A Few Movie Reviews

Rather than writing critiques of movies everybody has seen recently, I’d like to pick out three, that have, I believe, not had a super-wide audience. In two cases quite rightly so, in one case a few more people should watch it.

The positive one, at least in my opinion, is the quite bizarre “Colossal” with Ann Hathaway. She plays a good-for-nothing party-girl with a boyfriend in New York, who throws her out when he can’t stand her good-for-nothing life style anymore. Having no place to go to, she returns to her hometown into the now abandoned house of her former family and runs into a school times friend who offers her a job in his bar. But, when she walks across an old playground, strange things start to happen as 10,000 miles away, in Seoul, a huge monster appears, Gozdilla worthy and tramples things and people under its feet. What the heck? The monster is soon joined by a giant robot and they fight each other in the vein of Godzilla vs. Mozra for example. Uh? Turns out her school friend who has a fancy for her is the robot and she is the monster and there is something magical going on with the playground. The drama unfolds as he makes advances towards her which are unwanted and turns out to be an asshole and on battle the monster and the robot. Sounds bizarre? It is bizarre, but at least it’s not what you see every day and manages to hold your interest (at least mine). Watch it with some popcorn and be puzzled.

This is apparently based on some 80ties TV series and it’s about bike cops in L.A. and there is nothing special about it, except that one of the main characters who is an ex-professional biker gone cop, is such a wreck physically as well as character wise, it had some entertaining moments. Since I’ve never even heard about the TV series it is based upon, I cannot make any judgements in that department and have zero nostalgia about the piece. Nevertheless I was kinda wondering who the hell gave the producers money to make this movie? If you are into bikes and snotty cops, watch it with a ton of chips and beer, otherwise, no need to bother.

This is a lesser known European science fiction movie and let me call it “Alien” on the ISS. Some probe has brought the first extraterrestrial life form onto the ISS to study it there. I forgot whether the life form comes from an asteroid or Mars, but it does not matter anyway. In essence – the life form evolves and destroys the ISS, kills its crew and is smart enough to infiltrate the only life pod that makes it to Earth and will now happily contaminate our lovely planet. Sounds familiar? It’s Alien retold only set in the near future or present day rather than the far future. While the life form was nicely animated and looked creepy, it was not as creepy as H.R. Giger’s Alien. It had the same traits as the Alien, an aggressive predator without a mind/conscience. The parallels to Alien were exhausting. Here again, why invest tons of money in a movie like that? Why did nobody object to making this movie due to the total lack of new ideas and the parallels to Alien? Luckily I did not spend money on it, watched it on a plane…

More Movie Reviews

Loved it. The aging superhero whose every joint hurts was a new twist not seen before. I’m a huge Patrick Stewart fan and it was hard to see Xavier go. At times it was a bit of an overkill with all the suffering and hats off to Hugh Jackman for suffering through two hours of movie time 😉 The little girl was wonderfully annoying. So, if there are sequels in demand, here is your new set of x-men and x-girls. It was a mature movie for not only aging super heroes but also the audience who aged with them 😉 Great piece and a long lasting series has come to an end, maybe.

Guardians of the Galaxy II
Hm. It was fun, yes, and I enjoyed it, yes, and I even squeezed out a tear for Yondu, yes, but I kinda had expected more after the hype that the second guardians movie is supposed to be soooooo good. Hm. Yes, it was good, but it wasn’t epoch making. While Kurt Russel was great as the nasty Ego, the appearance of Sylvester Stallone totally threw me out of it. He just doesn’t belong into that universe! Lol. The wicked golden lady was fun though and I hope we will see more of her in the movies to come. Maybe I was also a bit “bored” by Gamora and Nebula reconciling. That made it so normal, so American, somehow, family is our greatest value and all that blah. It felt like: because they had to kill off Star Lords daddy, they needed to confirm the American family values via reconciling Nebula and Gamora. I found them hugging pretty damn lame. I was also annoyed by the pressing on the lacrimal glands for Yondu. The dude is a killer, who just wasted half of his former crew in the most brutal fashion and then they make you cry for him. I didn’t like that manipulative side of the second guardian movie. It was fun, yes, but not as fresh and mean as the first one, being watered down by too many traditional “values”.

Assassin’s Creed
Let me say I found this movie watchable. I’ve never played the game and cannot judge whether it represents a fair image of the game. Michael Fassbinder is a cool guy though and managed to pull it off. Jeremy Irons is always lovely, especially as the bad guy. The movie won’t go down in the annals of history, but if you wanna switch off watching some action for two hours and pretty people, it’s fine.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
I apologize to all Star Wars fans, but the movie bores me out of my mind. In my defense, I’m more of a Trekkie than a Star Wars fan. But come on, what was new about this movie? Nothing. It was a replay of “a new hope” kinda with other heroes and bad guys. The space battle was more or less the same that we have seen in previous Star Wars movies. The bad guys were copies of other bad guys from previous movies. I also found it disturbing that the movie was entirely humorless. Further, you knew at every instant what was going to happen next. While I’m interested in the continuation of the Luke Skywalker plot, this was just a complete remix of stuff we have seen before.

Movie Reviews

I watched Arrival twice, once on a plane, then in the theater. Arrival is great. A solid, intelligent sci-fi movie with cool space ships, nice mysterious aliens and interesting lead characters. Xenolinguistic is a fascinating topic which is too often neglected. Yes, not all aliens who might visit us in the future will speak English. 😉 The sentences as different circles is a clever and cool idea how to express language and I bet Ted Chiang, the original author, put a lot of effort into the Xenolinguistic aspect of his story. How to remember the future was another well spun aspect of the movie, which worked out logically to an amazing degree. Great movie. A must see for sci-fi fans.

