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IMDb/The Shawshank Redemption

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Directed by Frank Darabont  ·  Rating: 10 of 10
10 of 10

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The Shawshank Redemption DVD

Summary: Subtle and twisted

I wanted to watch this movie because it was ranked at place three of the IMDb top 250 films; and I just had to check it out. Lucky as I were, I found it at a store in the original version (not always that easy in Berlin, especially for older movies), even at a reduced price, but then my motivation somehow faded; and it took me three months to finally put the cassette into my VCR and to actually watch it. Why did I choose it? Because of a high vote - but usually I distrust such lists, especially when 'Star Wars' gets ranked place four, which I honestly do not think it deserves. But that's a completely different story, and I know such an opinion of mine is not very popular, to say the least. But let me go on. Sometimes, such lists hit the right item. That happened with this movie.

This movie being based upon a Stephen King short story, I expected something either good or messed up. I admit that I haven't read a single line by Stephen King; but that's because I hadn't been a fan of horror stories until I was confronted with The X-Files, and so I managed to navigate around King. All I remembered from my surroundings were that everybody liked the books much more than the movies; that's concerning my doubts. But I also doubted that my doubts would be justified - Stephen King isn't just horror, he's good storytelling (my first encounter with his stories was the extraordinary Outer Limits episode 3.15 'Revelations of Becka Paulson', my second the lame X-Files episode 5x10 'Chinga', but I read that in that case my disappointment was due to Carter's rewriting, of which I, appreciating Carter's work, somehow don't know how to handle it). But why am I telling you this? To make you judge my opinion more easily.

'The Shawshank Redemption' is brilliant in story and realization of that story; that includes acting. It also includes photography; especially when photography is telling things which are not mentioned explicitly by words. I will not make any references to the story as such; for that would be irresponsible - those who know the film will understand what I mean. This might be a hard movie, an emotional movie, but it really is worth it.

March 13th, 1998

IMDb/She's All That

She's All That (1999)
Directed by Robert Iscove  ·  Rating: 9 of 10
9 of 10

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She's All That DVD

Summary: Spellbinding

This Cinderella story is not what you'd expect from high-school drama, it has quite some depth and two very convincing actors in it. Simple, somehow predictable in its general direction, this movie was somehow able to capture my interest. In its premise it doesn't seem to develop into something great, but, still pretending otherwise on the obvious level, the film digs deeper than expected.

The atmosphere it creates is somewhat inspiring; the characters being entirely believable, and devoid of unnecessary pretensions. An additional bonus is the set: The school building - it's the same as the one featured in Buffy the Vampire Slayer; thus the cameo appearance of Sarah Michelle Gellar makes perfect sense. -- A great romantic movie with impressive visuals and atmosphere.

October 30th / November 9th, 1999

IMDb/The Shining

The Shining (1980)
Directed by Stanley Kubrick  ·  Rating: 10 of 10
10 of 10

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The Shining DVD

Summary: A terrifying classic

"All work and no play makes Jake a dull boy."

The most crucial point in a horror film is the build-up of the story: The creation of the atosphere, the construction of the necessary surroundings. The horror has to be made plausible, made real, made accessible - it must go right into the heart of the audience.

Kubrick's 'The Shining' does just that in quite a perfect way; the opening already somehow precipitating key elements of the film's story. It starts with a shot of a montaneous scenery, accompanied by the tunes of the fifth movement of Hector Berlioz's 'Symphonie Fantastique' called 'Witches' Sabbath' - which to an extent could be a motto for this movie.

The performance Jack Nicholson delivers is just stunning, he is as demonic as he can be. The visuals, especially the shots inside the hotel, running down the floors, showing the kid driving through them, showing empty floors - all those portrayals of the vastness and emptiness of this very spacious but virtually uninhabited hotel, inhabited just by this family of three, creating an atmosphere of horror which is a very disturbing one. Apart from nevertheless existing portrayals of violence and some spooky apparitions, the horror in this movie rather comes from within, from the deepest depths of the human soul. It leaves the audience puzzled, with a feeling of uneasyness and numbness even. Kubrick has almost created a Lynchian nightmare here.

