Monday, June 28, 2010

Venus Wars


Vinasu Senki; Animated science-fiction war drama, Japan, 1989; D: Yoshikazu Yasuhiko, S: Katsuhida Uekusa, Eriko Hara, Kaneto Shiozawa, Yuko Sasaki

In 2003, an ice comet struck Venus, cooling it off and creating oceans on the surface. Humans quickly seized the opportunity and started the colonization of the planet by 2018. In 2089, Venus' population is in the millions. Susan Sommers, a reporter from Earth, arrives to Venus to cover a story of a civil war between the Ishtar state on the north and Aphrodia on the south. When the Ishtar army starts an invasion and occupation of Io, the capital of Aphrodia, Susan is thrilled to have a story. She joins Hiro and his young gang of motorcycles to start a guerrilla resistance to Ishtar. In a duel, Ishtar's dictator Donner dies in a tank, forcing the forces to leave a now free Io. Hiro unites again with his girlfriend Maggy while Susan returns to Earth.

One of the many unknown cult anime films from the 80s, "Venus Wars" is a slightly lesser Venus version of the Mars anime "Armitage III", minus the android-racism subtext, yet it still dazzles the mind on some occasions, mostly with painstakingly detailed animation and an action spectacle. "Venus" runs on full speed in the first third when it depicts the refreshingly recognizable situation where a reporter, the blond Susan, travels to a war torn country to cover the story there - except that the place is actually the planet from the title, which adds it a nice twist. While watching TV in Io, the capital of Aphrodia state from the southern Hemisphere, the transmission is suddenly interrupted and it turns out that the northern state of Ishtar started an invasion. The sole event is virtuoso directed: tanks roll on the street, shell the buildings and cause a mass panic of people, except, ironically, for Susan who is overwhelmed, happy that she can film the whole event for her report. The switch from her to Hiro, a young motorcycle driver, being the main protagonist in the story as the leader of a resistance, is rather uneven, whereas some rightfully commented how the whole setting on Venus may have been completely unnecessary - there is not a single detail that shows what's the difference of living on that specific planet rather than on ours - yet the film is absolutely astonishing in showing the taste and feel of war: everything, from the occupation to psychological effects on the people, is palpable and handled in an almost documentary way. The action sequences may seem rather tiresome towards the end, yet at least two are examples of pure inspiration: the sequences where Hiro attacks a giant tank with a crane and the finale where a tank is shooting at him on the top of the runaway, causing it to collapse. Unassuming and compact, this is a qualitative piece of anime.

Grade:++

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Fast Times at Ridgemont High


Fast Times at Ridgemont High; Comedy, USA, 1982; D: Amy Heckerling, S: Judge Reinhold, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Robert Romanus, Brian Backer, Sean Penn, Phoebe Cates, Ray Walston, Vincent Schiavelli, Lana Clarkson, Forest Whitaker, Eric Stoltz, Anthony Edwards

Numerous misadventures of teenagers attending Ridgemont High: senior Brad works in a fast food restaurant to pay off his car, but gets fired after losing his temper with an angry customer and his girlfriend dumps him. His sister Stacy starts dating the shy Mark, but decides to have an affair with his friend Mike which leaves her pregnant, so she decides to make an abortion. "Stoned" Jeff is always late for history class, infuriating his strict teacher Mr. Hand. Linda is Stacy's friend. They all attend prom night.

Powerful in reputation, weak in practice, teenage comedy "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" is still non-the-less a sufficient and easily watchable film thanks, among others, to excellent "relaxed" performances by Reinhold, Jason Leigh and Penn, as well as an competent screenplay with an understanding for the young generation, written by the talented future director Cameron Crowe, though it is not clear how much of it was "cheapened" by director Amy Heckerling by adapting it for the mainstream audience. The legendary scene where Phoebe Cates emerged from the pool, unzipped her bra bathing suit and kissed Reinhold's character in a fantasy became so famous that it was spoofed and paid homages to numerous times, but the majority of the film is too episodic, light, blatant and aimless, with especially rough edges when it suddenly switches to a serious tone (Stacy's abortion), though it is luckily much less vulgar than many similar films, whereas many funny jokes in it proved that the authors had inspiration when they just put some effort into it (Stacy, as a waitress, asks a customer, a young lad: "What can I bring you?" and he says: "A coke and your phone number"; while driving a car, Jeff and his friend talk about the new 'Playboy' edition featuring a naked Bo Derek, with his friend absurdly adding how they showed "both of them").

