Category Archives: At The Movies

Third Monday Movie Day

Movie of the Month: Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others) (2006, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck)

The winner of the 2006 Academy Award for Best Foreign Film certainly deserved it. Beau's been ragging on me to see this for something like a year, and I had it at home from Netflix for three months (I have a bad habit of putting off foreign movies because I can't look away from the subtitles and my kids distract me a lot).

It was worth the wait. Wiesler (Ulrich Muhe) works for the East German secret police, the Stasi, and bugs the houses of artists and writers, documenting their activities to see if they're western sympathizers. At times I forgot I was watching a German movie, since it's easily compared to McCarthyism in America.

Wiesler follows the lives of a playwright and his girlfriend and becomes increasingly sympathetic with them, and is forced to start making some difficult choices.

The playwright, the girlfriend and various other secret police and artistic types all turn in fine performances, but Muhe is the clear star and commands attention any time he's onscreen. According to IMDb, the script particularly resonated with Wiesler, since he as a theater actor was observed by the Stasi, and he later found out that his wife at the time was registered as an informant. Sadly, the film that launched Muhe from a supporting player to a lead actor proved to be one of his last, as he died in 2007 at age 54 of stomach cancer.

The script is near flawless and the whole thing leads to a satisfying and yet utterly believable ending.

I can't recommend this one enough.

Third Tuesday Movie Day

Movie of the Month: Last of the Mohicans (1992, Michael Mann)

I didn't just see this movie. I probably saw it the year it came out, and many times thereafter.

As would be obvious even if you guys didn't know I was an aspiring writer, if a script doesn't capture me, I generally bail. This seemed like an interesting study to me specifically because I greatly enjoy this film despite a script that's just pacing death.

Most of this movie crawls painfully slowly, but every shot is art, the lead acting is beyond reproach (ask me who my favorite actor is, and on many days I'll say Daniel Day-Lewis) and the soundtrack boasts an unforgettable theme that I spin on a regular basis, particularly while writing.

A script is many things, however: I think a lot of laymen (I would never accuse the Citizenry to be among this group) tend to think of a script solely as the words that the characters say - and to be sure, there are some funny ideas out there, such as the one where some folks think that TV writers only write for one character - but of course, Michael Mann can't just produce a good film out of thin air. He's got style in spades, but the script still had to provide goals, motivations and characters worth investing in to work. I desperately think this script needed a rewrite, but I really like the film nonetheless, and use it to remind myself that there are a lot of ways to make a great movie.

What have you seen?

Third Tuesday Movie Day

Movie of the Month: Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva (2009, Masazuku Hashimoto)

Now here's something that isn't on your radar. Based on the mystery and puzzle-based videogame series starring the title character, this film was just recently released on DVD in the states, and I have to say the writing was a damn sight better than it is in the games.

In the games, you're propelled forward because of the challenge of the next puzzle - you can pretty much bail on the story, because try as you might to solve the mystery, the answer is going to be some stupid supernatural BS that was never on the table until that point and couldn't possibly be anticipated.

This movie, though, unravels its mysteries with more panache and begins with a Battle Royale-style (without the blood) smackdown between various puzzle solvers. The ending, admittedly, involves some pretty unlikely science, but the movie plays out like a big-budget action popcorn movie, so no harm done.

I once again mostly finished TV shows this month, or at least trudged forward. Battlestar has hit something of a lull, as has Twin Peaks (it's clear the producers were ill-prepared for life after Laura Palmer). I also finished the first season of Louie, which is sometimes awesome, and sometimes too intentionally shocking to be taken seriously, but never dull.

I also finally bit the bullet and watched James Cameron's Avatar. If you liked it, though, you don't want to hear my thoughts on it.

What have you seen?

Third Monday Movie Day

Movie of the Month: The Maltese Falcon (1941, John Huston)

It's a classic, but it moves slowly - a lot of screenwriters were still treating scripts like stageplays; the script is very talky and 90-95% of the movie takes place in just a couple of locations. Bogie blew up after this...apparently the world was ready for a lead character that wasn't all that redeeming (nobody in this film is particularly redeemable, but they're all interesting).

First time director/screenwriter John Huston blew up after this too - he would have a 46-year career until his death, though it was very front-loaded; he'd arguably made his five best films all in the first 15 years, and Bogart was in a few of these.

I don't have much to add to this one, since it's a classic that probably most of you have seen if it's on your radar, but it was a third straight light movie month.

Third Monday Movie Day

TV Show of the Month: The Walking Dead (2010)

I watched the first season in one ridiculous six-hour marathon just five days ago. And...meh.

Spoiler SelectShow

What have you seen?

Third Monday Movie Day

Movie of the Month: The Reef (2010, Andrew Traucki)

I saw at least five very good movies this month. This wasn't one of them.

Ugh...okay. This one has gotten fair reviews, actually, and in some ways I can see why. It's unconventional. It's artfully shot. It's full of talented, though largely unknown, Australian actors.

The thing, though, is that there's not much that can be done with a movie predicated on four people attempting to make a very long swim while hoping not to get eaten by a great white shark that follows them for miles and picks them off one by one. There's a long scene where the four people swim, and there's some tension, or maybe a little comic relief. Then, there's another. And another. And that's it, because the only characters in the movie are the ones in the water. So, the vast open sea can occasionally be nice to look at, but you'll be looking at it for a long time.

Director Andrew Traucki mentioned that he's drawn to horror that's based on true stories (this one is, but don't take that too seriously; the changes were pronounced) because the tension feels so honest, and the enemy is so believable. That's great, but if I'm watching a horror movie, I can't get into a film where the enemy is a shark because he has no motive, and if I'm watching a drama I can't get into the film because the enemy is so completely unbeatable there's no reason to invest in the lives of the characters.

The worst thing, though, is that there's a protagonist but I can't figure out why. He's an experienced diver with model-looks who has a romantic backstory with one character, but as a protagonist, he can't provide much besides being the character with the most screen time. Spoilers abound starting here, by the way.

A film's lead character's job is essentially to drive the story forward, and there's literally no way for this character to do that. The complication arises, and the character convinces the others they have to swim because the boat, now overturned, will float further into the sea and they'll die of starvation. That decision is his only real contribution to the story. He never gets any licks in on the shark and he's powerless to do anything but swim a lot. The film tries to fool you into thinking he's driving the story by always focusing on his face when the shark's around, but he just dips his head underwater, watches for it, and that's it. There's nothing he can do. The shark might attack and easily grab one of his friends, or it might not. Not only does he do nothing about it, the film never even teases you by making you believe he could do something about it.

Almost everyone dies, so the one thing he did do - convince them all to swim - was a death sentence.

Then, in the end, the shark gets him as one horrified survivor watches him disappear into the sea, having never done anything particularly helpful up until the moment the shark kills him. My hero.

Third Monday Movie Day

Movie(s) of the Month: 2005 Academy Award Short Films Collection

I've meant to get to these collections for years, and finally pulled the trigger on one. Both the live-action and the animation nominees were featured (unless they were exclusive to their studios, as in the cases of Pixar's One Man Band and the original short film version of 9). A few comments on the live-action jobs:

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