Encountereds. I came, I saw, I commented.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Max Färberböck - Aimee and Jaguar (1)

It is one of the secrets of the creative process that a bunch of people who sound like they haven't the first glimpse of what they are doing, or why, can produce something profound and moving. Comparing, in this case, the cast and crew interviews on the DVD with the movie itself, the dichotomy couldn't be greater. Where the movie is a masterpiece for so many reasons and in so many ways (and in spite of its occasionally stilted acting in the tradition of the German Kleines Fernsehspiel), the comments of the people who made it fall amazingly short. Most telling was Maria Schrade, who in the space of under two minutes mentioned no less than six times that the fact that it was a lesbian lovestory didn't matter at all. Form and function, quite at odds, but thanks for the effort.
When Brokeback Mountain made it big recently, some German critic complained how utterly unthinkable a like movie would be in a German setting - two male blue collar workers in the Ruhrgebiet getting it on - the opposite of cool and moving (I'm transcribing liberally here)(which, funny enough, is just one little typo away from literally, as I just discovered). But Aimee and Jaguar is that movie, and both the fact that it tells a true story, and the backdrop of the apocalyptic insanity of Berlin during the end of the Second World War, heighten the intensity of its message. I don't want to compare Brokeback Mountain and Aimee and Jaguar to each other, both movies are great achievements in their own right, but I do think they should have the right to marry each other and have lots of kids. I'd love to see them.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Oliver Stone - The Doors (2)

When I get tired while watching one of Oliver Stone's docudramas, is it because my attention span has been lamentably brought down from what would be a decent standard, or because Stone tends to overload his movies with too much information about his ever intriguing subjects? In this case, the effect was exacerbated by Stone wanting to show Morrison's death as a sudden event and an abrupt ending, rather than a conclusion, which means that - unless you knew when he died, in which case the occasional chapter-like caption indicating the time of the action would give you a hint - you'd be well into the third hour until you felt the end approaching. By that time it had become my friend, indeed. Kilmer's acting, however, the amazing script, and, of course, the soundtrack all make this a wonderful treat. The cliche notion of the artist as a messianic figure, burning brightly so the audience doesn't have to, yet gets to enjoy the warmth vicariously I didn't care too much about, but Stone doesn't push it too hard, and Morrison's particular blaze drowns the light of reasoned argument in his great balls of fire anyway. Oops, wrong band.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Robert Towne - Tequila Sunrise (3)

The plot of this odd movie about the unlikely friendship between a drug enforcer cop and a big time coke dealer doesn't make too much sense, and the love story thrown in doesn't help either. The script at times seems incoherent, as though the writers didn't quite know where to take it. The hairdos and dresscode are a vivid reminder of everything that was bad about the eighties, but the single worst thing about this movie has to be the signature Sexophone that starts whining every time romance lurks in the shadows. Puh-lease. The highlight of the movie is Raul Julia as the mexican druglord Carlos. The plot surrounding him, especially the supposed eight years of covertly working with the DEA, without them knowing that he wasn't a Mexican official, diesn't make any sense, but his acting does.

Monday, April 17, 2006

François Ozon - Swimming Pool (2)

About halfway through the movie I realized that I was waiting in vain, and that the strong sense of tension probably wasn't going to be relieved by some big event. Turns out I was wrong, but I'd still say that this is a movie about ideas more than about events. An aging, repressed and puritan writer of mystery novels is sent to France to find inspiration, finds her missing psychological counterpart instead, in a young promiscuous and hedonisitic woman, and embraces her worldview, to return to her editor with a book that reflects her maturation. How much of the plot truly happened, and how much of it just reflects the story she writes is anybody's guess, but the cinematography and design is consistently geat and very subtle, and the atmosphere of unresolved tension is almost palpable throughout.

Alex Gibney - Enron (2)

The biggest corporate scandal of our time, explained. Before I saw this, I feared to see the ruthless and ingenious machinations of evil people would get me agitated without offering a way out. But to see the ruthless machinations of evil people leaves me incredulous for their lack of ingenuity, and the problem turns out not to be a few crooks, but a fundamentally flawed system. None of it should have happened, but scores of investment bankers and brokers fell for the nude emperor, because they had stock in non-clothing. Sure enough, there are a few monstrous moments, as when the Californian energy grid is played for money, but overall, it's just business as usual. How horrible.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

David McKean / Neil Gaiman - MirrorMask (2)

Neil Gaiman's work is a bit of a paradox to me. I like his storytelling and inventiveness - if sometimes reluctantly, for excessive use of pathos -, but visually he consistently seems to be balancing on the fringes of a realm of exuberant quirkyness and fantasy running wild that gives me the creeps for all the wrong reasons. This movie is no exception, with a neat twist on good/evil dichotomies, a likable set of characters, and oodles of visual frills. But several of the ideas here are so enjoyable (the birdmonkeys, sphinx/cats and the pair of giants being just three of the more memorable), that the flaws don't much matter. Maybe I can even bring myself to read the Sandman one of these days. Why? Because it's there.

Kenna - New Sacred Cow (3)

Talk of this album constitutes almost an entire chapter of Galdwell's Blink. Apparently, many distinguished figures in the music industry heard Kenna's music and were deeply impressed, but when focus group testing was done, the audience was unimpressed, and radio stations were very reluctant to play Kenna's stuff. Gladwell uses this as an illustration of the fact that focus group testings aren't as meaningful as the judgments of experts and can be very misleading, but I beg to differ. Maybe the fact that one of those impressed experts was a member of U2, those toe curling dogooders, should have tipped me off - I am absolutely with the focus group on this one. This is lifeless, uninpsired music and doesn't speak to me at all. Maybe an entirely different argument could be made from this - about how too much expertise can drive you into the obscurity of private passions no non-expert can understand or appreciate. Or maybe U2 is just full of shit. I like that theory.

