Archive for the 'Movie Reviews' Category

The Martian – Movie Review

Sunday, October 25th, 2015

movie reviewI’m a long time fan of director Ridley Scott. Even though I haven’t seen Exodus yet. Still, whenever I hear that he’s up to a new project (which he constantly is) I’m excited. I just love how his movies are shot. There’s always something majestic in these pictures he manages to create for his films. And since “The Martian” is a scifi movie I had to see it. No way around it. The movie managed to get some good critics which made it even more interesting.

Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is “The Martian”. Stranded on Mars, when a huge storm hit him and his crewmates, while doing science work on the surface. On the way back to the ship he gets separated and injured. Commander Lewis (Jessica Chastain) is trying to find him, but ultimately forced to leave him behind, to save the rest of the crew. When Watney wakes up the storm is over, he is injured and alone. He immediately tries to analyse the situation. He finds a way to produce water and food first. Then the next problem is how to make contact with Earth. In the mean time NASA tries to handle the failed mission and declares Watney dead. When checking satellite photos from the evacuated Mars basecamp, they notice that elements of that base changed position. They immediately try to work out a plan, to start a rescue mission while Watney finds a way for communication. Then it’s a battle against time.

This is one of the safest movies I’ve ever seen. There is no villain in this movie. Everyone behaves like a thinking human being. The villain is the problem of bringing Mark Watney back home. How can it be done? Is it even possible? Another thing is the survival aspect Watney has to get managed. The movie walks a fine line of telling the story of Watney’s survival and the NASA trying to find a way of saving him. It goes back and forth but never loses its tight pacing. Which is phenomenal for a 140 minutes movie. It never dragged.

The movie does have some time jumps and one of them is quite a leap. I expected to see a little more of the psychological impact of being alone on an alien planet. On the other hand, adding more stuff to this film, would have probably ruined the pacing. From what I heard they managed to keep it pretty much in line with the book by Andy Weir. Drew Goddard’s screenplay works pretty tight and manages to avoid the usual scifi movie traps. While it does have a serious side to it, there are a lot of parts that are very light and even funny. Again a fine balance that worked out very well.

Acting wise it’s ‘almost’ a one-man show. Matt Damon does a nice job. There is not much to complain. A couple of situations could have needed a little more despair. I mean, sure… the character is a trained astronaut and well prepared. Still, it is a very hard situation he is in. A little more desparation wouldn’t have hurt. But that’s a minor nitpick. Jessica Chastain is also very good. Her character, of course, has doubts about leaving Watney behind. And she is fighting with her decision. Jeff Daniels, playing the head of NASA, is also a nice character. He is also fighting with hard decisions. Chewitel Ejiofor plays the head of the Mars mission and fights with hard decisions as well while in the process of preparing a rescue mission. The cast in general is stellar and does a fine job overall. Every character is believable and has its place in the film and story. No one is wasted.

There are voices out there labeling the movie a NASA commercial. But it’s not just about NASA in this movie. It’s about science, space, its dangers and why we have to get out there. And most importantly… that we can make it. The movie makes a scientifically very sound impression and I’m willing to think that nothing in this movie is impossible. Well, ok… here and there are some weird things. But overall, I think it works. so I would rather call it a Space commercial and not a NASA commercial. I would love for mankind to focus more on exploring space instead of all the stupid stuff that’s going on on this planet right now. Maybe things would be dealt with differently once mankind managed to make the next step to interplanetary travel.

Mars never felt closer. Strange and yet familiar. Dangerous and yet inviting. The vfx are flawless. It seems like directors start to learn how to use vfx properly. It’s about time! The 3d felt good but there are some scenes I would have enjoyed more in 2d. At least the 3d looked good and didn’t take me out of the movie.

Go see it. It’s an exciting ride!


The Martian on IMDb

Citizenfour – Movie Review

Tuesday, September 8th, 2015

movie reviewIt’s hard to talk about this docu without talking about your own personal stance on what it’s all about. So let me get this straight from the get go. Edward Snowden is a modern time hero. Just because some politicians and age old laws say otherwise… – my heart and (most importantly) my brain tell me that it’s true, this man is a hero. I felt this way before I saw this doc and now feel that way even more. I still find it hard to believe that this documentary got an Oscar. I watched live when they received it and damn… the mood in that room, full of Hollywood’s greatest, suddenly dropped dead. Some faces said “yes, well done!”. But a lot more looked confused and dead serious tried not to show any kind of emotion whatsoever. As if they were afraid of something. To me it was a slightly shocking sight to be honest. That’s my main memory of the 2015 Oscar ceremony.

I admit, I haven’t seen the other nominated docus. But now after seeing Citizenfour, there was only one of them that, at this moment in history, deserved that Oscar. I’m amazed how well the makers planned this. We see a lot of material right from the start and Glenn Greenwald’s first meetings with Edward Snowden. Laura Poitras, who directed this film, was there to capture the material on film. All of the people involved really made an extremely intelligent impression and very carefully thought about how to proceed with the reveals, that Snowdens material included. At first Snowden is trying to explain what’s actually going on in the world. At that point it’s fascinating trying to read the faces of the journalists. It’s one thing to suspect that all Snowden eventually reveals is going on. But hearing a credible source talking about how deep it actually goes… that’s world-view changing material.

