Saturday, October 31, 2009

Comedian Harmonists


Comedian Harmonists; Drama, Germany/ Austria/ USA, 1997; D: Joseph Vilsmaier, S: Ulrich Noethen, Ben Becker, Meret Becker, Heino Ferch

Berlin, '27. Jew Harry lives in a shabby apartment and decides to organize a singing group based on the American role-model "The Revellers". He gets 5 members, among them Collin and Cycowsky, creating the "Comedian Harmonists". Despite difficulties and failure, the six of them manages to appear on stage and attract attention. Soon, their career becomes really successful, until the rise of the rise of the Nazi regime since three of them are Jews. They even go to New York while Harry admits his love to Anna. In '35, the group falls apart when the Jewish members have to leave.

Biographical drama "Comedian Harmonists" is a good, but too standard film. From the opening, in which the curtains are raised and reveal the group on stage, director Joseph Vilsmaier takes a distant approach towards the characters, since the 3 out of 6 members of the group are pure extras. The character of Harry ended up becoming the most developed ones, mostly because of his ironic attitude towards the fact that he is a Jew in Germany during the 30s ("You know what race the Jews are? Semites. And Germans? Antisemites."), whereas the story crafts a few predictable solutions for such a genre, among them the moment where a Nazi officer asks for his autograph. Sadly, the events and situations are too mild while the surprises are too few, which is why the film, as a whole, is solid, but routine piece of cinema.

Grade:++

Buenos Aires 1977


Cronica de una fuga; Thriller, Argentina, 2006; D: Israel Adrian Caetano, S: Rodrigo de la Serna, Pablo Echarri, Nazareno Casero

Buenos Aires in the 70s, during Jorge Videla's military junta. Claudio, a soccer player, gets suddenly kidnapped by members of the secret military police, bound, blindfolded and imprisoned into an abandoned mansion. Together with other prisoners, Guillermo, El Gallego and El Vasco, are tortured and abused by the police who suspect they are leftist rebels. Claudio is innocent and finds out one of the prisoners just mentioned his name because he had to give the police any kind of information, even false one. After over 120 days, the four naked prisoners manage to escape through the window and go to the street. They find clothes and leave the country.

An example of "Argentinian new cinema", nominated for the Golden Palm in Cannes, "Buenos Aires 1977" is a deeply disturbing, dark and depressing chronicle of human aggression unleashed through the abuse of power. Just like in Pasolini's "Salo", the innocent characters in this film get kidnapped by the secret military police and tortured in terrible ways for over 120 days, except that here director Caetano has an even more justified approach since these things really happened in his country during the "Dirty War" where some 20,000 people disappeared without a trace. With great camera angles and visual style - one of the best examples is the scene where the protagonist takes his blindfold off for the first time when he is brought to his "cell", and the camera makes an 360 degree turn to show the four walls he is in - the authors managed to create a tight 'kammerspiel', creating the claustrophobic tone since the majority of the film plays out only inside the old mansion. A few serious complaints could be directed towards the too grey approach and some ellipses - like the too abrupt cut from "Day 1" to "Day 31" - yet the suspenseful finale where the four naked prisoners escape and run through the streets at night really are shocking and seize the attention. The actors also did a great job, despite the fact that some have criticized the story for only trying to make a political stand.

Grade:++

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Breaking Away


Breaking Away; tragicomedy, USA, 1979; D: Peter Yates, S: Dennis Christopher, Paul Dooley, Dennis Quaid, Jackie Earle Haley, Daniel Stern, Barbara Barrie
Bloomington, Indiana. Dave, Mike, Cyril and Moocher are four teenage friends who have finished high school and don't know what to do with their boring lives, trapped in province. The college students taunt them, calling them "Cutters", because their parents were stone cutters. Having no better role model, Dave becomes fascinated with Italians and bicycles. When he meets a student, Katherine, he even introduces himself as an Italian. When a bicycle race is announced, Dave trains hard and participates against the college kids. Despite difficulties, he wins the 1st prize.

A gentle-melancholic 'slice-of-life' teenage tragicomedy, winner of a BAFTA (best newcomer Dennis Christopher), a Golden Globe (best motion picture - Musical or Comedy) and an Oscar (best screenplay), "Breaking Away" is today a rather forgotten film, but it is still wonderful and features at least two immortal quotes that will always say something about life, no matter how little viewers knows about it: the first one is when the four friends are walking through the nature and one of them suddenly says: "It was somewhere around here...(stops) It was precisely here where I lost all interest in life". The second one is when Mike laments how there's nothing going on in his life and how he is afraid that "it will be wasted", upon which his pal Cyril adds: "I thought that was our plan: to waste the rest of our lives together". There are many great lines in the story, but in those two particularly the viewers can feel the characters' deep sadness of living 'under your possibilities' through the prism of uplifting humor.

The whole film is full of easily identifiable moments and Paul Dooley's comic role of Dave's crazy dad is a delight, whereas the bicycle race in the finale is a tour-de-force example of rhythm, despite the predictable ending: obviously, just like in "Tom & Jerry", the viewers always slide towards the side of the weaker one, the "underdog", hoping he/she will beat the snobbish favorite, and the same goes for that finale where everyone cheers for Dave to win against the college brats, but since it was one of the earlier examples, it seems fresh. The movie is not flawless, though: it is comprised out of small vignettes of life and thus seems over-crammed, episodic and unexciting, Daniel Stern's character of Cyril seems more like an extra than a really strong character, the story is somehow colloid while some jokes are rather too mild. Still, director Peter Yates crafts a really wonderful small film that has inspiration and gives inspiration.

