Saturday, March 27, 2010

Avatar


Avatar; science-fiction, USA, 2009; D: James Cameron, S: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Stephen Lang, Sigourney Weaver, Wes Studi, Giovanni Ribisi, Michelle Rodriguez

In the future, Jake Sully, a marine veteran in a wheelchair, accepts the offer to go to the moon Pandora to replace his late twin brother who was a member in a special scientific program where his mind could be temporarily placed in the body of an artificially created Na’vi, a race of native humanoid, blue aliens who are 10 foot tall. The goal of a mining company is to get a hold of the valuable resource, Unobtanium, which is found under the Na’vi sacred trees, which is why Jake is sent there to try and humanly “evacuate” them from there. He falls in love with the local Neytiri. When the Na’vi refuse to leave, a fierce battle beings where Jake joins the natives and defeats the technologically superior military led by Colonel Quaritch. Jake in the end stays on Pandora in the Na’vi body.

A surprise hit and an unusual comeback for director James Cameron after a 12 year pause from his last film “Titanic” which set up the expectations so high that nobody wanted to envy his next move, “Avatar” is a competent science-fiction film with noble eco-pacifist messages and a wonderful story – except that that story was already told in “Dances with Wolves” in exceptional manner, with real, honest characters and emotions from start to finish. “Avatar” tried to recycle that story in the science-fiction genre, but only managed to rehash old stereotypes. Except for being part “Wolves”, the movie is also basically “Second Life” video game, except that the main character doesn’t enter his new body in a video game but as an alien – through it, “Avatar” gains some plus points revolving around the hero Jake who gets so fascinated with that ‘fake’ existence that he even starts regarding it as his real one, and his ‘fake’ homeland as his real one. The CGI special effects and the opulent world of Pandora are nice, but are there really that engaging? Anyone who was ever in a national park will know that Earth’s nature is as miraculous, if not even more miraculous than the nature of Pandora.

Bombastic and pompous at first, “Avatar” is slightly ordinary in conjuring up that world – one of the rare truly enchanting moments is the one where a floating, jellyfish like tiny creature gently descends on Neytiri’s arrow, causing her not to shoot Jake’s Na’vi, but alas, the movie needed more of such moments, and not just the standard sci-fi environment. Actually, Jake’s interaction with the Na’vi is in the first third so bland that one might even think that it’s just one huge trailer for the promotion of the 3D-motion capture technology. The only point where the viewers stop asking themselves “who, why and what is this?”, forget everything and just clearly focus and get glued to the screen is the brilliant action finale, a delight that has universal appeal – almost everyone will cheer for the Na’vi insurgency fighting against the technologically superior people trying to destroy their forest. Even dead CGI creatures will cause honest emotional charge there. Genius Stephen Lang makes the movie as the bad guy Quaritch, the scene where the giant rhinoceros like horde of creatures charge and simply level the army in their giant robot suits is virtuoso directed whereas Cameron also inserted some clever and logical ideas there, like when the 10-foot tall Na’vi enters a fighter aircraft and single-handedly attacks the “puny” human soldiers in it. Some would cynically say that the climax tickles only the military side of the viewers’ brain, but it really is amazing. Still, the great last 50 minutes of the film cannot fully compensate for the bland first 100.

Grade:++

Drunken Master II


Jui Kuen II; action, Hong Kong / China, 1994; D: Lau Kar-leung, S: Jackie Chan, Anita Mui, Ti Lung, Felix Wong, Lau Kar-leung

China, 19th Century. Wong doesn't want to pay the tax before entering a train, so he hides the ginseng root in the bag of an English diplomat, despite the objection of his father. In the train, Wong accidentally mistakes a box with a valuable Chinese antique with his box of ginseng, which causes troubles: some mobsters intended to sell the antique to English tycoons. Wong wants to stop them and has his old method: every time he gets drunk, he becomes an unstoppable fighter. But his father argues with him due to objections of becoming drunk. In a steel factory, Wong stops the antique from being sold and beats up the bad guy.

