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Sword of Honour (2001)
Well done with minor flaws
Just watched this with my better half on DVD. I had read the books before, she hadn't.
I was positively surprised that the writers did not change much of Waugh's novels for dramatic condensation; they just omitted lots of peripheral characters and events of minor meaning to the overall plot.
The main characters are well cast and the acting is excellent. In contrast to some other reviewers, I am convinced that Daniel Craig is the perfect fit for his appearing neutral in the crucial point of class. Guy does not represent a specific class in the novels either: He's too catholic and too old for being a "chap" among the officers, he is too introverted and serious to succeed in society, and too rich and educated and considering to be a role model for the ordinary men. No, he remains an outsider to all worlds - which gives him the best position for observing and documenting all the others.
My better half liked the acting and thought the film gave her two good evenings of entertainment. Yet she was confused with the abrupt changes of locations and times (I had no problems with that with all the background knowledge of the novels and the dozens of Wikipedia pages I consulted to understand the novel's story while reading it).
I can understand her: If you are not really into WWII (and even more: if you are non-British), you really get lost if those sandy rocks now represent mock Crete in Scotland, Egypt or real Crete and what the heck were the British doing in Greece anyway? I don't think it was a good choice to split the story in two parts, while the book is made of three. The story lacks a stringent climactic structure anyway (life seldomly follows the rules scriptwriters have set for entertaining plots), and stopping in the midst of volume 2 does not really make things better. Maybe a 3 or 4 part miniseries with a run-time of 7 or 8 hours total would have been more fitting with the Crete and Yugoslavia episodes deserving a full leg of attention.
What I missed was the mentioning of Stalin. In the novel, two of Stalin's moves are main triggers for Guy's decisions: The Hitler-Stalin-pact of '39 convinces Guy to go back to England, join the army and fight the forces of evil. Germany's invasion of the USSR in '41 causes Stalin to change sides which makes Guy doubt his cause. The co-operation of the Allies with Stalin's Soviet Untion forms the quintessence of his conviction of the overall senselessness of his efforts. I can see that it is hard to make this fit into a movie version, but not to mention it at all? I also missed Stalin's sword mentioned although it is the name-giver to Waugh's trilogy.
What became clear to me after watching it is that the material is still well suited for movie or series adaptations. So, Netflix, Amazon - anyone?
The Lightness is Gone
For all you non-German IMDb users: Where shall I start? There is a very popular German series of books / audio books / animated TV shows called 'Bibi Blocksberg' about an ordinary girl with (good and nice and helpful) witchcraft abilities. It aims at 4 to 8 year old's, mainly girls.
There is a spin-off to that series called Bibi & Tina which lets the heroine witch Bibi spend her holidays at a horse camp, befriending the owners' daughter Tina. This aims at 6 to 10 year-old girls, mixes the witch-girl genre with girl-horse-adventures which should sound completely silly to you all but works beautifully with the target audience and is a tremendous success selling books, CDs, and TV air time.
Some years ago, Bibi & Tina made their full-feature cinema debut. The film was a surprise success, not only at the box office, but it also received positive reviews. Director Detlev Buck has a track record of some excellent German comedy movies, and he did a good job in shifting the setup to targeting a more grown-up audience of 8 to 14 year old's. It was nicely filmed (for German standards), the kids just loved it, and there were also some jokes added for the accompanying parents.
So they made a sequel and another sequel, and Bibi & Tina 4 is the last of the line.
So much for introduction.
The plot of the 4th movie is about a girl that fled from Albania to avoid being married to some elder man. Her uncle and her cousins follow her to Germany and try to catch her. Another cousin, living in Germany, is called for support, but him being more Western and modern in his mindset (and even more so: gay), he is not much of a help. Also meet two refugees from Syria, one stuck with his traditional views and supporting the Albanian villains in their hunt, while his little brother is on the girl's side promoting individual freedom of choice and gender equality. Also meet a group of musicians from Mali touring Europe and coming on Castle Falkenstein to test the elder count's tolerance (his son is Tina's boyfriend, in case you shouldn't know).
If this sounds all very constructed and over-the-top to you, you are right. The filmmakers try to take the most prevailing society issues and discussions in Germany (which were in 2016: refugees and integration and the conflict between Western values and traditional Muslim views) and make them the plot driver of their movie.
For me this didn't work too well. The film is lacking the somewhat silly charm of its predecessors. The makers tried just too hard to make it relevant and up to the time.
However, the present rating of this at IMDb is below 4 and I don't think that this is a fair representation. To me, a critical 5 of 10. And one star alone goes to the very funny parody of Donald Trump (this was shot before he was elected US President!) as greedy orange-faced constructor Dirk Trumpf.
A Little Chaos (2014)
Nice and pretty - but pointless
Don't get me wrong: I enjoyed watching this film. It was - well - nice. Still, I was disappointed. "A little chaos" has no point to me.
First, I had thought it was based on a true story: a charming footnote in history worth being told. But no: The plot is entirely made up, the main character Sabine de Barra never existed and Versailles' famed garden architect André Le Nôtre was over 70 when he completed the surroundings of the castle. And Louis XIV was never ever such a subtle self-ironic personality as displayed by Rickman.
So - what might be the point of the story? The "Win-against-all-odds" plot is highly predictable and really not much.
The love story comes somewhat inevitable and - although nicely played by Winslet and Schoenaerts - does not really add to excitement; it has hardly any twists and turns.
The gardening aspect could be interesting, but without in-depth knowledge of the history of garden architecture, we viewers are kept at loss to see why Mme de Barra's concepts might have been groundbreaking to gardening.
