Geraldine Blecker

What Pisses Me Off 


True to the maxim of "What Pisses Me Off", I have only included  reviews of those movies that I actually loathed, or at best, considered to be a complete waste of time.

All film reviews can be found on my professional website

Storm (Germany, 2009)

 Sacrificing justice to expediency

Kerry Fox, Anamaria Marinca

Berlin (Weltexpress) - What could have been a tense, judicial drama about the conflict between justice and political interests unfortunately falls far short of "stormy". Shot mostly in English - although the dialog is contrived, often nonsensical, and sounds like a literal translation of Bernd Lange`s original German script - Storm is obviously hoping to find resonance in the international, theatrical marketplace. Little more than a low-budget TV movie, however - not helped by the director`s decision to use hand-held camera throughout - it is unlikely to meet with much success outside some limited European territories.

The film opens in 2006 with the arrest of former Yugoslav National Army commander Goran Duric (Drazen Kuehn), who is accused of war crimes. Alleged to have ordered the deportation and subsequent slaughter of a group of Bosnian civilians, mostly women and children, fifteen years previously in the small town of Kasmaj, in what is now the Rebublika Srpska.

Three years later: Duric is to be brought before the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague and prosecutor Hannah Maynard (Kerry Fox) is told by her boss Keith Haywood (Stephen Dillane) - who has just bested her in the contest for chief prosecutor position - that the case is a walk in the park. Eye witness Alen Hajdarevic (Kresimir Mickic), has stepped forward and his damning eye witness testimony will clearly prove that Duric directly ordered the ethnic cleansing. But Duric`s canny counsel (Tarik Filipovic) calls Alen`s credibility into serious question in the courtroom and, as a result, the tribunal sends a delegation to Kasmaj to view the scene of the events. The doubts are confirmed; Alen is found to have been lying and shortly thereafter hangs himself.

Keith orders Hannah to go back to the drawing board and get a new handle on the case. Which she does by tracking down Alen`s sister Mira (Anamaria Marinca), finally persuading her to take the stand and tell of the harrowing events she witnessed and experienced firsthand. And this leads to the revelation of further evil deeds perpetrated by Duric: namely mass rape in a resort hotel near Kasmaj.

Mira, who has since built up a new life with a husband and son in Germany, agrees to testify in The Hague, despite threats and harassment from Serbian nationalists; for Duric has now become a national hero and is in line for major political advancement. But pre-trial, backstage machinations result in the court`s refusal to admit Mira`s testimony and so a deal is struck instead - and justice is once again sacrificed to expediency.

Hans-Christian Schmid, (23, Crazy, Requiem), who generated a real sense of urgency in his claustrophobic drama Requiem, has raised some controversial issues in Storm: namely the general futility of the EU tribunal - due for possible closure in 2010 - when it comes to trying cases involving crimes against humanity; together with the currently popular cinematic themes of "the individual against the system," and corporate and political corruption in general.

Storm features some fine thespian talent, Kerry Fox, Stephen Dillane and especially Romanian actress Annemaria Marienca (4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days), but the director gives them little to work with and the production seems dull and tired. The continual meandering back and forth between the Netherlands, Germany and the Balkans, does not add to the suspense of this badly written European hodge-podge, where subsidy boards and TV networks seem to have dictated the creativity as well as the budget.

Asked to give points or "stars" from one to five for the quality and entertainment value of this motion picture, I would have to give it a "one". I don`t buy a cinema ticket to see a TV movie.

STORM (Germany 2009); German distributor: Pfiffl Medien; Running time: 102 minutes; Director/Writer: Hans-Christian Schmidt; Writer: Bernd Lange; Main cast: Kerry Fox, Anamaria Marinca, Stephen Dillane, Rolf Lassgard, Patrick Färber; Music: The Notwist; Cinematographer: Bogumil Godfrejow; Production designer: Christian M. Goldbeck: Editor: Hans Jörg Weissbrich

  • Autor: Geraldine Blecker
    Abfassungsdatum: 09.02. 2009
    Photo: © 23/5, Zentropa, IDTV, Gerald von Foris
    Verwertung: Weltexpress
    All rights to the author
    Update: Berlin, 09.02. 2009

The Spirit (USA 2008)

“My city screams. She is my lover. And I am her spirit.” Yet another masked crusader

Los Angeles (Weltexpress) - Best known as the writer of such successful comics, screen adaptations and graphic novels as 300, Elektra, Ronin, Buck Rogers, and the RoboCop and Sin City franchises (yes, number 2 of the latter is currently in production, along with a plethora of new blockbuster sequels, prequels and franchises planned to hit the screens in 2009), Frank Miller now tries his hand at directing Will Eisner’s classic comic superhero The Spirit.

Against the green screen of Central City, Gabriel Macht, (The Good Shepherd, A Love Song For Bobby Long and The Recruit) plays rookie cop Denny Colt, murdered and since mysteriously resurrected as The Spirit, a masked crusader whose mission it is to fight the city’s crime. This mainly involves prevailing over his arch enemy known as The Octopus (wryly played by Samuel L. Jackson), with whom he has a strange connection. The Spirit stalks this psycho megalomaniac through doomy docklands, murky marshes, ramshackle warehouses and dingy subterranean caverns - all the while fighting off a horde of lovely ladies, all bent on killing him, seducing him, or both.

Without going too deeply into any backstory - a wise decision, as it happens - the action begins with The Spirit being summoned to assist an old buddy in the force. He arrives at the waterfront to find his pal dead; in his hand, a locket belonging to The Spirit’s own childhood sweetheart, Sand Saref (Eva Mendes), who has grown up to become a notorious, and exceptionally curvaceous, jewel thief. We discover (in flashback) that the cop was killed by the Octopus, who is after one of two treasure chests that Sand has salvaged from a sunken cargo vessel. One of them holds an urn containing the “Blood of Hercules”, which bestows immortality and superhuman powers, while the other contains a fortune in jewels. So it’s a matter of “the wrong box”: Sand has departed with the urn instead of the jewels and the Octopus is determined to get his hands on it. Thereafter the film follows Octopus’ pursuit of the urn and The Spirit’s efforts to stop him. He is assisted in this, or hindered as the case may be, by a supporting cast consisting of police commissioner Dolan (Dan Lauria), his daughter who is also The Spirit’s long-suffering physician (she is constantly patching him up) and love interest Ellen (Sarah Paulson), Silken Floss (Scarlett Johansson), Octopus` conniving partner in crime, and his mob of look-a-like henchmen, (all played by Louis Lombardi), as well as a gorgeously-lethal flamenco dancer played by Paz Vega, together with some other cardboard cut-outs.

As you have already gathered, the plot is as convoluted as it is absurd. The characters have all the charisma of a gooseberry flan, especially The Spirit himself, heroically yet ineffectively played by Macht (not the stuff of super heroes); although Jackson does seem to be enjoying himself in the flamboyant role of the Octopus. Despite all this, Miller`s script is spiced with some attempts at ironic humor, as well as lots of curves, cleavage, clones and cojones; giving the picture some zest, and his ensemble vigorously plunge themselves into the “noir” ambience, cheerfully tossing out quips and sexual innuendos.

Although the sets and art design are visually stunning and Miller is a master of imagery, the technique of using live actors against animated backgrounds is not quite as dynamic as it was for Sin City, three years back, or even the more recent 300, and the dismal setting of Central City is often overpowering. As opposed to Sin City too, the tedium is unrelieved by any subplots or alternative locations and the movie’s 108 minutes seems a whole lot longer. Made for an undeclared budget - but it couldn’t have been cheap - it has grossed just under $28 million since its US release on Xmas Day, although it is yet to open in some foreign territories.

