Monday, December 20

2010 Roundup

I have not seen every movie that was released this year. In fact, I have probably seen less then half I wanted to see this year. There still is a slew of movies I'm absolutely going to see when they get released here (Black Swan, Somewhere, True Grit, The Kings Speech). So this list of "awards" is going to be lacking at best. Nevertheless, I would like to point out some of the highlights of this year.

2010 has been a bit of a weird year in terms of movies. A lot of established directors have turned out great films, some new names have appeared out of the blue and some potentially game-changing movies were released. It was also the year the 3D really got hold. But overall, I think it's one of the better years in recent memory in terms of Hollywood movies. I'd like to give credit to some of the best ones here.


Special Mention: Hans Zimmer for Inception. Not only was it a really good score, but the sound BRAAAAAW suddenly became a very funny punchline. Thanks for that. 

Runner-up: Daft Punk for Tron: Legacy. A mix of classical sounds with their catchy beats which is just absurdly epic.

WINNER: Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for The Social Network. They would have won this award for their reworking In the Hall of the Mountain King alone, but the rest of the soundtrack is just as good. It made a movie that was already great even better, yet it also holds up on it's own. Without a doubt the best soundtrack of the year, and perhaps even one of the best albums period.


Honorable Mention: Mary and Max. Even though it was a complete surprise to many, those already familiar with Harvey Crumpet knew what to expect. Even so, it's a delightful little movie that uses clay to convey moods, which just might be the best way to use the stuff.

Runner-Up: Exit Through The Gift Shop. Most people went to see this movie for a single reason: Banksy. This enigmatic figure is one of the revered artists of the last decade, and possibly the one that made us all look the silliest. But the movie didn't really reveal anything about the man: in fact, it only shrouded him in mystery even more. It was, however, a very funny documentary (mockumentary?) that made some pretty nasty comments about the state of art right now. 

WINNER: Kick-Ass. Even if it didn't turn the superhero mythos as much on it's head as I would have liked, it was still a major surprise to anyone who didn't follow the comic book world closely. Empire opened their review with "Where did this come from?". Roger Ebert gave it one star, his lowest possible rating. And nerds everywhere witnessed what's perhaps the first indie superhero movie. Hate it or love it, there's no denying that this really shook up some dirt.


Runner-Up: Another Year. This movie shows us a married couple and their friends going through a pretty typical year in their lives. Nothing much happens, very little changes, and it ends in much the same way as it starts. I was spellbound for an hour and a half. Only Mike Leigh could have pulled this of, and made one of his best movies ever while doing so.

WINNER: Four Lions. The basic question Four Lions asks is this: what if the terrorists aren't a network of highly-trained radicals, but a bunch of absolute idiots? The answer to this is of course: that would be hilarious and terrifying at the same time. Four Lions's main characters are a group of gormless fuckwads who decide to participate in the holy war, but even though they're made fun off a lot the movie never sympathizes with their cause. It's one of the most original and interesting movies made about terrorism to date, precisely because it tells us a story from the inside that isn't as serious as you might expect. Kudos  also to director Chris Morris for having the enormous balls to flip terrorism the bird.


Runner-Ups: a tie between Inception and The Social Network. After years of only Pixar and Tarantino telling us some really intelligent stories, the success of these two movies just might bring the good screenplays back into mainstream Hollywood. I certainly hope they do.

WINNER: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. This wins solely for the fact that it didn't just mix established genres, it mixed entire media. Comic book storytelling and video game logic were all seamlessly blended in with film by Edgar Wright. This is made all the more impressive by the fact that it's still simply a blast to watch.


Nowhere Boy
The Kids Are Allright
Un Prophete

So, yeah. I haven't seen them yet. 


The Human Centipede
Valentine's Day
The Twilight Saga: Eclipse

I honestly wonder which one of these would make me puke first. Not that I'm any hurry to find out. 


Runner-Up: Toy Story 3. It simply does everything right, and then goes the extra mile. It's the best Pixar yet. What's more to say?

WINNER: Inception. There are two things that Hollywood films have always been good at: character-driven stories and special effects. Cristopher Nolan, in one of the bravest moves of the year, blended a complex and refreshing plot with stunning visuals, and made one of the most unique films of the last 10 years. It's not since The Matrix that a blockbuster movie has both challenged and entertained us so much, and for that it gets my title of Best Movie of the Year.


The best song of the year? Nah. But certainly one of the most overlooked ones.

Saturday, December 18

Shorts Circus: The Cat Piano

I saw this at the Holland Animated Film Festival a while back, and it absolutely enchanted me. Especially wicked for fans of noir.


Saturday, December 11

Pulling Rabbits: On Hayao Mayazaki

We all owe a lot to Walt Disney. He and his team have given us movies that are imaginative and colorful and have become dear childhood memories for generations on end. A side effect to all this, however, is that animated movies are now almost automatically labeled as “kiddie movies”. This is a shame. Animation is as good a way to tell a story as live-action, and in many cases it allows for things that are simply impossible in “real” movies. Point in case: the films of Hayao Miyazaki.

Miyazaki is the head of Studio Ghibli, and that name alone is enough to have many a filmnerd squeal with glee. Under his supervision this animation studio (which is one of the last one left which still works with hand-drawn animation) has created movies which should (and are beginng to be) recognized as the modern classics they are: Spirited Away, My Neighbour Totoro and Grave of the Fireflies, among others.

What a sweet old man.

The choice to keep working with the time-consuming method of hand-drawn animation isn’t simple stubbornness, though. One of the adavntages of drawn animation is that everything in the frame is put there by the same means. In effect, this means that the characters all look like they perfectly blend in with the world, even if they’re non-human. In live-action with CGI you can clearly tell which characters are real and which aren’t (see Avatar), but in an animation film humans can interact with demons, animals and forest spirits without them looking out of place. And that is exactly what Miyazakis characters do. Even though a normal world is sometimes hinted at (see the beginning of Spirited Away), all his movies plunge into a mystical world of shapeshifters, enormous insects and witches.

