Friday, November 30, 2007

The Secret of the Sword


The Secret of the Sword; animated fantasy, USA, 1985; D: Ed Friedman, Lou Kachivas, Marsh Lamore, Gwen Wetzler, S: John Erwin, Melendy Britt, George DiCenzo, Linda Gary, Alan Oppenheimer, Erika Scheimer

The Sorceress awakes from sleep by a mysterious magical sword. She summons Adam and his talking tiger Cringer and gives them the assignment to find its owner. In order to do so, Adam and Cringer go do a different Universe, to planet Etheria, and settle in a pub. Just then the Horde troopers storm in and cause a commotion, so Adam stops them and runs away with Bow in the forest, automatically joining the rebels who fight against the tyrant Hordak. When the rebels try to free a village, Adam transforms into He-Man and gets caught by the Horde, yet meets Adora and tells her that her boss Hordak is evil. When with the help of the sword Adora finds out she is He-Man's lost sister, she transforms into She-Ra and frees him. Hordak futilely asks help from his former disciple Skeletor. The rebels free a part of the country.

One of the last films from the company "Filmation", "The Secret of the Sword" is a testament about how a little effort can make a difference, and that difference can really be sensed since the story as some sort of a homage blends He-Man and She-Ra into one world, turning into the best He-Man movie. "Sword" suffers from a few banalities and stiff stock footage of movements, yet as a whole it's a meticulously animated, surprisingly realistic, nostalgic enterprise from real He-Man fans who wanted for once to really give the audience a run for their money and create something special, and the story really has some pure moments: for instance, He-Man's lively first encounter with the Horde or the almost virtuoso sequence where he is captured in a booth that slowly drains his energy while Adora, the Horde captain, can't sleep and wakes up in the middle of the night: she then goes to the chamber where he is being held and wants to help him, but also wants to stay loyal to the Horde. Her struggle with herself is a real drama with great emotions.

And then, finally, she takes the sword, transforms herself into She-Ra and frees He-Man. Simply amazing piece of writing that combined her transformation with her change of character. The core of the story is actually family since Adam's twin sister Adora was kidnapped and adopted by the evil Hordak who wasn't just her father but her ruler, yet in the end her good family ties can't be ignored. Many are regarding this threnody on those two cult shows with nostalgia, and even though the film is eclectic, as a whole it has some magical mood, manifested already in the fantastic opening song "For the Honor of Love", the colors in the whispering woods are opulent and the directors at moments display an excellent timing in the combination of characters and their characteristics (for instance, Hordak transforming his arm into a cannon or his out of place meeting with Skeletor that combines both of the two worlds). All in all, the movie is simply excellent due to its sharp tone, and that's something He-Man and She-Ra fans probably could have never imagined.

Grade:+++

King Kong vs. Godzilla


King Kong tai Gojira; Science-Fiction action, Japan, 1962; D: Ishiro Honda, S: Tadao Takashima, Kenji Sahara, Yu Fujiki, Ichiro Arishima, Jun Tazaki, Akihiko Hirata, Mie Hama

Japan. A giant iceberg in which Godzilla was trapped melted near an Arctic base, freeing the giant monster that takes course towards Tokyo. At the same time, Mr. Tako, head of Pacific Pharmaceuticals, orders his employees Sakurai and Kinsaburo to go to the Pacific island Faro and capture the giant ape King Kong in order to boost his ratings. They drug Kong with red berry juice and transport him on a platform on a ship, but he wakes up and swims to Japan's shore. When the two monsters finally meet they start a fierce fight. Godzilla is stronger at first, but Kong gets his strength from thunder and strikes back. Both of them fall of a cliff and swim away.

"King Kong vs. Godzilla" is the third film featuring the cult monster Godzilla and, just as with virtually every addition to the long trash serial, it's just a silly film whose sense is hard to figure out, except for entertaining the wider audience who wants to turn off their brains and enjoys mindless entertainment. Practically every (human) character is a throw away puppet that has as much charisma or charm as any given truck that drives through one of the roads during the running time of the film, if we disregard a couple of cute satirical scenes in which the greedy Mr. Tako cheers for "his" monster, King Kong, and hopes it gets more publicity in TV, the dialogues are stupid, the dramatic elements are just used for dumbing down the audience while even the key ingredient, the special effects, fail to impress since it's obvious to everyone that Kong and Godzilla are just two guys in cheap rubber suits fighting amongst inch high tanks, buildings and other kid's toys mock-up. The sequence where a "giant" live octopus attacks a house on Tora island is laughable, more suited to the franchise of Ed Wood, and unintentionally funny moments can be found everywhere, most noticeable in the scene where helicopters attach King Kong with wires and transport him through the air as if he is a puppet, and then drop him from a hill right into Godzilla. Sadly, it really seems the characters are all in the way of the basic formula of the whole film, which is "monsters meet, monsters fight, the end".

Grade:-

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Peggy Sue Got Married


Peggy Sue Got Married; Fantasy comedy, USA, 1986; D: Francis Ford Coppola, S: Kathleen Turner, Nicolas Cage, Barry Miller, Catherine Hicks, Jim Carrey, Joan Allen, Kevin J. O'Connor, Lisa Jane Persky, Barbara Harris, Sofia Coppola, Maureen O'Sullivan, Helen Hunt

Middle-aged Peggy Sue, who separated from her husband Charlie, falls unconscious on her 25-year high school reunion - and wakes up as a teenager back in the 60s. A nice chance to again relive her live, except that she knows what will happen in the future. She once again gets an F in math, becomes a cheerleader, but decides not to start a relationship with Charlie and has a fling with Michael. She also asks one student to invent everything that is absent in the 60s. When she goes to visit her grandma and grandpa, she wakes up and realizes it was all a dream and she is back in 1986 and rethinks her relationship with Charlie.

Francis Ford Coppola once stated that he made a mistake directing "Peggy Sue Got Married" because he just wanted to make a commercial hit, yet it's gross at the box office was modest. Still, the case is not closed - even though it could have easily turned out to be a kitschy, silly comedy, in Coppola's hands it became a surprisingly decent, neat, sympathetic and even a little bit melancholic film in which nobody of the cast involved should be ashamed off. The story about the middle-aged Peggy Sue, played very well by Kathleen Turner, who returns back to her high school days as a teenager almost seems like a variation of the similar time traveling film "Back to the Future" yet it works on itself without problems and only towards the end do mistakes become obvious, mostly involving around the fact that she returned 25 years back in time yet didn't use her knowledge of the events to change something big, which leaves the potentials only half used - one of the rare examples of inspiration is when she tells her algebra teacher that she will never need algebra in her life because she knows so, yet many other possibilities were left out. Still, even in his weaker shape, Coppola is still a director who knew what it takes to make a good film.

Grade:++

He-Man and the Masters of the Universe


He-Man and the Masters of the Universe; Animated fantasy series, USA, 1983; D: Ed Friedman, Lou Kachivas, Bill Reed, Marsh Lamore, S: John Erwin, Alan Oppenheimer, Linda Gary, George DiCenzo, Erika Scheimer

Prince Adam has the ability to transform into He-Man, the strongest man in the Universe, and battle the evil forces of Skeletor together with his friends Orko, Man-At-Arms and Teela.

The animated 80s hit show "He-Man" about the strongest man in the universe, the title hero, protecting his country against the evil forces of Skeletor was one of my very personal and favorite series when I was a child. But today, as a movie buff familiar with Fellini, Pasolini, Kubrick, Capra, Wilder and others, I just have to face the music: "He-Man" wasn't such a good product. One of its main flaws is the one dimensional worldview of the authors: for them, every man in that world was strong and had muscles like a wrestler, while every woman was thin, attractive and always wearing make up. Not only that, but He-Man/Adam is a pretty stiff character. That's why the cynical Skeletor is often much more realistic and amusing (many of his lines, like "Bring them to the dungeon and make sure they are made...uncomfortable!" when he says to his henchmen when they capture a few men, are priceless). Plus the story doesn't have a straight beginning nor an end. Season 1 is simply very weak. Even the best episodes, the ones on the "10 Episode Collector's Edition" DVD, like "Teela's quest" and "Prince Adam no more", seem like campy travesties.

Luckily, the second season is a lot better, featuring some great stuff, like "Into the Abyss" where Teela gets stuck in Greyskull's pit: when Adam transforms into He-Man, thousand light beams fall down into the abyss, and then back up again, creating a magic scene. So there is something about "He-Man". The animation, although over-recycled, is fantastic and realistic, reminiscent of Japan's animation. The idealism, emotions, honesty and the sheer innocence of its good characters is somehow beautiful, almost as if the makers still believe in human kind. It makes you want to be a better person. And, in some traces, there are brilliant situations present. Just take 2 great episodes, both written by J. Michael Straczynski, "Double trouble" and "Mistaken identity". In "Trouble" Skeletor accidentally discovers a mirror which creates opposite clones of one person. Evidently, it creates his clone, a good Skeletor, who tries to help He-Man. In "Identity" Tharan, a teenage boy, goes on a date with his girlfriend Kareel, but she always keeps going on and on about how great and perfect He-Man is. The jealous Tharan then lures He-Man into a cave with a help of false dragon sounds, and exits afterwords, making Kareel think that he is actually He-Man. Of course, she gets all excited, but then he is kidnapped by Modulok. Kareel calls for Adam's help, boldly stating how "Tharan, her boyfriend, is He-Man and in trouble". One can only wish there were more such sweet episodes, and less those formulaic about how the hero always just simply defeats Skeletor, the end. But compared to some today's "kids" shows, you really can't complain that much about "He-Man".

