Monday, 30 June 2008

The Elm-Chanted Forest


Čudesna šuma; animated fantasy, Croatia/ USA, 1986; D: Milan Blažeković, Doro Vlado Hreljanović, S: Josip Marotti, Ljubo Kapor, Ivo Rogulja
The evil Cactus king banished all beavers from the forest because he hates them. But one day a happy painter arrives in the forest and falls asleep under a magic tree that grants him the ability to speak with animals. He meets bear Mate, fox Lili with a French accent, three hedgehogs and the least beaver, making their portraits. But the Cactus king is afraid of the legend about a human that will end his tyranny so he organizes fires and floods in the forest, but the painter saves it with his magic paintbrush. The beaver also saves the green little Wizard Štapić from the Cactus king and makes a magic potion with him. The painter gives the Cactus king the potion and transforms him into a good person whose flowers bloom. Then the painter leaves the forest.

As much as "The Elm-Chanted Forest" comes off occasionally as an unusual, clumsy and eclectic achievement, so much it's at the same time hard to shake off the subconscious impression that it's a matter of a hidden jewel that truly deserves it's cult status on the territory of former Yugoslavia. The whole story unfolds in the mystical forest and offers hidden messages about ecological conscious, critique of dictatorships and friendship between different cultures. Though it's a children's film with sweet animation, some moments are truly magical and send shivers down the spine: in the exposition, the painter falls asleep under a magical tree, from which a green hand emerges and touches him, giving him magical powers, in a fantastic esoteric moment. At the same time, the authors fill it with neat humor: the painter opens the door but the knock turns out to be a woodpecker who plucks the wood, while the Aquarius creature dreams of flying above his home, while the animation if fabulous. Though the structure is rather messy, it's hard to deny the skill of the directors: the suspenseful sequence where the mole and the beaver rescue the little Wizard from his dungeon before the arrival of the evil giant robot is virtuoso crafted. The naive touch may not be for everyone, but the story still has charm - just like Disney's "Snow White", this film isn't ashamed of emotions either, and as a matter of fact, the ending is one of the most heart breaking and emotionally devastating moments of 80s animation.

Grade:+++

The Magician's Hat


Čarobnjakov šešir; animated fantasy, Croatia, 1990; D: Milan Blažeković, S: Ivo Rogulja, Dragan Milivojević, Emil Glad

The evil emperor Mrazomor showed up with his ice palace on the river and attacked the enchanting forest in order to turn it all into ice. His servants are the ice soldiers, the evil weasel, a wolf and stenographer penguin who quits his job in order to save the forest. When he frees the frozen fairy, he returns her to the little Wizard, the bear and the beaver who wake up dragon Ferdinand from his dream in order to fight against ice. The Wizard kills Mrazomor with a sword and saves the forest.

Animated film "The Elm-Chanted Forest" from '86 is everything its sequel "The Magician's Hat" is not: a skillful and dreamy fantasy with style that speaks about ecological problems and develops its story in fine directions. But the routine "Hat" is just a commercial sequel that wants to cash in on the popularity of the first film, turning into an overstretched and weak achievement that doesn't have magic but has too many unnecessary musical scenes and too little real plot. The animation is once again very competent, even better than the first film, whereas some moments, like the fairy who kisses the frozen Wizard and brings him back to life, are enchanting. Still, as a whole, the movie is lifelessly placed together, equipped with stiff music, poor one dimensional bad guy and, for a children's film, a few morally questionable scene (in the end, the Wizard throws a sword into the heart of the emperor Mrazomor). Director Milan Blažeković had seen much better days than this.

Grade:+

Sunday, 29 June 2008

Wild Things


Wild Things; Thriller, USA, 1998; D: John McNaughton, S: Matt Dillon, Neve Campbell, Kevin Bacon, Denise Richards, Theresa Russell, Bill Murray, Robert Wagner, Daphne Rubin-Vega

Florida. Police Sergent Ray Duquette has an important motto: "People aren't always what they appear to be". In his small town really strange things start to occur: students Suzie Toller and Kelly Van Ryan try to seduce Sam Lombardo, a high school guidance counselor who already slept with half of women in town, but when he rejects them, they accuse him of rape. Luckily, Sam hires lawyer Bowden who saves him on trial and even demolishes Suzie's accusations, who admits she and Kelly lied about the rape. Sam gets a 8 million $ settlement from the Van Ryan's - and it turns out he, Kelly and Suzy all worked together to get the money. Sam murders Suzie while Ray shoots Kelly. It turns out Sam and Ray have been secretly working all along too. But Suzy just fabricated her death and kills them, getting all the money.

In a time where "The Sixth Sense", "Se7en", "Fight Club", "Memento" and a whole bunch of films had twist endings, "Wild Things" takes the cake for having so much plot twists it overshadows all those films put together. Without exaggeration, the cynical screenplay by Stephen Peters has at least five plot twists - most of which happen even after the closing credits! -turning into a film where every following 20 minutes represent the negation of the previous ones, thus every character turns out evil and two faced: it's as if he makes us ask: "Can people really pretend to be absolutely innocent and then turn out absolutely evil?" and the film answers it with: "Yes". Even though the story may seem slightly inconsistent, at close examination it's actually surprisingly plausible - one only has to have in mind one little, overlooked detail at the end, that features an amazing quote: "She has an IQ around 200. She can do whatever she puts her mind to" - and is actually very consistent plot crafting. But, alas, the development of the characters and depth don't follow the surprises of the twists, exhausting themselves only as one dimensional gimmicks with heavy construction. The whole film is just one well made mainstream achievement, which is obvious in the attractive, but completely unnecessary erotic sequences. Still, if one doesn't seek something more, "Wild Things" are a terrifyingly dark thriller with a funny Bill Murray as the lawyer with a Shanz collar and Denise Richards as seductive Kelly, while the direction by John McNaughton is competent, crafting a sleazy charm not even Hitchcock would be ashamed off.

Grade:++

Sleepless in Seattle


Sleepless in Seattle; Romantic comedy, USA, 1993; D: Nora Ephron, S: Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Bill Pullman, Ross Malinger, Rosie O'Donnell, Gaby Hoffmann, Rob Reiner, David Hyde Pierce, Rita Wilson

Architect Sam's wife dies, so he is left alone with his little son Jonah. But Jonah calls for him a local radio station in Seattle and tells the psychologist that his dad is searching for a new mother, so a lot of women start calling to win a date with him. Among the is the journalist Annie who got engaged rather hasty, but she lives in New York, on the other side of the US - their distance is so big that it's day in one state while it's already night in the other. Jonah goes to New York to meet Annie. His father follows him and finally meets her, falling in love with her.

This neat and sweet romantic comedy with a few sparkling gags reunited Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan for the second time on the big screens - and offered a much better excuse than their weak first film - becoming a huge commercial success and often getting mentioned as someones favorite film. "Sleepless in Seattle" is one of those films where kitsch and picture book concept were skillfully avoided thanks to the quality writing and sympathetic, slightly dreamy direction by Nora Ephron, turning into one of the few films where romance is slowly built on the separation and absence of the two people in love who are separated by a huge distance. Ironically, the best part of the film isn't even in the film itself - it's the beautiful poster, where Hanks and Ryan are looking at each other and sensing each other's presence, but it's day time at his place and night time at her, enhancing their long distance from each other. But putting the joke aside, the thoughts and events that pass during the course of the film are very poignant, whereas even though the story is rather overstretched one simply has to praise the emotional tone and the neat junction between the movie styles of the 1950's and 1990's. The screenplay was nominated for a BAFTA and an Oscar, while it was also nominated for 3 Golden Globes - best motion picture - musical or comedy, actor Hanks and actress Ryan.

Grade:++

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Gods and Monsters


Gods and Monsters; Drama, USA, 1998; D: Bill Condon, S: Ian McKellen, Brendan Fraser, Lynn Redgrave, Lolita Davidovich

In '57, the young gardener Clay Boone wakes up in his trailer and goes to work at the estate of director James Whale, old but still famous author of "Frankenstein". Whale's housekeeper is Hanna who hides his big secret: he is gay. Thus, returning from the hospital, the lonely Whale starts seducing Clay advising him to take his clothes off while he takes pictures of him, telling him how his father banned him from school when he was 14 in order to find him work in a factory and how he saw terrible things in World War I. The two of them become friends, but Clay brags about his famous friend. After he returns from a party, Whale persuades him to strip naked and put a gas mask on, but the whole thing end in an argument. The next morning Whale is found dead in the pool. Clay tells his kid about his films.

Good and properly made biopic drama gains the biggest complaints from the lack of experience and the too narrow frame to be considered versatile in describing the final days of director James Whale and his secret gay affinity from which he suffered from depression and loneliness. Still, "Gods and Monsters" is a well made film of calm and steady directorial hand that won an Oscar for best adapted screenplay (while Ian McKellen and Lynn Redgrave were nominated as best actors) and a Golden Globe for best supporting actress Lynn Redgrave. It's impressive how the historic atmosphere was elegantly recreated, while the best moments are the surprising humorous scenes of the old filmmaker imagining how to scare his housekeeper. A mild, sufficiently interesting and simple ode to a forgotten person, while McKellen is great in recreating him in the leading role.

