Tuesday, July 30, 2019

The Last Movie

The Last Movie; experimental film, USA / Peru, 1971; D: Dennis Hopper, S: Dennis Hopper, Stella Garcia, Don Gordon, Julie Adams, Sylvia Miles, Peter Fonda, Samuel Fuller, Henry Jaglom, Michelle Phillips, Kris Kristofferson, Dean Stockwell, Russ Tamblyn, Tomas Milian

Kansas is a stunt man working on a western movie directed by Samuel Fuller, filmed somewhere in a village in Peru. A man dies during a stunt. After the end of filming, Kansas stays in Peru and starts a relationship with a local woman, Maria. He meets several other Americans in pubs, and once goes to a brothel. Maria becomes more demanding and wants expensive gifts. Kansas' friend has a goldmine in his possession, but the idea to dig for gold is abandoned since its mining is too remote and too expensive. The locals starts imitating the filming, forcing Kansas to star in their game, but they demand real violence. Kansas is wounded and falls on the ground, but then stands up again.

"The Last Movie" demonstrates how the experimental disjointed anti-narration, adopted in the 60s during the counterculture movement and introduced by Godard and others, seems terribly dated today. It wanted to go against the mainstream, to be "art in spite", to be modern, yet just feels confusing, chaotic and hard to follow. It also takes the viewers out of the film and disrupts their engagement: in one scene, for instance, Kansas falls wounded on the ground, but then just looks into the camera and stands up, breaking any illusion of potential suspense. Following his success with "Easy Rider", Dennis Hopper directed this peculiar film without a plot, which has some interesting moments: for instance, the title "A Dennis Hopper Film" appears only some 10 minutes into the film, while the title "The Last Movie" appears even 10 minutes later after that. In another amusing meta-film moment, Kansas and Maria are driving in a car, while all of a sudden a black screen appears for a second with the title saying "Scene missing". More of such refreshing interventions would have been welcomed, since a fair share of the film's point seems lost. There are great shot compositions in "The Last Movie", though they are, for the aforementioned reasons, "detached" from the storyline. Hopper's unusual worldview is presented through a few quirky ideas (Kansas and Maria are naked under the waterfall, having sex, while a priest accidentally walks kids for a sight-seeing tour of nature above, and thus rushes the kids to move on before they can look down), incorporating themes of an outsider lost in an isolated place, a one who can never find closure, whereas he also adds a sly critique of Hollywood in the best subplot, the one where locals were so fascinated by the film crew making a western film, that they themselves spontaneously start to imitate them, even using a fake "camera" and" microphone" made out of sticks (!), but want to use real violence for their filming game, which hints at the negative effects of violence shown on film.


Monday, July 29, 2019

Molly's Game

Molly's Game; drama, USA / Canada / China, 2017; D: Aaron Sorkin, S: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Michael Cera, Jeremy Strong, Chris O'Dowd, Kevin Costner, Angela Gots, Natalie Krill, J. C. MacKenzie, Graham Greene

Molly Bloom was persuaded by her overbearing father, Larry, to ski at the Olympic games, but slipped, fell and hurt herself badly. Assuming that her father loves her two brothers more, Molly moves to Los Angeles. Instead of applying to a law school, she finds a job as a waitress, and then as a personal assistant to Dean, a real estate developer, who holds private poker games in a club. Seeing that many rich people are into poker, including Hollywood star X, Molly one day gets fired, but invites them all to a new location, her own. She earns a lot of money since they bet hundreds of thousands of dollars. When X ousts her, Molly moves to New York and finds new players, but they also include Mafia members. When she refuses a racket, a mobster enters her apartment, beats and robs her. She is finally indicted by the FBI and seeks lawyer Jaffey for help. She meets her dad again and they make up. She is convicted to a mild sentence.

