Wednesday, 30 March 2016

The X Files: Arcadia; X-Cops; Hollywood A.D.; Je Souhaite

The X Files; science-fiction mystery series, USA, 1999, 2000; D: Michael Watkins, David Duchovny, Vince Gilligan, S: David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Peter White, Abraham Benrubi, Judson Mills, Gary Shandling, Tea Leoni, Paula Sorge

Four episodes of the X files: FBI agents Mulder and Scully go undercover feigning to be a couple in order to investigate a small suburban town where the mayor, Gogolak, uses the Tibetan powers to create a mud monster that may kill anyone who breaks his rules... The TV programm "Cops" stumbles upon Mulder and Scully who joins forces with the police in order to investigate a monster on the streets that changes shapes during full moon... Mulder isn't too thrilled that Skinner's friend, filmmaker Federman, is making a film about him and Scully for Hollywood... Two dumb brothers, Anson and Leslie, discover a magic genie in a rug, in a form of a cynical woman, and waste their three wishes on rubbish. Mulder decides to use his last wish to give the woman freedom from being a genie.

While several TV shows lose their inspiration in later seasons, "The X Files" actually delivered some of the most creative and best episodes in seasons six and seven. Naturally, this hyped series is uneven, yet these four really stand out with ease. "Arcadia" is a hilarious satire on Utopian, small suburban towns, where the bigger the smiles the bigger the dark shadows behind the inhabitants who all hide a secret. The storyline is assembled remarkably "off", as if the viewers always know something is wrong in the scene but cannot quite put their finger on it, and the writer seems to enjoy exploiting this "rebellion" against Totalitarian perfection to the maximum (Mulder breaks his mailbox and pours some juice on it, just to see who from his neighbors will try to fix it for him to bring back order), whereas a special bonus are the opulent filming locations, since the town reminds a lot of the one in the thematically similar "The Truman Show", and the detail that Mulder and Scully pretend to be a married couple is delicious, which obviously leads to several good moments (Mulder lies on the bed and jokingly "invites" Scully to join him). "X-Cops" is a grand spoof on the "Cops" TV show, where the documentary-style camera at first follows the daily routine of a cop, but then "accidentally" stumbles upon Mulder and Scully investigating a monster on the streets. It took the already known two protagonists the viewers are used to, and placed them in an unthinkable concept, thereby creating magic, a perception as if the viewers explore them for the first time. Writer Vince Gilligan delivered again some wonderfully playful moments (a witness describes the monster, and the sketch artists draws Freddy Krueger; the gay couple bickering...), whereas the original idea was even more spectacular: Mulder and Scully should have appeared in the TV show "Unsolved Mysteries"!

"Hollywood A.D." is David Duchovny's trip both as a writer and director, yet it is the weakest of the four episodes: while the self-referential idea that Hollywood is making a film with Gary Shandling and Tea Leoni playing Mulder and Scully is fantastic, the middle part of the story, where Mulder and Scully are investigating forged gospels in a church, leads nowhere and feels like a fifth wheel. There are several good jokes here, such as the movie Mulder and Scully kissing, which causes the real Mulder in the audience to face palm, or when Mulder is talking to filmmaker Federman about who will play him in the movie ("I was thinking about Richard Gere..." - "We have Gary Shandling." - "Excuse me, you're breaking up, I thought you said Gary Shandling for a minute..."), but several arbitrary scenes have no place in the storyline at all (the moving skeleton; the zombies that dance in the last scene), which shows that, at least here, Duchovny was not yet mature enough as a director and writer, who should always know what or why something is presented. "Je Souhaite" is the first episode actually directed by writer Gilligan, who demonstrated his skills: while the opening five minutes are unnecessary disturbing and bizarre, the rest of the episode plays out practically as a comedy, playing with the ultimate contradiction: power (a genie with three wishes) is given to people who are incompetent to use it the right way. Here one brother wishes to be invisible, but gets instantly killed by a truck on the street, while the other, who is in a wheelchair, is too dumb to simply wish for the obvious. Leaving the abundant comedy aside, "Je Souhaite" uncharacteristically offers one of the most precious, beautiful, wise and cherished quotes of not only the entire series, but also the entire decade, on TV, and delivers it in such an elegant and unobtrusive way it is a small slice of perfection: when Mulder asks the woman-genie to tell what she would want from her life, she goes: "I'd wish that I never heard the word 'wish' before. I wish that I lived my life moment by moment, enjoying it for what it is instead of worrying of what it isn't. I'd sit somewhere with a great cup of coffee and I'd watch the world go by."

