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End of Watch (2012)
Raw, intense, realistic. Cops'll love it.
End of Watch is a fairly raw, intense police film about average, every day cops. In a neighborhood that's far from average, as South Central LA is probably one of the nastiest places to ride the streets in a black and white. Add to which a slight over-concentration of incidents (compared to a usual day at work, I hope) and it's hard to believe why they would want to stick to that precinct... It does make for a very strong cop-flick! The characters are quite realistic, likable and well played. The story is mostly a serious of incidents, some of which connected by an organized crime back-story, but (as in real life) our street cops only experience bits and pieces of it. Heavy bits and pieces, though.
I liked it. Cops will love it. Honor, loyalty, friendship, sharing the burden and intensity of the job. Damn.
Cold Souls (2009)
A charming and atmospheric movie, a bit on the melancholic side but it fits Giamatti well.
Paul Giamatti (played by Paul Giamatti) decides to extract and store his soul, in order to ease the struggling with his latest project, a Chekov play. Because after all, all of life, and especially acting, goes so much easier without a soul, right? And although souls appear to be surprisingly small and physical, Giamatti's causes him quite some trouble.
The problem arises when he wants it back, but it's gone. How does one life without a soul? And how do you get it back?
A charming and atmospheric movie, a bit on the melancholic side but it fits him well.
Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
First love and big adventures in a larger-than-life story (in a typical Wes Anderson summer camp)
Wes Anderson made this film from the perspective of (I'm guessing) his 12- year old self. First love and big adventures in a larger-than-life story, set in and around a New England island scout camp.
Everything is very.. well pronounced is probably the right word, full of contrasts and slightly distant. Some nice big actors in charming small roles, but eventually the film revolves around 2 12-year olds. And drenched in classical music.
It has the charm of your (or anyone's really) most endearing and cherished memories of that time when most of life was still waiting to be figured out, but some things were o so clear at the same time. I didn't really know how I felt back then anymore, and this film is a nice reminder!
Hasta la Vista (2011)
A Belgian Sideways in wheelchairs. Funny, charming, bittersweet.
While Dutch/Belgian movies often try to replicate the big budget action (or suspense) from US cinema, they would be much better off trying to master the art of creating something charming and heartfelt within the budget range that is there. Like this film! No fancy effects or smoky rooms with people staring in the distance contemplating the state of the world, but actual people with actual needs and a little challenge at that.
Because what do you do when you're a young horny bloke, and paralysed? Or blind? Or dying? It's simple questions like this that probably arise a lot more in regular life than we (I) might think. Luckily, the Spanish have a solution: a bordello for just that sort of need. On with the road trip!
Plan C (2012)
Great dutch flic about a beautifully played loser-in-denial cop trying to solve his problems with.., more problems
Ronald Plasmeyer, a totally irrelevant Amsterdam police detective, is the saddest sod of the department, and probably of the entire recent Dutch cinema at that.
This intriguing loser frantically tries to keep his life together, trying to fix one mistake with an even bigger one. He keeps telling everybody (including himself) everything is fine (yeah, no, really, no problem, it's fine, I got it under control, really man, I got this!) while his every single effort he makes collapses underneath his feet.
The fact that his raging gambling addiction leads to a failed robbery and his p*ssed off ex-wife considers him a total a-hole completely eludes him. Everything's fine!
Plan C is an atmospheric film, with the atmosphere being that of the bad neighbourhoods in Amsterdam North (a run down living area for petty criminals and other degenerates). The film is well made (especially considering the usual standards for popular Dutch cinema), and Ruben vd Meer does an amazing job (probably his best so far) as loser-in-denial, self pitying Plasmeyer. His performance alone makes this film worth watching!
The Artist (2011)
Don't hesitate because it's B&W or silent. It's also a very lovely film!
So it's black & white and silent. Silent?!? Yes. It has music to accentuate the scenes, and the sparse dialog that is essential is shown in text frames between the shots. Just like old times! It made me hesitate for months before I got to watching it. That was a mistake!
The Artist is certainly different, and it takes a few minutes to get used to, but with 'losing' sound it hasn't lost any of its potential to grab the audience and pull it into a true cinematic story from the old days. Rather, while the story is quite simple the lack of dialogue forces you to actively 'see' what's going on, which engages the audience (us!) much more, and much more intimately. You don't need to be a die- hard 1920s fan to be entertained by this film!
The film itself is a simple love-story between a proud actor (obviously modeled after Douglas Fairbanks, I thought) who falls hard when Hollywood switches from silent to 'talkies', and the upcoming actress he discovered who shines in the new, talking, cinema.
