Thursday, September 30, 2010

Super Mario World


Super Mario World; Animated fantasy series, USA, 1991; D: John Grusd, S: Walker Boone, Tony Rosato, Andrew Sabiston, Harvey Atkin, Tracey Moore, John Stocker, Michael Stark

Plumber brothers Mario and Luigi now live in prehistoric world inhabited by dinosaur Yoshi and cave people. They try to arrange it by their birthplace New York. They again protect princess Toadstool from reptile Bowser Koopa and his kids Cheatsie, Kooky, Hip, Hop, Bully, Kootie Pie and Big Mouth. In numerous adventures, Mario invents the telephone and wheel, Koopa organizes a circus whereas Luigi tells Yoshi how they met...

The final American animated series about Mario, "Super Mario World" is considered better than the weakest, first cartoon, "Super Mario Bros. Super Show", but a step back when compared to the arguably most engaging TV show, "Super Mario Bros. 3". Once again, it's a pity that such animated series depend on the changes of the authors of the video games, which makes them inconsistent and it turns out they are playing more with the feelings of the fans of the heroes than with the video games: all of the characters' relationships from the previous two shows are here completely eradicated. Still, the prehistoric dinosaur world is wonderfully cheerful whereas they ironically did well when they replaced the slightly annoying Toad with incredibly sympathetic Yoshi, who is a much better sidekick. "Super Mario World" has only 13 episodes with a 10 minute running time and is thus easily watchable.

One must also mention the music, which is the best of all three Mario animated shows. Unfortunately, the animation and the jokes are bland, some of which even borrow from "The Flintstones" (a lizard as a pipe wrench), while the story doesn't have a beginning or an end. That way it all stays just "hanging there". Too bad. The authors demonstrated excellent potentials only in two episodes - "Mama Luigi", written by Phil Harnage (an irresistibly sweet episode that is incredibly adventurously fun in showing how Luigi met baby Yoshi, riding on dolphins, drying his hat and commenting: "Compared to this dinosaur, Mario eats little.") and "Gopher Bash", written by Brooks Wachtel (culminating in Cheatsie's ontological cynical line "Don't just help him, stand there!" as well as "cartoonish" facial expression after he sees Mario, Luigi and Yoshi) - and to some extent in episodes "The Wheel Thing" and "Send in the Clowns", yet the rest is just standard fluff with mild inspiration, lacking that real spark that does not completely exploit the melancholic possibilities of the two plumbers who have to chose between theirs and this world, though it is a watchable, harmless solid fun with a few interesting "abstract" moments, as always when Mario and Luigi get their super powers.

Grade:+

Henry Poole Is Here


Henry Poole Is Here; Drama/ Comedy, USA, 2008; D: Mark Pellington, S: Luke Wilson, Adriana Barraza, Radha Mitchell, Morgan Lily, George Lopez

A mysterious but sloppy stranger, Henry Poole, buys a house somewhere in California and just stays laxly there, not caring for anyone or anything. He drinks and remains secluded towards his neighbors. However, one day his Mexican neighbor Esperanza spots a water stain on his wall and perceives it as the face of Jesus Christ. Henry is annoyed by this, but two miracles happen when two people touch it: girl Patience, who doesn't need glasses anymore, and little girl Millie, who starts talking after a year of being mute, causing her single mother Dawn to start a relationship with Henry. He finally admits her that he was diagnosed with a terminal disease. When he destroys the wall, he lands in a hospital, but it turns out he is not sick anymore.

An unobtrusive little film, "Henry Poole is Here" works both as a light spiritual film about some mysterious in life as well as a gentle satire on religious people who see divine apparitions in unusual places, in this case, the face of Jesus Christ in a water stain on the wall. The film is the best in the first half, when it takes on a humorous approach towards the matter, while Luke Wilson is very good as the sceptical, slightly sloppy title hero who just sees it as a normal water stain on the wall. It turns heavily sentimental and pretentious towards the end, which is unsuitable for such a simple, one-note concept, yet all in all it is a pleasant, mostly harmless fun that juggles somewhere between drama and comedy. However, it has two great quotes. In the first, Esperanza tells how she expected she was never going to get married, until she met her husband and spent so much happy time with him that she "didn't even remember how it is to be sad anymore". In the second, Henry confronts her about the "miraculous" water stain: "You just want me to believe because that way your own beliefs seem more real".

Grade:++

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Open Your Eyes


Abre los ojos; Fantasy drama, Spain/ France/ Italy, 1997; D: Alejandro Amenábar; S: Eduardo Noriega, Penélope Cruz, Chete Lera, Fele Martinez

Cesar, with a mask on his face, tells his story to a psychiatrist: he was a successful businessman, attractive, rich, with a lot of a women for one night. His last lover is Nuria. On his birthday, he meets Sofia, the girlfriend of Pelay. Nuria is jealous so she brings him along for a car crash; she dies, while his face gets mutilated. From there on, Sofia avoids him...But suddenly, she starts loving him again and the doctors restore his face. When he spots Nuria, he kills her. He and the psychiatrist go to L.E., a company that can hibernate life. Cesar realizes that he actually lives in a dream: he signed a contract in L.E. and in the year 2145 voluntarily went into a machine that creates an artificial, pleasant memory-dream world in his mind. He jumps off a building and wakes up.

