Thursday, 30 July 2009

Anastasia


Anastasia; Animated adventure, USA, 1997; D: Don Bluth, Gary Goldman, S: Meg Ryan, John Cusack, Christopher Lloyd, Kelsey Grammer, Hank Azaria, Bernadette Peters, Kirsten Dunst

World War I. Evil magician Grigori Rasputin stimulates the Russian Revolution in order to kill Czar Nicholas II and his family, in which he succeeds. But one child survives: girl Anastasia, who was saved by little Dimitri. Years later, they are grown ups and meets again in Saint Petersburg. She grew up as an orphan, while Dimitri plans to bring her to Paris where her grandmother offered 10 million Rubely to anyone who finds her. The trio travels with a train to Polish territory, continuing their journey with a ship, but Rasputin prosecutes them. When Anastasia's heritage gets confirmed, Dimitri leaves not taking the award. She goes after him, but they get attacked by Rasputin, but she breaks his medallion and he melts away. Dimitri and Anastasia fall in love.

The most detailed and delicately drawn animated film by director Don Bluth, "Anastasia" signaled a small comeback for the old master of animation after his weak contributions "A Troll in Central Park" and "The Pebble and the Penguin" which passed almost unnoticed by the critics and the audience. Even though it takes some liberties with history, "Anastasia" an interesting and meticulously animated film, with great dubbing from Meg Ryan as the main heroine and John Cusack as Dimitri. Even though the protagonists are grown ups and serious, this is a movie suitable for all ages, even though its not on the same level of Bluth's excellent '86 film "Land before Time". Some scenes do come across as somewhat embarrassingly sweet, while the finale including the villain Rasputin isn't especially poignant, but its still a much more beautiful, charming, alive and meaningful animated film that sweeps the modern competition with ease.

Grade:++

Rock-a-Doodle


Rock-a-Doodle; Animated adventure, Ireland/ UK/ USA, 1991; D: Don Bluth, S: Glen Campbell, Ellen Greene, Tony Scott Ganger, Christopher Plummer

Camera descends from space to Earth, where a rooster called Chanticleer sings every morning to stimulate the Sun to rise. He is appreciated, but when the Sun rises one morning even without his singing, he gets ridiculed and leaves disappointed. Immediately afterwards, rain starts pouring over the farm, so one dog, magpie and a mouse start a search for him. Boy Edmond, taking the form of a cat, joins them, trying to return to his family. They find the rooster has built a singing career in the city and find a girlfriend, Goldie, but returns to the farm. There they get attacked by an evil owl, but when he sings it stops raining while Edmond returns back home.

Simple fable adventure "Rock-a-Doodle" is one of the paler achievements of animated master Don Bluth. Besides an ecstatic physiognomy, the characters are narrowed by unfinished relationships and the too chaotic structure of the story, which will seem bothersome even to children. There's an unusual blend between live action subplot of the boy Edmond and animated main plot revolving around the rooster which leaves rather indifferent. That what is in traces crafted good is the valuable animation which creates a mood for itself as well as some fascinating female heroines, but even the main one, chicken Goldie, appears only some 40 minutes into the film and disappears quickly afterwards. As a whole, its an easily watchable, though blurry and only moderately stimulative patchwork, even despite the fact that the story has some honest imagination.

Grade:+

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

The Land Before Time


The Land Before Time; animated fantasy adventure drama, USA, 1988; D: Don Bluth, S: Gabriel Damon, Candace Hutson, Judith Barsi, Will Ryan

The time of the dinosaurs: hunger and drought plague the land. Littlefoot, an Apatosaurus, hatches from an egg under care from his mother, grandmother and grandfather, since his father died. Together they travel towards the west to find the more prosperous "Great Valley" whereas the mother gives Littlefoot a leaf as a present. He meets the arrogant Cera, a baby Triceratops, who is attacked by a giant Tyrannosaurus. They are saved by Littlefoot's mother, but she dies from her injury while an earthquake creates a rift which separates the children from their parents. On their way, Littlefoot and Cera are joined by Petrie, lazy Spike and Ducky. In a trap, they push the T Rex into a lake and he drowns. The baby dinosaurs finally arrive at the valley, where Littlefoot meets his grandparents.

Shining animated film "The Land Before Time" is arguably the best film in Don Bluth's opus which became a hit despite the melancholic-bitter story about transience. Bluth here chose dinosaurs as protagonists, not humans, but that did not burden him at all in creating real, mature emotions and symbolical problems that encapsulate every aspect of family (for instance, the little Apatasaurus Littlefoot also has a grandma and a grandpa; has a hard time as an orphan) - Disney would here maybe fall into banal humor and sentimentality. Bluth's family extrapolation also gains tremendously due to touching music: in one great scene, Littlefoot sleeps in the footprint of an Apatosaurus; when he calls for his mother at great distance, she just simply approaches him with her long neck. Also, the scene where Littlefoot has a vision of his dead mother is one of the saddest moments in the history of animated drama and is an unknown classic. Would Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky be equally as gripping if they were spoken by dinosaurs? In this example, they would. The dinosaur characters are so remarkably far away from monsters and so remarkably close to real personalities, that the viewers could almost mistake them for humans. However, equally intense are also the suspenseful scenes including the Tyrannosaurs and the giant earthquake which creates a shift and elevates the hills, in a thoroughly impressive sequence. As a movie that seems as if its created before big budget cliches, "The Land Before Time" is a small jewel, an unique achievement. The most emotional dinosaur movie ever made, and one of the best dinosaur movies in the history cinema, in general.

Grade:+++

An American Tail


An American Tail; Animated adventure, USA, 1986; D: Don Bluth, S: Phillip Glasser, Amy Green, John P. Finnegan, Dom DeLuise, Christopher Plummer, Madeline Kahn

19th Century. Feivel is a small mouse of the poor Russian Mousekewitz family who decides to immigrate to the USA because it hopes for a better life where there are no cats. On a ship traveling across the Atlantic Ocean, the storm flushes Feivel away. Arriving in America, his father loses any hope of seeing him alive again, though his sister Tanya still has high hopes. Feivel indeed manages to arrive in America alive and well and starts searching for his family, becoming friends with cat Tony. The mice build a giant scarecrow like contraption that scares off all cats. And Feivel finds his family again.

When a children's film becomes a hit, it doesn't necessarily mean it was automatically liked by children, since they didn't go alone but were brought by their parents. "An American Tail" is by far a weak film, yet so much more could have been made out of it when one has in mind that it was directed by the animation master Don Bluth who, in cooperation with Spielberg, crafted a much more kids friendly film than his dark debut "NIMH" 4 years ago. The story juggles cleverly and symbolically with the Mice family immigrating from a Russian province to the US where "there are no cats", allegorically speaking about pogrom and Jewish immigration to the US hoping to get away from Anti-semitism, yet, even though it won't become boring, that animated tragic fable is somehow uneven due to anxiety and sentimental scenes which are abundant: the worst is the clumsy account of Feivel's separation from his parents. The best part may just be the for the Oscar nominated music and painstakingly detailed animation, which is why, despite the overblown characters and syrupy emotions, the film has weight.

Grade:++

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

The Secret of NIMH


The Secret of NIMH; Animated fantasy, USA, 1982; D: Don Bluth, S: Elizabeth Hartman, Derek Jacobi, Arthur Malet, Dom DeLuise, John Carradine

Mrs. Brisby is a small, fragile mouse who lives in a box on a field. She has 4 children while one of them is very sick, so she asks her friend Mr. Ages to give her some medicine. While returning, she meets the clumsy Crow, Jeremy, and unties her from ribbons until a cat attacks them. The land owner starts to plow with his tractor towards Brisby's house, but Brisby aunt stops him destroying the fuel supply to him machine. From a mysterious owl, Mrs. Brisby gets an advice to persuade the rats in the bushes to pull out her home to safety. Her deceased husband Jonathan was, together with the rats, a guinea pig in a laboratory which artificially gave them intelligence. The evil rat sabotages the evacuation, but Justin kills him. Mrs. Brisby uses her magic amulet to pull out her home to safety.

