Samstag, 18. Juli 2015

Far From the Madding Crowd

(Originally appeared in EXBERLINER on Jul. 16, 2015)

Patiently told and exquisitely rendered, the latest adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s classic novel showcases the kind of traditional, faultlessly proper filmmaking that breaks no new ground but delights nonetheless with the skill and sincerity it brings.

At the centre of the turbulent love story set in Victorian England is young heiress Bathsheba (Mulligan), whose beauty and quick wit attract the courtship of not two, but three dashing suitors. Predictably, she must travel full circle before settling on the candidate we knew all along would be right for her, but the familiar tale is kept relevant and the inner turmoil of its heroine relatable by such timeless dilemmas as passion versus stability and observations on universal human flaws like pride and prejudice. It doesn’t hurt, either, that the picturesque production and costume design dazzles you into an amorous stupor while the able, appealing cast does its part tickling awake your underserved need for some good old-fashioned romance.

Ultimately, this unsurprising but all-around well-crafted cinematic update reassures more than it wows. That said, one would be hard-pressed to find two such enjoyable hours dedicated to the ways of the heart elsewhere in the blockbuster-heavy summer movie slate.

Freitag, 10. Juli 2015

It Follows

(Originally appeared in EXBERLINER on Jul. 9 , 2015)

It’s too bad this indie horror gem doesn’t quite know how to wrap things up, since what comes before the somewhat reluctant final act is a rare find – a cinematic scare orchestrated with style and suspense to spine-tingling perfection.

The premise of a teenage girl who starts seeing and getting followed by an unknown evil being after sexual contact with its previous host is as simple as it is genius. Instead of merely evoking disgust through a blood-and-gore treatment typical for the genre, it breaches your sense of security and grasp on sanity by breathing an air of paranoia into the commonest of scenes. Technically, Mitchell also brings formidable chops to the table. His visual language, elegant in its compositional leanness and temporal ease, communicates dread with utter authority while sonically, the synthesizer-based score rocking some ancient beats is just plain disturbing.

There are a few missteps, most notably the couple of effects shots where the film veers from the splendid mood piece it is and goes for optical gags, as well as the ending, which feels both protracted and truncated; but otherwise, it’s sweet, sweet torture to be held in the grip of something this creepy, thickly atmospheric and relentlessly terrifying.

Terminator Genisys

(Originally appeared in EXBERLINER on Jul. 9 , 2015)

Unless you're prepared to explain everything, it's better not to make a time-travel movie. For sure, the idea of turning back the clock, reliving the past and changing the future shall forever hold our fascination as mortal beings.But in less skilled hands, the latent absurdity of the premise can appear eminently distracting, even downright ludicrous. With neither the brains nor the brass, Terminator Genisys, a wannabe mind-twister which tries so hard to be both clever and comfortably trashy, fails dismally on both ends.

The time is 2029. Wait, make that 1984. Or should we say 2016? Hmm, was that 1997 just now? For any movie, juggling this many timelines and the logical implications of teleporting between them would be a real handful, let alone one about evil cyborgs taking over the world headlined by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Needlessly convoluted, the film dances itself into a dead-end indulging in these ever-multiplying versions of reality. It's bad enough that the overly expository dialogue comes across so intellectually challenged with its quick supply of theories and explanations. The fun factor of something like this is also significantly lowered without a healthy self-awareness of camp. Underwhelming also on a technical level, the monotonously pompous production and the expensive-looking but thoroughly unspectacular action choreography leave an altogether forgettable impression - the only exception possibly being the flight chase sequence following a helicopter drop near the end, which capitalizes on the 3D photography to momentarily cool effect.

Ultimately, the biggest selling point of this misguided reboot is probably the one-liner-ready Arnie. Although very much still too robotic even to play a robot, Schwarzenegger himself feels like physical embodiment of all those decades the film keeps going back to, and it's somewhat reassuring - if unintentionally so- to see some things never change.          

Donnerstag, 2. Juli 2015

Interview: Mads Mikkelsen

(Originally appeared in EXBERLINER on Jul. 1 , 2015)

Considering you’ve worked with writer/director Anders Thomas Jensen many times in the past, was it a big relief when he called you and said “Let’s do it again”?