A semi-forerunner to Nolan's "Inception", "Open Your Eyes" is an interesting little science-fiction film involving dreams where director Alejando Amenabar likes sudden twists and leads them skillfully and precisely, but they don't fit in entirely. The story is the best in the first half: the superficial hero Cesar falls in love for the first time, in Sofia, who is played excellently and shrill by Penelope Cruz. There's a nice scene in her apartment that wonderfully displays her charm, when she draws a caricature of him in the form of a "dude" with a car and a bunch of money, while he made a serious-realistic portrait of her. The plot twist, that transports it from a normal into a fiction story, is rather problematic; namely, it turns out his whole life, presented in the film, is an artificial dream. The film has a great style and the dreamy scenes, with grainy cinematography, are the most realistically conceived and close to a real dream to date, yet the concept carries a crucial problem: it is revealed only 5 minutes before the end of the film. And that is a problem. Even "The Truman Show" and "Groundhog Day" had great unusual stories, but they did not set in just 5 minutes before the end. This way, unfortunately, "Eyes" did not exploit all the possibilities and is closer to the one-note concept similar to "The Sixth Sense" than to the above mentioned two films.

Grade:++

Monday, September 27, 2010

Donkey


Kenjac; Drama, Croatia/ BiH/ UK/ Serbia, 2009; D: Antonio Nuić, S: Nebojša Glogovac, Nataša Janjić, Ljubo Kapor, Emir Hadžihafizbegović, Roko Roglić, Tonko Lonza

Croatia, a few days before Operation Storm. Boro, his wife Jasna and their son Luka arrive from Zagreb to a small village in Herzegovina to visit the place where he was born. Once there, Boro discovers that his brother Petar, who managed to escape from the siege of Sarajevo, is now in wheelchair after he was injured. In the meantime, the old Ante persuades an old woman to transport a donkey to his estate so that he can try to sell it for her. Boro is anxious, ignoring Jasna because he wanted her to give a birth to a daughter for him. But there's more: Jasna discovers that Paško, Boro's aggressive and abusive father, drove his mother to suicide. Boro finally confronts Paško who confesses him that he never loved his wife but that the marriage was already arranged. In order to try to make it up for his behavior, Paško buys off the donkey for 1,000 Euros to cheer up Luka who pitied the animal. As the family leaves back for Zagreb, Ante now has both the money and the donkey.

The talented director Antonio Nuic didn't demonstrate a lot in the pale, thin drama "Donkey", a film that is as unattractive both in its title as well as in its content. After a great, stylish intro involving just a panorama shot of a long queue of soldiers walking up a road on a hill, "Donkey" comes to a virtual standstill because it has almost nothing to offer than the already a thousand times seen story about a man, Boro, in an argument with his wife and his father. In one scene, Boro drives his brother Petar in a wheelchair, until he looks at the sky at night and says: "Look at the sky. It's as if you can reach out and touch it!" - that is bland writing, and unfortunately the majority of the dialogues is equally as (un)inspiring. It's not a good sign when already half-way into the film you notice that it has only 3 interesting moments. Also, the setting of the story during Operation Storm is completely irrelevant to the plot: when they hear on the radio about it, they act as if nothing happened. That is not a natural reaction. Here and there only the kid actor Roko Roglic manages to steal the show and lift the film up a bit, like in the scene where he is looking at the donkey standing in night - his father then has this amusing dialogue with him: "What are you doing here so late at night?" - "The donkey is bored." - "Why do you say that?" - "Because it is not sleeping." - "It is sleeping." - "But it's standing!" - "Donkey's sleep while standing!" - "But its eyes are open, he is watching us, he can't be asleep!" The amusing end, a resolution to the dramatic conflict involving the donkey, is charming but also overrated and not half as good as it should have been to be a real payoff for the film.

Grade:+

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Lethal Weapon 4


Lethal Weapon 4; Action comedy, USA, 1998; D: Richard Donner, S: Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Joe Pesci, Rene Russo, Chris Rock, Jet Li, Kim Chan

It became complicated for police seargents Riggs, who is about to become a father, and Murtaugh, who is about to become a grandfather. When one criminal is burning the neighborhood with a flamethrower, Murtaugh takes his clothes off in the rain to distract him, whereas Riggs immobilizes him. 6 months later, while sailing on Getz's ship, they hear a gunshot and conclude that illegal Chinese immigrants are being transported on a tanker. Murtaugh even adopts one Chinese family. They stumble upon the Triad criminal Wah Sing Ku and stop his counterfeit plans.

6 years were needed until Richard Donner manage to persuade Mel Gibson to appear one last time in his famous role as police detective Riggs in "Lethal Weapon 4", the final part of the film series. Even though it was the most expensive and the 2nd most commercial addition to the series, only the original actors still remind us of the classic characters from the first three films, but not their procedures anymore. The opening where Danny Glover's character Murtaugh strips and walks only in his underwear in rain in order to "distract" a (mad?) flame-thrower is arguably the most silly-naive gag in the whole film series, Joe Pesci again received an unthankful role of a guy who gets humiliated by everyone whereas this time there are surprisingly little action sequences present. Still, despite being the weakest - and the most harmless - of the four films, part 4 is still easily watchable and offers a light, but solid fun with a few interesting ideas (shooting under water).

