Thursday, July 31, 2008

Dances with Wolves


Dances with Wolves; western-drama, USA, 1990; D: Kevin Costner, S: Kevin Costner, Mary McDonnell, Graham Greene, Rodney A. Grant, Floyd 'Red Crow' Westerman, Tantoo Cardinal

19th Century. After participating in the American Civil War and gaining a victory, Lieutenant John Dunbar decides to leave the civilisation and gets, on his own wish, transported to the western frontier that borders with the Indian territory. In a lonely outpost, Dunbar meets the Indians and starts to love their culture, blending in with them. His best friend is Kicking Bird while he falls in love with Stands With A Fist, a white woman also living with the Indians. When the army arrives and arrests him, Dunbar escapes and becomes an Indian himself.

Shining epic romantic western "Dances with Wolves" was appropriately recognized through numerous awards and become a huge commercial success when already everyone thought the western genre was 'over'. Although some critics are not inclined towards it, complaining about Kevin Costner's acting, mannerisms, tedious moments and a few black and white solutions, the movie is directed and conceptualized masterfully, inspired in twisting the western cliches by actually showing Cowboys as invaders and Indians, Native-Americans, as good and civilized people, whereas the music by John Barry is miraculous, something so enchanting that it has to be heard to be believed. The exposition with Dunbar in civilised society is deliberately portrayed as raw and crude (a crazy major who commits suicide; the primitive waggon rider...) in order for his conclusive blending with the Sioux culture to seem more dreamy and magical, as if he enters a new world.

By patiently creating a humane story, that is so refreshing from so many other backward films, since the characters are here above some material things in life, in spiritual balance, the authors crafted a quiet, unassuming display of emotions. Simple situations - an Indian gains a smile on his face after he tastes sugar for the first time in his life; Stands With A Fist (brilliant Mary McDonnell) tells Dunbar how she got her name and he thus jokingly "falls" after being "knocked out"; the couple secretly escape from the forest, surrounded by falling petals, in order to have intercourse in the tent - all seem intense because they constitute an honest story about a man who discovers who he is and what he wants to do with his life. It is a long story, but only great stories have the justification of running as long as possible in order to enjoy more in their beauty. "Dances with Wolves" is Costner's magnum opus - a movie with an aura. Rarely do you get a chance to see an almost perfect film. This is one of them. The three hour version is very good, but the four hour version is a masterpiece.

Grade:++++

The Dark Knight


The Dark Knight; crime/ fantasy, USA, 2008; D: Christopher Nolan, S: Christian Bale, Aaron Eckhart, Heath Ledger, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Monique Curnen

A mysterious new criminal, the Joker, robs a mob-owned bank. At the same time, a new district attorney is appointed in town, the tough Harvey Dent, who really stirs up some feathers when he arrests over 500 mobsters. In order to complete his "collection", Batman travels to Hong Kong and captures the runaway gangster accountant Lau for him. But then the Joker is hired by the mafia and demands from Batman to reveal his identity or each day people with get killed: after numerous terror attacks, Harvey announces he is Batman and gets attacked by Joker in the police van. The Joker is arrested but escapes and kills Rachel, Harvey's girlfriend. Harvey gets injured in the explosion and mutilated on half of his body, becoming Two-Face. The Joker is arrested again while Two-Face kills numerous people in revenge and Batman takes the blame.

"The Dark Knight" really stirred up some feathers when it went to become the new no. 1 film on IMDb's top 250 list during its premiere, even topping "The Godfather", though such a spike was only temporary and it dropped lower the next year. The movie is overall imprsesive, yet not perfect. There are a few shortcomings: even if the questionable notion that Batman speaks with artificially deep voice to seem more "cool" is ignored, there are other omissions. For instance, despite its long running time, it seems as if some crucial moments were left out, which leaves a hole and disrupts the continuity here and there - after Joker crashes into a party, he throws Rachel out the window and Batman has to save her from falling down a building. He does, but right after that, the film cuts to a new sequence, and it was not shown what happened to the party guests who stayed in the building with Joker's men, i.e. that subplot was left incomplete. The same ellipse is repeated other times, as well: it was not shown how Joker got out of his prison cell, nor what happened to Two-Face before the hospital explosion, nor how Rachel was abudcted, etc. The violence is sometimes banal, excessive or even glorified, the direction "autistic" at times whereas it is not clear why the authors decided to cram 5-6 subplots in the story when they could have concentrated only on the main story - in accordance to that, the Lau subplot is useless. Still, despite those flaws, director Christopher Nolan showed talent at creating a surprisingly realistic Batman with unprecedented crime juncture reminiscent of director M. Mann.

The story is actually a commentary on the War on terror: the Joker (very good Heath Ledger - despite his questionable tendency to 'munch' too often - but not as fun as Nicholson's Joker in the original "Batman" film) is actually a symbol for the terrorist and the plot a contemplation about the integrity of people, about how one should not become evil in order to catch an evil man and how the innocent should not be punished instead of the perpetrators. Bizarrely, the Joker speaks a lot of (anarchic) philosophical theories to Batman that show why he does all those things, like when he says: "Those people are only as good as the world let's them be. When the chips are down, those civilized people will eat each other". No matter how hard Batman beats him up, the Joker enjoys it more and more because the good guys sink to his level of violence, and thus the hero has to find new ways to fight him which gives the story a multi layered edge. Despite its long running time of over 2,5 hours, not a single second is boring while the middle action sequence where Batman's motorcycle ties up the tires of the large truck and forces it to tip backwards is virtuoso directed. Interestingly, Aaron Eckhart steals the show as the energetic district attorney Harvey Dent who becomes Two-Face: his side story amazingly completes the main plot and is filled with brilliant small details (like the sequence where Two-Face finds the mobster who kidnapped his deceased girlfriend Rachel, sitting with him in a driving car. Two-Face flips a coin to find out if he will shoot him: it's heads and the gangster is relieved when he says: "You live". But then he flips the coin again and it's tails, saying: "But your driver doesn't" and shoots the driver, causing the car to collide and crash). If it were not for a few silly ideas (the Joker dressed up as a nurse!) or for the humorless Joker, this could have even been an excellent film, but as it is, it is exciting.

Grade:++

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Tokyo Godfathers


Tokyo Godfathers; Animated drama, Japan, 2003; D: Satoshi Kon, S: Toru Emori, Aya Okamoto, Yoshiaki Umegaki

Toyko, Christmas. Three homeless people; Gin, the young Miyuki and gay man Hana, find a little baby in trash. Hana immediately gains sympathy for the baby since he always wanted a daughter, but still decides to find her real parents. They bump into a businessman stuck under a car and save him, so he gives them a ride to a wedding. But there they stumble upon some guy who kills a man and takes Miyuki and the baby as hostages. Han and Gin rejoin them and continue their pursuit. In the hospital, Gin again meets his daughter who works there, while Hana and Miyuki meet a woman who claims to be the baby's mother. Then Gin discovers she lied and starts chasing her, returning the baby to the real parents who pronounce them as their godfathers.

"Toyko Godfathers", inspired by Ford's "Three Godfathers", is a more intriguing and humane anime by director Satoshi Kon than his previous film, thriller "Perfect Blue", in accordance towards his more gentler dramas like the excellent "Millennium Actress", a warm story that also manages to be realistic and socially critical but optimistic at the same time, almost equal to some Capra's classics. Kon has a special talent for cheerfully touching scenes, like when Miyuki tells how she had a grey cat she called "Angel" because it had white stripes on it's back that looked like wings or when the buildings start to "dance" in the finale in tune to a Christmas song, while the animation deserves a maximum grade. Despite a few chaotic knots in the structure and "faithful accidents", the story works and has sweet humor (gay Hana, Gin tells how he would like to eat some cat meat but then Miyuki warns him that he shouldn't even think about it, so every cat hides behind her ) while the characters all seem like real people.

Grade:+++

Masculin, féminin


Masculin-féminin: 15 faits précis; Drama, France/ Sweden, 1966; D: Jean-Luc Godard, S: Jean-Pierre Léaud, Chantal Goya, Marlène Jobert, Michel Debord, Catherine-Isabelle Duport

Paul is reading a book in a cafe and waits for his friend Robert, with whom he protests against the Vietnam war. Paul works as a reporter for a newspaper where he meets Madeleine and falls in love with her. But Madeleine is often cold towards him and dreams of becoming a singer. Paul dies when he falls from a building.

