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IMDb/Le pacte des loups

Le pacte des loups [Brotherhood of the Wolf] (2001)
Directed by Christophe Gans ·  Rating: 4 of 10
4 of 10

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Summary: A confused and unoriginal patchwork

Hollywood is far from being perfect. A lot of the stuff produced by the film and television industry is just unoriginal, clichéd and contrived material pushed out in order to just make anything, anything at all. The idea behind that is that the mere immensity of the output, though most of it be routine stuff, will also yield some remarkable works of artistry. The bigger the bunch the higher the chance to find something of worth in it. I have no problem with that kind of philosophy, I follow that road myself, you just have to be aware of that, and you do have to deliver at a certain point. The danger in that approach, however, is that it makes it quite hard to actually filter out the better from the worse, you are somehow overwhelmed by the immense amout of material. For some that may lead to actually shutting it off altogether, others, like myself, may continue to look for those rare moments of greatness, and accept the rest as what it is, and what it mostly is seen as: just entertainment, food for the bored. Tone down your expectations, and you may find some pearls where you expected none to be there. The result is a great amout of remarkable productions each year, the price you pay is the dull rest.

Hollywood is an industry. It's there to make money, and to occasionally yield some pieces of art. But money's the primer. European film continually has to suffer from a strange disease: It takes itself too seriously. Beware of making it an industry - beware of doing something bold or original. Exceptions to that rule, of course, apply. The Bond franchise is alive and kicking, and there are some inventive film-makers in Europe also. Yet you do not have an even remotely comparable productive output as in Hollywood, there wouldn't even be enough material to continually bind the audience, making American productions ubiquitous. That's not so much a problem for the English film industry as it has become so intertwined with the American one, yet you see it in continental Europe quite clearly, inventive and/or ambitious German filmmakers, for instance, having migrated to Hollywood, the rest filling some local niches, barely surviving in the highly competitive business.

Recently there has been a trend towards countering that phenomenon by trying to mimick what is perceived as elements of successful Hollywood productions. The result is almost always a terrible one: Because the basis is missing. What is seen as successful movies is just seen in terms of money, in terms of effects: Yet the big-budget productions, the gigantomaniacal pieces appearing around July 4th, Thanksgiving and Christmas, almost none of them are considered as pieces of art - they are part of the money-making machine that propels the industry and allows for more artistic films being made. That doesn't say that a bad movie shouldn't be labeled as such, far be it from me not to say that a piece of crap like 'Pearl Harbor' would be a piece of crap. But you also have to see the rest, the soul of it, so to say. Just looking at the effectomania doesn't do the phenomenon justice. Yet still, this grave misjudgement seems to provide for some failed attempts at mimicking the surface while lacking the substance. 'Enemy at the Gates' is such a disastrous attempt at mimicking. Now, France has been hit by the same phenomenon.

This isn't to say that 'Le pacte des loups' would be as ridiculous and unholy a piece as 'Enemy at the Gates', at least, not entirely. It does have interesting moments. It does show some potential. It is sort of an achievement in visual terms, and it is an unusual piece for French cinema. If you're just in it for the fun, you may be able to attribute some value to it. But still, I don't see how that could be possible on a grander scale.

Let's do it step by step, starting with the story. I'm still not so sure about where the center of a film lies, if story is really that important. I tend towards not over-estimating it, of seeing it in a secondary position with regard to other, more cinematic qualities. Yet it is still the core of a film, and its weakest point. If the story is bullshit, there's almost nothing left to say about the other aspects, unless you're in for a mere analytical and scholarly look, trying to dissect it on your critical operation table. Stories are a tricky thing nowadays. As mentioned aforehand, there's just an enormous output of material, not just in the motion picture industry. Everything has been told already one way or another. Lots of it you can already find in Ancient Greek theater even, central conflicts that is. It's no coincidence psychotherapy labels its syndroms after characters in such plays. Every genre nowadays has a history, it has become hard, and rightly so, to take anything serious, to see anything without the general context. In today's culture, everyone even loosely following the most known threads has become a critic, you can see this on the internet, or with web sites like this one even. Every bloke can rant about anything, and almost every bloke does do so. Every story device has already been used, every game played out. The interesting part now lies not in inventing something new but in showing something in a new light, in combining old things and thus making something new out of something old: Creating something like a pastiche, a patchwork, creating a self-reflexive piece that knows what it is and doesn't pretend to be anything else but yet another item in the stream of today's culture.

