Sunday, 26 March 2017

Waterworld

Waterworld; science-fiction adventure, USA, 1995; D: Kevin Reynolds, S: Kevin Costner, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Tina Majorino, Dennis Hopper, Michael Jeter, Jack Black

In the far future, Earth's polar caps have melted and all of the land was flooded with water. The remains of remains of the human race resides on various ships and sea platforms, among them Mariner, a mutant who has developed fins and lives on his boat. He dives far to the sea ground and picks up land, which he then sells. When "smokers", pirates led by Deacon, attack a market, Mariner helps Helen and a little girl, Enola, flee to safety on his boat. The "smokers" kidnap Enola because she has a map tattooed on her back which shows Dryland, a small patch of land in the ocean. Mariner rescues Enola and sinks the ship of the "smokers". With Helen, old Gregor and other people, he flies on a balloon and truly finds land suitable for living.

The most expensive film at the time of its premiere, with a budget that soared to 175 million $ due to various delays and technical difficulties, "Waterworld" holds up surprisingly well today if one likes these types of films, acting as some sort of "Mad Max" on water, and is an apocalyptic, bitter warning with implied ecological subtext of the hypothetical consequences of global warming and climate change. The film starts out clever: the typical Universal logo starts, presenting Earth in space, but then starts to modify as it illustrates how the ice caps melt and the sea levels flood entire continents. The main protagonist, Mariner (Costner), is also introduced in a sly way, in the scene where he urinates into a cup, only to immediately put his urine into a distillation unit which then filters it back to drinkable water, already setting the tone for this world. More care should have been taken of the characters or the versatility of the storyline, since the endless fighting of people on rusty boats and ships in the sea can only go so far, which makes the film, ironically, "dry" at times, yet its entire setting on endless oceans already gave it a stylistic touch, some ideas are clever (a pound of land is worth a fortune), Dennis Hopper is effective as the sardonic pirate commander Deacon ("You can't kill me, you promised!", says one of the captured men who just gave him a valuable info, so Deacon simply gives the gun to another villain to kill him instead) whereas there are some refreshing instances of charm and humor which lift up the mood, mostly revolving around arguing between Mariner and the little girl Enola ("You talk too much!" - "That's because you don't talk at all!"). The sequence when they first discover land is also almost magical, because, just like "Soylent Green", this film also shows what the humanity has now and what it might lose if it continues a path of mindless selfishness and greed, indifferent to all the consequences.

Grade;++

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Cliffhanger

Cliffhanger; action, USA, 1993; D: Renny Harlin, S: Sylvester Stallone, John Lithgow, Michael Rooker, Janine Turner, Leon Robinson

After he failed to save a friend hanging from a rope, who fell and died, ranger Gabriel Walker decides to quit his job and stay away from the mountain life, especially since his friend Hal resents him for her death. Meanwhile, former operative Eric Qualen and his gang manage to steal 100 million $ sealed in three suitcases from a plane thanks to treasury agent Travers, yet their plane crashes on the mountains and they thus summon Walker and Hal, and take them hostage, forcing them to find the three suitcases with money. Walker escapes and teams up with Jessie, trying to find the suitcases before Qualen and his henchmen. When all the villains are killed one by one, Qualen has a fight with Walker on a helicopter hanging from a cliff, yet it falls and kills Qualen. Walker and Jessie thus save Hal.

