von Donnersmarck The Lives of Others BeforeWeDieFilms.com

#1081 The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen) (2006)

The Lives of Others is a brilliant feat of storytelling that portrays the necessity of artistic subversiveness in the face of political horror, specifically that of undermining the figurative and literal prisons of the Berlin Wall. In the story,  Stasi Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler is tasked with spying on the playwright Georg Dreyman. The film shows the various ways in which Dreyman as the enemy shifts in Wiesler’s mind, eventually leading him to make some difficult choices in understanding who exactly is a definitive enemy of the state. Stellar performances accompany a strong script examining the limits of human devotion to a cause that, regardless of rational understanding of its effects on the individual, can turn even the most practical participant into a monster.



I am certainly not alone in thinking the most beautiful part of the film is its turning point. A memorable moment when Wiesler, alone in his dreary hovel of an observation deck, listens to Sonate vom Guten Menschen and his character changes for the remainder of the film – an exceptional moment in the story as well as in Ulrich Mühe’s striking performance in the film. This moment – a quiet one that seems to balance the weight of everything the film holds on its thematic and emotional scales – highlight the beautiful and subtle stresses that hum underneath every moment of the piece. I found this truly captivating film all the more powerful in the context of a period piece with a lot of connections to a book I am working on. This beautiful film presents many of my intellectual turn-ons, not the least of which is its portrayal of being an artist examining the struggle of creating what is beautiful, what is right, and what is acceptable in a society embracing more and more totalitarian and suppressive behavior.

Ulrich Mühe’s performance is absolutely unforgettable.


This movie presents a really interesting perspective of history that I was only slightly aware of. This story sincerely puts the politics of East and West Berlin into the context of everyday lives. It was incredible for someone to write a script that focuses on the ordinary lives of the people living in this way, and what they are willing to do to shed light on their living conditions.

The twist that occurs with Wiesler as a character was great. At the beginning, it is easy to really hate him. But when he has that big character change in the middle, I came to feel sorry for him – almost more than the protagonists. He is a great character because of the range of emotions that we can understand, and the way the character develops in the story is simply fascinating.

I also enjoyed the epilogue at the end. We get to see what happened to some of the characters years later, and it is refreshing to find this in such a political and dangerous story. The sections with the file disclosures and the book with the dedication at the bookstore both lent a beautiful afterword to a great film.

In a way, this film has a lot to say about today. No matter how different our beliefs are, political and otherwise, it’s clear we have many more similarities than we have differences among us when we distill humanity down to its core experience. This is the most beautiful lesson of the film.

#1022 The Lord of the Rings – The Return of the King (2003)

The Return of the King is the third film in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, wrapping up the twelve hour (extended edition) epic in magnificent, sprawling battles, gorgeous environments, twists, turns, fear, political intrigue, dysfunctional families, and a battle to save Middle Earth. It was exciting to wrap up the series. This final film took us three nights to watch. For a more in-depth intro to the trilogy, check out our post for the first film The Fellowship of the Ring.



This movie ends with a massive, epic battle. In my opinion, this film ties each of the different story threads  up in a satisfying manner, and the fighting and battle scenes don’t feel too gratuitous.  While this trilogy is fantasy,  it’s universal appeal is how the characters in the movie embody heroism, hate, and  friendship.  This film has probably the best special effects as well as the best dialogue in the trilogy.  After watching the first two films, I was feeling about fatigued about sitting down for another three-plus hour trip to Middle Earth.  Once the movie began I was on the edge of my seat for the duration.  These movies are pretty perfect, and even 13 years later and just as captivating and entertaining.

After we finished the trilogy I set out to read them, but sadly, I have not yet made it out of the shire.  I can say if you have never read the books, they are absolutely incredible.  I did read the Hobbit, but after watching the first Hobbit film I refuse to watch the sequel – that movie was garbage.