Grade:++

Friday, 27 June 2008

Yi Yi: A One and a Two


Yi yi; Drama, Taiwan/ Japan, 2000; D: Edward Yang, S: Nien-Jen Wu, Shinya Kawai, Elaine Jin, Kelly Lee, Issei Ogata, Jonathan Chang, Su-Yun Ko

Taiwan. Xiao-Yan, deeply pregnant, marries her lover A-Di. His friend is a family man NJ who lives in an apartment with his wife Min-Min, 15-year old daughter Ting-Ting, 8-year old son Yang-Yang and grandmother. When grandmother falls into coma the doctors advise the family to speak with her in order to possibly wake her up faster. NJ has problems in his company that sells computers poorly so he tries to redirect the production for video games from Japan, but without success. On top of that, he gets visit from A-Rui, his big forgotten love from high school. A-Di is angry when Yun-Yun shows up at his party. Then he almost dies under the shower due to gas from the pipes. Grandmother wakes up from the coma but then dies, so a funeral is held.

Drama "Yi yi" lasts for almost 3 hours and is suppose to be excellent, since it was named by "Sight and Sound" as one of the ten greatest films of the past 25 years, but it isn't really - it assembles a mosaic of many characters but they, unfortunately, seem more passive and less active in the story revolving around family. Director Edward Yang loves the meditative style so his dramaturgy is gentle but also sometimes unimpressive and watered down. One of the best scenes is when NJ meets with his little son his old high school love in front of the elevator who gives him her phone number and leaves - but then suddenly returns and asks with determination why he left her on a date decades ago. There is also the humorous moment where a teacher blames the young Yang-Yang for having a condom in school, but realizes his mistake when he just finds an ordinary balloon in his pocket, so the kid later on hits him with a water balloon. It's an ambitious drama with a few uplifting moments (a manager with a pigeon on his shoulder) and a lot of seriousness, but not with enough energy to keep the concentration for the whole three hours of running time.

Grade:++

The Remains of the Day


The Remains of the Day; Drama, UK/ USA, 1993; D: James Ivory, S: Anthony Hopkins, Emma Thompson, James Fox, Christopher Reeve, Hugh Grant, Ben Chaplin

Britain, 1950's. Stevens is a perfect butler whose master Darlington deceased, so his mansion is taken over by millionaire Lewis. Stevens remembers his life 20 years ago: Darlington had contracts with Nazis so he kept a conference to help the Third Reich. Stevens was secretly in love with housekeeper Sally Kenton but he never told her that. Stevenson's father was also a butler who worked for Darlington, but died in the mansion from a stroke. In order not to anger the Nazis, Darlington fired two Jewish maids, but quickly felt remorse. Now Stevens once again meets Sally, but she already married and has a daughter, even though she still has feelings for him. Left alone, Stevens repels a pigeon from Lewis' mansion.

Melancholic adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro's novel with the same title, James Ivory's "The Remains of the Day" was nominated for 5 Golden Globes, 8 Oscars and 6 BAFTA awards (including best picture, director, screenplay, actor Anthony Hopkins) but didn't win anything. The subtly sad story about an introverted butler who misses his chance for big love seems monotone and anemic, but director Ivory knew how to use his iconography to insert interesting details into it. Stevens, for instance, warns Sally (very good Emma Thompson) that he hopes she isn't just one of those housekeepers who travels from mansion to mansion just to find a romance with someone, which gives certain dose of irony in their "romance" without romance. Even more absurd is the situation where the Lord orders him, his butler, to clear out his son about intercourse, so he starts talking about spring and flowers. There is a certain problem in the mild presentation and the structure where the romance never manifests itself, but since the theme of the film was transience and missed opportunities in life, it even fits into texture, offering a quality made period drama.

Grade:++

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Akira


Akira; Animated science-fiction thriller, Japan, 1988; D: Katsuhiro Otomo, S: Mitsuo Iwata, Nozomu Sasaki, Mami Koyama, Tessho Genda, Hiroshi Otake

In 1988 a part of Tokyo was destroyed by a mysterious, powerful explosion. In 2019 the town is full of street gangs and bikers, while the police kills a man who was carrying Takeshi, a child of green color that has telekinetic powers. The teenager Tetuso accidentally stumbled into Takeshi, so they are both kidnapped by the army and placed in a laboratory. Tetsuo's older friend Kaneda wonders where disappeared off and meets girl Kei who tells him that Tokyo was destroyed by a higher force created when a young boy, Akira, developed and lost control of supreme powers after a ESP experiment. The army tries to discover that again in Tetsuo and succeeds because he gains telekinetic powers and wants to merge with Akira, but only finds frozen organs in the laboratory. Kaneda fights with him. Tetsuo transforms into a hideous mass and disappears in a explosion. But his voice is heard: "I am Tetsuo".

The most famous and hyped anime of the 20th century, "Akira" is a good and exciting, but in the story monochromatic science-fiction film that doesn't quite fill out the high expectations of it's legendary cult reputation. The absolute author Katushiro Otomo uses detailed animation to create a philosophical surroundings, but he is slightly confusing and odious in the ugly design of characters and places, while the finale is much more interesting than the mild beginning, whereas it doesn't offer any context. Two most poetic scenes are when the girl Kei is walking on dirty water and when Tetsuo uses his paranormal powers to bend the laser rays, while the rest of the story is rather brutal, offering such spectacular scenes as the one where a building sinks under the smoke, Tetsuo who flies off into space and destroys a satellite that shot at him and his transformation into a giant, slimy organic creature Kaneda tries to get through, something that may have inspired a similar finale in "Mononoke Hime". Too bad the psychedelic ending didn't end up as "Shin Seiki Evangelion" since the characters, especially the pale Kei, were presented in a bleak way and don't have any charm.

Grade:++

Bottle Rocket


Bottle Rocket; Comedy, USA, 1996; D: Wes Anderson, S: Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Robert Musgrave, Lumi Cavazos, James Caan

Anthony voluntarily spent sometime in a mental institution. In order to cheer up friend Dignan, he leaves from that place through the window using sheets. He then goes to visit his sister Grace in the elementary school and discovers she considers him a loser. Dignan, Anthony and Bob thus decide to become criminals so they rob a library. In their runaway through Texas they steal some fireworks equipment and settle down in a hotel. There Anthony falls in love with maid Inez from Paraguay but she refuses to go with him. For their former boss Henry, Dignan rounds up the crew in order to rob a building but can't open the safe. Dignan then lands in prison.

"Bottle Rocket" is a good directorial debut film from Wes Anderson, later the author of acclaimed films "Rushmore" and "The Royal Tenenbaums". Unlike those films, this one doesn't have such a clear and steady directorial hand, or the clever use of subtitles, lacking that special touch, but on the other hand it has a lot of Anderon's later often used trademarks, like the actor Kumar Pallana, one character seen under water or the end shot in slow motion. It has a few neat gags revolving around the clumsy wannabe "criminals", like when Dignan presents Anthony his 75-year plan about their lives after the robbery, or some quirky dialogues, like: "Then she asked me if I like surfing...Then I knew not only that I don't want to answer that question, but that I don't want to see her again" or "Bob ran away. He stole his car". Still, despite a few occasionally well directed moments, the story is anecdotal, tiresome and overstretched.

Grade:++

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Bubblegum Crisis


Bubblegum Crisis; Animated science-fiction action series, Japan, 1987; D: Katsuhiko Akiyama, Hiroaki Goda, Hiroki Hayashi, Fumihiko Takayama, S: Yoshiko Sakakibara, Kinuko Oomuri, Michie Tomizawa, Akiko Hiaramatsu, Nozomu Sasaki, Toshio Furukawa, Aya Hisakawa

Tokyo, 2032. Sylia, Linna, police girl Nene and singer Priss wear the robot suits in order to figth as Knight Sabers against evil. Their rivals are cyborgs gone crazy, called Boomers, even though the mega corporations that manufactures them, Genom, always claims they are safe. Knight Sabers are thus confronted with various adventures: to stop a war satellite, save a neighborhood from getting torn down, to fight against a modern car that terrorizes streets, to expose their doubles who are ruining their reputation, meet with android vampires, help the pop star Vision to overcome the death of her sister, while Nene is one adventure is hiding from a reporter, the niece of her boss.

8 episodes of the famous series "Bubblegum Crisis" didn't help in spreading the reputation and sympathy for the anime genre on foreign soil. Since the authors chose the direction of sterile and wide attention of a society corrupted by too powerful mega corporations, they should have done it with more care, spark and overview, and not animate their adventures so sloppy, both in the art design and the plot concepts. Only from episode 4 onwards can one detect an improvement in the animation and clear storyline. But there is also the problem that most stories are not that imaginative, but just bleak, even falling into grey territory. It's a pity this solid, but lifeless adaptation of the manga didn't take much care about the characters: the red haired police girl Nene with a temperament is excellent and deserved to be more than just a supporting character, especially when she says such random lines like: "Do Sexdroids really exist?!" But she is just a side character, and out of 8 episodes, she gets the chance to be the heroine in only 1. If at least there were more such sparkling adventures like that one where she has to take care about the reporter Lisa (voiced wonderfully by Aya Hisakawa) - they could have spun the opinion of the critics around their little finger.

