Monday, November 30, 2015

House, MD (Season 3-5)

House, M.D.; drama series, USA, 2007-2009; D: Greg Yaitanes, David Straiton, Daniel Attias, Miguel Spochnik, S: Hugh Laurie, Jesse Spencer, Omar Epps, Robert Sean Leonard, Lisa Edelstein, Peter Jacobson, Olivia Wilde, Kal Penn, Anne Dudek

Since he fired his assistant, Chase, and the other two of his members - Foreman and Cameron - left his team, Dr. House is now left alone in the hospital department. Since needs a diagnostics team, ordered by the head of the hospital, Cuddy, House starts a doctor's audition featuring about 40 candidates which he eliminates one by one after each case. In the end, House opts for Dr. Taub, Remy "13" and Kutner, whereas one of the eliminated candidates, Dr. Amber Volakis, starts a relationship with House's friend, Wilson. Kutner commits suicide, which leaves House with "13" and Taub. At the end, House starts exhibiting signs of hallucinations, caused by his Vicodin intake, which threatens his career.

After the first two seasons kicked off with a rather shaky start, seasons 3 to 5 finally saw the rise of the creative level of the real "House MD" and consolidated the title character, who hereby imbibed the form he would be remembered for the most. The writers were presented with the typical formula of the show - a patient arrives with a disease no one is able to identify, until House solves the mystery at the end - but what they did when they played and twisted the formula standards to give something original was, at times, pure genius. Episodes 3.3 and 3.4, in which a girl (Leighton Meester) developed a crush on House, was sweet and featured a few good lines ("I was listening to her heart. It went: 'Greg House. Greg House'"), though the whole third and fourth season were simply superabundant with a whole array of inspired, delicious and incredibly witty dialogues that are music to the ears ("I get why you don't want to go to rehab. But only an idiot goes to prison because he is stubborn." - "Only an idiot stands between Ahab and his whale! Move it!"; "I always look on the bright side of life. I think Cuddy's C-cup is always half-full."; House and Wilson arguing: "Ah, yes, if it isn't Dr. Ironside!" - "Ah yes, if it isn't Dr. I had no friends when I was growing up so all I did was watch TV by myself, so now I can make constant pop culture references which no one understands but me!"; a kid misreads what House wrote on the board: "What's "extension of pastoring"?" - "It's when you're molested by priest's cousin."; the howlingly funny sequence when Cameron interrupts House in the most awkward timing, when he is wondering about hypogonadism: "What causes headaches, rage, personality disorder and hypogonadism?" - "...Where's Foreman?" - "He is still mad at me." - "Why?" - "No reason... Male genitals are controlled by pituitary gland... (House turns around to Cameron as if to assure her) We're not talking about Foreman anymore").

However, the Cameron-Chase-Foreman interaction with House became somehow strangely stiff and lax after a while in season 3, which is why it was a good idea to have them "take a break" for a while and start the 4th season with a completely new cast, opening the way for House's hilarious audition of some 40 doctors which will become his new team. One of the highlights is episode 4.2, "The Right Stuff", written by Doris Egan and Leonard Dick: from the fantastic sneaky candidate character of Amber (when the candidates get the assignment to wash House's car, Amber publicly protests that they, the doctors, are "too good for this" and leaves, which causes numerous others candidates to follow her and quit in disgust, except for Kutner. After a while, though, Amber suddenly returns to wash the car, anyway, which causes the puzzled Kutner to ask her: "Changed your mind?" - "No." - "Then why are you back?" - "I never intended to quit. I intended everyone else to quit.") up to the childish, common sense jokes (Kutner, candidate with the number "6", is fired by House, but he secretly returns to the class with the upside down number "9"), everything is done right in this small chef-d'œuvre, one of the best episodes of all time. Anne Dudek also probably gave the role of a lifetime as Amber, perfectly balancing out her cynicism and charm.

