Sunday, August 31, 2008
The Sixth Sense; fantasy, USA, 1999; D: M. Night Shyamalan, S: Haley Joel Osment, Bruce Willis, Toni Collette, Olivia Williams
Child psychologist Dr. Malcolm Crowe is celebrating his award with his wife Anna. Suddenly they notice someone broke into their kitchen: it's Vincent, once a boy Malcolm treated, but now grew up into a disturbed adult. Vincent shoots at Malcolm and commits suicide. A year later: Malcolm meets a little boy, Cole, who claims to see ghosts of dead people who don't know they are dead. Cole also has bruises and becomes hysterical when friends lock him up. On a funeral, Cole gives a tape of a ghost of a deceased girl and gives it to her father: there it is shown how some lady poisoned her. Cole calms down. But Malcolm discovers he himself is a ghost, because Vincent killed him.
"The Sixth Sense" caused a lot of hype during its release, yet today one can soberly judge and evaluate it, namely as an interesting piece of mystery by the talented and imaginative director M. Night Shyamalan (who also has a cameo in the middle of the film as the doctor), except that the story is incomplete and rather illogical. Namely, there is a plot twist towards the end - something that became Shyamalan's trademark - that involves one character in the film, but the director simply cannot convince us that that character didn't notice anything before or figured his state sooner. Simply, how could he interact with people without not noticing it? It was the crucial detail in the story, a one that fits in marvelously into the big picture, but it simply doesn't seem convincing, except maybe if it's a symbol for something else, namely that even those people who think they are absolutely right on their opinion can be proven wrong. It's also too bad such a plot twist was hastily developed just a few minutes before the end, but Shyamalan has, as always, a special sense for building an atmospheric mood filled with subtle, little details that all plain the attention of the viewers, crafting suspense with wonderfully sustained means. Even though the scene where Cole's mother goes to the kitchen, then exits and then returns a few seconds later only to find all the doors on the closets open is "stolen" from "Poltergeist", "The Sixth Sense" is a rather original and fluent fantasy drama where Bruce Willis steals the show even from Haley Joel Osment as Dr. Malcolm, delivering a refreshingly gentle role.
When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth; fantasy adventure, UK, 1970; D: Val Guest, S: Victoria Vetri, Robin Hawdon, Patrick Allen, Drewe Henley
Prehistoric Earth. A tribe of cavemen decide to sacrifice the blond Sanna to the Sun. A natural disaster interrupts the sacrifice, so Sanna survives, but she is blamed for it and has to run away from the valley. She finds refuge in a dinosaur nest where one dinosaur mother mistakes her for her cub and protects her. She meets fishermen Tara and falls in love with him, but the tribe members find them and want to sacrifice them, yet she is saved by her dinosaur "stepmother". In the end, a giant tsunami hits the shore and wipes out the valley, while Tara and Sanna are saved on a raft.
Saturday, August 30, 2008
Shin seiki Evangelion Gekijô-ban: Air / Magokoro wo, kimi ni; animated science-fiction, Japan, 1997; D: Hideaki Anno, Kazuya Tsurumaki, S: Megumi Ogata, Megumi Hayashibara, Yuko Miyamura, Kotono Mitsuishi
The NERV organisation managed to stop the last Angel from destroying Earth, but it's boss, Gendo Ikari, starts his own version of instrumentalisation in which he plans to merge himself with Rei and Lilith, the mother of human race, in order to finally again be reunited with his deceased wife Yui. But the SEELE organisation wants to stop that and conducts an invasion of NERV headquarters. Asuka and her robot EVA are brought to defend NERV. The instrumentalisation starts and "swallows" even Shinji and Asuka, who in the end become the only remaining people on a changed Earth.
Anime movie "The End of Evangelion" is some sort of an alternative version of the last two episodes of the anime series "Neon Genesis Evangelion", made in order to clarify a few enigmas (among other, Misato here mentions how the whole humanity is actually also an Angel). Bizarre, dreamy and extremely metaphysically-esoterical, this movie isn't for everyone's taste - some fans complained how the story is too violent, serious and morbid compared to the original, and all that deliberately because the author was already fed up with everything - but since Hideaki Anno is simply a genius, then even his "End of Evangelion" is, despite it's flaws, an excellent film. The sequence in which Shinji "moans" in the room, observing Asuka in a coma, and then looks at his hand cowered with white, gluey substance (sperm) is one of the most subtle examples of masturbation on film, while the part where Misato encourages him with a kiss ("That was a grown up kiss. Come back for more") is really touching. The game with symbols reached it's top in the fascinating finale in which Shinji and Asuka remain the only humans on Earth (?), while she just says: "I feel disgusted". It just shows the minimality of existence, but at the same time how it's also something greatest in the Universe.
Hiroshima Mon Amour; Drama, France/ Japan, 1959; D: Alain Resnais, S: Emmanuelle Riva, Eiji Okada, Stella Dassas
Hiroshima, 1959. A French movie actress falls in love with a Japanese engineer who can speak French. She spends the night with him and thinks about the killed people in Hiroshima during the World War II. The next day she wakes up and goes shooting an antiwar film. Her lover notices she is nervous so she tells him her story when she was 20, 14 years ago, when she experienced her first love with a German soldier who was killed."Hiroshima, My Love" is one of the most unusual romance movies of the 20th Century cinema, but it's satisfaction depends a lot about the individual taste of every viewer. The simple, but non-linear story without a plot is comprised out of memories, reflections and flashbacks of the heroine without a name, and leans on the (today insignificant) French New Wave and it's methods: the breaking of movie conventions, unusual ideas and swift editing. By that, "Hiroshima" reminds a little bit of the rebellious Godard, but unlike his fake worlds, Resnais' world here is full of honest and real human emotions (the touching scene where the heroine tells how she experienced her 20th birthday alone and closed in a cellar). The screenplay is interesting, but towards the end a little bit worn out and repetitive. Still, that doesn't undermine the quality of this forgotten classic that has quite a share of genius scenes: the 20 minute opening sequence in which the reflections of the naked bodies of the couple in bed are exchanged with terrifying images of victims in Hiroshima after the atomic bombing, but also parallels of the "forbidden" love between the heroine with a German and a Japanese. The screenplay was nominated for an Oscar, the film and actress Emmanuelle Riva were nominated for a BAFTA and the Golden Palm in Cannes while the film even won the New York Film Critics Circle Award for best foreign language film.
