Saturday, August 28, 2010

Broken Flowers

Broken Flowers; drama, USA / France, 2005; D: Jim Jarmusch, S: Bill Murray, Jeffrey Wright, Frances Conroy, Sharon Stone, Julie Delpy, Jessica Lange, Tilda Swinton, Alexis Dziena, Julie Delpy

Don Johnston, a secluded middle-aged womanizer, receives an anonymous pink letter that informs him that he has a 19-year old son. Upon the insistence of his neighbor Winston, obsessed with detective stories, Don starts an odyssey to visit his five former girlfriends whom could be the mothers of his potential son. He meets Laura, Carmen, Dora, Penny and one deceased, Michelle, but doesn't discover anything. Returning to his home town, he meets a 19-year old lad, but neither he is his son.

Even though "Broken Flowers" has a more beautiful title than the film as a whole, it is still a poetic achievement that stimulates the viewers to think. Jim Jarmusch is neither Kieslowski, nor Antonioni, nor Ozu, but he is still a talented film maker who knows how to make a demanding minimalistic film with an esoteric mood. The exposition of "Flowers" abounds with subtle details and ideas - for instance, when Don takes off the ball from the tree of his neighbor's children on his way to him or the shot of dead flowers in the vase - whereas Bill Murray's and Jeffrey Wright's characters are excellent antipodes to each other: Winston is poor, but has a wife and many kids who love him, whereas Don is rich, respectful and has many girlfriends, but none of his relationships worked for life and he is alone and empty. The complaints of some critics (a too slow rhythm, underdeveloped characters of Don's former lovers) stand, but one can hardly dispute the quality of the symbolical drama (mostly showing how the protagonist was disappointed with the fact that his once wonderful Don Juan life was slowly replaced with sterile living. Even the unnecessary nude scene by Lolita actually makes sense: he saw the youth in her, which reminded him of her mother, who was once his lover, and this bitter reality of change frightens him to almost leave the house before he meets her again), mostly due to the deliberately mysterious context. Namely, the ending is deliberately ambiguous, resulting in Don starting to suspect if he actually exists or not. The solution of the secret was never the point of the film, though, but Don's transition from passive to active existence.


Coffee and Cigarettes

Coffee and Cigarettes; Comedy, USA, 2003; D: Jim Jarmusch, S: Roberto Benigni, Steven Wright, Steve Buscemi, Iggy Pop, Tom Waits, Isaach De Bankole, Cate Blanchett, Mike Hogan, Jack White, Alfred Molina, Steve Coogan, Bill Murray, RZA, GZA

"Coffe and Cigarettes" is a compilation of 11 short films which Jim Jarmusch passingly directed during a course of 17 years. The first three segments are a bravura example of rusticate simplicity and radiate with spirit, inspiration and humor. In the first, called "Strange to Meet You", Roberto Benigni sympathetically plays a wacky guy. His colleague Steven remarks how he would like to freeze coffee into lollipops because he likes it so much, and subsequently requests him to go to his dentist meeting instead of him (!), upon which he agrees. In "Twins", Steve Buscemi plays a waiter who tells two twins a hilarious story about the twin brother of Elvis Presley who took over his role.

"Somewhere in California" is probably the best segment: Iggy Pop and Tom Waits affray in some bar by remarking that they can not find the songs of the other in a jukebox. An irresistible story. "Those Things'll Kill Ya" is, on the other hand, a weaker story. It is still good, but inferior to the first three that turned out like some excellent "Seinfeld" episode, philosophizing about nothing, and yet still having something about them. "Renee" is a pointless episode about a girl drinking coffee and browsing a magazine. "No Problem" is slightly better, but still too thin for comfort, whereas in the solid "Cousins" Cate Blanchett stars in a double role as her own (fictional) cousin. The Tesla episode is all right, but the next truly good chapter shows up only with "Cousins?", where an enthusiastic Alfred Molina is trying to persuade the cold Steve Coogan that they are cousins. At first, Coogan acts like a prima donna, but the story ends with a comic twist. "Delirium" is easily watchable mostly thanks to Bill Murray's interaction with hip-hop artists GZA and RZA whereas the final episode that concludes the film, "Champagne", is unfortunately weak. All in all, "Coffee and Cigarettes" are like a chat with friends in a cafee: some are tiresome, but there is always someone who comes up with a genius joke.


Thursday, August 26, 2010

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai; Crime drama, USA / France / Germany / Japan, 1999; D: Jim Jarmusch, S: Forest Whitaker, John Tormey, Isaach De Bankolé, Tricia Vessey

Ghost Dog is a strange person. He reads Japanese books, lives on the roof of a building and gets messages through pigeons from mobster Louie who gives him assassination assignments. Louie saved his life and from there on he owes him his services. One day Ghost Dog eliminates a mobster, but was seen by Louise, so gangster Ray and his associates unite to punish him. The killers kill the pigeons on the roof, but Ghost Dog kills them all in their mansion. Louie shoots Ghost Dog while a girl gets his books.