Grade:++

Lethal Weapon 3


Lethal Weapon 3; Action thriller, USA, 1992; D: Richard Donner, S: Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Joe Pesci, Rene Russo

Police Detective Murtaugh has only 7 days left before retirement, but his partner Riggs uses a pocket knife to cut the wrong wire while trying to deactivate the bomb, which is why it goes off and blows up the whole building. The duo thus gets degraded to street patrol. Still, they get promoted again when they stop a bank robbery and get a new partner, Lorna Cole. Their new enemy is ex-cop Jack Travis who sells special bullets, that can penetrate bullet-proof vests, to criminals. Murtaugh and Riggs are also again annoyed by the fast talking Getz. Riggs and Cole start a relationship and kill Travis, whereas Murtaugh changes his mind and postpones his retirement for a few years.

The third part of the "Lethal Weapon" series somewhat schematically repeated the tried formula of a blend of action and humor, yet due to a bigger budget and crystal clear cinematography is seems more glamorous - and has more broken cars. The oscillation of quality will continue even in part 4 due to overcrowded characters in the story, and its a problem here, too: the new character addition, played by Rene Russo, did not receive some especially good dialogues whereas Joe Pesci got an unthankfully written role of a goon who gets humiliated by everyone. However, the opening where Riggs goofs while trying to deactivate a bomb in a building is hilarious, whereas his cynicism is continuing in the scene where he puts a bag over a parking machine or when he talks with Murtaugh's daughter over the phone ("Hi, honey! Where are you, I miss you..."). This third film is somehow more relaxed than the predecessors and contains good action sequences (i.e. Riggs shoots at the gasoline in the air, it ignites and falls on the bad guy), which is why this is still a good film.

Grade:++

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Lethal Weapon 2


Lethal Weapon 2; Action thriller; USA, 1989; D: Richard Donner, S: Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Joe Pesci, Joss Ackland

Police Detectives Riggs and Murtaugh are chasing after smugglers, but fail to capture them. They discover that the embassy of South Africa is involved in the smuggling, which is a very problematic situation - namely, it is prohibited by law to arrest ambassadors, which suits the bad guys fine. Also, Riggs and Murtaugh have to watch out after the protected witness Leo Getz, who annoys them with his babble. The bad guys place a bomb under Murtaughs toilet seat, but the SWAT team and Riggs manage to save him. They stop their ship and shoot Rudd, the diplomat.

The sequel to the 'hard boiled' original, "Lethal Weapon 2" is considered by some to be an even better addendum to the action series, even though it also has a fair share of heavy handed moments. The two heroes are placed as 'tough altruists' who bring justice the violent way, the dialogues are wooden whereas Riggs' romance with the bad guy's secretary ends up in a completely tedious manner. Still, there is a lot of fun: at the start of the film, the police officers bet over whether they will catch the criminals or not; Murtaugh gets flabbergasted when he finds out that his daughter stars in a TV commercial for condoms; the bad guys cynically place a bomb under Murtaugh's toilet seat, leaving him sitting there waiting for the SWAT team, but they also place it in bizarre places to assassinate other cops (one police officer opens his refrigerator and his house explodes). In some better hands, this fun film could have turned out into a little classic, like "Die Hard" or "Hard Boiled", since the blatant Apartheid accusations are a little bit cheap, yet the film still has its moments.

Grade:++

Lethal Weapon


Lethal Weapon; Action, USA, 1987; D: Richard Donner, S: Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Gary Busey

Numerous heroin smugglers have found their sanctuary in Los Angeles. Among the police officers who are trying to arrest them is the African-American Roger Murtaugh who gets a new partner, Martin Riggs. Roger is a family man averse to action, but it turns out that Martin is his exact opposite, a hysterical, unpredictable and energetic cop who still has trouble coping with the death of his wife in a car accident. Despite their contradictions, the two of them will become great partners. The bad guy kidnaps Roger's daughter, but Martin kills him.

Ultra-fast action film, "Lethal Weapon" is a successful and well made mainstream product, as well as commercial since it grossed fine at the box office. Crammed with chases, shooting and violence, where rhythm is more important than the plot, this "buddy cop" film will not leave many indifferent and amused. The first two sequels were even more inspiring, whereas Danny Glover is in top-notch shape as the family man cop Roger Murtaugh. However, "Lethal Weapon" is not some great achievement: it lacks humor and originality, the sadism and some cheap 'hard boiled' elements are occasionally bothersome (when the bad guy is torturing Gibson's Riggs with electricity) whereas Riggs' final fight is banal.

Grade:++

Friday, September 24, 2010

Barb Wire


Barb Wire; Science-fiction/ Action; USA, 1996; D: David Hogan, S: Pamela Anderson, Temuera Morrison, Victoria Rowell, Xander Berkeley, Udo Kier

In 2017, the Second American Civil War broke out. Steel Harbor is the last free city in the US. It is there where the blond macho girl Barb Wire runs her bar, "Hammerhead", and often has to do extra jobs, like saving a kidnapped girl, in order to pay her staff. The Chief of Police Willis half-heartedly raids her bar and is actually her friend. One day, the leader of the resistance movement, Dr. Cora, arrives in her bar and brings her husband, Barb's ex-boyfriend Axel who left her without explanation years ago. Despite her grudge against him, she helps Axel and Cora escape to the free Canada, away from the Congresionals, while she stays with Willis.