Even in this arc, some episodes tend to become tiresome and routine, but are always refreshed by several inventive plots: episode 3.18, "Airborne", for instance, which features House sealed off in an airplane flying over North Pole, who is faced with an epidemic of a sick man and has no team for support (so he makes one boy mimic Chase's Australian accent and another passenger to always agree with him, like Foreman, to conjure up the mood in the clinic), or 4.11, "Frozen", where House has to diagnose a sick psychiatrist (excellent guest appearance by Mira Sorvino) on the South Pole only via skype: brilliant concept, brilliant episode. Of course, the final two episodes, 4.15 and 4.16, "House's Head" and "Wilson's Heart", need to be mentioned as well. "House's Head" is an instant classic - he wakes up in a strip club, figures he has a head injury and cannot remember how he got there, and then exits to find a crashed bus, and figures he was one of the passengers, going on  a quest to assemble what happened - and presents flawless writing with such a strong 'plot twist' that it is better not to talk about it too much. 4.16 is also good, though overhyped and weaker, evidently making a questionable decision to remove one of the best new characters from the show. Season 5 is somewhat weaker, though it still has several great dialogues ("Look at the time! It's half past Taub lying about Kutner!") and ends with 5.22-5.24, which offer a strong, magnificently directed finale that intrigues genuinely. Seasons 3-5 may be considered House's annus mirabilis since they gave a lot from the concept, and nicely circled out the arc - so nicely, in fact, many will not resist to watch the next seasons immediately afterwards.


Friday, November 27, 2015

Happy End

Happy End; comedy, Czech Republic, 1967; D: Oldřich Lipský, S: Vladimír Menšík, Jaroslava Obermaierová, Josef Abrhám, Bohus Záhorský, Stella Zázvorková

Bedrich's life is told in reverse, though he narrates it straightforward: the guillotine goes up and his head is attached to his body, bringing him to life, whereas the police officers and the executioner return him to his prison cell. The story goes back to when he was handed a death sentence, and to when he is released from prison. He finds himself with a suitcase and goes to his home to find the chopped up body parts of a woman. Using his knife, he "un-cuts" them and assembles the woman who comes back to life, Julia. As the narration goes further back, Julia is seen cheating on Bedrich with Jene, a man whom he saved from drowning. Their child gets unborn, they get unmarried and Bedrich returns to his previous wife. Finally, he returns to being a child.

A masterpiece of surreal-black comedy cinema, one of the best movies from the 60s, Oldrich Lipsky's 'reverse movie' "Happy End" contains such a dazzling and meticulously crafted storyline that later similar achievements such as "Memento" and "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" seem like child's play in comparison. Lipsky crafts the whole storyline in reverse time, starting from the hero's death and ending with his birth, but the protagonist refuses to depict it as such and instead narrates it straightforward, which gives it irony and sharpness. However, the author went even a step further, and wrote an almost careful codification of dialoges which give a different meaning when the sentences are spoken in reverse chronological order, something not even Pietro Bembo would have been ashamed off: one example is the courtroom dialogue between Bedrich and the judge ("Yes, I did it." - "So, you have done it? Your denial is useless?" - "As I said before, I didn't kill anybody!" - "I am asking you for the last time: did you kill your wife and her lover?" - "I didn't notice anything." / "...You were born?" - "Not at all!" - "Any mental disorders?").

This was a conventional story—a man kills his wife and her lover out of jealousy—but by telling it in reverse, it became unique: the movie is virtuoso assembled, with a couple of incredible moments (the lover "falling up" from the street, through the window into the apartment, and as he is chased in reverse though the room by Bedrich, causing less and less feathers to fall from the pillow, the hero narrates how an "intruder" crashed through his window, but he "forced him to clean up"), with the humor stemming from oddball dialogues (as the fish are flying backwards from the seals into Jene's hands, the narrator says how Jene was "stealing fish from the animals in the zoo") or by director's method (Bedrich tripping with his suitcase in reverse). "Happy End" is highly artificial—everything is style, everything is exaggerated, the characters are all caricatures—but these concoctions conquer with an incredible intelligence and wit, and just like the grotesque characters in the movies by Fellini and the Coen brothers, they are still based on some truths from everyday life, which is why even moments with highly burlesque kind of black humor seem to be done with taste and class.