That first part of Citizenfour is also the most interesting one. At least for me. It shows stuff we haven’t seen before. We know what happened when the media released the articles, revealing all the different spying operations, that are going on all around the (for the most part) western world. How countries and companies are linked to intelligence agencies. The first half focussed on Edward Snowden. He didn’t come forward without a plan. A very careful plan. He knew what would happen. He knew what to do, how to protect relatives and friends and how to hide. And the most important part for me is that he did not plan to stay undercover. His plan was to show himself. To attract all attention to him and away from people who had nothing to do with it. His family or girlfriend for example. There are a couple of quiet scenes where there is a glimmer of doubt in his eyes. If this really was the right way to go. If it’s all worth it. If you ask me, I couldn’t answer that question. What’s sure though is the fact that if he wouldn’t have come forward… someone else would have.

The second part of the movie goes into the details of the aftermath of the reveals. That’s the stuff we already know. At least when you’re a little bit interested in world politics. It’s slightly less interesting but it gives a good perspective from the people who were actually involved. What it doesn’t show is that over the time 2013 to 2015 nothing has changed. Here in germany it seems like no one wants to investigate anything NSA related. The chancelor’s cellphone got tapped, they found a double-agent working for the BND/NSA and drone strikes executed from german soil. Nothing happened after Snowden released the documents. That is what’s worrying me the most. And Snowden says it himself… the fact that everyone nowadays takes it for granted that ‘someone is always listening’. That’s how the world works, right? I guess so. That doesn’t make it right though. He also briefly talks about the early days of the Internet. How there was a different atmosphere. How it felt like a door to the whole wide world. It was new. There were no bounds. I’m old enough to remember that time and while it may be nostalgia… he’s absolutely right. I’m sorta proud to have experienced that short time-frame, when the Internet was still relatively young in the mid to late 90s.

So yeah. Everyone should see this documentary. It’s not just about the person Edward Snowden. It’s about our time and how the world works. It’s a lesson that needs to be taught. I fear we’re all still students, trying to understand and comprehend how big that machine, that constantly works in the background of our lives, really is.


Citizenfour on IMDb

Nightcrawler – Movie Review

Saturday, August 22nd, 2015

movie reviewPraised as one of the best thrillers done in the past couple of years, I was of course very interested to see it. I didn’t manage to see it in theaters and had to go Bluray for this one. Even though I must admit that seeing it on the big screen would have been a treat. Especially for the beginning of the film.

The film starts with a nice moody buildup, for the overall atmosphere we are operating in, with this film. Really gorgeous night shots of Los Angeles. It builds a mood much like ‘Drive’ did in its opening minutes. The impression of a very fascinating city that still leaves no doubt that it will eat you alive when you’re not up to its speed. We meet Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) who immediately gives a very shady and weirdo impression. The praise Gyllenhaal gets for his performance really is deserved. He’s borderlining ‘over the top’ with his play… but manages to stay in believable territory. A very fine balance act he pulls off there. Louis tries to make a living with collecting scrap metal and sell it. He doesn’t shy away from illegal action and that’s made clear very early on in the movie. On his way home from, what seems like another night of trying to get some cash, he drives by a car accident. Creepily fascinated he stops and watches how two cops try to free a lady from a burning car wreck. Suddenly a van stops next to him and Joe Loder (Bill Paxton) rushes out. With a camera in his hand, he storms the scene and captures video material. Louis is immediately fascinated and tries to understand and find out what Joe is actually doing. Louis is hooked and knows what he wants to do. Crime journalism. He starts setting up his business and gets some low grade equipment to find a starting point. The driven intensity Gyllanhaal puts into his character is frightening. Louis is someone who has no conscience whatsoever. Now for him all that counts is to get the perfect material. He finds a local news station that buys his material and meets Nina Romina (Rene Russo) who is in charge. These two develop a really weird relationship throughout this film. Louis also hires a partner (Rick Garcia) to help him getting to find and get to locations faster. Together they ‘Nightcrawl’ Los Angeles, listening to police radio and try to collect crime material. Things start to spiral out of control when they manage to arrive at a crime scene before the police.

This movie is roughly 2hrs long and there is not a single second that did not glue me to the screen. The fact that parts of the movie seem to not be too far away from the truth of that business is really a scary thing. Gyllenhaals performance of a ruthless sociopath is mesmerizing. I honestly can’t believe he did not get an Oscar nomination for that. He’s the driving force in that movie. And while performances of Rick Gacia and Rene Russo are very good too… it is Gyllanhaal who really adds the depth and creep factor here.

From a technical standpoint I can only say that it’s solid work. I’m not sure if I would categorize it as a ‘Los Angeles movie’ like Drive or Collateral. But it certainly has the same nightish mood going on, that paints a great picture of the world that surrounds that city. The way the camera is using light, shadows and colours is a feast for the eye. The writing surely wasn’t easy for this film since it constantly balances the over the topness of Louis Bloom and the more grounded world that surrounds him. And except for a couple of times it completely works.

All characters in this film, even the far out Louis Bloom, have a realistic foundation to them. The rare action sequences are no big explosion fest and completely rely on buildup. Later in the film we have a car chase that leads to the finale of the movie. That car chase is photographed in a way that makes you feel like you’re right there with Louis and Rick. you feel the movement and kinetic energy. The moments when Louis is on a locations and shooting material… that glare in his eyes, his morbid fascination and drive to get the best material possible… is just fascinating to watch.

Overall I would highly recommend this film. It’s one of these rare movies that show things happening all around us in this world… yet it feels like it’s a completely different universe.


Nightcrawler on IMDb

Jurassic World – Movie Review

Wednesday, July 1st, 2015

movie reviewJurassic World is a fascinating phenomenon. This movie is breaking records left and right at the moment. I honestly didn’t expect that at all. Back in 1993 I fell victim to the big dinohype Jurassic Park spawned. I was a huge fan. Jurassic Park is also kinda responsible for my huge love of movies. I saw every movie in the theater and enjoyed them for they wanted to be. Of course I had to see this one. Still… I did not have high expectations.

