Thursday, August 23, 2007

Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others)

The film opens solidly with two climbing Stasi officers watching a play in East Germany in the mid-1980's. We hear them discuss the stunning lead actress, the playwright, and the Minister of Culture, all of whom play an important role in this movie.

The successful dramatist Georg Dreyman and his live-in girlfriend Christa-Marie Sieland, a popular actress, are the toast of East Berlin's intellectual circles even though they don't always think and talk the party line. When the Minister of Culture becomes enamored of Christa-Marie, he orders surveillance of Georg in order to destroy his competition. Wiretap expert Gerd Wiesler is assigned to the case. However, donning the earphones for hours on end, Wiesler becomes a bit too fascinated with the couple.

There are several stories here, interwoven beautifully. We watch Georg try to live an artist's life while denying the political and social upheaval around him. Everyone likes him, even the Stasi officers, but many of his artist friends are suffering from the restrictive regime. Christa-Marie has a wonderful relationship with Georg, but she has her own artistic problems, problems that become larger when Minister Hempf insists on her cooperation. And perhaps the most intriguing story of all is the Stasi officer Wiesler. He used to see things simply in the republic, and his role was to assist the state in maintaining socialist ideals. However, as he listens to the conversations of the couple in their apartment, he becomes involved with them, curious about the art Georg fiercely protects. And when he sees others within his secret police abuse their power, he begins to doubt his own beliefs to the point of deception, and eventually, action.

The film has a real feel to it, as if you're living in fear in a 1984-type fascist government, and you're quickly involved in all the players. There are no real villains here, even though the Stasi is an easy one. Wiesler's boss, Grubitz, is charming and, even when he knows he's facing his greatest challenge, civil. The only true villain without redemption is Minister Hempf, about whom "absolute power corrupts absolutely" is a truism.

The film takes on an epic quality halfway through the film as suspense builds, and as we see that the story doesn't just end after watching these people after a few weeks. The last half an hour propels us towards an unpredictable turn of events, and thrusts the film into the realm of the unforgettable.

The Lives of Others was in a competition for Best Foreign Film last year, and won over the immensely popular Pan's Labyrinth. Let's hope that curiosity gained the film a few viewers now that it's out on DVD. Like me.

Thumb's up.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Simpsons Movie

I love The Simpsons. I especially love the fact that I feel so much better about my own family after I live with theirs for half an hour.

However, I don't recommend this movie. I've heard criticism that The Movie is just an extended episode. Were that true, I could heartily recommend this film. It isn't.

Sure, there are funny bits. I loved the opening where Homer talks about paying for something you could see for free. I laughed out loud at the four states surrounding Springfield. At Spider-Pig. At how much do-do Spider-Pig produces in two days. At President Schwarzenegger. But these funny bits don't make a cohesive whole.

And I think the worst part of it is that we don't get to see our favorite characters, like Apu. Sideshow Bob. Marge's sisters. A hundred others. We get 10 seconds of Comic Book Guy and Millhouse, but it's not enough. There's a crowd scene where most of them are standing, but they don't DO anything, or say anything. They sure don't help to advance the plot. This plot isn't worth advancing anyway.

So, do yourself a favor and stay home. Turn on Simpsons reruns, maybe the one where Apu sells Homer some cheap meat. THEN you'll laugh.

Thumb's down.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Imagine Me & You - 2005 the opening of a song by The Turtles in the '60's. It's a bittersweet song that kinda makes you think that the kind of obsessiveness that a lyric like "I think about you day and night" doesn't end up well. I wish this drama had taken this bittersweet quality literally.

Luce, played winningly by 300's Lena Headey, is a florist who works with a happy couple on their wedding. She becomes friends with the couple, both of whom hope to hook her up with the Best Man. Unbeknownst to them, however, Luce is looking for a Best Woman, and finds one in the bride. The bride, Rachel (Piper Perabo) wonders, days after her wedding, if she should swing over to the Dark Side.

You'd think it would've been more than a struggle. After all, Rachel's best friend is her husband, Heck, played with goodnatured gusto by Matthew Goode, one of the best parts of Match Point. Leaving him should've brought about more angst.

I actually liked the long build-up. We explore their relationships, their senses of humor. And we find that the camera adores Headey, while it's rather neutral toward Perabo. In truth, though, it's probably easier to play the femme fatale. Perabo's dialogue paints her as a simplistic, rather shallow woman, while Headey gets to play the mysterious, eventually "other" woman. And Goode is rather brilliant as the erudite, bubbly husband.

In the end, though, an end that took about 10 minutes, there's no substance there. There's a line from Rachel's mother about love is everything, and it ends as Rachel pulls a Crocodile Dundee, proving her love as they're separated by large objects. Ridiculous.

Thumb's down after a promising beginning. But look for more from some promising actors.