A strange modern re-telling of "Casablanca" set in the futuristic US and with a blond woman taking over Bogart's part, "Barb Wire" is a 'guilty pleasure', a trashy film that never manages to be as fun as it could have been, but is still amusing to watch nonetheless. The critics were a little bit too harsh towards it: the film has only two truly terrible sequences (the 'fake hooker' moment and Big Fatso), while other than that it is a watchable and rather fluent "light" science-fiction action film where Pamela Anderson is actually very good in the leading role as the macho girl Barb Wire, delivering arguably one of her lifetime performances thanks to a few humorous dialogues ("I do believe I'm falling in love", says Willis, and she replies with: "Get in line!"), though Udo Kier also steals a few scenes as her cynical assistant. One has to admit that "Barb Wire" is really not sloppily directed, whereas the cinematography is stunning, yet the film lacks suspense, humor, style, spirit, developed characters and much more that would attach the viewers into an active movie experience or what would offer something more except Pamela's body.

Grade:+

Sunday, September 19, 2010

From Here to Eternity


From Here to Eternity; Drama/ War, USA, 1953; D: Fred Zinnemann, S: Montgomery Clift, Burt Lancester, Deborah Kerr, Donna Reed, Frank Sinatra, Philip Ober, Ernest Borgnine, Jack Warden

Hawaii, a few months before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Soldier Prewitt arrives at his military base. The egoistical Captain Holmes immediately wants to have him to win the boxing match for his Company, but Prewitt wowed never to fight again after he accidentally punched a fighter so hard he lost his sight. Thus, Holmes' goal is to make his life at the base as unpleasant as possible until he agrees to the boxing match. Still, he meets Lorene in a night bar and falls in love with her. Sergeant Warden, on the other hand, is having an affair with Holmes' wife Karen. After Prewitt's good friend Maggio deserts his post to drink at the night bar, he is arrested and brought to the military prison run by his arch enemy "Fatso" who beats him heavily. After Maggio dies, Prewitt kills "Fatso" and hides at Lorene's place, wounded. When the attack on Pearl Harbor starts, Prewitt decides to return to his unit, but is shot and killed in a misunderstanding. Lorene and Karen leave Hawaii on a ship.

The famous scene of a couple kissing and lying on the beach, indifferent to the sea waves splashing them, originates from the classic and critically acclaimed film "From Here to Eternity", winner of numerous awards, among others 8 Oscars and 2 Golden Globes; it does not reach the grasp of a masterwork, but it is still nonetheless an excellent achievement. At first glance, the modern viewers may wonder what is the difference between a TV soap opera and this film, but after viewing it the fundamental differences will slowly start to become more and more apparent and undeniable, most notably in the compact story written with care and intelligence. Some of the dialogues are simply plain clever, like in the scene where Sergeant Warden arrives at Karen's home in the middle of the rainy night and she has this conversation with him: "If you're looking for the Captain, he ain't here." - "And if I ain't looking for the Captain?" - "Then he still ain't here."

Montgomery Clift is brilliant while Frank Sinatra may have won his best supporting actor Oscar only because he plays a 'pity character', yet his hyped performance as Maggio is still a great role, if anything just for the funny scene where he drinks; Lorene tells him: "Drinking is a weakness" and he replies: "I grant you that!" She then asks Prewitt: "You don't like weakness, do you?" and replies with: "No, I don't like weakness...but I like to drink!" Having the Pearl Harbor attack show up only in the last 13 minutes of the film, the story achieves an interesting setting: life was not idyllic and peaceful before the start of World War II, it was always a conflict. It is a story about loyalty and honor, clearly showing how Prewitt was bullied by others because he did not want to attend the boxing match, fighting his "personal war" for integrity ("You guys want to put the screws on, go right ahead. I can take anything you can dish out.") against his enemies, the egoistical Captain and Prison Sergeant. It may be an uneven shift from a normal drama to a war film, but it somehow works all right: the characters are "shaken away" from their problems by bigger things in life.

Grade:+++

Friday, September 17, 2010

Grbavica


Grbavica; drama, BiH/ Austria/ Croatia/ Germany, 2006; D: Jasmila Žbanić, S: Mirjana Karanović, Luna Mijović, Leon Lučev, Andiswa Kedama, Kenan Ćatić, Jasna Beri

Sarajevo. Esma is a middle-aged Bosniak widow who lives in a small apartment with her 14-year old daughter Sara. Esma always told her that her father was a "Shahir", a Bosniak soldier who died while defending his country in the Bosnian War for Independence. Since her long awaited school trip is approaching, Sara asks her mother to find her dad's certificate, because children of "Shahir's" pay less for the trip. Esma finds a job as a waitress in a shabby night bar and meets Pelda, who becomes her close friend. On D day, Esma pays the full price for the trip. Upon Sara's insistence about the certificate, her mother finally confronts her with the truth: she was raped in a camp and her father was a chetnik. Though devastated, Sara attends the trip and starts to understand her mother more.