Grade:+

Friday, June 25, 2010

Mulholland Drive


Mulholland Drive; Drama/ Mystery, USA/ France, 2001; D: David Lynch, S: Naomi Watts, Laura Herring, Justin Theroux, Ann Miller, Dan Hedaya, Robert Forster

Los Angeles. Rita loses her memory after a car accident and hides in an apartment. It's the home of actress Betty who just moved in. Betty makes friends with Rita, who remembers the name of someone called Diane, who is found dead in her apartment. At the same time, director Adam leaves a film because the producers are trying to impose actress Camilla in the main role. A mysterious cowboy advises Adam to accept it, and he does. Rita opens a magical box: Betty becomes Diana, Rita becomes Camilla. They are lovers, but Camilla loves Adam. Diana commits suicide.

David Lynch rightfully won the award at Cannes and was nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe as best director for crafting the excellent dreamy-hypnotic mystery-drama "Mulholland Dr.": his biggest virtue is that he took a chaotic, illogical story and actually made it coherent. It is truly astounding what effect of suggestiveness can be achieved through a moving camera, yet the sole film really has many layers of symbolism, many of whom are noticed only when the viewers pay close attention, that it offers a dozen interpretations of events. Also, many jokes are very stylish: for instance, director Adam is on a session where movie producers want to "slip" actress Camilla in the film. Producer no. 1 takes a sip of cappuccino, spits it out on a napkin and says: "Shit." Adam then stands up and asks: "What is going on here?", while Producer no. 2 shouts: "Stop it!!!" Then Producer no. 1 comments about Camilla: "She is the right one." In another humorous sequence, an assassin kills a man in the office, but his bullet passes through the wall and also wounds a woman in the room next door. In order to maintain the discrete tone, he kills her too, but also the janitor who witnessed the deed by accident. But the thing doesn't end there: to make things worse for the assassin, he shoots the loud vacuum-cleaner, but the smoke causes the fire alarm to go off, causing even more chaos! Regarding the dreamy story "twist", maybe it can be interpreted this way: when Rita opens the magical box, she opens the door to a new dimension in which she became Camilla, while Betty became Diana. In both worlds they became lovers and ended tragic, which symbolizes the determinism of life. Just like in many other Lynch's films, "Mulholland" is also a hermetic puzzle, but it stimulates the subconscious mind so much that it's a delight: it's a film for the right, creative side of the brain that defies logic and simply swims through the esoteric, since many analysis of it lead to a dead end anyway.

Grade:+++

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Blue Velvet


Blue Velvet; Thriller/ Mystery, USA, 1986; D: David Lynch, S: Kyle MacLachlan, Isabella Rossellini, Laura Dern, Dennis Hopper, Dean Stockwell

The small city of Lumberton. Young lad Jeffrey has a strange day: first his dad lands in a hospital after a stroke and then he finds a cut ear in the meadow. He brings it to the local Police Detective Williams who explains him that he must not know anything about it, but his daughter Sandy reveals him that is has something to do with the singer Dorothy Vallens. A curious Jeffrey secretly enters her apartment. There he witnesses how Dorothy must allow gangster Frank to rape her because he kidnapped her husband and son. Jeffrey offers to help her and spies on Frank. When he shoots him, Sandy becomes Jeffrey's girlfriend.

After the eclectic "Dune", Kyle MacLachlan and director David Lynch shot the critically acclaimed (surreal) thriller "Blue Velvet" which marked the director's further step from the conventional narrative into the experimental-hermetic subconsciousness: the box office results were thin (8 million $), but the film enjoys cult status. "Blue Velvet" can probably be best described as an "Americana" with a dark twist: in the opening scenes, it depicts an idyllic rural town, Lumberton, where the people are smiling, children happily cross the street and everything seems perfect, until suddenly an older man has a stroke an falls on the garden, roughly breaking the mood. As the camera slowly descends into grass and shows ugly insects, it establishes the theme of yin and yang, namely that besides this pleasant world there is also a darker, evil one. There are many symbolic elements in the film, but the central one is that the main protagonist, the young Jeffrey, lives in this goody-good town but somehow feels bored in it - as he finds himself in the middle of a crime plot, he is somehow fascinated by this other yang world, where evil and darkness prevail. Jeffrey himself is idealistic and almost so good it's corny (like in the humorous scene where he tries to impress Sandy by doing the goofy "duck walk"), but he is not sure if he wants to live in this seemingly unexciting world until he takes a peak at the other side.