This sequel to one of Jackie Chan's most popular films from '78, "Drunken Master 2" is an unusually gloomy achievement: in the finale, the mafia even throws the hero on burning coal whereas even family arguments show up, which is pretentiously dramatic. Luckily, however, that the story still contains enough humor: four women hide gambling chips by leaning to the table pretending to be sick and an occasional funny dialog livens things up ("This province is so poor that the whole family has only one pants!" - "And who wears them?" - "The one who goes out to work"). Chan is fun when he acts the clever premise of the plot that his character becomes a perfect fighter after getting drunk, subsequently even making some hilarious 'drunk kung fu' moves, yet it's a pity he enters that state only twice in the whole movie. The action stunts are very well choreographed but in deprivation of charm, whereas some scenes are a curiosity, like when the strong boss jumps in the middle of the steel factory and starts beating up workers who are on strike (!), which also puts the logic into colloid state, though the movie is good as a whole.

Grade:++

Rumble in the Bronx


Hong faan kui; Action comedy, China/ Canada, 1995; D: Stanley Tong, S: Jackie Chan, Anita Mui, Françoise Yip, Bill Tung

Ah Keung, a cop from Hong Kong, arrives in New York to take a vacation and visits his uncle's store. There Keung stumbles upon a gang when he beats up one criminal who stole and when he stops their motorcycles. Keung also takes care of a boy in a wheelchair who is the brother of one of the gang members. Real trouble shows up when some mobsters blackmail Keung for stolen diamonds. He however wins by running over their boss, Mr. White, with a hovercraft.

"Rumble in the Bronx" finally managed to make Jackie Chan's dream come true: it was his first film to be a considerable commercial hit in the US when it opened number one at the box office, which later led to his other American hits, like "Rush Hour" and "Shanghai Noon". On this occasion, his fans lamented that Chan's action sequences are much more average than in his golden days in Hong Kong, yet they still have their moments which is why some stunts are brilliant and remind of those classic black and white Buster Keaton films. The dramatic moments ended up badly by boring the viewers, which is why some part of the public won't feel appealed to it. Namely, the movie ends the minute the hero beats the bad guy, which shows that the story didn't know how to continue further than that.

Grade:++

Friday, March 26, 2010

Police Story III


Jing cha gu shi III: Chao ji jing cha; action, Hong Kong/ China, 1992; D: Stanley Tong, S: Jackie Chan, Michelle Yeoh, Maggie Cheung, Yuen Wah, Kenneth Tsang

On Interpol's request, the Hong Kong police sends its best man on a special case: "Kevin" Chan Ka-Kui. His assignment is to break a smuggling chain of a mobster called Chaibat. Ka-Kui's assistant is the police girl Yang. He disguises himself as a criminal and helps a convict, Panther, escape from jail. That way, he becomes the member of his organization, as well as Yang who introduces herself as his sister. When they meet Chaibat he immediately thinks they are police officers, but then changes his mind and invites them to his conference which ends in a fight. When Ka-Kui meets his girlfriend again, May, who almost spoils their mission, but in the end he and Yang arrest Panther and Chaibat on a train.

Even the third part of the "Police Story" tetralogy has dynamics and action that didn't lose their sheer energy, whereas in some scenes it even manages to top the original. Jackie Chan is again in stunning shape in the magnificently fun action sequences, the highlights arguably being the powerboat chase in the sea and a helicopter's ladder getting stuck to a train. The new character introduced into the series turned out irresistibly sympathetic: it's the excellent Michelle Yeoh (probably best known from the movie "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon") as the hero's "assistant" Yang, enriching the story with many humorous moments, like the scene in which she follows Ka-Kui, but a window shuts down after him so she slams into it. The sole story is weak, the dialogs don't have any real wit or humor whereas numerous supporting characters don't have room to counteract with the action, but as with many of his films, it's somehow always much more enjoyable to watch Chan's action movies than any other mediocre action flicks.

Grade:++

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Police Story


Jingcha gushi; action / crime, Hong Kong / China, 1985; D: Jackie Chan, S: Jackie Chan, Brigitte Lin, Charlie Cho, Maggie Cheung, Yuen Chor

In a spectacular attempt, police officer Kevin Chan Ka-Kui attacks drug mobster Chu who is fleeing with his 3 associates in a bus, but gets caught anyway. Secretary Selina had an affair with Chu, so Ka-Kui gets the assignment to watch over her since she is the main witness. In the house, she gets attacked by a killer, so he brings her to his apartment, which causes his jealous girlfriend to leave him. Chu gets released thanks to a good lawyer and immediately frames Ka-Kui with the murder of his chief. Now the police is after him, but he proves his innocence and arrests Chu in a mall.

