Tag Archives: Germany

LUZ: Film Review

LUZ. Country, Germany. Director: Tilman Singer. Screenwriter: Tilman Singer. Cast: Luana Velis, Jan Bluthardt, Julia Riedler, Nadja Stubiger, Johannes Benecke, Lili Lorenz. Language: German, Spanish. Runtime: 70 minutes. Venue: IFC Center, NYC, NY. Rating: B

The ironically titled Luz opens with a wide shot of a police precinct. A woman practically drags herself in, serves herself a soda, and is about to leave when she blurts out an incomprehensible question to the clerk in the lobby. When he doesn’t reply, she repeats the question in an ear-splitting shriek. And that sets the tone for Tilman Singer’s college project-turned movie Luz, which hit its (very) limited release last week in NYC, LA, and other cities around the country for its one to two week engagement.

The woman in question is Luz, a cab driver, but we’ll get back to her in a bit. The movie cuts to a scene in a bar where a blond woman named Nora (Julia Riedler) is eyeballing a man (Jan Bluthardt) nursing a drink. She aggressively hits on him, but her intentions are a bit murky at best. She proceeds to tell the man, who we learn is Dr. Rossini, a story of a woman she knew back in Chile named Luz. Both she and Luz performed some Satanic ritual to summon up a demon, and now it wants Luz. Dr. Rossini seems completely hypnotized by Nora’s gaze (hypnosis will figure prominently from here on), and allows her to lead him to the bathroom, where some weird exchange takes place. [It sure seems like she’s masturbating him, but we don’t get to see that — only his shaking body after she kisses him and sends in a bright light into his horrified, gaping mouth.

Weird enough? Don’t worry; it gets better. Back at the precinct, Dr. Rossini is about to commence a regression therapy to extract a confession from Luz. Luz, who has been up to now incoherently babbling some reverse prayer in Spanish, begins to recount how it is that she got to this place. And then. Singer lets whatever was hinted in the background take center stage, and we’re in the middle of a hazy nightmare shot in thick shades of grey fog that continue to suggest something evil is in the midst, more felt than seen, seconds from announcing itself.

Singer never lets Luz go off the rails like most other possession horror movies do because of a need to raise the body count and produce shock after shock for shock purposes alone. There is a thick pulse running through the film, and it reaches an early peak before plateauing somewhere in the middle, then building again until the movie reaches its nightmarish conclusion. I don’t think that it could have been scarier than it was, though. This is exactly the type of fucked up shit our minds and subconscious throws at us while we dive deep into sleep, and when we wake up, we can’t quite place the pieces together. In that sense, Luz “makes sense” and illuminates a dark event reaching its natural conclusion. It will produce shivers and a sense of unreality. And frankly, this is all I need for a movie like Luz to take effect. It’s sparse set, minimal players, and brief running time give it the right amount of dread needed to make Singer’s film be a memorable entry into both the cinematic world and the horror genre.

13 MINUTES (ELSER)

13 MINUTES (ELSER)
Germany
Director:  Oliver Hirschbiegel
Runtime: 110 minutes
Language: German

Mostlyindies Grading: C-

I want to call out to the filmmakers of Germany, young and old, rising and established, good and bad, male and female and in between, because it has to be said, and I can remain silent no longer: please. Please! Tone down the Holocaust movies just a tad. I know there are stories out there, gritty, modern, subversive, romantic, horrific, even transgressive and extreme. I want to see them. I want to experience them, the good and the bad, the tame and the unbridled.

In short, I want to see German Cinema flourish again.

Please understand, I’m not against Holocaust pictures — many are classics, all are disturbing, haunting, horrifying, and moving in regards to the triumph of the human spirit over the mire that is our human nature, yes — but it’s time to start telling stories that are compelling, visually stimulating, mesmerizing. It’s time to move on from the ghosts from the past, and move forward into the experimental while retaining the intrinsically humane. Yes, there are still stories out there begging to be told. I understand. I do. But when every other movie that hits the US shores is another variation of the Holocaust, with either the main character a little-known victim of the Nazi atrocities, or a thinly veiled story based on events that took place during the rise and reign of the Third Reich, it makes me wonder where the creative minds behind great movies are.

