Thursday, January 31, 2013

La jetee

La jetee; science-fiction short/ collage, France, 1962; D: Chris Marker, S: Davos Hanich, Helene Chatelain, Jacques Ledoux

A child at an airport witnesses a scene he will never forget: a man dies in front of a beautiful blond woman. A few years later, World War III breaks out and Paris is destroyed. The child, now grown into a man, is persuaded to join a time travelling experiment, to be sent to the past in order to get food and energy for the surviving people living underground. He is sent to the past and notices the blond woman he remembered from his childhood. The two become friends and lovers. He is sent to the far future, where the utopian people offer him sanctuary and an energy source. The man chooses to be sent to live in the past. He meets the blond woman at the airport, but is killed by one of the agents who have terminated the experiment. The death that was haunting him from the childhood - was his own.

Chris Marker's unusual "photo-novel" short (assembled entirely out of stills - except for one brief scene some 18 minutes into the film where the woman is lying in bed and suddenly blinks, which somehow gives the moment a special touch that automatically stands out from the rest, giving her "life"), science-fiction movie "La jetee" entered the anthology of movie experiments and is often cited as one of the classics of the 60s, especially after the re-newed interest was sparked with Gilliam's remake "12 Monkeys". The comparison between the two films is difficult: Marker has a sixth sense for a dreamy mood and a melancholic touch, but, as it is often the case with French art-movies, he is not able to tell the story in normal, simple terms, instead choosing to "cocoon" it to such an extent that it seems almost like hermetic anti-narration at times; as opposed, Gilliam just copy-pastes the storyline - and the legendary plot twist - and presents it in a dark, dirty manner, but is able to tell the story much clearer, enabling the audience access to it. Marker shows a few neat little details (the famous Arc de Triomphe "cut" half after Paris is destroyed) and plays with philosophy, psychoanalysis and repressed memory, all adding to an opulent 27 minutes short that is equally challenging today. However, even though it fits into its 'claustrophobic' mood, the 'claustrophobic' music is indeed awful, showing that not every mean of expression is suitable to attract the attention of the viewers.

Grade;+++

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Alphabet of Fear

Abeceda straha; war drama, Croatia, 1961; D: Fadil Hadžić, S: Vesna Bojanić, Josip Zapalorto, Nada Kasapić, Tatjana Beljakova

Zagreb, World War II. Vesna, a young student, accepts the partisan offer to be a spy: under a false name, Katica, she pretends to be an illiterate girl and gets employed as a maid in the home of a bank director and counterintelligence agent Molnar, who is working for the fascists. Molner has a wife and two daughters, Saša and Elza. Vesna's task is to find a list of a dozen Axis spies who have infiltrated the partisan rows. When a Nazi commander drops by for diner, the allied bombing starts and the family goes into a bunker. Molner however catches Vesna searching for his secret files. Still, two partisans show up, get the list and one main Axis collaborator, and escape in a car with an wounded Vesna.

The feature length debut film from director Fadil Hadzic, "Alphabet of Fear" is a well done World War II spy thriller in an introverted edition, appealing thanks to a fine black and white cinematography, that 'good old school' filmmaking, fine performances - especially the main heroine played by Vesna Bojanic - and a "cozy" mood despite the grim setting. However, Hadzic did not know how to extract suspense to the fullest - even though the entire story is set inside only one apartment of the family of the Axis collaborators, it did not manage to achieve that intriguing 'kammerspiel' - which is why the movie is not that suspenseful by today's standards, save for maybe three sequences (in one, the mother has toothache during the night and demands aspirin, so she sends her daughter to get the maid, Vesna. The daughter goes to the maid's room and finds it empty, but instinctively cover her and just says the maid is already sleeping). The main tangle, that Vesna could accidentally blow her cover of an illiterate maid in the house if she shows she can read, referenced in the title, was also not that cleverly set-up or exploited in the rather schematic finale. Since the Yugoslav cinema pushed for hundreds of partisan films, even "Alphabet of Fear" seems slightly like it was ordered, yet Hadzic still did a proportionally good job at enhancing the viewing experience to a higher level.

