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Monthly Archives: January 2016


Preparing for the imminent release of the much-praised “Room”, I was a bit hesitant to finally catch up with “Richard”. What I had heard reminded me a bit of “We need to talk about Kevin”, and while there have been very few better films over the last years, this is not necessarily something to look forward to…

Turns out, “What Richard did” is very different. It is not about a devil in human disguise, but about an average, albeit very handsome and popular, guy, rugby hero and family charm. As things happen, there are missteps, and sometimes a misstep cannot be undone. The film takes a lot of time to introduce us to the person before throwing the person in disarray. This allows you to make an assumption on what his possible reaction to “the incident” would be, whether he would be able to “do the right thing” (as he stresses early on in the film), and what that right thing could be.

These characters are for real, that’s what makes the film so strong. Especially the father (played by the brilliant Lars Mikkelsen) – is that the brother of Mats? one would assume so.), so confident in his position in life that he has worked hard on, the position of being a decent person mainly, makes this clear. You are always as strong as the next challenge, we find out, and maybe the life of a thoroughly good person is just a life that has never faced serious challenges. Don’t feel safe!

When discussing “scenes of the year”, someone on the Filmspotting podium mentioned the opening scene of Sicario, and I nodded in excitement and agreement under my podcast headphones. A group of US … officials of sorts, a bit DEA, a bit FBI, maybe a bit CIA, rolls into Mexico in a small convoy of SUVs to pick up a prisoner. It is like watching the raid on Abbottabad, there is a perennial feeling of threat, the streets are lined with heavily armed police (and the suspicion is that they are not all on the same side),  the roads are cleared for the convoy and the helicopter shots follow the trail into the heart of darkness on the other side of the border, an area under full control of drug lords.

Emily Blunt plays an FBI agent who is used as a formal requirement to get US agencies involved, but refuses to remain passive, struggles with her role, with her inability to merely understand, if not to influence, the greater game that others play. Those others are mainly Josh Brolin as CIA consultant and Benicio del Toro as freelance avenging angel. While his involvement may put a bit of stress on your suspension of disbelief, it is a fierce part, played with fierce intensity. If anybody doubted what kind of war this is, del Toro’s role explains it.

With its number of high-tension set pieces while devoting ample time for the Blunt character to despair about her situation (and kudos to the actress for allowing herself to look as weary as she does), this is almost perfect thriller cinema, with heroes to root for, others to despise, but sometimes not being very sure which is which.

Die Bücher sind geschlossen, Zeit für die Abrechnung des Jahres 2015 an den chinesischen Kinokassen. Fast wäre die erstaunliche Marke von 50% Wachstum geknackt wurden, aber auch die 48,7% auf insgesamt 44 Millarden Yuan bringen China einen  deutlichen Schritt näher an das prestigeträchtige Ziel, bald weltgrößter Kinomarkt zu werden. 61,6% des Umsatzes geht dabei nach Aussage der chinesischen Regulierungsbehörde auf das Konto heimischer Produktionen, Hollywood musste sich mit 45,5% begnügen.

Am Bemühen hat es nicht gelegen: alle Kassenschlager des US-Marktes waren auch in China am Start. Die Verschiebung des Star Wars-Startes auf einen Januartermin hat sicher ein wenig geholfen, ebenso wie kreative Buchführung beim Jahressieger „Monster Hunt“, die üblichen Moratorien für ausländische Filme während wichtiger Ferien und die simultane Terminierung einiger Hollywood-Filme. Am Ende steht aber der Stolz der chinesischen Produzenten, es den Amerikanern wieder einmal ein bisschen gezeigt zu haben.

Das Potential für Wachstum liegt zudem weiter bei den heimischen Produktionen. Die durchschnittlich nur 0,8 Filmtheaterbesuche pro Kopf (USA: 3,22) haben vor allem mit der weiterhin dünnen Versorgung in den kleineren Städten abseits der Ostküstenmetropolen zu tun. Zwar kamen 2015 etwa 8000 neue Leinwände dazu, aber das ist noch bei weitem nicht das Ende des Wachstums. Das Wachstum wird vor allem abseits der Ballungszentren weitergehen, und dort ist das Publikum traditionell stärker an heimischen Stoffen als an internationalen Franchise-Produktionen interessiert.

