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May Films

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This month with Children of Men, Ascenseur pour l’échafaud, Ghost World, Tanguy, The Manchurian Candidate, La Notte, Kuhle Wampe, Melinda and Melinda, Woody Allen and others.

Children of Men

Children of Men was the favourite film of the year for many people commenting on such topics. It draws a dire future of humanity where procreation of humans ceased to work. And where the British society we see reduced themselves to a xenophobic police state in the constant fear and chase of illegal immigrants - war on terror pro, if you wish.

One of those immigrants happens to be pregnant which is great news in that situation and saves her life. We see the attempt of her being taken to safety to ensure she and her child will be well.

While the film was interesting and drew on numerous cool ideas, I ended up being a bit disappointed by it - particularly after all the extremely positive reviews I had read. In particular I missed the point of the raging xenophobia in the film. Would infertility make people xenophobic? Or nationalist? Why would they care for ‘their country’ if they don’t have kids to make that country good for? Or does the film suggest that Britain’s current development suggests that the country will become that way in a decade or two? Both points of view don’t make a lot of sense to me and would at least require further discussion. Insteat we see how soldiers stop shooting and start smiling because a baby cries. Which looks mainly like kitsch to me.

[The whole infertility theme made me think of Vonnegut’s Galápagos, there’s even a boat for the survivors…]

[Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]

Ascenseur pour l’échafaud

Wow, L’ascenseur pour l’échafaud certainly is a classic that is worth seeing. Not only is it in cool 1950s black in white, in French, directed by Louis Malle and with a Miles Davis soundtrack - it also manages to completely capture the viewer with the drama and irony of its plot.

The story of which involves an almost-perfect murder whose offender is caught in a stuck lift while other people nick his car and gun and commit some more murders that he will be framed for. It’s a pleasure to see how the puzzle pieces come together and how it is figured out what actually happened.

Odd things: Could you imagine an office building where the mains power is turned off at night? Or a German who’ll invite you for drinks after you bumped into his Mercedes?

[Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]

Ghost World

The basic story of Ghost World - two girls go to ‘stalk’ some poor guy whose ad they considered pathetic in the contact-classifieds - isn’t too thrilling I guess. But the film has Scarlett Johansson in it, so it seemed worth having a look at.

In the end Mrs Johansson wasn’t all that stunning in the film, but the story with the main protagonist Enid (played by Thora Birch of American Beauty fame) actually developing feelings for their victim Seymour (played by Steve Buscemi) ended up being a rather entertaining coming-of-age story with just the right people playing the protagonists.

[Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]


Tanguy is a French film from a few years back with the odd topic of a guy, Tanguy, who keeps living with his parents and who cannot be convinced to move out. After all he loves his parents so much and he wants to stay with them. This, however, drives his parents nuts and makes them devise all sorts of schemes to make him move out.

And we see all of those schemes fail - with Tanguy calling home in the middle of the night because he can’t sleep in his own flat, with Tanguy suffering from suffocation and with Tanguy calling an ambulance to get to the hospital because of that.

At times the film really is hilarious because nobody seems to know a single person who’d be that keen to keep living at his parents’ place; and want to stay there even when being explicitly told to leave…

[Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]

The Manchurian Candidate

I never watched the 2004 re-make of The Manchurian Candidate because I kept thinking I’d rather see the original 1962 version of the film. And it took quite a while before I actually did that.

As films of that time go it is black and white and tells the story of soldiers from the Korean war who have been brainwashed by the communists (I guess it’s a trivial exercise to guess how that aspect was updated for 2004…). And what a brainwash that was. Properly hypnotised the soldiers will do anything they are told - like kill one of their friends - without the least hesitation. Even better, they’ll forget what happened - giving more than just plausible deniability and peace of mind.

After a few glitches come up with some of the soldiers starting to have nightmares and the obstacle of actually convincing the army that there is a problem with their former servicemen that warrants an investigation is handled, a bigger story unfolds. One with a big communist conspiracy to take over the US of A in a perfectly democratic way. Clever.

Um, and I wouldn’t recognise Frank Sinatra even if he played the main protagonist in a film for two hours right in front of my eyes…

[Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]

La Notte

After having seen and loved Antonioni’s Blow Up, quite liked his Professione Reporter, appreciated Zabriskie Point and not gotten Il deserto rosso and L’Avventura, we finally got to see La Notte.

