The Revenant – Movie Review

Wednesday, March 9th, 2016

movie reviewThree times I made the attempt to watch this movie and finally it worked out this week. First it was a timing conflict. Then I became sick literally the day I wanted to go see it. But two days ago I finally made it. Sounds like the odyssey Mr. DiCaprio’s character went through in this film! Well, maybe not exactly.

First of all let’s go into the contents of this film a little. The movie is set in the early 1820s, when brave men embarked onto the conquest of the western (what we now call) United States of America. These men were so called ‘frontiersmen’ or ‘trappers’. People who tried to make a living by exploring the wilderness of a then unknown part of the land. In the case of the movie these men were trading fur and pelts that were quite the commodity back then. The french had a hand in that as well and were a big competitor in that field.

The movie sets its tone very early on within the first 10 minutes. We meet Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his half-blood son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) tracking down an animal. We immediately understand that these guys know what they’re doing. In the meantime we get a look at their camp of trappers and get introduced to John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) and Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson). When out of nowhere an ambush by native americans starts. This scene in particular is shot with very very few (if at all) cuts/edits. While we watch the brutality unfold and chaos break loose, Glass and his son arrive back in the camp, right when the battle is raging. We also get a glimpse of how the character of John Fitzgerald is ticking. Throughout this beautifully executed scene the audience gets an idea of how brutal battles like these must have been. The camp gets overrun while a small group of trappers manages to board a small boat and flee. They took everything they could with them and as soon as they decide to go on land, they hide the furs and pelts, they managed to grab when the ambush happened. There we get a great scene with Fitzgerald that draws out his character a little more. Up to that point we also learned more about the background of Glass and Hawk. The group trusts him and while we don’t get to see how Glass earned their trust, it is very clear that this group of men respects his suggestions and knowledge of the land. Only Fitzgerald seems to question Glass quite a bit. Glass decides to go scout ahead the area since he knows this region of the land very well. Then this (now famous) bear attack sequence happens. This is quite a vicious part. The brutality of nature or the message that nature doesn’t give a damn about who we are and what we do… if it gets the chance, it will destroy us. Glass barely survives the attack and the group decides to take him with them on a makeshift stretcher. Again we see how Fitzgerald is kind of opposing that idea and it’s understandable from his point of view. Glass was barely alive at that point. Captain Henry insists of taking Glass with them. In the meantime we learn that the earlier ambush wasn’t just random. Natives called The Arikara are looking for their Chief’s daughter, that was kidnapped. Which builds a nice dynamic throughout the movie since they’re never far behind of our hero. Even if our group of trappers didn’t actually kidnap that woman. With glass on a stretcher, and the terrain becoming more and more difficult, the group gets to a point where they consider leaving Glass behind. Fitzgerald is all for that and again it’s relatable. The party decides to leave Glass behind. The Captain offers a payment raise for 2 people that are willing to stay with Glass and give him a proper burial, should he die. Fitzgerald and a young man named Jim Bridger (Will Poulter) decide to stay behind with Glass and Hawk. While the main group tries to find a way through the mountains, which turns out difficult without Glass’s guidance. While Fitzgerald and Bridger practically wait for Glass to die. Then some bad stuff happens and the movie turns into one of the finest revenge movies ever made.

Enough about the story and more about the film itself. To make it short, I really enjoyed this movie. It kept me engaged throughout its 2 1/2 hours runtime and I never felt bored. Maybe the Oscars did cloud my judgement a little bit though. Especially in regards to Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance. While I do agree that his performance is really good, and something different from what we know him doing, I’m not with the general hype that he definitely had to get his first Oscar for that. I would have loved seeing him get one for his Django Unchained performance. I found Tom Hardy’s character much more interesting in comparison. He at least got an Oscar nomination for supporting role as well. And while awards are always a thing to argue about, I would have probably nominated him aside DiCaprio for Leading Role. We do see DiCaprio’s character go through hell and what he does makes you really feel for the character. But from an acting standpoint I found Tom Hardy more interesting. Yes, DiCaprio had to do a lot communication through facial expressions alone and he does that great here! But the character of Tom Hardy’s John Fitzgerald had some nice facettes as well. You could argue that he did nothing wrong. He didn’t have the best life and (like he says in the film) just tries to survive in a rather brutal environment. I can’t hold it against him when he’s looking out for himself. Of course the movie has a couple of scenes that clearly position Fitzgerald on the negative side of the spectrum. And that’s good because we certainly need a bad guy. But more often than not it’s the bad guy character that is more interesting than the good guy.