One cannot express in words what a pity it is that whenever experts are debating about animation, they almost never mention the unjustifiably neglected Don Bluth, one of the the masters of animation in 80s and 90s who is up there with Miyazaki, Grimault and Disney. "The Secret of NIMH", Bluth's feature length animated film, suffers from weird stylish blend of mannerism and baroque, yet as a whole its a matter of a quality, suspenseful animated fantasy film more suited for the grown up than for the children. The best ingredient are the staggering, excellent drawings using the traditional form of animation as well as great dubbing (Elizabeth Hartman and Derek Jacobi particularly), whereas the story remains slightly without a point since the secret from the title turns out to be a laboratory for creating intelligent rats. Due to these and similar dark details, Bluth could not find funds from Disney. One of such serious scenes is the shot where rats get vaccinated and experience a metamorphosis, whereas in the background psychedelic blue smoke, shaped like a tunnel, is seen. The authors wonderfully set up the main heroine, Mrs. Brisby, who looks and seems like a fragile, gentle Mimosa, almost with a pregnant look, even though her magical powers at the end seem rather out of a blue.

Grade:++

Ivan's Childhood


Ivanovo detstvo; war drama, Russia, 1962; D: Andrei Tarkovsky, S: Nikolay Burlyaev, Valentin Zubkov, Yevgeni Zharikov, Stepan Krylov, Valentina Malyavina

World War II, Soviet Union. 12-year old Ivan crosses a river and arrives at a Russian military outpost where he asks Lieutenant Galtsev to phone the Headquarters. Surprised, Galtsev is ordered by Colonel Gryaznov to give Ivan paper and pencil and treat him well. Namely, his family was killed by the Nazi soldiers and he joined the partisans under Gryaznov. Parallel, a Captain is flirting with army nurse Masha. In a raid, Ivan disappears in a swamp. Years later, in Berlin, Galtsev finds documentation which states that Ivan was executed.

Andrei Tarkovsky's feature length debut film is an excellent anti-war film that presents World War II untypically as an intimate experience and not as an action spectacle, proving to be rare and valuable since the famous Russian director crafted only 8 feature length films in his entire 24 year career. Even though the non-linear story is sometimes too hermetic, Tarkovsky managed to create a very clear message about a child who lost his family in the war, indulging in emotionally sustained setting that gets less direct emotions on screen and much more shows an objective situation of the events. The thing that stands out the most is again Tarkovsky's 'tour-de-force' visual style: from the dreamy opening where Ivan is "floating" above a meadow and giggling while touching the branches of trees up to the long forest scene where a Captain is holding army nurse Masha in his arms above a rift (while the camera is under them) and then she climbs up and he follows her, getting exactly in a position where the camera is capturing her in the extreme foreground and him in the background, the whole film has a masterful shot composition, creating hypnotic images that are so much more engaging here than in his later films ("Solaris", "Stalker") which, to be honest, just lazily consisted out of lax long takes. This is a reason why even the hard to comprehend finale seems adequate, since the whole leitmotiv of the film is escapism from the harsh reality in favor of some better world of imagination and creativity.

Grade:+++

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Naked Gun 33⅓: The Final Insult


Naked Gun 33⅓: The Final Insult; Parody, USA, 1994; D: Peter Segal, S: Leslie Nielsen, Priscilla Presley, Fred Ward, Anna Nicole Smith, George Kennedy, O. J. Simpson, Kathleen Freeman, Ellen Greene

Lieutenant Frank Drebin and Jane decide to get married, but since they can't have any children, they get into an argument and separate. But other problems occur when the police sends Frank to retirement, but he discovers imprisoned terrorist Rocco Dillon is on to something. Disguised as an inmate, Drebin gains Rocco's trust to spy on him. When they escape from prison, Rocco brings him along to his hideout where he introduces his mother and girlfriend Tanya. He plans to plant a bomb during the Oscar ceremony, but luckily Drebin is able to stop him and make up with Jane.

Based on TV series "Police Squad", the first two "Naked Gun" films were directed by David Zucker, but when he refused to also direct the 3rd film, at first it seemed that new director Peter Segal won't be able to achieve and repeat the same result. However, it turned out he was the best possible replacement: "Naked Gun 33 1/3" is a dynamic comedy with imaginative jokes, fast pace and excellent Leslie Nielsen, as well as Fred Ward as the villain, whereas not even Anna Nicole Smith isn't bad in her role. The first half of the film is quite repetitive, banal and lax, yet once Drebin enters the prison, the second half quickly returns to the right track, putting the rhythm up a notch non stop, until it reaches the highlight in the absolutely brilliant Academy Awards ceremony, where Drebin makes a delicious chaos among the stiff participants. Some of the lines that ridicule the pompous-elitist tone of the Oscar nominees perfectly sum up the mentality of the organizers: for instance, the announcer speaks about the nominees for best actress: "Shannen Doherty for "Basic Analysis", one woman's triumph over a yeast infection, set against the background of the tragic Buffalo Bill season of '91", or "Mary Lou Retton for "Fatal Affair", one woman's ordeal to overcome the death of her cat, set against the background of the Hindenburg disaster". These, and such ideas like "Mother Theresa's life filmed as a musical", redeem the film for many mistakes in the beginning and show an inspired finale that's probably the funniest of all three films.

Grade:++

The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear


The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear; Parody, USA, 1991; D: David Zucker, S: Leslie Nielsen, Priscilla Presley, George Kennedy, O. J. Simpson, Robert Goulet

Clumsy Lieutenant Frank Drebin manages to turn a dinner with US president George Bush into a disaster. But new villains are again threatening peace and safety: the rich Hapsburg replaces Dr. Meinheimer, an expert for clean energy bound to a wheelchair, with an identical spy in order to continue with the production of hazardous atomic energy. But Frank and his girlfriend Jane will stop him.

The sequel to the popular comedy "Naked Gun" is, with its 'rough' jokes and overstretched story, arguably the worst part of that trilogy dedicated to hilarity. Leslie Nielsen as the main hero, clumsy Lieutenant Frank Drebin, is once again in top notch shape, but since the film is one-dimensional it depends only on the largest possible amount of jokes, yet in this 2nd film less of them are successful. Sometimes they are even only reduced to banal identification of the movies which are spoofed (for instance, Dr. Meinheimer is flying pass the silhouette of the Moon like in "E.T.") and just call for the expectation of a 3rd, better film, though, despite the heavy handed execution, David Zucker's direction still has enough virtues to carry the film

Grade:++

Saturday, 25 July 2009

The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!


The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!; Parody, USA, 1988; D: David Zucker, S: Leslie Nielsen, Priscilla Presley, Ricardo Montalban, George Kennedy, O. J. Simpson

Los Angeles. After Officer Nordberg gets wounded in an unsuccessful raid at drug smugglers, Lieutenant Frank Drebin suspects that the respected millionaire Vincent Ludowig is behind it all. He and his partner Ed fail to find any evidence, though. Drebin meets Ludowig's secretary Jane and the two of them start a relationship. However, it turns out Ludowig plans to assassinate Queen Elizabeth II during her visit to a baseball game. Luckily, Drebin prevents the assassination and ends up with Jane.

