At the time of writing, Neill Blomkamp has directed three movies. His first one, District 9, hit bullseye immediately. His third one seems to be, as the British tend to say, marmite. More than 191.000 votes have been cast on the IMDb site and the overall score can only be described as decent (6.9/10). Dissecting the score, you’ll find the movie is best liked by Chappie_postergirls younger than 18 and the most active voters gave it the lowest ranking. To us, that seems to make a lot of sense. In a couple of sentences, we’ll reveal which question we’re going to ask if someone wants to hear from us if we’d recommend Chappie or not. But first, it’s time for a synopsis.

District 9 exposed us to an alien race, forced to live in the slums of South Africa. Chappie also takes us to that area, this time only to show us crime gangs who terrorize the neighbourhood, the police and other gangs. Luckily, the film is set in the near future, so the police can rely on droids to be sent into the field. One such droid, number 22, isn’t too lucky: fresh from a repair session, it’s once again destroyed the first time it’s back on a mission. The droid is written off and would’ve been destroyed if it weren’t for its creator Dean Wilson (Dev Patel). Dean has just made a breakthrough in an AI project and sees N°22 as the perfect droid to test it out on: can droids start thinking? Or, as Dean seems to wonder, write its own poetry. Because that’s the niche market we still needed: droid poetry.
Sadly for Dean, a criminal gang wants to kidnap him to control all droids and once they discover Dean’s secret project and the broken droid, it doesn’t take them too long to start using Chappie, the name they give the thinking droid, for their evil plans…

chappie02Dev Patel isn’t the only known name in the credits list of Chappie. Hugh Jackman and Sigourney Weaver also smaller roles and there’s even a cameo for CNN’s Anderson Cooper. Oh, and there’s Die Antwoord. Which brings us to that question you were going to ask us:

You: “Hey Kurtodrome, should we watch Chappie or not?”
We: “Well, let us ask you something too: do you like Die Antwoord?”

If you don’t like Die Antwoord, by all means skip this film. If you like them a lot, go and watch it. If you’re somewhere in between, avoid Chappie too. And if you watch your movies based on how credible the performances of the artists are, we have very bad news for you. Yo-Landi (that should be ¥o-Landi Vi$$er, but we can no longer be @r$€d to deal with weird letters) has a decent range, but Ninja is such a two-dimensional charicature, even more than in the videos of the band) that it hurts the film. Even Blomkamp seems to have no idea what he wants to do: direct a movie or the video of the next Die Antwoord video. There are moments where Die Antwoord look like they’re acting, only for Chappie to suddenly start playing a bit from another track. And nowhere chappie01is that more painful than when Die Antwoord, another gang member and Chappie are ready for a robbery and walk towards the camera in slow motion (because that’s been cool since Reservoir Dogs, which was totally the first movie to ever do that – and no, Ta****ino never stole an idea from another movie, never). All natural sounds have been deleted and all we hear over the sight over this wannabe cool shot is a track by Die Antwoord. Which, even if you like the band, makes you realize you’re watching a long fanboy promo rather than a movie.

There are more scenes which hardly make sense: as Chappie is a droid who doesn’t want to do any harm, Ninja – who is played by Ninja – leaves him with a group of hoodlums, who terrorize him and set him on fire. But Chappie is a droid, so he survives… only to be kidnapped by a colleague of Dean who really hates Dean’s guts and cuts off one of Chappie’s arms… as one does. Which could’ve been moving, but then Yo-Landi and Dean use another arm as replacement and that’s the end of that (sort of). And then there’s the bit where Chappie doesn’t want to hold a gun because that hurts people… but he is fine chappie03with stabbing people. True, in the film it’s explained: Ninja – who is played by Ninja – tells Chappie that stabbing somebody “puts them to sleep”. Erm, but don’t the people who get stabbed shout in pain and start bleeding? Yes, they do, but for some reason Chappie is okay with that, despite stabbing and shooting looking very much alike and even though Chappie has already seen people sleep (so an intelligent droid should’ve known that this was a clear lie).

And in the end, that is the real problem with Chappie: it doesn’t know whether it wants to be trash or an emotional rollercoaster, a movie or an extended fanboy video for a band. And for us, that’s too many problems to like the film. It’s not that we don’t like Die Antwoord, because we like some of their tracks. It’s that one half of the duo can’t act in a film that has no idea of what it’s trying to be. Unless they always wanted to make a convoluted mess.

Repo Chick

Given that it’s been years since we regularly updated the Avenue, even regular visitors may have forgotten that our website (Kurtodrome) was named after a programme on BBC2. It Repo-chick-1was called Moviedrome and it showed cult movies, on summer nights (mostly Sundays), from 1988 to 1994 (hosted by Alex Cox) and revived from 1997 to 2000 by Mark Cousins. The Cousins era was widely debated and split the fans into either being glad at least there was more Moviedrome or thinking it wasn’t as good as the series with Alex Cox as host. Because after all, Cousins was no Cox. Even though, you could also argue that Cox was no Cousins. And while it’s true that in the Cousins eras there was no month of spaghetti westerns, it was Cousins who included movies like Branded to Kill. And while it’s true that in 2016 it’s been more than fifteen years since the last episode of Moviedrome, you can’t say that the sort of movie to be shown in either form of the BBC2 show is no longer aired on TV. Even though Brits may have to juggle between BBC2, BBC4, ITV4, Film4, Channel4 or even Movies4Men and these cult movies are shown throughout the year on mixed nights rather than a weekly programme… oh, and that there is nobody who introduces them. Yes, it’s 2016 and these days you watch movies on Netflix where you select a movie because of a synopsis of four lines and a still next to it. But don’t we just sometimes long for those programmes where someone warmed you into a movie, telling you bits about the director, the making or even scenes you should pay close attention to?