It’s a long and slow black and white film set in Milan where author Giovanni and his wife Lidia experience a series of events that reach from a friend dieing to book promotions to random or not-so-random flirts to a decadent party to stating the end of their love. Giovanni is played by Marcello Mastroianni which along with the setup of the writer and the party reminded me quite a bit of La Dolce Vita.

Number 2 seen in a scene of the film

As Antonioni’s films go, this one also floats around with apparently random things adding up to a big picture rather than having its characters pursue things too actively. In some areas of the film - particularly at the beginning with the hospital scene - I failed to see the point of that but as Giovanni and Lidia attend the big night out at the billionaire’s place (whoa, nice house!) this mode of drifting along starts seeming perfectly natural. Add to that the numerous cool shots in the film, some of which look more like photos than a film and you have something that’s worth watching even if it won’t become your new favourite film.

Number 1 seen in a scene of the film

[Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]

Kuhle Wampe

Kuhle Wampe is a 1932 film co-written by Bertolt Brecht. It’s quite amazing for a film of its time in that it isn’t a silent film but even has parts with dialogue in it. The film is often labelled as communist propaganda and there certainly is a bit of critique of the powers that were in its story of a family suffering from poverty and a lack of jobs. Suffering that much that their son kills himself and they get kicked out of their flat and have to move to the campground Kuhle Wampe just out of Berlin.

But around the family drama and the love story of their daughter we see, the big question that is also the film’s subtitle (and English) title is Wem gehört die Welt?Who owns the World? And in some ways that question - and even the way in which it is discussed in the film - hasn’t passed its best by date yet.

[Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]

Melinda and Melinda

Melinda and Melinda is another newish Woody Allen film that I had to catch up on. It doesn’t feature Woody Allen but instead goes with a whole bunch of not-too-ugly women. And the film certainly has that Woody Allen feel to it with the upper-crust New Yorkeans discussing comedy and tragedy in a supposedly intellectual way.

With us seeing examples for those - of course in some relationships that we see breaking apart and re-form in two stories each of which features a Melinda. And with all those things happening in flats that should really be called appartements (I guess apartments would be more fitting?) and that are inhabited by people who know the names of more interior decorators than I know names of Ikea furniture and by people who just happen to be able to support that lifestyle from some creative job that isn’t all that taxing (or by inheritance).

In a way I start thinking that if these films weren’t so entertaining and so well-made I’d have to hate Woody Allen.

[Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]

More Woody Allen

A few more - though by far not the final - steps towards seeing all Woody Allen films. I enjoyed Deconstructing Harry in which Woody Allen is the writer Harry who move the relationships to his friends and family into his books - thus attracting their hatred. Which doesn’t help him with his writer’s block. Ending up at an awards ceremony of his alma mater with a friend, a hooker and his son whom he ‘abducted’ from his ex-wife may have been overdoing things a bit, though. —— Hannah and Her Sisters is a not that great film from the mid 1980s in which Allen’s character contemplates becoming a Catholic or joining Hare Krishna. There are some really nice shots of New York in there, though. The Purple Rose of Cairo, another so-so 1980s Woody Allen film in which a film character escapes into the real word. And The Curse of the Jade Scorpion which gives us a somewhat entertaining story about two insurance workers (Woddy Allen and Helen Hunt) being hypnotised and then robbing jewels under the late effects of that hypnosis. While I didn’t think the film was that great, it certainly had its moments, particularly in the ways the characters interact and change.

[Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]


And Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, the classic of film mockery from the late 1970s which was a little amusing but not really good (and falls far short of Bad Taste, say); Chinese film Breaking News is an interesting take on the cops meet media thing wich I think works really well and its bottom line of people seeing whatever they do as a ‘show’ focused on looking good rather than the real thing they do seems scarily real;

[Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]

June 4, 2007, 0:35

Tagged as ascenseur pour l'échafaud, attack of the killer tomatoes, bertolt brecht, breaking news, children of men, curse of the jade scorpion, deconstructing harry, film, frank sinatra, ghost world, hannah and her sisters, kuhle wampe, louis malle, manchurian candidate, melinda and melinda, michelangelo antonioni, miles davis, notte, purple rose of cairo, scarlett johansson, steve buscemi, tanguy, thora birch, woody allen.

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