Sunday, May 30, 2010

Bad Boy Bubby


Bad Boy Bubby; Grotesque, Australia/ Italy, 1993; D: Rolf de Heer, S: Nicholas Hope, Claire Benito, Ralph Cotterill, Carmel Johnson, Syd Brisbane

Bubby is a 35-year old man who has been living in only one room his whole life because his religious mother told him the world outside is polluted. She mistreats him physically and mentally, often sleeping with him. One day, his father, dressed as a priest, returns home. Bubby realizes the whole concept of the world he was told was a lie, so he kills them both and leaves - for the first time in his life - into the outer world. But he finds out the real world is equally as brutal: a cop beats him, he doesn't have any money, many women find his "flirting" disturbing and don't want to sleep with him...Until he finds his place as a signer in an alternative rock band and meets Angel, who was also abused as a child. They fall in love and get kids.

Cult black comedy "Bad Boy Bubby" acts like a more morbid version of "Being There", with which it shares the exactly same thematic opening act of the (autistic) main protagonist living his whole life in an isolated place, until he one day exits into the outside world for the first time. But unlike the sophisticated forerunner, Rolf de Heer's film is explicit and makes an unusual viewing that will cause many viewers to feel numb from all the shocking things displayed in it: already some five minutes into the film, when Bubby's obese mother is having sex with him, does the movie already show signs of madness of its author. A large part of the audience dismissed the film as "garbage", but it still should be seen until the end, because it turns out that the daring director did something rare - he used "garbage" and bad taste to shape and build a whole honest story about people coping with child abuse and in search for normality in life. In the end, the way some of the points were raised in the film, it seems some of the "higher" themes in it could have only been achieved through these "lower" methods.

The movie is basically very episodic and chopped up - many episodes in it simply do not have any sense. For instance, when Bubby exits into the street, he spots a tree and touches it, but a man with a chainsaw shows up and cuts the plant. Instead of a reaction, Bubby just moves on and continues to walk until a next encounter, when he mimics a kid jumping up and down from joy. Too many "throw-away" events, yet every episode teaches him some small lessons about the harshness of life. One small theme that it actually touches upon nicely for a change is when Bubby meets Angel's parents who call her "fat" and make her cry, upon which the viewers realize how she has also been abused by her parents, though mentally. The story went too much overboard with the wild and bizarre stuff presented in it, making a lot of mistakes, yet at least 4-5 moments in it are real masterworks of beauty. One of the smartest ones, which showed that de Heer can impress when he wants to, is the small essay about religion when the musician tells the hero the bloody history of Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Hinduism, standing on a poster with the symbols of the before mentioned religions that change with every cut, telling: "Thing is, they've all done their fair share of killing or being killed. And in the end, it's all politics. Don't be like them. Even if you hate someone, don't kill him". The other one is a 'tour-de-force' 2 minute philosophical rant by some stranger who tells these words to Bubby: "You see, no one's going to help you Bubby, because there isn't anybody out there to do it. No one. We're all just complicated arrangements of atoms and subatomic particles - we don't live. But our atoms do move about in such a way as to give us identity and consciousness. We don't die; our atoms just rearrange themselves..."

Grade:++

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Manitou's Shoe


Der Schuh des Manitu; Western parody, Germany/ Spain, 2001; D: Michael Herbig, S: Michael Herbig, Christian Tramitz, Marie Bäumer, Sky Dumont, Hilmi Sözer

The Wild West, 19th Century. The Indian Abahachi was born in a small tent, together with his gay twin brother Winnetouch. Decades later, after cowboy Ranger saved Abahachi's life, they became friends. But both get double crossed by the evil Santa Maria who wants to sell them a saloon with only one wall for a fortune. He also kills "False Rabbit", the son of the Indian Chief. In order to prove their innocence, Ranger and Abahachi search for Maria who kidnapped prostitute Uschi, Abahachi's former girlfriend, because she has a map of the Manitou's treasure tattooed on her back. Santa Maria dies, Ranger gets married to Uschi.

