Sunday, December 26, 2010

Project A-ko

Project A-ko; Animated science-fiction comedy, Japan, 1986; D: Katsuhiko Nishijima, S: Miki Ito, Emi Shinohara, Michie Tomizawa, Shuichi Ikeda, Tessho Genda, Megumi Hayashibara

Two transfer students, teenage girls, red-haired A-ko and blond C-ko, are late for school. So A-ko starts running with super-human speed, holding C-ko, and they manage to get on time. However, the teacher is annoyed by them while their classmate, B-ko, has a crush on C-ko and thus challenges A-ko for a duel. It turns out A-ko also has super-human strength and destroys every robot she makes. Still, B-ko matches her with a strong suit and a battle erupts which destroys half of school and town. Just then, an alien spaceship shows up and kidnaps C-ko because she is their long lost princess. A-ko and B-ko rescue her and crash the spaceship on Earth.

"Project A-ko" is a fun and "cartoonish" parody of numerous anime shows and films from the 70s and 80s (the teacher, Mrs. Ayumi, looks like the title character of "Magical Angel Creamy Mami"; the Captain of the spaceship is a drunk version of Captain Harlock; characters from "Urusei Yatsura" appear in the cinema scene), some parts being executed with such audacity that it secured it a status of a cult classic and an anime institution in the 80s. As a whole, the film isn't so funny as some claim it is - some gags, like the one where Kentucky Fried Chicken's Colonel Sanders (!) appears in a horror film in the cinema scene or the last minute introduction of A-ko's parents (pay attention to the newspaper her dad is reading, or you might miss the joke!) are quietly hilarious, while others are rather sparse or thin or you simply won't recognize them if you are not familiar with the anime subculture - whereas the "loose" story seems to be written as we go. The best part of "Project A-ko", by far, is hidden in the last 30 minutes: the fight between the super strong A-ko and the super strong suit which is wearing B-ko quickly reaches epic levels and tops even budspenceresque fights when half of the school and the town get leveled to the ground. Actually, it seems as if the authors enjoyed wrecking everything there is to wreck, when they crammed even mecha and aliens in the finale, yet the sequence where A-ko is jumping from one flying fighter jet to another, and then even hops from a missile to missile to reach the spaceship above her, is a rare example of inspirational wackiness.


Friday, December 24, 2010

Into the Wild

Into the Wild; Roadmovie/ drama, USA, 2007; D: Sean Penn, S: Emile Hirsch, Marcia Gay Harden, William Hurt, Jena Malone, Catherine Keener, Brian H. Dierker, Vince Vaughn, Kristen Stewart, Hal Holbrook

After graduating, the 22-year old Christopher McCandless, disgusted by civilization's rigid controls and norms, quits his entire lifestyle and leaves home without telling his parents or sister. Equipped with just a backpack, he travels by foot from California to Alaska in order to live in nature. On his way, he meets numerous individuals: a middle-aged hippie couple, a harvest farmer and a retired man, Ron. Finally in Alaska, he settles in an abandoned bus in the forest. But he has trouble finding food and accidentally eats a poisonous plant. He dies there.

Sean Penn's 4th directorial work, "Into the Wild" has some artistic value because it presents quite an unusual (true!) story, about Christopher McCandless, a young lad who was disgusted by civilization and went to live in the wilderness, without any contact with society. In portraying such an audacious story - where McCandless de facto became "Robinson Crusoe" in America's Mainland - Penn coped well with the subject, avoiding the trap of romanticizing it too much, even though it is obvious he admired his protagonist for his courage to live "free" (it is difficult to take the story as "ideal" when McCandless cuts all his credit cards, passes through a river during winter and slowly starves from hunger because the flies ruined his meat from a moose) whereas the cinematography captured some beautiful images of nature. However, the film has two big flaws: it seems too episodic and too long. The episodic feel is also apparent in "unnecessary" small scenes - it's as if the camera shot absolutely everything, and then they decided to cram it all into the film, from some cowboys standing on the street through a train passing through the railroad up to some crab walking in the sand. There are echoes of Herzog and Malick, but not with their sense to fit these images naturally into the film. Likewise, with 140 minutes of running times, the film drags slightly towards the end. Still, it is ambitious while Hal Halbrook's appearance near the end is a small delight.


Thursday, December 23, 2010

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives

Lung Bunmi Raluek Chat; Drama, Thailand, 2010; D: Apichatpong Weerasethakul, S: Thanapat Saisaymar, Jenjira Pongpas, Sakda Kaewbuadee

Aging uncle Boonmee, who suffers from kidney failure, drives with his family to a small village near the rainforest. One evening, while he was having dinner with Jen and Thong, the ghost of his deceased wife, Huay, shows up, and then the ghost of his deceased son Boonsong, in the form of a monkey. The latter tells him he made photos of the monkey ghost, but merged himself with it in the end. Boonmee thinks his sickness is karma for killing so many communists when he was young. He goes to a cave where he tells about his dream of the future. He then dies. Tong becomes a Buddhist monk. While he was watching TV with Jen, their doubles went to a karaoke bar.

Winner of the Golden Palm in Cannes, "Uncle Boonmee" is another hermetic and very minimalistic film by director Apichatpong Weerasethakul - calm, smooth and almost without a plot. The opening dreamy sequence with a cow escaping into the rainforest at night, and with the dark figure ghost whose red eyes sparkle in the night, connects with his best film, "Tropical Malady", where he went far into the spheres of subconsciousness and realm of the senses, yet the last two thirds of the films recapture that feeling only to a certain extent, maybe not even 50 % of it. Not so much a story about ghosts visiting the title hero as much as it is a platform for showing people of Thailand coping with the clash between the tradition and modern, cold civilisation, "Uncle Boonmee" is overstretched and without a clear point - Weerasethakul's bizarreness even seems more natural than it would have been in some other director's hands (the weird scene of a princess mating with a catfish in a lake), yet here its delight is smaller, with only small crumbs of poetic moments (minerals illuminated in the walls of the cave). "Uncle Boonmee" is a quality film, yet doesn't have that indestructible enchanting power that adorns only those 1 % of special films in cinema, as it was the case with the magical "Tropical Malady" by the same director.


Sunday, December 19, 2010

Breakfast at Tiffany's

Breakfast at Tiffany's; drama, USA, 1961; D: Blake Edwards, S: Audrey Hepburn, George Peppard, Patricia Neal, Buddy Ebsen, Martin Balsam, Mickey Rooney
New York. Holly Golightly, a young partygirl who pays her rent by going out or hanging out with gentlemen who give her money, meets an aspiring writer, Paul Varjak, who moves in just in the apartment above her. Paul instantly likes her, but is increasingly appalled by her lifestyle, since she openly admits that she wants to marry only a rich man. He finds out she has divorced in Texas and left a movie agent just a day before she was about to make a film. Holly intends to marry a tycoon from Rio De Janeiro, but due to a scandal he leaves her, fearing for his reputation. Just as she was about to leave anyway, she returns and falls for Paul.

One of Blake Edwards' better films, a loose adaptation of Truman Capote's novel with the same title, "Breakfast at Tiffany's" is still a charming humorous drama about two outsiders who find their way together that, despite some rough edges in the minority—Mickey Rooney's portrait of the Asian landlord that borders on heavy caricature and seems more like Cato from "The Pink Panther" series, an occasional corny dialogue, occasionally stiff performance by actor George Peppard—has a lot of things going for it in the majority and thus gave Audrey Hepburn the most recognizable role of her career, for which she was nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe as best actress. When Edwards isn't trying to force (banal) humor into the film (at a party, Holly's cigarette accidentally puts some lady's hat on fire; a drunk madam is talking with herself in the mirror...), he shows a surprisingly emotional and honest sense for its two sad heroes. As a matter of fact, he even hints at a small socially critical note aimed at social hierarchy based on money.

It has been widely debated at what exactly Holly's "profession" really is, ranging from that she is a prostitute up to that she is only a partygirl; the first doesn't seem that far fetched since such harsh themes were only possible in a milder version in the 60s, and there is a great little sequence where Holly exits from her bathroom window, away from her date, a drunk man who is pounding on the door, and walks the stairs up to spot Paul sleeping in his bed, while his "mistress", an older, rich lady, leaves him some money. Some saw symbolism in it, though in the end the story leans more towards  that Holly is actually a "gold digger" who is nearing older age—and thus also nearing the end of her good looks, forcing her to choose whether to settle and marry someone who is rich or someone whom she loves. Hollywood happy endings are often too contrived and "too safe", but this is one rare example where no other ending would have suited the film better than here: besides a fantastic little line ("I'm in love with you." - "So what?" - "So what...? So plenty!"), it has a fantastic romantic spark —just imagine that the cat is a symbol for Holly's humanity - then pay attention what happens when she kicks it out of the taxi—whereas the song "Moon River" by Henry Mancini is simply perfect.


