Saturday, July 31, 2010
Fah talai jone; Satire/ Drama/ Western, Thailand, 2000; D: Wisit Sasanatieng, S: Chartchai Ngamsan, Stella Malucchi, Supakorn Kitsuwon
The young Dum first met Rumpoey, the daughter of a rich aristocrat, while he was still a little child and saved her from drowning in a river. When the evil Kong killed his father, Dum joined the gang of the Thai criminal Fai, receiving the nickname "Black Tiger". Mahesuan, who is also a member of the same gang, becomes his friend. When the gang captures a policeman, Dum sets him free since he is engaged to Rumpoey. On the wedding, the gang attacks the policeman, but Fai gets murdered. In a commotion, Dum is shot and killed by the policeman.
Asians as cowboys in a western? That paradigm was invented and executed by Thai director Wisit Sasanatieng who placed it in his fun cult comedy "Tears of the Black Tiger" that doesn't only spoof that genre but also romance and melodrama, which is why such scenes like the one where a cowboy shoots with a bazooka seem completely normal here. The best part is the first third that is almost virtuoso and rich with bizarreness (water drops are falling from a hole on the roof, but suddenly a pipe of a pistol emerges from the darkness, revealing it to be actually the source of the leak; Dum challenges a criminal to a duel but suddenly shoots a snake behind him so he thanks him for saving his life...) which all somehow tickle the imagination, yet the later flow of the story lost that wittiness and subtle hilarious touch, turning into a soap opera which is just a tiny bit overstretched.
Hard Candy; Thriller, USA, 2005; D: David Slade, S: Ellen Page, Patrick Wilson, Sandra Oh
Jeff, a 32-year old photographer, has an alluring online chat with a 14-year old girl, Hayley. They meet at a candy store and he persuades her to visit his desolated home. He shows her his photos, but she mixes a drug in his drink and makes him unconscious. When he wakes up, he is tied up to a chair and Hayley tells him she will punish him for being a pedophile. He denies the charges, but she finds nude photos of underage girls in his safe. She then ties him up to the table and castrates him. He manages to escape and find her on the roof. However, Hayley tells him she knows he was at least an accessory in crime when his friend Aaron killed a girl, Donna. Promising to remove all the pedophile evidence after his death, Jeff complies and hangs himself at her command.
An independent film that stirred up quite some controversies, "Hard Candy" is one of those bitter nightmare films that you want to see only once and never again, yet it is a clever and stylish little thriller that openly speaks about the taboo topic of pedophilia whereas the director David Slade and screenwriter Brian Nelson lead a refreshing inversion of the typical 'predator-lures-his-prey-in-a-trap' scheme, where the tables are switched and this time the prey actually traps the predator. The suspension is built slowly, with the 'kammerspiel' atmosphere since the 14-year old Hayley and the the 32-year old, trapped Jeff are practically the only two protagonists in the minimalistic story, whereas the two main actors who play them are in top notch shape. Even though some critics were turned off by the basic concept and complained about sadism, one-sided perspective and a forced message, "Hard Candy" forces the viewer to think about some situations in life, mostly if one evil can justify another evil, which was done right, even though it can not be for everyone's taste in this unpleasant format. Still, it's a quality psychological thriller, whereas Hayley's omnipotence can even be symbolically interpreted that she was only Jeff's consciousness that finally started to haunt him after all the wrong things he did.
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Yugoslavia, World War II. The Nazis, Fascists, Chetniks and Ustashe all join their forces to execute operation “Fall Weiss”, which aims for a brutal attack on the partisans and their strip of liberated territory in western Bosnia and central Croatia. Faced with crushing air raids, Tito, his partisans and all the wounded people, among them poet Vladimir Nazor, have to flee to south-east, towards the Neretva River, in the middle of cold winter. On their way, an Italian Captain, Michael Riva, joins them. When they arrive at Neretva, Vlado blows up the bridge upon the command of his superiors, their only way out. However, the partisans manage to beat Colonel Kranzer’s division and secretly cross the river, where they defeat the Chetniks. Unfortunately, Nada dies which upsets Stole.
