m_mckechneay

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Reviews

Spuk im Hochhaus
(1982)

stasi allegory ?
this television series, produced in 1982 by state-owned studio defa, implies a weird allegory: the main characters are an undead couple, who 200 years ago ran a tavern on the very spot, where there's now a worker's living quarter, one of those typical concrete-block-buildings. to make up for their lifetime's fraudulent business-keeping the two have to do seven good deeds, leading the inhabitants back on the right track, supporting the community of the building in some way, etc. hiding behind walls, in kitchen sinks, taking cover behind plants and in cupboards, the two ghosts furtively watch people in their apartments. they notice how two wild kid-brothers get on the nerves of their single-mom and scare them into obedience. they lock two quarreling neighbors in the elevator, by this intervention forcing them to bury the hatchet. they produce a water-leakage to remind an overambitious plumber, that he has a family to attend to. by telling these stories in a light and humorous way, the series establishes sympathy for the "friendly spirits", who improve life in the house by their system of surveillance, "discipline and punishment". it's hard not to read these stories, that were originally intended for a young audience, as an allegory on the operations of the state security (stasi), who were also constantly keeping a watch out for conspicuous, possibly subversive activities in people's private- or business-life.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
(2005)

brighter than the book
Although the movie's mood is much brighter than C.S. Lewis' book "The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe" - it's still not your average Disney-family adventure. For one thing the child actors actually look like people, not like surgically enhanced dolls (the actor of Peter actually really much resembles Englands Prince William...) - and they play pleasantly subtle. The decor of the world Narnia is not too fanciful and the lighting looks mostly natural. The CGI's are amazing: all the talking, running, flying animals - and especially the great lion Aslan - actually seem to have some weight at last. If it wasn't for the grand epic score that all too much resembles the "Lord of the Rings"- Trilogy, this would be a likable enough. But the score is over-persuasive all through the film. It doesn't allow you a second to take a breath, think for yourself and makes you feel strained out after the first half hour or so. A contradiction in itself: how the images work so hard on creating a whole different universe. And the soundtrack/score at the same time works so hard on making it sound like any other blockbuster of the season ...

Welt Spiegel Kino
(2005)

Not a short film!
Beautiful found-footage-composition by Viennese filmmaker Gustav Deutsch, who uses the movie-screen as a hypertext, diving into the tableaux of early cinema, linking images to other associated imagery. In it's course this work adds up to a reflection about everyday life and every day dreams (as staged in front of the static camera) at the turn of the century. By the way: Although the film shows up in the credits with a length of 30 min, this is not quite correct: "Welt Spiegel Kino" ("World Mirror Cinema") consists of three episodes, set in three different locations (one in Vienna/Austria, one in Porto/Portugal, one in Indonesia), and each of these episodes is 30 min long. The full film has a duration of 90 min. Anyhow - Gustav Deutsch sees his found footage-work as a work in progress, so there might well be an episode 4.- 6. sometime ...

La vergine di Norimberga
(1963)

18th century Gothic novel goes to screen
It's astonishing: this Italian B-movie is very close to 18th century Gothic novels like the classic "The Castle of Otranto" by Horace Walpole (1765). Like in Walpoles novel the plot centers around a young woman, freshly married to a count and castle-owner. Now, the count may or may not be the brute who bestially murders women at nightfall - in the film the solution of this riddle is saved for the final showdown, while in the book it becomes obvious pretty soon, that the count is a despot and sinner. The main part of the movie features the camera tiptoeing behind the fragile woman, who, genre-typically seems even more vulnerable (and visible for an enemy) in her thin, white, silky nightgown. Like Isabella, the lead in Walpoles book, she wanders around in an subterranean labyrinth of vaults and crypts, well aware of the fact that some dark creature is down there with her in the dark. Well: for today's taste this film with it's crude special effects of miniature castle-views and rubber-scars in Christopher Lee's face is more up for laughter than for a real scare. Still it has a special atmosphere ... Interesting trivia: The Italian Original version (called "La Vergine di Norimberga" - "The Nuremberg Vergin") implies some subplot about a former Nazi-officer who was caught plotting against Adolf Hitler. As a punishment his face was mutilated, making him look like the Phantom of the Opera. In the DVD-version that is distributed in Austria and Germany (and which follows the German dubbed movie-version from the 60s) this plot is completely altered, leaving out any Nazi-references, even changing the names of the "bad guys" from "Fritz", etc. in the original to British sounding names like "Fred", maybe trying to catch up with the German "Edgar Wallace" Brit-scare-boom of that time. Seems the Germans are afraid of what in other countries is referred to as German Angst ...

Gespenster
(2005)

all about the mirror effect
I've seen this film more than once now, and there's always someone complaining about the "obvious construction" of the plot afterwards. But then - this is part of Petzold's game: he plays along with the rules of genre.

