Category Archives: 2000s

#331 The Departed

(2006, Martin Scorsese)

“When I was your age they would say we can become cops, or criminals. Today, what I’m saying to you is this: when you’re facing a loaded gun, what’s the difference?”

Once upon a time, Martin Scorsese had a tendency to cast Robert De Niro in every movie he made. However, as De Niro got older and more cynical, Scorsese has latched onto another actor to be his lead man – Leonardo DiCaprio. And today, we’ll be taking a look at one of the first major collaborations between the two: The Departed, a remake of Hong Kong action movie Internal Affairs.

In an Irish neighbourhood in South Boston, Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson), head of the Irish mob, approaches a boy in a local shop and steadily trains him up to be a mole in the police. Cut to several years later, and the boy, Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon), has successfully made his way into the Special Investigations Unit of the Massachusetts State Police, where he leaks information to Costello to help him resist arrest.

However, Billy Costigan (DiCaprio), a fellow new recruit, has been sent undercover to infiltrate Costello’s crew due to his own familial connections with organised crime. Gradually, both men become aware of each other and they race to discover the other’s identity before their own cover is blown.

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#319 Good Bye Lenin!

(2003, Wolfgang Becker)

“The future lay in our hands. Uncertain, yet promising”

We’ve visited one previous movie about divided Germany before here on SvTM, the surprisingly good The Lives Of Others, but there haven’t been many others since then. Perhaps now it’s time to take a look at the effects of the regime on the ordinary citizens of East Germany, specifically when the Berlin Wall fell. Perhaps it’s time to say Good Bye Lenin!

The movie is set in 1989, where we focus on young East German citizen Alex Kerner. After he attends a protest rally in October, his mother Christiane (Katrin Sass) sees him and suffers a heart attack amidst the chaos. Due to delayed medical intervention as a result of the protests, Christiane falls into a coma, with no clear indication of when she’ll come out. During her eight-month coma, the Berlin Wall falls and the reunification of Germany begins.

However, when she comes out of her coma, the doctors inform Alex that the damage to her heart is serious, and any sudden shock could potentially bring on a fatal attack. Realising that the political upheaval going on around them could be exactly the kind of shock that could affect his staunchly socialist mother, he sets about trying to concoct an elaborate lie that the Wall never fell and Germany is still divided.

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#307 Fahrenheit 9/11

(2004, Michael Moore)

“George Orwell once wrote that, “It’s not a matter of whether the war is not real, or if it is, Victory is not possible. The war is not meant to be won, it is meant to be continuous.”

It’s September the 11th today, which means that it’s the anniversary of the terrorist actions on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington D.C. A tragic day for sure, but also one shrouded in conspiracy theories and some questionable exploitative actions by politicians. In reaction to this, today we’ll be taking a look at Michael Moore’s infamous documentary about former president George W. Bush’s actions on and around that day in 2001, Fahrenheit 9/11.

Fahrenheit 9/11 is the account of Bush’s political career up to the point of the film’s release, from his election to the invasion of Iraq. It follows events in chronological order and raises questions about Bush’s actions as well as those of those close to him. It’s a political documentary. What more do you want?

This is a difficult film to review because it’s a divisive political piece that you either agree with or you don’t. Reviewing it on an objective basis is difficult because those who were opposed to the War On Terror are likely to enjoy the movie, while those who were supportive of Bush are likely to view the film as terrible propaganda. There is literally no middle ground in this issue. However, while trying to look at it on a technical level is difficult, it is not impossible. Let’s take a look at what Moore has done right here.

The movie does have some great presentation throughout. The movie flows well and explains its points fairly well. It covers a surprisingly broad spectrum of topics surrounding 9/11 and the War On Terror, from stock footage of Bush speeches down to personal accounts of those closer to the events. The movie is paced properly, and never drags or feels rushed for the majority of its running time. And Moore has added plenty of humour to certain parts of the movie, especially when the topics he’s discussing are particularly absurd.

However, Fahrenheit 9/11 isn’t perfect. There is an inherent bias running throughout the movie that sometimes makes it hard to fully enjoy the movie. Some of his claims feel a little shaky and I would have liked to have seen more evidence backing them up (such as claims the Saudi embassy receives preferential treatment from the US government), while sometimes I felt that his snide remarks were going to do little to sway those with opposing views.

I also felt that Moore was guilty of emotional manipulation throughout the movie. When he reached the 9/11 attacks themselves, he seemed to linger on shots of the shocked crowd, along with the sound of screams and cries. Admittedly, at the time of the film’s release (ten years ago!), the wounds from the day were far from healed, but this felt somewhat exploitative.

