Friday, March 4


Dear readers,

as of last week, I am a writer for the website Anomalous Materials. My articles there will be in many ways the same as the stuff I wrote here, plus there are more people writing for that site so there will be more for you to enjoy. The URL is

See you there!


Here is a completely unrelated song that I have stuck in my head for the past few days.

Monday, February 28

Shorts Circus: Book Revue

I think this is what they mean with intertextuality. Then again, literature was never my strong point.


Sunday, February 27

Review: Enter the Void

Through the eyes of Oscar, we look at an airplane flying over Tokyo. Our sister stands next to us. We propose doing drugs. She tells us that we're becoming a junkie and leaves angrily. After she's gone, we quickly light up. We experience the most wondrous things. While we're still tripping, Victor calls us and asks if we have any stuff. When we arrive at the bar where we arranged to meet, Victor seems distressed. The reason for this becomes quickly clear: policemen burst down the door and we flee into the toilet, where we quickly flush our drugs. And then we get shot.

Enter The Void, which is inspired (amongst other things) by the Tibetian Book of the Dead, is filmed entirely in first-person perspective. But because the protagonist gets shot within 15 minutes, most of the film is seen through the eyes of his disembodied ghost floating over Tokyo, while he has flashbacks to his youth and watches the aftermath of his death unfolds.

This is the point where the review tells you what the movie tries to achieve, and whether it succeeded (to quote Roger Ebert). I'm not entirely sure if the principal goal of the movie is to explore the themes of death, sex and reincarnation or to just give us the cinematic trip of a lifetime, but it definitely succeeds at the latter. From a purely technical point of view, this is a masterpiece of cinematic immersion. Because of the perspective and the unique visuals (best described as a stroboscope on acid) it's almost impossible to look away from.

This is honestly the closest I've ever come to tripping without using drugs.

But this movie isn't meant as a technical exercise. This is an injection of pure, unfiltered experience right to the brain. Most films show you a situation different from our own. Enter the Void has us experience a plain of existence different from our own. It's a long movie, and one of the most hypnotic pieces of cinema I've ever seen. Since you watch everything from the perspective of one of the characters, it's impossible to take a step back and reflect on what's happened. You're just dragged through the biggest trip since 2001: a Space Odyssey. The only difference being that that movie is Sesame Street compared to this.

Gaspar Noe, the director of this movie, isn't exactly known for his delicate subject matters, and Enter the Void is no different from that. We witness, nay experience murder, vulgar sex, drug abuse, abortion and some rather disquieting incestuous undertones. I've seen enough movies to not be squeamish anymore, but this movie shocked me to my very core and left me an empty shell of a person. It took me almost an hour of numbly walking around to get myself back together.

The strange thing is that I'd still very much recommend you go see Enter the Void. I don't expect you to like it; in fact, it'd be rather disturbing if you did. Even the most hardcore cinemagoers won't be able to "handle" this film, so you'd best just give yourself over to it. Nietzsche told us that the abyss would stare back if we would stare too long. Enter the Void proves that "too long" is a lot shorter then you'd expect.


The Mars Volta helped me with the getting back. If The Mars Volta is the average of real life and something else, you can probably imagine that the "something else" has to be quite fucked up.

Friday, February 25

Review: True Grit

The western and jazz. If Clint Eastwood is to be believed, those are the only two original American artforms. I wouldn't know about jazz, but I believe him on westerns. There are few filmgenres so closely linked to a certain time and place as the western, which always takes place in the West of the United States, circa 1865. The genre has been around for as long as movies exist, and has delivered quite some masterpieces over the years. John Ford's The Searchers, Sergio Leones Once Upon a Time in the West and Clint Eastwoods Unforgiven are all groundbreaking movies and unquestionable parts of the American cinematic canon. And with True Grit, their first real western, the Coen Brothers have earned a spot in the company of these masters.

Like many westerns, the story of True Grit is driven by revenge. Mattie Ross wants to hunt down the coward Tom Chaney for killing her father. This isn't made easier by the fact that Mattie Ross is a fourteen-year old girl. She seeks the aid of someone with experience, mercilessness and grit: US Marshal Rooster Cogburn. The two set out on their hunt with Texas Ranger Lebeouf, a man charged with hunting down Chaney and bringing him to justice in Austin. The story is straightforward and told in a straightforward way, without many twists or turns along the way. What makes True Grit so fascinating is the characters. None of them, not even the bad guys, is a stereotype. All three leading characters are fully fleshed-out tragic characters, and the dynamic between them is very much unique. It makes the movie almost unpredictable at points, quite a feat considering that everybody knows exactly how it's going to end.

This is helped in no small part by the excellent acting. Matt Damon shows us once again that he is a great supporting actor by giving LeBeouf the depth that prevents him from just being a comic relief character. Newcomer Hailee Steinfeld is fantastic as Mattie Ross, turning her into one of the most memorable characters in recent cinematic history. But, as always, it's Jeff Bridges who just walks away with the movie. He plays Cogburn without a trace of his usual layed-back stoner persona, and all for the better. This is a role that was once played by John Wayne, but it's Bridges who nails it. Who'd ever guessed it: The Dude outdid The Duke.

The bottom line about True Grit is that, when handled by the right people, the western has as much impact as ever. Although the movie hardly shakes up the formula, it does everything it does right. The acting is great, the cinematography and the music are as good as ever and the Coens directed the crap out of it. This is an instant classic if I've ever seen one.


P.S. Apparently the Coens doing horror next. I'm already exited about their inevitable musical.

I've been wanting to use this song for a long time now. Yee-haw!

Wednesday, February 23

Shorts Circus: Balance

That's all there is to it, really. Just... balance.


Tuesday, February 22

Review: The Hours

The Hours is well-directed, well-photographed and well-acted. It's an adaptation of a book by the same name for which the author won a Pulitzer Prize. It's made by a director who has received oscar nominations for every one of his major films. The soundtrack is provided by one of the most celebrated musicians of the 20th century. It stars three of the finest actresses working today. And it bored me out of my skull.