Winner of the Golden Bear, "Grbavica" was a hyped and critically acclaimed feature length debut film by Bosnian director Jasmila Zbanic. Her directing has flaws: the subplot involving the Pelda character (Leon Lucev) is unnecessary, the dialogue is sometimes flat, the story is heavily overstretched, especially in the middle, while one could even say that the real story could have started there where this film ended. However, that sole story about Esma - who was raped in a concentration camp but decided to keep her baby and raise her - and the way it was presented, is so honest, emotional and natural that it transcends most of the omissions. Unlike most war films, "Grbavica" said everything there needs to be said about the war just by showing an intimate small drama about the psychological consequences of it even in peaceful times; actually, it did not show any scene of huge explosions or gun battles and did not even need to show it, because it brought a stronger emotional effect in this unobtrusive way. It has two fantastic sequences towards the end, appearing right after the other; the first one is the devastating, shocking moment where Esma finally tells Sara the truth, which hits you like a tsunami, and the second one appears right after it, when Esma gives her confession monologue about her pregnancy, how she kicked her own stomach and did not want her, but how the baby was still born safely, which is one of the most touching things ever. Mirjana Karanovic probably gave the role of her lifetime as the main heroine, very honest and natural.

Grade:+++

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Boot Hill


La collina degli stivali; Western, Italy, 1969; D: Giuseppe Colizzi, S: Terence Hill, Woody Strode, Bud Spencer, Eduardo Cianelli, Glauco Onorato, Victor Buono

The Wild West, 19th Century. Cowboy Cat Stevens is persecuted by a mysterious gang led by criminal Finch. Wounded, he hides inside a wagon of a traveling circus. He is found by Thomas, an African American trapeze artist who becomes his friend. A couple of members of the gang intercept a caravan, but Thomas shoots them. Cat figures what is going on: he was given a share of land in a goldmine town, but the permit has to be renewed every year, so the mayor there, Fisher, supported by Finch, has the goal to either force or kill every land owner to give up their share of land to him. Finding reinforcement in the large Hutch and his pal Babydoll, they organize a play in the circus that exposes Fisher's dirty game. They kill his gang and leave him to the people.

The first three films with which Terence Hill and Bud Spencer started their careers were completely different than the last 14 which ended them. Since Hill and Spencer demonstrated exceptional comic chemistry from the 70s onwards, Giuseppe Colizzi's western "Boot Hill" retroactively gained a negative backlash for showing the duo in a serious edition. He discovered them, but not in the formula that the public loved. Precisely because it is always necessary to have an open mind in a retrospect of films which are unpopular for being "out of character", "Boot Hill" gained cult status and needs to be seen. Surprisingly, it is a quality Italian western with a heavy Leone influence (huge close ups of faces; stylish details like the gang of outlaws slowly descending from a hill to the circus caravan or a flying ant leaving a streak after walking through blood on a hot stone) that blends "Once Upon a Time in the West", just replacing the cause of greed, the railroad, with a goldmine, and a traveling circus. Hill is serious, but completely natural throughout the film, whereas Spencer shows up some 40 minutes into the film, playing his pal Hutch, and manages to 'squeeze' a few moments of humor, mostly in the semi-serious fist fight towards the finale. A few of Colizzi's directorial interventions are also quite clever, like in the sequence where the greedy mayor and his whole gang attend the circus show while the protagonists deliberately place a "Hamlet" like act that exposes his dirty game: an actor who plays a man who finds gold in sand is slapped a dozen times by another actor playing a outlaw to force him to hand it over to him, and in doing so the film shows a montage of all the real cowboys who were slapped by the real outlaws, which all contribute to a good, never excessive film.

Grade:++

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Turn the Other Cheek


Porgi l’altra guancia; Comedy, Italy/ France, 1974; D: Franco Rossi, S: Bud Spencer, Terence Hill, Jean-Pierre Aumont, Robert Loggia

19th Century. Missionaries Father J and Father Pedro have stirred up quite a commotion in Church circles with their unorthodox methods on a small island in Latin America: instead of converting locals to Christianity, they respect their beliefs and help them materially. One day, they depart for their usual sail to mainland to sell pepper in order to buy goods for the locals, but are shocked to find out that Gonzaga, Governor of Maracaibo, established a monopoly with colonialists and now a bag of pepper can only be sold for 100 pesos. They clash with his men citing Bible that states that greedy people do wrong. They save three people who helped slaves escape from execution and return back to their island.

The 9th out of 17 Bud Spencer-Terence Hill films in total, "Turn the Other Cheek" is one of those examples of comedy of the famous comic duo that still had some fresh and vibrant ideas to offer, irreverent of the story as a whole, maybe also because it was produced by Dino De Laurentiis. Untypically, here the duo played - two missionaries. In the opening scenes, Spencer's Father Pedro is holding an improvised mass in the jungle, giving hosts to locals. Hill's Father J, hanging from a tree, diverts his attention to one particular guy who is laying on his knees in front of him. Pedro looks at the guy and discovers a stolen watch hanging from his pocket. He takes it, says: "You shall not steal" and catapults him away with his classic slap, accompanied by the 'sound of fisting'. If one can accept such a type of humor incorporated in two "out of character" missionaries, who roughly and ungainly, but honestly do good deeds, then the film can actually be quite a good fun.

