Sunday, 31 January 2010

Three Days of the Condor


Three Days of the Condor; Thriller, USA, 1975; D: Sydney Pollack, S: Robert Redford, Faye Dunaway, Cliff Robertson, Max von Sydow, John Houseman

Joseph "Condor" Turner is one of the 8 employees of a CIA office disguised as "American Literary Historical Society" in New York. They do only desk jobs, browsing for international novels to find strategies that could be used for the CIA. One day, Turner takes a shortcut and leaves the office through the back door to get some lunch. When he returns, he finds all his colleagues dead. He hides in the city and informs his superiors, though when one CIA agent tries to shoot him, it turns out he can't trust anybody. He hides in the apartment of a random woman, photographer Kathy. It turns out one high ranking CIA official gave the order because Turner asked for a specific novel that had plans for a invasion of the oil rich Middle East. He threatens Higgins that he will publish it if they don't leave him alone.

A classic example of a pure thriller that works despite a fake basic conclusion, "Thee Days of the Condor" is one of the best films by director Sydney Pollack who crafted it with passion. The minute the hero Turner (excellent Robert Redford) returns to his office from lunch and finds all his colleagues dead does the movie take a firm grip on the viewers and doesn't let go until the end, building slow, subtle suspense that plays with the fear of government security agencies and even contemplates about some political means that try to achieve some goals. The best moments of the film come from small, clever details - for instance, in one scene, Turner calls the assassin Joubert and hangs up, but records the sound of the phone buttons when he then dials to call his superior, using the sound to identify the latter's phone number. When Turner calls the CIA headquarters, they can't locate him because he connected his phone to 50 other links. A smooth, carefully constructed film with that wonderful 70s spirit and flair, while the only major flaw is the resolution of the mystery at the end, a gimmick which is disappointingly naive and borders almost to nonsense.

Grade:+++

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Moon


Moon; Science-fiction drama, UK, 2009; D: Duncan Jones, S: Sam Rockwell, Kevin Spacey (voice), Dominique McElligott

In the future, Sam is the only employee on a Moon station, operating special vehicles that extract Helium-3 for clean energy on Earth. His only companion is computer Gerty while he hears about his wife and daughter via a delayed video communication. Just as his 3 year contract is about to end, he has an accident in his vehicle and falls unconscious. Sam wakes up back in the station, but returns back to the wrecked vehicle and discovers himself there. After his second self gain consciousness, they realize they are both clones and that the real Sam has long time ago returned back on Earth. The injured Sam stays behind, but the healthy one manages to escape from the execution squad and go to Earth.

A critically acclaimed feature length debut film, Duncan Jones' "Moon" finds inspiration in clever 70s and 80s science-fiction films like "Silent Running" and "Blade Runner" that placed more emphasis on psychological drama, but finds enough energy on its own to make those role models proud. The "one-man-show" relies heavily on the performance by Sam Rockwell who is, de facto, almost the only actor throughout the story, yet he does a very fine job while the screenplay was nicely constructed to show just the consequences of a morally failed action, nothing else - but here nothing else is needed. It's a story about humanity and everything was said in the film. There's a plot twist that appears already some 20 minutes into the film, when Sam discovers his cloned self, and that they are just pawns in a sick game orchestrated by greedy multi-corporations to do their job cheaply, which unfolds like a futuristic version of the Sisyphus myth on the Moon. In doing so, Sam gets to know himself better and the movie shows how valuable humanity is without turning preachy. The second plot twist towards the end was also equipped with a neat surprise. As a one-note concept, the movie seems rather overstretched and lacks diversity, which is why it turns slightly grey at times, but those are necessary flaws to present a thought provoking and gripping allegory. "Blade Runner" pretty much already said everything about clones and their "lesser value" status in the World, but even "Moon" said something new about the latter.

Grade:+++

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Betty Blue


37°2 le matin; Drama, France, 1986; D: Jean-Jacques Beineix, S: Jean-Hugues Anglade, Béatrice Dalle, Gérard Darmon, Consuelo De Haviland

Zorg has a tough life: he lives in an isolated settlement on the beach and barely survives as an auto mechanic and handyman, but has something that makes him happy. It's a love relationship with the temperament Betty. One day she discovers that he is writing a story for a novel and sets his home on fire to force him to move to town and find a publisher. The couple finds an apartment in the owner of a piano store. But Zorg has trouble finding a job while Betty acts weirder every day. When she pokes her eye out, the doctors diagnose her with schizophrenia. Devastated, Zorg decides that he can't look her in that pitiful state. He kills Betty and becomes crazy himself.

