Friday, December 30, 2016

Bomber

Bomber; comedy / drama, Italy, 1982; D: Michele Lupo, S: Bud Spencer, Jerry Cala, Stefano Mingardo, Kallie Knoetze, Gegia

Bud Graziano is a captain who is informed that his ship is confiscated because he owns too much money. On the dock, he saves a man, Jerry, from a group of thugs who were chasing him. Jerry is thankful, and when he hears that Bud is a retired boxing champion, he persuades him to help him train a lad, Girorgio, in order to enter the boxing ring which is always won by Rosco, a Sergeant of an American military base, whose henchmen either bribe rivals to lose or break their hand. Giorgio hears that Bud lost against Rosco in a tournament, but only because Bud's hand was broken the day before. In the final match, when he hears that Girogio's hand was broken, Bud himself enters the ring and beats Rosco.

Five last films directed by Michele Lupo all starred Bud Spencer in them, and his final film, "Bomber", is basically a remake of his first cooperation with Spencer, "They Called Him Bulldozer". "Bomber" offers a rather unusual blend of comedy at the beginning and sports drama in the second half, offering even some more dramatic moments for Spencer (his trainee, Giorgio, even bleeds in the final boxing match and reveals that his hand was broken so that he would lose), yet they are rather heavy handed and seem too similar to "Rocky" - and the viewers would be more invested if Bud would fight himself in the ring, and not just be a trainer (which he does only in the final 5 minutes of the film). Some of the jokes work in the first half (especially when Bud "sneaks in" in the Schuchplattler folk dance to slap Rosco who meddled in among the German dancers), with one even being untypically provocative (Jerry hears that the special code word is "fruitcake", and gets in a lot of trouble when he says it to a man at the wrong gas station, who slaps him), yet they are scarce and far apart, leaving too much empty walk between them that drags or seems routine. A little more ingenuity would have been welcome, since the film lacks highlights and thus cannot give Spencer a chance to truly rise to the occasion, whereas it was unusual that the main bad guy is a Sergeant of an American military base in Italy. A standard, though easily watchable flick, yet with two virtues: the magnificently dreamy opening song "Fantasy" by Oliver Onions is a delight, while wonderfully charming Gegia almost steals the show as the quirky, hyper-energetic girl Susanna who sometimes openly flirts with Bud (the hilarious dance sequence some 20 minutes into the film).

Grade;+

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Golden Horns

Zolotye roga; fantasy, Russia, 1973; D: Viktor Makarov, S: Riasa Ryazanova, Georgiy Millyar, Aleksei Smirnov, Ira Tchigrinova, Lena Tchigrinova

Yevdokia is a widowed mother of three children, Mashenka, Dashenka and Kiryushka, who lives in a small village. One day, sisters Mashenka and Dashenka wonder too far away into the woods in search for mushrooms, and encounter witch Baba Yaga, who transforms them into does and chains them as the punishment for touching her giant mushroom. Yevdokia thus goes to search for her kids all alone in the woods, accompanied only by her dog. She sends a couple of hunters the other way and thereby saves the life of a deer with golden horns that gives her a magic ring and advises her where to search for her kids. When even Kiryushka gets transformed into a goat and captured, Yevdokia transforms into a knight and battles Baba Yaga with a sword. The kids are saved and transformed back, while the forest creatures send Baba Yaga and her cottage into the swamp.

This film adaptation of a popular fairy tale revolving around the witch Baba Yanga is an appropriately colorful, fun, comical, harmless, honest, good natured and opulent fantasy film that was rather well received by the audiences in Europe and gained cult status. Unlike many other children's films, "The Golden Horns" actually took a lot of effort into conjuring up this idyllic world: from the costumes of the witch, her make up giving her a "blue skin", the inventive special effects of when mother Yevdokia is standing on a cliff and talking to the Sun and later on the Moon, up to some unusual ideas and details (the walking cottage), a lot was done to make the production stand out, despite a limited budget. The deer with the golden horns is somewhat clumsily (and scarcely) placed into the scene, since it was obviously difficult to direct such an wild animal in the story, and thus sometimes seems as if he is "in a different film", running away or just looking left and right, yet other than that, director Viktor Makarov has a sympathy for the animals, giving extensive, cute little shots of them in the forest (a little duck, birds, rabbits, squirrel), and sometimes even manages to "insert" them with a function in the story (in one comic moment, when Yevdokia is fighting Yaga with a sword, the cat "swings" her paw randomly, as is she is imagining to be "fighting" herself). Georgiy Millyar is good as Baba Yaga, as are other actors, including Riasa Ryazanova, even though her character of the Yevdokia too often takes a back seat compared to Yaga, leaving her a rather thin character, yet for a children's film, "The Golden Horns" still seem actual and charming today.