Michael Herbig and his colleague Christian Tramitz hosted the TV comedy show "Die Bullyparade" on German station ProSieben which had solid ratings. Thus, it is quite surprising how their comedy film "Manitou's Shoe" broke many box office records when it attracted 12 million viewers in Germany. Herbig, of course, is no new Wilder, which is why his story that spoofs the kitschy western series "Winnetou" is not especially original or smart, ending up like some extract of Brooks' "Blazing Saddles", yet it has enough hilarious jokes. For instance, the evil Santa Maria kills the Indian "False Rabbit" so the Chief blames Abahachi. When Abahachi runs away, a pole falls accidentally on a rabbit, so the Chief announces: "First he killed the False Rabbit, and now even the real rabbit! Dig up the war hatchet!" - "But we don't have a war hatchet, it was too expensive", replies a warrior. "So what did you buy instead?" - "A convertible chair". - "Dig out the convertible chair!" The film is filled with fast pace and jokes throughout whereas Sky Dumont is especially good as the main villain Santa Maria, as well as the final monologue of the narrator: "Then Santa Claus, the brother of Santa Maria, went on to give present to the World to compensate for the victims of his brother". All in all, silly but fun.

Grade:++

Lilo and Stitch


Lilo and Stitch; Animated science-fiction comedy, USA, 2002; D: Chris Sanders, Dean Deblois, S: Daveigh Chase, Tia Carrere, Chris Sanders, David Ogden Stiers

Hawaii. Lilo is a little girl without friends due to her wild and hermetic attitude. Since she lost her parents, her older sister Nani is taking care of her, proving to the social worker that she is a good foster parent. But one day an alien falls to Earth, Stitch, a genetically modified perfect weapon from alien scientist Jumba. The space council sends Jumba and his assistant to destroy Stitch, but it is already adopted by Lilo who thinks its a dog. Due to Stitch's mischief, Nani loses her job, so the social worker places Lilo for adoption. But he changes his mind when he sees a UFO which spares Stitch's life.

After the excellent "Beauty and the Beast", the Walt Disney studio somehow entered the oscillation of quality, up until the very shrill "Lilo and Stitch". Ironically, up to the flopped ending, the whole film is very fun, skilfully balancing the sympathetic tones of the characters, unlike the rather harassful overdoses of sympathetic in such animated films like "Finding Nemo", giving the story space for both humor and emotions, which is why it was even nominated for an Oscar as best animated film. The worst parts are the one involving the aliens, like Jumba who has four eyes, who persecute Stitch, but are not allowed to harm humans. On the other hand, the best parts are the one involving the relationship between Lilo and her sister Nani (voiced by Tia Carrere). In one funny moment, the social worker questions Lilo how she is treated by her foster parent, her sister Nani, who is, behind his back, giving Lilo signals of what to answer, but she makes a fist so the confused Lilo gets confused and says: "Ehm...I get beaten five times a day?" In another scene, Nani as a waitress has to serve Lilo who just wants to eat junk food. Not to mention the scene where Lilo says to David that "Nani likes his butt", which is another one of those "untypical" sharper examples of humor actually found typically in almost every Disney animated film.

Grade:++

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Dark Eyes


Oci ciorne; romantic tragicomedy, Italy / Russia, 1987; D: Nikita Mikhalkov, S: Marcello Mastroianni, Yelena Safonova, Marthe Keller, Vsevolod Larionov, Pina Cei, Silvana Mangano
Pavel, a middle aged man from Russia, travels in an ocean liner. He enters an empty dining room and meets an older Italian gentleman, Romano, who tells him about his once-in-a-lifetime love story: 8 years ago, Romano was married to the rich Elisa even though he did not really love her. Upon visiting a spa, he met a naive Russian lady with a dog, Anna. They joked around until they landed in bed. She left to return to her husband, but Romano could not forget about her. Using a plan to build a glass factory in Russia as a pretext to travel around that country without surveillance, Romano met Anna again. They promised to divorce from each other partners to be together. But when Romano returned to Italy and found his wife in financial troubles, he stayed with her. Back in the present, Romano sets the tables, while Pavel calls his wife – it is Anna.