For the unconventional opus of experimental director Jean-Luc Godard, conventional drama "Masculin-Feminin" is in it's own way again unusual. In this film, the inventive Godard decided to present fine, clear narration and throw away his surreal type of anti-narration, which is something worth of praise. Thus, this film in the end seems more like some classic achievement from Truffaut than as a further experiment of a rebellious film maker. The best parts of the film are the brave ones, like when Paul admits Madeleine that he loves her shape of breasts or when he and Robert use paint to write the parole "Peace to Vietnam" on a car of some American, while inventive ideas are sparse (the only exception is when Madeleine says that even "Crazy Pierrot" stole a car). Godard made a lot of excellent films, but never a masterwork. The reason for that lies in the fact that he was never interested for honest, real human emotions, but always just for artificial style. That's why some achievements, like "Groundhog Day" or "His and Her Circumstances" are the best Godard achievements he never made.

Grade:++

The Night of the Hunter


The Night of the Hunter; Thriller drama, USA, 1955; D: Charles Laughton, S: Billy Chapin, Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters, Sally Jane Bruce, Lillian Gish

Harry Powell is a crazy psychopathic killer who hates women, but is dressed as a priest. Since he stole a car, he goes to jail for a few days where he meets the poor Ben who is sentenced to death. By talking to him, he discovers Ben stole 10.000 $ in order to feed his wife Willa and children Pearl and John. Back on the loose, Harry decides to find the money so he presents himself as a philanthropist and marries the widowed Willa. Pearl finds her new stepfather neat, but John forbids her to tell him that the money is hidden in her doll. Harry kills Willa and starts chasing the kids who run in a boat on the river. They arrive at a cottage of an old lady who adopts them. When Harry tries to attack them, he is caught by the police and sentenced to death.

The only directorial excursion of actor Charles Laughton - in which he incidentally didn't star in - is the atmospheric thriller-drama "The Night of the Hunter" that failed at the box office but quickly gained cult status with a reason: it's an excellent film about the abyss of double morals. The strange mood of the film is established already in the exposition with the strange killer Harry (Robert Mitchum) who talks with God: "God, you can't have anything against murders. Why, the Bible is full of them!" and has words "love" and "hate" written on his left and right fist, whereas it's especially subversive and symbolic that he disguises himself as a priest. Still, the main heroes are little children John and Pearl, characterized with a lot of natural touch and commons sense: for instance, Pearl innocently cuts off dollar bills in order to make shapes of people out of them, while it's interesting how John defends his father who was knocked down on the floor by the police, while he does the same towards the finale with Harry. Laughton's directorial calligraphy leans towards impressive expressionism and plays with light and shadows with inspiration, like when the shadow of the villain darkens the whole window, and thus it's a pity that Laughton didn't try out directing more often: he could have easily become the new Hitchcock, not only because of his size.

Grade:+++

Aladdin


Aladdin; animated fantasy, USA, 1992; D: John Musker, Ron Clements, S: Scott Weinger, Robin Williams, Linda Larkin

Middle East, Agrabah. The evil Jafar, Sultan's advisor, discovered a magical lamp in a cave where only one chosen person can enter: Aladdin. He is a poor lad, but saves the life of princess Jasmine who ran away from her palace because she didn't want to get married. Jafar persuades Aladdin to find the lamp, but the cave collapses. Yet Aladdin is saved by the genie in the lamp who helps him defeat Jafar and conquer Jasmine's heart.

It is interesting how some inferior movies enjoy a bigger reputation, thanks to popularity, than some superior ones that are unknown to a large audience. With a gross of 217 million $ at the US box office, "Aladdin", the 31st animated feature by the Walt Disney studios, is the 25th most commercial film of the 20th century, but it's not as beautiful as some other Disney film, "Snow White". Besides  the fact that it has all the stereotypes of almost all Disney animated films til date ever since "Snow White", "Aladdin" has a more pressing problem: it would have been nothing without the score and Robin Williams' tour-de-force comic performance - the storyline is as developed as an episode of a morning TV cartoon show, while the overt goofiness wipes out a large amount of pathos and emotions. For instance, the entrance of the secret cave is shaped like a cat's head (!) that moves its rocky mouth when it talks and thus looks absurd. Equally banal is the sequence where the guards are chasing after the title hero and sing, ending in compost, as well as the one where Aladdin is disguised as a prince and arrives with a giant kitschy balloon shaped like a monkey... Needles to say that all these attempts at jokes seem lame. Still, despite its chaotic nature, "Aladdin" is an interesting animated film and the already mentioned performance by Williams, who provided the voice of the comic genie, is excellent - who among others makes humorous impersonations of Jack Nicholson's and William F. Buckley's identities - while the story is appropriately fairylike, especially in the enchantingly beautiful sequence in which the love couple Aladdin and Jasmine fly on a magic rug through the clouds, accompanied by the perfect song "A Whole New World".

Grade:++

Erin Brockovich


Erin Brockovich; Drama, USA, 2000; D: Steven Soderbergh, S: Julia Roberts, Albert Finney, Aaron Eckhart, Marg Helgenberger, Tracey Walter, Peter Coyote, Cherry Jones, Erin Brockovich-Ellis

Erin Brockovich has two wrecked marriages behind her, is unemployed and has to alone take care of her under aged son and two daughters. When she gets injured in a car accident, she hires lawyer Ed Masrey to represent her at trial, but loses. Still, she persuades him to hire her. Erin starts investigating polluted drinking water in a small town that has too much poisonous Hexavalent chromium and thus sues the company responsible for it, "PG & E". At the trial, the company loses the case and has to pay 333 million $ to the sick inhabitants.

Hugely popular back in it's time, drama "Erin Brockovich" based on real events is today a rather forgotten achievement that didn't leave a bigger impression in the history of cinema. Still, it's a matter of a sympathetic and neat little film that is accessible in analysing the dark consequences of the powerful corporations and small people fighting against them. The first half is the best since it describes the tough, strong independent woman Erin (surprisingly solid Julia Roberts who didn't giggle with mannerisms all the time): she swears, constantly wears mini skirts, is a single mother and when her neighbor George asks her for her phone number she replies to him in this way: "You want my number? Let's start with 10. That's how many months my daughter has. 8 and 6 is how old my son and my other daughter are. 2 is the number of my failed marriages. And 0 is the number of how many times you are going to call me!" The performance by Roberts works, but is too idealistic, unrealistic and schematic to suit the Oscar rules (a heroine "larger than life" who is always right and speaks epic phrases) and thus it's slightly predictable that she won the Oscar, Golden Globe and BAFTA for her good, but not great role. Still, it's rather surprising that the film as best picture and director were also nominated for an Oscar since the second half is visibly weaker and manipulative.

Grade:++

They Call Me Trinity


Lo chiamavano Trinità; western comedy, Italy, 1970; D: E.B. Clucher, S: Terence Hill, Bud Spencer, Farley Granger, Steffen Zacharias, Elena Pedemonte, Gisela Hahn

Trinity is the fastest gun drawer in the West. He is an honest citizen who travels on a travois that is dragged by his horse and thus arrives at a saloon where he liberates an innocent Mexican from some bounty hunters. Trinity then arrives at his brother Bambino and discovers he presents himself as the Sheriff of the town because he wounded the real one and thus waits for his friends the bandits. Although Bambino is himself a bandit, he still decides to join Trinity and fight against the evil tycoon Harriman who plans to chase away the peaceful Mormon farmers and their representative Tobias out of the valley. Bambino hires Trinity as his assistant and they beat up and chase away Harriman and his bandits. Then he escapes from the real Sheriff and Trinity follows him.
Out of 17 films in which Terence Hill and Bud Spencer starred in together in their careers, "They Call Me Trinity" is probably their best since it was their first milestone that established all the standards for their future comic films, proving they have a special humorous chemistry that works better than in their serious films like "Boot Hill". This covert parody of "Rio Bravo" is directed by E.B. Clucher with a simple and energetic hand, offering humor that combines both for the subtle and the broad, yet, unlike other comedies of that comic duo, this one is both funny in dialogues and in the story, and not just in the final fist fights, thus becoming more thorough than usual: one key ingredient in its pleasure is to view it as a blend of pure 'hard-boiled' Italian western on one hand - similar to "Once Upon a Time in the West" - and pure spoof of it at them same time. 