The years are 1923, 1951 and 2001. The characters are Virginia Woolf, the famous english novelist (an unrecognizable Nicole Kidman), a troubled suburban housewife (Julianne Moorre) and Clarissa Vaughan (Meryl Streep), a New York socialite whose life seems to mirror that of the main character from Woolfs novel Mrs. Dalloway. We see them all going through basically the same story: a party is prepared, flowers are bought, suicide is contemplated. All these women are unhappy to their core. Why this is is never really explained. All three seem to have some lingering lust for people other then their partners (and of the other sex), but that's about it. It's not a movie about homosexuality or adultery, it's a movie about suffering. And whatever the reasons, these women suffer a lot. But are we supposed to suffer with them? I suppose so. Perhaps I failed to do so because I couldn't relate to them a single bit. This might have something to do with the fact that they are all middle-aged women, and I am not. Still, it's rare that I feel such disconnect from characters that are so clearly in pain.

This is something that has bothered me about all of Stephen Daldries films. His other outings, Billy Elliot and The Reader, both feature characters who experience quite intense tragedy, and I found both of those more annoying then moving. Yet it's clear from the style and the pacing of The Hours that Daldry really is not a bad director. I just don't understand him, in the most infuriating way possible. I don't know what he's trying to say, how he's trying to say it or what he's trying to accomplish with it.

Watching The Hours, I had the feeling like I was intruding upon something. I have heard people talk about this movie as the movie of their lifetime, almost like it was something sacred. It made me feel a little guilty when I got so bored that I almost stopped paying attention halfway through. I felt like an annoyed teenager, throwing popcorn at an artfilm because there were too little explosions and tits for my taste. And I think that is the best I can say about this movie: it wasn't made for me. I'm a little hesitant to say that it's a "women's film", but I think it's fair to say that guys should steer clear of this. I'm afraid that's all I can say about it. You'll have to figure out the rest yourself.


Three chicks. Who make music that was inspired by Philip Glass. It's almost too easy.

Saturday, February 19

Pulling Rabbits: On Kevin Smith

You can say what you want about Kevin Smith, but he is one committed dude. While shooting his first movie, Clerks, he worked a day job at a convenience store while shooting and editing at night. He kept this up for 21 days straight, until he literally fell asleep on the set. Clerks, as you might know, became an enormous hit and upgraded him from just a guy with a goatee and an ambition to one of the most promising new filmmakers of his generation. But instead of taking the money and run, like so many of his peers, he decided to stay and make another movie with the same people. And another. And another. All in all, he has made 5 movies, 2 shorts, 5 comics and an animated series about a fictional town over the years. You have to really like your friends to do something like that.

But liking people is something Kevin Smith is very good at. Besides working with basically the same cast and crew over the years, he is also one of the most empathic filmmakers working today. Especially in the realm of comedy it's commonplace to royally screw over your characters for laughs, but laughs like these are very rare in Smiths films. No matter how deep the people in his movies get in the crapper, they always remain likable and often even relatable. The laughs mostly come from either the characters themselves telling jokes to each other, or the sort of uncomfortable silences that only work when we care about the people experiencing them.

Also, every single one of his movies has at least 2 people with a goatee like that

But Smith has as characteristic that's even rarer for a comedian then being empathic: he's smart, and not ashamed of it. His work has touched some serious topics (including religion and homosexuality), but even when his movies are just about two retarded pot dealers there is some genuine intellect at work. The amazing thing is that this completely fits in with the humor of the film, which is often the dick-joke based kind. It's a unique quality, making you think while making you laugh.

Kevin Smith is a unique filmmaker. He's not exactly a genius, but we already have enough of those. Smith knows what he's good at, and then does that. He doesn't feel above making fart jokes, and uses his skills to make them really funny fart jokes. You can only applaud that sort of attitude. Alternatively, you could try to sell him some weed.


The man himself is in the video. How could I not include it?

Friday, February 18

Shorts Circus: The Isle of Flowers

I'm sorry I couldn't find a better quality copy for this one. Don't let it keep you from watching, though. It's very informative.


Thursday, February 17

Review: Yellow Submarine

The Beatles' seventh album, Revolver, is often regarded as one of the greatest albums of all time. It has a wide array of downright spectacular songs, like Eleanor Rigby and For No One. And it closes all of this off with the mysterious Tomorrow Never Knows. The song starts with a sitar fading in. Then a drum comes in, which plays a rhythm that's just a little off. It all sounds just a little beyond what you're accustomed to. And then we hear John Lennons voice, made to sound "like the dalai lama chanting from a mountain top", who tells you to "Turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream".

From the mid-sixties to 1970, The Beatles were unquestionably the biggest band on earth. They radically changed popular music and their albums from that time are absolute classics which are still very much worth listening to. But it wasn't just John, Paul, George and Ringo that did new stuff during this time: art, literature, social politics and science where all undergoing rapid changes. It was a turbulent age, and many people tried to make sense of/escape from all this by using drugs.

Yellow Submarine was released in 1968, right in the middle of all this weirdness going on. It was made primarily to meet a contractual agreement, and The Beatles themselves had very little to do with it. But since the filmmakers had the license for their music it was pretty clear that it would be a hit from the start. And while this might give some filmmakers an excuse to get lazy, the makers of Yellow Submarine rose to the opportunity and made one of the nicest films ever.

Just look how happy they are

Yellow Submarine works completely on it's own logic. There is something of a story beneath all the weirdness, but it's barely relevant. The majority of the movie is spent in the submarine, where the band encounters a crapload of strange stuff. The movie seems to be very exited about all this. Like an eager child, it's just tumbling over itself to show you all the nifty stuff it's got. And it's very nifty indeed. The journey goes through a sea filled with monsters where a vacuummonster is sucking up the entire world around him, a universe which is made entirely out of holes (Ringo takes on with him and quips "I have a hole in me pocket") and the final destination: Pepperland, a mystical place filled with music and love which has sadly been taken over by the Blue Meanies. The only way to rescue the inhabitants, who have been turned to stone, is to play music (which is outlawed under the Meanies' brutal reign).