Yet still, patchwork as much as you will, the creature you raise by this method still has to stand on its own feet. It has to follow some internal logic if it wants to be taken seriously; otherwise it can only be a parody, an ironically detached piece that can also function as an almost scholarly analysis of the phenomenon itself. Think 'Charlie's Angels', think 'Moulin Rouge', think Buffy and Angel, think Farscape. However, for the film at hand, this doesn't work. It takes itself serious while not being able to hold up to that agenda. Nothing here is new, not if you have seen 'The Name of the Rose', 'Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom' or 'Apocalypse Now', the latter especially. Oh yes, not to forget Hong Kong style action, especially the American variant so pervasive in 'The Matrix' (of course you could ask whether Kung Fu fighting scenes in a historical piece set in pre-revolutionary France would be a realistic idea). Yet do not mistake 'Le pacte des loups' as a parody, there are no such signs allowing for this judgement to be made. Even the most inventive elements, like the fading from a woman's breasts into a snowy hillscape, have been done already in another form: An almost exactly similar fade has been done in 'Aliens', where Ripley's sleeping face fades into the shape of the Earth. The erratic cuts in the fighting scenes are very reminiscent of what Ridley Scott did in 'Gladiator', by the way.

How is it done? You can tell from the execution that something's wrong. If you thought 'Braveheart' was bloody, this film will make you think again. An overly excessive use of gore outside a slasher flick is always a bad sign, especially where it doesn't have a point in bringing the story forward and isn't supported by some additional emotional intensity. Same with fast cuts: They work in films like Oliver Stone's 'Any Given Sunday' because there's a reason for it. They don't when they are made in order to hide the superficiality of the entire adventure. Effects over substance, and mostly, effects overdone, are not just a matter of style. Sometimes you light a fireworks in order to divert from something. And no, the beast doesn't look realistic. It moves like a very bad animation from the early days of horror films, even though Jim Henson's Creature Shop was responsible for making it. There's a point in not showing the monster in full: It's a matter of narrative and visual effect, you heighten the emotional impact. But here I rather suspect that the moster wasn't shown because it looked so damn artificial.

Still, there remain some notable things. The initiating remark that evil comes from too much certainty is a very keen observation pointing the finger in the right direction. The playing with and confusing of genres, would it not be for cheap effect, is a good move, yet somewhat deficiently executed. Some images are very pervasive, and there are some surprising and surprisingly bold and radical story twists. All of that prevents this movie from being a total disaster, yet it comes dangerously close to that. If this is supposed to be the European answer to Hollywood, it needs some strong rethinking.

February 27th, 2002

IMDb/Patch Adams

Patch Adams (1998)
Directed by Tom Shadyac ·  Rating: 10 of 10
10 of 10

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Summary: Refreshing and real

What does it mean to be sick - what does it mean to be healthy? As simple as these questions may look, they offer quite a helpful approach to the cure of illnesses. And it is also the question asked by Patch Adams, but the answers he derives from it are quite unusual ones, and they were quite upsetting at his time. We witness him during a crisis in life, which he is able to overcome by voluntarily submitting himself to a mental clinic. There he learns the pleasure of helping others - he doesn't learn it from his doctors though, but he himself helps a patient by actually listening to him and by trying to understand. So he leaves and studies medicine. In the course of his studies, he developes new cures suitable for each illness: Listening, humor and understanding.

To Patch, as to modern medicine too, sickness isn't just a corporal dysfunction but extends much more into the psyche; as much as it is being influenced in turn by the psyche. In using humor, Patch actually treats the patients with the respect and attention they deserve. To him, the patients are human beings with names and emotional needs, to him they are much more than just their disease. Patch continues to follow his way, in spite of the obstacles created by his enemies, who stand in defiance to anything which would contradict their conventional and traditional way of doing things.