This feature length debut film of the critically recognized writer Aaron Sorkin is a proportionally well made biopic, filled with densely stuffed, long dialogues, which makes it twice as talkative than other two hour films, whereas Jessica Chastain is excellent in the leading role, who is both cynical and vulnerable as the title heroine, the "poker game Queen". However, one cannot escape one observation: all these ostensibly "scandalous" underground poker games are never as interesting as Molly's intimate relationship with her family, especially her father. The poker game segment copies the dynamic, explosive style of Scorsese's "Goodfellas", yet rarely something interesting happens there, except that Molly exploits all the compulsive game addicts. A few good dialogues appear, such as when Molly narrates that an advisor set up to make the "Cinemaxx version of herself" or when she has a strong argument with her lawyer Jaffey since she is willing to plead guilty in order to at least save her name, the only thing she has left. But the real highlight of "Molly's game" is the subplot involving her relationship with her father. There is this wonderful little sequence where Molly exits an FBI hearing during a break and randomly goes to skate on ice in the park. At one point, she starts charging, as if she remembers her youth when she was skiing, and all of a sudden she hears her father's voice, telling her to "bend her knees" while skating. They later sit on a bench and have a genuine, honest father-daughter talk. He, a psychologist, tells Molly he is going to do what all the patients beg him to do: to condense a lifetime therapy in three minutes, by just giving her the answers. The way he talks to Molly—demonstrating that she is so pessimistic and negative because she sensed he was cheating on her mother, but was still sucessful—is magical, and this whole sequence is either a slice of perfection of very close to perfection. One almost wonders if the entire film should have been just about that, and ditch the whole poker main plot.


Friday, July 26, 2019

Hacksaw Ridge

Hacksaw Ridge; war drama, USA, 2016; D: Mel Gibson, S: Andrew Garfield, Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey, Teresa Palmer, Ryan Corr, Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths, Vince Vaughn

Virginia. Desmond Doss was raised as a Seventh-Day Adventist. His initial date with a nurse, Dorothy, ends up awkwardly, since his traditional upbringing makes him unusual to act with women, but they get engaged. World War II breaks out, and Desmond enlists in the army—but refuses to carry a gun, firmly convinced in the commandment that one must not kill. Sergeant Howell gives him difficult tasks in the unit, while the others bully him, in hopes that Desmond will leave on his own. However, a court decides that a religious belief must be respected, and grants Desmond the request not to carry a gun. During the Battle of Okinawa, hundreds of soldiers are killed on a plateau, yet Desmond manages to retrieve over fifty wounded soldiers, descend them down to for the medical treatment and thus save their lives. Later, Desmond is awarded for his bravery.

With his 5fth feature length film as a director, Mel Gibson returned in big style with this honest, emotional, humanistic and unassuming anti-war biopic that has a story so unusual that it is even more surprising that it was based on a true story of Desmond Doss—a soldier who refused to carry a gun. "Hacksaw Ridge" starts off terribly pretentious and preachy, with slow motion sequences of soldiers dying on the battle front while Desmond is narrating in misguided dogmatic fashion: "Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the Earth." Luckily, the movie later manages to pull itself together and actually continue with a decent, proper narrative, and a lot of kudos should be given to its main hero, who is such an excellent, fascinating character: he is the embodiment of integrity, honor and innocence, a character who stands by his decision to not kill anybody in the war, but only save lives. Such characters were rarely put on the big screens, whereas Andrew Garfield delivers a fine performance. The motivations for Desmond's pacifism are never quite clear: was it because of his religious upbringing? Was it because of the scene where he got carried away in a fight and used a stone to hit his brother's head, almost killing him in the process? Was it because of his father, a nervous war veteran who lost all his friends in World War I? Either way, his conviction manages to carry the entire film.

The army recruit training segment offers refreshing comical lines from comedian Vince Vaughn, who plays the drill Sergeant Howell. In one funny sequence, St. Howell inspects the barrack, and orders all the soldiers to run outside for training. One soldier was exercising naked, so he wants to quickly take his clothes on before going outside, but St. Howell orders him to go outside naked: "I believe that any man who takes great pride in their natural naked state will surely enjoy the brisk of the outdoors. Now move your privates, private parts! Move it! You son of an exhibitionist!" The puzzlement of the army superiors upon hearing that Desmond refuses to touch a rifle or work on Saturday is met with cynicism, with one official commenting that they will just have to ask the enemy to not attack on Saturday. However, there is something pure in Desmond, who thereby manages to achieve his goal and work as a medic on the front. The follow-up segment of the Battle of Okinawa is shockingly brutal, naturalistic and dark, showing dozens of soldiers being practically hacked by heavy blows of bullets, or burnt alive by flame throwers, on both sides. Gibson gives undue weight to these overlong bloody battles, since his main protagonist is not a part of them, proving once again his strange fascination with violence seen already in "Braveheart" and "The Passion of the Christ". Nevertheless, Desmond is there to later on pick up wounded soldiers, risking of getting detected by the enemy. This gives "Hacksaw Ridge" some aura of humanity: in the midst of all this hate, one man operates his actions based on love, which creates an interesting defiance and opposition.