Grade;+++

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Buddy Goes West

Occhio alla penna; western comedy, Italy, 1981; D: Michele Lupo, S: Bud Spencer, Joe Bugner, Piero Trombetta, Carlo Reali, Amidou

The Wild West, 19th century. Buddy manages to save his friend, Indian Girolamo, who was arrested for stealing horses, but wants to move on without him. Buddy boards a train, but it is stopped by Girolamo, and thus he is forced to continue his journey together with him. The two end up in a small town where Buddy is mistaken for a doctor. He exposes that the local Sheriff colluded with a gang to scare off all the inhabitants from the town so that he could get a secret gold mine underneath. Buddy beats up the bad guys and is celebrated by the townspeople.

Director Michele Lupo's five final films all starred Bud Spencer, with more or less success. One of the lesser ones is "Buddy Goes West", even though the opening act at first seemed to indicate at the opposite: namely, the first 20-25 minutes are really fun, featuring several good jokes (in the opening, Buddy disguises himself as an Indian, intercepts a small caravan at a canyon and tricks them into releasing his fellow Indian Girolamo, even though his "army of Indians" at the hills that "surrounded" them were just puppets; the joke where Girolamo says they are "blood brothers", while Buddy just brushes it off claiming he only gave him blood transfusion). Unfortunately, the story seems to run out of ideas once Buddy and Girolamo enter the town, which features too many empty walks and too little pay offs. Especially misguided was the almost 10 minutes long sequence of food gluttony, as some sort of a match between Buddy and the Sheriff to compete who can eat more, which leads nowhere, whereas the ending seems abrupt and incomplete. However, Spencer still has charm as the big guy who saves the day, whereas one has to admit that several of his classic fist fights were surprisingly well choreographed (the scene where Buddy throws two outlaws behind him, and the whole wall collapses after them, for instance).

Grade;+

American Sniper

American Sniper; war drama, USA, 2014; D: Clint Eastwood, S: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Luke Grimes

Chris Kyle is a master shooter, taught ever since he was a kid growing up in Texas by his father. Chris marries Taya and enlists as a US Navy SEAL to participate in the Iraq War as a sniper who gives cover for the US soldiers. Even though he only needed to go once, he ended up going four times in Iraq since he was patriotic. With officially 160 registered kills, he became the most prolific sniper in US history. Upon returning to Texas to his wife and two kids, he finds himself suffering from PTSP and trying to help other war veterans. He was killed by a fellow veteran in 2013.

Clint Eastwood proved once again that he is a very vital director with "American Sniper", a dynamic - and modern - film that features no empty walk, and explores the life of the most prolific sniper in US history, Chris Kyle. Even though some critics were tempted to portray Kyle as a simple 'trigger-happy' redneck, he is a far more complex character: the sequence from his childhood, for instance, shows how he was hugely influenced by his father's philosophy who said that people can be divided into three groups: the wolves (the oppressors, the evil), the sheep (the helpless, the victims) and the sheepdog (those who help and save the sheep from the wolves). For Kyle, he is a sheepdog who protects the US soldiers in Iraq with his sniper and openly says: "This is the greatest country in the world and I want to protect it". He does his job even when a Iraqi child wants to throw a grenade, but not with an easy heart. The scenes of his return home are particularly well made, implying that Kyle may have suffered from PTSP, especially the scene where he is watching TV and sounds of gunshots are heard off screen, but as the camera drives behind his back, it is revealed that the TV is actually turned off. However, the approach to the story is not quite ideal: if the film was made in the 70s, Kyle would have been a clear anti-hero right from the start. All the American characters who are shot are humanised and given an emotional dimension (Biggles and Marc, for instance - his funeral is shown, as well as his family and mother mourning after him), while all the Iraqi characters are kept at distance, we never see the effects of their deaths on their family members and are only shown for 5 seconds of being shot - the film is exceptionally well made, and Bradley Copper is excellent in the leading role, but such a disparity just keeps growing throughout the film, until it corrodes it. With this story, Eastwood took too many compromises, when as a director he should have been far more critical.

