Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Bridesmaids

Bridesmaids; comedy, USA, 2011; D: Paul Feig, S: Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne, Chris O'Dowd, Melissa McCarthy

Annie is slightly annoyed that her friend, Lillian, is about to get married while she is still only an occasional one night stand for some rich guy. Lillian asks her to be her Maid of Honor, but Annie inadvertently manages to mess up everything: while looking for a bride dress, Lillian and her friends get diarrhoea after Annie bought them lunch in a suspicious diner; their flight is stopped due to Annie's panic behavior; Annie insults Lillian for giving too much credit to Helen... In the end, Annie decides to reform and take a new path: she starts a relationship with a police officer and helps Lillian hold a good wedding ceremony.

"Bridesmaids" caused a lot of extremely polarized reactions: some praised it for being a refreshing female vulgar comedy, while others lamented that it is just a vulgar comedy which would have went completely unnoticed had it starred A. Sandler and other male comedians. The film is indeed a mixed bag. There is a good film inside this, but it would have left a far more decisive impression had it simply deleted 30 minutes of unnecessary banal humor which contaminated the storyline, since scenes of a woman throwing up on the head of another woman throwing up into the toilet cannot bring anything but a bad taste in its perception. Likewise, the film lacks truly great jokes and punchlines, and a lot of them just feel weird and 'autistic'. Luckily, "Bridesmaids" manages to improve its "quality posture" in the second half, when it actually turns more serious and dramatic, thus giving some redemption to the main heroine, Annie, when she decides to improve her life, mature and learn from her mistakes. This gives the film an emotional dimension which saves it later on. Some of the jokes also manage to ignite, and somewhat cover the "empty" ones - the best joke arrives in the long sequence where Annie and Helen try to outdo each other in an overlong speech contest to gain more sympathy from Lillian, and a good chuckle arrives when Annie finally dumps her "sex-buddy" who never intended a serious relationship anyway ("You are not my no. 3 anymore!"). Melissa McCarthy was given a terrible, humiliating and very ungrateful role, a female J. Candy rip-off - yet she managed to redeem herself 3 years later with a fantastic, pervasive performance in the excellent drama-comedy "St. Vincent".

Grade;++

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Onesime Clockmaker

Onesime horloger; silent comedy short, France, 1912; D: Jean Durand, S: Ernest Bourbon, Raymond Aimos, Berthe Dagmar

Onesime is disappointed when he gets a notice that he will inherit a fortune only after 20 years have passed. Since he cannot wait that long, Onseime goes to the central clock of the country and winds it up to run 20 times faster. Congruently, the whole country starts running 20 times faster, trying to keep up the pace with the clock. Onesime thus finally gets his inheritance much faster.

Jean Durand demonstrated that not only the US was capable of assembling 'tour-de-force' examples of slapstick comedies in the silent film era, and one his contributions was the anarchic, 8-minute short grotesque "Onesime Clockmaker" which follows a simple plot concept: fast forward. The basic concept in which the hero sets up the central clock to go 20 times faster, and thus causes people in the country to speed up and follow the fast pace, as to not "stay behind" time, is basically one giant "fast forward" which could have been developed much better, yet even in this edition, it has its moments, from the scenes of people practically running across the street, up the workers constructing a wall in only 40 seconds, or a man graduating and getting a diploma in only 20 seconds. This rush gives the main hero a mischievous tone, and a sly commentary on impatience, but also works fine as an almost experimental film, which paved the way for a bigger creativity in the film medium.

Grade;++

Monday, 18 May 2015

Mogambo

Mogambo; adventure/ drama, USA, 1953; D: John Ford, S: Clark Gable, Ava Gardner, Grace Kelly

Eloise Kelly arrives in Kenya after an invitation from a Maharadja, but once there, she finds out he left her alone. She still finds a neat compensation in hunter Victor, and stays in his outpost. However, he does not want a long term relationship with her and cannot wait until she leaves. The next day, anthropologists Donald and his wife Linda show up, in order to study apes in the jungle. Victor brings them all along for a safari, but since he fell in love with Linda, Kelly is very jealous. Realizing he would ruin a marriage, Victor abandons Linda, who shoots him in the arm from resentment. Kelly is about to leave the place on a boat, but changes her mind and stays with Victor.