Which is not to say his movies don’t mean bussiness. Far from it. In Princess Mononoke a giant demon-monster, who seems to be build entirely out of crawling worms, attacks a village and kills everything around him until he is stopped. This happens in the first ten minutes of the movie. At the climax, a god is shot in the goddamn face. And for those of you who have seen Spirited Away: remember No Faces angry rampage through the bathhouse, eating everything that crosses his path? Not the kind of stuff you’d call family friendly. 

Oh yes, that's EXACTLY what you think it is

A lot of labels have been put on the work of Miyazaki: humanist, feminist, environmentalist. But I think those are hollow statements. Miyazaki isn’t a political activist. He doesn’t try to make any sort of point. He’s just trying to tell a story. And if that means having strong female characters: so be it. Which, truth be told, makes it a lot more enjoyable to watch. No-one likes getting a point rubbed into their face, after all. Even if he has any cause, he treats in the best way possible: not by telling everyone how right he is, but just telling a story while assuming it.

What sets Miyazaki apart from so many other modern filmmakers is that he isn’t cynical. He looks at the world with a child-like wonder, and tells about it with the wisdom of an old man. He is one in a long line of bards, the type of persons who tell the stories of their ancestors in their own special way. And like the other bards, Miyazaki is too much intertwined with his craft to ever give it up: even though he announced his retirement in 1997, he came back four years later to make Spirited Away, which promptly won him an Oscar.


And once again an Icelandic song for Miyazaki. What is it that makes their styles line up so well? Maybe it's the whole "island" thing, or all the fish... Well anyway, here is Sigur Rós

Wednesday, December 8

Shorts Circus: Cashback

Let's take a detour from our plunge into insanity and take a look at one of the most artistic and beautiful short films I know.



Tuesday, December 7

The War on Information

I normally reserve this spot to talk about movies, but I feel compelled to write this piece. I think there is something going on right now which will drastically change the world in the future, and people are mostly overseeing it. This won't be an opinion piece, since I haven't made my mind up either. The only thing I want to say is that this subject is going to be big, and possibly a landmark for the world in which we will live in the future. And that most people today are too apathic towards it.

That subject is Wikileaks.

The direct reason for me writing this is this article. It turns out that Anonymous, the most well-known and possibly the most powerful collective of hackers in the world, have declared their support for Wikileaks. And to show it, they have begun attacking websites which have cut ties to Wikileaks. No websites were brought down, and it was a pretty harmless affair all in all. But it's what the spokesperson said that really got me thinking. I quote: "We feel that Wikileaks has become more than just about leaking of documents, it has become a war ground, the people vs. the government".

The people vs. the government. Let that sink in for a moment.

I take this as a declaration of war. This would mean a civil revolt. And the thing is that for one of the first times in history, arms would be not be taken up against a government because they were oppressive, but because of their very structure. The governments that are most affected by the leaks are democratic ones (or at least try to be) and are generally considered not to be corrupt police states. It's not the people in the government that are revolted against (they were voted in, after all), but the very structure of those governments. Or, to be more precies: the fact that the western world is currently being run in a way that allows (and in many cases even forces) their government to keep information from their citizens.

This is a bigger deal than it seems like. We live in an age where information is the most valuable resource there is, and people have gone to war for much less. And if this should turn into a citizen revolt for the free spread of information, the government is bound to lose. Anonymous hackers are the guerilla soldiers of our time: they can strike hard, fast and mean, and disappear without a trace. The music industry and Scientology (among others) have gone to war with them, and they didn't stand a chance. Coupled with the fact that this is one of the biggest distribution-of-information scandals ever, and certainly the most politically harmful, this has the potential to turn into a full-scale war between the government and the hackers.

If this war is truly fought out, things are going to change. Big. What the hackers are advocating, true transparency, is impossible to achieve with the power structures we have at the moment. Diplomacy without any holding back is like a relationship in which you constantly have to tell the other person what you dislike about them. It just doesn't work. And if the hackers manage to get the government on their knees, (this isn't all that hypothetical: if they get serious about it, they can completely block the information flow) we will see a complete restructuring of the power structures we have lived under for over 200 years.

I admit that this scenario has a lot of conditions to live up too, mot of which will probably never be realized. For my money, the hackers will probably call it quits long before they can claim their places as kings of the trolls. But as someone who has spent some time on the internet, I can assure you that this is going to change things one way or another. The music industry got a pretty bad shock when confronted with Napster, something they are still recovering from.

Imagine that happening to our governments.

The point to all this isn't that something should be done about this. I wouldn't have the faintest idea what to do. But I am absolutely sure that this is going to be a turning point in the way the internet will be used and structured in the future, and convinced that this is going to influence the way we are governed in the future. Reading up on it wouldn't be too bad an idea.


Yeah, what else?

Friday, December 3

Shorts Circus: Mr. Ando of the Woods

This is, quite possibly, the strangest thing ever. Which makes it awesome.


Review: The Deer Hunter

Let me sum up what I know about the Vietnam war:

- The hippies were against it,
- The Americans lost it,
- It really, really sucked to be in it.

As you might have guessed, almost everything I know about this war comes from movies. But it's pretty amazing how alike most Vietnam movies are: they show some nice dudes who go off to war, and they slowly go absolutely mental. That's the basic plot of Full Metal Jacket, of Apocalypse Now and, yes, of this one. But even though this movie is considered just as much a classic as those other two movies, The Deer Hunter tells that simple story in such a boring way that you really shouldn't bother.

