Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Machete

Machete; action, USA, 2010; D: Robert Rodriguez, S: Danny Trejo, Jessica Alba, Jeff Fahey, Michelle Rodriguez, Robert De Niro, Steven Seagal, Don Johnson, Cheech Marin, Lindsay Lohan

Machete was once a Mexican Federal who fell into a trap and was betrayed by his partner, Torrez, who advanced into a drug lord. Years later, Machete now works as an illegal immigrant in Texas. He is approached by a certain Booth who offers him $150,000 to assassinate the far right Senator McLaughlin, who wants to forcibly eradicate every Mexican in the US. Machete accepts, but quickly figures it was a set-up: McLaughlin will win the re-election by claiming a Mexican wanted to kill him - even though Booth works for him - while the police are now after Machete. Luckily, with the help of Luz, agent Rivera and Mexican immigrants, they manage to expose McLaughlin and his ties with Torrez. In a duel, Machete kills Torrez while Rivera falls in love with him.

The eternal supporting cast member Danny Trejo was finally given a leading role in the action exploitation film "Machete", a spin-off of Robert Rodriguez's fake trailer for the "Planet Terror" film, who even went so far to give such stars like Robert De Niro and Jessica Alba a second billing. "Machete" is a homage to stupid B-action movies from the 80s and, just like Tarantino's films, dances somewhere between trash and inspiration: there are some good scenes and some bad scenes, yet Trejo is very sympathetic, humble in the leading role and several ironic moments give this a 'tongue-in-cheek' feel that refuses to take itself seriously, thankfully, whereas Rodriguez even managed to insert a surprisingly relevant theme about illegal immigration, Xenophobia and racism in the US, which gives it a dose of the subversive that increases its meaning - among others, Senator McLaughlin brags about building a wall along Mexico and even calls Mexicans "terrorists". There are a few good jokes here (for instance, Machete was shot at, but the bullet was stopped - by a previous bullet already inside his body) and even some moments that twist the expected cliches: when the attractive girl Rivera (Alba) is drunk and lies in her bed, we see Machete taking his jacket off and "jumping" into the bed. However, the surprise is next morning, when Rivera wakes up in her clothes and spots Machete simply sleeping next to her side, in clothes as well. She then smiles and calls him a real "gentleman". For such class alone, the movie deserves some extra credit. The inspiration wears off in the exaggerated, routine and over-the-top action finale, which ends predictably, though "Machete" is still a good 'guilty pleasure' - and is notable for being one of only two good movies trash actor Steven Seagal ever starred in his entire career (the second being "Under Siege").

Grade;++

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Hot Fuzz

Hot Fuzz; comedy, UK, 2007; D: Edgar Wright, S: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Jim Broadbent, Paddy Considine, Rafe Spall, Olivia Colman, Timothy Dalton, Edward Woodward, Paul Freeman, Martin Freeman

Police Constable Nicholas Angel is one of the most successful and award-winning people in the history of police in London. A little bit too successful, in fact, since he makes the London police "look bad" in comparison and thus his office decides to transport him to a small provincial town of Sandford. Nicholas is annoyed by the lazy police without any effort, especially by his new partner Danny. However, when several people start dying in mysterious circumstances, he suspects there is a mass killer on the run. He uncovers a conspiracy: the village officials - Skinner, manager of a supermarket; Frank, the police Inspector, and others - who kill people who are "disrupting" the perfect reputation of the village. In a grand shootout, Nicholas and Danny manage to arrest the bad guys.

Director Edgar Wright picked another right thing when he decided to make a comic 'buddy cop film', something which is rarely produced in British cinema, and thus delivered a refreshing flick. Basically following the same formula of a conspiracy in a small town which would be used in his other Simon Pegg collaboration, "The World's End", "Hot Fuzz" is a peculiar and daft film which cannot quite get pinned down, yet it is a fun comedy that is simple and accessible. Some heavy handed moments contaminate the innocent tone of the storyline, mostly revolving around sometimes unnecessary crude or gory blood scenes of murder, whereas not every joke works, yet those that do ignite with delight (one irresistible joke, for instance, has Angel answering a phone call at the police station: a man, in all seriousness, called the police because a "swan escaped from the castle", but the protagonist has to oblige and try to catch the bird, even though he thinks this is clearly beneath his honor), whereas Wright gives the 'Mary Sue' protagonist cop Nicholas Angel a neat story arc in which he manages to both change (by accepting to 'lighten up' and stop being so aggressively perfect all of the time) and stay the same (his work ethic and integrity manage to crack the criminal conspiracy, after all) at the same time. A light fun. At least one sequence is howlingly hilarious, though, and demonstrates Wright's delight on comic territory which reaches cosmic heights, easily forming a highlight of the entire film: it is the insane finale in which Angel returns to the village, only to get attacked by retired locals who are aged 65+. One grandmother even calls him a "fascist" and then starts shooting  at him with a machine gun. And just when you think this cannot be topped, it gets topped - when a priest implores Angel to stop, appealing to the church - only to draw two guns and start shooting himself! If anything, this sequence is a small comic gem.

Grade;++

Friday, July 21, 2017

The World's End

The World's End; comedy / science-fiction, UK / USA, 2013; D: Edgar Wright, S: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan, Rosamund Pike, Pierce Brosnan

Gary King, an unemployed alcoholic in his 40s, rallies all his high school friends - Andy, Pete, Oliver, Steven - to travel from London back to their childhood town, Newton Haven, and have one final round of beers across all of the 12 pubs, including the last one they initially missed out, "The World's End". They also meet Gary ex-sweetheart, Sam. However, Gary and the gang soon find out all the inhabitants were replaced with blue-blooded humanoid robots and thus have to spend the night dodging them while running from pub to pub. Finally, at "The World's End", Gary and Andy find the secret underground hideout to the "Network", an alien intelligence that has been replacing people with robots in order to enlighten and advance the human civilization, so that it won't be the most backward in the entire galaxy. However, Andy and Gary refuse this offer and thus the "Network" abandons the plan and pulls out all of its technology with it that was shared with Earth. The Earth is thus left without technology, and people have to start all over again.

Edgar Wright's final film in his semi-trilogy of sorts, which included "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz", "The World's End" is a peculiar, daft achievement that starts out as your 'run-of-the-mill' nostalgia flick about middle aged friends trying to recapture the magic from their youth, only to make a dazzling turn some 38 minutes into the film in order to become an unpredictable science-fiction parody about alien invasion, an amalgamation of "The Stepford Wives" and "Invasion of the Body Snatchers". Leaving the rather overloaded (and unnecessary) 5-minute opening prologue with the protagonists as teenagers, "End" works rather smoothly, encapsulating small traits and features of the mentality of people in a small town, whereas the main actor Simon Pegg has a field day playing the leading character Gary King. Some of the best bits in the opening act arrive through comical dialogues between him and his reluctant friend Andy ("We are going back to Newton Haven!" - "Newton Haven is a black hole." - "That's because we are not there!") and such comical spirit that is not afraid to be wacky can be found even in the second half of the film: for instance, when one robot manages to assemble itself back again, putting legs instead of his arms, and attacks Sam, Gary shouts: "Get your feet off her!"

Some of this does work, though some does not, since some parts are not that much inspired, which leaves some scenes just ending up looking weird. Likewise, the ending is somehow strangely incomplete, among others because it abandoned Gary's story arc: what did he learn in the end? What did he achieve? What difference did it make? Basically none, and this seems slightly lacking. Still, Wright shows a sixth sense for pure comedy in a finale that is irresistibly hilarious and contagiously fun, with the likes of analytical humor not seen since the verbal duel between the astronaut and the bomb in "Dark Star" or Ray and Zuul in "Ghostbusters": when the two protagonists find out the hideout of the alien "Network", which explains that it is only trying to advance the human civilization, the most backward one is the galaxy, Andy starts objecting to its motivation ("Whoa whoa whoa! Who put you in charge? Who are you to criticize anyone? Now, you might think Gary is a bit of a cock and he is a bit of a cock, but he is my cock!") while Gary verbally outright insults it ("Intergalactic asshole!"; "Go back to Legoland!"), and they both defend the human right to be flawed ("We are more belligerent, stubborn and idiotic than you can imagine!").

Grade;++

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Saint Seiya (Arc 5-6)

Saint Seiya; animated fantasy action series, Japan, 1987-1988; D: Kozo Morishita, S: Tohru Furuya, Ryo Horikawa, Hirotaka Suzuki, Keiko Han, Hideyuki Hori

In Japan, the Bronze Knights - Seiya, Shun, Shiryu and Hyoga - find out the Sanctuary, located in Greece, is run by a fake Pope who became corrupt and disloyal to Athena's rule. The Pope even wanted to kill Athena when she was a baby, but she was saved by Aioros, who was stigmatized by the Pope who called him a "rebel". Athena and the Bronze Knights thus arrive to the Sanctuary to topple the fake Pope. Athena is wounded by an arrow and thus the Knights have only 12 hours to go through 12 temples which represent the 12 constellations leading to the Pope's temple, who can only save Athena - but each temple is guarded by a Golden Knight. The Bronze Knights thus battle each Golden Knight in each of the 12 temples. Finally, Seiya reaches the fake Pope, who is actually usurper Gemini Saga hiding behind a mask. Seiya uses a shield to reflect a ray that heals Athena. She then goes to the top temple and kills Saga.