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Will & Grace

Will & Grace; Comedy series, USA, 1998-2006; D: James Burrows, S: Eric McCormack, Debra Messing, Sean Hayes, Megan Mullally, Shelley Morrison

"You're so gay you're Marvin Gaye!" With that sentence, lawyer Will Truman finally admitted to himself that he is attracted to men, even though he was in a relationship with Grace Adler when they were younger. The two of them still remained friends and occasionally shared an apartment in New York. Will's former lover, Jack MacFarlane, is an aspiring gay actor with a shrill attitude who often drops by at his place, often to tell a joke about lesbians. Grace works as a decorator while her assistant is the lazy Karen, wife of a tycoon. After numerous misadventures, Grace thinks she found the love of her life, Leo. However, they split up. In the end, Will and Grace's friendship ends, but their kids fall in love.

In one scene, just after his performance on stage, Jack asks Karen: "Did you like my penis monologues?", upon which she replies with: "Nah, I'm not such a big fan of ventriloquism". In another scene, Will is sitting naked on the couch, reading a book that just about cowers his genitals; just then, Grace suddenly enters his apartment and asks: "Couldn't you just buy a bookmark?" These are just two examples of uncontrollable, untrammelled, explosive hilariousness that simply cannot be ignored - it's so contagious, once the viewers are engaged, they get addicted. Nominated for a Golden Globe in five categories and honored with a 3rd place by the TV ratings in 2000, "Will & Grace" is a fun comedy series that tackles the gay topic in an unobtrusive and natural way, even when spoofing its cliches. This is the show "Ellen" should have been: most of the praise goes to the inspiring director James Burrows who excellently knows how to extract style even from movements or small gestures of the actors. Rarely do you get a series that works with young artists and immediately gives four lifetime roles for its four main actors. A lot of credit should also be given to writers David Kohan and Max Mutchnick, who wrote some insanely good dialogues, lines so funny and stimulative they seem like music to ears of a comedy fan: in one episode, for instance, Karen reads some magazine and says out loud: "Oh Minnie Driver, who ever told you, you could pull off a leather jumpsuit?" (though Driver did eventually have a small role in the series later on).

In another, Karen talks with a middle-aged lesbian and says: "Honey, we are all lesbians when the right man isn't around", and she even calls the short Leslie "Seed of Chucky". These are all just small examples of sizzling lines in the series, while actors Eric McCromack, Debra Messing and Megan Mullally are excellent, with Sean Hayes being very good, though his character Jack may not be for everyone's taste due to his often too caricature nature and squeaky voice. Some celebrity cameos in the series were surprisingly refreshing, like the one by Woody Harrelson, but with time too many cameos started to seem contrived, unnecessary and lax, many making no sense - it is difficult to believe, but the writers didn't even manage to create anything more than a decent role for Sandra Bernhard - how can you miss the potentials of her cult charisma? Likewise, "Will & Grace" started to lose steam as the show progressed, which is why the last two seasons were routine, pointless, empty and an unworthy farewell to the show. Still, in its best days, this was an unbelievably funny show, while it even managed to insert a substantial amount of emotional care for its characters, especially in the caring friendship between the two title protagonists (i.e. in episode "AI - Artificial Insemination", Grace decided to sleep with gay Will in order to have a baby with him, much to his discomfort).


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Naked Among Wolves

Nackt unter Wölfen; War drama, Germany, 1963; D: Frank Beyer, S: Erwin Geschonneck, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Krystyn Wójcik, Fred Delmare, Viktor Avdyushko

The final days of World War II. Prisoners in the Buchenwald concentration camp hear the rumors that the Soviets are marching from the East, while the Americans are marching from the West, passing Rhine river. A Polish prisoner smuggles a little Jewish boy, born in Auschwitz, in the camp, while prisoners Höfel and Kropinski promise to take care of him and hide it, even though he is a burden for the prisoners who plan a rebellion. A Nazi commander discovers the boy, but decides to let him live, hoping it will assure him a bonus after the American victory. However, the other Nazi officers have no mercy and start searching for the boy, torturing Höfel and Kropinski. In April, the commanders start evacuations of the camp. Just then, the rebellion starts and frees numerous prisoners.

An extremely brave and honest film, "Naked Among Wolves" is a dark adaptation of the biographical novel with the same name by Bruno Apitz, who personally spent 8 years in the Buchenwald concentration camp. Director Frank Beyer crafts the film as an allegory of integrity and humanity, though he let's it seem more as a "prison film" than a "detention camp film", with sometimes scarce examples of horror - one of the few truly scary moments, except for the main tangle where a little boy spent his whole life in camps, is when the prisoners are fighting to get a bowl of food or the interesting observation of conversations of the camp commanders who question whether they should kill the prisoners or let them live, knowing the advancing American army will inevitably held them responsible after the war - which dilutes the dark mood, but only slightly. All the actors are in top-notch shape, especially Armin-Mueller Stahl, whereas the set-design conjured up a realistic and chilling feeling of the camp. The film may be slightly overstretched and lax at times, yet it is a valuable document of self-admittance, an intelligent, ambitious and complex piece of cinema.


Sunday, December 12, 2010

Cracker - The Mad Woman In The Attic

Cracker - The Mad Woman In The Attic; TV crime, UK, 1993; D: Michael Winterbottom, S: Robbie Coltrane, Adrian Dunbar, Barbara Flynn, Christoper Ecleston, Geraldine Somerville
Eddie "Fitz" Fitzgerald is an alcoholic, broke and overweight forensic psychologist who is detested by his wife and his two kids. One day, a woman is slashed on a train, the second in the series of a serial killer. An unconscious man is found on the railroad and claims he doesn't remember anything because he suffers from amnesia. When the police is unable to find any evidence against him, Fitz is brought on the case to have a chat with the elusive man. With the assistance of DS Jane, he helps the man remember his name is Thomas and finds the real killer and stops him from another murder.

"Cracker - The Mad Woman In The Attic" marked the birth of the cult classic character, Dr. "Fitz" Fitzgerald, and is considered by many to be *the* TV crime film that has not been topped since, despite numerous episodes of "CSI" and "Profiler". Competent and skillful direction by Michael Winterbottom as well as a clever screenplay gave "Cracker" the "stuff" it needed to become a legend, yet one most not forget the lifetime performance by Robbie Coltrane as Fitz, an untypical forensic psychologist; for one, the episode starts with him about to hold a lecture in front of numerous students. Fitz just shows up, says: "Spinoza...", throws a book, continues: "Descartes...Freud...Hobbes...Locke...Adler..." and keeps throwing one book after another into the audience (!), until over a dozen books are lying on the floor and he says "Lecture over!" He then returns for a moment to the puzzled audience and tells them they should "first feel what they really feel, not what others tell them they should feel" before they read all of those books. In another scene, he asks his son and his daughter to lend him money in order to pay for his cab. The notion that a sloppy individual may exceed in excellence on some field has been tried already, yet it doesn't seem too fake here, whereas despite a mild finale and some unusual decisions, this episode intrigues and feels genuinely real.



Irréversible; Thriller-drama, France, 2002; D: Gaspar Noé, S: Monica Bellucci, Vincent Cassel, Albert Dupontel, Jo Prestia

Marcus lands in the hospital, his friend Pierre is arrested and a man mistaken to be Le Tenia is dead, his face squashed by an fire extinguisher. Earlier, in a night bar called 'Rectum', Marcus mistakes a man for Le Tenia and had a fight with him. Earlier, underworld criminal Le Tenia intercepted Marcus' girlfriend Alex in an underpass at night, brutally raped and beat her, until she landed in a hospital. Earlier, Marcus, Alex and Pierre were celebrating in a disco, but Alex left alone after an argument. Even earlier, Alex found out she is pregnant with Marcus.

After the shocking, but very stylish drama "I Stand Alone", director Gaspar Noe continued his "shock cinema" streak with not less tamer thriller-drama "Irreversible". The film stayed remembered for two things: for a story assembled out of 13 chapters presented in reverse chronological order, first showing the end and then the beginning, just like "Memento"; and for the nauseous rape scene of Monica Bellucci's character. Noe has a talent for masterfully directing ordinary moments (every chapter is shot in one roughly 10 minute long take) but frequently it seems he just wants to shock the audience without a deeper meaning, i.e. only to draw publicity for his films, which is why "Irreversible" doesn't seem completely satisfying. Likewise, his pessimism is sometimes too pretentious and aggressive. However, the exposition is genius - already in the first scene, the closing credits start rolling (!), backwards (!), until the camera starts tilting extremely, following the monologue of the Butcher, the protagonist from Noe's previous film "I Stand Alone". The whole film is extremely negatively erotic and depressive, yet intriguing for almost every minute, mostly due to the excellent actors Cassel and Bellucci, though it doesn't offer anything more.


