Friday, 30 December 2016

Bomber

Bomber; comedy / drama, Italy, 1982; D: Michele Lupo, S: Bud Spencer, Jerry Cala, Stefano Mingardo, Kallie Knoetze, Gegia

Bud Graziano is a captain who is informed that his ship is confiscated because he owns too much money. On the dock, he saves a man, Jerry, from a group of thugs who were chasing him. Jerry is thankful, and when he hears that Bud is a retired boxing champion, he persuades him to help him train a lad, Girorgio, in order to enter the boxing ring which is always won by Rosco, a Sergeant of an American military base, whose henchmen either bribe rivals to lose or break their hand. Giorgio hears that Bud lost against Rosco in a tournament, but only because Bud's hand was broken the day before. In the final match, when he hears that Girogio's hand was broken, Bud himself enters the ring and beats Rosco.

Five last films directed by Michele Lupo all starred Bud Spencer in them, and his final film, "Bomber", is basically a remake of his first cooperation with Spencer, "They Called Him Bulldozer". "Bomber" offers a rather unusual blend of comedy at the beginning and sports drama in the second half, offering even some more dramatic moments for Spencer (his trainee, Giorgio, even bleeds in the final boxing match and reveals that his hand was broken so that he would lose), yet they are rather heavy handed and seem too similar to "Rocky" - and the viewers would be more invested if Bud would fight himself in the ring, and not just be a trainer (which he does only in the final 5 minutes of the film). Some of the jokes work in the first half (especially when Bud "sneaks in" in the Schuchplattler folk dance to slap Rosco who meddled in among the German dancers), with one even being untypically provocative (Jerry hears that the special code word is "fruitcake", and gets in a lot of trouble when he says it to a man at the wrong gas station, who slaps him), yet they are scarce and far apart, leaving too much empty walk between them that drags or seems routine. A little more ingenuity would have been welcome, since the film lacks highlights and thus cannot give Spencer a chance to truly rise to the occasion, whereas it was unusual that the main bad guy is a Sergeant of an American military base in Italy. A standard, though easily watchable flick, yet with two virtues: the magnificently dreamy opening song "Fantasy" by Oliver Onions is a delight, while wonderfully charming Gegia almost steals the show as the quirky, hyper-energetic girl Susanna who sometimes openly flirts with Bud (the hilarious dance sequence some 20 minutes into the film).

Grade;+

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

The Golden Horns

Zolotye roga; fantasy, Russia, 1973; D: Viktor Makarov, S: Riasa Ryazanova, Georgiy Millyar, Aleksei Smirnov, Ira Tchigrinova, Lena Tchigrinova

Yevdokia is a widowed mother of three children, Mashenka, Dashenka and Kiryushka, who lives in a small village. One day, sisters Mashenka and Dashenka wonder too far away into the woods in search for mushrooms, and encounter witch Baba Yaga, who transforms them into does and chains them as the punishment for touching her giant mushroom. Yevdokia thus goes to search for her kids all alone in the woods, accompanied only by her dog. She sends a couple of hunters the other way and thereby saves the life of a deer with golden horns that gives her a magic ring and advises her where to search for her kids. When even Kiryushka gets transformed into a goat and captured, Yevdokia transforms into a knight and battles Baba Yaga with a sword. The kids are saved and transformed back, while the forest creatures send Baba Yaga and her cottage into the swamp.

This film adaptation of a popular fairy tale revolving around the witch Baba Yanga is an appropriately colorful, fun, comical, harmless, honest, good natured and opulent fantasy film that was rather well received by the audiences in Europe and gained cult status. Unlike many other children's films, "The Golden Horns" actually took a lot of effort into conjuring up this idyllic world: from the costumes of the witch, her make up giving her a "blue skin", the inventive special effects of when mother Yevdokia is standing on a cliff and talking to the Sun and later on the Moon, up to some unusual ideas and details (the walking cottage), a lot was done to make the production stand out, despite a limited budget. The deer with the golden horns is somewhat clumsily (and scarcely) placed into the scene, since it was obviously difficult to direct such an wild animal in the story, and thus sometimes seems as if he is "in a different film", running away or just looking left and right, yet other than that, director Viktor Makarov has a sympathy for the animals, giving extensive, cute little shots of them in the forest (a little duck, birds, rabbits, squirrel), and sometimes even manages to "insert" them with a function in the story (in one comic moment, when Yevdokia is fighting Yaga with a sword, the cat "swings" her paw randomly, as is she is imagining to be "fighting" herself). Georgiy Millyar is good as Baba Yaga, as are other actors, including Riasa Ryazanova, even though her character of the Yevdokia too often takes a back seat compared to Yaga, leaving her a rather thin character, yet for a children's film, "The Golden Horns" still seem actual and charming today.

