Thursday, February 28, 2019

Green Book

Green Book; drama / comedy / road movie, USA, 2018; D: Peter Farrelly, S: Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali, Linda Cardellini, Dimiter D. Marinov, Mike Hatton, Brian Stepanek

New York, 1 9 6 2. After a night club is shut down, bouncer Tony Vallelonga has to search for a new job to feed his family, wife Dolores and two kids. He finds a part time job as a chauffeur and personal assistant of the wealthy African-American musician Don Shirley, who intends to spend two months going on a tour with his band, Oleg and George, to perform in the American South. While Tony's "raw" attitude initially annoys him, Don becomes his friend during the trip. They encounter several racist people in the South, and Don is even forbidden to dine at a place where he was about to play the piano. Returning back to New York on Christmas, Tony invites Don to spend the evening with his family.

Peter Farrelly managed one of the greatest comebacks in film industry with "Green Book", a calm, untypically solemn and serious 'social issue' film for him, which garnered several awards. "Green Book" is a good film, but its main problem is that it would have left a far higher impression if it was released in the 60s, and not in 2018, when such moral anti-racism stories are rather routine and a dime a dozen. It is basically a restructuring of "Driving Miss Daisy", except that the two roles are reversed: unlike "Daisy", here the upper class, educated boss is African-American, while the White man is the driver "simpleton". Their friendship works mostly thanks to the two excellent performances by Viggo Mortensen as the "raw" Tony and Mahershala Ali as the cultured Don, who complete each other (Tony becomes more sophisticated while the stiff Don livens up) equipped with Fareelly's inclination towards comedy which gives it some spark. One of the funniest running gags is watching how Tony enjoys eating food non-stop, and at one instance buys Kentucky Fried Chicken to give some to Don during the drive, and to teach him to simply throw bones out the window. Another funny bit has Tony mispronounce Don's "Orpheus" album as "Orphans". However, while noble and with its heart at the right place, the storyline is at times incomplete: the most puzzling moment is the sequence where Tony finds out that Don was arrested in a spa for having gay contact with a man. The notion that Don is gay is never brought up again in the film (!), not even by Tony, which makes this scene stand out as if it was shoehorned more to increase Ali's chances to win more awards than as a plot point that has a function in the story. "Green Book" is a touching little film about friendship and mutual understanding, yet as time goes by, its narrative is more and more absorbed by explicit preaching, instead of being the other way around.

Grade:++

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

My Own Private Idaho

My Own Private Idaho; drama / road movie, USA, 1991; D: Gus Van Sant, S: River Phoenix, Keanu Reeves, William Richert, Udo Kier, James Russo, Chiara Caselli

Seattle. Mike and Scott are male prostitutes, earning money by having sex with men. But while Mike does it out of pure necessity, since he is homeless, Scott just does it to anger his rich father, the mayor. Mike often suffers from narcoleptic attacks, which can startle some of his clients. A man, Hans, drops Mike and Scott off at Portland, where they meet their "mentor", Bob, who leads a gang of male prostitutes in an abandoned building. Mike and Scott set on a journey to Idaho to find Mike's lost mother. Mike also falls in love with Scott. Mike's father tells him that he is an illegitimate child, and that his mother killed Mike's real father. Mike and Scott travel to Rome to find her, but she has moved out and nobody knows where she went. Scott inherits his late father's wealth and breaks every contact with Mike, Bob and the gang. Mike has another narcoleptic attack and falls on the road.

Regarded as one of the most notable examples of modern gay cinema, this critically recognized independent film builds a syncretism of Shakespeare's play "Henry IV" (Scott is Prince Hal while Bob is Falstaff) and themes of male prostitutes and a protagonist in search for his parent: while this sounds like a disparate blend of the three, "My Own Private Idaho" is a surprisingly suggestive, aesthetic and emotional film that pays off later on. The director Gus Van Sant approaches the film's tricky subject with remarkable good taste, expressing his sense for the movie language: when a client gives a fellatio to Mike, not much is shown, but the latter' satisfaction is symbolically depicted in the daft image of a barn falling from the sky, crashing and dissolving on the road bellow.

