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Good Omens (2019)
6/10
It's OK but really not that great
3 June 2019
The reviews here clearly show the biggest problem this site's been having: there are fewer and fewer real reviews written by real people - the movie / TV nerds who helped build this site into what it is by supplying it with tons of content without asking for anything in return. And there are more and more bot reviews written either by self-replicating AIs and/or paid posters. If a review consists of two lines, chances are high that it's not genuine, because if someone takes the trouble to write anything at all about something, it's usually more than the minimum required number of words.

As for "Good Omens", why would a series that's been so massively hyped resort to boosting its standing with fake reviews? Well, probably BECAUSE it's been so massively hyped. And because it is being streamed on Prime, the service you don't cancel for the free deliveries. And because of the "buy this item" links on your title pages. Manipulating ratings is just another wheel in the machine of e-commerce.

Which is why this series feels pretty much like a product. It does have nice performances by Sheen and Tennant and the Damien substitute, but the story is as predictable as a CSI installment. It is also rather dated - as obvious as it is that these two celestials are into each other, there are just some subtle (yawn!) allusions, while there is a ridiculously superfluous straight sex scene. It's so funny because it's so bad! Frances MacDormand's voice-over is useless and obviously intended to stretch content, which has a distinctly annoying preachy effect. Compared to the other hip Gaiman adaptation "American Gods" (well, the 1st season anyway), there is no edge, no depth, no real creativity. "Good Omens" is nice but duh.

So while it is worth watching if you have nothing better to do, it is by no means an epiphany, and you might find yourself better served by the less hyped, less two-line review heavy competition.
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6/10
It's not THAT bad
23 May 2019
Judging by the rating, one might thing this is a complete disaster, but it's obviously voted down because it's about an Arab woman taking semi-nudes of Arab men.

To be sure, the story is a little weird: Amal's husband is killed in a car accident in front of her studio, just as she is reviewing her collection of auto portraits with her father-in-law. He offers to take her in and finance her art, at first seemingly without second thoughts. However, when he finds out she has started to take portraits of men, he - as many others - take her for b**** in heat. Amal stands her ground, with him and others, starts a new relationship with an arts professor who accepts what she does, and eventually reconciles with her father-in-law.

That could be quite interesting, but the actors are stiff and it's a bit unrealistic how she can talk herself out of extremely menacing situations resulting from her hobby. She displays a mind-boggling naivety when it comes to talking to strangers. There are some good points, like when one of her rich friends slaps her at a party, because underneath all that French, high society tolerance towards female freedom is just as limited as in the lower classes, they just pretend harder. But Amal's character is implausible - she lives off others, yet insists on independence; she is an artist, yet makes no effort to exhibit, and the ending leaves no hint as to where she's going (literally).

The gay director includes some gratuitous homoerotic shots, it's beautifully filmed overall, and the topic makes it worth seeing. However, it does seem rather artificial, the script is weak, and the cast isn't very impressive.
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5/10
Ultimately pointless nerdgasm of overused tropes
19 May 2019
First of all, this is not a documentary but an essay. Some reviewers seem to be a bit confused about what genre this is, mainly because the heyday of essay film was in the 60s-80s. Google Chris Marker.

Then some people don't know who the director Johannes Grenzfurthner is. He is a very Austrian phenomenon of multimedia philosopher, a bit like Slavoj Zizek but more cynical. He's done a lot of social theory parodies before this film, so don't let the amateurish production misguide you.

Now for the problems. As rather typical for our current cerebral climate, there is a veritable smorgasbord of social issues addressed here, some in a rather cliché 1960s Marxist way (hard to figure out if that's parody), some in rather original, thought-provoking ways (like the segment on media culture in which Politics consults a shrink in early 1990s 8bit video game animation).

The best point: US-style particularized social movements foster inequality, because they demand more individual rights at the cost of the common good. But then one waits for a resolution, some sort of proposal for taking action, and there isn't any. The biggest weakness of the film therefore: starting a lot of conversations, and then let these peter out into nowhere. This becomes increasingly frustrating as one realizes that there will be no proposition at the end of the film, and indeed: it just ends (clumsily).

Grenzfurthner correctly criticizes at various points the currently hip dismissal of Constructivism, but in not really coming up with anything but concluding that society is effed up, he inadvertently confirms critics who view postmodernists as vacuous relativists. To which I would have said: You know, the murkiness of perpetual uncertainty feels pretty safe compared to the battleground of competing absolute truths.

And as much as I hate the term "mansplaining", that's exactly what much of this film amounts to: Men talking vividly about stuff without checking if anyone cares.

Feel frustrated because there are so many questions but no answers? How about reading some books? Google Ulrich Beck, Anthony Giddens, Silvio Gesell for instance (don't stop there, i.e. Montaigne never gets old).

Find the sections of the film talking about liberalism incomprehensible because you are not Austrian? Google Austrian School / Viennese School of Economics.
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8/10
The pros (and cons) of Netflix production
6 December 2018
A perfect example for both what's possible if film makers can completely unleash their creativity, and when that very freedom prevents them from trimming down their work to perfect measure.

It's definitely the best Coen film since "True Grit" and at times even better. But an anthology film such as this invariably has stories that are more gripping than others. So for the cinematic release, it would have been advisable to go for a redux version and cut the weakest two, "Meal Ticket" and "The Mortal Remains", which I would rate 6/10. They do not align well with the others. These are the Coens's original stories and they did want people to see them in that order, but this is where more exec control would have helped the film.

