Mon, 12 Oct 2009
The title pun of Upperdog is not the most witty thing that I have ever encountered in cinema. It does its job though, since it hints at some of the drama that guides the plot of this movie. Should I face my past even if it is so much worse than the present and does not seem to have anything to do with the now? Should I face the underdog side of me, now that I am part of the upper class? In this film, a passionate affair of the upperdog with a real underdog, a migrant who works as a housemaid for the Upperdog’s parents, is needed to get things into motion.
For me, some parts movie were a bit like the title: a bit too close to the cliché to be really convincing. Maid = passionate affair. Adopting parents = cluelessness about their kid’s real emotions. But luckily, things are a bit more complicated, since there is another plot of almost equal importance, one that involves a Norwegian soldier returning from Afghanistan, where he killed an innocent. He is haunted by nightmares and the anti-war campaign in his home country and he too needs a woman to face his past and take his destiny into his own hands. Writer and Director Sara Johnsen is presenting two male characters that are completely different – on first sight. But a closer look reveals that they are both caught in different kinds of machismo traps, one as a successful and ruthless alpha male, the other as one who wanted to serve the good by taking up arms.
It is difficult for me to say why this movie did not really convince me – the leads are doing very decent or even good jobs and the two plot lines do not seem to be overly dramatic. But somehow there was no spark for me. Well, maybe that is not true – the scenes between the alpha male and the housemaid provoced some reactions in me (I was affected by their exploitative nature). It is difficult for me to make up my mind about this movie – and I guess that is why I would still recommend watching this movie. It raises some interesting issues – but not because of the bland conflict lines, which we all know too well, but because some of the characters are not very easy to place and it is not clear who could be a good guy here and why…
IMDb entry | Trailer
Fri, 22 May 2009
I have seen this movie a few weeks ago, but forgetfulness and a lack of enthusiasm postponed the writing of this review considerably. I’ve never been such a huge fan of Steven Soderbergh even though Hollywood treats him with the reverence paid to a real, critical intellectual. I guess I never found his movies particularly engaging. Sadly, the same is true for the first of two films about Che Guevara. Although I really like the very manly Benicio del Toro, the movie did not take enough time to create some emotional attachment to the Che as he plays him. Maybe the camera is too distanced, maybe the story is told in a way that is too factual. But maybe it was just because there were so many different people who flitted in and out of the picture, who seemed to be important revolutionaries that probably everyone on Cuba knows by name. But for me they were just that: names and faces that appeared, seemed significant, but then never turned up again. This left me somewhat confused and distanced. Other than that, the story of the cuban revolution is interesting, of course. But the movie neither suceeded intellectually, i.e. it did not do much to enlighten me about the structural forces that set the revolution into motion, nor did it suceed emotionally, because I did not feel the engagement of the protagonists with their mission. One thing I liked though: it was the somewhat cold way in which the revolutionaries (and, of course, the military) dealt with human losses. Regardless if they are traitors or if they are old and trustworthy comrades: the guerilla war kills, and there is not much time for grieving. The revolution must proceed. The inevitability of this and the emotional detachment that might be necessary to keep it moving was striking for me in an almost Brecht-like way. I guess I will also watch the second part of this movie, but my expectations won’t be particularly high.
IMDb entry | Official Movie Website
Tue, 21 Apr 2009
I haven’t seen most of this year’s Academy Award nominees, not even Slumdog Millionaire, which won more Oscars than any other movie during this year’s ceremony. Now that I am slowly getting to watch these movies I hope that all of them will be as good as this one. I have expected a flashy movie with a Hollywoodesque tear-driven story set in some really poor foreign place where people wear lots of colorful clothes. And in a way, you could describe Slumdog Millionaire like this. It remains a story with a good ending, it sticks to quite a few stereotypes (regarding the distribution of agency along gender differences, for example), and it is very entertaining.