7 million $ made “The Battle of Neretva” the most expensive Yugoslav film of all time and one of the most expensive non-English language films overall, which attracted numerous Hollywood stars to Yugoslavia like bees to honey, since director Veljko Bulajic rightfully concluded that a European movie is much likelier to gather hype when one of its minor roles, Vlado, is played by such celebrity as Yul Brynner than your average local actor. Watching such stars as Brynner and Orson Welles (as Chetnik senator (!) who says that he wants to see “Tito’s head” near the start of the film) speak in dubbed Serbo-Croatian is rather amusing, but at some point in the film it becomes obvious that it would have been better if it was not overrun by chaos and 60s mainstream pompous concessions. Still, this cult Yugoslav versions of “Saving Private Ryan” is much better than your run-of-the-mill partisan film, among others because it dared to avoid some black and white solutions and even show the heroes in realistic-unglamorous light (the partisans have to cross hundreds of miles to Neretva during the cold winter; they are plagued by typhoid; one of them, Boško, even directs his gun against his comrades after a feud…) whereas the action and production values are downright flawless and spectacular (during the air raid, half of the wall collapses on itself from a building; a military plane crashes on the roof of a house; the explosion that blows up the Neretva bridge…), many of which defy the cliches in this genre. Too many characters make this rather uneven, yet the film still has merits, among them for (mostly) avoiding the tiresome cliché that one partisan kills a dozen Fascists and only has to die himself when the director wants the audience to become sentimental.
Saturday, July 24, 2010
The Hours; drama, USA / UK, 2002; D: Stephen Daldry, S: Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, Ed Harris, Miranda Richardson, John C. Reilly, Jeff Daniels, Toni Collette, Claire Danes
1923. Virginia Woolf is writing the first page of her novel "Mrs. Dalloway" and at the same time suffering from depression. In hour hours, she prepares a party and persuades her husband to move back to London...1951. Laura is preparing a cake for her husband and is reading "Mrs. Dalloway". She leaves her little son Richard and contemplates about suicide, but changes her mind...2002. Clarissa is taking care of writer Richard, suffering from AIDS. He commits suicide.
After energetic drama "Billy Elliott", director Stephen Daldry achieved an even bigger success with sad-melancholic melodrama "The Hours" that won 2 Golden Globes (best actress Nicole Kidman, motion picture - drama), an Oscar (best actress N. Kidman) and 2 BAFTA awards (best actress N. Kidman, music). "The Hours" differ from conventional soap operas mostly due to the unusual structure that consists out of 3 stories that follow 24 hours in the lives of 3 heroines: Virginia Woolf who writes the first page of her book "Mrs. Dalloway"; Laura who is reading "Mrs. Dalloway" as well as Clarissa who nurtures Laura's grown up son, Richard (Ed Harris). Limiting the characters by only one time period, and then breaking that rule (Laura, as an old woman, appears in Clarissa's "chapter", that is separates her by 50 years), Daldry crystallized a highly stylish narrative, yet as a whole, "The Hours" are too pathetic and sentimental. A good counter-balance is only an occasional mild joke, like when Virginia comments that the guests are "barbarians because they came half an hour earlier to the party".
The Island of Dr. Moreau; Horror, USA, 1996; D: John Frankenheimer, S: David Thewlis, Val Kilmer, Marlon Brando, Fairuza Balk
An airplane crashes above the Pacific ocean and eventually only Edward manages to survive in a small lifeboat. He is picked up in a ship by Montgomery who brings him to a mysterious island. There, Edward is shocked when he discovers that a local DNA scientist, Dr. Moreau, is inserting human genes in animals who developed intelligence and started calling him father. Moreau plans to make real people out of them in order to transform humans into a higher race. But the creatures start a mutiny and kill Moreau and Montgomery. Only Edward survives and leaves the island.
