Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Washed Out


Isprani; Drama, Croatia, 1995; D: Zrinko Ogresta, S: Katarina Bistrović-Darvaš, Josip Kučan, Filip Šovagović, Mustafa Nadarević, Ivo Gregurević, Tarik Filipović

Jagoda is a student girl in her 20s, living in a small apartment with her sick and bad tempered mother and depressed father. She feels scanty and longs for a few moments of intimacy and peace for herself. The frustration is even enhanced by the fact that she has a boyfriend, Zlatko, but doesn't have a place to have intercourse with him. At the same time, her brother Tukša is drinking in pubs for days waiting for his mistress, a married woman, to decide if she will stay with him or not. Jagoda and Zlatko try to find a place for intimacy in a military base, a shabby apartment or in the forest, but always get interrupted. When he finally finds an apartment, she breaks up with him and makes Tukša stop waiting in the pub.

"Washed Out", the second feature length film from director Zrinko Ogresta, is a flawed but touching and very sensitive drama with a great little refreshing plot that you don't see very often - it revolves around a girl who feels scanty in her too small apartment she has to share with her parents. The story maturely follows and portrays Jagoda's wishes and her longing to find some privacy and intimacy for herself, refreshingly handling the issues of adolescence and grown ups, the small details are great (the esoteric opening title sequence in the background of some foggy object that looks like a leaf covered by a nylon; a bunch of drunk maniacs jumping in the same streetcar as Jagoda; a fly caught in a glass...) and some of the quiet little emotional scenes are magnificent (Jagoda and her boyfriend Zlatko are lying on a blanket in the middle of the nature. He says: "What do you have against memories?" and she replies with: "I want different memories!") while the magical music simply has to be heard, making the story a quality piece of movie making, even though it's sad it was distracted by the completely unnecessary subplot revolving around her brother Tukša. Back in the 1990s, Croatian cinema was stuck in a Black hole, making incredibly bad and pretentious melodramas, but "Washed Out" managed to avoid that flaw with ease most of the time, but here and there it also fell into the trap to make a grotesque soap opera turn - like the caricature scene where the father is yelling at his sick wife: "Die! Die! As long as something finally changes in here!" or when a frustrated Jagoda drags her boyfriend behind a building during the rain and shouts: "Take me! Just as long as we finally get it over with, damn it!" But despite everything, Zrinko Ogreta remains a interesting author with a special sixth sense for mood that touches on some deeper levels than it can be described in words.

Grade:++

A Shot in the Dark


A Shot in the Dark; Comedy, UK/ USA, 1964; D: Blake Edwards, S: Peter Sellers, Elke Sommer, George Sanders, Herbert Lom

The chauffeur Miguel is shot in the mansion of the rich Mr. Ballon and maid Maria is found with a smoking gun. Inspector Clouseau is sent to investigate the case - enchanted by Maria's beauty, he claims she is innocent and suspects the jealous Mr. Ballon actually killed Miguel and placed the gun in Maria's hands. Clouseau releases Maria from prison and follows her, much to the annoyance of Commissioner Dreyfus, who is sure she is the murderer. After 8 other people die, Clouseau finds out Mr. Ballon's wife actually shot Miguel because she was in love with him, while Ballon placed the gun into Maria's hands. Just as they are about to escape in Clouseau's car, it explodes - because Dreyfus planted a bomb hoping Clouseau would drive.

Legend has it that "A Shot in the Dark" was originally supposed to be a crime comedy adaptation of the play "L'Idiot" by Marcel Achard, but when Blake Edwards jumped in as the director he rewrote the whole script just to include the popular character inspector Clouseau and get a fast sequel of his previous '63 hit "The Pink Panther". The movie itself is good and funny, but a step backwards compared to the original, even more heavy-handled and forced than in the first story, making one wonder why so many critics praised it because it deteriorated into just a childish comedy consisting only out of inspector Clouseau bumping into something or tripping upon something. Peter Sellers is once again very good in the leading role, but it's obvious he didn't like it which caused him to reject the next "Pink Panther" role in '68 film "Inspector Clouseau", until 11 years later when he finally returned to play Clouseau once again. Those expecting clever dialogues or ambitious comedy will stay shorthanded since this film doesn't offer practically any, relying only on simple physical comedy in the manner of Louis De Funes, where everything was rushed - most noticeable in the weak ending - but Edwards' sense for comedy still managed to deliver three ontological comic moments. One is the scene where Clouseau unlocks the locker but leaves the key in it, which is attached to his pocket, then turns away and causes it to rip his upper pants, the other when he plays billiard with a hooked cane and the third one is his visit in the nudist camp, which was so unbelievable that it probably caused Myers to copy it a hundred times with his "Austin Powers" serial.

Grade:++

Monday, July 30, 2007

The Pink Panther


The Pink Panther; Comedy, USA/ UK, 1963; D: Blake Edwards, S: David Niven, Peter Sellers, Claudia Cardinale, Robert Wagner, Capucine

Sir Charles is a charming playboy, but at the same time he is also the Phantom, the most wanted master thief in Europe, chased for years by inspector Clouseau. Both of them leave for the fancy ski resort Cortine d'Ampezzo because princess Dala is resting there together with her jewel the Pink Panther. Charles organizes the kidnapping of Dala's dog only to "save" him and end up as a hero, thus starting his plan to try to seduce the princess. But Simone, Clouseau's wife, is also in love with Charles and helps him whenever she can. At the same time George, Charles nephew, shows up, also in order to steal the jewel. Clouseau arrests Charles but his wife places the stolen jewel into his pocket - making the police confuse Clouseau for the Phantom and arrest him.

Nonchalant comedy "The Pink Panther" is one of the greatest successes in the career of director Blake Edwards, establishing it's tone already in the twisted animated opening sequence where the Pink Panther is doing all kind of crazy stuff on the screen (later on he would get his own cartoon show) equipped with memorable score from Henry Mancini that was nominated for an Oscar. Stoicism and skillfulness are not the main virtues of the (second) main hero inspector Jacques Clouseau (after David Niven's character Charles) - he is so clumsy that he trips over furniture, knocks himself in the dark, stucks his hand in a cup, embroils himself in a giant blanket when he tries to throw it over himself on the bed...Peter Sellers is very good in his legendary role for which he was nominated for a BAFTA and a Golden Globe, but because of the film's banal and sometimes forced tone towards squeezing the humor out of his clumsiness, the authors don't seem particularly inventive and fail to reach that Parthenon of Billy-Wilderian intelligent comedy. One of the rare moments when they actually do is the sequence at the costume party where two police officers are disguised in a costume of a Zebra in order to secretly guard the jewel, interrupting Clouseau and prompting him to say in anger: "Get back to your post or you'll be degraded to street police!" At times David Niven is actually funnier than Sellers - in one scene he made the princess drunk and said to her: "If you were a real lady, you would have slapped me by now", upon which he closes his eyes in fear she will actually do it and makes an adoring facial expression. The rhythm, mise-en-scene and style are actually pretty good, slightly more ambitious than it seems, but the bizarre end is rather mean-spirited and out of place. "The Pink Panther" isn't that funny as some say it is, but it's still a truly well made comedy.

Grade:++

Ace Ventura: Pet Detective


Ace Ventura: Pet Detective; Comedy, USA, 1994; D: Tom Shadyac, S: Jim Carrey, Courteney Cox, Sean Young, Troy Evans, Dan Marino, Udo Kier

Ace Ventura is a sleazy pet detective specialized in tracking down lost animals. His newest case is to find Snowflake, a dolphin and a mascot of the football team Miami Dolphins, that was abducted by someone. As he gets close with Miami Dolphins assistant Melissa, Ace finds a clue - a tiny jewel that fell from someones ring. It turns out Lt. Louis Einhorn is behind the kidnapping - namely, before her surgery, she was a man, Ray Finkle, who played for the Dolphins but was replaced by someone else. Ace stops her and saves the dolphin.

Tom Shadyac's directorial film debut "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective" is a simple and wacky comedy that some regard as a riot just because it's non-stop over-the-top, while others denounce it as a dated and annoying feature. Still, the movie became a hit and was Jim Carrey's breakthrough role, after 11 years of unnoticed career. Unfortunately, Jim Carrey established his comic performance based on two problematic elements: grimaces and over-the-top/overkill interaction: indeed, some of his humor is hilarious, like in the scene where he is in the police precinct and laughs while almost not moving his lips at all, but since he acts like a caricature all the time the thing soon becomes old and irritating. If he played his role seriously for at least 50 % of the time, the other half of his over-the-top performance would have some kind of sense, but this way it seems he is acting like a little dumb kid - who could say that Carrey's grimaces have something more profound than lets say the grimaces of Jim Varney or Pauly Shore? The plot is thin, author's style almost non-existent, the tone childish (in one scene Ace catches a bullet shot at him with his mouth - a joke that was already used a 1.00 times) but at least some of the gags are good: in one of them, Ace is about to investigate the pool and says to Melissa and the coach: "If I'm not back in 5 minutes...just wait longer". Here and there a few genuine sympathies show up, but Carrey's performance is at times so embarrassing, it's hard to sit through the whole film.

