Geraldine Blecker - Words & More

Words and More!

NEBRASKA - Warm, funny & real

25. January 14 , 20:03

Alexander Payne’s latest work tells of plain, everyday, hard-working folk living in America’s agricultural heartland

Frankfurt/Main, Germany (Weltexpress). Nominated for 6 Oscars, with another 22 wins and 62 nominations, including Best Actor for Bruce Dern. 77 Years old, he plays the role of Woody Grant, who is convinced that he has just won $1 million dollars on a lottery ticket. This is obviously a con, but the old gent, not in total possession of his faculties, dulled with alcohol over a lifetime, will not be dissuaded. Collecting his winnings means traveling nearly 1,000 miles from his home in Montana to the lottery office in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Hardly an easy task for someone not only unfit to drive, but practically unable to walk. His family’s skepticism only serves to harden his resolve, and eventually his son David (Will Forte) is coerced into driving his long-estranged father to pick up his winnings.

And so begins a bizarre road trip through one of the most scenic landscapes in America. Bearing in mind that location has always played such a key role in his previous works, it may seem strange that Oscar-winning director Alexander Payne (ABOUT SCHMIDT, SIDEWAYS, THE DESCENDANTS) has chosen to shoot his latest film in black and white. A major departure from his visual style, it nonetheless adds a fascinating tristesse, making it the perfect backdrop for this comedic- melancholy tale.

Father and son experience various entertaining - albeit for David, irritating - adventures on the road, eventually stopping in Hawthorne, Nebraska, the town of Woody’s birth, to pay a long-delayed call on his detested relatives. And this is where the movie really takes off.

© Bona Fide ProductionsWhen it comes to character development and restrained humor, Payne has an unmistakable approach that once again comes into play. For although this somewhat simplistic family story is interspersed with the director’s typical humoresque and has some great laughs to offer, it is yet imbued with a deep melancholy and a certain sadness - many scenes are almost too painfully true to life. This gives NEBRASKA its undeniable authenticity, making it both hugely amusing and depressing at one and the same time. Just like life can be, I suppose.

It is without doubt Payne’s most defiant work, especially when compared to his greatest commercial and artistic success to date: the Academy Award-winning THE DESCENDANTS, which grossed almost $200 million. To follow that with this relatively low-budget ($13 million), almost minimalist, black-and-white motion picture is more than unusual and truly daring. But for Payne that seems par for the course, choosing to present his intimate tales in the most appropriate manner without conceding to either audience expectations or studio demands. And with NEBRASKA, this approach has paid off, for it is hard to imagine this somewhat scurrilous tragicomedy any other way.

© Bona Fide ProductionsThe same applies to his casting. While Bruce Dern’s performance is obviously most noteworthy, a fact that has been recognized by critics and his peers alike, the performances of his supporting cast are, without exception, as surprising as they are outstanding. Special mention must be made of the actors who play Woody’s two sons: Will Forte, former member of the SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE comedy ensemble, together with Bob Odenkirk of BREAKING BAD - both mastering roles that are beyond their stereotypes. And, of course, the delightful June Squibb for her role as Kate, Woody’s long-suffering, yet still mischievous wife - another worthy Oscar contender in the Best Supporting Actress category.

Getting back to the plot: does Woody Grant make it to Lincoln, Nebraska? Does he pick up his $1 million? I won’t spoil it for you, but meanwhile just about everybody in Hawthorne has found about his stroke of good luck and, one after the other, turn up looking for handouts, business investments, settlement of long-forgotten but mostly illusory unpaid debts, and just about anything else they can think of to get a piece of the action. Not excluding a hilarious attempt at burglary.

Bob Nelson’s screenplay is a masterpiece. Warm, funny, real, it tells of plain, everyday, hard-working folk living in the America’s agricultural heartland. The kind of story that is rarely told, NEBRASKA is a rare cinematic treat, and will move you to tears.

* * *

NEBRASKA - (USA, 2013); Genre: Comedy/Drama; Running time: 115 Mins; Director: Alexander Payne; Writer: Bob Nelson; Cast: Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, Stacy Keach, Bob Odenkirk; Cinematographer: Phedon Papamichael; Music: Mark Orton; Distributors/Release dates: Paramount Vantage (USA) / 16. Jan, Paramount Pictures (Germany/UK)

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET - (USA, 2013)

20. January 14 , 11:29

GOODFELLAS without the Mafia!

Frankfurt/Main, Germany (Weltexpress). This year’s Academy Award nominations came out just last week, making it more than evident that retro motion pictures focusing on - and, in the opinion of many, actually glorifying – crooks and con-men - are the current faves with Oscar voters. AMERICAN HUSTLE and THE WOLF OF WALL STREET leading the category for Best Picture, the latter nominated for 5 Oscars, compare the sophisticated evolution of scamming between the 1970s and ‘80s.

To date, Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko has been synonymous with the greedy, unscrupulous Wall Street villain. But compared to New Yorker stockbroker Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), the heartless Gekko is a cuddly toy. For all that, at the beginning of his rags to riches career, Jordan is an ambitious yet somewhat naive and likeable young man, to whom the hectic activity and crude conversational tone of the stock exchange are totally disconcerting. But his new mentor Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey in a brilliant, albeit brief, cameo) recognizes his potential and teaches him all the tricks of the trade.

On the very day Jordan earns his broker’s certificate, however, his dream comes to an abrupt end. The stock market crash of 1987 sees his company closed and Jordan back on the street. Still, he refuses to give up so easily and, before very long, is running his own brokerage, giving it an aristocratic, exclusive ring with the name “Stratton Oakmont” - earning millions, and living a life of luxury and excess. Success that eventually attracts the unwelcome attention of the FBI, in the person of agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler), who suspects shady dealings behind the Stratton Oakmont facade.

And although his unbridled greed, contempt for mankind, and growing arrogance may have blinded him to certain things, Jordan is still far too crafty to allow the government to take away his hard-earned loot. With the aid of his faithful team of fellow scumbags, Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) and even his own father Max (Rob Reiner) among them, Jordan concocts ever new and more devious plans to keep one step ahead of the law and continue raking in the millions. After all, more is never enough!

© Metropolitan FilmExportAfter immersing himself in the American underworld for many of his films, Martin Scorsese turns to unscrupulous gangsters of a somewhat different breed in THE WOLF OF WALL STREET. Instead of robbery at gun-point, they use fraud and false promises and, even without guns, manage to destroy people’s livelihoods just as effectively as Al Capone and his cronies. This makes the dissolute activities of such as Jordan Belfort, upon whose biography this film is based, truly despicable, and doubtless why Scorsese chose to tell the tale with a heavy comedic hand.

Beginning with little antipathy for Jordan Belfort, the viewer is at first impressed by his clever sales pitch, stirring pep talks, apparent empathy - and thus less resentful of his speedy ascent, the almost worshipful adoration of his colleagues, or his success with the ladies. Even his frenzied, drug-induced outbursts are almost tolerable. Yet over the course of the film, as he blithely scams people out of their life savings, thoughtlessly destroying them in the process, we, too, realize that we have been conned and led like lambs to the slaughter.

© Universal Pictures InternationalDiCaprio puts in a fine performance, surprising us all with a comedic talent that reaches its apex in some of the astonishingly frenzied - and perfectly repellent - orgy scenes. But he is also surrounded by an excellent supporting cast. Be it Jonah Hill, Matthew McConaughey, director Rob Reiner as Jordan’s choleric father, or Oscar-winner Jean Dujardin as a Geneva banker -  all ensure that THE WOLF OF WALL STREET is certainly worth the price of a movie ticket. Not to mention some seriously lovely ladies. Australian newcomer Margot Robbie who plays Jordan’s second wife, Naomi, is sure to go places.
It might be true that neither Scorsese nor writer Terence Winter are actually glorifying such behavior, as they have maintained in recent interviews.

Certainly as the film launches into its final hour, the dark side of Belfort’s character comes clearly to the fore, as we see how wealth and power corrupt and the final payback arrives. Still, today’s wolves and swindlers continue to wreak havoc on the financial market with virtual impunity, which is somewhat less entertaining. Recent studies show that the US Government has failed to call individuals to account in over two-thirds of the cases where companies and banks have been charged with fraud.

© Metropolitan FilmExport

Scorsese’s production is brash, rude, loud and highly irreverent. He celebrates all the excesses of this new elite: sex, hookers, drugs, orgies - all portrayed in relentless detail. Already a proven success with the male demographic - THE WOLF has grossed most of its $100 million budget since its Xmas Day release in the US - almost three full hours of fierce sex, coke-snorting, and watching fully-grown men act like schoolboys is inclined to pall and, by the end, I found myself almost losing the will to live.

 

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET - (USA, 2013); Running time: 180 minutes; Director: Martin Scorsese; Writer: Terence Winter; Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner, Jon Favreau, Jean Dujardin; Cinematographer: Rodrigo Prieto; Music:  Distributors/Release dates: Paramount Pictures, 25. Dec., 2013 (USA) / Universal Pictures International, 16. Jan, 2014 (Germany).

Von: Geraldine Blecker

12 YEARS A SLAVE - (USA, 2013)

18. January 14 , 19:05

A Tough Film to Watch

Frankfurt/Main, Germany (Weltexpress). This year’s Golden Globe winner for Best Drama, plus a further 96 wins and 130 nominations in just about every category, Steve McQueen’s 12 YEARS A SLAVE looks set to make a noise at the forthcoming Academy Awards.

Based on the memoirs of Solomon Northup, written in 1853, eight years before the Civil War. A highly educated black freeman and accomplished violinist, living comforatably with his family in Saratoga, NY, he was drugged, abducted and sold into slavery at the age of 33.

Being born free in the North was apparently insufficient to ensure a black person’s safety in those days. After his abduction to Washington D.C, of all places, Northup awakens in a dark cell, chained to the wall. Stripped of his possessions - clothes, money and, most importantly, the papers proving that he is a free man - he is renamed “Platt”, sold off like a farm animal, then freighted to a cotton plantation in the deep South. The life of a slave is then portrayed in all its horror. Although he inititally attempts to retain his sense of identity and personal dignity, we watch these gradually disintegrate as he struggles to survive from day to day, hoping against hope that he will, somehow, someday, find his way back home.

Solomon’s attempts at conveying his true identity and status to his captors produce nothing more than a series of floggings and torture, both mental and physical. Some of these scenes are almost too agonizing to watch and knowing that they are based on real-life events doesn’t make it any easier.

Solomon/Platt first winds up in the hands of a Mr. Freeman (Paul Giamatti), who then sells him on to the more benevolent Baptist preacher, William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch). His new owner’s lack of brutality, however, is more than compensated by the resentful sadism of his overseer (Paul Dano), who gleefully metes out savage punishment, especially to an educated slave like Platt. The paradox of religious faith going hand in hand with human cruelty is often portrayed by McQueen and co-writer John Ridley, and nowhere more effectively than the scene where Dano sings a lurid song about the fate of runaway slaves, while his master reads the scriptures to the gathered “congregation”.

Although Platt’s skills - he builds an effective raft system for his master’s logging enterprise, for instance, and his talent on the violin is not to be denied - ensure that he is treated somewhat better than his fellows, his life is still unendurable. Sold from one plantation owner to the next, he winds up in the possession of Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender), a psychotic, alcoholic plantation-owner and well-known slave-breaker.

Dangerously crazed, Epps is still less vicious than his wife (Sarah Paulson), who harbors a bitter hatred for his unwilling mistress Patsey (Lupita Nyong'o), the best cotton-picker in the fields. What could be worse than being a slave? Being a female slave, naturally; having their children torn from them, and being forced to submit to the sexual advances of their masters.

McQueen makes the viewer feel each lash of the whip, each personal outrage, and the utter hopelessness of those enslaved.

Ejiofor’s fear, anger and resignation, in a brilliantly understated performance, give the film added authenticity. Dano and Giamatti are convincingly loathsome and Paulson is icily fierce as Epps' betrayed wife. Lupita Nyong'o is a heart-breaking Patsey, while Fassbender's hypnotic, feral portrayal of Epps is one of his finest yet. Exec-producer Brad Pitt plays a small, but important, cameo role as one of the few whites who is not totally monstrous.

The superb score by Hans Zimmer moves from pastoral to electronic dark, interspersed with the black spirituals of Nicholas Britell - almost spine-chilling when heard in context.

Once a year, come awards season, Hollywood seems to release a motion picture revolving around the most shameful chapter in American history. It expunges some guilt, makes for good cinema and lets everybody happily ignore the plight of its black citizens for another 12 months. 12 YEARS A SLAVE is one such, a sweeping epic of a film that is not for the faint of heart. It upset me for days. The capacity of man’s inhumanity to man never ceases to amaze me.

* * *

12 YEARS A SLAVE - (USA, 2013); Running time: 134 minutes; Director: Steve McQueen; Writers: Steve McQueen, John Ridley (screenplay), Solomon Northup  (based on "Twelve Years a Slave"); Cinematographer: Sean Bobbitt; Music: Hans Zimmer; Distributors / Release dates: 8. Nov, 2013, Fox Searchlight Pictures (USA) / 16. Jan, 2014, Tobis Film (Germany)

Von: Geraldine Blecker

GRUDGE MATCH - (USA, 2013)

15. January 14 , 15:11

Rocky meets Raging Bull

Frankfurt/Main, Germany (Weltexpress). This movie explores what happens when director Peter Segal (50 FIRST DATES) sends two of the greatest boxers in cinema history - Rocky Balboa and Jake LaMotta (alias “Raging Bull”) back into the ring three decades later.

Thirty years ago, Henry "Razor" Sharp (Sylvester Stallone) and Billy "The Kid" McDonnen (Robert De Niro) were middle-weight champions and bitter boxing rivals. After each had once defeated the other, the ultimate fight was to decide which of them was the true Champ. Shortly before this decisive match, however, Razor unexpectedly threw in the towel and, without any further explanation, ended his boxing career. Kid has bitterly resented him for it ever since, even though he has moved on to become a successful businessman with a chain of restaurants and bars trading on his name and fame.

Now their legendary rivalry is to be reanimated for a video game. But when the adversaries start brawling during the motion-caption session, and the corresponding clip goes viral on YouTube, young boxing promoter Dante Slate Jr.(Kevin Hart) sees his chance. He proposes setting up the long-delayed fight between the two old pros and, while The Kid is eager to get back into the ring and show his old enemy who’s the better man, Razor is less enthusiastic. It is only after he loses his blue-collar job and all financial stability that he finally agrees…

To be sure, the boxing bouts between Razor and The Kid are hardly up to the standard of Rocky Balboa and Jake LaMotta but, as far as entertainment goes, they function remarkably well. Some of this is because Segal avoids any over-abundant slapstick and resists making the elderly gents look foolish, hitting just the right note between comedy, drama and subtle nostalgia, while giving the protagonists ample opportunity to demonstrate their acting skill. Although some of the gags fall a bit flat, there are still plenty of great ones to choose from and Alan Alda’s over-the-top performance as Razor’s aged trainer is still a sheer delight.

Comedy is assured when the two rivals, in their silly motion-capture costumes, go for each other and are then coerced into taking part in a series of humiliating PR campaigns to promote the forthcoming bout. Yet, at the same time, the film also manages to soberly portray the problems involved in growing older, the fickleness of fame, and the need to finally let go of the past.

Love makes its appearance in the form of Kim Basinger, still in terrific shape, as Sally, the woman whom both men fell in love with back in the day, and the real reason behind their bitter enmity. While Jon Bernthal plays her son - who has only recently learned that Kid is his father. These dramatic elements are not always as effective as they could be, imbued as they are with a bit too much pathos, and some predictable clichés are inclined to creep in, but on the whole, the film profits from these calmer, more dramatic moments, which lend depth to the otherwise simply-woven tale.

A surprising Xmas-Day release in the USA, the movie has already recouped more than half of its modest (by Hollywood standards) $40 million budget and is bound to also do well in the international market - yet to be released in many major territories. With a sparkling script, great humor, and pointed references to ROCKY and RAGING BULL, much local Pittsburgh color (although the film was mostly shot in New Orleans, no doubt for tax incentive reasons), and good acting performances, GRUDGE MATCH offers just under 2 hours of solid cinema entertainment.

* * *

GRUDGE MATCH - USA, 2013 (German title: ZWEI VOM ALTEN SCHLAG); Genre: Comedy; Running time: 113 minutes; Distributor: Warner Bros; Director: Peter Segal; Writers: Tim Kelleher, Rodney Rothman; Cast: Cinematographer: Dean Semler; Music: Trevor Rabin; Release dates:  25.Dec, 2013 (USA) / 9.Jan, 2014 (Germany)

by Geraldine Blecker

DIANA - (USA/UK, 2013)

13. January 14 , 15:07

Cardboard Characters & Constipated Dialogue

Frankfurt/Main, Germany (Weltexpress). Slated pretty much by the world at large - especially by the British press, which is hardly surprising - Oliver Hirschbiegel’s attempt at filming the life of DIANA, former Princess of Wales, based on an original screenplay by Stephen Jeffreys, is, indeed, an ambitious venture. Especially when the movie contains few, if any, references to either her early life as Diana Spencer, the Royals, her marriage, her children, or even any of the many scandals that accompanied her throughout her short and tragic life.

This may well have been out of respect for the British monarchy or, what is far more likely, due to the difficulties involved in acquiring permission to depict certain personages, and the wisdom of avoiding a lawsuit! Indeed, filming was impossible while the investigation into Diana’s death had not yet been concluded. Nevertheless, the producers have made much ado about their cleverness in selecting Hirschbiegel to direct, but I am inclined to think that no British director would have touched the project with a bargepole!

The film begins in 1995 and focuses on the last two years of Diana’s life and her one remaining secret: her post-Charles and pre-Dodi affair with Dr. Hasnat Khan, played by Naveen Andrews (THE ENGLISH PATIENT, LOST), interspersed with various third-world charity activities and good works.  
In the style of a soap opera, it is love at first sight when Diana meets the young British/Pakistani heart surgeon. Their attraction intensifies during subsequent chance meetings and soon leads to furtive rendezvous which develop into a full-blown affair. It is intimated that this relationship finally gave Diana the strength and confidence she needed to take control of her own destiny.

There are some entertaining early sequences: e.g. Khan being smugggled into Kensington Palace in the boot of her car, Diana disguising herself (with a long, black wig) to go with him to a jazz club, etc. Yet the film soon degenerates into a saccharine, Disney-like romance, albeit with lavish global settings and luxurious trappings (private jets, luxurious yachts, and chauffered limousines). None of which serves to generate much sympathy for the yearnings and sufferings of the poor little princess, mind you.

Naomi Watts (KING KONG, THE IMPOSSIBLE) makes a brave attempt at portraying the tormented Diana. Her innocently seductive, yet wounded look, the spot-on accent, and, of course, her physical appearance (compliments to the make-up department). Yet there is little to suggest Diana’s real character, let alone her intelligence, sharp wit, or legendary charm. The few, vague allusions to her manipulative ways and somewhat darker, temperamental side are overwhelmed by sugary naivity and sheer goodness. Andrews does his best as the passionate Dr. Khan, a proud man buckling under paparazzi pressure, although the script gives him little to work with. Both protagonists might be more convincing, were their characters not so blandly drawn and the dialogue less stilted.

Once again, there is little mention of Charles, apart from an audio quote coming from the TV set, or her sons, who are only to be seen in a long-shot on an airfield, or anyone else who played any kind of major, well-documented role in her life. The role of Dodi al Fayad, who died with her in 1997, for example, is given no significance whatsoever; presented here as a mere cover-up for her affair with Khan. Fact or fiction?

Anyone expecting a true portrayal of the Princess who captured the hearts of the British people and fascinated the world will be hugely disappointed with this embarassingly commercial venture.

* * *

DIANA - (USA/UK, 2013); Genre: Biopic/drama; Running time: 113 min. Director: Oliver Hirschbiegel; Writer: Stephen Jeffreys; Cast: Naomi Watts, Naveen Andrews, Douglas Hodge, Charles Edwards, Daniel Pirrie, Cas Anvar; Cinematographer: Rainer Klausmann; Music: Keefus Ciancia, David Holmes; Distributors/Release dates: Concorde Filmverleih, Jan. 9th (Germany) / Entertainment One, Nov. 1, 2013 (USA/limited)

by: Geraldine Blecker

ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE - Twilight for grown-ups!

08. January 14 , 21:02

Fresh blood for the Vampire Genre!

Frankfurt/Main, Germany (Weltexpress) - Certainly his most lyrical film to date, Jim Jarmusch puts a new spin on the old Vampire cliché. Witty, teasing, poignant, and full of surprises, ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE infuses the genre with fresh blood.
 
Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton play Adam and Eve, the titular undead lovers, married for centuries, although presently living apart. Adam, a reclusive, world-weary, rock musician, lives in a dusty, cluttered mansion in a dilapidated part of Detroit, while his spouse resides in the livelier city of Tangiers. Adam’s polar opposite, Eve is a joyous spirit, in love with life, art, literature, and music - and without her Adam is incomplete.

Though still madly in love, their separation is one of necessity. Human blood can hardly be trusted nowadays. What with drugs and disease ‘n’ all, it has become hopelessly contaminated. Thus, Adam gets his supply of “the good stuff” from Dr. Watson (Jeffrey Wright), a local medical supplier, while Eve gets hers from Christopher Marlow (a crusty, old John Hurt), yes, the very same author who is believed to be the real author behind Shakespeare’s work.  They are classy, erudite and sophisticated, with impeccable taste developed over hundreds of years.

Adam listens to classic rock vinyl and collects vintage guitars provided by his young roadie/admirer/assistant Ian (Anton Yelchin), while Eve is a linguist and avid reader. They discuss art and literature endlessly over the phone, but at some point (about 40 minutes into the picture), their physical separation becomes unendurable, and Eve flies to join her husband in Detroit.

Immediate bliss, a continuation of the longest love affair in history. The couple lounge around the house, listening to great music, drinking premium blood, making love, talking of old times and friends, and go for a nocturnal spin through the bankrupt city in Adam’s old Jag convertible. Tilda Swinton (with long platinum-white hair) puts in an unusually warm and tender performance, enlivening the relationship, for Hiddleston’s character of Adam, with the look of a rock star, is far more reserved. Their passionate idyll, however, is soon disrupted by the sudden appearance of Eve’s younger vampire sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska), whose wild and blood-thirsty ways not only shatter their tranquility but put their very existence in danger.

So much so that the couple decides to hotfoot it back to Tangiers, where they can count on a continued and reliable supply of nourishment. But when this unexpectedly dries up, they are forced to compromise their sophisticated lifestyle and explore more traditional options.

Nominated for last year’s Palme D’Or, ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE is a treat, both visually and musically. A surprising Christmas release in Germany, it opened on December 25th, although it is not scheduled for release in the US until this coming April.

* * *

ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE - (UK/Germany, 2013); Running time: 123 mins; Writer/Dir: Jim Jarmusch; Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton, Mia Wasikowska, John Hurt, Anton Yelchin; Cinematographer: Yorick le Saux; Production designer: Marco Bittner Rosser; Music: Jozef van Wissem, Sqürl; Distributors/Release dates: Sony Pictures Classic, 11. April, 2014 (USA) / Pandora Filmverleih, 25. December, 2013 (Germany)

by: Geraldine Blecker

THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG

29. December 13 , 14:07

Welcome back to Middle-Earth!

Frankfurt/Main, Germany (Weltexpress). More than two weeks after its release, THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG is still topping the international box office. Undoubtedly the definitive picture of this year’s holiday season, it has already grossed over $500 million at the worldwide box office (nearly $161 mill. of that in the US alone), and looks set to top the $1 billion mark earned by its predecessor.
 
If last year’s AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY felt like an eternity of dwarfing around and philosophizing, the epic finally kicks off this time around in Peter Jackson’s second, equally lavish, Hobbit adventure. At 161 minutes, it’s actually 9 minutes shorter and part 2 of the saga has far more going for it, with a veritable surge of 3D-enhanced thrills and spills.

While Jackson’s RING trilogy had a certain heroic purity - as valiant and crucial as the mission itself - this 3-parter seems a much more revenue-based venture, as it spins out Tolkein’s slim narrative about a group of dwarfs on a quest to regain their homeland. Even the most ardent Hobbit fans might find themselves on an overly-extended expedition, although the trusty writing team of Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Guillermo del Toro have fleshed out the slender storyline with extra material from Tolkein’s UNFINISHED TALES.

The film opens with a prologue flashing back to an earlier meet at a wayside tavern between Thorn Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), heir to the kingdom of Erebor, and Gandalf the Grey (Ian Mckellen), to set up the plot. Here, they thrash out a scheme to recover the mighty Arkenstone and reclaim the dwarfs’ subterranean realm from the evil dragon Smaug. To achieve this, the services of a talented “burglar” are required - none other than Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman).

Flash forward to where THE HOBBIT left off: Bilbo, Gandalf, Thorin, and his 12 grumpy dwarf followers, have just accepted the frightening hospitality of skin-changer Beorn (Mikael Persbrandt), sometimes bear/sometimes man, en route through the dark forest of Mirkwood. After Gandalf departs on a personal errand, the purpose of which I found somewhat baffling, the action kicks off with a vengeance when the group is suddenly attacked by a ghastly swarm of giant spiders in a scene so frightening that I had to creep out for a smoke! It is only Bilbo’s presence of mind and his clever use of the Ring that allows the company to escape.

Freedom, however, is short-lived, for the group is almost immediately captured by the Wood Elves of Thranduil, which is where we meet a familiar face: None other than the warrior Legolas (Orlando Bloom), despite the fact that this character never actually appeared in the original book. And he is joined by another new figure - the only female in the cast - the Elfish warrior maiden Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) - who prevents the movie from being a boys’ only adventure.

The group’s subsequent bold escape, elves and orcs in hot pursuit is, without doubt, the film’s action highlight. Floating in barrels down a raging river, fending off nasty orcs all the while - elves & dwarfs in temporary alliance - makes for a really humorous and thrilling sequence. Things then slow down a touch as the travelers make their way into Laketown, smuggled in by the canny bargeman Bard (Luke Evans), where they manage to wreak plenty of havoc.

With the Lonely Mountain in sight, the company has one final obstacle to overcome before reaching their goal. The money-grubbing Town Master (played by a very rumpled-looking Stephen Fry) only lets them go on once Thorin has promised to share the loot he is expecting to reclaim.

And so, at last, the company arrives at Erebor to confront the dwarfs’ age-old nemesis: the evil dragon Smaug. There’s been lots of hype about Benedict Cumberbatch’s voicing of this character, but his voice has been so distorted and effects-enhanced that it quite honestly could have been anybody, although the growling tone is sufficiently sonorous. Be that as it may, Bilbo is dispatched into the dragon’s lair to retrieve the mighty “Arkenstone” - integral to defeating Smaug - and his efforts awaken the scaly monster. Suffice it to say, Smaug does not instantly scorch the intruder to perdition, but chooses to indulge in some endless-seeming monologues - I guess if you had been asleep for a few hundred years, you might want to have a chat, as well - but the subsequent action eventually leads to a good cliff-hanger of an ending, nicely paving the way for the last part of the trilogy: next year’s THERE AND BACK AGAIN.  

The New Zealand backdrops are as spectacular as ever, courtesy of Andrew Lesnie’s cinematographic expertise, although the total effect was somewhat bleached by the 48fps version I was subjected to. It had the appearance of event TV, to be quite honest, although 3D certainly enhanced much of the experience: from the spiders’ diaphanous webs and the raging-river escape sequence, to the rivers of gold sliding beneath Bilbo’s feet during his confrontation with Smaug.

The sets created by production designer Dan Hennach and his team are also dazzling, especially Laketown - a cross between a Tudor village and Venice, well-combined with Weta’s first class visual effects.

Performances are skilled, especially Freeman’s Bilbo Baggins, with subtle shades of the insidious pull that the Ring is slowly but inexorably exerting upon him. The warrior elves are sufficiently agile and heroic, the dwarfs sufficiently grumpy, Gandalf sufficiently mysterious and, although Gollum is missing in this episode, Andy Serkis is still very much present in his function as second unit  director, as he is on the other two Hobbit films.

All in all, despite the occasional tedious stretches, I found it truly delightful to be transported back to Middle-Earth, were it not for Howard Shore’s flamboyantly unimaginative, non-stop score.

* * *

THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG; Fantasy/Adventure; Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures; Running time: 161 Mins; Director: Peter Jackson; Writers: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Guillermo del Toro; (based on J.R.R. Tolkein’s novel); Cast: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellan, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Stephen Fry, Richard Armitage, Luke Evans, Stephen Fry, Benedict Cumberbatch (voice); Cinematographer: Andrew Lesnie; Music: Howard Shore; M Release dates: US (Dec. 13) / Germany (Dec. 12).

by: Geraldine Blecker

INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS

06. December 13 , 13:15

The Answer is Blowing in the Wind

Frankfurt / Germany (Weltexpress). Winner of this year’s Grand Prix at Cannes, only one of many awards, nominations, and accolades, the eagerly-awaited new film by the Brothers Coen hits international screens this weekend.

Winter 1961, the place: Greenwich Village, NY. Loosely based on Dave Van Ronk's memoir The Mayor of MacDougal Street, INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS portrays what must have been one of the most tedious, monotonal eras of music history - post-Elvis and pre-Dylan/Beatles - the folk music scene.

It’s a tough world for musicians in general and certainly no exception for itinerant folk singer Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac). As part of a duo, he had been close to a career breakthrough until his partner leapt off the George Washington Bridge. Things have been going downhill ever since. Wandering the streets with guitar in one hand and a box of unsold solo LPs in the other: no bread, no crib, hardly any friends, with not even a decent winter coat to his name.

His miserable situation leaves him little option but to sponge off his acquaintances, colleagues and friends, such as they are, for a place to spend the night. And this becomes ever more difficult to organize as his eccentricity and self-absorption have pretty much alienated everyone he knows. Even the kind-hearted musician couple Jim and Jean, who have regularly provided refuge, are gradually getting pissed off. But a new door suddenly opens for the passionate folk singer: a possible spot in a major Chicago club. All he has to do is get there… 

As the film opens, our hero is onstage, performing a monotonous folk song (at length) - which he certainly plays and sings well enough - at the Greenwich Village folk club where he appears regularly. Subsequently called outside, he then gets the crap beaten out of him in the back alley, for reasons which we will discover by movie’s end. As the film also closes with this scene, the storyline effectively goes full-circle. 

Joel & Ethan Coen, in their inimitable style, follow the odyssey of the wandering minstrel as he seeks a place to crash - a couch, a floor, a park bench. Sometimes he even gets to sleep in a proper bed with a hot meal inside him: most recently, courtesy of an older, middle-class couple of true-blue, peace-loving folk fans. Llewyn repays their hospitality the next morning by accidentally locking their cat out of the apartment as he is leaving. What to do with it? As self-centered as he is, Llewyn can’t quite bring himself to abandon it and so, tucking it under one arm, he takes the cat with him, on the subway, on his daily depressing round of finding a paying gig, and a crash pad for the night ahead…

Actor/musician Oscar Isaac plays the talented and moody Llewyn Davis. Perfect casting. As too, the other roles: folk music couple Jim and Jean (Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan, respectively), John Goodman, who plays a legendary former musician and drug addict, pontificating from the back seat of the limo that offers Llewyn a ride on his way to Chicago, and Bud Grossman (F.Murray Abraham), Chicago club-owner who auditions Llewyn and ultimately tells him that he is wasting his time. The cat, however, is the star of the show, as far as I’m concerned, anyway, and provides continuity throughout the film. Llewyn and the cat need each other, and these sequences show that there is possibly more to the temperamental, egoist than possibly meets the eye. The journey is dark, but the Coens alleviate it with some sparkling dialogue and their special brand of sardonic humor. 

I, however, had some trouble appreciating this “masterpiece”, as some of my more high-brow colleagues have chosen to describe it. There is little character development: Let’s face it, Llewyn Davis is a highly unsympathetic figure who changes not one iota throughout. Nor is there very much of a plot apart from the singer’s depressing journey from rags to even more rags. Folk music, too - and certainly that of the pre-Dylan era - is just about my least favorite musical genre and, added to all that, I am in the unfortunate position of knowing too many artists in the same situation as Mr. Davis. (a good pal of mine in LA is a stand-up comic who, I believe, is still living in his car). That being said, talented or not, an artist’s life is tough, but Llewyn Davis did not manage to generate much sympathy.

* * *

INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS (USA, 2013); Running time: 105 mins; Writer/Directors: Joel & Ethan Coen; Cast: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman, Garrett Hedlund; Cinematographer: Bruno Delbonnel; Original music: T Bone Burnett; Distributors/Release dates: StudioCanal, 5. Dec (Germany) / Lionsgate, 20. Dec. (US)

THE COUNSELOR - (USA/UK, 2013)

01. December 13 , 12:28

Yet another “Masterpiece”

Frankfurt, Germany (Weltexpress). I am always somewhat wary when a movie is hailed as a “Masterpiece”. But how could it be otherwise with such an illustrious director as Ridley Scott (ALIEN, BLADE RUNNER, GLADIATOR) at the helm, a script by Cormac McCarthy (NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, THE ROAD) and such prominent award-winning personages as Brad Pitt, Javier Bardem, Cameron Diaz, Michael Fassbender, Penelope Cruz or Bruno Ganz in front of the camera?

Yet unfortunately, anyone expecting aforesaid “masterpiece” is likely to be bitterly disappointed by THE COUNSELOR. In fact, sad to say, I have just added Ridley Scott to my list of major cult directors who, based on their most recent work - likewise acclaimed as “Masterpieces” - should be put out to graze (see below).

50 SHADES OF GRAY meets Oliver Stone’s SAVAGES in this convoluted and highly pretentious offering set in the border towns of El Paso, Tex, and Juarez, Mex. The plot, such as it is, revolves around a lawyer who gets caught up in a drug deal that goes seriously south, leaving him and all he loves at tender mercy of the Mexican cartel.

THE COUNSELOR opens with some soft core porn between the Counselor (Michael Fassbender) and his lady love (Penelope Cruz), which seems to go on forever. Presumably to provide the motivation for the lawyer to get involved in a dubious business transaction, the implication being that he needs to make a quick financial killing in order to keep his lady in the style to which she is (or would like to become) accustomed. 

Cameron Diaz © 20th Century FoxWe then follow the counselor as he meets with various compadres, primarily his partner, night club owner Reiner (Javier Bardem) and middle man Westray (Brad Pitt), where much philosophical discourse takes place amidst the dirty talk, although the deal itself is never clearly explained. Also in the mix is Reiner’s sexy girlfriend Malkina (Cameron Diaz), a manipulative, bling-festooned (even in the sauna!) sex machine, who seems to exercise far too much influence on her lover for the Counselor’s liking. That she is cold and savage is portrayed by her penchant for hunting in the desert with her pet cheetahs. Various other characters make brief appearances, to no specific purpose apart from more pontificating, such as Bruno Ganz as a diamond merchant in Antwerp, and Rosie Perez as an interred prisoner, whom the counselor has been appointed to defend - the only time, as it happens, that we actually see the counselor do any lawyering. 

Be all that as it may, the long and short of it - and it takes a very long time to get there - is that the truck transporting 40 tons of best quality Mexican weed is hijacked. And someone has to pay… 

Penélope Cruz © 20th Century FoxHigh-brow critique and hype aside, THE COUNSELOR is a very poor excuse for a dramatic thriller, making you feel ten steps behind the plot, with little character development. And this puts you at a loss to comprehend just why the various characters are doing what they do. With the exception of Ms. Cruz, who has little to do other than fake the occasional orgasm, all the females are stereotype skanks, clothed or unclothed accordingly, and most of the males are thieves or bandits, albeit with a philosophical bent. It is impossible to relate to, or care about what happens to any of them, quite frankly.

Michael Fassbender puts in a convincing performance, breaking down in snot-flowing despair when events take their inevitable course, while everyone else is pretty much over the top, especially Ms. Diaz as the ruthless, black-widow villainess. Both Javier Bardem and Brad Pitt would obviously prefer to be somewhere else. Yet, as one would expect from a Ridley Scott production, the visuals are lush, the cinematography first class, the editing competent. Daniel Pemberton’s score, if not exactly plagiarized, was certainly “inspired”, shall we say, by classic Morricone. But all that is to no avail with bland performances and a story trying so hard to be cryptic that it virtually disappears up its own enigmatic orifice.

Javier Bardem © 20th Century FoxTo be kind, one should possibly bear in mind that filming was interrupted by the sudden death of Ridley’s brother and co-director Tony Scott, which must certainly have had an adverse effect on the production. Still, I can’t help wondering what could have possessed the studio, the producers, the director and financiers to even consider producing THE COUNSELOR in the first place. Cormac McCarthy’s former works have been novels adapted for the screen and this is, apparently, his very first screenplay. Perhaps it should also be his last.

* * *

The Counselor - USA/UK, 2013; Running time: 116 mins; Distributor: 20th Century Fox; Director: Ridley Scott; Writer: Cormac McCarthy; Cast: Michael Fassbender, Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem, Brad Pitt, Rosie Perez; Cinematographer: Dariusz Wolski; Music: Daniel Pemberton; Release dates: 22.Nov. (USA) / 21. Nov.(Gemany)

List of cult directors who should be put out to graze, in alphabetical order:

Brian De Palma for PASSION

Terence Malik for TO THE WONDER

Walter Salles for ON THE ROAD 

M. Night Shalyman for AFTER EARTH

Ridley Scott for THE COUNSELOR

Oliver Stone for SAVAGES 

Nicolas Winding Refn for ONLY GOD FORGIVES

Von: Geraldine Blecker

THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE - (USA, 2013)

30. November 13 , 21:41
 
One Spark is all it takes!

Frankfurt am Main, Germany (Weltexpress). Winning the 74th Annual Hunger Games should have guaranteed Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and her fellow tribute and make-believe lover Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) a safe and comfortable future. But her defiance of the Capitol and all it stands for - and President Snow (Donald Sutherland) in particular - cannot be allowed to go unpunished. Especially as her courage seems to have infected the oppressed populace of Panem and ignited the spark of revolution.

But there is little time to savor the joys of home before the couple has to set out on the mandatory Victory Tour throughout the 13 districts: a lavish, over-the-top media event, televised worldwide. As the tour progresses and signs of rebellion become more pronounced, Snow suddenly decides to change the long-established rules and send all former victors back into the arena for the Quarter Quell, the 75th Hunger Games. Hoping to kill two birds with one stone, as it were. For now Katniss and Peeta must once again fight for their lives - this time against the best of the best. Although it is soon clear that this round of the Hunger Games is only part of a bigger plan that could change the fate of Panem forever…

This is a different Katniss to the naive girl who volunteered for the Hunger Games in place of her younger sister Prim (Willow Shields) only the year before. Disdainful and bored by the endless superficiality and over-indulgence of the Capitol and the victory circus, complete with the same team of stylists (headed up by the indefatigable Elizabeth Banks as Effy Trinket), costume designers (Lenny Kravitz), reality show host (Stanley Tucci), and make-up artists, et al, she yearns to escape from it all with her one true love, Gale (Liam Hemsworth). Yet dare not risk the vengeance President Snow would wreak upon their families.

Katniss and Peeta nicely play out their fabricated romance on TV and various celebrity appearances during the tour and Trish Summerville’s spectacular costumes are worthy of special mention, if not an Oscar nomination. Effie’s Victorian outfits are outrageous, while the gowns created for Katniss are truly astonishing.

Director Francis Lawrence (I AM LEGEND, WATER FOR ELEPHANTS) has replaced Gary Ross as director for this second installment of Suzanne Collins’ hugely popular THE HUNGER GAMES trilogy. Released only last week, CATCHING FIRE has already grossed $333 million worldwide (more than half in the US alone), and looks to outdo its predecessor, which generated nearly $700 million.

© StudioCanalLawrence has taken his time building up to the exciting gladiatorial sequences of the Quarter Quell, the 75th anniversary of the rebellion that left District 13 in ruins. Relationships are reestablished, familiar characters return and new ones introduced. Staying faithful to the novel, screenwriters Simon Beaufoy and Michael deBruyn have carefully and cleverly portrayed the circumstances in which Katniss and Peeta now find themselves (at the point where THE HUNGER GAMES left off) without the need for any reviews, recaps or “previously on the Hunger Games…”, Even those unfamiliar with the first movie or the novels will soon get the gist of what is going on.

Once the players arrive in the arena for the Quell, the drama and excitement intensify. Not only must they battle each other, but also overcome the various nightmarish perils contrived by the Capitol to make the Game more exciting and blood-thirsty for the audience’s entertainment: toxic fog, voracious apes, tidal waves, blood rain and a lethal electric storm. New allies and opponents include the flashy Finnick Odair, (Sam Clafin), the radical Jena Malone (Johanna Mason), and technical genius Beetee (Jeffrey Wright), all of whom perfectly embody Collins’ original characters. The hugely versatile Stanley Tucci returns in the unlikely role of the flamboyant reality show host complete with pompadour and eye make-up, while Woody Harrelson plays the couple’s alcoholic mentor Haymitch. The cast is also enhanced by the addition of Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Heavensbee, Head Gamemaker, who is much more than he would at first appear.

But it is Jennifer Lawrence’s scorching performance as Katniss Everdene that literally lights up the screen. Dynamic, powerful and highly intelligent, Katniss is fully aware of her role as a tool in a Machiavellian power play. Her expressive mixture of strength and vulnerability - often both at the same time - is utterly compelling.

Whereas a jerky handheld camera technique was often employed in the first motion picture, Lawrence has opted for a more composed, cinematic look, which is a definite improvement. Visually impressive, compliments to DP Jo Willems, underlined by a good score (courtesy of James Newton Howard), great action, talented performances and an intelligent script - What more could you want? A must-see for all ages.

THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE (US, 2013); Running time: 146 mins; Director: Francis Lawrence; Writers: Simon Beaufoy, Michael deBruyn (screenplay)/Suzanne Collins (novel); CAST: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Elizabeth Banks, Sam Slaflin, Jena Malone, Woody Harrelson, Alan Ritchson, Stanley Tucci, Willow Shields, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Donald Sutherland, Geoffrey Wright; Cinematographer: Jo Willems; Music: James Newton Howard; Distributors/Release dates: Lionsgate, 22 Nov (US) / StudioCanal, 21 Nov. (Germany)

Von:Geraldine Blecker

JACKPOT - (Norway, 2011)

19. November 13 , 10:21

Dishonor among Thieves

Frankfurt, Germany (Weltexpress). At a plastic Christmas tree factory in Norway, three hardnosed ex-cons and their supervisor, Oscar, club together for a lottery ticket and win the jackpot: 1.7 million kroner. But when it comes to sharing the loot, guns are loaded and blades are honed as unity and friendship swiftly give way to greed. And before very long, the death toll is rising and body parts are scattered far and wide.
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This macabre, yet hugely entertaining Nordic thriller begins just before Xmas in a sleazy dive on the border between Norway and Sweden. Opening just as a violent shoot-out takes place, the police arrive at the scene to find bodies all over the place, and only one survivor. Oscar (Kyrre Hellum): drenched in blood and out-cold beneath the dead body of a fat, blowsy stripper - clutching a shotgun. It seems a no-brainer for the cops. But as Oscar’s tale unfolds in a series of flashbacks, sardonic police inspector Solør (Henrik Mestad) is ever more amazed to find that his bizarre tale seems to make some kind of weird sense.  

Completed in 2010, the movie was aimed for pre-Xmas 2011 release in Norway, albeit JACKPOT is as far removed from standard seasonal fare as one could possibly imagine. That being said, little plastic tannenbaums of various hues and shades (including blood-red at one point) do keep popping up in the factory where we meet Oscar and his workmates: Billy the psychopath (Arthur Berning), Thor the dummy, (Mads Ousdal), and creepy Dan (Andreas Cappelen). Not exactly the sharpest knives in the drawer, their attempts to bump each other off - using whatever comes to hand - are as inventive as they are absurd.

There’s something about the Land of the Midnight Sun that evokes dark, violent crime - at least in literature - as evidenced by the huge popularity of the blood-soaked novels of Stig Larsen and his successor Jo Nesbo, whose novel HEADHUNTERS was successfully filmed only last year, and is soon to be followed by THE SNOWMAN with Martin Scorsese at the helm.

A tale of dishonor among thieves based on an original story by the formidable Jo Nesbo, Magnus Martens’ JACKPOT is a polished, fast-paced, super-violent black comedy. With terrific performances, great timing, sharp dialogue and a roguish plot that twists and turns until the final gunshot resounds. A true Christmas treat!

* * *

JACKPOT (Norway, 2011); Genre: Black-comedy/crime; Running time: 82 Mins; Director: Magnus Martens; Writers: Magnus Martens (screenplay), Jo Nesbo (story); Cast: Kyrre Hellum, Mads Ousdal, Henrik Mestad, Arthur Berning, Andreas Cappelen, Lena Kristin Ellingsen, Fridtjov Saheim. (Norwegian, Swedish dialogue); Cinematographer: Trond Hoines; Music: Magnus Belte; Distributors/Release date: NFP, Nov. 14 (Germany)

CAPTAIN PHILLIPS - (USA, 2013)

16. November 13 , 14:10

A tale of two captains

Frankfurt, Germany (Weltexpress). Based on a true-life event that made the news four years ago, British film maker Paul Greengrass (BLOODY SUNDAY, UNITED 93), tells of the traumatic ordeal suffered by container ship captain Richard Phillips, based on the Captain’s memoirs, A CAPTAIN'S DUTY: SOMALI PIRATES, NAVY SEALS, AND DANGEROUS DAYS AT SEA, adapted for the screen by Billy Ray (BREACH, SHATTERED GLASS).

In his inimitable documentary style, Greengrass follows the ill-fated voyage of the huge container vessel Maersk Alabama, as it departs the port of Oman and is hijacked by Somali pirates en route to Mombassa. Culminating in the Captain’s dramatic rescue by Navy Seals after four days held hostage.

The story begins as Phillips departs Norfolk, Virginia, taking leave of his wife (Catherine Keener). He expresses his unease with the current assignment and the lack of security, giving a kind of prophetic character to the subsequent events. We then cut to a fishing village on the Somali mainland to meet the pirates. Their leader Abduwali Muse (Barkhad Abdi), himself a mere lackey, is beholden to those far higher up in the huge piracy food chain. Without any moralizing, Greengrass shows us what the media didn’t: the wretchedness that drove these people to perform such a desperate attack and take on the might of the US Navy.

© Columbia PicturesWhat we don’t see in the film, and what only came to light much later, is that only 24 hours earlier, on 7th April, 2009, the US Maritime Administration had issued a Somalia Gulf of Aden advisory, strongly warning ships to keep at least 600 nautical miles (1,100 km) off the Somali coast. Whether the Captain did not get the warning in time, or whether it was simply ignored, is a matter of conjecture. Be that as it may, on April 8, 2009, the Maersk Alabama was boarded by pirates only 240 nautical miles southeast of the Somali port of Eyi.

First arriving in two small open skiffs, hardly equipped to keep up with the speed of the Alabama, the marauders are soon chased off. But it is clear that they will return. SOS messages are transmitted, which go unanswered. The pirates are soon back - only four of them in one skiff this time - but are thwarted by the huge vessel’s pressurized water jets and various other evasive tactics. Undeterred, they come again, firing semi-automatics, and before too long, grappling hooks are flung and the Alabama is boarded.

© Columbia PicturesMost of the picture’s first half deals with Phillips’ attempts to protect his crew, who have been sent to hide in the dark bowels of the engine room, and trying to bribe the attackers into beating a retreat with $30,000 cash from the safe. No deal. They are expecting to come away with millions. God help them if they don’t. Just after half-time, the engineers are able to regain control of the ship from below, rendering the bridge controls useless. Frustrated and furious at losing the vessel and its valuable cargo, the pirates abandon ship, escaping in one of the Alabama’s lifeboats, taking Phillips with them as a hostage.

Once the pirates flee with their hostage in tow, the film’s atmosphere contracts from the relative spaciousness of the container ship to the claustrophobic interior of the lifeboat capsule. Grimy, cramped and sweltering, you can almost smell the sweat of fear and the tension as the tiny craft heads towards Somalia - and its inevitable encounter with a US naval destroyer. On April 12th, Navy Seal marksmen from the USS Bainbridge opened fire, killing three of the pirates and rescuing Phillips, relatively unscathed. Muse, the pirate leader, was already onboard the destroyer negotiating for Phillips’ release. He surrendered and was consequently arrested. Muse was later sentenced to 33 years in prison.

Although it probably happened just as depicted - they do say that truth is stranger than fiction - I was disturbed by what seemed to be the absolute absurdity of the situation. In the US, where people casually take assault rifles with them into movie theatres and elementary schools, here we are in the Bay of Somalia, known to be infested with pirates, and the entire 20-man crew appears to have had nothing more than a penknife between them. Allowing the enormous vessel - carrying 17,000 metric tons of cargo (5,000 of which consisted of relief supplies bound for Somalia, Uganda, and Kenya - there’s irony for you) to actually be boarded by four scrawny, half-starved Somalis in an open 28 ft. skiff! Apparently in real life, the pirate captain was only 15 or 16 years old at the time - that takes some balls!

© Columbia PicturesWhile the director’s former documentary-like features mainly focused on group dynamics, CAPTAIN PHILLIPS very much revolves around the interaction between the two captains: the veteran American officer, calm and unpretentious on the one side and the explosive, khat-chewing pirate leader on the other. Abdi, a Somali immigrant to the US in his first film role, puts in a truly remarkable performance. Exploited and browbeaten, now it is his turn to call the shots. And he does so with a greedy and frightening intensity. Anything could tip him over the edge. Hanks is true to form as the besieged captain playing an average Joe coping with a dangerous situation - a role he’s played many times before, so it’s hardly any stretch for his considerable talents. Nevertheless, with Oscar season just around the corner he is doubtless in line for a Best Actor nomination.

CAPTAIN PHILLIPS has already grossed $129 mill. at the worldwide box office, recouping its $55 mill. budget twofold, so I guess its popularity is beyond dispute. Yet, despite the gritty recounting of this real-life tale, it somehow fails to connect on an emotional level. Not helped by the jerky handheld camera - almost a constant. But maybe seasickness is supposed to add to the feeling of reality.

* * *

CAPTAIN PHILLIPS (USA, 2013); Running time: 133 Mins; Director: Paul Greengrass; Screenplay: Billy Ray, based on the book A CAPTAIN'S DUTY: SOMALI PIRATES, NAVY SEALS, AND DANGEROUS DAYS AT SEA by Richard Phillips with Stephan Talty; Cast: Tom Hanks, Catherine Keener, Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, Faysal Ahmed, Mahat M. Ali, Michael Chernus, Corey Johnson, Max Martini, Chris Mulkey, Yul Vazquez, David Warshofsky; Cinematographer: Barry Ackroyd; Music: Henry Jackman; Distributors/Release dates: Columbia Pictures, 11. October (US) / Sony Pictures Releasing, 14. November (Germany)
See trailer: www.captainphillips.de/

Von: Geraldine Blecker

BLUE JASMINE - (USA, 2013)

10. November 13 , 19:10
 
A remarkable and, at times, heartbreaking film and certainly one of the best dramas of the year
 
Frankfurt, Germany (Weltexpress). BLUE JASMINE must be Woody Allen’s finest work to date. And that’s saying something for a gentleman pushing 80 with 4 Oscar wins and at least 15 nominations (Best Director and Screenplay) already under his belt. Not to mention a plethora of other accolades over the decades. A superlative work of incredible pathos and wry humor that is perfect in all respects: writing, directing, acting, cinematography, editing, as well as Allen’s legendary choice of music.
 
We first meet Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) just after her world has fallen apart. Flying from New York to San Francisco, she babbles non-stop to her seatmate, whose eyes soon start glazing over, about everything from her medication - vodka is more effective - to her ex-husband - super rich and powerful - to her former lifestyle - ultra luxurious - to her sister’s boyfriends  - crude louts - and her plans to start a new life on the west coast. The whole interspersed with quick flashbacks in illustration. All in only the first few minutes...

Brandishing a sense of privilege as infinite as it is unfounded; Jasmine is a shallow, pompous, patronizing woman, humorless yet inadvertently droll, teetering on the edge of a nervous breakdown, which she keeps at bay with regular doses of vodka and tranqs. Nevertheless, by film’s end, she will have touched your heart. Blanchett’s performance is astonishing.

© Warner Bors.BLUE JASMINE is Allen’s take on A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE with a touch of the Ruth Madoff story thrown in. Blanche Dubois and Jasmine, both, are thrust into hard times, ill-equipped to deal with financial crisis. Both are psychologically frail, arrogant, with no time or patience for the less fortunate.

Jasmine’s former husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) symbolizes the unbridled greed and criminal sense of entitlement that triggered the recent financial meltdown. In a series of flashbacks, we return to happier days, when Hal was the head of a hugely profitable yet dubious financial firm. Jasmine, as blind to her husband’s shady dealings - or so she maintains - as she was to his numerous romantic escapades, is horrified to learn that he has been having an affair with one of her so-called best friends - among many, many others over the years.

© Warner Bors.Things get worse. With all funds seized and Hal carted off to jail, Jasmine is out on a limb. In desperation, she descends on her adoptive sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins), a humble supermarket cashier living in a lowly apartment in San Fran with her two small sons. To Jasmine, it is a cultural wake-up call, especially when she meets Chili (Bobby Cannavale), Ginger’s latest, lout of a boyfriend. Pulling no punches, he gets right to the point: She can’t sponge off her sister forever; she must have some future plans… Jasmine finds this as offensive as she does painful. For she is ill-equipped to do much more than go shopping, host fundraisers, or have lunch. But Chili has some contacts, although obviously less salubrious than those to which she is accustomed and, through a pal, finds her a mundane job as a dental receptionist.

Jasmine obviously has something more appropriate (or glamorous) in mind. She fantasizes about going back to school, learning to be an interior designer, perhaps, after she’s done a computer course, naturally… But with no immediate options, she takes the job. This is where we meet the randy dentist Dr. Flicker (Michael Stuhlbarg) - a role that a younger Woody Allen, I’m sure, would have conceived for himself. Needless to say, Jasmine repels his unwelcome advances and is soon out of a job.  
© Warner Bors.Andrew Dice Clay plays Ginger’s first husband Augie. In a further flashback, we see them visiting the couple in New York, where they are treated like unwanted vermin. Augie has made a sudden windfall and asks Hal’s financial advice. He comes up with a surefire investment opportunity and has soon swindled his sister and brother-in-law out of their modest savings. But Ginger doesn’t seem to bear a grudge. Jasmine’s polar opposite, she is comfortable with her modest lifestyle and doesn’t necessarily feel deserving of something better. Not even a classier boyfriend. Although Jasmine’s constant harping - she loathes Chili and everything he stands for - ultimately persuades her to start looking elsewhere.

The sisters go to a party where Ginger meets Al (Louis C.K.). Hardly rich, but gainfully employed as a sound engineer, he seems sweet, genuine, and a cut above her usual choice of partners. They hit it off and she is soon involved in an affair and hoping it will lead somewhere. At the same time, Jasmine meets Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard), an attractive widower and diplomat, considering a move into politics. Finally someone of her own class, a social equal and the perfect candidate to help get her life back on track. He is immediately smitten by her beauty and style. Even recognizes her designer labels. It would seem the perfect match. Thus, Jasmine reinvents herself, with a brand new back-story to go with the chic ensemble.

© Warner Bors.A brilliant treatise on social class, perspectives and the power of invention. Throughout, Jasmine veers wildly from idealistic fantasy to cruel reality in rapid succession, caught up in old pretensions and new deceits. She will arouse your compassion one moment, then make you want to knock some sense into her the next. Is there a happy ending for Jasmine? I won’t give it away, but there are some very surprising twists and turns. A remarkable and, at times, heartbreaking film and certainly one of the best dramas of the year.

It might be too soon to predict Oscar nominations, but my bet is that Ms. Blanchett will give Sandra Bullock a run for her money in the Best Actress category, and Woody Allen might well pocket his 5th Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. And maybe even a Best Director nomination to boot.

* * *
BLUE JASMINE (USA, 2013); Genre: Drama; Running time: 98 mins: Writer/Director: Woody Allen; Cast: Cate Blanchett, Sally Hawkins, Alec Baldwin, Bobby Cannavale, Andrew Dice Clay, Louis C.K., Peter Sarsgaard; Cinematographer: Javier Aguirresarobe; Distributors/Release dates: Sony Pictures Classics, 23. August (USA), Paramount Pictures, 7. Nov. (Germany)

Von: Geraldine Blecker

THE FIFTH ESTATE - (USA/Germany, 2013)

05. November 13 , 15:18

Does the end justify the means?

Frankfurt / Germany (Weltexpress). Bringing the story of WikiLeaks to the screen was doubtless a complicated and bold endeavor and, although the end result is a seeming attempt to get at the truth and tackle some of the very complex issues raised by the film, THE FIFTH ESTATE is ultimately a one-sided statement.

Alex Gibney’s documentary WE STEAL SECRETS: THE STORY OF WIKILEAKS was only released this past July. Gibney was not alone, however, in recognizing the cinematic potential of one of the biggest stories of the decade. Director Bill Condon (TWILIGHT SAGA, KINSEY, GODS AND MONSTERS) has staged a dramatic thriller based on two works by Daniel Domscheit-Berg and David Leigh/Luke Harding, respectively, with an eminent cast and a $28 million budget. Admittedly low by Hollywood standards.

Mostly from the point of view of young computer whiz-kid Daniel (Daniel Brühl), THE FIFTH ESTATE tells of how the website’s founder, former hacker and activist Julian Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch), recruits him to join his new venture. As their ideals appear to be in perfect sync, they start working together on the famed Internet platform that will enable whistleblowers to safely publish confidential information to the world at large - uncensored, unfiltered and in complete anonymity. Government secrets, war policy, espionage activities, industrial crime, furtive financial transactions, you name it… With Daniel’s help, Assange plans to disclose all this to the general public. His modest goal: to change the world.

© ConstantinAnd before too long, WikiLeaks is publishing information that even the world’s greatest news agencies had been unable to ferret out. Without any real financial backing, and pretending to have a worldwide team of reporters, researchers and technicians at hand - when it is actually just the two of them - they manage to break a number of major international scoops that gather huge attention and a significant following.

The early days are exhilarating and tumultuous, as they combine journalistic daring with innovative use of new media in a sort of multifaceted spy thriller swathed in high-tech flamboyance. The action moves from Iceland to Germany, from London to New York, to Norway and back, as they gain ever more credibility, as well as powerful enemies seeking their downfall. But when they suddenly come into possession of thousands of pages of confidential secret service documents, whose unedited publication puts innocent lives at risk, they must face the issue: Does the end truly justify the means?  

© ConstantinTo its credit, THE FIFTH ESTATE certainly tries, in the beginning at least, to present the story impartially, without overly demonizing Assange. With the character of Daniel, Condon emphasizes the decency and import of the duo’s ideals and common cause. The effect of their work is beyond dispute and, with more people able to fight injustice as resolutely as Julian Assange, the world might be a better place... Still, it is clearly Assange himself who ends up standing in the way of his own higher goals.

Unfortunately, this production, as well as Cumberbatch’s performance, lacks the necessary subtlety required to give the film more balance, especially in the third act. Apart from being overly long - it could have lost a good 30 minutes, at least - there are tedious interludes amidst the razzle-dazzle, where we are forced to watch programmers and hackers either sitting at their PCs, tapping on screens within screens, or partying at various conventions for what seems an interminable length of time. Non-linear, the film is interspersed with real footage and original news reports and, jumping back and forth, it is extremely difficult to follow the plot much of the time, unless one is very familiar with the real back-story.

© ConstantinInstead of building, the movie sort of impacts upon itself as the action moves towards WikiLeaks’ major revelation: the publication of thousands of US classified documents, courtesy of Edward Snowdon - equally hailed as hero and condemned as traitor and now, apparently, enjoying fresh employment in Moscow.

There is no question that Assange is a somewhat enigmatic figure, not easy to fathom. But as good as the portrayal may be - apart from a truly spastic dance sequence - from the outset, his interpretation relegates the WikiLeaks founder to a confused, floundering geek (“autistic”, in fact), and far from sympathetic.

Having seen Alex Gibney’s documentary so recently, which contained much archive material and live footage of Assange in action, the controversial gentleman in question comes across as anything but an autistic, helpless loony. He might, indeed, be an egoist, even a megalomaniac, but “live” he comes across as brilliant, dedicated, shrewd, convincing and hugely charismatic.

© ConstantinI am reminded of the recent - and not as dead as some would like us to believe - OCCUPY MOVEMENT, which was continually portrayed as consisting of bums and deadbeats and thus, no danger to the establishment and not to be taken seriously.  

From its promising beginnings, THE FIFTH ESTATE ultimately degenerates into a clash of egos and personalities, diluting the website’s many praiseworthy achievements. Condon’s take on Assange and his actions leads the film into the realms of a tragedy where the leading character’s flaws - or exaggerated sense of personal importance - doom his honorable endeavors to failure. There is a subtext here… Let’s not forget that this is a Hollywood production.

THE FIFTH ESTATE (German title: INSIDE WIKILEAKS - DIE FÜNFTE GEWALT);  Running time: 128 mins; Director: Bill Condon; Writers: Josh Singer (screenplay), based on books by Daniel Dormscheit-Berg, and David Leigh/Luke Harding; Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Brühl, Anthony Mackie, David Thewlis, Alicia Vikander, Peter Capaldi, Carice van Houten, Dan Stevens, Stanley Tucci, Laura Linney, Moritz Bleibtreu; Cinematographer: Music: Carter Burwell; Distributors/Release dates: Touchstone Pictures, October 11th (USA) / Constantin Film, 31. October (Germany)

Von: Geraldine Blecker

THOR - THE DARK WORLD - (USA, 2013)

02. November 13 , 12:43

With THOR - THE DARK WORLD, Marvel Studios brings us another spectacular adventure with the mighty hammer-wielding demi-god

Frankfurt / Germany (Weltexpress). This time, not only the Earth but all Nine Realms of Norse mythology are threatened by a dark foe - a foe older than the universe itself.

After the dramatic events of THOR (2011) and MARVEL’S THE AVENGERS, (2012), Thor tries once again to bring the power of the cosmos back into harmony. But with the vengeful Malkeith (Christopher Eccleston), leader of the Dark Elves, an old enemy returns, whose goal is to plunge the universe into eternal darkness. Not even Thor’s father, one-eyed Odin (Anthony Hopkins), King of Asgard, can stop him. In order to triumph over Malkeith, Thor must make his most perilous journey yet, which will not only reunite him with his mortal love Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) on Earth, but force him into a risky alliance with his deceitful half-brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston)…

GAME OF THRONES director Alan Taylor’s sequel to Kenneth Branagh’s original still spices the action with a sense of fun and absurdity like its predecessor. Although the plot is certainly convoluted and difficult to follow/swallow. Still, the visual similarities to GAME OF THRONES are not to be denied: darkness, dirt, dust, dirge, and doom, especially when the action shifts to London. Albeit in a grandiose style. I was always expecting someone to pop up and say: “Winter is coming and the night is filled with terrors!” Needless to say, the camera work, special effects and prosthetics are dizzying, yet somehow distracting for all that…

Try as it does to engage the viewer on an emotional level with elements of sadness, sorrow and suffering, somehow or other THOR 2 is stymied by its namesake. This glorious, hammer-wielding hulk from outer space is hard to take too seriously. Although Chris Hemsworth, (whom I far preferred behind the wheel of a Formula 1 racing car in RUSH), manages to achieve the right balance of stoic heroism and a knowing wink, despite various challenges, calamities and set-backs: be he dealing with a full out bombardment of Asgard, or bucking against paternal restraints. And once again, Loki steals the show with the best lines in the script.

Having been imprisoned for his treachery after the last picture, Loki is entertainingly broken out of his dungeon to play his brother’s reluctant ally. Together they venture forth to fight Malkeith and his badass elf army on the black sands of Svartalfheim; sequences that manage to haul the second act out of its despondency. Unfortunately there is little vigor in the earthbound scenes when Thor is reunited with astrophysicist Jane Foster. The Oscar-winning Portman is given little to do other than stumble upon the ancient weapon of mass destruction known as the “Aether” - which Malkeith is desperately seeking, in order to put his evil plans into motion - bitch at Thor for leaving her in the lurch, and generally play a damsel in distress, with some sorry dialogue to boot.

Swooping from lavish battle scene to humorous interlude to family ceasefire and back, there seems to be little consistency and even less concern for how it all hangs together. Five writers in all were involved: three for the screenplay and two to develop the story, possibly proving the truth of the old saying that “too many cooks spoil the broth”.

Still, the grand finale where Thor and Malkeith chase each other across multiple dimensions is as exciting as it is incomprehensible - so leave your brain at the door and enjoy the ride.

THOR - THE DARK WORLD (German title: THOR - THE DARK KINGDOM), USA, 2013; Genre; Fantasy/Action/Adventure; Running time: 112 Mins; Distributor: Walt Disney Studios; Director: Alan Taylor; Writers/screenplay: Christopher L. Yost, Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely;  Writers/story: Don Payne, Robert Rodat; Writers/comic: Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby; Cast: Chris Hemmsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Christopher Eccleston, Kat Dennings, Idris Elba, Jaimie Alexander, Ray Stevenson, Stellan Skarsgard; Cinematographer: Kramer Morgenthau; Music: Brian Tyler; Release dates: 31. October (Germany) / 8. Nov. (USA)

Von: Geraldine Blecker

ENDER'S GAME - (USA, 2013)

29. October 13 , 09:57

Coming of Age in Space

Frankfurt / Germany (Weltexpress). In 1985, Orson Scott Card published his novel ENDER’S GAME, which quickly became a modern sci-fi classic, to join the ranks of the 100 best books for teenagers and young adults. Despite the controversial themes, the novel and its sequels continue to enjoy enormous popularity. So it was merely a matter of time before this popular work, too, would be adapted for the big screen.
© Constantin Film

Although ENDER’S GAME kicks off with the standard backstay of an alien race having attacked Earth 50 years before (á la OBLIVION, ELYSIUM, et al) - with devastating effects - this sci-fi adventure soon takes a more weighty turn and actually finishes off by being somewhat introspective.

Expecting another attack and determined not to get caught again with its pants down, the military is preparing to lead a crushing pre-emptive strike against the insectoid, alien Formics. Scientific research has revealed that youngsters are more strategically adept than adults, thus potential candidates are already recruited in childhood. Fleet commander, Col. Hyrum Graff (Harrison Ford) has pinned his hopes on 12-year old Ender, played by Asa Butterfield (HUGO), whom he thinks has the potential strategic genius to destroy their enemies. This, despite the fact that the boy’s stronger and more seemingly-appropriate siblings have already failed the tough training program.

Thus conscripted, Ender joins the team of kiddy cadets and, together, they are swept off for serious physical and psychological training on the off-world space station. And, indeed, in the ensuing battle simulations, Ender not only reveals astonishing skill, but is also able to hold his own against some of his more envious rivals. The majority of the movie focuses on the kids’ tough training - nothing new here for fans of THE HUNGER GAMES or HARRY POTTER, but when push comes to shove, ENDER’S GAME offers far more gravitas, ultimately tackling such contentious issues as military tactics, the exploitation of minors, foreign policy, and genocide.

Gavin Hood (WOLVERINE, TSOTSI), screenwriter/director, although taking considerable liberties with the storyline and its focal points, has nevertheless managed to stay true to the spirit of the original. Although the plot is certainly predictable and there is a severe lack of non-stop action - which might disappoint many fans of the genre - Ender is a compelling character and, when the action scenes do occur - they are very exciting, with great visual effects and high production value.

* * *

ENDER’S GAME (German title: Das große Spiel) - USA, 2013; Genre: Sci-Fi adventure; Director/screenplay: Gavin Hood; Writer: Orson Scott Card (Novel); Cast: Asa Buttrfield, Harrison Ford, Viola Davis, Ben Kingsley, Alex Kurtzman, Robert Orci, Robert Chartoff, Lynn Hendee; Cinematographer: Donald M. McAlpine; Music: Steve Jablonsky; Distributors/Release dates: Constantin Film, Oct. 24 (Germany) / Summikt Entertainment, Nov. 1 (USA)

Von: Geraldine Blecker

FILTH - (UK/Germany, 2013)

21. October 13 , 18:47

Not for the squeamish!

Frankfurt, Germany (Weltexpress). For my US readers, who are highly unlikely to ever see this movie in the theaters, FILTH has a double meaning. Apart from the traditional meaning of dirt, grime, smut, muck and general depravity, it is also an affectionate British term for the cops, as in one thief saying to the other, “Keep an eye out for the Filth!”

And in this latest Irvine Welsh (TRAINSPOTTING) screen adaptation, both meanings come to the fore. Against all odds, director Jon S. Baird (CASS, GREEN STREET) has successfully managed to transport Welsh’s bizarre novel to the big screen. No easy task, loaded as it is with delirium, delusion, drugs and decadence of all kinds - not to mention the fact that not one sympathetic character appears throughout. This includes the leading role of corrupt Detective Sargeant Bruce Robinson: an obnoxious drunk, cocaine addict and opportunistic bully, gloriously played by James McAvoy (ATONEMENT, THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND) - as we have never seen him before. He swears, snorts, slurs, shags, staggers, swaggers, and swindles his way towards promotion in an attempt to win back his estranged wife and daughter, all the while treating his friends even worse than his rivals. McAvoy has gone back to his Scots roots for this one, with an accent so thick I was grateful for the German subtitles!

© Ascot Elite FilmverleihBaird takes us on an ironic, non-linear excursion into the sleazy underbelly of Edinburgh - with a brief side trip to Hamburg - and introduces us to a parade of off-beat characters: the cops, the criminals, the friends and the wives, entertainingly slotted into the collage. The movie’s visual style is just as schizoid as the narrative, and the pace of its editing maintains the suspense as we follow the inexorable disintegration of Bruce Robinson. Brief flashbacks provide clues to his past - he wasn’t always such a pathetic scumbag - but I won’t spoil it for you. The ending, when it comes, is as unexpected as it is bizarre. Just like DS Robinson, FILTH revels in its depravity, hardly pausing for breath, and its frantic tempo keeps you glued to the screen.

© Ascot Elite FilmverleihNo-holds-barred, politically incorrect, it crosses every boundary of good taste while still remaining on the right side of porn. This movie is certainly not for everyone, although I personally found it hugely refreshing in this day and age when cinematic leads are invariably forced to “do the right thing”. Needless to say, FILTH is not scheduled for release in the USA - although it is one of the most entertaining and unusual films of the year, and the best 94 minutes I’ve spent at the movies for quite a while. A “must see” in my opinion - so pick it up on DVD when you can, preferably with subtitles!

* * *

FILTH (UK/Germany, 2013) (German title: DRECKSAU); Genre: Comedy-crime; Running time: 94 Mins; Director: Jon S. Baird;  Writers: Irvine Welsh (novel), Jon S. Baird (screenplay); Cast: James McAvoy, Jamie Bell, Imogen Poots, Eddie Marsan; Cinematographer: Matthew Jensen; Composer: Cling Mansel; Distributors / release dates: Ascot Elite Film Group, October 17 (Germany) / Lionsgate, October 4 (UK)

Von: Geraldine Blecker

GRAVITY - (USA, 2013)

29. October 13 , 09:37

Lost in Space with Sandra Bullock!

Franfurt/Main, Germany (Weltexpress). A truly tense and exciting lost-in-space thriller, Alfonso Cuaron’s spectacular 3D film is a visual delight, propelled by superlative performances from Sandra Bullock and George Clooney.

Director Alfonso Cuaron (CHILDREN OF MEN), who derided the general use of 3D in film in a recent interview, has certainly made terrific use of it in this spectacularly tense, lost-in-space adventure. Featuring only two protagonists: Sandra Bullock as the somewhat prim yet brilliant medical technician Dr. Ryan Stone on her first mission in space, accompanied by veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski, played by George Clooney. Out of their shuttle where, under his watchful eye, she is nervously tinkering about on the Hubble telescope, disaster suddenly strikes.

Seeking to destroy one of their old satellites, the Russians have accidentally set off a chain reaction - an orbiting storm of debris heads straight for the US shuttle, destroying it and killing the entire crew, leaving Stone and Kowalsky adrift in space. Attached to one another, the already limited oxygen supply slowly diminishing, their only hope is to make their way to the Chinese space station which is the closest - but still a helluva long way off. And they will have to be quick about it, for the lethal debris is due to head back their way in only 90 minutes…

Remaining true to the timeworn disaster movie format, with only two characters, no sub-plot and only some sketchy back-story, Cuaron has nevertheless managed to make a thrilling film from start to finish, keeping us on the edge of our seats until its final moments. For this epic work, which is bound to receive a few nods come Academy Awards season, Curaron is re-teamed with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (CHILDREN OF MEN) and Oscar-nominated visual effects supervisor Tim Webber (CHILDREN OF MEN, THE DARK KNIGHT). Technically and visually a magnificent work and, despite the excellent performances of Clooney and Bullock - who really make their characters come alive - the real star of GRAVITY is space itself.

GRAVITY is laden with spectacular visual sequences as Cuaron, who also co-penned the screenplay with his son Jonas, almost gracefully combines grandiose scenes of space craft ripped asunder in the silence of space, with puny humans in fragile space suits flung into the void, yet savoring moments of the galaxy’s sheer glory.

Whatever Curaron may say about 3D, here it gives GRAVITY an immersive quality that is breathtaking. And audiences obviously agree. Since its release earlier this month, the film has already grossed just short of $300 million at the international box office, recouping its production budget threefold.

* * *

GRAVITY (USA, 2013); Distributor: Warner Bros; Running time: 91 minutes; Director: Alfonso Cuaron; Writers: Alfonso Cuaron, Jonas Cuaron; Cast: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney; Cinematographer: Emmanuel Lubezki; Music: Steven Price; Release dates: 4. October (USA) / 3. October (Germany)

Von: Geraldine Blecker

2 GUNS - (USA, 2013)

28. September 13 , 12:51

Who Are the Good Guys?

Frankfurt, Germany (Weltexpress). With a title like this no one should be surprised to discover that two guns hugely multiply by the picture’s blazing finale. A refreshing bit of “buddy” action escapism to wind up (we hope) this season’s array of explosive blockbusters.

Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg slide into an amiable groove as the movie opens in the small (and fictional) New Mexican town of Tres Cruces. The titular guns, and ostensible pair of crooks, Bobby Trench (Washington) and “Stig” Stigman (Wahlberg), are seated in the local diner, looking out the window at the bank they are planning to rob the next day.

Unbeknown to each other, they are both undercover law enforcement officers - so obviously they are the good guys - Bobby an agent for the DEA, while Stig works for NCIS. Their mutual mission: to capture Mexican drug lord Papi Greco (Edward James Olmas) and break up the cartel - none of which the audience, like the protagonists, discovers for a while.

Based on Steven Grant’s BOOM! graphic novels, and adapted for the screen by Blake Masters, 2 GUNS is certainly one of the best, and most human, comic book adaptations to hit the screen for some time. Icelandic film maker Baltasar Kormákur (CONTRABAND, 101 REYKJAVIK) more than proves his ability at directing Hollywood action. This one had a budget of $61 mill, which it has more than recouped ($75 mill) since it’s recent US release.

The plot is unpredictable - full of surprising twists and turns - the action exciting, and the vibe between the two leads is appealing. No small achievement for Wahlberg, who holds his own partnered with one of the industry’s great icons. Their scraps are entertaining and their repartee quick and clever. The antagonists are likewise sufficiently menacing to keep viewers mesmerized.

Following the bank heist, the duo is surprised at the amount of the loot - which is far far more than the few meager millions of Papi Greco’s illicit income. Where( does it come from and who does it belong to? At this point, they mutually discover their true identities and have little option but to become partners in fact. Their adversaries are waxing thick and fast. Just about everyone laying claim to the cash. Enter Earl (Bill Paxton), vicious CIA operative, who is after the stolen loot, as is Stig’s employer, the US Navy. And they are only two of the federal bodies on their tail, not forgetting the Mexican cartel...

A hugely clever and entertaining caper, 2 GUNS is 109 well-spent minutes, with never a dull moment.

* * *

2 GUNS - (USA, 2013); Genre: action-comedy-crime;; Running time: 109 mins; Director: Baltasar Komákur; Writers: Blake Masters (screenplay), Steven Grant (original graphic novel); Cast: Denzel Washington, Mark Wahlberg, Paula Patton, Bill Paxton, Edward James Olmas, James Marsden, Fred Ward; Cinematographer: Oliver Wood; Music: Clinton Shorter; Distributors/Release dates: Universal Pictures, 20. August (USA) / Sony Pictures Releasing, 26. Sept. (Germany)

Von: Geraldine Blecker

RUSH - (UK/Germany/USA, 2013)

06. October 13 , 19:18

One of year’s most exciting films! - When opposites collide

Frankfurt, Germany (Weltexpress). Set in the mid-1970s, RUSH follows the fierce rivalry between legendary racing drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda, whose mutual ambition to triumph left lifetime scars – certainly on one of them.

After a brief - and possibly ill-advised - sortie into the world of comedy (THE DILEMMA, 2011), director Ron Howard (FROST/NIXON, A BEAUTIFUL MIND) is back with a vengeance, just in time for Oscar-season with a lavish, 3D production, doing that at which he excels - telling a good tale based on real-life events.

For those who may be unfamiliar with Formula One (the international version of NASCAR for my US readers), 1976 was one of the most extraordinary and unforgettable seasons in the history of motor racing. It was given added spice by the intense rivalry between the prestigious drivers, Austrian Niki Lauda and Englishman James Hunt - as opposite as two people could possibly be.

Howard beautifully recreates the period down to the last detail. The trashy glamour and decadence of the ‘Seventies is also personified by the character of James Hunt, played to a tee by Australian action star Chris Hemsworth, better known as THOR. Born into the upper class, Hunt’s overindulgent lifestyle revolved around wine, women, drugs and racing - and not necessarily in that order. Nevertheless, in his first serious dramatic role, Hemsworth manages to make the character hugely likeable.