I also wasn’t fond of the focus on one particular family who had lost a son in Iraq. While I have no objection to bringing a human face to the death tolls, I do have a problem in how it was approached. There is a scene where the soldier’s mother travels to D.C. to confront the government about her grievances, and there’s a long shot where she walks away from a heartless conservative woman in tears that almost seems to revel in her sadness, as it allowed Moore to prove his point.

However, the movie does do its job. While sometimes it is overly manipulative, there are points where I found myself getting angry, and not because of Moore’s filmmaking, but because of the points raised. As someone who failed to see the point of the Iraq invasion, being reminded of it wasn’t making me feel particularly pleased. Fortunately Moore avoided making much reference to the UK’s involvement in events, because I think the sight of Tony Blair would have made me want to throw my TV out of the window.

But it’s also not going to convince anyone who isn’t already convinced. Fahrenheit 9/11 is a competently made documentary with a lot going for it, but if you’re a pro-Republican, Iraq-war-supporting conservative, then you’re not going to be swayed.

Written by Michael Moore
Produced by Michael Moore, Jim Czarnecki, Kathleen Glynn, Monica Hampton, Harvey Weinstein & Bob Weinstein
Music by Jeff Gibbs
Edited by Kurt Engfehr, T. Woody Richman & Christopher Seward

Favourite Scene: I always loved seeing Bush screw up his speeches, so the “won’t get fooled again” speech was hilarious to me.
Scene That Bugged Me: The lingering shots of shock and the sounds of anguish that marked 9/11 itself felt far too emotionally manipulative for my taste.

Watch it if: You opposed the War On Terror
Avoid it if: You’re a staunch Republican who believed Bush could do no wrong

#300 Downfall

(2004, Oliver Hirschbiegel)
Der Untergang

“The war is lost… But if you think that I’ll leave Berlin for that, you are sadly mistaken. I’d prefer to put a bullet in my head.”

Hitler parodies were everywhere on YouTube at one point. These were usually videos where Hitler would be ranting away in German while some wacky person added subtitles that suggested he was ranting about something mundane or anachronistic, such as getting his Xbox Live account banned. Well, did you know where that clip came from? It came from Der Untergang, aka Downfall, a movie about, well, Hitler’s downfall at the end of World War II.

It’s April 1945, in Berlin. Hitler (Bruno Ganz) is celebrating his birthday when suddenly loud blasts begin to rock the city. Demanding answers, Hitler discovers that the Soviets have breached German lines and are just outside the city. Determined to face off against the Soviets rather than surrender, we witness Hitler descend into madness as he deludes himself into thinking he can survive the onslaught and still win the war.

Now, there are naturally some reservations about this movie. The idea of humanising Hitler and setting a movie based on his perspective of the decisive Battle Of Berlin is one that not a lot of people particularly like the idea of. There are plenty that say that presenting Hitler as human is an insult to all who lost their lives in the Holocaust, and all those who fought to take him down.

However, Hitler was a real person, not some fairy tale monster made up to scare Jewish children, and a portrayal of him as human is a better lesson for humanity than acting like nobody else is capable of what he did. So here it is, a human portrayal of Hitler, showing him as a flawed human being with twisted thoughts and a complete lack of compassion and empathy. It’s a portrayal of humanity at its darkest, and we need that.

And Bruno Ganz nailed it. His performance is excellent throughout. Hitler is presented as this twitchy, uncomfortable little man with not an ounce of empathy in him. He is quick to anger, makes irrational decisions and deludes himself of his own greatness. He’s not particularly nice, and even in moments where he begins to appear rational and sensible, he’ll start to spout off some nonsense about how proud he is to have eradicated so many Jews. Essentially, he’s portrayed as someone you don’t really want to spend much time with.

The problem is, Hitler’s portrayal is pretty much the only good thing about the movie. The rest of it is a plodding mess that makes me question exactly what it’s trying to achieve. It’s a movie that shows a flawed human version of Hitler in the midst of scenes of concerned looking Germans not saying anything to each other, or at the very least debating whether or not they should leave Berlin, over and over.

The problem is, the many generals and staff under Hitler’s command (and I mean MANY), are not even remotely fleshed out in the way Hitler himself is. As such, everyone tends to bleed together as a single autonomous unit called “the people who aren’t Hitler”. Sure, you can tell them apart physically – there’s the fat one, the creepy-looking one, the stern one, the doe-eyed secretary and the other secretary (I think she was a secretary), but good luck remembering any of their names. Oh, and there’s Eva Braun, but she’s just kind of there because she was Hitler’s wife, but she’s got just as much personality as the rest of them.

The problem is, so much screen time is dedicated to these personality-free extras that the movie feels utterly pointless much of the time. And for a movie about Hitler’s downfall, it’s odd that Hitler kills himself (not a spoiler!) 40 minutes before the movie ends, leaving us with over half an hour of faceless characters running around trying not to get shot…and often getting shot. Repeatedly.