The movie stars Robert DeNiro, Cristopher Walken with a babyface and John Savage as the guys about to go to war. These are tough guys, which the movie shows by having them handle tons of molten steel in a factory. Subtle. We see these guys hanging out, getting drunk, and hunting deers. This goes on for almost an hour. And they talk an awful lot. A. Very. Awful. Lot. In one of the final scenes of this first hour or so, there is a bit where the bunch goes hunting and John Cazale (who plays one of the main characters friends) forgot his boots. He asks DeNiro if he can lend his spare pare. DeNiro refuses this, because Cazale always forgets his stuff. The rest of the guys tell him he's a dick, and eventually he lends Cazale his boots. This simple conversation takes more then 10 minutes to complete. Sure, it might typecast the characters, and it might be "realistic" but this endless torrent of dialogue makes their words almost meaningless. And it is boring as shit to watch. Besides, wasn't I watching a movie about the Vietnam war?

Yes. In a single cut, we are thrown from the safety of a late-night bar to the action in Vietnam (this is pretty awesome, I'll give the movie as much). DeNiro, Savage and Walken are captured by the Viet Cong and are forced to play Russian Roulette. This is the one part of the movie everybody remembers, and with reason. It is pretty damn good. It's tense, gory and it really shows these guys battling something as elemental as chance. Good stuff. But before you know it, they escape and all get hauled back to safety. Chris gets a chance to flex his acting skills in a great shot where he breaks down from the PTSD, and then it's back to America for these boys. And that is where the shit really hits the fan.

When the guys come back, something happens that no-one ever saw coming: the soldiers are having trouble getting back to their normal lives. Gasp! This takes up the full final hour of the movie. As you can imagine, this is once again boring as shit. We see De Niro breaking down in his hotel room and crying on his bed. This scene lasts forever, and tells you something that you could have guessed would happened from the get-go. Maybe it was shocking back then, but it's not like PTSD is some problem that gets ignored on a large scale anymore.

I think that's the main problem with this movie. We already know what it's trying to tell us. This was one of the first movies about the Vietnam war (made even before Apocalypse Now, but that wasn't really about the war), and it was pretty explosive back then. But watching this movie is like watching a movie about the Holocaust now: we know it happened. It was terrible. But unless you can show us something we haven't seen before, it just won't move us anymore. I'm sorry if I'm a jaded person, but I just don't feel any great human tragedy in this movie, nor do I think many people from my age will. I won't advocate a boring movie. This one can get kicked out of the canon right away, if you ask me.


P.S. If you're interested in an original take on the Vietnam War, check out Rescue Dawn.

Loads of good songs about the Vietnam war, but I think this is one you've never heard before. Listen to the lyrics, they are incredibly powerful.

Sunday, November 28

Movies You Should Totally See: Synecdoche, New York

I was browsing DVDs with my mother one day when I stumbled upon this movie. I enthusiastically urged her to buy it, and she asked me what it was about. I thought for a while, and then said: "everything". She didn't buy it. Everything was too much for her.

I can see why she did this. Synecdoche, New York is not a movie for people who just want to unwind after a long day. In fact, of all the movies I have ever advocated on this blog, this might be the one that the fewest people will appreciate. Even the critics were polarized about the movie: Roger Ebert called it the best movie of the decade, while others called it pretentious, too complex and generally stuck up it's own ass.  And I have to admit, you have to swallow quite a bit of Charlie Kaufman's crazy imagination to make any sense of the movie. But if you're willing to give yourself over to the movie you will find it's incomparably deep and moving. Or at least unlike anything you've ever seen before.

Synecdoche is first and foremost about life. The story is true to it's source: huge, complicated and sometimes downright bizarre. We follow the protagonist, Caden Cotard, from his midlife crisis to his death. The first part of the movie shows him being just another unhappy guy with a broken marriage. His job as a theatre director grants him some satisfaction, as do his awkward flirts with the receptionist Hazel, but even in those areas he mostly ends up frustrated. It's then that he gets the chance of a lifetime: a grant of 500.000 dollars to make a play. His ultimate work of art. He sets out to recreate his entire life in a gigantic empty warehouse, and hires actors to play himself and everyone around him. When the original people and the actors who play their love interests start falling in love the movie gets so devilishly complex that I won't even attempt to explain it. 

Synecdoche is not a movie in which the symbolism is subtly interwoven with the movie. The symbolism is the movie. Everything about the characters, from their names to their tiniest actions, is relevant and meaningful in some way. But I appreciate Charlie Kaufman (the director) for doing this. He takes the audience seriously, and throes them into the deep to show it. There is so much to say and to discuss that no time is wasted on stuff we can figure out by ourselves. It doesn't make for easy viewing, but it helps make the movie as labyrinthine and massive (in the best way possible) as it is.

This is not a happy movie. In fact, it's a rather sad movie. It shows old people who got busy dying (to quote a phrase) a long time ago, and are now desperately trying to leave some mark behind. It also a movie about how we are all trying to set up our lives like an enormous play, with ourselves as protagonists, just so we can make any sense of the crazy world we live in. This movie is a slap of reality and a dreamy exploration of life at the same time. Both a movie about creation and destruction. Both a flawless masterpiece and a self-absorbed pretentious pile of shit. Maybe I was wrong about saying that this movie was about everything. In a very strange way, this movie is everything: beautiful, worthless, strange, haunting, saddening, and ultimately pointless. Like all great art. And like all great pieces of art, this is not something you will ever completely figure out or agree about. Which is exactly what makes it worthwhile.


Ladies and gentleman: The Album Leaf!

Thursday, November 25

Shorts Circus: Hot 'n' Cold

This is basically just a silly video I found. Next week I'll return to the more serious stuff, but I liked this so much I thought it would be worth spreading.


Wednesday, November 24

Review: Princess Mononoke

Something that has always intrigued me about Japanese movies is their use of mythology. Most western movies deal with evil as something that is inside people, something you can avert by living virtuously. But Japanese movies, with their pagan mythology, deals with morality in a completely different way. I'm by no means an expert in anything Japan-related, but my impression is that they view the struggle between good and evil not something man is spiritually caught in between, but physically. You can at any moment get attacked by demons for no particular reason. If you don't fight, it will kill you dead. End of story.