Once an excellent film, "The Naked Gun" is today just a good comedy which got dated due to its too cartoonish jokes that set it back like an anchor sets back a ship. The famous Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker trio had a sense for a funny parody in the 80s and 90s, but some of them weren't so great or didn't age well due to the too emphasized silly jokes over the more sophisticated ones, which is one of the setbacks of the slightly overhyped "Naked Gun" trilogy, despite an excellent Leslie Nielsen. The opening is brilliant: in Beirut, numerous "Persona non grata" leaders gather at a private session and plan activities against the USA, among them Idi Amin, Yasser Arafat and Ayatollah Khamenei. In one hilariously sympathetic moment, Muammar Gaddafi speaks out his plan in which he wants to destroy some American cities, but Mikhail Gorbachev says it's not a good idea, whimsically explaining: "You would destroy years of good public relations! Some of Americans actually started believing I was a nice guy! In some polls, I'm even more popular than their president!" Of course, then Frank Drebin shows up and beats them all up, warning them: "And don't ever let me catch you guys in America!" A wonderfully written, pure comedy exposition, but sadly its mostly downhill from there. There are simply too many heavy handed or crude jokes, like the one where Drebin accidentally enters a woman's room holding a concrete penis in his hand, which make the film not that fun anymore, yet the screenplay still has a lot of reasons for the viewers enjoying in its material.

Grade:++

Hamlet


Hamlet; Drama, USA, 2000; D: Michael Almereyda, S: Ethan Hawke, Kyle MacLachlan, Diane Venora, Julia Stiles, Bill Murray, Sam Shepard, Liev Schreiber, Jeffrey Wright

New York. Hamlet, a film student, finds out his father died, while his mother Gertrude suspiciously fast re-married his uncle Claudius. The new couple holds a conference and announces that it is taking over the Denmark company. But Hamlet has a vision of his father's ghost who tells him he was actually murdered. Hamlet is slightly in love with Ophelia, but her father Polonius is trying to prevent their relationship and tells everything to Claudius. Hamlet shots an art video about a man killing his brother, which disturbs Claudius who finds parallels in it. Hamlet kills Polonius and accepts the duel with his son. They both die, but he kills Claudius.

Mihael Almereyda transported his version of William Shakespeare's "Hamlet" into a modern-metaphysical film that stayed absolutely faithful to the original dialogues (the only lines in the movie which are not from the original play are messages played by machines) shot with an inspiring visual style, getting a shrill result. Despite its experimental setting, this is a quality drama, which makes it more surprising that so many critics didn't get it. As a whole, its maybe slightly too artificial and unfinished, with characters that come across as one-dimensional, but the modern transformation has lot of virtues, style and neat ideas: for instance, Hamlet, instead of a ship, travels with a plane and himself watches a movie about Hamlet; while his father's ghost disappears in a Pepsi machine (a symbol of consumerism as an obstacle to real human bonding?). Julia Stiles is good as the modern Ophelia, Bill Murray is even better as her father Polonius who takes her things away so that she listens to him. Also interesting is the sequence where the hero is saying: "...And lose the name of action" when he is talking through the 'action' section of a video store, whereas his art video, comprised out of a shot of a flower, family and mirror shape of the continents is pure genius.

Grade:++

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure


Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure; fantasy comedy, USA, 1989; D: Stephen Herek, S: Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, George Carlin, Terry Camilleri, Jane Wiedlin
In the future, Earth is a utopia: everything is clean, rock music and harmony rule society because 700 years ago, in 1988, Bill and Ted, two teenagers from San Dimas, changed the world with their music. But, that may never happen, since Bill and Ted's history teacher threatens they will flunk his class if they don't get an A in their oral report, which will jeopardize their band. Thus Rufus appears with his time machine shaped like a phone booth, leaving it to them to learn something about history. They get Napoleon, Billy the Kid, Socrates, Genghis Khan, Sigmund Freud, Joan of Arc, Beethoven and Lincoln to their report, and thus get an A.

Excellent comedy with irresistible jokes, which shows that some teen comedies can hit the right note, was one of the first hits of Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter. "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure" is a flick which, if one just looks at it as simple fun, is a cult film that no flaws can be attributed to: it is such a harmless and funny, contagiously alive and energetic entertainment that it can be watched in one piece. One somehow even feels a little bit stupid: this is a film which just shows teenagers Bill and Ted having a great time and nothing more, but nothing more is needed in the spontaneous story if its such a pleasure from start to finish, which shows how smart writing disguised as silly-childish entertainment is a very underestimated issue. Some critics lamented about the film, but just look at the jokes - in one scene at the beginning in the classroom, the strict history teacher is strictly looking into the camera and says: "Well, Bill, I'm waiting". Bill, thinking for a moment, has this outburst: "Is he dead?" The teacher gets an ever stricter look and says: "So, basically, Bill, what you're saying is, that Napoleon was a short, dead dude". Who can seriously resist such hilarious writing? Not to mentions the juicy 'fish-out-of-water' situations where characters from history arrive in the modern world, and thus Beethoven is playing on a synthesizer and Joan of Arc is participating in aerobics, while especially amusing is Napoleon going to the "Waterloo waterslide". Everything is full of ideas: a fantastic, untrammelled fun.

Grade:+++

The Living and the Dead


Živi i mrtvi; War drama, Croatia/ BiH, 2007; D: Kristijan Milić, S: Filip Šovagović, Velibor Topić, Slaven Knezović

Two stories playing out on the same location, somewhere in Bosnia: in '43, Martin is a soldier in the Ustasha units who are patrolling through the woods and battling against Partisans. When their commander gets captured, Martin decides to quit the army and return to his home...In '93, Croatian army - among them Tomo, the grandchild of Martin - has to hold positions against an upcoming Serbian invasion. But just then, the Croatian-Bosnian conflict starts. The soldiers die patrolling through the woods. Vijali stays alone and has a vision of the ghosts of the deceased soldiers from '43.

Winner of 7 Golden Arenas in Pula, "The Living and the Dead" is one of those independent art-house films, but unfortunately one of those annoying ones that don't quite give credit to the "genre". Director Kristijan Milić managed to achieve a fantastic technical aspect rarely before seen in Croatian cinema, incorporating great looking slow-motion shots of shooting and fighting as well as fluent camera movement, while he also ambitiously juggles with two parallel stories playing out on the same place, but separated by 50 years - the one playing out during the Wars in Croatia and Bosnia in '93, the other one during the World War II in '43 - while he used a neat trick to distinguish them by shooting the first one in blue cinematography, and the second one in "washed out" colors, talking about some reoccurring cycles of violence that strike these areas and wreck the lives of its inhabitants. Unfortunately, the two stories are so bland, bleak and grey that they in the end just leave the viewer indifferent, with characters that are poorly developed and hardly distinguishable one from another. The only thing the viewers will notice towards the end will be that some people are shooting at some people, and that's not a good sign. Milić has a sense for directing - for instance, in one neat trick scene, a soldiers asks Tomo about his grandfather Martin, and he just says: "Ah, that's another story", and right then the story really cuts to that "other story", to Martin in '43 - but it's just another dreadful film where Croatian authors where still preoccupied by heavy issues of war from the 90s, which in the end consumed the whole story.

Grade:+

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

What's New Pussycat?


What's New Pussycat?; Comedy, USA/ France, 1965; D: Clive Donner, S: Peter O'Toole, Peter Sellers, Romy Schneider, Woody Allen, Capucine, Ursula Andress

Editor of a woman's fashion magazine, Michael James, falls in love with Carole, but doesn't want to marry her even though she is trying to change his mind. He thus goes to therapy to the unusual psychiatrist Dr. Fassbender who gives him all the wrong advice. Michael is namely a notorious womanizer and feels a marriage might burden him in that, which is why Carole tries to make him jealous pretending to have an affair with Victor. Michael meets many attractive women but in the end decides to marry her, going to make a report about orgies in hotel Chantel. But there he meets all his ex girlfriends and Fassbender, creating chaos, but marries Carole in the end.