Finally, I found this little film to be both entertaining and informative: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zQeYyiuqOaI



Some of the best lines appear in the third film in terms of the soliloquies, fraternity in the face of insurmountable odds, breathtaking images of architecture and the Army of the Dead whisking past Aragon’s beautiful hair as he attacks in slow motion in at least three parts of the film…. It is awe inspiring and beautiful, exciting and unique, sprawling and gorgeous with this incredible hybrid CGI / real New Zealand atmosphere. Having been only the third film in history to sweep the academy awards (next to Ben Hur and Titanic), the performances, execution, and artistic gelling of every part of this film – all of the films, honestly – is truly wonderful.

Making it through the third four-hour film in one week felt like finishing a marathon, but these films were so absolutely fully immersive and believable which is very difficult to pull off in fantasy. I found myself thinking, why don’t I have this running in the background whenever I am doing something? It would be an incredible escape from monotony, but also a way to just jump out of what I am doing and into an immersive world I love visiting so much. Chances are, I wouldn’t get anything done, but alas.

Great film. Looking forward to watching the DVDs again to hear the commentaries (there are four for each film – totaling a staggering 48 hours of viewing, I guess) and many more hours of special features including the various alternate endings. Some people online gave this set some bad reviews because they went out and bought the first special editions, and then this other set comes out for a few hundred dollars and they feel upset, but it is completely different than the theatrical version and I don’t see the comparison. I bought this version of all three sets on DVD for $6 at the library book sale (as I mentioned earlier), so I’m not upset about having bought the first set. It’s also something like 10 years after they released it – the blu ray extended set (2011) is currently $35 on ebay, so if they were patient, it would’ve been reasonable. Not a reason to rate the films one star on Amazon as far as I am concerned.

Excellent films, and always a pleasure to revisit Jackson’s middle earth. The acting, effects, costumes, and art direction hold up surprisingly well. These movies are part of an experience of modern times that makes me think that I love that I live in a time to have experienced it – and can whenever I like. The worst thing that could have happened is if it “looked” and “felt” like a 2000s movie, even though it takes place in a long lost era as some of the 1970s sci-fi and fantasy does. Will it in 2050? I hope not, but as it is today it feels like a timeless film.

A little bit of fun is in order after twelve hours of hobbits – Nerdist created an “R-Rated Lord of the Rings” video that is beautifully cheeky.

#1021 The Lord of the Rings – The Two Towers (2002)

The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers is the second of Peter Jackson’s remarkable Lord of the Rings trilogy. For the usual comprehensive intro, check out our review for the first film  in the trilogy at this link.



Rohan is crumbling, Gollum is following, and everyone is preparing for a battle that will bring darkness across the entire world… The premise of the sequel ramps up the energy and momentum of the first, and this second film takes what wonders, artwork, genius, and brilliant performances existed in the first film and tweak them to present a glorious and magnificent film that outshines the first. Perhaps what is most impressive about this one is how much cleaner the special effects were, and how excellent the production value was – considering the film was made immediately subsequent to Fellowship, they were able to tune up the great work that they did in the first film and make the magic even more polished.

Some really impressive elements of this one are the Ents and their execution. The sheer beauty of the characters and performances were beautiful. I was a little worried about going back and watching Gollum, but he still held up in my opinion. He was a little cartoony, but the motion capture was just incredible, and considering this was just a year or something after Episode I, there is no comparison to what I am watching and…. He that shall not be named.

Regardless, my love for the trilogy grows with film two, and I am looking forward to the final installment. I did watch the first of the Hobbit films last year on DVD, and I couldn’t get into it. It seemed hasty, disparate, and simply not a good film (as much as I love Martin Freeman), but I hear that has a lot to do with the execution of the production team trying to stretch out a hundred page book into three movies that weren’t even finished being planned out because there just isn’t that much material…. Well, I think this Honest Trailers Video sums it up pretty perfectly. Regardless, The Two Towers actually makes me thirst for Return of the King and revisiting the books.


This film is darker and grimmer than The Fellowship of the Rings.  This movie breaks into three different story arcs,  Frodo and Sam’s journey to destroy the ring at Mordor, Merry and  Pippin, who are captured and escape, and Aragon, Legolas, and Gimli, who travel to Rohan to plead for help.