Shin Gojira
We all know that the Japanese love their Godzilla 😉 It was only a question of time until also the Japanese would decide to do a remake of the story.
All in all, I think the Shin Gojira movie is pretty damn good, only one thing was awkward about it. It happens in 2016 kind of and it presumes that nobody ever heard of Godzilla. It’s a bit of a weird decision to deny the 70 years of Godzilla culture and to pretend this is a new invention. But that assumption was kinda necessary for how the film is structured. It’s designed as a documentary, focusing on the actions or non-actions of a fictitious government. Being true to its 1954 original, there are side kicks against the US. That Japan is only a half free state and that the US decides anything for them. What was new was that Godzilla mutated a couple of times. He’s been feeding on nuclear waste dumped into the ocean and comes ashore as a crawling thingy before he goes back into Tokyo bay for a while and mutates some more. Only in the end does he look like the familiar Godzilla. The US wants to solve the problem by dropping a thermonuclear bomb onto lovely Tokyo. The inventive Japanese, surrounding one young politician who organized a “nerd” think tank, however come up last minute with an idea to “freeze” Godzilla with a cooling agent. In the end the frozen giant stands around in town as a new monument.

Ms. Pellegrin’s home for peculiar children
In principle I like Tim Burton films, although his style is very repetitive. My favorite is and remains Beetlejuice and also Sleepy Hollow (solely because of Christopher Walken). While the style of the peculiar children is clearly Tim Burton, the story is a bit more sophisticated than much of his other stuff. I haven’t read the novel it’s based on but it looks like it’s a well done recreation. The abilities of the children are fresh and inventive, setting them nicely apart from super heroes or X-men characteristics, although the X-men abilities come close to what we have here. The bad guys are nicely done, too and Samuel L. Jackson as their leader is a worthy bad guy indeed. Those white glowing eyes are pretty damn scary. If you are into fantasy this is well worth watching, but I can also understand that a movie like this is not everyone’s taste.

Some More Movie Reviews

Manchester by the Sea
At first, I must admit that I was confused. I thought this would happen in England, but I was already wondering, because the British Manchester is not exactly by the sea. It took me a bit to realize that there is a town called Manchester-by-the-sea in the US and that’s where the story happens. It’s a drama about a guy who lost his three children to a fire accident because he was drunk and who cannot forgive himself, who is confronted having to take care of his brother’s son after the brother dies. That’s it. Nothing more and nothing less. The film also has no resolution, at least none that I found satisfactory. Though the main character grows a bit, his grief is not dealt with at the end and he stops taking care of his nephew unable to deal with the situation. Hm. Realistic perhaps, but what’s the point? The acting is fine, but the story left me unsatisfied.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Finally saw that one. Don’t get me wrong, I like Eddie Redmayne and I think he is one fine character actor and he was excellent portraying Stephen Hawking or in the Danish Girl, but for me he is not a lead character that can carry an “action movie” like this. There are some nice J.K. Rowling ideas about fantastic creatures, and the whole world in a suitcase was lovely, but all in all the piece left me quite unaffected and unmoved. I best liked the side kick Kowalski who was very nicely portrayed by Dan Fogler and I rooted more for him than for the main couple.

A Hologram for the King
That movie surely wasn’t a big box office hit, I never heard of it before it showed up on the plane’s choice of movies. I have very mixed feelings about it. It’s set in a supposed Saudi Arabia and mid-life-crisis American business man played by Tom Hanks travels there to close a business deal with the ruling family involving holographic projections.
Modern day Saudi Arabia is rarely featured in movies, but I strongly wonder how much of the movie depicted reality over there and how much of it was fiction. I think a movie like that does have a certain responsibility towards reality despite being fiction, since its sole reason for bearing any kind of fascination is the portrayal of that hidden world.
The love story with the female Saudi doctor was very cheesy and the portrayal of the hard-partying foreigners in the country also too black and white for my taste. Because the world portrayed is so far away from what we westerners know, it kept my interest, but I really wanted to know how much here was fiction and how much was supposed to be “documentary”, showing us the life in a country so hard to imagine for someone who has never been there.

Some Movie Reviews

Much acclaimed Moonlight was nice to watch, if a bit slow for my taste.
It’s an interesting decision to have the main character portrayed as a child, a teenager and a grown man and of course by different actors. The concept was good, but I fond it a bit difficult to thus identify with the main character, since as soon as you got used to him, another actor took over. What I did like though was that there were no white people around. A thoughtful piece with well “underplayed” emotions. Another interesting story decision was to have such an introverted character be in the lead.

Toni Erdmann
The German runner up for the best foreign language film at the Oscars this year was a marathon of nearly three hours. Very slow too and definitely too long but it still somehow managed to keep my attention, firstly because of the well portrayed and delicate grown daughter – elderly father relationship and secondly because of the business woman the daughter is, which reminded me a little bit of my own job, if mine is a lot better. I know plenty of colleagues though who forget to live and do only work. Another thing that made me grin was that Germans ask the big questions, sometimes, at least in this movie, and seriously speak about the meaning of life, which frankly, I haven’t heard talked of much in Japan. The naked party was a bit too strange though and if the fathers giant fur costume had any meaning then it was lost on me. Some of my colleagues should watch the movie though and be reminded that there is more to life than career and work, where alpha animals have regular pissing contests.