Grade:+

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

He-Man and the Masters of the Universe


He-Man and the Masters of the Universe; Animated fantasy series, USA, 2002; D: Jong-Sik Nam, Gary Hartle, S: Cam Clarke, Brian Dobson, Lisa Ann Beley, Paul Dobson, Gary Chalk, Kathleen Barr

King Randor won over the evil Kendor, who burned his face, and stopped him from conquering the council of savants. But Kendor changed his name into Skeletor, broke the shield of defense and went with his warriors to conquer the royal palace. Frivolous Adam (16), Randor's son, accepts the power of the Sorceress and transforms into He-Man, a powerful fighter for justice. Teela, the daughter of Man-At-Arms, even falls in love with him. Together with his new powers, He-Man battles Skeletor.

"He-Man and the Masters of the Universe" was a nostalgic TV show from '83 that sadly didn't live up to it's hype, yet was followed by a bizarre remake series "The New Adventures of He-Man" that was rightfully instantly forgotten in '90, and then by another "He-Man" remake series in 2002. This last one tried to create the same reputation as the original, yet failed because it dwelled too much into post-modern trash elements of it's time that were doomed to become dated sooner or later. Yet even though it also has as much flaws as the original, only of different kind, it's very different due to it's bizarre and dark tone. In the opening credits Adam and his tiger Cringer show up and look directly into the camera while gently saying: "I am Adam, the defender of Eternia. This is Cringer, my favorite..." until he is suddenly all of the blue interrupted by an explosion in the background which causes him to brokenly duck while in the air in maniristic manner bad guys fly one over the other.

In the story they have been turned almost into horror figures: Trap-Jaw has a scary mechanical arm and is full of stitches on his body; Beast-Man is a terrifying giant who manipulates monsters; Meer-Man allows a giant fish to grab Man-At-Arms by his hand and swallow him... While the original "He-Man" was static, introverted, emotional and humanistic, this one is dynamic, extroverted, cold and neo-modernistic, even going so far to model the main hero as character suited for hip-hop generation, like in the scene where Adam is goofing around with the Sorceress in a moronic way ("I knew this day would come!", she says, meaning that he is destined to become He-Man. But he replies with: "Well, my birthday is every year!" - "A hero showed up..." - "And here he is: Man-At-Arms!" - "No, it's you!" - "Is this a joke?"). Unfortunately, the authors forgot that horror, anxiety and dark mood don't always necessarily mean quality, causing the story to swiftly fall into the territory of triviality and the fans to conclude that the old "He-Man", despite all of it's flaws, had more magic to it.

Grade:+

Hatred


La Haine; Drama, France, 1995; D: Mathieu Kassovitz, S: Vincent Cassel, Hubert Koundé, Saïd Taghmaoui, Abdel Ahmed Ghili, Solo, Joseph Momo, Héloïse Rauth

A police officer unjustifiably beat up teenager Abdel who fell into a coma. That night unrest and violence disrupts between police and youngsters in Paris. Three violent teenagers, Vincent, Hubert and Said, talk about Abdel while conducting a grill fest on the top of their building. Vincent finds a gun and decides to kill a cop if Abdel dies. The trio goes to visit their friend Asterix but it ends in an argument. Police officers arrest and beat up Hubert and Said. The youngsters later on go to an art exhibit and try to steal a car, even scaring a bunch of Skinheads with the gun. A cop kills Vincent, while he and Hubert kill each other.

"Hatred" contains two excellent scenes: in the first, Earth can be seen from outer Space while the narrator says: "While a man was falling from the storey, he talked to himself to calm down; 'So far, so good, so far, so good'..." In the other, while the three violent youngsters argue, a dwarf exits from the toilet and starts surrealy talking about how wonderful it is to defecate and how he couldn't do that while he was traveling in a train to Siberia. The rest of the story is also good, but, just like the photography, it has a black and white perspective. Director and writer Mathieu Kassovitz bravely portrays the rarely touched theme of teenage delinquency, clinically and objectively showing how some youngsters are simply aggressive, but doesn't tend to give an explanation for that nor to show an alternative, while at moments he even creates a senseless apotheosis out of them and the film seems overstretched. It's interesting that the story shows how the multi-cultural youngsters, symbolically presented in the three protagonists - the Jewish Vincent, Arab Said and Black Hubert - are all not satisfied with their life and have an unbalanced spiritual state, and thus their beaten friend serves just as a fire that ignites the unstable barrel of gunpowder, yet a deeper insight into causes and consequences of hate stayed out - for the story, humans are simply a 'cursed' species that destructs itself. The only flawless ingredient is the dark mood, but all in all "Rebel without a Cause" said everything there is to be said about this subject decades ago.

Grade:++

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Death in Venice


Morte a Venezia; Drama, Italy/ France, 1971; D: Luchino Visconti, S: Dirk Bogarde, Björn Andrésen, Silvana Mangano, Marisa Berenson, Romolo Valli, Mark Burns, Nora Ricci

Venice at the beginning of the 20th Century. Famous German composer Gustav von Aschenbach arrives in town and immediately stumbles into bad luck: some lunatic addresses him with: "Your Highness" while the gondolier doesn't listen to him and ignores his directions. He settles in a hotel and philosophises with his friend about life. His nihilism and pessimism get disrupted by a 14-year old boy, Tadzio, in whom he falls in love with. Gustav goes on a journey to Munich, but returns to his hotel since his luggage was accidentally sent into a wrong town. Venice is hit by a plague while Gustave dies on the beach not telling Tadzio anything about his affections.

Ambitious, but not especially stimulating elegy "Death in Venice" enjoys a high reputation thanks to the bizarrely brave story in which the old Gustav falls in love (?) with a 14-year old boy, Tadzio. In that aspect it's a big waste that from some relationship nothing happens because Gustav doesn't know his language and doesn't even say anything to him, thus the story as a whole turns out painfully slow and rather useless with (too) minimalistic direction by the pretentious Luchino Visconti and strenuous empty walks. The film is a meditation about life, derived from any kind of action or event, and maybe it doesn't talk about pedophilia as much about symbolical reflections about lost youth and an unreachable ideal (both presented in Tadzio) or even the quiet suffering of the people who are afraid to live their dreams, but in the end it's much better in the portrait of the nihilistic Gustav and some of his dialogues with his friend ("Reality just destroys dignity" or "You don't have fear because it's an emotion and you don't have emotions"). Dirk Bogarde is very good in the leading role but his Gustav just passively walks and mutters something about life and that's mostly the whole film which isn't some kind of a big wisdom - even though "Death" was nominated for a Golden Palm in Cannes and for a BAFTA for best film, director and main actor, it's a shaky contemplative piece of art because the author took more care about the atmosphere than for the story or it's characters.

Grade:++

Batman Begins


Batman Begins; Fantasy drama, USA, 2005; D: Christopher Nolan, S: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Katie Holmes, Liam Neeson, Gary Oldman, Cillian Murphy, Morgan Freeman, Tom Wilkinson, Rutger Hauer, Ken Watanabe, Rade Šerbedžija

As a boy, Bruce Wayne witnessed how his parents were killed by some criminals. As a grown up, he decides to find himself and goes to live as a poor man somewhere in Asia. There he gets put into jail but gets bailed out by mysterious Henri and leads him to the master Ra's al Ghul who teaches him secret skills in his temple. Still, Bruce leaves their group due to their radical worldviews that include killing and returns to Gotham City where he becomes Batman. He arrests the mobster Falcone and prevents the poisoning of the town by Dr. Crane/ Scarecrow who worked for Henri.

8 years after the last "Batman" sequel, "Batman & Robin", the producers decided to turn a new leaf and return the serial back to its roots and thus created a worthy prequel, "Batman Begins", an ambitious and serious achievement in the attire of drama. Director Christopher Nolan ("Memento") gathers positive points on story and style, but also looses some in the fact that his "Begins" shares the same dilemma as many modern movies: it lacks something special and magical. The unusual sequences are all undoubtedly cleverly conceptualized, like the one where we find Bruce Wayne untypically in jail fighting with inmates or the one where he exercises in some Asian temple with ninjas, which are really bizarre and surprising, and the film also has to be given acclaim for exploring the protagonists psychological side and his aversion for criminals, but even crime is observed from the sociological perspective (in one scene Rachel shows Bruce in his car a poor neighborhood and tells him that poverty drives people to steal), up to the banal finale, while Gary Oldman and Michael Caine are excellent (Alfred playing a tune on a piano which opens the path to Wayne's cave). All in all, "Begins" is by no means weaker than Burton's "Batman", yet it still falls into the category of, what Jonathan Rosenbaum would call, "Dead Movies" - everything shown is formally well done, but somehow anemic, soulless and sterile. Likewise, it is the weakest of Nolan's critically acclaimed Batman movies.

