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The Neon Demon (2016)
Beauty is a beast, but this film is neither
"The Neon Demon" is a co-production in the English language between the United States, France and Denmark and the latter is because the director is Nicolas Winding Refn, maybe Denmark's second most known and second most controversial behind Lars von Trier of course. The movie here runs for almost 120 minutes and stars Elle Fanning playing the central character. Familiar faces like Malone, Reeves, Hendricks and Harrington (to "Dexter" fans) appear in supporting roles. But this film is at no point about the performances unfortunately. You can very easily structure it into two parts. The first is the audience being introduced to the modeling business at the same time the central character is introduced. We basically experience everything related to this tough business together with Fanning's character. Unfortunately, nonetheless it is never a good or interesting depiction of events and circumstances. It is really much more on the level of a generic soap opera. We witness almost every female character being jealous of Jesse or exploiting her magnificent looks. And the men all either want her or want to turn her into a star. And so we won't forget how amazing she looks we have scenes like the first one with Harrington or the one with Nivola or the one with Hendricks which are all basically the same. They show us how tough they are by ignoring or sending out less brilliant models, but they all love our "heroine". As if we would not see ourselves how amazing Fanning looks in here with that pale blonde (almost princess like) appearance. Admittedly she is not 100% more stunning as the other models/actresses, even if the film wants us to believe she is.
Then the second half. And people who have seen other works by NWR maybe already expect what is about to come, namely the possibly most pretentious movie hour of the year 2016. It is a collection of shots that were intended to be stylish and admittedly some are, but others also not so much. Light and color are in the center of it all, but the action and the plot certainly aren't. It's basically like watching a catalog of photos, maybe videos, made during a session. Yes there is a major event happening towards the end and it is a bit on the brave side admittedly in terms of the script, but it just isn't enough to be honest and there is also not really any justification for the blood lust in here towards the end. Envy and hurt feelings / rejection alone won't cut the cake. So it needs to be said that the ways in which this film tries to work as a character study or as an elaboration of the modeling world are not successful at all. Not even close. The only approach where the film is somewhat successful is seeing it as a(n admittedly really absurd) fantasy story of over-the-top characters. I cannot take it seriously as a thriller or drama or horror film. Then again, maybe you can see it as a splatter horror of some kind with all the stuff that happens in the last 20 minutes. Final verdict though is that this one is way close to one star out of five and giving it two is still fairly on the generous side. It shows that Nicolas Winding Refn is obviously far far away from his career-best. Highly not recommended and way too long for its own good too. Final note: It's quite a shame an actually really talented actress like Elle Fanning, in my opinion among the most gifted from her generation, is wasted like this here being basically nothing but a doll, despite having the screen time to really make a difference. That's a definition of bad writing.
Auf Einmal (2016)
The lack of interesting characters as well as the confusion in tone break this movie
"Auf Einmal" or "All of a Sudden" is a German movie from 2016 that was released fairly recently on DVD, so it is still pretty fresh. It runs for 110 minutes and and is perhaps the most known work by writer and director Asli Özge and she also received a solid deal of awards attention for it, for example at the Berlin International Film Festival. The cast includes names like Hülk, Jentsch, Zischler, Gersak (a bit of a personal favorite), Heyer and more, actors that German film buffs have probably come across in other projects. And while there are some that left me fairly unimpressed and that I like more in other works (Jentsch especially, but that also had to do with the way her character was written), I would not necessarily say that the acting is a problem here, let alone the biggest problem. I do believe that the film is struggling with the direction he takes. At times, it tries to be a character study mostly about the protagonist played by Hülk while at other times it tries to be a mystery movie and wants to take the audience on an enigmatic journey with what really happened to the dead girl. Murder? Suicide? An accident? Anything else? The problem is that Özge never really decides which of the two paths she really wants to take and the consequence is something that we would call in Germany here "wischi waschi". Actually the Rammstein closing song is also a piece that summarizes this movie very well. It tries to be bold, but never really manages to be a creative achievement at all. And it struggles with the tone and atmosphere in general. By no means, this film is a failure and it has some fairly strong moments too, at least occasionally, but in terms of quantity these are also far away from what you would want in a film that is closer to 120 minutes than to 90 minutes. What else is there to say. The story about the death is nothing new or original really and has been done in many other films with better focus and attention to detail. So yeah I think the negative outweighs the positive here and I don't think the awards attention is appropriate. It is not one of the better German films of 2016. Not recommended.
Probably only makes sense to Lynch himself
"Rabbits" is a 43-minute short film from 2002, so this one has its 15th anniversary this year. The writer and director is the (in)famous David Lynch and the voices you hear in here are basically all people who worked with Lynch on "Mullholland Dr." and a couple other films too the most known being Oscar nominee Naomi Watts. Anyway, this short movie here is probably one of Lynch's more known short film works. Camera is static and we watch several rabbit characters from start to finish how they interact with each other. It is all very mysterious and offers lots of room for interpretation. There is not one definite explanation/elaboration that makes sense, but it is all about the subjective take on what you see and especially what you hear. Occasionally the action and dialogues are interrupted by laughter and other sounds from the audience making this one look a bit like a sitcom. But there is really nothing funny about it and if you take a look at IMDb you see that all genres are pretty much included here with the exception of comedy. So yeah as always with Lynch there is some mystery and darkness attached to the movie. Quality-wise it is nothing too memorable though and the statement I made in the title may very well apply. It was probably only clear to him, maybe to the cast too, what was going on exactly, but for audiences the film keeps losing itself in its dark atmosphere and mysterious plot on so so many occasions. Way too many for such a brief film. Watch something else instead.
