The Artist

At the time of its release, my local cinemaplex only showed The Artist at 5pm. Who in their right minds would go and watch a French silent movie? Several prizes – including some Oscars – later, The Artist is back in the cinemas, this time at nearly every possible slot. Who in their right minds wouldn’t want to watch an Oscar-winning flick?

Several people, apparently – because everywhere people were reported leaving during the film. It even happened during my visit to the cinema. Surely this means The Artist must be an awful movie! Erm no… but it may be interesting to put some things into a perspective. Sadly for you, that’s my perspective.

First and foremost, the fact that The Artist is a silent movie is not that breathtaking if you watch more than just Hollywood fodder. One recent example of a recent silent was Aki Kaurismäki‘s Juha (1999). True, that’s not entirely recent, but it’s closer to 2011 than a lot of critics noticed. That Kaurismäki made a silent movie isn’t the most flabbergasting fact of the day either: you had to be 18 minutes into his film The Match Factory Girl to hear the first word being uttered. Anyway, if you bother to look into the topic of silent movies for a mere five minutes you won’t have a tough time finding some fairly recent examples.

Which brings us neatly to the next point… The Artist is not a silent movie. Are we in a nitpicking mood? Perhaps, after all 99% of the film is silent, but the remaining 1% is of interest here. Given that the film has been so heavily debated, we’ll skip the usual synopsis of the film and dive straight into the review section. At one point, the actor is shown the latest hype: a movie with a speaking section. The actor is adamant in his belief this will never become popular, but the truth of the matter becomes clearly visible shortly thereafter: when retreating to his star lounge, the artist suddenly realizes he isn’t in a silent world anymore: the glass he puts down makes noise, his dog barks and there’s chitter-chatter from the chorus girls who pass by his door. He, however, is unable to speak.
Proof that The Artist isn’t silent? Not really, even at the time of silent movies, sound effects were occasionally used during the showing of a film. Of course, those were only gimmicks and required some props for the orchestra to use during the performance, but occasionally silent movies didn’t mind adding a gimmick. One of the sound-producing props in The Artist during that particular scene is a ringing phone, a nod to Alfred Hitchcock‘s transition from silents to talkies (in Blackmail). The Artist is crammed with similar nods to the movies of the 1920s and 1930s, including a musical number that’s a tribute to Busby Berkeley.

By the time you’ve followed The Artist up to that point, you’re well into the era of the talkies. The silent movies were no more (not counting occasional exceptions like Juha and, let’s not forget, Modern Times) and the talkies had taken over. The truly silent actors had remained silent and were on their way to oblivion and/or self-destruction. That things don’t remain awful should be evident: the final climax of The Artist (the silent actor and the it-girl of the talkies dancing) is probably the most shown clip of the film. What you don’t see is what follows… the dance routine is finished and you hear the actors breathing heavily. Another take is requested and here you hear the artist speaking he doesn’t mind doing one more take. The heavy French accent is hard to miss. Sure, the artist may not have had a voice in the film, but the actual reason was that actors like him, who barely mastered the English language and/or had a terrible voice, had lost their career due to the invention of “language”. In the silent era, actors were chosen for their looks and style. The addition of voices required fresh blood.

In a way this makes The Artist less a silent movie than a movie documenting one of the biggest transitions in cinema’s history. At a time when 3D is becoming all the hype (again) and digital screens take over the celluloid screenings, it’s nice to see a film reflect on a change in cinema that was even more decisive. That the film is showered with prizes, is hardly the movie’s fault: Hollywood has always been accused of being self-congratulatory and now there’s just another bit of prof suddenly people seem to mind? The problem here is that audiences, and especially mainstream audiences, don’t have the slightest knowledge of (and: interest in) cinema’s history. Bérénice Bejo (as the it-girl) is a wonderful example of a “slapper”, but how many people know that term? (Though of course, this is mainly a dictionary issue: the “slapper” style iconized by actresses like Clara Bow and Louise Brooks is more famous than its name – discerning enthusiasts may be interested to know the term was coined after the movie The Slapper.) Do not forget that most people growing up today can’t probably even name a Hitchcock title. By way of comparison, modern cinemagoers treating themselves to a night at the movies may undergo the same shock you’ll get if you start watching an Icelandic mythological movie without subtitles (offer not valid if you are or understand Icelandic).

True, some teens will be subjected to clips of silent classics (Nosferatu and Das Cabinet des Dr Caligari are often picked because of their expressionistic value), but that’s not the same as watching Hollywood pat itself on the back for one hour and a half in a semi-documentary silent film. To be honest, if you’d quizzed the Hollywood hotshots at the Oscar ceremony on their classic film knowledge, the results would have likely been quite disappointing too. Unfortunately, those modern cinemagoers will flock to the forums and other birdnoise-producing crannies of the internet and declare how awful The Artist truly is. Well, it is not. If you’re the sort of person that likes to ridicule quiz contestants who think Brussels is a country, then feel free to laugh at these idiots too. However, don’t feel awful about angrily waving a fist at the tv stations as well: chances are high you won’t see a classic movie before midnight tonight and only a handful of channels worldwide don’t mind showing a classic from the 1930s. Having said that, people who think Mount Etna is in the “European country” Japan are pretty hilarious, aren’t they?


