Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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December Films

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Little Miss Sunshine, Punishment Park, Two for the Road, Chinatown, The Departed, A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy, The Man Who Left His Will on Film, Radio Days, Killing Zoe, Das Leben der Anderen, Nicotina, Subway.

Little Miss Sunshine

I happened to see the trailer for Little Miss Sunshine many times before films in the past months. And I kept thinking that with its defunct family it may be fun but a bit disappointing in the end – the trailer drawing its attraction mainly from a Sufjan Stevens and Flaming Lips based sound track.

Olive standing at the phone and smiling.

I still went to see the film with a friend. And while it may not be the most high-brow film, I thought it was good and really enjoyed it. In the film, we follow the slightly defunct Hoover family consisting of Richard (dad, successless seller of some success scheme), Sheryl (mum, keeping the family organised and serving KFC dinners on paper plates), Edwin (grandpa, got kicked out of his old aged home because of his heroin and porn habit), Frank (uncle, philosopher, gay, just lost his job and failed at suicide), Dwayne (son, loving Nietzsche, hating everybody else, desperately wants to be a pilot and resolved not to talk until then) and Olive (little daughter, loving chocolate and keen to participate in a beauty pageant).

Dwight wearing a Nietzsche shirt and holding a sheet of paper with 'I hate everyone' written on it

So they’re all a bit strange, and when the opportunity arises that Olive can actually participate in a pageant, everybody is forced to join a road trip across the U.S. in an old VW bus. And during that trip we get to know even more quirks of the family, suffer with them through their car breaking down, money problems, a death and a big dream being destroyed, before they arrive at the pageant.

All the family sitting in a row

And the thing about the pageant is that even without her ugly glasses, Olive just isn’t the type of girl for that kind of contest. Once they arrive there, this becomes obvious to the family as well: the world of beauty pageants is made by and for obsessive parents who want their daughters to look like little bulimic whores. It’s nothing where sweet and well-fed Olive could stand a chance against the other over-ambitious families with mum’s who spray paint their daughters with tan colour before they go on stage.

But as films go, the family just went through this and supported their daughter to not feel too humiliated even with many people leaving the room during her show which had a slutty Madonna-ish touch that brilliantly reflects the taste of grandpa Edwin who trained Olive while at the same time upstaging the other contestants who do pretty much the same thing with a delusion of ‘class’.

Edwin, Frank and Dwight at a diner. Dwight wearing his yellow 'Jesus was...' shirt.

The character of Dwight probably deserves a special mention, as he really suffers from unforeseen tragedy in the film. It’s very tough. Perhaps the fact that he is wearing interesting T-Shirts is a hint – particularly for the yellow Jesus was… T-Shirt which I think could only be fully seen for a single brief moment in the film to reveal the complete message. (Hmm, yellow T-Shirts, just remember the one in Elephant!)

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

Punishment Park

I was pointed to Punishment Park a few times and avoided seeing it for a long time. Mostly becaused it sounded like such a serious film. And a serious film it is. A depressing film in fact. A film which left me shocked and reminded me of all the bad things in the world. This really isn’t recommended viewing for a relaxing evening. Yet it probably is a film you should see.

Coming from back in 1971 it deals with non-conforming young people who didn’t play by the suppressive rules of their society. Thanks to special crisis laws they are brought to a so-called court that is run by unqualified people and they are convicted to very long sentences for doing things that should qualify as free speech or not sticking to the rules. As a wonderful alternative they are given opportunity to do a long run through a desert called Punishment Park. It has the added benefit that if they don’t die of heat and exhaustion there will be plenty of armed police and army people around trying to catch them as ‘training’.

The film shows us all this – from the so-called court, to people running and suffering in the desert, to people being shot at will by others who happen wear uniforms – from the perspective of a camera team documenting this great new way of saving money in the time of overcrowded prisons. And it’s scary to see. Not only does all the talk of crisis sound a bit too familiar in these days. It’s the people exercising the power that make the film the most scary.