This mountain climber thriller is basically a big budget exploitation action film, trying to seize the attention of viewers by promising suspense and daring stunts, some of which are indeed great, yet feels overall flat and thin due to its forgettable, one-dimensional characters, standard writing and routine storyline which unfolds somewhat like "Die Hard" set on the mountains. These action stunts are impressive, but not to such a degree that they can compensate for the entire rest of the ingredients (directing, writing, acting, character development...) which are lazy and assembled without any effort. John Lithgow manages to lighten up the mood thanks to a few cynical lines: in one of the best moments, after Walker seems to have been swept away by a wave of avalanche on a cliff while trying to reach the suitcase with tens of millions of $ in it, he says: "Your friend just had the most expensive funeral in history!" More of such moments would have been welcomed, and less with Qualen just acting like a conventional villain, killing everyone. Even though his character of Walker is bland, Sylvester Stallone still manages to deliver a solid performance and make the most out of the predictable concept. Every once in a while, the heroes get into a situation that ostensibly feels like a dead end for them, yet they predictably always manage to survive, anyway, no matter how exaggerated it looks. Overall, "Cliffhanger" is an easily watchable, but also easily forgettable flick, not truly rising to the occasion except for a few moments of great stunts.

Grade;+

Monday, 20 March 2017

Mr. India

Mr. India; science-fiction action comedy, India, 1987; D: Shekhar Kapur, S: Anil Kapoor, Sridevi, Amrish Puri, Satish Kaushik, Annu Kapoor, Sharat Saxena, Ajit Vachani

From his island, Villain Mogambo is commanding his henchmen to cause criminal activity so that he can take over the Indian subcontinent. In the meantime, Arun is a seamy, but good-hearted man who turned an old house into an orphanage for kids, which he runs together with cook Calendar. When the debts rise, he wants to place an add in the newspaper to rent a room in the house, and finds the tenant in reporter Seema — she at first didn't know about a dozen kids living there, but gets to like them. Arun finds out that his late father created a wrist watch which can turn anyone invisible. Arun wears it and becomes Mr. India, fighting against Mogambo's henchmen who want to banish the orphanage to create an outpost there. When Mogambo's bombs kill a kid, Tina, and the rest are abducted and brought to the island, Arun uses his invisibility to beat up Mogambo and blow up his fortress.

A rare example of a foreign language superhero film, the highest grossing Indian film of 1987, "Mr. India" is a truly remarkable example of cinema audacity, courageously blending everything, from drama through action, science-fiction, musical up to pure slapstick comedy. Director Shakhar Kapur uses the typical American superhero motives and translates them to India's culture, changing and rearranging them until it all fits, whereas he finds great support in charming two actors, Srideva as reporter Seema and Anil Kapoor as Arun (it does help a lot that he resembles Lou Loomis from "Caddyshack"). The sequences in the improvised orphanage abound with a lot of humor, from Anil's arguments with cook Calendar, complaining that the latter always has "winter sleep", up to his method of waking up the kids from bed by turning on sprinklers above them, whereas the sole sequence where the kids hide because the new tenant, Seema, hates kids (even joking that it would be better if people "would come as grown ups into the world"), until Anil scares her with a cockroach in the room, upon which she agrees that anyone would help, and then he calls for kids for help, who run like a horde into the room and chase the bug away, is a riot. Srideva is also great in the hilarious, now already iconic sequence where she dresses up as Chaplin's tramp, using the invisible Mr. India to win in the casino. The storyline does tend to seem overlong with its unnecessary running time of three hours, since several dance sequences are again superfluous, whereas the ending seems rushed and conventional, yet "Mr. India" has such a contagious energy that every one of its flaws are always compensated at least threefold through sheer ingenuity, wit and pure good old fun.

Grade;+++

Sunday, 19 March 2017

The Master

The Master; psychological drama, USA, 2012; D: Paul Thomas Anderson, S: Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Laura Dern, Ambyr Childers, Rami Malek, Jesse Plamons, Kevin J. O'Connor, Madisen Beaty, Jennifer Neala Page

After the end of World War II, war veteran Freddie is lost and doesn't know what to do with his life. He finds work as a photographer and a plantation worker, but always causes fights. One night, he sneaks into a yacht and finds out it is lead by Lancaster, a charismatic leader who wants to establish a cult, "The Cause", claiming he can cure people's trauma through hypnosis, when they lived different lives. Freddie joins their small group which starts getting new members, but doesn't really believe in their ideology, frequently resorting to alcohol and erratic behavior. Finally, Freddie quits "The Cause", finds a girl in England. Winn, and has sex with her.