Garde;++

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Jungle Book

The Jungle Book; fantasy adventure, USA, 2016; D: Jon Favreau, S: Neel Sethi, Bill Murray (voice), Ben Kingsley (voice), Idris Elba (voice), Lupita Nyong'o (voice), Christoper Walken (voice), Giancarlo Esposito (voice), Scarlett Johansson (voice)

Mowgli is a little kid who was raised by wolf Akela in the jungles of the Indian subcontinent. His mentor is Bagheera, a black panther. However, when tiger Shere Khan discovers that wolves are raising a human, he wows to kill Mowgli. In order to save him, Bagheera leads Mowgli on a long journey, hoping to bring him back to a human village where he is safe. They get separated, and Mowgli finds and befriends a lovable bear, Baloo, who trains him how to get honey. When Shere Khan finds Mowgli, he chases him onto to a tree, but the branch breaks, killing the tiger. Mowgli is thus reunited with Baloo and Bagheera.

The 7th feature length film adaptation of Rudyard Kipling's eponymous and popular "Jungle Book", Jon Favreau's film is first and foremost a visual effects marvel, since the only real character is the leading child actor Neel Sethi (the only other real character, his film father, appears only briefly somewhere in the middle of the film) while the entire world around him is a CGI fabrication, but with such an eye for detail and such an extent that the viewers will have trouble distinguishing what is real and what not, the level of it not seen since "Avatar". Luckily, Favreau avoids turning it into a CGI fest, since very few moments seem over-the-top (except maybe for the exaggerated collapse of the temple), which gives it weight and a dose of realism, whereas the director still has some connection from his early days as an independent filmmaker, since he cares to instill the story with pathos and real life emotions. It is undoubtedly inferior to Disney's classic '67 film which had a stronger emotional punch and took more time for character development, yet this edition also has its moments. A few clever uses of cinematic techniques are welcomed (the time lapse of changing seasons through the valley is enriched with the camera moving through the river basin), Bill Murray gave more humor to the story voicing the lazy bear Baloo (when a comical anteater pesters him that using Mowgli to get honey is pointless, Baloo replies with: "You have never been more of an endangered species than now"; the "winter hibernation" in the jungle joke) whereas Ben Kingsley and Christopher Walken both gave another sovereign and charismatic performance by voicing the black panther Bagheera and the monkey king, respectively. A few more sharper or inspired moments seem to lack, yet "The Jungle Book" still has so much charm and (animal) sympathy that it manages to lift the film above the usual CGI routine that was served during that time.

Grade;++

Monday, December 26, 2016

Winnetou & Old Shatterhand

Winnetou – Eine neue Welt; western, Germany, 2016; D: Philipp Stölzl, S: Wotan Wilke Möhring, Nik Xhelilaj, Jürgen Vogel, Milan Peschel, Iazua Larios, Rainer Bock, Gojko Mitić, Jani Zombori Banovac

The Wild West, 19th Century. Karl May, a German from Sachsen, is sent to be an engineer in a company that is building a railway straight through the wilderness of the unexplored American continent. When Indians attack the workers on the meadow, May is wounded by an arrow, but still fights with an Indian, Winnetou, for his life – this earns him respect and thus the Indians decide to let him live. With the help of Nscho Tschi, who speaks a little bit of his language, he makes friends with Winnetou and the tribe. May tries to convince the railway company workers to bypass the Indian land, but the greedy executives order the employee to gun down Indians with a machine-gun. Still, Winnetou and May, now called "Old Shatterhand", manage to blow up a key bridge of the railroad with dynamite, thereby foiling their plans.

A modern remake of the mega popular '63 German film "Winnetou", which marked a rare example of a "German Western", Philipp Stolzl's "Winnetou & Old Shatterhand", the 1st part of the trilogy, is a solid, albeit strangely routine and standard achievement: for all its correct tone and a balanced approach, it seems that more care was dedicated to the technical aspects of the film, than the film (and its characters) itself. Still, the initial concept is exciting since it follows Karl May as he observes how the railway is being built through the unknown wilderness of the American continent of the 19th century, which conjures up a good mood of mystery and the unknown, since they never know what they might encounter so far away from civilization. The cooperation and mutual understanding between May and Indian Winnetou gives pacifist, wise and calm messages about tolerance, whereas the landscapes in Croatian Lika really seem like a world for itself. Not a real "bulls-eye", but a few comical or humorous moments manage to liven up the film (in the shootout near the end, for instance, a woman complains to her husband, the banker, that he should "finally act like a man at least once in his life" and go fight, instead of hiding behind a barrel, but he gives a convenient excuse: "I am just worried about you, honey! If they shoot me, who will take care of you?").

Grade;++

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Room

Room; drama, Canada / Ireland / UK, 2015; D: Lenny Abrahamson, S: Jacob Tremblay, Brie Larson, Joan Allen, Sean Bridgers, William H. Macy

Joy is living with her 5-year old child, Jack, in a sealed off shed they call "room". 7 years ago, she was abducted by a man, Nick, who used her as his sexual slave, a situation that continues till today. Jack never left the room, and only knows everything from TV and Joy. In order to finally end this dreadful status quo, Joy persuades Jack to act as is he died. She wraps him in a rug and, as Nick was driving him in the truck to bury him, Jack escapes and contacts the police. Joy is released and reunited with Jack, as well as her parents. However, Joy has troubles adjusting back to her home and old life. Still, she accepts Jack and continues to live with him.