On the technical side of things it is a through and through admirable job they did with this film. The gritty realism gave weight to even the smallest things. A lot of face close ups that make you see a little bit of what’s going on in the characters heads. Great acting through the bench. I really enjoyed Domhnall Gleeson and Will Poulter too. The camera and reduced use of cuts and edits made this film flow very well. Especially the camera and lighting work is remarkable. Natural lighting all the way. CGI only when there was no other choice. The colorgrading may have been a little too much here and there but that’s a nitpick.

When the movie is over and you had a minute to reflect you might end up asking yourself what the message is. Revenge is the strongest force in the universe? Well, that may be the ultimate take away from this film. And I’m sure you can agree that it’s not really a good message to take away from this film or any film.

So what I did was to watch “A World Unseen”, a 45min documentary about the movie. It was released pretty much at the same time the movie came out. It has some great images too and talks about what ideas and influences fuel the movie. And the film made a little more sense after seeing that. The movie references a lot of things that relate to the world we live in now. It shows how early stages of capitalism started to take its toll on the environment and the people of the time. How greed can transform people into monsters. Even without their own fault. It’s the world we live in that transforms and shapes us. The movie talks about a lot of things that aren’t visible at first glance and that’s something I can only applaud for. We also get some nice interviews with the native american actors from the film and their views on history and what their world has become. “A World Unseen” is very insightful and a clear recommendation to round up the experience from the movie itself.

If you get a chance to see this film on the big screen. Take it. The images alone are worth it.

A clear recommendation.


The Revenant on IMDb

The Big Short – Movie Review

Friday, January 22nd, 2016

movie reviewEvery now and then it’s good to see a movie on the big screen that is not a spectacle event kinda thing. But a movie with a serious topic and something that makes you think. The Big Short is that kind of movie. At the end it makes you wonder about a lot of things. And there is a good chance it makes you angry. Very angry.

The movie tells the story of a couple of men who invested (or bet) a lot of money against the banking establishment and their common practices. We all know what happened in 2007 when the housing bubble collapsed and sent the whole world into a financial crisis we still have not recovered from. And how things look now this crisis in 2007 may have just been the indicator to much more troubled times that lie ahead of us. But that’s speculation on my part. The thing is that we all know that something bad happened back then, but only a few people really understood the why. For most of us it was enough to know that greed driven banks and bankers caused this collapse, that made a lot of already poor people poorer and even homeless. The Big Short is now trying to explain the background to the ‘why’ this all happened. And it does a fairly good job.

The first one to discover that there was something fishy going on was a fonds manager named Michael Burry (Christian Bale). He’s someone that has a great eye for numbers and calculations. He recognizes that banks handle certain housing businesses in a very suspicious way. He soon understood that this construct will not hold forever and that a lot of money will vanish into nothing. Except if you invest money (it’s crazy that this is even possible) into the logic consequence that this crash will eventually happen – no matter what. It’s basically a bet against the house (or the banks). So Michael sees his chance and invests everything he can on his prediction that the housing market will collapse. He goes around visiting other banks and tells them what he’s going to do and gets laughed at for his foresight. This is the time when other folks get wind of his idea and start to investigate. That’s when Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) finds out about it and also tries to find people to bet against the banks along with him. He finds Mark Baum (Steve Carell) and his gang of traders. They are very suspicious at first and start to look into the housing market. It doesn’t take them very long to understand that there is a bubble, full of very thin air, that will eventually collapse in on itself. So they decide to trust Vennett and look for investors as well. In the mean time we learn a lot about how this market works and what all went wrong.