Grade:+

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Moon 44


Moon 44; Science-Fiction, Germany, 1990; D: Roland Emmerich, S: Michael Paré, Dean Devlin, Brian Thompson, Malcolm McDowell, Lisa Eichhorn

In year 2038 all of Earth's resources have been drained. In order to get new resources, multicorporations are fighting each other with force to take over planets to exploit them. Infernal affairs agent Stone gets the assignment to go to Moon 44, the only remaining satelitte of the corporation, disguised as a convict to train a defence force and investigate why shuttles with resources keep disappearing in outer space. Stone makes friends with the teenage naviagtor Tyler and finds out Major Lee is sceretly handing shuttles over to the rival company Pyrates. He leads the battle and wins, returning to Earth to criticize the greed of the corporation.

Roland Emmerich's independent low budget cult Sci-Fi "Moon 44" is a charming little film that has that glimmering enthusiasm of a young director, but at the same time it looks rather clumsy and amateurish. With a limited budget and endless imagination, Emmerich created very solid special effects - even though it's obvious the spaceships are just little toy models - and futuristic set design where absolutely every scene plays out in the background of metal control rooms or the landscapes of the strange satellite Moon 44 comprised just out of dark cannyons and fog, even adding a slightly satirical subtext in the story that's ridiculing Capitalism, obvious in the sequences where mulitcorporations are engaging in real wars to steal planets from each other and savings since they send convicts to fly the defence aircraft instead of real (and expensive) pilots. "Moon 44" is very good in the first third, combining naive imagination with some realistic moments (a drill seargent is inspecting the new recruits and yelling at the cynical hero Stone who replies to him: "I think you confused me with someone who takes you seriously"), but as the story progresses and the unusual world becomes routine it slowly looses it's initial spark and becomes a run-of-the-mill action/prisoner flick with avarage elements and clumsy execution that don't manage to stimulate the viewer into enjoying it on some deeper levels.

Grade:++

Deal of the Century


Deal of the Century; Satire, USA, 1983; D: William Friedkin, S: Chevy Chase, Sigourney Weaver, Gregory Hines, Vince Edwards

The military regime of some Latin America country intends to buy nuclear weapons and start a bloody war: "Even up to 3 % of population would survive!", they say. Sleazy American arms dealer Eddie Muntz has been heavily wounded in his leg when complications occurred during his latest weapons sale, but when he accidentally gets the opportunity to make his biggest deal he doesn't hesitate for a second: one of his colleagues commits suicide so he steals his plans to sell a deadly weapon to the dictator. Although he has bad conscious since it's Christmas, Eddie still goes on with the deal, but his religious partner Ray manages to stop it.

This could have been an intelligent and imaginative satire not only about arms deals but also about the primitive suicidal tendency of people in charge of countries to strive to destroy each other, especially since the direction was taken over by then inspired William Friedkin, but in the end "Deal of the Century" turned out to be a weak, overstretched and stiff achievement that offered the above mentioned thought provoking elements only is small crumbs. Except for becoming a box office flop, this unfunny movie didn't exploit it's sharp ideas to the end and the impression towards it is rather distorted: except for comical moments, dramatic ones were also added in the story (the whole subplot where Chevy Chase's character gets wounded in the leg and spends practically 90 % of the film limping), as well as pessimism and anxiety, combined with a forced moral in the end (the story plays out during Christmas), while the characters were left as one dimensional puppets: we don't hate them, but we don't love them either. Sigourney Weaver on the other hand is good, while the take of the events is rather interesting, making this sufficient film in a very abstract way as a mad satire even slightly successful.

Grade:+

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Dressed to Kill


Dressed to Kill; Thriller, USA, 1980; D: Brian De Palma, S: Nancy Allen, Michael Caine, Angie Dickinson, Keith Gordon, Dennis Franz

Kate is taking a shower while a man is touching her from behind - but it's just one of her fantasies since she is a middle aged woman bored by her marriage. Because of that frustration she often visits psychiatrist Dr. Elliott. In a museum, Kate meets a stranger and spends a passionate night with him, but when entering a elevator, she gets killed by a blond woman with a razor. Prostitute Liz saw the murder and contacted the police. The blond follows Liz in the subway, but she gets rescued by Peter, Kate's teenage son. They suspect the blond was Elliott's patient. But when Liz enters the office, she discovers the blond is actually Elliott himself, since he has a split personality. After Elliott gets arrested, Liz has nightmares about him.

Brian De Palma's controversial thriller "Dressed to Kill" is hailed by some and denounced by others. The main heroine which dies 40 minutes into the film, a murderer with a split personality, sudden plot twists, a (false) attack during the shower - these are all not accidental parallels with Hitchcock's "Psycho" since it's De Palma's stylish homage to the master of suspense. The plot itself is rather shaky, clumsy and campy in the second half, sometimes even unintentionally funny, but De Palma still directs it virtuoso at times, creating a refined structure and a great visual style when the film is revolving around long tracking shots of the camera - especially great is the editing of the scene where Peter uses a series of homemade time-lapse cameras attached to his bike to track patients from Elliott's office and De Palma's trademark spilt screen sequence where Liz and Dr. Elliott (Michael Caine, genius as usual) are at two different places but watching the same show on TV. The elements that turned out flawed are thin characters: the only truly well described character is the teenage inventor Peter, Dr. Elliott is good, while Liz and Kate are left rather underused. The other problematic thing is the director's bizarre obsession with an erotic tone in the story - the opening shot of Kate's fantasy where she is imagining herself in a shower getting "touched" by a man from behind seems rather like some sort of a soft porn. But non-the-less, "Dressed to Kill" is a multi layered, refreshing and original thriller that many jealous directors would have loved to have made themselves.

Grade:++

Friday, July 27, 2007

Unforgiven


Unforgiven; western, USA, 1992; D: Clint Eastwood, S: Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman, Gene Hackman, Jaimz Woolvett, Richard Harris, Frances Fisher

Wyoming, 1880. William Munny was once a criminal and masterful shooter, but now he is father of two kids, having a bad conscious about his past. His wife, who tought him to be moral, died years ago. In order to win a 1,000 $ reward, set for the heads of two aggressive men who mutilated the face of a prostitute for laughing at one of his small genitals, Munny rides together with his friends Ned and Schofield Kid to finish the job at the town Big Whiskey. But the two men are friends of the corrupt sheriff Bill, who catches and kills Ned. That makes Munny furious and he kills Bill and all of his friends in a saloon.

In some his macho roles in various action flicks, Clint Eastwood is almost as irritating as S. Segal, but with the shining anti-western "Unforgiven" he truly affirmed himself an ambitious author. That brilliant film, that won several awards, constantly surprises because it is breaking all those old cliches of the western genre, reminding even a little bit of Altman's "McCabe and Mrs. Miller"; among the unusual characters is the main hero, old William Munny, who was once a shooter and a criminal, but is now "retired", a reformed, widowed family man plagued by bad conscience about his wrong choices in past, and who now wants to avoid violence. One of the unusual scenes is the one where Ned asks Munny if he occasionally pays for prostitutes, upon which he replies that he doesn't because it's immoral. That prompts Ned to ask him again: "So...you're doing it with the hand?" Even other situations are untypical, from the fact that Munny became sick from a fever up to the scene where one cowboy asks his colleague: "Does a wound sting less during hot or cold weather?" Although unsentimental and at first slightly strange, this "late western" is at times pure poetry, subtly criticizing violence in portraying the old west as a primitive, depressed place where killing is a dirty job and nothing is idealised, where a lot of credit should be given to the amazing, refreshingly realistic and touching screenplay by the underrated David Webb Peoples. An astringent, realistic film, one of Eastwood's finest examples of a mature achievement, with a meticulous cast that helps it, among other the always excellent and competent performances by Morgan Freeman and Gene Hackman.

Grade:+++

The American Friend


Der Amerikanische Freund; Thriller-drama, Germany/ USA, 1977; D: Wim Wenders, S: Bruno Ganz, Dennis Hopper, Lisa Kreuzer, Gerard Blain, Nicholas Ray, Samuel Fuller, Jean Eustache

Jonathan Zimmerman, a picture framer in Hamburg, husband of Marianne and father of a little boy, is suffering from leukemia. During an auction, he meets Tom Ripley, an American art forger. After Jonathan gets letters that his doctor is hiding his real serious state, he accepts a check-out in Paris from Minot, where it turns out he doesn't have much longer to live. In order to leave some money for his family, Jonathan accept Minot's offer to kill a man for 250.000 DEM. But he pays him only half the amount and he is forced to kill another man in a train with the help of Tom. When Minot discovers this, he arranges numerous killers to wipe out Tom , but Jonathan helps him eliminate them. Tom sets the car of the killers on fire, while Jonathan and Marianne leave him and run away in the car, where he dies.

