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The Killer Inside Me (2010)
The life of Deputy Ford (Casey Affleck) is governed by the paradox of inquiry as described by St. Augustine: As long as you don't ask him why he's doing what he's doing, he knows exactly why. He simply does what needs to be done. But as soon you ask for his reasons, he has no clue. Why care? The issue is that what he mainly does is harm. Most of the time, Jessica Alba's character Joyce is at the receiving end of his temper. She kind of likes it initially, but she senses he won't stop at spanking her. Kate Hudson's part has even less perspective. Her modest assignment is to stick around long enough to get killed. Michael Winterbottom tells a savage story, but he tells it in style. He got a lot of boos at the Berlin Film Festival for the graphic violence, but I don't see how he could have told Lou Ford's story in a PG version. Fabulous opening credits by the way.
Alice in Wonderland (2010)
More C.S.Lewis than Lewis Carroll
Your kids may like it, but parents, stay away. While the book this is based on was more than a children's book, very few grown-ups will enjoy the movie. Although it's very colorful and rich in cute details, the story it tells is beyond boring. In Tim Burton's version, Alice is closer to C.S.Lewis' messianic tales than to the wit and subtle sauciness of Lewis Carroll's imagination. Mia Wasikowska, in the title role, is pretty, but entirely lifeless, not to mention her ludicrous accent. Johnny Depp has saved many mediocre movies, but even he can't sail a sinking ship. While he made "Pirates of the Caribbean" worth my while, he couldn't save the "Chocolate Factory", and he won't save "Alice" either. Whatever Tim Burton touches, it comes out sickly sweet. If Lewis Carroll were alive today, and making movies, he'd be directing something like "Resident Evil" instead. It's the story of Alice going under ground, after all. I can't wait for "Afterlife". Can you?
Frozen in motion
Conceptually, "Universalove" is a lot like "Night on Earth", but with only about one tenth the dialog and not much more coherence. Until about half-way through the movie, you don't know what's going on in any of its six episodes, and you don't really care about the characters either. This is mostly due to the fact that the episodes are broken down into tiny segments, each of which only reveals a fraction of the respective story. My favorite is the one about the Brazilian girl who accidentally gets run over by the soap opera star she adores. To console her, he takes her along to the set of the show, where her illusions are promptly shattered. Chances are there's something for everybody in this movie, but don't expect a lasting impression. - Very nice soundtrack, by Austrian outfit Naked Lunch.
She cheats, she lies, she leaves her family. You'd have every right to hate Suzanne, yet you don't. The one you hate is her self-righteous husband. It's nothing short of a miracle how Kristin Scott-Thomas and Yvan Attal pull it off. Admittedly, the script makes sure her betrayal brings out the worst in him, but I doubt you would take her side so easily if you read about it in a novel. It rings so true because writer-director Catherine Corsini works with a fine script and a first-rate cast. The way Sam cuts Suzanne off from the family fortune may be stretching the facts of civil law a tad, but it goes to show that there's no equality without economic independence. Despite its strong social message, the movie keeps you on the edge of your seat like a thriller. Take your family.
Giulias Verschwinden (2009)
Golden girls and golden sneakers
For some reason, I had made up my mind not to enjoy this movie, but I did. Especially the segment about the teenage shoplifter and her brawling parents is so involving they should have a movie of their own. Mr. Suter, if you're reading this, what about a spin-off on what the future holds for Jessica and Vince? The two other main plot lines, about Giulia's 50th and Leonie's 80th birthday, are more subtle, but not nearly as intriguing as the family feud. Sunnyi Melles, however, puts in a radiant guest appearance as a glamorous gate crasher at Giulia's party. She's the real deal. In the golden days of Hollywood, she would have been up there with Jean Harlow.
The Ghost Writer (2010)
Promising setup that amounts to nothing much
Ewan McGregor, as the ghost, and Olivia Williams, as his client's wife, have real chemistry, which makes the time they spend at the beach house exciting and intensive. While he manages to come across as boyish and grown-up, clever and confused at the same time, she is very hot in her own very cool sort of way. Unfortunately, everything else pales by comparison with this half-hour stretch of attraction and adultery: The seen-before thriller plot Polanski himself seems bored with. Pierce Brosnan, whose half-dozen scenes amount to little more than a guest appearance. Even Kim Cattrall, in her first serious screen appearance since "The Devil and Daniel Webster", is little more than (admittedly classy) decoration. Overall, the tedious bits outweigh the thrilling bits, which is why this is only a five out of ten for me despite its obvious production value.
The Wolfman (2010)
From mansion to madhouse and back again
What's not to like about enigmatic Benicio del Toro, geared up as a 19th century nobleman, going berserk? Hugo Weaving, as hard-headed Scotland Yard detective Frederick Abberline, makes a deserving adversary. Even Anthony Hopkins, as the mother hen, didn't bother me as much as he usually does. The plot itself is very by the book, but it feels smooth and stylish all the way to the (entirely predictable) ending. Costumes and sets are attractions in themselves, but that doesn't come as a surprise if you know that production designer Rick Heinrichs also worked on "The Big Lebowski", "Sleepy Hollow", and "Pirates of the Caribbean". Guest appearance by Geraldine Chaplin as a gypsy witch.
Snakes and sinners
Kinski is acting as if he hadn't read the script, or as if there was no script to begin with. His character Daniel Shore is the only link between two different plot lines, set in Marocco and Germany respectively. While there are some surface similarities between the two stories, it's hard to figure out what's going on, let alone what the actual sequence of events may be. As a result, the whole movie has a dreamy, semi-conscious quality. While that's probably off-putting for most viewers, I think it's actually an accomplishment. If you consider a certain kind of confusion a valuable experience, you will enjoy this. But if you look for straightforward storytelling, it will probably feel like a waste of time. Although David Lynch obviously plays in a league of his own, "Daniel Shore" reminded me of "Lost Highway" in some respects. It's a very promising first feature. I hope this well won't run dry any time soon.
Valentine's Day (2010)
It poses as a dating movie, but it's really a girl power parade. Anne Hathaway is beyond hot, talking dirty as an adult phone entertainer on "Naughty Nymphos". While her character's heart may not be in it, hers obviously is. Then there's hard-bodied Jessica Biel, taking calls while working out. No doubt she could break your heart with her bare hands. I bet her biceps got its own trailer. But the main attraction is Jennifer Garner as Julia, madly in love with a charming surgeon who says he is divorced. Then she finds out about his wife, and goes duly berserk on a heart-shaped pink piñata the size of Texas. By the time she's done swinging her black baseball bat, there's not a whole lot of love left in the room. Charming guest appearances by Julia Roberts as a soldier on leave, and by Emma Roberts as her daughter. Taylor Swift, however, shouldn't quit her day job.
Het echte leven (2008)
The camera doesn't lie
This was the most fun I've had in a movie in a really long time. It's very clever, but it's not in your face about its cleverness at all. Rather, it sort of creeps up on you. It's a movie about a fictitious movie maker, but the (equally fictitious) private lives of the cast and crew quickly get tangled up with the plot. The story revolves around a love triangle riddled with seduction, suspicion, jealousy, and betrayal. The whole thing has an experimental feel to it, yet everything is superbly lit and shot, with a fair amount of hand-held camera-work and lots of stunning close-ups. But you don't have to be a Cahiers Du Cinéma subscriber to see the merits of a brown-eyed blonde beauty in Barbarella boots riding her bicycle around the streets of sunny Amsterdam, with a million dollar smile on her face. Sallie Harmsen, who plays the director's girlfriend Simone, has real star power. She could easily be the next Rebecca Romijn.