© Jaap Buitendijk/ Rush Films Limited / Egoli Tossell Film and Action Image This movie also represents a true international breakthrough for German/Spanish Daniel Brühl (born with the handle Daniel César Martín Brühl González Domingo), who turns in an outstanding performance as the pedantic, no-nonsense Niki Lauda, and actually succeeds in making the character sympathetic.

A little over 2 hours long, there’s never a dull moment as time flies by on various international race tracks. The build up to the notorious 1976 crash during the German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring boosts the tension, while the event itself is spectacularly staged. The subsequent hospital sequences are agonizing without being superfluous. Anyone who has seen footage of the original crash will appreciate the difficulties involved in its realistic recreation. Howard is to be complimented here.

Despite their intense rivalry, writer Peter Morgan portrays the relationship between Hunt and Lauda as one of mutual respect. Neither is portrayed as either a hero or a villain, although as it happens, their on-screen loathing has little truth in fact. Apparently they were pretty good pals off the racetrack and even shared an apartment at one early point in their careers. Still, as characters, they were poles apart, which makes for good cinema. Whereas Hunt was an instinctive driver who sometimes took unnecessary risks in an already notoriously dangerous sport, Lauda’s meticulous, almost scientific approach to the sport generally gave him a huge advantage over his rivals.

© Jaap Buitendijk/ Rush Films Limited / Egoli Tossell Film and Action Image The film’s female characters are very much in the backseat, which I guess is understandable given the macho context. Alexandra Maria Lara’s portrayal of Marlene, Lauda’s ladylove, is compassionate, while Olivia Wilde, as model Suzy Miller, Hunt’s first wife, puts in a worthy, multi-facetted performance. Some of the most entertaining acting, however, comes from the bit players like Stephen Mangan, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Christian McKay.

Visually stunning and as thrilling as the racing scenes may be, RUSH is not a typical action movie. Story and character driven, the action is woven around the drama as opposed to the other way round, and Howard uses 3D to great effect. In fact this is one of the few movies where its use is truly justified. The racing scenes are breathtaking. The roar of the engines as they zoom around the track at 180 mph, only inches off the ground, underscored by another superlative Hans Zimmer soundtrack. The film succeeds on two levels - as a Boys’ Own adventure tale and as in-depth study of two men who will stop at nothing to win - albeit each in his own way. I found it gripping - and I don’t even drive!

© Jaap Buitendijk/ Rush Films Limited / Egoli Tossell Film and Action Image In an era where the sport of motor racing was so dangerous that it was quite normal for two or more drivers to be killed every year, the clash of these icons resulted in an unforgettable season. And Ron Howard has turned it into an unforgettable film. A worthy Oscar contender, I might add, at a modest budget of $38 million.

“A wise man learns more from his enemies than a fool learns from his friends”, says Niki Lauda at the end of the 1976 Formula 1 season. And he went on to win three world championships, set up his own racing team, as well as establish two commercial airlines, while James Hunt died tragically young.

* * *

RUSH - (UK/Germany, 2013), Genre: Action-drama; Distributor: Universal Pictures International; Running time: 122 mins; Director: Ron Howard; Writer: Peter Morgan; Cast: Alexandra Maria Lara, Chris Hemsworth, Christian McKay, Daniel Brühl, Jamie Sives, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Natalie Dormer, Olivia Wilde, Patrick Baladi, Pierfrancesco Favino, Stephen Mangan; Music: Hans Zimmer; Release dates: Sept. 13 (UK), Sept. 20 (USA), 3. Oct. (Germany)

Von: Geraldine Blecker

THE INTERNSHIP - (USA - 2013)

23. September 13 , 20:55

You’re never too old for a New Start

Frankfurt / Germany (Weltexpress). I was quite surprised to read that the estimated budget for THE INTERNSHIP ran upwards of $58 million, considering that it was more or less an image film for Google. You’d think that the huge multi-national would have contributed something to the productions costs, considering that the entire picture was little more than product placement and a tribute to its image and “altruistic” values. Somewhat tarnished by Google’s rabid tax-dodging philosophy and purported NSA spying activities!

The first on-screen pairing of Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson since the very funny THE WEDDING CRASHERS (2005), the ludicrous plot for this endeavor revolves around the duo’s desperate search for employment in an age where 40 is considered over-the-hill. Losing their jobs as watch salesmen - who uses watches these days? - they find themselves skint, with no hope of employment. Hearing about a summer internship at Google offering the chance of a firm job with the corporation if they succeed, they apply. Bearing in mind the duo’s total lack of technical savvy, obvious from the very first on-line interview, they somehow manage to land the coveted internship by virtue of sheer fast-talking bullshit alone.

Arriving at Google HQ - shot on location in Mountain View, CA, and resembling nothing more than a Disney World for grown-ups - the movie swiftly degenerates into your standard, US college romp, where our heroes join forces with a group of assorted nerds and misfits, to ultimately prevail over their stuck-up, privileged rivals.

Unlikely as it may seem that Google would employ people who know nothing about computers - not even the standard terminology - the company is portrayed as preferring people-skills (read aforesaid “bullshit”) to any tech ability, credentials, or even knowledge of what the company actually does. Thus, the mission here seems to be an outreach to the US blue collar and middle class: don’t worry about going to college, you can get by without qualifications, all you need is to be a “regular dude”, with a good spiel, and a set of down-to-earth values. In other words: a perpetuation of the American Dream.

Production value is up to par - let’s not forget that $58 million - nor is the movie poorly directed. Lovelessly-directed might be more apt. The acting talent is competent, Owen Wilson is as engaging as ever and Vince Vaughn, who co-wrote the screenplay, is, well, Vince Vaughn playing his usual motor-mouth self. Rose Byrne and the assorted nerds do what is expected of them, no more, no less, while Max Minghella turns in a refreshing performance as a villainous Brit intern, bent on sabotaging his rivals at every turn. There is even a cameo of Google co-founder Servey Brin riding a bike in the Google HQ arrival scene and congratulating the successful candidates at the end.

But the lead character here is Google itself. Its headquarters described as “The Garden of Eden”, “the greatest place to work on earth”, and “the best theme park you've been to, times a million”. Free food, laundry services, dance classes, fully-equipped gym, nap pods. An elite microcosm, where everyone is California-cheerful and worshipful of Google to a frightening, cult-like degree. In-your-face sales spiels about Google’s righteousness, including extolling the benefits of Google advertising to a small business, makes me fearful that this motion picture is merely a harbinger of a new cinematic trend - or the beginning of the end.

At a time when the media landscape is undergoing radical technological change, and commercial TV broadcasters are increasingly concerned about reduced advertiser revenues, the solution would appear to be making the sponsor or product integral to the plot. Is this what the future holds? Feature length commercials for global corporations, starring famous actors and permeated with smug, self-righteous propaganda?

Who today can do without Google Chrome, Gmail, Google Search, Google Maps, Google Calendars, Google Drive, or Google Reader? I am unfortunately pretty dependent on Google already, without needing to hear about the awesomeness of its tech support or the groovy togetherness of its team. Better perhaps would have been a film about a fictional tech conglomerate, which could have included some irony. But irony is thin on the ground in THE INTERNSHIP, which licks the corporate ass of its sponsor to an outrageous degree.

THE INTERNSHIP (German title: PRAKTI.COM) - USA, 2013; Genre: Comedy; Distributor: 20th Century Fox; Running time: 120 Mins; Director: Shawn Levy; Writers: Vince Vaughn, Jared Stern; Cast: Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson, Rose Byrne, Aasif Mandvi, Max Minghella, Josh Brener, Dylan O’Brien; Cinematographer: Jonathan Brown; Music: Christophe Beck; Release dates: June 7 (USA) / Sept. 19 (Germany)

Von: Geraldine Blecker

RED 2 - (USA, 2013) - No Rest for the Best!

21. September 13 , 12:54

The senior operatives reunite on a global mission to find a missing nuclear device

Frankfurt / Germany (Weltexpress). This time it’s for real. Former CIA agent Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is determined to finally retire and settle down with his lady. Sarah. (Mary Louise-Parker), however, is having a hard time getting used to the lack of excitement in their daily lives.

The world of international espionage may have been dangerous, but it sure had its kicks, and she is almost relieved at the sudden reappearance of Marvin Boggs (a very paranoid and twitchy John Malkovich). It seems their lives are once again in danger. Their participation in Operation Nightshade (where RED, 2010, left off), which involved a purloined nuclear device, has led to a highly pissed-off CIA, who has put a price on their heads: dead or alive - preferably the former. Hit men, and women alike, are falling over themselves to take them out. One is Korean Han Cho-Bai (Lee Byung-hun) and another, England’s Victoria Winslow (Helen Mirren).

So Frank is forced to reunite his unusual team of retired operatives to join him on a global mission to locate the aforesaid device. The action then moves to Moscow to make contact with Russian government official/double-agent, Katya (Catherine Zeta-Jones). She points them to London to find nuclear physicist Dr. Edward Bailey (Anthony Hopkins), who must first be freed from a government facility before he can reveal the location of the device and help clear their names. But all is not as it appears, and telling friend from foe leads the characters, as well as the audience, around in circles.

© Concorde Filmverleih GmbHBased on the graphic novel of the same name by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner, RED, adapted for the screen by Jon and Eric Hoeber; was a surprise hit in 2010, although pretty much slammed by the critics. It was quirky enough, however, to elevate it beyond the standard action fare of the time, and the stellar ensemble cast more than compensated for a rather bland screenplay.

The Hoebers’ screenplay for the sequel is of a somewhat better quality with Dean Parisot (GALAXY QUEST) replacing Robert Schwentke in the director’s chair. As well as reuniting the surviving characters from the first movie, some new actors have joined the ranks of hard-core seniors - in fact, just about everybody not yet signed up for EXPENDABLES 3. Unlike that picture’s roster of has-been action heroes (excepting the eternal Bruce Willis who will not, according to the press, be joining the crew this time around), however, RED features a stunning array of older actors - many of them Oscar winners or nominees - sparkling with personality, bursting with talent, and very often delightfully over-the-top.

© Concorde Filmverleih GmbHThe upshot is that you have to like everyone, even the villains, and this somehow lessens the suspense. Byung Hun Lee as the world’s no. 1 hit man is ultra cool; Zeta-Jones is duly sensuous as the Russian femme fatale and Hopkins as the twisted scientist with his own agenda is just too amiable to dislike. Helen Mirren, as usual, manages to steal the show with some unique action sequences. RED 2 is like one big party where everybody is having a great time. Don’t miss it.

RED 2 - (USA, 2013) / German title: R.E.D.2 - NOCH AELTER, HAERTER, BESSER; Genre: Action-thriller; Running time: 116 mins; Director: Dean Parisot; Writers: Jon & Erich Hoeber; Cast: Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Mary-Louise Parker, Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Byung Hun Lee, Brian Cox, Neal McDonough; Cinematographer: Enrique Chedkak; Music: Alan Silvestri; Distributors/Release dates: 19. July, Summit Entertainment (USA) / 12. Sept, Concorde Filmverleih (Germany)

by Geraldine Blecker

THE WORLD'S END - (UK, 2013)

17. September 13 , 21:38

Part Three of the CORNETTO TRILOGY

 Frankfurt / Germany (Weltexpress). Called that because a different flavor ice cream cone makes a special guest appearance in each of the three movies. And that’s about the only connection, folks, apart from the writers and cast and the off-beat Brit humor.

The duo of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, together with director/co-writer Edgar Wright (SHAUN OF THE DEAD, HOT FUZZ) revive the buddy-movie theme that has brought them such success to date. Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, Eddie Marsan and Rosamund Pike join in the shenanigans when the protagonists discover that Newton Haven, the sleepy town of their childhood, seems to have turned into the Village of the Damned.

But it takes a while to get there - and I’m getting somewhat ahead of myself. Simon Pegg plays Gary King, shameless alcoholic and pretty much all-round loser, who used to be a big cheese in the village as a boy. Now in his ‘forties and seeking to recapture his glory days, he gathers his four boyhood pals and somehow talks them into returning to Newton Haven to finish the mammoth pub-crawl they left uncompleted at 18. The mission: a pint at each of the 12 pubs on the Golden Mile, finishing up at The World’s End.

But it does not take too long - or too many beers - before the men realize that much seems to have changed in the village since their boyhood. The residents seem peculiar, everyone looks at them strangely, no one seems to recognize them and nobody wants to talk. Such strangeness culminates in a close encounter of the third kind that takes place - where else? - but in the gents’ loo, where Gary is the first to discover that the village has been taken over by blue-blooded aliens. And so it is down to the lads to ultimately save the village, mankind, and the world at large.

THE WORLD’S END is pretty much a one-dimensional comedy, although it certainly has its moments. Set against the background of disappointed dreams and unachieved goals where life seems to have frozen into mediocrity. Writers Pegg and Wright have developed their characters well, giving their cast a good script to work with, spiced with plenty of witty repartee and one-liners. Frost and Freeman put in their usual sparkling performances, Marsan and Pike demonstrate good comedy timing, while Considine is more like a cardboard cut-out. Things obviously take a more serious turn in the last third of the film, as our heroes realize that the villagers have been replaced by the body-snatching robot aliens, and that The Network in charge (voiced by Bill Nighy), is not prepared to let them escape with the secret.

© Universal Pictures InternationalThe improbable mixture of aliens and beer gives the film a novel slant, but its pace unfortunately does not keep up with the premise. It takes too long to establish the plot and the characters’ relationships with each other and it soon starts to feel like an extract from THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY. Wright compensates with high-speed editing and exaggerated effects, hastening an already frantic pace. The finale, when it arrives, is sudden and disconcerting: Truly pissed-off, The Network decides that Earth is a waste of time and initiates the final apocalypse in the wake of a total hi-tech meltdown.

While major issues are hardly touched-upon, THE WORLD’S END still has lots going for it. Viewers in their mid-40s and up will certainly dig the lively Britpop soundtrack, ranging from Primal Scream to The Housemartins. Allusions abound - from FAWLTY TOWERS to CASABLANCA; from ‘50s Sci-Fi to the other movies from their “Cornetto” series - lots of which will make you laugh out loud.

All in all, THE WORLD’S END is lots of fun and a great romp as long as one doesn’t look for any “social science fiction message” á la John Wyndham, as the director claims.

* * *

THE WORLD’ END (UK, 2013); Genre: Sci-fi comedy; Running time: 109 mins; Director: Edgar Wright; Writers: Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright; Cast: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Paddy Considine, Rosamund Pike, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan, David Bradley, Mark Heap, Darren Boyd; Cinematographer: Bill Pope; Music: Steven Price; Distributors/Release dates: Focus Features, 23. August (USA) / Universal Pictures International, 12. September (Germany)

Von: Geraldine Blecker

WHITE HOUSE DOWN - (USA, 2013)


10. September 13 , 14:48

DIE HARD - what, again? - in the White House!

Frankfurt am Main / Germany (Weltexpress). His first big action film since his apocalyptic 2012, Roland Emmerich brings us the second film this year about an assault on the White House. This time, Jamie Foxx plays the President, with Channing Tatum as the aspiring secret service agent who, against all odds - and a bunch of heavily-armed, home-grown loonies - saves the day. Not only is this a far superior film to the recent OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN but, truth be said, Channing Tatum is much nicer to look at than that picture’s hero - especially with his shirt off (think MAGIC MIKE, ladies!)

City cop John Cale (Tatum) has just applied for a job with the Secret Service - and been rejected. Despite his time on the force and former military career, the head of security (Maggie Gyllenhaal) considers him too inexperienced to take on the responsibility of protecting the nation’s Commander-in-Chief. Bitterly disappointed, he keeps a stiff upper lip and nonetheless takes his young daughter (Joey King) on the long-promised tour of the White House. Perfect timing: for at just that moment the complex is overwhelmed by a seriously-armed paramilitary group. Now, with the nation's government collapsing and the clock ticking, it's up to Cale to save the president, his daughter, the hostages, the country, and probably the whole of the Free World.

A lavish and absurdly over-the-top action-packed adventure - with not a single dull or disappointing moment, despite its running time of just over 130 minutes. Made for an estimated budget of $150 mill, it has almost recouped - grossing over $118 mill. worldwide at time of writing - and is still set to open in some major territories. Although the major part of the movie revolves around the duo of president and protector (Foxx and Tatum), they are surrounded by a stellar supporting cast, including terrorist leader (Jason Clarke) Snr. secret service agent (Ms. Gyllenhaal), House Speaker (Richard Jenkins) and the scintillating young Joey King, who plays Cale’s precocious, kick-ass daughter.

Tatum, a worthy successor to Bruce Willis’ John McLane, once again proves his action-hero status, together with his dramatic and comedic acting ability. His John Cale is a valiant patriot resolved to do his duty and frantic to save his daughter. Foxx’s portrayal of President Sawyer is a charming blend of Barack Obama and Foxx’s role as the aggravated taxi driver in COLLATERAL. The chemistry between the two leads is clear from the outset, and their bitching and bickering - courtesy of screenwriter James Vanderbilt - is a veritable delight. Not forgetting the excellent staging, exciting (albeit ludicrous) action sequences - which doesn’t make them any less entertaining - and the top-class special effects. All of which make this picture hugely entertaining and loads of fun. Roland Emmerich certainly knows his onions. After all, this isn’t the first time he’s blown up the White House!

* * *

WHITE HOUSE DOWN, (USA, 2013); Action-adventure; Running time: 131 mins;  Director: Roland Emmerich; Writer: James Vanderbilt; Cast: Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jason Clarke, Richard Jenkins, Joey King, Jimmi Simpson, Rachelle Lefevre, Matt Craven, James Woods; Cinematographer: Anna J. Foerster; Music: Thomas Wander; Distributors/Release dates: Columbia Pictures, 28. June (USA) / Sony Entertainment, 5. September (Germany)

  by Geraldine Blecker

THE LOOK OF LOVE - (UK, 2013)

05. September 13 , 20:04

Michael Winterbottom’s biopic of Paul Raymond, Britain’s King of Erotica

Frankfurt / Germany (Weltexpress). Apparently it was originally Steve Coogan’s idea to make a biopic about Paul Raymond, the King of Soho - Britain’s equivalent to Hugh Hefner and, at one time, also the richest man in the nation. And Coogan does a terrific job in the title role, more than proving his impressive dramatic talent.

Opening in 1992 as the aged mogul mourns the death of his beloved daughter Debbie, the film then goes into black & white flashback to the year 1950, chronologically documenting the major events of Paul Raymond’s life. Matt Greenhaigh’s screenplay follows the erstwhile stage mentalist as he launches into his glittering entrepreneurial career, beginning by staging tacky revues which invariably featured sexy exotic dancers. This is how he meets choreographer Jean (Anna Fried), his first wife, who bears him two children; a son and a daughter.

Moving into the Swinging ’Sixties - and into color - the impresario gathers wealth and notoriety in equal measure as he challenges proverbial British prudery and the censorship board alike, with shows presenting ever more nudity and the founding of “exclusive” gentlemen’s clubs.

Up to now, Jean has been a tolerant wife, closing her eyes to Paul’s numerous infidelities. Until things get more serious, in the form of Fiona Richmond (Tamsin Egerton), herself a sexual predator. More than just a casual fling, Fiona becomes the lynch-pin of Paul’s new venture, the wildly popular men’s magazine MEN ONLY, with a regular illustrated feature explicitly describing her latest sexual encounters. The subsequent divorce is bitter. Jean moves to the US with their son Howard, while Debbie remains in Paul’s custody.

© Pretty PicturesNow a couple, Paul and Fiona dive full-force into the riotous ’70s. The famed Raymond’s Revue Bar in Soho is doing extraordinarily well, as is the magazine, now run by editor Tony Power (Chris Addison). Daughter Debbie, now grown up (Imogen Poots), also wants to get into the act, and her indulgent father is hard put to find something that suits her talents - or lack of same. The film’s title THE LOOK OF LOVE, in fact, relates to the Bacharach-David song that Debbie performs onstage - less than brilliantly, to put it kindly. Her business acumen is just as uninspired and, lacking any direction or self-esteem, she soon turns to the drugs that will eventually kill her.

A chronicle of excess, THE LOOK OF LOVE authentically captures the spirit of the times - after all, I should know. But to quote Richard Branson; “If you can remember the ’70s, you weren’t there!” It is racy, soulless, terrifically tasteless, and possibly over-frenzied until the third act when the pace slows somewhat for a poignant sequence, where Paul meets with a long-lost son (Simon Bird), whom he had abandoned decades before.

© Alpenrepublik GmbHAll performances are excellent, the dialogue is scintillating, but the film’s main entertainment value derives from an impressive recreation of a garish period spanning over two and a half decades: the shifting fashions, the set design and the music - the soundtrack ranging from Yma Sumac to Donovan, from Disco to Herb Alpert.

Co-produced by Studiocanal and Film4, THE LOOK OF LOVE was premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, and released to critical acclaim in the UK in April. IFC Films picked up the North American theatrical rights, but the movie’s sexual explicitness virtually precluded it from being released in that territory - apart from on the Internet. Although blood, guts and guns are standard cinema fare in the US, when it comes to sex… well, viewers obviously need protecting!

***

THE LOOK OF LOVE, (UK, 2013); Genre: Drama-Biopic; Running time: 101 mins; Director: Michael Winterbottom; Writer: Matt Greenhaigh; Cast: Steve Coogan, Anna Friel, Imogen Poots, Tamsin Egerton, Chris Addison, James Lance Howard, Matthew Beard, Simon Bird; Cinematographer: Hubert Taczanowski; Editor: Mags Arnold; Music: Antony Genn; Distributors/Release dates: Film4, 26. April (UK) / Alpenrepublik Filmverleih, 29. Aug (Germany) / IFC Films, 7. July (USA)

Von: Geraldine Blecker

WE'RE THE MILLERS - (USA, 2013) - In case anyone asks!

27. August 13 , 15:01

A local dope dealer creates a fake family as part of his plan to smuggle a huge load of weed over the Mexican border

Frankfurt / Germany (Weltexpress). WE’RE THE MILLERS doesn’t bring anything new to the screen. You’ve seen it all before: a bunch of shady characters band together for their own personal gain and end up forming close personal bonds, doing the right thing, and learning life’s true values. Instead of Steve Martin or Robin Williams, here we have Jason Sudeikis (HORRIBLE BOSSES) playing David Clark, your friendly neighborhood dope dealer, who gets in over his head with his own horrible boss, old college classmate, millionaire Brad Gurdlinger (Ed Helms).

The other stereotypes include Rose the Stripper (Jennifer Aniston), Kenny, virginal, budding dope pusher (Will Poulter) - who live in Dave’s apartment block - and Casey, homeless Scamp-Vamp (Emma Roberts). She it is who sets the ball rolling when she is attacked by some neighborhood thugs. Young Kenny heroically rushes to the rescue and is soon overwhelmed, forcing Dave to intervene. Needless to say, both get the crap kicked out of them, and Dave is robbed into the bargain. Cash and stash both gone, he is now in deep doo-doo with Brad.

But Brad will write off the debt, and pay a generous fee as well, if Dave is prepared to run a small errand. This involves smuggling “a smidgeon” of dope over the border from Mexico. Dave has little choice and comes up with a foolproof plan. By applying various amounts of pressure, he recruits the above trio who, together, are to play the ultra-straight Miller Family - husband, wife, and 2 kids - traveling to Mexico on vacation in a huge RV (that’s “mobile home” to my non-US readers). His reasoning being that normal-looking families in caravans are never stopped and searched at the border! 

With this logic-defying arrangement in place, the Millers set off on their holiday South of the Border. As you would expect, there are lots of difficulties along the way - both coming and going. These include the “smidgeon” of weed actually turning into 20 tons, repeated encounters with the Fitzgerald’s, a riotously square family (Nick Offerman, Kathryn Hahn, and Molly C. Quinn as the couple’s daughter), and confrontations with a dazzling array of Mexican cops, bent officials, drug lords, their heavily-armed cohorts, and an incredibly bad-tempered tarantula.

As cheesy, implausible and predictable as the premise sounds, the movie is surprisingly funny. Lewd, rude, and crude, yet less slapstick than the God-awful trailer would suggest, THE MILLERS is far wittier than the puerile fare we have come to expect from the likes of a Seth Rogan or Adam Sandler comedy. 

Director Rawson Marshall Thurber has put together a warm and likeable cast, who do justice to the clever scripting of its writing team. Yet somehow the movie falls just that bit short of being the great summer comedy it could have been, which is a pity. As much as I admire Jennifer Aniston, for example, she is visibly uncomfortable playing the part of a stripper - which she has also admitted in various interviews. This is especially evident when she actually has to take her kit off, resulting in a performance that is too detached to be believable beside Sudeikis, although her likeability is never in question and she delivers her dialogue convincingly enough. Emma Roberts doesn’t have much more to do than play a typical rebellious teenager, while young Will Poulter’s portrayal of Kenny is bound to be a career milestone. Nick Offerman, and especially Kathryn Hahn, steal the show as the Fitzgerald’s - the couple you always bump into on holiday, despite all evasive efforts. Luis Guzman has a small cameo, but it is truly a riot, while Ed Helms’ performance as millionaire, Ivy-League drug lord is disappointingly pallid.

WE’RE THE MILLERS is far from being this summer’s best comedy, but it’s nowhere near the worst, either - top candidates for that dubious honor would have to the THE BIG WEDDING and GROWN UPS 2 - and, although it doesn’t manage to live up to is potential, the dialogue is clever enough, albeit much of it is conducted with an extended middle finger. Its cast is sufficiently talented to turn the one-dimensional plot into a full-length feature without a moment’s boredom. This is proved by the fact that it has almost tripled its production budget, grossing nearly $89 mill. at the box office since its US release earlier this month.

***

WE’RE THE MILLERS (USA, 2013); Distributor: Warner Brothers; Running time: 110 mins; Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber; Writers: Bob Fisher, Steve Faber, John Morris, Sean Anders; Main cast: Jennifer Aniston, Jason Sudeikis, Emma Roberts, Will Poulter, Ed Helms, Nick Offerman, Molly C. Quinn; Cinematographer: Barry Peterson; Composers: Ludwig Göransson, Theodore Shapiro; Release dates: 7. Aug (USA) / 29. Aug (Germany)

Von: Geraldine Blecker

MR. MORGAN'S LAST LOVE - (Germany/Belgium, 2013)

23. August 13 , 10:36

A poignant performance from Sir Michael Caine.

Frankfurt / Germany (Weltexpress). A German-Belgian co-production starring Britain’s Sir Michael Caine playing an American; written and directed by German film-maker Sandra Nettlebeck (HELEN, MOSTLY MARTHA); based on a French novel, shot in English on location in Paris. This, perhaps, explains some of its more ungainly and disconnected moments, the weak screenplay, and Sir Michael’s erratic attempts at an American accent.

Caine plays Professor Matthew Morgan, grief-stricken American widower still living in Paris and clinging to fond memories of his beloved wife. A chance encounter on the bus with attractive young Pauline Laubie (Clémence Poésy of 127 HOURS and IN BRUGES), also a teacher in her way - albeit of ballroom dancing - jolts him out of his despair, and their ensuing friendship gradually fills him with a newfound joie de vivre and a feeling of “family”.

Strolling through Paris, lunching in the park, jaunts to the countryside and some entertaining attempts at dancing all serve to give Mr. Morgan a new lease of life. Until the inevitable depression reoccurs and he seeks to end it all with an overdose. Waking up in the hospital, he finds his estranged son and daughter (played by Justin Kirk and Gillian Anderson) at the bedside, determined to talk their father into returning with them to the US - And bristling with outrage at the French usurper who, meanwhile, has problems of her own.

Although Ms. Nettelbeck decided to make the lead character American - doubtless in what will prove a fruitless attempt at generating international/US appeal - Françoise Dorner’s original was French. Winning such an illustrious star as Michael Caine to play the lead was certainly a major coup that must have been hugely helpful in acquiring production finance, bank guarantee, and major distribution. Apparently the novelist’s collaboration was not solicited during the adaptation process, which may be why much seems to have been lost in translation.

All about loneliness, MR. MORGAN’S LAST LOVE is not that bad or overly dreary, and it does have some bittersweet moments to offer. American accent aside, Caine wrings the very best from the mediocre screenplay, and the vibrant Clémence Poésy provides more emotional depth than one would initially expect. The visuals and production values are praiseworthy, and a tasteful score by Hans Zimmer helps to mask some of the flaws.

***

MR. MORGAN’S LAST LOVE (Germany/Belgium, 2013); Genre: Drama; Running time: 116 mins; Director: Sandra Nettelbeck; Writers: Sandra Nettlebeck (screenplay), Françoise Dorner (novel "La Douceur assassine"); Cinematographer: Michael Bertl; Composer:  Hans Zimmer; Distributors/Release dates: Senator Film, August 22 (Germany) / Image Entertainment, October 2013 (USA)

Von: Geraldine Blecker

KICK-ASS 2 - (USA, 2013)

21. August 13 , 18:26

Staying true to its source material, KICK-ASS fans should enjoy this second comic-adaptation

Frankfurt / Germany (Weltexpress). Those familiar with movie no. 1 or hardcore fans of the comics will find no surprises here. Anybody else should be warned in advance that there is carnage and blood aplenty. Yet, with a title like KICK-ASS, what else would you expect?

Although this second in the franchise is enjoyable enough, it somehow fails to achieve the balance between comedy, action and drama that made its predecessor so hugely entertaining. Perhaps this is due to the absence of such powerful characters as those played by Nicholas Cage and Mark Strong, or that Jeff Wadlow has replaced Matthew Vaughan in the director’s chair.

Story wise, the first movie left rich kid Chris D’Amico, alias the RED MIST, (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) thirsting for revenge against Dave/Kick-Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) for causing his father’s death. Red Mist, who has renamed himself THE MOTHERFUCKER - presumably to announce to the world at large that he has now become a force to be reckoned with - begins gathering the nastiest band of thugs that money can buy who, together, are determined to kick some serious Kick-Ass.

Meanwhile the hero himself is uneasy patrolling the streets alone and suggests to Mindy/HIT-GIRL (Chloe Grace-Moretz) that they team up. Together they begin training, which provides some amusing sequences. Yet their partnership is short-lived. On the brink of womanhood, Mindy is just discovering the attraction of boys and the joys of high school superficiality. Caught flagrante delicto in her Hit Girl paraphernalia, she is also forced to promise her guardian (Morris Chestnut) to put away her childish toys - including mask, persona and impressive arsenal of weapons - and start living like a normal teenager. A promise she is determined to keep.

Kick-Ass is thus forced to find another heroic team of vigilantes to hook up with, collectively called JUSTICE FOREVER. Led by COL. STARS & STRIPES, played by Jim Carrey, (who publicly denounced the film’s violence - but only after it was in the can and he’d cashed his check). Be that as it may, Carey steals the show, as he so often does, despite having only a relatively small role to play.

Kick-Ass, together with this new bunch of keen, costumed adventurers with such names as GRAVITY (Donald Faison) and NIGHT BITCH (Lindy Booth), is hard put combating the sudden surge of violent crime in the Big Apple. Never mind defending themselves against The Motherfucker’s blood-thirsty crew. One of them, a muscular female warrior called MOTHER RUSSIA (Olga Kurkulina), is practically invincible and delivers some great fight scenes. Will The Motherfucker prevail, or will Hit-Girl return in time to help save Kick-Ass’s ass?

Hit-Girl's action sequences are as awe-inspiring as ever, the actors all put in a good show.   The jokes work pretty well as a whole, and KICK-ASS 2 is chock full of kooky characters we will doubtless meet again in numbers 3 and 4. Once again, composer Henry Jackman, this time in collaboration with Matthew Margeson, has penned a bombastic, kick-ass score. All in all, the movie is crudely entertaining, but pale when compared to its predecessor, which recouped its production budget three-fold. Whether KICK-ASS 2 will do the same is anybody’s guess.

The statement is, as always, good guys with guns vs. bad guys with guns - which seems reasonable enough when the bad guys are easy to recognize. Still, after the recent George Zimmerman acquittal, based on Florida’s hugely controversial “Stand Your Ground” law, the thought of armed, amateur vigilantes patrolling streets makes me distinctly uneasy.

KICK-ASS 2 - (USA, 2013); Distributor: Universal Pictures International; Running time: 113 mins; Director/Writer: Jeff Wadlow (Screenplay); Writers (comic): Mark Millar, John S. Romita; Main cast: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloe Grace Moretz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse; Cinematographer: Tim Maruice Jones; Music: Henry Jackman, Matthew Margeson; Release dates: August 15 (Germany) / August 16 (USA)

by Geraldine Blecker

ELYSIUM - (USA, 2013)

18. August 13 , 16:49

Earth, 2154: overpopulated, disease-ridden, hopelessly contaminated. Home to the poverty-stricken 99%

Frankfurt / Germany (Weltexpress). This is the second offering from South African writer/director Neill Blomkamp, whose debut film DISTRICT 9 (2009) is still hailed as one of the most gripping and socio-critical sci-fi movies of the past two decades, taking in the full spectrum from apartheid and general xenophobia to rampant capitalism. His follow-up film is sadly disappointing, despite, or possibly even because, of its $100 million production budget.

The action is set in a dystopian, largely Spanish-speaking Los Angeles - which looks remarkably like the favelas of Sao Paulo - where we meet Max (Matt Damon), one of the city’s few white boys and, seeing as how he’s also an ex-con, lucky enough to have a job. A factory worker in a huge plant that manufactures robotics, he one day suffers an accident on the job and is subjected to massive doses of radiation. Given some pills to ease the symptoms, he is callously dismissed and told that he has only five more days to live.

His only hope of salvation is to reach Elysium - the luxurious orbiting space-station where the wealthy elite have made their home, far above the Earth’s rabble. Here, medical technology has reached its apex, and an easy-to-use scanning machine is, within seconds, able to cure every complaint from acne to terminal cancer. But security is tight and entry virtually impossible. Secretary Rhodes (Jodie Foster), a high-ranking government official, is determined to keep the masses out of paradise. Meanwhile she is planning a coup to take over the presidency, which involves hacking into Elysium’s security system by means of a new computer code.

Max’s former gang boss seems to have found a way to narrow the odds, and stealing the code is part of his plan to breach Elysium’s defenses (the rest is too convoluted to explain here - trust me). He offers Max the chance to lead a suicide mission which, if successful, will get him to Elysium in time to save his life. Max accepts and is subsequently fitted with a metallic exoskeleton, virtually turning Jason Bourne into Iron Man. Then the action goes into overdrive.

A B-plot has likewise been flung into the mix, in the form of an ill-fated romance between Max and Frey (Alice Braga), his childhood sweetheart, now a nurse whose small daughter is dying of leukemia. This serves to drive the plot forward by putting more pressure on Max to get them all to Elysium in time and perhaps make the ultimate sacrifice for the good of mankind.

Although Jodie Foster is somewhat redundant, her man on the ground and actual villain of the piece is a highlight. A gloriously over-the-top performance by Sharlto Copley (DISTRICT 9, A-TEAM), whose South African accent alone is like a breath of fresh air. Matt Damon is a convincing enough action hero, and his character certainly takes a lot of punishment during the finale: an interminable round of explosions, high caliber gun battles and fight sequences, making the film seem - at least for me - far longer than its 109 minutes.

The storyline is solid if predictable, and although some character development is lacking, the movie works as a whole, despite its many obvious clichés. The message of social inequality is clear and cannot be sufficiently stressed in these turbulent times. Yet ELYSIUM fails to evoke the emotional impact of its classic, independent predecessor. The third act is so frenzied and chaotic it’s as if the Studio was desperate to add this production to the string of summer blockbusters already choking the movie theaters, proving yet again that a big budget does not necessarily make a great film.

* * *

ELYSIUM (USA, 2013); Distributor: Sony Pictures Entertainment; Running time: 109 mins; Writer/Director: Neill Blomkamp; Main cast: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley, Alice Braga, Diego Luna, Wagner Moura, William Fichtner, Emma Tremblay; Cinematographer: Trent Opaloch; Music: Ryan Amon; Release dates: August 9 (US) / August 15 (Germany); Rated R

by Geraldine Blecker

THE LONE RANGER - (USA, 2013) - HIgh Ho, Silver!

18. August 13 , 16:20

Frankfurt / Germany (Weltexpress). Despite the Lone Ranger’s enduring place in American culture, this is the first theatrical film featuring the characters of the masked man and his Indian sidekick in more than 32 years.

Like Superman before him, the Lone Ranger has a long media history, first hitting the airwaves in 1933. Unlike Clark Kent, however, the legend has been allowed to fade and Gore Verbinski’s elaborate $250 mill. production is a movie with no fan base to speak of. A massive production with one of the squarest and most awkward heroes imaginable (Armie Hammer of THE SOCIAL NETWORK), based on a character largely unknown to younger viewers. For example, few seem to know that the character’s signature tune has always been The Wilhelm Tell Overture, which surprised me. But then, I grew up with the series.

Plagued with production and budgetary woes from the very outset, the project was almost cancelled several times and its initial release date delayed. When finally released in the US on July 3rd, it was to scathing reviews and was an instant commercial flop. This is a pity. I, for one, find it one of the most enjoyable and entertaining blockbusters of the year and hopefully, in years to come, it will be better understood and reevaluated as the semi-masterpiece it really is.

For those who remember the original characters, Tonto (Johnny Depp) in this version is not the Masked Man’s obedient lackey, but a wandering spirit on his own quest for justice, driven mad by ancient sorrow. Young lawman John Reid - who is to become the Lone Ranger - has traveled west to join his Texas Ranger brother (James Badge Dale), and first encounters Tonto shackled in the train, held prisoner by the savage outlaw Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner).

Tonto is freed, but Cavendish escapes, rejoins his outlaw band and proceeds to terrorize the region. A “wendigo“, as Tonto calls him, and carries a silver bullet to put him down. Yet we come to see the outlaw as a manifestation of the American psyche, like the greedy railroad baron (Tom Wilkinson) he secretly serves.

An attempt was made to transpose the character from black-and-white TV to the big screen in 1981, which failed dismally. Not only was the movie weak, but the message of a Native American devotedly serving a white master didn’t go over too well after Watergate and the Vietnam War. How best to adapt the story to present day, multiethnic America - after 9/11, the recent financial meltdown, sequestration, and the Occupy Movement - that was the question. And the filmmakers have done a fine job, in my opinion. Blockbuster action, thrilling fight scenes, great shoot-outs - albeit with low-caliber weapons - some decent slapstick and a good spattering of ironic repartee. "The United States Army!", says Reid, "Finally, someone who'll listen to reason!"

The movie begins in 1933 at the Old West Museum in San Francisco, where a very old and wrinkled Tonto - still with white face paint and a dead raven in his headdress - is displayed in a glass showcase against a colorful western backdrop - as an example of the “Noble Savage“. There he narrates the story of the Lone Ranger to a young boy, giving him the real scoop on How the West was Won.

This Lone Ranger begins as a good man, unknowingly serving corrupt masters. By the end of the picture, his values have flipped and he has taken on the persona of a kind of American Robin Hood, an involuntary outlaw who turns against greed and the exertion of brutality for its own sake, and learns how to exercise moral authority.

Hammer is perfect as the clumsy, studious peacekeeper who gradually becomes a modest, matter-of-fact gunslinger. Tonto's eccentricity is somewhat reminiscent of his performances as Jack Sparrow, but no one can get more out of stony-faced silence than Johnny Depp. There’s a fun cameo from Helena Bonham-Carter, playing a one-legged brothel madam who definitely “shoots from the hip”.

Verbinski has given his characters time to evolve and interact - they are so much more than just your standard muscle-bound superheroes. Visually spectacular, filming was done on locations in Cowboy Land: Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas and Arizona, and the cinematography (courtesy of DP Bojan Bazelli) is glorious. Musically-speaking, Hans Zimmer clearly had a whale of a time with the score - lavish and bombastic, already available on CD.

My only critique of the film is that it seriously lags in the middle, which slows down its momentum. Apart from that, I thought it was a well-spent two and a half hours - which is more than I can say for the current crop of blockbuster fare. One possible reason for the USA’s general rejection of the film could be due to the fact that it turns all the old, glorified Wild West mythology on its head, and cynically shows us how little has changed. Corporate interests prevailed then, as now; cynically protected by the US Army. Ironic that Disney has spent over $200 million unwittingly endorsing the message!

* * *

THE LONE RANGER (USA, 2013); Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures; Running time: 149 mins; Director: Gore Verbinski; Writers (screenplay): Justin Haythe, Ted Elliot, Terry Rossio; Main cast: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, William Fichtner, Tom Wilkinson, Ruth Wilson, Helena Bonham-Carter, James Badge Dale; Cinematographer: Bojan Bazelli; Music: Hans Zimmer; Release dates: July 3 (US), August 8 (Germany)

by Geraldine Blecker

WORLD WAR Z - (USA, 2013)

10. July 13 , 11:39

Silence is Golden

Frankfut / Germany (Weltexpress). Surprisingly enough, this lavish, zombie-disaster movie, rumored to have cost anywhere from $170 to $400 million, displays few outward signs of its chaotic production history, which entailed numerous script rewrites involving just about ever screenwriter in Hollywood, although only five are credited; expensive re-shoots - mainly of the finale - and a release, six months delayed.

The mood between director Marc Forster and his leading actor/producer Brad Pitt degenerating to the extent where they could only communicate through a third party. Be that as it may, WORLD WAR Z is a bold and glossy horror/action/disaster pic in the vein of CONTAGION and 28 DAYS LATER, with lots of action and suspense.

Brad Pitt plays Gerry Lane, former U.N. investigator, now retired. We meet him and his family, wife Karin and two daughters, on what seems a perfectly ordinary day, driving through the streets of Philadelphia. In this opening sequence, they get stuck in an unusually long traffic jam, which turns out to be the family’s introduction to the sudden zombie terror. A great opening, where we first encounter hordes of the fast-moving creatures, victims of a widespread rage virus, as they create tumult in the streets.  

After getting his family to temporary safety - although, as we will discover, nowhere is safe - Gerry’s former boss recalls him to service. To help find the source of the global pandemic, i.e. ground zero, or patient no. 1. If he cooperates, his wife and daughters will be given government protection, which amounts to being removed with other VIPs to a large aircraft carrier moored off the coast. Their continued safety depends on Gerry’s success, and his ability to stay alive.

His mission first takes him to South Korea in the company of a small ops team and a young epidemiologist (Elyes Gabel), with solid theories on how to produce an antidote once the source is found. Mankind’s Great White Hope, the scientist is unfortunately killed off within minutes of landing, having had the chance to utter a few memorable lines, (“Mother Nature is the most effective serial killer“), and it is left to Gerry to complete the mission.

In a dark military bunker in South Korea, Gerry interrogates rogue CIA agent Burt Reynolds - no relation to the BOOGIE NIGHTS star -  (brief cameo by David Morse), and is pointed in the direction of Israel. Arriving there, he finds that Jerusalem seems to have its act together, in as much as the city has been managing to keep the rabid host beyond its walls. Temporarily, as it turns out. Gerry only just makes it back to his plane in time and escapes as the ravening horde scales the city walls, Jericho-like, to feast on the populace, turning them all into zombies in turn.

Next stop: a W.H.O research center near Cardiff, where Lane must silently creep through the zombie-infested corridors of the sterile institution in search of samples of certain lethal diseases, for reasons I won’t explain, as I don’t want to spoil what is already a very convoluted plot. This is where we discover that the zombies are sensitive to sound. Any noise will awaken them from - dare I say it? - their zombie-like state and get them on the move. And then he has to get his findings home. This on a passenger aircraft that just happens to be swarming with zombies. To wind up in an apartment block in Newark, where he and his family are reunited.

Based on the cult novel of the same name by Max Brooks (son of Mel), it was originally written in the style of a collection of narratives, where survivors of the zombie holocaust relate their experiences ten years after the event. This somewhat unique variation of the zombie genre was presumably too difficult to adapt to film, so the writers were instructed to eliminate most of it and weave the remainder into a more simplistic, one-dimensional plot. The action is therefore narrated from only one perspective as opposed to many.

As action seemed more important to the film makers than character development, Pitt puts in a somewhat tepid performance as the courageous pater familias, who accepts his mission less for the good of mankind than to ensure the survival of his wife and children. Unfortunately, neither he, they, nor any other characters are sufficiently interesting or multi-facetted enough to engage audience sympathy - at least, not for very long. As the movie continually cuts back and forth between the action sequences to the plight of Gerry’s family, it loses pace and dynamics.

Despite the often strenuous handheld camera technique and the astonishingly flat 3D effects, WORLD WAR Z is still visually spectacular. The attacks of the zombie hordes, following one upon the other at lightning speed, are impressive and had me on the edge of my seat. But whenever the movie cuts to the human interest aspect of the storyline, all momentum is lost.

That being said, WORLD WAR Z is still a feast for the eyes and, big zombie fan that I am, I found it entertaining and well worth the price of a movie ticket. And obviously so do many others, if the film’s worldwide box office takings of almost $295 mill. are anything to go by!

WORLD WAR Z (USA, 2013), Distributor: Paramount Pictures; Running time: 116 min; Director: Marc Forster; Writers: Max Brooks, Matthew Michael Carnahan, J. Michael Straczynski, Drew Goddard, Damon Lindelof; Cast: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Daniella Kertesz, Fana Mokoena, James Badge Dale, Ludi Boeken, Matthew Fox, David Morse, Elyes Gabel, Peter Capaldi, Pierfrancesco Favino, Ruth Negga, Moritz Bleibtreu, Sterling Jerins, Abigail Hargrove; Cinematographer: Ben Seresin; Music: Marco Beltrami; Release dates: June 21, USA / June 27, Germany

MAN OF STEEL - (USA, 2013)

23. June 13 , 20:39

75 Years of Superman!

Frankfurt / Germany (Weltexpress). Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s Superman again. Although Bryan Singer tried to revive the movie franchise with SUPERMAN RETURNS in 2006, for some reason or other it just didn’t fly. Thus WATCHMEN / SUCKER PUNCH / 300 director Zack Snyder, with support from THE DARK KNIGHT team, was recruited to blow a fresh gust of wind beneath the superhero’s cape.
© Warner Bros.

The exile from the planet Krypton has a long history on Earth since his first comic book appearance in 1938. The black & white movie SUPERMAN AND THE MOLE MEN (1951) inspired the first TV series in 1952. Two decades were to pass before Warner Bros. picked up the rights and brought SUPERMAN back to the big screen in 1978, churning out another three movies over the next ten years.

Clark Kent then took a well-earned cinematic respite, turning his attention to a new TV series in 1993: LOIS & CLARK - THE NEW ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN, followed by SMALLVILLE, which is still airing worldwide. Although there’s nothing new to say, that didn’t stop Warner Bros. from dusting off the franchise and giving it a new lease of life.

Long on action and short on laughs, Zack Synder’s extravagantly-told narrative takes a non-linear approach, which works relatively well. Kicking off on Krypton for the first 20 mins or so, where Jor-El (Russell Crowe) graphically gives us the back-story. Explaining the planet’s final destruction, his discovery of a suitable world to send his baby son Kal-El, and the treachery of Krypton’s military commander General Zod (Michael Shannon) and his cohorts, who are punished with eternal banishment into deep space.

Found and raised by his adoptive parents Martha and Jonathan Kent (Diane Lane and Kevin Costner), Kal-El is rechristened “Clark” and brought up as a normal kid in Kansas. Or as normal as he can possibly be with superhuman strength, X-ray vision, and the ability to fly. Still, he keeps his super-powers under wraps and does his best to fit in, until various incidents force his hand. The workers on an exploding oil rig need rescuing, for example, as does a school bus full of children when it hurtles off a bridge, or the local residents in the path of a devastating twister.

I found the many flashbacks to Clark as a boy the most interesting sections of the film, as we see the lad coming to grips with his outlandish powers, the need to keep them secret, and his consequent isolation. It is his adoptive parents who instill the values he will need to be the hero he becomes, and there are some moving sequences as Costner has some man-to-man talks with the boy.

Grown up Clark is then played by the chiseled, well-muscled Henry Cavill, who looks every inch a superman. Now fully aware that he is otherworldly, he takes off in search of his origins. This quest takes him to a buried spaceship in the polar ice, where father Jor-El reappears in hologram form to give him some further Kryptonian history lessons, and explain the importance of his mission as the only survivor of his world. He is then presented with the famous suit and cape, whereupon he begins learning to fly in earnest.

Meanwhile, Lois Lane (Amy Adams), star reporter from the Daily Planet, is onto a scoop - in search of an alien object buried beneath the ice for millennia - which is where Lois and Clark first collide. Despite his obsession with lavish action sequences which follow one after the other with hardly time to draw breath, MAN OF STEEL still manages to build up a credible relationship between Kal-El and Lois Lane. No longer the damsel in distress of earlier incarnations, Amy Adams is an updated, smart and ballsy Lois, who must deal with her own dilemma. To publish or not to publish - that is the question.

Humble in the film’s early sequences, then gradually learning to accept and relish his new-found power, Cavill is a worthy successor to superman’s cape, as he resigns himself to his extraordinary, Messiah-like fate.

Michael Shannon is convincing as the formidable General Zod, whose banishment proves to be of the non-eternal kind. Nursing a long-standing grudge against Kai-El’s family, he and his crew arrive on the Earth, determined to take over the planet and wipe out mankind. The remainder of the ensemble is well cast, and all put in worthy performances.

But this is not a movie where the acting comes to the fore, or is of any particular importance. MAN OF STEEL is rather an unceasing and unsettling special effects/CGI action-fest. Jerky handheld camera work, unusual in such huge productions, mixed with tight close-ups, sweeping vistas and grainy, borderline video-game technology. 3D was hardly exploited to its full potential and was probably only used to up the already substantial budget. Some of the landscapes were truly extraordinary, and I only wish there had been enough time to absorb them properly before moving on to the next bombastic action scene.

Hans Zimmer’s driving score, somewhat more low key than his usual work for Christopher Nolan, still provides a sense of grandeur that almost makes the film worthwhile.

MAN OF STEEL was best described by my colleague Sebastian Betzold as “Transformers on speed” (I wish I’d thought of that). Although it isn’t quite that bad, the movie has, indeed, been directly compared to that franchise. As General Zod & Co. are likewise endowed with superhuman powers, the final, ear-splitting showdown drags on for what seemed like half an hour, in true TRANSFORMERS tradition, until I almost lost the will to live.

I really wanted to like MAN OF STEEL - particularly as my old man was involved in the production. But the sad lack of anything resembling humor, the irritating, pedantic reappearances by Jor-El, a tedious and convoluted subplot, the constantly moving camera, jerky editing, and the over-long, over-loud finale really got on my nerves.

At an estimated budget of $225 million, MAN OF STEEL has been polarizing audiences and critics alike. Still, it broke all box office records in its opening weekend, generating over $125 million in US ticket sales. So I guess there’s no arguing with success!

* * *

MAN OF STEEL (USA, 2013); Running time: 143 mins; Distributor: Warner Bros.;  Director: Zack Snyder; Screenwriters: David S. Goyer, story by David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan, based upon characters appearing in comic books published by DC Entertainment, Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; Cast: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Russell Crowe, Laurence Fishburne, Antje Traue, Ayelet Zurer, Christopher Meloni, Michael Kelly, Harry Lennix, Richard Schiff, Dylan Sprayberry, Cooper Timberline; Cinematographer: Amir Mokri; Production designer: Alex McDowell; Music: Hans Zimmer;  Release dates: USA June 14 / Germany June 20
www.manofsteel.de

Von: Geraldine Blecker

OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN (USA, 2013)

20. June 13 , 11:12

DIE HARD in the White House

Frankfurt / Germany (Weltexpress). Anyone as totally fed up as I with the current congressional gridlock in DC will find OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN a very satisfying strip of celluloid. The first of two movies this year revolving around the destruction of the revered US presidential abode by a heavily-armed group of terrorists - watch out for Roland Emmerich’s WHITE HOUSE DOWN later this month - OLYMPUS gets off to a kick-ass start.
© Universum

After a relatively brief preamble explaining the circumstances under which Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler), once President Asher’s (Aaron Eckhart) closest confidant and protector, has fallen into disfavor and been banished to a desk job, the film moves into high gear.

Banning’s career is in ruins, his marriage on the rocks. But these problems take a back seat when the White House is suddenly attacked by a heavily-armed terrorist commando. Almost all security troops and agents are mowed down as the President and his advisers are taken hostage. In the ensuing chaos, Banning manages to infiltrate the building, and it is up to him alone to save the President and, of course, the nation…

The terrorist incursion takes place with a smooth precision far more spectacular than any of the fight scenes that follow, once entry is gained. Fighter jets enter the restricted airspace, circling the capital to blast all and sundry - including the Washington Monument, which goes up in a burst of flame like a 9/11 flashback. Apparent tourists on the White House lawn suddenly metamorphose into a disciplined infantry, making the seizure of the building a piece of cake.

Storywise, screenwriters Creighton Rothenburger and Katrin Benedikt have given Al Qaeda a break. Following the recent North Korean spear-waving and colossal military displays, that nation has become a popular “bad guy”. Although to be fair and avoid any risk of an international incident, the terrorists are supposedly an off-shoot extremist group.

Although one can’t help but be reminded of Clint Eastwood’s fallible Secret Service agent in IN THE LINE OF FIRE, Gerard Butler is a competent enough action hero, somewhat lacking in charisma as he is. Melissa Leo as the Secretary of Defense puts on a decent show. Defying her captors, she gets thoroughly beaten up for her pains, while director Anton Fuqua (TRAINING DAY) has given other cast members like Morgan Freeman (acting commander-in-chief) and Angela Bassett (Banning’s superior) little to do other than look anxious and challenged. This is nevertheless the movie that DIE HARD 5 probably should have been.

Despite the one-dimensional characters, countless clichés, unimaginative dialogue (well-spiced with the “F” word to stress rising tension), and the most simplistic of dramaturgy, OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN still manages to be a good two hours of gripping entertainment for the intellectually undemanding. Proved by the fact that it has already grossed $436 million worldwide, well recouping its $70 million budget!

* * *

OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN (USA, 2013) / German title: Olympus has fallen - Die Welt in Gefahr); Genre: Action; Running time: 120 Mins; Director: Antoine Fuqua; Screenplay: Creighton Rothenberger, Karin Benedikt; Cast: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Dylan McDermott, Rick Yune, Morgan Freeman, Melissa Leo, Angela Bassett; Cinematographer: Conrad W. Hall; Distributors/Release dates: June 13th, Universum, (Germany) / March 27th, Milennium Films & FilmDistrict (USA)

Von: Geraldine Blecker

GAMBIT - (USA, 2012)

05. July 13 , 18:45

Colin Firth in best Michael Caine fashion!

Frankfurt / Germany (Weltexpress). Loosely based on the 1966 film of the same name, starring Michael Caine, Shirley Maclaine and Herbert Lom, the Brothers Cohen have revamped this screwball heist comedy, setting the main action in present-day London.

In best Michael-Caine style - including the specs - Colin Firth plays Harry Dean. A cultivated, well-tailored art curator who works for billionaire art collector Lionel Shahbandar (Alan Rickman), one of the rudest men alive, who treats him abominably. Together with his old pal and master forger the Major (beautifully played by Tom Courtenay), he comes up with a plan to get his own back - and line his pockets at the same time - by conning Shahbander into purchasing a fake Monet.

For the scam to work, however, a third conspirator must be recruited: sexy, cowgirl PJ Puznowski (Cameron Diaz). The somewhat convoluted back-story requires PJ to pose as the woman whose grandpa freed the painting from the Nazis at the end of World War ll, since when it has been gracing the walls of the family trailer deep in the heart of Texas.
The combination of Firth’s straight-laced comedy, Diaz’s sexy quirkiness and Rickman’s standard withering sarcasm combine to make this a delightful, if somewhat simplistic comedy romp.

Following a flying visit to Texas, where Harry and The Major - two Brits totally overwhelmed by cultural differences - recruit PJ, the film returns to London, where the trio launches into their cunning plan. The second act kicks off in London’s Savoy Hotel, where Harry has had to over-extend his credit card to pay for PJ’s hugely expensive suite, as part of the cover. Then moves into standard British farce mode, as Shahbander follows her back for a night cap, forcing Harry to make a swift exit out the window, clambering onto a succession of ledges and into other rooms, in the process of which he loses his trousers.

There’s a lack of sparkle between Colin Firth and Cameron Diaz, which is possibly due more to the structure than the performances themselves and, although the heist sequences are nicely done, director Michael Hoffman (MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM, THE LAST STATIION) has staged them with little surprise or vitality. Still, Firth is perfect as the straitlaced British gent, completely at ease in the comedy sections, Rickman is his usual divinely sarcastic self, and Cameron Diaz, in some tight shorts, goes nicely over-the-top as the strident, sexy, rodeo queen on her first trip abroad. And then, lo and behold!, in the final act, a surprise turn by Stanley Tucci, playing a rival art expert with beard and fearsome German accent to boot - almost stealing the show.

© Entertainment FilmExportGAMBIT is slick and polished, with decent performances, striking cinematography, (courtesy of Michael Balhaus) and a good score, but still somehow falls short of the comedic expectations audiences might have with such renowned screenwriters writers and stellar cast.
The film had its world premiere in London and had a moderate opening in the UK on November 21, but is yet to find US distribution.

GAMBIT (USA, 2012); Genre: Comedy; Running time: 99 mins; Distributor: Concorde Filmverleih (Germany); Director: Michael Hoffman; Screenplay: Joel and Ethan Coen; Main cast: Colin Firth, Cameron Diaz, Alan Rickman, Tom Courtenay, Stanley Tucci, Cloris Leachman, Pip Torrens, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Togo Igawa, Anna Skellern; Cinematographer: Florian Balhaus; Music: Rolfe Kent; German release date: 20. June 2013

Von: Geraldine Blecker

THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES - (USA, 2012)

18. June 13 , 21:09

A violent encounter has lasting repercussions, as the sins of the fathers return to haunt the lives of their sons

Frankfurt / Germany (Weltexpress). Legendary motorcycle stuntman, Luke Ganton, (Ryan Gosling - all muscles and tattoos) is a taciturn loner who puts on a spectacular, death-defying show with a traveling carnival. Moving from town to town, he thinks as little about settling down as he does about a conventional relationship. That is until the carnival returns to upstate New York, where he discovers that he has become a father in his absence - the unexpected result of a one-night stand with Romina (Eva Mendes), who is meanwhile living with another, and better, man. Nevertheless, this gives him the jolt he needs to change his way of life and settle down.

Determined to provide for his newfound family - whether Romina likes it or not - Luke quits the carnival life and takes a job as an auto mechanic with local garage-owner Robin (Ben Mendelsohn). Impressed by Luke’s special skills, Robin soon talks him into partnering up, and together they perform a serious of daring bank robberies.

But it is only a matter of time before Luke, over-confident and taking unnecessary risks, runs afoul of the law. This in the form of Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), an ambitious young cop hoping to climb the career ladder in a police department steeped in corruption. Their violent encounter has lasting repercussions as, fifteen years later, the sins of the fathers return to haunt the lives of their sons.

For his third feature following the Oscar-nominated BLUE VALENTINE (2010), director Derek , Cianfrance, together with his co-writers Ben Coccio and Darius Marder, has crafted a sweeping saga which takes the form of a trilogy; the first part of the film devoted to Luke’s story. Taking his time to develop the character of this godlike stuntman (shades here of DRIVE), who is nonetheless a social outcast. Tender scenes with Romina and their son intermingle with the daredevil bank robberies that give Luke the adrenalin kick he needs, while providing the cash to fund his anguished dreams of a family.

After Luke’s inevitable and violent clash with the police, Cianfrance moves into Part ll of his epic, which now follows the life and career of Avery Cross. Bradley Cooper takes centre stage as the idealistic rookie cop who has abandoned the profitable legal profession - much to the dismay of his wife (Rose Byrne). Torn between family and career, principles and ambition, his life becomes inextricably intertwined with Luke’s.  

Shot in and around Schenectady, New York (which offers considerable tax incentives to the movie industry for any work performed there), for a modest $15 million budget, THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES nonetheless has an epic sweep, while the elements of time, place, and character - down to the smallest detail in set design and dialogue - echo with authenticity. Spanning more than a decade, Cianfrance’s character-driven drama takes in police corruption (compliments here to Ray Liotta’s menacing Detective) and political intrigue, while never losing focus of the personal stories that culminate in the film’s immensely satisfying final act.  

A master storyteller, Cianfrance has coaxed magnificent performances from all and sundry; giving his supporting players (Rose Byrne, Ben Mendelsohn, Eva Mendes, Ali, Harris Yulin, Dane DeHaan, et al) their chance to shine - without ever losing sight of the main protagonists. Certainly one of the best motion pictures, and absolutely the finest drama, I have seen so far this year.

* * *

THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES (USA, 2012); Genre: Drama; Running time: 146 mins; Director: Derek Cianfrance; Writers: Derek Cianfrance, Ben Coccio, Darius Marder; Cast: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Ray Liotta, Ben Mendelsohn, Rose Byrne, Dane DeHaan, Emory Cohen; Cinematographer: Sean Bobbitt; Set design: Inbal Weinberg; Music: Mike Patton; Distributors/Release dates: April 14, Focus Features (USA) / June 13, StudioCanal (Germany)

by: Geraldine Blecker

THE PURGE - (USA, 2013)

18. June 13 , 21:30

An uninspiring home-invasion thriller

Frankfurt / Germany (Weltexpress). In the wake of a devastating financial crisis, steadily rising unemployment, overflowing prisons, and escalating violence, a newly-elected US government implemented a new strategy to keep the carnage at bay. Thus, on one particular day each year, anything goes.
Scene with Ethan Hawke in the movie "The Purge". © Universal Pictures

Emergency calls go unanswered, while police stations, fire departments and hospitals are closed. For 12 nocturnal hours, people are allowed to give free reign to their rage, aggression, and deepest sadistic urges - without being legally called to account. Even murder goes unpunished. Known as The Purge, those with sufficient means at their disposal can barricade themselves within the safety of their homes, protected by costly security systems. Those without, are left to the bloodlust of the mob.

The year is 2022 and crime and poverty in the US have drastically diminished since the introduction of the Purge. James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) finds it all a minor inconvenience. As top salesman for the most expensive, and presumably effective, security system on the market, he and his family - consisting of wife Mary (GAME OF THRONES’ Lena Heady), daughter Zoey (Adelaide Kane) and son Charlie (Max Burkholder) can obviously afford the best. But even the most high-grade security system is of little use when the darkest side of human nature gains the upper hand.

© Universal PicturesOn this night, a black, homeless man (Edwin Hodge), fleeing a group of otherwise upstanding citizens, runs through the streets of the gated community, desperately seeking sanctuary. Without thinking, young Charlie deactivates the system and offers him refuge. And so begins the longest 12 hours the family has ever known - for nothing will ever be the same as it was before The Purge…

Made for a modest $3 million budget, the action seldom wanders beyond the walls of the Sandins’ spacious villa, where the characters are constantly creeping through its rooms and long corridors in the dark. With the exception of Ethan Hawke who, as in the recent SINISTER, is wielding a flashlight.

While writer/director James DeMonaco proves that he is able to generate the occasional bit of nail-biting suspense, this proves to be the exception rather than the rule and any potential the story may have had is outweighed by the film’s one-dimensional characters, their hackneyed dialogue, and sadly predictable actions. Neither the cast nor the atmospheric camera work of Jacque Jouffret are able to salvage very much.

© Universal PicturesBut there’s no accounting for taste or audience expectations. Since its June 6th release, the movie has already grossed $52 mill at the US box office. Be that as it may, THE PURGE is nonetheless a very mediocre horror-thriller which should have gone straight to DVD. Which is a pity, for it could have been so much more!

* * *

THE PURGE (USA, 2013); German title: Die Säuberung; Genre: Horror/thriller; Running time: 85 mins; Distributor: Universal Pictures; Director/Writer: James DeMonaco; Cast: Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Adelaide Kane, Max Burkholder, Edwin Hodge, Tony Oller; Cinematographer: Jacques Jouffret; Music: Nathan Whitehead; Release dates: 13. June (Germany) / 6. June (USA).

Von: Geraldine Blecker

AFTER EARTH - (USA, 2013 )

09. June 13 , 19:07

M. Night Shyamalan’s worst offering to date

Frankfurt / Germany (Weltexpress). In days gone by, M. Night Shyamalan was the toast of Hollywood, hailed as a potential successor to Steven Spielberg, no less. Celebrated by critics and audiences alike for THE SIXTH SENSE, and UNBREAKABLE, his reputation hardly waned with the considerably weaker follow-ups SIGNS and THE VILLAGE.

The first cracks in his glittering career were to come with LADY IN THE WATER. The fact that Shyamalan wrote himself into the story as a key character was seen as arrogance by many and the movie flopped dismally, despite some beautiful imagery and an interesting premise. Things got worse with his unfortunately-named eco-thriller THE HAPPENING - as little actually happened - followed by his disastrous fantasy adventure THE LAST AIRBENDER, which drove the final nail into the coffin.

But salvation was in sight in the form of Will Smith, who had an idea for a sci-fi adventure epic for Shyamalan to co-write and direct. With a $130 million budget and one of Hollywood’s biggest superstars as a locomotive - what could go wrong?

AFTER EARTH takes place in a far-flung future, a millennium after mankind has been evacuated to the new home world of Nova Prime, having made their own planet uninhabitable. The only threat facing them on this new world is the “Ursa”, a blood-thirsty alien race, which tracks its human prey by scenting their fear. Some few warriors, however, have succeeded in outsmarting them by means of “ghosting“: masking their fear and thus making themselves invisible to the foe. We learn all this in a very brief, voiced-over introduction.

© SonyCypher Raige, celebrated hero and famed “ghoster” of the United Ranger Corps (Will Smith) and his son Kitai (Jaden Smith) - still a cadet, having failed to graduate to Ranger status - are on Cypher’s final mission, when their craft runs into an unexpected asteroid storm which throws it off course. Seriously damaged, the ship is forced to crash land on a nearby planet. This turns out be the Earth, which has since reverted to a hostile and threatening place filled with mutated creatures and other sundry terrors. There are only three survivors: Kitai, Cypher - and the Ursa specimen, which was onboard to be used for “ghost” training.

Badly wounded with both legs broken, Cypher cannot move and must stay behind, with no alternative but to send his son in search of a rescue transmitter in part of the ship’s wreckage that was cast 100 miles away. He guides his son on his mission per video-phone, as Kitai makes the long and dangerous journey alone, battling the elements - loss of breathable oxygen in the atmosphere, bitter nighttime cold, active volcanoes - all the while evading the Ursa and Earth’s own savage predators. It is a hero’s journey, and likewise one of personal discovery as the boy becomes a man.

© SonySeeking to be a bold survival epic, AFTER EARTH is repetitive, offering little in the way of suspense. Despite glaring gaps in logic, which even the dumbest of viewers will pick up on, the spectacular landscapes, camerawork and CGI might well have been enough. Were it not for the one-dimensional storyline without surprise or subplot, the flat dialogue, the hackneyed conflicts and, worst of all, the pitiful acting performances.

As a Smith-family project it fails dismally. Papa Will is reduced to sitting still, gazing stonily about him, churning out insipid dialogue spiced with the occasional philosophical phrase. While teenage son Jaden, who turned in convincing performances in THE KARATE KID and even THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS is out of his depth in a dramatic role, bringing little to the table other than insistent action, poor diction, and a continual and tedious brooding expression.

AFTER EARTH had a modest US opening on May 31st, followed by some scathing reviews, not a few of which described it as “the worst film of all time”. Somewhat harsh, I feel, as there are many better contenders for that dubious title. As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t even qualify for worst film of the year; which is not to say that this movie is any good. Far from it.

© SonyIt is too unspectacular to be a real action-adventure and too superficial to work as a father-son drama. Apart from a couple of good visual sequences and some interesting ideas, it is pretty much a waste of time. If Mr. Shyamalan had hoped to save his flagging career with this production, it is unfortunately another fail to add to all the rest.

The devastating reviews and the film’s generally poor reception so far do not seem to have scuttled the film makers’ plans for turning it into a franchise, however. Audiences can look forward to “1,000 years of back-story” for father and son and the human race in AFTER EARTH 2 sometime in 2015.

* * *

AFTER EARTH (USA, 2013); Genre: Sci-Fi Action-adventure; Running time: 100 Mins; Director: M. Night Shyamalan; Writers: M. Night Shyamalan, Gary Whitta (screenplay), Will Smith (story); Cast: Will Smith Jaden Smith, Sophie Okonedo, Zoë Kravitz, Isabelle Fuhrman; Camera: Peter Suschitzky; Music: James Newton Howard; Distributors/Release dates: 31. May, Columbia Pictures (USA) / 6. June, Sony Pictures (Germany)

SNITCH - (USA, 2013)

11. June 13 , 23:24

Dwayne Johnson proves he’s got more than muscles!

Frankfurt / Germany (Weltexpress). Economic recession notwithstanding, business is good for haulage contractor John Matthews (Dwayne Johnson). And family life with his second wife Analisa (Nadine Velazquez) and their small daughter couldn’t be better. But things suddenly turn sour when Jason (Rafi Gavron), his teenage son from a previous marriage, is suddenly arrested on a drugs charge.

Just turned 18, the youngster is facing up to ten years in prison, despite the fact that he has no previous record. It is down to John to cut a deal with hard-nosed DA Joanne Keeghan (Susan Sarandon) - who just happens to be running for Congress - in order to get his son’s sentence commuted or at least drastically reduced.

Inspired by an episode from the documentary series FRONTLINE, the producers recruited long-time stuntman-turned-director Ric Roman Waugh (FELON) to direct and collaborate on the screenplay. Although SNITCH takes the form of an action-thriller, its dramatic focus is on two very controversial aspects of the US justice system regarding the hugely expensive and pathetically ineffective “War on Drugs”.

For one, the Mandatory Drug Sentencing Laws, tightened in the mid-80s, dictate that minimum sentence is solely dependent on the amount of drugs confiscated - no distinction is made between hard and soft: i.e. between cannabis, LSD, cocaine or heroin. And this at a time when many states are voting to legalize marijuana. The other is the standard practice of “snitching”, where the accused can considerably reduce his sentence, or get off entirely, by ratting out somebody else.

The writers have woven a fictional thriller against this very real background, in which Jason is unable to make a deal with the DA, as the only one he can rat out is the buddy who saved his own skin by snitching on him in the first place. Thus, it is up to his dad to deliver a major drug dealer to the authorities if he wants to get his son off the hook. And that is when the action kicks in as, with the aid of Daniel, his ex-con employee (Jon Bernthal), Matthews manages to infiltrate a major drugs cartel - and gets more than he bargained for.

Rafi Gavron puts in a convincing performance as young Jason, who thoughtlessly accepts delivery of a package containing a big bag of ecstasy pills from a stupid pal and, before he can blink, finds his life in ruins. Locked in the slammer, facing a minimum of 10 years, regular beatings - and possibly worse - from his fellow inmates. The scenes between father and son when John visits him in the pen, for example, are highly emotional and very disturbing, as we see the young man’s condition worsen with each successive visit, and John’s dismay and frustration rise accordingly.

Dwayne Johnson as Matthews - muscular biceps obscured throughout beneath a long-sleeved shirt - proves that he is more than just a brawny action hero and ably holds his own in his screen time with such revered Academy-award winning colleagues as Susan Sarandon and Emmy-winning Barry Pepper (who plays DEA Agent Cooper). But action fans will not be disappointed. As was the objective of the producers and director.

Whenever you see Participant Media involved in a motion picture project, you can be sure that the subject matter is of social and/or political importance. And who better to get the message across to a broad demographic than action star Dwayne Johnson? The strategy has clearly born fruit, as proved by the fact that SNITCH has almost tripled its $15 million budget at the US box office since its release in February.

SNITCH -  USA, 2013 (German title: Snitch: Eon islander Deal); Genre: Action-drama; Running time: 113 Mins; Director: Ric Roman Waugh; Writers: Justin Haythe, Ric Waugh; Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Jon Bernthal, Barry Pepper, Benjamin Pratt, Susan Sarandon, Nadine Velasquez; Cinematographer: Dana Gonzales; Music: Antonio Pinto; Distributors/Release dates: 22. Feb, Summit Entertainment (USA) / 6. June, Tobis (Germany)

Von: Geraldine Blecker

BEFORE MIDNIGHT (USA/Greece, 2013)

07. June 13 , 19:44

Eighteen Years On

Frankfurt / Germany (Weltexpress). BEFORE MIDNIGHT is Richard Linklater’s third installment of the surprisingly popular indie franchise that began in 1995 with BEFORE SUNRISE, followed in 2004 by BEFORE SUNSET. Now - another nine years later - we discover what has meanwhile become of Jesse and Celine.

The first film began with the fateful encounter and budding romance between Jesse and Celine on a train bound for Vienna. Nine years later, film number 2 revisited the couple in Paris, their love and passion revived, although their future was still uncertain.

Now, a full eighteen years later, Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) are living in Paris with their twin daughters, apparently a happy, normal couple, although still unwed. We meet them again as they are coming to the end of a family holiday in Greece. They have been joined by Jesse’s son from a failed marriage and, after Jesse, with a heavy heart, puts the boy on a plane to return to his mother in the US, the couple spends the last day and evening talking frankly of their lives, their relationship, their hopes and disappointments, and speculating as to what the future may hold… No holds barred.

The BEFORE series is an interesting phenomenon: an unpretentious and obviously low-budget indie series, which follows a relationship at nine yearly intervals over a period no longer than twenty-four hours. Linklater and his two actors and co-writers have basically stuck to the successful recipe of the previous two pictures with only a few changes. Their relationship, for one thing, now seems grounded, and some extra characters have been introduced, albeit only for a few scenes.
Just as Hawke and Delpy, Jesse and Celine have also grown older and, although traces of their love still remain, the trials and tribulations of family life, parental responsibilities, and compromises both large and small, have taken their toll. All the tiny resentments, nasty barbs and disappointments - part and parcel of any romantic relationship - have eroded their passion. I guess this is something everybody has gone through: the initial charm and fascination at the beloved’s amusing traits and quirks which, with time, turn stale and irritating. (Like at my house: “If he tells that joke one more time, I’ll kill him!”). Hawke and Delpy bring this across convincingly and naturally, in a manner we can all relate to - far-removed from the standard Hollywood clichés.

By design a more intricate and subtle work, BEFORE MIDNIGHT is not easy fare for those viewers unfamiliar with its predecessors, but worth seeing for all that. It ultimately shows that love can endure the discontent and disillusionment which have built up over the years.

Which is why it is perhaps so satisfying that this is also the wittiest film of the trilogy. Romance is easy, the film points out. Navigating the treacherous waters of a shared daily existence is far more difficult - and perhaps ultimately more rewarding.

BEFORE MIDNIGHT (USA/Greece, 2013); Genre: Rom-dram; Running time: 108 mins; Director: Richard Linklater, Writers: Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke, (based on characters created by Richard Linklater and Kim Krizan); Cast: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Walter Lassally, Ariane Labed; Cinematography: Christos Voudouris; Editor: Sandra Adair; Music: Graham Reynolds; Distributors/release dates: Sony Pictures Classics, 24. May (US limited) / ProKino, 6. June Germany)

Von: Geraldine Blecker

THE BIG WEDDING - (USA, 2013)

03. June 13 , 19:53

Dated, deflated and prefabricated

Frankfurt / Germany (Weltexpress). Despite being adapted from a relatively popular French/Swiss film, MON FRÈRE SE MARIE, this version is little more than a feature-length sitcom with an A-list cast. Dated and deflated, it offers too little comedy to justify its heavy-handed attempts at emotional engagement and incredibly far-fetched plot. This revolves around a long-divorced couple forced by ridiculous circumstances to pretend they are still married. And if that isn’t enough to make you wonder why this film was made at all, I don’t know what is. Although THE BIG WEDDING does offer up a few relatively good wisecracks and some witty quips to generate the occasional titter, it is neither sufficient nor often enough to compensate for its countless glaring shortcomings.

Like most wedding comedies about upper middle-class white folks, this one involves the fun and games taking place in the household prior to the big event. Successful writer Don (Robert DeNiro) and Ellie (Diane Keaton) have been divorced for over a decade. Don now lives with Bebe (Susan Sarandon) - once Ellie’s best friend until she caught them shagging on the kitchen table - in the impressive house they once shared in upstate New York.

Ellie has arrived for the wedding of their adopted son Alejandro (Ben Barnes) to his fiancée Missy (Amanda Seyfried). Likewise present are the couple’s other two children: Jared (Topher Grace), the handsome but still virginal physician; and Lyla (Katherine Heigl), suffering from the disintegration of her marriage and inability to conceive. Added to this are Missy’s suburban parents, the multi-lifted Muffin (Christine Ebersole) and her tolerant husband Barry (David Rasche), as well as Father Monoghan (Robin Williams), who is there to perform the ceremony and is unwillingly dragged into the farce.

But the biggest problems occur upon the arrival from Colombia of Madonna, Alejandro’s biological mother (Patricia Rae), and his sister Nuria (Ana Ayora). A staunch Catholic, Madonna regards divorce as an unpardonable sin and - to spare her the shock of such a shattering revelation - Alejandro asks Don and Ellie to pretend they are still married. They agree, much to Bebe’s chagrin. This sets the stage for some farcical situations and riotous comedy - or so, I’m sure, was the plan.

Without a doubt, the most impressive thing about THE BIG WEDDING is the number of top stars who agreed to take part in such a vulgar, low-brow comedy, written and directed by a virtually unknown director. Obviously well-connected, Justin Zackham’s only feature (hardly) worth mentioning is GOING GREEK in 2001, although he did write the screenplay to 2007’s THE BUCKET LIST.

