Friday, December 28, 2012

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1; fantasy, UK/ USA, 2010; D: David Yates, S: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Warwick Davis, Ralph Fiennes, Tom Felton, Helena Bonham Carter, Robbie Coltrane, Brendan Gleeson, Bill Nighy, David Thewlis, Toby Jones, John Hurt

Lord Voldemort wants to kill Harry Potter, but since their two magic wands are "twins", he could theoretically only hurt him. Since Harry is not safe anymore, he and his friends Ron and Hermine are hidden in an isolated cottage on the countryside. The three then disguise, enter the Ministry of Magic, obtain the Hocrux and flee into a forest. They find out that Voldemort wants to find the three Deathly Hallows: a wand, a stone and cloak of invisibility. They are abducted and taken to Malfoy's premises, but manage to flee.

In the long list of the overrated, overhyped and overblown Harry Potter film series, the 7th film and the penultimate contribution to the franchise, "Deathly Hallows - Part 1" is surprisingly well done, a concise and straight-forward fantasy quest flick, better than the previous movies that already started to get irritating with their cliche repertoire (cheap "boo" scares; the constant grey-dark cinematography after which one yearns to watch a film with normal colors; unnecessary dark moments used just to keep the viewers' attention...). Some of those cliches can be found even in this film, but luckily in far lesser amount, since director Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves did a good job in the 'raw' storyline: in this edition, the story took a dramatic 'Trotsky turn' since Harry is constantly fleeing and hiding on the countryside, fearing he might be assassinated by Voldemort any moment, which circled out some more mature moments - mature as the tension between the Harry-Ron-Hermine love triangle, and not those wannabe "mature" scenes that are just darkly lit dramatic rubbish. The sneak infiltration into the Ministry of Magic, where the three protagonists are disguised, is wonderfully done, the chase through the forest is effective-suspenseful, yet "Hollows - Part 1" still suffer from some obvious flaws, from the overlong running time up to the too complicated story that is all over the place with too many subplots. Overall, a solid sequel that allowed the story to grow together with their teenage protagonists.

Grade;++

Thursday, December 27, 2012

TMNT

TMNT; CGI animated fantasy action, USA, 2007; D: Kevin Munroe, S: James Arnold Taylor, Nolan North, Mikey Kelley, Mitchell Whitfeld, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Chris Evans, Patrick Stewart, Mako, Zhang Ziyi

New York. After Shredder's death, the four mutant ninja turtles seem to have fallen into a crisis: Splinter sent Leonardo to a train in a jungle in order to become a better leader; Donatello provides user assistance for computers over the phone; Michelangelo dresses up as a turtle to entertain kids while Raphael dresses up in a costume to fight crime at night as a vigilante. They are all reunited, however, when they find out that a rich tycoon, Winters, sent mercenaries to capture 13 monsters that escaped three thousand years ago from an interdimensional portal in order to send them back, but his four generals, made out of stone, refuse and want to bring even more monsters in order to rule the Earth. The turtles stop the generals and send the monsters back to their dimension.

14 years after the last Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle live action film, writer and director Kevin Munroe bravely decided to revive the franchise by giving it a new cloth of a CGI animated film, but except for the four heroes jumping higher than in the live action, they are not much of an improvement following the long absence. Even though some critics harshly called "TMNT" just an advertisement for the new series of turtle toys and games, the movie still actually has some things going for it. Leaving the bizarre intro aside, the opening act is surprisingly good, showing how the four protagonists lost their reason d'etre after Shredder's death and are now scattered throughout the city, but April O'Neill and Casey, though underused, practically steal the show with their charming humor here and there (i.e., when April talks to the rich Winters in his office, Casey can be seen accidentally tipping the tycoon's pillar in the background, but quickly returns it back to its original state before the fall).

Munroe decided to show turtles in a darker edition, which is a double-edged sword: on one hand, the subplot where Raphael drifted away and alieneted himself from the team is strong, but on the other, he unfortunately came across as a jerk. Still, in the first act, the four title protagonists still have an occasional outburst of humor here and there (the exchange between Michelangelo and Donatello: "Did anyone get the license plate of that thing that hit us last night? It looked like your mom, dude!" - "Yeah, that would make her your mom too, doofus."). Unfortunately, the prelude works the best, because once the main tangle hits in - revolving around interdimensional portal and 13 monsters - it turns out to be nonsense, whereas the finale sinks into generic over-the-top action. Overall, "TMNT" is better than "Turtles" II and III, but still weaker than the best "Turtles" film, Barron's simple and charming "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles"

Grade;+

Journey to the Center of the Earth

Journey to the Center to the Earth; fantasy, USA, 2008; D: Eric Brevig, S: Brendan Fraser, Josh Hutcherson, Anita Briem

Volcanologist Trevor and his 13-year old nephew Sean decide to take an expedition to find an entrance to the center of the Earth, based on the notes of Trevor's late brother who considered Jules Verne's novel "A Journey to the Center of the Earth" a work of non-fiction. Together with their guide, Hannah, they enter an Icelandic cave, but rocks fall and leave them trapped. Travelling ever deeper inside, they reach a layer very close to the center of the Earth, filled with underground animals and plants. Using a geyser, they manage to get catapulted back to the surface, exiting from Mount Vesuvius.

Despite its exciting adventure flair, Jules Verne's novel "A Journey to the Center of the Earth" is from today's scientific perspective poorly dated, since its entire concept has been disproved. Several movie adaptations of the novel turned into trash, while this modern 2008 adaptation is of no better result, a sufficient fantasy flick that leans more towards the 'guilty pleasure' territory. The story about three explorers finding a way to the underground layer bellow the Earth's surface is conventionally structured, filled with over-the-top video game effects and moves, not that fun and with at least a dozen plot holes, from the sheer fact that the pressure and temperatures so deep bellow the surface should be unbearable up to floating rocks (!) that still somehow drop smaller rocks into a pit. Dinosaur fans will probably at least enjoy the presence of a T. Rex towards the end of the movie and Anita Briem, who is the only true source of charm and appeal as the refreshingly tough guide Hannah. Others will just hope that as the next thing they won't make a movie about Flat Earth.

Grade;+

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Trading Places

Trading Places; comedy, USA, 1983; D: John Landis, S: Eddie Murphy, Dan Aykroyd, Jamie Lee Curtis, Denholm Elliott, Don Ameche, Ralph Bellamy, Paul Gleason, James Belushi

New York. Two millionaires, Randolph and Mortimer Duke, make a bet as to what is crucial in life and destiny of an individual: wealth-environment or just character? In that respect, they make their wealthy and cultured employee Louis poor and a certain homeless, vulgar Billy rich. After a certain time, their characters change entirely: Billy starts to become more sophisticated while Louis becomes aggressive and criminal, getting only saved thanks to a kind prostitute, Ophelia. However, when Billy finds out about the bet, he teams up with Louis and they conjure up a scheme in the trading commodities market involving orange juice, managing to make the Dukes poor.

Once an excellent comedy, "Trading Places" is today a less impressive achievement since time corroded a part of its freshness. The jokes exhaust themselves in the second half when the movie starts to become an empty ode to revenge, the dramatic elements were not that subtly integrated into the storyline whereas some jokes are indeed too crude and vulgar, like the infamous gorilla costume sequence. However, even though its execution is 'rough', the sole concept, loosely based on Mark Twain's "The Prince and the Pauper", is fascinatingly revealing and wise, showing a philosophical analysis of society and the nurture vs. nature argument, i.e. are "savage" people "savage" just because they have adapted themselves to the "savage" environment, and would theoretically be "classy" if they were living in a wealthy environment, or are they like that biologically. The satirical jabs aimed at capitalism are surprisingly brave, since the story shows the middle and lower class teaming up against the upper class, the bourgeois Dukes, played by brilliant Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy who are cast perfectly, yet every other role was also wonderfully cast, from Jamie Lee Curtis in the role of a kind prostitute, for which she won a BAFTA, up to the top-notch Eddie Murphy, who was even nominated for a Golden Globe. The finale in the commodities trading market is two notches more intelligent than your average 'revenge flick', and was so stimulating that several websites dedicated in-depth analysis of it whereas it was even the inspiration for a new regulation of the financial market 17 years later.