Film 2011… and the winner is…

Nothing left of 2011 but a couple of memories and some of them included movies. In a year where I wasn’t able to catch a lot of films selecting a Top 10 is without a doubt an even more subjective affair than in ‘regular’ years, but does that stop us? Of course not. The idea that we might not have even watched two dozens of recent movies proved wrong when compiling the list (however, what does it say if you can’t recall what you’ve just seen?). Choosing a winner proved to be a piece of cake, it’s the rest of the top 10 that was trickier to rank. Some serious shoehorning later, this is the result:

And the winner is… oh yeah, you already know. “Because Jennifer Lawrence, Ree in the movie, has a doe-like quality that […] wonderfully clashes with the toughness of her character and the film’s setting. They say nature can be relentless… well, so are the people who have to live in the woods. The movie is also excellently shot and almost every scene where the nature settings are present are small tableaus, but one where beneath the soft blowing of the wind danger seems to loom.” Full review: here

Ultimately, what at the time seemed a flaw, has won us over. This may not have been the most logical film by the Dardennes, but life isn’t always easy to explain. For no apparent reason whatsoever, a woman takes a boy into her custody. Add some small time crooks and a huge amount of personal problems and you’ve got yourself a movie that is almost poignant as Rosetta, but easier to watch. (Original review here)

Which movie should become the runner-up, CSL or Gamin? That was the hardest decision of this top 10, but this one finally bowed its head. Because for some reason a lot of movies with Ryan Gosling popped up in 2011? Because this blog shares a nationality with the Dardenne brothers? Possibly and no. Because the period at the end of the title is getting on our nerves? Perhaps… (welcome to the only blog where interpunction may cost you a spot) Fact is that this is one of the very few recent comedies that has no problem standing in the same pantheon as classic screwball comedies. And it would be a couples of bridges too far to rank Emma Stone‘s comment on Gosling’s six-pack (“Seriously, that’s not photoshopped?”) next to “Because I just went gay all of a sudden”, but it is one of the few movies that manages to pull off two climaxes, one of which is a teary-eyed Hollywood cliché book, but one with a nice twist at the end. (Full review)

How to take revenge at the school kids who’ve killed your daughter? Well, if you’re a teacher, it’s easy: confess you’ve spiked their milk with HIV-positive blood and enjoy the aftermath. Includes beautiful slow motion scenes and a couple of twists. A burning look at the human condition until the very end. Read more about it here.

The mid-section of this top 10 is very much the cheeriest thing you’ll have read: if you’re not pleased with mentally torturing the murderers of your child, you may want to watch how a relationship dissolves. Blue Valentine might have ended up higher in the list, but the interweaving of how the relationship ends and the happier times didn’t grip us as much as it should have done. Starring Michelle Williams and a debuting actor called (wait, we’re looking this up) Ryan Gosling.

And what if we could tie the death of a relationship to the end of the world? Step forward Lars von Trier and Kirsten Dunst. There was something about a press conference on this film at some film festival where someone said something that didn’t really go down well with the rest of the world, but we forgot the details. Meanwhile, the mysterious 19th hole (a.k.a. the part where reality doesn’t make sense or ceases to exist) as well as the review itself were the most read and sought after items at the Avenue. We’ve already mentioned that this featured Dunst in great form, but we shouldn’t forget that the slow motion prequel to the movie were extremely beautiful to watch. Not the best film of the year, but the one with the most beautiful shots. (Full review: here)

More relationship joy? Polanski’s play on film ended up on the seventh spot. Why not higher? “Because the film was written by Yasmina Reza and it was based on her play Le Dieu de Carnage. And this film is very much a film version of a play. Is that bad? No, but throughout the film I wanted to see the reactions of the other people while someone was having a dialogue or monologue and here – by definition as it’s a film (unless you count experiments like Timecode by Figgis) – you’re bound to watch what’s happening through the vision of the director.” (Original review)

We really should take some happy pills: more psychological destruction, but this time it’s self-inflicted. You all know about this Darren Aronofsky film starring Natalie Portman, so why bother with a lengthy review? Let’s just say this wasn’t as fulfulling as we’d hoped, but while this wasn’t the case, it didn’t disappoint enough to keep it out of the top 10.

School outcasts, a mysterious disappearance, the nineties and a soundtrack by Sonic Youth. “Cult fans (especially those who’ve watched a giallo or two) will not be surprised that it isn’t always the most likely suspect who’s responsible for a (possible) crime. If that worries you, Simon Werner says more about you than about the 1990s. There’s lots of gossiping in the film and eccentric or asocial characters are just ready to be served as scapegoats. (Just like Alice seems born for the role of femme fatale.) And that is the true story behind Simon Werner’s disappearance. A simple whodunit, this is not. Good movie, good soundtrack and a fair bit of nostalgia for the previous century. Are we content? Yes, we are.” (Read more here)

After fifteen minutes you find out the couple that has just moved in don’t have a boy and a girl, but two girls. Gender confusion galore as Laure (Zoé Héran) pretends to be Michaël. Things don’t improve when Lisa falls in love with “him” and after a fight Laure’s mother thinks the best option to show everyone Michaël doesn’t exist is by forcing Laure into a dress. The second movie written and directed by Céline Sciamma, whose Naissance des pieuvres (Water Lilies) we still fondly remember.

