Wednesday, March 31

Review: Into the Wild

I am afraid I'm getting cynical.

When I first saw Into the Wild, it struck a chord with me. This was at a time when I was almost finished with high school and had to make up my mind about the future. And even though I knew more then ever, I also had more questions then ever. About the world. About life. But mostly about society, and my role in it. And to myself in that angsty and insecure state, Christopher McCandless embodied who I wanted to be. Inspired by Tolstoy and Jack London, he left both his family and everything he owned behind to travel throughout the United States. Armed only with his wits and a book on edible plants he took on the world. He met kind, inspiring people and inspired some people himself before setting off to his final destination: Alaska. The hardships overtook him, however, and he died of starvation before being able to get back. This is a true story, mind you. Yet to me at the time, it seemed right. Alaska was where he belonged. He became one with nature. Chris McCandless to me was brave, determined and he had no regrets about his actions while still just being a normal person. But most importantly, he knew his purpose, something I was desperately looking for at the time.

This is exactly the point of view Sean Penn, the director, tries to get across. Society in this movie only seems to pervert people into acting like Chris' parents, who raise their children in a loveless and violent family. Their support is only material, not emotional. What Chris did was shaking off the shackles of modern life and find his true self. And I'm sure that is how he saw it himself.

I watched this movie again a few days ago. And I noticed a change in how I watched this. Instead of flowing along, like I used to, I couldn't help but notice that what Chris did was morally pretty dubious. His actions were also harmful to a lot of other people, not to mention himself.

Now, I am not saying here I disagree with the point of view in the film. I only find it hard to swallow in the one-dimensional way it is presented in this film. Mind you: a one-dimensional protagonist doesn't have to not work per se. But sometimes there is just more to a story. That is one of the reasons I love Stanley Kubrick so much: he rarely ever puts a moral point of reference in his films. All his characters are people who do what they do best: be very, very complicated and in a moral gray zone. And Chris McCandless is in a pretty gray zone if you ask me: he made his parents first worry sick and then grieve about him. His sister even more. And however brave it is what he did, it was also rather reckless and unprepared. Remember, this movie is about a very real person, with very real relatives.

And a girlfriend who went after a sparkly vampire after he left.

It's not hard to run along with this movie. The cinematography is beautiful. The writing is atmospheric and filled with quotes from Tolstoy and Jack London. And the music... Well, I think that has been praised enough on this particular weblog. The music is magnificent. However, if you take a little distance, it gets harder and harder to justify Chris' actions to yourself. Especially in the way the movie presents Chris: as an absolute hero.

I think this movie would have benefited greatly from a little more Werner Herzog. A little more perspective on what Chris did and how it affected those around him. It certainly would have made the movie a whole lot deeper and more interesting. As it is, this one gets filed under the "Good" instead of the initial "Great".


P.S. If you didn't understood that last bit, check out the Review Scores thingy above the picture. I know my reviews can get a little vague on the "what did I think about the movie"-bit so I hope this clarifies things.

I have used the soundtrack of this movie a little too often already, so here is music from another young man with a mission that died too early: Nick Drake.

Saturday, March 27

Pulling Rabbits: The 6 Best Original Movie Soundtracks

Lots of wicked movies to discuss, but I decided to do things a little differently this time. Instead of just reviewing a movie I will discuss certain things about movies in general, about directors, or, in this case, music. I will be pulling these articles from under my hat like rabbits, hence the incredibly stupid name.

I think it is pretty clear by now that I love movies and that I love music. And at times, I love the combination of the two. I chose to exclude soundtracks that feature existing music, so unfortunately no Juno, Tarantino or Kubrick. I also chose to excludesoundtracks that just serves to support the images: they have to work on their own. With apologies to Bernard Herrman.

Allright. So within these limits, what do I think are the 6 finest movie soundtracks?

6: The Rocky Horror Picture Show

I have no idea if I genuinely like this music or if I just like it ironically. I only know that I have listened to it every day since I saw the movie. And with it's crazy lyrics, weird disco beats and actually pretty catchy tunes, I doubt I will stop doing that for quite a while.

Standout Track: The Time Warp, duh.