So it’s 25 years after Jurassic Park and they built a bigger park. That new park can hold up to 25.000 visitors and has a lot more dinosaur attractions than the original. We also see the park working, without any problems and tons of visitors there. Two kids have an invitation by their aunt, who is overlooking the park and trying to keep it running. In the beginning we follow the kids and basically see what the park has to offer. That’s a fun part in the movie actually. They came up with some neat ideas and the movie works well in there. The first act is also sprinkled with introductions to certain characters that will drive the movie later and a lot of exposition talk. The movie is also constantly reminding us how dangerous dinosaurs can be. Saying that this park is actually a very very bad idea. Well, we all knew that since 1993! No new territory here. We’re introduced to Chris Pratt’s character who’s basically the Raptor Whispherer. I won’t lie… as stupid dumb the shit he’s doing there appears… it’s kind of fun to watch. I feel like I need a shower now. Not sure if it’s Pratt’s charisma working there… but he can’t do wrong at the moment. Now the cliche’s begin. Pratt’s character had a thing with Aunty (Bryce Dallas Howard) at one point. Of course. Since Pratt is so awesome with his dino skills, she wants him to check a cage that was built for a cross-breed sort of dino. We later learn that they pretty much threw everything they had into a pot and looked what happened. The ultimate killer dino! We learn that this creature is very smart and soon see how it tricks the humans to break out of the, oh so damn safe, cage. Too easy, for that creature. Oh and people get eaten too. And while it really had some cruel impact in the 1993 movie… it really falls flat when people are getting killed by dinos here. I don’t know what it is. So now the park is going into evacuation mode. Aunty, who didn’t have time to keep an eye on the kids, suddenly remembers/cares and wants them to be safe. She can’t do it by herself and begs Pratt for help. In the meanwhile the kids are still on tour and in the middle of a safari. When hell breaks lose all over the park.

That’s all I want to say about the story. There are more things in the movie and I constantly thought to myself how ‘constructed’ this movie feels. As if they had a checklist of things to cross off. The movie actually is a remake of the first one. They changed and updated it just enough. Implemented one or two extra story elements to make it just different enough. After a while I even recognized the pattern/movie structure of the first one. This felt so ‘by the numbers’ that it’s not even funny anymore. And the worst thing of all… it wasn’t that bad. It wasn’t superbly amazing either! It was just good enough to never let me slip into boredom.

The characters we’re presented here are all very flat. There is pretty much no dimension to any of them. The best characters, and it sounds weird, are the kids! They have at least a tiny bit of depth and they work well together. Normally the kids in these movies are the worst thing ever. But these two were not so bad. It would have been interesting to set the movie around these two kids alone. Trying to survive what’s going on. Instead we have this giant mishmash of I don’t know. I never felt that any of the main characters were in danger. Except for the kids in one or two situations. Most of the time I was mentally screaming “get the fuck out of there you dumb shit!” when one of the characters once again just stood there staring at something. The characters overall felt very strange. A weird mix that doesn’t always work so well. Especially that weird pseudo chemistry between Mr. Pratt and Lady Howard.

While writing this review I have this weird feeling that this movie mighy become a guilty pleasure for me. And I don’t even specifically know why. Maybe it’s all the little references to the other movies they placed in there. At one point in the tram someone is reading a book with Ian Malcolm’s face on the cover. Or Mr. DNA on one of the info screens. Maybe it’s exactly that why I can’t hate this movie. It has a lot of little things that spawn memories of the first film and work really well. For me, well enough, to balance out the outrageous stupidity we’re dealing with at some other points. And I won’t even go so far trying to understand why there is a park at all. After all the things that happened in the other movies. I’m not even sure if the second and third movie are still in the continuity with this fourth one. But overall it’s plain stupidity and greed that starts the crazy in this movie too. And it didn’t even need a huge tropical storm like in the first one. This time the disaster is all man-made.

Before this movie came out there was a lot of controversy about the quality of the VFX. Why the 1993 movie still holds up with some of the best VFX ever made. Even by todays standards. And so many newer films struggle with creating believable VFX. No one can really explain why that is. And while the effects in this fourth movie surely aren’t bad… they’re no stunners too. Is it because we’re so spoiled at this point? Or is it because VFX got so big and complex that the creators lost what’s important when it comes to believablity? Some of the VFX in movies nowadays are so big and complex that I can’t even imagine how much work goes into them. Same goes for Jurassic World. Is it maybe because they look too good? Too perfect? That the VFX from 1993 had to fight so many problems and needed so many tricks and workarounds that they have just that slight bit element of imperfection that make them work so well, even today? Ultimately what I want to say is that the VFX are fine. But by far not as overwhelming as the experience I had in 1993. Which is understandable since it was groundbreaking in 1993.

Another thing I noticed was the soundtrack. A lot of parts from the 1993 original by John Williams. Nowadays the music in movies almost only seems to consist of loud DOOOOOOOOOOOH DUUUUUUUUUHM noises. No melodies anymore. Just loud sound. Hearing these John Williams tracks made my heart almost blow up. Almost. Because, except for the beginning, all the tunes were pretty much wasted and used for scenes that did not deserve these musical masterpieces. At one point we travel in a helicopter over the island. And we hear my favourite part of the Jurassic Park soundtrack. When the track peaks in the end… you expect a visual orgasm… which you don’t get. Real bummer.