A nice piece of science fiction with a very pretty ship and very pretty actors. The story is simple enough, 5000 people board a ship and go into cryosleep for the 120 years of the journey. Trouble is, the ship gets bombarded while flying through an asteroid field and malfunctions, waking one of the passengers 30 years into the journey. With 90 years ahead of him alone, the guy almost goes mad and almost commits suicide, but then decides to wake one of the other passengers, his dream woman. After a period of happiness, she finds out he woke her up and is understandably mightily pissed at him. But they find back to each other as more and more failures hit the ship caused by that asteroid field two years earlier. Even though they find a possibility to put one of them back to sleep, they decide not to, which is a bit Hollywood cheesy. They stop the story after the duo saved the ship and lived forever happily after. You could make a nice movie out of them hating each other after twenty years together??? Lol. All in all I’ve seen worse SciFi movies and Passengers is an entertaining piece.

Kimi no Na wa – Your Name
This anime movie is a big hit in Japan and has almost if not quite broken the more than ten year old viewer record of “Spirited Away” and rightly so, it’s a pretty damn good story. After a meteorite comes close to earth, a boy in Tokyo and a country girl in Gifu prefecture, both 17 years old, switch bodies for a while, causing all sorts of messy situations with their friends and family. They finally get what’s going on and leave each other messages on their smart phones or on good old pieces of paper or even their skins. At first they hate each other and how the other messes up their lives, but then they slowly start to like each other and the boy is shocked when the body switch suddenly stops. It keeps bugging him and he goes looking for the girl to find that the meteorite destroyed the girl’s town and everyone died three years ago. They do find each other again in the end, but I won’t reveal how. The animation is done with incredible detail and the story is quite unique and fresh and way better than half of what comes out of Hollywood. Very well worth watching, even if you are not an anime fan (like me). I highly recommend this piece.

Recent/not so Recent Movie Reviews

Because of moving and new job it’s been a damn long while since I’ve been to my beloved movies, but at least I got to see some stuff on the plane rides back and forth from Germany.

Star Trek Beyond
Hmpf… whilst I am a huge Star Trek fan (especially Next Generation) and whilst I think the new/old crew is excellent, and whilst I enormously enjoyed their first get-together and so/so enjoyed “Into Darkness”, “Beyond” deeply disappointed. This thing felt like an average TV episode and totally failed to inspire. While there were some nice moments between Bones and Spock reminding of their original series days, that was about it. The villain was lame, the story elements all of the kind: seen them a million times before.
What the new crew desperately needs is a big picture, some story ark that spans over a couple of movies, that connects it to the rest of the Star Trek universe, hints at the Borg, or starting to meet the Klingons, or the Romulans, or Q, or something-anything! not lame villains that get defeated and that we will never hear of again… I hope the writers will find their way back into the bigger picture of the Star Trek universe…

I am not a Warcraft player at all and I don’t intend to become one but, hey, I liked this movie. It was, in contrast to Star Trek Beyond, much better than I had expected. I played my fair share of fantasy role playing games and they captured the atmosphere quite nicely in that movie. Cool villains, magic that’s dangerous and corrupts, heroes with some dents in their armors. The orks were real characters, not mere monsters and there were some deaths to report too that I had not expected in that form. On top of that a well fitting Travis Fimmel, who I already like a lot as our Viking overlord Ragnar Lothbrok. I hope they make more Warcraft movies.

Money Monster
The movie is a bit hard to watch at times, at least for me, since it’s too loud, too over the top and too TV-preacher like. The movie felt though, involuntarily, very close to the Trupfuckistan disaster that started a month ago. Idiots who believe every crap that other idiots broadcasts, sensationalism, false, unverified news, materialism… the whole Trumpfuckistan show. And in the end the bitter pill that the little man gets killed, and the rich fucks become richer on the backs of others. Very nice performance from George Clooney also.

Independence Day: Resurgence
Yawn. I never would pay a single dime for such a movie at the theater. The original wasn’t that thrilling to begin with and why the hell do you have to rehash it and make a sequel? Emmerich said himself once the original is more a disaster movie than a science fiction movie and disaster movies have no sequels. He should have stayed true to himself and not have wasted tons of money for the production of this lame remake. Not worth seeing, not worth remembering and sorry, I can’t find anything good to say about this one.

Movie Reviews August ’16

I can rarely sleep on planes, so I usually spend the time writing and watching movies…

The Revenant
Oh my… Leo suffering for two hours. He did deliver a great performance, yes, granted, but that doesn’t make the movie easier to watch.
I wonder how they shot the scenes where the grizzly made minced meat out of him.
Another main character in the movie is the landscape, which I found to be utterly uninviting. What a ghastly, unforgiving and lonely place. Fascinating how you can steer the impression people get. It could have been breathtakingly beautiful but it was shot so that it all looked ugly, uninviting and desolate.
The more I see of Tom Hardy, the more I admire the guy. He is one damn fine actor. While I’m a great fan of Mad Max Fury Road and watched it some five times already, I won’t be watching the Revenant again, too tough. Even if sleeping inside the corpse of a horse to keep warm during a snow storm is a new thing that I haven’t seen before.
Granted, the fellows portrayed in the movie were tough as nails but any normal human being would’ve died ten times over faced with the fate of Leo’s character. That disbelief made the movie watchable, but if I were a real and true Leo fan, I guess I would’ve passed out at some point 😉
If you’re in for gritty “realism” and survival movies, this is your deal, but I’m not planning on exposing myself to this again.

Mr. Holmes
There is a lot of Sherlock going on at the moment with the BBC series and even a movie with the Cumberbatch Freeman combo, but there is also the Sherlock Holmes movie with Ian McKellen. It portrays an old Sherlock who struggles with dementia and whose last unresolved case is haunting him. Intertwined with that is the story of Holmes’ housekeeper and her son who is taking a liking to the old man and a weird side story of Holmes visiting Japan and a Japanese admirer and their visit to post atomic Hiroshima. The movie focuses more on Holmes’ relationship to the young boy and the Japanese admirer than on the unresolved case and was a nice piece to watch, though I found the Japanese insert out of place and a bit hard to believe. There was no plot reason for why it had to be Japan. Ian McKellen is always good though and his display of an old man whose mind and body are failing him was way more real than Leo’s sufferings in the Revenant. A must see for McKellen and Holmes fans, but more an art house movie than a big screen one.

