Persepolis is an amazing animated film that’s based on an autobiographic graphic novel of an Iranian girl growing up during the Islamic revolution in her country and living abroad in-between. It’s probably good to see this just to be reminded that also countries like Iran have a rich and dramatic history. And that - just like in the USA - the fact that they are run by religious nutters doesn’t mean that all the citizens agree.
The film is set in the 1980s and we see the protagonist Marji’s family rejoice when the Shah’s regime is overthrown. It takes them a while to realise that what follows it isn’t necessarily better and they eventually send their daughter to Vienna for studying and growing up free of oppression. Yet, she eventually misses her home and her family so much that she returns to Teheran where she quickly realises that she cannot cope with the new oppression and running around veiled up all the time and thus she says good-bye to her family another, final, time. A rather sad story, well and directly told.
I really liked the simple black and white style of the animation as well. If your story is good enough, there’s no need for glitzy high-tech animation, it seems. A final high-note was hit with the German synchronisation. While generally German versions of films aren’t too bad, the occasional tidbits are ruined or lost in translation, particularly when it comes to youth language or jokes. In Persepolis I thought they did a really good job at getting all this just right. Possibly because the author herself grew up in Vienna.
I enjoyed the Cashback short film a lot and was keen to see the full-length film. While the film is basically an extended version of the short and adds some more details to the story, I was unfortunately left with the impression that it’s not really better than the short. A few of the new details are nice but somehow the sweet idea of the whole art-student holding time to look at shoppers’ tits idea wears off rather quickly. Some times less is more, I guess.
Look around you is a totally amazing comedy series that the BBC made made a few years ago. Its small number of short episodes comes in the form of an educational TV show and each one explains a topic like Maths, Music or Sulphur. This is done by lab-coated scientists who reveal numerous interesting ‘facts’.
The stories are amusingly built-up with lab experiments and telling the student to
write that down in your copy book throughout. It’s also quite stylishly done in mocking 1970s educational television and with consistent elements such as pencils to point at things and Helvetica used throughout.
What’s most fun about the series is that it’s so full of nonsense. But that nonsense is presented in the serious authoritative way we are used from television. Obviously the question arises how far this can be taken. How many people will just take anything they see for a fact? If it weren’t right it wouldn’t be on telly / YouTube / the internet? How many people will happily believe that H20 is an element in the periodic table and so on. Makes me wonder.
Go and check out Look Around You on YouTube. The numbered episodes are the good ones from the first series.
An early 1990s film by the Coen brothers, Barton Fink, shows the weird story of New York playwright Barton Fink moving to L.A. to write for Hollywood. Not only does he suffer from staying on his own in a run-down hotel whose residents are more permanent than the wallpaper’s stickiness to the wall, he also gets into a creative crisis because of this. And when he finally manages to write his script after waking up next to a dead girl in his bed one morning, that script - for a wrestling film - is laughed at by his Hollywood boss.
What makes the film fun is Barton’s neighbour Charlie (John Goodman) at the hotel who doesn’t just keep him company but also helps him to get rid of the girl’s body. … and who turns out to be a bit of a nutter in is own lovable way. As with many of the Cohen film, there’s a lot of atmosphere in this one which really makes this more interesting than it sounds and makes you suffer with Barton. Also: Cool retro-look hotel corridors.
The BBC’s ‘documentary’ mini-series The Trap - what happened to our dream of freedom uses three one hour parts to elaborate on how the attempt to mechanically ‘manage’ society failed in many places. With amusingly retro-stylish visuals consisting mostly of archive footage along with patronising BBC-talking this point is driven home.
We get to learn a bit about game theory and how it may have been a good tool for managing or at least simulating the cold war. And how it may even be useful for managing markets which in their cosy everybody-against-everybody-else way could be argued to be not completely unlike the cold war. But then similar strategies started being applied to politics and ‘managing’ both people’s well-being in the small and the society at large. Examples from psychology are given as well as from recent politics.
