Wednesday, November 28, 2018


Yeelen; fantasy drama, Mali / Burkina Faso / France / Germany, 1987; D: Souleymane Cissé, S: Issiaka Kane, Aoua Sangare, Niamanto Sanogo, Balla Moussa Keita

Mali during the Middle ages. Nianankoro lives with his mother in a village. In a bowl of water, he sees the vision of his father, Soma, a Shaman, who wants to kill him because Nianankoro may cause the latter's demise. Nianankoro departs and flees, while Soma is searching for him using a pole that is carried by two men, and which is used as a compass to find Nianankoro. When Nianankoro is arrested in a village for suspicion of trying to steal goats, he uses his own magic powers to "freeze" the two warriors who wanted to slay him. This impresses the king who asks Nianankoro to help cure his wife, Attou, from infertility, but Nianankoro has sex with her, and the couple is thus banished from the village. They finally reach a canyon city where Nianankoro meets his uncle Djigui, who was blinded by the powers of a plank. Finally, when Soma arrives, Nianankoro uses the plank to fight him. A beam of light illuminates everything. Later, a kid digs up two ostrich egss in a desert and gives it to Attou.

Director Souleymane Cisse's most famous film, and somewhere regarded as one of the best films from Africa, "Yeelen" is a heavily mythical, allegorical, subconscious and symbolic experience, a fantasy art-film, yet still not quite as grand as some superlatives from critics would let you believe. Cisse directs the entire film in an astringent, 'scarce' style reminiscent of P. P. Pasolini, A. Tarkovsky and W. Herzog, a one that evokes both subconscious themes (a lad trying to escape from his father who wants to kill him as a 'rite of passage' ritual) and fascination with nature, yet while his images are impressive, his narration and storyline are sometimes too hermetic and confusing at times. Allegedly the actor playing the father died during filming, and thus, in order to "patch up" some parts, Cisse resorted to the trick that the father took on the shape of the uncle in the scene where he meets the king, which causes some confusion. A huge misstep is the opening sequence showing vile animal cruelty (a chicken burned alive while tied to a pole), which lowers the movie's level and should have been cut, whereas other minor flaws are also apparent (some half way into the film, "Yeelen" lingers too long on a 10-minute sequence of the shamans talking in nature; the main protagonists, Nianankoro and Attou, are underdeveloped characters, since they are just archetypes, not fully fledged personalities...). Still, the movie has imagination in these fantasy elements (a creature on a tree that looks like a man wearing a head of a hyena; Nianankoro uses his magic to "freeze" the movement of two warriors who wanted to slay him) and sometimes uses them to illustrate some character traits (Soma, the father, uses animal sacrifice for his magic, indicating his selfish nature, whereas Nianankoro uses just a bone for a spell, in order to avoid harm). The finale with the duel between Soma and Nianankoro is underwhelming and too thin—since the whole film builds up to it, it comes as too fleeting—yet it still gives a 'cinematic voice' to all these Malian legends which cause meditative awe to the Western viewers.


Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Dark City

Dark City; science-fiction drama, USA / Australia, 1998; D: Alex Proyas, S: Rufus Sewell, William Hurt, Jennifer Connelly, Kiefer Sutherland, Richard O'Brian

John Murdoch wakes up suddenly inside a bathtub and cannot remember anything about his life or how he got there. He finds a murdered prostitute in the room and escapes just before the police arrive at the scene. Inspector Bumstead suspects Murdoch is the serial killer of the city and thus question Murdoch's wife, singer Emma. Murdoch, however, uncovers an even bigger mystery that eclipses the case: bald men in dark suits are chasing him, aided by scientist Schreber. It turns out that aliens have taken these bald men as their vessels, and that they are running the entire city, an artificial creation, switiching people's identities from time to time, to find out about their soul in order for the aliens, who are facing extinction, to try to survive by merging with humans. Murdoch, Bumstead and Schreber join forces and reach the edge of the city, figuring out they are floating in space on a giant dome. Using his special telekinetic power, Murdoch is able to kill the bald men, destroy and rebuild the city with a beach and a make daylight again. He meets Emma again, who lost her memory, and decides to start a new relationship with her.

Years 1998 and '99 peculiarly coincided with a whole 'deluge' of movies about simulated reality being released, including "The Truman Show", "The Matrix" and "The 13th Floor". Among them was also Alex Proyas' "Dark City", which is, together with "The Truman Show", easily among the best additions to the lot. Starting off as a normal crime film noir about police searching for a serial killer, this movie slowly undergoes a transformation to leave this first act behind in order to adapt a far more encompassing, "abnormal" and wider philosophical concept about Plato's allegory of the cave, where the hero Murdoch wonders if he and all the people around him are only living in a fake world run by someone else. In one memorable sequence, Murdoch is awake at midnight, and watches in shock when all the cars and trains suddenly stop on the streets, and all the people fall asleep simultaneously, only for the bald people in dark suits to show up and re-arrange a couple to change their identity and memory, changing them from a working class couple in a shady apartment to a rich, aristocratic couple in a mansion when they wake up, with a completely different memory of their lives.