June 22nd, 1998

IMDb/The Siege

The Siege (1998)
Directed by Edward Zwick  ·  Rating: 10 of 10
10 of 10

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The Siege DVD

Summary: Disturbing and relevant

Disturbing - that's what this movie is. Disturbing because it is showing and telling things very bluntly which are usually not being said; things perhaps considered or constructed to be impossible, although this approach, this neglection, could easily be proven wrong by history. And, apart from telling a distracting story, it is also told in a distracting way. A lot of scenes contained in this film I would describe as spooky, like the flights around the NYC skyline or the cell phone scene: During a crisis meeting led by the FBI, beepers and cell phones suddenly start making noises; sequentially; causing a worried facial expression on the face of the agent in charge; these phone calls intended to inform their listeners about another terrorist attack. The suspense thus created, and the feeling of horror which comes with understanding, make this scene a highlight of movie history, in my humble opinion, a scene Hitchcock would have been proud of.

Another aspect concerning composition before I will turn over to story. This is a movie of the late twentieth century; having come a very long and arduous path - showing an African American, an Arabian American and a tough woman as lead characters; and the part of the ultimate bad guy is taken by a honored Army General. The past is over: Racial and sexual discrimination have been overcome, at least by the movie industry. But taking into account the power Hollywood has, this is a big step in cultural history; having started somewhere with Star Trek in the sixties. This of course also holds true for other movies; but here I felt it was shown very directly.

"How many people does it take before it becomes wrong" - this quote being from 'Star Trek Insurrection', it also would fit in here, as well as the ethical discussion topic: Are we able to maintain our ethics in times of a great crisis; or do we crumble and weaken, do we adapt to the darkness around us? Are we able to maintain the ideal of a city upon a hill, or is this whole icon of superior morality just a hollow illusion? How important are the rights of the few or the one when national security is at stake? This movie makes both a very devastating and a comforting statement: Devastating, as it presents us the pragmatic, fascist coldness of the General portrayed by Bruce Willis; and comforting, as it also gives us a hero in form of the FBI agent played by Denzel Washington, also Muslims and Christians, black and white, men and women joined in order to fight the reign of terror originating from the terrorists and the General. Truth and morality can be found everywhere on the globe; not just within the Western world; and so can lies and darkness.

January 24th, 1999


Signs (2002)
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan  ·  Rating: 6 of 10
6 of 10

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Signs DVD

Summary: Not that simple

What starts as an homage to Hitchcock-style thrillers, with adequately stylish title sequences, turns into a strange tale of alien invasion that must surely leave viewers aghast as to why the aliens would act so strangely, focusing their energies on a small family and seemingly not being able to use their obviously superior technologies for their benefit. How could it possibly be that you could defend yourself against more advanced invaders with the simplest of techniques, with blockading your house with mean bars of wood? Things like that must seem strange, especially if you then add the interpretation and utilization of the various signs occurring throughout the course of the film, adding a strange sense of fate and destiny to a piece seemingly more concerned with the inner world of former Episcopal priest Graham Hess than with the otherwise rather abstract global reach of an Alien threat. As a result of the perplexing nature of the story as such, and the strangely obvious religious aspect of the entire piece, you may either dismiss it entirely, or try to re-view certain elements in order to arrive at a more thorough understanding of the film.

Let us first of all remind ourselves that this film is done by M. Night Shyamalan, the writer/producer/director who also gave us such strange creatures as 'The Sixth Sense' and 'Unbreakable'. Each of these films follows a certain scheme 'Signs', too, adheres to: An ordinary person is confronted with strange events happening around him. The events cannot be explained, yet there are certain obvious signs throughout the course of the entire film which point towards an explanation. That explanation is then given at the end of the film in a surprising and even shocking manner, leading to a catharsis not just for the audience but much more for the lead character, making him question his own life and identity; mostly this realization is made clear by a past pounding hard against his defenses.