In another funny moment, while sailing on their ship, the two protagonists meet some British colonialists who exchange these lines with Pedro: "God bless the Queen!" - "Why, is she sick?" - "No." - "So why should God bless her?" The funniest gag is probably the one involving the queue of people who visit the missionaries because of health concerns: one man complaints how he has tooth-ache, so J tells him they need "anesthesia". Pedro just washes his hands in a bowl of water and tells the man to "count to 10". The man goes: "1...", Pedro already knocks him unconscious and extracts his bad tooth with his bare hands while J is holding him in his arms. Robert Loggia is solid as the bad guy whereas the story juggles with a critique of church that remains passive at injustices of colonialism (even touching at themes of exploitation of workers and slavery) as well as too rigid dogmas which, though heavy handed, come across as rather brave for such a light comedy. Still, the delight is diminished due to a confusing story that is all over the place as well as the fact that the film loses a lot of steam towards the end; it is not a good sign when a comedy does not have a single good joke in the last 30 minutes of its running time. However, it is non the less pleasant to watch the duo in the roles of unorthodox priests who correct injustices "their own way".

Grade:++

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Life is a Miracle


Život je čudo; Drama/ Romance/ War/ Grotesque, Serbia/ France/ Italy, 2004; D: Emir Kusturica, S: Slavko Štimac, Nataša Šolak, Vesna Trivalić, Vuk Kostić, Aleksandar Berček, Stribor Kusturica, Mirjana Karanović, Nikola Kojo

Bosnia, 1992. Luka, a Serbian engineer, arrives from Belgrade to a village with his wife Jadranka, an opera singer, and teenage son Miloš, to build a railroad that will make a tourist attraction out of it. Unfortunately, the Bosnian War starts and wrecks havoc: Miloš is drafted to the army while Jadranka runs away with a singer. On top of all, Luka hears that Miloš was captured by the Bosniaks. One day, one Serb soldier brings him a Bosniak hostage, girl Sabaha, and advises him to exchange her for Miloš. Despite their rough "relationship", Sabaha falls in love with him, complicating matters when Jadranka returns. Eventually, the prisoner exchange works. However, Luka is unhappy with his old life back. He meets Sabaha again on the train and they run away together.

Emir Kusturica is arguably one of the very few directors who can cram all sorts of insanity, foolishness and nonsense into a film and yet still in the end make it somehow work, even adding a touch of unexplainable magic in the process. Even though some of his political views were problematic, his take on the Bosnian War in the dreamy-bizarre humorous drama "Life is a Miracle", nominated for a Golden Palm in Cannes, turned out refreshingly neutral and humane. Overlong and megalomaniac, and filled with the already mentioned bizarre scenes (a "train car" whose wires are attached to the railroad; a guy putting a long hose over a goalkeeper to urinate on him; a guy punching the butt of a woman with boxing gloves...), "Life is a Miracle" is still somehow strangely miraculous and enchanting in its very own way, far away from the typical mainstream magic the viewers are used to. Since it requires an open mind in order to enjoy it, this is not a film for everyone, yet Kusturica's "felliniesque" Balkan poetry still has charm. The thing that split some viewers was the sole story - the protagonist Luka keeps a Bosniak hostage, Sabaha, in his home in order to exchange her for his captured son Miloš, yet in the end she falls in love with him and shows him the real love that evaded all his life. In the end, it turns out that the war was the best thing that ever happened to him since it brought circumstances to meet the woman of his life. Some found such a message honest, others contrived. Still, the sole sequence where Luka and Sabaha are flying in the bed over the meadow stimulates the magical touch, which is why the film has its merits.

Grade:++

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

They Were 11


Juichi-nin iru!; Animated science-fiction, Japan, 1986; D: Satoshi Dezaki, Tsuneo Tominaga, S: Akira Kamiya, Michiko Kawai, Hideyuki Tanaka, Michiro Ikemizu

Tada is one of the rare lucky lads who have passed all the space exams and are now sent for their final test: 10 space cadets have to stay in an isolated space station, orbiting an uninhabited planet, for 53 days without any help. They can contact the space academy at any moment if they feel in danger, but that action will automatically disqualify them. Once on board, they discover there are actually - 11 of them. Tada, hermaphrodite Frol, King, Doricas, Ganga, Amazon, Knu, 'Thickhead', Dolph, Toto and Chaco all suspect each other as being a saboteur. As malfunctions appear, they start suspecting Tada is the troublemaker. As the rise of the temperature rouses the spread of a vine that releases a virus, they contact for help. It turns out 'Thickhead' was the saboteur, but he informs them they have passed the test. Frol turns into a girl and marries Tada.

An anime adaptation of Moto Hagio's manga with the same title, "They Were Eleven" is a science-fiction version of the thriller film "Das Experiment", playing with the notion of a group of a couple of people who have to stay closed in a tight, isolated space, slowly losing their minds and projecting their anxiety into the aggression on a scapegoat, though the sole film does not have that truly intense spark of 'kammerspiel' mood. Still, it's a good little cult film on its own merits, with an occasional poetic moment, like when Tada and hermaphrodite Frol are sitting on the "roof" of the space station, without any spacesuits, and just indulging in the stars in space above them, because a safe glass dome surrounds them. The story could have been stronger and more suspenseful, since it seems mild at times, except maybe in the segment where the temperature of the space station is slowly rising because it is approaching the hot blue star, yet directors Dezaki and Tominaga craft it competently, whereas the revelation of the identity of the 11th member is rather surprising.

