Mittwoch, 28. März 2012

They drive by night (Walsh, 1940) #DTC #161

Two truck-driving brothers dream of a better future and financial independence in a sea of good and bad fortune.

Although the film has all the ingredients of a film noir, like the selfish femme fatale, Bogart, and many night scenes, this is something you could consider a feel-good movie. It pretty much surprised me with its turns and twists and I also wasn't prepared in the least to see Bogart as the sidekick, instead of the lead.

In terms of interesting characters, Ida Lupino as the selfish wife that tries to seduce George Raft's Joe she is definitively at the most intense when she slowly sheds all the layers of sanity towards the end. Although her motives are a bit unclear - the amazing thing about her behavior is that she values love over money. In that perspective the movie feels like a tragedy, as (except for the loan shark) everybody has comparatively sophisticated understanding of emotion and life.

Immortals (Singh, 2011) - SIGH (+upturned lampshades) #vfxporn

VFX porn at its worst, could have used some dialogue from actual porn to improve.


Usually quite sheepish when it comes to watching movies with friends that have different tastes, ie they love actions, they love to talk during movies, and so on. This was one of the extremely few times where *everybody* agreed to flee after ten minutes, in a stampede-like evacuation of the screening. Due to bizarre mixture of guilt and admittedly microscopically small hopes for a better second half, I watched the whole thing.

I just don't understand why such films are being made. Maybe they appeal to a teenager crowd from about 12 to 14 (and in the closet)? Fine with me, the visuals are pretty OK although not very imaginative like the ones in The Cell. This is an incredibly imaginative director! What happened? He should have hired back the same VFX supervisor, at least. I just blame the studio (easiest).

There's no humor in the film, unfortunately. Although I thought it was incredibly funny when the women wear thinly veiled, upside-down lampshades on their heads. And I'm 95% sure, these WERE lampshades found in some thrift store. Great irony! (was it?)

I will not go on about the script, but I can feel there is a niche in this world for films with great VFX and a great story, that actually complement each other. Back to work on my treatment.

Sleuth (Mankiewicz, 1972)

An older upper-class man entices his wife's young lover to commit the perfect burglary.

You can feel the theatre origin of the script extremely strongly throughout the script, with its crucial break of the first act right in the middle. It is highly interested in form as the second part of the film is basically mirroring the first one but with an unexpected twist.

The characters turn out to be much more embittered by their situations than both of them let on. They are rendered as rather caricatured versions of very realistic persons. This over-the-top characters, but played very matter-of-factly by the two actors took me quite some time to get used to. But once suspension of disbelief set in, I thoroughly enjoyed the film.

The camera work didn't look great on my screen, the interiors felt very theatrical, with too much pointed light and the exteriors on the other hand looked a little flat. I would have preferred the outside scenes also harsher in lighting, with strong shadows, even film-noirish - but maybe conditions weren't too good for filming. And it might have added a macabre touch to the funny, but also slightly unsettling scene of the burglary.

Samstag, 24. März 2012

The Bank Dick (Cline, 1940) #DTC #848

The grumpy family head and  hobby sleuth gets hired by the local bank.

I have never (gasp) watched a WC Fields movie before, so it took my pretty long to get used to this - in its time well known - personality that is quite a misanthrope. The pacing of the actual film felt slow and the scenes had not a lot of connection to the grand story, basically just setting the stage for the gags Fields was performing.

It is quite interesting if you start to sympathize for such a thoroughly unsympathetic character on screen. Maybe because the man basically just wants to be left alone - everything that happens to him, even under the most contrived circumstances doesn't affect him in the least. It doesn't even look like he is interested in the money. Except for the money part, the disaffectionate personality seems like a rather modern rendering of the hedonistic generation Y, despite all vintage look-and-feel. I wonder about the other films, hope to get around to see them soon.


How Green Was My Valley (Ford, 1941) - #TSPDT #355

The story of a generation in a family of miners in a valley in Wales.

The film manages to successfully immerse me in the world of the simple miners trying to cope with novelties such as unions or education. The humble and simple men and women are a likeable bunch, well displayed in their disposition to break out in song at pretty much any occasion.

It definitively is a very melodramatic film but to my great surprise it doesn't culminate in sweet happy-ending, but a quiet, somber mood of reflection and after-thought, which felt like a great thing after some of the more kitschy moments. In a way it reminded me a bit of "I remember Mama" although the story is more literate, and the confrontations are quite over the top, as far as there are any. It's sort of a Hollywood kitchen-sink drama, all fluffy and dirty at the same time.  But I was able to enjoy it very much.


Education for Death (Geronimi, 1943) - #DTC 1679

 WWII Propaganda animation about Hans, a German boy, who is raised to become a Nazi.