The fact that they refer to the dinos as ‘products’ is a funny thing. Even though it might be not so far fetched in today’s world. So there is a tiny satire element in the movie. Talking about products… – the product placement in this movie war faaaaar too present. In some scenes they almost throw it into your face. And it took me out of the movie every single time. Again, bummer. I also saw the movie in 2d and don’t think it’s worth the extra bucks for the 3d.

Ultimately I have to recommend watching it on the big screen at least once. Not just for the visuals but for the sound. The dino roar’s just work much better in a theater environment and help to elevate the overall experience. I enjoyed the film for what it was. Will I see it again? Probably not too soon. Maybe when the bluray is out… to check if it holds up with my memories.


Jurassic World on IMDb

Mad Max: Fury Road – Movie Review

Tuesday, June 16th, 2015

movie reviewA little late in the game, I finally managed to watch this, oh so highly praised, action spectacle of a movie. Does it live up the hype? Naw, not really. But it’s still a damn good and entertaining action movie! My review will probably be a mashup of other reviews I read, saw and listened to over the past days but well… who cares, since I mostly agreed with them.

Let’s start with the story! Max (Tom Hardy) literally stumbles into the adventure we’re presented with here. He gets captured by some strange wasteland warriors who bring him to the Citadel. A sorta kinda death valley big rock island in the middle of a desert. A place ran by a family of deformed and mutated warlords. They’re in control of the water and over the past decades seemed to have built a religion that takes parts from all kinds of different beliefs we know today. The movie throws us into this world without much of an explanation and I find that rather refreshing. What’s to explain there. Take a look around. The world’s gone to shit. Not even that… it’s more the dust that’s left of a pile of shit when the sun constantly drains it from all its fluids. I surely don’t want to live in that world! And the movie does a good job making you understand that it’s not a cool place to be. All that without too much of an explanation. It’s textbook “show, don’t tell” George Miller executes here.

The movie shifts into next gear soon, when Charlize Theron’s character Furiosa prepares a truck for a gas run, visiting a place called Gastown. We never get to see that place except for silhouettes on the horizon. Furiosa managed to free a group of women that belong to Imortan Joe, the leader of the Citadel. These women are basically used as sex slaves and are only there for breeding purposes. When Joe finds out that his wives are gone, he immediately starts to hunt down Furiosa.

In the meanwhile, after a not so successful attempt to flee the Citadel, Max gets strapped to the front of a car. To serve as a bloodbag for one of the warriors! I think it’s never really explained in the movie but these warriors are, I guess, sick from radiation and try to extend their life by filtering their blood? So Max ends up as this living bloodbag for one of these guys called Nux (Nicolas Hoult). Nux is probably the only character who is having an arc throughout the film. Hoult does a fantastic job with the material and in the end you kinda like that character a lot. Now the big chase for Furiosa begins. And that’s basically the rest of the movie. With a couple of short breathers here and there.

Now I went to see the movie with two friends who didn’t like it very much. At least one of them is an action movie fan. While the other one is more for movies that have something to say and make you think. From what I gathered their main opinion was that the movie was stupid. Action fine and good but ultimately… stupid. The main reason for that probably is the decision our characters make in the middle of the film. When they decide to turn around and drive back to the Citadel. In that scene Max tells them that driving further into that one direction will get them nowhere except to the neverending salt flats. Now I read that what Max actually meant is that they reached a point where once the ocean started. And crossing that vast area of nothingness surely doesn’t make sense. But they don’t mention the word ‘Ocean’ in the movie. I, honestly, wasn’t able to put 1 and 1 together while watching the film. And I guess that my friends didn’t either. While the Wives and Furiosa don’t look very old… I guess Max is the only character old enough to remember the oceans. Other than that, yes… it’s the purest kind of an action movie. And in that respect it is very well done.

This movie is exactly two hours long. And it’s the first (in a very long) time, that a movie (for me) felt shorter than it actually is. All these blockbusters nowadays are so goddamn overlong. I welcome a barebone action movie that focusses on what it wants to be. Instead of trying to please every nonsense demographic that ever existed. It gives you an outline of the characters and that’s all you get. The movie doesn’t bother delivering all the backstory of each character and why they’re there and do what they do. Some might say that it would be nice to have that stuff and while normally I would agree… I’d have to disagree in case of this particular movie. It does not need that over-explanatory cheap sugarcoating. Instead you get a movie that’s easily among the best choreographed, easy to read, explosive action movies of all time. And the movie doesn’t want or strive to be more than exactly that.

From what I gathered there is a lot of sublevel detail that you will only notice in futher viewings. The costume and vehicle design alone is amazing. It almost hurts seeing all these cars blow up! It also delivers characters that leave a lot of room for interpretation. The movie doesn’t waste too much time on them. Remember Boba Fett? He’s in probably roughly 10 minutes of the original Star Wars trilogy… and he became one of the most iconic characters ever. You know why? Because he was a mystery! No I don’t want to compare the Fury Road characters to Boba Fett… but the approach on how to handle characters isn’t a bad one. We don’t know too much about Furiosa for example. But I can guarantee that her character would surely serve well for a fantastic comic prequel kind of thing.

The stunt work and VFX are seamless. I can only praise how well they worked with the practical effects. It all looked realistic and the fact they used real cars surely plays a big role why this movie became a success. It’s also funny how an over 70 years old director has to show all the youngens how to shoot action! It seems like none of the younger generation of directors know how to shoot action anymore. It’s all shaky cam and quick cuts. Not in Fury Road. The action was fantastic and easy to follow. In comparison to the action sequences in Age of Ultron, Fury Road is lightyears ahead. Whenever an action sequence in Ultron started I, more than once, thought “get it over with!”… that thought never came up in Fury Road once. Again taking Ultron as a reference when it comes to dialogue. Ultron is a very talky movie. Fury Road on the other hand minimizes dialogue to an absolut minimum. And again I have to disagree with the friends I saw it with. I found the dialogue very efficient and sometimes a short grunt is enough to say what other movies would have used a whole sentence for. Some would call it lazy writing… I call it well observed, appropriate and efficient.

