Thursday, May 29, 2008

Balkan Spy

Balkanski špijun; satire / drama / comedy, Serbia, 1984; D: Dušan Kovačević, Božidar 'Bota' Nikolić, S: Danilo 'Bata' Stojković, Bora Todorović, Mira Banjac, Zvonko Lepetić, Branka Petrić, Sonja Savić

Belgrade. Ilija Čvorović, a middle-aged man with a heart disease who spent two years in jail for Stalinism during his youth, gets summoned from authorities for a routine conversation involving informations about his tenant Petar, a tailor who worked in Paris, in a Capitalistic state. The police inspector doesn't discover anything unusual and forgets the case as fast as it has been brought up, but Ilija becomes paranoid and decides to spy on the innocent Petar. From his vague gestures, he "concludes" that Petar is a terrorist who wants to destroy the country, so he and his brother Đuro capture him and his friends, all respectable professors, torturing them. The completely confused Petar manages to escape from the house because Ilija gets a heart attack.

"Balkan Spy" is the last of the 'great three' films involving screenwriter Dušan Kovačević and actor Danilo 'Bata' Stojković, who here probably gave the performance of his career. Satirical humor, satirical characters, satirical fake danger and satirical drama are all attributes of this unusual tragicomedy that should definitely be compared with the brilliant satire "Being There" since it displays a similar, endemic theme, the one about human superficiality and the power of suggestion that allures them to "perceive" something that is not there. The same way the characters in that film think the retarded Chancey is a genius, the same way Ilija and his family here think that their innocent neighbor Petar is a terrorist, interpreting everything that can be interpreted in two ways, only in their way.

That resulted in burlesque situations of their hilarious paranoia (Petar and his friends, the Academics, are on the shore of a river, pointing at something with their finger, while Ilija is observing them from the distance and immediately "deciphers" and draws with arrows the plan of their "attack" on the city; Đuro captures the respectable and confused Academics and ties them up in his basement, beating them up, demanding from them to "admit their crimes"; the room illuminated in red as a symbol for Communist oppression...) that are not for everyone's taste due to pretentiousness and bitterness, but since writer Kovačević is simply one satirical genius who juggles with clever symbolism (the opening interrogation sequence implies the democratization of the Yugoslav regime in the 80s, since previously any suspect would have been simply incarcarated without trial), then even his cult "Spy" is interesting, once again becoming sadly visionary and too close for comfort in the future, especially due to parallels in history where numerous countries looked for 'invisible enemies' among their ranks. At the latest during the scene where Ilija uncovers a giant photo of Stalin, his "role model", does "Balkan Spy" become a giant, fantastic, megalomanic satire on the psychological illness called "Stalinism", whereas the final scene is one of those great examples of "interrupted endings", in which Ilija is walking on his fours together with his dog, unforgettably implying how a human without reason is reduced to an animal.


Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Ed Wood

Ed Wood; tragicomedy, USA, 1994; D: Tim Burton, S: Johnny Depp, Martin Landau, Sarah Jessica Parker, Patricia Arquette, Bill Murray, George "The Animal" Steele, Jeffrey Jones, Mike Starr, Vincent D'Onofrio, Lisa Marie

1 9 5 0s. Ed Wood is a young and naive aspiring filmmaker. His first play gets disastrous reviews and he is stuck doing a small job in a studio, but he never gives up hope. When he meets his idol on the street, the old Bela Lugosi, he becomes his friend and manages to assure the financing for his first film, the transvestite drama "Glen or Glenda". Producer Weiss hates it so much he decides never to work with Ed again. In order to fund his new films, "The Bride of the Monster", Ed borrows the money from a butcher. His wife Dolores Fuller leaves him because he won't stop wearing women's clothes, but he finds a new one, Kathy O'Hara. After Lugosi dies, Ed uses his stock footage and incorporates it into his new film "Plan 9 From Outer Space", hiring the wrestler Tor Johnson and gay Bunny Breckinridge to play the parts. It's a colossal flop and gets named "the worst movie of all time".

You have to hand it to Tim Burton: he made a biopic about 'the worst director of all time' and managed to make one of his best films out of it. "Ed Wood" is, for Burton, a surprisingly normal, calm and measured humorous drama without bizarre gimmicks, shot in black and white, revolving around a tragic, misunderstood outsider. Many directors wouldn't have dared to even touch such a tricky subject from fear of a stigma, especially since the movie clearly shows inserts from Wood's infamous trash films, fearing such 'anti-quality' might contaminate even the film itself, but Burton and screenwriters Alexander and Karaszewski managed to clearly distinguish them with an easy hand, as if they didn't want to judge and rate an artist solely for his talent, but for his pure enthusiasm, thereby making an ode to independent movie makers everywhere.

Wood was truly a fascinating character: he wore women's underwear in World War II even though he wasn't gay, adored trash stories and was full of naive ideas, like when he looked at the old, random reel films in the studio and naively said: "Why I could make a whole film out of this stock footage! It would start with explosions! Nobody knows what they are but they are upsetting the buffaloes, so the army is called to investigate!" Johhny Depp plays him absolutely irresistibly cute, talking with a blissful smile like a little kid, and that's why it is so heart breaking to watch how he falls deeper and deeper because he does not understand the cinema language, even though he never gives up hope and always gives his best. A few inappropriate profanities, some cheap gags, repetitiveness and the slightly overstretched running time bring the film down, but it is still very well made thanks to ironic moments (in one of them, Wood's crew doesn't have enough money so they break into a film studio and steal a puppet of an octopus for their film!) while Martin Landau is great as the forgotten Bela Lugosi, for which he won an Oscar and a Golden Globe as best supporting actor.


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull; Fantasy adventure, USA, 2008; D: Steven Spielberg, S: Harrison Ford, Shia LaBeouf, Cate Blanchett, Karen Allen, Ray Winstone, Jim Broadbent, John Hurt, Igor Jijikine

Nevada, '57. Indiana Jones and his friend Mac get forcefully dragged out of the trunk of a car. They were kidnapped by Soviet KGB soldiers, led by Irina Spalko, who order Jones to help them find a crate in a military base, containing remains of an alien creature. Jones helps them but manages to escape, discovering Mac betrayed him. He then meets a young lad, Mutt, who needs his help since his old friend Oxley disappeared after discovering a crystal skull in Peru. They find the skull, but the KGB finds them. Their plan is to find the ancient city Akator and discover the psychic secrets of the aliens, in order to rule the world. Jones meets with Marion, who explains him that Mutt is his son. With Oxley's help, they find the temple hidden behind an Amazon waterfall. Once the crystal skull is reassembled into the statue, the aliens show up and open a portal to another dimension, causing Irina to 'burn out' from too much knowledge. The temple is destroyed and a UFO disappears from it. Jones and Marion get married.

19 years after the last sequel, the original crew led by Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Harrison Ford finally approved a screenplay, announced and shot the 4th "Indiana Jones" film, "The Kingdom of Crystal Skull". Judging by the long wait and the unanimous approval for the script, the expectations were high, but the final result and Spielberg's unnecessary mystification in which he even didn't want to announce the title of the film until the end, just crashed the illusions of the fans even more and made the film seem even more worn out and ordinary that it is. The 4th part is better than part 2, but lapses heavily behind part 1 and 3: It's not that Harrison Ford is in weak shape - but the authors are. The whole film is somehow strangely mild, never able to really ignite, and even it's best moments cause only a slight punchline in the viewers minds. Sadly, the action is really poorly choreographed - the only great action scene that grasps for everything it wants, is the one where the now older Indiana Jones swings on his whip in the military warehouse in order to catapult himself to a driving KGB truck, but misses just barely and swings back, falling in a clumsy way through the windshield of a truck behind him, obviously adding a small dose of irony to his superhero image.

Sadly, most of the action sequence are simply not the top notch standard one expects from an "Indiana Jones" film - they are unexciting and way too cartoonish: the infamous ant army and Mutt and his army of monkeys were all handed all right, but are still bad ideas non the less. True, even the "Last Crusade" has over-the-top action sequences, but they were all so meticulously crafted, so stylish and well choreographed they all seem like poetry, while here they just seem like the authors had a good idea, but stopped half way through of developing it until the end. For instance, in one scene towards the beginning, the hero Indiana Jones escapes from the bad guys and hides in a small town in Nevada, but discovers all the houses are equipped with puppets. He then finds out he is in a testing area for a nuclear bomb that will detonate in 10 seconds. Immediately, the viewer thinks: "What is he going to do? Oh, it will probably be some genius idea to get himself out of this mess!" But instead of a genius idea, Jones just hides in a refrigerator, which is rather poor solution to the situation. Shia Labeouf is pretty solid in the unthankful role of a comic sidekick, Cate Blanchett is wonderful as the evil leader of Communist KGB agents (though some Communist representatives were angry to have their party have the 'privilege' of inheriting the role of the bad guys from the Nazis), but Karen Allen is completely wasted in her returning role to the series which is just a throw away role where she mostly just accompanies the hero and acts like an useless extra. The concept of the story that mixes the ideas of Erich von Däniken is daring, yet sadly incoherent, uneven and almost trashy towards the end where the aliens show up, poorly stealing from Spielberg's "Close Encounters" and the open endings of the previous "Jones" films. It's a professionally made, proper sequel, but sadly, it seems more like some group of plagiarist authors stole the Indiana Jones from the original crew and made a very good rip off - except that it was made by that same original crew.