I am really split about these documentaries. In a way they reflect my own point of view quite well, that a lot of the stupidity we witness in our daily lives, politics or the companies we deal with doesn’t exist because the people we are dealing with are idiots but because the whole system is idiotic. And I don’t mean that in a small way. Somehow beancounter strategies have managed to infiltrate everything and people who ‘manage’ what’s going on try to formalise things rather than actually managing them.
Perhaps I should put it like this: I find that in mathematics when you learn about a new topics there are several phases. The first phase is that you have to learn about the terminology and that you won’t really understand the intricacies of the area. In that phase it can be quite helpful to work on a very formal level because it means you’ll always rest on firm ground and can trace back your steps to the basics. After working on that for a while you start getting a good intuition for what’s going on and you can advance to a more free-style level of working which you can still back formally if you need to but which enables you to take larger steps and do things that are actually interesting. My impression is that all ‘management’ aims to stick on that first, purely formal, level because it’s the only thing they can handle.
And even worse, these people aren’t doing maths. They may be using formulas or computers or even game theory, but - unlike mathematicians - they are not proving theorems but they are trying to run companies, societies or wars. Things which are much more complex and much less predictable than mathematical theories. And of course - which could be taken as the main point of The Trap - any such simulation is only as good as the model used to apply it to reality. What can I say, good models are rare. And the way people use them doesn’t seem to aim at actually understanding or improving things but simply at enabling them to cram everything into some pointless numbers. Bah.
As for the films themselves, I found them over-indulgent. Interesting points there for sure - I liked the psychology part - but hardly more material than would fit in an hour. Thus there were plenty of repetitious, the ‘explanations’ given felt severely patronising and the ever recurring references to game theory started feeling a bit old after a while. I’m not really sure I liked the style. Somehow this series seemed to have less points and examples than director Adam Curtis’ previous ‘documentary’ series The Power of Nightmares and Pandora’s Box. The latter probably being the most interesting because it covers a wider range to examples for a single idea and doesn’t ring the conspiracy theorist bells.
I also think that this kind of ‘documentary’ which is supposed to be thought provoking and might inspire further investigation would do really well with having a web site full of links to related issues. Both for backing up their facts and for giving access to further data.
P.S. Yo La Tengo’s Return to Hot Chicken and Stereo Total’s Cosmonaute.
P.P.S. So who’s the Helvetica fan?
P.P.P.S. Try YouTube.
Trade is a rather depressing film about children who are abducted to be sold as sex slaves. We follow 13 year old Adriana from Mexico City who is abducted and her slightly criminal but good-hearted brother Jorge who tries to find and free her. In the course of this he learns that his sister is to be ‘sold’ to people in the US and follows the truck carrying her and some other kids to the border. He sees how the officials are bribed and how photos are taken for selling them.
Luckily he meets American cop Ray who is also trying to find out about child trafficking for personal reasons. After a bit of a rough start they team up and try to track down and free Adriana which they manage to do in the end.
As the film treats a bleak topic which, according to its closing credits, has hundreds of thousands of victims, it has its share of shocking and moving scenes. The way these abducted kids are treated and traded as objects is disgusting. And the people who do that casually businesslike are sickening. But that’s probably what the film tries to communicate.
Unfortunately the film’s story is a bit weak in a few places and ends up in situations which require a bit of magic for things to go on. But the acting, particularly of Jorge and Adriana is great. And the phonecalls between the cop and his wife and downright weird.
Michael Caine, theatre people, countryside - my flatmate was really sure he knew the film Deathtrap and that it was great. Until we started watching it, when it turned out to be a different film after all. Turned out it’s a film of a back-then-famous play about a playwright in a bit of a creative crisis.
The first half is a bit dull and we see playwright Sidney loathe himself and devise a plan with his wife to invite a student of one of his summer classes, Clifford, who sent in a brilliant manuscript to steal his ideas. In the end they kill him to run with his story and we wondered what was going to happen in the second half of the film. That’s where surprises start coming in and we learn that the death was staged and the student/writer wasn’t actually killed but returns in the night to give Sidney’s wife a heart attack.
Then it’s revealed that Sidney and Clifford have a somewhat romantic relationship and they planned this little play out to kill her. Clifford goes on to turn it into a play for the stage which Sidney doesn’t really like and we get a bit of a crisis there. Add a psychic from the neighbourhood and a house full of weapons to play this in and things become quite entertaining once our two playwrights start realising that they have a bit of a conflict going.