So if you hesitate because it's a silent B&W (or because you, rightfully, think 5 Oscars out of 10 nominations was a bit of an overreaction): don't, you won't regret seeing it!
The Master (2012)
Confusing but strong character study of the interaction between two damaged men
I was 'fortunate' enough to see this in the only cinema in the Netherlands that can handle 70mm (EYE filmmuseum Amsterdam). Although.. it did break halfway through. They then switched to the 'regular' HD digital format and behold: I didn't notice a thing. So either it's me, or 70mm really is redundant in this day and age.
The movie itself is a bit confusing, but the acting is brutally phenomenal! The story is interesting, yet slightly absent at times. It's probably best considered as a 'character study'. With very interesting characters, for sure! The Scientology-comparisons are overrated. It's about a Master of a Cult, with a 'belief/theory' as unclear as Scientology's. That's it. It's really more a movie about two powerful but damaged men, extremely well acted, very captivating and a bit.. well, confusing.
Mr. Nobody (2009)
Exploration of scientific themes combined with a little love and a good story
A relatively unknown Belgian director explores some popular (and also some lesser known) issues in modern science: chaos theory, entropy, chance, choice, existence and the nature and direction of time (eg: what happens when the universe reaches its maximum expansion?). It is Schrödinger's cat outside the box, with a little love story intermixed (it's still a film, after all!)
Mr. Nobody starts out confusing, but remains accessible throughout, without doing injustice to the main themes. Good acting, some nice cinematographic gimmicks (restrained yet useful CGI, as it should be) and a good story line. It's Before sunset/sunrise (Linklater) meets Memento (Nolan).
In other words: probably the only film Leonard and Penny (Big Bang Theory) could watch together!
Zero Dark Thirty (2012)
High quality (little action) and realistic depiction of the hunt for Bin Laden
It's not an action flick, it's a thriller. About a tough CIA-chick who has a hunch about a guy who might eventually lead them to Osama Bin Laden. It takes her almost 10 years, a little waterboarding, a couple of dead colleagues and a lot of arguing with her superiors, but she manages to follow the lead all the way to the now famous raid in Abbottabad.
It's a very captivating film (even with its 160 minutes runtime), and the big raid at the end is quite intense and realistic. That said, Bigelow's previous 'The Hurt Locker' was (even) better. But it's close!
As for the controversy whether the film is 'pro-torture propaganda' or not: it shows what (likely) happened. A very unpleasant sight for Americans, sure, but that's no reason to leave it out. Whether or not 'OBL' would've been caught without the use of torture is speculation that has no place in this movie (it's a depiction of events, not a moral study).
Some Americans might still find it hard to watch a movie that requires you to form your own opinion about the actions of your country/government/army, instead of getting one spoon fed by those very same institutions. But given the America's options in government- potential it seems a luxury Americans no longer have.
Whores' Glory (2011)
Gripping docu about the women in various red light areas throughout the world
While the chitchatting girls of Bangkok may initially make you think it's actually not that bad, the back alley brothel in Bangladesh kicks you in the stomach. Remember while watching: 100 Taka = 0,95. And while the men are reduced to (nasty, ignorant, or at least naive) animals that can't help but exert their primal urges ('without the brothel all women would get raped all the time' is a telling quote), it's the madams' treatment of their girls that will truly horrify any viewer. The documentary ends slightly surrealistic, though not unsuitable, in a drug-fueled Mexican red light area.
What probably struck me most were the small rituals, often merely casual habits, that are used by the girls to keep hanging on in their incredibly hard life.
One can argue (as I'm sure has been done) whether 'dramatic' music in such a documentary is fitting. Nevertheless, the film is gripping, beautifully made, and if it wasn't such a nasty side of humanity the images and music would be enchanting. But without a happy end.
Le passé (2013)
Strong film about normal people in difficult situations, without rights or wrongs but with remarkable empathy and skill
Farhadi proved his superb skill with A Separation, and he is continuing to explore the same themes of humans dealing with difficulties in his new film Le Passe.
His "Kammerspielfilms" are small dramas about the middle-class, where he makes every character not only believable, but understandable. No good or bad, no right or wrong. Just normal people in really difficult situations.
Subtle difficulties, unspoken conflicts, social obligations and expectations: this is the stuff Iranian society is made of it seems. That being said, Farhadi's movies really aren't all that Iranian. A Separation was in Iran and about Iran, but eventually its theme was universal.
And Le Passé is French if anything, with a French, Iranian and Algerian protagonist. It might as well have been a Chinese, Brazilian and a Dutchman. Very impressive.