I Stand Alone

Seul contre tous; Thriller-drama, France, 1998; D: Gaspar Noé, S: Philippe Nahon, Blandine Lenoir, Frankye Pain, Martine Audrain

A nameless Butcher was born. He beats up the person who tried to seduce his mentally retarded daughter Cynthia and is released from prison only after he turned over 50. He hits his pregnant mistress in the stomach after she provoked him and runs away to Paris in fear from the police. He sleeps with a prostitute, runs out of money and is convinced that life is meaningless. After the Butcher gets insulted in a bar, he decides to kill himself and his daughter with a gun, but changes his mind and becomes happy with her.

Explosive-energetic thriller-drama "I Stand Alone" is some sort of French answer to US "Taxi Driver" from '74, turning into one of those examples of "shock cinema" that isn't for everyone, yet director Gaspar Noe colored the story with amazing stylistic interventions. For instance, a text shows up on the screen in the exposition saying: "You are watching a movie about the fight of one man against social injustice", followed by a 2 minute long queue of images narrated by the anti-hero: "This is the life of a butcher. That man is me." It's a dark irony that the brute Butcher is allowed to kill animals since it is "socially acceptable", his job even, but when he turns his aggression against humans, he gets punished. One of the most inventive ideas is when a text shows up on the screen, saying: "Warning! You have 30 seconds to stop watching the film!", followed by the Butcher imagining to kill himself and his daughter; surprisingly, very little violence is actually shown on film, but the shot composition, huge close ups and dynamic editing create suspense "out of nothing", a tight mood that radiates fear even when the Butcher just looks into the camera, which is why the film is never boring and it even offers an unusual "happy end" where he throws away his depression.


Thursday, December 9, 2010

Easy A

Easy A; Comedy, USA, 2010; D: Will Gluck, S: Emma Stone, Amanda Bynes, Alyson Michalka, Penn Badgley, Thomas Haden Church, Patricia Clarkson, Stanley Tucci, Cam Gigandet, Dan Byrd, Lisa Kudrow, Malcolm McDowell

Teenager Olive is a virgin, but since she lied to her friend Rhiannon that she was on a date, she expands that fabrication and boasts that she lost her virginity last weekend. Unfortunately, the conversation was heard by gossip girl Marianne. Quickly, the rumors spread through high school that Olive is an "easy girl". A gay guy, Brandon, persuades her to pretend they slept with each other at a party, to get rid of his gay rumors, but that starts a whole chain of unattractive guys paying her to pretend they slept with her to boost their reputation. When a counselor resorts place Olive as a scapegoat in order to cover that she cheated on her husband, teacher Griffith, Olive finally tells the truth and ends up with the kind Todd.

A refreshingly pleasant surprise, romantic teenage comedy "Easy A" is a humorous modern 'upside down' retelling of "The Scarlet Letter" combined with humanitarian 'voluntary tramp rumors'. The screenplay by Bert V. Royal tells a lot about a society believing every rumor and its ever tricky handling of sexuality, while also offering a few dialogues so genius and so juicy it's a treat. For instance, heroine Olive says this to the Christian fanatic girl Marianne: "We've had nine classes together since Kindergarten...Ten if you count Religion of Other Cultures, which you didn't because you called it science-fiction." Likewise, Will Gluck's direction is refreshingly considerate, kind-spirited and affectionate towards his imperfect characters, the story is full of clever references at 80s movies (a hopelessly romantic Olive even narrates: "I want Judd Nelson thrusting his fist into the air because he knows he got me!") whereas the opening credits - with the letters of the titles placed on the ground of the high school yard - are very inventive. Last but not least, Emma Stone is simply smashing in the leading role and carries the film even with an occasionally less inspired moment, though the excellent Thomas Haden Church should also be mentioned as the charismatic teacher Griffith. Maybe the film does tend to lose steam towards the end and maybe it's not so deep, yet it has charm and at least one great romantic line delivered by Todd ("I wish you really were my first kiss").



Protektor; War drama, Czech Republic, 2009; D: Marek Najbrt, S: Jana Plodková, Marek Daniel, Tomás Mechácek, Klára Melísková, Martin Mysicka

Hana is an aspiring Czech-Jewish actress shooting a film in Prague, married to reporter Emil. After the Nazis invade Czechoslovakia and annex Czechia to the Third Reich, Hana has to hide in the apartment while Emil works as the voice of the radio, now pursuing propaganda. After SS general Reinhard Heydrich dies from an assassin on a bicycle, Emil is seen driving to work with one. He refuses to announce a statement on the radio and joins his Hana who is deported with other Jews from the city.

"Protector" is a solid film about the Holocaust nightmare in Czechia during World War II, though with a small reservation - it would have been more significant if it was made 50 years ago. Since there are thousands of films that already documented almost every aspect of that period, "Protector" doesn't add anything new to the genre whereas Marek Najbrt's direction is competent, though routine and conventional. The two stand-out aspects of the film are the catchy music and the excellent performance by Jana Plodkova as Hana, a character who is a typical victim in the (predictable) storyline, untypically humorless for the shrill Czech cinema. There is one sequence that is great, though - when Hana, despite being Jewish, daringly exits to the street wearing a blond wig, and mischievously let's a friend take photos of her standing in front of dozens of stores and buildings with a sign that says: "Forbidden for Jews". Her sweet teasing is wonderfully ironic, and somehow one can't but feel as if that moment of a strong heroine would have made a far better and fresher film than the standard, but solid edition we got.


Tuesday, November 30, 2010

I Love You

Volim te; Drama/ Grotesque, Croatia, 2005; D: Dalibor Matanić, S: Krešimir Mikić, Ivana Roščić, Ivana Krizmanić, Leon Lučev, Nataša Janjić, Zrinka Cvitešić

Krešo is in his 20s and feels as if his life is empty. He has a job and a girlfriend, Ana, but sees no meaning in it. While he was drunk, he crashed with his car into a girl, killing her. Later, the doctor informs him that he was infected with HIV due to blood transfusion. As the news spreads, his boss fires him while his friends don't want to hang out with him anymore. Angry that everyone is rejecting him, he decides to take revenge on society by sleeping with women without a condom. As he was about to do the same with a prostitute, he stops when he realizes she is a single mother. He feels empathy towards her. Finally, he dies in a car accident.

The title is deceiving - as sweet as it sounds, Dalibor Matanic's AIDS drama "I Love You" is actually quite the opposite, a dark-grey film where almost every sequence contains something shocking, depressing or repulsing. Matanic already established his bleak style in very good "Fine Dead Girls", but here it either doesn't hold well or it depleted its capacity already in the above mentioned film. "I Love You" works the best in the first third, especially in the brilliantly sharp opening sequence where the anti-hero Krešo is narrating his disappointment with his life as a grown up, where he now has to work until the rest of his life ("We consumed pounds of drugs, hoping we would wake up as youngsters again, stirred up from this grown up dream"), yet the AIDS tangle starts dragging it into (excessive) blackness. At first, the infected Krešo feels indifferent towards everything - in one funny scene, some wacky conductor twins write him a ticket for driving a streetcar without paying, and continue babbling ("I'm sorry, sir. What can we do? He doesn't want to talk to us...") while Krešo doesn't say anything, just walks away and then throws the piece of paper on the street - and with time the indifference contaminated the whole film. The ending is slightly redeeming, but not to such an extent to forgive numerous plot devices (for instance, can you imagine that an attractive woman, like Zrinka Cvitesic, would drag a drunk, unconscious (!) stranger, a slob like Krešo, to an apartment, to sleep with him without a condom?).


Monday, November 29, 2010

The Game

The Game; thriller, USA, 1997; D: David Fincher, S: Michael Douglas, Deborah Kara Unger, Sean Penn, James Rebhorn

Nicolas Van Orton is a dormant and bored millionaire who just turned 48 - the same age his father had when he committed suicide. Nicolas' brother Conrad has a unique present for him - participating in a mysterious game by company "CRS" that promises stimulation for its clients. Soon, Nicolas is in the middle of confusion: when he and a certain Christine bring a sick man to the hospital, the lights turn off and all the doctors turn out as actors and disappear, while the two of them run away from a dog. The next day, Nicolas finds nude photos of her while his house if plastered with graffiti, he almost dies in a taxi cab and even his lawyer cheats on him. It's as if every person he knows are in the game. He ends up broke and decides to find the person behind all of this - Conrad. When he shows up, the game stops.

