Dallas Buyers Club (2013)
Funny, emotional and dramatic
"Dallas Buyers Club" has been the icing on the cake of Matthew McConaughey's very well-received performances in the last 3 years and complete career change after appearing in many not-so well received films and romcoms earlier in his career. It brought him a whole collection of awards including the Academy Award for Best Actor in a leading Role. Musician/Actor Jared Leto meanwhile took home the prize for the supporting category for completely disappearing into the character of a transsexual. Admittedly the makeup and costume helps him a lot as well and the character could hardly be more baity.
The movie is directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, of whom you may have seen "The Young Victoria". Here he has a lead actor who totally carries the film from start to finish, a truly captivating performance by McConaughey and he hits all the comic (the priest for example) as well as dramatic notes perfectly. There is still not that many movies dealing with the H.I.V. topic as you might expect there would, given it is still one of the most frightening developments of our time. Maybe that is also why this film made such a difference last awards season.
Chapeau also to Craig Borten and Melissa Wallack who are pretty new to the writer's branch and came up with a high-quality script here. If you take a deeper look, you will also find lots of historic significance. One of these would be for example the medication scandal or another is the way in which Aids is only perceived as an illness that homosexuals can get. It takes a deeper look of the main character into the matter to read about the actual facts. This movie is a story about tolerance, changing perspective and true friendship (the supermarket scene).
The first scene of the film is actually a very telling one. We see McConaughey's character during intercourse with two women. There he risks his life just like the bullfighter in the background, possibly more. It's just not so obvious. Right afterward the film seemed like the downfall of the main character and I expected the diary to run for the whole movie, which would have been truly depressing. However, it did not thanks to the medication and this made "Dallas Buyers Club" despite the topic an uplifting story full of hope.
He took from the rich and gave to... himself
Let me start this review by naming the best thing about this documentary: You don't need to know anything about art to enjoy it. There's so many documentaries out there during which you just get lost if you don't know the basics about the topic or even if you don't possess deeper knowledge. You would not understand what they are talking about at all. This one is different. You don't need to know famous artists, their works or the main differences between renaissance and baroque. The one part, where it gets a bit specific, namely when they explain how he got caught after 40 years, is explained very well, so you will understand it in any case. Actually I would go so far and say that this is almost more of a dark comedy than a documentary. In any case, it was directed and written by Arne Birkenstock, one of Germany's most known documentary makers these days.
The center of it all is Wolfgang Beltracchi, a forger. On the one hand he is a criminal who caused lots of financial damage, on the other he is truly a funny guy and it's hard to not like him from the impression you get in this film. He was sentenced to jail for what he did, but got lucky he was allowed to spend his sentence in open prison, especially when looking at how wealthy he way and how well he lived before he got caught. Today, after spending his sentence, he still makes good money with his paintings thanks to his unique past. At one point he says that it is a bit of a pity that he is not making millions (anymore) with his art and it's pretty hard not to smile.
This documentary includes 90 truly entertaining minutes and I recommend watching it. Scenes like when he puts a Beltracchi tattoo on a fellow inmate or the way they reenacted an old photo for their scheme or how his kids describe his "work" that he painted something here and there will never make you feel bored.
Der blinde Fleck (2013)
A film as messy as the incident it explores
Benno Fürmann has had a career for a long time here in Germany, but unfortunately I've never been to big on him. He always made a unlikeable impression on me and I thought if he works in anything for me, then it's probably villain roles like recently in Tom Sawyer. But he's nut supposed to be my best friend, just an actor I would like to appreciate, so when I read that there will be a new movie with him in the center and a background on German history and terrorism, I thought why not give him another chance. I did and he did not disappoint me completely.
Ulrich Chaussy (who also wrote the script) is certainly an interesting character and many actors would probably have delivered a worse performance than Fürmann. However, the story just left so much to be desired. Maybe the part where they succeeded the most was when his wife came into play, when he finally decides to give up to protect his family. All the political references felt half-baked and that's even worse as this was obviously the core of the film. The one thing which was totally out of place was a random NSA reference near the end probably with the intention to make this film seem totally relevant for current happenings. However, it was just plain bad. That's the thing you'd expect to come up in a television movie and not in a good one.
