Thursday, 25 December 2014

Fury

There are a lot of different kinds of war movies. There are movies about the air force, about bomb squads, about commando units, about great battles, about paratroopers, about radio units and about snipers. For some reason, there have been preciously little movies made about tank crews. But lo and behold, here comes “Fury”.

“Fury” is directed by David Ayer and stars Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Jon Bernthal and Michael Pena as the crew of a Sherman tank, fighting their way through Germany in the last days of World War II.

There are two things that “Fury” has that make it stand out from others. First is the tank itself. A quick google search shows that there are at this point three movies that focus on a tank’s crew, which after seeing “Fury” seems like such a waste of potential. Five men trapped in a metal war machine, how has that not been the stuff of dozens of movies at this point?
The second is the setting. In the time that “Fury” is set, the war is basically over. The allied forces are advancing towards Berlin and cleaning up along the way. Only the Germans haven’t quite given up and are brutally fighting the Allies for every step they take.

The film is doing well on those two things already, but it doesn’t stop there. It also looks amazing and has a strong cast that delivers good performances all around. They manage to make you forget that the characters themselves are a bit thin (although not “The Loft” level bad).

The one thing that this film has working against it is its pacing. I guess the idea was to show the unpredictability of war and keep you on your toes, which works out nicely enough throughout most of the film, but in the middle, it just loses all of its momentum while Brad Pitt and Logan Lerman have dinner with a German family in a recently occupied town.

The action scenes though are spectacular, especially when we get to see four Sherman tanks take on a single Tiger in a field. This and other scenes make it forgivable that Ayer had to shackle his tank crew down to make a compelling climax, especially since it ends up being very engaging.


All in all, “Fury” might not be quite the awards contender that its makers wanted it to be, due to weak characters and pacing that’s slightly off, but it is still a damn entertaining film that does a lot of things you won’t necessarily see in other war movies.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

"The Lord of the Rings“ is to a lot of people my age what “Star Wars” is to those of the generation before us… although, let’s be honest, “Star Wars” has lost none of its fascination. So I feel very lucky that from 2012 on, we have been getting a new Middle-Earth film each year and will be getting new films from a galaxy far far away starting next year. If that doesn’t excite you, I frankly don’t understand. Many people on the internet have criticised Jackson for splitting the movie into three parts. Me, I was always happy for more Hobbits, Dwarves, Elves and what not.

“The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” is the final part of Peter Jackson’s Middle-Earth saga, that now spans six movies, an epic of epic epicness one might say. “The Battle of the Five Armies” concludes the journey of Thorin Oakenshield’s (Richard Armitage) company, who have now set up shop in Erebor, the old dwarven kingdom inside the lonely mountain. But the giant treasure inside the mountain has attracted the attention of more than just a small company of dwarves, and now they have to see if they can keep the hard-won mountain.

If you were wondering where Benedict Cumberbatch’s Smaug is in that synopsis, you probably haven’t read the book. Suffice it to say he doesn’t play that big of a role in this movie, although his presence is certainly felt.

If you have been one of the people criticising the Hobbit-Saga for being bloated and not getting to the point, then this is the one for you. “The Battle of the Five Armies” delivers on its name. The pace is incredibly fast. Within half an hour, the battle starts and from that point on, it doesn’t stop. Helm’s Deep and the Pelennor Fields set the bar for cinematic warfare pretty high, but the Battle of the Five Armies can hold its own by comparison. “The Hobbit” saga has been a bit more over-the-top than the “Lord of the Rings”, and that shows in the battle, both in the bombastic scale and the amazing creatures it includes. Seeing an elven king riding to battle on a giant elk or an army of dwarves on the horizon instills a sense of wonder in you, just as seeing the Mûmakil attacking the Rohirrim did in “The Return of the King”.

On the human/dwarfish/elvish/orcish side, the characters that have been added throughout the trilogy finally pay off. The battle would have no impact if we didn’t have recognisable faces on the different sides of it. Legolas and Tauriel play an important part in the battle, more than I would have thought, and they do so well. The young elven prince can once more show off that no man, orc or battle-hardened dwarf is his equal, with some scenes that rival the insanity of his mûmak takedown on the Pelennor Fields.

The most character-work goes to Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield, who is going to some pretty dark places, greedily searching the gigantic treasure for the Arkenstone, the gem that would grant him the allegiance of the seven dwarf kingdoms. The dwarves quest to take back their home becomes distorted and it falls to Bilbo Baggins to keep the situation from derailing completely.

Armitage and Freeman have grown into their roles perfectly and it is a joy to watch them. Freeman injects some comedic moments, although this film is much more serious than its two predecessors. But when it comes to drama, both he and Armitage deliver in heaps. Most of the other dwarves stay in the background, with the notable exception of Balin, played by Ken Stott, and Aidan Turner’s Kili, who gets to explore the romance with Tauriel a bit more. This romance, which was one of the few problems I had with the second part, does get a nice payoff in here.

I don’t know what else I can tell you, I loved this movie. It looks great, there is an insane amount of spectacle in it and the end ties in with “The Lord of the Rings” perfectly.


I should mention that, while I don’t think that this is as good as any of the “Rings” movies, there is one Academy Award that can already be engraved in its name, if you ask me. Billy Boyd’s end-credits song “The Last Goodbye” skilfully blends the emotional impact of Bilbo’s adventure with the fact that this is the end to the brilliant Middle-Earth saga.

Friday, 12 December 2014

One page on an overlooked profession

So in honor of the conclusion to the Middle-Earth saga, I figured I would do something about the often overlooked second unit director of the Hobbit-trilogy. If you didn’t know what a second unit director does, he is basically responsible to film the scenes that need a lesser amount of attention by the director, like landscape or smaller sequences. However, for example Helm’s Deep in “The Two Towers” was 90% second unit, so the second unit director is an important person.

Oh, and also, the second unit director on the Hobbit is also none other than the godfather of motion-capture, Andy Serkis himself. If you are at all interested in movies, you have probably heard people championing him for an Academy Award, first for Gollum, now for his work on Caesar. So in the spirit of a fair discussion, I want to put together the main arguments for both sides, pro and con.

 Serkis himself has always stated that to him, motion-capture is basically a digital costume. He argues that he does the same thing other actors do, only his costume and make up gets put on later. There really is no point in arguing with that, this is the way it works. I would even go so far as to say motion-capture-acting is arguably harder in some aspects.

First, any actor, when asked will tell you that being in a costume is a huge help to get into a character. Playing Elizabeth Bennet gets a bit easier once you are in a dress that fits the period and on a set that is designed carefully by professional set-designers. In motion-capture, you have a grey motion capture suit with funny balls attached to it and a green screen. At least that is the way it used to be, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” was the first movie to actually take the motion-capture equipment, which is huge, on set, into the woods… and it was awesome. But still only grey suits.
And now imagine you have to become a dragon. No other actors, no set, just a director who tells you what’s good and what isn’t. The point is, everything has to come from your own imagination. That is insanely hard.

The second part is the kind of roles motion-capture enables. Acting students do a thing that is called animal studies, where they have to study an animal’s behavior and imitate it. Jack Reynor tells a great story about how he, pragmatically, as all his fellow students were studying monkeys or elephants, picked a turtle and spent the rest of the class being lazy. Because there really isn’t a way that this is something that would actually ever come up in a normal acting career, right? I mean, voice-work for sure, but actually having to play an animal on screen? Well, there is now.
For every great performance, actors look for a way into a character, shared experiences, things the actor can empathize with and then imitate. Well, what experiences do you share with an ape whose mother got experimented on, leaving you with a rapidly growing brain? Serkis had to look in completely different places for his performance than actors usually do.

So if motion-capture is like a good costume and is really as hard as I just laid out, (and please don’t take this as me saying normal acting isn’t hard in comparison, it really is) then why hasn’t Serkis got an Oscar yet? What is keeping the Academy from finally giving him the recognition he deserves?
Well, it’s basically one argument, and sadly, it is a very good one. It is true that you can compare motion-capture to a costume that is put on after the actual performance, but therein also lies the problem. If you put the costume and make up on digitally after the fact, what keeps a director from asking the effects team to change details of the performance? This reportedly happened on “The Two Towers” a few times, and that is an understandable reason to ban this from any best acting category.

