Sunday, 30 November 2014

Undo

Undo; science-fiction drama short, Croatia, 2014; D: Vedran Pavličević, S: Sven Jakir, Matea Koller, Vedran Knez, Bojana Benić, Marko Dabelić

A guy is running through the streets towards his girlfriend, but only finds an empty bus station - she left in the car of another guy just seconds ago. He decides to sit on the bench and wait for the bus. He finds a computer keyboard on the floor, presses the "undo" button - and finds out it can undo events a couple of minutes ago. The bicycle man who passed by him passes again; a girl who walked pass him, passes again... The guy thus decides to press the button ever further, hoping to turnabout the time, up until the point before his girlfriend left. He manages, but at a terrible cost - the two timeline events clash, and he is hit by a car and killed.

In his directorial debut, Vedran Pavlicevic showed a remarkable sense for filmmaking and a sure director's hand in compiling events into a harmonius whole. "Undo" is a sharp, well made short, a film without any dialogues or character names, where the viewers get just enough data to figure what is going on. Even though it may be classified as a time travel film, it is more of a symbolic, imaginative "what if?" concept which explores what would happen if a guy would discover a PC keyboard that could "undo" real life events, just as it is done to correct a mistake while writing on a PC document. This is a minimalist film, and done with weight. The scene where a girl, some passer-bys and a bicycle man pass by the protagonist sitting on the bench, and he presses "CTRL + Z" on the keyboard, upon which the same girl, the same passer-bys and the same bicycle man pass again, the hero starts laughing realizing the potentials of the magical keyboard - it is a powerful moment. We do not know why he was running towards the girl. We do not know why the girl left in some car, before he could reach the station. But we sense there is something romantic between them and this justifies why the guy keeps pushing the undo function, hoping to travel further and further back in the timeline to meet her again and change the past. Even though it is reminiscent of the ending of "La Jetee", the plot twist is strong and seems genuine, because the set-up of intervening timelines is done so subtly many viewers will have to watch two crucial scenes carefully (the bicycle man crashing with someone is a "smoking gun"). For a 15 minutes short, "Undo" pretty much exploited all its potentials.

Grade;+++

Saturday, 29 November 2014

The Watch

The Watch; science-fiction comedy, USA, 2012; D: Akiva Schaffer, S: Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, Richard Ayoade

Ohio. In order to find the murderer of a security guard of his store, manager Evan decides to assemble a local neighborhood watch. However, only three people join him: Bob, Franklin and Jamarcus. They design their own jackets and isignia and start patrolling the neighborhood at night. One night, they find a strange orb that can shoot destructive laser beams. Evan and Jamarcus even manage to capture a real alien, but it escapes. They discover that the aliens plan to destroy the human kind - they hear that from Jamarcus, who himself reveals to be an alien in human disguise. However, with Jamarcus' help, they are able to stop the aliens and save the world.

"The Watch" is a very, very uneven patchwork, but thanks to some good parts, it is at least a 'guilty pleasure'. There are several problems that plague the film. For one, the original title, "The Neighborhood Watch", was perfect, but the producers decided to opt for this one after one murder incident in 2012 involving the neighborhood watch - 2012 is gone, but the film is now forever stuck with an abridged title. The sole concept is great, and it takes an unusual twist by turning into a SF alien story in the second half, aiming at the "Ghostbusters" vibe, except that Venkman, Stantz and Spengler had a more sophisticated, elevated humor and would definitely never talk about such vulgar things as "cum" or childish comments about someone's marriage problems caused by infertility, which makes "The Watch" crude.

The storyline strays in several directions, but ultimately it would not matter what direction it would take as long as it would have inspiration and be funny, yet, unfortunately, the majority of the attempts at humor lead nowhere - for instance, in one sequence, the four protagonists are sitting in the car at night, observing a building. Bob has to pee so he uses an empty beer can to urinate inside. One would expect that a brilliant comic payoff would come after this, but for some reason, this empty scene is all there is, and that's it. The bizarre 'plot twist' also clashes with practically everything already seen in the film and is unnecessary. However, at least two jokes somehow made it to the top and are worth seeing. One is when Evan and Franklin bring a teenager to the police department and accuse him of throwing eggs at them, and Even simply has to add a hilarious, killer line: "He threw eggs at us. Eggs. Coward's weapon." The other sequence simply tops everything in the film and is howlingly funny: after they capture a dead alien in their home, the four protagonists spend dozens and dozens of parade photos, involving putting a blond wig on the alien (!), putting a cigar in alien's mouth or Franklin making a sexual innuendo position by standing behind it.

Grade;+

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Now You Tell One

Now You Tell One; silent comedy short, USA, 1926; D: Charles Bowers, Harold L. Muller, S: Charles Bowers

The Liars Club members hold their meeting and compete by telling the most outrageous stories in order to get the big prize as the biggest liar. However, one member thinks those are petty lies and leaves the meeting. He finds a man, Charley, trying to light a cannon with his head inside, and brings him to the Liars Club. There, Charley tells them his story: he invented a potion that enables him to grown anything fast thanks to simple grafting. He is thus able to grow eggplants, trees and other from seeds in a matter of seconds. However, he met a girl who was plagued by mice in her house, so he grew dozens and dozens of cats to solve the problem. Unfortunately, the girl wasn't the farmer's daughter, but his wife. Charley thus gets the liars prize - but his story was true.

