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Saturday, August 7th, 2010

Cheap Dreams

Inception blatantly invites comparisons. The zero-g simulation and the center room of the dream heist evoke the mystery of 2001, the cityscape of Limbo wants to look like Brazil, and the gimmicky plot screams “this is what Matrix 2 and 3 should have been like”. Failed ambition.

If I were in want of stunning visuals lacking in emotional and logical depth, Avatar would be a much better fit than this and do the job much more nicely and honestly, without leaving the tinny taste of being taken for a sucker in the mouth. For all its technical glory, Inception makes almost no sense as story or metaphor, and it’s sad to imagine the movie this could have been, in the hands of a writer/director taking the mind seriously. Diving down into somebodies subconscious ought to be unsettling and intense, but instead there is just stuff being blown up and secret agents shooting blanks: mind as submachine gun. Yawn.

Additionally, the only way Inception can keep you from falling through the cracks in the plot is by keeping everything in frenzied motion. But once the action stops, everything crumbles. The crumbling is pretty to look at, no doubt, but what remains in the end is still only technorubble.

Friday, April 6th, 2007

Paul Verhoeven – Turkish Delight (3)

180px-Turkish_Delight_DVD_cover.jpg What a weird trip. I have to admit, the power of script and acting impress me, but from todays perspective, the sentiments and behaviour just seem strangely affected. Seeing this today suggests not artistic abandon and an emotional rollercoaster, but a dated body language and strangely stale clichees of reckless abandon. The horrible porn soundtrack doesn’t help any.

Wednesday, March 28th, 2007

Zack Snyder – 300 (3)

poster1_full1.jpg Awesome graphic design, wonderful cinematic visuals, both of which are more to Miller’s credit, of course, than the filmmakers’. The story lacked subtlety or characterization, and the dialogue was horribly cliched in places, which may also be Miller’s fault – need to pick up the book to check. A sad waste of talent and material overall.

sunshineposter.jpg The beginning of this movie is excrutiating. We observe the inner workings of a dysfunctional family, partly through the perspective of the suicidal academic uncle, and the acting and writing is excellent enough to make the pain of what is going on palpable. There also are funny jokes, made more poignant by the underlying darkness, and a developing plot of the little daughter embarking upon a beauty queen endeavor that is obviously doomed. A dark comedy is well on its way, but then the author and the directors couple take a wrong exit, and turn the whole thing into one more suada on how the importance of being oneself and the overarching formative power of familial love. That weary propaganda piece is hard to bear from a mainstream outlet, but to see a supposedly indie movie pander this, and betray all it was trying to show us in a feelgood finale pitting the family unit against the shallow and vain outside world, is hard to bear. The movie still has its nice moments, but overall is a disappointment.

pcg_world_of_warcraft_elf.jpg I like the idea of multiplayer games, but this incarnation of it, with a rigid world full of unchanging story elements and a large number of people running around in it, doesn’t quite fulfill the promise. I’d like to see more interaction possibilities beyond the mere killing of monsters in a group, and some plasticity in the world makeup. As it is, the game is just a combination of chat and RPG. Nothing wrong with that, but nothing interesting about it, either.

Friday, June 9th, 2006

Kinka Usher – Mystery Men (3)

mystery_men.jpg It could have been a delightful superhero spoof, with touching undertones of melancholy and underdog happyness. But bad direction, design and editing destroy much of the movie, which occasionally shines (the confrontation betwen Captain Amazing and Casanova Frankenstein is hilarious, for example), but most of the time drags. It’s too bad, the writing is good, and some of the acting and improv (Stiller mentions in the specials that the script wasn’t fixed and actors would ad lib) could have been quite hilarious. Maybe it was meant to be watched in large groups, and the gaps are so people can finish laughing without missing a joke, but I’m not sure whether that would make the bad editing better or worse.

leguinsheron.jpg I like LeGuin’s work in general, but this tale of freedom and repression is not her best work. Two groups of exiles coexist on a wild, uncharted planet, one composed of the descendants of prisoners, the other of political exiles, sent away for their disturbing pacifism. When some people in the city try to increase their power and wealth by exploiting the pacifists, whom they perceive as weak, a struggle ensues, that ends in a murky compromise and further exile for a subgroup of the pacifists, who realise that they can only live their dream in complete isolation.
The book reads like a sketch or a first draft, with plot, background and philosophical implications all quite murky and unfinished. She’s still a good enough writer to avoid pitfalls a lesser writer would have fallen into (like the pacifists passive resitance succeeding, for instance), but overall, this book falls apart.

The Man Who Knew Too Much It’s fun watching the two stabs Hitchcock took at this story almost back to back, seeing the development of his style and technical proficiency, as well as the parts of storytelling that work in neither story. There is an interesting remark on the DVD of the producer of the remake being told by Hitchcock to watch the original Lorre vehicle, to see if that could be remade. The producer made some remarks about Hitchcocks development since then, which apparently hurt the man’s pride – odd, since the earlier work is so obviously flawed. When interviewed by Truffaut much later, he himself made the talented amateur / professional comparison between the two version’s directors, but in the early fifties he obviously still didn’t have the necessary distance from his earlier work. Maybe that’s why he only went half the distance in fixing the flaws, leaving the quite unconvincing spy splot of assassinating a politician in a public auditorium, and the cartoonish police.

manwhoknew.jpg Let me start by saying that we didn’t actually deliberately rent this. Rather, we inherited a box with four VHS tapes of Hitchcock classics, three of which I had never heard of. The fourth was indeed a classic, so we watched that. I should have been suspicious at the distinct snapping sound I heard when the movie was out of its box – the marketing trap had sprung.
As it turns out, this is the movie that was done too often. This movie, apparently later labeled by Hitchcock himself as “made by a talented amateur”, may have secured Hitchcocks career and enabled him to redo it 22 years later, but it looks and feels like a talented amateur made it. The script is jumpy and incoherent, the direction nonexistent for large stretches, and the acting ludicrous for the most part. There are, however, a few saving graces: the sequence leading up to the nonfatal shot in Royal Albert Hall betrays the fledgling master, Peter Lorre is fascinating to watch, and movie history buffs will like the clash of silent expressionist techniques and modern talkie plot, left obvious, because some talented amateur was unable to resolve it.

Buy it at Amazon

armsstrangers.jpg If anyone were following the reviews on this blog, a pattern of Nazi movie obsession in recent weeks would become apparent. This is partly due to an unchecked adding frenzy to our Netflix queue quite a while ago, and I’m growing a bit tired of it. So this probably explains in part why this documentary of the Kindertransporte, humanitarian efforts in the late 1930s saving tens of thousands of German Jewish children from certain death by sending them to host families in England, didn’t quite manage to grip my attention. It’s a heartwarming story, even if the host families were often struggling with the stressed out children they were receiving, but somehow the movie doesn’t manage to make it stick together. Maybe its the lack of historical commentary and an overarching message of the movie, maybe its just uninspired editing, and dragging interviews. Or maybe it’s just me – the Oscar this movie won in 2001 would suggest that, if I believed awards like the Oscars to be a genuine mark of quality.