Jagten / The Hunt (2013)
  2. Paradies: Liebe (2012)
  3. Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)
  4. Magic Mike (2012)
  5. Holy Motors (2012)
  6. The Gatekeepers (2012)
  7. Barbara (2012)
  8. The Master (2012)
  9. Kapringen (A Hijacking) (2012)
  10. 12 Years A Slave (2013)
  11. Looper (2012)
  12. Zero Dark Thirty (2012)
  13. Pieta (2013)
  14. End of Watch (2012)
  15. Mud (2013)
  16. Drug War (2013)
  17. Dallas Buyers Club (2013)
  18. Inside Llewyn Davies (2013)
  19. Rampart (2012)
  20. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
  21. Lincoln (2012)
  22. Lore (2012)
  23. Her (2013)
  24. En Kongelig Affaere (A Royal Affair) (2012)
  25. Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
  26. Argo (2012)
  27. Side Effects (2013)
  28. Ain’t Them Bodies Saint (2013)
  29. Django Unchained (2012)
  30. The Place Beyond the Pines (2012)
  31. Blue Jasmine (2013)
  32. Prisoners (2013)
  33. Killer Joe (2012)
  34. Killing them Softly (2012)
  35. The Raid: Redemption (2012)
  36. Before Midnight (2013)
  37. Only God Forgives (2013)
  38. The Impossible (2012)
  39. Arbitrage (2012)
  40. Stoker (2013)
  41. Gravity (2013)
  42. The Iceman (2013)
  43. Captain Phillips (2013)
  44. Enough Said… (2013)
  45. Flight (2012)
  46. Sightseers (2012)
  47. Rush (2013)
  48. The Angel’s Share (2012)
  49. The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
  50. The World According to Dick Cheney (2013)
  51. A Field In England (2013)
  52. Prometheus (2012)
  53. Everyday (2012)
  54. Pacific Rim (2013)
  55. Lawless (2012)
  56. The World’s End (2013)
  57. Blackfish (2013)
  58. Back to 1942 (2012)
  59. Iron Man 3 (2013)
  60. Jack Reacher (2012)
  61. Total Recall (2012)
  62. The Hole (2012)
  63. Hobo with a Shotgun (2011)
  64. We Steal Secrets (2013)
  65. Mea Maxima Culpa – Silence in the House of Gods (2012)
  66. Pitch Perfect (2012)
  67. Brave (2012)
  68. Skyfall (2012)
  69. Oz the Great and Powerful (2013)
  70. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
  71. The Avengers (2012)
  72. The Last Gladiators (2013)
  73. Les Miserables (2012)
  74. Jeff, Who Lives At Home (2012)
  75. Life of Pi (2012)
  76. The Dictator (2012)
  77. World War Z (2013)
  78. Spring Breakers (2013)
  79. Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)
  80. This is the End (2013)
  81. Elysium (2013)
  82. Oblivion (2013)
  83. Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
  84. White House Down (2013)
  85. Sunshine on Leith (2013)
  86. Man of Steel (2013)
  87. Hunger Games – Catching Fire (2013)
  88. Mama (2013)
  89. Men in Black III (2012)
  90. The Bay (2012)
  91. Hunger Games (2012)
  92. Cloud Atlas (2012)
  93. The Bourne Legacy (2012)
  94. Piper Alpha – Fire in the Night (2013)
  95. The Amazing Spiderman (2012)
  96. Frozen Ground (2013)
  97. Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2012)
  98. Ender’s Game (2013)
  99. The Conjuring (2013)
  100. Olympus Has Fallen (2013)
  101. The Expatriate (2013)
  102. Lockout (2012)
  103. Battleship (2012)
  104. The Hobbit (2012)
  105. Ice Age 4 (2012)
  106. Monster University (2013)
  107. Searching for Sugarman (2012)
  108. Journey to the West (2013)
  109. Bullet to the Head (2013)
  110. Maniac (2013)
  111. Sinister (2012)
  112. Citadel (2012)
  113. After Earth (2013)
  114. Abraham Lincoln – Vampire Hunter (2012)
  115. Wrath of the Titans (2012)
  116. Lone Ranger (2013)
  117. CZ12 (2012)
  118. Chernobyl Diaries (2012)
  119. Switch (2013)
  120. The Last Stand (2013)

