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 😉

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:

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.

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.

Believable?

I recently watched the “movie” “Tin Man” or in Japan called “Outer Zone”. They sold it for a 1000 yen at Tower Records. I only realized later that it is a radically cut version of the Sci-Fi channel mini series “Tin Man”. I obviously haven’t seen it, and its ratings in IMDb are actually not that bad, however, I found the thing horrible. This “movie” represents the limit of what you can do with editing a story. Maybe the long version = the entire mini-series is better, but this cut to pieces something was one of the worst movie experiences I ever had.

The story felt choppy and sorry, but the leading actress seemed like the most unnatural actress they could find. Her reactions to what was happening around her were completely unbelievable. She shrugged off life-changing events with indifference. Oh, the people she thought are her parents are not her parents. So what? When she first meets the character Glitch her reaction to the fact that he has his brain removed and a zipper on top of his head is lame rather than cool, and so forth.

The wannabe steampunk look had a ridiculous feel to it rather than making things attractive because it served no purpose and was not an integral part of the story. The artificial people in the first OZ village the heroine goes to are causing the reaction – what the hell is that? What purpose does this story item serve? What does it add to the story that these people are half mechanized?
The Wizard of Oz is a great story and the movie a legend (I’ve seen it, but it’s a long time ago). I remember drama and being awfully scared of the wicked witch of the west.

In this “Tin Man” movie the characters are stumbling from one convenient event to the other: They have to find her father. The dog/creature thing immediately finds access to this city underground. There they immediately find someone who gives them a tip without motivation. Then DG, the heroine, gets abducted by no one else but her daddy. Dah!!! Maybe they need more time to get from A to B in the mini series, in the movie though clues come out of the blue and always fit and are highly convenient.

One of the worst sequences is when DG remembers her past. She walks through the woods, the dog/creature thing tells her to remember an oh, so suddenly she remembers everything.
Horrible plotting, one dimensional characters, no explanations for how the heroine and her entourage travel from a to b – and oh, suddenly they are back at the tower of her sister who is possessed by the evil witch of the west.
Why does the bad sister have followers at all? What’s in it for them? Nothing in this movie adds up and it’s a great lesson for every writer on how NOT to do it.
Your characters need motivation, more than one character trait, and they need to react naturally to what’s happening around them. Your plot needs to be logical, even in fantasy you need to explain how people get from A to B, you must make things difficult for your characters instead of presenting them with the next clue on a silver plate. Great lessons learned, thanks, you do really learn a lot as a writer from bad examples 😉

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. 🙂

Recent Movie Review May 2014

Here’s some movie digest of relatively recent movies (American Hustle, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Frozen, Europa Report, World War Z). Unfortunately, I am a bit short on time these days and must admit that I saw most of them on various tiny in-seat airplane screens instead of big cinemas but “shouganai ne” = it can’t be helped.

American Hustle:
Interesting. Nice twisted plot and nobody is what he/she seems and layers of lies like layers of onions, but somehow I did not find this movie overly original. There has been loads of stuff on con artists and onion layer plots. I cannot resist to compare it to Inception, which I liked much much better, since there was at least the unique and fresh aspect of reality bending to it with the streets of (was it Paris?) Paris folding towards you for example.
What irritated me about American Hustle was that I thought the whole time Amy Adams was Nicole Kidman… (now why did I think that, hu? Some resemblance perhaps?) and I also was sort of esthetically offended that Christian Bale looked so so so ugly in this movie! (laugh) He is not ugly and congrats for the ability to make himself ugly but it’s such a waste! There is so much ugliness around us, why add to that when it’s not necessary? Well, I am half joking of course, there was some nice acting there, but nevertheless how Bale looked like in that movie made me cringe the entire time.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
I don’t know the first movie of this title that is apparently from 1947 (wow, who dug that one out of the ground again?) and cannot compare, but I found the new version to be almost entirely delightful. I am not a big fan of Ben Stiller, but in this movie he made me even like him 😉 It’s a nice story to see this guy doing things he’d usually never do because of a tiny mishap. I love this theme of tiny things causing big stuff and it’s just wonderful to have the negative inside the wallet and Mitty overlooks that and goes on this epic hunt. The shark in the icy waters of Greenland was over the top of course, but the exploding volcano in Iceland made up for that again and the Afghan warlords being softened up by cake as well. With plots like that you can easily disappoint the audience – we are waiting the entire movie for getting to know what was on that darn photo. That’s dangerous, the more you make the audience wait, the higher are the expectations and I feared the movie would crumble with the revelation of what’s on the photo, but, at least in my opinion, the outcome was adequate and fulfilling the promise and premise.
This movie was a great reminder of the “contract” you make as an author or director with the audience. You promise to deliver something (entertainment of whatever form) and the audience expects a fulfillment of such a promise. It would have been fatal for the movie not to show what’s on the picture for example or to have something disappointing on it, but the director = Stiller knows that lesson and delivers in the end. Well worth watching.