There is one very obvious yet easily overlooked clue in the beginning of 'Signs'. The daughter asks her father, "Are you in my dream too?", to which he, insistently, replies, "This is not a dream." Indeed? Why this explicit denial? May we be dealing with a dream here rather than an actual portrayal of events? There are just too many things that don't connect easily or even at all. The film ends with a flashback to the past (seemingly, maybe also a forward into the future, but from the coloring of the image, it seems like the past). Is it a flashback? Is it the past? At the strangest of times, Graham has flashbacks of his wife's accident, all of them giving something away for the solution of the alien situation. When he hears of the alien locked in a house, he doesn't even think of contacting the authorities but attempts to confront it on his own, a strange course of action for an otherwise intelligent man. The aliens need crop circles to navigate? They follow the course of invasion as laid out in a rather speculative book? Reality reaches the family only by the means of television, every possible story inconsistency is explained in strange terms by his brother, and the same explanation is also heard on television afterwards. These things look like attempts of rationalizing the irrational, but the explanation given is utterly inconclusive. UFOs hover over the big cities, yet why is his little farm attacked? The kids kill the dog who is afraid of the water with a fork? The aliens only attack his son, no one else. The alien locked in the house of the man who caused the death of Graham's wife is the one who comes back for Graham's son? The son for whom Graham has become so strange and unbearable that he rather wishes his uncle to be his father.

Graham tells everybody not to call him father any more, of course that concerns his priesthood, but does it really? Hasn't he ceased to be a father to his children after his wife's death? Hasn't he himself become alien to his family and himself, by his wrath and desperation endangering the psychological well-being of his children? He has tried to lock away both his anger, focusing it on the accident driver, and is now again confronted with it. His son, like the boy in 'The Sixth Sense' and the one in 'Unbreakable', point him towards a moment of failure in his past, they make him see something very crucial to himself. By confronting the alien within his own house, within himself, he confronts the alienation that has befallen him since his loss. The entire global threat only points towards him; the global seems strangely unreal, and even after the UFOs have left, there's still that one alien threatening his family. Also, is the alien really a threat? Does it have a weapon? Do we see it cause harm? We only hear about alien invasion, we don't see it; what's fact, what interpretation? The alien is killed by the water, just like Graham's anger is baptized by the events. That, precisely, may be the only really annoying point of the film, a rather simplistic view of faith, religion, and dealing with loss. Abandoning a religion may not be something done because of lost faith, but even more so because of a deeper understanding of what faith and religion are about. Yet Graham hasn't just lost his religion, he's lost his faith in life in general. That almost levels out the entire quagmire of terms.

Maybe the entire alien scenario is just a dream-like allegory to what goes on within Graham's mind, and the paranormal around him is just a pointer demanding for a catharsis he needs in order to go on living. The absurdity of the setting, the entirety of the obvious plot holes, the dream-like stream of narration with sudden shifts, flashbacks and a certain self-centeredness, all of this could be pointing towards a more psycho-analytic reading of the film. If the plot holes are too obvious, and the director known to like playing with his audience; knowing conventional viewing not offering any answers, might we not finally turn to the fantastic as a possibility? But all of that would also work both ways, and possibly even intertwined and on various levels, and that's the beauty of it. Don't buy into the simplicity, there's more to it, probably. If not, it still has great music and photography, and it's spooky and stylish, yet the rest may seem a bit overblown.

September 26th/27th, 2002

IMDb/The Sixth Sense

The Sixth Sense (1999)
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan  ·  Rating: 10 of 10
10 of 10

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The Sixth Sense DVD

Summary: Decent and captivating

Some movies are hard to find an opinion for. It has been some months since I have seen 'The Sixth Sense' for the first time, and my reaction to it was rather strange then, a strange mixture of fascination and disappointment, but somewhat more of fascination - of an inexplicable fascination, thus disappointing. Now, with browsing the film again and enjoying the various add-ons of a great DVD, also, with being a bit more detached from the first impression, furthermore, in the process of a second viewing - which is of some meaning for a film like that - with all that in behind, 'The Sixth Sense' has risen in my estimate and it won't drop again.