Paul Thomas Anderson's 6th feature length film, "The Master" seems as if a great director is trying to make sense out of a vague, aimless story. There are moments of greatness, typical for Anderson's scope, such as the long, exquisite sequence of Freddie running away from the farmers across the plantation or Freddie going crazy in the prison cell, breaking everything, including the toilet seat — but one quickly realizes they are only isolated bubbles, unconnected and with no relation to the events of the rest of the film, and thus they seem more like "guests" than as parts of a larger, purposeful whole. Since the plantation incident is never mentioned again, it seems ultimately irrelevant in the context of the film. The actors are all great, though, especially Joaquin Phoenix and excellent Philip Seymour Hoffman as the charismatic cult leader Lancaster. Near the end of the film, Lancaster practically spells out the theme of the movie to the audience in a very sly quote: "If you figure a way to live without serving a master, any master, then let the rest of us know, will you? For you'd be the first person in the history." In it, it is implied that Freddie (just like humans as a whole) always symbolically served a different addiction: he was a soldier in war (his master was patriotism), an employee (his master was job and money) and part of Lancaster's cult (his master was religion), yet he was always restless and anxious in all, until he finally found peace in the master he liked (sex). This theme works, yet it clashes in an odd way by spending a disproportionally long amount of time with Lancaster's cult "The Cause" (pointless scenes of the leader making Freddie go back and forth to touch the window and then the wall again and again), which in the end seems as if its second theme is dismantling the way cults are promoted into religions. These two themes clash, and it would have been better if Anderson chose one or the other.

Grade;++

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Trust Me, I Am Here

Main Hoon Na; action / drama / comedy / musical, India, 2004; D: Farah Khan, S: Shah Rukh Khan, Zayed Khan, Amrita Rao, Sushmita Sen, Suniel Shetty, Kirron Kher, Boman Irani

In a TV studio, general Bakshi announces a plan to resolve the India-Pakistani conflict in a project of releasing prisoners on both sides. However, a Hindu nationalist, ex-Major Raghavan, storms the studio and kills the father of Major Ram. Bakshi gives Ram, who is in his 30s, the assignment to pose as a student and secretly watch over Bakshi's daughter, Sanjana, fearing Raghavan might strike her college next. Ram has troubles adapting to the life on college, yet falls in love with the chemistry teacher, Ms. Chandini. He also finds out he is an illegitimate child when his father had an affair, and thus wants to make up with his brother, student Lucky, and stepmother. When Raghavan disguises himself as a teacher and takes students and the principal as hostages in the college, Ram manages to save them and kill Raghavan. The prisoner exchange thus takes place.

A blend of "Back to School" and "Bodyguard", "Trust Me, I Am Here" is a highly unusual patchwork that decides it wants to combine two polar opposites, ranging from a serious action drama bravely tackling the taboo topic of the India-Pakistani conflict up to a cheerful and merry teen-comedy, resulting in a film that works sometimes, yet definitely feels overlong with its running time of three hours whereas it simply lacks highlights. The concept of Major Ram (sympathetic Shah Rukh Khan) having to feign to be a student to protect Sanjana is sweet, yet it bizarrely avoided the natural conclusion, namely that they would fall in love, and instead focused on Ram falling in love with the chemistry teacher, which left him somewhat disengaged and distanced from Sanjani and her friends. The subplot of Ram meeting his half-brother Lucky was clumsily shoehorned into the film, resulting in too much melodramatic and kitschy moments near the end, while it also suffers from several weakly written stereotypes — the idea that Sanjani is estranged from her father just because he wanted a son is a cliche, whereas it is highly unlikely that the mother would not recognize Ram, her stepson. Unfortunately, the writers were not quite inspired when bringing this sweet concept to life, since not much happens in college, anyway, except for superfluous dancing. A sequence in the professor's lounge illustrates the film's uneven tone: one of the best jokes  — a middle-aged professor laments about the popular Ms. Chandini, the new chemistry teacher ("If she is Ms. Moonshine, then I am Ms. Moon eclipse!") — is immediately followed by one lame one, the one where an overweight teacher spits while talking, and thus Ram bends and dodges his saliva in slow-motion, "Matrix" style. Too many of such corny jokes take up too much time, while some good ones are absent. Likewise, the way Ram finishes off the bad guy is too similar of the way the villain is eliminated in Coen's "Raising Arizona". "Trust Me, I Am Here" is a solid and easily watchable, but also easily forgettable flick, where a lot more of potentials were left unexplored or underdeveloped.