Thursday, November 26, 2015

Star Trek: First Contact

Star Trek: First Contact; science-fiction, USA, 1996; D: Jonathan Frakes, S: Patrick Stewart, Brent Spiner, Jonathan Frakes, Michael Dorn, James Cromwell, LeVar Burton, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, Alfre Woodard, Alice Krige, Robert Picardo

In 2373, the Borg, a highly hostile and invasive alien cyborg race, sets a course to attack Earth. Jean-Luc Picard, the Captain of the spaceship USS Enterprise, manages to destroy their spaceship, but a small Borg capsule flies back in time to the year 2063. The Enterprise follows them. On Earth, a small team led by Riker tries to convince Cochrane, an alcoholic, to proceed with his first ever war drive, which will change the course of history towards the better. Back on Enterprise, the crew is fighting the Borg who are slowly taking over the spaceship. Picard, who was once almost assimilated by them six years ago, manages to prevail, thanks to Data, who smashes a coolant tank on the dock, whose liquid destroys the Borg. The Enterprise returns to the future afterwards.

Even though it was met with critical acclaim (92% positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes), the 2nd film of the next generation and the overall 8th film of the "Star Trek" franchise, "First Contact" is a highly polarizing experience, and may in fact be the first instalment that broke the old rule that all "Star Trek" films with even numbers are good, while those with odd numbers are weak. It has a strong villain, the cyborg alien race Borg, who seem to be an allegory of the Bolshevik-Nazi regimes or some sort of a space ISIL, an extremist-expansionist group that cannot be reasoned with, yet the film took several ill-conceived decisions, which made it seem convulsive. It starts off with an unnecessary, vile shot of Picard remembering how the Borg drill in his eye - not even the notorious scene with the worm in "Khan" was so explicit as this one. It then makes yet another turn into time travel territory - the 3rd "Star Trek" film to do so - without clearly explaining some loose ends (if the Borg could travel back in time, why do it in public, so that the Enterprise can follow them? And how could the Enterprise return back to the present?), yet the far bigger problem is that it has no function in the storyline.

It is set in the year 2063, but from the perspective of 1996 audience, the years 2063 and 2373 are equally as indistinguishable from one another. The screenwriters should have taken a note from "Star Trek IV", where the futuristic crew travels back to the present, which offers some great culture clash and jokes people can identify with since it contains two very distinctive eras. Even worse, even if the whole film played out in 2373 entirely, what role does Cochorane play in the Borg story, anyway? The Borg story works, the Cochrone story does not. The only good moment is the joke where he freaks out listening to the statue that is going to be built in his name, yet the rest of the subplot - where Riker and the others are trying to persuade him to continue with his warp drive - can only go so far after a while, and feels like a fifth wheel. Several other inconsistencies bother: when a crew member is infected by the Borg after only 60 seconds, Picard kills him - but when Picard himself was infected, and successfully managed to recover, then it is OK for his crew to save him. The dialogues were alright, save for a few good moments ("The Borg? Sounds Swedish."), whereas the finale was good. "First Contact" has one undeniable highlight: the excellent, deliciously long suspense sequence of Picard, Worf and another crew member in spacesuits trying to unlock a giant Borg antenna on the spaceship, with several inspired moments (they shoot at one Borg, the other adapts to the laser, so Picard shoots the ground under him, causing the cyborg to fly off into space). But in order to get to that good part, you have to dig your way through a mass of grey moments and characters in between.