Grade:+

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Hejar - Big Man, Little Love


Büyük Adam Küçük Aşk; Drama, Turkey/ Greece/ Hungary, 2001; D: Handan Ipekçi, S: Sükran Güngör, Dilan Erçetin, Füsun Demirel, Ismail Hakki Sen, Yildiz Kenter

An old Kurdish man, Evdo Emmi, brings a little orphaned girl, Hejar, to his relatives in an apartment in Istanbul. But the Turkish police storms in the apartment and kills everyone, except Hejar who sneaks into the neighboring apartment of the old retired judge Rifat Bey. At first, he is annoyed by her presence and demands from his housekeeper Sakine, who is also a Kurd, to get rid of her because she doesn't speak Turkish. But slowly his heart softens and he begins to care about her. He goes to a small village and finds Emmi, but decides not to tell him anything in fear that Hejar would be in dreadful, poverty struck circumstances there. In the end Emmi finds Hejar and they leave, while Rifat looks sadly from the window.

An average viewer might think this touching and sweet little drama is just a run-of-the-mill film about an old man softening when taking care of a little girl, but considering he is a proud Turk and she a fragile Kurd the director Handan Ipekci added a sly political dimension to it by presenting the taboo subject of what Turkey is doing to Kurds, which is why "Hejar" was banned in it's homeland for some time, namely for stating that hegemonism isn't the solution and that accepting others brings to mutual understanding. Political and sociological commentary aside, this is a good, spiritual and simple film, but too slow and ordinary to be anything more. It proved to be the last film of Turkish actor Sukran Gungor who died a year later. There is just a sparse charm between the interaction of Rifat and the little Hejar, since most of the scenes were reduced to just the arbitrary, like when he washes her hair to get rid of her louse or when they go to watch a cartoon in cinemas together, yet the authentic emotional touch can't be denied in the really sad finale that brings a real emotion across, and not just a fake gimmick.

Grade:++

Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back


Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back; Comedy, USA, 2001; D: Kevin Smith, S: Jason Mewes, Kevin Smith, Shannon Elizabeth, Ben Affleck, Jeff Anderson, Brian O'Halloran, Chris Rock, Eliza Dushku, Ali Larter, Will Ferrell, Jason Lee, Seann William Scott, Carrie Fisher, Jon Stewart, Mark Hamill

New Jersey is the birthplace of profane lads Jay and Silent Bob who sells drugs in front of a store. One day they discover that the Miramax studio plans to adapt the comic book "Bluntman and Chronic", inspired by them, for the big screen without paying them for the rights. The comic book author Holden sold all his rights to pal Blanky, so Jay and Bob go to visit him. On their journey they are picked up in a van by the secretive Justice and her three friends. They set them up to kidnap an orangutan in order to preoccupy the police while they can safely steal some jewels. Jay, Bob and orangutan make a mess in Hollywood but get their money for their rights. Justice admits everything to the police and goes to jail.

Ever since his directorial debut in '94, director Kevin Smith always brought back his characters of Jay and Silent Bob (played by Mewes and himself) as side charachters in every film, but when he made a movie about them in the leading roles, he wasn't in top notch shape. Jay and Silent Bob are some sort of a perverted versions of Laurel and Hardy, but they have charm and humor: in the exposition we see them as babies listening to the swearing of their mothers so in the next frame we see them as grown up hillbillies - in front of the store run by Dante and Randal (O'Halloran and Anderson reprising their roles from Smith's first film). There are a few neat ironic gags that grace the screen, like when Holden (Ben Affleck) admits: "That Ben Affleck is a good actor, but his film "Good Will Hunting" isn't so great" (the irony is even bigger when having in mind that he won an Oscar for it). But the story is too mainstream and has too much banal elements - from the subplot where the duo meets four criminal girls up to the fact that they have to watch out for an orangutan. Only towards the end does the movie bring up a few really great gags, while a lot of actors surprisingly went along the gag and played small parts.

Grade:+

Monday, 23 June 2008

Elizabethtown


Elizabethtown; Romantic comedy, USA/UK, 2005; D: Cameron Crowe, S: Orlando Bloom, Kirsten Dunst, Bruce McGill, Paul Schneider, Judy Greer, Susan Sarandon, Jessica Biel, Alec Baldwin

The young Drew Baylor is shocked when his new design for a shoe ends in a fiasco, resulting in his company losing 972 million $. Devastated, just as he decides to commit suicide, his sister calls him and tells him his father died and he has to go to Elizabethtown, Kentucky, to arrange the funeral. In an airplane, he meets the charming flight attendant Claire. Arriving in Elizabethtown, he is annoyed by relatives and has to cremate his father's body. But he meets Claire again and starts a relationship with her. They separate but meet each other in Oklahoma city.

Cameron Crowe never made movies about gimmicks or special effects, but always about people. Whenever critics mention the best directors and writers of the 90s and '00s, they never mention Crowe, but he always confidently and steadily built his small empire of impressive films about humanity. "Elizabethtown" is a small disappointment because he failed to craft it the way it should be: the narration is unnecessary, the writing sloppy, the babble too inert, many scenes pointless and undeveloped while the characters of relatives the main protagonist Drew visits are all annoying. It seems as if Crowe's special trademarks have all became extinct in "Elizabethtown", except one that somehow miraculously survived - the absolutely beautiful character of Claire (played by Kirsten Dunst). Crowe always had a sixth sense for writing magical female characters and so Claire is the only ingredient that saves the film from mediocrity. She is so charming, so irresistibly cute and so alive she steals every scene she is in, overshadowing the pale main story revolving around the funeral. One of the best scenes is when she is a flight attendant and sits next to Drew in the airplane in the middle of the night, initiating small talk and giving him advice about travel directions, or when she talks with him over the phone in the bath and tells him she has to be "awake and charming" in a couple of hours for a flight to Hawai. But the most romantic moment is when she goes to an empty auditorium and says to Drew, with a smile, via the microphone on the loudspeakers: "I like you".

Grade:++

Dogma


Dogma; Fantasy satire, USA, 1999; D: Kevin Smith, S: Linda Fiorentino, Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Chris Rock, Jason Mewes, Alan Rickman, Jason Lee, Salma Hayek, Kevin Smith, Alanis Morissette, Bud Cort, Janeane Garofalo

Since God likes to play video games he takes a human shape, but then he gets attacked by evil hockey players who send him into coma. That gives time for the evil Azrael to place an article in a newspaper that fools the fallen angels Bartleby and Loki who think that their sins would be forgiven if they pass through a new church. But that would mean that God made a mistake and destroy the Universe, so his voice Metatron begs Catholic abortion clinic worker Bethany to stop them. She is joined by Jay and Silent Bob, the 13th apostle Rufus who claims that Jesus was Black and Serendipity. Bartleby and Loki kill people who sinned. But then Loki kills Bartleby while Bethany pulls God out of the body of the old man, who crushes Loki. God turns out to be a woman and gives Bethany the gift to become pregnant with a new messiah.

At the beginning of "Dogma" there is a disclaimer that bespeaks the viewers to not take this satirical story about religion seriously, but it still caused protests and publicity during its premiere, thus actually becoming a small hit, grossing 30 million $ at the box office, a lot more than Smith's previous films that earned just 2 or 3 millions previously. It's a matter of a dark but funny and sharp satire that poses tricky questions - by stating that Jesus was Black, for instance, Smith doesn't question if Christian religion is real, but if highly religious people are more fond of the religious rules or of essential faith: frankly, people should always try to distinguish religion from faith/ spirituality. The movie is filled with cynical dialogues like: "Some sins never change", "You have to read between the lines in the Bible" and even some that mock celebrities from our daily lives, like when Jay goes on a long rant about how "Roger Ebert watches every John Hughes film". Linda Fiorentino is slightly stiff as the main heroine, but otherwise fine, while it was a very clever idea to present God as a woman, though a lot of things wrecked the film and reduced its value, like the "shit demon" and the bloody finale that's quite trashy and thus pulls the sharpness through the dirt.

Grade:++

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Chasing Amy


Chasing Amy; romantic comedy, USA, 1997; D: Kevin Smith, S: Ben Affleck, Joey Lauren Adams, Jason Lee, Jason Mewes, Casey Affleck, Dwight Ewell, Guineve Turner, Carmen Llwelyn, Brian O'Halloran, Matt Damon
Holden and his friend Banky know each other since childhood and are authors of the cult comic book "Bluntman and Chronic". At a comic book convention they meet Alyssa who also draws comics, but with romance themes, while Holden falls in love with her. But then he discovers she is a lesbian. Still, the two of them become friends. It all becomes complicated when he admits his love to her in the car. Alyssa angrily exits the car in the rain, but then comes back and still lands in bed with him. Banky hates Alyssa and discovers her secret from high school - she slept with two guys at the same time. Holden argues with her and they split. A year later. Holden doesn't work with Banky anymore and gives his comic "Chasing Amy" to Alyssa before he leaves.