Grade;+

Sunday, 5 March 2017

No

No; political drama, Chile / France / USA, 2012; D: Pablo Larraín, S: Gael García Bernal, Alfredo Castro, Luis Gnecco, Antonia Zegers

After 15 years of his rule, dictator Augusto Pinochet yields to international pressure and schedules a referendum in '88 which will allow citizens of Chile to decide if he should stay in power or resign. Rene is hired to create a TV spot for the "No" campaign, amidst the suspicion that the referendum will be rigged, anyway. He persuades the staff to conjure up a positive campaign, under the slogan "Chile, happiness is coming!" Both the "Yes" and "No" campaign will get 15 minutes each for their spots on TV. After the spots are broadcast and highly critical of Pinochet, Rene gets threats over the phone and thus leaves his child and his wife in another apartment. Finally, the plebiscite is held and the majority of people vote "No", ending Pinochet's rule.

One of the best movies of the decade, Pablo Larrain's "No" was critically recognized worldwide despite showing a local, confined historical event of a campaign on whether Augusto Pinochet should stay in power in Chile or not: the movie owns such a success mostly to the honest, quiet, subtle, simple and genuine direction as well as a restrained, authentic and unbelievably convincing performances by the actors, whose characters seem like real people and their small, "trivial" problems close and easily recognisable, equally as gripping as spectacular epics. Even more fascinating is that Larrain courageously dropped the HD digital cameras, went against the mainstream dogma and instead filmmed the entire story with the imperfect, grainy cameras of the 80s on magnetic tape, with deliberate errors (such as "over-illuminated" sources of light) thereby giving the story a highly authentic (and lively) feel. This is a dry political film, yet once the viewers get use to it, it manages to engage with ease, peculiarly melting the stale, conventional dialogues into something interesting, keeping the suspense of the outcome of the referendum until the end. One of its highlights are the wide array of comical TV spots for both "Yes" and "No" campaign: the "Yes" campaign predictably leans towards nationalism, "strength" and authority, scaring people with Communists and poverty if Pinochet is removed, even presenting an add with a steamroller flattening lamps and TV sets, threatening a child on the street, whereas the "No" campaign wants to be hip, cool, appeal towards the young and send a positive message — one of the best adds is when a poet opens his mouth and shows a "NO" paper sign on his tongue or when a woman gives a shrill speech: "For 15 years we had a dictatorship that started here (shows her butt), went over here (shows her forehead) and ends here (shows the palm of her hand with a "NO" paper sign on it)". Brilliant, concise, refreshingly relaxed and deliciously sympathetic, "No" is an excellent film that finds the right note and sticks with it.

Grade;+++

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves; adventure, USA, 1991; D: Kevin Reynolds, S: Kevin Costner, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Morgan Freeman, Alan Rickman, Christian Slater, Gerladine McEwan, Mike McShane, Brian Blessed, Jack Wild, Sean Connery

England, 12th century. After escaping from a torture chamber in Jerusalem following the Crusades, Robin of Locksley returns to his homeland with an accomplice, Moor Azeem, but finds people are oppressed there by the autocratic Sheriff of Nottingham, who wants to take over England due to the long absence of King Richard. Teaming up with several rebels, they establish a base in the Sherwood Forest where they rob from the rich and give to the poor. When the Sheriff destroys his base and kidnaps Maid Marian in order to force her to marry him, Robin Hood and his men storm the castle. The Sheriff is killed, Robin is married to Marian while King Richard returns to the country.

