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Dawn of the Dead

Facing the myth
Since I first read reviews or reports about "Dawn of the Dead" some 15 years ago, I was strangely intrigued by the way critics and authors dealt with what I naturally considered another simple zombie movie. It wasn't necessarily the fact that the movie was hailed as a "social commentary", but more the oddity of constantly reading about both satirical elements and gory violence at the same time. The movie seemed to be incredibly violent but also amazingly multi-layered and, well, deep. Somehow I couldn't get my head around those two opposing facets.

Even though I'm a horror fan for basically all my life, I'm also pretty weak on stomaching horror (one thing may have lead to the other), so I never really dared to watch "Dawn of the Dead" for years and years, simply because I was afraid of it, afraid of the immense and, as I assumed, rather cheap-looking violence (as I consider violence in B-movies that looks cheap always more disgusting as aesthetic violence in expensive movies). Anyway, now I've finally seen it and my feelings are certainly ambiguous.

First of all, the movie is really unconventional, even after more than twenty years of horror that followed it. I have never seen a horror movie like it, although some other films come to mind, like Jackson's "Braindead" for example, another extremely disgusting film that still is fun. But is "Dawn of the Dead" really fun? There are funny moments for sure, but I found them surprisingly rare and scattered. I loved the interaction of the zombies with the mall and most of the other attempts of treating the creatures with a certain pity. "Look at the poor fellows skating on the ice and tumbling up the escalator!" What amazed me was the way Romero's "message" sometimes hit its target with such clear precision that I laughed out loud (like the final decoration of the survivor's room or the video game shooting of the zombies on the field). But those moments are rare, because for most the time Romero seems to be doing crazy stuff just because he can.

Let's just look at the zombie getting his forehead chopped off by helicopter blades. The scene isn't presented as neither really shocking or gross-out funny. It just seems to happen, without any payoff or special notice by anyone, be it the characters or the film itself. It's over before you're even able to really recognize it, happening in such an undramatic way that I was simply asking myself what exactly the point was. There are a lot of moments like that, moments that wanted me to ask for more or for some sort of subtext that I simply couldn't see. Another, even more confusing example is the blood pressure test sequence. I've read about it in several reviews, but when it appeared in the film I was baffled. We clearly see that the guy is purposely sitting down to get his arm in the machine, even though he is surrounded by zombies. If he had been mindlessly engaged in this activity while he surprisingly had been attacked by the zombies the scene might have worked, but the way it was handled it did nothing for me.

Another thing is the music. It is all over the map, changing from comic, completely over-the-top cues to straight dramatic horror music to subtle, looming, atmospheric scary horror music. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, mostly it is slightly confusing. Then there's the editing, done by Romero himself, and it is so sloppy and jumbled that you don't even want to think about what purpose was behind it.

I don't really know, but when I read all the things that have been said about the movie, I have to wonder if people give Romero way more credit than he deserves. Don't get me wrong, overall I liked the movie enough, partly because it was over the top and somewhat innovative, partly because it works often enough. It clearly does not want to be a simple horror movie and sometimes it isn't, but I just don't see how this is the "perfect" way of handling those ideas. There are so many ideas here, that the movie almost collapses under them, even though it is running for more than two hours. But instead of using the time to explore some of its ideas more, the movie settles for more and more scenes of shooting zombies.

I appreciate the movie for what it is and I'm glad I've seen it, but I don't really get the raving praise it receives from everyone. All the ingredients I had expected were there, the social satire, the extreme violence, the chills and scares, but it failed for me in adequately handling those issues with the right kind of balance.

Riding the Bullet

Not a good time for any season
When some friends told me they had seen "Riding the Bullet" and that they didn't like it, mainly because 3 hours were just too long for a poor movie like this, I was a bit astonished. I hadn't heard much about the movie, but couldn't quite believe it really was that long, especially since I knew King's story and couldn't imagine how you could stretch it that much.

Now, after having seen the film myself, I know that it is only 100 minutes long and that the story is not enough for even those 100 minutes. I never liked the original story, mostly because it was nothing special and King has written many much better stories than this. The thing that is so unbelievable about the movie is that Mick Garris is not concerned with adapting the story for a feature length movie, but rather films all kind of things before filming the story itself. The movie does indeed feel as if it is 3 hours long, because there is not really a plot and because it is so full of distractions that it never finds its way around.

The plot should be that Alan (Jonathan Jackson) hitchhikes to his hometown, because his mother (Barbara Hershey) had a stroke, but is picked up by a strange man named George (David Arquette) who maybe is already dead. It isn't a great story, but it could have been possible to make a decent movie out of it. Garris is not interested in that, because he doesn't dare to expand that original story and instead just delays it. It takes a while until Alan even starts his trip and when his trip has finally started, it takes an incredible amount of time until George picks him up. So long, in fact, that you don't really care anymore, because up to that point the movie is nothing else but a series of incoherent and pointless episodes that just go on and on and on. So, when the final episode with George arrives, it feels just like those before, meaningless and contrived. None of the things Alan experiences really seem plausible, at least not if they all happen on the same night.

When you watch a movie, you are aware that there has to be a point where it gets going, sort of like a starting point. There is an introduction or an exposition and then, normally after about 20 minutes, something important happens and the movie starts, gets on the tracks, begins. "Riding the Bullet" takes about 1 hour to get started! For one hour you wait and wait, hoping that maybe this time it is the important car that is picking up Alan, just to be disappointed because it's just another temporary episode with a fake hippie or an odd elderly or some maniac rednecks or a car accident or an owl or a rabbit or a wolf.

I know, maybe it is all just imagined (which wouldn't make it any less boring and annoying). But let me say something about the hallucinations and flashbacks in the movie. To put it very gently: there is a wee bit too much of them there. Actually, not a whole minute passes by without some fantasy image Alan is creating in his mind. I have never seen a more tedious use of hallucinatory images in a movie before. They are just everywhere. There are things Alan believes he sees, which prove to be something entirely different. There are visions he has of future events, often in multiple variations. There is an illusionary second self of Alan who appears behind his back and talks to him, all through the movie. There are flashbacks to Alan's past, which are set up by an endless series of old video footage during the opening credits, some of which is quite unlikely or even impossible to have been filmed with a video camera.

