Sunday, October 30, 2011

Initial D: Extra Stage


Initial D: Extra Stage; animated sports/ romance/ action, Japan, 2001; D: Shishi Yamaguchi, S: Michiko Neya, Yumi Kakazu, Keii Fujiwara

Mako and Sayuki are two girls who enjoy car races and their Nissan Sil80, the so called "Impact Blue" is the fastest car in their suburb. Sayuki often hangs around with her pal Shingo, whereas his friend Nakazato has a secret crush on her. The two girls surprise them when they audaciously accept a car race against a champion from the Emperor gang and win. At a ski resort, Sayuki wants to match Mako with a guy, but she declines since she still has feelings for someone else.

This anime OVA from the "Initial D" series surprised with its feminist take on car races, providing only one racing duel in the middle - and on top of that a one that gives the main heroine who drives inspiration and strength when her male opponent gives her a sexist remark, namely that women can't drive - yet the story is evenly spaced out thanks to a good mood that juggles with gentle romance and drama, which is why it does not look like an empty vehicle. The two main heroines in this story, fan favorites among the "Initial D" series, Mako and Sayuki, are both attractive (truth be told, Sayuki has a mannish face with "Cow and Chicken" like lips, but is otherwise quite feminine) and thus sometimes give the authors a "pretext" for some standard fan service - Mako in the short scene while having a shower, Sayuki slightly less in the spa scene - which is just there to sustain the attention of the audience. "Extra Stage" is a neat, good, but not great achievement. More could have been made out of the potential romantic subplot where Mako wanted to give her virginity to a guy she fancies, but he showed no interest in her, whereas the story lacks intensity and spark, yet flows in a solid manner.

Grade:++

Thursday, October 27, 2011

She-Ra: Princess of Power


She-Ra: Princess of Power; animated fantasy adventure series, USA, 1985-1987; D: Bill Reed, Lou Kachivas, Richard Trueblood, Ed Friedman, Tom Tataranowicz, S: Melendy Britt, George DiCenzo, John Erwin, Linda Gary, Alan Oppenheimer, Lou Scheimer

Former member of the Horde, Adora switched to the side of the rebellion that is trying to rid the planet Etheria from the autocratic rule of Hordak and his troops in order to restore freedom for the people. She is aided by Bow, Glimmer, Madame Razz, Kowl and others. Likewise, she can transform into She-Ra, a heroine with super strength. Their clash sometimes overlaps when Skeletor and He-Man visit their world and also choose their sides.

A feminist follow-up to "He-Man" and an American forerunner to "Sailor Moon" and other editions of the 'magical girl' genre, "She-Ra" is one of those mainstream animated shows that erred in some areas - the dialogues and situations tend to seem unnatural at times, the character development is thin whereas the sole story doesn't have an ending (the final episode, "Swift-Wind's Baby", does not conclude the outcome of the fight between the Horde and the rebellion) probably because the authors intended to make episodes indefinitely, which gives it a feeling of unfinished business - yet it is easily watchable and interesting even today, which means that the authors obviously did something right. Despite a weaker popularity, "She-Ra" is actually a better show than "He-Man" since it has twice as many good episodes and a higher budget, which gave the animation fluency: as in the aforementioned show, the drawings reach almost rotoscopic quality at times, yet feel stiff because some movements are over-recycled.

"She-Ra" is indeed not a classic of animation, yet it is refreshing and sweet: the crossover episodes involving He-Man and/or Skeletor visiting Etheria are almost always twice as fun whereas the sole transformations of Hordak's arm into a cannon or even his whole body into a rocket, a tank etc. are stylistically pleasant, giving authors room for some highly creative enterprises. For instance, isn't the episode "Of Shadows and Skulls" where Hordak transforms his arm into a drilling rig and causes a rift which captures Skeletor an excellent example of mise-en-scene? Or She-Ra's elaborated fight with Hordak who transforms multiple times in "A Loss for Words"? Some episodes, on the other hand, are boringly formulaic, and generally the stories achieve the most when She-Ra is not performing "cartoonishly impossible" things (such as simply whirling to dig out a tunnel underground) but is actually challenged and when the Horde is actually menacing. Unfortunately, unlike Usagi Tsukino, we do not find out much about the heroine except for the fact that she is kind: one of the rare examples of character development is only truly found in two episodes, when Adora locks herself up in the prison so that her beloved Sea-Hawk can "save her" and in the smashing "Sweet-Bees Home", the best and only truly romantic episode of the show where characters' faces were animated entirely alive, which payed out when He-Man made his only grimace in the entire two shows when Frosta tried to seduce him! Story editor J. Michael Straczynski should again be given credit for his effort. "She-Ra" never reaches the grace of the movie it originated from, Filmation's magnum opus "The Secret of the Sword", but even her flaws somehow give it charm.

