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Zwartboek (2006) Black Book

March 31, 2008

I’m not sure why I didn’t like this film.  It’s regarded as one of the best foreign films of last year (it wasn’t shown in the US until 2007) and it tells a tale rarely seen of the Dutch resistance and the good and evil on both sides during the war.  I suppose my biggest problem would be lack of character development for the “bad” guys.  Yeah, it does show good guys can exist on both the resistance and the Nazi sides, and the audience can understand that no matter where fate puts you, you can still try to be a good person.  The whole plot twist of the prison raid being a trap, Franken knowing exactly where Ellis put the bug, Smaal being confronted and showing the black book.  It just seemed to convoluted, too perfect, too arranged, and too absurd.  Especially the part where a Canadian officer would follow through with a Nazi execution order sounded just nuts.  You didn’t see the Russians and Americans killing off the rest of the Jews when they got to the concentration camps, why would it be different for other Nazi orders after the war?

I know many people have a problem with Paul Verhoeven’s way of showing as much nudity and violence in his films as possible.  I think in some films, especially RoboCop and Starship Troopers, he did go way too far.  However I think he held back a lot for this film and didn’t go farther than was necessary to tell the story.  But it really doesn’t deserve the praise it has gotten from critics and wanna-be critics.

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Smokin’ Aces (2006)

March 13, 2008

There are some things in this film that are done very, very right and are lovely to look at them in action. The scene where one of the Tremor brothers “speaks” to dead Ben Affleck was great, and the lead-up to a big shoot-em-up ending was not too disappointing. There was certainly enough gunfire to make it worthwhile, though unfortunately most of the interesting characters met with less than interesting endings. To lose Acosta, the infamous killer in an elevator shoot-out was just bland and boring, and though he is hinted at later with a glimpse of his wristblade, it’s basically a dead end. Ivy and Georgia presumably ride off into the sunset, never mind that her friend just gets blown away and Georgie never even made it into the penthouse. And the 3 bounty hunters would have been better off all dying, because having the small subplot with Hollis just detracted from the movie.

I was hoping for more in the end, but all I got was the FBI running in. Then to find Locke was behind the plot to saving Sparazza by sacrificing his boy Buddy, well then it just gets silly. First off, no one with half a brain would be surprised that the FBI guy who got tons of plastic surgery was actually Sparazza. The illegitimate child thing was just silly, you don’t need to have a blood relative to get a heart transplant from, though I suppose it would help. But why would they give a heart transplant to an 80+ year old mafia man that they shot in the past? Because they thought he would give them more information than Buddy? That’s silly, just silly. The organization would have dissolved naturally when the old man died, with Buddy’s leads helping take out possible usurpers or rogue organizations within.

Had they just stuck with the build up to an all out shoot-out, it would have been a better film. But in the effort to put some kind of important story or twist to it, it just made the whole thing that much more mind-numbing to watch.

p.s.  Andy Garcia- please don’t try to do accents anymore.

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Das Leben des Anderen (2007) The Lives of Others

March 10, 2008

The acting in this movie is simply superb. Often I ignore the acting in subtitled movies because I’m too busy reading, but that’s the best part about this one. So much of the story is told through facial expression, and the silence of the actors.

Something that bothered me in the beginning was Wiesler’s almost sudden conversion from Stasi to sympathizer. He had only been listening in on the apartment for perhaps a day or two before he started to become attached to Georg and Christa-Maria. It was odd, and the struggle inside of him was not shown to the viewer. I can imagine it must have been quite a struggle, but not seeing that was a bit disappointing. I think the scene with the prostitute tried to convey his loneliness and want for humanity, but it didn’t really work for me.

As the story progresses, and as he begins to do favors for Georg and his friends, we know it can’t last. I was just hoping for the least sad ending possible. I don’t know what that would have been, but perhaps something where no one died. But I suppose there were things worse than death for some.

But as the ending went on, I got my glorious conclusion. Because no matter what people say about realism, I want my movies to have a conclusion, not just an end. Seeing Georg find out the truth about his “HGW” was just so satisfying. However, just picking apart the last bit, couldn’t he have sent the poor guy a free copy? It almost seems like Georg profited off Wiesler’s efforts in the end, while Wiesler was stuck in his post job. But I suppose if Wiesler was happy with the dedication, so should be the audience.

On a brief side note, I’m sure I’m not the only one who thought Ulrich Muehe (excuse the lack of umlauts) resembled Kevin Spacey. It’s a shame he died last year, he was a terrific actor.

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Fanny och Alexander (1982)

March 8, 2008

This movie is too short, but at the same time entirely too long.  It’s the predicament that follows when one tries to condense a TV serial into a theatrical release.  It’s unfortunate I’ll probably never be able to see it as it was intended, because I did not enjoy it as a 3 hour movie.

For being another masterpiece of Bergman, I was shocked to see how poor some of the editing was.  Many of the shots were at poor angles with jarring cuts to slightly closer shots, or just not timed correctly.  This may have been a side effect of being cut from the TV series, but I worry that some of these cuts may have been in the original as well.

As a movie I thought they could reshot it to be an hour and a half long, sticking mainly to the latter part of the story.  The most intriguing parts would have been to see the emotional manipulation of Edvard, which unfortunately is spoken of but not really seen with his wife.  The degradation of the relationship would have been more interesting to me than the affair of Gustav Adolf and Maj.

I am still quite puzzled by the goings-on at the Jacobi house.  Why was Ismael, described as a brother, a woman?  Why, in general, are androgynous characters played by women, such as Gabriel in “Constantine”?  How would making Ismael a female give the scene less sexuality, as was the common interpretation?