Grade;++

Monday, December 24, 2012

Speedy


Speedy; silent comedy, USA, 1928; D: Ted Wilde, S: Harold Lloyd, Ann Christy, Bert Woodruff, Brooks Benedict, Babe Ruth

New York. Speedy is a rather careless lad who loses a job as soon as he finds one because he is more preoccupied with baseball than his chores. His girlfriend is Jane, whose dad, Mr. Dillon, is the last driver of a horse streetcar in the modern city. When a rich businessman wants to sabotage Mr. Dillon's streetcar in order to buy it off for the railroad, Speedy for the first time takes responsibility and saves him by finding the stolen streetcar, thereby forcing the businessman to pay Mr. Dillon his full price.

Even though it was nominated for an Oscar in the now defunct category of best director in a comedy (Ted Wilde), "Speedy" is not among Harold Lloyd's top achievements, but his style of comedy still manages to show what an underrated comedian he was, here in the rather untypical edition where he plays a rather unlikeable character at first, a one who does not care if he loses his job or not, until he passes through a test of maturity when he saves his girlfriend's dad's business from a greedy corporation. The jokes do not ignite all of the time, or with the same intensity, especially in the rather shaky Coney Island sequence, or the forced sequence where the hero cannot find a customer as a taxi driver, yet some of the best ones are truly charming (Harold subtly displaying the result of a baseball game - 0:1 - to his friends by placing one doughnut as a "zero" and another sideways, so that it looks like "one") and sometimes even downright hilarious (Harold rubbing soap on his dog's snout and then scaring away three thugs by saying it is a mad dog). A small jewel here is the brilliant Ann Christy, who gave an irresistibly sweet performance as wonderfully cheerful Jane before she unfortunately abandoned her career as an actress four years later. Among the curiosities is one of the first "cameo" appearances in cinema because baseball legend Babe Ruth has a small role as himself in a delicious little sequence where he is worried since Speedy is more preoccupied with talking to him than at driving the taxi cab while cars are dodging him on the streets ("Mr. Ruth, even when you miss, you miss it very close." - "I don't *miss* them by that close as you!").

Grade;++

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Safety Last!

Safety Last!; silent comedy, USA, 1923; D: Fred C. Newmeyer, Sam Taylor, S: Harold Lloyd, Mildred Davis, Bill Strother

Harold leaves his girlfriend and small town for a while to find a good job in a big city. However, the urban life is tougher than expected so he sends exaggerated letters to her about his business success, while hoping to find a real job eventually. He finds a position of a clerk in a department store and pretends he is the general manager when his girlfriend visits him. In order to win a 1.000 $ promised for a publicity stunt that will attract a large crowd to the store, Harold persuades his friend to climb a 12-story building. But when the friend is chased by a police officer, Harold climbs it up all by himself.

With the flow of time, it seems the mainstream historians decided to remember only one film for each prolific comedian from the early cinema, whether it is Keaton ("The General") or the Marx brothers ("Duck Soup"), and of similar fate was the often neglected, but brilliant Harold Lloyd, whose "Safety Last" is his only comedy frequently mentioned in film lexicons. "Safety Last" is even by today's standards an excellent comedy, wonderfully simple and sincere as well as full of good-natured spirit often found in those 'good old school' storylines, that seizes attention thanks to its great, fresh jokes (Harold and his friend "disguising" themselves as two hanging coats, hiding their legs under them so that the landlord will not find them in the apartment; Harold combing his hair in the reflection of a man's bald head) which would seem even fresher if modern comedies would not copy them, and often meticulously choreographed stunts. Some situations and ideas may seem forced at times, yet not to such a degree that it would take a toll on the whole film. The final 20 minute sequence where Lloyd is climbing up a 12-story building gained the most attention, not only in the film but with the critics, too, with the scene of him hanging from a half-tipped clock turning into one of the icons of cinema that was often cited in other films (Doc Brown's stunt finale in "Back to the Future", for instance), even though the scene where a pigeon is "disrupting" him while eating seeds on his shoulders is even funnier, all contributing to a simple classic.

Grade;+++

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Dennou Coil

Dennou Coil; animated science-fiction series, Japan, 2007; D: Mitsuo Iso, S: Fumiko Orikasa, Houko Kuwashima, Aiko Hini, Akiko Yajima

In the future, people wear special cyber glasses that enable them to receive Internet access where ever they go and interact with virtual things that are scattered throughout the city. Yuko moves to the city of Daikoku, attends an elementary school and joins her grandmother's cyber investigation agency. She meets a friend, Fumie, but also a girl who despises her, Isako Amisawa. However, among normal virtual infrastructure, there is still some "obsolete space" left where "Illegals", a form of modern Internet viruses, roam free. It is revealed that Isako was chasing after "Illegals" because she thought she could bring her brother back, who lost his soul in the "obsolete space", but she was just tricked because her brother died years ago in a traffic accident and existed only as a hologram to heal her while she was in shock. The trick was orchestrated by Nekome who wants to sabotage Megamass' cyber glasses in revenge because the company forgot about his father's inventions. Yuko's soul goes to the "obsolete space" and brings back Isako, who finally accepts that her brother passed away.

"Dennou Coil" is a quiet warning on the people's internet addiction that might lead to a self-emerged, self-absorbed state in a virtual world, while forgetting how it is to live in their world. The futuristic setting is interesting, showing how people using special cyber glasses can see that virtual "layer" added around the real world (virtual pets, popped up screens...), which is so realistic that sometimes they can not even distinguish a virtual, fake wall from a real one, yet this anime series is exhaustingly slow, dry and tiresome, which aggravates its viewing. The characters go on and on about "illegals", "kirabugs", "metabugs", "metatags", "obsolete space", "Null" and others for so long until this whole excessive glossary -  necessary to follow the storyline (and sometimes not, because the status of illegals is never clearly explained in the end) - starts to become an overkill. It reminded me of biographer Darko Hudelist who commented on the late president Tuđman's writing: "He wrote difficult, hermetic, often not clear enough, and yet without a real point because his overlong and ponderous sentences in most cases did not lead to some especially deep thoughts".

Even though it had a silly premise, episode 12 is one of the few ones that actually connected to the story at any level, by showing a humorous illegal virus settling on one boy's chin, in the form of an virtual beard ("His beard is an illegal"), but the majority of the storyline wonders off into "filler" territory, while episode 13 is shamelessly sentimental and sends a questionable message that kids should spend more time saving a virtual animal than a real one. Characters come and go (one of the better ones was Akira in episode 14, who made secret video recording as proof of his "sister's cruel treatment" at home) and it takes all until episode 16 until a plot finally starts to kick in, which is problematic for a show with only 26 episodes. Even though the finale is easily the best part of "Dennou", even its last seven episodes are not equally as engaging. For instance, episodes 18 and 19 are wonderfully suspenseful when the eerie illegals, shaped as black humanoids, start entering a shop during night, when the three scared girls are inside. But later episodes are again less interesting, dragging on with techno babble. Neither is it clear why the kids would not simply turn off their cyber glasses when they feel threatened by virtual beings - every person would simply turn off the TV if he or she would feel something on is too much to handle, so why not here? Unfortunately, the reason is never given, nor even tried to be given. However, the plot twist in the final two episodes is admirably touching and satisfying while Yuko's monologue about what's real or not in episode 24 is pleasantly philosophical, concluding that "everything that causes pain is real."

Grade;+

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Sugarland Express

The Sugarland Express; road movie, USA, 1974; D: Steven Spielberg, S: Goldie Hawn, William Atherton, Michael Sacks, Ben Johnson

Texas. The unemployed cosmetician Lou Jean travels to a secluded prison to visit her husband Clovis Michael and persuade him to break out four months before his release, in order to get back their baby which was given to foster parents. When a police officer, Maxwell, just wants to warn the people who were driving too slow on a highway, Lou Jean and Clovis panic and kidnap him. Traveling in his police car, they attract the attention of the media and other police officers. In the end, just when Clovis wanted to take his baby back, he and Lou Jean were shot in an ambush.

From today's perspective, it is safe to say that "Sugarland Express" is not among Spielberg's best achievements, yet he still showed to have more spark and style than many would admit. Based on a true story about an insane decision of a young couple kidnapping a police officer to drive to the city where their baby is living with foster parents, "Express" is obviously a road movie, except that between the sole tangle where the clumsy couple kidnaps the police officer and the finale there is not much of a stratification of events or interesting moments, which makes it seem slightly grey at times. Spielberg still managed to craft a few clever scenes (the image of Wile E. Coyote falling from a cliff in a cartoon reflected on the glass while Clovis has a worried, troublesome expression on his face, which is a subtle foreshadowing) whereas Goldie Hawn and William Atherton are well cast as the well meaning, but sloppy couple, while some even saw a subversive message in the story aimed at showing how the law separates a family and thus makes them turn into outlaws just to get back together. It won the best screenplay award at the Cannes film festival.

