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The Fountain * Darren Aronofsky (2006)

The FountainI only recently heard about this film and I put it high on my wishlist. Having seen Aronofsky’s latest film “The Wrestler“, I figured I best just get it from the DVD rental to see what Aronofsky has come up with this time.
“The Fountain” opens superbly with a very vague meditative scene. The rest of the film is very dreamlike with ‘different worlds’ alternating and this reminds a bit Del Toro fantasy like “El Laberinto Del Fauno“. The atmosphere is great, but the film becomes quite sad towards the end. Aronofsky had ones more made a magnificent film very different from his other films. Here we have one for people who like the earlier mentioned director Del Toro and also for people who like mystery/myth films since “The Fountain” also has Mayan myth with a Christian sauce, but also Eastern elements and modern science.
That is the fourth sublime film, Aronofsky is definately one of my favourite directors.

Hellboy II: the golden army * Guillermo del Toro * 2008

The trailers we got before Batman included one that at first sight looked like a preview of The Mummy 26. Quite soon “Red” was shown and then a whole range of Del Toro creatures looking as amazing as those in El Laberinto Del Fauno, so I realised that this was a trailer of a sequel to Hellboy. I have no idea why the first Hellboy, “Pan’s Labyrinth” and Hellboy II are so popular/hyped, since this is quite unusual for good films. Del Toro doesn’t make the easiest movies either with his (semi-)political stories and scenes (especially in El Laberinto), but of course the superhero-movies did well this summer and Hellboy is a magnificent example of the genre, mixed with over-the-top fantasy and humour and magnificent costumes, stages and special-effects. Inspite of the hype, only a few weeks after the premiere, it is already hard to see this film on the big screen, so we went at the impossible time of 17.00 (or 5 pm for American readers).
Hellboy II is quite like the first one. It has great humour, fantastic scenes, superb creatures (more so than in the first Hellboy on this part), but also a bit too cheesy drama. Ups and downs, with more ups than downs, so definately a good watch. The trailer suggested that this is really a film for the big screen, but in the end, I don’t think you need to see it in the cinema. The scenes in the troll market and that creature in the cave look amazing on the big screen, but overall it is not as overwhelming as El Laberinto.
Story-wise the film comes close after the first. Red and Liz have their first arguments and the group is almost the same as in the first Hellboy. A great new addition comes in the form of Johann Krauss.
Conclusion: Hellboy II as good as I, not really better (except for the weird creatures), but definately not worse.

Batman Begins * Christopher Nolan (2005)

When I said that I had been to “The Dark Knight” a friend lend me “Batman Begins”. It seems that Nolan plans for a trilogy giving the complete story of Batman, so in a way these series stand loose from previous Batman films, or perhaps the trilogy completes them. As the title suggest, this film shows how Bruce Wayne became Batman. We see his youth, parents, where he was trained, where he gets his gadgets, etc. Not very interesting in my opinion. If you want to portray a superhero, portray a superhero, don’t reduce him to a normal person. The film is not boring, but the first part is not too exciting either. Just as in “The Dark Knight”, there are some ‘yea, right – moments’, but there is also some nice action.
I think I might watch the old Batman films some time, I think that will be more of my liking than this.

The Dark Knight * Christopher Nolan * 2008

The Dark KnightIt is not like I am a bit Batman fan, in fact, I probably saw only one of them and I don’t think that it was the Tim Burton one (which I have to see if it were only for the director). But, we wanted to go to the cinema and this film was the only ‘possibly’ at a time that was still possible. The film just premiered this week in the Netherlands, so I was surprised it was not sold out. Inspite of what Christian Bale (who plays Batman) says, this is just another action film. Not a bad one though. I don’t know if the same goes for the other films, but there is quite a lot of attention for the privat life of Bruce Wane who is pictured as ‘just human’. Contrary to what you often hear, I think there is not too much focus on The Joker, whose person is less worked out than that of Batman and a few other characters in the film. The Joker -by the way- looks quite a bit like The Crow in the first film. A strange idea that both actors didn’t live to see their films premiere. Anyway, I won’t have to say much about the story, since it’s probably the same as that of every other Batman film. The Joker makes manace, Wane Bruce is a rich civilian who with the help of some technicians fights crime in Gotham City and of course he faces The Joker. This all results in a moder action film spectacle with a lot of special effects, but unfortunatly the spectacle seems to have come before credibility for Nolan. The film is very entertaining, but has a bit too many “yeah right” moments. The stages, camera work and especially the acting of Heath Ledger (yes it is true) are very good and the big screen adds something to the extreme heights that Batman likes to conquer, so I was not disappointed about this Hollywood blockbuster.

