Last ten flicks I saw

Since we’ve been travelling around the countryside this summer there hasn’t been that much time to watch movies, except re-visiting old goodies like the Grindhouse movies by Rodriguez/Tarantino when on the train, or peeping at the dimwits of Supernatural through a haze of give-a-fsck. Consequently this list has accumulated over time, with the first five being mere cash cow productions. They demonstrate the difference between artist and entertainer, all being Hollywood investments more than artistic creations, as opposed to the last five which at least have story, integrity and some undefinable character to make that film unique. So forgive me for being so brief on the first five. There should be no spoilers but you read at your own risk. Here’s the 10 last flicks I saw:

The Green Hornet (2011)
The Green Hornet (2011)Neither Lady C nor I can rightly discern the exact reason for us hating on this movie. It is based on the comic of masked vigilante of the same name, here in the ugly mug of mr. Seth Rogen, whose utter lack of sympathy portrays the "hero" as an obnoxious asshole.

While this could have been the beginning of a great adventure and personal growth, it instead turns into some immature cartoon. On the Hornet’s first run he kills two police officers in a car chase, and then just laughs about it. The movie just sucks even harder from there, and we decided to not bother. It flies in the face of anything related to good story-telling. There was no reason for us to keep watching it AT ALL (unless you’re in a cinema, paid your ticket, then you’re stuck), so we turned off this film some twenty minutes in. It’s not worth our time, and we’re glad we didn’t pay any money for it. Don’t bother. Just ignore this tripe. I highly doubt it pays tribute to the original comic. If it does, ignore the comic too.

I am number four (2011)
Here is the tagline for the movie: John is an extraordinary teen, masking his true identity and passing as a typical high school student to elude a deadly enemy seeking to destroy him. Three like him have already been killed … he is Number Four.

… and that’s more or less what you get having watched through it all. He’s moving around the country, all emo like the kids in Twilight, more or less being an obnoxious asshole. And here’s the thing: The movie isn’t finished. It ends with a cliffhanger in order to make money on the next piece of no-story teenage angst with alien powers summer film. Why bother?

Legion (2009)
Legion (2009)This movie completely fails to follow through on its own promises. It tries to set up a Spawn-like heaven/hell sort of stand-off at the end of the world, probably inspired by the Supernatural TV series too. I can dig that sort of thing, and quotes like this always sound promising for an inspired action/disaster movie:

One night, I finally got the courage to ask my mother why God had changed, why He was so mad at His children. "I don’t know," she said, tucking the covers around me, "I guess He just got tired of all the bullshit."

Without further ado it unfortunately fails horribly, ending with the sour taste of wasted time and money in my mouth yet again. You get nothing from watching it since you’re bereft of satisfaction in the end, it’s completely obsolete and redundant. There isn’t even a quick and dirty twist to justify the whole mess. It’s all baloney. Which is too bad, given all the great hype.

It’s like a mix up of Spawn (Todd McFarlane), Terminator and some Stephen King short-story that had a great start but then the writer was hit by a bus and some dimwit grabbed the pen and ended it all just to cash in on the advertisement. Which is sort of the story of Hollywood today, innit? Well, let’s see.

Red Riding Hood (2011)
Red Riding Hood (2011)Ah, this beautiful little thing was made by some little dick who once heard of other people’s research (read: Freud’s) into the hidden educational content of fairy tales, and then decided to combine that with yet another Twilight theme teenage angst romance, in order to cash out big. You’d think this was something for Lady C who usually loves this sort of thing, but she was vomiting all over the script before the carpet fall.

Here’s what you get in the movie: Take any little teenage slut who’s been brought up a self-centered brat in California and put her in some fantasy-like "medieval times" loosely based on the historical account of Willow. Add to that some Twilight-like theme, this time a werewolf, and two guys wanting the same girl and you’ve got yourself a million dollars, baby. It’s a costume party from 2011 just located in a fake forest somewhere..

We also strongly reacted to the complete lack of character depth. The women are all loose as hell and friends stab each other in the back over quibbles. Are we really supposed to believe that a young girl would risk her family’s honour and good standing by having oral sex in the middle of the village and then bragging about it to her two-timin’ girl friends way back when? And the whole Wolf-hunter thing arranged by Gary Oldman is just so cliché. This movie could have been great if someone with half a dose of literary wit had written it down. Or if they’d made porn. Instead it’s just another personal fund-raiser for Leonardo Dicaprio. You want to do a European fairy tale? How about assigning the job to actual Europeans?

Gulliver’s Travels (2010)
This is famously a Jack Black production, and it was as such that I hunted it down for a one-to-watch one particularly raining afternoon. Jack Black films are easy to spot: they have fart jokes and are light tempered. But they can also handle serious themes in a more artistic and intelligent manner than many overly self-conscious productions (see above). There is nothing fluffy about optimism and humour. In that regard, Gulliver’s Travels is not a let down.