Shining romantic tragicomedy „Dark Eyes“ has been rightfully described by someone as a 'tragi-comic tour-de-force': the story is funny and full of humor, but the ending makes it one of the saddest movies of the 80s. It may seem cliched, but it really pays out to pay attention to some of the dialogues said throughout the film, since they all give another layer to the characters after the finale. But even without it, on their own, many have some universal wisdom in them: for instance when Romano (brilliant Marcello Mastroianni, who was nominated for an Oscar and won the best actor award at Cannes) finds out his companion Pavel was just recently married, he asks him a simple question: „Are you happy?“ And he simply says: „I'm happy“. The look on his face really gives it magic, because such a simple state was rarely so openly shown in films. Not to mention Pavel's powerful monologue about love: „This ship is going to rot, this Ocean is going to dry out, but the good things we did and the bad things we did will somehow link us forever.“

Director Nikita Mikhalkov shapes the story as a comedy most of the time, crafting it with life and elegant touch, while it is amazing how he manages to suddenly „splash“ the viewers with serious romance without ever losing his balance, even though the love story between two married people, Romano and Anna, arrives like an emotional tsunami. Most of the credit goes to the honest way the whole film has been made, which is why the touching scenes are never sentimental, but poetic: in one sequence placed roughly ¾ into the film, for instance, a count is talking to the protagonist in a Russian mansion, but Romano suddenly stops listening to him and his mind „slips away“, as he just stares at a globe in front of him and a cup of tea that is illuminated by the Sun. Suddenly a maid enters the room and the count starts an argument with her. Romano still does not register them, but cannot quite comprehend why. Until a dog enters the room, Anna's dog, making Romano realize he was sensing her presence all along. Just like in Mikhalkov's „Burnt by the Sun“, the viewers can already anticipate the ending already half way into the film, but when it unravels, it is still emotionally devastating anyway. The finale offers some of the deepest contemplations about life, love, destiny and happiness. Some wanted to change such an „unusual“ ending to make it more „complete“, but the way it is, it already said everything. You just have to think about it.

Grade:+++

Occupation in 26 Pictures


Okupacija u 26 slika; War drama, Croatia, 1978; D: Lordan Zafranović, S: Frano Lasić, Milan Strljić, Tanja Poberžnik, Boris Kralj, Ivan Klemenc, Gordana Pavlov

Dubrovnik on the eve of World War II. Croat Niko, Italian Toni and Jew Miho are best friends who spend their time joking around with a local prostitute or in fencing club. When the Italian and German Fascists enter and occupy the city, they establish the brutal Ustasha dictatorship, which tors the community: Toni becomes a fascist while Niko and his father Baldo become anti-Fascists and loyal Communist. When Baldo dies for acting in the resistance and Toni takes over his house, Niko shoots him. At the end, Niko and Miho leave the city and join the resistance.

Cult film "Occupation in 26 Pictures", nominated for the Golden Palm in Cannes back in those days, extremely polarized the opinions - most critics praised it during its premiere, though it had a lot of detractors, most notably Nenad Polimac, who famously called it "garbage" - which, combined with its controversial topic, placed it in a "bunker" in the 80s and 90s. The sole film is surprisingly good, though, and holds up well: it is stylistically pleasant, especially in visual sense when director Lordan Zafranovic manages in a few occasions to somehow blend in the shot composition with the beautiful-opulent architecture of Dubrovnik, as well as some inspirational sequences, like the elegant moment where two Nazi motorcycles swiftly enter the city and chase off pigeons from the street, with the SS Major taking photographs of the monuments, surprising a local man feeding the birds.

It is far less tedious than expected, with the latter showing up mostly in the last third, though the story is chaotic-aimless whereas some critiques of Fascists turned out blatant (decadence of the soldiers; the march of the Italians on the Dubrovnik street where at least a dozen of them slips due to Italian sand thrown on the ground; fascist supporters wear pale-white make up...). The best sequence of "26 Pictures" is surprisingly also the worst one: the fascist massacre of a dozen prisoners in the bus. The best because it almost reaches Hitchcock's caliber of suspense when a musician is playing cheerful music throughout the trip while the prisoners are observing the picturesque sight of Dubrovnik from the window, all the while the bus is driving them off to the wilderness, causing the feeling of uncertainty. But it is also worst because once the splatter violence starts, it turns into trash. Still, it presents some brave and noble messages about the cyclic reoccurring evil and its effects on people, promoting humanity and Bertoluccian expression, which is why it deserves to be seen despite some omissions.