So is it the masterpiece everyone says? No it isn’t. For a masterpiece you need a little more than just action. No matter how good the action is. But for the time we live in it easily is one of the best action movies in a long time. And for that alone it’s worth a recommendation.


Mad Max: Fury Road on IMDb

The Avengers: Age Of Ultron – Movie Review

Wednesday, May 27th, 2015

movie reviewHere is the final chapter of Marvel’s Phase 2. And it’s a rather smooth closing I have to admit. Seeing this movie rather late with 4 weeks after its release, it makes me wonder where the hype has gone, comparing it all with the time when the first movie came out. There is nothing left. It feels like one week after the release everything stopped. Are people disappointed? What did they expect? Wasn’t it enough spectacle?

When talking about spectacle we watch the beginning of the film with a quite extensive action sequence. Everyone is there. Ironman, Thor, Hulk, Captain America, Hawkeye and Black Widow. We don’t get an explanation of what’s going on and how it all got to this point. From what I gathered they are on their way to raid a fortress like complex because a bad guy somehow managed to obtain Loki’s scepter. Remember? The one that gave him the power he used to destroy half New York in Avengers 1. That action sequence goes on for a little too long and was close to exhausting. Of course our heroes manage to get the scepter. Banner and Stark start to analyze it and discover an artificial intelligence in it. Both decide to tickle it out of the scepter and see what it’s good for. They don’t tell the other Avengers about it. Which is one of many signs that they’re not the best team ever. The alien A.I. doesn’t like to be played with and decides to take matters in its own hands. While being held in the Avengers HQ it has all the best technology around and immediately starts to form a plan. Before doing that, it gains access to the Internet and basically recognizes that mankind has to get a reboot in order to make a step further. Looking at most of the stuff that’s on the Internet nowadays… I can understand that point of view for sure. The Avengers of course do their best to stop Ultron. Before that, they get a serious beating and decide to retreat for a while. They eventually regain their strength and go on to face Ultron in a final battle.

That’s all I want to say about the story. There is more going on and that even includes three new prominent characters with some cool powers. They way the movie starts, with that big action part, I don’t regret having opted for the 2D showing of the film. This film with its 2 1/2h in 3D would have been exhausting like hell. And watching it in 2D I did not notice a single scene that made me say “Wow! That would have been amazing in 3D!” On the contrary. In the fight sequences I was at least able to see what was going on. A lot of CGI objects thrown against walls. It got tiring after a while. It felt wrong, every damn single time. They way they do it just isn’t physically accurate. It takes me out of the movie every single time. Overall the CGI work was good though. At one point Ironman has to stop Hulk from rampaging through a city. That was done pretty well. Even though that action sequence felt too long as well. So overall the action was entertaining while, at least for my taste, it was always very close to being too much.

To counter the action parts, most movies take a timeout and move to character moments. Mostly to give the audience a breather and develop some characters a little more. And that’s where this movie, much like the first film, shines. Joss Whedon is really good with character interaction and dialogue in the quieter moments. Even better when not so prominent characters have a moment to shine. All the main characters, that have their own movie series going on, take a step aside in this Avengers movie. Instead we get more from Hawkeye, Black Widow and Hulk. It still amazes me how balanced the Avengers movies are though. There is not a single instance or sequence where any of the characters falls short. All of them get their deserved time. Which ultimately results in a very organic storytelling where nothing falls short and the audience gets a new perspective on certain things.

Sometimes it feels a little forced though. By that I mean bringing in as many characters as possible. It borders overkill and they managed to avoid it by only a small margin. To me it still felt almost too much. Even in the third act of the film we get introduced to a new character. A character that definitely, one way or another, will play its part in Phase 3. It’s a very long third act. Aside of that there were also a lot of references, which makes me wonder how lost someone would be, who never saw another one of the other movies. At this point though, it would almost be impossible to make an Avengers movie, that would work without referencing stuff. And then there is the Infinity Stone storyline, that will eventually lead up to the Infinity War movies in 2 or 3 years from now. They have to shove a lot of story elements down the audience’s thoats to explain and move forward the Phase 3 storyline.

A friend of mine said the movie was boring While I found the movie rather good for what it wants to be. I can see how it can be boring to someone who’s not at all into the characters. Even though that friend has seen the other Marvel movies and enjoyed some of them. This Avengers movie is quite a sit though. With all those overlong action sequences and repeating brawls between CGI characters it probably wouldn’t have been hard to cut at least 20 minutes out of that thing. The character interaction works great though. Even in the battle sequences there are a lot of parts where they work together and use each other to execute some great moves to take down some bad guys. That’s always fun to watch. Teamwork between the characters. The strongest moments are still the quiet ones. When our heroes reflect on what’s going on and what’s best to do next.

So overall I would recommend this film, if you are familiar with at least the first Avengers movie and you enjoyed it. It’s more of the same stuff and it, for the most part, works really good. Is it as good as the first Avengers movie? No, probably not. But it isn’t worse either. It just the element of ‘something new’ that is missing in this one. Which worked in favour of the first movie. But still, it’s a cool thing to see all these characters work together in one movie.