The movie sort of aims to be a re-vitalisation of the original Irish satire called Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, in Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of Several Ships. (which is an amazing title, by the way.) It’s not, to be frank, keeping that promise but it uses Part I: A Voyage to Lilliput and Blefuscu as a playground for practical jokes and the story of Lemuel Gulliver’s growing up from jokester/liar/pretender to an honest responsible adult, so he can win Teh Love. In all, this movie actually has a morale.

For some reason I think it is a little too light however. It could have played A LOT more on the fact that here’s a modern dude in Victorian age Lilliput, but the few gags are plowed through very fast. That would have been the Comedy path. It could also have dealt more in-depth with some issues that I think Jack has done in previous films such as Nacho Libre (2006) and Be Kind Rewind (2008), which would have made the movie feel closer to home and probably more of a success with a larger audience. Despite the fact that it doesn’t do justice to the original text and when you know it’s a Jack Black film, it’s okay entertainment.

Super 8 (2011)
Super 8 (2011)Have you ever wanted to know what Cloverfield would have been like in the sleepy, sub-urban world of Stephen Spielberg’s E.T.? Me neither. But that’s what Super 8 is all about!

We’ve had some great summer weather the last 2-3 weeks in Oslo, which probably affects the movie theaters greatly. Not that they actually deserve any better; firing all employees, going all digital and raising the price 50%.. "Super 8" 2nd ShowOn the left is a picture from the cinema where we caught Super 8 the day after the premiere (on a Saturday) just five minutes before the movie started.. Yup. Talk about bad timing!

The cast and production of this movie is really great! The group of children captures the techno-optimism of 1979 as they work together on their amateur film project. You get a sense of "the gang" as we met them in E.T. (1982) slash The Goonies (1985) and followed their adventure as part of the gang. The sense of wonder is enforced by the amazing re-staging of pre-eighties’ suburbia which tears at the hearts of those of us who can remember the sense of wonder encaptured in American film at the time, which is now completely lacking.

Unfortunately J.J. Abrams can’t help himself. Having seen the movie I took Lady C out for dinner where we discussed the movie at length. We were both bemused and pretty disappointed with it. Not because it was a shallow production like the movies you’ve read about in the sections before this, but because it is such a great movie until J.J. Abrams tries to recreate Cloverfield.

Here’s how this movie could have been great and where J.J. Abrams failed: take away the monster. At this point in the movie the director has come to an impasse and Abrams decides, unfortunately, to create a monster movie. The cold, harsh reality and cynicism of escaping from and fighting with a monster overshadows the children’s sense of adventure created in the former half of the film. Lady C aptly described it as shifting the focus away from "the gang" to the point where they disappear in the chaos of events and become whining, screaming little kids. Annoying and unreal. It doesn’t work because the storyteller’s voice changes dramatically and without any reason. He’s trying to tell BOTH the children’s side of the story (in their view) AND the more dangerous and sinister grown-up side of the story (in a gruesomely detailed view). Bottom line is that it doesn’t work.

Which is a great tragedy for 2011 as a movie year. Super 8 could have been the greatest thing to happen on screen since
Independence Day (1996) in my honest opinion. It has charm and integrity, and a great cast (though modelled after previous successes). However, half-way through J.J. Abrams pulls down his pants and lays a brick on it all. It’s almost as if he’s doing it on purpose. But I think he just don’t know the art of storytelling. Abrams apparently doesn’t understand that his monster would have been a lot scarier if we’d never even seen it.

On a side note: Are you getting the theme here? Apparently I’m too old for today’s movies, ’cause when I watch them I feel like they’re so shallow and so self-contradictory that I wonder who’s falling for it. Well, everyone below twenty-five, apparently. Which means that on the one hand we have producers who couldn’t give a shit about proper storytelling (which hasn’t changed much since Ancient Greece by the way — BECAUSE IT BLOODY WELL WORKS) and on the other we have kids of today who can’t tell silver from shite because they don’t know any better. The movies of tomorrow will all be filmed in in handheld NYPD Blue style with ultra-saturated lighting like commercials and have abrupt endings where a little twist kicks you in the groin because the director’s so smart. Oh wait. That’s today! But let’s look at a few more before we can go home for the day.

The Way Back (2010)
The Way BackBeing a National Geographic production usually means that you’re in for a real treat, and while that’s not a truism they certainly don’t fall short this time around either. I’d go as far as saying that The Way Back is not only a great production but it’s probably the best movie I have seen in a couple of years’ time!

The Way Back tells the supposedly true story of six prisoners escaping the gulag in Siberia 1941. Three of them continue to walk the 4000 miles to freedom in India, on foot, and this is a celebration of their feat. Pun intended.

The director Peter Weir is perhaps most famous for his works The Truman Show and Dead Poet’s Society, but this really is a jewel in the crown of great directing. The quiet pace of the movie allows for cinematographic shots of the scenery which ingeniously places our prison escapists in the book definition of ‘middle of nowhere’ in a truly convincing manner. In fact, if you were writing a dictionary right now I would submit this flick as my description of the middle of nowhere. It’s hard to describe.