Speaking of music: I can't remember ever enjoying these songs as much as when watching Yellow Submarine. These are some of the best songs of all time, and the accompanying visuals just fit them like a boot. In contrast to A Hard Days Night, which was primarily about the band, this movie is all about the music, and so much better for it. When I'm Sixty-Four, which isn't one of the bands best songs is accompanied by a text reading "Sixty-four years is 33,661,440 minutes and one minute is a long time. Allow us to demonstrate." This is followed by an array of imaginatively drawn numbers counting up to 64. This made me so intensely happy I started singing along even louder.

If this all sounds a bit childish, it's probably because it is. But d on't make the mistake to think that this movie is solely meant for children. Much like the music it's a universal piece of art. If you as a viewer can let go of trivial stuff like "logic" or "sense" this is a very, very lovely film that I can highly recommend. Don't go acting all grown-up about it. Just turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream.


This is the closest I think I can come to the spirit of the movie without just using songs from it. Enjoy.

Sunday, February 13

Movies You Should Totally See: The Rocky Horror Picture Show

When you went to the movies in the 1970's, your chances where higher then any time in history that you'd end up at a movie which was completely batshit insane. It was a decade in which both the public and the filmmakers radically changed: the baby-boomer public was enjoying their new freedom and yearned for more intellectual fodder which they found in the works of Ingmar Bergmans and the French New Wave. The directors, on the other hand, scooped up every single movie they could find, and made some of the most innovative movies ever to come out of Hollywood. Many of these, like Easy Rider, The Godfather and Taxi Driver, are now regarded as some of the finest films of all time.

The new curiosity for things unseen (and more then a little weed) also led to the rise of the midnight movies. When the regular blockbusters had played and the patrons had left, some of the more cult-oriented movie theatres would play these movies. It was one of the least coherent movements in film history, if you can even call it that. Some of the most famous midnight movies include a Public Service Announcement turned unintentional comedy (Reefer Madness), a philosophical western (El Topo) and Earserhead, which I honestly can't describe as anything else then just that. But they all fade into nothing when compared to the most famous midnight movie of all time: The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Rocky Horror came out in 1975, and it flopped. The makers tried to re-release it as a double bill, and it flopped again. It wasn't until it hit the midnight circuit that something strange happened: the people who had seen it kept coming back. Week after week. And they started talking back at the movie. And dressing up like the characters. And dancing in front of the screen. A bona fide cult was born, and through the influence of these weirdos the movie hasn't been out of running since it was released. In fact, with more then 35 years of unbroken theatrical exhibition it's the longest running movie in cinema history.

So what is it exactly about this movie that makes it's fans so loyal? Well, not "quality" by any conventional standards, that's for sure. It has lousy special effects, generally mediocre acting and the production values aren't exactly staggering either. But that might just be why it works. Movies that we consider to be great usually loose their emotional impact after you've seen them 4 or 5 times, but Rocky Horror sidesteps that by being utterly devoid of things like "restraint" or "taste". It's surprising how much staying power Tim Curry in a corset has.

As seen here.

Another thing that makes this one of the most rewatchable films ever is that it's completely fuckballs insane. The plot doesn't make a sliver of sense: people come crashing out of freezers on motorcycles, even the straightest characters go bi and halfway through it's revealed that most of the cast are aliens. The main character is a transsexual mad scientist from Transsexual Transylvania (the planet Transsexual from the galaxy Transylvania, that is) who creates his own boyfriend, a sort of Aryan superman in a golden thong whose first reaction to being born is singing a song. Oh, did I mention it's a musical? Because it totally is.

It should be obvious by now that The Rocky Horror Picture Show is not a film for everyone. If the things I've told you about it appeal to you, this is one that you honestly can't miss. But if it's all a little too strange for your tastes, there's always the new Justin Bieber movie.


Don't stop me! Don't stop me!

Thursday, February 10

Shorts Circus: Duck Amuck

Something Disney shorts never managed to pull of was the anarchy that Chuck Jones and his companions unleashed with the Looney Tunes. This is never more evident then in Duck Amuck, a cartoon that's only about being in a cartoon.


Review: Before Sunrise

In 1999, TIME Magazine made a fascinating list about the 100 most influential people from the 20th century. One of these illustrious men (and women) was the Irish author James Joyce. The article that commemorates him starts with these words: "James Joyce once told a friend: "One of the things I could never get accustomed to in my youth was the difference I found between life and literature". All serious young readers notice this difference. Joyce dedicated his career to erasing it and in the process revolutionized 20th century fiction". He did this mainly by way of his seminal novel Ulysses, a book which I haven't read myself but which has been described to me as "unreadable" by a friend who studied literature for the past three years.

This difference is also present in the cinema (or in any other artform, for that matter). Sometimes it manifests in silly little things, like the fact that bartenders are always introduced in movies while drying a glass with a rag, but it also shows in bigger things. Like how romance in movies seems to follow completely different roles then that in real life: people will fall in love with somebody in the space of minutes, and then yearn for them for years after that. Or how the first night for a couple is always a perfect and means that they will stay together forever. But of course, there are filmmakers who have set out to erase these discrepancies. Robert Altman shows people in large groups, instead of socially isolated individuals. Kryztof Kieslowki's Trois Couleurs make it clear what liberty, equality and fraternity truly mean in the cruel outside world. And as far as romance is concerned, there is Richard Linklaters Before Sunrise: a film which is so honest about what it means to fall in love that 99 percent of it's running time is spent with the characters unsure about their actual feelings.

Celine (Julie Delphy) is sitting in the train. Next to her, a middle-aged German couple is arguing loudly. She gets annoyed, decides to move, and sits down across Jesse (Ethan Hawk). The tone is set: even before the characters are even introduced to each other, it's made clear that love isn't all sunshine and lollipops. The characters strike up a conversation. She is on her way to Paris from a family visit in Budapest, he is making his way to Vienna to catch a flight back to the US. They seem to get along. When they get to Vienna, they say their goodbyes and he gets off. Then he gets back on, sits down next to her and tells her he enjoys talking to her and doesn't want to miss the opportunity to get to know her. After all, won't a moment like this haunt you on your deathbed when you let it slip? She, being a romantic, seizes the moment and disembarks with him. What follows is a night in Vienna filled with bonding, love and talking. Lots of talking.