5: Chicago

This soundtrack is neatly summed up by one of the track names: And All That Jazz. Almost every style and genre of jazz passes the revue: slow and soft numbers (Funny Honey), rags (We Both Reached For The Gun) and massive bigband pieces (Can't Do It Alone). There is hardly any repetition in the styles, yet they all work really well both in the movie and on their own.

Standout Track: The Cell Block Tango

4: Where the Wild Things Are

Is it too early to include this one? Time will tell. As for now, I am so delighted by these songs I just had to. Karen O combines the playfulness of Kiya Dawson with the depth and complexity of Belle and Sebastian and creates the best she's ever done in the meantime.

Standout Track: All is Love

all is love by karen o and the kids from l'art des rĂªves. on Vimeo.

3: Moulin Rouge

The fact that this is the only movie on this list that was also on that other list has quite a lot to do with the music. Simply put, it is great. The mix of grand broadway pieces, bollywood melodies and simple love song lyrics (sometimes withitn the same song!) works crazy well and immediatly brings back the bohemian atmosphere of the movie.

Standout Track: Another tango would become a bit tedious, so here is one of the funniest songs ever.

2: Into The Wild

Eddie Vedder's deep voice and simple guitar rythms echo the great singer-songwriters such as Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan in their early years. The songs pour over with atmosphere and emotion, but they still never get old. Another case of the going-solo-and-making-their-best-stuff, this is a must-listen.

Standout Track: I already listed Guaranteed as a butterfly and Hard Sun under my review of Grizzly Man, so here is the third best song of the album, Society.

1: I'm Not There

The fact that I'm Not There is my favourite movie is only part of the reason this album is included. Some of the music on this album is not even included in the movie, or only in snippets. And although it contains two or three shitty songs, this doublealbum features almost all of the worthwile Bob Dylan covers I know. The songs are manyfold: some people alter almost nothing, others rework the songs until they are barely recognisable. Just like Dylan himself is know for. I would consider some songs (As I Went Out One Morning, Goin' To Acapulco, The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll) to even be improvements over the original songs and believe me, I don't say that lightly.

Standout Track: This was a tough choise, since there is so much greatness. But Jim James' heartbreaking adaptation of Goin' To Acapulco might just be even more of a masterpiece then everything around it. It still sends shivers down my spine.


Notable omissions: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly because the list got too long and Amelie because it is a compilation of previous work from Tierssen.

Friday, March 19

Review: Psycho

As of now, I am following a course on movie history. And being a good student, I have to know my classics. This means watching old movies. Some of these have completely baffled me with their completely unique outlook on cinema, despite the lower production values: Battleship Potemkin, The Cabinet of dr. Caligari and Casablanca, for example.

But the canon of movies also contain some other classics. The movies that might have been groundbreaking upon release and my teachers will say are deep and complex, but I find mostly boring and slow. I am thinking of Citizen Kane, Once Upon a Time in the West and The Godfather. Sue me, I just don't think they are as good as they are said to be. And everything I had seen of Hitchcock's falls into that latter category. So you can understand my hopes weren't very high when I decided to watch Psycho by that same director last night.

The movie starts pretty underwhelming: a woman steals a ton of money from her employer and drives to her lover. She hopes they will be able to get married and live happily ever after. While on the way, she is getting doubts. And while she is staying at a motel for the night, she decides to bring back the money. "Pfffff....", I went.

Then she gets brutally stabbed to death in the shower. "AAAAAAAH!!!", I went.

I knew this scene was coming. I knew the story of the film and which plot twists were yet to come. I had even read some analysis of the film. And it still freaked me the fuck out. I'm not going to give any more away here, but trust me: this film is creepy. Really, really creepy.

Even though the story might be a little predictable nowadays, this film is great because of it's atmosphere. There are less murders in this movie then a contemporary comedy, but every one is made into a moment of terror unlike anything you've ever seen. There are intense, creeping shadows, suddenly there is music that sounds the violinists were being tortured and the editing goes so fast you can barely see what's happening. The pacing is sublime as well: one of the murders took me completely by surprise. The scene starts of reeeeealy slow... A man walks into a house... up the stairs.... sport by sport... and BOOM!

The atmosphere is tense throughout the movie, and most modern thrillers haven't shocked me as much as this movie. And to think I don't even like Hitchcock. Nor horror/thriller movies, to be honest. But I LOVED this one.