The jokes that ridicule the western cliches are excellent - a bandit, who is leaning on a pillar, lowers his arm to take his gun, but Trinity shows up behind his back and uses his gun to slowly return his hand back on the pillar; Trinity shoots his attacker without looking at him; a cow on the roof in the opening (!) as well as the ontological sequence where the Mexican outlaw Mezcal enjoys slapping pacifist Mormon farmers because he knows their religion forbids them to fight, but Bambino (Spencer) anonymously "mingles" among the Mormons and thus slaps him back, throwing him off-guard: it is a major payoff. In a further extension of that gag, the puzzled Mezcal orders his henchman to slap Bambino again, the henchman gently pats his cheek while Bambino slaps Mezcal again. Spencer/Hill fans always enjoyed their films as a 'guilty pleasure' due to their chemistry and raw charm, yet this is one instance where they can enjoy them without any guilt, since it is a fine example of skillful narrative that exalts them in a very clever film about two unlikely heroes. The so called Italian 'Spaghetti Western' became so filled with repetitive, standard, too serious film clichees in the 60s, and then the completely fresh "Trinity" came and gave it such a comic slap that it never recovered and collapsed from it a couple of years later. 
Grade:+++

The Great Mouse Detective


The Great Mouse Detective; Animated crime comedy, USA, 1986; D: Ron Clements, John Musker, Dave Michener, Burny Mattinson, S: Barrie Ingham, Val Bettin, Vincent Price

London. Mouse Dr. Dawson returned from Afghanistan and heads towards a hotel as he accidentally stumbles upon the little Olivia whose father was kidnapped by a bat that works for the evil Ratigan. Dawson and Olivia meet detective Basil who decides to help. With the help of dog Toby they find the bat in a toy store, but it kidnaps Olivia. Thus Dawson and Basil disguise themselves and go to a port, but fall into Ratigan's trap. Still, they manage to escape, save Olivia and her father and stop Ratigan from dethroning the Queen and becoming the King.

"The Great Mouse Detective", the 26th animated feature film from the Walt Disney studios, is a sympathetic little film that spoofs the detective stories involving Sherlock Holmes with a lot of love and offers an accessible and simple fun. Directors Clements and Musker already showed their competence in "Aladdin", though they handled the job with an too easy hand here and often, without any limit, "sticked" prepotence, stereotypes and too sugary tone to the characters. One of the best jokes appears in the form of a sentence said by the pseudo-Holmes Basil, who tells Ratigan (voiced by the legendary Vincent Prince) these words: "Mr. Ratigan, nobody has a higher opinion of you than myself. And I think you're a dirty, disgusting street rat". The finale on the Big Ben is too dark, but the film contains just the right amount of style to entertain even the ambitious audience, whereas the way Basil and Dawson free themselves from a mousetrap in one sequence (the axe actually cuts their ropes and they take a picture of themselves) is real magic.

Grade:++

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Gulliver's Travels


Gulliver's Travels; animated adventure fantasy, USA, 1939; D: Dave Fleischer, S: Sam Parker, Pinto Colvig, Jessica Dragonette, Lanny Ross


Gulliver, an English sailor, loses his ship in a storm and strands on some coast. But that island, Lilliput, is inhabited by very small people, among them with the clumsy Gabby who one night discovers the unconscious "giant" and alarms the king who sends his men to bring him to his palace. The engineers tie up Gulliver and use cranes to transport him on a giant wagon. But once at the palace, Gulliver wakes up and scares everyone, yet tells them that he doesn't want to hurt them. They become friends, especially Gabby who feels "elevated" at his side. Gulliver teaches the inhabitants with a lot of wisdom and helps them in accepting the love between princess Glory and prince David and the war struck kingdoms they represent, thus leaving home.

Shining animated adventure fantasy "Gulliver's Travels" is a hidden jewel in the opus of the Fleischer brothers, a refreshingly alive and opulent children's story with a lot of simple, yet clever layers. It's first and foremost a movie of situations whose observations are rich with interesting scenes: for instance, the entire sequence where the small Lilliputanians tie up the unconscious "giant" hero - who lies over the horizon almost as an epic figure - from his hair up to his shoes, is so rich with imagination and passionate details that it shows the whole genius of Max and Dave Fleischer summed up in just a few minutes, proving to be undated by the sheer fact that it can be watched again and again without any effort. There are also other neat moments, like when Gulliver (animated using the rotoscope technique) stops the ships in the sea with ease while the arrows shot at him only tickle him, whereas the moment where he uses two fingers to dance with the awfully sympathetic "comic relief" character Gabby, drawn like a caricature, is wonderful. Actually, it's as if Gulliver is drawn to be the largest character precisely because he is so wise, helping the naive Lilliputanians accept their difference and become mature. Funny and touching, suspenseful and epic, the movie was compared to Disney's "Snow White", but it's a imaginative and original work on its own.

Grade:+++

The Tiger and the Snow


La tigre e la neve; Comedy, Italy, 2005; D: Roberto Benigni, S: Roberto Benigni, Jean Reno, Nicoletta Braschi, Emilia Fox, Gianfranco Varetto, Chiara Pirri, Anna Pirri, Tom Waits

Rome, March 2003. Attilio is a cheerful and eccentric literature teacher who is late to pick up his two teenage daughters, Emilia and Rosa, to school. He is also in love with reporter Vittoria, his divorced wife, and tries unsuccessfully to conquer her heart. One night, as the Iraqi war starts, his friend Fuad calls him and informs him that Vittoria was injured and lies in Baghdad in a coma. Attilio gets there and brings her improvised medicine in the hospital, like glycerin. Since she still lies in a coma, he brings her food and nurtures her while Fuad commits suicide. She wakes up and they return to Italy.

After he made a comedy about the Holocaust and gained record praise, famous Italian comedian Roberto Benigni decided to pick another tricky subject, the Iraqi war: "Life is Beautiful" handled the heavy theme in a very heavy handed way, and "The Tiger and the Snow" is an even clumsier film that never quite figures what it wants to say. Actually, it seems that tricky subject was just hastily "glued" to the main story about the romance between Attilo and Vittoria in order to give it a more ambitious feeling. Because, once Attilo arrives in Baghdad, instead of the story really starting off, it suddenly stops: it seems it suffers from the "Stranded whale" syndrome because Benigni didn't know what to do with it. The viewers expect him to come up with a few genius scenes, but he slowly spends the time just to give silly and childish gags about his misadventures around the "Sleeping Beauty" plot where he tries to wake up Vittoria out of her coma, until we realize the whole film was just a one big missed opportunity. His dream about the talking kangaroo was also immature, but here and there Benigni still manages to come up with a few juicy satirical jokes, like when he holds a fly-swat and tells he found a "weapon of mass destruction", while his annoying childish behavior is so childish it actually becomes charming at moments.

Grade:+

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Idiot


L'idiot; Drama, France, 1946; D: Georges Lampin, S: Gérard Philipe, Edwige Feuillère, Lucien Coëdel, Jean Debucourt, Sylvie, Nathalie Nattier

After 5 years, the naive, idealistic 27-year old Prince Myshkin returns to his Russian homeland from a Swiss town, going to Saint Petersburg to visit his relatives. In the office of General Yepanchin, he meets Ganya who plans to marry Nastasya for her dowry. When Myshkin sees her picture, he senses she is a sad woman and wants to meet her. At a party, he proposes her out of pity, but she leaves for Rogozhin, who offered the most money for her. She lives with Rogozhin, but dislikes her unglamorous life. Hearing she became friends with Myshkin, Rogozhin tries to kill him with a knife, but changes his mind. Aglaya, the General's daughter, is fascinated by Myshkin, but when he chooses Nastasya over her from pity, Aglaya leaves offended. Nastasya dies and Myshkin figures life isn't so simple as he thought it would be.

The second movie adaptation of Fyodor Dostoevsky's famous novel with the same title, Geroges Lampin's "The Idiot" is a competent, calm and good, if shortened attempt at trying to bring literary classics to the big screens. Even though it's very fluid and reasonably long with it's running time of 90 minutes, Lampin's version of "The Idiot" isn't as significant in the cinema as if it is Dostoyevsky's in literature. Probably the best role was delivered by Edwige Feuillere as the strong independent woman Nastasya, whose chemistry is at moments so brilliant that it overshadows everyone else in the story, while the main message of the story prevails, namely that the naive and religious Myshkin - who actually really looks like Christ - tries to help the world with his advice, even Nastasya whom he proposes out of pity since he senses a sad person behind that face, yet is unable to live in the real world whose cruel reality represent a big shift in his philosophy, thus he remains a broken person in the tragic end, "deserving" the title role. As a whole, it's a good film, calm and measured, yet it's simply too mild to intrigue in bigger merits.

Grade:++

The Postman


The Postman; Science-fiction drama, USA, 1997; D: Kevin Costner, S: Kevin Costner, Will Patton, Olivia Williams, Larenz Tate, James Russo

The year is 2013. The US is devastated while some wondering man and his mule Bill get food in villages by performing Shakespeare's plays. Then the evil tyrant Bethlehem shows up with his army and drafts a few people, including him, while his mule gets cooked. The man manages to escape by jumping into the river, finding a bag full of letters. From there on, he calls himself the Postman and goes to a small town telling everyone that the government of the US is established again. There everyone gains new hope while some Abby sleeps with him in order to get a baby since his husband is sterile. The Postman starts delivering mail and runs away from Bethlehem with Abby. When he returns, he is surprised by the development of the postal service and kills Bethlehem. 30 years later the Postman dies but his daughter enjoys in peace and raises a monument for him.