But it is also more than that, maybe even much more. The way the story of the main protagonist is told is quite beautiful. Like Sheherazade from One Thousand and One Nights, our hero has to save his life by telling stories. But in difference to the Arabian Nights, the stories are all about the hero himself, they tell us how he became who he is now. And they also encompass a love story. The movie works so well because it is so well produced: the editing changes between fast-paced and detailed, the soundtrack can quicken your pulse to fit the energy of the movie, the places, people and outfits have been selected extremely well – this was one of the first times when I could really understand why the Academy distributes so many Oscars to a single film: all elements fit together, pushing the whole enterprise onto a much higher level. Watching this film has been a charming, exhilarating and moving experience – more so than I expected. I definitely recommend watching it in a cinema if you have the chance. This is not the greatest movie in years or even for this still young year (see the entry below on Let the right one in). Nonetheless, it is an extraordinary movie that speaks to the heart and the senses in its own, touching way.
IMDb entry | Trailer
evrim kavcar wrote (2009/6/14 16:02):
Slumdog Millionaire's Dehumanizing View of India's Poor A Hollow Message of Social Justice
By MITU SENGUPTA
Sat, 18 Apr 2009
When I saw the trailer for this movie I thought: this is a pretty neat idea. A girl of twelve years is presented as one of the epitomes of sin: a vampire, even worse, a dirty vampire, who licks bloods from the floor of a crappy room. Whose blood is it? The blod of an angel: a blonde, young, Swedish boy with blue eyes and a slight nose trickle. This is the constellation that is being developed in Let the right one in: a vampire girl who looks like she might have a migrant background and a local boy whose life and character are more complex than one would expect from his face – complex even before the arrival of Evi, the creature who drinks the blood of human beings. The film is moving in a very slow pace. Long takes show the faces of the protagonists. They show the places they live in. They show their interactions. Set in a gloomy winter atmosphere, the really well-cast, charming and at the same time frightening characters encounter each other: talking, bullying, playing and killing their way through night and day. The film succeeds at giving almost all characters more depth than one would expect in a horror or vampire flick. It is definitely more than a simple genre movie. It allows one to identify with all of these different characters and their problems – both small and mind-blowingly huge problems. This movie got me really involved, charmed, amused, shocked, frightened, and all of the time deeply engaged. It is a love story that tells us about how we can loose our innocence while maintaining it. About how we maintain our innocence by giving it up. You should definitely go and see it – if you can cope with the spilling of blood and some disturbing juxtapositions that this movie is not afraid of showing. In its heart, it is a very tender love story.
IMDb entry | Official Homepage / Trailer
Mon, 12 Jan 2009
A man on his own – but not alone. Fighting invaders first in Finland (the Red Army in the Winter War) and later in the capital of his home country: the German Nazis who occupied Oslo from 1940 to 1945. Max Manus is one of the biggest productions of Norwegian cinema and it keeps filling cinemas in Norway and stifling public discussions about the Norwegian resistance movement. It depicts one of the most famous actors of the resistance movement, Max Manus, focusing mostly on the sabotage acts that he did together with the other members of the Oslo-Gang. Max Manus is very much the prototype of the Norwegian male: an adventurer, a man who is not too dependent on others, a man who travels through nature, who suffers pain without much ado, and a man who is adored by women and the king. But he also is a man that has a hard time to control the inner turmoil that he is experiencing. The main actor, Aksel Hennie does a good job of portraying the man and his conflicts – it becomes clear that his war experiences are a source of attacks of depression and alcohol abuse, that his love to a married woman is difficult to handle, and that his friendships are as important as they are vulnurable – because he knows that many of his friends will or did die in the fight against the invaders.
The rest of the movie is also well done. Good camera, nice settings and a solid plot that seems to be pretty close to the real life events. The Germans, mostly the local Gestapo officer Fehmer, played by the attractive Ken Duken, are portayed in a way that makes it obvious that the writer and the directors did not want to fall into a Nazi-cliché or into German-bashing. This aspect would have been even more more plausible if more would be shown about the occupation. The way the story goes now, it does not tell a stroy about the victims of the occupation, about the ways in which everyday life changed (or didn't change), and about those who collaborated with the NS regime. Nonetheless, the movie is certainly worth watching – both from a historical and an entertainment perspective. I haven’t been too gripped by the story or the characters, but I think that this is mostly because I had to read the Norwegian subtitles all the time. Since I am still a very slow reader in Norwegian and an even worse listener, much of my attention was focused on keeping up with what is being said instead of breathing the rich atmosphere of the film.