Grade;++

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Silence of the Lambs

The Silence of the Lambs; thriller, USA, 1991; D: Jonathan Demme, S: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Scott Glenn, Ted Levine

The young Clarice Starling, about to finish her FBI Academy training, is summoned by Crawford, of the Bureau's Behavioral Science Unit, to help him find the elusive serial killer nicknamed Buffalo Bill, who kills and skins his victims. Clarice hopes to catch the psychopath with the help of another psychopath, albeit much more "normal" one, Dr. Hannibal Lecter, who degenerated into cannibalism and is thus held in a maximum security prison. After a Senator's daughter, Catherine, is kidnapped, the FBI accelerates this cooperation with Lecter, who uses his transport out of prison to escape. Still, thanks to his clues, Clarice is able to locate the killer, Gumb, a transsexual who wants to saw the skin of women as a dress. Clarice kills him and Catherine is saved.

Anthony Hopkins' portrayal of Hannibal Lecter became one of the icons of cinema, since the British actor made a masterful performance by convincing the audience that he, who once played a gentle butler in Ivory's "Remains of the Day", could here be a terrifying, menacing cannibalistic psychopath, though with surprising outbursts of British charm, intelligence and culture - yet that still does not detract from the fact that the first screen performance of his character was in a superior film, in Mann's aesthetic "Manhunter". Even though "The Silence of the Lambs" is slightly overrated, it is still a very good thriller, with the finale reaching almost Hichcockian intensity of suspense, whereas the storyline manages to engage the viewers with ease already in the opening shots. The subplot of Gumb, a serial killer, is almost pointless and does not connect in any cohesive way (what exactly would he gain by sawing a dress out of women's skin? Even if he had it, it is meaningless because he would still be a man, and thus it seems the authors just relayed on lazily explaining it by simply making him "crazy") and does tend to slightly show transsexuals in a negative way, yet it is just a necessary gimmick for the main highlight, the fascinating dialogues between Clarice (excellent Jodie Foster, wonderfully cast with that innocent, fragile look) and Lecter, who gives clues on how to catch him. As many have already pointed out, Clarice reveals in one dialogue that she tried to save a lamb from a slaughter house in a farm while she was a child, and that is mirrored in the story now that she is an FBI agent and tries to save a "human lamb", the Senator's daughter, from Gumb who sheds his victim's skin just as farmers shed the lamb's wool, yet there is also a sly vegetarian subtext, revealing itself in Clarice being possibly a vegetarian humanitarian trying to establish a connection with meat-eater Lecter in order to save another being. The "fake" parallel montage of a the SWAT team surrounding the house is great, and director Demme crafts the film in a cold, clinical, but effective way.

Grade;+++

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Lea and Daria

Lea i Darija; drama, Croatia, 2011; D: Branko Ivanda, S: Klara Naka, Tammy Zajec, Zrinka Cvitešić, Linda Begonja

Zagreb on the eve of World War II. Lea Deutsch is a 13-year old Jewish girl who is member of the Children's Empire, a theatre group for kids who perform on stage. Lea's singing and acting are so charming that the group gets hired to play in the Croatian National Theatre. She meets Daria Gasteiger, a German girl, who is equally as talented. Even though they are rivals at first, they become friends and perform together in the Hensel and Gretel play. However, after the Axis invasion, racial laws are installed, which forbid Lea from performing, devastating her. Nonetheless, Daria remains her friend. Lea, her mother, brother and sister die in a waggon on the way to Auschwitz. Daria's family leaves Yugoslavia a few years later, during the persecution of Germans after World War II.

"Lea & Daria" is an appropriately crafted biopic about the "Croatian Shirley Temple", the Jewish girl Lea Deutsch whose career (and life) were interrupted by the Holocaust. Director Branko Ivanda shows an elegant sense for a natural story flow, assisted by the costume designers and make up artists who conjured up Zagreb and its society in the 30s of the 20th century, and one has to mention the great casting choice of the two main actresses, Klara Naka and Tammy Zajec, who are truly irresistibly cute as the child performers Lea and Daria, and also show a fine talent in dancing. Despite her rather narrow role, Zrinka Cvitesic also delivered a fine performance as Lea's mother, especially in the later stages of the film, when the emotional toll starts to take the centre role. The sequence where Lea and Daria watch a Fred Astaire movie in the cinema, and cannot help but to tap with their feet in tune to the music while sitting, is probably the best example of their unusual friendship (Daria was German), yet the storyline is slightly uneven there because it decided to split 40 % of its time on their lives before the war, and 60 % during the war, thereby eventually consolidating the story revolving around only about Lea, and increasingly forgetting about Daria. The dark, grimm 60 % of the latter half of the movie indeed has weight (the scene where a sad Lea sits on a bench for hours and observes the national theatre, because she is now banned from entering it), yet it is still a pity the movie was so scarce about their careers in the first place, since it would have been more satisfying to see the two girls act in Hensel and Gretel in at least one elaborated sequence, instead of just reducing their cooperation to 10 second clips.