Bitter and rather pessimistic version of post apocalyptic future will probably detract some, even though "The Postman" is an acceptable and solid adaptation of the award winning novel with the same title, in the end becoming much more optimistic than "Mad Max's" trilogy, though distributors Warner Bros. was rather shocked due to it's poor results at the box office. At 3 hours, the movie is definitely overlong, the postmen are naively exalted into superheroes while Bethlehem is a stereotype bad guy who annoys a lot of the time with his nonsense ("Peace is for the weak!") yet one shouldn't look for mistakes with a microscope because there are quite a few virtues here. Even though it's watered down, the story is actually clever while Kevin Costner once again shows how he knows how to direct some scenes, especially in the ironic moments, like when the Postman claims that the new president of the USA is Richard Starkey (Ringo Starr's real name), his "fencing" with the mule that has a sword in it's mouth or when the evil army rather likes to watch the musical "The Sound of Music" than sci-fi "Universal Soldier". Olivia Williams is wonderfully sustained as Abby, but after his masterwork "Dances with Wolves" people simply expected more from Costner.

Grade:+

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension


The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension; Science-fiction comedy, USA, 1984; D: W. D. Richter, S: Peter Weller, John Lithgow, Ellen Barkin, Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Lloyd, Lewis Smith, Clancy Brown, Vincent Schiavelli

Buckaroo Banzai, a maverick adventurer, participates in an experiment in which he drives a vehicle 500 miles per hour, uses the alpha laser and passes right through a mountain. But the evil leader of alien race Red Lectroids, Whorfin, who took over the mind of Dr. Lizardo, wants to return to his planet 10 by using the alpha laser - if he tries, the Black Lectroids threaten to destroy Earth in order to stop him. Banzai and his team, including Penny, a girl he met at his concert, stops Whorfin and destroys his spaceship.

Cult science-fiction film "Buckaroo Banzai" has quite a hyped reputation, yet it's very rarely anything more than just a solid film that tantalizes our senses. Unlike other bizarre fantasy films, this one is never hectic or rushed - actually, surprisingly, it's always very polished, measured and calm - and even the complicated story, crumbed into numerous complicated subplots about the empty space in the matter, can all be simply summed up by the title hero (very good Peter Weller) saving the world from evil aliens, yet one just has to look at the math and the digits to conclude that the result isn't completely satisfying: over the 100 minutes, the film has only 3 great gags. The first half of the film has a lot of events unfolding, yet the only moment that clicks in your head is the humorous scene where Banzai is on stage but suddenly stops in the middle of his rock concert and asks if "someone in the audience isn't having fun". The audience is all confused, but then one woman actually raises her hand and tells him she isn't. He actually takes the time to ask her, with all the people listening (!), what's the matter, and then she tells him about her bad day and debts. Such a surreal, but unbelievably charming and sweet satirical moment was a real inspiration. The second most hilarious moment comes up when a general speaks in front of the president: "...I think I'm speaking for all in this room when I say: I'm scared shitless!" Yet, that's it. In the end, besides a whole bunch of throw away side characters (like Jeff Goldblum who doesn't do anything with his role), there isn't that much to criticize about the film, except that it's simply not that much fun.

Grade:+

Memento


Memento; Thriller, USA, 2000; D: Christopher Nolan, S: Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano, Mark Boone Junior, Russ Fega, Stephen Tobolowsky, Jorja Fox

Leonard kills James...Earlier: Leonard uses a photo to conclude that James killed and raped his wife and decides to take revenge...Earlier: Leonard tells a motel guest that he suffers from anterograde amnesia ever since an unknown man attacked him and killed his wife...Earlier: Leonard meets up with Natalie with whom he spent the night together...Earlier: Natalie double crossed Leonard and persuaded him to attack Dodd in order to use him...Earlier: Leonard remembers Sammy, who also suffered from amnesia...Earlier: Leonard kills dealer Jimmy because cop James told him he was the murderer. Then he starts to suspect.

Very good independent thriller that launched the career of director Christopher Nolan handles the theme of amnesia in a very original way: by showing the story from the end up to the beginning. Already in the first scene does the film unravel the finale in which the hero kills the bad guy (it's also shot backwards: the blood returns, the bullet lifts up from the floor and goes back in the pistol...), immediately putting the most crucial scene behind it, yet it still very skillfully builds it's suspense: right after that sequence, there follows a cut and a sequence from earlier events are shown, then from the day before, and the day before that, and so until the start. The theme of amnesia and a detective has already been used in comedy "Clean Slate", yet the director leads the story in a tighter way, placing the viewers in a position of uncertainty since he never discovers them more than the hero. Despite Nolan's "autistic" direction and grey mood, "Memento" is a memorable film, equipped with good dialogues, like when the motel guest says to the hero: "Just don't forget to pay the bill!", even though some characters are rather vague, like the one of Carrie-Anne Moss. The screenplay was nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe.

Grade:+++

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Three Nuts for Cinderella


Tri orísky pro Popelku; Adventure, Czech Republic/ Germany, 1973; D: Václav Vorlícek, S: Libuse Safránková, Pavel Trávnícek, Carola Braunbock, Rolf Hoppe, Karin Lesch

Winter. An evil old lady, the stepmother of Cinderella, rules some village. Cinderella's father died so she has so constantly sweep and clean in her house since her stepsister is privileged by her stepmother. Cinderella also hides one owl that one day brings her three magical nuts. The first nut transforms into a hunting uniform; she puts it on and meets the prince in the forest, making on impression on him. The second nut transforms into a dancing dress so she tries it on and has a dance with the prince on the ball, but runs away. The prince finds her lost shoe and follows her with his horse. he fails to find her in the village while the stepmother even wants him to marry her daughter. The third nut transforms into a wedding dress so Cinderella leaves with the prince.

"Three Nuts for Cinderella" is a little different adaptation of the popular fairy tale, marketed and presented as a film about a rebellious Cinderella who isn't passive, rides a horse and knows how to hunt. Still, those who saw the film actually said it was sweet propaganda that idealises that laxly product without too much sense for dreamy or magical. The heroine, played very well by Libuse Safrankova, truly rides a horse and knows how to hunt, but that isn't that fascinating, or better said it wasn't set in a fascinating way. The only intriguing scene is when she shoots her arrow and hits the arrow in the hands of the prince, yet her personality is rather routinely developed and doesn't have that kind of specific independent feminine charm some screen heroines have. Among the charming scenes is also the one where the heroine opens the window for the pigeons so that they can enter and clean the nuts for her, yet as a whole, Vaclav Vorlicek's "Cinderella" is just a neat film that doesn't enchant enough due to conventional structure.

Grade:+

Beauty and the Devil


La Beauté du diable; grotesque, France/ Italy, 1950; D: René Clair, S: Michel Simon, Gérard Philipe, Nicole Besnard, Simone Valère, Carlo Ninchi

18th century. Faust is an old professor who gets recognition from his university, but isn't satisfied since in his whole 50 years of research he never managed to discover how the world was created. Then Mephisto shows up, Lucifer's servant, in the shape of Faust himself and makes him 30 years younger free of charge. The young Faust gets mistakened for a murderer since nobody can recognizes him, yet gets saved on the court by Mephisto. Faust doesn't have a home and is poor so Mephisto makes him rich by turning sand into gold. Faust can't stand to be poor again, so he sells his soul, even though he figures he would have stayed rich anyway. He falls in love with a wife of count, but regrets his decision. Then some gypsy says she likes him while the mob throws Mephisto down the building, burning his contract about the soul.

Rene Clair's adaptation of the famous "Faust" novel, fantasy grotesque "Beauty and the Devil" has lively actors and occasional satirical sting towards those people who would always love to win in everything at any price, yet it's still far away from a classic. The interesting idea is that Mephisto appears in the shape of Faust himself, so in the (rather clumsy and confusing) end the angry mob mistakes him for the "original", yet the movie as a whole has too little ideas, even though it was nominated for a BAFTA as best film. The subplot about Faust turning into a young lad again wasn't inventively exploited, the time passes slowly and the direction isn't anything extraordinary, yet it has a few humours moments when the gypsy can't sign Mephisto's contract about selling the soul since she is illiterate or when Faust's reflection in the mirror shows his future full of deceit, thus the movie is unpretentiously acceptable.

Grade:++

Friday, July 25, 2008

Yossi & Jagger


Yossi & Jagger; Drama, Israel, 2002; D: Eytan Fox, S: Ohad Knoller, Yehuda Levi, Assi Cohen, Aya Steinovitz, Hani Furstenberg

In the north of Israel, on the Lebanon's border, there lies one military base. Among it's soldiers are Commander Yossi and officer Lior, called Jagger. One day, while the two of them were walking through the snowy landscapes, they admit their gay love to each other. Of course, they keep that tricky relationship secret. Two female soldiers arrive in the base, Goldie and Yaeli, who is in love with Yagger. At one assignment, the soldiers fall into a mine field and Yagger dies.

