Saturday, December 29, 2012

Movies: The Year 2012 - A View Into The Rear-View Mirror

2012 was a solid movie year. I didn´t spot any spectacular cinema event like 2011´s "Melancholia", but there were a lot of interesting films.

My movie of the year is a Scandinavian production called "Headhunters",  a kind of Nordic dynamite which was shown in America in Norwegian & Danish with English subtitles. It was much fun watching this explosive roller coaster - a violent and very bloody chain reaction filled with a lot of surprises and twists.

I equally indulged Roman Polanski`s "Carnage". The comedy, set in Brooklyn, shows just 2 married couples who are talking about a conflict their sons had on a schoolyard, costing one of the boys 2 teeth. I enjoyed how the characters tried to settle the conflict in the beginning, but got more and more agitated and how the situation escalated in the run of the movie.
Watching "Miss Bala", a low budget Mexican production, also generated a strong impression. The Flick narrates the story of a girl, who gets between 2 fronts - ruthless Mexican drug gangs and similarly aggressive law enforcement - while she is trying to win a beauty contest.  It´s a tale about brutally, violence and totally disregard of human life and looks almost like a documentary.
The "Iron lady", a biopic about Maggie Thatcher, also belongs on my list of favorites. The film isn`t a political manifest, nor does it care much about the economic aspects of the Thatcher revolution. Instead the makers painted a very emotional picture about winning power and loosing it.

Anther favorite is "Lawless", which tells the story of some liquor bootleggers who fought around 1930 against corrupt law enforcers. This war escalated into menace, torture and murdering. The film is brutal and bloody, but also honest, intense and convincing. It shows how stubbornness and overconfidence could lead into a bloody mess. But the roughness of the plot is counterbalanced by the beauty of the pictures which let you participate in a time travel to the epoch around 1930.

The visual magic of "The Master" also belongs to the cinematic highlights of the year. The movie tells the story of a disturbed American World War II returnee who gets involved with a charismatic cult leader - projected in 70mm.  It was a grace to watch Philip Seymour Hoffman as a charismatic cult leader. He showed the eloquence, brilliance and charm of this enigmatic figure but also his stubbornness and anger, when he was questioned or doubted.

But there were more movies which impressed me, including "Savages" (a story of 2 Californian beach boys and highly successful pot growers and their shared girlfriend who slide into a very messy clash with a Mexican drug cartel), "Moonrise Kingdom" (a tale about 2 kids - 12 years old - who fell in love to each other and ran away into the wilderness, which triggered a funny chain of events), "Elles" (some days in the life of an acclaimed middle-aged female journalist who has been interviewing some up-market student prostitutes in Paris) and "Farewell My Queen" about the last days of Marie Antoinette. The movie works partly as a historic thriller and transmits the growing fear, panic and cluelessness of the royals in the light of the revolution which spreads like Cholera.

The year also had some fine comedies fine comedies including "Woody Allen´s "To Rome With Love", "Hyde Park On Hudson" about Franklin D. Roosevelt`s affair with his cousin Daisy during the visit of King & Queen of England and "My Week With Marilyn", a charming film about Marilyn Monroe `s little love adventure while she was shooting an unimportant flick 1957 in England.

The action genre had passable productions like "Skyfall", the newest James Bond incarnation, "The Bourne Legacy", "The Dark Knight Rises" (another Batman episode) and "Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol".

But I more enjoyed the dirty and funny flicks like "The Paperboy", "Killer Joe" and "Rampart" which all entertained in a dark way.

The surprise of the year is "Hitchcock". It was a astonishing lot of fun to watch Anthony Hopkins incarnating Alfred Hitchcock. He perfectly displayed the master`s character: The obstinacy, greed for food and blond actresses as well as the insecurities and jealousy regarding his spouse.

The year also showed some fascinating director`s debuts. Rupert Sanders delivered a superb "Snow White And the Huntsman" based on one of the dark stories the Brother`s Grimm had collected. The tale about jealousy, greed, power trips and other vices benefited a lot from the fireworks of special effects which were cutting edge. I reckon that Sanders could define cinema in the coming years as Stanley Kubrick did in the 60s and Ridley Scott around 10 years later.
Another promising newcomer was Elgin James with "Little Birds". The flick narrates some days in the life of two 15 years old girls who run away from their pathetic homes and join a gang of juvenile skaters. This old story was told in a new refreshing way and shot in beautiful pictures.

The disappointment of the year is "Lincoln". The drama doesn`t come up to all the hype and the huge reputation of Steven Spielberg.  I also was disappointed by "Cosmopolis" ( a hedge fund manager driving in his limo through Manhattan) and the Alien prequel "Prometheus".

Friday, December 28, 2012

Movies: Lincoln

The movie "Lincoln" is the disappointment of the movie year ( Ok, the film is a solid production, but the drama doesn`t come up to all the hype and the huge reputation of Steven Spielberg.