Grade:++

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Prometheus from the Island of Viševica


Prometej s otoka Viševica; Drama, Croatia, 1964; D: Vatroslav Mimica, S: Slobodan Dimitrijević, Janez Vrhovec, Mira Sardoć, Dina Rutić, Pavle Vuijisić, Fabijan Šovagović

Mate, a middle aged director of a company from a megalopolis, travels in a ship to visit his birth place, island of Viševica. There he is greeted like a hero since he is scheduled to hold a speech for a ceremony, so he spends the time by showing his wife the island. When he spots his old acquaintance Vinko, he starts getting haunted by his depressive past: as a young lad, Mate fought for Partisans in World War II, but was disappointed when Communism actually made the poor island even poorer. He brought electricity to the island, though the backward inhabitants were fiercely against it. He got married and got a baby, but realized the life on Viševica lacks any perspective. He thus left the island to find a job in some city. Back in present, Mate holds a speech and advises a local lad not to give up on his dream, a tourist center.

Winner of the Golden Arena in 1964, "Prometheus from the Island of Viševica" is a peculiar, but heavy and extremely demanding 'flashback' drama by director Vatroslav Mimica. The story is a modern paraphrase of the myth of Prometheus - just like the mythological god brought fire to people and was thus punished, the hero in this film, the middle aged Mate, remembers how he brought electricity to the backward (fictional) island of Viševica when he was a young lad, but was ridiculed by the inhabitants and, as a set of strange events, estranged his wife, family and had to leave to find a job in an alien city. Humorless and slightly pretentious at times, "Prometheus" exceeds mostly in the crystal clear (black and white) cinematography that was groundbreaking for Yugoslav cinema back in those times: it is filled with nice stylish touches (for instance, the great slow-motion scene where Mate throws a grenade, it explodes and the Fascist soldier slowly falls to the ground; the photo of young Mate "waking to life" when he smiles; phatamorgana shot of a distant ship slowly getting "back into focus"). However, the rest of the film is not as engaging. It has a few brave sparks for that time (like when the poor peasants complain when they have to give so much of their crops for Collectivization during Communism), but basically it is just a standard grey tragedy, burdened by the heavy symbolism towards the finale where Mate tries to move the massive block of white stone. The actors are great, however, from Janez Vrhoves as the old Mate up to to his counterpart Slobodan Dimitrijević as young Mate. As a whole, "Prometheus" seizes more attention with its quirky title than with its content.

Grade:++

Jurassic Park III


Jurassic Park III; Fantasy, USA, 2001; D: Joe Johnston, S: Sam Neill, William H. Macy, Tea Leoni

Paleontologist Dr. Alan Grant got married and now has kids, but still digs for the remains of the dinosaur bones, even though his funding is diminishing. He thus accepts the offer of stranger Paul and his wife Amanda to be their guide on island Isla Sorne, where the cloned dinosaurs are still living, in exchange for a financial assistance. Dinosaur meat-eaters eat several crew members of the expedition, but Alan finds their boy and saves him together with his parents when the army arrives.

After the excellent original the "Jurassic Park" series was continued with unworthy sequels that just promoted cheap action in order to quickly cash in some buck. Part III managed to bring back the main protagonist from the 1st film, Sam Neill, yet the story still seems contrived, just as an excuse to show the exciting dinosaurs again on the screen - for instance, it is not clear why his character insists on digging the dinosaur fossils when he could actually observe living dinosaurs on that island, whereas Laura Dern as his wife has a thin cameo appearance that lasts for only 5 minutes. The arrival of the protagonists on the island was accompanied with banal violence - a hunter is waving towards them, signaling them to pick him up, but the pilot does not want to stop from fear. Suddenly, an Allosaurus shows up from a bush and eats the hunter, so the airplane collides with the lizard, creating blood on the windows. The finale is equally unconvincing, where Velociraptors surround the heroes but let them go when they return their eggs. Still, one should not criticize too much. The presence of charismatic dinosaurs last for over 20 minutes in the film whereas some of their sequences are spectacular.