This movie has some spectacular special effects.  The giant trees, or Ents, who play a major role in propelling the plot forward in the final battle scene in the movie, barely seem outdated.  For the parts where the Ent Treebeard carries and speaks to Merry and Pippin, a  14-foot puppet was built on a wheel.  The production crew began working on animating Gollum in 1998, but most scenes that include other actors have Gollum portrayed as an actor wearing a motion capture suit, with the Gollum animation layered on these scenes. Watching this movie so many years later, very few scenes seem outdated or unrealistic.

This movie also perfectly sets up the third and  final movie in the series, the Return of The King

#1020 The Lord of the Rings- The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

Over the past two nights we watched the 210 minute extended edition (30 mins longer, reedited, remastered, and rescored) of The Lord of the Rings, Fellowship of the Ring.



I absolutely loved this series when it was in the theater, remembering the long anticipated opportunities to watch as one of my most beloved reading experiences from my adolescence became a reality on the silver screen and noting the fact that many reviewers, pundits, and people in the know both literary and pop-culturary (?) suggested that it was not destroyed by the filmmaking process, but done right; done magnificently; done in a manner that revered the books rather than destroyed them. I went into the films knowing that the super dork behind the sleeper cult classics that I loved, “Meet The Feebles,” “Bad Taste,” and “The Frighteners” would actually take this budget (something he hadn’t seen in his career) and make some real magic.

I was right. I remembered the films nostalgically as a watershed in dorkiness, and went to see these films several times and bought the DVDs right away. When the opportunity to own the extended editions at a library book sale (all 3 films, all 12 DVDs, all thousand or whatever hours of commentary, films, extras, etc., all for $6 for the trilogy) and relive the magic in a new way, I snatched it up… Of course, our 1001 challenge made it the perfect time to watch them over.

I have to say that the films hold up remarkably well. The overall execution of every little detail, the technology that Jackson had at the time, the beauty and awe that every scene evokes, everything…everything about these films are pure magic. I could only spot two places in this film where I had a bit of a “wow, they messed up the blending there,” mostly with characters walking and it not matching the environment (both in the Moria sequences) and one spot where CGI ruins didn’t match the camera tracking all that well, but besides that, it is so impressive that I still watched this run through with my mouth agape. What they were able to accomplish on a mere $300M budget is astounding. The performances of McKellen, Mortensen, Serkis, and Holm were impressive, and I was still a little annoyed at Wood’s constant falling over and shouting and hurting, but that is the character, not his performance.

A great film overall. Looking forward to the next two once more.


I feel that this is a film that has held up remarkably well over the years.  For a film that is 15 years old with a significant amount of special effects, this movie still holds up to the test of time  without being too dated.

I didn’t read the Hobbit or the Lord of the Rings series until I saw the movie in the theater when as an adult in my first year of teaching.  I immediately fell in love with Tolkien’s Middle Earth and all its unique and wonderful – or wonderfully awful characters.

For someone unfamiliar with the story, I found the pacing of the film easy to follow.  It is practically impossible not to cheer on the ragtag band of hobbits as they embark on their perilous journey out of the Shire.  The Ringwraiths  who pursue were especially terrifying in this movie – even their gloves and shoes have sharp, scythe-like points.

Finally, if you are a person who has had to listen to your spouse or offspring play the Lego Lord of the Rings game millions of times,  you will find the moment in the movie when the actual Gandalf proclaims….”You…Shall Not Pass…!”  especially satisfying.

I know I did.






#1032 Monsoon Wedding (2001)

Today we watched Monsoon Wedding, Mira Nair’s 2001 film about two families coming together for the arranged marriage of their children in Delhi. In an art direction extra feature on the Criterion DVD, the team discussed how they managed to make the film in a month at close to 100 locations and for less than a million dollars. Quite an achievement in modern film-making, and it is equally impressive that the entire film was shot on Digital Video – and it appears that it is one of the first features to do this. In the Schneider book, the author of the short essay notes that  it is “emotionally satisfying, in part due to its relatively uncluttered narrative and universal subject matter.” Furthermore, the “flitting from English to Hindi to Punjabi …shows the irrelevance of language and background when it comes to something as familiar as the mysteries and foibles of romance.”


