#220: The Night of the Hunter. A film from the middle of the 1950’s that starts in medias res with a car chase after a floating head, against a backdrop of stars, has just cited from the Bible. The first twenty minutes of old black and white movies are usually the sequences during which I entertain myself by picturing imaginary battle scenes between tiny soldiers on the tops of my toes while the narrative stutters into motion, but after such an opening scene I wouldn’t even have the presence of mind to lift the battle field onto the table. Ben Harper has just returned home from his first and last successful attempt at bank robbery. He barely has time to instruct his two children to hide the looted 10,000$ and never tell anyone about it before the police arrive and seize him. He is incarcerated with Harry Powell, a psychopathic preacher serving time for car theft who actually earns his living by marrying and killing rich widows. Unfortunately, Powell gets hold of the information about the stash of money. Even more unfortunately, Ben Harper is sentenced to death because he killed two people during the robbery. A short time thereafter, the young widow Harper chances to meet a devout new contender for her affections… Admittedly, Robert Mitchum bleeds brilliance as the fanatic reverend with LOVE and HATE tattooed on his fingers but that is virtually the only noteworthy instance of any kind of quality. For a large part of the movie, Harper’s two children, John and Pearl, become the protagonists and they are both absolutely abysmal. John apparently has the reaction time of an eighty-year-old glue sniffer and needs about two seconds to respond to anything that has been said to him. He also has the tendency to look either surprised or shocked when there is nothing to respond to at all. His sister fares a bit better, though I suspect it to be simply because they didn’t give her as many lines. During a flight scene on a river, which may be cinematographically impeccable, they brutally break the immersion by dubbing her voice with that of a grown woman when she is supposed to sing a song. Their mother and the rest of the townspeople seem gullible beyond all measure for believing the obvious lies of the perfidious preacher, who might be acting brilliantly but whose character is written without thought. How distant that image of a charismatic criminal mastermind becomes when he suddenly abandons his principles of caution and decides it would be best to track John and Pearl on horseback through open fields while singing a lullaby at the top of his lungs. The sloppy editing, an art that is usually far too subtle for me to even notice, is gratingly obvious in one of the next scenes. Powell perceptibly takes great care to not catch up with the children on the river, first slowing down to a crawl while wading towards them and when it becomes apparent that he’s still moving too fast, he simply stops once the water reaches his chest and starts screaming.
#219: Ip Man – Yip Man. Thanks to the current hype around Marvel and the English way of spelling Yip Man without the initial Y, I wasted about five minutes before starting the film trying to find out about IP Man and what super power he is supposed to have. Against my reasonable expectations, he turned out not to be an IT specialist wearing horn rims and a cape, but the mentor and first martial arts teacher of the Fist of Fury, Bruce Lee. The superhero comparison doesn’t fall short completely, though. Traditional martial arts movies usually all follow a similar pattern: Novice fighter meets oppressive arch nemesis who seems indomitable – humiliated fighter trains until his ears start bleeding, enhanced fighter wrecks arch nemesis. However, Ip Man does away with the first two stages of development and when he appears on screen for the first time he’s already marvelous. You might call his character unemotional but he really is a Zen master who lives in a state of constant serenity, practicing the most advanced form of martial art – that of not having to fight anymore. For an action movie this is obviously rather unfortunate and although the writers squeezed in some sparring fights, there really isn’t much conflict potential in the first half of the movie. The narrative does come alive when the Japanese army arrives to occupy his home village but their general Miura, although an adept fighter, never poses a real challenge to Ip Man’s capabilities and remains a pale character. Watching Ip Man, his eventual success always seems secure. You just have to wait until he can finally be bothered to tear his opponents to pieces.
#218: The Battle of Algiers – La battaglia di Algeri. A historical film about the Algerian revolution of the 50’s, showing both the Algerian revolutionary guerilla forces’ perspective as well as that of the French occupiers. Ali La Pointe is one of the partisans who clash with the troops of the unrelenting but charismatic colonel Mathieu. Even though this is a government-commissioned film, it openly shows the violence with which both factions tried to win the struggle for independence on the one side and political “stability” on the other. The only thing it doesn’t mention is that there were also strong loyalist movements within the Muslim community in favour of the French, but then it’s politically uncomfortable already and was rarely shown in France until recently. Interestingly, one of the leaders of the rebel movement FNL is played by Yacef Saadi who was part of the FNL’s actual leadership during the war. (Ed – Side note – this is perhaps one of the greatest movies ever made).
#217: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2. After seven books and eight movies, with a cast including every actor and every actress in Britain that they could possibly get hold of, the Harry Potter series ends. Tastes differ, though my personal favourite is Cuarón’s comparatively sinister realisation of the Prisoner of Azkaban. Since I expect that everyone reading this has watched most of the series already, talking just about the very last part doesn’t make much sense to me. I will instead use the space I have here as a repository for trivia spanning the eight movies that I found particularly interesting. (Ed – I’d just like to make it clear that none of these films could even polish The Battle of Algiers’ Italian boots).
