Hit the Road, Jack

What should I do with a movie like The House That Jack Built? Not only is it a Lars von Trier movie, which can’t be a walk in the park at the best of times, but it seems to be his most controversial feature yet, and that is saying something. There are moments in Melancholia (2011) that are as good as anything I’ve ever seen in a movie. I’ve watched The Element of Crime (1984) more times than I can remember. He’s held parts of the movie-making scene hostage with his Dogma movement, producing some interesting results, only to break his own rules later. On the other hand, von Trier’s movies are, more often than not, unkind or cruel to its women. And The House That Jack Built is about a serial killer whose victims are mostly women. At least in this feature, von Trier’s misanthropy cannot fully obscure his misogyny. I know that it would be a grave mistake to confuse the writer-director’s attitude with the movie’s, but it’s von Trier’s oeuvre that seems to repeatedly mistreat its female characters. I try to give him the benefit of doubt, but there is a point where my doubt shows cracks. Continue reading

Love and Music

Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War is brim-full of music, singing and dancing, but it’s as far from a musical as it is possible to be. If you have seen Pawlikowski’s Ida (2013), you know what mood to expect. It opens with three people travelling through the snow in a van to remote Polish villages, recording the music of farmers and working class members. We learn that those three people are the co-directors of a musical college who want to find the biggest talents in order to tour Europe. The introverted musical director, Wiktor, soon falls for a fantastic singer called Zula. She knows what she wants, and she wants Wiktor, there and then. In Poland, in 1949, it can’t have been easy at all to be that forward for a young woman. That Zula is on probation because she stabbed her incest-minded father makes her even more fascinating to Wiktor. Continue reading

The Rear-View Mirror: Lone Star (1996)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

What still gets me in John Sayles’ Lone Star is its simple device of showing you that time has passed. Let’s say there is a scene at the edge of a river in Texas, a woman and a man talking, set in the 1960ies, and then the scene comes to an end, and the camera slowly pans to the right, where there is another character in the here and now, the grown-up son of the man from long ago, watching the scene before his mind’s eye. Just by letting the camera move, the story is told in a flashback without a cut. Lone Star is not at all the first movie to do this, but to me, it was a simple but effective way to show that years, even decades, have gone by. Continue reading

The Rear-View Mirror: Out of Sight (1998)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

There is nothing that can date a movie like style for style’s sake. It’s one of the hallmarks that betrays a movie’s age, and while some stylistic choices can turn a movie into a classic, other styles might simply not age that well. Think about small things like lens flares. Or think about the dogma certificate. That doesn’t mean that they are bad movies; it’s just that sometimes, movies get stuck in the times they were made. Nostalgia isn’t the worst reason to re-visit a movie you haven’t seen in a long time. Continue reading

Call me guilty

Remember the 2014 movie Locke, featuring only Tom Hardy on screen, making many phone calls from his car while driving through nocturnal London? There is a similarly single-minded movie out now, called The Guilty (or Den skyldige as its original title), about a cop who has to staff a police emergency call center in Denmark. That is of course the perfect situation for yet another feature with one character on screen and all the others phoning in. To be fair, Asger Holm (played by Jakob Cedergren) has a few short face-to-face conversations with the other cops at the call center, but soon, he moves into another, empty room in order to tackle the problem he is confronted with. Continue reading

The Rear-View Mirror: CSI Crime Scene Investigation (2000)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

Today, my dearly beloveds, let’s talk about guilty pleasures. I know you have them because I have them. In a way, it’s the emotional continuation of reading under the covers when you’re a kid, flashlight in hand, way until after midnight. And already I’ve talked myself into a corner because now I have to reveal one of my guilty pleasures while you can keep silent about yours. Here goes, then: one of my guilty pleasures was, and still is, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, the original one set in Las Vegas. Would you believe that it ran from 2000 to 2015? Its finale is only three years old. And yes, I watched every single sodding episode, until the bitter, bitter end. It wasn’t easy. I’m not proud of it. The guilt had outweighed the pleasure years ago. Continue reading

Indignation, Inflammation, Consternation

The maddening thing with most of Michael Moore’s documentaries is that at some point, he hurts his own line of argument, whether it’s an unnecessary digression or a small mistake. Moore’s oeuvre is certainly not there for comfort viewing, but I always feel restless watching something new of his because he seems to veer off at some point into the undergrowth. Remember how he quoted wrongly from the hull of a Lockheed bomber plane in Fahrenheit 9/11? He starts to build up his argument with footage, witness accounts and pictures that seem too good to be true, and then he commits a blunder that makes the movie lose steam – not all of it, but the story he wants to tell gets weaker, and the movie has a hard time recovering from it. Continue reading

The Rear-View Mirror: City of God (2002)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

The first scene of Fernando Meirelles’ and Katia Lund’s City of God starts with a chicken trying to escape the frying pan, and it ends with the standoff between two warring drug gangs in Brazil’s Cidade de Deus, the poorest quarter of Rio, where the politicians put the lowest classes in the Sixties so the rich wouldn’t have to look at them. Cidade de Deus doesn’t have electricity nor water, and it’s almost impossible to get out, not geographically, but socially: if you are born there, you will most likely die there.

Continue reading

My God, it’s Full of Stars

We have been to the edge of the cinematic universe together more than once, haven’t we? We have pinched shut our noses against the stench and filth of Aleksey German’s Hard to be a God with its very own weird cinematic language and drab medieval sci-fi outlook on life. We have waded through the seven-hour long Satantango, Bela Tarr’s masterpiece, puzzled by the fact that we didn’t know what the hell was going on. Both movies might take huge liberties in storytelling: they seem to redefine or even abuse the notions we have of plot, story, or dialogue. German’s movies pretend that they have never heard of a reaction shot.  There are whole takes that seem to go against anything that we seem to have learned about cinematic grammar, but no matter how shrewd or outlandish those movies might get, they still are – movies. Continue reading

The Rear-View Mirror: Primer (2004)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

I had been sightseeing on foot all day, Nairn’s London in hand, my legs hurt, and I just wanted to sit down and get my bearings back. There was a small movie theatre off Leicester Square, showing a movie I had never heard of. The title was Primer, and the poster showed some kind of cube-shaped contraption with cables coming out, or going in. I couldn’t resist and bought a ticket. It was a very strange movie. There were three, four white-collar guys who had invented a machine that did something technical, and they were sending out free hardware parts in order to get their project financed. It was hard to follow the movie because they talked like real people talked, and there were no subtitles. Continue reading