"Mogambo" ("Danger" in Swahili) is one of the few remakes that are actually better than the original, in this case "Red Dust", evidently also starring Clark Gable: it is not so much that John Ford is a better director than Victor Fleming, as much as that he somehow found a better adaptability to the material. Both films have the same daring plot involving a love triangle between the main hero and a married woman, yet both somehow lack the most obvious ingredient: the interaction and tension between the two women. They both only show the interaction between the man and one of the two women, which is somewhat lacking. "Mogambo" works the best in the first half: it is elegant, witty and refreshingly comical (when Kelly spots a snake in the room, she screams and hugs Victor. He just reacts calmly, saying: "Oh, that's Joe! He is there to catch mice... And to scare women so that I can protect them."), which all establish a superior tone compared to the original with ease. However, the second half is just one long, tiresome safari tour: while the African landscapes are beautiful to observe on film, they still cannot overshadow the storyline which never seems to "catch up" with them, which makes that part of the films seem like an empty walk. Only an occasional, typical Ford scene manage to lighten it up again (as Kelly is about to go to rest, sitting at a table in the night, a leopard suddenly enters her tent - and exits on the other side, as swiftly as he arrived). The most was achieved from the two actresses, who are wonderfully charming: Grace Kelly and, especially, Ava Gardner, whose voice and stance alone are so charismatic it warrants the film.

Grade;++

Friday, 15 May 2015

House, M.D. (Season 6-8)

House, M.D.; drama series, USA, 2010-2012; 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, Odette Annable, Charlyne Yi

Since he is taking Vicodin, Dr. Gregory House realizes that it caused hallucinations in his mind and thus admits himself to a mental institution. He recovers and returns back to the Plainsboro hospital to treat patients with "impossible" diseases, and assembles his team: it includes Dr. Foreman, Dr. Chase, Dr. Taub and Dr. Hadley, nicknamed "13". House starts a romantic relationship with the Dean of the hospital, Lisa Cuddy. However, due to his peculiar behavior, they break up and he drives his car into her house. He goes to jail, but returns again to the hospital, where Foreman is now the new Dean. House is shocked when his only friend, Dr. Wilson, will soon die from cancer. House thus fakes his own death and decides to spend Wilson's last five months of life with him.

At the start of the 21st century, it seems that the quality of the films has started to slip away and transition to TV. Among the highly acclaimed TV series of that era, which set up new standards, was medical drama series "House, MD". Unlike "Scrubs", which was too silly at times, or "ER", which was way too serious and straight forward, "House" gave an almost perfect balancing act between drama and comedy. At the core of the show is a twist to the detective genre: House and Wilson are basically modern versions of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, except that they do not solve crime mysteries, but medical mysteries, which gives the worn out concept freshness. In theory, this concept should not work - the viewers, ordinary laymen, for instance do not know the difference between cerebellar ataxia or Refsum disease - and yet, there is suspense until the end while the team tries to guess what disease is a patient suffering from. Some of the virtuoso dialogues are amazing, and the writers seemed to have been very inspired while writing them - when Wilson tells his friend, who thought he was cured, that his leukemia suddenly returned, they have this exchange: "They call it regressive leukaemia." - "Maybe they should call it 'ironic leukamia', instead." Taub complains to House: "Your relationship with Cuddy is beginning to cause problems, with all due respect..." - "None taken". Upon hearing that House is insisting that he can still see a prostitute who will only massauge him, even though he is in a relationship, due to "integrity", Wilson comments with: "You are the Rosa Parks of prostitutes-masseuses". When a patient is volontarily going to get crucified each year because he wants to thanks God since his child was cured from a tumor, House says: "Pontius Pilate, the misunderstood oncologist". There are also many other howlingly funny, cynical comments from House regarding a vibrator ("Do you use your vibrator?" - "My what?" - "Sorry. Your 'battery-powered-Brad-Pitt'.") and heroin ("And he also enjoys vitamin H. He's a drug addict").