Those ‘little people’ – people who ‘know’ what’s right and wrong and who will stick to their ‘moral’ standards are scary. They are easily enraged and in their self-righteousness will not see that they are happily stomping other people’s rights, normal laws and the constitution (which particularly in the U.S. must be a big thing as people seem to be very proud of theirs there – and perhaps rightly so as the constitution seems to be more about what the country wants to be rather than the nitpicking legalese you find in laws).

Similarly scary are the ‘little people’ in uniforms. Not that I ever had actual bad experiences with uniformed people apart from them being a tad annoying and overestimating their importance, rather than being polite and helpful as they should (after all the police advertise themselves as Freund und Helfer – friend and helper – in Germany). Seeing those uniformed people always gives me a bad feeling. Usually them wearing uniforms suggests that they can exercise some sort of power over you. And even if they do something that isn’t warranted, they’ll be likely to get away with it. (I assume that doesn’t really have much to do with the uniforms as there can be un-uniformed people with the same powers – but the uniform often is an obvious symbol.)

Now the thing is that the people who are in the (physically working) parts of the police or the army probably aren’t their brightest as well. Which makes them easy to manipulate and more likely to shoot. Which is exactly what they did in the film.

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

Two for the Road

Just as Punishment Park, Two for the Road is on (part two of) the list of films that aren’t seen enough. Being a film with the wonderful Audrey Hepburn directed by Stanley Donen (great titles again!), it is completely different from Punishment Park, though.

It consists of many episodes from the life of Joanna and Mark who met on trips in France a long time ago, got married and had been on many more trips through France since. The film keeps cutting back and forth through their common history and we see how they fell in love, stopped caring but could never really leave one another alone. And those are brilliantly made, giving us a jump in time while remaining at the same location in most places. Really cool.

As the title suggests, all the episodes we see are during travels and we see them travelling France in many different cars, at supposedly different ages and at different stages of their careers (and income). Audrey Hepburn gets the opportunity to show off a broad range of 1960s fashion. Which on her looks rather cool. Even the oversized sunglasses that have become popular again.

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


Running in a Polanski week on arte, there was his 1974 detective film Chinatown. A rather long film starring the young Jack Nicholson. I’m not usually a big friend of either long or detective films, but this one was rather good, not giving me the feeling of a stale detective film or a long film at all.

With the detective Gittes exploring a case ranging from adultery to criminal business to murder and running from one lie to the next, you are almost tempted to lose trust in people after seeing that film.

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

The Departed

Just to ‘spoil’ things a litte by stating the obvious, ‘departed’ in The Departed means ‘dead’. So we start off with many people and end up with very few survivors two and a half hours later. In between we get to see Jack Nicholson play himself – something he’s really good at and strangely we don’t even notice how those 150 minutes pass. So Mr. Scorsese must have gotten a few things right on this one.

The story is about the police fighting against the mafia with each party having an undercover man with the other. Meaning that no real progress is made for either party, that people get seriously upset, that trust stops existing and everything nicely goes downhill from there.

I quite like old-fashioned films like this one. Even with modern gadgetry playing a role in there, they are a nice break from the usual 24 / CSI / … crap they usually serve you these days. Perhaps it’s just because I like the police to actually try and prove those crooks’ wrongdoings rather than shooting them first and asking questions later.

Jack Nicholson in The Departed

Dislikes: the cheesy music at the end of the film’s trailer. Open question: Who’d be the father of the child – not that it matters much as the likely candidates are – erm - departed.

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

Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy

A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy is another Woody Allen film. And not exactly one of his best, I’d say. Woody Allen plays the inventor (and investor) Andrew who together with his wife Adrian has guests over for the weekend in their house in the countryside. Soon there is a lot of the attendants fancying people they shouldn’t fancy and trying to meet them without their significant others noticing.

Add to that countryside imagery, old clothes and decorations, strange inventions such as a flying wings or a projector showing stories of the past and Woody Allen’s typical psychological weirdnesses and you’ve got a lot of this film already – which with its old-fashioned looks is quite different from many of Allen’s other films.

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

The Man Who Left His Will on Film

I had the opportunity to see The Man Who Left His Will on Film (aka Tokyo senso sengo hiwa / 東京戦争戦後秘話) which as far as I understand is one of the more obscure and experimental films by Nagisa Oshima.