It’s not that I don’t feel for the victims. But there comes a moment when you wonder, “It’s another German movie being released here and it’s about Nazis,” and then you find yourself, like David Byrne, asking yourself, what’s the purpose of another rehash? Wasn’t the Hungarian Son of Saul enough? Or the French Night and Fog? Or Shoah? Even this movie’s director had another standout hit a decade earlier with Downfall. Now, he seems to have gone through the motions and agreed to tell a story that is devoid of all subtlety and told in exclamation points from opening credits (excellent) to final scene (tragic). The little known story of Georges Elser, a German national who saw the danger in Hitler from the word go and attempted an assassination in 1939 that failed because the bomb he used to detonate took a crucial 13 minutes to do so and by then the Fuhrer had been gone from his target spot. The fact that this event happens at the start of the movie is compelling enough, but we’re then left with scenes of interrogations, flashbacks to explain how Elser arrived to the conclusion that Hitler needed to be eliminated, and a film surprisingly devoid of Jewish suffering (which in this case could be perhaps because of the singularity of Elser’s own surroundings). It is as handsome a production as it is empty. By the time you reach the end, you’ve been worn out, beaten to a pulp, and not because of Nazi brutality — the film itself is brutal, and not in a good way. I kept expecting Daniel Bruhl to appear at any moment, in full SS garb, wielding a club.

13 Minutes makes me long for more Toni Erdmann‘s, or a return to German Expressionism. Something different. Anything visually stimulating. Just not this bore. And the movie that eventually became Germany’s representation for the Foreign Oscars? Labyrinth of Lies? Not much better.






THE EXCEPTION

THE EXCEPTION
UK
Director: David Leveaux
Runtime: 108 minutes
Language: English

Mostlyindies Grading:

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Dear God, is Jai Courtney gorgeous. The Exception opens with a scene that wouldn’t be amiss in soft-core gay porn, in which Courtney is shown shirtless, pecs to the wind, lying in the dark as if in wait. And my, does the camera love him! In these days in which men can now flaunt everything while doing a full frontal, Courtney reveals so much jaw-dropping masculine beauty I had to stop the movie for a moment and take a breath to recover. Yes, he’s that distracting. No, don’t look at me like that and then roll your eyes; the man is a gentler version of Tom Hardy. And wouldn’t I want to see the both of them–

Okay, getting ahead of myself, and this is a simple review of The Exception, a movie by a director unknown to me, David Leveaux, who adapted the story from an Adam Ladd novel The Kaiser’s Last Kiss –itself a title that screams ‘historical romance!’. So, we have Courtney, all clothed in military garb being whisked off to protect the Kaiser of Germany (Christopher Plummer, having the time of his life, and has an actor been associated more with films on or around Nazi Germany than he? It’s as if though producers, while throwing out potential actors for their movies, saw this one, a war movie set in Nazi Germany and immediately thought, “Ha! Well, well. there’s that actor, Plummer. He’s been doing this since Sound of Music. He can basically phone it in by now. Send him in. No need for an audition. But give him the good one, and leave the asshole role to Eddie Marsan. He already looks like he could kill your children without as much as batting an eye.”).

It seems the Kaiser might be surrounded by spies, and why wouldn’t he? This was war in Europe, and Europe was crawling with spies trolling for intel. But wouldn’t you know, as it happens in a historical romance, Courtney’s SS Captain Brandt crosses paths with an exotic little beauty Mieke (Lily James, fresh off of Downton Abbey) who’s a maid in service of the Kaiser’s household. The flirtation between these two is not something we can call subtle — you’d have to be dead or delusional to not see it happening between your own eyes — but yes, it happens, and why does the plot give so much time to a simple chambermaid if it doesn’t have something up its sleeve? Because it does, and if you see the picture you’ll catch it as subtle as a sledgehammer to the face, but it works perfectly well because, historical romance = potboiler. Meaning, don’t be looking for any historical accuracy here even when there actually was a Kaiser, and his wife (Janet McTeer, who’s good but doesn’t have much to do but act perpetually worried/harried), and Marsan’s Himmler. [However, look closely at Marsan’s chilling portrayal of Himmler during a dinner scene when he talks about experiments made to children. Even in fluff like this, it’s still completely nerve-wracking, that such things were actually done to innocents.]

So with that in mind, I will say that The Exception is a very, very old fashioned war movie. I could easily see actors from the actual time period who could have performed this piece of nonsense without batting an eye. Crawford did it a couple of times at the end of her MGM tenure, Bergman did it as well. Now, Courtney is no Bogart or MacMurray — there is a scene in which he looks so completely vulnerable and naked — did I mention he shows a lot of skin here? — in a way I haven’t seen movies treat their male leads, usually all self-composure and alpha-male tendencies. Courtney’s role is much different: he’s stoic when he needs to, but is incredible sensitive and disarming. No wonder Lily James takes control of what becomes their relationship and basically becomes its pilot, leaving him with the role of protector. So, there you have it, a total crowd-pleaser, the type of movie the characters of Their Finest would have created, and it all ends well. Because in romance, you can’t ever deliver a good story and not have the two romantic leads not end in each other’s arms, can you?