A solid 7.7/10 for me.

The Avengers: Age Of Ultron on IMDb

Dark Star – H.R. Giger’s World

Wednesday, May 20th, 2015

movie reviewIn my early days of playing with Photoshop and trying to be creative and productive with it, there was a very good friend who had this gift for me. It was one of the first artbooks I ever had. It was about HR Giger, his life and his work. I always was a big fan of the movie Alien and fascinated by the creature design. I knew the name behind it but never really checked on background info. Every now and then I stumbled across an image that immediately made me say “that must be a Giger!”. Time moved on and to my surprise (even today) I made something off of my early Photoshop fun days and became more serious and professional. Which resulted in the fact that one of my artworks is featured in a book (Ballistic Publishing’s Expose 8) that also had a big feature about HR Giger in it. That’s a tiny bit mindblowing.

This new documentary is about Giger as a person and how his art influenced him, his friends and his life in general. Since Giger passed away not long ago, this documentary is a nice, quiet and calm sort of goodbye to, what seems like, one of the nicest guys ever. And we can be lucky and thankful to director Belinda Sallin to have this film. For me it wasn’t an easy watch to be honest. While filming, Giger wasn’t in the best condition and you could see that it’s going to end soon. While he himself does not speak too much, it’s his friends, family and colleagues who speak for him. And who else would be able to say better what kind of person he was, right? And from what is said in the film he was a very fantastic person. Not perfect of course… but kind, friendly and helpful. A very good person.

I like the title of this documentary since it’s stressing that it’s not entirely about Giger’s life itself… instead it’s more about what surrounds him and made him the artist he became/was. The film starts in his house. And you immediately feel like in some kind of labyrinth. It’s dark. Full of books and pictures. It’s neither clean or tidy… but it isn’t dirty either. It’s more of a controlled chaos. It feels organic. It’s a world in its own. And that’s what the documentary does very well. It’s no documentary with fancy graphics and design elements… it’s all film and presented in an organic fashion. Well suited for Giger and his work. We learn a lot about the people who followed him over the years. There is not a single person who said anything negative about him. Everyone who is talking about him, spoke with a certain warmth, respect and passion. Giger left a fingerprint on these people and it’s not because of his work. It’s because of what kind of person he was. He was not able to see the final film but I can imagine that he would have been very happy about everything his friends had to say about him.

In the middle of the film we get some more insight into his work life. How he’s inspired and where his ideas come from. Along with some fascinating speculations by his colleagues and friends. Although that’s all very vague. Giger himself doesn’t really know how and why he comes up with these images. Images that are so strange and yet familiar. Images that could be so frightening but are so much more fascinating. We get to see some rare footage from the production of Alien in the late 1970s. Back then he was full of energy and at his creative peak. He moved on winning the Oscar for his design work on Alien. We see that Oscar in his house. A little dusty… but still shining. Then we go on and learn about his parents that were mighty proud of their son. You can see it in their eyes. And isn’t it that what every child wants? To see that glimpse of pride in the eyes of their parents when they talk about their kids? And as the viewer of this documentary you’re constantly wondering how such a great and likeable person could come up with these strange paintings.

But Giger’s work is not limited to paintings alone. He also made a lot of sculptures that look equaly strange and yet familiar like his paintings. We see the Bar he designed and his personal Museum. So much amazing work in there. All these paintings in their original size just look great.

At the end of the film Giger is wandering around in his museum and it really feels like a goodbye. It turned out that it really was the last time he was there. It’s kind of sad. But on the other hand it’s amazing work he created, that definitely made him immortal and something he will be remembered for. Beside that moment there are a lot of touching sequences in this film. He left his mark on a lot of people. Not just friends and relatives. Later in the film we hear him say that he’s happy with his life and how it turned out. Which makes the fact that he’s no longer with us less sad.

Ultimately this is a must see movie for anyone who has a slightest interest in art or even movies. A perfect double feature with Jodorowsky’s Dune. It’s a very quiet and respectful portrait of one of the most fascinating and original artists in recent history.

The guys over at The Projection Booth have a nice talk about this documentary as well: Check it here


Dark Star: HR Gigers Welt on IMDb

French Connection – Movie Review

Thursday, May 7th, 2015

movie reviewI’m a William Friedkin fan. He’s certainly one of the best directors of 1970s and 80s. His ‘The Exorcist’ is timeless and ‘Sorcerer’ is thrilling to no end. I recently watched two of his movies in a row and that was ‘To Live And Die In L.A.’ and ‘French Connection’. Both are cop movies. While ‘French Connection’ is a true classic, ‘To Live…’ oozes 80s all over the place. But here I want to talk ‘French Connection’ from 1971.

It’s about some french sorta kinda business men who want to smuggle some dope into the USA. They have it all planned, ready to carry it out and do so. In the mean time we are introduced to Popeye Doyle (Gene Hackman) and his partner Buddy Russo (Roy Scheider). Both are cops in New York and are really eager to do the job as efficient and best as possible. These guys are fantastic and the Scheider/Hackman duo does work great. I think the film does portray the police work in new york back in the day very accurate. It’s very dirty, sleazy and rough. I really liked that element. And our two cops are willing to put in the extra hours to do the job right. You can see how the fatigue strikes them both almost down while they investigate the leads they got in regards to that coup the french guys are trying to pull off. There are some really great cat and mouse plays between Popeye and the french leading man. While the investigation of it all runs into some empty corners, every now and then we see how Popeye is almost fanatically trying to catch the bad guys. No matter what. Forces and drags his partners with him.