Grade:++

Monday, November 26, 2007

Wild Zero


Wild Zero; Horror comedy, Japan, 2000; D: Tetsuro Takeuchi, S: Masashi Endo, Makoto Inamiya, Guitar Wolf, Drum Wolf, Bass Wolf, Kwancharu Shitichai, Haruka Nakajo, Shiro Namiki, Taneko

Young lad Ace constantly wears a leather jacket because he is a big fan of rock band led by Guitar Wolf. Once he accidentally enters the office of a gangster who threatens Guitar Wolf with a gun that rock n' roll is dead. In the confusion, Wolf saves himself, wounds the gangsters and gives Ace a whistle with which he can call him whenever he wants to. On some gas station girl Tobio gets saved by Ace from robber Masao. But in a nearby town a meteor crash causes zombies to start chasing after people, including the young couple. Guitar Wolf beats the gangster and uses his sword to slice a UFO that was controlling zombies into half. Tobio is a guy but Ace still falls in love with him/ her.

This unpretentious achievement is truly trash in every sense of the word but it enjoys cult status. "Wild Zero" is so bad and so amateurishly made that it's mysteriously hilarious and thus it's almost sure that the viewer will in one scene burst into laughter, but it can't be exactly said why the story is so funny because the whole film is so damn weird, from zombies who walk stupidly through the UFO and a gangster in his underpants up to the cars that throw flames out of their exhaust pipes. Not since Ed Wood's "Plan 9 from outer Space" was there ever filmed something like this. In the exposition the clumsy hero Ace saves the life of Guitar Wolf (who plays himself!) from one gangster who looses two fingers in the shootout. The grateful Guitar Wolf gives Ace a whistle in the best manner of old cartoons ("Whistle when you're in danger"). Suddenly there's a completely amateurish cut to a scene of a gas station somewhere in a desert in which Tobio enters so two auto mechanics ask her if she works there because nobody is there. Then there's another over-the-top nonsensical switch to three journalists in a car, one of which almost robs the station, and then one about two mobsters in a limousine who bump into zombies on the road. It seems the authors deliberately crafted everything in a sloppy way to create the impression of a parody, especially in the scene where Ace is trapped with Tobio and surrounded by a horde of zombies, yet says: "This is God's will to meet us here" or the one where Wolf and the gangster are wrestling and sparks flash below their shoes! The naive charm is often disrupted by exploding heads of zombies, yet this mad story is surprisingly one of the funniest movies of all time, despite or maybe just because of it's dazed tone.

Grade:+

EDtv


EDtv; Comedy, USA, 1999; D: Ron Howard, S: Matthew McConaughey, Woody Harrelson, Jenna Elfman, Sally Kirkland, Martin Landau, Ellen DeGeneres, Rob Reiner, Dennis Hopper, Elizabeth Hurley

When Cynthia Topping, the editor of a TV network, gets a revolutionary idea about a TV show that will film the everyday life of an ordinary guy day and night, she finds her "actor" in the sloppy Ed who works in a video store. "Ed tv" starts to air, but it seems Ed's life doesn't exactly have interesting events behind every corner, so producers decide to introduce some intrigues in order to produce high ratings. They send Ed his real father, which causes a feud between his mother and stepfather, arrange him a date with a woman who was chosen by the audience and prolong his contract indefinitely. When Ed's father dies, his girlfriend Shari gets annoyed and the TV crew gets the intention to film his whole family, he decides to end the show by threatening to tell a dirty secret of one of the producers on the air.

"This film starts there where "The Truman Show" ended", states one of the slogans of Ron Howard's "EDtv" which, although it doesn't rely too much on the above mentioned film, still has one connection with it: the actor Dennis Hopper, who in Weir's film was originally cast as Christof but was then replaced, and who here plays Ed's father. Both films were meant as a satiric jab at TV megalomania and the extreme concept of lifecasting, but in a bizarre twist that actually became a normal thing a few years later with a whole sea of ephemera reality soap operas like "Survivor", "Dismissed", "Big Brother" and other garbage. Although "EDtv" has the advantage of a better tangle of conflicts and drama, "The Truman Show" remains the better contribution - while Ed is a sloppy cynic, Truman has the soul of an angel; Truman's life is known to the viewers since his childhood and a whole new world was created for him, while Ed is on the air only a few months and thus doesn't have such intimacy and magic, and the direction of the story is too mainstream for bigger artistic attempts. Still, the fact that he is aware that he is filmed and thus even addresses the producers and viewers at times, is something that would have been a welcomed idea in Truman's world, and despite the fact that Matthew McConaughy is slightly miscast in the main role, Jenna Elfman and Woody Harrelson are excellent in their supporting roles. It's an interesting attempt and a correct fun.

Grade:+

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Salo or the 120 Days of Sodom


Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma; Erotic horror drama, Italy, 1975; D: Pier Paolo Pasolini, S: Paolo Bonacelli, Umberto Paolo Quintavalle, Giorgio Cataldi, Aldo Valletti, Helene Surgere, Caterina Boratto, Sergio Fascetti, Bruno Musso, Franco Merli, Giuliana Melis, Faridah Malik, Graziella Aniceto, Dorit Henke

Salo, Italy, World War II. Four Fascists; the Duke, the Bishop, the President and the Magistrate, order their soldiers to randomly capture numerous young guys and girls on the street. Out of that bunch, the Fascists pick out 9 guys and 9 girls and bring them to their isolated mansion. There they force the youngsters to various perversions for their pleasure: rape, orgies, decadence, coprophagia, weird stories of old prostitutes...In the end, those teenagers who didn't comply fully get summoned to a yard where the Fascists kill them in brutal ways, all the while observing them with binoculars from a distant window.

The last film from director Pier Paolo Pasolini, anxious allegory "Salo or the 120 Days of Sodom" is considered by many to be one of the most shocking and controversial movies of the 20th Century since it seems like a "pornographic Schindler's List" that breaks almost every taboo of what can be shown on film, but the director has a beautiful shot composition that seems like a sharp contrast to the ugly events in the story and thanks to his "Pasticchio" montage he manages to direct it elegantly and unpretentiously, even deliberately artificial at moments to ease the harsh material. Pasolini went so far with his story about perverted Fascists torturing teenagers that gay innuendo and rape almost seem like the most benign of appearances, ultimately causing a large part of the audience to either call him a brave genius or a crazy lunatic, thus every sequence is more shocking than the last, from the one where the Fascists announce to the youngsters in the backyard of their mansion that they will just live for their perversions, through a girl who is ordered to piss into the mouth of the Duke up the terrifying scene where the Duke defecates and orders a crying girl to eat his excrement. Here and there Pasolini eases the depressive atmosphere with light black humor, like in the cynical scene of the gathering of the kidnapped teenagers where one henchman of the Fascists proudly says how he caught one boy: "I've waited for whole two weeks to ambush him!", yet as the story progresses it becomes more and more deadly serious, and even the humor is just there to enhance the claustrophobia.

The whole film works on at least three levels. Since Pasolini was a devoted Communist, the first one is his obvious reoccurring theme of the Bourgeoisie exploiting the Proletariat, and since his four main protagonists are just named "Duke", "Bishop", "Magistrate" and "President", it's obvious he meant to warn and criticize against juridical, religious and political oppression that take ones freedom away. The second one is the old saying that "Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely", and every fibre of that message is sensed in the film, especially when it is often implied that the four wealthy Fascists have become so spoiled that they even don't find it strange to entertain themselves with torture and degradation of others. Sadly, when one looks at many dictators and autocratic countries today, from Burma to North Korea, or the past, like Khmer Rouge's Cambodia, who constantly oppress their own citizens, one gets the point. The third one is the bitter notion that some people are evil and only feed off the passivity of their henchmen. Pasolini is obviously a person who is disappointed by life and is ready to deconstruct it to the point of Dada: such direct approach and honest analysis of injustice is truly rare. This is one of those films that are frankly ungradeable: the first half is excellent, but as the second one starts it goes more and more overboard, which was the point, and it's definitely a pity the 18 victims, 9 boys and 9 girls, have been left without characterization and act only as extras, as well as any absence of hope of the pessimistic mood. It's a brave, cult achievement, but it's so disturbing it's actually hard to digest.