"All Gold Canyon" and "Near Algodones" are both OK, I'd say 7/10. They both have Jack London written all over them and give a great homage to the Western themes of fall from grace and nature interaction/violation. They are also very well photographed, with a meticulous attention to detail that is all but forgotten in mainstream cinema. But like those Jack London stories, they're simple - effective, to the point, OK at this length but nothing memorable forever.

"The Ballad of Buster Scruggs" is definitely the highlight and it is understandable that many people feel let down by its brevity, which is why I'd say it's 8/10. That character is screen gold and should be developed into a series. This episode summarizes the themes of the following stories at their most entertaining, so it might have been better to save it for last, as the mood gets progressively darker.

"The Gal Who Got Rattled" is the longest and for my money best story, 9/10. This could have been developed into a full length picture but it's OK as it is. It's just amazing how it builds - coming in 4th, one knows at this point there's calamity on the way, but the resolution is still surprising and very, very well narrated. This is the Coens at their Fargo best, an exclamation mark reminder that these guys are still the greatest living American film makers.

So if I add up all the stories equally, it'd come to pretty much where the IMDB rating is at. But this is such a creative relief over the Disney / DC crap that's congesting the screens these days, so it should be rated 8/10. Let's just hope Netflix can keep this up - the best film of the year (Roma) also being one of theirs. May providence prevent Disney+ from gobbling up their subscribers.
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The Tale (2018)
5/10
For a subject this personal, it should have been narrated better
5 October 2018
Warning: Spoilers
"The Tale" raises important questions about the psychological ramifications of child abuse, however weak storytelling ultimately turns the film into nothing more than an interesting failure.

It's the true story of the film maker trying to reconnect the dots of a childhood trauma after the discovery of her letters and a story from age 13 by her mother. First important point: memories of child abuse are repressed, memory doesn't oblige you to deal with more than you can handle. But that makes it difficult to assess not so much if the abuse happened, but how and why. And these are the questions the narrator / director tries to address. Second important point: she idolized the perpetrator(s) in her memory, giving them credit rather than condemning them, so memorizing the abuse goes along with dethroning her childhood icons. There are snippets of other survivors which indicate that this is a pattern, but because the film is principally about Fox's own story, it doesn't go beyond a brief observation.

Which takes me to the structural weakness of the film: The support characters. It would seem - and is, occasionally, quite clear - that the protagonist does not really interact with anyone. The mother, the lover, the FBI agent say all the right things - to the point that one wonders whether they are not just figments of her imagination. There is a strangely artificial sex scene in which the protagonist "rides" her lover wearing a sports bra, which feels so out of place that one cannot help but wonder whether it is only there to show that abuse doesn't affect sexual activity / control. When the protagonist confronts the perpetrator(s), it is sometimes made to look imaginary and sometimes real - which would be a great approach if there was some sort of resolution in the end. Films that better manage to move between reality and imagination would be, for instance, Laura Dern's own David Lynch collaboration "Inland Empire", or in respect to the subject matter "Images" by Robert Altman. If the borderline territory between imagination and reality is what Jennifer Fox intended to show, it would have been advisable to use (more) visual and narrative consultants.

Instead, there is an almost desperate attempt to be as realistic as possible, even going so far as to visualize sex between the adult and the child. Like the other sex scene, it feels forced, and doesn't really serve a narrative purpose. It seems to be there just for shock value, and that's one of the three big problems I have with this film. Another is that in one of the protagonist's imagined dialogues with the woman she idolized in her youth, she asks why she enabled her abuser, to which the woman replies: "No one saved me". In other words, she imagines that her idol was herself a victim - yet her real attempt at forcing an explanation out of her fails. That is very problematic because the main reason survivors don't talk about / address their experience is the fear of being labeled a potential abuser themselves. Fox probably intends to show that this is her own explanation, in the absence of any real one - which would explain the title "The Tale" as well - but she does other abuse survivors a huge disservice by perpetuating a stereotype. The truth is that while some survivors may indeed end up becoming abusers (thereby becoming visible to the public eye), the huge (invisible) majority is even more horrified by child abuse than the general public already is (and yes, this observation is based on personal experience). Problem number three is the final confrontation scene, which strongly recalls "Celebration" (1998) by Tomas Vinterberg. Anyone who knows that film will see the similarity, which then indicates that the confrontation in this film did not really happen. And if it didn't really take place, why is it there? If the climax of the film is imagined, then why not resolve the film by admitting it was? That would have delivered a much stronger message, because in real life, confronting the abuser rarely happens.

Jennifer Fox has been bold enough for a realistic psychological approach to this immensely difficult subject. It's incredibly hard to express what it feels like to deal with this, so any attempt deserves praise. But unfortunately she has marred her approach with leanings from other sources / other people's expectations, which makes the film less personal than it could have been, thereby diminishing its message and impact.
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Catastroika (2012)
1/10
An "Infowar" production
4 October 2018
How do you make a propaganda piece that gets voted 8.+ on IMDB? Throw together a bunch of facts interspersed with talking heads - so that a gullible audience doesn't notice that the information isn't connected at all.