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Number 55

Broj 55; war / action, Croatia, 2014; D: Kristijan Milić, S: Goran Bogdan, Alan Katić, Marko Cindrić, Dražen Mikulić, Marinko Prga

Central Slavonia during the Croatian war of independence. About 20 Croatian soldiers embark in an improvised tank into Kusonje, a village under Serb control. However, their vehicle gets immobilised by an anti-tank missile, and the 20 soldiers thus hide in an abandoned nearby house marked only with a number 55. During the following 24 hours, they will try to hold on the siege of the house by the Serb paramilitary and Yugoslav People's Army, despite a shortage of ammunition, waiting for the help to arrive. In the morning, they run out of ammunition, and the Serb paramilitary kill them.

The first film in the planned series of battles and clashes during the War in Croatia, Kristijan Milic's "Number 55" is a rather effective alloy of a war and action film (the latter genre is practically non-existent in Croatian cinema) and a proportionally noble, albeit exaggerated and too "Rambo-ish" depiction of a true event of a group of 20 Croatian soldiers who tried to hold out a siege of a house they were hiding in. From the technical perspective, the movie is assembled practically flawlessly and highly professionally (if the overused style of tedious "washed out" colors, reminiscent of "Saving Private Ryan", is ignored), yet from the narrative-personal-artistic perspective it lacks in certain areas, the most problematic being that the 20 soldiers are all faceless, one-dimensional extras whose names and characteristics were highly neglected at the expense of just showing them fight, and as such there is no emotional attachment to them, while this in turn aggravates the attempt of the viewers to identify and care more about their fates. Indeed, after the closing credits, the viewers would probably not be able to name even one name of the soldiers, and as such Milic should have taken more care about the writing, not just the pyrotechnics, and could have taken a note or two from Carpenter's excellent (and very similar) siege thriller "Assault on Precint 13". Still, the pace is highly dynamic, no expenses were saved to conjure up explosions and realism (the slow-motion scene of one soldier getting hit in the arm and the other in the head), depicting how in war anyone can become dead or disabled in a matter of seconds, whereas one cannot deny the power accumulated in the mood.


Sunday, November 22, 2015

In the Crosswind

Risttuules; drama, Estonia, 2014; D: Martti Helde, S: Laura Peterson, Tarmo Song, Mirt Preegel, Ingrid Isotamm

In '41, Goreshist Russia invades and annexes Estonia. In June, Moscow starts the ethnic cleansing of the Baltic states in order to create a Greater Russia and to have slaves who will work in Siberia. Among the victims is a young woman, Erna, who is deported on a vagon train with her daughter Eliide and seperated from her husband Heldur. A tenth of the women die during the long journey, sealed off in the train for 26 days. Erna sends letters to Heldur, describing how Eliide died from hunger, and how she and others how to work in Siberia. After war criminal Stalin dies, Estonians and other nations are allowed to return to their homeland again. However, Erna finds out Heldur was executed a long time ago.

The feature length debut film by director Martti Helde, "In the Crosswind" is a very poetic and dreamy depiction of ugly and nightmarish events, the June deportations. As an Estonian himself, Helde was faced with a challenge to stay neutral and immune while depicting such an injustice, the ethnic cleansing of about 200,000 people from the Baltic states, and managed to do it with an innovative movie technique: while all the scenes in Estonia are filmed in normal fashion, all the scenes where the main heroine Erna is dislocated from her homeland and living in Siberia are filmed in 'Matrix' style, i.e. the camera drives around the people, while they stand motionlessly. It is a wonder to look at, since 80% of the film is assembled out of these "frozen scenes", but it has a meaning - to show how life "stopped" for Erna and all those people who had a home, a husband and a family before, and were left suddenly widowed and homeless afterwards. The viewers see these "3D-stills", reminiscent of Marker's "La jetee" just with a mobile camera, and observe these stills - Red army soldiers holding a family on a truck at gunpoint; soldiers pushing families in trains; a child holding its hands over its ears; a husband gently hugging his wife and daughter for the last time at the train station; Red army soldiers aiming at prisoners before execution... - but are presented with a gentle protective dislocation by not seeing the whole picture, just a frozen glimpse of it. This way, the movie protects from too much sentimentality, from too much pain, because it skips the complete action of seeing the soldiers actually shot and kill the prisoners - but precisely because of such a sustained depiction, it is all the more subtly emotional and says all there is to say about the insanity and tragedy of Goreshism through ages. Assembled only out of the narration of Erna's letters, "Crosswind" is an intimate movie that demands a lot of concentration, but rewards, and sends an unassuming message about the inherent power of the small and good people to survive the big and the evil.