A critically acclaimed film, "Room" is one of the saddest and most depressing movies, bravely tackling the unpleasant topic of a woman who is abducted for sexual slavery and is even forced to have a child with her abductor, which should be respected for its sheer uncompromising attempt that does not even intend to reach a wide appeal at the box office, however the film still leaves the impression that it is stronger as a "social issue" than as an artistic achievement. Director Lenny Abrahamson divides the film into two parts – the 1st one that depicts the captivity of Joy and Jack in the room, and the 2nd one that follows their attempts to adapt to their new life in freedom – which are both good, except that the first segment has tension, yet lacks versatility, whereas the second segment lacks tension, but has character development. For such a dark topic, "Room" is strangely simplistic: it would have been very interesting to dwell upon some more complex relationships between the characters, yet they are absent – the only exception is when Joy's father cannot look at Jack, seeing her captor in him, or when Jack and Joy have this wonderful dialogues ("I'm not a good mum..." - "But you're still a mum."). Unfortunately, the dialogues are often banal, plainly written without much of a point except at first glance or the obvious "this is bad" message. The most was achieved out of the two great leading actors, who both give unquestionably brilliant performances: Brie Larson was rightfully awarded with numerous prizes for her portrait of a traumatized victim, yet Jacob Tremblay is maybe even better as Jack, genuinely giving a fantastic performance, acting in a film that was too mature for his own age, and still managing to be excellent.

Grade;++

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Summer of Sangailė

Sangailės vasara; drama, Lithuania / France / Netherlands, 2015; D: Alantė Kavaitė, S: Julija Steponaityte, Aistė Diržiūtė, Jūratė Sodytė, Martynas Budraitis 

Sangaile is a depressive teenage girl who sometimes cuts herself on the wrist. Her parents stay in a cottage in the rural area for the summer and Sangaile observes a plane show where she meets another girl, Auste, who works in the local pastry shop. The two become friends and, eventually, lesbian lovers. Auste helps Sangaile stop cutting herself and build self-esteem. Sangaile loves planes, but gets dizzy from flying and is thus affraid. Auste still helps her board a plane and conquer her dizziness. Two years later, Sangaile becomes a pilot.

Director Alante Kavaite's 3rd film is also the 1st one that she made in her homeland, Lithuania, and a one that thus showed her in a very comfortable and content edition, dwelling on the subject and LGBT topic she likes. "The Summer of Sangaile" is principally a character study about overcoming one's fears and anxieties in order to live life to the fullest, presented in the form of the heroine who stops cutting herself and ends her depression when she meets a person who loves her and 'twitches' her from this grey existance – rarely did words have such a healing effect as the sequence where Sangaile and Auste are lying near a lake in the nature, and the other says to her: "Thank you for being who you are". Filmmed in a highly minimalistic style, with very scarce dialogue, "Sangaile" suffers a bit from this slow pace, which is why some viewers will be impatient with it, or conclude that this might have worked better as a short film, not as a rather overstretched feature, yet Kavaite's honesty and genuine emotions really seem 'spot on', the sequence where Sangaile and Auste make love in the grass at sunset with the small light bulbs illuminating their dresses is highly poetic, several shots of the planes are great whereas the biggest surprise is actress Aiste Dirziute, who is simply fabulous and sweet as Auste, making her the one of the few acting discoveries of the year.

Grade;++

Monday, December 19, 2016

Darling

Darling; drama, UK, 1965; D: John Schlesinger, S: Julie Christie, Dirk Bogarde, Laurence Harvey, Roland Curram

London. Diana is a model who leaves her husband, Tony, for a new man, TV interviewer Robert, who also leaves his wife and kid for her. Diana and Robert move to a new apartment, but she starts to quickly gets bored with him, as well. She has an affair with media advertiser Miles, who assures her a small role in a movie, "Jacqueline". She becomes pregnant and has an abortion. When Robert finally finds out she has been seeing someone else, he leaves her. In Rome, Diana is cast in a chocolate commercial and a wealthy Prince, Cesare, who has seven children, subtly proposes her, but she does not answer. Diana returns to London, leaves Miles and marries Cesare in Rome. However, she gets bored of that life as well, and returns to London to have sex with Robert. The next day, Robert forces her to leave him and return to Rome to Cesare, her husband.