It doesn’t really have a straightforward story, but more one that revolves around a stolen camera and the film that was made with it before the guy who took it jumped off a roof and died. An effort is then made to recover the film and figure out the significance of its somewhat dull shots. In the process of doing that the film is recreated with interesting things happening while trying to do so and eventually leading us to the guy with the camera jumping off that roof again.

But that isn’t the whole deal, there’s also the aspect about the people we see being involved in a group of political filmmakers, about filming protest and about the dead guy’s girlfriend. Quite a lot, and probably requiring another viewing for things to make more sense.

I thought the film is beautifully shot in black and white that has both the exciting contrast and the rich greys (uh, that sounds stupid… but it just looks good). The only thing that irritated me throughout the film was that the protagonist Motoki is wearing Converse-style sneakers but in all the film’s running scenes his steps are clearly heard as if he wore shoes with proper soles.

Radio Days

Radio Days is a Woody Allen film that he doesn’t star in himself. It takes the inside view on a family in the 1930s and how they lived and grew up with the radio running all the time. Showing how everyone has their favourite shows and also using those as excuses to tell us more about the family.

Not an outrageously exciting film, but a very solid one bringing a bit of history and some humour together.

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

Killing Zoe

As a surprisingly good choice in christmas television Killing Zoe was on. And it remains an excellent film, from the bad language all the way to the needless violence and insanity. A great story of a heist going wrong but there at least being a small positive spin to it.

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

Das Leben der Anderen

Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others) was a big success in German cinemas in 2006. It deals with how the GDR government spied on their people by taking a look at the people doing the spying.

Everything focuses on the (made up) author Georg Dreyman whom the Stasi is spying on. And we get to see pretty much of the chain of command running that operation which reaches from having bugs in his apartment to scaring the neighbours into not giving away the cover to having him followed around the clock.

The people running the operation reach from inexperienced youngsters who are mainly into snooping on people’s sex lives to very professional bureaucrat types to people focusing on their career in the system to some upper echelon who’s mainly interested in that observation because he wants to shag Dreyman’s wife. This highlights how absurd the whole system was and also leaves enough room for one of the spies to do a good deed.

Tape machine from Das Leben der Anderen

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


Nicotina is a fun Mexican film about some geek and his friends wanting to sell some banking codes to a Russian mafia guy. That works quite well, up to the tiny problem that he grabs the wrong CD after his pretty neighbour figured out he installed some web cams in her flat and messes up his flat.

The wrong CD, in turn, leads to the Russians being upset, there being some shouting, running and shooting, people fancying pharmacists, people dying at a barber shop and having other people slit open their guts to find diamonds and equally absurd stories.

While I found the film entertaining, I didn’t quite think it’s great. The way it’s filmed and cut often looks like they are ‘borrowing’ from other films or TV series and the plot is a bit (or not sufficiently far) off the tracks to be good.


Subway is an early (1985) film by Luc Besson. It starts with some scary 1980s tunes, so I was tempted to drop out from that film early on, but it also shows us a youngish Jean Reno playing a weirdo drummer – which on it’s on is quite fun.

The film itself plays in Paris’ métro system with a bunch of guys living in the stations and living of stuff they sell to or steal from people during the days. The main character Fred loves blowing up safes and tries to sell some documents back to a pretty girl (and wife of some rich guy) at whose party he stole them. And the story revolves around that plot with additions about the métro station security people trying to track down the guys in there stations and some extra music playing.

I wasn’t too impressed by that story, to be honest. But I absolutely loved the filming. Very wide angles are used all the time throughout the film giving a great impression of the métro stations two or three decades back. And almost every single scene in the film has wonderful patterns of coloured tiles in it. Those tiles cover the walls and ground in the métro stations and have all those wonderful symmetries, patterns and colours. Worth seeing just for that!

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

January 5, 2007, 1:01

Tagged as audrey hepburn, chinatown, departed, film, jack nicholson, jean reno, killing zoe, lang:de, leben der anderen, little miss sunshine, luc besson, man who left his will on a film, martin scorsese, midsummer night's sex comedy, nagisa oshima, nicotina, punishment park, radio days, roman polanski, stanley donen, subway, two for the road, woody allen.

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