Les Vampires (part VI-VIII)

Les Vampires; silent crime, France, 1916; D: Louis Feuillade, S: Edouard Mathe, Marcel Levesque, Fernand Herrmann, Musidora

American millionaire George Baldwin has been robbed by criminal Norton, so the Vampires send Irma Vep to rob Norton's map showing the treasure hidden in the forest. However, she is captured by Moreno, who brings her to his hideout and falls in love with her. Moreno and Irma record Baldwin's voice and forge his signature in order to steal more money from him, but are arrested by the police thanks to Mazamette and Philipe. Moreno is executed, but Irma manages to escape when the ship transferring the captives is hit by cannons of Satanas, the grand Vampire. Satanas is arrested, but commits suicide.

Parts 6, 7 and 8 are more dynamic, but still not enough to warrant the overrated and overhyped reputation of Louis Feuillade's "Les Vampires" crime film series, which went on for way too long by spanning an unnecessary six hours of running time in total. The movie suffers from a very uneven pace, which ranges from empty to stacked with events, as well as some clumsy traits - such as the tendency of the actor playing Mazamette to often look into the camera - whereas the highlight is Musidora anyway, who here finally appears more often in her black "robber suit", which is so cool it secured her a place in the hall of fame in cinema, sparked numerous copycats in modern cinema and made it instantly clear why Moreno would fall in love with her when he meets her in person - even though she appears barely 5 minutes in it, while she wears her regular "civilian clothes" for the rest of the film series. The story is plain straightforward, and thus conventional, yet a few moments of spice manage to ignite here and there, such as when villain Satanas hides a bomb in his hat or the "split screen" scene where he is on the left side of the apartment wall, spying on Mazamette who is in the lobby, on the right side of the screen.


Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Mysterious Castle in the Carpathians

Tajemstvi hradu v Karpatech; fantasy comedy, Czech Republic, 1981; D: Oldrich Lipský, S: Michal Docolomanský, Vlastimil Brodský, Milos Kopecký, Evelyna Steimarova, Rudolf Hrusinský

Carpathian hills, 1897. Count Teleke of Tölökö, a famous opera singer, enjoys the nature trip with his servant Ignac. When they find a man, Dezi, lying unconscious in the forest, they bring him back to his nearby village. It turns out he was investigating the mysterious castle on the hill, where strange things occur. The next night, Teleke and Dezi enter the castle and find it is inhabited by Baron Gerc and his mad scientist, Orfanik, who invented cameras and rockets. Teleke knows Gerc from before: Gerc was stalking Teleke's girlfriend and singer, Salsa Verde. When she had a heart attack, Gerc used Orfanik's inventions to conserve her dead body. When the army is about to storm the castle, Gerc blows the whole place up, but Teleke and Dezi manage to escape.

One of Oldrich Lipsky's final films, a comical adaptation of Jules Verne's novel "The Carpathian Castle", "The Mysterious Castle in the Carpathians" is a surreal and surprisingly inventive fantasy comedy that - despite its flaws - demonstrates that the director did not gain a cult reputation and stood out from the Czech cinema for nothing. The movie has a slow, lax opening act, but quickly gains momentum and delivers a weird, yet fun and original storyline with a substantial amount of crazy scenes, while its best moments are when it simply indulges in the typical 'Czech' oddball jokes (the servant carrying a giant chair on his back while accompanying Count Teleke while climbing on the hill; in the middle of the opera, a postman arrives with his bicycle on the stage to deliver an urgent telegram to singer Teleke; the bad guy spreads his long beard, revealing he was hiding a machine gun on his chest; Teleke singing with such a high-pitch voice it causes the secret camera lens and microphone hidden in the eye and ear of a painting to break...), especially involving scientist Orfanik who has a mechanical hand which can be converted to several functions, from a tool to a grabbing hook. The opulent locations are a special bonus, since the castle on the hill is aesthetically pleasant. The story may have a few 'rough edges', notably in the chaotic-clumsy finale, and some situations are not as funny as they could have been, yet Lipsky has a field day by joking with all the impossible high-tech inventions set in the 19th century, and does not even shy away from black comedy in the ending where Teleke and his friend are having a fight with the villain Gerc and his gang.


