Movies I've seen in 2010
Lots of ridiculously over-the-top splatter action in this one. Taking on whole gangs armed with guns with nothing
but a machete is new, though, and -who would have thought?- survivable. Don't watch it if you can't stomach severed
heads flying around. Do watch it if you think Michelle Rodriguez, Jessica Alba and Lindsey Lohan are cute.
- True Romance
The scenes where people die are great fun to watch -particularly a memorable one where Patricia Arquette becomes
someone straight out of a slasher flick-, but everything in between is a bit painful. The movie's got a great cast,
though, with several household names in smaller roles, like Brad Pitt, Gary Oldman, Christopher Walken, Chris Penn,
James Gandolfini and Samuel L Jackson, who do their best to keep the entertainment going.
- Falling Down
Common decency and civility are dead in LA, and Michael Douglas' character for one will no longer take it.
Immigrants that don't speak proper English, closet Nazis, unhelpful service people, gang members, golf club members,
people who fence their homes with razor wire and others - they all get in his way and live (mostly) to regret it.
A life on a downhill path that inevitably reaches its almost logical conclusion. There are even some funny moments
when the protagonist stands up to various and sundry people who cross his way.
- The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The story of a man born old -who grows younger over time- and the woman who's a lifelong friend and becomes his
partner when they're about the same age, it has some interesting notions about what constitutes happiness in life,
and how and why one might go about attaining it, and what we might need to leave behind.
- Caché (a.k.a Hidden)
A dirty secret from a man's childhood resurfaces many years later and threatens to tear his professional and personal life
apart; the theme is what people will do in order protect what they have. Although things become clearer at the end,
the viewer still needs to make up his mind about what exactly happened, and who made it happen. Also having been made
by Michael Haneke, the cinematic technique bears some resemblance to Das weiße Band.
- Undertaking Betty
Whoever likes Monty Python's undertaker sketch will feel right at home with this movie, maybe even some folks who did not:
nobody suggests that anyone should be eaten. When an undertaker finally confesses his love to a woman he's been secretly pining
about for way too long, he uses all his profession's tools in pursuit of this goal. Some punishment of the bad, and rewards
of the good are dished out along the way, all the while the village's two undertakers spar over conventional vs. modern funerals.
Mortality can be fun.
The story borrows elements from Avatar, James Bond and The Matrix, but makes up for it with some interesting
ideas about dreams working in several layers and how to represent their interactions. The visual designers must have had a lot
of fun with this one, and -freed from the constraints of physics and belief- have come up with some beautiful scenes.
The plot, though, is a bit forgettable - watch it for the visuals, not the story.
- Echelon Conspiracy
The name Echelon is normally used for the worldwide
SIGINT network, but here it's an all-seeing, all-spying computer that emancipates itself from its human masters in
order to spy more completely. Its downfall reminds us of Joshua of Wargames
fame, but before it does, various shoot-outs need to be lived through so the humans can feel they're still part of the game.
- My Name is Khan
An odd mix of a Bollywood and a Hollywood movie, many issues are crammed in: post-9/11 America, raising an autistic child,
fraternal relations, Hindu/Muslim relations amongst Indians, the loss of a child, and more. Given all that, it's not surprising
that the characters develop only limited depth, and that some events remain unexplained or unbelievable. But it's a good story,
and it's well told, mixed in with song and music as would befit a 'classic' Bollywood production.
- Berlin - Sinfonie der Grosstadt
This silent movie from 1927 captures life in Berlin from the early morning to late at night. Some landmarks are
depicted, but mostly we see unexceptional scenes showing ordinary people going about their day - on the way to work,
to school, shopping, in cafes, at the beach, in factories and offices, at the theater. Although cineastically groundbreaking
at the time, today it's mostly a reminder of how much life -and the city- have changed since then. I'm glad I finally
got to see it; there was even a pianist providing live music, just like in the days of silent film.
- Blood Diamond
Sierra Leone's civil war provides the backdrop for the story of a family torn apart, but in the end made whole again
with the help of a large diamond that everyone wants to lay their hands on. A journalist and a soldier of fortune
with a bit of heart left in him help along the way, killing just about everybody who gets in their way (which is of
course what everybody else is doing, too, so they blend right in - except they're not of child age and aren't high
on drugs). It's a nasty place, and pictured in all its ugliness.
- Fast Food Nation
Combining the topics of fast food industry practices and illegal immigration, the movie takes a compelling look at
contemporary US-American society. Bit parts are played by Ethan Hawke, Bruce Willis, Avril Lavigne, Kris Kristofferson
and Luis Guzmàn, giving some brand name cachet to a couple of otherwise unappealing topics, both of which can be nasty
when looked at closely. Be prepared to give up your habit of frequenting burger joints afterwards...
- Spy Game
It's the story of a CIA spy handler and his master student, which culminates when the latter goes rogue on some
private business just when the former is about to retire. Some quick sleuthing inside of the agency discovers
all that is needed to mount an incredible covert op making it all right in the end. A good movie for folks who are
into the killing bits of espionage, but not memorable beyond that.
- Death in Venice
Sumptuous pictures and music make this film worthwhile watching. The main character's fascination with a beautiful boy
can be interpreted either as a gay fantasy, or as confirmation of the existence of ideal beauty (a concept he grapples with
artistically). Either way, the Venetian holiday does't help his physical or mental health, and turns into his final trip.