Grade;++

Friday, 25 March 2016

Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice

Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice; drama / comedy, USA, 1969; D: Paul Mazursky, S: Natalie Wood, Robert Culp, Elliott Gould, Dyan Cannon

Documentary filmmaker Bob and his wife Carol arrive at a remote resort where people practise a New Age kind of seance. Upon returning home to L.A., Bob and Carol decide to adapt this new kind of living and be very open about anything. Bob admits to Carol that he had an affair, which surprises their friends, Ted and Alice, who are puzzled by their new kind of life style. This causes a commotion between Alice and Ted, who wishes he also had an affair with a woman he kissed. Angry at this, Alice persuades all four of them to have sex with each other at once. However, just as Bob starts kissing Alice, and Carol kissing Ted, they give up and realize they don't really want a foursome after all.

Paul Mazursky's feature length debut film is a comic contemplation on the counterculture movement of the 60s and how the middle class tries to adapt this new kind of lifestyle to be "in", but finds out it is quite often disruptive for their mentality, and thus a middle ground needs to be found. This clash of liberalism and conservatism in "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice" works only to a certain degree, however, since the narrative is often very chaotic and all over the place, overstretching the storyline into several pointless episodes with too much empty walk. Mazursky was at his height in the beginning of his career, and rarely goofed in that period, yet this film offers him in much less inspired edition. The endless debates about how the two couples feel upon finding out that one of them had an affair can only go so far before depleting the viewers' interest. Luckily, some dialogues have spark (in the pool sequence, where Ted admits he kissed a woman, but then stopped because he could not cheat on his wife, Bob gives this interesting quote: "How can you... let a moment disappear out of your life.. that will never ever come again?") as well as a few good moments, such as when Carol tries to talk openly with the waiter at the restaurant, but he resists and just remains official all the time. Not one of Mazursky's highlights, and not for everyone's taste, yet Natalie Wood is great in the leading role whereas the structure of the storyline is so untypical and startling that it still seems unpredictable, which prevents it from playing out like a pattern from many other films of that era.

Grade;++

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Places in the Heart

Places in the Heart; drama, USA, 1984; D: Robert Benton, S: Sally Field, Danny Glover, John Malkovich, Gennie James, Yankton Hatten, Lindsay Crouse, Ed Harris, Ray Baker

The American South during the Great depression. The economy is scarce, and thus Edna Spalding is hit even harder when her husband, a Sheriff, is killed in an incident. Now a widow with two kids, Possum and Frank, Edna is faced with eviction if she does not pay her loan to the bank, and thus decides to team up with homeless Moze and Will, who became blind after participating in war, to use her land to plant cotton. The problem is that the price of cotton has fallen to 3.5 cents per pound, and thus decides to hire extra workers to get the prize as the first farmer of cotton bale of the year. She succeeds, though Moze moves away in fear of the Ku Klux Klan raids.

