Sunday, September 30, 2012

Sense and Sensibility

Sense and Sensibility; drama, UK, 1995; D: Ang Lee, S: Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, Alan Rickman, Greg Wise, Hugh Grant, Gemma Jones, Tom Wilkinson, James Fleet, Emilie Francois, Robert Hardy, Imelda Staunton, Hugh Laurie

England, 19th century. Three sisters; Elinor, Marianne and Margaret, and their mother, Mrs. Dashwood, have to move out of their house after their deceased father left practically all of his inheritance to his son from the previous marriage. Moving to an isolated and modest new home, the introverted Elinor falls in love in Edward Ferrars, whereas the extroverted Marianne falls for John Willoughby, but he - after giving her postive signals - leaves her to marry a rich woman. Having found out that even Edward is engaged, Elinor distances himself from him, too. However, when Edward ends his engagement, he declares his love to Elinor, whereas Marianne marries Colonel Brandon.

Winner of 3 BAFTA awards (best film, actress Emma Thompson and supporting actress Kate Winslet), two Golden Globes (best motion picture, screenplay) and an Oscar (best screenplay), "Sense and Sensibility" is a correct adaptation of Jane Austen's eponymous novel in which the author gave a sharp analysis of the shift between human relationships, so palpable that it stings -  here one man implies his love to one girl, but then runs away to marry another one just because she is rich. A similar rift between 'de iure' and 'de facto' misleading appearance of love was found in Ang Lee's film "The Wedding Banquet", which is probably the reason why he was chosen to direct this film, and he did it with an admirable effort, especially in the last third when all knots are tied up, yet one can sense that the British period pieces are not quite his 'territory', since the movie takes too long until it finally starts to engage the viewers. Likewise, it lacks wit and humor (one sequence in particular stands out because it proves otherwise: after Elinor implies that she fancies a mysterious man called 'Mr. F', she wants to play a piano, but someone makes an ironic remark: "And I know in which key you will sing in: F major.") Some complained that Emma Thompson was "too old" to play the role of Elinor, but her age just gives her character's status of a bachelor in those times even more weight and pain. Not as intense as it could have been, almost lukewarm in the opening act, "Sensibility" is nonetheless a good film, demonstrating that Austen's observations of society in the 19th century are identifiable even to today's viewers, whereas the best supporting performance was delivered by Alan Rickman.

Grade;++

Rambo II

Rambo II; action, USA, 1985; D: George P. Cosmatos, S: Sylvester Stallone, Richard Crenna, Charles Napier

After the commotion in the first film, John Rambo is under arrest. His former commander, Trautman, and a certain Marshall Murdock ofer to bail him out if he goes to Vietnam to find and "make photos" of American POWs. Once there, against these commands, Rambo saves one of the POWs from torture - as a consequence, Murdock leaves him alone, at the mercy of the Vietnamese army. After a lot of troubles in the jungle, Rambo is able to escape and free the hostages.

The naive-unconvincing sequel to the first film, "Rambo 2" is just a simplistic action vehicle for Sylvester Stallone, yet even though it is worse than the original, it still had at least slightly more cohesive story than when the title hero fought against the police for life and death in the forest just because they had a misunderstanding. As a 'guilty pleasure', "Rambo 2" is only fun for action fans whereas it has too little truly quality scenes or ideas, which is even further burdened by some strange moments, such as the almost clown-like manner in which Rambo starts his odyssey when he gets stuck on the door of a flying airplane. Overall, the movie considers itself way too serious, without almost any scene to add a little irony or humor in the story subordinated to machoism and violence as the only way to prove how 'tough' someone is. Even Schwarzenegger made some films like that, but on at least two occasions ("Conan" and "The Terminator") he also ofered some philosophical and intelligent messages, if you read between the lines, which made them both appealing for action fans and more demanding viewers - likewise, he at least didn't consider himself too serious and allowed a few jokes at his own expense. Not here. Lines such as the one where Thulsa Doom says this to Conan - "When I am gone, you will have never been. What would your world be, without me?" - could never be found in a Rambo film. Only the finale managed to demonstrate cohesive suspense, whereas one dialogue between Rambo and his superior is at least interesting ("These computers are our strongest weapons." - "I thought reason  is the strongest weapon." - "Times change.").

