Friday, April 29, 2016
A man in a white suit and his girlfriend enter a cinema and warn a man crunching chips not to make noise during the screening of the film. During one rainy night, Goro, a truck driver, and his friend Gun get hungry and stop randomly at a ramen noodle bar. However, the widow running the place, Tampopo yields weak results since her cooking is mediocre. Goro decides to train Tampopo by stealing receipts from rival restaurants and through guidance by a retired "Old master". With the new skills, Tampopo creates a great noddle soup and her bar flourishes. Goro's job is done and he leaves with his truck in the unknown.
One of the cult films from Japan's cinema of the 80s, Juzo Itami's "Tampopo" is primarily a film ode to food and love for gastronomy, since various characters are simply seen eating all the delicacies on the screen throughout the film (ramen soup; spaghetti; rice...) which all channel the film's energy and theme that eating is one of the pleasures of life, or that it defines and gives meaning to the protagonists' lives, going to such an extent that it is not even that unusual that when one nameless gangster in white suit is shot, his last words are about a boar sausage recipe to his girlfriend. Some of these are even "strengthened" with an erotic "spice" (a girl dipping her right breast in a cake and then letting her boyfriend suck it). As such, "Tampopo" included itself in the vein of such films about food as "Eat Drink Man Woman" and "Ratatouille", as well as "Babette's Feast". All this is fun, albeit light, and a major problem is that Itami overstretched his main storyline about widowed cook Tampopo by intervening it with unconnected, random episodes which seem like a "fifth wheel" and amount to almost a 1/3 of the film's running time, which somewhat undermines the impression. It is somewhat indicative that, for a movie about food, "Tampopo" lost its 'taste' by including some of these episodes, which are often tasteless (the man in white suit and his girlfriend tossing a raw egg yolk back and forth between their mouths; the man eating a raw oyster).
Thursday, April 21, 2016
Marcello Clerici is an official in Fascist Italy of the 30s. He is persuaded to join the secret police, which hunts and kills anti-fascists. Clerici accepts everything what he is told, and thus marries average Giulia and goes to confession. He gets an assignment to travel to Paris to kill the Italian anti-fascist intellectual Quadri, his former professor at the university. Once in Paris, Clerici finds out he does not have much in common with Fascism, and even falls in love with Quadri's wife, Anna, but still complies and arranges for the secret police to kill Quadri and Anna in an ambush on the road. After the fall of the Totalitarian regime in Italy, Clerici feels lost and wonders through the streets.
Arguably his best film, "The Conformist" shows director Bernardo Bertolucci in inspired form, who crafts an aesthetically pleasant and intellectually stimulating film, with a special mention that should be attributed to the elegant camera drives and some of director's interventions (for instance, the party at some 35 minutes into the film, where one girl looks directly into the camera, and the Italian tricolor flag is in the background, but as she sits to play the piano, two other girls show up behind her and lean left and right on the piano, in a stylistic composition) which make even ordinary sequences stand out. However, the main themes that Bertolucci tried to address are the most interesting ingredient to ponder about: disappointed by worldwide protests of '68, which gave no concrete results, Bertolucci decided to explore this in the storyline about the protagonist, Clerici, who is a symbol for conformity, a person who does what he is told to even though he actually does not feel like it.
Throughout the film, Clerici is shown as a passive person with high pliability: he accepts to be part of the secret police in Fascist Italy even though he personally does not believe in its ideals (it is hinted he is a bisexual, an atheist, and that he fell in love with Anna, the woman of an anti-fascist professor, yet he still accepts to marry a woman he does not love, Giulia, abandon Anna and to confess in front of a priest - in a highly comical scene where the priest scorns him for his sins, indlucing murder, but ironically gives him instant absolution when he tells him he works for the Italian secret police), and the director ponders if such passivity and indifference became epidemic in the modern generations. This is further elaborated by a clever little demonstration of Plato's allegory of the cave, which the professor uses as an allegory for people in dictatorships that are keeping them ignorant and under one-sided worldview. Bertolucci crafted several opulent moments (Clerici and Giulia in a sensual embrace in the train, while the sunlight is "warming" them through the window; the exquisite finale where the secret police stages an ambush for professor's car in the forest on the mountain), with a tight rhythm, whereas another great role was delivered by Jean-Louis Trintignant, one of the most prolific European actors of the second half of the the 20th century.