Europa Report
Never heard about this movie before and I am sure it has not seen any screenings in Japan. It’s a European SciFi movie it seems about a manned mission to the Jupiter moon Europa where mankind hopes to find the first extraterrestrial life in the presumed ocean under the icy surface.
The premise is a bit lame, countless missions on countless spaceships have gone out to find extraterrestrial life in the SciFi movie history and Jupiter and its moons are especially critical since there is something called 2001: A Space Odyssey. But I’d like to give the style of the movie a bit of credit. It’s all told backwards sort of. The mission fails and we know they won’t return more or less right from the beginning, but then it unfolds that they managed to repair their communication system (to simplify it a lot now) and we get to see the recordings the crew made during their journey = the movie has sort of mock-documentary style. Apart from 2001 elements, there are “Alien” elements too (on Europa itself), then a little bit of “The Abyss” and last but not least “Event Horizon”, sort of demonstrating how difficult it is to make an “original” SciFi movie these days. The documentary style also results in the actors being “kinda cold” and I found it difficult to identify with them and to feel anything for them.
Interesting experiment, but I guess this movie will soon be quite much forgotten especially with such a lame and “misleading” title…

World War Z
I know, I know, it’s been a while since that movie came out, but I had missed it and now finally saw it. I have nothing much to say about it except for impressive human/zombie ladders reaching over the barriers erected in Jerusalem and finally zombies who are quick instead of slow. If the fastness of the zombies and the consequences that their speed has is the only thing truly remarkable about that movie then… Anyway. Despite a bit of zombie tiredness due to too many zombie movies (and novels) I am still a fan of the Walking Dead and am looking forward to its next season 😉 World War Z I can do without…

Frozen
Now that main song (Let it go? Am not sure about its title) is quite an earworm as we say in German (a catchy tune) indeed. I am wondering why it appeals to people so much. I don’t know the original story by Hans Christian Andersen and how much it has been “disneyed” – I bet the snowman thing is a Disney addition for example.
The movie is only the fourth movie ever to have broken the 20 billion yen mark in Japan (the others are Titanic, Spirited Away and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone) and is insanely popular here (especially among women). The old advertisement slogan “women appeal to women and men appeal to men”, seems true for this movie. Twitter feed in the NHK news at 23:30 the other day spoke of “it’s appealing that there are two heroines and not only one”, for example.
I personally found the snowman a bit annoying and it reminded me somehow of Jar Jar Binks! Lol. Although of course he was not as bad… I think Jar Jar Binks enjoys the status of worst character ever in any movie 😉
What’s a bit unusual is that the story is astonishingly populated, two heroines, two heroes of which one turns out to be a bad guy, plus the obvious bad guy, and not to forget the elk, the trolls (and the snowman). Even if it got watered down by being “disneyed”, there is some fine character crafting in the background done by Andersen, which surely contributes to the success of this story. But hey, in the end it’s 80% about that song after all, I guess 😉

The Hobbit – Desolation of Smaug Review

So, two weeks ago I went to see The Hobbit – The Desolation of Smaug finally, at a huge cinema next to Kawasaki station in latest IMAX and 3D technology.
Overall I liked it, but I also definitely liked the first Hobbit movie or the Lord of the Ring movies better. It’s always an expectation game of course, too. I did not have high expectations towards the first Hobbit movie and was positively surprised that I could live with it despite being a bit of a LOTR fan.

Now of course the expectations towards part 2 were high and maybe that is one of the reasons for why I felt disappointed in several areas.
Before the “critique” here is what I liked about the movie.
Legolas is back 🙂 and his evil daddy (I didn’t realize in the first part of the Hobbit that Thranduil was Legloas’ daddy) is pretty awesome. Half of a miracle that such a nasty father can have such a nice son. I found the blue artificial looking contact lenses of Legolas a bit thick, but anyway.
The humans were nicely characterized too, the honorable Bard and the nasty lord of Lake Town plus his sidekick were nicely done and portrayed.