Jackie Chan, the master of impossible martial-arts stunts from Hong Kong movies, decided to direct "Police Story" himself, his 5th directorial achievement, in order to present himself in a more serious edition, even adding some bitter themes of corruption and tough life of police officers. Implicitly, the dark-serious approach isn't quite his style, the Bollywood (over)acting of some actors is bothersome and the story is blatant, yet despite only 4 action sequences, "Police Story" as a whole isn't so dramatically different from his opus, whereas he manages to insert a few humorous scenes here and there, like the goofy one where the car is speeding through plastic houses or when the hero is pretending to have a phone conversation with the girl, but she is right behind him. Also, the mall stunt scene shown 3 times, where Chan slides down a long pole 'fireman style', breaking through hundred small light bulbs wrapped around it and causing them to explode through his arms, is a legend and still causes bewilderment over how in the World he managed to survive that. Despite all the flaws, the film still contains that uncapturable spirit of audacity and untramelled creativity of Hong Kong cinema which reached its Zenith in the 80s, demonstrating how they are willing to do extraordinary things to stand out from the ordinary cinema of the world, which instills respect.

Grade:+++

Project A


'A' gai wak; action comedy, Hong Kong / China, 1983; D: Jackie Chan, S: Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao, Lee Hoi San

Hong Kong, 1900: pirates rob ships and bribe corrupt politicians to sell them weapons and valuable information. After some time, the pirates even destroy the ships from the navy which gets defunct due to failure, leaving all members unemployed, among them the honest Dragon Ma. But they are used to form the police who are lead by the unpopular, rigid leader. In a distinguished bar, they capture a criminal, but Ma quits due to corrupt politicians. Only after he meets a friend, the fat thief Fei, does he decide steal the arms delivery to the pirates. He evens disguises himself and meets their leader, arresting them all with the help of the police. Together, they sail home.

With his 4th directorial work, the fun comedy "Project A", Jackie Chan achieved one of his greatest and most complete films, which also proved to be a box office hit. The story, which is just a facade for good vs. evil fights, suffers from a lingering start, but when the action sequences start some 20 minutes into the film, for Chan typically virtuoso crafted, they bring down the house and begin a hilarious action fun. In his first scene, Chan jumps from a bicycle which continues to drive to the barrier, whereas the bicycle chase in the middle of the film is also great, especially when he passes by the door, knocks on it and then someone opens it and hit his persecutor. Among the spectacular moments is also the one where the policemen throw people and sofas in the air during a fight, but the passive scenes during their drill-training are also neat (as a punishment, one of the recruits has to say that he respects women a 1,000 times, so the hero slaps him during the night to finally shut up). The finale where Chan is disguised and pretends he is the friend of the pirate leader is probably the highlight of this simple, thoroughbred style. It maybe a slightly obvious attribute, but "Project A" is really close to deserve grade A.

Grade:+++

Monday, March 22, 2010

Project A Part II


'A' gai wak juk jap; action comedy, Hong Kong/ China, 1987; D: Jackie Chan, S: Jackie Chan, David Lam, Maggie Cheung, Rosamund Kwan, Bill Tung

Hong Kong between 19th and 20th Century: corruption plagues the city while police officer Chun is caught hiring two crooks to arrest them so that he would end up as the hero. He is immediately downgraded and Dragon Ma takes his place. Ma's people quickly arrest a rich criminal in a casino who bribed the Hong Kong police for years, which immediately sturs some feathers. Since Chun is now jealous, he stages a diamond theft on a party n order to frame Ma, who then comes under surveillance. When Chun handcuffs Ma, they are attacked by assassins, which is why they barely manage to survive. Then Chun throws him in a bag into the river, but Ma is saved by revolutionaries against Beijing. In a battle in the storage, Ma is saved whereas the police arrest Chun.