One of the most distinguished movies that documented the taste and feel of the 'swinging sixties' era in London seems as if it is itself marred somewhere between a classic film at the beginning and a modern film in the second half: the dialogues are stale or melodramatic whereas the story does indeed seem like a soap opera at times, yet it tackles some highly taboo topics at that times, relevant even today (the heroine, Diana, for instance, says this after having an abortion: "I will never have sex again...") and features a wide array of cinematic techniques, which show that director John Schlesinger knows his movie language (jump cuts, freeze frames, double exposure...). However, "Darling" has a pointless and rather aimless story, lost in episodic vagueness, never managing to conjure up a true character study with a point revolving around promiscuous Diana who jumps from a man to man, and even flirts with Catholicism and moving to live in Rome, yet never feels happy or content with her life: it is all just one giant escape from one phase to another, without any safe ending. It combines traces of existential crisis a la Antonioni with sexual adventures, yet does not have a clear (emotional) conclusion. Some of the dialogues do manage to ignite, however (when Robert complains that he is basically a "professional question mark", Diana counters with: "Still better than being a professional bosom!"; during a charity speech, the speaker is described with: "He is a man of a few words... Yet they are long") and Julie Christie is very good as the confused heroine, with the famous brief scene where she takes her clothes off in front of the mirror before she collapses from crying, giving her a title of the first actress to get an award for her performance in a mainstream film to appear naked.  "Darling" offers some good thoughts, yet lacks a clear narrative and is overlong to truly achieve a permanent value.

Grade;++

Sunday, December 18, 2016

10 Cloverfield Lane

10 Cloverfield Lane; thriller, USA, 2016; D: Dan Trachtenberg, S: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, John Gallagher, Jr.

After a heated argument with her boyfriend, Michelle leaves her home at night, but has a car accident on the road. She wakes up in an underground bunker which is run by Howard, a conspiracy theorist who built it predicting the end of the world. He claims that he saved her because there was an unknown chemical attack on the surface, and that they must stay in the bunker for a year or two until the fallout clears. Another man found refuge there, Emmet. Michelle and Emmet grow tired of playing Scrabble all the time and decide to make a gas uniform to get out on the surface. However, the authoritarian Howard refuses and kills Emmet. Some time later, Michelle battles Howard, puts the gas mask and escapes from the bunker. She witnesses a UFO abducting and killing people on the field. She gets into the car and goes to join the people fighting the invasion.

Dan Trachtenberg's feature length debut film is an eerie commentary on the fake news and conspiracy theory paranoia pandemic at that time, arguing that fear and panic should never subsume a rational mind – even when their guess turns out right. Basically a thriller edition of Kusturica's "Undeground", "10 Cloverfield Lane" slowly builds its tension between the clash of the three protagonists in the underground bunker, based on small nuances, subtle looks and threatening body language, with Trachtenberg having enough skill to keep up the level of the storyline until the end – one of the best sequences is when Michelle and Emmet agree to make an escape plan and later that evening play the guessing game, "Taboo", with Howard, who scares Emmet ("I am watching you! I see what you are doing! I know everything!"), until Michelle guesses that he is only referring to Santa Claus. John Goodman is excellent as Howard, displaying a typical blend of excuse for his authoritarian actions by only claiming he is taking care of the group, and showing his range as an actor. However, a wider spectrum of a viewing experience would have been welcomed, since the movie is at times overstretched for this 'one note' concept, lacking a more versatile touch, which means that it managed to do a lot of things right, including the plot twist at the end, yet it is still not a complete hit as classic 'minimalistic thrillers' as Hitchcock's "The Rope" or Spielberg's "Duel".

Grade;++

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Bums and Princesses (Season 5)

Bitange i princeze (Season 5); comedy series, Croatia, 2010; D: Goran Kulenović, S: Rene Bitorajac, Hrvoje Kečkeš, Mila Elegović, Tarik Filipović, Nataša Dangubić, Predrag Vusović

The misadventures of five friends in Zagreb continue. Teo finally gets dismissed from the secret service, Robert Kumerle and Irena Grobnik are still arguing, Lucija is trying to find a job, Kazo finds a girlfriend on his birthday during a "Casablanca" themed party while the "Boss" still cannot bring his marketing agency to work. Several events appear, such as the Croatian-Slovene war and the decision of Robert and Irene to film their own TV soap opera. Finally, the "Boss" feigns to have died in order to escape his debt and starts a new life with a new identity.

The 5th and final season of the popular Croatian comedy series "Bums and Princesses" offers a sudden and somewhat incomplete ending, yet a one that overall stays true to its daft humor and crazy style to offer enough to please the viewers. Unpretentious and fun, the story is a 'hit-and-miss' affair – some episodes are weak, yet when they get inspired, they truly deliver a few brilliant examples of humor. Certainly, a solid level of understanding of the Croatian history and mentality need to be understood to get a few jokes, yet some are of universal appeal. One of the episodes with the highest audacity for a concept are 5.6 and 5.7 that follow a fictional Croat-Slovene war over a small island on the Sutla river on the border (which ends in futility, anyway, when the water washes away the small chunk of the disputed piece of land after the rain), featuring several cynical jokes (a Serb observer (Rene Bitorajac playing a Serb double of his Robert Kumerle character) constantly wants the Croatian soldiers to commit a war crime so that he can report them to the UN, as a revenge for the 90s war, yet they persistently refuse to be mean and instead even make good friends with the Slovene population; the standard Croatian joke at the expense of Slovenia's size, joking that "parachuters would be useless, since they cannot land in such a small country, they miss and always land in Austria").