But now let’s turn to the issues I had with Hobbit 2:
1) Movement:
Maybe it was not even such a good idea to watch it in IMAX 3D. My adrenalin level was high, due to driving to the theater by car, which still costs me quite some courage, and that may have played a part in it. But it was sort of a roller coaster thing and sometimes I had to avert my eyes and started feeling woozy… I found the whole movie very strenuous for the eyes. Usually I have no problem with 3D, this was the first time I did have a problem.

The constant movement got mightily on my nerves. Also with Smaug, just hold still for one second please so that I can take a good look at you! Constant movement loses its appeal if not counterbalanced with stillness. The barrel ride also didn’t knock my socks off. It was fun, yeah, but what does it add to the story? It was an action sequence for the 3D’s sake and not for the story’s sake.

2) Logic:
Of course this is fantasy, and yet… 5000 tons of gold do not liquefy in 5 minutes, not even with dragon fire…. This is about exceeding the strangeness budget – every story/movie has a strangeness budget (I’m sure I mentioned the strangeness budget in whatever other blog entry of the past three years or so). In principle every reader/movie goer is prepared to suspend his/her disbelief for a while. If I’m going to read a fantasy story or watch a fantasy movie the strangeness budget is of course much higher than when I watch a drama or a documentary. And yet, that does not mean that you can do whatever you want, things must be believable in the realm you are dealing with. I am ready to believe in dragons and wizards when I watch something like the Hobbit, but liquefying tons and tons of gold in five minutes is exceeding the leeway that I am giving the story as a reader/viewer, stuff like that throws me out of the movie and has this “pff” effect that usually you desperately want to avoid as the author or movie maker.

The thing that vexed me most though was the stupid back entrance. Why do they need to go in via the back entrance? Did I miss anything? Smaug is asleep, unless he has rigged the front entrance there is no reason why they couldn’t walk in at the front. Especially because in the end Smaug leaves via the front entrance and Bilbo too without any harm done, so what’s this whole show about needing to find the back entrance? Then, would Smaug leave his treasure and his enemies behind and fly an attack against Lake Town? Hmmmm….

3) Characters:
I can’t say I liked Thorin so much here… the tormented hero theme worked wonderfully in part 1 but not here, suddenly he abandons his heirs Fili and Kili? He is totally ungrateful to Bilbo all the time, despite him getting them out of the Elven prison and finding the key hole at the back entrance? And the entire key hole issue angered me too: Thorin and the other dwarves give up just like that, sun’s down, no key hole, see ya later? So it again has to be Bilbo who finds the key hole and stays until the moon comes up?

Then sending Bilbo into the dragon’s lair just like that? Smaug knows the smell of dwarfs, fine, but at least Thorin could send Bilbo off and not Balin. And when they meet again he gives him not even a pat on the back but – you got the arkenstone? and blocks his way with a sword? All this added up to me not liking Thorin anymore. I think there is a fine line between a villain being mean and a hero being unkind. You expect the villain to be mean and forgive him more easily, but a hero being unkind and ungrateful turns the milk sour…

Then I also have a great issue with Bilbo. I cannot shake the feeling that Bilbo is reduced to a back character when in a group. Alone he is fine and the initial confrontation with Smaug is awesome but otherwise Martin Freeman gets lost in the crowd. He just doesn’t fill a room. Elijah Wood managed to fill the room, he has a bigger presence than Freeman despite having been so awfully young when Lord of the Rings was happening.
The dwarves were also less distinguishable than before. Fili got a much bigger part and “shone”, but a bit at the expense of the others who would have deserved more time and room.

And last but not least, would Tauriel fall in love with a dwarf so easily? It was a nice twist, but it was all happening too quickly and came out of nowhere and was not believable to me either.
Oh, and Gandalf… also Gandalf is happily abandoning his friends to go off on a different quest? Hmmmmm… All this reminded me of the good old RPG rule – do not split up the group…

All in all the Hobbit has turned pretty darn dark. I admit that I never read the Hobbit, only the Lord of the Rings as a teenager, but it feels like nothing much is left of the original children’s tale.
Anyway, I shall buy it on DVD nevertheless once it comes out here and watch it again and I also want to watch the final part, but I am not entirely happy with part 2 I must say…

Rolling Stones at Tokyo Dome

Another band I can strike off my “bucket list” of bands to see before they die (sorry for the cynicism), other such bands include(ed) Judas Priest and Eric Clapton, or Bon Jovi for example. Another band on that list was/is the Rolling Stones.