One of the best films of the unknown and neglected comedian Charles Bowers, who coined a trademark with playing a geek character who creates the most insane inventions, "Now You Tell One" is a great little silent comedy short that features some of his most creative and inventive ideas involving his other trademark, the bizarre stop-motion animation effects. The sole setting inside a Liars Club meeting, who try to outdo each other with incredible lies, is already very fun - since their stories are "embodied" with short clips (one member brags how over 40 elephants went to the Capitol Hill, and then elephants are shown entering it; the other is shown literally shrinking in order to hide under his hat, a when the suspect enters the room and throws the hat away, he emerges from it behind the bed and catches him). Once Bowers enters the stage, the storyline just gets even crazier, and in a good and clever way, too. His invention, the potion that causes anything to grow and graft super-fast, is totally weird but very comical, and has inspiration in several moments (he puts a small plant on the ground, under a farmer's foot, and the plant starts growing so fast it enters the farmer's pants and sleeve, transforming into a tree whose branches "perforate" him, making him stay on the tree like a scarecrow). Even though the story starts losing momentum near the end, since a few empty scenes do not make up a natural continuation of the high impression assembled at the start, "Now You..." manages to become one of Bowers' most complete achievements, a pure comedy of the absurd.

Grade;+++

There It Is

There It Is; silent comedy short, USA, 1928; D: Harold L. Muller, Chrales Bowers, S: Charles Bowers, Kathryn McGuire, Melbourne MacDowell

When a chicken emerges from a scrambled egg and some unworn pants start dancing by themselves, four people of a mansion suspect the place is haunted. They call the Scotland Yard, who sends them detective Charley from Scotland to investigate the case. He finds a mysterious man with a beard quickly moving across the house, and the butler suspects it might be the ghost. However, it turns out the man with a beard is just a grandfather whom a family forgot to pick up, and that the people inside the mansion are actually patients in a mental asylum.

A haunted house story was always a very thankful concept for a film, and neglected comedian Charles Bowers made a good film out of it in "There It Is", but not a great one as did Linder in "Help!" four years prior. Interestingly, both films also have a similar twist ending, but even the one in "Help!" seems much more consistent and logical. Abandoning his trademark of inventions here, Bowers does a good job as a man who investigates the case of a haunted house, yet the storyline is never as fun as it could have been and loses steam in the middle. The highlights are definitely once again Bowers' other trademark, the bizarre stop-motion animation sequences: in one great scene, the bed starts "shaking" all by itself while Bowers is trying to sleep, whereas a painting of a ship on the sea "comes to life" and even splashes water from the wall on the protagonist. Another great moment comes when Bowers wants to make a phone call, but flies several feet up in the air because the handset starts floating. Overall, an untypical, but well done silent short.

Grade;++

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Idiocracy

Idiocracy; science-fiction satire, USA, 2005; D: Mike Judge, S: Luke Wilson, Maya Rudolph, Dax Shepard, Terry Allan Crews, Justin Long

The most average man on Earth, Joe, accepts participating in a military hibernation experiment, together with a prostitute, Rita. However, the experiment in forgotten, and instead of staying frozen one year, the stay for 500 years, awakening finally in 2505. Joe and Rita are shocked to find out that people actually became more stupid in the future. This makes Joe the smartest man on Earth and he is drafted by the US President, Camacho, a former porn star, to help save the economy. Joe suggests to start watering the plants to save the crops, instead of pouring a sports drink on the field, but the people rebel and punish him by throwing him into a monster truck show. Joe manages to survive when the crops start to grow. He is elected the new President of the US, and marries Rita.

"Dumb and Dumber" meets "Mad Max" - Mike Judge's 3rd feature length film, "Idiocracy", is a shocking twist to several utopias that envisaged a perfect future thanks to human progress, by pointing out that dysgenics may cause a decline of the human IQ and that the 20th century may have been the human highlight, though, as it is often said that almost every film is a product of its time, it may also be a sly commentary on the Bush administration and where the society may take a wrong turn when stupidity is presented as something cool. The opening is brilliant: it highlights two couples - an intelligent one and a dumb one - and then shows that the intelligent lose their spot in the Sun when they rationalize too long about having their first kid while the dumb couple just simply has several kids, without any thinking or planning, who in turn again have several kids, until the dumb ones become a majority. The main plot, where Joe and Rita become the smartest people on Earth in 2505, is great, but the execution is far weaker since too many jokes are delivered only at first glance - i.e. dumb people doing dumb stuff - and only few of them actually carry something sophisticated to them (one great exception is when Rita asks Joe: "Do you think Einstein walked around thinking everyone was a bunch of dumb-shits?" or when the movie makes fun of the TV shows of the future that consist only from people farting or getting kicked in the crotch, pulling parallels with today's simplistic entertainment). The sloppy and underdeveloped storyline, equipped with an anticlimactic ending, makes the viewers wish for a better format of the concept, yet its cult status is assured, since too many of those characters seem eerily familiar with the people around us.