However, the main star is definitely House himself. Due to his arrogant, sardonic and mean behavior, full of insults, numerous viewers refused to even watch the show. At first glance, he is a jerk. However, after a deeper view, House is one of the most complex characters ever created. On one hand, he is indeed cynical, but on the other, he has an incredible talent for figuring out diseases and saving people's lives. There is a brilliant little detail in episode "Unwritten" that perfectly illustrates his persona: a woman, a writer, refuses to undergo surgery because she blames herself for letting her son drive during bad weather, who died in a car crash. House just shows up at her bed and shows an X-ray photo of a brain, pointing at the centre. "Do you see this? Your son actually died from a brain aneurysm, not from a car crash. He was dead long before it." This convinces the woman that she is not guilty of her son's death, and she thus accepts to go to surgery. it goes well and she is cured. Later, someone asks House: "Did her son really die from a brain aneurysm?", and he flat out says he lied and made that all up. He tricked her, yes, but his only did his job: to save lives. Likewise, there is a precious, romantic little moment in episode 132, where Cuddy kisses House's ill leg, in one of the most beautiful moments of the show, almost as if she heals his soul with it. House's problematic behavior may be tracked down to his ill leg and loneliness, but it's not that easy: he is downright antisocial, destructive and psychotic at times. There is clearly something wrong with him, almost as if he deliberately refuses chances to be happy. One theory is, maybe, that he has a suppressed gay side, and in a deeper relationship with Wilson than at first glance. The main actor, the genius Hugh Laurie, plays him like a king, and gave the role of a lifetime. The show has flaws, though. Some of the details of bloody diseases tend to bee too explicit at times. A bizarre turn of events in episodes 147 and 155 is highly questionable. Seasons 7 and 8 have some too melodramatic episodes. And the final two episodes, while original, give a rather anticlimatic, inconclusive end. Nonetheless, this advanced into an excellent TV show, which gave us a sate deal of drama, inventiveness and energy that we only got in crumbs in that time.

Grade;+++

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Interstellar

Interstellar; science-fiction drama, UK/USA, 2014; D: Christopher Nolan, S: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, David Gyasi, Michael Caine, Ellen Burstyn, Casey Affleck, John Lithgow, Matt Damon, Topher Grace

In the future, due to ecological devastation and exploitation, Earth's biosphere deteriorated permanently and humanity's doom in imminent. Corn is the only crop still harvastable. One day, girl Murph receives cryptic messages which lead her and her dad, pilot Cooper, to NASA's secret facility which is about to send astronauts into a wormhole, which appeared mysteriously near Saturn, in order to find a new planet to evacuate people. Cooper joins the mission, together with Amelia, Romily, Doyle and two robots. They enter the wormhole and get to another galaxy, where they explore three habitable planets. One of the previous astronauts, Dr. Mann, goes crazy and almost destoys the mission. Cooper falls into a black hole and uses time travel to contact his daughter Murph, and send her data via a code on the watch. This helps build a spaceship which transports people to the wormhole.

Christoper Nolan's first Sci-Fi film, "Interstellar" is one of the more ambitious and epic examples of that genre of the 21st century. A throughbred edition of it, the film starts off with an excellent opening act: it first features clips and interviews of older people talking about the events from their childhood, almost as a documentary, and then presents very dire and apocalyptic circumstances on Earth. Usual crops, such as potato and wheat, became useless due to a disease, and corn is the main food source for the world, whereas land erosion led to numerous sand storms. This act is very subtle, since it never shows what exactly caused such a collapse of the biosphere, but clever hints suggest overpopulation and ecological devastation caused by it. Also, Nolan neatly avoids turning too depressive and pessimistic, since the story's mood is already obvious enough. This act is necessary to establish that humanity has no choice but try to invest their last effort into finding a new planet to save their race. The sole sequences of space travel feature at least three phenomenal, inventive moments that have never before been seen in any other Sci-Fi film, and this says a lot: the rotation of the space station around Earth's orbit; the travel through the wormhole (equisite and deliciously original, as if they are traveling through a spherical tunel with Galaxies around the walls); the landing on a planet covered with a shallow ocean, which culminates in a 100 foot tall tsunami and a superiorly choreographed rescue action by a robot that is uniquely designed as a collection of four domino blocks. The meticulous visual effects help a lot to conjure up this impression, and complete it.