What makes Linklaters films so unique is that they embrace the flaws and irregularity of being human, instead of ironing over them. He does this mostly through the dialogues in his film, which are almost always co-written with the actors. Hearing these people talk is incredibly engrossing, and it take you away farther then most films do with exotic location shooting. Yet the way these characters talk isn't the way most people talk in the movies, where one person says something and the other responds. People interrupt each other, ask strange questions and drop subject because they don't like talking about them. Many movies use dialogue to advance a plot. Linklater uses it to find his characters, and to let them find each other. There is always a hidden motive, a little something unsaid in between the lines of Jesse and Celine. Who can ever express exactly what they mean, after all?

Although it is in many way its opposite, Before Sunrise reminded me of Trois Couleurs: Blue. While Blue is a visual movie which deals with mourning and Sunrise is a talkie about blooming love, both dare to take a step back and truly examine life at a certain point. And both are movies in which very little actually happens, but which still move you more then you can really explain. The only truly crucial difference is that Blue is a meditation on a life already lived, while the characters in Sunrise still have their entire life before them. They are off to a great start.


There is only one poet who can explain the feel of this movie, and that poet is Bob Dylan. I never expected I'd ever use this song, but here it's the only appropriate choice. 

Untitled from Max Urai on Vimeo.

Saturday, February 5

Pulling Rabbits: My Favorite Movies

This post is something of an anniversary: it's the 100th post on this weblog (if you discard the whiny shit I used to put here). So for the occasion, I thought it might be nice to give you a list of my favorite movies ever. This is not a list of the greatest or even necessarily the best movies ever. You might call it my own personal canon. I can heartily recommend every single one of these movies, and will probably write about some of them in the future.

So, let's start from the bottom and work our way up to the top.

20: Waking Life (Linklater, 2001) 
The most recent entry into my list, and probably the strangest. But it's also a testament of what film is truly capable of if you overstep the boundaries of your assumptions.

19: Trois Couleurs: Blue (Kieslowski, 1993)
The first part of a magnificent trilogy, and in my mind the best. A movie about music, about how life always comes knocking on your door and about mourning. But mostly about freedom, and what it exactly means. A very peaceful movie, which moves you without really giving you any incentive to.

18: V For Vendetta (McTeigue, 2006)
One of the few movies that understands what "adaptation" means: translating an impression into another medium. It might not follow the letter of the book, but if follows the spirit with all its heart. An exciting and shockingly relevant view on repression, which had a lot more going on then you might think.

17: Sin City (Rodriguez, 2005)
Violence was never so stylish or so cool. Over-the-top, grueling and visually dazzling, this stands as one of the major triumphs of "the cinephiles cinema", movies made by and for filmnerds.

16: Princess Mononoke (Miyazaki, 1997)
Although there is a lot of love to be found in the works of Miyazaki, this is one of his few pictures in which there is genuine hatred. But, of course, it only makes the movie better by making the struggle harder and the opposing factions more humanly flawed. Not to mention the simply gorgeous animation.

15: The Kid (Chaplin, 1921)
Some things just never get old. It might not be the most ambitious of Chaplins movies, but it's without a doubt the most lovable one.

14: Amélie (Jeunet, 2001)
Quite possibly the most fondly remembered movie in recent memory. The timeless tale of a girl looking for love has enough warmth to be thoroughly lovable and enough quirk (the porn shop) to not be sentimental.

13: Juno (Reitman, 2007)
When my grandchildren will ask me how life was like when I was a teenager, I will show them this movie. It might be a little too self-aware for some, but self-awareness seems to be something we're very good in lately.

12: Requiem for a Dream (Aronofsky: 2001)
The following conversation actually took place.

A Friend: "What would be good drinking games for movies?"
Me: "You could take a shot every time you want to kill yourself while watching Requiem for a Dream"
A Friend: "Then you'd drink yourself to death"
Another Friend: "Win-win!"

11: Fight Club (Fincher, 1999)
This just might be a movie where every single man alive can relate to in some way. Some see it as a manifesto for a new masculinity, others see it as a deeply ironic statement about the state of society and others see it as a reflection upon how women have come to regard men. Yet in every one of those guys, it wakes something primal. 

10: Inglourious Basterds (Tarantino, 2009)
This might seem an odd choice, as so many people herald Pulp Fiction as Tarantino's masterpiece. But I just like this one more. It's more mature and less gimmicky, while doing all the things we've come to know and love of Quentin.

9: Full Metal Jacket (Kubrick, 1987)
In A Clockwork Orange, we see how an insane and perverted mind ravages through an eerily familiar urban landscape. It's a haunting vision: we see the clash of what we call civilization with something truly rotten. But in Full Metal Jacket, we see something even more haunting: how such a mind comes to be. It's a war film, but much more so a film about people in a situation that is basically a free-for-all. It ain't pretty, but no-one ever claimed war was.

8: Synecdoche, New York (Kaufman, 2008)
I am very much in love with the work of Charlie Kaufman. He is one of the few writers working today who is both willing to shake things up and deliver films that just scream "clever", and this quality is never more apparent then in Synecdoche. It might not be to everyone's taste, but you can't deny the sheer balls-to-the-wallness of the artistic statement that is being made here.

7: The Virgin Suicides (Coppola, 1999)
Another unlikely choice. But as much as I liked Lost in Translation, it pales in comparison to the raw power of The Virgin Suicides. It's one of the few movies I know that is both powerful and very complex, although the latter isn't immediately apparent. Try watching it for a second time and constantly reminding yourself that the whole picture is basically the recollection that the boys have of the situation, and everything immediately gets a lot more layered. Also, scored by Air. Can't beat that.

6: Finding Nemo (Stanton, 2003)
Of all the Pixarmovies, this wins on sheer nostalgia value. But it could have been any of them, really. The magic of Pixar is still somewhat of a mystery to me (how do they keep appealing to children, teenager, adults AND critics?), but it's a mystery I'm perfectly fine not unraveling. It's amazing filmmaking, simple as that, and sometimes you just have to let go and enjoy.

5: Rejected (Hertzfeldt, 2000)
The sheer entertainment value of this animated short is hard to explain. Imagine the following: you're sort of drunk, someone gets up and extends his arms, and shouts "MAH SPOON IS TOO BIG".

No? Oh well.