Grade;+

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Rambo III

Rambo III; action, USA, 1988; D: Peter MacDonald, S: Sylvester Stallone, Richard Crenna, Marc de Jonge, Sasson Gabai, Spiros Focas, Kurtwood Smith

John Rambo lives in a Buddhist temple near Bangkok, where he earns an extra buck by fighting for bets. However, he is again contacted by his friend, Trautman, who wants him to help him supply weapons to Mujahideen for their resistance in the Soviet-Afghan War. Rambo declines, but goes to Afghanistan anyway when Trautman gets captured by the Soviets. With a little help of the local tribes, Rambo rescues Trautman from the Soviet prison camp and eliminates the main commander there.

In part III - as well as in part II - the character of John Rambo strayed away as far as it could have been possible from the main anti-war message of the first movie (which, albeit, even strayed away from the original novel, itself), namely that war scars people psychologically and that they cannot return to living a normal life: here, Rambo made a 180 degree turn and embraced war as a simplistic action fun, almost glorifying violence at some moments, as if it was all a game. The main political engagement - the hero fights for the Mujahideen during the Soviet War against Afghanistan - was well meant, but after 9/11 it became the movie's burden, so much that in the subsequent edits, the final dedication is omitted ("This film is dedicated to the brave Mujahideen fighters of Afghanistan"). More so, parallels with the US War in Afghanistan became strange and inconvenient for the authors. Filled with dialogues so banal that it is unintentionally comical ("What is that?" - "A blue light." - "What does it do?" - "It turns blue."; "It's a game. You throw the sheep in the circle." - "Why?" - "Er...Because there's a circle there."), impossible action sequences that border a fantasy film (Rambo has an infinite amunition; nobody can shoot him but he can shoot everyone else; he makes no sound when he breaks into the Soviet fort; he survives every explosion), misguided ideas (a child as Rambo's fighter) and constant black and white solutions, "Rambo 3" is a simplistic action flick with even more simplistic story (Rambo goes to save Trautman from a Soviet fort, the end), a poor vehicle, where only the fine cinematography and locations can be considered as virtues.

Grade;+

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Rockin' with Judy Jetson

Rockin' with Judy Jetson; animated science-fiction comedy, USA, 1988; D: Paul Sommer, S: Janet Waldo, George O'Hanlon, Ruth Buzzi, Charlie Adler, Daws Butler, Rob Paulsen, Penny Singleton

Felonia Funk hates music and thus sends a secret code via her henchmen Quark and Quasar to an alien commander in order to obtain a crystal that will destroy music in the galaxy. However, her message is accidentally switched with Judy Jetson's lyrics for a song, and lands in the hands of her beloved rock idol Star Rocker, who sings the words throughout the galaxy. With the help of aliens from planet Zuma, Judy and Star Rocker stop Felonia's evil plans, whereas George Jetson gets jailed because of speeding while following his daughter at the concert.

Probably realizing that it is about time to dedicate a whole feature length TV film to the most beloved character from the animated show "The Jetsons", and sensing that a neglected subplot from the previous animated film, "The Jetsons Meet the Flintstones", in which Judy had a crush on a rocker, Iggy, tickled the imagination more than the main plot, producers Joseph Barbara and William Hanna paved the way for the solid "Rockin' with Judy Jetson", an easily accessible and sympathetic animated film. It gains a great start with the energetic opening featuring the catchy song Rockin' through the Galaxy, but it, unfortunately, turns out to be the only good song in the entire story, with the rest resorting to even unnecessary, kitschy musical numbers (Judy trying to cheer up an alien with a song), which is a pity considering that good music should have been essential for such a setting, whereas it is somehow sensed that, despite the fact that the relationship between Star Rocker and Judy takes up a fair amount of screen time, its impact is no more powerful than the neglected 5 minute subplot involving Judy and Iggy from "Jetsons Meets the Flintstones". The first act has a certain spark and charm, such as the scene where Judy and her two friends dress into "wild" outfits for a concert, much to the dismay of her dad, yet the rest of the movie is a standard blend of corny jokes and simplistic situations, with a few exceptions (George doesn't like to watch 'foreign' movies from Mars or "Rocky 918") where Judy's charisma somehow does not manage to ignite as much as it did in some episodes from the show, leaving her stiff and mild. For instance, in one scene, Judy finds her beloved Star Rocker tied to a chair, and under a special beam that makes him tell the truth for every question. She instantly turns off the beam and frees him. The real, shrill Judy, a Judy from a good movie, would definitely not have wasted the chance to ask him if he has a crush on her, too, first.