The script had several discrepancies as well. The public prosecutor, for example, stays calm when he gets asked lots of questions by the press, but starts talking to about absolutely everything to another journalist he doesn't even know (Chaussy). Maybe he liked him from minute one, but still that would not be reason enough to do so. Heiner Lauterbach was a good casting decision, but his role is also one that is just perfect for him, a man without morals in an important position. He has done that so often he just cannot fail. Not enough to save the movie though. All in all it's just mediocre TV movie level and weak for a film that is released on the big screen. "The Blind Spot" was the second feature film from director and writer Daniel Harrich, both in his career and in 2013. He worked mostly on television before. Lets hope his next projects turn out better. One of the few good things about this one is maybe that in the end the involvement of the important people was as unclear to the audience as to Chaussy, which is obviously realistic. A complete solution of what happened would have hurt the film even more. These type of crimes don't get solves, especially not for the public to know exactly what happened.
Hannas Reise (2013)
Solid road movie, but too ambitious for its own good
Let me start by saying that I enjoyed "Hanna's journey" most of the time. The lead actress was very attractive and looks pretty young for being in her early 30s. Sometimes the film was a bit cheesy and I did not totally believe the 180-degree turn in attitude of the central character, but oh well. Early on she makes pretty crass jokes about Jews and disabled, but then quickly changes during the trip mentioned in the movie title. It's just too much of a transformation to come off as credible, even if you take into account her own background. Maybe she should have been neutral on the issue early on and it could have helped the film's overall realism.
The "cheesy" I mentioned earlier summarizes the ending pretty nicely too. I won't go much into detail about what exactly happened, but it felt unrealistic to me and really more gooey than it should have. What i liked about the movie was that the main character was in a previous relationship and the way her original boyfriend was displayed. He was pretty much just like her before her great transformation. It was easy to not like him, what was probably the goal of the film-makers, but on the other hand they managed to make him not completely unlikeable as you obviously have to believe she once fell in love with him. Many other movies fail with this task and create him 100% unlikeable just to satisfy the audience when she finally ends the relationship with him and everybody says: "Oh yes great, he was an idiot anyway." The male main character was displayed accurately as well, with quite some charm and wits. The talk about atonement sex (is that the right term? you'll know what I'm referring to when watching the film) three times a week / day was pretty funny. In contrast to that, I was not too fond of the storyline involving her mother and the holocaust survivor. It's obviously needed as a bridge to the main character's past, but it all feels just forced and rushed in unfortunately as the filmmaker's attempt to make the movie more relevant than it actually turned out to be. Also the old lady did not look age-wise as if she was in her late 80s as she was supposed to be. The part with her roommates left something to be desired too. They were drawn as crass characters, but not really explored in depth, so they ended up as caricatures which was a bit of a pity.
You will enjoy this one the most if you take it for a road movie with slight historic background. Despite considerable flaws in writing/execution, it had its serious and funny moments such as the work with the disabled or the non-existing door.
Le passé (2013)
Well-written and acted relationship drama
This is the movie that Bérénice Bejo won Best actress for at the Cannes Film Festival. While I liked her performance, I would not say that she was really this overwhelmingly good. Tahar Rahim showed his potential and my favorite display here was by Ali Mosaffa. "Le passé" is director Asghar Farhadi's next project after his Best Foreign Langue feature winner "Jodaeiye Nader az Simin".
Basically you could describe it as a relationship drama. The central female character has a new boyfriend and her ex-husband returns from Iran to France to fulfill the divorce. Obviously the questions arise to what extent she still has feelings for him and if he has some for her and how he gets along with her new man etc. In order to avoid tensions her new boyfriend has to move out for a while, so the two men can't clash and get in trouble, but obviously that only works well for a short amount of time. However, there is not much dispute between the two, actually there only is during one situation which is about repairing a sink. And as if this was not complicated enough already, her new boyfriend also has his own shadows in the past, namely his wife who is in a coma and who he obviously still has feelings for.
While I enjoyed most of the film, I did not really like the whole laundrette storyline and I feel Farhadi could have come up with something more convincing than the letter references. The daughter, who was an essential domino in this part of the movie and pretty much the connection between the comatose wife and the female main character played by Bejo did not really convince me with her performance. It was all too showy and inconsistent that it sometimes felt as if there was a lack of authenticity. Early on, it was not too easy to understand who was who and how they were all related to one another.
Despite these criticisms, it turns out a pretty good movie. The final scene at the hospital involving Rahim's character is possibly the emotional highlight, the performances are mostly quality and I also liked how all characters are dysfunctional and have their flaws. If you don't look beyond the surface you may think that Mosaffa's character was a bit of a saint, but then you realize, he's not perfect either. He left his wife and children, did not appear to a date they agreed on in the past etc. This movie is certainly worth a watch, especially if you liked Bejo in The Artist, enjoyed Farhadi's previous work or are just interested in what Iranian cinema looks like these days.