4: The Shawshank Redemption (Darabont, 1994)
This movie made me realize how good movies could actually get, and after all these years it's still a fond memory. It might be a tad sentimental, but just try not to be moved when Red and Andy hug on the beach.

3: Casablanca (Curtiz, 1942)
Quite possibly the most loved film in the world after The Wizard of Oz, this movie is good from every which way you look at it. A killer story? Check. One of the best romances ever? Check. A great supporting cast? Check. Music, sets, atmosphere: check, check, check. It's a movie you just feel part of every time you watch it.

2: The Rocky Horror Picture Show (Sharman, 1975)
If there's ever a movie with the words "guilty pleasure" written across it in glowing neon lights, this is it. It's not a great film by any measure, and in many areas it's just plain bad. But there is an irresistible mischief going on at all times, which makes it so much fun to watch. Sing along: "Science fiction, oe-a-oe, Double Feature"...

1: I'm Not There (Haynes, 2007)
This is it. The big one. I've seen this movie over 20 times now, and not once have I doubted that this is the greatest movie I've ever seen. If Casablanca is my egomovie, and Rocky Horror is pure id, this is my Super-ego. It represents everything I love about film, and was in fact the reason I irretrievably fell in love with the medium. This movie is more then just a part of my back catalogue: it's part of who I am. My decision to study film was made after watching this movie, and every time I doubt that decision I'm Not There shows me what I'm doing it all for.

Here's me digging you, sir.


I've just put everything... in it's right place.

Okay, so I actually couldn't think of anything else besides The Final Countdown. Sue me.

Tuesday, February 1

Shorts Circus: The Man Who Planted Trees

I very rarely cry at movies. After watching this, I could confirm that crying was indeed very rare for me. But it does happen sometimes.

The Man Who Planted Trees from Max Urai on Vimeo.


Monday, January 31

Review: The Fall

At the end of The Fall, there is a moment where all the characters sit in a room together and for the first time watch a movie. The setting is a hospital in Los Angeles in the early 20th century. The film has just dragged us through a whirlwind of impressions, and as everything is drawing to a close we find ourself in that little room with the characters that have accompanied us in the past 2 hours. There is a striking similarity between that tiny moment and the movie as a whole. Like those early movies, The Fall gives the spectator the room to interpret and let his own imagination run wild. And like that moment, where those people see moving pictures for the first time, the movie presents it's viewers with something completely new.

Giving a synopsis of The Fall is practically impossible. Not because there is a lack of things happening, or because the story doesn't make sense, but because everybody will remember this film differently. On a very superficial level, it's about Alexandria, a little girl from an undetermined eastern European background who is in the hospital to recover from a broken arm. By circumstance, she meets up with Roy, a suicidal stuntman. Even though he is in a horrible condition, he is a very nice man, and to pass the time (and other reasons I won't disclose here) he tells Alexandria stories. They are the most fantastic stories: tales of brave bandits, beautiful princesses and exotic locations. The main characters are a masked bandit, an Italian explosives expert with cigar and mustache, and Indian (from India), a mystic who emerges from a tree, a freed slave and an English naturalist who goes by the name of Charles Darwin.

These stories take shape in the way only bedtime stories can: almost like a conspiracy between the storyteller and the listener. Roys worsening condition and Alexandria's youthful innocence come together in the story, and as it progresses more and more of the outside world is brought in on it. The real life, the life of adults outside these stories is extensively hinted towards, but never truly revealed. A puzzle-oriented viewer will be able to disclose a lot from the hints that are given, but a more romantic viewer might simple let the visuals engulf him.

The first part of the movie, which is set in the hospital, is portrayed with such artistry that even the most mundane and bleak of moments are so pretty it's almost kitschy. Alexandria is a curious child, and the world through her eyes is a place of simple beauty in the way only a child can conceive. But when we enter the world of the stories the visuals just become breathtakingly beautiful. To say this is one of the most beautiful and imaginative use of sets and costumes I have ever seen would be an understatement. This is the stuff dreams are made off, and what makes it ever more mind-boggling is the claim that the movie uses absolutely no computer-generated effects. No matter how impressive the screenshots here might be, they pale in comparison to the film in motion. 

The Fall is a movie that refuses any labels. It doesn't belong to any genre, artistic movement or anything superficial like that. How to watch it is entirely up to you. The director, who is only credited under the mysterious epithet "Tarsem", has invented a way of telling that is completely new, something only so few filmmakers can claim. This is one of the most ambitious and daring undertakings I've ever witnessed on film, and the fact that it exists ought to be enough reason to watch it.


It took a while for me to find an appropriate piece of music.

Wednesday, January 26

Review: Tron Legacy

I think it's fair to say that when the original Tron was released in 1982, no-one would have ever imagined that it would get a sequel almost 30 years later. This was probably mostly due to the fact that the original Tron just wasn't all that good. It was a run-of the-mill action film, with a cool early turn by Jeff Bridged (of Big Lebowski fame) but not really much going for it otherwise. Well, except that it looked like this:

The premise of the movie was that it basically took place within an arcade game, and (as was to be expected) the nerds went absolutely crazy over it. What makes 2011 different from 1982 is that nerds now rule our shit. Smartphones have become musthaves, Apple has become trendy and the acne-ridden nerds of then are now edgy. So a sequel was devised out of an old cult movie that only a handful of  people remembered. And lo and behold: it's an improvement on all points.

A large part of that is due to the fact that Legacy isn't strictly a sequel so much as a remake. Which would probably have been the best way to go: the storyline of Tron was a bit of a mess anyway, and a direct sequel wouldn't have made it any easier on new viewers. The movie starts off with Kevin Flynn, the hacker-hero of the previous film, gone missing. Years later, when his son Sam is an adult, his old friend from the first film gets a page ("you still use a pager?") from Flynn with the phone number of his old office. When Sam goes out to investigate, he accidentally gets sucked up into "the Grid", a futuristic cyberspace where he finds his father imprisoned by the very software he wrote.

The story might sound a bit complex, but it's really not. This is, first and foremost, a visual movie, and it must be said: it looks downright fantastic.