Malcolm Gladwell - Blink (2)

With the Tipping Point being so entertaining to read, the momentum just carried me right into Gladwell's newer book on the importance of subconscious snap judgments for all aspects of our lives. Of course there is quite some evidence saying that even when we make seemingly rational decisions, our brains may just be bullshitting us profoundly (in Gazzanigas famous experiments on split brain patients, for example, subjects readily report completely bogus reasons for an action, because the half of their brain speaking, having no clue why the other half did something, makes up a story - without the subject being aware that he's being conned by the gooey stuff in his head. But I digress), so the phenomenon that the resons for our decisions and actions aren't always available to our conscious self might just be the tip of the problem that we actually come up with explanations for our actions after the fact by default, and the only reason it tends to make sense so much is that we have been around ourselves long enough to generally know what we will be doing, and have a fairly good theory of our own minds. The most important part of this book I found to be the notion that we are able to shape how our subconscious makes its decisions, and the chapter on how requiring conscious justifications messes up and changes our judgments - unless we're experts and already know what we're talking about. Next time somebody asks you why you like something, think twice about thinking about it - you suddenly might not like it any more.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Hayao Miyazaki - Hauru no Ugoku Shiro (1)

I still remember being blown to pieces by Mononoke-hime, and it's hard to imagine anything ever will surpass Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi, but Hauro ranks a close (Totoro!) third in the Miyazaki charts. While the plot becomes impenetrable in more than one place, the mysteriousness of what's going on just adds to the dreamlike quality of the story. The fire demon is a delight, the design a visual triumph, and the characters, in their moral murkyness typical for Miyazaki, likable even when they are the closest anyone can come to evil in his universe. I could maybe have done with a little less screentime for his usual themes of the evils of war and industrialism, but since even those looked good, I won't bicker. See it if you haven't, see it again if you have.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Malcolm Gladwell - The Tipping Point (2)

Friends tell me I've read this book several years ago and liked it, but try as I might, I can't remember it. Upon (re?)reading it now, I have an explanation of why that might be. The general theme - social phenomena are subject to nonlinear mechanisms that mean minimal causes in the right place or time can have enormous effects - is of the variety that is so obvious once you get it, you immediately forget the person who told you. Something that obvious doesn't have an author, or a form, it's just an impresonal truth. The book is an entertaining and insightful read, but I can already feel the particulars fading in my mind. In a few years I'll be ready to read it again.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Sidney Lumet - Network (3)

A justified message hardly ever gets better, when it is preached instead of told subtly, and Network makes no difference. This drama of a unscrupulous bunch of network executives turning TV news into a quota hungry travesty akin to a televangelism sideshow would have been much stronger if there weren't several droning monologues of the main character about the evils of television. It is somewhat ironic that a movie that accuses audiences of blindly gobbling up sensationalism and following any and every leader, if he shouts loud enough, and the executives of ruthlessly exploiting this lack of maturity, resorts to propaganda to try and get its message across, not trusting its own audience, either. Just who, one wonders, are the writers trying to talk to here, and what do they really want to say? As it stands, the message seems to be that since audiences are dumb sheep, the producers of media need to be responsible shepherds. That message is snobbery so close to the opinions held by the films villains as to make it hard to take its scathing criticism of western society seriously. Network has its nice moments - some of Peter Finch's madman preaching is quite cute, as is the cinematography and the acting -, but overall, it disappoints.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Rockstar Games - Grand Theft Auto San Andreas (2)

The only reason this excellently designed and written killer game doesn't get a top rating from me, is all the killing. I'm all in favor of frying Doom's demons, hunting evil unreal aliens or shooting down robots in the Descent series, to name just a few of the blow'em'ups I've played over the years, but the stark realism of the environment do make a difference, I think. When you can just jog down a street, whip out the gun and shoot a few people in purple tees, just because they wear purple tees (and would soon start shooting at you, anyway, since you're dressed in green), or jacking weapons from a National Guard depot is accomplished by shooting the protecting soldiers, it all feels a bit too much like real life for complete comfort. That said, the gameplay is terrific and the scenery breathtaking - and I've only seen the quarter or so of the game world that is modeled on Los Angeles so far. The only annoyance concerns saving games, which can only be done at the players home base, and only between missions. With some of the missions having tricky parts that you only get to after sometimes minutes of driving, having to repeatedly do all of one of them just to figure out the tricky bit can be a bit of a drag.

Kathleen Meyer - How to Shit in the Woods (3)

A subject certainly worthy of discussion, the discussion of how to excavate properly in the great outdoors and the health and environmental hazards connected with it, may be stretched a bit thin over the length of an, albeit short, book. A chapter in a general book on life outdoors would have been more appropriate. Even so, Meyer's tone is refreshingly unconcerned with propriety - she explains about the difficulties getting it right in the introduction - and the stories she has collected can be entertaining. The biggest value for me was to learn about history and mechanism of the diseases - like Giardia - that make drinking unprocessed surface water such a hazard these days. The practical tips seemed nothing common sense wouldn't have you know already, though maybe it's a good thing to see them spelled out.