Grade;++

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Metropolis

Metropolis; animated science-fiction drama, Japan, 2001; D: Rintaro, S: Kei Kobayashi, Yuka Imoto, Kohki Okada, Kosei Tomita

In the huge city of Metropolis, the rich Duke Red presents his newly built tower with whom he secretly plans to rule the world. He plans to leave the throne to Tima, an android that is an exact replica of his daughter, built in Laughton's laboratory. But Rock, Duke's adopted son, destroys the laboratory because of jealousy. Tima is found by Kenichi, the nephew of detective Shinsaku from Japan. Kenichi falls in love with Kima. But she is regained by Duke who fires Rock. Once on the throne, Tima has a short circuit and destroys the tower and herself.

There are movies that are easily dismissed for their misplaced or misguided over-ambitiousness, but how can you do that with the anime movie "Metropolis", which is patchwork? The legendary Osamu Tezuka wrote a manga in '49 based only on his fascination with the robot from Lang's "Metropolis", while the anime movie adaptation was directed by Rintaro 53 years later, wherein he decided to take Tezuka's original naive-simplified art design of the characters and combine them with the modern, detailed art design of the 21st century: the result was a "Frankenstein" like blend that is even more uneven than some of Leiji Matsumoto's achievements, that seems as if cartoon characters from the 50s got lost in a modern animated movie (the detective has eyes drawn just like two black dots whereas Duke Red has a nose as huge as half of head), aggravated further by sometimes unfitting music. Still, if the viewers can get use to it, the sole story is intriguing, filled with allegories on racism (robots vs. humans) and cold war, but also the search for family and a place you belong to, embodied in the graceful android heroine Tima. The storyline is not entirely sure all the time, yet it shines the most in inspired details and situations, like when it is revealed that robots are not allowed to have names because it is considered an insult to humans or the sequence where Rock wants to harm Tima with a laser, but does not succeed because the detective turns off the electricity. Overall, an exciting futuristic adventure with a few aesthetic images.

Grade;++

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Flesh + Blood

Flesh + Blood; black adventure grotesque; USA/ Netherlands/ Spain, 1985; D: Paul Verhoeven, S: Rutger Hauer, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tom Burlinson, Jack Thompson, Fernardo Hilbeck, Susan Tyrell, Bruno Kirby, Nancy Cartwright

Western Europe, 1501. In order to re-conquer his city-fortress, the wealthy Arnolfini promises his mercenaries that they will get to plunder for 24 hours if they win it back. The mercenaries, led by the shady Martin, prevail, but they pillaging and raping is so shocking that Arnolfini has them thrown out. In order to take revenge, Martin and his gang kidnap Arnolfini's carriage with gold, as well as his son's, Steven, bride, Agnes, who they rape and then hide in a desolated fortress. Steven tries to free Agnes, but is only captured himself in the fortress. However, Arnolfini's soldiers manage to free Agnes and Steven, setting the fortress on fire.

Paul Verhoeven's first movie in a joint American-Dutch production did not have as much of an impact as his 2nd one, the cult film "RoboCop". It is not really surprising because "Flesh and Blood" is a dark sword and knights anti-epic, dirty, vile, full of gore and disgust, showing sexuality only in a negative way, in which gang rape and torture of a protagonist by shooting an arrow into his arm are among the "normal" events that unfold on the big screen, yet it is questionable how the viewers can decipher quality from all of that. Maybe one can regard it as some sort of a faithful depiction of the Middle Ages, that portraits a society in a period of pre-spirituality and pre-humanity, where people acted selfishly and you could not find a single noble person, which makes the main protagonists led by Martin very unlikable, and his relationship with his slave-girl Agnes awkward and the movie's running time overlong. Only the last 30 minutes crystallized a direction of the storyline, showing a refreshingly suspenseful and clever cat and mouse play between Martin and his gang hiding inside the fortified castle while Arnolfini's soldiers are plotting ways to "crack" them (in one brilliant sequence, an "armored" vehicle made out of solid wood is used to stretch out a bridge over the castle's walls in order to reach inside, while in another a soldier who survived the plague uses a catapult to throw chunks of meat of a dead dog infested with the plague randomly all over the castle, hoping to cause panic among the inhabitants). But, overall, in order to get to those last good 30 minutes, one has to endure all those layers of a mess of a story leading to it.

Grade;+

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Rabbits Without Ears

Keinohrhasen; comedy, Germany, 2007; D: Til Schweiger, S: Til Schweiger, Nora Tschirner, Matthias Schweighöfer, Alwara Höfels

Ludo is a yellow press reporter who, after disrupting Wladimir Klitschko's marriage proposal in search for a scoop, is sentenced to 300 hours of community service at a day care. There he meets Anna, the head manager, who is still angry at him because the teased her when they were kids. However, despite her uptight attitude, they land in bed one night in a moment of carelessness. Anna falls in love with him, but is disgusted when she finds out he forgot their date and instead had sex with another woman. Realizing his mistake, Ludo appologizes and they end up as a couple.

Despite its huge and unexpected box office success - it attracted 6,3 million moviegoers in German cinemas, ranking it among the top 10 most popular German films till 2007 - "Rabbits Without Ears" is a stale comedy that relies too much on cheap, rough and blatant jokes and too little on those more sophisticated ones and a palely ignored love story that could have been much more engaging on its own. The cameos, which the yellow press hero stalks and interviews, are a quiet delight - the bald actor Jürgen Vogel is hilarious in the opening scene where he plays himself after a phase of "enlightenment", with fake long blond hair and butt implants (!), whereas Wladimir Klitschko appears as himself while proposing to Yvonne Catterfeld (!) - but those two-three guest appearances are too little to compensate for the rest of the story which appeals to the wide audience in often too low ways (children at a day care mimicking the teacher and all collectively showing their middle fingers; hair removal...) and is overstretched to carry the plot. The sole title, derived from the hero's poorly made rabbit puppet without ears, is rubbish. However, Til Schweiger and Nora Tschirner have chemistry as the two (uneven) protagonists, and their interaction manages to ignite a few more precious, elevated examples of storytelling that hit the right note far stronger than all those heavy handed jokes.

Grade;+

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Twilight Saga: New Moon

The Twilight Saga: New Moon; horror romance, USA, 2009; D: Chris Weitz, S: Kristen Stewart, Taylor Lautner, Robert Pattinson, Ashley Greene, Nikki Reed, Billy Burke, Rachel Lefevre, Michael Sheen, Graham Greene

Thinking that their relationship will lead nowhere because he is a vampire, Edward departs from the city with his family, leaving the 18-year old Bella alone and depressed. Out of caprice, she starts seeking cheap thrills and hanging out with Jacob Black - but he turns out to be a werewolf. After a lot of misadventures, Edward and Bella reunite since he only left her to protect her. Bella agrees to become a vampire herself, but that will inevitably breach the peace pact between werewolves and vampires, since the latter promised not to bite any humans. Edward nontheless proposes her.

From today's stance, it is hard to figure out why the "Twilight" movie saga caused such a hype nor why did millions of teenagers fall for such a transparent story. While the first movie had at least some sense and charm, resulting from the romance of two outsiders, part II, "New Moon", is so thin that it could only make the viewers feel like in a "Twilight Zone". One wonders how so little content, so little story can be stretched out into a running time of 130 minutes when it could have served as a fine short movie: "New Moon" is a soap opera, a movie that is so empty that it has no meaningful dialogues, no events, no humor, no tangle - and even no suntan for the two protagonists, either. The most interesting part of the movie is that Edward departs, leaves Bella and is absent for almost an hour from the storyline, which causes a rather fine mood that explores Bella's depression from loneliness, as well as her reckless, almost suicidal thrill events through which she almost neurotically tries to cause Edward's intervention, his return so that he could save her. The always good Graham Greene almost steals the show here and there in his small role of Harry. But that is it, and it is too little to compensate for the uneventful rest of the movie, which quickly returns back into the standard ludicrous mode of a crazy rivalry between vampires and werewolves. Still, even though it has only one truly great scene, it deserves to be mentioned: while Bella sits in her living room, the camera circles around her three times, each time passing the window in front of her that each time shows different seasons outside, from leaves falling in October up to snow covering the exterior in December.