The film portrays the debt crisis in Greece as an element of cannibal capitalism through privatization and lists Chile, Russia, Thatcherist Britain and East Germany in one breath as examples. Chile was a CIA-fostered coup aimed at curbing Communist expansion; the Soviet Union was bankrupted in the course of the arms race with the US, which enabled new private banks to sell and confiscate assets for a pittance - which is how the oligarchy started; and Greece went several times over the Euro stability criteria to finance political promises and the Olympics, thereby increasing its borrowing costs until the crisis hit. Thatcherism is, indeed, a perfect example of neoliberal capitalism, but in this film, all kinds of non-connected things are thrown together to create the illusion of a global conspiracy. Your head will spin over movie clips, snippets of Slavoj Zizek and Naomi Klein, and how they connect Greece with British rail privatization and Enron.

I can only determine the full scope of disinformation here on the bits about Germany. The "experts" consulted here are with one exception members of "Die Linke", the follow-up of the sole East German party SED. Which means these people were part / benefited from the ruling elite, and since they lost their privileges upon reunification, they have created their own mythology about evil West Germany taking over the innocent East. No word about East Germans being adopted into the Western pension fund and health insurance scheme, financed by a "solidarity tax" of 5.5% on top of income tax - until today! No word about the "Länderausgleich" which obliges states like Bavaria, which generate a budget surplus, to finance states on a deficit, which are the Eastern ones.

But of course, for Greeks Germany and the EU are evil because they insisted on compliance with the Euro stability pact before agreeing to bail them out. Yet had the evil Troika not pressured Greece into this and chosen Grexit instead, there would have been state bankruptcy, and no bank would have vouched for Greek debt. The Greeks would have had to negotiate a deal with private equity funds like Argentina, they would have returned to the Drachma leading to hyperinflation, and the overall situation would have been way worse than it is now. But hey, those are facts, and who gives a damn about those these days. You'll either applaud this fact manipulation because it fits your view of the world, or you'll shake your head over people believing this nonsense.
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American Horror Story: The End (2018)
Season 8, Episode 1
6/10
Best. opening. EVER (and then they effed it all up)
14 September 2018
Warning: Spoilers
After a couple of lackluster seasons, AHS is back with a bang and that's no hype. "Cult" had already put the crazy into high gear, yet lost itself within the characters' various obsessions, couldn't tie them up into a bundle and petered out by dispatching its protagonists with little coherence. Murphy & Falchuk seem to have realized this, so this time, they kill off the world in five minutes, allowing the story to focus on a limited number of people. Good choice, writing wise! And to avoid a Christie-ish "And then there were none" feel, they add another component in the last minute to keep you wondering where this may go.

Update: another case of not delivering on an excellent premise. We all knew there would be a "Coven" crossover, but what we didn't know was that the whole Nuclear holocaust shebang would be tossed aside for a Coven sequel. So it looks like they're wrapping up the franchise in a really messy way - . And Dame Joan was offed way too early - heck, EVERYBODY was. If you like scares, watch "The Haunting of Hill House" instead. AHS has gone Camp Stillborn.
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Disenchantment (2018– )
5/10
disembowelingly disenchanting
19 August 2018
After watching the whole thing, I guess it's fair to say that this will become neither a slow burning mass phenomenon like The Simpsons nor a cult classic like Futurama. Disenchantment feels rather like a half-hearted experiment with next to zero character development, and a storyline that only takes off toward the end. When S2 comes around next year, most people will have all but forgotten this show and feel little enticed to see where it's going.

The relentless hype has already been a deep-red flag. It's a sign of how insecure Netflix are about their content. With the most unimaginatively named leads ever, there was plenty of reason to be insecure about. Who decided to call an elf lead "Elfo" and a demon lead "Luci(fer)"? That can be translated as "we're really not sure what these characters are supposed to be, so we just roll with whatever comes to mind first". Which is what most of this season feels like - lots of half-executed ideas, half-written jokes, a plot that starts and stops and blows like a 1978 Ford Mustang Diesel - it just feels old and slow and smelly.

Apart from Eric André, the voice talent is meh - André seems to be the only one who got an idea about his character. Particularly atrocious: John DiMaggio's oy vey Anatevka-ish parody of King Zog. If he's supposed to sound like Harvey Fierstein, then why not hire Fierstein to do the job?

The one exception that makes this not a complete disaster is Episode 5 "Faster Princess, Kill! Kill!", the only one written by Reid Harrison. That one is fast, zany and has all the craziness one would expect from the creator of "Futurama". It also tops the IMDB ratings. Unless that writer gets more responsibilities for S2, I doubt that many viewers will be back for seconds next year.
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Good Manners (2017)
8/10
Fantastic - in every sense of the word
31 July 2018
Given how weird this film is, I'm a bit surprised that there's no review about "Good Manners" yet. Horror titles usually get a good deal of attention but perhaps this is an indicator of just how unique this one is.

The story seems straightforward enough at first: Impoverished Lesbian black nurse Clara gets hired by affluent yet unemployed white pregnant Ana - this in spite of giving her landlady as her only reference, who promptly tells her she's being owed rent. However, Clara's touch calms down the kicking baby, so Ana instinctively hires her - and soon their relationship gets very close. However, Ana's behavior becomes increasingly erratic as her pregnancy advances, culminating in... well, among other things, singing. Yup, it's a musical, too.

I've seen a lot of genre movies and it's the rarest of the rare when one of the formulas is injected with something new. Horror often serves as social parables for the exclusion of the different, but here, you will find yourselves drowned in references and allusions, from queer bashing over solitary motherhood to race issues. There's so much to handle that it might be best to not try and process it all, and just abandon oneself to the beautiful weirdness of this film.