Excellent thriller-drama "The American Friend", a loose adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's crime novel "Ripley's Game", is one of the most unusual films from minimalistic director Wim Wenders, but also one of his best ones, a much more interesting achievement than many of his boring dramas. The bizarre "friendship" between the American Tom Ripley (brilliant Dennis Hopper) and the German Jonathan is maybe a rich allegory about the impact of American culture on Germany, but mostly it displays a corruptible side of people showing how there's no one the hero can trust - once he accepts the "Faustian" offer he will sink deeper and deeper into criminal milieu, where instead of killing only one person he ends up inevitably killing a bunch of them - while the roles of gangsters played by directors like Fuller and Ray only give the story a surreal meta film touch.

The film is full of great little details: in one scene, Jonathan finished the picture frame of an old lady in his shop. She gives him 60 DEM, but he says: "No, no, it's 20 DEM more expensive than that. It's 80 DEM.", but the old lady pretends she is half deaf, puts the picture in her purse and says: "Yes, yes, it will fit in my bag". Jonathan repeats his bill several times but the old lady "dodges" him every time pretending she doesn't understand him - until he finally says: "God, you're clever!" In another scene, he exits the elevator and enters his hotel room, but just as he is about to press the button to turn the TV on, he gets "shocked" by an electric charge. But the highlight is the long sequence where Jonathan follows a man through the Paris subway in order to assassinate him - unlike loud Hollywood crime films, this one executed the whole sequence completely quiet and tranquil, until the viewer gets nervous from such "peacefulness", knowing the horrible murder is about to happen.

Grade:+++

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Fisher King


The Fisher King; Tragicomedy, USA, 1991; D: Terry Gilliam, S: Jeff Bridges, Robin Williams, Mercedes Ruehl, Amanda Plummer, Michael Jeter, David Hyde Pierce, Tom Waits

New York. Jack Lucas is a cynical talk radio host up until the day when one of his comments inspire Edwin, a psychotic caller, to kill seven people at a bar. 2 years later, Jack is in depression and a shaky relationship with video owner Anne. One night, as he was attacked by two delinquents, he was saved by the homeless man Parry who is in search for the Holy Grail (in reality a cup) in the mansion of a rich man. When Jack discovers Parry's girlfriend was killed by Edwin, his consciousness inspires him to help: Jack arranges Parry a date with the woman he fell in love with, Lydia, which ends up fine. But then Parry is beaten to coma by the two delinquents. Jack steals the cup from the mansion and Parry mysteriously awakens from the coma.

"The Fisher King" looks like Terry Gilliam's more serious take on the symbolic search for the Holy Grail, as opposed to his absurd comedy "Monty Python and the Holy Grail". In this case, the Grail is the symbol for happiness and redemption, and the touching story about two outsiders - Jack, spiritually poor but materially rich, and Parry, materially poor but spiritually rich - is enriched with humor thanks to the sharp screenplay from Richard LaGravenese, but Gilliam ocne again fell into mannerism with his eccentric direction, "Felliniesque" style and spot-like montage. Even though filled with nice details and humor (Jack is watching a lame sitcom and says: "This is not funny", upon which Anne asks him: "Then why are we watching this?", making him reply with: "I want to see just how unfunny it is!"; Jack's sleeve gets stuck on a door knob and ripped apart), the first half is especially hard to sit through due to the already mentioned pretentiousness and whimsical tone, but is bearable thanks to the very good Jeff Bridges and the good Robin Williams, who, despite all of his maniacal outbursts, seems fitting in the unusual role for which he won a Golden Globe as best actor in a musical or comedy. Luckily, the second part of the film is much better crafted and much more "normal", resulting in the incredibly charming subplot where Jack and Anne are trying to match the shy Parry with the equally shy and clumsy woman of his dreams, Lydia (brilliant performance by Amanda Plummer, even better than Mercedes Ruehl who an Oscar and Golden Globe as best supporting actress); their cute humorous interactions and romantic clumsiness simply has to be seen. "The Fisher King" isn't particularly relevant or famous today, but it's a good and ambitious semi-king among the bizarre humorous dramas.

Grade:++

Transformers


Transformers; Science-Fiction, USA, 2007; D: Michael Bay, S: Shia LeBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, Rachael Taylor, Jon Voight, John Turturro

Sam Witwicky is a young lad who buys his first car, a Chevrolet Camaro, and drives an attractive girl, Mikaela, to her home. But it turns out his car is a Transformer called Bumblebee, one of the good Autobots led by Optimus Prime who are in search for the mysterious Cube Allspark that can renew their world, as opposed to the evil Decepticons led by Megatron who want it to rule the Universe. The government agents bring Sam and Mikaela to the Hoover dam, where a frozen Megtron and the Cube were placed there a long time ago. Megatron escapes an attacks New York, but the Autobots are able to destroy him and stay on Earth.

"Transformers", the live action movie adaptation of the famous 80s cartoon, is a solid Sci-Fi action film that will probably please hard core fans, but not ambitious audience. The plot itself is nonsense - Transformers are searching for glasses of some Captain Witwicky because they were imprinted with the coordinates of the location of the Cube by Megatrons navigational system? How? By which method? - and suffers from illogical situations (it seems a 6 foot tall guy can run faster than a 60 foot tall robot; when Air Force One plane lands on the airport the evil mini-Transformer Frenzy laughably simple exits from it and passes by numerous agents without getting noticed) and dumb moments (Mikaela and Sam are slightly scared because they are driving in the Transformers car Camaro so she doesn't want to sit at the drivers seat. Sam then proposes: "Why don't you sit on my lap?" And she does - obviously irrelevant to the fact that it doesn't matter on which seat she is sitting since she is in the car herself!), but the biggest problem is that it doesn't manage to capture the nostalgia of the cartoon. Still, there are some virtues present. One of them is the charming human hero Sam Witwicky, played amusingly by Shia LeBeouf who manages to capture the confusing state of youngsters. In one of the best scenes, he spots the girl of his dreams, Mikaela, walking to her home, while his (Transformers) car "magically" turns on the song "Drive" with the lyrics "Drive her home", stimulating him give her a ride.

Not all characters seem realistic and alive, but the infamous statement that a viewer "won't care about the fate of characters in danger if they are one dimensional" is false, because no matter how one dimensional a person is, one will always automatically feel empathy for her/him due to human instincts. Non the less, there are too many characters present - although Jon Voight and John Turturro are funny as the secretary of defense and the secret agent, their roles could have been easily disposed off, as well as some 15 other ones. Also, even if the human characters work, the robot characters don't - sadly, the Transformers have been turned into supporting characters and some of them speak only barely 2 lines during the whole film. Not even Optimus Prime managed to turn out something more than a stiff, pale puppet. Michael Bay is an OK director, but pompous beyond belief, always coaxing the wider audience, although he has a fresh dose of irony here: in one scene few Transformers crashed from the sky and some kids are curiously rushing towards them, one of them saying: "This is going to be 100 times better than "Armageddon", I swear!" It's nice that Bay can joke on his own account, but it doesn't help that he just continues with his mannerism - primitivism and shots that don't last longer than 2 seconds are annoying. The final battle is spectacular, but ironically also boring at the same time due to frenetic rhythm where it's hard to figure out who is fighting who: action sequences from "The Blues Brothers", "T2" and "Hard Boiled" were choreographed much better. "Transformers" are just like fast food: sweet and tasty, but you can't help to think there is something better out there.

Grade:+

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Ninja Scroll


Jubei ninpucho; Animated fantasy action thriller, Japan, 1993; D: Yoshiaki Kawajiri, S: Koichi Yamadera, Emi Shinohara, Takeshi Aono, Daisuke Gori

Medieval Japan. A team of Ninjas is sent to investigate a plague in Shimoda village, but they get killed by a monstrous stone-man Tessai, one of the "8 Devils of Kimon", except for the girl Kagero. Just as he is about to rape her in a cabin, he is stopped by the invincble swordsman Jubei. Dakuan, an old monk, poisons Jubei and promises to give him the antidote if he helps him stop the "8 Devils"and their evil boss Gemma from transporting tons of gold onto a ship that would help finance a dark organization that would topple the government. Jubei agrees and is joined by Kagero. Kagero gets killed, but Jubei sinks the ship and kills Gemma, swimming back to shore.

Dark medieval anime "Ninja Scroll" is, just like most adult animes, not intended for children due to it's uncompromisingly mature story filled with splatter violence and sporadic erotic tone, something that most American animators back in those days wouldn't have even been able to imagine. The director and screenwriter Yoshiaki Kawajiri directly displays that violence and Ninjas are never romantic but always depressing, bleak and horrifying, not hesitating to line one dark sequence after another (the stone-man Tessai tears up the hands from a good Ninja and drinks his blood, then proceeding to capture the female Ninja Kagero and licking her breasts and legs in a cabin, but just as he is about to rape her she is saved by the invincible Jubei), but basically it's a positive, good old basic story about good vs. evil, equipped with a invincible hero Jubei that is cynical on the outside but good kinded on the inside. Already from the exposition where Jubei is attacked by two assassins on the bridge, but simply throws his rice cake in the air, eliminates them and catches his cake just in time to continue his journey, does the movie establish it's unusual charm in the manner of Leone's films. Some of the "8 Devils from Kimon" are truly way over-the-top, like the one who uses hornets coming out of his back (!) to attack the three heroes, and Kawajiri doesn't always hit the right note or show a equal sense for directing quiet dramatic moments as well as the loud ones, but fluent structure, sharp style, inspired adventure mood and a great finale where the weaker Jubei manages to beat the invincible bad guy Gemma on the ship (it would be a shame to spoil it - sufficient to say gold is involved) manage to elevate the film to a good achievement, not a cheap trash.