Robin Williams delivers a brilliant performance in this real life story based upon the life of Hunter "Patch" Adams. The only weakness in my view is just that: Being based upon the life of a real, still living person, it tastes a bit like some kind of hero worship. But regarding the topic of the film, I also wouldn't overstate such criticism, for the real-life character of the movie also creates some unforseen twists in the story, and it leaves a much stronger impression on the viewer, just as also 'A Civil Action' did. And the movie makes you rethink some positions on the quality of life.

May 18th, 1999

IMDb/The Patriot

The Patriot (2000)
Directed by Roland Emmerich  ·  Rating: 5 of 10
5 of 10

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Summary: Flawed yet better than expected

Roland Emmerich goes back to the roots of his 'Independence Day', visiting the era of the actual fight for American independence. This time it is not science fiction, but the events portrayed have a supposed touch of reality as the main character is modeled after a real life figure. But neither is this a movie about history, it is not about the fight for American independence, it is not about patriotism, it is not about allegedly noble emotions nor politically relevant topics. It is just a movie about atrocities, hatred, revenge and bloodthirst.

It is also a movie about war. And in that, it can be as disturbing and frightening as 'Saving Private Ryan' and 'Three Kings'. Sublime imagery, realistic settings and believable characters plus a great musical score succeed in bringing this mixed bag of flawed premises to cinematic importance. The haze and fury of battle, grief turned into revenge turning into false patriotism and hatred - all this mastered brilliantly by Mel Gibson, who towers this movie as a second William Wallace. The patriotism level is relatively moderate, meaning it could have been worse.

But this is no 'Braveheart' either. The story told isn't new, the plot seems contrived and wrongly balanced. All the efforts put into making the experience of war realistic are missing when it comes to the story. Title and plot setting suggest a patriotic movie, which it is - in part. Yet the days of patriotism are over. There is no need for something like that any more - not in America, not 224 years after independence has been reached. England is not the enemy any more, nor can England be said to have been extremely cruel at that time, compared to others. English occupation was no holocaust, at least not for the European settlers. But this movie takes a historical setting, claims to perform a historical task - but neglects the responsibilities associated with that. But blind propaganda is no way to tell history. One-sided tales of Good and Evil may be appropriate in the horror genre (where such concepts would be explored per definition) but not in history. To tell history via the view of a grief-stricken man yearning for nothing but revenge is the weakest of all possible angles, and the one producing the worst and most flawed results. This movie is an atrocity, history being violated and primitive patriotic prejudices served. Fun fact's just that Emmerich, not quite a native of the US, seems to be more patriotic than any one else.

Still, with that in mind, the movie works relatively well and the things said in paragraph two do apply as well. This flawed reenactment may not be a highlight of historiography nor political truths, but it has something to say on the human basis as well as in visual terms. And as I expected it to be even less positive, I was pleasantly surprised, besides its weaknesses.

September 12th, 2000


Payback (1998)
Directed by Brian Helgeland  ·  Rating: 8 of 10
8 of 10

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Summary: Edged and daring

It really is difficult to say something about this movie; and until now, I hadn't formed my opinion. But I guess, I'll have to do it now. Did I like it? Yes, and no. Yes, regarding to the general perception of the movie, yes, regarding to Mel Gibson's performance, yes, regarding to almost everything in this movie. But no, I didn't like the excessive use of violence in this movie without at least an attempt to set it right. "Get ready to root for the bad guy", and that I did, no question. Is such an identification now dangerous, or just refreshing?

What was missing was somehow the contrast. We knew that the other gangsters, played by Devane, Kristofferson and Coburn, were not better than Porter, but much worse for sure. But that wasn't made that clear. At the end, I think, it comes down to the level of acceptance towards violence. Is it better to kill a bad guy than a good guy? I don't think that such a question can be given an answer. Killing is wrong, and it doesn't get better or worse depending on the character of the victim. But then, this movie wasn't supposed to be a piece of ethical-philosophical discussion. It is supposed to be just the opposite: And that is something which might be refreshing. The level of violence shown might've been disgusting, but it also depends on the viewer of how the reception of it looks like.