"Project A Part II", somewhere also known simply as "Project B", the sequel to the '83 hit "Project A", is a 'tour-de-force' martial-arts action fun that offers the master of stunts Jackie Chan in top-notch shape, to such an extent that it almost becomes the only relevant point of the film. The audience will have to adjust to the fact that the story is set in Hong Kong between 19th and 20th Century: she is not old-fashioned, yet the kitsch and a few serious moments occasionally bother. However, it's a super-fast, simple, dynamic and completely untrammelled film where Chan proved he can also direct himself and his own impossible stunts with ease. The funniest moment that will probably stay the longest in the viewers' memory are probably the one where 6 people are hiding from each other in the house and constantly moving. Regarding the action, the most memorable is the fight between Chun and Ma who are handcuffed to each other. Also, this movie also shows unquestionably that Chan's idol is Buster Keaton in the scene where a wall falls on him, but he is saved by a hole in it, which mirrors the classic image from "Steamboat Bill Jr."

Grade:++

Armor of God


Long xiong hu di; Action comedy, China, 1987; D: Jackie Chan, Eric Tsang, S: Jackie Chan, Alan Tam, Rosamund Kwan, Maria Dolores Forner

Adventurer Jackie steals valuable pieces of a knight armor - known as "Armor of God" - from an African tribe, which he then decides to sell due to financial troubles. However, a mysterious cult regards the armor as holy and wants it to rule the World. Thus, they kidnap Jackie's friend Laura in order to exchange it for the armor. He goes to Europe to their hideout in a tunnel system in a cave and rescues Laura.

Mediocre adventure action comedy with too little humor and real adventure charm, "Armor of God" became a huge box office success back in its time, ironically because the Chinese audience found the locations in Croatia and Slovenia to be "exotic", which even spanned a sequel, but today few things in this clumsy and chaotic film hold the test of time. As most of Jackie Chan's film, the dialogues and the story are the weak link, whereas the characters remain ordinary, though in his best achievements that didn't matter when he reached a certain level of 'tour-de-force' martial-arts stunts, except that this isn't one of his best examples - the stunts are still amazing (for instance, the motorcycle chase through the city which reminds of his better days) but too sparse to really hold attention through the whole story. They simply are not half as funny or imaginative as they should have been to overshadow the blatant screenplay. In cases like this, the movies of these calibre should be fast and inventive, yet this one didn't manage to wake up enough attention, though its a solid fun.

Grade:+

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Tron


Tron; Science-fiction adventure, USA, 1982; D: Steven Lisberger, S: Jeff Bridges, Bruce Boxleitner, David Warner, Cindy Morgan

Kevin Flynn, a computer hacker, still has a score to settle with the greedy Dillinger who cheated him out of his rights for a successful video game and is now the head of an influential software company, ENCOM. The company developed the Master Control Program (MCP), an artificial intelligence computer that is starting to take over the control over everything. With two friends, Alan and Lora, Flynn secretly enters the company. However, MCP uses the newly developed laser to transport him in the virtual computer world, where he has to play deadly games, like racing cars that leave a track of walls behind them. He manages to win, destroy MCP and return back to the real world.

Science-fiction film “Tron” wasn’t well received during its premiere in 1982, but with time it attracted a cult following and more respect, since many computer users understand it today much more than back then, because such terms like “user” and “program” alone are now common. It all shows that the authors and special effects designers were visionary for their time: the early use of experimental-innovative computer graphics to conjure up the impression of a virtual computer world is fascinating and, without exaggeration, 3/4 of the film is set in that artificial 3D environment. “Tron” literally shows how it would look like if a human would enter a video game. The image alone of two racing cars, one yellow the other one blue, that both leave a path of walls behind them, which is why they have to turn fast to avoid hitting them, became a classic, though it has to be admitted that the rest of the story is rather inconclusively written, leaving a lot of points vague, whereas it also lacks spirit and humor. One of rare real examples of charm is the scene of the virtual Flynn (Bridges), equipped with fluorescent colors on his clothes, is driving a flying virtual tank and asks some questions to the navigational, octahedron-like flying device, which turns into an unpleasant shape with thorns when it answers “no” and into a cute, yellow like shape when it answers “yes”. “Tron” needed more of such moments. It’s interesting how one such movie can be so stimulating on a visual level and yet not so much on the level of imagination, but it’s still a dazzling experience and has one of the best movie posters from the 80s.