Carol is the portray of a forbidden love between a girl in her twenties and an end thirties woman in New York in the fifties. Both women are excellently played by Mara Rooney and Cate Blanchett. The movie is a bit slow at times, but it also needed the slowness to portray the unspoken and for that time unspeakable and unthinkable desires. Frankly, I thought the resistance that the two women face would be much fiercer. Female homosexuality in the fifties in the US or anywhere else going more or less unpunished? That Carol (Cate’s character) only looses the rights to visit her daughter and goes free and no consequences for Mara’s character but an upset boyfriend seemed not realistic to me. That said, Mara and Cate are a pleasure to watch, I find especially Cate very sexy. The happy end though gives the whole thing an even more unrealistic touch. I doubt that their choice was an option in those days.

Black Mass
Johnny Depp plays an Italian mafia boss. This thing is apparently based on a true story and goes down in Boston. Every few moments someone is tortured and/or killed. There have been too many mafia movies already and the story is very much “seen it all before”. The only thing remarkable is the looks of Johnny Depp who is hardly recognizable with thinning blondish hair and colored contact lenses. He plays the cold, restrained and sometimes freaking out Mafiosi quite well. The quiet, scary build up before a freak out is nicely underplayed and thus makes him even scarier. But all in all this is a movie as unremarkable as its title. Something that will soon be forgotten and that even Johnny fans won’t be too fond of I guess, since he looks pretty damn ugly in that movie 😉

Revenge for Hannibal under Black Sails

These three series don’t belong together, but they left an impression on me.

I didn’t even watch the entire pilot episode and yet I have to say something about this thing and that is: “no thanks”.
I watched all of the movies around Hannibal Lecter and The Silence of the Lambs remains one of the scariest movies I have ever seen. But in the new Hannibal series, seeing a naked woman pierced on deer antlers with her lungs missing, then seeing Hannibal squeezing around those lungs preparing them for a meal… no thanks, I don’t need to watch this. I have no problems with gore and am a great fan of the Walking Dead for example, but naked women pierced on deer antlers and lung cooking are beyond what I want to watch. In Walking Dead you root for the humans who are fighting against the zombies, but there was nobody to root for in Hannibal, at least not in the first half hour of the pilot. In any story cruelty must serve a story purpose, here I saw none.

Black Sails
Pirates! Yeah, pirates are cool. Black Sails is fun and I’m enjoying it and am now in the latter half of season two. It has some nice quirky characters and the anarchy on display is interesting. One aspect strikes me very much though about Black Sails and that is the “desperate” attempt to add “strong” female characters to the story. It’s the policy nowadays to have strong female characters and I’m all for it being a girl myself, but in Black Sails it does feel kinda forced. Let’s face it, pirates is a men’s world, there weren’t that awfully many female pirates. So the writers of the series faced the dilemma how to integrate strong female characters into a pirate story. They offer us four women, Ms. Guthrie, the not so credible lady who rules the island, the pretty and witty whore (the most believable of the characters), Mrs. Marlowe who has that thing going on with captain Flint, and that strange Ann girl. All of them are interesting in their own right, but that “how do we get strong female characters into a pirate series” aspect always lingers in the background. The stories constructed around the women all seem kinda constructed and don’t flow naturally like the stories around Flint and Charles do.
I like the side characters in this series, the pain-intolerant coward, the half-witted cook, Charles’s comic relief quartermaster. They are fun to watch. The series is interesting and I wish they’d add some Alestorm music to it. Rum!

I am usually not the soap opera type, but I do confess to having watched all of the Desperate Housewives. With all the blood, gore, sex and swearing nowadays on TV it was kind of a “break” to watch a series with minimal blood and no “fuck” anywhere. But alas, the Desperate Housewives are done and gone. I started watching “Revenge” now as sort of compensation and so far it remains interesting (I’m nearing the end of season one). Its style is pretty much the same as Desperate Housewives: people are being mean to each other 😉 Madeleine Stowe as the rich bitch is lovely to watch, she’s one excellent Desperate Housewife indeed. The young lady who wants to get to her is also well played and her rich computer nerd accomplice Nolan, who has no friends, is my favorite character so far (apart from “Queen Victoria” – Madeleine Stowe). Revenge is surely a “chick thing”, just like Desperate Housewives was, but once in a while that is a nice relief among all the gore, blood and bad language. While Revenge is of course throwing around stereotypes, there is no lack of strong female characters here. And the men in the series are all wussy-boys! 😉 who cannot compete with the awe-inspiring killer smile of Madeleine Stowe. You really don’t wanna have her as your enemy 😉

A Martian on Offer

It’s been a while since I wrote some movie reviews. The reasons for that are a) busy at work and not seeing that many movies, b) not so much remarkable stuff out there that inspires me to write a review.
But now there are two movies that I’d like to say something about.
At first something not so well known, but that I highly recommend (spoiler alert).

The Best Offer
I don’t think too many people saw that movie, which is a shame, since it’s awfully good.
It’s a European production with Geoffrey Rush in the lead role and Donald Sutherland in a supporting part. The story centers around an arts evaluator/auctioneer played by Rush, who has a side scheme going on. He pays Sutherland for acquiring some of the auction pieces for him, which he previously evaluated, declared below value to get them cheaper and which he adds to his private collection. That private collection consists of female portraits only. Rush, around 60, has never been with a woman, he is a recluse of sorts, wears gloves all the time for “hygiene” reasons and only admires the portraits of women instead of real ones.