Grade;+

Where the Buffalo Roam

Where the Buffalo Roam; comedy, USA, 1980; D: Art Linson, S: Bill Murray, Peter Boyle, Bruno Kirby, René Auberjonois

Journalist Hunter S. Thompson is writing a story about a lawyer he knew, Lazlo, so he remembers their misadventures: in '68, on a trial, Lazlo defended teenagers who were indicted for possessing marijuana, but was subsequently jailed himself for contempt of court. Lazlo and Hunter were a good match due to their free spirits and a 'wild' perspective on life. Lazlo persuaded Hunter to abandon the coverage of the Super Bowl and accompany him to an isolated house where several Mexicans bought some weapons. Hunter also drugged a reporter, Harris, to take his identity and meet presidential candidate, Richard Nixon, a man he detested. After a final meeting in an airplane, Lazlo was never heard off again.

A semi-biopic of the 'untorhodox' journalist Hunter S. Thompson, "Where the Buffalo Roam" distorted his adventures to such an extent that people unfamiliar with his opus might ask themselves what's so special about him in the first place - Thompson here simply turned out to be a primitive bum, while his philosophy and sharp observations are absent. Or if they are, they were not transported to the screen adequately: the movie is an inarticulate mess, consisting of unconnected episodes of buffoonery (playing football in a hotel room, shooting at an anwsering machine...) whose purpose or cohesion evade the viewers, whereas even though the legandary Bill Murray did a surprisingly good job of mimicking Thompson's mannerisms (especially his mumbling), the story just showed him in a backward, hillbilly edition - even more problematic when one has in mind that he prolongued this illiberal persona even in his later films, "Caddyshack" and "Stripes" - and resorted to low-comic level, which is problematic since Murray always coped the best in more sophisticated comedies, where he played more intelligent individuals with a (clear) cynical jab aimed against someone. Unfortunately, the jab here isn't aimed towards anyone in particular (with the exception of Richard Nixon) whereas the only solid source of a point was achieved in the small courtroom sequence where Lazlo defends youngsters because he considers marijuana something unworthy of a jail sentence - at least he had an ideal and a cause one could identify with, but that was quickly buried in the sea of bizarre vignettes, just as the whole film. Still, there are a few good jokes here and there, whether visual (a 'two-in-one' accident: in front of a hospital, Lazlo accidentally hits his car with another one, while the turbulence even causes a statue to topple and smash onto the latter) or in dialogues ("They never search me, I have an honest face", says Thompson after he reveals a knife on a plane; "Orientals, and even those suspected of being Orientals..."; "We are experiencing turbulence. And the plane hasn't even started yet.").

Grade;+

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Rashomon

Rashomon; drama, Japan, 1950; D: Akira Kurosawa, S: Toshiro Mifune, Masayuki Mori, Machiko Kyo

Japan, 12th century. Three strangers hide in an abandoned building during the rain. In order to pass time, one of them, the woodcutter, mentions how he found the corpse of a samurai in the forest and contacted the police, thus the perpetrator, bandit Tajomaru, was quickly arrested. However, there are three version of what actually happened: Tajomaru said he tied the samurai and raped his woman, but she insisted that one of them must die or she will live in shame. Tajomaru killed the samurai in the fight, while the wife escaped. The wife, however, testified that she only passed out and didn't know what happened afterwards. A 'medium' gives another take on it, allegedly channelling samurai's ghost: the samurai committed suicide because the wife wanted to run away with Tajomaru. Finally, the woodcutter gives a fourth version, which he withheld up until now: the wife called them both weaklings and incited them to a fight. The event is dropped when the strangers find an abandoned baby.