Anarchic comedy "What's New Pussycat?", the first script work of then unambitious Woody Allen, is one of those kind of comedies that start terribly and end brilliantly. Wacky, somehow deliberately "hasslely" intoned, full of unusually-twisted dialogues ("Silence when your shouting at me!") and bizarre names of characters, an energetic Peter Sellers as Dr. Fessbender as well equipped with a wonderful animated opening credits equipped with the title song by Tom Jones (nominated for an Oscar), this film is a real parody on all and everything. One of the funniest sequences is the one where the drunk Fassbender and Michael are romantically talking in front of the building of Mrs. LeFevre that she has a "face like an autumn moon": when some other woman shows up on a nearby window, they tell her: "We are not talking to you, you cow!", and when LeFevre says she doesn't hear them that well, they respond with: "You have a face like the autumn moon! What's wrong, are you deaf!?" Allen is hilarious in the random scene in which he is driving a sports car through the tables, as well as the finale which is a fantastic fun, full of hilarious jokes left and right, which is why the story, despite its flaws, works.

Grade:++

Charlie's Angels


Charlie's Angels; Action comedy, USA, 2000; D: McG, S: Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, Lucy Liu, Bill Murray, Sam Rockwell, Luke Wilson, Tom Green, Tim Curry, Matt LeBlanc, Kelly Lynch

In an airplane, an African American prevents a man from planting a bomb, catapults them both out and they use a parachute to land on a powerboat. The savior takes his mask off - and turns out to be a woman, Natalie, who is a part of a female trio of secret agents. All of them - Natalie, Alex and Dylan - were at first without an orientation, until the mysterious Charlie turned them into agents who get orders through his assistant Bosley. When some Vivian gives them the assignment to find a microchip than can imitate any voice, the trio falls into her trap and many twists, since her and Knox's plan is to find and kill Charlie. Still, the Angels stop their plot and end on the beach.

"Charlie's Angels" managed to demolish the prejudice that old TV shows can't be revitalized into a modern and amusing product with ease. Some critics weren't especially overwhelmed by it, but this is a simple case of a fun film. The emancipated heroines are cheerful and fresh, have also personal lives, are energetically played by Diaz, Barrymore, Liu and at any rate are much more fun than the stiff James Bond who stopped being convincing after 10 sequels. Such an independent femininity reminds of heroines from the best examples of Japanese animation. Even though the story is embarrassingly written at some moments and one shouldn't demand too much from it, one also shouldn't forget that this a comedy which spoofs the spy genre and has life. Bill Murray is excellent as Bosley (even though some random scenes were bellow his dignity, though they were minor), as well as Matt LeBlanc and Sam Rockwell. The debut director McG showed impressed the most with a very good visual style and virtuoso directed action sequences, full of charm, which is why this is simply structured as a youthful fun, which isn't a sin at all.

Grade:++

Monday, 20 July 2009

Almost Famous


Almost Famous; Tragicomedy, USA, 2000; D: Cameron Crowe, S: Patrick Fugit, Billy Crudup, Kate Hudson, Frances McDormand, Jason Lee, Zooey Deschanel, Anna Paquin, Philip Seymour Hoffman

In '73, William Miller (15) lives alone with his crazy mother Elaine. His father died and his sister Anita ran away 4 years ago because she wasn't allowed to listen to rock' n' roll. After meeting a music critic, William gets the assignment to make an interview with the rock band Stillwater. Entering a disco, he meets Penny Lane, a 'groupie', who follows Stillwater. The editor of the "Rolling Stone" is so overwhelmed he gives William the assignment to follow them around their tour and write an article about them, which he accepts with pleasure. He saves Penny from a pill overdose and delivers his article which at first gets discredited, but then acknowledged by Stillwater.

Winner of 2 Golden Globes (best motion picture - musical or comedy, supporting actress Kate Hudson), 2 BAFTA awards (best screenplay, sound) and one Oscar (best screenplay), "Almost Famous" is half-autobiography by author Cameron Crowe who in a romantic, nostalgic and dreamy way elaborated and presented the music life of the 70s, making it equally special to the viewers as well as to him. The sole story that a young teenager gets a chance to follow a rock band on their tour is a blast, it has a lot of funny dialogues and situations which, just like the humane approaches of Wilder and Ashby, show sympathies for the imperfect characters. One of the better ones is when the mother of the teenage hero, a school teacher, suddenly says this in front of her class: "I'm sorry, I can't concentrate! Rock stars have kidnapped my son!" In another amusing scene, when the plane enters into turbulence, one Stillwater member starts summing "Peggy Sue" by Buddy Holly (who died in a plane crash). Both intimate and full of youth's spirit, this is a very good film, but it could have been even better: the hero comes across as slightly too passive an one-dimensional at times, his love relationship with Penny Lane is impartial while the story is unfocused.

Grade:+++

Say Anything...


Say Anything...; Romantic comedy, USA, 1989; D: Cameron Crowe, S: John Cusack, Ione Skye, John Mahoney, Joan Cusack, Lili Taylor

Seattle. 19-year old Lloyd Dobler falls in love with Diane after she hold a speech when graduating from high school. He phones her and asks her out for prom night. The two of them start a relationship. However, her suspicious father isn't too fond of Lloyd because he doesn't have any ambitions but to be a kick-boxer, and thus persuades Diane to break up with him. Due to tax violations, her father lands in prison while she flies off together with Lloyd to England to study there.

Its always interesting how all the hype and critical praise can erode so fast when one does a reality check of an esteemed film. "Say Anything..." is by far not a bad film, but from the author Cameron Crowe, a masterful observer of human relationships and emotions, one should have expected a lot more, even despite the fact that this was his directorial debut film. The story once again shows Crowe's wonderful approach towards the youth's spirit, portraying the young generation not as idiots, but as human beings, John Cusack and Ione Skye are in amusing shape, yet the shaky mood is so shaky that the viewers experience the first "click" only after some 40 minutes of running time have already passed. The scene where Lloyd is holding a radio above his head to play music to his love is a classic, and here and there equally charming scenes pop up, like when, after the break up, he is driving lonely in his car and cynically making comments to his tape recorder ("This is the mall where I first met her...") or when Diane delivers her speech after high school graduation ("When I look into the future, I say: Let's go back."), yet there is simply too much empty walk and babble in search for some meaningful line, the calculation to draw sympathies from the little kid is annoying whereas there lacks that true inspiration that makes art really great. Somehow, that essence evades Crowe in "Say Anything...", but Crowe himself in "Singles" and "Jerry Maguire" gets it.

Grade:++

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Father of the Bride


Father of the Bride; Comedy, USA, 1991; D: Charles Shyer, S: Steve Martin, Kimberly Williams, Diane Keaton, George Newbern, Martin Short

George Banks and his wife Nina are shocked: their 22-year old daughter Annie met American Brian in Rome, a communication engineer, and got engaged to him. George isn't at all in accord with the rushed marriage, but discovers that Brian's parents are all very noble and rich. For the ceremony, some kook was hired as the wedding coordinator, who calculates that they will have to pay 250 $ for every guest. George goes mad and ends in prison, while Annie and Brian get into a short argument. At the wedding day, it snows and the huge number of cars blocks the road. Still, Annie gets married and moves out.

