Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Big One


The Big One; Documentary, USA/UK, 1997; D: Michael Moore, S: Michael Moore, Rick Nielsen, Phil Knight, Studs Terkel

Michael Moore is telling jokes in front of the audience on the expense of the politicians. His point is that US politicians, like Pat Buchanan, take donations from everyone, numerous Americans are unemployed, while all around the US the mega-corporations are sending industry to Third World countries. Since Moore is unemployed himself, he wrote a book, "Downsize This" and shot this documentary about himself and other workers who have lost their jobs - despite companies making huge profit. Along his tour, he promotes his book and jokes on his own account (the cover of his book contains his photo on which his fingernails were digitally "improved") and meets the employees who lost their jobs to interview them. Some of them cannot comprehend why they reduced the number of jobs if their chocolate company is making record profit.

A younger Moore had more energy than in his following humorous documentaries that question Capitalism, though he is again unfocused and some parts seem like propaganda at times. Still, he documents some events which serve as an archive for history, like when he speaks about mega-corporations paying minimum wage to Third World workers in order to cheaply make their products which are then sold for huge profit, while some workers in the US get only 5 $ an hour for their job. A big flaw is also that the film revolves too much around Moore himself, and too little around those unemployed people, whereas many CEOs refused to give any interviews. The humor is again his strongest virtue: in one scene, he makes fun of Steve Forbes ("Steve Forbes never blinks. Have you noticed that? He was today on Larry King and he didn't blink for a whole hour!") and "awards" companies with a "worst employer" award. His film "The Big One" managed to extract two golden moments: one is when an airline company is cheaply hiring convicts in prison (!) to do their services via phone or computer and the other one is when Moore does a great interview with Phil Knight. In an ironic jab at himself, knowing he will be hugely unpopular after all these documentaries, Moore said this when he saw a naked man: "I thought: these companies are so greedy, they didn't even buy clothes for my assassin!"

Grade:+++

Vivre sa vie


Vivre sa vie; Drama, France, 1962; D: Jean-Luc Godard, S: Anna Karina, Saddy Rebbot, André S. Labarthe, Guylaine Schlumberger

Nana Kleinfrankenheim works as a cashier in a records store. After the end of her relationship with Paul, she remains without an apartment because she lacks 2,000 Fran. An unknown lad who introduces himself as a producer buys her a ticket for the cinema. Nana meets the pimp Raoul who hires her as a prostitute. She meets a bunch of interesting people, but Raoul decides to sell her. He demands a higher price so she gets killed by criminals.

"Vivre sa vie" is an untypically serious art-drama for stylishly playful director Jean-Luc Godard, but unfortunately, again typically too artificial for him to seem real. Divided into 12 chapters, this art-drama isn't as inventive as Godard's own "2 or 3 Things I Know About Her" which also dealt with the issue of a girl who turns to prostitution to get some money, though its filled with suggestive direction. In the 5 minutes long opening the camera films Nana and her boyfriend, who are sitting in a cafe, from their backs, not showing their faces while they are talking, to symbolize their cold and informal relationship. Even more demanding is the scene that shows a paper on which she is slowly writing, so the viewers have to patiently wait and read word for word of her composing letter, whereas some dialogues are also original ("Would you borrow me 2,000 Fran?" - "I would. But I don't have any."). The most bizarre and inspiring scene is when she talks with a man, but due to music nothing can be heard, thus their dialogues are written as subtitles. It's another cold, hermetic and distant film-essay by Godard, though movie buffs will be satisfied.

Grade:+++

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Moonlight Mile


Moonlight Mile; Tragicomedy, USA, 2002; D: Brad Silbering, S: Jake Gyllenhaal, Dustin Hoffman, Susan Sarandon, Ellen Pompeo, Holly Hunter

USA, '73. The young Joe wakes up from a dream and gets ready to attend the funeral of his girlfriend Diane, together with their parents Ben, a real estate seller, and Josephine, a writer. After the funeral, Ben and Josephine still tense, irritated by the sympathies of their friends but let Joe live with them. Also, they are preparing for the trial of Diane's murderer. Ben employs Joe as his business partner and intends to buy a bar at the corner. But Joe falls in love with Bertie, whose boyfriend disappeared in the Vietnam War. Josephine isn't happy about that when she finds out. Also, while on trial, Joe admits he already broke up with Diane before the incident. Ben forgives him and he leaves with Bertie.