IMDb entry | Trailer
Fri, 02 Jan 2009
This may well be the best Woody Allen of the new Millenium. I have always enjoyed Woody Allen’s dialogues, his movies are always starring people who are not only beautiful but who can also act, and I always leave the cinema with this happy post-Woody-Allen-movie-smile. All of this is also true for his latest movie. But this one does more than that, it gives insight into the strange relation of Americans to Europe with it’s art, culture, and it’s relaxed, non-puritan attitude. Both female main actors have fantasies about what they are, what they want, and how all of their self-indulgent selves should work in the Old World, with its strange, backwards, fascinating, and arrogant inhabitants. Both women are quite different, but their problems intersect in many intriguing ways.
Somehow, I enjoyed the fact that this movie did not star Woody Allen or somebody who acts like s/he is another face for Woody Allen – and maybe this is what makes this movie even better than Scoop, the last European Woody Allen movie. In addition, both Rebecca Hall and Penélope Cruz have scenes in which they make breathtakingly strong performances. I really enjoyed this movie, which you certainly can see on the big screen. If you should somehow miss it, then I would recommend getting the DVD – even if you’re not that much into Woody Allen.
IMDb entry | Trailer
Wed, 12 Nov 2008
The New Bond continues. But it is not the same. After being robbed of his love, beat and broken, Jamens Bond, played by Daniel Craig, rushes onward. He aims for vengeance. Not in a bloody rage way, but in highly controlled, incredibly fast-paced way. The first twenty minutes or so were dazzling to say the least. I sat a bit too close to the screen in one of Europe’s largest cinemas (the Colosseum in Oslo), and I was almost overwhelmed. Although there will be a few pauses now and then and the whole movie gets a bit slower afterwards, the second New Bond is still different – and much faster – when compared to the first New Bond. I found this to be good, because it shows that the director has not closed the file on this successful movie series. In the first New Bond, which you really should see before watching this one, the character is introduced and his more or less complex personality is developed. In this, second New Bond, the character that has been established is let loose, or, put differently, he sets himself free.
The cast is good enough, Daniel Craig ultra-icy, the two women that he deals with more than attractive, the villain evil in a very french way. The design is excellent, firstly, because it is omnipresent but subdued, and secondly, because it is all about grit. Or sand, to be more precise, because this Bond is desert-themed in many ways. As always, you should really take care to be there on time to see the full opening credits – watching them made me happy.
Be prepared to deal with a very fast-cut, high-action movie. I really liked this Bond. It was maybe a bit less good than the first New Bond, but then I had little to no expectations when I went to see that one and pretty high expectations for this one…
IMDb entry | Trailer
Mon, 10 Nov 2008
Since I knew it would be difficult to recruit co-watchers for this movie (intellectuals and their problems with action movies bla bla bla), I entered the cinema on my own, replacing company with too much popcorn. This flick is not as purely fantastic as the intriguing Pan’s Labyrinth, for which Guillermo del Toro won an Oscar. We are confronted with some strange and beautiful pictures here too. But there is much less of a story and there is also less time to develop the main characters. I was somewhat bored by silly jokes and superhero-fist-fights when there finally was at least a bit of deceleration and the main characters had a few moments of their own, hanging out, being frustrated, in love, and confused.
I surely do hope that this will change when Guillermo del Toro works on The Hobbit. More time for magic moments and strange stories than for brawls, please!
IMDb entry | Trailer
Tue, 28 Oct 2008
A movie about automated surveillance run wild. Cast, camera, and the editing are good enough to make a decent, entertaining thriller. The plot, however, seems to be pieced together from various well-known sources - citing classics like Odyssee 2001 might be nice, but it would be even nicer, to come up with some new ideas. This is not to say that the plot itself if completely obvious. There are some nice twists that keep your attention focused on the movie. However, the nerd part of me prefers those thrillers that are presented as being sci-fi, to cling to at least some major aspects of how things actually work. Because of that, I was sometimes frustrated a bit at how much control the nemesis of this thriller has over practically everything. Instead of just buying into the complete surveillance theme, it would have been nice to work at the fringes of surveilllance and to present a few other tricks than shredding your mobile phone. Nonetheless, if you’re looking for some DVD entertainment this certainly will do. A visit to the cinema won’t be necessary though.