In another sequence, Van Sant depicted a threesome between Hans, Mike and Scott in a dozen short scenes in which all of them are standing motionless, almost as they pretend to be "still frames", while the viewers are only given hints what they were doing (Hans touching a butt; Hans sucking a finger; Scott over Hans). The visual style is also demonstrated in one famous sequence of Scott and Mike "coming to life" as posters on magazines in a store, talking with each other, which was later copied in several films. "Idaho" features one of the rare movie roles of the early deceased actor River Phoenix, and gives it one of his best performances, depicting his character Mike as a person who stumbles across the entire film in search for love, but never manages to find it: neither his parent, nor Scott are willing to love him, making him a tragic, likeable figure. Van Sant wants to encompass as large of a spectrum of human states as possible in the film: from poverty to richness (Scott); from compassion to cold indifference; from friendship to betrayal; from humanity to inhumanity. In doing so, Van Sant crafted an unusual, very astringent and meditative film, but a one which stays in the viewers' memories for a long time. As Van Sant went mainstream in later films, he became more accessible to the audience, but lost a part of his magic in the process.

Grade:+++

Monday, February 25, 2019

The Seventh Victim

The Seventh Victim; film noir / horror, USA, 1943; D: Mark Robson, S: Kim Hunter, Jean Brooks, Tom Conway, Isabel Jewell, Evelyn Brent

Mary, an orphaned teenage girl living in a Catholic boarding school, is informed that her sister Jacqueline stopped paying her fee and does not answer any letters. In order to find her, Mary starts investigating: she finds out that Jacqueline gave her business, a cosmetics company, to a certain Mrs. Redi, and that Jacqueline rented an apartment with a noose above a chair. August, a private detective, is killed when he enters a room suspecting it to accommodate Jacqueline. She also meets Jason, a failed poet. When Mary finds Jacqueline, it turns out that the latter entered a Satanist cult and now wants to escape from it. The cult want Jacqueline to drink a potion and die, but she refuses and walks away. In her apartment block, Jacqueline meets her neighbor, a terminally ill woman. Jacqueline then commits suicide in her apartment with her noose.

A dark film noir that somewhat traverses into horror near the end, "The Seventh Victim" is a disturbing and unsettling existentialist story about depression without any perspective, a one that builds its mood and suspense without showing any violence, instead only relying on implied threat and a distorted psychology of the characters. However, due to its "forbidden" story about a Satanist cult (possibly an allegory on the irrationality of people following dangerous ideologies, such as Fascism during World War II, when the film was made), a lot of the storyline was semi-censored or "softened", resulting in a somewhat chaotic narrative and a lack of a resolution near the anti-climatic end. This is especially noticeable in the character of the main heroine, Mary (great Kim Hunter), who just "vanishes" in the finale. Two good sequences: a private detective, August, exits a room and dies because he was slashed, so Mary runs away and just aimlessly rides in a train, only for two men to enter at a station and carry a third man, and Mary recognizes it is dead August when his hat falls off; Mary is in the shower, and talks to the dark silhouette of Mrs. Redi who entered the bathroom and is on the other side of the curtain. More of such good moments would have helped the film, since it lacks highlights, whereas it suffers from "empty walk" here and there. A few plot holes also bother (the cult wants Jacqueline to drink a poison and die, then just let her walk away - but send a man to kill her, anyway? Why did they let her go, then?), though the movie works as a prototype of future disturbing psychological horrors that stem not from monsters, but from monstrous personalities of people.

Grade:++

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Jalsaghar

Jalsaghar; drama, India, 1958; D: Satyajit Ray, S: Chhabi Biswas, Padma Devi, Pinaki Sen Gupta, Gangapada Bose, Tulsi Lahari, Kali Sarkar

Landlord Roy enjoys holding expensive, luxurious events where he listens to musicians and dancers in his music room. He mortgages more and more money, even selling his jewels, to finance the music events. Roy allows Ganguli a piece of land, but rejects his offer to attend a music event, considering that Ganguli has no sense for Bengali tradition. Roy's wife and son, Khoka, die in a storm on a boat, while the river also floods and destroys his land. Now practically bankrupt, Roy lives alone in the derelict palace, with only two loyal servants who stayed with him. When the now wealthy Ganguli shows up again, Roy decides to spend all his last money on holding one last music event. Afterward, evoking his family heritage, Roy rides a horse, but falls and dies during the ride.