Ten movies and between four to six to remember. Probably more, but time wasn’t on our hands, so for now, we’ll have to do with just the reputation of Rundskop, Never Let Me Go and The Artist. Maybe next year?

Two movies that didn’t make it into the top 10, but deserve a mention:
Easy A
The Ides of March

Winter’s Bone

If you’re the sort of person who thinks a top 10 focuses too much on the number 1 and not enough on numbers 2 to 10, then you’re in luck. This year the Avenue reveals the number 1 one post before the rest of the Top 10 and the winner is… Winter’s Bone. No surprise (because we already revealed that in the title) and quite possibly a surprise because it might have been a 2010 film in your country. Not in Belgium though (release date: 19 Jan 2011) and since that’s where this blog is coming from, it’s a 2011 movie.

And it’s by Debra Granik, whom we’d never heard of. Not that amazing, given that this is only her second feature-length movie. In Winter’s Bone we follow 17-year-old Ree on her trail for her lost dad. Either the man shows up for his parole or Ree’s family may end up evicted. Given that the family exists of Ree, her two younger siblings and her sick mother, that isn’t much of an option. Soon it becomes clear that those who might know where her father is don’t feel like sharing information. Not too bad because Ree is a tough cookie. Bad because the neighbourhood is at least equally tough.

So why did this get Film of the Year? Because Jennifer Lawrence, Ree in the movie, has a doe-like quality that not only works magically with the Dutch language (the Dutch word for “doe” is “ree”) but also wonderfully clashes with the toughness of her character and the film’s setting. They say nature can be relentless… well, so are the people who have to live in the woods. The movie is also excellently shot and almost every scene where the nature settings are present are small tableaus, but one where beneath the soft blowing of the wind danger seems to loom. And this time we’re not talking about bears. Talking just causes witnesses, the tagline explains and that is very much true: the voluntary silence seems to become the actual protagonist of the film and it’s nearly as lethal as a gun. Occasionally unpleasant to watch, but never below good, the best film of 2011 is: Winter’s Bone.


One movie you won’t find in the Avenue’s Top 10 of 2011 is The Help, which was released on 28 December and is therefore eligible for appearing in the 2012 list (where it’ll face some tough competition: it’s week 1 and we already have a Cronenberg and Kaurismäki released in the local cinemaplex). In the next update you’ll find out the top 10 (n°1 is easy, finding the right balance between the nrs 2 to 5 will be tougher), but today you’ll read why Carnage is not on the number 1 spot.

Make no mistake, Carnage is a good film. Roman Polanski is a great director and he shows that here from time to time. Carnage is about a couple who come to say sorry to the parents of a boy: their son knocked out two of the other boy’s teeth. Apologetic as they may try to seem, there’s also a crisis in the real world (the father of the ‘culprit’ is the lawyer of a pharmaceutical firm and news has just leaked out that their medicine isn’t exactly harmless). At one point, another phonecall disrupts the conversation once again and while we watch him (Christoph Waltz) talking in the background, we see the impatient hand of his wife (Kate Winslet) tapping on the sofa in the front of our screen. That is the definition of a great shot, everyone, and Polanski – who briefly cameos as the neighbour – is a great director.

So the director is good, did the story suck? No, not in the least. The parents of the “culprit” have a tough time apologizing as the parents of the “victim” (John C. Reilly and Jodie Foster) are not exactly their cup of tea. And it doesn’t take long before the smooth lawyer and the art writer of a book on Darfur (Foster) are driving each other insane. There’s a subtle hint that she’s a former alcoholic, but this isn’t fact-checked in the film. (Again, why should every detail always be explained?) And while this may give you a chance to feel more sympathetic towards Reilly and Winslet, they’ll lose your sympathy before too long as well. Note how this forced conversation plays with etiquette codes (just watch their use of first names, last names and nicknames) and enjoy the film even more.

So the director is good, the screenplay is good and the actors are good… why isn’t this the film of 2011 then? Because the film was written by Yasmina Reza and it was based on her play Le Dieu de Carnage. And this film is very much a film version of a play. Is that bad? No, but throughout the film I wanted to see the reactions of the other people while someone was having a dialogue or monologue and here – by definition as it’s a film (unless you count experiments like Timecode by Figgis) – you’re bound to watch what’s happening through the vision of the director. In a way this is odd, given that it’s been ages since I last saw a play (the last two involved spitting and cutting each other and an overbearing sense of “look at me, I’ve studied art), but I genuinely I felt during the film I’d enjoyed this more in the theatre. Add the same director and actors and you’re watching one of the best plays of the year. Then again, given the sheer amount of pretentious garbage that’s often domineering the theatres, a lot of people wouldn’t have discovered Reza’s play because they were still paying their psychiatris to get over that trauma of the last play where that actor took a dump on another actor’s face (agreed, I made this up, but I’m sure somewhere in the world this will have happened on a stage as an astute metaphor of how we’re dealing with the environment).

