Thursday, August 30, 2018

Rififi

Du rififi chez les hommes; crime-thriller, France, 1955, D: Jules Dassin, S: Jean Servais, Carl Möhner, Robert Manuel, Jules Dassin, Marcel Lupovici, Marie Sabouret

Paris. After five years, criminal Tony gets released from jail. His associate, Jo, invites him to do a robbery of a jewel store, together with Mario and Cesar, but Tony declines. However, when he finds out his ex-girlfriend, Mado, is now the girlfriend of his rival, gangster Pierre Gruter, Tony changes his mind and accepts Jo's proposal—but under condition that they go for the main prize, the vault in the jewel store. After a lot of preparation, Tony, Jo, Mario and Cesar storm the first floor, drill a hole on the ceiling, descend down into the store, disable the alarm and spend the night cracking the vault. They escape with a loot worth a fortune. Cesar gives one ring from the vault to a girl, who in turn gets into possession of Gruter who kidnaps him, kills Mario and realizes Tony and Jo have the loot. Gruter's thugs kidnap Jo's kid and demand the loot for ransom. Tony finds out the warehouse where the kid is held and kills Gruter's gang. Jo is killed and Tony himself is wounded, but manages to drive the kid safely to his mother.

American director Jules Dassin's first French film, one of the best movies of the decade, "Rififi" is a shining crime film that still seems equally as fresh and modern today as it was back during its premiere, and eventually became the "golden standard" for hundreds of future heist films that tried to copy it. Filmed in independent conditions, Dassin exploited all the minimum resources to achieve a maximum result thanks to a tight script where every little detail, subplot and character have a purpose and role later on, circling out the impression with a clear strategy and sense where all these events are going and how to achieve them, constructing one giant commentary on greed and its consequences which just spiral more and more out of control. Everything is remarkably compact: there is no 'empty walk', everything has a purpose later on in the finale, so many details seem justified: for instance, the studious preparation of the four criminals for the robbery (Tony observes that the last store is closing at around 10:00 pm, whereas the earliest new business activity is a delivery of the florist at 5:30 am, concluding they have that much time during the night for the robbery). The highlight is definitely the bravura, 'tour-de-force' 25-minute heist sequence that lasts the entire night, where the four criminals drill a hole on the ceiling, descend down, block the alarm thanks to a fire extinguisher and then spend the entire remaining time cracking the vault: it was filmed without any music or dialogue, yet its dynamics reach almost Hitchcock's intensity of suspense. The second highlight is also the finale, where Tony is racing against time in order to save Jo's kidnapped kid before the gangsters figure out that Jo will not pay the ransom to them. It all ends with an expressionistic sequence of a nightmarish car drive with the kid, completing the high impression of this dark classic that is rightfully considered a black pearl of cinema.

Grade:+++

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Who Am I to You...!

Hum Aapke Hain Koun...!; drama / comedy / musical / romance, India, 1994; D: Sooraj Barjatya, S: Salman Khan, Madhuri Dixit, Mohnish Bahl, Renuka Shahane, Anupam Kher, Reema Lagoo




Rajesh is a successful businessman, just like his uncle Kailashnath. Rajesh's brother is the mischievous Prem, who is still studying. They both had to learn to be independent since they lost both parents. Rajesh gets engaged to Pooja, the daughter of Siddharth Choudhury. Simultaneously, Prem falls in love with Nisha, Pooja's sister, but they keep this a secret. With time, Pooja gives birth to a baby. However, Pooja slips down the stairs and dies from the fall in the hospital. Devastated, the now-widowed Rajesh is a broken man. The family thus decides to engage him to the girl "next in line", Pooja's sister Nisha. Due to a misunderstanding, Nisha accepts the arranged marriage, and decides to send a farewell letter to Prem via her dog, Tuffy. The dog, though, gives the letter to Rajesh, who decides that Prem and Nisha should marry instead, since they love each other.