Grade;++

Monday, January 21, 2013

Lorna

Lorna; drama, USA, 1964; D: Russ Meyer, S: Lorna Maitland, Mark Bradley, James Rucker

Lorna is unsatisfied with her boring life in an isolated, small town and with lame sex with her husband Jim. When Jim seemingly forgets their wedding anniversary and goes to work in the salt mine, Lorna wonders off to swim in the river. A convict rapes her, but she actually likes it and, attracted by his lust, invites him to her home. Jim is teased by his two co-workers who joke mock him and say that Lorna is probably having an affair, so he has a fight with them. Upon returning home early, Jim wants to treat Lorna to a hotel for their anniversary, but the convict attacks him. In order to save Jim, Lorna is killed together with the convict.

Russ Meyer, one of the few opulent directors who admitted that they are fascinated with large breasts, filmed movies that mirror that fascination. "Lorna" was the movie that established his future 'exploatation'  formula - exaggerated jealousy, resulting in exaggerated violence, resulting in exaggerating deaths - yet today seems more like a 20 minute short that was overstretched into an empty and thin feature, except that the prolonged running time was not backed up by a stratification of events that could sustain it. As such, it is a simplistic morality play where the heroine cheats on her "boring" husband, just to later regret it and realize what a nice man he is. The main tangle is especially weird and problematic: after a convict rapes her, Lorna suddenly finds that "unstoppable passion" attractive and actually enjoys it (?!), which is really too much, whereas misogyny is slightly also evident in the intro where one male protagonist slaps a woman for refusing him, which is equally pointless as it is irrelevant to the film. Lorna Maitland is beautiful, though, and one wonders where Meyer got all these busty beauties as if they were a dime a dozen. The only interesting thing, movie-wise, is the almost touching finale where Luther talks to the heroine and she realizes how special her bond was with her husband, a rare moment of touching, wise drama, untypical for Meyer.

Grade;+

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Tokyo Babylon

Tokyo Babylon; animated crime fantasy, Japan, 1994; D: Koichi Chigira, S: Kappei Yamaguchi, Miki Ito, Takehito Koyata

Tokyo. Subaru is a psychic who is sometimes called by the police to solve unexplainable, occult incidents. He has a twin sister, Hokuto, who is in a relationship with veterinary Seishiro. Subaru is called to investigate an allegedly cursed site where a building is built, and where workers died mysteriously. He finds out a woman wants an occult man cursed, who killed her brother and boss in order to become the new director of a company. In a showdown, Seishiro kills the man... Subaru witnesses a murder while travelling in a subway and meets Mirei, a post-cognitive woman - a person who can see the past, not the future, and thus can identify the killer. The killer attacks her in the sever, but Subaru and Seishiro stop and kill him.

This two episode OVA is a stylish and aesthetic crime detective fantasy, but many point out that Clamp's original manga was far superior. Truly, as an anime, "Tokyo Babylon" is nothing special, a fairly well done, but standard adaptation of an interesting concept with underdeveloped characters - it may come as a surprise that the 2nd main protagonist is listed a Subaru's sister Hokuto, which is indeed de iure true, but in reality, her appearance is so pale and bland that she seems more like an extra - and a few lame attempts at humor - for instance, when Seishiro tells Hokuto that she should "lose some weight", even though she looks unsettlingly thin. The identical character design of Subaru and his sister Hokuto is slightly misplaced: true, they are twins, but a brother would look identical to his twin sister only if both of their parents were identical too, and thus here he ended up too andogynous. The first episode, revolving around a cursed construction site, is solid, though thin, but the second episode, revolving around Mirei, a 'post-cognitive' woman who must find the killer of her psychic mother, is slightly more intriguing, except that the final showdown is rather 'anti-climatic'. Overall, "Tokyo Babylon" is not versatile, but is an appropriate and good two part anime, nonetheless.