The Monuments Men (2014)
Clooney movies always a safe pick these days
It seems to hardly never be the case anymore that a film George Clooney is involved with happens to disappoint me. I truly enjoyed Gravity, The Descendants, Up in the Air... and "The Monuments Men" I ended up liking a lot too. Here he reunites with Grant Heslov again (the two won a Best Picture Academy Award for Argo not too long ago and also collaborated on Good Night and Good Luck) and is also back in the directing chair three years after The Ides of March..
"The Monuments Men" was the first movie I saw with a 2014 release date and it was a swell start into the year. The cast truly makes this one worth watching, especially the Dujardin/Goodman pairing was nothing short of wonderful. Bill Murray who I'm a great fan of has his funny moments too and makes a nice duo with Bob Balaban. All the supporting characters are really the heart and soul of the film. Cate Blanchett creates an interesting more serious character and the only one in the cast who left me rather uninterested was Hugh Bonneville, maybe also because I've never been too big on Downton Abbey.
All in all, it's a really good movie. There's very minor weaknesses, such as the US flag near the end which made it a bit too patriotic for my taste or that they of course find the paintings the very last second and manage to get them away, which was all just too expected, but these are just minor criticisms. It's a wonderful movie, historically significant and with lots of humor and I especially liked the final scene with the old version of Clooney's character actually played by Clooney's real father. Being from Germany, i was also pleasantly surprised to see Justus von Dohnányi in a major role and his scene with Murray and Balaban is one of the highlights of the movie. Very much recommended.
Good summary of Mandela's life
Let me start this review by saying that I'm a huge fan of Idris Elba's work in "Luther", so I was quite curious to which extent he could pursue his big movie career with the truly showy role of Nelson Mandela, which brought Morgan Freeman an Oscar nomination not too long ago. Well.. it did not for Elba, but after reading many criticism that he just doesn't look the part, I was actually pleasantly surprised when I finally got to watch the movie. The make-up was very fine and I also liked U2's Golden Globe winning song, even if I was glad Frozen's song got the Oscar afterward.
The film is a nice biopic on Mandela from his early years up to his later years and summarizes efficiently in roughly 2.5 hours why he did what he did and how he became who he was. As this came out in the year of Mandela's death, it earns additional relevance. Here and there was a scene I was not too fond of, like the whole pants in prison focus. Obviously, it showed Mandela's early fight for equal rights, but it left me rather unattached. Director Justin Chadwick shows us his take on the South African legend here, a couple years after Eastwood in what could almost be described more of a sports movie. I enjoyed Chadwick's "Other Boleyn Girl", which received mostly bad reviews and he did not disappoint me here either. Naomie Harris worked with him before in "The First Grader" and this may not have been the last cooperation of the two. Still, I remember she received lots of early hype as a possible Academy Award favorite for her character here, but I (and also the awards world) felt she could not really fulfill the ambitions. Her character was truly militant and showed nice contrast to Elba's Mandela, but that's all there really was to her. Not the depth one had hoped for. If it's her fault or the script's fault, who knows.
As much as I was entertained by the film, I also have to say that it did not bring the outstanding moments, the main character's biography had offered and that could stay in mind for a long time. Of course, the cell he was in for decades was a central point here as well just like in Eastwood's approach. In addition, it was also nice to find out a bit about the people Mandela was working with, especially the high-profile statesmen both black and white, in shaping South Africa the way it became today. I would like to close this review by saying, despite some criticisms I recommend watching this movie and by mentioning my favorite scene which was how delighted they were after the trial that they were not sentenced to death. Still, life in prison is not a bowl of cherries either, but all that mattered that very moment was that he would live and I really liked the way they managed to depict that scene to make it relevant.
Kill Your Darlings (2013)
Allen in Wonderland
Daniel Racliffe takes up the part of notable poet Allen Ginsberg here, but I'm fairly certain most audience members of the Harry Potter generation will still see the little magician in him for years to come. So is this Radcliffe's big breakthrough movie as an adult. Not really. It's still a decent effort though and from the visual standpoint he's certainly a good choice for the character. Here he is truly interesting and somehow involved (though not directly) with his best friend murdering another man. This murder and everything surrounding it still serves as some kind of inspiration for Ginsberg.