I don't recommend you to watch this movie because it is old, made by a famous director or because it's a part of movie history. I recommend it because it is an incredibly atmospherical and creepy movie all on its one. This is a classic that deserves the label.


The music is less in in style then normal, because I didn't want to disturb you too much.

Monday, March 15

Review: Crank

If you like 300, Jackass and Saw, if you wear shirts promoting how awesome beer is and if you call things "gay" at least twice a day, you are going to friggin' LOVE Crank.

If you are over forty, if you dislike violence in movies and if you only watch them to stress out after a hard day's work, Crank is going to downright disgust you.

If you are a movie geek who likes art movies but can appreciate good movie violence, if you listen to music no-one ever heard of and if you wear a hat, Crank will probably half-amuse, half-outweird you and not leave any lasting impression.

After some flashy intro credits, Jason Statham wakes up feeling sick. He walks into his living room and finds a dvd with FUCK YOU written on it. He watches the film, and some douchebag in a purple shirt tells him he has been poisoned and will die within an hour. He reacts to this is in the most mature and thoughtful manner: by smashing the shit out of his television.

This sets the tone quite nicely for the rest of the film. Statham finds out that if he keeps his adrenaline level high enough he can delay the effects. You can guess what happens next. The story is pretty much an excuse to make Jason Statham kill a lot of people, jump from buildings and fuck his girlfriend in public.

Like this, all the time

I could easily break this movie down and pick on the stupid dialogues (that contain at least 3 fucks a line), the terrible characterization and the stroboscopic editing. But I get the feeling I would completely miss the point if I do that. Crank knows what it wants to do and does it. It's not ashamed to be a no-compromise, no-bullshit MAN MOVIE. Guys walk around with enormous guns, the girl character is the stupidest blonde chick I have ever seen outside of an Evil Dead movie and at one point the main character gets an enormous erection, which is supposedly funny. If you are willing to run along with that (and are ideally really drunk and with friends) you will get a great ride from all of this. If you don't, this movie is allright at best. I can't say I hate it, but this isn't really my thing either. I don't think I'm gonna see it again.


P.S. why is everyone comparing this movie to a video game? I noticed a lot more influence from Asian movies like Oldboy and The Chaser. End of pretentious bit.

This song is pretty much how the movie goes: not leaving a single moment of breath.

Sunday, March 14

Review: Alice in Wonderland

I was probably the last person on Earth to hear that Tim Burton was gonna do an Alice in Wonderland film. My first reaction was the same as everybody's: HOLY SHIT! Really?!? Man, this is gonna be amazing!


Oh, how wrong I was.

Before I start spilling crap all over this movie, let's get one thing straight: I Love Tim Burton. I love his weird Caligari-like sets, I love his use of pretty colors, I love his best friend/wife duo as actors. And thus far, I've loved damn near all his movies (Ed Wood was good but not THAT good). I even loved Sleepy Hollow which apparently everybody hated. So how could he have fucked up so bad with such great source material?

I think the main problem is that the film has one of the worst scripts I have EVER seen adapted on screen. Honestly. The dialogues are corny and sometimes pretty moralistic, there is this stupid emotional moment that really break the atmosphere and the "new" angle isn't nearly as interesting as you might think. Every good joke, interesting cameo and well-placed line is repeated at least once. I'm not kidding: even with such great characters they have to literally repeat jokes. But it's the cameo's that get especially bothersome. The caterpillar isn't that important to the plot, so why the fuck do you bring him back THREE TIMES? Oh wait, because you've paid Alan Rickman a fuckload of money and all the kids are like: "Ohmigod it is Snape!!!" (Seriously, I heard people say that at least three times at the theater).

But the biggest sin of the screenplay is how incredibly fucking schizophrenic it is. It meanders around between the colorful madness we all love so much about Tim Burton (the Mad Hatter at his tea party) and some kind of gritty battle-between-good-and-evil bullshit (the Mad Hatter with a motherfucking broadsword. Really). It meanders between a direct adaptation and a spinoff, so the lines that ARE directly from the novel feel weird and out of place. It meanders between completely straight-faced and taking the piss out of itself (the latter is by far the best, let me tell you). But it meanders the most in what it wants to do with its story.