Horror "The Island of Dr. Moreau" is not such a bad film as everyone says it is, but it is still a real mess where almost nothing works the way it should, neither acting, or story, or directing, or symbols and not even the awful make-up of man-beasts. Themes of genetic mutation were always close to trash in films and thus it is a pity that "Moreau" lacks sophistication, making the viewers only wonder how the whole film would have turned out had it been directed by the original director Richard Stanley who could have improved the overall result with better style. Like many weak films, this one also has one strong point that stands out: the genius wacko Marlon Brando whose Dr. Moreau claims that he saw the devil under the microscope in the form of badly connected genes whom he wants to erase with mutations. Some deeper messages revolving around eugenics, fight against the bourgeoisie or identity appear only in fragments.
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Pioneer One; Science-fiction pilot, USA, 2010; D: Bracey Smith, S: James Rich, Alexandra Blatt, Matthew Foster, Guy Wegener
An unknown space ship crashes in Edmonton and is quickly transported to a local defunct military base by the US officials. Since it spread radiation over some part of the area, agent Tom Taylor is pressured to call it a terrorist attack by his superiors. However, he and his partner Sophie discover the space ship had Soviet logo on it and carried an astronaut, who was badly injured during the trip. When Mars expert Dr. Zachary Walzer is brought to the base and signs a declaration of confidentiality, Tom informs him that they found a note in Russian, claiming the astronaut is a child of a cosmonaut living on an unknown base on Mars ever since the 80s.
„Pioneer One“ is notable for being the first ever pilot for a series funded by online donations and shot exclusively for Internet, making it inventively available for free downloads by the public, avoiding the „piracy“ nuisance and its complications. As a final result, it's a good achievement, but with some objections: the acting and the sound are at times weak, whereas the camera work is occasionally amateurish (in some scenes it seems almost like a home video, swinging back and forth from left to right to capture as much action in one take, instead of making a cut when it is needed). Still, that can be corrected in the next episodes, while the sole story (a secret Soviet base on Mars ever since the 80s) and concept are genius and tickle the imagination. A few references to little known real events are probably the most delicious (the long rant about Stanislav Petrov, a lieutenant colonel of the Soviet Air Defence Forces who prevented a possible World War III when he refused to act by his orders and identified a „US missile attack“ as a false alarm; Soviet Satellite Cosmos 954 crashing in Canada '79) and thus maybe the series could eventually, despite its limited budget, turn intriguing if developed the right way.
Monday, July 19, 2010
Charlie Wilson's War; satire / drama, USA, 2007; D: Mike Nichols, S: Tom Hanks, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julia Roberts, Amy Adams, Om Puri, Emily Blunt, Ned Beatty
Texas Congressman Charlie Wilson is somehow fascinated by the Soviet-Afghan war in the 80s. His love interest Joanne Herring encourages him to do something about it. He flies off to Pakistan and meets president Zia-ul-Haq who persuades him to visit an Afghan refugee camp. Horrified by the human misery, Charlie contacts CIA operative Gust Avrakotos and asks him what weapons should be able to match the Soviet ones. After it, he lobbies and pulls all the connections possible to increase the secret US support for mujaheddin fighters against Soviets from 5 million $ to 1 billion $. After the defeated Soviets leave, the US makes no effort to help rebuild Afghanistan.
An extremely political film, Mike Nichols' 21st feature length film, "Charlie Wilson's War" is a satire in which those "off stage games" by the politicians - who want to achieve their goals by persuading others to follow them - come to full expression. In this case, where the title hero managed to assure 1 billion $ of US help for the mujaheddin resistance fighting against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, naturally equipped with a black ending - the first sequence, where Wilson gets a medal for his efforts, is also the final one, but whereas it seems idealistic at the start, after all the events seen, that identical sequence turns out almost cynical at the conclusion of the film. The film needs some 30 minutes to "get rolling", but once it starts rolling it completely fascinates all the viewers who are interested in such rare insights of power structures - only few would dare to say some things that were said here.