Grade;+

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Blue 9

Plavi 9; sports drama, Croatia, 1950; D: Krešimir Golik, S: Irena Kolesar, Jugoslav Nalis, Antun Nalis, Ljubomir Didić

"Dinamo" is a successful Croatian football club, but the fame of one of the popular players, under dress "Blue 9", Tonči Fabris, rose to his head. In order to get rid of the problematic and spoiled Fabris, the trainer finds a new one, a modest and unknown young player, Zdravko. Fabris finds out about this and tries to sabotage Zdravko's acceptance into the club. Both fall in love with Nena, a student at a shipyard and an excellent swimmer. Under Fabris' influence, she gets alienated from her friends and Zdravko, but when she finds out about Zdravko's sacrifice, she returns to him. In a football match, "Dinamo" wins three to one.

Sports comedy "Blue 9" starts almost as a promotional film for the Croatian football club "Dinamo", but then swings away to another, vague subplot revolving around potential swimmer Nena, which is far fetched and barely relevant to the title and the opening, placing "Dinamo" as a frame story, at best. Despite a fine black and white cinematography and some interesting settings - the moral message is suitable for the socialist Yugoslavia, since the spoiled football player Fabris who represents all the negative traits (selfish abandoning of the team spirit for decadence and his personal gains) is juxtaposed to the new, modest player Zdravko who represents all the positive sides (collective cooperation with the football team and willingness to sacrifice some of his personal goals for the greater good), while Nena is there to decide who is a better role model - yet the storyline is stale and lax, failing to ignite a flame that will catapult it into something more than a standard, though correct entertainment for the masses, making it one of the lesser works of director Krešo Golik, who later made far better and rounded up films ("I Have Two Mothers and Two Fathers"; "The Girl and the Oak", "He Who Sings Means No Harm").

Grade;+

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Withnail & I

Withnail & I; black tragicomedy; UK, 1987; D: Bruce Robinson, S: Richard E. Grant, Paul McGann, Richard Griffiths, Ralph Brown

London, autumn of '69. Two unemployed actors, the alcoholic Withnail and his unidentified friend, decide to take a "vacation" from their depressive lives so they take a trip to the countryside, to a secluded cottage of one of their's wealthy uncle, Monty. Once there, Withnail and his friend figure that the country side is not much of a holiday either since the cottage needs firewood and they food. They contact a poacher and treat themselves at Monty's expense when he visits them one day. Monty mistakenly thinks Withnail's friend is gay, but he talks him out of it. Back in London, Withnail's friend finally gets a job, the leading role in a play.

Bruce Robinson's feature length film debut, "Withnail & I" is a cult independent black (tragic) comedy that enjoys a high reputation - Roger Ebert listed it among his Great Movies, Total Film and The Independent ranked it as one of the greatest British comedies - yet despite a lot of good stuff in it, the movie as a whole is not particularly fun nor engaging, while alcoholic Withnail and his friend are not half as comical as Moore's alcoholic Arthur. What Robinson did right was to take the typical genre of a social drama - two unemployed people - but stubbornly refuse to display it as such, instead presenting it as a comedy that gains most through its comical dialogues ("I think the carrot is infinitely more fascinating than the geranium. The carrot has mystery. Flowers are essentially tarts, prostitutes for the bees"; the sequence where they first meet the farmer: "We've gone on holiday by mistake! We are in this cottage here, are you the farmer?" - "Stop saying that, Withnail! Of course he is the damn farmer!"; the unidentified friend eating coffee from a bowl of soup), but the major problem of the uneven storyline was still not appeased: the sole adventures of the two protagonists on a farm are simply not as good or charming or as fresh as they could have been. The grey London, which serves as the opening and closing frame of the story, is sadly not much different than the central part of the story set in the countryside, which hinted at far greater (comic-harmonius) potentials. However, due to the melancholic ending, which signalled the end of an era (the 60s) and highlighted the two protagonists' friendship, some retroactively remembered the whole movie fonder than it is, while Richard E. Grant is great as the grouchy Withnail.

Grade;++

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Help!

Help!; comedy, UK, 1965; D: Richard Lester, S: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, George Harrison, Leo McKern, Eleanor Bron

An Oriental cult wants to sacrifice a woman to goddess Kaili, but the high priest notices that she is not wearing the sacrificial ring. The sacrifice is thus put on hold as the cult travels to London because the ring was sent to Ring Starr. The cult uses several tricks to steal the ring, but to no avail. The four Beatles hide from the cult in a ski resort, Scotland Yard and then to Bahamas. One of the cult members, woman Ahme, secretly aids Ringo. Just as the cult captures Ringo and wants to sacrifice him instead, the ring falls off while the police arrest the thugs.

The second out of only four feature length films starring the legendary Beatles (documentaries excluding), after their 1st film "A Hard Day's Night" showed that the four guys are as fun on the field of big screens as they are on the field of music, "Help!" is one of their lesser achievements, a semi-comical James Bond spoof with a mess of a story that is all over the place, filled with, what can be safely said, irreverent humor. Director Richard Lester sends the Beatles into their own 'lord of the rings' adventure where an oriental cult wants to steal Ringo's ring, which leads to numerous jokes that border on making this practically a live action cartoon (for instance, in one attempt in a public toilet, Ringo wants to dry his hands, but the hand dryer turns out to be a vacuum cleaner that sucks his whole sleeve, but fails to steal the ring from his finger), great songs and exotic locations, from a ski resort up to Bahamas, yet the chaotic storyline, that did not clearly circle out the 'good vs. evil' concept, does tend to get exhausting at times, which is visible even on the four protagonists who start to lose interest in the last third of the movie. However, since it is almost impossible to make a bad film featuring at least one of the Beatles (whether it is George Harrison's auto-ironical cameo in "The Rutles" or John Lennon's "posthumous" appearance in "Forrest Gump"), then even "Help!" is still a surreal fun if the viewers can watch it with an open mind, and some jokes are quietly hilarious (the Beatles exiting a plane and, spoofing a paparazzo, start taking photos of themselves), just not as grand as their surreal masterwork "Yellow Submarine".

Grade;++

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Artist

 
The Artist; silent drama, France, 2011; D: Michel Hazanvicius, S: Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell, Missi Pyle, Penelope Ann Miller, Malcolm MacDowell

George Valentine is a famous silent movie star. One evening, a fangirl, Peppy Miller, emerges from the masses and "humorously" crashes into him, seizing the attention of the newspapers. Upon George's intervention, she gets a small role of an extra in his next film. She quickly becomes a star, while producer Zimmer informs George that a revolution, sound movies, is approaching. George disregards it and invests all his money into directing a silent movie, which flops the same night that Peppy's new sound picture becomes a hit. As years pass, the stock market crash aggravates George's state, who bankrupts and tries to commit suicide. However, Peppy stops him and gives him a second chance as a dancer in a sound movie.

Even though several modern directors made "retro" silent films - Brooks with "Silent Movie", Kaurismaki with "Juha", Oshii with "Angel's Egg" - it was Michel Hazanvicius who directed a famous and internationally recognized modern pseudo-silent film, "The Artist", who collected several prestigious awards. It is a charming and (obviously) brave homage to the early Hollywood classics (even courageously filmmed in 4:3 ratio), extracting most of its power from the two great leading actors, Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo - contrary to the popular belief, even though it does not recquire for an actor to learn any lines, expressing emotions only through gestures in a silent movie is equally of a challenge. "The Artist" works the best during its humorus and inventive moments, such as George's foreshadowing nightmare where he (and the audience) suddenly hear the sound of objects he drops, and even a leaf makes a "crashing" sound when it reaches a floor, yet he is somehow mute, or the sequence where George descends the stairs while Peppy walks upstairs, signalling the directions of the careers from there on, but the second half is too conventional and melodramatic, exhausting itself with repetitive scenes of hero's anxiety. It also causes a solid inconsistency for the upcoming love plot - how could the viewers consider Peppy's feeling honest when she knew about George's plight/bankruptcy for years, but did not move a finger to help him all that time? Leaving the too simplistic resolution aside, "The Artist" works better when it is a comedy than when it is a (conventional) drama, yet it is an enjoyable experience that shows an honest ode to dreamy cinema, and is refreshingly emotional at it.

Grade;++

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Dreamscape

Dreamscape; science-fiction thriller, USA, 1984; D: Joseph Ruben, S: Dennis Quaid, Max von Sydow, David Patrick Kelly, Christopher Plummer, Kate Capshaw, Eddie Albert

Outsider Alex Gardener has psychic abilities and is thus drafted to a top secret project led by his former researcher, Dr. Novotny. In the laboratory, Alex is able to enter the dreams of another person, almost as a protector, which Dr. Novotny thinks will help people who suffer from nightmares but cannot remember what they were dreaming. However, Dr. Novotny is murdered and the project is "kidnapped" by secret government agent Blair who intends to kill the US president in his sleep, thanks to another psychic, Tommy. Still, Alex manages to enter into the president's nightmare, too, and kill Alex. He then also kills Blair and runs away.

