Sunday, July 5, 2015

In Juli. (2000)

What kind of movie do you like to see on a Sunday? Me, I'll often be a bit hungover, so my weapon of choice is usually something a bit light and entertaining, that doesn't demand much brain activity. American blockbusters are always an option, but as the Hollywood cliches usually end up making me more upset than entertained, it's much better to go for a feelgood road movie from Germany.

In July is the perfect Sunday film to watch with your girlfriend, or whoever might have woken up next to you. It's funny and heartwarming, with just the right amount of quirkiness that all road movies must have.

The director, Faith Akin, is something of a Turkish/German wunderkind, and his film Soul Kitchen is also highly recommended for rainy Sundays.


Friday, June 19, 2015

World's Greatest Dad (2009)

Robin Williams' suicide came as a shock to cinemaniacs all over the world. The man brought us joy and laughter for more than 30 years, and starred in some 60 movies.

While his antics were typically physical and lighthearted in nature, as in Jumanji and The Birdcage, he also played in many darker and serious films, like Dead Poets Society and The Fisher King. The World's Greatest Dad is perhaps the only film which combines both worlds, into a terribly dark and outrageously funny film.

It was written and directed by the brilliant Bobcat Goldthwait, and if you've seen his next film God Bless America, you've got an idea about just how dark the humor can get.

The fact that The World's Greatest Dad is a comedy about suicide, means that it won't be everybody's cup of tea, and many reviews on IMDB note that this is way too dark to for their personal taste. But the darker the funnier, I say, and I was wiping tears of laughter throughout the moive.

After all, Robin Williams starred in this film because he thought it was one of the funniest things he'd ever read, and if he left us with anything, it is reminding us to laugh, especially about the things nobody else sees the humor in.


Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Eleven Powers: The Festival of Eka Dasa Rudra (1979)

As one of the most astounding, larger than life-documentaries of all time, Eleven Powers tells the tale of the last Eka Dasa Rudra festival. The event takes place every 100 years in Bali, with the last one held in 1979, and if this film crew had not been there to document it, the trials of that calamitous celebration would hardly be believed.

The film shows how the fanatical locals goes about sacrificing at least one of every living thing on the island, into a bubbling volcano, to prevent the destruction of the entire cosmos. Being an unbelievable depiction of frenzied religion at its most savage and insane, at the same time it also shows such empathy towards the practitioners, you somehow start cheering for their rituals to succeed.

The brilliant and brooding narration by legendary Orson Wells, makes it a true gem, not to be missed. However, the film is very hard to come by, and I've only managed to see it once at a festival. But apparently it has been released on DVD, so should you happen to possess a digital copy, please contact me.


Monday, June 8, 2015

Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)

I'm usually a bit weary of older comedies, as I often find that black/white theatrics are a bit too "slip-on-banana-peel"-clownish for my taste. Not so with this dark classic.

The film has the tagline "He chopped down the family tree", and it's basically the story about a man that decides to kill his entire family. The fact that it's also somehow a comedy, is so devilishly daring and entertaining, that it's quite astounding that it exists.

In the current days of extreme cinema with the most outrageous plots, very few film dare go down this twisted path for laughs, and maybe it's simply because it was already done to perfection back in 1949?


Friday, May 29, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road - In perspective

Our friends over at Tuppence Magazine, who previously made this infographic detailing the mayhem of the Mad Max trilogy, has been nice enough to write an exclusive guest post about the 4th film.

Mad Max: Fury Road throws more bodies, fuel and weapons under its many wheels

In the long run up to the release of Mad Max: Fury Road, there was more than enough time to look back on the previous three movies in the George Miller canon. The result was the Mad Max infographic, courtesy of the Movie News section of Tuppence Magazine, which covered everything from the price of fuel in the year that each of the movies were created, to the number of baddies that bit the dust, the crazy weapons that were used and the supercharged vehicles that revved it all up. Now that the fourth movie is out, we can see how it stacks up against the other three movies looking at the same factors. The short answer is that however you look at it Fury Road has taken things to the next level and in all fairness it’s done a pretty good job of breathing new life into the franchise.

Box office success

Everyone and their babies ran off to see the original Mad Max in 1979
Things have obviously changed a lot in terms of the value of money compared to 1979, but the reality is that the new movie has eclipsed the box office success of the previous entries by a good way. The original film was the most successful of the initial trilogy bringing in around $100m worldwide, with Mad Max II trailing it with c. $50m and Thunderdome just $36m. However, Fury Road has already taken in excess of $230m worldwide and it’s still playing, so maybe the sheer volume of deaths, weapons and motors, along with the long development time, has paid off for George Miller.

