Tuesday, November 19, 2019
In 1 9 5 9, director Alfred Hitchcock is enjoying the success of "North by Northwest", but feels somehow "too safe", unsatisfied due to his lack of challenge. He thus decides that his next project will be the shocking horror-thriller "Psycho", and intends it to be without compromise. However, his wife and screenwriter Alma Reville feels she is always just in his shadow, and thus goes off to write a script together with Whitfield Cook on a secluded hut near a beach. Hitchcock suspects she is cheating on him, but she assures him the opposite and ditches Cook. Janet Leigh and Anthony Perkins are in the movie, but Hitchcock becomes sick due to stress, yet recovers soon. Paramount gives "Psycho" a limited release, but Hitchcock is able to attract huge interest of the audience, making it a huge success.
"Hitchcock" is a wonderful little film that shows a small glimpse inside the life of the famous "Master of Suspense", in this case being restricted to him directing the cult film "Psycho", and its biggest highlight is the excellent actor Anthony Hopkins who gives a delicious performance of the director, nailing his impeccable English accent and charming sense of shrill humor. The portrait is intimate and surprisingly emotional: Sacha Gervasi shows Hitchcock as a man who was obsessed with blonds, but knew he was ugly, overweight and bald, without a chance for such an ideal love encounter, and thus felt as if he was stuck with his "underwhelming" wife Alma, with this rift causing outbursts of dissatisfied psychological projections onto Janet Leigh and Vera Miles, whom he tried to control and subconsciously "cast under his spell". It is as if his own life was boring, so he yearned for excitement and adventure in his films. Alma even jokingly tells him outright she is not one of his "contract blonds". The film shows how making "Psycho" was not an easy piece of cake: Paramount executives were reluctant to finance the controversial film, but there is a scene worth gold when Hitchcock's agent confronts Barney, the studio executive: "Barney, it's very simple. This is Mr. Hitchcock's next film. Are you in, or are you out?" Another nuisance were the censors, who objected to showing a toilet in an American film, prompting Hitchcock to reply: "Maybe we should make the movie in France, with a bidet?" Hitchcock even made every cast and crew member make a public oath on set, that they will not reveal any secrets from the film before the premiere. The hallucinations of Hitchcock seeing the real life killer, Ed Gein, fare less, whereas the supporting characters are nowhere near as interesting as the title protagonist, yet the cineasts were grateful for this adaptation from the cinema history.
Thursday, November 14, 2019
Baltimore. After the Barksdale crime gang was arrested, a new one appeared, led by Marlo Stanfield, who distributes drugs in even more vicious manner, employing kids as his clerks and killing any kind of opposition through his henchmen Chris Partlow and Snoop, who hide the corpses inside abandoned buildings. After Detective Freamon finds out about the pattern, the Police Department now has scores of corpses to identify. Councilman Tommy Carcetti manages to win the election for Mayor, beating the African-American Mayor Royce due to a crime wave. Ex-Detective Prez now works as a teacher in a high school, but has troubles reaching the rebellious teenagers, yet finds a friend in the neglected Duquan. His teenage friend Randy is assaulted because he reported about the murders by Marlo. Disgusted by his friend, Michael, who turned to Marlo's crime ring, Namond decides to quit this path and is adopted by ex-police major Colvin.
The fourth season of the popular series by David Simon shifted its focus on the arena of high school and position of the Mayor, confirming once again two things: "The Wire" is very good, but still a little bit overrated. Its major problems were never mitigated and remained even until this season: too much dry babble, without much inspiration in writing these standard, routine dialogues with too much exposition; whereas it is also indicative that the viewers respect these characters, they tolerate them, but never truly care or root for anybody of them—only Herc and Carver are truly sympathetic; there is a surprisingly touching minuscule relationship between Prez, now a teacher, who helps out impoverished teenager Duquan by washing his clothes; but for the majority, all the characters are just plagued by selfish, depressive, backward or aggressive behavior, which leaves little room to act anything else beyond such fatalism. The details give "The Wire" a sense of almost documentary realism: Marlo's men give 200$ to kids, "investing" into them in order to later "draft" them into selling drugs and the like, and thus there is an ironic moment when a police officer finds the said 200$ bill in the pocket of one of the kids. The kid resorts to lies, claiming his stepmother gave it to him, upon which the police officer keeps the money for himself and says: "Your stepmother gave you 200$? Tell her to come to the precinct and I'll return it to her!" The homicide department is afraid to pick up a call, fearing to get another unsolved "John Doe" corpse which will deteriorate their already low quota of solved cases. But when one of their associates gets a break, they say: "Better be lucky than to be good."
