Category Archives: Film

Review: “Battle of the Sexes”

By Alan Mattli

Battle of the SexesThere is a moment in the climactic sequence of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris’ new film where the cinema audience is presented with a series of shots showing the people lining the stands of the Houston Astrodome, come to see the much-publicised “Battle of the Sexes” – the 1973 tennis match between feminist ace Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and senior pro and self-proclaimed “male chauvinist” Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell).

Women and men with bellbottom jeans and patterned vests hold up signs in support of “BJK”, older couples carry placards adorned with Riggs’ garish colours of choice – red and yellow –, young men wear t-shirts on which they proudly claim the title of “chauvinist pig”. In keeping with the staging of the whole sequence, which mimics the well-established format of televised tennis in all its static glory, it is both unclear and wholly beside the point whether Faris and Dayton, best known for directing the Oscar-winning Little Miss Sunshine (2006), used actors or stock footage to create these establishing shots. What matters is that the scene credibly reflects the social reaction to the titular battle.

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On Revisiting “Big Hero 6” and “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”

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By Alan Mattli

If, by any chance, you have been occasionally checking in on my film writing over the past few years, you might have noticed that I have a weakness for lists. Every year, I look forward to December, when the time once again comes to go through what I’ve seen throughout the year and to then choose my top ten movies of that period (while we’re on the subject: 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016).

So it might not come as a surprise that there is a special place in my mind for the year 2019 – the year in which, hopefully, I will get to pen two lists; my take on the best of 2019 and my round-up of the decade’s standout works. Fully aware that this is not the most reasonable or urgent preoccupation to entertain in the early days of 2017, I nevertheless compiled a longlist of potential contenders for the latter collection as well as a year-by-year rundown of what I have to catch up on recently. In other words, I’m always on the lookout for list material these days.

Now, the other day, I watched two movies I hadn’t seen in years. Continue reading

Review: “Arrival”

By Gabriel Renggli

arrivalThe number one priority, Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) explains, is learning why they are here. The problem with that, linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) explains, is knowing whether we are capable of asking the question, whether they are capable of understanding it, and whether we are capable of processing a potential answer.

In linguistics, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis states that how you see the world depends on the language you use. I’m not a linguist myself (my speciality is literature), but I’m an intuitive believer in at least a weak version of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. I know from experience that I think and act differently in English than in my native language. By the end, Arrival will have asked you to accept a very strong version indeed of this idea: our physical reality itself is structured by how we speak.

The reason this rather large claim does not fall flat on its face is that Arrival is so well made. This is captivating film-making, employing a simple three-act structure to stunning effect. The first act is more or less taken up by establishing the stakes, and they are high. Aliens land on earth, twelve crafts scattered over the globe in no discernible pattern. What follows is, in a way, pretty formulaic. Yes, we focus largely on the American landing site; yes, the military rushes in to cordon off the ship; yes, they soon helicopter in a number of experts. Godzilla films use that structure. But director Denis Villeneuve’s film-making is delicate, alert to the significance of the events.

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The Best Films of 2016

By Alan Mattli

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Outside of the world of cinema, the past twelve months have been eventful, to say the least. So compiling a list of my favourite Swiss cinema releases of 2016 felt ever so slightly more significant and tied to real-life goings-on than it did in the past. But maybe that’s just another way of trying to put my opinions into a somewhat more “meaningful” context than would otherwise be the case. Ultimately, everybody can judge for themselves, which is why I will stop hedging now and, after pointing out that Oscar hopefuls like La La Land, Manchester by the Sea, Moonlight, and Jackie (which already makes a strong case for being my Film of the Year 2017) are not in the running here because of their January and February Swiss release dates, get started.

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Review: “Dexter”

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By Natalia Messmer

Until recently I was a fan of typical “women” series such as Desperate Housewives and Grey’s Anatomy. Yet a couple of months ago I joined my husband when he started to watch new series on cable TV. The first episode was quite shocking and I was not sure I wanted to see another one: there were crime scenes with lots of blood and a young creepy forensic technician who looked pretty much excited when it came to blood pattern analysis. However, that was the first impression. After the third episode all I wanted was more of Dexter.

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Review: “High-Rise”

By Gabriel Renggli

High-RiseThere’s a tall building. Some people live at the top. Some at the bottom. Do you get it?

If you don’t get it, don’t worry, director Ben Wheatley has you covered. Before long, the people at the top will dress up as French aristocrats for a party (and where’s a guillotine when you need one?). If that’s still too cryptic for you, there’s an excerpt, at the very end of the film, from an actual speech by the Iron Lady. Which is silly, because very few people will be moved by this of all films to exclaim in genuine surprise: “You know, I think Thatcher may actually have been wrong! Well, I never!”

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Review: “Hail, Caesar!”

By Alan Mattli

Hail, Caesar PosterThere’s something about trilogies. If one film is a monolith, and two films are a cash-in, then three films can be a commanding multi-volume presence, exuding an air of purpose and intent. To speak of The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King does not convey the same degree of grandeur as referring to the trilogy in toto as The Lord of the Rings. Aki Kaurismäki, famously, classifies many of his films into groups of three in order to stop himself from becoming complacent (even though more than four years after Le Havre, audiences are still waiting for parts two and three of what would be the Finnish master’s third proclaimed trilogy).

The brothers Joel and Ethan Coen, too, deal in trilogies, both officially and implicitly. While they themselves have termed their sporadic collaborations with George Clooney their “Numbskull Trilogy” – which, after 2000’s O Brother, Where Art Thou? and 2003’s underrated Intolerable Cruelty, now concludes with Hail, Caesar! –, it doesn’t take outrageous interpretative gymnastics to see series-like patterns in their filmography. Continue reading