Full Eclipse

Full Eclipse; Horror, USA, 1993; D: Anthony Hickox, S: Mario Van Peebles, Patsy Kensit, Bruce Payne, Anthony John Denison, Jason Beghe, Paula Marshall

Los Angeles. Cop Max Dire is the best friend of his colleague Jim who plans to get married and leave that risky job. On one assignment, Jim gets wounded and falls into a coma. But one cop gives him a special serum that makes him well again, but also hyperactive. Max is pretty surprised by his strange behavior, but even more when Jim commits suicide. Max then gets a new superior, Garou, who invites him to a secret meeting, where also the attractive Casey can be found, and shows him that one can get special powers with the serum. Max at first refuses to take it, but Casey forces him. Max then gets special powers himself, but discovers that Garou is a werewolf, and thus resists his influence. Garou kills Casey and attacks Max, but he survives. Max then kills him with a cocktail of silver, returning to fight crime.

Low budget horror "Full Eclipse", that enjoys a cult status in some small circles, is a very solid achievement with correct mood and unpretentious structure, but it isn't especially inspired. The best part is the exposition (the long take in which Max and Jim talk in a car; the surreal sequence in which 'supercop' Jim jumps on a bus and hunts down the criminals) and the direction by Anthony Hickox is pretty good, but the movie as a whole lacks sharpness and spark, thus ending like a mild TV horror. Mario Van Peebles is excellent, except that his character Max is rather confusing (why did he resist the werewolf cops' methods of fighting crime when he himself continued their way in the end?) while the only erotic scene in the film is too shy.


Monday, May 26, 2008

Larger Than Life

Larger Than Life; Comedy, USA, 1996; D: Howard Franklin, S: Bill Murray, Janeane Garofalo, Linda Fiorentino, Matthew McConaughey, Jeremy Piven, Pat Hingle, Keith David

It's the story about a cynical motivational speaker, Jack Corcoran, telling his philosophy in mini-malls. When he gets the message that his dad is dead, he gets very surprised - since his mother told him he was dead for over 40 years now. He goes to a small town and discovers his dad was a clown who left him with a debt - and an elephant, called Vera. He decides to sell Vera, leaving him with two options - either bring it to ecologist Mo who would transport her to Sri Lanka where she would live free, or to a circus led by Terry Bonura. On their long trip using trains and trucks, even gaining an enemy in the trucker Tip, Jack and Vera become friends. Jack at first sells her to a circus, but when he sees how the elephants are mistreated there, he changes his mind and brings her to Mo instead.

"Larger Than Life" is obviously one of those half hearted written, light comedies where the authors didn't put much effort into it. It's one of the biggest commercial failures of Howard Franklin and Bill Murray, but so was their "Quick Change" and it was still an excellent comedy, while here only the first 5 minutes are excellent, but the rest is inert and inept. It's a harmless road movie for kids, nothing more, with slow rhythm and dreadfully lifeless screenplay without ideas that doesn't have anything going for it except the charm of the actors. The only one who brings some spirit into the film is the brilliant Bill Murray, one of the most underrated comedians of the 80s and 90s, who seems to have a blast even in saving such poor films like this one, when he doesn't have any better offers from Hollywood. Maybe precisely thanks to him the film manages to squeeze at least 4 good jokes, and the best one is when he is improvising driving a truck up a hill but accidentally pushes the wrong button which causes the whole frontal part of the truck, including his seat, to lean forward for over 45 degrees, resulting in a hilarious image. Also, the charm of a friendship between a human and an animal has some sympathies, Janeane Garofalo has a solid performance as Mo, as well as Matthew McConaughey as the mad truck driver Tip, while the whole film is always innocent and harmless, and in those times even that was something.



Bowfinger; Comedy, USA, 1999; D: Frank Oz, S: Steve Martin, Eddie Murphy, Heather Graham, Christine Baranski, Jamie Kennedy, Terence Stamp, Robert Downey Jr.

In order to film his sci-fi screenplay "Chubby Rain", washed out director Bowfinger lies to his crew that the popular actor Kit Ramsey accepted to star in the main role - but actually decides to film the star using hidden camera. From close, he is replaced by his geeky brother Jiff, who looks a lot like him. But since Kit is afraid of UFOs, he acts with panic when all the actors start playing out the roles on the street, pretending aliens are attacking. Kit finds out and shuts down the production, but eventually gives in because the crew blackmailed him since they got footage of him exposing himself to cheerleaders.

Moderately funny and light comedy "Bowfinger" was proclaimed a noteworthy artifice by most critics, and that's granted since it's an easy fun with a few neat satirical jabs at the movie industry and the outsiders who want to get in. Steve Martin is nowhere near his top notch shape in his earlier comedies, yet his screenplay and solid direction by comedy veteran Frank Oz give it charm. Indeed, the concept about a big movie star, Kit (Eddie Murphy), who is walking down the streets and hasn't got a clue a cheap movie crew is filming him with hidden cameras in order to "forcefully" put him in their film, has potentials that are never completely fulfilled, and that big hole leaves an unsatisfying taste after the film is over. The authors should have put more jokes and interlude between Martin and Murphy, as well as try to get rid off a few plot holes (for instance, if Kit and his nerdy brother Jiff looks so much alike, why didn't the crew use Jiff to play Kit the entire time?), though most viewers will enjoy such gags like the parody on Scientology presented in Kit's organization called MindHead.


Sunday, May 25, 2008


HouseSitter; Comedy, USA, 1992; D: Frank Oz, S: Steve Martin, Goldie Hawn, Dana Delany, Julie Harris, Donald Moffat, Peter MacNicol

Architect Newton Davis built the house of his dreams and proposes his fiance Becky, but she refuses. Three months later Davis, by following a friend to a bar, meets waitress Gwen who claims to be Hungarian, even though she isn't. Even though she constantly lies to Davis, he still likes her and they spend the night together. The next morning he is gone. But Gwen discovers where he lives and moves into his house, telling everyone they are married. When Davis returns and finds out, he is infuriated at first, but agrees to play the game in order to make Becky jealous and make her return to him. Those lies also have advantages: the parents praise him, the boss promotes him. During a party, Gwen hires actors to play her parents, but suddenly feels disgusted and leaves. Davis follows her and truly falls in love with her, while she admits her name is actually Jessica.

Good and sympathetic low key comedy "HouseSitter" offers the recognizable handwriting by Frank Oz: unusual plots, absurd humor and burlesque scenes. Still, this is one of his weaker attempts due to stiff characters, routine execution and overall mild tone. Also, it seems some moments are too abstract for viewers to enjoy them if they are not Steve Martin fans, yet the story has it's moments: for instance, Goldie Hawn's character of Gwen, a woman who lies non stop, ignites a few good gags like the one where she starts telling wild fairy tales about her wedding with Davis in a hospital, even adding such shrill "details" like that he took the bandage instead of the veil from her face when he kissed her. Davis goes to see his boss and finds Gwen there who already persuaded him that he fought with her father on the Pacific. Thus he tells her at one point: "Why don't you tell truth for a change, as a joke".


Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels; black comedy, USA, 1988; D: Frank Oz, S: Steve Martin, Michael Caine, Glenne Headly, Anton Rodgers, Barbara Harris, Ian McDiarmid

English gentleman Lawrence lives in the French Riviera earning money as a gigolo, often "accidentally" telling rich ladies he is a prince of a far away country who needs help. The ladies take pity on him and give him money for support. But when another con artist shows up, American Freddy, squeezing money out of ladies with lies about his sick grandmother who needs an operation, Lawrence starts feeling endangered. As soon as they meet, they start framing each other. In the end, they make a bet: the one who double crosses the American girl Janet and gets 50,000 $ from her first, stays. While Lawrence plays a doctor and Freddy a handicapped, she double crosses them both.