It's very nice, how the highly improbable story of how the two girls (Timoteo/Hummer) meet, is again mirrored in another, even more improbable story, that the girls make up for a casting. This film is a journey between fact and fiction, it's more about potentials, things that might have happened in the past or might be happening in the future, than it is about actual ongoings. It's a reverie, sorts of - so apt enough there are a lot of motives, Freud might have found interesting for his dream analysis, like all the "doppelganger"-constellations.

Also, I think, "Gespenster" might be interesting to be watched in comparison to current Asian cinema of the uncanny: Petzold's everyday urban architecture also feels haunted in an unobtrusive, strangely familiar way. This film is not about the obvious. To describe it as the story of two girls who meet and eventually become friends and lovers, or as the story of an orphaned mother, who searches Europe for her lost daughter, clearly doesn't say much about the nature of "Gespenster" at all.

Emanuelle e gli ultimi cannibali
(1977)

Double body genre
Laura Mulvey once put up the theory, that slasher films (blood & guts), melodramas (tears) and porn movies (body liquids) form what she calls the three "body-genres". Mulvey says, they communicate directly with the audience's bodies. I think this film goes along with this thought nicely, combining slasher moments with eroticism, and all of it taking place in the ever so damp Amazonas rain forest. Beyond it's camp-quality this one has some real archaic appeal ... And then: It's nice to see a soft porn in which women have their own will and desires. They can even have fun without a male watcher. It's not so p.c. though, how the exotic characters are scripted: the black man who carries the luggage of the expedition and prepares the food and lodgings is depicted as some sort of speechless sex-toy, his muscles always oiled to shine. Not to speak of the hordes of savage cannibals who impregnate white women to sacrifice to some goddess... but then: this wasn't meant to be a documentary.

Sideways
(2004)

Saab versus convenience family-van
A melancholic comedy about two midlife-crisis-ridden Californian men, one trying to grasp life by seducing waitresses in the countryside, the other - more the intellectual type - withdrawing into a sophisticated mens-world of literature, golf and wine-tasting. Brilliant dialogs, but really this film could even do without the talking: just picture an old red Saab, manufactured sometime in the 80s on the motorway between all these new "high- heeled" convenience SUV's and you got the mood of Paul Giamattis character, who always seems to be in a silent struggle with everyday American way of life. Not to mention the surprising and absolutely beautiful split-screen-sequence in the middle of the film and the melancholy but compassionate use of the jazz-score.

Yazgi
(2001)

Parable on the matter of human morals and free will
This film is part of Demirkubuz' trilogy "Tales about Darkness'. Loosely based on Albert Camus' novel "The Stranger" it shows the life of a young man as a chain of decisions to be made. How should he react as he discovers the death of his mother? What should he do when a colleague shows her love for him? The hero though decides to do nothing. "I don't care", is his basic answer. "The world sucks", he once declares, his face void of expression.

Although it sometimes over-strains its metaphors (like the TV as modern substitute for human communication and harmonious family-life), this is the most ambiguous, and therefore most impressing work of Demirkubuz so far.

Fassbinder in Hollywood
(2002)

vain documentary by former Fassbinder actor Ulli Lommel
This is more of a documentary on actor-turned-director and former Fassbinder associate Ulli Lommel than a film on Fassbinder or his experiences with Hollywood. Lommel is center of the mise en scene most of the time, interviewing former colleagues or talking about his experiences with RWF, posing in front of the camera, wearing a Highlander-style coat and a cowboy hat. Lots of talk, little information - quite superfluous.

Film ist. 7-12
(2002)

Creates an opus on cinematography from early movie clippings
Austrian director Gustav Deutsch is again working with found footage in this sequel to his 1998 "Film ist.1-6". Both works succeed in constructing a visual history of cinematography by re-sampling common film-motives. Deutsch's works are not only meticulously assembled (using different European film-archives as resources) and structured, but also show a lot of humor in the way they are edited.

Cappy Leit
(2001)

teenage drama thankfully free of cliche-conflicts
This short drama of very young Austrian director Marie Kreutzer tells the story of a "forbidden" first love in a very subtle way. There is no scandalisation about the fact, that 14-year old Theres falls in love with her older brother Jakob. Just gentle, telling gazes, secret gestures amidst a general feeling of desperate loneliness. Marie Kreutzer proves talent not only in script-writing but foremost in her work with amateur-actors.

Harvard Man
(2001)

who cares about a vain philosophy-student with a suntan?
This film obviously is the vain, presumptious project of a young bunch of filmstudents. The story is flat and full of narrative cliches. Also there is a lot of male wishful thinking in here (eg. the student-heros liaison both with his young, blonde philosophy-professor and at the same time with some rich chick owning a sports car). The drug fantasies later on are a poor-mans REQUIEM FOR A DREAM. Everything is striving to be hip. But the jump cuts just look cheap and fidgety, making the viewer nervous instead of adding tempo. Avoid!