With such a disjointed mess of isolated episodes and repetitious hallucinations it is no surprise that movie feels twice as long as it is. But Garris throws everything at the viewer he thinks is cool, like some gory elements that are often only silly, sort of-cameos by Matt Frewer or Nicky Katt that are completely pointless, a use of camera moves and lighting that just doesn't work, an tiresome amount of pseudo-scary 'Booh' moments and not to forget a musical background which consists of a highly annoying score by Nicholas Pike (what is it with the E-guitars?) and a collection of extremely obvious 70's songs.

And everything is muddled together, as if Garris can never decide what he wants the movie to be, from scary to melancholic to comedic to scary again and so on. The heavyweight dramatic ending is almost insulting, because it is nothing but some lame quote-book phrases which are supposed to really make us think about ourselves. They don't. The only thought they create in the last 10 minutes of this never-ending movie is: "Please, get it over with. It's enough!" What's done is done, alright, but this film is done a long way before it finally decides to start.


And anyway, where do they earn the money?
This one of the messiest movies I've seen in a while. It's rare to see the proof of a first-time director so visibly on the screen, just by the way the mistakes line up as the film progresses.

The basic idea of Werewolves vs. Vampires is all there really is, because as complicated as the plot pretends to be, it just is badly coordinated. For much of the film the movie wants us to see the vampires as the good guys and the werewolves as the bad ones, than vice versa and finally there is no idea of who is what and why and why not.

On a certain level the movie almost works, if just because it tries so hard. Everything is done with full intensity, which unfortunately is the movie's biggest flaw, because there is no coherency at all. The opening shootout in the subway is so blatantly ripped off from the same scene in "The Matrix" (1999) that you start looking where the differences are. The fight scenes are done with so much help of wires and slow-motion that they might as well have saved the cost for post-wire removal and could just show the actual footage of the scenes, because the tricks are so obvious anyway. The werewolves never look that convincing, neither in the make-up nor as CGI and to give us only two actual transformations is pretty poor for a werewolf-movie, especially if it's the exact same transformation of the same character, just put in the beginning and the end of the movie so that maybe no one will notice.

The whole "You-betrayed-them-betrayed-me-avenge-you-reign-now-be-immortal"-plot is so irritating that I gave up following it early on because the movie does not rely on it at all. All it does is slow the movie down, so that our heroine Selene can return to the vampire mansion and escape from it for about five times; so that the poor hero Michael can be captured, released, rescued, tied up and hunted over and over again without ever having a clue what is going on; so that the (admittably great) Bill Nighy can be a vampire lord and sit in a dark room holding monologues while we can witness the slowest awakening and regeneration ever captured on film. What does the blonde lady really want? What do the two leaders of each group actually want? We never get real answers, just more and more complications and an endless repetitions of names, until we are sick of hearing Viktor, Michael, Markus, Lucian and Kraven again and again like an indoctrination.

The locations throughout the movie consist of the vampire mansion, the werewolf underground and the small Eastern Europe city streets where the movie was shot, everything photographed in gray and black, with rain pouring down constantly. Except for the opening scene there are basically no humans visible in that big city, which makes sense with all the monsters shooting at each other, so much in fact that even daylight seems to have decided to stay at home. Above all this there is a score which consists of two elements: electro-noise and ripoff-Matrix-score. Sometimes I wondered if the sound was broken or something, until I realized that it was the "music".

All leads up to the most incoherent, chaotic and silliest showdown I have seen in a while. For about 30 minutes we are captured in some underground location (which isn't that fascinating in the first place) and witness an endless variation of 3 scenes that are edited together without any sense of logic, orientation or suspense: people running stairs up or down; people hiding behind walls watching other people running by; people shooting at each other and getting shot. I do not believe that anyone in this basement has any clue where he (there is only one she) is going and what he is doing when he gets there. So they run and they shoot and they run by and they hide and up and down and so on. There are some hand to hand fights which, curiously enough, often end with a werewolf head coming very close to the camera, without ever showing a werewolf actually bite of a vampire's head, which seems to be what they are doing.

The climax is so weak in its resolution that you actually wait for more to happen, because it's hard to believe that this is it. The whole movie is building up for something happening to Michael and when it finally does, you somehow expect more than a black Hulk.

I am not looking forward to the sequel of this, except when it manages to answer some of the questions that continued to occur to me while watching this jumbled mess. - When exactly do werewolves die? Some seem to fall dead even by the hint of a bullet and some don't seem to be able to die no matter how much silver they have pumping in their veins. - How easy is it to hide a really big sword in your clothes and pull it out whenever necessary? - Why aren't the only two African-American actors allowed to speak normally? The black vampire sounds as if he has problems with those long teeth in his mouth, while the black werewolf seems to have a really sore throat. - Who puts up the marble statues that are used for shooting practice at the vampire mansion? - Why does glass burst under 10 feet of water, when the last time I saw something similar in a movie it was in "The Abyss" where they had to go significantly deeper to have glass burst like that? - Isn't a big, long, wide cape pretty annoying when you never fly but just run and jump around a lot? - Does vampire and werewolf blood function like a normal color wheel, where you just get black when you mix it all together?

Ash Wednesday

The art of pointless repetition
I never understood what the big deal about Edward Burns was about. I mean, he surely is likable, but none of his writer-director-actor-ventures have amazed me at all. Given the right role he can do a convincing and entertaining job, but for me, that's about it.

"Ash Wednesday" isn't really a disaster, but it feels as if it was close to becoming one. All the way the movie feels only halfway good or bad, always going along a thin line of ambiguous quality. In the end (and especially in the final scene) the bad qualities win and the movie leaves you deeply unsatisfied.