Likeable characters among the stellar ensemble are few, and the wedding scenario itself seems merely a pretext to gather together a bunch of predictable, one-dimensional figures. As soon as we meet Jared, for example, we know that he will lose his virginity by the end of the film - and as soon as we see the sexy Nuria, we know with whom. Likewise, his sister Lyla is bound to discover that she is, indeed, fertile, with an offspring on the way, while Missy is restricted to doing little more than look pretty and gaze gormlessly into the distance, Worse still are the basic premise and absurd circumstances requiring Don and Ellie to fake their marriage - and how Bebe demonstrates her outrage.

To compensate for a singular lack of laughs and a plot so blatantly absurd, Zackham has fallen back on that old favorite: vulgarity, combined with a good dose of flagrant racial stereotypes. The only non-Caucasians in the cast, Madonna, the devout Catholic with alien values who speaks no English, is the butt of many tasteless jokes, while her daughter Nuria is portrayed as a hot, Hispanic sex object whose raison d’etre is to strip naked and seduce one of the (white) male leads.

Some readers may be surprised to learn that hardly anyone ever reads a script in Hollywood. Incredible but true. All that counts is the “Deal”; meaning the “attachments” and finance structure. Once you’ve got DeNiro signed, for example, the rest follow like lemmings, their agents and managers automatically assuming that, with such a star already onboard, production funding is certain and a hit is sure to result, with the studio throwing all its weight behind it. Knowing this explains why so much trash gets made and huge budgets wasted. In fact, it’s a wonder that anything good ever gets produced at all, but I guess the law of averages dictates that the occasional good screenplay will squeak through. Still, back to THE BIG WEDDING…

None of the cast (including four Academy Award winners) puts in anything other than an embarrassing performance and, if one thing does come across clearly, it is that embarrassment. They turn up, speak their lines, take the money and run. Maybe next time, they’ll read the script in advance!

THE BIG WEDDING (USA, 2013); Genre: RomCom; Running time: 89 Mins; Director: Justin Zackham; Writers: Justin Zackham (screenplay), Jean-Stéphane Bron, Karine Sudan (film: "Mon frère se marie"); Cast: Robert De Niro, Katherine Heigl, Amanda Seyfried, Topher Grace, Susan Sarandon, Robin Williams, Diane Keaton, Ben Barnes, Patricia Rae, Ana Ayora, etc; Camera: Jonathan Brown; Music: Nathan Barr; Distributors/Release dates: Germany - Concorde Filmverleih, 30. May / USA - Lionsgate, 26. April 2013

Von: Geraldine Blecker

TO THE WONDER (USA, 2012)

The latest from Terrence Malik

02. June 13 , 18:44

Frankfurt / Germany (Weltexpress). His name alone, uttered with such reverence, was enough to have the culture vultures crowding into the press screening. Where were you all when I was taking one for the team? I asked. Subjected to EVIL DEAD at 10 in the morning? Or even SCARY MOVIE 5? “But this is Terrence Malick”, the critics whispered in awe.

Terrence Malick left a good six years between his Oscar-nominated THE THIN RED LINE (1998) and THE NEW WORLD (2005), and then another seven went by before THE TREE OF LIFE in 2011, likewise an Oscar nomination and Cannes Palme d’Or winner. Since then he has apparently got into his stride, completing TO THE WONDER only one year later and, with three further works in post-production and another handful in the pipeline, the publicity-shy writer/director/producer seems to have been gripped by a veritable film making frenzy.

Using the same recipe he used to such effect in THE TREE OF LIFE - which I personally detested, although I could still understand why it captivated a certain audience - this latest offering makes that picture look like an action-adventure. To call it slow and soporific would be an understatement. Nevertheless, this confused impressionistic narrative of a doomed romance, with no story to speak of, no dialogue nor character development, and not a single continuous sequence longer than about three seconds - giving it much the look of a late-60s home video - will doubtless be hailed by some as a masterpiece. As evidenced by its nomination for the Golden Lion at last year’s Venice Film Festival.

Great effort has been made to give a sense of continuity to a series of what amounts to scenic holiday slides (courtesy of cameraman Emmanuel Lubezki) by use of an uninspired narrative. We begin in France, where we meet lovely young Frenchwoman Marina (Olga Kurylenko) and Neil (Ben Affleck), her American lover, as they travel to Normandy to visit Mont St. Michel - otherwise referred to as The Wonder, and hence the film’s title. Obviously deeply in love, they wander the sands and tenderly caress to the musical accompaniment of the first act of Wagner’s Parsifal.

From there, the couple returns to Paris and soon Marina and her small daughter Tatiana (Tatiana Chiline) follow Neil to his home in Oklahoma. But life is not as rosy as Marina had hoped. She feels out of place, disconnected, and the once-so-passionate love affair loses its intensity and is no longer enough to sustain her. Marina and daughter return to Paris, following which, Neil launches into an affair with his childhood sweetheart Jane (Rachel McAdams). This liaison, too, is doomed to founder, as Neil and Marina realize how much they love each other. So she returns to Oklahoma prepared to give it another go … And that’s it in a nutshell, folks. Oh, yes, in the second half, we meet Father Quintana, (Javier Bardem), the disillusioned priest who cares for his flock in the dustbowl of a parish and is struggling to cling onto his faith.

Ben Affleck plays Neil, whose name is never mentioned in the film and is only revealed in the closing credits - in case anyone is curious and masochistic enough to wait it out. On the other hand, it might just as well have been a look-alike or cardboard replica, as Malick has given him little to do other than look brooding, morose, vacant - or all three at once - mostly standing in the background or at the edge of frame. Nor does he have much to say, as practically all dialogue takes the form of voiced-over comments. The same applies to Bardem’s Father Quintano, although he does get the occasional close-up.

Malik’s female protagonists fare much better. Olga Kurylenko’s Marina is endlessly cavorting through fields, wafting through forest glades, waltzing through Paris streets, or twirling about in the rooms of empty houses in soft focus, reveling in her presumed happiness. When the relationship goes south and she returns to Paris, Rachel McAdams takes over. And for the brief duration of her romance with Neil, likewise does her share of romping and frolicking through sun-drenched fields and buffalo-grazing flatlands. Once Marina returns, everything is repeated all over again.

“Love makes us one”, says Marina of her romance in the beginning. Arriving in Oklahoma, she remarks, “A land so calm. Honest. Rich”. Later, when she’s had enough of it, she must admit, “There’s something missing.” As Neil and Rachel’s affair comes to an end, Rachel comments in a rare moment of dialogue, “What we had was nothing. You made it into nothing”. Neil remains wordless, as ever. As for Father Quintana, he is given his own platitudes to utter, “My heart is cold”, says he.

Although some of the images are indeed stunning, the relentless handheld camera technique and constant shot recomposition soon become tedious and irritating. Only relieved by a sophisticated soundtrack, which blends snippets from the works of such classical composers as Wagner. Berlioz, Hayden, Tchaikovsky, et al, with some esoteric sound effects and a bit of original music flung into the mix by Hanan Townshend.

There could well be a hidden cadence and thematic structure buried beneath all the dross of TO THE WONDER that depict the changing of the seasons, the waning of passion, the disillusionment of love, and so on. But if so, it doesn’t come across and, as far as I’m concerned, this movie is a total waste of time - and money.

* * *

TO THE WONDER
(USA, 2012); Running time: 112 mins; Director/Writer: Terrence Malick; Cast: Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko, Rachel McAdams, Javier Bardem, Romina Mondello, Tatiano Chiline; Director of photography: Emmanuel Lubezki; Production designer: Jack Fisk; Music: Hanan Townshend; Distributors/Release dates: Magnolia Pictures, 12. April (limited USA) / StudioCanal, 30.May (Germany)

Von: Geraldine Blecker

THE WORDS (USA, 2012) - Two books, three authors

28. May 13 , 19:00

Frankfurt / Germany (Weltexpress). THE WORDS tells the story of aspiring young novelist Rory Jansen (Bradley Cooper), who rises to fame under false pretenses. For the book he has written has been copied word for word from that of another (Jeremy Irons). But both authors, the false and the true, are merely the fictional creations of a third: Clay Hammond (Dennis Quaid), himself surrounded by mystery. Until attractive young student Daniella (Olivia Wilde) begins asking the right questions and gets beneath his shell.

The directorial debut of writers Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal focuses on a theme they know well. The lengths to which a novelist will go to achieve fame and fortune when it comes to choosing between the truth and fabrication, ambition and talent, popularity and ignominy. So it is almost ironic that, in part, THE WORDS bears such a striking similarity to Martin Suter’s LILA LILA, (My Words, My Lies - My Love) despite the fact that both directors claim to be unaware of either the book or its screen adaptation. The plot of the 2009 German comedy revolves around David, a waiter, who finds an unpublished manuscript in a drawer and, to impress a girl, claims to be the author. When the novel becomes a best-seller, the real writer introduces himself and starts taking over David’s life.

Whether Klugman and Sternthal wrote their screenplay prior to the publication of Suter’s novel, found his manuscript in an old briefcase, or whether the parallels are purely coincidental remain matters of conjecture. Be that as it may, the film makers tell their tale much more seriously, and have given it more depth, two further storylines and some extra twists, which, in the end, make it a very different work.

There is no denying that the individual elements of the interlaced stories work relatively well. The actors deliver competent performances, especially Jeremy Irons as the enigmatic old man - the original author - and Nora Arnezeder, the lost love of his youth. Visually, too, the sequences shot in Paris and Quebec are evocative. The basic flaw, however, is that although the three plots function individually, there is little time to allow the stories to unfold or their characters to evolve. In the end, all roads lead to nowhere, leaving the viewer somehow baffled and deflated.

Indeed, a film should not be expected to explain every detail and offer up obvious solutions on a silver platter, but when suspense is being built up throughout, it should also be adequately resolved. And it is just this which Klugman and Sternthal fail to do with their third storyline involving Clay and Daniella - where all the threads should otherwise come together. Nevertheless, the tale of Rory and the stolen novel, and the old author’s narration, are powerful enough to compensate for some of the film’s shortcomings.

Premiered at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, THE WORDS has at least managed to double its estimated budget of $6 million since its official US release last September.

THE WORDS
, USA, 2012 / German title: Der Dieb der Worte; Genre: Drama; Running time: 106 mins; Directors/Writers: Brian Klugman, Lee Sternthal; Cast: Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Irons, Dennis Quaid, Olivia Wilde, Zoe Saldana; Nora Arnezeder; Camera: Antonio Calvache; Music: Marcelo Zarvos; Distributors/Release dates: Central Film Verleih GmbH, May 23/CBS Films, 7. Sept. 2012 (USA).

Von: Geraldine Blecker

FAST & FURIOUS 6 - (USA, 2013)

27. May 13 , 21:21

The Family that Plays together, Stays together !

Frankfurt / Germany (Weltexpress). FAST & FURIOUS 6 has already raked in over $122.5 million at the US and Canadian box office over Memorial Day weekend, adding another $177 million in foreign ticket sales, and so bringing Universal’s global take up to $275.5 million - so far.

Nicely recouping its estimated $160 million production budget, it left all competition standing, ousting STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS from pole position. Even more surprising is the fact that this testosterone-packed movie sequel has attracted so many female viewers - approx. 49% of the audience to date.

Set in London, the new film stars Vin Diesel as professional criminal Dominic Toretto, now-retired, whom we see living in peaceful exile in the Canary Isles, not far from his sister Mia and her husband, former rival Brian (Paul Walker). A surprise visit from biceps-flexing DSS agent Luke Hobbs (Wayne Johnson) asking for Dom’s help, persuades him to reunite his team. The mission: to take down a criminal outfit of mercenary hijackers scattered around the planet, led by former Special Ops badass Owen Shaw (Luke Evans). The payoff: full pardons for Dom and his crew. An added incentive which tips the scales is proof that Dom’s former girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), thought to be dead following a car crash in F&F no. 4, is still alive and kicking - and working with Shaw.

After a recap bringing us up to date at the end of movie number five - which I especially appreciated, being a Fast & Furious virgin up to this point - events move swiftly into overdrive and we see just what the team is up against. A sequence of Shaw causing serious havoc on Canary Wharf behind the wheel of an incredible, pimped-up racing machine able to flip oncoming vehicles like hamburgers, is just a small taste of what lies ahead.

“The importance of Family” is the motto of F&F 6. Brian has now become a father, making Dom an uncle, and the turncoat Letty must be brought back into the fold. The second slogan is on the poster: “All roads lead to this”. Meaning a dead end, I guess. As do all rules, logic, and physics. That being said, so what? A top-notch action spree, demanding no intellectual effort; just pure entertainment with some gorgeous locations, truly amazing CGI, and spectacular, real-life stunt driving.

Director Justin Lin and writer Chris Morgan, the latter part of the team since TOKYO DRIFT in 2006, are firing on all cylinders with an unending series of jaw-dropping action sequences that accelerate in over-the-top absurdity: tanks, planes, violent explosions, gigantic collisions, glorious, new-fangled vehicles, wild chases, savage combat - mano-a-mano and girl-on-girl - you name it. The scenery is likewise splendid. London, unlikely venue for such Grand-Prix type action, comes into its own, as do other glamorous locations. Nor have Lin and Morgan spared on humor - some of which is actually intentional.

The action has been pretty fairly doled out between all the players, and we are even introduced to some fresh faces. Luke Evans is a terrific bad guy and Hobbs’ foxy new partner Riley (Gina Carano of HAYWIRE) adds some extra kick-ass. If the team gets any bigger, they’ll have to swap their Ford Mustangs for busses in No. 7. Oh, yes, there will be a number seven, scheduled for release in July, 2014. And clues to the identity of a major new cast member are to be seen if you hang around after the closing credits. But I won’t spoil it for you.

FAST & FURIOUS 6 may not be clever or mentally challenging when it comes to plot, character development, or dialogue, but you get what you pay for and it never disappoints. An exciting, non-stop, action-packed ride. As one of the 49%, I thoroughly enjoyed it!

* * *

FAST & FURIOUS 6, (USA, 2013); Genre: Action/Adventure; Running time: 130 mins; Distributor: Universal Pictures International; Director: Justin Lin; Writer: Christ Morgan, based on the characters by Clayton Townsend; Cast: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Luke Evans, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris“ Bridges; Camera: Stephen F. Windon; Music: Luis Vidal; Release dates: 24. May (US) / 23. May (Germany)

Von: Geraldine Blecker

THE GREAT GATSBY (USA/AUSTRALIA, 2013)

21. May 13 , 09:43

A Harbinger of Things to Come?

Baz Luhrmann’s film adaptation of THE GREAT GATBSY - the fifth to date - has generated much controversy among critics. Love it or hate, at least no one seems indifferent

Frankfurt / Gemany (Weltexpress). First published in 1925, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s THE GREAT GATSBY is a major American classic and required high school reading. Two-time Oscar-winner for his extravagant rendering of MOULIN ROUGE!, it is hardly surprising that Baz Luhrmann was attracted to the glitz and excess of the Roaring ’Twenties and, although he has updated the classic tale with the addition of 3D and a modern Hip-Hop/Soul soundtrack, some wondered whether these new elements would be enough to generate fresh enthusiasm for this well-known tale. However, as it has already grossed over $90 mill. at the US box office since it was released last week, I guess such doubts are academic.

As far as the storyline goes, Luhrmann and co-writer Craig Pearce have stuck closely to the original plot. Set in Long Island in 1922, the story is narrated by aspiring young novelist and stockbroker Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), who has come to New York from the Midwest to grab himself a piece of the American Dream. Moving into a small cottage beside a luxurious mansion, he finds himself living right next door to enigmatic millionaire Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) - a total mystery to most; although the crème de la crème of New York society regularly attend his lavish house parties.

New in town, Nick’s social circle is limited to his cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan) and her husband Tom (Joel Edgerton), who dwell on the other side of the bay, but this is to change on the day he receives a personal invitation to one of Gatsby’s shindigs. The charismatic millionaire subsequently befriends Nick, introducing him to a whole new world and elaborate lifestyle. But there is a motive behind this sudden offer of friendship and when Gatsby asks Nick for a great favor, which involves his cousin Daisy, the young man finds himself drawn into a tale of unrequited love and shattered dreams, predestined to end in tragedy…

Warner Bros. actually planned to release THE GREAT GATSBY last summer, explaining the sudden change of plan as a marketing strategy. Opinions were divided, many feeling that Luhrmann had simply plagiarized his own works, delivering a gaudy mix of ROMEO & JULIET, MOULIN ROUGE! and AUSTRALIA. And in fact the parallels are undeniable. This begins with the anachronistic soundtrack (courtesy of exec. producer Jay-Z), which takes some getting used to. Mixing contemporary sound design and Hip-Hop music with the Jazz of the Roaring Twenties - still leaving a bit of space to squeeze in some original music by Craig Armstrong - it manages to capture the spirit of the times, emphasizing the hedonistic, devil-may-care attitude of the social elite and nouveau riche, dancing at the edge of the abyss.

Visually, too, Luhrmann remains true to his formula. Brash, artificial and full of outlandish kitsch, it is an opulent work and the glittering costumes and magnificent sets (the latter created by producer/production designer Catherine Martin), together with the cinematography of Simon Duggan, create an intoxicating imagery, drawing the viewer into Jay Gatsby’s world.

The casting, too, leaves little cause for complaint. DiCaprio as the doomed, self-made millionaire with links to the underworld, desperate to win back his first love, puts in a scintillating performance. Skipping lightly through the full emotional spectrum, he is an elusive, profound and touchingly tragic figure, adding humanity to the glittering superficiality around him. A lone figure whose popularity is never in doubt - anyone who’s anyone flocks to his house parties and swills his free booze - yet somehow still socially unacceptable, as Daisy’s crude husband Tom, strongly portrayed by Joel Edgerton, scornfully points out. Carey Mulligan is convincing as the fragile and melancholy Daisy, as is Toby Maguire (who incidentally receives top billing in France), as the narrator and relatively passive observer, with the occasional emotional outburst.

Set in a time frame between the Great War and the Wall St. Crash, teetering on the brink of the Great Depression, THE GREAT GATSBY seems a timeless piece, perhaps even a harbinger of things to come.

I was surprised at just how much I enjoyed this opulent cinematic event, somewhat reminiscent of the Merchant-Ivory epics of decades past. It might be too early to make any predictions, but I reckon that Messrs. Lurhman and DiCaprio are looking at more Oscar nominations. I can definitely recommend the film, although I advise taking a packed lunch. At 142 minutes, one might get a bit peckish! 

THE GREAT GATSBY (USA/Australia, 2012); Genre: Literary adaptation/romantic drama; Running time: 142 mins; Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures; Director: Baz Luhrmann; Writers: Screenplay: Baz Luhrmann, Craig Pierce; based on the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald; Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan, Kpeö Egerton, Ilsa Fisher, Jason Clarke; Cinematography: Simon Duggan; Set Design: Catherine Martin; Original score: Craig Armstrong; Release dates: May 10 (US) / May 16 (Germany)

Von: Geraldine Blecker

EPIC (USA, 2013) - Welcome to a miniscule world

18. May 13 , 21:58

From the Creators of ICE AGE and RIO

Frankfurt / Germany (Weltexpress) - 17-year old MK (voiced by Amanda Seyfried) returns to her father’s isolated forest home after a long absence. Hoping to finally get closer to her eccentric dad ((Jason Sudeikis), she is saddened to find that little has changed. The professor seems more obsessed than ever with his scientific research - madness in her opinion - convinced that a miniature people lives in the forest and determined to prove it.

Realizing that she is wasting her time, MK makes ready to leave when she, herself, is suddenly drawn into the same tiny world. Magically shrunken to miniscule size, she discovers the hidden kingdom of Moonhaven - a world in dire danger. For the age-old battle between good and evil is just reaching its climax, and it would seem that MK has a vital role to play…

MK joins the Leafmen, under the leadership of the great warrior Ronin, who are struggling to defend Moonhaven against the evil Boggarts, led by the sinister Mandrake (English and German versions both voiced by Christoph Waltz). Able to wither every living thing, Mandrake’s goal is to take over the domain and turn it into a kingdom of the dead. Only when Moonhaven is safe, will the spell be lifted so that MK can return to her human-sized world. But time is short and Mandrake and his army seem to be gaining the upper hand…

Based on the children’s book by William Joyce, director Chris Wedge (ICE AGE) takes his viewers into a wonderfully-detailed and fascinating fantasy world, invisible to the human eye, where the tiny Leafmen fly on the backs of humming birds, a mouse is suddenly a dangerous predator, and a stapler can be used as a springboard. Just a few examples of the visual creativity, enhanced by the mandatory - but very effective - use of 3D, which makes this animated adventure truly delightful, especially for younger viewers. Unfortunately, this is where the creativity ends.

The classic storyline is lifted from a miscellany of other works, borrowing elements from AVATAR, SPIDERWICK, NARNIA, and LORD OF THE RINGS, among others, although the target audience (children of 8 years and up) may not be so quick to identify the relevant source material. EPIC is nonetheless entertaining and, apart from its glorious detail, has some simple humor as well as a few good characters to offer. The two talking snails Mub (Aziz Ansari) and Grub (Chris O’Dowd), for example, are the comedy duo of the piece, and even though their slapstick is often over-the-top, it is likely to appeal to younger viewers.

EPIC is cautiously PC and its environmentalist message is delivered with a sledge hammer, which somehow dilutes the magic and “Epic-ness” in my opinion. Engaging enough, this offering still lacks warmth and individuality and is unlikely to approach anywhere near the success of ICE AGE. 

EPIC (USA, 2013); Genre: Animation/Adventure/Childrens Film; Distributor: 20th Century Fox; Running time: 104 mins; German title: EPIC  - VERBORGENES KÖNIGREICH; Director: Chris Wedge; Writers: Tom J. Astle, Matt Ember, James V. Hart, William Joyce - (based on the book “The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs“) by Daniel Shere; Cinematographer: Renato Falcão; Music: Danny Elfman; Production design: Greg Couch; Voices: Jason Sudeikis, Steven Tyler, Amanda Seyfried; Beyoncé Knowles, Josh Hutcherson, Judah Friedlander, Colin Farrell, Aziz Ansari, Blak Anderson, Christoph Waltz, Chris O’Dowd; Release dates: May 24 (US) / May 116 (Germany)

Von: Geraldine Blecker

EVIL DEAD - (USA, 2013) - So Many Shades of Red

15. May 13 , 23:48

Frankfurt / Germany (Weltexpress). In case anybody saw SCARY MOVIE 5, released last week in Europe, this is one of the key pictures it was lampooning. So now you know the joke. And that’s about the only joke to be had in this grisly remake of Sam Raimi’s 1981 original THE EVIL DEAD.

Apart from the fact that it has so far generated over $72 million at the box office since its US release in April - and is still set to open in many territories.

The basic plot is the same as its predecessor: a bunch of attractive young people take off for a sojourn in an isolated Cabin In the Woods. The pretext: to help heroin junky Mia (Jane Levy) kick the habit. Her four cabin mates consist of her brother David (Shiloh Fernandez), his insipid girlfriend Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore) and trusted childhood friends Eric and Olivia (Jessica Lucas), who is also a nurse.

Exploring the damp, gloomy basement - which is pretty much par for the course in horror movies - they unearth an ancient tome: a Book of the Dead bound in human skin, chock full of spells and incantations. Eric eagerly takes it up to his room that night and, despite the dire warnings and curses plastered all over its pages, begins reading it aloud. This summons an evil demon - patiently waiting for the appearance of just such an idiot - who then proceeds to systematically possesses each of the protagonists in turn. Blood gushes in fountains as they mutilate and dismember themselves and each other with knives, chain saws, and other sharp tools and pointy household implements. As there are no sympathetic characters, the suspense consists in seeing them all successively come to a gruesome, blood-soaked end, without caring who, if any, will make it out alive.

Admittedly, THE EVIL DEAD in its day was known for plentiful quantities of blood – but also for equal amounts of humour. All the gore and cheesy acting were what made it unique at the time and the first was indeed frightening and atmospheric. Fede Alvarez, on the other hand, has focused purely on massive amounts of blood and the technique applied for producing it - apparently without the use of CGI. There’s no denying that his rehash is far more glossy and extravagant than the original. But then a budget of $17 million as opposed to Raimi’s measly $350K is sure to make a difference - yet that’s really the only improvement. Otherwise, there’s no heart, no soul, no character development - and certainly no humor. 

The object in remaking a cult horror film shouldn’t be simply to boost the carnage, even though SFX have improved by leaps and bounds over the past 3 decades. Best described as a tired cross-over between the “torture porn” of the 90s (think SAW), and another EXORCIST overhaul, EVIL DEAD, among its other faults, is also unfortunately lacking the one essential component expected of any good horror - a sense of fear.

EVIL DEAD (USA, 2013), Genre: Horror; Running time: 91 mins; Director: Fede Alvarez; Writer: Fede Alvarez, (based on the screenplay by Sam Raimi); Cast: Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas, Elizabeth Blackmore; Cinematography: Aaron Morton; Music: Roque Banos; Distributor/Release dates: TriStar Picture/April 5 (US), Sony Pictures/May 16 (Germany)

Von: Geraldine Blecker

STOKER (USA, 2012) - Park Chan-Wook's Hollywood Debut

12. May 13 , 19:15

Frankfurt / Germany (Weltexpress). STOKER centers on the coming-of-age of India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska). Losing her beloved father Richard (Dermot Mulroney) in a tragic auto accident on the eve of her 18th birthday, her secluded life is suddenly shattered.

A fragile girl teetering on the brink of womanhood, India feels isolated, and rejected by her sexually-frustrated and emotionally unstable mother Evie (Nicole Kidman). Drawn to her father’s long-lost brother Charlie (Matthew Goode), who unexpectedly appears at the funeral and decides to stay, her distrust soon gives way to fascination. They would seem to have much in common - blood calling to blood. Uncle Charlie radiates a mesmerizing charm - which is not lost on her lonely mother, either - and the more he reveals himself to India, the more infatuated she becomes. With him as her mentor, she is poised to cross a threshold and as she begins exploring her sexuality, carnal urges give way to murder.

STOKER, (likewise a nod to the author of DRACULA), is South Korean film maker Park Chan-wook’s Hollywood debut, and first English language film. Known for his somewhat macabre and unconventional style, this production is more linear than his previous works (OLDBOY, THIRST), yet by no means dumbed-down by studio demands, as was perhaps to be feared.

Penned by PRISON BREAK actor Wentworth Miller, the screenplay is inspired by Hitchcock’s thriller IN THE SHADOW OF DOUBT. Yet, despite a few structural similarities, STOKER is unique unto itself. Beginning as a drama, it metamorphoses into a mystery-thriller, before culminating in psycho-horror; all interspersed with a morbid visual aesthetic for which Park is famed. A blood-tipped pencil, water slowly dripping between a pair of shoes, a spider crawling up a female leg, a spattering of blood in the grass - the movie resonates with exaggerated nuances hinting at menace and sensuality, which fuse into a portrayal of sexual awakening as a deadly and seductive force.

Mia Wasikowska (JANE EYRE, ALICE IN WONDERLAND) plays her many-facetted role with an aloof invulnerability, combining sensuality and insecurity, youthful innocence and adult deviousness, altogether a fearless performance. Matthew Goode’s Uncle Charlie is more than a match, utterly charming and chilling by turn, only gradually revealing his true nature. Nicole Kidman as the widowed Evie is all naked nerves and sexual yearning, albeit bland by comparison. Still, with less screen time than the others, it is what the script requires and she performs with her usual expertise.

Although the action soon reveals Uncle Charlie’s motives and his past, there are surprises in store, keeping up the suspense to the very end. With a dose of black humor and moments of sinister beauty, even the more conventional sequences are elevated to another level: a dreamscape verging on barely-restrained madness. Cameraman Chung-hoon Chung’s smooth pans and sudden zooms interspersed with unusual close-ups suggest the ever-pervading presence of peril. The dialogue, too, is somehow alien and artificial, drawing us into a world that is slightly off-kilter.

Despite numerous references to the works of Hitchcock and other representatives of the genre, Park Chan-Wook has made a visually, dramatically and disturbingly lovely film that should please fans of more intelligent cinema fare. Go see!

STOKER (USA, 2012); Distributor: Fox Searchlight; Genre: Drama/Mystery/Horror; Running time: 99 Mins; Director: Park Chan-wook; Writers: Wentworth Miller (screenplay), Erin Cressida Wilson (additional); Cinematography: Chung-hoon Chung; Music: Clint Mansell; Production Design: Thérèse DePrez; Release dates: 1. March (USA, limited) / 9. May (Germany).

Von: Geraldine Blecker

BB KING: THE LIFE OF RILEY (UK, 2012) - The Man and his Music

08. May 13 , 19:07

A Documentary

Frankfurt / Germany (Weltexpress). The documentary directed by Jon Brewer portrays the life and work of legendary musician BB King, hailed by many as the King of Blues. Born in 1925, Riley King grew up on the cotton plantations of Mississippi, overcoming abject poverty and bitter racism to become one of the world’s greatest Blues musicians.

Narrated by Morgan Freeman, BB KING: THE LIFE OF RILEY mixes topical and period interviews with archive material, the occasional reconstruction, and a slew of famous musical icons and personalities. Including Mick Jagger, John Lennon, Carlos Santana, Bonnie Raitt, Eric Clapton, Bruce Willis, and even President Barack Obama, who talk about B.B. King’s influence on their lives and their work.

A chronological narrative - and at 123 minutes somewhat overlong - the documentary takes a while to kick in, dwelling for the first third or so on many details from BB’s early years, described by friends, ex-wives, and relatives in a practically incomprehensible Delta drawl. (I was grateful for the German subtitles). But it finally moves into what we’re all waiting for - his music, and the guest appearances of so many rock legends.

Some of the historic footage of BB King on stage with such bands as The Stones in the 60s, and U2 two decades later, as well as clips from a very recent appearance at London’s Albert Hall - well into his eighties, with a voice as powerful as ever - is terrific. Despite his enormous charisma, success, and iconic status, the man is surprisingly humble and down to earth, speaking with humor of his early years: his love of music and of people - especially those of the opposite gender.

Not a perfect production by any means - it is often slow and repetitive - but nevertheless a treat for Blues fans – offering a fascinating insight into the influence BB King had on his peers. Apart from that, of course, the soundtrack is sensational.

A British production with a limited UK release last October 15th, to my surprise the picture does not seem to have attracted distributors for any other territories apart from Germany, where it opens on May 9th. A must-see for all Blues fans.

BB KING: THE LIFE OF RILEY (UK, 2012); Genre: Music documentary; Running time: 123 Mins; German distributor: Arsenal Film Verleih/US Distributor: GFM films; Film makers: John Brewer; Narrated by: Morgan Freeman; Featuring: Bono, Bonnie Raitt, Ronnie Wood, George Benson, Bruce Willis, Bill Cosby, Dr. John, Mick Jagger, John Lennon, John Mayall, Barack Obama, Keith Richards, Paul Rodgers, Ringo Starr, Leon Russell, Bill Wyman, Mohammed Ali, et al; Release dates: limited UK release Oct. 2012/Gemany May 9th.

by: Geraldine Blecker

STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS (USA, 2013)

10. May 13 , 16:21

The Final Frontier - or maybe not!

Frankfurt / Germany (Weltexpress). One of the year’s most eagerly-awaited films, STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS lives up to expectations. After four separate TV series, eleven motion pictures, countless parodies (GALAXY QUEST springs instantly to mind) and decades of Trekkie conventions, it was inevitable that there would be a sequel to the prequel.

Following his 2009 STAR TREK resurrection (re-)introducing viewers to the group of young space cadets finishing off their training at the Space Academy, to then embark on their maiden voyage to the stars, J.J. Abrams now takes us further into the 23rd Century. Here we meet a somewhat older and more seasoned crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise, whose world - and the very existence of Starfleet itself - is soon to be threatened by the machinations of a ruthlessly clever terrorist from within its own ranks.

Chris Pine is back as a young Capt. James T. Kirk with Zachary Quinto as Spock, his “logical” First Officer and the rest of the familiar team. The action kicks off at Warp Factor 8 with Kirk and Dr. McCoy (great portrayal by Karl Urban) tearing through the thick forest of an alien world, chased by its primitive denizens. This, while Spock is some distance away trying to defuse an active volcano, whose imminent eruption is set to obliterate the planet and its system. Going against StarFleet’s Prime Directive - never to Play God (i.e. interfere with or even be seen by an impressionable alien race) - Kirk saves Spock, as well as the planet and its people. But at what cost! He is subsequently stripped of his rank, his ship and his crew.

Returning to Earth to face the music, he finds StarFleet Command distracted by a more serious problem. In the form of John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), a one-man weapon of mass destruction, fiendishly clever, brilliantly manipulative, and hell-bent on revenge against his foes - real or imagined. Not wanting to give too much away, suffice it to say that Kirk is soon reinstated and he and the crew are dispatched to a remote section of the Klingon homeworld to bring Harrison to justice.

Best known for his TV role as SHERLOCK, Steven Spielberg is said to have recommended Cumberbatch to the producers based on his performance in WARHORSE, who then did his screen test on an iPhone in his best friend’s kitchen. However he got the part, there are moments in his hypnotic performance that make you wonder if Harrison is really a villain at all. Until he strikes. His air of quiet menace, combined with superior intelligence and persuasive talent keeps the viewer as off-balanced as it does Capt. Kirk.

Notwithstanding the heavy marketing focus on Harrison/Cumberbatch, he is only one source of conflict. Screenwriters Damon Lindelof, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci have spiced the crew’s interaction with lesser tensions and disputes - and a good dose of humanity - mostly revolving around Spock and his apparent lack of emotion. Which cheeses off Kirk - who has just saved Spock’s life at the cost of his career - as well as Officer Uhura (Zoe Saldana), with whom Spock would appear to be having a “romantic” relationship. Scotty (wonderfully played by Simon Pegg), who provides much of the film’s comic relief, is meanwhile dismayed by the Enterprise’s military mission, “I thought we were explorers,” he protests, repeating a concern voiced by many Star Trek fans.

Chris Pine puts in a commendable performance as the brash, hot-headed young starship captain who makes his journey into maturity learning to take responsibility for his actions, while his fraternal friendship with Spock and their constant bickering - in which Spock usually has the upper hand - is an added source of delight. Quinto and Pine have managed to capture the quintessence of the original characters (compliments here to the makeup department), while still making them their own. J.J. Abrams and his production team should likewise be praised for making a film that caters to the traditional fan base with homage and references to many of the original characters, while still appealing to a younger audience. Albeit as far as the latter is concerned, I am inclined to think that many such quotes might fall on fallow ground.

Nonetheless, the end product is fascinating - a perfect blend of sci-fi thrills, adventure, drama and excitement, boldly going into 3D, which gives depth to the Enterprise and the infinity of space. This is not to mention the set design and CG environments: the futuristic visions of London and San Francisco are truly spectacular. At a budget of $185 million - $15 mill. less than IRON MAN 3 - the latest STAR TREK enterprise is 132 minutes of sheer enjoyment.

* * *

STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS (USA, 2013): Running time: 132 mins; Distributor: Paramount Pictures; Director: J.J. Abrams; Writers: Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof; Gene Roddenberry (original TV series); Main cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Alice Eve, Anton Yelchin, Benedict Cumberbatch, Peter Weller; Cinematographer: Dan Mindel; Composer: Michael Giacchino; Production Designer: Scott Chambliss; Release dates: May 17 (US) / May 9 (Germany)

by: Geraldine Blecker

I, ANNA (UK/Germany/France, 2012)

06. May 13 , 15:25

Another reason to stay home & watch TV!

Frankfurt / Germany (Weltexpress). Well into her 60s, former femme fatale Charlotte Rampling, albeit still in relatively good shape, seeks to resurrect her sex appeal in I, ANNA, playing opposite a weary-looking, yet still attractive (it’s unfair, I know), Gabriel Byrne.

Set in a grubby London suburb, she plays Anna Welles, who regularly attends speed-dating evenings in the hopes of snaring a new companion. This is where she meets George (Ralph Brown), a nasty piece of work, who nonetheless persuades her to accompany him back to his place for some hanky-panky. Things rapidly go south and we see her the next day, staggering out of the high-rise building. On her way out, she bumps into DCI Bernie Riede (Gabriel Byrne), who has just been called to a murder scene. And yes, the victim is George…

There is an immediate attraction between the two and Riede’s romantic interest is aroused, despite the fact that evidence gradually reveals that Anna could be involved in the crime. A conflict of interests: is Anna the murderess, and is the detective stepping out of line? All is obviously not what it seems. Anna is a mysterious and tragic figure, yet there is little to arouse the viewer’s interest in her fate, or the outcome of the plot - such as it is.

Written and directed by first-timer Barnaby Southcombe - who just happens to be Charlotte Rampling’s son - based on the novel of the same name by psychologist Elsa Lewin, I, ANNA was shot in London and Hamburg as a UK/German/French co-production, subsidized by Lord knows how many media boards and tax incentives - that is to say, made with “cultural funding”, i.e. taxpayers’ money.

Permiered at the Berlinale 2012, it likewise won accolades at various film festivals (Evening Standard British Film Awards, Shanghai International Film Festival), including the Vancouver International Film Festival, where it was voted “most popular international first feature” for its director. The film has been hailed as a “work of art” by certain European critics, although I found it to be a dreary, overdone, and confusing pseudo-noir thriller. Frustratingly slow-moving with dramatic (mostly unflattering) close-ups on Rampling, she and Byrne do the best they can with a thin, convoluted plot and lackluster script, which never should have been made into a film.

Good news for American cinema-goers - it doesn’t look as if I, ANNA will be making its way into the US market any time soon.

I, ANNA
(UK/Germany/France, 2012); Genre: Noir thriller; Running time: 93 Mins; Distributors/Release dates: NFP marketing & distribution, May 2 (Germany) / Artificial Eye, Dec. 29, 2012 (UK); Director/Screenplay: Barnaby Southcombe; Writer/Novel: Elsa Lewin; Cast: Charlotte Rampling, Gabriel Byrne, Hayley Atwell, Eddie Marsan, Ralph Brown

THE INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT (Germany, 2013)

06. May 13 , 15:38

Frankfurt / Germany (Weltexpress). Shot in the style of a legal thriller, this documentary illustrates the work of the International Criminal Court and the frustrations and difficulties involved in bringing some of the world’s worst criminals to justice.

The United Nations Conference of Plenipotentiaries on the establishment of an International Criminal Court, known as the Rome Conference, took place in that city in the summer of 1998. More than 160 governments took part, at the end of which 120 nations voted in favor of adopting the Rome Statute. Only 9 nations voted against the treaty. These included the United States, Israel, China, Iraq, and Qatar, while 21 nations abstained, whereupon the statute was ratified. And so the foundation was laid for the International Criminal Court in The Hague, which began its work in 2002. Its idealistic intent: to help bring justice to such countries whose own legal system had collapsed due to war or revolution. But the implementation of this idea has been fraught with difficulties, for not only must the accused first be captured and brought to face justice in the Hague, but bureaucracy, insufficient funding, and pressure from the corresponding regimes have impeded many indictments altogether.

Film makers Marcus Vetter and Michele Gentile followed the chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo and his team for three years, between March 2009 and November 2012, and were able to gain considerable insight into the difficult work of the criminal court, which they have encapsulated in their documentary, hoping to bring it to public attention.

The original issue was to what extent both Israel and the Hamas could be indicted for war crimes perpetrated during the Gaza War. But this was inhibited by the fact that Palestine must first be recognized as a sovereign state - prerequisite for such a charge being brought before the court in the first place. As this proved to be such a painfully long-drawn out process - nor has it yet been resolved - the film makers shifted their focus to the charges brought against Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, accused of having recruited child soldiers in his army. This was the first ICC case ever brought to trial in The Hague.

But the revolution in Libya and its bloody rout were also a priority issue for the chief prosecutor and his team. Hereby Luis Moreno-Ocampo was only too aware that not only must irrefutable evidence be found against the accused but, at the same time, the important work of the ICC must be promoted. The hope that one day such powerful states as the USA, China and Russia might also recognize the court was only one of the motivations behind his tireless campaigning. The winning of such prominent supporters as Angelina Jolie, or the idea of recruiting Ben Ferencz, chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials, to make the closing plea in the trial of Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, resulted from his efforts to enhance the reputation of the young institution and, most of all, gain further vital recognition.

Shot in the style of a legal thriller, the cadence of the film is deliberately cool and relatively unemotional, but is fascinating nonetheless. On the one hand, this obviously lies in the disturbing cases being tackled, but also on the fact that Luis Moreno-Ocampo is a very charismatic figure. Seeing him at work, conducting investigations, and leading his team is inspiring. As the film concludes with the expiry of his term in office, certain questions remain unanswered and one could be excused for feeling that the documentary in the end is little more than a portrait of the chief prosecutor. But this is a minor critique of an otherwise gripping documentary that, despite a few longish stretches, should interest anyone wanting to know more about the fascinating work of this laudable institution.

Despite the above, this movie, too, has been co-produced in collaboration with three major German networks (SWR, NDR and ARTE), although a complacent distributor - Bukera Pictures, hitherto unknown and with no other picture to its credit - has conveniently been found or incorporated to enable the networks to dip into the subsidy pot.

THE INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT (Germany, 2013); Genre: Documentary; Distributor: Bukera Pictures/D-Cinex; Running time: 86 Mins; Film makers: Marcus Vetter, Michele Gentile; Featuring; Benjamin Ferencz, Fatou Bensouda, Sir Adrian Fulford, Angelina Jolie; German release date: 2. May, 2013
www.court-movie.com

by: Geraldine Blecker

LE GRAND SOIR - (France, 2012)

06. May 13 , 15:33

Lost in Translation

Frankfurt / Germany (Weltexpress). Created by French filmmakers Benoit Delepine and Gustave de Kervern, THE BIG NIGHT revolves around a mini-revolution in a dreary, suburban shopping center headed by a dysfunctional French family who spontaneously resolve to adopt the nihilist conduct of their son, the aged Punker “Not” (Benoit Poelvoorde).

We know that is his name, as it is tattooed on his forehead. Not spends his days wandering around the bleak industrial estate with his faithful dog, irritating the workers and beleaguering customers. Doing work of any kind is obviously not an option.

After years of being straight and dependable, his priggish brother Jean-Pierre (Albert Dupontel), who sells mattresses for a living, is suddenly overwhelmed by the desperation and tedium of his existence. On the day he loses his job, he walks into the neighboring mega store, pours gasoline over himself and lights a match - to the inconvenience of the shoppers. Not finds it appropriate to intervene: cuts his brother’s hair, and carves the word “Dead” onto his brow. Standing side by side, they spell the message “Not Dead” - a rallying call to those who would reject a workaday, zombie like existence.

The brothers then proceed to do a succession of naughty and rebellious things in protest against capitalism, which includes invading various homes and gardens. In response to resident outrage, they merely reply: “It belongs to the bank!” Supposed to be funny, I presume. Although possibly not so much in the US, should any distributor ever be so unwise as to release it there. Likewise the puns and word-plays, such as they are, don’t travel.

Winner of the special jury prize at last year’s Cannes Film Festival in the Un Certain Regard category, it had the locals in fits. As for me, I found it visually dreary, the camera work chaotic and unpleasant to watch, and the dialogue especially irritating. Co-produced by various European TV networks (including ARTE, WDR, Canal+), it is yet another example of a mediocre TV movie finding limited cinematic release in order to access the various tax breaks and subsidies available - and intended to support - the making of feature films. And the sort of movie that should never have found its way onto a cinema screen in the first place.

LE GRAND SOIR (France, 2012): French Distributor: Ad Vitam Distribution; German Title: DER TAG WIRD KOMMEN; Genre: comedy; Director/Writer: Gustave Kervern, Benoit Delepine; Main cast: Benoit Poelvoorde, Albert Dupontel, Brigitte Fontaine, Areski Belkacem, Bouli Lamers, German distributor/release date: Alamode Film Verleih/May 2.

by: Geraldine Blecker

IRON MAN 3 (USA, 2013) - "We Create our own Demons"

30. April 13 , 15:36

Frankfurt / Germany (Weltexpress). IRON MAN 3 opens with these words by billionaire industrialist and playboy Tony Stark. The year is 1999, the place: Berne, Switzerland. It is a gala event, where Stark is up to his old tricks: carelessly breaking hearts and arrogantly treating those around him, thoughtlessly creating the demons who will return to haunt him in the future.

We then move to the “present”, following on from where THE AVENGERS left off after the alien attack on New York. Tony Stark is a changed man. Battling aliens and hurtling through a wormhole with a nuclear bomb in tow have taken their toll, weakening him both emotionally and physically. He suffers from insomnia and anxiety attacks, and his romantic relationship with the ever-loyal Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) - now competently running Stark Industries - is likewise strained. He has lost much of his self-confidence, only feeling comfortable and safe building more Iron Man suits in his basement. The more the merrier.

But when a new enemy simply known as “The Mandarin” strikes, terrorizing the world and destroying everything that Tony Stark holds dear, including his luxurious Malibu home, he has no choice but to don his metal suit and try to save the day. He is no longer as resilient as before, however, and without his technology or its trappings, he is soon forced to survive by his ingenuity alone...

This is Robert Downey Jr’s fifth sortie as Tony Stark since 2008, and the iron suit fits so well, it’s virtually impossible to imagine another actor wearing it. A magnetic, flashy role which allows Downey Jr. to give free reign to his personal quirks, Stark is a twisted hero, but resourceful and resilient - as well hugely rich, of course. Certainly the most interesting superhero among THE AVENGERS, and possibly the entire MARVEL multi-billion dollar comic franchise.

Tony Stark, as always, is at the heart of the action, with the usual suspects in attendance. Pepper, the love of his life, and Col. James Rhodes (Don Cheadle), rechristened as the Iron Patriot, have now been joined by some interesting new characters and the best villain to come along in a very long time. Ben Kingsley plays The Mandarin, and there’s not much I can say about the bearded terrorist with his televised warnings and diabolical plans without giving too much away. Suffice it to say, he almost steals the show, adding a menace to counterbalance Stark’s showy melodrama as he wreaks evil upon the world. Guy Pearce gives his usual quality performance to the character of Aldrich Killian, a corporate bad guy and one of Stark’s self-created demons, determined to get his own back for being rebuffed back in 1999, as does his menacing henchman played by James Badge Dale. The talented Rebecca Hall joins the ensemble as Dr. Maya Hansen (a former, brief love interest), but unfortunately has relatively little to do except provide some ornamental motivation.

This is the first film in the series that has not been directed by Jon Favreau, one of the key producers, who also plays the part of Happy Hogan, Stark’s long-time colleague and chief of security - and a very fine job he does of it, too. Writer/director Shane Black confessed that Favreau gave him some tips and advice during the shoot, for which he was very grateful, although he was always determined that this picture would have a “different feel” than the others.

The third movie of a superhero franchise is rarely up to the standard of its predecessors. The first film sets up the back-story and beginnings; the second steps up the action, perhaps even adding a love interest, while the third doesn’t seem to know quite where to take it from there. There seem to be many reasons for this: a lackluster script, change of directors, an absence of further character development, complacency, or just plain arrogance - why bother, when the movie is bound to be a smash anyway? But IRON MAN 3 breaks out of the mold and is easily the best of the bunch - just about every second is hugely entertaining.

Apart from the $200 million budget - although throwing money at a production doesn’t always ensure quality - this is doubtless thanks to the scintillating screenwriting and directing expertise of Shane Black. He and Robert Downey Jr. worked together in Black’s 2005 noir comedy KISS KISS BANG BANG, and the producers and studio agreed that he was the only acceptable replacement for Favreau. An excellent choice, as it happens, for he has created a perfect balance of comedy, action, sci-fi and character-driven drama that should delight pretty well everyone who sees it. At just over 130 minutes, it is the longest stand-alone Iron Man film, but there’s never a dull moment. And by the way, make sure to stay for the closing credits.

IRON MAN 3 (USA, 2013), Running time: 131 mins; Director: Shane Black; Writers: Shane Black, Drew Pearce (based on the comic by Stan Lee); Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Gwyneth Paltrow, Guy Pearce, Ben Kingsley, Don Cheadle, Rebecca Hall, Jon Favreau, James Badge Dale; Cinematographer: John Toll; Music: Brian Tyler; Distributor/release dates: Walt Disney Studios, 3. May (US) / Concorde Filmverleih, 1. May (Germany)

Von: Geraldine Blecker

SCARY MOVIE 5 (USA, 2013) - Spot the Spoof!

25. April 13 , 12:50

Out-dumbing the Competition!

Frankfurt / Germany (Weltexpress). After a seven year hiatus, one of the most successful comedy-spoof franchises of all time is back with a vengeance. With SCARY MOVIE 5, writer/producer David Zucker is obviously seeking to emulate the success of its predecessors by lifting elements from every horror movie that has hit the screen within the last five minutes - and some which haven’t even been released yet (at least here in Europe). When they do come out, it’s bound to be a matter of “spot the spoof”. There may even be legal problems involved, who knows?

Take a dose of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, mix with a little BLACK SWAN, add a tablespoon of INCEPTION, a touch of RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, some nods to 127 HOURS and CABIN IN THE WOODS, together with a sprinkling of some brand new horror features nobody’s yet seen and what do you get? Basically a load of puerile rubbish. Director Malcolm D. Lee's strategy has obviously been to out-dumb the competition and in this he has succeeded brilliantly.

Such gags as are to be found in this chaotic mix of horror features are imbedded in a rudimentary background story lifted from the recent horror hit MAMA, where young married couple Jody (Ashley Tisdale in the Jessica Chastain role) and Dan (Simon Rex) agree to take in three orphans, progeny of Dan’s deceased brother (Charlie Sheen). For the last three years, the kids have been living alone in the wilderness and turned into rapacious little beasts. Consequently, they have some difficulty adjusting to normal suburban life with their new parents. Especially as they have brought an evil spirit home with them…

As if all this is not sufficiently problematic, mysterious events start manifesting themselves in the household, mostly filmed in fast-motion á la PARANORMAL ACTIVITY with the plethora of camera equipment that has been installed all over the place. An interminable high-speed sequence of Dan electrifying himself and taking any number of other pratfalls while hooking up the cameras is the apex of humor… Standard home appliances, such as microwaves, robot pool cleaners and the like, begin taking on a life of their own, even throwing orgiastic parties and tooting bleach through their nozzles, which does provide some snippets of amusement. Augmented by the recurring disparagement of the couple’s somewhat corpulent Hispanic housekeeper (Lidia Porto) - a shot of her rear in a tight bikini providing additional hilarity.

Jody, too, is going through difficulties at the ballet company, where she has to deal with a troublesome rival - credit to comedian J.P. Manoux for his terrific impersonation of Vincent Cassel in BLACK SWAN - and Dan’s work in the ape research centre is also encountering glitches. A true horror mishmash that reaches a blood-soaked climax in a CABIN IN THE WOODS.

When you think of some of Zucker’s earlier works, especially such satirical gems as THE NAKED GUN or AIRPLANE, which still work so well today, this fifth Scary rehash leaves little to laugh about. The few potentially amusing moments are well buried in shallow obscenity and crude potty humor, served up with a shovel. Unlike the classics of the past, where spoofs poked fun at the genres themselves, recent offerings are aimed at parodying very specific films and current, short-lived trends. When some of the subject films targeted have not even been released, the recipe is bound to founder.
It seems that comedy spoofs have evolved into loveless, disposable products churned out by Hollywood specifically for a dim-witted audience. Generating humor by simple recognition, they are destined to fade into obscurity shortly thereafter - which cannot be soon enough for me.

SCARY MOVIE 5 pokes fun at the very recently released MAMA as well as the EVIL DEAD remake, which was only released in the US one week before its parody, and only due to start in Germany, for example, on May 16th. Allusions to such Reality-TV stars as the Kardashians or the hugely popular soft-porn novel series FIFTY SHADES OF GREY might just provide the occasional titter, but it is doubtful if anyone seeing the film in a few years, or even months, from now will be able to make the connections.

It is of little avail that former Disney-star Ashley Tisdale performs with energy and fortitude, or that some of the cameos for which the Scary series is noted are vaguely entertaining: the totally absurd opening sequence with Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan, for instance, or appearances by Snoop Dogg, Heather Locklear, Usher and Tyler Perry, while Mike Tyson gets points just for turning up.

Fans of the first in the series will find part 5 the weakest of the lot, and the only viewers likely to find anything to laugh at are the JACKASS crowd. All in all, the word “horror” takes on a new dimension in this Dimension film. A horror it truly is. Still, it would not surprise me in the least if SCARY MOVIE 5 makes it to the top of the US box office.

***

SCARY MOVIE 5 (USA, 2013); Genre: Comedy-spoof; Running time: 85 mins; Director: Malcolm D. Lee; Writers: David Zucker, Pat Proft; Cast: Ashley Tisdale, Simon Rex, Erica Ash, Katt Williams, Gracie Whitton, Lidia Porto, Lindsay Lohan, Charlie Sheen; DoP: Steven Douglas Smith; Distributor/Release dates: The Weinstein Co, April 14 (US) / Constantin Films, April 25

Rated PG-13; due to scenes of a vomiting vacuum cleaner, monkey gags, and Charlie Sheen.

by: Geraldine Blecker

SIDE EFFECTS (USA, 2013) - One Pill is All it Takes

23. April 13 , 16:55

Soderbergh's last Feature is Dedicated to the Medicated! 

Frankfurt / Germany (Weltexpress). If SIDE EFFECTS really is to be his last motion picture, as Steven Soderbergh has announced, then it’s not a bad swan song. A compelling, infuriating and relatively gratifying thriller, with the sort of solid acting performances that Soderbergh seems always able to coax from his cast.

© Open Road Films

Penned by CONTAGION writer Scott Z. Burns, the movie begins with a sardonic look at a medicated society, where physicians and psychiatrists are little more than highly-paid pawns of the pharmaceutical industry. And where everyone and his brother can recommend some pill or other with a meaningless three-syllable name (e.g. Effexor, Wellbutrin, Fukitol), that can ease stress and help you coast through life’s sticky patches.  But the film soon takes an unexpected turn - unfortunately in my opinion - whereby the prescription drugs scenario is merely used as a backdrop for an entertaining thriller.

Rooney Mara (minus her Dragon Tattoo) plays Emily Taylor, a fragile and sensitive young woman, whose world suddenly unravels when her husband Martin (Channing Tatum) is arrested and sentenced to four years’ jail time for insider trading. The film begins as Martin returns, unemployed but still determined to get them back to where they were before his arrest. Although Emily and Martin still love each other, the dizzying ride from rags to riches to rags - and back to being hopeful yet still broke - is too much for Emily, who succumbs to serious depression and winds up in hospital.

Treated there by the house psychiatrist, Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), she is prescribed a standard medical cocktail to keep her symptoms under control. Which doesn’t seems to help her condition, although she has side effects aplenty (sleepwalking, mood swings, memory loss, and such). A dedicated physician, Banks finds this puzzling and visits Emily’s former psychotherapist Dr. Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who strongly recommends Ablixa, a brand new drug on the market.

And this is where the story veers in an unexpected direction, although the opening scene does provide some clues to the attentive. Be that as it may, Emily suffers unforeseen side effects from Ablixa, which affect everyone around her: Martin, Banks, et al. As for the rest - I won’t spoil it for you.

The early sequences are compelling, but before very long the characters, so fascinating at first, seem captive to a contrived plot that becomes ever more implausible, until the film degenerates into something resembling an episode from a TV crime series. But SIDE EFFECTS is, nevertheless, a good enough film and the casting is truly imaginative. Rooney Mara has more than proved her acting ability with a role that is truly multi-facetted, and is tipped to join Jennifer Lawrence as one of Hollywood’s most talented and sought-after female leads. Jude Law, whose loss of hair does not seem to lessen his appeal, as the psychiatrist who is suddenly out of his depth, puts in a sterling dramatic performance. Catherine Zeta-Jones and Channing Tatum play atypical roles, (both of them mostly clothed) as Emily’s therapist and unfortunate husband, respectively, and do so convincingly.

SIDE EFFECTS has so far managed to recoup its estimated $30 mill. budget in the US since its release there in February. Let’s hope that it will do somewhat better in the foreign market. It is certainly streets ahead of the tedious array of bleak social dramas and puerile comedies currently hitting European screens.

SIDE EFFECTS (USA 2013): Genre: Dramatic-thriller; Running time: 105 mins; Director: Steven Soderbergh; Writer: Scott Z. Burns; Cast: Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Channing Tatum, Composer: Thomas Newman; Distributors/Release dates: US: Open Road Films - Feb. 8 / Germany: Central Film Verleih - April 25

Von: Geraldine Blecker

THE INCREDIBLE BURT WONDERSTONE, (USA 2013)

17. April 13 , 00:49

A Taste of Cinema Magic!

Frankfurt / Germany (Weltexpress). Las Vegas: the city that never sleeps; home of bright lights, gambling casinos and stage extravaganzas. Likewise home to the magician duo of Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell) and Anton Mervelton (Steve Buscemi), who have been captivating audiences with their sensational illusions for years.

THE INCREDIBLE BURT WONDERSTONE tells the tale of two boyhood friends who mange to overcome their loneliness and isolation by performing magic, growing up to become a star stage attraction. The headliner is Burt, while his best friend Anton is more of a straight man. But over the years, Anton’s sweet nature seems to have remained intact, while Burt has turned into an arrogant, self-complacent asshole, contemptuous of his work, his colleagues, and crudely offensive to every woman he meets - their new assistant Jane (Olivia Wilde) included. Needless to say, their act is starting to lose its sparkle.

This is made clear to them in no uncertain terms by their employer, casino owner Doug Munny (James Gandolfini), who gives them an ultimatum: either they update their show and fill the auditorium, or they can haul ass. Burt’s conceit, however, knows no bounds and even faced with such a clear statement, he refuses to entertain the possibility that he may no longer be the huge megastar he thinks he is, or even that their act needs perking up.

But times change, heralded by a new kind of magic - less traditional, less staged, more “spontaneous” and, most of all, performed in public. No better symbolized than by the unconventional Steve Grey (Jim Carrey), a long-haired street magician turned TV celebrity. Not content with performing flashy vanishing acts, or pulling rabbits out of hats, he has “elevated” his art into barbaric masochism. Hiding a playing card under his skin, for instance, he slices his face open to salvage it. Not satisfied with merely walking over a bed of hot coals, he spends the night on it! His audiences are aghast with morbid fascination and clamoring for more.

Faced with this kind of competition, Burt and Anton make a last ditch effort to save their career and their friendship with a sensational public stunt, involving a daring escape from a glass cage suspended high in the air - which fails miserably. And so the former friends and colleagues decide to part and go their separate ways: Anton traveling to exotic parts of the world to share his magic with the underprivileged, while Burt goes solo and is forced to readjust his extravagant lifestyle accordingly. Having lived most of his life in luxury hotels, for example, he never knew that doing dishes meant more than just leaving them outside the bedroom door… Thus, the second half of the film deals with Burt’s “coming of age”. He must rekindle his enthusiasm for magic and rediscover his humanity. And there’s lots of comedy along the way.

Director Don Scardino, best known for his work in TV - 30 ROCK, THE SOPRANOS, LAW & ORDER, ROYAL PAINS, THE MINDY PROJECT, among many other well-known series - gives us an entertaining and biting peek behind the show biz scenes and any similarities to such renowned Vegas acts as Siegfried and Roy, or street magicians like David Blane and Chris Angel are, of course, purely coincidental! Although the trailer creates the impression that the movie is dumb and vacuous - doubtless targeted at lowest-common-denominator US audiences - it is anything but. Scardino focuses on absurdities, cleverly mixed with some classic slapstick and clever digs at the business, delivered with wit and terrific puns - virtually free of cheap obscenity and sexual innuendo, which has unfortunately become standard comedic fare.

Olivia Wilde and Steve Buscemi give pretty solid performances, and James Gandolfini is the perfect money-grubbing casino owner. Further enchantment is provided in the second half by Alan Arkin, playing erstwhile master magician who inspired young Burt as a child, and who is now living out his days in a senior retirement home - as cynical and yet as idealistic as he always manages to be. “Arkinesque” one might say, and it never palls.

But there’s no doubt that Jim Carrey steals the show. Rough justice, one could say, for Steve Carell’s pulling the rug out from under him a decade ago, when he played a supporting role in BRUCE ALMIGHTY - which helped launch his career. Carrey plays the manic Steve Grey with total dedication and intensity. Insanely compelling, no over-the-top mugging into the camera - altogether a magical performance and certainly one of the funniest of his career.

THE INCREDIBLE BURT WONDERSTONE - USA, 2013 (German title: Der unglaubliche Burt Wonderstone); Genre: Comedy; Distributor: Warner Bros.; Running time: 101 mins; Director: Don Scardino; Writers (screenplay/story): Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, (story): Chad Kultgen, Tyler Mitchell; Cast: Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi, Olivia Wilde, Jim Carrey, Alan Arkin; Cinematographer: Matthew Clark; Composer: Lyle Workman; Release dates: 15. March (US) / 4. April (Germany).
www.Burt-Wonderstone.de

Von: Geraldine Blecker

OBLIVION,  (USA 2013) - Are you an Effective Team?

11. April 13 , 21:26

Frankfurt / Germany (Weltexpress). Back in 2005, writer/director Joseph Kosinski had already worked out the plot for OBLIVION and put his ideas to paper in the form of a graphic novel, hoping to later develop it into a screenplay. His work on TRON: LEGACY in 2010, however, forced him to put the project on ice, but it later came to the attention of producers Barry Levine and Jesse Berger, who found the investors, and made it happen.

So here it is: his latest sci-fi extravaganza - made for an estimated $120 million. Although this is hardly the acme of film producing extravagance, the colossal amounts spent on Hollywood blockbusters are often difficult to rationalize. Now and then, however, a movie will come along with just enough redeeming qualities to make you forget the budget (e.g. the works of Christopher Nolan). Unfortunately, OBLIVION is not one of these.

The action is set in the year 2077, sixty years after an alien invasion of Earth. Humankind was victorious, but at the cost of a totally devastated, uninhabitable planet, its survivors now preparing to colonize Titan, the largest of Saturn’s moons. Only two people have been left behind.

Jack Harper (Tom Cruise), tough ex-marine and technician, whose job it is to zoom around the desolate, now-radioactive surface of the planet every day in his high-speed shuttle, repairing sensor drones. These lethal, unmanned devices hunt and destroy the remaining hostile invaders known as “scavs” - short for “scavengers”, some of whom are still holed up on the Earth, taking every chance to highjack whatever working technology they can salvage.  Jack is likewise responsible for maintaining the monumental towers that farm the world's remaining resources prior to humanity’s final exodus. At the end of each long day, he returns “home” to the floating platform in the sky that he shares with his colleague and lover Victoria (Andrea Riseborough). 

Victoria is the link between Jack and Sally, their somewhat sinister superior (Melissa Leo), acting commander of TET, the human colony’s central control, and monitors his forays. Each communication with TET always begins with the routine question:  “Are you an Effective Team?” To which Victoria always replies, “Yes, we are an Effective Team.”

While on patrol, with only two weeks to go before their mission is complete and the duo is set to be taken off-planet for the final migration, Jack discovers a crashed space capsule, complete with some human survivors in suspended animation. To his dismay, he is only able to rescue one of them from a sudden drone attack - a lovely and mysterious young woman played by former Bond-girl Olga Kurylenko. She seems familiar to him, for he has seen her in his dreams - presented as a series of flashbacks throughout. Shortly thereafter, he is taken captive by a band of rebels, led by Morgan Freeman, from whom he discovers that there is more to the final apocalypse than he could have possibly imagined. These events lead him to question everything he believed about the past, the future, and the purpose of his mission - and possibly even puts the fate of mankind in his hands.

All in all, you’d think that the above would be surefire ingredients for a decent sci-fi thriller; albeit that the story borrows most of its ideas from other films of the genre (WALL-E, MOON, TOTAL RECALL, PLANET OF THE APES, with a splash of TOP GUN thrown in). Any writer worth his salt could have combined all these elements into a halfway decent screenplay, yet Kosinski and his co-writers Karl Gajdusek and Michael Arndt have somehow managed to create an emotionally-bleak and bafflingly convoluted film, packed with bland dialogue and wooden performances.

But credit where credit is due. OBLIVION is aesthetically spectacular, easily transcending the impressive visual scope of Kosinski’s motion picture debut, and the terrific score by the French electro band M8.3. is an added highlight. But as its predecessor, OBLIVION offers little in the way of individuality or even surprise. Which leads me to ask: Is this an Effective Film?

OBLIVION (USA 2013); Genre: Sci-Fi/Action; Distributor: Universal Pictures International; Running time: 124 mins; Director: Joseph Kosinski; Writers: Joseph Kosinski (comic book/screenplay), Karl Gajdusek, Michael Arndt (screenplay), Arvid Nelson (comic book); Cast: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough, Melissa Leo; Cinematographer: Claudio Mirando, Composer: Anthony Gonzalez, M.8.3; Release dates: US: April 19 (in theatres & IMAX), /Germany: April 11. April

www.oblivion-film.de

Von: Geraldine Blecker

3096 DAYS, (Germany 2013) - Bernd Eichinger's Legacy

11. March 13 , 17:38

Based on the true kidnapping of Natascha Kampush

Frankfurt / Germany (Weltexpress). The abduction of Natascha Kampusch was one of the most spectacular European criminal cases of the last decade. People all over the world were moved by the fate of the girl from Vienna who, at the age of 10, was kidnapped on her way to school by Wolfgang Priklopil, out-of-work, seriously-disturbed, telecoms engineer, and held captive for eight and a half years in a cellar dungeon beneath his home. Only in 2006 was Natascha, meanwhile 18, able to escape, whereupon her tormentor immediately took his own life.

The media instantly converged on the girl, bandying about such wild conspiracy theories that, ultimately, Kampusch herself was forced to go public. But her interviews and autobiography, published in 2010, alienated many - including her own father - who resented the fact that she was making money out of her misfortune.

What happened to Natascha Kampusch was an unimaginable horror. No matter how many questions remain unanswered, or whether she has told the whole truth and nothing but the truth, one must accept - and surely respect - her decision to publish her traumatic experiences. And certainly every penny earned with her book, interviews, and sale of film rights is small compensation indeed for what she suffered. Which does not mean, of course, that the viewer has to automatically like the film - or find it moving or compelling.

3096 DAYS is Bernd Eichinger’s legacy. He died in 2011, one year after securing the rights to Natascha’s book and, based on that and some personal interviews with the young woman began writing the screenplay, which he unfortunately was unable to complete. This difficult task was subsequently assumed by Ruth Toma (GLOOMY SUNDAY, EMMA’S BLISS). Aimed at the international market, it was decided to shoot in English and the casting net was flung beyond the German-language territories.

All the parties involved have clearly done their utmost to transport the story to the screen as authentically and scrupulously as possible. Thus, the Priklopils house was almost identically recreated in the studio which, together with the professional camera work of Michael Ballhaus, did much to exude the appropriately oppressive atmosphere. The intensity of Thure Lindhardt (THE TRUTH ABOUT MEN) as the disturbed kidnapper seems true to life and in line with his victim’s descriptions. Without turning him into a sympathetic figure, or downplaying the atrocity of his acts, Lindhardt does a praiseworthy job of portraying the many facets of the abductor’s character: his sudden rages, violent mood swings, childish and then fatherly behavior. His performance is no less impressive than that of Amelia Pidgeon and Antonia Campbell-Hughes, who play Natascha Kampusch at age 10 and then 14-18 years, respectively.

But as good as the acting may be, and as authentic as the set design may come across, the film somehow still remains remarkably anemic. Director Sherry Hormann (GUYS & BALLS, DESERT FLOWER) seeks to tell Natascha’s story with restraint and blunt honesty, while she avoids being too graphic - but somehow the desired result escapes her. At many times, it is as if she is ramming concerned outrage down our throats to force a reaction. This manipulative staging completely misses the mark. I, personally, had a tough time liking, or even caring about, the protagonist, and found myself singularly unmoved by the dreadful tale.

As the story is so widely-known, the picture might have benefited by focusing more on the psychological aspects of the relationship between kidnapper and victim, which may well have given it more depth and intensity. As yet, the film has only been released in Germany, and is due to open after Easter in two further territories (Denmark and Argentina), although more openings are sure to follow.

***
3096 DAYS (3096 Tage, Germany 2012); Genre: Drama; Running time; 109 Mins; Distributor: Constantin Film; Director: Sherry Hormann; Screenplay: Bernd Eichinger (incomplete), Ruth Toma; Cast: Antonia Campbell-Hughes, Thure Lindhardt, Amelia Pidgeon, Trine Dyrholm; DP; Michael Ballhaus; Set Design: Bernd Lepel; German release: 28. Feb.

www.3096Tage.de

Von Geraldine Blecker

HYDE PARK ON HUDSON, (UK 2012)

11. March 13 , 18:13

The President. The First Lady. The King. The Queen. And the Lovers…

Frankfurt / Germany (Weltexpress). 1939: The world is on the brink of another world war, into which the USA would rather not be drawn now that the country is finally getting back on its feet after the Great Depression. Nevertheless, on a lovely June weekend, President Franklin D. Roosevelt (Bill Murray) and his wife Eleanor (Olivia Williams) make ready to receive Britain’s King George Vl (Samuel West) and Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Coleman) at their country estate, Hyde Park on Hudson. Although they are well aware that this will involve a plea for America’s military support in the forthcoming conflict.

Social and cultural clashes prevail: Misunderstandings, faux pas, culinary differences.  All in all, it looks like a turbulent weekend is in store, not made any less complicated by the presence of Margaret “Daisy” Suckley, a distant cousin of the president and, as we are soon to discover, one of his many lovers.

When it comes to casting the role of FDR, Bill Murray is not necessarily the first name that springs to mind. But the actor’s genial mix of comedy and gravity and, let’s face it, his general eccentricity, ultimately make him the perfect choice to play the USA’s 32nd president who, stricken with polio, was confined to a wheelchair for most of his life. Not that this physical impediment seems to have slowed down his love life, if his cousin Daisy’s narrative is to be believed. But I am getting ahead of myself.

The film is graciously staged by director Roger Michell (NOTTING HILL, MORNING GLORY), and penned by screenwriter Richard Nelson in the vein of an American DOWNTOWN ABBEY, and other film and TV fare revolving around the lives of royals and the social elite. All the same, this modern historical drama journeys into somewhat creepy terrain, touching as it does upon the president’s open secret - the bevy of ladies with whom he got up to his naughty escapades under the same roof as his wife and mother - presumably with their tacit agreement.

Narrated by Daisy, the president’s cousin, sixth-removed - a somewhat prim and homely spinster (Laura Linney), who lives with her mother. To her surprise - for she hasn’t seen him in years - she is suddenly summoned to the president’s side. Apparently he requires the companionship of a relative, someone he can “trust”. Warmly welcomed, her relationship with the president soon takes a more intimate turn. Nor would it seem that she is alone in satisfying the president’s needs, for it is implied that, among others, she shares his attentions with his personal secretary Missy (Elizabeth Marvel). In any case, Daisy is treated as a true member of the family and joins the sparkling and animated group surrounding FDR.

© Focus FeaturesDaisy and her doings retreat into the background for the film’s second half, which then focuses on the royal visit - the first time a British monarch ever actually set foot on US soil. George VI (Samuel West) is portrayed very sympathetically, while his wife, Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) to some extent provides the comic relief: priggish, bristling with disapproval and quick to spot any inadequacies in the household arrangements - and thoroughly appalled when hot dogs are served at a picnic. To the disharmonious musical accompaniment of a native Indian “band”.  

The true highlight of the film is in its last third, however, when the president and the king get together one-on-one, after the former has impishly requested the latter to push his wheelchair into the study. Tongues and inhibitions loosened by generous amounts of booze, Roosevelt cleverly steers the conversation, managing to cement a personal friendship as well as a political bridge between the two nations, even upping the king’s morale at the same time. The fact that they both suffer from physical disabilities - the king’s famous stutter as portrayed in the Oscar-winning THE KING’S SPEECH, and the president’s polio - gives them common ground. A meaningful moment between two world leaders of comparable political standing yet with utterly different experience, characters and backgrounds, this sequence is lovingly scripted, finely directed and superbly performed.

After the hideous hot dog picnic is over, the royal visitors take their leave and, to my relief, Daisy likewise makes a discreet exit. The affair between FDR and Daisy is, truth be told, the weakest element in the film and of lesser dramatic significance. Giving it so much precedence ultimately lowers the whole tone of the picture and puts it in a kind of generic “no man’s land”, evidenced by the fact that it has only grossed about $8 million at the box office since its limited US release last December and UK start in early Feb. Possibly an unfair assessment, as the picture is still set to open in most major territories.

* * *
HYDE PARK ON HUDSON (UK, 2012) / German title: Hyde Park am Hudson; Genre: Historical drama; Running time: 95 mins; Director: Roger Michell; Screenwriter: Richard Nelson, based on his radio play; Cast: Bill Murray, Laura Linney, Samuel West, Olivia Colman, Elizabeth Marvel, Elizabeth Wilson, Olivia Williams, Eleanor Bron, Martin McDougall, Andrew Havill; DP: Lol Crawley; Music: Jeremy Sams; Distributors/Release dates: UK: UPI/Feb. 1; US: Focus Features/Feb. 7; Germany: Tobis Film/Feb. 28

For more info and trailer: www.HydeParkAmHudson.de

Von Geraldine Blecker

SIGHTSEERS (UK 2013) - "Natural Born Killers" - English style!

11. March 13 , 18:00

Frankfurt / Germany (Weltexpress). A delightfully entertaining black comedy revolving around a pair of tourists whose caravan holiday through Yorkshire gathers more corpses than picture postcards.

The sheer Englishness of SIGHTSEERS and its eccentric protagonists might take some getting used to, but director Ben Wheately (KILL LIST) has achieved an engaging mix of the macabre with great visual flair and dry humour.

Conceived by Steve Oram and Alice Lowe, the film’s leading actors and screenwriters, after spending several years developing the characters, both on stage and subsequently in a TV pilot. They play Midlands couple Chris and Tina, a likeable and seemingly normal surbuban pair who head off an a caravan holiday, much to the annoyance of Tina’s mother, who still blames her daughter for the accidental - and bizarre - death of her beloved dog, Poppy.

Tina has led a sheltered life, mainly as a companion to her ungrateful, whining mother, and is eager to get out of the house and share her new boyfriend’s passion for out-of-the-way tourist spots and cultural highlights. These include two museums, devoted to trams and pencils, respectively. At the age of 34, she is also determined to finally embark on some kind of a sex life, and has even crocheted herself a pair of crotchless knickers in eager preparation.

Off they go; first stop: the Tram Museum, where a fellow tourist irritates Chris royally by flinging his litter everywhere but in the receptacles provided. When Chris points out the error of his ways, the tourist is abusive, which turns out to be a big mistake. Chris kills him.
As luck would have it, some aggravating neighbours are also to be found at the next camping site, whom Chris likewise feels impelled to eliminate. And the bodies start falling thick and fast. Tina, shocked at first, quickly comes to terms with her lover’s reaction to those who exasperate him, and gets into the concept with gusto; whereupon the couple’s caravan holiday turns into a veritable killing spree.

Despite their homicidal tendencies, Wheatley fondly presents Chris and Tina and their unconventional romance, as they face the difficulties of life, camping, and their relationship in general. Although the killings tend to be gruesome, even those are portrayed with fiendish humour. Clever costuming and scenes of an England virtually unknown beyond its shores, underlaid with a terrific soundtrack, all combine to make this dark little movie a veritable gem.

SIGHTSEERS (UK 2012); Genre: Black comedy; Running time: 89 Mins; Distributor: StudioCanal/MFA; Director: Ben Wheatley; Writers: Alice Lowe, Steve Oram; Cast: Alice Lowe, Steve Oram, Eileen Davies, Monica Dolan, Jonathan Aris; Music: Jim Williams; Cinematographer: Laurie Rose; Release dates: Germany: Feb. 28, 2013; UK: Nov. 30, 2012

Trailer: www.sightseers.de

by Geraldine Blecker

HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS (USA 2013)

02. March 13 , 15:34
 
It doesn't come much Grimmer than this!

Frankfurt / Germany (Weltexpress). Various adaptations and versions of Grimm’s fairy tales have been all over screens for a while now, and the $161 million in box office takings since its US opening on Jan. 24th, proves that an equally large audience has been lapping up the tacky 3D spectacle of HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS. Shot two years ago, Paramount has obviously been waiting for the right time for its release - January, when any decent competition is thin on the ground. Kids will probably love it, but there’s not much to offer anyone with an IQ higher than a carrot.

It’s likewise disappointing to see Oscar-nominated Jeremy Renner (THE HURT LOCKER) starring in this cheesy lampoon, and we can only hope his fee was big enough to enable him to get his career back on track and play some decent roles in the future.

But then, seeing Will Ferrell and Adam McKay credited among the movie’s producers should give you a good indication of what you’re in for. HANSEL & GRETEL is obviously not to be taken seriously, and just as obviously targeted at a juvenile audience, if the hackneyed allusions and dumb dialogue are anything to go by. But fans of the genre will be delighted with the gore, violence and special effects which come at you thick and fast in glorious 3D.

The film kicks off with references to the original fairytale: where young Hansel and Gretel, forsaken in the woods, venture into the witch’s yummy-looking, candy-coated cottage, etc. We then leap forward several decades to meet grown-up Hansel (Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton), who have turned their childhood ordeal into a profitable career. In short, they are bounty hunters, who seek and destroy wicked witches and warlocks scattered around the planet. And there sure seem to be many of them at large in the Middle Ages - if that is the time period in which the film is set. The duo’s respectable arsenal of high-tech weaponry makes this a matter of conjecture.

The siblings have returned to the Black Forest, scene of their childhood trauma. We know they are in Germany, as all the villagers speak strongly German-accented English, while Hansel & Gretel are cool US gunslingers, complete with hip street slang and the occasional “F” word thrown in, possibly in a vain attempt to perk up the lack-luster dialogue.