However, don’t despair yet, as Serkis and other people working in the field are very aware of this concern and try everything to work against these allegations. For “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”, featurettes aimed at showing how closely the animators adhered to the original performance were released, showing Serkis and Kebbell (Koba) in their motion capture suits and their finished ape form, side-by-side. Of course, until they release the full movie in this format, there is still room for allegations of cherry-picking the moments that support their cause, but we can see a development into a good direction here.

Overall, I believe that we will see motion capture work being recognized next to conventional acting at some point in the near future. Will it be this season, for “Dawn”? I hope so, but I’m not putting any money on it yet. There are a lot of people arguing for it, studios, actors, directors and animators, but the opposition is still strong as well and their argument is a strong one.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

The Absent One


„The Absent One“ is a Danish thriller based on a novel by Jussi Adler-Olsen, directed by Mikkel Nørgaard and starring Nikolaj Lie Kaas and Fares Fares as two police detectives who are trying to solve the murder of a young boy and girl, brother and sister, already twenty years past. Their investigations lead them to the alumni of a reputed boarding school, who are now all hugely influential people.

Scandinavian thrillers are often hit-or-miss. They can either be boring, joyless affairs, painstakingly slowly dragging from scene to scene, telling stories that have been told one too many times. Or they can be breathtakingly dark, shocking and disturbing affairs, bleak in their atmosphere and not exactly life-affirming. “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” falls into the latter category, as does this film.

Our main characters are a work-a-holic detective, Karl, a man who has nothing but his work, and no joy in life, who neglects his son and spits verbal vitriol at anyone who dares address him, and his partner, Assad, a Muslim in a country that has some seriously racist tendencies. There is also a significant role for a female homeless drifter, whose involvement in the story ultimately leads to its chilling conclusion.

So we can check interesting characters, what about the story? A thriller without a good story doesn’t work, but luckily, this one has got you covered. While the story doesn’t necessarily impress by being unpredictable, it is not at all boring or unoriginal.

And what we see is portrayed in such a way that it grips our attention even if we expected it. This is one of the strength of those northern thrillers, they don’t pull any punches. None of the characters comes out of this with their moral integrity unscratched. Karl’s failures in connecting with his son are handled skilfully, no missed soccer practices in this film. There is a hint that Assad starts a relationship with the wife of one of the suspects. And Kimmie Lassen, the mysterious women, is unhinged and violent.

And that’s just our protagonists… the villains in this movie show such a disregard for life, it creeps you out from the first time you see them in action.

Overall, this is a good thriller, although it is certainly not for the faint-hearted.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Outside Hollywood Episode VII - Trailers & Marketing

Alright, time for a new episode of Outside Hollywood! This week, Cinemartian and I are looking at the marketing of movies. No, no, please stay, it's important to talk about this. Odds are, most of you base your choice of movies around the trailer, which is a bit problematic, because the companies that sell the movie are the ones who put the trailer together, not the people who actually make the movie. That often results in either a bad representation of a good movie, or a straight-up misleading trailer for a crap movie. This is why we want to take a closer look at trailers in general, what we look for in a good marketing campaign for a movie, and precisely why Spider-Man went so wrong.

In the review section, we take a look at the latest movie news, from Bond to the Suicide Squad, tell you about the movies we've seen recently and give some recommendations for movies that you can catch at the theatre or on DVD.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Let's Be Cops

If every comedy was like this one, I wouldn’t have to write articles like this. Now don’t build up your expectations, “Let’s be cops” is not a comedic masterpiece, but it’s far from being shit as well.

“Let’s be Cops” stars Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans Jr. as 30-something losers Ryan and Justin, who find that life can be so much better if you just put on a police uniform. It’s directed by Luke Greenfield, who takes the simple premise and a good ensemble and puts together a thoroughly entertaining and enjoyable comedy.

Most of the dialogue in this film at least that spoken by professional comedians, is improvised. As I lined out in my article on comedy, too much improvisation isn’t always a good thing. It keeps the filmmakers limited in their comedic resources. This shows here as well. While there is some visual comedy, all the action-scenes are by-the-book. As is the case in too many comedies these days, the filmmakers never really try to find jokes in new places.

Apart from that though, you can’t really complain about mostly improvisational comedy if it works, I guess. And in this case, it does. Especially in the first half, which consists mainly of short skits showing Ryan’s and Justin’s exploits as new fake cops. Johnson and Wayans Jr. play on the chemistry that they already built on the set of “New Girl” and the supporting cast makes sure things don’t get boring.

The directing, as I’ve mentioned, isn’t spectacular, but functional, which makes the second half, that plays more on action than on jokes, slightly inferior to the first, but never so much that it is actually bad.


In conclusion, “Let’s be Cops” might not be a great comedy, but it is certainly entertaining. Johnson and Wayans Jr. have good chemistry and the film doesn’t overdo its jokes. It’s certainly more enjoyable than most other comedies out these days.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

The Homesman

This is how I imagine a realistic buddy-cop-comedy in the Wild West to be. Lots of banter, less fun, more drama.

“The Homesman”, written and directed by Tommy Lee Jones, stars said old-timer and Hilary Swank. They are however only the head of an amazing cast, with big names down to the last minor role, literally. The film revolves around Swanks Mary Bee Cuddy, who is an independent farmer, a pious woman, who consents to transport three women whom the life on the frontier has driven mad back to the east, into the hands of the church. In this endeavor, she enlists the help of low-life drifter George Briggs, played by Jones.

When this movie’s opening credits were rolling, I could not help being impressed. When I wrote that this film is filled with great names to the last minor role, I meant it. Meryl Streep is in this movie… it doesn’t get much bigger than that. At the same time, there is young talent like the amazing Jesse Plemons, Todd from Breaking Bad, or Hailee Steinfeld, a seventeen year old Academy Award nominee. And each of these people deliver. The most attention obviously goes to Hilary Swank, who knocks it out of the park. The script provides her with an interesting character and she makes good use of it. Jones’ character is slightly more by-the-book, though never boring or flat. Especially the second half demands a lot from this role and Jones delivers without failure.
To list all of the supporting cast would take too long, but damn, they’re impressive. The three women they transport are haunting, with Miranda Otto standing out among them.

All of these characters get their time, which plays into the greatest strength of “The Homesman”, after its stellar cast. The attention to detail and the ambition in depicting as much of the pioneering life as possible is impressive. The pace might be slow because of this, but it provides the movie with an immersive effect that a period film always needs.

One problem the Homesman has, though, is its story. While the basic story is very simple and easy to follow, it is embellished a lot, always with the intention to paint as accurate a picture of life in the west as possible. However, while the individual scenes all play very well, they sometimes don’t add up as well as they should. For example, a desecration of an Indian grave should create tension when our main characters later meet a group of Pawnees, but the two scenes play completely separate from each other (those two don’t necessarily should either, but it’s the best way to illustrate the point).
Adding to that, especially in the first third of the movie, the story is told in a disjointed fashion, intercutting Cuddy’s story with the suffering of the three women. While each of the scenes makes the women more interesting, it also makes the story less accessible in the beginning.

To my initial remark about buddy-cop-comedies, this really isn’t that far away from it. Jones obviously knows that where there is drama, there is also comedy. He obviously didn’t write this as a comedy, and it never is, but there is some humor derived from the mismatch between Swanks pious and sincere woman and Jones vagrant scoundrel, just in the way the buddy-cop genre does it, only if not funnier, then at least more sincere than most movies of the genre these days do. However, not to be misleading, the drama is the center of this film. And the film has a lot of emotional punch, be prepared for that.


So, in conclusion, this is a good movie. A great cast and amazing attention to detail make it a potentially great movie, but problems in pacing and story hold it back. If you like western, the thoughtful kind, this might be the right movie for you. If you are looking for shootouts, not as much.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Outside Hollywood Episode 6 - The Golden Age of Television

What makes Television so good these days that we call it a "Golden Age"? What series should you watch? What can you not afford to miss? Find out on this weeks Outside Hollywood Podcast. Also, Cinemartian and I talk about recent movie news, review "Nightcrawler" and give you an overview over what's coming up in Cinemas this week.