Grade:++

Russian Ark


Russkiy kovcheg; Drama, Russia/ Germany, 2002; D: Aleksandr Sokurov, S: Sergei Dontsov, Mariya Kuznetsova, Leonid Mozgovoy, Mikhail Piotrovsky, David Giorgobiani, Aleksandr Chaban

A narrator wakes up and spots ladies and gentlemen dressed in 19th Century costumes leaving a carriage and entering the Winter Palace of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. He follows them but has the impression that nobody can notice him except for one ambassador. Together they travel through large rooms of Hermitage and bump into modern day tourists, which confuses him. On their way, they talk about paintings and Russian history and meet some soldiers. Everything ends with a dance.

Aleksandr Sokurov managed to film with his "Russian Ark" an extremely ambitious and complicated undertaking, one of the first of his era - the whole 90-minute long film shot in only one take! He even had to interrupt shooting three times and start filming everything from the beginning since every actor had to appear and say his/ her line without a mistake. Sokurov's organization is first-rate but the film itself is sadly only formally intriguing. Once the viewer gets used to the long trick, it gets obvious that there isn't much to see in the empty story. The camera represents the point-of-view of the hero who gets shown around the museum from some ambassador, thus they both meet dancers, musicians and soldiers who are just superficially presented there without any reason except as a pretext to artificially keep the movie going. Even though it lasts only 90 minutes, the film is boring and monotone, especially when they talk about paintings. The author should have found an interesting story, like Hitchcock's similar experimental film "Rope", and not just a tiresome mix of various episodes.

Grade:+

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Grande Bouffe


La grande bouffe; Satire/ Grotesque, France/ Italy, 1973; D: Marco Ferreri, S: Michel Piccoli, Philippe Noiret, Marcello Mastroianni, Ugo Tognazzi, Andréa Ferréol, Solange Blondea, Florence Giorgetti

Cook Ugo, judge Philippe, pilot Marcello and TV editor Michel take a vacation from their jobs and leave for an isolated mansion. There they decide to eat until death. The hire trucks full of food and store it in the giant kitchen. There the cakes, cookies, buns, chicken and other delicatessen for weeks. Marcello occasionally hires a few prostitutes to shorten their time while teacher Andrea voluntarily joins them and even falls in love with Philippe. With time, one by one die from getting overstuffed, except for Andrea who survives.

Radical and creative 1970's created a bunch of interesting cult (anti)movies, among which is definitely the grotesque parable "The Grande Bouffe" that was even nominated for a Golden Palm in Cannes. Bizarrely symbolic story in "Bouffe" functions in the same way as Orwell's allegory "Animal Farm", except for drawing a different point, of course, the one about the immoderateness and collapse of consumer society (often deliberately disgusting, like in the scene where after the gormandize the character of Ugo throws up while Michel uncontrollably farts due to bad indigestion). In the world of "Bouffe" there lies a portrait of deteriorating spiritual values and as a result of that the 4 main protagonists try to fill the emptiness of their lives by turning to the material values (food) with an overkill, and in the end they die as in an classic tragedy. There are a lot of hidden messages in the film (a harsh critique of the Bourgeoisie? Everything that's excessive is dangerous?) which are left to interpretation (it's interesting to note that all actors play roles which all share their first name), but director Marco Ferreri still fell into the trap that his achievement seems one sided and amorph: "Bouffe" is an interesting film that shows how shock and quality can go hand in hand, but as with Pasolini's similar doomsday film "Salo", it somehow lacks poetry, a skillfuler point and is hard to digest.

Grade:++

American Pie 2


American Pie 2; Comedy, USA, 2001; D: James B. Rogers, S: Jason Biggs, Sean William Scott, Chris Klein, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Alyson Hannigan, Shannon Elizabeth, Eugene Levy, Natasha Lyonne, Tara Reid, Mena Suvari, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Chris Owen, Denise Faye

During the summer holidays Jim gets the chance to relax and take a break from college. Together with his friends Oz, Kevin, Finch and Stifler, they rent a beach house where they plan to have fun and sleep with as many girls as possible. Jim bumps into Michelle, the girl he lost his virginity with, but decides to rather spend his time on the more attractive Nadia. But in the end he still chooses to return to Michelle.

On the Internet site Rotten-Tomatoes.com the average grade that critics gave to "American Pie 2" was only 5.4/10, but even that's a lot considering such a weak real result for a sequel that routinely just once again repeated the same concept. The story about four ugly and dumb guys in search for girls worked in the solid original, but the sequel is of pure exploitation nature typical for the unambitious side of Hollywood authors of "comedies without humor" who deserve the title 'anti-Billy Wilder'. Their only way of entertaining the audience is through the profane, from the fact that Stifler (awful Sean William Scott) thinks a girl is pouring him with alcohol but in reality some kid is pissing from the balcony on his head up to the bizarre sequence where the the guys invade the home of two girls but they don't decide to call the police, but actually to participate in their erotic games instead. Hollywood definitely always has some talented authors, but most of them would rather decide not to waste their talent on such silly films. When one looks at the "American Pie" serial and compares it with a different achievement that also speaks about teenagers and first love, Anno's Japanese animated show "Kare Kano", one realizes that they are miles away, but even this film has a few good scenes and Eugene Levy is once again great as Jim's unusual dad.

Grade:+

Thursday, November 22, 2007

American Pie


American Pie; Comedy, USA, 1999; D: Paul Weitz, S: Jason Biggs, Chris Klein, Sean William Scott, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Shannon Elizabeth, Eugene Levy, Alyson Hannigan, Tara Reid, Natasha Lyonne, Mena Suvari

The 17-year old Jim and his friends Oz, Kevin and Finch make a deal that they will loose their virginity until the end of high school. In order to get the attention of the girls, they start sending flowers, talk about love and even sing in the choir. Jim gets his chance when Nadia, a Czech exchange student, drops by his house for some history lessons. He broadcasts their encounter through the Internet, but when she wants to sleep with him, he "fails". On top of that, his dad gives him advice about masturbation. None of the guys have better luck, but on prom night they get dates and all loose their virginity, including Jim who sleeps with Michelle.

Light teenage comedy "American Pie" has a few vulgar and bad gags, but as a whole it's a decent and rather dynamic fun for the broad masses, thus becoming a big hit. The plot about four teenage guys who made an oath to loose their virginity until the prom night really doesn't have any deeper meaning and is already in advance predestined for unambitious viewers, and some conservative people might not find pleasure in the exaggerated, liberal, caricature and loose view on teenage intercourse, but Jason Biggs turned out to be quite a good comedian, the story has sense and is indeed valid in it's point. Paul Weitz isn't that talented of a director, but has solid skills while he openly likes to push the envelope - the already legendary gag about Jim "trying out" the pie by putting it between his legs is pretty dumb and tasteless, but obviously there are some people who find it amusing - and all actors are solid, but they are all overshadowed with ease by the hilarious Eugene Levy in the role of Jim's father who gives him advice about "intimate things", simply unbeatable in the final scene where he is dancing in the tone to Barenaked Ladies' song "One Week".

Grade:++

Daisies


Sedmikrásky; satire, Czech republic, 1966; D: Vera Chytilová, S: Jitka Cerhová, Ivana Karbanová, Julius Albert, Marie Cesková, Jirina Myskova, Josef Konícek, Marcela Brezinova

A giant spinning wheel is intercut with scenes of a bombardment of some town. Friends Marie and Marie are sitting in their bathing suits and talking about life, while every movement of their hands in causing strange creaky sounds. One Marie has long black hair while the second one has short red hair, both have a mad fun and don't care for the social norms. The call one gentleman for a date only to get rid of him in the train, and repeat that procedure four times. Marie steals the money of a woman. The two Maries start and argument but quickly reconcile again and continue searching for happiness. Nobody notices them on the street so they enter an elevator and find a room full of food. They destroy everything there and climb up a lustre. Suddenly they find themselves in the water and drown. If they had another chance, they would have done the same.

A magical world of pure Dada: shining satirical plotless comedy "Sedmikrasky" describes the friendship of two main heroines, both called Maria, with many symbols, while the genius visual style of the director Vera Chytilova can be sensed already in the sole sequence of the music of the piano, where in fast rhythm images of stuffed butterflies are exchanged for every musical note! In the world of cinema, 95 % of all films have a clear story that everyone can follow, but "Sedmikrasky" is one of those 5 % of experimental films that don't have either a head or a tale and will obviously cause a part of the viewers to dismiss it as garbage, but it's a radical, inventive and rich flick with a short running time of only 75 minutes that was build exactly on that episodic notion in order to try something different in the movie world. The two Marias in the end demolish a room filled with wealthy food just for fun, which shows how the youngsters can't identify with the Communist rule and become auto destructive, which in the end caused Chytilova to get banned from making films in Czechoslovakia for years. Among other original scenes in this feminist film are red, green and blue photography, a high speed shot of bubbles popping out in a glass, heroines "cutting" themselves with scissors so that their limbs are flying in the room and chewing of the food on the paper. Truly a unusual classic from which one can learn a lot, but it's so hermetic and chaotic that many will dismiss it.

