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Archive for the ‘Review’ topic

Lost Highway: Explained

Patricia Arquette as Renee in Lost Highway

As the ending credits of Lost Highway swept over the cinema screen, I was left behind in a state of total perplexity.  Instinctively, I knew I had witnessed one of the greatest movies of all time. But for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what I had just been watching for the past two hours. It was the first time a film had ever evoked such a bewildered feeling out of me.  I had to know why.

The dialogs were in English, but the film conventions used were foreign. Subtitles were nonexistent. It was a film that would take many viewings to figure out, though many claimed the film could not be explained. That it was nothing more than one long dream sequence from a twisted brain that made absolutely no sense. I never really believed that. And I’m glad I didn’t.

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TEDx and the European Parliament

The European Parliament building complex in Brussels

As one Belgian – the first European to do so – handed over the command of the ISS back to the Americans, and will be returning to earth shortly after a six month stint in space; another Belgian was handing in his government back to the king, so he can prepare to become the first president of Europe in January.

And I would, for the first time, be visiting the European Parliament in Brussels. As this event pales in comparison to what my fellow countrymen have lately achieved, don’t expect to find my little excursion mentioned in any history book; not even as a small obscure footnote on page 527 or other. But I was there for a reason though. The TEDx Brussels event, also a first, was being held there, an independent spin-off the TED events that have brought world inspiration since… well, since its inception. While the official TED event is by invitation only, they do post videos online of some of their most inspirational speakers and their ideas about the world. Definitely worth a visit if you haven’t heard of it yet.

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The Box

Cemeron Diaz starring in The Box

Recently – and not knowing what to expect or what I was about to watch – I went to see The Box. It’s one of those films you’ll either love, or hate. It’s from the same director that brought us Donnie Darko, the movie that brought us the wonderful Mad World cover.

The Box starts with a simple premise. A family is presented a mysterious box with a large red button. They are given a day to decide whether to press it or not. If they do, they will receive a suitcase with one million dollars, tax free. But – and there is always a but – someone whom they do not know will be killed. If on the other hand they decline to press the button by the time the offer expires, the box will be taken away, reprogrammed and sent to someone else.

Given this choice, what would you do?

If this has peaked your interest, stop reading here and go and watch it. Otherwise, I have to warn you that the rest of the post contains spoilers.

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Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds Trailer

film_tarantino_inglorious_basterds

While I still have to see the Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Brad Pitt hasn’t been sitting still. He’ll soon be starring in the next Quentin Tarantino installment: “Inglorious Basterds”. This one takes place during WWII. It’s about a secret handpicked American army unit dropped in German held France. Their mission? Strike fear, terror and do some really, really bad things to the occupying Nazi’s. Having seen the trailer, it looks like a typical Tarantino with lots of his signature dialogue scenes mixed with plenty of gore to go.

I only hope it’s a lot better than his last film: “Death Proof” from the Grind House experiment. There was so much dialogue in it about nothing, I almost fell asleep. The other half of Grind House, Planet Terror, was, on the other hand, so over the top, it was actually quite fun to watch.

But if Tarantino’s latest film is anything on par with Kill Bill, it will be worth the wait.

Slumdog Millionaire

Slumdog Millionaire: Boy dressed as the Hindi god Rama

It was 1985. We were flying back from Belgium to Bangladesh and had to spend a night in Bombay in order to make our connecting flight the next day. We arrived after dark and were whisked off to a hotel that attempted to convey a sense of high establishment. But in fact, it was suffering from the high humidity in the air. Living in the tropics, carpeted floors were a luxury and it was here where I could see firsthand why. As we walked through the hallways towards our rooms, I witnessed how water dripped from the ceilings down on to the damp hallway carpets. And anything damp in this climate starts to rot. I’ve slept in far worse places since then, but at the time, I was glad we were only staying a single night.
We would return to the airport the very next morning. The sun was up and it was on our way there that I saw Bombay as it really was for the first time. Even though at that point, we had lived in Dhaka for two years, that short ride was sufficient to give me one of the worst culture shocks of my life. The amount of poverty I saw out on those streets was indescribable.