"Moonlight Mile" starts in an extravagant way: someone is swimming in the sea while the hero Joe is walking on water, an image that already started to turn cliched in the movie world. Then Joe wakes up and follows the parents of his girlfriend to a ceremony of sorts - that turns out to be her funeral. Director Brad Silbering obviously showed interest for a serious comedy in order to make a shift from his previous calligraphy - "Casper" turned out confusing, despite a few clever ideas, while in "The City of Angels" he already started to become more serious and mature. However, here he also didn't manage to exploit the story to its maximum potential because the small dramatic details didn't become spectacular whereas as a whole "Mile" turned out mild and conventional. Still, he cleverly avoided the sentimentality: the parents of the deceased still manage to remain calm while the main tangle has humor ("What do the funerals mean?" - "Nothing!"), even though the second half is overstretched. Dustin Hoffman is again in top-notch shape and makes the film.

Grade:++

Boudu Saved from Drowning


Boudu sauvé des eaux; Comedy, France, 1932; D: Jean Renoir, S: Michel Simon, Charles Granval, Marcelle Hainia, Sévérine Lerczinska

Edouard Lestingois is a middle aged book seller in Paris. He is married to Emma but cheats on her with the maid. One day, while he accidentally observed the city with his telescope, he spots how a tramp jumps from a bridge into the river. Edouard reacts immediately: he jumps into the river and saves the man from drowning. He tells him that his name is Boudu and that he doesn't like life. He is strange and unpredictable, spits on the floor and cleans his shoes with sheets. Soon, Boudu starts and affair with Emma who also catches Edouard cheating on her. After their ship is tipped, Boudu leaves the family.

Mild comedy "Boudu Saved from Drowning", that gently mocks the bourgeoisie, is one of the earlier films by the famous director Jean Renoir. On one hand, the film works, but on the other hand, it doesn't work well enough. The story is comprised out of small humorous vignettes (a girl gives the tramp Boudu some money for bread, but he just gives it to some rich man; Edouard saves Boudu from drowning and all the people disperse when he mentions that he needs a place to stay) that give the story as a whole a light and relaxed tone, except that they are not particularly funny, nor intense, whereas the ending seems completely arbitrarily. In any case, it inspired the American remake "Down and Out in Beverly Hills" 50 years later, which wasn't so great either. Also, it has at least one wonderful dialogue ("I would like to buy the book 'The Flowers of Evil'." - "I'm sorry sir, this is a bookstore, not a flower shop!").

Grade:++

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

It's Complicated


It's complicated; Romantic comedy, USA, 2009; D: Nancy Meyers, S: Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, Steve Martin, Lake Bell, John Krasinski

Middle-aged Jane, who works in a bakery, got divorced from her husband Jake 10 years ago who is now married to the much younger Agnes. While staying in New York to attend the graduation of her child, Jane and Jake bump into each other at a bar. After drinking and joking around too much, they land in bed. Returning back to her home, Jane keeps her „affair“ with her ex Jake a secret from their grown up three kids. At the same time, she starts dating Adam, her new architect, which complicates matters even more. Finally, Jake ends his relationship with Agnes to be with Jane, but she rejects him and continues seeing Adam.