Sympathetic remake "Father of the Bride" isn't some outstandingly funny comedy but neatly spoofs some easily identifiable family problems and wedding problems, which is why it became a solid hit and earned Steve Martin a Golden Globe nod as best actor in a musical or comedy. In the opening, a 2 minute long take, Martin's character George is sitting on the chair and doing a monologue looking directly into the camera: "When your daughter starts dating boys, you are always afraid she might meet the wrong one. But later on you start worrying that she might meet the right one". It's clear from the start that this is a harmless fun that doesn't attempt to reach some higher creative levels, whereas the humor isn't that inventive, and sometimes it's even forced, like when George goes to the toilette of Brian's parents and, out of curiosity, looks into their check book, and then he is chased by the dogs and in the end falls into the pool. But for the majority the film is sufficiently crafted and it has one really brilliant scene: when George turns towards the house and imagines that he is barbecuing in tune to the song "La Bamba".

Grade:++

Karaula


Karaula; Grotesque, Serbia/ Croatia/ BiH/ Montenegro/ Macedonia/ Slovenia/ Hungary/ UK/ Austria, 2006; D: Rajko Grlić, S: Toni Gojanović, Sergej Trifunović, Emir Hadžihafizbegović, Verica Nedeska, Bogdan Diklić

Ohrid lake, Yugoslavian-Albanian border, '87. A small military JNA outpost is filled with unsatisfied and bored soldiers. Siniša, a medicine student from Split serving the army, is summoned by Lieutenant Pašić who has syphilis. Since it will take at least 3 weeks to cure him with penicillin, Pašić wants to keep everything a secret and thus orders the soldiers to stay in the outpost for additional 3 weeks, under the fake excuse that the Albanian soldiers are re-grouping. Siniša starts an affair with Pašić's wife Mirjana. In order to get away from the outpost, soldier Ljuba volunteers to walk to Tito's grave in Belgrade. But when the reports show up, he claims Pašić forced him to do that. Ljuba kills Pašić, while due to a misunderstanding the soldiers shoot the army vehicle with Mirjana in it.

The first joint film co-production by all the former Yugoslavian republics since its breakup, "Karaula" is a solid, but unfortunately typically backward film that mirrors only the bad things from those areas, juggling with heavy humor, heavy melodrama and in the end heavy messages. The locations around the Ohrid lake are fantastic and the opening of the story is quite amusing, especially when the main tangle is built around it - in it, the young medicine student Siniša is summoned to the office of Lieutenant Pašić, who closes all the windows and then unzips his pants. Siniša isn't at first sure where this is going, until he sees that Lieutenant's penis has syphilis and is thus ordered to cure him. The notion that a high ranking military officer is willing to even start a war with another country (here Albania) as a false flag in order to divert the attention of the soldiers from his real personal problems (syphilis) is haunting and terrifying, which even gets a deeper dimension when the director Rajko Grlic places some TV inserts of Slobodan Milošević. However, even though the tangle works the first 20 minutes, it doesn't work the last 80. Patchwork comes to mind when one has to describe "Karaula", since it is too chaotic and forces its political messages of the bloody breakup of Yugoslavia. Quite simply, its charmingly crude at the start, but with time it just becomes only crude.

Grade:+

Sunday, 12 July 2009

The Opposite of Sex


The Opposite of Sex; Black comedy, USA, 1998; D: Don Roos, S: Martin Donovan, Christina Ricci, Lisa Kudrow, Ivan Sergei

Arrogant and cold Dede (16) run away from home and her mother with her boyfriend Rodney. Since she ends up becoming pregnant, Dede goes to her rich stepbrother Bill, who is gay. There she seduces his boyfriend Matt - and announces she is pregnant with him! The two of them run away with the money to Los Angeles, while Bill and his friend Lucia follow them. There, Dede leaves Matt and returns to Rodney, whom she kills in an argument. Bill and Lucia finally find them and Dede gives birth to a baby. When she wants to abandon her child, she changes her mind and returns back.

Screenwriter Don Roos made his debut as a director with this unjustifiably forgotten film, rich with juciy dialogues and excellent evil role of Christina Ricci, who was nominated for a Golden Globe, as well as an story that seems like a crime version of the show "Will & Grace". Already in the exposition does Dede show her shrill attitude when she narrates the plot: "If you love stories in which the heroine at the end says: "I never was the same again after that summer...", then you're in the wrong movie". The film is rich with such sharp satirical observations, from the scene where teacher Bill (brilliant Martin Donovan) goes to a school bathroom, finds drawing of a naked woman on the wall and then uses his marker to "change" it into a face since he re-shapes the breasts into eyes. As a whole, the film doesn't quite exploit all it's possibilities to the fullest - it resonates well with the viewers, but not to such an extent - but as it is, it's a really good piece of sharp cinema. The most surprising thing was the unexpectedly smashing performance by Lisa Kudrow (who even won the New York Film critics Circle Award as best supporting actress): the scene where her character Lucia is repeatedly telling "Vagina!" to gay Bill, without success, as if it's counteracting to her Pheobe in the best episode from "Friends", where she tries to "seduce" Chandler because she knew he was hiding a relationship with Monica.

Grade:++

Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams


Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams; Action comedy, USA, 2002; D: Robert Rodriguez, S: Alexa Vega, Daryl Sabara, Antonio Banderas, Steve Buscemi, Emily Osment, Cheech Marin, Mike Judge, Ricardo Montalban

The daughter of the president climbs up on a huge juggling machine in a amusement park, so spy kids Carmen and Juni are summoned to help, yet spy kids Gary and Gerti beat them to the chase. Thus, their father becomes the president of OSS, and not Gregorio, Carmen and Juni's dad. But then an UFO kidnaps Transmooker, a radar invisibility device, so Gary and Gerti get the assignment to get it back, not knowing that their father is actually the bad guy and the traitor to OSS. Carmen and Juni come to the island of Dr. Romaro, who created various monsters there and now hides from them, yet decides to help the spies. Ingrid also has to bring along grandpa and grandma, while Gregorio and his kids capture the OSS boss.

The sequel to the dynamic, but distorted original isn't unfortunately in no way an improvement - grotesque humor, bizarre characters - yet it's still an easily watchable film. Robert Rodriguez went a little bit overboard with rubbish: an amusement park has wild rides so its owner has an umbrella to protect him from visitors throwing up, as well as various trashy monsters that were created by Steve Buscemi's character Dr. Romero ("Why do they despise me? Why, I created them!"), like lizard-snake, pig-cow or spider-cyclops. Still, despite the fact that it seems that Rodriguez only thinks that he can create children's stories if he writes really stupid stuff, "Spy Kids 2" have some inexplicable charm and are never boring. The cohesive structure was strengthened by the homage to the "Argonauts" in the sequence in which the kids are fighting with skeletons until Juni returns their necklace so they stop, while among neat ideas was grandpa (Montalban) in a flying wheelchair or bodyguards who dance around the daughter of the president, whereas Alexa Vega is great, which is why the film isn't such a big setback.

Grade:+

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Spy Kids


Spy Kids; Action comedy, USA, 2001; D: Robert Rodriguez, S: Alexa Vega, Daryl Sabara, Antonio Banderas, Carla Gugino, Cheech Marin, Alan Cumming, Tony Shalhoub, Robert Patrick, Teri Hatcher

Mother Ingrid tells their children Carmen and Juni a story about a male and a female spy who had the assignment to terminate each other, but fell in love and got married. But the kids don't know that it's actually the story of their mom and dad, Gregorio, who truly are spies. But Floop, the host of a TV show for kids, creates robot kids and kidnaps Ingrid and Gregorio because they have a mechanical brain for the robots. Their kids save themselves in a submarine and arrive to an island where they learn about the spy gadgets. Floop's robots who are identical to Carmen and Juni, take the mechanic brain. Floop is put in the prison by his assistant Minion, but gets released by the Juni and persuades him to turn to the good side. Together they release their parents and make robot kids into good robots.