Garde;++

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

The Jungle Book

The Jungle Book; fantasy adventure, USA, 2016; D: Jon Favreau, S: Neel Sethi, Bill Murray (voice), Ben Kingsley (voice), Idris Elba (voice), Lupita Nyong'o (voice), Christoper Walken (voice), Giancarlo Esposito (voice), Scarlett Johansson (voice)

Mowgli is a little kid who was raised by wolf Akela in the jungles of the Indian subcontinent. His mentor is Bagheera, a black panther. However, when tiger Shere Khan discovers that wolves are raising a human, he wows to kill Mowgli. In order to save him, Bagheera leads Mowgli on a long journey, hoping to bring him back to a human village where he is safe. They get separated, and Mowgli finds and befriends a lovable bear, Baloo, who trains him how to get honey. When Shere Khan finds Mowgli, he chases him onto to a tree, but the branch breaks, killing the tiger. Mowgli is thus reunited with Baloo and Bagheera.

The 7th feature length film adaptation of Rudyard Kipling's eponymous and popular "Jungle Book", Jon Favreau's film is first and foremost a visual effects marvel, since the only real character is the leading child actor Neel Sethi (the only other real character, his film father, appears only briefly somewhere in the middle of the film) while the entire world around him is a CGI fabrication, but with such an eye for detail and such an extent that the viewers will have trouble distinguishing what is real and what not, the level of it not seen since "Avatar". Luckily, Favreau avoids turning it into a CGI fest, since very few moments seem over-the-top (except maybe for the exaggerated collapse of the temple), which gives it weight and a dose of realism, whereas the director still has some connection from his early days as an independent filmmaker, since he cares to instill the story with pathos and real life emotions. It is undoubtedly inferior to Disney's classic '67 film which had a stronger emotional punch and took more time for character development, yet this edition also has its moments. A few clever uses of cinematic techniques are welcomed (the time lapse of changing seasons through the valley is enriched with the camera moving through the river basin), Bill Murray gave more humor to the story voicing the lazy bear Baloo (when a comical anteater pesters him that using Mowgli to get honey is pointless, Baloo replies with: "You have never been more of an endangered species than now"; the "winter hibernation" in the jungle joke) whereas Ben Kingsley and Christopher Walken both gave another sovereign and charismatic performance by voicing the black panther Bagheera and the monkey king, respectively. A few more sharper or inspired moments seem to lack, yet "The Jungle Book" still has so much charm and (animal) sympathy that it manages to lift the film above the usual CGI routine that was served during that time.

Grade;++

Monday, 26 December 2016

Winnetou & Old Shatterhand

Winnetou – Eine neue Welt; western, Germany, 2016; D: Philipp Stölzl, S: Wotan Wilke Möhring, Nik Xhelilaj, Jürgen Vogel, Milan Peschel, Iazua Larios, Rainer Bock, Gojko Mitić, Jani Zombori Banovac

The Wild West, 19th Century. Karl May, a German from Sachsen, is sent to be an engineer in a company that is building a railway straight through the wilderness of the unexplored American continent. When Indians attack the workers on the meadow, May is wounded by an arrow, but still fights with an Indian, Winnetou, for his life – this earns him respect and thus the Indians decide to let him live. With the help of Nscho Tschi, who speaks a little bit of his language, he makes friends with Winnetou and the tribe. May tries to convince the railway company workers to bypass the Indian land, but the greedy executives order the employee to gun down Indians with a machine-gun. Still, Winnetou and May, now called "Old Shatterhand", manage to blow up a key bridge of the railroad with dynamite, thereby foiling their plans.

A modern remake of the mega popular '63 German film "Winnetou", which marked a rare example of a "German Western", Philipp Stolzl's "Winnetou & Old Shatterhand", the 1st part of the trilogy, is a solid, albeit strangely routine and standard achievement: for all its correct tone and a balanced approach, it seems that more care was dedicated to the technical aspects of the film, than the film (and its characters) itself. Still, the initial concept is exciting since it follows Karl May as he observes how the railway is being built through the unknown wilderness of the American continent of the 19th century, which conjures up a good mood of mystery and the unknown, since they never know what they might encounter so far away from civilization. The cooperation and mutual understanding between May and Indian Winnetou gives pacifist, wise and calm messages about tolerance, whereas the landscapes in Croatian Lika really seem like a world for itself. Not a real "bulls-eye", but a few comical or humorous moments manage to liven up the film (in the shootout near the end, for instance, a woman complains to her husband, the banker, that he should "finally act like a man at least once in his life" and go fight, instead of hiding behind a barrel, but he gives a convenient excuse: "I am just worried about you, honey! If they shoot me, who will take care of you?").

Grade;++

Sunday, 25 December 2016

Room

Room; drama, Canada / Ireland / UK, 2015; D: Lenny Abrahamson, S: Jacob Tremblay, Brie Larson, Joan Allen, Sean Bridgers, William H. Macy

Joy is living with her 5-year old child, Jack, in a sealed off shed they call "room". 7 years ago, she was abducted by a man, Nick, who used her as his sexual slave, a situation that continues till today. Jack never left the room, and only knows everything from TV and Joy. In order to finally end this dreadful status quo, Joy persuades Jack to act as is he died. She wraps him in a rug and, as Nick was driving him in the truck to bury him, Jack escapes and contacts the police. Joy is released and reunited with Jack, as well as her parents. However, Joy has troubles adjusting back to her home and old life. Still, she accepts Jack and continues to live with him.