Downfall would be a great movie if it stuck to its guns and retained some level of focus. As it is, its determination to get every tiny little detail, however insignificant, into it 150-minute running time is tiresome and dull. Stick with a story about Hitler and we’ll be in a better place. And to highlight my displeasure with the movie, I’m going to make a Hitler Rants video. Bye!

Starring Bruno Ganz, Alexandra Maria Lara, Ulrich Matthes, Corinna Harfouch, Juliane Köhler & Thomas Kretschmann
Written by Joachim Fest & Bernd Eichinger
Produced by Bernd Eichinger
Music by Stephan Zacharias
Cinematography by Rainer Klausmann
Edited by Hans Funck

Favourite Scene: The famous Hitler rant is probably the best part of the movie for many reasons. Even if you don’t find it a good scene on its own merits, at least it’s easy to turn off subtitles and imagine a comedy reason for Hitler’s rants.
Scene That Bugged Me: Why does the movie just keep going after Hitler’s death? Why won’t it end?!

Watch it if: You really need to complete your collection of movies giving an account of World War II
Avoid it if: You came here for Hitler’s suicide and expect it to be over by then

#292 The White Ribbon

(2009, Michael Haneke)
Das weiße Band, Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte

The last time we encountered Michael Haneke, it was via the rather excellent Funny Games, a dark thriller that criticised the audience for being a voyeur to murder for wanting to enjoy a thriller movie. So naturally I was looking forward to this, but does it live up to expectations?

Set in the fictional German village of Eichwald in 1913, The White Ribbon follows the lives of the villagers, including a schoolteacher who has fallen in love with a young girl named Eva, a pastor who is obsessed with purity and will punish his children for minor transgressions (usually by making them wear the titular ribbon), a doctor who treats children with respect but is cruel to his wife, and various other side-plots. The whole movie hinges on a series of mysterious events in the village that lead to death, humiliation and shenanigans.

The mystery aspect of the plot certainly got me interested in the movie, with someone secretly causing bad things to happen, starting with the tripping of a horse using fine wire. The children of the movie appear to be connected somehow, but we don’t know how, and there’s definitely a certain Children Of The Corn vibe to them throughout. It was a promising start.

The problem is, there are about five movies going on at once here. We open the movie on this seemingly central “who’s causing this madness?” plot, but then this plot gets swiftly dropped and we’re just following the villagers around. This is most noticeable when the schoolteacher starts to pursue Eva and we leave the village entirely for an extended period of time so the teacher can be chastised by Eva’s father.

Things don’t get much better back in the village. Much is made of the cruel baron and the doctor being a complete bastard, but they feel so distant to the rest of the movie it makes me wonder why anyone even bothered to write these scenes. What’s more, the bombshell of the doctor’s rather awful night-time habit is dropped and then never elaborated on or explored or questioned. There he is, doing this bad thing he shouldn’t be doing, and that’s it. Also, the scenes where he openly declares his disdain for his wife’s lack of attractiveness in her “old age” cement him as an immensely unlikeable character that I want no more to do with.

The pastor’s storyline kind of fits, but it stills suffers from feeling too distant and vague. At times these scenes can get completely ridiculous, such as him tying up his son’s hands to try and stop him masturbating. The pastor seems more like a caricature of a hyper-religious nut as opposed to a real character, and I found it hard to connect with his story either.

In fact, I found it impossible to connect with any part of this movie. The mysteries that open the movie initially get me interested, but their sudden disappearance frustrates me and by the time the film ends, I’ve forgotten what was so mysterious and I forget the answers given, if any at all.

And that’s very much the problem with The White Ribbon. It struggles so much to stick to a single coherent plot thread that the viewer struggles to keep up, and as such the entire film becomes a forgettable mess of dullness.

So no, this didn’t live up to the standards set by Funny Games. Sadly.

Starring Christian Friedel, Ulrich Tukur & Josef Bierbichler
Written by Michael Haneke
Produced by Stefan Arndt, Veit Heiduschka, Michael Katz, Margaret Menegoz & Andrea Occhipinti
Cinematography by Christian Berger
Edited by Monika Willi

Favourite Scene: The general Children Of The Corn vibe, and if they’d stuck with this, I’d have enjoyed the movie more.
Scene That Bugged Me: Why don’t you tell your wife how you really feel, Mr Doctor Man?

Watch it if: You like confused German movies
Avoid it if: You’re looking for a mystery involving creepy children

#283 Talk To Her

(2002, Pedro Almodovar)
Hable con ella

“Love is the saddest thing when it goes away”

Based on this week and last week, it seems that Thursday is now Spanish movie day, so expect Spanish movies both this week and last week, and then never see another Spanish movie for months. Hurraaaaay!