If you have read the book you will know there is not really any narrative (if you haven't read the book: you can easily finish it in a weekend and it kicks ass). Alice just kind of walks around and encounters all kind of trippy shit. Burton decided to use this weird world to tell a story, which is probably a good idea. Weird shit is hard to stay entertaining for an hour and a half. The problem is that he is really inconsistent with this goal, and about half the film is still just random nonsense with the characters. Either telling a story or just trippy shit would have made a much better film, sadly.

Okay, maybe I'm being overly mean now. The movie isn't completely cringeworthy, of course: this is Tim Burton we're talking about, not Uwe Boll. The cinematography is really good (although some shots are completely pointless and only there for showing off the 3D, which made me sad), the music is top-notch as always and the CGI is subtle and actually functional. I haven't caught either Johnny Depp or Helena Bonham Carter ever acting bad, and they deliver as usual in this film. The girl who plays Alice is also pretty damn good and this was the first Anne Hattaway role I enjoyed watching. It is just a pity their lines are so damn stupid.

You're lucky they're not talking right now

I can't in good conscience call this a BAD movie, because it simply isn't. Burton is too good a director for that. But it was a huge letdown, especially considering the potential of the source material is his hands.

I have to add this to stay honest: I saw this movie with my whole family and they all enjoyed it a lot. So perhaps only the fans should skip this to not be disappointed. If you just want a good night out without giving it much thought, you could do worse than this, I guess. But also much, much better.


I was thinking about using White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane here. But then I listened to this song I had downloaded just before going to the movie. It fits almost creepily good. Also, this clip has some cute animation.

Wednesday, March 3

Review: Grizzly Man

"Timothy Treadwell (April 29, 1957 – October 5, 2003) was an American bear enthusiast, environmentalist, amateur naturalist, eco-warrior and documentary film maker. He lived among the coastal grizzly bears of Katmai National Park in Alaska, USA, for approximately 13 seasons. At the end of his 13th season in the park in 2003, he and his girlfriend Amie Huguenard were killed and partially devoured by one or possibly two grizzly bears." (Source: Wikipedia)

Okay, so now you know what happened to Timothy Treadwell. What do you think of him?

The funny thing about this story is that people immediately form an opinion when they hear or read it. Either they feel sorry for this martyr of the environment, or they snarl and think he is an idiot who had it coming. And this is often the point of a documentary: convince people of one side of the argument or another. And you might think that Grizzly Man wants to convince you of his ideas. But that is where the movie shines: in letting it's verdict in the middle.

Werner Herzog, who made this film, seems to have a thing for weirdo's. And I don't people who collect everything remotely related to Star Wars. No, Werner makes movies about those half mad, half brilliant types. Oddballs with a passion. The people who either become world famous or fizzle away without ever being noticed. People without compromise. People who have a passion for which they are willing to give up everything. People who would pull a steamship over a mountain, build teardrop-shaped balloons to fly over the South-American jungles or spends years of their lives to investigate the coldest and least hospitable place on earth.

What makes Herzog such an unique filmmaker is that he doesn't try to hide the batshit insanity of his subjects. Playing with and stroking wild bears and foxes might be adorable, but it's also really fucking dangerous. Treadwell's intentions might have been good, but you can't escape the fact that he is dead. Herzog doesn't romanticize his life and death. He doesn't judge it. And doesn't just show it either.

He discusses it.

Herzog himself voice-overs the film. He tells you about Treadwell. He praises him for his skills and dedication, but also how he was being inconsiderate and downright stupid for doing some of the things he did. And you don't even have to agree with him. He voice-overs in the first person, making it personal commentary. You're not forced in any train of thought. You can make up your own mind about Treadwell and what Herzog thinks of him. This way, the movie becomes a three-part discussion between the viewer, the filmmaker and the subject. And this is not even the most important part of the film.

Imagine that: a matter of narration which is pretty unique in itself, but the film never seems to brag about it. There are other matters at hand here.

The film might not have been the greatest documentary I've ever seen, but it is unique in the way films should be unique: by challenging what you think you know about films and still being good.


I couldn't include anything other than this song.