Looking at the Wikipedia page, it looks as if the play has already had its fair share of good casts, but Polanski assembled maybe the best version. But most of the credit should go to Yasmina Reza, so we’ll name her again. (However, I found a review that mentioned the film adaptation upstaged the Broadway version, so I thought I’d just mentioned that as well.)

One thing is definitely wrong about the film and that’s the ending. Sure, it may have been tough to find an ending for this piece, but the way Carnage ends seems like Polanski didn’t even care about a finale. (A possible suggestion: what if the film ended with the exact moment, only with a shot where the camera zoomed out and retreated, as if we’d also given up on these four people? Anyway, that’s all for today’s edition of “Let’s play Polanski”.)

And this is the moment where I try to finish the review, but maybe we’ll take Polanski’s lead and end it now.


Source Code

Let’s return briefly to our previous review, Drive. There wasn’t space enough to add another pet peeve in the review and it felt wrong to add more negativity to the review. Also, it may have looked guilty of this particular accusation, but it wasn’t. Drive opened with the robbery sequence. Once the driver has managed to shake off the cops, he leaves the underground parking and, lo and behold, it’s time for the movie credits after all. We must’ve been in the cinema for about fifteen minutes by now…

The credits and the need to do away with them… do we have to blame Christopher Nolan for this? He’s definitely a culprit but at least he had good reasons not to start his movies with credit sequences: Batman Begins is a movie which leads up to the moment the caped crusader becomes Batman. To end your movie with the credits is, given the film’s theme and title, not bad. I’m not sure if Memento is also creditless at first, but that film was told in reverse anyway. Anyway, in such cases we understand the reason to leave out the opening credits. US television series are facing the same problem: the credits sequence seems to have moved to the beginning of the second part, so right after the first commercial break. The commercial suits have become so mortally afraid of someone hopping away to another channel that they seemingly ruined television for all the viewers. Gone are the days of wonderful teasers, a couple of minutes long, followed by the familiar credits and off the show went. Is this why it’s also done in cinemas? We don’t know. Is it done because otherwise moviegoers wouldn’t mind popping in a couple of minutes late and thus missing out on the commercials preceding the film? You can’t channelhop in a cinema after all. But for our entertainment value, unless it’s done for a good reason, a film needs to start with opening credits. As David Cronenberg once said, credits help you leave the real world and go to the world inside the film. Crazy, stupid, love had good credits: the under-table romance shots in a restaurant had told us the marriage of Carell and Stone was over before she asked for a divorce.

Source Code kicks off with credits – erm… yes, it took us 380 words to get to today’s topic – and they aren’t the most mindblowing credits out there, but at least they’re there. The film opens with an aerial shot going towards a train and a split second later Jake Gyllenhaal‘s character wakes up in a train. The cute woman in front of him calls him Sean, even though that isn’t his name. Worse even, the face in the mirror is not his own face. A little while later, the train explodes. Not good.

Turns out there was a good reason why the man didn’t feel like Sean: he isn’t. He is Colter Stevens, a soldier who’s working for a brand new experiment: apparently there are a couple of people whose brains can connect to other people just before a fatal movement, like a train explosion. Sliding between the real world and the unreal world isn’t so unpeculiar for the film’s director, Duncan Jones, who debuted in 2009 with Moon. Familiar territory for him then, but not for us, the viewers, and for Colter: he and we can’t understand why Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga), the military woman at the other side of the experiment, reacts so cool. Never mind, viewer, all will be explained later.

Before “later”, Stevens has to return again and again to those eight minutes on the train which led up to the explosion: only when he’s found the bomber will this mission be over. However, because Stevens can walk freely in these eight minutes, the experience will be different every time. Not that we’re complaining: not only is it possible for Stevens to find the terrorist, we can also see more of Sean’s good friend Christina (Michelle Monaghan), the only character on the train that gets some character development.

That may be the best part of the film. The worst part… well, it seems as if Hollywood is now run by 14-year-old girls. Source Code ends in such a sugarsweet fashion we had to watch a Melissa Joan Hart Christmas movie afterwards or we’d faced a cold turkey. Not only is the ending awful, it doesn’t make sense. At one point in the film, the action pauses. Had the film ended there, it would have been a contender for our Top 10 [there is one film in the cinema and one film on dvd we still need to watch before we can give you the list of 2011, so stay tuned…]. Now it won’t be there. Oh, it’s not a bad movie, far from, but the only price this deserves is “tackiest ending of 2011”. If Duncan Jones can send us his details, we’ll send him our Golden Lump.



Merry Christmas, everyone! And to spoil the mood completely, let’s review one of the alleged best films of 2011. By “best” we mean it’s often praised, by “alleged” we are saying we’re not impressed.