Thursday, July 25, 2019

The Transformers: The Movie

The Transformers: The Movie; animated science-fiction, USA / Japan, 1986; D: Nelson Shin, S: Peter Cullen, Judd Nelson, Robert Stack, Neil Ross, Susan Blu, Frank Welker, John Moschitta Jr., Scatman Crothers, Casey Kasem, Leonard Nimoy, Eric Idle, Orson Welles

Transformers, humanoid robots that can transform into vehicles or planes, are divided between the good—the Autobots—and the evil ones—the Decepticons. The Decepticons, led by Megatron, attack the Autobot City on Earth, and in a serious clash, the Autobot leader Optimus Prime is wounded and dies, giving his Matrix box inside of his body to his successor, Ultra Magnus. A wounded Megatron is thrown into space like trash by Starscream, but is found by a giant robot-planet entity called Unicron. After reviving him in a new body, Megatron becomes Galvatron, since Unicron wants him to find the Matrix from the Autobots, which poses a threat. In an attack on their spaceships, the Autobots are scattered on several planets. Galvatron kills Ultra Magnus, while Unicron transforms into a giant robot. The Autobot Hot Rod crashes into Unicron and uses the Matrix to destroy it.

While not as good as some fans make it out to be, the feature length animated film of "The Transformers" is still a sufficiently entertaining and exciting flick that works thanks to its 80s flair and nostalgia. The story is a tad too convoluted, rushed and all over the place, starting in medias res, without any kind of introduction to its characters or setting, and thus the viewers must either have prior knowledge from "The Transformers" animated TV show or they will be "lost" in the midst of all this, yet basically the story follows the typical 'good vs. evil' concept, with the two Transformers, the Autobots and Decepticons battling each other. What is surprising is that there are only two human characters in the entire film—the kid Daniel and his father, though even they are only reduced to a footnote—while the entire rest is made up out of the robot protagonists, making this truly a movie about the Transformers. The movie is unusually serious and gritty—the protagonist, Optimus Prime, dies already halfway into the film—with only a couple of moments with some humor (upon returning with new superpowers, Megatron kills and disintegrates the robot who betrayed him, Starscream, and crushes its crown, adding: "Does anybody else want to step into his shoes?"; upon landing on a garbage planet, Daniel comments how they are on a "junkyard capital of the Universe"), yet this does not help that much in giving the movie weight or integrity, since it sometimes drifts into very chaotic subplots. There is overall some charm in this 'rump' edition, filled with incredible voice cast (from Robert Stack as Ultra Magnus up to Orson Welles (!) as the villain cyborg-planet entity Unicron) and some outburst of fantastic music, one of which is the fabulous song "Dare" by Stan Bush, in which the kid is driving in the Transformers car up on the hill to greet a landing spaceship, which offers some pure escapist bliss and joy.


Saturday, July 20, 2019

One Hundred and One Dalmatians

One Hundred and One Dalmatians; animated film, USA, 1961; D: Wolfgang Reitherman, Hamilton Luske, Clyde Geronimi, S: Rod Taylor, Cate Bauer, Betty Lou Gerson, Ben Wright, Lisa Davis, Martha Wentworth

London. Pongo is a Dalmatian dog living with his owner, songwriter Roger. In a park, Pongo manages to charm Anita, the owner of another Dalmatian female dog, Perdita. Roger falls in love with Anita, Pongo with Perdita. 15 Dalmatian puppies are bred. However, Anita's schoolmate, Cruella De Vil, intends to make fur coats out of the puppies, and thus sends her henchmen, Jasper and Horace, to kidnap them. With the help of a cat, the puppies, together with another 83 other Dalmatian puppies who were kidnapped previously, escape from Jasper's and Horace's house and flee with Pongo and Perdita. Cruella tries to capture them again, but her car crashes with Jasper's and Horace's. Back in London, Roger and Anita embrace all of the 101 Dalmatians.

