Friday, 12 October 2007

The Lives Of Others

When my girlfriend pestered me to watch a German language film recently I was understandably pessimistic. Anyone who watched any sit-com during the 90’s may have seen this typically dreaded scenario occur several times before, where the reluctant boyfriend is forced to watch a tedious film to keep the peace. Unfortunately for me my other half is German, and therefore deemed it important that I shared in her suffering.

We sat down to watch a film called The Lives Of Others. It follows the life of a Stasi Officer monitoring the cultural scene of East Berlin in 1984. Ulrich Mühe plays the role of Gerd Wiesler, a Stasi Hauptmann or Captain. His idealistic and avid support of the communist regime makes him an ideal candidate to spy on playwright Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch), who, Wiesler is told, is suspected of Western sympathies.

Having forgotten to turn the subtitles on for the first 10 minutes I could’ve been forgiven for not knowing what was happening. Predictably, Gerd Wiesler provided me with enough clues using his miserable German appearance alone. His house, his clothes, even his skin was grey. He wandered around a bleak looking East Germany trying his hardest to look incapable of emotion. For all I knew the first 10 minutes could’ve been a series of jokes and expletives that Gerd Wiesler shrugged off without response. There would be 127 minutes more of this...

The time passed by quicker than I had anticipated. There was no sign of the stereotypical efficiency that had gripped the early parts of the film. Wiesler became attached to following the life of Georg Dreyman, the playwright, and his girlfriend, actress Christa-Maria (Martina Gedeck). He covered their apartment in microphones and listened in on their lives.

From the information he gathered Wiesler discovered a corrupt party Minister who was blackmailing Christa-Maria for sex. The Minister had threatened to arrest Dreyman and have Christa-Maria 'blacklisted'. Upon learning this Wiesler’s motivation was destroyed. This caused him to become increasingly emotive, displaying signs of weakness and more specifically loneliness. Wiesler's loyalty to the Stasi began to diminish.

Jokes were made and even comedic characters were introduced as the film went on, but the storyline remained solemn. The circumstances that surrounded Wiesler discovering the corruption were both tragic and enlightening, as he became immersed in the world of Dreyman and Christa-Maria. We, the audience, had been on the journey with him (Wiesler) without realizing, and thoroughly enjoyed it.

As the film reached its conclusion a series of events occurred that were both clever and unexpected. It’s impossible to explain the end without it being spoiled, but my girlfriend was crying and I got ‘something in my eye’. The tears were tinged with both sadness and joy, as the film proved to have been an excellent choice after all. Perhaps I'll greet the next foreign language film with a little more optimism.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007


Ten days ago something amazing happened. I strode into my local town to the sound of a trumpet chorus, as crowds of people flocked for the return of nothing more than a DVD. However, this was no ordinary DVD. The birds were singing, I was high-fiving everyone I passed whilst whistling the tune of the opening credits of 300, the movie. It was back.

I'd waited for what seemed like three years, but was in fact three months, for the return of a film I'd enjoyed so much at the cinema. I likened the pain of my wait to the suffering of the Spartans, who in the film died so heroically to preserve the freedom of their homeland. My girlfriend pointed out I was being ridiculous when I dressed up in pants and a cloak one day, in homage to the Spartan warriors, my 'brethren'.

It had been a long time since I'd seen a film so brilliantly executed. The imagery alone was enough to make a great film, perfectly imitating the graphic novel by Frank Miller that it was based on. Added to a good cast delivering witty one-liners, and bloody, unforgiving violence, it was the perfect package. Somebody had taken a series of elements that make a good film, put them all together, and made a great one. That man was director Zack Snyder.

His only previous notoriety came from Dawn Of The Dead in 2004; so re-making a Frank Miller novel was quite a big deal for the directing novice. Snyder came out with a fantastic product, creating a film that is equally spectacular as it is humourous. What seems like a simple formula to making a good film has proved difficult for many directors in recent times, but Snyder combined all of the factors excellently, as if he had been doing it all his life.

I've already watched the movie twice since buying it, and seen the entire 'making of' bonus disk features. I've yet to dress up again, as my beer belly doesn't look great compared to the glistening washboard stomach sported by Gerard Butler in the film. Whether the deaths of the 300 heroic Spartans were really worth it or not we'll never know. One thing is for sure; their efforts entertained me for a full 117 minutes.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Clive Owen

When the fat cats and big wigs of Hollywood get together for their annual meeting these days, it seems they spend most of their time deciding which actor they can squeeze the life out of this year. Colin Farrell, Jake Gylenhall and Jamie Foxx all had their moments, as chosen by the executives at the top of Hollywood ladder. However, the time has now come to choose a new star.

I’d like to think they’d sit in a cave on top of the Hollywood hills, in ceremonial robes, circling a crystal ball and asking ‘the spirits’ for an answer. In reality, using the latest viewing polls may provide the more accurate answer they’re looking for, and satisfy some of the shareholders at the same time. Whichever method they decided to use, one man has come out on top.

For the past year cinema audiences have been bombarded with the performances of English actor, Clive Owen (above), Hollywood’s latest chosen one. Disaster movies, shoot-‘em-ups (including the ingeniously named Shoot ‘Em Up), epic adventures and even this years movie about Queen Elizabeth have all been fodder for Clive.

The technique that Clive adopts in tackling each of his varied and frequent roles is ‘the English middle-class white male method’. Middle-class white males, in truth, have developed this unique performance method for the past couple of decades, by retaining an air of uncaring blandness and remaining polite throughout. The trick is to not become intense or in any way emotional at any moment, thereby fading into the background and not causing any fuss. Clive fits the bill perfectly.

Ignoring his ‘English middle-class white male method’ Hollywood producers have been handing Clive some of their top roles. He’s applied his unique dullness to great historical figures such as King Arthur and brought his essence of un-cool to Sin City. More recently when the need was felt for yet another film about Queen Elizabeth, the usual rabble of lovies and ‘heavyweight’ actors were gathered together. The character of Sir Walter Raleigh, notable throughout history for his charismatic charm and wit, was handed to the reliably wooden Clive Owen.

He’s currently filming The International in which he plays an Interpol agent attempting to expose a high-profile finance group. Add that to the Sin City sequel planned for 2009 and Clive already has a busy agenda. Hollywood and therefore audiences clearly like this guy, and intend to further his career even more.

On a good note for Clive he was nominated for an Oscar for his lead in Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men in 2006. It’s a standout performance on a CV that’s rapidly running out of space as he excelled in a role for the first time since Croupier in 1998. I can only presume that Hollywood and its audiences are still clinging to that memory, which for me faded rapidly when I saw his appearance in the Elizabeth trailer.

Perhaps he’s secretly holding some talent back that he’ll bring to the screen with astonishing effect in his next few films. If that isn’t the case then hopefully it’ll be my face that shows up on the crystal ball at the next meeting, as I’ve already mastered the technique that Clive has so marvellously displayed for the last year.