Fuel prices

Fuel, or more importantly the lack of it, is one of the central aspects to the Mad Max universe and if anything it’s starting to look like the fuel wars may be upon us if the price increases over the years are anything to go by. In 1979 it was just 14 Australian cents, 15 US cents and 22 Great British pence per litre. This rose to 25 AU cents, 30 US cents and 35 GB pence in 1981 and 50 AU cents, 27 US cents and 43 GB pence in 1985. 2015, on the other hand, sees things standing at a staggering £1.14 per litre in the UK and $1.47 in Australia, although the US ranges between 61 cents and 76 cents per litre depending on which state you’re in. Hopefully, we’ll have hyper-efficient electric cars, though, long before the potential of a fuel-based apocalypse can set in.

Road warrior casualties

Who runs Bartertown? Master Blaster does.
While Mad Max is widely regarded as a brutal cult classic it actually only contained five bad guy deaths, including gang leader Toe Cutter, played by Hugh Keays-Byrne, who also stars as Immortan Joe in Fury Road. Things picked up slightly in the second film with 18 clocked up on the Grim Reaper side of the equation, but dropped off significantly again for Beyond Thunderdome, which had just 2 bad guy casualties. All of this pales in comparison to the humungous figure of around 39 deaths that were racked up in the fourth film in the series. If that’s not enough, there were also quite a few more raiders and War Boys that were unseated from their cars, bikes and rigs without us being able to tell for sure whether or not they would have bit the dust or survived the impact, so the true death-toll could be even higher.

Mad Movie weapons

That's gonna hurt in the morning.
Mad Max: Fury Road is a whole lot more explosive than any of the previous movies, delivering up everything from rocket launchers to flame throwers. However, it just falls short when you compare it to the iconic weapon from the previous films, including Toe Cutter’s Mauser pistol, Humungus’ sighted hand gun or trident, the Gyro Captain’s snake, the Ferel Kid’s bloody boomerang, Blaster’s war hammer or Ironbar Bassey’s neck noose. The best contender has got to be Furiosa’s sniper rifle, which performs very well in terms of taking out the attacking War Boys and raiders that besiege them out in the desert. There are also plenty of turret guns, harpoons, exploding spears, a Gatling gun, machine guns and Bullet Farmer’s unconventionally long pistols to add to the intensity of the epic driving battle.

On the road

Here Fury Road comes into its own, kicking things up into seventh gear at the very least. Not only is Max’s supercharged V-8 Pursuit Special back in the action, but there’s also Furiosa’s massive War Rig, a huge monster truck, Joe’s double cab pickup beast, a massive drum and electric guitar rig and Bullet Farmer’s mental tank car. For purists, there are also plenty of motorbikes with everything from the Many Mothers’ long distance hogs to the mountain raiders’ motor cross bikes. All in all, it’s looking like the new film might just about have the edge over the previous movies on paper. However, for fans of the original cult classic it might take more than a bigger kill list to shake them from their old allegiances.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Cheap Thrills (2013)

If ever you needed more proof that good filmmaking doesn't require a huge budget, this $200.000 production will convince you that the best thrills are cheap.

With the miniscule risk of such a low budget, the film dares deliver what mainstream comedies promise but always chicken out of, and provides such a bellyaching long stream of pitch dark comedy, you'll catch yourself laughing of the film's sheer balls.

It takes a simple yet brilliant idea, and goes with it far beyond expectations, to the point where you almost feel embarrassed for laughing so hard at things which really shouldn't be a laughing matter.

Being by far the best film I saw in all of 2014, I will never understand why it wasn't a huge success.


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Two Evil Eyes (1980)

When talking about horror anthologies, Creepshow is usually at the top of most people's list. But when it comes to actual scariness, it's hard to beat this forgotten classic.

And what a crew: George A. Romero, Dario Argento, Harvey Keitel, Adrienne Barbeau, Tom Atkins, John Amos starring in two short films based upon the works of Edgar Allen Poe.

While the first story, The Facts in the Case of Mr. Valdemar, is a bit of a slow start, it'll all be worth it in the second story, where mr. Keitel gives the performance of his life in The Black Cat. As the movie features some scenes of animal cruelty, it might be a bit difficult to stomach for some, and the film could certainly never have been made today, but at the same time, the disturbing images are very effective in creating a truly unsettling atmosphere of one man's descent into madness, and of course, no real animals were harmed.