Grade;++

Monday, 24 November 2014

A Separation

Jodai-e Nader az Simin; drama, Iran, 2011; D: Asghar Farhadi, S: Peyman Moaadi, Leila Hatami, Shahab Hosseini, Sarina Farhadi

A married couple, Nader and Simin, file for divorce: she wants to leave the country with her daughter Termeh, while he wants to stay. Once Simin leaves their apartment, Nader is in a pinch since he needs someone to take care for his father, who suffers from Alzheimer's disease, while he is at work and Termeh in school, He hires a woman, Razieh, for that job. However, when he returns early from work, he finds his father on the ground, with his arm tied to the bed, in the empty apartment. Razieh returns and apologizes, claiming she had to leave for five minutes, but Nader fires her. In the commotion, he drags her out of his apartment. That evening, Razieh lands in the hospital and has a miscarriage, while her husband presses charges against Nadin for pushing her down stairs. Simin tries to make a settlement out of court.

Asghar Farhadi's most famous film - in international aspect - is a contemplative and ambitious intimate drama about family problems, with numerous bitter details that seem almost too painful, but that is refreshingly calm, emotional and genuine, congruent with Iran's meditative-conservative mentality. The main title, "A Separation", is actually misleading: the plot veers off of course to focus on Nader experiencing too much pressure at home when he has problems finding someone to take care for his old father suffering from dementia, and there is another storyline - the miscarriage trial - which quickly becomes the main plot point and carries the most weight. However, while this three plot structure may seem uneven, it is overall engaging and has power - the trial is definitely the main highlight: the viewers root almost the entire time for Nadir, who is an educated and rational man, whereas one questions the motives of Razieh, a woman from poor suburb who claims that she had a miscarriage after he pushed her downstairs. And that disputed event is directed wonderfully subtle: it comes when you least expect it, it happens in only three seconds and then the movie quickly moves on. But once when you rewind the film and return to that disputed event, it is clearly visible that Nadir indeed pushed her out of his apartment - and that, despite all the viewer's sympathy, he may, objectively, indeed be guilty. The message is devastating, namely that people may be gentlemen, cultured and sophisticated all their life, but that just one moment of carelessness might lead to catastrophic consequences. Farhadi manages to alleviate the mood, though, (after Nadir interrogates Razieh's little daughter in his home, he tells her she may go now, but adds: "Watch out for that stairs!") and crafts a honest and unassuming little film.

Grade;+++

Friday, 21 November 2014

A Special Day

Une giornata particolare; drama, Italy/ Canada, 1977; D: Ettore Scola, S: Sophia Loren, Marcello Mastroianni, John Vernon

On 8 May 1938, Hitler visits Mussolini in Rome. Antonietta is a obedient housewife and mother of six children, and stays in her apartment while her husband, kids and neghbors all go to watch the event. Her bird escapes from the cage and lands at the window of a neighbor, Gabriele. She enters his apartment and he helps her catch the bird. Later, since they are the only people in the apartment complex, he visits her and they start talking about life, feminism and art. She kisses him, but he admits he is gay, which is why he lost his job. However, they still have sex. He returns to his apartment only to be taken away by two agents of the special police, while Antonietta starts reading the book he gave her, and starts thinking she is more than just what the society tells her to be.

Ettore Scola came up with a magical title for his film, "A Special Day", a minimalist drama that plays out on only one location for 24 hours, but the film is only sporadically magical itself. The setting and the concept are brilliant: when two Totalitarian dictators, Hitler and Mussolini, meet in Rome, all the scum leaves an apartment complex to watch their "power", while only two human beings with a soul remain, two neighbors, Antonietta and Gabriele, and thus find to each other in this vacuum. There is something opulent in this concept that makes you enjoy "crunching" it down in your mind. The (2nd) opening shot (just after the archive footage of the dictators arriving), in which the camera rises to the window of the apartment and into the room of Antonietta, is virtuoso made, filmed in one take. Unfortunately, the sole core of the film, the interaction between Antonietta and Gabriele, is sadly lukewarm. We never get why they connect, how or on which level, whereas their talk is not that stimulating and lacks true spark and passion. We find out that Gabriele is gay and will thus become one of the victims of the authoritarian regime, while his contemplations manage to transport some anti-totalitarian thoughts in Antonietta, which may explain why he awakened her interest by sparking her feminism and independence, but except for that, little else prevails to hold their interaction on a higher level. We see them, but don't (entirely) feel them. Still, "A Special Day" has a very smooth structure and only one poor scene - while Antonietta and Gabriele are about to have sex, Hitler's voice and the crowed cheering are heard in the background, which is very rough and disproportionate. One can guess what Scola was aiming for, to show the contrast between hate and love in one scene, but it still seems weird nonetheless. Overall, this is a quality, intelligent and contemplative little film that evokes memories of "Brief Encounter".