Besides the fact that this is much manlier, it offers a completely different movie-watching experience. Instead of focussing on the psychology of one or two characters and have the story driven by them, Japanese movies often feature a large group of people struggling with forces as elemental and massive as life and death. Their intentions are clear, and you can mostly sympathize with their struggles, but the morality of their actions is never clear or simple. Couple this with the wealth of symbols of Shinto, one of the largest polytheistic religions in the world, and a very rich folklore, and you have enough source material to make some pretty magical films.

And that is exactly what Princess Mononoke is: magical. Not magical in the way that Disney movies are magical, that's pussy magic. Magical in the same way you feel when you see the world from atop a mountain, and realize how huge everything is. Magical in the same way you feel when you watch the stars on a quiet night, and reflect on your vulnerability and the mysteries of the universe. Magical in the same way you feel when you walk on the grass barefoot and daisies get stuck between your toes. 

Those little fellas are called Kodama. They are basically the coolest thing ever.
Princess Mononoke tells the story of Ashitaka, a young prince whose village gets attacked by a giant demon god. When he kills the beast, a curse is put on him. The village elders tell him that there is nothing he can do about this: the curse will slowly deteriorate him until he dies. Without as much as a blink, he accepts his fate and sets out to the west to find and destroy the source of this curse. When he arrives, he find himself in the middle of a conflict. There is a war going on between Lady Eboshi, a militant woman who runs an iron forgery and Mononoke, a child raised by wolfs who hates humans and tries to protect the forest she lives in. It's a masterstroke that Miyazaki didn't make this conflict one-dimensional: Eboshi might destroy the forests for her industry, but she is also the caring head of an entire village of people who are really quite nice. And although Mononoke might seem the ideal protector of nature at first, she is also a moody and vengeful child with little regard for anything other then her own ambitions. And then there is the mysterious Deer God, the deity of the forest who seems to represent the natural order of things, without the meddling of man.

This is only one of the many tales that goes on within the world of Princess Mononoke. A slew of secondary characters (that would be able to carry an entire movie on their own) inhabits the movie, but their stories just play in the background, without really influencing anything. It really feels like the movie takes place in a universe on itself. This is helped more than a little by the absolutely gorgeous animation. Hayao Miyazaki is the head of the only film studio in the world that still works primarily with hand-drawn animation, which basically makes him a saint in my book. The drawing is so amazingly beautiful and complex that it's a miracle it works in motion, but it does. Fantastically.

Imagine this thing moving.

Anyone still dismissive about the merits of animation will be convinced by this movie. It tells a tale that could never have been told by live-action, in a universe that could never have been created with live-action. This is not a children's movie. Not even a teenagers movie. This is epic Japanese fantasy in the legacy of Akira Kurosawa, and if you're in any way interested in having your mind blown you should not let this pass.


I think there are very few people on the planet who can express the atmosphere in movies like this. Jonsi is one of them.

Saturday, November 20

Movies You Should Totally See: American Psycho

I noticed that I had discussed almost every director I had anything meaningful to say about in my Pulling Rabbits pieces. So I decided to start a new column, styled after Roger Eberts Great Movies column. My goal is to make a list of movies that are not only good, but also accessible to people who aren't very much "into" movies. So no matter how great they are, films like A Bout de Souffle or Battleship Potemkin won't be on the list. Nor will movies like Star Wars or The Matrix: everybody has already seen those anyway. No, what I want to focus on are movies that receive a lot of love from their fans, but are a little too often overlooked by the general public. I know this definition will be controversial, but please don't complain if a movie is more well-known then I thought.

Okay, on to the movie.

Patrick Bateman is everything you want to be. He is successful, rich, sexy and always impeccably dressed. He is born into wealth, educated at Harvard and currently residing in a lofty penthouse in Manhattan, with a view over Central Park. His hobbies include listening to music, working out and attending formal parties.

And randomly stabbing people to death.

Beneath his "mask of sanity", as he calls it, Patrick is a sick, deeply perverted psychopath, who has zero regard for the lives of people whom he sees as "beneath him". This is almost everybody. But that is not to say he is simply apathetic: there are some thing he cares about very deeply. He literally becomes sick to the stomach when one of his business partners has a better business card then he does, for example.

The way the film portrays this thouroughly skewed set of values is one half of what makes this movie so great. Everything we see is shows through the perspective of Bateman himself. Which means that all the bloody murder is shown in a way that is just as trivial as Bateman perceives it, while the business card scene seems to take forever. That is what's truly important to the man, after all. This modus operandi, combined with a great style, makes it sometimes pretty hard to take a step back and realize that these are business cards. And that this guy is a serial killer.

But it's the worldview of the movie that sets it aside from a normal slasher flick. Bateman, even though he is deeply disturbed (he even admits this himself), just doesn't get stopped. By anyone. He operates in full view, but no-one really seems to care. His belongings and his looks are the only thing people judge him by, not who he really is. And maybe, just maybe, his rich and successful friends know but just don't mind. I mean, who misses a few hobos?

Or some cheap whore?

It's not hard to see why anyone would want to stop Jason Voorhees, but Bateman just has the luck to be born in a time where a good image can make or break you. Regardless of who you are. Just think of all those young starlets of whom the entire world has an opinion, despite never having met them.

This film is a very biting satire of yuppie culture, and with those people plunging the world in the worst economic depression in a century it has only become more sickening. I don't think that drawing a parallel between dealing irresponsibly with the lives of so many people worldwide and direct murder is overdrawn: the amount of people that have literally died of famine because the bank account of the world is in the shitters far exceeds that of any serial killer. But what really made my stomach turn is the realization that we live in a society that not only keeps these people in charge, but actively encourages them to take the crushing risks they took.

For the more literary among you: this is THE adaptation of Bonfire of the Vanities. It's not an easy movie to watch, and you should definitely avoid watching it with your parents, but if you can stomach some gore you are in for a very intelligent view on a society that is, sadly enough, still very much reminiscent of ours.


This song is about a different serial killer, but no less chilling.