The most startling thing about this short animation that it is actually talked in German. I wonder how the decision to do this came about.  Maybe to lend it more "authenticity" which seems a bit ridiculous in an animation that was pretty expressive in design.

The marching scene at the end is quite iconographic and might be traced back to WWI pictures. (Fields of crosses, etc).

An interesting watch, as it lacks humor, but also delivers the strange message: "Not all Nazis are bad, the Germans can't help it". It's quite clear that the audience is supposed to partake in Hans' fate of being bent by the propaganda around him, until he becomes the "killing machine" he was always intended to be. The film falls short, as it tries to convincingly explain the rise of the fascists in large numbers from the world view that everybody is born equal. But it is exactly this shortcoming that makes this film much more interesting than other, more straightforward, propaganda, in my opinion.

Donnerstag, 22. März 2012

All the President's Men (Pakula, 1976) - #TSPDT #624

 Two up-and-coming journalists investigate a burglary which becomes one of the biggest political scandals in America.

The outcome of the story is clear, as are many of the details. So the film basically dramatizes and fills in on some of the (maybe fictitious) details on the events. The struggle of the young journalists to make a dent is nicely depicted, but without the importance of the events they report, it might fall a little flat. It might be interesting to know, how many times the drafts were reworked to get everything right: an interesting dramatic structure, and at the same time staying true to the events. The only other newspaper drama I can think of is Zodiac, and the bridge from drama to historcial events didn't work too well for me there.


Dienstag, 20. März 2012

The Thief of Baghdad (Powell, Berger, Welan, 1940) - #TSPDT #320

A master prince is tricked out of his throne by the grand wesir and only magic and love can bring him back his throne.

Two most enjoyable scene in this movie was the love scene. The prince appears as a beggar-turned-ghost, the princess and he exchange fewer than two or three sentences and then sink into each others arms for a kiss. Not a single frame was wasted on courting - it just happens. Other films could benefit from that - they're gonna fall in love anyway, so why wait?

The evil wesir whose countenance has definitively thoroughly inspired Disney's Aladdin was amazing to watch. He was able to pull the looking-evil-when-you're-not-looking glance very convincingly.

Some of the smaller scenes didn't make too much sense inside the story (stealing the carpet was one of them). I know I've seen this picture as a child, but the only thing I could remember was the abundance of colors.

Samstag, 17. März 2012

Easy Street (Chaplin, 1917) - #DTC 1819

The tramp-turned-policeman is given charge to clean up notorious Easy Street.

This Chaplin was pretty coherent in story, although one can still feel his extremely strong focus on single scenes, and his longer films always lack something of an arc for me. But here the whole movie is short enough to keep me posted on the story.

The centerpiece for me was the chase routine, which seemed like an enormously tuned door-in/door-out scene. But the tempo is still amazing to watch even after a hundred years. I felt a lack of this pace in Lloyd's film and in other slapstick comedies from the era and later. The general perception of comedic rhythm seems to have changed substantially over time, but Chaplin's stuff seems to work great in all eras.

His arch-enemy, the fascinating Eric Campbell is a delight to watch and works as the archetypical thug.

Freitag, 16. März 2012

Cool Hand Luke (Rosenberg, 1967)

A headstrong chain-gang member who has a reputation of never giving up tries to escape from rural prison.

The boxing, the egg-eating and the hole-digging scenes had a big impact on me. There is a progressive senselessness in the actions, the first being a sort of understandable pecking order fight, but after that everything Newman's character does is basically pointless - and it didn't matter if he was in control or not.

All his other actions are just as aimless - the beheading of the parking meters, and the "fast working" performance with the road tarring machine, where he manages to motivate everybody to work like crazy.

Because of all this, the story was deeply unsettling to me. The lead character is lost in life and the universe, and - very poignantly - dies inside a church. In a modern version, the church might be replaced by some kind of bank or corporation, that tries to give a bizarre mission to one's life while at the same time micromanaging it.

There is gorgeous photography and the faceless guard is a delight to watch.


Donnerstag, 15. März 2012

Rhapsody in Rivets (Freleng, 1941)

 A skyscraper construction site is musically reinterpreted by Freleng and his animators.

Although quite an old animation this one held quite a few surprises for me in terms of visual gags. The story is quite simple, if you could even call it that. I like the idea of the foreman being a high-brow conductor although his "construction mentality" shines through every now and then. The animation plays on the famous photographs of the men sitting on beams high above the city.


When the building collapses I was wondering if there was a general notion in those days that high-rise buildings might not be up to par with quality standards.

Mittwoch, 14. März 2012

Les diaboliques (Clouzot, 1955) - #TSPDT 555

A private school master is killed by his wife and his maitresse. But things are not as simple as they seem.