Grade:+++

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Lebanon


Levanon; war drama, Israel/ Germany/ France/ Lebanon, 2009; D: Samuel Maoz, S: Michael Moshonov, Oshri Cohen, Itay Tiran, Yoav Donat, Zohar Shtrauss

Four young Israeli soldiers; Yigal, Assi, Hertzl and Shmulik, are inside a tank and get an order to drive it into Lebanon during the '82 war, as a support for a IDF unit. They stop at a road and look through the telescop of the horrors outside. The nervous Yigal shoots at an approaching truck and kills the driver, a civilian who was transporting chickens. Driving through a Lebanese town after IDF's bombardment, they witness Arabs taking a family as a human shield on the floor. After their tank gets damaged when a rocket hits it, their leader, Jamil, advises them to follow a Phalangist to safety. Yagil dies, while their tanks stops in a meadow.

"You only see the small picture. You have to look at the bigger picture", tells one of the characters through the course of the film "Lebanon". It's funny that they said that, because unlike a mass of war films that neatly present to the viewers everything about the conflict in question, always giving them the bigger picture served on a silver plate, "Lebanon" actually does the exact opposite - it presents only the smaller picture to the viewers, the narrow perspective of the four soldiers in a tank who do not know exactly what is going on outside. The whole film is presented through their perspective, from inside the tank, with only the telescope as a "window" to the outside. Not since Hitchcock's "Rope" has there been such an experimental and inventive approach to a story, creating a suspenseful 'kammerspiel' of the four protagonists. So many films chew out old cliches again and again, which is why it is so refreshing to see someone take a risk and do something new like here.

Director Samuel Maoz re-creates some of his traumatic experiences in the '82 Lebanon war as a therapeutic essay and thus shocks a lot, but he never does it without a reason, which is why everything has its why and because. For instance, one of the four IDF soldiers in the tank loses his nerves and shoots at an approaching truck on the road. It turns out it was just a civilian, who was only transporting chickens. One other scene, where they use their telescope to observe a dying donkey on the road, who seems to be crying, is one of the most emotionally devastating moments of the decade. And yet everything has its reason and wisdom. The scene where an Arab woman's dress catches fire and she stays almost naked on the street along the IDF lines is another example of staggering writing/ experience. Maybe the film does lose some of its power in the second half and turns slightly pretentious towards the end, yet it cannot be denied that as a whole it is a bravura directed piece of filmmaking and one of the best films on the topic of the '82 Lebanon War.

Grade:+++

Monster's Ball


Monster's Ball; Drama, USA, 2001; D: Marc Forster, S: Billy Bob Thornton, Halle Berry, Peter Boyle, Heath Ledger, Sean Combs

Hank is a prison guard in Louisiana who brings prisoners to the room where their death penalty awaits. His father Buck always taught him racism. When prisoner Musgrove gets executed, Hank's son Sonny, also an officer, loses his nerves and throws up. Hank gets angry and Sonny commits suicide. Shocked, Hank quits his job. Driving in his car, he spots African American Leticia, the wife of the deceased Musgrove, whose son is injured, and brings them to the hospital. Leticia's son dies but Hank is attracted to her and becomes her lover. He thus changes his racist views, sends his dad to a retirement home and moves Leticia into his house.

When Halle Berry was nominated for a Golden Globe, a BAFTA and even won an Oscar as best actress for her role of Leticia in "Monster's Ball", becoming the first African American woman to do so, some cynically concluded that the 9/11 event had a big influence on that outcome since the US tried to keep its unity, even towards minorities. That is maybe true for "Training Day", but not for "Monster's Ball". Berry is truly excellent in her role, but also courageous - the almost 3 minute long erotic sequence of Leticia and Hank having intercourse, which is realistic and unglamourous, is something that was rarely seen in US films, even independent ones. Yet it is conclusive - racist Hank "merged his genes" with a race he previously hated, and now loves. The story is (over)filled with symbols and has some syrupy solutions, yet it also has some fine details and observations, like when Musgrove, a convict sentenced to death, is drawing his prison guards in his cell. Also, Hank's racist dad ends up in a retirement home led by an African American. The music is also good, as well as Heath Ledger in his small role as torn Sonny, yet the film is still slightly overlong and uneven, despite Berry's talent.

Grade:++

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Doctor Detroit


Doctor Detroit; Comedy, USA, 1983; D: Michael Pressman, S: Dan Aykroyd, Fran Drescher, Donna Dixon, Kate Murtaugh, Howard Hesseman

Chicago. In order to get himself out of a 80,000 $ debt from mob boss 'Mom', pimp Smooth invents a non-existing new criminal, Dr. Detroit, who showed up on his territory. Smooth spots the nerdy College professor Clifford and invites him for a wild night with his 4 prostitutes, Monica, Karen, Jasmine and Thelma. But then Smooth runs away and leaves them. In order to help them, Clifford disguises himself as Dr. Detroit and meets 'Mom' at a junkyard, trying to act tough even though he barely manages to escape alive in the shootout. He has a sword fight her in a hotel, wins and runs her away from business.