Even though it had a soap opera premise and could have turned out potentially really cheap, thanks to Nancy Meyers directing abilities and sense for romance, humorous drama “It’s Complicated” turned out to be a much better film than the first sight might reveal. A lot of praise goes to the charming actors, especially Alec Baldwin who was even nominated as best supporting actor for a BAFTA, and the untypical Steve Martin in a rather more serious edition, though he also brings his classic comic spark here and there to make the story more colorful. Meryl Streep already won numerous awards as best dramatic actress in her career, but somehow it will be hard to forget her in so many completely opposite, charmingly humorous scenes in this film, such as the one where her character Jane runs away half-naked from bed to the toilet cowering her naked butt with a pillow or the one where, after intercourse, the couple is lying in bed and her ex, the satisfied Jake, puts his hand between her legs and just says nostalgically: “Home sweet home!” The quadrilateral love relationship between the 4 protagonists because the 2 of ex-lovers decided to go back to each other is refreshingly optimistic, positive and pleasant, proving that light entertainment doesn’t necessarily have to be bad. The film set out to be just a fun, good piece of romantic comedy without any pretensions and achieves that perfectly.

Grade:++

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Heaven's Gate


Heaven's Gate; Western drama, USA, 1980; D: Michael Cimino, S: Kris Kristofferson, Isabelle Huppert, Christopher Walken, Sam Waterston, Jeff Bridges, John Hurt, Brad Dourif, Mickey Rourke

Harvard University, 1870. Jim Averill and Billy Irvine are slowly saying farewell to their student days. Wyoming, 20 years later: Jim is a sheriff who has to protect Slavic immigrants from Europe from rich cattle owners, among them also Billy. The rich tycoons are afraid that the immigrants will steal their cattle so they hire outlaws to kill them. Jim has a relationship with prostitute Ella and is shocked when he finds out she is also on the 'black list'. Nate worked for the rich owners, but decided to quit when he caught colleagues when they tried to rape Ella, and is killed by them. The army ends the conflict much to the immigrants disadvantage and saves the rich owners who kill Ella. In 1903, Jim travels in a ship.

After "The Deer Hunter", director Michael Cimino experienced a flop with his western ballade "Heaven's Gate" which cost 44 million $ and grossed only 3 million $ at the box office, whereas numerous critics showed unprecedented hate and deliberate lack of will to understand the film at all, panning it and even going so far to call it "one of the worst", but today, from a sober perspective, such reactions are hard to comprehend since it's a matter of a quality film. In the excellent opening, Kristofferson's character Jim is running to Harvard while his colleague, Hurt's character Billy, is holding a goofy speech in front of the students and then he goes off to dance with the ladies. Then there's a cut and 20 years later we find Jim as the sheriff while Billy is one of the rich cattle owners who are illegally trying to expel Slavic immigrants from Wyoming - it's a great, contemplative premise where the old colleagues from student days end up on opposite sides, but it's a pity that from there on Hurt hardly ever shows up again in the story, since such a decision didn't crystallize their relation completely and remained foggy.

Maybe Cimino is a tad forcing his style too much, but many of the scenes filmed here are almost poetic, like the one were one immigrant is killed by the shadow of a man with a gun that can be seen on the hanged sheet, or the romantic moment where sheriff Jim is eating the food of his lover Ella who takes her clothes off on the table and dashes off to the bedroom. A daring, ambitious and precise display of mise-en-scene, even though the 3.5 hour running time makes the film seem rather repetitive and excessive, which may or may not be such a burden to the viewer, depending on which kind of type everyone is. The whole film is hermetic: for instance, what did the author wanted to symbolize by filming the dance of Jim and Ella in black and white? Maybe the idyllic good old times, and that's not such a pretentious decision as many would like it to be.

Grade:++

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Prizzi's Honor


Prizzi's Honor; Crime drama, USA, 1985; D: John Huston, S: Jack Nicholson, Kathleen Turner, John Randolph, William Hickey, Anjelica Huston, Robert Loggia

Charley Partanna is an assassin working for the Prizzis, a mafia family led by Don Corrado. On a wedding ceremony, he meets the attractive Irene from California and falls for her. After discovering that associates Marxie and Louis stole over 700,000 $ in Vegas from the Prizzi's, Charley assasinates Marxie in his house, but get surprised when he finds out that his wife is - Irene. It all becomes even more twisted when it is revealed she is also a hired assassin. Non-the-less, they still get married. While kidnapping Filargi, who secretly stole money from a bank, Irene shoots a woman who turns out to be the wife of the police comissioner. As a consequence, the police starts a merciless crackdown on the mafia business. When it is revealed that Irene kept half of Louis' stolen money, Charley assassinates her - and starts dating Maerose, Don's grandaughter.