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Closed Curtain

Parde; drama, Iran, 2013; D: Jafar Panahi, Kambuzia Partovi, S: Kambuzia Partovi, Maryam Moqadam, Jafar Panahi

A writer arrives secretly at his mansion along the shores of the Caspian sea and closes all the curtains, hoping that the authorities will not find him while he is writing his new screenplay, together with his dog. He shaves his head so that nobody can recognize him. However, during a night, a girl, Melika, and her brother, find refuge in his mansion, after they were persecuted by the government for having a party at the beach. The brother leaves, while Melika stays and keeps asking questions about the writers life. At a certain point, director Jafar Panahi shows up and closes the curtains, and then has tea in the mansion, which is his. He sees Melika going into the sea.

Jafar Panahi's 7th feature length film was made during the phase when the director became subject to a "20 year ban on filmaking" by Iran's government, and as such it could not have remained immune to that injustice, nor have decided not to comment on the issue, even cryptically and symbolically. Panahi's own fate is mirrored in the main protagonist, the writer without a name, who is closing the curtains in his mansion and putting various black objects in order to have peace and privacy from the authorities - he finds himself in an absurd situation, where such a benign thing as writing a script became almost as illegal as drug trafficking. The scarce storyline is a little overstretched and may have been better as a short film, since not much could have been done out of the minimalistic concept in which the hero is hiding and never leaves his four walls, and the inclusion of a girl who questions his decision ("What truth about life can you find here?") is only of moderate enrichment of the viewing spectrum. The biggest impact arrives in the last third, when the director, Panahi, shows up randomly in the film itself, while the writer and the girl "disappear", in a baffling "metafilm" touch, almost as if he is showing that he "gave up" on directing the film, since the reality chooses to direct it itself - and his own destiny.


Thursday, November 12, 2015

Inherent Vice

Inherent Vice; crime / comedy, USA, 2014; D: Paul Thomas Anderson, S: Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Katherine Waterston, Benicio del Toro, Owen Wilson, Reese Witherspoon, Jena Malone, Maya Rudolph, Jeannie Berlin, Michelle Sinclair, Martin Short, Martin Donovan

In the 70s, Californian private detective and hippie Larry "Doc" Sportello hears about a secret plan to put a rich real-estate developer, Wolfmann, in a mental asylum, from his ex-girlfriend Shasta. When she and Wolfmann disappear, he decides to investigate the matter, stumbling into a crazy world which includes Coy, a police informant who feigns to have died; a drug smuggling cartel called "golden fangs"; dentists; Detective Bjornsen "Bigfoot" as well as Puck, a man with a swastika on his skin. When Puck and Adrian kidnap him, Doc kills them and uses their drug to negotiate a release of Coy from a secret cult. Shasta returns and Doc rides with her.