But after he does, he realizes it is too much for him, especially in the scene where he witnesses one of the most perverted sex scenes ever filmed on the big screen, the one between Dorothy, who is looking away, and psychopath Frank who is screaming: "Mummy! Mummy!" The scene is simply too nasty: there are some horrors that actually don't turn your stomach, but actually turn your brain upside down because they are intelligently crafted with a stylistic distance, yet here Lynch did not manage to outweigh disgust with style. Jeffrey is anti-Frank, as much as Frank is anti-Jeffrey: they are each others yin and yang - it must not be a coincidence that in one scene in a car Frank turns to Jeffrey and says: "You are just like me!" Frank is the dark side that was awakened in Jeffrey and the hero must kill him so that he can finally return to his "home sweet home" and realize that the quiet, idyllic, goody-good town is what he really wants. However, Lynch demonstrated his talent only in the sequence where Jeffrey secretly breaks into Dorothy's apartment at night and in the finale, while the rest is rather just hermetic gibberish that does not stimulate as much as it should. "Blue Velvet" was nominated for 2 Golden Globes (best screenplay, supporting actor Dennis Hopper) and one Oscar (best director).

Grade:++

Wild at Heart


Wild at Heart; Romantic thriller-drama, USA, 1990; D: David Lynch, S: Nicolas Cage, Laura Dern, Diane Ladd, J.E. Freeman, Harry Dean Stanton, Willem Dafoe, Crispin Glover, Isabella Rossellini

Ex-convict Sailor Ripley, who is on parole after murder, has a passionate love relationship with Lulu. While the couple is driving in a car through America, Lulu's angry mother Marietta hires criminal Santos to kill Sailor, but he kills her husband. In a desert town, due to money shortages, psychopath Bobby persuades Sailor to assist him in a robbery, but the everything ends in a disaster and the police shows up. Bobby dies while Sailor lands in jail for 6 years. When he finally gets released, he returns to Lulu who in the meantime gave birth to a son.

David Lynch won the Golden Palm at Cannes for the radical love thriller farce "Wild at Heart" after he lost the award for his hyped "Blue Velvet", which caused quite a controversy at that festival. It's difficult to say if that is justified, because the film has both flaws and virtues. By that time, Lynch already drifted far away into the surreal-esoteric, and thus "Wild at Heart" is filled with bizarre, most notably with numerous references to "The Wizard of Oz": in one scene, for instance, Lulu says that her thoughts are often interrupted by a witch flying on a broom, and then the latter is really shown on the screen! In another reference, after Lulu was molested by Bobby, she clicks the heels of her shoes and wishes to be "over the rainbow". Except for that charming weirdness, there are a lot of simply hermetic ones, mostly in black humor manifested through twisted characters: while the couple is at a bar, an old man shows up, releasing some sort of a strange sound towards the singers and then says in high-pitch voice (as if he inhaled helium): "Pigeons are spreading diseases and polluting the city". While Lynch is busy with the "romance" between Sailor and Lulu, everything is fine, but when he crosses into crime and violence, he becomes chaotic and sometimes even irritating. For instance, criminal Santos is hired to kills Sailor, but since the two of them never meet anyway, it is not clear what his purpose was in the story. But the finale is pure genius, maybe because it again references "Oz": after he has been beaten up by hooligans, a good witch in pink (!) shows up to Sailor and tells him he must return to his beloved Lulu.

Grade:++

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Elephant Man


The Elephant Man; Drama, UK, 1980; D: David Lynch, S: John Hurt, Anthony Hopkins, Freddie Jones, Anne Bancroft, John Gielgud

London, 1884. For curious people willing to pay for the ticket, Bytes presents a special freak show consisting out of a deformed man called "The Elephant Man". But one day doctor Frederick Treves pays Bytes to bring the man his place to examine him. It turns out his names is Jospeh Merrick and suffers from a disease, the Proteus syndrome, which will eventually kill him. He quickly becomes a medical sensation, but Merrick starts taking and quoting the Bible, making friends with Treves, who tries to cultivate him, sensing he is actually intelligent. But Bytes wants Merrick back and brings him out on the street. There, people are afraid of him, but Treves brings him back. Merrick then dies.

Suggestive tragic drama "The Elephant Man" handles the theme of dignity intensively and plays with the ever present human cliche of a "monster" - ironically in the end showing how sometimes the real "monsters" are people with an ugly soul, not with an ugly appearance. David Lynch directs a completely untypical film for him, unusually calm, quiet and "normal", crafting it cleverly since it establishes a serious tone already in the black and white cinematography and the exposition presenting an elephant. Maybe the touching story does tend to moralize and simplify some things here and there, but it always shows respect towards the main protagonist Merrick, played brilliantly by John Hurt who won the BAFTA and was nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe as best actor in a leading role, avoiding sentimentality in the taboo subject that drew attention of the little known disease. The film unravels smoothly for the viewers willing to think about a serious subject, keeping its intrigue with a variety of scenes, like the humorous one where Hopkins' character Treves numbers all the complicated diseases of Merrick and then in the end adds he also "has a cold", whereas despite conventional approach, Lynch shows his talent is conjuring up a strong mood.

