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.

Colossal
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.

Chips
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.

Life
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

Logan
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

Arrival
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

Moonlight
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.

Passengers
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…

Warcraft
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
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 😉

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.

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:

Focus
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“

Phantom
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.

Whiplash
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.

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…

Movie Reviews – Grace of Monaco etc.

Grace of Monaco
Hm… it didn’t knock my socks off. I wonder why they chose that episode from Grace Kelly’s life and not for example how she fell in love with Rainier of Monaco. The movie starts when they are married for a couple of years already and centers around French – Monaco struggles, sort of claiming that Grace prevented the French from annexing the little principality. I have no clue whether that is historically correct, but it does not matter, since in the movie I found it unconvincing. The extreme close ups of Nicole Kidman’s eyes do not help to establish that she was the one who persuaded the French not to invade. The acting was OK, I guess, but it failed to raise compassion. The movie did not manage to emotionally engage me in contrast to movies like „The Dutchess“ or „The Young Victoria“, which are, somewhat in the same vain. Grace of Monaco just remained too cold and distant and I also would have liked to see more emotions and action from Tim Roth as Rainier. All in all a movie that will surely be pretty much forgotten soon.

The Maze Runner
This thing seems to be from 2013 but so far it had completely escaped my attention. The premise is interesting, a bunch of adolescent boys wakes up in the central garden of a giant maze structure. During the day the concrete and steel maze beyond the garden is open, during the night the maze shifts and half mechanical, half biological monsters are chasing and killing whoever fails to return to the central garden before the doors close.
The goal of the kids locked inside is of course to find a way out. Their memories have been wiped, they have no idea why they are in there and some of them are in the maze for three years already. A bold newcomer is dead set on getting out.
They spend the entire movie with trying to get out and for the viewer the questions mount as to what’s outside, why the maze is there and who put the kids into it. The problem with building up and up like that is that you need a really smart and cool explanation in the end, or you give none. The cult movie „Cube“ wisely chose the latter and we never find out who put them into the cube, and why it exists. Smart move! The Maze Runner should have done the same. The explanation in the end that it’s a post-apocalyptic world outside and the kids have been sent into the maze to train them for survival is incredibly lame (what do you need a maze for to train when outside is training enough already?). Until the last five minutes, the movie wasn’t bad (some nice character studies of some of the kids not wanting to leave anymore) and when you watch it, stop the moment they get out of the maze and imagine how you would have let it end.

Cloverfield
A belayed review, since the movie is not that new anymore, but it left an impression on me, so I shall talk about it.
The style of the hand-held camera is very tiring, yes, and I am not sure whether I would have been able to watch it in a movie theater. At home on the smaller TV screen it was OK.
The premise: some young dudes have a farewell party for someone in New York, who is supposed to go as an expat to Japan (of all places) for a while. During their party, which someone films with a handycam, a monster of Godzilla proportions descends upon New York and goes on a rampage.
What is very well done is that the party goers have no clue whatsoever about what is going on. From one minute to the next their lives are destroyed and they face death and destruction.
One of the best scenes was for me when the camera holder and three others flee from the monster into the subway and encounter the monster’s smaller minions, spider-like creatures that attack them. The hand-held camera puts you truly into the perspective of the characters and let’s you experience the horror of the situation together with them.
I also liked all the other details, that the movie is exactly as long as a mini-dv band, 1h16 min, that it’s „government property“ now and used as a documentation of the monster’s appearance. And that, of course, there is no explanation for where the monster came from, since the guy who holds the camera and his buddies do not know. This technique gets you around wild, far-fetched and unconvincing explanations of where the kaiju in Pacific Rim come from, for example. I also liked the ending very much – they all die! The camera holder gets eaten by the monster, the rest of them is buried under rubble where the military then finds the camera and confiscates the tape.
Tough to watch, due to the hand-held camera, but great concept and very well done.

Into the Wild
Also this movie is not the newest of them all, it’s from 2007, but it left an even bigger impression on me than Cloverfield. It’s based on the true story of a smart and college educated young man, Chris, who gives it all up, drifts through the US for a year plus until he goes alone into the wilderness in Alaska. He’s suffering from identity crisis, is questioning all the materialism and the need „to have to do something with your life“ in terms of career and family.
Spoiler alert – the quest for himself and the meaning of life costs him that very life. He arrives in Alaska in late winter, finds an old bus in the middle of nowhere that some other hermit used before him, and manages to survive on his own for three months. When he wants to go back in summer, he finds that a river he crossed easily when it was half frozen, is now impassable due to melt water. He gets stuck at his bus and slowly starves, the process being accelerated when he eats poisonous plants by mistake.