Excellent thriller masterfully controls twists and events on the edge of reality, whereas director David Fincher creates a dark-intense mood full of explosive energy - if only the viewers are willing to suspense their belief during its running time. What to circle out in this abundance? As first, the screenplay by John D. Brancato and Michael Ferris that seems like a junction between "The Conversation" and a darker version of the comedy "The Man Who Knew too Little": the opening is slightly lax, a substantial amount of events may seem unconvincing on unrealistic, but everything is full of powerful style and paranoia: are the events around Nicolas a deadly trap aimed at driving him insane or is it just a harmless game? "What is going on here?" sums up the very good Michael Douglas in one scene, whereas the film speaks about the boring lives of some rich people who need to be transformed from a lax office man into a warrior in order to stir them up from their lethargy. The semi-twist ending is also extremely suspenseful which is why the movie can be forgiven for quiet a few inconsistencies.


Out of the Past

Out of the Past; Crime drama, USA, 1947; D: Jacques Tourneur, S: Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, Kirk Douglas, Rhonda Fleming

Jeff Bailey, an auto mechanic in some province, is recognized by an old friend who invites him to see his old boss Sterling. Jeff starts his journey towards him. On his way, he tells his girlfriend Ann about his mysterious past: a few years ago, Sterling hired him as a detective to spy on his lover Kathy who stole 40.000 $ from him. Jeff found her in a Mexican city, but fell in love with her and they escaped to San Francisco together. There, they were discovered by another detective, Fisher, who was shot by Kathy. She then disappeared...Back in the present, Kathy returned to Sterling who gives Jeff a new assignment, but it turns out it's a trap. Jeff is suspected of murder. Trying to hand Kathy over to the police, Jeff gets killed by her.

One of the unknown classics that was "rehabilitated" and resurfaced back with time, "Out of the Past" is thoroughbred film noir where Robert Mitchum's style of acting could overlap almost identically with Bogart's without losing anything from the story's spark. One of those good examples of 'old school' film making, equipped with both style and substance, an achievement that never insults the viewers' intelligence, "Past" is a story with an unusual structure since director Jacques Tourneur drafts it as a film where roughly 30 % of the time is occupied by a "flashback" that explains the tragedy of the detective Jeff who fell in love with a woman he spied on, but she just tricked him which represents some universal love problems, whereas the atmosphere has a fine mood, except that some parts and behaviors of the characters may seem slightly dated today.


Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Social Network

The Social Network; Drama, USA, 2010; D: David Fincher, S: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Armie Hammer, Justin Timberlake, Brenda Song, Rooney Mara, Rashida Jones, John Getz, Joseph Mazzello

After his girlfriend Erica breaks up with him, Harvard University student and computer expert Marc Zuckerberg has a moment of "revengeful inspiration" - he creates a sexist website called "FaceMash" where users rate photos of girls. Since he obtained those photos by hacking into confidential student files, he is punished with probation. Still, he attracts the attention of the rich Winklevoss twins who plan to create a social website for Harvard students. Zuckerberg agrees to cooperate, only to stall them and create his own social website first, "Facebook". His only friend, Eduardo Saverin, borrowed him money for the idea. However, when Zuckerberg met Sean Parker, he double crossed Eduardo by reducing his "Facebook" share to only 0,03 %, causing a lawsuit.

Director David Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin mercilessly defamed and besmirched "Facebook" creator Marc Zuckerberg in one of the first films about the Internet generation, "The Social Network". Though better than the rather bland "Benjamin Button" which didn't show much (except if it was a subversive jab at youth obsessed society), "Network" still doesn't reach the heights of some of Fincher's excellent films, like "Se7en" and "Zodiac", yet it slyly addresses an issue that should slowly be addressed by this time - society's Internet obsession. The film starts off with the girlfriend saying this to Zuckerberg: "People don't hate you because you're a geek, but because you're an asshole" and ends with a female lawyer saying: "You're not an asshole. You just try too hard to act like one". Through those lines, the film shows that Zuckerberg is an intelligent computer expert, but precisely because of too much of that he never developed any social skills and doesn't know how to treat a human being in real life.

The irony that attracted Fincher is that an antisocial outsider, who doesn't have any friends, created a popular social website - which ultimately just exacerbated the superficiality of human relationships. How else to describe people who are more excited by seeing their friends on "Facebook" than in real life? In the end, it's a voluntary Big Brother and the story implies that the only reason so many people become members in it is that they could see "if a girl is in a relationship or not". Zuckerberg identified a character deficiency that attracted 500 million users - and growing. For Fincher, it is only natural that such a person lacks empathy and hurts his friends, since he only understands the needs of his website invention. The dialogs are rather well written, like when Saverin describes Sean's long monologues as a "Sean-athon" or when he tells him that he likes standing beside him, because "it makes me look tough", though not as strong as let's say "The Truman Show" where Christof said: "He has the most recognizable face on the planet. He can't just disappear." All actors are great, but the problem is that the viewers have no characters to attach to since - except for Erica and Saverin - they are all bad guys. Likewise, the film is slightly overcrammed with events. Still, it intrigues, whereas the final image of a lonely Zuckerberg observing his ex-girlfriend on "Facebook", unable to contact her, sums up the irony of the film - she is in his world, and he still can't have her.


Monday, November 22, 2010

The Silent House

La casa muda; horror, Uruguay, 2010; D: Gustavo Hernández, S: María Salazar, Gustavo Alonso, Abel Tripaldi, Florencia Colucci

Lara and her father Wilson arrive at an isolated, abandoned house in the middle of the forest one evening. The owner, Nestor, wants to sell it, so Lara and Wilson's task is to clean the place next morning. Just as the two of them were about to go to sleep, she hears noises upstairs. Her father goes to investigate and is found dead. Lara realizes all the doors are locked. When a hand reaches for her from the dark, she finds a key and escapes from the house. Nestor arrives and they get back in. She kills him and disappears.

6,000 $ were enough for director Gustavo Hernandez to film "The Silent House", a horror film shot in only one take - actually, two, since there was a cut roughly an hour into the film when the lights went off in the library room and the whole screen went blank for a minute, but it is gladly forgiven because it enabled a genius moment of inspiring suspense when Lara makes a photo with a flash camera, and for a split second the viewers see a ghostly person illuminated on the other side of the room. Making a horror film in only one take is an inventive, but difficult idea to pull through since the director's options are limited (no time for make up changes; inserting a chilling scene falls out; pacing and location constraints...), but he tackled all the obstacles and achieved a genuinely scary, frightening and intelligent 'haunted house' flick - once the suspense starts some 15 minutes into the film, the viewers are so absorbed that they don't even think for a minute that they are watching an Uruguayan, but a universal film. Maria Salazar is great in the leading role, performing some 100 moves in the film without a mistake, though it would be a sin not to mention the virtuoso camera work that not only pays attention about the lighting and the reflections in the mirrors, but also performs a great trick of running after the heroine from the house into the forest, then into a car and then back into the house again. Complaints could and should be raised towards a rather "scarce" story and a confusing ending, yet as a whole the film is a worthy 'recomposition' of Hitchcock's "Rope".


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Harrison's Flowers

Harrison's Flowers; war drama, France, 2000; D: Elie Chouraqui, S: Andie MacDowell, Adrien Brody, Brendan Gleeson, David Strathairn, Elias Koteas, Alun Armstrong, Caroline Goodall, Diane Baker, Gerard Butler

New Jersey, October '91. Sarah is happy when her husband, Harrison, returns home after another assignment as a reporter for Newsweek. Because of his frequent absence, he feels that his children are neglected, so he decides to quit. Still, his boss persuades him into one last assignment; to cover the Croatian War of Independence. After Harrison disappears in Vukovar, Sarah travels there because she thinks he is still alive. She meets reporters Marc and Kyle as they travel ever further towards eastern Croatia. At Vukovar, they witness how Serb extremists are killing Croats and Serb pacifists. Kyle is killed too. In the hospital, Sarah discovers Harrison alive, but wounded. They manage to return home.