THE SPIRIT (US 2008); Genre: Running time: 108 minutes; Rated PG-13; US distributor: Lionsgate; US release date: Dec. 25, 2008; International distributor: Sony Pictures; German release date: Jan. 29, 2009; Director/Writer: Frank Miller, based on the comic book series created by Will Eisner; Music: Michael Dennison; Main cast: Gabriel Macht, Samuel L Jackson, Eva Mendes, Sarah Paulson, Scarlett Johansson, Dan Lauria, Paz Vega, Eric Balfour, Jaime King, Louis Lombardi; Cinematography: Bill Pope; Production designer: Rosario Provenza; Editor: Gregory Nussbaum; Poster: © Lionsgate/Sony Pictures

Summary: Rookie cop Denny Colt returns from the grave as The Spirit, a masked crusader whose mission is to fight crime and the evil pervading Central City, embodied by his arch-enemy, The Octopus, who is bent on destruction. Tracking the psychotic killer through the mean streets of the city, The Spirit must likewise face a bevy of beauties, all bent on murder, seduction - or both.

Autor: Geraldine Blecker
Abfassungsdatum: 27.01. 2009
Foto: © Sony Pictures
Verwertung: Weltexpress
Update: Berlin, 27.01. 2009

Not a Dry Eye in the House...

SEVEN POUNDS (USA 2008) - German title: Sieben Leben

Frankfurt am Main (Weltexpress) - A sort of emotional follow-up to PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS, superstar Will Smith and director Gabriele Muccino team up once again to tug at our heartstrings and get us reaching for the Kleenex in this turgid romantic-drama.

Unlike its surprisingly successful predecessor, which even won Smith an Oscar nomination for Best Actor last year, this offering unfortunately lacks any humour to offset the syrupy, guilt-ridden drama, but is doubtless bound to please a certain audience demographic, mostly female (and probably Oprah Winfrey fans); evidenced by the fact that it has already grossed just under $45 million at the US box office since its release on December 19. Will Smith’s undisputed screen magnetism should also ensure it moderate success in the foreign market when it opens in January/February.

With the screenplay penned by Grant Nieporte (writer of TV sitcom SABRINA THE TEENAGE WITCH), the story begins by introducing us to Ben Thomas (Smith), an apparently humble IRS agent (i.e. tax collector), simultaneously suggesting that he is not what he seems with nebulous clues about his mysterious background.

Haunted by recollections of happier times, before a sudden auto accident put an end to it all, Ben lives alone in a luxurious beach house that is obviously far beyond the means of a lowly Inland Revenue employee.

During the picture’s torturous first half, Ben visits various individuals with tax problems, at the same time singling out those he feels deserving of good fortune. These include a blind piano player working as a telemarketer (Woody Harrelson), an abused wife and mother (Elpidia Carrillo), a hospital administrator (Kevin Cooney), and finally Emily (Rosario Dawson), an attractive woman suffering from a fatal cardiac condition. While most are treated with compassion and eased of their financial burden, one of them gets the come-uppance so rightly deserved. Once Rosario Dawson appears on the scene, the action veers more in the direction of a traditional love story and it is the developing relationship between Emily and Ben that uplifts the storyline and adds some true feeling that is otherwise lacking.

As Ben’s intentions are gradually revealed and the mystery slowly unfolds - one organ at a time - in the second half, the movie becomes exponentially more predictable and irritating. As does its main protagonist, whose quest for redemption loses all dramatic force the longer it goes on, leading to a finale that is almost as absurd as it is tragic. That being said, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house after the press screening - which means that even the most hard-nosed of the (male) journalists were reaching for their hankies.

Although Muccino, only known for directing various Italian productions (THE LAST KISS) before last year’s PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS, creates some emotionally charged interludes during the romantic sequences, there is little light and shade, or any change of tempo. The picture is monotonously lethargic, with hardly any relief. Smith`s charisma carries it through, however, despite his mournful characterization, and here he is greatly helped by Rosario Dawson, who gives the role of Emily much more weight than it might have had. Their screen time together is truly compelling.

SEVEN POUNDS (USA 2008) (German title: SIEBEN LEBEN); Genre: Drama; Running time: 123 minutes; US distribution: Columbia Pictures; US Release date: December 19, 2008; International distribution: Sony Pictures Releasing; German release date: January 8, 2009; Director: Gabriele Muccino; Writer: Grant Nieporte; Composer: Angelo Milli; Main cast: Will Smith, Rosario Dawson, Michael Ealy, Barry Pepper, Woody Harrelson, Elpidia Carrillo, Cinematographer: Philippe Le Sourd; Production designer: J Michael Riva; Editor: Hughes Winborne

  • Autor: Geraldine Blecker
    Abfassungsdatum: 06.01. 2009
    Foto: © Sony Pictures Releasing GmbH, Deutschland
    Verwertung: Weltexpress
    All rights to the author
    Update: Berlin, 06.01. 2009

Australia (Australia/US 2008) - An Epic Disappointment

A sweeping epic of romance and adventure beginning at the start of WW ll, when Lady Sarah arrives from England to take over a vast cattle station and drive her herd across the outback to market - just as the Japanese bomb Darwin.

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Or in the case of AUSTRALIA: is it a western? Is it a war movie? Is it a romantic epic? Is it a social commentary? Trying to be all, it unfortunately succeeds in being none of these things to any convincing degree and, with everything tossed in but the kitchen sink during its almost three hours, comes across as more of a TV mini-series along the lines of THE THORNBIRDS. But the camerawork is lavish and the landscape divine, as is to be expected from Australian director Baz Luhrmann (STRICTLY BALLROOM, ROMEO & JULIET and MOULIN ROUGE), in this sweeping, albeit lightweight saga set in his homeland and produced for an estimated $130 million.

Opening in 1939, the story is cutely narrated by Nullah, a young lad of mixed race (Brandon Walters), who appears throughout. Haughty Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman), arrives from England to be reunited with her estranged husband, owner of Faraway Downs, a huge cattle ranch in the outback. Expecting to find him “in flagrante”, she discovers instead that he has been murdered. Determined to settle his affairs, she soon decides to stay and run the place. This involves sacking the ranch’s thieving manager Neil Fletcher (David Wenham), who thus becomes her sworn enemy, and driving a vast herd of cattle across the forbidding “Never Never” to Darwin to fulfil a military contract: the beef to be shipped across the ocean to feed the army in war torn Europe. This in direct competition to local cattle baron King Carney (Bryan Brown), who is determined to win the contract for his own herd and buy her out, if he can.

During all this, she adopts the orphaned Nullah, protecting him from the law and its racial policy towards Aboriginals (especially the “Stolen Generation” of half-castes, whom they seek to gather up and confine in mission schools-cum-internment camps), and hire Drover, a beer-swilling, brawl-loving adventurer (played by Hugh Jackman, who looks super with his kit off - in my opinion, the best part of the movie). He helps drive her herd to market across the desolate wastes and ultimately wins Lady Sarah’s love. Nullah’s grandfather, the old Aborigine witchdoctor King George, also makes sporadic appearances to manipulate the elements in order to help the protagonists surmount various obstacles and add the requisite touch of “Songlines” mysticism. The second part of the film deals with Darwin preparing for a Japanese invasion after the bombing of Pearl Harbour in 1941.

Chockfull of information, adventure, farce and romance, Luhrmann and his co-writers also cram in a goodly dose of Aboriginal culture, with special focus on Nullah and his plight (as was so well-portrayed by Phillip Noyce in RABBIT PROOF FENCE), so I guess they needed almost three hours to tell the tale. Still, anyone who has seen the trailer and is thus expecting an Australian GONE WITH THE WIND is bound to be disappointed.