Frank Oz always approaches his films with a rustic simpleness, but often gets a very satisfying result. Comedy "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" is a funny and amusing film, a remake that is better than the original "Bedtime Story", with a strong screenplay, a solid direction and great actors Steve Martin and Michael Caine, in a rare comic edition. But when Martin's character Freddy starts pretending to be a handicapped man in a wheelchair, the humor becomes too tasteless, morbid and vulgar at moments, which reduce the film's greatness. Not that even that part doesn't have its moments, since it plays out as a duel between two gigolos over who will gain the sympathy of a young girl first, yet the scene where Lawrence is pushing the situation by whipping Freddy's legs - who has to pretend he doesn't feel anything despite incredible pain - is simply too masochistic, too ill-conceived to really be funny. Still, Oz then masterfully egregious turns the situation by putting a neat plot twist at the end that gives the relationship between three of them a new context, reciprocating for the most political incorrectness throughout the film, even though it has it's sharpness on it's own.


Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Fly

The Fly; Horror, UK / Canada / USA, 1986; D: David Cronenberg, S: Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis, John Getz, Joy Boushel, Leslie Carlson, George Chuvalo
Young scientist Seth Brundle meets journalist Veronica at a party and brings her to his warehouse laboratory where he shows her his revolutionary invention, two 'Telepods' that can teleport mater from one place to another. Even though he is angered at first that she recorded their conversation, he allows her to make a coverage of his work. The two start a relationship. But Seth is frustrated because the 'Telepod' computer never manages to transport living creatures without mutilating them. He somehow repairs the problem and transports himself to try it out, but overlooks that a small fly also entered the chamber - thus the computer makes a fusion out of his genes and the genes of a fly. He slowly changes, becoming a mutant. Crazy and degenerated, he tries to merge himself with her, but fails and she shoots him on his own wish.

With the ferocious horror movie "The Fly", director David Cronenberg managed to achieve a great success, while the make up won an Oscar. The movie enjoys a high reputation and cult status, but putting the fabulous make up aside, it has little to offer. Cronenberg uses the tragic collision of man and fly just to scare the viewers in a cheap way and provoke their disgust, while some deeper psychological and philosophical insights are absent. The first half an hour of the film, which is the 'normal' part of the story, is bland since the relationship between Seth and Veronica is routinely written: for instance, we are never revealed with why she would all of a blue fall in love with him. The only ingredient that rings true there is the small role of Veronica's jealous macho boss, Stathis.

The constant gradation of suspense by Seth's slow transformation into a terrifying mutant in the second half is well achieved and Jeff Goldblum's performance is great, for which he won the Saturn award as best actor in a Fantasy film, yet the authors failed to go into the human side of the story - for instance, it's neat that Seth's arm catches a fly in a reflex while he is asleep, yet the super powers potentials were thrown mostly down the drain. Sadly, most of the transformation is just wasted to show Seth's ears or teeth falling off. Some critics see the story mirroring a few allegorical themes, like AIDS infection or paraphrasing Kafka's "Metamorphosis", and one can to a certain extent detect them in the film, but to a bigger extent they mostly seem just like side notes crammed into a trashy 'Frankenstein' concept. If there were at least some emotions present, even pathetic ones, it would have been a much better film, despite a shocking end. But this way they are obviously missing, and no effects can compensate for that.


The Candidate for Goddess

Megami kouhosei; Animated science-fiction series, Japan, 2000; D: Hongo Mitsuru, S: Obi Yukimasa, Hiroyuki Yoshino, Susumu Chiba, Ohmoto Yoshimichi

The year is 4048. Man kind has moved to space whereas their new home, planet Zion, is under attack from evil aliens. To fight them, man has created 'Goddess', giant robots that can only be controlled by teenagers. The new candidates are trained in a space station, and among them is the young boy called Zero. He often fights with Hield, while his friend is the calm Clay. Zero accidentally falls into a robot and discovers her made a connection with it, but also gained hallucinations about some woman. The female part of the candidates has, among others, Kizuna, a girl with the ears of a cat who becomes Zero's partner. Quickly, the candidates test the simulation flights, and then even real fights.

"The Candidate for Goddess" is the type of the then very popular genre in anime, mecha, the so called "people in giant robots", but doesn't grasp the Parthenon of quality of such classics like "Shin Seiki Evangelion". It's a matter of a solid anime series that suffers from heavy banality and silly ideas: the opening credits of every episode show scenes of a space station through which the main hero is running, a boy with a funny name, Zero (!), in a ridiculous white robe that has an opening for his shoulders, while his new partner, Kizuna, a girl with cat ears on her head, awaits him - enough said about the credibility of the imagination of the authors. To make the anime even more absurd, the story is a patchwork assembled out of numerous mecha series seen before, revolving around kids who are trained to defend their planet called Zion (!), thus borrowing in a clumsy way a little from the Bible. Unfortunately, the robots are conjured up using inert CGI, thus ending completely ephemera, whereas despite a few neat misadventures of Zero and his friends, the story doesn't seem to fit in. Despite all of it's flaws and eclectic touch, the best scene is the one where Zero falls in into the liquid of the robot and experiences a hallucination of a naked woman with 100 foot long hair. Among the inconveniences is also the fact that the show was canceled after 13 episodes, thus making the anime stop in the middle of the story.


Friday, May 23, 2008

Anatomy of a Murder

Anatomy of a Murder; drama, USA, 1959; D: Otto Preminger, S: James Stewart, Lee Remick, Ben Gazzara, Arthur O'Connell, Eve Arden, Kathryn Grant, George C. Scott, Murray Hamilton
Small town lawyer Paul Beigler returns from fishing to his quiet home, only to get a phone call from Laura Manion begging him to defend her husband, Army Lieutenant Frederic. Namely, she was raped by Barney, who was then shot and killed in revenge by her husband Frederic - who is now in prison and charged for murder. Paul and his colleague Parnell accept the case, trying to excuse Frederic in front of the jury due to his 'irresistible impulse'. Even though the State Attorney Dancer tries to discredit Laura as a lustful woman and Frederic as a jealous husband, Paul convinces Mary Pilant, Barney's wife, to testify before the court. Frederic is freed of charge.

Excellent trial court drama "Anatomy of a Murder" roused controversies during its premiere in 1959 due to its early use of explicit words such as 'rape', 'panties' and 'sperm', but the director Otto Preminger and screenwriter Wndell Mayes always kept a profesional, distanced, analytical and formal approach to the subject, with integrity and intelligence, thus rightfully gaining critical acclaim and several nominations at awards' ceremonies. Even though it may at first seem that a story that revolves only around abstract lawyer terms and a trial can't be interesting, the authors managed to make it absolutely fascinating and exciting, using a lot of skill to translate the "grey area" in the law and tense situation in the court, whereas many of those bravura scenes influenced a whole bunch of court trial dramas and TV shows, from "The Verdict" up to "Ally McBeal". The great James Stewart is brilliant as the sly lawyer Paul, from the sequence where he talks in private with girl Laura about the rape ("Doesn't a woman instinctively feel worried when a man is 'coming on' to her?" - "But right now you're 'coming on' to me, too. I never ran away from men.") up the moment where he asks a pathologist in court why he made a test for Spermatogenesis on the deceased. The movie leaves the viewers exhausted and shaken, but it never leaves anyone indifferent.


Thursday, May 22, 2008

Jesus Camp

Jesus Camp; Documentary, USA, 2006; Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady, S: Becky Fischer, Ted Haggard, Mike Papantonio

Becky Fischer leads "Kids on Fire", a summer camp in North Dakota, where Evangelical kids are taught to discover their prophetic role and strengthen it. The Pastors teach them that their generation will be crucial for the return of Jesus Christ and should become "the Army of God", that evolution doesn't exist, that abortion is evil, that they should become radical Christians...Among the kids are also Levi, Victoria and Rachel. Later on they go visit pastor Ted Haggard and let the under aged kids wonder through the streets and try sell their message to random strangers.

Directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady crafted the critically acclaimed documentary "Jesus Camp" trying to - more or less -objectively present the movement around pastor Becky Fischer, and to certain extent the impact that it has on underaged kids, adding also the other, critical side to the events through small inserts of secular radio host Mike Papantino. Using the religion to a certain extent is useful when children are that way planted with moral values, for instance as it is said in the film that they shouldn't swear, or respect the older or show compassion. Nobody ever said having faith in God is something wrong - having faith is wonderful. But when the faith is filtered by a human institution, religion, and presented in such a distorted shape that they are thought that "global warming doesn't exist", or that "they should be admiring the Palestinians who teach their children from the age of 5 to give their life for God" or to "become radical", then that's already fanaticism and poisoning the young minds with dirty ideology. People can have the purest ideas and intentions, but when they use demonic methods to achieve them, then the goal becomes corrupt. The religious leaders of the camp have a right to oppose abortion, but why present such a heavy and difficult issue to innocent kids aged 5-10? Having seen all the kids have been through, it's a wonder if they don't suffer from some psychological damage.