Tuesday, April 19, 2016
After the events with General Zod, Superman continues with his activities in Metropolis. Meanwhile, in Gotham, Bruce Wayne, aka Batman, is highly suspicious of Superman due to his limitless powers. Tycoon Lex Luthor buys off the remains of Zod's spaceship and starts using its secrets to eliminate Superman. Luthor kidnaps Clark Kent's mother, Martha, and thus orders Superman to attack and kill Batman. In Gotham, Batman uses Kryptonite dust to weaken Superman in order to fight him. Lois Lane stops Batman and tells him that Luthor provoked the duel. Luthor thus uses plan B: a giant mutant emerges from Zod's spaceship. In the battle - in which Wonder Woman shows up, as well - Superman dies, but manages to kill the mutant with a sphere made out of Kryptonite.
Having a feature length crossover between two icons of the superhero genre, Superman and Batman, is a good idea, yet in this edition, it seems that not even half of their authority and personality remained: separately, they were awe inspiring, but when put together, they here somehow seem to nullify each others' charisma. If the tedious sequence of the killing of Bruce Wayne's parents is ignored (it is bad in every "Batman" film it appeared in, anyway), "Batman v Superman" starts off with a good opening act: a grown up Bruce Wayne is on the street and observes the destruction of the city by General Zod's spaceship, which Superman battles, and this ties in neatly with the ending of Zack Snyder's previous film, "Man of Steel". Snyder keeps up the mood for another half an hour, and there are good moments (for instance, Luthor cuts off the skin from the corpse of General Zod's fingers, thus obtaining his fingerprints which he uses to access his spaceship technology; Luthor's line: "You have been convinced of the oldest lie in the world: that power can be innocent."), but, unfortunately, when it gets to the main tangle, it is standard and ordinary. What was it that made Batman an interesting character? What made Superman an interesting character in the first place? There is little of that here. Batman and Superman never really rise to the occasion: they show very little ingenuity or "wow" moments, and practically zero charm, humor, wit or life.
The very first conversation between Kent and Wayne at the party is a lost opportunity, since it did not lead to any inspired conversation between them, which could have happened - and this applies to the whole film. Would it not have been fascinating for, let's say, Superman to use his X-rays to see right through Batman's mask and name Wayne by his name? Batman and Superman are just there - but their personalities or potential charm stayed in some other film. Bizarrely, even Lois Lane is underwritten and one-dimensional. Ironically, the best character turned out to be Senator June, played by Holly Hunter, and the man in the wheelchair who hates Superman - but they were eliminated before they could even talk to Superman, in an ill-conceived plot twist. The 10-minute battle sequence between Superman and Batman - in a bizarre "RoboCop" like suit - is a typical action routine, and seems highly contrived (why didn't Superman simply say that he does not want to fight him, but that Luthor forced him? It seems unconvincing and illogical). Unfortunately, the final showdown with the giant mutant in the city is a typical CGI-overkill, as well - little effort was done to come up with an actually inventive, fresh or creative action moment, as it was abundant in classic action movies, like "Terminator 2", or Chan's "Project A" or Woo's "Hard Boiled"; or for that matter of fact the wonderfully playful action duel in "Superman 2" - and all this is thus underwhelming and predictable. It does not matter how much money is used to blow up so many things and buildings - but how it is done to deliver something creative and inspired. Overall, it is a decent and easily watchable film - but it simply lacks any highlights. A genuine surprise is the appearance of Wonder Woman (brilliant Gal Gadot), who should have theoretically been the 'fifth wheel' in the storyline, but unexpectedly and inexplicably advanced into quite the opposite - she is so cool, elegant and swift, she overshadows both title superheroes.
