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;++

Vampire's Kiss

Vampire's Kiss; black comedy, USA, 1988; D: Robert Bierman, S: Nicolas Cage, Maria Conchita Alonso, Jennifer Beals, Elizabeth Ashley

New York. Peter is a burned out businessman who often goes for a psychotherapy. During a one night stand, a woman, Rachel, bites him on his neck while they are in bed. From there on, Peter starts acting even weirder than before, often harassing his secretary Alva for failing to find a precious contract in his office. Finally, Peter concludes that he is turning into a vampire: he buys fake fangs, eats a pigeon and drinks blood from a woman's neck. Alva's brother stabs him in his apartment for harassing his sister.

Some have attributed the resentment of the audience and the critics towards Robert Bierman's black comedy "Vampire's Kiss" to be a result of not understanding the twist ending that unusually twists the horror rules - unlike some horrors where it is not clear if the hero is crazy or just a misunderstood individual who is faced with a terrible monster/threat but nobody believes him, until the ending reveals that he was actually right, much to the viewers "relief", here it is vice-versa, since the viewers believed into the hero's POV, Peter's persuasion that he is slowly turning into a vampire, but in the end became "suckers" because he truly turns out to be just a demented madman and nothing else - yet there are many more problems with it, since the movie simply has too little laughs. Nicolas Cage gives a dedicated performance as the increasingly insane Peter, but hardly any actor can save an underdeveloped, overlong mess of a story, including such bizarre scenes as the one where Cage eats a living cockroach (!), all adding up to a huge lack of cohesive sense, though a few unusual jokes do ignite here and there, like when Peter is chasing a pigeon or the increasingly hilarious subplot where the secretary, Alva, fails to find an important file in the register while he gives her insults which are getting more and more over-the-top with each passing day, until culminating in an insane duel.

Grade;+

Friday, October 5, 2012

Toy Story 3

Toy Story 3; CGI animated fantasy comedy, USA, 2010; D: Lee Unkrich, S: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Ned Beatty, Michael Keaton, Don Rickles, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Whoopi Goldberg

Andy grew into a teenager who is about to leave for college, which means that he is not playing with his toys anymore. Due to a misunderstanding, his mother accidentally throws the toys into garbage, but they land into a day care centre. At first, they are overwhelmed when a teddy-bear, Lotso, gives them a special place with the kids - but it turns out the kids are pre-school, i.e. wild and heavy handed when playing with toys. The toys want out, but Lotso doesn't want to let them so that he and the "elite toys" will be spared from them. Woody, Buzz, Jesse and others manage to escape and return to Andy, who donates them to a little girl.

"Toy Story 3", the 3rd movie, is the best and only truly great one of the "Toy Story" franchise ("Toy Story I" had the annoying character Sid and truly exploited its full potentials only in the 10-minute finale; "Toy Story II" had too many lukewarm jokes) that avoided the sugary overkill of some previous Pixar movies and cleverly turned the tables by transforming the story's main problem - Andy growing up - into a virtue: here the growing protagonist is more concerned with college and only has nostalgia value for his toys, who feel neglected, thereby paving the way for some themes about transience, the end of childhood and even mortality. Director Unkrich and screenwriter Michael Arndt never leave room for empty walks since almost every sequence is creative and highly inventive, but surprisingly always simple and thus universal at the same time, whether they are crafting clever humor (the jokes revolving around Barbie and Ken; Lots shutting up Mrs. Potato Head by taking her "lips" away; instead of cute kids, aggressive ones show up in the day care centre, like a stampede, upon which Buzz keeps his smile - but shuts his glass helmet for protection), clever references (a toy of Totoro) or just plain clever action sequences (Woody saved from the fall thanks to his string). Lots, a deceivingly cute teddy-bear, voiced by Ned Beatty, is a brilliant bad guy, who is not only showed as a dictator, but also *why* he became one. A few complaints could be raised towards the rather standard finale, where Lots unfortunately just remained a typical black and white bad guy, as well as the fact that the whole second half just seems like a giant prison escape plot, yet luckily a clearly happy ending was avoided and replaced with a very melancholic and bittersweet one: rarely did a CGI animated film reach such an emotional level as this one, matching the intensity of classic animation.