When Freamon discovers a whole chain of corpses hidden in abandoned buildings, Seargent Landsman looks at the case board, now filled with red names of new unsolved cases, and calls him a "Vandal". Prez also has a genius random quote: "Nobody wins. One side just loses more slowly". A whole subplot involving an election race between Royce, the old Mayor, and Carcetti, the Councilman, is fascinating, demonstrating how Royce tries to conceal one murder case until everyone votes, and even hires a construction crew to drill the entrance of Carcetti's office with a jackhammer in episode 4.3, sending an angry message towards his rival. It is highly ironic that the murder case which caused such a negative publicity, and ultimately loss of office for Royce—since everyone assumed the protected witness was killed by criminals—turns out to be a "false alarm". Namely, in episode 4.7, Detective Kima goes to the crime scene to search for clues herself, looking at a bullet stuck in a drawer, and finds out that some kids were actually shooting at empty bottles, but that a stray bullet accidentally hit the protected witness, who was just randomly passing by the street. Upon hearing that, Norris sums up the entire case: "So our guy is dead because a bullet misses a bleach bottle, and Corcetti gets to be Mayor because of this stupidity. I f*** love this town!" Even though Corcetti truly wants to make a change, it seems the entire destiny of Baltimore is unchangeable, and the young new Mayor has to make compromises and concessions which ultimately leave the things just as they were. The most disturbing death is found in episode 4.10, where the criminal Chris Partlow beats Devar, Michael's stepfather, suspected of paedophilia, into pulp, implying that Partlow himself was abused as a kid, and that this cycle lead him into the world of crime, as well as that it foreshadows Michael's own future path. Unfortunately, the last four episodes of the season lose steam, and end on a rather standard, grey note, failing to truly circle out some threads into a more satisfying finale.
Friday, November 8, 2019
In the 26th century, cyborg technician Dr. Ido finds remains of a derelict cyborg which was thrown down into trash from Zalem, a floating city. Ido manages to revive the cyborg, giving it the name Alita. As she makes friends with teenage boy Hugo, Alita starts having flashbacks of her past, but she can only figure she was a fighter cyborg. Ido turns out to be a bounty hunter who is after Brewishka, a killer cyborg working for Vector, who in turn sells human organs to Zalem, which its Head, Nova, uses for rejuvenation. Alita enlists into a tournament in order to secure cash to help Hugo achieve his dream of going up into Zalem. But Hugo dies while trying to climb the cable connecting Zalem. Alita kills both Brewishka and Vector. She continues working as a fighter cyborg.