Grade;++

B Gata H Kei

B Gata H Kei; animated erotic romantic comedy, Japan, 2010; D: Yusuke Yamamoto, S: Yukari Tamura, Atsushi Abe, Yui Horie

Yamada is a high school girl who thinks it is about time she lost her virginity. And she is popular enough to do so, but decides to try it out first with an uglier guy, Kosuda, a virgin himself, thinking it will be easier since such an inexperienced guy won't notice her strange looking vagina. However, Yamada is awfully indecisive and spends weeks setting up pretexts to meet him, only to give up on everything in the last minute. Even her classmate Takeshita is annoyed by that. Finally, Yamada and Kosuda rent a room in a love hotel - but just as they were about to do it, she accidentally presses a button that starts rotating the bed, which injures Kosuda and sends him in the hospital.

When a heroine at the beginning of a story announces that she will sleep with "a thousand men", and by the end of the show she is still a virgin, one can safely assume that the show is misleading the audience. "B Gata H Kei" is a truly anticlimactic anime: despite setting out to be an erotic romantic comedy, it ends up being not even a romantic comedy, or just a comedy, since the silly and goofy "Loony Tunes" like jokes disrupt any attempts at romance, and are not sufficient to carry the comedy assembly. The main problem is that the heroine in question, teenage girl Yamada, is catastrophically indecisive - on one hand, she wants to seduce Kosuda, but on the other, just as she is about to do it, she suddenly backs off and runs away. And this is repeated for the entire storyline. For instance, when she is about to "seduce" Kosuda in the photo darkroom, someone knocks on the door and interrupts them, and when he is about to say that he loves her, the doors of the rapid transit close and "pinch" his head, whereupon the train drives off before he can finish his sentence. Needless to say, it becomes tiresome really quickly.

Out of 12 episode, the only good stuff is in the first two and the last two, while the whole middle is full of empty walk. The supporting characters are interesting, like the purple haired "villainess" Kyoka Kanejo (in one great humorous scene, she even plays piano and sings her "rivalry" song aimed at "destroying" her nemesis Yamada, with such lyrics as: "By stealing Yamada's boyfriend and chucking him, I'll show the difference in power between us..!"), but the majority of them plays almost no role in the story or rarely have moments when they can shine, which makes their presence here hardly necessary. As said, only the last two episodes have some interesting moments, but even when Yamada and Kosuda are finally alone in a love hotel, just about to have sex for the first time, even then the author ruins it - with more dumb humor. There was never a season 2, and that is good that way, since it would have been tiresome to watch further 12 episodes of Yamada and Kosuda messing it up just to remain virgins at the end, anyway.

Grade;+

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

The Sitter

The Sitter; comedy, USA, 2011; D: David Gordon Green, S: Jonah Hill, Max Records, Landry Bender, Sam Rockwell, Ari Graynor

The lazy and unemployed Noah is persuaded by his mother to accept a job as a babysitter for Mrs Pedulia's three kids: the over-sensitive 13-year old Slater, the celebrity obsessed Blithe and the adopted, problematic Rodrigo who often likes to play with dynamite. When a girl, Maria, phones him to bring cocaine to her party, Noah takes the three kids with him to New York. Unfortunately, Rodrigo steals and breaks the egg full of cocaine from a gangster, Karl, who now gives Noah until midnight to bring him 10,000 $ as a compensation. Through various misadventures, Noah manages to stop Karl by having a gang beat him up; talk and bring some sense to the three kids before bringing them back home and meeting a new girlfriend, Roxanne.

"The Sitter" is one of those mainstream comedies from which the most you can expect are a few good laughs here and there, and nothing else. Unlike other babysitting comedies, like "The Pacifier", this one surprisingly does not play out inside the home of the kids, but goes bizarrely out of the way when the babysitter Noah goes into the city and brings the three kids with him: it is almost as if the movie started with one plot point, only to swing over to a completely different one. Because, for the remained of the film, the story is only about Noah trying to get money to appease the gangster Karl, and the three kids that accompany him in the car seem almost like a third wheel in the narrative. They are practically not needed. However, one has to admit that Jonah Hill is excellent in the main role as Noah: unlike other comedians who are hyperactive, loud and full of grimaces, he is perfectly calm and stoic almost even during panic situations, which gives him an aura of a more elevated comedian. There is this brilliant scene when his character says a quietly hilarious line: "Even for a kid, you sound like an idiot." Likewise, near the end of the movie, Noah actually gives two wise advices to Slater and Blithe, which somewhat justifies their presence in the story - but not of Rodrigo, whose character of a kid who throws dynamite to blow up public toilets was completely misguided from start to finish. A mess of a film, with several questionable ideas (for instance, having Blithe, the little girl, wear too much make up the entire film), yet with a few funny moments, the best arriving with the closing credits of the main characters appearing as police sketeches with hilarious captions. But "Uncle Buck" it ain't.

Grade;+

Monday, 17 November 2014

The Scientific Cardplayer

Lo scopone scientifico; comedy, Italy, 1972, D: Luigi Comencini, S: Alberto Sordi, Silvana Mangano, Bette Davis, Joseph Cotten

For years, a strange tradition is upheld: an extremely rich old American lady invites a poor couple, Peppino and Antonia, to play the card game scopone in her mansion, with her driver George. Each time she borrows them money to play with her, but at the end of the night, she wins every time. Peppino, the father of five children, decides to win at least once. And indeed, they win several millions of lire. However, Antonia becomes greedy and persuades Peppino to return to the mansion in order to win even more money from the ol lady. They win a huge amount of money, but lose it again in a 'double-or-nothing' rule. When they even invest their own money, they lose and become homeless. However, their daughter gave a poisoned cake to the old lady before the latter went on a airplane trip back home.