I am not usually that kind of guy who wants to watch the prototypical guy movie (if such a thing exists) all the time. I can appreciate some decent and calm films, and such a movie is the film at hand. However, I didn't really perceive it as being scary, nor thrilling, nor a horror film. This is no scary movie. What it is, is a lesson in intensity. The entire film is a tapestry of sound, music, breath and silent scenes - penetrated by some shocking moments which have their effect, but overall, a very gently flowing yet nevertheless unnerving experience. Part of my disappointment may have resulted from the discrepency between what the film was marketed to be and what it turned out to be. It was marketed and - oddly - praised as something I look forward to, and it turned out to be something I am always a bit skeptic about. Thus my initial hesitance, which may also serve to explain the problems other people had with this film. It is always problematic to do something contrary to what is expected, but that's the domain of art: to contradict and withstand expectation and easy categorization.

There is no need to talk excessively about the acting of Haley Joel Osment and Bruce Willis, for it doesn't get any better. Simply as that. The music, after you get over the initial shock that it's such a calm piece, is the product of a genius, and the general atmosphere the movie generates is tight and gripping, and you still don't know why. Something has happened, yet you don't know why. The problems I assumed the film to have were my own, there can be no doubt any more. For 'The Sixth Sense' is nothing more but a timeless masterpiece.

September 29th, 2000

IMDb/The Skulls

The Skulls (2000)
Directed by Rob Cohen  ·  Rating: 9 of 10
9 of 10

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The Skulls DVD

Summary: Surprisingly good

What somehow seemed like an uninteresting concept for a movie with little known actors somehow developed into a pretty good film, surprisingly good even. The story may not be entirely original - well, what story is - yet it contains some great and solid twists, not twists for the twist's sake, but scenes which make it more real on a human basis.

The acting is the better as it comes from more or less fresh actors. More experienced ones like Steve Harris (from The Practice) make a nice addition to it. The sets are great, the photography makes them feel even bigger. And the score by Randy Edelman is a real treat, refreshingly original and different from his usual work.

This may not be the deeply philosophical movie of the year, it may not be the big laugh or joy ride, but it's more than solid, and isn't it the better when you find something positive where you wouldn't have expected it?

January 20th, 2001

IMDb/Snow Falling on Cedars

Snow Falling on Cedars (1999)
Directed by Scott Hicks  ·  Rating: 10 of 10
10 of 10

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Snow Falling on Cedars DVD

Summary: Multi-layered and intense

When I went to see this film, I rather expected to be bored as the title wasn't that promising; neither did I expect something fundamentally great, as it wasn't featured on the Awards. As soon as the film started, I was stunned and couldn't take my eyes off it.

In an absolutely elegant style, both tender and majestic, both powerful and sensitive, the story is told. You don't expect greatness in such a small village, neither do you expect such cases to be fought in such courts. But once in a while, it happens, and humanity stands on trial. America's darkest chapter in the twentieth century is interwoven with an impossible love story, but the way it is done is just overwhelmingly compassionate and even thrilling. The music of James Newton Howard's does the rest to make it a round picture, more than round; more than perfect, exceptional.

Who makes the decisions at the Academy Awards? Do these people actually watch all the movies they discard as not worthy for an award or a nomination even? This would have deserved so much, and wouldn't it be for 'Magnolia', 'The General's Daughter' and South Park , it should at least have been considered for best picture or at least something. One of the very best of its year, this is a true gem.

May 25th, 2000

IMDb/South Park

South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut (1999)
Directed by Trey Parker  ·  Rating: 10 of 10
10 of 10

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South Park DVD

Summary: Absolutely essential and subversive

Browsing my dictionary entry for "subversive", I came around the following quote from Erica Jong: "Sex and creativity are often seen by dictators as subversive activities". Subversiveness is a relative thing - seen only in relation to a certain mind-set, to a certain political agenda or opinion. Subversiveness, however, is originating mostly from a preference of honesty over hypocrisy, of authenticity over political correctness. Seen from within the movie, there is nothing fake, nothing hidden - though not at all obvious at first glance - which may favor the R-rating over the tame PG guidelines. If subversiveness is perceived as such from redneck reactionaries and the religious right, from the pitiful tearjerking excesses of what Mark Seltzer calls "America's Wound Culture", from the pseudo-assistance mentality of self-help groups so brilliantly parodized in 'Fight Club', then be it so. Let it be subversive - let it show the vanity of those things.

