Tuesday, May 10, 2011

German guys with odd releases: Rammbock and Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Happy Barely-A-Theme Day, as I take a couple day break from doing IFFBoston write-ups to comment on a couple of things that won't be in theaters long, but may well be worth a look while they're there. Both are directed by folks from Germany, so it makes a little sense to group them together like this, and although both are somewhat unusual fits for big multiplex theaters, they're targeted toward fairly different audiences (with the overlap, obviously, being me).

Rammbock is the first film to be released by The Collective under their "Bloody-Disgusting Selects" partnership with, well, Bloody-Disgusting.com, which will release a different horror film at AMC theaters nationwide every month, with Friday midnight shows and encores on Wednesday at 10pm. Each film gets four weeks, and then the next one takes its turn. In this case, that next one is Yellowbrickroad, which might have been an easier sale as the first, being in English and having a name that means something to the audience.

I kind of wonder whether many of the small audience that saw Rammbock with me will be back. There was a technical screw-up that made the movie somewhat difficult to watch, in that the screen was configured for a "scope" movie (2.35 times as wide as it is tall), and this one was flat (1.85 times as wide as tall). In this case, that means the top and bottom of the image wasn't quite cut off, but they were being projected against the black wall rather than the white screen. This could have been a real problem, as the subtitles were in that bottom space, although they were large and white enough to be readable - enough so that nobody (myself included) felt the need to go find an usher, but it was annoying.

Also, this was a very, very short movie - Google listed its running time as sixty-four minutes, while the IMDB says fifty-nine; I suspect Google is including the "what to do in case of a zombie attack in the theater" short that preceded it. Now, I'm generally for shorter movies if that's the proper length, but this one could have used some room to breathe on the one hand, and on the other... This is going to be everyone's first encounter with Bloody-Disgusting Selects, and while I think it's a pretty neat idea, you can't really say that the audience got a whole lot for its money. There are no matinees for these movies, and $11.50 is pretty steep for an hour of movie (plus, no way to take the T home on Friday). The audience doesn't know that July's selection, Cold Fish, is two and a half hours long and brilliant. With no reason to assume that Rammbock is an outlier, Yellowbrickroad may be a hard sell, even with its good-looking preview.

After some quick sleep, I was back at Boston Common for Cave of Forgotten Dreams, a little surprised to see it playing there. It seems to be very last-minute; Google didn't have it on its movie listing page (I only found out about it when checking Fandango to make the pricing chart for last week's "Next Week"), and up until a few days earlier it had been on Landmark's schedule of movie's opening at Kendall Square on the 6th. Neither were where I'd expected it to show up; when I heard of Werner Herzog doing a 3D documentary, I figured on AMC's Harvard Square theater, which has 3D projection but would often get the more upscale studio and indie product. I don't know as that's so much the case any more; they seem to be more mainstream now that the studios aren't enforcing exclusion areas around here (Thor opened in Harvard Square, Fresh Pond, and Arlington, which are pretty close to each other; that never used to happen).

It was a surprisingly good crowd, which is very cool - folks were paying $15.50 a ticket at the evening show, and whenever you hear somebody pooh-poohing 3D, one of the frequent comments is that it's all very well for kiddie or dumb action movies, but you'll never see a crowd of adults putting on stupid glasses to watch a serious film. As it turns out, they just might, so long as you give them a compelling reason, and this one, at least, filled the bill.

Rammbock (Berlin Undead)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 6 May 2011 in AMC Boston Common #5 (Bloody-Disgusting Selects, digital)

Rammbock is far enough outside what usually the parameters of what shows up on multiplex screens - a low-budget German horror movie so short that only an hour and fifteen minutes passes between the lights going down and the last credit, even with a repeated preview and a draggy shorty accompanying it - that the expectation is that it must be extraordinary. After all, this wouldn't be one of four horror movies chosen for a national release (albeit one that gets eight or nine screenings total per location over the course of a month) unless it were too brilliant to be denied, right? Well, that's not the case. It's pretty good in spots and clever in others, but not the sort of thing to make plans for.

Michael (Michael Fuith) and Gabi (Anka Graczyk) broke up some time ago, but Michael has not really accepted it yet; he's just made the trip from Vienna to Berlin to return her keys rather than just dropped them in the mail because what he really wants to do is convince her to get back together. When he gets to her apartment, she's not there, but a workman of some sort is, and he's come down with one of those highly-contagious diseases that makes him crave human flesh and not communicate so well. Another worker, Harper (Theo Trebs), helps him dispatch the infected guy and barricade themselves in the apartment, but in the process Michael drops his phone in the hall. Now it's ringing, Michael is convinced that it's Gabi calling for help, and there's not much room to fall back - they can see other people stranded in their apartments across a courtyard that fills with infected whenever someone tries to make a break for it.

It's not a bad set-up at all, especially for a feature being shot on an indie budget - a basically contained location, a small cast, the effects limited to some well-practiced prostheses. Director Marvin Kren does fairly well by his limited resources; we get to know the location well enough to feel things tighten up as Michael and Harper are forced to fall back, and he's able to get shocks from just gore; perhaps the most horrifying scene has a victim simply disappearing amid a horde of ravenous flesh-eaters.

Full review at EFC.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 7 May 2011 in AMC Boston Common #1 (first run, Real-D 3D)

Pundits declaiming the use of 3D in recent years often act like it was gone for a generation between the mid-eighties and late-naughts, but that's not really the case; it was used extensively for documentaries that played at science museums and the like. With few exceptions, those tended to be the work of relatively anonymous filmmakers, the subject more important than authorial voice. That's the case here, to an extent; even a personality like Werner Herzog eventually steps aside to simply marvel at the Chauvet cave paintings.

The Chauvet cave system was discovered by a trio of explorers on 18 December 1994, and while it would have been a remarkable discovery regardless, the contents are the reason why the government of France strictly limits access: There are paintings in the cave estimated to be thirty-two thousand years old, by far the oldest ever discovered. They are a tremendous resource to anthropologists, archeologists, and even zoologists - before seeing these paintings, they could only guess as to whether the extinct cave lion had a mane like present-day African lions - but even beyond the macro level, these paintings touch something in the romantic souls of the researchers; there's a connection between them and an artist who lived millennia ago.

The paintings themselves are interesting, but Herzog and company do an impressive job of placing them in context. An image on the wall of a horse with eight legs will lead to discussions of how even at this incredibly early stage, the artists were already using distortions and other techniques beyond simple representation to illustrate movement, power, and emotion; the sole human figure leads to sculptures with similar designs found at a German site not far away. We see what a fine, technologically sophisticated process archeology has become; work with a shovel would likely destroy the small, fragile artifacts in question, and a laser-generated map allows researchers to explore the cave without opening it up to potential contamination.

Full review at EFC.

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