Friday, August 29, 2008
Potomok Chingis-Khana; Silent drama, Russia, 1928; D: Vsevolod Pudovkin, S: Valéry Inkijinoff, I. Dedintsev, Aleksandr Chistyakov, Viktor Tsoppi, F. Ivanov
Central Asia. Some people visit an isolated tent in the middle of nowhere to visit a sick old man. A Mongol is summoned to cure him, but feels he is poorly paid so he steals his valuable fur. He tries to sell it to Russian capitalist on the market, but is angered by the low price and injures one of them, running away from the army. He joins the partisans fighting Soviets. Quickly, he is captured by the Soviets who decide to execute him. He is shot, but survives and is treated by the Soviets when they find a document at him claiming him to be the heir of Genghis Khan, hoping to place him as their satellite leader and strengthen their grip on Asian territories. But when he spots a fellow Mongol getting shot by the Soviets, he rebels against them.Vsevolod Pudovkin's silent drama "Storm Over Asia" is a very competently made film, but after finishing watching it one can figure out why it never became a classic of cinema: the story is comprised out of three separate episodes that follow the Mongol hero and thus seem rather chaotic, finding it's real focus only in the last third, whereas the overlong running time of over two hours doesn't seem to pass that fast. The opening shots that show and present the majestic landscapes of central Asia - the steppe, a landslide that hits a tree on a cliff, a furry animal - is fantastic and masterfully sets up the location and the feel of it, while the story shows a topic that is rarely shown on the big screen, namely the Russian invasion and colonisation of huge and scarcely populated areas in Asia. There are also great little details that can be found here and there, like when the make up artists are lifting up the long hair of the wife of the Soviet commander to apply powder to her neck before they will visit the Lama in an Asian temple, yet the main hero seems rather vague and not so well developed, which is one of the reasons why the often brilliantly shot and executed film doesn't seem that powerful and authentic anymore.
La Règle du jeu; Drama, France, 1939; D: Jean Renoir, S: Marcel Dalio, Nora Gregor, Mila Parély, Roland Toutain, Paulette Dubost, Odette Talazac, Jean Renoir
France. Reporters gather around an airport to celebrate the pilot André Jurieux who flew over the Atlantic for only 23 hours, but he tells them he is disappointed because his big love didn't show up, Austrian girl Christine. She is married to Robert who cheats on her. On their estate, poacher Marceau is caught, who was hired to get rid of rabbits. Octave manages to push Andre into the castle to the great party led by Robert, where Christine is also there. Andre tells him he loves her. But Octave also admits he loves her. Schumacher shoots Andre, mistaking him for Octave, while Robert says it was an accident.
The film magazine "Sight & Sound" made a poll back in '72 to determine the best movies in the history of cinema, and Jean Renoir's "The Rules of the Game" got a very high spot by ranking at the 2nd place. That gave that film a high assertiveness towards the critics, but many will be baffled by that reputation. Namely, despite the elegant direction and top-notch actors, it seems as if the story is in oscillation of quality due to episodic characters and mild plot without highlights. "The Rules of the Game" is a very competent film that has a few neat humorous moments, like when the hunters find a cat in a rabbit trap; Octave who doesn't want to sleep with a pillow or Marceau who comforts Schumacher whose wife he "stole", but at the same time there dominates a bitter sequence where it explicitly shows rabbits dying from shots fired by the hunters. The unsuccessful romance between Andre and Christine is well crafted, yet it's completely conventional and normal for today's standards.Grade:++
Monday, August 25, 2008
La Sindrome di Stendhal; Thriller, Italy, 1996; D: Dario Argento, S: Asia Argento, Marco Leonardi, Thomas Kretschmann, Luigi Diberti, Paolo Bonacelli
Police officer Anna Manni enters a gallery in Florence. Since she suffers from the Stendhal syndrome, that causes hallucinations in front of artistic works, she falls unconscious. Some man called Alfredo helps her and she goes to the hotel. But, it turns out that he is a wanted serial killer - he rapes her. Shocked, Anna notifies the police, shortens her hair and starts avoiding her boyfriend Marco. Since the hunt for Alfredo is long, and he kills women when he reaches orgasm, Anna goes to a psychiatrist. But Alfredo again captures and rapes her in a basement in the forest. Still, she frees herself, breaks his neck and throws him in the river. After that she find a new boyfriend, Marie, but he gets killed. When she kills her psychiatrist, the police arrest her because she gained a split personality that acts as Alfredo."The Stendhal Syndrome" will probably repel many viewers in the first half, but those who will finish it to the end will get an inversion of opinion because that way the story as a whole gains a new context. The creepy mood and anxiety are a normal congruency for the horror icon Dario Argento, so a lot of bizarre scenes can be found in the film - the heroine Anna (the director's daughter Asia) hallucinates that she enters and walks on a meadow on a painting or that she dives in a painted sea and kisses a fish, and when she swallows a pill the camera observes her esophagus from the inside. The scene where Alfredo rapes her after he injured her lip and licked her blood is truly terrible and could make even the biggest psychopath to think about the effects of violence. Still, somewhere in the second half, the movie starts brilliantly breaking thriller cliches: when Alfredo grabs her again, she frees herself, injures him with a gun, breaks his neck and throws him down the river. The bad guy dies already half way into the film (unthinkable for, let's say, "Friday the 13th" serial)! There is also a neat plot twist at the end, a one that Argento has already used in different variations, so that except brutality and bizarre style, there isn't that much to criticize.