Anyway, Talk To Her is a movie from arguably the most critically-acclaimed director from the nation, Pedro Almodovar. It focuses on two intertwining relationships, one about a reporter, Marco (Dario Grandinetti), and his relationship with bullfighter, Lydia (Rosario Flores), and the other about a nurse, Benigno (Javier Camara), and his comatose patient Alicia (Leonor Watling). The two men cross paths after Lydia is hospitalised, and Marco gradually learns of the unusual relationship between Benigno and Alicia. Read the rest of this entry

#277 Passion Of The Christ

(2004, Mel Gibson)

“Forgive them, Father. They know not what they do”

So, by accident I find myself reviewing two Mel Gibson movies within the same month. This was not planned, and came about by a review shift bringing Apocalypto closer to Easter, when I’d already planned on reviewing this, The Passion Of The Christ.

Yes, it’s Easter, and just like my first ever Easter of doing this project saw me reviewing the utterly blasphemous Life Of Brian, this time I’m turning my attention to the serious story, where Mel Gibson took a passage from the Bible which apparently blamed the Jews for the death of Jesus and presented it as absolute truth. But he’s not an anti-Semite! Let’s make that clear! Honestly!

Anyway, before I turn Mel Gibson into some kind of pantomime villain around these parts, whether Passion of the Christ has a go at the Jews or not doesn’t matter to me, I’m here to see if it’s any good.

The Passion of The Christ is about Jesus Christ (Jim Caviezel), some guy from Israel who claimed to be the Son Of God and supposedly did some miracles or something. The movie details his last days, where he was beaten to within an inch of his life and then stuck on a cross to die by the Romans. Lovely stuff. Although, really, you should know this stuff already. It’s Easter, after all!

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#274 Apocalypto

(2006, Mel Gibson)

Fun fact: Sometime in January 2013, I realised how appropriate Apocalypto, with all its Mayan prophecies of apocalypse, would have been for December 21st 2012, the supposed end-of-the-world date based on the Mayan calendar. Of course, this would have been more useful figuring that out before that date, but I guess we can’t have everything. So, after dumping it back in the general pile again, I finally pull it out to offer my opinion.

The good news is, I have an interest in ancient civilisations. The bad news is, I think director Mel Gibson is a bit of a terrible human being. This presents a problem, which led me to wonder exactly how I would feel about Apocalypto.

Set in Guatemala prior to the arrival of the Spanish, Apocalypto follows a young man named Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood) as his village is attacked by a bloodthirsty rival tribe. Kidnapped and lined up for human sacrifice, Jaguar Paw seeks to save his family, trapped in a deep pit, while the rival tribe hear a prophecy that their civilisation is doomed. If you know your Central American history, you’ll know how true that prophecy turns out to be.

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#268 Sideways

(2004, Alexander Payne)

“When do we drink it?”

Is there anything more pretentious in this world than wine culture? I personally don’t think so. Spending hours swirling around a glass of fermented grapes and then claiming that it smells of wood shavings and tastes like strawberries is an activity I’ve never quite understood. So hey, here’s a movie about that! HOW WONDERFUL!

Sideways is an independent movie from 2004 about two men who go on a wine-tasting tour of California as a sort of middle class bachelor party. Miles (Paul Giamatti) is a failed writer and wine enthusiast treating his friend Jack (Thomas Haden Church) to the trip before the latter gets married. Throughout the trip, Jack wants one more sexual fling before becoming a husband, while Miles wants a relaxing trip. Shenanigans happen.

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#254 Paradise Now

(2005, Hany Abu-Assad)
“You cannot alter your fate. There is no other way. It’s God’s will.”

There are few political subjects as touchy as the Israeli-Palestine conflict, which has been raging for an exceptionally long time. I’m not going to sit here and pretend to know a lot about it, since much of the information about the conflict is confusing and it’s hard to know what’s what within the whole situation. So perhaps a movie from the Palestinian perspective might help. Enter Paradise Now, a movie about reluctant suicide bombers in the region.

This will be the second movie I’ve reviewed that focused on suicide bombers, and it’s probably equally as controversial as Four Lions, albeit for very different reasons. While Four Lions used suicide bombings as a framework for a modern caper comedy, Paradise Now is an attempt to show the human side of these attacks.

Since I’m not all that knowledgeable on the political situation that the film has spawned from, I’ll be focusing on the movie as a piece of drama rather than the political arguments it raises. This is going to be a tricky one.

The movie focuses on childhood friends Said (Kais Nashef) and Khaled (Ali Suliman), who have been recruited by an unnamed terrorist group to perform suicide bombings in Israel. Over the next couple of days, they prepare for the attack, while a woman named Suha (Lubna Azabal) attempts to convince them to back out.

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