The cast is great and they do a convincing job, and though there are elements to the story reminiscent to the adventurism of Papillon (another supposedly true story and a great film!) which may not be all that true, this movie is so touching that you want it to be true. And perhaps that is the greatest art of all in the art of cinema. It is a classic tale of human perseverance and endurance, and to not give up hope even when you’re on you own in the middle of nowhere. Brilliantly executed at that.

Tomorrow, When the War Began (2010)
Tomorrow When the War Began movie posterWhen my friend FRANK! visited his sister in Australia, this movie was all that everyone was talking about. It is based on a series of books for teenagers and has a naive Australia-centric atmosphere, which is a breath of fresh air amidst all the American and British productions in Norwegian cinemas today. So when I and Lady C fired up this vid in the living-room I was sort of expecting it to be exactly what it turned out to be; It is the modern Australian Hardy Boys-equivalent and I find it very charming.

It deals with things that teenagers care about: school, sex and growing up, but also themes specific to Australia, such as aborigines and Asian immigrants, while having an intriguing overarching story allowing for character exposé and development.

We’re talking about the invasion of Australia by some undisclosed foreign power. It is akin to the German’s occupation of Norway in the 1940’s, but the details don’t really matter. The situation serves as a test of the eight teenagers in the group as their day to day life is changed in an instance, and they must either fight or surrender. This is obviously only the first in a series of films based on the books, but that doesn’t make this flick any less noteworthy. It was really enjoyable to watch and I can’t wait to see more of these guys. And even though it’s a little below my age group, I can still remember what teenage angst and anger is all about. Ooooh, the excitement. Good job!

El Aura (2005)
At the end of a text message my sister sent me in 2010, she wrote something about having seen El Aura and that it was really just an okay film to watch. It was quite a random thing to do so it stuck on my mind and the next time I went movie-hunting I just had to get it. And what a good thing I did!

The Aura is the tale of a geeky taxidermist who is obsessed about the technical details of the perfect crime. The main character is brilliantly played by Ricardo Darín who really fits into these quick-fingered characters like Marlon Brando fits the Godfather in the movie of the same name. You saw him in Nine Queens (2000) playing a guy of roughly the same trade, but with such style and attention to detail that the two characters are miles apart. Where in Nine Queens he’s a con man of the street, in El Aura he’s the cold and calculating criminal mastermind. At least in his own opinion. But they are both thieves.

If you like crime/robbery films you shouldn’t miss this or Nine Queens!

Auch Zwerge haben klein angefangen (1970)
Even Dwarfs Started SmallThis movie, titled Even Dwarfs Started Small in English*, is an early 1970 artistic experiment by Werner Herzog about the rage and inevitable chaos of revolution with scenes from a nightmare Herzog himself once had. It encompasses most of what Herzog’s later filmography is all about: the threat of terrible violence and the chaos of nature threatening every persistent system. (*The word Dwarf/Zwerge was not supposed to appear in the title of the finished work.)

Like I said, this movie is inspired by one of Herzog’s nightmares and believe me, it shows. To me, I should say, this movie is very close to the programmatic (Freudian) interpretation of true surrealism according to the Manifesto of Surrealism as written by André Breton in 1924, which is why I was interested in it in the first place. As is usual with Herzog’s films though the movie has a creeping feeling of something-not-right right below the surface, whether or not it is Herzog’s purported chaos theory or just the human emotion called fear of the unknown.

While I don’t agree with Herzog’s two-dimensionality of system vs. chaos his portrayal of such in this film is a true work of art. Werner Herzog has created a 96 minute film starring only dwarves running around, filmed in black and white with a lot of hand-held cameras, taking over what appears to be some kind of mental institution in the desert, wreaking havoc far away from sanity and civilization. It’s like a Willow From Hell kind of deal, only that this piece was executed in 1970 – a long time before hand-held filming was norm in expressionist cinema.

The movie’s main character is the viewer’s expectation (and hence fulfilment) of a downward spiral, and watching this film you begin to feel that the actors are not playing and would definitely end up murdering each other if no one was around to film it. It is completely insane, and points ahead to his later works with the paranoid Klaus Kinski, that also deals with fear and its natural response of anger. Apparently Herzog had to promise the cast he would jump into a field of cactuses if they managed to pull through the movie. I hope he kept his promise.

The cast is superb and does a great job. Here’s the short intro feat. "Hombré" who has the world’s most scariest laughter, with a sample of the background music. The rhythmic African tribal music in the background is clearly added to invoke a sort of trance as one would expect by chanting, and is somewhat insulting in today’s social-anthropological climate. At the time it must have been something of a scientific gem, and it actually works together with the insane imagery to create a canvas of chaos and fear. I must say it was worth every minute of it, though some parts are too long, but it is not a film for non-enthusiasts.

See that? I managed to end on a positive note after all. It’s time to steer the ship homewards and

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