A critically acclaimed film, "Room" is one of the saddest and most depressing movies, bravely tackling the unpleasant topic of a woman who is abducted for sexual slavery and is even forced to have a child with her abductor, which should be respected for its sheer uncompromising attempt that does not even intend to reach a wide appeal at the box office, however the film still leaves the impression that it is stronger as a "social issue" than as an artistic achievement. Director Lenny Abrahamson divides the film into two parts – the 1st one that depicts the captivity of Joy and Jack in the room, and the 2nd one that follows their attempts to adapt to their new life in freedom – which are both good, except that the first segment has tension, yet lacks versatility, whereas the second segment lacks tension, but has character development. For such a dark topic, "Room" is strangely simplistic: it would have been very interesting to dwell upon some more complex relationships between the characters, yet they are absent – the only exception is when Joy's father cannot look at Jack, seeing her captor in him, or when Jack and Joy have this wonderful dialogues ("I'm not a good mum..." - "But you're still a mum."). Unfortunately, the dialogues are often banal, plainly written without much of a point except at first glance or the obvious "this is bad" message. The most was achieved out of the two great leading actors, who both give unquestionably brilliant performances: Brie Larson was rightfully awarded with numerous prizes for her portrait of a traumatized victim, yet Jacob Tremblay is maybe even better as Jack, genuinely giving a fantastic performance, acting in a film that was too mature for his own age, and still managing to be excellent.

Grade;++

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

The Summer of Sangailė

Sangailės vasara; drama, Lithuania / France / Netherlands, 2015; D: Alantė Kavaitė, S: Julija Steponaityte, Aistė Diržiūtė, Jūratė Sodytė, Martynas Budraitis 

Sangaile is a depressive teenage girl who sometimes cuts herself on the wrist. Her parents stay in a cottage in the rural area for the summer and Sangaile observes a plane show where she meets another girl, Auste, who works in the local pastry shop. The two become friends and, eventually, lesbian lovers. Auste helps Sangaile stop cutting herself and build self-esteem. Sangaile loves planes, but gets dizzy from flying and is thus affraid. Auste still helps her board a plane and conquer her dizziness. Two years later, Sangaile becomes a pilot.

Director Alante Kavaite's 3rd film is also the 1st one that she made in her homeland, Lithuania, and a one that thus showed her in a very comfortable and content edition, dwelling on the subject and LGBT topic she likes. "The Summer of Sangaile" is principally a character study about overcoming one's fears and anxieties in order to live life to the fullest, presented in the form of the heroine who stops cutting herself and ends her depression when she meets a person who loves her and 'twitches' her from this grey existance – rarely did words have such a healing effect as the sequence where Sangaile and Auste are lying near a lake in the nature, and the other says to her: "Thank you for being who you are". Filmmed in a highly minimalistic style, with very scarce dialogue, "Sangaile" suffers a bit from this slow pace, which is why some viewers will be impatient with it, or conclude that this might have worked better as a short film, not as a rather overstretched feature, yet Kavaite's honesty and genuine emotions really seem 'spot on', the sequence where Sangaile and Auste make love in the grass at sunset with the small light bulbs illuminating their dresses is highly poetic, several shots of the planes are great whereas the biggest surprise is actress Aiste Dirziute, who is simply fabulous and sweet as Auste, making her the one of the few acting discoveries of the year.

Grade;++

Monday, 19 December 2016

Darling

Darling; drama, UK, 1965; D: John Schlesinger, S: Julie Christie, Dirk Bogarde, Laurence Harvey, Roland Curram

London. Diana is a model who leaves her husband, Tony, for a new man, TV interviewer Robert, who also leaves his wife and kid for her. Diana and Robert move to a new apartment, but she starts to quickly gets bored with him, as well. She has an affair with media advertiser Miles, who assures her a small role in a movie, "Jacqueline". She becomes pregnant and has an abortion. When Robert finally finds out she has been seeing someone else, he leaves her. In Rome, Diana is cast in a chocolate commercial and a wealthy Prince, Cesare, who has seven children, subtly proposes her, but she does not answer. Diana returns to London, leaves Miles and marries Cesare in Rome. However, she gets bored of that life as well, and returns to London to have sex with Robert. The next day, Robert forces her to leave him and return to Rome to Cesare, her husband.