Fran (Edward Burns) lives above a bar in Hell's Kitchen. He once was a crook, but has now become "clean", which means he has a job (of which we don't see a lot) and, well, doesn't seem to kill a lot of people anymore. Three years ago his brother Shaun (Elijah Wood) killed some guys who wanted to kill Fran and vanished afterwards, presumably being dead. But now people are talking about him reappearing in the neighborhood and Fran has to deal with the rumors and his old enemies.

I don't even know if this sounds interesting enough to watch the movie. When I saw it, I had no clue what it was about and maybe that was the reason it slightly intrigued me at first. But the fascination didn't last long, especially once you realize that Burns will spend a lot of time of the movie running around town talking to people. Which wouldn't be that bad, but if you listen to the dialog you realize that it gets rather repetitious.

I didn't count but there must be at least 5 conversations that develop in exactly the same way. Somebody tells Fran his brother is supposed to be alive after all, he denies it, the other one doesn't believe it, both go on. This isn't the most exciting idea of communication in the first place and various instances of it doesn't make it better, but if, in addition to that, those conversations are put together so that one just follows another for half an hour, it gets rather frustrating.

What is even more irritating is the complete lack of suspense here. How can any viewer seriously believe that Shaun is really dead? We're talking Elijah Wood here and that makes it pretty much 100% certain that he will sooner or later turn up in the movie again. The only point of suspense could come from the question whether Fran knows his brother is alive or not. But that's about it.

And that's about much of the movie too. It takes about 30 minutes till we find out what's the deal with the dead brother. From then on nothing of importance seems to happen. There are a lot of guys who want to kill both brothers. There is Shaun's supposed widow/wife and a priest who knows a lot. All of the roles are thankless. Elijah Wood has to deliver a monologue during which may wonder if he can't deliver it convincingly or if it is written so bad that no one could deliver it. I think it's a bit of both, but the scene is either way painful to watch. Oliver Platt is also in this movie, but there is simply nothing to say about him or his role. Same goes for Rosario Dawson who..., well is just there.

David Shire's music follows Burns' character for his first half of repeating the same dialog by repeating the same theme over and over again. The movie looks pale and dry, almost lifeless. There is some editing, especially in the final scene, that is inexcusable. Religious symbolism floats through the movie, looking for a place to make sense (again, especially in the last shot). The use of the F-word is so excessive, you wonder if the characters get a bonus for every time they use it. And there is one flashback scene (apart from the first one) that is as pointless as pointless can be.

And then there is the end. We get a rather conventional shootout finale and think, well, that's a fine way to end a movie, even if it's not really good. But then come the last shots and it completely destroys a movie which wasn't particularly good anyway. The ending gives you no satisfaction, no sense of righteousness or penance, nothing. In the end, there is nothing really appealing to this film.


Entertaining and weird B-movie-mess
I have to admit that "Replicant" succeeded in surprising me quite a few times, which is surprising itself since I wasn't ready for any surprise in a direct-to-video-van Damme-movie. But this movie is not like your average van Damme-stupidity. In some way this is good, in another way it is not.

What I was hoping for was 90 minutes of fun that makes me laugh very loud the way "Double Team" or "Streetfighter" managed to do. I was afraid of seeing 90 minutes of boring stupid action with only few unintentional laughs, like "The Quest" or "Knock Off". "Replicant" walks on a thin line between those extremes.

Well, it is the third movie in which van Damme appears in two roles at the same time and it is a strange record for an action star. At first we see the bad guy, a serial killer with long hair who kills mothers by killing and then burning them. He does this because his mother used to call him "bad boy" and once almost burned him alive. Michael Rooker plays the cop who tries to catch the killer and the movie sometimes suggests that the killer also plays the typical "serial killer-movie game", in which the killer seems to kill just for the cop who chases him. But this is just a sidenote in the film whereas it is a major point that Rooker is very obsessed in finding the killer. Where this obsession comes from is never explained and this contributes to a lot of the weird aspects of the film.

One day after Rooker again managed NOT to catch the killer some government guys approach him and make an interesting offer. They want to clone the killer and try to catch him with the memories of the real killer in the clone's brain (that's what I think is their plan). The way the "clone"-thing is introduced must be seen to be believed. We never get the feeling that the movie plays in the future and neither the science guys nor Rooker as the cop make a big deal of simply cloning another person for an investigation. When Rooker is told about the clone idea his reaction does not exist. He simply accepts not questioning for a mili-second what is going on. Even more strange is the fact that the government guys even think of trusting Rooker to take care of the clone. And for no reason at all Rooker uses this trust by deceiving them time after time, by refusing to cooperate but these "National Security" guys never mind at all. Neither do Rooker's relatives and partners who very very rarely wonder why he has a new pet and why it looks like the serial killer everyone's looking for?

It may seem strange to go into such deep plot discussions but the movie plays so seriously that it's hard not to do. That's the weird thing here: the film only scarcely tries to go for cheap effects and shortcuts. For a van Damme movie the action is very rare and except maybe two scenes not very spectacular.

And then there is van Damme's performance as the clone. The clone, who is never referred to with any name, seems like a mixture between a retard and Jackie Chan. He hardly speaks, looks bewildered and confused but can also swing himself around pipes a dozen times, jump around like a monkey and fight like a karate dog. I'm not quite sure where he has the fighting abilities from and why they developed so much better than his thinking abilities. To say the least, it is an interesting performance but it also produces some laughs especially because of the way Rooker treats him.

Rooker has the strangest character here, being obsessed with a case for no reason, cruel to the only person who can help him and sometimes very stupid. For example when he first hunts the killer and simply lets him drive away while dozens of policemen in police cars arrive and he simply doesn't mind telling them that the killer has just been around the corner one second ago.