When it comes to India's highest grossing films, an unofficial trio marked the 90s: "Who Am I to You...!", "The Big-Hearted Will Take Away the Bride" and "Something is Happening". These three films signalled a rejuvenation of India's cinema, since the local audiences rushed to the cinemas and showed that there is an interest in these films, after all, which helped overturn the meagre box office results from the 80s into positive numbers. However, while the latter two films are justifiably still remembered fondly, since they have a lot of charm, wit and genuine ideas, the former, "Who Am I to You...!" feels rather dated by today's standards: it starts off fun, but quickly loses its inspiration and falls into the standard mold of a soap opera. The sequence where Pooja slips and the camera lingers on how she is falling down the stairs, which will prove to be fatal, is a typical cliche of melodramatic soap. Likewise, the 3-hour running time is a detriment for such a thin storyline, since almost a third of its time is filled with tiresome musical and dance sequences, until the movie collapses under this weight. The only reason to see it are the two sympathetic leading roles, Salman Khan and Madhuri Dixit, and the cute white dog, Tuffy, yet these are only small crumbs of pleasure in an movie that has too much empty walk. One of the best moments is the comical sequence where Prem and Lalloo are suppose to bring shoes in a box for the wedding, yet the mischievous Nisha tricks them and steals the box away (which was guarded by Tuffy): when Prem and Lalloo find the box, they discover that the shoes are missing and the box is instead filled with candy. However, Prem manages to bring the shoes back and return the empty box to Nisha with an amusing note that while she is "sweet as candy", they need the shoes. The movie would have benefited if there were more of these kind of fresh moments in the story, yet director Sooraj Barjatya insisted on a kitschy, albeit solid fluff.

Grade:+

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Never on Sunday

Pote tin Kyriaki; comedy, Greece / USA, 1960; D: Jules Dassin, S: Melina Mercouri, Jules Dassin, Giorgos Foundas, Titos Vandis, Mitsos Ligizos, Despo Diamantidou

Piraeus. Ilya is a free-spirited prostitute who spends her time at the port partying with her dozen clients, including her suitor, half-Italian Tonio. American philosopher and philhellene Homer shows up at the port, at first to explore Greece, but is then fascinated by Ilya and notices she enjoys attending the Greek play of Medea, except that she thinks it has a happy ending. He feels pity for her, assuming she can be so much more than just a prostitute. No Face is a rival pimp who feels threatened by Ilya, and thus proposes Homer a deal: Homer should cultivate Ilya and persuade her to give up prostitution, and No Face will pay for it. Homer persuades Ilya to try history and philosophy lessons for two weeks, but after she finds out about the deal with No Face, she quits and returns back to her partying life. Homer gives up on reforming her and leaves the port in a ship.

A gentle, albeit chaotic restructuring of the classic play "Pygmalion", just with an ironic twist, this comedy film presents a story of a modern man, Homer, trying to "convert" heroine Ilya, a prostitute, into an educated woman, seeing in her a symbol for the fall of Greek classic values, only to in the end find out that she prefers her lifestyle, which makes this film a contemplation on libertarianism and subjectivity of happiness, advocating that each person should live their life the way they want it, even if it means an outright embracing of Mediterranean hedonism. The most was achieved out of the leading actress, the excellent Melina Mercouri, who was nominated for several awards for her role, yet everything else in the film does not hold up well today: the screenplay structure is messy and disorganized, especially in the incomplete-abrupt ending (the disproportionate amount of time is spent on one of Ilya's a dozen suitors, Tonio, yet his character arc is left incomplete and vague in the plot); some of its attempts at humor feel forced (Homer applauds at a Greek man dancing in a bar, but the man considers that gesture an insult); the sole process of Ilya's education is never elaborated and is left only on a random montage with barely a running time of a couple of minutes whereas a lot of the moments seem as if they were made up on the spot, without some clear strategy prepared beforehand, as to know where this is going. One of the best jokes is when a man carrying a bunch of suitcases is running towards a streetcar, yet it just drives off without him—only for the conductor to randomly stop the streetcar just a couple of yards later, to pick up the attractive Ilya. "Never on Sunday" lacks highlights, not managing to be anything more than a standard-good film featuring a great isolated performance, and thus it stays in the shadow of Fellini's gem "Nights of Cabiria".