The characters in this movie are for certain no heroes. They are a big part of the problem that is explained in this film. Even if they’re working their whole life in that business, they still cannot believe how fucked up the situation had become, when it was presented to them. All it needed was to take a slightly closer look at the material. Most bankers were too lazy to do that. No interest because… the money was flowing. No one wants to ruin a party, right? So some of our protagonists really struggle with their decisions. And the movie does a good job of explaining why. In the end you could argue that our protagonists are the same breed of assholes that originally created that housing market bubble. Because what kind of human being would set a bet on the fact that a lot of other people will have ruined lives. These guys may be rich now but are they be able to really enjoy the money they made?

The movie is directed by Adam McKay who previously directed the Anchorman movies. The first Anchorman is a comedy classic and the second one was alright (in my opinion) too. So he took a 180° turn with the decision to tackle a movie like The Big Short. I have to applaud him for that. This movie wasn’t an easy task but he certainly made it work. Not only with a serious topic but also entertaining and fresh. The film presents itself with a lot of kinetic energy, quick cuts and jumps, with an almost documentary kind of feel here and there. You need to watch this film with open eyes though. Otherwise I can see how you would end up very confused in a rather short amount of time. The more than 2hrs runtime fly by though. You are bombarded with information and background knowledge about the market and how it all works. I cannot say that I fully understood everything the movie was trying to explain but I was certainly sure how most of it worked by the time the end credits rolled. It was frustrating and leaves you shaking your head. All this ignorance and greed at display there. A harsh reality.

The trading business is like Las Vegas. There is a set of rules for all kinds of different games. But still almost unlimited ways to lose or win money. The sad thing is that no one learned from what happened in 2007. The practices are still the same. And the people who already have nothing, still pay for what the banks do and end up with even more nothing. So the big lesson of the movie seems to be that the system certainly works (in it’s own corrupted and mutated ways). It’s just how we treat that system that makes it counterproductive for all the people who are not in that business. And that’s a lot of people.

If you have a chance… go see this film. The film does get criticized for its appearance. Yes, it’s loud and shiny and in your face… but it needs to be. That’s how you get an audience today. It definitely needs more people to know how banks fuck up our world and continue to do so. I was very happy to see lots of poeple showing up to see this film. All of them left entertained and frustrated at the same time. But also a little more understanding.


The Big Short on IMDb

Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Movie Review

Thursday, December 24th, 2015

movie reviewEver since 1977 it was an event when a new Star Wars movie was released. Some things don’t change. It still is an extraordinary event when a new Star Wars movie reaches the big screen. I have the feeling that this time it will be the last time that Star Wars will feel new. Like it’s going off into new uncharted territories. In the next 10+ years we will be bombarded with these movies, much like the Marvel movies. The hope is that they will maintain the quality. Which I honestly have little doubt about. But Disney will milk that cow like crazy. That’s for sure. And that feeling of ‘something new’ will vanish. And this time that feeling is still there. That something ‘magical’ new is going on. This magic is captured by Star Wars Episode VII – “The Force Awakens”. I will completely avoid spoilers even though I bet everyone of you will see this movie anyway. I more want to talk about the movie instead of going too much into the story.