Just like in his previous film, Jim Jarmusch again surprised by stepping into a more dynamic story in "Ghost Dog", but like most films of the "problematic director", this one also has a slow tone that tends to turn empty at times. In some other director's hands, the title anti-hero would have ended pointless or like a caricature, but Jarmusch avoided it, creating quality by juggling with opposite minimalistic-action styles, inserting poetry (a bird lands on the gun) and humor (Ghost Dog storms into the mansion of the mobsters, and spots two of those seniors, aiming two guns at them with both of his hands. But when he sees him, the old Joe gets scared, shouts: " It's him! It's the damn Bird man!" and then dies from a heart attack. Subsequently, Ghost Dog lowers one of his guns down; in another sequence, the angry gangsters shoot his pigeons), whereas the above mentioned short action sequences are occasionally virtuoso directed. However, the story is filled with random symbols (could the fact that the mafia is often seen watching cartoons, from "Looney Tunes" to "Felix the Cat", a hint how childish they are?) and uneven bitterness combined with grotesque that don't seem like a natural hommage to Melville's "The Samurai", whereas it's a pity that Jarmusch spends too much time on collusive lessons by the title antagonist.


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Dead Man

Dead Man; western-grotesque, USA/ Germany/ Japan, 1995; D: Jim Jarmusch, S: Johnny Depp, Gary Farmer, Lance Henriksen, Michael Wincott, Eugene Byrd, John Hurt, Mili Avital, Robert Mitchum, Alfred Molina, Gabriel Byrne, Billy Bob Thornton, Iggy Pop, Crispin Glover
19th Century. Accountant William Blake arrives with the train to the small company town of Machine for a promised job. But he does not get it - the company informs him rudely that he is one month too late and boss Dickinson throws him out. Blake accidentally meets former prostitute Thel and spend the night with her. When her ex-boyfriend Charlie shows up, mayhem erupts: Charlie and Tel are killed, while a wounded Blake barely escapes to the forest where he is nurtured by a strange Indian, "Nobody". Since Charlie was Dickinson's son, he hires three bounty hunters to capture Blake. In a long journey, "Nobody" and the remaining bounty hunter kill each other, while a dying Blake floats in a boat.

"Dead Man" is arguably the best Jim Jarmusch film: it's the kind of experiment that can be expected from an unusual director like him who directed his first and only western in his career - one could only compare it with what it would look like if for instance John Ford would have directed "Mystery Train" or "Broken Flowers" - it is enigmatic and esoteric, but also an entirely refreshing departure from Jarmusch's typical style, as if it was directed by someone else. Namely, on one hand, "Dead Man" contains all the Jarmusch trademarks - it again insists on his de-dramatization of the story, completely opposite of the mainstream tendency of exaggerated melodrama, crafting a quiet, unassuming storyline in the form of a road movie, and is even filmed in black and white. Yet, on the other hand, instead of his "passive", minimalistic directing, this film offers him in "active directing", equipped with numerous vibrant creative and innovative ideas, as well as an almost dynamic chase story, enriched with a few funny-burlesque moments (a standing horse urinating; Depp's character William Blake arrives in the company office to get his promised job position, but the business manager tells him he is one month too late and the position is already filled by Mr. Olafsson, who shows up and obliviously raises his arm to shake his hand; Mr. Dickinson shows up in the office with the three bounty hunters but speaks to them while looking at his stuffed bear the whole time; a bounty hunter sleeping with a teddy-bear).

The shooting and the murders are short and realistic, always avoiding the annoying tendency of one guy shooting hundreds of bullets at another and still missing. Also, by showing the town of Machine as the "end of the railroad", it symbolically shows how the old cowboy culture is slowly dying and is getting replaced by technology and progress. If that weren't enough, the author inserted a sly "breaking the fourth wall" idea: Depp's character is named William Blake, after the poet with the same name, yet he ironically never heard of him. But the Indian "Nobody" knows almost all of Blake's poems: by having "Nobody" directly randomly reciting William Blake's poems, while at the same time the character of William Blake does not know what he is talking about, the film achieves a sublime metafilm charge. Maybe the main hero is not portrayed enough and maybe some scenes do seem too bizarre, yet many moments are black poetry, like the virtuoso sequence where Blake finds a dead fawn lying on the ground. He touches its gunshot wound and then touches his own gunshot wound. And then he lies on the grass besides the fawn, in a strange moment that shows how both of their lives have been interrupted.


Friday, August 20, 2010

Down by Law

Down by Law; drama, USA, 1986; D: Jim Jarmusch, S: Tom Waits, John Lurie, Roberto Benigni, Nicoletta Braschi, Ellen Barkin

Pimp Jack gets double crossed by his opponent who calls the police when he leaves him in a hotel room with a minor. Former DJ Zack also gets framed by a criminal who lets him drive a car with a corpse in it. Both Zack and Jack land in the same jail cell - sharing it with the wacky Italian Roberto. They manage to escape, swim the nearby river and hide in the forest. They arrive at a local bar where Roberto makes friends and falls in love with the Italian owner Nicoletta, who gives them food. Jack and Zack continue their journey separate ways.