IMDb entry | Trailer
Mon, 29 Sep 2008
A Norwegian movie set in the time right after the Berlin Wall came down, telling a story that is both universal und very much located in a particular setting. The medium sized town of Stavanger and it’s suburban surroundings feature as much into the movie as the particular Lebensgefühl of the time: Music (heavily featured are The Cure, Joy Division, Jesus and Mary Chain, etc.), a strange mix of feeling exhilaration about the future and being deeply disappointed with the world, and a strange, unknown feeling that one is getting closer to the end of one’s adolescence. Being in love and being insecure, posing and crying, doing sports and hanging out in your bed, meeting your buddies and sitting on your parent’s sofa watching TV. I really liked this movie because I could relate to it on so many different levels and because the actors are doing good jobs in difficult roles. However, I was not absorbed by the drama, and I could not really connect to many of the characters. Maybe the script was a bit too explicit about some things and maybe the camera did not find the right angles to provide us with sequences that offered us a glimpse into why the characters do what they do. With the exception of the main character, Jarle Klepp, the others remain mostly real depth. We don’t know why the beautiful and utterly cool Cathrine (played by Ida Elise Broch) feels the same ennui as Jarle and his buddies. We have dialogue telling us that the parents of one of Jarle’s friends are highly educated, but we don’t know much about his motivations beyond that. Maybe the film should have been a little longer, maybe the camera should have rested on the characters a little bit more, but as it is now, many characters remained too flat for my taste. Nonetheless, the film was really nice – it could only have been even better. It could have been as good as Fucking Åmål. I would recommend to watch The Man Who Loved Yngve in a nice theater with friends who like to discuss a movie afterwards – something like the Ryder in Bloomington.
IMDb entry | Trailer
Tue, 29 Jul 2008
Although I enjoy superhero movies, I do not have particularly high expectations of this genre. Christopher Nolan definitely did an above average job with his Batman Begins, the prequel to this movie. Therefore I was looking forward to seeing more. It was more of the same though – well done, but not overwhelming, breathtaking or inspiring. The plot is ok and the cast is fine, too (although I found the Batman too smooth, he had no real depth, no physical doubts). With his first rendition of the Batman I was happy about the grittyness of the movie. With this one however, I had the impression that the movie tries to be gritty because that is what people are now expecting to see, because a certain kind of grittyness sells. But it was not gritty because it cared for the pain, for the irregularities and the damage that life involves. Therefore, it did not get me involved and did not touch me.
With one exception. Heath Ledger, whom I really, really liked since I first saw A Knight’s Tale, surpassed himself in this movie – tragically. One can too easily see that playing this role, becoming this utterly mad nemesis did not contribute to his well-being. It was a great performance that had almost all of the elements that the rest of the movie lacked and that I wrote abouth in the above paragraph. However, even this character lacked depth. He was the mask of cruelty and evil madness. But he was only barely human, only because of Ledger’s great performance. The short references to his (obviously imagined) childhood did not help. To the contrary, they were the most shallow of stereotypes and would not explain why he is who he seems to be. If you like this genre, I can definitely recommend this movie. If you liked Heath Ledger, it may be worthwhile to see his excellent acting – if you can stand the cruelty that it involves, a cruelty that Heath Ledger did not shun.