Another memorable moment has whole buildings "growing" or changing at midnight, as well, to fit the alteration of this world. This is very engaging, speaking about some subconscious human fears of just being pawns of the invisible Moirai who control and write their destiny, as well as the limits of gnoseology, symbolically shown in the spectacular ending that evokes the Flammarion engraving, thematically similar to the ending of "The Truman Show". Some flaws are apparent, though. While the reason for a simulated reality was perfectly explained in "The Truman Show", here it is rather vague and incomplete: if the aliens need the people to survive, why constantly change their identities? What difference does it make? If they need humans as vessels, what are they waiting for? And since they already use the bald men as vessels, didn't they already achieve their goal? Stylistic and moody, "Dark City" is a movie that stimulates the viewers to think, nonetheless: it poses the question if there is some "meta-identity" in people, a one which refers to free will that can choose to live its own life, even when an external force imposes a different identity upon it.


Sunday, November 18, 2018

Love Me Tonight

Love Me Tonight; romantic musical comedy, USA, 1932; D: Rouben Mamoulian, S: Maurice Chevalier, Jeanette MacDonald, Charles Ruggles, Charles Butterworth, Myrna Loy

Paris. Maurice is a joyful tailor who finds out that one of his customers, Vicomte, did not pay for all the suits he ordered from his shop. Maurice thus decides to travel to Vicomte's castle to demands money from him. However, on his way, Maurice meets Princess Jeanette, and falls in love with her. Once in the castle, Vicomte informs Maurice that Vicomte's rich uncle limited him allowance, and thus he cannot pay the tailor. However, Vicomte introduces Maurice as a Baron so that he can stay in the castle until he can get paid. Maurice accepts to play a Baron to try to charm Jeanette. The Princess indeed falls in love with him, but abandons him when everyone finds out Maurice is just an "ordinary" tailor. However, in a change of heart, Jeanette rides on a horse and stops the train with Maurice on it. The couple is thus united.

One of the most critically recognized musicals of its time, "Love Me Tonight" stood the test of time and became a classic due to its playful, creative and energetic approach, which makes it seem remarkably fresh even by today's standards. Director Rouben Mamoulian takes on the typical story of an "ordinary" man of "lower class" who falls in love with a Princess in a castle, a woman "above his league", and yet still manages to turn it into something unique and untypical thanks to his sense for quirky comedy and wonderful, warm characters who inhabit this semi-fairy tale like world. Already the opening of the movie is very catchy: it shows a deserted Paris at sunrise, and quickly uses the sounds of a man with a pickle hitting the ground, a man snoring, a woman sweeping the floor with a broom, a chimney, a clock and other drumming to combine them all into one giant rhythmic semi-music. Another highlight is the inventive use of singing: tailor Maurice sings the song "Isn't It Romantic?" at his store, only for another man to continue singing it in a cab, then the soldiers taking over the singing while they march in the field, and musicians continuing singing it at night, until the song finally reaches Princess Jeanette at her castle, thereby establishing a link of the main male and female protagonist, who will soon meet in the story. A couple of dialogues are equally as fun (when Jeanette wants to leave, after she fell from her horse and strained her foot, Maurice tells her: "Your left foot wants to go, but your other foot wants to stay."), whereas Mamoulian tickles and pushes the envelope of censorship with a few of "spicy" pre-Code moments here and there (such as implying that Jeanette is sick because she doesn't have a lover). While some of the moments are a tad stiff at times, and not all of the musical numbers equally as fun, "Love Me Tonight" still manages that all the flaws take a back seat in front of all the virtues that take on the lead.


Tuesday, November 13, 2018


Laura; crime drama, USA, 1944; D: Otto Preminger, S: Dana Andrews, Clifton Webb, Gene Tierney, Vincent Price, Judith Anderson

The news of murder of Laura Hunt, a famous advertising executive, at her apartment, sends shock waves through the city. Detective Mark is sent to question the possible suspects, and starts off with newspaper columnist Waldo, Laura's friend. Waldo helped Laura start off in business when he endorsed her pen. Waldo decides to accompany Mark on his way to interrogate other people, as well. Mark questions Laura's fiance, Shelby, and Laura's aunt, Ann. One evening, as Mark fell asleep, he is shocked to see Laura return to her apartment—she wasn't murdered because she was away in the forest, and thus the police find out that the killer confused Diane, a model, with Laura, and shot her, instead, since it was night in Laura's apartment. Mark finally figures that Waldo is the perpetrator due to his jealousy of Laura's men. As Waldo tries to kill Laura once again, Mark intervenes and saves her.