Grade:+++

Sayat Nova


Sayat Nova; drama, Armenia / Russia, 1968; D: Sergei Parajanov, S: Sofiko Chiaureli, Melkon Aleksanyan, Vilen Galstyan, Giorgi Gegechkori, Spartak Bagashvili, Medea Djaparidze

In 8 chapters does the film suggestively follow the Armenian poet Sayat Nova who lived in the 18th Century. The film follows his childhood, adolescence, his way to a monastery and death, but instead of a clear, linear or even logical biopic, director Sergei Parajanov decided to craft it as an avant-garde film. Firstly, there is no clear story but just a mass of abstract images, which is obvious already in the exposition: an open book shows up in the shot, followed by three apples and a knife from which red liquid drips and spills on a white sheet. The viewer is stimulated to draw either his own interpretations of the symbolical power of the birth of an artistic soul or either to simply enjoy the weird spectacle. Secondly, the main hero, if we exclude singing, doesn't say a single line throughout the entire film!

Obviously Parajanov decided to describe his life with symbols, not dialogues, and masterful shot composition. Everything is filled with surreal scenes: a horse passes by Sayat as a boy and his parents who look directly in the camera. Sayat the boy meets Sayat the adult. The adult Sayat looks directly in the camera while holding a skull in his arm, while in the background the wind is moving the pages of a book on the floor. Some woman holds a veil above her eyes. Sayat digs a grave while surrounded by sheeps. When he dies white roosters fall by him and tip the candles on the ground. "Sayat Nova" isn't a film for all those viewers who are not in the mood for "heavy fun", but a strange labyrinth and it would be very interesting to see how the screenplay looked like since there are practically no words in it. The result is a film that's incomprehensible, thin, weird and artificial, causing it even to get banned in the Soviet Union back in those days, but it's somehow pure genius.

Grade:+++

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Misfits


The Misfits; Drama, USA, 1961; D: John Huston, S: Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, Montgomery Clift, Thelma Ritter, Eli Wallach, James Barton, Kevin McCarthy, Estelle Winwood

The blond Roslyn leads the older Isabelle as a witness in the court against her ex-husband. Later the two of them meet two resigned outsiders, cowboys Gay and Perce, in a bar and decide to leave with them to Nevada. There they settle in an old house where there is no electricity while Gay and Guido fall in love with Roslyn. On their way to a rodeo they meet Perce who gets injured after riding a wild bull. While Roslyn nurses him, he falls in love with her. Gay, Guido and Perce bring Roslyn with them in a truck to demonstrate how they catch wild horses, but she gets shocked upon finding out they are selling them as dog food. Gay releases the horses and leaves with her.

Pessimistic elegy "The Misfits" combines modern elements of western with modern drama and a love triangle, traversing into, for Hollywood, untypical bitterness, but the film still remained famous for the fact that it contained the last roles of famous stars Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe, both of whom died after the film was finished, the one aged 59 and the other 36. Director John Huston once again shows his sharp directorial skills and inflicts a lot of courage for such a story back in those days, like when it is found out that Roslyn worked in a striptease bar, even though that is never shown, or when Gay - and the camera impersonating his subjective point-of-view - observes her butt while she is riding on a horse. Also, the screenplay creates a dark antagonism between the resigned Gay and the naive, romantic Roslyn who towards the finale even protests because the old cowboys are catching horses in a valley in order to sell them as dog food, which results in philosophical dialogues ("Sometimes you start doing something with good intentions, but then it turns into something bad") and the transformation of the male hero. Huston's skills combined with the dark screenplay all lead to a satisfying movie experience that somehow didn't get remembered as a classic it was intended to be.

Grade:+++

Owning Mahowny


Owning Mahowny; Drama, Canada/ UK, 2003; D: Richard Kwietniowski, S: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Minnie Driver, John Hurt, Maury Chaykin, Ian Tracey, Sonja Smits

Toronto. Dan Mahowny is seemingly a prestigious vice-president of one Canadian bank and has a happy relationship with Belinda. But in reality that man has one big weakness - gambling. Dan is so obsessed with gambling that he spent all of his money, and when that wasn't enough, he started faking documents and creating imaginary clients who open accounts in order to pick up bank money. Little by little, he managed to spend bank's 10 million $ in a US casino and was thus arrested and sent to therapy.

Interesting and ambitious, but not extortionately impressive nor extraordinary brilliant drama "Owning Mahowny", about a hero who was completely obsessed with gambling, was based on real events and marked the second feature length film by director Richard Kwietniowski. Kwietniowski surprised the critics back in '97 with his first feature length film, unnoticed but magical masterwork "Love and Death on Long Island" created out of damped moments. Unfortunately, the magic from "Long Island" lacks in the cold and formal "Mahowny", whose biggest virtues are the accessible mood and at moments humorous parts that portray how the hero, hopelessly obsessed with gambling, started faking documents in order to get the money from the bank he worked in and indulge his secret caprice in a casino, while all the actors, from Philip Seymour Hoffman, through Minnie Driver up to the fantastic John Hurt, Kwietniowski's hero from "Long Island", are in great shape.

Grade:++

Cops and Robbersons


Cops and Robbersons; Comedy, USA, 1994; D: Michael Ritchie, S: Chevy Chase, Jack Palance, Dianne Wiest, David Barry Gray, Jason James Richter, Fay Masterson, Robert Davi, Miko Hughes

Norman Robberson is an average family man obsessed with police and crime TV shows who gets pleasantly surprised when Lieutenant Jake Stone informs him that his new neighbor, Osborn, is a wanted criminal, and that the police wants to use his home in order to organize a stakeout. Norman accepts and settles Jake and his partner Tony in his home, much to the dismay of his wife Helen. Still, their three kids quickly get very fond of Jake, while Osborn starts suspecting he is observed. When the stakeout gets discovered, Osborn and his associate take the Robbersons as hostages, but Jake and Norman manage to beat and arrest them.

"Cops and Robbersons" is a forgotten, ordinary, but surprisingly very decent and correct family comedy that neatly displays the interesting situation of a tough cop who unfolds a stakeout in the home of a family man who wants to be like him, and his kids also respect the cool stranger more than the father. The only screenplay from writer Bernie Sommers is rather thin, but it's variation of Badham's similar comedy "Stakeout" has virtually no plot holes or big mistakes, and despite a lousy start and an even more lousy finale, it works in a solid manner, while Michael Ritchie's direction is non-existent and can't even be compared with skills from many other directors, yet he crafts the film in a decent way. Chevy Chase is refreshingly sustained as Norman, the father obsessed with police shows who goes so far to even harshly warn one critic and sport fan that "old baseball games have no reruns on TV, while every second somewhere in the world one "Kojak" episode is broadcasted", but many potentials of his unusual caprice have been left underused, while definitely the main highlight of the film is Jack Palance's performance as the tough cop Jake, one so good that he should have won the Oscar for this film and not for the overhyped "City Slickers", especially in the hilarious sequence where the observed criminal Osborn gets suspicious and invites himself into Norman's home and meets Jake, who introduces himself as his brother and tells him Norman was just released from a mental asylum: "Did you notice his scars on the head?" - "No..." - "Oh, his hair must be growing back again." - "But he goes to work every day!" - "Work? Work? He enters his car, sits on somewhere on a bench and drools for 8 hours".

Grade:++

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Kill Bill: Vol. 2


Kill Bill: Vol. 2; Action drama, USA, 2004; D: Quentin Tarantino, S: Uma Thurman, David Carradine, Daryl Hannah, Michael Madsen, Chia Hui Liu, Michael Parks, Bo Svenson, Jeannie Epper, Stephanie L. Moore, Perla Haney-Jardine, Samuel L. Jackson

The Bride, alias Beatrix Kiddo, continues her revenge campaign against Bill and his henchmen. She attacks his associate Bud, but he wounds her, places her in a coffin and digs her deep below the ground. But she remembers her skills she learned from the Chinese Kung Fu master Pai Mei and thus frees herself from the coffin. In a trailer, she finds her mortal enemy Elle, who killed Bud, and eliminates her. She finally meets Bill in his mansion - where their daughter B. B. also lives. Beatrix kills Bill and runs away with B. B.

6 years after his excellent "Jackie Brown", Quentin Tarantino finally showed up with a new film, the unusual two-part "Kill Bill", but judging by the finished result, he should have still polished that idea a few more years. As trashy as it was, the first "Kill Bill" film was still better and more elegantly directed than this second one, that is more serious, ambitious, practically dramatic, but also more anemic. Tarantino is definitely a director with talent, especially in the neat way he pays homages to old, forgotten films and twists famous cliches, but at the same time he sadly wastes that talent with wrong decisions, trash and the hidden notion that absolutely every scene he directs, no matter how boring, trivial or overstretched it is, is great because it's his - unfortunately, because of his megalomanic ego, we got two only good films, instead of one really great one. "Vol. 2" brought Uma Thurman and excellent David Carradine Golden Globe nominations for best actors and has plenty of interesting, but also exaggerated and excessive scenes. There are a lot of unusual ideas in the story: Beatrix frees herself from the coffin; pokes out Elle's eye and squeezes it; conducts training with an old Chinese Kung Fu master (who evidently has a really fake beard); Bill talks long dialogues about Superman...It's all well done, clever and stylish, but somehow without spirit - after the ending credits start to roll, it's hard not to asks oneself: "Is that all?"