It’s not because of the other things we’d done, but it was a big relief that he finally pulled himself together and wrote a crazy and beautiful script again, set in this magical universe of his. Of course I was hoping it would happen sooner, but better late than never.

What was your reaction when he pitched this story about brotherhood and bestiality to you?

Well, he didn’t pitch it like that. I know whatever he wants to do is always, at least to me, beautiful… poetic even. And that it’s probably going to be about God, Satan, life and death – the meaning of life in general. He does realise that it can come across as very pretentious when you make films like that, which is why he wraps it all in this crazy universe, so he can get away with telling this beautiful story. But whatever craziness there is, I know that there’s a very poetic core to it.

For a movie with such a strong element of slapstick, it’s actually pretty dramatic.

It’s extremely dramatic, but it’s not dogma-style, kitchen-sink realism kind of dramatic. Many big dramas today can be so pretentious, where the actors deliver long monologues about life and death. When Jensen wants to tell these important stories, he prefers to wrap them up in crazy packaging, so we can get away with it. I think that’s become his trademark. I mean you can see some Coen brothers in there, some David Lynch, but he’s very much himself. It’s a very unique style.

For a movie with such a dark subject matter, it’s surprisingly funny as well.

Humour helps you digest things. But it’s important to note that we tried not to make this film funny funny, we tried to take it all very seriously. It takes a lot more skill to be sad in this film than in say, "The Hunt" (2012). It’s the same emotion but in this case, you’re supposed to be sad about some cookie that’s fallen to the floor, instead of this big child molestation drama. We try to make that emotion just as real, and for that reason it becomes totally absurd. The truth is: children do that, people who are lying do that. Emotionally, they go all in. So by trying to achieve something honest, it becomes very funny, because it’s just so ridiculous to watch.

How did you approach something like this as an actor?              

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t know a lot of it was going to be funny. But we also knew that the more seriously we took it, the funnier it’d be. As a result we threw away quite a few punch lines. Even though he [Jensen] comes up with fantastic punch lines, we still do without many of them because the characters would otherwise become too aware of being funny. If these characters talk like they do in France or on "How I Met Your Mother", it would take us out of their universe.

How did you perfect your comedic timing?

Timing is very tricky. You can practice it – I think many great comedians do that. I don’t consider myself a comedian, let alone a great one. For me it comes down to the honesty again. The more truthful you are to the character, the more you behave as one. And when you feel you’re on a roll, the timing becomes perfect. But when you think about the timing and consciously try to make everything you do funny, then it won’t work. You have to be a little impulsive, which I think applies to comedy, drama and everything in between.  

You went from playing Dr. Hannibal Lecter, an icon of sophistication, to playing Elias, a rather simple-minded guy in this movie. Which role posed the greater challenge?

With this kind of film it’s a challenge to the actors obviously. Jensen and I have dabbled in similar territory before, and really hit it off first with "Flickering Lights" (2000), then with "The Green Butchers" (2003). Through the creation of radical, annoyingly idiosyncratic characters we did something that’s theater-like and seldom done on film. It’s tricky to perform in this particular type of film, to make your characters believable, because the audience is so used to seeing films done in a certain way, dictated by the rules of established genres. So I would say this role is the bigger challenge, even though there are or course other challenges involved in acting in a foreign language, speaking Italian, Japanese or doing whatever I have to do on that fucking show [laughter].

What is your character Elias about? Did you see him as a fairy tale character?

He’s very real to me. He reminds me a lot of Jensen’s children. He has the most fantastic kids, but you could probably also say they are the kids from hell. Individually they’re super charming, I love them all. But together they’re a fucking nightmare. They fight non-stop, antagonise one another by any means necessary, show no emotional stability whatsoever. Watching them is like watching a movie.

So I very much based this character on reality, I approached him like a child who has not gotten enough attention in his life – with good reasons – because he’s so annoying, nobody likes him. The only thing he wants, which he never says out loud, is for his older brother to like him, and it never happened. So I see it as a really sad story about a man who’s not being loved, although he is not necessarily aware of that.

Are humans allowed to play God?