"Down by Law" introduced Jim Jarmusch in an untypical edition. The typical Jarmusch would have overstretched the segment in the jail cell to the whole film, but this untypical Jarmusch surprised with the dynamic twist where the three protagonists escape from prison some half way into the film, which gave it the dose of unpredictability. Like almost all of his films, "Law" walks on the thin Jarmusch thread between boredom and poetry, yet this time he enriched it with much more "active" instead of "passive directing" - the thing that distinguishes the demanding story the most is the hilarious performance by Roberto Benigni who brings down the house because he seems as if he came from a completely different film: in one especially funny sequence, his character, with awful English accent, starts talking in front of Zack and Jack: "I Scream, You Scream, We Scream!" In another scene, Benigni draws a window in the cell and ask whether he should say look "at" the window or look "out of" the window. "Law" remained true to Jarmusch's minimalistic Ozu kind of storytelling, yet also managed to turn out much more fun and engaging, developing his style more than his previous two films.


Stranger Than Paradise

Stranger Than Paradise; Drama, USA/ Germany, 1984; D: Jim Jarmusch, S: John Lurie, Eszter Balint, Richard Edson

New York. Willie is bored in his apartment but then gets a phone call from his aunt who notifies him that he will get a visit from his cousin Eva from Budapest. Eva shows up and takes her in his apartment for 10 days, even though he has no will for it. She buys him a present and he begins to like her and meet her with friend Eddie. She leaves. A year later, Willie and Eddie hire a car and leave to Cleveland to visit Eva. She is happy to see them again and invites them to the cinema. The trio leaves for Florida with their car. There Willie and Eddie lose the money on bets so Eva

The second film by Jim Jarmusch, filmed in co-production with German channel ZDF, is another demanding social drama, "Stranger Than Paradise", an uninteresting and banally simple art-film. There is not much to recommend here since nothing is going on in the story - Willie gets a visit from his cousin, she leaves, he visits her with his friend, the trio leaves for Florida - almost as if the whole film talks about the absurdity of the nothingness of life, thus leaving the relationships and observations underused. Loosely, it symbolically speaks about the immigrant experience in America, and the attempts and struggles for an immigrant to immerse himself/herself in American culture, establishing the classic Jarmusch road movie and minimalistic Ozu style of storytelling at it. There are a few funny scenes here, like the dialogue between Eva and Willie: "Some Courguy phoned you." - "I don't know no Courguny! Don't answer the telephone!" or during card playing: "Every time Willie deals the cards, Willie wins!" Yet the rest is too conventional.


Permanent Vacation

Permanent Vacation; Drama, USA, 1980; D: Jim Jarmusch, S: Chris Parker, Leila Gastil, John Lurie

New York. Teenage Allie lives in a shabby apartment with his girlfriend Leila. His father left him and his mother is in a mental asylum. He walks around the streets aimlessly, meeting a war veteran, a popcorn girl and a street musician. He eventually steals a car and sells it for 800 $. He then buys himself a ticket for a boat trip to Paris, as some sort of a "permanent vacation" from his life.

The feature length directorial debut film by Jim Jarmusch, the cult director who influenced the independent film genre tremendously, the 72 minute grey drama "Permanent Vacation" is, just like most of his films, a demanding and not so accessible - for the wider audience almost frustrating - drama about outsiders, but it does not have that spark that carries his best films. In almost every minimalistic film, the primary goal is to find a good balance in when something is going on and when nothing is going on - and here only the opening act is great, featuring numerous slow motion scenes of passerbys in New York inter-cut with empty streets, as well as Allie's genius opening monologue, about how "new people are like new rooms: at first they seem interesting and fascinating, but after a while you just feel trapped". The rest is an empty walk. Jarmusch portraits his realistic and relevant view of people without a past or a future, yet in this case we just got the sole message without the juicy parts that makes all those good films interesting and fascinating to watch. However, the film is rarely bland and makes for a solid exercise of the author.


Sunday, August 15, 2010

A Friend is a Treasure

Chi trova un amico, trova un tesoro; adventure comedy, Italy / USA, 1981; D: Sergio Corbucci, S: Bud Spencer, Terence Hill, Salvatore Borghese, John Fujioka, Louise Bennett

Alan wants to find the alleged treasure on an island using the map of his uncle. Fleeing away from debt collectors, he hides inside the ship of a certain Charlie, who is starting a promotion tour for his sponsor, a food he can't stand. Once in the Pacific Ocean, Charlie discovers Alan and wants to get rid of him, but he directs the ship towards his island. In an argument, the both fall from the ship and thus get stranded on the island where they find natives and an abandoned Japanese soldier who still thinks the World War II is ongoing. After finding a large sum of cash, the beat up the local pirates and debt collectors, mistakenly giving the money to the US army because they thought it was counterfeit.