Grade:++

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Dune: The Alternative Edition Reduxe

Dune: The Alternative Edition Redux; science-fiction, USA, 1984 / 2012; D: David Lynch, S: Kyle MacLachlan, Francesca Annis, Kenneth McMillan, Everett McGill, Freddie Jones, Sting, Jürgen Prochnow, Sean Young, Dean Stockwell, Silvana Mangano, Max von Sydow, Patrick Stewart, Virginia Madsen, Linda Hunt, Alicia Witt 

In the year 10,191, Princess Irulan explains that the most important substance in the Universe is Spice, which can enable travel through space, but can only be found on the desert planet Arrakis, called Dune. The Space Guilds sends a Navigator to the Emperor who explains him that he plans to destroy the increasingly popular House Atreides. When the Atreides and their servants come to Dune, the evil Vladimir from the House of Harkonnen kills Duke Leto, while his son Paul and his mother Jessica are able to escape an hide in the desert. They join the Fremen tribe. Paul marries Chani and teaches them his special fighting techniques, adopting the name Muad'Dib. With the help of giant sand worms, they start a rebellion, kill Vladimir and place Paul as the new Emperor. Then it starts to rain.

Upon its release, even though it was one of the most expensive movies of its time with a budget of 40 million $, and even though it came during the "science-fiction wave" of the late 70s and 80s, David Lynch's film adaption of "Dune" was met with hostility and rejected by both the critics and the audiences alike. 28 years later, a certain fan under the nickname Spicediver assembled and released a fanedit of the film, adjoining it with deleted scenes and thereby extending its running time from two to three hours. The result: "Dune: The Alternative Edition Reduxe" is an improvement to the official cut, since it gave more room for the characters in the complex, dense storyline, explaining their motivations and reasons for acting. People unfamiliar with Frank Herbert's excellent novel "Dune" were utterly startled and confused by a completely foreign world set in the far future, with no relation to our time, and thus did not understand it back in 1984, yet after "Game of Thrones" and several other stories set in entirely fictional worlds, "Dune" became less cryptic if more patience was invested into it: it is a classic tale of several power clans fighting over dominance and rule, where the spice is an allegory for a valuable resource, possible oil, and therefore its possession enables more power, whereas Muad'Dib is an allegory of Muhammad, who organized various desert tribes into independence in order to take over the control of their own land over foreign imperial struggle. However, Herbert's novel was even more philosophical than that, since spice could also be used as a drug that expands consciousness, thereby changing the perception: there is no center of the world anymore after it, because that center is anywhere in someone's mind. Even with these improvements, this edition is also flawed: the last third is rushed one way or the other, hasting Paul's rise from an outsider to a leader of the Fremen tribe, and failing to dwell more on some philosophical concepts, instead focusing on an action finale involving Paul riding a giant worm that attacks the city capital on Arrakis. The movie should have been four hours long, and included more intimate scenes from the novel, yet it is better in this edition, especially in some crumbs of wisdom, such as when Paul listens to his father's words that people should not fear change ("But a person needs new experiences. They draw something deep inside. A longing to grow. Without change, something sleeps inside us, and seldom awakens. The sleeper must awaken").

Grade:++

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Deadpool

Deadpool; fantasy action thriller comedy, USA, 2016; D: Tim Miller, S: Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, Ed Skrein, T.J. Miller, Gina Carano, Brianna Hildebrand, Stefan Kapičić (voice), Andre Trixoteux

Deadpool attacks a convoy on the street in order to kill his nemesis, Francis, but the latter flees. Deadpool then digresses about his past: as Wade Wilson, he was a cynical mercenary who started a relationship with prostitute Vanessa. However, Wade found out he has cancer and thus decided to undertake an experiment in a laboratory, led by Francis, where he would be cured by getting mutant genes in order to be recruited by an unknown group. Wade was cured, but became disfigured and vowed revenge against Francis by dressing up as a masked anti-hero, Deadpool. Back in present, Vanessa is kidnapped by Francis' men. With the help of 8ft tall mutant Colossus and human torch Negasonic Teenage Warehead, Deadpool is able to save Vanessa and kill Francis.