This offers a further good joke in the follow-up episode, 5.8, when the "Boss" is suspected of committing a war crime during the war, so he shamelessly orders Kazo to organize a protest of nationalists – ostensibly to fight for the "dignity of Croatian veterans", but in reality to save his own skin – with several hilarious allusions to Croatia's strained cooperation with the ICTY ("We are here to stop the foreign powers meddling into our affairs! Robert Kumerle is not a war criminal, he is a hero!", says a fake patriot Kazo on TV, whereas one of the slogans among the crowd in the background says: "Buy here!"). Other jokes are just plain innocent and funny (in episode 5.11, Kazo imagines that he was awarded with an Oscar for his documentary, outwinning even Michael Moore for his movie "The Spice Boss", and then goes on the stage – only to say "What are you laughing at?" to Morgan Freeman (!) in the crowd; in 5.14, one agent of the secret police cannot find a handkerchief in his office, and thus takes a napkin from the state files – which has a map of Tudman's plan to divide Bosnia with Milosevic (!) drawn on it...). And at least one episode advanced into a small jewel, 5.18, titled "Kazoblanca": throughout all previous seasons, Kazo always openly admitted his love for the movie "Casablanca", and here the screenwriters gave him his finest hour when they placed him inside the story of his dream, a one that basically mirrors all the plot points of "Casablanca" (Kazo meets a girl, falls in love, but finds out she already has a relationship with an underground nationalist emigre, Čedo) – everything works in this small chef-d'œuvre, and it ends with Kazo ditching the girl to go to a concert all by himself because, through his own admission, he knew she would leave him anyway, so he left her first so that he could "at least once do something cool in his life", thereby even fairing better than Bogart's character in the classic film: what a king! Actors Tarik Filipovic and Natasa Dangubic are the weak links here, yet Hrvoje Keckes, Rene Bitorajac and Mila Elegovic are simply fantastic, and thus – despite a lack of pathos or loyalty among the five friends – "Bums and Princesses" manages to end on a high note, a whole class above many other Croatian comedy shows at that time.

Grade;++

Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Leopard

Il Gattopardo; drama, Italy, 1963; D: Luchino Visconti, S: Burt Lancester, Claudia Cardinale, Alain Delon, Paolo Stoppa, Rina Morelli, Romolo Valli, Terence Hill

Sicily, 1860. Count Don Fabrizio Salina observes how the country is changing with the appearance of Giuseppe Garibaldi and his followers, who initiate the end of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, and turn it part of a unified Italy. Fabrizio's nephew Tancredi also joins the revolution. This also signals the end of Aristocracy. He meets the new mayor, Sedara. When Tancredi proposes Angelica, Serdara's daughter, in an opportunistic move to gain more influence, Fabrizio accepts that, which sadens his own daughter, Concetta, who loved Tancredi. A man begs Fabrizio to join the Senate and help guide the country, but Fabrizio refuses. At a great ball, Fabrizio dances with Angelica and then leaves, walking by foot into the dark of the alley.

Set during the historical backdrop of Risorgimento, i.e. the Italian unification in 1860s, Luchino Visconti's "The Leopard" is a highly ambitious, beautifully filmed and decorated movie which enjoys a high reputation, yet a one that is overrated: one cannot shake away the impression that all the opulence and glamour in it is just a camouflage for the fact that not much happens in the peculiarly uneventful storyline. Just like in many art-films, "The Leopard" has no typical arc in which the protagonist has a goal he pursues throughout the entire film, instead depending on quiet 'slice-of-life' moments, from the comical opening act in which the people's prayer in a room is disrupted by a loud arguing of a man outside up to the famous 45-minute sequence of the ball and dinning in the finale, yet the problem is that Fabrizio Salina is a very passive character, whereas all others are just extras, anyway. There is a strange 'art intertia' in the story, aggravated further by the dated filming technique of static wide shots.

Burt Lancester is great as Salina, giving several strong lines that have a point (in one comical sequence, he confesses to a priest that he is annoyed by the too religious nature of his wife: "What to say about a woman who, whenever I would embrace her, would make the sign of the cross, and whenever she would reach the point of getting excited, she would always yell: 'Jesus and Mary!' Seven children came this way! Seven children! And I've never even seen her naval!" In another moment, he ponders how the people of Sicily would "never admit to a be living in poverty because their vanity prevents them to admitting to themselves that they are not perfect"), and his fate of ageing mirrors the slow change of his country as well, signalling an end to his life (Aristocracy) and a beginning of a new era in Italian society. Sadly, the movie simply lacks highlights, featuring too much empty walk in the overlong running time of 3 hours: what, for instance, was the point of the prolonged 45-minute sequence of the ball, without any confrontation or resolution, when the movie might as well have ended without it? What was the function of the character of Count Carviaghi (Terence Hill) who appears some halfway into the film, only to not play any role in the story? Unfortunately, Visconti is more preoccupied with giving a dry history lesson of his Italian homeland than he is with making this story and characters truly engaging in order to make them come to life for the viewers.