If you're interested in humans, their lives and interactions and the difficulties that come with that, there's no better (or more subtle) director than Farhadi.
Cloud Atlas (2012)
A collection of short stories don't automatically make an epic film, especially when they're poorly linked
Three hours is a long time when you don't really know what the point's gonna be, and eventually what it was supposed to be.
Without spoilering, the anticipated twist that ought to fulfill the claim that "everything is connected" doesn't really connect much, except through a cinematic gimmick about storytelling (which I didn't really get until watching a few of the disc's extras afterwards). So much for the intertwined story, which wouldn't be so bad except trying to figure that out keeps you busy most of the movie.
Don't get me wrong, the various stories throughout time are entertaining and sometimes even intriguing, but I can't help feel some of them could've been any other story for all the same. Cloud Atlas wants to be an epos but is a collection of average quality short stories with high quality actors and CGI. It's not enough to grab the audience.
What I did really like is how every era not only has its own story, but also its own style. From classic drama to blaxploitation thriller to scifi action, and even a little bit of near-slapstick comedy somewhere! But still, three hours is a long time.
Django Unchained (2012)
A pretentious and unworthy revenge fantasy by a man who can do so much better
Is it possible to dislike anything made by Tarantino these days? YES. And he even makes it real easy for us. While Tarantino's talent is still clearly visible, he seems to have gotten too famous, and too arrogant for his own good. It seem like there really isn't anyone in his entourage (anymore?) that tells him he's going too far.
Both Django and his previous film Inglourious Basterds are supposedly "revenge fantasies". Bad periods in history revisited in such way that this time the 'good guys' win. In Inglorious Basterds World War II is being revisited into an entirely different outcome (didn't we already win in the original? Yes, but this time it's even quicker, and more graphic!). And in Django Unchained the slave goes after the owner.
It's like the fantasies of a 12yr old, where the little kid beats up the bully for a change. It's nice to dream about (when you're 12), but way too simplistic for an actual movie. Predictable and aiming for a quick burst of satisfaction. It's like cooking a three star dinner, and making it liquid for easy digestion.
And to make manners worse, it's soooo looong! Pretentiously slow, unnecessary spread out and completely over the top. Which can be good (Grindhouse was over the top great), but here the film is simply taking itself way too serious. It's arrogantly staring the audience in the face, grinning: "I'm made by Tarantino, suck on me!"
Maybe his stature has become his problem. Remaking a B-film into a big movie only works with the lightheartedness of the B-film industry. it won't work with giant expectations and supersized egos like Tarantino's anymore. We all know he's talented, but it's been so long since we last saw that...
Life of Pi (2012)
Surprisingly well done adaptation of a mesmerising story.
After some dire disappointments I almost gave up on 3D, but Life of Pi 3D truly surprised me! The 3D is not at all over the top, often barely noticeable, but when it does come out it's a true addition to the movie- experience and (often subtly) really livens up the film. The intro with images from the zoo is a lovely herald to that.
The religious aspect, quite dominantly present in the book, is toned down and charming, even though it is inevitably a simplification. However, the atmosphere of an introspective journey that makes a young man question the nature of faith itself is well kept throughout the movie, which is probably why it works so well as it does. Also, it's simply very good filmmaking and the entire time on the life raft is surprisingly captivating. Imagine having to act all of that versus a virtual tiger!
Life of Pi is a very well done adaptation of a notorious hard book to film, which deserves to be seen in 3D. And don't worry, you don't need to have read the book to enjoy. (but you should read it though!)
Spring Breakers (2012)
Seriously, a spiritual journey to spring break? Even meant ironically it's still just a bunch of really ignorant kids. Or maybe i'm just getting old..
While Harmony Korine used to make weird, experimental films, his latest one is just a weak attempt at controversy. However, anyone used to European cinema isn't likely going to be very impressed by all the boobs everywhere, young as they may be. And if you've also never heard of the former Disney-starlets now starring as scantily dressed teens on a 'spiritual journey' to Florida's spring break, this movie isn't going to impress much.
Despite the well done (almost Miami Vice-like) neon-cinematography (and an over-the-top James Franco who's acting is on fire, and looks like he was actually just been extinguished) this film disappoints. Most of Korine's previous work (Julien Donkey Boy, Mister Lonely) was much better.
The pretentious whispering (almost religious chanting) of the words 'Spring Break') at regular (not to say predictable) intervals during the film tickle the nerves of any finger close enough to the stop-button of your remote, but the potential of (maybe) another outburst of Franco's lunacy can keep it away just long enough for the movie to continue the story, however thin it might be.