The God Shiva as Nataraja performing the dance of destruction and creation

Slumdog Millionaire takes place in this very same city. Nowadays, it is called Mumbai. The story itself is told in an unconventional yet refreshing way. At first, I thought there really wasn’t a story but simply an account of what it was like growing up in the slums of Bombay. Sort of like watching a travel documentary of a place that otherwise would remain completely alien to us. The cinematography is wonderfully beautiful even though the scenes it depicts aren’t. We are shown the poverty and pollution inside the amazing network of a large slum city. It’s the Bombay I remember driving though as a child.
The film shifts gear half way through, and slowly but surely, an innocent love story starts to emerge between two of the slum dwellers. As they struggle to stay together, it’s the harsh reality of their situation that keeps getting in their way.
While this film reminds me a lot of another excellent movie: Cidade de Deus (City of God), it’s comes over as a more optimistic film despite the environment in which it takes place. Well worth seeing.

The Places We Live

Sticking to the same subject. Here is an interesting site that documents 16 people around the world talking about their homes inside these slum cities and their lives. Also in sort of the same vein are the photographs of Michael Wolf. While technically they’re not slums, he went out to photograph 100 people in their apartments in Honk Kong. The apartments are all pretty much the same, just small boxes. But each one is personalized telling us something about the lives of its inhabitants.

Valkyrie

Halina Reijn in Valkyrie, the film

It can’t be easy creating a film based on a well known historic event. Especially if the audience already knows how it will all play out. For it to succeed therefore, it has to in a way focus less on the historical facts. Instead, it should offer us the story behind the events, even if that story may not be historically accurate. It may even be pure fiction. Case in point is the ‘Last King of Scotland’ were the rule of Idi Amin is seen through the eyes of Dr.Garrigan, a fictional character. The people we meet in this film are engaging. And even though some liberties have been taken to what actually happened, the story does give us a clear picture of how a popular and charismatic boxer turned into one of the world’s most feared dictators. Valkyrie in this sense takes a different approach and unfortunately doesn’t deliver.

As a matter of fact, I found the documentary ‘Stauffenberg, the true story’, which recalls the most famous assassination attempt on Hitler, to be a lot more interesting then the film itself. The film felt more like a remake of the documentary where the details have been replaced by cinematographically rich scenes. While the documentary did a good job of explaining the back story and the character behind Stauffenberg, Tom Cruises portrayal of him felt very cardboard like.  

Other than a few hollow words said here and there, the film doesn’t really bother explaining us why Stauffenburg would risk his life and that of his wife and three children to commit a potentially treasonous act. It tells us nothing of the respect he commanded amongst his men or the suffering he had to endure after he was crippled. It simply conveys the events as they happened and we just have to accept that. The film lacks depth.

This is in total contrast to for example ‘Der Untergang‘. Despite us already knowing what happened in the last days of Hitler’s rule, it succeeded by focuses on the characters and conveying the sense of claustrophobic despair the soldiers and staff underwent in the final days of the Third Reich.

If I had to name one positive thing about this film, then it was the secretary, a role played by the Dutch actress Halina Reijn. Even though her role was small and hardly had any lines in the film, her screen presence said more about their dire situation then all the  dialogs put together. It was one of the few characters one could actually care about.

And from Popeye to Punch-Drunk-Love

punch-drunk-love
On a less serious note, I was a huge fan of Popeye during my childhood years. I even ate my spinach hoping to be as strong as him. I still remember when I was five; my father told me a Popeye movie was being made. I was wildly enthusiastic about this news. At least until I discovered we were moving to Upper Volta and would never get to see the movie. My world came crashing down. I didn’t want to leave. But for some reason, my parents felt it wasn’t a strong enough reason to stay in Belgium. So we left. No Popeye movie for me.

I did finally see it, many years later. And if I remember correctly, it was in the Dutch Club in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Every Saturday afternoon, they’d show a children’s movie for us kids. The film, as it turned out, was terrible. Even though it featured Robin Williams as Popeye, it just seemed long and winding and everything but fun. Nothing like the cartoons.

The film did however give us this wonderfully odd little song by Shelley Duvall: “He needs me“. The song was used again in Punch-Drunk-Love, a quirky song for a really quirky film. This movie on the other hand, I can only highly recommend.

T-shirts with the god Shiva print