I really enjoyed this film. I thought that the colors, the selective use of cultural contrasts in a modern globalized world, and the cool handheld camerawork lent a great deal to this film. The beautiful images of regular life that end up being filtered in to separate the scenes, as well as the bouncing between the various languages, styles, and traditions brought an authenticity to the film that was really engaging to my sensibilities. The most notable parts of the film that I will carry with me are the amazing title and credits sequences, the slow motion introductions of Alice and Parabatlal, the beautiful music for the entire film, the scene in the empty pool with the beautiful lighting and execution overall, and the absolute seemingly-unrehearsed folk joy in every scene where the cast is singing or dancing.

My only complaint is that I thought the plot with the uncle, which carried ~act 3-4 of the film was a little clunky, and that made it feel contrived to me. It is genuine, but there is something abut the execution that didn’t entirely fit for me.


This story was told in a way that I found very visually appealing.  The colors, sounds, and the movements throughout the day to day lives of the characters seems natural and vibrant.  I found the montages  of daily life around the city and in the country eye-opening and appealing.  I had less difficulty understanding the “uncle” subplot, I feel that was foreshadowed from one of the earliest scenes but regardless, a great mix of angst and humor.

#1035 The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

The Royal Tenenbaums falls in the category of a director that my wife and I always enjoy, and whose work is consistently incredible. This film is on the list of “let’s buy it, and then let’s buy it again when then Criterion comes out,” for us, and we watched our Criterion Collection DVD with pride as we entered Anderson’s fully immersive world. We ahve seen this film so many times that we quoted throughout, and stayed silent for the rest of it. We shouted, “you sonofabitch!” We murmured, “She smokes.” We cheered, and cried, and held one another. We sang Elliott Smith.

It is simply a damn good film. The book cites it as “an extremely satisfying hybrid that is far too funny to be wholly tragic and far too glib to be profound,” but in many ways this review seems to not have the foresight that all of Anderson’s films are profound. Everything is. It says more about us than it does the characters, and does it in a way that is removed from reality just by a couple of clicks of fantasy and hyper-reality. That is something that Anderson is a master of, and it is simply a beautiful thing.

Also….Thanks to a certain “Coat Factory” who let us shoot this photo in their products in their store as we shopped… They didn’t really approve it, but we were able to find what we needed. Except for headbands. Don’t shop there for headbands in February.



The thing about this film when I saw it in the theater and found myself crying my eyes out at the end is that it reminds me of myself in a lot of ways (I have always felt like I am a combination of Margot mostly and Richie a little) in terms of things that I see as great things about me and things that I am perpetually working on… But most notably, I felt like it was a terrifying and depressing document of my own relationship with my father. In watching it, every single time I am heartbroken at the vast complexity of human relationships and how much they make absolutely no sense at all most of the time. Love is love, and nothing can be done about it. Mortality is mortality, and what are you going to do when it is your time? How can one constantly refresh one’s own expectations of oneself when one doesn’t tend to change?

But this film is so damn touching and funny and real… And in the face of it being so absolutely fictional, it is a testament to how well it was written that one can say it was incredibly real and reminded them so much of real life. It is hyperbole, and it is through this hyperbole that truer things cannot be said than the magnified version presented in this, one of my favorite movies of all time.

Also, the soundtrack melts me every time…. NICO, NICO AGAIN, ELLIOTT SMITH

Also, I am not sure why this video exists, but I think I love it.


Polo dress.  Black eyeliner.  Track suits.  Own Wilson… Luke Wilson… Ben Stiller… Gwyneth..This movie makes me incredibly nostalgic.  The characters are so real, and so familiar.  This movie is so satisfying visually, the soundtrack married exactly to the mood and tone and images.   People can be magical and terrible, and the things we hold onto from our childhood rarely meet or even match our expectations as adults.   Most of all,   love is perhaps the messiest, most unpredictable things of all.  The characters are all brilliant, glamorous, and so perfectly imperfect.  Somewhere there is a picture of me in a $30,000 fur coat ( a la Margot), and while my eyes aren’t dead enough in the photo, I always consider it my throwback to Tenenbaum photo.

I wish I knew where my Ralph Lauren Polo dress was, too.  But I do know where I can find matching Adidas tracksuits to dress my entire family….