The whole movie has a very clean, spacey feel to it, something scifi movies seems to have been snubbing lately. Which is a shame, because the movie is an absolute blast to look at. Add to this the awesome score by Daft Punk (who'd ever guessed these guys could actually compose?) and you've got an absolute killer in the appearance department. This is the kind of films it's actually worth going to the cinema for. The performances are also generally solid: Garrett Hedlund is a bit bland, but Jeff Bridges is just as good as you'd expect him to be, playing a sort of cyber-hippie who seems like a mix between a Randall Munroe and The Dude. Michael Sheen also pops up for a moment, and proceeds to go absolutely goddamn nuts. I'm not really sure what his characters is supposed to be, but the way he plays it (like David Bowie on speed) is so entertaining you won't really get hung up on the fact that he doesn't really matter for the plot.

The only real issue with the movie is that a lot of very interesting ideas are hinted at (especially in the beginning), but never really explored. A sequel seems almost unavoidable, however, so we'll see what Tron: Genealogy brings to the table. In the meantime, this is a solid piece of eyecandy that's exactly the kind of mindless fun you'd expect of it.


Ye know what's cooler then Daft Punk? Hot Chip.

Tuesday, January 25

Shorts Circus: Validation

Perhaps my love for insanity is a bit too over-represented in the Shorts Circus. To straighten the balance, here is a short that pretty much defines "lovely".


Review: Notorious

Now this is an interesting case: a thriller where the person you will root for is supposed to be the villain. The reason most suspense movies portray their bad guys as ridiculously evil (shooting their own henchmen and such) is precisely to avoid this sort of thing. Instead of ending with a final "fuck you" to the villain and a kiss-off between the hero and his love interest, it ends with the downfall of a man who is genuinely nice despite all odds being stacked against him.

The movie starts off in a conventional enough manner: we are introduced to the hero and the heroine, played by Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman. These two were the biggest stars of their day, and it's not hard to see why: besides being both stunningly good-looking, they have a great chemistry between them. They talk in the way only characters in movies like these can: witty, romantic and without ever making a faux pas. Grant, who is a government agent, convinces Bergman to spy on an old acquaintance of hers whom is suspected of shady dealings. After some persuasion, she gives in and meets up with the guy. The man takes a fancy to her, and her contractors order her to seduce him.

Up until this point the movie is great fun, if a bit by the book. But once this acquaintance is introduced, the movie takes a very bitter turn. Alex Sebastian, played by Claude Rains (whom you might remember from his memorable role as the police captain in Casablanca), is simply a far too nice guy. Even if his alliance lies with the wrong people (the nazi's in this case), he's clearly deeply in love with Bergman and makes a great many sacrifices to be with her. Yet he is played out mercilessly, both by Bergman and his dominating and scornful mother. It's the latter who comes up with the plan to dispose of Bergman when they find out what here game truly is.

Mothers like those seem to be a "thing" for Hitchcock.

What makes the fall of this man even more saddening to watch is that he is the only one truly taking blows in the movie. It's clear that Grant and Bergman are going to end up together from the get-go, but as the movie progresses it's hard to see what they share besides a sense of mutual cruelty at each other. Grant was known for playing mischievous and lovable everymen, and his character here is anything but lovable: as soon as he walks into any trouble he becomes jealous, mean and generally behaves like an absolute prick. And yet he still gets the girl: Bergman seems to yearn for nothing but his approval, like an insecure teenager who dates a jock to boost her self esteem. Rains is, despite everything, clearly the nicer guy in this triangle, but when he desperately pleas for his life and the company of the woman he loves at the end of the film he gets brutally shut out. If this were a highschool film, he would have been played by Micheal Cera. And it would have never ended like this.

It's not that the idea of a tragic villain is uninteresting in any way. But why use this idea in a thriller? Thrillers aren't meant for character studies, thrillers are meant for the public to bite their nails to and return them home smiling when all is right in the world again. Notorious' ending is one of the most depressing ones I've seen in some time: not only is the hero shown to be a dick, but the nice guy is shown to be doomed. It's not so much an anticlimax as a contraclimax: the big cheer is replaced by a harrowing last look and a character walking to his certain death.

The movie is undoubtedly well-made (this is Hitchcock, after all), but there is no getting away from the fact that we are asked to condemn a person simple because. Rains final moment reminded me of the moment in Inglourious Basterd where a german officer is waiting for the "Bear Jew" to show up and beat him to death. You can see the fear in his eyes, and for a moment this man is the one you root for. But where that moment is short and mostly played out for laughs, Notorious is dead serious. I think it's about time that we filmnerds took a good hard look at our collective Hitchcockboner, and this seems like an excellent place to start.


This is how I felt after the movie. Not exactly what you'd expect after a thriller.

Sunday, January 23

Pulling Rabbits: The problem with video games

The "games as art" debate is over. We won. Roger Ebert, who sparked off the debate, posted a rebuttal to his earlier statements that games never be art. So, yay for games? Well, not quite. Although I defended games' artistic value in an earlier article, I find myself resenting them more and more. And this has mostly to do with their lack of artistic value.

Yes, there are games that are art. Without a doubt. There's Braid, there's Shadow of the Collosus and there's the works of Jason Rohrer. And that's really about it. There are some more examples, but like the aforementioned they are mostly either relatively obscure or didn't exactly sell well. There is a crowd for art games, but they are vastly overshadowed by the legions of players who are dedicated to Halo, Call of Duty and World of Warcraft. If you'd want to play, full-time, every genuinely artistic video game, and I mean every single one ever made, you could probably do so in a month. If you're slow. For comparison: if you want to watch every single artmovie that was made since 1972 (the year Pong was released) you'd be quick if you're done in half a year. And movies usually take a fraction of the time a game takes to complete. You'd probably never get done if you started on the books, assuming you read the newly released ones as well.

The major problem with games is that they explore only a tiny fractions of all human experiences. In games that star human characters they mostly just fight each other to the death. If a game even has dialogue for the player to partake in (and that's a big if) the themes of sexuality, boredom, pointless violence or rascism (to name just a few) aren't very likely to be dealt with in a mature and thoughtprovoking way. The state of diversity in games is even worse. I'm not saying that every game should explore these things, but they are simply a part of how human beings behave. If a game wants to go the extra mile, it has to address at least some of issues other then violence.