A modern retelling of the Greek mythological figure of Tantalus, in which a poor couple are taunted with the prospect of winning millions of lire in a card game just to lose them every time, "The Scientific Cardplayer" is an appropriately black comedy, a good, but not a great achievement. Considering that the majority of the viewers do not know anything about the scopone card game, nor about the rules or their procedure, it is remarkable that it still manages to carry the whole film, kudos to director Luigi Comencini who tied it with the fate of the poor couple who are always on the edge of their seats and whose lives are at stake in every game, which makes it engaging. However, the movie is very flat in its dramaturgy, which can become slightly monotone after a while, and a few major punchlines in the jokes are "missing". As a compensation, considering that the viewers rooted for the poor couple to win, and that in any mainstream film they would, the ending is a complete, genuine surprise, and catches you off guard. Also, one simply has to mention Bette Davis in the role of the 'sadistic' old rich lady, who seems to be enjoying taunting the poor couple, which is expectadly another great perfromance of hers.

Grade;++

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Farewell

Proschianie; drama, Russia, 1983; D: Elem Klimov, S: Stefaniya Staniyuta, Lev Durov, Alexey Petrenko, Leonid Kryuk

One day, peaceful people of a small, idylic village of Matyora, situated on an island with the same name, are informed by the authorities that every one of them must leave the place because the whole area will be flooded in order to build a hydroeletric power plant. The authorities slowly implement the expulsion, while a very tall tree seems to be impossible to uproot. One old grandmother is particularly sad that she has to leave the place she lived in all her life, and the graves of her ancestors. When all the animals are deported, she spends the last night in her home before the authorities put it on fire. The island is flooded, but one inhabitant starts screaming "Matyora!" while passing in a ship on the flooded area.

Elem Klimov's 4th and penultimate film, "Farewell" is a slow and heavy, but very ambitious drama that works on several layers. For one, the most obvious theme is the ecology, the toll caused by the ever increasing technology that threatens to swallow the last idyllic places of nature, as well as the contemplation about people who live in harmony and respect with nature - embodied by the grandmother to whom the island has an almost religious importance - and the new generation that finds more satisfaction in machines and virtual reality than true reality, whom they don't care about anymore. This is embodied in the giant, tall tree that serves as the spirit of the island and defies the efforts of the cold authorities to remove it - they try to chop it, but the chainsaw breaks; they try to tip it, but the bulldozer stops when it crashes into it. However, there seems to be a more subtle theme in here, as well, a one that went right over the heads of the viewers, namely that the story is actually an allegoric catharsis caused by one specific subconscious guilt - the Soviet deportations. The parallels seem very palpable when one has this in mind: people are informed by the authorities that they must collectively leave their homeland, to go into the unknown, and the scenes corroborate this notion (the cattle collected on a ship to be shipped away; the grandmother who spends the last night at her home; authorities who burn all the houses, almost as if to "wipe" out every traces of the existence of this nation). This seems almost identical with what Estonians, Lithuanians or Chechens had to endure. "Farewell" suffers from too much empty walk and overstretched moments, yet Klimov never tests the patience of the viewers as much as let's say Tarkovsky. Maybe the characters could have been better developed, as well, but the overall story works even without that.

Grade;+++

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Office Space

Office Space; satire, USA, 1999; D: Mike Judge, S: Ron Livingston, David Herman, Ajay Naidu, Jennifer Aniston, Gary Cole, Stephen Root, John C. McGinley

Peter has a terribly monotone and stressful job in a software company, and is increasingly anxious for having to work in cubicles. However, one day, a psychiatrist manages to hypnotize him and end his tension. Completely relaxed, Peter does not show up for work for days, and when he openly tells two downsizing consultants that he does not have any motivation for his work, instead of getting fired, he is promoted and his boss punished for not motivating employees. He even takes courage to take a waitress, Joanna, out for a date. Together with two employees who will get fired, Michael and Samir, he coins a software that will extract penny decimals of company's transactions to their account. Luckily, the company ends up in flames and thus they are not caught.

After his thin debut film "Beavis and Butt-Head Do America", Mike Judge surprised with his 2nd film that reversed his cheap humor, the intelligent "Office Space", which is a grand satire on corporatism and the toll of stressful jobs on employees. From the opening - where the hero Peter is waiting in his car in an endless traffic jam, then switches to the right track because the cars are moving there, only to find out that his "new" track has now stopped, while his "old" track started moving as soon as he left it - is a brilliant introduction of the "cursed" little worker who finds endless plight surrounding even the path to his humiliating job, while the movie works and grows thanks to clever observations and quietly hilarious humor originating from the work environment in which people are treated as cattle - the highlight is probably the funniest joke, where consultant Bob informs the boss that one meek employee, Milton, "was fired five years ago, but no one ever told him about it; but through some kind of glitch in the payroll department, he still gets a paycheck". There is something true to this storyline, and one can sense it. One great way of escapism is provided after Peter finally manages to relax after years of stress, and completely turns his behavior upside down in one subplot. The last third of the film is the weakest, since it abandoned the theme of work and went on to an obscure software heist scheme that leads nowhere, thus diminishing the overall effect. Nonethless, despite various omissions, this forerunner to "The Office" is a therapeutic essay on work many can identify with, and a tribute to anyone who ever had a job he/she did not like.