He died in his bus at the age of 23 or 24 and two weeks after he died, moose hunters found him in his bus by coincidence. Had they found him three weeks earlier…
The movie is well told, alternating between scenes at the bus and flashbacks about his journey and family life before it. The guy’s journey is tainted with tragedy, since you understand his urge for freedom and leaving behind all that capitalism and materialism, and it’s such a shame that he does not survive his dream of going to Alaska and living in the wild.
For me this movie has another dimension – I was born in Germany, I live now in Japan, there is not enough wilderness in these two countries to go on an adventure like this. You can still get lost in the Japanese mountains and be attacked by a bear, yes, however, if you are equipped like Chris, hunting rifle and all, you must be extremely unlucky to die before someone finds you. There are just too many people here and the country is too small for dying in the wild. If you walk here for a hundred km, there will be a village somewhere, but if you walk for a hundred km in Alaska…
It’s a good movie worth watching and belongs to the category of‘: you’ll remember it for a while.

Movie Reviews – Hobbit 3 and others

Holidays = movie time!
Flying on planes always gives me the opportunity to catch up on things a little, so some of the movies reviewed below are not super new, but anyway 😉
I recently watched:
Locke, Captain America – Winter Soldier and Frankenweenie on planes and
the Hobbit – Battle of the Five Armies and Interstellar at movie theaters in Singapore.

Locke
Is an interesting experiment of filming a man alone in his car driving into London whilst having dozens of phone calls. The only thing you see in the entire movie is the motorway and Tom Hardy driving his car and phoning around. There are three main story lines. He is a married man with two teenage kids and has once had a one night stand with another woman who just called him that she is getting his baby that very night. He decided to drive to the hospital to see her and has to tell his wife about it. At the same time he has a very critical job issue. The following day he is supposed to oversee the pouring of basement concrete for a 55 floor high skyscraper.
He is on the phone with his family, the woman who gets his baby in the hospital and guys from work. We witness the drama unfold only via voices and the images of Hardy in his car.

It’s interesting but straining at times and the reactions of the people on the phone did not always convince me, especially the female reactions. For some odd reason I felt that this screenplay was written by a man. The women came across as hysteric, while Tom Hardy stayed oh so cool the entire time. If you are in for serious drama, watch it, if you find the thought of 90 minutes of a one man show sitting in a car dreadful, skip it.

Captain America – Winter soldier
What can I say? Typical marvel flick? I must admit I didn’t see the first captain America movie. This second one didn’t knock my socks off. What sticks in my mind most of all is that Robert Redford looked so old, despite him not looking that old in the brilliant “All Is Lost” (now that’s a one man show worth watching! While Locke lives from talking, All Is Lost lives from action. Redford hardly says a word the entire movie and yet it is very intense. But anyway, we are talking captain America here, not All Is Lost.) The second thing sticking to my mind was that Scarlet Johansen looked so sunburnt all the time….

The plot? It was as clear as a sunny day that Fury wouldn’t be dead dead. An organization like SHIELD, or the bad guy elements in it, working against the people and not for the people? No news there either. Brining down three of the flying fortresses? Well, Loki and company brought down one in the Avengers, so what’s news there? An old friend of Captain America abused in experiments? Seen stuff like that all before too. So, I missed some new interesting, funky stuff. I liked Guardians of the Galaxy much better for example, plenty of funky characters there that lighten things up 😉 I suppose funky characters is difficult in a Captain America setting.

Frankenweenie
Lovely! I had missed that movie somehow. I generally like Tim Burton’s movies even if they have sometimes the tendency to be a bit too alike in their looks. Beetlejuice is still my favorite and Sleepy Hollow is so awesome thanks to Christopher Walken… As for the puppet movies of course A Nightmare Before Christmas stands out, but Frankenweenie is pretty cool as well.

The story is simple. Frankenstein with a dog. Little Victor looses his dog Sparky to a car accident and reanimates him. Other kids at school try to redo the trick and create a whole horde of more or less agreeable undead monsters. The homage to Japanese monster movies with the giant turtle was just hilarious and the cat/bat and her owner were putting many smiles on my face too. It’s a fun movie not just for children and black and white sometimes does have its appeal.