One of the most distinguished movies that documented the taste and feel of the 'swinging sixties' era in London seems as if it is itself marred somewhere between a classic film at the beginning and a modern film in the second half: the dialogues are stale or melodramatic whereas the story does indeed seem like a soap opera at times, yet it tackles some highly taboo topics at that times, relevant even today (the heroine, Diana, for instance, says this after having an abortion: "I will never have sex again...") and features a wide array of cinematic techniques, which show that director John Schlesinger knows his movie language (jump cuts, freeze frames, double exposure...). However, "Darling" has a pointless and rather aimless story, lost in episodic vagueness, never managing to conjure up a true character study with a point revolving around promiscuous Diana who jumps from a man to man, and even flirts with Catholicism and moving to live in Rome, yet never feels happy or content with her life: it is all just one giant escape from one phase to another, without any safe ending. It combines traces of existential crisis a la Antonioni with sexual adventures, yet does not have a clear (emotional) conclusion. Some of the dialogues do manage to ignite, however (when Robert complains that he is basically a "professional question mark", Diana counters with: "Still better than being a professional bosom!"; during a charity speech, the speaker is described with: "He is a man of a few words... Yet they are long") and Julie Christie is very good as the confused heroine, with the famous brief scene where she takes her clothes off in front of the mirror before she collapses from crying, giving her a title of the first actress to get an award for her performance in a mainstream film to appear naked.  "Darling" offers some good thoughts, yet lacks a clear narrative and is overlong to truly achieve a permanent value.

Grade;++

Sunday, 18 December 2016

10 Cloverfield Lane

10 Cloverfield Lane; thriller, USA, 2016; D: Dan Trachtenberg, S: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, John Gallagher, Jr.

After a heated argument with her boyfriend, Michelle leaves her home at night, but has a car accident on the road. She wakes up in an underground bunker which is run by Howard, a conspiracy theorist who built it predicting the end of the world. He claims that he saved her because there was an unknown chemical attack on the surface, and that they must stay in the bunker for a year or two until the fallout clears. Another man found refuge there, Emmet. Michelle and Emmet grow tired of playing Scrabble all the time and decide to make a gas uniform to get out on the surface. However, the authoritarian Howard refuses and kills Emmet. Some time later, Michelle battles Howard, puts the gas mask and escapes from the bunker. She witnesses a UFO abducting and killing people on the field. She gets into the car and goes to join the people fighting the invasion.

Dan Trachtenberg's feature length debut film is an eerie commentary on the fake news and conspiracy theory paranoia pandemic at that time, arguing that fear and panic should never subsume a rational mind – even when their guess turns out right. Basically a thriller edition of Kusturica's "Undeground", "10 Cloverfield Lane" slowly builds its tension between the clash of the three protagonists in the underground bunker, based on small nuances, subtle looks and threatening body language, with Trachtenberg having enough skill to keep up the level of the storyline until the end – one of the best sequences is when Michelle and Emmet agree to make an escape plan and later that evening play the guessing game, "Taboo", with Howard, who scares Emmet ("I am watching you! I see what you are doing! I know everything!"), until Michelle guesses that he is only referring to Santa Claus. John Goodman is excellent as Howard, displaying a typical blend of excuse for his authoritarian actions by only claiming he is taking care of the group, and showing his range as an actor. However, a wider spectrum of a viewing experience would have been welcomed, since the movie is at times overstretched for this 'one note' concept, lacking a more versatile touch, which means that it managed to do a lot of things right, including the plot twist at the end, yet it is still not a complete hit as classic 'minimalistic thrillers' as Hitchcock's "The Rope" or Spielberg's "Duel".

Grade;++

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Bums and Princesses (Season 5)

Bitange i princeze (Season 5); comedy series, Croatia, 2010; D: Goran Kulenović, S: Rene Bitorajac, Hrvoje Kečkeš, Mila Elegović, Tarik Filipović, Nataša Dangubić, Predrag Vusović

The misadventures of five friends in Zagreb continue. Teo finally gets dismissed from the secret service, Robert Kumerle and Irena Grobnik are still arguing, Lucija is trying to find a job, Kazo finds a girlfriend on his birthday during a "Casablanca" themed party while the "Boss" still cannot bring his marketing agency to work. Several events appear, such as the Croatian-Slovene war and the decision of Robert and Irene to film their own TV soap opera. Finally, the "Boss" feigns to have died in order to escape his debt and starts a new life with a new identity.

The 5th and final season of the popular Croatian comedy series "Bums and Princesses" offers a sudden and somewhat incomplete ending, yet a one that overall stays true to its daft humor and crazy style to offer enough to please the viewers. Unpretentious and fun, the story is a 'hit-and-miss' affair – some episodes are weak, yet when they get inspired, they truly deliver a few brilliant examples of humor. Certainly, a solid level of understanding of the Croatian history and mentality need to be understood to get a few jokes, yet some are of universal appeal. One of the episodes with the highest audacity for a concept are 5.6 and 5.7 that follow a fictional Croat-Slovene war over a small island on the Sutla river on the border (which ends in futility, anyway, when the water washes away the small chunk of the disputed piece of land after the rain), featuring several cynical jokes (a Serb observer (Rene Bitorajac playing a Serb double of his Robert Kumerle character) constantly wants the Croatian soldiers to commit a war crime so that he can report them to the UN, as a revenge for the 90s war, yet they persistently refuse to be mean and instead even make good friends with the Slovene population; the standard Croatian joke at the expense of Slovenia's size, joking that "parachuters would be useless, since they cannot land in such a small country, they miss and always land in Austria").