Grade:++

Please Save My Earth


Boku no chikyu on mamotte; Animated Science-Fiction drama series, Japan, 1993; D: Kazuo Yamazaki, S: Yuri Shiratori, Ai Orikasa, Ryotaro Okaiyu, Emi Shinohara, Kappei Yamaguchi

Tokyo. Alice is a shy teenage girl that gets the assignment to babysit Rin, a 8-year old boy from the neighborhood. But they have an argument and Rin falls from the balcony, ending in hospital. At the same time, Alice gets strange visions of her past life, where she was a woman called Mokuden, a scientist of an alien race, together with 6 more staff members monitoring Earth from an Moon base. Alice discovers her classmates Issei and Jinpachi have similar memories, concluding they are reincarnations of scientists Enju and Gyokuran. Even Rin remembers his past life as evil Shion, but introduces himself falsely as Shukaido and gets telekinetic powers. Namely, he wants to take revenge on Haru, the real reincarnation of Shokaido, because he was in love with Mokuden: Shion was vaccinated against a virus and was the only survivor of the base, living 8 years alone after everyone else died. In the end, he makes up with Alice and Haru.

Anime "Please Save My Earth" truly defines the term "unbalanced" in full sense of the word. Namely, that anime series has a genius concept, subtle exposition, crystal clear animation and skillful style, but it fell into mistakes and flaws that it shouldn't have even gotten in to. Simply put, by handling the themes of reincarnation, aliens, telekinesis, psychic powers, unknown moon base, lost love and a girl that can talk with plants and animals, the story crammed too many strong issues and got a immature mongrel where none of them was elaborated enough in the (too) short 6 episodes of the series. Actually, it would seem as if someone would try to cram "Star Wars", "Back to the Future", "Jurassic Park", "Alien", "Psycho" and "Love Story" into one film. At the same time there are enough interesting situations present, like the one where the young lad Jinpachi gets a surprise kiss from his friend Issei, who is the reincarnation of the woman scientist Enju, or the frightening subplot where everyone died on the moon base from a virus except for Shion who was vaccinated and stayed there living alone for 8 years, until he finally died and got reincarnated. Also, the English title doesn't have any connection with the story at all. If one would just look at the potentials, "Please Save My Earth" would be one of the masterworks of anime culture, but the final result didn't exploit all it's possibilities in the rushed realisation.

Grade:++

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Beetlejuice


Beetlejuice; horror comedy, USA, 1988; D: Tim Burton, S: Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis, Michael Keaton, Winona Ryder, Jeffrey Jones, Catherine O'Hara, Glenn Shadix, Robert Goulet, Sylvia Sidney

Barbara and Adam are a happily married couple in a little town in Connecticut. After they die in a car accident, they are returned to their home as ghosts, not able to get out, while their only clue is the handbook for recently deceased. After the snobbish family Deetz moves into their house, Adam and Barbara decide to scare them out with the help of a bizarre ghost called Beetljuice. Still, the ghost couple makes friends with Lydia, the Deetz daughter. After the Deetz decide to summon the ghosts, all hell breaks loose and Beetlejuice gets freed. Still, Barbara and Adam are able to ban him and make friends with the Deetz.

Cult horror comedy "Beetlejuice" is quite frankly one of the most bizarre and daring Hollywood films from the 80s, a wild mix between Fellini, Buñuel, Kafka and Tex Avery cartoon style where authors didn't care if they make the viewers mad so long as they have fun and do whatever they want to with their imagination. In this case, it is a surreal "haunted house" tale while Tim Burton's eccentric direction creates all kind of unbelievable scenes with the help of surreal claymation special effects: Adam as a ghost wants to leave the house, but the moment he does he is transported to a different dimension, a desert planet with two moons equipped with giant sand worms that are reminiscent of Lynch's "Dune". Adam and Barbara want to scare off the Deetz family out of their house, so they model and change their heads to look like a giant chicken and a grotesque jaw.

Michael Keaton as the deranged Beetlejuice is great, especially in the scary sequence where he transforms into a giant snake and appears from the stairway to attack the Deetz family, but Glenn Shadix simply steals the show as the hilarious Otho. That said, the movie is not particularly funny, many things seem senseless or stupid (the confusing ending) and not anyone can handle the bizarre tone and make it work, especially when Burton aggressively tries to impose it on the viewers: for all of it's incredibly imaginative scenes, the story seems more to be expanding the boundaries of quantity and larpurlartism than quality and substance. "Beetlejuice" is a sight to behold, but it's not for everyone's taste and it seems it would have been better if it followed the concept of the "Beetlejuice" cartoon where the title hero and the charming Lydia were friends, instead of enemies.

Grade:++

Logan's Run


Logan's Run; Science-Fiction, USA, 1976; D: Michael Anderson, S: Michael York, Jenny Agutter, Richard Jordan, Farrah Fawcett, Peter Ustinov

The year is 2274. Because of overpopulation and pollution, mankind is living in a domed city, never leaving for outside. But the law states that every person must die at the age of 30 or seek to be reborn at the mysterious Carousel, which is actually just a elimination machine. Logan 5 is one of the "Sandmen", police officers who kill everyone trying to escape or live after 30. One day Logan gets a special assignment to find and destroy the sanctuary of the "Runners" - in order to do that, the computer makes his life clock on his hand blink, although he still has 4 more years to live. For the first time, Logan questions the system and becomes a "Runner" himself. Together with Jessica, he enters a frozen cave and manages to escape outside. The two of them wonder around a devastated Washington and find a old man. They return to the city, destroy the computer and announce everyone that they can live after 30.

Cult Sci-Fi thriller "Logan's Run" is a good film with a brilliantly chilling premise - because of overpopulation and pollution in the future, every person must die at the age of 30. It somehow seems as if the whole story works on two levels: firstly, it's a very cynical commentary at the generation conflict, where children and youngsters really don't have any kind of respect towards elderly. One can even say it shows how the world would look like if silly kids would rule. Secondly, the concept is a clever, deeply subversive critique of people who always follow the rules, traditions and laws no matter how dumb they are. The tradition that everyone has to die at the age of 30 doesn't have any sense, mirroring the shallowness of conformism and the tendency of people to follow them just because everyone else does, and sometimes even we are doing that and are not aware of it.

Considering the kitschy set design and special effects, the film is slightly dated, probably because of a limited budget, while some motivations and actions of the characters are not entirely clear. For instance, it is said life can be "renewed" at the Carousel - but how? By which method? It is clearly seen all those people levitating there have been burned in flames. There's a great scene where Logan and Jessica exit the city and see the Sun for the first time in their lives, naively asking: "What is that?" Then they go traveling through a destroyed, empty Washington with monuments covered by jungle and swamps. But if the world outside is not polluted but all right, why would people be hiding in domed cities? Maybe because of the backward government that refuses to accept the truth and simply goes on pretending everything is the way they assume. There are even satirical situations present, like the one where Logan "teleports" Jessica into his home and asks her to go to his bed to have intercourse. "Logan's Run" contains a few fascinating philosophical questions, and it's a pity it didn't go deeper into the subject since it turned into an average action/chase film in the second half, up until the naive ending.

Grade:++

Monday, July 23, 2007

Celestial Body


Nebo, sateliti; Drama/ Fantasy, Croatia, 2001; D: Lukas Nola, S: Filip Nola, Barbara Nola, Filip Šovagović, Rene Bitorajac, Ivo Gregurević, Lucija Šerbedžija, Leona Paraminski, Zrinka Cvitešić

A mysterious blond man gets the name Jakov Ribar in order to get exchanged with other prisoners and released to freedom during the war in Croatia. Jakov is walking on water and through a mine field, arriving at a house where some guy called Johnny lives. The next day he meets his friends, the soldiers, who die in a battle. Jakov continues his journey and arrives at a hospital where some woman falls in love with him. But he leaves, claiming not to know who he is. He joins some two pilots in their plane, but when it crashes all die except for him. Jakov continues his journey and spots a lot of dead in the war, which makes him sad. In the end he steps into the sea and looks at the sunset.

Mythical and unusual art-drama "Celestial Body" is a minimalistic film without a story that won 4 "Golden arenas" at the Pula film festival, while some have even called it "the best Croatian film of the decade", but that's a gross exaggeration for a film that takes strange directions that slowly but surely crystallize mild disappointment. The most fascinating aspect is the mysterious main protagonist, a nameless man with childlike innocence: could he be a symbol for a intellectual or a visionary in a society of fools and chaos, which is interesting, or even an angel from above that is slowly traveling through war hit areas and sadly watching the foolishness of people? In the end he even steps into the sea and looks at the sunset - the end of the world? Still, for all of that observations, many come from a suggestive tone and just from the pigment of the viewers imagination, while the hero is a one dimensional character and Filip Nola is miscast in the leading role. When the supporting actors are leading the storyline more than the main protagonist himself, then that's a bad sign. Emotions are rather underplayed causing in a cold mood, many scenes seem uneven and the fantasy side is weak (the only miracles the hero does are walking on water and healing the paranoid people). The second aspect is the esoteric style: there are two kinds of metaphysical stories - ones are empty, the other ones are rich and multi layered. The film tried to combine them both, but ended seeming more like the first than the second, though the demanding viewers might rather enjoy this meditaton about war and life. If anything, "Celestial Body" shows that it's really hard to make a deep film about an autistic, mysterious hero that stirs up a shallow society, like in the much superior classic "Being There".