Nominated for an Oscar, a BAFTA and a Golden Globe as best foreign language film, "Betty Blue" is an extremely bitter existential drama for those who can stomach those kind of films, and it became more famous in the European than American circles. The average grade that was given to the film by the American critics on Rotten-Tomatoes.com was 6.4/10, which is good, but modest considering its high reputation. The simple story about the tough times of a couple that speaks about love, self-deceit, obsession, death and many other things really somehow reminds of a soap opera, but it is fascinating and demanding, which is something that can't be said for those cheap films, whereas it also contains brave-bitter monologues ("With 30, you start realizing what life is really like" or "In life, you always lose what you want"). Already from the first scene in which the couple has sex in bed does the director Beineix hint that he doesn't intend to polish the depressive story about loser Zorg who only has happiness in love with the schizophrenic Betty, whereas even "Million Dollar Baby" could have learned a lesson or two from the similar tragic ending that refuses to turn manipulative or tedious.

Grade:+++

The Warriors


The Warriors; Action drama, USA, 1979; D: Walter Hill, S: Michael Beck, James Remar, Deborah Van Valkenburgh, David Patrick Kelly

New York. All street gangs are summoned to Queens due to a speech by the charismatic Cyrus, among them even The Warriors, who otherwise reside in Coney Island. During the summit, Cyrus tells about his plan about the unification of all gangs, but just then he gets shot by Luther, leader of The Rouges, and puts the blame on The Warriors. In the ensuing chaos, The Warriors barely manage to escape to the subway, but lose their leader so the young Swan takes over. In their long journey back home, by foot and train, they lose a lot of members due to attacks of other gangs, but they are joined by girl Mercy from the gang Orphans. The Warriors get back home whereas the other gangs discover that Luther is the real killer.

Once a legendary cult film, today slightly forgotten, "The Warriors" by Walter Hill are still a daft, intriguing, stylish, hip and original achievement, except that they aren't that fresh anymore. Though shot in the 70s, "The Warriors" leave the impression as if they came from the 80s, but they didn't manage to remain timeless. The sympathetic, essential story based on "Anabasis" by Xenophon about a group of gang from the title who travel through the enemy territory of New York to get back home, doesn't waste too much time on characters and much of it remains unexplained, yet many scenes have charm and still seem 'cool', like when Swan (Michael Beck) tells to the "easy" girl Mercy that she should "tie a mattress on her back" or when The Warriors beat the Orphans, whereas the film as a whole posses some kind of nostalgic touch.

Grade:++

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Lie with Me


Lie With Me; Erotic drama, Canada, 2005; D: Clement Virgo, S: Lauren Lee Smith, Eric Balfour, Polly Shannon

Leila enjoys her life, lands with men in bed all the time and doesn't like to be committed to a steady relationship. She suffers slightly from an upcoming divorce of her parents. At a party, she has sex with a stranger outside, all the time looking at David, who is at the same time having sex with a girl in a car. Accidentally, Leila and David meet again and start and affair at first, but with time she really falls deeply in love with him. When his dad dies, he ends his relationship wit her. She tries to again have sex with strangers, but can't seem to enjoy it anymore, longing after David. He attends the wedding of Leila's best friend and makes up with her.

Clement Virgo's "Lie with Me" is a rare kind of erotic film with sophistication, philosophy, intelligence and genuine emotions. It's rare to find those kind of attributes in any particular film, for that matter, but it is even more difficult to achieve that in this genre which automatically deserves even more praise. If the viewers can watch the film with an open mind, they will enjoy a refreshing portrait of a sex relationship from a female perspective, through her thoughts in the form of the narration which, despite some complaints from the critics, seems so honest. There are so many clever little details plastered throughout the film that have a purpose which is why it is a delight to search for them, like when it is shown how Leila suffers because the break-up of her parents, which works as a reason why she doesn't want to have a steady relationship but prefers to just have occasional sex with men.