Middle length (it's running time is only 65 minutes) gay drama "Yossi and Jagger" won a lot of awards at international festivals, yet it is thought to be a half successful achievement. The story has an opulent mood (unusual landscapes of Israel cowered by snow) and the merit for it goes in an unsmall share to the digital, hand held camera, yet little in the film is really outstandingly great. By choosing a minimalistic approach, director Eytan Fox established a sustained style (the intercourse between Yossi and Jagger is never shown) but that way a lot of things remained incomplete and overstretched. One of the rare wonderful scenes is the one where Jagger starts dancing on the snow after Yossi admitted his love to him, while the songs are great and actress Aya Steinovitz is charming. The finale suggests how war destroys love, which is quite provocative since the author deliberately placed the story in the military, which crafts an emotional touch that compensates for the fact that the film could have been a lot better.

Grade:++

Santa Claus


Santa Claus; Fantasy comedy, USA/ UK, 1985; D: Jeannot Szwarc, S: David Huddleston, Dudley Moore, John Lithgow, Burgess Meredith, Judy Cornwell, Carrie Kei Heim

Somewhere in the 14th century, an middle aged man, Claus, and his wife Anya meet the small Elves for the first time in their life and decide to found a toy factory on the North Pole, in order to deliver presents to kids every Christmas. In the winter of 1985, the kids all became very spoiled and their greed destroyed in Santa Claus the will for further favors: he falls in depression, while one of his Elves, Patch, decides to make a business out of selling his magical lollipops, that cause the people to fly, to the evil toy seller B.Z., which threatens to destroy the magic of Christmas. Yet two kids manage to save everything.

Jeannot Szwarc didn't manage to conjure up a good film out of this Holiday children's flick on the often theme of Santa Claus. It's a matter of a boring and extremely superficial fairy tale that needlessly coasted 50 million $, a laxly story that is unsuccessful and uninspiring on every level in it's pursuit of a back story of the famous Santa Claus. David Huddleston as the title hero, Dudley Moore as the runaway Elf Patch and John Lithgow as the businessman B.Z. are all solid in their roles, but their characters and pale relationships are not developed at all and simply don't wake up any interest of the viewers. There is very little in this film that holds it together - there is no style, humor, emotions or magic - and thus the only thing that remains is to stare at the opulent set design.

Grade:+

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Stuart Saves His Family


Stuart Saves His Family; Comedy/ Satire, USA/ Germany, 1995; D: Harold Ramis, S: Al Franken, Laura San Giacomo, Vincent D'Onofrio, Shirley Knight, Harris Yulin

Mentally handicapped, but honest and gentle Stuart is the host of a motivational TV show in which he preaches how all people are equally important. But one day he gets fired. "Some Holocaust survivor would rather watch the "Skinheads hour" than your nonsense!", tells him his producer. So Stuart is forced to go to his family, a quarrelsome bunch of lunatics, in order to help them resolve a feud with their neighbor. But he just brings them into deeper trouble and in the court, instead of lies of savor, he speaks the dirty truth. Yet when his show gets back, including an impressive coulisse of clouds, he gains his confidence and enough money to treat his father's alcohol addiction.

"Can you take me in, I have an apology schedule...", says Stuart after he publicly insulted his producer. Too bad there weren't more such sagacious gags in the vague screenplay, but that isn't the only problem of the commercially unnoticed comedy "Stuart Saves his Family" based on the title character from the legendary "Saturday Night Live" show. Al Franken plays Stuart by using a bizarre speech pattern, the construction of the story is split into confusing parts of his childhood whereas almost every frame is leaned towards the unbound and laxly tone of the film. But there is something enchanting in the unusual title hero despite the bizarreness, the cinematography and Harris Yulin in the role of the cranky father are excellent, while Harold Ramis is a unique director whose films are interesting even after repeated viewings and always have at least one special scene, regardless of the quality, here present in the surreal moment where Stuart catches his father who falls on his hand as slowly and gently as a feather.

Grade:+

A Weekend in the Country


A Weekend in the Country; Drama, USA, 1996; D: Martin Bergmann, S: Rita Rudner, Dudley Moore, Jack Lemmon, Nick Bakay, Richard Lewis, Betty White, Faith Ford

A whole bunch of intervened stories: reporter Sally, who became pregnant using artificial insemination, discovers her "donor" is actually the rich vine seller Simon Farrell, so she goes to interview and seduce him. But she gets disappointed...Popular comedian Bobby Stein is persuaded by the old producer Bailey into performing live on stage, yet falls in love with Sally...Farrell's daughter brings her Australian boyfriend...Farrell's neighbor interrupts her secret relationship with Stein...Ruth, a hotel owner who claims she can see the aura, hosts Sally and Stein...In the end, they all make up.

"A Weekend in the Country" is an optimistic and neat ontology TV drama, but directed without sharpness by the screenwriter-director - and co-producer of the film, besides Jack Lemmon - Martin Bergmann. The most distinctive role was done by excellent Dudley Moore, the bright spot of the story, as the rich mansion owner Simon Farrell. The most noticeable scene is when the lover of his daughter passes by him in his underwear, in a manner that's both grotesque and polite, searching for a juice, causing Farrell to ironically add: "Go ahead, help yourself...You must be thirsty...from banging my daughter". In the end, it proved to be Moore's final appearance on the screen. Yet, most of the pieces of the mosaic story, from the characters and their destinies, are not that funny or touching as much as it's just solid. The way they intervene in such a light way is the most impressive element of the quiet film, shot exclusively for the TV schedule.

Grade:+

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Arthur 2: On the Rocks


Arthur 2: On the Rocks; Comedy, USA, 1988; D: Bud Yorkin, S: Dudley Moore, Liza Minnelli, Stephen Elliott, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Paul Benedict, Cynthis Sikes, Kathy Bates, John Gielgud

Tycoon Bert Johnson doesn't give up his plans of Arthur Bach marrying his daughter Susan, so he buys off enough shares of the Bach family to control their fortune: he then freezes all of Arthur's money to force him to marry Susan. Arthur, poor for the first time in his life, and Linda find a small apartment. But Arthur can't find a job because Bert keeps using his influence to have him fired. Since Linda is infertile and figures she brings bad luck, she leaves Arthur who gets drunk and has hallucinations of Hobson's ghost. He tries to put pressure on Bert by showing evidence of his fraud in a business decades ago, but he in unimpressed. Still, Susan has pity on him and gives him back his fortune. Arthur and Linda reunite, adopt a baby and she tells him she is pregnant.

After a rather modest career success in the 80s, Dudley Moore returned to his most iconic role, the one of the lovable drunk millionaire Arthur Bach and starred in the sequel "Arthur 2", filmed 7 years after the first one. Even though most of the critics were really too harsh towards it, since it's a solid, sweet and positive sequel, "Arthur 2" still displays the difference between a talented and a routine author when we have two films, side by side, with the same actors, budget and concept, yet one is a very good comedy (the original) and the other just an all right film. Moore and Minnelli all give their best and thus some jokes are rather funny, like in the scene where Linda tries to imply that Arthur should finally find a job ("Honey, we have to become a two income family". - "Oh...So, you're going to find a second job, then?") or when a drunk Arthur talks with random people in the bar ("I had 750 million $ and lost them. I've looked everywhere: under the couch, behind the fridge...But I can't find them anywhere"), yet it's somehow hard to shake off the impression that the lifeless story is just an exercise in futility. It simply seems hollow and anemic, the resolution of Arthur's problem is poor while it's quite contrived to have John Gielgud reprise his role of witty butler Hobson - as a ghost. "Arthur 2" doesn't quite justify it's continuation of the story, yet maybe it better to have at least an all right sequel for the fans than the prospect of no sequel at all.

Grade:+

The Mummy


The Mummy; Horror adventure, USA, 1999; D: Stephen Sommers, S: Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, Arnold Vosloo, John Hannah, Kevin J. O'Connor, Oded Fehr

During the rule of the pharaoh in Egypt, 1290 BC, the High Priest Imhotep was murdered for having an affair with the mistress of Pharaoh Seti I. At the beginning of the 20th century, in '23, American adventurer Rick O'Connell finds his long lost city Hamunaptra, but gets chased away by it's guards. 3 years later, archaeologist Evelyn and her brother Jonathan find Rick captured in a dungeon, so they release him that he can show them the way to Hamunaptra, yet they are followed by another group of explorers. They accidentally release the mummy of Imhotep who comes back to life and gains human shape. Imhotep turns all Egyptians into his servants, but Rick uses a special book and takes away his powers. The city collapses and the heroes save themselves.