Interstellar
Much has been debated already about the science in this movie and I shall not focus on that here. Entering a singularity… Minced meat? Space ship fitting into a wormhole? Time traveling?
Anyway, the movie had lots of great aspects, too, one of the strongest moments for me was when they visit the first water planet, to find out that it’s close proximity to the black hole causes these incredible tidal waves, then finding out that the two, three hours they had spent there cost their crew mate left on the mother ship 23 years. That was an amazing scene. Also what followed, the messages from 23 years that Cooper and Brand receive were big emotional highlights. Just a few hours for them, years for others. That was powerful stuff.

The devastation on earth was also well portrayed with those dust storms and reduced crop variety. McCaughney and Hathaway were both cast a bit against the stuff they usually do and both did excellent jobs in my opinion.
And Matt Damon as the ice planet asshole, what a befitting role 😉
Interstellar is a complex movie as I expect one from the Nolan brothers, and that I will definitely watch again, but for the moment I still like Inception better 😉

The Hobbit – The battle of the five armies
Hmmmmm… It all came to a conclusion, yes, we have gone full circle, yes. There is closure now, yes, but there was also repetition. The grand battle in the end reminded at times so much of the battle for Gondor… Whilst I never had the impression in LOTR that there was too much battling going on, in the Hobbit 3 it felt like, hey it’s enough. The Eagles again… Why do they always come only at the last minute and not the first? Why are the orcs so suicidal (e.g. the giant Orc that makes a hole in one of Dale’s walls and falls dead) What are these Dune earthworms doing there suddenly for one bit? Olifants in LOTR – Orcfants(?) in the Hobbit? Why didn’t they use cave trolls? – “they’ve got a cave troll…” As Sean Bean used to say so wonderfully in LOTR.

But there were nice things too in the movie. I liked it very much that Thranduil got more screen time. Thorin’s gold sickness and the parallels to Smaug were nicely played. The final battle between Azog and Thorin on the ice was quite epic. So, a worthy conclusion? Maybe, but one thing is for sure, the Hobbit trilogy has not reached the drama and quality of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which also is of course due to the fact that LOTR is the grander literary work of the two.

One last thing that vexes me:
Have you ever noticed all those widowers in LOTR a and the Hobbit? Elrond’s wife, dead, Thranduil’s wife, dead, Bard’s wife, dead… What is it with this wife dying? Not to speak of that we never get personally introduced to a female dwarf… Since Jackson has changed one or the other significant thing as compared to the Hobbit book anyway (introducing Tauriel, brining Legolas back) I’d have liked him to dare to give us a female dwarf character! Was that the last of middle earth from Jackson? I actually kinda doubt it.

Norma(l)n

During a recent Tower Record hunt, I came across the movie “Hitchcock” with Anthony Hopkins as the master himself and Helen Mirren as his wife. That can’t be too bad, so I bought the DVD. Well, big stars don’t necessarily make a good movie. While Anthony and Helen did good jobs, the story felt a bit thin, describing the “difficulties” the Hitchcock couple faced when directing and producing Psycho. What the movie lacked was a strong bad guy. The dude from Paramount who nearly refused to distribute the movie and the censor watchdog were not prominent enough to be counted as worthy antagonists. Also the side plot about Alma Hitchcock having a fancy for some writer did not give enough juice for a good counter-weight to Alfred.
Psychomovies
The one most striking thing about the Hitchcock movie I found to be the bit of the censor watchdog complaining to Hitch that he showed a toilet in the movie.
I was not aware that before 1960 and this movie, no toilets were allowed to be shown in US productions… and no nudity either. Which I find amazing. In Germany the taboo of nudity on film was broken by the, outside of Germany not so well known (I guess), actress Hildegard Knef. She caused one of the biggest scandals in German film history by being the first woman appearing naked on screen and that was already in 1951 in the movie “Die Suenderin” (the (female) sinner). (I might have seen it a long while back, but I don’t remember it at all and have no clue whether it was a good or bad movie).

Watching this “Hitchcock” thing had the strong effect to make me want to see Psycho again. I have seen it a long time ago, but now I promptly bought it and watched it last night. Hitch was a master indeed. Apart from the psychologist explaining about Norman Bates’ “schizophrenia” in the end, which is all telling, not showing, this is such a bold movie considering it was 1960. Killing off the heroine after 45 minutes into the movie, having an “amoral” heroine to begin with, who sneaks away from the office during lunch time to have sex with her divorced lover, then stealing money. And Norman of course, the amazing Anthony Perkins whose last evil look into the camera is worse than the shower murder scene.
That murder scene in itself, kyaaaa! The room behind the motel’s office with the stuffed birds, the famous house on the hill where Mrs. Bates awaits you. Man, this movie is now 54 years old and has lost nothing of its appeal. Also in our times of ever grander special effects, 3D etc., at the heart of it all is the good, twisted and interesting story. If you don’t have that, all your effects won’t help you. I wish more filmmakers would turn to old master pieces and learn from them. And tonight I’ll watch “The Birds” again, which I happened to order together with Psycho. Hitch, you were awesome.