Grade:++

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Braindead


Braindead; black horror comedy, New Zealand, 1992; D: Peter Jackson, S: Timothy Balme, Diana Peñalver, Elizabeth Moody, Ian Watkin, Stuart Devenie

An official manages to transport a mysterious and cursed monkey from Sumatra to the New Zealand Zoo. Wellington. After her mother prophecies the love of her life, the shy clerk Paquita decides to start a relationship with the clumsy Lionel, who lives with his dominant mother Vera. While spying on them, Vera gets bitten by the Sumatran monkey and thus squashes it. However, she soon becomes a Zombie. Lionel, determined to keep it a secret, fakes her funeral and keeps her at his place. Still, since she attacks others, the house is soon found under siege by hundreds of Zombies. Using his lawnmower, Lionel grinds all the undead and finishes off his giant, mutated Zombie mother by throwing her into the burning house, also discovering that she killed his father after he had an affair. He thus starts a new life with Paquita.

One cannot really complain at the lack of intelligence in a movie that calls itself "Braindead" nor can one pin down that it is exaggerated without limits when it already sets up its own internal logic of 'over-the-top' right from the start, yet this homage to "Evil Dead" and its aesthetics of "impossible" blending of slapstick and hard horror cannot avoid the flaw of empty "shock for shock's sake", since it seems like Peter Jackson back then followed the rule that the best way to make your film stand out when you are an unknown film maker (and on top of that in an "unknown" cinema of New Zealand) is to gain attention by simply being controversial without limit. Unfortunately, while this cult film indeed crosses every limit of controversy (necrophilia, scalping, mutilation, acrotomophilia...), it does far less so with crossing the limits of quality. Jackson copes the best in the first half of the movie, when he establishes a stylish mood (with the creepy opening in Sumatra when the two explorers are running through a narrow canyon or unusual camera angles) and genuinely funny moments, both with sympathetic innocent jokes (like when Paquita's dog jumps over the fence and lands on the clumsy Lionel) and even more grotesque ones (such as when Lionel's mom, after being bitten by the Sumatran monkey, squashes its head with her heel - the scene would have otherwise been disturbing, but since the monkey's head is so obviously a fake puppet with "button-eyes", it actually has a comical effect).

Nonetheless, while the humor was natural in the first half, it turns forced in the second. Jackson crammed so many Zombies and splatter violence there that it numbed not only the viewing experience but also the characters: the best example is the character of the priest, who is hilarious when he says "I kick ass for the Lord!", but as soon as he transforms into a Zombie himself, becomes just a boring extra who doesn't stand out in any way anymore and you don't even register him among the Zombies. Likewise, the Zombie baby segment is disastrous, perverted and stupid in trying to make fun of infanticide: even when you make a movie about bad taste, you must have at least some taste. "Braindead" is indeed at least 30 % garbage, but it has that sheer enthusiastic energy of a young author as well as a hidden message that almost gives more meaning than an other edition of the genre: Lionel, whose life is dictated by his over-dominant mother, has to become independent and stand for his "forbidden love" with Paquita. Symbolically, he has to break free from the past, get over his suppressed family secret, his burden, and move on to live in the present. As such, Paquita is a symbol for the romantic genre while his mother for the horror genre, and he must choose which he wants. The finale with killer intestine and others is a spectacle of the strange, which is why the movie is almost never shown on TV, yet the story in the 2nd part still longs for the humor from the opening, which is only found in small crumbs, such as the performance of uncle Les who acts as if Rodney Dangerfield got lost in a Zombie movie. Too much gore, too little sophistication.

Grade:++

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Viva Zapata!


Viva Zapata!; adventure drama, USA, 1952; D: Elia Kazan, S: Marlon Brando, Anthony Quinn, Joseph Wiseman, Jean Peters, Arnold Moss

After they visit the Mexican president Porfirio Díaz to complain about their land that was taken away from them by the government, the peasants led by Emiliano Zapata realize that the whole political top is part of their problem, not their solution. Zapata and his brother Eufemio start a rebellion which advances into the Mexican Revolution, conjoined by Pancho Villa from the north. After Diaz is ousted, the moderate Francisco Madero takes over the rule, but his general Huerta has him assassinated and thus creates a coup d'etat. Eufemio is killed while Zapata marries Josephine. In an ambush, Zapata is killed, but his white horse survives.

Nominated for five Oscars and winning one for best supporting actor Anthony Quinn, "Viva Zapata!" was boosted by the Academy Awards back in those days, but today it's a moderate viewing experience, sandwiched between two superior Elia Kazan-Marlon Brando collaborations, "A Streetcar Named Desire" and "On the Waterfront". The Mexican Revolution, a conflict with the biggest death toll played out entirely on the Western Hemisphere, is an interesting topic for a film, and even though Kazan manages to insert his strong-electrifying directorial style on numerous occasions, some parts were uninteresting or simply too standard and schematic for his talent, especially in the conventional second part, up until the poetic tragic ending with the white horse. The most banal moment is when a disobedient farmer openly speaks out against the government taking away his land and the angry Zapata, now part of the government himself, circles out his name on a paper, the identical way when dictator Diaz circled out his name when he spoke out about the same problem at the start of the movie, which was aimed at a jabbing the corruption of power and politics, yet luckily the movie is more skillful in other parts. The story is fictionalized, yet never glamorous (it bravely depicts how Josephine was not interested in Zapata when he was poor, but married him as soon as he gained power and wealth) whereas the undoubtedly best ingredient is Marlon Brando's powerful performance as the title hero. With this film, Brando won a BAFTA as best actor and thus started his back-to-back wins for the next three years, which were followed by "Julius Caesar" and "On the Waterfront".