Even arcs 5-6 of the famed 80s anime "Saint Seiya" divided the opinions: some consider them an epic, monumental and immense saga, while others find them a tiresome, bland, overlong and dry set of endless, repetitive fights. Unfortunately, arcs 5-6 also lean more towards the latter, exhausting themselves in too many fights that all seem so the same they become monotonous after some 20 episodes. Unlike the previous arcs, which were all over the place, the storyline here finally aligned into a clear point since the story here is articulate and clear — Seiya and his Bronze Knights have to pass through 12 temples and fight 12 Golden Knights in less than 12 hours in order to save a wounded Athena — but, sadly, it all quickly gets stuck into the same old formula which is repeated ad nauseam: the protagonist encounters his opponent; he tells the protagonist how powerful he is; his kicks or lasers cause the protagonist to fall down; the protagonist is at his low-point, near death, but then remembers the power of friendship, stands up and defeats the opponent. Next temple. Cue this formula to be repeated for the whole 12 temples, from episode 42 to episode 71. And the sad thing is: if the viewers were to skip 29 episodes, and just jump from episode 42 to episode 71, they would not miss a thing. This just proves how superfluous and unnecessary all these 12 temple fights are, and what an empty walk they are.

Also, it is never established why the Bronze Knights would feel such loyalty to each other since their friendship is never established: they are humorless, one-dimensional warriors, and almost never experience something in private to bond. They do what they are told to, not what they feel what is right naturally. One such example is when a young Shun is "training" on Andromeda island in episode 69 by being chained between two rocks, while the sea level is slowly drowning him: why would anyone feel loyal to such misguided trainers and their methods? However, one has to admit there is some anticipation, some spark in episodes 39-41, when Seiya is sitting with a girl at a dock in Japan at night, preparing to go to Greece to fight the bad guy, whereas some of the locations in the Sanctuary are exciting, especially the Ionic pillars and the stairs, evoking the magic and historic legacy of the Ancient Greece, and some shots are opulent (episode 68, when Seiya and Shun are near the top of the hill at night, while the temple is illuminated above them; episode 72, when Mu is standing near a temple, but its background turns into a transparent view of stars in space behind him). An additional plus point is the usurper, the fake Pope in the Sanctuary, whose philosophy about power and justice resembles the one from Blaise Pascal ("Strength is of only importance. If justice is defeated, it will be remembered as evil."). "Saint Seiya" arc 5-6 is basically a 10 hour 'Wrestlemania': it is fun at first, but after so many hours, it becomes boring and lifeless — while one longs for a broader, more versatile spectrum of a viewing experience.

Grade;+

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Leviathan

Leviathan; science-fiction horror, USA / Italy, 1989; D: George P. Cosmatos, S: Peter Weller, Amanda Pays, Ernie Hudson, Richard Crenna, Hector Elizondo, Daniel Stern

Somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean, an underwater station is performing mining of metals at the bottom of the sea. The station is led by Steven Beck, and consists out of seven crew members, including Elizabeth, Dr. Thompson and Jones. One day, the find a sunk ship, Leviathan, with a safe containing some files and vodka. When one crew member, Sixpack, drinks the vodka, he becomes sick and dies, while an unknown creature mutates inside of him. It seems that the sunken ship may have experimented with mutagens. The monster spreads and kills one crew members after another. Beck calls the company to pick them up, but a hurricane is preventing any rescue. Finally, Beck, Elizabeth and Jones manage to flee into the sea and escape to the surface. The monster attacks them, but Beck kills it with a bomb, while a helicopter saves them.

"Leviathan" is a solid amalgamation of such horror films as "Alien" and "The Thing", yet it offers overall too little to deliver anything new, creative or original in the already tried out subgenre of a monster chasing a crew sealed off inside a limited location. Appearing in a year that was marked by underwater Sci-Fi films, most notably "The Abyss", "Leviathan" finds its own way, yet it is too standard and conventional, lacking real highlights that would justify its predictable formula. The characters are one-dimensional and bland, rarely managing to live it up and show some life, humor or wit: one such example is when Steven Beck gets angry at Sixpack and says: "And Sixpack, if you call me Becky one more time I'm going to pop your tops, all six of them." There is also one good scare moment that actually used some sophistication: it is when the camera zooms out only to a shadow of the monster on the wall, whose shape is still unknown to the viewers. More of such moments in the film would have been welcomed. Sadly, it takes too long for the monster to show up, and once it does, it is bound by too fast cuts that are so erratic that the viewers are sometimes confused as to what is going on in a single scene. That is probably because the monster is a puppet operated underneath, and in order to conceal that we never get a full wide shot of it, but just frenzy glimpses of its head or claws, which is disorienting. A simple, normal editing with a clear establishment of where the monster is and where it is going would have been far better. Even the finale is routine and lacks some freshness. Still, the set designs are very good, whereas the film features one of the greatest posters of the 80s, a one that promises more than the film actually delivers.

Grade;+

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Before the Rain

Pred doždot; drama, Macedonia / France / UK, 1994; D: Milčo Mančevski, S: Gregoire Colin, Labina Mitevska, Rade Šerbedžija, Katrin Cartlidge, Jay Villiers, Silvija Stojanovska

Three stories: Kiril is a young Orthodox monk who holds up his 2-year vow of silence in a Macedonian monastery. One night, he finds an Albanian girl, Zamira, hiding in his bed because a Macedonian militia is accusing her of murder and wants to kill her. Kiril helps her hide in the monastery. When older monks find this out, they expel him from the monastery. Kiril and Zamira flee and fall in love, but they are caught by her grandfather. When she wants to run away with Kiril, her brother shoots her... London. A Macedonian war photographer, Alexander, gives his mistress, Anne, an ultimatum. She is pregnant, but chooses to stay with her husband, so Alexander leaves. However, in a restaurant, a man from the Balkans causes a shooting spree and kills Anne's husband... Back in Macedonia after 16 years, Alexander meets his old love again, Albanian woman Hana. He saves her daughter, Zamira, from captivity of an angry mob, but they shoot him in revenge.

Milcho Manchevski scored it big time with his feature length debut film that was critically recognized and awarded with several prizes, and it is a matter of a quality, unassuming little film that reflects upon ethnic conflict and rule of violence in the Balkans, though it is not without its flaws since such a topic is sometimes presented in heavy handed, banal ways. Balkan primitivism was never truly cinematic, which is problematic even in "Before the Rain", yet Manchevski managed to still deliver a worthy and touching film about intellectuals and gentle souls trapped and hindered by a backward society, using a similar episodic three-part structure like "Pulp Fiction" that same year, where one story completes the other and it all adds up in the end. Out of three stories, the first one is great, yet the other two are melodramatic and too standard to truly rise to the occasion.

The first segment seems to draw its inspiration from wonderfully aesthetic landscapes of the Macedonian monastery on the Ohrid lake, which truly delivered a few great shots, yet the story is also intriguing as it symbolically speaks about the Macedonian "Romeo and Juliet" concept in which a Macedonian falls in love and protects an Albanian girl, who escapes from the extremists from the other nation only to fall victim to the extremists from her own nation. Gregoire Colin stands out the most in that segment as the good-hearted Kiril who follows a wow of silence, while a few comical moments all add up (in one scene, some kids are holding two sticks on the shells of two turtles, imagining they are fighting and calling them "Ninja Turtles"). The second and the third story seem like intruders, though, showing the Balkan mentality more the way the West wants to see it than the way it truly is, with several pretentious ideas (it seems "normal" for the Western viewers that a Balkan guy would suddenly start a shooting spree in a London restaurant just because he has an argument with a waiter, it seems) and explicit details (a man gunning down a cat on the roof; a close up of a sheep giving birth...) which reduce the subtle approach from the opening act. Rade Serbedzija is fantastic in the third story, though, charismatically portraying an intellectual who somehow managed to emerge from such a backward area, escape from it and still deciding to go back and change it towards better.

Grade;++

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Bound for Glory

Bound for Glory; drama, USA, 1976; D: Hal Ashby, S: David Carradine, Ronny Cox, Melinda Dillon, Gail Strickland, John Lehne, Ji-Tu Cumbuka, Randy Quaid

Texas during the Great Depression. Woody Guthrie does not know what to do with his life: he cannot find a job as a sign painter and thus feels ashamed that he cannot support his wife Mary and kids. Hearing rumors that there is no unemployment in California, he one day randomly starts his journey westwards by secretly sneaking with other stowaways  in train wagons. Finally in California, he witnesses how immigrants live in slums, only rarely getting poorly paid jobs in plantations. He also starts an affair with a rich woman, Pauline. Woody meets activist and singer Ozark, who tries to organize a strike and form a syndicate in order for the workers to get a decent pay. Ozark helps him find a job in a radio show, where Woody proves to be a gifted musician. Woody brings his wife and kids to California, but they argue and she leaves him due to his activism. When the radio forbids him to sing music about poverty and inequality, Woody resigns and leaves the state.