Once again, we changed the format of the podcast so you can either just listen to the discussion part, which deals with TV this week, or skip to the review section immediately, to hear about news and reviews.

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Tuesday, 18 November 2014

The Loft

So an architect, a software designer, a psychotherapist, a violent drug addict and another guy time-share a loft... already looks like a bad joke, nothing to do here for me.

"The Loft" is a remake of the belgian film "Loft", by the same director, Erik van Looy, starring Karl Urban, James Marsden and Wentworth Miller. It revolves around a group of friends who buy the titular loft together as a refuge from their prying wives... and to have sex with random women. One morning, they find an unknown woman lying dead in their bed and now they have to figure out who did it.

This is a stylish movie. Nobody can take that away from it. The movie is all about sweet interior design, sharp suits and classy parties. It's got some pretty sweet camerawork, with a lot of extreme close-ups, emphasising the mystery aspect of the story, urging you to take a closer look.

Only if you do that, odds are you're not going to enjoy it. The story is so fragmented, in an attempt to confuse the viewer through structure. It works, but not in a good way. The movie basically consists of numerous flashbacks inside of flashbacks. The outer framework is set in the interrogation rooms of a police station, where the five friends are being worked on, trying to figure out what actually happened. Then there are the flashbacks to the same morning, when they found the body and debate who did it and what to do next. And then there are the flashbacks that go all over the place, ranging all across the last year, from the first time they enter the loft up to the actual deed that got them into this pickle. Those go completely unannounced, without any idea why they are important, who's telling their story now, or is anyone?

The movie clearly goes for a "Rashomon" style, hoping that you start to question what the different characters say, start being suspicious of them. However, it does such a poor job of laying out its Red Herrings, throws out all subtlety and puts up big neon signs instead that say: "Did you see that? Might have been him... just saying."

It also never follows up on any of the suspicions it so clumsily tries to sow. So when we find out that one of the characters does not have his key on him, the movie doesn't use that to build mistrust, but instead uses it for one quick burst of anger only to move on to the next thing. This actually happens for every single one of them, like clockwork.

And that's the next point... the characters. They are shockingly one-dimensional. Everyone gets exactly one character-beat and can then repeat that as many times as he likes. There's the womanizer, the drunk, and the white knight, you get the drill. I don't even want to put any blame on the actors, because it's very clear that there are simply no good characters in the script.  The one who gets by far the most out of his character is Mathias Schoenaerts, who is an excellent actor. If you haven't seen him in "Rust and Bone", you need to check that film out, it was one of the best films of 2012. He plays the lowlife half-brother of James Marsdens character, a role that doesn't make that much sense in the setting of the story, but what he does, he does well.

My final point of contention is a bit more specific, going into the story. It's full of plot holes, but this was the worst for me. The movie features a main cast of maybe ten people. The wives hardly count, some of them don't get any meaningful dialogue at all. Instead, time that could have been spent fleshing out the characters is used on setting up this huge false lead. If you don't want to know, skip to the next paragraph, but honestly... so the flashbacks involve a lot of fancy parties, and on every single one of those, we meet either a corrupt city council member, a corrupt real estate agent or both. Might that be a part of the mystery? Well, let me save you the time, it isn't. None of it matters. And seriously, to get to that conclusion, you need about twenty minutes. By the third party, those two are set up as the bad guys so clearly that you know, if you've seen a single thriller before, that they are not guilty. But the movie goes even further than that. They aren't even involved or of any consequence at all. And that's basically the complete first half of the movie. None of it matters even one bit.

And that's about it. A stylish thriller that is not very thrilling and even less satisfying. Use the time that you could have spent on this to watch "Rashomon," a truly great movie that shows you what this movie wanted to be.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Nightcrawler

"A friend is a gift you give yourself." Sound creepy? No? Well wait until you hear Jake Gyllenhaal say it.

"Nightcrawler" is Dan Gilroys directorial debut, and boy, does he deliver. The movie follows Lou Bloom, a thief and generally unnerving fellow, who finds his calling when he observes the work of a nightcrawler, independent film crews that drive around the city trying to gather footage of accidents, violent crimes and anything shocking. "If it bleeds, it leads."

Jake Gyllenhaal plays Lou, who, as we quickly find out, learned his people skills exclusively from an online business course. Hell, I thought Idris Elba was creepy last week, compared to Lou Bloom, I would probably invite him in for coffee and call up Hannibal Lecter to come along too, just for good measure. Gyllenhaal has found his best role so far in this movie, and he doesn't let it go to waste. We know very little about Lou, but what we know and see is extremely unsettling, elevated by Gyllenhaals monstrous performance.

His main acting partners are Rene Russo as Nina, whom he sells his tapes to, and Riz Ahmed as Rick, a young man Lou enlists as his navigator. Both play off very well from Gyllenhaal and show the ethical sides to the business they are conducting.

Additionally, the cinematography by Robert Elswit should be noted. Los Angeles looks amazing and Elswit finds something so fascinating about the nightly streets, it completely draws you in. This effect is only heightened by a great original score by James Newton Howard, who understands the need to give this story its very own feeling.

And what a story it is. It is driven by Lous extreme dedication to the further development of his upstart business and mixes elements of thriller, crime and drama. This is done very skillfully, so that the movie never becomes boring.

Overall, this is an amazing piece of film, especially considering that Gilroy is a first-time director. I am very interested in seeing what is next from him, almost as interested in seeing Gyllenhaal show more of the truly captivating acting he has done for this character.


Apparently, box office numbers for this movie are not that great, so that might hurt its chances to get nominated for an Academy Award, but this is clearly of that material, and in the best way possible.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Outside Hollywood Episode 5 - Marvel vs. DC

It's time, guys. Finally, we tackle the big questions. Marvel vs. DC, who makes the better comic book movies? The two studios have announced their slate for the next years to come and there is a lot to talk about. What are we most excited for? Find out on the Outside Hollywood podcast.

We are also proud to present our new format. Yes, after a lot of consideration, between enjoying movie discussions so much and trying to keep the podcast under an hour, we just decided to split it, giving you about half an hour of discussion and about half an hour of news, reviews and recommendations. Today in the reviews section, Interstellar, dark thrillers, drama and an unlikely christmas movie. Listen Music - Listen Audio Files - Podcast #5 - DC vs. Marvel -... Music Hosting - Listen Audio Files - Podcast #5 - DC vs. Marvel -...

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Interstellar

Okay, no forced joke this time, more of a disclaimer. I love Christopher Nolans movies. I think he is one of the greatest filmmakers working today, maybe destined to one day be in a league with Spielberg, Kubrick and that tier of directors. Being aware of that, I am faced with an almost impossible task.

We live in a society that hands out superlatives too often. Everything is sensational, the best, the greatest. Maybe we try to upgrade our experience in that way, I don't know, all I know is that I am guilty of this too. I have lavished films with more praise than they deserve, having been swept away by the experience or just because I couldn't find a more moderate approach to make my opinion clear. (Exhibit A: My very first review for Amazing Spiderman 2. Today, that would have gotten a lower score from me.) However, I have always tried to avoid the superlative, which I hope will give the following more weight.

After seeing "Interstellar", I am faced with the question of how to communicate the greatness of this film without falling into the trap of merely appearing as a "Nolan-fanboy". I want to tell you this is the greatest sci-fi movie I have ever seen, and I honestly feel that way, but how do I make that a believable claim?

The thing is, after a quick look at the internet, I already know that my opinion of this movie is not widely held. Most people call it an ambitious but flawed movie and place it somewhere between above average and good. Did all of those people get the movie wrong? I don't think they did, their experience just differed from mine. If you watch this movie after reading these lines, which by the way I would strongly recommend, don't even wait for the actual review, don't spoil yourself by knowing anything more than you should going in, which is nothing, you may find that you do not share my view. Criticism is always a value-judgement and thus subjective.

I'm rambling on, so let me just give you a short version of all that text:

In my opinion, "Interstellar" is the best Sci-Fi film ever made. Other people disagree with that. It is their right to do so, no one here is right or wrong. As someone who hasn't seen the movie, just know that everyone praises it as a very good movie, some more than others. This means that if you watch this movie, you might see the best Sci-Fi drama you have ever seen. You might also see a movie that is not that. In any case, it is good and for the ambition in this movie alone, it is worth seeing it, just to be able to take part in the conversation about it.