Grade:++

Monday, October 24, 2011

Big Business


Big Business; silent comedy short, USA, 1929; D: James W. Horne, Leo McCarey, S: Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, James Finlayson

California. It's Christmas time and Laurel & Hardy drive with their car, trying to sell Christmas-trees from door to door. After a few failed attempts, Hardy decides to take a more "aggressive" approach with the next customer, a bald man. Neither he is interested in Christmas-trees and shuts his door in front of them. Since their tree gets stuck in the door, Hardy rings the bell several times in order for the man to open the door again and release it. However, the man loses his patience and cuts their Christmas-tree. Laurel & Hardy decide to strike back with the same measure and start destroying his house, while he starts demolishing their car. A police officer stops them so the duo escapes.

Comedians Laurel & Hardy shot over 100 films together, of short and (much weaker) feature length format, whereas the website Internet Movie Database lists "Big Business" as their 2nd highest rated film - right after the good, but overhyped "Music Box" - that short silent comedy has a barely 20 minutes running time, yet still manages to encompass a whole spectre of their comic possibilities. Arguably, it is their best film. The story is simple - while persistently striving to sell a Christmas-tree to a reluctant man, Laurel & Hardy start such an argument with him that it escalates into an excessive spectacle of destruction in which he wrecks their car while they deconstruct his whole house (!) - turning into a surprisingly 'politically incorrect' anarchic comedy for them, some critics even going so far to perceive the absurd destruction and violence against inanimate objects as a foreshadowing of untrammelled violence in cinema later found from Peckinpah to Scorsese. Still, if the violence against Christmas-trees is ignored, "Business" is first and foremost a classic childish comedy, a gentle jab at both "aggressive sales tactics" and human weakness to restrain from escalating conflicts, entirely exploiting the potentials of the concept in such hilarious scene where the bald man (Finlayson) gets tangled and "fights" with the Christmas-trees, in the end not knowing how to destroy Laurel & Hardy's wrecked car in any possible new way, so he just lights and throws a dynamite at its rubble, whereas Laurel & Hardy again prove their chemistry when they destroy his door and his chimney.

Grade:+++

Friday, October 21, 2011

Interview with the Vampire


Interview with the Vampire; horror drama, USA, 1994; D: Neil Jordan, S: Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Kirsten Dunst, Christian Slater, Antonio Banderas, Stephen Rea, Thandie Newton

New York, 20th Century. A reporter is interviewing a certain Louis who claims to be a vampire. He tells him about his life: in 1791, Louis was a plantation owner who was suicidal after the death of his family, but was given two options by vampire Lestat: either to die or to live on as a vampire. Louis chose the latter but had to adapt to avoid the Sun and to drink blood from mice. Lestat once made a vampire out of a little girl, Claudia, which angered her since she could never grow into a woman. They moved to Europe and then the US. There she was killed by Armano, causing a revenge by Lestat. In the present, the reporter runs away in his car, but is bitten by Lestat.

In the light of constant (over)-popularity of vampires with the cinema goers, Neil Jordan's adaptation of the novel with the same title by Anne Rice, "Interview with the Vampire", actually secured itself a longer memorability than some of his better films, since it is an interesting and polished, but slightly pompous and too serious horror drama that does not distinguish itself that much from the your run-of-the-mill vampire movie. The sole concept where the main story is framed by the reporter interviewing a vampire in the exposition and conclusion is stimulative, taking on the form of a "dissident confession" and assuring deeper psychology and tragedy of the main protagonist, avoiding to larger extent the monster portrait for a more 'human' one, almost existentialist one. A few chapters are genuinely clever assembled, with a few sharp details (such as when Louis narrates how he saw the Sun rising for the first time in 200 years after watching movies in cinema) and Tom Cruise is not at all bad as vampire Lestat, yet the supporting character of the little girl, Claudia, is pointless whereas the story is overburdened with the "inflation" of dialogues, resulting in babble. The nihilism was intended in the story, yet in the end it turned pointless itself, which is why the ending was swift, but welcomed.

Grade:++

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Company of Wolves


The Company of Wolves; fantasy, UK, 1984; D: Neil Jordan, S: Sarah Petterson, Angela Lansbury, David Warner, Stephen Rea

Mother and father arrive with a car to their house. One daughter greets them while the other, Rosaleen, is still sleeping and having nightmares: in them, she is running through the forest in order to escape from wolves while there are mice in her toys. The dream continues: Rosaleen is a Little Red Riding Hood in a village and attends the funeral of her sister. Her parents are poor while her grandmother warns her of werewolves and tells her an anecdote about a woman whose husband disappeared and returned as a wolf, so her second husband killed him. Rosaleen goes for a walk with a boy, but they get scared by wolves. She meets a man who seduces her. He kills her grandmother and transforms into a wolf. Even Rosaleen becomes a wolf.

