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Sorry, Haters (2005)
Ah, I thought about five minutes after the film ended, so THAT'S why they put a picture of the World Trade Centre attack on the cover! It's not immediately clear why, but I appreciated being allowed by the director to puzzle it out on my own. I suspect that's the whole point of this film?
There's almost no mention of 9/11 in 'Sorry Haters', a fact that I appreciate, because I watch movies for the drama and not for the cold, hard facts. But in the tradition of all great dramas, the makers of 'Sorry Haters' have managed to make a total fiction tell us some hard truths about 9/11.
This story is one big metaphor for the dynamics between the West and Middle East. The West is embodied by Phoebe and the Middle East, by Ashade. On the one hand, Phoebe goes out of her way to stir sh*t because she's brimming with inner tension. It turns out that she probably got this way from a lifetime of being casually tormented by people around her who got what she wanted to get, but was too 'civil' to fight for. Even Phoebe's so called best friend snipes, "I wasn't an accountant, I was even WORSE: a sales rep!" (Oh how nice Philly, you shouldn't have!) The hyper-successful and outgoing Philly practically oozes a constant stream of subtle insults like this, all meant to put Phoebe in her place. Whether she's doing it consciously or not is another question. It's obviously a very ingrained habit, though.
Having been forced to compete brutally with her peers, and even her best friend, Phoebe seemingly doesn't know how to stop until she's clawed her way to the top of some sh*t pile, somewhere in the city. And she's willing to go to desperate measures to do that. It looks like all that competitive spirit has wiped out any trace of sympathy or humanity in her. It's The American Dream gone oh-so wrong... as it increasingly tends to do, these days.
I kept asking myself throughout the film why Phoebe was so bonkers: it was her single minded obsession with, 'I want what she has'. It does make you ask questions about how much you really need any of the things you want.
There's a pretty clear connection between the rise of Islamic terrorism and the invasions of the Middle Eastern by Russia, the U.S., U.K and France over the last few decades. Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq were once more progressive places than they are before the West started to get antsy about how much oil they were sitting on (or near). Every time we withdraw our troops, having failed, yet another chunk of Middle Eastern progress crumbles away for good. And the likes of ISIL and the Taliban spring up to funnel people's anger and pain into fundamentalism or civil war. Or terrorism. Of course, the problem could be solved (or at least lessened) if the West would just STOP messing about in the Middle East, but why do that when the weapons industry's making a killing from it all too...?
That's not to excuse terrorism - one attack is as bad as the other - but Western nations do like to play the innocent victim even as they go on doing things that they KNOW will add fuel the terrorists' fire.
The western world's compulsion to invade and manipulate the Middle East to enhance its own bank portfolios is very clearly mirrored in Phoebe's compulsion to violate Ashade's personal boundaries. She infiltrates his mind and controls him for the sake of saving her ego. It's insane but she's just like some of the more cutthroat businessmen I've met. She goes to radical extremes because she's bored with her routine, and exists in social isolation. The one-track mind she possesses isn't inherited, it's earned, and the business she works in rewards it.
Just like the Western world, Phoebe seems to 'have it all' but having it all's not enough. She's obviously just broken from living in her cut-throat object-obsessed world for so long. Again, the American supermalls full of dead eyed shoppers come to mind. (Sorry Haters might be interesting companion film for Dawn of the Dead or American Psycho for that reason!).
I also felt that Phoebe's character was strangely sympathetic... which is a real feat considering her actions. Bravo to Ms. Penn for sustaining that balancing act. Most western people will have felt as enraged about the unfairness of capitalism at some point, so it would have been bad to alienate all those people by making her too 'evil'. Many other actresses would have taken an easier route, but Penn keeps you guessing and wondering whether you should take her side.
I agree with the other reviewers who commented that Ashade is a little bit TOO good, though. After all, fundamentalist forms of Islam have always existed and have almost always been quite hostile toward women. It would be silly to dichotomize the Muslims as wonderfully good & pure people, just as it would have been a bit silly to turn Phoebe into a purely heartless killing machine. No one is totally good or evil. So as far as a realistic drama goes, it's a bit of a push... BUT seeing as this is a metaphorical drama, it worked out okay.