For an breathtaking period drama the visuals are too modest and small.
Personally, I would have liked to take this little episode as the exemplary and decisive turning point in the history of the ancien régime. Individual thinking and considerations of nature's law paving the way for 1789's revolution that overthrew the royals and their useless courtiers. The king's family, the nobles, their jaded ways are doomed long before they even know it.
But we get far too little insight to allow such a far-reaching interpretation.
What remains is a nice enough film for a rainy Sunday afternoon, but not more. And that is really a pity.
Le passé (2013)
Worst cliché of boring art-house cinema
Do you know those people who look down on European films? They cling to action and claim that European cinema was sooooo boring, that nothing ever happens in French films in particular. All the protagonists do (apart from drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes) was to have problems, suffer from their problems and talk about their problems.
How I hate this attitude. Yet I have to admit that "Le Passé" proves them right. This film is the worst cliché of European art-house movie come to life: Nothing ever happens and all the people on screen do (apart from drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes and shouting at their kids) is have problems, suffer from them and talk about them.
The story is about a web of relationships that are revealed through the two hours runtime. Everybody's unhappiness ends up to be depending on the question who has the responsibility for driving Samir's wife into a failed suicide attempt. To learn that we have to go through endless dramatic dialogs of who wants to leave whom, who fails to have a life with whom and who drives whom crazy.
All personalities are failures in maintaining stable relationships with each other - another annoyance to the spectator. Though there are some interesting points, like Ahmad (Marie's ex-husband) being the more empathic contact for the children and why Marie chose Samir instead of him, it could all be quite an amusing setup, but all of this remains unanswered.
The whole story reminded me very much of a typical Chekhov play, but then Chekhov wrote his studies 150 years ago, and Farhadi has nothing new to add.
Three stars for the actors, that's it.
Nous irons à Deauville (1962)
A satirical comedy that has not aged well
A great cast does not necessarily make a good film.
"We are going to Deauville" is a well-calculated comedy about two Parisian couples who share a vacation home in Normandy's mundane sea resort Deauville. The plot mixes practical jokes about the old house (like falling off window shutters and the running gag of non-working electricity) with some frivolous flirts of the protagonist couples and adds some satirical elements that make fun of the typical Parisien on vacation.
The dialogs may have been quite funny in their time, but the script has not aged well. Although some of the topics are really timeless and going on vacation on the French coast has remained pretty much the same since the 1960s, the jokes drop in far too slowly and lamely to make contemporary audiences laugh. Things that may have been risqué and funny then sound definitely dusty and worn these days. Most of the supporting roles are just too clichéd to be really funny.
Louis De Funès has a minor role, but his character does not fully exploit the misanthropic stubborn character he played in later films. I had initially hoped for a lot more Funès-like fun, I was then ready to accept a witty comedy as well, but I was disappointed both ways.
Nothing But the Truth (2008)
Great real life stories don't necessarily mean good films
I can imagine how it all started: Someone heard the story of the CIA officer revealed in the press; the investigative journalist refusing to disclose her source and rather going to gaol. And that's when this someone thought: "Wow, this story sounds Hollywood-like. We should make this into a movie!" But the most sensational stories don't always end up in good films. In my opinion, the writers here were just too careful to stick to the real story to find a movie-like plot.
The constellation has everything to deliver an entertaining movie. We might have had a thrilling courtroom drama about doing the right thing under the wrong circumstances (as we have seen in "A Few Good Men"). We might have had a prisoner drama about maturing through hardship yet sticking to one's ideals (like "Shawshank Redemption"). We might have had a journalist-against-the-government piece à la Woodward and Bernstein. We might have had the spook story at the CIA - unheard intelligence under political fire and a communication disaster.
But: Nothing. All we have is this great constellation, the story goes to print, the protagonist goes to gaol, and then nothing really happens any more. The main character endures everyday prison life, her marriage falls to pieces. Some twists from the outside, some hope of seeing her freed and arrested again, a minor contributor to the information revealed, and that's it. No climax, no solution. Just an added explanation at the very end who the source is and why the heroine protects her so stubbornly. What a waste.
5/10 because of the decent acting and the cinematography. The script, however, is just boring for the second half of the film.
Sometimes reality is not suited for entertaining movies.
Federal Germany's Leading Detective Series
"Tatort" (= Crime Scene) is one of the most popular detective series on German TV. Feature length (90 min) episodes air on roughly 30 Sundays of the year - following the evening news at 8:15 p.m.
The public network ARD that shows "Tatort" is organized federally, i.e. it consists of a dozen regional TV stations. Each regional station have their own police team depicted in their region. So, there is a Berlin team, a Hamburg team, and so on - each have their own episodes under the common label. Larger regional stations like WDR (Cologne) add 3 or 4 episodes each year, smaller ones like tiny Radio Bremen just 1.
The style and setting vary with the teams - that is part of the fun of the series. Episodes from Frankfurt have been rather vanguard in terms of cinematography and storytelling, while the Münster team is famed for their witty dialogues and comic effects.
The regional differences also lead to a competition for audiences and public attention. Viewers tend to choose what team episodes to watch - with consequences for audience ratings and public discussions about the poor scripts or the cheap productions that the Tatorte from some stations have been suffering recently.
The feature length and the producers' ambitions to show not only entertaining crime stories but also to present social issues like child abuse, integration of immigrants, or school violence lead to high public awareness for "Tatort". Episodes are regularly reviewed in quality newspapers like Frankfurter Allgemeine or Süddeutsche Zeitung.