Robert Benton's "Places in the Heart" is a gentle and touching ode to his childhood memories that seems to be among those films that form an informal 'subgenre' of the American South in the past - "Forrest Gump", "Driving Miss Daisy" and others - that all share the common nostalgia for those times that were imperfect, but people were somehow more alive, affectionate and honest than in modern times. Indeed, the protagonists in this 'slice-of-life' storyline are somehow precious, as if every move they make is worth noticing. Living in the Great depression, they are extremely poor with material things - but, on the other hand, incredibly rich with humanity, spirituality and solidarity towards each other. Even when Benton makes several errors (for instance, why does Will have to be blind? What does the subplot in which Ed Harris' character has an affair with a woman contribute to the main story in any way? At best, it seems like a fifth wheel) he compensates with great characters who are very sympathetic, and it is a joy watching them simply interact with each other (a woman giving the homeless Moze some food at her door; after her husband has been killed, Edna goes to the house weeping and tells her sister: "Don't let them see me like this..."; the tender moment when Edna bashfully describes to Will how 'imperfect' she looks like, which is irresistible; the sequence where she manages to sway a merchant to pay more for her cotton or else she will go to his competitor). There is an unwritten rule that the audiences will root for the protagonist more if he or she undergoes a great suffering with little odds to succeed, and even though it is a tried out method, it still works here when the fragile Edna has to invest everything to pick cotton on her farm before the competitors, which involves a marathon day-and-night work nonstop. A few melodramatic moments aside, Benton leads a remarkably balanced film that is wonderfully unasuming, whereas he finds a great Edna in actress Sally Field, who manages to restrain her emotions and avoid turning too sentimental due to humor and optimism.

Grade;+++

Friday, 18 March 2016

The Poseidon Adventure

The Poseidon Adventure; disaster movie, USA, 1972; D: Ronald Neame, S: Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, Red Buttons, Stella Stevens, Shelley Winters, Jack Albertson, Carol Lynley, Leslie Nielsen

The ocean liner SS Poseidon has recently passed the Gibraltar along its path from New York to Athens. However, on New Year's Eve, a sea quake near Crete causes a tidal wave which hits the ship - and turns it upside down. A small crew, led by cynical reverend Scott, consisting among other out of Detective Rogo and his wife Linda, decide to climb up, towards the "belly" of the ship, to avoid the water rising from below. In the process, several of the people die, including Scott - but the rest manage to get to the overturned bottom of the ship, where a rescue crew saves them by cutting out the metal.

One of the most notable contributions to the highly popular disaster movie genre of the 70s, a 'proto-"Titanic"', "The Poseidon Adventure" is a mixed bag: when it tries to be different from the genre, it works brilliantly, but when it yields to those rules in the second half, it gets overran by its cliches, especially melodramatic ones. The first half is excellent, and abounds with untypical characters, who in turn ignite several moments with refreshing daft humor - in the first scene where Gene Hackman's character is introduced, cynical reverend (!) Scott, he looks pass the camera and says: "Get on your knees and pray to God for help, and then maybe everything will work out fine... Garbage!"; the Rogo-Linda couple, where he is a former cop and she a former prostitute - which help elevate "Poseidon" from a mass of predictable, stale similar films, whereas even the concept is exciting and great - a sea quake causes the ship to turn upside down, in a remarkable sequence, and thus the characters have to "climb up", i.e. towards the former bottom of the ship to escape the rising water - but the second half abandons this method and instead just spends the last hour on the crew climbing and running away from water, without rising to the occasion, and thus turn standard, even equipped with two pathetic-melodramatic deaths near the end, which sadly "overturns" the high impression left on the viewers in the first act.

Grade;++

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Lemonade Joe

Limonádový Joe aneb Koňská opera; western parody, Czech Republic, 1964; D: Oldřich Lipský, S: Karel Fiala, Rudolf Deyl, Jr., Miloš Kopecký, Květa Fialová, Olga Schoberová

In a small Wild West town, every inhabitant is drinking whisky, provided by the only Saloon in town, owned by Doug Badman. This causes fighting and chaos. However, a new cowboy is in town, Lemonade Joe, the fastest gun drawer around who brings order and stops the crime wave by persuading people to stop drinking whisky - in order to instead drink his lemonade provided by his company Kolaloka. He is adored by Evangelist Winnifred Goodman, but when he declines an offer by prostitute Lou, she teams up with Doug and his evil brother Hogofogo who want to kill him in order to continue with their whisky business. Everyone is shot, but the lemonade brings them back to life and they team up, creating a new drink, Whiskola.