The 13th out of 17 films by Bud Spencer and Terence Hill, "A Friend is a Treasure" belongs to the weak phase of their opus in the 80s, where they made films that did not quite serve to their advantage. Sergio Corbucci, the director of the brutal "Django", crafts an untypically harmless fun without too much energy or inspiration. It's a weak film with only 4 good jokes in 90 minutes; two at the beginning (one of them is when Spencer's character Charlie is hungry and wants to smash a giant egg to make an omelet, but only a snake emerges from the shell!) and two at the end, while the rest is a long empty walk of the two heroes dragging along the island and searching for a treasure, whereas the portrayal of the mumbling native Anulu came close to an annoying caricature. Surprisingly, contrary to the bland storyline, the landscapes and especially the irresistible song "Movin' Cruisin" by the Fantastic Oceans, with a great 80s flair, are fabulous. As a thin film with only the classic fist fighting finale, "Treasure" does not manage to grasp the heights or charm of some of the best Spencer-Hill comedies, like "They Call Me Trinity" or "Watch Out, We're Mad".


How I Won the War

How I Won the War; War comedy, UK, 1967; D: Richard Lester, S: Michael Crawford, Roy Kinnear, Lee Montague, Jack MacGowran, John Lennon

The final days of World War II. British Lieutenant Ernest Goodbody gets captured by the Germans when his unit approaches the Rhine river. He makes friends with a German officer and tells him about his story: he underwent the military drill and got the command to take his unit, "Musketeers", and conquer an Axis powers held cricket-field in an oasis somewhere in the desert in north Africa. They managed to fulfill their task. Back in the present, Goodbody persuades the German officer to buy off the only Rhine bridge. He writes him a check and calls his unit. But as the Allied tanks pass the bridge, they roll over the German officer.

A noble mess, "How I Won the War" is a strange experience that flip-flops between numerous styles and methods to send its message about the senselessness of war. Catastrophically unfunny, this hermetic film seems completely disjointed in the first half, displaying some jokes that seem as if they were made by the Monty Pythons on LSD: for instance, what's so funny about two soldiers being completely painted - both their uniforms and skin - in green and pink color the whole time? Or that all of a sudden some soldier brings out a toy horse in front of the others? Or the caravan of army vehicles driving in circles in the African desert and one driver saying randomly: "Sir! Sir! Me feet sweat. Sir! Me feet sweat"? All these factors contribute to a storyline that's more gibberish than it is comprehensive. The sole visual style is fantastic, though (like in the aesthetic image of Goodbody swimming to the African shore and then spotting numerous land mines in the desert). The last third is the best contribution to the film, displaying some contemplative messages, both about war and life, tipping more towards the serious side - one of the great little "stolen" moments is when a soldier says this about killing: "It's easy! And it's getting easier and easier by the minute. And that's the problem!" - whereas fans should definitely see the film just for the small role of John Lennon as the wacky soldier Gripweed, who seems far less 'autistic' than the rest of the story.


Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Unfaithful Wife

La Femme infidèle; Drama, France/ Italy, 1968; D: Claude Chabrol, S: Michel Bouquet, Stéphane Audran, Michel Duchaussoy, Maurice Ronet

Hélène is married to the respectable Charles and has a son who likes puzzles. They get visit from her mother who thinks that Charles gained weight. The relationship between the married couple cooled off and Charles even doubts she is cheating on him, so he hires a detective to spy on her. His fears are confirmed - she has an affair with writer Victor. Charles goes to his home and tells him that the affair doesn't bother him, but then suddenly takes a statue in his arms and kills him with it. He puts Victor's corpse into his car to throw it in the swamp. Two policemen pass by and question
Hélène because Victor disappeared. She discover Charles is the killer, but does not say anything.

The favorite theme of Claude Chabrol was to demolish the myth of the idyllic upper class society, and it found its way in one of his most famous films, "The Unfaithful Wife". Here he displays a bland relationship between a married couple, Charles and Helene, which re-gains its spark only after her husband kills her lover in an uncontrollable act of jealousy - in a bizarre-touching ending, Helen smiles as if she is proud that her husband still loves her enough to fight for her. Michel Bouquet is brilliant in the role of the husband in the drama, because the thriller or crime remnant of the story is too tame - in one of the great examples of good tangle, he goes to the house of his mother-in-law, he accidentally catches his wife making a suspicious phone call, following her in the car. The sole murder is rather overlong, yet the point of the story that was made, is engaging which is why this ostentative drama stands out well in Chabrol's opus.



Unfaithful; drama, USA, 2002; D: Adrian Lyne, S: Diane Lane, Richard Gere, Olivier Martinez

Connie is a middle-aged, but still attractive woman married to Edward, with whom she has a son. During a storm over Manhattan, Connie injures her knee and French Paul helps her and invites her to his apartment. When she returns to his apartment twice, he seduces her and they start an affair. Edward starts doubting that Connie has an affair so he hires a detective who confirms it. Connie ends the affair, but Edward kills Paul, yet does not get punished.