Shorts Circus: Rejected

I think I have already shoved this under the nose of everybody I know. I only post it here to make the collection complete.

As to introducing: this is the only movie I ever downloaded to put on my iPod. Ever.


Review: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

This movie is going to be my nostalgia. When I am old and smelly, this will be the movie I will play on my holodeck 3000 while telling my grandchildren about "the good old days". Even if this movie is not going to be wildly successful (and thus far, the box office seems like it isn't) it will probably still be a major inspiration to many filmmakers for years to come. And even if that fails, it can still claim its rightful place as one of the most daring and best attempts to capture the zeitgeist of the moment.

Scott Pilgrim himself is not exactly what you'd call a normal hero. One part of him is the charmingly incompetent hero we find in every romantic comedy, a role on which Micheal Ceras career was pretty much built. But his other part is an irresponsible, whiny, selfish, lazy hipster, who actively keeps up the image of being a lovable chump so that people won't judge him (props to Cera for taking his career in this direction and still delivering). Scotts plans seem to be working out pretty well: even though there is a whole lot of unspoken pain in his social circle, no-one seems to be to eager to bring this all down on him. He just lives his precious little life of playing in his shitty band Sexbo-bomb, playing videogames and living off his cool gay roommates money. Even when he starts dating a 17-year old (who is obviously deeply in love with him) because he wants "something simple", no-one really calls him out on it. Enter Ramona Flowers. Scott falls for her like a brick as soon as he sees her, but it turns out that just being the lovable chump won't work this time. Ramona has seven evil exes, whom Scott has to fight each one of them in order to win her heart.

Totally worth it, though

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World might not be what you expect of it. You see, while the battles are certainly there (and are certainly awesome), they are not really fights. They are metaphors for coming to terms with Ramonas past. Pilgrim himself is a massive nerd, and the way he makes sense of the world is the one he knows best: with video game logic. Coming to terms with his girlfriends past is just another achievement to get, the boyfriends just another row of baddies to plough through. And although it might seem like a bit of a gimmick, it actually gives the movie quite some depth. Making sense of the world in movie, video game or comic terms is something a lot of young men do these days (I do it all the time), so why not show their entire world working on that specific kind of logic? But the rest of the characters, and how they're portrayed, is also very reminiscent of young adults nowadays. Their dialogues, their relationships (both friendly and lovingly), how they spend their free time, which pop culture references they make... it's all spot-on.

But just because the movie is groundbreaking in many respects does not mean it doesn't have any weak points. The decision to adapt six comic books into one film (although probably a wise one since the chance on a sequel is nil) gives the film such a breakneck tempo that it's sometimes hard to keep up. The supporting cast is also a lot less fleshed out then in the comics, which is a shame because it's an incredibly solid one (I <3 Kim Pine). But the biggest disappointment to me was the soundtrack. Even if you take out of the occasion that it's Beck, Metric and Broken Social Scene (swoon) at work here, the songs are all generally meh. Only the track Black Sheep by Metric is in any way memorable. I know a part of it is supposed to suck on purpose, but c'mon Beck. I know you can do better.

But even though Scott Pilgrim vs. The World stumbles at times, this is more due to the fact that it tries too much then too little. It might not be a brilliant film, and in a decade it will probably just be as outdated as The Graduate now, but please don't let that stop you from watching it. This is a film that boldly captures todays young adults, and does it in a way that will very much appeal to those people. Namely, this way:

I don't care if he's supposed to be the bad guy, I WANT THAT JACKET

This movie deserves more then just becoming a cult film. Definitely worth seeing. 


Video games.


Thursday, November 11

Pulling Rabbits: On Mike Leigh

I'm pretty sure Mike Leigh doesn't actually exist. There were probably just some British actors who decided that no-one gives them any decent roles, so they just made a movie themselves.

Those last two sentences are lies, of course. Mike Leigh does actually exist, and he has made some pretty damn good films. But there is a grain of truth in that last bit. You see, when most people want to make a movie, they write (or find) a screenplay and then film it. Some people follow theirs religiously (Hitchcock once quipped: When an actor comes to me and wants to discuss his character, I say, “It’s in the script.” If he says, “But what’s my motivation?”, I say, “Your salary”) while other directors allow their actors a degree of improvisation. But what Mike Leigh does is something quite different.

Oh you sneaky fuck, you

First he creates a basic premise and a rough story line. Then he gets a bunch of actors together. He tells them who their characters are, and then lets them just live those peoples' lives for a few weeks. Not the fancy life that they will lead once the story starts rolling, just their everyday life. The best dialogue that come out of these sessions gets written down, and are later used in the film. And while filming, he often keeps the plot twists from the actors so he can register the genuine surprise on their faces.

You can imagine how this is pretty much the best preparation you could wish for as an actor. So it should come as no surprise that his movies always feature nothing but stunning acting from every single person involved. He has people playing in what ought to be award-winning performances in secondary roles, just because his main characters are so fantastic. Just watch David Thewlis (who deserves to be remembered for more then just playing Lupin in Harry Potter) acting his ass off in Naked, and you'll see what I mean.

I know I have used this image before. I don't care.

The major advantage of this is that Leigh doesn't have to flee behind flashy action to make interesting movies. He fully utilizes his fleshed-out characters to make small, human-focussed drama in the best sense of the word. Vera Drake, for instance, is about a woman in her fifties who illegally preforms abortions. And although it is impossible to doubt her good intentions (Vera is one of the sweetest, most selfless people in any movie ever), what she is doing is still illegal and, more importantly, doesn't always end right. When the police knock down her door after one of her "helpings" goes drastically wrong and the whole things comes crashing down (to the complete surprise of her entire family, who didn't knew about all this) we are faced by that classical dilemma: should one be judged by his intentions or by his actions? That is human drama in it's purest form.