Alex Cox, the original host of Moviedrome, is a director in case you didn’t know. He shot to fame in 1984 with the instant cult classic Repo Man. He then directed – a.o. – that punk biopic Sid and Nancy and, just prior to hosting the first episode of Moviedrome, a movie called Walker. Made with American money in a country the USA wasn’t particularly fond of, the shooting of Walker was so controversial the movie company sent someone to make sure


Alex Cox didn’t completely destroy the budget. According to folklore, Cox threatened to kill the man if he came too close to him on set and to this date it’s unclear whether he meant it or not. All the doors opened by his previous movies, were closed after Walker and Cox’s filmography post-Walker definitely looks different (which does not equal less interesting).

After completing Searchers 2.0 in the mid-noughties, Cox had learnt how to record a “microfeature”, i.e. a movie made for a ludicrously low budget. This came in handy for his next feature, Repo Chick. A sequel to his breakthrough movie? No, such a thing is impossible: the contract between Cox and the movie company that produced Repo Man made it clear that sequels can’t be made unless both parties agree on this. And had we already told you either party doesn’t really like the other one? Repo Man and Repo Chick are both about repo(ssessing cars), but the stories are different. And whereas both movies repochickshare a couple of actors, it’s not as if some of those actors don’t pop up in other Cox movies too. However, the production company was so pissed, it redubbed a movie starring the Avenue’s nemesis J*de L*w (perennially dubbed The Twat over here) as Repo Men in order to piss off Cox and to cash in on its cult classic after all. Cox’s raised middle finger, Repo Chick, is in this case the better of the two insults. However, as the “chick” is no “man” and because it was filmed on a micro budget, lots of people didn’t like it.

To save money on locations, Repo Chick was shot entirely on green screens with the backdrops added on later. This rarely produces a natural setting, but that’s not something Cox was aiming for. In fact, he exaggerates this by adding even less natural additions to the backgrounds, thereby dipping his movie into a surreal and cartoonish setting. In case the main character’s name, our chick, wasn’t obvious enough, we’ll tell you that Pixxi De La 6396-2Chasse (Jaclyn Jonet) is a clear pastiche of a Paris Hilton-type socialite. At the time, this was said to be too much of a fashion fad that wouldn’t last another year, but flash forward nearly ten years and even now blogs and papers are bursting with any sort of gossip about the TOWIEs, Kardashians and/or Big Brother contestants whose skirts split live on air while twerking. Paradoxically, in this fake atmosphere with unreal backdrops and cartoonish characters, it’s Pixxi (whose car is towed away when daddy cancels her credit card and who then finds a job repossessing cars) who looks the most genuine character. Which means Cox isn’t just poking fun at the uberrich chicks who couldn’t be more estranged from reality, but also at those who think all socialite chicks are airheads. Which at the time pissed off even more viewers. Tonight BBC2 will air Repo Chick once again, the third showing already (the fourth if you count the time it was shown on BBC1) and to be honest, it’s not the sort of movie one would expect to get four showings. (We’re quickly adding we’re more than happy to be proven wrong in this case.) If you’re up late at night, have a watch. Unless you don’t like fake backgrounds. Or Pixxis and Parises. Or a movie which doesn’t poke as much fun at Pixxis as one would expect. Or movies surreal enough to feature socialites as well as terrorists and doesn’t seem to make sense when you’re telling the plot to someone (noticed we haven’t really tried?). Or movies where the director has a cameo as a deranged scientist. All of these things make Repo Chick even more different. But different doesn’t equal less interesting.

(BBC2 airs Repo Chick tonight at 12.55am local time.)

Lady on a Train

Let’s celebrate the Avenue’s return with something topical and what is more topical on Boxing Day than a movie that takes place on Christmas? Christmas Eve, to be precise, but we’ll gloss over that for now.

Lady on a Train is a movie from 1945 that combines a whodunit with comedy and musical. Sounds like more than you can handle? Well, you’re not entirely wrong: it is more than a handful of elements for one movie and the scenes don’t always fit perfectly, but none of it bothers too much to spoil your viewing. The movie is built around Deanna Durbin, the classic actress who was cast throughout the late 30s and 40s for her good looks and dito voice. Say what you want about Deanna, but she was versatile enough to appear in any sort of movie, from film noir (Christmas Holiday) to musical western (Can’t Help Singing). In almost all of her 22 movies, Durbin performed at least one song and Lady on a Train is no exception, but we’ll return to that later.