If you want to get a good impression of a 70s New York in Winter then this is the go to movie. You can almost feel the chilling cold when Popeye and friends observate the french guys. Also a big nod to Roy Scheider here. I didn’t even know he’s in this movie but it was a welcome surprise since I really like to see him. While Gene Hackman surely is the main guy, Roy Scheider does a nice job with his character in balancing out the ruthless determination of Hackman’s character. Really good work from both of them.

On a technical note the movie feels very very modern and almost uptodate to styles that are common and used today. The camera is always in motion and very dynamic. It has a handheld feel that reminds very much of the Bourne movie series. And this movie is 30 years before the first Bourne movie! But that’s sort of a trademark in Friedkin’s work. It’s all very visceral in its presentation and feels very realistic. The camera work makes the viewer feel as if he’s right there. Loved that approach. And the good thing… it’s never crossing the line into shaky cam territory that drives me crazy. Nowadays it’s used to cover up shitty vfx or bad skills. Back then it was used to bring the viewer a little closer to what’s going on.

Friedkin also likes to work with subtitles. Which makes it all much more authentic. So the french guys are actually speaking french in the movie. This helps to give the whole story and presentation a very specific international vibe and ups the scope. Also the presentation of New York as this greasy gritty shithole that it probably was around the time, really pushes the atmosphere as a whole. It sometimes feels like a Labyrinth that you can get lost in far too easy.

I should have seen this film earlier but that’s how it is sometimes. Now that I saw it I must say that it’s one of the best cop movies I ever saw. The movie won 5 well deserved oscars (Best Movie, Best Actor, Best Writing and Best Director) and that pretty much says it all. Now I suggest you rush out, go see this film and learn where all the modern cinematography started! Hush!


French Connection on IMDb

Captain Phillips – Movie Review

Saturday, February 7th, 2015

movie reviewThere are two reasons to watch that movie. For one it’s a rather unique hostage scenario. And secondly it’s about how true piracy works these days and you want to know the background stuff to what truly happened in the events that this movie is trying to portrait. For me personally it was the latter point.

The movie is about a Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks), Captain of a container ship that carries food and other smaller goods. Early April 2009 he and his crew start a shipment from Oman to Mombasa. The route they had to take is constantly under attack by pirates from the near Somali coast. Nonetheless it’s relatively safe if you stay on a specific route that’s protected by military. We learn that the crew seems to be new and not too happy with the new captain. That is at least the vibe I got from the movie. Phillips isn’t necessarily a bad captain but he seems a little ‘cold’. He also orders the crew to check the ship’s security measures a second time to avoid problems. We later learn that these measures didn’t do much to stop anyone or anything though. While on track to Mombasa they suddenly discover two fast approaching small ships on the radar. Soon enough they know that it’s pirates. They try a couple of tricks to get away and manage to do so for one day. The next day the pirates attack again and make it onto the ship. Phillips and his crew are doing their best to get them off the ship again. They manage to get the advantage and ultimately force the pirates off the ship, along with the captain. Since Phillips was in the hands of the pirates all the time, he is held hostage and has to follow the pirates off the container ship in a lifeboat. And that’s the point where the movie actually begins. Or let’s say… a second movie begins.

The movie does a lot of things very good and a lot of things very bad. The action sequences and the tension that’s created with the music and the editing works pretty flawless. The director Paul Greengrass is known for his rather dull, almost documentary approach. I can truly recommend his movie ‘Bloody Sunday’ from 2002, about the Irish civil rights protest march that ended in a tragedy in January 1972. You can see where his style comes from. Nonetheless Greengrass is able to produce some striking images especially when he’s working with good actors. Tom Hanks delivers a respectable one man show in this movie. BUt I have to say that his Somali counterparts do leave an impression as well. Once again it’s safe to say that Hanks is certainly one of the best we currently have. Even though I have to say that Phillips as portrayed in this movie didn’t bring up much sympathy. Like I said earlier… his outside appearance felt pretty cold. And I don’t want to mix that up with bad acting. No, this cold’ish feel was acted on purpose I think. Then right at the end when Phillips is rescued Hanks managed to bring his A-game playing a character that’s close to falling apart. That then was the only time I had a ping of sympathy for him. He did go through hell with what he experienced.

The movie generally has a sympathy problem since I have my problem with the pirates as well. Now the movie is over 2 hours long but maybe an additional 10 minutes, to explain the exact motivation of the pirates, would have helped a lot. Instead we get some hints and throwaway lines throughout the movie. If you are a kinda intelligent human being then you know that these poor people aren’t pirates for fun. The western world ruined their livelihood as fishermen and ultimately forced them to become pirates just to survive somehow. But instead of explaining this through a couple of extra minutes they glance over it without bigger explanations. This could have been solved in a quiet moment on the lifeboat when Phillips had enough chances to talk to the pirates. And I don’t care if the actual Phillips didn’t do that in reality. There was a chance to educate some people out there. It would have been also a chance to let the characters shine for a couple of minutes aside from all the screaming and craziness, since the guys who played the pirates did a damn fine job. A group of fairly unknown faces that delivered a threatening and frightening performance.

In the end of the movie Phillips is rescued by a military operation that ends it all pretty ruthless and very bloody. The movie still managed to create some tense moments in the later parts of the film. Now you could argue if Phillips is a hero for saving his crew. I would say no, he’s not. He did a Captain’s job. And the crew was also competent enough to use the situations right to overtake one of the pirates which lead to the retreat to the lifeboat. There has also been controversy that Phillips tried to save fuel via a shortcut that lead too close to the Somali coast. And there is a radar image in the movie that suggests exactly that. But verbally there has been no statement about that in the movie. Which again makes it hard for me to build up some sympathy for Phillips.