As much as we try to avoid them, sometimes we cannot help it but catch a glimpse of trailers. Our cinema card allows us to print our own ticket, so thanks to meticulous planning, it’s possible to work out at which minute you have to enter the theatre to be just in time for the film and too late for the preceding commercials. True, this also means we’ll miss out on cinema trailers, but that isn’t awful for two reasons: you can also catch those at the film sites online and, even more important, they tend to suck anyway. In more cases than one, they are also misleading in order to goad as many whippersnappers to the theatres – (500) days of summer and Crazy, stupid, love being two recent examples. I did catch the trailer of Drive and didn’t really feel lured to go and see the film. Reason one: they actually managed to play the trailer twice in a row, which only adds to the annoyance. Reason two: oh look, it’s Ryan Gosling… again. Now there’s an actor we haven’t seen much of this year. Reason three: it looked quite like a dumb action movie.

Not very impressed then and the synopsis didn’t help much either. Gosling is a driver. He is a stuntman for movies, he works in a garage and he occasionally helps thugs as their getaway driver after another robbery. There is no specific reason as to why he does that, there’s hardly any character development: saying he’s two-dimensional would even be overestimating him. Actually, you can even catch that in the trailer. No, it’s not just a series of action-packed snippets from the film: that’s all there is to his character. There was hardly any reason why we wanted to see this film, was there?

Well, let’s digress. Ever since Stephen Moffat took over the Doctor Who wheel, the series has grown up. In a way, Doctor Who has become the equivalent of Harry Potter: Rowling also wanted the characters to grow up along with the readers, which is why the tone of the later books is allegedly – a term used here in the meaning of: don’t ask us, we haven’t ready any, we’re only quoting Wikipedia – heavier and darker. Even the earlier episodes in the Davies era which were penned by Moffat are our favourites and there’s hardly any character we’re fonder of – and yes, that does include all the Doctor’s companions – than Sally Sparrow of the brilliant episode “Blink”. Portraying her was one Carey Mulligan and guess who’s also starring in Drive…?

Ms Mulligan is Gosling’s next door neighbour and he cannot help but being intrigued by this woman. It turns out she’s a young mother and the wife of a convicted criminal. Not that this would be a surprise: the garageowner Gosling works for also has ties with local mob types. In fact, let’s just leave it at this: the entire city consists of criminals. Anyway, despite the fact that her husband is released from jail soon, Gosling and Mulligan grow towards each other, which doesn’t quite make her guy like Gosling very much. However, when Gosling returns home one day and find him bleeding on the ground with his little boy nearby and in shock, the two become BFFs and Gosling even offers to drive him to his final robbery – the debt the man still needs to pay for being safe in prison and the only way the local thugs wouldn’t harm Carey and their son. Things go wrong – ooh, surprise, surprise – and what follows can best be described as a brutal killing spree.

Which leads us to the biggest problem we had with the film: there’s no flow in the film whatsoever. You could argue that one hyperviolent scene can be followed by a softer scene because that’s how the storyline forces the film to change its pace, but because the characters aren’t developed, there are no reference points. And what’s even worse, sometimes the director inserted a couple of slow motion scenes. Nothing wrong with them, but they have to be used well: Confessions also had a couple of slow motion scenes but they helped to underline the poetry of the film. Drive isn’t poetic and as a result, the scenes feel out of place and only cause the film to appear even more random. Yes, some of the slow motion scenes look nice, but they didn’t help the film to change its pace: it was as if someone has accidently pushed the slo-mo button and noticed this after 20 seconds.

Even the soundtrack has this problem: there’s one recurring track (“A real hero” – see below) underlying the mysterious relationship between Gosling and Mulligan, but it sounds quite different from some of the other tracks, which once again doesn’t help the film find some unity.

The mobsters, the violence, the mysterious protagonist… it felt as if this film wanted to bring the Japanese movie culture into a western movie. As the United States are not Japan, the result simply feels unjust. Another director who is a self-professed fan of Japanese cinema, is our good old friend Ta****ino (a.k.a. The Thief) and Drive is one of those films which was praised as similar to the Thief’s style. Much like Locks, Stocks and we all know how many masterpieces that director made later in his career. In 2011, even the Thief’s star isn’t what it used to be: the internet gave us many of the films he copied and his “unique style” is only still mentioned by those reviewers who stay away from older cult movies as if they were viral.
By comparison, the violent scenes (the bathroom and elevator scenes immediately spring out here) don’t really go together with the rest of the film. True, this is a movie about tough guys, but those scenes don’t underline that, they give you the feeling of a naughty infant shouting “look at what I there”. Don’t you see how edgy I am?