In the 50s and 60s, the western genre built such a wave of popularity that it spread even outside the American borders, and gripped even countries which had no connection with the US history at all, most notable with hundreds of Italian 'spaghetti-westerns' from that era. Among the films that were even stranger than that trend was "Lemonade Joe", a peculiar "Czech-western" in which the famous comic director Oldrich Lipsky used the genre only as a giant parody of itself, demolishing its cliches - most notably of a hero cowboy who cleans up the town from crime, but not for free, since he is only there to promote his lemonade among the town's people - and crafting a crazy, daft fun, all filmed appropriately in "yellowish" color. Just like in many of Lipsky's film, the jokes are totally surreal and often very funny: the villiain is called 'Doug Badman' and looks at the cards of players behind their back, uses smoke from his cigar to conjure up numbers "8888" and thus gives a signal to his brother, Hogopogo, who is playing poker at the table; when Lemonade Joe first enters the Saloon, he shows how cool he is by shooting a fly with his gun, and proclaiming: "The law is coming with me!"; the classic joke of an undertaker smiling happily because there are a lot of corpses of outlaws on the streets; Hogopogo and Joe cannot hurt each other because each time they shoot, their two bullets hit each other and stop midway... Several points could be made that the storyline is also a satire on agressive marketing campaigns that too often use a myth (cowboy Joe) as a tool for product placement, and even though the second half is a lot weaker and runs out of steam, accompanied by too much singing, "Lemonade Joe" still works as a cult film 'out-of-the-box', whereas the two charming supporting actresses - Kveta Fialova and Olga Schoverova - are a small jewel in the cast.

Grade;+++

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Ash vs Evil Dead (Season 1)

Ash vs. Evil Dead; horror comedy series, USA / New Zealand / Australia, 2015; D: Michael J. Bassett, David Frazee, Michael Hurst, Sam Raimi, S: Bruce Campbell, Ray Santiago, Dana DeLorenzo, Lucy Lawless

After so many confrontations with the evil dead, Ash, now in his 50s, works in a mart as a salesclerk. However, after consuming marijuana, he tries to impress a girl by reading out from the banned Book of the Dead in his trailer, and thus inadvertently again summons the forces of the evil dead, who start attacking by taking the shape of zombies. His two employees from the mart, Pablo and Kelly, join him and go on a trip to the old cabin, in order to burry the Book of the Dead there. There is a major showdown - but Ash accepts the proposal of a demon lady to sign a truce and live in Jacksonville in peace, neglecting her plan to unleash the demons.

23 years after the 3rd instalment of the "Evil Dead" cult film series, "The Army of Darkness", director Sam Raimi decided to continue the franchise in the form of a TV series, leaving the directing position to 'lease directors', who did quite a good job, delivering a rather good fun without 'empty walk', though not without omissions. The pilot episode is, as expected, excellent, and manages to intrigue the viewers with a typical sly blend of horror and (sophisticated) humor, which made the last two parts of the film series so popular in the first place: Ash (great Bruce Campbell) is in his 50s, has a prosthetic wooden arm, but is still an obnoxious womanizer. His attempt to flirt with Kelly, an employee in the mart, is howlingly funny: "I know, it sounds crazy, doesn't it? I'm old, grey, 30 pounds overweigth, but it doesn't matter: at some point, the thought would have occurred to you." As he tries to stroke her hair, she grabs him by his arm and says: "Touch me again, and you will need another wooden arm", whereas Ash just gives the darnedest response: "OK, another wooden hand in place of my real hand or another wooden hand in place of my wooden hand?"

The scene with his cynical boss is equally as rewarding: "Listen to me you retard... And I can say 'retard' because my 'gardener' is a huge one..." However, the level of the storyline drops in the following episodes, which offer too much gore and splatter, and too little style or inspiration as compensation, with several shooting or chainsawing of the zombies playing out rather banal. The "drug-trip" episode is a typical lazy example of writing, where the authors just simply stacked as many bizarre hallucinations as possible, without believing that anything of that is actually funny themselves. The only exception is great episode 1.07, where Ash, Pablo and Kelly encounter a group of 'Rednecks' in the forest, which had some great payoffs, especially when Kelly aims a gun at them and warns: "I will second amendment your brains all over the truck!" Predictably, the finale ends with 'over-the-top' gore, which is really too much, while the open ending announces a second season, giving overall an accomplished 'revival' with enough charm.