This movie does something interesting. When the end-credits rolled I had the impression that it completely leaves out the prequels (Episode 1-3). Not a single word about what happened there. And sure, in the timeline there has passed a lot of time since then. Still! Here and there a line about what happened in Episode 4-6. The movie starts, of course, on a desert planet. Where Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) is on a secret mission, hunting down a map that is supposed to show the whereabouts of Luke Skywalker. Luke went into hiding when his attempt at rebuilding the Jedi Order failed. Things go a little wrong and Poe gets captured by the ‘First Order’ (which is basically the empire). He manages to slip the map into his robot buddy BB-8 and sends him away. This ‘First Order’ is what is left of the galactic empire. Which is a little mysterious since we never get a clou about how strong they are and if they are still a mighty force that is ruling star systems. So, have the rebels won or not or what the hell is going on?! We’re left in the dark about political developments of the past 20 to 30 years. I’m undecided if I like that. Since I would have liked to know how things went after the second deathstar blew up. Especially how the political situation is now in the new film. We don’t really get that. When Poe gets captured we also meet Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) who is also looking for that map. Kylo is a Sith apprentice and a kinda sorta Darth Vader fanboy. He’s still very young and has problems mastering his temper more than once. But he is also powerful with the force and has some skills. He is an interesting conflicted character that, I hope, will get explored more in the upcoming movies. When captured Poe meets a stormtrooper who is also very conflicted and trying to get out they both decide to team up and flee. Poe calls him Finn and together they manage to flee. They still get shot down and crashland when Finn meets Ren. Ren is a young woman who is trying to survive by scavenging spaceship wreckages. Some very impressive pictures in that part of the film. She stumbles upon BB-8 and they become friends. Not long after they meet Finn, they get attacked by the First Order that is looking for Finn and the robot. Together they flee the planet on a rusty, old piece of junk spaceship. You guessed it… it’s the Falcon. A pretty fantastic chase sequence is going on then. From then on things start to fall into place. We meet old and new characters. A lot of lucky coincidences happen. A tiny bit too many for my taste. But well, things have to connect one way or another. So I’m fine with that.

I hear the term ‘Soft Reboot’ tossed around quite a bit. And I guess you could call the movie that. I would compare it to what the Jurassic World movie did. Where they take elements of previous movies, repackage them and put them into a new movie. While Jurassic World did that much more obvious (at least in my opinion), I think SW:TFA did it in a smarter way. There definitely are similarities to A New Hope and Empire here and there. We also get a lot of ‘fanservice’ moments that make every fans heart grow a little. But without making these moments feel forced. They’re fun little sidenotes that pop up every now and then to help connect the old with the new. The downside of a ‘Soft Reboot’ approach is that it becomes predictable. Since they’re making use of a formula that’s already been used. Granted, they remodel that formula, but at its core it’s still the same. And while the character plotlines in this movie are relatively open, you can still, very early on, see where the movie as a whole will go. So I wished the movie ending, regarding the bad guys, was not as definitive as it was and more open.

While this movie at its core is a little puzzle’ish put together with elements from other Star Wars movies, it’s the new characters that really make it all work for me. They casted some people who are relatively unknown and it really benefits the film. The chemistry between Finn & Poe and later Finn & Rey is very entertaining and brings back that feeling when we saw Luke and Han together for the first time. There is some nice back and forth between them in the dialogue scenes and more than once they sprinkle in some light hearted comedic moment that makes you laught or at least smile. The cast all around feels natural and not as artificial as in the prequels. Only Kylo Ren could have benefited a little with some less cheesy lines.

So yeah, is it a flawless film? No. Is it the first truly good Star Wars movie in 30 years? Yes. Let’s be honest here. The prequels exist but they only scratch the surface of being good movies. They surely are entertaining on certain levels but they miss the point of Star Wars. And it’s fascinating how the initial creator of this beloved universe made these movies and missed the mark so much. And yes, I’m one of these people who blame Lucas. And the fact that there was no one around him who said “NO that’s stupid, try something else”! It’s a well documented fact that he had a lot lot lot of help with the first trilogy. But all the people who helped him back then, were not around for the prequels. That’s visible on screen. So it’s good we have fresh blood going into the new movies. Yes… I feel a bit sorry for that generation of kids that got introduced into Star Wars with the prequel movies. While this new movie should have been their introduction. However… this new movie comes with its own set of holes too. Some characters could have benefitted from a better introduction for example. Or the use of CGI where it wasn’t actually necessary. Yes, they did a lot of practical FX and it shows and works. Still, there are some questionable scenes where the CG work distracts a little. I can forgive that though. They did too many things right.