I did not know anything about the real life incidents that led to the formation and breakup of N.W.A., nor did I know anything about the West-East struggle for Hip Hop supremacy, or the clash with the police force. Nor do I care a lot, to be honest, as most of the people involved in this seem like a thoroughly despicable bunch I would not want to meet in the dark, or at all. As I do have some appreciation of the work Dr. Dre has done over the years (in particular with Eminem, so not part of this film’s story), I found my character to develop an interest in. As I had never even heard of Eazy-E, and only vaguely know about Ice Cube, but have no clue on whether this is a rap force to be taken seriously, the whole narrative was a bit skewed to me. It still works, though. The film does convey where the anger of the gangsta rap comes from, what combination of harassment, disillusionment and macho attitude plays together to produce an almost comic level of mutual hatred and rage. While it is not clear exactly how this particular group of musicians made it to fame beyond their own neighbourhood, maybe that’s exactly the point. There is a lot of coincidence involved, a lot of being in the right place at the right time, and only a few of the characters (again, maybe Dre in particular) appear to have worked hard and systematically on their professional career. Then how this mostly street gang bunch clashes with the mechanisms of the music market, how their urge to make to riches and all that comes with it makes them blind to the consequences of what they are doing, and also makes them blind to their actual economic positions and vulnerably exposed to those who do. I liked the ambiguous role of manager Jerry (played brilliantly by Paul Giamatti, Oscar for best wig guaranteed), at least I could never quite decide whether the suspicions about his abuse of his position were justified, or whether he is right when insisting “This is how it works.”.

A mostly strong cast of guys and girls I did not know, very credible in their physique and demeanor, with special mention to the Suge Knight, a truly terrifying presence.

And the music: I don’t mind hip hop and rap (while I don’t even know how to use either term correctly), so this was a powerful movie experience.

Wang Jianling ist nun Filmproduzent. Nachdem der meist reichste Chinese die von ihm als Immobilienfirma gegründete und geleitete Dalian Wanda Group schon vor drei Jahren durch den Kauf der US-amerikanischen AMC-Filmtheater als internationalen Akteur im Filmmarkt etablierte, gehört nun bald auch eine bedeutende Hollywood-Produktionsfirma zur Gruppe. Bis zu 3,5 Milliarden Dollar wird Wanda für Legendary Entertainment zahlen, die größte internationale Übernahme durch ein chinesisches Unternehmen in der Unterhaltungsbranche. Zuvor hatte Wanda mit Investments in einzelne Produktionen („Southpaw“) bereits Ambitionen anklingen lassen, sich von der reinen Distribution zu entfernen.

Das Investment erscheint passend: Legendary produziert genau jene Filme, die chinesische Säle füllen, Special-Effects-lastige Blockbuster wie „Pacfic Rim“, „Jurassic World“ oder „Godzilla“ treffen den Geschmack der neuen chinesischen Mittelschicht und sind maßgeblich am enormen Umsatzwachstum an den Kinokassen beteiligt.

Während die von Wang initiierten Wanda Studios in Qingdao noch im Bau sind, dürfte sich das Unternehmen damit mittelfristig auch eine solide Auslastung der 400 Hektar großen Anlage und einen Wissenstransfer durch die in Qingdao arbeitenden Filmemacher versprechen. Das neue Unternehmen kann durch den Status als heimische chinesische Produktionsfirma auch deutliche Vorteile bei der Genehmigung neuer Produktionen und der Erlösanteile beim Verleih erwarten.

Legendary-Gründer Thomas Tull soll weiterhin das kreative Ruder in der Hand halten, eine Einmischung in Stoffentwicklung und Produktion sei explizit nicht vorgehesen. Wang Jianling ließ anklingen, auch ein Börsengang sei denkbar.

A Western as a Western should be: gritty, dirty, crude, mumbly, and with heroes that are not very heroic, women that are good-hearted and desirable, and shootouts that do not turn out the way they are intended to.