2 million $ was the budget for Neil Jordan's 2nd feature length film, bizarre "The Company of Wolves", which was aimed at being a poetic horror movie that works entirely and exclusively on a symbolic level by using the werewolf legend as an allegory of sexual maturing (though sex is not shown), but due to an tedious and incomplete tone the movie does not manage to satisfy on a higher level. It has a lot of symbols that work and actually have sense, but symbols alone do not constitute a great film. By placing the whole story inside Rosaleen's dream, "Wolves" obtains a free hand in following its own internal logic, queuing surreal situations - i.e. in one scene, the heroine climbs up a tree and discovers a nest in which she finds a mirror and make up for herself; while on her way to visit her grandmother (as a Little Red Riding Hood alias), she does not meet a wolf but a man who tries to seduce her ("I have big eyes so that I can see you better...") - which are all there to give audiences a different perspective of average fairy tales. Grandmother is played by Angela Lansbury, who even calls a priest a "molester", who humorously saws a branch from a tree that falls on her head, as a revenge. Jordan again displays his strange directorial touch, yet the movie is truly not for everyone.

Grade:++

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Mona Lisa


Mona Lisa; crime drama, UK, 1986; D: Neil Jordan, S: Bob Hoskins, Cathy Tyson, Robbie Coltrane, Michael Caine

After spending seven years in prison for him, George returns to his former crime boss Mortwell, now owner of a night club, who gives him a small job out of pity: to drive prostitute Simone from one client to another. George has troubles returning back to his world: his ex-wife doesn't allow him to see his daughter while his friend Thomas is obsessed with novels. George falls in love with Simone and decides to search for her friend, Cathy, who is also a prostitute. When he saves her, it triggers an angry backlash from Cathy's pimp Anderson and Mortwell. They are both shot by Simone, but George is disappointed when he realizes she never loved him, but instead only cared for Cathy.

"Mona Lisa" seems as if director and writer Neil Jordan saw so many movies where a couple ends up happily ever after that he decided to make an entirely different take on it: a large part of the audience was disappointed by the "dead end" of the story, yet when one has the main theme in mind - namely that the main protagonist George is a tragic figure, an outsider who loves and adores prostitute Simone, but cannot understand her nor "fit in" into her world - then the perspective is shifted and that flaw suddenly seems like a virtue. Not since "Vertigo" or "Brief Encounter" was there ever such a bizarre tale of unrequited love. Bob Hoskins plays the leading role entirely natural, to such an extent that we could truly believe that his George is one of those "thugs from the streets", switching from cheap-dirty when it is required to be and then to noble when even that is required (the elaborated sequence where he wonders London's night clubs in search for Simone's friend Cathy in order to save her from the "underground" is reminiscent of "Taxi Driver", but is somehow more emotional because the song "In Too Deep" by Genesis almost makes it seem like Orpheus is descending into an evil world to rescue someone), for which he won a Golden Globe, a BAFTA, the New York Film Critics Circle Award and was nominated for an Oscar. Unfortunately, "Mona Lisa" is indeed rushed and heavy handed at times, especially towards the hectic finale, which is why Hoskins was still better in the more harmonious cult crime "The Long Good Friday". Actually, the story seems like a prelude to Jordan's later superior film about "impossible love", "The Crying Game", yet as a whole it flows naturally and is indeed elegant.

Grade:+++

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Mystery Train


Mystery Train; drama, USA/ Japan, 1989; D: Jim Jarmusch, S: Youki Kudoh, Masatoshi Nagase, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Nicoletta Braschi, Cinqué Lee, Elizabeth Bracco, Steve Buscemi, Tom Noonan

A young Japanese couple, Mitsuko and Jun, visit Memphis since she is obsessed with Elvis Presley. After touring Sun Records, the two tourists decide to stay at a hotel over night. In the morning, they hear a gunshot...An Italian woman, Luisa, is stalked by a strange man on the street, so she decides to spend the night in the same hotel, sharing her room with Dee Dee, who just broke up with Johnny from England. Luisa sees Elvis' ghost in the room...Annoyed by losing his job, Johnny robs a liquor store and shoots its owner. His colleagues, Dee Dee's brother Charlie and Will, thus become his unwilling associates and hide with him in the same hotel. In the morning, Charlie gets wounded when he stopped Johnny from shooting himself.

Jim Jarmusch's fourth film, and his first in a Japanese co-production, "Mystery Train" is another minimalistic cult achievement aligned towards his style and trademarks: an intentional de-dramatization of story (as opposed to numerous mainstream films who always tend to over-dramatize plots), realism, slow rhythm and a foreigner's view of America (ironically, in all three stories, the protagonists are either Japanese, Italian or English citizens). One untypical structural innovation for him, though, are three stories told at the same time, at the same hotel, just in different rooms and with different characters. The first segment is arguably the best: revolving around a young Japanese couple, Mitsuko and Jun, who visit Memphis almost as tourists who visit a cultural heritage of some long gone civilization, as Jarmusch puts it, is elegant, moody and funny (the "Elvis would have weighed 648 pounds on Jupiter" line; the scene where Mitsuko kisses Jun in order to draw a "smile" on his lips with her lipstick; the genius idea of Mitsuko being so obsessed with Elvis that she made a photo album of his picture that resembles the picture of Buddha). However, the second and the third story do not manage to repeat the same level of frequency due to a lack of point or underused potentials. The scene where the ghost of Elvis shows up is especially out-of-place whereas the third story finally gives the clever revelation of who fired a shot (which was heard at the end of the first two stories), yet the sole story goes nowhere and is lost in a dead end. Especially comical is Hawkins as the hotel manager who never moves from his seat during the entire film.

