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.

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 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…

Ballet Under the Dome

Okay, this blog entry will be a little bit of a stretch – Russian ballet vs. American TV.
I’ve been to my first ballet ever and consider that worth a report and I’m watching the series Under the Dome at the moment and got some comments about it too.

Ballet:
I spontaneously went to see my first ballet ever last Wednesday, The Matthew Bourne “all men” production of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake.
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I guess it was a good choice to make this my first ballet ever, since I at least remotely knew something about the story, thanks to a movie I like very much – Black Swan – with Natalie Portman. So there is this princess Odette, who is turned into a swan by a curse and only true love can bring her back or she will be turned into a swan forever.
I kinda expected a “black swan” – the bad sorcerer who turns her into one somewhere but either I didn’t get it or it was missing from the Matthew Bourne production. In the original the hero, Siegfried, is not married and his mother seems to be bitching him around, but in the Bourne production she looked more like his wife than his mother, at least to my eyes.

It was amazing to see just a few gestures establishing their relationship. They looked like they have been married to each other for politics and especially she does not like him and rejects any sort of affection he is trying to show her. Very subtly expressed with just a few gestures and how the dancers posed their bodies.
The swans were impressive, all men and they did an excellent job at looking animal like. I’m kinda interested in seeing a classical production of the ballet where the swans are all girls. With men as swans the esthetics were elegant, yes, but also animalistic. Odette was danced by a dancer called Chris Tranfield (I think) and man, the guy was good. I found the scenes without the swans a bit long and dragging at times, but whenever the swans were around it was interesting and impressive. These dancers don’t seem to have bones in their bodies.
The finale of Odette and Siegfried dying was really amazing to watch. You don’t need words to tell a story. As a writer there are quite some lessons to be learned from that 😉
I shall be on the lookout for more ballet.
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Under the Dome:
I’m watching that on hulu and while I liked at least most of the first season it’s starting to be a bit bland in the beginning of the second season. It’s about a small US town suddenly being trapped under a mysterious, invisible and indestructible dome some 30 miles wide or so. Although there is no ultimate revelation yet, aliens seem to be involved. What I find noteworthy about this series are only two things. Uncle Hank from Breaking Bad is playing the main bad guy (quite well) here and the other thing is the Game of Thrones syndrome of killing off major characters like flies… What has Mr. George R.R. Martin done??? He kicked off a trend to kill your characters. While your protagonists should suffer, yes, go through hardship, have tough decisions to make and and and, what good are they to you if they’re dead?

That does not mean like I’ve never killed off one of my characters but I am weary of the numbers. If I counted correctly, within the 15 episodes that I watched of Under the Dome, five major characters have bit the dust, especially during the last few episodes, where it’s more or less one per show. The dangerous thing about that is that the viewer gets used to it, detaches him/herself from the characters, since you have to be prepared that they are having switched their lights out. The character killing only has an impact if you were invested into that character and when it becomes a standard plot device it loses its impact in my humble opinion. The other issue with that is that you need to replace those characters with new ones that you have to draw out of your hat like a magician and that just doesn’t work all the time. I’ll keep on watching Under the Dome a bit more, let’s say until the Uncle Hank (here he is Big Jim) character bites the dust, but I am not invested anymore. However, thanks to Under the Dome for teaching me something about character deaths for my own writing 😉