The first 2/3 of the film are excellent, and everything works with only minimal omissions until the last third which wrecks it. Had Nolan stopped the film when the crew meet Dr. Mann, he would have had one of the best Sci-Fi films released in the last 10 years. Unfortunately, the finale shows that Nolan can make the best out of a script, but that he films the script events indiscriminately, without any critical notion that some inferior things need to be changed or deleted in a film. The last third thus seems as if it was written by a 12-year old who wanted to sabotage the story, and yet, that was kept in the finished film. Dr. Mann's bizarre actions are entirely illogical. But even worse is the finale which creates ones of the most pointless, ludicrous and unecessary steps from a Sci-Fi into a fairytale involving time travel - and all the plot holes that come with it. The sudden inclusion of a time travel subplot tips the film so out of balance it is just sad, since so many obvious contradictions are left with it - including the classic mistake of who caused the first event in the first place, and why couldn't he used better methods to articulate his messages and send them even earlier back in time. "Interstellar" is thus one of those films you are angry they missed such a great result by so little. By so little it is unsettling. By so little it bugs you for months. In the end, this is a good film, but by having such a superior impression established in the first 2/3 of the story, one cannot pass over the sadness that the finale was "contaminated" by such a sub-par conclusion which just barely missed of bestowing "Interstellar" together with "Gravity" as one of the champions of 21st Century films about space.

Grade;++

Monday, 11 May 2015

The Oranges

The Oranges; comedy, USA, 2011; D: Julian Farino, S: Leighton Meester, Hugh Laurie, Allison Janney, Alia Shawkat, Oliver Platt, Catherine Keener

Two families live in West Orange, New Jersey, and are best friends: David loves jogging with neighbor Terry, and their wives Paige and Cathy get along as well. All seems fine, until Terry and Cathy's rebellious daughter Nina shows up, who does not want to start a relationship with the successful lad Toby - but instead falls in love with his dad, David. Shocked by their age difference and the fact that David is married, this causes quite a commotion in the neighborhood. Nina's best friend, Vanessa, does not even want to talk to her anymore. Nina moves in with David, yet the rumors exacerbate their relationship. In the end, Nina leaves the city and decides to live alone for a while, whereas David returns to jogging with Terry.

This comedy collects praise for being one of the few to profit by giving the main lead role to brilliant (and underused) actor Hugh Laurie, who  became a legend with "House, MD", yet loses power because - unlike numerous other romance films involving a younger girl falling in love with an older man - it did not exploit all its emotional, comical or spiritual potential to the fullest, delivering a lukewarm version of it. The storyline is surprisingly flat. It rarely leads to some point. We do not get why Nina and David suddenly kiss on the couch - it comes out of the blue, without any previous chemistry between them, or hints that would build up the mood. That is not crucial, of course. Unfortunately, the film does not compensate after that, either, since their romantic relationship is strangely bland and lifeless. The only time the chemistry between them is truly ignited is in the sequence where they are sitting at a table in a bar, rationalizing why they should not continue, until Nina suddenly tells to David: "If you could lean across this table right now, and kiss me...And no-one would say it was wrong...And there were no rules... Would you do it?" He replies with: "I would", and she just says: "There are no rules." The script needed more of such moments, since more humor, inspiration, emotion and power would have been welcomed. The last 30 minutes seem like an empty walk, and the sparse script cannot carry the film into a better grade. Still, a few good jokes (Nina commenting how her mother sent her their "cat's letters" while she was away), the elegant mood and a great cast manage to sustain a good film, yet a truly excellent version of it is in some other film, it seems.