I had not read the book before watching this film, so I had no idea about the plot, other than a wife disappears and the husband is a suspect. The plot slowly builds up so that the audience at some point before its actual revelation discovers on her / his own what this is all about. I think this allowing the audience to discover what’s going on just in time before telling them is is intentional, but I was not perfectly sure about that. Maybe it was just because any other plot development would not make any sense, to the point of not justifying writing a novel or making a film out of it…. In either case: The twist can hardly catch you completely by surprise. We had this “oh yeah, we get it” feeling in our screening, and oddly enough, this did not come with a sense of satisfaction, but maybe with a bit of disappointment  when it was confirmed on the screen some minutes later. This is all the whole mess is about? There certainly must be more to it, yes? Let’s wait and see.

While I liked the film in general for its great look and some very solid acting, that feeling of disappointment never quite left me. I think it comes down to the script being excessively simplistic, while at the same time the authors seem to believe that they are particularly clever.  There are a few changes in direction, sure, but they are not so many, and they are not as subtle as they would like to be. The way the media turns against Ben Affleck’s character and then immediately loves him. Only to hate him again… they way one of the investigating police officers systematically despises him, while the other one insists on listening to the voice of reason… The way you interpret both Affleck’s husband and Rosamund Pike’s wife’s part in this drama… At some point the film is over and we are left with not so much a “WTF?” but rather a “Hmmm… ok, yes, that’s one way of ending it” thought in our heads.

Maybe that’s it: the film is not as clever as its reputation, it is not a large riddle, but just a story about a not very nice husband and a less nice wife. From what I hear the depiction of the husband leaves him actually better off than in the novel on which it is based. That is a problem, because as it is there are no two sides to the conflict. While you do not need to like Affleck, there is no way of not thinking his wife should be institutionalised. She is the psychopath, and she is the one people should be scared of. The only thing Affleck is guilty of is being an unfaithful and weak asshole, but in this he plays in a completely different league from what his wife is guilty of.

So: the film lacks subtlety and complexity, explains too much in too many words (especially right after the central twist, where apparently the authors decided that at this point they have to read the whole book to the audience), maybe compromises too much for the sake of customer satisfaction. I would have wished for ore ambiguity, but what I got instead was one almost comically monstrous monster, and one slightly helpless jerk.

Visually and musically a feast, of course, with all the DPs and score composers in place that you need for a great movie experience. I had to think back to films like Mystic River, however, or Gone Baby Gone, or even the recent (and flawed) Prisoners. You can do this with a better script, and then you have a much better film…

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

Taking an allegory and trying to make it specific by filming it is a dangerous endeavor for a film maker. Ridley Scott does just that, and the result is a miserable failure. The story is about a suppressed people seeking to escape by means of a spiritually inspired leader. The film is about an Egyptian Braveheart with a Spartacus gene and Ben Hur skills who only gets a bit spiritual after getting knocked on the head by a ravine.

I kid you not: 5 minutes in, I had my first “really? Really???” moment, and started to get bored Michael Bay style – I was thrown into epic battles without sense or structure, nonsense script lines about brothers and family… The only thing keeping me awake was the 5-year old kid in the row behind me, who in defiance of all codes of conduct started kicking the seat ferociously from around minute 15. I would have joined him, but nobody was sitting in front of me, so the violation would have been futile.

There does not seem to be a reason for making the film in the first place. There is no particular visual approach to the parting of the sea, there is no narrative innovation to the Biblical plagues. Those plagues are actually suffering from confusion: it seems by introducing some crocodiles at the beginning that in turn cause a lot of bloodshed, which turns the Nile red, you could believe the film makers try to step away from divine intervention and introduce natural causes. But then again they have a little annoying God-boy who causes all the mayhem one after the other and in consequence there is absoutely no way of claiming these developments are coincidential.

As for the actors: most of them I don’t know, and those that I do know, I don’t care for. The Welsh Batman looks very bothered as always (making me long for the more burdened bothered look of Australian Noah just recently, who would have thought…). His Moses is in Egypt with the royal family, then away for some years, then back, and it seems that wherever he is, he is visible only to his friends, but completely invisible to his enemies. That is all the more astonishing because he and Ben Kingsley have very funny makeup, like tramp stamp ladies who fell asleep in the sun studio, so it should be easily possible to spot them in an Egyptian Memphis City.