Amsterdam Heavy (2011)
So bad, it's (almost) good again! Well, entertaining at least. For all the wrong reasons.
Although just about everything about this film is bad, it's doesn't necessarily harm the viewing experience. The struggling actors evoke sympathy rather than pity, the story allows for a nice game of plot hole bingo and the editing gives you a change to see what actors are doing while they wait for their cue! Every fight has people falling too early or waiting for the punch, every dialogue has moments where you can just see the attention slowly move from one actor to the other... wait for it... and there's the next line!
It's not often you see a bad guy with a lisp, or a Mexican standoff on bikes. The English speaking Dutch being played by Dutch speaking English (yes, that's our accent, deal with it) give the whole thing an absurdistic feel, and the fight scene where the former techno-house band The Party Animals suddenly show up is so superfluous it made me look up how to spell superfluous.
Which makes one wonder, it's strange how a film with so many redundant appearances of professional K1/kickbox/cage fighters can have such horribly choreographed fight scenes. But it does.
Really the only plus of the entire movie is Monique (Alison Carroll), with an actual British accent (thank God!) and a surprisingly convincing Tomb Raider appearance. If there were any rumours about actual actors in this film, it must've been about her. Other than that, the most desperate bunch of Dutch third rate actors has been summoned up, topped off by a (short) surprise appearance of Holland's most smirking comedian: Jörgen Raymann. You'll love it!
Kapringen is not a thriller, it's a very emphatic observation. Which is so much better!
Kapringen ('A hijacking') is the directorial debut of Tobias Lindholm, who also wrote the script and previously wrote Jagten. It shows. The film has the same strong psychological tension without much physical action, the same combination which made Jagten such a strong film.
The story is that of a Danish freighter being hijacked by Somali pirates, and the negotiations that follow.
Half the film takes place on the ship, truly capturing the cramped pressure the crew is in, who do not even know if the others on the same ship are OK and are hardly able to communicate with their Somali captors. The other half takes place around the negotiation team in Denmark, where the company's CEO experiences a whole different kind of stress and pressure while handling the uncertainties that come with dealing with foreign demands over a crappy and intermittent phone line.
Kapringen is not a thriller, it's a very emphatic observation. Which is so much harder to make and more impressive to watch!
Well made Norwegian Blair Witch with a dark sense of humor (and surprisingly good CGI)
Trolljegeren starts out like a Norwegian Blair Witch Project, but with a (little) more budget and amidst the great Norge forest and fjords. But 14 years later makes a great difference in CGI, and despite its limited budget it's put to good use here. Instead of remaining in the vague like the (freaky scary) Blair Witch, Trollhunter chooses dark humor and becomes a sort of rather bizarre documentary.
Although some of the actors are comedians well known in Norway (which must give them, the Norge, a slightly different viewing experience), none go over the top or 'try to be funny' (in fact 'gruff' is more like it, as fits the film's (and Norway's) atmosphere perfectly!). Well maybe except the Polish bear-hunter. Maybe a bit. Other than that, very well made and utterly enjoyable!
Holy Motors (2012)
Sequence of enchanting scenes that'll stick with you long after the end credits
A man, driven through Paris in a large white limo, prepares for acting- like appointments in real life situations, or so it seems. He gets out, performs, and moves to the next appointment. The limo is like a large make-up room, prop department, actor's trailer.
There's no audience. He performs, as do others. The sequences are not connected, and though some of them make sense on their own, they form no coherent story.
It feels like Holy Motors was made by a French Roy Andersson on mushrooms. Leos Carax probably decided conventional cinema is just too... conventional. One of those conventions overthrown is that of whom exactly is the actor and whom the audience. If there should even be such a thing. The intro shows the protagonist waking up and entering a cinema, in what might (or might not) be a pre-story dream sequence. It's the nature of cinema itself that's ultimately at question. Are there cameras? For whom? And who directs?
Confusing, but with some intriguing scenes that'll stick with you for quite a while.
The Tracker (2002)
Nothing like anything regular
Rolf de Heer's choice to replace any onscreen violence by paintings made me raise an eyebrow before the movie, but turns out to work very well. His stand against explicit use of violence does not, as many might suspect, weaken the film in any way, but add to the mystique vibe of the movie. I read somewhere in a review that the movie 'moved at the pace of a stubborn mule'. And luckily it does, so the audience has all the time in the world to experience this wonderful piece of art.
I hated to have to get off the mule and longed for a little more. What a view!