This dry adventure film with inappropriate elements of dread was obviously inspired by the "Indiana Jones" series and, especially, by the good classic "The Mummy" from '32, yet it should have taken more care about the humor, style and characters, and not just about banal scares, even though it's mainstream texture assured it a huge box office success. The authors show themselves as phony routiners in the terrible beginning where they wake and build their attention only by using cheap methods of scare in the scenes where Imhotep is butchered and then insects eat his flesh while he is a mummy, yet the continuation of the story loosens up a bit and shows a few virtues. The best ingredients are the excellent Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz in humorous situations, like when she tells him: "The only thing I'm afraid off is your manners" or in the scene where the ship is set on fire and the owner just says: "Wait here, I'll go get some help!" and then jumps into the river and disappears. Even the action is good, but as a whole "The Mummy" is too incomplete and raw.

Grade:+

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The King and the Mockingbird


Le Roi et l'oiseau; Animated fantasy, France, 1952/ 1980; D: Paul Grimault, S: Jean Martin, Pascal Mazzotti, Agnès Viala, Renaud Marx, Hubert Deschamps
The kingdom of Takicardia is ruled by king Charles V + III = VIII + VIII = XVI. He is an egoistical, cold and cruel ruler who hates his people. He only likes hunting and statues of himself. When one painter draws his portrait, cross-eyed just like in real life, the king has him executed. He is enchanted by a painting of a shepherdess in his room. One night, the shepherdess and the chimney sweep come to life and exit their paintings. The painting of the king also comes alive and executes the real king, taking his place. He orders his police to capture the fleeing couple. They are rescued by a wacky bird, but are eventually captured. Just as the king wants to marry the shepherdess, the chimney sweep and the bird escape from their prison with lions. The king is blown away by a giant robot. The bird then uses the robot to destroy the empire.

Shining cult classic of animation "The King and the Mockingbird" had a fascinating genesis: director Paul Grimault started working on it way back in '48, but the producer showed the film unfinished in 1952, under the title "The Shepherdess and the Chimney sweep", when it was nominated for a BAFTA as best animated film. Yet Grimault was so dissatisfied with that decision since the film was still unfinished, that they got into an argument and the production collapsed. He finally finished it almost 30 years later and released under the present title. Even today this film is a rarity, but not only because of it's limited availability but also because of it's superior style, elegant narration, classic animation and wonderful direction that works through subconscious images that remain deep in the viewer's head. For instance, the scene where the shepherdess and the chimney sweep on the paintings on the wall come magically to life one night and exit the king's room, climbing up the chimney after the water from another painting extinguished the fire, is a thoroughbred example of pure poetry.

The final scene of a giant robot's hand releasing a small bird and then crushing the cage is one of the most beautiful, mesmerizing, magical and enchanting images in cinemas, a masterwork of symbolism and execution. The only big pity is the fact that the shepherdess and the chimney sweep are rather thin characters since they were basically just reduced to running away from the king - even though they are suppose to be the main protagonists, they speak very little and we find out very little about them. Still, the story is in the end an allegory about the collapse of totalitarian empires and the triumph of freedom - the bird and the young couple are symbols for anarchy, freedom that destabilizes the rigid society and brings it to collapse. It's one of the very rare animated films that combine both the elements for the children and the adults, going from a gentle fairy tale to a cruel nightmare and back, becoming a film that will change a lot of viewers lives.

Grade:+++

The Third Man


The Third Man; Crime drama, UK, 1949; D: Carol Reed, S: Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli, Trevor Howard, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Orson Welles

Vienna after World War II. The poor American writer Martins arrives in the city since he was summoned by his old friend Lime for "some job". But once there, he discovers that Lime actually died in an accident so he finds an accommodation in a hotel. Police officer Calloway reveals him that Lime sold bad penicillin that caused many deaths, whereas Anna was his girlfriend. The porter who saw the accident say the corpse was removed by thee men, and not two as it is claimed by everyone. When Martins meets Lime alive, he realizes that everything was a scam. Him and Calloway capture and kill Lime in the sever.

Classic of film noir, "The Third Man" continued the tradition of the acclaimed genre started all the way since "The Maltese Falcon" by using an 'investigation' plot where everything is revealed only at the very end of the film. The most striking and agile part thus remained the finale in the dark sever that is inspiring in playing with lights and shadows in a narrow place influenced obviously by old German expressionistic film, but not even the sole exposition lapses a lot after quality. In it, besides an image of a corpse floating through he Danube, the narrator is slyly talking how "not everyone managed in the smuggling business". The arrival of the poor hero, a writer, to the apartment of his old friend (Orson Welles, who shows up only towards the end of the film) ends in a shock when he discovers he died, and when a police officer kicks him, he announces how he likes his books. Those are all exquisite virtues, but the film is still slightly overhyped since it's not a masterwork, but "just" an excellent film. It won the BAFTA for best film, the Grand prix in Cannes and an Oscar for best cinematography.

Grade:+++

Monday, July 21, 2008

Marathon Man


Marathon Man; Thriller, USA, 1976; D: John Schlesinger, S: Dustin Hoffman, Laurence Olivier, Roy Scheider, William Devane, Marthe Keller

New York. Thomas 'Babe' Levy is a history student who loves to run marathons. He is also tormented by the suicide of his father due to accusation during the McCarthy era. At the same time, the brother of a runaway Nazi and a Jewish old man clash in their cars and die in a car accident. In Paris, Babe's brother Doc works secretly undercover for the government, playing a courier. Christian Szell, a former Nazi death camp doctor, leaves his hiding place in South America and arrives in New York in order to retrieve his diamonds, nervous due to the death of his brother. He finds Doc and wounds his mortally. Doc is able to arrive at Babe's apartment, but then dies. Szell's men kidnap Babe and torture him in order to find out if he knows something about the diamonds. He doesn't, and he escapes, finding out his girlfriend Elsa is also working with Szell. Babe finds Szell and forces him to eat his diamonds. Szell wants to kill him, but trips and kills himself.

"Marathon Man" is a surprisingly well made adaptation of William Goldman's paranoia novel with the same name, though it derives it quality exclusively thanks to the fantastic atmospheric mood captured by the excellent cinematography, that makes this movie so modern it seems as if it was made today. The story is unnecessary complicated and rather vague, which is the main flaw that brings it down, forcing the viewers to mostly guess in the dark what's going on, whereas some scenes are so over-the-top they become almost unintentionally comical, like in the sequence where the old brother of the runaway Nazi and an old Jewish man chase each other on the New York streets until they both collide with a gas truck. It's a thin film where style is more important than substance, yet Dustin Hoffman is once again great in the leading role, for which he was nominated for a BAFTA, and classic actor Laurence Olivier is also quite good as the bad guy, the evil runaway Nazi Szell who tortures the hero Babe in one legendary scene by drilling his teeth as a sadistic dentist. For that role Olivier won a Golden Globe as best supporting actor and was nominated for an Oscar. The Szell story doesn't seem to relate to the story of Babe's father thematically. So there's no link, at first, but when one looks at it as a story about survival, where Babe's father died during the era of McCarthy forces, yet Babe himself survived and overwhelmed the era of the Szell forces, one actually gets the point.

Grade:++

The Boys from Brazil


The Boys from Brazil; Thriller, UK/ USA, 1978; D: Franklin J. Schaffner, S: Laurence Olivier, Gregory Peck, James Mason, Lilli Palmer, Uta Hagen, Steve Guttenberg, Denholm Elliott, Bruno Ganz

South America. Young Nazi hunter Barry Kohler is on the brink of a huge discovery of which he wants to inform his colleague, Jew Ezra Lieberman, over the phone. Barry thinks the runaway "doctor of death" Joseph Mengele started an unusual project, but just then the phone conversation gets forcefully interrupted. Ezra discovers that Joseph cloned Adolf Hitler using the remains of his DNA samples and that his clone is the 14-year old boy Bobby, living in the USA. Since the original Hitler was 14 when his father died, Joseph goes to the estate and kills Bobby's stepfather, hoping to shape his personality like the "original". But there he gets into a fight with Ezra. Bobby orders the dogs to kill Joseph. Ezra survives and lets the boy live.