The poster on the left is not from the movie, but from the mystery book it was based on. The author is Leslie Charteris, whom you might know from his books about The Saint. This movie starts with Nicki Collins (Durbin) reading a thriller on the train, when suddenly she sees a real murder being committed. The police don’t believe because she’s still carrying around Wayne Morgan’s book The Case of the Headless Bride and suggest she’d better go and bother the author (David Bruce) with her alleged murder story… which she promptly does, much to the dismay of Morgan’s fiancee. At first, Morgan doesn’t want to believe her and Nicki starts to investigate things herself, bumping into the family of the deceased (a cast including Dan Duryea and Ralph Bellamy). The family mistake her for a nightclub singer the deceased had an affair with, which doesn’t make the plot convincing, but is a handy step-up to have Durbin sing more than one song.

Overall, Durbin’s character is quite a sassy young lady. The poor man her father hired to look after her (played by Edward Everett Horton, a comedy legend from the 30s) definitely has his hands full and certainly can’t seem to go home unscathed after a hard day’s work. All in all, the character of Nicki Collins looks like a barely legal version of Nancy Drew. By then, Durbin had become such a darling of the silver screen that the seductive scenes in the nightclub songs might not appear too risqué, but I don’t think a genuine nightclub artist would’ve gotten away with sitting on someone’s lap and stroking his head in such a way the man’s girlfriend leaves the place with slamming doors.

Something contemporary this 1945 movie seems to be a distinct relative of is the series Castle: not only is there lots more “will they won’t they” atmosphere around than what’s actually being shown, it’s also one of the few shows that managed to find itself a niche where it doesn’t really matter if the story is believable or not. The twists and quirkiness suffice you keep you hanging until the end. And if that’s not enough, there’s a scene where Deanna Durbin is on the phone to her father (while she’s unaware there’s someone in the house who’s trying to get some evidence back). It’s a scene that is completely different from the rest of the film, but it’s Deanna Durbin and you’ll forgive her anything. Especially on Christmas Eve.

R.I.P. Kôji Wakamatsu

Once again, there’s no room for the planned and/or promised updates, as it’s time to pay tribute to a recently and suddenly deceased director. This time that’s even to be read literally, because Japanese cult director Kôji Wakamatsuwas run over by a taxi. Some

Violence without a cause
Violence without a cause

sources claim it was no accident as Wakamatsu had claimed he wanted to make a critical movie about the nuclear company Tepco. Of course, that’s only speculation at best, but how fitting an ordered execution would be for such a director.

When these pages belonged to a cult review site, DV, Wakamatsu’s filmography was mentioned and discussed. One of the most overused expression was fitting for him: you either hated or loved him. Smutty pornographer to some, bleak observer to others, his movies didn’t leave most members unmoved. And whereas it’s true that some of his work was little more than pornographic (especially in the 1980s), the same could be said for Jean Rollin or Jess Franco, directors who did get to keep their medals of cult directors.
Make no mistake, The embryo hunts in secret (1966) is extreme cinema. Basically, it’s like watching a woman who’s constantly tortured by a man. Like Fifty Shades then, but bleaker, less eroticising and more stylistic. Well, a lot more stylistic.

Kôji Wakamatsu directed so many movies – his IMDb profile, which may not even be complete (but it’s hard sifting through the movies with countless titles) – clocked off at 105 titles. That’s more than a hundred titles for a director who didn’t do anything between 1997 and 2003, or indeed skipped a couple of other years too. By contrast, he managed to complete ten titles in 1964. (He debuted in 1963, at the age of 27.)

Go go, second time virgin
Go go, second time virgin

No wonder then that it’s sometimes hard to distinguish which movie you’re watching. There are so many and most carry his cinematographic style. When asked why his body of

work was often repetitive, the director answered: Because the basic theme is the same, because all my films deal with the same primal element – the fight against authoritarianism, the individual hate and revenge against authority and repression. That hate and revenge explode in lust and violence. Is this bad?”

Wakamatsu was also a producer and even made some of his fame there, being the executive producer of In the realm of the senses, Oshima‘s erotic classic. Oshima is a lot more known and a little less extreme than Wakamatsu, but if you like Oshima’s work, there’s a chance you’ll like Wakamatsu as well. (I had to think of Oshima’s Naked Youth a.k.a. Cruel story of youth the first time I watched a Wakamatsu movie.)

For a lot of Wakamatsu’s work you’ll have to rely on the internet as most of his movies aren’t out on DVD anywhere else than Japan. A couple of movies were released in the US,

Shinjuku mad
Shinjuku mad

such as the excellent Go, go, second time virgin or Ecstasy of the Angels (both Image) or The notorious concubines (SWV). If you manage to catch Italian channel RaiTre, the often excellent Fuori Orario is currently showing a weekend long of movies as a tribute to the late director. On the internet, MUBI has a page on him with more than 20 films which he either directed or produced.

To me, Wakamatsu’s work are more political than erotic, no matter how much sex there is in some of his exploitation movies. (Then again, I’ve only seen ten of his films, that’s less than 10% after all.) The low budget he often had forced him to limit locations, but it helped to make his films claustrophobic. His style allowed you to understand his movies even if you can’t speak a word of Japanese (check). One of his films is called Violence without a cause, which neatly sums up Wakamatsu’s body of work. You can find a lot of clips from his movies on YouTube, but I’ll leave you with the opening scene of Ecstasy of Angels, which shows Wakamatsu didn’t need sex or violence to know where to point his camera to.