Grade;++

Monday, January 14, 2013

Midnight Run

Midnight Run; crime comedy, USA, 1988; D: Martin Brest, S: Robert De Niro, Charles Grodin, Yophet Kotto, John Ashton, Dennis Farina

Ex-cop now turned bounty hunter Jack Walsh accepts a bail bondman's 100,000 $ task of finding and capturing the fugitive Mardukas, nicknamed "The Duke", a tame accountant who stole 15 million $ from mobster Serrano and gave it all to charity. Walsh arrests him in New York, but due to Mardukas' phobia of airplanes, he has to take him to Los Angeles by a train, a bus and a car. However, Serrano's men are after them, too, in order to kill him. Complicating matters further is a rival bounty hunter and an FBI agent. With the help of a trick, Walsh aides FBI in order to arrest Serrano. He later sets Mardukas free, who rewards him with 300,000 $.

"How much are they paying you to get me?" - "It's none of your business, but I'll tell you anyway just to tell you!" This exchange between "The Duke" Mardukas and his captor, bounty hunter Walsh, is just one of many jokes in this very fun film, that is often based on clever dialogues and comical arguments of the two unlikely characters, who complement each other surprisingly good. The untypically cast Robert De Niro and comedian Charles Grodin play them brilliantly, allowing for sustained, but stimulating exchanges which build a strong chemistry between them. "Midnight Run" is without a doubt one of the best action crime comedies of the 80s, and even though it was not nearly as popular as Brest's previous film, "Beverly Hills Cop", it eclipsed him easily due to a refined screenplay by George Gallo. "Cop" and "Run" are only on pair in the similar action sequences, but otherwise "Run" does a better job of an inspired blend of suspense and comedy, whether it is the quietly hilarious sequence of Mardukas freaking out  in the plane ("These things are big, they can't go up!") or the running gag of FBI agent Mosley often ending up more incompetent than he actually is. Sadly forgotten and underrated, "Run" is a simple thriller comedy that hides intelligent writing and careful structuring behind it. De Niro and the movie as a comedy or musical were nominated for two Golden Globes.

Grade;+++

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Imagine That

Imagine That; comedy, USA, 2009; D: Karey Kirkpatrick, S: Eddie Murphy, Yara Shahidi, Thomas Haden Church, Ronny Cox, Nicole Ari Parker, Martin Sheen

Stockbroker Evan Danielson is divorced and has to take care of his 8-year old daughter Olivia for a week, but neglects her because he has to prepare an important report at work. However, when she draws predictions on his report based on her imaginary three friends, Evan burns out to such a degree that he actually uses her guidelines as a joke - but they all turn out to be true. Olivia's predictions somehow all prove true on the market, infuriating his rival Johnny, but Evan skips an important meeting in order to attend Olivia's stage performance.

Eddie Murphy, one of the greatest comedians of the 20th century, mostly did not star in movies that displayed equal talents on pair with his. One of his many rightfully panned movies was "Imagine That" where he went to the territory that somehow suits him best, the genre of an innocent family comedy, yet the story is too thin and has too little real chuckles to ignite into anything more than a watchable fun. Murphy himself is untypically often wooden as a business dad, and Thomas Haden Church almost steals the show from him as the main villain, even surprisingly delivering the funniest joke in the entire film in the quietly hilarious, irresistible monologue about a dream sparrow. Yet except for the 'dream sparrow' and Murphy's low voice in a scene where he is imagining to talk to a dragon, there is practically nothing else to carry the film, which is really too little. A few heart-warming interactions between the main protagonist and his daughter lift the mood, while the movie then resumes its predictable course, most notable in the obligatory, cliche happy ending, not managing to repeat the same quality that director Karey Kirkpatrick repeated with his previous film, the critically acclaimed "Over the Hedge".

Grade;+

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Glembays

Glembajevi; drama, Croatia, 1988; D: Antun Vrdoljak, S: Mustafa Nadarević, Ena Begović, Tonko Lonza, Bernarda Oman, Matko Raguž, Žarko Potočnjak

Zagreb, early 20th century. The rick banker Ignjat Glembay (69) married the much younger "baroness" Castelli, in reality an ex-prostitute, and is slowly going to ruins by trying to mend all of her incidents. Recently, she ran over an old lady, who eventually succumbed to her wounds, but Glembay's lawyer came to save Castelli in a trial. After 11 years, Glembay's son Leone, a painter, returns home after a long absence and meets a poor woman, the relative of the deceased lady, who threatens to commit suicide with her baby because she does not have any money. Leone remains neutral and the woman jumps from their castle into the death. Leone starts smearing the Glembays and casually mentions how the local priest, the young Silberbrandt, went to bed with Castelli. That night, Leone clashes with his father, blaming him for not caring for his previous wife and indulging Castelli too much. Ignjat dies from a heart attack. After she discovers that Ignjat actually took money from her, Castelli starts swearing at the whole family, upon which Leone takes scissors and kills her.