Until he is asked to catalogue the fine furniture and art of a young woman who inherited the stuff from her parents. Now that young woman has a problem. She has fear of wide and crowded places and lives as a true recluse, hiding out of sight in a secret room of her villa. Rush talks to her through the wall and slowly becomes obsessed with her, wanting to see her face, identifying himself with her, since he has similar problems. Finally, she reveals herself to him and he falls in love with her.

Although I anticipated the ending from the moment she reveals herself to him, it was devastating to see that ending play itself out. It turns out that she, Sutherland’s character and another side character whom Rush thought to be his friend, were working together with the aim to relieve Rush of his priceless portrait collection. The defeat is thorough and deep… friends whom he trusted played with his anxieties and his innermost feelings to get to the paintings. There is something incredibly mean and vicious in this story because the “friends” hurt Rush’s soul and truly get to him. They destroy the man thoroughly. This is more horror than having zombies gnaw at your feet. The story has no special effects and hardly any blood but it gets under your skin because of the unbelievable betrayal and meanness displayed. That’s the kind of story that sticks with you, but beware – it’ll make you lose your faith in humanity.

The Martian
As a side note – interestingly this movie is called “Odyssey” in Japan. I don’t know why they changed the title. I haven’t read the book, so I can only comment on the movie. I heard the book is much better and more intense, since you get the inner monologue, feelings of the guy stuck on Mars, which is not so easy to express on screen.
I suppose the screenwriter and director had discussions on how to express those feelings. They refrained from voice-over and resorted to the Martian talking to himself or to a camera for the purpose of recording his predicament. Maybe a voice-over would have been better?

The movie is nicely made, a nice piece of hard SF that for the most part looked believable to me. I wasn’t cringing like with dropping into the black hole in Interstellar where the attempt at “realism” excused itself. The Martian looks pretty “real” even if the “Iron Man” stunt at the end is a bit over the top. It’s a nice movie to watch, but it left me emotionally untouched in contrast to “The Best Offer”, because of an odd clinical distance to the characters. I didn’t really feel the commander’s anguish at leaving the Martian behind. I didn’t really feel the despair and the fear of the Martian at having been left behind. I’m sure that this worked better in the book, but the movie failed to convey emotional depth.

Cast Away comes to mind, another Robinson Crusoe variation where Tom Hanks is stranded on a lonely island. I felt much more with Tom Hanks and rooted much more for him than for the Martian. Maybe it’s also the quality of the acting 😉 At least in my opinion Tom Hanks is the way better actor than Matt Damon… So, the Martian is a nice movie, but that’s it and I’m not particularly inclined to watch it again or to add it to my movie collection.

New Year’s Eve at Shibuya Crossing and the Best Movie of 2015

I’ll interrupt my India report for a week to squeeze in a bit of New Year celebrations in Japan and to muse about the best movie of 2015.

For various reasons I have never attended a New Year’s Eve countdown at Shibuya Crossing – one of the most famous spots in Tokyo.
So, 31st of December 2015, I finally wanted to do that and thought it’d be a good idea to spend the hours leading up to it with something else but standing around in the cold. I found a late show of Star Wars: The Force Awakens playing at Toho Cinemas in Shibuya and thought, hey, that’s the ideal way to spend the time before the countdown.
I booked Star Wars tickets in advance (which wouldn’t have been necessary, the theater was half empty) and arrived in Shibuya around 20:30, some time before the show would start. I already noticed tons of police buses and thought, hey wow, they’re gearing up for tonight, cool!
Off I went to see Star Wars – more about that later.

The show ended at 23:45 and I was eager to get down to Shibuya Crossing, but the moment I left the theater, I was in for a shock. Four policemen guarded the road down to the crossing, shushing people away, urging them to get underground to go to the train lines. I know Shibuya very well, since my office is not far from it and thought, hey, I can probably trick the police by getting out at the Hikarie building side and sneak towards Shibuya crossing and its famed meeting place, the “Hachiko”, a statue of Japan’s most famous dog, that way.

Underground yelling youngsters, half drunk, sought to get up towards the crossing, arguing with police at every entrance. The stairs closest to the Hachiko exit, which also lead to the JR line was “open” but thirty police stood around ushering people only to the JR lines and preventing them from getting onto the square where the dog statue is.
On one pillar underground hung a poster saying stuff along the lines of “every year many people gather at Hachiko and prevent traffic flow and it’s dangerous and causes accidents” and blah…

I hurried on to the other side of the Shibuya station where the Hikarie building is and indeed they let you out there, but also on this side of the station, many police officers at every possible entrance to the Shibuya crossing. Spoilsports! From this side of the station I could see two of the many screens at Shibuya crossing – and they all said this alternating between English and Japanese.
Some hopefuls had gathered on this side of the station and it was already 23:55, I gave up and we had a mini countdown with this small group of a few hundred.
Shortly after it turned 2016, I returned home, since no party…
I don’t know why they closed off Shibuya crossing. I don’t think it’s fear of terror attacks also in Japan, I just think that the Tokyo government was fed up with uncontrolled party, fun and anarchy 😉
Too bad, but in its own way it was a fun experience.

And now to the best movie of 2015. (Spoiler alert)
No, worthy reader, I don’t think it was Star Wars: The Force Awakens. While it was “nice” and way better than the Phantom Menace crap, it completely lacked originality. It felt like a remake of “A New Hope”, down to details like X-Wings flying attacks against the new Death Star. I also found it odd that Luke Skywalker just “disappeared”, as a responsible Jedi he should’ve stayed around and prevented the First Order from gaining such ridiculous strength or died trying. Next I thought it was a mistake to kill off a certain main character in the 7th episode… Kill him off in the 9th, OK, but he was and is one of the most interesting characters in Star Wars and now he’s dead? Hm… I will be even less inclined to watch episodes 8 and 9 if he ain’t around.
Yes, it was a nice movie, but you just can’t revive “A New Hope”.