“I don’t think much of critics, so naturally they don’t think much of me either.” (Kôji Wakamatsu, 1936-2012)

Meek’s Cutoff

In space noone can hear you scream, we all know that. But how about the deserts or similar desolate areas? Meek’s Cutoff, made in 2010 but released in the Low Countries no sooner than 2012, offers us just that, an insight into the life of a group of pioneers. Their guide, Meek, promised them he knew a shortcut to an area full of wealth. The opening shot of the movie, the pioneer women wading through a river with caged birds on their heads, immediately shows that the trip may be lots of things, but definitely pleasant. However, does that mean the film doesn’t make for compelling viewing? It all depends on your definition of ‘compelling’. Quite a number of reviewers and bloggers worldwide slagged it off for its lack of entertainment. Then again, it’s a film about a group of rough people (otherwise, they wouldn’t have gone off their initial trail for this cutoff) who are stuck in desolate areas for days and days, with almost no certainty of the next time they’ll get to water. That’s the synopsis, now wouldn’t Meek’s Cutoff be improved if suddenly the entire cast would burst into a song and dance routine, preferably a musical version of Smells Like Teen Spirit? “Here we are now, entertain us.”

The big name in the cast is Michelle Williams and compared to this film, another of her movies, Blue Valentine, becomes a romcom. Meek’s Cutoff is bleak, forcing you to watch a small group of people turn from fearless pioneers into frightened little people. Hope may be around the next corner, or not. More often not, by the way. Does their guide, Meek, know the area or is he just a boaster? If Meek is out of his depth, will the group become leaderless? Adding to the despair, is the lack of water and the sudden and shocking encounter between Williams’s character and an Indian. For some reason, the Indian follows the group and after a while he’s caught. This adds to the conflicts as the group isn’t unanimous on what to do with their prisoner.

If you’re wondering where that all leads to, the answer is a bit unpleasant: Meek’s Cutoff doesn’t give an answer, the film has an open ending. It’s up to you to interpret the final scenes and look (attentively) for details. The Indian doesn’t know English and therefore what he’s muttering is not understood by the group. Helpfully, his words aren’t subtitled. It adds to the lack of references, which is a great way to sum the movie up. You’re about as lost as the pioneers. What we do know is that the Indian likes to carve messages on the rocks. Some travellers think this is a sign to his tribe and that they’re about to be lynched. However, one pioneer himself left the word “Lost” behind earlier in the movie, so maybe that’s what the Indian is communicating as well. Yet, what adds to the mystery is that, unlike the pioneers, observant viewers may spot other messages in the background. What does it all mean? Feel free to share your comments below or send a postcard to the usual address for nostalgic reasons.

The internet, that widely available source of information, does not help Meek’s Cutoff. The incomprehensible language has been translated by surfers and others commented on how historically and geographically correct the film is, which means you can find out for yourself whether the group will find a way or not. Whether you want to know that information is up to you and that’s the choice director Kelly Reinhardt leaves you. That this was done on purpose is evident in the way the film unrolls. Less clear, at least to me, is why the film was restricted to 1.33:1 in a time when widescreen has even become standard on television and computers. For me, widescreen would have added more background (and therefore desolation) but this way you’re closer on the skin of the pioneers.

Don’t expect to be entertained by this film. But watch it if you’re in the mood for “raggedy” and “rough”.


Dom (The House)

“There is always hope.” Such ended one of our most recent posts. But is there? The next three reviews are not about mainstream movies. If that adds to the perception that any blockbuster will get a bad review and there’s nothing but praise for other movies, then that’s a shame. Maybe I’m having better luck picking old and arthouse movies these days. That’s what in store for the next ten days, by the way. Two arthouse movies and a silent classic. There’s still time to run away if you want to.

Let’s start with one of the two movies I watched in The Hague. It wasn’t a holiday in the strictest sense of the word: there was a visit to the literary museum (for a retrospective on a writer I admired) and as a result, it sort of became a literary weekend, a chance for me to reload my batteries and continue working on my upcoming novella. On top of that, it was the warmest weekend of the year and someone had the audacity to build my hotel next to an arthouse cinema. Should I mention it had airconditioned rooms? And that everyone was doing something to avoid being in the scorching sun?

Dom (The House) was the first movie I watched. Fair enough, as it had jumped to my attention when I was still at home, googling to see if The Hague had any interesting theatres slash movies. For any readers who never got used to what’s been happening in Eastern Europe after the Berlin Wall became a bit of rubble, Dom is also a blessing. It’s a Czech movie with Slovakian funding (hence an alternative title and the Slovakian dubbers being mentioned on the end credits). So basically, you can name any country in “that area” and there’s a fair chance it was involved in the making of this film. Dom (which apparently rhymes with ‘Tom’) is the sort of movie people think of when you throw the label “arthouse” at them. You could expect the Dardenne brothers or Ken Loach to make something like this. To be honest, I find myself skipping this sort of movie more and more: hundreds of similar films are made every year and they’re more often than not quite predictable. You know the story, a young girl has a strenuous relationship with her father. The protagonist is either an outcast or the belle of the town (check the latter option here) and things happen that will either repair or completely destroy the relationship. Oh, and in case the movie is set in a poor area or a village in Eastern Europe, there’s always the hope of a better life, often in London, Paris or the US. In Dom‘s case, we have a girl, Eva (Judit Bárdos), who’s skipping school with the help of a doctor’s son. She uses her time to write papers for the other students and the money she earns goes into a hidden envelope. One day it will be enough to afford a trip to London and become an au pair there. Unaware of his daughter’s dream, her father is building a house for her in the backyard.
All this doesn’t sound too original, but the details count. The trailer won me over because it included the scene right after her father discovers the envelope and steals the money in order to buy more bricks for the house. There’s a wonderful ambivalance there: the same money she’s keeping to fulfill her dream is being used to get her the dream her father wants her to have. What happens next is that the family goes to church and you’ll never guess who’s playing the organ. She takes up the role everyone’s expecting of her (the beautiful, pious player) but then she doesn’t take her finger off the key for the final tone. In a most subtle way, this shows a gigantic rebellion between father and daughter in which everyone gets involved.