Although a lot of filmmakers try to bring this to the screen, a surprising amount of them fail. Either they have to retort to interesting set pieces (which isn't necessarily bad) or they make a boring movie (which is in my opinion one of the worst things you can do). But Leigh mastered the tricks of the trade long ago, and he doesn't show any sign of stopping either. It's sort of uncanny actually. You know, I am sure about the whole "existence" thing, but I just realized I haven't screened him for secret mutant powers yet. More on this later.


Shiver me timbers, the dude is British! Wasn't there this one band from Britain that was pretty decent?

Oh yeah.

Wednesday, November 10

The Directors ABC

Note: this is what happens when I get bored.

A is for Allen,
Whose taste is unbeaten,
He is pretty neurotic,
And banged Diane Keaton.

B is for Burton,
who paints everything black,
then makes things all curly,
and then pans waaaay back.

C is for Chaplin,
Whose hat and whose cane
Made him quite famous,
And also quite vain.

D is for De Palma,
Whose films are real gory,
But despite the dumb accents
They tell a good story.

E is for Eastwood,
Who was a cool actor,

He always looked grumpy

And now he’s a director.

F is for Ford,
Who made movies with horses,
And cowboys and indians
And loads of armed forces.

G is for Gilliam,

Who at first was a Python,
but who can’t make a movie

About some dude fighting giants.

H is for Hitchcock,

Who had the power
To make everyone scared

Of taking a shower.

J is for Chuck Jones,
Who made silly cartoons,
And was the mind behind
All the Loony Tunes.

K is for Keaton,
Who had a face made of stone.
He did not even flinch
When he broke half his bones.

L is for Lynch,
who makes things askew,
but he makes sure the thing
you fear most is you.

M is for Murnau,
Who was a bit of a prick,
But at least his vampire
Sucked blood and not dick.

N is for Nolan,
Who made a great Bat,
Which I hope he will pit
Against a very hot Cat.

O is for Olivier,
Who played the bard in his youth,
And when he got old
He drilled Dustins tooth.

P is for Park Chan-Wook,
Who won’t make you smile,
But you’ll have to admit:
The fucker has style.

Q is for the Quay Brothers,
Who make weird animation,
Which is never, however,
very long in duration.

R is for Raimi,
who, without too much money
made three horror flicks
that are still really funny.

S is for Shyamalan,
Whose twists made us cheer,
But the only thing dead now
Seems to be his career.

T is for Tarantino,
Who makes some people sickly,
but his movies kick ass,
And he talks really quickly.

V is for Von Trier,
Who hates fancy equipment,
And to travel on plane
he is quite resistant.

W is for Welles,
Orson was his name
He ended up fat,
but made Citizen Kane.

Z is for Zemeckis,
Who likes christmas and swords,
And chocolates and aliens
And hoverboards.

Monday, November 8

Shorts Circus: Heaven Can Wait

I have somewhat of a collection of crazy videos on Youtube I keep showing people to convince them of my insanity. So I thought that it would be fun to put them on here as well. Some of it's going to be pretty, some of it's going to be funny, nearly all is going to be incredibly weird.

I will try to update this every week along with my review and Pulling Rabbits, but if I run out of cool videos I won't settle for half-assed stuff.

Let's kick off with both one of the strangest and coolest music videos I know: Heaven Can Wait as preformed by Beck and Charlotte Gainsbourg and directed by the magnificent Keith Schofield.

Turn the your resolution up to 480p when the video starts,
the quality sucks otherwise.


Review: The Social Network

There are only two things you really need to know about The Social Network: it's really good, and it's not real.

The news that David Fincher, the maker of films such as Se7en and Fight Club would be making a movie about Facebook turned quite some heads. Wasn't Facebook something that pretty much embodied everything Tyler Durden was against? How the hell was that going to work? But it all worked out fine.
This is probably because the movie is hardly about Facebook: it's about people making something. And judging by the movie, you'd be surprised that that something is all about social interaction. Mark Zuckerberg is shown royally screwing multiple people over and he isn't the only one who seems to not be completely right in the social department. Be it not being able to connect to people or being just a little too good at it. The title of the movie is deeply ironic: this story shows things are anything but social behind the scenes of everybody's favorite distraction from work.

The movie is about the kind of people who basically run our daily lives. It is a sign of the times that one of the most powerful people of the world right now is a 26 year old dude with an alarmingly big brain. And if there is one thing the movie makes clear, it's that his kind of person definitely has some other pitfalls then the elderly, elitist men who have basically run our shit for all of human history. Two of the supporting characters, the Winkelvoss brothers (two identical twins of blue blood and quite the manners) seem to represent this old class, and their outrage over the fact that Zukerberg stole their idea (although the movie never really condemns him as such) might be taken as a very clear example of the current dispute between traditionalist, closed-source intellectual property advocates and their fast-moving, anynomous hacker opponents. But I might be reading a bit too much in it now.

Our future leaders will walk around like this all day

Every critic and their dog has already been screaming about the virtues of the movie, and it's not hard to see why. The soundtrack by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, the acting of each three of the leading men, one scene in the beginning when Zuckerberg gets hammered and builds a website that would eventually lead to Facebook: they are all things that would make any other movie worth seeing on their own, and The Social Network has all of these things and more. And even though I was a little disappointed that their wasn't really any hard-biting critique against the website (who better to deliver this then the man who made Fight Club, after all) this is easily one of the best movies of the year.

Which brings me to the second thing you ought to know: it's not real. It's not even "based on a true story". The screenplay of the movie is based on a book called The Accidental Billionaires which was quite controversial and quite some more facts have been lost on their way to the big screen. This is not a bad thing (it has lead to a good movie, after all), but be on your guard when watching the movie. If you really want to find out what happened, do some research. Don't let this film become your only source of information on the matter.

What's left to say? Just go see the damn movie. Everybody's going to be talking about it within a few days, and it's going to end on every "Best of 2010" list in existence at the end of the year. It sure as hell will be on mine. Oh, and get the soundtrack when you get home. It's one of those rare ones that hold up on their own as well.