Grade:+++

Girl Next Door


Girl Next Door; Comedy, USA, 2004; D: Luke Greenfield, S: Emile Hirsch, Elisha Cuthbert, Timothy Olyphant, Chris Marquette, Paul Dano, James Remar

Just a few days before graduating from high school, secluded teenager Matthew realizes he will not remember anything about this time since he never experienced anything: all the wild parties and fun are happening to someone else. However, one day a blond girl, Danielle, moves next door and becomes his friend, showing him all the wild things he missed so far as a teenager. However, he gets angry when his friends Eli and Klitz discover that Danielle is actually a - porn star. Her porn producer Kelly shows up and demands money from Matthew for talking her into quitting her job. Matthew and his friends manage to film a sex education film disguised as a porn and secure enough money to free Danielle from her obligations.

"Girl Next Door" is the most charming in the first third when it clumsily, but somehow honestly and in its own way presents the always fascinating story about a wild girl who stirs up a shy-secluded guy from a "gray existence" and forces him to experience all the wild things of life he missed out so far, paraphrasing such superior classics like Demme's "Something Wild" or (admittedly much more conservative) Hawks' "Bringing Up Baby". Emile Hirsch is wonderfully sustained as the main hero Matthew and Elisha Cuthbert is quite good in her role as Danielle, whereas the story even manages to make the viewers feel some sort of an emotional attachment to them - the opening where Matthew contemplates about how he will probably not remember anything about high school because he never experienced anything is quite sad, whereas at least one sequence is genius: Matthew, Eli and Klitz, who were never invited to parties before, follow Danielle and walk right into a house where a huge party is under way. Some guy starts talking with her while another one puts his arm around Matthew and slowly walks him away from them, telling him to go away because this party isn't for him. But just as everything seems lost, Matthew collects all his courage and walks back, spontaneously kissing Danielle. However, the porn actress subplot is rather underused. Unfortunately, once the bad guy Kelly shows up some 3/5 into the film, it causes the film to crash completely. Whereas the transition from comedy to crime inexplicably had sense in "Something Wild", here it just seems annoying. More so, many dumb ideas poison the good story until it gets completely wrecked. Having a tight grip to resist the wrong choices in a story still seems to be endemic, though the film has its moments.

Grade:+

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Mississippi Burning


Mississippi Burning; Crime drama, USA, 1988; D: Alan Parker, S: Gene Hackman, Willem Dafoe, Frances McDormand, Brad Dourif, R. Lee Ermey, Gailard Sartain, Stephen Tobolowsky, Michael Rooker

Mississippi, '64. Two FBI agents - Ward, who does everything strictly by the rules, and Anderson, who sometimes uses legally "unconventional" tactics to get some information - try to discover and arrest the murderers of three human rights activists - one of whom was Black and another a Jew - who wanted to include African-Americans into the voting process. The perpetrators are seven members of the Ku Klux Klan, among them even Sheriff Stuckey and Deputy Sheriff Pell. After questioning Pell's wife, Anderson is able to locate the corpses of the three activists. However, they have no evidence whereas the Klan increases attacks on local Black people. Luckily, using Anderson's wild methods, they are able to get testimonies and send them to jail.

Excellent and pure crime drama about racism, based on a true case, "Mississippi Burning" is one of those 'old-school' investigation stories that are both qualitative and noble, indulging the viewers' expectation of two idealistic, elevated heroes who descend to a troubled place to bring justice and order. Moody-atmospheric cinematography, that won the Oscar and a BAFTA, did well to conjure up the mentality and feel of Mississippi in the 60s, yet the stand-out highlight is the understated performance by masterful actor Gene Hackman as the unconventional FBI agent Anderson, for which he was nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe. Even the sole simple scene where he and a couple of other FBI agents walk with their fine suits into a swamp that reaches their knees to investigate the scene of the crime is already great, let alone all those moments where he would "inventively" clash with the secret members of the Ku Klux Klan - like when he says out loud: "Baseball is the only game where a Black man can raise a stick at a White man without causing a riot" or the comical moment where he questions Pell while giving him a "close shave". The film lapses slightly from a few pale segments, yet it offers some good, unobtrusive messages about humanity and tolerance, equipped with refreshing humor here and there (the hilarious scene where the three FBI agents are laxly chasing after the three "Ku Klux Klan" members, i.e. actors, until they both stop because it was all an act) that manage to impress.

