I love Augusts. August means a quick succession of three festivals covering my preferred media. I start out with indie music festival Haldern Pop where I hang out with old friends and listen to bands I never heard of before. The week after, I’m at gamescom with its complete overload of meetings, people, parties, eSports and computer games. And then comes my most favourite part: Fantasy Film Fest.
I’ve always wanted to go to the festival when I was still living in Mannheim. But the closest of the several locations where they hold the festival was Frankfurt, which was just too far to attend several screenings stretched out over roughly a week.
That changed since I moved to Cologne. FFF has become a staple of my August festival experience. And since August is also the month where Germany finally catches up with the early US summer movie releases, I’m now in for a massive overdose of movies.
I still love writing about movies, almost as much as watching and reading and talking about them. This year, I decided to finally go for it and do a proper write-up of what I’m watching post-gamescom. The festival proper only started this very Wednesday but since 21 movies over the 8 day festival won’t satisfy my appetite I had an early start. I’ll cover each of the days with single blog postings, and I’ll do it in English for the first time for the benefit of my Twitter followers. Although, in the end I do not really care who reads this. I write for myself mainly.
So, Monday was the first day after gamescom, and a day off at that. I used that day to catch up with two movies that have been in release for a few days or weeks. Thankfully the showings at my regular cinema, the Metropolis in Cologne – the only proper foreign language cinema around here – lined up quite nicely for a tighly scheduled double bill.
I started the day with Captain America in the afternoon. I’ve never been a comic book reader apart from the Disney stuff so apart from general pop culture knowledge, I learn about all the Marvel characters through the pictures. And I really do appreciate the approach that Marvel took as a production company since the second Hulk movie. The idea of gathering all these very different super heroes in one combined universe really appeals to me. It’s something I haven’t seen before.
Now, I really like both Iron Man movies and I thoroughly enjoyed Thor for some reason. But Captain America somehow rubbed me the wrong way. There were a lot of things I liked, but overall the experience wasn’t entirely satisfying. The story seemed rather repetitive in itself and also reminded me of quite a few other super hero movies I’ve seen. I don’t know who came first in print nor do I care. I want to be entertained and surprised, and especially in the latter category, the movie was lacking.
Watching it in 3D certainly didn’t help. At best, the 3D was a distraction during action scenes, at worst it was extremely annoying. There was just no point to having it in 3D, unlike say the fight scenes in The Green Hornet or something like Avatar. The projection was alright as is thankfully the standard now for the Metropolis, so it wasn’t that. I was really excited to see a super hero movie set during WW2, and, knowing next to nothing about the character, I expected a longer version of something like Watchmen’s Vietnam scenes. In that regard, all I got was a short montage of a super hero version of Inglourious Basterds. The scenes I liked most were those during the World Fair near the beginning of the movie: A peak into a world different to our own. The desire to see these things probably was, what attracted me to Thor. But most of Captain America was just another cliched super hero story, with yet another evil Nazi villain (see what I did there?) and all the old plot twists that I must have now seen in another dozen super hero movies. I’m still looking very much forward to next year’s Avengers movie. All the characters are well established by now and I imagine it will be a lot of fun seeing them interact with each other. Too bad the X-Men characters are still bound to Fox and can’t “cross over”, yet.
While my expectations for Captain America that were set by the other newer Marvel movies were disappointed, my second movie of the day thoroughly surprised my. I was expecting something akin to Tim Burton’s horrible Planet of the Apes remake. But Rise of the Planet of the Apes was really, really good. Now, I have to admit to never having seen any of the originals. A gap in movie knowledge that I intend to close soon. Thankfully what little I knew about the movie, I had forgotten before the lights went down. You see, I do not watch trailers any more, except in movie theatres. I base my movie watching decisions on what I read, and as soon as I figure something will interest me, I’ll stop reading. This habit has been rather rewarding, especially at the Fantasy Film Fest where I can finally go into movies completely cold.
Nothing compares to the experience of being caught completely unawares by a movie. It’s like watching Star Wars or Indiana Jones for the first time as a kid, with absolutely no frame of reference of what you are about to see. Why go with all the media hype. You’ll see the movie you want to see when you see it. No trailer, leaked footage or extra-detailed review will change your decision about watching it. I go to the movies to be surprised, to be taken to different world, to be sweapt away. You won’t have that experience when you already have a safety net of knowledge about the picture with you in the darkness.
So going into Apes completely fresh, I was quickly taken off my feet. The Caesar character played by motion-captured Andy Serkis is a creation of genius. The Ape story is the core of the film, the humans are mere distractions, and annoying ones at that. I would have gladly forked over double the amount of money I paid for my ticket to see the story completely from the Apes’ point of view. Of course, no studio would finance that, but a man can dream.
As such, the story falls short whenever humans are involved. Yeah, I did like the whole John Lithgow character arc but who doesn’t. Everything between James Franco and that Indian chick just doesn’t work, and the whole evil corporation part is just plain laughable. And don’t get me started on Tom Felton. But man, do the Ape scenes make up for it. Everything in the ape asylum is solid gold. Talk about anthropomorphism, but in the end that’s the whole point. It’s just brilliant in every regard. I can’t wait to dive further into the universe and discover the old movies that started it all.
So with a double bill of two of summer’s big budget films I needed something to get me grounded again when I came back home. So: What better to do than to pop in another BluRay? Nothing gets you straightened up better than a classy documentary film. I sure do love me my documentaries. I chose something a lot of my favourite American reviewers have spoken very highly off. Now, you have to realize that we Europeans do not know enough about American pop culture. There are so many fascinating facets to it that we can hardly begin to get a full grasp on it. As is the case with Bill Hicks.
I guess most American readers are familiar with the guy, but I doubt a lot of Europeans would concur. He was a stand-up comedian in the 80’s and 90’s. Sort of. What matters most is that American: The Bill Hicks Story is a tremendous movie about a fascinating character. The movie makes the most of its intimate look at Bill Hicks, interviewing only his closest relatives and friends and using mostly period recordings and amazingly animated still shots. The human story is well shown, tragic, moving, inspring.
But what went best with me were the later comedic recordings. What an angry man! His rant about advertising people in the audience who may please kill themselves immediately was the most subversive piece of comedy I have seen. While being completely straight, he exuded an unmatched hilarity. I’m by far not the biggest fan of YouTube but I will certainly dive more deeply into some of his later material. His material about Waco was ringing constantly in my mind when I watched Red State at the Fantasy Film Fest two days later and somehow it made the latter movie make more sense to me. This man comes highly recommended and the doc serves as a great entry point into his work and his character.