Well, frankly, the answer is no. But as it’s Christmas and we don’t want to spoil the mood completely, the very best scene in the film is an emotional one between Gosling and Mulligan. They stand near each other (as you can see on the still around these words). Nothing much happens, but Mulligan’s breathing reveals the intensity. That is the sort of tension the movie tried to create at the beginning but failed to do so when the story speeds away from the starting blocks. Anyway, that’s the Avenue’s opinion. Apparently the rest of the world claims this is a masterpiece. Even the presence of Ron Perlman and Christina Hendricks couldn’t save this film for us, so all we’re left with is a scene with an actress breathing heavily. Still that’s something and one day, when we grow up, we’ll probably like this film – according to a much liked comment on the YouTube page for the song below: “Drive is a grown up film. All you children stop commenting on how boring it was. Grow up and maybe you’ll one day understand this masterpiece of a film.” Please excuse us, it’s now our time to play on the seesaw…


Simon Werner a disparu

Having the soundtrack for your debut feature made by Sonic Youth… how cool is that? Never mind that gimmick, is Simon Werner a disparu (or Lights out, which is – for some reason – the international title) a good film? Let’s review and find out.

The original title says it all: Simon Werner, student, has disappeared. Or has something happened to him? The film opens with a party to the tunes of Love Like Blood. After all, the film takes place in the early nineties. Because the film offers more than one perspective on what’s happened, Killing Joke‘s song features a couple of times – yet it didn’t get the same amount of press as Sonic Youth’s tracks. Not unsurprisingly so, because the band actually compared a full album of instrumental tracks for the movie. At the time of release who could predict Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore would break up and Simon Werner A Disparu OST might become the final Sonic Youth release?

Maybe I’m noticing this because my upcoming novel also exists of multi-perspective angles, but this seems to becoming quite the rage (I better hurry then with the rewrite or I’ll be accused of jumping on a bandwagon – never mind my having started working on it in 2009). Truth be told, unlike some of these movies, Simon Werner doesn’t always have the strongest stories for them to be retold again, but at its core there’s something much more frightening than the disappearance of a young man: teen anxiety. Set in an obviously not very poor neighbourhood, it’s all about being part of the group here. Thus for some, the school becomes a place with nice hideouts.

All that leads to only question: what has happened to Simon Werner? It looks quite likely that he hasn’t just disappeared, but if that’s the case, who knows more about the disappearance and possible murder? At the end of the movie, you’ll know this, but the ending left a lot of people with an uncomfortable feeling. Cult fans (especially those who’ve watched a giallo or two) will not be surprised that it isn’t always the most likely suspect who’s responsible for a (possible) crime. If that worries you, Simon Werner says more about you than about the 1990s. There’s lots of gossiping in the film and eccentric or asocial characters are just ready to be served as scapegoats. (Just like Alice seems born for the role of femme fatale.) And that is the true story behind Simon Werner’s disappearance. A simple whodunit, this is not.

Good movie, good soundtrack and a fair bit of nostalgia for the previous century. Are we content? Yes, we are. Have we mentioned that the film also looks good? No, not yet, but I’m sure you can come to that conclusion just by looking at the trailer below.


Crazy, Stupid, Love.

In the olden days comedies were great. Remember the screwball comedies from the late thirties like Bringing Up Baby or His Girl Friday? The witty dialogues, the fast speed, … The Preston Sturges movies were great too: long before Aki Kaurismäki there already was a director whose comedies made you cry rather than laugh. Sadly those days seemed to be over. Comedy had turned into something else. One of the most-loved comedies of the nineties featured a girl who mistook sperm for styling gel. The film was There’s something about Mary and people seemed to love it for some reason. The other highlight was a man who got his penis stuck in the zipper of his trousers. How superior was that movie to the days of building up a movie around a couple of mistakes whilst the characters fired oneliners and double entendres at each other… The twenty-first century seemed to wallow in comedy dirt: the offspring of Bringing Up Baby seemed to have been conquered by the worshippers of Animal House. I seem to be alone in this, but I was heavily disappointed by The Hangover – maybe because I’d expected more from Ed Helms, one of the few Daily Show alumni who were able to combine high-brow and low-brow jokes.

Steve Carell was the first Daily Show “correspondent” who left the successful ship for a career in movies (and The Office). The 40 Year Old Virgin was his claim to fame so far. I said so far… 2011 gave us a comedy called Crazy, Stupid, Love. (CSL, from now on). From the first scene onwards, the movie shows it knows how to build up a joke. We sit in a restaurant and observe people’s shoes making out underneath the table, all the way to the worn-out sneakers of Steve Carell and the uninterested shoes of Julianne Moore. No further introduction needed, here’s a loveless marriage. The meal is almost over and Steve Carell’s character Cal Weaver decides that he and his wife should both say simultaneously what they desire: he wants a crème brulée, she opts for a divorce.
Intercut with the scenes of the couple splitting up, we’re also introduced to their son who’s caught with his hands under his sheets by the babysitter (“For what it’s worth, I think of you when I do it.”) and to some slick guy in the bar who seems to be successful with the ladies. Jacob Palmer is played by Ryan Gosling (does he live in studios these days?) and the previous sentence wasn’t completely true: his smooth tactics don’t work on law student Hannah (Emma Stone), mainly because she’s inches away from a degree in law and because her boyfriend is so happy with her he’s preparing her from that “very special” day.
While Jacob overcomes this cold shower by going to the very next single lady in the bar, he can’t help but spot Cal who’s telling everyone his ex-wife was having an affair with an office colleague (Kevin Bacon). Gosling feels sympathetic towards the lonely man and offers him a makeover, which will change the lives of everyone involved.