Grade:++

Kill Bill: Vol. 1


Kill Bill: Vol. 1; Action, USA, 2003; D: Quentin Tarantino, S: Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, Sonny Chiba, Vivica A. Fox, Daryl Hannah, David Carradine, Michael Madsen, Julie Dreyfus, Chia Hui Liu, Chiaki Kuriyama

The Bride gets shot on her wedding from her former boss, gangster Bill, and his henchmen, lands in a coma for a few years but wakes up and starts her revenge. She first kills Vernita, Bill's assistant and now a mother of a little daughter, and then continues to fly to Tokyo. There she gets a Samurai sword and enters the cottage of the evil O-Ren Ishii, another Bill associate, and kills her together with her mafia henchmen.

"Kill Bill: Vol. 1" unfolds the best during it's first half an hour while it's sensed that discipline rules over it because it's later parts fall into chaos. Truly, in it's first third, it really seems the film is excellent: in the flawless exposition the thing that fascinates the most is the avant-garde style that not even Godard would be ashamed off, since in the opening credits it states: "The 4th film by Quentin Tarantino" and especially amusing is the sequence where the Bride (excellent Uma Thurman, nominated here for a BAFTA and a Golden Globe) storms in into the idyllic family home of her bedazzled former enemy Vernita and starts a fight with her with knifes, but both stop when her little daughter enters the house. At the same time, the Bride tells her name, but it gets "censored" by a peeping sound in order to reveal it only in the second film. When Bride kills Vernita, she tells her daughter in the best tradition of hard boiled dialogues: "Believe me, your mother had it coming", while Daryl Hannah is fantastic. Unfortunately, once the story starts unraveling after that, it seems as if it was directed by someone else: Tarantino placed violence is his previous films with measure and seriousness, and it's hard to figure out why he suddenly switched for a splatter approach: in the brutal animated segment Ishii blows up the legs of the Yakuza with her gun, while in the live action segment she humorously takes the sword and cuts off the head of a man from whose body a fountain of blood "humorously" erupts. Sadly, those dubious decisions and homages led it to trash, not art, and that's something Godard would be ashamed off. As if Tarantino started writing his screenplay with fantastic inspiration, but then abandoned it for the sake of gore and cheap action. If at least he kept those high ambitions from the start, and not infantile touch, this would have been a much, much better film.

Grade:++

Club Paradise


Club Paradise; Comedy, USA, 1986; D: Harold Ramis, S: Robin Williams, Jimmy Cliff, Rick Moranis, Twiggy, Peter O'Toole, Adolph Caesar, Eugene Levy, Joanna Cassidy, Brian-Doyle Murray, Andrea Martin

In order to escape from his monotone life, firefighter Jack Moniker leaves Chicago and leaves for a small Carribean island, Saint Nicholas. Together with his friend Ernest, he opens a tourist agency, "Club Paradise", and quickly gains his first customers, often eccentric people, like teenagers who are searching for drugs or a married couple searching for new partners. When Jack lands in prison he realizes a rich developer wants to expell his business from the island, using even troops from the local prime minister Solomon Gundy, but thanks to the Governor Hayes "Club Paradise" remains in business.

Director and screenwriter Harold Ramis crafted an equal number of popular and unnoticed movies, but even in the latter category, in which "Club Paradise" definetly belongs to, he managed to create a few really clever gags resluting in not your avarage run-of-the-mill comedy for the masses. Still, "Club" is a weak films non-the-less that seems more like a TV sitcom than a special story worthy to be on the big screen, where even puppets would radiate more character development than the thin characters presented in the film. Ramis didn't allow Robin Williams to go overboard with his manirism, creating a rather solid comic performance, yet it's obvious the whole film was just made to cash in on the "Animal House" trend of light, rude comedies for the wider audience, which is one of the reasons why the often scenes of nudist beaches can't be quite appreaciated, and the biggest surprise is Peter O'Toole who at moments seems like he came from another film. It's an aritficial, episodic and not that inspirational, but still a neat and solid fun.

Grade:+

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Hook


Hook; Fantasy, USA, 1991; D: Steven Spielberg, S: Robin Williams, Dustin Hoffman, Julia Roberts, Charlie Korsmo, Bob Hoskins, Amber Scott, Maggie Smith, Caroline Goodall, Dante Basco, Isiah Robinson, Gwyneth Paltrow

Peter Banning is a busy lawyer who doesn't have too much time for his wife Moira or kids Jack and Maggie. When the estranged family goes to London in order for Peter to visit Moira's grandmother Wendy, his kids get kidnapped and the only clue is a ransom note signed with the name Hook. When the little fairy Tinkerbell enters the house, she transports the bewildered Peter to Neverland and tells him that he is actually Peter Pan, except that he forgot about it. Captain Hook, who kidnapped his children, gives him three days to remember who he really is. Together with the suspicious lost boys and Tinkerbell, Peter remembers who he is and starts flying again. Hook gets eaten by a stuffed crocodile while Peter and the kids return back to London.

"Hook", critically one of Steven Spielberg's most bashed and unpopular achievements, is an unusual film that almost seems like a bizarre "New Age" sequel to the story of Peter Pan. The tragic figure of the imaginative, open minded boy Peter Pan who in the modern society grew up to become an sad, tiresome, realistic lawyer with a broken spirit who doesn't even have time to be with his own kids due to his job is an extremely stimulative concept that probably drew Spielberg to the project, maybe because behind a kids film there lies a melancholic theme about transience and an individual realizing his life is slowly passing by him, but a lot of the film was ruined due to it's silly tone, annoying brats from Neverland, dumb humor, forceful moments and irritating screaming, not to mention the awful finale that embraced the poorest cliches, among them even the one of the elimination of the chief bad guy. Indeed, the bizarre story remained just that, a bizarre story where a lot of things turned wrong, yet one can't quite shake away the feeling that "Hook" is something like a 'guilty pleasure' that surprisingly has it's fair share of magic moments, equipped with Spielberg's trademark of angelic portrait of his characters, which caused at least two sequences to turn out incredibly emotional. In one of them, Rufio draws a line on the ground and tells all the boys to go on his side if they think that Peter, the adult, is not the long lost Peter Pan. All the boys do, except for a little kid who stays on Peter's side, stares at him, touches his face and then says: "You are Peter Pan", which causes some of the boys to go on his side, which is as touching as the second one where Tinkerbell found the lost Pan as a baby and took him to Neverland.

Grade:++

The Cameraman


The Cameraman; Silent tragicomedy, USA, 1928; D: Edward Sedgwick, Buster Keaton, S: Buster Keaton, Marceline Day, Harold Goodwin, Sidney Bracey, Harry Gribbon

Luke Shannon is a street photographer. When he falls in love with Sally who works in an newsreel department, he decides to get a job as a cameraman in order to be with her: he sells his photo camera and buys a movie camera. But he doesn't have much luck with his attempts to capture an interesting event: he can't find a fire, a baseball game is cancelled and his camera gets damaged. He goes out on a date with Sally and the two of them enter a public pool. When he gets an assignment to film a celebration in Chinatown he gets preoccupied with a little monkey while some Chinese gangsters mistake his camera for a machine gun and start a war. When Luke sends the film to the agency, together with his shots of him saving Sally in the sea, he becomes famous. She falls in love with him.

One of the tamer comedies from the famous "comedian with the stone face" Buster Keaton, "The Cameraman" still won't disappoint his fans. The objection to this comedy lies in the fact that the first 30 minutes are stiff and provide a tiresome start, whereas generally speaking the film as a whole seems surpassingly sustained in it's humor than many of his hilarious classics, which somehow attenuates the impression. It's a light story, but some gags are still little jewels non-the-less, for instance the one when his alter ego Luke is pushing with a man in a very narrow dressing room where by taking off his undershirt he is at the same time dressing it on him or when he looses his bathing suit in the public swimming pool and manages by stealing a costume of some lady. Among the best ingredients of this interesting film are experimental, meta film scenes that play with the possibilities of the camera, like the scenes that go forwards and backwards in time, that could have developed and influenced a lot on the visual style of cinema.