Not outrageously good, but fun. Directed by Sidney Lumet in the style of a theatre play with pretty much all the film taking place inside the same house.
I’ve been a bit of a Sigur Rós fan for years (and I’m still a bit bitter they cancelled in Haldern in 2002 even though I finally managed to see them two years ago), so obviously I was quite interested in their Heima [IMDB] film which follows them around Iceland where they played a bunch of gigs in 2006.
It’s a really curious tour they did. Which is clear once you figure that there are around 300000 people in all of Iceland and that many of the areas there are mostly empty. Yet, it looked like a fantastic idea and putting the band from huge stages into tiny community halls, old factories or plain meadows (joining protests against a somewhat ridiculous dam) was cool. As was to see the audience which seemed to span all parts of the population who, in some places, just enjoyed the music along with some coffee while sitting around with their neighbours.
While actually not too excessive, the commentary by band members in between can at times be disturbing (which is probably why fuller versions of the songs are placed on a ‘bonus’ disc) and the recordings of the landscapes are stunning and made me think that seeing this in cinema could be even more stunning - just look at the HD trailer which contains this fantastic kite image that is now a happy member of my desktop background collection.
I was happy to hear them play many of their older songs like Ágætis Byrjun or Starálfur in the film as well. Other songs like Von seem very different from older versions and with subtle percussions to send shivers down your spine.
Spike Lee’s Summer of Sam deals with a series of murders by the ‘Son of Sam’ in New York in 1977 who shot teenagers in cars. But the film doesn’t focus on the murders or the police investigations alone but rather takes a look at the Italian neighbourhood and community close to which the murders happen. People start being vigilant and they start suspecting each other. To the degree that friends are suspected and ‘questioned’ for not fitting in.
I thought that was quite a cool idea for the film but I am not sure it really works that well as it’s not clear what a murder mystery and problems people have in their neighbourhoods have to do with one another. For my taste the whole 1970s stuff in the film was a bit overdone as well.
Akira is the film for a widely lauded Japanese graphic novel. I never got into those, so I’ve managed to not even know about this for a long time. I thought the film managed to be visually impressive in many places, with the huge city-scapes being particularly outstanding. And I was surprised that it was made in the 1980s because it looked so modern. A bit of a trend-setter perhaps?
I was not all that impressed by the film’s story with the teenage motorbike gangs and people with super-natural powers who all play their slightly different roles from the rampant newcomer Tetsuo to the power kid Akira who allegedly caused a prior destruction of Tokyo and had been kept deep frozen and feared since. There are many more sub-plots in the story which just appear but didn’t make much sense to me. Why are there revolutionaries? What is happening to the country? What exactly is the role of the seemingly powerful military? All quite interesting questions, but we get to see teenagers surviving unlikely stunts on motorbikes instead.
Nyphomaniac + emperor’s son + gay islamic terrorist all involved vaguely related stories give Almodóvar’s early 1980s film Laberinto de Pasiones. Funny in places but somewhat lacking a point or the style. - In Felicia’s Journey a pregnant girl meets a nutter who constantly re-cooks stuff from his mum’s television show and wants to talk her into an abortion. It’s a bit slow but Bob Hoskins does an scarily good job at playing the weirdo. - Then there was the Spongebob Squarepants Movie, and as much as I love Spongebob I thought that the whole David Hasselhoff thing went a bit too far. - Annie Hall is yet another Woody Allen flick. Not untypical with its New York comedian-plus-singer story but not too impressive either. - Topkapi is one of the more classical ‘clever heist’ flicks. Fun entertainment with a few minutes of tension when they actually steal stuff. - Schachnovelle is a 1960s German black and white film for Stefan Zweig’s novel of the same name. All right film for the story, plenty of famous German actors as well. - In Alfie, the main character Alfie (Michael Caine) is a light-hearted prick who enjoys his life and the girls in it. While being generally upbeat and rude, it transpires that this won’t make him happy in the long run.
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