The irony is, in the process, the camp actually breaks a few of the Ten Commandments: when the kids worship the cut board of their idol George W. Bush, they break the Commandment "You shall have no other gods before me" and "You shall not make for yourself an idol". When Fischer yells: "This means war!", she breaks the Commandment "You shall not make wrongful use of the name of your God". When a pastor tells the kids that their generation will be the crucial for the return of Christ - and he doesn't know that since God didn't tell him the exact date, it may be in hundreds and hundreds of years from now - he breaks the Commandment "You shall not bear false witness", aka not lie. The movie is also filled with satirical contradictions, obviously subtly placed in the editing room by the authors, like in the scene where Fischer prays for the use of technical devices, like the microphone, she embraces technology and science, but when science is suppose to teach her something about this world, then she blocks it out. Following the word of God is one thing, but when Becky Fischer drills and conditions the kids to do whatever she tells them to, then they follow the word of Becky Fischer. To quote the words of pastor Ted Haggard, who was later caught with a male prostitute: "I think I know what you did last night". A few occasional flaws bring the movie down, but it's very well made and shocking - if this was 'Mohamed Camp', it would have been banned immediately - and was nominated for an Oscar as best documentary.



Bin-jip; Tragicomedy, South Korea, 2004; D: Kim Ki-duk, S: Lee Seung-yeon, Lee Hyun-kyoon, Kwon Hyuk-ho, Choi Jeong-ho, Lee Ju-seok, Lee Mi-suk

A man drives on a motorcycle and leaves takeout menus on the door's of various houses. He later returns to break into the houses that haven't removed the flyers, presuming they are empty. He never steals anything, just breaks in to live there for a few days, eat and sleep. But one day he breaks into a house with the inhabitant still in, a young woman. When her abusive husband returns and molests her, he hits him with golf balls and runs away with the girl. The two form an unlikely couple, but when they break into a house of a dead man, they are charged for murder. He gets sentenced to jail, but after he gets released he returns to the girl's house, hiding from her husband.

"3-Iron" is slightly overrated and overhyped, but still very sweet and spiritual film by acclaimed director Kim Ki-duk who seems to once again try to test the boundaries of how little he can put in a film, but still make it work. The story in "3-Iron" is so minimalistic it seems it was based only on a 10 page screenplay, and some of the thinness is sensed in the slightly overstretched running time since it would have worked much better as a short film, yet the magic and dreamy mood of the film that follow the two unusual protagonists, a man and a girl who never say a word - until the end - and thus build their whole charisma on mute expressions just like Chaplin and Keaton once did, has some strange appeal. There is no doubt that it's a film that works on a subconscious level and displays Ki-duk's often theme of loneliness and 'detachment' from our material world, and thus the couple seems like a ghost couple, always avoiding the Establishment. It also follows the author's fascination with Buddhism, obvious in the jail sequences where the hero mischievously hides from the prison guard, who then beats him up again and again - but her never retaliates in order to break the circle of violence and this world. Maybe the movie is too light at times, but strangely, it's always ambitious at the same time, and just like the symbolic final scene it somehow grows on you and makes you wonder if there's maybe more to it than it seems.



Stromboli; Drama, Italy, 1950; D: Roberto Rossellini, S: Ingrid Bergman, Mario Vitale, Mario Sponzo, Renzo Cesana, Gaetano Famularo

Italy, '48. Karin is a young woman born on Lithuanian territory who illegally immigrated into Italy during World War II, where she was arrested and placed in a internment camp meant for people without a citizenship. Since her asylum for South America has been denied, she decides to marry soldier Antonio in order to stay in Italy. But when she moves into Antonio's home, located on volcanic island of Stromboli, she gets disappointed since it's dreary and backward. Karin can't tolerate the new environment, thus often argues with her husband. When she gets pregnant, he locks her up in the house, but she finds a lover and decides to leave the island with him.

Despite a few brilliant sequences and contemplative messages, drama "Stromboli" is one of the less successful achievements by Italian director and faithful follower of the Italian neorealism Roberto Rossellini. Moreover, "Stromboli" was back then and even today remembered more for the affair between Rossellini and actress Ingrid Bergman than for it's sole essence and brilliance. Still, even though it's more than obvious that the movie was shot without a finished script, it's hard to dispute it's quality - the scene in which Karin, who got married in order to get a citizenship, meets her new home, an old and isolated house on the backward island, and starts crying from despair, seems as if it's talking about the subconscious human fear: "Is this all my life has been reduced to?", whereas the scene in which the fishermen catch giant tunas is impressive and authentic, and the vague finale with the heroine climbing up the volcano has some points - thus making the movie not that much weaker than Rossellini's best films.


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Germany Year Zero

Germania, anno zero; Drama, Italy/ Germany, 1948; D: Roberto Rossellini, S: Edmund Meschke, Ingetraud Hinze, Franz-Otto Krüger, Erich Gühne, Ernst Pittschau

Berlin after the end of World War II. The Germans live in poverty and ruins, among them also the 12-year old boy Edmund who works heavy manual labor in order to earn some money. He lives in a small apartment with his sick father, older brother Karl-Heinz who doesn't work because he is hiding since he was an army soldier, and sister Eva who earns money by working as a prostitute. One day Edmund stumbles upon his former teacher Henning who gives him a gramophone record with Hitler's speech so that he can sell it. At the same time, he fills his young mind with dirty ideology, "explaining" to him that the weaker should die so that the stronger could live better. Edmund concludes it also applies to his sick father whom he secretly poisons. But Edmund realizes his mistake and commits suicide.

"Germany Year Zero", the last of Roberto Rosselini's trilogy of war, is another classic of Italian neorealist cinema in which the 'small man' is the hero and the most important link during period of crisis. Simple and gentle, refreshingly humane and bravura written film, it was produced in Italy, but filmed in ruins of German cities and in German language. From the exposition in which the narrator speaks how this isn't a film that accuses Germans, up to shocking scenes - people on the streets tear meet from a dead horse, boy Edmund works even though he is only 12, the family has no food so they sell a weighing-machine - Rossellini portrays the destiny of Germans in small in Edmund, showing how a whole nation must suffer because of one evil politician who wants war and deceives the masses, connecting evil with ignorance. From the plot where the evil teacher, still a sympathizer of the long misguided and ruined government, fills the young boy's mind with dirty ideology, one can detect the theme of soliciting a minor for a secret agenda. "Year Zero" as the last film in Rossellini's trilogy of the consequences of war, not the war itself, neatly sums up the sad message of the human spirit captured in the chaos of materialism.



Paisà; drama, Italy, 1946; D: Roberto Rossellini, S: Carmela Sazio, Robert Van Loon, Alfonso Pasca, Maria Michi, Harriet Medin, Benjamin Emanuel, Raymond Campbell, Harold Wagner

Italy during World War II. American soldiers strom into the country and persuade the girl Carmela to show them a German fortress. Soldier Joe stays with her, but gets wounded by the Germans. Carmela tries to save him, but dies herself...Black American soldier demands that the boy Paisa returns his stolen boots, but changes his mind when he discovers the kid is poor and his parents have been killed...Prostitute Francesca brings a drunk American to her apartment. She discovers it's Fred, her former big love she meet a long time ago. But Fred leaves her...Nurse Harriet and Massimo search for a friend in the rubble...Three American soldiers find an accomodation in a Catholic monastery. But the priests are astouned that one of them is a Jew, and the other a Protestant...American soldiers fight at the river Po.

Director Roberto Rossellini filmed a lot of impressive films and was one of the faithful and important directors of Italian neorealist cinema, but his career was overshadowed by his affair with Mrs. Bergman. Excellent drama "Paisa", for which Rossellini got his only Oscar nomination in the category of best screenplay, portrays the state of war in a way that's at the same time bitter and sweet, refusing any kind of pathos or pretentiousness. Out of 6 stories, the third one is the bravest, in which prostitute Francesca accidentally stumbles upon her former love, American soldier Fred, but he doesn't recognize her. The first story is slightly overstretched, but the movie as a whole is still very acessible, smooth, structured in a fine way, and full of "little details" that give it an optimistic touch, like in the humorous 5th story where a few rigid Catholic priests are "shocked" to find out that two of the three American soldiers they took in the monastery are a "traitorous" Protestant and a Jew.