Monday, April 18, 2016
Stephen Blume is a divorce lawyer in Beverly Hills. One time, he cheats and has sex with his secretary, and his wife, Nina, thus files for divorce. Blume tries out other women and goes to swinger clubs, but realizes that he cannot forget Nina and that he still loves her, despite everything. She is in a relationship with musician Elmo. Blume makes friends with them and hangs around at their home. Finally, he forcefully has sex with Nina. Blume goes to Venice, but is reunited with Nina who expects his baby.
Paul Mazursky's 3rd feature length film, "Blume in Love" is a patchwork: the sole concept - a man cheats on his wife, and she divorces him, but he is still in love with her nonetheless - is wonderfully unique and refreshing, and has potentials, but unfortunately wastes too many opportunities on empty walk and pointless sequences which do not contribute to the story. The only interesting moment of ingenuity that Blume does in order to sway back his beloved Nina is when he starts hanging around at her home - and grows a beard just like her new boyfriend, musician Elmo (K. Kristofferson). The sole message that Nina isn't that attractive anymore, but her love still eclipses that in Blume's perspective is also interesting and somewhat bizarrely romantic. Unfortunately, too many scenes seem vague and arbitrary (why do we have to watch a 5-minute sequence of Blume slicing an apple while hanging out with Elmo and Nina playing a guitar?), there are too little highlights whereas the resolution is highly questionable, leading to a good film that nonetheless leaves a sore taste that it could have been so much more enchanting and magical.
Sunday, April 17, 2016
New York. Melvin is a misanthrope and a hypochondriac, a hateful and exclusive cynic who ironically makes a living writing romantic novels. Everyone thus avoids him, but when his neighbor, gay painter Simon, is robbed and assaulted, Melvin softens up a bit when he takes care of his dog Verdell while Simon is recovering. Melvin also dines at a restaurant and is attracted to a waitress who works there, Carol. After finding a great doctor to treat her son, Carol figures Melvin is not that bad after all. Melvin, Carol and Simon travel to Baltimore to ask for some money from Simon's parents. After returning home, Melvin finally asks Carol out.
Whenever director and writer James L. Brooks would team up with Jack Nicholson, he would be on a lucky streak and deliver a bingo of a film. The same case is with their 3rd collaboration, "As Good as It Gets", where Brooks once again demonstrates his sixth sense for a gentle, melancholic comedy about humanity, a 'slice-of-life' piece without a story, but about people who are such refreshingly warm characters that you just simply enjoy their company, and their personalities alone carry the entire film. Somewhat unorthodox is that this time Brooks' main protagonist, Melvin, is a thoroughbred cynic, a racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic misanthrope, to such a degree that people give an applause when he is thrown out of the restaurant, whereas in the opening act he even makes a remark about Simon's black gay lover ("Oh, you were talking about your dog. I thought it was the name of that colored man I've been seeing in the halls." - "...Which color was that...?" - "Uh... like thick molasses. With a broad nose, perfect for smelling trouble and prison food."), but since Jack Nicholson plays him so comically over-the-top, you simply cannot get mad at these exaggerations. However, some of Melvin's phobias are a tad too silly, such as his fear of stepping on a crack because it brings bad luck, which is unconvincing - Dr. House showed how it is done right, with the character being dysfunctional, but still not being far fetched.