Grade:++

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Fright Night


Fright Night; horror, USA, 1985; D: Tom Holland, S: William Ragsdale, Chris Sarandon, Amanda Bearse, Roddy McDowall

Teenager Charley enjoys watching old vampire horror movies of the "Fright Night" franchise on TV, but suddenly gets the chance to experience his fascination first hand when he realizes that his new neighbor, the seemingly charming Jerry Dandridge, is a vampire who kills prostitutes at his home. Charley's mom nor his friends do not believe him, until Jerry makes a vampire out of Charley's friend Ed and kidnaps his girlfriend Amy. With the help of a washed out star from the "Fright Night", Peter Vincent, Charley enters Jerry's house and manages to eliminate him.

Tom Holland's cult humorous vampire horror "Fright Night" starts off elegantly with a long take wondering away from the moon on the sky up to the window of a house, revealing the creepy off-screen dialogue between a man and a woman to be actually coming from a TV show inside. The first half is amusing and moody, containing that 80s flair, yet the second half loses its wit and turns into a conventional, standard (rural) horror. If you do not find it illogical for a next door vampire to phone the hero to actually announce when he is going to kill him (!) or for the clumsy vampire slayer Vincent to travel all the way to Jerry's house to give him holy water to drink in order to test if he is a vampire, yet at the same time have such a rigorous objection to Charley's suggestion for Jerry to simply touch a cross, then the story will work for you, while for the others such heavy handed plot points deplete the cohesion of the storyline. As a whole, the movie is very solid and must be complimented for not showing the real scary creatures until the last 30 minutes, in the finale in the house, yet still sustaining suspense, great cinematography and good performances, but it should have stayed faithful to that clever and funny tone in the first half.

Grade:+

Disaster Movie


Disaster Movie; parody, USA, 2008; D: Jason Friedberg, Aaron Seltzer, S: Matt Lanter, Vanessa Minnillo, Gary "G Thang" Johnson, Crista Flanagan, Nicole Parker, Kim Kardashian

Will has a dream about the upcoming end of the world. Suddenly, while on a party, an earthquake hits the city whereas meteors start falling from the sky. His friend Lisa is crushed while his other friends Calvin, Juney and a demented Enchanted Princess roam the streets in order to find his girlfriend Amy, trapped in a museum. Everyone is killed, except Will who saves Amy and subsequently the world when he inserts the crystal skull at the altar.

It is too easy to just simply attach the eponymous adjective to the 2008 parody "Disaster Movie", which was pretty much done by almost every critic, yet directors and screenwriters Friedberg and Seltzer really did not improve their "style" in any way since the catastrophic "Date Movie", but delivered just another forced, empty, chaotic, deformed and self-defeating mainstream comedy without humor. Even "Kung Pow" and "Wild Zero" are entirely dazed and insane comedies, but at least they are comedies with humor. "Disaster Movie" is simply embarrassing to sit through and causes more damage to the brain than Bisphenol A or phthalates. Though, at least three jokes were decently funny: the one where Juno observes a guy wearing only underpants in front of her and calls him "Battle-crotch Galactica", the fight between a pregnant Juno and Carrie Bradshaw who is actually a long-faced man and the naked Beowulf sequence. Yet, when one has in mind that everyone can, by pure statistics, accidentally stumble upon 2-3 funny jokes out of 100 attempts, those three good jokes do not compensate for the 96 % of the remaining story, which is "garbage humor". Contrary to the popular belief, I must give a dissident opinion about the small role by Kim Kardashian as Lisa since she actually gave an honest and sweet performance. But since her character and that of Juno were eliminated so early on in the story, it just shows that the authors cannot even pick right characters for their movies.

Grade:-

Monday, October 10, 2011

G.O.R.A.


G.O.R.A. - Bir Uzay Filmi; science-fiction comedy, Turkey, 2004; D: Ömer Faruk Sorak, S: Cem Yilmaz, Özge Özberk, Rasim Oztekin, Ozan Güven, Idil Firat

Carpet salesman Arif is notorious for his counterfeit photos of UFOs. However, one day, as he was trying to sell a carpet to prince Charles, he was abducted by a real spaceship, together with a dozen other Earthlings, and deported to planet G.O.R.A. by the selfish commander Logar. He wants to enslave humans because he still has a grouch against them since an incident in 1789, when his grand-grandfather was harassed by a Turkish peasant after landing on Earth. Logar wants to marry princess Ceku, but she falls in love with Arif and helps him and robot 216 and a certain Bob Marley Faruk escape from prison. Ceku is later on abducted by Logar, though. However, Arif manages to film Logar in incriminating position and thus marries Ceku and returns to Earth.