Basically, whenever Philip Seymour Hoffman (playing CIA operative Gust) is on the screen, the film is excellent, while the rest may seem rather shaky and strange, especially with Tom Hanks' performance that needs some time to get use to, yet for such a brave adaptation of a true story by screenwriter Aaron Sorkin based on the book by George Crile, this film deserves praise. In one great little satirical moment, Charlie and Gust are sitting with a Jewish politician Ziv, trying to persuade him about their idea. He replies with: "You want me to steer Israel towards an arms deal with Egypt, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia? They don't even recognize our right to exist, we just got done fighting a war against Egypt, and everyone who has ever tried to kill me or my family has been trained in Saudi Arabia!" And then Gust replies with a cold comment: "That's not true, Zvi. Some of them were trained by us." In another sharp scene, Charlie says this small sentence to Joanne: "But Congressmen are not elected by voters, they are elected by contributors". The sequence where Representative Doc Long has a sudden change of mind after seeing the Afghan refugees and holds a momentum-building marathon "good vs. evil" speech to them is also fantastic, all adding to a clever little film. Hoffman completes the film with the story about the zen master and the little boy, in one of the most inspired pieces of writting of the decade.
Sunday, July 18, 2010
Analyze This; Comedy, USA, 1999; D: Harold Ramis, D: Robert De Niro, Billy Crystal, Lisa Kudrow, Chazz Palminteri, Joe Viterelli
In the 50s, the first ever American mafia summit was interrupted by the police. In present day New York, a second summit is planned and mobster Paul Vitti, whose father was killed in front of his eyes and he could not have prevented it, is expected to attend. But Paul suddenly starts crying and not sleeping with women anymore, fearing for his reputation. When psychiatrist Ben accidentally hits his limousine with his car, Paul hires him to analyze his psychological problems. He makes progress, but annoys Ben who is getting ready for a wedding. When Paul leaves the mafia, Ben has to replace him at the summit. Paul is arrested and Ben is suppose to continue the therapy in prison.
Grossing over 100 million $ at the US box office, "Analyze This" became the biggest Robert De Niro hit until date, which prompted him to switch to comic roles more often, achieving even bigger hits ("Meet the Parents" and its sequel "Meet the Fockers"), yet the sole story could have been written in a funnier manner, not this standard way where the viewers have to be permissive in order to enjoy it on a higher level, whereas the joggling act with crime and serious violence ended up feeling heavy handed at times for a comedy film. Still, the conversations between Paul Vitti and his psychiatrist, excellent Billy Crystal, are amusing, creating an unusual concept of a mobster going on therapy, though a few more brilliant solutions would have been welcomed. Comedy veteran and Director Harold Ramis - who coincidentally also helped write the script - still has some spark for a good comic timing here and there, yet one could complain that he directs it solidly, but ordinary, without any depth for characters, just like his funnier, but also quite conventional comedy "National Lampoon's Vacation". Still, "Analyze This" is a good film, better than the sequel, while it was nominated for 2 Golden Globes - best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy and best Actor in a Musical or Comedy (De Niro).
War of the Roses; Black comedy, USA, 1989; D: Danny DeVito, S: Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner, Danny DeVito, Marianne Sagebrecht, Dan Castellaneta
Lawyer Gavin tells a story about his most difficult case, the Rose family. A long time ago, lawyer Oliver and his wife Barbara were an ideal married couple, with two kids, good jobs and a great house. But 17 years later, something went wrong. After a heart attack, Oliver's relationship with Barbara started deteriorating more and more. He wanted a divorce, but they simply could not agree upon "splitting" the house. Their mutual attacks became more vicious with time: the first casualties were the dog and the cat, then the furniture and the Christmas tree and in the end sole Barbara and Oliver, after they crash with a chandelier.
Black comedy "War of the Roses" is the second dark directorial achievement by actor Danny DeVito about human nature, dealing here with the intolerance between a married couple to such an extent that its title became a slang term for aggressive divorce campaigns, yet the quality of the movie depends a lot about the sensitivity of the viewers to stomach some nasty moments, even though the author still somehow managed to avoid the mean-spirited tone at the end. The story flows smoothly, though it does not exceed the limits of a good film, with an honest approach, including some vulgar scenes, like "blocking" the nose in sleep or urinating on the fish, yet DeVito managed to stay inside the good taste (though more sophistication would have been welcomed), whereas energetic performances by Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner (both nominated for a Golden Globe) make the whole "marital conflict" even more watchable. Unlike other comedies that are fun to watch due to their humor, this one is almost unpleasant to watch because the humor always highlights the flaws of humans, while the tragic ending makes the whole story even slightly melodramatic.