Yes. This is a real Star Wars movie. I enjoyed it and had a good time. When I left the theater I wanted to know how this story will be continued. The last time I had that feeling was with Lord Of The Rings (Fellowship). It will be interesting where Disney will take us with this. So far, it looks good!


Star Wars – The Force Awakens on IMDb

Monsters: Dark Continent – Movie Review

Monday, December 7th, 2015

movie reviewGareth Edwards, who moved on to do the 2013 Godzilla movie, got this opportunity because of his indie success ‘Monsters’ from 2010. There he explored what humanity means and how little it takes to turn humanity into chaos and destruction. For me it was something different with a nice message at the end of the film. So when I discovered that there was a sequel in the works, I was quite excited. Especially after seeing the trailer.

We follow a Michael Parkes (Sam Keeley) from Detroit and his group of close friends. We learn that they signed up for the military and all they want is to get out of Detroit. We learn that Detroit is not a great place to live and grow up in. The once proud and big working class city is nothing but a shadow of its former greatness. In this early stage of the film we get the usual tropes of a guy and his wife getting a kid and the last day party before shipping out into the middle east. Yes, the fact that the world is not populated with huge alien creatures, does not suddenly end all the wars that are going on. While the monsters in the first movie are limited to Mexico and parts of South America, they now spreaded into the Middle-East. Interfering with all the military operations that are going on down there. And that is where our group of friends ends up in. So we see them do their job with the occasional monster showing up here and there. Then they get called for a special mission and of course everything that can go wrong does go wrong.

If my written summary does not sound too promising then you read that right. This movie is a mess. Starting with all this cliche material in the beginning and the platoon leader being almost a caricature of the stereotypical military guy spouting his “shit rolls down hill” speeches. It’s all there and it’s not done very good. I’m not sure if it’s the actors or the script. I’m leaning towards the script since the actors, in some sparse fine moments, do deliver some good work. Which is a shame. Much like that really touching, eyeopening scene at the end of ‘Monsters’, we have similar scenes in this movie. Again one near the end. It’s beautiful, well done and poses the overarching question of who the real monsters are. There are a couple of scenes that ask this question. But they drown in the mess that is this movie. It wastes a lot of time with story elements that shouldn’t be there. Especially when it’s trying to make the audience bond with this group of friends (which did not really work for me at all) and then later feel with them when shit gets real. The movie’s runtime with 2hrs is far too long and several parts of the movie just drag on and on.

So while the first movie successfully focussed on smaller issues, this one tries to go a step further. What sounded rather interesting on paper, did unfortunately not really work on screen. Expanding the universe of that world, where giant creatures roam the the earth, could have been done differently. By expanding the story we get a lot of problems with plot holes that the first movie avoided by keeping the story very compressed. At least the visuals do work and they made it all look pretty good. The monsters do not make a hostile impression and more look like a herd of elephants. Nonetheless we bomb the crap out of them for some reason. Which is probably the more realistic element this movie has. You feel sorry for the creatures that basically just want to be left alone. On the other hand you can understand that there is action against them. But the movie misses to make that point of trying to convey why we fight against these creatures. For some reason this group of friends is also in the same platoon. Sorry, not gonna happen in todays military. They would be scattered all over the place in all kinds of different units. And that’s just two of the more problematic things going on in this film.

Closing words would be to only seek out this film if you really want to know the world of ‘Monsters’ a little better. Unfortunately the movie does not know what it wants to be. A military action movie or a film asking questions about humanity. Writer and Director Tom Green probably wasn’t the right guy for this material. There is a good movie in this one but it’s drowning in a lot of stuff that did not need to be in there. It’s too inconsistent throughout the runtime. But still… there are some great images in this film. Apart from the obvious shakycam syndrome, this movie suffers from, the overall camera work is nice.


Monsters: Dark Continent on IMDb

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