By selling over 99,000,000 tickets at the American box office during its premiere and four subsequent re-issues, "101 Dalmatians" is the 2nd most popular Walt Disney animated feature film of the 20th century, though not among their finest achievements. In spite of its charming, lovable characters, its biggest impact was left by the villainess, Cruella De Vil, who was ingrained in collective cinema memory as one of the sleaziest and nastiest antagonists in animation. The start of the film is inspired: the intro is wonderfully creative (dots are used, among other things, as music notes) whereas the opening line has style, with the camera descending from a panorama shot of an apartment building while the protagonist narrates his introduction ("My story begins in London... At that time, I lived with my pet in a flat...") and we see Roger through the window, composing music while his dog lays next to him, only for the viewers to quickly find out that the narrator is not Roger, but actually the dog, Pongo ("Oh, that's my pet, Roger, I'm the one with the spots").

The way Pongo manages to "initiate" contact for his owner, Roger, in the park, is irresistible: the dog uses the leash to "laso" both Roger's and Anita's leg, thereby pushing them closer to each other, in a neat romantic move. The rest of the story is somehow rushed and hasty, never managing to simply slow down for the viewers to enjoy its narrative and absorb what is going on. Out of the 15 Dalmatian puppies, none is that well developed as a character (except for one who is fat, and thus his only personality is that he loves eating), and thus the sympathy for them is restrained, which is really problematic in the finale, when the viewers are suppose to root for them. The last third of the film is just one giant escape and chase sequence, without much ingenuity, leaving a rather standard, though still solid impression. A little more imagination or versatility in the story, revolving around the 15 Dalmatian puppies, would have improved the film, whereas a few sugary Disney moments happen here and there. However, there are still moments that ignite a good chuckle (in one great 'throw away' joke, Roger listens to his song on a radio, revolving around the evil nature of Cruella), which makes "101 Dalmatians" a fun film.


Friday, July 19, 2019


Yesterday; fantasy romantic comedy, UK, 2019; D: Danny Boyle, S: Himesh Patel, Lily James, Ed Sheeran, Kate McKinnon, Joel Fry, Sophia Di Martino

Suffolk. After a traffic accident, Jack Malik, an aspiring songwriter who makes ends meet by working in a store, wakes up in an alternate reality where the Beatles never existed. He uses this opportunity to simply copy every Beatles song he remembers and present it as his own. His best friend / manager, Ellie, helps him make an album, and little by little, the word of mouth spreads. Musician Ed Sheeran invites him for a concert and is amazed by the songs Jack plays. Quickly, a new, American manager steps in, Debra, and soon Jack becomes an international star. He meets two other people who remember the Beatles. During a concert, Jack finally admits the songs were composed by the Beatles and ends up with Ellie.

This charming comic take on the 'Mandela Effect', in this case presenting a man in an alternate reality where the Beatles never existed, is an amusing, light and heartwarming little film, though the the range of possibilities of its concept could have been exploited more. "Yesterday" starts off nicely, presenting the hero Jack as a would-be musician who gives up on his dream, admitting to his best friend Ellie: "I think my music is something special, you think it is something special, but nobody else does". It is an effective scene, both bitter, somber and charming. It is topped by the best sequence in the film, the one where Jack manically googles the word "Beatles" on his laptop, but only gets ridiculously absurd results, such as the image of a beetle insect, or when he types in "John Paul McCartney" but only gets the image of "Pope John Paul", which is a riot. Sadly, nothing after that manages to be equally as great. The rest of the film is good, but somehow strangely ordinary, calculative and normal for such a fresh and unique concept, never leading to some especially relevant point congruent to it. The actors are all great, especially Lily James who steals almost every scene as Jack's love interest, Ellie, whereas it is a treat to simply listen a whole array of The Beatles' songs, sung here by Jack, from "Love is All You Need", through "The Long and Winding Road" up to "Help!", performed with gusto.


Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Husbands and Wives

Husbands and Wives; drama, USA, 1992; D: Woody Allen, S: Woody Allen, Sydney Pollack, Judy Davis, Mia Farrow, Juliette Lewis, Liam Neeson, Lysette Anthony, Cristi Conaway

New York. Gabe, a literature professor, and his wife, Judy, are shocked upon finding out that their friends, Jack and Sally, are filing for divorce. Jack finds a younger new lover, Sam, and thinks she is great in bed, but soon has to conclude that she is very immature and incompatible, so he reconciles with Sally. In the meantime, Gabe starts talking with his student, Rain, who is a great admirer of his. During a rainy night, they kiss, but Gabe decides to not pursue this any further. However, Gabe's wife Judy leaves him to be with another man, Michael.

Unjustifiably overshadowed by Woody Allen's infamous break-up with Mia Farrow, who here ironically plays his wife leaving him, excellent "Husbands and Wives" offers far more than many other movies exploring the theme of human relationships, managing to be both realistically intimate and artistically satisfying. Already the opening scene manages to set up an engaging intro, staying true to Allen's typical comic taste: on TV, a man mentions Einstein's quote: "God doesn't play dice with the Universe!", upon which Allen's character Gabe changes the channel and comments: "No, he plays hide-and-seek with the Universe!" Unlike his previous, static films, this one is untypical for Allen: he uses hand-held cameras with sudden, shaky pans, even jump cuts that interrupt Gabe in the middle of a sentence, making one wonder if he was the first to use this documentary-like style, before Dogme 95. However, he always forces the viewers to engage more with the characters than with his style. The bitter story sums up a harsh, sad truth, namely that people can either find someone who is sexually compatible with them, or spiritually compatible, but that they cannot find a person who is both, which causes a disappointing "marital dichotomy". Following this disillusionment that destroys the idealism of a perfect love, Allen managed to tap onto some deeper truths in life, yet he still has more than enough inspired jokes, all of which stem from his writing, from "Art doesn't imitate life, it imitates bad Television", up to Gabe's very sympathetic quote in which he compares Turgenev to a fine "dessert" but Dostoevsky to a "real meal with Vitamins". Even though he was disputed by some critics, Allen really had an incredibly proliferate creative phase spanning over three decades, from the 70s up to the 90s, when he made one great film after another, and always had new ideas.


Tuesday, July 16, 2019


Stuber; action comedy, USA, 2019; D: Michael Dowse, S: Dave Bautista, Kumail Nanjiani, Natalie Morales, Betty Gilpin, Iko Uwais, Mira Sorvino, Jimmy Tatro

During a raid, LAPD Detective Vic tries to arrest criminal Teijo, but the latter kills his partner, Morris. Six months later, Vic has underwent a laser eye surgery, but then gets a tip that Teijo is going to have a smuggling operation this evening. Since he cannot see that well from the surgery, Vic hires Uber driver Stu to drive him from house to house, in order to arrest Teijo's henchman. This overlong crime chase is very inconvenient for Stu, since he planned to try to woo a girl he always liked. In the showdown, it turns out Vic's boss, Captain Angie, is the police mole who is on Teijo's payroll, but thanks to Stu's help, Vic manages to arrest Teijo. Stu starts a relationship with Vic's daughter, Nicole.

It is a pity when a movie has such potentials to be more, yet in the end settles to be just the most generic, the most routine version of itself, as it is the case with "Stuber". It has two great actors, Dave Bautista and Kumail Nanjiani, who show chemistry by playing the two opposites in this 'buddy' film, a tough cop and a sensitive, intelligent Uber driver, and the opening act starts off well (equipped with a genius action sequence where the bad guy Teijo tries to escape from the upper floor of a building by jumping from balcony to balcony, and clinging on to it, but Vic then simply takes a table and throws it from the top on him, causing the villain to fall on the floor immediately). However, the film stubbornly refuses to pursue these good moments, and instead just pursues the dumbest, the most primitive and the most populist inane situations, never showing faith that it can engage the broad viewers by being simply smart. The whole setting that Vic has to spend the entire film half-blind after his eye laser surgery is misguided, whereas too many dumb supporting characters wreck the mood, such as the one of Richie, the vulgar owner of a store who constantly humiliates Stu, and whose subplot leads nowhere. A rare moment of inspiration shows up here and there, though: in one delicious sequence, Vic beats the teenage gangster, trying to force him to give him information about Teijo's whereabouts, but then Stu has a better idea. Stu simply takes the gangster's mobile phone, logs in to his social media web page, and writes that the gangster is in love with Ryan Gosling, citing "The Notebook" as the latter's favorite film, until the gangster confesses everything to stop this Internet embarrassment. A lot of moments in the story make no sense (the low point is the stupid fight between Vic and Stu in the warehouse), ending on a confusing note, since its good ideas are too sparse.