Grade:+

Saturday, May 15, 2010

(500) Days of Summer


(500) Days of Summer; romantic comedy, USA, 2009; D; Marc Webb, S: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel, Geoffrey Arend, Matthew Gry Gubler
Tom, a writer of greeting cards, is intrigued by the new employee Summer. She just recently moved in this town but does not seem to care that much for him. After the whole company goes to karaoke, the two of them start talking with each other. The next day, she kisses him at work. Slowly, in the next 500 days, Tom starts a relationship with her, but she warns him in advance that she does not want "anything serious". Their love relationship has its ups and downs, but in the end she breaks up with him. He turns angry and quits his job. After she marries someone else, he meets another girl - Autumn.

When a movie starts off with the following text: "Any resemblance to people living or dead is purely coincidental ... Especially you, Jenny Beckman ... Bitch", you know it isn't going to be your run-of-the-mill mainstream flick. One of the most acclaimed films of 2009, independent romantic comedy "(500) Days of Summer" is a refreshingly written and directed piece of work, bursting with innovation and playful style, as well as good emotional moments. Truly, Godard would have loved it since it is full of inventive ideas: for example, in one scene, the depressed hero Tom is sitting in a cinema watching "Persona" and "Seventh Seal", except that he sees himself and his beloved Summer or sister Rachel starring in that black and white classics, reenacting scene for scene. In another example, the split screen provides two versions of Tom approaching Summer's apartment - the left screen showing "Expectations" while the right screen shows "Reality". After he sleeps with Summer for the first time, he goes out on the street, to a sunny day, all happy, leaning on to a mirror of a car, and spots - instead of his own image - the image of Harrison Ford!

If one looks at all those ideas throughout "500 Days", it becomes obvious that director Marc Webb and writer Scott Neustadter managed to create more inventive ideas in only one film than many others have achieved in their entire careers. Considering the sole, emotional story, it is very good, but somehow overstuffed and artificial, as if at certain points it leaned more towards style than substance, which could leave you feeling rather dizzy and exhausted towards the end. Still, even though the 'inner-directorial' ability to make a story feel like a real story was not completely tight, "500 Days" had many moments that ring true (especially the sequence where Tom and Summer escort their drunk friend McKenzie to a cab. But before the car leaves them, McKenzie says in drunk fashion: "He likes you, Summer!" After he leaves, she turns towards Tom and asks him: "Is it true? Do you really like me?", which causes an enchanting dialogue). It was nominated for 2 Golden Globes: best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy, Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Grade:+++

Zombieland


Zombieland; Horror comedy, USA, 2009; D: Ruben Fleischer, S: Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, Amber Heard, Bill Murray

After a mysterious plague that led to a complete Zombie occupation of America, one of the rare survivors is a young lad, Columbus, who has his own set of rules. On his way to find a place without Zombies, he is picked up by Tallahassee in his car, who is searching for some Twinkies. They encounter Wichita and her little sister Little Rock, who double-cross them on several occasions, but still decide to keep together. They arrive in Hollywood and enter Bill Murray's mansion, but get surprised the actor is still alive there. Still, Columbus accidentally shoots him. Zombies attack the two girls in an amusement par, but Columbus and Tallahassee save them.

One of the few films that actually managed to avoid the trashy-gory essence of the Zombie genre to a certain extent, horror-comedy "Zombieland" by screenwriters Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese is a sympathetic and fun little film that even encompasses a few subtle messages about family. The opening act is not as inventive as some have pointed out, the finale is reduced to the dry "shoot-the Zombie" scheme whereas a few more instances of inspiration would have been welcomed, yet the story is consistently interesting thanks to the energy of the actors, especially the brilliant Woody Harrelson and Abigail Breslin. The best comic bit is when Tallahassee shoots a Zombie coming out of a store and asks Columbus: "What do you think? 'Zombie kill of the week'?" And Columbus disagrees, stating it was done by some sister Cynthia, where the film shows a flashback of an elderly lady going to the door while a Zombie is fiercely approaching her. She just rings the bell and a piano falls on the Zombie, squashing it. A genius idea. Yet the best part of the film is definitely the small cameo by Bill Murray who brings down the house: the four protagonists go to Los Angeles somewhere in the middle of the film and stumble upon the comedian, leading to the most surprising, wacky and unbelievable encounter seen lately. Whoever managed to insert that idea there was genius, it's a pure delight.