After this let me try to give this movie a proper review, with as little information as I can, because I do not want to give away anything if I can help it. I might not be the right person to review it, because the strength of the experience alone makes objectivity hard, but I will try anyway.

"Interstellar" is Christopher Nolans new Sci-Fi Drama, capital Science, and stars Matthew MacConaughey as Cooper, a NASA pilot, who currently works as a farmer because in the future, the world needs food more than it needs engineers and pilots. Because Earth is dying, humanity can hardly grow enough crops to sustain themselves, having to rely on massive monocultures, which always spells trouble, because those have a tendency of being very vulnerable. Then, Cooper becomes part of a secret mission to find a new planet for humanity to live on. That's the first fifteen minutes.

First, the cast of this movie is great. Matthew MacConaughey is a perfect choice for Cooper, an uncharacteristically conventional hero for a Nolan film. He has the ability to internalize a lot, show a lot without dialogue, and that is absolutely important in this story. The most important support would probably be Jessica Chastain, grounding the storyline on earth. She gives a great performance as well, but I'm not going to tell you who she is... the less you know. I thought Anne Hathaways part would be bigger, yet it is still integral and a great performance.

The real star here, however, is Christopher Nolan himself. After the much debated and criticized "Dark Knight Rises", he is back with an original idea, and if you thought "Inception" was ambitious, well you were wrong. The ambition that this film brings to the table dwarfs anything we have seen in previous years and legitimizes the comparisons to Kubricks "2001: A Space Odyssey". Nolan shoots for the stars, literally and figuratively speaking, tackling not only an immense amount of scientific topics, requiring copious amounts of expositional dialogue, but also a level of emotion that is maybe even more unusual for him. The father-daughter relationship in this movie still shows signs that Spielberg was once attached to this project, but Nolan makes it his own. He is pushing himself as a filmmaker, harder than anyone would have thought, to tackle these topics that he has maybe shied away from a little bit in the past.

In this, apparently, he does not meet everyones taste. Some dialogue that is meant to sound clunky and insecure is seen as being clunky and insecure by accident rather than choice, in particular a speech given by Anne Hathaways character.

The visuals of this movie are absolutely breathtaking. I had a few tears in my eyes at several points in the movie, but the first time was because of the sheer joy of going to space with these characters. Nolan finds a way to put you into the ship with the astronauts, by limiting himself to a few different camera angles in the bigger FX sequences. I am sure the temptation must have been there to go full on Bayhem on the wormhole scenes, overwhelm the audience with special effects, but Nolan understands that less is more. He restricts himself in order to ground the experience and put you in the seat next to his characters.

In the end though, what made this movie so special to me, what makes this movie stand out, what made me unable to form a coherent thought after the credits had rolled, just because of sheer awe, is the message that this movie brings with it. Nolan reminds us that there is a world, bigger than our own. That there used to be a time when we would have given everything to explore that. In this, one is reminded of Ron Howards "Apollo 13", about the real Apollo mission that had become so routine that the people didn't even care about it until it failed spectacularly. We went to the moon as soon as we could, and after that, we lost interest. It is clear that this is a tragedy to Nolan, just as it should be a tragedy to all of us. A few weeks ago, ESA released a short film to explain to the world why they should be excited about the Rosetta Mission to capture an asteroid, starring Aidan Gillen, and while they don't have quite the filmmaking skills of Nolan, it hits the same vein. We should be exploring the stars. We should question our boundaries. Will it lead us to interstellar travel? Maybe it will, maybe it won't, but the possibilities are endless. That is the spirit that Nolan wants to put on the screen, and he succeeds. The world in which his characters live, a world in which schools teach the moon landing as a clever propaganda plot to make the russians bankrupt themselves by investing in "useless" machinery, is a horrifying vision to me.


So that's it, as general as possible, because I don't want to spoil anything. My review for "Interstellar". Again, I will not temper it, in my opinion it is the best Sci-Fi film. You should see for yourself.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

No Good Deed

Now that's an episode of "Luther" I would like to see.

"No Good Deed", directed by Sam Miller, stars Idris Elba as Colin Evans, a sociopathic mass murderer who escapes from prison and turns up on the doorstep of a young mother played by Taraji P. Henson. What follows is a clever thriller, very focused on Elbas haunting performance.

The life of a malign narcissist must be a hard one... an old guy tells on you during an appeal hearing, the families of your victims go on record with their story of how bad a person you are and you have to kill the only person that believed in you in order to escape from prison. That's the first five minutes of this movie. Rough stuff, a really good first act. We get to know our two main characters (obviously, Terrys introduction isn't quite as spectacular, hinting at problems in her marriage and establishing that she will be home alone with the kids for the night) and the plot swiftly puts them on opposite sides of a door in a heavy storm.

Now, this movie might not be perfect, you might say that the strong focus on Idris Elbas character leaves the supporting cast to be painted with a broader stroke than one might hope for, you might say that it doesn't show too many original ideas. But what it does, it does extremely well. That is, a great performance by Idris Elba, and to a lesser extent, Henson, who really does a lot with what little she is given, and a great second act.

The whole idea of a crazy killer coming into an
innocent persons home is not new. Yet, it works well for two reasons. First, while Colin Evans might be a cold-blooded killer and his creepiness on a completely different level from what you might know, he is also extremely smart, which makes the audience wonder: "Does he have any reason to inflict any sort of harm on this family? Not that I know of... Maybe he will just leave." This line of thinking seems pretty improbable since we are clearly in a thriller, and those don't usually end with a thank you and a mechanic picking our guy up to get his car fixed. But Elbas performance and the smart script keep the possibility open. The writers found a range of different scenarios to extract tension from this premise, which is exactly what a second act is supposed to do. It's the meat of the movie, the time in which you take your premise and find as much entertainment in it as you can. "No Good Deed" does so in a lot of different ways.

Elba gets all the help he can get in portraying the ultimate creep, be it the use of sound, the cinematography, his framing or cutbacks to his immediate past. This might seem heavy handed at times, but it never took me out of the movie.

Also, the house is a great piece of scenery. It provides more than just a backdrop, it is used to it's full potential in all its details. Most of the things you see set up some later scene, in a way that either makes you anticipate it when you first glimpse the kitchen-knives or in a surprising capacity.

Now, as I said, the movie is not completely perfect, and its reception has been mixed, because it's supporting characters are not very complex. And as is so often the case after a great second act, the finale cannot quite fulfill the promise, giving us a twist that was ultimately unneccessary and feels more like observing the conventions than an actually inspired idea. Finally, there is a change of location that I thought would hurt the movie, as it used the house so perfectly, but turned out to be okay.

One specific piece of writing, or better the lack thereof, deserves special mention. The clichéed scene that I was dreading, a character turning on the TV to immediately see the news playing a report on our man, was completely absent and in its place a wonderful replacement that I won't spoil.


All in all, I loved this movie for what it was. A straight forward thriller that puts all its weight behind its lead actor and is aided greatly by a smart script.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

A Walk Among The Tombstones

The most important thing you have to know about this movie: It's not Taken.

"A Walk Among The Tombstones" is Scott Franks second feature film, starring Liam Neeson as unlicensed private investigator Matt Scudder. He gets hired by a drug dealer to find the people that kidnapped and killed his wife. Reluctantly, he embarks on an investigation that will lead him to some dark and sinister places. And it makes for a pretty entertaining movie.

It's easy to forget what a great actor Liam Neeson is, considering his last few leading roles were rather unchallenging variations on Brian Mills, his break-out action role. Reportedly, the actor is himself very aware of that, going so far that he almost threw the script for this movie out when he read one of the key scenes that has him threaten the villains of the movie over the phone. Luckily he didn't, because apart from that, the movie bears little likeness to Taken, but turns out to be more of a Film Noir thriller, dark and dialogue-driven.

Neesons gravitas and immense presence are well-known by now and he uses all of this intensity for this role. And the effort is not wasted, Matthew Scudder being a very deep character, the star of a whole series of books. There are a lot of nuances to be found and Neeson fills the Noir archetype of the broken hero perfectly.

