Saturday, 27 May 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 his 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, 26 May 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, 25 May 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, 22 May 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, 20 May 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, 19 May 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, 13 May 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, 12 May 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, 4 May 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;++