Sunday, August 24, 2008
Suspiria; horror-thriller, Italy, 1977; D: Dario Argento, S: Jessica Harper, Stefania Casini, Alida Valli, Joan Bennett, Flavio Bucci, Udo Kier
The young American girl, Suzy Banyon, arrives in Freiburg. It's raining so she takes a taxi from the airport to her new ballet academy she enlisted. But nobody opens her the door, so she spends the night in a hotel. The next day, she returns to the academy and this time she is greeted with apologies and escorted to her room. Recently, a murder occurred in school and a corpse of a student was found. Suzy meets someone in the hall and later on, as if bewitched, falls unconscious during a dance. Even later on she is plagued by hallucinations. When a former blind pianist of the school is killed by his dog and Suzy's friend Sara disappears, she decides to investigate. She discovers her school is run by witches. When she kills the main witch, Helen, the school burns out.
"Suspiria" is a rare treat of the rare example of Italian horror genre, which makes it even more 'underground' than it already is, using every movie trick to create suspense, but its style and elegance pull it out of the depths of trash some critics often accuse it off. Its value is already sensed in the thesis "what if it was never made?" - namely, a lot of movie goers would have been deprives of a cult endemic jewel. The story - as is often the case with Argento - is thin and full of plot holes, but the director's visual style is extremely accentuated: for instance, the scene where Suzy is driving in a taxi cab at night and looks to the woods where she spots a silhouette of a person who glitters in the dark from a far; some woman looks through the window and spots a few demon eyes glowing in the dark, observing her; a blind man doesn't notice giant shadows of the witches on the buildings... To make things even more interesting, Argento original idea was that the ballet school would accommodate young girls aged 12. However the studio denied his request because a horror film involving children would be surely be banned, which is why he raised the age of the heroines, but left some of their naive dialogues. Basically, "Suspiria" has a simple concept, but that's the only thing it needs. Argento avoids the trap that plagues 90 percent of all horror movies: it does not rely on violence, but on pure, elevated, creepy mood to carry almost the entire story. It is like exotic food you try hesitantly, but then admit it's actually quite tasteful.
L'uccello dalle piume di cristallo; Thriller, Italy/ Germany, 1969; D: Dario Argento, S: Tony Musante, Suzy Kendall, Eva Renzi, Enrico Maria Salerno, Umberto Raho, Renato Romano, Mario Adorf
Rome. American writer Sam Dalmas plans to return to the US, but one night, while he was walking down the road, he spots a terrible image in an art gallery: a masked maniac who tries to kill Monica, the wife of Albert, the owner of the gallery. He wants to help, but remains stuck at the entrance. Monica survives when the police arrive, but Inspector Morosini suspects Sam. In order to prove his innocence, Sam and his girlfriend Julia start investigating themselves. Through a phone call the police suspects the maniac is Alberto, who dies while they try to arrest him. But Sam discovers the real maniac is actually Monica herself, who is crazy. So the police puts her in a mental institution.
Dario Argento is the pioneer and icon of the thriller/ horror genre of the European cinema whereas his first feature film, "The Bird with the Crystal Plumage", proved he has talent in playing with cliches and creating a creepy mood that even Hitchcock would be proud off. Argento's style and rather raw and unglamorous, so that it seems as if he is a cheap slasher director at times, but his virtues are apparent (the killer is a woman, not a man; scientists analyse the sounds of a phone call in their laboratory). Also, one joke in the film is legendary and became so popular it was copied and imitated a thousand times: it's the sequence where Sam deliciously eats meat at some painter, but then a cat suddenly enters the room. Sam asks the painter why he has so many cats and he replies him that he makes food out of their meat - upon which Sam becomes ill from his meal. Argento's structure has illogical plot holes and doesn't quite fit it with the big picture (the final plot twist is simply unsustainable), but as a whole, this movie works.Grade:++
Saturday, August 23, 2008
2046; Romantic drama, China, 2004; D: Wong Kar-Wai, S: Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Li Gong, Faye Wong, Takuya Kimura, Zhang Ziyi, Carina Lau
A man is driving in a futuristic train to 2046. He is the only person who ever returned from it. He tells one person how he fell in love with a female android who reminded him of his big love, but figured she doesn't feel anything...That's the synopsis of the SF story "2046" that was written by Chow. He is a womanizer who lives in Hong Kong in the 1960's, where he meets an old friend from Singapore, Lulu. She gets murdered in her hotel room number 2046. Chow decides to move to the neighboring room, 2047. When dancer Bai Ling moves to 2046, he starts a relationship with her, but figures he can't love anyone anymore, so their romance breaks up. Still, he teams up with Jing Wen, the daughter of the hotel owner and writes stories with her, yet she decides to marry another man. He also had a fling with Su Li Zhen.Almost as some sort of a sequel to his overstretched movie "In the Mood for Love", romantic drama with a subplot SF story, "2046" is also rather overstretched, but honest, unusual and deeply emotional piece of work that shows how director Wong Kar-Wai is an original author who works more through the subconscious than through the rational ways of cinema. The triple relationships the womanizing hero Chow goes through are never as poetic as they should be, yet they all show how he has bad luck in love and use neat little tricks to craft the film as a whole. Charming actress Zhang Ziyi is once again brilliant, here in the role of one of Chow's girlfriends, who stands out the most in the scene where she mischievously pinches him in bed to make him more "active", whereas the small SF story set in train heading towards 2046 - actually a visualisation of Chow's story he writes - incorporates neat ideas, like the fact that psychedelic colors can be seen through the windows of the speeding train, and female androids, but also uses future to explain the past, namely Chow's present state in the 1960's. Kar-Wai could have made a more imaginative and substantial film, but as it is "2046" stands out for it's sheer enthusiasm.
Bakushu; Drama, Japan, 1951; D: Yasujiro Ozu, S: Setsuko Hara, Chishu Ryu, Chikage Awashima, Kuniko Miyake, Ichiro Sugai
Toyko. The 28-year old Noriko lives together with her parents and her older brother Koichi, who is married and has two children. Since she is still not married, her boss Sotaru offers her his friend Manabe as a potential husband, who is 40 years old. Still, she doesn't want to get married, which worries her traditional family. One day, her widowed neighbor, doctor Kenkichi, decides to accept an offer to move to Akita, and his mother touches Noriko so much that she decides to marry him and leave with him.