"Deadpool" seems like an outburst of resistance against the "safe" superhero movies that reigned during that era, particularly the big budget Marvel franchize, in the form of one giant, untrammelled, cynical metafilm dark comedy that takes all those superhero cliches and then deconstructs and twists them until they are turned out into something new. When a movie starts off with opening credits that convey pure written parody ("Some Douchebag's Film", "Starring: God's Perfect Idiot", "A Hot Chick", "A British Villain", "Directed by An Overpaid Tool"), using one colossal camera drive inside a still frame in the middle of a "frozen" action sequence and is equipped with the fantastic song "Angel of the Morning" by Juice Newton, one already gets the impression this is not going to be one of those 'run-of-the-mill', predictable mainstream films. If "The Avengers" are a merry-go-round, "Deadpool" is a roller coaster: writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick act almost as Jerry Lee Lewis, not caring if they destroy everything as long as they have a blast and offer insane energy to the audience. A lot of credit should also be given to Ryan Reynolds, the creative mind behind this project who managed to get this unusual film going.

The story is controversial since the anti-hero swears, is cynical and naughty, yet its level of creativity is staggering, insomuch that it somewhat amends a lot of its flaws or misguided decisions. One of the funniest moments is after the experiment, when Wade, whose face is now full of scars, wrinkles and disfigurement, appears in front of his friend, Weasel, who says this insane line: "Your face looks like Freddy Krueger had sex with a topographical map of Utah". Deadpool's arguments with the depressive 'Goth' girl Negasonic Teenage Warhead also have a lot of sly wit ("Fake laugh. Hiding real pain..."). One highlight scene, near the finale, even has a wounded Deadpool having a hallucination of his girlfriend, Vanessa, lying on the floor, and all of a sudden animated little animals show up around her, including a unicorn, a bird and a heart sign—pure genius. "Deadpool's" biggest flaws are the occasional numbing, splatter violence, a couple of too cruel moments or an excess of pop-culture references, ranging from Ferris Bueller to Limp Bizkit, which can get 'off-topic' and stray way too far from the focus of the real plot. However, its characters are sheer fun and unpredictability, to such an extent that it seems as if the movie itself does not know what they might do in the next scene.

Grade:+++

Friday, August 3, 2018

Heaven Can Wait

Heaven Can Wait; fantasy romantic comedy, USA, 1978; D: Warren Beatty, Buck Henry, S: Warren Beatty, Julie Christie, James Mason, Jack Warden, Charles Grodin, Dyan Cannon, Buck Henry, Vincent Gardenia


Los Angeles. Joe is a football player who still waits for his big break, but his trainer, Max, believes in him. While riding on a bicycle, Joe gets hits by a truck and dies, but there has been a mix-up, since Heaven intended him to die in 2025. Therefore, angel Jordan sends Joe's soul back on Earth, into the body of rich energy industrialist Farnsworth, who was poisoned by his wife Julia and her lover Abbott. Joe instantly falls in love with activist Betty, who came to Farnsworth's mansion asking him to stop a project of an refinery that would displace hundreds of people from a small town. When Joe abides by her wishes, Betty falls in love with him. Joe also contacts Max and manages to persuade him that his soul came back in Farnsworth's body. However, Abbott manages to shoot and kill Farnsworth, so Joe goes into the body of football player Jarrett to win the game. Jordan erases Joe's memory, who becomes Jarrett, but stumbles upon Betty and asks her out for a date.