As they hunt their prey, they meet and are befriended by a succession of supernatural allies: Hansel flirts with an attractive white witch, while Gretel hangs out with a troll - but all in all, they must fall back on their own considerable resources when it comes to fighting evil, personified by their main adversary - the sly and cunning chief of the witches who transforms herself from a gorgeous-looking broad into a hideous hag at will.

Apart from a couple of pretty weak gags, the script leaves much to be desired. Norwegian writer-director Tommy Wirkola (DEAD SNOW) is adept at gory effects and exploits CGI and 3D technology to their utmost, but unfortunately at the cost of the script and the acting. Renner and Arterton give it their best shot, but the dialogue is just too silly for them to do much with it.

The one bright spot is the soundtrack, courtesy of Atli Örvarsson, music exec-produced by Hans Zimmer himself (who possibly should have left his name off this one). Oh yeah, there is another good thing: the movie is just under 90 minutes!

HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS (Hexenjäger) 3D  (USA 2013); Distributor: Paramount Pictures; Release dates: Jan 24th (US)/Feb 28th (Germany); Running time: 88 Mins; Director/Writer: Tommy Wirkloa; Cast: Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton, Famke Janssen, Peter Stormare, Thomas Mann, Derek Mears; Director of photography: Michael Bonvillain; Production designer: Stephen Scott; Music: Atli Örvarsson; Executive music producer: Hans Zimmer; Costume designer: Marlene Stewart

by Geraldine Blecker

WARM BODIES (USA 2013) - Romance: Zombie-style!

28. February 13 , 13:02

Frankfurt, Germany (Weltexpress). Zombies have always been popular, but seem to be the flavor of the month right now, probably as a result of the huge success of the US TV-series THE WALKING DEAD. Normally, however, storylines and events revolve around the various survivors fighting for their lives against overwhelming numbers of the slow-moving (fortunately!) undead and their craving for human flesh. But who thinks about the poor zombies? Such slow-rotting, hungry creatures can’t have it easy. And it’s not like they have any kind of a lobby. Luckily Jonathan Levine (50/50) has come to the fore to tackle the issue from the zombie’s point of view.

This droll adaptation of Isaac Marion’s novel features R played by Nicholas Hoult (ABOUT A BOY, X-MEN: FIRST CLASS), a somewhat unusual zombie, who spends his lifeless days shuffling around an abandoned airport, only venturing out into the post-apocalyptic world with others of his kind in search of food. Menu of choice: fresh human brain. And whenever they’re lucky enough to get some, it stills their hunger and fills them with new strength. They also absorb the memories of their victims. And this happens to R when he consumes the brain of Perry (Dave Franco), one of a unit sent out beyond the city walls to survey the extent of the zombie threat. For a plague has visited mankind, killing millions, turning others into zombies, and leaving only a scarce number uninfected.

Most of the unit is massacred by R and his hungry fellows, but upon eating Perry’s brain, R feels a sudden attraction to his girlfriend Julie (Teresa Palmer), another member of the group. Without further ado, he rescues the girl and hides her in his secret refuge, a scrapped Boeing 747. Over the days in which R keeps Julie hidden from the other zombies, a sort of friendship develops between the two, as Julie realizes that her undead savior is more than just another soulless monster. And R, too, seems to undergo a strange transformation; his guttural grunts gradually evolving into comprehensible words. Could it be that Julie is turning him back into a human? And how will she react once she discovers that it was R who ate her former boyfriend?

As opposed to your standard horror movie, WARM BODIES is an amusing variation of the classic ROMEO & JULIET theme - but with zombies. Levine mostly dispenses with large doses of blood and gore (although some of the more gruesome out-takes are apparently included in the home-video version), preferring to use humor, charm and some novel ideas.
R is wonderfully funny, explaining his feelings and frustration with his zombie existence and all the unpleasantness that it entails in his voiceover narration - so that the viewer is constantly aware of the difference between his social ambitions and his actual capabilities. When he meets and falls for Julie, he is hopelessly out of his league - let’s face it, he's a corpse. Not many disadvantages could be worse than that.

The premise works very well for the first 15 minutes, but soon begins to pall, as the story is predictable and we all know how it is bound to end. A “B” plot might not have been a bad idea and could have added some welcome spice. But as it is, the characters, together with the amusing inclusion of some hackneyed genre clichés, and the 80s rock songs in the sound track, make WARM BODIES good enough to cheer it on.

WARM BODIES (USA 2013); Genre: Comedy-horror-romance; Running time: 97 Mins: Director: Jonathan Levine; Writers: Jonathan Levine (screenplay), Isaac Marion (novel): Cast: Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Parker, John Malkovich; Cinematographer: Javier Resarobe; Composers: Marco Beltraim, Buck Sanders; Distributors/Release dates: Summit Entertainment (US), 1.Feb/Concorde Filmverleih (Germany), 21. Feb.

by Geraldine Blecker

THE 85th ACADEMY AWARDS - And the Oscar goes to...

26. February 13 , 15:36

Frankfurt, Germany (Weltexpress). Well, I must say, I found this year’s Academy Award selections very satisfactory, although the awards ceremony itself at Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre was thankfully brief and relatively uneventful. First Lady Michelle Obama perked the proceedings up a bit with her appearance via satellite from the White House to support Jack Nicholson in announcing the best picture winner. Anne Hathaway, Quentin Tarantino and Adele (who also performed her SKYFALL song) were among the winners who gave poignant acceptance speeches.

Had I placed any bets like I usually do - I would have cleaned up! As opposed to most of its history, where one film has scooped up every prize going, Oscars were spread around this year, with LIFE OF PI winning four, ARGO three, and four other pictures picking up two statuettes each.

Firm favorite ARGO won Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and Film Editing - although Ben Affleck himself was eloquently omitted from the Best Director category - while Daniel Day Lewis won best actor for LINCOLN, which also took the Oscar for production design. None of which comes as any surprise after the Golden Globes, which are usually indicative of forthcoming Oscar wins. I was personally delighted with the Academy’s choice of Ang Lee as Best Director (as well as Oscars for Best Cinematography, Original Score, and Visual Effects) for LIFE OF PI -  truly the most spectacular film of the year - as well as Quentin Tarrantino’s win for Best Original Screenplay with Christoph Waltz named as Best Supporting Actor for DJANGO UNCHAINED, and no significant wins for ZERO DARK THIRTY - apart from tying with SKYFALL for what is said to be only the third time in Oscar history - for Sound Editing. Let’s face it, if ZERO was the most superfluous film of 2012, than DJANGO was certainly the most entertaining.

LES MIS walked away with Oscars for make-up and hairstyling, Sound Mixing, and a Best Supporting Actress for Anne Hathaway - which could also have been for the year’s most depressing performance, but the movie was pipped at the post by ANNA KARENINA for costume design.

One of my own personal favorites, SEARCHING FOR SUGARMAN, was named Best Documentary Feature, while Austria’s AMOUR won Best Foreign Language Film - quite right, too, I don’t know how it actually crept into the Best Picture category in the first place.

SKYFALL was the evening’s other multiple winner, with Oscars for original song and sound editing, while Jennifer Lawrence’s wonderfully manic performance in SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK nabbed her the Best Actress award, which kind of makes up for the HUNGER GAMES snub. The other indie outsider, BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD, surely one of the year’s most unique films, went uncelebrated.

Full list of winners from the 85th Academy Awards

Best Motion Picture: ARGO
Producers: Grant Heslov, Ben Affleck and George Clooney

Best Foreign-Language Film: AMOUR, Austria

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year: BRAVE
Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman

Best Animated Short Film: PAPERMAN, John Kahrs

Best Live-Action Short Film: CURFEW, Shawn Christensen

Best Documentary Feature: SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN
Malik Bendjelloul and Simon Chinn

Best Documentary Short Subject: INOCENTE
Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine

Achievement in Directing: LIFE OF PI, Ang Lee

Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role: Daniel Day-Lewis in LINCOLN

Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role: Jennifer Lawrence in SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK

Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role: Christoph Waltz in DJANGO UNCHAINED

Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role: Anne Hathaway in LES MISERABLES

Original Screenplay: DJANGO UNCHAINED, written by Quentin Tarantino

Adapted Screenplay: ARGO, screenplay by Chris Terrio

Achievement in Cinematography: LIFE OF PI, Claudio Miranda

Achievement in Visual Effects: LIFE OF PI
Bill Westenhofer, Guillaume Rocheron, Erik-Jan De Boer and Donald R. Elliott

Achievement in Costume Design: ANNA KARENINA, Jacqueline Durran

Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling: LES MISERABLES
Lisa Westcott and Julie Dartnell

Achievement in Sound Mixing: LES MISERABLES
Andy Nelson, Mark Paterson and Simon Hayes

Achievement in Sound Editing (tie):
SKYFALL, Per Hallberg and Karen Baker Landers
ZERO DARK THIRTY, Paul N.J. Ottosson

Achievement in Film Editing: ARGO, William Goldenberg

Achievement in Production Design: LINCOLN
production design: Rick Carter; set decoration: Jim Erickson

Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Score): LIFE OF PI
Mychael Danna

Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Song): SKYFALL
music and lyric by Adele Adkins and Paul Epworth

by Geraldine Blecker

LES MISÉRABLES - (USA/UK 2012) - An interminable epic

24. February 13 , 16:11

A tale of love, romance, hope, injustice, and treachery - and 158 minutes of misery

Berlin / Germany (Weltexpress). Nominated for 8 Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Actor for Hugh Jackman and Best Supporting Actor for Anne Hathaway, LES MISERABLES, premiered in Germany at this year’s Berlinale, has already scooped up 3 Golden Globes in the above categories.

Director Tom Hooper, who won an Academy Award for THE KING’S SPEECH, has adapted for the screen the famous stage musical based on Victor Hugo’s classic 1862 novel. The screen version contains no dialogue - everything is sung - which I must admit to having found somewhat tedious, as certain songs seemed to be reprised ad nauseum.

The main action begins in 1815 in Toulon, more than two decades after the French Revolution, where nothing much seems to have changed - at least for the People, still living in misery, filth and squalor. We may moan and bitch about living conditions today, but nobody - at least in the Western world - gets convicted to 5 years as a galley slave for nicking a loaf of bread, with an extra 14 years on top for trying to escape. This, however, is just what happens to Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman). After 19 years, he is finally released on probation, which gives him little comfort, for merciless police inspector Javert (Russell Crowe) is determined to pursue him to the gates of hell. Valjean’s life changes dramatically, however, when he meets a priest, whose church he initially attempted to rob. The priest shows him kindness and mercy, and gives him the financial wherewithal to change his fate.

Thus eight years later, now a respectable citizen, he is owner of a textile factory and mayor of the small town Montreuil-sur-Mer, where he has taken refuge, assuming the new identity of M. Madeleine.

Meanwhile, Fantine (Anne Hathaway), one of his seamstresses, whose total wages go to support her illegitimate daughter Cosette, is mobbed by her co-workers, who insist she be fired. She pleads with M. Madeleine for help, but he has problems of his own. For Javert has suddenly reappeared, and seems to have recognised him. Fantine is flung onto the street where, after having sold her hair, her only option is prostitution. This is a particularly nasty sequence. She dies grimly. Madeleine aka Valjean offers his assistance too late, and can do little more than promise to care for Cosette.

Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) grows into a lovely young woman, “looked after”, if that is the expression, by the money-grubbing innkeeper and his wife, entertainingly played by Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham-Carter, who provide some very welcome light relief whenever they appear. The “Master of the House” number, with its clever lyrics and interlining rhyme, is a classic.

Having finally taken her under his protection, the pair is forced to go underground to escape Javert’s relentless witch hunt, and they flee to Paris nine years later, where they get caught up in the street battles of June 1832. This likewise ends in tragedy, at least for the populace, although Cosette meets and falls in love with the young student activist Marius (Eddie Redmayne) - fortunately from the upper class. So all sort of ends well.

Astonishing vocal performances from all and sundry, together with great camera work (courtesy of DP Danny Cohen), marvellous production design, make up and costumes. An epic tale of love, romance, hope, injustice, and treachery - and 158 very long minutes of sheer misery, as its name implies. At an estimated budget of $61 mill., LES MIS has already grossed over $379 million worldwide since its US release last Christmas Day, and is yet to open in many major territories. Nevertheless, after leaving the movie theatre, I wanted to kill myself.

LES MISÉRABLES  (USA/UK 2012); Genre: Musical-drama; Running time: 158 mins; Distributor: Universal Pictures; Director: Tom Hooper; Writers/Screen adaptation: William Nicholson, Alain Boubil, Claude-Michel Schönberg, Herbert Kretzmer; Writers/stage musical: Boubil & Schönberg; based on the novel by Victor Hugo; Music: Claude-Michel Schönberg; Cast: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Aaron Tveit, Samantha Barks, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen; Cinematographer: Danny Cohen; Release dates: 21. Feb (Germany); 25. December (USA)

Von Geraldine Blecker

10 DAYS IN BERLIN - The 63rd International Berlin Film Festival

18. February 13 , 14:50

Berlin / Germany (Weltexpress): The 63rd Berlin International Film Festival had its magnificent finale last night at the closing gala held at the Berlinale Palast. Over 1,600 guests attended the Awards Ceremony hosted by multi-lingual Anke Engelke, where the winners of the Golden and Silver Bears, the best International Short Film, and Best First Feature Award, etc. were announced (see below for list of major winners).

Films from Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, Chile, Germany, France, Greece, Hong Kong/China, Iran, Kazakhstan, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Romania, the Russian Federation, Slovenia, Spain, South Africa, Switzerland and the USA were all vying for the prized Golden Bear in the Competition programme. This year’s winning film was the drama POZIŢIA COPILULUI (CHILD'S POSE) by Călin Peter Netzer, the first Romanian film to win the coveted prize in the competition’s history. The runner-up prize, the Silver Bear, went to another Eastern European social drama, AN EPISODE IN THE LIFE OF AN IRON PICKER, directed by Bosnian filmmaker Danis Tanovic (best known for his Oscar-winning NO MAN’S LAND).

Following the ceremony, the winning film was shown again as the closing film, and the awards themselves were presented by festival director Dieter Kosslick together with the International Jury, consisting of Susanne Bier, Andreas Dresen, Ellen Kuras, Shirin Neshat, Tim Robbins, Athina Rachel Tsangari, and headed up by legendary Chinese film maker Wong Kar Wai – whose own film THE GRANDMASTER opened the festival on Feb. 7th, - out of competition, naturally. Apart from the major categories, a countless number of prizes and awards were bestowed by diverse juries and organisations, which made for a very long night! It seemed to me that few film makers walked away empty-handed.

The event was attended by a glittering array of prominent guests from the film and political landscape, as well as the Ambassadors of Austria, Chile, France, Greece, Kazakhstan, Poland, the Republic of Korea, Romania and Slovenia; who joined members of the German federal government, the Berlinale Senate, the German Bundestag and the Berlin House of Representatives.

At least 400 films were shown over the 10-day festival period and more than 300,000 movie tickets were sold, proving once again the Berlinale’s popularity with the public, which has been steadily growing year by year. Hundreds of ardent film fans stood shivering outside the Berlinale Palast and the Hyatt Hotel in hopes of catching a brief, close-up glimpse of some of the countless stars and film makers who attended this year. These included Matt Damon, Gus Van Sant, John Krasinski, Ulrich Seidl, Thomas Arslan, Shia LaBeouf, Rupert Grint, Til Schweiger, Hugh Jackmann, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hooper, Eddie Redmayne, Amanda Seyfried, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Franco, Peter Saarsgard, Isabelle Huppert, Martina Gedeck, Denis Côté, Michael Winterbottom, Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Pia Marais, August Diehl, Steven Soderbergh, Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Juliette Binoche, Bruno Dumont, Jane Campion, Holly Hunter, Geoffrey Rush, Jim Sturgess, Giuseppe Tornatore, Ennio Morricone, Bille August, Jeremy Irons, Christopher Lee, Nicolas Cage, Emma Stone and many others. All of whom did the mandatory Red Carpet appearance for their respective premieres, and were available for photo calls, as well as Q & A press conferences to talk about their films.

Parallel to the festival itself and in addition to the Competition program, there are always innumerable workshops, seminars, conferences, press screenings, and side-bars: There is Culinary Cinema, the Talent Campus, the Co-Production Market, the Retrospective, Forum and Panorama programs, to name but a very few. The list grows longer every year.

And let us not forget the “Business of Film”. Concurrent to the festival itself, the EFM (European Film Market) is held at the Martin-Gropius-Bau - this year over-flowing into the Marriott Hotel - where networks, distributors, sales agents, producers, et al, promote, buy, sell and license their product. Not forgetting the various international, state and regional media boards and funding institutions, all interested in attracting film makers to their respective territories and locations.

This leads to a dizzying array of parties, brunches, receptions and dinners, hosted by talent agencies, media law firms, film and media boards, state governments, foreign embassies, banks, publishers, and TV networks. Not to mention the one-on-one meetings which keep you scuttling between the Ritz Carlton, Marriott and Hyatt hotels. Fortunately, most of the frenzied activity seems to be focused in and around the Potsdamer Platz, but the sheer number and diversity of events - and let’s face it, we all want to be everywhere at once - keep you tearing around in the freezing cold, bundled up like the Michelin Man.
All in all, it’s been a very exciting - and exhausting - ten days in Berlin!!


INTERNATIONAL JURY AWARDS

GOLDEN BEAR for the Best Film: Poziţia Copilului - Child's Pose by Călin Peter Netzer

JURY GRAND PRIX (Silver Bear): Epizoda u životu berača željeza - An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker by Danis Tanović

ALFRED BAUER PRIZE (Silver Bear) - in memory of the Festival Founder - for a feature film that opens new perspectives: Vic+Flo ont vu un ours - Vic+Flo Saw a Bear by Denis Cé

AWARD FOR BEST DIRECTOR (Silver Bear): David Gordon Green for Prince Avalanche (Prince Avalanche)

AWARD FOR BEST ACTRESS (Silver Bear): Paulina García in Gloria by Sebastian Lelio

AWARD FOR BEST ACTOR (Silver Bear): Nazif Mujić in Epizoda u životu berača željeza (An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker) by Danis Tanović

AWARD FOR BEST SCRIPT (Silver Bear): Jafar Panahi for Pardé (Closed Curtain) by Jafar Panahi, Kamboziya Partovi

AWARD FOR AN OUTSTANDING ARTISTIC CONTRIBUTION IN THE CATEGORIES CAMERA, EDITING, MUSIC SCORE, COSTUME DESIGN OR SET DESIGN (Silver Bear): Aziz Zhambakiyev for camera work in Uroki Garmonii (Harmony Lessons) by Emir Baigazin with  SPECIAL MENTIONS for Promised Land by Gus Van Sant and Layla Fourie by Pia Marais

BEST FIRST FEATURE AWARD, endowed with 50,000 Euros, funded by GWFF: The Rocket by Kim Mordaunt with a SPECIAL MENTION to A batalha de Tabatô - The Battle of Tabatô by Jo Viana

GOLDEN BEAR for the Best Short Film: La Fugue - The Runaway by Jean-Bernard Marlin

THE JURY PRIZE (Silver Bear): Die Ruhe Bleibt - Remains Quiet by Stefan Kriekhaus

BERLIN SHORT FILM NOMINEE FOR THE EUROPEAN FILM AWARDS: Misterio – Mystery by Chema Garcia Ibarra

DAAD SHORT FILM AWARD: Ashura by Ken Ergun

GENERATION KPLUS AWARDS:

CRYSTAL BEAR for the Best Film. The Rocket by Kim Mordaunt with a SPECIAL MENTION for Satellite Boy by Catriona McKenzie

CRYSTAL BEAR for the Best Short Film: The Amber Amulet by Matthew Moore with a SPECIAL MENTION for Ezi un lielpilseta- Hedgehogs and the City by Ēvalds Lācis

For full list of all awards, see:  www.berlinale.de

by Geraldine Blecker

THE LAST STAND (USA 2013) - Arnie's Back!

06. February 13 , 00:43

Retirement is for Sissies!

Frankfurt / Germany (Weltexpress). In recent years, “I’ll be back”, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s classic quote from THE TERMINATOR, has been his catchphrase, be it at political functions as Governor of California, or at film premieres or interviews - in fact whenever a microphone or camera was in the vicinity - out it would come. Now he has finally turned his words into action and, following his brief cameo appearances in THE EXEPNDABLES 1 & 2, we can now enjoy his true comeback as an action star in THE LAST STAND.

Directed by Kim Jee-Woon (I SAW THE DEVIL), Arnie plays Sheriff Ray Owens, whose job is to keep the peace in the tiny town of Sommerton Junction by the Mexican border. Nor is there much peace to keep for Owen and his team: rescuing the occasional cat from a tree, or writing out the odd parking ticket is considered a highlight for the police force of this sleepy town.

All that is about to change when powerful drug lord Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega), escapes FBI custody while being transported to prison. And his route to Mexico leads right through Sommerton Junction. FBI Agent John Bannister (Forest Whitaker) hardly credits a bunch of small town cops with the wherewithal to stop the drug lord and his band of heavily-armed cohorts. Still, when his own attempts at recapturing Cortez pathetically founder, it seems that only Owen stands between the escaped criminal and asylum in Mexico…

THE LAST STAND could virtually be a commercial for the US gun lobby. The absurd comment recently uttered by NRA spokesman Wayne LaPierre that “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” seems to be the overriding keynote of the film - where even a loveable old granny shoulders a rifle to help the sheriff battle the Bad Guys. So in view of the horrific events that have taken so many innocent lives in the recent weeks and months, it is difficult to regard a movie like THE LAST STAND as pure entertainment rather than political propaganda.

Still, as director Kim Jee-Woon’s intent was the former as opposed to the latter, fans of the genre are best advised to just leave their brains at the door, rather than questioning the film’s morality or looking for a deeper message; for only then can they enjoy this well-made thriller with great action, a good bit of humor and some terrific, albeit illogical, shoot outs. Be it Cortez’ spectacular escape, the Old West duel of good vs. evil in the Main Street of the sleepy town, or the way Schwarzenegger flirts with his age - all of this makes THE LAST STAND an extremely entertaining representative of the genre. And if several scenes are well over the top, well, the movie doesn’t really take itself all too seriously.

If THE LAST STAND comes across as a classic 80s action movie, the action itself is never shopworn or dusty. The boundaries of logic are, indeed, continually stretched, but nevertheless the car chases, fire fights, and mano-a-mano duels are good entertainment and never dull, which somewhat compensates for the stereotyped characters and the ultra-simplistic dialogue - this despite the fact that at least three writers were involved in penning the screenplay!

So, once again, if check your brain in at the ticket counter and pick it up after the closing credits, and you don’t expect any life-changing philosophy, you will get your money’s worth: good action cinema with an Arnold Schwarzenegger who is still a master of his craft.

THE LAST STAND (USA 2012): Running time: 107 mins; Distributor/Release dates: Lionsgate,18. January (US) / Twentieth Century Fox, 31. January (Germany); Director: Kim Jee-Woon; Writers: Jeffrey Nachmanoff Writer (screenplay/(story); George Nolfi (Rewrite); Lorenzo di Bonaventura (writing supervisor); Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Forest Whitaker, Johnny Knoxville, Jaimie Alexander, Peter Stomare

For more info & trailer: www.laststand-film.de

ZERO DARK THIRTY (USA 2012) - A worthy Successor to The Hurt Locker?

05. February 13 , 11:59  

Frankfurt / Germany (Weltexpress). Hailed by virtually all and sundry as a masterpiece and a worthy successor to her Oscar-winning THE HURT LOCKER, Katherine Bigelow’s ZERO DARK THIRTY has also generated moral outrage and what could best be described as a media and political shitstorm.

Nevertheless it has been nominated for 4 Golden Globes, 4 BAFTAS and 5 Oscars, including Best Picture and a Best Actress nomination for Jessica Chastain, although Ms. Bigelow herself has been left out of the Best Director category.
Outlining the plot is like talking about The Titanic. We all know how it ends: with the May 1, 2011 assassination of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. And likewise how it begins: with the September 11, 2001 bombings of the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. The drama of ZERO DARK THIRTY, however, deals with the ten years in between: The exhaustive and at times soul-destroying search for Bin Laden himself. Information is gathered mostly from suspects who are loathe to reveal it, despite the oft painful means of persuasion applied. Such intel must then be evaluated and added to the flood of misleading reports, false sightings, vague clues and blind alleys representing the CIA’s 10-year manhunt for the elusive Al Qaeda leader.

Bigelow’s film stars Jessica Chastain as Maya, a young CIA agent posted to the Middle East following the 9/11 attacks who is ill-prepared for the length to which her colleagues will go when it comes to extracting information from their suspects. But as years go by and her commitment to finding bin Laden intensifies, she becomes a key player in discovering the evidence leading to his whereabouts and eventual liquidation.

The movie doesn’t pull any punches, kicking off in 2003 with some unpleasant interrogation sequences - including water-boarding. It is Maya’s first day on the job and she is introduced to her fellow operative Dan (Jason Clarke) in a secret prison in the desert, where he is up to his elbows interrogating a captive suspected of Al Qaeda affiliations. As in THE HURT LOCKER, Bigelow seeks to portray this horrific scene and the many which follow, factually, with the minimum of emotion, as all part of a day’s work.

ZERO DARK THIRTY owes its title to the military time of thirty minutes past midnight when the Navy SEALS operation began. Based on extensive research as well as interviews with those who took part in the mission, journalist Mark Boal, who penned THE HURT LOCKER, has produced a screenplay that would seem to accurately reflect the work of the CIA and Navy SEALs. Although the film maker seeks to avoid moral condemnation or any judgments of such issues as torture, political calculation, or covert black ops, leaving the audience to make of them what they will, we should not forget that Kathryn Bigelow’s film is not, nor does it claim to be, a documentary - but rather a mixture of facts, half-truths, and fiction. In other words, it’s just a “movie”, baby.

Unfortunately, it is this very objectivity - one of the film’s major strengths, in my opinion - that is abandoned in the final act - the storming of the house where bin Laden has taken refuge, and his subsequent killing. Portrayed in an ultra-documentary style, complete with night-vision camera work, this sequence is heavily dramatized, seemingly more in line with Hollywood than reality. Bigelow does indeed dispense with pathos and gung ho patriotism a la ACT OF VALOR for the major part of the film, but in this sequence the lines between good and evil are clearly drawn. Certainly the Navy SEALs who were involved in the mission are silent heroes - as they are not allowed to speak about the mission publicly - but they are portrayed as heroes all the same. The only question is whether the killing of bin Laden is likely to change anything at all. Although the event was certainly used to full effect in last year’s US presidential campaign. It would hardly make any sense at this point to criticize the way the US operates, as Maya, dedicated CIA agent, never openly questions her country’s methods. But as the final showdown takes an unequivocal stand, the opening neutrality loses some credibility.

As far as film making goes, ZERO DARK THIRTY is, beyond any doubt, a well-crafted piece of work. The actors are all excellent, although I personally find the Oscar nomination for Jessica Chastain’s performance somewhat over-rated, and the production has many intense and thrilling moments to offer. But as the film is not a documentary and it remains unclear as to what is factual and just where Hollywood fiction has crept in, it hardly offers any vital new information. So what was the point? To focus discussion on the use of torture? On whether terrorism is actually diminished by the killing of its figureheads? To show that the war against terror is primarily fought from behind a desk and behind closed doors? All well and good, but none of this really makes ZERO DARK THIRTY the major revelation that many critics maintain. Kathryn Bigelow has succeeded in crafting a good political thriller, without question a worthy, albeit somewhat weak, successor to THE HURT LOCKER. But a great masterpiece which relates the whole truth about the assassination of bin Laden it is not.

For lovers of good US political thrillers and such viewers who may be interested in the material and the subsequent discussions it generates, 156 minutes in the movie theatre won’t be a waste of time.

ZERO DARK THIRTY (USA 2012); Distributor: Sony Pictures (US) / Universal Pictures (Germany); Release dates: 19. December, 2012 (US) / 31. Jan. 2013 (Germany); Running time: 156 mins; Director: Kathryn Bigelow; Writer: Mark Boal; Cast: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Joel Edgerton, Jennifer Ehle, Mark Strong, Kyle Chandler, Edgar Ramirez; Cinematographer: Greig Fraser; Composer: Alexandre Desplat

Website: www.zerodarkthirty-movie.com

By Geraldine Blecker

GANGSTER SQUAD (USA 2013) - No Names. No Badges. No Mercy

31. January 13 , 14:28

Frankfurt / Germany (Weltexpress). The year is 1949. The place: Los Angeles. The city, firmly in the grip of gangster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn), who has moved from New York to take over the West Coast and all operations relating to drugs, arms dealing and prostitution. With a good number of high-ranking police officers and politicos on his payroll, the few honest cops in the LAPD are finding it well-night impossible to bring him to justice and clean up the town.

Sgt. John O`Mara (Josh Brolin), decorated WWII veteran, refuses to be intimidated by Cohen and his brutal band of thugs. He did not fight for peace and liberty in the war so he could sit back and watch his city being taken over by a power-hungry megalomaniac. With the backing of police commissioner Parker (Nick Nolte), O’Mara is encouraged to put together a small and covert vigilante squad to take down Mickey Cohen - by whatever means necessary. And so the bloodbath begins…

Ostensibly based on true events as per the novel by Paul Lieberman, director Ruben Fleischer’s third feature proves that what he lacks in originality, he makes up for with heaps of visual action. The graphic-novel style of ZOMBIELAND has been used here to full effect, vividly bringing to life post-war LA. Set and costume design are all convincing - as is the acting, as far as it goes. Sean Penn’s portrayal of Mickey Cohen is sufficiently psychotic - although one is constantly aware that it is actually Sean Penn - while Brolin’s champion of justice does his best with screenwriter Will Beal’s saccharine, moralistic dialogue. The romantic element in the form of Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone - their second screen appearance together following CRAZY STUPID LOVE is, truth be told, sizzling.  

Although Fleischer’s gangster-thriller offers suspense, drama, action, an over-abundance of carnage, a trace of dark humor and a touch of romance - all the ingredients that would normally go to make a good gangster movie - it falls short of such works as THE UNTOUCHABLES, LA CONFIDENTIAL or other classics of the film noir genre upon which it was obviously modeled. Here, the director sacrifices historical authenticity, character development and logical storyline for maximum action effect. The team of six cops, armed with revolvers, for example, repeatedly provokes a series of senseless public shoot-outs with Cohen’s army, all firing machine guns. After the third repetition and the interminable blood bath, I found myself losing the will to live.

To say that GANGSTER SQUAD is a violent movie would be an understatement. Scheduled to open in the US in September, following the mass shootings in Aurora, Colorado, during a midnight screening of THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, a scene of people getting machine-gunned in a movie theater had to be cut and the scene was reshot in Chinatown. I guess we can be thankful that at least it wasn’t relocated to an elementary school in Connecticut.

While I’m at it, here’s an interesting point. People can be mown down in the goriest fashion on-screen: in 3D, close-up, with blood gushing, and guts splattering all over the lens, but when it comes to smoking, it’s a different matter entirely. In this picture set in 1949, everybody had to go outside to smoke! Make sense of that, if you will.  

GANGSTER SQUAD (USA 2012); Distributor: Warner Bros: Running time: 113 Mins; Release dates: 11. January (US) / 24. January (Germany); Director: Ruben Fleischer; Writer: Will Beal (Screenplay) / Paul Lieberman (Novel); Cast: Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn, Emma Stone, Nick Nolte, Anthony Mackie; Music: Steve Jablonsky

For more information and trailer: www.gangstersquad.de

QUARTET (UK 2012) - "Glee" for Seniors

01. February 13 , 23:43

Directorial Debut for Dustin Hoffmann

Frankfurt / Germany (Weltexpress). After 45 years in front of the camera, starring in such classics as THE GRADUATE, MIDNIGHT COWBOY, THE MARATHON MAN, or RAINMAN - to name but a few – at age 75, Dustin Hoffman has finally turned his considerable talents to directing. And he has chosen to work in Britain for his directorial debut QUARTET, based on Ron Harwood’s 1999 stage play.

QUARTET takes place in Beecham House, a state-funded retirement home - and certainly better than most - situated in lush and picturesque grounds, where any resemblance to Downtown Abbey is purely coincidental! It is here that former opera divas and symphonic musicians spend their twilight years, where a love of music still remains at the core of everyday life. And once a year, there is even the chance for them to get back onstage and perform before an enthusiastic crowd.

The annual gala concert in honor of Giuseppe Verdi is just around the corner, the proceeds to go in support of Beecham House, which needs a larger amount of financial assistance than usual this year. In fact, there is every danger that it will have to close its doors through lack of funding, which is why this concert is more important than most. Organized by director Cedric Livingstone (Michael Gambon), the highlight of the evening is to be a special performance by three of the operatic residents: Reggie (Tom Courtenay), Wilf (Billy Connolly) and Cissy (Pauline Collins).

Everything seems to be going well, despite a few minor, age-related difficulties - until the arrival, out of the blue, of opera diva Jean Horton (Maggie Smith). Her appearance is possibly a boon. For this would add one more voice to the aforementioned trio and enable them to perform the legendary Quartet from Rigoletto, which once created a furor in the operatic world. There’s only one problem: Jean refuses to sing. Apparently she and Reggie have a “history”; a brief and bitter attempt at matrimony in their long-distant past makes the mood chilly indeed. And despite the many years that have since passed, it seems that little has changed…

QUARTET achieves an almost perfect balance between humor and emotion, sensitively portrayed by Hoffman from the very outset. Inflated egos collide in this musical microcosm, but all the characters are lovingly drawn, despite their egos and idiosyncrasies, and this gives the movie its special charm. Much of the comedy is provided by Scots actor, comic and musician Billy Connolly, who plays an aging, skirt-chasing opera star. Maggie Smith, of course, who was nominated for a Golden Globe for her role as the Grand Diva - although it was possibly more a tribute for her portrayal of the Dowager Duchess in DOWNTOWN ABBEY - joined by Michael “Dumbledore” Gambon, as the eccentric and hugely egotistical director, and Pauline Collins as the sweet-natured, ever more forgetful Cissy, complete Dustin Hoffman’s QUARTET and, together, make it a harmonious delight.

Although certainly tempting, Hoffman never overdoes it. The humor never drifts into foolishness, even when it strays somewhat over the top. Likewise the emotional moments are presented with such restraint that, when they do emerge, they somehow avoid being cheesy.

QUARTET is not particularly original, no masterpiece, nor stroke of genius. We’ve seen it all before, usually in a somewhat younger ambience, but this is familiarity with a twist: GLEE meets THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL, if you like. But for all that, from first to last, this charming and entertaining British comedy is a tribute to life, love, and music, leaving viewers with a song in their hearts and a smile on their lips. And who could ask for more?

QUARTET (UK 2012); Distributor: The Weinstein Company (US) / DCM (Germany); Running time: 98 mins; Director: Dustin Hoffman; Cast: Andrew Sachs, Billy Connolly, Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Pauline Collins, Sheridan Smith, Tom Courtenay; Release dates: 11. January (US) / 24. January (Germany)

For more information and trailer: www.quartett-derfilm.deq

FRANKENWEENIE (USA 2012) - Tim Burton's Tale of a Boy and his Dog

29. January 13 , 12:28

Heartbroken at the death of his beloved dog Sparky, young Victor defies the laws of nature and brings his pet back to life

Frankfurt / Germany (Weltexpress). Having earned his stripes as an animator for Walt Disney Pictures, the studio graciously allowed Tim Burton to direct a short film, VINCENT in 1982, followed in 1984 by his black-and-white, live-action short FRANKENWEENIE, a tribute to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and the classic monster-movie genre.

Now, thirty years later, Burton has finally realized his dream of making a full-length version of that short film, more in line with his original concept, characters and drawings. Still in black-and-white, his stop-motion animated feature is enhanced by 3D, and FRANKENWEENIE now makes a long-awaited comeback.

The film tells of schoolboy Victor Frankenstein, a passionate hobby film maker, who loves only one thing more than movie-making: his dog Sparky. When Sparky is run over chasing a ball into the street, Victor is heartbroken. But luckily in Mr. Rzykruski’s biology class, the effects of electricity on dead frogs is on the curriculum, which inspires Victor to turn what he has just learned into reality and bring his beloved pet back to life. With the aid of all kinds of household appliances and a mighty storm, Victor succeeds in doing the impossible and brings Sparky back from the dead. And he seems normal, too. Well, as normal as a patchwork dog can be, I guess. But just as playful and affectionate as hitherto.

Obviously the whole thing has to remain top secret, for Victor is sure that neither his parents nor the other residents of New Holland would appreciate or applaud his having successfully defied the laws of nature. So it’s a pity that his classmate Edgar Gore, of all people, should stumble on his secret and demand that Victor repeat his experiment on Edgar’s dead goldfish in exchange for keeping his mouth shut. Victor reluctantly agrees and thus sets events in motion that will soon plunge the whole town into chaos…

With more than 2,000 puppets, 200 sets and 1,300 visual effects over a period of several years, together with many of his CORPSE BRIDE team, Burton has created a delightful B-Movie tribute, chock full of nostalgic Sci-Fi and horror movie references, voiced by his veteran cast, including Catherine O’Hara, Martin Short, Martin Landau and Winona Ryder. Although Johnny Depp, who starred in eight of his films to date, is conspicuously absent.

Even though Burton succeeds in extending the short story to feature film length and presents a good mixture of simple, yet effective humor and some emotional moments, in the end, the movie still lacks that certain “something”. Don’t get me wrong, FRANKENWEENIE is entertaining, charming and extremely funny and, without doubt, Burton’s best offering since CORPSE BRIDE. But it’s missing that certain bite that made Burton’s earlier work so special. On the other hand, compared to many of the other contemporary animated films for children, this 3D adventure, visually at least, is more than a welcome change. Burton has placed more value on the story and fleshing out his characters than on crude humor and violent, roller-coaster effects.

Tim Burton’s lovingly-bizarre world is lots of fun for all and it is to be hoped that not too many parents will be put off by the black-and-white visuals and the somewhat old-fashioned story. FRANKENWEENIE is a fun film for children of all ages. Nominated for a BAFTA, Golden Globe and an Oscar as Best Animated Feature, the movie is up against some serious contenders, including Disney/Pixar’s BRAVE and the very original - and likewise “dark” – PARANORMAN.

FRANKENWEENIE (USA 2012); Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures; Running time: 87 mins; Director: Tim Burton; Writers: Tim Burton (original idea); Leonard Ripps; John August (screenplay); Main cast (Voices): Charlie Tahan, Catherine O’Hara, Martin Short, Martin Landau, Winona Ryder; Composer: Danny Elfmann; Release dates: 5.October, 2012 (US) / 24. January, 2013 (Germany); Rated PG

For further info and trailer see: www.frankenweenie.de

By Geraldine Blecker

LINCOLN (USA 2012) - The Oscar Favorite!

24. January 13 , 15:31

Frankfurt / Germany (Weltexpress). The film focuses on the final months of the president’s life, which include passage of the 13th Amendment and the ultimate abolition of slavery, the surrender of the South - thus ending the Civil War - and his subsequent assassination.

Certainly the motion picture of the year for US audiences, who are prone to glorify their own national heroes, real or imagined. Lincoln, however, appears to have been as real as they come, representing the ultimate personification of the American Dream: a straightforward, no-nonsense man of the people from the farmlands of the mid-West - as opposed to a wealthy, upper-class landowner. An avid reader, he was self-taught with less than a year of formal education, later working his way through law school. What he lacked in social graces, he compensated with outstanding intelligence, strong principles, wry humor, and a sardonic understanding of human nature. All powerfully portrayed by Daniel Day-Lewis, who seems to have slipped into Lincoln’s skin for the role.

Based on only a small section of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln”, the film focuses on the final months of the president’s life, which include passage of the 13th Amendment and the ultimate abolition of slavery, the surrender of the South - thus ending the Civil War - and his subsequent assassination. A lot to pack into one movie, you’ll agree, even in one as long as this. No time is wasted on establishing a back-story, either. The film begins in the midst of harrowing events, in 1865, four years into the Civil War, Lincoln recently re-elected to serve his second presidential term.

Portrayal of the nation’s capitol almost has a Wild West ambience, Spielberg’s cinematographer Janusz Kaminski flooding the frames with sepia color and muted lighting for the interiors. Congress and the Senate appear to be less temples of state than saloons, populated by a bunch of rowdy politicians, all jostling for advantage. Little has obviously changed over the centuries - except for the language. People back then seemed far more eloquent - dare I suggest they were possibly better-educated? - Which Tony Kushner’s dialogue reflects so delightfully.

The film is less about a historical icon than a man despised by many of his political adversaries as a country bumpkin from the boondocks. Burdened by the weight of office, weary of war and concerned at the death toll, with his wife Mary at his side (Sally Field), often more of a burden than support. One son lost at age 11, the exhausted parents fear losing the other, Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), chomping at the bit to go to war.

Lincoln believed slavery was an outrage, and that only a constitutional amendment would spell its permanent demise in America, but he also regarded the 13th Amendment as a practical tool to whittle away the Confederacy’s financial resources and destabilize its government. He is fully aware that ending the war before the amendment is passed will be its death knell and, although it has passed in the Senate, it lacks sufficient backing in the House of Representatives. Debate rages over the prudence of the amendment – i.e. putting an end to slavery. Some see peace as a necessary predecessor to its passing, while others see it as only a step towards ending the civil war. Lincoln must take a centrist stance, and he does so very effectively.

Nor is Lincoln averse to some necessary horse trading to gain the votes he needs; granting many political favors to party rivals in exchange. When it comes to his own party, he relies on the coercive talents of his trio of lobbyists W.N. BIlbo (James Spader), Robert Latham (John Hawkes) and Richrad Schell (Tim Blake Nelson) to persuade the lame ducks, who have been sitting on the fence. Key support for the amendment lies at the party’s other extreme, with the Radicals, zealous abolitionists all, headed by the creatively offensive Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones) of Pennsylvania. It is he and Lincoln’s Secretary of State, William Seward (David Strathairn), who ultimately shepherd the amendment through.

Days after the vote, Lincoln and Seward meet with the Confederate delegation, which makes it clear that any negotiated surrender is conditional upon Lincoln's written pledge that the 13th Amendment will not be ratified. Lincoln tells them clearly that all of the North will ratify it, and at least three Confederate states have confirmed that they will do the same upon readmission to the Union – thus, the end of slavery is now sealed. Needless to say, negotiations founder. Two months later, General Robert E. Lee (Christopher Boyer) surrenders at Appomattox. Lincoln's tactics have paved the way for the Confederate states to be peacefully readmitted to the Union - a triumph he will not live to see, as he is assassinated only days later.

It is interesting to see the parallels between then and now: a Congress in gridlock, political wheeling and dealing, personal interests taking precedence, winning votes with bribery. People are people, I guess, and nothing ever changes. Although I can’t but wonder what Lincoln would think if he saw that America today has a black president! I like to think he’d be proud.

Nominated for 12 Oscars, 10 BAFTAs, winner of one Golden Globe for best dramatic actor for Daniel Day Lewis, as well as a further sweeping 15 wins and 59 nominations in less salubrious film festivals far and wide, LINCOLN seems set to clean up as the best picture all round for 2012, despite ARGO’s major win at the Globes. The movie has already grossed over $160 million in the US since its release on Nov. 16th and is set to open in many major foreign territories. Whether LINCOLN is actually the best film of the year is a matter of conjecture, but there is no doubt that it is a truly great film - and well worth seeing.

LINCOLN (USA 2012): Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox; Running time: 149 minutes; Director: Steven Spielberg; Writers: Tony Kushner (screenplay), Doris Kearns Goodwin (book: “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln”); Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, David Strathairn, Tommy Lee Jones; Cinematographer: Janusz Kaminski; Music: John Williams; Release dates: 16. November, 2012 (US) / 24. January, 2013 (Germany); Rated PG-13 (for an intense scene of war violence, some images of carnage and brief strong language).

FLIGHT (USA 2012) - Denzel Washington flying high!

23. January 13 , 18:05

 Denzel Washington breathes life into the heroic-tragic figure of alcoholic pilot Whip Whitaker, who can fly a plane - and land it upside down, if needs be - regardless of his physical condition.

Frankfurt / Germany (Weltexpress) - And this is just what he does, after a night of drunken debauchery with a hot flight attendant (Nadine Velazquez). Hauling his carcass out of bed with the aid of a generous line of coke, he just makes it in time to take off for Atlanta the next morning, keeping his hangover at bay with the vodka he has smuggled on board in a carton of orange juice. Putting the aircraft in automatic mode, to the horror of his church-going co-pilot Ken (Biran Geraghty), he dozes off, to be dragged from his stupor by a bitch of a storm - intensified by a sudden mechanical failure. Despite his wretched state, Whip takes over manual control and - cool as you like - manages to make an epic emergency landing by literally coming in upside down. Six lives are lost, but ninety-six are saved, thanks to Whip’s astonishing expertise. Full of nail-biting suspense, this sequence is also a technical marvel.

Since earning his wings in GLORY, MALCOLM X and THE HURRICANE and Best Actor Oscar for TRAINING DAY in 2001, Denzel Washington mainly devoted himself to a series of action-adventures (e.g. SAFE HOUSE, UNSTOPPABLE) which, although relative commercial successes, certainly represented no stretch for his acting skill - with the exception, perhaps, of his perceptive performance in AMERICAN GANGSTER (2007). The role of Whip Whitaker in FLIGHT, however, finally challenges his acting abilities - and he meets it with flying colors.

It might be said that the movie slows down - it is a full 136 minutes - and goes into a tailspin after its dynamic opening, but the point of the film is the moral dilemma it represents, even if it takes a bit too long to get there.

Although Whip is hailed as a hero, there is nonetheless an official inquiry. Six people have, after all, lost their lives, and somebody has to pay. Will it be the airline - due to the technical malfunction - or the pilots union, due to Whip’s possible malfeasance? He has performed an incredible feat of flying skill, proved by the fact that at least ten other pilots have failed to replicate it in simulations. But ironically enough, instead of taking it as a warning and deciding to curb his self-destructive tendencies, the incident has just the opposite effect. He feels superhuman, indestructible, and goes on a celebratory bender. Nothing can touch Whip Whitaker - no matter how much alcohol or drugs he consumes. In complete denial, he refuses to even admit he has a problem, despite his ruined marriage and estranged son. He meets and beds Nicole (Kelly Reily), an ex-junkie, who talks him into trying rehab, but very quickly falls off the wagon and this affair, too, goes the way of all the rest.

The investigation takes its inevitable course. Fearing huge cash penalties, both the airline and the pilots union are determined to cover up the affair and a smart attorney (Don Cheadle) is hired to defend Whip’s actions, including the high level of alcohol found in his bloodstream after the crash. At the hearing, however, public prosecutor (Melissa Leo) will have none of it. Someone must be taken to account for the loss of life and Whip is called to the stand to testify. He arrives late in the courtroom the morning after a suicidal binge, only making it with the aid of his loyal dealer Harling, (a creepily-funny performance by John Goodman) - always available to help him out of a self-inflicted jam. Whip’s testimony is the highlight of the film and I won’t spoil it for you. Suffice it to say, producer/director Robert Zemeckis has coaxed a haunting performance from Washington, nominated for an Oscar, as well as a SAG award for this performance, with a Golden Globe win already under his belt. John Gatins’ script is also an Oscar nominee for best original screenplay.

FLIGHT has already recouped its $31 million estimated budget almost threefold, grossing $96.1 mill. In the US since its early last November and is still to open in many major territories.

FLIGHT (USA 2012); Running time: 138 min; Distributors/Release date; Paramount Pictures/2.November, 2012 (US) / StudioCanal, 24.January, 2013 (Germany); Director: Robert Zemeckis; Writer: John Gatins; Cast: Denzel Washington; Nadine Valesquez, Don Cheadle, John Goodman, Biran Geraghty, Kelly Reily, Bruce Greemwood; Cinematorgapher: Don Burgess; Music: Alan Silvestri

DJANGO UNCHAINED (USA 2012)

18. January 13 , 21:33

An epic blend of comedy and violence; tragedy and farce

Frankfurt / Germany (Weltexpress). At a full 165 minutes, DJANGO UNCHAINED is not quite the year’s longest film, but certainly the most entertaining and I, for one, could have happily watched it for another three hours! An original story, unpredictable plot, inspired casting, and sparkling dialogue more than prove that INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS was not just a flash in the pan for Quentin Tarantino. DJANGO is an epic blend of violence and comedy, tragedy and farce, gloriously filmed and saturated in color, with garish, off-beat costume design, and a brash, clanging soundtrack. - all of its $100 mill. budget there on the screen.

Although Mr. Tarantino has been overlooked in the Best Director category for this year’s Academy Awards, his movie has garnered 5 Oscar and 5 Golden Globe nominations, as well as a bunch of British BAFTAs, winning 2 GGs just last week for best motion picture screenplay and best supporting actor for Christoph Waltz. Oscar nominations include awards for best supporting actor, best original screenplay, best cinematography and best sound editing.

The movie takes the form of a spaghetti Western - or a “Southern”, as Tarantino likes to say, for the action takes place south of the Mason-Dixon Line in plantation country, when slavery was at its height in the mid-1800s. It opens with a gang of chained male slaves trudging through the landscape, animated by a pair of white, whip-wielding slave-drivers. Suddenly a coach, with a giant tooth wobbling on its roof, approaches. Driven by Dr. Schultz (Christoph Waltz), a former German dentist turned bounty hunter, who makes a generous and genteel offer to buy one of the slaves, Django (Jamie Foxx) to help him in identifying a pair of plantation overseers wanted by the law. When the slave-drivers refuse, the carnage begins and Django is consequently “unchained”. Django turns out to be a natural talent when it comes to bounty hunting, so former slave and former dentist - the latter deadly, refined and eerily courteous - team up to clean up the South.

Although the character of Dr. Schultz is officially a supporting role, he is featured in almost every scene and his dialogue is a positive delight. The character is profound and multi-facetted - intrepid but not without fear, motivated by self-interest, certainly, but a man with principles. And Waltz makes the role his own - for indeed Tarantino wrote it for none other - and puts in a truly Oscar-worthy performance.

The duo’s early adventures prepare them for the film’s key mission, which is to rescue Django’s wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), enslaved on the lavishly vulgar Mississippi plantation owned by the vicious and hedonistic Mr. Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). Mr. Candie gets his kicks, for example, by watching Mandingo fighting - two slaves fighting to the death for his entertainment. Such a detestable man, played with gusto by DiCaprio, is not easy to hoodwink, especially when his faithful house slave, who loves his master unreservedly, shrewdly looks out for his interests. Casting Samuel L. Jackson in the role of the truly evil, obsequious old slave is as inspired as it is incongruous. Another gem is the brief cameo by Franco Nero, original star of the 1960s spaghetti western DJANGO, Tarantino’s original inspiration. The movie is chock full of surprises with never a dull moment. I can’t wait to see it again.

DJANGO UNCHAINED (USA 2012); Distributor: Sony Pictures; Running time: 165 mins; Release dates: 25. December, 2012 (US), 17.January 2013 (Germany); Director/Writer: Quentin Tarantino; Cast: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson and Kerry Washington; Cinematographer: Robert Richardson; Production Design: Fred Raskin

Von Geraldine Blecker

SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (USA 2012)

11. January 13 , 13:21

Frankfurt / Germany (Weltexpress). Academy Awards Season is coming round once again and I am always delighted when a relatively low-budget indie film (made for a modest $21 mill) swoops straight out of left field to give the big-budget studio contenders the jitters. As with such Oscar winners as LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, THE KING’S SPEECH, and THE ARTIST, David O. Russell’s SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK has just joined this year’s ranks of nominees.

Already up for 4 Golden Globes for best motion picture, best screenplay, and best actor and actress, it has likewise chalked up a further 17 festival wins and 41 nominations, including scooping up the Peoples Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival. Admittedly it has a lot of competition, for 2012 has been a splendid year for film.

Pat (Bradley Cooper) and Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) are two wounded bunnies. Pat, a former teacher, is manic-depressive - guess they call it “bipolar” nowadays - who, against doctor’s orders, has just released himself from an 8-month stint in a mental institution. To which he was confined by the court after beating his wife’s lover practically to a pulp. Tiffany, recently widowed and devastated by the sudden death of her police-officer husband, has gone off the rails, consoling - and punishing - herself by playing fast and loose with anybody with a dick. Two unhinged romantics, played by Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence - with depth, passion, raw emotion and a goodly dose of irony.

Two years after his twofold Oscar winner THE FIGHTER, director David O. Russell brings us SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK, which he has adapted from Matthew Quick’s 2008 novel of the same name, with just the right amount of acerbic wit and the manic inspiration it deserves.

The action kicks off when Pat's mother Dolores (Jacki Weaver) - and the only sane character in the entire ensemble - picks up her son at the nuthouse and takes him back to the family homestead. Here we meet his dad, Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro), an obsessive-compulsive sports fan and bookie, who’s been banned from attending the games of his favorite team (the Philadelphia Eagles) due to uncontrolled outbursts of violence. Like father, like son. As for Pat, he has become delusional, always looking on the bright side - for the silver lining, as it were, and certain that he will be reconciled with his ex-wife Nikki, (Brea Bee) if he just keeps at it - despite her restraining order!

No one else believes he has a chance; neither his therapist (Anupam Kher) nor his fellow inmate Danny (Chris Tucker), who drops by whenever he breaks out of the institution. Likewise his best buddy Ronnie (John Ortiz) who invites Pat home to dinner in the hopes of hooking him up with his nutcase of a sister-in-law Tiffany (Lawrence).

The dinner is a nightmare, despite Veronica, Ronnie’s manipulative wife (Julia Stiles), vainly attempting to keep the evening under control. But Pat and Tiffany, who speak their minds with no holds barred, kind of take to each other all the same. He walks her home. She offers him sex. He refuses, still faithful to his adulterous ex-Missus. So it begins. They meet again. She offers him a deal. She’ll get a letter to Nikki, if he will partner her in a dance contest. First, of course, he must learn how to dance… Cheesy? Yes. Does it work? Absolutely.

A comedic and dramatic challenge for Cooper, better known for his roles in HANGOVER, A-TEAM, and being the World’s Sexiest Dude, according to People Magazine. His performance is multi-facetted: poignant, droll, and vibrant. Lawrence, nominated for an Oscar for her role in WINTER’S BONE, not to mention her lead in THE HUNGER GAMES, is miraculous: crude, rude, and sizzling, yet vulnerable - and sometimes all at once. Together they set the screen alight and De Niro, as Pat’s dad, is finally to be seen in a role worthy of his talent.

Russell crafts this picture as a superbly unsentimental mixture of drama, comedy and romance. His characters impeccably drawn, with twisted humor and real emotions - the whole far removed from every form of cliché. The movie is a real treat. Don’t miss it!

***

SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (USA 2012); German Title: SILVER LININGS: Running time: 122 Min; Distributor: The Weinstein Company (US)/Senator Films (Germany); Release dates: US (limited) Nov. 16, 2012/Germany: Jan 3, 2013; Director: David O. Russell; Cast: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Waever, Chris Tucker

www.silverlinings.senator.de

by Geraldine Blecker

TOM CRUISE IS JACK REACHER! - Sometimes Size really doesn't Matter!

 09. January 13 , 16:21

Frankfurt / Germany (Weltexpress). Tom Cruise may only stand 5 ft.7 - and be 50 years old, to boot - but he plays a great 6 ft.5 Jack Reacher - all 250 pounds of him - bad-ass, anti-authoritarian, ex-military cop and hero of 17 Lee Child novels to date. I’ve read most of them and never really found the character of Reacher believable. That is until I saw Cruise’s portrayal. That’s acting for you.

Although British novelist Jim Grant, aka Lee Child, never actually penned a book called JACK REACHER, the plot for this adaptation is from his ninth Reacher novel, ONE SHOT (2005), which is a stand-alone story, requiring no former knowledge of the character or his background.  

The film opens in Pittsburgh, where five people are picked off by a remote sniper firing randomly into a crowd. Five victims killed with only six bullets leads police to assume the homicides to be the work of a superior marksman. And the only traceable sharp-shooter in the area is former Army sniper James Barr (Joseph Sikora), who is soon arrested. Refusing to talk, he merely asks for a piece of paper and writes three words: “Get Jack Reacher“.

Leading detective (David Oyelowo) and D.A. (Richard Jenkins) are puzzling over Barr’s reasoning, at the same time wondering who and how to reach this “Reacher“. Since leaving the Army, there has been no trace of the man: no address, social security number, bank account, credit card, phone number, vehicle license, nada. Virtually off the grid. Enter: Jack Reacher himself, who strolls into the DA’s office at that precise moment, cool as you please.

Strange that Barr should specifically ask for a man who despises him, as we discover, but Jack Reacher too is mystified and, although personally convinced of Barr’s guilt, he agrees to help his idealistic defense counsel (Rosamund Pike). While reconstructing the crime during the course of his investigation, he begins having his doubts. Were the shootings as random as they appeared - or was there actually a definite target?

When he is then set up by an underage Lolita (Alexia Fast) in a bar and lured outside to be set upon by five thugs, the plot thickens. Paid $100 a head to kick the crap out of him, Reacher just shrugs wryly and wipes the floor with them: smoothly, believably. A terrific fight sequence and Cruise convincingly kicks ass.

Director Christopher McQuarrie, (who penned the classic THE USUAL SUSPECTS and adapted Child’s novel), paints a dark picture of the Pittsburgh underworld, but gives it some light and humorous touches, introducing us to some quirky characters along the way, as well as some surprise cameos. Noteworthy is iconic German filmmaker Werner Herzog playing the creepy Russian villain called Zec, the ultimate survivor, who chewed off his own fingers in a Siberian Gulag. Robert Duvall makes a brief, but welcome appearance in the final act to lighten the mood. Neophytes Jai Courtney and Alexia Fast likewise put in strong performances, as does Rosmaund Pike playing Barr’s attorney, with some sizzling chemistry in her one-on-one scenes with Cruise.

But when all’s said and done, it’s the Tom Cruise Show and he has it down pat. The sunny smile has been replaced by a glowering attitude that makes JACK REACHER a dark and impressive new anti-hero. And to my delight, he even took his shirt off!

JACK REACHER (USA 2012); Distributor: Parmount Pictures; Running time: 130 min; Director/Writer: Christopher McQuarrie; Writer (novel ONE SHOT): Lee Child; Cast: Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, Richard Jenkins, Robert Duvall, Werner Herzog, David Oyelowo, Joseph Sikora, Alexia Fast, Jai Courtney; Release dates: USA: Dec.21, 2012/Germany: Jan. 3, 2013

www.JackReacher.de

by Geraldine Blecker

SEARCHING FOR SUGARMAN - A Remarkable Music Documentary

04. January 13 , 20:24

An Urban Fairytale - Two South Africans set out to discover what happened to their unlikely musical hero, the elusive 1970s singer-songwriter, Sixto Rodriguez

Frankfurt / Germany (Weltexpress). The singer-songwriter known only by the name of RODRIGUEZ was somewhat mysterious even before he was picked-up and promoted in the late-60s by some music industry big shots. An enigmatic character, or perhaps just a homeless drifter, who played the odd gig in his home city of Detroit, facing the wall or with his face in the shadows, to never speak a word and disappear without a trace as the last chord still hung in the smoke-filled air…

He recorded two albums, the first produced by Steve Rowland, no less, released by A&M on Motown’s Sussex Label in 1971 and 1972 to great optimism and rave reviews comparing him to Bob Dylan. Despite which both albums tanked dismally, his record contract was terminated and Rodriguez vanished as swiftly as he had appeared.

Some bootleg copies of the discs, however, made their way across the world to South Africa, where they somehow found an audience - initially by word of mouth - before they even had local distribution. His street lyrics, together with his haunting melodies and unique voice, touched a chord with young, liberal whites and his music, banned by the radio stations, helped to fuel the anti-apartheid movement. The artist known as Rodriguez - and the name was all that anybody knew about him - became iconic, inspired a generation, and sold more records over there than Elvis! There were many rumors about his presumed death by suicide: he is believed to have shot himself, OD’d, or self-immolated onstage, yet none of these conflicting speculations was ever confirmed, nor did any further information about Rodriguez ever come to light.

Moving forward several decades to the 90s, a few of his ardent fans, one of whom was an investigative journalist, decided to go in search of the truth behind the rumors and find out the cause of his tragic demise. Traveling to the US, they were astonished to discover that no one had ever even heard of Rodriguez! In desperation they set up a website to trawl for information and, to their utter disbelief, received a reply from one of his daughters who, in turn, put them on to the man himself - still alive and well, and working on the building sites in his native Detroit, blissfully ignorant of his huge success and megastar status on the other side of the world.

Needless to say, he never saw a penny of the South African royalties earned by his two albums. An interview with Clarence Avant, former Motown chairman, cast no further light on the matter. Aggressive and vague when asked where the money went, he merely blustered, unable to provide a satisfactory explanation. Another music bizz casualty, you might say, but Rodriguez was totally unfazed upon discovering that he’d been a superstar for decades - leaving all the astonishment to his daughters and construction-site co-workers - as the documentary moves towards its emotional climax and Sixto Rodriguez finally gets the artistic recognition he deserves, performing to thousands of devoted fans.

Malike Bendjelloul’s exciting and uplifting documentary takes us seamlessly from Cape Town to Detroit and back - courtesy of Camilla Skagerstrom's cinematography expertise -  underscored with the music of Rodriguez himself (mostly from his first COLD FACTS album), and the addition of archive material with a sprinkling of some clever link-up animation. For me personally, SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN is not only the year’s best documentary, but one of the best movies of 2012 overall.


SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN (Sweden/UK 2012); Genre: Music documentary; Running time: 86 min; Distributor/Release date: (US) Sony Pictures Classics/July 27 (limited); Germany: Rapid Eye Movies/Dec. 27; Director: Malike Bendjelloul; Featuring: Stephen Segerman, Dennis Coffey, Mike Theodore, Dan Dimaggio, Jerome Ferretti, Steve Rowland, Willem Moller, Craig Bartholomew-Strydom, Ilse Assmann, Steve M. Harris, Robbie Mann, Clarence Avant, Eva Rodriguez, Sixto Rodriguez, Regan Rodriguez, Sandra Rodriguez-Kennedy, Rick Emmerson, Rian Malan; Rated PC 13

For more information: www.rapideyemovies.de

Von Geraldine Blecker

LIFE OF PI - Truly spectacular!

02. January 13 , 20:05

Frankfurt / Germany (Weltexpress). With LIFE OF PI, Ang Lee, director of such masterpieces as BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN and CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON, has created a seminal cinematic event. It tells the story of a young man who survives a disaster at sea and is hurtled into an epic journey of adventure and discovery, together with one other survivor - a full-grown Bengal tiger.

Ang Lee’s LIFE OF PI is a wondrous cinematic experience which appeals to all the senses, and a hugely successful adaptation of what must, once again, have been considered by many to be Yam Martel’s “unfilmable” bestseller. A visual milestone and perfect marriage of live action and CGI animation and, as if that is not enough, an excitingly emotional and spiritual triumph.

LIFE OF PI begins in the India of the ’70s, where 17-year old Piscine Molitor Patel (Suraj Sharma), who prefers to be called Pi for obvious reasons, lives a comfortable life with his family in the province of Pondicherry. But as political events begin taking their toll and the country finds itself in a state of upheaval, Pi’s father (Adil Hussain), prosperous owner of a small zoo, fears that he will be unable to continue providing his family with the standard of living to which it has been accustomed. Deciding to leave India, the zoo is closed, all valuables packed - people, animals and belongings - and loaded onto a Japanese freighter, the family sets out on the long and difficult journey halfway round the world. Bound for Canada.

But a sudden violent storm hits the vessel in mid-ocean and it founders, drawing all passengers, human as well as animal, down with it into the watery depths. Only Pi, who went above decks to watch the storm, miraculously survives and, with the last of his strength, manages to fling himself into a lifeboat. Where he is not alone for long. A zebra, orang-utan, hyena and a fully-grown Bengal tiger also tumble into the boat with him, and all are swept away by the turbulent sea. His family never to be seen again.

Nature being what it is, it is not long before the lifeboat contains only two very wary passengers. Pi and the tiger known as Richard Parker, due to a fanciful mistake on the zoo’s records, where the name of the tiger and its captor were interchanged. Tigers are, as we soon learn, very powerful swimmers, which forces Pi to put some distance between them - not an easy task on a small lifeboat. But Pi is nothing if not resourceful.

We now move into the major part of the movie, which focuses on the 227 days at sea, during which the young man proves his ingenuity time and time again, while the tiger likewise proves that it can learn and adapt… Not to say that the two become friends, for the tiger is a savage predator and hardly a fluffy Disney character, but a basic understanding must be reached if both are to survive. Just how this is achieved is a tribute to Ang Lee’s magnificent film-making, Yam Martel’s original novel, and screenwriter David Magee’s triumphant adaptation. Claudio Miranda’s vibrant cinematography is enhanced by 3D, used to better effect than I have ever seen it before - AVATAR included. Deepening the sense of time and enormity of space where the sky meets the sea, enhancing the vast star-spangled heavens, and the phosphorescent trails left by myriad sea creatures in the night.
 
Suraj Sharma playing the young Pi puts in an extraordinary debut performance, as he develops throughout; growing gaunt, darker-skinned, gathering patience and wisdom. As for Richard Parker, well, knowing that most of the tiger footage was CGI didn’t stop it from scaring the crap out of me! The film serenely blends the various religious doctrines of the world into a complete philosophical ideology that celebrates the glory of life itself, without any gratuitous moralizing. What is real and what is fiction? And does it matter?

Made for an estimated budget of $120 mill, the movie has already grossed a worldwide $269 mill. since its US release on 21st November. LIFE OF PI is a spectacular work, the best picture of the year, in my opinion, and not to be missed!

* * *

LIFE OF PI (USA, 2012); German title: Life of Pi - Schiffbruch mit Tiger; Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox/Fox 2000 Pictures; Running time: 126 mins; Director: Ang Lee, Writers: David Magee (screenplay), Yam Martel (novel); Cast: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Adil Hussain, Tabu, Rafe Spall, Gerard Depardieu; Cinematographer: Claudio Miranda; Composer: Mychael Danna; Release date: US 21.Nov/Germany: 26. Dec.

For more information and trailer see: www.LifeOfPi-derFilm.de

by Geraldine Blecker

BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD

29. December 12 , 11:43

Frankfurt / Germany (Weltexpress). Hushpuppy, an intrepid six-year-old girl, lives with her father in the Bathtub, a dirt-poor southern Delta community at the edge of the world. Her father’s tough love seeks to prepare her for the unraveling of the universe; for a time when he's no longer there to protect her.

Off the shore of New Orleans in the Mississippi Delta, separated from dry land by a levee, is a bleak wasteland of hardship known as The Bathtub, where a small, self-reliant community ekes out its existence, far-removed from the industrial world. A ferocious storm is brewing, they say, but life in the Bathtub is already beyond dystopian, its people salvaging discarded items from civilization and turning them into whatever they need. It’s all about improvisation in the Bathtub. Their rickety shacks teeter precariously on crops of higher land and some are turning them into boats, hoping to survive the coming flood.

Hushpuppy is our guide and narrator and, as far as she’s concerned, it’s “the prettiest place on Earth.” Played by Quvenzhané Wallis - 5 years old when she was cast, 7 when the movie wrapped - and, like many of the other cast members, an acting novice. An intense, resilient girlchild, Huspuppy shares a trailer with her father Wink. Apparently her mother just “swam away” one day and Hushpuppy is always expecting her return. Father and daughter are close and Wink does his best to teach her all he knows.

Close to nature, she feels for the livestock she lovingly attends, “I sure hope we won’t have to eat one of our pets”, she says, as she feeds them, certain that the animals are speaking to her in their own language. Unaware of the desolation of her life, she is brave, resourceful and resilient and, in her world, the borders between fantasy and reality are blurred.

This poetic fantasy-drama is the first motion picture by director/writer Benh Zeitlin, based on the one-act stage play “Juicy and Delicious” and subsequent screenplay by Lucy Alibar. Made for a moderate $1.2 mill in the devastated, post-Katrina bayous of Louisiana, BEASTS celebrated its premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, winning the Grand Jury Prize, followed by the Caméra D’Or at Cannes, and scooping up a further 35 awards and 33 nominations at various international film festivals throughout the first half of 2012. Although it features no known stars or what the industry likes to refer to as “bankable” talent, it has, surprisingly enough, already been viewed by more than 11 million US cinema-goers since its very small release this summer.  It is, without doubt, one of the finest and most remarkable films of the year.

BEASTS OF THE SOUTERHN WILD (USA 2012); Drama/Fantasy; Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures/MFA Distribution (Germany); Running time: 92 min; Director/Writer (screenplay): Benh Zeitlin; Writer (stage/screenplay): Lucy Alibar (based “Juicy and Delicious”); Cast: Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry, Levy Easterly, Lowell Landes, Pamela Harper; Cinematographer: Ben Richardson; Composer: DanRomer; Release dates: Dec. 20 (Germany); Rated PG-13.

Von Geraldine Blecker

THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY (USA 2012)

26. December 12 , 19:41

From the smallest beginnings come the greatest legends & the smallest books can turn into the longest films

Frankfurt / Germany (Weltexpress). Taking place 60 years before THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, young Bilbo Baggins, a less adventurous Hobbit, sets out on a reluctant quest with a heroic group of Dwarves, to reclaim their stolen mountain home from the dragon Smaug.

Although J.R.R. Tolkien's THE HOBBIT is the shortest of his works, Part One of Peter Jackson's planned trilogy runs a full 167 minutes. Hitting screens as a limited release at double the usual format of 48 frames per second and 3D, the look of the movie alone takes some getting used to - everything is in your face - almost like watching Reality-TV. The duration, too, is a trial, with every detail stretched beyond all endurance. The first 45 min, for example, keep audiences captive in the home of young Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) in Middle Earth, as he entertains some unexpected guests for dinner: 13 hungry, singing dwarves. Once we get past this sequence, however, things gather momentum.

Bilbo and the trusty band of dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), and accompanied by the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) set forth on their mission to retake the dwarves’ mountain home from the fearsome dragon Smaug. Along the way confronting orcs, trolls, wolves, and other assorted monsters, made frighteningly real courtesy of the make-up and prosthetics department. In fact, a good half or maybe even three-quarters of the movie is spent battling these creatures and some of the conflicts are even interesting. A battle against goblins, for instance, is three dimensional and acrobatic, the combatants tumbling through the air, to land and regroup - but most of these sequences are more reminiscent of a computer game.

The picture is livened up (and padded out) by some cool cameo performances: the Elven city of Rivendell makes a brief appearance, for example, as do Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), Elrond (Hugo Weaving) and Saruman (Christopher Lee). But it is the slithery, manic Gollum, (once again brilliantly portrayed by Andy Serkis) who saves the day, transforming THE HOBBIT into everything you were hoping it would be - a powerful, haunting fantasy. Unfortunately, it takes a helluva long time to get there.

One of the most eagerly-awaited motion pictures of the year, THE HOBBIT has been on release for just over a week and already grossed over $245 million worldwide. Fans of the first trilogy will find some wonderful moments, but unfortunately they are few and far between - and there are not nearly enough of them. My advice: take a packed lunch.

THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY (USA 2012); Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures; Running time: 169 min; Peter Jackson - Director / Writer (screenplay) / Producer, Writers (screenplay) Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Guillermo del Toro; Novel: J.R.R. Tolkien ("The Hobbit"), Cast: Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ian McKellen, James Nesbitt, Ken Stott, Cate Blanchett, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Elijah Wood; Cinematographer: Andrew Lesnie; Composer: Howard Shore; PG-13; Release dates: 14 Dec (USA) /13 Dec.(Germany)

by Geraldine Blecker

GREAT EXPECTATIONS (UK 2011/12)

26. December 12 , 19:48

Charles Dickens’ classic tale of a humble orphan, who suddenly becomes a gentleman with the help of an unknown benefactor.

Frankfurt / Germany (Weltexpress). For those who were not, like I, forced to read Charles Dickens’ novel in school and tried to make sense of his elaborate Victorian language, here’s the plot: Pip, a young orphan, (Toby Irvine) lives on the coast with his odious sister (Sally Hawkins) and her kindly husband, blacksmith Joe Gargery (Jason Flemyng), with whom he has a brotherly friendship.

One evening, he is confronted by Abel Magwitch, a fugitive from justice (Ralph Fiennes), and is persuaded to bring him some food. Shortly thereafter, Magwitch is recaptured, to temporarily disappear from the tale. Days later, Pip is brought to the stately home of Miss Havisham (Helena Bonham Carter), resident aristocrat and mad as a hatter, to serve as a companion to Estella, her hopelessly spoiled, adopted daughter (Helena Barlow).

Moving forward in time, Pip, now a young man (Jeremy Irvine), unexpectedly inherits a fortune from an unknown benefactor, whom he naturally assumes to be Miss Havisham. Suddenly a “gentleman” - with no need to work for a living - he moves to London, makes the right friends, joins the right clubs, and renews his acquaintance with the flighty Estelle (Holliday Grainger), who has grown into a beauty and one of the most desirable heiresses in England. It is at this point that Abel Magwitch makes a sudden reappearance - and the skeins of the story begin to interweave…

Directed by Mike Newell (PRINCE OF PERSIA, HARRY POTTER), the movie has a dark and somber feel, skipping through time with economy and conviction. The look of the film is glossy and expensive, the set design and costumes deluxe. The acting professional and competent, although, with two exceptions, we have seen the same actors portraying very similar roles in just about every classic British adaptation: from Jane Eyre to Wuthering Heights to the tedious glut of motion pictures based on the works of Jane Austin. That being said, I couldn’t help but wonder why this movie was actually made. GREAT EXPECTATIONS has been adapted many times for the screen since David Lean’s original 1946 version, as recently as 18 months ago, in fact, as a BBC TV series, which scooped up 4 prime-time Emmy Awards, with a further 3 wins and 8 nominations - possibly why this version has not yet been picked up by any US distributor.

Although Newell has attempted to give it an epic quality, it is lacking in that most basic of requirements: characters we can relate to and seriously care about. None of them are given a chance to properly unfold, nor is there any time spent on delving into their relationships to one another. This is a pity, for the book encompasses many powerful relationships, which Newell has chosen to ignore. Overall, GREAT EXPECTATIONS has little sense of tragedy and no soul and is more like a daily soap melodrama than the grand epic it was clearly intended to be.

GREAT EXPECTATIONS, (UK 2011/12). German distributor: Senator Film Verleihs; Release date: Dec. 13; Running time: 128 min.; Director: Mike Newell; Writer: Charles Dickens (Novel); David Nicholls (Screenplay); Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter, Jeremy Irvine, Sally Hawkins, Cinematographer: John Mathieson; Composer: Richard Hartley

by Geraldine Blecker

SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS (USA 2012) -  Don't Take any Shih Tzu!

24. December 12 , 21:45

Struggling Hollywood screenwriter gets more inspiration than he bargained for when two of his weirdo pals kidnap a gangster’s beloved pet dog

Frankfurt / Germany (Weltexpress). Just a look at the ensemble cast which writer/director Martin McDonagh has gathered for this quirky psycho-comedy-crime-thriller should tell you everything you need to know - far better than any review I could pen.

Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken, Woody Harellson, Tom Waits, and Harry Dean Stanton - not forgetting Bonny the Shih Tzu, of course - it doesn’t get any weirder than this. A very smart, albeit blood-soaked, comedy-thriller about some very stupid people doing some very nasty things to one another for some very silly reasons - a host of maniacs, if you will - scripted by McDonagh himself, director of IN BRUGES.

Set in LA and other Southern California locations, the outrageous plot jerks from one narrative implausibility to the other, weaving them into a convoluted web of storylines, subplots, dead bodies and riotous, black humor.

Trying to keep the plot simple: Alcoholic screenwriter Martin (Colin Farrell) is struggling with writer’s block, unable to get beyond the title page of his new script. Giving him the benefit of his creative inspiration (or egging him on) is Billy, his nutbag of a buddy (Sam Rockwell) - who could well be a psychopath himself - but that’s something the audience has yet to discover. Billy has a partner in his latest criminal venture, played by none other than Christopher Walken, everybody’s favorite eccentric. Together, they abduct pet pooches from the park, later returning them to their respective owners for the proffered reward. Hardly high crime, but it’s a living and all goes well, until the day they happen to kidnap the wrong dog - the beloved pet of a ruthless gangster boss, portrayed by Woody Harrelson at his manic best. And this is where the Shih Tzu hits the fan, you might say…

SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS isn't exactly a work of high art - there are confused sections where there’s just too much going on - but it is an exceptional, bizarre, and wonderfully funny ensemble film that is streets ahead of practically every other comedy currently on the screen. Winner of the People’s Choice Award at the 2012 Toronto Film Festival, as well as the Boston Society of Film Critics, it has garnered five further nominations, already recouping its relatively low $15 mill. budget since its US release on December 14th.

SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS, USA 2012; US distributor: CBS Films/Release date: December 14; German Title: 7 Psychos/German distributor: DCM Film Distribution/Release date: December 6; Running time: 109 min.; Director/Writer: Martin McDonagh; Cast: Colin Farrell, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken, Tom Waits, Abbie Cornish, Olga Kurylenko, Michael Pitt, Harry Dean Stanton, Kevin Corrigan, Long Nguyen, DOP Ben Davis; Composer: Carter Burwell; Rated R

WRECK-IT RALPH (USA 2012) - Looking for some Wreck-ognition!

24. December 12 , 21:39

A video game villain sets out to fulfill his dream of being a hero, but his quest brings havoc to the whole arcade

Frankfurt / Germany (Weltexpress). Video game villain Wreck-It Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) has a dream: to be as popular and well-loved as the hero in his old ‘eighties game of Fix-It Felix (voiced by Jack McBrayer). But it’s a sad fact that nobody loves the bad guy.