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

I Have to Sleep, My Angel

Moram spavat', anđele; Drama, Croatia, 2007; D: Dejan Ačimović, S: Karlo Barbarić, Linda Begonja, Nataša Dorčić, Vera Zima, Olga Pakalović

Goran remembers his childhood: in the early 70s, he was only 9 years old, adoring football and awaiting a prestigious basketball game between Yugoslavia and the US. But then his parents, Ante and Gordana, decided to divorce, leaving him in turmoil and sadness. His dad Ante, a doctor, quickly found a new love interest, while his mother remained alone in an apartment. After his grandfather died, his mother became sick. Despite numerous operations, she had to go to a special hospital in Ljubljana, where she died. Devastated, Goran, dad and grandmother returned home in their car, stopping in Zagreb, where a girl waved at Goran.

"I Have to Sleep, My Angel" isn't anything extraordinary, yet it's a very solid coming-of-age film that avoids the pathetic touch often found in such melodrama films, especially in the 'black hole' of Croatian cinema, the 90s, that was filled with awful films. Unlike those, this one is a rather pleasant surprise since it's easily watchable, neatly reconstructing the era of the 70s for which it has nostalgic sympathies, while the actors are all right. Dejan Ačimović directs his second film with an easy hand, but doesn't manage to make it intriguing, powerful or brilliant. It's in the end just a solid film, hardly anything more. It has it's fair share of moments, a few wise monologues ("You're listening to me, but you can't hear me" or "Time has no price, but it's the most valuable thing of all"), yet it's assembled out of small vignettes that don't connect, and out of small episodes from life that weren't developed enough. If anything, actress Olga Pakalović made a smashing performance in her small, underused little role as the crazy aunt, a physic teacher who is never serious and even shows her middle finger (!) to strangers, and quite frankly she is so interesting it seems as if she should have been the main protagonist of the film, and not the inert 9-year old Goran.


Mobile Suit Gundam Wing

Shin kido senki Gundam W; Animated science-fiction series, Japan, 1995; D: Masashi Ikeda, S: Hikaru Midorikawa, Akiko Yujima, Ai Orikasa, Kae Araki

In the future, man kind builds outposts in space stations, the so called colonies. But people from Earth send an army in order to put them under their rule. In order to defend themselves, the colonies send Gundam robots on Earth, that are piloted by children Heero, Quatre, Duo, Trowa and Chang. There is also the evil organization Oz in which General Septem, Zechs, Hilde and Lady Une are especially notorious: they sabotage every peace talks between Earth and the colonies with terror. Heero enlists into a school and meets a girl, Relena. In the end, Gundam robots defeat Oz and establish peace.

The viewers will quickly become tired from this, unfortunately, only sufficient anime action science-fiction mecha series called "Gundam W", a remake of the popular show from the 1980's. All characters are animated in a very detailed way, but there is no chemistry between them, while the robots seem as if they came from the "Power Rangers". True, it's interesting to watch them fight with other mechanical monsters across such exotic locations like the Middle East or Africa, but the action is mostly inert whereas the biggest drag are dry and lifeless political and intrigue dialogues by General Septem, Zechs, Lady Une and others. Such retention of charm is horrible and really drains every joy from the story. The boy Heero is suppose to be a hero, like his name "hints", but the episode in which he uses his robot and accidentally destroys the plane with the chief pacifist in it who was suppose to bring peace, reveals him as that what he is - a murderer. There are some good points in this anime, yet everything is full of banality (Une throws a traitor from the flying plane - and then even shoots him in the air, just in case!) and the 49 episodes really seem overlong.


Monday, May 19, 2008

Flash Gordon

Flash Gordon ; Science-fiction, USA/ UK, 1980; D: Mike Hodges, S: Sam J. Jones, Melody Anderson, Max von Sydow, Topol, Ornella Muti, Timothy Dalton, Brian Blessed

Football star Flash Gordon boards a small plane together with the journalist Dale. But during their flight, storms start to gather and rocks falling from the sky, causing them to crash near a laboratory of Dr. Zarkov, who claims the disasters are caused by an alien force from space that will make the Moon collide with Earth. They board a rocket and go into space, going through a wormhole and landing on planet Mongo, where the evil dictator responsible for the disaster, Ming, has them arrested. Flash is executed, but Ming's daughter Aura brings him back to life and goes to the area of Prince Barin, who jealously tries to kill him. Still, they become friends and unite with Prince Vultan, leader of the falcon men, starting an attack with a rocket that crashes and kills Ming, just when he was about to marry Dale.

If anything, producer Dino De Laurentis at least succeeded that almost all of his films in his American phase stand out. "Flash Gordon", an adaptation of the comic book with the same title, is one of the trashy contributions to his resume. The opening title assembled out of inserts from the comic book and Queen's surreal song seems promising and charming, but when instead of epic scope and exciting adventures found in Filmation's animated "Flash Gordon: The Greatest Adventure of All" this movie presents campy style and silly scenes, the viewers will disappointingly conclude it isn't anything big. Not funny enough, lifeless, routine and somehow too much over-the-top at moments (the scene where Flash manages to defeat a dozen of Ming's soldiers by pretending to play football), equipped with a few cheap costumes (especially in the creation of the unrealistic lizard-men in rubber suits), "Gordon" is hardly anything more than a 'guilty pleasure', but, if one can simply forget about all the unused potentials, it can also be a lot of fun, undeniably deserving it's cult status. Max von Sydow is untypical in the role of the evil Ming, but has a sleazy charm while playing him, like in the scene where Dr. Zarkov asks him: "Why do you attack us?" and he answers him: "Why not?", while a few psychedelic color effects are neat. The movie is never as spectacular as it could have been, never showing for instance the Moon nearing the Earth, but it's very easily watchable.


Big Momma's House

Big Momma's House; Comedy, USA/ Germany, 2000; D: Raja Gosnell, S: Martin Lawrence, Nia Long, Jascha Washington, Paul Giamatti, Terrence Howard, Anthony Anderson, Ella Mitchell

FBI agent Malcolm Turner manages to uncover Chinese mafia disguised as a Chinese. His new assignment is to find criminal Lester, and it would be much easier if he could spy on his ex girlfriend Sherry and her little son Trent. Malcolm thus disguises himself in her grandmother in order to be with them in the house. Sherry doesn't even suspect her grandmother is a man, thus leads her around the town, lets her help when one girl gives birth, etc. When Lester returns, Malcolm arrests him, takes his mask off and gains Sherry.

Martin Lawrence shamelessly copied "Mrs. Doubtfire", "Victor/ Victoria", "The Nutty Professor" and a whole bunch of other cross dressing comedies in the cheap and despairing "Big Momma's House" that has only one good moment - the main protagonist, FBI agent, Malcolm disguises himself as Sherry's grandmother - and from there on it's all downhill. Still, the movie became a huge hit. The beginning is still tolerable and will probably gain a few sympathies and allure the viewers to expect at least a mediocre copy, but the rest quickly becomes hardly bearable due to idiotic ideas. Among those curiosities that stand out is the sequence where Malcolm is hiding behind a curtain while the real grandmother is using the toilet and farts or when Malcolm, disguised as Big Momma, is forced to help bring birth to a baby. The story is full of overused cliches and ideas of the above mentioned films, occasionally nasty and stupid humor, embarrassing posture and coldness, with only a few good moments, like when Big Momma plays basketball. Nia Long is all right in her role, but her despair can be sensed in all the abundance of weak jokes.


Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Piano

The Piano; drama, Australia / New Zealand / France, 1993; D: Jane Campion, S: Holly Hunter, Anna Paquin, Harvey Keitel, Sam Neill, Kerry Walker, Geneviève Lemon

Scotland, 19th century. Ada became mute ever since her husband died, thus now her little daughter Flora talks for her. When her father arranges a marriage for her, Ada leaves for New Zealand with Flora. There she meets her new husband, Stewart, but has to leave her beloved piano on the beach. The half wild George, who lives with the Maori and gave Stewart a part of his land, gets the piano and persuades Ada to give him piano lessons. Slowly, George seduces her and makes her lie naked in bed, but then gets ashamed afterwards and returns the piano to her. But she falls in love with him and Stewart cuts her finger off when he finds that out. Ada and Flora leave him and join George, dropping the piano in the sea.