Grade:++

Monday, May 10, 2010

Will Not End Here


Nije kraj; Black comedy/ drama/ romance, Croatia/ Serbia, 2008; D: Vinko Brešan, S: Ivan Herceg, Nada Šargin, Predrag Vusović, Inge Appelt, Dražen Kuhn, Leon Lučev, Mila Elegović

Martin, a young Croatian war veteran, spots Serbian actress Desa in a porn. He finds the main actor, Romani Đuro, and convinces him to bring him to her. They drive off to Belgrade, where Martin is saddened to find out Desa is owned by a pimp and works as a prostitute. He buys her for 35,000 € and brings her to his home in Croatia. He is kind and doesn't sleep with her, which confuses her. Eventually, they fall in love. Subsequently, it turns out he is plagued by guilt because he killed her husband, a Krayina Serb rebel, during Croatia's War of Independence. Martin's colleague, now a criminal, wants to kill her, but he kills him. He finds out he has a tumor on his brain. But somehow, he stays alive and they remain a couple.
After handling the theme of War in Croatia in two of his films, one comically - „How the War Started on My Island“ – the other seriously – „Witnesses“ – director Vinko Bresan again returned to the theme in a humorous way in his fourth feature length film, „Will Not End Here“. Blending black humor, grotesque, drama and unconventional romance, Bresan's uneven flick can only be categorized as patchwork, yet a film cannot be completely without charm when it starts with a Romani guy performing „music“ with his nose and narrating: „Thank God I'm neither a Serb nor a Croat, but a Romani, a World man. Once Serbs and Croats get sucked into a story, they never seem to be able to get out of it!“ A bizarre experience from start to finish, „Will Not End…“ depends a lot on the viewers' willingness to accept all kind of wild ideas (a protagonist knocks on the door of an apartment. The owner opens it. He tells to the owner: „I have a map showing where your son has been buried. Do you want to buy it?“ The owner replies with: „One moment, please!“, and closes the door. He then returns with a gun in his hand and tells him: „Get lost!“), where some jokes work while others are awful, yet the basic plot gives the film some honest, powerful, almost higher ideal and strength: the one where a young Croatian war veteran spots a Serbian prostitute in a porn and saves her by buying her off from her pimp to bring her to his home. Such a story reminds somewhat of „Taxi Driver“ and well made, but sadly forgotten „Mad Dog and Glory“. The interaction between him and her in his home is fascinating, since she expects him to act as a pimp, but he only acts as a gentleman, cooking for her and bringing her flowers for her birthday. Actually, all other subplots in the film, including the criminal one, are useless, since the romantic one is scarce, but so spot on and at times unusually emotional.

Grade:++

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Swingers


Swingers; Comedy, USA, 1996; D: Doug Liman, S: Jon Favreau, Vince Vaughn, Ron Livingston, Heather Graham

Mike moved from New York to Los Angeles in order to pursue his career as an actor, but he never forgot his ex-girlfriend Michelle. What's even worse, he hasn't found a new one in L.A. In order to save him from loneliness, his friend Trent invites him to a find a woman. In Las Vegas, they meet a waitress and her friend, but their date fails. Mike keeps bringing up that he misses Michelle, so Trent comforts him. Together with other friends, they enter various clubs, but no woman in interested in him. But then Mike meets Lorraine and he finally gets over Michelle.

Even though Hollywood dominates the US cinema, there is no doubt that its progress is enabled mostly through smaller, independent films, some of which are little jewels of originality. Among them is comedy "Swingers" by Doug Liman, that is fascinatingly unpretentious, casual, fresh and shrill. But beware! The first half an hour (with the exception of the unusual scene where the hero Mike talks with his telephone answering machine about love problems) is rather mild and too anecdotal, which is why many viewers at first will not understand what all the hype is about the film. The screenplay was obviously unfocused in the start, but later on brought in the charm, creating a fun comedy where the friendship between Mike and Trent stands out the most. Trent (brilliant Vince Vaughn) is the best and most amusing character. Holding on to his theory, whenever he meets a girl, he just lets her talk while only pretending to listen. When it becomes obvious that she is irritating, the music from "Jaws" shows up so he secretly tears up her phone number. In the end, he spots a woman with orange hair in a distance, who just keeps looking at him in a restaurant. And she even starts to smile and lisp him, and waving her fingers. He flirts with her, until he and Mike figure that she was actually looking at her baby all the time! Such a sympathetic scene of "flirt misunderstanding" was never filmed.