While the film opens on a city that's clearly still a bit edgy after 9/11, the ensuing tale neatly answers the question of who planted the insane IDEA of 9/11 in the minds of terrorists in the first place. Maybe it was someone like Phoebe who took "my family, my whole world" away from a stranger. Most acts of war and terror are like that, when you think of it - they're all just an externalization of the sound a mind makes when it pops.
Stylish and fast, but totally unbelievable
As a fan of both Berlin and independent film, I really wanted to like this, and was hopeful after reading the positive reviews already posted. But ultimately, they are misleading about the film's merits.
This film tells the tale of Victoria, a Spanish newcomer in Berlin who (realistically enough) works at an underpaid cafe job and speaks no German. She meets four Berlin guys at a club and her decision to stick with them seems a little naive, at first. Unfortunately, this is the most believable part of the entire film. What follows is a descent into a rather cheesy, Hollywood-style gangster underground that feels totally out of place within the humble, realistic Berlin that the directors have clearly attempted to capture in this single-take film.
The problem with "Victoria" is that the film's makers don't seem to know what kind of film they are trying to make: is it a fly-on-the-wall docudrama showing us everyday events with wildly unforeseen circumstances? Or is it a cinematic thriller with exciting plot twists that would stretch credibility if we saw them anywhere but the silver screen? The makers should have chosen one of the two things and stuck with it, in my opinion. Mixing them together has resulted in a jarring experience. Even though we want to get pulled in to the events that are depicted, we are always aware that they just would not happen in the "gritty real life" Berlin that this film attempts to capture.
Having said that, this crew has clearly got some great dramatic skills. The performances are heartfelt and exciting, despite the lack of substance. So it will be interesting to see what they come up with after "Victoria".
Come Fly with Me (2010)
Plane Insanity, Everyman-Style
People compare Little Britain and Come Fly with Me unfavourably. They say the humour is different, or that the latter is not as funny as the former. Having watched the two series' back-to-back in a matter of weeks I have to say I disagree. The humour is essentially the same. The difference is a matter of targets.
Little Britain famously made fun of the disadvantaged and peripheral elements of the UK population: the people that everybody prefers not to see. At the same time it celebrated the English eccentricity in a weird way. We saw the disabled, the flaming queers, the transsexuals, the illegal immigrants, the chavs & council estate skivers as players in the national drama, even if only satirically. That was a first for British telly. The catch, and what made their style of satire acceptable, was that many of these people were not actually what they seemed: Ting Tong was actually a man from Tooting, Andy was actually able bodied, Dafydd was actually a repressed queer-hater, etc., etc.
The characters satirized on LB were freakish, fringe characters who were almost guaranteed not to be part of BBC's viewership. They were people that you would be more likely to see terrorizing the streets and the newsagents, stuffing themselves with cakes over a bodice-ripper or (as I imagine in Lou's case) watching obscure documentaries and re-reading newspapers from the previous decade. It was satire with a large element of "I'm glad that ain't me" humour. Those two styles of comedy are usually incompatible but in LB they found a balance; half the audience seemed to be laughing at the Walliams & Lucas duo while the other half was laughing with them. But the humour in Come fly seems to have sent those two camps scuttling back to their respective sides of the humour divide.
Come Fly With me targets more familiar faces and it's failing seems to be that it is set in an average setting, peopled by average characters. It satirizes people who have the time and money to use airports regularly - people with respectable dayjobs, authority and status; people with a shot at a managerial role. Basically, it targets the half of the audience that laughed AT the freak parade that was Little Britain. They are much more stable, affluent and secure characters than inhabited Little Britain - the kind of people who like to think of themselves as 'average' men and women, and that they should be able to hide behind their averageness.
I suspect that Little Britain fans who dislike Come Fly with me makes me are the same ones who never really understood LB's more satirical elements. They might have laughed at Little Britains' freakshow because, "I'm so glad that's not me" but they never recognized that the joke was also on them, at least in part. Walliams and Lucas took mainstream preconceptions to extremes and subverted them in unexpected ways. Basically, I think that Come Fly with Me hits hits too close to home and has dented the vanity of a certain BBC-watching demographic. That's why less people can take it and it's also exactly why it makes me laugh. I really hope there will be a second season of this!
I spit on this (g)rave!
If you want to know how London's 1999 club scene would have looked to a square, middle-class director who presumably loves every style of music except for techno then by all means, go ahead and watch this film!