A Turkish version of "Spaceballs", "G.O.R.A." quickly seized a cult reputation by the sheer fact that any movie outside the US and Britain of the science-fiction genre will instantly stand-out as something unusual - it became one of the highest grossing Turkish movies of the decade, though failed to attract an audience in other parts of the world, since the humor is very "Turkish" and thus confined to that area - and is a silly, wacky and dazed spoof, yet consistent in its set-out tone. Just like in Brooks' aforementioned film, actor and writer Cem Yilmaz (in a double role, both as the good guy Arif and the main villain Logar) achieves the most positive points when it aims at a more elevated kind of humor, such as the creative opening when Arif is shown as such an exaggerated UFO photo fraud that not even Billy Meier would be ashamed off his tactics or when he gives satirical jabs at the American dominance over any other country (i.e. in the "in medias res" opening in the spaceship, every crew member is talking in English, until all of a sudden someone suggests to "switch to Turkish" language, which they all do, gently ridiculing the cliche that every movie alien has to speak in English; at a desert G.O.R.A. market, Arif wants to bribe an alien by giving him some dollar bills, but he declines because they are "worthless". However, when Arif gives him some Turkish money, the alien happily accepts). The movie is indeed terribly overlong at a running time of over 120 minutes, some cheap attempts at jokes are disastrous whereas the supporting character of Bob Marley Faruk is entirely useless, yet the surprisingly solid special effects and Yilmaz's enthusiasm lift it up a notch, especially in the hilarious sequence where planet G.O.R.A. is threatened by a "ball of fire" from space, and his Arif just shouts: "This is just like in that movie, "The Fifth Element"! You know, with Willis!", but nobody seems to have heard about it.

Grade:++

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Up


Up; CGI animated adventure comedy, USA, 2009; D: Pete Docter, Bob Peterson, S: Edward Asner, Jordan Nagai, Bob Peterson, Christopher Plummer

Carl Fredricksen, a young boy, considers Charles Muntz, an explorer who is searching for a ostrich like blue bird in Paradise Falls, in South America, as his idol. He meets a girl, Ellie, who is equally obsessed with exploring. Her dream is to place her house above the Paradise Falls one day. With time, they get married, discover they cannot have kids, but never have enough money to finally visit those waterfalls. When Ellie dies, Carl stays alone living in his house as an old man. However, by attaching thousand balloons, he is able to fly his home to the Paradise Falls, discovering that a little boy, Russell, accidentally boarded his home. Once there, they prevent Muntz and his horde of dogs from enslaving the giant bird, returning home.

Winner of the Oscar, Golden Globe and a BAFTA as best animated film, Pixar's "Up" is a critically acclaimed, but overhyped achievement: whenever it tries to be emotional, it is brilliant, but whenever it reaches for comedy, it is silly and naive. The opening act is fantastic, for the first time trying to actually grasp a dramatic story for the Pixar studio: in a grandiose montage, without any dialogue, it encompasses the whole life of Carl, from his wedding with Ellie, through the time when she gives him a hint that she wants to have a lot of kids (a very subtle and delicate scene of them observing the clouds, which suddenly "transform" into a dozen babies) up to her death, easily transmitting the feeling of deep happiness and then deep sadness to the viewers, cleverly establishing themes of transience and lost dreams - and actually bravely putting an old man as the main hero, untypically for a CGI animated movie. Even the sequence where his house is flying has some surreal merits and details, though it has so more plot holes than cheese. However, once the South American segment starts, "Up" is lost. It does not know what direction it should take, whether it should be a "Looney Tunes" cartoon or not, it looses its subtle touch with silly attempts at humor and ideas that border on "Gummi Bears" (talking dogs (?), a giant ostrich like bird...) and too sugary characters, inevitably wondering off into standard mainstream territory for a big budget animation. It is understandable that director Pete Docter and Bob Peterson wanted to establish Russell as an extension to Carl's nonexistent family, yet the action finale is nothing new, just typical cliche, until the ending when "Up" finally returns to its roots and again finds the right frequency of a more elevated entertainment.

Grade:++

The Pink Panther


The Pink Panther; comedy, USA/ France, 2006; D: Shawn Levy, S: Steve Martin, Jean Reno, Kevin Kline, Beyoncé Knowles, Emily Mortimer, Henry Czerny, Jason Statham, Clive Owen

Paris. In order to solve the murder of football trainer Yves Gluant and the disappearance of his diamond ring, "The Pink Panther", chief inspector Dreyfus hires the clumsy Inspector Clouseau, hoping in advance that he will fail, thus giving Dreyfus the chance to solve the case himself and win the "Medal of Honor". However, together with his associate Ponton and secretary Nicole, the clumsy Clouseau actually manages to find the killer - Yuri - and the solve the whereabouts of the diamond ring.