I only break my "no soundtrack" policy if the soundtrack has something better to offer then anything I can think of. This is one of those moments. Turn up your speakers before you press play.

Saturday, November 6

Review: Toy Story 3

Toy Story 3 is set about 10 years after the event of part 2. Andy is now 17 years old and getting ready to leave for college. The toys haven't been played with for years, and he decides to put them in the attic. Through a mix-up (you know how these things go when you're moving) the toys end up at a daycare instead. And although it at first seems to be a heaven compared to all those years in Andy's toy box, it soon becomes evident that the daycare is run with an iron fist by a dictatorial pink teddybear called Lots-a-Huggin', who seems to have taken crib notes from both Don Vito Corleone and Blofeld. The toys soon find themselves imprisoned, and decide to escape

Okay, so that's the story. I shall use the rest of this review to list everything that is amazing about the film.

No. 1: the sweet merchandise

No. 2: it is amazing with how much attention to detail Pixar has worked out their premise. They squeeze almost every logical consequence out the simple fact that their main characters are toys. This ranges from philosophizing on what it exactly means to be a toy (and trust me, this goes deep) to a constant awareness that these characters are not more then 10 centimeters tall, yet they still have to use stuff that was made for people who are about 20 times as tall as them. Imagine you having to do this.

No. 3: It's amazing how much depth Pixar has put in their films without sacrificing the fun. I will now list the themes in this very entertaining film:
- The thin line between true commitment to a cause and becoming delusional in your importance in the matter,
- The corrupting effect of power,
- The pursuit of ones purpose in life,
- The ruthless passing of time,
- The struggle of combining a youthful approach to the world while still growing up,
- And, most importantly, mortality and the acceptance of this.  

I shit you not. Pixar movies always have had an enormous thematic richness, but this movie surpasses every single one of them. Maybe it's because the main characters have already been established in the previous two films (although Buzz still has some surprises up his sleeve) and the cast can now be put up against external forces, so to say, but whatever the case, it's rather staggering.

No. 4: the beautiful character models and the buttery smooth animation

Speaking of characters: No. 5: it's amazing how well each everyone gets characterized, even if they have only 2 minutes of screentime. There is this one hedgehog doll, who is called mr. Pricklepants (heh) and who is voiced by Timothy Dalton (heh heh). He fancies himself somewhat of a Shakespearean actor, complete with an utmost devotion to staying in character. He has virtually no importance to the story and has maybe like 10 lines, but you still get the feeling you know exactly whom your dealing with. He even manages to get a few jokes in. This is quite something for such a bitpart, and you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone outside maybe Robert Altman using all his characters so vividly.

But all of that is basically just filmnerd babble. I think the most convincing argument I can give in favor of the movie is this: at one point, I stopped the movie to think about what was happening and what it meant. At one point, I stopped the movie because I was laughing so hard I was afraid I would miss something. And near the end, I didn't stop the movie because I was almost crying. Don't let anyone fool you into thinking this is a kiddy movie: this is, by any standard, a great movie, simple as that. Pixar have outdone themselves once more, and that is really saying something.


At first I just liked this song for here, but it turns out the music video is totally awesome as well!

Tuesday, November 2

Pulling Rabbits: On The Coen Brothers

I don’t think that people properly realize how incredibly strange the Coen Brothers’ films really are. They have an uncanny talent to lure you into the depths of their demented minds and make you feel just a little too comfortable there. And before you know, a group of nihilists torturing a stoner by throwing a ferret at his genitals doesn’t seem all that strange.

Nothing to see here, move right along

I think this is one of the reasons some people tend not to "get" their comedies: they don’t get funny until you realize how absolutely ridiculous they are. Burn After Reading, for example, is a movie that is made like a spy movie, but it is actually about a bunch of absolute idiots who hump and kill each other over something that is completely worthless. There is this great plot element about “classified” information that is really just some dudes memoirs. They are not important. To anyone. But the movie is made with such suspense it’s hard to pop this bubble. But when you do, laughter will ensue.

This actually makes sense in the movie

The Coen brothers have something you might call a rythm: first they make a noirish, serious movie, then they make a screwball comedy. Rinse and repeat. They have made 15 films so far, and only two of those don’t fit in that mould. But don’t think for a moment that this makes their movies predictable. Especially their endings are pretty unique: sometimes everybody ends happily ever after (Intolerable Cruelty), sometimes it’s uncertain what is going to happen (Raising Arizona) and sometimes everybody simply gets murdered (Burn After Reading).

But the thing that really makes their movies differ from each other is their setting. Now, when most directors make a movie somewhere, they either shoot in a place where the scenery is nice or somewhere where they can rent cameras cheaply. But when the Coens make a movie someplace, the movie looks and sounds like the spirit of that place. Fargo is set in Minnesota, and the movie just gives you the chills, so cold does it look. Oh Brother, Where Art Thou is set in the American South, and everything looks  like the brothers dragged their celluloid through the Mississipi river. They don’t use settings. They use places.

From Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?

The Brothers themselves are notoriously difficult to grasp, and their films never seem to truly open themselves either. There always is a little edge, a little something that can never really be explained. Maybe that's what always drives me back into the demented world they create. I don't know. The only thing I know is that I always return for seconds.


I could write an entire essay on how the works of Sufjan Stevens and the Coen Brothers share similar tones and themes. For now, let me just suffice in sharing this wicked song with you. It's from the album Illinois. Get that album. It's brilliant.

Monday, November 1

Review: Batman

When little Bruce Waynes parents where shot down before his eyes, he decided to rid his city of evil. He trained in a monastry, studied forensics and disguised as a bat to strike fear in the hearts of his enemies. Sadly, this tale is entirly fictious. But if Batman were real, the first thing he would do is probably beat up Tim Burton. Not for murdering his parents, but for butchering everything that ever made the character great.

Batman (the film) is something the obese, cynical thirtysomethings that write the internet tend to drool over with glee. Micheal Keatons Batman was even featured as the second-best Batman in this very amusing article (property of So my hopes were up somewhat when I set out to watching the movie. And anyway: it’s Tim Burton! How bad can it be?