By everyone, we also include the nice young man who gives Eva a lift when she’s missed the bus. It turns out the man is an English teacher and translator. As readers of the Avenue, you’re all aware of how untrustworthy that sort of type is, but Eva is young (we’ll gloss over “fictional” and “heroine in a movie so something needs to happen”) and she falls for the one person who’s really nice to her for no obvious reason. Of course, we can tell that Eva won’t be able to pretend she’s sick forever, so one day she has to return to school and you’ll never guess who the new substitute teacher is. (Between you and me, the English books used in the movie are at least ten years old. One can only hope it’s a prop and not the genuine classroom material the Czech kids in 2010 still had to use.)
Finding out her lover is suddenly her teacher isn’t too much of a problem for Eva (in her own words), so how could we make the situation worse? Is it by a) letting someone barge in on them fooling around or b) having Eva find out he’s married? You guessed it, it’s both a and b.

And while Eva is trying to cope, there’s more happiness lurking around the corner. Eva’s older sister, who’s married a no-good guy, moves back to the area. Eva’s father isn’t too happy. That he cut off all the connections to her, is evident because he’s using bricks from the house he was building for her to make the house for Eva. And thus we get lots of conflicts, between father and daughters, between the father and his reluctant son-in-law, between Eva and her classmates, between Eva and her lover. With a film made in such a remote area, you wonder how they could squeeze so many arguments into the plot.

That Dom works, is thanks to a great cast and the direction skills of Zuzana Liová, but the location works in the movie’s favour too: the remote area helps you imagine how a young girl wants to dream of a live abroad. The characters are well developped as well. Despite all the far from sympathetic things he does (bursting into the bathroom to turn off the taps while Eva is taking a bath is another example), you cannot hate him. Despite of his shortcomings and very much in his own way, he wants the best for his daughter. He just can’t see that his plans may be different from his daughter’s. Smack in the middle of all these conflicts, is Eva’s mother who has to deal with all this passive aggression. Does all of this sound like something Loach or the Dardennes might have made? Then don’t forget that the difference here is that Dom isn’t set in an ugly part of a city, but in a remote area of Eastern Europe. An area that is like the film’s characters, at the same time beautiful but desolate. And because it all fits and manages to avoid being heavy-handed, the film is successful.


Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter

It’s a fair cop, Fox, you’ve caught me. I confess, there’s nothing I love to do more than to sneak into the cinema and film it on my camera. Because to me, the popcorn crackling, the ringing of mobile phones and the sounds of people talking just add to the movie experience and that’s exactly how I want to share it with my many terrorist friends.

Question: is Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter the final Fox movie I’ll watch in the cinema? Answer: maybe. Because when you’ve just paid nearly 9 euro to go and watch a film, there’s nothing you like better than a message accusing you of theft. Apparently to Fox, every moviegoer is a criminal. And honestly, in the past two months I’ve made up a tiny bit of my backlog and I’m getting horribly annoyed by the copyright message I have to endure every time. Of the more than 50 movies I’ve watched in July and August, there was literally one that thanked me for purchasing the film and supporting it. Now there’s a message. The others just put on a generic message that by my copying the film I’m doing a bad thing or even supporting terrorism. Luckily, the movies you rent on your digital tv don’t come with this message. On the other side of the scale, there’s series. You’re actually forced to watch every episode of a disc in one go or else you have to endure the same copyright nonsense again and again. That is why rather than buying Borgen, I watched it on BBC Four. I’ll repeat it and hope that all the copyright people are reading along: because you’re forcing me to watch a message that is not directed to me (as I have already purchased your bloody product) I buy fewer movies on DVD these days. And if, like Fox, you are now going to put up that same message in the cinema, I’ll be glad to send you my cinema card, so you can swallow on it. Oh, and while we’re at it, your statement consisted of only four sentences: is it too much to ask you not to make a grammatical error in four short sentences?

So after the almost faultless message of the copyright people, the people at Fox were kind enough to start the film. While your blood is still boiling from being accused of theft with a camera, there’s nothing you like to see more than a shoddy CGI effect. Fortunately, that’s exactly how Abraham Lincoln kicks off, but then again you can’t blame the product. After all, it’s not a movie. This is the brainchild of somebody who wanted to flog a lot of 3D television sets, but thought the store samples were too short. Oh, if only somebody would make a commercial of 100 minutes… and thus we get a tree being chopped with splinters scattering in every possible direction. Especially in the first five minutes, the 3D ad (sorry, movie) justs adds effect after effect, hoping nobody noticed the script editor was still missing on the first day of shooting. Even the film’s climax, which is set on a train, is nothing but a long commercial without any artistic value whatsoever.I can only hope it wasn’t made to look convincing. Say what you want about the 50s B-movies which also dabbled with 3D technology, but you’ll have a hard time trying to find one where the plot was basically as non-existant as here.