While it does kick off with a rather shaky start, especially due to some "smart alec" dialogues which seem somewhat artificial, "Laura" slowly builds its ground and advances into an excellent film noir of 'old school', securing itself a steady place as a classic among the opus of film director Otto Preminger. Dana Andrews is somewhat coiled as the detective Mark investigating Laura's murder, yet the storyline, mood, style and clever writing simply all nullify any complain and end on a high note where everything fits in the finale. The most was achieved out of the cynical newspaper columnist, Waldo (brilliant Clifton Webb), who gives the movie several fresh, quirky lines: already at the beginning of the film, when Mark enters his mansion, Waldo is untypically typing on his type machine while in a bathtub. Waldo also has this line when the cocky Mark enters the door without announcement: "Haven't you heard of science's newest triumph, the doorbell?" In a flashback, there is a delicious sequence that reveals how Laura first met Waldo, bothering him to endorse a product of hers while he was dinning, but he refused, which leads to another great exchange ("But you write about people with such real understanding and sentiment." - "Sentiment comes easily at 50 cents a word"). There is a great plot twist some half way into the film, after which the movie engages even more, while it also offers several interesting character traits (after the twist, Mark calls guests to see their reaction at the new set of facts), as well as wider themes of possessiveness and extreme jealousy, making some film critics wonder about Waldo's motivations: was he in love with Laura or did he just want to be like her? Considering that Waldo might be gay, this even adds further to the themes of transgender projection.


Sunday, November 11, 2018


Málmhaus; drama, Iceland, 2013; D: Ragnar Bregason, S: Thora Bjorg Helga, Ingvar Eggert, Þröstur Leó Gunnarsson, Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir, Ólafur Gunnarsson

A village. Hera (12) witnesses how her brother falls while driving a tractor and dies from its blades that plow the land. The parents, Droplaug and Karl, attend his funeral, but Hera is disgusted by the picture of Jesus and the injustice of her brother's early death, and adopts a rebellious attitude towards society. A decade later, Hera is into Heavy metal music, a goth girl who constantly searches for trouble: she finds a job in a slaughterhouse, but gets fired for playing music over loudspeakers; she steals a tractor; she smokes in church... She is at first hostile towards the new pastor, yet attempts to kiss him when he reveals an Iron Maiden tattoo. He rejects her, and Hera burns down the church. Ultimately, she finally grows up and takes responsibility: she begins a relationship with neighbor Knutur, plays a concert with a Norwegian band while her parents accept her music.

"Metalhead" is a case study on how a negative, pivotal event in life can trigger anti-social behavior and misplaced anger against the entire world by a teenager, in this edition Hera, a girl who decides to adopt a "counter-culture" persona of a Heavy metal fan in order to show her revolt against the society, yet she finally in the end realizes that there is no enemy she can take revenge on (bad events are, after all, mostly just random chances, anyway), just innocent people around her, and thus ultimately matures and grows up. Director Ragnar Bregason crafts a good film that contemplates how different people cope differently with problems, yet he lacks true highlights and inspiration to truly catapult it into more than many other such similar stories, which are a dime a dozen. Moreover, one interesting subplot involving a young local pastor and his interaction with Hera (in a neat little scene where she is startled in her room when he starts unzipping his shirt, only to reveal he has an Iron Maiden tattoo on his arm) could have practically been the main plot of the storyline, since the main story is too episodic and aimless at times. Another subplot, where three Norwegian Heavy metal players visit her home because they heard her music, could have been the real plot as well, yet it is also dropped since it appears only in the last 20 minutes of the film. The most was achieved out of the leading actress, excellent Thora Bjorg Helga, who convincingly transverses from one state of mind to another.


Sunday, November 4, 2018

Inuyasha the Movie: The Castle Beyond the Looking Glass

Eiga Inuyasha: Kagami no Naka no Mugenjou; animated fantasy, Japan, 2002; D: Toshiya Shinohara, S: Satsuki Yukino, Kappei Yamaguchi, Koji Tsujitani, Houko Kuwashima, Kumiko Watanabe

In medieval Japan, Kagome, Inuyasha, Miroku and Sango finally seemingly manage to defeat demon Naraku. Kagome therefore returns back to modern Tokyo to attend high school, where she listens to a lecture about the Kaguya legend, but is quickly deplored by Inuyasha to come back to the medieval Japan. Once back, Kagome meets Akitoki Hojo, a great ancestor to one of her classmates. A new threat emerges: spirit woman Kaguya, who kidnaps Kagome and locks her up in her castle. Kaguya uses a spell to encompass the entire forest with dark energy, causing the time to freeze, but Inuyasha and the others are exempt, since they touched Kagome's band-aid from the future. Inuyasha storms the castle and is almost transformed into a full demon by Kaguya, but Kagome's kiss saves him. Naraku shows up, since he only feigned his death in order to merge with Kaguya and become stronger. Inuyasha and company manage to stop Kaguya's plan and everything returns back to normal.

