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Highly relevant but sadly disappointing film
"We are young, we are strong" is the fictionalised retelling of the Rostock-Lichtenhagen riots of 1992. It does this from three angles, a group of right-wing kids, a family of Vietnamese immigrants and a local politician. Most of the focus being on group of kids. While it shows the kids and the Vietnamese family as diverse and complex characters, it is far less successful with the local politician who ends up as little more than a story-telling device.
The film makes a good fist at detailing the path the kids take on their way to becoming rioters but ultimately ends up being so much less than it could have been. The problem is not that there are basically no likable characters in the film, the problem really is that there are no interesting characters that would actually make us care much about what they do. Almost every character in the film is infected by this peculiar German film trope of playing their roles as "brooding, quiet, contemplative". Jonas Nay, so excellent in "Deutschland 83", here comes across as just disinterested which makes his actions at the end of the movie when he becomes one of the principal instigators in the riots all the more puzzling.
I had also a bit of a problem with this movie and the roles that women play in it. The only female role of substance was Lien (Trang Le Hong) a character who was rebelling as much against her environment as she was against her own family. Other female roles were little more than token love interests to spur divisions between the main male characters. There was no background on any of them, no motivation shown, they were "just around".
The lone standout in the film is Joel Basman who plays Robbie. A character who starts out as somewhat likable, even though he is a deranged hothead who bullies his friends. But after being on the receiving end of violence at the hands of one of his gang he ends up an even worse person. He is probably the only character that we end up caring about, even if we never like him.
The biggest problem with the film is that it barely gives any hints or background behind the riots. It only illustrates how a bunch of kids who start out as violent misfits end up, pushed on by some neo-Nazis, into throwing molotov cocktails. It never shows how they became those violent misfits in the first place and barely gives any reasons (spurious as they may have been) into what triggered the riots started in the first place. In particular, it completely leaves out one of the biggest culprits in the whole sorry saga, the local media who are shown here throughout as simply reporting rather than being some of the key instigators that they were. It also leaves open a lot of questions that I would have loved to see answered, such as why the police were pulled out at what seemed like the most critical point.
As relevant as this film is, it ultimately is just not that interesting.
A truly original episode
Coming up with something completely original is never easy, but this episode of BoJack Horseman is really unlike any other in the series or anything else I've seen for that matter, and it's brilliant! I won't dwell much on the specifics here because, had I read a description of it, I probably wouldn't have been interested in seeing it.
BoJack Horseman has always been a show where the creators have a lot of fun with the whole concept of a world where intelligent animals coexist with humans. This episode really makes the most of this environment as BoJack attends an underwater film festival where his movie "Secretariat" is being shown. The "Underwater Film Festival" naturally is in an underwater city in the pacific ocean and the underwater world is one aspect that really makes this episode special. There is so much going on in the background, it's even more impossible to get it all in on a first viewing than with other episodes. Little touches like cars driving on the left, alcohol patches, or how what seemed like an insignificant joke about the thumbs up gesture ends up hilarious by getting re-used in several different contexts.
The character of BoJack Horseman has really come into his own too. Initially through the first part of season 1 it seemed a bit like this was going to be yet another "I used to be famous" type of story, but the character has developed into so much more. This really shines through when he's attempting to return a lost baby and tries to make things right with Kelsey Jannings whom he got fired as director of Secretariat.
A truly beautiful episode that I had to watch again right away!
The Iron Lady (2011)
So much less than it could have been.
It's impossible to watch a movie about Margaret Thatcher with a completely open mind. She was such a divisive person that anyone old enough to at least remember her years as Britain's PM will have a ready-made opinion of her. So with that in mind I have to declare my bias and say that I thought she was an absolute monster. This meant that I expected that I would hate the film too. Well I did hate it but not for reasons I expected.
There are a number of problems with this film, but the biggest is that it's just not very interesting. Yes, I absolutely hated Thatcher, more than any other politician I can think of. But even with that, a film about her life should have made for the fascinating story that I'm sure it was. It's just that the film doesn't show it. I wanted to find out how she became the person that she was, what the key events in her life were, what her influences were, what drove her. The film only ever hints at these. For example her entire university period is covered in a 20 second scene of opening a letter and declaring "I got into Oxford!". And that's the last you get of university or her professional career outside of politics.
As for her political career, the major touchstones are all there but just briefly run through. The miners strike, Falklands war, Brighton Hotel bombing, poll tax, being dumped by the party, etc. It's all there but there is nothing revelatory about any of them. They are just shown here to tick the boxes.