Grade:++

Monday, September 6, 2010

Bridget Jones's Diary


Bridget Jones's Diary; Romantic comedy, UK/ USA, 2001; D: Sharon Maguire, S: Renée Zellweger, Colin Firth, Hugh Grant, Jim Broadbent

The slightly overweight Bridget Jones (32) meets lawyer Mark on the New Year's Eve party of her mother, but writes him off as "mommy's boy". Bridget works in a small agency where she quickly gets the attention of her boss Daniel who lands in bed with her. He doesn't really love her for real, and things get worse when Bridget finds a naked women in his apartment. She breaks up with him, quits her job and finds work as a quirky TV news reporter. She again meets Mark who enables her breakthrough interview with his client, a Kurdish human rights promoter. Mark even has a fight with Daniel and gets Bridget's heart when she discovers that Daniel slept with his fiancee.

Renee Zellweger, nominated for a BAFTA, a Golden Globe and an Oscar, delivered arguably the best performance of her career as the sympathetic, slightly overweight clumsy blond in the bitter-sweet comedy "Bridget Jones's Diary", that rightfully secured her place as a major movie star. Essentially, the story is actually a simple ode to unpopular outsiders with a few grotesque moments (i.e. after another failed relationship, Bridget is watching a lion mating with a lioness on TV) and not especially inventive style. But it's a shrill fun throughout. Filled with numerous wonderful jokes - every time a colleague looks on her cleavage, a threatening music starts playing in her head; while lying in bed with Hugh Grant (who is actually good as a bad guy), she energetically answers the phone: "Bridget Jones, wanton sex goddess, with a very bad man between her thighs... Mum... Hi."; after the start of her relationship, huge letters are displayed all over the town, stating how she lost weight and started drinking less - "Bridget Jones" is an excellent comedy on female tenacity, annoying comments by narrow-minded people who measure everyone who is not perfect and the exciting search for true love.

Grade:+++

Superman


Superman; Fantasy adventure, UK/ USA, 1978; D: Richard Donner, S: Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Gene Hackman, Ned Beatty, Jackie Cooper, Glenn Ford, Marlon Brando

Jor-El, a scientist on planet Krypton, uses his vote to banish the criminal trio led by General Zod from the planet. However, bigger problems await: as the only person conscious of the imminent destruction of Krypton, Jor-El sends his son Kal-El away into another Galaxy, to Earth. Years later, Kal-El lands to Earth as a child and is adopted by Jonathan and Martha Kent. As a grown up, now named Clark Kent, he discovers his special powers and who he really is. He goes to Metropolis and finds a job as a reporter, starting his philanthropic activity as Superman. He eventually stops Lex Luthor's plans of sinking California into water using rockets and turns back the time to save Lois.

From heroes of the ancient Greece (Atalanta, Bellerophon, Cadmus, Hercules...) up to Middle Ages (the knights in armour), there was always some subconscious need in human culture through history for a super-hero who corrects the injustices and helps everyone, which is why the infamous Salkind producers did right when they chose to adapt the famous cult "Superman" comic-book to the big screen, resulting in the first serious superhero film that paved the way for numerous other followers of the genre. Except for the sublime poster, the magnificent opening credits and the great esoteric first 45 minutes, "Superman" seems rather dated today, often leaving the impression as if it was just one long, lax intro for future films which would be more fluent. The opening act is wonderful: even though planet Krypton's design seems bizarre, the white-fluorescent glow of the robes of its inhabitants still seems hypnotic, whereas the legendary Marlon Brando is solid in his 15-minute role as Superman's wise father Jor-El.

Also, one often overlooked virtue in Richard Donner's directing is his sense for compact storytelling: one just has to take notice of Superman's childhood. It has only 3 sequences, each lasting only 3-4 minutes - the first when Superman as a child lifts the truck of his adoptive parents; the second where he is a teenager and angry because the girls left for a party while he had to clean up after a football match so he ran faster than the train; and third where his father caught him "showing off" with his superpowers and cautioned him caringly ("Does a bird show off when it flies?" - "No...But you must be cautious. You were sent here for a reason.") - but the three of them were so compact it was enough for the viewer to get the overview impression of his whole childhood in just 10 minutes. The scene where the hero listens to his father's projection, equipped with surreal-esoteric colors, is also fantastic, evoking a few subtle symbols about the philanthropic Superman being a modern, different version of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, once Clark Kent enters Metropolis the whole film suddenly seems dated. Lois Lane's character is terribly annoying, Kent's forceful clumsiness is silly, Lex Luthor is a caricature bad guy who is evil just because he hates good, the helicopter accident scene is awfully contrived and unrealistic whereas many moments seems cheesy and naive, especially the disastrously convulsive time traveling ending. Still, alone the sequence where Superman and Lois are flying together above the clouds stimulates nostalgia, which is why the film still has its merits.