Despite numerous flaws and omissions, Joseph Ruben's fantasy thriller "Dreamscape" is one of the few movies that managed to conjure up a good depiction of 'lucid dreaming': the cinematography is again "too neat" and "too clear" for those (movie) dream sequences, which are suppose to be unreal, but overall some clever tricks - fast motion of clouds in the background on the skyscraper sequence; fish eye lens; distorted proportions of the doors and walls; random things suddenly appearing - managed to give a satisfying illusion of it. Dennis Quaid and Max von Sydow deliver the best performances, while Christopher Plummer is slightly underused in the story as the main bad guy, even though his plan of using the dream entering project as a secret weapon is probably the most intriguing premise in the storyline, matched only by the project's initial purpose, of having the hero be some sort of a "counsellor" or "protector" in a nightmare. The 'de-tour' of the movie into a paranoia thriller was uneven and inconsistent, at least one scene is ethically questionable (having an underage kid take an axe and chop off the head of a 'cobra-man' to get rid of him in a nightmare) whereas the mood is mild, failing to exploit all the potentials, whereas some even attacked the misleading Indiana Jones style poster, yet "Dreamscape" does not go overboard with the premise, never breaking the (movie) rules it sets up itself for such a premise and never turning it into an excess, whereas some moments are fairly well conceived (the chase sequence on the horse racing track, not without irony).

Grade;++

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Insomnia

Insomnia; thriller-drama, Norway, 1997; D: Erik Skjoldbjærg, S: Stellan Skarsgård, Sverre Anker Ousdal, Maria Bonnevie, Bjørn Floberg

Police officer Jonas Engström travels to a small town at the utter north of Norway in order to investigate the murder of a teenage girl, Tanja, whose hair was washed by her murderer. Since the town is way above the Arctic Circle, there is a constant Midnight Sun during the winter and Jonas has trouble falling asleep. In the fog, he accidentally shoots and kills his colleague. He covers it up and blames Jon, Tanja's murderer. But since Jon knows about the cover up, he blackmails Jonas into putting the blame on Tanja's boyfriend. In a chase, Jon falls and drowns, thus nobody finds out about Jonas' misconduct.

Erik Skjolbjaerg's unusual thriller exploited the rarely used Norwegian phenomenon of the Midnight Sun, equipped with a pale cinematography in order to enhance the bleak mood and the unique setting above the Arctic Circle, yet it does turn slightly anaemic itself with time, which is why the finale is almost anti-climatic. The most interesting part is the subplot where the killer blackmails the police officer Jonas (excellent Stellan Skarsgard) into planting evidence to shift the blame on someone else (an elaborate sequence where Jonas shoots a dog, then retrieves a bullet from his corpse and plants it for the investigation), and some even found parallels with Dostoevsky's "Crime and Punishment", yet due to cold psychology the characters were left without soul. Some events were left incomplete, such as the unusual episode where Jonas strokes the legs of a student girl, which makes it seem as if a part of their personalities is missing from the picture. Nonetheless, the director made a quality, strong and clever little film that gained fame even outside the Norwegian cinema, leading even to an eponymous US remake, which, surprisingly, in an unusual twist, turned out just a little better and more circled out than the original.

Grade;++

Friday, November 2, 2012

Kentucky Fried Movie

Kentucky Fried Movie; parody, USA, 1977, D: John Landis, S: Evan C. Kim, Bong Soo Han, Ingrid Wang, Jerry Zucker, Uschi Digard, Nancy Steen, Henry Gibson, Bill Bixby, George Lazenby, Donald Sutherland

Several clips from TV: an energy expert talks about a new method of oil extraction, namely from the teenager's acne...a gorilla goes crazy during a talk show...a man goes to a see a movie in cinema equipped with 'Feel-A-Round', which means that the usher will re-create and channel everything on screen towards him...in a movie, "A Fistful of Yen", martial arts expert Lou goes to fight against the evil Dr. Klahn and his henchmen...a trailer announces a new disaster movie...an educational video shows what the life would look like without zinc oxide...a guy and a girl get intimate in their home, but the TV news announcer can see them and just pretends to read the news while watching them.

A rudimentary forerunner to the parody genre, the first writing effort of the comic trio consisting of Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams and David Zucker, "Kentucky Fried Movie" is a highly uneven achievement encompassing some twenty (TV) sketches that vary from tasteless garbage to actually more sophisticated satire, which is why the movie had a bipolar reception. The first five segments are the worst, and it isn't well into the sixth one, 'Feel-A-Round', until the comic spark really ignites, despite director John Landis' efforts, whereas even though it is somewhere considered to be the ultimate Bruce Lee parody, the longest segment, a half hour martial arts spoof, "A Fistful of Yen", is only able to cause a few chuckles at best and is easily overshadowed by the equally shaky, but ten times funnier comedy "Kung Pow: Enter the Fist". The best jokes were surprisingly saved for the last 30 minutes, which are the comic highlight of the movie. The segment where Henry Gibson calls for donations for his association, "United Appeal for the Dead", which has such members as a mom and dad who still have the corpse of their dead boy Johnny ("Three years ago, our Johnny died. We though there was no hope, but the United Appeal showed us that despite his handicap, Johnny could still be a useful member of our family.") is a hilarious grotesque, as well as "Willer Time" and "Zinc Oxide" educational video. And the last joke is naughty, but the best: in it, a guy and a girl start cuddling on the couch while a news anchor is reading news on TV. But all of a sudden, as much as they could see him, he also sees them, and starts pretending to speak 'monotone' news and secretly observing them while they are nude, whereas Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker appear also on TV as his technicians, equally curious about the couple.

Grade;++

Monday, October 29, 2012

Insomnia

Insomnia; thriller, USA, 2002; D: Christopher Nolan, S: Al Pacino, Hilary Swank, Robin Williams, Maura Tierney, Martin Donovan

Nightmute, Alaska. A murdered body is found so police officer Dormer is sent from Los Angeles for backup, even though he is under investigation for planting evidence. When the police surround a cottage, they are attacked by an unknown person. In the chaos that breaks loose, Dormer accidentally shoots his colleagues Eckhart in the fog, but decides to put the blame on the unknown perpetrator. With time, Dormer discovers that crime novel author Finch is behind the murder, but cannot do anything because he knows the truth about Eckhart. Together, they decide to plant the blame on the acquittance of the first corpse. When Finch captures police officer Ellie, Dormer kills him, but succumbs to wounds himself.

After his Batman films gained world attention, numerous critics started to search for Christopher Nolan's early films, among which is this one where the director surprised a lot when he crafted one of the few remakes that are actually better than the original: thriller "Insomnia" leads the story better and more even than the good, but slightly unexciting Norwegian film of the same title from '97., keeping its sharpness up until the last take. The opening act is rather shaky and at first deceives that the whole film might just be an ordinary crime flick, but with time it turns into its opposite. Police officer Dormer (again excellent Al Pacino) is an untypical protagonist who makes the story unusual when he decides to cooperate with murderer Finch who knows his dirty secret, by which the nature of corruption is skilfully displayed. Two excellent sequences stand out: in one, Dormer interrogates arrogant teenager Randy who smokes and swears, but then the police officer loses his patience, turns the kid's table towards himself, throws his cigarette and says him that his whole 'screw-the-world' attitude maybe works on others, but not on him. The second one is when he meets killer Finch, who cut of the fingernails of the corpse after the crime, and tells him he is as "mysterious" with that idea as a toilet bowl. The sole setting on the utmost north of Alaska, rarely used as a location in cinema, is exquisite and gives the whole story an eerie feeling, as if it is not from this world, whereas it was also one of only two or three notable movies in the later half of comedian Robin Williams' career, here deliciously cast against type in the untypical role of the unpredictable bad guy.

Grade;+++

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Sacrifice

Offret; drama, Sweden/ UK/ France, 1986; D: Andrei Tarkovsky, S: Erland Josephson, Susan Fleetwood, Allan Edwall

Alexander, a retired actor and art expert, lives with his family in a secluded house in the countryside. He plants a tree with a little boy. His family and friends congratulate him for his birthday. However, the idyll is disrupted by a TV broadcast about World War III and the information that the whole Europe might be annihilated. Alexander's wife Adelaide is so frightened that she must be sedated. In an act of despair, Alexander prays to God and promises to burn his house and kill his family if world peace is restored. After a dream, postman Otto tells him to go to Maria's house, who is a witch. There, Alexander sleeps with her. The next morning, his wish is fulfilled - his family does not even remember that there was a conflict. In order to keep his promise, Alexander sets his house on fire. He is sent to an asylum.

