Quantum of Black Speed Flash Gonzo Truth Strain Boogie Racer

Awards screeners are starting to come in hard & fast now, so here’s a hectic (and almost certainly incomplete) roundup of movies I’ve watched these last few weeks. In order of preference!

My Mother, My Bride, and I/Die Zweite Frau
Another cross-cultural love story from Europe, this time bridging Bavaria and Romania. Erwin Kobarek (Matthias Brandt) picks Irina (Maria Popistasu) out of a catalog, but his mother (Monica Bleibtreu) disapproves. One of my favorites at the Hamptons Film Fest. Hans Steinbichler, 2008. ****

Speed Racer
I’m still kicking myself for missing this in the theater. Delirious, demented, delicious. Andy & Larry Wachowski, 2008. ****

Black Ice/Musta jää
I liked this twisted Finnish thriller in Berlin, and it got even better on second viewing in the Hamptons. Let’s hope it doesn’t just get remade, but also released in the U.S. Petri Kotwica, 2007. ****

This punk rock adaptation of Goethe’s classic is either a pretentious disaster or wildly romantic triumph. Possibly both. Either way, Hannah Herzsprung is out of this world. HIFF. Uwe Janson, 2008. ***

Dunya & Desie
Movie version of a long-running Dutch TV show about two teenage friends. Dunya (Maryam Hassouni), the daughter of Muslim immigrants, returns to Marocco, and her bubbly friend Desie follows. Thoroughly sweet & enjoyable. HIFF. Dana Nechushtan, 2008. ***

Bogdan’s on vacation with his wife and child when he runs into his old buddies who still call him Boogie and insist to take him out on a wild night. Perceptive and unassumingly real, Boogie snuck up on me. More from Danny Kasman. HIFF. Radu Muntean, 2008. ***

Troubled Water/DeUsynlige
This gripping redemption story starring Trine Dyrholm won Best Narrative Feature and the audience award at the Hampton’s Film Fest. Marcy reviews. Erik Poppe, 2008. ***

Nothing But the Truth
Reasonably amusing fun-house mirror version of the Miller/Plame case. Could’ve used more Vera Farmiga — but that’s true of every movie. Rod Lurie, 2008. ***

Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson
I love the man as much as anyone, but the only HST movie I really need to see at this point is The Rum Diaries. Alex Gibney, 2008. ***

The Bad and the Beautiful
Kirk Douglas as selfish Hollywood producer who screws over Lana Turner. Highly entertaining until the wimp-out ending. Vincente Minnelli, 1952. ***

Curiously surreal crime/love story starring Isabelle Adjani and Gerard Depardieu in two roles. Andre Techine, 1976. ***

Flash Gordon
Ornella Muti! Mike Hodges, 1980. ***

Quantum of Solace
Seems like I was entertained. The editing blew. That’s all I remember. Marc Foster, 2008. **

Annika (Trine Dyrholm) falls in love with a rapist. Dyrholm is terrific but the movie pales compared to Der Freie Wille. HIFF. Pernille Fischer Christensen, 2008. **

As a major Star Wars geek, I tried my best to like this sci-fi coming-of-age story. But you know what the man says: there is no try. More from Karina Longworth. HIFF. Patrick Read Johnson, 2007. **

So lurid and godawful, we couldn’t stop. Cuba Gooding Jr. bonks Helen Mirren — with a gun! Lee Daniels, 2005. **

The Andromeda Strain
A long time ago, I was sent to bed after the first 15 minutes. Finally finished it. Dull science procedural was not worth the wait. More from Glenn Erickson. Robert Wise, 1971. **

What Just Happend
Rough going, but we held out until Bruce Willis shows up in wooly beard. Barry Levinson, 2008. N/R.

Free Willy

It’s not that I can’t tell a killer whale from a serial rapist — it’s simply that the dumbest puns sometimes amuse most, especially when they offer mild relief for otherwise unbearibly grim tales of doomed love and ill-fated desires. Benten‘s fourth DVD release Der Freie Wille (The Free Will) streeted last week (yes, it’s a verb), and my review is up over on About.com.