"The Big Lebowski" meets "The Big Sleep" - Paul Thomas Anderson bravely decided to adapt the bizarre comic crime novel "Inherent Vice", but did not manage to make any sense out of it. While the story starts as a typical 'private eye' film, it soon goes deep, way too deep into the obscure - until ultimately it just turns into one giant assembly line with dozens of star cameos who do not contribute to anything in the plot. Author Thomas Pynchon made a critical mistake: one can over-complicate a plot and add too many characters - but only if it all amounts to a conclusive resolution of a mystery in the end. Pynchon, however, never really intended to assemble a puzzle, but just to either confuse or do something unorthodox in the 'whodunit' genre. This is further exacerbated by a strained sense for a comic timing. Still, Joaquin Phoenix is great as the confused 'hippie' hero; Anderson gave an impressive and refreshing casting (including comedians Martin Short and Owen Wilson) whereas "Inherent Vice" has some of wonderful lines and quotes in recent cinema, which are a small delight ("It's not what you think..." - "Thinking comes later."; "My tits aren't big. But it's the thought that counts."; when Sauncho orders a dish at a diner, the waitress says: "OK. It's your stomach."; while visiting a mental asylum, Doc says: "I don't normally visit the south side of the city", upon which the doctor cannot resist but to ask: "...And abnormally...?"). Outlandish, episodic and without a conclusion, but with a rather clever depiction of the 70s era.


Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Crimson Gold

Talaye Sorkh; drama, Iran, 2003; D: Jafar Panahi, S: Hossain Emadeddin, Kamyar Sheisi, Azita Rayeji

Hussein, a giant and a war veteran, breaks into the jewelry store in order to rob it. However, the alarm goes off and the bars lock the door, so he kills himself... A few weeks earlier, Hussein and his friend Ali - who's sister he is about to marry - talk about how much they got from stealing a purse. Living in poverty, Hussein decides to take a job as a pizza delivery boy. He observes a party at a mansion, where Iran's guards are waiting to arrest people as they exit carefree. He disguises himself as rich man in order to enter the jewelry store and check it out. The next night, he continues delivering pizzas, and a rich man invites him into his apartment. Sick of poverty, Huseein decides to rob the jewelry store.

After the government banned Jafar Panahi from directing movies - which he humorously documented in his movie about himself - people all around the world suddenly massively decided to check out his early filmography, optative to get acquainted with his opus. One of his previously banned films, "Crimson Gold", sticks out like a sore thumb: people familiar with the Iranian conservative cinema will get the impression as if here Panahi deliberately decided to depict all the provocative things which are otherwise avoided in it, since he wants his films to be alive and untrammelled by any rules. "Crimson Gold" is incredibly subversive for Iranian cinema, almost reaching the limits of what can be shown there: not only is the main character a crook, but Panahi and screenwriter Abbas Kiarostami show throughout the movie what made him go on such a path, since he encounters huge differences between the rich and the poor, the upper and lower class in Tehran - though numerous other "delicate" details are surprising as well (the sequence where Iran's soldiers are waiting outside a mansion where a party is underway, only to arrest two women who exit from it, seems almost like a cruel joke; the rich man hinting that red drops on his toilet may be blood from two women who visited him, only to later turn out to be just liquid from nail polish...). However, Panahi has a very elegant style as well - the almost 4-minute long opening scene, filmed in one take, where Hussein attempts to rob a jewelry store, is brilliant - and uses objective author's vision to give a thematically rich essay about the society he is living in, whereas the main (lay) actor, a gentle giant, is fantastically convincing in his role, and the viewers cannot but feel at least understanding for him.


Saturday, November 7, 2015

Les Vampires (part I-V)

Les Vampires; silent crime, France, 1915; D: Louis Feuillade, S: Edouard Mathe, Marcel Levesque, Fernand Herrmann, Delphine Renot, Musidora

Part I: Philipe is a reporter who wants to expose a secret criminal organisation, the Vampires. His assistant at the newspaper is Mazamette. Philipe goes to a castle owned by Dr. Nox, and finds the decapitated head of an inspector there, whereas it turns out that the Vampires only disguised a man as Dr. Nox... part II: Philipe's girlfriend Marfa is killed by a ring because she performed on stage dressed in the uniform of the Vampires. Philipe is abducted, but saved by Mazamette, who wants to abandon the Vampire organisation...part III: Irma Vep, a member of the Vampires, disguises herself as a maid and works at Philipe's home, hoping to assassinate him. But she has to flee when he exposes her... Part IV: the Vampires kill Metadier in a train, hoping for Irma to take his money for him at a bank. However, another criminal, Moreno, finds Metadier's corpse and disguises himself as the latter, in order to get the money. Philipe exposes him... Part V: using a sleeping gas, the Vampires knock several guests at a party unconscious, and rob them.