Grade:++

City of Women


La città delle donne; grotesque, Italy/ France, 1980; D: Federico Fellini, S: Marcello Mastroianni, Anna Prucnal, Bernice Stegers, Ettore Manni, Donatella Damiani

Snaporaz is traveling in a empty train. He is a typical macho man who is constantly in search for women. When one attractive woman exits the train and heads towards a nearby forest, Snaporaz follows her and comes to a hotel called Mira Mare. The place is filled with feminist women that hate men and scream: "Cellulite was invented by a man!" In order to save himself from the angry mob, he enters a elevator. A woman puts roller skates on his feet while some old lady drags him into the nature with her motorcycle. There he is persecuted by lesbians until he is saved by a man, Santini, the owner of a mansion that is celebrating the 10,000th intercourse with women. Snaporaz finds his wife Elena and a secret passage under his bed that leads him to a arena. There he jumps on a giant balloon in shape of a woman. He wakes up in train, realizing it was just a dream.

"City of Women" is, unfortunately, just another nicely directed nonsense that gets us served from the talented Federico Fellini when he is in some kind of "phase" where he drops any kind of logic and serves a surreal achievement, a typical director's ego trip that will annoy many and enchant few. Still, he is slightly more inspired then in some of his other weak films. The exposition seems like a parable that will teach the main protagonist, womanizing macho man Snaporaz, a lesson: namely, he enters a extremely radical feminist club in the middle of a forest, filled with angry women that shout: "Castration! Masturbation!" The club offers a caricature play where an actress is playing a housewife cooking, cleaning and feeding children until the point of exhaustion, only to get "taken" from behind by a lazy husband dressed as Frankenstein (!), while the screening room is showing a movie about a woman with 6 men/ lovers. The whole film is a giant, surreal dream where anything goes, but banal symbols about too high expectations of women and men from each other, grotesquely exaggerated feminism, irritating loose tone, wacky characters and a bunch of stupid episodes (slides, arena...) numb the "story" as a whole.

Grade:+

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Amarcord


Amarcord; Drama/ Comedy, Italy/ France, 1973; D: Federico Fellini, S: Bruno Zenin, Puppella Maggio, Armanda Brancia, Magali Noël, Josiane Tanzilli, Ciccio Ingrassia, Maria Antonietta Beluzzi

Rimini, 1930s. Numerous episodes from lives of people from spring to winter. Petals from flowers are flying in the air while a mass of people attending a ceremony of a burning of a puppet that symbolizes a witch. Teenager Titta is often making nonsense with his colleagues in school, enjoying sneaking out to attend the local cinema. His dad gets a warning from the Fascists, his grandpa gets lost in the fog in his own yard. His friend is dreaming that a giant picture of Mussolini is marrying him with a girl, a mass of people observes a giant ship at the sea at midnight. It all ends with a wedding.

Eccentric humorous drama "Amarcord" with a lot of autobiographical elements intervened together from Federico Fellini's own life was nominated for a Golden Globe for best foreign language film, while it won the Oscar in the same category - Fellini's forth and last film that won that award in that category. "Amarcord" is arguably Fellini's last great film, a slightly cold, but realistic achievement with bizarre and grotesque characters that would later on influence a whole bunch of unusual films from the Coen Brothers, Gilliam, Burton, Kusturica and others, with a load of funny situations, like the dialogue between the barber and his customer ("I was the 14th child in my family, so my father gave me the name Definitivo." - "Too bad he didn't stop earlier. He would have had a fool less."). Fellini is rather skillful - masturbation, farting, obsession with giant breasts (the legendary/ infamous sequence in a store where a overweight saleslady in her mid 40s exposes her giant breasts to the confused teenager Titta and almost suffocates him with it) and dumb pranks (in school naughty students make a long pipe out of a map and use it to reach the professor and piss near her) seem like a vulgar comedy, and in some other director's hand it would have ended like that, but Fellini still manages to make surreal poetry out of them, creating a drama that refuses to idealise the imperfect people and avoids pretentiousness. Evenly mixing grotesque and emotions, this nostalgic movie was rightfully hailed by the critics and shared all of the authors memories about his childhood with the audience.

Grade:+++

Roma


Fellini Roma; drama, Italy / France, 1972; D: Federico Fellini, S: Peter Gonzales Falcon, Fiona Florence, Britta Barnes, Pia De Doses, Anna Magnani, Marcello Mastroianni

Back in his youth, Federico Fellini was a mischievous boy and a student of a professor who liked Rome and Mussolini. His parents liked plays and movies about Italy. As a young man, Fellini finally moved to Rome, listening to such monologues in restaurants like: "The way you eat is the way you shit". The movie returns to the present, 1972, observing a traffic jam while some gentleman, who is a "real Roman from morning to evening", advises Fellini to film only the good sides of the city. Priests are watching a priest costume revue, motorcycles are driving through dark streets.

W. Allen's favorite city in almost all of his movies is New York, while for Federico Fellini that's Rome. That's why it is logical that he made an official portrait of the city with his surreal semi-autobiographical drama with humorous moments that was nominated for a Golden Globe for best foreign language film. "Rome" is a bizarre synthesis of biography and imaginary grotesque - in the opening titles it states: "Rome - a ultra film", while the narrator says: "You're watching a film without a story or a plot". Truly, because the exposition at first loosely follows the childhood of the director Fellini before World War II (as a kid, he would lean his face towards the glass and make grimaces), then as a young man. But to make the matters seem even more bizarre, after half an hour the plot returns to the present (1972) while a grown up Fellini introduces his crew that is making a film, traveling with their camera through the streets where a car accident happened, while some policemen are covering up the corpses of cows. This cult omnibus as a whole doesn't shine in all it's glory because a lot of little vignettes seem senseless or boring, but Fellini at least managed to avoid his pretentiousness typical for his second surreal movie making phase, while the sequence in the theater is simply hilarious. In it, the audience is becoming more and more impatient because a striptease show was followed by a "break" with "amusing" comedians that are unfunny, so one man in the audience is making farting sounds with his hand, the other one throws a dead cat on the stage while the third one comes on the stage and lights a cigarette from the candle of singing actors, who keep on doing their act despite their confusement.

Grade:++

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Jaws 3-D


Jaws 3-D; Horror, USA, 1983; D: Joe Alves, S: Dennis Quaid, Bess Armstrong, Simon MacCorkindale, Louis Gossett Jr., Lea Thompson

A white shark got lost in a lagoon in Sea World. Mike Brody, the son of Martin Brody, works there and has a relationship with biologist Katherine, while Calvin is the founder of the park and his boss. When the dolphins start acting scared and a technician gets killed, the crew discover the shark and keep him there captured to make a film about him. But the shark is just a little baby, while it's giant mother is the real danger. The giant shark causes a flooding of the underwater tunnels and smashes into the control room, but Mike is able to kill it with a hand grenade.
The second sequel, "Jaws 3-D", is another step backwards in the long series of follow up films to the original. Except for the forgotten and tedious 3-D promotion and design of the film, which is hardly noticeable at all, the thin story turned out more campy than it was advisable and naively displaced the setting out of Amity and main hero Martin Brody to Sea World (what a bad promotion for the park) and his son Mike Brody (played nervously by Dennis Quaid), but without much effect since the film is truly weak, even barely watchable. There is this subconscious human fascination with giant monsters, in this case a white shark, that keeps all this sequels going, making them at least seem like a "guilty pleasure" since some are eager to feel the adrenaline rush and can't resist not to watch what is going to happen next, but the original film incorporated that into it's structure and still remained skillful and clever. The horror sequences are awful and reach for cheap splatter violence (in one particularly disgusting scene, a diver is inside the mouth of the shark, getting swallowed alive), unintentionally funny moments (the crew in Sea World close the door of the a lagoon and the shark bumps into it like in a cartoon), boring moments and a disastrous finale. Still, for all of it's flaws, the dramatic-romantic scene where Mike and Katherine are hugging at the beach at night and talking about their future, actually seems good and maybe something more could have been made out of it if it wasn't in this film.

Grade:+

Jaws 2


Jaws 2; Disaster film/ Horror, USA, 1978; D: Jeannot Szwarc, S: Roy Scheider, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton, Joseph Mascolo, Jeffrey Kramer

After he eliminated the giant white shark, Martin Brody, Police Chief of the sea resort Amity, is trying to relax and forget the events. His wife considers him a hero and they go to visit a show. But then a body of a bitten Orca is found on the beach, as well as the corpses of some divers. Obviously, a new white shark appeared, but the mayor is once again refusing to close the beach. Brody's sons went to sea with their friends, but get attacked by the shark. Martin rescues them by forcing the shark to bite a electric cable.

