Friday, February 22, 2008

Movies, movies, movies, ...

It's just insane how quickly time passes, especially during the holidays. Being a student around here I'm currently enjoying 4 solid weeks of holidays in-between the two university terms. I spent the past 12 days back home in Upper Austria with my family and I'm proud to say that I managed to hit a perfect work-life balance. On the one hand I did get quite a lot of things done, for my bachelor thesis, preparation for the Chemnitzer LinuxTage and CeBIT (which means that I'll be heading to Germany for 10 days next Thursday) and also for the Activity Handbook. On the other hand I also spent a lot of time chillin', reading, visiting my grandmothers, meeting friends, going out and watching movies.

When it comes to watching movies I have a tendency to underachieve as they're are simply too many great movies to watch at any given moment. However this time 'round I had quite a good run as I saw the following movies in the past 2 weeks:

"3:10 to Yuma"

What can I say, this movie was everything I expected. And then some more. Having a thing for good vs. not-quite-sure-how-bad western stories and liking the main actors Christian Bale and Russell Crowe this film didn't have a chance of disappointing me. The pace of the film is just right with lots of action filled scenes and shoot-outs being balanced out by many quiet moments and dialogues. I'm not going to go into more details here but if you like westerns then this is a must-see!

"Charlie Wilson's War"

I read about that movie several weeks ago in the newspaper and based on the comments there I didn't expect to be blown away. And I wasn't. Charlie Wilson's War is definitely a solid movie and quite entertaining at times, however it's nothing to call home about. While Tom Hanks makes a solid impression as Charlie Wilson and his secretaries are definitely good looking my favorite character is CIA agent Gust Avrakotos who is played by Philip Seymour Hoffman. In the end the portrayal of Charlie Wilson's actions and the results in Afghanistan are simply too shallow to have a lasting impact. Yes, the movie allows for a quick glance at the inner workings of how things came to be but these days I simply expect a broader and more differentiated perspective of things. You can watch it, but it's definitely not a must-see.

"The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford"

Apart from deserving an Oscar for having one of the longest titles I found this western to be pretty darn good even though I'm not the biggest fan of the middle of the movie. The first and especially the last hour are absolutely amazing but there are about 40min somewhere in the middle where the movie is simply stretched too thinly and ends up being too long. The acting, especially by Brad Pitt (Jesse James) and Casey Affleck (Robert Ford) is outstanding and the quiet and long scenes really add a lot to the atmosphere. The movie is also quite stylized in some regards, especially when it comes to depicting violence. All in all certainly well recommended if you like westerns and/or enjoy a dense and epic struggle between two exceptionally well portrayed characters.

"Batman Begins"

I have to admit something, I hadn't seen Batman Begins up to now. I know, I know, there's no real excuse for that but now I'm glad I finally managed to watch the movie. I actually did it in anticipation of the release of "The Dark Knight" because after seeing that outstanding trailer [YouTube link] I know I have to see it once it hits the cinemas. Again with Batman Begins having been directed by Christopher Nolan, Gothan City being the prototype of a 'seedy', dark and atmospheric city (Sin City anyone?) and featuring Christian Bale and Michael Caine there's nothing that can really go wrong here. Even though the movie is nearly as long as "The Assassination of Jesse James" it never felt thinly stretched. In fact it's quite the opposite, all the 140min are dense and exciting and I wouldn't want to cut a minute of it.

"The Band's Visit"

This one is definitely the least well known movie on this list. The setting is quite simple: an Egyptian police band goes to Israel for a concert but ends up in the wrong city. There they meet some locals who help them out and thanks to one woman the members of the band are able to stay at various homes around the city while they wait for their bus to arrive the next morning. The individual members of the band and also the Israeli locals are all extremely interesting and different characters. Much of the communication in the film happens via facial expressions, small gestures and the lack of spoken words. The fact that the movie comes in a mixture of English, Hebrew and Arabic (with English subtitles) really adds to the atmosphere and realism. While the beginning focuses on the strange setting the story slowly develops to show the similarities between people who at first glance seemed to be so different. Some might go as far as saying that it's a romanticized and idealized notion of intercultural understanding and while that may be true I really liked the fact that the film focuses on the small steps towards each other that happen on a personal level. The movie might not be for everyone but I liked it a lot.

The next movie up my to-be-watched list is "Tropa de Elite" which won the Berlinale last Saturday. Seeing the first comments about the film and the fact that the co-writer is also behind the excellent "Cidade de Deus" / "City of God" I'm pretty certain that I'm going to like it. I actually wanted to watch the movie the other night but as it was quite late already I settled for "The Band's Visit" which was shorter.

Other films I hope to see in the near future include "Into The Wild", "No Country for Old Men", "Persepolis", "Cloverfield" and "Sweeney Todd".

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