Grade;+++

Ikarie XB-1

Ikarie XB-1; science-fiction, Czech Republic, 1963; D: Jindrich Polak, S: Zdenek Štepanek, Radovan Lukavsky, František Smolik, Otto Lackovič, Jozef Adamovič

In the future, a crew of about 40 astronauts is travelling in the spaceship Ikarie XB-1 to Sun's nearest solar system, Alpha Centauri, to explore if there is life there. Due to their high speed, it will take two and half years until they get there, but 15 years will have passed on Earth. They encounter a space ship, but it turns out to be from Earth, sent there in the 20th century, while all inhabitants are dead. That ship explodes and kills two crew members. One crew member goes crazy from isolation in space and threatens to sabotage Ikarie XB-1, while one woman is pregnant and gives birth. They are also followed by a strange, unknown dark star. They finally reach Alpha Centauri's planet, and find a city on its surface,

"The Magellanic Cloud" is not among Stanislaw Lem's better SF books, but it is still superior - and far more conclusive - than the movie that was based on it, "Ikarie XB-1", which nonetheless gained cult status for being one of the handful of Czech SF films of the 20th century, thereby showing remarkable audacity. Unfortunately, remarkable audacity aside, the film itself is sadly dated: filmmed in black and white, with noticeably 60s set designs of the spaceship and uniforms, as well as disappointingly bland and one-dimensional characters in which nobody stands out, which makes the whole storyline faceless. Unlike the book, the film does not have a beginning nor an ending - it starts with the crew already travelling inside the spaceship, without showing the "why" and "how" that lead to it, and it ends with one of the worst cop-out, anticlimactic endings that abruptly terminate the story just when it became good - which makes it seems as if half of the narrative is missing, as well as some sort of an conclusion. In one sequence, for instance, after entering the Alpha Centauri system, the spaceship finds a derelict spaceship from Earth (!), with dead people inside it, sent from the 20th century, but there is no explanation as to why or how it got there. Such and other inconsistencies bother, yet one can enjoy bits and parts of it that are good, since such films were rare outside the English speaking cinema world.

Grade;+

Monday, 10 November 2014

Agony

Agoniya; drama, Russia, 1975, D: Elem Klimov, S: Alexei petrenko, Anatoly Romashin, Velta Line, Alisa Friendlich

Imperialist Russia, 1916. The emperor, Tsar Nicholas II of the Romanov dynasty, is increasingly influenced by charlatan and mystic Grigori Rasputin, which further exacerbates the already disastrous mismanagement of the country, where the poverty and the neverending war in World War I front already alienated the people from the court. Claiming to be a healer and a prophet, Rasputin just uses the Romanovs to stage decadent parties. He even starts influencing Nicholas II in decisions at the front. Finally, he is exiled and killed, which signals the end of the empire.

Elem Klimov's 4th film, "Agony" is a disappointing achievement that has very little of the dazzling style of director's other films, and is arguably his weakest film. It is an overlong, boring and ponderous historical account, a one in which the event portrayed - the bizarre influence of the mystic, healer and all-around fraud Rasputin on the naive people around him, which went all the way to the highest circles, thereby mirroring the theme of how religion can be misused to deceive the masses - is very interesting, but it is shown in a very uninteresting manner. Full of chaotic scenes of decadent parties and carnival at the court, stiff characters and inconsistent narrative, this is an overall a mess of a film, with a few very questionable scenes (one example of animal cruelty, where the actor playing Rasputin throws a living pig and sends it smashing on to a table full of beverage). The only scarce examples of Klimov's more imaginative style are black and white scenes of archive footage combined with the played events, and the use of subtitles to introduce and identify several historical characters. If anything, at least Klimov refused to succumb to Bolshevik propaganda since they are not shown in this - for them - important time before the October revolution. Other than that, even though it was banned and tempered with, this is a mediocre film.

Grade;+

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Beavis and Butt-Head Do America

Beavis and Butt-head Do America; animated comedy, USA, 1996; D: Mike Judge, S: Mike Judge, Robert Stack, Demi Moore, Bruce Willis, Cloris Leachman, Richard Linklater

When two small time crooks steal their TV set, Beavis and Butthead crash into a motel apartment because a TV was on, but the man inside, Muddy, mistakes them for two contract killers he hired and sends them in a plane to Las Vegas in order to kill his wife Dallas. However, Beavis and Butthead are so dumb they mistake his contract for a hired sex with her, and once they meet Dallas, she sends them to Washington because she smuggled a dangerous virus in a unit she hid in Beavis' pants. This causes a wild goose chase since FBI agents are looking for the virus. In the end, the agents get the virus and arrest the wrong man, while the two teenagers are decorated as heroes.