One of Akira Kurosawa's most famous and respected films, a one that helped put Japan's cinema on the map, "Rashomon" is a cozily set investigative, almost detective like contemplation about a crime event that has three (and later on even a fourth) versions, thereby turning into an exciting allegory about the relativity of truth, memory and even the origin of propaganda - in the end, who is to say that even the whole history of human kind isn't fabricated? By showing the three strangers trying to reach a consensus about the disputed event, Kurosawa crafts an elegant art-film, even showing some "inner-directorial" and metafilm touches by directing each of the four version with a slightly different movie style (the bandit's story is naturalistic, the wife's pompous and theatrical), implying how each of the narrators "audits" and "polishes" the story to suit his/her own interest, therefore even sending the message of the impossibility of people to stay neutral in events they are themselves involved and the multitude of perspectives. The meticulous efforts of the three strangers in trying to decipher the puzzle of the mosaic even tackles the theme of gnoseology, i.e. the limits of human knowledge. Excluding the too slow pace of the last version of the story and the pathetic finale with the baby, "Rashomon" assured itself a rightfully high status in the history of cinema and influence on other movies ("Memento", "Lola rennt", "Wild Things"...), showing a simple concept (the whole film plays out basically on only two locations) that turned more engaging thanks to the unusual narrative, and even announcing the modern style of cinema.

Grade;+++

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Thing from Another World

The Thing from Another World; science-fiction, USA, 1951; D: Christian Nyby, S: Kenneth Tobey, Margaret Sheridan, Robert Cornthwaite

North Pole. A UFO crashes and remains stranded in the snow. A group of US soldiers is sent to the crash site, where the use thermite to try to free the spacecraft from ice, but the explosion just destroys it. They manage to bring a humanoid frozen in ice in the spacecraft, though, and bring him to a nearby station. The alien humanoid escapes from the molten ice and starts attacking the inhabitants inside. After a lot of hiding, the crew manages to kill the alien with the help of electricity.

By today's standards, "The Thing from Another World" directed by Christian Nyby (and allegedly by Howard Hawks, but that is a matter of dispute that was never resolved) is a dated science-fiction film that is too tame to be truly suspenseful, with equally irrelevant themes of a possible "red invasion" of the US, yet it is still often mentioned in film lexicons for inspiring Carpenter's far better - and scarier - remake "The Thing", one of the rare remakes better than the original. The setting of several people trapped in a station on the North Pole does have potentials, but they are only sporadically used in an effective way, the "love story" between Mrs. Nicholson and the soldier is too cheesy, the dialogue is bland, there is too much empty walk whereas it is a curiosity that the sole monster is only seen for about 15 seconds (!) in the first 70 minutes of the film. Likewise, the alien's design is too human, though that might have been deliberate. The finale is proportionally well done, but does not manage to retroactively compensate for the whole story up to it, nor justify its stauts of a true classic.

Grade;+

The White Ribbon

Das weisse Band; drama, Germany/ Austria/ France/ Italy, 2009; D: Michael Haneke, S: Christian Friedel, Leonie Benesch, Ulrich Tukur

Northern Germany, early 20th century. A young teacher starts working in a village and chronicles strange acts of evil: a doctor falls off his horse that tripped on a wire tied between two trees; a local barn is set on fire; a handicapped child is severally beaten and injured. The perpetrators are unknown. However, before he leaves, the teacher assumes the evil deeds might have been perpetrated by the children of the local pastor and/or doctor who were very oppressive and rigid towards them - a pastor even tied his teenage son to bed so that he won't be able to masturbate, while the doctor humiliated his wife and harassed his 14-year old daughter.