"The Piano" is the most famous and representative movie by director Jane Campion who became the first woman to win the Golden Palm at Cannes thanks to it - shared with "Farewell My Concubine" - while the movie also won 3 Oscars (best actress Holly Hunter, supporting actress Anna Paquin, screenplay), one Golden Globe (actress Holly Hunter) and 3 BAFTA awards (actress Holly Hunter, costume and production design). It's a matter of a heavy, ambitious and demanding drama, with several erotic sequences, but refreshingly feminine and truly virtuoso directed, enriched with amazing landscapes of New Zealand and interesting art iconography filled with unusual camera angles, while the only weak spot is the tedious end. Already the sole exposition intrigues: besides the image of Ada holding her hands in front of her eyes, her voice of the narrator is heard: "The voice you hear comes inside me. I'm mute". Though Hunter never says a word during the entire film, except for that narration, her mimics exceptionally sum up everything there is to be said. Equally strong are the scenes in which Ada's fingers "play" on the table, imaging it's the piano, or when Flora tells how her father was killed by a stroke of lightning, and immediately there is a small animated insert of him burning out.


The Shawshank Redemption

The Shawshank Redemption; drama, USA, 1994; D: Frank Darabont, S: Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, Bob Gunton, William Sadler, Clancy Brown, Gil Bellows, Mark Rolston
In '47, the respectful Andy Dufresne gets charged for killing his wife and her lover, and despite circumstantial evidence, gets sentenced to life. He arrives at the notorious Shawshank prison and is shocked by the sheer brutality of the guards, who kill a convict one night. Andy makes friends with the Black Red who gets a rock hammer for him. But then he decides to make even more friends: since he was a banker, he advises the prison Captain Hadley how to transmit up to 60.000 $ without paying taxes and since the Warden Norton loves the Bible, he starts quoting Psalms. Slowly, Andy starts enjoying protection: when the convict Boggs attacks him, the guard beats him up to blood, whereas he even gets an easy job in the library. But when the Warden discovers Andy is indeed innocent since the real killer of his wife lands in the prison, he decides not to let him go since he earns a lot of illegal money due to his assistance. In '66 Andy digs out a tunnel and escapes, taking all the money from the fund and accusing the head guard, who gets arrested, and the Warden, who commits suicide. Red gets released.

Tied with "The Shawshank Redemption", there lies a fascinating trivia: with an average grade of an incredible 9.2/10, it ranks as the 2nd best movie of all time on IMDb's top 250 list. That's undeniably exaggerated and overhyped, but it really is an excellent film, an impressive, serious prison drama nominated for 7 Oscars and 2 Golden Globes that contains a positive plot twist at the end that needs to be remembered. The violent and depressive beginning is very gruelling, and many viewers will wrongly assume the whole story is going to be like that all the time, but the film becomes very interesting when the main protagonist Andy boldly starts making friends with the brutal prison guard and the Warden, helping them earn money: from there on, they start protecting him and giving him a special place in the prison, making the story incredibly multi layered. One of the themes of the film is to show the fascinating way the hero manages to settle down and manage in that system, landing, like a cat, always on his feet. Some would think he is a weakling, but it really demands a lot of character to make a friend out of an enemy. The other theme is his uncorrupted nature even in such harsh place like the prison, thus making the allegorical ending with a sweet twist really smashing in this virtuoso written and intelligent film. Despite some flaws, there are also so many powerful little moments present throughout, from the tragic supporting character Brooks who gets released from jail after over 50 years and seems so lost and lonely in freedom that he commits suicide, up to the brave sequence where Red tells the parole officers to finally make a decision about his release or "stop wasting his time", while Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman are brilliant and prove to be one of the most underrated actors of their generation.


Saturday, May 17, 2008

Battle in Heaven

Batalla en el cielo; drama, Mexico / France / Germany, 2005; D: Carlos Reygadas, S: Marcos Hernández, Anapola Mushkadiz, Bertha Ruiz, David Bornstein, Rosalinda Ramirez

An overweight man, Marcos, stands naked while a woman, Ana, is performing fellatio to him. The army performs a patriotic ceremony. Marcos stands with his obese wife Bertha in a subway hall, where she sells things, and mentions how the baby they kidnapped died. Tormented, he goes driving through the road, ending up in bed with prostitute Ana, the daughter of his boss. He mentions the crime to her and tells her not to tell anyone. Plagued by his guilt, he decides to turn himself in, even though Bertha is against it. He meets Ana with another man and stabs her, then walks on his knees, like a pilgrimage, to Guadalupe, where he dies.

The second film by director Carols Reygadas is a meditative, almost magical piece of movie poetry that finds beauty in the ugly. But already in the opening shot does the author hint that one must have an open mind in order to enjoy it: it shows the face of an slightly overweight man, Marcos, then the camera goes down revealing he is naked, then even further, revealing a woman, Ana, is performing fellatio to him. At first, it may seem vulgar, but somehow, when the camera slowly comes closer and zooms in on Ana's face while doing it, eventually coming face to face with her, composing her closed eyes over the entire screen, while that enchanting music is playing in the background, it seems as if there is something magical in that primal act, as if it makes us understand it, trying to show how even that's part of life.

There is no plot in the everyday drama revolving around the sluggish hero, since it just consists out of vignettes in which Marcos is walking through the town, and even the kidnapping of the baby is never shown, just mentioned occasionally in a few words, yet the images are so hypnotic they will take you on a whole plot of its own. The movie earned quite a few negative remarks due to the sequence where the overweight Marcos has intercourse with the even more obese wife Bertha, but during the whole time, Reygadas never plunges into the grotesque territory, but always seems sincere and keeps his characters touching, imperfect like real humans. Even though this is technically a crime film with an erotic touch, during the whole time it slowly builds a method of its own, transforming into a quiet, contemplative essay about life. Nobody knows why Marcos suddenly climbs up a hill in one scene while the camera pans across the sky and shows a cross, but there is something dreamy in the way it is done. Even though the ending is pointless, the whole film is like a subconscious dream with virtuoso direction, but it seems people should watch it alone and judge it without interference by the wider audience.


Friday, May 16, 2008

Record of Lodoss War

Lodoss to senki; Animated fantasy series, Japan, 1990, D: Akio Sakai, Akinori Nagaoka, S: Takeshi Aono, Rica Fukami, Tessho Genda, Sho Hayami, Shuichi Ikeda

Somewhere on some alternate world in Medieval times, many counts and dukes fight for the island Lodoss. Young knight Parn, together with wizard Slain, dwarf Gim and female elf Deedlit, travels through Lodoss to liberate it from the mysterious witch Karla. On their way they slay a dragon, free a village from Trols and save princess Fiana from the witch. Resting in a castle, Deedlit falls in love with Parn. But Karla organizes unseen wars and in the end kills both kings of separate kingdoms. Parn discovers that Karla is actually obsessed with evil powers of a crown that controls her - when he takes her crown off, she becomes a good person, but Gim dies in a battle. A new enemy infuriate a giant dragon, forcing the inhabitants of Lodoss to slay it, and then kidnaps Deedlit and wants to use her to destroy the island. But then Parn shows himself and stops him, rescuing Deedlit. Everyone celebrates him and he leaves with her.

310 minutes long 13-part Sword and sorcery anime series "Record of Lodoss War" that handles the theme of fictional Medieval wars fought on Lodoss island seems to be draining a lot of inspiration from Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" and has an excellent finale, but for the most part it's simply too mild. Many fantasy elements end up conventional, but some stand out, like the inspiring juggling with landscapes, noticeable in the opening titles where the two protagonists observe a giant dragon emerging from the clouds from a distance and landing on a mountain. A majority of the characters are pale and sluggish, talking only about dry plans of attacks and battles, which in the end makes the detailed world seem rather grey. Still, one character stands out with ease: it the sympathetic blond female elf with long sharp ears, Deedlit, voiced phenomenally by Rica Fukami, adding a refreshing dose of charm, though even she shows her three dimensional posture in a few scenes, like when she dances with Parn and jokingly comments: "Uh, it's really hard to always senselessly giggle at parties!"


Heaven Can Wait

Heaven Can Wait; Comedy, USA, 1943; D: Ernst Lubitsch, S: Don Ameche, Gene Tierney, Charles Coburn, Marjorie Main, Laird Cregar, Spring Byington

After his death, Henry decides to automatically and voluntarily report to Hell. At the doorway, shaped like a library, he meets some man called "His Excellency", and tells him about his life: he was born in the 19th century in New York, and already as a young boy he was crazy about the girls. When he kissed one, he had to conclude with shock that he must also marry her, but his French teacher explained him those were only old traditions. When he was 15, she showed him the Moulin Rouge and was thus fired from her post. With 26, Henry married Martha, the fiance of nephew Albert. Martha left him with 36 because she suspected he was cheating on her, but returned to him eventually. She died on their 25th anniversary of marriage. Henry's son Jackie became angry when he continued to hunt for women at night. But His Excellency concludes that Henry isn't that bad and sends him to Heaven.