Sunday, July 11, 2010
Carnosaur II; Science-fiction action, USA, 1995; D: Louis Morneau, S: John Savage, Cliff De Young, Ryan Thomas Johnson, Don Stroud, Arabella Holzbog
A secret underground laboratory, situated somewhere in the desert, managed to clone living dinosaurs, Raptors and Tyrannosaurus Rex, but the lizards killed all the scientists and members in the facility. Worker Jack Reed and his six friends arrive via a helicopter to the location to fix the computers, but quickly discover the horror secret. Surrounded by dinosaurs, the team is looking for a way out of the facility because their helicopter is destroyed, but until the rescue team shows up almost all are going to die, but a bomb was planted to destroy the monsters there.
That the dinosaurs have a future in the cinema was discovered way back in the black and white era, with such films like "Kong" and "The Lost World", but in most cases these fascinating lizards were unfascinatingly and disappointingly set-up in cheap stories, among them in the B-movie sequel to "Carnosaur". "This is just like some bad horror film!", says one female member of the team at one point in the film, which is still rather exaggerated, even though "Carnosaur II" is an average and standard fantasy film. The first dinosaur, a Raptor, shows up some 34 minutes into the film (a man in a costume), and, as a small treat, one giant T. Rex in the end (a 20 foot tall, but stiff puppet) fighting a bulldozer, yet since the effects are limited they show up only for seconds in the film, whereas the fast editing and "greedy" budget makes it seem as if they are more being hidden than they are being shown. This is a real B-film, but it did not exploit all the possibilities as some other B-movie masters that still managed to be creative and insert a bigger quality in the process.
White Men Can't Jump; Drama, USA, 1992; D: Ron Shelton, S: Woody Harrelson, Wesley Snipes, Rosie Perez, Tyra Ferrell
White man Billy exploits the superficial prejudice that "white men can't jump" to cash in playing basketball in various bets. His partner is African-American Sidney, a family man with a daughter. They manage to play basketball on the streets with other opponents and win, also winning the bet. One day, though, they lose everything in one game, Sidney's apartment is robbed while Billy's girlfriend Gloria shows up in a TV Quiz and wins. In the end, they make up again.
Sports drama "White Men Can't Jump" is a well constructed and written film, whereas in the first (and better half) the basketball scenes as well as the dialogues are genius. A lot of fun, however, is lost towards the end when dramatic and (too) serious moments enter the sphere of pretentiousness, wherein the two main protagonists managed to overcome the antipathy despite the constant arguments, but not their clampy behavior. The actors are all great, yet alas, as with most basketball films, its enjoyment value depends a lot if the viewers enjoy basketball. As a whole, it is another good sports film by sports master director Ron Shelton, a darkly realistic, fast, modern and energetic adventure that manages to seize the attention.
Saturday, July 10, 2010
The Quick and the Dead; Western grotesque, USA, 1995; D: Sam Raimi, S: Sharon Stone, Gene Hackman, Russell Crowe, Leonardo DiCaprio
The Wild West, 19th Century. The mysterious blond Ellen arrives in the small city of Redemption, ruled by the local outlaw John Herod. He killed her father when she was a child, so she only wants revenge. For that occasion, she applies for a quick-draw contest, but since Herod is the fastest shooter he always wins and shoots his opponent, even his own son Kid. Likewise, Herod forces an ex-gangster, now renewed reverend Cort, to join the contest, and Ellen falls in love with him. In a staged duel, Cort "kills" Ellen and goes on a duel with Herod. Just then, she shows up and kills Herod.
After the cult horror trilogy "Evil Dead", director Sam Raimi accepted to helm the unusual, black humorous western "The Quick and the Dead" that seems like a refreshing feminist version of Leone's films "Once Upon a Time in the West" and "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly", representing the negation of its main motive - since the main protagonist is a woman. Even though not especially inspiring, the film is still a cult fun because, unlike "Spider Man", here Raimi has the control, not the producers, which is why the whole story is filled with unusual camera angles and ideas. The best (black humorous) jokes are the ones where citizens literally rob a corpse to its underwear after the duel or when Ellen (very good Sharon Stone) kidnaps the captured Cort to be intimate with him. If Ellen was not so much pushed into the background, Stone would have even achieved an excellent role, yet as it is, the film is still a daft fun, whereas Gene Hackman achieved another memorable performance as the main antagonist.