The character of waitress Carol is lovely and unassuming, and it is obvious that Melvin is secretly in love with her without having to spell it out to the audience, based on his excuses that he just wants to eat at her table. Still, what is the point of the character of Simon? Or his trip to Baltimore which is never resolved? Strictly speaking, he is unnecessary in the storyline and feels like a fifth wheel, despite having good moments. Some more exploration of Melvin's character would have been welcomed: for instance, if he is such a hypochondriac, what was his last relationship like? How did that work out? And if he writes romance novels, wouldn't he use some of that to apply to Carol? That aspect was left unexplored. Also, the ending feels strangely vague and incomplete, which sadly starts exhausting the viewers good will. "As Good as It Gets" is thus a 'Pyrrhic victory': on one hand, it starts off with a bang, has excellent, wonderful characters and precious moments with emotions, but is overlong and feels aimless in the second half, whereas after Melvin's pointless remark to Carol that he expected her to "sleep with Simon" the film never truly recovers. Leaving that aside, it is a feast to simply have Brooks write some of his indestructible, beautiful dialogues, a talent only few have, come to full expression, here augmented by writer Mark Andrus: they are great, both when the lines are comical ("You are a disgrace to depression") and especially when they are cherished with emotions ("I might be the only person on the face of the earth that knows you're the greatest woman on earth."; the tender, inspiring moment at the restaurant when Carol puts Melvin in the corner and tries to persuade him to finally admit he loves her by saying: "It's OK... If you ask me, I'll say yes.").
Thursday, April 14, 2016
New York. Erica has been married to Martin for 16 years, and they have a daughter together, Patti. However, her life falls apart when Martin admits he is in love with another woman for over a year. Now separated, Erica tries to find a new life as a single woman: she hangs around with her three friends, visits a therapist and has casual sex with a seductive man. Finally, she starts a new relationship with Saul, a painter. It seems they fit together, but when he moves, Erica decides not to move with him, but instead stays in New York.
Paul Mazursky's 6th feature length film is an unorthodox, humorous drama about a divorced woman who tries to find her place in the world, and became noticed in the 70s since many have interpreted it as a refreshing feminist film, though it lost a fair share of its enchantment by today's standards: even though it is a 'slice-of-life' film without a clear storyline, it still suffers from too much empty walk and chaotic meandering of episodic events. The sequence when Martin admits to Erica that he loves another woman seems somehow strangely insignificant, and while it may just seem like a "necessary evil" to transition to the real 'juice' of the film, the level of the narrative does not improve significantly after it, either. At 130 minutes, "An Unmarried Woman" is overlong, and at least a quarter of its moments screams "deleted scene" since they do not add much to the film, since Mazursky was not especially inspired in this concept. Luckily, though sparse, Mazursky still has some good lines that lift the impression of the film, such as when Martin says this to Erica in bed ("I am not much fun to live with, am I?") or when Erica a comical exchange with lover Saul ("Am I just a sexual object to you?" - "You're a bright, wilful, curious woman... who is also a sexual object."), whereas Jill Clayburgh is great in the leading role, especially in the scene where she dances the swan lake in her underwear. As such, there are clashes of feminism, emancipation and self-actualization in the film, but there is less of an insight into the human spirit.
Friday, April 8, 2016
Natsumi, a high school student, claims to have been abducted by aliens one night in the forest. Her sister Halle is worried about this, as well as her friends, students Ray, Anna, Eisuke and Tyler. A few days later, Tyler claims to have been abducted as well, but by a very pleasant blond woman who claims to be from the Pleiades. The five team up into "Team Future". During a class presentation, Ray and the dean are taken by a UFO to the dark side of the Moon and are told by an goat alien that there are good aliens - the Galactic Federation - and bad aliens - the Reptilians, who want to take over Earth. After "Team Future" is being taken into the spiritual world, and realizing souls are being reincarnated all over the Universe on Earth, they fight the Reptilians on Earth and beat them by believing in the God of light, while the Reptilians belive in the God of darkness.