Ernst Lubitsch, the director of many excellent films, obviously decided to imply in the satire "Heaven Can Wait" how love urges and lust don't have to be a sin for the main character Henry, a Casanova wanna be, but he didn't manage to use the full potential of his intimate life to the maximum. The first third of the film works in virtuoso fashion: Henry voluntarily reports to the lobby of Hell, thinking he is doomed anyway due to his life as a womanizer, but he gets received by some man called "His Excellency", who tells him: "Oh, Mr. Henry! Come in! Sorry for having to wait, but lately as if the whole world is going to Hell!" The main story is then told, showing in flashbacks his life, ever since he was crazy about girls as a kid up to his life as an young lad who meets Martha for the first time, who insists on buying the book "How to make your man happy", but he shows her the picture of the author, a grouchy old hag, and thus asks her how such a woman can ever make a man happy. The movie has wit, but, unfortunately, the viewer doesn't get the impression that he is a real womanizer because he is seen only with two girls, thus making it seem the writers were to shy to elaborate on the tricky subject. Too much babble, conventional tone and heavy ellipses in the story sabotage the impression, as well as the lack of points.


Thursday, May 15, 2008

Madame DuBarry

Madame DuBarry; silent drama, Germany, 1919; D: Ernst Lubitsch, S: Pola Negri, Emil Jannings, Harry Liedtke, Eduard von Winterstein, Reinhold Schünzel, Else Berna

Paris, 18th century. Jeanne Bécu is an ordinary girl working in a footwear shop. She gets the assignment to deliver a hat until 5 pm, but she oozes off by flirting with her boyfriend Armand De Foix in his home. When the king and his servants pass by the streets, her hat gets destroyed, but a Spanish descant named Don Diego gets so fascinated by her beauty he invites her to diner. She agrees and meets the high class Jean du Barry, moving to his house after Armand kills Diego in an act of jealousy. In order to rid himself of 100,000 Livres of debt, du Barry sends her to seduce minister Choiseul and make him "forget" about the debt. She fails, but accidentally meets king Louis XV who also gets fascinated by her beauty. She becomes his mistress and gets presented to the court. After Louis XV dies of small poxes, Louis XVI expels her. She is arrested by the Revolutionary Tribunal and gets executed by guillotine.

"Madame DuBarry", also known as "Passion", is an unknown and early silent drama by director Ernst Lubitsch, panned by a large number of critics who lamented that it lacks that special "Lubitsch touch", yet it definitely doesn't lack that special "cinema touch". It's an elegant history piece revolving around the rise and fall of the famous Madame DuBarry, the embodiment of "marriage out of interest" and polyandry, who achieved her whole succes by jumping from one influential lover to another. Pola Negri isn't that dashing as she should have been for the reputation of the irresistible title heroine, yet she plays her nicely. Thanks to the mischievous tone and energetic nature of DuBarry, Lubitsch crafted a film that almost seems like a comedy at moments, like in the diner scene where Don Diego gets so carried away by DuBarry's beauty he kisses her, but she suddenly becomes cold and formal, making him back off - only to burst in laughter a few seconds later and kiss him on the cheek. Not to mention the pseudo erotic scene where the king Louis XV takes a roll of paper out of DuBarry's cleavage, reads it is a debt, signs it off with a smile, rolls it back and returns it back into her cleavage. Some of the dialogues are shrill as well ("You will do it for 100,000 Livres." - "100,000 Livres? For that kind of money I would marry the devil's grandmother!"), the costumes are fine and the narration is fluent. Maybe the film isn't a classic and one might say the finale with the scenes of thousands of extras on the street seems uneven since it crosses into epic, yet the story works as a whole.


To Be or Not to Be

To Be or Not to Be; comedy, USA, 1942; D: Ernst Lubitsch, S: Jack Benny, Carole Lombard, Robert Stack, Stanley Bridges, Felix Bressart, Lionel Atwill

Warsaw, '39. Hitler is carelessly walking through the streets. But it's not Hitler, just a Polish actor who came out of the local theater in order to convince the director how he resembles the dictator so much that he will scare off passerbys. But the play gets forbidden and now only "Hamlet" is performed there, played by Joseph Tura. Every time when he starts his monologue "To Be or Not to Be", soldier Stanislav disappears in order to seduce his wife, Maria Tura. But then World War II starts and Germans occupy the town, forcing Stanislav to flee to London. Yet he quickly returns in order to stop Professor Siletsky, a Nazi spy who wants to smuggle a list of Resistance workers. Joseph disguises himself as a Nazi and takes his list away. The Professor realizes the deceit, so they kill him. Joseph thus disguises himself as the Professor, so the actors are forced to save him from the Gestapo headquarters. Joseph and Maria, together with the actor playing Hitler, manage to board a plane and save themselves in London.

Excellent comedy "To Be or Not to Be", with an ingeniously simple idea of disguise in order to get out of any problem, is besides Chaplin's "The Great Dictator" the biggest (and most actual) Hollywood commentary on the Nazi dictatorship back then, and on the ideologies of dictatorships in general. The whole film is masterfully directed by Ernst Lubitsch, equipped with his trademark "Lubitsch touch", wonderfully played by everyone involved, including the actress Carole Lombard, while almost every single controversial moment is handled with unbelievable measure and wisdom. It all starts with the voice of the narrator, full of irony: "Lubinski, Kubinski...We're in Warsaw, the capital of Poland. Europe is still at peace", while the highlights start already with the scene of an actor playing Hitler, announcing: "I salute myself".

The story obviously has sympathy for the Resistance workers who fight against their country being occupied by irredentists, whereas the best twist is probably the scene where actor Joseph disguises himself as the Nazi Professor, not knowing that the Nazis already discovered the real Professor is already dead: in order to spice up the situation, they put him in the same room with the corpse of the Professor (!), but Joseph even finds a way to get out of this pinch, by disputing even this situation. The finale, with one of the actors disguising themselves as Hitler (!) in order to ensure his entire group to board a plane and escape, is unbelievable, equipped with already now classic joke where this fake Hitler asks the two Nazi pilots to jump off the plane, which they simply do. Rarely has there ever been a movie that goes so over the top, and pushes the envelope so far, and yet always stays within class and good taste throughout. Like a real satire, "To Be or Not to Be" doesn't mock a nation or specific people, but just their wrong beliefs and misguided policies, not managing to be completely hilarious as it wants to, even though its own concept already causes chuckles, and even has dramatic moments, inspiring a whole bunch of Nazi satires, most of which were simply half a century too late to have any sharpness as this one.


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

What a Wonderful Place

Eize Makom Nifla; Drama, Israel, 2005; D: Eyal Halfon, S: Uri Gavriel, Evelyn Kaplun, Avi Oriah, Raymond Bagatsing, Yossi Graber, Yoav Hait, Chedpong Laoyant, Mymy Davao, Marina Choif, Evelin Hagoel

Franco, an ex-cop, now works for a mobster in order to repay his debt. He gathers numerous girls from Eastern Europe, among them Jana and Julia, and smuggles them across the border into Israel in order to force them to become prostitutes. At home, he pretends to be a normal family man. Yet, he becomes friends with Jana and is touched by her story about her daughter...Philippine immigrants Eddie and Nenny want to have a baby, but can't due to their infertility. In order to pay for the treatment, Eddie nurses the old Mr. Aloni, who is bound to a wheelchair. Eddie goes to gamble, but his wife protests, and thus the mobster, owner of the casino, puts out a cigarette on her head...Zeltzer is an overweight plantation owner who employs numerous foreign workers, among others Vissit. He discovers his wife is cheating on him. In the end, Franco releases all the prostitutes and the police arrest him and all the pimps who held them. Mr. Aloni shoots the mobster and then kills himself.

Anthology drama "What a Wonderful Place" is another quality made film from Israel equipped with fine pace, realistic characters, smooth structure and touching moments, but it came just a few years too late after similar works from Iñárritu, Altman and Haggis. Quite simply, the three separate, but intertwined stories revolving around foreign workers in Israel are well conceptualized, becoming one in the end, yet somehow not that gripping since the viewers are already used to that trick. Also, one story, the one revolving around Zeltzer, is wavering and could have easily been eliminated, since the highlight is definitely the one revolving around the Eastern European girls who were forced to prostitution: there the director Eyal Halfon shows himself in top notch form, never resorting to empty pace like in the rest of the two stories. Evelyn Kaplun shines there as Jana and Uri Gavriel as her captivator Franco, working for her pimp, but they somehow become friends. In the best scene of the film, Franco is eating a sandwich but some mayonnaise falls on his pants. He tries to clean up the stain, but can't, thus one of the prostitutes takes a bottle of alcohol and a napkin and tries to remove it for him, but accidentally spills it and makes an ever bigger stain, making all the girls erupt in laughter. Franco doesn't know what to do and takes his pants off on demand of one of the girls who wants to wash it, but just then his colleagues enters the room and spots him with his pants down, making the girls laugh even harder. It's a wonderful moment because it's so real and authentic, and it would have been great if the film had more of them, though Franco's transformation into a good guy fits well into the theme of redemption.