Grade:++

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Not Two, But Four


Non c'è due senza quattro; Comedy, Italy/ Brazil, 1984; D: E. B. Clucher, S: Bud Spencer, Terence Hill, April Clough

Stuntman Elliot Vance and Saxophone player Greg Wonder get paid 50,000 $ each to attend a mysterious meeting in New York. There they get informed that a 'double' agency wants to hire them because they look identical to two millionaires from Rio de Janeiro, Bastiano and Antonio, who want them to take their roles for 7 days until they can safely make a profitable contract, since someone wants to kill them. Elliot and Greg at first startle the whole servant army by acting 'untypically' relaxed and casual for Bastiano and Antonio, until they discover who wants to get rid of them: Olympia, Bastiano's girlfriend, because she despises Antonio.

One of the last films by the legendary comic duo Bud Spencer and Terence Hill, "Not Two, But Four", sometimes also translated as "Double Trouble", reunited them with E. B. Clucher, the director who practically established their 'fist fighting' formula with "Trinity", yet it did not manage to break their pale streak of thin films in the 80s. Some of their older comedies were really wonderful, but their new films started to lose that original energy, often resulting in a standard, but watchable fun. In this instance, except for the opulent filming locations in Rio de Janeiro and the well choreographed 5 minute fighting sequence in the bar, which almost reaches Jackie Chan's calibre, there is not much else to see in this story about the two heroes playing 'doubles' of two rich tycoons from Brazil. It's a long empty walk with sparse jokes (in the agency specialized for 'doubles', the manager says that they once sent "doubles of Churchill and Roosevelt at the conference, while the Soviets sent a double of Stalin. Nobody noticed the difference, except that Stalin was always inexplicably giggling"), some of which are almost embarrassing (Greg "talks" with the butt of a dancing girl at the carnival), while the only amusing thing is to again hear that distinctive sound of Spencer and Hill 'fisting' a bad guy. Because, for a double edition of Spencer and Hill, the film offered only half the fun.

Grade:+

The Object of My Affection


The Object of My Affection; Romantic comedy, USA, 1998; D: Nicholas Hytner, S: Jennifer Aniston, Paul Rudd, John Pankow, Alan Alda

Sympathetic Nina takes gay teacher George as a roommate. He is sad because he was left by his boyfriend, whereas Nina's boyfriend Vince thinks he is suspicious and is afraid he might fall for her. That isn't that absurd since Nina and George become best friends. As Nina becomes pregnant by Vince, something unexpected happens: she asks George to raise her child together. At the latest, Nina figures at that moment that she likes him. But George's boyfriend returns to him, so Nina asks Vince to reconcile. Years later, Nina is a mother while George is still her friend.

Tiresome and predictable comedy? Not quite, because "The Object of My Affection", released coincidentally around the same time as the similar comedy series "Will & Grace", has enough charm and rhythm to rise up from the average whereas director Nicholas Hytner neatly reconciles with the standard ambitions of the story and doesn't tend to overstretch them. In this light comedy the biggest triumph was achieved by Jennifer Aniston as the cheerful and sympathetic Nina, though she can say a few cynical lines ("We need to talk." - "We already are."), whereas the story has a good amount of good jokes, like the dance instructor who wears a blue eye patch that matches the blue color of her dress. It's a pity, though, that the story about a girl in love with her gay roommate becomes too serious at moments and lacks versatility as well as style, whereas the strange ending may not be the most ideal, which is why the film doesn't reach the heights of the often hilarious "Will & Grace".

Grade:++

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Code of Silence


Code of Silence; Crime drama, USA, 1985; D: Andrew Davis, S: Chuck Norris, Henry Silva, Bert Remsen, Mike Genovese, Molly Hagan, Dennis Farina

Chicago. Sergeant Eddie Cusack's long, carefully and meticulously planned operation, where his police team would sneak in into an apartment where thugs of the notorious gangster Louis were to sell them cocaine, goes completely wrong when a third party, led by criminal Tony Luna, attacks and kills them all, stealing both the money and cocaine. Seeking revenge, Louis wants to track down Tony, so Eddie has to protect his daughter, teacher Diana Luna, but she gets kidnapped. Complicating matters is the fact that nobody wants to help Eddie after he did not want to back up Detective Cragie, who covered up that he accidentally killed an innocent man during the operation. Still, Eddie manages to kill Louis and his gang as well as save Diana.

A refreshingly realistic departure from the rest of his films, crime drama "Code of Silence" is hailed and considered as one of the best Chuck Norris films, an unassuming and fluent little achievement: most of the praise goes to the competent direction by action director Andrew Davis who knew how to avoid banal cliches in most of Norris' films for a better story with an 80s flair. The crime plot revolving around police officers and gangsters selling drugs is standard, yet it shows much more realism than one would expect: for instance, after one officer (Dennis Farina) gets shot in the leg, we do not see him walking around the next day as if it was just a 'scratch', but he carries the cast on his leg for the rest of the film; similarly, when Eddie meets Diana Luna, the daughter of criminal Tony Luna, she untypically tells him about the burden of having a criminal in her family and how she just wants to live a normal life as a teacher. An occasional scene of inspiration is also welcomed in the film, like the humorous one where two small time criminals enter a bar to rob it, but get overrun and arrested with ease because it turns out it's a police bar! Up until the unconvincing finale, "Code of Silence" avoids Chuck Norris cliches and serves as a good and serious movie, whereas it even offers the action star in a small, but neat dramatic edition.

Grade:++