AUSTRALIA has more similarity to PEARL HARBOR, which could not have been intentional. Both big budget productions are set against a tapestry of historical events larger than the trite characters and fictional melodramas being portrayed. The frisky almost farcical interaction between the leading characters in the early part of AUSTRALIA is in direct opposition with such gravitas, which seriously weakens their characters, making them seem contrived and their emotions artificial. The character development takes its predictable course: Like Katherine Hepburn in THE AFRICAN QUEEN, snotty Lady Sarah finds hidden reserves within herself and ultimately shows what she is made of, while “Nick Dundee” Drover reveals the warmth and sensitivity beneath his macho exterior, and Nullah is saved from whatever ugly fate awaited him; the action accompanied by repetitive refrains of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” to generate sentimentality whenever the lackluster script requires. This, unfortunately, does not help us to empathize with the characters or their circumstances and, ultimately, is the movie’s biggest problem. We just don’t care.

AUSTRALIA (Australia/US 2008); Genre: drama/adventure: Running time: 165 minutes; Rated: PG-13 (violence, sexual situations); Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox; US Release date: Nov. 26, 2008; German release date: Dec. 25, 2008; Director: Baz Luhrmann; Writers: Baz Luhrmann, Stuart Beattie, Ronald Harwood , Richard Flanagan; Music: David Hirschfelder; Main cast: Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, Bryan Brown, Brandon Walters, David Wenham; Cinematographer: Mandy Walker; Production designer: Catherine Martin; Editors: Michael McCusker

Summary: A sweeping epic of romance and adventure beginning at the start of WW ll, when Lady Sarah arrives from England to take over a vast cattle station and drive her herd across the outback to market, just as the Japanese bomb Darwin.

The Twilight Zone meets Independence Day

The Day the Earth Stood Still (USA 2008)

Frankfurt am Main (Weltexpress) - If you were still wondering whether Keanu Reeves is an alien, then this should put all such doubts to rest. The impassive Reeves is the perfect „Klaatu“, adamant off-worldly exterminator of mankind in director Scott Derrickson`s (THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE) remake of the 1951 classic. Unfortunately, that is the only perfect thing about it.

So what happened? The Robert Wise original, though far from perfect itself, was a compelling film with a strong message. In 1951, only six years after WWll, in the early days of the cold war, it was a statement against mankind`s tendency towards MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction), today it is global warming and man`s destruction of his environment. It should have been as eloquent today as in yesteryear. But although this latest version tackles some of the elements of the original, it creates new logistical problems and entirely lacks the sensitivity and intelligence of its predecessor.

In essence, the story is true to the original: life on earth as we know it changes abruptly as several huge spherical space craft land on the planet, the largest touching down in the middle of Central Park. From it emerges Klaatu (Reeves), together with a giant robot, Gort. Klaatu is promptly shot down by the military, who has turned out in force as a welcoming committee, and is bundled off to a secret medical facility for emergency surgery and, of course, extensive examination. Scientist Dr. Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly) is among those fighting to save the life of the alien, who emerges in human form, frees himself from the humanoids` pathetic attempts to restrain him and announces that he has come to address the world`s leaders.

In flight from the US military under orders from Secretary of Defense Jackson (Kathy Bates), Helen becomes Klaatu`s only confidant, to whom he reveals the purpose of his mission: he has come to save the planet earth, which is too precious to be destroyed by its people. After much consideration, his race has decided that humankind must be annihilated if their world is to be saved.

The 1951 original is a true cinematic milestone, which had not only a lasting influence on science fiction cinema, but also on the literature of the genre. The cult sci-fi phrase „Klaatu Barada Nikto“, for example, is nowhere to be heard in this half-hearted remake, although the filmmakers swear it is there - if you listen. Apparently it is drowned out by the soundtrack. The same with the dialog, I suppose, which seems to be drowned out by special effects, clich`s, and pointless action sequences, courtesy of the director and screenwriter David Scarpa.

One of the few highlights is the brief appearance of John Cleese as a scientific colleague of Helen`s who logically argues for giving the human race one more chance. He then suggests that Helen try another, less logical approach to dissuade Klaatu from its destruction. Instead of exploring this aspect, however, the film moves on to the saccharine: focusing on the relationship between Helen and her hugely irritating, 10-year old stepson Jacob (played by Will Smith`s son Jaden): who represents a major argument for the immediate elimination of mankind, in my opinion. Their characters and conflicts are so hackneyed and contrived that they throw a real monkey wrench into any suspense the film might have generated.

But THE TWILIGHT ZONE meets INDEPENDENCE DAY contains some good visual effects, as you would imagine; part of the producers` constipated efforts to attract a young target audience by eliminating any gravitas or intelligent dialog and adding a young identification character - at the cost of destroying everything of artistic value. And these efforts have been rewarded. THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL has already grossed nearly $76 million worldwide and topped the US box office in its opening weekend. It has likewise reached number one in the UK cinema charts, knocking Madagascar 2 into second place.

Despite this and the fact that it has been nominated for two Satellite Awards (for Best Sound and Best Visual Effects), the film falls flat. There is too little tension or drama, no characters we can possibly care about, and even the big climax lacks any true excitement. All in all, it is an uninspired tribute and certainly a mediocre piece of film making.

THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (USA 2008) (German title: DER TAG AN DEM DIE ERDE STILLSTAND); Genre: Sci-Fi; Rated PG-13; Running time: 109 minutes; Distributor: 20th Century Fox; US release date: 12.12.08; German release date: 11.12.08; Director: Scott Derrickson; Screenplay: David Scarpa; 1951 Screenplay: Edmund H. North; Main cast: Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly, Kathy Bates, John Cleese, Jon Hamm; Cinematographer: David Tattersall; Composer: Tyler Bates; Production designer: David Brisbin; Editor: Wayne Wahrman

Summary: A remake of the 1951 sci-fi classic about an alien and his giant robot who land on Earth to save the planet from mankind.

  • Autor: Geraldine Blecker
    Abfassungsdatum: 20.12. 2008
    Photo: © Twentieth Century Fox
    Verwertung: Weltexpress
    All rights to the author
    Update: Berlin, 20.12. 2008

The Women - No Men Required

 Poor remake of a classic

 Frankfurt (Weltexpress) - Rarely has a target audience been so specifically defined or a movie so exclusive as Diane English’s remake of George Cukor’s 1939 classic THE WOMEN, itself based on the successful Broadway comedy by Clare Boothe Luce. For not a single male is to be seen on the screen throughout the entire 110 minutes. Not even in the crowd scenes. Whether such feminine purism makes for a better film is a matter of conjecture.

Set in the New York of SEX AND THE CITY and THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA, where all that matters is “love” and “labels”, the film is centred around the friendship between four women: Mary (Meg Ryan) happily-married, ex-fashion designer; Sylvia (Annette Bening), hard-nosed women`s magazine editor; Edie (Debra Messing), married with children and perpetually reproducing; and Alex (Jada Pinkett Smith), Afro-American-lesbian, to ensure that no perspective or minority is lacking.

Mary happens to find out via a talkative manicurist that her apparently faithful husband Steven (never seen) is having an affair; with Crystal (Eva Mendes), a young sexpot of a salesgirl on the perfume counter at Saks. Unfortunately Mary is the last to know, as this juicy titbit has been making the rounds for a while and none of her friends had the guts to break the news. Not knowing how to deal with the situation, she first listens to her mother (Candice Bergen), who’s been through it all before and advises her to ignore it. When May finds that strategy impossible, she confronts the femme fatale herself, and then her husband (still unseen), before filing divorce. Alone, she finally takes some major steps on the road to self-knowledge and self-esteem - with the support of her 3 friends, of course.

