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;++