"Spy Kids" is a deformed family entertainment - its a surprising, but unfunny spy nonsense that was created after Robert Rodriguez decided to make a film that even his kid will be allowed to watch. He made a correct, childish job, but equipped with occasional sharpness and fascinating spy gadgets. Most of the jokes are weird - in the opening, we see how mom and dad spy have a secret date on tables which are over 10 yards away from each other, and after the wedding they jump with parachutes shaped like a heart. When father Gregorio spots a bully dad, he imagines to throw him out of the school window. There is also too much unnecessary trash, like stupid looking robots shaped like a hand with - a thumb instead of a head (?) or irritating mutants from the TV show of Floop, who are suppose to be a parody of "Muppets". As a whole, an energetic and very acceptable flick, but nothing more, whereas the best part was George Clooney in a small cameo as the spy boss.

Grade:+

El Mariachi


El Mariachi; Action satire, Mexico, 1992; D: Robert Rodriguez, S: Carlos Gallardo, Consuelo Gómez, Jaime de Hoyos, Peter Marquardt

Young musician El Mariachi arrives to a small Mexican town with his guitar case. He tries to find a job as a singer, but nobody wants his services. But, some criminals spot his guitar case and mistake him for assassin Azul, so they start chasing him. El Mariachi hides in the apartment of girl Domina and decides to find the real Azul. Mobster Moco kills Domina and Azul, but El Mariachi kills him.

"El Mariachi" is the legendary directorial debut movie by Robert Rodriguez, shot for only 7.225 $ (though it should be stated that the final version, distributed by Columbia Pictures, was transferred from 16 mm to 35 mm, raising its final budget considerably), which offers excellent unpretentious fun, which is why some regard it as even better than the expensive and "too polished" "Desperado" shot 3 years later. Full of unusual camera angles, humorous ideas (a dog with sunglasses) and fun situations (mobster Moco lights up a match on the beard of his employee; criminals chase after the hero on the street, but don't know how he exactly looks like, so he simply passes by them), "El Mariachi" is a wonderful example of enthusiastic and childish filmmaking, something Rodriguez lost in his later career. The whole film is simple and has a deliberately arbitrarily-sloppy setting, whereas also the amateur actors and unconvincing movie blood contributed to its charm. All in all, to some the story will be too light, yet they will have to admit the fun energy.

Grade:+++

Friday, 10 July 2009

Desperado


Desperado; Action, USA, 1995; D: Robert Rodriguez, S: Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Joaqim de Almeida, Steve Buscemi, Cheech Marin, Carlos Gallardo

Some man in a bar tells how he witnesses some criminals getting assaulted by the mysterious stranger El Mariachi near the Mexican border. But quickly El Mariachi shows up in that town in person, armed with a guitar case full of weapons, thirsty for revenge because criminal Bucho killed his girlfriend. El Mariachi kills a bunch of people in a bar in self-defense because they thought he will kill him. Since he is wounded, he is nursed by Caroline, the owner of a bookstore who hides money in books and has a relationship with Bucho, who hires a bunch of assassins and puts her home on fire. El Mariachi kills Bucho and runs away with Caroline.

With "Desperado", Robert Rodriguez shot a remake of his own debut movie, "El Mariachi", whose 7 million $ budget made it 1.000 times more expensive than that first film - when at the beginning Steve Buscemi's character starts telling how the hero entered the bar with this twisted dialogue: "Nobody knew what to think about him, but he was there and he came in", it crystallizes the impression that its a matter of an unserious, but excellent fun. The action sequences are masterfully choreographed - something that is massively missing in many mainstream action films - and exaggerated, which is why Banderas is shooting with his guitar case (sometimes even with rockets!) whereas the hit bad guys even fly over 10 yards away. Some will maybe be bugged by the light story and the fact that its just a relaxed fun and nothing more, but it has style, humor, is very good and precise, while Salma Hayek delivered another impressive performance.

Grade:+++

From Dusk till Dawn


From Dusk till Dawn; Horror thriller, USA, 1996; D: Robert Rodriguez, S: George Clooney, Quentin Tarantino, Harvey Keitel, Juliette Lewis, Cheech Marin, Salma Hayek

Two brothers, Seth and Richard, are criminals who are chased by the police. During a runaway from Texas, they take hostages; Jacob, a pastor who is questioning his faith, and his teenage children, Kate and Jacob. After passing the border, they go to a Mexican night bar full of thugs, but during the night all the guests transform into vampires. The vampires kill Richard, Jacob and Scott, but when the Sun rises, Seth and Kate manage to save themselves.

"From Dusk till Dawn" managed to gross very solidly at the box office and it's a quite amusing film in a black humored kind of way. The original opening is the best part: a police officer enters a store. He talks with the clerk about the infamous murders of the Gecko brothers and then goes to the toilette. Just then the Gecko brothers get out of their hiding place (!) and order the clerk to act more "naturally" that he is not a hostage. Later on, of course, that situation ends in a shootout - they burn him and his corpse falls on corn, heating it up into popcorn. Even later on does the film have its moments, like when the excellent Harvey Keitel plays pastor Jacob who argues with George Clooney's character ("Are you such a loser that you don't even know when you've won?") or when Salma Hayek appears as a stripper, but redirecting the story into a vampire horror in the second half turned it into an unconnected and too brutal flick, whose B-movie references sucked it too much in that grey territory, and thus it's a pity that it lacks humor and doesn't manage to remain as fun as from the start.

Grade:++

Monday, 6 July 2009

A Man and a Woman


Un homme et une femme; Romance, France, 1966; D: Claude Lelouch, S: Anouk Aimée, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Pierre Gautier, Valerie Lagrange

While Anne accompanied her daughter to the kindergarten, she missed her train. Since it's raining, Jean-Louis picks her up in his car, who accompanied his son to the kindergarten. Anne tells him how she got married to a stunt man who recently died in an explosion on the set of some war film. Jean-Louis' wife committed suicide from depression when he had a car accident. The two of them slowly falls in love. They spend a few tender moments together. In the end, she ends the relationship because she still thinks about her husband, but she returns to Jean-Louis.

Winner of 2 Golden Globes (best foreign language film, actress Anouk Aimee), 2 Oscars (best foreign language film, screenplay), a BAFTA (best actress Anouk Aimee) and the Golden Palm in Cannes, "A Man and a Woman" is an ostentative French classic and a small jewel of romance. Author Claude Lelouch displays the banally simple story about a man and a woman falling in love, but enriched with clever direction, unbelievably emotional charge and magically sophisticated intimate approach, raising its quality and turning it into pure class, though an occasionally empty scene can seem bothersome by some. The sequence in which Jean-Louise meets Anne for the first time during the rain and picks her up in her car, was shot in black and white cinematography, while the director chooses unusual camera angles throughout the story (the scene where the car tosses upside down several times was shot from the point-of-view of the driver, which is why the horizon "turning around" through the window can be seen). Jean-Louis drives with his car through a puddle and splashes two hunters, resulting also in a humorous moment ("You splashed two people!" - "Those are hunters. No mercy for them!"). Yet, the biggest highlight is the unforgettable, beautifully honest, beautifully open-hearted, almost miraculous sequence of the couple making love in bed - shot in "orange" cinematography - which is "interrupted" several times by small flashbacks of the two of them kissing in nature, caught in a dreamy moment.

Grade:+++

Date Movie


Date Movie; Parody, USA, 2006; D: Jason Friedberg, Aaron Seltzer, S: Alyson Hannigan, Adam Campbell, Sophie Monk, Eddie Griffin, Fred Willard, Carmen Electra

Julia Jones is an overweight woman who wants to finally get married. Since no man wants her, she contacts a date doctor who sucks her fat out and makes her thin. She is then brought to a bachelor TV show where she gets a date with Grant. The two of them get engaged, but first they have to go through meeting Grant's annoying parents, an obnoxious wedding planner and his ex-girlfriend who wants him back. The wedding is canceled but Julia in the end still returns to him and they get married, going on a honeymoon to Kong island.