There are a lot of strange things in this movie but most of them work somehow and make it actually very entertaining. An action scene with an ambulance is both ridiculous and effective. A scene with the clone spending time with a prostitute is not working at all and feels contrived and unnecessary. Some things are simply unexpected, for example the cruelty of the killer when he is not actually killing. He shoots innocent bystanders for no reason and in a scene in a hospital his violence becomes comic-like when he kicks nurses and hits wheelchair patients with the ambulance. In one scene Rooker has to throw his weapon away because he is threatened to get killed and for no reason he throws it in a bucket of blood. Later the clone has to fetch it out of there. And there is a scene in the killer's apartment that questions his motivation, the logic of computers and plot and the the abilities of the clone.

"Replicant" is a B-movie, that is for sure, but in an unexpected way it is a good one, entertaining, not too much over the top and somehow still convincing. Nevertheless the final scene gets a big laugh for its unbelievable silliness both in plot logic and music choice. And why we see that picture during the end credits is beyond me. Don't expect another "Double Team" but don't expect anything else.

Boat Trip

A Trip that's hard to forget - unfortunately
Two straight guys end up on a gay cruise. I really, really wonder how anyone could have thought that this simple idea would make for a good and funny movie, but unfortunately a lot of people thought so and there we are.

I mean, in my opinion the worst kind of movies are bad comedies. I can live with bad action movies or bad horror movies or even bad dramas. But watching a really bad comedy is like getting beaten up. Other bad movies at least can make you laugh (sometimes) but if a comedy is really bad there's nothing left to enjoy.I can honestly say that "Boat Trip" is one of the worst comedies I have ever seen.

The story itself is awful and even worse, unbelievably predictable. There isn't a joke you don't see coming miles before it happens and it's always one you really wish won't happen, because it is such a bad one. But every joke here hits its bad mark and leaves you with nothing more to do than to stare at the screen in disbelief.

The whole "gay" issue is handled as bad as possible. There is not a single "normal" gay person on this ship. Everyone is a kind of a freak, dresses like a woman, makes exaggerated moves and is saying "uh" and "oh" and "ohoho" and "ohlala" and things like that all the time. Every cliché you can imagine about a gay man is implanted here and beaten so long until it's last drop of life vanishes. And it's all about sex. Everyone is kissing and touching and making sexual advances at everyone else. At the breakfast buffet there is an ice sculpture that looks like a bunch of penises. That's supposed to be funny.

When one character makes a change of mind from hating gays to being gay it is so unconvincing that 1 minute later he is running after one of the babes. When he asks a store clerk if they got any condoms, a dozen gay men hand him some condoms, because, you know, gay people need them, ho ho.

The other guy has to act as if he's gay so he can sleep with the girl he loves (don't ask about the logic). When they do so under an orange tree, oranges fall down, so that afterward they are covered in about 100 oranges. He also does a dance show as a drag queen for about 3 minutes. Everyone is shocked or disgusted about being gay, no matter if it's a man or a woman. Imagine that: this movie is about gays and it isn't even sure what to think of them. When one guy starts philosophizing that gay people may not be so bad after all you're almost ready to believe him. This movie is as sexist, homophobic and horny as a movie can be.

The characters are unbelievable cut-out stereotypes played by untalented actors with no conviction at all. Yes, there is Cuba Gooding Jr. who, let's face it, is not a talented person and hasn't done a good film since "Jerry Maguire" and "As Good As It Gets". His fat, stupid partner is one of the worst actors in this movie. Victoria Silvstedt plays one of the super babes by showing as much as she can without undressing. Roger Moore wanders through the movie as a kind of preacher who wants everyone to become gay and says one line that is unforgettable. Before parachuting out of a plane he really says: "I was in the service for her majesty once." That hurts. There is Vivica A. Fox on auto-pilot, Bob Gunton in a 5-second bit (nevertheless credited in the opening credits), Richard Roundtree in a 10-second-bit (dito) and Lin Shaye as the babes' trainer and at the same time as the most painful-to-watch person in this film. Roselyn Sanchez as the love interest-girl is the only one who doesn't make you cringe every time you see her. But maybe that's just her looks and who cares anyway?

There is nothing good in this movie, nothing at all. The music is stupid (with references to "West Side Story", of course), the gay men wear colorful dresses, women's clothes or leather suits, the women wear bikinis or see-through dresses and even the extras are unconvincing. Uneccessary to ask how two loser guys can pay for such a luxury trip. Or why Roselyn can jump into a pool and dry in 2 seconds afterward. Or why she says she likes being on a ship with gay men because then she doesn't have to care about her make-up or her clothes when, while saying that, she wears a lot of make-up and very sexy clothes.

Two scenes of unbelievable stupidity are worth mentioning. In one the fat guy somehow has sex with the babes' trainer instead with one of the babes. How this worked I don't know, since the room is obviously lit, so that you see exactly who's lying in the bed, but he nevertheless crawls between her legs, which leads to the two fighting across the room, while the trainer gets orgasmic when being shot through the room with a fire extinguisher.

The other, absolutely worst scene, shows Roselyn Sanchez showing Cuba Gooding Jr. how she satisfies a man orally and she does it with a banana for about 2 minutes. The scene ends with Cuba Gooding Jr. ejaculating out of the window on the face of one half of a gay couple. This scene was one of the most painful scenes I ever had to watch in a cinema and the temptation to walk out has never been bigger.

This movie is simply dead in the water in every way. Avoid it at all costs, please. Let the makers know what they did to the world by making this movie. Have mercy with yourself.

Homo Faber

Stays true to the book, in every aspect - SPOILERS
Books and movies have a strange relationship. It seems somehow necessary to turn every half-popular book into a movie, no matter if it works or not. The strangest thing about it is, that most of the time it is not a genuine idea which gives the reason for making the movie, but simply that a lot of people read the book.