A forgotten film, "Dr. Detroit" is a tiresome and spasmodic comedy that has plenty of zany, but little of funny. The story is all over the place, but basically empty and nothing more than a solid achievement mostly because the authors didn't display their comic talent. The only funny ingredient is the comedian Dan Aykroyd in the opening where, in tune to the great Devo theme song, he emerges over a hill in a hilarious nerdy way of jogging through the streets that can't be described. After some 30 minutes of zero successful jokes, he manages to save the screenplay once again in the second and last funny moment, the one where he disguises himself as a Southern lawyer, appears in the courtroom, causes a commotion and appeals to the mentality of the Southern judge to save his friend, an arrested prostitute, by presenting her as his sister. Sadly, that's pretty much it. Nothing more memorable to mention in the film anymore. Throughout the story, the characters constantly mention how the fictional Dr. Detroit is a menacing and unspeakably scary, and so the viewers are basically creating high expectations, assuming that Aykroyd is going to create an incredibly imaginative character when he eventually disguises himself into him. But when he finally does disguise himself into Dr. Detroit, some 50 minutes into the film, it turns out lame, almost as if a kid tried to imitate Dr. Strangelove. There are some neat motives of a introverted guy having to become extroverted, yet the pretty much the viewers spend most of the film just thinking about how Aykroyd and his future wife Donna Dixon appeared on big screen for the first time.

Grade:+

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Zorba the Greek


Zorba the Greek; Drama, USA/ UK/ Greece, 1964; D: Michael Cacoyannis, S: Anthony Quinn, Alan Bates, Lila Kedrova, Irene Papas, Sotiris Moustakas

Basil, a British man of Greek heritage, waits in a Greek harbor for a ship to island Crete where he inherited an estate and a coal mine. While waiting, he meets the cheerful Greek Alexis Zorba who becomes his friend. On Crete, Zorba finds out that the coal mine is too old, so he decides to start a business of descending tree logs with the help of a cable way. Basil falls in love with a local widow, but she is killed by the locals who unsuccessfully courted her. Zorba gets engaged to Madame Hortense, an old former star, but she dies from a cold. Even the tree business fails miserably, but Zorba and Basil stay optimistic.

Nominated for 7 Oscars (out of which it won 3 for cinematography, set-decoration and supporting actress Lila Kedrova), 5 BAFTA awards and 5 Golden Globes, "Zorba the Greek" is a very popular film that enjoys a high reputation, but which isn't flawlessly crafted. Actually, some moments are almost an excess. On one hand, the film possesses an ambitious approach towards the story about two different life perspectives, the one from Basil (conservative) and Zorba (liberal), and a bunch of excellent scenes, like the one where the ship finds itself in the middle of a storm, swaying and causing the passengers to slam into the wall. But on the other hand, many situations are questionable, like the misogynous sequence where the villagers kill the widow but it doesn't leave any trace on Basil. The hypocritical way in which the character of the aging Madame Hortense is treated, is also misguided. There's this display of barbarism and passivity of the hero Zorba who is happy and indifferent towards anyone that seems to rub some people the wrong way, even though Anthony Quinn delivered a great performance. The music is also a classic.

Grade:++

The Fearless Vampire Killers


The Fearless Vampire Killers; Horror comedy, UK, 1967; D: Roman Polanski, S: Roman Polanski, Jack MacGowran, Sharon Tate, Ferdy Mayne

19th Century, winter. Professor Abronsius is thrown out of a university because he believes in existence of vampires, so he and his assistant Alfred travel through snowy Transylvania in a sled. They arrive at a pub that is filled with garlic while the villagers all act strange. Alfred falls in love with Sarah, but she gets kidnapped by a vampire, Count Krolock. Abronsius and Alfred go to his castle where he treats them as guests. They decide to kill Krolock, but they lose their equipment. It turns out the whole castle is filled with vampires, so they run away with Sarah. But she also became a vampire and contaminates them too.

After his success with "The Knife in the Water", director Roman Polanski moved from his Polish homeland to Britain, where he surprisingly filmed horror comedy "The Fearless Vampire Killers" in which he spoofs the vampire cliches in a rather light way, though even that is an endemic result in his otherwise dark film opus. Just like most of his films, this one also ends with the triumph of evil, but already in the opening (in which the dogs are running after a speeding sled and biting the coat of the protagonist) the funny-goofy tone was crystallized, which makes the story more upbeat. There's a neat display of original jokes here: the old man Yoine hides behind the door of the pub as a human, and then later on the same way as a vampire. He also runs away from an empty barrel in which vine is instilling from another barrel. And he even brings his coffin into the castle of Count Krolock to be close to him as a new "member", nonchalantly stating: "I'm not bothering anyone if I sleep here", but gets kicked out. And one vampire is even gay. However, the characters are cold, the story anecdotal whereas the humor isn't that brilliant since it relies too much on clumsiness.

Grade:++

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Tenant


Le Locataire; Thriller-drama, France, 1976; D: Roman Polanski, S: Roman Polanski, Isabelle Adjani, Shelley Winters, Melvyn Douglas, Jo Van Fleet, Lila Kedrova

Paris. Trelkovsky arrives to an apartment complex to rent a flat since the previous tenant, Simone, mysteriously jumped out of window and ended up badly hurt in the hospital. He visits here there and meets her friend, Stella, with whom he starts an affair. When Simone dies, he Mr. Zy rents him the apartment. But strange things start to appear: Trelkovsky finds a tooth hidden in a hole in the wall of his apartment, someone breaks in and one night there are even hieroglyphs there. Suspecting the neighbors all want to force him jump out from the window like Simone, he slowly goes mad. He dresses up like a woman and jumps out of the window. Since he survived, he jumps again. In the hospital, all in bandages, he spots himself and Stella visiting him there.