If I watch the film again it will have to be the long version, spaced apart as it was meant to be seen.  I cannot give an accurate review on it as a whole, and can only say that the 3 hour version I saw was lacking.

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The Sweet Hereafter (1997)

March 8, 2008

There was not much for me to like about the film.  It was slow to start, and dragged out scenes which were not at all relevant.  One of the more revealing parts of the plot many people will miss on the first viewing (the incestuous relationship of the Burnell father and daughter).  Because characters were not adequately introduced, relationships were not well defined, I thought at first the girl was just meeting a boyfriend in the barn.  The plot just seemed to clumsy, the way it was presented, it really made me think the director was just some amateur indie director starting out his first film.  Imagine my surprise when I saw on IMDB that he had many many films under his belt, just nothing I had ever heard of.  Seems he gets a lot of money from the Canadian government to make his mediocre films no one watches.

The soundtrack was horribly misplaced in this film.  Every song or sound was jarring and ill-fitting to the context.  Some of the scenes were completely jarring to the rest of the movie now.  I was always thinking “where are we now”.

The film seems to have no resolve.  The dad is never punished for his incest, and for all we know could be boinking the younger daughter now.  Do the lawyer and his daughter ever make up and get along again?  Who knows, but apparently Delores drives another bus.  Yay for her.

I feel like I’ve wasted my time with this film, and if this is the best Atom has to offer, I won’t be seeing any of his others.  If I were a Canadian citizen I’d petition the government to stop wasting my tax dollars on this man.

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Spiritual Exercises: Olivier Smolders

February 29, 2008

This set of 10 short experimental films is now available on DVD.  I had previously not seen any of Olivier Smolders’ works, but I am intrigued by experimental film making as an art form.  My only disappointment is that most avant-guarde works in film is they tend to focus mainly on female nudity and death.  It gets tedious after a while.  One of the more interesting short films I’ve seen is a ball rolling through a workshop, much in the same way marbles went through the old board game “Mousetrap”.  The camera was in continual motion, as well as the ball, and it was cleverly done and fun to watch.  If we could get more experimental films about ducks, pirates and cardboard boxes, I’m sure they’d get more of an audience.

Starting with “Adoration”, this pretty much encapsulates the whole female nudity and death theme he’s got going on with this collection.  It features a man and a woman, woman reads poems, man shoot woman, man eats little bits of woman, man cuts off woman’s arm and leg, man stabs self.  The end.  I was not particularly moved, either intrigued or disgusted, because I’ve already seen it all before countless times.  The lack of narration and soundtrack make it seem lacking, as if the director didn’t realize he could use sound for dramatic effect.  It’s like as if a cook was baking cakes and left out all the eggs.

“Mort a Vignole” was a bit more interesting, and to me, more touching and human than the rest of the collection.  He describes how his child came out stillborn, and he wanted to photograph her, but they took her away for an autopsy.  He imagines that having captured her in photos would have given her a bit of life where she had none, a bit of immortality after death.  I found it very sad but yet beautiful.  Being a parent can change how you look at things in many ways, and I think prior to having my son I would not have appreciated this segment.

“L’Amateur” was an interesting progression of the female nude form.  Not how the women progress, but how the director progresses at the representation.  The addition of great contrast, props, movement, all begin to capture more and more beauty as the film goes on.  However as far as being engaging and moving, it didn’t much go beyond the beauty.  Calling out for his lost love like Lenore did not sway me at all.

The only other short that really fascinated me was  “Pensees et Visions D’une Tête Coupée”, which I believe is translated “Thoughts and Visions of a Severed Head”.  It details the work of Belgian artist Antoine Wiertz.  Like Smolders, he is drawn to the morbid.  His descriptions on seeing and talking to a severed head were very disturbing to me, more because of my fear of decapitation than anything else.  I would be curious to see how “normal” people would react to the work.

I found the use of midgets in this segment to be gratuitous and exploitative, as if no director can do a “weird” movie without throwing in at least one midget.  Then again, it may have simply been a perspective tool to make the paintings look bigger and grander than they already were.

Overall I felt the short film was very informative and respectful to Wiertz’s work, despite  narrations that described contemporary reactions to the paintings.  If more painters could have short films such as this dedicated to them, maybe more people would have time to learn about fine art from centuries past.

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Beowulf (2007)

February 29, 2008

I wanted to like this movie.  I wish Neil Gaiman success, but he just can’t get a screenplay or story turned into a good movie.  Poor guy.  As for Roger Avary, normally I love his dialog but after “There have been many a brave soldier come to taste my husband’s mead” I didn’t know whether to grimace or laugh.

I suppose most of the movie’s downfall comes from Mr. Robert CGI Zemeckis.   He should have learned from the criticism of “The Polar Express” that whatever tech crew he’s got working for him, they need more practice.  This was no “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within”.  Throughout the movie the poor CGI was distracting, from the poor eye contact to the way people’s jaws didn’t move when they talked.  He’s got a long way to go before he can make his crew churn out realistic looking characters in CGI, and in the meantime he’s making big-budget films that will have no staying power and lose millions.  I can’t understand when he had so many excellent live-action films behind him, and he’s obviously good at that sort of thing, why he keeps tarnishing his reputation by sticking with something that’s not working for him.  I can’t imagine how he keeps getting financing.  I hear “A Christmas Carol” is going to be CGI as well, how did that ever get greenlit?

Enough bitching about Zemeckis.  The story was good, I liked the changes made from the original tale, linking everything together.  The acting was stiff but only thanks to motion capture.  Guess they didn’t put enough stickers on people.  And the stiletto heels on Grendel’s mother ruined what little respect I had for the movie.  By the time it was over, I was glad.   Sorry Neil, maybe next time.