Adrian Lyne, the director with a sense for the erotic, decided to shoot a remake of the French classic "An Unfaithful Wife" by Chabrol, probably because the sole story reminds a little bit of his most critically acclaimed film, "Fatal Attraction", except that this time the affair is led by a woman. "Unfaithful" is a good, elegant little film, with aesthetic images, but thin plot that is almost dismantled to its core. The exposition nicely shows the break-up of everyday boredom of the heroine Connie with the sequence of a storm that knocks her over, right into the arms of Paul. Lyne filled the plot with an abundance of little details (Connie loses a bottle in the toilet bowl so she has to take out with her hand; Paul uses a marker to draw a butterfly over her genitals) yet it did not entirely avoid cliches and an occasional kitsch. The highlight is the inspiring (and refreshingly natural) performance by Diane Lane, who was nominated for a Golden Globe and an Oscar.


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Horseman

Konjanik; Adventure drama, Croatia, 2003; D: Branko Ivanda, S: Nikša Kušelj, Zrinka Cvitešić, Goran Grgić, Mladen Vulić

18th Century. After the Ottoman Empire lost the war with the Hapsburg Monarchy and the Republic of Venice, the Treaty of Passarovitz stipulated the border between them, with the line going between Dalmatia and Bosnia. Brothers Petar and Ivan Revač became orphans after the commander of the Nečven fortress killed their parents to punish them for stealing his sheep for Christmas. As a grown up, Petar works as the border horseman. He gets an order to kill aga Mujaga, but spares his life. Mujaga then brigs him over to Bosnia, where Petar converts to Islam. He fells in love with Lejla, the daughter of Džafer-beg, and escapes with her back to Dalmatia after killing Mujaga. She converts to Christianity and stays in Zadar waiting for him. But after Petar kills the commander of the Nečven fortress, he gets arrested and brought back to Bosnia to Džafer-beg.

An ambitious adaptation of the history novel of the same title by Ivan Aralica, "The Horseman" impresses only with great production values and epic landscapes, yet otherwise its a dry, chaotic, nihilistic, too long (and too dark) history film. The basic premise of the main anti-hero, a horseman, who feels alienated by both (political and religious) interests between two empires (Ottoman and Venice) and thus flip-flops between them to exploit them both, is clever, yet in this version too many characters got too little screen time, even though the film's running time is 3 hours, whereas the sole events are unmemorable. And when they are memorable, it's mostly something you don't want to remember, like when Petar is circumsized after (falsely) converting to Islam and holds on to his crotch in pain or when the camera shows the explicit scene when he cuts off the head of the murderer of his parents. Basically, whenever the great Zrinka Cvitesic is in the film, it's the only time when its excellent, but there are too little scenes with her character Lejla. One of them is the beautiful, albeit naturalistic, love sequence between Lejla and Petar, when they become intimate in his home and she tells him how she "choose him for her first time", which is a rare example of love making in the rather conservative Croatian cinema of the 2000s.


Independence Day

Independence Day; science-fiction action, USA, 1996; D: Roland Emmerich, S: Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Will Smith, Margaret Colin, Robert Loggia, Mary McDonnell, Randy Quaid, Judd Hirsch, Vivica A. Fox, James Rebhorn, Brent Spiner

Just a few days before July 4, the US Independence day, numerous agencies discover that a giant UFO is approaching Earth. Within hours, numerous space ships deploy from it and settle over the largest cities in the world. David Levinson, a satellite technician, discovers a diminishing signal coming from the space ships, concluding it is a countdown until the attack. He warns the US president Thomas Whitmore, who barely manages to escape the blast with his staff just a few minutes before the aliens destroy the White House. Aliens destroy numerous cities around the world, but David and Captain Hiller manage to create a computer virus that crashes the space ships, enabling the human victory.

Filmed with excellent special effects, Roland Emmerich's "Independence Day" became the 6th highest grossing film of the 90s and caused a massive sensation and hype. Numerous films about alien invasion of Earth were already filmed a long time ago, but until 1996 none so pompous and spectacular as this one. Emmerich approaches the film with a rather conventional manner: it doesn't have the awe and mysticism, the characters are thin whereas the story build-up is exclusively standard. However, this isn't a film with only special effects in it, like numerous big budget extravaganzas after it, but with emotions (short and effective), fine performances by Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum, very polished scenes that manage to impress, a few clever ideas that hide the naive happy ending (especially juicy is the disturbing mood before the alien attack, like the alien 'countdown' signal that subtly disturbs the TV transmissions everywhere; a scene from the film "The Day the Earth Stood Still" is seen on TV), great action (the scene where the spaceship's laser destroys the White House is already a classic) and stylistic-visual elegance. "Independence Day" is basically a light action film on "big budget steroids", yet even today it's difficult not to enjoy in it.