All half-hearted joking aside, Matthias Glasner’s unflinching look at uncontrollable desires and evil urges is shot, acted, and told with such an uncompromising sense of purpose it’s almost impossible to endure (how’s that for a blurb guaranteed to jack up sales?) The fearless plumbing of the abyss on display here recalls Kinski and Herzog’s Woyzeck.

I’m responsible for the translation of the disc’s commentary track subtitles, a task that required putting each scene on replay loop, and as a result, some of the images and situations seem to have permanently burnt themselves into my subconscious. What did Der Freie Wille do to my free will, and can you blame me for trying to replace tortured Jürgen Vogel, both fists jammed into his parka, with a Disneyfied orca?

Der Freie Wille. Matthias Glasner, 2006. ****

The Free Will

Hard-working German actor Jürgen Vogel plays the serial rapist Theo in Matthias Glasner’s almost unbearably grim The Free Will (Der Freie Wille). When we meet Theo, he’s heavy-set and angry, working at the cafeteria of a seaside youth hostel. Within minutes of the film’s beginning, he spots a potential victim, knocks her off a bicycle and drags her into the dunes, where he ties her up, rips off her clothes, beats and rapes her in a brutal sequence that seems designed to weed out those audience members who won’t have the stomach for what’s to come.

When we see Theo again, nine years later, he seems profoundly changed: with a buff body but a docile and contrite manner, he tells his parole board just what they need to hear to release him. Told in handheld scenes with an authentic, documentary feel, Der Freie Wille unflinchingly observes Theo’s struggle to contain his own aggressive desires and insecurities.

Glasner’s script manages to steer clear of any move that could be construed as making excuses for Theo as we follow the tortured paths he takes through the provincial German town, including harrowing scenes in which he follows random women through subway tunnels and darkened streets. Der Freie Wille takes a surprising turn when we’re introduced to Nettie (the striking Sabine Timoteo), a young woman who is just leaving behind her overbearing father.

The brittle love that blossoms between Theo and Nettie is the film’s thorniest conceit. We’re trained to wish happiness on all screen couples, but the heavily fraught intimacy we become a party to here is exceedingly difficult to watch. In fact, without the eye-opening performances by Vogel and Timoteo, the film is impossible to imagine: they don’t seem to be afraid to lay bare their very souls.

Glasner softens the blows with moments of fragile joy, but this is not a film that harbors any illusions that love will conquer all. No doubt, Der Freie Wille goes places where not everybody will want to follow, but it stays emotionally true to its frightful subject and finds moments of startling honesty at the extremes of what audiences can endure.

Benten Films will release The Free Will on DVD in the U.S. later this year.

Der Freie Wille. Matthias Glasner, 2006. ****





More than with any film I’ve seen at the New York Film Festival so far, I’ve been struggling to find a way to talk about Brian De Palma’s Redacted, a movie that attempts to recreate the appalling images which have been systematically removed from the “news” about Iraq. The devastating reconstruction of the rape and murder of a 15-year-old Iraqi girl by American soldiers in Samarra in 2006, told entirely through “found” footage, the film felt like a well-aimed punch to the gut — or perhaps a stab in the heart. Whether blunt or sharp, the film’s impact is impossible to dismiss. Even though I thought I was handling the brutalities on screen well (usually by leaning over to scribble something in my notebook), I found myself unable to get up once the final credits started to roll; it had become physically impossible to move. Redacted sent me reeling.

Read my review on About.com.

Redacted. Brian De Palma, 2007. ****


What’s better than Snakes on a Plane? Of course: worms in the brain. Another gleeful B-picture, a cross between Invasion of the Body Snatchers, either Blob, and any number of zombie movies. There are the usual wisecracks (most of them delivered by Firefly’s Nathan Fillion), a cursing mayor, a teenage girl whose painted fingernails come in handy. What sets Slither apart is how genuinely disturbing the horror elements are. The psychosexual connotations of Michael Rooker’s transformation into an oozing, tentacled squid are obvious; the takeovers of new host bodies play like alien rape, and the grand finale is only a few blinks away from hentai. More than just a cynical recreation like Eight-Legged Freaks, Slither deploys its shock effects like it really means it.

Slither. James Gunn, 2006. ***

[tags]film, horror, 3 stars, james gunn, elizabeth banks, nathan fillion, scifi, monsters, horror, sex, hentai, rape, tentacles, worms[/tags]