This movie adaptation of the cult comedy TV show "Beavis and Butt-head" somehow brings back memories of a legendary quote by Alan Moore who said that "it is not the job of an artist to give the audience what they want, but what they need". Namely, there are some 3-4 good jokes here, but the rest is one long, overstretched story about nothing, about two teenagers who see sexual innuendo in every sentence someone says and who are so dumb that at one point it becomes almost damaging and detrimental by itself. However, just as with "Dumb and Dumber" and many others comedies about dumb protagonists, there is something subconsciously attractive for the masses that made them all hits, probably because by living in civilization and culture somehow makes it interesting to see something really primitive for a change. Still, Mike Judge managed to squeeze a few funny jokes, nonetheless - the most hilarious being the one with the Federal agent who says to another one: "Never end a sentence with a preposition" - whereas there is only one example where Beavis and Butt-head's stupidity was used for an intelligent joke, but it was great: when the two teenagers announce on the Congress speakerphone that they are ready to "score", there is an awkward pause, but then all politicians inside start giggling 'Beavis and Butthead'-style. The only point of interest is spotting a small cameo by Daria Morgendorffer some 50 minutes into the film, whose authors did exactly the opposite and made the far superior spin-off "Daria" about intelligence and humanity, thereby quickly leaving their origins far behind.

Grade;+

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

God Forgives... I Don't!

Dio perdona... io no!; western, Italy, 1967; D: Giuseppe Colizzi, S: Terence Hill, Bud Spencer, Frank Wolff

The Wild West. After a trunk of gold has been robbed from a train, insurance agent Hutch suspects it might be outlaw Bill St. Antonio. The only problem is, Bill was supposed to be killed in a duel by Cat years ago. After investigating a little bit, they find out Bill is alive since he gave Cat a gun with blank bullets in order to conveniently disappear from many enemies who are now not after him anymore. Butch and Cat find the hideout of Bill's gang and steal their stolen gold, burying it. However, the gang finds and captures them, and Bill tortures them to find out where they hid his gold. Butch and Cat manage to escape, though, and in a renewed duel, Cat manages to kill Bill.

"God Forgives... I Don't!" stayed remembered for establishing the very 1st teaming up of legendary Italian comic duo - Bud Spencer and Terence Hill -  except that it was in a serious story, which caused a negative backlash from their fans who had to wait all until their 4th collaboration, "They Call Me Trinity", to get their run for the money and see them interact in a comedy. However, leaving expectations of the masses aside, "God Forgives" is a surprisingly good film on its own terms, and if watched with an open mind, it actually shows Hill and Spencer in a quality, serious, but genuine and natural performances. The opening sequence, with a train full of dead passengers stopping by crashing onto the station, is effective and expressionistic, whereas the situation where Cat (Hill) and the bad guy Bill are preparing for a pistol duel while the cabin around them is slowly burning, causes double suspense since there is huge pressure on them to draw as soon as possible before the fire collapses on them. Unfortunately, those two sequences outshine anything else in the film, which is good, but rarely matches them later on. Still, director Giuseppe Colizzi has a fine sixth sense for mood and stylistic images, which makes this one of the better post-Leone Italian westerns, with bits and pieces of brutality and violence with a measure, whereas his two actors, Hill and Spencer, would appear in his unofficial 'western trilogy' which continued with "Ace High" and "Boot Hill".

Grade;++

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

The Cabin in the Woods

The Cabin in the Woods; horror/ satire/ grotesque, USA, 2012; D: Drew Goddard, S: Kristen Connolly, Franz Kranz, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison, Bradley Whitford, Richard Jenkins, Sigourney Weaver

Five students - Dana, Holden, Marty, Curt and Jules - drive off to spend a relaxing weekend in a cabin in the woods. During night, they find a basement underneath it and enter it, where they find a diary of a woman who was abused by her family in 1903. By reading out her Latin lines, they summon a bunch of zombies who attack the cabin. Marty, Curt and Jules are seemingly killed, while the rest find they cannot escape because a force field barrier is blocking their way out. When Holden is killed, Dana and the surviving Marty find a shaft that leads them to a TV studio beneath, which recorded and orchestrated all the killings. They meet the two main technicians there, Gary and Steve, and find out the ritual murders are performed to appease the sleeping demon gods beneath. Marty and Dana survive, but they thus trigger the demon gods to awake and attack humanity.