Grade:++

Monday, March 15, 2010

Toy Story 2


Toy Story 2; CGI animated fantasy comedy, USA, 1999; D: John Lasseter, Lee Unkrich, S: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Kelsey Grammer, Don Rickles, Wallace Shawn, Annie Potts

The toys live on in Andy's room. But one day Andy's mom places the old penguin toy in a box for sale. Cowboy Woody and the Slinky dog save the penguin, but himself falls into the box. There he is stolen by the greedy Al who collects old toys and sells them for millions in a Japanese museum. Buzz Lightyear and his friends starts a search and find Woody in a building. There he already made friends with the cowgirl toy Jesse and Pete. When he finally decides to return home, Pete stops hi while Al is heading towards the airport. Still, Woody and Jesse get saved.

"The movie is called "Toy Story 2" because it's twice as fun as the first film!", said the director John Lasseter. But judging by the finished result, it would have been more suitable if the movie had been called "Toy Story 1/2". Admittedly, it's a matter of a solid sequel that was a huge hit at the box office and (surprisingly) even won the Golden Globe as Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy, yet at times it doesn't even reach the knees of the hailed original that was quite stylish. The story suffers the most from naive and childish jokes - the best one of such sort is only the one where the toys stumble upon an obstacle, a ventilation grid, and thus force the dinosaur to "use his head" in order to ram and break it, and while they are carrying him he is shouting: "But I don't want to use my head!" - but the sequence of Jesse's memory of her former owner is very touching. A neat fairy tale with modest inspiration.

Grade:++

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Toy Story


Toy Story; CGI animated fantasy comedy, USA, 1995; D: John Lasseter, S: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Don Rickles, Jim Varney, Wallace Shawn, Annie Potts

Woody the cowboy is the favorite toy of a boy called Andy. All toys come to life when humans are not around and are uncomfortable whenever their owners gets new presents which may replace them. During one such occasion, Andy gets a new toy for his birthday, Captain Buzz Lightyear, who becomes his new favorite, which is why is the now neglected Woody becomes jealous. One day, Woody pushes Buzz out of the window. He finds him on a gas station, but they get left there when Andy's mum drives him off in his car. Woody and Buzz get found by Sid, a violent kid, but manage to escape and return back to Andy just before his family moves out.

Once an excellent film, the first feature length computer animated movie, "Toy Story", seems only like a good film today, as if some higher dimension of its quality evaporated for some reason. For instance, is it really that better than the neglected "The Brave Little Toaster"? The film is still sweet and amusing, but the only truly brilliant-genius segment is the 10-minute finale that plays unbelievably perfect with style and rhythm (especially in the scene where Woody wants to light Buzz's rocket so that they can both catch up with Andy's family moving away, but just as he lights a match, a car drives by and extinguishes it!), yet the whole plot up to it is rather standard: simply too many goofy, silly and loud jokes that try to attract attention with cheap kids' methods, even though there are some clever displays of sophisticated ideas (i.e. the scene where the angry Woody wants to call Buzz names, but decides not to in front of everyone because there are "preschool toys here"). From today's stance, some flaws become more apparent, like the grotesque character of the evil Sid or the childish scene where Woody takes Buzz's arm to pretend in front of the other toys that they are "friends", however, some CGI shots still radiate with awe whereas director Lasseter shows competence is crafting an accessible, but never shallow fun.

Grade:++

Saturday, March 13, 2010

On the Path


Na putu; Drama, BiH/ Austria/ Germany/ Croatia, 2010; D: Jasmila Žbanić, S: Zrinka Cvitešić, Leon Lučev, Marija Kohn, Mirjana Karanović, Ermin Bravo, Nina Violić