Michael Fassbender holds it together, being handsome and cool, always on top of things even when all hell breaks loose, until he isn’t… but the new young boy Kodi Smit-McPhee also performs greatly as dreamy-eyed adventurer of love. The way his adventure does not play out well in the end has a tinge of artificiality that does not quite match the rest of the film, but still worked well for me. There is a touch of grotesquery when his Jay is passive observer to how his dream floats away in gun smoke. He also has a great entering scene, covered in the dust of a burning forest, beautifully shot and already indicating the things to come. Ashes to ashes…

The plot about a bunch of outlaws converging towards a little house in the prairie that promises a considerable reward for those who get there first allows for enough tension to add to the atmosphere. Director John M. Maclean is mastering this like an old hand, but with his own special touch, with relaxed sobriety. His skill shows even more in a robbery scene taking place in a way station where some protagonists stock up on food and gear and which involves a couple of desperate Swedes, a shopkeeper and of course cool hand luke Fassbender.

A very pleasant and intense contribution to the Western genre that shows that it’s still alive, if treated by the right people.

I do like del Toro’s movies in general, but I am not what you would call an unambiguous fanboy. While I loved Cronos, The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth, I stayed lukewarm on his Pacific Rim and Hellboy films.

Crimson Peak seeks to return to the style and narrative of the earlier efforts, manages to create a stunning visual setting and a pleasantly vulnerable damsel in distress, but never manages to sustain a feeling of threat, of fear or of horror. Neither does it seems to want to, it is not a horror film as such, more like a variation on a bad relatives thriller set in a haunted house. Between those motives, I could not quite engage, it was pleasant to watch, but never fully gripping. There is a bit of gore, a bit of almost camp evil, a bit of romantic love story and a bit of comic-style winter storm. The house is very nice though, even though it is not recommended as a cottage for your winter holiday. A little bit underwhelming, the whole thing, but at least it was fun to watch Jessica Chastain play an evil witch. Not sure whether arthouse Jessica enjoyed it too much, but I understand that working with this director is something you would do even if the script is not up there with his best.

This is as old fashioned a film as it gets: a righteous lawyer, a cold war setting, generous production design and costumes to re-create late 1950s East Berlin. Even if you have not heard about the case of the Abel-Powell prisoner exchange, or forgot the details, you will never be in doubt how this will pan out or who the hero of the narrative will be.

But it does not matter: it is very entertaining to watch Tom Hanks become Jimmy Stewart, the good and clever man facing all the twists of politics and the adversities of being a negotiator left alone in the GDR (and without coat in the Berlin winter, that is no fun). It says that the Coen brothers wrote the script, but it appears to be standard Spielberg issue, the sardonic humour of the Coen universe is missing, so I am not sure what they contributed other than maybe the occasional East German bureaucratic outburst or the bunch of supposed family members conjured out of thin air.

What I found interesting in terms of plot was the conflict between the East Germans and their Soviet big brothers, and the handsome and serious face of Sebastian Koch as Attorney Vogel (after “Homeland”, second big international performance within the year), with Burkhart Klaussner adding the desired hysterical touches. It is those minor parts I found to provide the actual beauty to the film, with solid-as-ever Tom Hank’s performance merely serving as the foundation and key pillars. Soviet spy Abel is the most impressive of those: with a few comments he lays out the laconic fate of people of his profession: “Are you not worried?” – “Would it help?” He is the secret hero of this tale about rule of law, and patient diplomacy. Not quite “Tinker, Tailor … ”, but certainly plenty of spies.

On that note: “Deutschland 83” should make an interesting companion piece, let’s get started with that one…

This is just the film I’ve been waiting for for months. Honestly, the year in cinema has been a disappointment. Partly because I did not see a lot. But also because there were not many films that really really sounded as I needed to see them. When reading about “Ex Machina”, I thought this might make the tide turn, and indeed it did.