Not counting documentaries, "Harrison's Flowers" is the best film about the siege of Vukovar, the "Grozny of Croatia", in the 2000s. A couple of moments turned out heavy handed; some due to occasional artistic omissions and some due to budget constraints, yet as a big picture the film is remarkably accurate in portraying the event in question that can rarely be found as the main topic in films outside the former Yugoslavia. The first third of the film, which shows the disjointed life of a reporter, Harrison, since he is always away from home and his family, quietly builds elegant drama with a few humorous touches - for instance, after he returns home, his wife Sarah obviously "missed him". The next day, she goes to work and the employees in the building constantly mention how she looks "tired", "worn out", how "she should take a day off", until one guy finally brings it up: "Is Harrison back home?", upon which she gives them a sign that they should give her a break already upon which they all burst in laughter. The war segment, which starts some 40 minutes into the film, is well directed and rather well assembled. Andie MacDowell is solid in the dramatic role of Sarah, who is looking for her husband, whereas the film offers Adrien Brody in one of his early roles, as the reporter who accompanies her through the enemy lines, already showing his acting talent. The finale is hastily resolved and rather messy, especially since it is difficult to believe that the three protagonists could observe Serb paramilitary killing people in Vukovar at such close distance without a problem, yet director Elie Chouraqui showed a sure hand.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Only the Lonely

Only the Lonely; tragicomedy, USA, 1991; D: Chris Columbus, S: John Candy, Maureen O'Hara, Ally Sheedy, Anthony Quinn, James Belushi, Kevin Dunn, Macaulay Caulkin, Milo O'Shea

Chicago. Danny is a 38-year old police officer who still lives with his overprotective and conservative mother Rose. He has a relatively fine life, but feels lonely. When he meets the shy Teresa, who works as a make-up artist in a funeral home, he finally falls in love. However, his mother is against the relationship, fearing Danny will move out. Just as they were about to get married, Danny doesn't show up at the church. He chooses to stay with his mother. However, he eventually changes his mind and ends up with Teresa, while his mother moves to Florida with the Greek neighbor.

Even though some critics called it "sterile", "pale" and "thin", Chris Columbus' humorous drama "Only the Lonely" is a small, forgotten jewel and his most personal film. Just like "Marty", it tackles a difficult subject that is often left out in the movie world: that even at middle-age, people may not find the partner for life, staying alone. Luckily, Columbus and producer John Hughes decided to take a humorous approach, elegantly avoiding sentimentality while at the same time achieving a touching and honest story. John Candy, one of the greatest comedians of the 80s and 90s, achieved a lifetime role as Danny - he had funnier performances, but never such as this where he showed his emotional side, a man torn by transience, forced to chose between his girlfriend and his mother, which gives the film almost a dramatic flair. Likewise, his "flirt monologue" when he first talks with Teresa, is genius.

Maureen O'Hara, who returned to acting for this film after 20 years of retirement, is fabulous as the problematic mother Rose - she is at times so mean and grouchy it is intolerable (the date sequence, where she "subtly" insults Teresa, half-Polish, by "accidentally" mentioning an anecdote where she met a Polish woman: "She was the stupidest woman I ever knew. She thought that black cows squirted chocolate milk!") and then again she also shows her fragile state, which hides behind the mean facade because she just wants best for Danny, not realizing she is actually doing the opposite. One of the funniest things is the "running gag" of Danny constantly imagining his mother in trouble without him, such as the sequence where she falls through the sever and says this before she passes out: "Danny, I hope at least your baseball game is fun!" The movie needed more of such sharper examples of satire, as well as a better elaboration of the relationship between Teresa and Rose, since they interact only twice during the whole story, whereas the tone really is too mild at times. Still, it is sweet and fun, which just grows on you with further vieweings - if there is one protagonist here, it is the comfortable routine of now, and if there is one antagonist, then it is time and change of future; yet finding the balance in life requires the hero to give up the one for the later and progress eventually - and the scene where Danny and Teresa observe the sunrise at the lake is beautifully romantic.


Monday, November 15, 2010

Get Smart

Get Smart; comedy, USA, 2008; D: Peter Segal, S: Steve Carell, Anne Hathaway, Dwayne Johnson, Alan Arkin, Terence Stamp, Masi Oka, Nate Torrence, Ken Davitian, Terry Crews, James Caan, Bill Murray

After the evil organization KAOS attacks agents of the US intelligence agency KONTROL and destroys its headquarters, clumsy analyst Maxwell Smart is promoted by his Chief into an agent. He joins his forces with a skillful woman, agent 99, as they travel to Moscow and discover that KONTROL mastermind Siegfried bought nuclear weapons and intends to ransom the president into giving him money or he will use it on the US soil. Due to a mistake, Maxwell is accused of being a double spy. However, he prevents an assassination attempt on the president and discovers the bomb. After Siegfried insults his henchman, he throws his boss from the bridge.

The movie adaptation of the 60s TV comedy show with the same title, "Get Smart" is a surprisingly pleasant surprise which has its fair share of sizzling humor: besides having a very 'modern' look and feel to it, it is fast, dynamic and flows smoothly, offering a few neat surprises, whereas Steve Carell is excellent in the leading role. Truth be told, Peter Segal's film has at least six examples of 'garbage humor', other jokes are more tolerable though also occasionally blatant whereas the finale is rather tiresome, which doesn't make the film really smart, yet when the jokes are good, they sate a comedy fan. The awkward exchange between Maxwell and "remote" Agent 13 (Bill Murray), who, after the communications were destroyed, was put in a tree, is quietly hilarious; James Caan creates an amusing George W. Bush parody; KONTROL's gadget inventors Bruce and Lloyd steal almost every scene they are in, especially the one where Maxwell is accused of being a double agent and wants to get pass them, so they simulate a fake "fist fight" with him in front of the surveillance camera, whereas a special treat is also the original way the main bad guy (Terence Stamp) gets eliminated at the end - you didn't see that coming. Anne Hathaway's comic talent is slightly underused by the authors, but she still managed to deliver a worthy performance. All in all, if the minor flaws are ignored, a satisfying and funny comedy adaptation of the shrill original.


Sunday, November 14, 2010

How to Train Your Dragon

How to Train Your Dragon; CGI animated fantasy comedy, USA, 2010; D: Chris Sanders, Dean DeBois, S: Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson

Somewhere in Scandinavia, a Viking village is plagued by dragons who kidnapp their sheep. Everyone is engaged to fight the flying lizards, except the skiny teenager Hiccup, much to the dismay of his father Stoick, the Viking chief. However, Hiccup captures a dragon with his bolas device. After he frees it, they become friends, which comes very useful during his training as dragon fighter, since his tricks manage to impress the girl he likes, Astrid. After the Vikings discvoer this, they capture the dragon to find the dragons' nest, unleashing a giant one. Still, Hiccup and his dragon manage to defeat it and start a new era of peace with humans.

Even though it seemed like a typical CGI mainstream film at first, "How To Train Your Dragon" eventually blossomed into a pleasant surprise, a fun and easily accesible little flick that secretly speaks about mutual understanding between different cultures. Jay Baruchel's voice is phenomenal since he gives the main protagonist Hiccup unusual charm, already visible in the funny opening lines of the film, where he says: "This is Berk. It's 12 days north of Hopeless and a few degrees south of Freezing to Death. It's located solidly on the Meridian of Misery. My village." The character of Astrid is sweet whereas the design of the main dragon is sympathetic. A few more examples of genius inspiration and hilarious humor would have been welcome, yet as it is, the film is still a fine example of CGI animation, with an especially interesting ending that is refreshingly only half-happy for a change.


Black Sabbath

I Tre volti della paura; Horror, Italy/ France/ USA, 1963; D: Mario Bava, S: Boris Karloff, Michele Mercier, Mark Damon, Susy Anderson, Jacqueline Pierreux

Three stories of suspense: Rosy returns to her apartment one night and answers a phone call, where a mysterious stranger is threatening her on the other end. Rosy's testimony once gotten criminal Frank behind bars. In fear, she calls her long forgotten friend Mary to stay at her. But Mary was actually the voice on the phone because she just wanted to see her again. When Frank really shows up, he mistakenly strangles Mary, while Rosy kills him...19th Century. Vladimir stops one night at an isolated cottage to rest, but is surprised by the inhabitants, a family afraid of "wurdalak". When their father Gorcha shows up after five days, it turns out he became a vampire himself. Vladimir and Zdenka run away, but are caught and turned into vampires...A nurse steals the ring of the corpse of a lady who was a medium. The next morning, she is found to have strangled herself.