(Fantasy) Thriller "The Boys from Brazil", nominated for a Golden Globe (best actor Gregory Peck) and 3 Oscars (best actor Laurence Olivier, editing, music), is an unsettling and bizarre anxiety film that starts a tricky polemic revolving around the problem where an innocent 14-year old boy turns out to be the clone of Adolf Hitler, thus it could easily go to play in a double bill with the film "The Marathon Man" where, ironically, Olivier plays a surviving Nazi, while here he plays a Nazi hunter, Ezra Lieberman. Messy and clumsy, but suspenseful story in which there is also a hunt by the Nazi doctor Joseph Mengele and Jewish Nazi hunter Ezra, unfolds almost like a good chess match in which every single move and every single mistake are crucial for the dark game. Even though there is a big degree of trash, the plot around cloning and genetic manipulation actually has merits, whereas the unusual finale in which Hitler's clone, the 14-year old Bobby, saves the Jewish hero, actually pushes the envelope and poses some thought provoking questions about how everything in life can turn out relative and changeable, which gave the film a surreal controversial touch that's not for everyone.

Grade:++

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Hope and Glory


Hope and Glory; Drama/ Grotesque/ War, UK, 1987; D: John Boorman, S: Sebastian Rice-Edwards, Sarah Miles, Geraldine Muir, David Hayman, Sammi Davis, Derrick O'Connor, Ian Bannen, Katrine Boorman

Britain, World War II. Little boy Billy is surprised when the war arrives at his doorstep: his father leaves to fight in the battle front while he stays alone with his sisters Dawn and Sue and their mother Grace. Because of the frequent bombardment of London, the school is constantly interrupted, while their house goes out in flames one day, so they move to the quite nature to their grandfather's estate.

Unusual director John Boorman added to his colorful filmography the semi-biographical humorous war drama "Hope and Glory" in which he, in a derisory and grotesque way, handled the events from his childhood during World War II, that won the Golden Globe (best motion picture - musical or comedy), a BAFTA (supporting actress Susan Woolridge) out of 12 nominations and 5 Oscar nominations (best picture, director, screenplay, cinematography, set-decoration). "Hope" is slightly overstretched whereas the decision to push 10-year old actors into the world of adults (by swearing, for instance) is rather questionable, but as a whole the movie works marvelously, just like "Amarcord", since Boorman shows details and moments that are usually not seen in such films (the children are actually happy when the school is canceled during the Blitzkrieg; Billy hears the sounds of a couple reaching orgasm in the rubble; the teacher tells the children how Britain is fighting to keep it's 2/5 of the world; a wacky grandfather who shoots at a rat in the garden from the kitchen) that all give it a precious feeling of authenticity and freshness, while keeping the author's free spirit loose.

Grade:+++

Strangers on a Train


Strangers on a Train; Thriller, USA, 1951; D: Alfred Hitchcock, S: Farley Granger, Robert Walker, Ruth Roman, Leo G. Carroll, Patricia Hitchcock, Kasey Rogers

Two strangers meet on a train - Guy, a kind tennis player, and Bruno, a strange businessman. Bruno proposes him a bizarre idea of a perfect murder: he will kill Guy's dreadful wife Miriam in exchange for him killing Bruno's hateful father. That way there will be no motive for the murders and the police won't catch them. Guy dismisses the proposition quickly, but is faced with complications when his wife Miriam won't accept a divorce, even though he now loves Anne, a senator's daughter. Bruno decides to go with the plan anyway and strangles Miriam. Guy is appalled and refuses the speak to him, even though he insists on him doing his share of the bargain. After a long duel on the carousel, Bruno dies and Guy is freed of charges.

One of Alfred Hitchcock's most famous films, "Strangers on a Train" has an implausible story about a "crisscross" murder bargain, but is still surprisingly well crafted, planned, acted and executed, even inspiring DeVito to make a comedy about it with his '87 film "Throw Momma from the Train". The main ingredient that still keeps the film undated is the one about how people can be helpless and have to struggle when a complete stranger infiltrates their life and tries to manipulate it with a secret agenda, thus the story quickly becomes rather overstretched, but powerful nightmare that many can identify with. The two main actors are rather stiff, yet Hitchcock carries the film with a tight hand nonetheless, adding some surreal little details, like the murder of Miriam seen through the fish eye lens of her glasses that fell on the floor, but also his trademark humor, most notable in the tennis match scene where all the heads in the crowd are turning left-right to follow the ball, except for Bruno who's head just keeps still and quietly observes the desperate Guy. Hitchcock knew that one way to make the movie intrigue the audience is to constantly maintain a motive of struggle, some bizarreness or feeling of helplessness, just like a rock in a shoe that keeps the person aware of the feeling, in order to cause a reaction. The best role though was surprisingly delivered by Hitchcock's own daughter, Patricia, who plays the eccentric Barbara with delight, which became the role of her career.

Grade:+++

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Zardoz


Zardoz; Science-fiction, UK/ Ireland, 1974; D: John Boorman, S: Sean Connery, Charlotte Rampling, Sara Kestelman, John Aldertorn, Sally Anne Newton

The year is 2293. Zed is an ordinary man who works as an Exterminator: his assignment is to kill disobedient slaves while his boss is god Zardoz, who appears in the shape of a gigantic, flying stone head who orders them to give it food. The skeptical Zed secretly sneaks into the head and kills it's pilot Arthur. The head descends into an idyllic village on a meadow where Zed finds Arthur's friends, elite people of telekinetic powers whose aging process has been stopped by their computer. A woman, May, decides to study Zed and use him as a servant. He discovers there are also outcasts there, as well as that they are all incredibly bored. He destroys the computer and the Exterminators kill the elite people, while he gets a child with one of them and dies.

After the giant success of his film "Delieverence", unusual director John Boorman managed to finance his personal fantasy film "Zardoz", an self-indulgent allegory about religion and human ideals, one of the most bizarre movies of the 1970's. The extremely complicated story is in retention of logic, yet has sense when one thinks of it just as an reflection about religious dogmas and exploitations, starting off with a giant stone head Zardoz that is worshiped by humans as a god. Zardoz - an anagram of "The Wizard of Oz" - tells them: "Weapons are good! Penis is evil!", obviously displaying it's secret agenda of trying to persuade them to kill each other as much as possible. The main plot starts when Zed (a solid, though rather confused Sean Connery) enters the village of the elite class of people who have special powers, but without emotions or sexual urge, thus there is one rather elaborated satirical scene in which Consuela shows Zed inserts of naked women on the big screen, upon which he gets an erection and she stares at it, having never seen one before. A very brave and surreal futuristic farce made with audacity that shows the elite people as bored with their godlike powers and life as senseless without pleasure or troubles, but with an incredibly hectic ending (the elite people can't wait to finally die), offensive mood and catastrophically thin characters.

Grade:++

Rocco and His Brothers


Rocco e i suoi fratelli; Drama, Italy/ France, 1960; D: Luchino Visconti, S: Alain Delon, Renato Salvatori, Annie Girardot, Katina Paxinou, Spiros Focas, Max Cartier, Suzy Delair, Claudia Cardinale

The old Rosaria arrives from an primitive village in Sicily to the fancy city of Milan with their adult children Rocco, Simone, Chiro and Luca to go live in the apartment of their brother Vincenzo. But since they didn't announce their visit, the family of Vincenzo's fiance Ginetta throws them all out on the street. The find an apartment, earn money by cleaning snow or finding occasional jobs. Simone finds a job as a boxer and starts a relationship with prostitute Nadia, but she leaves him for Rocco, who joined the army. In an act of rage, Simone rapes Nadia in front of him. Figuring how much she means to him, Rocco persuades Nadia to go back to Simone. When the family decides to loan Simone money in order to repay his debts, but just so that he can leave the town, he stabs Nadia to death. He is later dies himself.

Luchino Visconti already started to fall really deep into mannerism and pretentiousness when he directed "Rocco and his Brothers" that unreasonably lasted for whole 3 hours, but he was still able to craft a very worthy piece of Italian neorealism that offers deep character development and social commentary. Even though it at first seems it will unfold as a family drama, the family elements are quickly pushed in the background and replaced by a grey, tragic picture of rural, backward workers not able to blend in with the new mentality of the urban, modern environment they enter. The best example appears right after the exposition, where the old mother Rosaria arrives - without any announcement - with her 4 children from Sicily right into the apartment of her grown up "child" Vincenzo, which triggers an argument by the mother of his girlfriend Ginetta who considers them rude, primitive and backward. For all it's flaws, the movie is really brave and has a powerful style, resorting even to drastic moments (for those times), like when the coach says to the boxer Simone he shouldn't "fool around with women before a boxing match to keep his legs strong" or when Simone rapes Nadia in front of Rocco (great Alain Delon). The actors are all fine, but they were all overshadowed by Annie Girardot, who was simply fabulous as energetic prostitute Nadia who presents her works as a "passion", for which she was nominated for a BAFTA as best actress.