Awful, as it turns out.

The story of Batman is about the most basic one you can tell with the entire mythos: there’s Batman, there’s The Joker, there’s The Girl, Joker tries to take over shit, Batman beats him up, humping ensues, ya di ya di ya. We also get treated to both of the characters’ origin stories somewhere along the line. Nothing new here, and certainly nothing that could be called creative storytelling.

Batman is basically nothing of what it should be, and whatever it does right is rather irrelevant. For starters: the acting is blander then a mouthful of unbuttered toast, and just as hard to swallow. How the hell did they ever make Jack Nicholson, one of the greatest actors ever, play The Joker, one of the greatest villains ever, with such a complete lack of depth? This is by far the worst acting job I’ve ever seen the man do, and compared with something like The Shining it’s almost a disgrace. But Keaton is even worse, somehow. I don’t think it is humanly possible to be a more boring Batman. He never gives the impression that he is the vigilante badass we all love him for. Instead, he just stands around in his silly costume and looks like someone just hit him with a brick over the head. Then he walks over to a bag guy and punches him with the velocity of a ladybug. Said bad guy then falls over. (…) Thrills!


The script is downright stupid as well, the lines are cheesy and some of the supporting characters are downright annoying. There is this papparazo guy who is both annoying AND usesless to the movie. The movie seems to realize this halfway through, after which he just sort of disappears. Even the music is mediocre, and it was written by Danny Elfman, for Christs sake! The man is a goddamn superstar of movie composers, but given this mess of a movie even he doesn’t know what to do.

And you know what? I wouldn’t have mind. I wouldn’t have given a shit about every nasty thing I just said if the movie would just be fun. But it isn’t. In fact, it’s boring as hell. It’s NOT to much to want movie starring the goddamn Batman to be at least fun.

This movie is basically just a parade of great moviepeople working miles beyond their full potential. Just watch the Nolanmovies again, they are infinitly better.


Aaawh yeah.

Thursday, October 21

Review: Splice

Science fiction horror has, paradoxically enough, always been more about people then anything else. But it makes sense if you give it a little thought. Human drama is always about confronting characters with situations that are new to them, thus creating conflict. And what makes a better drama then setting the characters (and the viewer) up against something that is truly new, namely something that hasn't existed before? Which is what monster story writers have been doing for almost 300 years now.

Take, for instance, the famous story of Frankenstein. A man builds a creature. He is, however disappointed in his work and abandons his creation. The "monster" then vows revenge and starts killing people close to his creator. When Frankenstein (the scientist, not the monster) dies, however, the monster can be seen grieving at his dead body.

If you strip away all the "we must not play God" and "science must not get out of hand" subtext, you will have to recognize that this is a very male-centered story. You can read it like a distorted father-son relationship, in which both act out their aggression on anything but each other. The problem here comes directly from reckless and emotionally detached creation and a lack of nurturing and motherly love, two attributes which are traditionally male (by which I mean that they are usually contributed to men. I'm not saying all dudes are heartless bastards).


The funny thing is that this male perspective is, perhaps more even then in other genres, a staple of the horror genre (science fiction tends to be more emancipated). Psycho, The Exorcist and even The Shining*  all are about battles that are fought out between men, with women trapped hopelessly in between. There are exceptions, but they are few and rarely contain a truly female perspective.

Enter Splice.

Splice is a 2009 monster movie that tells the story of Clive and Elsa, a couple of biochemists at work and in the bedroom. At the beginning of the film, they have just completed their latest project: splicing the DNA of several species together to create a new specie. But just as all the pieces are falling into place (including an interview in Wired) and they can pursue the next medical breakthrough in science, their project is plugged. Elsa, who is clearly the dominant one in the relationship, pushes Clive to continue working on their next project in secret: splicing animals with human DNA. What comes out is Dren (nerd spelled backwards), who looks like one of David Cronenbergs erotic nightmares and behaves like a mix between a sweet little girl and one of the facehuggers from Alien, including adolescent mood swings and an Oedipus complex. She (it?) is never truly an animal, but not completely human either. She's more like a force of nature. Clive wants to destroy her, but Elsa feels responsible for the creature and decides to keep it. She soon starts to nurture Dren like a child. I won't have to spell out that this is not a very good idea.

Above: not a very good idea

Splice's concept is, as you might see, pretty damn original. It's Elsa's mother instincts and nurturing reflexes that set most of the film in action, not Clives curiosity. And it's implications are rather groundbreaking as well: where most "creature features" lay the blame squarely on reason going wild without any ethical or emotional concern, Splice seems to say that it's emotion meddling up peoples logical thinking that really makes the shit hit the fan. In fact, instead of saying that the science going rogue is the issue at hand, you can see Splice as laying the blame on the supposed moral outcry of the general public that forces Clive and Elsa to go rogue. Stuff to think about.

The movie is not without it's faults, however. To reach some interesting dilemma's, the characters do things that are just impossibly stupid, especially for a couple of supposedly brilliant scientists. And staying on the subject of science: the theoretical framework for the movie is loose at best, and the "scientific"babble Clive and Elsa sometimes retort to is more then a little dumb. The movie also never gets anywhere near scary, which some people might find a letdown. On the other hand, the acting is pretty good and the special effects (especially those of the creatures) are rather spectacular for such a low-budget indie movie. And the film kept my full attention for an hour and a half, which is quite a feat in and on itself.

Splice is a movie that doesn't get interesting unless you are willing to think about it. In that respect, it is a rather good and intelligent movie. If you like discussing movies after you've seen them, Splice is a recommendation. If you want a movie to stand solely on it's own, however, you might be a bit disappointed.


* The Shining, the way I see it at least, is all about Jack vs. himself. His wife is basically a stock character.

P.S.Wow, we can have movies with dominant females that are not evil mothers or dominatrixes now! Yay for emancipation!

Eels are awesome.