"Black Sabbath", also known as "Three faces of fear", is one of the more famous films by the Italian "master of horror" Mario Bava - not only because its title influenced the heavy metal band with the same name- an anthology of three stories that more or less form a rather satisfying collection of suspense. Bava doesn't grasp the heights of 'elevated-intelligent suspense' like Hitchcock or De Palma would have, yet still shows enough talent on his own, achieving light 'kammerspiel' since all of the stories play out mostly in one room. The first story, "Telephone", is a conventional thriller without any fantasy elements, focusing on the heroine, Rosy, who does not dare to go out of her home because a stranger keeps calling her on the phone. The story builds a moody suspense with a neat twist at the end, an event that ironically nullifies the attempt of the killer. The second segment, "Wurdalak", is by far the longest by encompassing almost an entire hour of running time, but at the same time also the weakest and most overstretched. The sole vampire story works, as well as the scary setting (a cottage in the middle of a forest), whereas Boris Karloff is great as the main bad guy, yet it is in the end too trashy, clumsy and overlong to work. The third and last story, "A Drop of Water", returns back on the right track by creating clever, subtle suspense derived from the heroine's guilt in her dark apartment because she stole a ring from a corpse: the intensity is created by sole drops of water in her bathroom, that slowly drive her insane, while the pale face of the corpse is one of the most eerie elements in the film.


Saturday, November 13, 2010


Crnci; War drama, Croatia, 2009; D: Goran Dević, Zvonimir Jurić, S: Ivo Gregurević, Krešimir Mikić, Franjo Dijak, Rakan Rushaidat, Nikša Butijer, Emir Hadžihafizbegović

A city in Slavonia during the Croatian War of Independence. Ivo leads a Croatian paramilitary unit, known as the "Blacks". It consists out of Šaran, Franjo, Darko and a new one, Barišić. They cross a river and go deep behind enemy lines to retrieve the bodies of their three friends. Ivo also plans to blow up a dam to inflict damage to the enemy. Once there, it turns out their miner, Barišić, only lied that he knows how to detonate explosions because he wanted them to bail him from prison. Ivo gets angry and shoots him, but Franjo shoots Ivo and Šaran, and then himself...A few days earlier. In the "Blacks" base, Ivo doesn't want to align to the newly signed ceasefire. He hires a miner, Barišić, for a secret mission, but he is shocked to find out about their garage where they shot people. Franjo was in charge of the killings, but couldn't do it anymore.

A psychological war film without any scene showing the war or the enemy, stripped of any kind of ideology, loosely based on the "Sellotape case", "Blacks" are a competently directed achievement by two directors-screenwriters, Goran Devic and Zvonimir Juric. From the first scene showing a black cat with her kittens up to the finale with the (paramilitary) soldier dragging his briefcase through the hall, "Blacks" builds a strong 'kammerspiel' atmosphere, even though not much is going on, with a film language in full light. The structure, which first shows the end only to retrospectively go to a flashback in the base a few days before, is inventive, whereas the authors bravely displayed courage in portraying a war crime on their side. Unfortunately, due to its grey mood, the film will not reach everyone. Likewise, it is too short and underdeveloped; the characters are all well rounded up, yet needed further expansion, as it was the case with the soldier who takes drugs to suppress his conscience for killing people in the garage. Devic managed to use a few tricks to give them an emotional dimension, like having the rough Šaran be kind to the cat, yet the film needed (just a little bit) more of that.


My Uncle's Legacy

Život sa stricem; Drama, Croatia, 1988; D: Krsto Papić, S: Davor Janjić, Miodrag Krivokapić, Alma Prica, Branislav Lečić, Anica Dobra

A writer in his 50s, Martin Kujundžić, is visited by his terminally ill uncle Stjepan, who begs him to forgive him and bury him in religious customs. After Stjepan dies, Martin recollects what happened: 30 years ago, after World War II, Martin was a young lad studying at a teacher's academy in Istria, while his uncle Stjepan was a local communist official. Martin observed how the communist system didn't work and wrote a letter to Stjepan, expressing his doubt about it, emphasizing how the peasants carry the biggest burden. Martin secretly slept with girlfriend Marta, who came from a rich family. After Stjepan informed the academy authority about the letter, Martin was humiliated in front of students and expelled, while a gun shot fired at him castrated him. Marta gave birth to his child.

Nominated for a Golden Globe for best foreign language film, one of Krsto Papic's most critically acclaimed films, "My Uncle's Legacy" was made in a time when the Yugoslav censorship significantly decreased and allowed for such a story where the state pseudo-communist system was implicitly labeled as a failure. At times, the film almost seems like a political pamphlet - in one sequence, Martin and his uncle are walking across the countryside until they arrive at a farm. The uncle tries to persuade his old father to give his land to the state, for collectivization, instead of trying to plow with his horse at his age, but the old man refuses, saying he already gave his best land to the state, but that he wants to rely on himself. Martin and the uncle then walk a few yards and stumble upon the state farm, where there is a completely different situation; the lazy workers lying around, spoiling the harvest because they don't value it as their own land - yet Papic managed to coat the symbolic story into a clear film language, creating a bitter, but intelligent parable about oppression, whereas the entire cast is in top notch shape, especially Alma Prica.


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Moulin Rouge!

Moulin Rouge!; musical romance, Australia / USA / UK, 2001; D: Baz Luhrmann, S: Ewan McGregor, Nicole Kidman, Jim Broadbent, Richard Roxburgh, John Leguizamo

Paris, 1 9 0 0. Young writer Christian writes about his tragic love story. A year earlier, he moved to an apartment in Montmartre where he stumbled upon Bohemian artists led by Toulouse-Lautrec who wanted to put up a play about love. They brought Christian to the Moulin Rouge hoping he would persuade courtesan Satine to star in it and attract the financing of Rouge owner Harold Zidler. She fell in love with Christian, but Zidler needed financial support of the rich Duke and thus already promised Satine to him. The Duke invested into the play and wanted to kill Christian because of his love with Satine. Christian showed up on the stage during the play and it becomes a hit. Satine confessed his love to him but died due to a disease.

By taking only the positive sides of Bollywood musicals, director Baz Luhrmann created a bizarre, hermetic, often messy experimental musical that at times seems almost like patchwork, yet its best parts are so good that you forget all the flaws and simply enjoy in it. "Moulin Rouge!" is "over-edited" since it has more cuts than all of Ozu's films put together, but also has a reason for such a method: namely, the authors wanted to conjure up a world in 1900, when people did not know about electricity, and thus Christian's first entrance into the glamorous Moulin Rouge must have been an extraordinary experience for him, while the means of editing "transformed" it on the viewers - a green fairy (Kylie Minogue!) shows up; Zidler is flying while the courtesans inside are singing Christina Aguilera's "Lady Marmalade". Its a rush of the senses and you immediately know "anything goes". It's kitschy and it's too much, but it has artistic merit whereas Jim Broadbent simply steals the show as the hilarious Zidler who can even trick the Duke into thinking that courtesan Satine is "confessing", while singing Madonna's "Like a Virgin" in a sequence that bravely borders on deliberate (auto)-parody.

Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor are both fabulous in the two main roles, sympathetically singing like amateurs, which is why they will be the strongest reference point to the viewers who find everything else problematic in the film. Every once in a while, you realize that a good movie must perform something unique to prove that it has something to show. And here it performs something almost impossible in the 3-minute so called "Elephant Love Medley" sequence: McGregor sings one song, but Kidman sings it false, to emphasize how she is rejecting him; he then changes only one refrain and moves on to a different song, and so on and on until they both sing in synchronicity at the end, together, kissing. The fact that the authors crammed some dozen songs there in only 3 minutes, from Lennon's "All You Need Is Love", through Phil Collins' "One More Night", U2's "Pride (In The Name Of Love)", "Don't Leave Me This Way", to Bowie and Eno's "Heroes" and others and blended them all so full of harmony and perfection, can only cause a "Wow" effect. Luhrmann's style falls sometimes into mannerisms and loses overview, yet because of the above mentioned virtues the film still has charm.


Saturday, November 6, 2010

Video V. Poetry: Inhale

Video V. Poezija: Udah; Short, Serbia, 2010; D: Natalija Ž. Živković, S: Slavica Marković, Slobodan Aleksić

A girl, dressed in a white robe and wearing a wreath on her head, walks through a city with a basket full of letters. The narrator speaks about the meaning of words and its effects on everyday life. The girl is suddenly in a forest. She is back in the city and helps "unglue" a man from the wall. Then, the man finds himself in the forest and smiles.

This 5 minute short film shows an inventive way how modern poets attract an audience by converting their written poems into visual poems. It's video poetry that stimulates the intuitive side of our brain and in doing so it fulfils the criteria for quality in both art forms, movie and poem. The image of a girl in white robe walking through a city might be a symbol for the beauty of simple nature that was forgotten by the modern people, who thus feel an emptiness in their life. The girl is there to let people inhale the positive and exhale the negative side of life. "And I feel fulfilled. As if I'm telling words full of air. As if I'm reciting a very important song...And I feel...healthy.", goes one nice sentence of the narrator. "People are grey. The real images are in the forest. But our convulsive hearts see them rarely.", says the other, wherein director and author of the poem Natalija Z. Zivkovic nicely shows the free spirit at the end.