What is given major airtime though is present day Thatcher as she comes to terms with Dennis Thatcher's death and the loss of power. In these parts she is shown as a fairly tragic figure. The problem is that this is really not particularly interesting.
The other issue I have is with the film's absence of politics. Oddly for a film about Margaret Thatcher, the film goes to lengths to sit on the fence. It has brief parts of cheering for the underdog as she breaks through the boy's club of the 60's and 70's British conservative party and politics in general, and it also shows her as absolutely incapable of accepting advice and as being very cold-hearted, but that's as far as it goes in painting here in either a good or bad light. As much as I despised her, I would even have preferred a film that turned her into a hero instead. Anything else than this attempt at having it both ways. It tries so hard to not offend either side that it ends up offending both.
Now for the good parts. Meryl Streep and Jim Broadbent! "Meryl Streep nails it" has become almost a cliché but she absolutely does. She just shows again that she's head and shoulders above anyone else in the business and I reckon this is her finest role today. Similarly the often underrated Jim Broadbent is fantastic as Dennis Thatcher, pretty much the only sympathetic role in the film. Another point needs to be made about make-up, for which this film won a well-deserved Oscar. The subtle transformations throughout the movie as it traces a fairly long time-line is incredible.
Prey of the Jaguar (1996)
No cliché left untouched
Wow this was bad! This really felt like a McBain movie from the Simpsons. The basic plot premise in a few words, a special operations cop working for some shadowy government organisation puts a bad-ass drug dealer behind bars, and in the process killing his son and dad. The drug dealer, who for reasons unknown has an English accent despite having a Spanish name, breaks out of prison 8 years later and goes after our hero who has since retired. He's also been in witness relocation and managed to get himself a family that is too perfect for words. Bad guy drug dealer finds him, kills his wife and kid, then kills him, only our hero doesn't die and is out for revenge.
This is a cheaply made, entirely predictable, badly directed movie that features some of the worst acting ever put straight to video. The scenes where Maxwell Caulfield laments his killed family are so bad they end up being hilarious. There is no revenge movie cliché that is left out here. Let's see : - bad guy kills hero's family - check - hero's wife is pregnant when she's killed - check - hero is retired and just wants to be left alone, until they come after him - check - hero is killed, only he doesn't die - check - shadowy government organisation - check - the bad guy sports an accent - check - lots of easily disposable henchmen - check - ancient Chinese martial arts teacher - check
I feel sorry for Linda Blair for ending up in trash like this. Here she plays a cop who, unlike the rest of the police, is supportive of our vigilante hero. The entire film feels like it's a set up for a series of movies with Linda Blair playing Commissioner Gordon to Maxwell Caulfield's Batman. Pray that they failed!
Dawn of the Dead (1978)
I first saw this movie shortly after it was released at a friends place. He was really into horror movies and had loads of videos but for some reason this one always stuck in my mind. I finally got to see it again some 26 years later and I can definitely see why I remembered it. This is far better than your average b-movie horror fare. While it definitely looks cheap in parts (i.e. much of the zombie makeup), overall it actually looks a lot better than what it's budget would have let you expect. But what really lifts this above the rest is the plot and director George Romero's skill. The four leads are quite well developed which is important here since virtually all dialog in the movie is between these four characters. Although all four leads were relatively new to film acting at the time, and it shows somewhat.
There were quite a few scenes in here that I instantly remembered on seeing it again. The rednecks shooting zombies for sport, running through the mall while zombies stumble all around and the bikie gang at the end virtually toying with the zombies. That last one also ads an entirely new element to zombie movies where you almost feel sorry for them.
Another element that really serves this movie well is that it's got a lot of humour. Large parts of it are not particularly scary and except for a few scenes it's not all that gruesome, compared to a lot of horror movies. But it more than makes up for this with humour. Not the over the top humour of, say a "Scary Movie", it's much more subtle than that and is never driven home with a sledgehammer. But scenes like the zombies returning to the mall after their death because "this place was important to them" or the way that the four survivors gradually turn their warehouse part into a modern 70's luxury pad is absolutely hilarious.
I've not actually seen any of the other Romero movies, nor the remake of this but it definitely made me want to see all of them now.
The Bourne Supremacy (2004)
Bourne, Jason Bourne
I've never read any of the books, nor did I see the original 70's version of "The Bourne Identity" so my take on the first movie and this sequel is from a fairly fresh approach. That said, the actual plot is not exactly groundbreaking. An agent with amnesia that has the good guys and the bad guys after him sounds like standard Hollywood fare. What sets this apart though is that the script is far cleverer than your average spy thriller. It kept well clear of most of the very obvious film cliches. This was much more than just a couple of links between car chases and explosions and it was quite light on plot holes.