Of course, a limited budget limits the scare of the CGI, you got to be open-minded about that. The emotional turmoil makes more than up for this as Isabél Zuaa's performance carries the film from the first shot. The script should have been tighter as it takes enormous leaps and then slows down. I'd recommend watching this late at night, with close friends who are into weird stuff, and after a few joints or drinks.
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A Ciambra (2017)
8/10
The first realistic film about Romani life
16 July 2018
Almost a sequel to American director Jonas Carpignanos' multi-prize winning "Mediterraneo", "A Ciambra" succeeds at something every European director has failed to do so far: To give a realistic, non-judgmental portrait of Romani life, in following 14-year-old Pio Amato's rapid coming-of-age process. Pio already appeared in "Mediterraneo", as did his refugee friend (Koudous Seihon), who was the principal character.

As you can tell from another review here, the attitude towards Sinti and Roma is to this day extremely racist and completely ignorant of the fact that they have been living in Italy for 600 years (Pio's surname is Sinti, i.e. his family has not migrated from the East). In Italian film, gypsies are always thieves and / or murderous psychopaths, "Suburra" and "Jeeg Robot" being the most notorious recent examples. By just reenacting Romani life, "A Ciambra" succeeds in showing how this racist exclusion of Roma (and refugees) creates exactly what it justifies itself with: a marginalized sub-society which perceives the law as hostile, and therefore resorts to crime as a means of survival and defiance. And in this dog-eats-dog world, family is both the only reliable safety net, and the biggest hindrance to an honest living - the film does a good job showing that.

If it's not a masterpiece, then because Carpignano adds nothing to this bleak outlook. There's not a shred of hope for Pio's future, and while this is realistic, it also doesn't give the audience much to work with.
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7/10
The shape of things to come
7 July 2018
Remember, people: this is a story about an elite military unit trying to foil a dirty bomb plot during a different rescue mission, nothing more, nothing less. Given this story line and its clear focus on action, allow yourselves to be entertained. Its the bang-boom-bang movie of the year, which is why it's on track to become China's most successful movie export ever. Expect more of this with the trade war, as the ending clearly suggests that it's also intended as a line in the sand - pardon, sea - between China and the US of A.

My two cents on the most frequent criticism on this one: there's no story and pretty much constant action. As other people have pointed out: the reason why this movie is constant, uninterrupted mayhem is that warfare really is that crazy, as anyone can learn from a multitude of books, documentaries or (like yours truly) friends in the military. The situation in Yemen - for which the location is a thinly veiled stand-in - is so complex that one should feel grateful that there is no attempt whatsoever to put what happens into perspective, as so many Hollywood propaganda drivels do.

I didn't like the predecessor to this one, "Operation Mekong", because of its truckload of stereotypes about Thais and Burmese. "Operation Red Sea" is a huge improvement because it doesn't pretend to be anything more or less than an action flick with a bit of "China saves the day" on the side.
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9/10
Some clarity (perhaps) from a gay guy who grew up in the 80s...
1 March 2018
Warning: Spoilers
I've just seen this for the 2nd time after a festival screening last year where everybody loved it. In this screening and in the reviews here, there's a lot of division, so maybe I can add a few things to help some younger, straighter people out there to know what to expect.

It's a novel adaptation from someone who grew up at the same time I did, and I can confirm that this kind of story is what we fantasized about back in 1983 - from the younger guys´ perspective. This is very much a gay fantasy, but unlike "Moonlight", it isn't bent to straight expectations - if you ask gay friends what they thought about "Moonlight", they'll very likely tell you it's utterly unrealistic, if you ask them about this, they'll very likely tell you that they wish it was true.

A gay teenager in the 80s usually wasn't fantasizing about other teenage boys, because we considered them too immature, and because it was still quite dangerous to test the waters at school. The consequences could range from assault to social death. So we often had this ideal of a sophisticated 25-30ish guy like Oliver as a first romance, especially since "Greek Love", which the film alludes to with the statues, was pretty much the only positive identifier for homosexuality available at the time. There was no internet, there were no films, porn and bars were yet out of reach. So the people here who think this has a pedo touch to it are totally off, it's the other way around. But I give it 9 instead of 10 because the age difference in the book is narrower.

For younger people, the pace must be painfully slow - that's definitely the most courageous aspect of the film, it replicates the narrative structure of the book and allows its story to breathe and slowly grow on you. Many get that, there's no need to point this out expressly, but this is a very realistic approach to first love, for a long time nothing happens and then - boom. This is the reason why I cherish this film, it can make straight viewers understand that we're really not different in our feelings and choices, and that love is love, as Stuhlbarg says in his monologue - which could come across really awkward from a lesser actor.

It's also realistic that Elio experiments with the other sex, most of us did, and as with the girl in the film that usually ended up OK, there were no hard feelings. In that respect, the 80s were probably a better time, interchanges among the sexes were really less forward, more playful, people judged you less harshly for what you were and looked like, the film brings that across really well. It strikes a perfect balance between capturing what the 80s were like for teens, a period of aimless waiting just like the summer, and a nostalgic fantasy of bygone days and a romance that never was.

