Archive for April, 2013

Les Profs – **

Posted: April 27, 2013 in 2013, Comedy, France, XX

I was too tired to be annoyed by the amount of movies shown in Brussels without Dutch subtitles. I think, by law, a movie should not be able to be released without subtitles in the language of the country’s majority. However, most Flemish don’t care about French comedies in general, so it makes sense that distributors won’t invest in a translation. Such is the case for Les Profs which I saw (en version original sans sous titres). And a French comedy it is, with comedians that are only famous in the French-speaking world and dealing with the educational system of France, which is different from other countries.

The set up is simple: a school fails to reach the nation’s quota of pupils passing the important baccalaureat, a test allowing students to go to university. Many children and teachers are looking for another school and something needs to be done! But instead of attracting the best teachers (professeurs in French), they attract the silliest ones. Seven very bizarre characters will join the teachers corps and make a difference!

The French are not really known for their absurd humour, but there’s a lot of Monty Python in this comedy. In combination with typical physical gags, a lot of swearing and sexually charged play of words. The English teacher for instance hurls chalk at students, the math teacher has calculated that students can only concentrate for 3 minutes per hour and decides to just teach for three minutes per class, the history teacher dresses up like Napoleon and imitates a Diet Coke commercial to win the heart of the German teacher, etc.. At one moment they all scheme a plan to steal the national exams from the Ministry of Education. And so on.

I laughed a lot, even though the jokes and scenes were incredibly silly and the only other people laughing were children under the age of 12. But I guess that has to do with my restricted knowledge of the French language and the fact that it did not seem like a movie where you needed to use your brain to get the jokes.

The teachers are the stars of the movie, some more efficient than the other, and the pupils are totally irrelevant and incredibly bad acting. But it’s a comedy. So who cares.

Hannah Arendt – **

Posted: April 27, 2013 in 2012, Drama, Germany, Israel, XX

A Jewish professor of German and Philosophy gets the opportunity to attend the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Israel. Her article in the New York Times however causes a lot of controversy. She has dared to trivialize the deeds of this nazi war criminal and even hinted that during the war several leaders of the Jewish community worked together with the nazis.

It’s really fascinating how a movie like this could be financed. It’s not an easy topic. It’s still controversial to trivialize Germans who ‘only followed orders’ during the Second World War. And it’s still highly controversial to talk about the role that Jewish leaders played in that ‘dark’ period of time (as it is referred to in this movie). Plus, this is a movie about a philosopher and hence filled with philosophical trains of thoughts and quotes of famous thinkers. Moreover, it’s a movie about a stubborn, rational and intellectually arrogant woman who was hated by her own people after the publication. A loveable Mary Poppins she isn’t. Plus she smokes. ALL the time.

I sympathised with her, just because she stuck to her rational beliefs and did not care that other people let their feelings take over their brain. The movie does not focus on her feelings at all (apart from maybe two scenes) and gives you a very stubborn, rational and arrogant heroine. It’s up to the viewers to judge her, like the people did back in the sixties. That’s the biggest feat of this movie: it’s unbiased portrayal (performed incredibly well by Barbara Sukowa). Her final speech is impressive.

But the other actors surrounding her are terrible. Not just mediocre, but terrible. The editing is bad, the delayed synchronisation is annoying, the camera angles are uninspiring, the soundtrack is horrific and it all feels like this was made for television on a very low-budget. But fascinating story.

A friend invited me to go see Iron Man 3. I didn’t even know there was a third instalment on its way, especially since the atypical superhero was one of the main characters in last year’s (incomprehensibly popular) The Avengers. But it’s this weekend’s most anticipated release and my friend is a fan. I don’t like this franchise at all, but I like my friend, and I could do with some mindless entertainment, so I accepted the invitation.

It won’t come as a surprise when I write that the story is crap. Something about a scientist who once got humiliated by Mr Stark and years later teams up with a super villain who uses his invention (which reproduces body parts once they are damaged) for a bad cause. But I have to admit that I was entertained thanks to the funny dialogue. Especially between Iron Man/Tony Stark and his sidekick Warrior Machine/James Rhodes. And between Tony Stark and a young Tennessee kid whose help he needs throughout the movie. The acting is quite acceptable, with notable mentions for Don Cheadle, Ty Simpkins (as the kid) and Ben Kingsley who plays the super villain. Too bad Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man acts and sounds like his Sherlock Holmes, just in a different costume.

Yet, however funny some of the dialogue is, in the end this is a crap movie. The special effects and the action scenes look like they were shot in the eighties. There’s nothing original or cool about them at all. The locations are far from being inventive (a Malibu house on a cliff, an oil rig) and I’ve seen b-movies with better fights than here. You have to wait until the end credits to see some real cinematic magic. I guess this is just for the fans (and their friends).