If there is a spiritual forerunner to Hal Ashby's biopic about Woody Gutherie, then it is Ford's great classic "The Grapes of Wrath", since both depict the grim events of the Great Depression in America and characters migrating westwards to California in order to find a job, thereby implicitly pleading for a better, fair system, for social equality. More so in "Bound for Glory", even: the hero is basically a socialist musician, but a one that became a socialist not by his own will, but simply by living in such hardship and poverty. Ashby once again manages to craft a quality, quiet film with an emotional understanding and sympathy for his characters (Woody cheated on his wife when he had a chance, yet it is difficult to completely shun him when a random girl says she "doesn't mind doing it" after hearing him play the guitar, upon which he says: "This town ain't dead yet!"), unobtrusively building the story, whereas it is interesting to spot the early use of steadicam in a couple of scenes, albeit scarce one (one is the camera following Woody through the slum, as dozens of people walks pass him as he approaches Randy Quaid's character), as well as a few impressive shots (the wide shot of a giant dust cloud approaching the Texas town, for instance, as Woody runs through the cloud to his home). Unfortunately, for a running time of over two and a half hours, "Bound for Glory" simply exhausts itself in far too much empty walk or repetitive scenes, especially if the viewers are not such fans of folk music (which is played by the protagonist abundantly). This is exacerbated by several episodic scenes which all add to the film's episodic tone (in Texas, one man randomly approaches Woody on the porch and says: "I don't know if you know it, but you are watching at an insane man!"). A decent 'social issue' film, yet a one that feels sadly standard, lifeless and conventional at times.

Grade;++

Friday, June 30, 2017

Baby Driver

Baby Driver; action / crime / thriller / comedy, USA / UK, 2017; D: Edgar Wright, S: Ansel Elgort, Lily James, Jon Hamm, Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx, Eiza Gonzalez
Baby is a young guy whose job is to be a super-fast getaway driver as soon as bank robbers enter his car, in order to evade the police chase. He works for the mysterious gangster Doc in order to repay his debts, and the team members are constantly changing for each new robbery. Baby survived a car crash which left his parents dead, but left him with a tinnitus in his ear, so he always wears headphone to listen to music to help him forget the noise. After his last job, Baby wants to start a new, normal life and asks a waitress, Debora, out for a date. However, Doc orders him to return to the world of crime again. A robbery goes wrong and two get killed. Baby thus kills one gangster, "Buddy" and tries to escape with Debora, but is arrested by the police.

In a decade when many lost all hope in the future of film, which many feared found itself on the rocks due to constant, routine sequels, prequels or remakes, director Edgar Wright struck the screen like a lightning bolt: his film "Baby Driver" is an untrammelled, dazzling and refreshing piece of filmmaking with style that grips the viewers and never let's go. Wright crafts the storyline with so many twists of cliches and surprises that you never know what might happen next: one moment a gangster character poses such a threat that the tension is electrifying, and the next a daft, innocent joke shows up and causes a big laugh. Unlike many films that are going to unravel according to the A-B-C-D scheme, "Baby Driver" unravels around his own A-Z-H-R-X-B scheme, and such an unpredictability gives it spark and vitality. The way one of the villains, "Bats", gets eliminated, for instance, is so creative it is simply pure genius and you never could have seen it coming.

One must also recognize Wright for his genius dialogues, which are abundant ("He puts the "Asian" into "Home Invasion"!"; a gangster has a heart sign next to his tattoo of the word "Hat" to cover up the "e" at the end; after "Bats" constantly tries to intimidate everyone with his erratic behavior, "Darling" finally tells him: "You think you're the last word in crazy? Well you're not!"). The film creates excellent characters and then let's them clash with each other, whereas a very good support is given in the sympathetic protagonist Baby (Ansel Elgort) who is an untypical, peculiar guy, but with his heart on the right spot: he just wants to get out of this criminal world and lead a normal, everyday life so that he can drive cars. The film is so playful that even some gun shots are synchronized in tune to beats from a song. Naturally, despite all this, the story is still a sly morality play, in the end showing how the life of crime may be tempting and easy at first, but that it ultimately leads to huge consequences. Wright previously directed small, independent films, and it is so refreshing to see that he managed to direct a big budget film and still stay faithful to his cheerful, humorous identity. Super-fast action films are a dime a dozen - but action films with sheer ingenuity, intelligence, wit and inspiration are still very rare. This is one of them.

Grade;+++

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Passion Play

Passion Play; drama, USA, 2010; D: Mitch Glazer, S: Mickey Rourke, Megan Fox, Bill Murray, Rhys Ifans, Kelly Lynch

Nate is a musician who is simply on a bad streak: not only does his boss withhold money for his gigs regularly, not only does he owe money to gangster Happy Shannon, but on top of all he gets kidnapped by a thug who wants to shoot him inn the middle of the desert. Nate is saved by some Indians and he arrives by foot to a circus that features freaks. Nate is fascinated by a 20-year old girl, Lily, who has angel-like wings growing out of her back. He runs away with her and plans to sell her to Shannon to repay his debts. When Lily finds that out, she leaves him. Nate feels remorse and realises he loves Lily. Nate storms into one performance by Shannon, escapes with Lily to the roof of the building - and they jump and fly off into the sky together.

"Passion Play" is a bizarre, almost surreal allegory on outsiders who are regarded as freaks by people around them and who thus feel isolated and misunderstood, and by having the protagonist Lily (Megan Fox) be a girl who has angelic-like wings growing out of her back really seems like one of those outlandish metaphors from scripts by Charles Kaufman, including, of course, religious implications which are interwoven with a theme about remorse and redemption by the main hero, Nate (very good Mickey Rourke). Unfortunately, the film suffers from a too long running time and too much empty walk, featuring several sequences where nothing is going on and where the storyline just keeps going on artificially. This could have had potentials as a short film, but it collapses in the overstretched feature length format. If the interesting, symbolic ending is excluded, "Passion Play" has basically only two good scenes: one is when Nate implores Lily to return back to him, saying: "We belong together", upon which comedian Bill Murray cannot resist but to reply with his superior wit: "Now he is even talking in song titles"; and the other is the almost poetic moment when Nate and Lily are making love in bed, her wings covering him, and then a feather drops to the floor. Unfortunately, except for that, the film simply lacks highlights. It is easily watchable, but definitely needed more inspiration that would let these characters do so much more in the storyline.

Grade;+

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Rambo

Rambo / First Blood; action / drama, USA, 1982; D: Ted Kotcheff, S: Sylvester Stallone, Brian Dennehy, Richard Crenna, Bill McKinney, Jack Starrett, Michael Talbott, David Caruso

John Rambo, a retired Vietnam war veteran, arrives at a hut to visit his old war colleague, but finds out he died from cancer. Wandering aimlessly, Rambo arrives at a small city, but the local Sheriff, Will, escorts him out before he can even step foot in the place. When Rambo heads back to the city, Will arrests him. The police officers are brutal, and they bully Rambo until he snaps, beats them up and escapes to the mountain. Will assembles a team to kill him, but Rambo kills many of his officers in the forest, instead. Escalating more and more, the situation reaches a critical point when Rambo steals a military truck, gets a weapon and starts shooting across the town, killing Will. However, Rambo's former commander, Colonel Trautman, persuades him to give himself up to the police.

Even though Sylvester Stallone made over 80 films, he will arguably be remembered for playing only two characters: Rocky and Rambo. Even though it suffers from various problems, inconsistencies and an elision of common sense — the cause for the conflict between Sheriff Will and Rambo is as convincing as the one in "Batman vs. Superman", since in both their trivial misunderstandings could have easily been solved by simply talking to each other as grown ups — "Rambo" still tries to deliver a commentary on the post-war mentality of war veterans, giving a sly message: war veterans only know how to fight, but while that is required from them during war, once peace returns and they are back in their society, they (and their urge to fight) seem misplaced and inappropriate. This is evident near the finale, when Colonel Trautman talks to Rambo and tries to persuade him to finally stop fighting, but he just replies with: "Nothing is over! Nothing! You just don't turn it off!" This speaks volumes about people who are stuck in one state and are unable to move on. "Rambo" also seems to be a critique of "Dirty Harry" and the "shoot first, ask later" mentality: it shows such tendency in the authoritarian Sheriff Will and his officers, who communicate only through violence and bullying, arguing that this extreme right-wing behavior leads in a dead end, in a state of endless escalation from people who fight back. Despite its somewhat rudimentary approach, "Rambo" advanced into a cult film and became the voice of the 80s, capturing its flair and mood, featuring an exciting score by Jerry Goldsmith, spanning a whole mythology of American "one-man-army" heroes during Reagan's era. Despite its more dramatic (and tragic) look at violence and action, the film was followed by three sequels which abandoned the original vision and embraced violence and action as pure, carefree fun, even though critics didn't approve.