Grade:+++

Breakfast of Champions


Breakfast of Champions; Satire, USA, 1999; D: Alan Rudolph, S: Bruce Willis, Nick Nolte, Albert Finney, Lukas Haas, Barbara Hershey, Glenne Headley, Omar Epps, Vicki Lewis, Owen Wilson

In Midland City, Dwayne Hoover plans to kill himself, but is interrupted when his maid brings him breakfast. He is a car salesman starring in many commercials and is popular, but suffers from depression because his wife is addicted to pills, his son is a wacky musician, his assistant Harry wears woman's clothes whereas African-American Wayne Hoobler wants a job in his company because their names are similar. Dwayne sees no sense in his life and starts an affair. At the same time, science-fiction writer Kilgore Trout travels through Midland City to attend a ceremony. When the two of the meet, Kilgore tells him about his story from his novel, in which the creator created the Universe as an experiment and that all people, except him, are robots. Kilgore enters into his novel through a mirror whereas Dwayne returns to his family.

Bizarre and confusing satire, an adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut's novel with the same title, "Breakfast of Champions" is too empty and chaotic to be a good film - even Altman and Bergman made films about nothing, yet even they had some sense and said a lot about some aspects of human life. And then again, as many critics noted, Vonnegut's novels are really difficult to adapt to the big screens. Here, director Alan Rudolph leads actors against their typecast: Bruce Willis wears glasses and is depressive (though the role was not handled well) whereas Nick Nolte's character likes to wear a dress. Unusual, but without humor, style or sense, just with nervous babble, though some psychedelic moments are quite inventive and original, like when the brain and the thoughts of the hero are shown or when a person on a bill starts to talk. The satire is hopelessly lost in what it wants to say, which is why the film is a hassle, though it is easily watchable.

Grade:+

Monday, June 14, 2010

Grosse Pointe Blank


Grosse Pointe Blank; crime comedy, USA, 1997; D: George Armitage, S: John Cusack, Minnie Driver, Dan Aykroyd, Jeremy Piven, Joan Cusack, Alan Arkin, Hank Azaria
Martin Q. Blank is a hired assassin who together with his secretary has a rather profitable enterprise, until he gets a call to join the 10 year high school reunion. He thus returns to his home town, Grosse Pointe, where he meets his ex-girlfriend Debi, whom he left without explanation on prom night to join the army. She is now a local D.J. and puts him on air in her studio, which causes a feeling of shame in him. The problem is that his rival Grocer already set two NSA agents to kill him as soon as he does his assignment of assassinating someone there. Still, Martin and Debi go to the reunion and discovers he is suppose to kill her father. Martin refuses and finishes Grocer off, quitting his job and drives off with Debi.

Excellent black comedy by George Armitage, "Grosse Pointe Blank" is a real little treat. It's a pity that some critics were unjustifiably not inclined towards it because it does neither go overboard with the black tone nor does it exaggerate with its characters which it treats in a surprisingly serious and humane way, much more honest and unpretentious than many other films that blend comedy and crime. Laconic direction, dynamic rhythm and amazing soundtrack from all sides are main catalysts of good mood throughout, together with the classic doubts about high school reunions. "Grosse Pointe Blank" found a great little honorary role for comedian Dan Aykroyd as the bad guy Grocer, yet the main two protagonists are the main highlights: John Cusack does a very good job and only occasionally "slips" into hamming around as assassin Martin who is cold at first, but at the same time can be magical and charming, whereas the charming Minnie Driver is wonderfully energetic as DJ Debi, his ex-girlfriend. The sequence where Martin shows up in his home town after he left her 10 years ago without explanation on prom night, is a blast: Debi instantly recognizes him when he enters her Radio studio and kisses him, whereas the magical song "Pressure Drop" by The Specials perfectly catches the vibe of the moment. He then again leaves, exiting the building, but she turns on her microphone and says, on air, that a "long lost acquittance suddenly came back to her, but is now again leaving from her life", which causes him to return from the street back into her studio. An amazing piece of writing. Despite being very simple, this is one of the most shrill off-beat films of 1997.

Grade:+++

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Jeffrey


Jeffrey; Comedy, USA, 1996; D: Christopher Ashley, S: Steven Webber, Michael T. Weiss, Patrick Stewart, Bryan Batt, Christine Baranski, Sigourney Weaver

The name from the title belongs to the cheerful gay waiter and actor who, obviously, loves to sleep with men. But, as the AIDS reports are at an all time high in town, he suddenly decides to not have sex anymore, even though he falls in love with Steve in a gym. When a car runs into him, he is helped by Mother Teresa. The older gay man Sterling advises him to simply have a relationship with the person he likes. But just then, Jeffrey finds out Steve has AIDS, which causes him to live an even more ascetic life. But after a lot of thinking on a gay gathering, Jeffrey decides to give Steve a chance and they start a relationship.