MORRIS FROM AMERICA

3.8 out of 5 stars (3.8 / 5)

 

It’s not easy to be an expat living in a foreign land, having to adapt to its customs, laws, language – particularly when you’re of a minority in your own land. French dramas Dheepan and Fatima clearly show what it is to be at the tail end of society and having to turn tricks to ensure base survival.

Morris From America, Chad Hartigan’s follow up from his 2012 This is Martin Bonner, continues the theme of isolation, but while that film had a bleaker outlook, his current is a warmer affair, more upbeat event about the frailty of being on the outside in more ways than one. Morris (Markees Christmas) is a 13-year old living in Heidelberg, Germany with his father Curtis (Craig Robinson), who moved here for a coaching position and is trying to connect with Morris. Morris feels completely at odds with this largely alien culture who in turn doesn’t accept him. He knows that the jocks at school taunt him not just on his lack of knowledge of German, but his own blackness. [There is an implicit undercurrent of racism throughout the entire film as a matter of fact.] German kids can’t understand his shyness and lack of sports skills. Morris, sadly, senses their rejection, and mopes around the town, glancing into windows, or imagining that people around him are head-banging into the hip-hop that he listens to.

The only one who seems to be drawn to him is Katrin (Lina Keller), a somewhat older girl who introduces Morris into a world of partying, ecstasy, and invites him to a party she’s throwing. Once he arrives he can barely get through before some girls grill him on how did he even find the place. Once he mentions he was invited by Katrin, one of the girls leads him to a room where an odd exchange of water squirting from to guns takes place. It’s a game for her, but humiliating for him – he’s been squirted water in his crotch area. It doesn’t do much for his own sense of self.

It’s only later when Katrin and Morris meet again when she discovers his music (and an embarrassing moment takes place when Morris hears his own father rapping into a tape). Katrin encourages Morris to perform rap in front of an audience, and he takes it to himself to write down some lyrics. Inka, his German tutor Inka (Carla Juri, seen in 2014 in the movie Wetlands), discovers the lyrics and is shocked at their violence. It all leads to a confrontation with Curtis who wants Morris to be himself – to rap from his own experience.

I was very surprised by how sweet and touching this movie was and how despite some wandering and a couple of side characters thrown in for levity, Morris from America wore its heart well. Some darker aspects pepper the entire movie, but they are left in the sidelines. In a way it’s good because the core of the film is the relationship between Curtis and Morris, which for the most of the film remains at a friendly stage – not too close, but close enough – but escalates to a quiet moment of lovely revelation towards its key scene.






EDDIE THE EAGLE

Hooked on Film rating:

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

You’ve probably seen this kind of uplifting movie before because it goes all the way back to The Little Engine that Could, and you wonder: why do you keep coming back for more? This is what I thought on first viewing of the trailer which came out of nowhere a month ago since leaving Sundance. Eddie the Eagle can basically be summed up in its title and aforementioned trailer. There are no surprises to be found here, no insurmountable conflicts to be had, no left turns. Not one. But . . . damn it! Talk about getting suckered in. It’s a well-made,  often funny movie about proving the opposition wrong with a feel-good vibe led by newcomer Taron Egerton and flanked by Hugh Jackman, and offering some solid supporting by British actress Jo Hartley as Edwards’ redoubtable mother.

Now, the only thing I differ with is the “based on a true story”. While in fact, Eddie Edwards did go on to make last place at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, the movie is as true as the final sequence of Argo by introducing a mentor character played by Hugh Jackman. No–Bronson Peary did not exist, and no, that’s not a spoiler.

Most movies about underdogs feature some kind of mentor-pupil relationship down to Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Greek fables about heroes in the making. The mentor In this case is Peary, a one-time Olympian himself, who at first shoos Edwards away, but reluctantly (or because Edwards himself refuses to leave) comes to his aid and in the process comes to discover he’s not a loser after all. Cue the Kleenex! So as you see, this story is, predictably, no different.

The real Edwards went at it in a completely different way. Which makes me think that whoever produced the story believed that this would be the way to go and thus, keep audiences engaged.

I’ll admit, adhering or not to the actual events, Edwards’ cinematic story is purely anchored by the freshness and innocence of Taron Egerton who tackles the role as a man-child Mr Magoo in a world of pros. If he were but a little less so, the film, for all its intents and purposes, would have nowhere to go and would be a hard sell. The audience always loves a winner, especially when he has all the odds stacked against him, and Eddie the Eagle in this case is a total crowd-pleaser.