Claustrophobic and cinematic, a chamber piece basically about two guys being locked up in a fancy cottage/lab where they can drink, dance and develop A.I.-powered beautiful girls. Oscar Isaac as reclusive weirdo mastermind is in the habit of manipulating his staff and androids, while Domhnall Gleeson (who now officially was in all good films of 2015, and in some others as well …) is happy to allow himself get manipulated to a certain point, because in exchange he may get a glance into truly future-changing technology. And into his own nature, preferences and abilities. And he can watch Oscar Isaac dance.

The plot can maybe be described as the part in Blade Runner that we did not get to see, where Androids got developed and the engineers tried to figure out the glitches and develop some testing devices. Some of them wondered whether those droids shouldn’t be more sexy, and they clearly got it their way, with a line of superbly beautiful samples getting assembled (Alicia Vikander as key counterpart Ava, the actress apparently known from Royal Affair, but I cannot remember. And Sonoya Mizuno as Asian-style housemaid with benefits Kyoko).

The atmosphere is cold, with splendid scifi decorations, sometimes reminiscent of Andromeda Strain labs, around the house, but countered with the beautiful setting of the facility, surrounded by woods, mountains, waterfalls. The plot is tense, moving towards an unavoidable showdown, and coming up with the odd surprise. The finale is well played out, with the final scenes not quite spectacular, but spectacular in their simplicity and “correctness”.

It is the power play between Isaac’s Nathan Bateman and Gleeson’s Caleb Smith what makes the film an excellent piece of cool thriller. Those two actors, and writer / director Alex Garland, have reached a peak of their skills, you would not believe this is Garland’s feature debut – but he is clever and experienced enough of a writer to know when to confine a scene to the power of words and acting. Splendid cinema!

11181391_oriThe guy whose name I keep forgetting and who – together with that other British guy with the glasses whose name I keep forgetting – is the most famous actor whose names I keep forgetting. Him, anyway, he is a guy just sacked from his submarine or ship company, and decides to put a crew together to get his hands on a sunk boat that got drowned in the Black Sea with plenty of Nazi gold on board. All have forgotten about it, but going there still means diving under the Russian Black Sea fleet, which apparently is something not considered a good idea.

This is played straightforwardly, the initial setup, introduction of characters, and then all are locked up in a submarine that does not look as if you would like to spend an hour in, let alone a couple of days or weeks. Things go wrong, tensions flare, things go more wrong. This is good, low-key entertainment, benefiting from the claustrophobic atmosphere that comes automatically with submarines. All the characters are well played, with a pleasant realism to the setting and the characters populating them. Not a spectacle, even though it gets a bit cliché-spectacular towards the end, but still an interesting and pleasant addition to the genre. Kevin McDonald has made better films (“Last King of Scotland”, most notably), but many directors have made worse.

Jude Law, by the way… and Colin Firth being the other one. Now I will remember! For a day.

This is a hyped Indy horror film that cashed in surprisingly at the mainstream theatres. Reason enough to believe it is special and at last a glimmer of hope for the American horror genre? Not really… It is not bad as an allegory on sex as sin, transmitted diseases as punishment. The notion of just passing on the curse not being sufficient, as it will bounce back if those down the line get killed by their curse-followers, is quite clever to make the paranoia credible. But beyond this concept there is not much to go for. It is all fair and well, but will not become a classic or cult film of any sorts. Its success is rather an indicator of the dire situation American horror has been in for years. Korea or France still have more frequent more exciting scares to offer.


It is always a pleasure to see what Charlie Kaufman comes up with. Whether the result is utterly genius (like “Synechdoche”) or a brilliant slight (like “John Malkovich”), there is hardly anybody who pushes the art of movie writing to such a high level.

With “Anomalisa”, I am more on the “Wow, that’s interesting” side, the film having an interesting visual approach, a interestingly depressing reflection on human nature of middle-aged conference speakers, and an outstanding Kafka scene to make up for all its flaws. One such flaw is the sudden ending, which left me surprised and a tad disappointed, but which also somehow is in line with the notion of “scenes from a life”. Anomalisa does not claim to present a drama, an extraordinary event, what it does is show the desperation and confusion of life when seen from a certain inside perspective.

