Movie Project #10: The Lives of Others [2006]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a second round for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

The Lives of Others [2006]

The Lives of Others [2006]
Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Genre: Drama/Thriller
Starring: Ulrich Mühe, Martina Gedeck and Sebastian Koch
Runtime: 137 minutes

For those not around during the time, it’s easy to forget just how turbulent of a decade that 1980s Germany was. I was just three years old when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, but the power of that event reverberated for years after. When I visited Berlin a couple years ago, the scars were still readily visible.

It is amazing to think about living in a city that is split in half, especially the ever-increasing paranoia of the two sides spying on each other. The Lives of Others, director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s feature film debut, inticrately portrays one example of just how out of control the political games were during this time.

The Lives of Others [2006]

The movie focuses primarily on three individuals, two of whom are being spied upon. The two being watched are renowned playwright Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) and his girlfriend, actress Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck). Although a supporter of Communism, Dreyman is suspected of leading a double life of sorts. The Stasi assign highly respected officer Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe) to keep an eye on them. Wiesler bugs Dreyman’s apartment and monitors their activity 24/7, alternating shifts with a co-worker.

Wiesler becomes heavily invested in the couple’s day-to-day activities. His job gives him a form of passion that he does not have in his normal life, one devoid of friends or family. Soon he begins to act protective of the couple, leading them away from potential mistakes that could severely ruin their careers. What starts as a game of cat-and-mouse evolves into something deeper than any one of them could have imagined.

The Lives of Others [2006]

There are many layers to The Lives of Others, and it takes some time to untangle them. As such, the film moves at a methodical pace, slowly building up the suspense before culminating in a spectacular and unforgettable conclusion. The journey to get to this point is remarkable, full of twists and turns, and it gives us plenty of time to fall in love with the characters.

This is a testament to not only the intelligent screenplay, but especially to the amazing cast. Ulrich Mühe, who tragically passed away the year after this film’s release, delivers a performance for the ages. His character’s transformation from stone cold Stasi officer to a caring guardian-in-hiding is phenomenal, and he is masterful from beginning to end. Mühe was able to draw from his own personal life to play the role — it turns out that his ex-wife was actually a Stasi informant without him knowing. Talk about first hand experience. Koch and Gedeck are great as well, but this becomes very much Mühe’s show.

It has been over a week since I sat down to watch The Lives of Others, but as I sit here writing, the flood of emotions and feelings I experienced during the movie have come rushing back to me. This won Best Foreign Language Film at the 2006 Oscars, and the Academy absolutely got this one right. This is the best movie I have seen from this project so far, and I cannot recommend it enough for those who have yet to experience this.

9/10

Movie Project #7: Casino Royale [2006]

Due to the overwhelming success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a second round for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

Casino Royale [2006]

Casino Royale [2006]
Director: Martin Campbell
Genre: Action/Adventure/Crime
Starring: Daniel Craig, Eva Green and Judi Dench
Runtime: 144 minutes

It seems there is always one startling revelation with these movie projects. Most people couldn’t believe that I hadn’t seen Back to the Future in last year’s edition; this year, the big surprise is my lack of experience with James Bond. Somehow, despite 22 entries into the series, Mr. Bond has eluded me. I feel like I may have seen all or part of Goldeneye when I was much younger, but my memory is foggy at best. I was unsure of where to start, but the seemingly unanimous praise for the fairly recent Casino Royale sent me in that direction.

Let’s just say I want to see more of Bond.

Casino Royale marks Daniel Craig’s first appearance as 007, and the action gets started in a hurry. An early scene shows a frantic foot chase through a Madagascar construction site, including a run up some staggeringly tall ladders that gave me a case of vertigo. Seriously, it was a freakin’ thrill ride, and from that point on I was hooked.

Casino Royale [2006]

The movie follows the early days of Bond’s career as Agent 007. His first mission is to find and stop Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelson), a banker who funds terrorist organizations, from winning a high-stakes poker tournament in Montenegro. In this instance, high stakes equals a $10 million buy-in. Le Chiffre is something of a poker aficionado, so this isn’t an easy task.

Along the way, Bond seduces a married man’s wife, stops a terrorist attack at the Miami International Airport, and falls in love with a stunningly beautiful (and intelligent) Treasury agent, Vesper Lynd (Eva Green). Oh yeah, he is also brutally tortured and has a near-death experience. All in a day’s work, right?

Casino Royale is a wild ride, and I wish I had been able to experience this intense adrenaline rush on the big screen. Daniel Craig is on top of his game here, effortlessly stepping in to play one of cinema’s biggest names, and the famous Bond women are phenomenal. I could have done without the stop-start double ending, but I liked the way it set things up for future entries. This movie is a lot of fun, and more importantly, it has me interested in seeing more from the franchise.

8/10

So, Bond fans, where do I go next? I want to see Quantum Solace despite hearing mixed reviews, but what else would you recommend?

Video Game Review: WTF: Work Time Fun [PSP, 2006]

WTF: Work Time Fun [PSP, 2006]

WTF: Work Time Fun
System: PSP
Developer: SCEI
Publisher: D3, Sony
Release Date: October 23, 2006

It takes just one glance at WTF: Work Time Fun’s title to realize that it is going to be a bizarre and eccentric game. A quirky Japanese title, WTF is a compilation of minigames that are all over the place with randomness and unusual concepts.

In the game, you play as an oddjob worker who just so happens to be in Hell. Your goal is to make money by performing random tasks. I’m not kidding when I say “random” — tasks range from everything to putting caps on pens to kicking out of a pro wrestling pin at the last possible moment. The money earned from these projects is used for vending machines that give out completely random prizes: more tasks/minigames, useless trinkets and mostly unhelpful “tools” such as a mobile bingo machine. In essence, there is no point to the game other than to work tedious jobs and earn money to purchase meaningless items. Doesn’t sound like fun, does it?

WTF: Work Time Fun [PSP, 2006]

For all of its wackiness, WTF struggles with one major problem: most of the minigames just aren’t fun. The aforementioned Pendamonium game is probably the worst offender. In this “game” your job is to put caps on pens, occasionally taking the time to flip them over so the cap is placed in the right spot. That’s it. There is no definitive end to this task; you just keep doing this over and over again until you get tired of it. Another futile minigame has you separate baby chicks by their sex by simply hitting a different button for male and female. This goes on for a full TEN MINUTES. Whereas other minigame compilations work because they keep the games quick and to the point, WTF sometimes pushes them ad nauseum.

It should be noted that not all tasks are bad, though all are incredibly simple. I enjoyed testing my ability with the lumberjack minigame. In this one, an old lady throws out pieces of wood for you to chop — the catch is that she will occasionally toss in stuffed animals, and if you chop those you lose. Another tolerable minigame is a simple race where you have to hit the brakes at the right time in order to pass your opponent while also avoiding running off the cliff. Again, these are nothing special and actually could pass as simple Flash games, but they work in the context of WTF.

WTF: Work Time Fun [PSP, 2006]

Without its off-the-wall Japanese presentation, Work Time Fun would have nothing going for it. The games come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, and have varying aesthetic appeals. Some games look like they belong in the Atari era, whereas others use real-life images to make them stand out. It’s always interesting to see what games you can unlock, although it’s not always fun getting there.

It’s hard to recommend Work Time Fun unless you have a soft spot for weird Japanese humor and/or you enjoy performing lots of tedious work to unlock worthless collectibles. Chalk this one up as an interesting experiment that belongs to a very niche audience.

5/10