Satyajit Ray crafted this minimalist, quiet drama as an allegory on transience and the futile attempts of people to try to stop the change of times: while the story underwent several interpretations, including the clash between the traditional and modern culture (evident in the main protagonist Roy despising Ganguli, who embraces Western style of music), the main theme is about Roy being unable to adapt to changes around him, until he himself becomes "extinct", which makes his irrational infatuation with the music room a symbolic form of escapism from the harsh reality. Several details evoke the corrosion of time (Roy observing a cricket in the drink or a spider walking over the painting of his ancestor) and Ray found a grateful leading actor in the expressionistic-tragic Chhabi Biswas, whereas one of the most memorable moments remained the famed 7-minute sequence of a girl performing an elaborate dance in the music room. Interestingly, every music event in the room represents a chapter in the story, shaping it ever closer to the bitter conclusion. While critically recognized, "Jalsaghar" is still a little bit overrated: it suffers from pacing issues and an occasional "empty walk", whereas Ray did not manage to conjure up a little more ingenuity or versatility than the rather slim storyline. A very elegant example of movie making, with a palpable feeling of fatalism when Roy nostalgically senses that the end of his era also signals the end of his family heritage.

Grade:+++

Friday, February 22, 2019

My Science Project

My Science Project; science-fiction comedy, USA, 1985; D: Jonathan R. Betuel, S: John Stockwell, Danielle von Zerneck, Fisher Stevens, Raphael Sbarge, Candace Silvers, Dennis Hopper

The US military finds a crashed UFO in the desert, but President Eisenhower orders it to be destroyed. 30 years later, teenager Michael has to hand over a science project to his teacher, Mr. Roberts, but has no clue what to do. He takes his date, geek girl Ellie, to an unwilling ex-military base and finds a strange device with a gloving globe there. Back in school, Michael and his friend Vince introduce the device to Mr. Roberts, who gets sent back in time and vanishes. The device causes power outage, so Michael, Ellie and Vince blow up a power line to stop it draining even more energy. It also causes several time pockets in school, involving a Tyrannosaurus rex, Gladiators, Cave men and mutants from the future. They manage to unplug the device and stop the time portals, while Mr. Roberts returns back to the present from the 60s.

Overshadowed by the similar "Back to the Future" released that same year, independently produced cult film, "My Science Project" is a rather amusing little science-fiction teen adventure, though it did not exploit its time travel potentials to the fullest. The most was achieved from small character interactions which manage to give the story some charm and spark: in one very sweet moment, the geeky girl Ellie tries to bashfully make contact with Michael ("It's confession time... I need you to save me from being voted senior class spinster." - "What?" - "Be a boy scout and give me date.") which immediately lifts the level of the movie and gives these characters sympathy. Even more absurdly, Michael's idea of going on a date with Ellie is to break into the forbidden ex-military base. In another humorous moment, Ellie asks the teacher, Mr. Roberts, why he is fascinated by experiencing the alien device as some sort of a 'trip': "Wait a second Bob... Is this like when you told us we can smoke banana peels?" More of such inspired bits would have been welcome, since Ellie largely vanishes in the last act of the film, as well as the personalities of the other three characters. The story seems to be itself unsure as to how to set-up the rules of the alien device: it can cause power outages and drain energy from the city, yet it can also cause time pockets in school, featuring anything from a Gladiator up to a 2-minute sequence of a dinosaur entering the gym and the characters shooting at it. It is also unclear what must be done to stop the device, nor what would happen if the characters would just leave it working indefinitely, since there is no urgency because the authors forgot to set up the stakes. Moreover, when Mr. Roberts returns, he claims to have been sent to the 60s, and this would have almost worked as a subplot on its own. While not completely developed plot-wise, "My Science Project" still seems as a neat piece of entertainment which contains that 80s flair.

Grade:++

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Whiplash

Whiplash; musical drama, USA, 2014; D: Damien Chazelle, S: Miles Teller, J. K. Simmons, Melissa Benoist, Paul Reiser, Austin Stowell

Andrew Neiman is studying to become a drummer at the Shaffer Conservatory. He manages to impress the strict conductor Fletcher who recruits him in his Studio Band, but it soon turns out that Fletcher is extremely hostile and angry when the students make even the slightest omission while performing music. Still, they manage to win a jazz competition, Andrew is promoted to the core drummer. However, Fletcher constantly replaces the drummer with Tanner and Connolly, so Andrew has to practice even more to earn his place. Andrew even breaks up with his girlfriend to focus on practicing. When Andrew is late after having a car crash and Fletcher fires him during another competition, Andrew assaults him. Fletcher is fired for his abusive behavior. Andrew teams up with Fletcher again for a Jazz festival. Fletcher double crosses him and conducts a song Andrew doesn't know. Andrew though manages to perform his own song on stage.