The mixes in the club scenes sound like they were put together by a dodgy vinyl-touch program (I think even Judge Jules would have turned his nose up at them). The club crowds are portrayed as hopelessly thrilled, ironically overdressed, chronically overjoyed, continuously boogeying and mind-blowingly high. They are so over the top that, in the end, they are just boring. I've gone to tons of clubs, raves and underground parties in London and if I would have ever walked into a party like the ones shown in this film, I probably would have assumed that someone was shooting a bad movie there and left. I probably would have been right, too, and that bad movie probably would have been Sorted.
I am fully aware that Sorted shows London's techno scene the way that it might look to outsiders but that does nothing to improve my opinion of it. I cringe to think that this is how the finest days of London's club scene are being portrayed in foreign countries (I picked up my copy of Sorted in Germany). No wonder Europeans don't go clubbing in London anymore!
As of now, I am still waiting for someone make a good film about London's club and party scene. And as for Sorted, it's going in the bin. Pah.
Blood Ties (2006)
Flawed but still fun.
This series is up against some stiff competition, airing as it does during the same era as Being Human, Vampire Diaries and True Blood. It is also following up on the heels of some classic supernatural television, namely Buffy the Vampire Slayer and X-Files.
What it does well at is keeping up a suspenseful plot arc and terse dialogue that keep things moving. At times, the dialogue crosses the line from terse to vague and clichéd though. All the actors seem highly competent, and manage to stay in their roles even when given poor lines - thankfully, this isn't a problem in every episode.
What I really noticed while watching this is how poorly its style and special effects compare to similar other shows. Both X-files and True Blood are favourite shows of mine and both obviously did a lot of research to keep up with the fashion, music and lingo of their time. By comparison the music, conversations and fashions in Blood Ties seems like they were pulled from a 1995 Style Guide - or worse still, from a Sears catalogue! The intro song, in particular, sounded so cringe-ingly outdated that I had to mute the television every time it came on. It's a shame, because Canada has some great cutting-edge music and fashions to choose from but in this series, it's painfully obvious that the budget (and imagination) needed to track it down just weren't there.
However, I think that most of these flaws stem from Canadian underfunding of television and the arts. When will this country's government get with the (television) program and realize that, by denying its budding stars a decent stage to shine on at home, it is driving all of its talent away? Probably never... it has been a huge problem for decades. Still, Blood Ties gives one the sense that talent still exists in Canada, even if it is doomed to languish in a latent form.
Red State (2011)
60 percent good, but the other 40 percent could be better.
This film starts as a horror/torture porn flick but then thankfully segues into a character drama before then switching genres again and becoming a kind of inadvertent tribute to the X-files ('The Field Where I Died' episode comes to mind).
Loved the in-your-face socio-political commentary, which was sharply observed and very much lacking in modern films. The anti-gay sentiments expressed seem fairly true to life, at least where certain small, middle American towns are concerned. Unfortunately, the political theme was weakened a lot by the end of the film due to lack of development.
I also enjoyed the film's dramatic middle portion, which showed a lot of promise with its inventive storytelling. Hopefully, next time Smith will run with that ball instead of sacrificing his carefully-crafted plot and best characters in order to make a weak political statement. The acting was great and much more could have been made of that.
Overall it was a unique film and is worth a watch, especially if you are in a patient mood!
I actually am reviewing this film just to push its rating up because I think that the current rating might put people off who would otherwise really enjoy this film.
Berlin Undead is a 28 days later style horror flick with realistic (rather than Hollywood-style) characters and a believable storyline. The low-budget doesn't affect the quality at all, except where the special effects are concerned... thankfully, the director seems to have been aware of this weakness as he has limited their use.
Watch it late at night and I'm pretty sure you'll get creeped out and/or have trouble sleeping afterwards... which is what horror is all about!
The Wild Man of the Navidad (2008)
A perfect sequel for Texas Chainsaw Massacre
The Wild Man of the Navidad is as authentic as a retro horror film can get. Every detail from the garish 'Tenocolour' opening credits, down to the local yokels delivering their stilted dialogue, seems to have been deliberately crafted to give the impression that one is watching an old school slasher film/public television documentary from the early 80s. The only reminder that one was watching a modern film was a hunter's wife wearing a noughties-style outfit halfway through the film. If it weren't for that detail, I would have doubted that I was watching a film from the 21st century.