You cannot learn much about this still highly popular statesman, whom his opponents called dictator, nor about his role in starting the bloody & messy civil war. The odds were for an early victory of the North because the already industrialized "Union" possessed much more economic strength than the poor rural "Confederation". Instead the Northerners needed pathetic 4 years to force the impoverished South finally to there knees. No issue for Spielberg and his script writer. Instead the makers of "Lincoln" contented themselves and the paying audience on some weeks during the Republican president pushed the 13th amendment to the US constitution, which abolishes slavery, against the Democrats and without any participation of the South. Hail Cesar!

The acting is superb, of course. Daniel Day-Lewis, as the a bit goatish Lincoln, might get an Oscar fis this and watching Tommy Lee Jones as a grouchy elderly statesman is pure fun. I also enjoyed David Strathairn as one of Lincoln´s harsh strategists and James Spader as a member of Lincoln´s busy troop of canvassers.

Hence "Lincoln" could serve as an actors movie to enjoy the performance of a fine troop. No more or less.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Movies: Hitchcock

Alfred Hitchcock was not just a magician who invented the cinema new, he also was a man with a lot of quirks. The movie "Hitchcock", Hollywood`s current little tribute to this genius, casts a friendly light on the master´s strengths and weaknesses (

The flick is confined to the time as the director shot his masterpiece "Psycho". After his success with "North By Northwest" Hollywood demanded something of the same kind, but Hitchcock preferred to produce something new and more gruesome. The film focuses on the risks "Hitch" took (including mortgaging his house and the beloved swimming pool) and his fights against Hollywood`s prudish bigots, including the censoring agency, to get the now famous shower scene into the cinema theaters.

Anthony Hopkins is the perfect incarnation of Hitchcock. He displays the master`s character very well: The obstinacy, greed for food and blond actresses as well as the insecurities and jealousy regarding his spouse. I wouldn`t be surprised if the actor will earn at least an Oscar nomination for this.
Hellen Mirren, who acts as Hitch´s very cooperative and supporting wife, the screenwriter and editor Alma, is a congenial partner. Together they make the film into a study about a longtime relationship which is still developing and getting better.

It´s also a lot of pleasure to watch how the divine Scarlett Johansson embodies Janet Leigh/Marion Crane, the victim of "Psycho". Her cooperation with "Hitch" gives the movie a more human face. Also enjoyable is the acting of Jessica Biel (as the actress Vera Miles), James D`Arcy (as Anthony Perkins) and Danny Huston as writer and special interest of Alma.

"Hitchcock" is a little gem and highly recommended.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Stock Market: Merry Christmas

Today the US stock market closed in the red. The holiday sentiment got spoiled by Washington DC´s apparent inability to find a timely solution for the fiscal cliff problem.

I reckon that the stock market will recover soon. In spite of all the problems the US market, represented by the S&P 500, gained 13% year to date. I reckon that in 2013 stock prices will proceed marching north.

I have the strong belief that the politicians have no other choice than find a compromise, even in the last minute. But there are more reasons to be optimistic. The US consumer spending, the engine of the global economy, is still strong. Last week we got news that the American consumer spending rose in November by 0.4%, fueled by solid income gains ( And there is another growth engine: China & other emerging markets. It seems that the middle kingdom managed her soft landing this autumn and is accelerating again. I believe that US consumer spending and the growth of the emerging markets will continue to fuel the global recovery next year.

Bloomberg also reports that the masses missed the stock market rally which started in spring 2009 (bloomberg). The majority of the Americans is now sitting on high piles of cash with almost no revenue. I guess that the ongoing global recovery will heal the sentiment and the masses will have to return to the stock market and will fuel the forthcoming rally.

Happy Christmas to everyone.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Commodities: Sugar - When Sweet Turns To Sour

The year 2012 was good to the connoisseurs of sweets. The price of sugar fell 18% year to date (boerse-go). But that is bad news for those unfortunate speculators who happened to bet on rising sugar prices. As many other agriculture products (soft commodities) sugar is traded as an asset on financial markets like stocks & bonds.

Now sugar costs around 40% less than at the all-time high from February 2011. What happened?

The price of sugar has been falling because there is a glut of the sweet substance, reports Bloomberg (bloomberg). Huge crops from Brazil, India and other leading producers countries meet a week global demand. According to the International Sugar Organization in the season 2012/13 the global sugar production (supply) will exceed the global sugar demand by 5,9 million tons (bloomberg). This would be more than the U.S. consumes in six months.

