07th Sep2015

American Ultra (Film)

by timbaros

BL5U8500.CR2Take a bit of a James Bond movie, another part from Cheech & Chong, and mix it up with elements of the recent film ‘Spy’ and out comes the new movie ‘American Ultra.’

‘American Ultra’ is a spy action thriller movie masquerading as a stoner film (have a look at the film poster and you’ll see) with lots and lots of comedy. And once it’s over you think the person who wrote the film (Max Landis) must’ve been high on something when he wrote it. Mike (Jesse Eisenberg – The Social Network) and Phoebe (Kristen Stewart) are, basically, potheads, living in what seems like a very empty town in West Virginia. They’ve been together for several years, with Mike never getting the courage to ask her to marry him. He’s booked a trip to take her to Hawaii to propose but he’s afraid of flying so they never actually get on the plane. But Mike’s content with his job as a cashier at the local Cash & Carry, where there never seems to be any customers. But he’s not the person you think he is. He’s actually a sleeper agent, a machine, created by the CIA, and they want him terminated – NOW. So one day in his store walks in CIA agent Victoria Lasseter (Connie Britton). She’s come to town to rescue him – Mike was an experiment she created – a machine with superpowers – so she feels the need to play mother and protect her offspring. Mike has no idea who she is – but she’s able to activate him – turning on his superpowers so that he can protect himself. But CIA supervisor Adrian Yates (Topher Grace) wants him destroyed – at all costs. Even if it means killing Agent Lasseter in the process. So he sets up a command post in Mike’s town to look for him and to have him killed, bringing in tow with him soldiers who used to be mental patients. So in between all this we get explosions, lots of gunfire, and a visit to the home of Mike and Kirsten’s pot dealer (John Leguizamo) where they go to hide. It all leads up to an extremely bloody conclusion in the town’s discount superstore (a la Walmart).

As mentioned earlier, ‘American Ultra’s’ script is so far out there that one wonders where Landis (son of director John Landis) got his idea for the film. And Director Nima Nourizadeh (whose only other directing credit is 2012’s ‘Project X’ where three high school seniors host a party that spirals out of control) keeps the action flowing, which takes place over the course of one night, but he can’t help but let the silliness of the plot take over. Mike and Kirsten seem to be the most sensible people in the film, whereby the CIA agents are badly drawn as buffoon carton characters who can’t pull off their mission. ‘American Ultra’ reminds me a bit of ‘This is the End’ – Seth Rogen and James Franco’s 2013 comedy about the end of the world – where it just keeps on getting funnier and more surrealistic. ‘American Ultra,’ even though it looks slick, seems to be missing the ingredients that made ‘This is the End’ memorable. And while it’s a good ride that may make you high from just watching it, it’s also very silly to be taken as a true comedy. ‘American Ultra’ is not as good as a Bond film, but, in it’s favor, it’s not as bad as ‘Spy.’

‘American Ultra’ is now out in theatres.

05th Sep2015

Rosewater (DVD)

by timbaros

RW_00624sIranian-born London journalist Maziar Bahari appeared in a skit on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show discussing spies. It was a skit that, a week later, would end in Bahari’s arrest by the Iranian authorities. His story is told in the new film Rosewater.

Bahari (played by Gael Garcia Bernal), was in Iran covering the 2009 election when he was interviewed by The Daily Show’s Jason Jones (who was dressed up as a spy). The interview, which took place in Tehran, was in The Daily Show’s comedic style of acerbic wit. In it Jones and Bahari discussed spies in Iran, and unfortunately the interview was seen by the Iranian authorities. Bahari was later arrested and imprisoned for 118 days, between June and October 2009.

Stewart, who has never written or directed a motion picture before (he wrote and directed Rosewater), has hosted The Daily Show since 1999. Stewart has written books, produced other television shows, and has hosted the Grammy and Academy Awards. But what made him want to venture into unchartered territory to write and direct his first motion picture? Perhaps he was feeling very guilty about Bahari’s arrest and imprisonment. Whatever the reason, Rosewater is a very good debut into the film world for Stewart.

In the beginning of Rosewater, we see Bahari in his London home being very affectionate to his pregnant wife Paola (Claire Foy). As a journalist, he’s about to go to Tehran to cover Iran’s 2009 election. He’s sent there by Newsweek, and since he is part Iranian, it’s a natural choice for him to go. On a fluke, he’s interviewed by The Daily Show, which leads to the drastic consequences. A week later, at his family’s home, he is arrested and sent to a Tehran prison where he is interrogated non-stop by a man who doesn’t give his name, but the movie calls him Rosewater (played by Kim Bodnia) because, according to the real Bahari, he smelled of Rosewater. Bahari is interrogated daily, Rosewater wants to know names of spies as he (and the government) is convinced that Bahari is not who he says he is – a journalist. So the film Rosewater focuses mostly on Bahari’s imprisonment, where he’s blindfolded, tortured, threatened with execution, and ordered to confess to being a spy on television. It’s disturbing to see Bahari getting beaten up – it’s almost a sure thing that he will never make it out of the Iranian prison system. But after 118 days, he is released, and he heads back to London to be with his wife and new baby. It’s, however, an anti-climactic ending as we are robbed of any emotional released-from-prison scenes – it’s just Bahari out of prison and on a plane back to London.