It would arguably be wrong to just dismiss the 2006 remake of the "The Pink Panther" series as an unworthy and cheap comedy that relies too much on the main protagonist tripping or bumping into something, yet the original was just a more skillful variation of the same shtick, except for maybe part 4, "The Revenge of the Pink Panther", which had moments of high inspiration in choreographing some stunts and movements almost as a meticulous ballet. Despite of his funny interpretation as Clouseau, Sellers never really cared for the role and gladly passed it on, yet when comedian Steve Martin took over, he managed to give a more-or-less good performance, a one which saved the film which otherwise relies too much on heavy handed (instead of elevated) slapstick. This version of "The Pink Panther" has only one truly hilarious, laugh-out-loud moment, the 2 minute long sequence where the dialect coach is repeating the line "I would like to buy a Hamburger" and tries to teach Clouseau to speak it out with an American accent, but he just hopelessly repeats it again and again with a French accent, whereas the remaining part of the story is standard, predictable, sometimes 'politically incorrect' in trying to squeeze "humor" out of hurting someone, yet solid as a whole, among others thanks to Jean Reno, who actually steals almost every scene he is in as Clouseau's partner.

Grade:+

Friday, October 7, 2011

Getting Any?


Minna yatteru ka!; comedy/ parody, Japan, 1995; D: Takeshi Kitano, S: Dankan, Moeko Ezawa, Hakuryu, Sonomanma Higashi, Yojin Hino, Takeshi Kitano

Asao wants to have sex. So he buys a car to attract girls, yet it turns out they are still not interested in him. So he buys a convertible, yet with no progress either. In order to buy a real car, he decides to go work in an weapons manufacturer so that he can rob a bank. However, even when he gets a pistol from a dead yakuza, he still is completely incompetent and cannot rob a bank. Figuring he might as well find girls among flight attendants, he boards a cheap airplane where he kills a yakuza named Joe and takes his identity. Alas, he gets in the middle of two rival yakuza gangs fighting over supremacy. Finally, two scientists recruit him for an experiment and turn him invisible, yet he uses that only for voyeurism. In a failed experiment, he turns into a Fly-man and is squashed.

After four serious films in a row, ex-comedian Takeshi Kitano returned to his roots and directed a pure, insane Marx brothers style slapstick comedy, "Getting Any?", which seems to be aligned towards a feature length "Simpsons" or "Family Guy" episode: it starts out with one premise (one guy wants to attract girls) and then wonders away - again and again - into completely different directions. Kitano seems to have a broad sense humor, encompassing several puns, spoofs and references to numerous films, shows and celebrities, from "Ghostbusters" up to "The Fly"; from Stalin to Kurosawa; from "Lemon Popsicle" to "Zatoichi" (a movie, as a footnote, which he himself directed a decade later!), and even though this 'patchwork' is not for everyone, especially towards the increasingly stupid ending, those who can just simply relax and have a good time will be entertained by the movie, since even dumb jokes somehow manage to ignite a good laugh (a car transporting 20 people (!), among them several on the roof and in the trunk; Asao wants to rob a bank, but he enters one where two bank robbers - much more "serious" looking than him - are already looting the place, so he just quietly exits the same way he entered). Actually, the movie is so crammed with completely absurd scenes and a dazed tone, similarly catching the same "wave length" as the cult grotesque "Wild Zero", that some moments will be laugh-out-loud funny even though they should suppose not be (such as the entirely demented sequence where Asao is the guest of the yakuza and - instead of just simply hiring a striptease girl - the overweight yakuza boss gives him a welcome by sync singing a woman's song and dancing half-naked in a negligee).

Grade:++

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Samurai X: Reflection


Ruroni Kenshin: Seiso hen; animated tragedy romance, Japan, 2001; D: Kazuhiro Furuhashi, S: Mayo Suzukaze, Miki Fujitani, Mina Tominaga, Yuji Ueda

Japan, 19th century. Former assassin Kenshin Himura is now wiser and regrets his immature past when he killed unknown people for money. Thus, he wants to at least somehow compensate his misdeeds towards the world by helping people overseas. He wanders for 15 years, which leaves a toll to his devoted wife Kaoru who waits for him, while their son Kenji resents this kind of absence. Two of Kenshin's former adversaries kidnapped Kaoru in order to lure him into a trap, but he nullified their plans by rejecting to fight. Even after catching leprosy, Kaoru still loves him and sleeps with him. Finally returning home, Kenshin dies on Kaoru's lap.

Can too much humor be considered a flaw for a comedy? Can too much suspense be considered a flaw for a thriller? Following that principle, can we really blame a drama for being too sad or too emotional in its representation of a story? Each viewer must settle that out with himself/herself before watching "Samurai X: Reflection", the ending of the famed saga that turned into a real tragedy, without any humor or break for the viewers from the torn protagonists, which divided the fans into a camp that loves it and into another (which includes the author, Nobuhiro Watsuki!) that considers it too depressing and 'out-of-character'. In this edition, the story takes a huge twist on the hitman/ assassin genre, showing how Kenshin is haunted by all the victims he killed, which makes him unable to lead a normal, happy life, and thus much closer to fragile hitman in "Leon" than invincible 'killing-machines' in "No Country for Old Men" and co. His "X" shaped scar on his cheeck serves both as a symbol for physical and emotional scars, healing only when he does good deeds that slightly reedem him.