The adaptation of an Off-Broadway play, the first comedy about the AIDS virus, "Jeffrey" is a bravely relaxed and original film that showed that director Christopher Ashley has a talent for opulent, untrammelled characteristics of a complicated subject. The title hero Jeffrey is adequately described as an unusual and cheerful person, whereas the gay theme is presented mostly without cliches. The only scarcely handled ingredient is the sole theme about the AIDS virus, though it was probably done to make it understated. It's interesting how shrill some scenes are: when he meets Steve in a gym, Jeffrey waives with his hand and all of a sudden all the people around him "freeze" while he catches his breath. A similarly inventive situation is when suddenly waiters start cheerfully dancing, but when he says: "We must not have fantasies about each other", it all turns back into normal. Besides that, the story is divided into chapters with titles, all of which have different colors. The second half of this cult film loses a lot of energy, drags slightly with some tiresome characters and is not as half as fun as the opening act. Still, it shows laughs and pain in a dignified manner whereas Patrick Stewart is excellent in the untypical and refreshing role of Jeffrey's mentor Sterling.

Grade:++

Seven Years in Tibet


Seven Years in Tibet; Drama, USA/ UK, 1997; D: Jean-Jacques Annaud, S: Brad Pitt, David Thewlis, B.D. Wong, Mako

Autumn of '39: Austrian Heinrich Harrer, an egoistical mountaineer and winner of the Olympic medal, boards a train and starts his journey towards Tibet together with Peter Aufschnaiter. He will not return to Austria for 11 years and his wife will raise their child without him because they will be separated by World War II. Heinrich will be captured in India but will manage to escape to Tibet. There he makes friends with the 14th Dalai Lama, who is still a child, and change into a good person. After the Chinese occupation of Tibet, Dalai Lama flees to India, while Heinrich returns to Austria and begs his family for forgiveness.

After thriller "Seven", Brad Pitt decided to star in another film with that number in the title, "Seven Years in Tibet", but it is indisputably a lot weaker than the first one. Viewers afraid of the dry and limitless boredom do not need to worry since this biopic still contains a fair dose of interesting things, notably towards the end, skillfully avoiding cheap moments. But the story is terminally overlong and does not have that spark that keeps the viewers glued to the screen or any feature that would cause them to see the film again, which is why it turns into an ordinary history lesson. Basically, in the end, it all boils down to the Chinese occupation of Tibet, whereas the mentality of the hero or some deeper spiritual elements stay behind. It is important that the hero turns into a good person, but it is not clear how or why he does that, except maybe for the esoteric Tibet surroundings. A vague adventure with vague experience.

Grade:+

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Dr. Dolittle


Dr. Dolittle; Fantasy comedy, USA, 1998; D: Betty Thomas, S: Eddie Murphy, Ossie Davis, Kristen Wilson, Oliver Platt, Richard Schiff, Peter Boyle, Jeffrey Tambor

Dr. Dolittle is a seemingly ordinary family man, except that he once had the ability to talk with the animals as a child, though forgot about it as he grew up. But his past is going to return to his life when he one day accidentally hits a dog with his car and understands everything what the animal is saying. His dialogues are quickly broadened to hamsters, pigeons, ducks, goats...As a doctor with a masters degree, he rationally rejects his ability and lands in a mental asylum, but in the end accepts his skill and decides to help the animals. It all culminates with a surgery on a tiger.

The remake of the '67 musical film with the same title, Betty Thomas version of "Dr. Dolittle" is a mostly moderately fun and accessible family comedy that, unlike the original, became a box office hit. Even though it has a pale story, undeveloped and "foggy" situations as well as typically cheap gags here and there for a mainstream film, the stand-out highlight that makes the film easily watchable is again the excellent comic performance by Eddie Murphy, who was used quite often to save thin comedies. At least one of his rants is a small comic jewel (the one when he tries to raise the self-confidence of a tiger who wants to jump from a high story building, where he says: "Remember that song "Eye of the Tiger," from "Rocky 3"? When Rocky was fighting Mr. T, he couldn't beat him - then Apollo Creed played "Eye of the Tiger" for him. Rocky beat the snot out of Mr. T because of "Eye of the Tiger." Because that song moved Rocky inside. Not eye of the moose, eye of the tiger!") whereas some of the interactions with the animals do have some sympathetic charm, especially when the two pigeons are arguing, and one of them (voiced by Julie Kavner) says: "He is a self-hating pigeon". Still, those are just small crumbs of pleasure. When the hero is running through the street at the end, one gets a feeling that a real movie could have started where this one ended, because, though amusing, this comedy leaves rather indifferent.

