Freitag, 21. Dezember 2012

Silver Linings Playbook

David O. Russell's "Silver Linings Playbook" is a surprisingly mainstream romantic comedy, albeit with a compelling kinetic energy coursing through the entire picture owing to the strong direction and some impressive work by the cinematography and editing teams.

Bradley Cooper is winsome and involving as the neurotic hero Pat while Jennifer Lawrence, who created a hurt and calloused shell for the young, damaged Tiffany with a sense of craving, fragility and fury burning right beneath the surface, is just all kinds of wonderful.

Montag, 10. Dezember 2012

Dans la maison (In the House)

François Ozon's "Dans la maison (In the House)" has a beautifully layered and devilishly clever script that, some occasional over-the-top missteps and a rather faint ending aside, deftly plays with the line between fiction/reality and explores the seductive power of manipulation.

The French auteur's direction further toys with audience perception by injecting unexpected shots of theatricality into the picture and blends the absurd with the truly hair-raising to good effect. Young star Ernst Umhauer delivers a charismatic turn as the cunning pupil with a voyeuristic urge bordering on destructive obsession.

Donnerstag, 29. November 2012

Life of Pi

I still remember the moment I turned the final page of Yann Martel's "Life of Pi".

It was a weekend morning in 2003, I was in my dorm room in Hualien, Taiwan, for military service. The days were long and the idle Pacific breeze never far from touch. Out of nowhere came this Canadian author's fantastical tale about an Indian boy and a tiger, and when its last sentence fell, it shook me to the bone.

Nearly a decade later, one of my favorite works of fiction finally made its way to the big screen. Thanks to the uncommonly beautiful images captured by Claudio Miranda, the haunting and emotionally eloquent music scored by Mychael Danna, the seamless visual effects created by a team of thousands and an able cast anchored by the majestic tranquility of Irrfan Khan, this seemingly impossible leap was achieved in front of our eyes, and it was magical.

Faithful as the adaptation is to the original, it also inherited the book's weaknesses, evidenced by some glitches in editing. But as a fan of Martel's work, especially his take on the power of storytelling and the essence of faith, there's really nothing more you can ask for than the vision and craft of an assured and soulful filmmaker as amply displayed in this movie. For that, thank you, Ang Lee.

Montag, 26. November 2012

De rouilles et d'os (Rust and Bone)

The rawness, immediacy and blunt force from Jacques Audiard's previous effort "Un prophète (A Prophet)" are still palpable in "De rouilles et d'os (Rust and Bone)", but here the director applies much more subdued, softly expressive lensing to create a savage lyricism in his frames and allow the vulnerability of the characters to shine through.

The two leads, Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts, both playing scarred souls with physical wounds, gave superb performances that bare and dare with uncompromising honesty. It's just too bad the film lacks an overriding narrative punch to bring it all home in the end.

Mittwoch, 21. November 2012

In Another Country

Some scenes in Korean director Hong Sang-soo's "In Another Country" fall flat on a curious artificiality from a stiffness in dialogue, but for the most part, it's a wonderfully organic comedy about cultural clashes based once again on the filmmaker's winning formula of repetition and variations, whereby the follies of life get revealed in a puzzling, dazzling structure.

The deceptively simple story is sprinkled with delightful, observant details, and Isabelle Huppert, as magnificent as always, has seldom been so playful and loose on the big screen, it's a joy to watch.

Samstag, 17. November 2012

Cloud Atlas

It takes a while to get into the rhythm of the truncated, seemingly random narrative structure of The Wachowskis & Tom Tykwer’s “Cloud Atlas”, but what a bliss when you settle into the audacious filmmakers' sprawling vision carried by top-notch production values, an ensemble cast made to feel even more enormous by its versatility, and above all that timeless sigh reverberating down a thousand years of human consciousness, longing, brutality and salvation.

Freewheeling, genre-hopping, more faint echos of one another than inherently connected in any way, some people may find trouble with the amount of storylines in this gigantic sci-fi extravaganza- and it does get trying now and then- but in its best moments, all the intercutting threads fall into place like notes in a symphony with fluidity, urgency and transcendent harmony to convey something that, all elusiveness aside, feels big, true and defining, which is what makes this movie an epic in every sense of the word.