Michael Haneke has an interesting fate as a director: at first, his films were ignored (except for "Funny Games"), and then later on, in his 60s, he delivered three classics in a row that earned him widespread attention and critical acclaim, even securing him a place as one of only a handful of directors who won the Golden Palm twice. Winner of the Golden Palm in Cannes and the Golden Globe as best foreign language film, Haneke's "The White Ribbon" is a heavy art-drama that will not reach everyone, but has a few deeply contemplative thoughts and thought provoking questions about the ever evasive origin of evil. Throughout the story, evil acts are perpetrated in the village by unknown villains (who are not even revealed directly in the end) - what Haneke did was to deliberately not show the face of evil, thereby leaving it evasive, all around us, i.e. implying that it is a state, not just a physically isolated character. More so, since the film ends with World War I, it almost contemplates how the generation in that time was somehow "infected", cursed with suppressed aggression which was eventually channelled into a bloodbath worldwide. The characters in the film - the pastor, the doctor, the baron - are presented as dogmatic leaders who suppress their children, imposing on them strict discipline and rigid obedience, which caused the children to probably lash their hate on others - some have interpreted this as commentary at who raised the generation that will later become the Nazi state, which poses a few disturbing questions about the inadequacy and nature of absolute authority everywhere, even today in numerous dictatorships. However, the movie is overlong, grey and some of its characters are indeed unmemorable, which, combined with the anti-climatic, vague ending slightly damps its enjoyment value.

Grade;++

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Fan

Der Fan; thriller, Germany, 1982; D: Eckhart Schmidt, S: Désirée Nosbusch, Bodo Staiger, Jonas Vischer, Simone Brahmann

Simone is a teenage girl completely fascinated by pop idol R. She writes him several letters, but he never replies back. Simone starts imagining things, namely that her postman is withholding R's letter or that his secretary destroyed her messages. When she hears he will appear on TV live in Munich, she runs away from home and hitchhikes to that city. She meets R and he brings her to his mansion. They sleep there but R quickly dumps her to go and meet other girls. Angered by his routine approach, she kills and hacks him. Simone eats his flesh, shaves her head and returns home, revealing she might be pregnant.

Movies that only rely on cheap "scandal" and "shock" often do not hold up well with the passing of time, among which is Echkhart Schmidt's "The Fan", a bizzare patchwork that did not intend to tell a cohesive storyline as much as attract attention with dismay. The "blue" cinematography is aesthetic and Desiree Nosbusch is very good in the role of a deranged fan, but the first half an hour of the movie is almost like Waiting for Godot in the pop world, where nothing much happens - and when something starts happening some 35 minutes into the film, where Simone meets R, it takes a trashy turn towards blatant violence culminating in the infamous ending (involving such scenes as the heroine licking his blood) or too much mannerisms (Simone kissing her own image in the mirror). More so, when they meet for the first time, it is emotionless. "The Fan" also has too much empty walk (the aftermath of the murder drags on for over 20 minutes) which is at odds with the attempt at suspense, whereas it is not clear what the authors wanted to say by implying such a shallow fan-idol relationship. Fans of German dubs will probably enjoy seeing a rare on-screen performance by Simone Brahmann in a small supporting role of R's secretary, who almost steals the show with her sustained appearance.

Grade;+

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Monty Python's Life of Brian

Monty Python's Life of Brian; satire, UK, 1979; D: Terry Jones, S: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, Sue Jones-Davies

Judea. Three wise men follow a star and arrive at a cottage. They give presents to a baby, Brian, because they consider him the messiah, but retrieve them when they find out they entered the wrong cottage, since the real messiah, Jesus Christ, is his neighbor. 33 years later, Brian discovers that his father was a Roman who abandoned his mother, so he joins the "People's Front of Judea" who want Romans out of Judea. After a failed kidnapping attempt of Pontius Pilate's wife, Brian hides from the Romans by disguising himself as a prophet on a market - but the people actually fall for it and start following him. Brian gets arrested and crucified.

Despite critical acclaim, Monty Python's "Life of Brian" is in the end still rather overrated, not managing to reach the high comic level of their two previous excellent comedies "Holy Grail" and "And Now for Something Completely Different": it has too much forced humor and overstretched anecdotes, but gained widespread attention thanks to overblown "controversies" as one of the first religious satires, even though Jesus Christ is actually presented in respectful manner (he is seen in only one scene, during the serious Sermon on the Mount when the camera slowly pans away from him, until an innocent joke shows up when someone in the audience says: "Speak up!") and the story clearly distinguishes his path from that of Brian, the main protagonist. Even more ironically, the movie doesn't turn into a religious satire until the second half, revolving in the first half only around the clumsy attempts of the "People's Front of Judea".