Grade;++

Monday, December 12, 2016

Pieta

Pieta; drama, South Korea, 2012; D: Kim Ki-duk, S: Lee Jung-jin, Jo Min-su, Kang Eun-jin

Seoul during winter. Kang-do is a cold, emotionless debt collector who threatens and beats people who took a loan and now cannot pay back the high credit interest rates. He sometimes breaks a debtor's arm or leg, so that his insurance company can give him the money to pay it back. One day, a woman in her 50s starts following Kang-do, insisting that she is his mother who abandoned him when he was a baby. Kang-do initially shrugs her off, but slowly accepts the woman in his apartment, and starts feeling genuine emotions when she celebrates his birthday and goes to town to buy him balloons to compensate for the events they missed out. When the woman disappears, Kang-do fears it must be one of the debtors taking revenge, and starts searching her. The woman is not his real mother – she is the mother of one of the debtors who died because of Kang-do. She commits suicide by jumping off the building in front of Kang-do, thereby devastating him for thinking he lost his mother again.

Kim Ki-duk's 18th film, "Pieta" is another one of his movies that explore the dark world through Buddhist themes, advancing into a small 'dark jewel' that is, despite all the harsh scenes, one of the most touching movies of the 2010s. Filmed in a 'worn out' camera look, with sudden jolts of camera movements, Ki-duk captures the unglamourous side of Seoul, the slums where the poor people have to pay their credit to the debt collector, Kang-do, who is emotionless and cold, going so far to break a leg of a debtor so that his life insurance can pay him, and even doubts the woman's claim that she is his long lost mother when he tries to rape her ("I supposedly came out of here? Then, can I go back in?") – but when she starts to cry, he suddenly gives up, which proves to be a crucial scene of his inner change.

Set during winter, with a scene where the mother persuades Kang-do to plant a Christmas-tree, "Pieta" almost seems like a realistic Korean version of "A Christmas Carol", only with a mother instead of ghosts, who seemingly wants to correct the protagonist's misdeeds by putting the blame on herself – in one scene, when a disabled debtor holds the mother as a hostage with a knife, threatening Kang-do, she says to him: "Spare him, it's not his fault! It is mine! He grew up without ever knowing love" – thereby transforming him into a full person with an emotional dimension. By showing scenes of debtors who live in slums, Ki-duk gave a portrait of the effects of ruthless Darwinian Capitalism on society, taping on some bigger themes about existence on Earth, with some arguing that it circled out the outline of the inherent flaw of life's design in which the lesser beings are inevitably eaten by the bigger ones, while others see it as a poetic commentary of a cold, materialistic world out of which "forbidden" spirituality and emotions appear, as some sort of protest against the fatalistic order, and thus manage to overthrow it from inside. By blending Christianity's themes of redemption with Buddhist message about the spirit trapped and addicted inside the material world (money) that causes suffering, Ki-duk delivered another unique achievement, raw and harsh, yet also tender and magical at the same time – as bizarre as this syncretism sounds, it works outstandingly in this edition.

Grade;+++

Friday, December 9, 2016

Her

Her; science-fiction drama, USA, 2013; D: Spike Jonze, S: Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson (voice), Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Olivia Wilde, Chris Pratt

Sometime in the future, Theodore works as a professional writer of romantic letters in a company. He is alone and suffers from his recent divorce with Catherine. One day, he installs a brand new computer operating system with a completely autonomous artificial intelligence, gives it a female voice and it calls itself Samantha. Theodore at first uses Samantha to help him clean up his computer files, yet gets amazed at Samantha's voice and a sense of humor and philosophy, and thus falls in love with her. Since he can always talk with her via his iPhone, and even "bring" her to a double date, some people think he is autistic, others, like co-worker Amy, approve.When Samantha evolves in a far higher level, she leaves Theodore for a companion with other OS programmes. Theodore thus stays alone with Amy.

Hal 9000 meets "Love Story" – something like that could be used to describe the unusual and extraordinary Sci-fi film "Her" that used a clever, funny, thought provocative and bitter concept as a thought experiment that explores the ever increasing relationship between humans and technology. Luckily, unlike his previous films, director and screenwriter Spike Jonze reduced his pretentious excess and delivered a rather measured, wise and restrained directing style that fits with the futuristic topic, whereas all the actors are in top notch shape, especially Joaquin Phoenix who almost has to carry the entire film all by himself, though Scarlett Johansson also gives a seal of presence thanks to her expressionistic voice. "Her" has so many wonderful, philosophical and spiritual lines that it is a delight: one of the best is the sequence where Theodore returns after a failed date and has a long talk with Samantha, who asks a fantastic question ("How does it feel to be alive right now?") and he just takes it from there ("Sometimes I think I have felt everything I'm ever gonna feel. And from here on out, I'm not gonna feel anything new. Just lesser versions of what I've already felt."), culminating in a highly unusual, yet also highly aesthetic "sex scene" in the dark featuring only his and her voice, which contains that uncapturable beauty. The script is highly contemplative, and it is never clear if the OS Samantha is a real personality with real emotions or just a well done computer programme used to perfectly mimic Theodore's emotional needs. It explores themes of soulmates and inner beauty, posing the question if such a human-machine relationship could work, despite the differences. A small complaint should be aimed at the too long running time of two hours, the 'cop-out' ending, as well as a few schematic subplots that hinder the movie to outgrow its limits of a thought experiment at times, yet overall it is surprisingly well done, with enough sophistication to make it work.