Breaking Bad and Godzilla Reviews

I know I have severe delay, Godzilla has long screened in Europe and the US, but it just started here ten days ago. That’s my excuse for Godzilla. For finishing Breaking Bad only now, I have no excuse but I’m gonna do a review nevertheless 😉 Since, another coincidence, both beasts star Bryan Cranston.

Godzilla
I did a funny thing for Godzilla, I more or less deliberately watched it dubbed in Japanese. It was screening in Shibuya, where I work, only in Japanese, which is quite a rare thing, by the way, usually they offer both, dubbed in Japanese and original at the same cinema. But, Toho cinemas, belong to the Toho group, which also happens to be a production studio and which also happens to own the Godzilla franchise. So maybe there was some strategy or deliberation behind the Toho cinemas in Shibuya showing the Godzilla movie only in Japanese.
It was wonderfully awkward to see Walter While talk Japanese.

Dubbed movies always make me cringe, no matter whether it’s English to German or Japanese, but since the Japanese language is so quite different from English, the mouth movements horribly mismatch.
I liked the beginning of the movie best with its scenes in the nuclear power plant in the fictitious Japanese city Janjira (there is no town like that in Japan), with its nice jabs at the Fukushima disaster. Later on tsunnami images of Hawaii of course also remind us at least here in Japan of the tsunami that knocked out the Fukushima reactors).

After the Bryan Cranston character was dead things went downhill. His son just could not carry the movie. For me he was too “normal”, too colorless, just your common soldier with a pretty wife and cute kid, who is oh so righteous and thoroughly good and oh so ready to sacrifice himself for his people and his country.
I am not sure why Ken Watanabe is currently more or less the best known Japanese actor outside of Japan. He always makes the same face and is pretty boring. There are numerous other Japanese actors who are leagues better than him, for example Toshiyuki Nishida or Koichi Sato or Naoko Takenaka to throw just a few names around – maybe their English is not good and that’s why they don’t get to work with non-Japanese directors???

Back to Godzilla. He looked fat… while I liked his looks in general, especially the ragged rocky island image of the horns on his back, he was a bit too plumb. The two Muto creatures he fights were interesting, if anatomically a bit impossible, I guess. At least they looked like that to me. To have them around made a nice opportunity for Godzilla to survive and be sort of a hero after all. I would have liked that hero aspect of Godzilla to be less emphasized and it kinda made me laugh at the end when Ken Watanabe and Juliette Binoche almost cry for Gojira as he lies passed out in the streets of what was formerly San Francisco and they think he’s dead. I personally could not detect a decent reason for Gojira to fight those two. They’ve done him nothing wrong. Why should he care? If he at least had them for food, but he just throws the last Muto’s head away after killing it. Sure, one shouldn’t argue with logic in a Godzilla movie, but nevertheless. So, all in all there were some good scenes, especially in the beginning but all in all I’ll rather stick with the original.

Breaking Bad
Now that series is some great TV. I loved every bit of it until the end of season 4. That should have been the end, well, but it couldn’t be, I know. I think Gustavo Fring is one of the greatest characters ever created. What an awesome villain and how masterly performed by Giancarlo Esposito. Another hilarious character that will forever stick in my mind is Saul Goodman, what a slimy, nasty fellow, just awesome. The great strength of Breaking Bad is its incredible collection of quirky and yet believable characters. All of them, Marie, Hank, Walter Junior and of course Skyler, Walter White and Jesse are rich and quirky and believable characters. That combined with a thrilling story makes some knock out entertainment.

Where things fell a little bit apart for me were in season five the hole that the death of Gus Fring left behind. It was clear they had to get to Walter somehow in the end, but the late introduction of this Todd dude and his white trash uncle were no replacement for the chill and thrill of Gus Fring.
I also found the argument why Walter wanted to brew again, because he was excellent at something rather weak.
For me the story ended with the demise of the big bad guy = Gus Fring and the end of Walter was lacking motivation in a way. I admire the consequence though of the white trash uncle indeed shooting Hank. I don’t think that in a, for example, 1990ties US TV series stuff like that would have happened.
My respect for the writers for creating such great characters – there is a lot to learn from the writing point of view from Breaking Bad and fanfares for Gus and Saul, please. 🙂