Grade;++

Early Works

Rani radovi; experimental film, Serbia, 1969; D: Želimir Žilnik, S: Milja Vujanović, Bogdan Tirnanić, Čedomir Radović, Marko Nikolić

A girl and three guys are unsatisfied with their monotone lives in a city. Inspired by protests and revolutions of '68, they use a car to cross a river and embark on a journey to awake the consciousness of the people and fulfil the Marxist revolution. As they enter a village, the peasants do not understand them and beat them up in the mud. They try a city next and enter a factory, but the workers seem to be confused by their speeches as well. The girl suggests that the key to their weakness is the lack of force, and thus they get guns to enforce the revolution. However, this fails as well. In the end, the three guys want to rape her in the field, but when she tells them they are failures, they kill her and burn her body.

One of the prime examples of the Yugoslav black wave, Zelimir Zilnik's experimental satire on (pseudo)Communist regimes, "Early Works", even went so far to get the main prize at the Berlinale. One of those 'anti-narrative' films, "Early Works" refuses to align into a normal story and instead can be seen as a pure stylistic exercise, where the director simply has a fun time while playing with numerous movie tricks, all the while allegorically mocking and criticizing the (pseudo)Communist regimes in those days as inefficient and dishonest, for which it fell a victim to the Yugoslav censors, who placed it in a bunker, yet that only strengthened its cult status. Presented as a road movie involving four nameless protagonists, three men and one woman (on IMDb, her name is presented as "Yugoslava", which is even more of staggering symbolism considering what her fate is at the end of the movie), who come to realize that they simply cannot communicate, or simply articulate their Marxism to the people who consider them as "aliens". Some of the dialogues are fascinatingly subversive: "According to you, Castro should have stayed in the forest? According to you, Lenin should have never left the Swiss territory? According to you, Stalin should have stayed incarcerated, where he was incarcerated? According to you, Imre Nagy should still be alive today?" The sequence where the woman and the man are naked, taking a shower at the factory, also stands out as quite brave and untrammelled. However, since the film is basically a satirical commentary, it drags on for way too long, and not every scene has an inspiration to justify its existence in the footage, which in the end turns the film slightly dry, redundant and ardous at times, at least until the strong ending sets in.

Grade;++

Sunday, 10 May 2015

The Soviet Story

The Soviet Story; documentary, Latvia, 2008; D: Edvins Šnore, S: Jon Strickland (voice), Vladimir Bukovsky, Norman Davies, Boris Sokolov, Pierre Rigoulot, George Watson, Nicolas Werth, Mikhail Gorbachev, Vladimir Putin

The documentary chronicles the war crimes of the Bolshevik-Nazi regime and argues that they overlap finely because they were two sides of the same coin - Totalitarianism. It illustrates this with the signing of the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact, the NKVD-Gestapo conferences, the Soviet supply of the Third Reich with resources (prior to '41) with which Hitler's army invaded Europe's countries, as well as absence of democracy, plurality of opinion or rule of law in both countries. Even after World War II, the film highlights how the USSR continued to keep restrictive measures against its citizens and failed to undergo a transition towards peace, democracy and human rights, all until its break-up in '91

Edvins Snore's documentary "The Soviet Story" caused quite a controversy, with some praising it, while others attacking it for bias and "Shibboleth". Objectively speaking, the film does trip at least 4-5 times due to presenting incorrect or exaggerated data - for instance, it claims that 7 million people died in Holodomor, even though the number of 3 million is probably more accurate; it implies that the inspiration of the Nazi camps came from the Soviet gulags, even though it probably came from Germany's own camps that kept the Herero and Namaqua people; it claims that only a "fraction of the Soviet war dead came from the German army", since the Soviets forced their Red Army members to charge forward by shooting at them from behind, yet that does not give amnesty to the Third Reich for attacking the USSR in the first place, etc. - yet, even when that is put into equation, what is not most surprising is when the film got it wrong, but how much it got it right when it got it completely right.