The sequel of the excellent horror "Jaws" isn't that good as some claim it is, although it's not entirely weak either: the authors managed to make the film look congruous, but in the end it's just a recap of the original, with some situations getting directly recycled from it. Spielberg immediately refused directing "Jaws 2" so he was replaced by Jeannot Szwarc, making the difference and the talent between them obvious: it is never explained where the new giant white shark came from nor the incredible chance that it stumbled exactly at the same place as the previous one, the cheap dramatic moments seem stiff while even the identical critique of greed and mindless profit evident in the mayor who refuses to close the beach for tourists, that was problematic even in the first film, seems even more unrealistic here. Too bad the only real confrontation between the shark and the people occurs only in the finale - dismissing the unintentionally comical sequence where a driver shoots at the shark with a flare gun, but hits his gasoline tank instead, and the boat explodes with him - where the giant fish dies in the last minute in a rather unrealistic manner, but because of the intention of the authors to at least try to seem subtle, solid "Jaws 2" are much better than the following two unnecessary sequels.

Grade:+

Friday, July 20, 2007

Bullitt


Bullitt; Crime drama, USA, 1968; D: Peter Yates, S: Steve McQueen, Robert Vaughn, Jacqueline Bisset, Don Gordon, Robert Duvall

San Francisco. Cynical Lieutenant Frank Bullitt gets a ordinary assignment to guard Johnny Ross, a witness who is about to testify against the mafia, in a hotel as a demand by the politician Chalmers. The same night two men storm in into the hotel and shoot and wound Ross and Inspector Stanton. Bullitt can't figure out how these men knew where Ross was, especially since they even show up in the hospital to finish him off, but he stops them. Ross dies, but Bullitt makes the doctor misplace his chart and pretend he is still alive in some other hospital. With time, Bullitt finds out the dead Ross was actually Albert Renick, who changed identities with him to escape the mafia. Bullitt finds the real Ross at the airport and shoots him after he starts attacking people.

Classic "Bullitt" is sadly a forgotten jewel among juicy crime movies: Peter Yates directs the whole film with a unusual visual style using hand held camera and bizarre camera angles, spreading his rebellious spirit - which protests against safe and standard movie making - to every element of the story. The movie is "invisibly" influential because of two facts: for one, it started the trend of cynical, self-willed Detectives with the main hero Bullitt who does everything his way, sometimes even beyond the law (a subversively comical scene where he orders a doctor to misplace the chart of the dead witness Ross and pretend he is still alive until he tracks down the gangsters who wanted to eliminate him), much before "Dirty Harry" and others. The other one is the famous, 8-minute long car chase sequence between two cars from San Francisco to a highway, filmed entirely without any dialogues: although they were indeed better car chase sequences filmed later on, this one remains a great role model to future films like "The French Connection". Shaky, restless, energetic, resisting to get pinned down under any category of the '60s era, filled with nice little details (in one scene in a restaurant a waiter picks up the menu and accidentally bruises Bullitt's head with it when passing by it; Bullitt shopping for frozen diners) and good dialogues (in one scene Chalmers says to Bullitt: "You know you have to sell your integrity to the public" upon which he replies: "What ever you're selling, don't sell it tonight"), "Bullitt" is a smart film that believes in the intelligence of the viewers, refusing even to explain some parts of the complicated story about the protected witness who changed his identity with someone else, which will probably remain its biggest flaw.

Grade:+++

Satyricon


Fellini Satyricon; grotesque, Italy/ France, 1969; D: Federico Fellini, S: Martin Potter, Hiram Keller, Max Born, Salvo Randone, Magali Noël, Capucine

Ancient Rome during the reign of emperor Nero. Students Encolpius and Ascyltus are fighting over the affection for boy Gitone. Encolpius saves Gitone from slavery of a bizarre theatre and spends the night with him. A earthquake destroys the city...Encolpius is observing a museum and enjoys a feast with the rich Trimalchio who orders his men to execute a poet...Encolpius, Ascyltus and Gitone end up as slaves on a ship to die for Caesar's amusement, but get released when he gets killed by a revolution...Encolpius and Ascyltus steal a hermaphrodite half-god from a temple, but it dies from thirst...Encolpius fights against the Minotaur and gets impotent. He leaves for Africa after Ascyltos dies.

With his loose adaptation of Petronius' novel "Satyricon", Federico Fellini probably strived  to create a parable about chaos and spiritual emptiness of the ancient Rome, but lost himself entirely in the context by filming one of his worst films in which he doesn't have a measure for anything, disappointing everyone except his biggest fans who can even find something amazing in the phantasmagorical chaos and megalomanic frenzy. The original text survives only in fragments, and instead of trying to connect those which survived, Fellini decided to present the material in a series disjointed and dislocated scenes, but his didactic of Rome contains too many horrifying nonsense: in the grotesque theatre one actor farts while the other voluntarily lets the others to cut of his hand. The phantasmagorical tone continues with the scenes where 30 people carry a giant statue of a head, a mass of people bathing nude in nature, a dead whale, rampage, a hermaphrodite half-god who dies..."Satyricon" has an impressive visual style and sense for abstract mise-en-scene, but because of a excessive tendency towards tasteless grotesque, unbearable anxiety and pretentiousness, this episodic plot without a story doesn't have much of a value, becoming larpurlartism. Not even the scene where a humiliated wizard takes revenge on a woman creating fire for the whole village from her genitals is neither amusing nor relevant. Although nominated for a Oscar for best director and a Golden Globe for best foreign language film, "Satyricon" is a weird mess of a film.

Grade:+

Thursday, July 19, 2007


8½; Satire, Italy/ France, 1963; D: Federico Fellini, S: Marcello Mastroianni, Anouk Aimée, Claudia Cardinale, Sandra Milo, Rossella Falk, Barbara Steele

Director Guido dreams that he is trapped in a car, then that he is suddenly flying and falling into the sea. Suddenly he wakes up in the hospital. Mario and his girlfriend Gloria, Guido's friends, ask him when he is going to make his next film, but the famous director doesn't currently have any inspiration. Luisa, Guido's wife, comes with the train to visit him, while he is having an affair with Claudia. Because of the pressure, Guido starts filming scenes completely irrespectively, falling into hallucinations, not knowing what to do with the in advance made set for a Sci-Fi film. At the conference, he finally announces he gives up from filming.

There are two opinions about Federico Fellini's career. For some, all of his films are great and pieces of art. For the other, only his logical, early realistic films were excellent, while those filmed since "8 1/2", made out of surreal-abstract episodes, seem like senseless and void ego trips. Abstract "8 1/2" has a very unusual and clever meta film story since it's actually a film about director's block, a thin but very stylish self analysis of Fellini about himself, where Marcelo Mastroianni's character of director Guido is actually a symbol for Fellini. In a nutshell, the author didn't have a idea for a film, so he made a film about his own events where he doesn't know what to film! Because of that, the whole tone is deliberately pretentious and ironic (in one scene the screenwriter complains to Guido because he suspects the audience won't understand their film made out of symbolic and "crazy" episodes), but the film is slightly overrated since it's overlong for it's 130 minutes of running time while the end is senseless, though many of Guido's hallucinations are brilliant (Guido dreams he is flying over the beach and looking at his own leg tied with a rope to the ground; a priest says to a boy how he should look up to Luigi who didn't even want talk to "disgusting" women). Indeed, a large part of the audience won't understand the film, but it has sufficient satirical autobiographical details, since even the title of the film, 8 1/2, refers to the total number of films Fellini had previously directed: six films plus three collaborations, making this production number eighth and a half. The movie won a Oscar for best foreign language film and was nominated for a BAFTA in the same category.

Grade:+++

La dolce vita


La dolce vita; Drama, Italy/ France, 1960; D: Federico Fellini, S: Marcello Mastroianni, Anouk Aimée, Anita Ekberg, Yvonne Furneaux, Magali Noël

Rome. Journalist Marcello is flying with his helicopter and spying at a party. Back in his apartment, he finds his mistress Emma in coma due to pills overdose, barely managing to save her from suicide by bringing her to the hospital. But he doesn't have time for mourning, continuing with his car to a local airport to get to the blond star Sylvia and drive her to parties, but in the end he gets beaten by her husband. Marcello arrives to a place where some girl saw Virgin Mary, but a little kid dies from the mass of journalists. Madalena asks Marcello to marry her, so he breaks up with Emma. After a party he finds a dead fish at the shore.