As a TV show, South Park may seem to be something like an updated and more hard-edged version of what The Simpsons once has been; totally lacking respect for all things considered serious, yet lacking the sentimentality and cuteness The Simpsons have come to incorporate into its concept. Yet while the TV show may be interesting and utterly entertaining, it's nothing compared to its cinematic outburst, merely a side-show event almost. The film, however, is the most serious and insane - and insanely funny - satire of everything American. Yet satire is never really derogative, satire may very well be appreciative of a phenomenon, while just pointing at what's wrong. 'Space Balls', while being satirical, is in fact nothing but an hommage to the 'Star Wars' phenomenon, same is true for the sentiment of 'Galaxy Quest' towards Star Trek, and - in literature - Mark Twain's position towards the South in Huckleberry Finn, and Plato's position towards the Athenian state in his Menexenus, a parody of eulogies common for his time. The history of satire is long, but hostility cannot be found within it - thus we are able to identify ourselves with the likes of Kyle, Stan, Kenny, Chef and Cartman.

The film's basically a parody of film musicals, while at the same time being a great musical in itself. Unforgettable titles like the quasi-idyllic film opener "Mountain Town", the central tune, "Uncle Fucker", the short and spicy "Kyle's Mom's a Bitch", the Oscar-Nominee "Blame Canada" and the Les Misérables-rip-off "La Resistance" are all truly original and refreshingly different from the usual mainstream stuff. The film doesn't cease to be interesting, not even at the umpteenth viewing; which is also due to the love for detail. American traumas are consequently incorporated and dealt with, Black and White, Viet Nam, school violence, religious fanaticism, sex in a puritan-inspired society, homosexuality, groups of outraged mothers, Rap (for what is "Uncle Fucker" if not a Rap song, as illustrated by the alternate version on the CD?), the devil and - last but surely not least - Saddam Hussein; where else could you possibly find such a wild mix concocted in such a thrilling and original way?

"Blame Canada" is an indicator of the various hypocritical elements in politics and society - blame the messenger, but don't blame the one responsible. Blame the media, but don't blame the parents. Blame violence on TV, but don't dare blaming violence in the homes - quarrels between the parents, divorce and afterward litigation over the children, neglection of children's needs, the absence of parental care - PG for instance meaning parental guidance, that's an active process, instead of letting children be exposed to violence in the media without any comment; people with problems being exposed in talk shows and defined by their problems, de-humanized and traumas being subjected to pop psychology, treating those in need of care and attention as case files, or rather, as freaks; political correctness and affirmative action leading to reverse discrimination and the highlighting of discriminating elements (like in the South Park season two episode "Conjoined Fetus Lady"); - - - laying bare a cynical culture deeply in need of healing, and maybe, in need of some intelligent comedic eye-opener, which this movie could very well be.

Of course this movie is sick, maybe it is a sick joke. But it's also deeply issue-oriented, a more adult version of those late night talk shows, posing as a kid show, as a comic, but in its intentionally crappy animation exposing itself as something different, something tougher and, indeed, thoroughly grown-up. You can stick to the kid characters and think them being funny, and they are, but that's just the surface of this phenomenon. In part, South Park is about breaking taboos. But those taboos aren't broken just for the mere sake of breaking them - that's just the obvious level; the message, however, is deeply serious, the package created to be outrageous and funny to deliver this piece of cultural deconstruction to those who do care. Stick to the obvious, stick to the fun and to the sick jokes, fall for the Noble Lie if you want. That's OK, that's but just one side of it - 'cause this sick joke has some substance indeed, making this irreverent conjuration of mayhem perhaps the most important film of its year, and 1999 has been a very good year for the movies. But this film is the epitome, it doesn't get any better. An essential guide to contemporary Western society.