After she meets David, it culminates in a wonderfully emotional moment when she feels distracted at home and we hear her words: "I didn't know how I could get that from him what I normally got from men. With this man I wanted to have sex again and again...I thought about him in bed, on the street, everywhere". The sex scenes between them aren't so great, but they are honest and there is a chemistry between them, whereas the story breaks many cliches with unusual scenes (like the fact that it is shown how David takes care of his old father who lives in his apartment - his death maybe a 'plot device', though it is still interesting; after the break-up, Leila can't enjoy sex anymore and hopelessly masturbates while watching a porn), which ease some flaws, like an occasional clumsy approach or the shaky last 20 minutes of the film. After so many primitive erotic films, it is a small delight to finally find an adult movie that's actually grown up.

Grade:+++

War of the Worlds


War of the Worlds; Science-fiction, USA, 2005; D: Steven Spielberg, S: Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning, Tim Robbins, Justin Chatwin, Miranda Otto

New Jersey. Ray is an ordinary worker who isn't in best relations with his little daughter Rachel and grown up son Robbie ever since his divorce. But one day aliens suddenly attack and start destroying everything around them. Ray, Rachel and Robbie manage to get to their car and escape from the town before its destruction and hide in the nature. Robbie joins the army to fight against the aliens while Ray and Rachel hide in the basement of a house of a stranger. Luckily, though, the aliens get infected by a virus and die, which saves the human kind.

After excellent Sci-fi thriller "Minority Report", Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise collaborated a second time and made a weaker film, "War of the Worlds", which was moderately praised by critics, but still proclaimed as an inferior remake to the '53 movie adaptation, and especially inferior compared to the brilliant original novel by H.G. Wells. It's interesting to note that during the entire time of the story it is never revealed what is the reason for the alien invasion: their destruction is shown more like a natural disaster without a cause and in one scene Rachel asks Ray: "Are we attacked by terrorists?", by which some interpreted the plot as an ironic commentary to the US invasion of Iraq, showing how it would look like if the tables were switched. Still, despite a few brilliant scenes (Ray tells Rachel that she has to remain in his sight when she runs away in the woods to urinate; floating corpses on the river; explosion of the bridge seen in the car mirror), the film seems too short, inert, ordinary and not that intense as it could have been, whereas many naive but genius ideas from the novel were lost in the 21st Century adaptation of it, especially in the rather ill-conceived design of the tripod machines.

Grade:++

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Minority Report


Minority Report; Science-fiction triller, USA, 2002; D: Steven Spielberg, S: Tom Cruise, Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton, Steve Harris, Max Von Sydow

Washington, 2054. Pre-cogs are three clairvoyant people equipped with precognition who predict upcoming murders in town. The police force "Precrime" placed them in a pool while Director Lamar organized police officers who arrest people even before they commit a crime. One of the officers is John Anderton, who lost his son, supervised by Danny. When one day Pre-cogs predict that John will kill someone, he runs away. In order to prove his innocence, John kidnaps Pre-cog Agatha and takes her to a building. There he kills a man claiming to have killed his son and gets arrested. But the man lied since he was hired by Lamar, who himself is a killer. But John's wife discovers the fraud, saves John and Lamar gets killed.

The sole story of "Minority Report" was taken over from a short story by the genius Philip K. Dick, but is rather shaky since precognition and predicting future are topics that step way too much into paranormal. Still, the finished film is an excellent achievement, a 'tour-the-force' sci-fi thriller. Who ever presumed that Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise are only going to glorify themselves will be shocked by the dose of nihilism and realism in the film for whom they might have not been mature enough some 5 years before. Cruise plays the hero Anderton who is a real opposite of a "clean image" beau: he is a drug addict, a cynic and a depressive person ever since his child disappeared. The story is basically the classic "the system worked fine until they came after him" concept, when Anderton has to run from the police - in one radical moment, since the identity of everyone can be discovered through eye scan in the future, he decides to pay a doctor to replace his eyes with the eyes of someone else in a surgery. In one elaborated sequence, the police sends small robot-spiders to search for a building and scan the eyes of every tenant there (they even scan one man while on toilet!) so Anderton, still with a bandage on his eyes, submerges into cold water so that the heat sensors won't detect him. The film is filled with such creative moments. Despite the ugliness, this is a beautiful film, like in the scene where the hero tiresomely walks with Agatha in the store while the song "Moon River" plays in the background, and it would have been better if it ended like a real "black pearl", and not so neatly as it did.