Andrei Tarkovsky's 8th and last film is also his rarest one and the most difficult to obtain, and in it he gave a worthy cinematic farewell after some of his previous abstract achievements started to show a tendency of occasional boredom prevailing over artistic poetry. The movie starts with a close up of Leonardo da Vinci's unfinished painting The Adoration of the Magi - the camera slowly rises to the upper top of the painting, revealing a drawn tree, which then dissolves to a scene of hero Alexander planting a dead tree on the beach, hoping it will survive and blossom nonetheless, mirroring the story's main theme of a need for (spiritual) rebirth from a dead (material) world. The first live action take, the one of Alexander, the child and postman Otto walking on the beach, is extremely long, running for over 10 minutes, but Tarkovsky managed to make it seem elegant and quality slow thanks to clever dialogues, ranging from the observation about the dwarf in Zarathustra up to common themes in life ("I have a feeling as if my whole life is just one huge prelude to something big - the real life."; "How can the human kind think that it can coin a universal truth, a truth that will apply to the whole Universe?").

Tarkovsky does indeed once again fall in the trap of christian ideology and some of the monologues are monotone, yet they work because an inspired one manages to polish it out ("I got tired of acting someone else, of feeling someone else's emotions. And I was uncomfortable of being honest.", says Alexander, an ex-actor). The main tangle is brilliant and helps strengthen the movie - the hero promises to kill his family and burn his house as a sacrifice if God will prevent an unidentified war that might lead to the end of the world (mirroring Tarkovsky's own gloomy feelings since he was dying from cancer in those years). And after he wakes up, and finds that the world is all right again - symbolized in a pleasant shift from a dark-grey to uplifting-illuminated cinematography - he is faced with a dilemma: will he keep his promise? Will he truly kill his family? Tarkovsky unfortunately avoids to articulate Alexander's drama, but he was always in favor of dreamy mood, de-dramatization. The director breaks the limits between dreams and reality, signalling a gap between the material and spiritual, adding poetic scenes (the boy, who does not speak throughout the story because of an operation on his throat, says the last line: "In the beginning, there was the word...", which is the first Bible verse of the first chapter in the Book of Genesis) whereas the critics particularly praised the virtuoso long take of the house burning, which is why despite some overlong moments, "Sacrifice" succeeds. It won a BAFTA for best foreign language film.

Grade;+++

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Little Women

Little Women; drama, USA, 1994; D: Gillian Armstrong, S: Winona Ryder, Christian Bale, Trini Alvarado, Claire Daines, Gabriel Byrne, Samantha Mathis, Susan Sarandon, Eric Stoltz, Kirsten Dunst

Teenage girl Jo lives with her three sisters - Meg, Beth and Amy - and mother March in a small town during the American Civil War. She wants to be a writer, and even manages to publish a few short stories. Her neighbor, Laurie, proposes her, but she rejects him. When their father returns alive from the war, the family is happy, but Jo departs to study in New York. There, an older professor, Friedrich, inspires her to publish a more personal story, which she does with "Little Women", a best-selling book. Beth dies from a disease, while Jo marries Friedrich.

The 4th movie adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's eponymous and popular 1868 novel, Gillian Armstrong's "Little Women" is a standard and kitchy melodrama, yet manages to assure a higher dimension of quality thanks almost exclusively to the sweet Winona Ryder as the rebellious heroine Jo, for which she was nominated for an Oscar as best actress in a leading role. The movie is burdened the most in the lax first half, that does not manage to engage the viewers through sweet, but conventional-grey and sometimes boring everyday events, with practically no humor (except for the colorful "burnt hair" scene), though it manages to pick up some energy in the second half thanks to events viewers can identify with, like the trails and ordeal of Jo, who wasted her talent on writing cheap short stories that were expected from her just to later write something honest, from the bottom of her heart, which mirrors the experience of Alcott's history with her own novel, subtly aiming a few jabs at the position of women in those times. A stronger vision in where the movie should go or look like was not there, yet "Little Women" has just enough positive ingredients - great landscapes, costumes, set design - to offer an overall positive experience.

Grade;++

Monday, October 22, 2012

Troublemakers

Botte di Natale; western comedy, Italy/ Germany/ USA, 1994; D: Terence Hill, S: Terence Hill, Bud Spencer, Boots Southerland

The Wild West, a few days before Christmas. Moses is a bounty hunter who has ten children and a loving wife. Unwillingly, he teams up with his brother Travis, allegedly the fastest gun drawer around, after avoiding him for a decade, in order to catch notorious outlaw Stone, since the award is 4,000 $, a money he dearly needs for his family. They capture Stone, but Travis let's him go. In the end, their mother captures Stone in her home, so Moses and Travis join them for a Christmas dinner, with the entire family.

Terence Hill took over the directing position himself for "Troublemakers", his 17th and final movie collaboration with Bud Spencer, almost a decade after their previous film, "Miami Supercops", did not live up to their box office expectations. Even though Hill invested more care than any director who directed them during their weakest phase, the 80s - the cinematography is crystal clear, the shot composition is more ambitious, the set designs are very good - "Troublemakers", a loose 3rd part to their excellent western comedy that launched them into legends, "They Call Me Trinity", is only a good movie for the first 20 minutes, after which it starts to consolidate itself into a thin, standard and 'meager' farewell, when better could have been done. The opening letter of Travis' mother is wonderfully comical ("You never could read as good as you could shoot. So I presume that this letter will be read to you by a nice lady or a little kid...") and a few good jokes appear here and there, too (in one quietly hilarious scene, Travis "synchronizes" his swinging on the rocking chair with that of Moses' - but Moses cannot stand him to such an extent that he even stops his rocking chair and then starts swinging deliberately slower than Travis, refusing to be like him even in the slightest detail), yet the story quickly sinks to lower levels with the contest in eating beans and the bear scenes, as well as contrived moments (why would Travis simply release outlaw Stone after Moses caught him?). Still, the finale with the family re-uniting on Christmas is kind of nostalgic and emotional. The last Spencer-Hill film, but the last good one is still "I'm with the Hippopotamus".

Grade;+

Friday, October 19, 2012

You Can't Take It With You

You Can't Take It With You; drama/ comedy, USA, 1938; D: Frank Capra, S: Lionel Barrymore, Jean Arthur, James Stewart, Edward Arnold

A rich banker, Anthony P. Kirby, wants to buy off a whole block in order to build a weapons factory, which will help him reach a monopoly on arms production in the US, but one old man, grandpa Vanderhoff, refuses to sell his house for any sum of money. Vanderhoff is an untypical individual, a man who founded a small sanctuary in his home in order to let almost a dozen people live there and do what they love, not what they are forced to do just to survive. Kirby's son, Tony, falls in love with secretary Alice, who is, coincidentally, Vanderhoff's granddaughter. Kirby is extremely against Tony's marriage proposal, but after he manages to buy Vanderhoff's home, Kirby realizes his life is empty. Kirby thus returns the house to Vanderhoff, accepts friendship over money and allows Tony and Alice to get engaged.

By winning two Oscars, for best picture and director, the movie adaptation of George S. Kaufman's and Moss Hart's play "You Can't Take it With You" managed to assure Frank Capra's final best director Academy Award, his third in only one decade, but it is somehow difficult to shake away the feeling that his first two wins, for "It Happened One Night" and "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town", were more justified than this one. Capra and his screenwriter Robert Riskin picked the play because it addressed some of their humanistic beliefs and motives, revolving around an individual, grandpa Vanderhoff (great Lionel Barrymore), who transformed his house into a sanctuary where a dozen people would do what they love, not what the society forces them to do, practically mirroring Capra's previous film, "Lost Horizon", just setting the 'safe area' for the good in the American city - Vanderhoff's family is unorthodox for its honesty, for being what they are, but they are more than just Addams Family in a pleasant-utopian way -  yet the story rehashes too much of his frequent stereotypes, such as the optimistic end that shows how having a friend is more important than money, the meaning of the title, i.e. that you cannot take your money into the grave, whereas the scene where Ramsey storms Kirby's office to give him a lesson practically echoes the similar sequence where a poor farmer storms Mr. Deeds' house to scorn him for his wealth. The movie lacks humor - it needed more such moments as the great little scene where Vanderhoff asks an attorney to "do something about his twitch", upon which the latter gets a grimace on his face - and is slightly corny-sentimental at times, exhausting itself with spasmodic scenes of the family doing wacky things in the house, yet Capra and Riskin would already detect their more bitter, satirical side in the banker Kirby, who is a symbol for plutocracy and covert totalitarian tenedencies in business.