What really is bothersome, by the way, and kicked me out of the story 2 minutes in, was the fact that deep in ancient Egypt, there are all those British and American people speaking real or trained British English, as if someone dropped us in an episode of a Lawrence of Arabia soap opera. Have we not left this kind of foolhardiness behind us sometime in the 60s and do we not know how to deal with regional accuracy in storytelling??? This is embarrassingly clumsy, hard to understand from a film maker such as Scott.

The best bit about the film was very early on there was that cute bear with the hat and no pants that got stranded at a London train station and then picked up by the nice Lord from Downtown Abbey. But that story line unfortunately was not followed through.

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

Three articles in one movie title is plenty, you better deliver on that promise of complexity and largess. Sure he does, it’s Peter Jackson, so we get exactly what’s written on the package. A Hobbit, a battle, five armies. Hang on, that would be… Orcs, dwarfs, eagles, other dwarfs, some trolls, a couple of people leftover people from Lake Town after Benedikt Cumberbatch has talked half of them (incl. Stephen Fry, unfortunately, that would have been a nice chance for witty dialogue!) and himself completely to death. Technically you should probably also count the army of wizards (three) and their minions (the bunny rabbits that are dragging that one wizard’s sledge) – maybe those rogue goblins can be discounted as mere minute-fillers in case the film would not reach the 140 minute threshold. That contractual obligation must also be the reason why they had poor Richard Armitage look grumpy for about 45 minutes in total, and even having him drown in a golden plastic bag of sorts, having Shakespearean doubts about his mission and vision, and Shakespearean giant throne rooms to pace in his newly conquered castle.

The result is the boldest example at doing something that is way over your head, but where whoever’s in charge does not care anymore, just wants to get it done.  Jackson is by now apparently completely indifferent to the question of whether the current level of cgi can deliver what he has in mind. He wants some badass wild boar as a ride for some mean Scottish dwarf? Done, that works. He needs some climbing gear for some other dwarfs – and wouldn’t a ram be fine? Yes, would be, unless it looks completely amateurishly animated and very very silly so as to detract the audience from the battle that is going on. It really is surprising that in a film of this dimension and budget there is nobody with the authority to return the animation to the computer geeks and tell them to do it again, or else no playstation after supper? If a ram won’t climb with proper gravity and power, take a bloody bat up that hill, like Legolas does!

There is plenty of silly dialogue (“If this is love, I don’t want it!”) and nonsense plot elements (why are those wizards all Harry Potter spell-able when freeing Gandalf, but only able to throw wooden sticks when it’s against the orcs???). Orloondo Blunt gets his silly slapstick cgi moment as always towards the end of a Tolkien trilogy, and as they are struggling to fill all those minutes anyway, he gets a bit more of it (can’t really remember him being around in the Hobbit book, must be my poor memory).

The last time I saw an original visual idea in these films must have been around the time the Balrog fought Gandalf, or maybe you can count the Ents strolling through an hour of part 3 of Lord of the Rings. The Hobbit has been good at providing more of the same, more orcs, more trolls and more gold. Unfortunately, less Aragon and less interest in all these guys that populate those three films. There is a scene towards the end when the whole fellowship of dwarfs that joined Bilbo on his quest was lined up, and I realised did not know anything about any of them. The film assumes that you know a bit about everybody with pointy ears or pointy hat anyway because you have seen Lord of the Rings, and does not give much of a flying goblin about anyone else. Then it provides almost an hour of mayhem, and that’s fair enough, some bits are entertaining, some are excessively simplistic (reminder: whenever an evil orc floats underneath the ice you are standing on: step aside).

And one question: was that really Ian Holm as old Bilbo? That makeup made him look like Martin Freeman’s old Auntie Evelyn or someone. A weird transition to what’s coming next…

On the bright side: it is done, we do not have to sit through more hours of doubt about why we are sitting through all these hours. Maybe Jackson can even get down to making a movie. Something black and white, maybe Swedish with subtitles, to cleanse himself from all this Hobbititosh…

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

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