Grade:+++

A.I. Artificial Intelligence


A.I. Artificial Intelligence; Science-fiction drama, USA, 2001; D: Steven Spielberg, S: Haley Joel Osment, Frances O'Connor, Jude Law, Sam Robards, Jake Thomas, William Hurt

In the future, the Cybertronics company designed a new robot, David - not only does he look like a real child, but he is also programmed to "love" his parents. David is bought by Henry for his wife Monica because their real son, Martin, is in a coma. Monica is at first afraid of David, but starts to like him. But then Martin awakes from coma so Monica leaves David alone in the forest because she doesn't want to bring him back to the company. David likes the story about "Pinocchio" so he goes to search for a fairy who will transform him into a real human being. In the city, he meets robot-gigolo Joe, accused of murder. After Joe gets captured by the authorities, David finds a statue of a fairy in the sea. 2000 years later, he is found in the ice by perfect robots who took over after humans have disappeared. They clone Monica for him, but she will live for only one day. David then happily falls asleep with her in bed.

Even though many have dismissed this film as "Spielberg trying to imitate Kubrick" (who wanted to, but in the end never directed this film), "A.I." is, despite its flaws, one of the most profound, unusual and most fascinating science-fiction melodramas of the decade. By its futuristic aesthetics, "A.I." reminds slightly of "Armitage III" and other cyberpunk-mecha stories, except that it is made with a soul: in the exposition, it is explained how the Earth's poles have melted and sea has risen in the future, and then William Hurt's character shows up and demonstrates to the public how a robot-woman doesn't feel anything by stabbing her in the hand. Spielberg obviously made a huge shift from his usual iconography since the film is neither sugary nor "childish", but filled with pessimism and grotesque, though, surprisingly - and that's something only selected few artists can achieve - the story still ended up deeply emotional for the robot hero David, always portraying him as a real being, in a world where people treat his kind, the robots, as an "inferior race", literally as objects.

The first third of the story is the strongest: it shows how a husband bought a new "child", robot David, for his wife, which creates a bizarre relationship between them (David lies in bed without sleeping, chews without eating...) and creates some poignant messages about the placebo effects and human psychology. The tagline of the poster says it all: "His love is real. But he is not". In the second third, which shows how David is searching for a fairy to become a real human, the story becomes a mess: it wonders aimlessly and seems to have lost what it wanted to say, placing criticism everywhere (the destruction of robots in the arena is set up so unusually that it almost reminds of the Holocaust) though it keeps its ambitious tone. The enigmatic finale, where perfect robots have taken over Earth after humans have became extinct, is by far a real curiosity that neither fits nor burdens the film as a whole, and the ending of David's journey is devastating, one of the saddest endings of the decade. "A.I." was nominated for 2 Golden Globes (best director, supporting actor Jude Law).

Grade:++

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Rainbow


Duga; Animated drama, Croatia, 2010; D: Joško Marušić, S: Krešimir Mikić (voice)

A driver stops his car with his two children near Sinj in the middle of the night. The story then shows the dark history of that town: in 1715, the Ottoman Empire started a siege of the town to conquer it again, but two children had the idea to project the drawn face of a woman on glass on the clouds, which scares the Turks who decide to withdraw. From there on, Sinj celebrates the Sinjska alka every year, a knight tournament. In the 19th Century, teenage girl Srna feels isolated in Sinj and flees to her dreamworld. At the same time, lad Salka wants to impress the older girl Marta, but get disappointed when she marries his father, Rašica. He leaves the town, while Srna drowns while swimming in order to pass under the rainbow. Back in the present, the driver resumes his journey.

After a long pause, the Croatian cinema finally extracted another feature length animated film, "Rainbow" by director Joško Marušić, which gained a solid amount of attention it its homeland. As an alternative to the US animation, "Rainbow" feels and looks rather exotic, revolving around the history of Sinj in the 18th and 19th Century, openly embracing the culture, mentality and traditions of the city, even backward ones, though it is more suited for the mature audience since it shows some dark moments (during the Turkish siege of Sinj in 1715, there's a scene where the Turkish soldiers hold decapitated heads on their spears; tailor-woman Sava whose upper parts of her fingers of her right hand were bitten off by a pig when she was still a child...). With opulent animation and music, the movie flows nicely and not even the fact that it has only one voice throughout the entire story, the one of the narrator, can't be considered a setback, since it is sufficient to show the perspective of them all, but the film is uneven and lost itself in too many characters, whereas it simply needed more real poetic moments, like the one where Srna imagines two musicians from her paper came to life, to elevate it into something more.

Grade:++