Despite the fact that "Chasing Amy" has a messy structure and often talks about sex, it's hard to find a film released that same year that's more magical, touching and honest about love. But without those deliberate mistakes and unusual directions maybe it wouldn't even be one of the best romantic achievements of the 90s. The final film from Kevin Smith's New Jersey trilogy, "Amy" completely embraces the life of the young generations and talks honestly about their adult lives, living from passionate dialogues that seem as if they come from real persons, which was one of the reasons why it appealed so many viewers who finally got the chance to see adults openly talking about their intimate lives without censorship. But despite the funny gags, some wacky (the comic convention where Hooper X gives the hilarious "Nubian God" speech) some naughty (cake with breasts), this is at it's chore still a poetic story about love overcoming all obstacles. If one needs to point out and recommend two scenes, then it would definitely be the one where after numerous comical events Holden simply turns off his car and seriously, honestly admits his love to Alyssa and after that the one where his friend catches him with her in bed, goes outside and simply observes some Canadian students doing stylistic exercises. There is no boredom here, the morality and "dirty details" are mixed with fairy tale that are compensated by an open ending. A small masterpiece. Joey Lauren Adams is great as Alyssa and was nominated for a Golden Globe as best actress in a musical or comedy.

Grade:++++

Clerks


Clerks; Comedy, USA, 1994; D: Kevin Smith, S: Brian O'Halloran, Jeff Anderson, Marilyn Ghigliotti, Lisa Spoonhauer, Jason Mewes, Kevin Smith

Dante Hicks (22) wakes up from a closet and answers a telephone call: his boss begs him to show up on Saturday on his job in a store because he promises that he will replace him by 12 o'clock. Dante accepts with disgust because he hates his customers, while the door of the store won't get open. One customer starts persuading all others to boycott cigarettes because they are toxic, but then gets exposed as a employee in a nicotine bubble gum factory. Dante argues with Veronica and often talks with Randal who works in a nearby video store. His boss doesn't show up at all so Dante leads the store until night, organizing a hockey game with friends, getting in trouble for selling cigarettes to a little girl. A customer dies in the toilette but Dante survives the day.

Back in 1994, the then unknown Kevin Smith shot his directorial debut, the black and white independent comedy "Clerks", for only 27.000 $, but it grossed over 3 million at the US box office, while he himself shows up with his friend Jason Mewes to play his trademark characters Jay and Silent Bob. "Clerks" are at moments clumsily directed film without visionary ideas, but they abound with contagious energy, showing once again that one only needs talent, and not huge amounts of money to make a good film. Brian O'Halloran and Jeff Anderson are funny when their characters Dante and Randal talk about the most unusual topics - from cheating in love ("How often did your girlfriend cheat on you?" - "8 and a half." - "...What do you mean 8 and a half?" - "Once she slept with me in the dark and thought I was Brad.") up to "The Return of the Jedi" ("The Jedi destroyed that 'Death Star' but didn't take into consideration the mass of innocent contract workers who worked there"). The movie is filled with adult motives and jokes, but it's humor has a lot of charm and seems real, while especially good is the scene in which a woman in a video store stubbornly always proves to Randal how she is always right, so he mocks her: "I hope your ego is now satisfied".

Grade:+++

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Scarface


Scarface; crime, USA, 1932, D: Howard Hawks, S: Paul Muni, Osgood Perkins, Ann Dvorak, Karen Morley, C. Henry Gordon, George Raft, Boris Karloff

Chicago. Gangster Costillo gets shot after a party. The police quickly arrest notorious criminal Tony Camonte who really did assassinate him, but have to let him go due to habeas corpus. Tony works for gangster Johnny Lovo who now takes over Costillo's business of illegal beer smuggling in the south part of the city. But Tony slowly climbs up the crime hierarchy, seducing Lovo's girlfriend Poppy, killing gangster boss O'Hara in the north and then even getting rid of Lovo after he tried a failed assassination attempt. When Tony kills a friend because he slept with his sister Cesca, the police surround his hideout and kill him.

In "Scarface", one of his best films, director Howard Hawks proved he can be a real master of simple, but effective old school film making, impressing so much that even De Palma made a cult remake 50 years later. There are a lot of tough gangster films that graced the cinema, but this one really takes the cake - one just needs to take the virtuoso 4 minute opening take that goes from a janitor cleaning a club after a party up to the shadow of Tony who shoots mobster boss Costillo, and all other arguments are unnecessary. This is a real classic about the rise and fall of a gangster that nicely fills the rhythm, gives passionate little details and small touches here and there (Tony takes a match and lights it up on a Detective's badge) that all add up to a small masterpiece. Some have lamented that the films glamorizes gangsters, but that's hard to back up since it's clear that Tony's life is never sweet or care free, while a lot of scenes don't shy of violence (a running car just throws out the corpse of a gangster on the street in one scene), even though it's much tamer by today's standards. "Scarface" didn't win any Oscars, who infamously ignored Hawks' opus, but even today it seems undated and fresh, and that's a proof of a fine film.

Grade:++++

Evolution


Evolution; Science-fiction comedy, USA, 2001; D: Ivan Reitman, S: David Duchovny, Orlando Jones, Julianne Moore, Sean William Scott, Ted Levine, Ethan Suplee, Ty Burrell, Dan Aykroyd

A mysterious asteroid crashed in the Arizona desert, where the young Wayne was practicing for a fireman exam. Ira, professor of chemistry, and Harry, professor of geology, go to the site of the crater and take some samples of the asteroid. In the laboratory, they discover that the rock is inhabited by unicellular organisms with 10 DNA bases which causes their extremely fast evolution. In 18 hours worms already evolved in the crater, which caused the appearance of army and Dr. Reed, while Ira and Harry get expelled. Still, they disguise as soldiers and enter the crater to investigate it, where lizards already developed. But the creatures are expanding uncontrollably while the fire transforms them into a giant, slimy mass, so Ira, Harry and Reed destroy them with Selenium in a shampoo.

Making a comedy out of evolution is definitely an idea with potential. But the authors of "Evolution" obviously didn't use almost any of the possibilities, instead filling the story with irrelevant events. The first 30 minutes are rather sympathetic: in the Arizona desert, fireman trainee Wayne sets a house on fire in order to practice saving puppets for his fireman exam, which is the kind of humor that has some charm. But the movie quickly dissolves into nothing due to irritatingly stupid creatures - like a lizard from whose mouth a new head pops out and bites the arm of a woman; a tree that eats a caterpillar; a dragon that throws up slime from which a new dragon evolves; slimy mass that farts etc. But that doesn't have anything to do with evolution - it's just cheap nonsense. One of the rare scenes that exploit that process is the one where Ira is amazed how worms can evolve out of unicellular organisms just in 18 hours, while Harry tells him: "They are living the American dream". Except for the charming David Duchovny and a small cameo appearance by Dan Aykroyd as a Governor, the whole film is wasted on nonsense and it's a pity there weren't more original gags - one just needs to remember the "Simpson" episode "Marge vs. the Monorail" where a mutated squirrel adapted herself to her environment so much that she shoots laser beams from her eyes in order to get nuts from a tree - now that's inventive.

Grade:-

Friday, 20 June 2008

Kindergarten Cop


Kindergarten Cop; Comedy, USA, 1990; D: Ivan Reitman, S: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Penelope Ann Miller, Pamela Reed, Linda Hunt, Richard Tyson, Eleanor Crisp, Cathy Moriarty

Strong Police Detective John Kimble has captured drug dealer Crisp, but he gets the assignment to go with a partner under cower to a small town and find his ex-wife Rachel and her son in order to persuade them to testify against Crisp. John disguises himself as a substitute teacher in a elementary school in order to quietly search for her, falling in the mercy of little annoying kids. Crisp arrives in town and kidnaps his son, but John is able to save the situation and kill the gangster.

Not especially funny but solid comedy "Kindergarten Cop" would have still been better if it based it's fun on well developed situations and supporting ideas and not just on one big long gag - placing a tough cop in a elementary school where he has to cope with little children. Besides the uneven handling of innocent child comedy and slightly brutal crime elements, the children are not well individualised and thus stayed without a bigger impact when not acting together as a mob, while the whole story is too mainstream. Still, the movie earned a lot at the box office and here and there surprises with Ivan Reitman's occasional sixth sense for comic timing, like when John Kimble storms into the place of the surprised gangsters who exchange this line with him: "Who are you?" - "I'm the party pooper." Arnold Schwarzenegger is solid in the leading role and would star in four films in total with Reitman.