Garcia Bernal is a perfect choice to portray Bahari. Even though he is Mexican, he looks a bit Iranian – so the story is totally believable. It’s a role that most actors would’ve loved to play, but Garcia runs with it. But it’s not Garcia’s movie, it’s Stewart’s movie. He took 12 weeks off from The Daily Show to shoot the film, and it’s an impressive debut. Rosewater is dramatic, taut, well written and directed. And though the ending is a bit of a letdown (perhaps this is how Bahari wanted his release to be portrayed – quietly – as he still has family members who live in Tehran). But that’s a minor quibble for a film that tells a real life nightmare of a story of what one journalist went through when he was just doing his job.

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05th Sep2015

Phoenix (DVD)

by timbaros

PHOENIX-Photo1c-JohnnyRonald_Zehrfeld-NellyNina_Hoss_Foto_Christian_Schulz_cSchramm_Film-1Phoenix is a brutal story of a disfigured ex-concentration camp survivor who attempts to fit back into society, and to find out who betrayed her.

Nina Hoss is Nelly, a singer, is a 30-ish year old Jewish woman with willowy hair, slender body, and pale white skin. Nelly survived the horrors at Auschwitz, where she was shot in the face and disfigured beyond recognition. She is put into the care of surgeons who attempt to repair her face, though they tell her that she will never look like her previous self. Nelly, along with Lena, an employee of a Jewish agency and Nelly’s friend from pre-war days, helps her to settle back into society, and back into life, with the goal of leaving Germany and settling in a new land created specifically for the Jews, called Palestine. But Nelly wants to look for her husband, who she hears has survived the war. She’s told that he is alive and well and working at a carabet club called Phoenix.

So Nelly goes out, trepidly, and finds him working in the club, and she calls out to him by his name, Johnny, however, he tells her that his name is Johanne (played by Ronald Zehrfeld). He doesn’t recognize Nelly, even though she was his wife. But ironically he asks her to pretend to be his wife so that he can get access to her family’s fortune, as they all had perished in the camps, and he thinks Nelly did so as well. So Nelly goes along with his plan, where he makes her dress like Nelly, act like Nelly, and he even has her practice her handwriting to be just like Nelly’s. All he wants is her inheritance, and he’s willing to give her some money for her assistance. However, Nelly still’s not too sure if he was the one who gave her up to the Nazis, so she continues to go along with his plan to find out. It’s clear that Johannes has no idea Nelly is his wife and that he’s just in love with getting the inheritance. Nell eventually learns that him, and assorted other friends, had betrayed her during the war, gave her up to the Nazi’s, who eventually sent her to Auschwitz. Nelly then decides that no, she’s doesn’t want to go back to Johannes but that she will go along with his plan until the very end. And it’s at the very end of Phoenix that we really understand the true horrors of what Nelly went through, not just at Auschwitz but by her husband and friends betrayal.

Phoenix is based on an essay by Harun Karocki called ‘Return from the Ashes.’ Director and writer Christian Petzold has turned this essay into a remarkable film, that whilst may not be based on an actual person, might have happened to real life concentration camp survivors, what they endured in the camps, and their return to their communities. Hoss is perfect as Nelly. Her eyes appear to be hollow, we can only imagine what she’s been through, and what she is going through. The rest of the cast is very good, as is the production values of the film. At a short 98 minutes, Phoenix, in German with English subtitles, is a timely film to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. It’s haunting and memorable.

Phoenix (DVD)

Director: Christian Petzold
Starring: Nina Hoss, Ronald Zehrfeld, Nina Kunzendorf, Michael Maertens, Imogen Kogge

Germany released, PAL/Region 0 DVD: LANGUAGES: German ( Dolby Digital 2.0 ), German ( Dolby Digital 5.1 ), English ( Subtitles ), German ( Subtitles ), WIDESCREEN (2.35:1), SPECIAL FEATURES: Booklet, Commentary, Interactive Menu, Making Of, Scene Access, Special Edition, Trailer(s), SYNOPSIS: June, 1945. Badly injured, her face destroyed, Auschwitz survivor Nelly returns to her hometown, Berlin. She is accompanied by Lene, an employee of a Jewish agency and Nelly's friend from the pre-war days. Having barely recovered from facial surgery, Nelly ignores Lene's warnings and sets out to find her husband, Johnny - the love of her life who, by refusing to abandon their marriage, protected her from Nazi persecution for so long. Nelly's family has been murdered in the Holocaust. Johnny is convinced that his wife, too, is dead. When Nelly finally tracks him down, he recognizes nothing but an unnerving resemblance and doesn't believe it could really be her. Hoping to secure her family's inheritance, Johnny suggests to Nelly that she take on the identity of his late wife. Nelly agrees: She becomes her own imposter. She wants to know whether Johnny loved her - and whether he betrayed her. Nelly wants her old life back. SCREENED/AWARDED AT: San Sebastian International Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival, ...Phoenix (2014)
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