There's an unwritten rule that the best thrillers are mostly the ones that feature or exploit the human fears of helplessness. Roman Polanski's psychological thriller-drama "The Tenant" handles that theme with taste, measure and style, featuring an easily identifiable urban story about the problems of renting a good apartment. With a sustained, but creepy mood, the story unfolds just right, seizing attention even when nothing is going on, feeding of the excellent, masterfully placed small details revolving around the scary notion of living in a 'cursed' place where the previous tenant just recently committed suicide (Trelkovsky unpacks his photographs and personal belongings in the new apartment; he carries the bags full of garbage down the stairs but it slowly falls out on his feet from a hole; when the bartender offers him Marlboro cigarettes because the previous (deceased) tenant also smoked them, he refuses to avoid the similarities). The environment he is in seems surprisingly realistic, his elegant style is refreshing whereas the story always plays with two possibilities: is Trelkovsky crazy or are his neighbors really trying to kill him? Maybe the pay-off doesn't come off to the fullest, yet it features a haunting, disgusting but fascinating end, one so twisted in playing with synchronicity and deja-vu that it hasn't been matched ever since "Donnie Darko".

Grade:+++

Knife in the Water


Nóż w wodzie; Drama, Poland, 1962; D: Roman Polanski, S: Leon Niemczyk, Zygmunt Malanowicz, Jolanta Umecka

Andrzej and his wife Krystyna drive in a car. On their way, they are stopped by a blond man who tells them that their lights are turned on. At first, Andrzej is infuriated, but brings him along out of curiosity. The trio arrives to a yacht and sails in the sea. The hitchhiker is afraid of water and stays all alone on the yacht while Andrzej and Krystyna swim in the water. The yacht gets stranded while Andrzej steals the hitchhiker's knife and throws it in the water. He then goes to the shore, whereas the hitchhiker starts an affair with Krystyna, before leaving. Krystyna returns to her Andrzej in the car.

The feature length debut film by director Roman Polanski, thriller-drama "Knife in the Water" gained substantial publicity worldwide and was nominated for an Oscar and a BAFTA for best foreign language film. The minimalistic story contains only three protagonists yet Polanski managed to use it to craft a critique of society, character study and an essay about love triangle. The three actors all did a top notch job, but as a whole the film is 'only' good - the most bothersome part is the irritatingly empty walks in the story which is rather boring. The thriller elements are quite weak (only consisting of Andrzej pushing the hitchhiker into the water) whereas too much time is wasted with trivial sailing across the sea. The film has charge, but it is not enough to carry the whole story: it lacks humor and intensity. The biggest 'trump-card' is the camera work that has some unusual angles (the hitchhiker 'walking on water' while holding on to the yacht).

Grade:++

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Wrong Trousers


The Wrong Trousers; animated adventure comedy short, UK, 1993; D: Nick Park, S: Peter Sallis
In London, inventor Wallace lives with his dog Gromit. Their favorite dish is cheese, but when one day they get a bigger bill than they can pay because Gromit got a robotic trousers that will bring him out for walk for his birthday, they decide to take a lodger in their apartment. A Penguin moves in, but he is a criminal and one night puts the robotic trousers on the sleeping Wallace to move him by remote control right into a museum to steal a diamond. But Wallace wakes up in the process, even though he can't get out of the remote controlled trousers, until Gromit helps him. The Penguin gets arrested and placed in a Zoo.

Shining short animated film "The Wrong Trousers" manages in only 25 minutes of its running time to convince even the most grouchy viewer of its quality and cheerfulness, whereas the story that's at the same time simple and sharp brought fame to the author Nick Park. The characters of Wallace and his dog Gromit, who are wonderful friends, are fascinating, the gags involving the bad guy Penguin are virtuoso directed and contagiously charming (the stand-out, hilarious moment is when the criminal Penguin is using his remote control to move the robotic trousers which a sleeping Wallace is wearing. The scene alone where the trousers are walking vertically up the wall while he is hanging there sleeping was enough to make this film good even if all others situations would have been weak) whereas their action sequences in the finale end up writing the history of cinema - the sequence where Gromit is placing tracks for his speeding toy train and thus creating his own path are a tour-de-force example of genius. A fantastic fun, whereas "The Wrong Trousers" were awarded with an Oscar for best short film, just like Park's previous - "A Grand Day Out" - and subsequent "Wallace & Gromit" film - "A Close Shave" - but this one is the best, a small masterpiece.

Grade:++++

Godzilla


Godzilla; Science-fiction/ Disaster movie, USA, 1998; D: Roland Emmerich, S: Matthew Broderick, Jean Reno, Maria Pitillo, Hank Azaria, Kevin Dunn, Harry Shearer, Michael Lerner

Godzilla is an enormous lizard like monster that was created through radiation due to French nuclear tests in French Polynesia. When it arrives to New York, it wrecks havoc so the military and scientist Dr. Niko, Audrey and others try to stop it and save people, also discovering the monster laid eggs. In cooperation with French agents, including Philippe, they manage to kill Godzilla.

After his biggest commercial success, "Independence Day", director Roland Emmerich filmed "Godzilla", a big budget remake of the trashy film series from Japan, which don't quite distinguish from each other by their quality. "Godzilla" is filled with cliches, but it is actually a solid achievement with competent structure and eloquent details. The first part of the story functions the best since the interesting idea of a giant lizard lost in New York has some very supportive awe that flows nicely (cars jump up in the air due to tremors of the Earth; buildings collapse; helicopters are chasing after Godzilla through the streets). Especially amusing is Emmerich's mockery of critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel since the story has two comic relief characters, goofy mayor Ebert (Michael Lerner, who copied the critic's gestures) and his assistant Gene: in one scene, Gene forbids Ebert to eat sweets and even gives him "thumbs down" before leaving him (of course, the real Ebert thus gave "Godzilla" only 1.5 stars). Actress Maria Pitillo here and there also steals the show with her charm as Audrey. But the story forcibly tries to show Godzilla as an evil creature, even though its definitely not - its just a scared animal lost in the urban area - and thus her murder at the end seems like Pyrrhic victory and an unbalanced excess.