So when the games arcade is updated to include a first-person action game Hero’s Duty, featuring hard-ass Sgnt. Calhoun (voice of Jane Lynch), Ralph sees it as the chance he’s been waiting for. He abandons his own game after 30 years, and sneaks into the new one, determined to be a hero. Unfortunately, he soon wreaks havoc, destroys everything, and in the process unleashes a deadly foe that menaces every game in the arcade. His only hope is Vanellope von Schweetz (voice of Sarah Silverman), a young, rebellious glitch from a candy-coated cart-racing game which Ralph subsequently infiltrates and with whom he forms a wary alliance. She might just be his first real friend and  able to teach him how to be a hero. But when he gets his chance to save the day, will he do it in time?

Tron meets Candyland via Donkey Kong, with a syrupy dash of Disney, a splotch of CARS, a touch of SHREK, and a glutinous series of saccharine cart races that almost puts SPEED RACER in the shade. As spectacularly gaudy as is, in glowing CGI and bombastic 3D - it’s all about the story, despite the fact that co-writers Jennifer Lee and Phil Johnston have cluttered the screenplay with two many plots, diluting what begins as a great idea. Not to say that the end product isn’t entertaining, but it is distracted and many of the jokes fall short of their potential. And there are jokes, allusions and parodies aplenty - most of which went right past me, as I am not a gamer, although I did recognize some of the spoofs on Call of Duty, Gears of War, and Halo.

John C. does a competent job giving voice to “bad guy” Ralph, but the voice-over expertise of comedian Sarah Silvermann totally steals the show. Sugary-sweet with a corny moral at the end, the movie is still entertaining family fare, although not to be compared with the brilliance we have come to expect from Pixar. That being said, I guess you can’t argue with success. Its latest worldwide gross is just over $227 mill. since its US release in November, well recouping its estimated budget of $165 mill.

WRECK-IT RALPH, USA 2012 (German title: RALPH REICHTS); Distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures; Running time: 101 min.; Director/Writer: Rich Moore (story); Writer (story/screenplay): Jim Reardon; Writer (story) Phil Johnston; Writer (story/screenplay) Writer (screenplay) Jennifer Lee; Voiced by John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch, Alan Tudyk, Ed O'Neill, Mindy Kaling, Brandon Scott, Joe Lo Truglio, Dennis Haysbert; Composer: Henry Jackman; Rated PG, Release dates: Nov. 2 (US)/Dec 6 (Germany)

by Geraldine Blecker

"DARK" Movie Round-Up

03. December 12 , 12:15

Frankfurt / Germany (Weltexpress). We live in dark times. Demonstrated by some of the violent new movies currently hitting the silver screen; not to mention the popularity of such games as Halo, Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed, Dark Souls, Dishonored, Guild Wars, World of Warcraft… need I go on?

This morbid fascination with weaponry and carnage is, of course, nothing new, but an all-too-human obsession dating back to our beginnings. Violence seems always to have been glorified - think of the Roman Games. But things are somewhat different nowadays, when just about anybody - at least in the US - has access to assault weapons and can order high power  ammunition over the Internet to turn his “dream“ of becoming a macho hero - or at least of mowing down his entire neighborhood - into reality.

Thus I am presenting here three recent, bloodthirsty offerings currently on-screen - in ascending order of ghastliness!

DEADFALL (Canada/USA 2012)


Inspired by the Coen Bros. FARGO, this thriller follows a brother-sister team on the run in the icy snows of Michigan in the wake of a bungled casino heist.

Praised for his 2007 Academy Award-winning WWll drama THE COUTNERFEITERS, Austrian director Stefan Ruzowitzky has managed to gather a stellar cast for the script, written by novice screenwriter Zach Dean. That’s what Oscar fame can do for you.

After an abortive casino heist, sibling-duo Addison (Eric Bana) and Liza (Olivia Wilde) are on the run, trying to make it over the Canadian border before the proverbial shit hits the fan. Unfortunately they crash their car in a snowdrift somewhere in northern Michigan - actually shot in Montreal - and only temporarily escape pursuit by fatally shooting a state trooper.

For some reason, Addison decides that their chances would be better if they part and make their way north separately. Liza agrees with this suggestion, despite the fact that she is dressed for the arctic freeze in a pair of high-heeled evening sandals and a cocktail mini-dress which shows what she had for breakfast. Fortunately, Liza doesn’t have to shiver in the blizzard for too long before a passing car, driven by young ex-con and former boxing champ Jay (Charlie Hunnam) stops and gives her a ride. Jay is en route to his parents, June and Chet (Sissy Spacek and Kris Kristofferson), for Thanksgiving dinner and a burst of his family’s traditional critique. On the way, however, they check into a motel and do the nasty deed.

Meanwhile, intrepid young female sheriff (Kate Mara) is actively pursuing the killers, despite the sexist disapproval of her father (Treat Williams), who is also her superior officer. Shades of FARGO - including Mara’s accent. Addison, in the meantime, is busy wreaking his own special brand of carnage on his solo journey north.

Suffice it to say that all parties collide at June and Chet’s Thanksgiving dinner table. Reminiscent of a '40s/50s Hollywood western with the addition of some incestuous innuendo and psychological “father issues”, the acting performances are all first class, especially Bana’s portrayal of a cold-blooded killer with an offbeat sense of humour and the occasional flash of empathy.

For some reason the film’s title of “Deadfall” was changed to “Cold Blood” for the German version - which makes little sense, as both titles are, let’s face it, equally bland and meaningless. At a budget of $12 million, the movie premiered at this year’s Tribecca Film Festival and was already available as VoD on November 2nd, although it is getting a limited US theatrical release on December 7th.

DEADFALL (Canada/USA 2012); US Distributor: Magnolia Pictures; US theatrical release date: Dec. 7th; Running time: 95 mins; Director: Stefan Ruzowitzky; Writer: Zach Dean; Cast: Eric Bana, Charlie Hunnam, Olivia Wilde, Kate Mara, Kris Kristofferson, Sissy Spacek; German Title: COLD BLOOD - Kein Ausweg, keine Gnade; Distributor: StudioCanal; German release date: Nov. 22nd
 
SINISTER (USA/Canada, 2012) - True-Crime goes Supernatural


A true-crime writer finds a cache of 8mm “snuff” films that suggest the murder he is currently researching is the work of a serial killer whose career dates back to the 1960s.

Only in the horror movie world does anyone intentionally move into a home whose former occupants were gruesomely butchered. Of course, they also investigate dark cellars in their underwear with a flashlight, but I digress…

Thus, when writer Ellison Oswalt, (Ethan Hawke) brings his wife (Juliet Rylance). and two youngsters into a house where a hideous massacre took place - which he is researching for his latest true-crime novel - we can be forgiven for assuming the worst. His last best-seller was 10 years in the past and it is with some desperation that he now seeks to replicate that success, inadvertently putting his family’s safety on the line.

Exploring the new house, Ellison makes an interesting discovery in the attic: a projector and a box of old 8mm film reels documenting a series of “innovative” family massacres - each more gruesome than the last - spanning decades and all taking place in far-removed locations. Further research reveals that all murders went unsolved and, in each case, one family member appeared to have escaped the slaughter. With the aid of a local police deputy (James Ransome) - and obviously the phantom serial killer himself, who leaves the corresponding clues - Ellison begins pulling the threads together.

The house is, needless to say, dark and creepy with little visual differentiation between day and night. When he is not watching the grotesque footage with a whisky in hand, Ellison spends much of the film’s running time stealing through its spooky corridors wielding a baseball bat. There seems no question of him moving his family out of the house, even when his son (Michael Hall D’Addario) and daughter (Clare Foley) begin exhibiting ominous behaviour - they start drawing graphic pictures of the very crimes Ellison has been watching and of which they are, consciously at least, fully unaware. Cue for Ellison to go on patrol with his baseball bat… keeping his fears from his blissfully unsuspecting wife. As the incidents escalate, Ellison is certain that an obscure and menacing figure can be discerned in each of the films. A well-known occultist (quick cameo by Vincent D'Onofrio) tells him, per Skype, of a primordial “eater of children” - which still doesn’t persuade Ellison to remove his family to safety.

The premise is interesting as we gradually discover the link between the atrocities - I won’t spoil it - and the film transitions completely from true-crime into supernatural horror. But all in all, the current trend towards “reality” footage, the sombre lighting, and the single location of the dark house contribute towards visual monotony where, for me at least, the inherent suspense was unable to relieve the tedium.

Directed and co-written by Scott Derrickson (THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL) and made for a modest (by Hollywood standards) $3 million by the producers of the hugely successful PARANORMAL ACTIVITY and INSIDIOUS, the movie has already grossed nearly $48 mill in the US since its release on October 12th.

SINISTER (USA/Canada 2012); US Distributor: Summit Entertainment; Running time: 110 mins; US release date: 12th October; Director: Scott Derrickson; Writers: Scott Derrickson, C. Robert Cargill; Cast: Ethan Hawke, Juliet Rylance, James Ransone, Michael Hall D’Addario, Clare Foley, Fred Dalton Thompson, Vincent D’Onofrio, Victoria Leigh, Nicholas King; Rated R; German distributor: WildBunch Germany/release date: 22nd Nov.
 
KILLING THEM SOFTLY (USA 2012) - Welcome to Hard Times

Based on the novel COGAN’S TRADE by George V. Higgins set in 1974 Boston, the producers (Plan B Entertainment), in their wisdom, chose to update the action to take place in 2008 New Orleans. A decision equally as wise as adapting the novel to the screen in the first place, in my opinion.

Boston vs. New Orleans was probably influenced more by the availability of Louisiana State tax credits for help in funding the movie’s $18 million budget than any other consideration, I should imagine, as the story could have been set in any grimy, desolate township - at night, mostly in the rain - anywhere in the country: Detroit, say, or Baltimore. In no sequence is New Orleans at all recognizable. As for moving it up in time, this was obviously done to allow televised speeches and radio broadcasts by Barack Obama, John McCain and George W. to pervade the background - presumably to emphasize the sad state of the US economy and warn of a worsening recession. Everybody’s going through tough times, it seems, even organized crime.

The plot begins when a high-stakes poker game run for the Mob by Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta), is rudely interrupted by two masked bandits, who take off with a large chunk of the mob’s change. It looks like an inside job - who else would be dumb enough to rob the mob?

Small-time crooks Johnny Amato (Vincent Curatola) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) turn out to be responsible for the heist, and retribution is swift in coming. Senior mob boss (James Gandolfini) soon arrives to take matters in hand. He orders the execution of the two thieves to be performed by slick hit man Jackie (Brad Pitt), who explains that his specialty is to “kill softly” - for no apparent reason other than to justify the classic number featured in the soundtrack. And so begins a tedious succession of sadistic beatings and brutal killings - nothing “soft” about them - as the mob administers its own brand of justice.

Screenwriter/director Andrew Dominik, who coaxed a great performance from Brad Pitt in his 2007 THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD, has assembled a talented cast of male bad-asses - not one of whom is likeable - in a dreary landscape, who give as good as they get. The script doesn’t give anyone much opportunity to shine. Worthy of special mention here is James Gandolfini, who, presumably out of desperation, falls back on his classic Tony Soprano persona (complete with the line, “So, whatcha gonna do?”). The storyline is dull, the visuals bleak, the violence gratuitous and, all in all, the movie has precious little to commend it.

KILLING THEM SOFTLY (USA 2012); Running time: 97 mins; Distributors: US: Inferno Distribution/ Germany: WildBunch; Director/Writer: Andrew Dominik; Based on the novel “Cogan’s Trade” by George V. Higgins; Cast: Bard Pitt, Ray Liotta, James Gandolfini, Richard Jenkens, Ben Mendelsohn, Sam Shepard; Release dates: 30th Nov(US)/29th Nov. (Germany); Rated R (for violence, sexual references, pervasive language, and drug use).

by Geraldine Blecker

DREDD 3D (USA 2012) - Judge, Jury & Executioner

20. November 12 , 14:10

In a violent metropolis in the dystopian future, peace-keeping is a job for the cops, who are judge, jury and executioner combined.

Los Angeles / USA (Weltexpress). Mega City, a vast metropolis of 800 million souls stretching from Boston to DC, is run by gangs and drug lords. Only the Judges, known and feared - and equipped with the latest technology - have the power to keep the lid on crime and Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) is the most feared of all. Masked, helmeted, metal-suited and fully obscured, his latest challenge is ridding the city of its current scourge - a new drug known as “Slo-Mo”, which dramatically slows reality for its users. Every feeling and emotion can be experienced for longer - ecstasy as well as agony.

On the day Dredd is assigned to train Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), a new recruit with powerful psychic abilities springing from a genetic mutation, they are summoned to a crime scene at Peach Trees - one of the most violent spots in the city. 200 Stories of savage high-rise slum run by Ma-Ma (Lena Headey), prostitute turned crime boss, and her ruthless gang. A vicious triple-murder has been committed - the bodies, flayed and tossed off the top of the building.

After the dynamic duo captures one of Ma-Ma’s key henchmen (Wood Harris), she manages to over-ride the compound's security control and puts the high rise into lockdown. No loss of life is too great to protect her empire and the two judges must fight overwhelming odds if they hope to survive.

More blood-thirsty and hard core than the bland 1995 JUDGE DREDD starring Sylvester Stallone, director Pete Travis and screenwriter Alex Garland have ramped up the action and brutality to adapt to these darker times and appeal to a more extreme target group. As a superhero, Dredd has little to commend him to a wider target audience. A man of few words and those in a gruff "Batman” voice, he is hardly allowed to show any humanity or expression - never mind his face - which leaves Thirlby to transport such emotion and sympathy as is to be found in the script. And she does this with a modicum of success. Even more successful to my mind is Lena Headey’s portrayal of arch-villainess Ma-Ma, A sense of profound sadness can be sensed beneath the character’s hard exterior.

But the focus here is on merciless carnage in vivid 3D and a $50 million budget. Blood splatters, bodies are dismembered - much of it in Slo-Mo - a technique I initially found interesting, and then over-used and tedious - all underlaid with a pulsing score by Paul Leonard-Morgan, most of it below the stave. The goodies and the baddies are equally savage, but justice, such as it is in this post-apocalyptic world, wins through.

DREDD 3D (USA 2012); Distributor: Lionsgate Films; US release: 21st Sept/Germany: 15th November; Running time: 96 mins: Director: Pete Travis; Writers: Alex Garland (screenplay), Carlos Ezquerra, John Wagner (characters) Cast: Karl Urban, Olivia thirlby, Lena Heqadey, Carlos Ezquerrs, Wood Harris;Langley Kirkwood ; MPAA Rating: R

by Geraldine Blecker

CLOUD ATLAS (Germany/UK/Spain, 2012)

15. November 12 , 22:33

Six different stories and characters interweave across the globe and over the centuries to show that "Everything Is Connected"

Los Angeles / USA (Weltexpress). A cinematic extravaganza at an estimated cost of $100 million that has been generating much controversial discussion, as well as a serious Oscar buzz (certainly for best visual effects) since its premier at this year’s Toronto Film Festival. Based on David Mitchell's 2004 “un-filmable” (So when does that stop anybody?) literary opus, CLOUD ATLAS is an arduous journey indeed. Love it or hate it, few are indifferent.

To say the movie is non-linear would be putting it mildly. In almost 3 full hours of screen time, six different stories - at least - leap back and forth across the globe and the centuries: from 19th century slave vessel to the dystopian world of 2346.

A true screenwriting/directing collaboration, the MATRIX duo - formerly known as the Wachowski Brothers (now Andy and Lana, make of that what you will) joined forces with Tom Tykwer (RUN LOLA RUN) and combined Tykwer’s team from PERFUME and THE INTERNATIONAL with the MATRIX crew. It is, in fact, one of the few films in history that has three directors working together as an original team who equally share directing credit.

The star talent, headed by Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, Jim Broadbent, and Susan Sarandon, had a whale of a time playing a multitude of roles - not dictated by age, race, or gender. That being said, the makeup and prosthetics department alone is Oscar-worthy for doing an incredible job at disguising these people. I did not know who I was watching half the time, and was truly surprised when “all was revealed” in the closing credits.

The premise, as well as the slogan - as in Mitchell's novel – is that “Everything Is Connected”. That’s as may be, but any links to be found in the movie are tenuous at best and I, for one, found this ambitious attempt seriously confusing. I would love to give you a synopsis, dear readers, but I personally couldn't make head or tail of it. And once I stopped trying to work out any logical connections between the stories and characters, I enjoyed the sumptuous settings and sheer scope of the film’s vision immensely. CLOUD ATLAS is opulent cinema and true art - and possibly best enjoyed after smoking some weed.

CLOUD ATLAS (Germany/UK/Spain, 2012); Distributor: Warner Bros;  Running time: 172 mins; US Release: 26th October/German release date: 15th November; Writers/Directors: Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer and Andy Wachowski; Novel: David Mitchell; Cast: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant,.Jim Broadbent, Hugh Weaving, Susan Sarandon, Jim Sturgess, Ben Wishaw; Rated R (or violence, language, sexuality/nudity and some drug use).

By: Geraldine Blecker

THE POSSESSION (USA 2012) - A Jewish Exorcism

11. November 12 , 13:49

A young girl buys an antique box at a yard sale, unaware that it harbours an evil spirit determined to possess her

Los Angeles / USA (Weltexpress). Supposedly based on a true and well-publicized incident - as reported in the LA Times - THE POSSESSION is a psycho-horror movie about demonic possession, backed-up to a certain extent by some theological knowledge. Credible characters in a believable world must come to grips with ancient demons, this time a Dybbuk straight out of Jewish mythology.

The demon is locked, presumably for all time, in an old wooden box bearing a Hebrew inscription warning the unwary of its contents: an evil spirit or dybbuk, ready to pounce and possess the soul of whoever sets it free.

Young Emily (Natasha Calis) spots it at a yard sale and begs her father, Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), to buy it for her. He does; anything to make her happy. Following his recent divorce from her mother (Kyra Sedgwick), she and her sister Hannah (Madison Davenport) are living with him and the family has just moved into a new home. Contrary to standard horror locations, the house is new, bright, sterile - a stark contrast to the ancient and sinister darkness of the dybbuk.

After managing to prise the box open, no mean feat incidentally, Emily starts to change. Ferociously obsessive about the box, she begins exhibiting strange behaviour, which dismays her father and teachers alike. Her mother is shocked by her daughter’s sudden transformation, blaming it on her ex-husband’s harmful influence. They become even further estranged. Kyra Sedgwick and Jeffrey Dean Morgan play a convincing couple, realistic and without affectation, making the action even scarier by contrast.

Director Ole Bornedal emphasises the ghoulishness of the box’s contents without excessive over-use of CGI. What does it contain? Among the array of unusual artefacts is a small object that appears to be a mechanical insect of some kind - and swarms upon swarms (if that is the right collective term) of moths. Each time Emily opens the box, they swoop out and invade her…

Finally coming to terms with the possibility of his daughter’s demonic possession, Clyde seeks advice from a Jewish professor at the school where he works as a sports coach and discovers the meaning of the Hebraic inscription. Frightened, he visits a Hasidic Jewish community in Brooklyn looking for help. Initially to no avail, as the group of synagogue elders immediately shies away from the box in fear. Tzadok, the earnest younger son of the rabbi (Matisyahu - Hasidic Reggae rap artist), however, believes it his divine mission to save lives and souls and thus agrees to perform an exorcism.

His vigorous face-off with the dybbuk is highly reminiscent of Max von Sydow’s demonic encounter in THE EXORCIST, which has, truth be said, influenced many movies since. But nevertheless, this is one of the better of the genre and maintains its suspense up to the very end.

At a budget of $14 mill, it has already grossed $65.8 mill. worldwide since its US release at the end of August and is yet to open in some major foreign territories.

THE POSSESSION (USA 2012) / German title: DAS DUBKLE IN DIR; Genre: Horror; US Distributor: Lionsgate Films/German distributor: Studiocanal; Runing time: 93 mins; US Release date: 31st August; German release: 8th November; Diector: Ole Bornedal; Writers: Juliet Snowden, Stiles White, based on Leslie Gronstein’s article JINX IN A BOX; Cast: Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Natasha Calis, Kyra Sedgwick, Madison Davenport, Matisyahu

For more info and trailer, log onto the official movie website: http://thepossessionmovie.com/index.html#/home

by Geraldine Blecker

ARGO (USA 2012) - Fact can be stranger than Fiction!

10. November 12 , 11:11

Los Angeles (Weltexpress). The real rescue of six Americans from Tehran after the 1979 storming of the US Embassy is the driving force behind this political thriller directed by, and starring, Ben Affleck. And just like TITANIC, knowing the outcome does not lessen the suspense.

ARGO begins with a concise recap of Iranian history: the build up to the revolution, ousting of the Shah, the return from exile of the Ayatollah Khomeini and his rise to supremacy. It then movies right into the events of Nov. 4, 1979, when crowds of angry Iranians, their demands of the US to extradite the dying Shah denied, storm the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and take 52 American hostages.

Six manage to sneak out, however, taking refuge in the home of the Canadian ambassador, (Victor Garber). At first relieved to be in relative safety, they soon realise that it is only a matter of time before the Embassy occupiers discover their absence - and hunt them down. The burning question: how to get them out unharmed in the midst of civil turmoil and violent anti-American hostility?

Enter CIA agent Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck, bearded, scruffy, and beautifully underplayed). His speciality: covert withdrawal. He concocts the half-baked plan of flying in and out again with the six refugees - masquerading as a Canadian film crew on a location scout for a fake Sci-Fi space movie entitled ARGO. That his superior (Bryan Cranston) would even submit such a harebrained scheme to the White House is proof of the Agency's desperation and the lack of any sensible alternative. But submit it he does and is grudgingly given the green light.

Next stop: Hollywood. Where Mendez recruits the services of special effects guru John Chambers and renowned mega film producer Lester Siegel (played by John Goodman and Alan Arkin, respectively). Together they give the film a good does of satiric humour and the project credibility, generating international hype (including press releases, posters, castings, storyboards, interviews, etc.) for the faux Sci-Fi blockbuster based on a cheesy script that’s been gathering dust for years. (In fact, the actual ARGO script, as used by the CIA - and not for this film - was from the never-made feature film LORD OF LIGHT, based on the novel by Roger Zelazny.)

Thus armed and with false IDs and passports for his six fugitives, Mendez flies to a turbulent Tehran - these sequences were actually shot in Istanbul - to meet his charges and give them a crash course on being film industry professionals. To say that their subsequent escape - 48 hours later - is tense would be putting it mildly!
 
Focusing on the actual events as it does, ARGO forgoes character development and depth, which could be seen as its one major flaw. We learn little about Mendez or his back story and, aside from their rescue, hardly get to know the six endangered Americans (Tate Donovan, Rory Cochrane, et al) more than slightly. Nevertheless, I found the movie fascinating, as will most of us who followed the events it portrays, and recall that the remaining 52 hostages were only released 444 days later.

GONE BABY GONE and THE TOWN were fine indications of Affleck’s directorial talent and his ability to tackle gritty themes and turn them into riveting cinema. His latest, ARGO, won standing ovations and 2nd place as the People’s Choice Award when it was premiered at the Toronto Film Festival and is currently generating some serious Oscar Best Picture and Best Director buzz with its compact and gripping reconstruction of a modern historical event that has only recently been declassified. Affleck had a lot of support - from the authenticity of Rodrigo Prieto’s cinematography to the ever-escalating tension of Chris Terrio’s screenplay, based on the article ESCAPE FROM TEHRAN by Joshuah Bearman. All true to the era thanks to the production design of Sharon Seymour. Alexandre Desplat’s score is likewise worthy of mention, as are producers George Clooney and Grant Heslow - long known and respected for their commitment to producing “important" motion pictures.
 
ARGO (USA  2012); Distributor: Warner Bros; Genre: Political Thriller; Running time: 120 mins; US release date: 5th October/Germany: 8th November; Director: Ben Affleck; Writer: Chris Terrio (screenplay)/Joshuah Bearman (article); Cast: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Victor Garber, Alan Arkin, Tate Donovan; Rated R (for language and some violence).

by Geraldine Blecker

SKYFALL (UK/US 2012) - This time it's personal!

04. November 12 , 15:15

Half a Century of James Bond!

Bond’s loyalty to M is tested as her past returns to haunt her. MI6 is attacked, and 007 must return from the dead and destroy the enemy - whatever the cost.

Frankfurt / Germany (Weltexpress). A clever, exciting and immensely gratifying sequel to the James Bond franchise - now celebrating its 50th anniversary. Sam Mendes brings us the best action adventure of the year - certainly on a par with Chris Nolan’s DARK KNIGHT trilogy - at a budget of $200 million - much of which is visible on screen.

More character-driven than what we have come to expect, action-fans will not be disappointed. There’s a hair-raising motorbike chase along the roofs of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, a furious fight sequence atop a speeding train. Bond himself is shot in the chest and plummets to his apparent death in the turbulent waters of a deep ravine. And that, my friends, is only during the opening credits!

Refreshingly different to the 22 Bond instalments that have gone before, this time it’s personal. Judi Dench’s M is at the forefront of the action when the villain is out to settle old scores. Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem in manic shades of NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN) is a former operative who has been betrayed and turns to cyber-terrorism for his revenge on MI6 - and M in particular. In the opening sequence, Bond heroically attempts to recover a hard drive listing almost all the NATO agents who have infiltrated international terrorist organizations, to prevent it from falling into Silva’s hands. Only to be shot by a fellow agent - welcome the return of Miss Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) - on M’s orders.

Although M gets right down to penning Bond’s obituary, viewers are not allowed to ponder his death for long. He is almost immediately lured back to London when he sees a newscast showing a bomb exploding in MI6 headquarters. Once home, he is subjected to a succession of trials and tests, the results of which reveal him as being both physically and mentally unfit for further assignment. He can’t even shoot straight anymore! This, of course, does not stop M from faking the test results and making use of his, albeit diminishing, talents. And it is Daniel Craig’s new Bond – older, weaker and more vulnerable - that creates emotional tension - his performance less flawless than we are accustomed to. Mendes and his script writers Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan, give the character of 007 more profundity, and we finally get a look into his back story.

As for M, whose role for Bond seems that of a kind of ersatz mother, whom he must protect at all costs, Judi Dench has been given ample opportunity to give depth to this role and moved from an ancillary figure to a leading protagonist. She is forced to question - and account for - her competence, beliefs, and the efficiency of her methods, when a rival bureaucrat (Ralph Fiennes) calls for her resignation, seeking to supplant her.

John Cleese’s “Q” has given way to a new generation - now played by Ben Whishaw (CLOUD ATLAS, PERFUME), and while computer hacking has taken the place of all those beloved gadgets, 007’s veteran Aston Martin makes a brief but welcome return appearance. Parked outside Bond’s ancestral home in the Scottish Highlands - looked after by the old family retainer (Albert Finney, no less!). Last but not least, introducing Severine, the latest Bond Girl (Berenice Marlohe), who happens to be Silva’s mistress - and whose infidelity is punished accordingly.

The action moves from Istanbul to Shanghai to the underground warrens of Florence Nightingale’s London before the final showdown in the Highlands of Scotland, all sumptuously portrayed by the camera work of Roger Deakins. The ending is a surprise, which MGM and Sony Pictures requested us not to reveal, so I won’t spoil it for you!

Already topping the international box office charts, the UK release of this 23rd Bond epic coincided with that of the very first - DR. NO in 1962 - and generated over $77.7 million, ($32.4 mill in the UK alone) in its opening weekend. Released in 25 countries, it is due to expand in more overseas territories this weekend, although not scheduled to open in the US until Nov. 9th. John Barry’s well-known Bond theme is given a new orchestral facelift by Thomas Newman, who provides an opulent score, while the title song, beautifully performed by Adele (who also penned the lyrics), is already soaring up the music charts.

SKYFALL (UK, USA 2012): Distributor: Sony Pictures Entertainment; Running time: 143 mins.; US release date:November 9th, 2012/German  release: November 1st, 2012; Director: Sam Mendes; Writers: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, John Logan; Based on the books of Ian Fleming; Cast: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Berenice Marlohe,  Ben Whishaw, Albert Finney, Rory Kinnear, Ola Rapace; Rated PG-13

For trailer, photos and more info, log onto the official website: http://www.skyfall-movie.com/site

by Geraldine Blecker

THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER (USA 2012)

One of the year’s more successful literary adaptations

Frankfurt/Germany (Weltexpress). Adapting books to screen can be a tricky business - as the recent crop of literary adaptations will testify (Great Expectations, On the Road, Cloud Atlas… need I go on?). But it is seldom that the author takes the sceptre in hand for his own work - which does not necessarily qualify him or her as a film maker - with certain notable exceptions (like Paul Haggis).

Novelist Stephen Chbosky, however, whose 1999 best-seller THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER generated much heated dialogue at the time, was able to persuade the producers of Summit Entertainment and John Malkovich’s Mr. Mudd to let him take the reins. And a fine job he has made of his directorial debut, finally giving birth to a movie for the teen market that is intelligent, witty, and perceptive.

It is Charlie’s (Logan Lerman) first year in high school and he is plunged into the problems which every pupil seems fated to encounter: he is mobbed, excluded, mocked and bullied. All of which is to change when he meets and is befriended by senior-class siblings Sam (short for Samantha, played by Harry Potter’s Emma Watson) and Patrick (Ezra Miller, who made a splash in last year’s Oscar nominated WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN). Flung head first into wild parties, hash brownies (soon to be followed by LSD), and “First Love” - all at once. A bit much for Charlie, 15 years old and struggling with his own mental health issues, which he keeps at bay by writing about his experiences - and those of his newfound friends - in letters to an anonymous pen pal. We later discover this to be his best friend Michael, who shot himself the year before.

The novel may be thirteen years old, but the themes it tackles - and which the film for its part polarises - such as teenage angst and depression, peer pressure, child abuse, and suppressed homosexuality, are as relevant today as ever.

Chbosky has not only painted an accurate picture of the times, the school year of 1991/92:  the music, technology and fashion - but he has coaxed excellent performances from his young and talented cast; especially Lerman’s portrayal of the sympathetic Charlie. At only 20, he already has some respectable credits to his name (PERCY JACKSON, 3:10 TO YUMA, and THE NUMBER 23).

It’s not often that a novelist gets the chance to breathe life into his own work and Chbosky, who also executive produced and penned part of the soundtrack, has done a superb job of transitioning his R-rated book into a PG-13 movie. PERKS was premiered at the Toronto Film Festival and is currently generating some Oscar buzz.

THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER (USA 2012); Distributor: Summit Entertainment/US release: October 12th, 2012; German Title: Vielleicht lieber Morgen; German Distributor: Capelight Pictures/Release date: November 1st, 2012; Writer/Director: Stephen Chbosky; Cast: Logan Lerman,  Emma Watson, Ezra Miller,, Dylan McDermott, Kate Walsh, Nina Dobrev, Paul Rudd; Running time: 103 Mins., Rated PG-13.

By Geraldine Blecker

ROBOT & FRANK (USA 2012)

27. October 12 , 22:28

Set in the near future, a crotchety old geezer on the verge of dementia gets a new lease on life - and revives his career - when he is presented with a robot caretaker.

First-time director Jake Schreier’s vision of the imminent future does not consist of a “Big Brother” dystopian landscape, way-out architecture, revolutionary weaponry, contagious viruses, flying machines, speed-of-light travel, or many of the other innovative trappings we have come to expect of Sci-Fi features. Although he does permit himself some moderate futuristic novelties in the form of wide-screen Skype and sleek electro-cars, they stay well in the background. The action of Sci-Fi, buddy movie ROBOT & FRANK takes place in a world where books are going digital, the libraries are closing (sound familiar?) and where robots perform the menial tasks currently reserved for immigrant workers.

Meet Frank (Frank Langella) - a crotchety old geezer living alone in his house in a rural area of upstate New York. Although he is still able to look after himself after a fashion, and trundle into town to visit the library - to borrow books and have a harmless flirt with Jennifer, the local librarian (Susan Sarandon) - he is clearly descending the slippery slope of dementia.

This dismays his son Hunter (James Marsden) and daughter Madison (Liv Tyler), both of whom live too far away to care for their old dad. Looking after him on a permanent basis would be a nightmare in any case. Set in his ways, he just wants to be left alone and, although he no longer really understands the world around him, he is stubbornly resistant to change. Concerned by the decline in his father’s condition, Hunter decides to buy him a home-robot. Appalled by the very idea of an artificial care-giver, once the Robot arrives - about 5ft. tall and looking like a giant i-Pod - his initial annoyance gradually gives way to wary approval. The little guy can do lots of things: it cooks, cleans, shops, does the gardening, forces Frank to take “moderate” exercise and watch his diet - and likewise reveals some hidden talents. It can pick locks and crack safes.

This is where we discover that Frank is, in fact, a retired jewel thief, and quite a notorious one at that - with two longish prison stretches under his belt, albeit the second one was for “tax evasion”, as he disgustedly admits. Before very long, the duo of man and household appliance is virtually inseparable. Robot (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard) gives Frank the companionship and stimulus he has been lacking, and also reawakens his enterprising spirit. In short, they soon start doing heists.

There’s a sparkling chemistry between Robot and Frank; the former chirpy, while the latter is morose. Langella’s portrayal of a dementia victim's anger and frustration with his own defective mind is brilliantly convincing. He can be wayward - when he shoplifts bars of soap from a local vendor, for example, just to drive the shopkeeper mad and keep his hand in. But he's also isolated and deprived of stimulation. It is delightful to see the improvement he makes - albeit through burglary - as his interest in life and the world around him is rekindled.

An intriguing premise and enjoyable film, which Jake Schreier brings to the screen with gentle irony, humour and restraint. Premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize, it has yet to go on general release in the US.

Samuel Goldwyn Films/Stage 6 Films presents: ROBOT & FRANK (USA 2012); German distributor/Release date: Senator Films/October 25th, 2012; Running time: 89 mins; Director: Jake Schreier; Writer: Christopher D. Ford; Cast: Frank Langella; Robot Voice: Peter Sarsgaard, Susan Sarandon, Liv Tyler, James Marsden; Jeremy Sisto; Rated PG-13 (for some language)

By Geraldine Blecker

PREMIUM RUSH (USA 2012)

Risde Like the Wind!

20. October 12 , 10:11

To say this is a fast-paced action movie is an understatement. PREMIUM RUSH is built for speed, a death-defying race against time - and traffic - about the madcap bicycle couriers who tear through the Big Apple making their deliveries.

With little regard for other vehicles, traffic regulations, or pedestrians, they race through red lights, leap barriers, weave through traffic - oncoming or otherwise - on their adrenalin high. And if it’s a “premium rush” job - then Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is the messenger of choice. His bike, a lean machine, isn’t even fitted with brakes, or gears for that matter, so it rarely stops. Nor does the film.

Why does he do it? Well, it certainly isn’t for the cash. It’s a high risk job for meagre pay. The bike couriers seem to do it for the kicks and, in this picture, several of them team up; his girlfriend (Dania Ramirez) and his principle rival (Wolé Parks), to outrace the cops on a hair-raising mission to deliver a piece of paper worth $50K for a client. And that’s about it as far as the plot goes. Wilee picks up the envelope at Columbia University and is then chased through Manhattan by a manic cop (Michael Shannon), who wants the ticket for reasons of his own.

Directed by David Koepp (GHOST TOWN, SECRET WINDOW, as well as the screenplays for MISSION IMPOSSIBLE and SPIDER MAN) and written by John Kamp, the movie tears along at a pace. Shot on 35 mm film, almost a dozen stunt riders and a huge CGI department add excitement and great visuals to Wilee’s route across Manhattan Island. Overlaid with arrows, maps and other vibrant graphics, he works out his options in split seconds, the possible result of each decision flashing up hypothetically on the screen. Should he take a right - oops, there’s a baby carriage. Swerve to the left and land under a truck, collide with a Yellow Cab, or zip through a department store, dodge through a garage and leap over other barriers obstructing his path. Each choice could be fatal - for him or somebody else. All the while carrying on a conversation with his colleagues via headset…

© Columbia PicturesThere is no great character development to be found here, but that’s not what this movie is all about. Gordon-Levitt’s certainly had a good year and, after his dynamic performance with Bruce Willis in LOOPER, it is interesting to see him play such a bright, sinewy speed junky. Shannon, too, as the mad cop who owes money to the mob, puts in a good comedic performance. All in all, PREMIUM RUSH is an exciting action adventure and a great ride!

PREMIUM RUSH (USA, 2012); Distributor: Columbia Pictures; Running time: 91 mins; Director: Directed by David Koepp; Writers: Koepp and John Kamps. Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Shannon, Daniela Ramirez, Lauren Ashley Carter, Jamie Chung, Wole Parks; Rated PG-13 (for some violence, intense action sequences and language); Release dates: US August 24, 2012/ Germany: October 18, 2012.

By Geraldine Blecker

THE ANGELS' SHARE (UK, France, Belgium, Italy) 2012

High Spirits from Ken Loach  - 100% Proof!

17. October 12 , 22:43

Frankfurt/Germany (Weltexpress) - Set in Glasgow - and thank heavens for the German subtitles - Ken Loach introduces us to his ensemble cast one at a time in the courtroom, where each is convicted of a ridiculous crime. Shown in flashback, each violation is more absurd than the last. Subsequently sentenced to various terms of community service instead of prison, the perpetrators then pile into a van driven by Harry (John Henshaw), the project supervisor. Thus begins an offbeat heist comedy featuring the above delinquents, who pull off a very unlikely - and inspired - bit of larceny.

Winner of the Jury Prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, THE ANGELS’ SHARE is a true delight. The main protagonist is Robbie (Paul Brannigan), a young hooligan and brand new father, stuck between a rock and a hard place: a long-standing family feud makes it almost impossible for him to escape the violence of his surroundings. But his luck is about to change. Doing community service instead of jail time puts him in Harry’s charge. And Harry is a big-hearted man with a passion - single malt whisky. After an outing at a distillery, where Harry has taken his charges for the day, he discovers that Robbie has a “nose” for whisky. At which point Harry takes the young man under his wing and sets about cultivating his talents.

It is at a whisky-tasting event in a remote Highlands distillery shortly thereafter that Robbie and his cohorts (Rhino, Mo and Albert) learn that the only remaining cask of a very valuable single malt is to be sold at auction. Even one bottle of this extraordinary brew is worth a fortune. Thus, Robbie sets about finding a buyer in advance and concocts a harebrained scheme to siphon off just enough to make a difference - and give the lads a fresh start. The coup is somewhat implausible, but Loach and writer Laverty have you rooting for the rogues despite the crime and notwithstanding their violent backgrounds. Do they get away with it? I won’t spoil it for you.

In case you are curious about the title, the “Angel’s Share” is that small amount of whisky, approx. 1.5-2%, lost per year to evaporation resulting from the aging process.
 
THE ANGELS’ SHARE (UK/France/Belgium/Italy 2012; UK Distributor: Entertainment One (release date: June 1, 2012); German title: THE ANGELS’ SHARE - Ein Schluck für die Engel; Distributor: Prokino Filmverleih (release date: October 18, 2012); Running time: 101 mins; Director: Ken Loach; Writer: Paul Laverty; Cast: Paul Brannigan, Siobhan Reilly, John Henshaw, Gary Maitland, William Ruane, Jasmin Riggins.

by Geraldine Blecker

SAVAGES  (USA 2012) 

13. October 12 , 16:50
 
Oliver Stone brings us The Story of "O"

A convoluted tale of escalating warfare between two South California pot-growers on the one side, and a Mexican drug cartel on the other. The latter headed by a cold-blooded female, who more than proves that ruthlessness is not exclusively a male preserve.

Those of you who are fans of the TV series BREAKING BAD - as I am - will already know as much as you will ever need to know about the workings of the Mexican drug cartels. But in case you’re looking for more brutality, porn and splatter than is generally shown on late-night TV, Oliver Stone’s dark and violent drama is just the ticket!

As far as the rest of us are concerned, SAVAGES, based on Don Winslow’s novel, doesn’t add any new perspectives. But there is certainly enough torture and soft porn to compensate for the lack of any sympathetic - or even two-dimensional - characters. Which brings me to the sad observation that the current crop of TV fare - especially those series produced by HBO & Co. is so superior to what is being flung onto the big screen that I find it hardly worth even visiting the movie theatre nowadays. Were it not for the nachos…

“O”, short for Ophelia, the love interest in a jolly ménage à trios, is the first character we meet. As we see her cavorting along the beach, she tells us that this opening sequence doesn't mean she’ll survive the picture. She then goes on to introduce her lovers: bad-ass, combat-vet Chon (Taylor Kitsch) and the sensitive, poetic Ben (Aaron Johnson). Polar opposites who are best pals and, when combined - which they certainly are in the first third of the film - represent the perfect man for O.

Life seems idyllic for the trio, who live a life of decadent luxury in Laguna Beach - financed by the guys’ hugely successful pot growing business. Seeds smuggled in from Afghanistan by Chon have been botanically “enhanced” by Ben and the sensational result - sold through legal medical marijuana, as well as more criminal, channels, is generating bundles of cash. So much, in fact, that their business has attracted the attention of a brutal Mexican drug cartel, which seeks to take control of their venture. Things go south in more ways than one, when war breaks out between them.

Underestimating the potential danger, talks founder, and the boys decide to get out of the business for good and go into retirement. But Elena (Salma Hayek), the glamorous cartel boss, has decided otherwise: they will continue to produce for her and she emphasises the point by having O abducted by her brutal henchman Lado (Benicio del Toro), who is not everything he seems. Added to the mix, for some reason that I could not quite fathom, is a bent DEA agent (John Travolta), who seems to be an informant for everybody.

 

The major action is prefaced by some serious and rather riveting negotiations, conducted via computer, where her lovers are forced to watch O’s sufferings - live. Ben wants to ransom, while Chon wants to steam in, guns blazing. There is never a question of just taking off and leaving O to endure her fate.

The film seeks to add unexpected facets to its main characters. Elena for example, although a cold and callus killer, has a mother’s love for her daughter, which makes her more human but somehow less convincing. Travolta’s character has a wife with cancer, which ostensibly justifies him for being on the take, but does little else. Lado, (Benicio Del Toro), the most compelling villain of the piece, gradually develops some sensitivity, which waters down his character, while failing to make him any more sympathetic. Then the viewer is introduced to a series of minor figures - some with detailed back-stories - which contributes little to the film except pad out the running time.

I had some trouble equating the violence of SAVAGES with the drug that generated it. Needless to say, when weed-growing evolves into big business it can also spawn some vicious side effects. Still, from a plot point of view, I found it inconsistent. Getting stoned is hardly the thing to do before embarking on a fire fight. The gratuitous torture scenes do not add to the excitement, nor are the characters even vaguely convincing. If there’s a message, it eluded me. Still, with worldwide BO revenue $61 million, it has at least recouped its $45 mil. budget and is yet to open in some foreign territories.

SAVAGES (USA 2012); Distributor: Universal Pictures International; Running time: 129 mins; Director: Oliver Stone; Writers: Shane Salerno, Don Winslow, Oliver Stone/Novel by Don Winslow; Cast: Taylor Kitsch, Blake Lively, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Benicio Del Toro, Salma Hayek, John Travolta; Rated R: (for strong, brutal and grisly violence, some graphic sexuality, nudity, drug use and language); US release: July 6, 2012; German release: October 11, 2012

by Geraldine Blecker

ON THE ROAD (USA/UK/France 2012)

08. October 12 , 12:26

Filming the “Un-filmable”

London (Weltexpress). Aspiring writer Sal Paradise has his world turned upside down by the arrival of free-spirit Dean Moriarty and his girlfriend Marylou. As they travel across the country together, they encounter a group of assorted characters, who make an indelible impression upon the young man.

Sometimes all the industry has to do is pronounce a book as un-filmable for some bright spark of a cult director to twist himself into knots attempting to prove the contrary. Un-filmable can also be interpreted as un-interesting and/or un-commercial, and Walter Salles’ (THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES) rendering of Jack Kerouac’s 1950s classic is certainly both. But credit where credit is due, the sheer tedium of the storyline (if there is one) and the dreariness of the lead characters are combined with enough nudity, sex, drugs, and good jazz to keep audiences from dozing off completely during its 137 minutes’ running time.

When Kristen Stewart’s nude pictures hit the web a while back, salacious curiosity was aroused and a very mediocre - and I might say superfluous - film got more media attention than it deserved. Still, it is evidently considered to be high art - I was impressed by the number of arthouse critics, culture buffs, and miscellaneous literati who attended the press screening. Maybe it was the free drinks...

As far as the storyline is concerned, from what I could make out, it all begins in Denver where, following the death of his father, aspiring young novelist Sal Paradise (Sam Riley), meets and immediately idolizes Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund), a handsome drifter who seems to do little but get high and shag a succession of women. There is some indication that he could even be a writer too, but who cares? Together they take off, Moriarty’s sexy young wife Marylou (Stewart) in tow, and drive across post-war America to “find themselves”.

As for the visuals, Eric Gautier did a magnificent job with the cinematography, as the protagonists take the viewer from Denver to New York to Louisiana to San Francisco and back again. But there is little character development in this interminable road trip and certainly no one the audience can give two hoots about or even vaguely relate to. Jack Kerouac would be turning in his grave if he could see what Salles, the producers, and screenwriter Jose Rivera have done with the 416-paged work that inspired an entire generation. But when push comes to shove, we’ve all been there and done that and the only difference is that the Beat Generation took itself very, very seriously. Needless to say, there is little humour, if any. 

Despite the sad lack of any real character development, the acting talent makes the best of it, putting in some respectable performances: Sam Riley, Kristen Stewart, Kirsten Dunst and Morgan, although the brief cameos steal the show, especially Viggo Mortenson’s portrayal of Old Bull (based on William S. Burroughs) and Terence Howard’s sparkling few seconds as a musician based on John Coltrane.

ON THE ROAD ((USA/UK/France 2012): US Distributor: IFC Films; Release date: October 15th. 2012; (German title: On the Road: Unterwegs; Distributed by Concorde Filmverleih; Release date: October 4, 2012); Running time: 137 mins; Director: Walter Salles; Writer (Screenplay): Jose Rivera/ Novel: Jack Kerouac; Cast: Sam Riley, Garrett Hedlund, Kristen Stewart, Amy Adams, Tom Sturridge, Kirsten Dunst and Viggo Mortensen.

By Geraldine Blecker

THE CAMPAIGN (USA 2012) - Art imitates Life

07. October 12 , 11:40

London (Weltexpress). With only weeks to go before the US presidential election, and in the midst of the mind-numbing bombardment of campaign coverage, the comedy revolves around a congressional election in North Carolina.

Incumbent N.Carolina Congressman running for his fifth term in office
suddenly has to face a rival candidate.

 Although I’m hardly a fan of the typical Will Ferrell comedies - albeit crude gags and puerile sexual innuendo seem to be currently in vogue - it is the sheer timing of this movie that makes it so delightful. Against the current political backdrop of outright deception, blatant pandering, bigoted “news”, outrageous sex scandals, massive faux pas - some on an international scale - and billions of dollars worth of defamatory advertising, art imitates life in THE CAMPAIGN.

Incumbent Congressman Cam Brady (Will Ferrell) is running for his fifth term. He has never been contested and, despite the latest in a series of sex scandals, expects his re-election to be a walk in the park. But he suddenly has an opponent, Marty Huggins (shamelessly overplayed by Zach Galifianakis), a local clod who runs the regional tourist office. Backed by the billionaire Motch Brothers (John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd), who see the chance of adding to their wealth by selling the constituency to China. To achieve this they need a dim-witted candidate who is sure to coast through the campaign with the minimum of scandal, and bound to be even easier to manipulate than Brady. At this point I should add that any resemblance to the Koch Brothers - who helped craft the infamous Citizens United ruling, enabling corporations to pump billions into campaign coffers and thus buy the highest office in the land - is hardly a coincidence.

And indeed, the N. Carolina contest quickly devolves into a vicious, mudslinging race fraught with scandals and blunders, during which even the naive, good-natured Marty rapidly descends into immoral behaviour. However, thanks to the coaching and thorough makeover by his ruthless campaign manager Tim Wattley (Dylan McDermott) - which includes replacing his Chinese dogs with an American breed - Huggins develops self-confidence and soon becomes a force to be reckoned with.

The powerful Motch Brothers © Warner Brothers Pictures

Supposedly non-partisan, the movie is likely to be more amusing to Democrats than Tea Party Republicans. It certainly features an array of attitudes, caricatures and political scandals which have become tediously familiar on the Campaign Trail. But in the final showdown, a sudden burst of righteous integrity saves the day – which is far less likely to occur in reality.

All grist to the mill of such late night shows as The Daily Show, SNL and The Colbert Report, which have been profiting from the astonishing amount of comedic fodder provided almost daily by the various political contenders. A comedy like THE CAMPAIGN fits right in and, despite its gross exaggerations (most of which are based on fact) and fatuous obscenity, seems more like a documentary than a work of fiction.

THE CAMPAIGN (USA 2012) Distributor: Warner Brothers Pictures; (German title: Die Qual der Wahl); Running time: 85 mins; US release: August 10, 2012/German release: October 4, 2012; Director: Jay Roach; Writers: Chris Henchy, Shawn Harwell; Cast: Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, Jason Sudeikis, Dylan McDermott, Katherine LaNasa, Sarah Baker, John Lithgow, Dan Aykroyd. Brian Cox; Rated R (for crude sexual content, language and brief nudity).

by Geraldine Blecker

ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER (USA 2012)

05. October 12 , 16:37  

Not to be mistaken for historical fact!

London (Weltexpress). “Whatever will they think of next?” I almost hear you asking yourselves. Abraham Lincoln, a new superhero, will no doubt be followed by such creations as: “Richard Nixon: Zombie Killer”, “Winston Churchill: Demon Slayer”; “Helmut Kohl: Goblin Destroyer”, and whatever other political heavyweights, past and present, can be converted into graphically-righteous killing machines, fighting evil to save mankind. Still, the movie is more entertaining than I expected.

Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States,
discovers that vampires are planning to take over the country.
With his trusty axe, he makes it his mission
to destroy them and save the nation.

The story opens with Abe at age 9, witnessing his mother being killed by a vampire, the evil Jack Barts  (Marton Csokas). He swears vengeance, rescues his first slave, and ultimately gets his chance at Barts ten years later as a young man (Benjamin Walker). But his attack founders, and only at the last moment does the mysterious Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper) suddenly appear to rescue him. Explaining that he himself is a vampire hunter, Henry takes Abe under his wing and gives him a crash course on identifying, fighting and killing vampires. But Abe’s thirst for personal vengeance must take a back seat, as the vampire-killing crusade must be conducted for the good of mankind. There is also a price: voluntary loneliness, for a vampire hunter must never surround himself with friends and family, making them, and himself, vulnerable to enemies. A promise Lincoln finds easy to keep, until he meets and falls in love with Mary (Mary Elizabeth Winstead).

Abe has meanwhile moved to Springfield, Ill., working as a shop clerk, where he studies law by day and slaughters vampires by night. His weapon of choice is an axe, which is later fitted with a silver blade. For everyone knows that vampires, presumably like werewolves, can’t be killed with just any old scrap metal. He becomes pretty nifty at wielding it, too, and rarely goes anywhere without it. Against Henry’s counsel, Abe decides to wed Mary and comes to the realisation that his war against evil must take another path. And so he chooses politics, although there are still many occasions when the mightiest rhetoric cannot replace the power of the axe.

From there it is a very short storyboard leap to being elected President of the United States - as well as becoming a father - where he can now hunt vampires from the comfort of the White House. But it seems that his “hobby” must be shelved for a while, as civil war is looming - and then there’s the slavery issue… But no! The Confederate troops are actually vampires and they feed on slaves down past the Mason-Dixon Line! In fact, in the first days at Gettysburg, the Union army is so soundly thrashed, that there seems no other recourse but surrender. For the Confederate vampire army is invincible. Impervious to lead bullets, cannon balls and blades of steel, they likewise vanish and reappear all over the place. Conventional weapons are useless, the President observes over breakfast one morning. Then, staring at his silver fork, it suddenly comes to him: bullets of silver should do the trick, just like his silver-bladed axe of yore! This revelation is followed by some excitingly-staged fight scenes and action sequences on top of a freight train, transporting tons of silverware to Gettysburg, which is hurtling at breakneck speed towards a burning bridge. Ridiculous, but thrilling all the same.

Novelist/screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith, author of the previous work PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES - which I personally think is a hoot. I can’t wait to see Jane Austin livened up! - has certainly come up with a unique premise. This, in combination with the action choreography and visual aesthetics of director Timur Bekmambetov (WANTED), a competent cast, good special effects and CGI, and Henry Jackman’s bombastic score - all put together for a $69 mill. budget - under the watchful eye of producer Tim Burton, should be enough to ensure a great cinematic experience. But considering the sheer absurdity of the plot, and the bold mix of genres: horror with historical drama, the movie takes itself far too seriously - especially when the director suddenly decides to pile on the pathos in the second half. All in all, the film is neither one thing nor the other, and unlikely to really appeal to any specific target group - except for those hard-core fans of trashy horror, prepared to leave their brains at the door.

ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER (USA 2012); Genre: fantasy, action, horror; Distributor: 20th Century Fox; Running time: 104 mins; US start: June 22, 2012; German release: October 3, 2012; Director: Timur Bekmambetov; Writer: Cast: Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Anthony Mackie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rufus Sewel

See the trailer: www.abrahamlincoln-vampirjaeger.de

by Geraldine Blecker

LOOPER (USA 2012)

03. October 12 , 14:51
 
Hunted by the Future. Haunted by the Past 

Look where you will, you are unlikely to find a negative review of Rian Johnson’s sci-fi thriller, since it opened the Toronto Film Festival to critical acclaim last month. No-nonsense storytelling, relying on performance rather than CGI effects: heavy on the violence - but never gratuitous. A plot worthy of Philip K. Dick and super-smart dialogue, all combined to create one of the best films of the year.

 

In the year 2042, a Looper - a paid assassin working for the mob whose job is to kill targets
sent to him from 30 years into the future - receives a new victim to eliminate. His future self.
(c) TirStar Pictures

(Weltexpress) - The year is 2044; the place: Kansas: The economy: recessed. Time travel has not yet been invented, but already exists 30 years on. There it has been outlawed, despite which the mob makes good use of it - sending their targets back in time to be eliminated by the “Loopers”.  These ruthless killers, whose job it is to get rid of the “garbage from the future”, stand ready and waiting, weapons cocked, as their victims – hooded, with arms tied behind their backs - materialise out of the ether.

Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is one such. All in a day’s work, he liquidates his target, collects his pay - in the form of silver ingots attached to the victim’s back - and disposes of the body. All neat and tidy. There’s only one rule: the target must never escape.

The Loopers would seem to live charmed lives: high earners in an otherwise dystopian landscape, with plenty to spend on wine, women and drugs. But all good things must come to an end and so it is for the Loopers, too. After 30 years, the “loops are closed”, when the Looper is sent back in time to be eliminated in his turn. All part of the package and the price they pay for living the high life.

It’s only when Joe is suddenly confronted by his older self (Bruce Willis) - who is well-prepared and manages to escape assassination - that things get tricky. For Joe Snr. has seen the future and knows where it’s going. And he has come back with a mission, determined to change that which is still to come. While Joe Jnr. has seriously screwed up, as is graphically pointed out to him by his boss (Jeff Daniels). If he wants his 30 years of good times, he better find the target, wipe him out, and finish the job. The sooner, the better…

Joe Snr. & Joe Jnr. discussing the Scientifics of time travel. © TriStar Pictures / Concorde Filmverleih

So begins the chase. Filled with exciting twists and turns, action and suspense; spiced with clever dialogue and two masterly performances from Willis and Gordon-Levitt - who convincingly play the same character, forty years apart. The pace is not even slowed by the sudden introduction of a B-plot, featuring Emily Blunt and her small, enigmatic son - for everything has a purpose and Rian Johnson neatly pulls all the threads together. The mixture of futuristic and retro - compliments to production designer Ed Verreaux - and such innovative touches as psychotropic drugs administered directly into the eyeball, and hard currency in the form of gold or silver bars - adds to the novelty.

Shot in Louisiana and Shanghai for an undeclared - but what must be a relatively modest - budget, Rian Johnson (BRICK, THE BROTHERS BLOOM) has written and directed what is, for me, one of the year’s best films to date - and certainly the finest and most exciting sci-fi thriller to hit the screens in a long time. Go see - you won’t be disappointed.

LOOPER (USA 2012); TriStar Pictures: Running time: 118 mins; US release: September 28, 2012; German Distributor: Concorde Filmverleih; start: October 3; Writer/Director: Rian Johnson, Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Jeff Daniels, Paul Dano; Rated R (for strong violence, language, some sexuality/nudity and drug content)

HOPE SPRINGS (USA, 2012)

27. September 12 , 11:38
 
The latest in the recent crop of “boomer" movies!

London (Weltexpress). Kay (Meryll Streep) and Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones) have been married for over thirty years and, like lots of couples, have drifted apart: so used to each other that each day is like the one before. She fries his eggs & bacon; he reads the newspaper at the kitchen table; conversation down to a minimum. Then with a routine peck on the cheek, he leaves for the office and she does the household chores or goes shopping. At night after dinner, he falls asleep on the couch glued to the Golf Channel - while she cleans up in the kitchen. Then it’s up to bed, to sleep in separate rooms…

Arnold is content with life as it is, but Kay is dissatisfied. She wonders where the loving went and is determined to make some major changes. Unbeknown to Arnold, she signs them up for a marriage counselling session in an expensive New England resort.

Persuading Arnold to go along is a major challenge, but he eventually, albeit grudgingly, agrees - anything to keep the peace. And so they find themselves in the quaint and idyllic town of Hope Springs, Maine, to take part in a week-long “intensive” session conducted by Dr. Feld (Steve Carell) - in a desperate attempt to renew the flames of passion. Discomfiture mingles with insight; confession with awkwardness. Long-suppressed feelings of desire emerge, when two people finally admit what is in their hearts in the presence of a stranger.

Not very original, admittedly. Vanessa Taylor’s screenplay tells the story of a couple trying to rekindle the sparks, and David Frankel brings it to the screen with empathy and sweetness, gentle humour and pathos - and certainly nowhere near the raunchiness featured in the trailer. Nothing to really elevate it from the current crop of movies aimed at the Baby Boomers - if it weren’t for the cast.

We are all used to the fine, Oscar-nominated performances by Meryll Streep. There’s nothing she can’t do: from Frankel’s THE DEVEIL WEARS PRADA to THE IRON LADY, she’s done it all. Her portrayal of Kay is sweet, generous, and pensive; desperately wondering when her loving husband turned into this frozen stranger. Steve Carell plays the role of marriage counsellor remarkably straight - and competently - but the surprise here is Tommy Lee Jones. If for no other reason, his performance makes this film worth seeing. Unlike any of the roles he has played before: the strong, silent men, the cowboys, secret agents, law enforcement officers, etc., his portrayal of Arnold, a relatively successful businessman, is intrinsically sensitive, vulnerable, and at times, painfully shy. He is happy to keep his feelings - should he ever admit to any - buried deep within, seemingly content with his rigid existence and automated marriage. We always knew he was a good actor, but he has surpassed himself with this performance - and I would be very surprised if an Oscar nomination isn’t in the cards.

At a $30 mill. budget, the romantic comedy hjas already grossed double that at the US box office (over $62 mill) since its opening on August 8th.

* * *

HOPE SPRINGS (USA 2012); Sony Pictures Entertainment; (German Title: Wie beim ersten Mal, release date: 27.09.12); Running time: 100 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for thematic content involving sexuality); Director: David Frankel; Writer: Vanessa Taylor; Cast: Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones, Steve Carell

by Geraldine Blecker

The Watch (USA 2012)

23. September 12 , 15:23

The idea sounds like a winner: a group of popular comedy stars like Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Jonah Hill; directed by Akiva Schaffer, well-known writer from the SNL stable; place them in your typical American small town, and pit them against an alien invasion. When the whole thing is penned by SUPERBAD writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg - with a little help from their friends - success is guaranteed. Right?

Four men form a Neighborhood Watch as a way to escape from their boring family
routines and find themselves defending the Earth from an alien invasion.
© 20th Century Fox

Wrong. Little more than an uninspired rip-off of last year’s novel British comedy ATTACK THE BLOCK (which was directed by Joe Cornish and for less than a quarter of the budget), THE WATCH is sadly unoriginal and little more than another puerile buddy film with a willy-waggling comedic quartet who, it must be said, put in some energetic performances despite the obvious limitations of the script.

Leader of the pack is Evan, serious-minded and anally-organized (Ben Stiller), goodtime, beer-swilling joker Bob (Vince Vaughn), aggressively-overweight Franklin (Jonah Hill), and the somewhat creepy Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade of the IT-Crowd).

A security night watchman at the superstore that Evan manages is murdered by an unseen assailant: virtually torn limb from limb. This disturbs the equilibrium of the small town, and particularly enrages Evan, who recruits three other guys to form a private citizens’ militia, a neighborhood watch. But his new colleagues are not as serious about the matter as Evan, and ignore his rules and regulations, preferring to swill beer and play games in Bob’s party cellar. All this comes to an end, however, when they discover that the night watchman was killed by an alien, one of the first in what is soon to become a deadly alien invasion. And so it is down to Evan and his troop to save the town, America, the rest of the planet, and mankind.

In fact, the film’s original title was “The Neighborhood Watch”, which was shortened in the aftermath of the Aurora shootings. For reasons of good taste, I presume, although that is where any semblance of good taste ends. Puerile and aggressively crude, THE WATCH conforms to the recent trend of confusing offensive dialogue with humor, which should be no surprise in any production involving Seth Rogan.

THE WATCH performed well short of expectations at the US box office since its July 27th release and, to date, has only grossed $52.7 mill. worldwide. It has not yet recouped its $68 million budget, but is still to open in some major overseas territories. It also took some mean, albeit well-deserved, criticism across the pond, although the movie does provide some laughs in the few places where it relies more on satire and less on tiresome genital gags. Still, it is a pity that the film makers decided to sacrifice a workable premise, good comedic potential, and some decent acting talent on the altar of juvenile slapstick crudity.

THE WATCH (USA 2012); (German title: The Watch - Nachbarn der 3. Art, release date: 06.09.12); US start: 27.07.12; Distributed by 20th Century; Running time: 100 minutes. Rated R (for some strong sexual content including references, pervasive language and violent images; Director: Akiva Schaffer; Writers: Seth Rogen, Jared Stern, Evan Goldberg, Shawn Levy;  Cast: Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn. Jonah Hill, Richard Ayoade, Rosemarie DeWitt, Will Forte, Lee Ermey

By Geraldine Blecker

Resident Evil: Retribution (UK/USA 2012)

20. September 12 , 15:40

The fifth mind-numbing instalment in Paul W.S. Anderson’s CGI action extravaganza

London (Weltexpress). It’s quite amazing when you consider how little Alice (Milla Jovovich) has actually achieved over the past decade, since the first of the Resident Evil pix hit the screen in 2002. Over the course of the first four, viewers have been presented with a bunch of forgettable supporting characters, extravagant locations and assorted bloodbaths that appear in the video games, but which actually contribute little to the movies. Nevertheless, we meet many of them again in No. 5.

The Umbrella Corporation's deadly T-virus
continues to ravage the Earth, converting the world’s
population into legions of flesh-eating zombies.
Mankind’s last hope is Alice, who awakens in the depths
of the Umbrella Corporation's top-secret facility,
from where she must escape and save the planet.
© Sony Pictures

 The Umbrella Corporation's deadly T-virus continues to ravage the Earth, converting the world’s population into legions of flesh-eating zombies. Mankind’s last hope is Alice, who awakens in the depths of the Umbrella Corporation's top-secret facility, from where she must escape and save the planet. © Sony Pictures

Not to imply that Alice or her bad-ass, female friends and foes don’t look hot in their skin-tight leathers, but that is unfortunately not enough to compensate for Paul W.S. Anderson’s lacklustre storytelling. Indeed, it’s not as if his previous four movies were narrative, thought-provoking highlights, but as basic and one-dimensional as their storylines were, they worked, and at least had some sort of logic. RESIDENT EVIL: RETRIBUTION doesn't even pretend to do as much and has little to commend it - even for those of us who enjoyed the first four. As sequels go, it’s as hackneyed, lethargic and uninspiring as they come. And that’s a shame, because it all starts promisingly enough: with an interestingly juxtaposed, slo-mo flashback sequence, and some dynamic action over the opening credits, re-familiarising us with what has gone before. But it soon goes downhill from there.

Alice wakes up - nude, naturally - after a tedious dream or alternative reality sequence that doesn’t really go anywhere, to find herself once again a captive of the Umbrella Corporation, incarcerated deep within the bowels of a top-secret facility, beneath the icy Russian wastes.

But her rescuers are on the way. To meet them, she must escape from Umbrella’s lab simulation to the Tokyo simulation, through the Moscow simulation, to the suburban “small town America” simulation - fighting off flesh-eating zombies, drooling CGI-generated monsters, and armed military battalions on the way. All of whom have to be shot hundreds of times, because they won’t stay down.

What was once an innovative game and movie concept has turned into little more than a caricature. While Alice fights her way from one simulation to the next, we meet the old faces: Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory), Rain (Michelle Rodriguez), Luther West (Boris Kodjoe), and Albert Wesker (Shawn Roberts), but as each and every one is a bland, cardboard cut-out, they do not add much excitement or drama. Set design, cinematography, or the Tomandandy score aside, there is little creativity on the screen. Even the action palls after a while. In fact, I was surprised to discover that the movie was only 88 minutes long - I found myself losing the will to live during the second half. Or at least wishing I could take part and zap a few villains on my playstation.

Be all that as it may, RETRIBUTION dominated last weekend’s US box office at just under $21 mill., which is relatively disappointing, comparatively speaking, but still raked in more than twice as much ($50 mill.) overseas, where the series has done traditionally well for Sony. Due to open in more major territories this weekend, the movie has already recouped its $65 mill. budget with lots more to come, if 2010’s RESIDENT EVIL: AFTERLIFE, also shot in 3D film, is anything to go by. It opened a bit higher domestically at $26 million, but made $236 mill. in the foreign market.

RESIDENT EVIL: RETRIBUTION (UK/USA 2012), Distributed by Sony; Running time: 95 minutes; Rated R (for strong violence): US Start: 14.09.12; German Start: 20.09.12; Produced, written and directed by Paul W.S. Anderson; Cinematography: Glen MacPherson, Music: tomandany; Production design: Kevin Phipps; Cast: Milla Jovovich, Sienna Guillory, Michelle Rodriguez, Aryana Engineer, Bingbing Li, Boris Kodjoe, Johann Urb, Robin Kasyanov, Kevin Durand, Ofilio Portillo, Oded Fehr, Colin Salmon, Shawn Roberts, Kim Coates, Martin Crewes, Iain Glen, Sandrine Holt, Ali Larter, Spencer Locke, Eric Mabius, Thomas Kretschmann, Wentworth Miller, James Purefoy.

For more information and movie trailer: www.residentevil.de

By Geraldine Blecker

The Cabin in the Woods (USA 2011)

 

16. September 12 , 13:17
 
You’ll Never See it Coming! - From Lionsgate comes a horror movie with a difference. Rated R: for bloody horror-violence and gore, strong language, drug use, and some sexuality/nudity. The perfect recipe for success!

London (Weltexpress). THE CABIN IN THE WOODS kicks off like every other film of its genre - straight out of the slasher-movie manual. Five good-looking college kids take off into the deep dark woods for a wild weekend in an isolated cabin: with no cell phone reception or WiFi, needless to say, nor any other contact to the outside world. Tanking up at the last gas station on the highway, true to form, they likewise encounter a slobbering redneck weirdo, who happily prophesies their impending bloody demise…

The characters are all your standard prototypes: Curt the athlete, (Chris Hemsworth); Dana the gentle virgin (Kristen Connolly); Jules the slut (Anna Hutchison); Marty the dopehead (Fran Kranz), and Holden the intellectual (Jesse Williams). I can almost see you yawn, as the characters arrive, interact, and launch into their predictable behaviour patterns. But this is where the movie strays from the hackneyed norm, for this is a cabin with a difference.

Below is a cellar - full of all kinds of macabre goodies - and even deeper down is a huge laboratory and surveillance outfit - full of scurrying, white-coated techs, run by scientists Sittersen and Hadley (played by Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford, respectively). Banks of TV screens monitor the doings of our group of unsuspecting lab rats, as they make their fatal choices. As well as their worldwide counterparts - for this appears to be a global operation. The scientists and techs even place bets on who will choose which way to die - and if that’s not different enough, believe me, it’s only the beginning…

Produced and co-penned by Joss Whedon (BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, ANGEL, THE AVENGERS) with Drew Goddard (author of CLOVERFIELD), who delivers his directorial debut, and made for an estimated $30 mill. - a relatively high budget for the genre, but money well-spent - it has grossed just over $42 mill. at the US box office since its April 2012 release and is yet to open in some territories. Although the film was actually completed in May 2011, the release date was postponed because the studio wanted to convert it to 3D. Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard objected, and that plan was eventually scrapped.

The film is exciting enough without 3D, quite frankly. There is plenty of gore, plenty of action, and some extravagant effects and, most of all, because it veers so wildly off course. Spiced with witty repartee, bitter irony and sick humour, as well as lots of surprises, it’s one of the most original and entertaining horror flicks to come along since my all-time favourite, last year’s TUCKER & DALE VS. EVIL.
THE CABIN IN THE WOODS (USA 2011), Running time: 95 mins; Distributed by Lionsgate Films; German distributor & start: Universum Film, 6.09.12; Producer/writer: Joss Wheedon; Directed/writer: Drew Goddard; Starring: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Ann Hutchinson, Fran Kranz, Jesse Williams, Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford, Brian White, Amy Acker

For more information and trailer, see the official website:
www.CabinInTheWoods.de

By Geraldine Blecker

 

The Bourne Legacy (USA 2012)

15. September 12 , 15:51

Meet the New Kid on the Block!

London (Weltexpress) - The new kid on the block is Jeremy Renner (THE HURT LOCKER, THE AVENGERS, THE TOWN), who plays Aaron Cross, latest in a series of “Treadstone” action figures and, fit though he may be, he lacks the charisma and beady-eyed intensity of Matt Damon. Still, he’s supported by a stellar cast.

Renner’s co-stars are Rachel Weisz, who plays Dr. Marta Shearing, scientist maiden-in-distress, requiring rescue, and the main villain of the piece, retired USAF Colonel Eric Byer (Edward Norton), head of some secret organisation or other and eminence gris - dedicated to maintaining security, come what may. As well as such talent as David Strathairn, Scott Glenn, Albert Finney, Stacey Keach, and Joan Allen, appearing in brief cameos, and some only on-screen for a matter of seconds. Packed full of sinister bureaucrats, government agencies, black ops, pseudo-scientific techno-speak, and flipping from one global location to another, it’s a breathless ride of “Fugitive”-like chase and action sequences with lavish stunts, all underlaid by a bombastic score courtesy of James Newton Howard. The movie’s estimated budget of $125 mill. is definitely visible on-screen.

The story in general takes some time to get into gear and even ardent Bourne fans could be forgiven for not knowing what the hell is going on for the first half hour or so. Although LEGACY ostensibly takes over from where its predecessor left off, it is a tangled web of secret organisations (abbreviations and acronyms galore), covert operations, wheels within wheels, protagonists old and new. Once I stopped trying to follow the convoluted storyline, however, I found it quite entertaining.

Tony Gilroy, who penned the first three screenplays and was finally elevated to the director’s chair after Paul Greengrass turned the project down - followed by Matt Damon, who wouldn’t work without him - came up with a novel idea: a Bourne movie without Jason Bourne. His invisible presence is tangible throughout - evidently Bourne is still somewhere “out there” avoiding liquidation - as his last sortie in 2007 (THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM) had such far-reaching effects that other secret operations are in danger of exposure. Thus, the legacy, get it?

Aaron Cross, whom we first meet fighting off a pack of wolves in Alaska, is a member of Operation Outcome, a DoD black ops program, successor to Treadstone, which provides its agents with naughty little pills to enhance their physical and mental abilities and turn them into supermen. Almost out of medication, Cross suddenly discovers that his operation is being shut down and its operatives systematically eliminated. Able to escape, his prime goal is survival followed by his need for more meds. This leads him to the home laboratory of Dr. Marta Shearing, one of the creators of Outcome, arriving just in time to save her from being liquidated by Byer’s henchmen and provide a feminine touch to an otherwise macho scenario. Together, they take flight, resolved to put an end to the colonel’s machinations…

If you think that the Bourne franchise has outstayed its welcome, you may be right. Although, some harsh reviews notwithstanding, it can hardly be viewed as anything but a success for Universal. The movie has already taken $182 mill. at the US box office since its release on August 10th, and has only just opened internationally.

THE BOURNE LEGACY (USA 2012), Distributed by Universal Pictures International, Length: approx. 135 min., Director: Tony Gilroy; Writers: Tony Gilroy/Dan Gilroy; Starring: Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton, Stacy Keach, Oscar Isaac, David Straihairn.

More information and the official trailer: www.thebournelegacy.com

by Geraldine Blecker

Recipe for Disaster: Roland Emmerich's "2012"

 

 

By Geraldine Blecker

Take Roland Emmerich, add the best sequences from THE TOWERING INFERNO, THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE, AIRPORT and ARMAGEDDON; fold in a hefty dose of VOLCANO, EARTHQUAKE, and TSUNAMI, mix it with a halfway decent storyline, good talent, an old Mayan prophecy, some characters you can relate to, and add a $260 million budget - and you have the perfect recipe for a disaster movie of gigantic proportions!

Outflying an Earthquake! (c) Sony Pictures Releasing
Outflying an Earthquake! (c) Sony Pictures Releasing


No longer content with stomping the City of New York into oblivion with tidal waves and monster lizards, master of disaster Roland Emmerich has pulled out all the stops to destroy the entire world in his latest apocalyptic epic, 2012.

Centuries ago, the Ancient Mayans predicted that the End of the World would occur on December 21, 2012 (they left out the exact time); a theory generally disregarded until geologists discover that massive solar eruptions are heating up the Earth’s core at an astonishing rate. Naturally, nobody wants to believe it, but the violence and growing frequency of a series of worldwide natural disasters cannot be ignored, and while most of humankind is oblivious of what is to come, international governments and the power mongers soon begin their covert preparations for the impending holocaust. Building a secret cache of gigantic ships, or “Arks” in the high Himalayas, so that at least a portion of mankind - the rich portion, in fact, anyone who can afford to pay the exorbitant price of a ticket - can be saved.

Enter frustrated sci-fi novelist Jackson Curtis (nicely played by John Cusack), who picks up his kids (his son is called Noah - so there’s a clue) from his ex-wife for a bonding weekend in Yellowstone National Park. Arriving at the usual camp site, he is surprised to find it fenced off and even more surprised to be suddenly surrounded by armed and twitchy military personnel. Then he encounters doomsday radio prophet Charlie Frost (a wonderfully manic Woody Harrelson) who seeks to persuade him of the catastrophe to come, also mentioning that he has a map leading to the only place of safety. For Jackson it’s all hogwash, until he gets back to LA at the beginnings of the mother of all earthquakes (10.4 on the Richter scale). Packing the whole family into the car, including ex-wife and her new spouse (who happens to have a pilot’s license, which sure comes in handy), he races to safety. The “chase” sequences: outracing the earthquake by car and by plane, are some of the most hair-raising and spectacular ever to hit the screen. For me, personally, they were only surpassed by the satisfaction of watching the whole of LA break up and slide into the sea.

Then it’s back to Yellowstone to find Charlie’s map, just in time for the super volcano to blow, impressively spewing flaming lava, smoke, ash and chunks of mountain high into the heavens. Map in hand, they manage to outrace this disaster, as well. For Jackson, it is clear: if he wants to save his family, then it’s off to China to find the ship. But he doesn’t suspect that finding it alone will not be enough.

There are big gaps in the logic department, a certain predictability and the dialogue, although better than most films of the genre, is loaded with sentimental clichés: while the clock is ticking on the end of humanity, many characters feel the need to make exhaustive, corny confessions - slowing down the pace and making the movie a good 40 minutes longer than it should be. But despite all that, at a full 158 minutes, 2012 is a thrilling and entertaining romp and a great adventure flick for the winter season.

2012 (USA 2009); Genre: Disaster/action/adventure; Running time: 158 minutes; International release dates: 12/13th November 2009; Distributor: Sony Pictures Releasing; Director: Roland Emmerich; Writers: Roland Emmerich, Harold Kloser; Composers: Larry J. Franco, Thomas Wander; Main cast: John Cusack, Chiewtel Ejiofor, Woody Harrelson, Oliver Platt, Amanda Peet, Danny Glover; Cinematographer: Dean Semler; Production designer: Barry Chusid; Editor: Peter S. Elliot

Plot: An epic adventure about a global cataclysm that brings an end to the world and tells of the heroic struggle of the survivors.

© Article from EuropeFront.com - European News Network
http://www.europefront.com/news/706/roland_emmerichs_2012.html
Published: 15/11/2009

Capitalism: A Love Story - (documentary-drama USA 2009)

 



By Geraldine Blecker

Photo (c) Overture Films
Photo (c) Overture Films
Whatever you may think about Michael Moore, he has a sure hand when it comes to choosing his subject matter. FAHRENHEIT 9/11, so topical about the US invasion of Iraq and its background, won 26 major awards including the 2004 Palme d’Or at Cannes, and grossed more than $220 million worldwide. While SICKO in 2007 pretty much presaged the current US healthcare entanglement and, at a modest budget of $9 million, generated almost $25 million at the US box office alone, with an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary.