Despite the imposing female ensemble and a goodly dose of witty repartee, there is very little sparkle, with the possible exceptions of Candice Bergen and Bette Midler, whose roles are relatively small. Annette Bening puts in a competent super-bitch performance, while Jada Pinkett Smith and Debra Messing seem almost redundant; as if they were thrown in to add a bit of color, so to speak. As for Meg Ryan, she ploughs soldierly on, rehashing the type of role she played in her box office heyday - and still looks remarkably youthful.

It seems that whenever a group of women gathers, no matter what age, they feel the need to jump up and down and shriek. THE WOMEN is full of high-pitched shrieking, which gets pretty tiresome after a while. And it is clearly missing one of the key elements that ensured the success of SEX AND THE CITY; namely any interaction with their male counterparts, thus making THE WOMEN very bland and one-dimensional.

Best known for penning the TV series MURPHY BROWN, where she has done some truly funny stuff, (pretty much lacking here), this is Diane English’s directorial debut and unfortunately that’s how it comes across: like a series-pilot. The continual cuts and crosscuts to the speaker for each snippet of dialogue make it monotonous and visually unexciting. The 1939 original was wildly funny and the humor has not profited by updating it 70 years into the present. Although a few scenes excel (especially those featuring Candice Bergen and Bette Midler), the others are hysterical, contrived, or syrupy; the finale being a combination of all three.

After more than a decade in “development hell”, starting its round of the studios in the mid-90s, THE WOMEN endured a series of false starts before Picturehouse finally picked it up. And as that company was known at that time to focus on producing TV movies for and with HBO, it might well have been destined for a TV screening (or direct-to-DVD) had it not been for the huge success of SEX AND THE CITY. Made for a budget of approx. $16.5 million, THE WOMEN is unlikely to equal the success of that picture, although it has already covered its production costs, grossing almost $27 million in the US and just short of 5 million GBP in the UK since its September release. In fact, in my own film production days, an earlier version of it even landed on my desk, with Goldie Hawn attached to produce and play one of the leads together with Ashley Judd. Might that have made a difference? I doubt it.

THE WOMEN (US 2008); Genre: Comedy-drama; Rated PG-13 (Profanity, Sexual Situations); Running time: 110 minutes; US distributor: Picturehouse Entertainment; US release date: September 12, 2008; German distributor: Constantin Film; German release date: December 11, 2008; Director/writer (screenplay: Diane English; 1939 Screenplay: Anita Loos, Jane Murfin; Writer (stage play): Clare Boothe Luce ; Main cast: Meg Ryan, Annette Bening, Eva Mendes, Debra Messing, Jada Pinkett Smith, Bette Midler, Candice Bergen; Cinematographer: Anastas Michos; Composer: Mark Isham; Production Designer: Jane Musky; Editor: Tia Nolan

Summary: With not a man in sight, THE WOMEN focuses on the friendship among four society women. When Mary discovers that her husband is having an affair with a young salesgirl, her friends rally to her support.

Autor: Geraldine Blecker
Abfassungsdatum: 15.12. 2008
Photo: © Constantine Film AG
Verwertung: Weltexpress
Update: Berlin, 15.12. 2008

Synecdoche, New York - Stick to the Writing, Charlie!

Stage director Caden Cotard is determined to produce a work of theatrical greatness. Armed with a huge grant, he sets about recreating his life - and all the people in it - for the Broadway stage.

"Synecdoche" from the Greek, according to Wikipedia, is a figure of speech in which: "a term denoting a part of something is used to refer to the whole thing," or "the acceptance of a part of the responsibility for something." It is also virtually unpronounceable (should be pronounced "sin-ek-do-kee", I've since discovered.) Despite which, writer/director Charlie Kaufman - whose brilliance as a writer is undisputed - has seen fit to use it as an obscure play on words for his directorial debut film set in the town of Schenectady in upstate New York.

This may sound pretty complex and "out there", but will give you an idea of what to expect from the exceptionally surreal SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK.

Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his wife Adele (Catherine Keener) are two artists living in Schenectady with their young daughter. He is a frustrated stage director, who has just completed a successful, local production of DEATH OF A SALESMAN, and harbours dreams of moving on to something with more artistic greatness, while she is a painter, specializing in miniatures. Their marriage is rapidly disintegrating: she is intolerant of him and his work, often wishing he would just drop dead, while he is afraid of doing just that. He has started to find a string of distressing and unpleasant physical symptoms, including pustules and blood in his urine. Just as his wife achieves an artistic breakthrough and takes off to Berlin, daughter in tow, for an exhibition that turns out to be a permanent absence, he wins a MacArthur Genius Grant, which gives him the financial independence he needs to set about creating his mammoth work for the Broadway stage.

This is the first part of the film and it bodes well for the first 45 minutes or so. Kaufman's portrayal of a disintegrating marriage between two artists divorced by their art is perceptive and balanced. Caden's bizarre array of frightening symptoms and escalating fear of death add an almost farcical element that moves the film towards the edge of horror.

But then the second half unfolds and we watch for at least another hour (which seemed a whole lot longer), while Caden evolves his masterpiece: a play about life in general and his own in particular (I guess this is where the concept of "synecdoche" comes in) which is, of course, a Herculean, if not impossible, task. Still, the playwright is undaunted and the MacArthur Grant certainly must have been a huge sum - the amount is never disclosed - for his work-in-progress continues over more than three decades, with a cast of hundreds and huge, extravagant, ever-expanding sets. Continually adding scenes from his failed marriage, concerns for his absent daughter, combined with his fear of death and his romantic liaisons, to the extent where he and everyone who has ever played a part in his life has a double following them around and even the doubles have doubles, and everyone is playing themselves and somebody else and on and on, repetitively up its own existential orifice.

The ensemble cast is spirited and resourceful, especially Catherine Keener, who plays his wife, and Samantha Morton who plays Hazel, Caden's long-time lover and dedicated assistant, as well as Emily Watson, who plays her double in the theatrical version. Tom Noonan as a weird prowler also puts in an interesting performance as does, of course, Hoffman himself, perfectly cast as the melancholy, permanently frustrated intellectual.

To say that the film is bleak would be an understatement. Unashamedly self-indulgent, It casts a harsh light on mankind's greatest fears: isolation, illness, despair and death and though one, at times, feels that Kaufman, together with his alter ego Caden Cotard, is near to achieving the narrative greatness to which he aspires, especially in the earlier scenes, the movie meanders desperately in the second half and loses all focus.

There is no doubt that Charlie Kaulman is one of the greatest and most innovative writers of his generation, BEING JOHN MALKOVICH, ADAPTATION, and ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND have all led us to expect a play within a play within a book within a film, but as much as I essentially wanted to enjoy this cluster-fuck of an epic and give Mr. Kaufman the benefit of the doubt for his first directorial offering, I found myself losing the will to live during the second part of this movie, while my better half thought it was a work of brilliance. We have been arguing about it ever since. Reviews have likewise been mixed: veering from enormous critical acclaim on the one hand, to total lack of comprehension on the other.

Made for an estimated budget of $21 million, it has garnered less $2 million at the box office since its premiere at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival and limited US release on October 24, 2008. And although I would recommend it as a narrative exercise for those hard-core Charlie Kaufman fans, as a work of entertainment, even for the most indulgent, it falls desperately short of the mark. Indeed, if I got the chance, I would say to its director, "Stick to the writing, Charlie!"

SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK (USA 2008); Genre: Black comedy; Rated R (for strong language and sexual situations); Running time: 124 minutes; US distributor: Sony Pictures Classics: US release date. October 24, 2008 (limited); Director/writer: Charlie Kaufman; Main cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Samantha Morton, Michelle Williams, Catherine Keener and Emily Watson; Composer: Mark Friedberg; Cinematographer: Frederick Elmes; Production designer: Mark Friedberg; Editor: Robert Frazen

by , Dec 8, 2008

Mindless Violence on the Racetrack


Los Angeles (Weltexpress) - Many wonder why the studios insist on churning out so many remakes. The answer is simple: they own the rights. And despite the fact that remakes are always a bit risky - for only very few stand up to the quality of their predecessors to which they are invariably compared - they can, if properly marketed, capitalize on the success, fan-base and cult status of the original.

This is obviously what the production companies (Cruise/Wager, Impact Pictures and Relativity Media, among them), together with distributor Universal had in mind when they let director/screenwriter/producer Paul W.S. Anderson (RESIDENT EVIL, ALIEN vs. PREDATOR) eviscerate the already trashy DEATH RACE 2000.

Already cheap and mindless, Roger Corman`s 1975 work, featuring a very young Sylvester Stallone as one of the leads, at least had some wry political satire to commend it. But its one-man-band director - in best Rodriguez tradition - has seen fit to substitute this with more speed, more gore, lots of nauseating, un-steady-cam cinematography and hysterical editing, accompanied by abysmal dialogue.

In the not too distant future, when financial markets have collapsed (sound familiar?) and society as we know it has broken down, the chief source of entertainment for the suffering masses is the murderous "Death Race", a sort of vehicular SAW meets ROLLERBALL, where prison inmates compete against each other in a 3-day life or death event. When long-hailed champion, the masked driver Frankenstein, is killed by an opponent, unscrupulous prison warden Hennessey (Joan Allen) fears that the race might lose its allure. Thus, it is most timely when former racing champion Jensen Ames (Jason Statham), is (wrongly) convicted of murdering his wife and given over into Hennessey`s custody. She makes it clear that if he wants to win his freedom, he will enter the race, don Frankenstein`s mask and keep the legend alive. But before long, the racing driver realizes that his life is threatened by more than just his opponents on the track.

Apart from its brainlessness, the movie`s brutality and gore make it hard to stomach were it not for the surprising quality of its ensemble cast. Jason Statham, (TRANSPORTER franchise, CRANK, and BANK JOB), demonstrates once again that he is one of the coolest contemporary action heroes on the screen. Oscar-winner Joan Allen, together with Tyrese Gibson, and the brilliant Ian McShane elevate the film to something almost resembling entertainment; making the best of the absurd dialogue until it is almost watchable.

Made for an undeclared budget, at time of writing DEATH RACE has grossed just under $66 million worldwide; over half of that in the US since its release there on October 10, 2008. It has only just come out is some major foreign territories, so box office numbers are still coming in.

Unless you`re into mindless action or a hardcore splatter fan, my advice is to save the price of a movie ticket and wait for the game to come out on Play Station. Then you can enjoy your own death race in the comfort of your own home.

DEATH RACE (US 2008); Genre: Action; Running time: 104 minutes; Rated R; Distributor: Universal Pictures International: US release date: August 22, 2008; German release date: November 27, 2008: Director/Writer: Paul W.S. Anderson (screenplay/screen-story), Writers: Robert Thom, Charles Griffith (1975 screenplay Death Race 2000), Ib Melchior (1975 story Death Race 2000); Main cast: Jason Statham, Ian McShane, Tyrese Gibson, Joan Allen; Cinematographer: Scott Kevan; Composer: Paul Haslinger: Production designer: Paul Denham Austerberry; Editor: Niven Howie.

Summary: Falsely convicted of murder, former racing champion Jensen Ames is sent to the notorious prison island, whose unscrupulous warden forces him to compete in the savage Death Race.

  • Autor: Geraldine Blecker
    Abfassungsdatum: 04.12. 2008
    Photo: © Courtesy of Universal Pictures International
    Verwertung: Weltexpress
    All rights to the author
    Update: Berlin, 04.12. 2008

Advice to the Lovelorn


Los Angeles (Weltexpress) - Starring Uma Thurman, Colin Firth and Jeffrey Dean Morgan, THE ACCIDENTAL HUSBAND, directed by actor/director/producer Griffin Dunne, is a poor comedy romance at best. First-time writing trio of Mimi Hare, Clare Naylor, and Bonnie Sikowitz are hard put to conjure up any wit or even a decent titter. The somewhat contrived plot might even have worked had there been any spark of chemistry between the players, but alas, this was not to be.

Dr. Emma Lloyd (Thurman), a radio love guru, is all set to marry her stolid, boring, singularly emotionless fiance Richard (Firth). Confidently churning out her advice to the lovelorn on her phone-in show, she inadvertently ruins the love life of soon-to-be-wed, New York fire-fighter Patrick (Morgan), whose fiance virtually leaves him at the altar. Bent on revenge, he gets his computer-savvy buddy to generate a forged marriage certificate and, without any more ado, he and Dr. Emma are legally hitched. Emma only discovers the "mistake" when she and Richard apply for their marriage license. So she immediately sets out to track down her mysterious "accidental husband" and rectify the misunderstanding by obtaining an annulment.

Needless to say, there is some immediate attraction and the doctor soon notices the differences between her legal husband and her long-suffering fiance, leading her to question her own values. While the former, although none too bright, is a handsome, bighearted guy full of fun and humor, the latter is very much a stuffed shirt and doesn`t even put up much of a battle to win his lady fair.

The plot soon takes its inevitable course and the movie rapidly goes downhill from its interesting premise. This is largely due to the tepid performances from its leads, especially Uma Thurman; visual comedy is definitely not her forte. Colin Firth as the up-his-own-arse, lukewarm English lover gives it his best shot, but doesn`t have very much to work with. The same could be said of Jeffrey Dean Morgan, although his star appeal is undeniable (so I thought when I saw him in GREY`S ANATOMY) - “ we`ll be seeing lots more of him in the future, mark my words.

The total lack of chemistry between the lead characters, combined with the uninspired screenplay which substitutes ineffectual slapstick for any snappy dialogue, pretty well makes this movie a waste of time: And money, of course. Although I could not access any data on the production budget, I assume it was not insignificant (say about USD 30 million).

The picture`s only saving grace to my way of thinking was the Bollywood element. Fireman Patrick lives above an Indian restaurant, a situation which provides some amusement, interesting ethnic music and colorful footage (especially an Indian wedding).

THE ACCIDENTAL HUSBAND, (German title: Zufällig Verheiratet), USA 2008; Genre: Comedy-romance; US Distributor: Yari Film Releasing; US Release date: March 27, 2009; German distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures; German release date: November 13, 2008; Director: Griffin Dunne; Writers: Mimi Hare, Clare Naylor, Bonnie Sikowitz; Main cast: Uma Thurman, Colin Firth, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Sam Shepard, Lindsay Sloane; Cinematographer: William Rexer II; Composer: Andrea Guerra; Production designer: Mark Ricker; Editor: Suzy Elmiger.

Plot Summary: Dr. Emma Lloyd`s radio advice to the lovelorn comes back to bite her in the ass. Her forthcoming wedding to stolid fiance Richard is put in jeopardy when she discovers that she is already married. Obviously a misunderstanding. She sets out to discover the identity of her accidental husband to remedy the situation, which leads to her questioning her own life, love, and values.

Autor: Geraldine Blecker
Abfassungsdatum: 08.11. 2008
Photo: © Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Verwertung: Weltexpress
All rights to the author
Update: Berlin, 08.11. 2008.

Big Brother is Watching... Eagle Eye (US 2008)

New York (Weltexpress) - Ridiculous would be an understatement to describe this glossy, non-stop, piece of paranoia produced for a budget of USD 105 million. But its far-fetched, intelligence-defying plot has not stopped EAGLE EYE from already raking in just under USD 56 million at the US box office since its release on Sept. 26, and actually soaring to the top of the movie charts in its opening weekend. I fear it is likely to do equally well in the international market.