Once an excellent film, director John Huston's penultimate work, "Prizzi's Honor" is today rather diluted and seems only like a good achievement. It is definitely a quality piece of work, cleverly written, ambitious and calm, but it ultimately somehow seems bland and at least 1/3 of it gives the impression as if it was half-heartedly directed. After a rather bizarre-messy opening where, among others, it shows the kid Charley getting a wrist puncher for Christmas, "Prizzi's" start out just like "The Godfather", unfolding during a wedding to show many characters on one place and display what makes them tick, and even later on does it try to imitate the above mentioned classic when it shows the mafia organization.

However, the first 40 minutes of the film seem staged, stiff and lax, especially when Jack Nicholson's Charley suddenly confesses his love to Irene so fast, even though it doesn't seem natural at all. There simply isn't that much chemistry between the two of them. Likewise, Nicholson's Italian accent is rather unnecessary. Also, it's not quite clear why some describe the film as a comedy - among others, it won a Golden Globe as best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy - since this is a crime drama and contains approximately as much humor as the first 10 minutes of "Back to the Future", which should have won that award instead. The best part of the "Prizzi's" comes from two very sharp plot tangles, the one where Charley assassinates Marxie in his home and waits for his wife, but it turns out its Irene (!), and the other when it turns out Irene is an assassin herself, which offers some contemplative messages about love, loyalty and betrayal in their world.

Grade:++

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Golden Compass


The Golden Compass; Fantasy adventure, USA, 2007; D: Chris Weitz, S: Dakota Blue Richards, Sam Elliott, Daniel Craig, Nicole Kidman, Ben Walker

In a parallel world, people’s souls appear in the form of an animal friend, the so called “daemons”. The world is ruled by the Magisterium, a dogmatic institution that tells people how they should live and what is forbidden. The 12-year old girl Lyra lives with her “daemon” as an orphan in the Jordan College in Oxford. Her uncle, Lord Asriel, plans an expedition to the Arctic to research the phenomenon of the “Dust” that can apparently enable journeys to parallel worlds. The mysterious Mrs. Coulter shows up, whose “daemon” is a monkey. Lyra, after receiving a magical golden compass, travels with a ship north to the Scandinavia. She gets accompanied by Texan Lee Scoresby and talking polar bear Iorek Byrnison, whom she helped to find his hidden armor. Once on the icy Arctic, she gets captured but frees herself and her friend Roger. Together they fly to free Asriel.

“The Golden Compass”, the movie adaptation of Phillip Pullman’s book “Northern Lights”, the first of “His Dark Materials” literature trilogy, is another classic example of how a good director, like Chris Weitz, cannot make a great film if the studio bosses interfere and always take over the control during the final cut to make it more “family friendly” and “accessible”. As a result, the film had a mild box office result which ultimately toppled all ideas of a future movie trilogy. And then again, you can’t adapt a controversial book and turn it into a family friendly film by dropping all the controversial parts out – either you are consistent with it or you should not even touch the material in the first place. Even though the story is all over the place – the 12-year old girl Lyra travels from Oxford to the Arctic, meets a talking polar bear and witches - chaotic and bizarre, it still has some sparks of sharp observation, much more than the “Harry Potter” series, thanks to the basic premise that speaks about the organization, the shady Magisterium, that pretty much tells people how to live, how to act and what is forbidden, acting as agents for the higher being, “the Authority”.

Through it, the author obviously makes a huge critique of the religious dogmas, obedience, authority and free will, telling that people should think for themselves – but he made a colossal blunder when he placed a child as the main protagonist. Because, obviously, such adult and dark themes are not intended for kids, but are more appropriate for adults. Even Argento originally planned to have 12-year old kids play the main roles in his horror “Suspiria”, but eventually realized how inappropriate that is given the context, which is why he changed the main heroine into an older, 20-year old girl. The movie is filled with everything, but only two scenes are really inspired (when Kidman’s character Coulter tells Lyra that the “Magisterium is there to tell people how to act to continue to live normally” and the battle of the two polar bears, where one, seemingly stronger, screams “Is that all?”, which is then followed by the other ones victory who replies with: “Yes, THAT is all!”), and a possibly third one, a crucial one, the deleted ending that can only be found on obscure Internet videos and that explained so much about the plot, without which the whole films seems lost, incomplete, like a car without an engine. A diluted, though sufficient fun.