But apart from that, 'Payback' is worth watching it. Also, it could've been worse regarding to what this movie might have looked like if Mel Gibson hadn't sort of overthrown the director. The violence in it is also not exceeding what is usually seen in other movies; it is just that there is no real good guy in it. But Mel Gibson is worth it, again. The whole film to me felt like a Mike Hammer episode; perfectly edgy and a classical gangster movie.

March 15th, 1999

IMDb/Pearl Harbor

Pearl Harbor (2001)
Directed by Michael Bay  ·  Rating: 1 of 10
1 of 10

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Summary: nomen est omen

In the movies, there can be no points for effort merely. Otherwise, this little film would get lots of effort points; yet that don't count here. Quality has to be the basis for measurement, not quantity. Just because you make a very long film doesn't get you any points. Just because you can combine a war story with a love story doesn't mean you should. Just because you have the latest acting hot shots from Hollywood doesn't mean the film would be a vivid and fresh one. Just because you can now use certain visual effects not available back then doesn't constitute a reason for once again doing a film on an already covered subject. Just because the topic is important, the film needn't be important, it needn't even be relevant. Just because the director has once made a terrific and entertaining film, 'The Rock', and a less terrific, but still great other film, 'Armageddon', obviously doesn't mean he would be saved from making a bad one. But at least he stays honest, for indeed, this is Michael Bay's Pearl Harbor.

There are some good points. They are called Alec Baldwin, Ben Affleck, Cuba Gooding Jr., Tom Sizemore and Jon Voight; and yes, Hans Zimmer for the music. The effects are good, though not exactly mind-blowing. The Japanese commander has some good scenes, so has the President.

You just cannot make a movie like this with Disney/Buena Vista. That completely takes the bite out of it. PG-13? Oh, please. That's supposed to be a war movie? It's as clean-shaven as it could be, the shallow and rare scenes of true conflict are so polished that there can be no true statement about the nature of war. It is not even as artfully stylized as 'The Rock', a film where such a stylization worked perfectly, and which also never pretended to be about war. But a war film? Looks more like a feel-good-and-bash-the-bad-guys propaganda reel. Don't get me wrong. Pearl Harbor was a terrible event. But a film about that day should do it justice - instead of ridiculing it by making a bad film about it. I don't object to patriotism, but I do object to a pretentious and hypocritical œuvre that pretends to know exactly where to position the love story, where the war drama.

The end result is so calculated, so tedious and boring, so utterly unimaginative that it becomes funny, in a bad way. This is ridiculous, overblown, without substance, a painful excuse for a movie. I'm really sorry to have to say that, as I usually love Michael Bay's work. But this is simply not good, it's a catastrophy of its own. The horror...

November 4th, 2001


Pleasantville (1998)
Directed by Gary Ross  ·  Rating: 10 of 10
10 of 10

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Summary: Pleasant and relevant

There are a lot of great movies; but from time to time there is one which is really extraordinary; stepping outside of the mainstream and presenting us with strange, new perspectives. Such a movie is 'The Truman Show', such a movie is 'Legends of the Fall', such a movie is 'Meet Joe Black', such a movie is 'Pleasantville'.

This movie is sort of an Adam-and-Eve story, following the very old line of science fiction dealing with paradise. It was awfully often being compared to 'The Truman Show', but I strongly disagree with that. It is only comparable with that movie in its brilliancy. Pleasantville but is much more explicit in certain details, and has a completely different story. The world of the black-and-white Pleasantville might look like paradise: no violence, no drugs, no disease - but it is artificial, artificial not just in existence but also in emotions. The two teenagers from our time entering this world soon serve as an infusion of fresh blood and color; thereby also causing problems of adaptation, leading to a text-book discussion of feminism, multiculturalism, and those resisting the future.

There is also the obligatory scene with the apple in it; thereby, as this allusion was to be expected, showing the irony within. The general style of the movie is sometimes quite sarcastic, yet also very tender when it is needed, leading from the satirical and comedic to the most drastic conflicts.