Once regarded as a hyped and controversial hit that caused quite a stir during its premiere, the time was not kind towards Louis Feuillade's movie series "Les Vampires", which encompassed 10 parts with a total of six hours of running time. Today, the movies seem dated and mostly benign, since Feuillade directed them in a very conventional manner, and little to none inventive film techniques (for instance, there is even a scene in part I where a member of the Vampires descends from a roof down the stairs, in agonising three minutes without a cut), whereas the overlong running time exacerbates the overall impression and deteriorates it further. The only thing worth seeing in "Les Vampires" is the performance by Musidora, as the seductive villain Irma Vep, but, alas, since she appears for so little in the first five parts (she has a bigger role only in parts 3 and 4), and even less in her cool black suit (30 seconds in part V, whereas another actress plays her with "bat wings" on stage in part 2, which last for less than 60 seconds, anyway), the majority of the storyline is without highlights. As such an 'abridged version', it is an interesting find from the perspective of film history, whereas a few comical touches manage to live it up a bit (Mazamette gives a note that says how he is such a good undertaker, because "nobody from his customers ever complained"; Irma dressing up as an employee in the bank named Juliette, so the titles call her "pseudo-Juliette"), but it seems in neglected it potentials instead of using them as assets over the rather standard crime storyline.


Tuesday, November 3, 2015


Scream; horror, USA, 1996; D: Wes Craven, S: Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, Skeet Ulrich, David Arquette, Matthew Lillard, Rose McGowan, Drew Barrymore

In Woodsboro, a teenage girl who answered an anonymous phone call, Casey, was stabbed and killed in her home one night. The small town is agitated, especially Sidney, whose mother was killed almost one year earlier under similar circumstances. The murders keep continuing, and a masked man with a black hood seems to be behind them. With the help of a sleazy TV reporter, Gale Weathers, Sidney manages to apprehend the killers: it was her boyfriend Billy and his friend Stuart. Billy also killed her mother, because she had an affair with his father, and thus caused his parents to separate. Luckily, Gale and Sidney escape and kill them.

During the time of its premiere, "Scream" caused quite a hype and sensationalism, yet after closely watching it even today, it seems to justify its cult reputation since screenwriter Kevin Williamson crafted a rather inventive meta-film take at the horror genre, demolishing its cliches, which at times almost seems as if it was directed by Godard - except that director Wes Craven refused to make it too artificial, thereby preserving its suspense and vitality. The murders are at times presented disappointingly ordinary (except Tatum's, Casey's and the sequence where the cameraman in the TV van observes the killer behind a lad on the couch on the screen, but then realizes he is watching a 30 seconds delay) and the last 15-20 minutes seem to have lost track, since they contain a fair share of sloppy, clumsy narrative without much motivation or conclusion of the bad guy, yet the sheer amount of inspired writing and innovative-auto ironic ideas is simply staggering (Sidney presenting Billy with her idea of their "PG-13 relationship", by exposing he bust in front of him; Sidney talking with the killer on the phone about why she dislikes horror movies: "It is always the same, some stupid killer stalking some big-breasted girl who can't act who is always running up the stairs when she should be running out the front door. It's insulting"; in the video store, Randy observes Billy and asks his friends: "If you were the prime suspect, would you be standing at the horror section?"), thereby making all the horrors after it in need for something fresher, and the intense pace never lets down. It may not reach the creative heights of such all-time horror comedies like "An American Werewolf in London" or "Evil Dead II", yet it is a remarkably fresh take at some plot concepts and ideas of the horror movies that became too-recycled after decades, and presents a clever meta-film touch: it is not the killer who is threatening the characters, it is the movie genre itself - and they know it, so they try to cut to the chase by outsmarting it with new ideas.