January 18th, 2001

IMDb/Space Cowboys

Space Cowboys (2000)
Directed by Clint Eastwood  ·  Rating: 2 of 10
2 of 10

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Space Cowboys DVD

Summary: Interesting yet somewhat dull

The concept behind 'Space Cowboys' may not be the utmost exciting one, yet it is promising indeed, and also providing for some great comedic potential. The cast alone lets the anticipation rise: With actors like Tommy Lee Jones, William Devane, James Garner, Barbara Babcock and James Cromwell, what could possibly go wrong?

The beginning is stunning, great black and white sequences, very unusual. But after that, the film begins to drag along, it's a one man show run by Clint Eastwood who happens to allow the other characters to interact with him, occasionally. Donald Sutherland isn't as pale as ever, this time he seems to be able to rise from his somewhat finished carreer, but he isn't given a chance, neither is James Garner. Only Tommy Lee Jones gets to get some worthwile moments. The Cromwell character remains a stereotype, not due to acting but due to the story, and the only one who truly seems to enjoy this is William Devane. The rest of the cast looks uninspired and bored to death; and somehow, the film goes on and on.

After about 75 minutes, the crew finally gets into space. Should you dare to think everything would improve from then on, you're mistaken. Some nice scenes in the Space Shuttle, some nice orbital shots, that's all. The rest is just a great pile of junk, primitive patriotism and poor attempts at drama and comedy. All in all, this is a wrong-balanced, dull and uninspired waste of time. See it for the gang of old men, but they're wasted as well. What a pity.

November 4th, 2000


Stigmata (1999)
Directed by Rupert Wainwright  ·  Rating: 9 of 10
9 of 10

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Stigmata DVD

Summary: Interesting premise, mixed execution

"The kingdom of God is inside you and all around you, not in buildings made of stone.... Break a piece of wood and I am there... lift a stone and you will find me."

'Stigmata' is a strange mixture, hovering between an exceptional and inventive visual style, and a criticism of dogmatic structures. The criticism, however, often falls into the highly stereotypical and thus one-sided and less effective trap of common images like exorcisms and conspiracy theories. On the visual level, it is remarkable, especially concerning the images of drops of water and the mixture of these with blood. The appearance of the doves is a nice symbolic gesture, and the stigmatization scenes are simply unbelievably grand. The acting of both Byrne and Arquette is outstanding, the music fits in as well.

The problem with the criticism of the church is not, as I stated in an earlier version of this review, that it would be totally contrived, inimical and stupid. The opposite is the case, and I somewhat stand corrected. - Yet still, the problem is a much more complex one: Dogma isn't just created by a dark group of conspirators, it is much more reinforced by a communal insisting on traditions, however contrived and limiting they may be. The church claims to be an institution for spirituality and religion, but it isn't, it's about controlling a very limited world view, that control being exerted not just by the upper structures themselves, but by each and every one supporting it. That's why focusing on a group of conspirators may be interesting, but it misses the point and cannot speak to those caught in the dogma.

In the end remains a movie featuring great visuals and editing and an amazing overall look, but with a story that should have gone a bit further instead of concentrating on more obvious levels. A strange mixture, sadly, for its outlook is pretty promising.

May 9th/11th, 2000 / rewritten August 16th, 2002

IMDb/The Straight Story

The Straight Story (1999)
Directed by David Lynch  ·  Rating: 10 of 10
10 of 10

  Subseq. Pages - TP/David Lynch 
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The Straight Story DVD

Summary: Beautiful, pure Lynch indeed

A movie can be told in various ways. Twixed, twisted, tame, terror-filled, patiently, hastingly, with alternating velocities; and David Lynch has proved to be able to do it all. This movie however, is told in a very strange and somehow surprising way - plainly, directly, without that great many departures from the road. A straight story indeed. But does it come as a surprise? Haven't we all heard these commentaries which assume that Lynch would have departed from his style, that he would have done something he had never done before? People being surprised seeing him talk that fondly about family? Making a movie about an old man driving his lawnmower from Iowa to Missouri? Is that the David Lynch who scared the hell out of us with 'Eraserhead', who dove deep into the dreamworld of 'Blue Velvet', who confused us most unnervingly with 'Lost Highway'?