Grade:+

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

All Things Fair


Lust och fägring stor; Romantic drama, Denmark/ Sweden, D: Bo Widerberg, S: Johan Widerberg, Marika Lagercrantz, Karin Huldt

Malmo, Sweden, '43. Stig (15) is a teenager who came from Stockholm. His older brother is a sailor who fights in the war whereas his father is an alcoholic. Stig works in the cinemas selling candy but one day has to stay behind in class and clean up glued flies he hit. He then falls in love with teacher Viola (37) and starts a secret affair with her. Viola's husband Kjell is often out for work so the couple has enough time in her apartment. Even when Kjell discovers the affair, he becomes friends with Stig. But when the teenager starts a relationship with a girl his age, Lisbet, he breaks up with Viola, who in anger makes him flunk the class. Since his brother died, Stig leaves in resignation.

Excellent love drama "All Things Fair" with a topic of a relationship between a young student and a more mature teacher reminds of "The Graduate", compared to which its only for a nuance weaker, but it's not that classics's surrogate. The most astounding things is that the backdrop of the story, World War II, remained deliberately insignificant, whereas the main story, relationship of the couple, truly became the most important aspect, which is an unusual twist of cliches since in most movies it would have been the other way around. Even though it was his last film, director Bo Widerberg queues the details of the controversial romance is an elaborated, honest and humane way, from the kiss Stig gives to the chair on which the teacher Viola sits, through their affair, up to the the point where her husband discovers the affair yet still remains his friend. No prejudice, no taunting, just a simple display of two people in love. On the other hand, in another subplot, Stig is also seduced by teenage Lisbet, a virgin who takes her clothes off in front of him and leads him to a bed, even preparing a rag under it in case that she bleeds too much during her first time. Despite erotic scenes, Widerberg avoided the lascivious and created a sophisticated achievement, whereas the end can be interpreted in a lot of ways - even that the teacher wanted to teach the hero to love women the way she wanted to, not the way he usually would. "All Things Fair" was nominated for an Oscar as best foreign language film.

Grade:+++

Sunday, October 11, 2009

There's Something About Mary


There's Something About Mary; Romantic comedy, USA, 1998; D: Peter Farrelly, Bobby Farrelly, S: Ben Stiller, Cameron Diaz, Matt Dillon, Chris Elliott, Lee Evans, Lin Shaye, Jeffrey Tambor

Not even 13 years after an accident prevented him to go out to prom night with her can Ted forget about his dream girl Mary. he thus fires a sleazy private detective, Healy, to find her. Healy finds her in Miami, but since he himself falls in love with her, he lies to Ted that she became fat and has 4 kids. But that doesn't stop Ted and he meets up with her again. Since numerous men all tell incredible lies just to be with her, like 'architect' Tucker, Ted has a hard time. But when Ted finds her ex-boyfriend and gives up on her so that she can just have a good life, she decides to be with him.

It's interesting how the Farrelly brothers managed to even in their 3rd film make a cult hit out of gross-out humor, but even their mediocre comedies can sometimes be funnier than some excellent one. Let's straighten some things out - "There's Something About Mary" is a broad comedy, a simple comedy and the first 15 minutes of it are close to rubbish, but the minute Healy (Dillon) finds the title heroine in Miami and starts observing her behavior, does it become clear that there really is something about this film that separates it from other cheap comedies - namely, Mary is such a contagiously positive, sweet and dear character that she is irresistibly charming, especially in the scene where she is nice to the mentally handicapped people by giving them hamburgers, giggling so honestly that it melts you away. Mary is probably the best female characters to ever come out of a Farrelly brothers movie. Cameron Diaz plays her wonderfully, for which she even won the New York Film Critics Award as best actress.

It really is a pity that the story is so crude, and not more smoothly crafted and romantic, yet some of the most hilarious jokes in it really hit you one way or the other - like in the scene where Healy gave too much tranquillizers to the dog whose heart subsequently stopped beating, so he quickly takes out two wires from a lamp and crafts an improvised defibrillator, giving the pet electroshocks. After every electroshock, the paralyzed dog's body jumps up in the air, while sparks fly all around it. In the end, the sparks even cause a fire on dog's fur (!), though it does get re-animated. Healy's "dialogue wars" with architect Tucker are also a blast. And here the Farrellys succeeded in the impossible - the legendary scene where Mary mistakes sperm on Ted's ear for 'hair gel' and puts it on her hair is a rare kind of almost poetic vulgarity. They always were defenders of outsiders and losers, which is why "Mary" is at its chore even an emotional love story, despite the 'rough' and heavy handed details here and there, which is why the film still holds up surprisingly well and enjoys cult status.

Grade:++

The Man with Two Brains


The Man with Two Brains; Black comedy, USA, 1983; Carl Reiner, S: Steve Martin, Kathleen Turner, David Warner, Sissy Spacek (voice)

After brain surgeon Dr. Michael Hfuhruhrr accidentally hits Dolores with his car, he saves her life in the hospital and marries her. But the evil Dolores soon shows her real face, cheating on him while he is always alone. During their honeymoon in Vienna, Michael meets mad scientist Alfred who experiments with brains. In his laboratory, Michael discovers he can communicate with one female brain in a glass, Anne, and falls in love with her. When Dolores gets murdered, he transplants Anne's brain into her body and they end up together.