Monday, May 18, 2015

Stop absuing torture porn

With the arrival of the Hostel and Saw franchises, a new term came into use describing films which seemingly had no other artistic merit than to show off as much pain and suffering as possible. What had previously been called "exploitation cinema" for several decades, was suddenly dubbed "torture porn", and apparently the bucket of term applied to any film which showed as much as a drop of blood. This "torture porn"-genre was hailed as a new low in cinematic history by soccer moms and other censorship crusaders, who proclaimed it to be a sign of society's decline into extreme decadence and depraved debauchery. Nobody seemed to remember that torture porn was not at all new term, and that it had already been used to describe something quite different for several decades.

Because real torture porn has very little in common with horror, thriller, gore or exploitation. Torture porn is porn ... where people are being tortured(!)

Mind-boggling, I know. But this is a very real genre, and the most infamous examples are probably the Erotic Perversion films which were traded on worn vhs-tapes in the early 90s, and the fact that they have since been released on dvd only speaks of their popularity. These are basically pornographic films, featuring various naked women who are tied up, cut, burned and beaten, before, during and after intercourse. The victims are not actors pretending to be tortured, and there are no special effects. This is torture porn.

The BDSM porn scene has come a long way since then, and people willingly submitting themselves to the most extreme forms of torture is not at all hard to find by simple google searches.

The Japanese porn market is also notoriously over the top, and the pseudo-snuff scene regularly feature extreme sexual violence, like girls getting their limbs sawed off while they are being raped. These films have no story, no build-up of suspense, no plot-twists, nor credits. It's simply torture porn.

And while there certainly doesn't have to be close-up images of penetration for something to cause arousal, the definition of pornography as per Merriam-webster's dictionary is: The depiction of erotic behavior intended to cause sexual excitement. The key word being intent. If not for this intent, then anything that causes arousal to anyone, could be labeled porn. This would mean that just about everything on any TV-channel, at any time, would be porn. Commercials, reality shows, documentaries, the news, you name it, it would all be porn. And as for what consists of torture, it is also a highly personal matter, but Webster defines it as: something that causes agony or pain. This means anything from Celine Dion to running out of toilet paper is torture in my book.

Food & furniture

Now, I understand that this new use of “torture porn” has nothing to do with actual pornography, but rather it's a symbolic phrase which implies that the filmmakers and audience get off on violence. Similarly, the word "porn" has become common when describing any piece of visual art that is over the top, and googling for "food porn", "furniture porn", "photography porn" and so on, will all give ample results, of which very few will feature actual sex acts.

However, the very word porn is also loaded with negativity, and as the French mastermind Gaspar Noe (director of Irreversible) once said: "Pornography is a degrading term for something that happens naturally". So while films being labeled torture porn implies they feature an abundance of torture, it's also a linguistic tool used to censor violence, by dismissing it as lesser worth than other art.

And as the movie industry constantly strives to lure more money from children and tweens, by stripping away graphic violence and gore from what used to be marketed as adult genres like action, thriller and horror movies, adult audiences are also becoming alienated, to the point where any adult oriented portrayal of violence on screen is effectively stamped as torture porn so as to be ridiculed and ignored. This means that deep and meaningful films like Cannibal Holocaust, Irreversible, Martyrs or A Serbian Film, where the filmmakers use violence as symbols to convey their message, are effectively censored from the masses by being labeled as torture porn.

Even in the current days of 50 Shades of Grey being shown in theaters all over the world, the term torture porn is still being used about films which feature blood and gore, rather than actual porn where people are tortured.

No pain, no gain

X-Men: First Class
In this reign of PG-13 brutality, where it's perfectly acceptable to show a coin being shot right through someone's skull, as long as the audience is sheltered from feeling the character's pain, we steadily become more and more estranged from the physical and psychological knowledge of pain.

In the words of Danny Boyle: "There used to be adult films, with adult themes, adult violence, adult sexuality. We've lost that. (...) These were the things we wanted to see as kids, and we wanted our adult lives to be filled with it, but today, the term "adult films" means porn, which is just terrible. Pixar makes great movies, don't get me wrong, they are very sophisticated storytellers. But they are family friendly, and that's the danger. If you put Star Wars, Pixar, and these big action movies together, they have violence in them but not violence that hurts. It’s a kind of costless violence.”