Grade:+++

Friday, July 18, 2008

Excalibur


Excalibur; Fantasy adventure, USA/ UK, 1981; D: John Boorman, S: Nigel Terry, Nicholas Clay, Helen Mirren, Nicol Williamson, Cherie Lunghi, Liam Neeson, Patrick Stewart, Clive Swift, Gabriel Byrne, Katrine Boorman

Knight Uther Pendragon is given the sword Excalibur by the wizard Merlin in order to unite the land. Yet new battles arrive and Uther uses Merlin's magic to disguise himself as Cornwall and sleep with Igrayne. She gives birth to Arthur while Excalibur is thursted into a large stone. Decades later, the young Arthur draws Excalibur from the stone and becomes the new king. He marries Guenevere, unifies the land and creates the fellowship of the Round Table. Yet his knight Lancelot has an affair with Guenevere while Arthur's half sister, the witch Morgana, wants to get to the throne. Thus Arthur sends his knights to find the Grail which will heal him and the land, killing Mordred and Morgana. Then he throws Excalibur into the river.

Just like Milius' "Conan the Barbarian", Boorman's "Excalibur" is also a thoroughbred adventure spectacle that works like a movie opera with opulent details and is rich with bravura epic scenes, but whose ambitions as a whole are larger than the given result. The movie is filled with bizarreness that start already in the exposition: Merlin (with a strange metal helm on his head) uses his magic to mask knight Uther into his rival Cornwell. Uther thus enters into his rival's castle and has an affair with the object of his desire, Cornwell's wife Igrayne (played by Katrine Boorman, the director's daughter!). Even though that sequence is confusing, Gothic and dark, it results with a poetic point: Igrayne gives birth to a child, while Uther says: "Until today, I only knew of killing. Maybe now it's time to learn how to love". The whole film is like that; rushed, episodic, hectic, filled with a surreal costume-set design assembly and thus not for everyone's taste, but at the same time filled with wisdom, like when Merlin says: "Good and evil, one cannot exist without the other" or when Arthur's knights are riding pass the blooming trees from which petals are falling on them, so one can forgive it's eccentric style. It's a cult film, yet one wonders what Boorman could have done if he had filmed "The Lord of the Rings" instead, as he originally planned to.

Grade:++

Point Blank


Point Blank; Thriller, USA, 1967; D: John Boorman, S: Lee Marvin, Angie Dickinson, Keenan Wynn, Carroll O'Connor, John Vernon, Sharon Acker

Walker decided to help friend Mal Reeves in a robbery. But, after Reeves took 93.000 $, he shot Walker and ran away with his girlfriend Lynne. Thirsty for revenge, Walker escapes from Alcatraz prison and goes to San Francisco. There he storms into Lynne's apartment and kills her. He quickly finds Reeves who works in an influential company. Walker storms into the building by sending sister Chris to seduce him, thus killing him. But, in order to get his 93.000 $, he continues with his killing spree and goes after Revee's boss Carter and then after his boss Webster.

The first film by unusual director John Boorman ("Excalibur") was the noticed and acclaimed thriller "Point Blank" that was perceived by many as too vicious for the 1960's. Simple, straight forward story about the revenge of the criminal Walker (Lee Marvin) served as a good background for some stylish exercises and dynamic rhythm, but as a whole it doesn't seem so suspenseful anymore since much more brutal films have been made in the meantime. Marvin is excellent in the leading role of the antihero who, after killing his traitor (a drastic scene in which he throws him from a skyscraper naked) goes after his boss, and then even after hiss boss, which makes this story less cliche and much more unpredictable and prolonged. Eventual flaws (the too easy way with which Walker storms in into the highly protected buildings) were still overshadowed by some powerful moments, like the one where Lynne is sitting with Walker and answers the questions he isn't even posing.

Grade:+++

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Lady Chatterley


Lady Chatterley; Romance, Belgium/ France/ UK, 2006; D: Pascale Ferran, S: Marina Hands, Jean-Louis Coullo'ch, Hippolyte Girardot, Hélène Alexandridis, Hélène Fillières

Britain, 1920's. Sir Clifford lives in his estate, paralyzed from the waist down. His young wife, Lady Constance, takes care for him just like all of his servants, yet she feels her life is empty, sad and grey. After she overcomes a sickness, her doctor advises her to take a positive turn towards life and find something that will make her happy. She wonders around the forest and meets Parkin, Clifford's gamekeeper living alone in a hut. She can't forget him and slowly starts an affair with him. Their love suddenly makes her alive and happy. She becomes pregnant and take a trip to the French Riviera, but returns after she hears Parkin was injured. The two of them admit they love each other.

The fourth movie adaptation of D. H. Lawrence's novel "Lady Chatterley's Lover", Pascale Ferran's "Lady Chatterley" is at moments flawed and rather ephemera piece of work, but it's still non the less really beautiful. The main theme of the story is that love changed the main heroine Constance by transforming her sad and lifeless life into happiness and joy, thus becoming an ode to the celebration of life, whereas the director Ferran showed some real first class talent when he crafted some scenes that enrich it - for instance, the sequence where Constance wonders around the forest, arrives at the hut, accidentally spots Parkin washing himself outside and then quickly runs away, but later that evening, in her room, takes her clothes off and observes her body in the mirror, lies in bed but doesn't read the book in her hands, perfectly sums up every emotion of awakened romantic interest at her down to a T, analyzing her cold life and her suppressed desire in conflict. Even though there are quite a few erotic moments present, this is still a very sincere, honest and touching movie of incredible sensuality, whose quiet style isn't based on mad pace or tricks or gimmicks, but on pure human relationships that seem fascinating. One of the most powerful moments comes when Constance holds a little chick and starts crying, which causes Parkin to return the chick to the cage and make love to her - after it, Constance is seen running happy in her red dress though the forest. Even though it's rather too simple and uneven, this is one rare example of intelligent sensuality.

Grade:++

Hi, Tereska


Czesc Tereska; Drama, Poland, 2001; D: Robert Glinski, S: Aleksandra Gietner, Karolina Sobczak, Zbigniew Zamachowski, Malgorzata Rozniatowska

Kids are arguing and accidentally hit a girl's head with a stone. Her older sister Tereska (15) copes hard with her life in a poor town: she wants to become a fashion designer and gets a job in sewing factory. Somebody steals her money but her friend Renata borrows her a part of the material for the dress. Tereska constantly goes to visit the drunk Edek who is in the wheelchair and who wants to kiss and seduce her. Tereska's father is also always drunk who once destroys the elevator with an axe. Renata learns her how to smoke and consume alcohol, even finding her a boyfriend. He rapes Tereska and she takes out her rage on Edek.

Extremely pessimistic and anxious elegy "Hi Tereska" about meaningless life, shot in black and white, won a lot of awards in it's homeland Poland, but too often resorts to portray the teenage life in a one dimensional and passive way. Director Robert Glinski queues the events set in a bleak city in a rather arbitrary way: some kids accidentally hit a girl's head with a stone; tie tin cans onto a cat's tail...Also, the depressive heroine Tereska isn't described especially well, but she shows some welcomed outbursts of cynicism when she glues a "Stop Aids" chard to the butt of her evil boss or in the scene where she asks her father this the day after he demolished an elevator with an axe: "What's wrong dad? No more will to run amok?" It's an ambitious social drama about the lack of sense in human existence, but not as inspiring as let say the similar "Stroszek".

Grade:++

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Purple Rain


Purple Rain; Drama, USA, 1984; D: Albert Magnoli, S: Prince, Apollonia Kotero, Morris Day, Clarence Williams III, Olga Karlatos

Minneapolis. The young Prince is an aspiring musician who performs well on stage. One evening, a young girl called Apollonia sneaks into the club where he is performing, claiming to be a singer and a dancer looking for a job. Prince welcomes her, drives her around with his motorcycle and they fall in love. At the same time, he is tormented by his terrible private life at home, where his depressive father beats his mother. When Apollonia leaves him to perform in a girl band by his nemesis Morris, Prince falls apart. His father also tries to commit suicide with a gun. Yet, in the end, he returns in big style with his new song "Purple Rain".

Cult movie "Purple Rain" achieved a great success and finally catapulted charismatic musician Prince into a major star, even winning him an Oscar for best music. Yet, from watching the film alone, one can't quite justify it's legendary reputation. Basically, it's little more than a neat promotional spot for Prince and his songs, and the paper thin story unfolds just as a standard "from thorns to stars" piece of a struggle of an aspiring artist, with all the ingredients that follow it. Though, director Albert Magnoli avoided turning it into a musical, insisting on shaping it as a straight forward drama inter cut with Prince's performances on stage. The famous musician is really good in the leading role, yet he can't create something that isn't written there, namely magic and movie skill, which is the reason why his agony over his father beating his mother rings true in the strongest manner, but is also at the same time probably the most tedious ingredient. Still, for such an elegant narration and easy structure without turning into an ego trip, this solid film is actually quite sympathetic.

Grade:+