Considering that "The Glembays" are often cited as one of the best literary works of writer Miroslav Krleža, and one of the best examples of Croatian literature in the 20th century overall, it was just a matter of time until someone tried to adapt them to the screens, and Antun Vrdoljak's attempt is rightfully seen as appropriate, turning into a well balanced and good movie that gains the most thanks to its strong cast. Even though it plays out only inside one location for almost 90 % of its time - one castle - and spans only 24 hours, the clash between the resigned son Leone and his rich title family encompassed a wide range of dramatic themes that burden society, back then and even today: 'trophy' wife; people falling in love with a person without a heart; a husband dumping his loyal wife for a young mistress; mountains of money thrown to mend and whitewash errors of an irresponsible person; an artist struggling to get out of his family's shadow...

Krleža never shows any of his characters as entirely good or bad - even though the idealistic hero Leone is first to criticize his wealthy family, he is not perfect, either (his passivity when the poor woman with a baby threatens to commit suicide), and the main 'villian', Mrs. Castelli, is actually shown to have a fragile side (her monologe about how she grew up in powerty) - whereas some quotes display remarkable wisdom ("Only a rich nation can be free."; "Can I talk to you as a friend, at least for two minutes?" - "No. You are either a friend, or you are not. You cannot be a friend for two minutes!"). The director's meddling with the source was not too intrusive (casting the young Ena Begic as Mrs. Castelli even gave the story a different layer), not even there where it should have been (with all due respect to Krleža, it would have been fantastic to let Ignjat confront Mrs. Castelli, and not die so sudden), and the cinematography is very moody, which all contribute to a good achievement.

Grade;++

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Eel

Unagi; tragicomedy, Japan, 1997; D: Shohei Imamura, S: Koji Yakusho, Misa Shimizu, Mitsuko Baisho

Yamashita is an average employee in an office. One day, after receiving an anonymous letter informing him that his wife is cheating on him, he returns early from fishing, in the middle of the night, and finds her in bed with another man. He kills her and turns himself in to the police. Eight years later, he is released, opens a local barber shop and finds a pet, an eel. He saves a woman, Keiko, from suicide, and she decides to be his employee. She has feelings for him, but after his disaster with his late wife, he is reserved towards her. Keiko is pregnant with her ex-boyfriend, who just wants money from her rich, but loony mother. In order to protect her honor, Yamashita lies that he is the father of her baby and attacks her ex-boyfriend, thus he has to return to jail for violating the parole.

In 1997, the Cannes festival puzzled the critics once more: while the Golden Palm was awarded to Kiarostami's beautiful "Taste of Cherry" justifiably, it remained a mystery why the prize had to be shared with the slightly overrated "The Eel", which was awarded unjustifiably, making Shohei Imamura one of only a handful of directors who won it twice. Unlike some of Imamura's previous 'raw' films, in which he displayed his fascinating philosophy that some of fundamental truths in life can only be found through the lower class, which is passionate, but alive, as opposed to the upper class, which is sophisticated, but dead, "The Eel" is a rather conciliatory, gentler story with a few untypically sweet humorous touches for him, and if two sex scenes were excluded, the movie would be almost conservative. The pace and the running time are overlong and overstretched, almost untypically restrained for Imamura at times, yet some of interesting symbolical observations were done thanks to the hero's pet, an eel, which some have interpreted as his impotence, his fetish or an allegory of outsiders (a male eel fertilizes eggs left by a female and thus does not know his descendants, just like the hero in the end), whereas casting the two actors in the two leading roles - Yakusho and Shimizu - was a stroke of genius since their energy lifts the mood even during lesser sequences, whereas some jokes come swiftly, but wonderfully (after Keiko accidentally hit Yamashita's head, he is later seen wearing a bandage over his head, which comically has a hole above and thus leaves his hair jutting like in a rooster).