But that's where the crux of the issue might lie: games are, by their very nature almost, very bad at this. Allow me to explain.
     First off, a games must be winnable, and winning the game must feel good. And as it turns out, most human experiences translate very badly into terms of winning and losing. Have you ever truly "won" a fight with a loved one? Have you ever really "won" at having a relationship? It's pretty clear that talking about situations like that in simple terms of winning and losing removes every nuance from them. Nuance which is crucial for properly portraying situations like these. The win/lose mechanism can even break a carefully built up nuance, something many players of the otherwise great game Ico might recognize. The absolute worst examples of this problem are the moral choice system which every game and their dog seems to have nowadays. Good and evil are some of the most difficult and fickle concepts in human society, over which philosophers have broken their heads for centuries. Simply reducing the choice in a situation to "good" (help the kitten from the tree while singing Morning has Broken) or "asshole" (set the tree on fire with a flamethrower that plays Slayer) isn't merely oversimplification. It's just plain stupid.

This picture tells the entire moral argument of Bioshock:
do I play evil which helps me play better or do I play good with a tactical disadvantage? 

 Secondly, most games nowadays are expected to have a certain length. If you can complete a game in a single three-hour sitting, most people feel cheated. Considering how expensive games are, this is completely understandable. But this also means that games can't really venture into deep emotional territory. Even if they find a way around the problem that people will get up and leave halfway and it will be practically impossible to build up emotion that way, it's unlikely that gamers will want to play a game that makes them depressed every time they get back to it. You'll sit down to get kicked in the balls once, but you won't sit down to get kicked in the balls three times in a row.

Thirdly, games allow for very little interpretation on the part of player. When you watch a warfilm as a pacifist, you can still take away a message of the futility of war from it. When you're actually forced to play the war, that becomes a little harder. I quit playing both Modern Warfare games after less then an hour because of this. In the first there was a part when I had to shoot NPCs in their sleep, in the second it was after the infamous No Russian mission. You can disgust a character in a movie or a book for his actions, but when you actively control this character things become a little more difficult. This argument doesn't really apply to RPG's, but the more freedom you give a player the more noticeable the things you can't do become. This what made me quit playing Mass Effect.

The most common solution to these problems is simply replacing human characters by aliens or fantasy monsters. Which, to be fair, is probably the best solution. The Super Mario games, for example, don't have the slightest pretension of artistic value, yet they are still universally loved. And you know why? Because they're fun. And this is very important: there is nothing wrong with simply being fun. Fun is good. I'm pro-fun in every medium there is. So, am I saying that games should simply give up any attempts to be artistic? No, of course not. But what I'm saying is that they shouldn't have the pretension of making any statement about the human condition when they're really not.

I have hopes for games as an artistic medium. Interaction with what you're exploring is something that's really new to media, and it offers a lot of genuinely fascinating possibilities. However, if game designers continue to fine-tune something that they will never be able to perfect, instead of coming up with genuinely interesting new ways of playing, I doubt there will ever be a mainstream game that has the emotional and intellectual complexity of a Citizen Kane, or even an Inception. I don't know how to fix this problem, but I definitely know there's something broken.


Because there are no really good songs about video games, here is some music from video games. Played by a guitar orchestra.

Thursday, January 20

Shorts Circus: Un Chien Andalou

In the spirit of this weeks Movie You Should Totally see, Waking Life, here is another dream picture.

Only this one is... uhm... how do I explain...

Well, see for yourself.


Movies You Should Totally See: Waking Life

Of all the things we experience in our lives, dreams have to be the most puzzling. We can figure out why we think something, and with some personal reflection we can discern why we feel something. But why we dream something is almost impossible to find out. And yet, our dreams seem to tell us a lot about ourselves. For as long as people have slept, dreams have been an endless source of fascination for poets, artists and philosophers, and filmmakers are no exception to that. Besides providing lazy screenwriters with a cheap twist ending (it was all a dream!), there have been many notable films about dreams (in the last decade alone there were The Science of Sleep, Mulholland Drive and Inception, to name a few). But what makes Waking Life so different from those movies is that it's not about dreams. It is a dream.

Although it has a very distinct visual style, Waking Life is first and foremost about people talking. Who these people are, or even where, doesn't seem to be relevant. We simply zoom in on their conversation, and leave when they're done, or when the moment is opportune. We move from interviews to monologues, from lectures to anecdotes. The topics are all over the place, but they're never trivial: society, consciousness, reality, life itself. These are conversations of the sort that you can only wish for most of the time: literate and out-of-the-box, with mutual interest. The dialogue is what keeps the movie going: there is almost nothing in the way of a plot. The dialogue itself is what matters, and it's bliss to listen to. Precisely because there is nothing to move towards, the dialogue never feels rushed or trying to prove something: it is simply moving at it's own pace. Sometimes we hear a 5-minute monologue followed by someone saying a single line, and both make equal impact.

The central figure amongst all this is the unnamed protagonist, played by Willy Wiggins. He talks, but mostly listens. It seems to be that we're exploring his dreamworld: we see him waking up several times in the movie, only to find out later that we're still in a dream. The movie seems deceptively complex: it's entirely possible that it's all set within a single dream. But this is not a puzzle movie. If you just allow the movie to overtake you, it will become a meditation, a shower of good ideas. And just when you think you have grasped what one speaker is saying, another has already taken his place. You won't be able to really ponder upon anything that happens. Instead, you will be made to think about life and the world in general in a way that can only be described as philosophical. The real depth is at the surface.

This is not a movie to explain. This is a movie to experience, talk about, inspire people and spark conversations. Many people will resist a movie that's not to be figured out, and resistance to this movie is like waking up from it. It renders it completely worthless. This is a movie for dreamers, people who are genuinely willing to dream. Like one of the characters in the movie says: "Things have been tough lately for dreamers". This movie feels like solace in hard times. It's one of the best dreams I've ever had.


This is called dream pop. 'nuf said.

Sunday, January 16

Shorts Circus: Vinni Puh

This little guy is called Vinni Puh. He is the Sovjetversion of Winnie the Pooh. Is that enough reason to watch this? Yes.

Pay attention to the hilariously crappy subtitles as well.