Sunday, July 14, 2019

Getting Away with Murder

Getting Away with Murder; black comedy, USA, 1996; D: Harvey Miller, S: Dan Aykroyd, Lily Tomlin, Bonnie Hunt, Jack Lemmon, Brian Kerwin, Jerry Adler

Jack Lambert is an ethics professor who just found a new girlfriend, Gale. However, he finds out that his neighbor, Max, may be an ex-Nazi commander of an concentration camp, Karl Luger, but the news is still unsure of this rumor. Upon finding out that Max intends to move to South America, Jack poisons him, unwilling to let him get away unpunished for his crimes. However, the news reveals that Max was just a cook during World War II, and that the reports just misidentified him for Luger. Out of remorse, Jack breaks up with Gale and marries Max's daughter, single mother Inga. During their voyage to Düsseldorf, Inga confesses that her father was indeed Luger, and that he just forged the fake identity of Max to hide. Jack confesses of killing him, and lands in jail. However, due to a lack of evidence, Jack is freed and he makes up with Gale again.

Harvey Miller's final film, this strange black comedy is a rather uninspired and confusing thought experiment on the ethics of a vigilante taking justice into his own hand, without a trial, yet has too little to offer to carry this premise through. "Getting Away with Murder" has a noble theme, a one about justice being served even if the suspected war criminal in question is now an old, frail man, yet it does so in too many preachy or didactic moments, which are ultimately too dry for a functioning narrative. Dan Aykroyd is good as the ethics professor Jack torn between his dilemma, yet has little to do in the thin screenplay. One bad joke is there, though, the one where the camera, for whatever reason, lingers terribly on the scene of a white dog licking the crotch of Jack, in a moment that just screams "deleted scene". However, one has to hand it to Jack for his way of eliminating the suspected war criminal Max, which has ingenuity: knowing that Max enjoys eating apples from his garden, Jack simply enters the latter's back yard and uses a needle to inject cyanide into the apples on the tree. Another good moment is when Jack finds out that Gale wants to establish contact after his drumming session, and thus narrates: "It makes it a lot easier when someone likes you first. That way they have to come up with an opening line." Unfortunately, after the murder, the film loses all its steam, and just ends up stranded there, not knowing what to do next, and thus the last 40 minutes are just one long empty walk which just goes around in circles of the twist of whether or not Max was a criminal or just someone with a mistaken identity, until the abrupt ending. A small crumb of pleasure is the supporting role of Lily Tomlin, an always competent comedienne who here manages to somewhat salvage her one-note role.


Saturday, July 13, 2019

Caddyshack II

Caddyshack II; comedy, USA, 1988; D: Allan Arkush, S: Jackie Mason, Robert Stack, Jessica Lundy, Dyan Cannon, Jonathan Silverman, Chevy Chase, Randy Quaid, Dan Aykroyd

Teenager Kate eagerly wants to become an upper class member by joining the prestigious Bushwood golf club, and thus her rich (and obnoxious) father Jack goes with her. In the club, Jack makes a lot of enemies with senior member Chandler. Their arguments escalate, so Jack persuades member Ty to sell him the majority rights for the club, which Jack then turns into an amusement park. Jack's misbehavior also causes a falling out with Kate. When Chandler gets a restriction notice forbidding Jack to build estate in the city, the two make a bet: whoever wins a golf tournament, wins the club rights. Even though Chandler hired an assassin to eliminate Jack, the latter manages to win the game.