Sarajevo. Luna and Amar are a rather happy couple working in the capital's airport: she is a flight attended, he works in the air traffic control. One day, he gets caught drinking and gets suspended from his job for 6 months. In a minor car crash, he meets his old pal Bahrija, who in the meantime became a Wahhabi. They start hanging out a lot until Amar gets a job as a teacher in their community. With time, he turns more and more into a religious fanatic, which annoys Luna and her grandmother. When she was about to have artificial insemination, Luna changes her mind. It turns out she really is pregnant, but she leaves him. Following the success of her critically acclaimed film "Grbavica", director Jasmila Žbanić again decided to bravely tackle a controversial Bosnian topic, this time the Wahhabi in "On the Path". She again managed to stand out positively from the majority of these kind of films from the Balkans: the story is neither preachy nor does it put the blame on anyone, instead it tries to make a balanced approach and leave the viewers with their own conclusions, which is visible in the open end. Curiously, the two Croatian actors are really convincing in their leading roles, with Zrinka Cvitešić again taking on the spotlight thanks to her effortless charm and charisma as the heroine Luna.

Even though the story may be a tad dry and grey, Žbanić shows her sense for stylistic playfulness here and there: during the opening credits on the dark screen, heavy punk music in playing, but it turns off the instant the first scene shows up, where Luna in underwear is filming herself with her mobile phone in front of her mirror. It seems as if her curiosity, which makes her film everything, has certain traits of filmmaker Žbanić. And those scenes are among the best, especially the sweet one where she, as a traveling flight attended, is lying alone in a hotel room and puts her mobile phone on the pillow next to hers, watching the video footage of her lover Amar snoring. The Wahhabi tangle avoids cliches, some will find its sustained tone welcomed while others will find it underdeveloped, whereas the author once more inserts some details from the War in Bosnia (like grandmother's thoughts about her blooming roses in her home in Bijeljina from which she was expelled), even though they may be rather 'off' for this story. Many knots were tied up neatly, creating a demanding, slightly too serious, but intelligent and unassuming little film.

Grade:++

Sailor Moon SuperS the Movie: Black Dream Hole


Bishoujo senshi Sera Mun supa S - Sera nain senshi shuuketsu! Black-Dream-Hole no kiseki; Animated fantasy, Japan, 1995, D: Hiroki Shibata, S: Kotono Mitsuishi, Kae Araki, Aya Hisakawa, Michie Tomizawa

Usagi and Chibiusa are competing over who will bake the best cookies. Around the world, cases of disappearances of children at night have been reported. Chibiusa meets Peruru, a strange boy with a magic flute. It turns out he is one of the members of the mysterious team who hypnotize children with their flute and makes them sleep-walk right into their flying boat, who are then deported to a witch who places them in a container where they will sleep indefinitely and create a dream black hole that will swallow the whole Earth. Chibiusa is also kidnapped. However, Peruru realizes that what he is doing is wrong and helps the Sailor Moon and the other Sailor Senshi to stop the black hole and return all the children back to their homes.

The last of the three anime “Sailor Moon” films, “Dream Black Hole” is, just like the season it is set in – SuperS – unjustifiably neglected and considered among the “lesser” contributions to the imaginative saga. However, just like the previous two anime films – “The Promise of the Rose” and “Hearts in Ice” – this is also a quirky, shrill and untrammeled story that is never bound by rigid reality. In fact, just like the SuperS manga and anime series, this is also the most imaginative, dreamy and ‘free’ display of some subconscious elements that stimulate that neglected right side of our brain. The constant arguments between Usagi and Chibiusa do tend to reduce the enjoyment value whereas the whole story follows the same ‘good vs. evil’ formula as all the previous “Sailor Moon” seasons and films to such an extent that it starts to become slightly exhausted and tiresome towards the finale – which ends just like all previous finales. Still, at least two moments are simply genius – the scene where Mamoru is sitting in his apartment and all of a sudden hears a knock on the door and Usagi’s words behind it, jokingly saying: “Courier service! I’m brining you the love of your life!”, upon which he chuckles. And the other scene is when the Outer Senshi show up on the flying ship and learn about the plan of their nemesis who wants all the children to stay kids indefinitely; Sailor Neptune comments with: “What nonsense! Imagine just what the kids are missing if they never grow up”, upon which Sailor Uranus blushes and turns her head away. Likewise, despite the standard “Sailor Moon” battles, some of them still have those small moments of tour-de-force inspiration (the disintegration of the Sailor outfits in the finale, leaving the Senshi naked and colored with psychedelic colors), which are great even though they may last for only 5 seconds