Grade:+++

Go


Go; Thriller comedy, USA, 1999; D: Doug Liman, S: Sarah Polley, Nathan Bexton, Jay Mohr, Katie Holmes

Los Angeles, Christmas. 1 story, 3 perspectives: clerk Ronna works in her store the whole day, but still decides to take Simon's shift since he is going to Las Vegas. Since she desperately needs money for her apartment, she borrows drugs from a friend to sell it, and leaves Claire at his place as the insurance that she will return. Ronna throws away drugs when she figures that the buyers are police officers, so she returns aspirin, that looks like drug, to her friend. He realizes he has been tricked while she gets hit by a car...In Las Vegas, Simon breaks the rule when he touches lap dancers, so he gets into trouble. He wounds the owner who is chasing him...Adam and Zack, with the help of the police, set up a trap for Ronna, but she throws away her drug and escapes. The policeman invites them to dinner. Adam and Zack accidentally hit Ronna with their car, but she survives and gets to the hospital. Simon allows the owner to wound him to "settle the score".

Even though episodic, and even though it doesn't have such an original triple story blending into one, those who saw "Go" realized that the film isn't a waste of time. Director Doug Liman, author of the acclaimed comedy "Swingers", leads one story through three perspectives, and the best one is the excellent first one: in the opening, the typical "Columbia Pictures" logo shows up, but he playfully inserts a scene of people dancing in a disco, then again returns the logo, and then again switches to the disco, which is a genius "interference" trick. The tangle where Ronna is selling drugs is full of brilliant dialogues ("Don't artificially worry yourself" or "I would never double cross you like that!" - "And how would you double cross me, then?") as well as situations that were cleverly written (a car hits her so powerfully that she ends lying on its roof!). The second story is lethargic and only deserves a 6/10 grade, never quite managing to recapture the flair of the opening act, but the last story saves the movie as a whole because it returns to the shrill original tone, whereas Jay Mohr is especially in top-notch shape as well as the neat conclusion to the previous stories and episodes.

Grade:+++

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Lady Vanishes


The Lady Vanishes; Thriller comedy, UK, 1938; D: Alfred Hitchcock, S: Margaret Lockwood, Michael Redgrave, Paul Lukas, Dame May Whitty, Basil Radford, Naunton Wayne
A train station in some middle European country. Due to an avalanche, numerous passengers have to stay overnight at a hotel, among them cricket fans Charters and Caldicott, Todhunter and his mistress, musicologist Gilbert as well as Iris who makes friends with the old lady Miss Froy. The next morning, they all board a train to London. After waking up, Iris notices that Miss Froy has disappeared, but to her surprise nobody of the passengers seems to remember she was even on the train at all. Dr. Hartz tries to persuade her that Miss Froy was just a pigment of her imagination. But Iris and Gilbert find clues that prove otherwise – it turns out Miss Froy is a spy and Dr. Hartz was in on the conspiracy, sedating her in order to question her. The evil henchmen start a siege of their wagon, but Gilbert manages to start the train and bring them across the border.