Away back the 2nd highest grossing film of 1991, "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" shows one thing: nostalgia sometimes cannot hide the fact that a film can feel very dated by today's standards. It seems there was a huge disparity between what the authors wanted the film to be: a syncretism of very realistic, dirty elements of the Middle Ages and the light-hearted, at times even romantic adventures from the 'golden age of Hollywood', and these two contradictory tones clash badly with each other throughout. They should have had one or the other, but not both. The opening already illustrates this, showing a dark sequence of Robin Hood in the torture chamber in Jerusalem, equipped with such shocking scenes as cutting of the hands of the prisoners — was this really necessary for a Robin Hood film or wouldn't it have been better to simply cut that sequence altogether?

The scenes involving witch Mortianna are equally as gruesome, with several disgusting moments, such as her mixing her blood with her saliva for a ritual, whereas the now infamous sequence of the Sheriff of Nottingham trying to rape Marian while the priest is standing next to them holding a prayer is also a disaster. Such vile and ill-conceived ideas contaminate the film, leaving the viewers with a rather uneven taste in their mouths. Overall, though, this is still a very solid film with at least a couple of things going for it: one of them are fantastic locations, from the gorgeous forest up to the opulent Carcassone castle; the cinematography involving several camera drives is a delight; Bryan Adams magical song "Everything I Do" is simply perfect whereas a couple of comical moments lift up the mood (during an ambush, Azeem informs Robin Hood that 20 soldiers are coming in the forest. Robin then informs his men that only "five" enemies are coming. He then explains to Azeem that his men "can't count anyway") and Kevin Costner gives a relaxed, sympathetic performance. This is a mishmash of a film, yet it is still fun at times.

Grade;+

Thursday, 2 March 2017

The Search for John Gissing

The Search for John Gissing; comedy, USA / UK, 2001; D: Mike Binder, S: Mike Binder, Janeane Garofalo, Alan Rickman, Sonya Walger, Allan Corduner

Matthew and his wife, Linda, arrive from the US to London because he was transferred for a job. Matthew was told that a certain John Gissing will meet him at the airport, but he doesn't, and thus the couple wonders the streets of London, trying to find their hotel. The next day, Matthew even misses an important meeting because he was informed it was an hour later. He finds out that Gissing is behind it all, trying to fire Matthew as soon as he arrived, because Gissing is afraid the CEOs want to remove him from an important deal with a German company. Matthew takes revenge by foiling Gissing's important meeting, too. Finally, Gissing and Matthew decide to work together to complete the deal, and succeed.

Mike Binder's 6th feature length directorial achievement, independent comedy "The Search for John Gissing" is a film that deserves to be seen until the end, since a lot of subplots are explained and given a context later on, aligning the initial chaos into a grand scheme of scams set in the business world. The first third follows the misadventures of a couple, Matthew and Linda (great director-actor Mike Binder and Janeane Garofalo) who are lost in London and stumble upon several mishaps — only to find out all of this was orchestrated by the title character who wants them fired even before they start their new job. Binder has a good grip of the storyline, yet his jump cuts often seem unnecessary and only disrupt the viewers from engaging, whereas the story suffers from several bad jokes near the finale (especially the one involving an older, senile German woman who goes on about her sex life with her late husband). Still, several jokes manage to ignite and are refreshingly anarchic, whether through dialogues ("You don't argue when a CEO has a seizure... from shouting too much at you!"; "I just hit the wall... I was so excited to see you that I hit the wall.") or through sight gags (Gissing suspiciously observing his coffee cup, even though he knows Matthew planned a revenge for his meeting, but then taking a sip, holding for a long time - only to spit it out on a nearby guy, anyway). Alan Rickman delivers another fine performance as the conniving title character, and the movie gives a few satirical jabs at the corporate world, contemplating how uncomfortable it can get.

Grade;++