Consider "Homo Faber" based on the popular book by Max Frisch. Well, it is mainly popular in German literature classes where students are forced to read and interpret it until every word is turned around and every meaning is squeezed out (as it happens with all literature in school). Personally, I thought "Homo Faber" was a rather unneccessary book, boring, dull, complicated, the meaning squattered all over the pages with abstract metaphors. The last 40 pages are simply a dread.

So, how could I possibly like the movie? Well, I couldn't but at least I could stand it, because it is easier to watch this strange story than to read it. The story is, let's face it, really absurd. A man crashes with a plane, meets someone who is the brother of an old friend and finds together with him the friend, who killed himself. Then he goes on a journey with a ship meets a beautiful woman, falls in love, travels with her through Europe and finds out she is his daughter. She has an accident, he meets the mother/his ex-lover, they argue, the daughter dies, the end. If this sounds like I gave away the ending, I'm sorry, but Faber, the title character, doesn't hesitate to say it himself quite early in the movie and the book.

The story is full of implausible coincidences which aren't so obvious in the book with its complicated narration, but in the straight-told movie it becomes very obvious how ridiculous this is. The movie is a typical checklist movie, checking everything in the book and bringing it to the screen without any new ideas or innovation. It just straightens out the storytelling, leaves away the awful last 40 pages and remains to be quite boring anyway.

Schlöndorff doesn't try anything new he just films the pages, or maybe at least the surface of the pages. Technically the film is well-okay, although the music gets quite annoying in the end and far too dramatic in the "dramatic" scenes. The black-white effect could have made sense if it would have been used constantly and with some kind of logic. The flashbacks are hurried away and leave the viewer confused.

The acting is quite okay, Sam Shepard does the best he can (and he can be really good). Julie Delpy is another case for the "Love or Hate"-file, while I have to admit I don't love her. Barbara Sukowa as Hanna leaves us with no emotions for her character and August Zirner as Joachim is nothing more than a silhouette.

So, if you liked the book it is pretty likely that you will like the film. If you didn't like the book or haven't read it, it is more unlikely that you will like it.

The Way of the Gun

Pure Nothingness
Alright, this is a movie about two guys who..., well, they do some things. Like getting beaten up by some people or talking to people about sexuality while applying for a job. They do this because, hm, I'm not sure. Well, after all, they want to kidnap a pregnant woman, because..., um, wait a second. Nevertheless, they can shoot pretty good and are equipped with state-of-the-art weapons, which they got from..., okay, let's skip that. They are the main characters and after two very long hours we know as much about them, as we knew before the movie started. Nothing.

There are other people. The pregnant woman, for example. She's... pregnant most of the time and although she seems concerned about her baby, she doesn't really mind she's being kidnapped, since she never really attempts to run away. There is some couple who wants her baby for money. The man is kind of a gangster I think, who sends two bodyguards to protect her, but one of them is engaged with his wife, who, by the way, is obviously insane. There is some other guy who helps the man that wants to buy the baby, because of loyality or something. He has a companion who wants to kill himself. And there's a doctor who's related to half of the other characters in one way or another.

Let's get that straight. I'm not dumb, I guess. I figured out other movies, but then I wanted to, because they were doing so. You know, like 'Memento' or 'Vanilla Sky'. I even like Lynch-movies because even if they don't seem to make sense, they're interesting enough to think about them. Not this movie.

'Way of the Gun' starts with scenes which seem to be stolen from unmade Tarantino-movies, then changes into something like a soap opera on drugs, with lots of pointless dialogue and ends with a neverending shootout, which is pointless as well, since we don't care at all for anyone who shoots and is shot.

Ryan Phillippe, Benicio del Toro, James Caan, Juliette Lewis, Taye Diggs, and many more star in this vehicle without a destination or without a driver. None of the characters seem to be really bad or good, just shapeless figures who talk and shoot. There are scenes which simply hang in the air, without any connection to the rest of the movie, especially the first 10 minutes. There is a car chase, which is done very unsually, but also very unlikely and very ridiculous. The music is very, very frustrating building up to non-existing climaxes, consisting of about 2 melodies.

Maybe I missed something, but I sat through this movie for 2 hours and tried to figure out just what the hell this all should be. It seems like a DVD-compilation of deleted scenes, edited together without explanation. Did the director of this movie really write 'The Usual Suspects'? Well, either that was an accident or this movie here was. But they can't come out of the same inspiration or mind or whatever. This movie is the definition of a mess, a ship without course, 120 minutes of empty ambition.

Tatort: Gewaltfieber
Episode 488, Season 1

Suspenseful, emotional, realistic
I sometimes have problems taking TV movies seriously. I mean, they look always different, somewhat "cheaper", they lack the quality a "real" movie has. Well, at least it is like that with most american TV movies. In Germany it's a fact that TV movies have more quality and money than movies than come into theatres. Not always, but most of the time.

This new episode in the "Tatort"-series is a good example. I rarely saw such an honest and realistic german film in a theatre.

The movie is about a massacre which happened in a school. A student seems to have gone mad and shot three teachers and then himself in the school. The headmaster of the school won't believe it, because it was his favourite student. But the investigators Lena Odenthal (Ulrike Folkerts) and her partner Kopper (Andreas Hoppe) find out that this boy belonged to a group which liked to blackmail their co-students and tried satanic rituals. And that's not all...

The story has its surprises and a lot of suspense. But this is not a whodunit story. It is more psychological, as the cops try to find out why a boy would do such terrible things. But the movie doesn't give that away with an easy solution. It doesn't answer the question of the motive. It shows us that there must be more behind such a deed than just a bad parenthood or video games or movies or bad experiences in school. These are never the reasons, maybe the release, but not more. There is something deeper and even if the movie doesn't know what it is, it asks us to look for it.

It succeeds with good actors (young and old), good camerawork and an ending which is not happy at all and leaves the viewer helpless.