"Date Movie" is a flat out disastrous film that is catastrophically unimaginative in spoofing contemporary films in 2006 - some of which were already forgotten after a decade anyway - and the only insight it offers is the sheer fact that a parody is a much more demanding genre than one presumes, which just shows how such films that did it right like "Airplane" and "Top Secret" really deserve much more credit than they get. Disgusting, stupid, vulgar, insensitive, obnoxious and rotten are all attributes that come to mind when one watches this sad film, filled with deformed "humor" - in one scene, the date doctor flosses Julia's teeth and finds an old remains of a chicken wing; Grant screams in "orgasm" when he is about to order dinner in a restaurant; the cremation urn falls and breaks, releasing a decomposing corpse, which is then humped by the cat...Need I go on? Should I even go on?

Everything is already clear 5 minutes into the film. Actually, one really wonders what instructions were given by the director to the actors on the set: when Eddie Griffin lifts his shirt up and reveals he has 8 nipples, did the director say: "All right, Mr. Griffin, now we are going to film you with 8 nipples, so that all your children and grandchildren can see you. This is going to be funny, even if you don't understand it". It's such a pity to spot the sympathetic Alyson Hannigan staring in such an embarrassing role, but she, as well as all other actors, are in no position to refuse roles and all need to pay their bills, which is precisely why only the screenplay should be blamed for everything going wrong. This film is so bad, it causes damage to the brain. This film is so bad, it disrupts the balance of nature. This film is so bad, it seems as if it was directed by Borut Pahor. And finally, this film is so bad, it stimulates the viewer to start believing in some conspiracy theory in which some filmmakers are deliberately dumbing down people with such stories, because the only explanation for such stupidity is that it was done deliberately.

Grade:-

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Crocodile Dundee


Crocodile Dundee; Adventure comedy, Australia/ USA, 1986; D: Peter Faiman, S: Paul Hogan, Linda Kozlowski, Mark Blum, John Meillon

New York reporter Sue Charlton goes to Australia to write an article on adventurer Mick "Crocodile" Dundee who apparently lost his leg to a crocodile. But once there, she discovers the rumors were exaggerated since he only has a small scar. He copes perfectly in the jungle and sometimes even saves endangered animals (except for crocodiles). Sue brings the sympathetic adventurer to New York where he has a hard time adapting to the urban life. When editor Richard proposes Sue, Dundee leaves. But she stops him in the subway and admits she loves him.

Australian comedian Paul Hogan didn't appear in many films, but he remained unforgettable as the relaxed adventurer Crocodile Dundee in this cult hit for which he won the Golden Globe and was nominated for a BAFTA as best actor, since at his core he plays a swab hero. The film had a modest, 8 million $ budget, but it soon turned out to be a real gold mine when it went on to become the 2nd most commercial film in the US of the year. There where the cliches start in adventure films, like "Romancing the Stone", there "Dundee" skilfully avoids them or spoofs them, whereas in doing so it never seems pompous. For a film without a plot, it's unbelievably successful, whereas it contains a whole queue of brilliant ideas and events, not only funny, but also wise - where the hero even defends animals.

A swab but analytical approach, and at times a fantastic fun. Basically, the film is a neat yin and yang story where New York reporter Sue is in a "fish out of water" plot in Australia, and then the tables are switched when Australian Dundee is in a "fish out of water" plot in New York, but his wild, free and unfettered spirit is completed by her sustained and civilized manners, and vice versa. Today, the film seems too arbitrary and not that fun anymore, while some of Dundee's 'rough' misadventures in New York are downright embarrassing (like when he touches a cross-dressed man between the legs to see if he is a woman or not), yet some of his jokes (like when he is smoking and, having nothing, uses his own hat on his head as an ashtray or when he says "Good day! Good day! Good Day!" to hundreds of New Yorkers on the street) still have charm, while it also has a great romantic ending in the subway.

Grade:++

Crocodile Dundee II


Crocodile Dundee II; Adventure/ Comedy, Australia/ USA, 1988; D: John Cornell, S: Paul Hogan, Linda Kozlowski, John Meillon, Ernie Dingo

Coming to New York with his friend Sue, adventurer Mick "Crocodile" Dundee is bored. He is fishing in the sea, but mostly cannot escape the routine urban life. However, he gets a letter from a reporter who was killed by a drug mafia, in which photos of the organization are attached. In order to get them, the mafia kidnaps Sue. Dundee saves her, but in order to beat the mobsters, he lures them to Australia, where he challenges and captures them one by one.

After the huge success of the film "Crocodile Dundee", a sequel was made, which at times manages to touch the original, while it was almost equally commercial as the first film. Comedian Paul Hogan and his wife Linda Kozlowski are again sympathetic and playful as the main protagonists, while the only pity is that the director was replaced. John Cornell, it seems, cannot keep the film interesting, while the inclusion of the deadly serious drug mafia lead to the fact that the film loses it epithet of a harmless comedy. The whole story seems as if it was made for a completely different audience than the one that adored the first film where there were no bad guys and no plot, while here the story became a clumsy action flick. Even though its illogical and cliche ridden, the finale where Dundee defeats the mobsters one after one in his homeland, his terrain, the Australia, is such a sweet 'guilty pleasure' that it's definitely the highlight that should be seen.

Grade:+

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Treasure Planet


Treasure Planet; Animated science-fiction adventure, 2002; D: Ron Clements, John Musker, S: Joseph Gordon-Lewitt, Brian Murray, Emma Thompson, David Hyde Pierce, Martin Short

The future, planet Mestross. Boy Jim Hawkins is fascinated by the stories of the treasure of pirate Flint. 12 years later, he works in his mother's restaurant which gets set on fire by pirates after he discovered a map that shows the planet with the treasure. Together with astronomer Dobbert, he organizes a journey on a ship where the captain is a cat-woman, Amelia. Cyborg cook Silver plans to kill the crew after the discovery of the treasure, but gets to like Jim and shows him his pet Morph that can change shapes. Getting away from a Supernova, the ship arrives at the treasure planet. During a mutiny, Jim, Dobbert and Amelia run away to a mountain and discover Flint's robot Ben. The crew finds the treasure but the planet starts collapsing on itself. Jim gets the ship through a space portal, releases Silver and uses the gold to restart his mother job.

Despite an Oscar nomination for best animated film and an 140 million $ budget, "The Treasure Planet" grossed only 40 million $ at the US box office, which is truly a pity since it is one of the better products of the later Walt Disney studio animated films. Directors Clements and Musker, two old Disney pros, directed this futuristic version of the novel "Treasure Island" with a frapant style: the crescent moon turns out to be a giant space station full of houses (a wonderfully esoteric "camouflage"); the map is a spherical machine that screens the green hologram of the space though the whole room; hero Jim is driving through the sky with a skateboard whereas cyborg Silver has a mechanical arm that can transform into a weapon and an apparatus. It's naive that the space ships in the story are designed like ordinary ships, the aliens are trashy whereas a lot of the points in the story are rushed and illogical, yet the film is imaginative and deviates a lot from the cliches: for instance, Silver is not a black and white bad guy, but a sympathetic nihilist who even starts to like Jim, the character of cat-woman Amelia is so alive it's fantastic while the real equivalent to poetry is the scene where morph, a shapeless alien creature, during the farewell transforms into a cluster of tears.