By title, setting and an occasional actor, this sequel to the golf comedy "Caddyshack" is a tiresome and uninspired follow-up which ultimately destroyed the franchize. While weaker than the 1st film, which was a "broad" populist comedy itself, there are still some traces of that good old comedy writing by Harold Ramis who penned the 1st draft of the script, and one can practically pin down the point at which he left the film which was then taken over by far less talented writers: this is obvious in the last 30 minutes of the film, where "Caddyshack 2" completely exhausts itself and spends the rest of the running time on an empty walk with zero successful jokes. However, the opening act has a few chuckles. A movie can't be that bad featuring these dialogues: "What is your background?" - "My father was Armenian. My mother was half Jewish, half English, half Spanish". - "That's three halves". - "Oh, she was a big woman!" In another moment, when Jack in arguing with a woman over whether an old shack is a cultural heritage, and thus no estate can be built on it, they have this argument: "That was a brook". - "That's not a brook, lady. It's a sewer." - "Originally it was a brook." - "And originally your family comes from monkeys. What does that have to do with it?" In another moment, Jack mentions: "She was an ugly girl. She had a coming-out party, and they made her go back!" In these better moments, it seems as if R. Dangerfield's spirit is somehow with Jackie Mason's character. Unfortunately, in lesser moments, there are a lot of failed gags. Chevy Chase is wasted and delivers a lesser version of Ty Webb than in the 1st film. He has one good moment, though: when a random club member taps his shoulder, Ty taps the latter's as well, and leaves his ham on the guy's shoulder. Dan Aykroyd and Randy Quaid leave disastrously unfunny performances behind, unworthy of their talents. And each scene featuring the gopher is vulgar and misguided. As the old saying goes, even in weak films, one can find a moment of greatness. This is true in "Caddyshack 2", which features a fantastic song, Kenny Loggins' "Nobody's Fool", which proves that sometimes a soundtrack ends up being better than the movie.


Thursday, July 11, 2019

Madam Yankelova's Fine Literature Club

HaMoadon LeSafrut Yaffa Shel Hagveret Yanlekova; black comedy / drama / romance, Israel, 2017; D: Guilhad Emilio Schenker, S: Keren Mor, Yiftach Klein, Hana Laslo, Ania Bukstein, Alex Ansky, Leah Koenig

A seemingly normal literature club run by Madam Yankelova hides a dark secret: its purpose is actually for its female members to lure attractive men there, who will then be killed and their meat used as hot dogs. Sophie has already won 99 awards for bringing the best man to the slaughter, but she is aging, and thus cannot seduce them anymore without the help of her friend Hannah. One member tells Sophie that either she will win her next 100th award and be promoted or lose and be demoted to the sanitation department. As a librarian, Sophie meets Yosef and falls in love with him, since they both enjoy novels. Sophie wants to leave the club and save Yosef, a detective, but he goes there anyway, eager to find out what happened to his father who also disappeared. Sophie and Yosef run away from the castle, which gets blow up in an explosion caused by a barrel filled with gasoline.

This peculiar film is a strange feminist hybrid of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and "Dangerous Liaisons": the first association is warranted because of an organization that kills men and uses their meat for hot dogs, but the second one is warranted for a surprisingly subtle and measured love story in which one person who initially just feigned love actually falls in love. "Madam Yankelova's Fine Literature Club" is not for everyone's taste: the initial black comedy is deliberately suppressed for the development of the love story in which Sophie falls for her prey, Yosef, yet it has a certain twisted logic. The bizarrely allegorical story actually shows Sophie's maturing from only a physical relation with men to a spiritual bond—she is aging, and thus cannot rely on her good looks to lure men to the club, but for the first time actually finds something deeper, something cathartic, a soulmate in Yosef who enjoys literature. There is a neat joke in which Sophie only managed to get an old, bald man to the club, and is thus threatened by her superior to either bring a man who scores at least 8.8 out of 10 for the next time or she will be demoted to sanitation. Therefore, when she meets Yosef, she tranquilizes him on the couch temporarily and measures his skull and nose, calculating a score of 9.75, jumping up and down from joy. Some of the plot points were left unexplored: the reasons for the macabre ritual "menocide" by the all female club in never satisfactory explained, with only a hint that they represent angry women disappointed in love or toxic feminism. In the end, Sophie has to choose: either promotion in the club or exile for love. The ending is somewhat forced and too neat, yet there are enough twists in the characters to keep the interest going, whereas the director Guilhad Schenker has an elegant mood that flows smoothly throughout.