Grade;++

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Circle

Dayereh; drama, Iran / Italy / Switzerland, 2000; D: Jafar Panahi, S: Nargess Mamizadeh, Maryian Parvin Almani, Mojgan Faramarzi, Fereshteh Sadre Orafaee 

Tehran. A child is born in the hospital. The grandmother finds out it is a girl, even though the ultrasound indicated it was suppose to be a boy, and thus runs away from the hospital, fearing what the father will say... On the street, two women were released from jail, but one of them gets arrested for wanting to sell a necklace and flee the city. The other girl, Nargess, buys a bus ticket to a city abroad, but hesitates to enter it... Another woman, Pari, runs away from her home when her two angry brothers storm in. She is pregnant and wants to make an abortion, but she needs a permit from her husband, who in turn was executed. She finds a mother who abandoned her little daughter on the street. Pari enters a car, but the driver turns out to be a police officer. Pari escapes. The police stop a woman who was driving with a man who is not her husband, suspecting she is a prostitute. The man is released while the woman is brought to the prison. In there, all the previous women find themselves in the same cell.

Jafar Panahi is among only a handful of directors whose film starts off seemingly as boring only to by the end grip the viewers to such an extent that they are electrified and do not want it to end without a resolution. In this film, Panahi ripped through the standard conventions of Iran's picture-book cinema in order to show something different, an untypical, dark, realistic feminist film in the form of one giant commentary on the misogyny of the society that already starts in the opening scene with the birth of a baby girl, whose grandmother fears that her own gender already disappointed her father. Even though it is somewhat burdened by the heavy "social issue" use, "The Circle" manages to rise above such a predictable delivery of a message thanks to four stories of women without a protagonist, meandering and switching from one story to another thanks to wonderful elegance and swift editing. Through the actions of the women, Panahi speaks out about the discrimination of women (when Nargess wants to buy a shirt for a man in a store, but doesn't know his size, the clerk says: "You women, you always forget everything!"; when she wants to buy a bus ticket, the clerk warns her that she cannot without the permit of a man or a proof that she is a student; when a woman is arrested for driving in the car with a man to whom she is not married, the police let him go, but arrest her...), assembling thus a cyclic structure of the problem which corresponds to both its title and the ending that returns to the opening story. Panahi is subtle — at times, even too subtle, since some themes can only be hinted at due to the restrictions of the Iranian government (abortion, prostitution...) — yet his honesty and humanity simply come to full expression.

Grade;+++

Friday, June 16, 2017

When Marnie Was There

Omoide no Mani; animated drama, Japan, 2014; D: Hiromasa Yonebayashi, S: Sara Takatsuki, Kasumi Arimura, Hana Sugisaki

After Anna Sasaki (12) collapses from an asthma attack, her foster parents send her to spend a few weeks with her aunt in a small town near the coast. Anna suffers from anxiety and feels reluctant to invest any trust into anybody, still resenting her unknown biological parents for abandoning her without a reason. She has recurring dreams of a blond girl, and is surprised when she actually meets her one night in a mansion. The blond girl identifies herself as Marnie, lamenting how she is abused by the maids in the mansion. The two girls spend some time together, but Marnie acts mysterious and suddenly disappears. Anna and another girl, Sayaki, finally hear the whole story from painter Hisako: a long time ago, Marnie was the only child of a rich couple who neglected her. When she grew up, Marnie married and had a daughter. When her husband died, Marnie had to take care of her granddaughter after her daughter died in a car crash. Anna then finally figures that Marnie was her late grandmother.

Another famed anime film by the Ghibli Studio, "When Marnie Was There" is a proportionally well done therapeutic journey which tracks down the source of the heroine Anna's psychological problems, dismantles them and offers some solutions to them. While this is done with enough care, delicacy and measure, the sole result is still somewhat lax, slow and boring at times, since a lot of the features of the storyline were already done in numerous films before. All the scenes are good, yet "Marnie" still lacks highlights: too many scenes revolve only around routine, schematic situations such as picking up tomatoes or going to a festival, while the only great moment where the film rises to the occasion is the plot twist at the end, yet spoiling that would take away that one genius pay-off. It takes simply too long to get to the "juicy" part, the ending, which makes "Marnie" a notch bellow some of Ghibli's previous classics, not managing to rival its golden age from the 80s and 90s, though it is a gentle, honest and sincere little film that has understanding about the troubled orphaned heroine.

Grade;++

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Tenchi Muyo! Ryo-Ohki (Season 1-2)

Tenchi Muyo! Ryo-Ohki; animated science-fiction comedy series, Japan, 1992-1995; D: Hiroki Hayashi, S: Masami Kikuchi, Yumi Takada, Ai Orikasa, Chisa Yokoyama, Yuko Mizutani

Curiosity was just too big for teenager Tenchi. When he hears from his grandfather about a legend that a demon was sealed off in a cave by one of their ancestors centuries ago, Tenchi unlocks the cave and stumbles upon female demon Ryoko who attacks him in school at night. However, when Tenchi defeats her, Ryoko changes and falls in love with him. It turns out she is actually a space renegade who attacked planet Jurai 700 years ago, and Princess Ayeka and her sister Sasami travel with their spaceship from Jurai to Earth to confront Ryoko because they are looking for Ayeka's brother and fiance, Yosho. Even clumsy space police officer, blond Mihoshi, arrives to Earth to capture Ryoko. They all fall in love with Tenchi and decide to live in his house. It turns out that Tenchi's grandfather is Yosho, who fled to Earth. Space villains Kagato and Dr. Clay attack Tenchi's house, but they are defeated in the spaceship.

One of the most popular animes from the 90s, "Tenchi Muyo! Ryo-Ohki" is still in reality a notch bellow of all the high hype that surrounds it. More beloved by male than female viewers, "Tenchi Muyo" is funny and amusing, yet basically just a prototype of the future harem animes, a cryptic adolescent male fantasy in which the protagonist is surrounded by three women who are all in love with him, while a fourth one also shows potential interest in him (Mihoshi). In episode 7, Ryoko even accuses Ayeka of trying to steal Tenchi away from her, saying: "I can smell your pheromones!" It doesn't take much intellect to conclude that this was written by a man. Disregarding the disparity stemming from this cliche concept — if Tenchi likes one of them, why not simply be honest and announce which girl he loves? Otherwise, he displays a rather rotten, dishonest nature for playing all the three girls against each other ad nauseam, and also ignores their feelings — "Tenchi Muyo" also has other flaws which are often overlooked, among them an extremely meandering storyline which doesn't know where it is going, leading to several subplots that all unravel in sometimes just two episodes and are then forgotten for the rest of the show.

One moment, Ryoko is a space pirate that must be arrested by Mihoshi, and then this is all forgotten. Another time, villain Kagato shows up, attacks and this all leads to a giant space battle for two episodes, and is never mentioned again afterwards. Another time, Sasami admits to Ayeka that she is not her sister, but all of this doesn't matter, anyway, since it is never mentioned again in later episodes, and is thus without weight. Such arbitrary tone just consolidates the impression that the author was making this stuff up as he went along, and that it doesn't matter that all the girls are aliens, since all that matters is to establish a plot about three girls "hanging" over a guy. Several fan service moments seem to confirm this (for instance, in episode 3, Ryoko backs up, while Tenchi's grandfather sneaks up behind her and grabs her breasts). This anime works the best when it actually abandons the "harem" concept and simply enjoys its pure comedy. For instance, when bounty hunter Mihoshi lands on Earth, she picks up a signal of her "scary" target and aims at it, which turns out to be an adorable, cat-rabbit like creature, Ryo-Ohki, which bites a third of her gun. In episode 10, the girls are watching a TV romance in which two alien, egg like creatures start passionately kissing, upon which Sasami covers the eyes of the little Ryo-Ohki, while her sister, Ayeka, covers Sasami's eyes. More of such humor would have been welcomed, since the gags about wacky spaceships crashing in the lake or the girls making grimaces can only go so far. The animation is excellent, while a highlight is definitely the song in the closing credits, "Talent for Love", one of the most positive and contagious songs from the 90s, a small gem. Overall, a good comedy anime, yet since this plays out in an isolated house, in which many girls are trying to get the affection of a guy, one cannot shake away the impression that one is watching "The Bachelor" reality show at times.

Grade;++

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Post Tenebras Lux

Post Tenebras Lux; drama, Mexico / France / Netherlands, 2012; D: Carlos Reygadas, S: Adolfo Jiménez Castro, Nathalia Acevedo, Willebaldo Torres

A child wonders along the prarie, observing cows. A red, glowing silhuette of a Pan creature enters a house and walks across the corridors. Juan, a lumberjack, cuts some trees in the forest. He returns home to his wife, Nathalia, and their two little kids, Rut and Eleazar. Juan attends an alcohols-anonymous meeting where he talks to a friend, Seven. Juan and Nathalia celebrate Christmas with the relatives, visit a spa for swingers... However, Juan complains to Nathalia that she ignores him and avoids having sex with him. Their relationship falls apart in the rural life: he becomes sick, she takes the kids and leaves him. Finally, Juan goes to a meadow and rips his own head from his shoulders.