Writer and director Damien Chazelle stayed faithful to his love for music, and managed to channel this passion: even though the concept of a guy studying to become drummer sounds boring at first, "Whiplash" is a surprisingly engaging and emotional film, offering a broad spectrum of a viewing experience. A lot of this credit should also be given to a tight editing, fast pacing and two fantastic performances by the leading actors Miles Teller as the underdog trying to achieve his dream and J. K. Simmons as Fletcher, the mean Professor at the Conservatory who drills the musicians almost as if he is the drilling instructor from "Full Metal Jacket" and as big of a jerk as Dr. House. In one sequence near the opening act, Fletcher is furious that someone in his band is "out of tune". He approaches an overweight student, Metz, who is too afraid to look at him, so he lowers his eyes down, but Fletcher tells him: "There is no Mars bar down there, what are you looking at? Look up here, look at me!" Fletcher then orders Metz to leave, only to later admit in front of the class: "For the record, Metz wasn't out of tune. You were, Erickson, but he didn't know and that's bad enough!"

In another gruesome, cruel moment, Fletcher interrupts Andrew a dozen times because the latter is ostensibly always either too fast or too slow compared to his tune, even though the variations of the drumming are just 1% off each time, so Fletcher snaps and finally throws a chair at Andrew. Chazelle allegedly based this on his own experience, and thus there is a certain sense of authenticity and sensibility in these scenes, even though Fletcher's strictness is absurdly misplaced and ridiculous. Even his explanation as to why he is this way seems more like an excuse to terrorize people. Several other problems bother as well in the film: the scene of Andrew's hands bleeding from too much drumming is over-the-top (this is no martial arts training) whereas it is highly unconvincing that he would break up with his girlfriend Nicole in order to have time to focus on his practice. While some of these attempts to create a "drummer epic" which exalts musicians into superheroes is a tad overstretched, "Whiplash" is an energetic film that surprises the viewers at how even the smallest things can be done to be as gripping as a thrill ride. It's not about success, but about people just embracing their passion and going with it to the fullest.

Grade:+++

Monday, February 18, 2019

O-Bi, O-Ba: The End of Civilization

O-bi, o-ba: Koniec cywilizacji; science-fiction drama, Poland, 1985; D: Piotr Szulkin, S: Jerzy Stuhr, Krystyna Janda, Mariusz Dmochowski, Kalina JÄ™drusik, Marek Walczewski, Jan Nowicki

A year after a nuclear war destroyed Earth, some 850 surviving people live inside an underground dome that protects them from outside radiation. Soft is one of them. He invented a myth of an Ark that will save the people in order to keep up everyone's morale. Soft is in love with Gea, a prostitute, but she is increasingly losing her mind and falling ever deeper into superstition and irrationality, until she fatally falls from heights while walking on a rope, practicing to enter the Ark from above. Another deranged man froze two women in a tank, waiting for the Ark to unfreeze them. A dying engineer reveals to Soft that the dome was designed to hold for only a year, after which it will collapse, but that there is a map that points to a hangar with an airplane. Soft gets the map from his boss, hoping to escape, but finds out that the airplane was shredded a long time ago by a man assigned to create metallic currency. A crack in a wall creates an illuminated portal, and all the people walk towards it, thinking the Ark has arrived, but Soft realizes that the dome is collapsing and it is the end. Outside the snowy landscape, he has a hallucination of Gea picking him up with a balloon.