"Inuyasha" seems as if it was made by a Schizophrenic person: in the anime series, the first 80 episodes were great, only for the next 80 episodes to be terribly repetitive and action based, as if they were made by a completely different author. Then the 1st movie was great again. The 2nd movie, "The Castle Beyond the Looking Glass", is somewhere in between: its storyline was rejuvenated thanks to a few refreshing, comical and romantic moments, characteristic for its author, Rumiko Takahashi, yet it still drags in the 2nd half, and leans again more towards generic, empty action and battle sequences, which is why some viewers will find them boring to sit through. The convoluted story meanders too much, and it isn't all until the last 30 minutes until it finally leads to a plot tangle, whereas the finale is somewhat rushed and not quite satisfying. Kagome is again a very sweet character, and her quandary as to leave her modern teenage life to fight some medieval demons is something people can (allegorically) identify with: it is based on the old notion that tasks and obligations don't ask for a convenient time. One of the best moments is a comical one: six samurais encircle a young lad, Hojo, on a bridge, assaulting him, but are deliciously "interrupted" when Inuyasha nonchalantly just wants to pass between them to cross the bridge. The samurais are insulted that someone just ignores their "fuss", even a complete stranger, and thus now aim their anger against Inuyasha—only to be thrown into the river, since, unbeknownst to them, Inuyasha is a half-demon. Another great little moment has Kagome arguing with her little brother, yet some dogs are barking at them from a pet store. Kagome thus turns around and orders them: "Sit!" Only for the sound of a falling Inuyasha to be heard behind her, who was there all the time. More of these moments would have been welcomed, since they reach the viewers better than the routine battle sequences, yet this is still a good little edition of the long franchise.


Thursday, November 1, 2018

Cairo Station

Bab al-Hadid; drama, Egypt, 1958; D: Youssef Chahine, S: Youssef Chahine, Hind Rostom, Farid Shawqi

Cairo. Qinawi is a newspaper-seller who cannot find a woman because of his low salary and one limp foot, and thus lives alone in a shed. He is secretly in love with Hanuma, a woman who illegally sells cold drinks by climbing into trains and offering drinks to the passangers arriving at the station, though she and her friends have to be quick to escape as to not get caught by the police. She is suppose to get married to Abu Siri, an employee at the station who is protesting against the harsh working conditions of his boss and thus tries to form a union. When she rejects him once again, Qinawi decides to stab Hanuma. However, because it was night, he accidentally stabbed another woman and placed her in a trunk. The woman survives and informs the police who arrest Qinawi before he can stab Hanumi at the railroad. He is sent to a mental asylum.

Widely considered one of the greatest movies of Egyptian cinema, "Cairo Station" by its director (and main actor) Youssef Chahine is a dark, disenchanting and bitter tale on the old archetype of all drama: the everlasting tragedy/suffering caused by the rift between what people want from life and what life actually gives them. This variation has the main protagonist suffer from loneliness because he is a cripple, and the lack of any sympathy or understanding from women around him lead to inevitable tragic consequences. Chahine is surprisingly daring in some scenes: the opening has Madbouli enter Qinawi's shed, and spots that it is plastered with newspaper clips of scantly dressed women, a situation neatly summed up by Madbouli's narration: "That's when I realized how frustrated he was, so frustrated that he became more and more obsessed". Inspired somewhat by Italian neoralism, "Cairo Station" strives towards naturalism without any idealism, showing the sorry state of human existence—true to the ulterior theme of desire as a trap for people—yet despite its simple approach, it has a strong style: close-up shots are used effectively (one expressionistic sequence zooms in on Qinawi's eyes as he observes, it is implied, sex between the "object of his affection", Hanuma and Abu Siri, in a warehouse, while his look is intercut with frames of a train slowly passing over the railroad tracks, pressing it up and down) whereas a couple of "cinematic codifications" are surprisingly well done (in one sequence, Madbouli reads a newspaper article about a woman who was killed, her head cut off, while Qinawi suddenly leaves the room, leaving behind a small paper photo of a woman whose head he "cut off" with scissors). Chahine has a sense for a simple movie language in the storyline, delivering a film that does not accuse anyone yet causes everyone to think, whereas his actors are wonderful, from Hind Rostom as Hanuma up to the excellent Farid Shawqi, one of the most underrated Egyptian actors.