After striking a magnificent chore with some early excellent films, director Carlos Reygadas was rightfully panned by the critics for his disappointing film "Post Tenebras Lux", a movie that seems to have fallen into the trap of those loose art-films that follow a vague 'stream-of-consciousness' narrative and that all appeared near the beginning of the 21st Century. Just like them, "Lux" is an achievement without a plot — actually, the first hint of anything of what this should actually be about happens an hour into the film, when Juan has an argument with his wife Nathalia — roughly exploring the collapse and dissolution of a relationship of a couple with two kids, yet it is overburdened with a self-indulgent, chaotic and random style that exacerbates the already huge effort of the viewers to try to undertsand the film. The cinematography is great, with Alexis Zabe showing talent for handling the camera, but, unfortunately, the sequences and episodes are so arbirtrary and disjointed — the family playing on the beach; Juan and Nathalie driving on the road with the two kids sleeping in the car; dogs running; a party with the family relatives... — that make "Lux" almost seem like a family photo album at times. The lack of a clear story — and some magnificent style to compensate — debilitate the overall impression of this experimental film.

Grade;++

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Hard Target

Hard Target; action, USA, 1993; D: John Woo, S: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Lance Henriksen, Arnold Vosloo, Yancy Butler, Wilford Brimley

New Orleans. Natasha is searching for her homeless father, Binder, whom she hasn't seen ever since he divorced her mother. When she is attacked by robbers, she is saved by Chance Boudreaux, another homeless man. Natasha offers him money to help her find her dad and Chance accepts. When the police find Binder's corpse, little by little Natasha and Chance discover a web of intrigues led by Fouchon, who colludes with millionaires who are so bored with their lives they pay him to hunt, shoot and kill homeless men in the city at night. One of their victims was Binder. Natasha and Chance hide at his uncle's place in the swamp, lure the millionaires and Fouchon in an old warehouse, and then kill them.

John Woo's 1st feature length film for the American market, and the first big budget US film directed by an Asian director, "Hard Target" is today a curiosity in the director's filmography, serving as his "adjustment phase" in a new country, yet still works as a good action film, with that typical flair of the 90s involving a stranger with little words who takes on the much stronger bad guys, which is reminiscent of S. Leone's films, especially his Dollars Trilogy. A thin, simplistic story with a rather abrupt ending, a couple of clumsy scenes or 'stilted' slow motion shots, somewhat one-dimensional characters and a few silly moments (the snake sequence) narrow the enjoyment value of the film, yet it still serves as a competent, fast, dynamic, thrilling and all-around energetic action ride, with 'tongue-in-cheek' irony that refuses to take itself seriously (Randall is holding a cigar in his mouth, and Chance lights up a match — but just when Randall leans forward to light up his cigar, Chance blows out the match; Wilford Brimley in a humorous guest appearance as Chance's uncle who rides a horse and shoots at the villains...). Naturally, Woo again rises to the occasion in several great action sequences — one is when the robbers assault Natasha (she opens the door of her car, but one of the thugs shuts it by kicking the door; a thug swings with a bottle at Chance, but he catches his arm and just bends it backwards to let the bottle hit him) and the other is when Chance charges with a motorcycle that leaks gasoline at the bad guys, smashes it into their car and shoots at the gasoline, thereby igniting it into an explosion, which is a fine example of action, easily one of Van Damme's finest hours.

Grade;++

Monday, June 5, 2017

Intimate Headshot

Intim fejlövés; drama, Hungary, 2009; D: Péter Szajki, S: Gyözö Szabó, Tibor Gáspár, Lehel Kovács, Zsolt Huszár, Eszter Nagy-Kálózy, Kata Gáspár 

Several stories unravelling during 24 hours: Gabor is about to get married to Eva, but she shocks him when she admits that she was once a man who underwent transgender surgery. Angered, Gabor trashes the house and goes to a striptease club... Tomi is a 27-year old virgin who is horny, and meets Kati who lives in the neighboring apartment. He gets drunk and tries to seduce her, but she thinks he wants to rape her and bites his nose. Kati later apologizes and admits she only came here because she wanted to cut all her ties with her abusive ex-boyfriend. When Tomi wants to ask her out again, he finds Kati having sex with her ex-boyfriend. Disappointed, Tomi goes to a strip club... After he met a girl over a chat website who talks suggestive things, Akos wants to kiss her, but she runs away. Back at home, Akos' wife leaves him because she suspects an affair. Disappointed, Akos goes to a strip club... Balazs finds out his girlfriend, Hajni, has an affair with his best friend. Disappointed, he goes to a strip club.

This anthology film assembled out of four stories by director and writer Peter Szajki is a proportionally well made achievement, enriched with dark humor and linked with a single theme of four men who were (sexually) disappointed by women and thus all meet in the finale in the striptease club, yet the movie seems to be missing that final act that would offer some more meaningful connecting tissue or a bigger point than just that the four protagonists meeting at the striptease club, the end. "Intimate Headshot" works the best during several comical moments, such as when Kati asks Tomi what he is doing outside his apartment with only one slipper on his foot, and he replies with: "I'm looking for the other one", or when the wife, suspecting an affair, asks Akos where he got that scratch on his hand, and he gives a lame excuse that a "big pigeon attacked him", upon which the wife says: "Well, greet your little female pigeon". However, more could have been done since the movie is not that funny nor emotional nor as inspired as it could have been. Overall, a good little film that can be easily watched, with a fine cast that all give very good performances.

Grade;++

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Year One

Year One; comedy, USA, 2009; D: Harold Ramis, S: Jack Black, Michael Cera, June Diane Raphael, Juno Temple, Olivia Wilde, David Cross, Hank Azaria, Paul Rudd, Oliver Platt

Zed and Oh are two friends who live in a tribe somewhere in the jungle. When Zed eats from the forbidden fruit, nothing happens, but the shaman still banishes them both from the tribe. On their way to explore the world, Zed and Oh encounter two farmers, Cain and Abel, and spend the night at their place. When it is found out that Cain killed Abel, Zed and Oh flee again. They meet Abraham and stop him from killing his child, Isaac, but flee once again when Abraham demands circumcision. In Sodom, they find that Maya and Eema, two girls from their tribe, are held there as slaves. They manage to start a rebellion, overthrow the king and save Maya and Eema, as well as princess Inanna. Zed parts ways when he decides to lead the people of Sodom to Egypt.

Harold Ramis' final film is a sad and unworthy conclusion to his career, his weakest film, a one where he returned to the vulgar humor from his early days when he wrote "National Lampoon's Animal House" and "Caddyshack", except that this edition is worse, with several ill-considered ideas ranging from coprophagia, farting up to lame jokes of a high priest who enjoys when someone pours hot oil on his hairy chest, all of which undermine and sink the film. "Year One" is a bizarre film: it starts off as a satire of the Bible with the premise that the Tree of Knowledge, Abraham, Cain and Abel and Sodom and Gomorrah all happen in the same time period and thus the two protagonists go from story to story, yet it isn't sure what this is all about whereas it spends a disproportionate amount of time on the Sodom segment which features several vile moments. At best, the film manages to spoof and expose some absurdities of religion — for instance, Zed and Oh interrupt Abraham who wanted to stab his kid, Isaac, which leads to a comic exchange ("I didn't want to kill him! I just wanted to sacrifice him!" - "I don't think that matters to him."); in Sodom, people sacrifice virgins to the gods, so Oh conveniently saves a girl, a virgin, by having sex with her and there is a satire on the pointlessness of circumcision ("They cut a part of it, but there is plenty more where that came from!") — yet it seems even Ramis' sixth sense for comedy exhausted itself, leading to several misguided or empty moments. This is one bizarre moment after another, and you wait for it to finally end, and then it does and that's it. Indeed, an unecessary final film entry from a good director and writer.

Grade;+

Monday, May 29, 2017

Dumb and Dumber To

Dumb and Dumber To; comedy, USA, 2014; D: Peter Farrelly, Bobby Farrelly, S: Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels, Kathleen Turner, Laurie Holden, Rob Riggle, Rachel Melvin, Don Lake, Steve Tom, Tembi Locke, Brady Bluhm, Paul Blackthorne, Bill Murray 

For 20 years, Harry is visiting his friend Lloyd in a mental asylum, who was left allegedly paralyzed in a wheelchair after Mary broke up with him. However, Lloyd finally reveals to Harry that he was just playing a prank on him for the last 20 years, and that he was OK all along. Back home, Harry receives a letter from a woman he slept with, Fraida, who informs him that he has a daughter, Penny who was adopted by a famous scientist, Bernard, 22 years ago. Harry and Lloyd embark on a road trip to El Paso for the KEN conference to meet Harry's daughter. At the same time, Bernard's wife Adele and her lover Travis are trying to kill Harry, Lloyd and Penny so that Adele can inherit his large fortune. The police stop that, however, and Adele is arrested, while Fraida reveals that Penny is not Harry's daughter, but that she just deceived him.