Grade;+++

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Divizionz

Divizionz; drama, Uganda / South Africa, 2008; D: Donald Mugisha, James Tayler, S: Mark Bugembe, Patrick Katsigire, Catherine Nakyanzi, Bonny Olem, Kyagulanyi Ssentamu

Kapo is a young lad living in a slump in Uganda. Together with a girl, Kanyankole, and a friend, Mulokole, he plans to become team of musicians, and already has a gig in a disco club in the capital, Kampala. Out of sympathy, he calls in Bana, a limp guy with a crutch, in the team, despite Kanyankole and Mulokole objecting because Bana has a criminal record. Kapo gives 2,000 shilling to Bana so that he can buy a CD on which they can record their music in a store. However, when they were returning home, they get attacked by criminals who steal their money. Bana disappears, and the CD with him. Kanyankole has an epileptic attack, but Kapo and Mulokole decide to take a bus to Kampala anyway. In the disco club, they find out that Bana cancelled their gig and instead used the CD to perform himself, all alone. Bana becomes an influential singer, but gets attacked by a rival.

The Ugandan 'guerilla' filmmaking movement YES! THAT'S US delivered a contemporary independent drama film, "Divizionz", which explores the ever relevant topic of people trying to escape from poverty and make it big, in this edition by becoming musicians in the big city, equipped with all the motives that come with it, from loyalty to betrayal. Directed in a very realistic way that depicts the slums of Uganda, yet also in a very elegant and energetic manner that avoids any kind of sentimentality or too depressive excess, the film has its rhythm, though it still seems unsure and 'rudimentary' in several of its cinematic techniques and movie language. For instance, when the hero gets into the bus for Kampala, there is a quadruple split screen which serves no purpose, since the other passengers are not part of the story and talk about irrelevant things like how one of them got pregnant with a guy who avoids seeing the child. The only exception is the well done, poetic scene of Kanyankole having an epileptic attack, where she is lying on the floor surrounded by a completely white background, symbolising how she is 'detached' from the world in a moment. The dialogues are also banal, not managing to add more spice, ingenuity or humor in the otherwise rather straight-forward storyline. Still, the film proves to be unpredictable at least on some level (avoiding political correctness, the disabled guy with a crutch proves to be the main villain) and has very good actors, which make the story, though overlong, still seem good enough to work as a glimpse inside that part of the world.

Grade;++

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Game of Thrones (Season 6)

Game of Thrones (Season 6); fantasy drama series, USA, 2016; D: Jeremy Podeswa, Daniel Sackheim, Mark Mylod, Miguel Sapochnik, S: Kit Harington, Lena Headey, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Peter Dinklage, Emilia Clarke, Aidan Gillen, Liam Cunningham, Sophie Turner, Rory McCann, Maisie Williams, Conleth Hill, Iwan Rheon, Alfie Allen, Gwendoline Christie, Jonathan Pryce, Iain Glen, Jacob Anderson




At the Wall, Jon Snow is resurrected thanks to witch Melisandre. Snow thus again takes over the Night Watch and teams up with Sansa Stark and general Davos to persuade as many houses in the North to fight against Ramsay Bolton as possible, before the attack of the White Walkers. Thanks to a lot of sacrifice, Snow manages to take Winterfell and defeat Ramsay, who is executed by his own blood dogs via Sansa... Jorah and Daario find the captive Daenerys in a Dothraki settlement, and she kills the leaders in a fire, thereby taking over the tribe. Thanks to her three dragons, she also finally defeats the slave masters who were destabilizing Meereen all the time, When the exiled Theon and Yara Greyjoy arrive and offer their fleet, Daenerys accepts and sails to conquer Westeros... In Westeros, Cersei gets sick and tired of the religious fanatics led by the High Sparrow, and thus executes them and several of her foes in the church by lighting an explosion under it during Loras' religious trial. However, now widowed, King Tommen commits suicide. Cersei thus takes over the throne herself... Arya Stark leaves the assassin school and kills Walder Frey, the man responsible for the slaughter of her family during Red Wedding... Bran Stark learns that he must take over as the new Three-Eyed-Raven. He has visions...