Grade:++

Chocolat


Chocolat; Comedy/ Drama, USA/ UK, 2000; D: Lasse Hallström, S: Juliette Binoche, Lena Olin, Alfred Molina, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Carrie-Anne Moss

French province, '59. Out of nowhere, the mysterious Vianne Rocher and her little daughter Anouk arrive to a small town. The two of them buy a store and open a pastry shop filled with chocolate. Since is the time of fasting, Comte Paul considers excessive enjoyment of chocolate a sin, while he is supported by the religiously fanatic church. Still, Vianne is full of goodness and hires Josephine in her store to protect her from her abusive husband. Gypsies show up in the city in boats, hated by everyone, but one of them, Roux, is employed by Vianne who falls in love with him. Zealot Paul decides to demolish the store, but when he tastes chocolate he changes his mind whereas Vianne gets accepted in the community.

Juliette Binoche won an Oscar in the overrated "The English Patient" after which her career went through a stagnation phase for a while. "Chocolate" is thus a small triumph for her since she got a very good role where she could display at least a part of her talent. The sole plot in which religious fanatics consider chocolate a sin during fasting isn't especially convincing, except if it can be seen as an allegory on numerous bans of numerous religions, and its critical re-examination, thus the speech of the priest at the end is a crucial quote and sums up the whole point in a nutshell: "I think that we can't go around measuring our goodness by what we don't do. By what we deny ourselves, what we resist, and who we exclude. I think we've got to measure goodness by what we create and who we include". Even though it has some serious tones about lack of tolerance in people, "Chocolat" is definitely a comedy that celebrates life and enjoyment (a young priest explains an old man that his dog doesn't have a soul and then scolds him because he gave the animal too much chocolate during fasting, upon which the man replies: "But if my dog doesn't have a soul, then God's laws don't apply for him!"), but with too much sugary charge and a too simple, or better said too relaxed crafting to be anything more than a neat film that doesn't reach the heights of director Lasse Hallstrom's earlier achievements.

Grade:++

Friday, 3 July 2009

Sudden Impact


Sudden Impact; Crime, USA, 1983; D: Clint Eastwood, S: Clint Eastwood, Sondra Locke, Bradford Dillman, Pat Hingle

Inspector Harry Callahan arrests a criminal with whom he found a gun with, but the court sets him free because he was arrested without a search warrant. The bad day is only saved by Harry's courage since he prevented a store robbery. But there are other problems: some woman kills men shooting them in the head and genitals, but the police has no clue. That woman is Jennifer who is taking revenge on the group of criminals who raped her and her sister Elizabeth 10 years ago. Harry meets Jennifer but doesn't know she is the perpetrator. She kills the whole gang except one, the worst criminal who takes her as a hostage. But he gets killed by Harry.

The 4th part of the "Dirty Harry" serial, filmed 7 years after the last sequel, was directed by Clint Eastwood himself, so the series as a whole was finally moved a step forwards, though it, of course, doesn't reach the artistic heights of some of his later, more mature films. Since Eastwood is over 6'4 tall, he is ideal in the role of the "over-human" fighter for justice who dares to take on every bad guy, no matter how tough. In one scene, for instance, the court sets a criminal free, but Harry enters the elevator with him and warns him that he considers him "shit" to whom everything can happen. Likewise, the "Go ahead, make my day" line is a legend, even better than many strong lines from the first film. The most absurd sequence is the one where Harry is chasing a criminal in a bus (!) full of retired people, but despite a more character based approach, the main problem are again the cliched dramaturgy and a mild finale which definitely loosed the energy from the fresh original.

Grade:+

The Enforcer


The Enforcer; Crime, USA, 1976; D: James Fargo, S: Clint Eastwood, Tyne Daly, Harry Guardino

Inspector Harry Callahan is still quite efficient in action. When criminals storm into a store, take hostages and demand a police car to get away, he "indulges" them: he crashes with the car into the store and kills them. Due to that incident, his superior, Captain McKay, deploys him as an ordinary police officer. But he quickly calls him back and gets him a new partner - a woman, Kate. The two of them try to discover terrorists who threaten to blow up the city if they are not paid 1 million $ ransom. The terrorists kidnap the major and put him into Alcatraz. They kill Kate, but Harry kills them.

"The Enforcer", aka "Dirty Harry III", is another hastily conceived and shot sequel that only has commercial ambitions. Still, in fragments it still has that subconscious intruigity of the original in the sequences in which the hero cynically punishes the bad guys with their own radical methods. The biggest negligence is the uninteresting execution of the interesting idea of Harry's first female partner, and she dies towards the end anyway, as all of his previous partners in all of his previous films. The most amusing sequence: Harry is searching after terrorist girl Donna who is a prostitute, so he goes to a brothel. There he "orders" her for 75 $, but gets some other woman.

Grade:+

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Magnum Force


Magnum Force; Crime, USA, 1973; D: Ted Post, S: Clint Eastwood, Hal Halbrook, Felton Perry

Due to his openly cynical persona, Inspector Harry Callahan got the order not to interfere into specific cases without permission. He gets a new partner, African American Early, and then disguises himself into a pilot to enter a kidnapped plane and shoot the hijackers. But a wave of violence is rocking the city: an angry cop shoots people who are accused for crimes but were set free by the court. Harry suspects his colleague Charlie, but when he also gets killed he realizes that the perpetrators are Davis and the Police Chief. When a bomb kills Early, Harry shoots Davis and the Police Chief.

The second part of the famous "Dirty Harry" movie series, "Magnum Force" was written by John Milius and Michael Cimino, but obviously without much effort. Besides a sloppy cohesive structure of the story, the most bizarre thing is that Harry is in this film fighting precisely against those people who acted like him in the first film: namely, against cops who, on their own, kill criminals which were released by the court. "Obviously, someone intends to make the courts unemployed", says one police officer. Despite a few odd moves (disguising as a pilot in order to enter a hijacked plane; a deliberate crash of a motorcycle with a car), it seems as if the character of Harry Callahan changed into a "soft" guy and too clean good guy, without any grey areas in between. It's nothing bad that he sticks to the rules, but somehow it seems that they lost the honest nihilistic cynicism which adorned the shrill original.

Grade:+

Dirty Harry


Dirty Harry; Crime, USA, 1971; D: Don Siegel, S: Clint Eastwood, Harry Guardino, Reni Santoni, Andrew Robinson

In San Francisco some maniac called Scorpio uses a gun to shoot people from a rooftop, demanding the authorities to pay him 100.000 $ in exchange for him stopping his crimes. Inspector Harry Callahan is called on the case, a cynical fighter for justice who settles every score with a criminal the "hard way". He gets a new partner, Mexican Chico, but fails to discover anything. Then Scorpio kidnaps a girl and now demands 200.000 $. Harry manages to capture him, though he finds the girl dead. Even worse, Scorpio is set free due to lack of evidence. Thus Harry finds and kills him.

"Dirty Harry" stirred up quite a commotion during its premiere and created a hype of scandal, but due to a spontaneous cynicism it quickly went on to become a "hard boiled" classic. Clint Eastwood isn't irritating at all as the main hero - actually, it is his best role in his entire career - who is a symbol for fighter for justice who is marginalised by stiff bureaucracy. The dialogues are typically sarcastic, sharp and refreshing, practically even entering into comedy at some moments. "What have you been doing until now, Harry?", asks the mayor after he invited him into his office after a long wait. "Nothing, I've been sitting for the past three quarters of an hour on my butt waiting for you to call me into your office", he replies. "I hope you won't make such a mess as the last time!" - "Well, when a man is chasing a woman with intent to commit rape, I shoot the bastard. That's my policy". Such, an many other lines, like the legendary "Do I feel lucky?", among others written by John Milius, give the film additional spark, displaying the authors' right wing policy in which a killer should simply be punished, but the left wing civil rights laws actually gives him more rights than the victim. The second half of the film, where the Scorpio case is prolonged, is weaker and loses its touch of caricature, which worked so well.

Grade:++