The child actors in Harry Potter would do their actual schoolwork in the movie to make the school setting more real.
The Hogwarts motto, “Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus”, means “never tickle a sleeping dragon”.
The last name Dumbledore means “Bumblebee” in Old English.
Voldemort is French for “Flight of Death”.
During filming, Daniel Radcliffe changed the screen on Robbie Coltrane’s cellphone to Turkish. Coltrane had to phone hair designer Eithne Fennel’s Turkish father in order to find out Turkish for “Change Language”.
Richard Harris only agreed to take the part of Albus Dumbledore after his eleven-year-old granddaughter threatened never to speak to him again.
Vladimir Putin was deeply disturbed and offended that Dobby the House elf seemed to have been created in his image.
Foreign language translations had to change Tom Marvolo Riddle’s name so that an appropriate anagram could be formed from “I am Lord Voldemort.” In Danish, his name is “Romeo G. Detlev Jr.” which makes up “Jeg er Voldemort”.
While filming his scenes as Professor Dumbledore, Michael Gambon wore street clothes under his flimsy costume. He also kept his cigarettes tucked into his socks.
During filming of The Order of the Phoenix, Alan Rickman banned Matthew Lewis and Rupert Grint from being within 5 meters of his new BMW, because during the making of The Goblet of Fire they had spilled milkshake in his car.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2’s working title: Extra Time.
#216: Groundhog Day. A misanthropic TV reporter is inexplicably forced to relive 2 February in the backwater town of Punxsutawney, (Ed – Yes, that is actually how it’s spelt – I just checked) Pennsylvania over and over again. I consider it a great achievement of both the screenwriters and Bill Murray, who plays the cynical weatherman Phil, to have managed forging the repetitive loops into a story that doesn’t turn stale after the first week of Groundhog Days. As punishment for his character flaws, the career-oriented Phil is trapped in what we could assume is his personal version of hell, a place void of any progress. The movie loosely bases his subsequent emotional changes on Kübler-Ross’s stages of loss and grief. His confused rejection soon turns into hedonistic ecstasy when he realises the possibilities which being the only human with a memory can offer him, though all of his exploits are of course ultimately meaningless and he becomes depressed and suicidal. In the end, his salvation is triggered by him accepting the situation. This is something that I can greatly appreciate, because it shifts the focus away from a clichéd sense of moralistic self-improvement and acts of true love being the only means of redemption. Both these elements do exist in the film, but I would argue that they’re not essential for his deliverance and only appear as side effects.
POPULAR DEMAND: The Interview. An outside party has recently dropped a remark concerning my involvement in this column. Apparently, I’m “losing touch with reality” and should get off “my high horse reviewing this pretentious, old stuff.” Well, now I’m mad and, worst of all, writing something about The Interview. Two moronic American gossip reporters score an interview invitation from North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong-un, who is a closet fan of US pop culture and an admirer of their show. The CIA approaches them with a plan to secretly poison him during the interview. They travel to North Korea like they were supposed to, they immediately mess up the intricately thought-out assassination scheme like they were not supposed to, and in the end they blow up the whole place like we all supposed they would. Despite the media hype surrounding its release, there is disappointingly little substance left when The Interview’s inflated PR cover is blown. The celebrity interview with Eminem right at the beginning is vaguely funny, but even this scene heralds how annoying James Franco is going to be throughout the whole movie; the man seems not to have a single comedic bone in his body. Most of his jokes involve us being subjected to his or Seth Rogen’s boner, and what they smell like, as the amusing parts of the film. Being a spy movie, The Interview of course doesn’t spare us the obligatory but easily avoidable “You have to hide this in your ass” moment, and the gory action scenes further in the story feel oddly out of place. The Lord of the Rings trilogy is cited on multiple occasions, not for any particular reason I could make out since there is no clear connection to what’s happening, but maybe they just want to remind us of what other movies we could be watching instead of wasting our time with listening to their impression of Asian accents. Apart from the thin layer of story, the rest of The Interview is an array of music videos. Some of the songs play such a prominent role that it makes me wonder if I’m actually watching covert propaganda for Katy Perry’s “Firework”. With all its puerile humour, ridiculous character portrayals and exaggerated action, you might deduce that The Interview should at least be comparable to Team America, but whereas the latter actually ended up being creative and original, The Interview comes across as if two horny teenagers wrote down the script during the blurry finale of a pub spree. The most frustrating thought is that such a piece of fictional garbage might actually cause concrete repercussions in international foreign policies.
Niklas was listening to Monkey Delivery Service while writing this article.