This offers a further good joke in the follow-up episode, 5.8, when the "Boss" is suspected of committing a war crime during the war, so he shamelessly orders Kazo to organize a protest of nationalists – ostensibly to fight for the "dignity of Croatian veterans", but in reality to save his own skin – with several hilarious allusions to Croatia's strained cooperation with the ICTY ("We are here to stop the foreign powers meddling into our affairs! Robert Kumerle is not a war criminal, he is a hero!", says a fake patriot Kazo on TV, whereas one of the slogans among the crowd in the background says: "Buy here!"). Other jokes are just plain innocent and funny (in episode 5.11, Kazo imagines that he was awarded with an Oscar for his documentary, outwinning even Michael Moore for his movie "The Spice Boss", and then goes on the stage – only to say "What are you laughing at?" to Morgan Freeman (!) in the crowd; in 5.14, one agent of the secret police cannot find a handkerchief in his office, and thus takes a napkin from the state files – which has a map of Tudman's plan to divide Bosnia with Milosevic (!) drawn on it...). And at least one episode advanced into a small jewel, 5.18, titled "Kazoblanca": throughout all previous seasons, Kazo always openly admitted his love for the movie "Casablanca", and here the screenwriters gave him his finest hour when they placed him inside the story of his dream, a one that basically mirrors all the plot points of "Casablanca" (Kazo meets a girl, falls in love, but finds out she already has a relationship with an underground nationalist emigre, Čedo) – everything works in this small chef-d'œuvre, and it ends with Kazo ditching the girl to go to a concert all by himself because, through his own admission, he knew she would leave him anyway, so he left her first so that he could "at least once do something cool in his life", thereby even fairing better than Bogart's character in the classic film: what a king! Actors Tarik Filipovic and Natasa Dangubic are the weak links here, yet Hrvoje Keckes, Rene Bitorajac and Mila Elegovic are simply fantastic, and thus – despite a lack of pathos or loyalty among the five friends – "Bums and Princesses" manages to end on a high note, a whole class above many other Croatian comedy shows at that time.

Grade;++

Thursday, 15 December 2016

The Leopard

Il Gattopardo; drama, Italy, 1963; D: Luchino Visconti, S: Burt Lancester, Claudia Cardinale, Alain Delon, Paolo Stoppa, Rina Morelli, Romolo Valli, Terence Hill

Sicily, 1860. Count Don Fabrizio Salina observes how the country is changing with the appearance of Giuseppe Garibaldi and his followers, who initiate the end of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, and turn it part of a unified Italy. Fabrizio's nephew Tancredi also joins the revolution. This also signals the end of Aristocracy. He meets the new mayor, Sedara. When Tancredi proposes Angelica, Serdara's daughter, in an opportunistic move to gain more influence, Fabrizio accepts that, which sadens his own daughter, Concetta, who loved Tancredi. A man begs Fabrizio to join the Senate and help guide the country, but Fabrizio refuses. At a great ball, Fabrizio dances with Angelica and then leaves, walking by foot into the dark of the alley.

Set during the historical backdrop of Risorgimento, i.e. the Italian unification in 1860s, Luchino Visconti's "The Leopard" is a highly ambitious, beautifully filmed and decorated movie which enjoys a high reputation, yet a one that is overrated: one cannot shake away the impression that all the opulence and glamour in it is just a camouflage for the fact that not much happens in the peculiarly uneventful storyline. Just like in many art-films, "The Leopard" has no typical arc in which the protagonist has a goal he pursues throughout the entire film, instead depending on quiet 'slice-of-life' moments, from the comical opening act in which the people's prayer in a room is disrupted by a loud arguing of a man outside up to the famous 45-minute sequence of the ball and dinning in the finale, yet the problem is that Fabrizio Salina is a very passive character, whereas all others are just extras, anyway. There is a strange 'art intertia' in the story, aggravated further by the dated filming technique of static wide shots.

Burt Lancester is great as Salina, giving several strong lines that have a point (in one comical sequence, he confesses to a priest that he is annoyed by the too religious nature of his wife: "What to say about a woman who, whenever I would embrace her, would make the sign of the cross, and whenever she would reach the point of getting excited, she would always yell: 'Jesus and Mary!' Seven children came this way! Seven children! And I've never even seen her naval!" In another moment, he ponders how the people of Sicily would "never admit to a be living in poverty because their vanity prevents them to admitting to themselves that they are not perfect"), and his fate of ageing mirrors the slow change of his country as well, signalling an end to his life (Aristocracy) and a beginning of a new era in Italian society. Sadly, the movie simply lacks highlights, featuring too much empty walk in the overlong running time of 3 hours: what, for instance, was the point of the prolonged 45-minute sequence of the ball, without any confrontation or resolution, when the movie might as well have ended without it? What was the function of the character of Count Carviaghi (Terence Hill) who appears some halfway into the film, only to not play any role in the story? Unfortunately, Visconti is more preoccupied with giving a dry history lesson of his Italian homeland than he is with making this story and characters truly engaging in order to make them come to life for the viewers.