Despite its three year long troubled production plagued by delays, the live action adaptation of the eponymous manga, "Alita: Battle Angel" is a surprisingly refreshing and alive achievement, containing enough energy to easily sway the viewers and turn equally as good as the ‘93 OVA "Battle Angel", though still less bloody than the latter. Kudos should be given to the excellent actress Rosa Salazar portraying the heroine - even though her eyes were artificially augmented by CGI in order to make her more anime-like, this actually made her even more expressionistic, whereas her character was already remarkably strong, feminine, charming and resourceful (when an assassin cyborg attacks her by throwing a chain that captures her leg, Alita simply unties herself and throws the chain into a nearby rotating metal grinder, which slowly pulls the cyborg attached to the chain, thereby squashing it). Several plot points regarding Alita’s lost past and the entire nature of the floating city Zalem were left rather vague, though that could be excused since the filmmakers intended for a sequel which would have elaborated on this world more. The relationship between Alita and Hugo could have been developed more, yet one has to admit that it has at least two endearing moments: one is a humorous scene in which a fallen Alita, lying on her back, still holds onto her control panel which keeps rotating the wheels of the roller blades on her feet in the air, the other being Alita’s crazy-sweet idea of removing her robotic heart from her chest for a second in order to tease Hugo that she is giving her heart to him. As with many movies with cyborgs or androids as protagonists, this one also follows the allegorical growing up of a child, from clumsy mistakes and naive innocence up to the bitter realization that the world has much more dark characters and an interwoven top-down system of crimes for them to be so beneath the surface than expected, which all give "Alita" a small round of applause
Thursday, November 7, 2019
Peter Parker embarks on a high school summer-trip to Europe with his classmates, and intends to reveal his feeling for MJ, in whom he has a crush on. However, once in Venice, they witness a giant water-monster appearing and wrecking havoc, but it is defeated by Mysterio, a superhero whose name is Beck, and who claims to be from another dimension, battling these kinds of creatures which allegedly threaten the world. Parker, as Spider-Man, becomes his ally when he hears that even Nick Fury believes him. Another creature attacks in Prague. However, Beck is actually one of Tony Stark's ex-employees, who was fired and thus has a grudge against Stark. All the creatures were just his holographic illusions created by his drones. When Spider-Man finds out, he is able to stop and kill Beck. MJ also finds about Parker's superhero identity.
The 23rd film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, "Spider-Man: Far From Home" pretty much sums up the entire film series in one: it is fun, positive, carefree and amusing, just don't expect anything deeper or more than its light surface level. Restructured as a school road movie, with several teenage problems, this edition is also dynamic, with several well already established elements from the franchise. The movie works the best during its pure comedy moments: whether it is the "stolen" little moment of MJ (Zendaya) holding out her hands to carry pigeons in Venice; the sequence where MJ simply figures out that Peter Parker is Spider-Man all by herself, so he just has to reluctantly admit it or the quietly hilarious sequence where Parker is in his Spider-Man costume in front of MJ, so when his friend Ned suddenly enters the room, he immediately has a "cover-up" reaction ("Oh, so you are ready... for that costume party..."), almost all of humorous moments work, even when they are rather corny or too simplistic at times. The main plot involving a villain, Beck, who uses holograms to trick people, works as well, yet it could have been much more subversive in the long run. Marvel movies became somehow predictable and strangely routine by this time, and thus even though it is a good film, "Far From Home" does show some traces of fatigue or a lack of closure in the long storyline. A small gem here is the closing credit sequence featuring Go-Go's song "Vacation", which is a blast.
Wednesday, November 6, 2019
In some far away kingdom in the Middle East, Aladdin and his little monkey Apu live as small-time thieves to survive. The evil sorcerer Jafar, an advisor to the Sultan, persuades Aladdin to go into a dangerous cave to get him a mysterious lamp. The cave collapses, but Aladdin finds out the lamp is able to summon a blue Genie who can grant him three wishes. Escaping from the cave, Aladdin wants Princess Jasmine to fall in love with him, so he presents himself as a rich Prince Ali, thanks to the Genie. Jafar gets the lamp, topples the Sultan and intends to invade other countries. Luckily, Aladdin tricks Jafar into transforming into a Genie, thereby capturing the villain in a lamp. For his last wish, Aladdin sets the blue Genie free.
This live action remake of one of the most popular animated films from the Walt Disney studios of the 90s, "Aladdin", pretty much follows the well established "remake label" of the film critics: it is almost the same as the original, just worse. Directed by Guy Ritchie without any vision, creativity, ingenuity or passion, this film is just a mechanical "fast-food" product in the long assembly line of live action adaptations of their animated classics, their only point being, it seems, to recycle their profits twice. Everything here is boringly predictable, with little to no energy or wit that would engage the viewers familiar with the better original, with awkward and heavy-handed musical and dance sequences. One of the rare new jokes is the little scene where Princess Jasmine accosts Aladdin, posing as a Prince of a fictional kingdom of Ababwa, and demands of him to show her the location of his country on the map. Aladdin points at a blank spot, but the Genie just quickly draws a fake kingdom on the map, thereby appeasing Jasmine. Unfortunately, mostly due to the narrow writing, Will Smith is largely anemic as the blue Genie, and is not even able to hold a candle to the comedy genius of R. Williams from the original. It is ironic, and indicative at the same time, that one of the best moments in the film—Jasmine and Aladdin flying on a magic carpet while singing the enchanting song "A Whole New World"—is precisely that because it is almost a scene for scene copy of the identical sequence from the original, done 24 years ago. It shows that the original film should thus be given praise, and not this one.