"Early Summer", the second part of Yasujiro Ozu's unofficial 'Noriko trilogy' that was revolving around the sympathetic heroine Noriko, played by wonderful actress Setsuko Hara, has a similar story as the first part, "Early Spring", where the charming heroine in her late 20s was also hassled to get married already. Ozu is a gentle director whose stories don't have any suspense but instead revolve around family and their quiet problems which resonate well with the audience, especially family viewers who can identify themselves with the emotions of the protagonists. The whole film is extremely minimalistic and demands a lot of patience, and once again Ozu's camera is extremely static and moves just on 5 or 6 occasions in the entire film, while the story is built on small details and vignettes, like when Noriko's two friends subtly show they look down on her because they are married and she is not, or humorous, like when Koichi secretly listens behind closed door about Noriko's thoughts on her potential husband or when Noriko secretly eats cake at night with her two friends , but hides it and just puts her hands on her mouth when she hears the little kid woke up and walked through the house. As always, Ozu oozes off too much by wasting too much time on unnecessary subplots that - though subtle at presenting how the new post World War II generation is spoiled while the older one is wise and traditional - becomes too slow and boring at times, yet since Hara is the main heroine, it's hard to deny the whole charm of the film.
Thursday, August 21, 2008
The Iron Age. A Cimmerian village is invaded by an evil warrior tribe led by Thulsa Doom. They kill the parents of a young boy, Conan, who is sent to slavery. As an adult, Conan gained muscles and was sold as a gladiator, until his master grants him freedom. During his travels, he meets thief Subotai and Valeria, falling in love with her. By accident, they are brought to King Osric who begs them to rescue his daughter who entered a religious cult led by Thulsa Doom. After huge losses, Conan is able to enter Thulsa's fortress and kill him, rescuing Osric's daughter.
After the debacle with "Flash Gordon's" movie version, Italian producer Dino De Laurentis once again decided to adapt a comic book to the big screens, and this time he didn't choose wrong — "Conan the Barbarian" grossed solidly at the US box office, while to make things more relevant, some critics who conducted a poll about the best movies of the 80s, even awarded it with 1st place. "Conan" really is not such a trash as it seems: despite its cheap story, right-wing tendencies and pulp repertoire, director John Milius managed to add deeper layers and create almost a philosophical essay about life and loss. Thulsa Doom is a fascinating villain: he starts off trying to conquer territories by banal military invasions, by force and violence, but later on, in the second half of the film, switches to a different strategy, to a conquest of the mind, figuring that an ideology (in this case, his religious cult) is much more effective at controling a population. When Thulsa Doom kills his mother, the little Conan just takes a gentle look at his empty hand that held her just a second ago. Arnold Schwarzenegger didn't make a lot of excellent films — just four to be exact — but this was his first and the first one that gave him a role where he could act in a solid way, by leaning more on gestures than on his (shaky) accent.
"Conan" is one of the very few films that deserve a better grade just for their enchanting dialogues - some lines in the story are pure poetry and wisdom in one, the script has really some of the best written sentences of the 80s. For instance, after Conan has been an insignificant slave all his life and starts to work as a gladiator, he gets praise of the audience for the first time in his life, and the narrator sums up beautifully the whole moment by just two words: "He mattered". When Valeria and Conan meet King Osric who offers them as many jewels as they want as long as they bring back his daughter from the evil Doom, they are confused, but he explains his sentiment to them: "There comes a time, thief, when the jewels cease to sparkle, when the gold loses its luster, when the throne room becomes an empty prison cell... And all that is left is a father's love for his child". It's one of the most amazing things ever spoken, and it's really surprising so little people quote it or know of it. Or when Valeria says to Conan: "Kiss me. Let me breathe my last breath into your mouth" or when Doom tells him: "When I am gone, you will have never been. What would your world be, without me?" It's too bad that the middle part of the film is lethargic, profane and overstretched while some random scenes make no sense, yet "Conan" is a realistic version of sword and sorcery genre.
Petulia; drama, UK / USA, 1968; D: Richard Lester, S: George C. Scott, Julie Christie, Richard Chamberlain
San Francisco. People in wheelchairs are going to a party. Doctor Archie is also there, searching for his coat, but just then the peculiar Petulia throws her arms around him, even though her husband, engineer David, is watching her. Petulia follows Archie on the street up to his hotel room. Then she disappears but returns with a trumpet. Archie doesn't worry about her because he has bigger problems with the divorce of his wife and their two kids. But even Petulia has problems because she once brought Mexican boy Olivar to her house and angered David. Archie spends the night with her, but later finds her beaten by David. Next year, Petulia leaves for an operation.
Director Richard Lester crammed really everything in the romantic farce "Petulia": psychedelic colors, distorted editing, twisted humor (penguins in a water circus whose beaks are cowered by a 5.000 $ insurance), regression of the story into past (Petulia spots a sparkle on a wheel of a car and remembers the hasty moment where a car ran over boy Olivar who ended in a hospital), serious drama...But even though it may seem the movie is too wacky to work, he actually neatly arranged all those elements and placed it into an orderly whole, so some critics consider this an unknown classic, even though some have lamented about it's confusing nature and lack of charm. The movie is actually very amusing if one can get "adjusted" to it's level: for instance, the exposition is very funny because it displays soundless lifting of people in wheelchairs in an elevator that is numerously "interrupted" by short, loud scenes of a concert that are inter cut between them, while George C. Scott is excellent in his role (especially hilarious in the scene where he is running with his kids through the empty Alcatraz). Julie Christie is also good, thus "Petulia" remains an odd allegory about the fragility of love relationships between two outsiders who find each other in the strangest ways.
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Clark Kent still works as a reporter for Daily Planet, always wearing giant glasses to hide he is actually Superman. In one of his attempts, he saves Lois and the whole Paris when he throws a hydrogen bomb, placed by some criminals at the Eiffel Tower, into space, but it detonates and destroys the prison that held Kryptonians villains Zod, Non and Ursa, who quickly discover they have special superhuman powers on Earth. They cause chaos and even storm the White House, claiming to be the new rulers of the world, but Superman confronts them. On his fortress on the North Pole, he tricks them and drains their powers, defeating them.