So what's more dangerous: showing audiences that violence hurts, or teaching them that it doesn't? The answer should be obvious, so please stop abusing the term torture porn, and bring on the valuable violence.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Used Cars (1980)

There are funny movies. And there is Used Cars.

Watching a comedy is always a big risk, as so few of the films advertised as laugh-riots are able to even induce a glimmer of giggles, and I have gotten so used to being disappointed, that I only really hope for a comedy having at least a couple of jokes that will make me laugh.

But nothing had prepared me for the all out laughaton that Used Cars delivered, with one golden line of comedy slapping the tail of the next one, in a two hour stream of hilariousness.

Strangely, this film was never a big hit, apparently being drowned out by the success of Caddyshack and Blues Brothers, which came out the same summer. Thus largely unknown, Used Cars is rarely found on anyone's list of top comedies, which makes it the perfect surprise all movie buffs dream of stumbling upon.

As I believe the best way to watch any movie is to know as little as possible about the plot beforehand, I will not reveal anything other than what is obvious in the title and poster. The fact that it was written and directed by the legendary Robert Zemeckis, should be enough of quality assurance on its own, but if not, then let me tell you that Used Cars is like the American equivalent to Monty Python at their very best.

This film also has an alternate commentary track by director Robert Zemeckis, writer Bob Gale and lead actor Kurt Russell. It's almost as funny as the movie itself, and should not be missed.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

At Close Range (1986)

It's difficult to explain why I love this movie. The true story of an up-to-no-good kid who will stop at nothing to win the respect of his devilishly brutal father, is certainly not a happy one, and by all means the film should probably make for an uncomfortable viewing experience. And yet... the melancholy lure of its sombre atmosphere, coupled with outstanding performances from Christopher Walken and Sean Penn, turns it into one of the most hauntingly beautiful crime films ever made.


Friday, April 4, 2014

Pumpkinhead (1988)

Monster movies were a dime a dozen in the 80s, most of them utterly forgettable. However, every once in a while, there came a low budget monster flick that was far better than it had any right to be, especially considering it had a silly name like "Pumpkinhead". Instead of being the tongue in cheek comedy that the title would have you believe, the film surprises with delivering a straight up eery, atmospheric horror story.

Of course, featuring the legendary Lance Henriksen doesn't hurt, and considering the monster is yet another tall creature with a long skull and tail, it's hard not to draw parallels to Ridley Scott's Alien. However the story in Pumpkinhead is something more akin to Pet Sematary, with a nice twist of Swamp Thing.

A suprise hit in it's day, it's not without reason that the film spawned three sequels, though I must admit I have yet to see any of them, as I'm rather skeptical toward sequels. But please let me know in the comments below, if I'm missing out.


Friday, March 21, 2014

Dancer in the Fark (sic!)

When I recently had to re-watch Dancer in the Dark as part of a seminar, I couldn’t bare to sit through it till the end. In my whole life of obsessive movie watching, I can count on less than ten fingers how many times I've stopped watching a movie before the credits, and usually I even make sure to check if there might not be an extra snippet after the names have rolled across the screen, but this time I just couldn't do it, and would rather claw out my own eyes than sit through even half the horrible movie.

I left the cinema, outraged at the blatant insult von Trier made to his audience, and even more furious that he thought he could actually get away with it. Wanting to find like-minded and read more about how terribly bad the film was, I checked the IMDB forums, as I always do after watching any film. What I found was a nothing but blind devotees, who failed to see that the film was von Trier telling them to Fuck off! Why? Let me tell you.

Common, let's cry again, like we did last summer...

In his career, Lars von Trier has basically made the same film over and over. There are some exceptions, sure, but Breaking the Waves, The Idiots, Dancer in the Dark, Dogville, Manderlay, Antichrist and Melancholia, all basically revolve around a woman in peril, who shows her strength through tremendous sacrifice.
There's nothing wrong with making variations on the same theme. In fact, I would argue that this is what has enabled von Trier to find his niche in experimentation. The man has given us some amazing adventures in filmmaking, and can proudly boast to have "pushed the boundaries yet again" on countless occasions.

You can leave your plot on

Instead of experimenting with technology and colossal budgets, von Trier has been the prophet of minimalism, constantly stripping away layers, and restraining himself. The Idiots might be the most famous example, where he went full-on hardcore low-fi, and created a masterpiece that was both hilarious and touching, without the comforts of make-up, tripods, camera filters, props or even a soundtrack. That he was one of the founding fathers of the Dogme '95 manifesto, a simple set of rules that created a whole genre and spawned more than 250 films, speaks for itself.