Grade:+

An American Werewolf in Paris


An American Werewolf in Paris; Horror comedy, USA/ UK/ Luxembourg/ Netherlans/ France, 1997; D: Anthony Waller, S: Tom Everett Scott, Julie Delpy, Vince Vieluf

Teenager Andy arrives with his friends in Paris in search for girls and already on his first night he manages to save the blond Serafine via bungee-jumping from the Eiffel tower. Andy does get injuries, though, and lands in a hospital, but stumbles upon a mysterious girl in a basement where a party is under way - suddenly, people transform into werewolves and one them bites him. When he wakes up, he finds himself in Serafine's home who explains him that will transform into a werewolf during full moon. Still, he manages to break the curse by killing the werewolf who bit him. Then he marries Serafine.

Humorous horror sequel "An American Werewolf in Paris" is a solid and moderately correct fun, yet predictably lacks highlights and originality, which is why the story seems to "vegetate" a lot in the film. The biggest flaws are the tendency of director Waller to occasionally force trashy-violent scenes without any measure, just to keep the viewers attention in a cheap way, like when Julie Delpy puts a heart in a mixer. However, the film is still more turned towards the happy ending, which is why it is a lot tamer, but also a lot paler in its content-substance than the excellent original from '81, a classic that blended horror and comedy seamlessly, "An American Werewolf in London". The sequel tried to borrow some elements from it, like the hero's vision of his dead friend who advises him, but it rarely reaches to grasp for something more than a watchable fun.

Grade:+

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Elfen Lied


Elfen Lied; animated science-fiction horror thriller-drama series, Japan, 2004; D: Mamoru Kanbe, S: Chihiro Suzuki, Sanae Kobayashi, Mamiko Noto, Yuki Matsuoko

Lucy, a member of the mutant human race Diclonius, escapes from an underground laboratory in which she was trapped using her "vectors", telekinetically controlled arms. However, she gets shot and loses her consciousness, getting adopted by the young Kohta and Yuka who find her on the beach. The secret organization wants to trap her again, though, which causes numerous bloody battles. With time, it turns out that she was a good girl as a child, but the abuse by her fellows mates made her aggressive and she killed Kohta's sister and father 8 years ago. Kohta remembers everything and forgives her. She disappears while he, Yuka, Mayu and Nana live from there on as a happy family.

„Elfen Lied“ is one of the strangest experiences of anime by its grasp of some of the most taboo themes in the world, which is why it divided people into a group that calls it „genius“ and into a group that calls it „garbage“, but, just like „RoboCop“ and „Oldboy“, it presents the sole main theme, the search for humanity in a cruel world, in the most extreme way. The anime starts off with a Katyn type of massacre in the first episode that is horrifying: using her telekinetically powered invisible arms, the so called „vectors“, since she is a girl from the Diclonius race, the naked heroine Lucy, wearing only a helmet on her head, massacres around 30 guards or employees by cutting off their limbs, heads, slicing them with a pencil, pouring blood out of their bodies or simply ripping their heart from their chest, and escapes from an underground laboratory into the outside world, into freedom. After watching that 7-minute blood bath, and taking into consideration the depressive-dreadful song in the intro, the viewers could safely give up upon this show and dismiss it as a disaster. Indeed, the first episode really is garbage, but the violence drops after that – one could safely say that around 50 % of all deaths occurs in the first and the last episode – and turns more towards drama. Because it turns out that the Lucy who did that at the start was not really herself nor did she ever want to be like that, yet her personality split as a schizophrenic into her evil and her good, innocent original self. Furthermore, if the viewers watch it until the end, they will notice an incredible change of their initial opinion: as it goes along the way, „Elfen Lied“ actually starts showing more and more signs of improving talent. It is kind of annoying at first that Lucy's good alter-ego Nyu is presented so innocently (yet logical later on since she has a split personality) and some of the attempts at „fan service“ humor are lame (Kohta wants to take off Lucy's wet clothes so that she won't catch a cold, but just as she is lying half naked on the floor, Yuka enters the room), yet despite splatter-violence, one must admit that Lynn Okamoto's story has some hermetic stylistic perfection.