I reckon the current situation is a typically market response to a former bubble. Not long ago there was a massive speculation onto rising sugar prices. Since around 2000 it has been fashionable to invest into soft commodities like sugar, cocoa, cotton and others agriculture products. Analysts from banks, brokers and other pundits claimed that there is a "super-cycle" for commodities. We were told, that the rising wealth in China and other emerging markets will create a strong demand for sugar and many other agriculture products. These pundits claimed further the global sugar production should grow very slow. Therefore the demand for sugar would overgrow the supply, causing sharp rising prices. 

A lot of hedge funds and other speculators subscribed into the "super-cycle" theory and have been pumping billions of Dollars into the sugar and other commodity markets. Others jumped onto the bandwagon and bought sugar and other agriculture products just because their price was climbing in the hope the price rise will continue. The herding behavior of the sugar speculation created a price rally which peaked in February 2011.

As usual high & rising sugar prices caused strong backlashes. Sugar easily can be submitted by other sweeteners. Therefore the sugar rally reduced the demand for the sweet substance. And the farmers did what they always do when prices for their products are climbing: They planted more sugar which causes now the rising sugar production. These forces caused the sugar bubble to implode.

The falling sugar price is another proof that the claimed "super-cycle" for commodities like sugar doesn´t exist. The supporter of the "super-cycle" theory are ignoring basic economic facts, like the strong demand & supply reactions to rising prices.

Movies: Anna Karenina

Keira Knightley is one of the brightest stars in Hollywood`s canopy. No wonder that Tinseltown produced their latest adaption of Leo Tolstoy`s celebrated novel "Anna Karenina" (imdb) around the British actress. Keira follows a long line of Hollywood icons, including Greta Garbo, who all played the name giving troubled woman - a member of the decadent circle of Russian aristocrats in the late 19th century -  who abandons husband and son because she fell in love to a young and shiny officer.

Keira`s light puts the other actors into a shadow, even Jude Law who did a passable job as Anna´s suffering husband. Anyway, the movie is a feast for the eyes, even it is set like a stage play. Director Joe Wright and his cinematographer Seamus McGarvey keep the camera most time on Keira´s stunning beauty. But even her surrounding is a pleasure to watch. Congratulations to production design, art direction, set decoration & costume design. "Anna" displays a lot of awesome tableaus, elaborate dancing scenes and funny picture ideas with a a surrealistic touch. The costume drama which is set into the icy Russian winter works well as holiday entertainment.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Movies: Skyfall

50 years are a long time, especially for a movie franchise. I remember the year 1962 when my father took me with him to see "Dr. No", the birth of the James Bond series. Many things have changed since then. But "Skyfall", the newest incarnation of the James Bond saga, is still a lot of fun (

Even if "Skyfall" doesn`t match "Casino Royal", which is one of the best James Bond flicks (my favorite its still "Goldfinger"), the flick can easily compete with other action movies like "Mission Impossible" and "Bourne".

"Skyfall" benefits a lot from Daniel Craig. I reckon that the tough, cool and elegant British actor is the second best Bond, close behind Sean Connery. This time the bond girls aren´t as remarkable as Eva Green ("Casino Royal") or Ursula Andress ("Dr. No") but they are still a pleasure to watch. My favorite participant is Javier Bardem who acts as the villain and nemesis of Bond. The Spaniard`s slow and controlled acting and speaking manners, known from "No Country for Old Men", underline the weirdness of his character, which is always an asset of the franchise. But my favorite Bond villain stays Gerd Fröbe who played the majestic Auric Goldfinger.

As usual Roger Deakins`cinematography shows a lot of interesting locations. I especially liked a casino in Macao and an old house on the Scottish highlands. "Skyfall" proves that action cinema is still worth the money these days.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Movies: Hyde Park On Hudson

Franklin D. Roosevelt shaped global history. But the 32nd President of the United States also had an interesting private life, albeit less known. This is the topic of the movie "Hyde Park on Hudson", which is now running in some US cinemas (imdb). The politician operated a kind of harem - more or less stealth. Besides his wife, Eleanor, he had at least 3 mistresses who were camouflaged as secretaries or assistants.

The film covers just a short episode in the life of FDR: The (first) visit of the King and Queen of England at the beginning of World War II who wanted to coax the US into the fight against Germany. The story is told from the perspective of one of Roosevelt´s lovers, the cousin Daisy.

The center of the flick is Bill Murray as FDR. His Roosevelt radiates a lot of wisdom - almost like a Buddha and puts all the other actors into a deep shadow, including Laura Linney as the president`s challenged mistress.

Don´t expect something juicy or erotic. In spite of Roosevelt´s personal relationships "Hyde Park" is a prudish but romantic comedy with a lot of nostalgia. The movie had just one location: FDR´s (and his mother`s) estate "Hyde Park" in the State of New York which gave the movie the name.  In a world of depression and war this quiet and green location seems like a place on an alien planet. "Hyde Park on Hudson" is a charming movie and fits well into the Christmas holidays.