Welcome to Collinwood; Tragicomedy, USA, 2002; D: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo, S: Sam Rockwell, Patricia Clarkson, Louis Guzman, William H. Macy, Isaiah Washington, Michael Jeter, Patricia Clarkson, Jennifer Esposito, George Clooney
The poor town of Collinwood. Small time crook Cosimo gets arrested while trying car theft, so he calls his wife to find someone who will for 15.000 $ admit the guilt for the crime for him. Boxer Pero is hired, but he is so unconvincing that he gets released, hearing about an unprotected safe. When Cosimo dies, Pero assembles a group of bums in order to rob the safe. In order to do so, he seduces Carmen to get the keyes for the room next door. But they fail miserably, the room explodes and they remain without anything.
For their feature length debut film, brothers-director Anthony and Joe Russo chose to remake the Italian comedy "I soliti ignoti" by Mario Monicelli, crime film "Welcome to Collinwood", that is not a failure, yet it joggles with drama and comedy in a convulsive and heavy handed way. By choosing poor and unemployed for the protagonists who intend to rob a safe, the story automatically chose an ambitious approach, the camera angles are nicely stylized, George Clooney has a solid small cameo whereas many scenes are rather clever constructed - for instance, when Pero hires two friends to harass a girl in order to heroically "save her" - yet the forced anxiety, depressing and grey mood in the end damaged to film more than they helped her.
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
Daratt; Drama, Chad/ France/ Belgium/ Austria, 2006; D: Mahamat Saleh-Haroun, S: Ali Barkai, Youssouf Djaro, Djibril Ibrahim, Aziza Hisseine, Khayar Oumar Defallah
After the decades long civil war has ended in Chad, the government announces on radio that it will grant general amnesty to warlords to avoid any further unrest. Teenager Atim never met his father who was killed before his birth in the conflict by Nassara. Thus, Atim's grandfather persuades him to find and kill him personally. Hitchhiking, Atim arrives at a town, where he is attacked by two soldiers for urinating on the wall, but is saved by stranger Moussa. After some time, Atim finds Nassara, now married to Aicha and running a bakery. The oblivious Nassara gives him a job as a baker, puzzled by his twitchy mood towards him. Still, Nassara regards him as his son and Atim as his father he never had. He brings him to his grandfather, but since he is blind, Atim shoots in the air and makes him believe he killed Nassara.
Movies from Chad are so rare that it's much more precious to watch them when you get a chance than your run-of-the-mill mainstream film you get to see daily. Mahamat Saleh Haroun's „Daratt“, one of only 20 Chad films shot to date, again shows what a huge difference there is between the cinema of the West and the East: it's minimalistic magic, an unassuming and humble little film patiently building a simple „double-family“ story about a teenager, Atim, who is suppose to take revenge on Nassara, the murderer of his father, but the awakening of humanity and fatherly feelings towards him makes the task complicated. In a time where so many films outside the US are trying to look „Americanized“ as much as possible, „Daratt“ seems so refreshing precisely because it is so faithful to the culture and mentality of its own country, showing long panorama shots of Chadian desert, forests, cities and of course people, whereas small episodes where the influence from the West does show up (mobile phones, a disco…) seem unwanted, as if the story captured some essence of the African culture. One must have an almost different mindset in order to watch such introverted and intimate films like „Daratt“, though directors like Jarmusch, Kiarostami, Kaurismaki and others have already set the tone for the latter. Slow and calm, with many symbolic moments that are difficult to comprehend (after he injured his back, Nassara is lying on the bed and asks Atim to give him a massage. Atim though gives him a very „aggressive“ massage, to the point that it hurts Nassara who turns and looks at him strictly; Atim baking a poor bread which Nassara tastes and then spits out…), „Daratt“ is a film with a soul, whereas the ending is a real surprise, showing how even when one has only two options, some people can still find their own way.