This dark, pessimistic post-apocalyptic science-fiction film is an allegory on the debilitating effects of a clash between the human illusion and reality. The whole story is basically a story about dying, and about the people who, in order to escape from such a despair, start creating a self-delusion that there is a salvation and hope, who start "bargaining" with the reality, even though, objectively, there is no basis for it. Despite its limited budget, "O-Bi, O-Ba" is directed surprisingly competently and technically sound by director Piotr Szulkin, who created dirty, phantasmagorical "underground" set designs reminiscent of Gilliam's "Brazil", using long tracking shots of the protagonist Soft walking through endless corridors and unusually strong blue colors in cinematography, resulting in several expressionistic sequences (people fighting for food that is dropped to them from a pipe on the ceiling; their old clothes make them look like a leper colony; Gea practicing walking on rope, thinking she will enter the nonexistent Ark from above). Kudos should also be given to the leading actor, Jerzy Stuhr, who carries the entire film with ease. In one memorable moment, prostitute Gea has this exchange with him: "You sell your brains for money, I sell my body. What's worse?" Another one has Soft talk with a librarian who thinks he will preserve books for some future generations: "There are a lot of good collective books. About the Booroos' geopolitics, the Booroos' plotting, the real face about Booroodemocracy... There was an order to leave only books about the Booroos!" A grim commentary on determinism and a nightmarish walk through a wrecked world, where the only thing left for the people is to permanently lie to themselves that something good is going to happen, but such a superstition creates even more damage through its growing irrationality: a black pearl from the 80s, though not for everyone's taste.

Grade:+++

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

The Big Short

The Big Short; drama, USA, 2015; D: Adam McKay, S: Steve Carell, Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, Hamish Linklater, John Magaro, Finn Wittrock, Brad Pitt, Marisa Tomei

Wall Street, 2 0 0 5. Hedge fund manager Michael Burry calculates that the housing market is going to crash in two years, based on data of the horrid mortgage loans, and thus decides to bet against the market: he invests hundreds of millions of $ in several banks and creates credit default swap. Soon, other managers hear about his ostensible folly: Mark Baum hears of it from Deutsche Bank salesman Jared and quickly sends his men to investigate. They find out that loans were given to people who cannot repay them, and that the housing market is oversaturated. Baum then also buys credit default swaps in millions of $. Two small time investors, Charlie and Jamie, follow suit, with the help of ex-Wall Street broker Ben. Against all odds, their prediction comes true when the financial crisis breaks out due to this housing bubble. They earn a wealth of cash, but numerous people lose their jobs and income.

One of the most popular movies explaining the financial crash of 2007-2008, "The Big Short" is practically a thesis on economic bubbles and financial instruments, whereas director Adam McKay and screenwriter Charles Randolph managed to somewhat 'decipher' all these abstract, high-concept finance terms and make them understandable in layman terms. Still, all of this is not very cinematic, since it plays out more like a PowerPoint presentation than a genuine storyline, which makes the film somewhat distant and hard to reach. Its narrative is very hybrid, defying the usual American "three-act structure", and some freshness stems from this approach. One of the best moments is when McKay "breaks the fourth wall" and turns deliberately comical to liven up the dry-difficult topic: during a securitization conference, the annoyed Mark Baum (excellent Steve Carell) is sitting in the audience, raises his hand up and makes an "O" sign with his fingers, shouting: "Zero! There is a zero percent chance that your subprime losses will stop at five percent!" He then answers his mobile phone and walks away from the auditorium, while Jared (Ryan Gosling) looks directly into the camera and says: "Mark Baum really did that! When we were in Vegas, he did that! He said that, he took the call. Now you see what I had to deal with." Another great metafilm moment has a cook explaining CDO in his kitchen using recycled fish in a stew as a symbol for bonds or Selena Gomez explaining synthetic CDO via a poker game. Brad Pitt has a dignified small supporting role as a former broker who became a humanist, lamenting how everyone is always observing economy in numbers and statistics, and not in human terms, pointing out how for each additional "1 % of unemployment" there is an excess of 40,000 more deaths per year. While somewhat didactic and "far out" to get, "The Big Short" is a valuable, intelligent, sometimes delicious explanation of the major systematic problems of that type of housing market, contemplating that there simply is no infinite growth in economy and that a contraction comes is cycles.

Grade:+++

Sunday, February 10, 2019

The Hustler

The Hustler; drama, USA, 1961; D: Robert Rossen, S: Paul Newman, Piper Laurie, George C. Scott, Jackie Gleason, Myron McCormick, Murray Hamilton

Eddie Felson and his mentor, Charlie, are pool "hustlers": they go from bar to bar, claiming to travel to a sales convention, but in reality persuade local people to gamble on a game of pool, which is naturally always won by expert Eddie. Finally, Eddie challenges "Minnesota Fats". Eddie wins, game after game, earning 11,000$, but insists on playing "Fats" again and again. After 25 hours of pool, Eddie gets drunk, loses focus and loses all he won. He parts from Charlie and starts a relationship with a local girl, Sarah, an alcoholic who wants to be a writer. Bert offers Eddie to be his manager in exchange for a 75% profit. Broke and too famous to hustle people, Eddie grudgingly accepts. They challenge the wealthy Findley to billiard. Eddie wins, but refuses to listen to Sarah, who commits suicide. Eddie returns to play pool against "Fats", and this time wins when "Fats" admits the defeat.

