Adaptation * Spike Jonze * 2002

A film from almost exactly the same crew as “Being John Malkovich” (BJM), which says a lot, doesn’t it? But, if you haven’t seen BJM, I suggest you see it before you do this one. There is one big difference between the two films. Whereas you best know as little as possible about BJM before you see it, with “Adaptation” it is very helpfull to have some background information. The ingenious script for BJM film has been written by Charlie Kaufman. He wasn’t the first choice for, but for this very reason he was asked for a strange Holywood project. There happened to be a book about orchids written by Susan Orlean. However it isn’t exactly an easy popularly-written book, it was a bestseller in the USA and as it goes with bestsellers, the rights to make a film of it were bought by some bobo. Several scenerists have clutched their brains over the question how to make a film about orchids that people would go and see. Nobody succeeded, so Charlie Kaufman got the job. He pondered and thought but couldn’t come up with anything, so in the end he decided to write a script about him trying to write a script for a movey. Instead of looking in Malkovich’s head you get a peek into Kaufman’s own head. The film is partly ‘biographical’/true, partly not. Nicholas Cage for example plays both Charlie Kaufman and his twin brother Donald, but Kaufman doesn’t have a brother in reality. Susan Orlean is played by Meryl Streep who falls in love with the orchid-hunter John Laroche (Chris Cooper), but if I understand correctly, this is added to make the story a bit more interesting. Just as the thrillerish end by the way. Further you can see some of the filming of BJM in the film with Malkovich and some of the actors (including Spike Jonze himself). The title of the film refers to the evolution-theory of Charles Darwin (plants adapt to their new environment in this case) and the adaptation of the book that had to be filmed.
And the result? Well, “Adaptation” is a nice film, but definately no “Being John Malkovich”.
At the same time in the cinemas is another story of Charlie Kaufman being “Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind” (first film directed by George Clooney!) which I hope to see some time soon too. <3>

Abre Los Ojos * Alejandro Amenábar (1997)

I saw this wonderfull film in the cinema when it still played and later I also saw the American version (“Vanilla Sky”) in the cinema. “Open Your Eyes” by Amenábar (“Tesis”, “The Others”, etc.) was one of the earlier films with the ‘what is true, what is dream’ theme and is here centered around a cryonics project. It is well-done, fairly surprising if you haven’t seen (or heard about) it and especially Penélope Cruz is a feast for the eyes.

The 51st State * Ronny Yu * 2001

Well another action/crime/comedy in the vein of “Snatch”, “Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels”, “Traffic” or “Pulp Fiction”. This time by a Tai director who previously made Tai karate action films.

“The 51st State” is about the American chemist and drug producer Elmo McElroy (Samuel L. Jackson) who made the perfect new drug and he wants to sell his formula for a high price to be able to get out of the business. In the USA he literally blows the deal with the corrupt police agent The Lizard (Meat Loaf) and he seeks his salvation in Liverpool, England. There McElroy is picked up by the supercool Felix DeSouza (Robert Carlyle) and his driver. Being chased by DeSouzas ex-girlfriend Dakota (Emily Mortimer) also this deal gets blown and McElroy has to go find a new buyer together with DeSouza.

The film starts with a totally hip combination of fast images and heavy music. There are also more ‘tranquil’ parts in the film and all through there is a cynical kind of humour combining both British (anti-American) and American (anti-British) jokes. A lot of ‘bad language’ is used to make things totally hilarious. Some pretty good jokes, unexpected changes in the story (not too unexpected though) and quite a lot of action make this film pretty nice. Here and there a bit unbelievable and overall not brilliant, but good entertainment.