Pulling Rabbits: On Robert Rodriguez

Most filmmakers would do fine without movies. They make art in the same way a novelist or a playwright make art: imagining something beautiful, and then expressing that through their medium of choice. If they wouldn't have film, they would just express themselves in another artform. But there is also a group of filmmakers that do things a little more different. Their art isn't told by way of the movie. Their art is the movie. People like Godard and Riami work like this, creating films that  simply revel in the fact that they are films. But the person who has used this ethos more then anyone is Robert Rodriguez.

Rodriguez started out, much like his good friend Quentin Tarantino, as a massive filmnerd. His dad bought him a camera when he was 7, and he never stopped making movies after that. When he was 24, he scraped together 7000 dollars and made El Mariachi. He let his friends do the acting, and basically did everything else himself: writing, directing, filming, and editing. The fact that the movie got made is impressive enough all by itself, but the fact that is was well-received was even more astounding. To put it in perspective: Clerks was made on over three times as much budget, and that movie didn't contain a single action scene.

This man had sex with Rose McGowan and is
therefore infinitely cooler then you

Rodriguez work has been hit-or-miss since then, containing greats such as Once Upon a Time in Mexico and shitstains such as From Dusk till Dawn. But the thing that never changed throughout his career is that he steadfastly refused to grow up. He still stands behind the camera with the same enthusiasm of the 13-year old boy who sneaked out to watch crappy scifi movies at the drive-in. You might call his work immature, but it also has a sort of wide-eyed wonder to it which is impossible to resist. Just watch the opening credits from Once Upon a Time in Mexico:

Not a damn thing happens here. But what makes it such a blast to watch is its utter devotion to the possibilities of film. There are crane shots, shadowplay, jump cuts, weird transitions... every tool from the filmmakers box. Rodriguez is taking full advantage of every possibility he has, not so much to bring across a message, but to bring across his love for pure film. Watching his work brings back the eternal 15-year old in everyone of us, and with that he has found himself a nobler cause then many a filmmaker.


I have nothing to say about this song. Just listen to it.

Wednesday, January 12

Pulling Rabbits: The Music Videos of 2010

2010 saw some very interesting music videos. This is not a rundown of the best of those, but an analysis of three of the more interesting ones.


We all know the song. It's not particularly remarkable, but it's a catchy and danceable tune that comes by on the radio now and again. I can say it's really my style, but everyone can sing along with it and it's far less obnoxious then most top-40 songs nowadays. But then there's the video:

What the fuck?

The "mainstream" has gone completely bonkers over the last few years, and this is a perfect example of that. The video has been compared with Stanley Kubricks work, and I can see why. So what, you might ask? Well, it's Stanley Kubrick. His movies were some of the most innovative and controversial of their day, and they still polarize cinephiles. Truly an renegade. And now a world famous singer has a video based on his work? And it has gotten over 300 million views? I have honestly no idea what this could mean.  Is this a blend of high and low culture? A sign that there isn't a "safe and wholesome norm" anymore? Whatever it is, it's certainly something different then just a video of a pretty chick playing a song,


(I didn't embed this video because watching it in low quality completely destroys the effect. Click the link and watch it in HD.)

The music is this short is from Wests new album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. He made quite a comeback with that album: after being called a jackass by no other then the president of the United States, Fantasy is now being called "the Sgt. Peppers of hip-hop" and "the best album in 10 years" by critics. It's pretty good, 's what I'm saying. But it's doesn't stand on it's own.

Kanye West is someone everyone has an opinion of: some people think he's a complete douchebag, some people think he's a musical genius, some people think both, and one person appears to thinks that he's the voice of our generation. That person is Kanye West himself. The funny thing, however, is that he's aware of the fact that many people hate him. He explicitly talks about it on the album, both defending himself and apologizing. And the video is an extension of the music. Everything is connected to each other: the video, the music, his public image, his image of himself. Everything is commenting and the other things, making them inseparably connected.

The film itself is also quite a on oddity. It's kitschy, over-the-top and generally just in bad taste. Yet somehow, West manages to make this strengths instead of weaknesses. The cinematography and the set design are both ridiculously pretty, but it's used for an aesthetic that I've never seen before. It's like a mix between high art and a hip-hop sensibility. Mixing visual art and music have been done before, of course. Just look at Pink Floyd's The Wall or R.E.M.'s Losing My Religion. But this is the first time I've seen it done with other music then rock. This might just be the first video of it's kind. A hip-hop opera, if you will.


(Because this is an interactive video, I cannot embed it. You can find it here:

The Arcade Fire released the other record-of-the-year in 2010: The Suburbs. It draws on the memories that frontman Win Butler has of his youth in the suburbs in Houston. He has stated that the album doesn't try to glorify or condemn suburbia, but rather "[write] a letter from the suburbs".

The music video, set to the song "We Used to Wait", connects with this sentiment in a very unique but very effective way. When you go to that website, enter the address and press "play", your browser basically explodes. Windows pop up faster then you can manage to organize them, and they disappear just as fast and unexpected. The effect is rather unsettling. You lose control over that one place in the world that you have absolute, totalitarian control over: your computer. Even if it's only for a moment, you feel powerless.

I think this is where the music and the video meet. The music has a sense of remembrance over it about our childhood, and the video makes us feel like a child again. Powerless against the constant onslaught of new impressions that the world is at a certain age. It's a sense of hopelessness that will be instantly familiar.

What turned most heads about the project, however, was it's personalization. Before the video starts, you have to enter the address of the street you grew up in. Images and streetviews from Google Maps are then used in the video. It might sound a bit silly, but it really works. The video becomes about you, the viewer, instead of about the band. Quite the departure from the usual egotrip that is a music video.

The thing that unites these things seems to be it's medium of distribution: the internet. The Arcade Fire's video makes use of it in the most obvious way, but I get the sense that the other two also have a sensibility that people will watch it on the internet. It doesn't really matter if you watch away for a moment from Bad Romance, and Runaway knows that you can stop watching it any second and does everything to keep this from happening. The ways the internet is used (and not used) are really starting to come alive in this videos, making them much more vibrant then they used to be. I have no idea what 2011 will hold in store, but it sure as hell is going to be interesting.


I think that's enough music for today.