Grade:+

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Ocean Waves


Umi ga Kikoeru; Animated drama, Japan, 1993; D: Tomomi Mochizuki, S: Nobuo Tobita, Yoko Sakamoto, Toshihiko Seki

Kochi. Taku and Yutaka are good friends. One day, a girl gets transferred to their high school, Rikako, who is rather arrogant because she is suffering from the divorce of her parents. A school trip is suddenly canceled, so Taku and Yutaka protest. Luckily, the next year, the school organizes a trip to Hawaii. There, Rikako asks Taku to borrow her some money. A year later, during summer, Rikako tricks her mother using a concert as a pretext and sets out to fly with her friend Yumi to Tokyo to meet her father. Yumi refuses to go, but Taku accompanies her to the capital. There, Rikako is disappointed by her neglectful father and spends the days with Taku in a hotel. They don't speak a word back in school. Yutako gets into an argument with Taku and they don't speak a word until the end of the high school. Years later, during a high school reunion, they all meet again. Taku meets Rikako again at a station and falls in love with her.

A gentle ode to high school life, Studio Ghibli anime TV drama "Ocean Waves" is a wonderfully sincere accomplishment that manages to turn nostalgic and emotional just the right way, neither too cold nor too sentimental. A great deal of praise goes to the unknown, but extremely talented low-key director Tomomi Mochizuki who always tends to show motherly care for his characters, build patient drama development and insert humanity in his stories. "Ocean" is a compact and small film - at first it seemed excellent to me as such, but upon second viewing it somehow didn't repeat the same enthusiasm and stopped at being "just" a good film. The events are interesting and flow smoothly, but the small problem is that the main sensation is the trip (the sweet situation where hero Taku has to unwillingly escort girl Rikako on her secret "sneak-peak" flight to Tokyo, where she wants to see her father again) which has spark (the scene where Taku leaves Rikako with her dad and goes to stay alone in the hotel, but then she shows up and cries in his arms because of the cold attitude of her parent, is fantastic), but ends already some 40 minutes into the film. The rest of the story never repeats the same intensity and continues to be rather mild until the end. The fact that the running time of the film is only 70 minutes also confirms that the screenplay was sparse and should have been developed more. However, it's another pleasant achievement from the Studio that deserves to be seen for its sensitivity that's a rarity.

Grade:++

The World Is Not Enough


The World Is Not Enough; Action, USA/UK, 1999; D: Michael Apted, S: Pierce Brosnan, Sophie Marceau, Robert Carlyle, Denise Richards, Robbie Coltrane, John Cleese, Judi Dench

James Bond tries to persuade a Swiss banker to give him the name of a man who takes the responsiblity for the death of an agent. But then Bond kills him because he attacked him. In a London explosion tycoon King is killed, and when Bond captures the female assassin in a boat, she commits suicide. Bond heads of to Azerbaidjan where King's daughter Elektra is making oil pipelines, but her job is being sabotaged by the evil Renard. In Kazakhstan, Bond fails to prevent an atomic bomb theft, but meets scientist Christmas Jones and discovers that Elektra and Renard cooperate on a join project to bomb an oil tanker in the Black Sea in order to get monopoly on oil. Bond kills them and saves Jones in a submarine.