But it's not for everyone. Stay clear of this if your favorite film is "Justice League". No judgment, it's just not for you, wait a few years. And it's sometimes too subtle for its own good: many people will wonder why Elio is OK with Oliver's decision in the end, and why their story is so definitely over. Well, think about what the Star of David means, and of that scene with the grandma giving the guys water, and then they notice a portrait of the Duce... I only noticed that on my 2nd viewing, so I recommend watching it more than once to catch on to these drifts.
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Aligarh (2015)
8/10
A punch in the gut - but fortunately times are changing
5 December 2017
To get the news out first: India's Supreme Court has granted the Right of Privacy to all in August 2017. The movie ends on a bleak note, mentioning that the 2009 decriminalization of homosexuality by disbanding section 377 was overturned by a Supreme Court decision in 2013. That's over now, even though the law hasn't been disbanded yet.

This film is one of those gut-wrenching reminders that a huge part of humanity is still subjected to discriminatory legislation, and what an enormous battle it has been to overcome these hurdles. It's a bit programmatic, but that can be explained by budget constraints. The biggest strength is Manoj Bajpayee's lead performance, as he gives his character an authenticity few Indian actors would have been able to match. A bit problematic is Rajkummar Rao's character, as his motivation can only be speculated about - the script could have been a bit more straightforward here. The ending is a shock if one isn't familiar with the case, but there's no scandalizing.

Still, this is easily the most accomplished gay-themed film from India yet. So far, this has been a comedy topic, which isn't necessarily bad as a film like "Dostana" obviously reaches larger audiences. But the serious gay-themed efforts were underground so far, it's great to see the New Wave tackling issues like this at long last.
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8/10
One of very few REAL Romanian films
10 November 2017
If you're not Romanian and have seen any film from there at all, it's most likely a festival prize winner by a neo-realist director like Mungiu or Netzer. If you meet a Romanian and ask them what they thought about those, you will quite likely have heard that these films are not really that great, because they do not represent how people live.

There is a scene just like that in this short and mildly black comedy, in which Dragos Bucur explains this to a hitch hiker, giving the plot of "Stuff and Dough" as an example, and how boring it was. The very Romanian irony is that Dragos Bucur was the star of "Stuff and Dough", it was his breakout film, so it's just plain hilarious to hear him trash-talk about it.

There are lots of similar jokes in this little gem produced at a budget of just about €5000. If you're Romanian, you'll constantly snicker because you'll invariably know characters who act like those in the movie. If you're a Westerner, you get a chance to see what we are really like, even if you won't get much of the humor.

This is the perfect film to watch for Eastern - Western couples if you've always found yourself unable to explain just what the difference between us is. It's light, it's fun and unlike most films these days not too long.

And although it says so in the content description, this is not based on some British comedy, but (loosely) on a 19th century play.
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Radius (2017)
1/10
Idea stolen from a classic anime
10 November 2017
Warning: Spoilers
This is a very obvious, yet thoroughly flat remake of the "Stink Bomb" Episode in the omnibus anime "Memories" (1995, https://myanimelist.net/anime/1462/Memories?q=memories). So much for "original concept". It's also a picture-perfect example for how adapting an anime in film doesn't work - what is zany, humorous and non-stop action in the original becomes dull and bleak at a comatose pace.
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7/10
A "keep it to the essential" review
5 October 2017
Is this a worthy sequel to one of the greatest films ever made? Yes.

Does it achieve or surpass the brilliance of the original? No.

Are there surprises compared to your usual Hollywood blockbuster? Yes.

Are there surprises comparable to Villeneuve's Francophone films? No.

Will this likely win Academy Awards for F/X, cinematography and camera? Yes.

Will this likely win Academy Awards for any of the actors? No. Liev Schreiber and Robin Wright make a lot out of very little though.

Why will some people love this movie? The optics. The sound effects. Nostalgia. There's nothing else worth watching on the big screen - don't wait to watch this at home, you'll probably be disappointed.

Why will some people loathe this movie? The story makes very little sense. The plot holes are as deep as the Grand Canyon. It drags in the middle for about 30 minutes. The villains are comic book material. From a female perspective the women in here may seem written awkwardly.

In short: It's definitely worth seeing, but not an epiphany. There's a chance for another sequel, but I hope they'll give it a pass.
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American Horror Story: Election Night (2017)
Season 7, Episode 1
7/10
It's either going to a great parody of US paranoia...
8 September 2017
...or a cash-in on progressive angst, as the other reviews say. For non-Americans, it's a test of patience how much more US neurosis one can take with one's entertainment. There are some signs that this could become a great parody, given how over the top Sarah Paulson's character is (that orgasmic beam on her face when she says "and then Barack got elected"). And Evan Peters' character could become a great parody of supremacist basement boys, because he's got a few great lines of derangement and genuinely scary strategies.

But this could also become another play on hyping paranoia if it presents itself as serious social commentary, which is what ruined "Get Out" for me - because in that case the rampant misogyny of the writing would also be serious (the psycho sis; Lesbian super-neurotic time-bomb, butch = masculine, stable, sane; femme = feminine, weak, deranged). Jessica Lange and Taissa Farmiga gave AHS some pretty awesome female characters in the past, but lately the writing's been the only horror in this show.

Update: I thought it would turn real ugly but halfway in, I got to say they've really dared to swing the series towards social parody, and Paulson's character is less of a stereotype now. It's still waaaay over the top compared to the narratives of earlier days. But I keep watching for the sake of the huge risk the team is taking.
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Vlad Tepes (1979)
5/10
Some background info about the time this was made
3 September 2017
I'm writing this review in response to some nationalistic hyperbole here, just to remind you folks out there what was happening in Romania at the time this film was made.