The first part of a planned anime film series that is suppose to stream the ideas of Ryuho Okawa and his cult 'Happy Science', "The Laws of the Universe - Part 0" is a bizarre patchwork, an anime that struggles to translate Okawa's religious teachings and instructions into some cohseive dramaturgy, though the opening act actually works as an entertaining Sci-Fi mystery set in the UFO craze. In the first half, it builds up a certain momentum thanks to humor and a relaxed mood where the five high school students explore the UFO sightings - some of the better jokes really do work (in gym, Eisuke finds a baseball and says: "Look! It has a signature on it!" Tyler rushes to see what celebrity signed it, but Eisuke just replies: "I don't know."; the opening in the school cafeteria, where Anna cynically comments how lame it is that Tyler and Ray and racing in who will eat their own lunch faster) - but as the story progresses, it becomes weirder and weirder, until it becomes just a didactic propaganda platform without much cohsesion. Several plot points in the narrative arrive completely random (the five students travelling through the spirit world) or are just plain illogical (Ray and the dean are struggling to find evidence that they were taken by a goat alien on a spaceship - ignoring that their abduction was witnessed by hundreds of students when the UFO's ray took them away from the school auditorium), blending in religion with science (one sentence openly advocates this, whereas in the finale the blond alien woman just casually says that the "Galactic Federation serves God"), whereas the story even uses some debunked theories of a confirmed fraud Billy Meier and his claims of Pleiadan aliens, as well as Icke's Reptilian shapeshifters. Overall, something should be noted here - the "Star Wars" and "Lord of the Rings" series were fun - but it would be an altogether different situation if they actually claimed that everything they presented was true and should be taught by followers.
Wednesday, April 6, 2016
After the previous incidents, Frankenstein has been saved and survived, which reunites him with his fiance Elizabeth. However, his monster survived as well and now wonders through the forest. It is captured by the villagers, but escapes from the prison. The monster finds refuge in the hut of an old, blind man, but the villagers find him there and chase him away. In the meantime, Frankenstein agrees to join forces with mad scientist Pretorius to create a bride for Frankenstein. When the bride rejects him, the monster allows Frankenstein and Elizabeth to escape from the castle, before blowing it up with himself.
Four years after the 1st film reached cult status, director James Whale delivered a sequel, "Bride of Frankenstein", which shows a more steady director's hand, but a lot weaker narrative with little imagination compared to the original. Except for the brilliant comical opening where the 19th Century Mary Shelley (!) talks with two friends about her scary novel "Frankenstein", which 'breaks the fourth wall', the rest of the story is a standard repeat of the 1st film, consisting only out of the monster running away from villagers again and again; the sequence where mad scientist Pretorius shows his four jars in which he holds miniature humans is one of the most bizarre moments of that era whereas the decision that the title bride appears only in the last 7 minutes before the end of the film borders on sexism, since this way she did not get any character development or any chance to interact with the story, which is a wasted opportunity. Unlike "Frankenstein", which was an uncompromisingly dark film, this sequel is a 'lighter' film, avoiding disturbing images, whereas Frankenstein's monster (Boris Karloff in his lifetime role) got more screen time, even words he can say, and was promoted to the protagonist of the film, leaving the scientist the 2nd place. Not such a sparkling sequel as many critics would like to believe, yet it has a few moments, such as comic scenes of the monster smoking and drinking wine for the first time.
Scientist Henry Frankenstein and his hunchback assistant Fritz dig up graves and steal corpses, because he plans to relive dead tissue. One stormy night, Frankenstein starts with the experiment in his castle, when he is visited by his fiance Elizabeth and her friends. A lightning bolt strikes the corpse on the table, and it comes to life. Unfortunately, Frankenstein's monster has a brain of a killer, and thus escapes and drowns a little girl in a lake. Angered by this, the villagers chase the monster with torches. Surrounded in a mill, the monster throws Frankenstein out from the window, while the villagers burn it by setting fire outside.
Even though it was not the first film adaptation of Mary Shelley's novel "Frankenstein" - Dawley made one 20 years earlier with the eponymous film - James Whale's version from 1931 came with such a grand style and shock that it became one of the most influential horror films of the 20th Century, featuring several scenes which became iconic, as well as Boris Karloff's unforgettable performance which set the norm of the look of the monster, after which every subsequent "Frankenstein" film conformed to it. Whale did not kid around, and created a truly dark, gritty and unflinching horror film with several disturbing moments (hunchback assistant Fritz tries to steal a normal brain from a laboratory for the monster, but drops and breaks the jar, after which he takes the jar which says "Abnormal brain"; Fritz whips the monster in the dungeon...), while leaning on to the tradition of German expressionism in several scenes, notably those set in the castle, mirroring some subconscious human fears and mistrust about the consequences and abuse of science, though the 'abridged' storyline could have been better developed instead of wasting too much time on the uninteresting love subplot involving Frankenstein's fiance Elizabeth. The highlights are definitely the last 20 minutes, featuring the angry mob with torches chasing Frankenstein's monster from a cliff to a mill, but all up until that point "Frankenstein" is a good film - but it lacks something, since it practically neglected Frankenstein's relation towards the monster, instead of exploring it.