20 years after the hyped, vulgar, crude, yet rather funny 1st film, directors Bobby and Peter Farrelly actually attempted a very late sequel which is decent — equally as vulgar and crude as the original, just less funny. The introduction to the two lead characters, and what they were doing for the last 20 years, is just outrageously insane enough to justify the return to their story, though the storyline loses a lot of inspiration in the 2nd half which copies too many jokes already seen in "Dumb and Dumber" whereas it offers a terrible, cop-out ending which just simply aborts a character arc for Harry and Lloyd and leaves them without a proper conclusion. In that sense, this sequel could have worked better as a short film than a overstretched feature. Some of the jokes are also terrible, with the grandmother in the retirement home sequence reaching a low point of the entire series. The Farrellys still prove to have some remains of a sixth sense for comedy here and there, and thus, luckily, some of the jokes in the first half are hilarious: the one where a Meth cook (Bill Murray in a cameo hidden behind a Hazmat suit) prepares his goods, and a cat randomly jumps to lick the drug, only for the "drugged" pet to be later seen hanging from a chandelier in the background, is a small comic highlight, almost worthy of the Marx brothers, while another wonderful joke is when Harry and Lloyd meet the 50-year old Fraida and ask her to identify herself since the young Fraida they knew has a "smiley face" tattoo on her back — she shows her back, and it now has a "sad face" due to her saggy skin. Jim Carrey is again in good shape and shows his hunch as a comedian, though Jeff Daniels is his worthy partner. Overall, a solid sequel, with a few funny moments, though it is a pity that the characters were not expanded, and instead just stayed one-dimensional caricatures.

Grade;+

Summer with Monika

Sommaren med Monika; drama, Sweden, 1953; D: Ingmar Bergman, S: Harriet Andersson, Lars Ekborg, Dagmar Ebbesen

Harry (19) and Monika (18) are teenagers in love, but plagued by problems since they work poorly paid, ungrateful jobs in a storage and a vegetable store, respectfully. They also do not have a peaceful place to make love, since they still live with their parents. Fed up with her alcoholic father, Monika persuades Harry to escape from the city in a boat and spend the summer in a deserted beach. However, they run out of money and Monika even resorts to stealing food from a house. Upon finding out she is pregnant, they return home. She gets a baby, but gets bored with her housemaid life, yearning for adventure and money which the poor Harry cannot afford. She leaves him and he is left with the baby alone.

One of Ingmar Bergman's "lesser films", "Summer with Monika" is nonetheless a refreshing entry in his filmography since it departs from his routine existentialist themes and instead just presents a light, simple story about two teenagers in love who escape to spend the summer alone in nature, though the director's trademark dark observations about human alienation and isolation still "tick in" in the pessimistic ending. It seems Bergman tried to deliver a modern, "hip" film about the lives of the youth, evident even in a few untypically comical moments for him: for instance, Harry and Monika start making out at his home, lying on the couch, but are then interrupted when they hear his father entering the room. The couple quickly start putting their clothes back on, while Harry even asks: "Do I look I was just about to do it?" Upon having nothing to eat but mushrooms, Monika laments to Harry: "Mushrooms for lunch, mushrooms for diner... If this keep up, our child is going to be a mushroom, not a human". However, once they escape to spend the summer alone in nature, the movie predictably turns into a "stranded whale", not knowing what to do with them, wasting too much time on empty walk or random episode in order to try to cover up for this overstretched segment, though it received attention for a (timid) scene of Harry observing the naked Monika running towards the sea on the beach, which secured Sweden the title of a "liberal cinema" of Europe. An interesting little film, good, though not great, which seems more like an exercise of the director.

Grade;++

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Naked

Naked; drama, UK, 1993; D: Mike Leigh, S: David Thewlis, Lesley Sharp, Katrin Cartlidge, Greg Crutwell

Johnny is a nihilistic misanthrope who steals a car and flees from Manchester after his street sex with a woman turns violent. He finds refuge in London, in the apartment of his ex-girlfriend, Louise. He seduces Sophie, Louise's flatmate, but ignores her after sex. Wondering the streets at night, Johnny meets a security guard, Brian, with whom he has philosophical conversations at night in the building he is watching over. Sophie encounters Sebastian, her landlord, who forces her into sex. When Louise finally returns to the apartment, she makes up with Johnny while Sebastian leaves the premises. However, despite his leg injury, Johnny suddenly stands up and leaves the apartment, aimlessly walking down the street.

Mike Leigh's breakthrough film, "Naked" is his most untypical achievement, depicting explicit sex scenes and sometimes even direct violence, abandoning his trademark subtle observations about social issues. This is not a film about a story. It is a film about a character, a highly bizarre, nihilistic young philosopher, Johnny (David Thewlis) who wonders the streets aimlessly and refuses to settle or "take roots" anywhere. Just like Robert Dupea in "Five Easy Pieces", Johnny is actually a highly intelligent person, but for some reason rejected his talent and society and only knows how to escape from a problem. He is also full of contradictions: on one hand, he is plagued by the problems and injustice in the world, yet on the other hand, he himself emits troubles and injustice towards others, especially towards the women with whom he has sex, only to later on run away from them. It is almost as if he is some sort of a teenage Friedrich Nietzsche whose wild, juvenile nature was left untamed despite his education.

The script is filled with a wealth of fantastic, philosophical quotes which are a joy to listen and form highlights in this 'slice-of-life' storyline by speaking volumes about some truths in life ("That's the trouble with everybody: you're all so bored. You've had nature explained to you and you're bored with it, you've had the living body explained to you and you're bored with it, you've had the Universe explained to you and you're bored with it. So now you want cheap thrills and like plenty of them."; "No matter how many books you read, there is always something in this world that you never ever ever ever understand."; when Louise asks him "How did you get here?" when she finds him in the apartment, he cynically replies with: "Well, basically, there was this little dot, right? And the dot went bang and the bang expanded. Energy formed into matter, matter cooled, matter lived, the amoeba to fish, to fish to fowl, to fowl to frog, to frog to mammal, the mammal to monkey, to monkey to man, amo amas amat."; "Have you ever thought, right, but you don't know, but you may have already lived the happiest day in your whole life and all you have left to look forward to is sickness and purgatory?"). The excellent Katrin Cartlidge stands out the most in the cast with her performance as the 'daft' Sophie, finely balancing both her fragile and confused nature. The only flaws are the subplot revolving around the supporting character of sexual predator Sebastian, who is unnecessary in the story, whereas the last quarter of the film is rather pointless, which somewhat reduces the quality as a whole.

Grade;+++

Friday, May 26, 2017

Horn of Plenty

El cuerno de la abundancia; comedy / drama, Cuba, 2008; D: Juan Carols Tabio, S: Jorge Perugorria, Annia Bu Maure, Laura De Ia Uz, Enrique Molina, Paula Ali, Yoima Valdes

Bernardito Castineiras, an engineer living in a small Cuban village, is married to Marthica and they have a child together, but are unhappy with their low income, noticeable in their old home. One day, they hears of news of an inheritance which was left by nuns for every member of the Castineiras family, whose grandfathers protected them from pirates and have since then deposited the gold to Britain, which corresponds to 123 billion $. Hundreds of people with the family name Casteineiras apply to claim the inheritance, among them Bernardito who travels to Havana, and has an affair with Zobeida, a woman who works with him. However, in the end, an American brought the bank and thus the money is blocked due to the US embargo against Cuba. Bernardito reconciles with Marthica and they deicde to keep waiting for the inheritance.

"Horn of Plenty" is an uneven comedy that took a completely wrong direction from its initial premise and thus strayed away from all the rich possibilities for humor: instead of focusing on timeless themes of human greed and selfishness for wealth, as well as exaggerated antics that stem from these, reminiscent of Moliere's classic "The Miser", it bizarrely and puzzlingly persistently refuses to do so and spends more time on Bernardito's affair with Zobeida as well as his marriage with Marthica. The storyline is overstretched and thin, scarce with humor, and when it finally delivers, the humor is again not about the people expecting an inheritance, but about Bernardito's sex scenes: just as their kid goes out of the house, Marthica shuts the door and immediately takes her clothes off to sleep with Bernardito in bed, but they are interrupted when his mother enters the house. In another scene, Bernardito tries to have sex with Zobeida while sitting on the flush toilet, but due to all the shaking, it breaks and a stream of water erupts beneath them. Even worse, the idea of the inheritance is strangely abandoned in the ending which just stopped the plot without resolving it, leaving the characters (and the viewers) frustrated by having to wait what will happen, but then it ends. This is an incomplete ending. Many golden opportunities were missed: since hundreds of people from the Casteinerias family claim the huge fortune, why not have them fight against each other? Why not have them clash or try to dispute each others' last name? The only good joke is that they spend some money on a wedding expecting a fortune, only to be disappointed. The actors are all very good, though, which somewhat alleviates the overlong storyline that took too many strange paths.