CAPITALISM: A LOVE STORY is his most topical doc to date. Only one year after the Wall Street crisis, which practically led to a global financial meltdown, Moore takes an in-depth look at democracy, the free market, lax regulatory authorities, who’s getting rich at the taxpayers’ expense, the dishing out of backhanders, and basically asks “where did the money go?” It’s “the movie I’ve been making for the past twenty years,” he says. It is, indeed, massive in scope, although his somewhat diffused efforts at providing clarity are laudable and his confrontational, sometimes clownish, approach is more than just amusing.

In just over 2 hours, Moore touches upon a plethora of issues. Ranging from the plague of mortgage foreclosures complete with tear-jerking interviews with families being evicted from their homes and the helpless officers forced to expel them; to the destruction of the unions under Reagan and the subsequent decline of US industry (especially the automotive industry in his hometown Flint, Michigan); to the privatization of public services and utilities; through to the dire treatment of airline pilots. The latter illustrated by a little-known excerpt from the congressional testimony of US Airways pilot Chesley B. Sullenberger III (who recently made the news when he heroically landed his aircraft on the Hudson River) stating that his salary had been reduced by 40% and his pension cancelled.

Moore accosts Wall Street financiers, asking them to explain derivatives (which none of them can do), turns up at AIG headquarters in an armoured truck to make a “citizen’s arrest” of its CEO, demanding return of the government bailout the conglomerate received ($144bn), and encircles the New York Stock Exchange with yellow crime scene tape - to underline his standpoint that it’s a den of thieves. “When did Jesus become a capitalist?” he asks at one point in the film, where an old Bible epic is over-dubbed with free enterprise clichés; just one of his many entertaining and inventive uses of archive footage.
Moore outside the NYSE ((c) Overture Films)
Moore outside the NYSE ((c) Overture Films)

Michael Moore has never pretended to be an objective reporter of unbiased news. His outrage at capitalism and its principle of rewarding incompetence, negligence, greed and downright thievery as opposed to hard work and excellence is clear from the start. After all, someone’s got to say it and he does it so well. He - and many, many others - are disgusted at America’s glorification of profit, where nothing matters but money and no venture is off limits if it generates sufficient revenue. And he provides some shocking cases in point: a privately-run juvenile detention centre in Pa., for example, where two judges were given millions in bribes to cavalierly sentence over a thousand youngsters to imprisonment. Or the macabre habit of many large companies who take out life insurance policies on their workers and employees - not just at the executive level, mind - which, in the event of death, pay out to the employer instead of the deceased’s families and loved ones: Cynically known in the trade as “dead peasant” policies.
Moore prepares assault on AIG ((c) Overture Films)
Moore prepares assault on AIG ((c) Overture Films)

He points out the circumstantial fact that the Treasury Department seems to be almost entirely composed of former executives from Goldman Sachs; how the $700bn government bailout bill was rushed through Congress and the Senate before the incoming administration took office - who got it, and his theories on how and why - and lots more besides.

Whether you agree with him or not, there’s a lot to take in, and Michael Moore's latest and most fervent invective against the rich, the powerful and the greedy is a riveting and informative two hours. I left the movie theatre totally enraged!

CAPITALISM: A LOVE STORY (USA 2009), (German title: Kapitalismus: Eine Liebesgeschichte); Genre: Documentary; Running time: 126 mins.; US distributor: Overture Films; US release date: September 23, 2009 (limited); German distributor: Concorde Filmverleih; German release date: November 12, 2009; Director/writer/star: Michael Moore; Cinematographers: Daniel Marracino, Jayme Roy: Composer: Jeff Gibbs; Editors: Jessica Brunetto, Alex Meillier, Tanya Ager Meillier, Conor O’Neil, Pablo Proenza, Todd Woody Richman, John W. Walter


© Article from EuropeFront.com - European News Network
http://www.europefront.com/news/706/capitalism:_a_love_story_documentary_drama:_usa_2009.html
Published: 11/11/2009

Carnage in the Cove of Taiji - THE COVE (USA/UK 2009)

Frankfurt (Weltexpress) - It is difficult to retain one’s faith in the basic goodness of human nature and often easier just to close one’s eyes to the atrocities committed by mankind against animals, the environment, or against each another. But sometimes it is even worse than we could possibly imagine and powerful documentary films are needed to raise our awareness in the hopes that one day things may change for the better.

THE COVE, winner of the audience award at Sundance, is one such film and its story of a peaceful Japanese village dedicated to the covert butchery of thousands of dolphins every year was intentionally shot in the style of a thriller by first-time director Louie Psihoyos, National Geographic photographer and co-founder of the Oceanic Preservation Society.

His camera follows the efforts of a team of dedicated environmentalists, who seeks to record what really happens in the small, secluded cove of Taiji - a town which, as the ultimate irony, vividly proclaims a love of dolphins on every street corner. Interestingly enough, the team is headed up by former dolphin trainer Richard O'Barry, best-known for capturing and training the five dolphins that, together, became TV’s popular “Flipper” in the 60s - and thus, himself responsible for starting the multimillion sea-world industry that has made the dolphin into one of the world’s most beloved animals. A love that has certainly come at a high price for the dolphins. “I spent 10 years building, and the next 35 trying to tear down,” O’Barry says, after having kept his eyes closed to the consequences of his actions for as long as he could.

The film portrays how, year for year, local fishermen cunningly lure thousands of dolphins into Taiji’s small, isolated cove - protected from the public eye by high barbed wire fencing - where the finest examples are selected by marine aquariums, theme parks and dolphin therapy institutes from all over the world, at $150,000 a pop. But not every dolphin can be a Sea World star and the rejects are harpooned, hacked to pieces, processed, packaged and sold as “whale meat”. For no one would eat dolphin - not even the Japanese. Apart from sentimental reasons, it contains toxic levels of mercury.

Shadowed by local police and harried by the fishermen, who fear a loss of earnings, O’Barry and Psihoyos with their dedicated team of professional divers, surfers, underwater filmmakers and special effects artists, covertly filmed this horror any way they could, with cameras hidden in fake undersea rocks (courtesy of George Lucas’s company ILM), for example. Their mission, says Psihoyos, is more than “just to capture the slaughter”, but “to make people want to change,” and so put a stop to the regular massacres in the cove of Taiji, which may only be one small, symbolic step on the long road towards preserving the dolphins and other denizens of the deep.

The resulting footage soon goes beyond the limits of endurance. The crimson-coloured water and the cries of the dolphins are sufficient to make even the least sensitive aware of what is going on in the cove. But there is more than that. The movie offers scientific fact, an insight into the dolphin intelligence and the pointlessness of the IWC (International Whaling Commission) swayed by Japanese political pressure.

It remains to be seen if this documentary can achieve more than just involving audiences on a superficial level. It has only grossed just over $850K in the US since its limited theatrical release in July and is due for DVD release early next month. But it is an enormously important film and should be mandatory viewing,

THE COVE, (aka DIE BUCHT); Running time: 90 mins., US distributor: Lionsgate; US release date: 31 July, 2009 (limited); German distributor: Drei- Freunde; German release date: October 22, 2009; Director: Louie Psihoyos, Writer: Mark Monrie; Main cast: Richard O’Barry, Joe Chisholm, Mandy-Rae Cruikshank, Charles Hambleton, Simon Hutchins, Cinematographer: Brook Aitken; Composer: J. Ralph, Editor: Geoffrey Richman

Summary: Using cutting-edge equipment, a determined group of environmental activists, led by renowned dolphin trainer Ric O’Barry, infiltrate a cove near Taiji, Japan, to expose a shocking massacre.

****

All rights to the author.

By Geraldine Blecker

Away We Go (USA 2009)

02. November 09 , 20:30

It is unfortunate that low-budget, independent films of this type get such little distributor back-up and audience attention, but AWAY WE GO, the latest work by Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes (REVOLUTIONARY ROAD, AMERICAN BEAUTY) is one of these - and one of my favourite movies of the year so far.

John Krasinski & Maya Rudooph

Burt and Verona, played by John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph, are unusual protagonists to see in a movie these days: intelligent, freelance, sane, healthy, tender, sensitive, humorous, and loving; without being especially tormented or dysfunctional. Having just discovered that Verona is pregnant, their biggest worry is finding the ideal place to settle down and raise a family.

When the movie opens, they are living close to Burt’s parents, (played by Catherine O’Hara and Jeff Daniels), in a somewhat tacky, student-type of house with cardboard over the windows to keep out the chill. They could afford better but, despite being in their 30s, they “don’t live like grown-ups,” as Verona says. But with a baby on the way, it’s time to change.

Expecting excitement and grandparental support from Burt’s folks, they are somewhat shocked to hear that instead of sticking around to welcome their first grandchild, his parents have decided to fulfil their lifelong dream and move to Belgium. So the couple’s odyssey begins: a road trip through North America to visit friends and relatives, do some lifestyle shopping and decide who they would like to be close to.

Heading off to Phoenix, they visit Verona’s former boss Lily (Allison Janney) and her husband Lowell (Jim Gaffigan). Lily is horrendous; almost permanently sloshed, her behaviour is odious and her language obscene, to the constant dismay of her kids and long-suffering spouse. They can’t get away quick enough and escape to Madison to visit Burt’s childhood friend Ellen (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who has since changed her name to “LN” and is living some kind of hippie, psychedelic nightmare with her flaky, sex-crazed boyfriend.

Next on the agenda is Montreal, to visit college friends Tom and Munch (Chris Messina and Melanie Lynskey), whose self-professed marital bliss is misery incarnate. Then it’s down to Miami to see Burt’s brother, whose wife has just left him.

Not one healthy family in the bunch. In fact, by comparison, it is their own unmarried relationship which gradually emerges as perfect and when they do finally find a place to put down roots, it is close to no one but themselves. For if nothing else, their journey has taught them that that they only need each other to be happy.

A warm and witty script by screenwriting couple Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida, whose own married life seemingly reflects that of their protagonists: mid-30s, two kids, freelance writers and happy as larks. Sam Mendes’ road movie, shot in the three US states of Connecticut, Arizona and Florida - no doubt to exploit local tax incentives - opened in its home market in June to lukewarm reviews and has only generated just over half its $17 million budget at the US box office to date.

But for all that, it is one of most delightful movies of the season: with a light touch, tender humour, fresh new faces, appealing performances, great photography and a fine soundtrack: a heart-warming must-see for all moviegoers with something between their ears. Let’s hope AWAY WE GO attracts the audiences it deserves in the European market.

AWAY WE GO, (German title: AUF NACH IRGENDWO), Running time: 98 mins.; Rated R (for obscenity and sexual situations); US distributor: Focus Features, German distributor: Tobis Film; US release date: June 29, 2009; German release: October 15, 2009; Director: Sam Mendes; Screenplay: Dave Eggers & Vendela Vida; Main cast: John Krasinski, Maya Rudolph, Catherine O’Hara, Jeff Daniels, Allison Janney, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Melanie Lynskey; Cinematographer: Ellen Kuras; Composer: Alexi Murdoch; Production designer: Jess Gonchor; Editor: Sarah Flack

Plot: Burt and Verona, expecting their first baby, decide to travel around N. America visiting friends and relatives, to find a perfect place to put down roots and start their family.

* * *

All rights to the author.

Von Geraldine Blecker

Angels & Demons (USA 2009)

by , May 10, 2009

Faith in Science or Science in Faith? Conspiracy, betrayal and bloodshed in the Eternal City. Directed by Ron Howard, starring Tom Hanks, based on the bestseller by Dan Brown.

It's not often that a sequel or, in this case a prequel, is better than the original, but director Ron Howard has done a far better job with Angels & Demons, Dan Brown's first novel featuring Harvard professor Robert Langdon (played by Tom Hanks), than his disappointingly listless rendering of The Da Vinci Code three years ago. Still, there's no arguing with success and, despite the general censure of the critics and poor word-of-mouth, the blockbuster still raked in $757 million worldwide, which had much to do with the fact that the book was still topping the best-seller charts at time of release.

Although Angels & Demons was, in fact, published prior to The Da Vinci Code, the storyline suggests that it takes place subsequent to those events. At almost 140 minutes, it is nevertheless far more compact and full of suspense than its tedious predecessor, covering six hours during which Langdon & co. must frenziedly solve numerous clues to stop four grisly slayings and unearth a mighty explosive device before it destroys the Vatican.

Wisely deciding to digress from Dan Brown's manuscript, writers Akiva Goldsman and David Koepp have pared away some of the novel's more absurd elements and convolutions, and immediately cut to the chase. This time, Howard avoids arduous voice-over narrative and flashbacks, delivering the information quickly and effectively; more audacious and agile here, his camera sweeps vigorously through the fascinating setting of Rome and the Vatican.  

The action begins in the Vatican, as the world's cardinals gather in Conclave to elect a new Pope upon the death of the old one. Then swiftly moves to Geneva and the laboratories of CERN research institute during the final testing of a powerful new source of energy known as antimatter. Confirming its success, beautiful, Italian scientist Vittoria Vetra (Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer) finds her scientific colleague dead and a canister of the antimatter gone. We then move to Harvard, Mass., where Professor of Symbology Langdon is recruited by the Vatican police, who whisk him off to Rome to help them with an investigation. For Langdon had authored a book on the ancient, secret society of "The Illuminati", which has apparently now resurfaced to abduct the four "preferiti" -  those cardinals favoured as candidates for the papacy - and is threatening to kill one of them every hour before obliterating the Vatican at the stroke of midnight. Until a new Pope is elected by a two-thirds majority, signalled by white smoke released from the Sistine Chapel, leadership of the Vatican is in the hands of the young Camerlengo, the Pope's chamberlain (very well-played by Ewan McGregor).

Teaming up with Vetra to decipher various enigmatic clues and symbols, Langdon attempts to trace the 400-year-old Path of Illumination via four specific churches scattered throughout the Eternal City - where he believes each cardinal is to be slain - in order to prevent same. Aided and impeded in turn by various authorities, ranging from the elite Swiss Guard (led by Stellan Skarsgaard) to the Vatican City police, (headed up by Pierfrancesco Favino), the mad chase through the city takes us like a Roman travelogue from the Pantheon to Castel Sant' Angelo, to St. Peter's Basilica, to Piazza Navona, to the Sistine Chapel and lots more besides; much of which actually had to be recreated on the Sony lot in LA by Allan Cameron's art department, due to certain filming restrictions.

Solid performances from the entire cast, with Hanks playing the undemanding role of Langdon - this time without the claustrophobia - with his usual savoir faire; Zurer also convincing as his physicist cohort. Ewan McGregor is surprisingly good as the unassuming Irish priest and "camerlengo". Well-balanced by the support cast including such reliable veterans as Skarsgaard and Mueller-Stahl and Danish newcomers Nikolaj Lie Kaas and Thure Lindhardt. But the scenery steals the show, magnificently captured by the expertise of cinematographer Salvatore Totino, the art work of Allan Cameron, spliced together by editors Dan Hanley and Mike Hill.

The action is perfectly propelled by Hans Zimmer's sumptuous yet cleverly transparent score, where science and religion collide musically as well as textually. Taking the orchestral in combination with choir to represent religion while using electronics to denote science, sonorous monastic choir and operatic aria mingle with urgent percussion and the deep tolling of the bells, overlaid by the virtuosity of Joshua Bell's solo violin. Additional music was provided by Lorne Balfe, Atli Örvarsson and Ryeland Allison (who hardly ever get a mention) with the brilliant synth programming of Howard Scarr (who deserves a special mention here, if for no other reason than he is my better half and nudged me throughout the entire screening whenever one of his sounds was featured!).

Word on the street has it that Columbia Pictures has already optioned The Lost Symbol, Dan Brown's latest book in the Langdon series, due to be published this September. This one has the Freemasons in its sights - so the Catholic Church can heave a sigh of relief!

Worldwide distribution: Sony Pictures Releasing; US release date: May 15, 2009; Running time: 138 minutes; Director: Ron Howard; Screenplay: David Koepp, Akiva Goldsman, based on the novel by Dan Brown; Music: Hans Zimmer; Main cast: Tom Hanks, Ewan McGregor, Ayelet Zurer, Stellan Skarsgaard, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Armin Mueller-Stahl; Cinematographer: Salvatore Totino; Production designer: Allan Cameron; Editors: Daniel P Hanley, Mike Hill

(Photos courtesy of Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Releasing)

The Messenger (USA 2009)

Berlinale 2009 - In Competition

Berlin (Weltexpress) - Premiered to critical acclaim at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Oren Moverman’s astonishing directorial debut tells of the grief and devastation of war. Ben Foster (30 Days of Night) shows a remarkable talent for compassion as well as suppressed frustration in the challenging role of Staff Sgt. Will Montgomery who, after being wounded in Iraq, is reassigned to serve his remaining 3 months’ duty in the Casualty Notification Office - one of the military’s most unpleasant tasks.

Unlike such recent films dealing with the Iraq War and its casualties at home, such as Grace Is Gone and The Lucky Ones, The Messenger manages to be patriotic and detached at one and the same time; focusing on the grief of the loved ones left behind, but viewed from the perspective of the harbingers of the tragic news.

As opposed to his commanding officer, reformed alcoholic Capt. Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson), young Montgomery doesn’t initially have the steely nerves the job requires. He identifies too intensely with the grief-stricken and, after all, he is still wrestling with his own demons. He came home to find that his girlfriend (Malone) had ditched him for another guy and his PTS (post-traumatic stress) is still seething just below the surface, as well as blaming himself for the death of a comrade, which adds a heavy dose of survival guilt to his burden.

But as the relationship between the two men develops, it is soon apparent that Montgomery may, in fact, be better equipped to do the job at hand: giving the Army’s bad news and commiseration to total strangers, including some brief but memorable cameos, from Steve Buscemi, for example. And when it comes to offering consolation to the freshly-widowed Olivia Pitterson (played by Samantha Morton), there are some unexpected complications.

We see the two officers on duty and off and the former scenes are by far the most evocative, although Moverman and his writers Alessandro Camon and Benjamin Goldhirsh infuse a good bit of humor to counteract the morbidity. It soon becomes clear that Stone’s nonchalant irony is his way of dealing with so much heartbreak and during the second act we are given glimpses of his inner frailty.

In this time of global unrest, with the US at war on three fronts, The Messenger is an important film and further testimony to the truth that the wounds of war go beyond the battlefield.

On a scale on one to five, this movie certainly gets a 4-plus: excellent acting performances from all talent, good, tight direction and a solid screenplay, with the impeccable camerawork of Bobby Bukowski.

THE MESSENGER (USA 2009); Genre: Drama; Running time: 112 minutes; Director: Oren Moverman; Writers: Alessandro Camon, Benjamin Goldhirsh; Main cast: Ben Foster, Jena Malone, Eamon Walker, Woody Harrelson, Steve Buscemi, Samantha Morton; Cinematographer: Bobby Bukowski; Composer: Nathan Larson; Production designer: Stephen Beatrice; Editor: Alexander Hall

Plot: An American soldier struggles with a moral dilemma when he becomes involved with a widow of a fallen officer.

  • Autor: Geraldine Blecker
    E-Mail: redaktion@weltexpress.info
    Abfassungsdatum: 13.02. 2009
    Photo: © Internationale Filmfestspiele Berlin
    Verwertung: Weltexpress
    All rights to the author
    Quelle: www.weltexpress.info
    Update: Berlin, 13.02. 2009

In the Electric Mist (USA 2009)

Academy Award winner Tommy Lee Jones leads an all-star cast in this psychological thriller based on the bestselling novel by James Lee Burke.

While on an investigation into a series of grisly serial murders, veteran detective Dave Robicheaux (Tommy Lee Jones) navigates his way through the Louisiana bayou and the dark, sultry world of New Orleans mobster “Baby Feet” Balboni (John Goodman). Layers of corruption and long-dead secrets reawaken grudges and a lethal alliance. A tangled web of killings, past and present, converges in a somewhat underwhelming showdown. Featuring music from five-time GRAMMY-winner Buddy Guy, this film takes you deep into the hidden worlds of Cajun country and - trying to be all things to all men and tackle an overabundance of themes - takes far too many convoluted twists and turns.

Premiering at this year’s Berlin Film Festival, French director Bertrand Tavernier’s first US production was apparently fraught with difficulties during its 2007 shoot, resulting in two versions of the movie: the 117 minutes director’s cut, as shown at the Berlinale, which is set to be released theatrically worldwide, ex-North America; and the 102 minute producer’s cut, to be released in the US by Image Entertainment on Feb. 20, followed by DVD and Blu-Ray release on March 3.

Although the same in essence, the tenor of each version differs significantly. Based on James Lee Burke’s 1993 novel, “In The Electric Mist With Confederate Dead”, screenwriters Jerry and Mary Kromolowski’s updated version takes place in present-day Louisiana - post-Katrina - where the poor are rebuilding their shattered lives and devastated homes, to the tune of corporate corruption and the benefit of the Mafia.

Enter detective Dave Robicheaux of the New Iberia police force; reformed alcoholic, terse, laconic, who follows his own rules - a familiar role for Tommy Lee Jones. He begins by investigating two seemingly unrelated murders: that of prostitute Cherry Leblanc, horribly mutilated by her slayer, followed by discovery in the swamp of the skeleton of Prejean, a black man draped in chains. Shot by 2 unknown assailants back in 1965, his murder was coincidentally witnessed by Robicheaux himself, when he was just a kid. Just one of many confusing and superfluous twists.

Murder follows murder, with bodies popping up everywhere and, even while Robicheaux tries to get a handle on the cold Prejean case, it becomes evident that the murders are all somehow related. Crime boss Julie “Babyfeet” Balboni (John Goodman - enjoying himself hugely), industrial heavyweight Twinky Lemoyne (Ned Beatty, hardly used to his full potential) are among the prime suspects, sharing the screen with a large ensemble of fellow officers, corrupt cops and various sleazy characters in best Big Easy tradition.

Added to this confusing gumbo, is a complicated subplot involving Robicheaux’s burgeoning friendship with Hollywood movie star Elrod T. Sykes (Peter Sarsgaard, somewhat miscast), on location shooting a film - which is how one of the corpses is discovered - and the supernatural visions shared by both Robicheaux and Sykes of Civil War General John Bell Hood (Levon Helm), who appears sporadically throughout the course of the movie to assist Robicheaux with his investigations and symbolise the fact that the present is haunted by the past.

As if all this was not enough, Tavernier throws in his own none-too-subtle social commentary: his clear criticism of the disgraceful way things were done, or rather left undone after the hurricane; of crime, corporate corruption, political shenanigans, and the movie business, too, all against a tapestry of racial friction and erstwhile slavery.

Although the shorter US version scales down much of the dross, it unfortunately leaves too many gaps in the backstory - unless you happen to have read all five of Burke’s novels. While Tavernier’s cut is more provocative and hangs together more effectively, it still meanders interminably. But neither versions work, quite honestly and the final denouement is hugely disappointing.

IN THE ELECTRIC MIST (USA 2009); Genre: drama-thriller; Running time: 102-117 minutes; Distributor: Image Entertainment; US release date: Feb. 20, 2009; Director: Bertrand Tavernier; Writers: Jerzy Kromolowski, Mary Olson-Kromolowski (screenplay), James Lee Burke, based on his novel “In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead”, Cinematographer: Bruno de Keyzer; Composer: Marco Beltrami: Main cast: Tommy Lee Jones, John Goodman, Peter Sarsgaard, Kelly Macdonald, Mary Steenburgen, Justina Machado, James Gammon, Buddy Guy, Alana Locke, John Sayles, Ned Beatty, Pruitt Taylor Vince; Production designer: Merideth Boswell; Editors: Larry Madaras, Roberto Silvi
  • Abfassungsdatum: 12.02. 2009
    Foto: © Internationale Filmfestspiele Berlin
    Verwertung: Weltexpress
    All rights to the author
    Quelle: www.weltexpress.info
    Update: Berlin, 12.02. 2009

Frost/Nixon (UK/USA 2008)

A slice of modern, political history

Berlin (Weltexpress) - Nominated for 5 Golden Globes, 6 BAFTAs and 5 Oscars, including best picture, best director, best editing, best actor, and best adapted screenplay, with a best music nomination for Hans Zimmer tossed in for good measure, Ron Howard`s Frost/Nixon is without doubt, one of the finest films of the year, if not the decade.

Howard`s enthralling film version of Peter Morgan`s highly acclaimed stage play shows the frightening power of network television, which can irreparably dismantle personalities, reputations, and careers in just a few brief moments of air time.

The story begins after Richard M. Nixon`s dishonorable departure from the White House following the Watergate scandal in the 1970s - this and his resignation also captured on nationwide TV, itself an all-time first - when David Frost, British talk-show host, (Michael Sheen) proposes a series of live TV interviews with the former US president (Frank Langella).

His producers are not impressed. For one thing, David Frost himself was a light-weight show master, best known for satirical comedy and shallow celebrity interviews in the UK and Australia. For another, "Tricky Dick" himself was inundated with major offers. But when money talks, people listen, and Frost simply made Nixon`s agent "Swifty" Lazar (Toby Jones) an offer he couldn`t refuse; which he ended up having to pay out of his own pocket when the US networks declined to take the bait.

Added to this, Jack Brennan (Kevin Bacon), Nixon`s chief adviser, negotiated strict rules of engagement, which he felt certain would shield the ex-president from any discomfiture, and might offer him the chance to make a better impression on the American people, in the hopes of further political office - maybe even back to the White House. The intentions of Frost and his team, however, could not have been more diametrically opposed; for they hoped to give Nixon the trial he never had, elicit some juicy revelations, as well as a major confession.

Sheen and Langella developed and refined their respective roles in the stage play, which debuted in London`s West End in August 2006, opening on Broadway the following year. Ron Howard`s decision to use the stage actors in his film adaptation was a stroke of pure genius. Langella`s performance as the wily, intelligent, hugely egotistical Richard Nixon, who needed to be firmly in control of every situation - he was not called "Tricky Dick" for nothing - makes it clear that he was the only conceivable choice for the role. So much more than a mere impersonation, Langella actually "becomes" Richard Nixon, getting under his very skin.

At an estimated budget of $35 million, Frost/Nixon has grossed just under $16 mill. at the box office since its limited US release on December 5, 2008. But the Oscar buzz and the movie`s fascinating look into a major chapter of modern, political history should generate some solid success. The dramatic performances are understated yet truly absorbing and manage to generate extraordinary tension, considering that we all know the outcome of the event. But the fascination lies in the chess game between Nixon and Frost, megalomaniacs both, each striving for control. "The limelight can only shine on one of us," says Nixon, in an episode that takes place before the final televised showdown. The performances of the other members of the ensemble cast, the director`s loving attention to historical detail, the editing, set design, the score, everything, really is absolutely faultless. But it is the portrayals of the film`s two leading characters that will earn lasting recognition and, perhaps, even an Oscar or two.

Frost/Nixon (France/UK/USA 2008); Genre: drama; MPAA Rating: R (some language); Running time: 122 minutes; Distributor: Universal Pictures/UPI; US release date: Dec. 5, 2008 (limited); German release date: Feb. 5, 2009); Director: Ron Howard; Writers: Peter Morgan (screenplay) (play); Main cast: Frank Langella, Michael Sheen, Sam Rockwell, Kevin Bacon, Toby Jones, Matthew MacFadyen, Oliver Platt, Kate Jennings Grant, Patty McCormack; Cinematographer: Salvatore Totino; Music: Hans Zimmer; Production designer: Michael Corenblith; Editors: Dan Hanley, Mike Hill

Summary: A dramatic reconstruction of the post-Watergate TV interviews between British talk-show host David Frost and ex-president Richard Nixon.

  • Autor: Geraldine Blecker
    E-Mail: GeraldineFBTV@aol.com
    Abfassungsdatum: 12.02. 2009
    Foto: © UPI
    Verwertung: Weltexpress
    All rights to the author
    Quelle: www.weltexpress.info
    Update: Berlin, 12.02. 2009

Storm (Germany, 2009)

 Sacrificing justice to expediency

Kerry Fox, Anamaria Marinca

Berlin (Weltexpress) - What could have been a tense, judicial drama about the conflict between justice and political interests unfortunately falls far short of "stormy". Shot mostly in English - although the dialog is contrived, often nonsensical, and sounds like a literal translation of Bernd Lange`s original German script - Storm is obviously hoping to find resonance in the international, theatrical marketplace. Little more than a low-budget TV movie, however - not helped by the director`s decision to use hand-held camera throughout - it is unlikely to meet with much success outside some limited European territories.

The film opens in 2006 with the arrest of former Yugoslav National Army commander Goran Duric (Drazen Kuehn), who is accused of war crimes. Alleged to have ordered the deportation and subsequent slaughter of a group of Bosnian civilians, mostly women and children, fifteen years previously in the small town of Kasmaj, in what is now the Rebublika Srpska.

Three years later: Duric is to be brought before the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague and prosecutor Hannah Maynard (Kerry Fox) is told by her boss Keith Haywood (Stephen Dillane) - who has just bested her in the contest for chief prosecutor position - that the case is a walk in the park. Eye witness Alen Hajdarevic (Kresimir Mickic), has stepped forward and his damning eye witness testimony will clearly prove that Duric directly ordered the ethnic cleansing. But Duric`s canny counsel (Tarik Filipovic) calls Alen`s credibility into serious question in the courtroom and, as a result, the tribunal sends a delegation to Kasmaj to view the scene of the events. The doubts are confirmed; Alen is found to have been lying and shortly thereafter hangs himself.

Keith orders Hannah to go back to the drawing board and get a new handle on the case. Which she does by tracking down Alen`s sister Mira (Anamaria Marinca), finally persuading her to take the stand and tell of the harrowing events she witnessed and experienced firsthand. And this leads to the revelation of further evil deeds perpetrated by Duric: namely mass rape in a resort hotel near Kasmaj.

Mira, who has since built up a new life with a husband and son in Germany, agrees to testify in The Hague, despite threats and harassment from Serbian nationalists; for Duric has now become a national hero and is in line for major political advancement. But pre-trial, backstage machinations result in the court`s refusal to admit Mira`s testimony and so a deal is struck instead - and justice is once again sacrificed to expediency.

Hans-Christian Schmid, (23, Crazy, Requiem), who generated a real sense of urgency in his claustrophobic drama Requiem, has raised some controversial issues in Storm: namely the general futility of the EU tribunal - due for possible closure in 2010 - when it comes to trying cases involving crimes against humanity; together with the currently popular cinematic themes of "the individual against the system," and corporate and political corruption in general.

Storm features some fine thespian talent, Kerry Fox, Stephen Dillane and especially Romanian actress Annemaria Marienca (4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days), but the director gives them little to work with and the production seems dull and tired. The continual meandering back and forth between the Netherlands, Germany and the Balkans, does not add to the suspense of this badly written European hodge-podge, where subsidy boards and TV networks seem to have dictated the creativity as well as the budget.

Asked to give points or "stars" from one to five for the quality and entertainment value of this motion picture, I would have to give it a "one". I don`t buy a cinema ticket to see a TV movie.

STORM (Germany 2009); German distributor: Pfiffl Medien; Running time: 102 minutes; Director/Writer: Hans-Christian Schmidt; Writer: Bernd Lange; Main cast: Kerry Fox, Anamaria Marinca, Stephen Dillane, Rolf Lassgard, Patrick Färber; Music: The Notwist; Cinematographer: Bogumil Godfrejow; Production designer: Christian M. Goldbeck: Editor: Hans Jörg Weissbrich

  • Autor: Geraldine Blecker
    E-Mail: GeraldineFBTV@aol.com
    Abfassungsdatum: 09.02. 2009
    Photo: © 23/5, Zentropa, IDTV, Gerald von Foris
    Verwertung: Weltexpress
    All rights to the author
    Quelle: www.weltexpress.info
    Update: Berlin, 09.02. 2009

The Reader (US/Germany, 2008)

It doesn`t matter what I think. It doesn`t matter what I feel. The dead are still dead.`

 

Foto: © 2008 The Weinstein Company/Melinda Sue Gordon, SMPSP

Berlin (Weltexpress) - Nominated for 5 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director (Stephen Daldry), Best Adapted Screenplay (David Hare), Best Cinematography (Roger Deakins) and Best Leading Actress (Kate Winslet) and 5 BAFTAs in the same categories, as well as 4 Golden Globe Nominations with a win and a SAG Award for Kate Winslet as Best Actress in a Supporting Role - work that one out - there is little doubt that The Reader is one of the finest films of the year. Its pedigree is of the highest and marks yet another successful collaboration between director Stephen Daldry and writer/playwright David Hare (The Hours), and is dedicated to its two producers Anthony Minghella and Sidney Pollack, who tragically died before the picture was completed.

David Hare`s screen adaptation of Bernhard Schlink`s hugely successful 1995 novel "Der Vorleser", translated into more than 40 languages and the very first German language novel ever to reach the top of the New York Times bestseller list, is a powerful story of post-war Germany: of guilt, remorse, accountability and the effects of the Holocaust on the next generation. .

Opening in Germany in 1958, The Reader tells of 15 year old Michael Berg (played by 18 year old David Kross) who is suddenly struck down with scarlet fever on his way home from school one day. Collapsing in an apartment block courtyard, he is taken in and helped home by one of the tenants, Hanna, a woman twice his age. After his recovery months later, he seeks her out to thank her and, in very short order, she has seduced him. Thus begins a torrid, clandestine, summer-long affair. Michael can hardly wait to leave school every day and leap into bed with Hanna. But their relationship takes on an added dimension. One day, she urges him to read one of his books aloud and it gives her such obvious pleasure that it soon becomes a bedtime ritual. Before very long he is reading her everything from "The Lady with the Little Dog" to "The Odyssey" and "Lady Chatterley`s Lover" and the bond between them deepens. Then, as suddenly as it began, it is over. Michael visits Hanna to find that she has moved out and disappeared without a trace. He is heartbroken.

Eight years go by: Michael grows up, moves on and is attending law school in Heidelberg. His professor (Bruno Ganz) sends him to a trial of Nazi war criminals as an observer and suddenly there she is again: Hanna is one of the defendants. As her past unfolds in the courtroom, Michael discovers a dark secret that will affect them both for the rest of their lives - and would even buy Hanna her freedom, should she choose to reveal it.

Although young David Kross and Ralph Fiennes, who plays the adult Michael Berg, successful lawyer narrating events in flashback from the distance of 1995, both put in convincing performances, this is without doubt Kate Winslet`s film. She lights up the screen whenever she appears. Passionate yet vulnerable, her emotional depth and dramatic impact - especially in the courtroom scenes - are truly astonishing, despite the fact that she says very little. Desperate, conflicted, broken, courageous - everything can be read in her face. It is from this point that the motion picture gathers strength and focus, as The Reader and its characters deal with shame, repentance, accountability and acceptance. It is about "communicating while failing to communicate", and how a generation comes to terms with the deeds of its forebears.

At a press conference held in Berlin prior to the film`s festival screening on February 6, novelist Bernhard Schlink expressed satisfaction with the screen adaptation of his work and, when asked whether his book was autobiographical, said, "Every book is autobiographical. So is this." This, of course, left us all speculating.

THE READER (US/Germany 2008); Genre: drama; US distributor: The Weinstein Co.; US release date: Dec. 10, 2008 (limited); Jan. 9, 2009 (wide); German distributor: Senator Films; German release date: Feb. 26, 2009; Director: Stephen Daldry; Writer/screenplay: David Hare, based on the novel "Der Vorleser" by Bernhard Schlink; Main cast: Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes, David Kross, Bruno Ganz; Cinematographers: Roger Deakins, Chris Menges; Composer: Nico Muhly; Production designer: Brigitte Broch; Editor: Claire Simpson.

  • Autor: Geraldine Blecker
    E-Mail: GeraldineFBTV@aol.com
    Abfassungsdatum: 07.02. 2009
    Foto: © 2008 The Weinstein Company/Melinda Sue Gordon, SMPSP
    Verwertung: Weltexpress
    All rights to the author
    Quelle: www.weltexpress.info
    Update: Berlin, 07.02. 2009

The International opens the 59th Berlinale

 Control the debt and you control the world

 

Photo: © Internationale Filmfestspiele Berlin
 Clive Owen

Berlin (Weltexpress) - Although set in present day, The International is partly inspired by the BCCI, (Bank of Credit & Commerce International) banking scandal, which began in the 1980s and peaked in 1991 in a nasty storm of headlines: corruption, extortion, espionage, drug smuggling, kidnapping, arms dealing, and murder - you name it, they did it. The fictitious bank in Erich Warren Singer`s clever screenplay does all of that and more and has been 8 years in gestation. Director Tom Tykwer (Run, Lola, Run; Heaven; Perfume) has finally brought it to the screen and The International celebrated its glittering premier last night as it opened the 59th Berlin Film Festival.

This lavish, political-paranoid thriller, starring Clive Owen, Naomi Watts and Armin Mueller Stahl, takes us on an exhilarating 2-hour ride across half the globe: from Berlin to Milan, from Luxemburg to Lyon, from New York to Istanbul, as Interpol agent Louis Salinger, (played by an unshaven Clive Owen in a characterization somewhere between Children of Men and Shoot ‘Em Up) and New York Assistant DA Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts) investigate the nefarious activities of one of the world`s largest banks - fictitious, of course. Arms dealing, money-laundering, toppling governments, and financing terrorist activities in order to gain "control of debt" and, thus, of the world; the stakes are high, the conspiracy huge, the highest authorities are involved and the bank will allow nothing - not even murder - to get in its way.

The tone is set in the very opening sequence. On stake-out outside Berlin`s central railway station, Salinger is helplessly forced to watch as his colleague dies in the street, killed by a casually administered lethal injection, just after meeting an informer; who likewise meets his end in an automobile "accident" shortly thereafter. And this is the fate meted out to all informers or witnesses able to denounce the bank or bring it and its executives to justice. Perhaps more unconventional methods are required to bring the financial institution to its knees, suggests the bank`s consultant, well-played, as always, by Armin Mueller Stahl.

 Any similarity to current events is strictly coincidental, said Tykwer at the press conference, surrounded by his actors Clive Owen, Ulrich Thomsen (who plays a very convincing hit-man) and Armin Mueller-Stahl, as well as producer Charles Roven, although the director maintained that almost everything portrayed in The International is firmly rooted in fact. Originally planned to screen in August 2008, the film required the addition of some action sequences (namely an amazingly successful 15-minute shoot-out at the brilliantly reconstructed Guggenheim Museum) and, as it happens, its timing couldn`t be better. Screening in the midst of a global economic crisis, the villain of the piece is a major financial institution and one that hardly needs a government bailout. To say that current events have turned The International almost into a documentary, however, is patently absurd, although there is food enough for thought - and the probabilities are disturbing.

There is a certain coldness to the leading characters, however, who are obsessed with their pursuit of the villains and have little or no backstory. Although Clive Owens turns in an intense and compelling performance, that of Naomi Watts is tepid to say the least and her character serves as little more than ornamentation, or an extra attraction to the distributors, and another star name on the poster. But despite this, The International is well-crafted, with exotic and unusual locations - the rooftops of Istanbul are especially worthy of mention - and beautifully photographed. Although shot mostly in and around the Berlin area, the movie is still as international as its name implies: the respective languages are spoken throughout (subtitled, naturally), which gives the movie extra authenticity. Special accolades, too, to the composer team of Tom Tykwer, Reinhold Heil and Johnny Klimek, who have given their dynamically distinctive trademark to the film score: a perfect blend of image and sound.

I found The International riveting, thought-provoking and can highly recommend it to those seeking intelligent entertainment.

THE INTERNATIONAL (USA/Germany); Genre: Thriller; Running time: 120 mins.; US Distributor: Columbia Pictures: German distributor: Sony Pictures Releasing; US Release date: Feb. 13, 2009; German release date: Feb. 12, 2009; Director/Composer: Tom Tykwer; Writer: Eric Warren Singer; Main cast: Clive Owen, Naomi Watts, Armin Müller Stahl, Ulirk Thomsen; Cinematographer: Frank Griebe; Music: Reinhold Heil, Johnny Klimek; Production design: Uli Hanisch; Editor: Mathilde Bonnefoy

  • Autor: Geraldine Blecker
    E-Mail: GeraldineFBTV@aol.com
    Abfassungsdatum: 06.02. 2009
    Photo: © Internationale Filmfestspiele Berlin
    Verwertung: Weltexpress
    All rights to the author
    Quelle: www.weltexpress.info
    Update: Berlin, 06.02. 2009

The Spirit (USA 2008)

“My city screams. She is my lover. And I am her spirit.” Yet another masked crusader

Los Angeles (Weltexpress) - Best known as the writer of such successful comics, screen adaptations and graphic novels as 300, Elektra, Ronin, Buck Rogers, and the RoboCop and Sin City franchises (yes, number 2 of the latter is currently in production, along with a plethora of new blockbuster sequels, prequels and franchises planned to hit the screens in 2009), Frank Miller now tries his hand at directing Will Eisner’s classic comic superhero The Spirit.

Against the green screen of Central City, Gabriel Macht, (The Good Shepherd, A Love Song For Bobby Long and The Recruit) plays rookie cop Denny Colt, murdered and since mysteriously resurrected as The Spirit, a masked crusader whose mission it is to fight the city’s crime. This mainly involves prevailing over his arch enemy known as The Octopus (wryly played by Samuel L. Jackson), with whom he has a strange connection. The Spirit stalks this psycho megalomaniac through doomy docklands, murky marshes, ramshackle warehouses and dingy subterranean caverns - all the while fighting off a horde of lovely ladies, all bent on killing him, seducing him, or both.

Without going too deeply into any backstory - a wise decision, as it happens - the action begins with The Spirit being summoned to assist an old buddy in the force. He arrives at the waterfront to find his pal dead; in his hand, a locket belonging to The Spirit’s own childhood sweetheart, Sand Saref (Eva Mendes), who has grown up to become a notorious, and exceptionally curvaceous, jewel thief. We discover (in flashback) that the cop was killed by the Octopus, who is after one of two treasure chests that Sand has salvaged from a sunken cargo vessel. One of them holds an urn containing the “Blood of Hercules”, which bestows immortality and superhuman powers, while the other contains a fortune in jewels. So it’s a matter of “the wrong box”: Sand has departed with the urn instead of the jewels and the Octopus is determined to get his hands on it. Thereafter the film follows Octopus’ pursuit of the urn and The Spirit’s efforts to stop him. He is assisted in this, or hindered as the case may be, by a supporting cast consisting of police commissioner Dolan (Dan Lauria), his daughter who is also The Spirit’s long-suffering physician (she is constantly patching him up) and love interest Ellen (Sarah Paulson), Silken Floss (Scarlett Johansson), Octopus` conniving partner in crime, and his mob of look-a-like henchmen, (all played by Louis Lombardi), as well as a gorgeously-lethal flamenco dancer played by Paz Vega, together with some other cardboard cut-outs.

As you have already gathered, the plot is as convoluted as it is absurd. The characters have all the charisma of a gooseberry flan, especially The Spirit himself, heroically yet ineffectively played by Macht (not the stuff of super heroes); although Jackson does seem to be enjoying himself in the flamboyant role of the Octopus. Despite all this, Miller`s script is spiced with some attempts at ironic humor, as well as lots of curves, cleavage, clones and cojones; giving the picture some zest, and his ensemble vigorously plunge themselves into the “noir” ambience, cheerfully tossing out quips and sexual innuendos.

Although the sets and art design are visually stunning and Miller is a master of imagery, the technique of using live actors against animated backgrounds is not quite as dynamic as it was for Sin City, three years back, or even the more recent 300, and the dismal setting of Central City is often overpowering. As opposed to Sin City too, the tedium is unrelieved by any subplots or alternative locations and the movie’s 108 minutes seems a whole lot longer. Made for an undeclared budget - but it couldn’t have been cheap - it has grossed just under $28 million since its US release on Xmas Day, although it is yet to open in some foreign territories.

THE SPIRIT (US 2008); Genre: Running time: 108 minutes; Rated PG-13; US distributor: Lionsgate; US release date: Dec. 25, 2008; International distributor: Sony Pictures; German release date: Jan. 29, 2009; Director/Writer: Frank Miller, based on the comic book series created by Will Eisner; Music: Michael Dennison; Main cast: Gabriel Macht, Samuel L Jackson, Eva Mendes, Sarah Paulson, Scarlett Johansson, Dan Lauria, Paz Vega, Eric Balfour, Jaime King, Louis Lombardi; Cinematography: Bill Pope; Production designer: Rosario Provenza; Editor: Gregory Nussbaum; Poster: © Lionsgate/Sony Pictures

Summary: Rookie cop Denny Colt returns from the grave as The Spirit, a masked crusader whose mission is to fight crime and the evil pervading Central City, embodied by his arch-enemy, The Octopus, who is bent on destruction. Tracking the psychotic killer through the mean streets of the city, The Spirit must likewise face a bevy of beauties, all bent on murder, seduction - or both.

  • Autor: Geraldine Blecker
    E-Mail: redaktion@weltexpress.info
    Abfassungsdatum: 27.01. 2009
    Foto: © Sony Pictures
    Verwertung: Weltexpress
    Quelle: www.weltexpress.info
    Update: Berlin, 27.01. 2009

13 Oscar nominations for Benjamin Button

 

Los Angeles (Weltexpress) - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button leads this year’s Oscar nominations (13) with Slumdog Millionaire right behind (10). They were joined by Milk, The Reader and Frost/Nixon as best picture candidates. The Dark Knight and Milk received 8 nominations each, with a best supporting actor nom for the late Heath Ledger, as expected. Although the second highest grossing picture of all time, The Dark Knight’s nominations were otherwise all in the technical categories.

British director Danny Boyle received his first best director nomination for Slumdog Millionaire, together with fellow countryman Stephen Daldry for The Reader, David Fincher for Benjamin Button, Gus Van Sant for Milk and Ron Howard for Frost/Nixon. The Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan, was overlooked in both director and screenplay categories, as was Clint Eastwood, despite Golden Globe nominations for his two films Gran Torino and Changeling. His Changeling star Angelina Jolie did win a best actress nomination, however, and is up against Meryl Streep, who notched up a record-breaking 15th best actress nomination for her leading role in Doubt, with Kate Winslet receiving her 6th for The Reader, although she was expected to be nominated in both actress categories after her double Golden Globe win. Other best actress contenders are Anne Hathaway for Rachel Getting Married and Melissa Leo for Frozen River. Jolie’s husband Brad Pitt received a best actor nod for Benjamin Button, and will be vying against Frank Langella for his portrayal of former president Richard Nixon in Frost/Nixon, Sean Penn in Milk, Richard Jenkins for The Visitor and Golden Globe winning Mickey Rourke for The Wrestler.

British screenwriters were well represented this year, with nominations to Mike Leigh for Happy-Go-Lucky, Peter Morgan for Frost/Nixon, Sir David Hare for The Reader and Simon Beaufoy for Slumdog Millionaire. Original screenplay nominations also went to Dustin Lance Black for Milk, Martin McDonagh for In Bruges, Courtney Hunt for Frozen River and the team of Andrew Stanton, Jim Reardon and Pete Docter for Wall-E, while further nominations for adaptations went to Eric Roth, Robin Swicord for Benjamin Button and John Patrick Shanley for Doubt.

Michael Shannon of Revolutionary Road was a surprising addition to the best supporting actor category, despite expectations by the film’s leads Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. He is joined by Josh Brolin for Milk, Philip Seymour Hoffman for Doubt, Robert Downey Jr. for Tropic Thunder, as well as the popular favourite Heath Ledger, of course, nominated on the very anniversary of his tragic death. Best supporting actress nominations go to Marisa Tomei for The Wrestler, Taraji P. Henson for Benajmin Button, Penelope Cruz for Vicky Cristina Barcelona and both Amy Adams and Viola Davis for Doubt.

Best foreign language nominees are Germany’s The Baader Meinhof Complex, France’s The Class, Japan’s Departures, Austria’s Revanche and Israel’s Waltz With Bashir, the latter tipped as the favorite. And contenders for best animated feature continue to be Bolt, Kung Fu Panda and Wall-E, the latter winning a further 5 nominations, including best score and best original song (Down To Earth by Peter Gabriel and Thomas Newman).

Here is the complete list of nominees:

Best Picture: Slumdog Millionaire, HYPERLINK "http://www.screendaily.com/ScreenDailyArticle.aspx?intStoryID=41714&strSearch=milk&strCallingPage=ScreenDailySearchReviews.aspx" Milk, Frost/Nixon, The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, The Reader

Best Director: Danny Boyle - Slumdog Millionaire, David Fincher - The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, Ron Howard - Frost/Nixon, Stephen Daldry - The Reader, Gus Van Sant - Milk

Best Original Screenplay: Dustin Lance Black - Milk, Martin McDonagh - In Bruges, Courtney Hunt - Frozen River, Mike Leigh - Happy-Go-Lucky, Andrew Stanton, Jim Reardon, Pete Docter - Wall-E

Best Adapted Screenplay: Eric Roth, Robin Swicord - The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, Peter Morgan - Frost/Nixon, John Patrick Shanley – Doubt, David Hare - The Reader, Simon Beaufoy - Slumdog Millionaire

Best Actor in a Leading Role: Frank Langella - Frost/Nixon, Sean Penn - Milk, Mickey Rourke - The Wrestler, Brad Pitt - The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, Richard Jenkins - The Visitor

Best Actress in a Leading Role: Anne Hathaway - Rachel`s Getting Married, Meryl Streep - Doubt, Angelina Jolie - Changeling, Kate Winslet - The Reader, Melissa Leo - - Frozen River

Best Actor in a Supporting Role: Heath Ledger - The Dark Knight, Josh Brolin - Milk, Philip Seymour Hoffman - Doubt, Robert Downey Jr. - Tropic Thunder, Michael Shannon - Revolutionary Road

Best Actress in a Supporting Role: Amy Adams - Doubt, Penelope Cruz - Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Marisa Tomei - The Wrestler, Viola Davis - Doubt, Taraji P Henson - The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button

Best Animated Film: Bolt, HYPERLINK "http://www.screendaily.com/ScreenDailyArticle.aspx?intStoryID=38856" Kung Fu Panda, Wall-E

Best Foreign Language Film: The Baader Meinhof Complex (Germany), Revanche (Austria) The Class (France), Departures (Japan), Waltz With Bashir (Israel)

Best Documentary Feature: Ellen Kuras and Thavisouk Phrasavath - The Betrayal (Nerakhoon), Werner Herzog and Henry Kaiser - Encounters At The End Of The World,  Scott Hamilton Kennedy - The Garden, James Marsh and Simon Chinn - Man On Wire,   Tia Lessin and Carl Deal - Trouble The Water

Best Documentary Short Subject: Steven Okazaki - The Conscience Of Nhem En, Irene Taylor Brodsky, Tom Grant Smile Pink iMegan Mylan - The Final Inch, Adam Pertofsky, Margaret Hyde - The Witness From The Balcony Of Room 306

Best Art Direction: James J. Murakami, Gary Fettis - Changeling, Donald Graham Burt, Victor J. Zolfo - The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, Nathan Crowley, Peter Lando - The Dark Knight, Michael Carlin, Rebecca Alleway - The Duchess, Kristi Zea, Debra Schutt - Revolutionary Road

Best Cinematography: Tom Stern - Changeling, Claudio Miranda - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Wally Pfister - The Dark Knight, Chris Menges, Roger Deakins - The Reader Anthony Dod Mantle - Slumdog Millionaire

Costume Design: Catherine Martin -Australia, Jacqueline West - The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, Michael O`Connor - The Duchess, Danny Glicker - Milk, Albert Wolsky - Revolutionary Road

Film Editing: Kirk Baxter, Angus Wall - The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, Lee Smith - The Dark Knight, Mike Hill, Dan Hanley - Frost/Nixon, Elliot Graham - Milk, Chris Dickens - Slumdog Millionaire

Makeup: The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, The Dark Knight, Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Music (Score): The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, Defiance, Milk, Slumdog Millionaire, Wall-E

Music (Song): Down To Earth - Wall-E, Jai Ho - Slumdog Millionaire, O Saya - Slumdog Millionaire

Short Film (Animated): La Maison En Petits Cubes, Lavatory – Lovestory, Oktapodi, Presto, This Way Up

Short Film (Live Action): On The Line (Auf Der Strecke), Manon On The Asphalt, New Boy, The Pig, Toyland (Spielzeugland)

Sound Editing: The Dark Knight, Iron Man, Slumdog Millionaire, Wall-E, Wanted

Sound Mixing: The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, The Dark Knight, Slumdog Millionaire, Wall-E, Wanted

Visual Effects: The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, The Dark Knight, Iron Man

  • Autor: Geraldine Blecker
    E-Mail: redaktion@weltexpress.info
    Abfassungsdatum: 25.01. 2009
    Photo: © Weltexpress
    Verwertung: Weltexpress
    Quelle: www.weltexpress.info
    Update: Berlin, 25.01. 2009

VALKYRIE (USA/Germany 2008)

Operation Walküre starts in Berlin

Los Angeles (Weltexpress) - Bryan Singer’s complex wartime thriller starring Tom Cruise as a German officer who conspires to assassinate Hitler, VALKYRIE is based on true events and compensates for its lack of vigor with loving attention to detail and fine performances from its ensemble cast.

Although it had some stiff competition at the US box office, Bryan Singer’s wartime thriller made just over $30 million in its opening Christmas weekend. At an estimated budget of $95 million - with an extra $70 million tossed in for marketing - it looks set to do well internationally when it screens overseas in January/February 2009; its basis in historical fact and Cruise’s box office appeal likely to offset the many negative reviews.

Set mainly in Nazi Germany of July, 1944, the plot centres on Colonel Klaus von Stauffenberg (Cruise), who, severely wounded in the Desert War and sickened by the atrocities committed by Hitler and his SS, returns to the Reich determined to rid the Fatherland of the madman at its helm. Joining a covert group of conspirators, including some senior military officers and political leaders, von Stauffenberg improves upon a plan to assassinate Hitler and take advantage of the resulting confusion to seize Berlin; By initiating Hitler’s very own emergency plan, code name: “Operation Valkyrie” - drafted to avoid governmental chaos in the event of the Fuehrer’s death or defeat - and then rapidly marshal the reserve troops and deploy them against the SS.

VALKYRIE is more about Machiavellian scheming than any major action, apart from an early air attack in the North African desert (where von Stauffenberg loses an eye, a hand and some fingers off the other) and although, like TITANIC, we are all aware of the outcome, this in no way lessens the suspense.

Singer could have infused more vitality and visual dynamics into the storyline, however, which at times seems forced and emotionally flat. His hero von Stauffenberg, well portrayed by Cruise, who is to carry out the bomb-in-a-suitcase assassination attempt on Hitler at the Wolf’s Lair, is suitably grim. There is much stiff-upper-lip dialog about pride, patriotism, honour and duty, and little sensitivity, although screenwriters Christopher McQuarrie (THE USUAL SUSPECTS) and Nathan Alexander have done well in condensing the complicated conspiracy plot which actually resulted in the arrest of about 700 individuals, more than 200 of whom were executed. This was the last of more than 14 known attempts to assassinate Hitler, or so we are told at the end of the movie.

The director (THE USUAL SUSPECTS, X-MEN franchise) pays painstaking care to historical detail and the downward spiral of desperation against the ticking of the clock. The group of conspirators surrounding von Stauffenberg, including Bill Nighy as the vacillating General Friedrich Olbricht, Terrence Stamp as political big shot Ludwig Beck and an especially convincing performance from Tom Wilkinson as General Friedrich Fromm, whose collaboration in the plot is never certain, as well as such gifted actors as Kenneth Branagh, Eddie Izzard, and Thomas Kretschmann, gives great credence to the narrative. But more attention to the characters; their conflicts, insecurities and personal dramas might have resulted in more dramatic effect than Singer’s almost single-minded focus on the mechanics of the assassination plot itself, which is doomed to failure. Little use is made of the fine talents of actress Carice van Houten (BLACK BOOK), for example, who plays von Stauffenberg’s wife, apart from some ornamental trimming.

Some critics have disparaged the use of the various English and American accents, maintaining that they undermine the film’s credibility. I strongly disagree. Natural, regional English and US accents are certainly preferable to the false and almost laughable German accents of, say, HOGAN’S HEROES. And while making mention of an old TV series, other critics have hailed Bryan Singer’s production of VALKYRIE as the finest and most costly dramatised TV documentary ever made: lacking characters, significant motives, or any introspection.

Be all that as it may, the technical package is lavish. DP Newton Thomas Sigel captures the mood of despondency in many shades of grey, while John Ottman’s score perfectly underlines every image and nuance, as is to be expected when the composer is also the film’s editor.

VALKYRIE (USA/Germany 2008); German title: OPERATION WALKÜRE; Genre: Historical-drama; Running time: 110 minutes: Rating: PG-13; US distributor: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Films; US Release date: December 25, 2008; International distributor: 20th Century Fox; Director: Bryan Singer; Writers: Christopher McQuarrie, Gilbert Adler; Main cast: Tom Cruise, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Kenneth Branagh, Terence Stamp, Carice van Houten, Thomas Kretschman, Eddie Izard; Composer/Editor: John Ottman; Cinematographer: Newton Thomas Sigel; Production designers: Lilly Kilvert, Patrick Lumb, Tom Meyer

  • Autor: Geraldine Blecker
    E-Mail: redaktion@weltexpress.info
    Abfassungsdatum: 21.01. 2009
    Photo: © 20th Century Fox
    Verwertung: Weltexpress
    All rights by the author
    Quelle: www.weltexpress.info
    Update: Berlin, 21.01. 2009

Revolutionary Road (UK/US 2008)

 

Photo: © Paramount Pictures Corporation
 Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet

Los Angeles (Weltexpress) - What a year it`s been for Kate Winslet, who has just won a Golden Globe for Best Actress for her leading role in this very film, as well as Best Supporting Actress for her performance in The Reader. And as the Globes are known to be indicative of forthcoming Oscar winners then, after 5 Academy Award nominations, Kate, if not the movie itself - nominated for four Golden Globes - is in with a very good chance to finally take home the coveted prize for what is certainly the finest performance of her career.

I can see it now: two Oscars side by side on the mantelpiece. Director hubby Sam Mendes won his eight years ago for American Beauty although, strangely enough, this is the first time husband and wife have actually worked together. And let`s not forget her 3-time Oscar nominee co-star, Leonardo DiCaprio; together they turn in a disquieting portrait of suburban life and a disintegrating marriage. Mature and remarkable, their performances are far removed from their first partnership as the young, star-crossed lovers of 1997`s Titanic.

Based on Richard Yates` 1961 novel, Revolutionary Road takes an in-depth look at the boredom and frustration of 1950s American suburbia, revealing the rot that often lies beneath the smooth, affluent surface. Or so it is in the case of the Weavers, Frank (DiCaprio) and April (Winslet), who fall in love after meeting at a New York party and decide to do the "done" thing: get married, move to the suburbs and raise a family. And this involves making certain compromises, like giving up many of their hopes, dreams and youthful ideals.

But after a while, life in the lovely Connecticut house with their two adorable kids begins to pall. Frank finds his nine-to-five corporate job soul destroying and seeks light relief by seducing the secretaries during long, liquid, executive lunch breaks. While April, still an aspiring actress, must finally let go of her thespian dreams after a performance in a local production gets poor reviews. Resolved to change their lives for the better, April persuades Frank to quit his job, sell up and move the family to Paris - where he can "find" himself and discover what he really wants to do, while she supports the household with a well-paid secretarial gig. This represents a radical role reversal in the conservative ‘Fifties, underscored by the reaction of all their friends, who are curiously surprised, then scoff at the mere idea, albeit behind their backs.

The allure of a new life in Paris gives fresh momentum to their marriage and keeps it afloat for a while, but things suddenly come crashing down when April discovers that she is pregnant. Unplanned and unwanted, this third pregnancy not only scuttles the couple`s plans, but their marriage too, which disintegrates into frustration, bitterness and even violence.

Suburban monotony and superficiality were finely portrayed by Sam Mendes` American Beauty and Winslet in Little Children, brilliant films both. But Revolutionary Road captures the suburban nightmare with horrifying clarity, often sharply at odds with the beautiful imagery (shot by the masterly Roger Deakins), and at times resembling a painting: but more Hieronymus Bosch than Edward Hopper. Compelling performances, a brilliant script and exceptional direction, Revolutionary Road is a disconcerting and provocative motion picture and certainly one of the finest of the year.

REVOLUTIONARY ROAD (UK,US 2008); German title: ZEITEN DES AUFRUHRS; Genre: Drama; Rated R (language, nudity, some sexual content); Running time: 119 minutes: Distributor: Paramount Vantage; US release date: Jan. 23, 2009; German release date: Jan. 15, 2009: Director: Sam Mendes; Writers: Justin Haythe (screenplay), Richard Yates (novel); Main cast: Kate Winslet, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kathy Bates, Kathryn Hahn, David Harbour, Michael Shannon; Cinematographer: Roger Deakins; Composer: Thomas Newman: Production designer: Kristi Zea; Editor: Tariq Anwar

Summary: Based on the novel by Richard Yates, Revolutionary Road tells of a young couple living in a Connecticut suburb in the 1950s, who must give up their hopes and dreams and come to terms with reality.

  • Autor: Geraldine Blecker
    E-Mail: GeraldineFBTV@aol.com
    Abfassungsdatum: 14.01. 2009
    Photo: © Paramount Pictures Corporation
    Verwertung: Weltexpress
    All rights to the author
    Quelle: www.weltexpress.info
    Update: Berlin, 14.01. 2009

66th Golden Annual Globes

`Slumdog` is Top Dog and Two for Kate

 Los Angeles (Weltexpress) - Almost to compensate for the non-event it was last year, due to the writers` strike - this year`s 66th Annual Golden Globes ceremony held at LA`s Beverly Hilton Hotel was a glittering event, current financial crisis and potential actors` strike notwithstanding. Just about everybody was there. And dressed up to the nines they were, too.

Fox Searchlight`s relatively low-budget ($15 million) Slumdog Millionaire took on the big studio dogs, virtually cleaning up with four drama awards in all the categories for which it had been nominated, including best picture, best screenplay (Simon Beaufoy), best soundtrack (A.R. Rahman) and a best director for Danny Boyle. Kate Winslet, to her astonishment, walked off with both dramatic prizes, Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, for her roles in Revolutionary Road and The Reader, respectively, while two awards went to The Wrestler: A Best Actor for Mickey Rourke`s brilliant return to the screen and for Bruce Springsteen`s Best Original Song. Disney/Pixar`s WALL-E won the award for Best Animated Feature and Waltz With Bashir won the Best Foreign Feature award, which came as no surprise to anyone; as did the drama award for best supporting actor going to the late Heath Ledger for his astonishing performance as The Joker in The Dark Knight.

In the best comedy or musical category, Woody Allen`s Vicky Cristina Barcelona took best picture prize, with Sally Hawkins nabbing the Best Actress award for Happy-Go-Lucky, and the Best Actor award going to Colin Farrell for In Bruges.

When it came to TV, John Adams cleaned up in the TV literary drama department as Best TV drama, with a Best Actor for Paul Giamatti in the title role, Best Actress to Laura Linney and a Best Supporting Actor to Tom Wilkinson.

Madmen was voted best TV drama series, with Best Actor in this category going to Gabriel Byrne for his role in Treatment, Best Actress to Anna Paquin for her performance in the vampire series True Blood, and best supporting actress to Laura Dern for her role in the TV movie Recount.

30 Rock again won hands down as best TV comedy series, with Best Actor and Actress awards likewise going to its stars Alec Baldwin and Tiny Fey.

  • Autor: Geraldine Blecker
    E-Mail: GeraldineFBTV@aol.com
    Abfassungsdatum: 13.01. 2009
    Photo: © Weltexpress
    Verwertung: Weltexpress
    All rights to the author
    Quelle: www.weltexpress.info
    Update: Berlin, 13.01. 2009

Almost like falling in love with a hamburger

TWILIGHT (USA 2008)

Los Angeles/Frankfurt (Weltexpress) - Stephanie Meyer`s Twilight novels are the biggest thing to hit the teenage market since Harry Potter; proved by the fact that the first of the quartet, published in 2005, has sold 25 million copies worldwide and been translated into 37 languages. So Catherine Hardwicke`s film adaptation was eagerly awaited. Made for an estimated budget of $37 million, it took double that in its opening weekend, already grossing $259 million at the global box office, $178 million of that in the US since its Nov. 21 release. It is yet to screen this month in other major foreign territories. With three more books to go, the current obsession for No. 1 bodes well for the prospective franchise.

So, what`s all the fuss about? TWILIGHT is a vampire movie with a difference, although its similarities to the recent low-budget, Swedish production, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (soon due for a Hollywood remake, I believe), are undeniable. Both movies involve a dark romance between one of the „undead“ and a human - someone who could easily be its next victim, or lunch, if you prefer. In the case of the Swedish movie, it is 12-year old Oscar, while TWILIGHT tells the story of, and is narrated by, 17-year old Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart of PANIC ROOM and INTO THE WILD), a bit of a non-conformist, who is forced to move from Phoenix, Arizona, to live with her father in the tiny, rain-swept and non-eventful town (or so she thinks) of Forks in upstate Washington.

Bella loves her dad, the town police chief (Billy Burke), does well enough at her new high school, starts to fit in and make friends and, although lots of boys ask her out, she is attracted to one in particular: the aloof, enigmatic and remarkably handsome Edward Cullen (played by relative newcomer Robert Pattinson - Harry Potter`s Cedric Diggory), who does not mingle with the other students, preferring to hang out with his family and his own clique. Witty and sophisticated, Edward seems reluctant to make friends with Bella at first, but they gradually form a bond of friendship, which soon develops into a passionate and decidedly unorthodox romance.

But there`s just one snag: Edward and his family are vampires, from a very long line of vampires. Edward can run faster than a gazelle; he can stop a moving car with his bare hands. And he hasn`t aged since 1918 for, like all vampires, he is immortal. But he doesn`t have fangs, or turn into a bat, nor does he drink human blood, as Edward and his family are of a „vegetarian“ persuasion, which means they feed on animals as opposed to humans. But the new relationship is still fraught with danger, for Bella`s very scent and proximity could send him into a frenzy. I guess it`s like falling in love with a hamburger. Still, the peril increases, when another bloodsucking group of less noble lineage and fewer feeding scruples invades the Cullens` stamping ground and begins feasting on the locals. And as if things were not difficult enough for the star-crossed lovers, a particularly nasty member of the rival gang (Cam Gigandet) is greedily savouring Bella as his plat du jour.

The teen world is fraught with conflicting emotions, passions and hormones and, for young girls especially, the element of unrequited love has far more appeal than awkward, sexual tussles. Director Catherine Hardwicke (THIRTEEN, LORDS OF DOGTOWN, THE NATIVITY STORY) and her screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg were quick to grasp this essential point - treating adolescent crises with staunch seriousness - and this is at the core of the phenomenon of TWILIGHT.

Hardwicke`s choice of Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson - on his way to becoming a big star - to play the ill-fated lovers was a stroke of genius. They fling themselves into the roles and play them with conviction. In fact, TWILIGHT really works more as a romance than a horror flick, as the few action sequences are relatively bland and pretty much lacking in suspense. But some nice touches have been added to the standard vampire mythology and, although far from perfect, I found the move very different and highly entertaining.

TWILIGHT (USA 2008); Genre: Horror-romance; Running time: 122 minutes: Rated: PG-13 (some violence and sexual situations); US Distributor: Summit Entertainment; US release date: Nov. 21, 2008: German distributor: Concorde Filmverleih; German release date: Jan. 15, 2009; Director: Catherine Hardwicke; Writers: Melissa Rosenberg (screenplay), Stephenie Meyer (novel); Main cast: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Billy Burke, Ashley Greene, Nikki Reed, Jackson Rathbone, Kellan Lutz, Peter Fascinelli, Cam Gigandet; Composer: Carter Burwell; Cinematographer: Elliot Davis; Editor: Nancy Richardson

Plot: A teenage girl risks winding up on the menu when she falls in love with a vampire.

http://www.twilightthemovie.com

  • Autor: Geraldine Blecker
    E-Mail: GeraldineFBTV@aol.com
    Abfassungsdatum: 12.01. 2009
    Photo: © Concorde Filmverleih GmbH
    Verwertung: Weltexpress
    All rights to the author
    Quelle: www.weltexpress.info
    Update: Berlin, 12.01. 2009

Not a dry eye in the House

SEVEN POUNDS (USA 2008) - German title: Sieben Leben

Frankfurt am Main (Weltexpress) - A sort of emotional follow-up to PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS, superstar Will Smith and director Gabriele Muccino team up once again to tug at our heartstrings and get us reaching for the Kleenex in this turgid romantic-drama.

Unlike its surprisingly successful predecessor, which even won Smith an Oscar nomination for Best Actor last year, this offering unfortunately lacks any humour to offset the syrupy, guilt-ridden drama, but is doubtless bound to please a certain audience demographic, mostly female (and probably Oprah Winfrey fans); evidenced by the fact that it has already grossed just under $45 million at the US box office since its release on December 19. Will Smith’s undisputed screen magnetism should also ensure it moderate success in the foreign market when it opens in January/February.

With the screenplay penned by Grant Nieporte (writer of TV sitcom SABRINA THE TEENAGE WITCH), the story begins by introducing us to Ben Thomas (Smith), an apparently humble IRS agent (i.e. tax collector), simultaneously suggesting that he is not what he seems with nebulous clues about his mysterious background.

Haunted by recollections of happier times, before a sudden auto accident put an end to it all, Ben lives alone in a luxurious beach house that is obviously far beyond the means of a lowly Inland Revenue employee.

During the picture’s torturous first half, Ben visits various individuals with tax problems, at the same time singling out those he feels deserving of good fortune. These include a blind piano player working as a telemarketer (Woody Harrelson), an abused wife and mother (Elpidia Carrillo), a hospital administrator (Kevin Cooney), and finally Emily (Rosario Dawson), an attractive woman suffering from a fatal cardiac condition. While most are treated with compassion and eased of their financial burden, one of them gets the come-uppance so rightly deserved. Once Rosario Dawson appears on the scene, the action veers more in the direction of a traditional love story and it is the developing relationship between Emily and Ben that uplifts the storyline and adds some true feeling that is otherwise lacking.

As Ben’s intentions are gradually revealed and the mystery slowly unfolds - one organ at a time - in the second half, the movie becomes exponentially more predictable and irritating. As does its main protagonist, whose quest for redemption loses all dramatic force the longer it goes on, leading to a finale that is almost as absurd as it is tragic. That being said, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house after the press screening - which means that even the most hard-nosed of the (male) journalists were reaching for their hankies.

Although Muccino, only known for directing various Italian productions (THE LAST KISS) before last year’s PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS, creates some emotionally charged interludes during the romantic sequences, there is little light and shade, or any change of tempo. The picture is monotonously lethargic, with hardly any relief. Smith`s charisma carries it through, however, despite his mournful characterization, and here he is greatly helped by Rosario Dawson, who gives the role of Emily much more weight than it might have had. Their screen time together is truly compelling.

SEVEN POUNDS (USA 2008) (German title: SIEBEN LEBEN); Genre: Drama; Running time: 123 minutes; US distribution: Columbia Pictures; US Release date: December 19, 2008; International distribution: Sony Pictures Releasing; German release date: January 8, 2009; Director: Gabriele Muccino; Writer: Grant Nieporte; Composer: Angelo Milli; Main cast: Will Smith, Rosario Dawson, Michael Ealy, Barry Pepper, Woody Harrelson, Elpidia Carrillo, Cinematographer: Philippe Le Sourd; Production designer: J Michael Riva; Editor: Hughes Winborne

  • Autor: Geraldine Blecker
    E-Mail: redaktion@weltexpress.info
    Abfassungsdatum: 06.01. 2009
    Foto: © Sony Pictures Releasing GmbH, Deutschland
    Verwertung: Weltexpress
    All rights to the author
    Quelle: www.weltexpress.info
    Update: Berlin, 06.01. 2009

Let the Right One In

German title: SO FINSTER DIE NACHT (Sweden 2008)

Frankfurt am Main (Weltexpress) - Oskar, a pale, lonely boy, bullied by his schoolmates, finds love and revenge when he meets Eli, a strange, compelling girl, who is unfortunately also a vampire.

Set in a bleak and icy Stockholm suburb in the 1980s, LET THE RIGHT ON IN tells the story of 12-year old Oskar (Kare Hedebrant), a pale, lonely boy, unrelentingly terrorized by his classmates. Shunted between his divorced parents, who pay him little attention, his hobbies are somewhat grotesque: collecting newspaper articles about murders and gory accidents and dreaming savage dreams of revenge on his tormentors. But things suddenly change when he meets Eli (Lina Leandersson), a girl the same age, who has moved into the next door apartment with her father. Oskar is quick to notice that something is not quite right with the pallid girl, who only appears at night and seems completely insensitive to the biting cold but, as lonely and reclusive as he, they strike up a friendship and gradually become close. And soon, with Eli`s support, Oskar begins to stand up for himself and face his bullies. When he discovers that Eli is a vampire and responsible for several brutal deaths in the region, he is torn between his fear of her - after all, he could be her next lunch - and his burgeoning feelings for his newfound friend.

What works so well in both the novel and the film is that the elements of horror blend so harmoniously into the sensitive framework, lending both an indefinable quality that makes them so very special. Technically a horror movie, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN is more of a coming-of-age story about the developing friendship between two young outcasts and thus much more than just another vampire tale. There is the budding of a love story, but one without any outright sensuality, for the children are young and sexually innocent. Nor is there the excessive gore we have come to expect from the genre. Director Tomas Alfredson is more focused on the emotional aspects than shocking suspense, although the movie does have its own unique atmosphere. In stark, depressing colors, the film tells a poignant story of friendship and the end of childhood in the darkness, snow and ice of the Land of the Midnight Sun, beautifully underscored by the music of Johan Söderqvist.

True to well-established vampire myth: blood is Eli`s only sustenance (Oskar offers her a candy but she throws it back up), she cannot enter a dwelling uninvited, nor can she endure sunlight, has icy cold skin, can move and shinny up walls at terrific speed, and her bite is either lethal or contagious. Only 12 years old, "But I`ve been 12 for a very long time," as she says, like a hunted animal she must move from place to place to avoid discovery and capture. A melancholy creature, yet not quite so tragic and self-castigating as the characters depicted in the recent cult movie TWILIGHT, to which it is often compared, or the popular TV series TRUE BLOOD - vampires are quite the rage at the moment - Eli`s character is somehow refreshing. Played by first-time actress, Lina Leandersson, is very good indeed: coming across as both enigmatic and compelling, her appearance shifting from youthful innocence to a countenance from the world of nightmare and all things in between (accolades here to the make-up artists). Oskar is effectively played by first-timer Käre Hedebrant. Pale blond, pasty, slight of stature, he is aloof, diffident, and just a bit weird.

Many of the incidental characters, some of whom are destined to be Eli`s victims, are less convincing and much of the dialog seems wooden - which may well be the fault of the German dubbing - although in the US the movie was screened in Swedish with English subtitles, never popular with American audiences. And this is one of the handicaps which might prevent this film from attracting the wide audience it so well deserves. Another is that it is aimed at no clear target group. Too slow-moving and possibly too sensitive for the teen market; while offering too little gore for hardcore horror fans, or too much for the sensitive Arthouse crowd.

Still, it has swept up an array of coveted critics and festival awards, including three CFCAs (Chicago Film Critics Association Awards) for Best Foreign Language Film, Most Promising Filmmaker (Tomas Alfredson) and Most Promising Performer (Lina Leandersson), the Edinburgh International Film Festival, FantAsia Film Festival, Göteborg Film Festival, NatFilm Festival, Sitges - Catalonian International Film Festival, the SEFCA Award, Toronto After Dark Film Festival, and voted best narrative feature at the Tribeca Film Festival, Washington DC Area Film Critics Association Awards, and the Woodstock Film Festival - so it has hardly gone unacknowledged.

SO FINSTER DIE NACHT (Sweden 2008); English title: LET THE RIGHT ONE IN; Original Swedish title: Lät den rötte komma in); Genre: Horror-drama; US distributor: Magnolia Pictures: US release date: November 24, 2008; German distributor: MFA Filmverleih; German release date: Dec. 23, 2008; Running time: 114 minutes; Director: Tomas Alfredson; Writer: John Ajvide Lindqvist, (based on the novel LET ME IN; Main cast: Käre Hedebrandt, Lina Leandersson, Per Ragnar; Music: Johan Söderqvist; Cinematographer: Hoyte Van Hoytema; Production designer: Eva Norän; Editor: Dino Jonsäter

  • Autor: Geraldine Blecker
    E-Mail: GeraldineFBTV@aol.com
    Abfassungsdatum: 30.12. 2008
    Photo: © MFA Filmverleih
    Verwertung: Weltexpress
    All rights to the author
    Quelle: www.weltexpress.info
    Update: Berlin, 30.12. 2008

Upstaged by a Guinea Pig

BEDTIME STORIES (USA 2008)

A family comedy about a hotel handyman whose life changes when the lavish bedtime stories he tells his niece and nephew start to magically come true.

Frankfurt (Weltexpress) - All in all, it looks like 2008 will have been a good year for Adam Sandler. Apart from finally capturing the international market with his outrageously tasteless summer hit DON`T MESS WITH THE ZOHAN, which recouped its $90 million budget more than twice over, raking in just under $201 million at the box office and which I personally loathed, BEDTIME STORIES has already generated $10.5 million on its Christmas Day opening.

The old Hollywood maxim applies as much today, as ever: Don`t compete on the screen with young children or animals. In BEDTIME STORIES, Sandler appears with both and, apart from being generally upstaged by a CG-enhanced guinea pig, manages to hold his own pretty well. Adam Sandler`s very first film squarely aimed at the family market, his bawdy buffoonery is much toned down in BEDTIME STORIES, directed by Adam Shankman (THE PACIFIER, HAIRSPRAY) and written by Matt Lopez and Tim Herlihy (BIG DADDY).