Sunday, April 3, 2016
Jim Brannigan is a hard line Police Lieutenant in Chicago who gets the assignment to travel to London to extradite infamous criminal Larkin, who was arrested there. However, just as he gets there, Brannigan hears that Larkin was kidnapped and that the people who hold him want 1.5 million $ from his lawyer, Fields, for his release. Brannigan teams up with British Commander Swann in order to investigate the case. It turns out that Fields and Larkin just feigned the kidnapping in order for Larkin to escape, but Brannigan manages to locate and arrest them.
Regretting that he was not offered the role in "Dirty Harry", John Wayne hastily starred in two "Dirty Harry" copycats the following years, "McQ" and "Brannigan", marking a rare performance in a story set in the modern era. "Brannigan" is a solid and easily watchable, though unmemorable crime flick that also seems to impersonate another Siegel film, "Coogan's Bluff", since its storyline is also about a tough, raw police officer travelling to another area where his techniques are considered 'uncivilized'. However, unlike "Coogan", there are practically no examples of culture clash here, except in the scene where the British partner, Swann, asks Brannigan politely to not carry his gun at the dinner, and thus it begs the question why the whole story plays out in London when it could have done so just as well in Chicago. All the side characters are one dimensional extras, and thus there is no chemistry between Brannigan and Swann or Jennifer, since their relations are either always official or the writers just write the story straight forward, without much care that it should lead to a point. As such, the film feels too abridged and hasty, only for 'right-wing fans', though it still has some moments, such as the dynamic car chase sequence on the London Bridge or when Swann actually plays the 'bad cop' and Brannigan the 'good cop', telling one suspect during examination: "You smoke when I tell you!", whereas Wayne's macho behavior actually seems charming.
Saturday, April 2, 2016
A stranger covered in bandages enters a tavern one snowy night and rents a room. The people are suspicious of his secluded nature, and quickly find out why: the man is invisible and runs away into the city. He is Griffin, a scientist who accidentally discovered a formula for invisibility and now wants to find a way to reverse it. However, he is turning mad and slays a police officer. A nation wide man hunt ensues, with Griffin's girlfriend Flora trying to find out what is wrong with him. Griffin causes further crimes, such as derailing a train which kills dozens of people, and even kills his own associate, Kemp. Seeing he is not to be reasoned with, the police finally surrounds him in a barn and shoots him.
The first feature film adaptation of H. G. Wells' classic novel, "The Invisible Man" collected critical acclaim with a reason and stood the test of time, despite a few omissions (for instance, the main character played by Claude Rains is not actually seen until the final scenes, thereby eliminating the prologue of how he got into this situations in the first place) and elements of the naive. By including some disturbing takes on this concept such as the scene where the invisible man strangles a police officer to death or pushes another man off the cliff, director James Whale stepped into the territory reminiscent of his previous film "Frankenstein" not only in horror, but also in theme since the invisible man increasingly becomes a freak and an outcast of society, which manifests in his aggressive madness. Even though the opening act is somewhat slow, the narrative quickly improves later on by exploiting rich possibilities of the premise (in order to be sure that the invisible man is not inside the room, the police commissioner orders seven men to spread a net and walk from one end of the wall to the other) and featuring surprisingly good special effects for that time with a lot of imagination (the invisible man walking in trousers). However, Carpenter's "Memoirs of an Invisible Man", filmed 59 years later, were even better since they offered a clever metafilm solution of actually showing the main character to the audience here and there, thereby strengthening the empathy for his fate.