The two antagonists, played by David Harbour and Adam David Thompson, work just as well, clearly relishing the opportunity to go full-on creepy. The two wouldn't feel out of place if you just threw them into a horror-movie as they are now.

Regrettably, there are some weaker parts to the ensemble. Maurice Comptes drug dealer stays very much inside all stereotypes and is even upstaged in his clichéedness when we meet a russian mobster, in full tracksuit and sporting a thick accent.

My main problem however was TJ, the young homeless boy who crosses Scudders path repeatedly and then becomes an integral part to the story for some reason. The acting by Brian "Astro" Bradley is alright, but the character in itself has so many flaws and inconsistencies, it took me out of the movie at times. First, his insistence on reminding the audience that they are watching a Film Noir. He is frequently only one step away from breaking the fourth wall and telling the audience: "Get it, like in "The Maltese Falcon"." That might have been on the nose but acceptable, were it reflected in the rest of the characters behaviour. But there are almost two sides to his character. The other side is him being a normal, slightly rude boy, obsessed with superheroes and afflicted with sickle-cell anaemia, which sounds random, but it will become important later, so better remember that.
Overall, as Film Noir deal in archetypes anyway, his character in my opinion could have just been replaced with some version of a femme fatal, whom this movie desperately lacks.
My final gripe with the movie would be that, in the hands of a more experienced director, there was a lot more atmosphere to be found in the material. If you are going to be as obvious as this movie is about what it wants to be, there is no shame in reflecting that in your style. What we get is absolutely serviceable, but nothing special.

Overall, "A Walk Among The Tombstones" is a fine piece of entertainment, different from what we usually get these days, and I want to see more of it. If there are going to be sequels however, there are still areas that need improvement.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

One Page on Comedy

I'm pissed.

I just came out of the cinema after watching "The Inbetweeners 2". Two weeks ago, I watched "Think like a man too". Both of these movies claim to be comedies. They do have all the stuff that makes a comedy too, I suppose. The Inbetweeners features four pathetic losers looking for sex. Sounds a bit harsh, but I can't put it any other way. It's American Pie with Brits in Australia. It's also complete and utter shit. "Think like a man too" is somehow even worse, a Vegas comedy that features Kevin Hart, a token white couple and no jokes.

Comedy these days has become the laziest genre in Hollywood. Even worse than Horror, which is already terrible. These days, filming a comedy means either having someone like Kevin Hart do a stand-up routine in front of a rolling camera or lightly editing a bunch of people improvising. There is actually going to be a rerelease for "Anchorman 2", same movie, completely different jokes.

That doesn't necessaryly have to be bad. "Anchorman" has a cast full of funny people, there is no denying that. If it works, it works. But sadly, most of the time it doesn't, and even then, it's still lazy. Yes, Kevin Hart may be a funny guy, but seeing him in a movie reminds me of Chris Rock. He's rather funny in the movies he's in, but in the end, it's just an extrapolation of his on-stage persona, which is a million times funnier. To make a really funny movie, you need more than a funny actor.

You need a funny director, a funny screenwriter, a funny soundguy, a funny props department. In every other genre it seems to be understood that a movie is more than just the person on-screen. Most comedies these days forget that.

Now I don't expect every director to be Edgar Wright, who is the best comedy director these days, by far. But you don't need to be an expert in framing, the use of music or witty match-cuts. Just show a little bit more creativity.

There are still some people out there that make good comedies, and luckily they have great success doing it, so I'm not giving up on the genre. Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the Coen brothers, recently Martin Scorsese and arguably Quentin Tarantino all know how to amuse an audience with more than just a string of bad jokes.

At this point I could list some of those ways, but someone else, who knows much more about movies than I do, has already done it better, so here's a link: Every Frame A Painting

Remember when we had movies like "Airplane!", "The Naked Gun" or "Top Secret!"? You might think these movies are pretty funny, but dated and kind of stupid... I know I used to do that. But then again, have you seen Scary Movie? You could go for the movies that actually tries to be inventive,
Compare this to this and tell me which is funnier.

So yeah, I'm done with boring comedies. The whole idea of the genre is to entertain, and if your movie can't manage that, then you should consider a different line of work Tim Story. And I know that tastes are different, but quality stays the same.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Gone Girl

"It was my fifth lie to the police. I was just starting." This is the kind of story we are dealing with here, neatly summed up in one quote from the book. Unreliable narration indeed.

"Gone Girl" is David Finchers new thriller, starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike. It follows Nick Dunne, who comes home on his fifth wedding anniversary to find his wife Amy missing and his living-room showing signs of struggle. And from that we find ourselves right in the middle of a mistery. We get to know more about their past from Amys diary and that's about all one can safely say. Anything else goes into spoiler-territory, and we haven't left the first twenty minutes of the movie yet.

Being unable to talk about the plot can prove to be difficult for a review, but this being a David Fincher movie, there is a lot else to talk about.

For one thing, the casting is perfect. Ben Affleck channels all the media backlash he has faced over the years, especially after his casting as Batman in the upcoming "Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice", into his portrayal of Nick, who becomes the focus of a nation-wide media event, debating whether he is responsible for his wifes disappearence or not. He once again shows that he is one of the most talented people working in Hollywood these days. But among all the twists and turns this movie has to offer, Rosamund Pike is probably the greatest surprise. Her performance is completely captivating and already generated some Oscar buzz, so we might see a nod for best actress there.

The support cast is just as strong, from the surprisingly captivating turn by newcomer Carrie Coon as Nicks sister, to Neil Patrick Harris playing against his usual type as an ex-lover of Amy. A special mention has to be given to Tyler Perry, who plays Nicks lawyer and manages to inject some really funny scenes into the movie.

This movie is constructed meticulously, as can be expected from Fincher, who is one of the greatest directors working in Hollywood these days. The first act introduces all of the different elements of this story, the Dunnes, Nicks relationship with his sister, the actual disappearance, the media, the whodunnit aspect, and a few more. One after another, the movie takes its time, so we are familiar with everything when it starts to pull the rug out from under us in the second act.

Fincher is famous for his use of the camera as an omniscient observer to the story, instead of a person in the room. He knows how to use camerawork to show relationships and illustrate more than just the action on-screen. In this case, observe how the camera never takes the perspective of the media. We never see a newscast or an interview fill the screen. Clearly, Fincher doesn't think the media has the same omniscience that his camera possesses. It is this kind of depth that makes Fincher so good at his job.

Add to that Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross once again on soundtrack duties, giving every scene exactly the kind of surreal edge it needs. And even in a movie that is basically very grounded, Fincher and his longtime cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth find amazing visuals.

It should be noted that the tone of this movie is different from what you see in a lot of other movies. The movie does not come with a big climax, it actually slows down towards the end. That has been put against it by a lot of critics, and I can't really disagree with it. The end of this story just isn't very cinematic. At the same time, I can't really see another way this could go. Furthermore, the characters have some cartoonish strokes to them, which takes some getting used to. But once again, this is used to make them more applicable to some of the themes this movie explores, which I would love to go into in detail but can't without giving away anything.


Overall, this movie is so many things, it's hard to summarize. It is a dark comedy, social commentary, a snapshot of life after the death of the American Dream, but most of all, it is an amazing movie. It might be the best thriller we get all year, so go watch it while it's still in theaters.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Sin City 2: A Dame To Kill For

"Sin City's where you go in with your eyes open, or you don't come out at all."
Doesn't get any more quotable than that.

"Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For" is the sequel, nine years in the making, to the brilliant Sin City, directed by Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez. Back then it was a surprise hit, enabling movies like "The Spirit" and "300" directly and other R-rated comic movies like "Kick-Ass" and apparently not Deadpool, but I digress... Sadly, it is already obvious that the sequel doesn't come close to the financial success of the original. But that's just the box office, what about the movie itself?

"A Dame to Kill For" sees the return of a lot of the talent involved in the first movie, Rodriguez and Miller direct and a host of actors return to further explore their characters from the first movie. The sequel follows the formula of the first movie and separates itself into four stories, loosely connected by the city and the characters.