Genius and inspiration are not quite the first things that come to mind when one watches "The Man with Two Brains", an unusually black and weak achievement from the early career of Steve Martin, the 'comedian with grey hair and young face'. Actually, for a film that mentions two brains in its title, the story is surprisingly poor with intelligence: the jokes where a cat for some reason appears again and again in Michael's operating room during his operations or when he licks the palm on his hands to move and hang on the wall like Spider-man were lame, cheap and dumb back in 1983, and there is no reason for them to leave a different impression today. Surprisingly, the best jokes appear completely unexpected when the film is making fun of itself - for instance, Dr. Alfred's secret cave laboratory is an obvious paper set design, so the biggest laugh comes when his butler simply rips off the 'solid' looking paper door with ease. Still, despite its too flat approach, this third cooperation between director Carl Reiner and actor Martin is still an easily watchable fun, before they would make their hit comedy "All of Me".

Grade:+

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Fatal Attraction


Fatal Attraction; Drama, USA, 1987; D: Adrian Lyne, S: Michael Douglas, Glenn Close, Anne Archer, Ellen Hamilton Latzen

Dan Gallagher is a successful lawyer and has everything in life: a luxurious apartment, good job, wife Beth, daughter Ellen and a dog. He goes out to parties with his friends, where he meets the mysterious Alex. When his wife and child take a trip outside town for a weekend in order to search for a house, Dan meets Alex again and invites her for dinner. Soon, the two of them start a passionate affair, but Dan still leaves her since he is married. But Alex starts bugging him with phone calls and tells him she is pregnant. When she kills their rabbit and kidnaps their daughter for a while, Dan admits everything to Beth and calls the police. Alex storms into their house and attacks Beth with a knife, so Dan kills her in self-defence.

During its premiere, "Fatal Attraction" stirred up quite a hype and shocked the audience with scenes of intercourse which were unusually free for Hollywood. Ironically, in comparison to some other films shot today, these "scandalous" scenes seem timid - they consist only out of two minimalistic erotic moments (in kitchen and elevator) - but the movie is still memorable much more for its "ordinary" story about a possessive partner who doesn't want to let go of the other, even causing some to find hidden AIDS symbolism in it (Glenn Close's character Alex is actually an allegory for that virus that, after an careless, will affair, bugs the hero and threatens him with death), which is why its audacity was rewarded with 6 nominations for an Oscar, 4 nominations for a Golden Globe and one BAFTA for best editing. The first half functions brilliantly thanks to quiet details and observations (for instance, Alex is a victim of loneliness and even cuts her veins) but the second one, in form of a thriller, causes a clumsy negation of all the events previously seen, mostly thanks to the banal end - Alex simply can't be the aggressor in the story, but the producers unfortunately played it safe and crafted the 'neat' ending it got.

Grade:++

Play Misty for Me


Play Misty for Me; Thriller-drama, USA, 1971; D: Clint Eastwood, S: Clint Eastwood, Jessica Walter, Donna Mills, John Larch, Don Siegel

David Garver is radio disc jockey in a small studio in Monterey. In a bar, he meets a fan, Evelyn, who has a one night stand with him. However, since he meets up with his ex-girlfriend Tobie again and starts to re-new their relationship, he lets Evelyn know that the one night stand will stay just that. Evelyn though is possessive and doesn't want to let him go, stalking him and even cutting her veins to stay with him. She ends up in a mental asylum, but gets released and sneaks in as Tobie's new roommate, where she ties her up. David arrives to Tobie's house to rescue her and Evelyn attacks him with a knife. But he throws her down the cliff.

16 years before "Fatal Attraction", 1971 film "Play Misty for Me" displayed how a one-night stand or a relationship may turn into a psychotic nightmare when one of the partners doesn't want to let the other one go, resulting in a story that slowly, but steadily builds its creepy factor of an invisible trap. "Misty" also marked the directorial debut of actor Clint Eastwood who did a surprisingly relaxed and good job, even though his often director Don Siegel was cast in the role of the bartender to be his mentor on the set in case something happens. The stand-out performance is the one of Jessica Walter as possessive Evelyn (nominated for a Golden Globe as best actress), who at first doesn't seem like a real threat, but slowly shifts that notion with nervous outbursts, like when she wrecks David's house or follows him to an important business diner with an old lady where she insults her and causes a commotion. Eastwood here still doesn't have the complete directorial authority - for instance, the suspenseful build up is deflated by the useless unususpensful music festival sequence - yet he crafted a neat romantic love scene in nature (between David and Tobie) and proved that he has a sixth sense for thriller.

Grade:++

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Femme Fatale


Femme Fatale; Thriller, France, 2002; D: Brian De Palma, S: Rebecca Romijn, Antonio Banderas, Peter Coyote, Eriq Ebouaney

Cannes films festival. Laura prepares a robbery for her boss: during the premiere of a film, she seduces lesbian Veronica in front of the theater and brings her to the toilette. There she strips her diamond bra during intercourse which gets stolen by her boss. But bodyguards show up who wound the boss so Laura escapes with the diamonds. She takes the identity of a dead girl and gets married for politician Watts in the US. 7 years later, Watts is an ambassador in Paris where photographer Nicolas makes a photo of Laura, which gets noticed by her betrayed boss. In order to save herself and make news that she died, Laura tricks Watts into thinking Nicolas kidnapped her. She kills Watts and Nicolas, but the boss finds her and throws her into the river...Laura wakes up and realizes it was just a dream. 7 years later she really meets Nicolas.