Dans La Maison – **1/2

Posted: April 16, 2013 in 2012, Dramedy, France, Parody, XX1/2

François Ozon makes movies like no-one else does, which makes him unique and intriguing and one of my favorite directors. That doesn’t mean that his movies are excellent, but they are always fascinating. Just as Dans La Maison, his most recent feature movie. The synopsis is again quite weird, but because it comes from Ozon you can expect it to be bizarrely thrilling anyhow. A teacher of French is fascinated by an essay that one of his pupils wrote. The young adolescent had to write about his weekend adventures and accounted a tale of entering the house of one of his classmates after having observed it for months… He cleverly ended with ‘to be continued…’, which only fueled the interest of the teacher and his art gallery owning wife. The teacher thinks he has found himself a writing talent and decides to encourage the kid for writing more. But the line between fiction and reality becomes very thin…

Somewhere near the end of the movie, the teacher tells the kid a good end of a story is when the reader didn’t expect it at all, but also realizes there could not have been a better ending. Unfortunately the end of the movie fails to surprise and close at the same time. The movie ends with the line ‘to be continued…’ and that’s not a spoiler. It’s pretty abrupt and quite boring compared to the exciting build up, which was typically ozonesque. The thrilling element in his movies is never much about horror or fear or suspense, but more anticipation of what will happen next. The acting is great and there’s a lot of humor. Plus Ozon doesn’t take it all that serious. I loved the way he mocks the seriousness with which contemporary art is treated. However in the end, there’s the feeling that it could have been a much better movie. I may give it *** later on if it’s still on my mind next week.

Brooklyn Castle – *1/2

Posted: April 11, 2013 in 2012, Documentary, USA, X1/2

A 99 cent rental of the week on iTunes, this Brooklyn Castle is a mediocre documentary about a school in Brooklyn that wins a lot of championships with their chess team and fears losing that fame because of government cuts making it harder for them to travel to wherever the championships take place.

If you want to learn more about the failures of the educational system in the US, just watch the fourth (and best) season of The Wire. That touched me. This one didn’t at all. As a European it’s really hard to watch these documentaries because it’s very difficult to relate to. This pressure of scoring well at one particular test in order to get into the high school of your choice for instance:  who invented that system?  And why – after four years Obama – are there still no plans of changing that? The documentary assumes that every viewer knows this system, which isn’t the case if you don’t live in the US. A good documentary would dig deep into these horrible educational failures and not have some teacher say ‘it’s tough for you guys, but it’s just a test, that’s how the system works’. That totally ruined it for me. That guy was the least motivational teacher I’ve ever seen on a screen.

It’s really sad for the kids who have no other way of getting a better education, but as a European viewer it’s still pretty strange to see someone get a college scholarship just by winning a chess competition! There’s something really wrong there. And that’s another thing most Europeans can’t relate to: these interscholar competitions. Most schools in Europe don’t have a Chess team let alone a Glee team or a Basket team. The idea of spending extra time in school to win a title for the school’s fame and your own popularity or confidence, is just weird.

The problem with this documentary is that it feels like a fund-raiser, a means of having people surf to the site of the school and donate money so they can win more chess games. that’s fine. that’s marketing. but it doesn’t make it a good documentary. It is an interesting (yet overlong) item for an American news program.


Shame – **1/2

Posted: April 6, 2013 in 2011, Drama, UK, USA, XX1/2

Sometimes you need to have reached a mature age or have experienced life a bit to enjoy certain movies. If I had seen this feature twenty years ago, I most likely would have hated it. It’s slow and the story isn’t compelling at all. A relatively successful businessman suffers from a sex addiction and can’t deal with his unsuccessful sister to be dependent on him all the time. If it weren’t for ‘sex addiction’ in the previous sentence, nobody would bother watching this. But critics loved this movie, it won several awards and George Clooney referred to Michael Fassbinder’s penis size during the Golden Globes. So, three reasons to persevere.

It’s easy to understand why critics love this movie. What the movie lacks in scriptwriting, it makes up with visual storytelling and with editing. There are several moments throughout the movie where I was pleasantly surprised to see that the movie makers decided to just let the camera roll and film the scene in correspondence with reality. I think it’s the first time ever that I see an elevator scene actually last as long as an elevator needs to get from one floor to another. The realism of the scenes are very believable and hence the awards and nominations are rightful. Sure this is arthouse pornography, but the the sex scene between Fassbinder and Nicole Beharie is one of the best I’ve ever seen. It looked very natural. All actors are great by the way, but the chemistry between those two was flawless. And yes, Michael Fassbinder has a large penis. You get to see it within five minutes of the movie in case that’s the only thing you want to see. But I remember seeing Jeremy Irons’ penis in Damage as well (20 years ago) and wondered what special effects they use to make it look so big.

More than a movie about a sex addict, it’s a movie about a troubled relationship between a brother and a sister. It’s all very superficial and you don’t actually get to know any of the characters, but the way it’s presented is mesmerizing.