#200: 8 ½. A film about film making. If you always wanted to go full meta, your search ends here (no need to bother with What Just Happened). 8 ½ might also cure your wish of ever wanting to become a director, should you be so inclined, because the everyday reality of director Guido Anselmi is hell. Not having had a success in recent years and being fairly worn out with age and belied expectations Guido takes the waters, but no seaside resort or any amount of mud packages can keep him safe from the multitude of hauntingly annoying people around him: smug film critics; producers pressing for decisions; mistresses trying to secure acting jobs for their husbands, sisters and other acquaintances of increasingly tenuous connection; actors inquiring about details of their roles. Details Guido seems reluctant, but is actually unable to disclose because despite of production already being in full swing, he has not written a single line of the script, nor does he have an idea what he wants his film to be about. This combined with the circumstance of having convinced his jealous wife to join him in that madhouse soon leaves Guido short of a breakdown. His imagination starts somersaulting: he sees his father descending into his own grave, meets with a cardinal in a sauna and conjures up a harem full of all those women he desires, but they somehow start rioting against him even in his mind. You might say he’s the 1960’s version of John Dorian. Do be careful with sharing sentiments like this, though. 8 ½ is one of those cinematic masterpieces that people who really know their stuff go certifiably nuts about with adoration. So should you not hear back from me during the next weeks, some movie fanatic might have ripped my head off for comparing Marcello Mastroianni with sodding J.D. from Scrubs.
#199: Donnie Darko. A teenage boy miraculously survives a plane crashing into his house. A teenage boy tragically dies when a plane crashes into his house. The interlude is full of dreams and rabbits. Donnie Darko contains time travel mechanics and religious symbolism, the combination of which creates a patchwork of cross references that can make the plot seem more confusing than it really is. The movie is littered with mathematical contingencies full of foreboding, the commitment of sin and parallel universes. There are some critics who would love to convince the cineastes of this world that Donnie Darko is a mind-numbing piece of unimaginativeness, which is a line of argument I find a bit hard to reconstruct since you would probably need a white board the size of a football field to list all its intertwining references and inconspicuous details. This movie also imbued Jake Gyllenhaal with so much credit that not even working with 50 Cent now can dent his reputation of being a skilled actor.
#198: The Bourne Ultimatum. Jason Bourne still refuses to die and is back for the finale of the trilogy, despite the continuous efforts of countless CIA officials and their corps of modified assassins to shut him up indefinitely. Having once been shaped into one of these ruthless killers himself during a program called Treadstone, he now discovers the existence of a CIA operation named Blackbriar, an upgrade to the original Treadstone project and infinitely more menacing of course, because this is how action movies work. From start to finish the pacing never lags, and it is the primary reason Ultimatum conveys a constant air of suspense, along with the charismatic presence of Blackbriar’s director Noah Vosen. Actually, I might even learn something from this movie and adopt a more suspenseful presentation while reading these movie logs. Now, I’m fairly rubbish at keeping pace but there is one more ruse utilised in The Bourne Ultimatum: the handheld camera never keeps still. So if you want to do yourself a favour and tickle the maximum enjoyment out of the following reviews, just try shaking your monitor with determined, but gentle violence. For easier handling, do the same on your phone.