IMDb entry | Trailer
Wed, 23 Jul 2008
Whew. This movie was quite an experience. The Pixar studio movies of the last decade were usually much better than the average Disney diet that we had to swallow since at least the nineties – for some reason, Disney does not make movies that have enough heart and enough guts for critique, such as the 1973 Robin Hood had. Pixar fills this important void, offering children’s movies that are much more than entertaining. WALL·E, the main protagonist of the movie, is a heart breakingly amiable character. He demonstrates what animations and cartoons can be, if they are done right: instead of trying to be realistic or cartoonish, the animation in this movie focusses on the expression of emotions, on the expression of atmospheres, and the ways settings are felt. Of course, this is a children’s movie. But it is also much more than that. Like the novel which I am reading right now (Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer), WALL·E tells us a story which reflects the not only positive norms and easily forgotten destructive aspects of our societal existence – at the beginning of the 21st century these problems are, in a way, very much different than in the middle 19th century. But at the same time, our longing for sharing our life with people we adore and love remains the same, as does the joy in the physical experience and closeness to things, animals and others. Maybe the story of WALL·E will evoke perceptions and emotions that will help kids and adults alike to avoid producing a future in which the world has become a garbage heap and in which human society consists of people who do not touch each other any more. This is probably the best animated movie from the US of A that I have seen.
IMDb entry | Trailer
Thu, 19 Jun 2008
Simple drawings instead of real life actors, a very well-known script (the movie is based on the comic series), the life of a migrant girl. These are the ingredients of the precisely told and yet very touching animated movie Persepolis. Even if you have not read any of the graphic novels of Marjane Satrapi, even if you are highly sceptic of comics and animated movies in general, even if you do not care much about headscarves and the Middle-East in general – even in spite of all that, you should go and watch this movie. Because it is a great story, told with pictures that make the best of the freedom of animated movies: it does not care about reality as such, instead it focuses on showing how situations feel, how they would look if they were drawn in black and white, like a paper cut. The scences are beautiful, sometimes funny, often tragic.
The only thing which I have missed a bit had to do with my personal reading of the story as such – I missed a bit of reflection about the role of the female protagonist as someone who is very much upper-class in her upbringing and social status. It was not something that was shyly denied or pompously set in scene. However, it was in a way too straight, too un-broken for me. But maybe, perhaps, this is the case because being upper-class comes as a matter of course, not as something special to those who are…
IMDb entry | Trailer
Mon, 09 Jun 2008
Undecided about what movie we should watch and feeling a certain tendency to see something entertaining, we decided to try In Bruges even though we were neither convinced by the strange title (the German title translates as
Seeing Bruges and Dying) nor by the taglines. The actors seemed nice enough, so we took the risk. I guess we weren’t particularly happy with our decision during the first quarter of the movie. Collin Farrell is good looking, of course, but he also made the impression of totally overacting his role. Slowly however, the story became clearer, and the contrast between Colin Farrell’s hyper-active character and the calm beauty of Bruges gained weight and texture. At that point in time, the movie became good. In the last quarter of the movie, another change in pace happened. The real villain appears, new turns and events shoot out from every corner and the movie becomes great: entertaining, fast paced and very funny (in a dark, British humor kind of way). To be recommended – the pictures of Bruges are quite beautiful, making a visit to the cinema a good choice.
IMDb entry | Trailer
Mon, 28 Apr 2008
The description of this movie sounds scary: the main editor of the French women’s magazine Elle has an ischemic stroke that leaves him completely paralyzed. (Time for a nod to French comic culture:) Completely paralyzed? No, not completely paralyzed. A single place of resistance remains. A single organ high up in the head. He can still actively use a single eye. And the accompanying eyelids. Eye and eyelids. This is the way he relates to the world. Even though his hearing (and smell, I think) remains intact, he can only express himself by opening and closing the eyelids of one eye. Not a very optimistic point of departure for a movie. In particular, for a French movie. However, this time we may be educated about the problems of the bourgeoisie, but we are also told a heart-moving story. The way that the main protagonist regains the world is not only grand in itself. It is also shown in a very compassionate and intimate way that still keeps enough distance to respect the dignity of this particular human being – something that is particularly important because the movie is based on
true events, as they say. Great setting, great camera, great script, and (remember, this is a French movie after all) some really beautiful women. One need not fear The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Even if the setting is dire indeed. Do not only watch it if you are interested in problems of perception and communication, as I am. Take a heart and watch it, if the opportunity to do that should arise, regardless of what you think about the actual
content of this movie – it is not about content, it is about relating to the things and the people we have around us.
IMDb entry | Trailer