The Big Lebowski

The Big Lebowski; comedy / grotesque, USA, 1998; D: Joel Coen, S: Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Julianne Moore, David Huddleston, Steve Buscemi, Tara Reid, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Sam Elliott, Ben Gazzara, Peter Stormare, John Turturro

Los Angeles on the eve of the Gulf War. Jeff Lebowski, called "The Dude", is an unemployed and lazy guy who likes bowling and lives from social welfare. One day, two thugs urinate on his rug in his home demanding money for "Lebowski's wife's debts". It turns out they mistake him for the old wheelchair-bound millionaire Jeffrey Lebowski and his young wife Bunny. After she disappears and Mr. Lebowski receives a ransom note, he presumes she was kidnapped and hires Jeff to exchange the ransom money. However, his militant friend Walter blows the exchange. Bizarrely, it turns out Bunny was just away for a vacation and that the Nihilists who wanted the ransom money never kidnapped her in the first place. Jeff's friend Donny dies from a heart attack.

The 7th feature length film directed by the Coen brothers, comedy of the absurd "The Big Lebowski" subsequently gained cult status and turned into one of their most popular achievements. More often than not, the Coens made movies about camera tricks and not about humans, alas their visual style is once again the strong point (the unusual camera angle that exploits bowling is the one where they placed a camera inside the bowling ball, allowing it to observe how the world outside "rotates" when it is heading down the bowling alley) but the characters are also rather well assembled, especially the absurdly right-wing Walter who is a hilarious parody of director John Milius, wherein John Goodman delivered one of his 2-3 best performances.

However, the Coens' highbrow style doesn't blend in with the lowbrow content of the film, some of which even tends to pass the limits of taste (clips from a porn; Maude hanging half-naked from a swing while painting; swearing; a pointless dream sequence; a pederast bowler called Jesus...), the pseudo-kidnapping story is all over the place while numerous episodic characters are pointless (Maude especially). Still, some jokes are simply terrific. The cut off toe idea is rubbish, but right after it there is a very funny sequence where Walter is talking to Jeff because he (rightfully) thinks that the kidnapping of Lebowski's wife Bunny is fake and that the toe isn't from her: "You want a toe? I can get you a toe, believe me. There are ways, Dude. You don't wanna know about it, believe me. Hell, I can get you a toe by 3 o'clock this afternoon... with nail polish! Those amateurs!" In another sequence, the oblivious Donny shows up in the middle of Walter and Jeff's conversation and wants to know what it's about, upon which Walter asks him: "Were you listening to The Dude's story? " - "No, I was bowling." - "So you have no frame of reference here, Donny. You're like a child who wanders into the middle of a movie and wants to know... "


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Limits of Control

The Limits of Control; Drama, USA/ Japan, 2009; D: Jim Jarmusch, S: Isaach De Bankolé, Paz de la Huerta, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Gael García Bernal, Bill Murray, Alex Descas, Youki Kudoh

A Black Stranger gets an assignment at the airport and takes a flight to Madrid. He stays at a hotel room and goes to an open cafe where he orders two espressos. One after the other, people sit at his table - a man who talks about violins, a Blond cowgirl who talks about film, a man who talks about bohemian life and a Mexican hippie who talks about "reflections in the mirror looking more real than the original" - and all give him a box of matches containing a note with instructions. Finally, the Stranger arrives inside a maximum security outpost and eliminates the American who tells him "he can't eliminate the control by eliminating him". The Stranger then leaves.

"The best movies are like dreams you're not sure you ever had", says the cool Blond cowgirl (Tilda Swinton) to the main protagonist (De Bankole) at one point. That metafilm line hidden in "The Limits of Control" itself gives a guideline how to perceive this unusual-hermetic film that is heavily abstract: 90 % of the running time has no dialogues and unravels in silence, observations, turning into Jarmusch's most minimalistic film he ever had to date. It turns practically into an anti-film, closer to Bunuel than a linear, loud assassination action flick that could have been its Hollywood twin. "Limits" are a dreamy experience that floats in your subconsciousness and relaxes you, whereas some of its dialogues are poetry, from the already mentioned cowgirl's line, the Universe line ("Space has no center or edges, reality is arbitrary") and the violin monologue ("Guitars, violins and others instruments remember the music that has been played on them"). However, the film is still too overstretched, especially in the last third which seems like an empty walk, to engage completely.

One of the interpretations could be this: the Stranger is a person who is controlled by the rigid, restrictive view on life that has been imposed on him his whole life. He wears a fancy grey suit all of the time. But there is a psychological battle inside him. He is visited by "free" people who stimulate his right, intuitive side of the brain and reject the limitations. After seeing a painting of a violin in the museum, he is visited by a man who speaks fondly of music. After seeing a painting of a naked woman in the museum, he finds a naked girl in his hotel room, but doesn't want to sleep with her. The cowgirl is enchanted by movies, the Japanese girl by science, a man by 'bohemian life'. They awaken the long dormant imagination in him and he confronts the figure that restricts him, the American (Murray). He gets inside his compound because it is a part of his mind. The American clearly says: "And I suppose you believe that by eliminating me, you will eliminate control over some artificial reality", referencing all the encounters the Stranger met. By eliminating him, the Stranger changes his clothes, and his previous worldview, and embraces the right, free side of the brain, showing that there are limits of any control the society can have on every individual.


Blood and Wine

Blood and Wine; Crime, USA, 1996; D: Bob Rafelson, S: Jack Nicholson, Stephen Dorff, Jennifer Lopez, Michael Caine, Judy Davis

Alex Gates is a wine merchant married to Suzanne, who lost her husband, and has a stepson, Jason. Alex has a mistress, Gabriela, who works as a nanny and plans to bring her family from Cuba to live in the US. After Alex and criminal Victor rob the house of a rich man, they plan to sell the stolen diamonds. But when Suzanne finds out about this, she knocks him unconscious. When Alex wakes up, he and Victor chase after Suzanne and Jason, who have the diamonds. In the chase, there's an accident and Suzanne dies, while Jason lands in hospital. Jason has an argument with Alex over Gabriela. He tells Victor that he handed over the diamonds, upon which the criminal has an argument with Alex. Alex kills Victor. Jason uses a boat to crush Alex's legs. Gabriela shows up and Alex throws diamonds in the sea.

The fifth and last collaboration between director Bob Rafelson and actor Jack Nicholson is an interesting 'light' noir film "Blood and Wine" that stands well on its own feet, except that it doesn't have something special to tell. The authors tried to complicate the situations as much as possible to pass their point across, how crime can destroy a family, though it still seems slightly overstretched and mild. Likewise, the relationships of the characters remain slightly unclear, which causes a few illogical situations (for instance, why would Victor trust Jason more than his partner Alex?). Still, the film should be seen at least for the interaction between Michael Caine and Nicholson, whereas Jennifer Lopez made a surprisingly good performance in her feature length debut film, which assured her further roles. All in all, "Wine" is not nearly as good as the best Rafelson-Nicholson film, their first collaboration, "Five Easy Pieces", but it is competently made.


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Star Trek

Star Trek; Science-fiction adventure, USA, 2009; D: J. J. Abrams, S: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Eric Bana, Bruce Greenwood, Leonard Nimoy, Winona Ryder

In 2233, James Kirk's father is killed by a mysterious time traveling Romulan spaceship, Narada, under command of Nero. Kirk grows up into a rebellious young lad in Iowa. However, to honor his father, he joins the Starfllet. At the Academy, he meets Uhura, half Vulcan-half Human Spock and Dr. McCoy. When Narada shows up again and attacks Vulcan, the young students are sent to the Enterprise to help. Narada places a black hole inside the Vulcan, which swallows the planet, killing Spock's mother. Because of his rebellious outbursts, Kirk is sent to the ice planet Delta Vega, where he meets the old Spock. He tells him that he is from the future, where he tried to save Romulus by eliminating the threat, a supernova, but the red matter accidentally destroyed the planet. As a revenge, Nero went back in time to destroy Vulcan and every planet is the Federation. Still, Spock returns back on Enterprise and manages to send Narada into a black hole.