#197: The Best Years of Our Lives. WW2 is just over (both in the real world and in the film, which was published in 1946) and the three soldiers Al Stephenson, Fred Derry and Homer Parrish are able to return to their mutual home town Boone City, a small provincial backwater in Iowa – which makes it all the weirder that they’ve never met each other before. As with many veterans, they have been scarred physically and mentally by their battlefield experiences, and the years upon years spent away from their families have left them estranged from the people they once knew. When Fred Derry had left the country he was a smooth operator, an Air Force pilot with bags of money under one arm and women clinging to the other, but upon his return there is little distinguishing him from all the other veterans lacking conventional work experience who are now flooding the job market. He eventually settles for his old position at a drug store, at the mercy of his former assistant ‘Stinky’ Merkle who has comfortably relaxed into a superior position while Fred was away. The infantryman Al is fortunate enough to be able to resume his old job at a bank, but his son has become completely alien to him. He sees little value in the deeds of soldiers and also does not seem particularly hyped about his father having brought a samurai sword as a gift for him from overseas… which is obviously ridiculous. The boy is about sixteen years old and should by all means get as giddy as a hyperglycaemic sewer rat upon receiving a Japanese souvenir sword. I know people much older than him who would kill for having a samurai sword, which is, by the way, also the reason we will never get them one. Speaking of sharp objects, Homer Parrish lost both his hands during his time in the Navy. The three ex-servicemen soon introduce their families to each other, a process that is mainly facilitated by their new and improved drinking capacity (and they do all play great drunks – especially Al). The female portion of Al’s family is in fact one of the most valuable assets of the whole movie, since both his wife and daughter are deliciously sardonic in the presence of these manliest of men. The inventory of boring sentimental or pathetic gestures that you can expect to find in so many other post-war movies are conspicuously absent in Mrs Stephenson and her daughter, to the point that they might mockingly introduce a cheesy situation only to defuse it immediately. Their performances in particular but also the general atmosphere of the film had me in utter disbelief that The Best Years of Our Lives is actually terribly old. And old it is, the whole cast is dead, I’ve checked. But it is filled with genuine people and honesty regarding the reality of these men to such a degree that it makes even most Hitchcocks appear more dated than this.
#196: The Wizard of Oz. Even in 1939 the weather forecast never failed to disappoint the public, and so a storm takes a family of farmers in Kansas by surprise. A twister “unhitches” their house while their niece Dorothy Gale (…) is still in it and carries her into a theme park over the rainbow. She is handed a pair of ruby slippers by a pink witch arriving in a bubble and told to follow the yellow brick road to Emerald City if she ever wants to return home. Why the selfish crone wouldn’t just share her bubble, I don’t know, especially since there’s another witch who wouldn’t at all mind to kill Dorothy for her new slippers. However unrealistic the prospect of murder over a pair of shoes might seem to the sane mind: In a dream I once had I was in possession of two sandals with the ability to cure cancer, and the Spanish mob chased me over an island in order to forcefully appropriate them. You see, I’m no stranger to footwear of miraculous potency, so the concept of Dorothy being hunted for hers by a green lady with a broom is a concept I can get my head around. Being a children’s movie, The Wizard of Oz also includes very important moral messages, of course. Quoting the wizard himself as saying to the tin man: “A heart is not judged by how much you love; but by how much you are loved by others.” So kids, it is about time you learned that tricking other people into liking you is the way to go. Welcome to this world. Here, take this red heart-shaped clock and have a nice day.
DROPOUT: Akira. Tetsuo, member of a Neo-Tokyoite bike gang, gets abducted by the military after an accident he had on the freeway with a psionic, wrinkly-faced child. By studying the progression of the powers he develops soon afterwards, their scientists hope to work out what happened to their previous research subject Akira, whose rampant energies levelled the city a few decades ago and entailed the Third World War. His friend and bike gang leader Kaneda will have none of that, however, and sets off to rescue Tetsuo. Unless you are already sure-footed in the realm of anime (which I am not), I found it works best to approach this film with a blank mind. The six volumes of source material for this have been condensed into a 2-hour motion picture, so naturally you will have to make an effort to be able to follow its pace, but the payoff should be worth it. Something about the colours and the general high quality of the artwork is truly awe-inspiring, especially considering most of the shots take place during the night. Ambience is something that a lot of movies, even those from this list, struggle to get right, but the first 15 minutes of Akira are simply a masterful composition in this respect. Even the sounds are perfect, the track only consists of a couple of songs but their use is always fitting, as is the complete silence at some points later in the story. The use of gore all throughout the movie will not be for everyone, understandably, though I don’t consider it excessive and it actually does help to clarify how little control Tetsuo and the military have over the powers that are at work here. And after all, those blood fountains are still just paintbrushes.
 Yes, it looks weird to me, too. But I have cause to believe this is a word.
Niklas was eating Pistol Shrimp while writing this article.