Adam Sandler plays Skeeter Bronson, a somewhat socially dysfunctional but generally nice guy, who works as a handyman and general dog`s body in a small, elite LA hotel once owned by his father (Jonathan Pryce). Asked by his sister Wendy (the ever-anorexic Courtney Cox) to look after her kids for a few days while she takes off to Phoenix for a job interview, Skeeter initially finds the task challenging, especially as his niece (Laura Ann Kelsing) and nephew (Jonathan Morgan Heit) have grown up sheltered from TV, computer games and even fast food. This means that Skeeter has to become more inventive when it comes to entertaining the kids instead of just parking them in front of the tube with a pizza. Thus in desperation, he begins telling them bedtime stories, all based, albeit loosely, on his own trials and frustrations in the daily workplace.

Giving free reign to his fantasy, he tells the kids adventurous tales of noble knights, the Wild West, Greek heroes and bold space travellers, and the kids just eat them up, soon adding their own imaginative elements to the mix. And to Skeeter`s amazement, the stories magically start becoming true - to the extent where the fine line between fantasy and reality is no longer so easy to determine. Fantasy sequences are interspersed throughout, all featuring Sandler and the ensemble, when the bedtime stories come to life.

Apart from Skeeter`s problems at the hotel, where he has to vie with the unctuous hotel manager (a wonderfully slimy Guy Pierce), there is a touch of romance with the children`s teacher, Jill (Keri Russell), some comedy interaction with his buddy Mickey (British comic Russel Brand) and some good interludes with the boss`s daughter Violet (played by Australian actress Teresa Palmer) - a terrific Paris-Hilton parody - as well as a few mandatory tear-jerking scenes where Skeeter saves the day. All underscored with the excellent music of Rupert Gregson-Williams - produced where else, but in Hans Zimmer`s Remote Control Productions.

Shankman directs his international ensemble cast with a sure hand and all of them do him proud - especially the big-eyed guinea pig (un-credited), who pretty well upstages everybody and certainly got the most laughs at the recent press screenings. Although the comedy is largely random and many situations well over-the-top, BEDTIME STORIES is good family entertainment, especially for younger viewers.

BEDTIME STORIES (USA 2008); Genre: Family-comedy: Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures; Running time: 99 minutes; Release date: December 25, 2008; Director: Adam Shankman; Writers: Matt Lopez, Tim Herlihy; Main cast: Adam Sandler, Keri Russell, Guy Pearce, Russell Brand, Richard Griffiths, Jonathan Pryce, Courtney Cox, Lucy Lawless, Teresa Palmer; Music: Rupert Gregson-Wlliams; Cinematography: Michael Barrett; Production design: Linda Descenna; Editors: Tom Costain, Michael Tronick.

  • Autor: Geraldine Blecker
    E-Mail: redaktion@weltexpress.info
    Abfassungsdatum: 29.12. 2008
    Photo: © Walt Disney
    Verwertung: Weltexpress
    Quelle: www.weltexpress.info
    Update: Berlin, 29.12. 2008

Australia - An epic disappointment

A sweeping epic of romance and adventure beginning at the start of WW ll, when Lady Sarah arrives from England to take over a vast cattle station and drive her herd across the outback to market - just as the Japanese bomb Darwin.

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Or in the case of AUSTRALIA: is it a western? Is it a war movie? Is it a romantic epic? Is it a social commentary? Trying to be all, it unfortunately succeeds in being none of these things to any convincing degree and, with everything tossed in but the kitchen sink during its almost three hours, comes across as more of a TV mini-series along the lines of THE THORNBIRDS. But the camerawork is lavish and the landscape divine, as is to be expected from Australian director Baz Luhrmann (STRICTLY BALLROOM, ROMEO & JULIET and MOULIN ROUGE), in this sweeping, albeit lightweight saga set in his homeland and produced for an estimated $130 million.

Opening in 1939, the story is narrated by the young half-caste lad Nullah (Brandon Walters), who appears throughout. Haughty Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman), arrives from England to be reunited with her estranged husband, owner of Faraway Downs, a huge cattle ranch in the outback. Expecting to find him "in flagrante", she discovers instead that he has been murdered. Determined to settle his affairs, she soon decides to stay and run the place. This involves sacking the ranch's thieving manager Neil Fletcher (David Wenham), who thus becomes her sworn enemy, and driving a vast herd of cattle across the forbidding "Never Never" to Darwin to fulfil a military contract: the beef to be shipped across the ocean to feed the army in war torn Europe. This in direct competition to local cattle baron King Carney (Bryan Brown), who is determined to win the contract for his own herd and buy her out, if he can.

During all this, she adopts the orphaned Nullah, protecting him from the law and its racial policy towards Aboriginals (especially the "Stolen Generation" of half-castes, whom they seek to gather up and confine in mission schools-cum-internment camps), and hire Drover, a beer-swilling, brawl-loving adventurer (played by Hugh Jackman, who looks super with his kit off - in my opinion, the best part of the movie).  He helps drive her herd to market across the desolate wastes and ultimately wins Lady Sarah's love. Nullah's grandfather, the old Aborigine witchdoctor King George, also makes sporadic appearances to manipulate the elements in order to help the protagonists surmount various obstacles and add the requisite touch of "Songlines" mysticism. The second part of the film deals with Darwin preparing for a Japanese invasion after the bombing of Pearl Harbour in 1941.

Chockfull of information, adventure, farce and romance, Luhrmann and his co-writers also cram in a goodly dose of Aboriginal culture, with special focus on Nullah and his plight (as was so well-portrayed by Phillip Noyce in RABBIT PROOF FENCE), so I guess they needed almost three hours to tell the tale. Still, anyone who has seen the trailer and is thus expecting an Australian GONE WITH THE WIND is bound to be disappointed.

AUSTRALIA has more similarity to PEARL HARBOUR, which could not have been intentional. Both big budget productions are set against a tapestry of historical events larger than the trite characters and fictional melodramas being portrayed. The frisky almost farcical interaction between the leading characters in the early part of AUSTRALIA is in direct opposition with such gravitas, which seriously weakens their characters, making them seem contrived and their emotions artificial. The character development takes its predictable course: Like Katherine Hepburn in THE AFRICAN QUEEN, snotty Lady Sarah finds hidden reserves within herself and ultimately shows what she is made of, while "Nick Dundee" Drover reveals the warmth and sensitivity beneath his macho exterior, and Nullah is saved from whatever ugly fate awaited him; the action accompanied by repetitive refrains of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" to generate sentimentality whenever the lacklustre script requires. This, unfortunately, does not help us to empathize with the characters or their circumstances and, ultimately, is the movie's biggest problem. We just don't care.

AUSTRALIA (Australia/US 2008); Genre: drama/adventure: Running time: 165 minutes; Rated: PG-13 (violence, sexual situations); Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox; US Release date: Nov. 26, 2008; German release date: Dec. 25, 2008; Director: Baz Luhrmann; Writers: Baz Luhrmann, Stuart Beattie, Ronald Harwood , Richard Flanagan; Music: David Hirschfelder; Main cast: Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, Bryan Brown, Brandon Walters, David Wenham; Cinematographer: Mandy Walker; Production designer: Catherine Martin; Editors: Michael McCusker

Fantasy Adventure - From Book to Film

INKHEART (US, Germany,UK 2008)

Frankfurt am Main (Weltexpress) - After the modestly successful screen versions of her popular children`s books THE WILD CHICKS and THE THIEF LORD, German writer Cornelia Funke has now joined the producer ranks for New Line`s production of part one of her INKHEART Trilogy; a worldwide bestseller, already translated into many languages.

At the heart of this fantasy adventure is 12-year old Meggie (Eliza Bennett), whose father Mo Folchart (Brendan Fraser) has passed on to her a very special talent. Known as “Silvertongue”, he is able to bring to life fictional characters and objects from the books he reads aloud. But before long, Meggie discovers that this magical gift also has its dangers and comes at a very high price. For whenever a creature from a book is brought to life, then a real person must vanish into the world of books. This is the fate that overtook Meggie`s mother Resa (Sienna Guillory) when years ago Mo read aloud from the rare book entitled INKHEART. She vanished into its pages, as three of its characters were called forth: the wicked Capricorn (Andy Serkis), his henchman Basta, and one of the book`s heroes, the fire-eater known as "Dustfinger" (Paul Bettany), who is desperate to return to the medieval world of Inkheart. Desperately searching for a copy of the rare tome in order to bring Resa back, father and daughter are pursued by its evil villain Capricorn, who will stop at nothing to make use of their talents in order to spread his reign of terror over the real world.

British director Iain Softley, who has proved his versatility with films ranging from BACKBEAT and THE WINGS OF THE DOVE to K-PAX and THE SKELETON KEY, was the perfect choice for INKHEART. Despite its Hollywood veneer, Softley`s light touch, together with Cornelia Funke`s hands-on involvement, has prevented the film from turning into another mindless, special effects extravaganza. Dark, although less so than the novel, the fairy tale adventure is very compact and has been excellently translated to the screen.

Softley has likewise elected to make spare use of CGI and green-screen effects which - although many of the effects are consequently on a smaller scale - makes the movie`s climax all the more spectacular by comparison. Nor was this decision a matter of budget, for the estimated production cost amounted to approx. 30 million GBP. But the charm and humor of the story, its characters, and their interaction more than compensate. The picturesque locations, mostly in the UK and the Italian Riviera, lush cinematography and lovingly designed sets - with special accolades to DP Roger Pratt and production designer John Beard - create a distinct atmosphere, guaranteed to draw viewers swiftly into the magical world of INKHEART.

It is obvious, too, that the cast are enjoying themselves. Brendan Fraser puts in a strong performance as the literary adventurer, Silvertongue Mo, while the choice of Helen Mirren as the spirited Aunt Eleanor is truly inspiring. Paul Bettany is the perfect storybook anti-hero, and Andy Serkis sinister as the megalomaniac antagonist. The smaller roles are likewise well cast and the creature design also worthy of mention.

Although hardly able to compete with the HARRY POTTER franchise - the next one scheduled for release in July 2009, INKHEART is good cinema entertainment for both young and old alike.

INKHEART (USA/Germany/UK 2008) Distributor: Genre: Fantasy-adventure; Distributor: Warner Bros.; Running time: 106 minutes; US Release date: 23 Jan., 2009; German release date: 11 Dec., 2008; Director: Iain Softley; Writer (screenplay): David Lindsay-Abaire; Writer (novel): Cornelia Funke; Main cast: Brendan Fraser, Helen Mirren, Paul Bettany, Jim Broadbent, Andy Serkis, Eliza Hope Bennett, Sienna Guillory; Cinematographer: Roger Pratt; Composer: Javier Navarrete; Production designer: John Beard; Editor: Martin Walsh

Summary: A young girl inherits her father`s wondrous talent of bringing characters to life by reading their stories aloud. Father and daughter, together with her aunt and a fictional hero, strive to prevent a storybook villain from spreading his terror throughout the real world.

  • Autor: Geraldine Blecker
    E-Mail: GeraldineFBTV@aol.com
    Abfassungsdatum: 21.12. 2008
    Photo: © Warner Bros. Pictures
    Verwertung: Weltexpress
    All rights to the author
    Quelle: www.weltexpress.info
    Update: Berlin, 21.12. 2008

The Twilight Zone meets Independence Day

The Day the Earth Stood Still (USA 2008)

Frankfurt am Main (Weltexpress) - If you were still wondering whether Keanu Reeves is an alien, then this should put all such doubts to rest. The impassive Reeves is the perfect „Klaatu“, adamant off-worldly exterminator of mankind in director Scott Derrickson`s (THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE) remake of the 1951 classic. Unfortunately, that is the only perfect thing about it.

So what happened? The Robert Wise original, though far from perfect itself, was a compelling film with a strong message. In 1951, only six years after WWll, in the early days of the cold war, it was a statement against mankind`s tendency towards MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction), today it is global warming and man`s destruction of his environment. It should have been as eloquent today as in yesteryear. But although this latest version tackles some of the elements of the original, it creates new logistical problems and entirely lacks the sensitivity and intelligence of its predecessor.

In essence, the story is true to the original: life on earth as we know it changes abruptly as several huge spherical space craft land on the planet, the largest touching down in the middle of Central Park. From it emerges Klaatu (Reeves), together with a giant robot, Gort. Klaatu is promptly shot down by the military, who has turned out in force as a welcoming committee, and is bundled off to a secret medical facility for emergency surgery and, of course, extensive examination. Scientist Dr. Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly) is among those fighting to save the life of the alien, who emerges in human form, frees himself from the humanoids` pathetic attempts to restrain him and announces that he has come to address the world`s leaders.

In flight from the US military under orders from Secretary of Defense Jackson (Kathy Bates), Helen becomes Klaatu`s only confidant, to whom he reveals the purpose of his mission: he has come to save the planet earth, which is too precious to be destroyed by its people. After much consideration, his race has decided that humankind must be annihilated if their world is to be saved.

The 1951 original is a true cinematic milestone, which had not only a lasting influence on science fiction cinema, but also on the literature of the genre. The cult sci-fi phrase „Klaatu Barada Nikto“, for example, is nowhere to be heard in this half-hearted remake, although the filmmakers swear it is there - if you listen. Apparently it is drowned out by the soundtrack. The same with the dialog, I suppose, which seems to be drowned out by special effects, clich`s, and pointless action sequences, courtesy of the director and screenwriter David Scarpa.

One of the few highlights is the brief appearance of John Cleese as a scientific colleague of Helen`s who logically argues for giving the human race one more chance. He then suggests that Helen try another, less logical approach to dissuade Klaatu from its destruction. Instead of exploring this aspect, however, the film moves on to the saccharine: focusing on the relationship between Helen and her hugely irritating, 10-year old stepson Jacob (played by Will Smith`s son Jaden): who represents a major argument for the immediate elimination of mankind, in my opinion. Their characters and conflicts are so hackneyed and contrived that they throw a real monkey wrench into any suspense the film might have generated.

But THE TWILIGHT ZONE meets INDEPENDENCE DAY contains some good visual effects, as you would imagine; part of the producers` constipated efforts to attract a young target audience by eliminating any gravitas or intelligent dialog and adding a young identification character - at the cost of destroying everything of artistic value. And these efforts have been rewarded. THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL has already grossed nearly $76 million worldwide and topped the US box office in its opening weekend. It has likewise reached number one in the UK cinema charts, knocking Madagascar 2 into second place.

Despite this and the fact that it has been nominated for two Satellite Awards (for Best Sound and Best Visual Effects), the film falls flat. There is too little tension or drama, no characters we can possibly care about, and even the big climax lacks any true excitement. All in all, it is an uninspired tribute and certainly a mediocre piece of film making.

THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (USA 2008) (German title: DER TAG AN DEM DIE ERDE STILLSTAND); Genre: Sci-Fi; Rated PG-13; Running time: 109 minutes; Distributor: 20th Century Fox; US release date: 12.12.08; German release date: 11.12.08; Director: Scott Derrickson; Screenplay: David Scarpa; 1951 Screenplay: Edmund H. North; Main cast: Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly, Kathy Bates, John Cleese, Jon Hamm; Cinematographer: David Tattersall; Composer: Tyler Bates; Production designer: David Brisbin; Editor: Wayne Wahrman

Summary: A remake of the 1951 sci-fi classic about an alien and his giant robot who land on Earth to save the planet from mankind.

  • Autor: Geraldine Blecker
    E-Mail: GeraldineFBTV@aol.com
    Abfassungsdatum: 20.12. 2008
    Photo: © Twentieth Century Fox
    Verwertung: Weltexpress
    All rights to the author
    Quelle: www.weltexpress.info
    Update: Berlin, 20.12. 2008

The Women (USA 2008) - No men required

 Poor remake of a classic

 Frankfurt (Weltexpress) - Rarely has a target audience been so specifically defined or a movie so exclusive as Diane English’s remake of George Cukor’s 1939 classic THE WOMEN, itself based on the successful Broadway comedy by Clare Boothe Luce. For not a single male is to be seen on the screen throughout the entire 110 minutes. Not even in the crowd scenes. Whether such feminine purism makes for a better film is a matter of conjecture.

Set in the New York of SEX AND THE CITY and THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA, where all that matters is “love” and “labels”, the film is centred around the friendship between four women: Mary (Meg Ryan) happily-married, ex-fashion designer; Sylvia (Annette Bening), hard-nosed women`s magazine editor; Edie (Debra Messing), married with children and perpetually reproducing; and Alex (Jada Pinkett Smith), Afro-American-lesbian, to ensure that no perspective or minority is lacking.

Mary happens to find out via a talkative manicurist that her apparently faithful husband Steven (never seen) is having an affair; with Crystal (Eva Mendes), a young sexpot of a salesgirl on the perfume counter at Saks. Unfortunately Mary is the last to know, as this juicy titbit has been making the rounds for a while and none of her friends had the guts to break the news. Not knowing how to deal with the situation, she first listens to her mother (Candice Bergen), who’s been through it all before and advises her to ignore it. When May finds that strategy impossible, she confronts the femme fatale herself, and then her husband (still unseen), before filing divorce. Alone, she finally takes some major steps on the road to self-knowledge and self-esteem - with the support of her 3 friends, of course.

Despite the imposing female ensemble and a goodly dose of witty repartee, there is very little sparkle, with the possible exceptions of Candice Bergen and Bette Midler, whose roles are relatively small. Annette Bening puts in a competent super-bitch performance, while Jada Pinkett Smith and Debra Messing seem almost redundant; as if they were thrown in to add a bit of color, so to speak. As for Meg Ryan, she ploughs soldierly on, rehashing the type of role she played in her box office heyday - and still looks remarkably youthful.

It seems that whenever a group of women gathers, no matter what age, they feel the need to jump up and down and shriek. THE WOMEN is full of high-pitched shrieking, which gets pretty tiresome after a while. And it is clearly missing one of the key elements that ensured the success of SEX AND THE CITY; namely any interaction with their male counterparts, thus making THE WOMEN very bland and one-dimensional.

Best known for penning the TV series MURPHY BROWN, where she has done some truly funny stuff, (pretty much lacking here), this is Diane English’s directorial debut and unfortunately that’s how it comes across: like a series-pilot. The continual cuts and crosscuts to the speaker for each snippet of dialogue make it monotonous and visually unexciting. The 1939 original was wildly funny and the humor has not profited by updating it 70 years into the present. Although a few scenes excel (especially those featuring Candice Bergen and Bette Midler), the others are hysterical, contrived, or syrupy; the finale being a combination of all three.

After more than a decade in “development hell”, starting its round of the studios in the mid-90s, THE WOMEN endured a series of false starts before Picturehouse finally picked it up. And as that company was known at that time to focus on producing TV movies for and with HBO, it might well have been destined for a TV screening (or direct-to-DVD) had it not been for the huge success of SEX AND THE CITY. Made for a budget of approx. $16.5 million, THE WOMEN is unlikely to equal the success of that picture, although it has already covered its production costs, grossing almost $27 million in the US and just short of 5 million GBP in the UK since its September release. In fact, in my own film production days, an earlier version of it even landed on my desk, with Goldie Hawn attached to produce and play one of the leads together with Ashley Judd. Might that have made a difference? I doubt it.

THE WOMEN (US 2008); Genre: Comedy-drama; Rated PG-13 (Profanity, Sexual Situations); Running time: 110 minutes; US distributor: Picturehouse Entertainment; US release date: September 12, 2008; German distributor: Constantin Film; German release date: December 11, 2008; Director/writer (screenplay: Diane English; 1939 Screenplay: Anita Loos, Jane Murfin; Writer (stage play): Clare Boothe Luce ; Main cast: Meg Ryan, Annette Bening, Eva Mendes, Debra Messing, Jada Pinkett Smith, Bette Midler, Candice Bergen; Cinematographer: Anastas Michos; Composer: Mark Isham; Production Designer: Jane Musky; Editor: Tia Nolan

Summary: With not a man in sight, THE WOMEN focuses on the friendship among four society women. When Mary discovers that her husband is having an affair with a young salesgirl, her friends rally to her support.

  • Autor: Geraldine Blecker
    E-Mail: redaktion@weltexpress.info
    Abfassungsdatum: 15.12. 2008
    Photo: © Constantine Film AG
    Verwertung: Weltexpress
    Quelle: www.weltexpress.info
    Update: Berlin, 15.12. 2008

Synecdoche, New York (USA 2008) - "Stick to the Writing, Charlie!"

Stage director Caden Cotard is determined to produce a work of theatrical greatness. Armed with a huge grant, he sets about recreating his life - and all the people in it - for the Broadway stage.

 “Synecdoche” from the Greek, according to Wikipedia, is a figure of speech in which: “a term denoting a part of something is used to refer to the whole thing,” or “the acceptance of a part of the responsibility for something.” It is also virtually unpronounceable (should be pronounced “sin-ek-do-kee”, I’ve since discovered.) Despite which, writer/director Charlie Kaufman - whose brilliance as a writer is undisputed - has seen fit to use it as an obscure play on words for his directorial debut film set in the town of Schenectady in upstate New York.

This may sound pretty complex and “out there“, but will give you an idea of what to expect from the exceptionally surreal SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK.

Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his wife Adele (Catherine Keener) are two artists living in Schenectady with their young daughter. He is a frustrated stage director, who has just completed a successful, local production of DEATH OF A SALESMAN, and harbors dreams of moving on to something with more artistic greatness, while she is a painter, specializing in miniatures. Their marriage is rapidly disintegrating: she is intolerant of him and his work, often wishing he would just drop dead, while he is afraid of doing just that. He has started to find a string of distressing and unpleasant physical symptoms, including pustules and blood in his urine. Just as his wife achieves an artistic breakthrough and takes off to Berlin, daughter in tow, for an exhibition that turns out to be a permanent absence, he wins a MacArthur Genius Grant, which gives him the financial independence he needs to set about creating his mammoth work for the Broadway stage.

This is the first part of the film and it bodes well for the first 45 minutes or so. Kaufman’s portrayal of a disintegrating marriage between two artists divorced by their art is perceptive and balanced. Caden’s bizarre array of frightening symptoms and escalating fear of death add an almost farcical element that moves the film towards the edge of horror.

But then the second half unfolds and we watch for at least another hour (which seemed a whole lot longer), while Caden evolves his masterpiece: a play about life in general and his own in particular (I guess this is where the concept of “synecdoche” comes in) which is, of course, a Herculean, if not impossible, task. Still, the playwright is undaunted and the MacArthur Grant certainly must have been a huge sum - the amount is never disclosed - for his work-in-progress continues over more than three decades, with a cast of hundreds and huge, extravagant, ever-expanding sets. Continually adding scenes from his failed marriage, concerns for his absent daughter, combined with his fear of death and his romantic liaisons, to the extent where he and everyone who has ever played a part in his life has a double following them around and even the doubles have doubles, and everyone is playing themselves and somebody else and on and on, repetitively up its own existential orifice.

The ensemble cast is spirited and resourceful, especially Catherine Keener, who plays his wife, and Samantha Morton who plays Hazel, Caden’s long-time lover and dedicated assistant, as well as Emily Watson, who plays her double in the theatrical version. Tom Noonan as a weird prowler also puts in an interesting performance as does, of course, Hoffman himself, perfectly cast as the melancholy, permanently frustrated intellectual.

To say that the film is bleak would be an understatement. Unashamedly self-indulgent, It casts a harsh light on mankind’s greatest fears: isolation, illness, despair and death and though one, at times, feels that Kaufman, together with his alter ego Caden Cotard, is near to achieving the narrative greatness to which he aspires, especially in the earlier scenes, the movie meanders desperately in the second half and loses all focus.

There is no doubt that Charlie Kaulman is one of the greatest and most innovative writers of his generation, BEING JOHN MALKOVICH, ADAPTATION, and ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND have all led us to expect a play within a play within a book within a film, but as much as I essentially wanted to enjoy this cluster-fuck of an epic and give Mr. Kaufman the benefit of the doubt for his first directorial offering, I found myself losing the will to live during the second part of this movie, while my better half thought it was a work of brilliance. We have been arguing about it ever since. Reviews have likewise been mixed: veering from enormous critical acclaim on the one hand, to total lack of comprehension on the other.

Made for an estimated budget of $21 million, it has garnered less $2 million at the box office since its premiere at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival and limited US release on October 24, 2008. And although I would recommend it as a narrative exercise for those hard-core Charlie Kaufman fans, as a work of entertainment, even for the most indulgent, it falls desperately short of the mark. Indeed, if I got the chance, I would say to its director, “Stick to the writing, Charlie!”

SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK (USA 2008); Genre: Black comedy; Rated R (for strong language and sexual situations); Running time: 124 minutes; US distributor: Sony Pictures Classics: US release date. October 24, 2008 (limited); Director/writer: Charlie Kaufman; Main cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Samantha Morton, Michelle Williams, Catherine Keener and Emily Watson; Composer: Mark Friedberg; Cinematographer: Frederick Elmes; Production designer: Mark Friedberg; Editor: Robert Frazen

Written by Geraldine BlecPublished on N:Zone - A Fresh Spin / December 11, 2008

Changeling (US, 2008)  - accepting the unacceptable

Angelina Jolie as Christine Collins

Angelina Jolie as Christine Collins

Not quite a horror movie, but very dark and chilling indeed, is Clint Eastwood’s CHANGELING, starring Angelina Jolie, in what is bound to be an Oscar-nominated performance.

Los Angeles,1928: single mother Christine Collins returns from work as a Pacific Telephone and Telegraph switchboard supervisor (where she works on roller skates, as was standard in the day), to find that the light of her life, her 9 year-old son Walter (Gattlin Griffith), is missing. Desperate as only a mother can be, she searches high and low before calling the LA police, whose response is half-hearted at best. In fact, not taking it, or her, seriously, they don’t even begin a search until almost two weeks later. Months pass and she goes through the motions of getting through each day, pestering the cops, never giving up hope that her boy is out there, somewhere, still alive. Then suddenly, after more than eight months, the police in the person of Capt. J.J.Jones (Jeffrey Donovan) call to say that Walter is alive and well and has been found in a diner in Illinois.

Meanwhile, Reverend Gustav Briegleb (John Malkovich), irate minister with his own weekly radio show, is a thorn in the side of the LAPD. Attacking the force, he continually denounces them as “the most violent, corrupt, incompetent police department this side of the Rocky Mountains.” He interests himself for Christine’s cause and offers his support. Thus, he is present at the media circus gathered at Union Station where Christine is taken by the police, including the Chief (Colme Feore) in full dress uniform, to be reunited with her missing son. But when the boy gets off the train, she looks at him in horror and says, “That’s not my son.”

Although it should be blatantly obvious that a mother would know her own son, the police, wary of poor publicity, go to absurd lengths in palming the strange boy off as hers and insisting that she is mistaken. Intimidated by the situation, she has posed with the foundling before press photographers and has taken him home. But she soon confronts them with irrefutable evidence: Walt’s dentist categorically states that the changeling is not Walt, as does his school teacher; the lad in her home is circumcised, while her son is not; the new boy is inches shorter than her own. In response to which Capt. Davis actually dispatches a doctor to her house, to explain that the boy’s suffering could have physically caused him to shrink. While the “Walt” substitute utters nary a word throughout.

But the more insistent she is and the more proof she comes up with, the more the police close ranks and dig their heels in. Sticking to the official stance is more important than admitting that any mistake could possibly have been made. She is only a woman, after all, and women are known to get hysterical (although this is never mentioned outright). She’s got a kid back, so what’s all the fuss about? She is discredited, publicly portrayed as a bad mother, wicked and heartless, before they implement far more drastic measures of coercion. But Christine refuses to give in, frantic that the time spent pressuring her to accept the unacceptable is being wasted, when the police should be searching for her lost boy.

As events unfold, another case develops almost like a sub-plot, when LAPD detective Lester Ybarra (Michael Kelly) visits an isolated chicken farm and takes a 15-year old youth into custody. I don’t want to give it all away, but suffice it to say that the boy makes a bizarre confession which casts a new light on the Collins case.

Scripted by J. Michael Straczynski, creator of the popular BABYLON 5, and written in only eleven days, the events are taken from authentic legal documents with much of the dialogue stemming verbatim from court transcripts. An unnamed source happened upon some old court files due to be destroyed and passed them on to the writer, who became obsessed with the case known as the “Wineville Chicken Murders” and spent more than a year researching the incident. Although Ron Howard originally planned to direct until there was a scheduling conflict, he was so enamored with the project he decided to exec produce instead and approached Clint Eastwood to direct. Eastwood agreed the same afternoon he read the script and has created a mood that is both elegant and sinister, beautifully reconstructing the period (accolades to cinematographer Tom Stern and James J. Murakami’s production design), while allowing plenty of space for Jolie’s poignant, uncompromising performance to unfold.

And unfold it does, for a full 140 minutes. In my opinion, the movie could have benefited with more time in the cutting room. What begins as a forceful mystery and a drama of human heartbreak loses pace and towards the end seems to flounder, underlined by Mr. Eastwood’s somewhat somnambulistic soundtrack. I found myself losing interest in - and sympathy for - the torment of Christine Collins, and wanted to see somebody else’s face on the screen for a change. (Except that of Jeffrey Donovan, who delivered an extraordinarily wooden performance as her chief tormentor Capt. J.J. Davis). Another character’s back-story, perhaps, or just about anything, really, that would have offset the agony for a moment.

But I guess it’s the big picture that counts, especially in times of such economic turmoil and a new administration poised for a purge on political corruption. For all its tedium, Eastwood has made an eloquent statement that applies now as ever: the perception of integrity and accountability is often sadly more important than the real thing.

CHANGELING (US 2008); Genre: drama; Running time: 140 minutes; Rated R; Distributor: Universal Pictures International; US release date: October 31, 2008; Director/Composer: Clint Eastwood; Writer: J. Michael Straczynski; Main cast: Angelina Jolie, John Malkovich, Jeffrey Donovan; Cinematographer: Tom Stern; Production designer: James J. Murakami; Editors: Joel Cox, Gary D. Roach

Plot summary: Set in 1928 Los Angeles, the film is based on the true story of Christine Collins, whose son vanished. After almost a year, the police finally report that he has been found. But when mother and son are reunited, she discovers that the boy is not her son at all.

N:Zone: A fresh spin, Published: November 25, 2008

Transsiberian - An Old-School Thriller

Frankfurt (Weltexpress) - In this day and age of huge studio budgets, lavish FX, CGI, pyrotechnics and what all, it`s easy to forget that a really good thriller sometimes doesn`t need all that in order to be effective. And Brad Anderson`s cleverly constructed TRANSSIBERIAN is such a case in point. With relatively low-budget, simplistic films like SESSION 9 and THE MACHINIST in the bag, he has already proved that, like the great Alfred Hitchcock to whom he has recently been compared, he can turn a relatively simple character-driven story into a work of riveting suspense.

As its title suggests, most of the action takes place on the famous Trans-Siberian Railroad, the world`s longest, stretching almost 4,000 miles from Moscow to Beijing. And Beijing is where the story begins; when American couple Roy (Woody Harrelson) and Jessie (Emily Mortimer) board the train for Moscow, on their way home after doing some missionary work for their church in China. While Roy is an affable train enthusiast and really looking forward to the trip, Jessie is plunged into gloom by the mere thought of the week-long odyssey. And this is not relieved by reality: the unfriendly staff, over-flowing toilets and generally dingy surroundings. When they are also forced to share their compartment with Carlos (Eduardo Noriega) and Abby (Kate Mara), a young, very well-traveled pair, who set your nerves tingling at the outset, she`s had about as much as she can take. We also gradually learn that she has only settled down with Roy after a very wild youth and, although their marriage seems fundamentally sound, there are fissures in the bedrock. Thus, Carlos` sexuality and his interest in her do not go unnoticed.

But Jesse`s nightmare truly begins during a stopover in the snowy Siberian wastes. Roy disappears. Jessie only discovers his absence after the train has moved on. In a panic, she gets off at the next station and spends the night in a hotel, waiting for her husband`s arrival on the next train. Carlos and Abby, with whom she and Roy have meanwhile bonded - helped by an overabundance of vodka in the dining car one night - are insistently helpful, likewise spending the night at the hotel, ostensibly to give Jesse their support, but actually to pursue their own agenda.

Abby takes off the next day, leaving Carlos and Jesse at the hotel and he invites her to go on an outing to see an abandoned Russian church. She does, against her better judgment, which is where he attempts to seduce her. She is clearly attracted to him, and it seems as if they will get down and do the dirty deed, until Jesse suddenly flips out and reacts in a way that will change her life forever. I don`t want to give away the plot, but suffice it to say that, finally reunited with Roy, her situation does not improve; particularly as he is accompanied by a brand new and very curious friend, Russian police detective Grinko (Sir Ben Kingsley). And from then on, the paranoia and suspense escalate in true Hitchcock tradition.

TRANSSIBERIAN needs a while to get going. Anderson takes his time in the first half to establish his characters and build the atmosphere, supported by the wonderful camera work of cinematographer Xavi Gimanez, who perfectly captures the claustrophobia of life on-board in comparison to the sweeping, winter landscape of Lithuania, where the film was shot. The character of Jessie is also an amateur photographer; thus, we see many impressions of the journey and its passengers through her lens.

Although the plot veers off the rails towards the end and runs the risk of becoming too conventional, Anderson stays on track and brings his film to its final destination. The strength of TRANSSIBERIAN lies in the tight performances of its cast. Woody Harrelson gets top billing, but Emily Mortimer is essentially the lead and while she has given competent performances in such films as LOVELY & AMAZING and MATCH POINT, here, she is truly compelling. The rest of the cast led by Sir Ben is also very good and Anderson directs them with sensitivity, but the real star of the film is undoubtedly the train itself, which exerts a sinister charisma that contributes much to the overall suspense.

Premiered at this year`s Sundance Film Festival, followed by further festival screenings at Berlin and Edinburgh, among others, the movie was made for an estimated budget of $15 million, and has grossed just a bit over $2 million since its limited US release in mid-July. While it is still to hit the screens in most foreign territories, the DVD already premiered in N. America (US and Canada) on November 4, 2008. Apart from a few First Look trailers, it unfortunately offers no extra features, which is a pity. A good film, TRANSSIBERIAN could benefit from a better sales strategy.

TRANSSIBERIAN (GB 2008); Genre: thriller; Running time: 111 minutes; US distributor: First Look International: US release date: July 18, 2008 (limited); German distributor: Universum Film; German release date: Dec. 11, 2008; Director: Brad Anderson; Writers: Brad Anderson, Will Conroy; Main cast: Woody Harrelson, Emily Mortimer, Ben Kingsley, Kate Mara; Cinematographer: Xavi Gimanez; Composer: Alfonso Vilallonga; Production Designer: Alain Bainae; Editor: Jaume Marta

A Trans-Siberian train ride from China to Moscow becomes a frightening journey of deception and murder, when an American couple gets involved with a mysterious pair of fellow travelers.

  • Autor: Geraldine Blecker
    E-Mail: GeraldineFBTV@aol.com
    Abfassungsdatum: 11.12. 2008
    Photo: © courtesy of First Look International/Universum Film
    Verwertung: Weltexpress
    All rights to the author
    Quelle: www.weltexpress.info
    Update: Berlin, 11.12. 2008

Another Horror-wood Remake - Quarantine (USA 2008)

Frankfurt (Weltexpress) - It is more than tedious to watch a Hollywood remake of a movie you only saw a few months ago. And this is what we have here with QUARANTINE, Hollywood`s somewhat more extravagant version of the Spanish horror flick REC, released in most European territories in April 2008.

It is hardly unusual for popular foreign films to be remade for the US market, which is especially true for the horror and martial arts action genres, (best examples for the former being THE GRUDGE, RING 1 & 2), but US filmmakers normally wait a while for the originals to fade from audience memory, before launching a remake onto the market, especially in the territories where the original picture is still fresh in the minds of its target group. While the Hollywood remake has already grossed just under $32 million at the box office since its US release on October 10, 2008, thus recouping its estimated $12 million budget almost threefold, it is doubtful whether it can approach anywhere near the same figures abroad.

The story is exactly the same in both pictures. While filming a documentary report on the nightly goings-on of the fire department, TV reporter Angela (Jennifer Carpenter from THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE) and her cameraman are witnesses to an operation that begins as the routine response to an emergency call and ends in the goriest of nightmares. An elderly tenant goes bonkers in an LA apartment block. Things start turning nasty once officers force the door of her apartment and the woman attacks her liberators with a swift and fatal bite to the throat. Then all hell breaks loose and our valiant TV team gets it all on tape. Shortly thereafter and for no apparent reason, the entire apartment building is locked down by the authorities and there is no escape; residents, TV crew, firemen and police are all trapped within - and no one knows why or for how long. Angela and invisible cameraman pass the time interviewing their fellow captives, but as the film moves into the second half and a mysterious, carnivorous disease infects more of the supporting cast, who consequently infect each other, the action becomes more fast-paced and compelling, leading up to a super-creepy finale, where the origins of the vicious contagion are explained.

QUARANTINE is not necessarily a bad movie. Technically-speaking, the US remake is an improvement over its predecessor in certain aspects - as you would expect for a budget far exceeding the Euro 1.5 million spent on the small Spanish production. There is more visual clarity. The effects are more lavish and hard core, the acting performances beyond reproach. In fact, the whole is a touch louder, faster, bloodier and more hysterical than the original. But as REC was already a big hit with fans of the genre, generating respectable box office receipts for a low-budget horror indie, it is dubious as to whether the remake, albeit well-produced, is sufficient to lure viewers into European theatres again after such a short time. For apart from some bloodier effects and the addition of a few small scenes that predominantly take place during the intro, QUARANTINE has nothing new to offer.

Nevertheless it cannot be denied that the claustrophobic mood and well-aimed shock effects are successfully implemented. Thus, although QUARANTINE`S theatrical release in Europe may be superfluous, this in no way detracts from its suspense and entertainment value.

QUARANTINE (USA, 2008); Genre: horror; Running time: 85 minutes; US distributor: Screen Gems; US release date: October 10, 2008: German distributor: Sony Pictures Releasing; German release date: December 4,2008; Director: John Erick Dowdle; Screenplay: John Erick Dowdle, Drew Dowdle, Writers (REC): Jaume Balaguero, Paco Plaza, Luis Berdejo; Main cast: Jennifer Carpenter, Steve Harris, Jay Hernandez, Johnathon Schaech, Columbus Short, Rade Serbedzija; Cinematographer: Ken Seng; Production designer: Jon Gary Steele; Editor: Elliot Greenberg.

Plot: A downtown apartment is locked down by the authorities after the outbreak of a horrifying disease, and there is no escape: residents, TV crew, firemen and police are all trapped inside, without knowing why, for how long, or if anyone will even survive.

  • Autor: Geraldine Blecker
    E-Mail: GeraldineFBTV@aol.com
    Abfassungsdatum: 08.12. 2008
    Photo: © Sony Pictures Releasing
    Verwertung: Weltexpress
    All rights to the author
    Quelle: www.weltexpress.info
    Update: Berlin, 08.12. 2008

Woody Allen Renaissance?

VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA (USA/Spain 2008)

Frankfurt am Main (Weltexpress) - After turning his back on New York, at least cinematically-speaking, Woody Allen has now moved from rainy Britain to sunny Spain in his European, movie-making tour. And it is here in Barcelona where he has set his best comedy for a very long time, the charming, light-hearted romance VICKY CHRISTINA BARCELONA.

The two young Americans Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) are spending a summer together in Barcelona. While the freshly affianced Vicky, a student of architecture, plans to savor her last pre-nuptial holiday while working on her thesis on Gaudi and Catalan culture, the more adventurous Cristina has more or less just come along for the ride. Vicky is even-tempered, sensible, settled, where Cristina is impulsive, temperamental; she craves excitement, passion, and thrives on chaos. And she gets it, too, when handsome, sexy painter Jose Antonio (Javier Bardem) approaches them in a restaurant and spontaneously invites the two women to fly with him in his private plane and spend a pleasant weekend in Oviedo - a manage a trois not excluded. Vicky is shocked, while Cristina is fascinated, but despite Vicky`s initial refusal, they accept the offer, and this is where the movie really begins. The story follows their collective and individual paths and how they deal with this new, turbulent element in their lives. For Jose Antonio leaves no one unchanged.

Woody Allen, now in his 70s, has composed a story of youth, but from the perspective of maturity, offering clear insights with the lightest touch. This latest work is very different from his last three England-based films, which may well lie in the fact that the cult director of CASSANDRA`S DREAM, SCOOP and the celebrated MATCH POINT sought to deny his New York roots and adopt a "typically British" style. But with VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA, he has not even tried to emulate the style of his Spanish peers, but has rather taken the role of an observer. As its title already suggests, Barcelona itself is one of the film`s main protagonists and Allen presents it and its people with a visitor`s detachment, thus creating a picturesque view of the city, at once romantic, dreamlike and delightfully naive.

Although his very clever dialog unfortunately loses much of its wit and charm in translation, the fine performances of its cast are clear in every language. Apart from Oscar-winner Javier Bardem, who displays new shades of humor and romantic appeal, and Scarlett Johannson, as competent and attractive as ever, special accolades must go to Penelope Cruz and Rebecca Hall. As Antonio`s tempestuous, neurotic ex-wife Maria Elena, as well as being gorgeous, Cruz is wonderfully funny; while Hall, still relatively unknown, plays Vicky with rare maturity and great insight.

There is no great depth. The story is simplicity itself, but somehow works and is very satisfying. Could it represent a renaissance for Woody Allen`s writing and directing career?

Premiered at this year`s Cannes Film Festival, the movie was made for an estimated $15.5 million. It has already grossed more than $50 million at the box office since its US release last August and is still due to open in some territories.

VICKY CHRISTINA BARCELONA (USA/Spain 2008); Genre: Romantic comedy-drama; Rated: PG-13, Running time: 96 minutes; US distributor: The Weinstein Company; US Release date: 15.8.08; German distributor: Concorde Filmverleih; German release date: 4.12.08; Director/Writer: Woody Allen; Main cast: Javier Bardem, Scarlett Johansson, Rebecca Hall, Penelope Cruz; Cinematographer: Javier Aguirresarobe; Production designer: Alain Bainee; Editor: Alisa Lepselter.

Plot summary: Two American girlfriends spend a summer holiday together in Barcelona where they both become involved with a passionate painter, all unknowing that his neurotic ex-wife, is about to take the stage.

  • Autor: Geraldine Blecker
    E-Mail: GeraldineFBTV@aol.com
    Abfassungsdatum: 05.12. 2008
    Photo: © Concorde Filmverleih
    Verwertung: Weltexpress
    All rights to the author
    Quelle: www.weltexpress.info
    Update: Berlin, 05.12. 2008

Mindless Violence on the Racetrack

DEATH RACE (US, 2008)

Los Angeles (Weltexpress) - Many wonder why the studios insist on churning out so many remakes. The answer is simple: they own the rights. And despite the fact that remakes are always a bit risky - for only very few stand up to the quality of their predecessors to which they are invariably compared - they can, if properly marketed, capitalize on the success, fan-base and cult status of the original.

This is obviously what the production companies (Cruise/Wager, Impact Pictures and Relativity Media, among them), together with distributor Universal had in mind when they let director/screenwriter/producer Paul W.S. Anderson (RESIDENT EVIL, ALIEN vs. PREDATOR) eviscerate the already trashy DEATH RACE 2000.

Already cheap and mindless, Roger Corman`s 1975 work, featuring a very young Sylvester Stallone as one of the leads, at least had some wry political satire to commend it. But its one-man-band director - in best Rodriguez tradition - has seen fit to substitute this with more speed, more gore, lots of nauseating, un-steady-cam cinematography and hysterical editing, accompanied by abysmal dialogue.

In the not too distant future, when financial markets have collapsed (sound familiar?) and society as we know it has broken down, the chief source of entertainment for the suffering masses is the murderous "Death Race", a sort of vehicular SAW meets ROLLERBALL, where prison inmates compete against each other in a 3-day life or death event. When long-hailed champion, the masked driver Frankenstein, is killed by an opponent, unscrupulous prison warden Hennessey (Joan Allen) fears that the race might lose its allure. Thus, it is most timely when former racing champion Jensen Ames (Jason Statham), is (wrongly) convicted of murdering his wife and given over into Hennessey`s custody. She makes it clear that if he wants to win his freedom, he will enter the race, don Frankenstein`s mask and keep the legend alive. But before long, the racing driver realizes that his life is threatened by more than just his opponents on the track.

Apart from its brainlessness, the movie`s brutality and gore make it hard to stomach were it not for the surprising quality of its ensemble cast. Jason Statham, (TRANSPORTER franchise, CRANK, and BANK JOB), demonstrates once again that he is one of the coolest contemporary action heroes on the screen. Oscar-winner Joan Allen, together with Tyrese Gibson, and the brilliant Ian McShane elevate the film to something almost resembling entertainment; making the best of the absurd dialogue until it is almost watchable.

Made for an undeclared budget, at time of writing DEATH RACE has grossed just under $66 million worldwide; over half of that in the US since its release there on October 10, 2008. It has only just come out is some major foreign territories, so box office numbers are still coming in.

Unless you`re into mindless action or a hardcore splatter fan, my advice is to save the price of a movie ticket and wait for the game to come out on Play Station. Then you can enjoy your own death race in the comfort of your own home.

DEATH RACE (US 2008); Genre: Action; Running time: 104 minutes; Rated R; Distributor: Universal Pictures International: US release date: August 22, 2008; German release date: November 27, 2008: Director/Writer: Paul W.S. Anderson (screenplay/screen-story), Writers: Robert Thom, Charles Griffith (1975 screenplay Death Race 2000), Ib Melchior (1975 story Death Race 2000); Main cast: Jason Statham, Ian McShane, Tyrese Gibson, Joan Allen; Cinematographer: Scott Kevan; Composer: Paul Haslinger: Production designer: Paul Denham Austerberry; Editor: Niven Howie.

Summary: Falsely convicted of murder, former racing champion Jensen Ames is sent to the notorious prison island, whose unscrupulous warden forces him to compete in the savage Death Race.

  • Autor: Geraldine Blecker
    E-Mail: GeraldineFBTV@aol.com
    Abfassungsdatum: 04.12. 2008
    Photo: © Courtesy of Universal Pictures International
    Verwertung: Weltexpress
    All rights to the author
    Quelle: www.weltexpress.info
    Update: Berlin, 04.12. 2008

Superficiality in Depth

HOW TO LOSE FRIENDS & ALIENATE PEOPLE (UK, 2008)

 

Los Angeles (Weltexpress) - Loosely based on true events that were apparently far more outrageous than even this film could portray, HOW TO LOSE FRIENDS & ALIENATE PEOPLE tells of the rise and fall of Sidney Young - a pseudonym for the real-life Toby Young, co-editor of alternative Brit magazine MODERN REVIEW - and his disastrous stint as a writer for VANITY FAIR.

Cynical intellectual Sidney Young (Simon Pegg) both admires and resents the star-studded world of glamor, fame and fortune at one and the same time, and heaps scorn and ridicule upon it in his satirical magazine. Thus, when renowned editor Clayton Harding (Jeff Bridges) of the conservative, glossy publication „Sharp Magazine“ suddenly makes him an offer to join the staff in New York, he is somewhat overwhelmed. Especially as the job offer follows in the wake of an embarrassing (to anyone else) episode, where he spectacularly wrecks a glamorous society event.

His very first day on the job - he turns up in a bright red T-shirt featuring the slogan „Young, Dumb & Full of Come“ in large letters - presages his swift descent. His acerbic wit, bizarre sense of humour and over-fondness for practical jokes does not encourage popularity. Neither is he skilled at flattery and brown-nosing, for he despises the very celebrities he is supposed to immortalize, and in record time is shunned by all and sundry.

Well, not quite all. One of his colleagues can just about stomach him and that`s Alison Olsen (Kirsten Dunst), herself involved in an unhappy love affair with highly objectionable editor Lawrence Maddox (Danny Huston), Sidney`s immediate superior, whom he manages to antagonize from the get-go. But Sidney hardly notices Alison anyway, for he is deeply in-lust with luscious starlet Sophie Maes (Megan Fox). And this is unfortunate, for he has also managed to nauseate Sophie`s powerful publicist Eleanor Johnson (Gillian Anderson).

Thus, the romantic element is introduced to the mix and sadly dilutes the movie`s key strength, which lies in disemboweling celebrities and the cult that has grown up around them. It is a paradox that a film which plumbs new depths of Hollywood superficiality should succumb to that self same trait.

SHAUN OF THE DEAD`s Simon Pegg must be the most unlikely lead in a romantic comedy, although this is, in fact, his second, and he launches himself with great gusto into amorous clinches with both Kirsten Dunst and the foxy Megan Fox - both of whom put in good comic performances, especially the latter who is featured as the lead in a hilarious spoof-trailer for a bio-epic of Mother Theresa. But Pegg`s major quality for this particular role has got to be his apparent lack of self-consciousness. For Sidney makes a perfect fool of himself at every opportunity. Danny Huston as the slimy Maddox is contemptibly convincing and both Jeff Bridges and Gillian Anderson put in solid performances, despite too little screen time.

Although the names have obviously been changed to protect the innocent along with the guilty and a lot of Toby/Sidney`s wilder exploits have been toned down to at least achieve an R-rating, many of his more shameless stunts are actually true. He did, indeed, send a strip telegram to the office on „Bring Your Daughter to Work Day“. He scorned editorial deadlines, puked all over people, crashed and destroyed glittering social events, was accused of libel, made disgusting story suggestions, and ended up being spurned by America`s most illustrious publicists, before embarking on a disastrous career as a Hollywood screenwriter. Now at age 45, Toby Young is back in Britain and said to have settled down.

Although the film has only grossed just over USD 11 million in the US and UK since its release in both territories on October 3, I found it very funny indeed and hope it does better abroad. As a comedian friend of mine is fond of saying, should all matters of race and religion ever be resolved, then taste - and especially humor - would still divide us.

HOW TO LOSE FRIENDS & ALIENATE PEOPLE (German title: NEW YORK FÜR ANFÄNGER); Genre: Romantic-comedy; Running time: 110 minutes; Rated R (for language, some nudity and brief drug material); US Distributor: MGM; US/UK release date: October 3, 2008; German distributor: Concorde Filmverleih; German release date: November 27, 2008; Director: Robert B. Weide; Writer: Peter Straughan (screenplay), Toby Young (book); Main cast: Simon Pegg, Megan Fox, Jeff Bridges, Kirsten Dunst; Cinematographer: Oliver Stapleton; Composer- David Arnold; Production designer: John Beard; Editor: David Freeman.

Summary: Based on the outrageous memoirs of Toby Young, who ventured to New York to work for Vanity Fair and turned the celebrity world upside down.

  • Autor: Geraldine Blecker
    E-Mail: GeraldineFBTV@aol.com
    Abfassungsdatum: 24.11. 2008
    Photo: © MGM/Concorde Filmverleih
    Verwertung: Weltexpress
    All rights to the author
    Quelle: www.weltexpress.info
    Update: Berlin, 24.11. 2008

"W."

”Misunderestimated” - The Life and Times of George Walker Bush

I find it remarkable that, as opposed to his former presidential works such as JFK or NIXON, Oliver Stone’s fascinating biography on the life and times of George Walker Bush should actually be on US screens while the man himself is still in office.

Written by Stanley Weiser, the story of the poor little rich boy’s decadent youth and tormented coming of age, culminating in his ascent to the mightiest office in the land, might generate more sympathy had it not had such devastating consequences. Though hardly detached - “W” is sardonic in nature and clearly not impressed with the deeds and administration of the 43rd president - this document of “a life misunderestimated” gives cause to ponder.

After drafting the famous “axis of evil” speech, the flashes back to a young George W. being put through his fraternity paces at Yale and then trying to hold down a succession of jobs in Texas. “If I remember correctly, you didn’t like the sporting good store. Working for the investment firm wasn’t for you either, or the oil rig job,” says his long-suffering father, who constantly has to bail him out of trouble and whom he disappoints time and time again, sullying the family name.

“Who do you think you are, a Kennedy?” chides his dad, after extricating him from the consequences of some drunken escapade for the umpteenth time. But then comes the turning point at about 40, when he is born again and meets his future wife, Laura (convincingly played by Elizabeth Banks), who brings warmth and tenderness into his life and gives him some stability.

That the film is effective and believable owes much to Josh Brolin’s superb portrayal of George W. - perfect in every detail right down to the swagger. (There’s an Oscar nomination here, if I’m any judge). He brings sincerity to the role and you believe it as much as he does when he says, “All I want to do is make it a better and safer world.” Be that as it may, Junior is clearly unequal to the task of commander-in-chief, naïve and susceptible to manipulation - for he owes his position only to Karl Rove’ machinations and the influence of his family.

The rest of the cast are not only highly talented but look remarkably like the famous personalities they portray: Richard Dreyfuss as a devious Dick Cheney, Scott Glenn as a self-assured Donald Rumsfeld. Likewise Ellen Burstyn’s Barbara Bush and Thandie Newton’s Condoleezza Rice are pretty much on the mark. Not forgetting Toby Jones as the Machiavellian Karl Rove and Jeffrey Wright’s portrayal of Colin Powell: a man conflicted by his conscience and his sense of loyalty. Much of the film’s drama is provided by the clash between the slick cabinet schemers and a president way out of his depth.

But it is the relationship between two presidents - father and son - that moulds the man and his story. “You disappoint me, Junior”, says his remote, upper-class father, (played by James Cromwell) time and time again. And W’s attempt to prove himself and win his family’s esteem is the driving force of his life. “I’ll never get out of Papa’s shadow!”

Premiered at the Austin Film Festival, “W” has just about managed to recoup its estimated budget of approx. $25 million in the US since its release there on October 17, 2008. Apart from the UK, where it was released on Nov. 7, it is yet to screen in most major foreign territories.

“W” (USA, 2008), Genre: political biography; Running time: 129 minutes; Distributor: Lionsgate Film; US release date: October 17, 2008; Rated PG-13 (for language, sexual references, alcohol abuse, smoking and brief, disturbing images of warfare); Director: Oliver Stone; Writer: Stanley Weiser; Main cast: Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Banks, Ellen Bursytn, James Cromwell, Richard Dreyfuss, Scott Glenn, Toby Joes, Stacy Keach, Jeffrew Wright, Thandie Newton; Cinematographer: Phedon Paramichael; Composer: Paul Cantelon; Production designer: Derek R. Hill; Editor: Julie Monroe

Summary: A chronicle of the early years of George W. Bush and his journey to the White House.

N:Zone: A fresh spin, Published: November 19, 2008

Who Can You Trust?

BODY OF LIES (USA 2008)
 
Los Angeles (Weltexpress) - This is Ridley Scott`s fourth film since GLADIATOR starring Russell Crowe - the fifth is already in pre-production - and once more proves why the Australian actor is the Oscar-winning director`s first pick; an actor with the rare gift of submerging himself completely in a character. But the movie`s real star is unquestionably Leonardo DiCaprio, who plays CIA agent Roger Ferris, on the ground in the Near East, hunting down a new terrorist cell led by the elusive Al-Saleem, whose bombings have created fear and carnage in Europe. A sympathetic character, Ferris speaks fluent Arabic, identifies with the culture and, although prepared to kill when the situation demands, which is often, he is still a man of honor and sensitivity.

While Ferris constantly exposes himself to ever-escalating danger, his unscrupulous handler Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe), controls operations from the comfort and security of his Washington home. His morality as flabby as his waistline - Crowe put on 50 pounds for the role - he is complacent, ruthless, arrogant, treacherous and more self-assured than he has any right to be. And because he is running things from a distance with no clear perception of what is actually going on, he continually interferes and obstructs Ferris, who is in the thick of it, putting him and his colleagues in danger and totally insensible to the damage he`s causing.

A brilliant plan to finally capture Al-Saleem and put him out of commission seems destined to succeed. But first Ferris must decide just whom he can trust. For in this ruthless and amorally covert world, trust is as essential as it is impossible.

BODY OF LIES is one of a series of similar contemporary political thrillers, such as SYRIANA or RENDITION dealing with the fundamental misunderstandings between Christianity and Islam. Even Scott`s KINGDOM OF HEAVEN had this premise at its core. In both, he deftly and sensitively portrays that each side has its own viewpoint and justification for its deeds and that both sides are likewise infested with the power-hungry, the corrupt and the unscrupulous. That the path towards peace can only succeed with mutual understanding is the final statement of both pictures, although in BODY OF LIES this is conveyed with much more cynicism and obvious censure of US foreign policy.

Based on the novel of the same name by David Ignatius, DEPARTED screenwriter William Monahan has created an exciting and intelligent screenplay, which Ridley Scott has transmuted to the screen with all the superb imagery and sense of urgency of BLACK HAWK DOWN, together with the look and feel of all-pervading EAGLE EYE observation, where satellite surveillance technology can close in on anyone, anywhere, any time.

In this very compact and absorbing production, which at times seems more like a TV-series than a feature film in structure, DiCaprio is in top form, establishing himself as a serious character actor, as well as a convincing action star. Although Crowe may only be playing second fiddle in comparison, he does it with his usual flair and authenticity. Together, they provide an exciting verbal duel and are a joy to watch.

But there are likewise some excellent support performances, especially from British actor Mark Strong, who plays one of the film`s best characters: Hani Salaam, head of the Jordanian Secret Service, elegant, composed, unreadable. He dominates the few scenes he is in and his conscience and refinement are in sharp contrast to the rumpled Hoffman, his American counterpart. "Don`t ever lie to me," he warns Ferris, giving the movie yet another dimension, his quiet menace emphasized by his habit of calling Ferris, "my dear".

Due to their complexity, political thrillers often have a difficult time at the box office. For they demand full attention from their audience, which is too strenuous for some. So it is hardly any wonder that BODY OF LIES, despite its star cast and spectacular production has fallen short of US expectations, where it has only grossed USD 37 million since it opened there on October 10, 2008; representing just over half of its estimated USD 70 million budget. But it is yet to open in many foreign territories, so perhaps European viewers will give it the attention it deserves. For those who like their plots unpredictable and want to walk out of the cinema with something to think about, BODY OF LIES is a must-see.

BODY OF LIES; (USA 2008); Genre: political-drama; Running time: 128 minutes; Distributor: Warner Bros.; US release date: October 10, 2008; MPAA rating: R (for strong violence, including some torture, and language throughout); German title: DER MAN DER NIEMLAS LEBTE, German release date: November 20,2008; Director: Ridley Scott; Screenplay: William Monahan, based on the novel by David Ignatius; Main cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe, Mark Strong, Golshifteh Farahani; Cinematographer: Alexander Witt; Composer: Marc Streitenfeld; Production designer: Arthur Max; Editor: Pietro Scalia.

  • Autor: Geraldine Blecker
    E-Mail: geraldine.blecker@weltexpress.info
    Abfassungsdatum: 17.11. 2008
    Photo: © Warner Bros.
    Verwertung: Weltexpress
    All rights to the author
    Quelle: www.weltexpress.info
    Update: Berlin, 17.11. 2008.

Advice to the Lovelorn

 THE ACCIDENTAL HUSBAND (USA, 2008)

Los Angeles (Weltexpress) - Starring Uma Thurman, Colin Firth and Jeffrey Dean Morgan, THE ACCIDENTAL HUSBAND, directed by actor/director/producer Griffin Dunne, is a poor comedy romance at best. First-time writing trio of Mimi Hare, Clare Naylor, and Bonnie Sikowitz are hard put to conjure up any wit or even a decent titter. The somewhat contrived plot might even have worked had there been any spark of chemistry between the players, but alas, this was not to be.

Dr. Emma Lloyd (Thurman), a radio love guru, is all set to marry her stolid, boring, singularly emotionless fiance Richard (Firth). Confidently churning out her advice to the lovelorn on her phone-in show, she inadvertently ruins the love life of soon-to-be-wed, New York fire-fighter Patrick (Morgan), whose fiance virtually leaves him at the altar. Bent on revenge, he gets his computer-savvy buddy to generate a forged marriage certificate and, without any more ado, he and Dr. Emma are legally hitched. Emma only discovers the "mistake" when she and Richard apply for their marriage license. So she immediately sets out to track down her mysterious "accidental husband" and rectify the misunderstanding by obtaining an annulment.

Needless to say, there is some immediate attraction and the doctor soon notices the differences between her legal husband and her long-suffering fiance, leading her to question her own values. While the former, although none too bright, is a handsome, bighearted guy full of fun and humor, the latter is very much a stuffed shirt and doesn`t even put up much of a battle to win his lady fair.

The plot soon takes its inevitable course and the movie rapidly goes downhill from its interesting premise. This is largely due to the tepid performances from its leads, especially Uma Thurman; visual comedy is definitely not her forte. Colin Firth as the up-his-own-arse, lukewarm English lover gives it his best shot, but doesn`t have very much to work with. The same could be said of Jeffrey Dean Morgan, although his star appeal is undeniable (so I thought when I saw him in GREY`S ANATOMY) - “ we`ll be seeing lots more of him in the future, mark my words.

The total lack of chemistry between the lead characters, combined with the uninspired screenplay which substitutes ineffectual slapstick for any snappy dialogue, pretty well makes this movie a waste of time: And money, of course. Although I could not access any data on the production budget, I assume it was not insignificant (say about USD 30 million).

The picture`s only saving grace to my way of thinking was the Bollywood element. Fireman Patrick lives above an Indian restaurant, a situation which provides some amusement, interesting ethnic music and colorful footage (especially an Indian wedding).

THE ACCIDENTAL HUSBAND, (German title: Zufällig Verheiratet), USA 2008; Genre: Comedy-romance; US Distributor: Yari Film Releasing; US Release date: March 27, 2009; German distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures; German release date: November 13, 2008; Director: Griffin Dunne; Writers: Mimi Hare, Clare Naylor, Bonnie Sikowitz; Main cast: Uma Thurman, Colin Firth, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Sam Shepard, Lindsay Sloane; Cinematographer: William Rexer II; Composer: Andrea Guerra; Production designer: Mark Ricker; Editor: Suzy Elmiger.

Plot Summary: Dr. Emma Lloyd`s radio advice to the lovelorn comes back to bite her in the ass. Her forthcoming wedding to stolid fiance Richard is put in jeopardy when she discovers that she is already married. Obviously a misunderstanding. She sets out to discover the identity of her accidental husband to remedy the situation, which leads to her questioning her own life, love, and values.

  • Autor: Geraldine Blecker
    E-Mail: GeraldineFBTV@aol.com
    Abfassungsdatum: 08.11. 2008
    Photo: © Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
    Verwertung: Weltexpress
    All rights to the author
    Quelle: www.weltexpress.info
    Update: Berlin, 08.11. 2008.

29th American Film Market

The world`s largest event of its kind, each year more than 8,000 industry professionals from more than 70 countries gather in Santa Monica for 8 days of deal-making, screenings, seminars, premieres, networking and parties.

Santa Monica (Weltexpress) - From big budget studio blockbusters to low budget art and independent productions, more than 500 films in 35 languages will be screened during the 29th American Film Market (AFM) taking place from Nov 5 to 12 at the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel and Le Merigot Beach hotel in sunny Santa Monica, California.

As opposed to a film festival, the AFM - founded in 1981 by the Independent Film and TV Alliance (IFTA) - is a marketplace where production and distribution deals are made. Last year, for example, more than USD 800 million worth of deals were concluded for both completed motion pictures and those still in the development or pre-production phase.

The world`s largest event of its kind, each year more than 8,000 industry professionals from more than 70 countries, including more than 400 production and distribution companies exhibiting their wares, gather in Santa Monica for 8 days of deal-making, screenings, seminars, premieres, networking and parties.

Some of the 527 films, including 102 world and 375 market premieres scheduled for the 8 day event include world premieres of such Academy Award winning stars such as Morgan Freeman and Christopher Walken, THE MAIDEN HEIST, Timothy Hutton THE KILLING ROOM and Forest Whitaker ,POWDER BLUE. Other world premieres include BABY ON BOARD with Lara Flynn Boyle, John Corbett and Heather Graham; EVIL ANGEL with Ving Rhames; HIGH LIFE starring Timothy Olyphant, LA LINEA featuring Armand Assante, Bruce Davison, Andy Garcia and Ray Liotta; THE LEGEND OF SECRET PASS, a lavish animation featuring the voices of Graham Greene, Frankie Muniz and Joe Pantoliano; NOTHING LIKE THE HOLIDAYS starring Luis Guizman, John Leguizamo, Debra Messing and Alfred Molina; RUN FOR HER LIFE featuring Rosanna Arquette, Diane Kruger, and Sam Shepard; TENURE starring Gretchen Mol and Luke Wilson; THE HEAVY starring Stephen Rea; THE LEAST OF THESE starring Robert Loggia and Isiah Washington; and many, many more, never mind the 375 market premieres.

For the fifth year running, the AFM can boast full capacity, having sold out all exhibition space at both hotel venues. According to IFTA chairman Lloyd Kaufman, who described the AFM as the "ground zero for innovation and independent thought," attendance has reached an all-time high with a rising trend in non-English-language productions with particular regard to Asian films, going on to predict a significant rise in East European productions.

AFM festival partner AFI FEST 2008 (sponsored by Audi) is likewise taking place from Oct. 30 to Nov. 9. Together, the two events represent the largest gathering of film industry professionals and the only combined film market and festival in North America.

  • Autor: Geraldine Blecker
    E-Mail: GeraldineFBTV@aol.com
    Abfassungsdatum: 06.11. 2008
    Verwertung: Weltexpress
    All rights to the author
    Quelle: www.weltexpress.info
    Update: Berlin, 06.11. 2008

Dog Eat Dog in a World Gone Blind

BLINDNESS (Canada/Brazil/USA, 2008)

New York (Weltexpress) - It always surprises me to read that an "un-filmable novel" has just been filmed. If it`s un-filmable, why do it? But be that as it may, BLINDNESS is such a project and certainly no one can argue with its pedigree. Based on the novel written in the mid-1990s by Portuguese author Jose Saramago, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, and directed by Fernando Meirelles (THE CONSTANT GARDENER), who won Academy Award for Best Director in 2004 for CITY OF GOD, BLINDNESS is as close to the book as a movie can get. It is also highly disturbing as only a story can be that revolves around man`s inhumanity to man.

As its title suggests, it is all about blindness: for no apparent reason, people suddenly start going blind: starting off with a man who stalls his car in traffic because he can`t see to drive. Shortly thereafter his wife is infected and then his eye doctor (MARK RUFFALO) and then just about everybody else. Vehicles collide, the city`s infrastructure collapses, society breaks down, people wandering the streets, helpless like sightless zombies. And because it seems to be a new kind of contagion, the as-yet-uninfected quarantine the sightless in the empty wings of an abandoned hospital. Under armed guard food is delivered, but otherwise the blind, in ever-growing numbers, are left to fend for themselves.

Apart from the aforementioned ophthalmologist, the major group in Ward 1 includes an Asian couple (Yusuke Iseya and Yoshino Kimura), an elderly black man (Danny Glover), a young woman (Alice Braga), a boy (Mitchell Nye) and a dog (unnamed), as well as the only person who can still see. This is the doctor`s wife, (played by Julianne Moore) who, out of devotion or duty, has accompanied her husband into captivity and never reveals the fact that she can see. Conditions are squalid, over-crowded, and desperate. But very soon biology comes to the fore. Self-appointed leader of all-male Ward 3, (played very menacingly by Gael Garcia Bernal) gets hold of a weapon and uses it to take control. Purloining all the food, he trades it to Ward 1 in exchange for valuables and sex with the female inmates.

Shot for an estimated USD 25 million, mostly on location in Brazil and Uruguay, while the urban scenes were filmed in Ontario. - Toronto always a good bet as an anonymous cityscape - it opened the 2008 Cannes Film Festival, and was likewise shown at such international film festivals as Toronto, Rio de Janeiro, Sarajevo, Helsinki, and the Atlantic Film Festival, to mixed reviews.

Bleak and depressing, the film would have benefited by being more compact. It runs for a full 2 hours and many scenes drag on for far too long. Much of it is shot in very low light, obviously to more clearly convey the concept of sightlessness to the viewer, while other scenes are shown from the perspective of the Doctor`s Wife. As the only one who can see - why this should be, we never discover - she gradually assumes responsibility for her small group and becomes its leader, finding reserves of inner strength to ultimately lead them out of the nightmare and into salvation.

I found BLINDNESS very distressing, but thought-provoking, too, and must admit that once out of the movie theatre, everything seemed much more bright and vivid.

BLINDNESS (2008) (German title: DIE STADT DER BLINDEN), Running time: 120 minutes; Rated R (for violence including sexual assaults, language and sexuality/nudity); US Distributor: Miramax Films, German distributor: Kinowelt Filmverleih GmbH, US release date: October 3, 2008, German release: October 23, 2008; Director: Fernando Meirelles; Screenplay: Don McKellar, based on the novel ENSAIO SOBRE A CEGUEIRA by Jose Saramago; Main cast: Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Alice Braga. Maury Chaykin, Danny Glover, Gael Garcia Bernal, Don McKellar; Cinematographer: Cesar Charlone; Composer: Uakti; Production designer: Matthew Davies, Tule Peak; Editor: Daniel Rezende.

Plot Summary: An unexplained outbreak of instant blindness overcomes the city. Attempting to contain the epidemic, the authorities begin to quarantine the ever-growing numbers of afflicted in an abandoned hospital, virtually leaving them to fend for themselves. In squalor and deprivation, the microcosm soon breaks down in greed and savagery, the strong preying on the weak. There is only one eyewitness, a woman immune to the contagion has followed her husband into quarantine and is forced to watch the nightmare unfold.

  • Autor: Geraldine Blecker
    E-Mail: GeraldineFBTV@aol.com
    Abfassungsdatum: 29.10. 2008
    Photo: © Miramix Films
    Verwertung: Weltexpress
    All rights to the author
    Quelle: www.weltexpress.info
    Update: Berlin, 29.10. 2008

Alright, All White and Out of Sight...

High School Musical 3 - Senior Year

New York (Weltexpress) - Not exactly true, as there are indeed a few token African Americans attending Northeast High, Disney`s fairytale high school in Albuquerque, where the senior year`s biggest problem would appear to be deciding which illustrious college to attend. Inundated with scholarship offers from Harvard to Berkley, from Yale to Stanford - with Julliard thrown in for good measure - teen life in New Mexico seems fraught with hardship. Not to mention the relationship problems for our two leads, Troy Bolton (Zac Efron) and Gabrielle Montez (Vanessa Hudges), who seem destined to go their separate ways; after one last spring musical to round off the year and provide a lasting souvenir of their carefree schooldays to accompany them on the hazardous road to adulthood.

And that is the storyline, my friends, interspersed with some standard intrigues and gut-wrenching moments of indecision: will Troy choose to be a basketball star at a top Arizona University, or train to be an artist at Julliard? Will Sharpay Evans (Ashley Tisdale) take over the leading role in the last musical and manage to win Troy`s affections once Gabriella is out of the way? No doubt burning issues all, if you`re a teen, but still pretty weak, even by teen-drama standards.

Well, I`m too old and cynical to go for that kind of naive, antiseptic hogwash - especially when the US is in the midst of financial meltdown and the middle class is getting throttled, with many even forced to sell their homes. But there`s nothing like a bit of light relief and escapism is always popular in times of war and economic crisis - the US currently having to contend with both - and, let`s face it, this is a kids` film and Disney is master of the genre.

Disney`s genius for crossover marketing was shown by the amazing success of the Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: BEST OF BOTH WORLDS 3-D concert release earlier this year, grossing over USD 65 million in the domestic market alone, although it never played in more than 687 theaters. HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL 3 is likely to do even better, if its TV fan-base is anything to go by. The third of the series, as its name implies, was a foregone conclusion for the big screen. Its two predecessors were enjoyed by more than a quarter of a million TV viewers in more than one hundred countries throughout the world. DVDs and soundtrack CDs sold by the millions, (the CD sold more than 15 million) supported by live shows in Disney`s theme parks of Anaheim, Orlando, and Paris.

I have it on good authority that the main difference between No. 3 and its two TV predecessors (which I never saw) is the budget. Every penny of the estimated USD 33 million is visible on the screen (as opposed to PINEAPPLE EXPRESS which didn`t cost that much less). Chief choreographer and series director Kenny Ortega`s musical sequences are more than spectacular, as are both set and costume design. From the Wildcats` opening number on the basketball court GET`CHA HEAD IN THE GAME to Sharpay and twin brother Ryan`s (Lucas Grabeel) glossy Broadway dream sequence I WANT IT ALL, to the movie`s mandatory big ballad JUST WANNA BE WITH YOU performed by Troy and Gabriella, to the extraordinary choreography of Troy and Chad`s (Corbin Bleu) junkyard-set duet THE BOYS ARE BACK, reminiscent of mid-80s Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson video clips, and set to be the major hit from the soundtrack. A single version performed by the cult boy band US5 is currently on release.

All music accolades appear to have gone to composer David Lawrence and music supervisor Steven Vincent, the winning team from High School Musical 1 and 2. But the songs themselves, without which there would be no high school musical at all, are, without exception, catchy, melodic, well performed, finely-arranged and well produced. Although the songwriters have hardly received the recognition they deserve - they are not mentioned on any PR material of any kind. In fact, I had to do some extensive internet research just to find out their names - both rumor and common sense have it that songwriters Matthew Gerrard and Robbie Nevil (responsible for most of the tracks), Jamie Houston, Andy Dodd and Adam Watts are crying all the way to the bank. According to director/choreographer Ortega, "The songwriters have turned out a soundtrack that I think is the best of all. It serves the story. It serves the characters. It`s dynamic, rhythmic, romantic, funny, orchestral, symphonic and choral. It gets as big as it can and as intimate as it can and everything in between."

So, all that being said, what did I think of HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL 3? Storyline, PG-13 humor and extreme political correctness aside, I was knocked out and thought the songs and dance numbers were terrific. I left the movie theater thinking: say what you will about the US of A, nowhere else in the world will you find such astonishing all-round talent, energy, and optimism. And if it does all seem like a clone of parts 1 and 2, so what? I`ll probably be buying the CD.

HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL 3 - SENIOR YEAR, (USA 2008), Genre: Youth musical: Running time: 190 minutes: Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures; US Release date: October 24, 2008; German release date: October 23, 2008; Director/choreographer: Kenny Ortega; Writer: Peter Barsocchini; Composer: David Lawrence; Main cast: Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, Corbin Bleu, Ashley Tisdale, Lucas Grabeel, Monique Coleman, Olesya Rulin, Chris Warren Jr.; Cinematographer: Daniel Aranyo; Production designer: Mark Hofeling; Editor: Don Brochu

Plot summary: High school seniors Troy and Gabriella are facing the prospect of separation as they head off to different colleges. Along with the rest of the Wildcats, they stage a spring musical reflecting their hopes, dreams and fears of the future.

  • Autor: Geraldine Blecker
    E-Mail: GeraldineFBTV@aol.com
    Abfassungsdatum: 23.10. 2008
    Photo: © Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
    Verwertung: Weltexpress
    All rights to the author
    Quelle: www.weltexpress.info
    Update: Berlin, 23.10. 2008

Stoned and on the run ... Pineapple Express (USA 2008)

New York (Weltexpress) - No, PINEAPPLE EXPRESS is not a fast train, but an especially potent variety of Hawaiian weed, guaranteed to really get you out there.

Arthouse director David Gordon Green (GEORGE WASHINHGTON, SNOW ANGEL) joins producer Judd Apatow (FREAKS AND GEEKS, KNOCKED UP, SUPERBAD) and his writing team of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, for this spaced-out, comedy-adventure, somewhat reminiscent of the Cheech & Chong movies of the 1970s.

Dale Denton (Rogen) is not exactly the most popular guy in town. He works as a bailiff or process-server and needs a regular toke just to get him through the day. So he often stops off to do a bit of business with his permanently-stoned dealer, Saul (hysterically played by Spider Man co-star James Franco). On one such day, Saul introduces him to a brand new type of weed: Pineapple Express, which takes Dale on the kind of trip he never bargained for.

Musing on the ironies of life in his parked automobile, Dale is unwilling witness to a murder as local drug boss Ted (Gary Cole) and his partner-in-crime, bent female cop (played by Rosie Perez), eliminate the competition. In horror, Dale flings his half-smoked joint out the window and takes off. But Pineapple Express is a rare strain indeed, and the evil-doers manage to trace the roach back to Saul and, eventually, back to Dale himself, which inspires them both to beat a hasty retreat. On the road, trying to keep one step ahead of their pursuers, they encounter a series of bizarre situations and characters.

Most of the comedy revolves around the pair`s stoned ramblings - some of which are uproariously funny - and their scuffles with Saul`s very off-beat dealer Red (Danny McBride, also in TROPIC THUNDER), responsible for ratting them out in the first place. Green handles the scenes of male bonding between the three with a natural sensitivity that gives the movie its charm. Rogen has found his niche and his performance is true to form, but the real surprise is James Franco, who has a true flair for comedy. Even the slapstick moments have an authentic feel, although the action sequences do not work nearly as well, making the film often seem choppy and uneven.

All in all, a good little, independent comedy, I thought, until I discovered that it was produced for an estimated USD 25 million, which, considering that there are no "stars" to speak of (apart from Huey Lewis who sings the theme song), no glossy locations, nor any costly effects, is far too high a budget for this type of film. Most of it probably went "up in smoke" (i.e. to the voyeurs and the lawyers and to cover so-called "financing costs"), but despite this and its R-rating for "language" - the F-word is used 180 times - it has generated just over USD 87 million box office revenue in the US alone since its release there in early August and looks like becoming a worthy cult-successor to SUPERBAD. Whether it will do as well in the foreign market remains to be seen.

PINEAPPLE EXPRESS (US. 2008); (German title: ANNANAS EXPRESS); Genre: comedy; Running time: 112 minutes; Worldwide distributor: Columbia/Sony Pictures Releasing International: US release date: August 6, 2008; German release date: October 23, 2008; MPAA rated R: for pervasive language, drug use, sexual references and violence; Director: David Gordon Green; Writers: Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg; Story: Judd Apatow. Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg; Main cast: Seth Rogen, James Franco, Danny McBride, Kevin Corrigan, Craig Robinson, Gary Cole, Rosie Perez; Cinematographer: Tim Orr; Music: Graeme Revell; Cinematograher: Tim Orr; Production designer: Chris Spellman; Editor: Craig Alpert

Plot Summary: Witness to a murder, Dale and Saul are stoned and on the run and soon realize that their danger is real and not just dope-generated paranoia.