Samstag, 3. November 2012

Oh Boy

Writer/director Jan Ole Gerster's feature film debut "Oh Boy", about a young guy's 24-hour odyssey through Berlin, is as featherlight and unassuming as they come, but it captures some of those impossibly real and indefinably tragicomic moments in life with aplomb, ponders the glory and disrepair of the great German capital with striking b/w pictures, gathers wonderfully varied performances from a supporting cast surrounding the luminous Tom Schilling, and caps it all off with a laid-back, jazzy soundtrack that's loveliness itself.

It's authentic, funny, surprisingly tender and irresistibly cool. Oh boy, I adore this movie.

Mittwoch, 31. Oktober 2012


Despite some effects shots that could be done better and a final act that, for all its explosiveness and Shakespearean grandeur, feels strangely out of place and anticlimatic, Sam Mendes' "Skyfall" delivers everything you can ask for in a James Bond film: brilliant action sequences staged against the backdrop of exotic, awe-inspiring locations, a cinematography and editing team that works wonders keeping things sharp and brisk without getting jumpy, and that marvelous whiff of quintessential 007 charm.

Acting-wise: Javier Bardem, equal parts flamboyant and creepy, is positively diva-licious, while Judi Dench rules the screen once again as the queen bee of British secret intelligence, her snarky one-liners are priceless.

Mittwoch, 12. September 2012

Amour x2

Saw "Amour" a second time within 24 hours and picked up even more tonal nuances in Michael Haneke's intricate screenplay as well as heartbreaking details in Emmanuelle Riva's impeccable performance as the dying piano teacher.

Modest in scope but grand in emotional repercussions, this movie is like a piece of chamber music, intimate and neat, all the while destined to end quietly on the saddest note.


Love is put to the ultimate test in Michael Haneke's pristine and powerful "Amour".

While the depiction of old age with all the predicaments and indignities that come with it might seem exploitative and mean, in the end, this movie is about love in its most violent forms and under the most precarious circumstances, which is what makes this Palme d'Or winner so frighteningly human.

Sonntag, 26. August 2012

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Benh Zeitlin's "Beasts of the Southern Wild" is vibrant, soulful, magnificently raw and worthy of all the superlatives splashed across its poster.

6-yeal-old lead actress Quvenzhané Wallis radiates childlike wonder while embodying strength, courage and vulnerability. A revelation.

Freitag, 4. Mai 2012


Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos' "Alps" feels more fragmented and (sometimes intentionally) wooden than "Dogtooth", but its story of identity and performance is every bit as morbid and gripping as that of his astonishing last feature.

Once you can get past the rather artificial construct of the plot, the questions it raises about the authenticity of human behavior and the substitution of emotions are just fascinating to ponder.

Sonntag, 18. März 2012


Nina Hoss, with her regal stature and icy stares, infuses the titular character in Christian Petzold's "Barbara" with quiet fury, fierce intelligence and a slow-burning sensuality that combine to convey a sense of repression and longing that's breathtakingly German. While the movie might be a little too detached for its own good, the performance carries it with conviction and ultimately pulls at your heartstrings in spite of itself.

Samstag, 10. März 2012

Martha Marcy May Marlene

Despite some believability issues, "Martha Marcy May Marlene" is an exceptionally directed and acted psychological thriller about a girl cracking under the weight of two worlds. First-time director Sean Durkin has an assured sense of style and an uncanny grasp of dread reminiscent of Michael Haneke, which he put to good use to create an acutely unsettling atmosphere for the film and some moments of spine-tingling scares.

Montag, 20. Februar 2012


Recalling in many ways Almodóvar and his visceral style of filmmaking, Portugese director Miguel Gomes' "Tabu", a tale of forbidden love buried deep in the crocodile swamps of Africa, is structurally dazzling, narratively rich (if a little too densely written) and aesthetically bold. Black-and-white throughout and silent in places, this movie deftly plays with the audience's senses as it revives wild emotions and circumstances of its characters. Although some overall fine-tuning might be needed, it is unquestionably the most stylish, passionate, hypnotic movie I saw at this year's Berlinale.