He took a both similar and different approach in Dogville, when he removed all film sets. While this might have been an attempt to join theater and cinema in holy matrimony, it also made the ingenious point of illustrating a town where everybody can see what happens behind residential walls, yet they all choose to look the other way.

In The Five Obstructions he wandered down yet more untrodden paths. We see him taking great pleasure in forcing his teacher to think inside ever smaller boxes, and force creativity from ever more constricted chains.

He understands the effectiveness of his simple methods, and seems to be on a mission to see how many superficial elements he can eliminate, and still have people falling for his tricks. He’s not even trying to hide it, and uses his obstructions as tools and the very fabric of his movies.

Always the one to find new ways of stripping away what is considered "professional" and "proper" filmmaking, I picture him jumping from foot to foot in anticipation, wondering: "Will the audience still buy it, if I take away THIS?"

King Trier

Although some of his films are astounding achievements in movie making, no one is more aware of this than von Trier himself. His name is actually not Lars von Trier by the way, but simply Lars Trier. The von was a nickname given to him by his filmschool mates as a joke, on account of him having so high thoughts about himself. I guess he didn't get the joke, because he thought this to be an honor, and promptly went on calling himself just that, apparently feeling himself worthy of a royal title. More proof of his megalomaniac antics can be seen in the infamous Antichrist interview at Cannes 2010, where he solemnly proclaimed to be the greatest director in the world, without a hint of irony.

But who am I to say otherwise? Although some have claimed that his controversial media persona and effective use of his bad-boy-filmmaker status in interviews, is nothing but a clever campaign to provoke headlines more valuable than millions of dollars in advertising; I personally am a big fan of his films.

So what's so bad about Dancer then?

Well, in short: he took away too much. In Dancer in the Dark, von Trier used normal sets, and had both a tripod and added a soundtrack, but he took away something else: Character depth, clever dialogue, an intelligent plot, and actual acting.

Ripping away these essential fundaments of all storytelling, he built his film instead on banality and meta-sarcasm, with an ensemble of strictly one-dimensional characters, spewing out intentionally on-the-nose dialogue without the slightest emotion, and a script consisting of nothing but predictable cliches.
I picture von Trier sitting in his chair laughing at an audience that still buys his cheap production: "Can't they see it's nothing but a badly shot, terribly lit melodrama without make-up? Don't they realize it's about as enticing as a low budget soap opera, helmed by Bjørk’s music?"
Some have argued that von Trier's intention was to mock the musical genre, hence the much quoted "In a musical nothing dreadful ever happens"-line, a rule he sets out to break with great gusto. But if so, it is done with the utmost contempt for both the genre and its audience.

It reminds me of the story of infamous musician Aphex Twin, who once brought an electric saw to a live gig, and started chipping away at the record player while the screeching sound blasted out across the speakers. It produced a horrible noise that was nothing less than cringe-worthy. But the audience devoured every shrill shriek, and dubbed the man a god for the sheer galls in daring to go through with it. When asked about it later, Aphex Twin called his fans "bloody wankers".

So, now what?

As any adult who once had a crazy hairstyle in their teens will tell you, breaking the rules is a young man's game. Von Trier's whole venture into minimalism seemed to come to a full stop with Antichrist, where he went in the total opposite direction and made a pure eye-candy film. He took it even further in Melancholia, which featured elaborate CGI-scenes and even more excessively manicured cinematography. Nymphomaniac basically amounts to a long exorcize in masturbation, both literary, and as a metaphor for von Trier's showboating brand of filmmaking, where he uses exploitation as a marketing tool. It would seem the adult von Trier feels he has stripped away enough layers, and is now trying to find his way back home to a more commercial audience, paved with conformance, compliance and the most marketable concept ever imagined: pure sex.

While my initial thought were that this was because of monetary issues, as narrow experimentation might certainly gain appraisal but rarely rakes in at the box office, this seemed too simple an explanation.

So, could it actually be that his highness has run out of ways to limit himself?

While I'd be sad to see the interesting, challenging and provocative von Trier go (my favorite of his will always be Riget), still if this means he's through taunting his audience with shameless insults, I'm very excited to see what he will produce when he decides to get serious about movie making once again.