Grade;++

Wicked City

Wicked City; animated horror-thriller, Japan, 1987; D: Yoshiaki Kawajiri, S: Yusaku Yara, Toshiko Fujita, Ichiro Nagai

Japan. A 'Black World', a world of humans who can transform into demons, co-exists with the human world. In order to prolong the ceasefire, a new peace treaty is about to be signed, so agent Taki is sent to protect 'Black World' diplomat Mayart, an old man, together with agent Makie, a woman from the 'Black World' herself. Mayart is assaulted in a brothel, but Makie and Taki manage to save him and hide from the 'Black World' extremists who want to prevent the peace treaty. Taki saves Makie, too, and falls in love with her. In the end, it turns out that Mayart was actually sent to protect them because their love could reconcile the two races.

Hard anime horror "Wicked City" falls indeed in the trap of its genre, namely to build its suspense too much from disgust and slimy monsters, yet despite splatter violence and shock, the underlying theme of the story is surprisingly humanistic, even adding a love story that eventually covertly transforms into the main resolution of the tangle. Director Yoshiaki Kawajiri ("Ninja Scroll") manages to polish up some inconsistencies in the script - no reason is given why extremists are against signing a peace treaty between the human and the 'Black World', the 'plot twist' near the end is not plausible - mostly thanks to great lighting, meticulous animation - the flawed characters' designs excluding - and a few neat little aesthetic tricks that strengthen the mood, like setting the entire story during the night. The plot might be an allegory on the North-South Korea relations and on the intolerance between two races, which makes the love story between the human Taki and the 'Black World' woman Makie even more indicative, whereas it is interesting to note that their sex scene is the only emotional one, the only honest one, as opposed to the previous three where sex is just used for 'black widow' ploys to assault a protagonist, such as the opening with the woman-spider who turns out to have teeth in her vagina or the 'Black World' prostitute whose breasts turn into glue by capturing diplomat Mayart - who, as a footnote, seems off because he looks and acts too much like the buffoonish perverted grandpa from "Ranma 1/2". In the ultra-bizarre finale demon tentacles appear from a statue of the Holly Mary (!), which makes the story not for everyone's taste, though, overall, "Wicked City" is a suspenseful film.

Grade;++

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Inception

Inception; science-fiction action, USA, 2010; D: Christopher Nolan, S: Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Tom Hardy, Ken Watanabe, Cillian Murphy, Tom Berenger, Michael Caine, Lukas Haas, Pete Postlethwaite

Cobb and Arthur use a special device to transform themselves into someone's dream and steal an idea from him or her. Tycoon Saito hires them to do the opposite, implant an idea into Fischer, who inherited a large energy corporation, so that he will not continue with the policy of a monopoly. Cobb agrees and hires dream architect Ariadne, Eames and others. On a plane, they sedate Fischer, and implant a dream-within-a-dream, until they plant the idea and Cobb meets his deceased wife. In exchange, Saito stops an arrest warrant against Cobb, who returns to his kids.

Director Christopher Nolan used a great style to camouflage the basic, ludicrous plot, but overall, it is still ludicrous at its essence. A director can resort to the technique of transforming a story into a puzzle, but by cocooning one preposterous subplot into another, and then cocooning that preposterous subplot into yet another, and another, does not mean that those three ludicrous subplots equal a great story. However, one can forgive Nolan for "Inception" because time travelling and/or dreaming often proved to be a slippery rope for movies, who would often trip over their own feet due to huge inconsistencies resulting from thee. Some tried to find fault in character development or actors, but one has to be fair and say that the basic idea was simply bad: the hero, Cobb, steals ideas from people when they are sleeping? One just has to look at one dream report collected by scientist Calvin Hall, who wrote this about someone's dream: "I dreamt I was hungry and began to scratch my nose. All of a sudden a steak supper appeared in front of me. I ate this and after a while scrached my nose again. Suddenly I was dressed in the finest of clothes. I began to wonder if my nose were magic." This illustrates how pointless it is to steal someone's idea in a dream - because everything is distorted there. It would be as reliable as if Cobb and his team would go to get the guy's nose because it was magical in his dream. In one scene, Cobb also reads some documents in a dream. It is another misstep - because people cannot read in a dream.

The main plot, however, is even more insane than that: Cobb has to implant an idea into Mr. Fischer, so that he would not pursue the policy of monopoly from his deceased dad. In order to do that, Nolan resorted to a dream-within-a-dream-within-a-dream. Leaving aside the inconvenience that implanting an idea to someone who is dreaming is entirely unreliable (because people sometimes do not even remember their dream), "Inception" contradicted itself again by sending the six protagonists into an action adventure while in a dream. It is simple: if they can use their machine to create a dream, why not make themselves into Supermen and thus invincible to shot guns? And then again, if they cannot do that, how come Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character can press a button and activate a bomb in that dream? Why would a bomb get activated in a dream? Why would they have guns in a dream? Why would there be any danger in a dream if they can create it? This demonstrates that "Inception" fell into a catch 22 - it cannot apply logic to a dream and be illogical at the same time. If you fancy a van falling from a bridge for 30 minutes (!), Joseph Gordon-Levitt floating and tumbling around a hotel lobby collecting floating people for 30 minutes and the rest of the team attacking a snow fortress James Bond style because they forgot to create a pleasant and warm beach instead, you will probably find some sense in this, while the rest will perceive a huge plot gimmick and even predict the "plot twist" already somewhere near the start. If you want a real feeling of a lucid dream - because this is too neat to be a dream - watch Ruben's "Dreamscape", because despite its flaws and lack of a huge budget, it was plausible. If you want a philosophical movie about the nature of reality and possibility of an alternate world, watch "The Matrix", or even better "The Truman Show", that said so much about life in such a harmonius way.

Grade;+

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Nostalghia

Nostalghia; drama, Italy/ Russia, 1983; D: Andrei Tarkovsky, S: Oleg Yankovsky, Erland Josephson, Domiziana Giordano

Russian writer Andrei is in Italy in order to write an autobiography of the deceased Russian emigre Sosnovsky. Andrei and Eugenia, his interpretor, visit a church. He feels depressed and isolated, until a madman, Domenico, catches his attention. Domenico and his family spent seven years hidding in their home, waiting for the end of the society, and his idea that the world can be saved by transporting a lit candle across a poll captivates Andrei. Domenico commits suicide by setting himself on fire, while Andrei dies after carrying the lit candle across the empty pool.

Winner of the best director award at the Cannes film festival, Andrei Tarkovsky's sixth film, "Nostalgia", is thematically a blend between his previous - nostalgia and memory of his childhood in "The Mirror" - and last film - the possibility of the end of the society (world) in "Sacrifice" - yet it is overall just a pure art film, a hermetic cocoon with little universal elements people can identify with - and without an 'outburst' of author's creative unpredictability as it was the case with Pasolini, Fellini, Ashby or Hitchcock. As with most of his achievements, the viewers will search for a story, yet Tarkovsky's "Nostalgia" is more aligned towards creating a mood, turning into those 'advanced viewings' that demand a lot, yet the payback is not proportional since - despite a masterful shot composition - the movie is thin, overstretched and sometimes boring.

The main hero, Andrei (Oleg Yankovsky, with a strange blond patch on his black hair), is a symbol for the director himself who feels isolated in Italy (he cannot speak their language properly, his neighbors ask "what he is doing here"), longing for his homeland and childhood, presented with scenes filmmed in black and white, adding a few philosophical observations about differences between the Western and Russian mentality, culminating in the allegorical final scene (Russian landscapes "inside" Italian buildings) that advocates imigrants to merge those two worlds together. Too little happens in the film, both in content and style, to fully justify its hype, yet it has at least two virtuoso directed sequences: in one, Andrei has a childhood memory of a German Shepherd running through a puddle, and then goes to his room and lies down on the bed. While it is raining, the (imaginary?) dog suddenly enters his room and Andrei strokes him for comfort. In the other, Domenico gives a powerful speech about the wrong turn society has taken ("What kind of a world is this, when a madman has to tell you to be ashamed?") and lits himself on a statue in the city square, with Eugenia running towards him while every other passerby around her is "frozen" on the stairs, giving the impression as if she is walking inside a painting.