The Monkey's Mask
(2000)

nicely done noir-variation from a queer-perspective
"The Monkey's Mask" knows the rules for a sex-and-crime detective adventure, involving a private eye (brand lonely-wolf), a mysterious femme fatale and a some irritating background information. It converts all those generic ingredients by involving a lesbian woman as the detective. The story is told from her perspective, making use of a voice-over now and then. The plot itself is divided up in chapters, the name of which we learn by inserts, while we see the eyes of protagonist Jill, watching. As to be expected from a Neo-Noir, the she-detective falls in love with the beautiful, but irritating female suspect. Works in creating suspense and overturning gender-cliches.

Proroci a básníci
(2000)

Vain documentary on a bunch of friends uttering banalities with a philosophical touch
There is not so many films from the Czech Republic lately, so one tends to be curious and rather complaisant in judgement. There is not much to say in favour of this digitally shot documentary, though. It shows several characters, all of them obviously belonging to the same circle of friends, all of them sharing the same special liking for esoteric beliefs. You can see one of the characters standing between apple-trees, telling the camera, that he can "sense the energy of the trees". Others are trying to explain the course of the world to the audience vie astrology or light-weight philosophy. Vain portrait of a confused bunch of people, looking for something, obviously not sure what it is. But certainly proud of their restricted insights!

Verzweiflung
(2000)

Intense black and white feature, concentrating on affect and emotion
Young German director Markus Lauterbach's feature debut is amazingly intense. As the title "Verzweiflung" ("Despair") suggests this is more about the inside state of a character, than about any external action. Both leading parts, Nina Petri and Sylvester Groth, are doing a great job, displaying their state of mind by small gestures. Lauterbach prefers filming them in close-ups, thereby creating a sense of nearness. Quite in contrast to Hollywood's scriptwriting rules, Lauterbach creates rarely ambivalent characters here, who may be repelling in one aspect, only to be likable in in another. Absolutely recommended.

Dunckel
(1998)

The only good thing about this: the music
This gangster-film is very poorly fulfilling the diction of the genre. The script offers neither suspense nor humor. The only good part is the relaxed sometimes swinging, sometimes funky soundtrack by the German band "DIE STERNE".

Tanz auf der Kippe
(1991)

East-German film reflecting on the last days of a forced-on-system
In a flash-back construction this film tells the story of an East-German highschool-graduate, who falls in love with his female teacher. Both disagree with the states doctrine of educating people to servile creatures, not expected to think for themselfes. The love-story of these two rebel-soulmates is set before the 40-year anniversary of the GDR, the last big rite before the final fall of the Berlin wall. This film is about basic values, such as civil courage and truth.

Pripyat
(1999)

A black and white travel into the subject of radioactivity
"Pripyat" is a very carefully and slowly edited documentary about the 30 kilometer area around the desastrous nuclear plant near Russian town "Tschernobyl". "Pripyat", is also the name of the river next to this nuclear site. Once it meant life to the inhabitants of the area. Now all life around the reactor is forbidden by law. Still there are some humans living in the contaminated area: mostly old people, stubborn, too poor to live anywhere else. They live in the "Zone", as they call it. A documentary about a place, that has officially ceased to exist.

Der Himmel küßt die Berge - Maria & Margot Hellwig
(1995)

Surprisingly a very distinctive documentary, not the cynical type
Documentary on the singing mother-daughter folk-couple Margot and Maria Hellwig. Dives deep into their world, revealing, but never making fun of the women or culture portrayed.

The Kitsch of the pseudo-folkloristic world is never Camp here, rather a deception of the masses in search of some harmony.

Angeschwemmt
(1994)

A quiet documentary that catches the riverbank-athmosphere
"Angeschwemmt", Nikolaus Geyrhalters first full-lenght documentary, focuses on a place called "Friedhof der Namenlosen" (The Cementary of Unknown Dead), a place, where all those nameless suicides, washed ashore on the Danube-riverbanks have been buried. The film get's the old grave-digger and other people talking about there lives alongside the river and creates a very special athmosphere: you almost get to sense the fog and the dampness of the Danube-meadows.

Cours toujours
(2000)

Amiable comedy, including uniquely grotesque situations
A young father has to bury his baby-sons foreskin after circumcision, as tradition demands. On his strange mission a lot of trouble awaits him.

Lots of reflected irony concerning Jewry, brought forward in a kindhearted tone. The gangster-chase-subplot is unneccessary. But all in all a recommendation!

The Patriot
(2000)

You get what you expect- a man, a war, a victory.
Mel Gibson is the face to promote this supersized war-epos, done by the director of blockbusters like "Godzilla" and "ID-4", Roland Emmerich. Like in his former part as fighter for the Scottish independence, "Brave Heart", Gibson bears a lot of personal pain first, to justify the martial actions that follow. Lot's of cheesy hero-galopping-forward-waving-bloody-flag-in-slow-motion scenes. If you feel up to bear this you get dialogues like this in reward: "Pray for me, but pray for the cause first!" or "Father, I killed these men." "You did as I told you, son. You didn't do wrong." Have fun...

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