Tuesday, November 5, 2019
Alex (12) is living with his single mother. In school, he stands up to his friend Bedders who is bullied by two older kids, Kaye and Lance, but figures the world cannot be changed in the long term. One night, he pulls out a sword stuck in concrete in a construction site, and it turns out to be Excalibur. Merlin, in the form of either a teenager or an older man, shows up and tells Alex that he is chosen to stop the witch Morgana because she will attack the world in four days, during the eclipse. Reluctantly, Lance and Kaye decide to yield and serve under Alex's command. When Morgana's army attacks, the whole school fights them, while Alex kills off Morgana, now turned into a semi-dragon, by cutting her head off.
An amusing modern retelling of the King Arthur myth, Joe Cornish's "The Kid Who Would Be King" is a good, but rather uninspired little flick. It uses the plot points to articulate its theme of an outsider kid overcoming bullying by turning his enemies into his allies and gaining self-respect and self-esteem by fighting against witch Morgana, which works as an escapist-therapeutic tale that intends to give a boost to the small people who want to change the world towards better. All the actors are great, yet, as a whole, "The Kid" never really seems like a truly passionate film with some genuine energy that will grip the viewers to the fullest and elevate it to something more. Everything is done correctly, but it simply lacks highlights. The most was achieved out of the double depiction of Merlin, who appears both as a daft teenager (Angus Imrie) at whom students start throwing their plastic cups at during lunch, and a wise old man (Patrick Stewart). Another nice bit is when Alex decides to prove to his mother that something not so normal is happening by ordering a hand holding Excalibur to show up in his bathtub.
Monday, November 4, 2019
In the future, the expanding Sun starts turning into a Red Giant, threatening to engulf Earth in 300 years, and then the entire rest of the Solar System. In order to save Earth, humanity unites and builds giant thrusters which start moving the Earth out of the Solar System. Liu Qi is one of the surviving 3.5 billion people living in underground cities, still bitter at his astronaut father Li Peiqiang who abandoned him as a kid in order to help coordinate Earth's evacuation from its nearby orbiting space station. Qi and his adoptive sister DuoDuo secretly leave to see the Earth's surface, now frozen while far away from the Sun, but their truck malfunctions on the trip. While passing by Jupiter, it was predicted that its gravity will catapult the Earth away, but it actually starts pulling it towards it. Earth's collision with Jupiter is prevented, though, thanks to Peiqiang's sacrifice: he flies the space station into Jupiter's atmosphere, causing an explosion which propels Earth outside of its orbit. The Earth then continues its journey towards Alpha Centauri.
A rare example of a Chinese science-fiction film, based on Liu Cixin's acclaimed eponymous novel, "The Wandering Earth" became one of the highest grossing films in Chinese cinemas during its premiere, yet leaves a rather mixed impression. Its sole concept is incredible and monumental: scientists create thrusters which enable a colossal migration of Earth outside of the Solar System towards the Alpha Centauri. While the '62 disaster film "Gorath" also had a similar idea of thrusters "moving" the Earth away from its orbit, it was done only a little bit, whereas here it involves a complete "evacuation" of Earth away from the Solar System. The problem is that the story shows only one small episode from this space journey—Earth passing by Jupiter—but completely ignores all the rest steps and perspectives, thereby not exploiting all the potentials of the imaginative concept. The story starts in medias res, with the frozen Earth already travelling, while the prologue just gives a short summary of how this all started, thereby narrowing its narrative. For instance, what happened when the Moon was left behind? What happened to all the animals? Have some of the animals been placed in underground cities to support the human population? Is life on surface possible around volcanoes which still generate heat? What happened when Earth passed by Mars? Or what will happen when the Earth travels 2,500 years to Alpha Centauri? All these elements were ignored, when the concept offered for a much more versatile storyline.