"Just Another Saturday Night" features Mickey Rourkes Marv regaining consciousness on a highway, surrounded by corpses and having no recollection of the last hours. "The Long Bad Night" was written exclusively for the movie, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a professional gambler who gets in over his head. The titular "A Dame to Kill For" revolves around Dwight, Clive Owens killer with a new face from the original, this time before his plastic surgery, played by Josh Brolin. In the story, he gets entangled with his ex, Ava Lord, played by Eva Green. Finally, "Nancy's Last Dance", likewise an original story, takes place four years after the events of "That Yellow Bastard" from the first film and sees Jessica Albas young stripper seeking revenge for the events of that story.

It's really hard to review this movie without acknowledging the kind of universe it is set in. Realism very much takes a back seat here, with characters that might seem human, but definitely excel in terms of durability and strength, to varying degrees even. The City is a brilliant backdrop, dark, murky and with danger lurking behind every corner. There is very little morality to be found here and none of our heroes are even slightly squeamish when it comes to violence.

For the people who liked the original, this on promises more of everything, more violence, more sex and most of all, more Marv. Yes, Mickey Rourkes character was so well received, deservedly so, that Miller and Rodriguez put him in every single story, even if it is only a cameo. But while he is a fascinating character and Mickey Rourke plays him with an energy and relish you don't see that often, he is definitely overused here. When the final story comes around, in which he is Nancy's right hand in her plot for revenge, we've seen so much of him already that all he really does is pose a huge error in continuity from the first movie. I won't spoil it, because if you don't notice it, you're definitely better off.

Both Sin City movies jump around their timeline wildly, with only loose connections between the storys. This makes the world of Sin City seem so intense and full of storys. Some storys take place at the same time, like "Just Another Saturday Night" and "That Yellow Bastard", others show you characters at vastly different points of their story, like "A Dame to Kill For" and "The Big Fat Kill". It is a very intricately crafted timeline, which makes it even worse when it is broken.

Another problem is the arrangement of the different episodes. The main story, "A Dame to Kill For" begins after the very short opening with "Just Another Saturday Night" and a quick glimpse at "The Long Bad Night" and "Nancy's Last Dance". The problem is that this way, the movies climax comes around half of its running time. While Joseph Gordon-Levitt can hold the audiences attention very well, fitting into the citys aesthetic and style perfectly, Albas story feels more like an afterthought, at its most interesting in its beginning and declining from there. At this point, the movie only drags on, giving you time to ponder continuity errors, something that might have been fixed by putting the story up front.

Apart from those two things "A Dame to Kill For" is actually a lot of fun. Despite being in it a little bit too much, Rourke is amazing to watch, Josh Brolin shows once again that whatever actor came before him in a role, he can match up to it. With the help of some prosthetic make-up, he even looks the part towards the end of his story. Gordon-Levitt has some of the best lines and fits the story like a glove. However, the real standout is Eva Green, chilling and dangerous, the epitome of desirability. Once again starring in an adaption of Rodriguez work, she shows once again that plays dangerous women like no one else in Hollywood.

The original style is back as well, with a few new flourishes, but mostly the same. The films noir look is once again punctuated by a few coloured accents. The movie looks astonishing, worth it just for the sheer stylishness.

Overall, this movie is a fun ride, not quite as great as its predecessor, but still showing a lot of potential. Sadly after it tanked at the box office, it's not likely we'll see another one, but then again, Rodriguez and Miller do have a mind of their own.

Oh, and be sure to check out Cinemartians review over here.

Friday, 19 September 2014

One Page on House of Cards

House of Cards is a very peculiar thing. It follows congressman Frank Underwood, a spot on performance by the great Kevin Spacey, who after being denied the position of secretary of state following a successful presidential campaign, starts scheming his way up the political ladder on Capitol Hill. Similar to Breaking Bad, maybe the greatest piece of television ever created, there is a lot of ambivalence here concerning the moral standing of our main character. Is he the protagonist of this story? If not, who is?

I finished season 2 of this wonderful series a few days ago. It is such a curious thing, constantly catching you off-guard. I'm not going into spoiler territory just now, but it is clear from the beginning that Underwood is ruthless. In his struggle for power, he has no regard for others. Now it is always fun to watch manipulative characters on-screen, the elegance of it makes us sympathize with the obvious smartest person in the room. You can't help but marvel at the foresight and minute planning that takes place here. Yet, House of Cards provides you with constant reality-checks, showing you some of the people who get left behind in Underwoods wake.

In that regard, Underwood may be the best politician ever put to screen. He constantly directs our attention. We are constantly aware of his ulterior motives, it's all about the power for him. Regardless, as he rises through the ranks, especially in the first season, we root for him. We feel his defeats and are impressed by his victories. Why? Do we want our politicians to be that way? If his opponents are so easily manipulated, do they deserve what's coming to them?

Spoilers from here on... you've been warned.

In the second season, things become much clearer. Now, Underwood has bloodied his hands. The fate of Peter Russo and Zoe Barnes has shown us his true colours. No amount of smoke screening he can do will make us root for him again, right? And yet, watching it, I never seriously entertained the possibility of his defeat. There are those who know stuff about him, people that become dangerous. This should be the main conflict, following the heroic attempt to blow the whistle on a man that couldn't be any more corrupt and dangerous. But Underwood isn't even playing that game anymore. He has become untouchable, delegating this whole aspect of the story to Stamper. He has bigger fish to fry. In a normal Hollywood film this hubris would lead to his downfall, and it might still, but not in House of Cards.

Through his conflict with Tusk, he even finds a way to get us back on his side. Tusk is just as bad as he is... but he isn't talking to the camera, and that's what counts here. At this point, we all know that Francis Underwood is a villain, maybe one of the best, but he doesn't fight good guys, and that makes all the difference. Of course decent people cross his path, but none of them ever seriously challenge him. Most of them don't know how bad, and those who do are effectively silenced. Apart from brief opposition by the president, there is no hero in this story.

Spoilers end.

And in that, House of Cards is completely unique in my opinion. No other show or movie manages to resist the hero character. Of course, there are anti-heroes, and they are fine and good, but someone always opposes the villain. Even Breaking Bad had Hank Schrader, obsessively searching for Heisenberg.

If you know another example of this, please tell me, because it is such an amazing thing to watch. Anyway, those are my thoughts on House of Cards, definitely one of my favourite shows.

Outside Hollywood #4 - After Earth

Alright, here it is, episode 4 of Outside Hollywood. Leo and I take a look at the works of none other than M. Night Shyamalan, a VIP-member of the "So-bad-it's-good" society. Enjoy Share Music - Embed Audio Files - Podcast #4 - After Earth

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

A Most Wanted Man


So yesterday I wrote my list of movies I want to watch this fall, pretty sure that I wouldn't be able to find some of them in theaters. Today I can already cross one of those from my list, thank you Sneak Preview.

"A Most Wanted Man" is a spy-thriller by Anton Corbijn, set in post 9/11 Hamburg. It stars a great ensemble, including Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe, Robin Wright, but most of all, the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman. The movie follows Hoffmans spymaster Günther Bachmann in his efforts to ensnare Homayun Ershadis Abdullah, a charitable and spiritual muslim whom he suspects of funding terrorist organizations under the cover of his philantropic work. The linchpin in Bachmanns plan is Issa Karpov, played by Grigoriy Dobrygin, a half Russian, half Chechen muslim who inherited a large sum of money from his war-criminal father.

Spy movies, particularly those based on stories by John le Carré, such as this one, can be hard to follow, which is part of their appeal. "A Most Wanted Man" is different in that regard. The goal is always clear, even if the movie manages to keep you in the moment very effectively instead of jumping ahead in your mind. Because we know what the outcome has to be, the audience is at liberty to concentrate on every single step of the plan, analyzing each situation for weak points, aspects that can go wrong and possible threats. This makes it less surprising than other movies in the genre, although it still does pull the rug out from under you to great effect at times.

This movie has everything you can imagine in a spy movie. A shady spymaster, shady government officials, a shady bankier, very little in this movie does not come as shady. The movie is well cast even in the smallest roles and gives us good characters throughout. Apparently, Willem Dafoes Tommy Brue is a much larger character in the original book and you can feel that on screen, there is a lot of background hinted here, a character interesting even outside of his role in this story. Similar, although not as extensive, Annabel Richter, played by Rachel McAdams, is drawn with few but effective strokes.