Samstag, 18. Februar 2012

Berlinale: Gnade (Mercy) / Was bleibt (Home for the Weekend)

Two German competition titles, "Gnade (Mercy)" & "Was bleibt (Home for the Weekend)", both tried to say too much and ended up telling too little. The former packed guilt, angst and all kinds of moral hocus-pocus into a feeble storyline which crumbles under the weight of the (not too subtle) allegories. It's to the director and the technical department's credit that through terse pacing and lensing of the beautiful polar icescape audience interest could be sustained throughout. The latter, about a family in crisis, was elevated from conventional melodramas mainly by its outstanding cast, which exudes all the compatibility and potential for damage between family members. The final act in the woods, with its dreamlike quality and room for interpretation, is a nice touch.

Freitag, 17. Februar 2012

Berlinale: 白鹿原 (White Deer Plain) / Love

Historical, political context not readily accessible to the general public and a curiously thin plot with no driving theme dragged down the epic 3-hour+ family saga "白鹿原 (White Deer Plain)", set in rural China after the end of its imperial era. But the exquisite art direction and the gorgeously lit, framed, color-saturated images are pure marvels to behold; the script for the Taiwanese ensemble romantic comedy "Love" can't scratch beneath the surface of urban relationships with their modern complexities, but when the surface is decked out with such dreamy sets and extremely pretty people falling in and out of love with one another while cracking jokes, fun is to be had.

Mittwoch, 15. Februar 2012

Berlinale: Captive / Keyhole

Brillante Mendoza's "Captive" chronicles the travails of an international group of hostages in the Filipino jungles over the course of one year. Its true-to-life, semi-documentary-style depiction made the eventful story somewhat tedious, but both Mendoza's uncompromising approach and lead actress Isabelle Huppert's volcanic performance are forces to be reckoned with; Canadian director Guy Maddin's "Keyhole" is 90 torturous minutes of feverish black-and-white pictures, jarring music and an utterly logic-free storyline featuring a bike-pedaled electric chair, a naked old man chained to a bed and Isabella Rossellini. Even for an insane mind, this is some twisted, tripped-up dream.

Samstag, 11. Februar 2012

Berlinale: Iron Sky

Just got back from the world premiere of Finnish director Timo Vuorensola's "Iron Sky", a sci-fi comedy about Nazis hiding on the dark side of the moon waging an interplanetary war on Earth. There are a lot of deceptively simple yet brilliant ideas in the script, not all of which could be effectively executed due to the apparent budget constraints, but the numerous LOL moments still got the crowd go wild. The director shows good command of rhythm and builds despite the rough editing a clear structure for this madhouse of a story. Quite a fun and worthy ride.

Freitag, 10. Februar 2012

Berlinale: Electrick Children

Just caught the world premiere of "Electrick Children", a movie about a Mormon girl in search of the mysterious voice on a tape that (she believes) got her pregnant. Often funny, at times suspenseful, always heartfelt and emotionally engaging, it observes the clash of two worlds through the eyes of a 15-year-old who's just been forced to ask questions and doubt everything she's ever known. The script is insightful and highly original, the young cast superb, all in all this marks a splendid debut from writer/director Rebecca Thomas.

Donnerstag, 9. Februar 2012


Steve McQueen's "Shame" is a gritty, provocative drama about sex addiction and the havoc it wreaks. While boasting savage but finely tuned performances from Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan and featuring some powerfully realized scenes (the lively and brilliantly revealing dinner date, the panicky ménage à trois), the script ultimately didn't manage to dig past anger, frustration and desperation to find something even darker and more consuming, namely, shame.