Despite a steep ticket price of 18,000 yen (depending on the exchange rate that’s between 180 and 220 USD, or 150 to 180 Euro or so) I decided to go together with a Japanese friend, since in the Stones’ case it’s really a race against time. After all the gentlemen are between 66 and 72 years old already!
They had come to Japan again after an eight year pause and did three gigs in Tokyo Dome, which holds about 50,000 people = 150,000 tickets. Not bad.

There had been a lottery for the tickets and I “won” some for the last of their 3 gigs on the 6th of March.
The queues for the goodies were insane… when my friend and I arrived around 17:45 at the venue (official start was 18:30) the guardsmen at both goodies queues said it would take an hour to reach the booths. They presumably wouldn’t start at 18:30 sharp, but nevertheless we gave up waiting in the cold and good that we did, since inside the Dome they also had a small goods stand, which we managed to get to after a mere 20 minute wait and my friend was able to buy the desired t-shirts.

stones3

The Stones started at 19:00 and the additional half hour of waiting was necessary to let the 50,000 find their seats. The first song was Jumping Jack Flash and the start of two hours of non-stop action.
It’s pretty amazing what the 70 year old Mick Jagger is still doing there. He is hopping and running around on stage from left to right, which is almost a hundred meters and down the catwalk in the middle as if he was 30.
The amount of energy he still has in that super thin body is staggering. He only paused for two songs, which were sung by Keith Richards. Although they are the same age, Mick seems so much fitter than Keith, which maybe was the trigger for a lady some rows behind me to cry, awwwww…

A word about the audience. Everything was there, from young to old. A few rows in front of me a young European looking guy in his twenties was dancing around like mad and right in the row behind me stood an old Japanese gentleman, of at least 70 years, maybe more, who was shaking his fist and clapping with a shy smile on his face, so cute! I wanted to ask him how often he has seen the Stones already and since when he is their fan, but he seemed too absorbed to be disturbed. So, the fans are of all ages and that was wonderful to see.
I had been lucky by the way and the lottery had given us pretty good seats, arena, B block (only A block between the stage and us) a little to the left side but still with a pretty good view to the stage.
Back came Mick and rocked on. I only have one greatest hits album of the Stones and yet knew maybe two thirds of the songs. And yes, they did me the favor to play my two favorites: Sympathy for the Devil and of course Satisfaction (last song).
For Sympathy for the Devil, Mick showed up in a giant orange/black feather cape – uhhh! 😉
Stones1
Two special Japanese things happened as well. For one song, a Japanese rock’n roll veteran, the about by now 50 something years old guitarist and singer Tomoyasu Hottei was on stage as well. I even went to one of his concerts a couple of years ago. He also happens to be an actor and his best and most memorable performance is (at least in my opinion) the villain in the movie “Samurai Fiction” – a hilarious samurai comedy which you should try to see if you have the chance.
They also had a Japanese choir on stage for one of the songs and all the Japanese guest musicians looked so happy and excited to be there with the Stones 😉
Mick was talking in (horrible pronunciation) Japanese quite a lot, kudos to him to have remembered all these phrases!
All in all this was a night worth remembering and yes, it was worth its steep price (in great contrast to the very disappointing Bon Jovi gig). The Stones are not an iconic band for nothing and I’m very glad to have had the chance to see them. Rocking for more than fifty years, and still going strong, wow, that’s amazing.
Stones2

Opposing the “Hunger Games”

I recently watched the first “Hunger Games” movie and am as annoyed about it as I thought I would be. Apologies to fans of that movie and its follow ups, but here is why I am pissed at it.
I think it sucks because it is a) absolutely not original and b) because I don’t buy the premise.

First of all the originality issue:
This movie is a lame remake/combination of two other movies: The Running Man from the 80ties, an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie where modern gladiators are fighting to the death in a televised spectacle, and the Japanese movie Battle Royale from the year 2000.
You can read their respective plot summaries on IMDb: The Running Man and Battle Royale.