For me personally the best film I’ve seen in 2015 is Mad Max Fury Road. OMG what an awesome movie.
Also Fury Road is the next installment in a cult series and yet, they pulled it off that it’s even better than all other Mad Max movies before it. Great story, awesome characters, hair raising action. I bought the DVD and already watched it four times plus the one time at the movies. Since Lord of the Rings, it’s the first time that I’ve watched anything more than three times. Everything fits at the Fury Road. It’s set in the same world as the other Mad Max movies of course, but it pushes things further instead of rehashing old themes. There’s a new Max but the writer and director made the bold step to not center the movie around him, but a new character and what an awesome character Furiosa is. George Miller manages to let nearly non-stop action support his characters and story. In my opinion Fury Road is a master piece, more mature and way deeper than the earlier Mad Max movies.
I’m looking forward to what he’ll do next with his series, Mad Max: The Wasteland is announced. Cheers!

So, let’s see what 2016 will bring. All the best to everyone for the new year – may it be an interesting and good year 🙂

Game of Thrones vs. The Walking Dead

It’s a laughing matter for the rest of the world’s fans, but I have finished watching season five of The Walking Dead only on Thursday the 17th of September 2015…. Season 6 apparently starts (at least in Japan) in October already.
I’m so late because in the past, hulu Japan (of which I’m a subscriber) had The Walking Dead (TWD) “live” but then it got too popular and expensive and they managed to add season five to their program only a week ago. The more or less real time showing of the series happens in Japan via a pay-TV channel that I’m not paying for and for only one TV show of interest, I didn’t feel the inclination to subscribe.

The situation for Game of Thrones (GoT) is “even worse” in Japan. As far as I know, no pay TV or other channel is broadcasting it and also there I’m always lagging much behind and have to wait until the season is out on DVD.
When I finally get to watch the next season of GoT, I do so in a pace of maybe one episode per day, or one episode every other day. That was also the case for GoT season 5.

But now I watched all 16 episodes of season 5 TWD within a mere 5 days, more than 3 episodes per day! I even let it eat into my sleeping time, which I very very rarely allow to happen, because I just had to know what’s up next.
Then, finally finished with the season, I asked myself what was it that made me do a TWD marathon and why am I not inclined to do a GoT marathon?

The most striking thing that came to my mind is that TWD touches the heart more than GoT, at least my heart. Why so? Because the main characters in GoT are all lone wolves without significant attachments and relationships, while the core team of TWD exists for each other.
In GoT the characters are all more or less fighting for themselves, and more or less none of them would die for someone else. In TWD the core team members would sacrifice themselves for each other at any time. GoT is in that sense a “worse” and “sadder” world than post-zombie apocalypse TWD.

Sure, some of the GoT characters have friends, but the two biggest friends, King Robert and Ned Stark are long long dead. Tyrion and Lord Varys are kinda friends, but it ends at the kinda. Ser Jorah is in love with Daenerys, but not very successfully so far. Sam and Jon Snow were friends, but maybe that’s done now too, since Jon Snow looked pretty dead at the end of season 5. And that’s it. Other characters like Cersei have (of course) no friends at all, Arya and Sansa – do they have real, long-lasting friendships? Not really. The unit of family is completely dysfunctional as well. The Lannisters all hate each other, sort of, the Starks are half dead, the rest scattered. All others have no family to speak of. All that loneliness, betrayal at every corner and the constant threat of characters being killed off, creates a “detachment” in me that lets me watch the bickering, intrigues and atrocities with interest, but it doesn’t have me at the edge of my seat or emotionally invested.

In contrast to that let’s look at TWD. The core team around Rick with Daryl, Carol, Glenn, Maggie, Carl and Michonne, hell, they’re saving each other in every episode. There was quite a high death toll in season 5 too, with Beth, Bob, Tyreese and the new kid Noah now all gone. TWD killed off major characters in the past too, Andrea, most of all, or Hershel.
But the thing is that the core team of 6 is believing in each other, saving each other, willing to die for each other, whilst such “thick blood” doesn’t exist in GoT.

Watching TWD, I’m emotionally invested. I wanna know how the core team survives the next crisis. The people around them betray and are false like those in GoT but the core team doesn’t betray each other. Sure there are small squabbles and things they don’t tell each other, but they are a team and they hold together and that touches the viewer’s heart, at least mine, much more than the lonely fighters of GoT.
Congrats to the TWD team for a good season 5 and I’m looking forward to season 6 (no clue yet when I’ll be able to see it) – and please don’t kill off my two favorite characters Carol and Daryl! 😉

Movie Reviews July 2015 part 2

I’ve sat on planes a lot and watched a bunch of movies. Here is the second round of reviews:

A yawn for that one: Will Smith plays a con man. That’s it. Some things he pulls off were cleverly thought out and the whole movie is a web of lies. It would have been more interesting if something in between had been “for real” for a change, since everything being constructed and a bunch of lies degraded into a pattern. You were just waiting for the next lie to be identified. Overall the movie lacked a purpose and the one-dimensional characters lacked goals. Since it was doubtful whether getting the girl was a goal or not that didn’t work as a goal either. The story and the characters got lost in the web of con extravaganzas. It was interesting because of those con extravaganzas but at the same time boring because the movie had flat characters that pursued nothing but constructing the next con trick. It’s another movie that in my humble opinion will soon be forgotten.