Grade:+

Twins


Twins; Comedy, USA, 1988; D: Ivan Reitman, S: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Danny DeVito, Kelly Preston, Chloe Webb, Bonnie Bartlett, Trey Wilson, David Caruso

In '52, scientists took the genes of six intellectuals in order to impregnate Mary Ann Benedict so they can produce a perfect child. But she gave birth to twins: Julius and Vincent. With 36 years, Julius, who lived on a Utopian island in Pacific island, decided to find his twin brother in the US. There he finds out Vincent is actually a tiny, grouchy crook. Vincent though learns a lot of wisdom from him, but he already stole a mobster's car with a valuable engine. On their way, Julius falls in love with the girl Marnie and Vincent into Linda. They return the engine to the authorities and get a 50.000 $ reward. In an older home they search for their mother but she doesn't want to tell them about herself at first, but then she does. Julius and Vincent get twins themselves.

Gentle and mild comedy "Twins" that had a genius idea of introducing the giant Arnold Schwarzenegger and the small Danny Devito as twins managed nothing more than to craft a few neat gags around it, yet it still earned 70 million $ at the US box office, becoming the 5th biggest hit of the year. "Twins" are a solid film, but the direction by Ivan Reitman is very passive and meaningless, the tone unambitious while the already mentioned concept full of contrasts was only moderately exploited. The best scene is probably the one where Schwarzengeer compares his muscles with the poster of Stallone, but then quickly dismisses it as pure coincidence, while DeVito also has a lot of charm in his role of the neglected twin Vincent, where the story even adds a little commentary about the influence of the environment on the process of growing up, though it hardly makes the viewers care more about it as a whole.

Grade:++

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Love with the Proper Stranger


Love with the Proper Stranger; Drama, USA, 1963; D: Robert Mulligan, S: Natalie Wood, Steve McQueen, Herschel Bernardi, Anne Hegira, Edie Adams

New York. Musician Rocky gets confronted in the middle of a crowd with a young saleslady, Angie Rossini, who tells him she became pregnant after their affair. Even though he hardly remembers her, he decides to help her make an abortion. Angie doesn't want a child among other things because she still lives with her Catholic parents and two brothers. Rocky brings 450 $ but in the last minute Angie changes her mind and rejects the shabby abortion doctors in an apartment. Rocky half heartedly agrees to marry her, but she rejects him. In the end, he wins her over by playing a banjo on the street and they kiss.

With the tricky abortion drama "Love with the Proper Stranger" Natalie Wood, one of the most talented actresses of her generation, was rewarded with her third and last nomination for an Oscar as best actress and also for a Golden Globe, but sadly didn't win it. "Stranger" isn't just an empty set piece that only feeds of the (then) provocative theme about abortion since it has it's fair share of brilliant moments, but suffers a lot from some heavy melodrama in the form of annoying shouting and Steve McQueen's miscast role. It's also sad that the two protagonists who had an affair - Angie and Rocky - are too cold towards each other for a majority of the film - one of the rare exceptions of tenderness is the scene where the insecure Angie is about to undergo abortion while the expert, a lady with gloves, coldly tells her to take her clothes off, but then Rocky's heart breaks apart and he hugs Angie, telling her he won't let them touch her - whereas the movie also never shows the affair itself, just the consequence. Maybe it isn't important for the story to present how the two of them met, but that way it looses a vital layer for their understanding. Still, the movie has enough of big great moments - like the sequence where the frustrated Angie packs her suitcase and leaves the apartment of her parents, but then just a few seconds later returns and stands behind a curtain with a sad face - and even small great moments - probably the sweetest one is the one where Angie is relaxed and one of her feet took her shoe off, but then quickly put in back on when Rocky came into her store.

Grade:++

Bruce Almighty


Bruce Almighty; Fantasy comedy, USA, 2003; D: Tom Shadyac, S: Jim Carrey, Jennifer Aniston, Morgan Freeman, Steve Carell, Phillip Baker Hall, Catherine Bell

Bruce Nolan is a TV reporter who makes small news for a local TV station in Buffalo, New York. After a horrible day, in which he got fired and had an argument with his girlfriend Grace, Bruce in anger announces how it's all because God isn't doing his job. But then God shows up himself and gives him all his powers to try out doing his job. At first, Bruce is overwhelmed and uses his powers in order to become a popular anchorman, but then the town falls into chaos so he begs God to take over the lead again.

Some people watch movies in order to discover universal and higher truths about life. Those would maybe enjoy in those issues presented in the light comedy "Bruce Almighty", a messy and lumpily but sympathetic mild farce that has spirit and nice messages, some of them even with a sharp edge. The exposition in which Bruce is making a TV report is very funny (in slow motion, he is running with a bucket of milk and spills it all over the cups of children who stand in a long queue) but the movie steals a lot of motives from the masterwork "Groundhog Day" and even from many Capra classics. The esoteric plot in which Bruce gets the opportunity to take over God's job is executed at moments irresistibly charming, somewhere on the brink between Monty Pythons and Wilder (like in the scene where Bruce organizes a romantic dinner for Grace so he brings the Moon nearer and puts more starts in the sky) while Jim Carrey is tolerable. The impression is spoiled by the overstretched finale and "plot devices" that predictably always go more in hand towards the perfect God and much less towards the sympathetically imperfect human hero who could have improved the flawed world. Steve Carell steals by the way every scene from Carrey with ease, especially in the hilarious moment where his character is "messed up" by Bruce's powers while going live on TV.

Grade:++

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

A Dirty Shame


A Dirty Shame; Satire, USA, 2004; D: John Waters, S: Tracey Ullman, Johnny Knoxwille, Selma Blair, Chris Isaak, Suzanne Shepherd, Mink Stole, Patricia Hearts, Jackie Hoffman, Wes Johnson, David Hasselhoff

Sylvia is a frigid middle aged housewife who always refuses to sleep with her husband Vaughn. Her daughter Caprice is under house arrest for exhibitionism and has giant cosmetically enhanced breasts size F. One day, Sylvia is struck in the head by a lawnmower from a passing truck, whose driver Ray-Ray, a 'sexual healer', cures her and returns lust to her life. Constantly aroused, she now wants to sleep with everyone, while her uptight mother Ethel starts a decency rally against perversions in the neighborhood. Sylvia becomes her uptight self when struck in the head, but becomes wild by another struck, becoming Ray-Ray's 12th apostle, discovering a new way of intercourse - headbutts.

"A Dirty Shame" is pretty good the first 20 minutes when John Waters crafts it as a sleazy satire about frigidity as a some sort of a traditional value, whereas Tracey Ullman is all right as the main protagonist Sylvia who suddenly transforms from an uptight wife into a lusty woman, yet the movie quickly dissolves into chaotic mess where it wasn't really clear what the story was trying to say or what the story actually was for that matter. Here and there a few funny lines show up (like "I'm not prude. I married an Italian!" or "My daughter is a good child. She hates sex!") and some black humored gags actually have some style, like when Ray-Ray humps a tree and it's flowers start to bloom, yet it's filled with tasteless details (putting a finger lasciviously into meat in the store) and even inconsistencies - for instance, at first Sylvia's husband Vaughn wants to sleep with her, but she refuses, yet later on she wants to sleep with him but he suddenly becomes prude all of a sudden. Also, Sylvia's character is only reduced to cheap moaning and lusty behavior, but very little else about her is found out since she even gets pushed into the background by all the too crazy ideas that turn the whole film into just a farce about humping everyone with everything, but on the other hand, some have praised the film precisely because the whole thing has been done so over the top that it actually became funny. Among the bizarre highlights is definitely Selma Blair in the small role as Caprice, Sylvia's daughter with breasts size F (!), but when one looks at Lolo Ferrari, it actually even isn't that far fetched.

Grade:+

Serial Mom


Serial Mom; Dark comedy, USA, 1994; D: John Waters, S: Kathleen Turner, Sam Waterston, Ricki Lake, Matthew Lillard, Scott Morgan, Walt MacPherson, Justin Whalin, Suzanne Somers, Traci Lords

Beverly is a kitschy mother that does everything in an ideal matter. Her husband is Eugene, while her kids are Misty and Chip. But one day she starts killing everyone who doesn't suit her: a teacher because he complained that her son watches too much horror movies, neighbors because they eat chicken, an old woman because she doesn't rewind her tape...When she gets caught, she convinces the jury members with her sympathy and gets released of all charges.

Many complained about the schizophrenia comedy "Me, Myself and Irene", but it's forerunner "Serial Mom" is also quite annoying. As with all of his films, director John Waters showed his bizarre sense for black humor, but also for his exploitation of low tastes: "Serial Mom" is an interesting and sharp satire about the deceiving appearance and fake relationships in suburbia, but it's also unfinished. One truly needs to have a perverse side to find the murders by Kathleen Turner's character funny - having an open mind for Transgressive art is welcomed, but conceit about something that isn't there is like laughing at "Police Academy 7". The Farrellys also have a lot of low taste humor, but with style, while Waters lack that here. The aggressive behaviour of the mother, who succeeds in everything except convincing the audience that she is sympathetic, displays the theme of the story about how id overcomes the super-ego. Kathleen Turner is very good in her one dimensional role that goes crazy from who knows what (maybe from too much conformism?) and kills victims that don't deserve it. Still, one has to admit that Waters has courage when he bravely gave Traci Lords a small role in the film.