Grade;++

Monday, 12 December 2016

Pieta

Pieta; drama, South Korea, 2012; D: Kim Ki-duk, S: Lee Jung-jin, Jo Min-su, Kang Eun-jin

Seoul during winter. Kang-do is a cold, emotionless debt collector who threatens and beats people who took a loan and now cannot pay back the high credit interest rates. He sometimes breaks a debtor's arm or leg, so that his insurance company can give him the money to pay it back. One day, a woman in her 50s starts following Kang-do, insisting that she is his mother who abandoned him when he was a baby. Kang-do initially shrugs her off, but slowly accepts the woman in his apartment, and starts feeling genuine emotions when she celebrates his birthday and goes to town to buy him balloons to compensate for the events they missed out. When the woman disappears, Kang-do fears it must be one of the debtors taking revenge, and starts searching her. The woman is not his real mother – she is the mother of one of the debtors who died because of Kang-do. She commits suicide by jumping off the building in front of Kang-do, thereby devastating him for thinking he lost his mother again.

Kim Ki-duk's 18th film, "Pieta" is another one of his movies that explore the dark world through Buddhist themes, advancing into a small 'dark jewel' that is, despite all the harsh scenes, one of the most touching movies of the 2010s. Filmed in a 'worn out' camera look, with sudden jolts of camera movements, Ki-duk captures the unglamourous side of Seoul, the slums where the poor people have to pay their credit to the debt collector, Kang-do, who is emotionless and cold, going so far to break a leg of a debtor so that his life insurance can pay him, and even doubts the woman's claim that she is his long lost mother when he tries to rape her ("I supposedly came out of here? Then, can I go back in?") – but when she starts to cry, he suddenly gives up, which proves to be a crucial scene of his inner change.

Set during winter, with a scene where the mother persuades Kang-do to plant a Christmas-tree, "Pieta" almost seems like a realistic Korean version of "A Christmas Carol", only with a mother instead of ghosts, who seemingly wants to correct the protagonist's misdeeds by putting the blame on herself – in one scene, when a disabled debtor holds the mother as a hostage with a knife, threatening Kang-do, she says to him: "Spare him, it's not his fault! It is mine! He grew up without ever knowing love" – thereby transforming him into a full person with an emotional dimension. By showing scenes of debtors who live in slums, Ki-duk gave a portrait of the effects of ruthless Darwinian Capitalism on society, taping on some bigger themes about existence on Earth, with some arguing that it circled out the outline of the inherent flaw of life's design in which the lesser beings are inevitably eaten by the bigger ones, while others see it as a poetic commentary of a cold, materialistic world out of which "forbidden" spirituality and emotions appear, as some sort of protest against the fatalistic order, and thus manage to overthrow it from inside. By blending Christianity's themes of redemption with Buddhist message about the spirit trapped and addicted inside the material world (money) that causes suffering, Ki-duk delivered another unique achievement, raw and harsh, yet also tender and magical at the same time – as bizarre as this syncretism sounds, it works outstandingly in this edition.

Grade;+++

Friday, 9 December 2016

Her

Her; science-fiction drama, USA, 2013; D: Spike Jonze, S: Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson (voice), Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Olivia Wilde, Chris Pratt

Sometime in the future, Theodore works as a professional writer of romantic letters in a company. He is alone and suffers from his recent divorce with Catherine. One day, he installs a brand new computer operating system with a completely autonomous artificial intelligence, gives it a female voice and it calls itself Samantha. Theodore at first uses Samantha to help him clean up his computer files, yet gets amazed at Samantha's voice and a sense of humor and philosophy, and thus falls in love with her. Since he can always talk with her via his iPhone, and even "bring" her to a double date, some people think he is autistic, others, like co-worker Amy, approve.When Samantha evolves in a far higher level, she leaves Theodore for a companion with other OS programmes. Theodore thus stays alone with Amy.

Hal 9000 meets "Love Story" – something like that could be used to describe the unusual and extraordinary Sci-fi film "Her" that used a clever, funny, thought provocative and bitter concept as a thought experiment that explores the ever increasing relationship between humans and technology. Luckily, unlike his previous films, director and screenwriter Spike Jonze reduced his pretentious excess and delivered a rather measured, wise and restrained directing style that fits with the futuristic topic, whereas all the actors are in top notch shape, especially Joaquin Phoenix who almost has to carry the entire film all by himself, though Scarlett Johansson also gives a seal of presence thanks to her expressionistic voice. "Her" has so many wonderful, philosophical and spiritual lines that it is a delight: one of the best is the sequence where Theodore returns after a failed date and has a long talk with Samantha, who asks a fantastic question ("How does it feel to be alive right now?") and he just takes it from there ("Sometimes I think I have felt everything I'm ever gonna feel. And from here on out, I'm not gonna feel anything new. Just lesser versions of what I've already felt."), culminating in a highly unusual, yet also highly aesthetic "sex scene" in the dark featuring only his and her voice, which contains that uncapturable beauty. The script is highly contemplative, and it is never clear if the OS Samantha is a real personality with real emotions or just a well done computer programme used to perfectly mimic Theodore's emotional needs. It explores themes of soulmates and inner beauty, posing the question if such a human-machine relationship could work, despite the differences. A small complaint should be aimed at the too long running time of two hours, the 'cop-out' ending, as well as a few schematic subplots that hinder the movie to outgrow its limits of a thought experiment at times, yet overall it is surprisingly well done, with enough sophistication to make it work.