Speaking of artistic value, the director of this film (whom we shall only name as Timur B, for we believe we don’t have to name and shame the guilty people) and the post-production department must have understood how awful their mess was: they tried to make the movie look cool by blowing up the sound. By adding loud music and effects, you certainly get the feeling something is going on, but unfortunately, the entire thing was so loud I had to protect my ears from time to time. If those moments have taught me anything, it’s that a lot of the scenes lose their entertainment effect if you’re partially muting the sound.

Bad CGI effects, a shambolic effort to plug 3D and loudness to mask an inability to have a gripping scene… it doesn’t sound too positive, this review, now does it? Erm, not really, and it’s even worse because the premise looked promising. However, it all seems like the ‘product’ is only made to cash in: not just on the 3D hype, but also on Twilight and True Blood. Without a doubt, some cigar-smoking producer said: “You had me at 3D vampires.”
Vampires or not, if only the people in Hollywood forced themselves to look at the 2D version as well: you can add as many 3D effects if you like, but if there’s nothing substantial in the movie itself, people will feel cheated and the 3D rage will end sooner than they think. But they’re not worried about making a bad product, they worry about that one jerk who brings a camera to the theatre. Give people better movies and they’ll return to those expensive cinemas, some even after having watched it illegally (because it’s not the same as watching it on a giant screen). Or continue on this path and lose everyone. You are losing me, 3D. You have lost me, Fox. Do you get the message or do you want me to send it in 3D?


P.S. Finally some good news that I couldn’t seem to fit in the review… hrm, I couldn’t insert something positive into the review, isn’t that a sign of how abysmal a product is? Anyway, I did want to mention that Mary Elisabeth Winstead is very good in this film. She steals the film – not literally, Fox, you don’t want to accuse even your actresses of theft – and I hope for her that she can give a similar performance in a better movie.

The Muppets

Having already seen Haywire, I had to pick another movie. (Yeah, this post is a sequel to the previous one. Isn’t that exciting? No? Never mind.) So why not The Muppets? But at the same time, “why” The Muppets? Another muppet movie, did we really need it? Well no, but here’s the good news: it isn’t too bad. It’s not great either. The song and dance routines seem to be completely out of tune sometimes. For no obvious reason, characters can burst into a song. Some songs are also out of place: after Moulin Rouge, “Smells like teen spirit” already got a musical version and at least there’s a Nirvana member in the cast (Dave Grohl is the drummer of The Moopets). But when the Muppets are rebuilding their theatre, all the characters start singing “We built this city on rock’n’roll”. Are the Muppets really that rock’n’roll? I have some doubts.

One of the men behind the reboot is Jason Segel and let’s all guess as to whether his puppeteer role in Forgetting Sarah Marshall had anything to do with the producers okaying this. Segel has comedic timing, but I didn’t always “believe” him when he started singing while looking at the audience. The fourth wall is one you better not break because very few are able to look through the screen convincingly enough for you to believe the actor/actress is truly addressing you instead of looking down a camera lens. Good news for The Muppets though: one of the people who can pull it off is Amy Adams and she’s the female lead here. To be honest, Adams is one of those actresses who can get me to watch a movie I’m not interested in and not feel disappointed.
And to be fair to Jason Segel (also one of the film’s writers), most of the time he’s doing a fine job. Like any episode of the original show, the film needs a “special guest star” and that’s the weak point of the film. Not only because it’s Jack Black and he’s horrendous when playing natural: there’s a scene where Jack starts punching people during an anger management class (which Animal is attending too) and even I’m better at delivering a fake punch. Equally present in that scene is Kirsten Schaal and maybe Jack can watch the dvd and look at how it should be done. Just look at Kirsten, Jack, just look at Kirsten. Once Black is in the role of “reluctant guest host”, he’s doing better, but there’s still the big problem: the film has many cameos. Is Jack Black, the anger management student, the real Jack Black or not? And if so, what about the many other stars? Should we recognize Sarah Silverman in the waitress role or not? Is the lady singing at the school Leslie Feist or not? And have Foo Fighters hit rock bottom and is that why Dave Grohl is drumming in Fozzie’s band? That’s quite confusing and it would have been better if Jack Black hadn’t been in any previous scene. Just let one of the Muppets say he knows where a star lives and then kidnap him. That way the movie would work better because it hinders the rest of the film. During the fund-raising show the Muppets are organising people like Selena Gomez pop up and it’s clearly Selena as herself. But the first person to come to the show is a homeless hobo, who looks a lot like Zach Galifianakis. Should we recognize him or not? It’s a fine line but once the writers start crossing it the entire time, it doesn’t help the film.