Knowing the story upfront I wanted to know how the pacing of this film was. I was surprised to find, that there is a lot of setup and getting to know the characters. Most of the time was spent showing how patronizing and abusive the behavior of the school director is towards his wife. There is even a clear hint that he rapes her. The ending is fantastic, but the aftermath seemed a bit tucked on.
Maybe they were trying to avoid the censors.

The scenes in the dining room were quite good as they immediately explained the hierarchy between everybody involved. When only the three main characters remain in the hall, there is some interesting mise-en-scene as the figures are carefully placed in the available space.

The final 15-20 minutes of the film are extremely gripping where this "crime" film suddenly becomes more of a "horror-thriller" crossover genre. And although I was prepared for something like that, I could barely watch it.


The Adventures of Tintin (Spielberg, 2011) -

The 3D adaptation of the Belgian comic is surprisingly good.

I expected something like Polar Express meets Tron:Legacy in terms of experience. But I was more than pleasantly surprised. Spielberg has somehow managed to capture the essence of the Tintin books: fun for young boys. There is a sense of that feeling there, that I remember having when I first saw Indiana Jones. People were actually having fun making the movie - (or so it seemed)

The best scene is the chase scene down the hill from the palace to the harbor. There are three or four amazing things happening in the main action, but there is also a lot of really detailed stuff in the background. Most of which I didn't have the slightest bit of time to study. I really hope that this is a film with treasure of little easter eggs and hints to other films. I'd run out and by a BluRay and study every frame.


There were two or three moments when I didn't feel quite at home in the picture, but they were only few. The dog didn't always work and sometimes the story felt a bit thrown together. Good to see some unreflected fun from Spielberg. I wouldn't be surprised if he himself would have dreamed of living through the experiences of Tintin as a child.


Vredens Dag / Day of Wrath (Dreyer, 1943) - #TSPDT #266

 The son of a priest falls in love with his father's young wife - which proves to be a dangerous undertaking in the time of witch hunts.

There is a depressing virtuosity that I feel every time I watch one of Dreyer's films. The camera movements are gracious in moving from one choking situation to the next. There is fantastic movement especially dolly shots (sideways) that were so impressive that I fell out of the story for a couple of moments. I remember similarly impressive stuff from Gertrud, which was shot later. And many of the shots reminded me of Rembrandtesque imagery.

Throughout the whole film, the imagery is incredibly strong and I really felt that something of "those days" was transported through the film. The choice of the actor's features made this even more of an experience. A remake of his "Arc" shot, the inquisition is also amazing to watch as the camera pans from one face to the other (or with cuts). These people look genuine - I imagine Dreyer spent a lot of time picking the extras.

The few shots outside are in strange contrast: the dream-like and very strong lit river side and the brutal weather outside when the priest returns home and he can feel that "death has brushed him". 

This film is definitively another look worth regarding camera movement and lighting.

Dienstag, 13. März 2012

The Great Escape (Sturges, 1963) - #TSPDT #757

 A group of POW air force soldiers try to escape from a German war camp.

As an ensemble piece the film offers quite a lot of opportunities for interesting scenes with many actors. Although many of these were quite exciting, the main attraction of the film was the economy with which each character was sketched. James Garner as the savvy black marketeer, Steve McQueen a stubborn escapee, and Attenborough as the unquestioned mastermind. There were many others, just as fascinating to watch.

The film in itself is entertaining, but didn't bring me to the edge of the seat. The memorable scenes were the escape through the tunnel and the motorcycle chase which was sort of relaxing to watch.

There is a long introduction how the real events were compressed into fewer persons and that some of the narrative twists and turns had been bent to fit the format of the movie better. I don't know the book but the adaptation works surprisingly well, especially compared to most of the other biopics I've seen which never work for me. In terms of stringency I think the script was even better than the Army of Shadows.

Bride of Frankenstein (Whale, 1935) - #TSPDT #223

The monster is not dead and Frankenstein is forced to construct a female companion for the lonely creature.

The most memorable scene is the awakening of the "bride". The sheer height of the set, quickly cut against very extreme angels of Frankenstein and Doctor Pretorius in very harsh lighting gives the whole awakening a very demonic and at the same time very theological look - I was reminded of a church by the architecture somehow. I was wondering what the symbolic inspiration of raising and lowering the mummy to the roof was. The bride herself (who was credited as "?") looks amazing and her movements have a ballet-like quality despite their jerkiness.

When the monster remains at the blind monk's cottage, there is a sense of real friendship between the two highly unlikely characters, despite the kitsch and over-the-top way it was put in front of the camera. But not all of the relationships work that well - there is a good moment, when Frankenstein meets his creation but it's over all too soon and doesn't make too much sense.

Also, Frankenstein's wife could have been a nastier person, so we would have put even more sympathy in the tragic fate of the monster.