March 13th, 1999 / August 16th, 2002

IMDb/Primary Colors

Primary Colors (1998)
Directed by Mike Nichols  ·  Rating: 7 of 10
7 of 10

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Summary: Somewhat pointless, but solid

A much better movie than 'Wag the Dog', 'Primary Colors' is a much quieter, much more tranquil politics movie. Too quiet, too tranquil. Where's the point? I asked myself why the hell this movie was made, and what its message is supposed to be, and I actually haven't got an answer yet. Not that I wouldn't like it, not that I wouldn't agree with it in a certain way, not that I would say it's a bad movie; no, it's not - but where's the point?

John Travolta is as brilliant as ever, so is Kathy Bates. The rest of the cast still isn't bad, but not very remarkable either. Somewhere throughout the end of this 140-minutes overlength piece I thought it resembled some kind of realist approach to politics, but for that it was a bit too clean. It rather seems to be a bit too heroic, a bit too simple. As Travolta's makeup and acting unmistakingly suggest, his character is modeled after President Clinton. But the criticism to be found in this movie is very decent, very marginal even - while Stanton/Clinton is construed as something like the reincarnation of President Kennedy. I might be quite a fan of Bill Clinton's, but this is too much. He is glorified in this, and glorification of human beings is something which is always at least doubtful if not entirely wrong.

But perhaps the answer to this movie lies in subtler parts like the vomiting scene and the suicide scene - both don't seem to fit in. But still this doesn't provide a general clue to the film. And the director not being someone like David Lynch, I do not really expect some hidden symbolism. The story is told in a very straight way, too straight for my taste, but still it creates a very lively picture of politics, a very unusual approach even. But it's far from perfect. It has its moments, but still, I don't know.

see also: Miscellaneous Essays, Pt. 8

July 29th, 1998

IMDb/Prince of Darkness

Prince of Darkness (1987)
Directed by John Carpenter  ·  Rating: 10 of 10
10 of 10

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Summary: Disgusting and intense

A group of scientists is trying to uncover the secrets of a strange substance, while they are continually hindered in doing so by strange events and persons. Once they discover the nature of their discovery, once this nature is confirmed, events get out of hand, and the main aim is only survival.

John Carpenter, well known for suspense and simplicity, has raised his own stakes and created a strangely-paced, intense horror piece adout the end of days, with utmost disturbing pictures and imagery. Donald Pleasance plays a priest this time, but that's well within his abilities. The rest of the cast is rather young and unknown except Jameson Parker (Simon and Simon), but not the less devoted.

The critical piece is again the music, which is playing throughout the entire climax without a break, strengthening the suspense and increasing the unease. One of the best horror movies of all time, another Carpenter masterpiece.

March 13th, 2000

IMDb/Pulp Fiction

Pulp Fiction (1994)
Directed by Quentin Tarantino  ·  Rating: 10 of 10
10 of 10

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Summary: Essential and inventive

To say this movie were influential would be an understatement. First of all, this movie is about, well, almost nothing. But it ain't Seinfeld, there is also a point to it. But the degree of talk about nothing is extraordinary, and hilarious. There is no movie with dialog as great as this, and I had never seen anything like it before, nor have I until now.

'Pulp Fiction' has a very strange style, telling a story in a strange order. Everything belongs together, and the beginning is the end is the beginning. The acting is of a greatness uncomparable to most other films, especially because this is true for all of the actors in it. It is difficult to describe the style of it, something reminded me of Twin Peaks, which doesn't want to say there would be a similarity. But both are equally strange in how the dialog and the action flow; both often letting it flow by not letting it flow.

The music of it adds another level, underlining everything, just as the text of the songs, and the title - pulp fiction. Just listen to some of the texts of the songs included; there's nothing like great depth in them. But that's the illusion which is being created - an illusion destroyed by the final scenes. Up to then, the movie had been a collage of some seemingly strange, seemingly nonsensical scenes. But this final scene with the Samuel L. Jackson character explaining his change of heart adds another dimension to it, making it count, justifying everything shown in the past time. There seems to be no way to get around this movie nowadays, and this better be so. This is a definite highlight of cinematic art, quite unmissable.

March 15th, 1999

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