Grade;++

Friday, 11 March 2016

Once

Once; drama / musical, Ireland, 2007; D: John Carney, S: Glen Hansard, Markéta Irglová, Hugh Walsh

One guy is a street musician, performing with his guitar on the streets of Dublin. After a bad night, he is approached by a Czech girl who is also an unemployed musician, and has to earn money through selling flowers in order to support her mother and daughter. The guy falls in love with her, and they even perform a duet, but she informs him that she is technically still married, and only temporarily separated from her husband. The guy record a demo of his songs and is contacted to go to London to publish his songs. Before leaving, he buys a piano to the girl, who is reunited with her old husband.

A surprising independent hit, John Carney's drama with singing, "Once" is an ode to little people following their dreams, stripped down to its essence, and it mostly works, though such minimalistic approach also resulted in a few shortcomings, obvious in the too simplistic storyline about a guy and a girl musician falling in love - too much time is actually spent on the singing of the two protagonists and too little on their character development. The songs are great, and the chemistry between Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova is almost palpable, which adds to the emotionality of "Once", whereas a few moments are charming and fresh (when the hero finally plays his song in front of his father at their home, he understandably waits to hear his reaction, and is surprised when his dad just simply shouts: "That was fantastic!"), yet, in the end, one wishes that the film showed just a tiny bit more ingenuity, creativity and imagination, since it unravels rather ordinary and the songs can only go so far, no matter how good they are.

Grade;++

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

The Winter War

Talvisota; war drama, Finland, 1989; D: Pekka Parikka, S: Taneli Mäkelä, Vesa Vierikko, Timo Torikka, Mika Heikki Paavilainen

In 1939, Goreshist Russia invades Finland in order to annex its territory. However, brave men enlist to the army to fight for their homeland. Among them are brothers Paavo and Martti. They board the train to the border regions, where the Bolshevik army is heading west. Despite all odds, the Finish army digs up trenches and manages to fight and stand up against the Goreshists, destroying their tanks and units. However, the lack of ammunition and weapons is taking its toll on Finns. Paavo dies in the war, while Martti lives to see the truce.

Filmed to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Winter war, Pekka Parikka presents his 1989 film as a war epic with no expenses spared in order to conjure up an interesting episode from history where the outnumbered Finnish army managed to stand up against the ideology of a Greater Russia and survive, which is in Finnish sources often regarded as a small wonder. It starts off with nice little details: when two Finnish men start arguing at the army centre and enter a fight, the people already comment: "Watch out, Russians, our men are already getting warmed up!", while in another instance another character asks a rhetorical question: "Why does Russia want territory from us? Don't they already have enough, all the way to Siberia?", which mirrors the theme that the Finnish army was an example of the anti-goreshist struggle. Several scenes from the war are highlights of the film: a Finnish soldier stops a Soviet tank by clogging its wheels with a log; the enemy Soviets enter the trench, and thus the Finnish soldiers have to throw them out; one Finish soldier gets hit by a grenade in the trench and his body is shattered into meat pieces; explosions cause all the soldiers to duck in the trenches, except a certain Yill, who just resumes walking on the surface in a relaxed manner, comically saying: "It misses if it whines, it hits you when it whistles." However, the film's flaws are in the overstretched running time of 3 hours, as well as in the too often very conventional film approach, that needed more ingenuity and style, with characters lacking a genuine identity, whereas a few battle scenes seem staged - though realism is counterbalanced with hundreds of trees getting levelled to the ground by explosions. The job of presenting the carnage of war is done proportionally well, and the story mirrors some timeless themes, most notably in several struggles: David vs. Goliath; good vs. evil; democracy vs. totalitarianism; true ideals of a country vs. lies and propaganda of a shady system.