Into the Woods
What the heck was that? Whilst I have my issues with musicals anyway and usually find breaking occasionally out into song awkward at best, this thing did not only break out into song without reason, the story was one big disaster. They threw four or something fairy tales into one pot and Rapunzel was shaking hands with Cinderella. Uh? Half-way through the movie all fairy tales are told, but they do not live happily ever after, since suddenly Cinderella‘s pretty prince becomes unfaithful (eh? What? Where did that come from?) and the giants from the „Jack and the Beanstalk“ part of the story descend upon the land of the pretty to trample on a rampage. In total – what a crap! No clue what merit anyone saw in throwing several fairy tales together. No clue why so many big names (Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp, Chris Pine etc.) played in that movie. And by the way, Johnny Depp as the „wolf“ from the Red Riding Hood part was outright ridiculous.
The whole thing is bizarre, the music mediocre, the story one giant jumble mumble that does not work. Why, oh why, was this movie made? Sorry, but the answer escapes me.

The Butler
This is a start-studded historic/character piece about the more or less true story of one of the White House’s butlers. Forest Whitaker plays the butler, and Oprah Winfrey his wife (I’ve never seen Oprah in a movie before, it was kinda weird to see her in that role, but she was actually pretty good). It’s more a recent history crash course than a movie with Presidents from Eisenhower to Ronald Reagan, (Alan Rickman played him, wow! I only realized it was him when the credits rolled), and at the same time telling the tale of the suppression of black people with the help of the Butler’s at times radicalized son. The character of the butler held the history crash course quite nicely together. It’s not an overwhelming movie that won’t go into the DVD collection but it was entertaining to see it. John Cusak as Nixon was an interesting choice and I guess Eisenhower was one of Robin Williams last roles.
In general I find movies like that a bit tiring, since they are so „serious“. Biographies like that also have the tendency to lack a „decent“ story-ark. They are big in terms of the ground they cover but small as far as drama is concerned. Nevertheless, way more watchable than „Into the Woods“

Those were the days when there was the cold war going on… U-boat movies are difficult to make, since they suffer from the two big u-boat movies „Das Boot“ (the excellent German WW2 movie) and „Hunt for Red October“. That said, Ed Harris plays the captain of a stone-age old Russian u-boat where a wonderfully nasty David Duchovny takes over, to almost trigger WW3 in 1968. It’s also based on somewhat true events, at least it says so in the beginning. The Russians have developed a cloaking device for their u-boats and test it on Harris‘ boat without his knowledge. They launch a missile even, but Harris saw to it that its detonator was disabled before it launched and thus maybe prevented WW3. Except for the first officer of the boat, everyone dies and Harris sends him on his way to „tell the people that it was only a few madmen who tried to trigger WW3 and not the regular Russian soldier“.
Harris and Duchovny did nice jobs and made the movie watchable, but apart from that the story wasn’t overly original, the closeness to „the truth“ questionable, and all in all it could have been more dramatic.

So, from all the eight movies I’ve seen on these plane rides to and from Europe last week most were crap, some OK, and only one gem = Whiplash. Actually, one gem in a puddle of eight isn’t that bad, right?
I’ll be flying to Europe again in two weeks, let’s see what I’ll watch then 😉

Movie Reviews July 2015 part 1

I’ve been sitting on a lot of planes again, which gave me the opportunity to watch a bunch of movies, here is part one of the reviews:

Jupiter Ascending
Whilst the idea was remotely of interesting, (time being the most precious thing in the universe, rich people buying themselves time by “harvesting” the humans of “lower” planets and creating some sort of fountain of youth from their skin etc.) the idea was not new… It starts with “Logan’s Run”, where people have an expiring clock, various other flicks like “In Time” etc., etc. Aristocracy in space reminds of “Dune”, etc. etc. etc. Whilst with the first matrix movie the Wachowski brothers managed to create something interesting out of common SciFi themes, they did not manage to do this again with Jupiter Ascending. It just all bore the stamp of “seen it before” and that the damn passive lead-girl had to be rescued all the time was not a plus point either. The passive protagonist syndrome was huge in that movie, things happened to her all the time and she was reacting, not acting. The lavish design didn’t help one bit either. Yet again proof for the fact that special effects do not compensate for a sucky story. All in all the movie is a lessons learned in how not to do it. I’m glad I saw it on a plane (during a business trip) and didn’t have to pay money for seeing this movie.

Awesome. A must watch. A music teacher tries to push his students to excellence and maybe goes a bit too far. The brilliant acting of J.K. Simmons and also his young student Miles Teller made an already good story outstanding. As a hobby drummer I could also appreciate the drumming, which was bloody amazing and there was a lot of food for thought. Just how far, as a teacher, do you or can you go to push your students to excellence? Where is that fine line between tickling out the best in someone and making him or her excel and exceed or breaking that talent irreversibly. What does it take to be excellent in something? What drives people to perfection? This movie is a great character piece that leaves those questions for every movie goer to answer for him or herself. The finale was also highly impressive with the teacher trying to destroy the drummer but the drummer fights back. Great movie that deserves to become a permanent part of the private movie collection.

Grand Piano
Yawn. Nothing much else to say. Elijah Wood plays a grand pianist who performs on stage for the first time in five years after a burnout and he plays on the special piano of a fictitious maestro, composer and music teacher who built in a secrete key into his piano that the piano only spills out when a certain combination of notes are hit. A thief knows that and wants the pianist to play those notes to get the key. A rather complicated idea that might have had some potential, but the execution? The thief talks via phone to the pianist while he is on stage performing to a large audience and he texts and talks while playing horrendously difficult music. Hmmmmm…. I am learning piano at the moment and find that quite ridiculous. You do not have time to text and operate a phone while playing complicated sheet music… The acting was also not the best. Elijah just always makes that invariable distressed Frodo face. His wife was, sorry, unnecessary for the story. Another movie one does not need to see.