We get to know a bit about his parents and a mental home, but this side-plot felt a bit out of place and certainly could have been omitted. Thumbs up, however, for Ben Foster, one of the most talented and unfortunately also most overlooked actors of his generation. I urge you to check out "The Messenger". His William S. Burroughs is a very fine performance and he almost steals the movie, a movie which is a bit of a first timer. Writer Austin Bunn hasn't written a film before and director John Krokidas has only done short films earlier in his career.
Having watched all Dexter season except the last, it's nice to see Michael C. Hall in a more vulnerable role for once. He does a decent job with his character and the whole homosexuality aspect is acted accurately by him. Also you can see how Ginsberg slowly transforms into Hall's character as the film progresses. He really becomes more useful than desired to the point where he even writes a defense statement for his lover who is already accused of murder at that point. The lover is played by Dane DeHaan who comes off like a psychopath just the way he is.
All in all, I can recommend this movie. It has little outstanding strengths, but it makes for a good watch. If you have seen and enjoyed Bertolucci's The Dreamers, you may like this as well. Sometimes it tries to be too extreme like the hanging scene, which wasn't really necessary, but mostly it's crafted nicely.
Ricky - normal war gestern (2013)
A story of two brothers
Apart from what the title suggests, not only Ricky is the center of this movie, but so is Micha. Micha is 15 years old, Ricky is 10 and the two are brothers and we get to see how they master the challenges of everyday life with and without the other. These challenges involve their parents for example as Micha does not want to take the path his parents chose for him. Instead of taking over the family company he aims for a career in repairing cars.
Another story-line involves Micha's love interest who seemingly takes more interest in Ricky. It's never 100% clear if she likes him "that" way, given he is much younger, but jealousy does not ask these questions and Micha is not amused when his little brother keeps bonding with the girl of his dreams if all he was supposed to do was finding out stuff about her. This side-plot added a lot to the story and I really liked the final shot with the two sitting on top of the tree and the girl going away as indifferent as always showing to some extent that their fraternal bond remained strong and did not get broken due to the girl.
Sometimes Ricky seemed almost too grown up mentally, but that was just a minor flaw. A bigger problem was the big dramatic highlight of the movie at the high tension line which just was too try-hard to be dramatic and possibly tragic and stood in complete contrast to the quietly smart rest of the movie. The car accident scene was slightly better. Other than that we get the usual teen angst topic, fear of failure, fear of being neglected etc. The love-hate relationship between the brothers was displayed accurately most of the time. However, occasionally their changes in mood were possibly a bit too extreme, particularly at one point when friends of Micha throw Ricky into the water and right afterward in the next scene the two brother almost cuddle. It's a fine line, but for the most of it, it works well and comes off as credible.
Apart from that, I liked the dog story involving the girl and everything about the treetop was nicely done too. There was no truly outstanding acting performances in this film, but everybody did an okay job. "Ricky" is director Kai S. Pieck's second feature film more than 10 years after the first and 25 years after his first short film. You can certainly say that, despite these long gaps, he still has the talent. Recommended.
Elle s'en va (2013)
Comes short, but Deneuve saves it from falling apart
"Elle s'en va" or "On My Way" is written and directed by Emmanuelle Bercot and pretty much as a whole a Catherine Deneuve showcase fittingly for her 70th birthday. She is in almost every scene in the movie and her character is the only one that is truly explored in depth.
It starts as we see Deneuve's character owning a restaurant and quickly being fed up with coordinating the whole process. So she goes into her her own form of retirement. Actually, early on, I expected the restaurant background to play a more significant role in the film, but things turned out differently. Unfortunately, aside from Madame Deneuve's good performance, the film suffers a lot in other area. The performances from those who play her daughter and grandson are not convincing at all and many characters are simply too much in the face instead of quietly subtle. As a result of that, quite some credibility is lost. The writing was not outstanding either and constant random changes in Deneuve's mood (positive as well as negative) make it look a bit ridiculous as the film goes on. Admittedly, it would probably have been even worse with another actress in the main role. Deneuve saved the movie to an extent.
The choice of music was occasionally spot-on, but sometimes off the mark too, which is a bit disappointing as the score is usually really strong in French films. One of the emotional highlights intended by the makers was probably the road trip with Deneuve and her grandchild, but even here it was not as effective as it could have been. As a whole, I can't really recommend this movie. Only one for French cinema lovers and Deneuve completionists.