Archive for January, 2014

Exit Marrakech – **

Posted: January 25, 2014 in 2013, Drama, Germany, Road Trip, XX

A conceited, smart, but troubled kid needs to start his summer holidays in Marrakech with his father who is there to stage a play during a cultural festival. Their relationship is strained as the divorced father is hardly ever-present in the adolescent’s life and the only reason for the invitation is for the boy to meet his six-year-old half-sister who starts asking about her big brother. Time to run away from all the pressure and so, after a few days, the young man disappears into the Moroccan mountains and the father goes out looking for him.

There’s nothing really bad about this father/son tale. But it is quickly forgotten. The setting is a blessing and reason enough for watching this exotic road movie. The performances of the main actors are good, but their characters are tedious and despicable. You just want them to get killed in the desert. The story also focuses too much on these two protagonists, when the interesting people (the Moroccan characters) seem to disappear from the story as if they were just part of the scenery. Whatever happened to the prostitute or the gay theatre workers? For a moment it feels like you will learn about the Marrakech underground scene of sex, drugs and rock’ n roll. Instead you learn about a father who comes to realise he has neglected his son and a son who realises he should stop acting like a prick towards his dad. YAWN.

A welcome surprise on my Singapore Airlines flight, this action drama from Hong Kong tells the story of a former boxing champion who trains a young man to fight in a MMA championship. There is a lot going on in this excellent piece of entertainment. You have the fights of course, which are fascinating for all and a major draw for the lovers of martial arts movies. But there is much more. The social drama element will – or should – attract a total other crowd of moviegoers. There is former boxer who has debts and takes up a job in a gym unworthy of his status. There’s a young man who wants to show his father that he can achieve something after all. And there’s an interesting subplot about a young girl who’s mother is mentally fragile (after the death of her second child) and who finds comfort in the presence of the former boxer who is renting a room in their household.

The scenes between the boxer and the girl are endearing and funny at times. The scenes between the boxer and his MMA pupil as well. This only works because of the great chemistry of the actors. Especially Nick Leung is excellent. His charisma should work everywhere in the world, not only in China. It’s amazing that this movie didn’t get a European release.

Fruitvale Station – ***

Posted: January 25, 2014 in 2013, Social Drama, USA, XXX

A few years ago, a police officer shot a young African-American at the Fruitvale metro station in the Bay Area. It shocked the US, especially since the incident was filmed by other travellers and word spread around fast via the social media. But after a few days everyone had forgotten about this act of brutal police violence. And that’s why there is a movie now. To make sure random acts like these do not get forgotten.

The movie accounts the 24 hours leading up to the fatal moment and explains the background of the victim with flashbacks. Here’s this 22-year-old father who is released from prison but is struggling to stay on the right track. He lost his job for being too late all too often and the temptation to sell drugs again is big. He doesn’t want to disappoint his family though and tries to be as honest as possible. On New Year’s Eve he celebrates his mother’s birthday and then leaves with this girlfriend and friends to see the fireworks in San Francisco. Only this time he takes the metro…

Of course the victim in the story is a sympathetic anti-hero. Yes, he has a criminal past, but he has a good heart, looks attractive and is helpful to anyone around him. I am sure the real guy wasn’t such an angel. But it’s necessary from a storytelling point of view. You have to feel for this guy in order to stay focused towards the predictable end. And it works. The acting is excellent and the direction is – though very classic – flawless. It’s a strong emotional social drama that doesn’t feel politically biased at all. Spike Lee would have pulled the racial card, but this one excels in being pretty neutral. Viewers can interpret the facts how they want.

The protests and civil unrest in Egypt during the Arab spring revolution are the core of this political drama with a love twist. It’s an Egyptian movie, made by and for Egyptians. There is no typical wife-beating humour here (which seems to be typical for Egyptian blockbuster comedies). No, the main lead character is a relatively strong, smart, intelligent and brave woman. Which must be rare. Not sure if this movie was a success in its native country, but I cannot see it enter international world cinema festivals.

It’s too Egyptian. There are a lot of references to the country’s clashing and contradicting societies that an introduction of some kind would come in handy. Everyone knows the Arab language sounds hard and aggressive for foreigners (so does holland-Dutch by the way), but the dialogue in this movie is just a continuous screaming. It’s very tough to listen to. The supposed ‘love’ element is a joke. The independent smart rebellious woman falls for a dumb illiterate conservative married man. It just doesn’t make sense. I understand Egyptians cannot show any sex on-screen, but the supposed scandalous meeting between the two lovers is just unclear to me. Did they just talk or was there a kiss? I cannot imagine there was something more than a kiss.

So what is it about? A political activist is fascinated by a horse rider of a lower class who opposes the ideas of the revolution and gets hired by the regime to fight its opponents. The more she tries to convince him for her cause the more he gets forced to back the cause of his regime loving boss.

Somehow Ben Stiller thought he could be as cool a director as  Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, Jean-Pierre Jeunet or even Tim Burton and decided to make The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty, which feels like an attempt to join the list of quirky surrealistic dramedies like Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Amélie and Big Fish.

All the ingredients are there: an interesting indie rock soundtrack, original scenes where the imagination of the character and the viewer take over from reality, an interesting premise (a daydreamer finally starts to go on a real journey) and a story that allows for wide cinematographic settings and cool special effects. It’s really all there.

However, it doesn’t work. It just doesn’t work. Predominantly because it’s never funny. Ever.

The Wolf Of Wall Street – **1/2

Posted: January 16, 2014 in 2013, Comedy, USA, XX1/2

The Wolf Of Wall Street is an entertaining take on the excesses of an unscrupulous Wall Street stock broker. It’s filled with nakedness, scenes of drug use and the script contains more than 500 ‘fucks’ (a new record). If this still doesn’t get your attention, read this: it’s directed by Martin Scorsese and stars Leonardo DiCaprio. That should be enough to get you to the cinema asap.

DiCaprio’s acting is great, Scorsese’s directing is awesome. But the overabundance of images of sex and drugs make the story redundant and make this movie almost trivial. It’s just a comedy. An adult comedy. With a lot of sex and a lot of drugs. But I guess by now that should be clear.

An older man who loves literature, fly fishing and polyphonic classical compositions finds a wounded woman on the street and takes her in to his apartment. She refuses to see a doctor or go the police, but prefers a cup of tea with some milk AND to recount the man her adventures as a nymphomaniac.

This first part of Lars von Trier’s latest cinematic project – you cannot really call it a movie – is intriguing enough to be anticipating the second part. You get to learn more about the main character Joe’s sex addiction, even though she refuses to see it as an addiction because she wants sex out of lust not out of necessity. And that’s basically it.

Maybe it’s me, but I didn’t see any lust in this woman’s expressions. Is that bad acting of the newcomer Stacy Martin? Not really. It’s just bad storytelling and bad directing. I am not a fan of Mr von Trier at all. I never get all the fuzz about his releases. But for every redundant scene (the first five minutes, Christian Slater getting his ass wiped after shitting himself, …), there’s a cool moment that makes this a cinema experience worth discovering (Rammstein blasting out of nowhere, the polyphonic sex session explanation, …) For the moment, I still feel that the woman (played by Charlotte Gainsbourg) is making the stuff up. But there’s a scene where her caretaker (Stellan Skarsgård) points out the silliness  and incredibility of her stories , to which she replies “Do you prefer to believe what I say and be entertained or do you prefer to not believe it and be bored?”. Well, bored I wasn’t. In awe neither. Entertained yes.