That was my biggest objection during the film. I had two objections before I started watching. First and foremost, the title… why “The Muppets”? The first movie had the equally inspiring title The Muppet Movie, but the later films had titles which added something, e.g. The Muppets take Manhattan. Just using The Muppets as title, suggests that either the Muppets have been forgotten (as suggested in the film) and the film works as a reboot. I don’t think that’s the case: a lot of kids still know the show after all. The other reason – we’re clearly forgetting laziness – is that the title suggests that this is the definitive Muppet movie. That’s rather cocky, wouldn’t you agree?
Objection n°2 is the character of Walter, the Muppet-like ‘brother’ of Jason Segel’s character. Again, the writers messed up in a way. They try and make us believe that Walter is a genuine person, but later in the movie there’s another song and dance routine where we see the Muppet version of Segel as well as the flesh and blood version of Walter (Jim Parsons). So wait, have we now been watching Walter as he sees himself or is he actually a “muppet”? Bearing in mind, the film makes you believe the furry creatures really exist, it then becomes tough to distinguish what’s supposed to be real and not.

Those objections do weigh on the film, but overall it’s not the disaster I assumed it was going to be. I guess that’ll have to do as praise these days.


P.S. And yeah, there’s also a version of “Mahna Mahna” in the movie. You know, that track from the scene with that 1969 ‘sex documentary’ which later became a Muppet classsic? In case you didn’t know, the track was used for a scene in Svezia, inferno e paradiso (“Sweden: hell and heaven”) where Swedish girls went to the sauna. Here’s the scene, but don’t expect to see anything.

The Hunger Games

Here at the Avenue we sometimes think about the way we’re going to review a movie. Not very often, but it happens. And this is how we thought this review would start:

You might have read about the many comparisons between The Hunger Games and Battle Royale. The lead actress, Jennifer Lawrence, explained it best: there may be similarities between the theme of the movies (a yearly ‘battle’ for youngsters), but both movies handled this theme in a very different way.

But then we watched the movie and while we’re watching the first hour of the film, we thought it would be appropriate to write a deeply sarcastic review about the film, something along the lines of

Hi, my name is Gary Ross and I’m looking for a job. I ‘m currently employed as a “director”, but this doesn’t seem like the right job for me. Sure, Pleasantville was an entertaining movie and it was well made. Even Seabiscuit was decent, but while directing The Hunger Games I realized it must have been beginner’s luck. This latest ‘film’ taught me I couldn’t direct my way out of a box. Any interesting job offers are welcomed, manual labour is accepted.

But to be fair, once Katniss (Lawrence) has been interviewed on tv (another cringe-worthy scene), The Hunger Games becomes better directed (the first hour is so wibbly-wobbly for no other reason than to mask nothing is going on) and it’s suddenly the plot that starts failing the film. If once the teens are in the forest, you can’t predict what’ll happen next, you haven’t used a brain cell. Even then, Ross sometimes slips up. I can’t say I’m revealing a spoiler because the movie just screams the young girl from District 11 will be killed, but after her death, the movie suddenly cuts to her family and the spectators who are watching the big screens in their zone and suddenly, it’s right there at the bottom of the screen: “District 11”. Do you think we’re retarded, mister Ross? Hardly ever does The Hunger Games feel the need to establish where a scene is set and even here it’s pretty clear that the death of a contestant from District 11 will get a reaction from… oh wait, let’s play a quiz.

A contestant from District 11 dies. The spectators who seem most affected by this are…

a) the people from District 11, the contestant’s home;
b) the people from District 4, whom you’ve never heard of but are apparently quite empathic;
c) the people from District 7, who are reacting to a football match being shown on another screen

Send your answers to: Gary Ross, c/o New Job Wanted, Hollywood

So The Hunger Games is predictable (not necessarily bad – James Bond always wins at the end too – but it is worse if the director is constantly pretending you’ll never guess what happens next) and condescending. It rates poorly as criticism on society, but is acceptable for its raised fist against television: during the game the rules are changed more than once. Had the author dwelled on this rather than pretending a change is awful and must be followed by something grave (like someone behind the change having to commit suicide for society’s sake), the result might have been better. This sort of elimation show – even if it’s rarely “to the death” as in The Hunger Games thrives on the participation of the audience. The local version of The Voice threw away the rule that all the contestants had to be solo or duo singers when out of the blue three sisters appeared. The show’s rulebook told the producers to work their way up to the emotional moment one or two sisters would be told to leave the show, but the tweets and other reactions told them the public would lose a lot of sympathy for the show, so out with the “No Family” rule. However, in real life, no producer was executed the next day, or at least, not as far as we know…
In The Hunger Games we do watch how someone is lead into a room, leaving him to conclude death is the only option because the film takes place in a dystopian society, don’t you know? The scene itself is nicely directed but it can’t hide it’s all a big cliché. And that is sadly the keyword for this movie: “cliché”. Just look at the extravaganza of the rich town’s outfits and hairdos. If you’d ask a five-year-old girl to draw exuberant people, this is what you’d get. The Hunger Games is far too ambitious for its own good and the only point where it delivers is in the lead: nothing wrong with Jennifer Lawrence. But for every Lawrence there’s a need to have a Lenny Kravitz ‘act’. On that and every other point the movie annoys and contradicts so often it’s hard to write something decent about it. The well-written scenes are badly directed, the well-directed scenes are unengaging plotwise etc. etc. Furthermore, the ‘surprises’ don’t deliver and the film is quite gimmicky in its symbols (the use of the mockingbird) and lines (a constantly repeated phrase like “May the force be with you”). For every thing that works in the film’s favour there’s a ball and chain it willingly drags with it. It’s not good, it’s not bad and because its occasional ambition it’s not even mediocre. Reviewing this film isn’t easy, it may even be pointless. Hence this score:

Toodleflip / 10

Legend Of The Champions

Technically I have not seen the film I’m about to review. As a film, it was released in 1983, but it wasn’t really a “new movie” at the time. I’ll explain: The Champions was a British television series which ran for 30 episodes in 1968. Fifteen years later, at a time when something called “videotapes” were all the latest craze, someone decided to make a movie out of two episodes. Kids those days couldn’t access the internet and look for old stuff on YouTube, so a “movie” was a good thing to lure a new crowd into an old show and also, at approximately 49 minutes an episode, you’d need at least ten tapes if you wanted to buy the entire series. That’s a lot of money (and space) for a series you might not have heard of.

The Champions was one of the many shows that tried to follow in the footsteps of other cult shows like The Avengers or, to a lesser extent, The Prisoner. The show is about three secret agents of the international organisation Nemesis. During one mission to Asia, their plane crashes in the mountains of Tibet and instead of dying, they’re saved by an ancient people… with magic abilities. As a result, the agents – two men and a woman – are now superhumans. Which is quite handy for a special agent. They can hear clicks from outside the wall, speak to each other by telepathy (which only works if they speak out loud – it’s never really clear from which distance they can communicate with each other, let’s just say “nearby”), have a vision when one of the others is in danger and they’re superstrong. There’s one condition: they’re not allowed to speak of the Tibetan people that gave them the abilities. The Champions is therefore less of an exciting series: you’ll know the agents will pull through, being superhuman and all. The real question is if they can use their powers without being caught, including by their boss Tremayne (Anthony Nicholls).

Tremayne’s office (and the entire headquarters of Nemesis) is in Geneva. Not that the show was taped there, but there’s nothing a bit of studio magic can’t solve. I haven’t seen a lot of shows that needed to rely on stock footage this much. In one episode, agent Craig Stirling (Stuart Damon) finds himself “in Rome”. Read: someone used a couple of shots of Roman landmarks and put the actor (with sunglasses) in front of a blue screen. (The show’s titles used the same trick: have a good look at the caption at the top of this article to have a better idea of what I’m talking about.) The Champions is very much a poverty row series. Which is also why some episodes were based on a submarine. The prop was there, so why not use it more than once? Every time the submarine popped above water and the actor looked outside, the sky was always eerily blue and the sub completely dry, but let’s gloss over that one, shall we?

Because despite being not the most exciting show with cheap studio props, The Champions has certain things going for it. The actors are well cast: you’ll have seen Damon and William Gaunt (who plays Richard) in several other television shows, from small roles to leading parts, and Sharron Macready (which rhymes with “greedy” rather than “ready”) is played by none other than Alexandra Bastedo. She was also in many tv shows, but you may also remember her from William Castle‘s 13 Frightened Girls (reviewed earlier) or the cult classic The Blood-Spattered Bride. Also, like other shows of that era, you do get a chance to see interesting guest roles (Donald Pleasance is one example) and some episodes were directed by well-known people: the one guest-starring Pleasance was directed by Freddie Francis, at the time already an established name.

Can I make you more than lukewarm about The Champions? Not really. I was lucky enough to find the entire box set in a bargain bin for 6 euros, so at 20 cents an episode I’m having the time of my life watching an episode on nights I don’t have enough time for a full movie. One IMDb reviewer said he’d bought the show for 60 dollars. I wouldn’t recommend spending so much money on it though.
As for Legend of the Champions I can be brief: don’t spend any money on it if you catch it. Basically, it’s nothing but episode 1 and 19 glued together. In episode 19, Craig Stirling is interrogated about his latest mission and during the experiments Stirling suffers from flashbacks. A handy way to use some footage of previous episodes (and, erm, even one “flashback” from the next episode). Now if you rearrange the flashbacks a bit and add the rest of the material from the pilot episode, then you’ve got yourself a feature-length movie. Not only are there problems with the transaction from the flashbacks to the interrogation scenes, neither episode managed to show off the show’s fortes. Even the tone of those two episodes is a bit different from the other episodes. Bascially, it’s like The Avengers but without the comedy (so especially like the era of Cathy Gale then), but stuck in a format that cries for the eras of Emma Peel. As a result, it’s like watching the Tara King episodes.

Also, The Champions finds itself on the thinnest of ropes balancing between sci-fi and spy action and often falls with its face flat on the ground. Overall, it is a show about three secret agents and the sci-fi is just there to spice things up. A bit like the mildest curry also uses spices, that is. I’m struggling to think there’s anyone who might want to get the entire series after watching Legend of the Champions. Either they think the show is too bland or they will watch the other episodes and fail to get involved with the different tone. “The interrogation” (episode 19) seems to mimic the tone of The Prisoner.

Try to think of the success you’d have combining Misfits with The Prisoner and then hoping that’ll lure viewers into watching the Tara King episodes of The Avengers. Good luck with that!

(These are the show’s title, with the commercial teasers added as intro and outro.)