Sad example of bad (german) filmmaking
So, why is Joseph Vilsmaier so famous again? He has made so many movies and is sometimes portrayed as a german David Lean or John Huston. It's interesting that everyone ignores the fact that his films are most of the time superficial flicks, which have nothing to say. Yes, "Stalingrad" was brutal and realistic, but it didn't care about its characters at all. Yes, "Comedian Harmonists" was a great success, but it was accurate or cared about the facts? No.

"Marlene" is the latest, saddest example of this kind of filmmaking, which helps the german film to go down. Spending millions of DM, Vilsmaier wastes the money for costumes and sets, dozens of famous german actors and forgets the movie after all. And then people wonder why the film was another flop.

The movie pretends to be a biography about Marlene Dietrich, the famous german actress, who had such a interesting life. But instead of taking her life story and film it, Vilsmaier throws it away and tells a fairy-tale about a person, which never existed like that. He concentrates on about 10 years, in which she became famous, and forgets the rest. We don't get to know anything about her childhood or about her later years.

We see Marlene taking pills, sleeping with men and acting very bad. We get no reasons for any of this. We don't get explained why von Sternberg wants her so badly in his movies, even though everyone thinks she is a bad actress. We don't know why she treats everyone the way she does, including herself. We don't understand any of her motives. She acts and we have to accept it.

And as if her life was boring, they added a romance to her story, with a german officer who transforms in to a resistance fighter during WWII. This romance feels so artificial and unreal, as it really is. The nazis are again portrayed as caricatures (a typical german problem), and we never figure out what Marlene really thinks about them.

All the german actors tumble on the screen, some so unnecessary, you have to believe they're just there for the credit. Watch Christiane Paul, a really talented actress, as she has nothing more to say than a few lines or has to look sad. When she gets mad in the end, we have no clue why, or why we should care about it.

After all, another historical german epic, taking a story from real life, transforming it into a unrealistic story, with no edges. Of course this was a flop, I don't know why anyone should watch this. If you want to know anything about Marlene Dietrich, watch the documentary called "Marlene Dietrich" from Maximillian Schell. Or just watch her movies, because even there you get to know more about her, than from "Marlene".

Punishment Park

Frightening in so many ways
It's said that this film is or was banned in the US since it was released. Since there is no information on IMDb I must rely on my other sources and believe it. If this is really true, the movie is even more hurtful and frightening and is it is anyway.

The movie is a so-called mockumentary, although I think the topic is too serious call it like that. It creates a scenario where America is like a military state and all revolutionary objects are arrested immediately without proof. After an obligatory tribunal they have to decide if they go to prison for some years or choose the punishment park. In that, they have to walk through the desert for three days to reach an American flag, posted 50 miles ahead, while they're are followed by police and army troops.

The movie itself pretends to be a documentary about these incidents and follows both the tribunals and the hunting through the desert, filmed by European film crews. All the facts are explained, the interviewers ask questions and film everything. People stare directly into the camera, shouting at it. It seems very, very real. Talking about realism here is nonsense. This movie is not about how to make a realistic film, it is about how such a film would look like, if it was real. And it certainly would look like this. If it would be filmed anyway. In an 'utopian' state like this, there surely wouldn't be a European film crew allowed to film those things.

There are many things that frighten us. The defendants are people from all social classes. Political leaders, musicians, authors, philosophers, unemployed, etc. They seem to be hopeless, rebellious or scared. They are no heroes. They talk a lot in the tribunal, knowing it doesn't lead to anything, saying nevertheless all they said in speeches and books and songs before. One says he's not afraid to die. Is this true? Well, he doesn't have to run through the desert hunted by cops. The defendants have no chance, or at least, their only chance, the decision between prison and punishment park, is no chance really. The way they decide in the end and the way film ends, makes it clear that this kind of heroism is suicide.

These tribunals remind us a lot of tribunals in the Third Reich. The officials use the same kind of idealistic speeching, ignoring all the arguments from the defendants, starting to scream at them and then telling them they should be quiet. They warn the defendants of "watching their language" and insult them much more. They ask them questions, the defendants can not answer, but it's never intended they should. These scenes are a statement about what we call justice.

The scenes in the desert are on a different level. When we see the prisoners for the first time, we realize that they realize, they haven't got a chance. Seeing the desert and the mountains, feeling the sun and the thirst, they don't have a clue how they should stand those three days. The film crew follows them and talks to them while they try to escape this madness. They argue, should they play the game, or escape, or revolt? It all leads to the same and no one is surprised. Some will question if such parks would exist in reality in such a state? Why not? It empties the prisons and allows the government to punish the revolutionaries as they want to. It is not a gas chamber, but the Nazis killed jews before concentration camps were built. The comparison is fair, since there is no real difference.

The movie is scary and depressing. The problems that are talked about sound to familiar to ignore. This is not science-fiction. Talking about poverty, unemployment and crime is not utopic. The film shows us that government and democracy as it is presented to us, is not only useless, but dangerous. It also shows us that revolution is not definitely the solution. The defendants seem to be confused because they don't really know how to fight this. They do things, but for nothing. Even if this delivers no solution to us, it still is a statement.

To me, the most frightening thing is the fact of the banning of this movie. Here we have a film that accuses the loss of freedom, moral and peace. It accuses the government, a fictional government nevertheless, to be dangerous and inhuman. And then this very film is practically banned.

Simon Sez

Maybe 'Double Team' wasn't that bad in the end...
Seeing a movie like "Simon Sez" is like going to the circus as a kid. For one and a half long hours you rub your eyes, not quite believing what you're seeing. It's amazing somehow, but you never quite believe it. Maybe that's not the best comparison, but can you tell me an event which makes you as speechless as such a movie?

To call it a movie seems to be wrong anyway. It's a 90-minutes crazy, absolute over-the-top Rodman-"thing" with no sense at all.