Grade;++

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Snatch.

Snatch.; crime/ comedy, UK/ USA, 2000; D: Guy Ritchie, S: Jason Statham, Stephen Graham, Vinnie Jones, Dennis Farina, Brad Pitt, Alan Ford, Mike Reid, Rade Šerbedžija, Benicio del Toro

A couple of intervened stories: mobster Brick Top orders Turkish and Tommy to fix up a boxing match with a candidate that will lose. They agree, but while trying to buy a trailer, they accidentally enter into an argument with Gypsy Mickey who knocks out their boxer. Turkish and Tommy thus decide to put Mickey in the boxing match instead...Three men want to rob a pawnbroker, fail but manage to find Franky's valuable diamond. However, the diamond is claimed by Russian Boris and an American gangster, too, yet is swallowed by a dog who runs away. Mickey double crosses and kills Brick Top, wins the match while Tommy and Turkish find the dog.

Guy Ritchie directed even his second feature length film in the shape of a crime with a touch of playful comedy: "Snatch." is excellent, a juicy and rich achievement, yet surprisingly pleasant for its genre, probably because, unlike Tarantino, Ritchie never takes himself seriously. A part of the critics predictably artificially damped their reviews because the movie is stylistically and plot wise almost identical to Ritchie's previous one, "Lock, Stock and two Smoking Barrels", yet that is no real argument since a fair share of directors often direct always the same movies, just with different structuring, from Bunuel, Allen up to Tarkovsky. "Snatch." is a fantastic fun, with especially stand-out performances by Brad Pitt in the untypical role as Gypsy Mickey, Rade Serbedzija as the Russian thug and the perfect, phenomenal, down to a T played mobster Brick Top who is just might be the role of a lifetime for brilliant Alan Ford, a villain with glasses who has untypical comical and cultured outbursts with some of the greatest quotes ever ("Do you know what "nemesis" means? A righteous infliction of retribution manifested by an appropriate agent. Personified in this case by an horrible cunt...me."; "In the quiet words of the Virgin Mary...come again?"). Among the stylistic highlights is a split screen equipped with subtitles for translation from Russian whereas nitpicking Ritchie for being "too playful" would be equally as pointless as saying that something is too good.

Grade;+++

Friday, January 4, 2013

Sailor Moon R the Movie; Promise of the Rose

Gekijoban Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon R; animated fantasy, Japan, 1993; D: Kunihiko Ikuhara, S: Kotono Mitsuishi, Toru Furuya, Hikaru Midorikawa, Emi Shinohara, Rika Fukami, Aya Hisakawa, Kae Araki

While visiting a botanical garden, petals suddenly fall from the sky and Mamoru meets Fiore, a humanoid alien that comforted him when he was a child and lost his parents. The next day, strange plants turn people into Zombies, but Usagi and the others transform into Sailor Moon and others and stop the process. It turns out that the strange plants are controlled by Fiore, who in turn is controlled by a Xenian Flower. Sailor Moon and the senshi teleport themselves to the asteroid where Fiore is settled and stop him. Fiore wanted to punish humans for letting Mamoru live alone, but stops and finds peace by returning back to space.

The first "Sailor Moon" anime film, "The Promise of the Rose" is considered by most to be the best among the three anime films thanks to the bizarre direction by Kunihiko Ikuhara ("Revolutionary Girl Utena"), a tight script by the series' veteran writer Sukehiro Tomita, great animation and sharp cinematography. However, these critics seem to ignore that the other two movies, "Hearts in Ice" and "Black Dream Hole", are equally as good, just different, which does tend to lead towards concluding that the flaws in "Rose" were ignored while the virtues in "Ice" and "Dream" were unregistered. "Rose" has two irresistible, down to a T perfectly set and executed, tentatively prolonged sequences who seem to act as some sort of comical S. Leone scene whose situations are so juicily set-up that the longer they last the more they make you smile (Usagi closing her eyes and waiting hilariously long for a "delayed" kiss; Chibiusa waking Usagi up after she was knocked unconscious in a restaurant) but works the best while it is situated in the 'slice-of-life" genre, since the second half is just one prolonged battle (of the bizarre), except that its prolonging does not extract magic and spark as the two above mentioned jewels of situations. The problem may lie in the antagonist Fiore, who is just one "guest" bad guy and his base, an asteroid, a slightly too weird location, yet one can find deeper meanings in Carl Jung's psychology, since he is symbolically just Mamoru's Shadow that still wants to take revenge on people for leaving him alone after staying an orphan, which makes the pacifist ending an example of Mamoru's self-realization and personal growth.