The story has a fair share of quality jokes, whether they are snappy dialogues ("...So where was I?" - "I think you finished." - "Oh, right."; "A man shall strike his donkey...And his nephew's donkey!") or just plain wacky burlesque (the scene where Pilate threatens to every Roman soldier who dares to laugh at the name of his friend, 'Bigus Dickus', so he constantly mentions his name and even adds the name of his wife, 'Incontinentia Buttocks', upon which the soldiers simply burst into laughter). However, the disappointment is still there: Brian doesn't start acting as a prophet until some 53 minutes into the film (!) which gives too little time for a real satirical jab at some religious dogmas and the "followship" mentality, numerous jokes are simply not that particularly inspirational or funny (i.e. the cheap shot of Brian opening the window and showing up naked in front of the crowd), some are buffoonish while others are downright pointless (the UFO sequence). The only truly brilliant joke aimed at religion is one line said by Brian's mother ("He is not the messiah! Now stop following him!") and the final song, Always Look at the Bright Side of Life is a classic (with the legendary lyrics: "You know, you come from nothing - you're going back to nothing. What have you lost? Nothing."), but overall the movie is as subtle and as harmonius as "Zardoz". Ironically, a far more sophisticated (and thematically similar) satire was delivered that same year in Ashby's masterwork "Being There".

Grade;++

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Heartbreak Kid

The Heartbreak Kid; black comedy, USA, 1972; D: Elaine May, S: Charles Grodin, Cybill Shepherd, Jeannie Berlin, Eddie Albert

New York. Lenny meets Lila in a bar and decides to marry her spontaneously. However, during their honeymoon in Miami, he soon finds out that the gaps between them are much more problematic than he thought since her "unknown" side is actually turning him off. He meets the beautiful Kelly at the beach and falls in love with her. After divorcing Lila, Lenny drives all the way to Kelly's college, but she suddenly acts cold and ignores him. However, he still manages to charm her and even persuade her angry father to accept their marriage.

As the unwritten rule says, a movie is sometimes only important if it gets a remake, and after the Farrelly's "The Heartbreak Kid" many were again curious to divert their attention to the original from 1972. Seeing it again, one can agree that the original is better, but not by that much. It is the second out of only four films directed by Elaine May, who here got a better treatment than her debut "A New Leaf" and was even given a screenplay by the acclaimed writer Neil Simon, resulting in several awards, including two Oscar nominations (best supporting actress Jeannie Berlin and supporting actor Eddie Albert) and three Golden Globe nominations. Just like in "Leaf", May again decided to direct a cynical jab at marriage which is why a certain part of conservative viewers never embraced the film for its protagonist who falls in love with another woman on his honeymoon, but Charles Grodin is fine in playing him and even gave the role of a lifetime in the sequence where Kelly's three "boyfriend" students tackle him, but he switches the tables by pretending to be from the Department of Justice, bureau for narcotics, and uses one of their cigarettes to threaten to get him banned from college. The structure of the storyline is chaotic - the first 30 minutes are bland and uninteresting - the movie is overlong, several jokes backfire (the infamous egg salad scene) whereas the happy ending does not circle out the film at all, but it has several poignant touches, such as the one that implies that Kelly is only interested in men who are already taken, which explains why she suddenly gives Lenny the cold shoulder as soon as he divorces for her. The cliches of the romantic comedy genre are twisted neatly whereas several lines are comical (upon entering a restaurant and finding out it is out of pecan pie, Lenny complains to the waiter: "They should have said that to us at the door... they should have warned us that there was a danger of running out of pecan pie!").

Grade;++

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A New Leaf

A New Leaf; comedy, USA, 1971; D: Elaine May, S: Walter Matthau, Elaine May, George Rose, James Coco

With his wasteful actions, Henry Graham exhausted his fortune so he accepts the advice of his butler to marry a rich woman. He finds an easy target, the "nerdy" botanical professor Henrietta who is the only heir of a rich family. Not used to any attention, she is easily charmed by Henry and agrees to marry him. He intends to kill her during a rafting vacation, but still saves her from the river since she named a new plant she discovered after him.