Nevertheless, the real key players here are Hoffmans tired spy and Dobrygins troubled refugee. Karpov is an interesting character. It is never made clear wether he is or isn't a terrorist, or at least was. He might be a trained insurgent, riddled with doubt, or completely innocent, having gone through an inhumane ordeal. Bachmann is the most important character in this whole piece, not only because he is the main character, but also because the whole tone of the movie hinges on him. A movie like this could easily become propaganda, demonizing the enemy in the war on terror, but this one is saved by Hoffman, fuelled by a believe in a soft touch. You get the feeling that he is desperately clinging to his humanity in an inhumane business. One particularly strong scene includes him seamlessly slipping into a very hard stance on terror, intimidating and aggressive, juxtaposing two ways of fighting the war on terror.

The murky swamps of espionage and this covert war are the main themes of this movie, keeping you on edge at all times, because it is clear that in this world, nobody is to be trusted. Like a dark shadow, the other parties involved in this operation loom over Bachmanns shoulders, none of them being more threatening than Robin Wrights Martha Sullivan, embodying the American interest. If you have seen "House of Cards", you already know that she is a force to be reckoned with and that she has a bite to match her bark.

By focusing so heavily on Hoffmanns spymaster, the movie does lack a personal touch on long stretches. Scenes between McAdams and Dobrygin show that there is a more emotional side to this story, but the movie keeps those moments sparse. We are seeing this from Hoffmans point of view, which is a lot darker and cynical.

All in all, the movie has a simple plot for a spy-thriller, but that is not necessarily bad. The emotional detachment could be a problem for some to get into this, but apart from that, this is a brilliantly acted thriller, full of suspense. It also serves as another memorial to Hoffmans genius, which we will sorely miss.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Deliver us from Evil

"Deliver us from Evil" is a new exorcism-themed horror shocker by Scott Derrickson, director of "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" and recently "Sinister". It stars Eric Bana as New York street cop Ralph Sarchie who stumbles upon a series of connected cases that make him question his beliefs. He then partners up with Castilian priest Mendoza, portrayed by Édgar Ramirez, to fight an ancient evil.

Personally, I usually find exorcism movies to be rather ridiculous, what with spinning heads, weird voices and vomit all over the floor. Still, I was interested in this one. It is produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, which, if nothing else, guarantees good production values. Also, "Sinister" crept me out like few movies did recently and Scott Derrickson is going to follow this movie up with "Doctor Strange", a new Marvel project. This gave me reasonably high hopes for this movie.

The direction by Derrickson is definitely the movies strongest point. The first time we meet our hero he just found a dead baby in a dumpster and Derrickson manages to relate his state of mind within just a few shots. This is a man who knows how to shoot an intense scene. Also, just as we saw in "Sinister", Derrickson has a love for found footage, yet knows exactly how to insert it into his film without overusing it. He seems to be the only filmmaker in the horror genre who refuses to decide between no found footage or completely found footage. Having your main character be the one who actually finds the footage is still a refreshing twist on what has become a mostly played out genre.

Eric Bana gives a credible performance as a man who slowly starts seeing the world in a different light. Bana and McHale work well together as partners, their chemistry almost perfect. The spiritual discussions between him and Édgar Ramirez work just as well. The only weak point is his relationship with his wife, played by Olivia Munn, which just doesn't draw the audience in enough to make us care about their problems. Instead, Munn is ill-served with a role that is quickly reduced to constant nagging. You can understand her, but she's hard to identify with.

The movie has a lot of very strong and scary sequences, although at one point the whole "It's just the cat" cliché is definitely used one or two times too much. Apart from that, Derrickson once again shows that he knows how to film an inventive and tension-filled horror thriller.

If you are a fan of scary movies or just curious about what kind of director Marvel has taken aboard for Doctor Strange, definitely check this one out.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Outside Hollywood #3 - Summer Blockbuster Season 2014

After we let all our 43 listeners wait for two months, here is a new episode of the Outside Hollywood Podcast featuring me and my friend Cinemartian. This time, it's all about the big ones. Summer movie season is over, even in Germany by now, and we take a look back our favourite entries this year.


Free Music - Audio Hosting - Podcast #3 - Summer Blockbus...

Walking on Sunshine



A romantic comedy, so gripping, so engaging,  the audience I saw it with was clapping along and applauded when our two love interests finally got together... is not what this movie is.

Don't get me wrong, these things all happened, but the motivation behind it was not how immensely invested we were in the story, but rather pained sarcasm. I do not normally enjoy people talking in movies, but in rare cases it has enriched my experience. In this case, it was a sneak preview, so no one know what we were in for. We have seen some terrible movies in this setting, but rarely has one been the subject of such ridicule.

"Walking on Sunshine" is a romantic musical comedy starring Leona Lewis as the only person who can sing. Sadly, she is not our main character. The movie revolves around Taylor, who had a summer flirt with Raf when she was on vacation in Apulia, Italy. Three years later, she goes back to visit her sister, Madison, who went there to find herself after a bad breakup. When she arrives, she finds that the real purpose of her visit was to attend her sisters wedding to... well you can guess whom she's marrying. Exasperated gasps all over the audience and shenanigans ensue.

This movie fails on so many levels. "So many levels?", you say. "Name three!"

I'll do you one better and go for four.
First, the music. I'm not even going to talk about the quality of the song and dance numbers just yet. For now, lets focus on song choice. Similar to "Mamma Mia!", which featured songs by Abba, this one goes for 80s pop hits. It also goes for every cliché it can possibly get its hands on, telegraphing each song as hard as it can. The song choices are pretty uninspired, always going for the obvious choice, which I'm not sure I can count against it, because that's pretty much what pop music is about I guess, the obvious choice.

The execution is pretty underwhelming from the first number as well. Dance numbers prominently feature people reading books or newspapers in choreography and you will not believe how funny the scriptwriters felt it was to have someone tumbling backwards into a pool. It happens about six or seven times, such a prominent feature that I feared for our heroine when in the final song she is on the edge of a rooftop with Raf. Luckily the screenwriter had his instincts in check that time. The singing is mostly average with one case of heavy auto-tuning. At least Leona Lewis can sing, but she makes the rest of the cast look very bad in comparison.

Second, the "villain". As it had to happen, Madisons ex Doug shows up for the wedding, trying to convince her to take him back. At that point, the movie has spend a lot of dialogue on getting across the point that he is bad news. Imagine my surprise then, as he shows up being the most romantic and likeable person in the whole movie. When in the beginning we meet our protagonists, it tries to establish something of a "Team Taylor" vs. "Team Madison" dynamic, which by the way never pays off. From the moment Doug is on screen, most people I talked with were "Team Doug". Greg Wise obviously has the most fun of the whole ensemble and gets the most believable character arc. He is a perfect gentleman, madly in love with Madison and can read her wishes better than anyone else in the movie. I always thought that was the kind of guy women went for in Rom-Coms, but I've been wrong before.

Third, the story. When Taylor and Raf meet for the first time after their separation, not only have they the most bland meet-cute imaginable, they also decide to keep their past hidden from Madison. At that point, the movie could have taken a shortcut right to a happy ending, but instead it takes the long way round and fabricates reason after reason why Raf would be spending time with Taylor instead of his future wife, just so they can rekindle their love. It's bad, extremely forced and insults the intelligence of the viewer.

Fourth, and this is worst, this movie almost exclusively features beautiful people. That wouldn't have been so bad hadn't they decided to put in comic relief in the form of two heavy-set characters and an old Italian maid that at some points is treated dangerously close to an indentured servant. If you are not eye-candy in this movie, you can be damn sure you are comic relief. And to top that off, obviously the two only non-eye-candy characters have to end up as a couple, because come on, they belong together, you know, because lets face it, fat people belong with fat people. I don't know exactly why this bugs me as much as it does, and it isn't even that the movie portrays them as not being able to get anyone else.