The comparisons of the Bolshevik-Nazi regimes are indeed chilling and thought-provocative, whereas some historical facts about their collaboration and/or parallels are impossible to deny: the Russian military victory parade of '39, together with the Nazi army in Brest-Litovsk; the Bolshevik-Nazi invasion of Poland; the initial confusion of the Katyn massacre perpetrators, the medical experimentation in the Butugychag gulag etc. Some more serious scholars and academics, like Norman Davies and Boris Sokolov, give the film weight. However, more time should have been given to them, and less to the author who edited a few biased conclusions. The most wrong conclusion in the entire film is that all the evil in the Bolshevik-Nazi regime can be tracked down to Marx's theory of Socialism, since worker's rights (i.e. trying to escape poverty with decent wages and exploitation of the factories) are not entirely wrong per se, but just their executions. The point that the film missed is surprisingly obvious. Fascism=Greater Italy. Nazism=Greater Germany. Bolshevism=Greater Russia. All the evils stemmed from their territorial irredentism and extremist nationalism, and in Russia's case, it deserves to be coined into a new term: Goreshism (=territorial Greed+territorial Glutony+extremist-compulsive territorial expansionism), since it represent unnecessary tendencies of territorial expansionism of a country that is already the largest country in the world, and thus does not need to expand anymore, on the expense of smaller nations. Nobody is dying anymore today due to Greater Germany or Greater Italy. But people are still dying due to Greater Russia. As if the movie is saying that peace, normality and human rights in Europe did not arrive when others imposed their will on Italians and Germans to abandon Greater Germany and Greater Italy, but when those two nations voluntarily grew up, matured and abandoned those concepts from within. The same can thus be applied at the time when the film was released: Russia has a great history and gave an invaluable contribution to humanity's art, culture and science, but peace and normality will not arrive in Europe as long as Russians do not abandon their Goreshist concept of Greater Russia by themselves. As the movie implies, being anti-Fascist is not enough anymore. You have to be anti-Totalitarianist as well.

Grade;++

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Where the Wild Things Are

Where the Wild Things Are; fantasy/ drama, USA, 2009; D: Spike Jonze, S: Max Records, James Gandolfini (voice), Lauren Ambrose (voice), Forest Whitaker (voice), Chris Cooper (voice), Catherine Keener

Max is a lonely and recalcitrant boy. After throwing snow balls at his sister's friends, they destroy his snow tunnel. When Max causes trouble for his mom's boyfriend, she gets angry at him. As a consequence, Max runs away from home and arrives with a boat to an island where giant furry creatures live. He makes friends with Carol, but he turns out to be equally as recalcitrant: he argues with everyone, destroys things and attacks Douglas. Max decides to leave the island. Carol is sorry for his behavior and howls after him. Max returns home and makes up with his mom.

Spike Jonze's live action adaptation of Maurice Sendak's eponymous children's book, "Where the Wild Things Are", is in equal measure a children's film as it is a film for grown ups, since its simplistic story actually carries a subtler leitmotif of growth, embodied in the sligthly autistic, antisocial and stubborn kid Max who actually realizes the error of his ways when he encounters those same traits in the antisocial and stubborn furry creature Carol, and learns - as it is often the case - the best when he sees himself from a different, distanced perspective. The narrative is exacerbated by Jonze's tendency for 'autistic' direction and dozens of uncessary cuts in each sequence, as well as the slightly irritating opening act, yet once the story takes steps towards this goal with a point, it actually aligns itself into a more harmonius whole. Some scenes may be a tad too bizarre - such as the one where the angry Carol rips off the hand of the feathered creature, Douglas, who lightheartedly says how "this was his favorite arm" and is later seen with a branch instead of it - and some larger grasp may not be in there, yet the film is surprisingly touching, original and measured overall. By far, the greatest grasp was achieved on the field of special effects that conjured up the furry creatures with an amazing and ground-breaking solutions, not seen since "The Dark Crystal" and "Labyrinth".

Grade;++

Monday, 4 May 2015

The Sky Crawlers

The Sky Crawlers; animated drama, Japan, 2008; D: Mamoru Oshii, S: Ryo Kase, Rinko Kikuchi, Shosuke Tanihara

Kannami is a young war pilot who works for a company and uses a military airbase to combat war planes in far away destinations. He does not know why and does not care. There are a few other pilots at the airbase, while his boss is Mrs. Kusanagi. Kannami is bored, and spends his peaceful times at a diner, bowling or sleeping with women. After a while, Kusanagi snaps and reveals him the secret: he is Kildren, one of several clones who are created artifically just to fight and die in endless aerial battles, since the society needs wars to keep going, yet at the same time there is no need for mobilisation of civilians nor war destruction, since all the battles happen in the sky and by clones. Kusanagi wants Kannami to shoot her, but he refuses. He flies off to a next battle mission. After long absence, a new pilot shows up in his place.