The first "Superman" film was very expensive with its budget of 45 million $, but director Richard Donner, following the principle of "Lord of the Rings", was also filming the second part at the same time - until somewhere half way into his job he was fired by the greedy and infamous Salkind producers, who replaced him with Richard Lester. Thus it's a real miracle that "Superman 2" still turned out better than the bland original since Lester replaced Donner's mysticism and straight forward approach with irony. Despite the cheesy costumes, tedious story and occasional empty walk in the first half, the film works specially thanks to that humor that makes it almost seem like a comedy at moments. The whole action sequence in which Superman is fighting with the three super-villains is simply genius. For instance, when Superman goes to attack one of the passers on the street starts playing 'charge' on his trumpet, while an other one wears a sign saying: "The end of the world is near". Superman also diverts the laser towards Zod and fries him (behind him, only a poster with a photo of a woman remains), kicks the mute bad guy Non out of the sever and sends him flying through a building, while the super-breath causes the people blowing back, and even one ice cream flying into the face of some guy. All this is done with a rarely seen ingenuity when superhero movies are in question, still standing as a monument to classic, 'good-old-school' special effects in its best form. The authors know that a superhero story is only as good as the conflict in it, and thus they give Superman three worthy rivals in this edition, and an extra obstacle of losing his powers, which gives the story suspense, since it is not certain if he can pull it off this time, which engages the viewers more. Even though there are a lot of plot holes and rather predictable and pretentious subplots (the one involving Clark Kent loosing his super-powers is especially annoying), "Superman 2" is till date the best Superman film in cinema.
Welcome to the Dollhouse; Black tragicomedy, USA, 1995; D: Todd Solondz, S: Heather Matarazzo, Matthew Faber, Daria Kalinina, Victoria Davis, Christina Brucato
Dawn (11) rightfully considers that elementary school and her childhood are real hell. No girl wants to be her friend, the boys throw paper rolls at her while older girls, cheerleaders, mock her and degrade her by calling her a "lesbo". At her home, the parents ignore her because they prefer her sister Missy and brother Mike. Mike is a guitar player in an amateur band whose player is Steve, a high school guy she falls in love with. He has sympathies towards her, but still prefers girls his age. Brandon, a rough kid from Dawn's class, develops an unusual relationship towards her, but leaves town because he is charged for possessing drugs. Missy gets kidnapped so Dawn looks for her in New York. When the police finds Missy, everything gets back to normal.By making drama "Welcome to the Dollhouse" pessimistic author Todd Solondz created a quality film of an honest topic that twists the cliche that childhood is the best part of life by showing how it can be real hell. Typically for him are sad-ironic scenes that describe the "alien" 11-year old heroine Dawn (fantastic Heather Matarazzo) and her deprivation of self-esteem: in school, every locker is clean except for hers that's full of written insults. She is mocked and harassed by everyone to such a degree - for instance, her family enjoys watching her "hilarious" home video where her sister Missy roughly pushes her into the water, so Dawn sneaks out at night and destroys the tape with a hammer - that it's sufficient for her to hear 10 seconds of sweet words from the high school lad Steve to completely fall in love with him. With touching sympathy for his outsider heroine and painfully true details of a wasted youth, Solondz crafts a misanthropic world without salvation: after it, the boredom of events when nothing happens even seems like a nice option.
Sunday, August 17, 2008
In the 29th century, WALL-E is the last still active robot of his kind cleaning the polluted and dead Earth from endless garbage. Along with his pet, a cockroach, he spots a strange white robot EVE land on Earth and falls in love with her. When EVE finds a plant growing on Earth, she and WALL-E are picked up by a spaceship to the mother ship Axiom, where all the humans have been living for the past 700 years, ever since they left the polluted Earth. The captain is fascinated by the plant and finds out that his new mission is to bring humans back to their home planet since it's now inhabitable again. Even though a corrupt computer wants to destroy the plant, the captain manages to defeat it and bring back people to Earth.
Ghost; fantasy romance, USA, 1990; D: Jerry Zucker, S: Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, Tony Goldwyn, Whoopi Goldberg, Vincent Schiavelli
New York. Love couple Sam and Molly buy a new apartment and are happily in love. One day, Sam discovers there is too much money on the account of one of his business clients, so his colleague Carl hires criminal Willie to kill Sam, fearing he might discover money laundering. Sam's ghost separates from his killed body, but cannot talk with people. Discovering Carl is behind everything and that Molly is in danger, Sam's ghost contacts medium Oda Mae and retrieves the stolen money. When Carl attacks Molly, Sam intervenes and the bad guy is accidentally killed, while Sam leaves Earth.
The first serious and sole directorial achievement by Jerry Zucker, who before exclusively directed comedies, "Ghost" is a commercial, hyped and rather successful mainstream junction between fantasy and gentle romance. The film has a few sparkling details and emotions (the pottery sequence where Sam and Molly sensually kiss while "Unchained Melody" plays in the background is still one of the most beautiful romantic moments of the 90s), but its awe still doesn't affect or seem as authentic and as strong as it could have. Some of the soap opera elements and heavy use of melodrama show such awards like a nomination for best picture at the Oscars and Golden Globes was more a result that "Ghost" was "in" at that time than that it would become a real classic, and especially questionable was the fact that the Oscars, the Globes and the BAFTA awards awarded Whoopi Goldberg for best supporting actress - she is really good as the medium Oda Mae who brings humor in the serious story, like in the scene where Sam's ghost talks to her non-stop for days until he finally persuades her to contact Molly, but a few amusing and sweet moments don't compensate for the fact that there were at least 30 better actresses overlooked in that category. Even though the finale falls into cliches (quite frankly, if Sam eliminated Willie, why didn't he do the same with Carl? And why is he so afraid for Molly when he knows there is an afterlife anyway?), "Ghost" is quite a touching and neat film.