From the mid-70s, the Ceaușescu regime nationalized all ethnic minority centers. Villages and cities were renamed, non-Romanian schools and businesses closed, non-Romanian employees fired amidst an ever tightening noose of state oppression. In response to this, West Germany paid the government a "head prize" of 10000 Deutschmarks to allow the German population to emigrate. Ceaușescu saw this as incentive to step up the persecution, thus almost the entire German minority (and many Hungarians) left.

The film makes reference to this when the Hungarian nobility is portrayed as treacherous (which indeed it was), and the German merchants as greedy (which is debatable - they didn't trade slaves, for example). There is a scene when Vlad levies a heavy tax on them, which in the context of 1979 could be understood as legitimization of asset confiscation. Also Vlad holds many speeches about the need for firm leadership, which in his time was certainly true, but the wording obviously refers to the "condutatorul" (meaning Führer) Ceaușescu.

Apart from these obvious reverences the film makers had to make to the dictator, this is actually a fairly good portrayal of the historical Vlad, even though his fantastic life story would certainly deserve a huge Hollywood production - it is so much more interesting than that novel concocted by that sexually frustrated, opium-addicted Irishman.
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Life Triumphs (1977)
7/10
Interesting for not really being interesting...
3 September 2017
I'm only writing this review because no one else did, and yet this relatively obscure film shows the usual IMDb Armenia dilemma: there's an obvious contest between down- and up-voters. If you look at the details, roughly half are either 1 or 10 stars.

So I implore on IMDb: please disable Turkish votes on just about anything on this subject. And I implore on the Turks responsible for these results: could you please stop abusing this website for your personal frustrations and get a life? You are fooling no one but yourselves.

About the film: I saw it a long time ago on Romanian TV. It's the only really Armenian film on the subject I know. It's not about the genocide, it's about one survivor coping with the aftermath, slowly connecting with his new wife. When their child is born in the end, he finally accepts his new life, and there just a few seconds showing how his family was killed. There are no accusations against the Turks, there is no propaganda, it's a very personal, unspectacular, even dull story.
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Fog in August (2016)
8/10
The best German film on the subject...
27 August 2017
... given that German films on the subject usually let you feel somewhat detached. Whenever the Holocaust is concerned, German filmmakers tend to try to do everything according to the book, as meticulously factual as possible, so viewers can easily feel lectured.

There is a good deal of that strife for perfection in here as well, as a whole lot of neglected issues are crammed into this one film: the Nazi euthanasia program involving feeding patients nutrition-less food called "Ersatzkost", substitute nourishment. The silent acquiescence of the Catholic church to mass murder carried out in institutions under their formal patronage. The lumping together of all kinds of "undesirables" labeled mentally unfit to live. And in the guise of the lead, the still unfilmed "Porrajmos" (which means "devouring"), the destruction of much of Europe's Romani population no one cares about until today.

It's all a bit much and doesn't help the narrative structure, but there is a lot to learn, even for those who've seen a good deal of films about the subject. Apart from "Schindler's List", hardly any film explains the ideology and motivation behind these crimes. The extremely fascinating - while sickening - quality of this film is that it shows doctors and nurses murdering children without any malice, all in the name of the "greater cause" of racial purity. As incredibly inhumane this seems to the viewer - and the sole heroine of the story, a catholic nun - the sources from that time indicate that this was indeed how the culprits thought. Sebastian Koch, whom I usually find rather wooden, brings this uncanny mix of "scientific" curiosity and complete lack of conscience perfectly across. It's his best film, better than "The Lives of Others".

What this film is not is the heavily overdue film about the persecution of gypsies. It's misleading to call the protagonist Ernst Lossa a Rom, he was a Jenische, they are non-ethnic travellers like in Ireland and don't speak Romanes. They mostly reside in Switzerland, where Jenische children were taken away from their families to "socialize" them until 1968... as you see, there remain many, many more stories to tell.
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7/10
Watch it - you won't get anything better this year
20 July 2017
The Hollywood line-up this year doesn't provide anything remotely interesting. So don't let a shaky story-line, unnecessary dialogue and slightly hammy acting dissuade you from watching the most stunning visuals since "Avatar".

Based on 60s French cult comic series "Valerian & Laureline" - mystery to me why didn't they keep that title -, the magnificent opening sequence sets the tone for a more esoteric approach to Sci-Fi than "Star Wars". I won't let on about the story too much so as not to ruin any element of surprise. Let's just say they really should have lost the romantic chitchat. It makes the film drag at inconvenient times. With real writers, this could have become a classic.

The draw is the eye candy and there's plenty of it. Again I cannot in good conscience divulge any details. Again let's just say that one gets treated to the most creative use of lemons in the history of film. I'll have to watch it again to catch all the pop art references. Aliens were never more beautiful, more sophisticated, more varied. And while the Rihanna scene cannot compete with the opera scene in "5th Element", it's the best use of a performance act in film in years.

Alas, when one thinks "5th Element", the main weaknesses of "Valerian" stands out clearly: mediocre acting and a terrible script. Bloodless DeHaan is the most dreadfully miscast lead since Tom Hiddleston in "Kong: Skull Island". Why didn't they cast the likes of Theo James with over $200 mil to burn? Cara Delevingne is cool but no Milla Jovovich - Besson loved Jovovich for real and the camera and editing really showed that. Delevingne's Laureline comes across as a run-of-the-mill heroine even though she's doing a solid job. Clive Owen cannot even remotely compare to Gary Oldman's Hitleresque splendor. Strangely enough, the CGI aliens do the best acting and have all the memorable lines. Besson's script-writing has always been shaky but seems to get progressively worse.