It also has at least four excellent characters. One of the them is another Diclonius girl, Nana, who was also imprisoned and underwent brutal experiments in the underground laboratory all her life, but somehow made herself believe that the chief researcher, the cold Kurama, is actually her „daddy“. It is a strange and at the same time fragile sight seeing her chained naked in her cell and yet smiling when he enters it. When he and his organization set her lose to find Lucy, she is happy to assist him and only demands his tie to wear it as a headband. The following battle between (the evil) Lucy and Nana on a graveyard is virtuoso directed, both using their „vector“ powers to move tombstones. Right there, this anime performs the impossible: it blends splatter-violence with gentle emotions. Namely, in a moment of carelessness, Lucy slices Nana's leg off and massacres her heavily. As Kurama shows up with his team, he boldly approaches the scene, sees Nana in blood and takes her body in his arms. But the only things she says is: „I'm sorry I made your tie dirty. And I'm sorry I disappointed you.“ He then stands up and punches Lucy, who then escapes. Afterwards, he again returns to comfort Nana. Such example of devotion is one of the most touching moments of all time, and maybe this is the only way it could have been achieved. The story is, in its own way, unusually addictive, and the only way to watch it is to not deny yourself the experience. It also has moments of romance (the beautiful first kiss between Yuka and Kohta), compassion (when Kohta takes the photo of his deceased sister Kanae and tells how he would have liked to apologize to her befoer her death, Lucy cuts her hair to look like Kanae and tells him: „I'm Kanae now! I forgive you, Kohta! Don't cry!“) and philosophical touch (it turns out Lucy was a good person until some boys started abusing her when she was a little girl, because she is a Diclonius. After a heavy emotional abuse, she tells to one of the boys: „The only one who is inhuman, is you.“) with a powerful metaphor of how cruelty and alienation can make *everything* go wrong in a person, whereas the persecution of the Diclonius race reminds a lot of history of racism. Some complaints could be raised towards some inconsistencies, contrived scenes and the rather shaky final episode. Ville and gory, but this horror-melodrama is unbelievable in showing so many wrong things and yet in the end sending a positive message.

Grade:+++

Speed


Speed; Action, USA, 1994; D: Jan de Bont, S: Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock, Dennis Hopper, Jeff Daniels, Joe Morton

Los Angeles. Criminal Payne is a bomb specialist who takes hostages in an elevator, demanding money. Police officer Jack manages to free the hostages, but Payne manages to escape, continuing his odyssey by planting a bomb on a bus - if the vehicle drives bellow 50 miles per hour, it will explode. Jack boards the bus and gives a passenger, Annie, the wheel after the driver gets killed. They evacuate the passengers and the smash the driving bus into a wall. In addition, Jack kills Payne in the subway.

In "Speed", cinematographer Jan de Bont managed to successfully direct the clever screenplay by Graham Yost, that seems like an action oriented extract of some never produced Hitchcock film - a bus full of passengers must never drive bellow 50 miles per hour, or it will explode. Of course, since the story is playing out in Los Angeles, the traffic causes numerous obstacles. Unfortunately, unlike the imaginative screenplay, the direction is disappointingly bland, and many of the solutions that do engage the viewers come more as a result of the writer than the director who did a solid, but standard job. The characters are also rather stale, with only Sandra Bullock managing to insert some charm, but only to some extent. Many moments fall into cliches and amateurish choices, whereas the opening and the ending are unnecessary, yet the sole story still has power and seizes attention, especially in the scene where the bus arrives at an freeway gap.

Grade:++

Red Rock West


Red Rock West; Thriller, USA, 1992; D: John Dahl, S: Nicolas Cage, J.T. Walsh, Dennis Hopper, Lara Flynn Boyle

With only 5 $ in his pocket, Michael is traveling in his car through Wyoming, looking for a job. In some bar, the rich Wayne mistakes him for a killer he ordered and gives him 5.000 $ to kill his wife Susan. He takes the money but warns her. She then gives him 5.000 $ to kill Wayne. Michael hits some man with his car and brings him to the hospital. There the sheriff waits for him - it is Wayne. He starts prosecuting him, so Michael boards the car of some guy called Lyle. But when it turns out that Lyle is actually the original hired killer, he runs away. Michael and Susan hide and come closer. She tells him that Wayne is a con artist who stole a million $, but then Lyle catches them and demands for that amount. Wayne brings them to a graveyard and dies fighting Lyle. Michael and Susan run away with the money and board a train, but he throws her off after she threatened him with a gun.

"Red Rock West" is a very good film noir by John Dahl, a specialist for sly crime stories who knows how to conjure up a moody atmosphere. The story here is so filled with surprises and absurd coincidences that intervene more and more that at some moments it almost seems like a black comedy - some of the wackiest situations are when the hero, Michael, gets mistaken for a hired killer in a bar by Wayne who gives him 5.000 $, but he quickly contacts her who gives him another 5.000 $ and demands that he kills Wayne instead; Michael almost runs over a guy with his car who later on turns out to be the original hired killer; the bad guy Wayne just happens to be the local sheriff etc - yet it always keeps its balanced and realistic tone. Dahl has a good pace and sense for the Wyoming mentality, the screenplay is well written whereas the ending is almost ironic in its conclusion about some things in life. Some minor flaws could be attributed to a few too serious moments, stiff solutions or redundancy. A small jewel here is excellent Dennis Hopper who does not play the bad guy Wayne in a conceited way, but with class and elegance, reminding of some of his best roles as a villain.

Grade:+++