Der Student von Prag (1926)
Too many flaws to be really defining of the silent film genre
"Der Student von Prag" or "The Student of Prague" or "The Man Who Cheated Life" is a German German-language movie from 1926, so this one already had its 90th anniversary last year. The writer and director is Henrik Galeen and he also adapted the novel by Hanns Heinz Ewers for the big screen here. But despite the cast including pretty big names from that era like Conrad Veidt playing the title character or also Werner Krauss, it is not as well-known today as the Paul Wegener version that is already over a century old. But we talked about that one on a previous occasion and today the 1926 one is on the agenda. It runs for roughly 90 minutes in the version I watched and is of course a black-and-white silent film. I believe the acting is okay. The two actors I mentioned earlier are great together in their mirror scene and Veidt demonstrates throughout the entire film, but also especially in the scenes where he plays two very different characters why he is still considered one of the finest from the silent film era today. As for scene, the mirror scene once again needs to be mentioned and the occasional overacting there (very common for b&w silent films sadly) is not a problem in this one. The ending is also pretty great as Veidt's character tries to get away from his shadow, but there it needs to be said that the exact ending is not good at all and with this I mean the (almost) very last shot, namely when we see the protagonist die from a bullet he fired into his shadow. It just did not make any sense. Either the shadow should be gone or he should still be there as he always was antagonizing the central character. That's what I thought at least. The final shot of the grave is so-so. Not too inspired really.
And all in all, I was relatively underwhelmed here. Apart from the occasionally solid moments I already mentioned the film was not really interesting for the most part. This especially refers to the part with the romance / female main character which I thought was entirely forgettable. It's not on a level where it destroys this 1.5-hour movie, but it just drags a whole lot. Also I really wished Krauss had more screen time. Or they could have elaborated on him more. Who is he? Why does he want to do what he does? What does he gain from it? Why does he disappear so quickly? Where does he come from? etc. It all felt a bit unrefined at times. I have not read the novel I mentioned earlier, so not sure if Galeen or Ewers is the one to blame. I can only say that the eventual outcome of this movie is not really a success. Of course, more intertitles would have helped as well. Gotta give it a thumbs-down and I suggest you watch something else instead.
Similar level like the first
"Das indische Grabmal zweiter Teil - Der Tiger von Eschnapur" or "The Indian Tomb: Part II, the Tiger of Bengal" or "Mysteries of India, Part II: Above All Law" is a German movie from 1921 and this one is almost 100 years old already. it was written by Lang and von Harbou, but as the director is Joe May, it is probably not one of Fritz Lang's more known works really. At least, it is somewhat difficult to get a hand on it. Of course Langb also made his own version several decades later at the end of his career (and life) that has little to do with this one here though as technology has considerably moves on in terms of color and sound by then. So this one here is a black-and-white silent film still. It is a follow-up movie to "The Mission of the Yogi" and it is actually shorter, runs for roughly 1.5 hours (the version I saw) compared to the two hours of the one I just mentioned. Story-wise, it is pretty similar to the previous one, so if you enjoyed that one, then maybe you will also like this one here. I personally felt that this film is not really on par with the best of this era, especially if we are looking at the United States as well. A bit of a pity, but the only area where the film somewhat delivers is the visual side in terms of costumes for example. I also felt that it really needed way more intertitles than it actually had to help audiences in understanding the story. All in all, I am not impressed, even if I will admit that I am slightly biased because I have never been amazed by black-and-white silent films. Still I believe it is for good reason that this one is not on the same levels of popularity compared to the likes of "Metropolis" and others. However, like I said, it's highly unlikely you will consider checking this one out if you have not seen (and perhaps enjoyed) the first, so it's up to you to decide if you are in it for another 90 minutes.
Zombies from Outer Space (2012)
An experiment completely gone wrong
"Zombies from Outer Space" is a German German-language movie from 2012, so this one has its 5th anniversary this year. The writer and director is Martin Faltermeier and it may be his most known work. This has probably especially to do with the genre as zombie films/programs (Walking Dead) were even more famous back then as they are today. And the title already tells everybody that they mixed this frequent subject here with a touch extraterrestrial stuff. The movie runs for roughly 1.5 hours, so common runtime pretty much, but there is nothing memorable in here. The film is also not to be appreciated from the guilty pleasure perspective. It all looks so cheap and uninspired: the acting, the direction, the entire story and the complete production as a whole. I will admit though that I thought initially that the film may not be that much a failure as you would guess from seeing the rating here on IMDb. But sadly it is even worse. The contrast between harmony (early on) and violence/conflict was a solid idea but when you see these scenes you recognize quickly that talent was completely void when making this movie. It's just not working like pretty much all the rest. Major thumbs-down I have to give it and in my opinion this is a film that tells me to avoid Faltermeier's works in the future unless he considerably improves as soon as possible. Watch something else instead.