Redressing the victim-aggressor balance, showing how sometimes violence can have a traumatic effect even on perpetrators - and even decades after they have done it - "Reflections" is a circled out, fine and sure achievement, though indeed slightly too melodramatic-pathetic at times: one of the few emotional situations that turned out "just right", neither too cold nor too sappy, but simply touchingly sophisticated, is a quiet moment where Kaoru is sitting on a bed and thinking how she envies Kenshin's late wife Tomoe because "at least he thinks about her all the time", which is more than she can be sure for herself. Kaoru is an excellent character, so in love with the anguished protagonist, so devoted to ease his pain, that she even has sex with him while he is infected with leprosy, insisting that she wants to share pain with him no matter what - that is one of the most bizarre, unusual and yes, romantic moments in the history of anime. Nothing compares to that. Despite some confusing flashback segments, despite a too monotone tone of constant sadness, "Reflection" tells an honest story that is tragic from the start until the finish: as some have already pointed out, when someone kills hundreds of people, he cannot expect to live happily ever after. As much as the ending is frowned upon, it is the only realistic one. It is a real ending.

Grade:++

Sunday, October 2, 2011

In Bruges


In Bruges; black crime comedy, UK/ Belgium, 2008; D: Martin McDonagh, S: Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes, Clémence Poésy

Christmas. After an ill-executed assassination of a priest, where a little boy died as a collateral damage, two British assassins, Ray and Ken, get the assignment to hide in Bruges, Belgium, until further notice of their boss, Harry. Ken is intrigued by the architecture while Ray starts dating Chloe, a girl he met on a movie set. When Ken disobeys Harry's instructions to eliminate Ray, Harry arrives personally in Bruges to kill them both. He shoots Ken and Ray, but in the end commits suicide after he figures he accidentally killed a collateral person in the duel.

Another hyped and critically acclaimed movie of the assassin genre, "In Bruges" is a proportionally clever written and executed directorial debut by Martin McDonagh, neatly filmed besides the opulent landmarks of the eponymous Belgian city, yet, as a whole, it is still uneven: it contains too much sentimentality (regarding the subplot where Ray feels guilt after accidentally killing a little boy) but too little real humor, unless someone finds that midgets are somehow particularly funny on their own. While the story flows around the two main protagonists, Ken and Ray (Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell, who even won a Golden Globe as best actor in a musical or comedy), it manages to engage thanks to a few neat touches, yet ultimately lacks that special touch: one of the few rare examples of truly genius, inspirational comic timing is when Ken is about to shoot the oblivious Ray, who is sitting in front of him on a bench, in a park, but just as he is about to pull the trigger, the depressed Ray suddenly puts a gun on his own head, so Ken cannot help himself but to - save his life! Another good example is the horse tranquillizer dialogue. However, "In Bruges" is truly excellent only when boss Harry (fantastic Ralph Fiennes) is on the screen: he is so cynical, witty and just plain clever that practically his every line is a riot - for instance, after Ken called to say that he disobeyed him, Harry angrily slams his phone on the desk, again and again, until his wife enters his room and says: "It's a phone! It's an *inanimate* object!" - and thus steals the show. As much as it tries, "In Bruges" does not strike strike the right balance between crime and comedy, obvious in a few heavy handed scenes, as it was the case with the harmonious and superior forerunner, "Grosse Pointe Blanke", no matter how overlooked it is.

Grade:++

Iron Man


Iron Man; science-fiction action, USA, 2008; D. Jon Favreau, S: Robert Downey, Jr., Jeff Bridges, Gwyneth Paltrow, Terrence Howard, Shaun Toub

Tony Stark, a spoiled and prodigal billionaire and head of a L.A. based weapons company, is forced to change his view on life when he gets captured on Afghan territory by warlord Raza who wants him to make a powerful rocket for his militia. Teaming up with another captive, Dr. Yinsen, Tony is able to escape by building a robust exoskeleton. Following his announcement that he will not be making weapons anymore, his partner Obadiah has a major clash with him, which results in fighting between the two of them in two exoskeletons. Tony wins, falls for his secretary "Pepper" and announces that he is Iron Man.

The live-action adaptation of one of Marvel Comics most famous superheroes, "Iron Man" turned out to be a much more sympathetic film thanks to director Jon Favreau than it would have been in some other director's hands since the CGI overkill, cliches and pompous ideas were avoided and toned down to the minimum, though, obviously, it does not reach some higher artistic-quality levels or expand our mind, which is why the hype of the critics was rather exaggerated. The sequence near the start, where Tony Stark (very good Robert Downey Jr.) escapes from the Afghan cave in his exoskeleton, is truly unusual and refreshing since mixing a superhero milieu with a Third World country was something rarely done before this, numerous jokes are flat yet effective, Jeff Bridges is more than solid as one of the two bad guys in the story, the hidden critique of the weapons industry and its detachment from victims of their products is surprisingly subtle, almost poignant, though it wouldn't have been bad for the movie to insert more examples of genius moments, such as the surprising, completely untypical moment when one of the two bad guys eliminates the other. Elegant and accessible, "Iron Man" is a fun, though standard edition of the super-hero genre.

Grade:++