Grade;+++

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Divizionz

Divizionz; drama, Uganda / South Africa, 2008; D: Donald Mugisha, James Tayler, S: Mark Bugembe, Patrick Katsigire, Catherine Nakyanzi, Bonny Olem, Kyagulanyi Ssentamu

Kapo is a young lad living in a slump in Uganda. Together with a girl, Kanyankole, and a friend, Mulokole, he plans to become team of musicians, and already has a gig in a disco club in the capital, Kampala. Out of sympathy, he calls in Bana, a limp guy with a crutch, in the team, despite Kanyankole and Mulokole objecting because Bana has a criminal record. Kapo gives 2,000 shilling to Bana so that he can buy a CD on which they can record their music in a store. However, when they were returning home, they get attacked by criminals who steal their money. Bana disappears, and the CD with him. Kanyankole has an epileptic attack, but Kapo and Mulokole decide to take a bus to Kampala anyway. In the disco club, they find out that Bana cancelled their gig and instead used the CD to perform himself, all alone. Bana becomes an influential singer, but gets attacked by a rival.

The Ugandan 'guerilla' filmmaking movement YES! THAT'S US delivered a contemporary independent drama film, "Divizionz", which explores the ever relevant topic of people trying to escape from poverty and make it big, in this edition by becoming musicians in the big city, equipped with all the motives that come with it, from loyalty to betrayal. Directed in a very realistic way that depicts the slums of Uganda, yet also in a very elegant and energetic manner that avoids any kind of sentimentality or too depressive excess, the film has its rhythm, though it still seems unsure and 'rudimentary' in several of its cinematic techniques and movie language. For instance, when the hero gets into the bus for Kampala, there is a quadruple split screen which serves no purpose, since the other passengers are not part of the story and talk about irrelevant things like how one of them got pregnant with a guy who avoids seeing the child. The only exception is the well done, poetic scene of Kanyankole having an epileptic attack, where she is lying on the floor surrounded by a completely white background, symbolising how she is 'detached' from the world in a moment. The dialogues are also banal, not managing to add more spice, ingenuity or humor in the otherwise rather straight-forward storyline. Still, the film proves to be unpredictable at least on some level (avoiding political correctness, the disabled guy with a crutch proves to be the main villain) and has very good actors, which make the story, though overlong, still seem good enough to work as a glimpse inside that part of the world.

Grade;++

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Game of Thrones (Season 6)

Game of Thrones (Season 6); fantasy drama series, USA, 2016; D: Jeremy Podeswa, Daniel Sackheim, Mark Mylod, Miguel Sapochnik, S: Kit Harington, Lena Headey, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Peter Dinklage, Emilia Clarke, Aidan Gillen, Liam Cunningham, Sophie Turner, Rory McCann, Maisie Williams, Conleth Hill, Iwan Rheon, Alfie Allen, Gwendoline Christie, Jonathan Pryce, Iain Glen, Jacob Anderson




At the Wall, Jon Snow is resurrected thanks to witch Melisandre. Snow thus again takes over the Night Watch and teams up with Sansa Stark and general Davos to persuade as many houses in the North to fight against Ramsay Bolton as possible, before the attack of the White Walkers. Thanks to a lot of sacrifice, Snow manages to take Winterfell and defeat Ramsay, who is executed by his own blood dogs via Sansa... Jorah and Daario find the captive Daenerys in a Dothraki settlement, and she kills the leaders in a fire, thereby taking over the tribe. Thanks to her three dragons, she also finally defeats the slave masters who were destabilizing Meereen all the time, When the exiled Theon and Yara Greyjoy arrive and offer their fleet, Daenerys accepts and sails to conquer Westeros... In Westeros, Cersei gets sick and tired of the religious fanatics led by the High Sparrow, and thus executes them and several of her foes in the church by lighting an explosion under it during Loras' religious trial. However, now widowed, King Tommen commits suicide. Cersei thus takes over the throne herself... Arya Stark leaves the assassin school and kills Walder Frey, the man responsible for the slaughter of her family during Red Wedding... Bran Stark learns that he must take over as the new Three-Eyed-Raven. He has visions...