Still, compared to this year's Hollywood fare of sequels, yet another superhero franchise and musicals with thespians who cannot sing, "Valerian" is infinitely more entertaining.
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5/10
Lies about Lies about Lies
19 March 2017
Warning: Spoilers
As practically any political documentary these days, this one isn't interesting because of the "facts" it reveals, but rather because of what it chooses to omit and how information is manipulated to pass for a chain of events. The most interesting observation can be summarized in an axiom: the broader (not just) a documentary's subject is, the more likely it substitutes hard facts with the film maker's personal beliefs.

One very obvious omission is that Salafism isn't even mentioned once. Salafism has been taught at Sunni theological schools at least since the 1920s, Salafism is the backbone of al-Quaida, all 9/11 attackers were Salafists, Daesh is Salafist, all individual terrorists in Europe had Salafist connections. To claim that the source of modern terrorism is Syria's Shia dictator Assad is definitely a lie. I don't know whether this means that this is a propaganda effort( the Saudis and their dirty war in Yemen are suspiciously omitted), or whether the author is simply going for the ultimate "everything-is-connected" effect - that would be very BBC. Either way, this causality construction presents a deliberate manipulation of facts that can be easily counter-checked.

Another prominent claim of this film is that Ghaddafi was never a real threat to the Western world and merely set up as a stooge to cover up terrorist bombings actually committed by Syria or Hezbollah. There is no convincing argument delivered why this should be the case. The film maker argues that the US wanted to somehow cooperate with Syria, when all the hard facts point to the opposite. If you're into conspiracy theory, one might argue that the Ghaddafi's fall intensified the refugee crisis in the EU, which would then be the ultimate target of everything the US messes up. If you're not a conspiracy fan, you might as well go with "if nobody knows anything, you gotta do something, so that it seems you know everything".

Another claim is that Assad used Hezbollah for suicide attacks against soft targets as a revenge for Kissinger's obstruction of a unified Arab world. That concept, however, originated with Egypt's Nasser in the 1950s, and the first organized terror attack in the Western world was the PLO's assassination of the Israeli Olympic team in Munich in 1972. It was the Sunni PLO that Shia Hezbollah learned terror from, not Hamas from Hezbollah after the Sabra/Shatila massacres of 1982. Just look at the sequence of events, people. The OPEC siege, Entebbe, Mogadischu, all that happened before and had multiple causes.

What is true, however, is the assessment that the failure of the Arab Spring and the failure of Occupy can be traced to what I hold to be the only profound statement made in this film: that the internet may have the power to bring people together against something, but cannot substitute an alternative idea. Today's protest movements all fail because they are not based on an underlying concept. Curtis should have added that, as a consequence, their failure cannot be ascribed to Islam. It's rather the incapability of an internet image culture to formulate strategy and organize leadership - just look at the Pirate Party, or #Black Lives Matter's strategic error not to reach out to Hispanics, which would multiply their base.

Another interesting bit is the piece on Russian media manipulation by Putin's confidant Surkov, supporting both protest groups and right-wing nationalists in an attempt to rile them up against each other - inspired by absurdist theater - which is fascinating. This is, alas, only mentioned in passing - the focus drifts to Trump's campaign and culminates in the common theme of keeping the public in a disorganized state of uncertainty in the face of an ever changing narrative. However, this is not a new idea as this film may make you think, but in fact a cornerstone of postmodern philosophy and media theory (just google Postman).

So watch this with caution. There are some good points to take home with, but the alternative reality this film constructs is just as unconvincing as the official story. The simple truth to a slightly older academic like me is that today nobody knows anything anymore because they're constantly overloaded with useless info. The film maker walked right into this trap himself, by coming up with his specific "what if" scenario, and then eliminating every fact that doesn't work with his interpretation from his film.
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Toni Erdmann (2016)
9/10
Exceptional German films are like cicadas...
29 December 2016
... they hatch once a decade or less. In the 1980s, there was "Das Boot". In the 1990s, there was "Run Lola Run". In the 2000s, for most people "The Lives of Others" (which East Germans consider fake), and for others "Goodbye Lenin". And now, "Toni Erdmann", easily the best German film of the 2010s (so far).

The story is deceptively simple: "Estranged father tries to reconnect with his adult daughter" As it is so often the case with great movies, what fascinates is less the story but the way it is told. Director/writer Maren Ade chose to establish the characters through long, hyper-realistic scenes to highlight the contrast between a quirky jester dad and his career-obsessed daughter. The result is dry-as-can-be satire, strongly reminiscent of "Windows on Monday" by Ulrich Köhler (who served as editing consultant on this film).

What elevates "Toni Erdmann" from other European films this year is the use of Bucharest as a setting for corporate business maneuvering. An Eastern European backdrop is usually just a cliché, where the main characters are confronted with various stereotypes. Here, they interact with the locals in a realistic way, creating a number of culture-clash situations. As a Romanian by birth, I would say that Ade is the first foreign film maker to give an accurate idea of what we are like, and what the differences to Westerners are. There are wonderful scenes of Romanian hospitality, naivety, politeness, obstructionism and savoir-vivre. The Germans, in contrast, come across as goal-driven, practical, hollow, yet fragile and creative.