Grade;++

Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes; acion crime, USA, 2009: D: Guy Ritchie, S: Robert Downey, Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, Mark Strong, Kelly Reilly, Eddie Marsan

London, 19th century. Detective Sherlock Holmes and his sidekick Dr. Watson manage to stop a ritual sacrifice of a woman and arrest Lord Blackwood, who practiced the occult serial murders. Blackwood is sentenced and hanged, but a few days later people report he rose from the dead and is alive again. Holmes is also contacted by Irene Adler, who asks him to find a missing man. After new murders appear, Holmes and Watson discover that Blackwood is a charlatan who uses elaborate tricks to give an illusion of occult powers, and bribed police officers to fake his execution. Blackwood wants to poison the members of the Parliament, but Holmes and Watson stop that. Blackwood ultimately slips and accidentally hangs himself on a chain, while Irene is arrested.

In one "Simpsons" episode, "Stark Raving Dad", the oblivious Homer phones Bart and informs him that he is bringing a friend, Michael Jackson, home. Cue to thousands of people and music fans eagerly awaiting Michael Jackson visiting their hometown, just to find out that the person in question is actually a bald, overweight white man. "Are you Michael Jackson?" - "Yes." - "You sure don't look like him." The same could be said about Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes: he has the same name as Arthur Conan Doyle's iconic detective, but sure doesn't sound or look like him. A part of the critics loved precisely that, namely that Ritchie took one classic character and gave him a completely new, fresh treatment, never seen before, yet the bizarre blend of 21st century 'hip' action cloth and 19th century classic narration simply ended up uneven. Overall, "Sherlock Holmes" has only two cool scenes (one is the sly way Holmes electrocutes a giant Frenchmen, catapulting him into another thug and thus saving Dr. Watson) and a very fitting finale, yet otherwise its story flow is artificial, the occult subplot is ephemera while it is sometimes sad to see how Holmes turned practically into a slob in this edition, while here Dr. Watson is practically annoyed by the guy. The actors are all great, though, from Downey, Jr. up to McAdams, and even Jude Law turned out much better as Dr. Watson than his initial strange casting might have suspected. However, the movie is still just a typical example of pompous effects and hype camouflaging a thin story, since "Holmes" is not even half as fun as Ritchie's great humorous crime flick "Snatch" or Wilder's similar "The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes" that also showed the detective in an untypical edition, but still managed to turn out much more circled out, even though the producers (in)famously cut it by an hour.

Grade;+

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Love

Amour; drama/ tragedy, France/ Austria/ Germany, 2012; D: Michael Haneke, S: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, Isabelle Huppert

Georges and Anne are a retired couple in their late 70s or 80s. One day, Anne experiences a 'blackout' but returns back to normal. The doctors decide to operate her to relieve a blocked artery, but the surgery goes wrong and Anne's right hand and leg are left partially paralyzed. Georges is nursing her at their home. At first, her mind is still sharp, but with time she suffers from another stroke and is left half-conscious, mumbling gibberish all the time. Their daughter is shocked at Anne's deteriorating state. Seeing she doesn't have the will to live anymore, Georges kills Anne, leaves a note and commits suicide.

The movie that placed director Michael Haneke among only a handful of people who won the Golden Palm in Cannes twice, "Love" is a good and ambitious, but dreadfully pessimistic and heavy existential drama that is difficult to sit through. "Love" could be played in a double bill with Imamura's equally fierce, likewise Golden Palm winning drama "The Ballad of Narayama" since both bravely tackle the taboo topic of helplessness at old age, contemplating about the mood of the last days of the elderly. In that sense, "Love" is a minimalistic 'kammerspiel', playing over 95 % of its time only inside the apartment of the two elderly protagonists - the old man who takes care of his increasingly ill wife - which makes their home seem like a trap after a while, yet also shows true love among a couple, after all the youth and physical beauty left them. Several harsh, grim details (Georges has to help Anne stand up from the toilet seat because her right leg is paralyzed; a grumpy nurse who half-heartedly puts diapers on Anne) just make the mood even paler, but after a while such monotone, ultra-depressive approach starts to become a tad too syrupy and melodramatic, regardless of its realistic setting. Haneke deliberately avoided any kind of playful or inventive touches to show an unglamourous, unpolished reality, yet the movie is slightly one-dimensional, so one has to conclude with George's words at one point when he talks to his daughter - "This is a humiliating and embarrassing situation we are in. And there's simply not much else to see."