- Into the Wild
A beautifully filmed literary adaptation of a true story, the film follows a young man on a trek into the American West,
and eventually into remote Alaska, to get away from his parents and their -as he sees it- empty and false existence.
Although he meets others who have cast off societal attachments along the way, that doesn't stop him travelling
further North, from where he ultimately does not return. It's subject to debate whether or not that is a happy ending,
but for the viewer, the journey -both of the man's body and his soul- is very much its own reward.
How to get rid of your boring bank job and get back together with your ex-girlfriend in 90 minutes, #1: have customer
shoot himself before your eyes, #2 reacquaint yourself with ex-con boyhood friend, ... #90: success!. Obviously,
there are some complications in between, but they are ever more deftly dealt with as we witness the depths and lightness
(and darkness) of this bank clerks's soul. Lest it all sounds too depressing, I'll add that it's good entertainment.
- Boxhagener Platz
East Berlin in 1968 is not a pretty place, visually or societally. But a neighborhood murder brings out the
detective in a boy who goes out to discover lots about everyone who happens to be around. Meanwhile his streetwise
grandmother goes through husbands and suitors at a fast clip -but still provides a stable point of his life- and a
funeral turns into a farce. Hard to believe that this sleepy (?) neighborhood is one of Berlin's hottest areas nowadays.
- Death at a Funeral
A funeral where everything that can go wrong, does go wrong, at the exact best time to cause the utmost mayhem.
From the wayward kids to the incontinent uncle, from people getting inadvertently drugged to revelations of a
loving family father being gay, with the wrong body to start with, it's all in there. My kind of humor.
- Raging Bull
Not exactly a new release, but I wanted to see Robert de Niro's Oscar-winning performance. He sure plays the paranoid,
egomaniacal Jake La Motta well, all the way to putting on an extra 60 pounds for his later years. But somehow the whole
movie falls a bit flat. He's a brute at the beginning, and a brute at the end - as long as he can dominate
everybody around him, in the ring and out of it; when he can't, he's helpless. I'm glad I've finally seen it,
but there's no need to watch it again.
- Giulias Verschwinden
A wonderful comedy about aging and how one can (or can not) be affected by it. A gathering for a friend's 50th
birthday turns into a group discussion on aging where everyone drinks away their related sorrows. Meanwhile,
the birthday girl is absent and philosophizes with a stranger about the same subject, and elsewhere young and old
act their age (or not). In terms deep, funny, affecting and heart-warming, this movie hits all the right notes.
- Up in the Air
George Clooney picks up frequent flyer miles and casual sex as he travels across the country as a corporate axeman.
Accompanying him is a fresh-out-of-college know-it-all whose attempt to revolutionize that business is not going
down well with the axeman, so he's showing her the ropes, and dispensing his life's philosophy along the way
(which centers around not being at home). It's a great story with funny and not so funny moments, rather
poignant and very timely - excellent entertainment, and lots to think about.
- Sakurada mongai no hen
Another Berlinale film, this one about two gangs fighting for control of the street blocks of Taipei.
Brotherhood and friendship are sworn at young age, but not as easily kept as life progresses and lines of
allegiance blur. Scenes of great friendship and brutal fighting are close to one another, but in the end,
almost all of the good is gone, yet still the bad is more likely to triumph. Interesting look at what youths
are looking for when they join gangs, and how they try to hold on to that ideal in tough times.
- Bibliothèque Pascal
This Berlinale film is about the struggles of a single mother in Romania who moves to England as a prostitute
in order to earn money. It takes the shape of an adult fairy tale in which the protagonist imagines herself
to be more of a victim than an actor in order to justify her life more easily. The life imagined takes
some fantastic and dreamlike turns that result in kitchy yet compelling images.
A murder in Austria's high society is to be solved, and an ex-cop who's otherwise down on his luck takes up the case.
The Catholic church, Salzburg's prestigious music festival, sex for money, and more murders all play a role in this.
The movie paints a rather depressing picture of Austrian society, and not everything is resolved at the end,
but life goes on with the world being a somewhat better place; not so for the ex-cop, though, whose sense of right and
wrong remains shaken. Viewer beware: the Austrian accents make this a rather hard one to follow for people not accustomed to it.
- Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis
What in the trailer looks like making fun of a geographically remote region full of backwards folks
with funny accents turns out to be a rather entertaining -and even heartwarming- story of a man's exile in a
supposedly none too appealing corner of France. It helps that he has his personal and professional heart in
the right spot, of course. I'm sure lots of references got lost in translation, but millions of French folks
weren't wrong in watching this one.
- Soul Kitchen
Fatih Akin's latest flick tells a compelling story about a hard-upon restaurant manager who must cope with
professional, romantic and family challenges, and is trying to keep his business going. Various employees
and friends, as well a his brother, try to help with mixed results, but have their own issues that create
problems as well. Ultimately he prevails, but much happens along the way in a very entertaining movie.
Ten years in the making, James Cameron has develivered a visual spectacular that presents an alien world in lush
natural splendor. While the plot leaves a bit to be desired -predictability and all that- it combines ideas from
many genres and films; regular movie goers will be reminded of many and varied films, but it's still worthwhile seeing.
The 3D version didn't make a particular impression on me, but it does make for added spice in some of the fight scenes.