Grade:++

Saturday, November 17, 2007

No Man's Land


Ničija zemlja; War drama, BiH/ Slovenia/ Italy/ France/ UK/ Belgium, 2001; D: Danis Tanović, S: Branko Đurić, Rene Bitorajac, Filip Šovagović, Georges Siatidis, Serge-Henri Valcke, Sacha Kremer, Mustafa Nadarević, Bogdan Diklić, Simon Callow, Katrin Cartlidge

Bosnia and Herzegovina in the 1990's. A JNA tank kills a few Bosniak soldiers on the meadow. Among the survivors is Čiki who hides in an abandoned trench. JNA sends the Serbian soldier Nino and a sniper into the trench where Čiki starts shooting at them. The sniper dies, but he placed a mine under a Bosniak who he thought was dead, hoping that his colleagues would die in the explosion once they lift him up. Nino and Čiki argue in the trench about who started the war, but then a UNPROFOR force appears and tries to deactivate the mine because journalist Jane is filming them. Čiki and Nino kill each other, while UNPROFOR can't deactivate the mine and simply leave the soldier on it.

"No Man's Land" won an Oscar and a Golden Globe as best foreign language film in 2001, but Jeunet's "Amelie" was still better. All those awards come more as a "remorse" award maybe due to the fact that the West wanted to ease it's bad conscience for it's passivity during the wars following the break-up of Yugoslavia, and due to the fact that "Land" is a dark, bleak film with a tragic ending which some consider (unjustifiably) superior than postive, cheerful and sweet films like "Amelie", but when compared to some genius films made in the ex-Yugoslavia, like "Who's That Singing Over There", "Land" can't justify such hype. Almost the whole story revolves in a trench during the war, thus creating a static mood similar to the one in the thematically similar film "Lepa sela lepo gore", but the humor gives it agility and queues grotesque situations, like when the soldier lies on a land mine so his colleague scratches his leg in order for him not to move and blow them all up or the double-ironic scene where a JNA soldier comments the war in Rwanda with: "Dear God, those people in Rwanda are not normal!"

Not only that, but the director Danis Tanović sends a controversial message by implicitly putting the blame for the war in Bosnia on the lack of engagement of the international community and the ineffectiveness of UNPROFOR forces, that was shown in an extremely negative light as a force that ruins everything, especially noticeable in some satirical scenes like the one where the chief of the forces is more preoccupied with observing his secretary's legs than listening to an important phone call, which slightly eases the depressive end. Filled with many clever moments (in one of them, the two protagonists, one a Bosniak and the other a Serb, are arguing which side started the war, until one takes the gun and forces the other to admit that his side started it), "Land" is a thought provoking film, but Tanović's direction is thin and flat, more preoccupied with messages than crafting a creative film, which causes it to seem a little bit contrived.

Grade:++

Friday, November 16, 2007

Do You Remember Dolly Bell?


Sjećaš li se Dolly Bell?; Tragicomedy, BiH/ Serbia, 1981; D: Emir Kusturica, S: Slavko Štimac, Slobodan Aligrudić, Mira Banjac, Liljana Blagojević, Jasmin Celo, Mirsad Žulić, Ismet Delahmet, Jovanka Paripović

Sarajevo. A man in the center for culture recommends his colleagues to organize an orchestra in order to reduce teenage delinquency. At the same time, Dino is a day-dreaming teenager obsessed with hypnosis, living in a small apartment with his father, a die hard communist, mother, two brothers and a little sister. One evening, the shady Braco orders him to hide a woman, Dolly Bell, in his dove cot. Even though she flirts with him, Dino doesn't think much of it and is more preoccupied with his older brother leaving for Skopje and his father for a hospital because of a deadly lung disease. After Braco picks up Dolly, Dino finds out she is a prostitute. He looses his virginity with her and even starts a fight with Braco who slapped her, but looses the battle. The father dies and the family moves out.

Emir Kusturica made his feature length debut with the opulent humorous drama "Do You Remember Dolly Bell?", compared to his later Felliniesque phase a very sustained and gentle coming-of-age film that mixes gentle and cruel moments, showing a lot of sensibility towards misunderstood youngsters and a dazzling, invisible directorial style. Even if the simple plot about the maturing of the teenage protagonists Dino (excellent Slavko Štimac) isn't filled with autobiographical elements, it's so real it seems it is, because many details in it have a very specific aroma. Kusturica creates a very fine insight into Bosnian mentality, even though some may complain he needlessly traverses into their negative, backward side. The relationship between Dino and his dad is developed wonderfully, especially towards the end where the youngster is reading him a pseudo scientific esoteric book he finds fascinating, mentioning such over-the-top bizarre ideas like the one that the advanced man kind should in the future "get rid of the Indian ocean in order to create a fertile valley that could be a breadbasket for 146 billion people" and "allow a lighter Earth to move away 300 million miles from the Sun, reduce it's gravity and thus establish people to grow the size of the Titans", but the real highlight of the film is actually the heroine from the title, Dolly Bell, who works so well that it's almost a pity she only appears in a subplot, not in the main plot of the story.

Namely, she hides in Dino's dove cot and at first seems to have little or no purpose to the plot, except for some cute little "naughty" moments, like the one where she strips topless and washes herself while the shy Dino is pouring water for her and keeps his head turned away due to his timidness, but she finds that amusing and even "tantalizes" him by splashing him with the water. Yet, it later turns out she is a prostitute which gives another dimension to the story, especially since Dino falls in love with her and wants to free her. Sadly, the author didn't resolve that situation, which was left open and vague, almost daring some angry viewers to really ask Dino at the end: "Do you remember Dolly Bell?" Still, despite that lack of conclusion, it's a really fine film because Kusturica has talent.

Grade:+++

When Father Was Away on Business


Otac na službenom putu; Drama, BiH, 1985; D: Emir Kusturica, S: Moreno De Bartolli, Miki Manojlović, Mirjana Karanović, Mira Furlan, Mustafa Nadarević, Pavle Vujisić

Sarajevo, '50s, during the Tito-Stalin split. Malik is a 6-year old boy who lives a normal life and often says Communist phrases like: "I would rather be Russian shit than an American cake". His father is Meša, an official in the ministry of work, while his mother is Sena. When Meša spots a caricature of Stalin in the newspaper and announces they exaggerated, he gets heard by his ex-girlfriend Ankica who tells everything to her husband Zijo, who works for the government. Malik, after observing family circumcision, witnesses how his father gets forced into a heavy coal mine labor due to political reasons. When he finally returns, the family goes with him to Zvornik. They finally return to Sarajevo where Ankica and Zijo show remorse.

Emir Kusturica's second Golden Palm, the one he won in '95, was much more justified than his first one which he won in 1985 for his quiet drama "When Father Was away on Business", which was even more surprising since it was nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe as best foreign language film: it's a good film, but with a sustained kind of quality. It's running time of 130 minutes is really overstretched and without a real backup because it doesn't have any ambitions for an epic drama, especially since it exhausts it's creativity already after the first hour, thus turning the trip of the protagonists to Zvornik into a boring finale filled with irrelevant, boring scenes and empty pauses. Still, Kustruica's gentle and quiet style neatly creates an interesting story about the events of the 6-year old protagonist Malik, while many children's bizarre, silly phrases have a campy sense of humor, like "Malik, Malik, you look like shit" (in the original, "Malik, Malik, na govno si nalik" it rhymes) or "Joža, Joža, you have a fat skin" (in the original, "Joža, Joža, debela ti koža", it also rhymes), and some details are quirky, like when Ankica wants to hang herself on a toilet, but when she jumps she just flushes the water, which all add into a good little film with a small shift of the bizarre.

Grade:++

Suspicion


Suspicion; drama/ thriller, USA, 1941; D: Alfred Hitchcock, S: Joan Fontaine, Cary Grant, Cedric Hardwicke, Nigel Bruce, Dame May Whitty, Isabel Jeans, Heather Angel

In a train, the mysterious Johnnie meets Lina McLaidlaw, the daughter of a rich man, and borrows some money from her to buy himself a ticket. On a meadow, he starts flirting with her, but then vanishes without a trace. Weeks pass by and the timid Lina becomes depressed, but then she meets him again on a party and runs away with him in a car. The two of them quickly marry, despite the protest of her parents, yet Johnnie then starts to buy expensive stuff and pay off his debts with her money because he doesn't have any. Johnnie's friend Beaky tells Lina that her husband plans to invest a lot of money into a hotel. Some time later, Beaky is found dead, apparently because he drank too much Brandy. Lina starts suspecting Johnnie wants to kill her, until he saves her from a cliff.

"Suspicion" is one of those films that show how a bad ending can wreck the whole story. Alfred Hitchcock quickly gained ground in the US and once again made a film with the talented actress Joan Fontaine with the drama "Suspicion" whose thriller elements turn out rather confusing. The exposition is almost idyllic because the master of suspense shows his romantic side: the timid and secluded Lina rejects Johnnie's attempts of courtship, but when he leaves she regrets that decision and becomes anemic and sick - but when he sends her a letter she once again lives up. In one of the many wonderful scenes, Johnnie begs the painting of Lina's father for a permission to marry her, while Lina's revery that she sees her husband on a photo coming to a cliff and throwing his friend down is impressive and eerie, thus Fontaine rightfully won an Oscar as best actress - sadly, the only time an actor won that award in a Hitchcock picture. The anxious mood of Lina's marriage with the suspicious Johnny is build perfectly, especially since his threat is always presented with a dose of ambiguity, leaving many of his unusual motivations to the imagination of the viewers, as it should be, but once the naive happy ending hits the screen, ignoring a lot of plot holes about why Johnnie asked for poison and forcefully extinguishing all the thriller elements that were placed before it, the film looses a lot of it's credibility. Sadly, the audience couldn't accept Cary Grant as the bad guy, so the original, better ending that logically culminated with crime, was abandoned for the one present in the story, reducing it's quality. That way nothing happens in the story and the thriller elements end up rather rudimentary - it would be as if "Jurassic Park" was made without the Dinosaurs.