Ultimately it’s a fairly good movie. It has some incredibly tense moments that have you on the edge of your seat. The camera work is a mixed bag. While Greengrass is the sorta inventor of the shaky-cam style… it’s overused in the movie. You know folks… I miss the movies where steady shots made you appreciate what’s actually on screen. Unfortunately the movie fails to deliver a worthful message other than “don’t fuck with the western world or we’ll send in our SEAL teams!”. The four pirate characters were interesting enough to explore a little bit more. But it seems they willingly let that one go.

It’s worth a watch but don’t look for a deeper meaning or a bigger message. Greengrass managed to put in some hints here and there but the general public/movie goers won’t read that from the movie at all.


Captain Phillips on IMDb

The Hobbit: TBOTFA – Movie Review

Tuesday, December 30th, 2014

movie reviewThe third installment of a series that did not need to be three movies. Like so many of these artificially lengthened movie series (Hunger Games, Twilight) these days. I went into it without any expectations since the first movie was just kind of there and the second movie had some neat fun moments. Now this third movie felt like an unlimited amount of padding followed by an overlong battle sequence. Was it a bad movie? No, surely not. It was well enough made and had its moments. But I’m really starting to question now if I didn’t enjoy these 3 movies because of the 48 frames per second or the 3d. Because all this useless 48fps (HFR) does is to show me how weak the monster makeup fx were and when and where greenscreen was used. It took me out of the movie everytime. Don’t get me wrong, I was looking at the gorgeous matte paintings more than the actual story because it almost felt as if the movie wants it to be that way. While the 3d is there to give you depth… the HFR works counterproductive and removes depth. It’s so weird to look at and distracts from all the parts that you actually should look at to get immersed in the story.

I want to spare you with story details since there is hardly a story in this movie. Thorin Oakenshield got what he wanted, except some crystal stone (I don’t remember the name anymore and I saw that film 3 hrs ago!) that would make himself as the new dwarf king complete. Now Bilbo has it and smuggles it out of town to the elves who rallied an army to attack Thorin because the dwarfs still own some strange jewelry from them. The elves want it back and side with the humans who just had to flee the city of Laketown, which is now devastated by the dragon Smaug. The bad guys know about the killing of the dragon as well and want to take their shot conquering the Erebor because it’s a strategically valuable fortress.

I’m not sure why I didn’t enjoy this movie more. There is a lot of stuff going on that should have worked. Return Of The King did have almost the same structure, with a giant battle in the second half of the film. On the other hand there was also a complete book to back the story up. The three Hobbit films were made from ONE book. And it was a childrens book. Imagine how much padding was necessary to get this into 3 movies with more than 2hrs runtime each. Too many overlong action sequences that made you numb after a while. And again I ask myself if it’s because of the 3d and HFR. I still have to see the movies in 2d and maybe they’re much better that way. I’m almost sure they’re better that way.

What I did enjoy were the references to the LOTR trilogy. Saurons appearance and how Galadriel kicked his butt. The movie also had some neat humour going on. Even though that one greedy comic relief character did get a little too much attention for my taste. The battle scenes worked fine except for the fact that it all didn’t look dirty enough. Some of the CG work felt odd too. Especially when someone fell off a cliff or down a hill… the animation just doesn’t look right and believable. But that’s not just this movie. But here you have a ton of scenes showing it. The matte painting backgrounds looked fantastic and will not get a complaint out of me. Overall the technical side of the movie left me with mixed feelings. While the LOTR was still rooted in reality and on location shoots… The Hobbit looked more fake than real. Very oversaturated colours and by far not dirty enough. Kind of the Star Wars prequel syndrome. Just not dirty and believable enough.

Acting wise it was fine. Even though there were some schmaltzy moments in it. Richard Armitage sold his Thorin well. Especially in the beginning when he’s corrupted by all the treasury and gold. Martin Freeman does a solid Bilbo again by just being Martin Freeman. The romance between Kili (Aidan Turner) and Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) works fine too. Even though I found that part very unsatisfying. Yeah I say it… I do enjoy a good romance! I do have a soft spot! But what I find useless is a love triangle for the sake of having a love triangle. Which brings me to Legolas (Orlando Bloom) who is having a thing for Tauriel as well (and who wouldn’t?). Legolas has some of his “look I can fly!” moments in this movie too. In fact… multiple of these moments. I found that cheesy and unnecessary in the LOTR movies and so I do in the Hobbit movies. Elrond (Hugo Weaving) made a short appearance as well and my hopes were up. But as soon as he leaves the movie he’s not coming back. Last but not least we have Gandalf. When we left the theater someone I was with seeing the film mentioned that Gandalf never really used his magic. He’s basically just there to ruin everybody’s day by demanding you to do stuff to save the world. If I would live in Middle-Earth I would try to get as far away from these magic people as possible. They’re bad news everytime they show up and don’t even bother to use their skills to help you.

My ultimate thoughts are that the three movies altogether surely work fine. It’s by far not as epic as the LOTR trilogy but it’s solid entertainment. It will be interesting if there will be a fan-cut out there soon. One that cuts out all the padding and condenses the 3 movies into 2 and much more coherent viewing experience. I’ll keep my eyes open for sure. It would be interesting to talk to an Editor about this new trend in movies. Not long ago the Editor was there to tighten the storytelling and remove unnecessary parts. Nowadays it seems like the rules are turned upside down. Right now I can only say that I enjoyed the second movie most with the first and the third on the same kind of level.

A 7.4/10 for me.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies on IMDb

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