It's not quite clear why some critics praise "The World Is Not Enough", the 19th James Bond film, since it's a matter of a not so fun run-of-the-mill Bond flick, the weakest in the last 12 years, not counting the awful "Goldeneye". And then again, it's hard to make an exciting and credible film when everyone already knows that, no matter how "dangerous" all the adventures will be, the main hero always has to stay alive at the end in order to make a sequel. Michael Apted previously directed dramas ("Nell"), but here his action sequences are surprisingly well made - a boat chase through the river, parachuters who shoot at the heroes who are skiing through the snow, a sequence where Bond is chasing after a speeding bomb in a pipe - which is why the movie was again successful at the box office. Unlike other films, this one starts directly with Bond, but is stiff, lax, cliched and too serious. Robert Carlyle as the villain who can't feel any pain and even takes a burning hot stone in his hand is wonderful as well as John Cleese as Bond's scientist, but Marceau and Richards are sadly underused - especially the latter who barely says a few lines and thus seems more like an extra.

Grade:+

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Othello


Othello; drama, USA, 1952; D: Orson Welles, S: Orson Welles, Micheál Mac Liammhóir, Suzanne Cloutier, Robert Coote, Michael Laurence

Othello, a respectable Moor general, secretly marries Desdemona in Venice despite the objections of her father. They leave to Cyprus to prevent a Turkish attack. But Othello's servant Iago is jealous of Cassio who was promoted to lieutenant instead of him. Iago thus agitates Othello into thinking that Desdemona is having an affair with Cassio. In an act of jealousy, Othello kills Desdemona. Upon realizing his misguided deed, he kills himself.

Winner of the Golden Palm in Cannes, an achievement that was made despite numerous financial troubles and shamelessly neglected in some circles for some time, Orson Welles' "Othello" is one of the best movie adaptations of Shakespeare's play with the same title. Welles is both in top-notch shape in his double role both as an actor and a director: his acting and the way he filmed himself are among his best work. The film is very demanding stuff - some of Shakespeare's lines today seem dated and artificial - but many of them still radiate with that timeless virtue of wisdom and observation about humans (for instance, Iago's classic monologue: "Who steals my purse steals trash; 'tis something, nothing;’ Twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands; But he that filches from me my good name, robs me of that which not enriches him, and makes me poor indeed."), especially in the powerful three themes of the story: jealousy, agitation and, to a slighter degree, interracial relationship. In the opening shot the hypnotic tone of the film is already set-up: Othello's nose and mouth "emerge" from the complete darkness, slowly revealing his body on the bed. "Othello" is filled with such great visual style, from the camera that pans across the shore to display people's clothes getting pulled from a storm, through the play of shadows and light in the Turkish bath sequence, up to the bird's-eye view of the title protagonist threatening Iago to push him down the cliff into the sea if he is lying, whereas Welles modern direction is powerful. Some minor flaws, like an occasional scene that drags, do little to damage the overall very successful tragedy.

Grade:+++

The Wedding Planner


The Wedding Planner, Romantic comedy, USA, 2001; D: Adam Shankman, S: Jennifer Lopez, Matthew McConaughey, Justin Chambers, Bridgette Wilson

Mary is a wedding planner but doesn't have time for a love relationship herself ever since her boyfriend left her. She becomes a business partner in her agency while her father set her up a date with Massimo. One day, doctor Steve saves her life when a garbage container almost colided with her and asks her out for a dinner. But then Mary finds out he is the fiance of her new client Fran. Out of revenge, Mary continues seeing Massimo but decides to organize the wedding anyway. She decides to get married to Massimo, but then changes her mind. Steve leaves Fran and returns to Mary.

A very good box office result didn't result in a very good film in case of this light and simple romantic comedy for pure distraction purposes, where singer Jennifer Lopez again decided to try out her career as an actress. There are a few virtues here, like the opening that contains a long scene in which the heroine Mary is walking through the church where the wedding is set out, yet later on the story becomes routine and lifeless. For instance, the scene where a garbage container is heading towards Mary and she sees it, but doesn't move from the spot and risks her life to get her shoe from the road, is unconvicing and didn't use nothing to make the situation seems somehow humorous. Her assistant Penny is unbelievably kitschy and self-righteous character that smiles hysterically, the writing seems as if the author decided to save his best lines for some other film while the happy ending is again predictable. Still, it's mostly an acceptable, though watchable mainstream comedy with a good performance by Lopez.

Grade:+