Grade;+

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Once Upon a Crime

Once Upon a Crime; crime comedy, USA, 1992; D: Eugene Levy, S: Richard Lewis, Sean Young, James Belushi, Cybill Shepherd, John Candy, Ornella Muti, Giancarlo Giannini, George Hamilton, Elsa Martinelli

Rome. Phoebe is broke, but teams up with unemployed actor Julian when they find a lost dog and want to bring it to Madam Van Dougan who offers a 5,000 $ reward for his return. When they arrive at her mansion, they find her dead and are subsequently arrested by the police for murder. A couple, Neil and Marilyn, get broke while gambling in Monte Carlo, Monaco, while someone frames them with a suitcase containing Van Dougan's body parts. They are also arrested. Augie Morosco, another gambler, is also suspected of the murder and arrested, also finding out that his wife, Elena, had an affair with playboy Alfonso, who is also a suspect. The Inspector questions them all, until it is found out that the murder was perpetrated by the maid and her husband, the butler. The other suspects are released while Alfonso runs away with the dog that inherited Van Dougan's fortune.

It was probably nostalgia that swayed legendary producer Dino De Laurentiis to remake his own Italian 'whodunit' comedy "Crimen" by M. Camerini, yet the final result pleased almost nobody: it starts off nicely, yet quickly depletes itself with too much empty walk and too many subplots and side characters that drown and overburden the initial simple story. Many great comedians are here, from John Candy up to James Belushi, yet the thin screenplay has little to nothing for them to work with, whereas while it was initially charming to watch the characters' confused or panicked faces, these grimaces can only go so far. It seems the screenplay was so meagre that each comedian recieved only one good joke each (Belushi with the dialogue: "Are you finished?" - "Are you Swedish?"; Richard Lewis impersonating an Italian accent while trying to report the murder to the police on the phone, so he identifies himself as "Rocky Balboa"; Candy while sliding and falling down the roof) whereas for the rest of the film they have nothing left anymore, leaving their potentials underused and unexploited. A light and uneventful crime farce that simply lacks highlights — there is little here to write about — yet it is notable for surprisingly demonstrating that Sean Young has a very charming gift as a comedian in her role as the clumsy Phoebe.

Grade;+

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Thomas Crown Affair

The Thomas Crown Affair; romantic crime, USA, 1999; D: John McTiernan, S: Pierce Brosnan, Rene Russo, Denis Leary, Fritz Weaver, Frankie Faison, Ben Gazzara, Faye Dunaway

New York. Several robbers infiltrate the Metropolitan Museum of Art disguised as employees of the museum, but are recognized and the staff sounds the alarm. In all the commotion, millionaire Thomas Crown slips into the gallery and swiftly steals a painting by Monet, smuggling in into his briefcase and exits as all the attention of the police is focused on the arrested imposters. NYPD Detective McCann has no clue as to who stole the Monet painting, until investigator Catherine Banning is brought on the case. She suspects it was Thomas and thus proceeds to seduce him. He brings her with a plane to a Caribbean island where they make love. Back in New York, the police are on Thomas' trail. Thomas returns the painting and implores Catherine to escape with him from the country. She boards a plane and suspects it is empty, but then finds out Thomas is there waiting for her.

Contrary to all the expectations, John McTiernan's highly competent "The Thomas Crown Affair" is one rare example where a remake is equally as good as the original, delivering a refreshingly elegant, smooth and stylish heist story, but even adding an emotional-romantic dimension to it, since it is implied that the title protagonist was unstable since he could not find the real woman he loves, until he found the investigator who follows him, which also gave a sly excuse for the star of the original film, Faye Dunaway, to deliver a worthy cameo in the frame story of Thomas talking to his psychotherapist. The sequence of the robbery at the museum is just plain clever (Catherine observes the heat-detector surveillance footage of the gallery from which the painting was stolen, yet the video consists just out of "white", blank screen since someone raised the temperature in the room so much that it was equal to the human body temperature, thereby rending it useless since the two cannot be differentiated anymore), the humor between the main protagonists is wonderful (after taking her from New York with a plane for an excursion, Thomas returns Catherine in another plane, yet when she spots a green, tropical island, she laments: "That island isn't Manhattan"), the romantic subplot is surprisingly touching whereas Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo have great 'chemistry', and the authors do not shy away from their sex scene. Maybe the ending is a little bit too happy for Hollywood standards, and maybe the movie does indeed rely too much on fantastic cinematography instead giving more room for the story and character development, yet it all works nicely, whereas Denis Leary has a delicious little role as the cynical NYPD Detective.

Grade;++

The Thomas Crown Affair

The Thomas Crown Affair; crime, USA, 1968; D: Norman Jewison, S: Steve McQueen, Faye Dunaway, Paul Burke

Millionaire Thomas Crown, owner of a respected company, secretly hires the coiled Erwin and four other associates for an assignment of which they will find out only later on. One day, he gives them the instruction to rob a bank: the four men steal the bags with the money in the building and place them in Erwin's car. He, in turn, leaves the bags in a trash can in a graveyard. There, Thomas picks up the money, a sum total of 2.6 million $. The police and Inspector Malone cannot find any clues to the perpetrator, until investigator Vicky Anderson is brought to the case. She finds out that Thomas recently opened a Swiss bank account and assumes he is the mastermind behind it all. Vicky seduces Thomas, but then falls in love with him. When the police set up a trap, Thomas escapes, leaving Vicky behind.

An interesting and proportionally stylish crime film, "The Thomas Crown Affair" is a smart, slick and appropriately unusual achievement of its genre that attempted to become timeless, yet in the end still remained "trapped" in the 60s. The occasional impression of a dated and/or overstretched feeling of the film is still only a marginal complaint compared to a wealth of virtues, from an innovative use of the split-screen technique all up to the excellent performance by Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway who ignite a certain 'chemistry' when interacting, which is especially palpable in the inspired chess sequence in which she is seducing him only through her looks. Norman Jewison directs the story with elegance, though it still lacks humor, and needed more charm and emotions, delivering a good film which is at the same time a little essay about the investigative detective profession, just a step away from a real manual for detectives.

Grade;++

Saturday, May 20, 2017

I Even Met Happy Gypsies

Skupljači perja; drama, Serbia, 1967; D: Aleksandar Petrović, S: Bekim Fehmiu, Velimir Bata Živojinović, Gordana Jovanović, Olivera Vučo, Mija Aleksić

A Gypsy village somewhere in the Banat region, Vojvodina. Bora is a Romani who is constantly plagued by tough luck: he loses all his money in a bet; he doesn't care for his wife; his baby died of a disease, whereas his rival, Mirta, is barging in on his "territory" and buying off geese feathers from farmers. Bora falls in love with Mirta's stepdaughter, the 14-year old Tisa, and asks to marry her, but Mirta refuses because he finds her attractive as well. When Mirta tries to rape Tisa, she runs away and Bora marries her in secret, ditching his previous wife. Hoping to escape into a better life, Tisa goes off to Belgrade to be a singer, but finds out her relatives are living there as beggars. While hitchhiking, she is raped by a Turkish driver and dumped into her village. Bora kills Mirta with a knife. The police investigate the case, but cannot find Bora who vanished.

A widely critically recognized achievement, "I Even Met Happy Gypsies" is one of the saddest films of the 60s, unflinching while openly showing all the misery and poverty of the life in a Romani village, showing sympathy for their status of a minority where they are de facto 3rd class citizens who are shunned and frowned upon by everyone, as some sort of category of collective outsiders from which there is no escape. Director Aleksandar Petrovic crafts the film without a real storyline or a clear narrative, instead focusing more on an ethnographic 'slice-of-life' study into the customs and traditions of the Romani people, which is reflected even in the dual language of the protagonists, demonstrating exceptional realism, patience and authority in handling all their episodes — except maybe for the weird, abrupt ending. Occasionally, the mood is 'livened up' through a few comical episodes, the most notable being the one involving Tisa in the arranged marriage with a 12-year old boy who doesn't know what to do on their Honeymoon in bed, so she kicks him out, which degenerates into an absurd fight from the two families, who were spying on them through the window all the time, expecting the boy to "fulfil" his duty as the husband. There is sadness and melancholy by the author for the protagonists, knowing that their tragedy is inevitable and inescapable, and the whole movie is somber, dirty and grim, accordingly — except for small "rays of light" associated with the scenes involving geese and their feathers who serve as the only "intruders" of poetry and beauty in this grey world, some of which are simply outstanding and magical (Bora throwing feathers from a truck, thereby transforming the whole road into white; the three men entering the village during wedding, so a flock of geese moves away to let them through; the ontological sequence of a knife fight between Bora and Mirta, who fall and disappear into the endless mass of feathers).