Federico Fellini made his famous drama "La dolce vita" as a farewell to his Italian neoralism phase, and as a welcome sign to his second, pretentiouss, surreal phase. This episodic film without a tight structure is constructed as a bitter critique of the shallow society of the rich and famous - especially dark are the scenes where people can't even move from the mass of journalists, where one characters calls one of them by the insulting term "Paparazzo" that even became a official word in the dictionary in real life, or the scenes where the hero rushes from one empty sensation/celebrity to another because none of them has anything to say - but a lot of his little supporting characters are unnecessary, useless and superficially handled. The movie was nominated for an Oscar for best screenplay, director, art direction, while it won the award for best costume design, which is a lot for a overhyped film with only half-hearted critique that offers no alternative. Some sequences are excellent: for instance, the opening shot of a helicopter carrying a statue of Jesus hanging from a rope, a man who protects his head with the newspaper from the photographers or the echo of a kiss heard in the church - but the story simply doesn't have the energy for it's overlong 170 minutes of running time, turning into a really annoying hassle towards the end, while the main hero, although played very well by Marcello Mastroianni, isn't quirky or interesting enough. Still, this art-film, a Parable of Futility, won the Golden Palm at Cannes.

Grade:++

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Nights of Cabiria


Le notti di Cabiria; drama, Italy, 1957; D: Federico Fellini, S: Giulietta Masina, François Périer, Franca Marzi, Dorian Gray, Aldo Silvani
Prostitute Cabiria gets robbed by her lover Giorgio who pushes her into the river and gets away. Three boys manage to save Cabiria from drowning, but she just gets insulted and returns home. The next night she goes to "work" with her friend Wanda on the street. She gets picked up in a car by the famous actor Alberto who brings her to his mansion, but hides her in the bathroom when his ex-girlfriend Jesse returns to him. Later on, Cabiria goes to a church where wonders happened and then to a magic act show where she gets hypnotised. There she also meets Oscar who claims to have fallen in love with her. Cabiria gets all her money to get married to him, but he also robs her and runs away.

Out of 22 feature films directed by Federico Fellini, "Nights of Cabiria" (written among others by Pier Paolo Pasolini) is one of his most unknown ones, although it deservedly won an Oscar for best foreign language film and was nominated for a Golden Palm in Cannes. The reason for that lies in the fact that Fellini decided to show the sensational topic of prostitution in a rather unsensational, static and shy manner, leaving the tricky elements to the imagination of the viewer, which is a rather narrowed portray. Although not as good as his masterpiece "The Road", "Cabiria" is still a quiet masterpiece non the less and wonderfully simple and funny. From the opening shots where Cabiria is standing on the edge of the shore of a river and nonchalantly waving her purse up and down, up to the situations where she bumps into "invisible" glass door or picks up stinking flowers, the story is overweeningly and humorously leading the mood while Cabiria's smile in the last scene, refusing to be sad despite the tragic ending, is so fascinating and enchanting that it overshadows millions of other loud scenes filled with special effects and spectacular action. Out of all prostitutes that ever appeared on the big screen, Cabiria is one of the most unusual ones because she is completely unsexy since she always acts like a little kid, always doing something wrong, grimacing but hiding a vulnerable side: excellent Gullieta Masina, who won the best actress award at Cannes, is great in the leading role. Out of all the characters he created, Fellini once said that he always worried the most about Cabiria.
Grade:++++

The Swindlers


Il bidone; Drama, Italy, 1955; D: Federico Fellini, S: Broderick Crawford, Richard Basehart, Giulietta Masina, Franco Fabrizi, Sue Ellen Blake

Augusto (48), Carlo "Picasso" and Roberto disguise themselves as priests and drive up to an isolated house. There they start with their scam: they explain to the old ladies that a murderer is berried in their yard, together with his treasure, and that they must conduct a Christian funeral. They leave the (false) treasure to the old ladies and in exchange get 425.000 Lire for 500 masses for the murderer's soul. Later on, they enter a illegal settlement announcing themselves as city officials who sell (false) permits for apartments that cost 10.000 Lire. Augusto is a professional con artist and is irritated that Carlo is spending his money for his wife Iris and his daughter. Augusto attends a party and gets arrested. Once released, he goes on pretending to be a priest, but donates all his money to a handicapped girl, so he gets killed by his colleagues.

It's not surprising that Federico Fellini, before his success with his dramas "The Road", "The Nights of Cabiria", "8 1/2" and "Amarcord" that all won an Oscar for best foreign language film, caused a scandal and anger of the church with his scam drama "The Swindlers". Namely, in the exposition, the con artists Augusto and Carlo disguise themselves as priests in order to double-cross some old ladies and get their money because they demand the salary for 500 masses, which offers a lot of subversive ideas (Carlo half-heartedly throws a crucifix into Augusto's hands, their driver is a flirting idiot...). But in equal measure, the film criticizes bureaucracy in the sequence where the trio pretends to be city officials selling apartment permits, and it's messages and themes are not forced but focused, with a sophisticated sense getting incorporated in the narration as a whole. Although it seems like a typical film inspired by Italian neorealism, "The Swindlers" actually reduce the poetic realism and slightly differ from it by Fellini's imagination and professional actors. Back then, the critics claimed this is a case of a "weaker Fellini", but it's not true: this bitter drama sparkles today, the uninterested Broderick Crawford actually seems suggestive while there is even a surprising melancholic tone present.

Grade:+++

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Road


La strada; drama, Italy, 1954; D: Federico Fellini, S: Giulietta Masina, Anthony Quinn, Richard Basehart, Aldo Silvani, Marcella Rovere


Zampano is the only member of a traveling circus act, entertaining the audience and displaying his strength by breaking the chains he binds on his body. For 10,000 Lire, he buys the young, slightly mentally limited Gelsomina from her widowed mother. He intends her to help him with the performance. While they are driving in an improvised vehicle from town to town, the two of them raise and unusual relationship: she is accessible and optimistic while he is cranky and pessimistic. While trying to escape, Gelsomina meets Matto, another entertainer who constantly provokes Zampano. During a fight, Zampano accidentally kills Matto so Gelsomina slowly looses her sanity. Zampano leaves her, but years later, when he finds out she died, he starts crying on the beach.

Unlike many of his grotesque ephemera films, Federico Fellini's "The Road" works in almost every aspect and is pure magic. One of the best movies of all times, a thematically and stylistically perfect achievement, this magnificent masterpiece of the Italian maestro is an unusual and unusually beautiful achievement from the Italian 'neorealist' era that actually breaks all the rules from the standard dramas because it consists just of little gestures, movements, looks and metaphors between the two main protagonists, opposite as day and night: the grumpy, pessimistic Zampano and gentle, optimistic Gelsomina. Despite all of Anthony Quinn's effort, the main star of this simple fable is the excellent character of the naive Gelsomina (brilliant Guilietta Masina) who is one of the best female characters ever to appear on celluloid, acting sometimes like a female Forrest Gump: in one scene, when Zampano puts a hat on her head she starts mischievously jumping left and right, and when he gives her a drum, she starts spontaneously tapping it with her hands. Since she keeps announcing the act incorrectly again and again during a rehearsal, he goes to a bush, plucks a twig and gently hits her leg. Maybe Gelsomina is so fascinating and special because she is a symbol for innocence that interacts with a brute, and thus this goes through a whole specter of emotions in the backdrop of ironic scenes (she starts crying, but is "interrupted" when she falls through a hole in the ground; she spots a tree with a branch and imitates it with her hand). But this is just the way this little, understated film is: its emotions are somehow far more engaging and mind-blowing than numerous big budget spectacles. Fellini took the mundane streets and turned everyday Italy into a magical wonderland: truly, a shining achievement.

Grade:++++

Death Proof


Death Proof; Drama/ Action, USA, 2007; D: Quentin Tarantino, S: Vanessa Ferlito, Jordan Ladd, Sydney Tamiia Poitier, Rosario Dawson, Tracie Thoms, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Zoë Bell, Kurt Russell

Texas. Three girls - Arlene, Shanna and DJ Jungle Julia - are driving a car and heading towards a lake. They stop for a drink at a Bar and meet up with some of the boys. They also meet Stuntman Mike, a scarred, middle-aged stunt double, who takes the blond Pam for a trip home - and kills her. He then goes on to smash directly with his "death proof" car into the car with Arlene, Shanna and Julia. The girls die, but he survives. 14 months later, Mike is spying on four other girls: Lee, Abernathy, Kim and stunt girl Zoe. As the last three girls were test driving a car they planned to buy, Mike crashes several times into them, but they survive and shoot and wound him. Then they go on to hunt him, killing him.

"Death Proof", the second of the unusual double feature "Grindhouse" films, is a good little art- trash film that was praised to the heavens by some just because it's was directed by Quentin Tarantino. For one, if it weren't for one little scene where the character Kim shoots at Stuntman Mike, this would have been the first Tarantino film entirely without guns: in an refreshing departure from his usual themes and elements, the story presents a murderer who kills his victims without guns or knives, just with his car, which is rather creative. Also, it seems the story presented a "feminist Tarantino" since 8 out of the 9 leading characters are girls, while just one is a man, which is even more refreshing. 90 % of the film is shot as a straight forward girl-talk story, while only 10 % are actually containing action thriller elements, mostly in the finale of the two stories, and the way Tarantino has a secret sense for woman's mentality is cute (for instance, in one sequence Jungle Julia, Arlene and Shanna are driving a car and loudly cheering when ever they pass by a giant poster of Jungle Julia by the road).