After thriller “Flightplan” told a tight story about the disappearance of a person on a plane but nobody of the passengers wanted to believe the main heroine, many critics immediately pointed out to the original, Alfred Hitchcock’s famous film “The Lady Vanishes” that has a better reputation, but truth be told, it isn’t really that good. Surprisingly, “Flightplan” is actually a more Hitchcockian movie than Hitchcock’s “Lady”, which is a light mystery comedy without intense suspense and equipped with unconvincing-silly moments (the bad guy who is standing “half-unconscious”, so Iris tells Gilbert to hit him one more time). The exposition at the hotel, where all the passengers are waiting for the train the next morning, is humorous and amusing, yet rather unnecessary (the best bits are one involving the two comic characters Charters and Caldicott, who are forced to share a bed together, and, hilariously, even one pajama) compared to the main mood in the train, where the whole story should have been placed right from the start.
The idea about bad guys from a fictional European state that talk some imaginary language isn’t that half bad, yet the tangle revolving around Iris trying to find the disappeared old lady, Miss Froy, isn’t that gripping since it is shaky and lacks focus and those ‘right’ scenes that glue the viewer to the screen. Hitchcock demonstrated his inspired Hitchcockian touch only in the flawless last third of the film that accelerates the story to full speed, brilliantly blending uncertainty (the scene where the bad guy wants Iris and Gilbert to drink their poisonous drinks) and humorous scenes (the smashing-hilarious moment where the armed henchmen stop the wagon in the forest, but Charters still doesn’t want to believe Gilbert’s “conspiracy theory” so he decides to check it out for himself: he goes to the wagon’s door, the henchman shoots him, he goes back inside. Completely calm, with a wounded hand, he just says: “You were right” and then just takes a handkerchief to cover his hand). Still, it’s a good and well done film that even won the New York Film critics Circle Award for best director.

Grade:++

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Kids Return


Kizzu Ritan; Drama, Japan, 1996; D: Takeshi Kitano, S: Masanobu Ando, Ken Kaneko, Leo Morimoto, Hatsuo Yamaya

Masaru and Shinji are two high school students who just cause mischief which is why all teachers already gave up on them and regard them as bums. They often go to the cinemas watching adult movies and sometimes even put the teacher's car on fire. They collect the money from all other students in order to be their "bodyguards", but one day new "masters" show up and beat them up. Masaru and Shinji enter a boxing club and leave school. Together, they try various jobs, from stand up comedy up to a taxi driver. Masaru leaves boxing and becomes a Yakuza member, while Shinji stays. He doesn't have success as a boxer, and Masaru isn't doing better either. As bums, they drive around their old school on a bike.

After his comedy "Getting Any?", Takeshi Kitano returned back to the drama genre with the heavy elegy "Kids Return" that serves as an indictment of the grey and empty Japanese society. Kitano is serious here, but his best part are those in the first half that describe the absurd mischief of Masaru and Shinji in school: they descend a puppet in front of the window of the class and use a string that moves a bottle up and down, that seems like a penis between the puppet's "legs"; they place a bullseye paper on a student and throw darts at him and when a colleague tells them he doesn't have any money, they force him to jump up and down, causing the noise of coins to be heard. The second half is a lot weaker and the arrogance of the spoiled school dropouts starts to go on one nerves, but Kitano knew how to keep the movie whole. He simply showed to young people without any perspective in life and displayed then in a static charge.

Grade:++

The Son's Room


La stanza del figlio; Drama, Italy, 2001; D: Nanni Moretti, S: Nanni Moretti, Laura Morante, Jasmine Trinca, Giuseppe Sanfelice

Giovanni is a middle-aged psychiatrist who often jogs around the streets. He is married to Paola and has two kids: Irene and Andrea. When his son Andrea gets accused of stealing a fossil of Ammonites in school, Giovanni defends him, but he still admits the deed. When Andrea drowns in the sea diving, his family enters a big period of depression. Irene becomes aggressive and performs poorly at basketball whereas Giovanni cannot help his patients, walks aimlessly at a amusement park and doesn't know what to do. The family meets Arianna, Andrea's girlfriend, and bring her to the French border crossing.

Minimalistic drama "The Son's Room" handles the topic of the death of a family member in a very subtle and sustained manner (the son's death isn't even shown on the screen and happens some 35 minutes into the film), even though it seems just like an acronym of the possible observations as a whole. Author Nanni Moretti builds the story patiently, but hassles slightly with lethargy and dry approach. A small problem is also the too episodic feel: protagonist Giovanni jogs at the street, then observes people dancing, then talks with a patient who loves pornographic films, then his other patient claims that he is inferior than him...Slightly unfocused, yet incredibly realistic and honest way of film making that literally shows a 'slice of life'. The most exceptional display of talent can be found around the middle of the film, when the family tries to overcome the tragedy, especially in portraying how lost Giovanni became (when a patient mentions children, he suddenly starts to cry). A quality product full of ambitions. It even won the Golden Palm in Cannes.

Grade:++