Grade;+++

Friday, May 19, 2017

National Class Category Up to 785 ccm

Nacionalna klasa; comedy / drama, Serbia, 1979; D: Goran Marković, S: Dragan Nikolić, Bogdan Diklić, Gorica Popović, Rade Marković, Olivera Marković, Milivoje Tomić, Bora Todorović, Danilo 'Bata' Stojković

Branimir "Floyd" is a lad obsessed with cars and races, but surrounded with problems and disapproval of his lifestyle by everyone: his father, the butcher, considers him a "social parasite" who cannot find a job; the authorities want to draft him in the army so he constantly enlists as a student wherever he can to avoid the military; his girlfriend announces she is pregnant with him, even though he fell in love with another girl, Senka; a man is filing charges against him for scratching his car... Branimir's life goal is to win the 1st place in an upcoming race, which will guarantee him a higher status of a professional driver and lift him above the "National class" category of amateurs. He wins the race, but is disqualified because his car broke down and only passed the finish line because another car pushed him after ramming it from behind. Branimir thus marries his pregnant girlfriend, abandons his car and goes to the army.

The 2nd feature length film by the great hope of Yugoslav cinema, director Goran Markovic, "National Class" is an attempt to assemble a 'hip' and 'cool' modern Yugoslav film for the youth, yet its optimistic tone and sequences of car drives also feature a hidden, darker leitmotiv of the everlasting nature of some things as opposed to futile actions of individuals who try to change the world. Such is the story of the main protagonist, Branimir 'Floyd', who aims to be a professional sports car racer, yet in the end turns into a man who has to give up on each and every one of his dreams and accept the grim fate from which he simply cannot escape, no matter what he tries. Luckily, there is enough humor to "sell" this bitter pill, and one of the best is the running gag of Branimir attempting to enlist as a film director in the Academy of Arts, yet not having any clue of the classic Eisenstein film "Battleship Potemkin" — when the title is first brought up, Branimir asks: "Oh, is that the movie with Steve McQueen and that blond?", and when he enters the screening room to watch it among the audience in the art cinema, he turns around, whistles and shouts: "Hey! Turn on the sound!" Dragan Nikolic is charming as the irresponsible, yet innocent hero, whereas the rest of the cast is great, as well, especially the little episode of legendary comedian Danilo Stojkovic as the man who is filing charges against Branimir because he scratched his car.

Grade;++

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Summer Interlude

Sommarlek; drama, Sweden, 1951; D: Ingmar Bergman, S: Maj-Britt Nilsson, Birger Malmsten, Alf Kjelin, Annalisa Ericson

Marie is a ballerina preparing for the production of the "Swan Lake", yet the rehearsal is interrupted due to technical difficulties. Someone sends her a diary of her ex-lover Henrik, and this causes Marie to leave the theatre and travel with a boat to the island where she met Henrik. There she remembers their encounter over a decade ago: as a teenager, she spent her summer on the island while visiting the house of uncle Erland and met Henrik. They fell in love and enjoyed swimming, but drifted further and further away since Marie wanted to dedicate herself to ballet. One day, Henrik jumped into the shallow sea and injured himself. He died from those injuries. Back in the present, Marie finds out Erland sent her Henrik's diary. She returns to perform the ballet, but with the feeling that her job is empty, just as her life without Henrik.

Even though it is often mentioned only as a footnote in film lexicons when touching upon Ingmar Bergman's filmography, "Summer Interlude" was the director's breakthrough film, the 1st achievement in which Bergman clearly, articulately, concisely and decisively established what he wanted to say and why in the story, which would influence all his other films for the next four decades. It is, in a way, a "Bergman-light" movie, yet it is still excellent, an example of a story in which he matured into the artist he would be critically recognized until the end, also touching upon his often existentialist themes and the leitmotiv of a protagonist who feels his/her life is empty and meaningless, as part of a wider, tormented notion that the whole human existence is just a passive, fleeting moment in time. The sequences in which Maria visits the empty vacation home during cold autumn is contrasted with the flashbacks of her warm days when she spent her teenage days there during summer, when she met her first love, Hernik, acting as an allegory of human life which goes from optimistic days of youth (summer) until the 'grey' days of adulthood when nothing more can be expected from it (autumn). Still, Bergman is untypical in a few comical, upbeat moments here and there: one of the best is the two minute long scene, filmed in one take, when Henrik is sitting at the dock and laments how he is jealous of Marie spending so much time with her uncle, upon which she leans on him, teases him ("Ah, jealous boy...") and then suddenly pushes him into the sea, bursting into laughter; as well as a few ironic dialogues (Henrik spends a long time trying to describe his feelings of being in love with her, comparing it to a sensation in the stomach and the chest, and asks how she feels, yet Marie just says: "How should I know, I'm not in love!"). Bergman's mise-en-scene is great, and his feeling of despair of the insignificance of the human existence is easily identifiable (an angry Marie saying that she would "spit on God" if she would meet him), all adding up to a complete film, despite a rather vague ending.

Grade;+++

Friday, May 12, 2017

They Called Him Bulldozer

Lo chiamavano Bulldozer; sports comedy / drama, Italy, 1978; D: Michele Lupo, S: Bud Spencer, Raimund Harmstorf, Joe Bugner

When a military submarine raises its periscope under it, it pierces the ship of sailor Bulldozer, who is thus forced to dock at a nearby coastal town. As he waits for his ship to be repaired, Bulldozer enters a bar and witnesses how American soldiers from a nearby military base, led by Sergant Kempfer, are using tricks and ploys to double-cross locals in card games and arm wrestling, stealing their money. Kempfer recognizes that Bulldozer is an ex-football player who woved never to play again since he was disappointed by foul play in sports. However, Bulldozer takes pity on the youngsters and becomes their trainer in an upcoming football play with the American soldiers. Even though the soldiers use brutality to beat the youngsters, Bulldozer steps in into the game and wins it for them.

Probably inspired by the huge success of "Rocky" and numerous Italian Association footbal clubs, Michele Lupo directed this sports comedy extravaganza with a few untypical dramatic moments for its main star, comedian Bud Spencer, and they would de facto remake the story four years later with "Bomber", just set in the boxing genre. "They Called Him Bulldozer" suffers from typical flaws of many Bud Spencer comedies from the 70s onwards: it starts off good, but half-way through the film crew suddenly seems to give up on any kind of effort and instead just settles for standard, routine empty walk and fist fights in the last hour. The same fate seems to have befallen this movie, though Spencer is again charming and funny as the unlikely hero, some jokes are good (the first fist-fight in the pub is amusing: as two soldiers charge with benches at him, Bulldozer just ducks between them and they hit each other whereas especially comical is the episode of a soldier so drunk that his cheeks are red — when he tries to attack Bulldozer, the latter just gives him a sip of drink, and the soldier suspends his swing half-way through before being knocked off by alcohol overkill) whereas Lupo manages to create a few unusual camera moves which work here and there (the horizontal alignment of the football players across the widescreen as the football flies over them in the sky). More could have been done out of the story, since the last hour lacks highlights, yet the movie is overall easily watchable and a light, albeit fun sports film.

Grade;++

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Last Year at Marienbad

L'Année dernière à Marienbad; drama, France / Italy, 1961; D: Alain Resnais, S: Giorgio Albertazzi, Delphine Seyrig, Sacha Pitoeff

A play is being performed in a baroque hotel. After it, the guests mingle among each other. A man spots a woman and claims he recognizes who she is, insisting they met last year at the Marienbad garden. Her husband plays a game with sticks, Nim, with the man, and beats him each and every time. The man talks to the woman in the hotel, insisting they met and that she promised him to give her a year to make up her mind, though she denies it. Finally, from the stairs, the husband observes how the man and the woman walk away together from the building.

"Last Year at Marienbad" is one of those extreme French art-movies that go so far at being deliberately vague and obscure that they might as well constitute a film version of a Rorschach test, since the viewers have to decipher and assemble their own interpretation as to what they actually saw from the blank story. This is even more obscure than some of Godard's films. As such, it represents one of Alain Resnais' weaker films, yet it is not without at least some redeeming features, especially in the elegant camera drives across the corridors of the baroque hotel. Also, the hermetic story may still actually have a hidden meaning: the human fear of the passivity in the monolithic fate, the inability to free one's existence from the endless cycle of repeated variations of the same events.

This is illustrated in the 7-minute long sequence where the camera just endlessly drives through the corridors, while the narrator repeats the same sentences again and again ("...Silent rooms where one's footsteps are absorbed by carpets so thick, so heavy that no sound reaches one's ear..."); the Nim game in which the husband beats the man, again and again, not matter how much the latter tries to change the outcome; the man's narration ("It made no difference. It was always the same conversations, the same absent voices..."); the camera drive from the corridor towards the woman in the room, which is repeated six times — all to symbolize the endless cyclic nature of events. The main protagonist, the man, cannot change the opinion of the woman, no matter how much he tries, and thus remains an allegory of humans as a whole, who are just puppets in the crushing destiny of the Universe, the rigid order. The hidden leitmotiv is the everlasting nature of some things as opposed to futile actions of individuals who try to change the world. However, the movie is exhaustingly slow, with empty, stale dialogues, debilitated narration and dry, boring moments, which all undermine the movie's impression, adding to its divisive nature.

Grade;++