Grade;++

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban; fantasy, UK/ USA, 2004; D: Alfonso Cuarón, S: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Robbie Coltrane, Gary Oldman, Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman, Richard Griffiths, Maggie Smith, Emma Thompson, Julie Walters, Fiona Shaw

Harry Potter (13) runs away from his foster parents and heads back to the Hogwarts school of magic. He teams up with his friends again, Ron and Hermine, but hears rumours that a certain Sirius Black escaped from the Azkaban prison and allegedly wants to kill him, just like he allegedly killed Harry's parents. However, thanks to teacher Lupin, Harry discovers that Black is actually innocent and he was framed by the real murderer, Peter Pettigrew, who disguised himself as Ron's rat. Peter escapes when Lupin transforms into a werewolf, but Hermine and Harry travel back in time and manage to save Black from a death sentence.

The 3rd film in the overrated and overhyped "Harry Potter" film series, "Prisoner of Azkaban" is an autistic sorcery fantasy film with a contrived plot that is filled with so much patchwork (werewolves, ghost horsemen running through the school's hall, a time travel subplot (!) in the last 20 minutes...) that after a while the viewers get the impression that practically anything can pass to be written in the story, no matter how careless, just as long as it artificially prolongs the story to a feature. The time travel subplot at the end is the weakest link, especially since it is so lightly presented, as if it was 'no big deal', and is surprisingly underused (one would think that, after getting a second opportunity, Harry and Hermine would at least hire someone to catch Peter, instead of letting him get away for the second time!). It is difficult to believe that the movie was directed by Alfonso Cuaron, the same man who directed "Children of Men", but unfortunately, the marketing executives probably did not want to allow an artist to "meddle" too much with their franchise. The only good sequence is the comical ride inside a super-fast bus through London's streets, the cinematography is refreshingly color rich (as opposed to grey cinematography in some other "Potter" films) and the location scout should be given a medal for finding the wonderfully steep hill with an equally steep path leading to a cottage, which slightly appeases the otherwise "gibberish" hocus-pocus storyline that is often inappropriate (Harry causing aunt Marge to bloat and float away, after which she is never seen again in the film) and difficult to connect to.

Grade;+

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

An Andalusian Dog

Un Chien Andalou; silent short art-film, France, 1929; D: Louis Buñuel; S: Pierre Batcheff, Simone Mareuil

A barber takes a blade and slices the eye of a woman who is watching the Moon...The same woman is sitting in her living room and spots a man falling from a bicycle on the street...Police and people observe a severed hand lying on the street...After a car runs over a woman on the street, a man from the window starts touching his girlfriend's breasts and then dragging a dead donkey on a piano with a rope...A man dies in the meadow and his body is carried away...The woman and the man walk by the beach, until some time later they are found dead, half-buried in the sand.

Considered by numerous critics to be the first surreal film in cinema, director Louis Bunuel's collaboration with painter Salvador Dali resulted in the expressionistic 17 minute short "An Andalusian Dog" that encompassed several aspects of the French avant-garde. The significance of the film is that is deliberately threw away all cinematic and logical rules and was crafted as just purely experimental movie where, as Dali himself said, "no image has any meaning and no interpretation would be accepted", dwelling somewhere between psychoanalysis and the subconscious, yet numerous images do end up in the nightmare territory, such as the infamous one where a blade slice the eye watching the Moon or a man without a mouth, which does tend to be repulsive. Today, when surrealism is not that actual anymore, "Andalusian Dog" is more relevant for the history of cinema in sofar that it showed that a movie can do what ever it wants, be an 'anti-movie' even, than as some all-time classic that can be enjoyed by everyone, since it is difficult for the viewers to find a thread one can attch to, yet the the episodic set-up of events paved the way for experimental cinema (Godard, Vertov...) that thinks 'outside the box' whereas some film analysts even considered that the bizarre tone creates an alternative world that, despite its confusing events, is more honest and free than the conservative, rigid set of rules imposed by the bourgeois world.        

Grade;++