Monday, August 9, 2010

I'm With the Hippopotamus

Io sto con gli ippopotami; comedy, Italy / South Africa, 1979; D: Italo Zingarelli, S: Terence Hill, Bud Spencer, Joe Bugner, May Dlamini

Africa. Tom "Hippopotamus" drives tourists and hunters in his jeep, showing them African animals. But his cousin Slim "Crocodile" strongly objects to this kind of money making, since he is an avid animal lover and wants to protect them from hunting. When they meet again at Mama Leone's house, they agree to make a safari where no animals will be hurt. But then they also hear that tycoon Ormond, a former boxing champion, is evicting locals and plans to cage numerous animals to deport them to a zoo in the cold Ontario. They free the animals on his ship and beat him and his henchmen.

Bud Spencer and Terence Hill, the "Italian Lauren & Hardy with fists", filmed 17 films together, and even though the harsher critics criticized most of them, one still has to admit that after all this time their fist fighting with bad guys can still simply ignite a good chuckle. There is no need to analyze that too much - if Chaplin and Keaton managed to awaken sympathy of the viewers with childish humor, so can they. Their adventure comedy filmed in exotic South Africa that engages in a noble message, in animal rights, "I'm For the Hippopotamus" is arguably their last good contribution to their opus, equipped with good and dynamic gags as well as a good pace, though it loses a lot of power in the last third when the story slowly starts "walking in circles". It's a simple and light fun, with at least two jokes that are hilarious: when Spencer's character Tom, nicknamed "Hippopotamus", arrives at a booth, some arrogant White guys throw a knife at the painting inside it, even though the African clerk begs them to stop because it's holly to him. But they don't listen and throw another knife - but it gets stopped because Tom raised a wooden board that captured it half way through. In another, Ormond's henchmen are trying to evict Hill's Slim. One guy tells him: "The law says so" and raises a gun towards him. Slim just remains motionless, looking at him in the eyes. And he looks at him. They both stare at each other for a hilariously long time, as in a contest. Slim then smiles slowly, which is so contagious that the bad guys smiles too. But then Slim returns to his serious facial expression, and the bad guy does the same. Slim then laughs and the bad guy does the same, until Slim knocks him off and throws his gun in the water, saying: "Well, now the law is in the water".



Metro; Action, USA, 1997; D: Thomas Carter, S: Eddie Murphy, Michael Rapaport, Carmen Ejogo, Michael Wincott

Scott Roper is a top-notch hostage negotiator from "Metro", a police department of San Francisco. He gets a new partner, Kevin, whom he perceives as a burden in his work, since his previous partner and friend was killed by criminal Korda. In a dangerous action Roper finally captures Korda and puts him behind bars. However, Korda escapes and kidnaps Roper's girlfriend in an act of revenge, threatening to kill her at a construction site. Roper falls into a trap, but manages to escape while Korda dies.

1996 was a crucial year for Eddie Murphy's career, though luckily he managed to regain his appeal and make a comeback with his hit comedy "The Nutty Professor". His next appearance was unfortunately in a typical "safe" commercial project, in the weak, trashy action film "Metro" that grossed only modestly at the box office. "Metro" is basically "Beverly Hills Cop" without the humor - it's a too serious flick where the brilliant Murphy again relies on fast talking and an occasional funny moment, which has its moments, yet the whole film relies more on dumbing violence, a story that takes itself too seriously and copying of old ideas seen in previous films. Especially in the wasted second half, "Metro" is suitable only for Murphy fans.


Sunday, August 8, 2010

Slayers Next

Slayers Next; animated fantasy / comedy series, Japan, 1996; D: Takashi Watanabe, S: Megumi Hayashibara, Yasunori Matsumoto, Masumi Suzuki

Lina Inverse, Amelia, Gourry and Zelgadis team up again to find a copy of the Claire Bible, occasionally accompanied by the mysterious priest Xellos. On their journey, they stumble upon numerous adventures, meeting corrupt cooks and getting annoyed by Martina, who wants to take revenge on Lina but falls for Gourry. Arriving in Seyruun kingdom, they expose a mystery case in which king Phil’s life was threatened not by his suspicious brother Christopher, but by Alfred, who gets killed by his own henchmen, demon Magenta. After Lina defeats him, she and the gang decide to inspect the perpetrator behind these criminal activities, Dragon Lord Garv. They also find out Xelos is a Monster. In the battle, they manage to defeat Gaav and the far more evil Hellmaster.

"Slayers", though funny, is a rather overhyped anime series, though the second season, "Next", was the closest to become almost brilliant. The first 15 episodes are a blast (among them the fantastic row of one hilarious episode after another, especially in the ones where Amelia ties Lina to her bed because she was constantly kicking in her sleep or when they order the expensive dragon meat but the cooks want to double-cross them by serving them ordinary meat), yet the rest lost its enthusiasm and inspiration and went downhill, insisting too much on the silly and standard cliches. One of the funniest moments appears in episode 14, when Lina and her friends are following the path on a ‘black market’ map to find the secret location of the prestigious book of spells; as they climb up a road, Zelgadis spots a hill in the distance and comments to himself: “That hill looks like a profile of a woman”. Nobody pays much attention to him as they continue climbing up. But at one point, they also spot two girls climbing up the other side of the path, also holding a map as one of them says: “Now we must find a hill that looks like a profile of a woman…” As the two groups meet face-to-face, they realize in hilarious horror that they are both after the same thing. That particular episode again displays sharpness with ease, though it ends in a rather silly finale: it is somewhat funny that Amelia and Lina sing dressed in short skirts to summon the magic, but alas, the whole moment is awkward since karaoke and dungeons & dragons simply don’t go hand in hand. Luckily, despite the fact that some ideas don’t work, the majority of “Slayers Next” has inspiration. And not that kind of modest inspiration where the viewers have to be permissive in order to enjoy it, but the one where even the more critical ones will be pleasantly surprised. However, the story does lose a lot of power in the finale when it focuses on dry action and battles, which is why the last (too) serious 6-7 episodes tend to be tiresome and not really engaging.