Tom Tykwer, the most famous German director who isn't Werner Herzog, once gave a famous reply to the question: "Why are German films so rarely successful?" His response was: "Because German film makers don't spend enough time developing their stories." That quote came to mind once having watched this film. The many accolades it received, including the European Film Prize, are no doubt due to the careful character development that is apparent in every scene.

Some people here seem disappointed that "Toni Erdmann" is not what they expect from a German film or comedy, I'd say that is precisely its strength: it defies conventional wisdom of what a German film is. To be sure, Ade's previous film "Everyone Else" was unconvincing because it was impossible to care for its protagonists, but if there's one European film maker who has taken a huge step forward, it's her. Cristian Mungiu won Cannes' director prize instead for "Graduation", and one could argue that this is deserved, given how well-written it is. But it also fits the expectation of what a Romanian film is to a tee, so I'm with the majority of critics who consider Ade's film their favorite of the year.

The one weakness "Toni Erdmann" has is that some scenes are not necessary, making the film about 30 minutes too long and weakening its impact. My guess is that the creators were so enchanted with the characters that they could not let go of any material. The film drags at times, it feels as if some shots were not actually intended to be used in the final cut. And it would have been advisable to end the movie with the pivotal scene the poster shows, which may very well be the most beautiful father-daughter reconciliation ever filmed.
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Much Loved (2015)
9/10
Forget the low rating, this one hits the mark
23 December 2016
Warning: Spoilers
When I was much younger and poorer, I used to have a job like the one of the mostly silent gay chauffeur in this film: I drove a group of prostitutes from my Romanian homeland around and checked whether they were safe. Not so rare an occupation for gays, it seems. While watching this, I felt taken back directly to those days in the early 90s, and I still can't believe just how much this film got prostitution right. Every character corresponds to women I've met who did this job, with same goals, same social situation, same characteristics.

The clients are in every detail like the clients I saw; Ayouch doesn't flinch to portray French men as wannabe machos who get deservedly ripped off, and Saudis as rich scum who cannot have sex without degrading the women they're paying, albeit handsomely. That's what may have gotten the film banned in Morocco, but what certainly did it is the scene in which the ladies get a little boy vendor to admit he's "going with the Europeans". The ban is almost ironic because this film is so much more than a portrait of contemporary Moroccan or Arab society; this really can and does happen anywhere.

No film I've ever seen has corresponded so much to the reality of prostitution as I witnessed it, they're usually focusing on family issues to make the issue more palpable. This one doesn't, and Ayouch deserves more viewers and more respect for that.
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Son of Saul (2015)
5/10
In spite of all the awards, this is Holocaust porn
15 December 2016
So this won the Cannes Grand Prix and the Golden Globe and Oscar for foreign film. So this must be a truly excellent film, especially since so many people here seem to be of that opinion, right? I admit: technically, this is a new approach to the theme, in which the face of the protagonist reflects all what is happening around him, and in which an excellent, well-thought sound design carries over the horrors that remain at the edges of the frame. And yet, I'm one of the handful of reviewers who are rather disappointed.

I admit this is because of my partial Romani heritage. At this point, especially with what's been going on in Europe (and particularly Hungary) over the past years, a film that manages to give passing reference to gay and Soviet Auschwitz inmates - and STILL ignores the presence of Sinti and Roma - isn't just unconsciously overseeing the issue. Romani organizations weren't happy with "Schindler's List" back in the day, pointing out that the realistic approach Spielberg chose eradicated an essential part of Romani history. I thought that critique too harsh - "Schindler's List" is a masterpiece of storytelling and it would not have been part of the story to include references to Birkenau II. This film, however, could have easily avoided this negligence, and if you find it hard to understand why anyone should be mad about that, I suggest you watch another Hungarian film, "Just the Wind" (2012). That one gives you an idea of the perpetual hell of Romani existence.

Yet like a number of German critics also pointed out, what really gives me the creeps about "Son of Saul" is the frame composition, with ample use of naked bodies out of focus, and an extensive use of nudity as a symbol of helplessness. I cannot help but agree that this constitutes Holocaust pornography. The images are carefully constructed to elicit shock, yet do not contribute to the story - as was the case in "Schindler's List". The film is carried by the structural idea, which is not at all an original one, but reminiscent of classic Hungarian cinema - particularly "Red Psalm" (1972) by Miklós Jancsó and the work of Béla Tarr, whom this director assisted.

The story, simple as it is, is in fact unrealistic if you go by the memoirs of Roman Frister or Lucie Adelsberger (to name just a few) since there was no freedom of movement corresponding to what you see in this film. The pointlessness of the protagonist's actions, clear to all around him as well as himself, also run contrary to what I've read from survivors, who very clearly describe what animated them and what the dynamics within the inmates were. So if you've not read any books and haven't watched any testimonials or documentaries, I'm afraid this film can easily misguide your perceptions of what the Holocaust was, and deliver and imprint so strong that it may be hard to challenge by more factual depictions. Yet this is of course an extremely important work in the negative sense, in that it shows just how easily content can be styled to elicit a specific response and garner an avalanche of awards.

Perhaps my judgment would not be this harsh if this wouldn't ring so close, and if Hungary wouldn't have the human rights record it has under Orbán. But considering the film culminates in an uprising - if you've devoted some time to the study of Auschwitz, you may understand why I cannot help but wonder when, finally, will there be a film about May 16th, 1944 in Birkenau II. It's very much needed, and the story is so powerful that it wouldn't require as much technical finesse.
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