Set in Chicago, Jerry (Shia LaBeouf) and Rachel (Michelle Monaghan) are your normal, everyday citizens, just minding their own business until they are suddenly ordered into action by a mysterious female caller on their cell phones. The gray eminence behind the voice seems able to control every piece of electronic gadgetry in Chicago (and probably the universe), including CCTV cameras, navigation systems, traffic lights, everybody`s cell phone and every moving piece of machinery (trains, buses, automobiles, barges, trucks, cranes, planes), you name it, the voice can manipulate - and destroy it.

And for some weird reason, this all-powerful being urgently requires the assistance of these two incompetent mortals. And will do anything in its power - which is quite a lot - to get it. This includes an astonishing amount of explosions and pyrotechnics, masses of dead and injured, loads of twisted wreckage, billions` worth of collateral damage, relentless chase sequences all over the country, in every imaginable kind of conveyance. Our two helpless protagonists summon up amazing talents from some unknown source, suddenly able to hold up an armored vehicle, secrete themselves in the oxygen-free cargo section of a military aircraft (the lack of logic behind this bit is a doozey), and infiltrate a top-secret, vaulted room in the Pentagon.

Without giving away any of the absurd storyline - which apparently took at least four writers to conceive - we discover that this omnipotent force only requires something relatively simple that Jerry can provide. One wonders why it went to so much trouble and expense when a couple of heavies could easily have abducted Jerry and bundled him off to the Pentagon without attracting any attention.

Still, EAGLE EYE is very much eye candy with masses of CGI, daring stunts and screeching chase footage, all edited together with a chain saw. Shia LaBeouf and Michelle Monaghan are little more than cartoon characters in a fast-paced video game - which will doubtless soon be on the market, if it isn`t already. (There is also an IMAX version for added viewing pleasure.) I cannot tell you how it ended, because I did not bother to wait and see.

EAGLE EYE (USA, 2008) (aka: Eagle Eye - Ausser Kontrolle); Genre: Action-Adventure; US Distributor: DreamWorks SKG; German distributor: Paramount Pictures; Running time: 117 minutes; US Release date: September 26, 2008; German release date: October 9, 2008: Rated PG 13 (for intense sequences of action and violence, and brief language); Director: D.J. Caruso; Writers; Dan McDermott, John Glenn, Travis Adam Wright and Hillary Seitz; Main cast: Shia LaBeouf, Michelle Monaghan, Rosario Dawson, Michael Chilkis, Billy Bob Thornton, Anthony Mackie, Ethan Embry; Cinematographer: Darinsz Wolski; Composer: Brian Tyler; Production designer: Tom Sanders; Editor: Jim Page

Plot summary: Two strangers are thrown together by chance and a mysterious female voice on a cell phone. This omnipotent force threatens their lives and family, coercing them into a series of dangerous situations, using everyday technology to track and control their every move and manipulate them and the world around them.

  • Autor: Geraldine Blecker
    Abfassungsdatum: 09.10. 2008
    Photo: © Paramount Pictures
    Verwertung: Weltexpress
    All rights to the author
    Update: Berlin, 09.10. 2008

Fresh Fodder for the Jackass Jeneration


First off, I should tender my apologies to Adam Sandler for calling his latest offering DON’T MESS WITH THE ZOHAN the worst comedy of the year. That was before I saw this piece of insultingly crude and idiotic rubbish, which has to be the worst “comedy” of all time. With the “F” word mentioned 23 times in the first half hour, an R-rating was assured. That combined with the coarsely puerile script co-penned by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, based on the story they created with the aid of John C. Reilly, STEP BROTHERS elevates stupidity to a new level. Although some of my peers have found the movie humorous in spots, most are agreed that it is as dim-witted and juvenile as its moronic lead characters.

Brennan (Will Ferrell) and Dale (John C. Reilly), two unattractive, terminally unemployed and retarded (I know the term is non-PC, but “immature” is an understatement) bachelors in their 40s, are still living at home eating junk food in front of the tube. When their respective parents (played by Richard Jenkins and Mary Steenburgen) meet and marry; the two morons are forced to live under one roof. Their savage resentment compels them to play dirty tricks upon one another and mete out great cruelty, but they soon form an uneasy alliance based on their mutual idiocy. When their parents demand that they get jobs and move out, Brennan and Dale are forced out into the real world.

That’s it. There is nothing as adventurous as a sub-plot, nor the merest trace of wit. The entire film consists of slapstick fight sequences between Brennan and Dale, spiced with foul language and the occasional comedy highlight. For instance, the duo trashing the kitchen while sleep-walking, Brennan being forced to lick dog poop off the pavement, or rubbing his testicles on Dale’s drum kit; and so on, ad nauseam… Could this be another nomination for the Teen Choice Award?

This is the third summer comedy that the dynamic duo of Ferrell and writer/director McKay has unleashed on the public: ANCHORMAN (2004), and TALLADEGA NIGHTS (2006), which grossed $85 million and $148 million in the US, respectively. After the disastrous basketball spoof SEMI-PRO, which only brought in a disappointing $33.5 million, STEP BROTHERS looks like a return to their former success. It has already grossed $101 million domestically. I find this depressing. 

Unlike its successful predecessors, however, STEP BROTHERS is not based on a humorous premise. A supposed satire on the male fear of adulthood and taking responsibility, this “coming of age” story features neither characters we could possibly care about nor any really funny situations. The juvenile slap stick quickly palls and comes across as an insult to its target audience: Fresh fodder for the Jackass Jeneration.

The only bright spot for me is that the popularity of Ferrell’s comedies seems to be limited to the US market, having grossed upwards of 80% of their revenue in the States. On the other hand, taking his pictures as a yardstick, I find it highly disturbing that the most powerful nation in the world would appear to be populated by the dumbest audience - which is getting dumber with each passing day, or each new comedy released. Most disturbing of all is that lots, if not most of them, are armed.

STEP BROTHERS (USA, 2008): Genre: Comedy: US distributor: Columbia Pictures; German distributor: Sony Pictures Releasing; N.American release date: July 25, 2008; German release date: September 11, 2008; Running time: 95 minutes; Rated R (for crude and sexual content, and pervasive language); Director: Adam McKay; Screenplay: Will Ferrell, Adam McKay; Story: Will Ferrell, Adam McKay, John C. Reilly; Main cast: Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Richard Jenkins, Mary Steenburgen, Derek Adam Scott; Cinematographer: Oliver Wood; Composer: Jon Brion; Production designer:: Clayton Hartley; Editor: Brent White

Plot: Two spoiled, overgrown-children become unwilling stepbrothers after their respective parents wed.

© Article from - European News Network
Published: 14/09/2008

The Man Within - Meet Dave (USA 2008)

Frankfurt am Main (Weltexpress) - I recently watched Eddie Murphy’s old live concert footage “Raw” and still find it hard to reconcile that hugely funny, foul-mouthed stand up comedian with the family entertainment superstar he has since become. But this latest in a string of insipid Eddie Murphy comedies, “Meet Dave”, is at least unlikely to cause offence, although it has little chance of rocking the box office either. At an estimated budget of USD 60 million, it has grossed just under USD 35 million worldwide and less than a third of that in the US since its release there on July 11.

A sort of cross between “Galaxy Quest” and “Coming to America” - and unfortunately not as funny as either - this low-tech comedy sci-fi is at least neither as calamitous as the “Adventures of Pluto Nash” nor as agonizing as “Norbit.” A worthy successor to “Daddy Day Care”, I guess, but nowhere near Murphy’s stunning comedies of the 80s.