Usually I start with the story, but how could I do so with the total lack of one here? It pretends to be about some villain getting some kind of disc for some kind of weapon and to say this is more than you get from the film. Rodman plays a agent for Interpol it is said, although I'm not quite sure these are Interpol's working methods. Let's get this straight. Rodman is an agent in a french town with two monks as companions. They all live in a cellar under a church and have more crime to fight than the CIA in the whole US. Their gadgets include a CGI-fly, which can be directed in any direction and delivers an excellent view, a super-motorcycle which can drive up walls and ceilings and a lot of weapons.

The two monks are obviously insane, as they sing and dance and laugh all the time very madly. One is fat, the other black. Your turn to make something of this.

Rodman's other companion is another lunatic named Nick. He appears suddenly and stays without reason or explanation. Even more unreasonable is that Rodman lets him stay. Looking at this guy talking and 'acting' (sorry, but I got no other word for it), makes you wonder if there was a director who actually filmed him. In his first 10 minutes of screen time he impersonates three animals so unconvincingly and hilariously, that it's hard enough for itself. But seeing him 'doing the raptor' for about 30 seconds is just painful.

There is also a woman which half of the movie fights against Rodman and the rest fights and sleeps with him at the same time. Where she comes from and who she remains a mystery.

We also have a villain, so mad, it would be an understatement to call him a caricature. He always smiles, makes little jokes only he laughs about and gets scared the first time when his car is blocked by a sheep's herd. And he has maybe the first computer ever, which has not only a little animation looking like him, but this one can also talk for itself and change visually in order of the things happening around it. When the villain gets electrocuted, the animation gets to. Amazing.

Which leaves us with a bunch of actors who laugh, dance and make crazy noises all the time, no story and the most unrealistic action sequences since Moses went through the Red Sea. Rodman lets himself fall down a long column, while he holds himself onto it with his legs, because he needs his arms for shooting. As I said, he also drives with his motorcycle up a wall and along the ceiling in a tunnel. And I can't forget the most hilarious sex-scene ever filmed, involving Rodman and his girlfriend/enemy, a strobo-light and a see-through bed.

Movies like this leave me kind of exhausted. I'm a fan of bad movies, but bad movies are only enjoyable if they take themselves seriously. "Simon Sez" tries to be both a comedy and an action-flick and fails desperately at both. The classic bad movie "Double Team" was funny because van Damme was so damn serious all the time (not to mention Mickey Rourke). Rodman playing crazy was just an addition to the serious stuff and made this film perfectly bad. But here everybody just plays crazy. It's "Batman & Robin" mixed with "Double Team" on drugs. And when you succeed in watching the movie in full length without running away, you can be sure to feel as crazy as the whole crew must have felt to make this film. So, in a way you're get in contact with the filmmaker's emotions. There are just aren't enough emotional movies out there. Here's a new one. Who wants to cry anyway when you just as well can become crazy?

Truth or Consequences, N.M.

As senseless as its title
Of course everybody talks about how much Tarantino influenced modern filmmakers and maybe most of them are right. But only in films like 'Truth or Consequences, N.M.' it becomes clear how much better Tarantino is. 'T o C, NM' has some dialogue scenes that seem to be directly stolen from a Tarantino movie, with just some words changed, so nobody would recognize. Sadly, this doesn't only sound stupid, it does so less fit in this film, it's a disgrace.

Consider one of the first scenes where they talk the first time about a quarter. They talk about it for at least five minutes. But nobody seems motivated to talk about it. They look as if they just have to stop there to get this quarter-thing over. The actors seem to be annoyed and impatient, not only because the guy they have to convince his quarter isn't magical is a sinewy guy, but also because they don't seem to say their dialogue from the heart, but from the screenplay. The guy himself is the only one who doesn't seem to be like that. He looks convinced and, well, is annoying. The fact that it's Kiefer Sutherland, who is also the director of the film makes it somehow understandable. But only so far, as we don't understand why he didn't just delete this dialogue.

As he should have deleted a lot of other dialogue, of course all of the other stuff about the quarter, and most of the monologues Mykelti Williamson has to stand through. He suddenly starts to say something like 'I once knew somebody who...' and goes on and on for some minutes. This really works when everybody talks like that or when at least he seems to be convinced he wants to say that. But here everyone looks at him interested and we just don't know why. Nobody else talks like that in the movie.

It's a quite bizarre movie with quite bizarre characters. Mykelti Williamson for example moves and talks so exaggerated as if it's a comedy. Kevin Pollak has a character development which can be only watched with disbelief. Rod Steiger hops on the screen, screams a bit and is dead. Martin Sheen plays one of his worst and ridiculous roles. And Kiefer Sutherland is the worst of all. He goes so much on the nerves of the audience you want to kill him. It's really quite a relief when he's finally dead. I can't like a movie where I'm glad somebody is dead after I had to watch him for an hour and a half. Not if he's the director.

At least we have Vincent Gallo and Kim Dickens here. Gallo isn't only one of the best actors of our time. He really can give a role life. Even in such a bad movie like this, we care for him. And Kim Dickens as his girlfriend is also likable. We care for both of them and the way the movie ends, makes it even more unsatisfying.

The plot is just stupid, with story lines that can't be believed. The gangsters take hostages and take them with them for such a long time that you never know why. There's a fault in Gallo's plan to make a lot of money, which never is explained. There is one character development which is surprising but in the end it didn't make any difference if it wasn't.

The film wouldn't really be that bad, but Sutherland and Sheen are so bad and annoying, that you just want the movie to end. And Sutherland as a director celebrates violence so much, it's clear that it isn't his effort we care about Gallo and Dickens. Sometimes it seems as if Sutherland took his role behind the camera, shouting: 'Yeah, let's kill him and this one and with a lot of blood there and there. Cool!'

We don't need movies like that. A movie about nothing, with no message, no more than two interesting characters and a lot of unnecessary violence. That's really the last we need.