Grade:++

Sunday, March 7, 2010

New, New Time


Novo, novo vrijeme; Documentary, Croatia, 2000; D: Rajko Grlić, Igor Mirković, S: Dražen Budiša, Ivica Račan, Zlatko Canjuga, Stipe Mesić, Franjo Tuđman

In 1991, Croatia declared independence from Yugoslavia, but the suspicious party HDZ came to power, led by Franjo Tuđman, that closed down 750,000 workplaces and started an nontransparent programme of privatization. When Tuđman died on 13 December 1999, the next elections where set on 3 January 2000. This film follows that campaign: HDZ will lose even though it was 100 % sure in its victory, while the social democrats, the SDP party, and its coalition, led by Dražen Budiša and Ivica Račan will triumph. During the presidential elections, Budiša and outsider Stipe Mesić were two most prominent candidates, the latter winning in the second round.

Humorous documentary "New, New Time" follows and documents the chaotic period of the Croatian election in 2000 and all the sleazy, unbelievably stupid political messages from some parties aimed to attract the votes of the naive masses. Director Rajko Grlić and Igor Mirković followed numerous politicians around that time and extracted 12 hours of raw footage, which was then shortened to less than 2 hours of running time in this form and even distributed in the cinemas, grossing apparently over 80,000 $ at the box office. The film is too mild and lax, whereas the comical situations show up only some 15 minutes into the film, but as a whole it's still an interesting and amusing achievement that works almost as an 'anti-nostalgia' for those chaotic times. It's fun to watch how, for instance, the microphone falls down in the middle of the speech of a politician, how Budiša and future Prime Minister Račan sold fish on the market in front of the cameras to establish their "average Joe" status for the public, how some estimated that Stipe Mesić won't even get 5 % of the votes as a presidential candidate (but he later actually won) or the now legendary scene where the camera captured how the Minister of Finance Borislav Škegro apparently stole a bottle of whisky at a party. However, as it is known, a documentary is only as good as the events that unravel in front of the cameras, and here not that many great events actually happened, though they were moderately amusing.

Grade:++

Mr. Nice Guy


Yat goh hiu yan; Action comedy, China/Australia/USA, 1997; D: Sammo Hung, S: Jackie Chan, Gabrielle Fitzpatrick, Miki Lee, Richard Norton

Reporter Diana got a hold of an incriminating tape that could put drug dealer Giancarlo behind bars, so his associates chase after her. Luckily, she is saved by Jackie, a TV cook, who also has a talent in martial arts. But they accidentally swap their tapes - now, Diana has Jackie's receipts while he has her evidence. Diana manages to escape, but the mobsters kidnap Miki, Jackie's friend from Hong Kong, and want to swap her for the tape. A first attempt fails, but Jackie helps the police arrest some mobsters. Then he goes to the mansion of Giancarlo, but gets caught. In the end, Jackie escapes and destroys the mansion with a giant mining vehicle.

It tells a lot about Jackie Chan when it can be said that this hyper-dynamic and super-fast action comedy is actually one of his lesser achievements from his first phase of his career. The star of many Asian martial art adventures filmed already so many incredible stunts that he is smart enough to even enrich such weak stories as this one with enough excellent fight scenes. "Mr. Nice Guy" displays its virtues the most in many comical moments that don't take the standard 'good vs. bad' story too serious, like when a car stops just in time in front of an accident, but then a second vehicle hits it behind and pushes it into a crash or when the hero is running away from the bad guys in a room full of doors. As already stated, the plot with a TV cook fighting mobsters is again miserable, but the one-dimensional, cartoonish bad guys are even worse - as such, they are forgettable since Chan plains all the attention - among others, in the hilarious finale where a giant mining vehicle destroys the bad guys mansion!