Friday, August 15, 2008
Xia nu; action drama, Taiwan, 1969 / 1971; D: King Hu, S: Shih Jun, Hsu Feng, Pai Ying, Roy Chiao, Han Yin-Chieh
Schoolar and painter Ku lives in some remote Chinese village during the Ming dynasty, often listening to his mother lamenting about how he should marry, since he is over 30, and find a better job as an official. One day a stranger, Oyan, arrives in town, who is actually a secret agent searching for the female fugitive Yang. Ku falls in love with Yang after he meets her in a old house and is angered by the fact that she is persecuted just because her father wanted to warn the Emperor of his evil associate, Eunuch Wei. Ku and Yang lure the East Chamber guards and use tricks to scare them and make them think the house is haunted by ghosts. After that battle, Ku searches for the missing Yang. When he finds her, she gives him her baby and tells him she wants to stay in the Buddhist temple. Buddhist monk Abbot Hui defends Ku from the evil commander who dies, while the monk finds enlightenment on a cliff.
Legendary cult classic, often cited as one of the best movies from Chinese cinema, King Hu's "A Touch of Zen" is an unusual martial arts film where martial arts and action are actually less important and featured in the background - for instance, the first battle sequence appears some 60 minutes into the film - while the author slyly and slowly crafts a smashing little story about spiritual enlightenment and Buddhist values. For a 3 hour film, "Zen" doesn't have enough features that justify such a long running time and some of the cheesy acting seems rather dated today, but it's strange and loose structure is something that shouldn't be criticized, but praised for it's original approach where the clumsy hero Ku accidentally gets stuck in the middle of a fight between the innocent female fugitive Yang and evil corrupt guards who prosecute her, resulting in a few "roughly poetic" sequences, like the one where Yang bounces on a sword and jumps some 30 feet up on a roof or the fight in the bamboos forest that was referenced in Yimou's "House of Daggers".
Completely unwesternized, the story shifts from one level to another, but if there is one sequence that should be considered a masterwork, then it's the absolutely brilliant, magical and esoteric ending that contemplates a few deep thoughts about the point of violence, misguided aggression, selfish actions of individuals who prosecute the innocent who can reveal their evil and inner peace. Namely, the Buddhist monk Abbot and his students protect the fugitives from the government agents, who simply cannot beat them - by using only his hands, the giant and wise Abbot always avoids every arrow or sword and beats the agents. The image of him bleeding gold and standing on a cliff, in front of the Sun, so that it seems as if his head is 'illuminated', is one of the most unknown iconic images of cinema, so much better than the silly famous icons like "You talking to me?" or "Here's Johnny" that don't mean anything.
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
The Producers; comedy, USA, 1968; D: Mel Brooks, S: Zero Mostel, Gene Wilder, Dick Shawn, Kenneth Mars, Lee Meredith
Broadway producer Max is bankrupt, while he earns money by seducing old ladies in his office. But one day accountant Leo visits him and accidentally calculates that producers could steal a million $ of credit if they set up a play that nobody will watch, so Max brings him to a park and persuades him to do that. In order to do so, they choose the worst screenplay possible, the catastrophic story "Springtime For Hitler" by some Nazi author, and they even bother to hire the worst director, a transvestite, and gay rocker for the leading role. But Max's and Leo's plan backfires when the play becomes a huge hit and they end up in jail.
Both simple and funny satire, unusual "Producers" were the directorial debut by Mel Brooks, even though they at first earned weak grades by the critics and were a commercial failure, so the director later on dedicated himself to wackier and poorer comedies. But "The Producers" are a very good film despite a few bad or tasteless jokes, a one that's even sustained and quite disciplined - everything is based on a hilarious concept where the producers deliberately craft the worst possible play in order to earn a huge profit, equipped with insane dialogues ("How could this happen? I was so careful. I picked the wrong play, the wrong director, the wrong cast. Where did I go right?"), static exteriors in New York and amusing humor - while only the occasional crude humor and cold characters bring it down. The best scene is the one where Leo gets a genius idea and a water fountain erupts behind him. Brooks won an Oscar for best screenplay, while Gene Wilder was nominated as best supporting actor.
Blazing Saddles; western comedy, USA, 1974; D: Mel Brooks, S: Cleavon Little, Harvey Korman, Gene Wilder, Slim Pickens, David Huddleston, Mel Brooks, Madeline Kahn
1874. The sneaky tycoon Headley wants to wipe out the small town Rock Ridge in order to finish the route for his railroad. In order to do this, he hires bandits who terrorize it's inhabitants, while at the same time the African American slave Bart is hired to be the Sheriff of that racist town. But with the help of Waco the Kid, Bart prevails over every threat, from the giant hooligan Mongo up to the prostitute Lilli who was hired to seduce him. The inhabitants build a fake town and defeat Headley.
One of Mel Brooks' funniest films isn't at the same time one of his finest due to chaotic writing, discursive story and a few silly exaggerations that make it seem literally like a stupid cartoon: the high average grade of 8/10 on the site Rotten-tomatoes.com is overrated, but despite the fact that "Blazing Saddles" is exclusively just a flat comedy, it has just enough sharp, satirical jokes to work. To Brooks, nothing is holly: he mocks racism, antisemitism, western cliches and heroic epics by placing an African American as the Sheriff in the leading role, and thus the range of the jokes goes from childishly sweet (executioner Boris placed a sling on a horse and it's rider in order to hang them), vulgar (the farting of the cowboys who eat beans) up to the burlesque theater of the absurd (in the finale, in one American studio, one actor dressed as Adolf Hitler enjoys his lunch break and talks with his colleague on the table - "When will the film be finished, Joey?" - "Soon. Today we shoot the bunker scene" - when all of a sudden the good and the bad cowboys crash the wall, enter the studio and randomly start a whole epic fist fight), and even though due to the primitive nature some will not be able to build up their opinion on the film, those willing to simply forget logic and emerge into the surreal spectacle of the absurd will find enough to satisfy them.