Grade;++

Monday, 7 March 2016

The Ascent

Voskhozhdeniye; war drama, Belarus / Russia, 1977; D: Larisa Shepitko, S: Boris Plotnikov, Vladimir Gostyukhin, Lyudmila Polyakova

Belarus during World War II. It is winter, and partisans Sotnikov and Kolya search for food. They enter a house of a religious man who tolerates the Nazi regime and take away a sheep from his farm. On their way, they are attacked by a Nazi unit. Fleeing, they hide in a house of a mother with three children. However, the Nazi soldiers find and arrest them together with the woman. In a nearby army camp, Sotnikov is interrogated and tortured by Portnov, a former choirmaster who is now an Axis collaborator. He tells nothing, and is therefore sentenced to death with others by hanging, while Kolya saves himself by telling everything and becoming an Axis collaborator.

Larisa Shepitko's final film, "The Ascent" is a bitter and depressive World War II drama that refuses to yield to the cliches of its genre, and thus instead of showing a picture-perfect propaganda story about glorious soldiers, actually shows that war is unglamourous, dirty, vile and humiliating - which may explain why the Soviet censors lashed out against it. The whole film is basically a story about the protagonist Sotnikov dying - from the opening act when he is wounded, through the torture sequence where the Axis soldiers put a burning star-shaped iron on his chest up to his acceptance of death through the dialogue with his fellow inmate in jail, Kolya ("I want to live! I'm a soldier and you are a dead man!" - "Then go on living without conscience...") - as well as an essay and contemplation about two kinds of people: those who would die with integrity (Sotnikov) and those who would sell their soul and betray anyone just to ensure their own survival (Kolya). The film works thanks to a few great little moments (the sequence where the Axis soldiers are searching the house, presented only from Sotnikov's and Kolya's perspective, who are hiding on the attic; the prolonged sequence of the four people marching to the gallows on a hill), but it suffers from a too slow pace at times, a one that moves on way too sluggishly as the film progresses, especially in the overlong finale with too many scenes of characters just staring into the camera for minutes, which together with a rather too simple storyline, somewhat undermines its overall impression.

Grade;+++

Friday, 4 March 2016

The Thin Man

The Thin Man; crime comedy, USA, 1934; D: W. S. Van Dyke, S: William Powell, Myrna Loy, Maureen O'Sullivan, Nat Pendelton

New York during Christmas. Wynant, an entrepreneur in his 60s, finds out his secretary, Julia, took a large amount of money from his company. Soon, Julia is found murdered and Wynant disappears, making him the prime suspect, but his daughter Dorothy thinks he is innocent. Two further murders follow. Detective Nick Charles and his wife Nora, as well as their dog Asta, are summoned to help solve the case. Upon solving the case, Nick summons all the suspects for the dinner: he announces that Wynant is dead and that the real perpetrator is his attorney, Maccauley.

The originator of the immensely popular "Thin Man" movie series, which spanned a total of five sequels, "The Thin Man" is a comical restructuring of the 'whodunnit' mystery tales by Agatha Christie, obvious in the finale where the hero summons all the suspects to a dinner - without missing to tease them the whole time before he announces the villain - although it overall takes too much time to finally get into gear, whereas it also suffers from a tendency to improvise too much, which resulted in several bizarre "misfire jokes" (at least two sequences - Nick shooting at ornaments of a Christmas tree with a shotgun (?!); Nick punching Nora (?!) behind him to get her out of the way so that he can attack a criminal with a gun in front of him, even though he could have easily just pushed her away - could have been either improved or simply cut to remove their heavy-handed toll). W. S. Van Dyke directs the film with a lot of relaxed energy, and the the two excellent protagonists, William Powell and Myrna Loy, carry a fine chemistry throughout, whereas the story has its moments - even though it is a strange disparity that the best lines too often come not from the couple, but from supporting characters, either from Marion ("I don't like crooks. And if I like them, I wouldn't like crooks that are stool pigeons. And if I did like crooks that are stool pigeons, I still wouldn't like you!") or the hidden gem of the story, the youngster Gilbert who is always curious about perverted human nature and says some of the darnedest pre-code lines ever put together ("The police forgot something about Wynant's relationship with his secretary. He is a sexagenerian." - "But we cannot put that in the press!" - "Why not?" - "You know, because of the sex." - "Then just put that he is in his sixties." - "Is *that* what that means?!").

Grade;++