7 years after the last "Star Trek" film, "Nemesis", J.J. Abrams decided to return the series back to its roots and directed a prequel to the original franchise. Despite critical praise, the 2009 "Star Trek" film is bombastic, pompous and cheaply humorous-melodramatic, trying more to be "hip" and "cool" than to capture the essence and charm of the original that made "Star Trek" so popular and sometimes even quite intelligent back in its time. The characters all seem wrong, as if they came from "Dawson's Creek" - James Kirk is a rebellious womanizer who likes to drink; Uhura is shown in her undies whereas Chekov is a nerdy teenager. Only Spock is spot on, until the infamous scene where he beats up Kirk. The story is written by Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, who penned "Transformers" 1 and 2, and, unfortunately, it shows: the structure is "illogical", as Spock would put it. Namely, the bad guy Nero shows up from the future in his spaceship to take revenge on Spock by destroying his home planet Vulcan. Why? Because in the future, Spock tried to save his planet Romulus from a supernova using "red matter", but accidentally destroyed it.

So, Spock is punished for trying to help. That would be as if a geologist would show up in a village built on an active volcano and try to stop the eruption because the people don't want to evacuate, but he would be helpless, lava would destroy the village and the surviving villagers would hunt him down all his family members to take revenge on him, not on the volcano? Also, if Nero can travel back in time, wouldn't it be far more logical for him to warn his people on Romulus of the disaster? This is all so inconceivable. Also, the film is filled with other kinds of plot holes. For instance, is Vulcan so defenceless and the Starfleet so under capacity that students from the Academy have to go to the Enterprise to be sent to Vulcan to help it? Why would Spock deport Kirk from Enterprise to an ice planet, where his life is at stake? Doesn't the Enterprise have a prison cell? And what are the odds that Kirk finds not one, but two crucial people on that isolated place who will help him save the day? A few plot holes could be overlooked, but a whole bunch of them is something that is difficult to ignore. The special effects overkill is also a nuissance, though the film is at least fun. It is indicative as much as it is ironic that the only genius moment is the 5-minute cameo by the original Spock, Leonard Nimoy, because that is the only part where the film established a connection to the quality of the original "Star Trek".


Alpha and Omega

Alpha and Omega; CGI animated adventure comedy, USA, 2010; D: Ben Gluck, Anthony Bell, S: Justin Long, Hayden Panettiere, Christina Ricci, Danny Glover, Vicki Lewis, Dennis Hopper

Humphrey is a wolf who is secretly in love with Kate, but he is an Alpha wolf while she is an Omega wolf, and that difference in hierarchy is a problem for a relationship in their society. Kate's parents, Winston and Eve, arrange a marriage for her with Tony's son Garth, also an Alpha. However, one night local rangers tranquillize Kate and Humphrey and deport them to a different national park, hoping they will repopulate it. Using the help of a French goose and a duck, Kate and Humphrey board a train and return home. There, Kate decides to be with Humphrey, while Garth falls for Lilly.

CGI animated adventure comedy "Alpha and Omega" is a harmless fun, a moderately amusing and easily watchable film that doesn't offer much (that hasn't already been seen before), yet at least it should be congratulated for reducing the cheap cliches - like "hero saved in the nick of time" or "problem after problem after problem" - to the minimum. It's a mild comedy with jokes that are not that engaging or imaginative - actually, the only magical moment shows up in the opening, where Kate and Humphrey accidentally "stumble" upon each other in the air and hug each other, wherein the CGI animation marvelously shows their smile and how there is a natural sympathy between them. Likewise, the only excellent character is the shy-insecure wolf Lilly, voiced brilliantly by Christina Ricci, though Kate and Humphrey are also characterized good. A too simple, thin film, "Alpha and Omega" is nonetheless a correct viewing experience, being Dennis Hopper's last film.


Monday, November 1, 2010

Happy Country

Sretna zemlja; Documentary, Croatia, 2008; D: Goran Dević

The film follows two poles  of opposites - the extreme right and the extreme left - on two bus excursions. In one, it follows a group of nationalistic neo-ustashas and their heirs who take a bus from Zadar to Bleiburg, to commemorate the Bleiburg massacre. On the other, it follows a group of old partisans and their heirs who take a bus trip to Kumrovec, to celebrate Tito's birthday and lament how life in Communist Yugoslavia was much better. Despite the fact that these trips were filmed on different location and time, they both overlap on some issues, mostly with how the bus drivers treat them like little children because they are afraid they will be late or how they both rigorously defend their political beliefs.

In "Happy Country", director Goran Devic achieved another absurdly funny documentary that works as a satire on human stupidity. Supposedly, when it was shown on some Dutch film festival, the viewers asked: "Wait, there are two buses?", displaying how it was hard to distinguish those two groups, the extreme left and the extreme right. The film is abundant with surreal-humorous moments: two sexy ustasha girls pose dressed all in black (one even wearing a black short skirt); a fly is walking on the photo of dictator Ante Pavelic whereas the film even accomplished a parallel montage of two similar rants - in one, a 90-year old ustasha is talking this to his supporters gathered around him: "Only 2-3,000 people died at Jasenovac. But they were all terrorists!" The film then jumps to Kumrovec, where an old partisan says this into the camera: "Only 17 people died in Bleiburg! And of those 17, it is unknown how many were killed by the British, how many killed themselves and how many died from a heart attack!" You listen to those monologues and can't believe what these people are taking about, but Devic followed the documentary rule and delivered a neutral film, leaving everything for the viewers to figure out. Though, one common theme is clear: these people are stuck in the past and cannot live in the present, which tells something about the lack of some parts of society to move on.


Imported Crows

Uvozne vrane; Documentary, Croatia, 2004; D: Goran Dević

Director Goran Devic and his film crew visited the town of Sisak to interview people about the supposed "crow pandemic". Almost everyone in town is against those birds: some say the late Norbert Weber, who founded the local ironworks, imported crows from Siberia to get rid of some plant parasites, but his black flying friends managed to spread throughout. Some lady even believes the crows are actually those "Hitchcock's crows", lamenting how the birds "hide in bushes and then pluck your hand until they dismember your flesh". That never happened to her, "but to her mother". One of the most bizarre things that was captured on film is that some guy from the Mountain Rescue Service is actually assigned to knock out and destroy the crows' nests from trees using a long pole.

Devic's first film is, by his own words, so full of mistakes and holes that you can poke it like cheese, but precisely such charming imperfection makes this short documentary so accessible and easily watchable, as if it was made from the people for the people. Devic himself said: "A good film has 100 flaws, a bad film only one, it's not good". A lot of humor originates from the interviews where people say such insane things they immediately mock themselves with such backward attitude. For instance, one madam, a member of HDZ, is saying how she is helping commemorate Palm Sunday, which "celebrates peace", and in the same sentence she adds nonsense, how "those crows should all be exterminated". Even though "Imported Crows" are a documentary, Devic manipulated reality a little bit - he himself admitted how he told that guy from the Mountain Rescue Service to work near the church on Palm Sunday - but he nonetheless achieved a great, bitter point to the film in the finale where dozens of religious people are following the priest in a queue to the church, but don't even bother to react at dead baby crows falling in front of them, showing how they are only merciful when someone "programs" them to be.


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Wind and the Lion

The Wind and the Lion; adventure drama, USA / Spain, 1975; D: John Milius, S: Sean Connery, Candice Bergen, Brian Keith, John Huston, Simon Harrison, Polly Gottesman

Tangier, Northern Africa, early 20th century. Raisuli, an outlaw and leader the Berbers, but also an honorable warrior, kidnaps American Eden Perdicaris and her two children, William and Jennifer, to ignite an uprising against the Sultan in order to get his people at least some form of independence and rid Morocco of colonialist powers. Since it is election year in the US, president Theodore Roosevelt makes it his priority to save those three American citizens and sends Marines to intervene. However, Eden slowly gains respect of Raisuli. After he is captured when he frees the Perdicaris family, she helps him get away.

The second film by director John Milius, based on true events, adventure drama "The Wind and the Lion" is a quality film that encompasses some often themes of the author, mostly about honor and loyalty in harsh times, even sending a small commentary about the colonialist exploitation of countries that yearned for independence. Some battles scenes and situations turned out lumpy and rather heavy handed (for instance, the unnecessary scene where the Perdicaris observe a cut off tongue), whereas the finale is unsatisfying, but marvelous desert landscapes, reminiscent of Lean's "Lawrence of Arabia", and elegance make this a rather inspirational film (Mrs. Perdicaris changes her underwear while cowered by a blanket, in order to avoid the obtrusive looks of her Berber guards; after the US Marines takes over the Tangier palace and shoot all the guards, the Pasha takes the grapes from the hand of his shot servant before he falls down from his table). Also, at least one quote in the film is legendary - after they risked everything for their goal, and lost, and stayed alone at the beach, one adherent says: "We lost everything", and Connery's Raisuli answers him: "Is there not one thing in life worth losing everything for?" It's one of the two or three best lines of wisdom ever written by Milius.