This week - The East German Stasi listen in on a writer's life (The Lives Of Others) and Disney rape our minds (Wild Hogs).
First up, The Lives Of Others, a film written and directed by a man called Florian Maria Georg Christian Graf Henckel von Donnersmarck. It won the Oscar for best foreign language film this year for that name alone. It beat Pan's Labyrinth to the prize, a film that we thought was one of the best of the year in any language, but having seen it, this German film does measure up. The critics agree.
James Christopher gives 4/5 to a film that has apparently, "put the fear of God into the German cultural establishment. It rips the stitches from memories that are still fresh and deep."
The basic plot is that a writer's flat is bugged by the security services and monitored by a Stasi agent. However, the agent begins to sympathize with the dissident artists who frequent it.
Christopher writes that,
What doesn’t ring entirely true is a Stasi officer who undergoes an angelic change of heart. This is a harsh leap, and arguments still rage about whether or not unsuspecting audiences should be allowed to take it.
The film looks wonderfully depressing. Christopher describes the atmosphere as "exquisitely 1980s. The cruel backdrops are marvellous shades of grey."
Few films have dared paint East Germany and its legions of demons in such honest and unsparing detail. Von Donnersmarck puts a pickaxe into the past.
Bradshaw gives "this fierce and gloomy drama" 4/5
When the film first came out in Germany, it became notorious for turning against the prevailing trend of nostalgia for the old East Germany, a phenomenon known as Ostalgie,
The Lives of Others is a very different experience to Good Bye Lenin!, the funny and much-admired satire from 2003 on East Germany's collapse which, frankly, came close to indulging the shabby communist regime.
Quinn at The Independent gives it full marks, 5/5,
So much narrative cinema pretends at the idea of redemption - the character who has an epiphany, changes his ways and, in that repulsive cliché, "moves on" - that when a convincing drama of self-transformation comes along there is a danger that we might undervalue it, or overlook it, or assume that we've seen it all before. That's because most movies can only really convey a change of mood. It's a rare picture that can persuasively dramatise a change of mind, and a change of heart. This is why you should take pains not to miss this outstanding, and astounding, German film.
The end of the film final scene is brilliantly understated and in his review, Quinn does not want to "give away the magnificence of the final scene" but,
all that can be safely said is that it takes place in a bookshop, and features a sentence of four words that may bring a tear to your eye. To both eyes, for that matter. It pulls together, with beautiful economy, the threads of poignancy and hope which this film has so dexterously and diligently fashioned.
Watch the trailer -
and then go and see it.
Next up, Wild Hogs
Bradshaw gives it 1/5, hooray!
Looking at the actors on the poster outside the cinema - John Travolta, William H Macy, Tim Allen and Martin Lawrence - triggers a kind of awestruck anticipation. They are four faces on a Mount Rushmore of rubbishness. Which one of these Hollywood middleweights is going to be the most utterly abysmal? Which is going to phone in the most inept performance? It's like King Kong versus Godzilla versus Alien versus Predator: all four creatures lined up on the starting blocks for the 100m Terrible Acting event ... Well, it's a photo-finish, but by a nose, by the briefest sliver of proboscis. It is John Travolta who is first among equals in this mind-sodomisingly mediocre family comedy from Walt Disney.
Thank you sir.
James Christopher also gives it to 1/5 - woooo!
One mad beer-crazed morning they decide to rip up the shopping list and take to the road. They are going to be true rebels and God help anyone who gets in their way. For Macy that means trundling into stacks of carefully placed hay bales. Tim Allen cracks dentist jokes. Travolta wears a bandana. And they all try to avoid looking gay. This is not easy when they are stalked by a crazed and lonely homosexual cop.
Quinn gives it 1/5 - hat trick!
Not very wild. Four suburban males, fearful of middle-age decline, decide to jump on their motorbikes and discover the romance of the road. This amounts to a run-in with a gang of psycho-bikers led by a menacing Ray Liotta. The template is Billy Crystal and chums doing a cattle-drive in City Slickers, which now looks like Easy Rider in comparison with this. John Travolta plays the bankrupt one, Martin Lawrence the henpecked one, Tim Allen the disgruntled one and William H Macy the nerdy one as they trade threadbare quips about homophobia, mount their bikes and putter towards their paychecks.
Watch the trailer -
Trailer of the week- Oceans 13