El Verdugo / The Executioner (Berlanga, 1963) #TSPDT #277

A young undertaker falls in love with the daughter of the official executioner.

This was quite the discovery - incredibly funny and nicely paced. I enjoyed this movie from beginning to end. There is a tendency that everybody talks at the same time, which made it sometimes very hard to follow what they were saying. But mostly, the scenes were so hilarious that it was more than enough just to grab the snippets of the conversation - and one could still understand really well what was going on. I haven't seen this kind of comedy in newer films, I wonder why - maybe Curb your enthusiasm is coming close sometimes.


The political tones, although still present and discernible, have faded a bit in the passing of time and Spain being a democracy now. Some of the more socially concerned details do still show through quite clearly.

Pacing: The development of the story is slow at first, but that's got more to do that I didn't really know what to expect from it - when I realized that it was gonna be about the marriage and the father, the film was already way into that, so I never felt bored or had to sit through story bits that were "clear in outcome".

I wonder, why not a lot of people know of the film, although it appears on TSPDT quite high up.


Donnerstag, 8. März 2012

Choked (Joong-Hyun, 2011) - #Berlinale 2012 #koreablog

A young man is confronted with his mothers worsening debts. Things spiral out of control when she suddenly disappears.

Most notable about the film for me was the insight into the Korean society - the filmmakers seem to suggest that basically everyone in Korea seems to live way over their means. The pressure on the son to get a "good life" in terms of owning an apartment of good size determines the happiness of his fiancee. The characters talk plainly about the subject of money to each other with a frankness that would not be seen in other societies. I wonder if this was a fiction or conversations can be that open in Korea.

Something I've noticed recently in some Asian films with a similar style is a sort of liberation of the genre, I cannot really describe it any better. At any point during this film I expected it to turn funny, bloody, dramatic or simply weird. And to a very slight degree it really turns this or that direction. Maybe it was just me, but that rather diffuse feeling of "loss of genre" put me at a certain distance of the story and I wasn't convinced with what was happening to the main characters.

There is a certain twist at the end of the film that I thought didn't work out too well. Actually, I felt more confused after that revelation - I would have left it out.

The film has this very sharp imagery, something I've noticed quite often in Korean films at festivals lately. Maybe it's got to do with their digital post production facilities that convert to DCP. This style works very well with these type of films giving a sort of documentary hi-def style, but it also has a certain aseptic quality which I feel a bit uncomfortable with.

Judgment at Nuremberg (Kramer, 1961) - #DTC 1885

 A provincial judge is to preside over a tribunal judging second-row Nazis in Nuremberg when public interest in the trials have stopped.

The film strikes a fine balance between documenting the mood of the American occupation, the German population living in the ruins and pushing the story forward. Although highly entertaining and very impressively acted I felt that the German characters (all of them) were a bit too exaggerated for my taste. Burt Lancaster was interesting to watch, with his minimal reactions he somehow got me to sympathize with his character. So, morally, the judge's decision caught me unguarded - maybe the script could have played on that a bit more.

There were some great camera pans that were nicely synchronized with the action. Not Dreyer, but close at some places.

Pazirale sadeh / Modest reception (Haghighi, 2011) - #Berlinale 2012

A couple tries to get rid of a whole car filled with money in the Iranian highland.

An amazing film and with a lot of humor. The first scene was hilarious in that it immediately immersed the audience in the tension and in the absurd humor of the whole film. After a while, though, the fun turns rather somber and sinister. The story is divided very noticeable into scenes - but even though the framework is highly visible the film works nevertheless.

Especially the first scene was quite interestingly written. Haghighi has worked quite a bit on the balance in between the three actors - every 20 seconds or so somebody else has "control" of the situation. Establishing something like a "slapstick" drama - and it also turns quite physical at the end.

Mittwoch, 7. März 2012

Yemen's Reluctant Revolutionary (McAllister, 2012) - #Berlinale 2012

A tour guide, living in Yemen is slowly warming to the revolution in his country.


McAllister's answer in the QA session was quite revealing: He builds his documentaries about specific characters he is looking for. There is a frankness in Keis' behavior that lets the filmmaker look at a pretty intimate level at the sarcastic tour guide, whose business is lost to the maelstrom of revolution, repression and kidnappings.

I was quite impressed by the film, but after leaving the cinema I found myself thinking about too many unanswered questions. I had the feeling that the filmmaker had a really hard time to get Keis' transformation across in the editing room - he just plays it too cool - and had to resort to pretty shocking pictures and some rather cutcutcut editing. The film seems to end a bit abrupt after Keis inner change. 

I was also wondering if the Khat that these people are endlessly chewing is some kind of 1984-ish downer to keep everybody happy, non-violent and complacent to a point, long surpassed.