You see? That’s the setting for an ambitious comedy and make no mistake, CSL is just that. The film even goes for a climax like the ones from the screwball era: so much happens at the same time and it would be a shame to ruin any of the many plot threads.
Apart from this… the movie isn’t over after the climax. Which I must admit felt odd. After lingering on for a couple of minutes, the film prepares itself for a second climax (still odd) and, even worse, it seems like we’ll end the film on one of those Hollywood moral lessons. Oh boy… and while this may be the case to a large extent, the film manages not to end on a completely happy end and even has one or two snaps ready that you wouldn’t see in a traditional comedy with high morals (i.e. the envelope).

Naysayers will complain that the good old days will never return and that anything from the olden days is infinitely better than anything made today. Put those people in quarantine and enjoy this film: it’s witty, it manages to have two climaxes which work and there’s lots of oneliners. Add to that talent like Steve Carell, Emma Stone, Julianne Moore, Ryan Gosling, Marisa Tomei and Kevin Bacon and you have a modern day comedy that manages to look decent next to old screwballs. Sure, there is the occasional faux pas: the scene at the parental night at school looks very much staged – it’s quite odd to think there’s only two chairs for the next parents and that they’re both put on opposite sides of the classroom, but it looks good on screen.

One of the better movies of the year is a comedy. We must be ill.

Kokuhaku (Confessions)

If there’s one word that manages to link this review to the previous one (In Time) and the next (Crazy, Stupid, Love.), then it’s this one: climax. Having a climax (or anticlimax) is essential to a film, but finding one that doesn’t damage the film but actually lifts it up to a higher dimension is quite a quest. Let’s start with the bad news: Confessions has a climax that ruined the film for me. “Ruined” may be a big word, but it did manage to turn this film from the best film of 2011 to a possible contender for that title.

Strictly speaking, Confessions is a film from 2010, but it was released in German cinemas this summer (right about the time when I was visiting) and as far as I can remember, it wasn’t even released in Belgium at all. So let’s all be social and welcome Confessions to Film 2011.

Speaking of “social”, the teacher who opens the film with her confession can’t count on the social attitude of her pupils. But she doesn’t cut her farewell speech short and by the end of her confession, everyone is all ears. Not because she’s such a good orator (fear not, this is not Dead Poets Society) but because she confesses her little daughter didn’t drown in a pool as was suggested. She has clear proof that the girl was murdered and not just murdered: the culprits are two pupils from that classroom. She only hints at who the pupils are, constantly referring to them as A and B, but soon everyone knows who they are. And even if they didn’t, at that point the teacher reveals that the milk she distributed to everyone at the start of the lesson was lovely healthy milk for everyone, apart from the cartons of the culprits: their milk was spiked with HIV-infected blood. You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to work out that the two pupils who are suddenly vomiting milk are very likely the murderers.

As far as opening scenes go, Confessions makes sure it enters with a bang. The opening monologue lasts almost half an hour but not a second of it disappoints. Why the film is called Confessions and not Confession soon becomes clear: next up are characters who have to deal with the teacher’s action.
What makes this film outstanding is the level of depth that’s been given to those characters. The second confession comes from a girl from the class, who may or may not have feelings for Shuya (a.k.a. A) and we learn more about Shuya, herself and the other pupils through her story. Next up are the mother of “B” and Shuya himself. Each story doesn’t just keep the film going, it reveals more about the people. Confessions is based on the novel Kokuhaku by Kanae Minato. Director Tetsuya Nakashima (who also made the movie Kamikaze Girls) is also responsible for translating the book into a movie. (And one with quite a British tone: the soundtrack has prominent tracks by Boris and Radiohead.)

The only thing that didn’t work for me was the climax, for which computer effects had to be brought in. Not only were they not the most convincing effects, they also didn’t fit in with the rest of the movie. More than once, the director chooses to hold back the pace of the film by using a slow motion technique that’s reminiscent of Blue Velvet‘s opening scene. In the rest of the film, it helps the film become more beautiful, but in the climax the slow motion – in combination with the effects – actually damage the scene. Had the director been content with only half of the effect used in the film (in order to keep this review spoiler-free, I won’t reveal which part), the result would’ve been a lot better.

In the end, the failed climax cost Kokuhaku a competition-free first spot on this year’s list. But on the plus side, we now have a new climax ourselves: which will be the best film of the year?


Confessions is out on DVD in the UK. The double disc release also includes interviews with the directors and soms of the actors.