With "Citizen Kane", O. Welles set a precedent by getting nominated four times for a single film (best picture, best actor, best director, best screenwriter), and it took 37 years until this feat was repeated by Warren Beatty in his fantasy comedy of mistaken identity "Heaven Can Wait", a remake of the beloved film "Here Comes Mr. Jordan". Unfortunately, the merits of Welles for "Kane" are far superior and contain a more enduring value than Beatty's for "Heaven Can Wait", which failed to reach that status of a classic with time. This film is one of the more unusual ones of the decade because it seems so out of place for its time: it is so safe and old fashioned it seems more as if it came from the 50s, and not from the "wild" 70s. It is a good movie, yet the directors and screenwriters needed more than triple of the amount of inspiration and ingenuity to properly sell such an outlandish concept. The sequence of the plane in the clouds that transports souls seems very kitschy today, whereas several other moments haven't aged that well, either, due to their sometimes corny humor without a true comic timing. For instance, Julia and her lover, Abbott, tried to poison her husband, Farnsworth, and thus it seems illogical that Joe, who is now in Farnsworth's body, would simply ignore them and their future assassination attempts, and do nothing about them, instead focusing on assembling a football team, as if that is of no concern to him. Some of the better jokes are found in this second act, though, when Julia and Abbott are never quite sure if Farnsworth is toying with them or if he simply lost his mind: in one scene, Julia is in the hallway and takes a drink to calm herself, but as soon as Farnsworth/Joe passes by her, casually asking how she's doing, she drops the glass on the floor from shock. The love story between Joe and Betty is the strongest point of the film: there is something in that scene where they are in his car, but he constantly takes away his look from her, until he confesses: "I just cannot help but to stare at you". The unusual, but tragic-lyrical ending gives some weight to the story as well. While too simplistic at times, the movie is still charming and neat to watch.

Grade:++

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Thor: Ragnarok

Thor: Ragnarok; fantasy action comedy, USA, 2017; D: Taika Waititi, S: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Tessa Thompson, Cate Blanchett, Jeff Goldblum, Idris Elba, Karl Urban, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Hopkins, Benedict Cumberbatch

Thor, the Asgardian god of Thunder, defeats fire demon Surtur and isolates its crown, thereby preventing an Armageddon. Back in Asgard, he forces his mischievous brother Loki to reveal where their father, Odin, is. However, Odin dies, and thus his evil daughter, Hela, is unleashed from exile and decides to takes over Asgard, destroying Thor's magic hammer. Hela becomes the new ruler and intends to invade countries and cause endless murders. Thor lands on planet Sakaar, where he is captured by Valkyrie and brought to fight in an arena with Hulk in order to entertain the planet's despot, the Grandmaster. When Hulk de-transforms into Bruce Banner, Thor and Valkyrie manage to go back to Asgard where Surtur is re-awakened in order to cause Ragnarok and destroy the entire planet in order to stop Hela. Thor, Hulk, and several thousands Asgardians escape in a spaceship.

After the first two "Thor" movies were deemed too serious and monotone, director Taika Waititi took over and decided to turn it into a parody, figuring that since these Marvel movies are big budget fluff, anyway, they should at least be funny. The wage: "Thor: Ragnarok" became the most memorable of all the movies of the "Thor" sub-franchize, and the most bizarre one at the same time. Some Marvel fans perceived this film as "blasphemous", especially since the storyline is chaotic and all over the place (the character of Grandmaster and his subplot simply "disappear" all of a sudden; the finale involving Hela is a cop-out), yet the movie is so much fun it almost rivals "Guardians of the Galaxy" at times. The Marvel studios started experimenting with new, independent filmmakers, but their risky strategy paid off: Waititi finally managed to make Chris Hemsworth loosen up and play his Thor as a real character the audience can relate to. When the first sequence starts off with Thor hanging from a chain and having this exchange with Surtur, a fire demon ("Thor, son of Odin!" - "Surtur, you son of a bitch!"), it is clear this will not be a typical 'run-of-the-mill' superhero blockbuster. The movie abounds with almost non-stop humor throughout, from the cynical character of Grandmaster, played hilariously over-the-top by Jeff Goldblum ("I'm upset! I'm very upset. You know what I like about being upset? Blame!" he says as he is about to confront his two henchmen) through Thor's argument with Hulk ("You know how we called you? The stupid Avenger!") up to the great little interaction between Thor and Bruce Banner, which almost sounds as if they are breaking up ("You're just using me to get to the Hulk. That's low. You're not my friend."). Cate Blanchett is having a field day as the over-the-top villain Hela, dressed all in black, some ideas are incredibly oddball and daring whereas it is neat to enjoy in a cartoon-like superhero movie that actually acts like one giant live-action cartoon: it is just there to have fun and refuses to take itself seriously.

Grade:++