Grade:++

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Matilda


Matilda; Black comedy, USA, 1996; D: Danny DeVito, S: Mara Wilson, Embeth Davidtz, Pam Ferris, Danny DeVito, Paul Reubens, Rhea Perlman

Car salesman Harry is the living proof that the intelligence isn't inheritable: even though he doesn't want to have anything with students, he got a super-smart daughter, Matilda. She has difficulties coping with her backward family, reads books and doesn't have any friends. When she enlists into an elementary school, her intelligence impresses the shy teacher Honey who becomes her friend. Together they fight against the tyrant principal Agatha, who is Honey's aunt and decides to quite her job. Matilda develops telekinesis and Honey adopts her.

When Matilda says: "Here are my adoption papers. I have them ever since I learned how to photocopy", a rebellious spirit awakes in the story whose sly charm largely reminds of the independent Vada from "My Girl" or the clever Daria Morgendorffer from "Daria". Although Matidla is considerably younger than them, she still has clever observations and is portrayed very well by Mara Wilson, while the underrated Embeth Davidtz is truly excellent as her mentor, the timid teacher Honey. A much worse side in "Matilda" is the story that isn't appropriately build around the special heroine, especially in the unconvincing moments like the one where the evil principal throws kids over the school fence, and the bizarre ending that doesn't quite fit into the plot, since the story could have started just there where it ended. Even worse is DeVito's misguided direction that becomes a hassle. He, both as a narrator who has sympathies towards Matilda, and actor who plays her father who doesn't like her, creates a strange rift and crosses too often into coldness, inappropriately black humor for a kids film and cruelty (like when a kid is forced to eat a whole cake as a punishment), but also expressionistic scenes. In the end, "Daria" remains a superior example of a misunderstood, multi-talented and gifted girl.

Grade:+

Mr. Wrong


Mr. Wrong; Black comedy, USA, 1996; D: Nick Castle, S: Ellen DeGeneres, Bill Pullman, Dean Stockwell, Joan Cusack, Joan Plowright, John Livingston, Robert Goulet, Hope Davis

Dressed in a wedding dress, Martha is sitting in a Mexican jail and telling her story: when he sister got married, her parents put her under pressure to do the same as soon as possible, but since she worked in a TV redaction, she didn't have enough time to meet anyone. In some bar, she met Whitman, a prestigious invester in whom she fell in love with. At first, their relationship worked, but when Whitman persuaded her to steal and broke his own finger, she decided to leave him. But he wanted to forcefully marry her so he brought her to a Mexican town. There Martha wounded him and ran away back home with a friend.

"It all started so well, and ended so terrible", says the main heroine Martha in one scene, and certanly the viewers have to agree with her after they see the film she stars in. Truly, as much as "Mr. Wrong" has a harmonic and mild start, it has an inversely proportional senseless finale that places this black anti-romantic comedy into the category of a weak film. This film in which comedian Ellen DeGeneres stared in after the succes of her series "Ellen" didn't fulfill the expectations of the audiencen since the screenplay is full of tiresome gags and bizarre antiheroes, failing in the atempt to ridicule the cliche of princ charming that turns out a psychotic maniac, here embodied in the irritating character of Whitman (Bill Pullman) who is so nuts that he even breaks his own finger. The direction from Nick Castle is avarage, full of empty hysteria and overstretched roams of the camera. One can admit good intentions, but not the psychotic execution that lost it's track.

Grade:+

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Pepper Ann


Pepper Ann; animated comedy series, USA, 1997; D: Brad Goodchild, S: Kathleen Wilhoite, Clea Lewis, Danny Cooksey, Pamela Segall, Don Adams, Pamela Adlon, Kathy Najimy, Jeff Bennett, Luke Perry, Brittany Murphy

Pepper Ann is 12 years old and in her family Pearson she gets often bossed around by her kitschy mother and younger sister Moose. But behind an unattended girl lies a person full of imagination and kindness who constantly experiences various adventures, among the most absurd ones are the one involving her friend Milo and Nicky: she stars in the main role of a Romeo & Juliet play, a new soccer team is build, she falsely accuses a company of pollution, gets visited by her old friend Brenda, gets mistaken for an 8th grader by some girls, writes a touching essay in the school newspaper, helps Nicky with her boyfriend Stuart...

Behind ordinary episodes, a simple construction, there lies a surprising and dynamic series which with only half the effort and restrained humor manages to achieve a maximum satisfaction from the viewer. Admirable, but "Pepper Ann" gets the most from the interesting, authentic plot concept from the author Sue Rose: the main heroine is a dynamic and spontaneous girl whose adventures indeed are without some big meaning or high concept, but which leave nobody cold and seem wonderfully sympathetic. How much everything is benevolent testifies also the fact that Pepper Ann even wears glasses while nobody makes fun of her, while the authors have to be congratulated for having the courage to actually provide a real ending for the story, in the final episode where she becomes a 28-year old in a wonderful future where Mark Hamill became the president of the world while her colleague, the school bully, in the meantime became a priest. Naturally, not every episode works, some naive elements seem troublesome and the caricature humor needless, but they are all minor complaints.

The best gags of this comedy of character come swiftly, in small details and seem unessential, but actually turn out amazing, like the scene where Pepper Ann makes her friend Milo walk some 20 yards away from her but some old lady still misinterprets them for a love couple. The episode where the perfect Nicky rebels and tries to become a wild girl called "Nickey" is smashing, while the legendary bra episode is simply unbelievable: in it, Pepper Ann figures her gym teacher meant the girls have to wear a bra when she said they must have "support" during the trampoline exercise, so she goes to buy her first one. On D Day, while on the trampoline, the gym teacher and Pepper Ann exchange this dialogue: "Pepper Ann, where is your support?" - "Here!" - "Where? I don't see it!" - "Well, here!" - "Pepper Ann, stop kidding and get your support!" - "It's here!", before Pepper Ann pulls her shirt up and shows her bra to an astonished class - only later figuring the teacher actually meant a real person who will help her as a "support" during the jumping on the trampoline. Kathleen Wilhoite's voice for the title heroine is great while so many emotions throughout the story are delivered in a great and unobtrusive way. Many kids shows don't work for the adult audience because their toned down humor isn't sharp enough, but this is one example where it really captivates everyone with ease because the effort of the authors can be sensed with every fibre of the events. "Pepper Ann" is a real successor of animes.

Grade:+++

Pink Cadillac


Pink Cadillac; Action comedy, USA, 1989; D: Buddy Van Horn, S: Clint Eastwood, Bernadette Peters, Timothy Carhart, Tiffany Gail Robinson, Angela Louise Robinson, John Dennis Johnston, Michael Des Barres, Jimmie F. Skaggs, Bill Moseley, Michael Champion, William Hickey, James Cromwell, Frances Fisher, Jim Carrey

Detective Tom Novak isn't the youngest anymore, but he still searches and hunts outlaws with ease. At the same time, Lou-Ann lives with her baby in a trailer while her husband Roy reveals he started counterfeiting money with his friends. When the police marches into the trailer, Lou-Ann gets falsely arrested but released after a bail. She runs away with her husband's pink Cadillac, but then discovers his fake money is in it. In order to take revenge on him, she starts spending the money in a casino where she gets arrested by Tom. But they fall in love and become friends. In order to get his money back, Roy kidnaps her baby. But Tom enters into his territory and frees the baby, running away with Lou-Ann into the unknown.

Many critics unjustifiably pronounced "Pink Cadillac" a bad film, but it's a matter of a proportionally rather amusing little flick, just with a weak story: it handles about some kind of chase carried out by the detective Tom (Clint Eastwood repeating for the 100th time his cliche role of a tough guy, just with a kind heart) - where he came from, what are his thoughts or what he found in Lou-Ann, all those are things that are left sadly underused, uneven and vague, just like the interesting open ending. The bad guys are a catastrophe. But somewhere around the start, "Cadillac" has a few great gags to offer: in one of them, heroine Lou-Ann arrives at the door of the landlord and says to him: "You remember when I came to you last month and paid you the rent?" He replies with: "Yes, that was the best day of my life!", upon which she says: "Can I have my money back?" Somewhere 30 minutes into the film, the then unknown Jim Carrey has a small role as an entertainer in a casino, and there are other small roles of good actors present throughout, but as a whole the film simply lacks energy and one can sense it wasn't made with effort, just with routine.

Grade:+