Excellent drama which works on almost all levels, this sports film uses its ostensible main topic of pool only as a catalyst and mirror for its main theme about human relationships, contemplating about the development of character. Brilliant Paul Newman probably delivered one of his five best performances in his entire career as the conflicting Eddie Felson, a man who is great at pool, but awful at human relations: the opening 20-minute sequence of pool, displaying his duel with "Minnesota Fats", is almost as suspenseful as a thriller, with the protagonist exclaiming: "I'm the best you ever seen, Fats. I'm the best there is. And even if you beat me, I'm still the best." Eddie indeed wins in several games in a row, only to then go the opposite curve and lose everything because his obsession didn't allow him to stop while at his prime, since after 25 hours of the game he is past his prime, and sinks into alcohol to keep awake. He doesn't know when to let go.

"The Hustler" shows the three characters at their opposites: Eddie and Sarah are two aimless people who are depressed because they cannot do anything out of their talents (pool; writing), while Bert (genius George C. Scott) is the embodiment of greed and wants to dominate them completely. Director Robert Rossen crafts the film in an incredibly elegant way, and the running time flows smoothly throughout, whereas the sharp script is full of quotable lines and situations—when Eddie slaps Sarah, she just turns her head back and looks at him, without a reaction, to say: "Are you waiting for me to cry?" In another sequence, Eddie says: "I just had to show those creeps and those punks what the game is like when it's great. When it's really great. You know, like anything can be great! Anything can be great! I don't care, bricklaying can be great, if a guy knows." While the ending is kind of contrived (Sarah's fate in the storyline comes off as sort of forced and surprising) and somewhat anti-climatic, it still rounds up its theme nicely: for every victory on one area, there is defeat in something else. Eddie chose the game, but lost his relationship. This ties into the yin and yang notion that there is always balance in life, and the people have to choose to give up something to pursue something else.

Grade:+++

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

The Thundermans (Season 3-4)

The Thundermans; fantasy comedy series, USA, 2016-2018; D: Jonathan Judge, Eric Dean Seaton, Trevor Kirschner, Robbie Countryman, S: Kira Kosarin, Jack Griffo, Chris Tallman, Rosa Blasi, Diego Velazquez, Addison Riecke, Audrey Whitby


After the tumultuous previous events, the Thunderman family is out on a limb: their secret superhero identities are revealed when Phoebe battles villain Dark Mayhem who stormed the school's prom night. But this encounter changed Max, who abandoned his plans of evil and decided to become good and cooperate with his Thunderman family. In order to get them back to normal, the superhero League tricks the people of Hiddenville into thinking that the Thunderman''s powers were taken away from them, when in reality they were still allowed to keep them. Phoebe and Max train to enter the Z-Force. During the final tournament, an recruit turns evil and captures the Thundermans at their home, but Phoebe and Max are able to apprehend him. Phoebe and Max join the Z-Force, but rename it into T-Force and recruit their entire family to become superheroes again.

Even though seasons 3 and 4 are not as consistently fresh or well written as the previous seasons, "The Thundermans" were still tied up into a satisfying finale while also offering several good jokes along the way. Unlike the first two seasons, which were focused more on daily life routines of the superhero family, the last two embraced their superhero identity more and allowed it to be imbibed into the storyline. It is noticeable that a certain number of episodes are just routine-schematic 'filler', without inspiration, yet the authors led by Jed Spingarn didn't allow this routine to take over completely, since they still offered a few surprises. Episode 4.2, titled "Banished!", has one of the best jokes in the show: Nora and Billy attend a "Thundercon", a convention of Thunderman fans, but are perplexed that Nora's fans and Billy's fans cannot stand each other. Finally, in an effort to reconcile them, Nora says: "Can't we all just agree that Billy and I are both great?" Cue to a kid from Billy's group saying: "She thinks she is as good as Billy! Charge!", as pandemonium erupts when the two fan groups start attacking each other. Episode 3.9 also rises to the occasion: Phoebe has to babysit Link's little brother and greets him with a 'cool' fist bump—but the kid is afraid she wants to hit him. Later on, while trying to impress him, she presents a raven in her home, but the bird flies off and the scared kid embraces Phoebe from fear—and she immediately goes: "We are already hugging. Yeaaahh..."