Flirting; Drama, Australia, 1991; D: John Duigan, S: Noah Taylor, Thandie Newton, Nicole Kidman, Bartholomew Rose, Felix Nobis, Josh Picker

Australia, '65. Danny Embelton is attending a harsh boarding school for boys in which the strict teachers often even physically punish the students. Also, school bullies often pick on him, thus his only friend is Gilbert. On the other side of the lake, there is an school for girls that just got a new student - a Black girl from Uganda, Thandiwe, who quickly falls in love with Danny. The young couple is looked at with discredit by the popular girl Nicola who has a relationship with the football player. After unrests in her homeland, Thandiwe decides to return to Uganda, but tricks the school - by leaving a day earlier in order to meet secretly with Danny in a hotel. The teachers find that out and expel Danny from the school.

Humorous romantic drama with the memorable title "Flirting" is today remembered mostly due to the fact that the young Nicole Kidman played one of the supporting roles in it and that Anderson said that it was part of inspiration for making his film "Rushmore". It's a pity that it's a forgotten film since it's a quality made coming of age drama, with uneven, forced and ungainly style however, but also with a fine nostalgic thread. The best parts are the one which include surreal scenes (when the hero Danny imagines his strict teacher in a Nazi uniform or when he talks with Sartre), while the romantic side is very sustained and lifeless, though the finale in which Thandiwe deceives her school under the pretext that she is going back to Uganda - but actually leaves a day earlier in order to spend her time with Danny in a motel and loose her virginity - is fabulous and almost managed to capture the magic of first love. With a little more of such details, this could have easily been a great film, yet the messy structure of the story and the unnecessary narration bring it down a notch.


Tuesday, May 13, 2008


Singles; Romantic comedy, USA, 1992; D: Cameron Crowe, S: Campbell Scott, Kyra Sedgwick, Bridget Fonda, Matt Dillon, Sheila Kelley, Jim True-Frost, Bill Pullman, James LeGros, Devon Raymond

Seattle. The young Linda just bought a house and became independent, but also a single. Accidentally, she meets some Spanish man with whom she starts a relationship, but he breaks her heart. Thus she is at first repulsive when she meets the charming Steve who flirts with her, but still starts a relationship with him. At the same time, in Steve's neighborhood, Janet's life and her relationship with rocker Cliff is in a crisis, while Debbie tries to meet the love of her life through an agency with video recordings. Both Linda and Janet break up with their boyfriends, but eventually renew them.

Shining comedy "Singles" isn't an ordinary film. Besides the fact that director Cameron Crowe showed an admirable talent in the funny story, that reminds a little bit of Wilder and Allen, he also, with an easy hand, managed to capture the perfect description of independence of the young generation and a sense for their sensibility. Unpretentious, miraculously simple, alive, crazy, slightly daft, this film in it's portrait of finding love is as sweet as the first kiss, whereas it has a whole bunch of subplots with spirit (for instance, after Janet (fantastic Bridget Fonda) asks her lover Cliff: "Are my breasts too small for you?" and he replies with: "...Sometimes", she decides to undergo a plastic surgery and enlarge her bust) and foolish jokes (in a matchmaking agency Debbie hires a weird director and films a "video for presentation" in which she is shown under shower and then flying above Seattle) while it isn't even ashamed of a few sympathetic failed scenes. "Singles" are a small forgotten masterpiece, a simple slice of life story revolving around imperfect heroes with heart in which the best role has been achieved by Bridget Fonda as the insecure Janet, whose name gets written on the table by hundreds of rose petals by her lover in just one of a bunch of charming scenes. There are a lot of interesting things in the world, but it's always nice to see a movie that shows how humans beings can still the most interesting of all miracles.


Bonnie and Clyde

Bonnie and Clyde; crime drama, USA, 1967; D: Arthur Penn, S: Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, Gene Hackman, Michael J. Pollard, Estelle Parsons, Denver Pyle, Dub Taylor, Gene Wilder

In '31 the rebellious waitress Bonnie spots criminal Clyde from her window, while he is trying to steal a car. Very quickly she joins him and they become robbers, although in the very first bank they don't find anything since it went bankrupt. In a gas station, they meet mechanic Moss who also joins them, as well as Clyde's brother Buck and his wife Blanche. The five of them robs banks throughout America and hides in various hotels. After they reached notorious status, Buck gets killed in a police ambush, while Blanche gets arrested, thus forcing Bonnie and Clyde to hide in Moss' house. In '34 the police shoots down and kills Bonnie and Clyde on a field.

With this masterful crime ballade director Arthur Penn reconstructed the life of the notorious couple that could have easily been called 'the criminal Romeo and Juliet', breaking a lot of taboos for the 1960's and opening a new path for "New Hollywood", not caring if the movie is directed in an uneven way as long as it's unusual: "Bonnie and Clyde" were thus nominated for 7 Golden Globes, including best picture and director, won 2 Oscars (supporting actress Estelle Parsons, cinematography) and 2 BAFTA awards (most promising newcomers Faye Dunaway and Michael J. Pollard). Penn and screenwriters Newman, Benton and Towne slightly sympathize for the criminal duo and the direction isn't as strong as the juicy written screenplay, but it finds just the right measure in their lives that end tragically - thus the last sequence is shot in slow motion. Clyde (great Warren Beatty) is truly an unusual antihero - he cut off his two toes so that he wouldn't have to work, and when Bonnie starts passionately kissing him after he stole the car, he stops her in a gentleman way because he has "good manners", implying he had troubles with impotence. Comedian Gene Wilder has a small cameo somewhere in the middle of the film as the victim whose car has been stolen, while Gene Hackman is hilarious in the scene where he makes grimaces while Bonnie reads about an ugly woman. Bizarre, chaotic, restless, messy and totally wild, this is a movie that isn't for everyones taste, and was thus panned by the critics in 1967, but one has to respect the authors for bravely trying to break with every single conventional rule that made the cinema so stiff before.


Monday, May 12, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom; adventure, USA, 1984; D: Steven Spielberg, S: Harrison Ford, Kate Capshaw, Jonathan Ke Quan, Amrish Puri, Roshan Seth, Philip Stone, Roy Chiao, David Yip, Ric Young, Chua Kah Joo, Dan Aykroyd

Shanghai, '35. While trying to trade the remains of Nurhaci for a diamond, Indiana Jones gets poisoned and barely manages to save himself from a wicked club, bringing along the blond club singer Willie and a small kid named Shorty. The board a plane and crash somewhere in the Himalayas, coming to an Indian village where a sacred stone and all the children have been mysteriously stolen. The trio goes to the local Pankot Palace and discovers a hidden underground temple where the sect leader Mola Ram who wants to create his own religion and rule the world. Jones is able to escape, cut a bridge and throw him down the river, free the children and end up with Willie.

Prequel "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" is a step back compared to the acclaimed and smooth original: unlike the first film, that managed to smoothly lift itself up from the B serials it was inspired by, this 2nd film throws our hero into pure trash hidden beneath a big budget. The screenplay by Willard Huyck is a shabby excuse to bring back the beloved adventurer - since it's a prequel, the story could have explored his unrevealed relationship with Marion, but instead replaced her with the silly blond Willie (Kate Capshaw) who acts as a dumb humorous side character, becoming "funny" when falling into trouble, but the top of stupidity is reached by letting the annoying, whinny kid Shorty join the team - there is simply no reason for him to be there. He is just a cliche of a sidekick that embodies the infantile. After a fast and dynamic exposition, where the uneven trio escapes from Shanghai thanks to an airplane by their associate Weber (Dan Aykroyd in a too small, 5 seconds long cameo), they land in India's territory and seem to fall into Bollywood. Instead of trying to top the first film with magic and intelligent writing, the authors topped it in all the wrong areas - in disgusting trash and campy exaggerations. While in the first film there was a character who found dozens of spiders on his shirt, here we have millions of slimy insect crawling on the floor, and not to mention the tasteless, infamous diner sequence where the guests are served with, among others, a cooked snake that gets sliced open only to reveal little black snakes coming out of it: in the scene where a man is swallowing those snakes alive, it seems Spielberg must have been hypnotized by trash king Corman. The movie is de facto four action sequences glued together, only enriched with occasional style, though it seems better thanks to the good finale that went back on the right tracks. Tastes vary, but "The Temple of Doom" is as much of a treat as the frozen monkey brains served in the diner sequence.