Playing the double role of human-sized spacecraft Dave Ming Chang and commander of its Lilliputian crew, both, Dave lands in Manhattan with a mission: to extract salt from our oceans to save his home planet. Striving to adapt to our world, Dave meets single mom Gina (Elizabeth Banks) and her young son Josh (Austyn Lind Myers), who take the stranger under their wing. While his hive-dwelling crew members, particularly numbers 3 (Gabrielle Union) and 2 (Ed Helms) gradually become enamoured with, and transformed by, earth society.

Another nomination for the 2008 Teen Choice Award, the gags are mostly visual and well-aimed at the target audience. Little figures climbing in and out of Dave’s orifices, for instance, mixing egg shells in with the omelette, using a nostril to sharpen a pencil. And the absolute highlight: Dave wins a hotdog eating competition and then ejects the buns from his backside, and so on and forth. Screenwriters Rob Greenberg and Bill Corbett have come up with an amusing premise, creating an interesting social structure within the microcosm, but that’s where it ends. The human relationships have not really been explored or the characters fleshed out to any great degree.

Perhaps most significant about this movie is what’s missing. Director Brian Robbins (with “Norbit” and “Wild Hogs” to his credit, so what more can you say?) has contented himself with a relatively low-grade production and forgone the lavish sets and effects that children have come to expect from the sophisticated studio productions on the market (e.g. “Wall-E”) or even to be seen currently on TV. Obviously a matter of money, but USD 60 million can go a long way. Still, Eddie Murphy has a loyal US fan base that is likely to watch this on TV and maybe even buy the DVD for their kids, so eventual recoupement is pretty well assured.

Meet Dave (US. 2008), German title: Mensch Dave; Genre: Family comedy; Running time: 90 mins., Worldwide distribution: 20th Century Fox; German distributor: Kinowelt; US release date: July 11, 2008; German release date: August 28, 2008; Director: Brian Robbins; Screenplay: Rob Greenberg & Bill Corbett; Main cast: Eddie Murphy, Elizabeth Banks, Gabrielle Union, Scott Caan, Ed Helms, Kevin Hart; Cinematographer: Clark Mathis; Music: John Debney; Production design: Clay A. Griffith; Editor: Ned Bastille

Plot summary: Close encounters of the third kind, as human-sized spaceship Dave Ming Chang and his miniscule crew land in Manhattan to save their home world and gradually become transformed by life on earth.

  • Autor: Geraldine Blecker
    Abfassungsdatum: 26.08. 2008
    Photo: © Kinowelt Filmverleih GmbH
    Verwertung: All rights to the author
    Update: Berlin, 26.08. 2008

Sandler surpasses himself

“You Don’t Mess with the Zohan” - worst comedy of the year

Adam Sandler has excelled himself with this interminable pile of tasteless trash at an estimated budget of $90 million, which has already raked in $127 million worldwide, most of that in the US since its release there on June 6. Its commercial success is also underlined by the fact that the FX network has just acquired the TV rights from Sony - to kick in late 2010 - for an estimated 12% of its total domestic box office, currently amounting to just under $99 million.

I guess you can’t argue with success. But Adam Sandler is not Ernst Lubitsch or Charlie Chaplin, or even Mel Brooks, for that matter, all of whom could turn a touchy topic into a bundle of laughs. The idea of using terrorism and the Middle East crisis as the basis for a comedy satire is risky, to say the least, but had any talented writers been involved, it might even have worked. As it is, the script, penned by Sandler himself with co-writers Robert Smigel and Judd Apatow, is a one-joke comedy; crude and gruellingly repetitious, and if there was anything even vaguely amusing, I must have missed it.

Director Dennis Dugan (“I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry”), who also plays a homeless guy in this masterpiece, focuses on course visual gags, largely featuring Zohan’s gigantic appendage and all the groovy stuff he can do with it, like flipping burgers, playing table tennis, shaking cocktails (no pun intended), and lots more.

Premise: superhero-tough Mossad commando Zohan Dvir, (who brushes his teeth with humus) - buffed-up, crimped and with an accent veering from Depardieu to Borat - secretly yearns to be a hair dresser. During a mission against his arch enemy, the Arab leader known as the Phantom, (played by John Tartufo), he fakes his own death and stows away to New York, where he tries to get a job as a stylist. Enter product placement in the form of a personal appearance by Paul Mitchell and a brief tour of his luxury salon.

The fact that Zohan can defy gravity with no-handed push-ups, among other athletic feats (we know the Mossad are a bunch of hard bastards), does not convince the salon staff of his qualifications as a crimper. So, the only job he manages to get is in a second-rate Brooklyn salon run by a lovely Palestinian (Emmanuelle Chriqui).

Apparently Sandler's character of Zohan is loosely based on a real-life hairstylist and former Israeli soldier in San Diego, who taught Sandler the various hairstyling techniques, which he seems to have mastered pretty well. But Zohan’s commercial success is truly guaranteed when he offers the extra service of rogering his geriatric female clients in the back room. Before very long, little old ladies are lining up by the truckload and his career seems to be on the rise - until he is recognised by his arch enemy.

To alleviate the extended (almost 2 hour) tedium, a series of famous faces - who should all be ashamed of themselves - appear in brief cameo roles. Chris Rock, Kevin Nealon, Mariah Carey, George Takei, Sid Ganis, John McEnroe, help provide a mild titter every five or 10 minutes, before the picture moves into its welcome finale, where everybody learns to live and work together in perfect harmony in that supreme testament to western culture - a shopping mall.

“Don’t Mess with the Zohan” has been nominated for the 2008 Teen Choice Award and is not recommended for anyone with a more than one-syllable vocabulary. 

“You Don’t Mess with the Zohan” (German title: “Leg dich nicht mit Zohan an”), USA 2008; Genre: Action-comedy, Distributor: Sony Pictures Releasing; US release date: June 6, 2008; German release: August 14, 2008; Running time:110 minutes; Rated: PG-13; Director: Dennis Dugan;  Writers: Adam Sandler, Robert Smigel, Judd Apatow; Main cast: Adam Sandler, John Turturro, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Nick Swardson, Laine Kazan, Rob Schneider; Cinematographer: Michael Barrett; Music: Rupert Gregson-Williams; Production Designer: Perry Andelin Blake; Editor: Tom Costain

Nim’s Island (USA 2008)


BERLIN (Weltexpress) - “The Swiss Family Robinson” meets “Kevin At Home” in Nim’s Island, the latest children’s book-to-screen based on the novel by Wendy Orr. Trying to be all things to all people, or at least two films at once, Nim’s Island basically succeeds in generating a great deal of confusion, although it does have a certain intrinsic charm.

Oscar-nominated Abigail Breslin (“Little Miss Sunshine”) stars as 12-year old Nim, who lives with her marine biologist dad, Jack (Gerard Butler), on an otherwise uninhabited tropical island in the South Pacific. Her best pals are a pelican, a seal and an iguana. Her pet pastime is reading adventure novels penned by and starring an Indiana-Jones-type hero called Alex Rover; never suspecting that their author, Alexandra Rover (played by Jodie Foster) could possibly be female. Nor that she could be a nutty agoraphobic who hasn’t left her San Francisco home for months - not even to pick up the mail. Much of the action is devoted to the novelist’s “comic” attempts to venture into the outside world and travel halfway around the globe. The film’s third element concerns Jack, who is shipwrecked by a sudden storm after sailing to an isolated atoll to collect rare plankton specimens, leaving his daughter alone and wondering if he will ever return.