So I'll divide this into good and bad things about the movie. For the bad; Why did they need to frame Bourne when they were going to kill him anyway? Also, other people have mentioned the shaky camera. This does in part make the movie more realistic and ads another layer of action, but it made me physically ill too. And finally, the CIA appears to have ridiculously easy access to European police forces and things like security cameras or police information. I hope that's just artistic licence rather than reality....
So much for the bad parts, what was good about the movie; The story felt quite believable, for a Hollywood movie anyway. It didn't have outlandish explosions and the character's actions seemed logical and straight forward. You have to suspend your disbelief somewhat for the Jason Bourne character's abilities, but other than a couple of situations where he relied on being able to, well, punch his way out of a situation he basically did the most logical thing that most people in a situation like this would probably do. There is only one situation where he has to rely on another person performing a certain task at a very specific time, in this case making a call to the CIA superiors, that is so prevalent in other movies. Matt Damon makes an unlikely action hero but is perfect for this type of role and handles the it well. The biggest plus in the movie was its used of locations. Not just is it far more interesting to see a film taking place in cities like Berlin, Naples or Moscow but it also stayed very true to those locations. When Jason Bourne arrives in Moscow by train from Berlin he gets off at the real train station in Moscow for example, even though he seems to get there quite fast. I've done that trip once and it took me 25 hours.
So overall it was a very good action movie, although I'd still rank it slightly behind the first movie.
Una pura formalità (1994)
Film making does not get much better than this. This combines clever writing with great cinematography and fantastic acting. Without giving away too much of the story, Gerard Depardieu plays Onoff, a burnt out writer who finds himself at a country police station in the middle of the night in a big storm. He is being interrogated by Roman Polanski for a murder. However, this plot is just a framework of something bigger which I'm not going to give away here. The whole film takes place in one night and virtually the entire movie is shot within the police station.
There are a lot of things that aren't initially clear in the movie and this is definitely one that rewards repeated viewings. The ending is unexpected but after knowing how it finishes, watching the movie again really helps you pick up things that will make a lot more sense than on first viewing. This all makes it sound like a complex movie to watch, which is true to some point. However what makes this so rewarding is that even if you don't realise everything that is going on here, it still is fascinating to watch.
The cinematography is excellent and gives the movie a really claustrophobic feel. The attention to detail is quite breathtaking too, there is nothing that goes on that hasn't got some relevance to the story and much of it is not really obvious on the first viewing. The writing is very clever and I'm sure it was an inspiration for movies like "The Sixth Sense".
All this is good by itself, but the two things that really lift the movie above any number of other great movies is the acting and the use of language. Depardieu has made some stinkers in his time, which isn't surprising considering his workload. But that doesn't change that he can be one of the finest actors around. He's certainly not afraid to come across as a very ugly man here, physically and emotionally. But while great acting can be expected of him, the real revelation is Roman Polanski. He doesn't act in a lot of movies these days, in fact the only other movie I've ever seen him in was "The Fearless Vampire Killers". He plays the Inspector who admires Onoff but nevertheless has to interrogate him. The exchanges between him and Depardieu are an absolute pleasure to watch. Polanski speaks surprisingly good French and although Depardieu gets the better lines, as he would since he's a writer, Polanski is the smarter person and ultimately outwits him.
The acting, and indeed the entire film, has a bit of a theatrical feel about it. One the one hand you could almost say that it's bad acting since it never feels like you're watching anyone else than Polanski and Depardieu on screen. But they deliver their lines so well and work of each other so well that this is totally inconsequential. The other thing I have mentioned before is the use of language, this film is full of memorable lines and not a word is wasted. This is probably the closest I have seen films come to pure poetry on screen.
Future generations will divide the world into people who love South Park and those who hate it. Obviously no one who hates the TV show will like the movie. Those that like the series are in for a treat though. Parker/Stone have been given a lot more freedom here than they have on TV and it shows. The opening 20 minutes with Terrance and Phillip's movie "Asses of Fire" is hugely over the top, even for South Park standards. It's also one of the funniest things I've ever seen in a movie.
The writing is very good, and many of the incidental characters have a lot more depth than in most live action movies. This shows particularly in characters like the Canadian Ambassador (in fact every Canadian), Saddam Hussein or the mole, one of the funniest characters ever created. Although after that initial opening burst the movie seems to run out of steam a bit, it does pick up again towards the end. Like the later TV episodes it also starts getting a bit preachy in parts and tries to hammer home its point a bit obvious, although this doesn't really take over as much here. Basically it rallies against blind censorship of people who rather see laws implemented than looking after their own kids. In a predictable move, this ended up being the exact scenario when the movie was released.