Thursday, August 5, 2010

Lost in Translation

Lost in Translation; drama / tragicomedy, USA / Japan, 2003; D: Sofia Coppola, S: Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Akiko Takeshita, Giovanni Ribisi, Anna Faris, Fumihiro Hayashi
American actor Bob Harris arrives with a limousine to Tokyo. He is scheduled to film a TV spot for a drink, but is annoyed by the Japanese director who cannot speak English. Since he cannot sleep due to jet-lag, he often plays golf, swims in the pool and drinks in the bar. He meets another American in the hotel, the young Charlotte, who becomes his friend. Even though the are both married, they feel like soul mates. They travel around Tokyo, visiting bars and casinos. When Bob has to depart, he kisses her and whispers something to her, before leaving in the limousine.

The second film by Sofia Coppola, "Lost in Translation" was a phenomenally critically acclaimed achievement, with many naming it the best film of the year. Sofia again shows her sense for sensitivity, yet it was not developed more than her debut "The Virgin Suicides" since this film also suffers from lack of focus and empty walk. "Lost in Translation" is a film of the moment - it shows a deeply touching premise of two people in a strange land, slowly realizing they are soul mates, developing a deep devotion for each other that has traces of Platonic love - yet alas, it is much more interesting writing and analyzing that premise than it is to watch it on the screen. The leading role was played by the cult comedian Bill Murray who is in excellent shape, playing his character in a sustained manner, while his chemistry with Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) is the main virtue of the film. They both won a BAFTA award as best leading actor and actress. Murray also won the Golden Globe as best actor in a motion picture - musical or comedy, the New York Film Critics Circle Award and was finally nominated for an Oscar.

The film isn't centered around a story but about the interaction between the two characters, showing some delicious details (an animated dinosaur on the screen in the city square; Bob carrying a sleeping Charlotte to bed...), yet as a whole the film loses its courage. Namely, it has too much banal humor that does not seem natural to the plot (the way the Japanese director talks for minutes in Japanese to Bob who does not understand a word; some pronunciation of an accent like "Lodja Moore") and too little really enchanting romance. Mikhalkov's "Dark Eyes" showed a much more stimulative contribution to the same topic. The ending, with the melancholic song "Just Like Honey" by The Jesus & Mary Chain, is one of the most beautiful and emotional endings of the decade, and it's a pity the whole film up to it could not have been as strong as that. It is sophisticated, yet somehow simply too pale, unexciting and bland. The opulent Tokyo, where the two protagonists get lost, only partially lived up to the expectations. It also won a Golden Globe for best motion picture - musical or comedy and screenplay, an Oscar for best screenplay and a New York Film Critics Circle Award for best director.


The Virgin Suicides

The Virgin Suicides; Drama, USA, 1999; D: Sofia Coppola, S: Kirsten Dunst, Hanna Hall, Chelse Swain, Kathleen Turner, James Woods, Josh Hartnett, Danny DeVito

Michigan in the 70s. The Lisbon family has 5 daughters: Cecilia, Mary, Therese, Bonnie and Lux. But their parents are very rigid and strict, forbidding them to see boys, often even not allowing them to leave the house. One day, Cecilia (13), the youngest of the sisters, commits suicide. Realizing they have been too strict, the parents allow more liberty to the girls. Teenager Trip and his friends then take Lux and her sisters out to a dance. Since Trip and Lux slept together, the parents forbid the sisters to leave the house indefinitely. Lux tries to find a substitute for Trip by sleeping with every boy on the roof. Lonely, the sisters commit suicide. The people from the neighborhood cannot explain that.

The feature length directorial debut film by Sofia Coppola, "The Virgin Suicides" are a meditative-elegant, but rather mild drama about how too rigid rules can restrain and wreck young people's lives. The author wanted to create a description of the young sisters, yet their personalities remained rather vague and episodic, except for the character of Lux (excellent Kirsten Dunst) and some notable exceptions, like in the scene where Cecilia wrote in her diary that she wrote the name of her beloved Kevin on all of her bras and underpants. Lux is, as mentioned, the only completely portrayed sister, while the others have too little screen time, which is why some even seem like extras, though the main theme is still understandable. A much better portrait was, surprisingly, given to the boys from the neighborhood. The story is unfocused, but Coppola showed that she has a sense for esoteric directing (when one lad smells Lux's lipstick, her images shows up illuminated by the Sun; a photo hidden in the wheel of a bicycle) and full of warmth and emotions.


Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Mist

The Mist; Horror, USA, 2007; D: Frank Darabont, S: Thomas Jane, Laurie Holden, Nathan Gamble, Toby Jones, Marcia Gay Harden

Just as David was painting a poster of the film "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly", a storm caused a tree to crash on his house and destroy his work. He, his son Billy and Brent, his neighbor who filled a lawsuit against him, all drive to the local grocery store to get some food. Just then, a siren is heard and a strange fog surrounds the store, trapping some 50 people who were shopping there. They soon find out that mysterious monsters are hiding in the fog - when a defiant Brent and some other people leave the store, they are killed. Mrs. Carmod, a religious fanatic, taunts everyone by claiming to know about the Armageddon, while people become paranoid and edgy. David, Billy, Amanda and a few others manage to run out to their car and drive off to find an exit from the fog. After they run out of gas, David shoots them to spare them the misery. But to his horror, just then the fog clears and the army shows up.

"The Mist" is one of those rare kind of intelligent psychological horrors that had potential to turn out great, but the typical mistakes for that genre and some ill-considered decisions bloated the final result considerably. Actually, the first third of the film is excellent - just like in Carpenter's horror "The Fog", Darabont's "The Mist" masterfully exploits the scary cloudy phenomenon for creating a chilling-esoteric mood: as the mysterious fog surrounds a store and traps some 50 people inside, it slowly starts building suspense and quality character development. The fascinating thing is that in the first 40-50 minutes we see the monsters only once, for only 1-2 minutes, and not even entirely, since it shows a couple of tentacles emerging from the fog and dragging a bag-boy from the store, but that was enough to crystallize the mood. For instance, the wise guy who told him to go outside and clean the generator, had the biggest mouth, but when the tentacle grabbed the bag-boy, he was the biggest coward and didn't move a finger to help him, while the protagonist David, who was against it, was the first to jump and try to help him. Such a display of hypocrisy and human stupidity that only makes a problem worse works very well at first in "The Mist". Unfortunately, instead of continuing with that tactic, the story looses the Hitchcockian mood in the second third, when two dragons catching some giant insects crash into the store and create chaos - from there on, the monsters turn out too trashy, the explanation for the situation is too outlandish while the horror cliche of violence and gore is also displayed. In the last third, only the brilliant Marcia Gay Harden manages to shine as the religious fanatic who taunts the people with her Armageddon Bible "knowledge", only indulging in being right and never to help anyone, yet the hyped (tragic) ending is overrated, failing to bring a clear point of what it wanted to say.


Monday, August 2, 2010

Micki + Maude

Micki + Maude; comedy, USA, 1984; D: Blake Edwards, S: Dudley Moore, Amy Irving, Ann Reinking, Richard Mulligan, George Gaynes, Wallace Shawn

TV reporter Rob Salinger eagerly wants to have kids, but his busy wife Micki postpones his planes again in order to pursue her career and become a judge. Feeling distant from her since she spends much more time working than with him, Rob makes a report about cellist Maude and falls in love with her. Just as he is about to tell Micki about the divorce, he finds out she is pregnant and might lose the baby if she gets upset, so he doesn’t say anything. Never the less, he still marries Maude after he finds out she is pregnant too. He leads a double life between them until they find out when they give birth in the same hospital. Even though they said they don’t want to see him ever again, Micki and Maude change their mind and have even more kids with him.

An unusual comedy about polygamy, “Micki + Maude” is a mixed bag that crams too many disjointed elements into one, yet it is an easily watchable fun mostly due to the skills of the “master of comedy”, director Blake Edwards, and his main actor, the excellent Dudley Moore, who even won a Golden Globe as best actor in a motion picture – musical or comedy. This film almost seems like a tamer, gentler version of their previous comedy “10” with a different direction of the story, though it is bloated by some flaws: it takes 30 minutes until the film gets started, the plot seems contrived since it is difficult to buy that Rob would simply stay in a relationship with two women for so long until it becomes too late when they both get pregnant, nor is it that realistic that he could spend 10 hours of his life with both of them and still somehow manage not to lose his job, whereas the film avoids to resolve the issue by presenting a rather open ending. Still, as a whole, it is a surprisingly fluent comedy that has much less irritating moments than expected, though the sequence of the double labor in the birth clinic really tends to get annoying by reaching too often for cheap and convulsive jokes. As a light fun, the film has at least four great jokes, one being when Rob meets Maude’s father, a wrestler who knocks off the judge during a match to finish off his opponent, and the other the fantastic popcorn fight: such a sequence where Ron and Maude are watching monsters fighting in “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad” on TV, he takes a popcorn from her bowl upon which she makes a “monstrous” howl and shows her teeth from her lower jaw, he does the same, she throws popcorn on him and he howls and surprises her by “improvising” spitting a popcorn out on her face, is something that reaches poetic humor.