And the humor is rather amusing (in one scene, the girls are frightened by Stuntman Mike's scary car, and he replies: "Yeah, sorry about that...it's my mom's car"). The finale of the first story ends with Mike crashing deliberately with the car of the four girls, killing them in a brutal, exploitative sequence that was repeated four times to show the death of each girl. Ironically, the second story works almost as an inversion, a version of the old saying "what goes around comes around" since there Mike meets another four girls, but this time they become the hunters, and he the victim. It's a cheap revenge story that ends so abruptly that one feels a little bit stupid, the famous Tarantino dialogues have been watered down and lost their spark, while the much praised "best car chase sequence of all time" is just OK, just a child's play compared to the brilliant one in "The Blues Brothers". "Death Proof" is interesting, but it's not "Flaw proof".

Grade:++

The Missouri Breaks


The Missouri Breaks; Western, USA, 1976; D: Arthur Penn, S: Jack Nicholson, Kathleen Lloyd, John McLiam, Marlon Brando, Randy Quaid, Harry Dean Stanton

Wyoming, 19th Century. Tom Logan is the leader of a gang of crooks who steal horses. Although in clinch with the law, they are actually honest guys who simply don't have enough money to survive, thus getting shocked when they find a colleague hanged by the rich Braxton. Tom buys a farm from Braxton and falls in love with his daughter Jane. Since the horses keep getting stolen, Braxton hires "regulator" Lee Clayton, a mad head hunter, who kills the whole gang, except Tom, who kills him.

Peculiar revisionist western "The Missouri Breaks" is one of the most unusual grafts of it's genre ever, thus becoming a total flop with the audience and the critics back in 1976. "Missouri" tries to break the cliches and conventions of old Hollywood but it doesn't even reach the knees of the best anti-westerns like "McCabe & Mrs. Miller" and "Unforgiven", although it's director Arthur Penn himself directed an excellent anti-western "Little Big Man" years earlier, making the film as a whole seem chaotic, confusing, completely illogical and uninteresting. A not so small blame carries Marlon Brando - who back in those days already started spitting on the movie industry - because he decided to "improvise" and play his character Clayton almost as if he is in a comedy (in one scene he speaks with an American accent, then in another with an Irish accent; he announces he has a tooth ache and that he has to fart; while putting a house of a bandit on fire he wears a woman's dress(!)...), making his character's motivations even less understandable than they were. Still, thanks to a sharp and bitter screenplay, some of the bizarreness is even intentional (for instance, when Tom, after a train robbery, realizes he can't get out of the wagon because it stopped right over a bridge) while Jack Nicholson is excellent.

Grade:++

Monday, July 16, 2007

Family Guy


Family Guy; animated comedy series, USA, 1999 - 2009; D: Peter Shin, Dan Povenmire, Roy Allen Smith, Pete Michaels, S: Seth MacFarlane, Alex Borstein, Seth Green, Mila Kunis

The Griffins are a truly bizarre Rhode Island family. The head of the family, Peter, is a lazy, dim-witted guy who works in a toy factory while his wife Louis always tries to be a good housewife. They have three kids: Meg, Chris and Stewie, a baby trying to conquer the world. They also have a talking dog, Brian. Together, they go through a lot of adventures: Peter winds up in jail or discovering his ancestors were black, Meg desperately wants a date, Brian falls in love with Louis, Chris becomes a famous painter in New York...

"Family Guy" is a completely decent alternative to "The Simpsons", but it suffers from similar flaws, like the fact that it is overstretched, crude at moments and that its characters become puppets: in accordance to that, Peter, Louis and Meg are just different versions of Homer, Marge and Lisa in different situations. Still, the show is a real oasis of nostalgic references from the 80s ("Charles in Charge", "He-Man", "You Can't Do that on Television"...) and, although denounced by many - there were even whole two episodes in "South Park" dedicated to humiliating this show - because of its episodic format of clip gags that appear in flashbacks all of a sudden and have no connection to the structure of the story, even that doesn't seem that bad since even the "Monty Pythons" didn't have a clear linear story, but also just a set of gags. Throughout "Family Guy", numerous jokes appear: some are bad, some are even disastrous, but some are genius. Among the ones that is absolutely fantastic is the one that is making a parody out of the famous music video "Take On Me" from the group A-ha, in which Chris falls into, and with such an amazing sense for details and animation that it's incredible.

There are also many other hilarious gags present. For instance, the one where a doctor says to Popeye that his hands are actually infected by tumors and that he talks strangely because he suffered a stroke is simply deliciously absurd and cynical take on naivete from that cartoon. Peter's singing and dancing of his own version of the song "U Can't Touch This" from MC Hammer is a little perfection of musical parodies in the episode where he establishes his own state Petoria around his house, as well as his line in another episode where it is revealed he actually over-taped his wedding video by a porn and accidentally sent it to Louis' parents. The O.J. Simpson opera, similarly, is also a howlingly funny comedy classic. A small jewel is also the underrated character Meg - like in the gag where she guest appears in the sitcom "Everybody loves Raymond" just to publicly announce to Neill that she doesn't like him - as opposed to the useless Stewie who never does anything funny. A completely mad theatre of absurd, "Family Guy" is a nice source of cynical humor if one can pass by its irreverent stories, and one would simply have to lie if one would deny at least a little bit of brilliance that so many are dismissing. However, in order to enjoy it, one should avoid the later seasons, which polluted the storyline with too much trash and garbage.

Grade:++

Heathers


Heathers; Black comedy, USA, 1989; D: Michael Lehmann, S: Winona Ryder, Christian Slater, Shannen Doherty, Lisanne Falk, Kim Walker, Penelope Milford, Glenn Shadix

Veronica, an insecure high school girl, is a member of a popular clique composed of three Heather girls: Heather Chandler, Heather Duke and Heather McNamara. After they talk Veronica into writing a false love letter to the overweight Martha, who gets humiliated, she starts despising Heathers. Veronica meets the rebellious J. D. and together they make a drink of drain cleaner, giving it to Heather Chandler. After she drinks it, she falls dead, and they panic and decide to make it look like a suicide. After J. D. kills two more students, mean Kurt and Ram, and makes it also look like a suicide, Veronica decides to break up with him. But J. D. is obsessed with punishing even more arrogant students, so he plants a bomb in the school. Veronica shoots him and stops the explosion.

Cult 80s movie "Heathers" today doesn't look that fascinating anymore. Michael Lehmann's directorial debut announced him as an extravagant, bizarre and "Gothic" director while the screenplay from Daniel Waters subversively tackled themes about class struggle (in this example between the popular and the unpopular high school kids), rebellion and mass obsession with everything, even suicide, and the two of them found support in each other. Winona Ryder is excellent in the leading role and the film is filled with black humor: Heather Chandler asks Heather Duke: "Did you have a brain tumor for breakfast?" High school jocks Kurt and Ram enjoy tipping cows to the ground, but after J. D. shoots them, he places a false suicide note announcing they were gay, even placing mineral water as a definitive proof (because "people in Ohio only drink beer"). Kurt and Ram are later on even placed in their coffins with their Football helmets on. J. D. shows Veronica his middle finger and she shoots it off. The movie is interesting, but not everyone can cope with bizarre and make it look even and skillful: the authors created a grotesque that lost it measure towards the end, turning into an achievement that doesn't know where it's heading or what's it's saying, into an stranded whale. "Heathers" is a good little dark film with an unusual title and story, interesting in it's content if one likes those kind of things.

Grade:++

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Legally Blonde


Legally Blonde; Comedy, USA, 2001; D: Robert Luketic, S: Reese Witherspoon, Selma Blair, Matthew Davis, Luke Wilson, Jennifer Coolidge, Holland Taylor, Raquel Welch, Linda Cardellini

Elle Woods is a blond, kitschy girl, shocked when her boyfriend Warner ends their relationship because he studies at Harvard and wants to make a political career with a "serious girlfriend". In order to win him back, Elle studies hard and manages to enlist into Harvard herself. But she discovers Warner is already engaged to Vivian, which crushes her, together with tough professors. Still, she makes friends with Emmett and as an intern manages to defend a young woman innocently accused of killing her husband at the court.

"Legally Blonde" is a standard, conventional, but amusing and cute comedy with sustained humor that unusually displays an anti-racist statement with regards to the modern "dumb blond" cliche. In this story, the main heroine Elle proves that even though she is blond, cheerful, kitschy and naive, she is actually a rather intelligent person with a soul that refuses to get pinned down under any category or type: Reese Witherspoone is simply brilliant in the leading role, for which she was nominated for a Golden Globe as best actress in a motion picture musical or comedy, together with the film itself. But to equal amazement, Linda Blair is also amazing as her rival Vivian, especially in the scene in the classroom where she mischievously touches the shoulders of Elle's ex boyfriend in front of her. The director Robert Luketic directs the film with a solid craftsmanship and a surprising sense for feminine (the way Elle sits on a bench and angrily wiggles with her hair after she was expelled from class from Mrs Stromwell), in accordance to the script written by Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith, and even avoiding the low cliches (even though she was rejected by Warner, Elle never plans to take revenge on him, but to win him back). The movie doesn't have much going for it - it's practically a run-of-the-mill comedy with predictible messages - but with emotions, and a lovable effort put by everyone.

Grade:++