Blade Runner

Style over substance - 1:0
When you watch movies like 'Blade Runner' or 'Alien' you realize how much Ridley Scott was a typical director of the 80's and you wonder how he now became a typical director of the 90's. With these two films I mentioned he directed the two most important science-fiction movies since 'Star Wars' and defined a style which became regular in films like 'Dark City', the other 'Alien'-films, 'Outland' or 'Terminator'. This dark, quiet tone with not too much action, not too much story but a lot of style and atmosphere. Today it seems impossible to make a film like 'Blade Runner'.

Maybe one of the most important differences is the look of the special effects. I like big CG-effects which make you go 'Ah' and 'Oh', but the effects in sci-fi films of the 80's are different and somehow better than today. Most of them are models and matte paintings and this looks somehow more realistic. You see that the big complex the industrial named Tyrell lives in is real. It is standing there. This always amazed me.

But 'Blade Runner' has more than special effects, although they were and are really impressing. I was pretty sure there was more and during watching the film the second time after several years (this time in the Director's Cut) I wondered what. I mean, the story isn't really so complicated and hard to understand. Cop has to find four replicants. Replicants don't want to die. I mean, that's it. The characters all seem to be unhappy and with a lot of secrets but that's nothing new. This hasn't changed pretty much. And you don't get to know so much more about them.

I think the films lives nearly entirely out of his atmosphere. Everything looks so dark and so much full of atmosphere you nearly can feel it. It's always raining (and it does in most dark science-fiction-films, because there are less things that produce more atmosphere) and always dark (the same). The characters are looking more at each other than they talk. They look at each other and into mirrors and in to the dark sky. This is what makes them alive, since you don't know anything about them.

Consider Harrison Ford's character. At the beginning he sits in a Chinese fast-food bar. He says he quit his job as a blade runner and he doesn't want to do it anymore. Why? Why can his former chief (M. Emmet Walsh) so simply put him back into his old job? You see some photos in Ford's apartment but never get to know who the people on it are. But still I think it's his best role ever. It's his only role where he plays a character who isn't simply good. He does a bad job and he knows it.

Still, this a really fascinating movie with lots of neat details like the big elevator at Tyrell's or the puppets at Sebastian's who always run into the same door. And the showdown between Ford and Hauer (who had definitely his best role here) is just fantastic. But does anything of this make real sense? I'm not quite sure. And I'm less sure if I think about the work of the author Philip K. Dick on whose novel the film is based. Dick is a fantastic sci-fi writer and he has always a lot to say. He makes us think. 'Blade Runner' made me think too. But I just didn't get anywhere. Maybe I'm just stupid.

The Perfect Storm

Breathtaking, stupid and ignorant
Since 'Independence Day' I've been asking myself pretty often, why the most patriotic American movies are directed by Germans. 'ID4' was the most patriotic film I still remember, 'In the Line of Fire' and 'Air Force One' were also good examples. Now comes Petersen with his 'Storm' and creates another type of patriotism. And Emmerich? Well, he comes with 'The Patriot'. Isn't this strange. I now, Americans don't criticize patriotism in movies (I experienced that very often) but as a German it's so obvious and disturbing, that it ruined all of the films above. I will never understand the love for a country. But beside that I had a lot of other things in mind while I watched 'The Perfect Storm'.

Let's say something about the actors first. Let's say, well, they did everything they could. With a screenplay, that surely didn't exist, they have to fight with dialogue which is so stupid, it's hard to suppress a laugh. But they do their job well. Clooney is always fine to watch and the rest of the cast is really okay. Diane Lane even surprised me with her acting.

But that leads me directly to the dialogue and the screenplay. It's based on Sebastian Jungers book and if you know it you know how much they could take for the screenplay. But not that less. When Clooney describes his life as a fisherman to Mastrantonio it's impossible not to laugh. To use that dialogue as the last lines of the film is a big mistake. And to show the little boy who waves at the boat is the biggest. Other example?

Michael Ironside plays the obligatory bad boss who only thinks about money. When the Andrea Gail is in the storm everybody sits in the Crow's Nest and watches TV to hear any news. Ironside comes in and tells them, very concerned, that there is not much hope. He seems very emotional then. Lane, who is angry, screams at him: 'Do you think we should be proud of you, because you dared to come in here?' Ironside, with an serious, close to crying, expression says: 'Yes.' I couldn't believe it.

But the worst thing of all is the conflict between Murph (John C. Reilly) and Sully (William Fichtner). They argue when they meet first in the bar. They argue on the boat. And again and again and again. The point is that nobody in no single word explains why. They just argue and fight because in the screenplay was written: 'Sully and Murph don't like each other and argue all the time.' Sully has an interesting job, by the way. Clooney hires him, because he needs him, but on the boat he doesn't do anything else but giving the other fishermen lights. And he doesn't do his job very well.

I could go on and on, but it's to annoying. I think I made it clear that the dialogue is the last reason to watch this film. But it still is worth watching and the only reason for this is the storm itself. What ILM and its effects guys did here is unbelievable. These are of course the best special effects this year and for a long time. The storm sequences are so suspenseful and exciting and amazing that you forget every sentence that was spoken. The best thing they could have done was to also generate the characters in the computer. This hour of storm makes the money really worth spending. Really.

But at the end I have to say something else which annoyed me pretty much. To say that they glorified the swordfishing is an understatement. At several times it is said that swordfishing is the best thing in the world. We see them catch one fish after another and it's filmed with such a joy, you want to jump on the boat and cut a fish's head of. What was absolutely forgotten by all this was how much the fishing industry killed life in the sea. It's no wonder the boats catch so less fish. There just isn't pretty much they have left. At one point they catch a shark and no one says what a waste of life it is to just kill him, because he's a 'evil' shark. Bang! and they throw him overboard. Finally got rid of another evil creature. If the fishing industry goes on like this there will not be any fish in the sea. Since 1600 there were millions of fish killed in the seas and a lot of species were killed to extinction. The film should be dedicated to these forgotten species and the enormous amount of life which was killed instead of the few 10.000 fishermen who achieved this. To show killed fishermen as if they died for something honorable shows again the egoism and arrogance of our culture.

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