Mamoru Oshii's anime "The Sky Crawlers" should have been a short film. The storyline and narrative in this edition simply do not support an overlong running time of 120 minutes. Actually, it is startling that the whole first 90 minutes of the film is just an assembly of empty walks - boring, tedious and dry sequences of pilot Kannami walking around the military base, talking with other pilots, going to a diner, just staring... - and that a plot finally sets in only in the last 30 minutes. That concept in the last quarter of the film is quite strong, though: it presents a world where clones are bred just to go fight and kill each other in artificially prolonged, never-ending wars to feed the aggression hungry viewers. This concept of perpetual war works surprisingly fine: on one hand, the idea is that the masses see the killings and get a sense of perverted war excitement, and yet, they do not have to worry of getting harm themselves, since the clones are there to die. It is practical: there is no destruction of the facilities, since only the clones kill each other, yet the war is still going on. Unfortunately, it is a pity that this concept was not elaborated further. There is no point in the first 90 minutes of the film, everything could have been said in those last half an hour, which would have made the film far more compact and dynamic, instead of boring and exhaustingly slow. Also, the characters are strangely passive, and only Mrs. Kusanagi (brilliant Rinko Kikuchi) stands out. Unfortunately, "Sky Crawlers" caused the viewers to decipher and fill in the dots of the story in far greater extent than it did to the sole screenwriters to exploit all the rich possibilities of the concept and the situation in which the hero found himself. Despite a thought provoking premise, it is very "underused".

Grade;++

Friday, 1 May 2015

Red Dust

Red Dust; drama/ adventure, USA, 1932; D: Victor Fleming, S: Clark Gable, Mary Astor, Jean Harlow, Gene Raymond

Dennis runs a desolate rubber plantation in the jungles of the Indochina, and is fed up with his status. One day, Vantine, a prostitute who escaped from Saigon, arrives to the plantation. She and Dennis argue, but get intimate that night. However, the next morning, Dennis tells her he is looking for a better woman, Barbara, the wife of engineer Gary who just recently moved here. Dennis seduces Barbara, but when he hears how Gary loves her, he decides to abandon his plan to save their marriage. In a bitter argument, Barbara shoots and wounds Dennis before leaving with Gary. Dennis thus stays with Vantine and accepts his low life.

One of director Victor Fleming's earlier feature films, "Red Dust" is a rather 'rough' and wild essay on love triangles and human relationships for the golden era of Hollywood, yet still cozy and innocent enough to be suitable for universal audience since it avoids shock in favor of the subtle. The living conditions on the jungle plantation are remarkably realistic, gritty and dirty (the sand storm; the tropical heat) whereas the author seems to avoid the glamorous style even to the end, when it shows its heroes accepting their status of the "lower class" and abandoning achieving something more in life. Still, it avoids any deeper issues of colonialism since the natives are just there to be extras for the main heroes. Clark Gable is impressive as the grumpy Dennis, yet he clearly shows far more chemistry with the brilliant Jean Harlow as prostitute (!) Vantine than with his love interest, the classy, but bland and uninteresting Barbara, played by Mary Astor. Unfortunately, the film presses for more Dennis-Barbara moments than it can carry, especially since Dennis-Vantine scenes overshadow them with ease. Harlow's Vantine, despite a supporting role, provides indeed for best lines throughout the film ("You got some nerve!" - "In my life, I have to have nerve!"; when Barbara shows up for breakfast, struck by tropic heat, Vantine says: "Hurry up and drink you pineapple juice before it boils"; after Barbara kissed Dennis, Vantine gives her notice that she knows: "Don't tell me he needed to borrow your lipstick!"). The storyline was not especially engaging or strong, yet it still has that good old school charm of classic cinema that many modern films lack. Gable would 21 years later star in the remake "Mogambo" basically repeating his role here.

Grade;++