The first out of only four feature length films directed by Elaine May, the everlasting outsider in movie business, "A New Leaf" is in today's edition only a rump version of her original three hour film, cut by an hour by the producers, but it still seems fresh and proportionally quite circled out anyway. Too bad her director's cut will probably never be released, but it is an untypical and cynical take on the genre of romantic comedy blended with the Bluebeard story and Chaplin's "Monsieur Verdoux", and also a sly commentary on capitalism with one legendary quote said by the butler: "In a country where every man is what he has, he who has very little, is nobody very much." May is so adorable as the shy-secluded Henrietta and in her scenes with Henry (Walter Matthau) that May the director even abandons the black humor of the first half in order to give room for a few honest moments of a love story, especially in the charmingly illogical sequence where Henrietta is so convinced that Henry is not marrying her for her money that she immediately decides to give him all her fortune for this reason: "If I were to write all his checks, then everyone would think that he truly married me only for them, but if I already give him all the money, then nobody will think that he is marrying me for it." Not all jokes work, the middle part drags a little bit and the actor playing the lawyer hams it up a bit, yet overall this a surprisingly good film.

Grade;++

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises; action/ drama/ fantasy, USA, 2012; D: Christopher Nolan, S: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Anne Hathaway, Marion Cotillard, Michael Caine, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Morgan Freeman

Eight years after the last events, Bruce Wayne has retired from his Batman image. However, after a cat-burglar, Selina Kyle, steals his fingerprints, they are used as an ID to waste his money and bankrupt him. The man behind that scheme is a masked mercenary, Bane, who steals Wayne's new fusion power invention in order to use it as a bomb and subject Gotham City. Wayne is exiled by Bane into an underground prison so that he will not interfere with his plans to fulfil Ra's al Ghul's mission to destroy Gotham. However, Wayne escapes, returns as Batman and teams up with Catwoman to save Gotham from the bomb.

The first half of "The Dark Knight Rises" is excellent and the best of all three Batman films directed by Christopher Nolan, but the second half undermines those virtues. What Nolan ingeniously did right in the exposition is to twist so many superhero cliches upside down in order to give a fresh, new take on Batman: his Bruce Wayne is a broken middle-aged man who uses a crane for his disabled leg and has retired as Batman. More so, his life practically turned into an existential tragedy since he is alone and isolated: his butler, Alfred (Michael Caine), gives the heart of the story in two scenes, when he implores him to move on with his life and in the touching Florence sequence, where he hopes he will see him with a wife one day and "know he somehow made it". A few details are quietly brilliant whereas Nolan almost gives the crime story a Mann's dose of passionate reality at times (the clever way Selina gets away from a trap after she handed over Wayne's fingerprints to a criminal, using only a cell phone). The new villain, Bane (virtuoso Tom Hardy), is also very expressionistic with that English accent giving him unusual charisma, whereas while the ending in the previous instalment was unconvincing - having Batman take the blame for Dent's death so that the latter could be used as a symbol of hope, which was just a forced plot gimmick - its storyline actually finds a natural way to blend in with this follow-up film.

Unfortunately, as much as the first half is great, the second one is disappointing and lost its ground. Nolan took a realistic approach with Batman, therefor it was bizarre to introduce a science-fiction subplot into the story (a fusion power reactor), especially since they could have easily just taken a nuclear bomb instead. The return to Ra's al Ghoul subplot, even though he was the weakest link in "Batman Begins", was questionable, especially since the underground prison sequence is tiresome and overlong. In one scene, Wayne's vertebrate is "peeking" out from his spine, so an inmate just "kicks" it back in (!) - the fact that anyone with such an injury would be paralyzed from the waist down, but Wayne recovers and soon walks normally after that "medical intervention" is so preposterous that one cannot take the story seriously anymore. Bane stands out in the first half, but one hopes that in the second half there will be more to him, that several sequences will give more layers and motivations to his actions. However, there is nothing more to him than the first sight. Unfortunately, his reason for assaulting Gotham is prosaic and vague, the same as the Joker's was - al Ghoul's mission is mentioned that Gotham is "corrupt and must be destroyed", but why would Bane target precisely that city? Is Gotham more corrupt than, let's say, New York or Paris? Despite the virtuoso sequence where Bane breaks into Wall Street, the "Occupy Wall Street" subplot where he creates an anarchic state is also immature since he has no objectives or goals. More so, why would he wait for three months to finally detonate the bomb? Why would he, just like a James Bond cliche bad guy, tell all about his plan to Wayne but let him live so that he can return to stop him? Overall, the final part of the trilogy is a good film, but one cannot shake away the feeling that Nolan missed out an opportunity to top himself by imposing an unrealistic happy ending instead of a tragic one and dwelling too much in implausible instead of plausible territory of the storyline.