Sonntag, 1. Januar 2012

My Top 10 Movies of 2011

Honorable Mentions (cinematic highlights from movies that did NOT make it to the top of my list):

The cinematography of "Pina" / "星空 (Starry Starry Night)"
The opening sequence of "Melancholia"
The production design of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II" / "武俠 (Wu Xia)"

The film music of "Drive" / "La piel que habito" / "La Guerre est déclarée"
The costume design of "Anonymous"
The action sequences "train wreck" in "Super 8" / "forest chase" in "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows" / "battle at Mahebo" in "賽德克‧巴萊- 彩虹橋 (Seediq Bale: Part 2)"

The on-screen duo/couple Brad Pitt & Jonah Hill in "Moneyball" / 竇驍 & 周冬雨 in "山楂樹之戀 (Under the Hawthorn Tree)"
The ensemble cast of "The Help"
The musical numbers "Express" in "Burlesque" / "Alle kinder dieser Erde" in "Männerherzen"

Runner-ups (all-around solid movies just missing my top 10), in alphabetical order:

1. "The Adventures of Tintin"
2. "Contagion"
3. "Drei"
4. "Fish Tank"
5. "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"

6. "Insidious"
7. "翻滾吧! 阿信 (Jump! Ashin)"
8. "Les petits mouchoirs"
9. "The Romantics"
10. "Weekend"

And finally, the cream of the crop- out of the 180 movies I saw in 2011, these are my favorite 10, in alphabetical order:

1. "Another Year" (dir. Mike Leigh)

Beautifully written, masterfully directed and brilliantly acted, every note of this deceptively simple British dramedy rings true. Lesley Manville's portrayal of the pathologically insecure Gerry feels so genuine and honest it's almost scary.

2. "Attack the Block" (dir. Joe Cornish)

Refreshing, invigorating, adorably nerdy, this highly original action comedy is hilarious and exciting in equal measure. The hefty subject of social integration and disenfranchisement has never been turned into an easier pill to swallow.

3. "Black Swan" (dir. Darren Aronofsky)

On the strength of the fearless direction, fiery cinematography and a ferocious performance by Natalie Portman, the ballerina, the Mother and the devil inside all spin into a deliciously toxic mix of angst, guilt and self-destruction.

4. "Bridesmaids" (dir. Paul Feig)

The most relentlessly and unapologetically funny movie of the year is also a surprisingly humanistic one; the carefully observed script is brought to life by the collective comedic genius of an impeccable cast- a riot from start to finish.

5. "Incendies" (dir. Denis Villeneuve)

An unflinching look at the consequences of war at its most tragic- for a country, a family and a person- this Canadian mystery/drama is thoroughly engaging with its twists and turns, powerful in its message and utterly devastating in its emotional payoff.

6. "Kynodontas (Dogtooth)" (dir. Giorgos Lanthimos)

Starkly sparse, bloodlessly cold and so magnificently odd, this perverse psychological thriller from Greece doesn't just blow you away with its singular style and quietly terrifying tone, it's a breath of fresh air with teeth that bite.

7. "晚秋 (Late Autumn)" (dir. Tae-Yong Kim)

This Korean drama about love between two lost souls under the most impossible of cirsumstances boasts a pair of lead performances so fully realized and compatible and a story so painfully romantic it hits the softest spot in your heart and refuses to let up.

8. "志明與春嬌 (Love in a Puff)" (dir. 彭浩翔 Ho-Cheung Pang)

Through a group of potty-mouthed and chain-smoking friends, this irreverent comedy paints a vivid portrait of a modern-day relationship born and tested between the skyscrapers of Hong Kong- breezy, heartfelt and clear-eyed, all the haze notwithstanding.

9. "Midnight in Paris" (dir. Woody Allen)

Witty, warm and wildly imaginative, this movie is a transcendant love letter to the magic of Paris. Through the celebration of art, literature and the ages gone by, it itself offers a transportive experience rooted in the finest writing and filmmaking.

10. "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" (dir. Tomas Alfredson)

An espionage thriller with production value of the highest order; its images and sounds are so rich and evocative they practically leave a scent. Add to that a flawless cast that masters the craft of restrained performance, and every scene becomes a trickery of the senses and the mind.