Other reviewers critiqued the films flaws but to me it was obvious that these flaws are intentionally left in, because they add so much to the retro B-movie vibe. That the film isn't technically perfect just shows the film makers expertise in making retro films. I found the characters amusingly whacked-out and the Wild Man scenario a funny, bizarre variation on the Texan massacre theme. It wasn't the scariest film ever but the wild man attacks kept the action moving along at a fast pace.
So if you are in the mood for an twisted but fun little horror flick then The Wild Man of the Navidad is the movie for you.
Black Death (2010)
Less biased against 'witches' - but not by a whole lot.
This movie sets out to examine the nature of hate in a tribal blood feud situation, using the eminently famous example of the clash between Christian and pagan Europeans which resulted in so-called 'witch' burnings. At first the storyline seems cut and dried: a group of male Christian believers crossing the country on an unquestionably holy mission to secure a necromancer for punishment. They are 'good' and the necromancer and his all-female entourage are 'evil'. The filmmakers then pull the rug out from under the audience's moral standing at several points, challenging its presumptions about the people on each side.
Despite the gritty, pull-no-punches feel of the film, its makers seem to quail at pointing serious blame at the Christians for their ensuing clashes. Maybe they are intimidated by the Church's still-considerable influence in modern times (and in Germany, where the film was financed and shot). While the filmmakers seem to be saying that there are good and bad people on both sides of any battle, they can't seem to avoid painting the Christians as a little bit 'more good' and a little bit 'less bad' than the pagans. When pagans attack the Christians the scenes are heavily sentimentalized via emotional music and heroic slow-motion. The pagan victims of Christian attacks, on the other hand, are treated brusquely. Their bloody fates are rationalized in an efficient way by the cynical crusaders, like animals to slaughter.
Despite the ending, which offers an almost tongue-in-cheek reversal on the 'good Christian vs. bad pagan' theme, this film fails to convey a proper amount of remorse regarding the 'witch' trials. It is probably true that the trials were the end result of endless skirmishing between Christians and pagans during the first millennium A.D., and yet the period depicted in this film was a time of relative stability in the Church's power. As such, any 'witch trials' conducted during this time were bloody-minded demonstrations of power by a religious dictatorship. To portray the pagans as possessing the level of influence depicted in this film is a distortion of historical fact.
This is one reason why I was siding with the pagans for most of the film, despite their portrayal as scheming cultists. The other reason is that they came across as more civilized, eloquent, cleaner and better-looking. The Christians on the other hand, were rude, sexist, cynical mercenaries who were covered in dirt. Even so, they deserved to have a lot more mud slung in their direction.
Berlin Calling (2008)
A missed opportunity to inject some morality into the scene
I have to be honest, this film is realistic but for all the wrong reasons. Yes, the music is fantastic; yes, the venues are authentic (or appear that way). But I have met and befriended about half a dozen DJs whose behaviour fell within the spectrum of Icka's selfish, arrogant, immature world-view and I can tell you that their behaviour did not lead to the simplistically realised 'happy ending' (such as it is) which is portrayed in Berlin Calling.
The ending scenes in particular left me feeling that the makers of this movie actually believe in the same gloriously-decadent vision that they condemn Ickarus for having. They really seem to be saying that minimal techno is an end unto itself;that all the drug addiction and relationship failures that play a part in its production are just a means to an end, a drop in the ocean of 'immortality' that comes from having one's name etched on a piece of wax. Ickarus' family, best friends, lovers and admirers are all portrayed as mere accessories to his dream; willing slaves to his quest for fortune and fame. Berlin Calling would have been a much better film if its makers had dared to question the greed (both emotional and material) which bound to it in the first place.
Near the end of the film, Icka's Dad blames his son's behaviour on the fall of the Berlin wall. Personally, I found this to be a lame attempt to tack some sort of logic onto the pointlessly infantile behaviour displayed by Ickarus - who for all the world comes across as a spoilt brat. If only there was some proper character development in this film - either in Icka or his supporting (and tellingly, largely-female) cast, then his selfish behaviour may have made sense. But as it is, you come away thinking, this is a guy with too much money and too little brains to appreciate it. In other words, he's about as political as a silk Gucci scarf!