Grade:++

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Die Feuerzangenbowle


Die Feuerzangenbowle; Comedy, Germany, 1944; D: Helmut Weiss, S: Heinz Rühmann, Erich Ponto, Paul Henckels, Karin Himboldt, Hilde Sessak

Four old teachers get a visit from writer Johann Pfeiffer who tells them that he never attended school because he was educated at home. They are astonished to hear that, so they persuade him to disguise himself as a young student in order to at least for one month experience the benefits of school adventures. Pfeiffer leaves Berlin and goes to a small village where he signs in at a gymnasium. There he meets snappy students who make pranks to the strict teacher Crey. When he is found by his wife Marion, he refuses to return to the adult world. He even meets a girl, Eva, the daughter of the principal. In the end, he disguises himself as Crey during the inspection and admits he already has a diploma.

Although it wasn't simple to make comedies in Germany during World War II, director Helmut Weiss and legendary comedian Heinz Ruhmann managed with an easy hand to craft a harmless and successful film "Die Feuerzangenbowle", an adaptation of Heinrich Spoerl's novel with the same title, about the departure of an adult writer into student lives in order to experience the joy of school days. This amusing film that awoke nostalgia of comic adventures during class is an ode to escapism and even today enjoys the status of a classic in it's homeland, never becoming boring like some films of it's time. Ruhmann is wonderful as the main protagonist, the writer Pfeiffer, who disguises himself as a student, which looks surprisingly believable even though he was 42 at that time (!), while the movie is filled with simple jokes, among the highlights are the scene where he helps a student - who is questioned by the teacher during history class - by reflecting with his mirror the way of the Goths on the map or when he puts a sign in school that says: "Closed for repairs". Even the dialogues are pretty cleverly written ("Is the name Pfeiffer spelled with one or two f?" - "With three") establishing, despite the slightly mild tone, a very neat and nostalgic comedy.

Grade:+++

The Man Who Was Sherlock Holmes


Der Mann, der Sherlock Holmes war; Comedy, Germany, 1937; D: Karl Hartl, S: Hans Albers, Heinz Rühmann, Marieluise Claudius, Hansi Knoteck, Hilde Weissner

Morris and his friend Macky disguise themselves as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in order to get a job. They stop a train and board in, noticing every passenger really mistakes them for real detectives. They settle in a hotel and accidentally get a different luggage in which they find money, while the policemen bring them to the inspector who even begs them to take over the case of the valuable missing stamps. Morris discovers that the stamps were held by a counterfeit expert in his castle, who left everything to Mary and Jane. The criminals attack them, but they are saved by the police. On the court, Morris discovers the truth and finds the stamps, while writer Doyle begs him to write a book about it.

Crime comedy "The Man Who Was Sherlock Holmes", although shot in the golden time period of black and white cinema of the 1930's where numerous great films emerged, is still far away from the notion of a classic. The most bothersome is the unambitious direction by Karl Hartl to whom the disguise of the two characters as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson is an inducement just for light entertainment: who knows what Chaplin would have done out of that, or what moreover Keaton did in his excellent film "Sherlock Jr." The famous German comedian Heinz Ruhmann is pretty good, the concept of the story about deceiving of the public with appearance is interesting, but the whole set up and mood fail to craft something exciting or stimulative in the finished routine result. Among the best gags is the one where writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle bursts into laughter when he hears the news that Sherlock Holmes is in the hotel.

Grade:++

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Dune


Dune; Science-fiction, USA, 1984; D: David Lynch, S: Kyle MacLachlan, Francesca Annis, Kenneth McMillan, Everett McGill, Freddie Jones, Sting, Jürgen Prochnow, Sean Young, Dean Stockwell, Silvana Mangano, Max von Sydow, Patrick Stewart, Virginia Madsen, Linda Hunt, Alicia Witt

In the year 10.191, Princess Irulan explains that the most important substance in the Universe, Spice, that can enable travel through space, can only be found on the desert planet Arrakis, called Dune. The Space Guilds sends a Navigator to the Emperor who explains them that he plans to destroy the increasingly popular House Atreides. When the Atreides and their servants come to Dune, the evil Vladimir from the House of Harkonnen kills Duke Leto, while his son Paul and his mother Jessica are able to escape an hide in the desert. They join the Fremen tribe. Paul marries Chani and teaches them his special fighting techniques. With the help of giant sand worms, they start a rebellion, kill Vladimir and place Paul as the new Emperor. Then it starts to rain.

One can hardly blame director David Lynch for not managing to make a worthy adaptation of Frank Herbert's cult novel "Dune" since he gave it his best attempt, but the restraints of the producers simply butchered it into an chaotic movie, yet what else can one expect when they stubbornly wanted to shorten everything, reducing a 500 page book into just a 2 hour film. Ironically, even though "Dune" is Lynch's most commercially successful film, it's also his biggest failure, since it grossed 27 million $ compared to a 45 million $ budget. A lot of costume and set-design solutions in the film are amazing, the special effects are unbelievable, but except for a few aesthetic images of desert and giant sand worms, there is little that will hold the attention of the viewers because the film is a stiff and too schematic adaptation, simply too incoherent since it introduces a whole bunch of characters that already die just 5 minutes later - frankly, those who didn't read the novel will even have problems following the story - with a lot of unnecessary grotesque ideas, like the fact that the bad guy Baron Vladimir Harkonnen has hideous pustules on his skin (even though he doesn't have in the book), in once scene floating away from his chair, then coming down, attacking a servant and drinking his blood (?!). The whole film is sadly rushed and too grey, but here and there an excellent scene appears, like Paul's hallucinations after he drank the Water of Life, showing how Lynch still has talent and admiration for such stories, which is why he refused to direct "The Return of the Jedi".

Grade:+

Cabaret


Cabaret; Drama, USA, 1972; D: Bob Fosse, S: Liza Minnelli, Michael York, Helmut Griem, Joel Grey, Marisa Berenson

Berlin, '31. Englishman Brian Roberts rents a room in the apartment of American singer Sally Bowles who performs in a Cabaret. There she sings, entertains the guests and dreams about a career as an actress. Jew Fritz is in love with her, but leaves her for a Jewish woman, Natalia. Sally tries to seduce Brian, but he tells her that women don't excite him. Still, they start a relationship anyway. Soon she starts to flirt with the rich Max who gives her expensive presents and accepts Brian as a friend. The trio has fun in the villa and travels through the country. But the Nazi party strengthens, Sally becomes pregnant and hires an abortion expert, while Brian leaves Berlin.

One of the most famous films by Bob Fosse is the acclaimed drama "Cabaret" that won 3 Golden Globes (best motion picture - musical or comedy, actress Liza Minnelli and supporting actor Joel Gray - even though his appearance is only reduced to the Master of ceremonies in short dancing acts that break up the story), 7 BAFTA awards (including best film) and 8 Oscars (including best director, actress Minnelli, actor Grey). "Cabaret" is an excellent film with occasional musical additions, but Fosse knew how to avoid conventionality and boredom: the singers wrestle in their underwear in mud on the stage; Sally tells Brian he is "too English" while it is implied he had gay affinities. Even the dance sequences are impressive, from the one where Sally is dancing with her legs while sitting on the chair up to the song "Money Makes the World Go Round" where her partner throws her a dime in her cleavage. But even the sole story about the disparate romance set before the beginning of World War II captivates with it's fine tone and questions about life.

Grade:+++

Saturday, 14 June 2008

San Francisco


San Francisco; Drama/ Disaster movie, USA, 1936; D: W. S. Van Dyke, S: Clark Gable, Jeanette MacDonald, Spencer Tracy, Jack Holt, Jessie Ralph

San Francisco. The people are celebrating the new year, 1906. Blackie Norton, owner of the notorious night club "Paradise" hires the young Mary as his new singer, but his childhood friend, Priest Mullin thinks she should make a career as an opera singer, and not as an entertainer in such shabby place. She indeed goes to Jack Burley's opera and performs there, but decides to return to Blackie and marry him. But she leaves Blackie when he hits Mullin for trying to prevent her show. Then the earthquake hits and destroys the city. Blackie finds Mary alive and regains faith in God.

One of Hollywood's first major big budget disaster films, "San Francisco" was nominated for 6 Oscars, including best picture, director and screenplay, but today it seems hopelessly dated and mild, a story that spends too much time on the bland romance between Blackie and singer Mary and too little on the major 1906 earthquake itself. Out of it's 115 minutes of running time, 95 minutes in total are spent on routine melodrama: even though Clark Gable is great as the cynical Blackie who doesn't have faith and Jeanette MacDonald as Mary, only a few occasional good moments give it real spark, like when Blackie demands to see her legs before he gives her a job in his night club. Some 20 minutes before the end, the earthquake finally appears and it seems as if a whole new director replaced the old one and suddenly gave the film incredible freshness: that sole sequence is simply brilliant, equipped with numerous details, from whole buildings collapsing, walls falling on people, pianos crashing through the windows up to mass panic of citizens. If the first 95 minutes of the film were as exciting as those last 20, it would have been a real classic, not just a routine drama.