Grade;+++

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town; comedy, USA, 1936; D: Frank Capra, S: Gary Cooper, Jean Arthur, George Bancroft
A simple and honest man in small town, Longfellow Deeds, is informed that he inherited 20 million $ from his deceased uncle. The attorney, Cedar, brings him to New York hoping he will trick the naive man into giving him the power of attorney authorization, which will enable him to handle his money, but Deeds turns out smarter than he thinks and refuses. A reporter, Babe, goes out with Deeds in order to write gossip articles about him, but she falls in love with him and admits her trechery, which leaves him heartbroken. Trying to help people during the Great Depression, Deeds gives a huge amount of his fortune to broke farmers, and wins in court when Cedar tries to accuse him of insanity to take the money away from him.

The movie that won Frank Capra his second Oscar as best director (the only win out of five nominations), "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town" is an excellent example of the 'golden age' of Hollywood when good 'old school' narrative, straight forward style, calmness and wisdom were more important than flashy effects that just seize the attention, encompassing the director's often theme of an honest, innocent man coming in contact with rotten, corrupt people who run a system but tries to keep his humanity by showing them the right way, whereas the fabulous screenplay by Robert Riskin this time gave a more satirical touch in the form of a clear critique of society (everyone wants to exploit people with money) which would be used in numerous later Capra films, some even more pessimistic, like the very similar "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" and "Meet John Doe".

Gary Cooper is great as the leading protagonist who at first seems naive, but actually shows to be more clever than the attorneys expected ("Lamb bites wolf!", says one when Deeds clearly sees through a fraud who wants a million $ from him) as is Jean Arthur in a very grateful role of a strong female character, whereas some of the hero's quotes say a lot about of some two-faced habits and human nature ("People here are funny. They work so hard at living they forget how to live."; "They created a lot of palaces here - but they forgot to create the noblemen to put in them.") and even a lesson to rich people how to use their fortune with a purpose ("From what I can see, no matter what system of government we have, there will always be leaders and always be followers. It's like the road out in front of my house. It's on a steep hill. Every day I watch the cars climbing up. Some go lickety-split up that hill on high, some have to shift into second, and some sputter and shake and slip back to the bottom again. Same cars, same gasoline, yet some make it and some don't. And I say the fellas who can make the hill on high should stop once in a while and help those who can't."). A classic with a reason.

Grade;+++

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre; horror, USA, 1974; D: Tobe Hooper, S: Marilyn Burns, Paul A. Partain, Edwin Neal, Jim Siedow, Gunnar Hansen

Texas. Sally, her wheelchair bound brother Franklin, Pam, Kirk and Jerry travel through Texas in a van, the place where their grandfather once lived. They pick up a hitchhiker, a former butcher in a cattle slaughterhouse, but throw him out when he attacks Franklin with a razor. The five friends are low on fuel, so they stop at an isolated house. One by one, they are slaughtered by a butcher with a mask, 'Leatherface', until only Sally is left. She is suppose to be killed, too, by a meat obsessed grandfather, but manages to escape and flee in a car that stopped on the road.

Despite its cult reputation as one of the first slasher horror films that broke some taboo elements, "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" is garbage. Its suspense is based too much on cheap scares, banal sadistic violence and trash, failing to become one of those rare sophisticated horrors. It is pure gore, and little more, but that little more is actually the most interesting feature of it: namely, the most fascinating ingredient is the vegetarian subtext since the killer and his assistant are former butchers in a cattle slaughterhouse, implying how their routine of killing thousands of cows somehow spread into their normal life, i. e. they cannot imagine living any other way than killing, even humans. In one scene Sally is even observing sausages made presumably out of human meat, whereas during the (infamous - and overstretched!) dinner sequence she is begging the family who wants to eat her to spare her life, but they are entirely numb, parallelling the often ignored horror of an animal sensing its death in slaughterhouses, and the consumers entirely numb to their plight. Such a disruption of natural human order gave the film shock, even though its satirical and subversive potentials were not exploited enough. Despite limited budget, this independent film is surprisingly well crafted from a technical point-of-view, with two visually pleasant scenes some 31 minutes into the film, whereas a couple of scary scenes are at least slightly more imaginative than the rest, like the long night sequence where Sally is running from 'Leatherface' through the bushes, while he is using the chainsaw to remove branches in his way.

Grade;+