The movie is actually an improvement on the TV show and meant that watching the series was for ever after a bit of a let down. There are so many great ideas hidden in this film, like Saddam & Satan, Bill Gates, making the movie a musical or the hip hop remix of Terrance & Phillip's song. Two negative points, Chef is criminally underused and this movie has to be just about the shortest feature ever released.
Kudos to Channel 9 for showing the un-edited version.
Dirty Deeds (2002)
Finally David Caesar makes a good film
It took a couple of attempts but finally David Caesar has come up with something watchable. Dirty Deeds is set in 1969 Kings Cross where Barry Ryan (Bryan Brown) runs a crooked scheme siphoning off a large percentage of pokie machine winnings. Other than the occasional tussle with competition this runs well for him when the US Mafia decides to get in on the scheme and send Sal (Felix Williamson) and Tony (John Goodman) to either buy or muscle their way in.
Barry's nephew Darcy (Sam Worthington), having just returned from a tour of duty in Vietnam is recruited straight away by Barry to, amongst other things, look after his mistress Margaret (Kestie Morassi). Before long they show a lot more interest in each other than Barry anticipated.
The two mafia characters, Sal and Tony are very different characters. While Sal is more of a shoot first, ask later type, Tony is a bit older and not particularly happy with what he's done with his life. Neither really trusts the other and are not sure what the other is really up to.
The film looks far bigger, budget wise, than anything David Caesar has done before and is far more entertaining to boot. It shows 1969 Sydney as a mix between Hicksville and happening place. There's a lot of fun to be had with 60's fashion, particularly some of the wallpapers and room decors are worth the price of the movie ticket alone.
Bryan Brown basically plays a similar character to most he's played so far, although here he is truly in mean mode. He plays his character very well and is well and truly the films centre piece. His character is superficially a bit similar to his Pando character from "Two Hands" but here he is much more scheming and the contrast from his family persona to the crook persona is not as pronounced.
Sam Neill has a minor role as a corrupt cop who can walk into a crime scene where Barry and Darcy are dragging away two people they killed and pronounce it a "murder suicide". He plays very much against character and is all the better for it.
There's a bit of a running joke on the fact that no one in 60's Australia knows what Pizza is which I found a bit hard to believe. There were lots of Italian immigrants there by that time anyway. But then I'm not old enough to remember that.
This is a very enjoyable film and one where for once I truly didn't know which way it would end. That's achieved without even making the ending full of surprises and twists.
Little Voice (1998)
A real surprise
There have been quite a few movies set in economically depressed northern England recently, like Billy Elliot, Brassed off or The Full Monty and this one sits in neatly with those. This movie is also a real surprise packet though. I can't say I expected much from a movie about someone who sings show tunes but this was a rather pleasing affair. Jane Horrocks is best known as the airheaded Bubble on Absolutely Fabulous. Here she plays an entirely different character as the painfully shy LV who grows up singing along to her dad's show tunes records in her bedroom.
Living at home with a totally overbearing mother, she hardly leaves her bedroom when one day Ray Say (Michael Caine), one of her mum's one night stands hears her singing. He is intent on making her a star for not entirely selfless reasons. This however is not as simple as booking her gigs and getting publicity. Much more is involved in actually getting LV to sing on stage. Ray may not have many talents but he can smooth talk and so eventually gets her to agree.
There are some very good performances in this movie, particularly from Michael Caine as the initially well meaning manager who very quickly becomes a ratbag when he gets the first inklings of becoming big with LV's act. Michael Caine has done his fair share of real stinkers but when he's good he's better than most. Then there's Jane Horrocks performance as LV which may not be that outstanding acting wise but her singing is truly amazing here. The standout performance though comes from Jim Broadbent as Mister Boo, the owner of the nightclub where LV performs. He tells really bad jokes, introduces even worse acts and and wears horrid clothes. This was a bit reminiscent of Alexei Sayle's Bobby Chariot character but Jim Broadbent doesn't look down on this character. Instead he makes him quite likeable. Brenda Blethyn is good as well as LV's mum who wears way too much make up and is LOUD in every sense. It would have taken a bit of courage to play a character that is despicable in every sense like this.
This story was written around Jane Horrocks talent of impersonating singers like Shirley Bassey, Marylin Monroe or Judy Garland and while this may not be to everyone's taste, it comes of remarkably well here.