The Deaths Of Ian Stone * Dario Piana * 2007

Ian StoneYesterday I had about 30 seconds to choose two films for this weekend and that in a ‘normal’ video rental (not the arthouse specialised rental that I usually go to). This is the first one. “The Deaths Of Ian Stone”, a promising title, the story on the cover seemed interesting. The film starts very nicely as a dark and grim mystery / thriller / horror; good atmosphere; perhaps a little too ‘teenagy’. The main character has a weird habbit of dying and waking up again. About halfway it becomes a bit too clear why and the film slides towards a more fantasy-like film with some not too strong elements, storyline, credibility and even acting. Some gruesome scenes remain, so I guess in total this film can be labeled as “horror”. The story is quite original and come up with nicely, but could (should) have been worked out a little better. So, after a very promising start, this film suffers a bit from the last part. Not bad at all and an interesting watch though.

La Cité Des Enfants Perdus * Jean-Pierre Jeunet * 1995

City Of Lost ChildrenIt had been far too many years that I saw this film and then I run into it for only 9 euros. Apparently I saw this film before I started making filmreviews. “City Of Lost Children” is just as the brilliant “Delicatessen” a cooperation between Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. This film is in many ways quite alike “Delicatessen”, it has the same absurd characters, scenery and story and that weird sense of humour. “City Of Lost Children” isn’t as funny as “Delicatessen” though. The story is about an imaginary (future?) city in which children are abducted because some scientist cannot dream. If you know “Delicatessen” you will recognise several actors, the dark atmosphere and the great sense of humour. If you do not know “Delicatessen”, this film is hard to describe; dark, funny, absurd and pretty damn good. I hope that helps!

Gormenghast (series) * Andy Wilson * 2000

Many years ago I fell into these series when they were broadcasted by the BBC. I believe that I joined with the second episode. I loved the elaborate stages and costumes, the weird atmosphere and characters and that fictional historical twist. Around that time I was in the UK and saw Gormenghast goodies of all kinds, so I asumed that it was a big thing over there and would probably become here too, so the series would most likely be picked up by a Dutch station. Not so! Some years in wait for a repeat on the BBC also proved to be vein, so for all these years I had these series in mind, hoping to run into them on DVD some time. Every once in a while I checked if the series were available on DVD, found out that “Gormenghast” is actually a pretty popular series of three books (that are available in Dutch), but no DVD. When in New York a couple of weeks ago, we were in the Virgin Megastore, I checked for Gormenghast and finally I found it! Not cheap, but who cares with this Dollar/Euro-rate? Seeing the series again after seven years, I remember quite a few things from them, but I also forgot a lot. Gormenghast remains a magnificent and expensive BBC production with outrageous visuals and a nice atmosphere, but it doesn’t blow me away like it did when I first saw it. I guess the many years of waiting have risen my expectations a bit too much. In any case, Gormenghast is about a castle complex with a crazy queen and a more even crazy staff leading it. One low-life boy works himself up on the ladder and starts to sabotage the system. This results in the most amusing scenes, oddest dialogues and weirdest situations, making Gormenghast a pleasure to watch. Four episodes of about an hour to enjoy (I thought there were more…). The DVDs are not too easy to get. You will have to order them from the US or UK or find some import shop. I haven’t found any non-English versions (with subtitles for example), but I’m glad that I was finally able to watch these series again.
For those who know the books I have to add that the series are based on only the first two books (from 1946 and 1950) of three (five were planned) and that Steerpike has been promoted to main character instead of Titus. From the Wikipedia summery of the books, it seems that the series are further based on them only losely.