Grade;++

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Martian Succesor Nadesico

Kido Senkan Nadeshico; animated science-fiction comedy series, Japan, 1998; D: Tatsuo Sato, S: Yuji Ueda, Houko Kuwashima, Kentarou Itou, Miki Nagasawa

The 22nd century. People are being told that Earth is at war with aliens that invaded the Solar system, known only as the Jovian lizards. One guy, Akito, survived their attack on Mars when he was mysteriously teleported to Earth. He does enlist as a cook in the battleship Nadesico, however, which is commanded by a girl he knew from childhood, Yurika. Among the crew is child prodigy Ruri, Inez, Guy and others. During several back-and-forth fights, they discover that Jovians are actually humans residing on Jupiter, ancestors of people exiled from the Moon after a civil war who thus want revenge against Earth. Furthermore, they too are fans of an anime series, "Gekigengar III". It is discovered that the whole war is just fought to obtain a boson jumping device excavated on Mars.

It is hard to believe that in the 21st edition of the prestigious Animage, "Martian Succesor Nadesico" actually gained the top spot as the best anime in 1998 with 2,196 votes, beating out even "Cowboy Bebop" (# no. 2) and "His and Her Circumstances" (# no. 4)! It is puzzling as to why it gained such popularity in the first place since it is a rather chaotic show with far too many characters that barely get their spot in the sun (with a few notable exceptions, such as the hilarious wise-cracking girl Izumi) with dry robot fights that start to get tiresome which makes the show exhausted towards the end, which is not at all helped by the fact that it didn't resolve anything but just announced a sequel that never materialized. As in a metafilm reference, the main hero Akito loves watching the (fictional) anime "Gekigengar III", but says that the last episode is "the worst ever" - ironically, one can easily concur with him with regards to the last episode of "Nadesico" itself, since it is pure cheating of viewers leaving such an open ending.

However, despite the lack of truly hilarious jokes and boring first four episodes, "Nadesico" still gains some power later on, almost acting as a light version of "M*A*S*H" while spoofing and ridiculing war at every possible chance, even offering a major plot twist regarding the alleged aliens people are fighting. Akito even says this in one episode, after his friend died: "I can’t believe he’s dead and I am the only one who even cares that he’s gone. Nobody cares that people die anymore…Will anyone ever care when I am gone? Sometimes I wonder if I am the crazy one because I don’t understand how people can be like that". Carlos Ross even compared episode five, where a space colony was destroyed, with the "Mary Tyler Moore Show" episode "Chuckles the Clown" in comic poignancy since it is "treated both tastefully and hilariously", though even that is overrated despite a few good laughs in it, such as the one where the captain, Yurika, has to run from one funeral to another, dressed in various appropriate costumes, from a Buddhist monk up to a Jewish Rabbi. The only ingredient that actually lived up to the hype was the fan favorite character of child prodigy Ruri who at first seems like a lifeless girl but actually turns out to be one of the most complex characters in episodes 18 (extremely touching) and 19. Overall, it is a pity that the authors didn't put more effort into the story, since it had potentials, yet it has a few satisfying jokes (Megumi looks into the camera and says: "Who says this show isn't educational?" In the background, Erina asks her: "Who're you talking to?" and she replies with: "The fourth wall!") and a visually inventive idea in episode 9 (focusing out of a popped-up screen onto Akito seen through it).

Grade;++