In Time

The difference between watching a movie and watching a movie as part of an exclusive avant-première night is that the latter has a fairer share of people who can’t leave their mobile phone alone. Time is apparently not in their hands. In case of the film being In Time, that’s a lovely case of irony. In any case, it’s annoying for any other moviegoer. But before we get to the part where I would like to reinstate the death penalty for this sort of asocial morons, let’s go to the review of the movie and hope I will forget about it. Oh, and about what happened during Crazy, stupid, love. (which happened in the same week, no less) … anyway, what was I talking about? Oh yes, a movie. You know, that thing you see in the background of all those flashing phones… (That’s enough, Ed.)*

In Time is the latest release by Andrew Niccol. The film takes us to the future, where the current troubles of the Euro zone have been solved, it seems: the new and only currency is time. Well, at least in the US: as ever so often, this sort of film carefully decides not to mention any other country in the world. We’re probably dead to them. Or maybe just dead in general. Bloody Americans. (That’s enough anti-American sentiment: next thing you’ll get more hatemail telling you are anti-capitalist, Ed.)

No, Ed., that’s where you are wrong: the film itself divides the world (read: the US) into richer and poorer parts – or “time zones” and throughout the movie there’s a clear message of “Wouldn’t it all be dandier if the wealth – read: time – would be distributed over all the time zones? It’s almost as if Michael Moore wrote the screenplay.

No Michael Moore in sight, but we do get to see Justin Timberlake. Timberlake – I must’ve been sick the day he was declared a bonafide actor – is the protagonist. Like so many others in the film, he looks 25. Well, he doesn’t, but let’s pretend he does. That’s because the moment you turn 25 the clock on your arm starts counting down to zero. If you want to stay alive, you’ll have to earn more money (read: time) and as a result you may get as old as you want to, but you’ll never look a day older than 25. The best example of this is when Timberlake’s character meets the Weis family and is introduced to the mother, the wife and the daughter. All look no older than 25.

That’s mainly because women are forced to be sexy in the movie industry. They can’t look too old or Justin Timberlake might not be interested in tearing their blouses off. (Is anyone else still annoyed that puritan America has always looked down on Janet Jackson for having a nipple but not to the guy who actually tore the dress open? I am. Especially since he’s allegedly become this terrific actor.) And whereas In Time‘s women mainly have to look nice, the men have no trouble looking considerably older: they are chosen for their statuses. There’s the guy from Nipplegate, that guy from The Big Bang Theory (Johnny Galecki) and the sleazy bastard from Mad Men (Vincent Karthuiser). Because in the day and age where people tend to stay at home and watch tv rather than going out for a movie, there’s no better cast than people you only know from the telly. Anyway, those three and the main Timekeeper (Cillian Murphy, aged 35) are about as convincingly looking 25 as the casts of Buffy and Beverly Hills 90210 in their attempts to look 16.

Anyway, let’s pretend we haven’t noticed this and go to the plot of In Time. The rich live in the better time zones and the poorer people live in the ghettos. Life in the ghetto is hard: time costs money and time seems to become more expensive every day. One day a bus fare will cost you an hour of your life, the next day it’s two hours. Even worse, the ghetto seems to be full of thugs who come and steal your precious time from you. Will Galas (Timberlake) hopes that one day he is able to take his mother to the better zones and it seems like time is on his side (pun not intended). Galas meets a man who’s so tired of life he goes to a dirty bar in the hope of being killed by thugs. Instead, his life is saved by Galas. The next morning Galas wakes up and notices the rich guy has donated most of his money. He just kept enough to go outside and watch the sunrise. Will wakes up just in time to see that moment. If anything, that’s the most annoying part of In Time: a lot of things in the film seem to happen in the climatic final seconds. After a while, this becomes quite tedious.

Galas can’t take his mother to the richest zone: she didn’t have enough time left to take the bus and she and Will run towards each other. He fails to save her by just one second. (Told you…) Galas swears to take revenge on the powers that be and orders a cab to the richest zone, where he’s quickly spotted by a mysterious woman (Amanda Seyfried). It turns out she’s the daughter of Weis, the man who distributes time and, lo and behold, the powers that be think something must be done about Galas. Because the rich must remain rich and the poor have to struggle in order to survive. So the time keepers, the people who are in charge of ensuring time stays in the correct zones, hunt Galas down. Will Galas abducts Weis’s daughter and within a day she has enough sympathy for him to become the future day Robin Hood and go and rob time, Bonnie and Clyde style.

At this point, it might have become clear that In Time doesn’t stand up to serious scrutiny. Which is a shame because, at the centre of the film, there is enough material for a brainy blockbuster. But the brains were thrown out of the window, in favour of tv celebrities, cardboard chases and bad guys, a non-discussion about our financial system and a tendency to bend the plot so much everything seems to happen in the last seconds.
One also semi-failed sci-fi movie In Time reminded me of was Gattaca and, wouldn’t you know it, that was also written and directed by Niccol. If you’ve seen Gattaca and remember its flaws, you know what to expect here. On the plus side: the time effect on the arms is a great touch. And some of the cast doesn’t feel out of place: Karthuiser is typecast to be as slick as his Mad Men character and again Amanda Seyfried doesn’t feel out of place. Now for someone to cast her in a superb movie… – yes, let’s end on a weak pun – it’s about time.


In Time opens in Belgian cinemas on 23 November. It’s already released in the UK and US. It’ll open in most countries between November and January.
* The satirical magazine Private Eye exists 50 years. This was the Avenue’s way of saying “Happy birthday, mag!” (That’s enough flattery, Ed.)