La Antena * Esteban Sapir * 2007

Earlier this year we were at the Fantasy Film Fest in Germany. Before the second film that we saw started, there was a trailer of “La Antena”. I immediately loved the weird black and white filming, strange atmosphere and odd music, so I decided that I had to see the film. It took me a while before I found out which film it was (I only remembered “Antena” and didn’t know the director) and a friend told me that the film would be on DVD in September. Last week I had to think about the film, started to search the web, noticed that the film actually premiered at the Fantasy Film Fest and opened the Rotterdam Film Festival and that it is available on DVD only in Germany. So that means a Spanish film with German subtitles or German overdub… Fortunately “La Antena” is mostly a silent film.
In fictitious sci-fi 1950’ies a nameless city is ruled by a mr. TV and his staff. They took away the peoples voices as one of the means of control, of course a few people start to rebel. “La Antena” brilliantly used a 50’ies way of filming and a 50’ies atmosphere together with great visual jokes mostly around the text that people speak now in text on the screen. The film reminds me a bit of “Sin City”, but also a bit of “Dark City” and sometimes a flinch of “Delikatessen” or “Les Triplettes De Belville”, but “La Antena” is very different from all of them. There is a beautiful high-contrast black and white stage, you will see the weirdest characters and costumes and nicely fitting music. There are two people in the film that can speak and of course I now had a Spanish and German film (subtitles for written spoken words), so you may have to wait for a version in English or your own language, but the film surely is a spectacle that you have to see sooner or later. Very original and well-done.

Tideland * Terry Gilliam * 2005

Gilliam may be best known for having been part of Monty Python, but as a film director he has a varried CV; “Brazil”, “Baron van Munchausen”, “Twelve Monkies”, just to name a few titles. With “Tideland” Gilliam has made a fantasy drama. The 12 year old Jodelle Ferland carries the entire film (and she has an impressive list of films on her name already) as a young girl who is dependent all on her own with her shit-for-brains parents. She flees into a fantasy world, but the real world is as weird are her fantasies. This may sound like a children’s film, but it definately is not! The story is harsch, some scenes close to shocking and the characters offensive. The film is shot on great locations, but there isn’t too much to the story. The film is nice, but nothing really special. Nice to see some time though.

El Laberinto Del Fauno * Guillermo Del Toro * 2006

The highly aclaimed Spanish film of the director of “Hellboy” and a whole series of films that I have not yet seen. It seems that most (if not all) of Del Toro’s film have a ‘political’ undertone in which the nazis represent the bad guys and the ‘reds’ the good side, the same goes for this film. “El Laberinto” is a strange film. There are actually two films in one and in both cases a war between good and evil. There is the ‘real world’ in which a group of nazi-like people try to free the country of ‘reds’ and there is the fantasy world in which a little girl has to undertake a few tests in order to regain her throne. “El Laberinto” goes from fairyish fantasy for little children to dark fantasy-horror in the fantasy part to very explictly violent parts in the ‘real world’. The film is definately not for little children, not even for people with a weak stomach! The fantasy part shows a spiritual quest, the other a more political one. The dreamlike scenes are indeed awsome. Magnificent costumes, great stages and weird characters. I don’t really understand the ‘real world’ part, but I guess the director really wanted to have a political twist to the film. “El Laberinto Del Fauno”, I also fail to see the international title “Pan’s Labyrinth”. The faun may look a bit like Pan (but a faun is supposed to have horns and goat hoofs), but he introduces himself as “a faun”. Pan is by far no faun and the director agrees that the two cannot be equated. A silly mistake of the distributors I suppose.
In any case, the film is nice, the fantasy parts are wonderfull, but I prefer “Hellboy” as ‘total concept’.