Grade;++

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Outland

Outland; science-fiction crime, UK, 1981; D: Peter Hyams, S: Sean Connery, Frances Sternhagen, James Sikking, Peter Boyle

In the future, a space mining station specialized in excavating titanium was established on Io, the Jupiter's moon. A new marshal, O'Neil, starts investigating bizarre behavior of some workers who commit suicide in an act of madness. They can all be tracked down to an illegal drug that makes the workers more productive, yet often causes their brains to "burn out". The drugs are supplied by Sheppard, who runs the station, because it increases the profit. Since O'Neil refuses to turn a blind eye, killers are set loose on him, while nobody wants to help him, except a cynical woman, Dr. Lazarus. O'Neil kills the killers and arrests Sheppard.

"High Noon" in space - Peter Hyams science-fiction "western" "Outland" is a patchwork that unevenly blends gore, sometimes trashy violence with an actually more ambitious narrative revolving around the theme from Zinnemann's classic, i.e. that when a hero with integrity is in real trouble, everyone abandons him, and depending on each viewers' perception, the one or the other element will prevail during the viewing experience. If the viewers can tolerate the fact that a wonderful sequence is sometimes followed by heavy handed, cheap violence (head exploding when exposed to space) and that the final showdown isn't half as good as it could have been, "Outland" is actually a fairly suspenseful crime film and gains plus points thanks to amazing special effects, good lighting, a great little intro that uses subtitles to explain the purpose of the mining station on Io and the number of people on it, some good ideas (the inventive scene where Marshal O'Neil is attacked from behind by a thug who tries to strangle him with a rope: O'Neil pretends to be dead, upon which the thug releases him. O'Neil then proceeds to knock him out because he had a protective shield collar around his neck), whereas Sean Connery is charismatic as always but Frances Sternhagen almost steals the show as the surprisingly memorable, deliciously cynical Dr. Lazarus. After "Star Wars" and "Alien" paved the way for an explosion of science-fiction on film, numerous cheap imitators did not do that opportunity justice, yet "Outland" is arguably one of the few better done examples.

Grade;++

Friday, October 12, 2012

Lost Horizon

Lost Horizon; drama, USA, 1937; D: Frank Capra, S: Ronald Colman, H.B. Warner, Edward Everett Horton, Jane Wyatt

English writer, soldier and diplomat Robert Conway is sent on a mission to save 90 westerners in the Chinese town of Baskul from the violent uprising. As Robert, his brother George, Gloria and two other men board a plane, an unknown Asian pilot breaks into the cockpit and flies them off towards the Himalayas, where they crash due to lack of fuel. They are found by a group of people and brought to Shangi-La, an idylic town on a warm climate, surrounded by the mountains. Their tutor, Chang, explains that Shangri-La is suppose to be a refuge from the civilization heading towards self-destruction, and that Robert was brought to replace the dying High Lama. George persuades Robert to leave, but the latter eventually returns to the place, having found his inner peace there.

Despite Oscar nominations for best picture and supporting actor (H.B. Warner), critical acclaim and noble efforts of the film institute to restore the movie to its original length (its current running time of 130 minutes indicates that over an hour of the film was lost), Frank Capra's adaptation of the novel "Lost Horizon" is one of his lesser efforts, a simplistic morality play where the director embraced his common themes of good people in an evil world via the story of a sanctuary (Shangri-La, situated and isolated between the Himalayas in the story, but still having impossibly warm climate and even moderate climate animals like deer) for the good, transparently implying how this is the way the whole world should be. The most was achieved in the finale, where the protagonists are walking through the snowy landscapes of Himalayas, stylistically as monochrome as dunes in Lean's "Lawrence of Arabia", whereas the set-design is truly extraordinary for those times, giving great landscapes where Shangri-La is placed, but some ideas are still naive or weird (attaching flutes to pigeons tales so that they would make a sound of music while flying). More care was dedicated to the themes than to the characters, yet hero Robert does give a few good lines here and there ("If life does not have a purpose, why strive towards living as long as possible?"). As the last line hints ("I hope he finds his Shangi-La. I hope we all find it."), the city is not just an utopia, but also a state of mind, and thus a valid attempt from Capra and his screenwriter Robert Riskin to present their philosophy, yet it is humorless, unexciting and thin, clashing with perspectives and notions, but is overall less a pure insight into the human spirit.

Grade;++

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Born Yesterday

Born Yesterday; comedy, USA, 1950; D: George Cukor, S: Judy Holliday, William Holden, Broderick Crawford

The primitive brute Harry Brock somehow managed to gain a fortune thanks to shady methods, so he travels to Washington to bribe a few politicians in order to alleviate his business even more. However, he thinks that his beautiful, but equally as dimwitted girlfriend Emma 'Billie' is embarrassing him whenever she says something, so he hires the intelligent reporter Paul to educate her a little bit. That backfires: Billie turns smarter than expected and sees through Harry's plan for a corrupt cartel, based on her name, so she and Paul stop him and fall in love.

A charming adaptation of Garson Kanin's Broadway play, George Cukor's "Born Yesterday" is a simple yet very satisfying comedy that ultimately turns into an essay about the clash between the intelligent and the dumb, the educated and the uneducated, and even between the corrupted and uncorrupted, thereby even adding a few (idealized) celebrations of American political life (Harry's intentions are quite similar to the main antagonist in the classic "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington"), whereas Judy Holliday delivered a fabulous performance in both versions. With that charmingly annoying accent, that reveals a "backward", wild, but also untouched nature, Holliday practically steals the show as the naive Billie who blossoms into a smart woman thanks to her tutor, whereas some of the best jokes come swiftly, extracting their power from the quietly hilarious clash between the two equally dimwitted Billie and her boyfriend Harry.

For instance, after a session where Paul taught her about Thomas Paine, her boyfriend Harry shows up and calls her shallow. She replies with: "Who is Tom Paine?" Harry does not know, and is unsettled by the fact that she does know. What follows is a comical attempt of "getting even" from him, when he every 15 seconds suddenly disrupts her further tutorial and tries to find someone she does not know about, which would prove he is smarter (he asks who is Rabbit Maranville, but Paul answers instead of her, etc.), until he finally asks: "What is a peninsula?", and before she can anwser says triumphantly: "A piece of land that is bordered by water on three sides but connected to mainland!" The electrifying finale, where Billie and Paul outsmart him, is the highlight of the story, especially Paul's reply to Harry's attempt of strangling him ("That's the only thing you know, right? A kick is the answer to everything. The bigger the problem, the bigger the kicks. Well, not this time.") However, as sweet as Holliday is, she did not deserve an Oscar over Davis in "All About Eve" or Swanson in "Sunset Blvd." - at best, she was equally as good as them.

Grade;+++

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Lover

L'Amant; erotic drama, France/ UK/ Vietnam, 1992; D: Jean Jacques-Annaud, S: Jane March, Tony Leung Ka-fai, Frédérique Meininger

French Indochina between the World Wars. A 15-year old girl lives with her family, one of those French colonialists; her widowed mother, a sensible younger and an arrogant, aggressive older brother. On a ferry, she meets a Chinaman in his 30s who takes her to her school in Saigon in his car. She spots him again several times, waiting in front of the school. After a while, he brings her to his apartment and they have sex. With his wealth, he is able to charm her mother and brothers. However, when the girl starts asking money from him in exchange for sex, he starts losing interest in her. She moves away with her family to France. Decades later, he phones her and tells her he still loves her.

An adaptation of Marguerite Duras' autobiographical novel, Jean Jacques-Annaud's "The Lover" is a somber and even slightly nostalgic erotic drama that, despite the daring story revolving around a teenage girl having an affair with a man in his 30s, manages to avoid any controversial and/or questionable connotations, instead displaying 'neutral compassion' for the unusual couple in order to understand the two characters. The four sex sequences are good, yet overall the movie relies more on the sadness, tragedy and loss due to the fate of the relationship: the girl (her name is never revealed, but it is obvious she represents Duras) at first gets intimate with the Chinaman (his name is never revealed, either) because she likes him, finds him genuinely attractive - love - but then, because of his wealth, starts demanding money from him, which reduces her status to just the one of any prostitute, and makes him lose interest in her, ultimately marking the end of their bond. The movie is simplistic and low-key, with little happening during the running time of two hours, yet thanks to the sharp, meticulous cinematography, even ordinary scenes of Vietnamese landscapes seem more aesthetic than usual, whereas the director allows for the elegant story to be slow in a good way, i.e. it enables the viewers to dwell on it. Jane March is well cast as the main heroine, but Tony Leung does not lapse behind either, in the effective role as the wealthy Chinese playboy who is always the gentleman.

Grade;++