After the worst season of the series, "Game of Thrones" made such an unexpected foray into greatness that it delivered the best edition with season 6, reaching its Zenith and thus redeeming itself. After numerous fans rightfully criticized the ill-conceived idea to kill off one of the most beloved characters of the show in season 5, Jon Snow, the good knight, which was just the same old "shock" trick already used with Ned Stark and the Red Wedding, anyway – Oliver Griffin, for instance, rightfully commented with: "Seriously, what is the point now? We're almost at the stage where the only people left to root for are the White Walkers" – screenwriters David Benioff and D. B. Weiss started to listen and overturned that mistake, bringing Snow back – and all the virtues with him. The problems with a too long set up of a story is that it may exhaust the viewers by endless staling, yet here it managed to cross into the other opposite, the "slingshot theorem": the longer it is stretched out, the stronger its velocity will be once it is released. The first few episodes are rather stagnant, yet already episode 6.5 shows that a change is coming: even though it features a similar idea as the ending in "La jetee" and "12 Monkeys", the plot twist involving Hodor in it is still outstanding in its sheer emotional and dramatic intensity – once seen, never forgotten. The last four episodes feature a marathon of "Top of the Tops", since each new episode tops the previous one, forming a 'Triumvirate of brilliance'. Episode 6.7 brings back another beloved character, the Hound, who embodies "Game of Thrones" often used tactic (at first he is shown as a villain, only to do something good that suddenly brings new perspective into his character and nature) by dwelling into a group of people who want to atone for their sins, led by dissident Ray, played by ultra-masterful Ian McShane in an episode to cherish.

Episode 6.8 is another excellent one, featuring one genius quote by Varys aimed at both religious and nationalist fanatics alike ("I suppose it's hard for a fanatic to admit a mistake. Isn't that the point of being a fanatic? You're always right.") with further allegorical exploration of the fictional religious militants led by the High Sparrow in the capital, who ostensibly wants to uphold the "immaculate" religious laws, yet in reality just wants the King to share his power over the Kingdom with him. Arya Stark's sympathy with an actress, Lady Crane, whom she was suppose to assassinate, shows her integrity and independent thinking – with a possible foreshadowing that Crane plays Cersei in a play, who dies. Episode 6.9 went out of its scope to create one of the most expressionistic, raw, energetic and grandiose war battles – between Jon Snow and Ramsay – not seen since "Saving Private Ryan" or "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King": it took 25 days to film, yet its effort is sensed in every frame. It also features one of the most satisfying disposals of a sadistic, disgusting bad guy, a delight of justice for evil finally coming full circle not sensed since the death of the USSR. But the next episode, 6.10, surpasses even the battle of that episode, but through different means, the pure inspiration that crept deep into that storyline, thanks to maestro director Miguel Sapochnik: Cersei there executes a revenge plan so meticulously and so flawlessly planned out that it is better than all the revenge movies by Tarantino from "Kill Bill" through "Django Unchained" combined, whereas it also features a suicide scene of a crucial character that comes so unexpected, directed with such a subtlety and finesse that the viewers never anticipated it – and will probably never forget it due to it. The whole episode is crafted with a refreshing aesthetic and polished style that is thus a joy to watch, from start to finish. Season 6 rises to the occasion, finally justifying its reputation, with Benioff and Weiss constructing it up like a good set of dominoes: they just took away one wrong piece, and it all fell into place. It is a strange irony that in a decade where the films underwent a decline, TV shows simultaneously experienced a rise to greatness: "Game of Thrones" season 6 almost seems as if it "sucked out" all the quality from the movies from that time to use it for its own potentials.

Grade;+++ 

Friday, 2 December 2016

On the Comet

Na kometě; fantasy adventure, Czech Republic, 1970; D: Karel Zeman, S: Emil Horváth, Magda Vásáryová, Frantisek Filipovský

Northern Africa, 19th century. A French army unit is fighting an Arab rebellion against the colonialism, which is supported by the Spanish army. Hector Servadac, a French cartographer, falls off a cliff into the sea and is saved by a girl, Angelica, in whom he falls in love with. However, just then, a giant comet appears on the sky. There is an explosion, and buildings fly off, but fall down again. The French and Arab armies continue to fight, until they encounter Dinosaurs and spot Mars on the sky. They realize that their strip of land has somehow been catapulted on the surface of the travelling comet. Angelica is kidnapped by her brother, but Hector finds her again. When the Earth is seen on the sky, there is another explosion. Hector wakes up near the shore - it was a dream.

An adaptation of Jules Verne's novel "Hector Servedac", Karel Zeman's fantasy adventure is an appropriately opulent and imaginative little film, where he once again demonstrated his audacity to conjure up his very own picturesque worlds outside the big budget system of Hollywood. A small gem of Czech cinema, Zeman is an author with a simple, good old school narrative enriched with an fantastic story - in this edition, a strip of African land with its people was catapulted on a comet - and further enriched with an distinctive, artificial set design, which pretty much immediately identifies his vision, reminiscent of artificial movie worlds of T. Burton, T. Gilliam or J. Švankmajer - the imagery alone is exquisite (in one scene, the soldiers spot Earth on the sky, and one comically adds: "...I can see France!"). "On the Comet" is a light fun, with rather thin character development (including the meagre love story between Hector and Angelica) as well as a unsatisfying ending, yet it has that innocent charm and crazy enthusiasm that simply melts you away. At around 37 minutes into the film, dinosaurs show up, and while they do not last for longer than 2 minutes, they feature several amusing moments, such as they just wag their tales when the army shoots cannons in front of them or start a comedy-stampede when they hear pots in a waggon led by horses. More impressive in its look and visual effects than in its characters or emotions, "On the Comet" is still a remarkable adventure film of pure class.

Grade;++