The film crosscuts back and forth between its three protagonists and their respective dilemmas. Nim, quite alone - apart from her pets - after her father has ventured forth, enters into a chance email correspondence with “Alex” Rover. Thrilled to be in contact with her hero, she asks “him” for help. And Nim has quite a bit on her plate too, what with braving a monsoon, an erupting volcano, and scaring off “pirates”, in the form of a cruise ship full of over-fed Australian tourists seeking the ultimate desert island experience. All of which she deals with pretty competently.

“Alex” Rover, responding to Nim’s plea, on the other hand, is hard put to even leave her house and get in a taxi to go to the airport. But at least she is accompanied on her odyssey - if only in her imagination - by the fictional Alex (Butler in a double role), which provides for some amusing interludes. Although not as amusing as they could be: Ms. Foster is a fine enough actress in dramatic roles, comedy is unfortunately not her forte. And in between, we see Rover’s alter-ego Jack fighting to keep his boat afloat in the high seas. The film could have been tighter, with a better flow and more suspense, had the directors discarded some of the scenes of Jack braving the elements. Flickering back and forth between three perspectives makes it chaotic and lessens the sense of peril.

All things being equal, co-directors Jennifer Flackett and Mark Levin have still provided a refreshing change from violent, FX-charged alternative worlds, or dark action fantasies (i.e. the “Narnia” series). Aimed at younger viewers, the action takes place in the modern-day world, and although it begins with some striking fantasy sequences, Nim’s Island becomes somewhat dull as it moves into the second half and oscillates between slapstick comedy and fairytale adventure. All presented with a heavy dose of product placement reminiscent of “Castaway” (although not as unabashed as “Sex and the City”).

But all’s well that ends well. Jack safely returns to home port, while Nim and Alex prevail over hardship. The latter conquering her agoraphobia and finally giving her masculine alter-ego the elbow - all she needed was the right incentive.

Trite as it may appear on the surface the message is still a worthy one and applies to children of all ages: you never know what you can do until you try, or the difficulties you can overcome when you have a purpose.

Produced by Walden Media (“The Chronicles of Narnia”) who is also co-distributing with Fox, at an estimated budget of USD 37 million - relatively low by Hollywood standards for this kind of film - it has already grossed over USD 77 million since its US release on April 3, 2008.

Nim`s Island (USA 2008); Genre: Family-Action-Adventure-Comedy; Length: 96 mins.; Distributor: Fox-Walden; Directors: Jennifer Flackett, Mark Levin; Writers: Jennifer Flackett, Mark Levin, Joseph Kwong, Paula Mazur; based on the book by Wendy Orr; Main cast: Jodie Foster, Abigail Breslin, Gerard Butler; Cinematographer: Stuart Dryburgh; Music: Patrick Doyle; Production Designer: Barry Robison; Editor: Stuart Levy

Summary: The fates of 12 year old Nim, living on a desert island, and a reclusive novelist from San Francisco collide, when Nim asks for her help after her father is lost at sea. Now the novelist must overcome her agoraphobia to brave the dangers of the outside world and travel halfway round the globe.

  • Autor: Geraldine Blecker
    Abfassungsdatum: 17.06. 2008
    Verwertung: Weltexpress
    Update: Berlin, 17.06. 2008

Speed Racer

Nothing to Be Proud About: The Creators of `Matrix` Gear Up the World`s Longest Video Game

Courtey, © Warner Bros, 2008Frankfurt/Main (Weltexpress): If the Wachowski Brothers were hoping to make a spectacular comeback after the disastrous ‘V For Vendetta’, then they’ve certainly blown it with this interminable piece of green screen nonsense. And just when I was hoping that ‘Iron Man’ would herald a bright new age of superhero movies...

Still being touted as the creators of the hugely successful ‘Matrix’ trilogy, the Wachowskis have now focused their creative talent on the world of high-speed racing. Warner Bros. Pictures, together with Silver Pictures and Village Roadshow present ‘Speed Racer’, an adaptation of Tatsuo Yoshida’s original 1967 Japanese anime ‘Mach GoGoGo’ and, at 135 minutes, what must be the world’s longest video game. Produced at an estimated budget of USD 100 million – not counting the half million spent on last week’s premiere bash at Hollywood’s Nokia Theatre, attended by more than 4,000, and from which members of the press were barred. This was probably a good decision, as it happens.

Marketed as a family film, it is clearly aimed at a younger audience, but has little to hold their interest apart from its garish colours, while the dialogue is guaranteed to make older viewers cringe. “You think you can drive a car and change the world? It doesn`t work like that!” And the reply? “Maybe not, but it`s the only thing I know how to do…” is what you can expect throughout, and mostly limited to words of one syllable.

A predictable storyline (the script was penned by the Wachowskis themselves, needless to say), unconvincing performances – especially by Pops and Mom Racer, played by John Goodman and Susan Sarandon, respectively, who should be ashamed of themselves. Word has it that director Alfonso Cuarón was once attached to direct with Johnny Depp starring, while Keanu Reeves turned down the role of Racer X. Good career decisions one and all.

Filmed at Studio Babelsberg, in Potsdam and Victoria Park, Berlin (and thus featuring Benno Fürmann as Inspector Detective, with a small cameo by Moritz Bleibtreu), ‘Speed Racer’, leaves nothing to chance. The 60s cartoon had a certain simplistic charm and although the Wachowskis attempt to transport this vigour to the screen, it amounts to little more than overkill: bilious hi-speed action sequences, flamboyant CGI, riotous colours, frantic cuts, with a dose of martial arts, all interspersed with the usual Hollywood moralizing, to cross the finish line with a feel-good ending, where good triumphs over evil and the wholesome winners celebrate with milk instead of champagne. After all, this is a family film.

Underscored with a gratuitously saccharine soundtrack by Michael Giacchino (even including an acoustic version of ‘Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered’ to underline what was almost an innocent love scene, but wasn’t because this is, don’t forget, a family film). And the whole seemingly edited with a knife and fork. Not forgetting, of course, a touch of humour. This provided by Speed’s fat and irritating little brother Spritie (Paulie Litt), together with his chimpanzee sidekick, who keeps popping up to grimace into the camera and deliver a never-ending series of superfluous quips.

In case you’re still interested, this is the storyline: Born to race, Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch of ‘Into the Wild’) is a natural: forceful, intuitive, daring. And haunted by the memory of his elder brother Rex (Scott Porter), whom he worshipped and who died in a death-defying rally that Speed is determined to win. Loyal to the small family business, Speed drives the sensational Mach 5 designed by his father, Pops Racer (John Goodman) and thus refuses a tempting offer to join the big time made by Royalton Industries. A vengeful sort and unused to rejection, the head of the iniquitous multinational (Roger Allam) is determined to destroy Speed’s racing career and take over the family business. But he has reckoned without Speed’s own resolve and the encouragement of his family and girlfriend Trixie (Christina Ricci). Speed teams up with former rival, the enigmatic Racer X (Matthew Fox), and young Japanese racing driver Rain (Taejo Togokhan) to ultimately win the dangerous 5,000 mile rally, saving both the family business and the reputation of racing itself.

Speed Racer (USA, 2008), Genre: Action; Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures; Running time: 135 minutes; US release date: May 9, 2008; German release date: May 8, 2008; Written/Directed by: The Wachowski Brothers, based on the animated series by Tatsuo Yoshida; Cinematographer: David Tattersall; Composer: Michael Giacchino; Production Design: Owen Paterson; Editor: Roger Barton/Zach Staenberg; Cast: Emile Hirsch, Christina Ricci, John Goodman, Susan Sarandon, Matthew Fox, Benno Fürmann.

  • Autor: Geraldine Becker
    Abfassungsdatum: 03.05. 2008
    Courtey, © Warner Bros, 2008
    Verwertung: Weltexpress and the author
    Update: Berlin, 03.05. 2008