Another detriment is that all the characters are very bland and featureless, acting only as insects trying to frantically ensure its biological survival. Sadly, the majority of its running time is spent only on Liu Qi and his crew trying to fix a broken truck stranded on the frozen surface or on his father Peiqiang trying to fix a problem from his space station, yet watching this for two hours gets exhausting quickly, especially since the director's style is grey, lifeless and immotile. The image of a giant Jupiter seen through the clouds of a snow storm in the sky is impressive, and one wishes the movie had more of such moments. The themes of obedience, self-sacrifice and resilience of life have a few plus points, as well. The finale tends to become too melodramatic and syrupy for its own good, unable to somehow steer away from it, until the bizarre abrupt ending. Instead of showing a bigger picture of psychological and philosophical aspects of people faced with such a total disaster, as it was done in such a simple and effective way as in the animated series "Queen Millennia", "The Wandering Earth" wastes too much time on lessons of obedience or fixing technical stuff, yet still has several attractions, including very good visual effects and set designs.
Sunday, November 3, 2019
Paris during World War II. Theater Montmartre is preparing a new play, "Disappearance", but its Jewish director, Lucas, fled from the Nazi dictatorship. His wife, Marion, is thus the sole owner of the theater, taking the burden of preparing it herself, since she also plays the leading role in the play. Bernard has been cast as the male protagonist. Unbeknownst to all but Marion, Lucas never fled but is actually hiding beneath the theater, in the cellar, while Marion visits him at night. The play is a hit, but the regime journalist Daxiat attacks it in his review based on antisemitism. The German secret police inspects the cellar, but fails to find Lucas. After the war, Daxiat fled the country, while Lucas returns to direct the play. Marion had sex with Bernard, but he rather decided to leave her alone with Lucas.
In his own elegant-laconic style, the director Truffaut is telling a restructuring of sorts of his previous film, "Day for Night", with the exception that here he is not observing the insider problems of artists trying to make a movie, but to put a play on stage - with an additional burden that the story plays out during the German occupation in World War II. The actors are equally as relaxed, staying in tune with Truffaut’s vision which is amusing, but never just light entertainment. Several humorous moments give "The Last Metro" elan: Bernard tries unsuccessfully to flirt with a woman working on the play, even "reading" from the palm of her hand and concluding there are two women inside of her, only to receive a quick response: "And neither of these women wants to sleep with you!" In another, Bernard chases away Marion’s suitor who gave her roses, claiming that "its thorns made her hands all bloody". The subplot involving the Jewish director Lucas hiding under the theater, listening to rehearsals, could have been handled much better, though: as some sort of unlikely Phantom of the Opera, Lucas could have tried to influence the rehearsal through Marion much more, which would have led to clashes with the substitute director, or even disguise himself as a new director, but except for two or three scenes, his involvement with the play was disappointingly passive. Despite a rather rushed and lukewarm finale, "The Last Metro" has charm in its own way (the sly finale in which the destinies of Lucas and Daxiat are switched), making it a pleasant viewing experience.
Sunday, October 20, 2019
Several years after the last events, Tallahassee, Columbus, Wichita and Little Rock are still fighting against the Zombies, but manage to find refuge in the abandoned White House. When Columbus proposes to Wichita, she and Little Rock flee with their vehicle. However, Wichita returns when Little Rock fled from her in order to live with her new boyfriend, musician Berkley, in Babylon, a hippie commune. Tallahassee, Columbus and Wichita, together with a dumb blond Madison, go to search for her. Once in Babylon, their weapons are confiscated and melted, which proves detrimental when an army of Zombies attack. Luckily, Tallahassee manages to trick all the Zombies into following him to the top of the building and falling from it into their doom. Little Rock breaks up with Berkley while Wichita accepts Columbus' marriage proposal.
