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Age of Ice (2014)
Please, PLEASE don't watch this
Some movies are so bad that they're good. This is not one of those movies.
We all love a good bad movie. The kind that's hopelessly inept, but at least has a heart, or unintentional comedy, or some vitality or misguided ambition. Or some other redeeming quality.
Age of Ice has none of that. It's just bad in every way that it's possible for a movie to be bad. How bad, exactly? It's as bad as your mind will allow you to comprehend. It's so bad that it could kill a horse from a 100m distance.
I could enumerate the problems with this movie, but frankly I don't have the vocabulary for it. There are only so many ways you can say "horrible", "atrocious", etc. Just imagine a very long list of things that people often (or even sometimes) like in a movie. And then imagine a movie that does the exact opposite - Every. Single. Sime.
If you decide to watch Age of Ice, then may God have mercy on your soul.
Der Himmel über Berlin (1987)
Heartbreaking and wondrous
For years I've resisted watching Wings of Desire again, afraid that it would spoil the memory and be a disappointment. But watching it now, almost 30 years later, it still feels like one of the most beautiful and haunting movies ever made.
It was a stroke of genius to cast Bruno Ganz as an angel, with his aging boxer's face. The angel smiles at a child, and we can't help smiling with him.
There are many unforgettable scenes in there. The two angels sharing reports on ordinary people doing ordinary things. The suicide who jumps off a building, while the angel cries "nein!". The lonely trapeze artist proclaiming her love for life. Pretty much every scene is magic. Even the silly ones.
I don't believe in angels, but I do believe in this film. It's about kindness and love and the chaotic minds of people. It once made me realize that German is a language of poets, not of goose-stepping thugs.
The World's End (2013)
The first 3/4 of The World's End is relentlessly laugh-out-loud funny, clever and overall brilliant. Perhaps a little too similar to Shaun of the Dead, but I don't mind. Shaun was such a good film; no problem if they want to make it twice.
But then, just when the story reaches World's End, the film abruptly rolls over and dies. It tries to shift gears into... something. I'm not sure into what exactly, but the shift fails. The last half hour or so is like a completely different film - a quite disappointing one.
Still, most of The World's End is a riot. The characters are silly but engaging, the buildup towards the climax is masterfully done, and the dialogue almost reaches Pulp Fiction levels of cleverness. It's such a shame they messed up the ending.
Emotional roller coaster
(Minor spoilers ahead)
Festen is on my very short list of "perfect" films, meaning there isn't a single thing I wish had been done differently. Any possible change, in whatever direction, would likely make it a less hard-hitting experience. The message is urgent, the storytelling is brutally effective, and every aspect of the craftsmanship is simply superb. And the acting. Holy sh!t, the acting.
This is a film that must be viewed multiple times (get the DVD!). The story is quite simple, but the characters and their relations are anything but. There's so much understated history in Festen that it probably would be a trilogy if everything were spelled out.
For instance, what role did grandpa have in making Helge a child abuser? Is he really as senile as he behaves, or is that partly an act he plays to avoid responsibility? Maybe I'm over-interpreting, but I get the impression that Helge was continuing a sick family tradition. This family certainly has plenty of sick traditions.
At one point, Helge seems to be hinting at an incestuous relationship between Christian and his dead sister, but then slides over to a more general accusation of being an unsupportive brother. Is Helge trying to deflect his own guilt, or is Christian in fact more than a simple victim? The ambiguity is brilliantly done (resolved in the climax).
And the little details. When Helge changes from black tie to bathrobe, he's finally ready to change from monster to human. The symbolism here works on every level, from personal unmasking to larger social criticism.
Much has been said about the Dogme95 agenda; some like it and some don't. In the hands of a lesser director than Vinterberg, the Dogme tricks could easily come down to a gimmick, and it certainly won't work for every movie. But in Festen it's used, with devastating effect, to enhance the merciless realism of the story.
Festen is an emotional roller coaster that left me completely drained. Despite the grim subject matter, it's sprinkled with the kind of absurd, black humor that makes you laugh, and then immediately feel bad for laughing. When Helge delivers his list of nasty counter-accusations, Christian just keeps eating with this blank, detached look on his face. This is oddly funny, but it's also how clinically depressed people often behave.
In the end, Festen is a powerful, optimistic story of redemption and personal growth. The old man had to be broken so the children could start healing. I like to think that even the father came out of this a better man. The younger brother ends up a little less of an a-hole. His response to Helge's apology was another perfect moment: That's great dad, we all appreciate it, but forgiveness will take more work than a few pretty words.
Alone in the Dark (2005)
Ed Wood with a budget
The acting is adequate (except for Tara Reid). The special effects could have been worse. The plot ... just horrible. Nothing even tries to make sense. There's some native American mystical mumbo-jumbo and references to an ancient civilization. And, of course, mechanical golden artefacts and an evil scientist. Somehow this is a reason to introduce hordes of Alien-like CGI monsters and happenstance action scenes. Don't ask me how. It isn't explained in the movie.
This could have been a half-decent action flick if it wasn't for the fact that it's "based" on a superb game (one that I happen to be a great fan of). The spooky atmosphere of the game series is obviously completely lost on herr Boll. While the original Carnby sneaked through echoing corridors where every sound made the hair on your neck stand out, the movie is a standard pointless non-story about a commando squad shooting and blowing things up for utterly confused reasons. The dots don't even connect between story elements. Characters die en masse, without ever becoming characters.
This is a bad movie. Not so bad it's good, though. Just bad.
Diluted (minor spoilers)
I loved Stanislav Lem's novel for it's enigmatic mood, sophisticated humour and the thought-provoking speculation about conciousness and language. It's one of those few sci-fi stories where the techno-babble is actually interesting, rather than just a backdrop.
The movie has very little of all that. Soderbergh basically takes one of the most intriguing sci-fi novels available, removes everything that makes it interesting and presents the viewer with a massively tedious love story. Instead of subtle humour, there's a comic relief techie. Instead of filosophic speculation, there are countless closeups on Natascha McElhones face.
The ending really says it all. The novel ends with Kelvin sitting at Solaris' shores, touching the immense and silent gelatinous beast, feeling that some kind of understanding may be possible. The movie ends (surprise, surprise) with a spectacular explosion while the survivors scurry off to the rescue shuttle. That's right, standard Hollywood ending #1a. Aaargh!