So yeah, this movie made me angry, don't waste your money or your time on it. It is plain terrible.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy

"You're Welcome"

"Guardians of the Galaxy" is Marvel studios newest property, directed by James Gunn, and stars Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel and Dave Bautista as a team of outlaws, out to protect the galaxy from Lee Paces Ronan the Accuser.

If you thought the Avengers had a colourful line-up, boasting a Norse god, a Tinman, a super-soldier from the past and a man with extreme anger-issues, you've seen nothing yet. The Guardians raise you a walking and talking, albeit with a limited vocabulary, tree and a Raccoon proficient in heavy weaponry and demolitions. This movie was considered a risk by many, mainly because the Guardians are among the less well-known heroes in the Marvel universe. If Iron-Man was B-League before he got his movie, The Guardians of the Galaxy were somewhere down in G. And then there were people who thought that a character like Rocket Raccoon could be hard to sell to audiences. Those are the people I don't understand.

Of all the Marvel films so far, this one is definitely the funniest by a wide margin. Groot, the talking Tree voiced by Vin Diesel, Gamora, the green Assassin played by Zoe Saldana, and Drax the Destroyer played by professional wrestler Dave Bautista all get their chance to shine in some way. But the real comedic gold comes from Chris Pratt and Bradley Cooper as Star-Lord and Rocket Raccoon.

Star-Lord aka Peter Quill is from Earth, having been abducted in 1988, a mix between Han Solo and Indiana Jones, and yes, it is as awesome as it sounds. He always has a quick one-liner on hand. He isn't the only one though.

Rocket, a genetically manipulated, half-cyborg rodent matches him line-for-line, steals scenes left and right and is probably going to be everyones favourite Guardian, because, lets be honest here, he is a Raccoon with a gun, how do you top that?

Gamora is a genetically modified trained Asssassin. She is pretty uptight, understandable, since she got "adopted" by the Thanos the mad Titan after he destroyed her home planet, killing her family and transforming her into a ruthless weapon. She has some really touching moments when she tries to convince her sister Nebula to join her instead of fighting for Ronan.

Drax the Destroyer has a personal vendetta against the movies villain, Ronan the Accuser, having witnessed his familys death. Draxs race does not understand metaphors and he has a code of honour, which leads to some pretty fun exchanges. Acting-wise, as a professional wrestler rather than an actor, Bautista is definitely the weak link, but luckily the script and the character work with him and don't ask things of him that he can't deliver. Bautista manages to inject enough likeability and heart into Drax, who is essentially a killing machine.

Then there is Groot. A tree with a heart of gold, probably the character that is most responsible for the growing solidarity between the Guardians. Like Quill, his first thought is not to kill, he is happy to find new friends and is very pro-life in general. Diesel apparently said that getting into Groots character helped him immensely to deal with the death of his close friend Paul Walker and one can see why. He might be limited in his one-liners, but he exudes love and friendship in a way that is rare in a blockbuster these days. That's not to say that he doesn't deliver punishment when it's needed.

The story follows these five in their struggle to obtain/sell/protect the galaxy from a Maltese Falcon/Arc of the Covenant-esque Macguffin called "The Orb", which to noones surprises contains immense power in the form of an infinity stones, the third one we've met so far in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. They are however not the only ones looking for the Orb, with the big bad Ronan the Accuser hot on their tails. Ronan is a Kree warlord with a grudge against the Nova, a galactic police force that had been involved in a war with the Kree until shortly before the events of this movie. Our villain in this piece cannot accept peace and starts his own campaign.

There are some minor flaws in this movie, most of them only small inconveniences not worth mentioning, but the biggest shortcoming is definitely Ronan. Once again, Marvel delivers a cut-and-dry villain. He is imposing, he is evil, but there is not much more there. He has one interesting scene that I'm not going to spoil, but everything else is very by the numbers. Now this movie had enough on its plate that I guess I understand that they were limited in terms of capacities for adding a great villain next to its five anti-heroes, a whole galaxy and different factions within that galaxy, but still, except for Loki, the only Marvel villain so far that showed any promise was the Winter Soldier, and we will have to wait and see what comes out of that. Personally, I long for a villain that has impact and feels like a real threat. James Spader as Ultron has high expectations to meet.

Apart from that, the final showdown is very similar to what we've seen so far, but it does fit with the space-opera genre, so I'll give this one a pass. Still, this is another part where I want more diversity and creativity from Marvel.

Apart from that... I can't even tell you how excited I am about this movie. I've seen it twice now and it is such a thrilling ride. The comedy elements are perfectly played, giving everyone a time to shine and cracking you up on a regular basis. Meta-humour plays a huge role, undercutting moments that are so well-known that they have become clichéed on a regular basis. It also provides you with some extremely inventive action sequences. Especially the gadgets that Peter Quill uses are amazingly fun to watch.

While the story is really rather simple, but the time that it doesn't use to flesh out the story is used on the characters. A team movie without a lead-up is something Marvel hasn't done yet, but they do it right. We do not learn everything about our characters, but noone is set aside and little bits of background are inserted smoothly into the script. But it doesn't stop there. The movie also has a big supporting cast, filling each faction with multiple characters for you to get invested in. Especially Karen Gillans brilliant portrayal of Nebula and John C. Reillys character add a lot to the experience.

All in all, this is so far the biggest movie of the year, a throne that it might just keep, depending on how much buzz The Hobbit and Mockingjay can generate. It deserves every single penny, because this film is just great. If you haven't seen it yet, go watch it right now, it is great. It also has the greatest tagline of all time.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Lucy


Well, that certainly didn't go the way it looked from the trailers...

"Lucy" stars the wonderful Scarlett Johansson as Lucy, a young women who unlocks the powers hidden in her brain when she is used as a drug mule by a Korean crime lord.

Scarlett Johansson has become on of my favourite actresses these days. Apart from her striking good looks, she has not only shown herself to be very capable of kick-ass action (Come on Marvel, where is that Black Widow movie?), but lately has come out with some amazing displays of acting prowess as well. "Lucy" tries to unite those two qualities of her, actually ditching her good looks at some points. Which is part of Johanssons appeal, because she is willing to do that kind of thing, which is rare.

Luc Besson has never really clicked with me, the last time he impressed as a director was "The Fifth Element" and that was 17 years ago. As a screenwriter, he has done some really cool stuff... and a lot of other stuff. "Lucy" is different from most things he has done, and I mention that solely because that is not touched upon in the marketing. I always find it annoying when that happens.

This movie is not as much of an action movie as you would think, it goes for some really philosophical themes, which is very interesting.

Writing this I find that I'm trying to get around mentioning the basic idea of the plot... because it sounds so stupid. It all revolves around the false assumption that humans use a mere 10% of their brain capacity. This has never been true, but it is a very resilient urban legend. "Limitless" had the same premise, but its interpretation is much closer to reality, in which it merely provides its protagonist with a massive boost of memory and perception. It also refrains from counting by percentage.

The process of unlocking Lucys mental potential in this movie has some remarkable side-effects, such as telekinesis and control of matter. The great question this movie asks is what happens when Lucy hits 100%. Speculating about this is Morgan Freemans character, who might as well be called Professor Exposition. Freeman has become something of a professional supporting character and is usually very enjoyable, but here I found that his role was completely mishandled.

Johansson does a good job at portraying a young woman who finds herself losing her humanity and gaining a new perspective on everything. The script works against her at times, because it refuses to let the action sequences go. Those are done well, but don't have any feeling of urgency, because noone is Lucys equal, there is no danger to her, that's how strong she is. This might have been better off as a drama.

Another thing that Besson should have embraced more is that Lucy effectively becomes a goddess. Yet, people shrug off her displays of immense knowledge and power like it's just the most normal thing in the world.

Be that as it may, there is still a lot to be liked about this. Besson shows what he's capable of and edges on experimental filmmaking, especially captivating in the opening scene, which splices Lucys run-in with the Korean mob with footage of mousetraps and predators hunting their prey. Johansson is great in this role, which shares some similarities with Samantha from "Her". And in general, the direction this movie is taking is very interesting, it just doesn't take it far enough.

Had this blended a little bit more religion with its science parts, "Lucy" might have been a great movie. As it is, it is ambitious but can't quite deliver all it promises. It still is a very enjoyable movie to watch.

Also, if you haven't already, check out Cinemartians review over here.