Yes, it is. Unmistakably even! One could try to reason with the "situation at hand" like with saying that after having created all these nightmares, all this cryptic stuff, he wanted to do something completely different, something entirely pleasant. In some aspects this might even be true. How he is fooling us when the camera moves into the backyard so slowly, in a way we all have seen it happen on Twin Peaks, expecting something terrible to happen! How he tries to mislead us several other times also, but nothing happens - is he trying to create a caricature of himself? Is he tired of all the dark, all the evil, all the nasty stuff? --- While the answers to all these questions might be made easier by seeing what he will do next, as the future is always better explained by itself than by some guys trying to predict it from the past or present, still, answers can be found in what he has been doing so far. And I really wasn't surprised at all - this seemed to me like the natural thing for him to do. Not judging from 'Eraserhead', of course, although slowness is shown there to an awkwardly drastic extent. No, the key to this problem seems to be rather lying within Twin Peaks.

David Lynch as a family guy - that seeming absurd? Not at all. Most people tend to confuse the creator with the creation - most prominent case of course is Edgar Allen Poe. Judging from his works, a lot of people saw him as the murdering maniac he described in his writings. But strangely, when you look at these guys like David Lynch or Chris Carter or Alfred Hitchcock or Joss Whedon; there has to be a dark edge somehow, but all in all, they seem to be the nicest guys around! For some reason they like to tell horror stories, and they succeed in doing so. But why? Horror and comedy are most closely related. Watch an episode of Seinfeld and you'll know what I mean. Horror and humor are felt because something strange happens; something happens in contrast to what is being assumed to happen. A lawn sprinkler ain't funny. But a lawn sprinkler which only has so much water as to wet the grass in a diameter of only one or two feet, that's funny. The lawn itself ain't scary. But if you do a close-up and look at all the bugs inside and below it, that can be scary like nothing else. But in order to know what's scary, you have to know what isn't. You can only portray a threat to something when you know this something, when you know its weaknesses and strengths. You cannot hurt someone who doesn't have feelings. You cannot hurt someone by hurting something he doesn't care about. Equally, you usually don't hate something you don't really care about. When I see a corrupt politician, well, that seems to be normal. But when I see a corrupt politician I once voted for, I once trusted, that hurts. A stranger cannot harm you, but your loved ones can - because you care about them. That's why family usually can be both heaven and hell at the same time - for the same reasons. These people know you too well. You cannot hide - you have no defenses. Your home is your castle - it is all you have, you carry it with you wherever you go. Family is the most intense unit of human society. Once you break that unit, the world for the people who used to live in that family might break apart. In all his films, as well as on Twin Peaks, it was family in one way or another that was attacked. But to know how to do that, you have to know family - and you have to have some very positive connotations about it in order to be able to create the horror. If I myself had an altogether negative attitude towards family, I wouldn't be writing these lines either.

Who says there is no horror in 'The Straight Story', who says it is entirely pleasant, it doesn't have the usual Lynchian edges? Alvin Straight is a man who is hurt very badly inside. He carries with him the guilt of the, the guilt of how he has changed after the war, the dispute with his brother. He sees his daughter being reminded of the loss of her children everyday. When he tells about his now deceased wife having delivered fourteen babies but not all having made it, when you hear him talking about the war - this man indeed has seen it all. The difference now is that it is much less direct. Lynch spares us the ugly pictures - thus creating an even greater contrast. You see him drinking a bear, telling his war stories, hear the planes and bullets - but he is still sitting there, quietly having his beverage. When you see all the old guys he's hanging with, you cannot help but smile. But once you are reminded of their past, of what their age means, the smile is gone, and beyond the obvious appear all these things you thought long gone. This Lynch movie might be the only one you can take your entire family to. But that's just because of the zoo of monsters and shadowy creatures he unleashes in his other films and spares us in this one - yet those don't create horror. They might create a feeling of uneasiness, but they are just the obvious. One might even say that this movie is his most honest one - sparing us all the disguises and action and getting to the core of things. That with David Lynch this core lies in family and love and inner peace - how could that be surprising?