A large part of the series' charm lies in the excellent leading actress, brilliant Kira Kosarin, who displays a staggering level of creativity with her gestures, stylistic moves or line delivery. In episode 4.15, for instance, titled "Save the Past Dance", she wants to show in front of the people that she can dance and that she isn't called "crazy legs Thunderman for nothing"—what follows is one of the most hilarious set of dance moves ever, a highlight which has to be seen, a one which offers those typical examples of "kosarianisms". Kosarin truly gave a soul to the show and enriched it way more than any of the producers actually expected. Even small sight gags, such as the dinosaur park episode 4.6, where she and her family are wearing T-shirts with her face on it, have small crumbs of delight. Another underrated contribution to the show is Chris Tallman as the lazy, but lovable father Hank, who often tries to charm his wife Barb in order to get out of trouble ("You better start talking, Hank!" - "You look wonderful tonight..." - "I didn't mean that, Hank!"). The finale is only one-half of greatness, though: the weak link is the villain in the last episode who appears out of nowhere and is an unworthy adversary, equipped with a silly video game trap. However, the final three minutes give a worthy, even slightly emotional conclusion to the storyline, and also give a key to understanding its symbolism: Hank and Barb gave up on their talents and dreams to raise their kids, and to protect them from its dangers, but as Phoebe puts it, this is part of their identity and they should thus embrace it. The way Phoebe neatly pays homage to her family's superhero abilities is a crowning achievement to their legacy, and neatly concludes the show.

Grade:++

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Time After Time

Time After Time; science-fiction crime thriller, USA, 1979; D: Nicholas Meyer, S: Malcolm McDowell, Mary Steenburgen, David Warner, Charles Cioffi

London, 1893. H. G. Wells is terrified when he finds out that Jack the Ripper has taken his time machine and disappeared with it. However, the programmed time machine returns back to Wells' basement, and thus he uses it to travel to its last destination: San Francisco in 1979. Confused by the changes in the future, Wells nonetheless manages to make friends with a bank clerk, Amy, who falls in love with him and shows him the town. When they travel a few days into the future, they find out that Amy was suppose to be killed by Jack by 7:00 pm. They return back in time, but Wells is arrested and brought to questioning at the police station. When he returns, Jack forces him to give the key of the time machine in exchange for Amy's life. Jack tries to escape in the time machine, but Wells pulls the plug and disintegrates the criminal. Wells then returns back to his time, with Amy.

Nicholas Meyer's feature length debut film is an untypical time travelling crime extravaganza that has just enough charm and flair for the viewers to gloss over some of its flaws. The highly unusual, upside-down re-structuring of H. G. Wells' "Time Machine" trips predictably over several inconsistencies stemming from the time travel concept—for instance, after he found out that Jack the Ripper used his time machine to travel to 1979, wouldn't it have been far more plausible for Wells to use the time machine to simply travel five minutes before Ripper's arrival to catch him? Or the scene where Wells and Amy travel three days into the future and find a newspaper which says that Amy was killed by Ripper—if she was in Wells time machine that whole time, in what timeline could she have been killed when she was absent? Other contrived moments are bothersome, as well, such as the convoluted ploy that Wells is questioned at the police station, warning everyone about the murder about to happen, but nobody has the common sense to at least send a police officer to guard the apartment. However, the story seizes attention thanks to several refreshing moments, especially humorous ones, which give it spark. The whole set-up, where Wells arrives in 1979, only to find his whole apartment has been turned into a museum, is amusing, whereas his interactions with modern times also offer a few neat examples of culture clashes (at McDonalds, when a customer orders a Big Mac with fries, Wells orders the same, with an identical American accent, but with tea. Later, when he eats the fries, he concludes: "Oh, those are pommes frites!"). Meyer, it seems, would use the same 'fish-out-of-water' concept in the similar future film "Star trek IV". Lastly, the actors give it life: Malcolm McDowell is refreshing as the sensitive protagonist, but the excellent Mary Steenburgen steals the show: the scene where she takes Wells' arm and puts it over her own shoulder, encouraging him during a walk, displays that cinema already had a new star in the making right there.

Grade:++