24 Hour Party People * Michael Winterbottom * 2002

I had wanted to see this film for a long time, but when I read in the anouncement of the TV-broadcasting that the Sex Pistols are part of the story, I wondered why I never watched this film before. Not that I am a big Sex Pistol fan, but I like films about the 70’s (music) scene, such as “Boogie Nights” or “Almost Famous”. “24 Hour Party People” is even more ‘educational’ than I expected. After the first concert of the Sex Pistols Tony Wilson decided that he wanted to form a plane for independant music. First he gets a show about punk music on a regional TV channel, later he opens the club “The Factory” to organise shows and after that he founds “Factory Records”. There isn’t too much punk in this film, because soon Wilson discovers the genre ‘postpunk’ (later ‘(new) wave’ or ‘gothic’). Quite a large part of the film is dedicated to Joy Division, the controversy about their name and the suicide of the lead singer. In their early days, there wasn’t much of ‘a gothic look’, but later there was. Obviously the genre developed into a scene. After the suicide of Ian Curtis, the band continues under the name New Order.
Wilson doesn’t just sign wave bands though, because he also discovers the Happy Mondays and some avantgardistic bands that I don’t even know. The greatest thing to see is what happens around the person a Wilson, a music lover not interested in genres. He releases punk, wave, indie/avantgarde, funk and eventually he opens a club where ‘the rave scene’ was born, the earliest signs of life of house music, where the attention didn’t go to the creators of the music, but to the medium, the DJ. Touched upon are the problems with drugs, gangs and the like.

I don’t know how historical the story is, but I read somewhere on the internet that the story is very one-sided and focussed too much on the person of Wilson. I suppose that is true, but still the film gives a wonderfull view on the happenings of the Manchester scene of that time.Personally I was delighted to see how different kinds of music and scenes run through and follow up eachother.

Also the film itself is very well done. Most of the time you get the idea that you are ‘part of’ the time the film is about, but the main character frequently makes it clear that the film was shot recently, by saying what will happen in the film, who plays what character, giving comments on what happens, etc. The humour is British and extremely dry, I like that! The film is educational in a way, enjoyable and a great watch. Now I need to see “Velvet Goldmine” (1998) some time soon too!

24 (series 3) * Robert Cochran & Joel Sunrow * 2004

The problem with series that run well is that they keep coming up with sequals, so here we have “day 3” of the 24 series. Of course again 18 hours of tv spread over 24 episodes in total dealing with one day this time from 1 to 1 pm. Also the rest is mostly the same.

For a large part you will know the characters from the previous series. We have of course Jack Bauer and his daughter Kim, president palmer, the people at CTU, etc. This time Bauer tries to stop a virus falling into the wrong hands. Especially the first half of the series are (I think) stuffed with ilogical, inconsistent and especially incredible parts in the story. Of course the threat is personal to Bauer again, he doesn’t play by the book, but it all is a bit too much. Not that it all isn’t entertaining though, but halfway I was of the opinion that this was again downhill from the original idea. Yet, just as before, there is a high speed in the series, the tension is high and you keep wondering what the picture is. Halfway things get better. Still ilogical, inconsistent and incredible elements (in particular to the ‘real time’ concept), but the ‘atmosphere’ of the series becomes superb. However I really didn’t watch the hole series in one sit (usually 3 episodes on one night), I really ‘came into’ the series and its characters. There is one episode in which the general audience gets suicide pills and Jack Bauer had to execute a colleague. Pretty heavy stuff. Other scenes are really high tension. Both things I hadn’t experienced in the previous series, however I can imagine that this isn’t the same for anyone.

In any case. When you have the DVD box and can decide for yourself when to watch it (and not have to be in front of the tv at a specific time for 24 times), these series are good entertainment. I still think series one is the best, of course mostly because of the entirely new concept, series two is good and series three is good too, but just regarding acting and atmosphere, the second half of these series three are by far the best.

So, this may promise to series four that are already on tv in the USA……..

24 (series 2) * Robert Cochran & Joel Sunrow * 2002

Another review that required 18 hours of watching. The second series of 24 are again good, but not quite as surprising as the first series. Better this time is that the speed of the events is much higher, but this kind of let to the fact that the logic and fitting-the-concept had to be kept in a little lower degree. This time a nuclear bomb is going to be set off by terrorists in LA and of course Jack Bauer is the one to prevent this. Like I said, the logic and credibility are not always guarenteed and in particular the story of daughter Kim is roundout irritating this time. Still the series are interesting enough to keep the attention for 18 hours. Some unexpected changes and the tenstion is well-done.

Series 3 are already playing in the USA, but it will take some time before I will see them on DVD I guess.

24 (series) * Robert Cochran & Joel Sunrow * 2001

Launced with a lot of publicity, these series. They were supposed to be some of the most thriller and addictive series. I watched the first episode and decided that 24 weeks of having to following one series was a bit too long. But then the thing was released on DVD and stories about people who watched the whole series in one sit start to rise. DVD is of course a lot handier than having to be in front of your TV at set times, so I decided to go for it as well (with a borrowed 6-cd-DVD-box).