For some reason the talented Brian De Palma never received some directorial recognition as some other directors did. Even some of De Palma's best films, like "Carrie" and "The Untouchables", were received lukewarm by Oscars and Golden Globes. For the 'polished' thriller "Femme Fatale", nothing bad can be said about it if one keeps an open mind for it. The story has flaws in logic and is inconsistent, but always well articulated since it's so bravura directed that the viewers will be impressed at many moments. The visual style is especially noticeable in the fascinating opening: from the first scene where Laura is watching a film on television, through her seduction of Veronica up to her getaway in the dark. And here and there a touch of humor makes everything refreshing, like in the amusing scene where, in a bar full of men, she tells Nicolas: "I think that one over there is in love with me". The final twist will anger many and make them give up on everything, since it is so bizarre that it almost looks like a dream, but if David Lynch can get away with everything, then so can De Palma too.

Grade:+++

Black Hawk Down


Black Hawk Down; War drama, USA, 2001; D: Ridley Scott, S: Josh Hartnett, Tom Sizemore, Jason Isaacs, Ewan McGregor, Eric Bana, William Fichtner, Sam Shepard

Somalia, '93. The civil war is raging and the death toll keeps rising. In order to arrest some of despot Mohammed Farah Aidid's henchmen, the US army organizes a military action in Mogadishu. Sargent Eversmann is the the head of the unit in which the US soldiers storm a building where Aidid's subordinate is suppose to be, but everything goes wrong. Somali soldiers shoot down two US helicopters and attack soldiers. It ends in a massacre, but some soldiers manage to save themselves.

Vicious war drama "Black Hawk Down" consists out of two parts: in the first, "passive" dramaturgy prevails, whereas action prevails in the second one that displays almost a 90 minutes non-stop parade of fight sequences. Making movies about "unknown" conflicts in the Western world, like Somali civil war, is something that should be praised, yet the fact that Ridley Scott received an Oscar nod as best director for this film is rather debatable. Truth be told, many situations are brilliantly "dressed up" in pretty images, but due to spot like editing the scenes last for only a couple of seconds and seem rushed while the characters remain one-dimensional puppets. The best ingredients are clever observations (US soldiers are making a barbecue out of a Somali boar; a helicopter is falling in circling motion on the street) and successful synthesis out of action and demanding tone, yet "Hawk" is still unfocused and a step bellow excellent "Saving Private Ryan".

Grade:++

Monday, October 5, 2009

Thelma & Louise


Thelma & Louise; Drama/ Road movie, USA, 1991; D: Ridley Scott, S: Susan Sarandon, Geena Davis, Harvey Keitel, Michael Madsen, Brad Pitt, Stephen Tobolowsky

Thelma and Louise are constant victims of their immature wishes and desires; Thelma got married to an authoritative macho when she was 18, Louise is a waitress. Wanting to get away from their miserable lives for a while, they go for a vacation, but Thelma again falls for a tough guy who tries to rape her - in self-defence, Louise kills him. Fearing the police, the two of them flee in a car, heading towards the Mexican border. On their way, they pick up cowboy J.D. who robs them, so Louise is forced to rob a store. Their getaway becomes more and more problematic, even though one cop, Hal, defends them and begs them to resolve the thing peacefully. But they drive over a cliff.

Tragic drama and one of the key feminist films of the 90s gathered a lot of critical acclaim, won a Golden Globe and an Oscar for best screenplay, while Susan Sarandon and especially Geena Davis delivered some of their best performances of their careers, equipped with a sweet Texas accent. It's a powerful film about misunderstanding, where director Ridley Scott created a neat mood that's much more concerned with continuation, and much less with origination of all the problems that Thelma and Louise get into. In the story, namely, too many events end up looking "set up" and fake in order to bring the point across. The two heroines could have proven their independent, emancipated spirit with much more intelligent means than blowing up trucks and wrecking havoc as if they lost their mind. They childishly listen only to tough, macho men, which is why one line from police officer Hal (Keitel) is crucial in the film; "I believe you, but you are acting more and more as if you are really guilty" - he is a rational, introverted man, and sadly, they don't listen to those kind. Why Thelma and Louise are acting the way they do was not quite clarified. The point of the story is clear, how a society is unjust towards women, yet it's too contrived to look truly honest - most of the male characters are cliches. The viewers get what the author wanted to say, but it was done flatly. Still, it's a matter of an ambitious, symbolic and contemplative film that refreshingly puts female characters first.

Grade:++

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Black Rain


Black Rain; Thriller, USA/ Japan, 1989; D: Ridley Scott, S: Michael Douglas, Ken Takakura, Andy Garcia, Kate Capshaw, Yusaku Matsuda

New York. Police officer Nick likes to drive on the motorcycle and win in the race. He is divorced, has to pay for child support while an additional burden is that he is suspected of corruption. When he catches a Japanese mobster, he gets the assignment to bring him to Tokyo together with his colleagues Charlie. But once in Japan, Nick mistakenly hands over the mobster over to Yakuzas who disguised themselves as cops, realizing his mistake too late. Nick and Charlie decide to stay in Japan and catch him again, while they are joined by Inspector Masahiro. The Yakuzas kill Charlie while Nick gets recommended to go back to the US, yet he stays. He manages to capture the mobster in a trap and leaves to Masahiro the plates for money counterfeiting.