Okay documentary on a subject that I don't care too much about
"The Substance: Albert Hofmann's LSD" is an award-winning 90-minute documentary from 2011, so this one had its 11th anniversary last year. The writer and director is Martin Witz and it is certainly his most known work. This documentary is partially English, partially German, so make sure you got a good set of subtitles perhaps. The German parts are mostly interview with the guy in the title, who is the one that discovered LSD and who also lived over the age of 100. This means this documentary gives information first hand really because there is probably no bigger expert on the subject than Hofmann, even if his discovery may have been a bit on the lucky side. Other references are about the use of LSD as an illegal drug, even if that part is really not in the center of it all, about LSD as a pharmaceutic drug and also about LSD in terms of war/military. The second aspect is probably the central component of the film as there are long sequences about people who took it and who as a consequence participated in medical tests. I would say that the film perhaps became a bit weaker towards the end, but thanks to the first half / first 60 minutes the informative aspect here is really good enough overall to let me say that this film was a success. I am also a bit on the generous side with it here because it is about a subject that does not really interest me at all as I had no prior knowledge, have never taken LSD or plan to. And still it was interesting to watch for the most part. Those with more affection for the topic will probably enjoy the watch a lot. And these are of course also the ones I recommend seeing it to. Everybody else can check it out too, but should keep their expectations not too high.
A solid ode to tango, but not a great film
"Heartango" is a 6.5-minute live action short film from 2007, so this one has its 10th anniversary this year. The director is Gabriele Muccino who is mostly known for his collaborations with Will Smith. The two writers have never worked on another project before or after this film. The only male actor here is José Fidalgo and I guess only Portugiese may recognize him. The star here is of course Monica Bellucci and she plays several characters or I should perhaps say characteristics (in women). These characters interact with each other in one way or another. But story-wise, it just isn't working out at all, even if the concept idea is somewhat interesting. As a whole, it is really just a better ad (for intimissimi). Is that an underwear manufacturer? I am not sure. But I am sure that without the name Bellucci (and maybe Muccino) this film would be pretty much forgotten by now, a decade later. I personally give it a thumbs-down. Not recommended, even if I will admit that I was surprised how hot Monica Bellucci also looks as a blonde. Wow! Maybe her best look in the entire thing. Did not expect that. Oh yeah, the song is fine too I guess.
Black Holes (2017)
Quality holes as well
"Black Holes" is a 12-minute animated short film that was released pretty recently actually, still from this year (2017). There were several writers and directors working on this one, but that does not keep it from being a disappointment for the most part. It is a mix of sci-fi and comedy as the story here is about the journey to Mars and the protagonist is accompanied by a melon-like co-pilot which says basically everything about the story already. Yes it is a bit absurd and ridiculous at times. It is not so bad that you cannot enjoy it at all, but there are major weaknesses here. Some come from my subjective approach. For example, I personally did not like the animation style at all and this was even to an extent where it made it difficult for me to find it interesting or funny. Then again, the story honestly isn't the greatest at all. It's always a letdown to see so many people making such a short film and then get a result like this. I see the other reviews here differ a lot, but I cannot imagine honestly why somebody would give this a perfect 10/10 rating. If you plan to do so, ask yourself if this film is on par with the very best you have seen from all time? Is it on the same level as the likes of "The Godfather" for example? I personally give it a thumbs-down and if they really get to turn this into a series, they have to step things up a whole lot for me to develop only a slight interest in giving this one another chance. Watch something else instead. Hoped for more given a guy like Fichtner is voice acting here.
Mr. Bean's Wedding (2007)
Very positively surprised
"Mr. Bean's Wedding" is a bit of a misleading title for this one as Mr. Bean here is just a guest at his wedding and not the groom. But first things first. This 7-minute movie is from 2007, so it has its 10th anniversary this year and it features Rowan Atkinson of course playing his trademark character. If you look at the cast, you also find several other somewhat known names in here I believe. Not gonna mention them as you can check out the names yourself in the cast list. Anyway, as you see already from the title I found this a really good watch and entertaining little movie. And this comes especially surprising as I am not a great Mr. Bean fan at all. So I think it is also worth seeing for those that do not appreciate him really. I still would not say that it is a film that really changed my view on Mr. Bean or even turned me into a fan of him, but it showed me that with the right writing, which was at least as good as Atkinson, there is the possibility for a quality film as well for this character. Like when he makes a face when somebody else slightly disturbs the wedding, even if this is exactly what he is doing all the time. For example I watched a more recent short film about Mr. Bean on funerals today as well and that one wasn't good at all. But this one is and it is not only for a noble cause (CR), but among the 10 best short films from 2007 probably. Highly recommended. Final note: Michelle Ryan's looks are absolutely stunning and almost alone worth checking this one out. I'd marry her too.