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
Silent Movie; Silent comedy, USA, 1976; D: Mel Brooks, S: Mel Brooks, Marty Feldman, Dom DeLuise, Bernadette Peters, Sid Caesar, Anne Bacroft, Liza Minnelli, Burt Reynolds, James Caan, Paul Newman
Mel Funn is a washed up director whose career has been ruined by alcohol. But he has a plan for a new project - the first silent film in the last 40 years - and he is supported by his friends Marty and Dom. But their producer agrees to finance their film only if they can attract famous stars, like Liza Minnelli. Numerous problems occur: the producer becomes sick so the evil rival company hires dancer Vilma to seduce Mel and prevent him to make a film. But the film is shot, then it's stolen, but Mel retrieves it and it becomes a hit.
Despite hundreds of flaws, from the naive touch up to the standard deprivation of the level of jokes, "Silent Movie" is one of the most inspiring and better films by Mel Brooks, who after his acclaimed debut film "The Producers" shot more or less only inferior comedies. Namely, Brooks managed to shoot the first silent comedy during the sound era in the last 40 years - and later on some movies imitated that idea, like "Juha" or "Tuvalu" - and in color (!), while the only word ("No!") in the entire film is spoken precisely by mime Marcel Marceau who refuses to star in the film. There are a whole bunch of good jokes here: the evil rival company has a trademark of hands who touch the world equipped with the slogan: "We have our fingers in everything"; their managers even pray to the dollar; Mel drinks a bottle of alcohol as big as himself; the hilarious chase between Mel and Paul Newman in a wheelchair and a whole bunch of neat little cameos by famous stars, from Burt Reynolds up to Liza Minnelli. "Silent Movie" was nominated for 4 Golden Globes: best motion picture - musical or comedy, actor Brooks and Feldman and actress Bernadette Peters.Grade:++
History of the World, Part I; comedy, USA, 1981; D: Mel Brooks, S: Mel Brooks, Gregory Hines, Madeline Kahn, Harvey Korman, Cloris Leachman, Dom DeLuise, Pamela Stephenson, John Hurt
The story follows several episodes from the history - the cavemen discover fire, music, marriage and humor. In the Old Testament segment, Moses gets 15 commandments from God, but loses one tablet and thus leaves with only 10 of them. In the Roman Empire, stand-up philosopher Comicus and his agent save a slave, Josephus, and perform sketches in front of Caesar, but have to escape to save their lives. During Spanish Inquisition the people are dancing. During the French Revolution, the piss boy takes the role of King Louis and gets in trouble, while in the future, Jews are defending themselves with spaceships.
"The History of the World" grossed 43 million $ at the US box office, becoming one of the most commercial films by Mel Brooks, the director and comedian who built his whole career on comedies. As with most of his films, the critics were sustained, proclaiming some of his gags as brilliant, but most as tiresome and uninspiring. Surprisingly unfunny and pointless, "History" is offensive, obscene and shameless, which is one of the reason why some love satirical artists like Brooks, yet it's hard to shake off the impression that the film could have worked much better as a 20 minute short than as a overstretched 100 minute feature film where the distance between good gags is long and far away. When Brooks is at his best, he is able to craft a few really funny jokes, like when Comicus and his friends are running away in a chariot and are able to cross a river because Moses raised his arms and divided the water, prompting their words of thanks ("What a nice old man!"), but in the next scene it is revealed that the prophet just raised his arms because a robber pointed an arrow behind his back to loot him. At his worst, though, Brooks fills the story with rubbish, stupidity and forced grimaces, resulting is an achievement for light entertainment where anything can pass.
Monday, August 11, 2008
Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid; comedy, USA, 1982; D: Carl Reiner, S: Steve Martin, Rachel Ward, Reni Santoni, Carl Reiner, Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, Joan Crawford, Ray Milland, Ava Gardner, Ingrid Bergman, Veronica Lake
John Hay Forrest, a famous cheese scientist, dies in a car accident. The private detective Rigby Reardon is then hired by Forrest's daughter Juliet to investigate the suspicious death. Rigby spies on the dashing Kitty, discovering a list of numerous people. He gets shoot in the arm, but Juliet sucks out the bullet out of him. He also hires his assistant Marlowe to help him on the case. After numerous questioning, he discovers that Nazis were behind all in order to use giant cheese mold to attack the US. But Rigby stops them and falls in love with Juliet.
Director Carl Reiner made a fascinating little parody of the film noir classics incorporating archive footage of old actors who all, willingly or unwillingly, participated in "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid", yet on one hand the comic author seems very clever, but on the other he seems rather dumb since he fills the film with bellow average, cheap gags. One has to praise the authors for constructing the story so that it can fit in numerous scenes from over 20 classic films, from "The Killers" through "This Gun for Hire" up to "Humoresque", because even though the plot is nonsensical and seems to go vaguely from one film to another like a ping-pong ball, it testifies that it's authors were big cineasts who watched classic films carefully and managed to organize all those scenes to use them.
One of the funniest scenes of this inter cut idea is when Rigby (Steve Martin) talks with Edward Arnold (from his clip from the film "Johnny Eager") and gives him a little dog as a present, but Arnold tells him to get out and "pick it up", "alluding" to the dog feces left behind in his office. There are also quite charming and funny moments, like when Rigby meets Cary Grant in a train and makes him fall asleep using his mouth harmonica or when he tells his associate Humphrey Bogart to wear a tie, managing to pick up the quality and flair of those films. But, while those interaction scenes work, the scenes playing out in the modern, original story don't, because Reiner inserted a few vulgar jokes, like "adjusting your breasts" or "adjusting your willie", that wreck the mood and simply don't seem faithful to the classic films that inspired the story. Still, even though the slalom between highbrow and lowbrow humor seems uneven, the movie is quite fun.
Bree Daniels is a young woman who lives in New York and works as a prostitute since she can't get a job as an actress. She had all very decent clients, except for one who beat her up and in the last time she gets bizarre letters. One day, detective John Klute arrives in her apartment who searches for the missing scientist Tom who also slept with prostitutes. With her help, John looks for informations while his boss Peter wants to shut down the case. John and Bree fall in love. It turns out that Peter killed Tom because he discovered he secretly slept with prostitutes, which would ruin his career. Peter attacks Bree, but is killed by John.