10 years after the sleeper cult film "Zombieland", all the cast and film crew joined their forces to deliver a sequel which did not quite justify for such a long wait: there is too much improvisation which is just there to fill the running time, as if the actors and screenwriters were making stuff up as they went along, whereas the inspiration is scarce. "Double Tap" is thus one of those "tolerable good films": they work overall, but do not overwhelm or engage the viewers. The director Ruben Fleischer follows the expectation pattern of the sequel, which involves more danger and more new characters for the protagonists, some of which do not have that much of a function in the story (Madison, Albuquerque), though the original cast is still contagiously fun and sometimes stumble upon a good joke (such as when Columbus has to put post-it papers over the eyes of a painting of Abraham Lincoln while he is about to land in bed with Wichita). The film works, albeit in a very routine manner. However, two moments of sheer creativity raise the level through the roof. One is Bill Murray's "comeback" cameo in the film. The other is a small comic chef-d'œuvre, an insane outburst of untrammelled ingenuity in the "Zombie kill of the year" sequence in which an Italian guy lures Zombies on the street and then uses a jack to tip the Leaning Tower of Pisa (!) in order for it to fall and squash the Zombies, triumphantly shouting "Vaffanculo!", which perfectly encapsulates that temperamental nature of the indestructible Italian spirit. That sequence alone is about two levels above the rest of the film.
Saturday, October 19, 2019
Britain, World War II. Mathematician Alan Turing joins a secret British operation consisting out of cryptologists Hugh Alexander, John Cairncross, Peter Hilton, Keith Furman, Charles Richards and Joan Clark in order to decipher the "Enigma machine", the Nazi device which sends coded messages about attacks around Europe. Turing's antisocial behavior irritates his colleagues; the superiors want to shut him down fearing his proto-computer device is a waste of money whereas he marries Joan even though he is gay. Figuring out that each coded message is signed with "Heil Hitler", Turing is able to program his device to decipher the Nazi messages, but must keep it a secret. Cairncross is outed as a Soviet spy, but the British government let's him send only controlled information. With the help of the decoded messages, the war ends, but Turing is forced into a therapy to suppress his gay side, which was banned by the government at the time. He commits suicide at the age of 41.
Excellent biographical war drama about Alan Turing is easily one of the best movies of the 2 0 1 0s, one of the weakest cinema decades in history, standing out as a highlight in 2014, the year which marked a rare return of great films in that era. While it may sound like a predictable "award bait" film at first in its concept (a gay outsider; a World War II topic), "The Imitation Game" rises above these cliches thanks to a sovereign, genuine, creative and honest screenplay by Graham Moore, who, it seems, uses it as a personal therapy since he was gay himself: he avoids turning Turing's life into a hagiography, and instead shows even his flawed side (he was way too antisocial and even a jerk at times), but always keeps respect towards his positive achievements, placing him as a person who marked a new era, the era of intellectual breakthrough and innovation. Moore imbibes his characters with fascinating little details and personality traits which make them feel alive: for instance, when he was a kid, Turing would obsessively separate his green peas from his orange carrots on his plate during lunch, already hinting at his specific need for making order out of chaos. In another, during school, some bullies locked him up in a coffin of sorts, sadistically enjoying listening to him crying for help, so Turing cleverly decided to simply remain passive and indifferent, thereby taking away their satisfaction, and ultimately making them go away in boredom. It is an "actor's film", allowing for the ensemble to deliver a few wonderful, touching dialogues, mostly by its two main cast, Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley as Turing and Joan Clark. In one of the most fascinating moments, Turing reveals that he is gay to Joan, with whom he is engaged, but she just shrugs it off, as if it is just a minor inconvenience ("But we're not like other people. We love each other in our own way, and we can have the life together that we want!"). Other lines also shine, coming either from his superior ("You are exactly the man I always hoped you would be.") or Joan when she tells Turing it was good that he was not normal like the others. It is indeed rare to find modern films with such wisdom, sharpness and universal appeal, worthy of the "golden age" of cinema from the classic era of Hollywood.