Battle Royale is in my humble opinion an awesome movie – it caused a bit of a stir when it came out in Japan due to its provocative premise of a group of 40 high school students (teenagers around 15 or 16) being deported to a lonely island where they are killing each other until only one person is left who is allowed to go home. Sounds familiar?

I wonder whether the author of the Hunger Games knows this movie and is thus guilty of plagiarism.
It is quite possible of course that she did not know Battle Royale – I am unsure as to how far this movie made it beyond Japan. However, the parallels are so detailed, that I bet she knows the movie.
Battle Royale stars the also outside of Japan relatively famous “Beat” Takeshi, some may know him better under his real name Takeshi Kitano. He is an actor/director (whom I wrote my master-thesis about) who has quite a number of (rather violent) movies under his belt that made him known outside of Japan as well. He also starred in some Hollywood movies like “Johnny Mnemonic” and others. See his filmography here at IMDb.
So, in Battle Royale Kitano plays the nasty teacher who arranged for one of his classes to be sent to the deadly game.

And here comes in the issue about the premise.
Let’s compare the premises of Battle Royale and the Hunger Games.
Battle Royale: In a near future Japan, youngsters have become more and more rowdy and have no respect anymore for adults and the helpless adults have invented the Battle Royale Act in the desperate try to discipline and scare the students.
With military support, a selected class is deported to an uninhabited island and are given one rucksack each that contains a random weapon and some provisions (sounds familiar?) and they have three days to kill each other until only one is left. If they don’t kill each other all their heads will explode thanks to a neck collar they all received. (Did I miss this detail? Is there a time limit in the Hunger Games? Doesn’t seem to be – the little black girl nurses Katniss back to health after the hornets attack for days. So why do they even play the game? Why don’t they just refuse to kill each other (and sit it out and starve together)? To have no time limit is illogical)
So, the major conflict in Battle Royale is a generation one: adults vs. rowdy teenagers. They attack the teacher Kitano (as a nice piece of spice the name of Kitano’s character in the movie is Kitano) in his school and he’s finally had it with them and invokes the Battle Royale Act.

Now what’s the premise in the Hunger Games? In an imaginary future state a nuclear war has happened (some 75 years ago, more comments on that later) and the 12 “districts” that have lost have to pay an annual tribute by sending one girl and one boy between 12 and 18 to the “hunger games”. Eh? Why?
Why children between 12 and 18? Why not young men who just became fathers? Why not pregnant women? I can find no reason for the age of the contestants (as opposed to Battle Royale where the reason is generation conflict). The only reason seems to be that this was originally a YA book and YA protagonists need to be between 12 and 18 years old so that their same aged readers can identify with them…. dah….

Then why this kind of tribute (sending a teenage boy and a teenage girl to the games) and not any other? What is the motivation behind this “method” of “paying back debts to the victor”? If I was a dictator I’d want goods and money from the people I conquered, which apparently they are getting too, but why this gladiator game on top? To humiliate the districts, yes, but there are loads of “better” ways how to humiliate the people I conquered. The motivation for the teenage gladiator games seems to come out of nowhere.

Then, they are going on for 74 years already? You gotta be kidding me. Why hasn’t anyone revolted throughout the previous 73 years? Okay, the North Korean regime is around now for some 60 years but nevertheless, 73 years and nobody tried to knock out the regime in the Hunger Games before?

Next, the storyline: For me it was as clear as Tokyo on a sunny winter day that Katniss would win the tournament. Zero surprise, zero suspense.
Even though they show the “winner” of the Battle Royale at the beginning of the movie there is suspense, since we don’t know yet what’s going on and we also wonder why the winning girl is so young as soon as we see the class that will go on the Battle Royale = a mystery that needs to be solved.

Finally, the TV announcer of the Hunger Games seems to be a completely lame imitation of the incredible girl who explains to the Battle Royale students via video how the “game” works. This is my absolute favorite part of the movie. There is this silly 20ish fashion girl who explains in a funny, bright and over-the-top happy manner the gruesome rules of the killing game. The contrast between her delivery and appearance and what she says is gob smacking. And the contrast between her delivery and appearance and the reaction of the 40 students is equally awesome. Two die during her instructions. There is real terror and it’s totally believable.

So, the bottom line of these musings is that Battle Royale is a great horror movie, which deserves to go down in the annals of movie history, whilst the Hunger Games is a lame-ass, plagiaristic rip-off of something much better and more intelligent. I have no clue at all why this movie and the book behind it deserve any sort of attention! 🙁