Grade:++

Solaris


Solaris; Science-fiction drama, USA, 2002; D: Steven Soderberg, S: George Clooney, Natascha McElhone, Viola Davis, Jeremy Davies, Ulrich Tukur

Psychologist Chris Kelvin walks through a rainy town. He is summoned to investigate the strange behavior of astronauts orbiting the strange planet Solaris. Once there, he discovers all members have disappeared except Gordon and Snow. He falls asleep, dreaming about his dead wife Rheya, shocked when he finds her in his bed when waking up. It turns out Solaris is able to make copies of real people and grant people's wishes. Rheya doubts if she is the real Rheya, while even Snow turns out to be copy. In the spaceship, Chris imagines he is back on Earth with Rheya again.

Steven Soderbergh's "Solaris", for some a remake of Tarkowski's famous Sci-fi film from '72, for others a new adaptation of Stanislav Lem's novel with he same title, is an interesting and thought provocative psychological drama with a strong touch of romance, but instead of intensity and life it feels rather dead and grey. The story debates about second chances, love that overcomes all obstacles and even faith, since the planet Solaris might even be a symbol for God, yet all those ingredients should have been packed into a better and intriguing movie, not just a dry philosophical essay. The female part of the audience might find it interesting for the sole fact that George Clooney appears naked in one scene, but even they will find the film rather sluggish, inert and pale, despite an interesting end. Still, Soderbergh obviously knows how to insert a few poetic scenes even in such films, and the best one is when the protagonist Chris sleeps and dreams about his dead wife Rheya, while the camera cuts to a shot of a strange blue thread from Solaris' surface that connects with a red one, maybe Chris' consciousness, astounding him when he wakes up and finds Rheya in his bed. Maybe there are some things we can't understand from this hermetic film, but even they are not that interesting to know.

Grade:+

The Crowd Roars


The Crowd Roars; Drama, USA, 1932; D: Howard Hawks, S: James Cagney, Ann Dvorak, Eric Linden, Joan Blondell, Frank McHugh, Billy Arnold

Indianapolis champion Joe Greer is returning to his hometown with a train. He has a relationship with Lee, who is constantly persuading him to quit his race car profession because he can get seriously injured. When arriving home, Joe is at first hesitant to help his little brother Eddie become a race car driver too, but in the end complies. When Eddie falls in love with the blond Anne, who is infamously only after men's money, Joe breaks up every contact with him. During a race, a Connor's car explodes, and from there on Joe is too fearful to attend any race. Broke and lonely, he finally joins Eddie in a major race and wins, even though their car's tire falls apart.

Shot in the early days of Howard Hawks' career, sports drama "The Crowd Roars" is one of his weaker films, a rightfully forgotten film that doesn't have much to seize the attention of the audience, except for the race fans. It's a competently made, but mild and standard film revolving around the world of race car drivers and their rivalry, here played by James Cagney and Eric Linden. Mostly, it plays out just as a bland story without inspiration, but here and there the charming Joan Blondell steals every scene she is in as the wisecracking blond Anne who never passes out an opportunity to ridicule the main protagonist Joe. Hawks famously once said what it takes to make a great film: "Three good scenes, no bad scenes". There are no bad scenes here, but there are also only two half-good scenes: the one is when Connor's car explodes and starts a fire on the track, while the race drivers just continue to drive through it one lap after the other, while the other one is a humorous one when, after the final race, injured Joe and Eddie are racing with their opponents in two ambulance cars to the hospital, trying to be first even in such situation.

Grade:++

Friday, 13 June 2008

Play Time


Play Time; Comedy, France/ Italy, 1967; D: Jacques Tati, S: Jacques Tati, Barbara Dennek, Jacqueline Lecomte, Valérie Camille, France Rumilly

An airport. The reporters observe an old man in a hurry, a tourist guide leads tourists from America to a bus in order to show them Paris. Mr. Hulot enters a modern building in order to talk with someone, but gets lost and arrives to a floor with the elevator. There he spots the presentation of modern doors. In the evening, he drops by at a friend whose house has glass on one side instead of a mirror. In a restaurant a big party is under way, but the room collapses. He shows up there but quickly leaves. On the street, he meets an American woman who helps him in his orientation, so he buys her a present before leaving.

"Play Time", experimental comedy by Jacques Tati, the author of famous classics, is a complete mess. Non-linear story, that flip-flops between an airport, Mr. Hulot stumbling into some building and then into some party, is unfocused, boring and confusing. It's completely reduced to visual, physical gags, loosing almost all dialogues. There are a few good gags here, like when a man speaks with an old man but he can't hear him because they are separated by transparent glass or when a guest puts a drunk man inside round legs of a chair, but at the same time there are also a lot of weak ones, like the tourist woman who can't make photos of a flower shop because she is troubled by passerbys or rubber chairs that make squeaking sounds when someone sits on them. Even though the critics praised it, the public avoided this overstretched film, fed up with Tati's films without a plot, but even his failure seems like a solid achievement that neatly sums up a critique of a cold, mechanical society where people completely lost their orientation.

Grade:+

My Uncle


Mon Oncle; Comedy, France/ Italy, 1958; D: Jacques Tati, S: Jacques Tati, Alain Becourt, Adrienne Servantie, Jean-Pierre Zola, Betty Schneider

The Arpel family lives in a highly modern house. The father works in the "Plastac" factory and manufactures plastics, the mother cleans the house while their son Gerard attends elementary school and bores himself. Every time the neighbors show up, they turn on their water fountain shaped like a fish. One day the brother of the mother visits them, Mr. Hulot, who lives in the poor part of the town, but since he accidentally makes a mess and destroys the fountain, he leaves the yard and brings Gerard with him. Hulot gets fired in "Plastac" and leaves, while Gerard and dad become friends.

"My Uncle" is probably the most famous and best comedy directed by Jacques Tati, in which he once again stars in the role of Mr. Hulot, while the Academy awarded it with the Oscar for best foreign language film and the Cannes festival with the Jury Prize. Unlike his previous two films, Tati here still managed to set up a stable story and not just an unconnected queue of gags, even giving the film some sort of critique of the modern society, though rather unfocused (the Arpel family lives in a modern house while Mr. Hulot lives in a dirty suburb of town). Among the neat ideas is the one at the beginning where the titles of the crew are written on a board, not with subtitles, but the first 10 minutes are boring since the camera just loosely shows dogs, people on the street, cars. Only when Mr. Hulot shows up, again with his trademark pipe, does the story live up, offering numerous gags: a dog barks at a fish with teeth that peeks out of Hulot's bag; kids rock a car and hit the lid of a pot in order to make the driver think he made a crash; the father swings on the chair so Hulot stops and starts, observing that he doesn't see him cutting the wedge behind the wall; two heads show up on the two round windows making it seem the house has two eyes. But there is again the trouble of empty walk and forced nature, while the cold relationship between the boy and his oncle isn't even evoked since they practically don't even talk with each other.

Grade:++

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Monsieur Hulot's Holiday


Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot ; Comedy, France, 1953; D: Jacques Tati, S: Jacques Tati, Nathalie Pascaud, Michelina Rolla, Valentine Camax, Luis Perrault

Mr. Hulot, always with a pipe in his mouth, travels for a summer holiday to Bretagne. He has to stop with his car in the middle of a road due to a dog that sleeps there. Hulot opens the hotel door and a strong wind blows away every newspaper of the guests. Everyone thinks he is a fool due to his clumsy nature: the boat falls in the sea while he was writing his name on it; a firework ignites while everyone sleeps; he listens to over loud music...Only the blond Martine has sympathy with him. At the end of the vacation, everyone gives Mr. Hulot their phone number before leaving.

Similarly as his previous film "The Big Day", Jacques Tati constructed his following comedy "Mr. Hulot's Holiday" as an ode to Chaplin and Keaton films, as a comedy without story but with a lot of gags, while he himself appears some 10 minutes into the film, for the first time using a pipe in his mouth as his trademark, acting almost without any dialogues. The screenplay was nominated for an Oscar but despite it's dynamics it has a lot of flaws. For instance, it's a pity that the characters are one dimensional while the plot is occasionally forced and overstretched. Still, many gags are funny precisely because of their simple nature: Hulot opens the door of the hotel and the wind blows away every newspaper of every guest, leaning even the beam of tea. A man holds a full glass, so when he turns his hand to look at his watch he accidentally spills the drink. Houlot's boat cracks in half while he is in it, while he even accidentally ignites the fireworks that hit at the hotel, making even one rocket explode in a room. It's a whole array of physical gags that inspired numerous comedians (Benny Hill, Sellers, Myers...) but without a deeper point.

Grade:++

The Big Day


Jour de fête; Comedy, France, 1949; D: Jacques Tati, S: Jacques Tati, Guy Decomble, Paul Frankeur, Santa Relli, Maine Vallee

A small village is preparing for holidays. Some of the inhabitants try to set up a pole with French flag, others are in love while there is also the postman François with his bycicle. He transports letters with devotion, but is hopelessly clumsy. In an amusment park he sees a propaganda newsreel about the fast American mail, so he stays impressed by it completely drunk. The next day he decides to drastically improve his mail delivery even though everyone laughs at him in the village. François travels through mountains and drives his bicycle faster, but then decides to drop such an approach and continue the way he did.