The speed of this movie is breathtaking. Breathtakingly slow. Nothing we should be surprised about after having seen 'Eraserhead' or certain scenes from Twin Peaks. Remember the scene in which Cooper, after having been shot, is lying on the floor, trying to tell the waiter to go get help? The waiter, a more than elderly man (the human form of the Giant), moves painstakingly slow, always returning - slowly - for another question. That scene seems to go on for hours. The elevator in 'Eraserhead'. The drops of water in 'Dune'. All these things being in stark contrast to the wild and dark frenzy of 'Lost Highway', 'The Straight Story' seems to be the more confusing. But it is only as confusing as you make it to be. As he repeatedly insists in Lynch on Lynch (see Bibliography), Lynch doesn't like to talk too much about his work - in order to preserve the magic, to let each piece be seen as what it is, not as what it might be. Whatever our speculations are on why this movie is the way it is, and why he chose to do so; and however interesting these questions might be - let's for a moment settle down with looking at it because of what it really is. A beautiful picture with a great cast, a great and peaceful soundtrack and a very positive outlook on life, whatever the obstacles may be. And not to forget the Lynchian humor. You don't come across such a movie very often, and Lynch - again - happened to surprise us.

December 28th, 1999

IMDb/Strange Days

Strange Days (1996)
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow  ·  Rating: 7 of 10
7 of 10

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Strange Days DVD

Summary: Disturbing and unconventional

This movie was released in the year which also saw the appearance of the X-Files' spin-off Millennium; with both the tv show and this movie aimed at the year 2000. Strange days they are, these days forming the end of the twentieth century, depending on your calculation preference.

The movie depicts a situation placed in the dark areas of Los Angeles, a situation which has an air of desperation and fatalism; it is the reign both of crime and of darkness, also a reign where hope is a rarity, where the individual prospects of life are limited. It is not ordinary lives which are portrayed here; it is the life in the shadows, life between clear-cut states.

There is a special piece of technology serving as a story carrier here: Somehow with a touch of Shatner's 'TekWar', there is a new electronic piece of entertainment around. But it is not fictional stories projected into the brain of the recipient, but the remembrances of a human being, which can be recorded on disk and then sold as recreation. The hero of the story (Ralph Fiennes), an ex-cop, is trying to get his ex-girl (Juliette Lewis) out of the hands of a maniac; he is helped by an old friend (Angela Bassett). Both of them are becoming the focus of interests of killers and madmen in search for the truth behind a crime.

What in respect to the story seems to be an ordinary crime tale, is much more fascinating on a visual and emotional level. The remembrance scenes are shown from the perspective of the specific person; that way providing the audiences with a kind of view very rare to be seen in visual media. The tension is also fueled by racial conflicts depicted in the movie; in general, the devastating and dark impressions of the pictures are modeled around the uncertainty associated with the millennial change of year enumeration. With some fresh cinematic approaches and an interesting pace, this movie definitely is a great addition to conventional movie standards.

December 17th, 1998 / August 25th, 2002

IMDb/The Sum of All Fears

The Sum of All Fears (2002)
Directed by Phil Alden Robinson  ·  Rating: 10 of 10
10 of 10

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The Sum of All Fears DVD

Summary: Intelligent Suspense

Clancy films are always good for some suspense and intelligent drama, and this one is no exception, not at all. Once you've gotten used to the idea that this is set after the three other films, though Jack Ryan's just a rookie, 'The Sum of All Fears' provides for quite some thrill ride, and not one of the boring kind.

The acting is upper league, the story is complex, and Jerry Goldsmith - once again - contributed a fabulous score. It's disturbing, even artful in quite some moments, but most of all, it proves that you can deal with such a topic without the usual amount of blind patriotic gestures. Politicians are human beings, too, the President is not just a machine of goodness, he is also prone to reacting with fear and panic and doubt just as the rest of us.

Nothing's simplified beyond the necessities of cinema, you could even call it a realistic approach to the genre of the espionage thriller. Against all my own fears that this film could have fallen into the trap of easy answers and easy gestures, it avoids most of those errors, standing out amongst all those wannabe feel-good action flics who seem to be flourishing lately. What a pleasant surprise.

August 26th, 2002

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