The series are said to be filmed in ‘real time’, so one hour is one hour. Therefor you have 24 episodes for one day from 00:00 to 00:00. In fact, one episode is 40 minutes, so the total time is 16 hours. I suppose the other 8 hours are for commercials. Also you get a ‘previously’ before every episode and the same introduction (which you can’t skip by jumping to the next title!).

16 Hours of TV is too much to say much about in detail. The bottom line is that there is a murder attempt on the first black candidate for the American presidency that makes a good chance. A special anti-terrorist division of the government is assigned to protect Palmer, and the main character Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) is in charge of the operation. It proves that the goal of the terrorists is not just to kill Palmer, but also to ruin Bauer’s family. Of course the series had to be kept interesting for 24 episodes and they sure did their utmost to! Every episode is loaded with info, new clues and turns of the plot. A bit too much the makers tried to make you have to guess who is the bad guy, what is going on etc.

All in all a nice series, but very American and not exactly brilliant.

Right now series 2 (“day 2”) is being shown on different channels and apparently also already on DVD. The future will tell if I will see that one too.

21 Grams * Alejandro González Iñárritu * 2003

The title refers to the weight a person looses at the time of death. What weighs 21 grams? The soul? The last breath? Memories? The burden of life? This question is not answered in the film, but asked all the way back at the end. “21 Grams” is a film about death. It is cut in the vein of “Magnolia”, meaning: short scenes from different stories are shuffled through eachother and shown either or not chronologically. Of course eventually the different lines come together and the story becomes clear.
A woman (Naomi Watts) looses her husband and two little daughters in a caraccident, after which she is followed by Sean Penn. Then there is the story of the man who drove over Watt’s family. The story is very dramatic and the film addresses a few serious questions of life, but the director managed to make a not too heavy film of it. This is done fairly well and the film is a nice watch.

The 13th Warrior * John McTiernan * 1999

This is indeed a very old film and -like myself- you have probably seen it a few times already, but just in case you don’t or you want a litle bit of background information…
The director of the “Die Hard” films has made a film about Vikings. This is interesting in a way, especially now that this whole Germanic history has had my interest for a while. On the other hand, when you know ‘too much’ about the subject, the story of this film has a few definate flaws.
The film is about a Muslim pain-in-the-ass who is send to the Northern parts of Europe to be ambassador. Early in his trip he runs into a group of “Norsemen” who apparently sailed the rivers of the Baltic area scaring the local peoples. This IS possible, because the Vikings came as far as the Black Sea. Somehow the ship of Vikings hear that a small tribe somewhere in Scandinavia needs their help. A weird woman (probably meant to be a wise woman or “Völva”) says that 13 warriors have to go to help the tribe in need and the 13th warrior cannot be a Norseman. So the Arab travels with the Vikings. During the trip the Arab speaks English and the Norsemen Swedish (I think), but by listening “Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan Ibn Al Abbas Ibn Rashid Ibn Hamad” learns Swedish and from then everybody speaks English (to the viewer of course). The small community is terrorised a ghost-like warriors which they call “Wendol”. I don’t know where these “eaters of the dead” are supposed to go back to, but they are fashioned after the famous “Berzerkrs” of the Nothern mythology. The Wendol are black, inhuman (ghostly) and dress in boar skins. Their ‘symbol’/goddess is a head- and limbless statue of a fat woman, much like the Kostienko or Willendorf statues, but without a head. The two statues that I name are some 23000 years old and were found in Russia and Austria and they probably represent mother earth or at least fertility. The Wendol worship their goddess in a cave and with the aid of a priestess. The heads of the people they killed are offered to the goddess. This headhunting is (as far as I know) more something of the far East. You can see, the film is a bit of a mishmash of elements. Better are the Viking honour elements. Ahmed is surprised to hear how his Viking friends think about life/fate (everything is predisposed), death (death in battle a crown to life), honour, comradship and the like. These parts give a nice view on the Viking way of life and make the film worth to watch. It is handy to know what is ‘no-so-Viking’, so here you have a few of my thoughts.

8 Femmes * François Ozon * 2002

I have been told several times to see this film, but it took a long time before I did. Not really my kind of film though, comedy. Furthermore, it is half a musical! Eight women are in one house and the only man is dead. Then you get a whole film in which the women try to find out who of them could have done it. A few nice jokes, funny characters, but overall not too great.