Made with an unhidden sympathy towards Japanese culture, following the occasional trend of US-Japanese joint films like "Babel", "Sayonara" and "Lost in Translation", thriller "Black Rain" grossed 46 million $ at the US box office (almost twice as much as "Blade Runner") and was nominated for an Oscar for best sound editing and special effects. Ridley Scott directs "Rain" with an fine aesthetic, just like most of films in his opus, but somehow distanced from the characters and the story. Alas, up to 20 minutes pass and nothing happens, the camera is wondering around Japan whereas untypical violence appears in the story, like when the Yakuza decapitates Andy Garcia's character's head or when a Yakuza chops his own finger because he wasn't obedient towards the mafia. Michael Douglas plays a police officer that's a rather ephemera character, but the authors gave him a few sharp dialogues ("Are you sure?" - "Well...Definitely maybe.") and observations (he puts the money on fire to see if it's counterfeit), and the rest is interesting, but standard piece of movie making.

Grade:++

Legend


Legend; Fantasy, UK/ USA, 1985; D: Ridley Scott, S: Tom Cruise, Mia Sara, Tim Curry, Alice Playten, David Bennent

In some land of fairy tales, the evil Lord of Darkness with horns wants to rule the world but he has to kill the last two Unicorns so that the Sun wont rise again. His trolls hit one Unicorn with an arrow just when Princess Lili wanted to stroke the animal: immediately, snow starts to fall and the kingdom turns into an ice trap. Lili is sad and her friend Jack promises to help. The trolls also kidnap the last Unicorn and Lili, whereas Lord of the Darkness falls in love with her. Jack and his three dwarf friends and a fairy enter into his castle. Lili seduces the Lord and frees the Unicorn while Jack uses metal shields to direct a Sun beam that illuminates the Lord who dies. The snow melts.

Utopian fantasy with idyllic images of nature and gentle positive friends is a rather good film, appropriately fairy tallish and dreamy. Ridley Scott connects the world with the inner feelings of the two heroes, which is why when they are unhappy snow starts to fall, and there are also beautiful Unicorns presents in the story, a symbol for innocence and lost dreams, which also appeared in Scott's "Blade Runner - the Director' Cut" in Deckard's dream, hinting a secret towards him. Wonderfully aesthetic, with great set design and make up (that was nominated for an Oscar and a BAFTA), it's hard to comprehend why some critics hated "Legend" so much during its release. Today, the film has a cult following and sparkles with 80s flair - it's an opulent flick, but too simple to have any deeper meaning whereas some amusing dwarfs are much more interesting than the too serious Tom Cruise's character - for instance, the fairy promises to rescue him only if he kisses her! Such neat details craft the story, which is so allegorical and unique that it became a story for itself.

Grade:++

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Someone to Watch Over Me


Someone to Watch Over Me; Crime, USA, 1987; D: Ridley Scott, S: Tom Berenger, Mimi Rogers, Lorraine Bracco

New York. Mike Keegan is a typical detective from Queens who is married and has a son. One day, he gets the assignment to watch out over the rich Claire Gregory who saw her friend was killed by criminal Venza. In shifts, the police is protecting her mansion while Mike's turn is always at night, so he goes out with her to extravagant parties. The police catches Venza, but releases him to due to unlawful arrest. Mike falls in love with Claire, but as a consequence his wife leaves him. When Venzo takes his family as hostages, he kills him.

After brilliant sci-fi drama "Blade Runner", director Ridley Scott's talent started to erode and return back again, and the gentle crime romance "Someone to Watch Over Me" is the positive exception to that rule since its much closer to the latter mentioned classic than a soap opera it could have easily turned into, but didn't. The melancholic story about a detective who has to watch over a rich lady in her mansion at night until he falls in love captivates with enchanting aesthetic cinematography, 80s flair, subtle approach and an occasional amusing situation (the police chief goes crazy from rage when he hears the lady wants to go out at night for "shopping"; the detective explains her that she has to walk "wacky" in order to confuse and scare off potential thieves). The biggest flaws are Tom Berenger's accent which isn't everyone's 'cup of tea', a mild visual style and banal finale, yet as a whole its a very pleasant surprise that managed to get the most out of Scott's vision.

Grade:+++

The Duellists


The Duellists; Drama, UK, 1977; D: Ridley Scott, S: Keith Carradine, Harvey Keitel, Cristina Raines, Albert Finney

Strasbourg, 1800. Hussar officer Feraud stabs the mayor cousin with his sword. As a punishment, officer D'Hubert puts him in house prison following the order of his superior. But the angry Feraud directs his rage towards him and challenges him to a duel that ends unsettled even though he injures his arm. In the next duel, D'Hubert gets wounded in the chest but they are interrupted by the Napoleonic wars. Serving under Napoleon, D'Hubert and Feraud get promoted, but continue to duel. In 1815, D'Hubert gets married while Feraud ends in prison. D'Hubert gets him out, but the ungrateful Feraud challenges him again to a duel. He loses, but D'Hubert spares his life and thus puts him under control.

The feature debut film by Ridley Scott was puzzlingly acclaimed by the critics due to a visual style that at all isn't original or impressive like in his later films "Blade Runner" and "Legend". "The Duellists" are an elegant drama, from the opening scene were the peasant woman is chasing ducks up to the finale where one of the two protagonists looks at the sunset defeated, with visible references to "Barry Lyndon" and a few interesting details. So, for instance, after being stabbed, D'Hubert has to watch not to sneeze or the pain in his chest will affect him even more, whereas in the courtroom a bird is flying here and there completely in a surreal manner. But the character of the infantile Feraud (Keitel) who is constantly challenging the hero for a duel is quickly starting to become old and annoying, which makes the standard story look nothing better than it is. The cinematography is aesthetic, but not to such a degree to carry the whole film.

Grade:++