  • Autor: Geraldine Blecker
    E-Mail: GeraldineFBTV@aol.com
    Abfassungsdatum: 21.10. 2008
    Photo: © Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Releasing
    Verwertung: Weltexpress
    All rights to the author
    Quelle: www.weltexpress.info
    Update: Berlin, 21.10. 2008

Hellboy 2: The Golden Army (USA 2008)

 

New York (Weltexpress) - It is rare to find a sequel better than its predecessor, but Guillermo del Toro`s HELLBOY - THE GOLDEN ARMY is just that. Delightfully unaffected, it offers up some of the most ingenious visual effects and most imaginatively-designed critters of the year.

At an estimated budget of USD 72 million, Universal can hardly complain at the more than USD 142 million it has grossed so far, already outperforming the original, which took just under USD 100 million worldwide.

Mexican writer/director/producer del Toro (HELLBOY, BLADE 2 and 3, HOT FUZZ, PAN`S LABYRINTH) is reunited with his B-class acting ensemble from the 2004 HELLBOY l (Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Doug Jones and Jeffrey Tambor) in a lavish, fast-paced, action-fantasy-adventure full of wit and humor, where nobody takes themselves too seriously. No tormented, superhero soul-searching here, just a lot of fun.

Apart from one brief allusion to past events, the movie begins in 1955 with a flashback to the little red-horned demon`s childhood, when his adoptive father Professor Brook (played by John Hurt), tells him the legend of the Golden Army. And so we, too, learn that millenia ago the original inhabitants of the earth, a mysterious elf-like folk, were at war with humanity. Led by their King Balor, they created a golden army of mechanical soldiers that wreaked havoc on mankind. Tormented by the destruction, the king called a truce with his foes - which has endured until today - and had the golden army dismantled and banished deep underground. Only the heir to the true crown can reawaken them and thus, a very dangerous item, the crown was divided into three pieces and scattered.

Returning to present-day New Jersey, where Hellboy and his "fiery" girlfriend Liz are diverted from a flammabledispute in the basement of the Bureau for Paranormal Research (BPRD, for short) by getting called out on assignment. There is trouble at an auction house in uptown New York.

Prince Nuada (Goss), exiled son of King Balor, has returned to assume power and put an end to the age-long pact by reassembling the Golden Army. Discovering that a vital piece of the crown is up for auction, he appears with some of his fantastical cohorts to retrieve it, unleashing boxes of "tooth fairies" on all those attending. They are gruesomely wiped out to a man. Even Hellboy, Liz and their amphibious buddy Abe Sapien (Jones) are hard put to fight off the nasty little creatures. But the stage is set for Hellboy and his companions to save the world from this ancient menace.

This is the fifth collaboration between director del Toro and cameraman Guillermo Navarro, who won an Oscar for Best Cinematography for his work on PAN`S LABYRINTH in 2007. The camera work is truly extraordinary, as is the entire technical package. Production design, effects and creatures are all astonishing: from the weird aliens populating the corridors of the BRPD, to the outlandish assortment of magical beings on display in the Troll Market underneath the Brooklyn Bridge, and especially the colossal plant-like being that Hellboy manages to vanquish on the streets of Manhattan.

Apart from some work done in London and New York, del Toro has opted for some interesting locations: the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland is an imposing backdrop for the final showdown, and this is also the first motion picture to be filmed at the new Korda Studios in Budapest.

Based on the Dark Horse comic created by Mike Mignola, who collaborated with del Toro on the screenplay, this movie goes one step beyond presenting a series amazing creatures, CGI effects, and action sequences. HELLBOY ll thunders along at a terrific pace, with a well-balanced plot full of humour and peril, deftly enhancing the characters and their relationships, while introducing new ones for the inevitable sequel. Underscored with music by veteran composer Danny Elfman - with one notable exception, a wonderful scene where Hellboy and Abe Sapien, both lovelorn, get drunk together and sing along to Barry Manilow’s CAN’T SMILE WITHOUT YOU.

HELBOY ll - THE GOLDEN ARMY, US. 2008; Genre: Fantasy-adventure; Running time:115 minutes; Worldwide distribution: Universal Pictures/UPI; US release date: July 11, 2008; German release date: October 16, 2008; Director: Guillermo del Toro; Writers: del Toro, Story by del Toro, Mike Mignola, based on the comic by Mignola; Main cast: Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Doug Jones, Luke Goss, Anna Walton, Jeffrey Tambor, John Hurt; Music: Danny Elfman; Cinematographer: Guillermo Navarro; Production designer: Stephen Scott; Editor: Bernat Vilaplana

  • Autor: Geraldine Blecker
    E-Mail: GeraldineFBTV@aol.com
    Abfassungsdatum: 19.10. 2008
    Foto: © Universal International Pictures (UIP)
    Verwertung: Weltexpress
    All rights to the author
    Quelle: www.weltexpress.info
    Update: Berlin, 19.10. 2008

Big Brother is Watching... Eagle Eye (USA 2008)

New York (Weltexpress) - Ridiculous would be an understatement to describe this glossy, non-stop, piece of paranoia produced for a budget of USD 105 million. But its far-fetched, intelligence-defying plot has not stopped EAGLE EYE from already raking in just under USD 56 million at the US box office since its release on Sept. 26, and actually soaring to the top of the movie charts in its opening weekend. I fear it is likely to do equally well in the international market.

Set in Chicago, Jerry (Shia LaBeouf) and Rachel (Michelle Monaghan) are your normal, everyday citizens, just minding their own business until they are suddenly ordered into action by a mysterious female caller on their cell phones. The gray eminence behind the voice seems able to control every piece of electronic gadgetry in Chicago (and probably the universe), including CCTV cameras, navigation systems, traffic lights, everybody`s cell phone and every moving piece of machinery (trains, buses, automobiles, barges, trucks, cranes, planes), you name it, the voice can manipulate - and destroy it.

And for some weird reason, this all-powerful being urgently requires the assistance of these two incompetent mortals. And will do anything in its power - which is quite a lot - to get it. This includes an astonishing amount of explosions and pyrotechnics, masses of dead and injured, loads of twisted wreckage, billions` worth of collateral damage, relentless chase sequences all over the country, in every imaginable kind of conveyance. Our two helpless protagonists summon up amazing talents from some unknown source, suddenly able to hold up an armored vehicle, secrete themselves in the oxygen-free cargo section of a military aircraft (the lack of logic behind this bit is a doozey), and infiltrate a top-secret, vaulted room in the Pentagon.

Without giving away any of the absurd storyline - which apparently took at least four writers to conceive - we discover that this omnipotent force only requires something relatively simple that Jerry can provide. One wonders why it went to so much trouble and expense when a couple of heavies could easily have abducted Jerry and bundled him off to the Pentagon without attracting any attention.

Still, EAGLE EYE is very much eye candy with masses of CGI, daring stunts and screeching chase footage, all edited together with a chain saw. Shia LaBeouf and Michelle Monaghan are little more than cartoon characters in a fast-paced video game - which will doubtless soon be on the market, if it isn`t already. (There is also an IMAX version for added viewing pleasure.) I cannot tell you how it ended, because I did not bother to wait and see.

EAGLE EYE (USA, 2008) (aka: Eagle Eye - Ausser Kontrolle); Genre: Action-Adventure; US Distributor: DreamWorks SKG; German distributor: Paramount Pictures; Running time: 117 minutes; US Release date: September 26, 2008; German release date: October 9, 2008: Rated PG 13 (for intense sequences of action and violence, and brief language); Director: D.J. Caruso; Writers; Dan McDermott, John Glenn, Travis Adam Wright and Hillary Seitz; Main cast: Shia LaBeouf, Michelle Monaghan, Rosario Dawson, Michael Chilkis, Billy Bob Thornton, Anthony Mackie, Ethan Embry; Cinematographer: Darinsz Wolski; Composer: Brian Tyler; Production designer: Tom Sanders; Editor: Jim Page

Plot summary: Two strangers are thrown together by chance and a mysterious female voice on a cell phone. This omnipotent force threatens their lives and family, coercing them into a series of dangerous situations, using everyday technology to track and control their every move and manipulate them and the world around them.

  • Autor: Geraldine Blecker
    E-Mail: GeraldineFBTV@aol.com
    Abfassungsdatum: 09.10. 2008
    Photo: © Paramount Pictures
    Verwertung: Weltexpress
    All rights to the author
    Quelle: www.weltexpress.info
    Update: Berlin, 09.10. 2008

Young at Heart - Documentary (US/UK 2007)

New York (Weltexpress) - Brit documentary filmmaker Stephen Walker follows the progress of a New England vocal group with a difference. This uplifting, but extremely low-budget documentary has grossed almost USD 4 million since its US premiere at the 2007 Los Angeles Film Festival where it won the audience award for Best International Feature.

Recruiting his 24 octogenarian singers (the youngest is 72) from a retirement home in Northampton, MA, musical director Bob Cilman, a man of endless commitment and perseverance, selects them - and their repertoire - with great care. Director Walker carefully documents the group`s rehearsals and various live performances - including one before a „captive“ audience at a local prison - leading up to a European tour and a memorable concert before the crowned heads of England.

About half music and half behind-the-scenes, YOUNG AT HEART features unique versions of such rock, punk and blues classics as Sonic Youth`s SCHIZOPHRENIA, James Brown`s I FEEL GOOD, Cold Play`s FIX YOU and Allen Toussaint`s YES WE CAN CAN, and we watch as the seniors come to grips with the complicated arrangements and remembering lyrics - especially the latter title, which I couldn`t work out for the life of me. The documentary also includes some impressive music/video clips where the lyrics to such songs such as David Bowie`s GOLDEN YEARS and Bee Gees` hit STAYIN` ALIVE take on new significance.

We meet the eldest vocalists, lively Eileen Hall and Steve Martin (not the comedian), who treat age more as a state of mind and the valiant Fred Knittle, who rehearses sitting down attached to an oxygen tank, as well as Bob Salvini and Joe Benoit, both trying to rally after serious illness and almost fatal doses of chemotherapy. Without exception, the seniors all declare that the group and its music have given them joy, purpose, and a sense of belonging. Walker documents these interludes with warmth, humor and pathos, managing to avoid excessive sentimentality, although two of the performers have passed on by the end of the film.

Cinematically-speaking, YOUNG AT HEART is far from being a masterpiece and, as it was shot on video, would probably come across equally, or even more effectively, on the small screen. But the songs are terrific, the performances courageous and YOUNG AT HEART will raise a smile as it celebrates the joys of being alive.

YOUNG AT HEART (US/UK 2007); Genre: Documentary; U.S. Distributor: Fox Searchlight; German distributor: Senator Film; Running time: 107 minutes; US Release date: August 18, 2008 (limited), German release date: October 2, 2008; Director: Stephen Walker; Featuring: Bob Cilman, Eileen Hall, Steve Martin, Fred Knittle, Joe Benoit, Bob Salvini; Cinematographer: Ed Marritz; Editor: Chris King.

Summary: A story of the Young at Heart Chorus, a group of senior citizens who perform contemporary and classic rock and pop songs.

  • Autor: Geraldine Blecker
    E-Mail: redaktion@weltexpress.info
    Abfassungsdatum: 05.10. 2008
    Photo: © Senator Film Verleih GmbH
    Verwertung: Weltexpress
    All rights to the author
    Quelle: www.weltexpress.info
    Update: Berlin, 05.10. 2008

A Comdey of Errors - Burn After Reading

Where other directors need hours to get to the point, the Coens manage it in a compact 95 minutes. Loaded with plots and subplots, sparkling wit and perceptive social commentary, BURN AFTER READING features a cast of bizarre characters cluelessly floundering their way through a series of absurd situations.

Expecting a promotion, long-time CIA veteran Osborne `Ozzie` Cox (John Malkovich) is given his marching orders by his superior (J.K.Simmons) instead. Apparently his drinking problems have not gone unnoticed. Livid with rage and hot for revenge, he sits down to write his memoirs, spiced with lots of juicy details. But a CD containing all his data finds its way into the hands of his cold and calculating, soon-to-be ex-wife Katie (Tilda Swinton), herself in the throes of an affair with her likewise married lover Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney).

Expecting to find lots of illuminating details to better evaluate her husband`s financial worth, Katie, en route to give the CD to her divorce attorney, inadvertently leaves it in the changing room of her local fitness gym. Where it is found by two of the trainers: Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt) and Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand). The former, a somewhat gormless, gum-chewing dolt, permanently strapped for cash, while the latter is an ageing spinster, desperate to recover her lost youth via a series of expensive cosmetic surgeries.

The appearance of the mysterious CD suddenly presents some interesting financial opportunities: like blackmail, for instance. But with Ozzie, they`ve chosen the wrong victim.

Mixing the elements of comedy and spy thriller with comments on such topical themes as Internet dating and fear of ageing, BURN AFTER READING is basically a comedy of errors and a greater contrast to its Oscar-crowned predecessor NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN would be hard to imagine. The script was developed at the same time as the screenplay for that film, incidentally, which went into production first due to availability issues with BURN`s star cast.

But it was certainly worth the wait. George Clooney is sensational as the smooth, lily-livered romantic hero, harbouring perverse sexual fantasies, while Brad Pitt as the dim-witted, muscle-bound jackass provides most of the comedy relief and pretty well steals the show. The two superstars only actually appear together in one scene, but it is a doozey. John Malkovich as enraged, paranoid alcoholic is a perfect contrast, while Tilda Swinton is magnificently cold and scheming. A Coen Brothers favourite since BLOOD SIMPLE, Frances McDormand`s performance as ruthless, youth-obsessed spinster is comparable to that of her Oscar-winning role in FARGO. And the smaller roles are likewise to be commended, especially J.K.Simmons as the totally mystified CIA chief, wondering what the hell is going on.

"BURN AFTER READING is our version of a Jason Bourne movie - but without the pyrotechnics," said Ethan Coen about his and brother Joel`s latest comedy, which must be their funniest since THE BIG LEBOWSKI. But there are plenty of fireworks for all that, as the chemistry between the star ensemble cast is on-screen dynamite.

Filmed mostly in New York at an undeclared budget, BURN opened the 2008 Venice Film Festival to critical acclaim and has already grossed USD 45.5 million in the States since its release there on September 12.

Bizarre characters, ridiculous situations, a totally manic yet well-conceived plot, underscored by Carter Burwell’s congenial soundtrack, all add up to a comedy highlight and an evening of first-class entertainment.

BURN AFTER READING (USA 2008); (German subtitle: WER VERBRENNT SICH HIER DIE FINGER?); Genre: Comedy; Running time: 95 minutes; US distributor: Focus Features; German distributor: TOBIS Film; US release date: September 12, 2008; German release date: October 2, 2008; Written and directed by: Ethan & Joel Coen; Main cast: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Tilda Swinton, John Malkovich, Frances McDormand; Richard Jenkins; Cinematographer: Emmanuel Lubezki; Music: Carter Burwell; Production designer: Jess Gonchor; Editor: Roderick Jaynes

Plot outline: A CD containing the memoirs of a CIA agent winds up in the hands of two unscrupulous fitness trainers who attempt to use it for blackmail.

  • Autor: Geraldine Blecker
    E-Mail: redaktion@weltexpress.info
    Abfassungsdatum: 29.09. 2008
    Verwertung: Weltexpress
    All rights to the author
    Quelle: www.weltexpress.info
    Update: Berlin, 30.09. 2008

Another dark chapter of modern German History

THE BAADER-MEINHOF COMPLEX (Germany 2008)

Based on the non-fiction best-seller of the same name by Stefan Aust, long-standing editor-in-chief of the German SPIEGEL, Bernd Eichinger has produced this controversial slice of modern Germany history almost in the style of a dramatized documentary. A detailed history of the Red Army Faction (R.A.F. for short) led by the children of the Nazi generation Andreas Baader (Moritz Bleibtreu), former star columnist Ulrike Meinhof (Martina Gedeck) and Gudrun Ensslin (Johanna Wokalek) and supported by some of Germany`s erstwhile political and industrial leaders, they fought against what they perceived to be the new face of fascism: the US policy in Vietnam, the Near East and the Third World.

(Left: Student revolt during Shah's visit to Berlin, 2.June, 1967)

Purported to be the most expensive German film ever made, although the budget is undeclared, Constantin`s Bernd Eichinger (DOWNFALL) and director Uli Edel (LAST EXIT TO BROOKLYN) have produced an enthralling, fast-paced political drama, already selected as Germany`s nomination for Best Foreign Language Film for the 2009 Academy Awards. But already before its forthcoming release, THE BAADER MEINHOF COMPLEX has been the subject of some hot controversy.

Criticized for its violence, children of RAF members, as well as some of their victims have described it as “unabashed hero worship”, or “offensive to their family`s dignity”, respectively, while some former terrorists have condemned the production as an insensitive financial enterprise. Others still have accused the film of reducing the dramatic events to the status of a glorified “action movie”. Fierce criticism against the filmmakers` media campaign - which very much back-fired - was also expressed by the Association of German Journalists, whereby only specially selected journalists were allowed to report on the film, while others were subject to strictures that even included fines in the case of infringement.

Be all that as it may, Edel certainly does not elevate his protagonists to heroes. Starring some of the country`s top acting talent, the motion picture sets out rather to remind German audiences that the RAF members were vicious killers, rather than the glamorous but misguided revolutionaries that some choose to recall. But the events portrayed are still so fresh that it is hard to find anyone in Germany who didn`t know someone who was involved - however remotely - so that it presses a lot of emotional buttons, leaving no one untouched.

Germany in the late 1960s/early 70s: murderous bomb attacks, the threat of terrorism and the fear of the enemy within are rocking the very foundations of the yet fragile German democracy. The radical children of the Nazi generation led by Andreas Baader, Ulrike Meinhof and Gudrun Ensslin are fighting a violent war against what they perceive to be the new face of fascism: American imperialism supported by the German establishment, many of whom have a Nazi past. Responsible for more than 33 deaths of prominent individuals during their reign of terror, apart from innocent bystanders and millions` worth of collateral damage, their declared aim of creating a more humane society is in direct contrast to the means they employ to achieve it.

The film runs for a riveting 150 minutes, taking in a decade of actual events, the live action interspersed with original film and TV footage and its excellent ensemble cast make it more than convincing. Moritz Bleibtreu as hot-tempered and somewhat crude Andreas Baader, Martina Gedeck as the intellectual Ulrike Meinhof, Nadja Uhl as the icy Brigitte Mohnhaupt, Bruno Ganz as tireless police investigator Horst Herold, who seeks to understand the group`s motives while successfully hunting them down and, most of all Johanna Wokalek as a very credible Gudrun Ensslin, who will go to any lengths to achieve her aims.

Beginning with the volatile mood on June 2, 1967, when the Shah of Persia visits Berlin and student Benno Ohnesorg is shot during a demonstration, followed by the group`s acts of arson, bank robberies, bombings, assassinations and their submergence into the underground. While the first terrorist generation is sitting in jail - the prison of Stammheim specially built for their convenience - their successors, whom they have never met, will stop at nothing to force their release. Even Baader despairs as he watches the TV report of the gang`s assault on the German Embassy in Stockholm in 1975, resulting in three dead and many injured. The film concludes with the hijacking of the Lufthansa jumbo jet in 1977 - which paved the way for the popularity of this form of terrorism - the suicide of Baader and the others one day later, and finally the brutal murder of the kidnapped businessman Hans Werner Schleyer on October 19, 1977.

 

(Above: Andreas Baader (Moritz Bleibtreu) in Stammheim)

 In fact only days before the film`s premiere, director Edel declared in an interview with the Munich magazine FOCUS that the identity of Schleyer`s killer had been disclosed to him during the course of his research; a fact that the district attorney`s office has not been able to clarify for the past 30 years. He went on to state, however, that as this was unconfirmed he was unable to use it in the film. For, authenticity was important to Edel - without any excess nostalgia or sentimentality - as he likewise stated in an interview. And in this he has succeeded, for the acts of the terrorists are too brutal to leave much room for sympathy or glamorization. We watch as they continue, trancelike, to spatter their victims with bullets even as their dead bodies lie twitching on the ground. Like it or hate it, the film accurately documents another dark chapter of modern German history and is a must-see.

DER BAADER-MEINHOFF KOMPLEX, (Germany 2008), Genre: political drama; Distributor: Constantin Film; Running time: 150 minutes; Release date: September 25, 2008; Director: Uli Edel; Writer: Screenplay: Bernd Eichinger from the book by Stefan Aust; Main cast: Martina Gedeck, Moritz Bleibtreu, Johanna Wokalek, Nadja Uhl, Bruno Ganz, Simon Licht, Jan Josef Liefers, Nadja Uhl, Alexandra Maria Lara, Heino Ferch, Stipe Erceg; Music: Peter Hinderthür, Florian Tessloff; Production designer: Bernd Lepel; Editor: Alexander Berner.

Plot Summary: A detailed look at Germany`s terrorist group, The Red Army Faction (RAF), which organized bombings, robberies, kidnappings, hijackings and assassinations in the late 1960s and `70s.

  • Autor: Geraldine Blecker
    E-Mail: redaktion@weltexpress.info
    Abfassungsdatum: 23.09. 2008
    Photo: © Constantin Film
    Verwertung: Weltexpress
    All rights to the author
    Quelle: www.weltexpress.info
    Update: Berlin, 23.09. 2008

Robots and Romance: WALL-E (USA 2008)

 The ninth feature from Disney and Pixar Animation Studios, WALL-E follows the studio’s most recent triumph RATATOUILE which won last year’s Oscar for Best Animated Feature and was a hit all over the globe. The combined worldwide box office gross for Pixar’s first eight releases is an astonishing $4.3 billion. Co-written and directed by Andrew Stanton, co-writer/director of Academy Award winning FINDING NEMO as well as writer of MONSTERS, INC, A BUG’S LIFE and TOY STORY 1 and 2, WALL-E has already recouped its $180 million budget and grossed just under $411 million worldwide at time of writing; more than half of that in the US since its release there on June 27, 2008. And there’s more to come from the international market, as it is still due to hit screens in the German language territories, (Sept. 25), Turkey, Italy, Japan, Greece and “Down Under”.

Having been subjected to an array of dim-witted new comedy releases just lately, I was almost losing hope of seeing anything even vaguely intelligent. But once again Pixar has proved its brilliance and almost uncanny flair for keeping ahead of the curve. WALL-E is truly unique and likely to appeal to all age groups, races, creeds and colours across the globe. With sparkling wit and an important environmental message, yet hardly any dialogue to speak of - at least not for the first 40 minutes - WALL-E crosses all language barriers and cultural frontiers.

In a distant future, namely 700 years hence, the world as we know it is a desolate wasteland of trash and debris, abandoned by mankind: A gigantic junkyard with refuse towering skyscraper-high and completely uninhabited except for WALL-E, (Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class). The last robotic trash compactor, WALL-E is doing what he was built for and has been slogging away for centuries converting earth’s garbage into blocks of trash, all neatly stacked one atop the other. All alone on the planet, save for a friendly cockroach (Survival of the fittest!).

The little robot with his big, binocular-like eyes attached to his long tubular neck (his gender is clear from the get-go) is curious about this long-departed race he is cleaning up after and has developed a few eccentricities over the ages. He collects knick-knacks that take his fancy: Rubik cubes, ping-pong bats and light bulbs, for instance, and takes them back to his lonely container which he has made into a home. At one point, he picks up a small blue velvet box. Opening it to find a glittering diamond ring, he immediately jettisons the ring and plays with the hinged box, adding it to his store of treasures: a wordless comment on the definition of values…

And he loves the movies. Well, one especially, and plays an old, salvaged VHS of 1969’s HELLO DOLLY over and over again, fascinated by the music and the ability of the characters to relate to one another and show affection - by holding hands. Director Andrew Stanton and co-writer Jim Reardon felt this to be a symbolic way to give Wall-E “a romantic slant" and express love without actually being able to say so. HELLO DOLLY and its jolly tunes are prominently featured during the first half of the picture and act as an eloquent contrast to this dystopian vision of civilisation: the bleak garbage dump that once was planet Earth.

But Wall-E’s life suddenly changes when he encounters EVE, (Extra-terrestrial Vegetation Evaluator), a sleek, oval, blue-eyed, I-Pod kind of probe robot or “probot,” if you like, whose mission is to find signs of life on Earth. A much more hi-tech model than Wall-E and armed with a devastating laser feature that obliterates anything within range, Wall-E is fascinated and fretfully follows her wherever she goes; terrified and exhilarated at one and the same time. He shows her his home and his collection of artefacts, among which is, by chance, the key to the planet’s future - a tiny, living plant. Eve zooms back into space to report her findings to the humans onboard the mothership, the luxury space-liner Axiom, while Wall-E follows her across the galaxy for the next part of his adventure, and the second part of the film.
 

Although completely without words, apart from Wall-E’s repeated uttering of “Eve”, this first segment is by far the most impressive and unique part of the film. But the world of sound and voice design of STAR WARS’ sound genius Ben Burtt, together with the magnificent score by Thomas Newman (eight-time Oscar nominee) more than compensates for any lack of dialogue. Burtt recorded many of the film’s sounds in a junkyard, while Niagara Falls provided the wind sounds for WALL-E 's world. The sound of insect clicks was the actual sound of locking handcuffs and the chirps of the cockroach were created by speeding up the sounds of a raccoon.

The human element is introduced in the movie’s second half. On the luxury space-cruiser AXIOM, humankind is on perpetual holiday, helplessly overweight and hardly mobile. Dominated by a computer called Auto, (voiceover by Sigourney Weaver) and in thrall to the Buy N Large Corporation, master architects of consumer excess. EVE, with Wall-E in tow, returns to report her findings - the existence of vegetation on Earth means that it is safe to return home. And the struggle for dominance begins. The story now becomes somewhat predictable, but WALL-E still conveys a formidable and fearsome universal message, despite its G-rating.

Visually stunning, thanks to production designer Ralph Eggleston (THE INCREDIBLES, FINDING NEMO, TOY STORY), the superb cinematography of Jeremy Lasky and some remarkable animation supervised by Alan Barillaro and Steve Hunter, WALL-E only has one serious opponent for Best Animated Feature at the forthcoming 2009 Academy Awards Ceremony. But as delightful as KUNG FU PANDA may be, for me it is no contest. WALL-E is a masterpiece; hugely entertaining and an important film, at one and the same time. I also recommend waiting until the end to hear the song: DOWN TO EARTH over the closing credits. Music by Thomas Newman with lyrics and performance by Peter Gabriel, it has already been nominated as the Best Original Score Written Directly for Film for the 2008 World Soundtrack Awards and an Oscar is very much on the cards. 

As always, Pixar presents a short before the main feature and this latest is a riot. PRESTO, directed and co-written by Doug Sweetland, is about a magician and his bunny and their violent dispute over a carrot.

WALL-E (USA, 2008), German title: WALL-E: Der Letzte räumt die Erde auf), Genre: Animated sci-fi-adventure; Distributor: Walt Disney Studio Motion Pictures: Running time: 98 minutes; MPAA rated G; US release date: June 27, 2008; German release date: September 25, 2008; Director: Andrew Stanton; Writers: Andrew Stanton, Jim Reardon, original story by Andrew Stanton and Pete Docter; Voice Cast: Ben Burtt, Elissa Knight, Fred Willard, Jeff Garlin, John Ratzenberger, Kathy Najimy, Sigourney Weaver; Cinematorgapher: Jeremy Lasky; Composer: Thomas Newman; Title song: Thomas Newman (music), Peter Gabriel (lyrics); Production design: Ralph Eggleston; Editor: Stephen Schaffer

Photos courtesy of Walt Disney Studio Motion Pictures

Fresh Fodder for the Jackass Jeneration

STEP BROTHERS (USA 2008)

First off, I should tender my apologies to Adam Sandler for calling his latest offering DON’T MESS WITH THE ZOHAN the worst comedy of the year. That was before I saw this piece of insultingly crude and idiotic rubbish, which has to be the worst “comedy” of all time. With the “F” word mentioned 23 times in the first half hour, an R-rating was assured. That combined with the coarsely puerile script co-penned by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, based on the story they created with the aid of John C. Reilly, STEP BROTHERS elevates stupidity to a new level. Although some of my peers have found the movie humorous in spots, most are agreed that it is as dim-witted and juvenile as its moronic lead characters.

Brennan (Will Ferrell) and Dale (John C. Reilly), two unattractive, terminally unemployed and retarded (I know the term is non-PC, but “immature” is an understatement) bachelors in their 40s, are still living at home eating junk food in front of the tube. When their respective parents (played by Richard Jenkins and Mary Steenburgen) meet and marry; the two morons are forced to live under one roof. Their savage resentment compels them to play dirty tricks upon one another and mete out great cruelty, but they soon form an uneasy alliance based on their mutual idiocy. When their parents demand that they get jobs and move out, Brennan and Dale are forced out into the real world.

That’s it. There is nothing as adventurous as a sub-plot, nor the merest trace of wit. The entire film consists of slapstick fight sequences between Brennan and Dale, spiced with foul language and the occasional comedy highlight. For instance, the duo trashing the kitchen while sleep-walking, Brennan being forced to lick dog poop off the pavement, or rubbing his testicles on Dale’s drum kit; and so on, ad nauseam… Could this be another nomination for the Teen Choice Award?

Copyright:: Columbia Pictures
Copyright:: Columbia Pictures


This is the third summer comedy that the dynamic duo of Ferrell and writer/director McKay has unleashed on the public: ANCHORMAN (2004), and TALLADEGA NIGHTS (2006), which grossed $85 million and $148 million in the US, respectively. After the disastrous basketball spoof SEMI-PRO, which only brought in a disappointing $33.5 million, STEP BROTHERS looks like a return to their former success. It has already grossed $101 million domestically. I find this depressing.

Unlike its successful predecessors, however, STEP BROTHERS is not based on a humorous premise. A supposed satire on the male fear of adulthood and taking responsibility, this “coming of age” story features neither characters we could possibly care about nor any really funny situations. The juvenile slap stick quickly palls and comes across as an insult to its target audience: Fresh fodder for the Jackass Jeneration.

The only bright spot for me is that the popularity of Ferrell’s comedies seems to be limited to the US market, having grossed upwards of 80% of their revenue in the States. On the other hand, taking his pictures as a yardstick, I find it highly disturbing that the most powerful nation in the world would appear to be populated by the dumbest audience - which is getting dumber with each passing day, or each new comedy released. Most disturbing of all is that lots, if not most of them, are armed.

STEP BROTHERS (USA, 2008): Genre: Comedy: US distributor: Columbia Pictures; German distributor: Sony Pictures Releasing; N.American release date: July 25, 2008; German release date: September 11, 2008; Running time: 95 minutes; Rated R (for crude and sexual content, and pervasive language); Director: Adam McKay; Screenplay: Will Ferrell, Adam McKay; Story: Will Ferrell, Adam McKay, John C. Reilly; Main cast: Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Richard Jenkins, Mary Steenburgen, Derek Adam Scott; Cinematographer: Oliver Wood; Composer: Jon Brion; Production designer:: Clayton Hartley; Editor: Brent White

Plot: Two spoiled, overgrown-children become unwilling stepbrothers after their respective parents wed.

© Article from EuropeFront.com - European News Network
http://www.europefront.com/news/706/fresh_fodder_for_the_jackass_jeneration.html
Published: 14/09/2008

Deadly Virus or new Messiah?

BABYLON A.D. (USA/France 2008)

Despite a plethora of bad reviews - including being trashed by its director pre-release - BABYLON A.D. grossed just over $18 million at the US box office since its release there last weekend. Not bad, considering the movie nearly did not get released at all which, in the opinion of many, might not have been a bad thing. It ran well over schedule and its estimated budget of $60 million, and the insurance company had to bail it out. Added to this was the media hoo-ha generated by its director/writer/producer, who publicly rejected the final cut, referring to it as a "bad episode of 24.” His original version was apparently closer to the novel, R-rated and ran an extra 70 minutes. Fox chose to cut it down to 93 mins. and make it a PG-13. As a result of this dispute, the film barely even got any promotion.

Considered to be “un-filmable”, French director Mathieu Kassovitz (GOTHIKA, THE CRIMSON RIVERS), went for it anyway, adapting Maurice G. Dantec’s Sci-Fi novel BABYLON BABIES into his sixth motion picture: a cross between BLADE RUNNER and CHILDREN OF MEN, with oblique digs at product placement, genetic engineering, martial law and a controversial religious organization favored by certain Hollywood celebrities.

In a not-too-distant future, where poverty and claustrophobic chaos prevail in best MAD MAX tradition, disillusioned mercenary Toorop (Vin Diesel) is hired by his old Russian Mafia pal, Gorsky (Gerard Depardieu), to escort the young Aurora (Melanie Thierry) and her companion Sister Rebeka (Michelle Yeoh) from a convent in Mongolia to the City of New York. Their perilous journey takes them through crowded railway stations, swarming internment camps, hazardous border controls and across the frozen Arctic wastes by planes and boats and trains and even submarines and snowmobiles. Finally delivering his passenger to New York, Toorop discovers the purpose of his mission. Within her small person, Aurora is carrying either a deadly virus… or the new Messiah. Whichever it is, she is vital to the future of mankind and both the scientific world and the high priestess of the “Neolites” (Charlotte Rampling) will stop at nothing to get Aurora in their power.

Shot on location in Sweden, France and the Czech Republic, (another feather in Barrandov Studio’s cap) the landscapes and camera work are spectacular. The post-modern world: bleak, claustrophobic and dog-eat-dog, disturbingly portrayed and underlined with a terrific score by Icelandic composer Atli Örvarsson (of Hans Zimmer’s Remote Control Productions). Apart from Vin Diesel’s inability to act his way out of a paper bag (his popularity has always amazed me) the remainder of the ensemble put in convincing performances, especially Yeoh and Depardieu.

There has been much criticism of Kassovitz for not being able to decide on the film’s direction: mindless action or contemplative drama? Personally, I have nothing against mixed genres as a whole and do not see why a Sci-Fi action-adventure should not also strive to be thought-provoking. Not having read Dantec’s 600-plus page tome, I was unburdened by such things as comparing the book to the film and must admit that, Vin Diesel’s simian charm notwithstanding, I thoroughly enjoyed BABYLON A.D.

BABYLON A.D. (USA/France, 2008); Genre: Sci-Fi Action; Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox; German distributor: Concorde Filmverleih; US Release date: August 29, 2008; German release date: September 11, 20008; Running time: 101 minutes; Director/Screenplay: Mathieu Kassovitz; Writer: Eric Besnard, Joseph Simas; based on the novel BABYLON BAIBIES by Maurice G. Dantec; Main cast: Vin Diesel, Melanie Thierry, Michelle Yeoh, Lambert Wilson, Mark Strong, Jerome Le Banner, Charlotte Rampling, Gerard Depardieu; Cinematographer: Thierry Arbogast; Composer: Atli Örvarsson; Production Designer: Paul Cross, Sonja Klaus; Editor: Benjamin Weill

Plot summary: Disillusioned mercenary Thoorop is hired to escort a young girl from post-modern Russia to America, not knowing that she is carrying either a deadly virus or the new Messiah. Whichever it is, she is vital to the future of mankind.

What doesn't kill you makes you stronger

WANTED (USA, 2008)

After NIGHT WATCH and its visually stunning and equally confusing sequel DAY WATCH, I thought to myself, give the man a storyline and budget and he could really go places. And here it is. At an estimated cost of $75 million, Russian director Timur Bekmambetov’s first Hollywood movie, WANTED, has grossed just over $267 million, about half of that in the US since its release there on June 27.

Scottish-born James McAvoy (ATONEMENT, LAST KING OF SCOTLAND), admittedly a somewhat unlikely choice for an action hero, is paired up with super-foxy Angelina Jolie - whose character is actually called Fox - assassinating their way in and above the streets of Chicago and many other interesting locations, in this dynamic, FX-CGI laden action thriller. With the lavish look of SIN CITY or THE MATRIX trilogy, Bekmambetov puts his stamp on the movie right from the outset, combining irony with bombast, blood, brutality and bending bullets.

Very loosely based on the comic series by Mark Millar and J G Jones, writing team of Chris Morgan (CELLULAR), Michael Brandt and Derek Haas (2 FAST 2 FURIOUS), WANTED tells the tale of browbeaten office-worker Wesley Gibson (McAvoy), bored to destruction by his job, his love life and the world in general. A born loser; until he is recruited by Fox (Jolie) into the ancient league of assassins known as The Fraternity, whose members use their finely-tuned talents to carry out the instructions of destiny. As dubiously interpreted from a piece of woven fabric (the fabric of fate, no less), by the society’s enigmatic leader Sloan (Morgan Freeman). Their goal: “to forge stability out of chaos and kill without question.”

So what makes Wesley Gibson a potential top killer? I almost hear you ask. Apparently, it’s in the genes. His unknown father, who abandoned him as a child, was The Fraternity’s number one killing machine until being wiped out in his turn by Cross, a rogue member of the brotherhood (played by Germany’s Thomas Kretschmann of DOWNFALL). It is assumed that Wesley has inherited his father’s skills - which include remarkable agility, phenomenal reflexes and being able to shoot bullets around corners to hit their mark.

The first half of the movie is devoted to Wesley’s harsh training as an assassin. McAvoy, who already proved he could take a lot of physical punishment as Idi Amin’s physician in LAST KING OF SCOTLAND, is repeatedly subjected to savage beatings at the hands of The Repairman (Marc Warren), and gruelling lessons from weapons master, The Gunsmith (rapper Common from AMERICAN GANGSTER) while learning to sharpen his skills; all under the watchful eye of Fox and Sloan. Before very long (about 40 minutes), he is ready for his first test mission, which he executes with flying colors. This involves hitting his target through an open window from the top of a speeding train. Definitely not something you should try at home.

Sloan now judges Wesley ready for his appointed task: wreaking vengeance on Cross, his father’s killer, the search for whom takes him to Eastern Europe (mainly the Czech Republic), where he discovers that all is not as it appears. It is only when he meets the mysterious Pekwarsky (Terence Stamp) that he learns about his relationship with his father - who is not really his father at all - and his ties to the secret society, which likewise has its own agenda. Wesley finally develops his hidden powers and inner strengths, almost working out who his friends are - and gets the chance to avenge himself upon his tormentors. Veering between valour and retribution, he ultimately learns that only he can weave his own destiny.

But there’s lots of high-powered action and special effects along the way (in fact, there are very few scenes without any special FX) including some relentless car chase sequences and an amazing train crash on a mountain bridge over a ravine.

The tech package under the scepter of Timur Bekmambetov is sensational, with special compliments to cameraman Mitchell Amundsen, editor David Brenner, the lush production design of John Myhre, all underscored with the musical expertise we have come to expect from Danny Elfman. Pretty much a live-action cartoon; if you put your logic on hold and ignore the script’s absurdities, the movie is hugely entertaining and doesn’t let up for a second. Another nomination for the 2008 Teen Choice Award - and destined, hopefully, to win - its target group is firmly established.

Angelina Jolie as "Fox" (c) Universal Pictures
Angelina Jolie as "Fox" (c) Universal Pictures


Although dominating the posters and artwork, Mrs. Pitt has far less time onscreen than her co-star, but is very agile and highly decorative. I especially liked her tattoos and seriously considered getting some myself. Then I thought: today’s butterfly is tomorrow’s hang glider. So I came to my senses in time!

WANTED (USA, 2008); Genre: Action-adventure; Running time: 110 minutes; Distributor: Universal Pictures International; US Release date: June 27, 2008; German release: September 4, 2008; Director: Timur Bekmambetov; Screenplay: Michael Brandt & Derek Haas; Based on the comics by Mark Millar and J.G. Jones; Main cast: James McAvoy, Angelina Jolie, Morgan Freeman, Terence Stamp, Thomas Kretschmann, Common; Cinematographer: Mitchell Amundsen; Music: Danny Elfman; Production design: John Myhre; Editor: David Brenner

Plot summary: Young Wesley Gibson’s life is pointless until a beautiful and mysterious woman inducts him into an ancient brotherhood of assassins, where he ultimately realizes his true potential.

© Article from EuropeFront.com - European News Network
http://www.europefront.com/news/706/what_doesnt_kill_you_makes_you_stronger.html
Published: 03/09/2008

The Dark Knight crosses $500 million threshold

After its seventh weekend in release, The Dark Knight has already crossed the $500 million threshold at the US box office, making it North America’s second highest theatrical earner in history. The Labor Day weekend’s takings of $8.8 million brought its domestic total up to $502.4 million.


Batman 4 was no slouch in the foreign markets either, generating a further $19 million from 6,580 screens in 62 territories over the weekend, bringing its total overseas box office receipts up to $416.7 million.

The caped crusader stayed at number one in its second weekend in Germany ($4.4 million from 955 screens, totaling $17.5 million) and likewise in its third weekend in France (bringing the total French box office up to $21.3 million).

Its fifth weekend in the UK’s number one slot has brought its total UK revenue up to $90.3 million, and it is firmly maintaining pole position in Australia, Mexico, South Korea, Brazil, Italy, Spain, Japan and Russia.

"Your mommy isn't coming home..." - Grace Is Gone (USA, 2007)

 John Cusack, Shélan O'Keefe, Gracie Bednarczyk

 It begins with a knock on the door by two military officers in dress uniform. Stan Phillips, an average suburban guy (John Cusack), reluctant to hear the news, won`t invite them in, but is informed nonetheless that his soldier wife Grace has been killed in Iraq. Now he must tell his daughters Heidi (Shelan O`Keefe), 12, and Dawn (Gracie Bednarczyk), 8, that “mommy isn`t coming home.” And the longer he leaves it, the harder it gets.

A bit colourless and awkward, Stanley is not upwardly mobile. He`s not aggressive or especially ambitious. He doesn`t like challenges or confrontations. He has an undemanding job as a manager in a home supply store. He used to be in the military himself - which is where he met Grace - until his eyesight let him down and got him discharged. But he`s always been patriotic. At least until now. Now, he doesn`t know what to believe. Stunned by the news, he tries to tell his daughters, but can`t bring himself to face it. So he puts it off, waiting for the right time and place. But there`s never a right time or place for this kind of news.

Instead, he takes them out of school and on a spontaneous holiday to a Florida theme park. It`s a long drive from the chilly Midwest to the “Enchanted Gardens” and on the way he stops off to visit his parents and younger brother John (Alessandro Nivola). Still living at home and sponging off his folks at the age of 32, John is toying with vague ideas about his future, but is in no hurry to move out. Eager to air his passionate views about the war, politics and government corruption in general, he tries to provoke his nieces into rejecting their father`s blind patriotism.

Stanley tells John about Grace but begs him to keep it secret, wanting to give his daughters a few final shreds of innocence. John reluctantly agrees, although the girls are starting to suspect something is amiss. Their dad is acting disconcertingly out-of-character for one thing, and for another, when Heidi calls her teacher at school to apologize for late homework, she is greeted by exaggerated sympathy instead of the annoyance she expected.

Their journey resumes through a bleak highway landscape of fast food joints, wholesale outlets, filling stations and dreary motels. Every time they make a stop, Stanley calls home: to listen to Grace`s voice on the answering machine and ask her what to do. They finally reach the “Enchanted Gardens” which - due to the obvious lack of budget - looks more like a school playground than a Disneyworld that would lure anybody across the country, where Stanley takes the girls to the beach and finally breaks the news.

The movie was originally supposed to be directed by Rob Reiner, who dropped out during preproduction for reasons unknown (probably a better offer). Which represented a window of opportunity for screenwriter James C. Strouse, thus making his directorial debut. Although nothing special in film making terms, GRACE IS GONE is nonetheless a moving statement of loss and denial and a powerful allegory of America`s reluctance to face the consequences of war. Antiwar in essence, the story does not belabour the point, veering away from philosophical discussion or political debate and is thus unlikely to offend. Condemning the war while still honouring its heroes, it focuses on loss and its emotional repercussions on a family.

John Cusack, who also co-produced, is convincing and sensitive as the vulnerable Stanley, challenged almost to breaking point. While the girls, played by Shelan O`Keefe and Gracie Bednarczyk, respectively, do a wonderful job, especially Shelan as the elder daughter Heidi, who gradually becomes more mature as their journey progresses.

Made for a very modest USD 2 million, Weinstein Films picked it up for double that at Sundance, where it won the Audience Award and Award for Best Original Screenplay in 2007, as well as the critics` award at Deauvville. Clint Eastwood was also nominated for two Golden Globes in 2008 for his contribution to the project: best song and best original score.

Grace is Gone, USA 2007; Genre: Drama
US distributor: The Weinstein Company
German distributor: Central Film Verleih
US release date: Dec. 7, 2007 (limited)
German release date: August 28, 2008
Running time: 85 mins: Rated PG-13 (for thematic material, brief strong language and teen smoking)
Writer/Director: James C. Strouse
Main cast: John Cusack, Shelan O`Keefe, Gracie Bednarczyk, Alessandro Nivola
Cinematographer: Jean-Louis Bompoint
Composer: Clint Eastwood
Production Designer: Susan Block
Editor: Joe Klotz

Plot summary: Notified that his wife has been killed in Iraq, Stanley must find a way to break the news to their two young daughters.

  • Autor: Geraldine Blecker
    E-Mail: geraldinefbtv@aol.com
    Abfassungsdatum: 29.08. 2008
    Verwertung:All rights to the author
  • Photo: courtesy of The Weinstein Company / Central Film
  • Quelle: www.weltexpress.info
    Update: Berlin, 29.08. 2008

The Man Within - Meet Dave (USA, 2008)

Frankfurt am Main (Weltexpress) - I recently watched Eddie Murphy’s old live concert footage “Raw” and still find it hard to reconcile that hugely funny, foul-mouthed stand up comedian with the family entertainment superstar he has since become. But this latest in a string of insipid Eddie Murphy comedies, “Meet Dave”, is at least unlikely to cause offence, although it has little chance of rocking the box office either. At an estimated budget of USD 60 million, it has grossed just under USD 35 million worldwide and less than a third of that in the US since its release there on July 11.

A sort of cross between “Galaxy Quest” and “Coming to America” - and unfortunately not as funny as either - this low-tech comedy sci-fi is at least neither as calamitous as the “Adventures of Pluto Nash” nor as agonizing as “Norbit.” A worthy successor to “Daddy Day Care”, I guess, but nowhere near Murphy’s stunning comedies of the 80s.

Playing the double role of human-sized spacecraft Dave Ming Chang and commander of its Lilliputian crew, both, Dave lands in Manhattan with a mission: to extract salt from our oceans to save his home planet. Striving to adapt to our world, Dave meets single mom Gina (Elizabeth Banks) and her young son Josh (Austyn Lind Myers), who take the stranger under their wing. While his hive-dwelling crew members, particularly numbers 3 (Gabrielle Union) and 2 (Ed Helms) gradually become enamoured with, and transformed by, earth society.

Another nomination for the 2008 Teen Choice Award, the gags are mostly visual and well-aimed at the target audience. Little figures climbing in and out of Dave’s orifices, for instance, mixing egg shells in with the omelette, using a nostril to sharpen a pencil. And the absolute highlight: Dave wins a hotdog eating competition and then ejects the buns from his backside, and so on and forth. Screenwriters Rob Greenberg and Bill Corbett have come up with an amusing premise, creating an interesting social structure within the microcosm, but that’s where it ends. The human relationships have not really been explored or the characters fleshed out to any great degree.

Perhaps most significant about this movie is what’s missing. Director Brian Robbins (with “Norbit” and “Wild Hogs” to his credit, so what more can you say?) has contented himself with a relatively low-grade production and forgone the lavish sets and effects that children have come to expect from the sophisticated studio productions on the market (e.g. “Wall-E”) or even to be seen currently on TV. Obviously a matter of money, but USD 60 million can go a long way. Still, Eddie Murphy has a loyal US fan base that is likely to watch this on TV and maybe even buy the DVD for their kids, so eventual recoupement is pretty well assured.

Meet Dave (US. 2008), German title: Mensch Dave; Genre: Family comedy; Running time: 90 mins., Worldwide distribution: 20th Century Fox; German distributor: Kinowelt; US release date: July 11, 2008; German release date: August 28, 2008; Director: Brian Robbins; Screenplay: Rob Greenberg & Bill Corbett; Main cast: Eddie Murphy, Elizabeth Banks, Gabrielle Union, Scott Caan, Ed Helms, Kevin Hart; Cinematographer: Clark Mathis; Music: John Debney; Production design: Clay A. Griffith; Editor: Ned Bastille

Plot summary: Close encounters of the third kind, as human-sized spaceship Dave Ming Chang and his miniscule crew land in Manhattan to save their home world and gradually become transformed by life on earth.

  • Autor: Geraldine Blecker
    E-Mail: GeraldineFBTV@aol.com
    Abfassungsdatum: 26.08. 2008
    Photo: © Kinowelt Filmverleih GmbH
    Verwertung: All rights to the author
    Quelle: www.weltexpress.info
    Update: Berlin, 26.08. 2008

From Rags to Riches to Rags

I Served the King of England, (Czech 2006)

 
Masterfully adapted for the screen from the novel by Bohumil Hrabal, who died in 1997, Oscar-winning writer/director Jiri Menzel has condensed this epic tale to its essentials: opportunism, money, fine food, and lots of sex. And often all deliciously mixed together. “I Served the King of England" is larger than life, spectacularly made and a black comedy of the first order.

Impish hero Jan Dite, known as “Piccolo”, the most charming of opportunists, has just two goals in life: to be a millionaire and to rub shoulders with the rich and famous. We first meet him as an older man, (played by Oldrich Kaiser) in the 1950s, as he is being released from a long sentence in a Prague jail. Sent to work in a desolate border village, he sets about renovating an old pub and recalls the twists and turns of his life.

Flashing back to the 1930s in a black and white montage, we see a young, blond, blue-eyed Jan (played with remarkable Chaplinesque dexterity by Ivan Barnev), selling sausages at the railway station. Short-changing his customers with innocent flair, he has already stumbled onto a great psychological truth: No matter how rich or how poor, no one can resist getting down on his hands and knees and scrambling to pick up money. And thus, he regularly flings a pocketful of loose change onto the ground just to observe this phenomenon. The motif appears throughout the film as a sort of running gag and is never tiresome.

Drawn by lovely ladies and the dolce vita, Piccolo is determined to succeed. From sausage vendor, to waiting tables and pulling pints i a pub, to silver service in a series of top class eateries, he gradually ascends the catering ladder. Sharpening his skills as he goes, he gets a job as under waiter in Prague’s finest hotel restaurant, under the austere eye of the haughty maitre d’ (played by Martin Huba). A master of the metier and seemingly able to speak every language under the sun, he condescendingly explains his talents with the phrase, “I Served the King of England.” Hence the film’s title.

After the German occupation just before the outbreak of WW ll, Jan meets the lovely Lisa (Julia Jentsch of “Sophie Scholl”) an ardent Aryan and it is love at first sight. Despite the treatment of his fellow countrymen and what he sees everywhere around him, he is quick to gauge which way the wind is blowing and soon becomes a Nazi collaborator. Abandoning his string of attractive sexual partners, he marries Lisa, who only agrees to wed after he can prove the purity of his bloodline. There is a wonderful scene on their wedding night, when she moves his head aside while they are making love, so as not to obstruct her view of Hitler’s portrait hanging on the opposite wall.

Towards the end of the war, Lisa is killed during a bombing raid after a tour of duty at the Russian Front. Although desolate, Jan shrewdly sells the box of valuable stamps she had been collecting from abandoned Jewish homes and purchases one of the luxury hotels where he once worked as a humble waiter. And finally joins the ranks of millionaires to fulfill his lifelong dream; only to be jailed with the rest of them when the Communists take over. At one year per million, he is sentenced to a 15 year stretch.

There is no doubt that Czechoslovakia went through the hoops during the last six decades, and the film has been widely criticized for its almost cavalier approach to such devastating events as the Nazi occupation, Jewish deportation and its years of oppression under the Soviet boot. But I, for one, did not find this to be the case.

Regarded as a pioneer of the Czech Nouvelle Vague in the 1960s, Jiri Menzel won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 1966 for his first motion picture “Closely Watched Trains”, likewise based on a novel by Hrabal. In fact, this is his sixth adaptation of that writer’s work. Meanwhile in his seventies, Menzel is, indeed, still provocative and “I Served the King of England” is more a portrait of the Czech psyche and survival by adaptation than a demonstrative or tear-jerking defamation of any political regime. His famous mixture of slapstick, political statement and amorous adventures is far more evocative than the typical European author-director’s heavy-handed emphasis on tragedy.

Technically, it is spectacular and can compete with any costume drama Hollywood has to offer. Lush locations, photography, costume and production design, an extravagant score, excellent direction and editing and superb performances all round. Amazing, considering that it was made for a modest CZK 84,450,000. (Yes, that’s a joke - I have no idea how much that is in real money, either.)

Supporting actors and cameos are likewise illustrious, especially Marian Labuda, who plays Walden the Jewish salesman, who encourages Jan’s ambition in his youth and whose tragic fate is so movingly portrayed towards the end. And Oscar-winning Hungarian director Istvan Szabo silently appears as a wealthy businessman.

Completed in 2006, “I Served the King of England” spent most of 2007 on the international festival circuit, including Berlin, Toronto, Cannes, Edinburgh, Sydney, as well as being the Czech Republic’s Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. Sony Pictures Classics picked it up for US distribution, while Farbfilm verleih GmbH will be distributing it in Germany.

I Served the King of England (Czech Republic/Slovakia 2006); German title: Ich habe den englischen Koenig bedient; Genre: historical-comedy-romance; US distributor: Sony Pictures Classics; German distributor: Farbfilm verleih, Running time: 120 mins.; US release date: August 22, 2008 (limited); German release: August 21, 2008; Writer/Director: Jiri Menzel; Novel: Bohumil Hrabal; Main cast: Ivan Barney, Oldrich Kaiser, Julia Jensch, Martin Huba, Marian Labuda; Cinematographer: Jaromir Sofr; Composer: Ales Berzina; Production Designer: Milan Bycek; Editor: Jiri Brozek

Plot summary: From sausage vendor to millionaire: A lavish saga that follows the rise and fall of a diminutive go-getter set against the turbulent background of modern Czech history.

An Ode to Innocence

SON OF RAMBOW (USA 2007)

No it’s not a spelling mistake. The floating “w” at title’s end was added to avoid legal dispute, even though Sylvester Stallone actually endorsed the film. But somehow it serves to emphasize the youth and naivety of the film’s two leads. Set in rural England in the mid-80s, this second feature by the dynamic duo of Hammer & Tongs, alias director Garth Jennings and producer Nick Goldsmith, (“Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, plus lots of music videos), focuses on the unlikely friendship between two fatherless English lads drawn together by their mutual isolation and their passion for Sylvester Stallone as John Rambo.

Their friendship begins one day in the school hallway, where they have both been ejected from the classroom for very different reasons. Will Proudfoot (Bill Milner), because his puritanical religion forbids him to watch any films or TV, including educational documentaries, and Lee Carter (Will Poulter), because he has been as disruptive as usual. Lee invites Will home and takes him into his garage cum video-pirating studio, where he introduces him to Rambo. Will is electrified. Before very long, Lee has enlisted him as a stuntman in his homemade sequel to “First Blood” - with equipment borrowed from his older brother - which he is hoping to enter into an amateur film contest. Their weapons and military props are assembled from a selection of household objects and sundry junk, as well as various items that Lee manages to pilfer, while the special effects consist of drawings from Will’s sketch book.

John Rambo becomes a kind of father figure to the two boys, who otherwise have little in common except that both are misfits. Pretty soon to Lee’s delight, Will has progressed from stuntman to star, self-cast as the “Son of Rambo”, determined to rescue his “father” from captivity. He becomes ever more fearless as he immerses himself in the role, happily performing a series of death-defying stunts. This includes swinging from a rope into a fast-running river, when he can’t even swim. Fortunately, Lee plunges in to save him from drowning.

Meanwhile, life proceeds as usual. Will is the only boy in a modest female household of mother (Jessica Stevenson), sister, and demented grandma (Anna Wing), living according to the strict rules of their religious sect “The Plymouth Brethren”, where just about everything is off limits. Head of the church Brother Joshua (Neil Dudgeon), a regular guest at the dinner table, fancies his mother and feels the need to impose extra discipline on the boy to consolidate his position. Will can’t stand him. While Lee, whose family is equally dysfunctional but more affluent, lives with his cold, condescending brother (Ed Westwick) in a large mansion connected to the family business: a senior retirement home.

Their world is turned upside down when a group of French exchange students arrives at the school and Didier (Jules Sitruk), a sophisticated older boy, exotic in tight jeans and bright red boots, becomes the centre of attention, effortlessly winning everyone’s respect and admiration. Fascinated by their movie production, Didier soon joins in to take a leading role. The boys suddenly become popular by default, although very soon, Didier and his entourage unintentionally manage to drive a wedge between them.

“Son of Rambow” is a bittersweet story of friendship, the cruelty of youth and the desperate search for role models, warmth and admiration. The script is touchingly beautiful and the acting superb. Shot on location in Hertfordshire, Garth Jennings evokes the atmosphere of the ‘80s with a sure hand down to the finest detail: the fashion, the makeup, the music. I think "Son of Rambow" is one of the best independent movies I’ve seen in a very long time.

“Son of Rambow”, USA 2007, German title: "Der Sohn von Rambow"; Genre: Drama; US Distributor: Paramount Vantage; German distributor: Senator Film; Running time: 96 mins.; Rated PG-13 (for some violence and reckless behavior); Premiered at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival; Geman release date: 21 August, 2008; Writer/director: Garth Jennings; Main cast: Bill Milner, Will Poulter, Jessica Stevenson, Ed Westwick, Neil Dudgeon, Jules Sitruk; Cinematographer: Jess Hall, Composer: Joby Talbot; Production designer: Joel Colins; Editor: Dominic Leung.

Plot Summary: An ode to innocence, film and friendship, two fatherless boys look to Rambo as a role model and set out to produce their own movie sequel.

  • Autor: Geraldine Blecker
    E-Mail: GeraldineFBTV@aol.com
    Abfassungsdatum: 19.08. 2008
    Photo: © Courtesy of Paramount Vantage & Senator Film
    Verwertung: Weltexpress
    All rights to the author
    Quelle: www.weltexpress.info
    Update: Berlin, 19.08. 2008

Why So Serious?

“The Dark Knight” or “Rory’s First Kiss”

 Frankfurt am Main (Weltexpress) - That was the movie`s secret alias during production in Chicago and the nickname seemed to cling long after the secret was out, although some film reels were delivered to certain theatres under the name "Oliver`s Army". But what`s in a name? “The Dark Knight” is the first Batman movie not to feature the name “Batman” in the title and made more money than its predecessor`s entire domestic run after only 6 days of release. At time of writing, it has already grossed just under USD 705 million worldwide - nearly USD 442 million of that in the US since its release there on July 18. This is almost as much as Star Wars in 1977, but still under Titanic`s record of USD 600.8 in the US and USD 1.24 billion internationally, making it the third top grossing film of all time.

The film takes over from where its predecessor left off, with Batman (Christian Bale) and police lieutenant Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman), making some headway in reducing organized crime in Gotham City. Their efforts are supported by a daring and incorruptible new district attorney, Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), burning with a zealous flame. The collaboration seems successful, particularly when Batman leaves Gotham for the first time on-screen and makes his way to Hong Kong to snatch Lau (Chin Han), bookkeeper to the crime syndicate, in some spectacular action sequences (using his cape to paraglide) and brings him back to face the music. Thus enabling Dent to link all the crime lords together in a 2,500-count conspiracy charge. Batman`s alter ego, billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne, throws his weight behind him with a glittering fundraiser, convinced of Dent`s integrity and seeing a possibility of actually hanging up his batsuit and retiring forever from his crime fighting career to live a normal, billionaire-playboy life.

But the Joker (Heath Ledger) has plans of his own, letting loose a vicious wave of crime based on his own random motives. First offering to eliminate Batman for the mob boss (Eric Roberts); then threatening a series of public killings until Batman discloses his real identity. Motivated by neither greed nor self-interest, his sheer unpredictability and love of destruction makes him a fearful enemy. As Alfred the Butler (Michael Caine) says, he “just wants to see the world burn.”

The script, penned by director Chris Nolan and his brother Jonathan (who first worked together on the classic “Memento”), based on a story co-written with David Goyer, one of the writers of “Batman Begins”, “The Dark Knight” has far more depth and intelligent dialogue than is usual in the genre, and takes on some serious issues far removed from the usual fantasy world of comic book superheroes. It is always about good versus evil, yes, but this deals with the merits of Batman and his unconventional methods as compared to the powers of an honorable official working within the limits of the law. It`s about civic upheaval, human frailty and the vulnerability of our social foundations in the face of all-consuming evil.

Christian Bale turns in a sound performance as Bruce Wayne alias Batman, but is almost an incidental character in this story and more of a foil for intellectual argument than anything else. Maggie Gyllenhaal is a good substitute for Mrs. Cruise in the role of Rachel Dawes, Bruce Wayne`s childhood sweetheart and now hoping for a life of stability with district attorney Harvey Dent. Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine are as competent as ever, but there is no doubt that this is Ledger`s film and a lasting testimony to his greatness as an actor.

He prepped for the role by living alone in a hotel room for a month, immersing himself in the character`s psychology, posture and voice - the latter apparently the most difficult. The Joker speaks in an unhurried, mid-American accent, articulating his words with frightening precision. He kept a diary of the Joker`s thoughts and feelings as a guide for his portrayal and is said to have been inspired by Sid Vicious, as well as the character of Alex in “A Clockwork Orange”. When asked to explain his choice of Heath Ledger as the Joker, Nolan said, "Because he`s fearless." And as Christian Bale said at the black-carpet premiere in New York on July 14, "He`s created an iconic villain, unlike any I`ve seen before…. He was talented beyond belief.”

Ledger`s performance is electrifying. Lipstick smeared across his starkly white face, he is the clown of every child`s nightmare. He performs with a mesmerizing simplicity, which becomes more frightening as the film goes on. Throughout, he conceives diabolical situations forcing the protagonists to make hopeless moral decisions. In one such example, he provokes the passengers of two ferryboats to blow each other up before getting blown up themselves. As the Joker says, “I`m not a monster...I`m just ahead of the curve”. This, his final performance, is simply overwhelming and he is likely to be honored with the first posthumous Oscar since Peter Finch.

 

There has been much speculation that the very darkness of this role was partly responsible for his sudden death on January 22, 2008, but there is little truth to this rumor. His death came as a surprise to everybody and unfortunately makes “The Dark Knight” even darker. I was personally in Hans Zimmer`s studio in Santa Monica (Remote Control Productions) when news of Ledger`s death came through from New York. Only a few days before, Hans had played my better half (Howard Scarr, one of the sound designers on the picture) and myself the theme he was working on that would embody the personality of the Joker: a schizoid, screeching sound that set your teeth on edge. He was wondering how long he could sustain one single note, but finally settled for two…

While we`re talking about the music, composers Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard have surpassed themselves with the dynamic simplicity of their score; no easy task after their revolutionary work on “Batman Begins”. The Batman theme is featured only twice in the movie and they have demonstratively avoided the hackneyed use of heroic signature tunes, focusing instead on mood and ostinato. The nerve-jangling Joker theme is a veritable work of art and is featured full-length on the soundtrack CD, a worthy addition to any collection.

As one would expect, the special effects are extraordinary; masses of pyrotechnics, explosions, disasters and lavish chase sequences. One of the blasts was shot at London`s disused Battersea Power Station, generating frantic calls from the locals, who were convinced it was a terrorist attack. Christopher Nolan was also able to realize one of his lifelong dreams and shot some of the movie in IMAX: six major action scenes as well as a few dramatic sequences for contrast, to be exact, and wishes he could have shot the whole film in that format. It gives those scenes extra quality and depth, drawing the viewer right into the action.

But despite all the accolades, “The Dark Knight” is far from being the perfect film. It is too long, the pace is frantic - and so is the editing; the camera technique is often confusing and it tries to cram too much into the storyline. Apart from the latter, all standard blockbuster fare. It is unfortunate that Nolan was forced to make such compromises.

Still, “The Dark Knight” and even “Iron Man” to some extent are changing the face of the comic book superhero; from wooden caped-crusaders to warm-blooded human beings with their quirks and idiosyncrasies, and far more fascinating to watch.

 

Funnily enough, the film`s rating has stirred up more controversy than anything else, and some critics have even posted an advisory warning, “Some of the special effects are disgusting and disturbing enough to justify something more severe than the PG-13 rating. This movie is certainly not for children, nor for anyone who`s afraid of clowns.” True, “The Dark Knight” is not a children`s movie, but neither is the plethora of “kill or be killed” computer games, all hugely popular with the sub-teens. Kids have always been pretty bloodthirsty, and this latest Batman epic is unlikely to create any psychological damage; certainly no more than standard prime time TV or a Disney cartoon.

“The Dark Knight” is a film of its times and unfortunately reflects today`s society; corruption is rife, our institutions are unstable, and the future is looking bleak.

The Dark Knight, USA, 2008; Genre: Action; Distributor: Warner Bros; Running time: 152 mins.; US release date: July 18, 2008; German release: August 21, 2008; Rated PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and some menace); Director: Christopher Nolan; Screenplay: Christopher and Jonathan Nolan; Story: Christorpher Nolan and David Goyer; Main cast: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Caine, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman; Cinematographer: Wally Pfister; Music: Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard; Production designer: Nathan Crowley; Editor: Lee Smith

Plot Summary: Together with police lieutenant Jim Gordon and the new district attorney Harvey Dent, Batman is managing to stem the tide of organized crime plaguing the streets of Gotham. Until the appearance of a new kind of criminal known as “The Joker”, who plunges the city into a reign of terror.

  • Autor: Geraldine Blecker
    E-Mail: geraldinefbtv@aol.com
    Abfassungsdatum: 15.08. 2008
    Photos courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
    Verwertung: Weltexpress
    All rights to the author
    Quelle: www.weltexpress.info
    Update: Berlin, 15.08. 2008

Sandler surpasses himself

“You Don’t Mess with the Zohan” - worst comedy of the year

Adam Sandler has excelled himself with this interminable pile of tasteless trash at an estimated budget of $90 million, which has already raked in $127 million worldwide, most of that in the US since its release there on June 6. Its commercial success is also underlined by the fact that the FX network has just acquired the TV rights from Sony - to kick in late 2010 - for an estimated 12% of its total domestic box office, currently amounting to just under $99 million.

I guess you can’t argue with success. But Adam Sandler is not Ernst Lubitsch or Charlie Chaplin, or even Mel Brooks, for that matter, all of whom could turn a touchy topic into a bundle of laughs. The idea of using terrorism and the Middle East crisis as the basis for a comedy satire is risky, to say the least, but had any talented writers been involved, it might even have worked. As it is, the script, penned by Sandler himself with co-writers Robert Smigel and Judd Apatow, is a one-joke comedy; crude and gruellingly repetitious, and if there was anything even vaguely amusing, I must have missed it.

Director Dennis Dugan (“I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry”), who also plays a homeless guy in this masterpiece, focuses on course visual gags, largely featuring Zohan’s gigantic appendage and all the groovy stuff he can do with it, like flipping burgers, playing table tennis, shaking cocktails (no pun intended), and lots more.

Premise: superhero-tough Mossad commando Zohan Dvir, (who brushes his teeth with humus) - buffed-up, crimped and with an accent veering from Depardieu to Borat - secretly yearns to be a hair dresser. During a mission against his arch enemy, the Arab leader known as the Phantom, (played by John Tartufo), he fakes his own death and stows away to New York, where he tries to get a job as a stylist. Enter product placement in the form of a personal appearance by Paul Mitchell and a brief tour of his luxury salon.

The fact that Zohan can defy gravity with no-handed push-ups, among other athletic feats (we know the Mossad are a bunch of hard bastards), does not convince the salon staff of his qualifications as a crimper. So, the only job he manages to get is in a second-rate Brooklyn salon run by a lovely Palestinian (Emmanuelle Chriqui).

Apparently Sandler's character of Zohan is loosely based on a real-life hairstylist and former Israeli soldier in San Diego, who taught Sandler the various hairstyling techniques, which he seems to have mastered pretty well. But Zohan’s commercial success is truly guaranteed when he offers the extra service of rogering his geriatric female clients in the back room. Before very long, little old ladies are lining up by the truckload and his career seems to be on the rise - until he is recognised by his arch enemy.

To alleviate the extended (almost 2 hour) tedium, a series of famous faces - who should all be ashamed of themselves - appear in brief cameo roles. Chris Rock, Kevin Nealon, Mariah Carey, George Takei, Sid Ganis, John McEnroe, help provide a mild titter every five or 10 minutes, before the picture moves into its welcome finale, where everybody learns to live and work together in perfect harmony in that supreme testament to western culture - a shopping mall.

“Don’t Mess with the Zohan” has been nominated for the 2008 Teen Choice Award and is not recommended for anyone with a more than one-syllable vocabulary. 

“You Don’t Mess with the Zohan” (German title: “Leg dich nicht mit Zohan an”), USA 2008; Genre: Action-comedy, Distributor: Sony Pictures Releasing; US release date: June 6, 2008; German release: August 14, 2008; Running time:110 minutes; Rated: PG-13; Director: Dennis Dugan;  Writers: Adam Sandler, Robert Smigel, Judd Apatow; Main cast: Adam Sandler, John Turturro, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Nick Swardson, Laine Kazan, Rob Schneider; Cinematographer: Michael Barrett; Music: Rupert Gregson-Williams; Production Designer: Perry Andelin Blake; Editor: Tom Costain

Get Smart (US 2008)

 If it ain’t broke – don't fix it!

We’ve had lots of spy spoofs over the years from the “Pink Panther” to “Johnny English”, but “Get Smart”, based on the original 1965 TV-series created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry (who also acted as consultants on the movie), must be one of the best. Outrageous, action-packed, visually exciting and full of the hi-tech gadgetry we’ve come to expect from a typical Bond pik, it has grossed over USD 161 million worldwide since its US release in June. I personally thought it was hilarious- and I saw it in German, so what can I say?

The casting is best of all. Jim Carrey was attached to star back in 1998 when the project was first in development, but Steve Carell is unsurpassable as Maxwell Smart; deadpan, blundering, insufferably competitive and inexplicably self-assured analyst for the US agency CONTROL (a covert CIA-rival), who desperately longs to get out of the backroom and into the field. And he finally gets his chance when he is unexpectedly upgraded to field agent by the Chief (Alan Arkin) and partnered with the lovely Agent 99, (Anne Hathaway). Joining up with Agent 23, (played by Dwayne Johnson, formerly “The Rock”), they journey to Moscow to contend with arch-villain Siegfried (Terence Stamp), head of the criminal organisation KAOS and put a stop to their diabolical plans. This involves finding a “nucular” device just in time to stop KAOS from blowing up the Walt Disney concert hall in LA while the US president (James Caan) is attending a performance. 

And in between, lots more elaborate action and stunts, spiced with plenty of humour. At a budget of USD 80 million, “Get Smart” is a true blockbuster production. Far from being a tacky remake, it manages to capture the essence of the original TV series and is more of a tribute than a parody. A perfect blend of slapstick, nonsense and witty dialogue, the movie features many of the well-known catch phrases from the series, lots of visual references - including the famous Sunbeam Tiger, a Karman Ghia and an Opel GT - as well as fragments of its theme tune. 

The storyline works and, I’m glad to say, has not been dumbed-down to conform to standard US tastes, despite director Peter Segal’s track record of Adam Sandler comedies (“The Longest Yard,”, “50 First Dates”, and “Anger Management”), although it does contain its fair share of slapstick and silliness to counterbalance the action. But the updated Maxwell Smart is a lot smarter and more able, for a start, although he has lost nothing of his loveable quirkiness. Needless to say, he is also indestructible, surviving a series of hair-raising chase sequences, captures and impossible escapades, one particular highlight involving cars, trains and planes, with Smart actually being towed behind an aircraft. 

There are few political undertones, apart from some harmless pokes at the current administration. James Caan playing the President does a fair G.W. Bush impression, which includes a series of famed mispronunciations, visual gags and his reading to a group of school kids in the midst of a crisis. Dwayne Johnson, playing secret agent extraordinaire, is developing into a good comedy actor, while Alan Arkin is his usual brilliant self as the chief of CONTROL, much of his dialogue pure “Mel Brooks”, which had me on the floor. The movie is hugely entertaining and has had us giggling for days, thus, despite its many negative reviews all I can do is highly recommend it. 

Distributor: Warner Bros.; Running time: 110 minutes; Rated PG-13 (rude humor, action violence and language); Director: Peter Segal; Writers: Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember, based on the characters by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry; Main cast: Steve Carell, Anne Hathaway, Dwayne Johnson, Alan Arkin, Bill Murray, Terence Stamp, James Caan, Patrick Warburton; Cinematographer: Dean Semler; Music: Trevor Rabin; Production Designer: Wynn Thomas; Editor: Richard Pearson 

Plot: Maxwell Smart, blundering, over-eager analyst for covert agency CONTROL desperately longs to get out of the backroom and into the field. And he finally gets his chance when an attack on headquarters propels his unexpected promotion to field agent, teamed up with the lovely Agent 99. Together they must unmask the leaders of the criminal organisation KAOS and foil its diabolical plans.

Autor: Geraldine Blecker
E-Mail: geraldinefbtv@aol.com
Abfassungsdatum: 17.07. 2008
All rights to the author

The Incredible Hulk (2008)

Norton Gets Green, Not Mean.

Courtesy Marvel ComicsFrankfurt/Main (Weltexpress).Marvel’s “The Incredible Hulk" has already recouped its estimated budget of $125 million, amassing almost $220.5 million worldwide - more than half of that in the US since its release there on June 13 - and is expected to dominate European box offices this weekend, ousting Hancock from pole position.

Considered by some to be a big improvement over Ang Lee’s 2003 predecessor, "The Incredible Hulk" will doubtless appeal to fans who might have found the original too heavy-going. By contrast, although director Louis Leterrier (“The Transporter”) and screenwriter Zak Penn (“X-Men: The Last Stand”), together with co-writer Edward Norton, its star, touch upon the inner turmoil of the jolly green giant’s alter ego, "The Incredible Hulk" makes no bones about being a sci-fi-action-blockbuster and manages to find a good balance between a thought-provoking monster and an action-adventure.

The film opens with a pacey recap of the original story, bringing us up to date. Dr. Bruce Banner is on the run and keeping a low profile (on actual location) in Rio. And there is some amazing footage of the “City of God”, where Banner is working as a humble manual labourer in a soft-drinks bottling plant, learning Portuguese and studying anger management under a martial arts master. He is also in electronic communication with an (as yet) anonymous scientist, (Tim Blake Nelson) who is trying to help him analyse the radioactive contaminants in his blood that cause Banner’s incredible metamorphosis when his blood pressure rises beyond a certain point. Ergo: he is still desperately seeking a cure and consciously counting the “days without incident”.

But the US military, headed up by obsessive, ruthless General Ross (William Hurt) refuse to leave him alone. The Army wants to study Banner and isolate the elements that create the change in order to put the phenomenon to military use, i.e. create troops of invincible soldiers. Thus, when a drop of Banner’s blood accidentally contaminates a bottle of soft drink which is exported to the US, (swigged down by Stan Lee) they manage to pin-point his location - an aspect that could have been put to much better dramatic use, quite frankly - and the chase begins in earnest, with all hell breaking loose in the City of God and it and its inhabitants getting blasted to perdition: to absolutely no effect. Only the first of a somewhat tedious and illogical series of military blasting operations throughout, making you wonder why they persist in using such weaponry against an obviously invulnerable opponent.

But Banner has to move on and, although "The Incredible Hulk" could be described as a chase movie, it`s more than that. There are moments of introspection and sensitivity, much of which is owed to the sweetness and purity of Liv Tyler as Betty, Banner’s own true love and daughter of General Ross, in her scenes with Edward Norton, who must be one of the finest actors of his generation.

I’m a huge Edward Norton fan and admire just about everything he’s ever done, from “The Score” and Academy Award nominations “American History X” and “Fight Club”, to such smaller, independent pix as “Down In the Valley” and “The Painted Veil”. To this, his first superhero role to the best of my knowledge, he brings a stoic strength and even a modicum of humour, allowing us to identify more easily with the character and sympathise with his dilemma.

If you ask me, the most incredible thing about the Incredible Hulk is that there are two of them. But then, I guess that’s not so incredible after all. Otherwise, what would the good Hulk have to fight against if not the Bad Hulk? Or the “Abomination”, (from 1967’s “Tales to Astonish”), in the person of soldier Emile Blonsky, well-played by Tim Roth as a cold-blooded Brit - have you noticed that the villains these days are nearly always Brits? Leader of the general’s assault team because he’s nastier than everybody else, he fancies some of the Hulk-juice for himself, so that he can become even nastier. And this, of course, paves the way for a series of interminable hulk-meets-hulk fight sequences, some of which I even managed to doze through, despite the noise.

Unfortunately, although very similar in vein, the result is nowhere near as good as Jon Favreau’s “Iron Man”, which featured a far more interesting superhero than Banner, so this picture needs the big showdown, or more than one. Norton does his utmost to make Banner an interesting figure, but has neither the script, nor Downey’s off-hand brilliance. Nowhere more evident than in the finale, where Tony Stark makes a brief and satisfying appearance, giving us all sufficient warning of a forthcoming addition to the franchise(s).

The Incredible Hulk (German title: Die unglaubliche Hulk) USA, 2008; Genre: Sci-Fi-Action; Distributor: Universal; Length: 114 mins.; Rated PG-13 (for sequences of intense action violence, some frightening sci-fi images and brief suggestive content); Director: Louis Leterrier; Writ