Grade:++

Saturday, March 6, 2010

A History of Violence


A History of Violence; Thriller-drama, USA/ Germany, 2005; D: David Cronenberg, S: Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, Ashton Holmes, Heidi Hayes, Ed Harris, Aiden Devine, William Hurt

Tom Stall is a quiet restaurant owner in a small, quiet provincial town. His lives with his wife Edie, son Jack and daughter Sarah. When one evening two criminals storm into his restaurant, he shoots and kills them in self-defence. Afterwards, he becomes an unwilling media-star and a mysterious mafia boss Fogarty shows up. He claims Tom is actually Joey Cusack, a former killer who just changed his identity. As Fogarty tries to forcefully deport him from his house, Tom kills him and his associates. Then he admits to his family that he really was a killer once, but that he has changed now and just wants to live a normal life. He is brought to the mansion of his brother, mobster Richie, who tries to kill him, but he kills him. Returning home, his family accepts his past.

One of of the most hyped and talked about films of 2005, drama "A History of Violence" is one of the better, more normal films by cult director David Cronenberg, whose screenwriter Josh Olsen here forced him to take a more complex-dramatic approach than he was used to. Just as the (refreshingly direct) title suggests, it is a haunting essay about a man who wants to get away from violence (and his violent past) and just live a normal, peaceful family life, but it isn't as easy as that: the violence just keeps coming back again and again, like a curse. There is only 10 % of violence in the actual film, but it has such a dramatic effect on the other 90 % of the story that it always seems intriguing, whereas Viggo Mortensen again showed his talent in the demanding dramatic role of Tom Stall.

At first, "History" portrays the main protagonist's quiet life: he is a quiet restaurant owner and enjoys small pleasures of life, like when his wife Edie (great Maria Bello) surprises him when she enters the room dressed as a cheerleader to sleep with him, jumping on him and jokingly shouting: "Gooooo Wildcats!" The things start to heat up when it is revealed he was a killer once, but now wants to move on. Cronenberg and Olsen wisely show how violence is present in almost all layers of social life, not only in mobsters who visit Tom, but also in the form of school bullies who constantly tease Tom's son Jack: the way he tries to remain a pacifist while the teasing doesn't stop (he even jokes when he says these words to the bully: "OK, now you established your Alpha male status and my unworthiness, so beating me would be pointless, wouldn't it?") is tragic and very thought provoking. Some moments seem staged, stiff or clumsy - for instance, the sole situation where two criminals storm the restaurant could have been a potentially great Hitchcockian moment, but it ended too soon - but those are minor complaints. Some also complained about the too cliched action towards the end, but the film achieved a lot. Bello and William Hurt (who appears for 9 minutes at the end) both won the New York Film Critics Circle Award, whereas the screenplay was nominated for an Oscar and a BAFTA.

Grade:++

Vanya on 42nd Street


Vanya on 42nd Street; Drama, USA, 1994; D: Louis Malle, S: Wallace Shawn, Julianne Moore, Brooke Smith, George Gaynes

New York. A couple of actors enters a theater in order to rehears Chekhov's play "Uncle Vanya". The costumes are weak, the stage is falling apart, but they start the play: Sonya lives with her uncle Vanya (47) who regards his life to be pointless and considers suicide. Vanjya loves Yelena (27), the wife of the old professor Serybryakov, but knows his feelings won't be met. Sonya is in love with Dr. Astrov, but he doesn't love her. When Serybrykov decides to sell their home, Vanya fiercely opposes the move and fires two shots from a gun. Everyone makes up and leave, Sonya comforts Vanya that God will reward his suffering. The rehearsal of the play ends.

Louis Malle's drama, his last film, has an unusual 'film-within-a-film concept': in the opening, all actors from New York enter a theater and start performing Chekhov's play "Uncle Vanya", which is why their whole rehearsal (!) becomes this whole film. An interesting and daring move, but of a lax, inert execution. One of the surprises is that the not very popular actor Wallace Shawn (who is often reduced to small, but excellent supporting roles, like in "Manhattan" and "Heaven Help Us") finally got a leading role and portrayed it masterfully serious: his character of uncle Vanya, i.e. the actor to plays him in the theater, is full of nihilism. It's a play full of anxiety and depressive dialogues ("The truth, even if bitter, is better than uncertainty"). But the whole film is lifeless and stiff, the characters passive (Vanya only does something when he shoots in the air) and thus nothing much can be learned to offer a practical solution to such a negative view on life, whereas the mood is pretentious.

Grade:+