"The Truman Show" meets "Evil Dead" - Drew Goddard's feature length debut film, "The Cabin in the Woods" caused quite a stir and managed to reach cult status since some consider it among the better horror films of the 21st century. The first part of the story plays with the horror cliches in an inventive way, twisting them to add something new to their worn out repertoire or giving them an altogether ironic touch - for instance, while alone in the cabin at night, Dana chooses "dare" while playing the "truth or dare?" game. But just then, the door of the basement opens all by itself, leading to a dark place underneath. The five students want to send someone down there to explore it, and one of them decides to send precisely Dana because she chose "dare". The framing story of a TV reality show that is being used to control the events in the cabin and record them, is interesting and causes the viewers to guess the whole time what is going on, and gives the story a puzzle like structure, whereas the two main technicians in the studio, Gary and Steve (Whitford and Jenkins), are brilliant characters who cannot resist but to give a few cynical remarks at the whole situation, especially in the hilarious scene where one actor gives a religiously fundamnetalist rant over the phone, without knowing he is on speakerphone. The events manage to constitute a quality storyline, all until the disappointing finale - when such a clever concept was set up, such a lackluster resolution, where ideas and demons are crammed without any criteria or measure, almost as pure trash, is counterproductive and seems as if it was pulled out from someone's you know what. This would not have been so crucial had the story not placed all the emphasis on the finale that explains everything what was going on until it.

Grade;++

Saturday, 1 November 2014

White Nights

Le Notti Bianche; drama, Italy, 1957; D: Luchino Visconti, S: Marcello Mastroianni, Maria Schell, Jean Marais, Marcella Rovena

Mario is a young man who has a poorly paid job and wonders through city's streets at night to forget his loneliness. One night, he meets a girl at a bridge, Natalia, and falls in love with her. When they meet the second night, she avoids him, though, and then explains that she is awaiting for a man whom she fell in love with a year ago: the man rented a room at her place but disappeared without an explanation, except that he said he will wait for her exactly a year later at the bridge. The third night, Mario takes Natalia out for a dance and she agrees to marry him, thinking her man left her. However, just as Mario was overwhelmed with joy, Natalia leaves him when her man shows up at the bridge.

Luchino Visconti's "White Nights" is a well made film, yet its overstretched impression reveals that it is based on Fyodor Dostoyevsky's eponymous short story and that it would have been better as a short film: while the transition to Natalia's home a year ago is effective, as a flashback it drags on for too long, whereas while the long dance sequence is deliciously comical, even it is overlong. The virtues of the film are various contemplations about loneliness and one scene near the end, in particular, is the essence that carries and justifies the whole film: when Natalia agrees to marry him, it starts to snow and Mario has his Annus mirabilis summed up in five minutes - for the first time in the entire film, he is overwhelmed with joy and it is clear the only thing missing in his life was just love when he shouts: "I thought this city was bleak and depressive. But all this time it was me! Now it seems bright and full of sparkle." This retroactively gives the events weight and emotional power, which comes to full expression in the end. The black and white cinematography is also remarkably crisp and crystal clear, giving dark streets at night a fine mood. While the storyline is kind of contrived and melodramatic at times - it is never clear why Natalia fell for the mystery man in the first place, nor why she would be waiting for him for a whole year when he did not provide any reason for his absence - the two main actors manage to minimize the flaws and strengthen the framework: Marcello Mastroianni is great and charismatic, though a little bit too attractive to convey a lonely man, whereas Maria Schell allegedly memorized all her lines phonetically since she did not speak Italian. Her performance is great, though he character is slightly indecisive.

Grade;++

Adventures of a Dentist

Pokhozhdyeniya zubnovo vracha; satire, Russia, 1965; D: Elem Klimov, S: Andrey Myagkov, Vera Vasilyeva, Alisa Freindlich

A young dentist, Chesnokov, moves to a small town and finds out he has a special talent: he can extract bad teeth from patients without pain, in only two seconds. He quickly rises to prominence, but other dentists see his talent as a threat to their own careers and thus arrange a commission to inspect him. During that visit, Chesnokov refuses to pull out a bad tooth from Masha because it is complicated, thus sending her to a specialized clinic. However, because of that delay, Masha misses her wedding by a day, and thus her engagement is ruined. Plagued by rumors spread by jealous dentists, Chesnokov loses his talent and thus quits the clinic in order to become a lecturer at a dentist university. When the students have to pull out a tooth in practise, his talent returns, and a girl student discovers she has the same talent as well.

Elem Klimov's 2nd feature length film, "Adventures of a Dentist" is a bitter satire about how a special talent in certain field can become a burden to an individual who is surrounded by crushing jealousy in a vain society: the synechdoche storyline about a dentist who has a talent of extracting teeth without pain mirrors not only the director's own trauma for having great talent in film making than other directors, or the Totalitarian Soviet society, but the global behavior as a whole. Faced with a town where each of his mistakes is exacerbated while all of his positive achievements are belittled, the hero thus quits his clinic and loses his talent. Klimov has a few moments where his stylistic side is once again demonstrated, mostly while breaking the 4th wall (a man, the narrator, sits at the dentist's chair and looks into the camera, saying: "I was Chesnokov's second patient!"; while Chesnokov and a girl are walking on the street, subtitles show up in the background that say how he accidentally ruined Masha's marriage when he sent her to a clinic on her wedding day; while walking in the middle of the road, Chesnokov and a girl embrace each other, while all the passerbys on the sidewalk, left and right, stop to look at them. And when he two stop hugging and continue walking, the passerbys continue walking as well), yet the movie somehow seems too schematic, stiff and its narrative underdeveloped, since it is not always clear why a certain character reacts the way he does, whereas the ending seems abrupt and not elaborated enough, which somewhat undermines the premise from coming to full expression.

Grade;++