Shining romantic thriller "Klute" is, thanks to the intriguing theme about the life of a prostitute, even today an undated and much more agile achievement than many overhyped "classics". Director Alan J. Pakula has a simple approach: the story follows the "taboo" occupation of young Bree (genius Jane Fonda) who works as a prostitute but also lives a normal, everyday life in New York. After intercourse with a client, during which she secretly looked at her watch while she was faking an orgasm, Bree goes out shopping, cooking or walking through the town. Bree even tells her psychologist that, while she is working as a prostitute, she is the "best actress". She is quite simply a fascinating character. Her interaction with the calm and official detective John Klute is in advance programmed for a deep, marathon job for the authors Dave and Andy Lewis, who coped with the task in a flawless manner, complimentary with the wild 70s cinema. They also have a great sixth sense for wonderful little situations, like the one where John announces that he was tapping her phone and has the transcripts on tape; Bree gets angry, but already in the next second she relaxes, starts unbuttoning her dress and says: "I'll trade you for the tape. You are surely very lonely in your empty room..." Their romance is wonderfully even and neatly sums up the story. Jane Fonda won an Oscar, a Golden Globe and the New York Film Critics Circle Award.
Sunday, August 10, 2008
The Wrong Man; Crime drama, USA, 1956; D: Alfred Hitchcock, S: Henry Fonda, Vera Miles, Anthony Quayle, Harold Stone
Innocent musician Manny Balestrero is arrested because he fits the description of a serial robber. The police send him to walk around the stores that were robbed to see if the clerks will recognize him. After they make him write a note and analyze his handwriting and some ladies identify him as the robber, he is sent to jail. Luckily, he is bailed out by his wife Rose and his brother in law. They hire a lawyer and start investigating to find out about the real robber. Rose looses her sanity and lands in a sanitarium, but the real robber strikes again and Manny is freed of charges.One of the lesser films directed by Alfred Hitchcock, drama "The Wong Man", based on a true story, is a competent, calm and quality made, but somehow mild film that seems more as if the 'master of suspense' just rushed to shoot it in order to fulfill his contract commitment with Warner Brothers and less as a unique work of inspiration. The most successful parts of the films involving Hitchcock's often theme of 'mistaken identity' are the one at the beginning where the innocent hero Manny is petrified from fear when the police send him to jail, showing that long procedure in passionate detail, from his cuffing to a criminal, transportation in a police wagon up to this arrival behind bars. The film has a lot of potentials, and even fulfills some of them, but once Manny is bailed out of jail, somewhere half way into the film, and investigates with his wife Rose, "The Wrong Man" starts suffering from the 'stranded whale' syndrome since it doesn't lead to nowhere. Hitchcock creates a few neat tricks here and there, yet the story inevitably sinks into sentimentality, routine and mild tone that doesn't manage to hook up with the interesting start.
Saturday, August 9, 2008
Le Boucher; Drama/ Thriller, France, 1970; D: Claude Chabrol, S: Stéphane Audran, Jean Yanne, Antonio Passalia, Pascal Ferone, Mario Beccara
In a small town, during a wedding, the young teacher Helene meets butcher Popaul and they become friends. The next days, Popaul visits her during class while she gives him a black lighter for his birthday. But one day, while she was visiting a cave and forest with her class, Helene noticed a corpse of a murdered woman and Popaul's lighter in her range. Figuring he might be the wanted serial killer, she starts avoiding him. But he admits everything in front of her and kills himself with a knife.
"The Butcher", the most famous film of the "French Hitchcock" Claude Chabrol, is a fascinating little film that avoids the typical suspense gimmicks, yet still works as a sustained thriller at the same time as a drama, starting obscurely and messy with a seemingly completely average sequence of a wedding and light, casual dialogues, but quickly starts to completely naturally suck the viewer in it's world. It's an unpretentious, unobtrusive, unusual and deliberately "scarcely" made film about a serial killer, from the comical sequence in which Helene, Popaul and students dressed in medieval costumes dance up to the dark sequence where during an excursion in the nature a drop of blood falls on a girls head, so every student looks up and spot a corpse on a cliff. But, just like Hitchcock, even here the character development is more important than cheap thrill, and thus more haunting, while the ending suggest how the "hero" became a serial killer because of lack of love in present and in the past.Grade:+++
L'Atalante; Drama, France, 1934; D: Jean Vigo, S: Dita Parlo, Michel Simon, Jean Dasté, Gilles Margaritis, Louis Lefebvre
Juliette marries Jean, captain of river boat L'Atalante, in order to escape from her boring village. Boarding the boat, she meets Jean's workers, the old sailor Jules and a young boy. The life on the boat becomes quickly boring to her, though, and not even Jules' jokes can change that. Upon arriving at a dock in Paris, Jean and Juliette go out to dance, but a salesman tells her to go visit the city. One night, she leaves the boat to explore Paris and the angry Jean feels betrayed. After a few weeks of miserable state of loneliness, Jules finds Juliette and brings her back. The couple embraces each other.
The final film of director Jean Vigo, which he shot in his final days before his too early death caused by a long struggle with tuberculosis, "L'Atalante" is a flawed classic, an unusual film that follows it's own style and says a few big unobtrusive messages about life. Because of Vigo's death, it wasn't hard to predict it would become one of the most legendary films of it's time, with most critics praising it's raw poetry and beauty in the ugly world, yet for an 86 minute film it feels somehow too overstretched and filled with empty walks. The love story between the young couple is beautiful, and thus it's a pity Vigo wastes so little time on them and so much time on the heavily annoying supporting character of the old sailor Jules, played by Michel Simon, one of the biggest slobs ever to decide to become an actor, who can get on the viewer's nerves by constantly saying: "Ha?", acting like a primitive swine and shooting with silly jokes all around him, like when Jean spots a photo of a naked woman and asks him about it, and he tells him it's a photo of him as a "little kid". Also, the moment where the couple separates ignites sparks and suspense, yet it happens just about 30 minutes before the end, and the whole part before that is rather vague. Sadly, the film isn't as great as many say it is, but if it has one absolutely magical moment, then it's the sequence where Jean and Juliette are separated by miles, but both lie in bed and touch their body the exact same way, to symbolize how they yearn for each other in the separation.Grade:++