It’s an interesting question. We just talked about Hannibal, who plays God all the time. I think it’s a moral discussion. We do play God every day. Two men can have kids today, based on their own DNA. We save people from cancer, save whole continents from starvation and we wage wars against each other, which is also a godly act. So we’ve actually been playing God all our lives. But it’s tricky, especially when it comes to genetics. We can do so much good for humanity and the planet with the help of genetics but the opposite can also happen, as with every other major scientific discovery. So it’s really a matter of how we use it.

You shot many scenes in the abandoned Beelitz-Heilstätten complex in Brandenburg. There are a lot of spooky tales about this place. Did you catch any of that atmosphere?

I heard the stories. I wish I were one of those people who see and sense ghosts, but I don’t. You can definitely feel the atmosphere though. When you look at the old houses, some in immaculate condition, some with trees growing through their roofs, there’s just a decadence to the whole place, as there is to Berlin. It’s beautiful to see there’s everything in that area: some things falling apart and some still standing.

What’s the biggest difference you’ve noticed, having worked in so many different cultures and environments?

The biggest shock or difference I’ve experienced happened when I was working in India on a Danish film. The value of life, the way you view your fellow humans, the way they treat each other was all very different. Also, working there with some people who were living in extreme poverty and then going back to a four- or five-star hotel was absurd for all of us. That was definitely a clash of cultures.

Do you still enjoy going back to Denmark to film?

Of course. This is my language, these are my stories. There will always be something familiar for me to go back to. I could say the same thing about Toronto now I guess, where I’ve lived for three years. I’m pretty good at changing my homebase.

Interview: Veronika Franz & Severin Fiala

(Originally appeared in EXBERLINER on Jul. 1 , 2015)

Your film turns the notion of motherly love on its head. Did you intend to shock people by doing this?

Veronica Franz: We were not specifically aiming to shock people. Of course we were aware that the subject matter is considered a taboo. Children don’t like to see their mother change in any way. But from a mother’s point of view, sometimes she needs time to just be herself and not necessarily what her children would like her to be. Motherhood, motherly love is too often seen as something sacred.

The film starts out like an art film but ends very much in the genre tradition. Did you set out to cover such a wide spectrum?

VF: As a filmmaker you make up and develop stories and characters, but after a certain point they just start to evolve on their own. So we did realise that the film is more atmospheric in the beginning and not as graphic as in the last third. We could have changed that by speeding and spicing up the first part, of course, but we decided to keep it this way. The audience might let their guard down thinking they’re watching an arthouse film, and then... [Laughs]

The country house where the film is set almost feels like its own character.

VF: Our sound and camera crew also commented that the house, which we found but had to do major redecorations on, is like a main character in the movie. We found it in the northernmost part of Austria. We didn’t even have a lake in the original script, but after finding this house we wrote the lake in.

Severin Fiala: The film is first told through the perspective of the children. Of the mother we only see what the kids see, which may or may not contain elements of fantasy. This means we actually know very little about her. So we used the house more or less as an extension of the mother figure, in order to say something about her.

Aesthetically, the film is almost pathologically clean.

SF: Yeah, that’s also related to the characterisation of the mother. The movie’s look does have something clinical, prison-like about it, like a clean cell you’re locked inside of. The mother’s a very organised, clear, strict and somewhat cold person, traits which manifest themselves in how the film ends up looking.

How did it feel working on this film together? Did you agree on everything?

SF: While we were casting the twins, we had the candidates play a game of “I spy” and they always knew right away what their sibling was seeing. We are kind of like these twins, in the sense that when we watch a scene, we always see the same thing. There’s a shared sensibility between us, otherwise I don’t think we could make a movie together. The trust wouldn’t be there.

Severin, you studied at the Filmacademy Vienna, where Michael Haneke teaches. Aspects of the film are reminiscent of him...

SF: What we have in common, I think, is the exactness we bring, that every aspect is carefully considered, and perhaps the austerity in style. Thematically, Haneke also deals with family and non-communication and his films often have this sense of confinement, which ours also does. But on the whole I find our film very different from his. That it got compared a lot to "Funny Games" really confounded us. To us, "Funny Games" is an anti-horror film, while ours is hopefully a pro- horror film, because we both love horror films. It’s the genre that can be best utilised to say something about society and its taboos.