The artificiality of the animation and the voice cast (most females are voiced by male actors, I believe) supports the dream-like character of the film. The touch if genius is Jennifer Jason Leigh as Lisa, whose realism and ordinariness awards her the title of being an anomaly in a twisted approach to life.

Double points for second best puppet sex scene ever, and kudos to Kaufman for managing to make the kind of films he finds rewarding. More please!

If I had seen this film 10 years ago, I would probably have been quite happy about it. Ambitious young actor with a very method approach, very intense, taking on a physical role, working out for the role of a boxer who is not necessarily a nice guy, but who experiences things that make us feel sympathy. The remedy is to keep fighting, but how hard is that when your life is in tatters. But still, you can make it…

Thing is that I start disliking Jake Gylenhaal, it’s the Christian Bale phenomenon: he is just trying too hard to show that he is a terribly serious actor capable of doing just about anything. Relax, man! Forest Whitaker is actually better than his recent self, he only has a few moments of being awfully brooding. And the story… how often do they think we need to see this? Is there no copyright on boxer falls down and gets up again story lines? Honestly, just the last two years alone brought 6 of those films, right? Why not just screen Rocky 1 to 7 again in a loop, this should be much cheaper, and you would have all qualities summarized in one franchise. And the likes of Gylenhaal would not need to go to the trouble of working out and losing weight and / or gaining muscle so much.

Who knew that there is a new Rocky film? It completely passed me by, until I read some rave reviews and saw the film pop up in some year’s end Top 10 lists. Even without those reviews: you may give a Terminator sequel a pass (and blame yourself if you don’t), but never a new Rocky film! I Am not surprised, unlike his alter ego Schwarzenegger, Stallone never surprises me in ambitious projects, and the way he treated his ageing on film since Copland frequently has convincing moments.

In Creed, he is running a restaurant, until Apollo Creed’s son shows up and wants some training. Half posh rich kid, half genetically burdened natural fighter, Adonis seeks to step into the shoes of his father, and seeks help from the only person he can relate to, even before he meets him. Of course this is playing along the rule book for underdog fighter movies, and of course the opponents are not half as well written and performed as the leads, but still as far as this genre goes, you don’t question the possibility of making this film (in contrast to, say, Southpaw).

Dude, Leo DiCaprio is having a bad week. He gets attacked by a huge bear, smothered, left for dead, sees his son get stabbed, gets hunted by all different kinds of native and not so native Americans and French, and in general has to deal with Tom Hardy. This is a home game for Innaritu, who knows how to make life of his protagonists miserable. With the support of his fabulous DP, he brings on some absolutely magnificent imagery of the American wilderness (of the 1820, I read, even though it seems to be vague plot-wise), with all the grit and dirty hair, the snowy hills and stunning woods decorating a vast solitude where men only go to kill (each other or beasts for pelt and fur), or to get killed (by each other or furry beasts).

The plot and story do not bring much in terms of surprise, but every image, every scene appears like a set piece out of its own right. The opening attack on the trappers camp, shot in one long camera movement, Birdman style, promises this, and they stick with the promise, the long shots recurring frequently. Tom Hardy mentioned in an interview that at some point the plan was to have the whole film shot as one virtual take, but the editing is worth it, with the various groups converging across the plains and hills to an expected showdown. Di Caprio and Hardy are brilliant, I am not so convinced about Domhnall Gleeson (his career seems to be taking off with force these days…) as Captain Henry, who appears a bit younghish and cleanish compared to his men, but who rises to the challenge towards the end, when for a short while he gets a chance to involve himself in the Hardy-Di Caprio disagreement…

The often-quoted scene with the bear… man, that is some scene with some bear! A brilliant piece of film making, breathtaking in its realism and the ferocity of the encounter. The bear looks gorgeous and stunning, and Di Caprio looks… vulnerable, to say the least.

On a side note, it is one of those films where dubbing would destroy everything, with a considerable part of the atmosphere stemming from the various mumbling trapper accents. While sometimes hard to understand, it stresses the realism, the feeling of this playing  out in a different world, a world we do not want to visit…

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