"The Big Day" is a simple, funny and short comedy, but as a whole it's not entirely absorbing due to it's mild tone. The movie was shot in black and white, but in '97 a new restored version in color showed up. The beginning is rather boring but everything lightens up as soon as the character of Jacques Tati's postman shows up some 10 minutes into the film, offering a whole bunch of gags - he steps on a hoe that slams him in the head; just as he enters the office he catches a chicken that was trying to fly out the window; he turns the head of a man whose cigarette bursts a balloon; he looks through a horn so his eye stays dirty. The humor is rather childish, though impressively staged, whereas Tati even allowed a few sarcastic scenes here ans there, like when he puts a letter behind a horses tail, but mostly everything remained anecdotal and too simple.

Grade:++

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Schindler's List


Schindler's List; war drama, USA, 1993; D: Steven Spielberg, S: Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, Ralph Fiennes, Jonathan Sagall, Caroline Goodall, Embeth Davidtz
Krakow, World War II. All the Jews are gathered in a ghetto by the Nazi party. Oskar Schindler, an industrialist and a member of the Nazi party, bribes the commander of the camp Amon Goeth into giving him numerous Jews to work for his Emylee pot factory for free, even hiring Itzhak Stern as his accountant. He even persuades former Jew tycoons to surrender their business to him for a few pots. Then the ghetto gets evacuated and everyone is put into labour camp Plaszow. Slowly, Schindler starts giving more jobs to Jews, guaranteeing their safety in his factory. In the end, he saves over 1.100 Jews from certain death in Auschwitz.

"Schindler's List" won 7 Oscars, 3 Golden Globes and 7 BAFTA awards completely justifiably because it is bravura written and directed, the ultimate film about the Holocaust after which every comment or addition is unnecessary. Directing two classics in one year - "Jurassic Park" and this - Spielberg showed great talent, since this drama, filmed in black and white, contains an exceptional mix of poetic emotions and dreadful violence, like in the scene where the Nazis carry the body of a little dead girl who has a dress with a (added) red color. Even though the first 20 minutes are slightly too slow and some descriptions of the Germans fall into stereotype, Spielberg showed an unprecedented talent in handling such an issue: scene after scene after scene, he directs everything with a precise point, so that every little detail causes a reaction from the viewers and no scene seems unnecessary despite the running time of three hours.

One of the best examples is the sequence where the Nazi soldiers are evacuating the ghetto and shooting in the building - from far away, the windows of the building are illuminated here and there from the shooting, and seem almost like little sparks, which all adds to its creepy poetry. The situation in the labour camp, where anyone can get shot for no reason at all, is almost intolerable, and even occasional sweet scenes seem bitter - for the first time in a Spielberg film, nudity and intercourse were explicitly shown - creating a three dimensional image of the horrors of a Totalitarian regime, once again proving that some artists like Spielberg find the biggest inspiration in the war, yet despite the absolutely bleak mood this is still a story about the wake of hope and morality of the main protagonist in the midst of all the evil. All characters are virtuoso set, from the Nazi commandant Amon Goeth who has a secret affair with a Jewish woman servant up to the sole Schindler who is deliberately nontransparent since he was a womanizer and a war profiteer, but in the end also a human with a soft heart. The only big flaw is the finale in color with the real survivors visiting Schindler's grave, yet otherwise this is a masterpiece.

Grade:++++

Roman Holiday


Roman Holiday; Romantic comedy, USA/ Italy, 1953; D: William Wyler, S: Audrey Hepburn, Gregory Peck, Eddie Albert, Hartley Power, Harcourt Williams

Princess Ann came to Rome for an official visit. She acts seriously in front of guests and famous politicians, but privately such a formal life is stressful and hardly tolerable for her. That's why she runs away one night and falls asleep on the street. Reporter Joe meets her and accommodates her in his apartment, not knowing who she is. The next day he reads the newspaper and realizes a real princess sleeps in his bed, so he decides so secretly ask her about her views in order to have the interview of his life. He spends the day with her while his colleague Irving takes pictures of them. But when she leaves he realizes he fell in love and decides not to publish the cheap article.

Enchanting Audrey Hepburn won an Oscar, a Golden Globe and a BAFTA for her truly exceptional role of a bored princess in "Roman Holiday", one of the better films of director William Wyler, even though it's slightly overrated. In the exposition, Wyler and screenwriter Dalton Trumbo introduce the princess so simply humane that the viewers will nourish sympathies for her to the very end: in the sequence where she shakes hands with a whole line of politicians she keeps her serious face, but the camera shows her leg - that can't be seen under her dress - "childishly" take off her shoe and scratching her other leg. Very shrill is also the dialog between her maid and her because she doesn't want to sleep in her royal pyjama ("Some sleep naked, you know that?" - "Thank God, I don't!"), neatly establishing the 'golden cage' of the princess whose spirit is never spoiled, but just wants to live free and without duties for once. The second part of the story though, in which the reporter shows her Rome just as a pretext to secretly make an article about her, is slightly forced and superficial. The romance and his ethics are manifested only at the end, but up to that he almost turns out to be the bad guy with a secret agenda who fakes a grand day out for her just to make profit on her sensational story, yet the open ending is touching and boldly impressive.

Grade:+++

Monday, 9 June 2008

Fletch Lives


Fletch Lives; Comedy, USA, 1989; D: Michael Ritchie, S: Chevy Chase, Hal Halbrook, Patricia Kalemar, Julianne Phillips, R. Lee Ermey, Richard Libertini, Randall 'Tex' Cobb, Phil Hartman

Reporter Fletch, after solved mystery from part one, gets strange news: his aunt died and left him a mansion. He goes to Louisiana only to discover his estate is in the middle of a swamp, and thus regards it as worthless, but quickly he hears that someone is offering 225.000 $ for it. That seems odd to him, and when he even gets accused of murder he and his new friend Goldsteen start investigating the matter. The most suspicious person is the rich TV evangelist Farnsworth who summons him up in his TV show to convert him. It turns out the perpetrator is Hamilton, who wants to turn the estate into a toxic waste storage, but Goldsteen stops him since he turns out to be a cop.

The sequel "Fletch Lives" turned out surprisingly daft, dynamic, funny and often even superior to the original. Only die hard critics, who are already through classical conditioning taught that every sequel is automatically weaker the the original, could hate it if they loved the 1st film, though even the 2nd part can hardly be called a quality achievement. Those who know with what kind of humor comedian Chevy Chase often operates will probably be amused by his coping with dilemma situations in Louisiana, no matter how far fetched they seem, but the humor reaches too often for cheap ideas or is based solely on Fletch belittling someone. However, when director Michael Ritchie puts some effort into it, he is able to occasionally conjure up a few hilarious jokes, such as when Fletch is in a prison cell and asks a thug who wants to assault him why he is here, upon which he replies ("Molesting a dead horse!") or when Fletch is shouting "Zulu! Zulu!" after he is able to chase away the Ku Klux Klan. In another funny sequence, Fletch plays a corpse so a greedy undertakes takes his watch and makes an offer to the protesting man who brought him in the morgue in the first place: "I'll tell you what: you call me anytime and I'll tell you what time it is!" Those are small pleasures in an otherwise standard and heavy handed comedy.

Grade:+

Fletch


Fletch; crime comedy, USA, 1985; D: Michael Ritchie, S: Chevy Chase, Dana Wheeler-Nicholson, Joe Don Baker, Richard Libertini, Tim Matheson, M. Emmet Walsh, Geena Davis

Fletch is a reporter working "under cower" as a bump on the beach in order to expose the drug business for his newest article. Accidentally, he meets a man called Alan Stanwyck who lures him into his mansion and proposes him a bizarre deal: he is supposedly suffering from cancer and will pay him a lot of money if he shoots him on Thursday so that his family will receive insurance. Suspicious, Fletch starts investigating: he disguises himself as a doctor and discovers Alan isn't sick at all. In the end, he finds out Alan works with Police Chief Karlin on the drug deal, so he has them arrested and flies off with Alan's girlfriend Gail.

"Fletch" is a cult crime comedy from the 80s that tries to impersonate the "Beverly Hills Cop" - it's crime elements are good and have style, yet the comedy addition seems very contrived. Chevy Chase is very good in his most trademark role of his career, yet his rough humor simply seems lousy and out of place. Some of the jokes, like when Fletch falls asleep in his bed in front of a basketball game on TV and all of a sudden dreams he is inside it taking the role of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, have a certain bizarre charm, yet most of them seem to be taken from the typical mainstream comedy, exhausting themselves only with Chase disguising himself, doing cheap pranks or making sleazy comments about herpes or syphilis of a random man he just meet at a convention where he was about to be honored. In that aspect, this is a solid film that still has a few virtues, but isn't particularly funny.

Grade:+