Premium Rush
This is a cool story about bicycle couriers in the chaotic and dangerous traffic of New York City, virtually risking their lives to bring important or not so important letters across town. The story revolves around a message that needs to get to Chinatown and has in its consequence that a Chinese immigrant lady can get her young son out of China. The letter involves a lot of money that a dirty cop wants to have and he pursues the biker in charge of delivery, a cool Joseph Gordon-Levitt whom I like more in the more movies I see him. Most of the movie is a chase, but it’s bicycle vs. cars and not your usual car chase plus it has some nice quirky biker characters, which are portrayed as a liberal subculture community. Towards the end it gets a bit longish and the movie could have been ten minutes shorter, but all in all a refreshingly different piece that you don’t see every day.

Pebble vs. iWatch

So, I couldn’t resist and bought an iWatch, of course the cheapest model, which is still way too expensive in my humble opinion. It replaces my Pebble that I had for a year and that worked for about 8 months or so.
Comparing prices – I think I paid about 13,000 Yen (~ 95 Euro) for the Pebble, now a juicy 46,000 Yen (~ 340 Euro) including taxes for the iWatch.

Of course the iWatch is much prettier in design and it has a color touch display. Pebble was black and white and navigation was only possible via buttons. Pebble is a Hong Kong based product (I think, though the website’s “contact us” address is the US) and I bought it on a Cathay Pacific flight from Japan to Taiwan last year. I am not sure whether it’s available in Japan or Europe over the counter.
Unfortunately, my Pebble developed a display malfunction after some 8 months of use resulting in a sometimes working and sometimes not working display.

Basically, the Pebble had everything that the iWatch has too, apps for counting your steps, showing the weather, maps, tweets, alerts, mails, messages, etc. Navigation was more difficult/inconvenient due to button only on the Pebble, but the Pebble had one distinct advantage over the iWatch – one battery charge lasted for some four or five days, depending on how heavily you used it, in contrast to the iWatch, that you basically have to recharge once a day.

I heard some people complained about the iWatch draining the iPhone battery, but I have not had this problem yet.
Another iWatch advantage so far is that its connection to the iPhone is rather stable, while Pebble demanded frequent re-pairing and updates.

All in all I was happy with the Pebble, though of course not with the fact that it lasted for merely eight months.
Overall I am happy with the iWatch too, but not with its price. A price of around 25,000 Yen (~ 185 Euro) seems like a reasonable price for an iWatch to me considering what it can do and how it looks like, not double that. I wonder whether Apple’s marketing strategy and pricing strategy for the thing will work. I kinda doubt it. Let’s see how soon the price will drop.

Would I buy a Pebble again? No – it’s too „inelegant“ and it also broke after eight months. Would I buy an iWatch again? No, not for this juicy price.
But now the iWatch is telling me to get up again, in order to fulfill my calory-burn goal for the day, so I better stop writing 😉

Fifty Shades of Nothing

Curiosity drove me to see Fifty Shades of Gray – just how is it possible that horrible, low quality fan fiction made it into a bestseller and a Hollywood studio movie? The answer – inexplicable.

I have no intention of reading the apparently badly written fan fiction monster and I cannot judge it, so this review will be about the movie, not the book.
First of all – who did the casting? They should never do casting again. The two protagonists leave me puzzled. It’s been too long ago that I watched „9 1/2 weeks“ but I do remember that Mickey Rouke and Kim Basinger were at least HOT! There was some chemistry going on and it sizzled. The two (to me completely) unknowns Dakota Whoever and Jamie Something seemed like frigid puppets, no chemistry or sexiness anywhere. The girl is cute. Period. Nothing to add. And the guy? Yawn! I had to laugh when several people somewhere in the movie say things in the lines of „he is so hot, isn’t he?“ Uh? What I saw was an passion-less, boring guy in a slick suit.

Everything that happened was way too controlled, the plot is thin, full of cliches (Gray adopted by rich people, real mother a prostitute, etc., you gotta be kidding me… jeez…) the dialogue horrible, it takes way too long (an hour???) until something happens. The build up doesn’t pay off. If you had two hot actors with some chemistry between them, the build up could have been delicious, but… As for the SM aspects, well, this is a Hollywood studio movie not a porn and everything still seemed very clean and timid and I just couldn’t buy it that a real sadist or „dominant“ would be so „careful“.

It’s difficult to walk the fine line in terms of SM on the non-porn screen and I don’t remember whether 9 1/2 weeks was better at it. I do remember another submissive/dominant topic movie though that is an exciting jewel compared to the Fifty Shades of Boring – the movie „Secretary“ from 2002 starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader (now that guy was hot in his days!) as the dominant male. I had no problem believing his relationship to his secretary and it sizzled nicely between them and there were delicious twists of wickedness on her part. The big difference between Secretary and Fifty Shades of Boring is that the couple in Secretary are quirky CHARACTERS, whilst Gray and Anastasia are just puppets that their actors didn’t manage to bring to life.

There was debate about Fifty Shades being degrading to women. Yes, but I think it’s degrading men too to be depicted as unfeeling, non-committing, unromantic, brutal, cold idiots…
I personally feel rather offended by how boring and non-provocative this thing was. It’s simply a lame story, with lame characters, cluttered with a thousand cliches. Take away the (not even hot) sex scenes and nothing is left. It truly is Fifty Shades of Nothing.
I guess every ten to fifteen years we need our little SM movie scandal. Maybe it’s a sign of our times that Fifty Shades of Nothing is particularly shallow and unexciting compared to former ones…