After the worst season of the series, "Game of Thrones" made such an unexpected foray into greatness that it delivered the best edition with season 6, reaching its Zenith and thus redeeming itself. After numerous fans rightfully criticized the ill-conceived idea to kill off one of the most beloved characters of the show in season 5, Jon Snow, the good knight, which was just the same old "shock" trick already used with Ned Stark and the Red Wedding, anyway – Oliver Griffin, for instance, rightfully commented with: "Seriously, what is the point now? We're almost at the stage where the only people left to root for are the White Walkers" – screenwriters David Benioff and D. B. Weiss started to listen and overturned that mistake, bringing Snow back – and all the virtues with him. The problems with a too long set up of a story is that it may exhaust the viewers by endless staling, yet here it managed to cross into the other opposite, the "slingshot theorem": the longer it is stretched out, the stronger its velocity will be once it is released. The first few episodes are rather stagnant, yet already episode 6.5 shows that a change is coming: even though it features a similar idea as the ending in "La jetee" and "12 Monkeys", the plot twist involving Hodor in it is still outstanding in its sheer emotional and dramatic intensity – once seen, never forgotten. The last four episodes feature a marathon of "Top of the Tops", since each new episode tops the previous one, forming a 'Triumvirate of brilliance'. Episode 6.7 brings back another beloved character, the Hound, who embodies "Game of Thrones" often used tactic (at first he is shown as a villain, only to do something good that suddenly brings new perspective into his character and nature) by dwelling into a group of people who want to atone for their sins, led by dissident Ray, played by ultra-masterful Ian McShane in an episode to cherish.

Episode 6.8 is another excellent one, featuring one genius quote by Varys aimed at both religious and nationalist fanatics alike ("I suppose it's hard for a fanatic to admit a mistake. Isn't that the point of being a fanatic? You're always right.") with further allegorical exploration of the fictional religious militants led by the High Sparrow in the capital, who ostensibly wants to uphold the "immaculate" religious laws, yet in reality just wants the King to share his power over the Kingdom with him. Arya Stark's sympathy with an actress, Lady Crane, whom she was suppose to assassinate, shows her integrity and independent thinking – with a possible foreshadowing that Crane plays Cersei in a play, who dies. Episode 6.9 went out of its scope to create one of the most expressionistic, raw, energetic and grandiose war battles – between Jon Snow and Ramsay – not seen since "Saving Private Ryan" or "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King": it took 25 days to film, yet its effort is sensed in every frame. It also features one of the most satisfying disposals of a sadistic, disgusting bad guy, a delight of justice for evil finally coming full circle not sensed since the death of the USSR. But the next episode, 6.10, surpasses even the battle of that episode, but through different means, the pure inspiration that crept deep into that storyline, thanks to maestro director Miguel Sapochnik: Cersei there executes a revenge plan so meticulously and so flawlessly planned out that it is better than all the revenge movies by Tarantino from "Kill Bill" through "Django Unchained" combined, whereas it also features a suicide scene of a crucial character that comes so unexpected, directed with such a subtlety and finesse that the viewers never anticipated it – and will probably never forget it due to it. The whole episode is crafted with a refreshing aesthetic and polished style that is thus a joy to watch, from start to finish. Season 6 rises to the occasion, finally justifying its reputation, with Benioff and Weiss constructing it up like a good set of dominoes: they just took away one wrong piece, and it all fell into place. It is a strange irony that in a decade where the films underwent a decline, TV shows simultaneously experienced a rise to greatness: "Game of Thrones" season 6 almost seems as if it "sucked out" all the quality from the movies from that time to use it for its own potentials.

Grade;+++ 

Friday, December 2, 2016

On the Comet

Na kometě; fantasy adventure, Czech Republic, 1970; D: Karel Zeman, S: Emil Horváth, Magda Vásáryová, Frantisek Filipovský

Northern Africa, 19th century. A French army unit is fighting an Arab rebellion against the colonialism, which is supported by the Spanish army. Hector Servadac, a French cartographer, falls off a cliff into the sea and is saved by a girl, Angelica, in whom he falls in love with. However, just then, a giant comet appears on the sky. There is an explosion, and buildings fly off, but fall down again. The French and Arab armies continue to fight, until they encounter Dinosaurs and spot Mars on the sky. They realize that their strip of land has somehow been catapulted on the surface of the travelling comet. Angelica is kidnapped by her brother, but Hector finds her again. When the Earth is seen on the sky, there is another explosion. Hector wakes up near the shore - it was a dream.

An adaptation of Jules Verne's novel "Hector Servedac", Karel Zeman's fantasy adventure is an appropriately opulent and imaginative little film, where he once again demonstrated his audacity to conjure up his very own picturesque worlds outside the big budget system of Hollywood. A small gem of Czech cinema, Zeman is an author with a simple, good old school narrative enriched with an fantastic story - in this edition, a strip of African land with its people was catapulted on a comet - and further enriched with an distinctive, artificial set design, which pretty much immediately identifies his vision, reminiscent of artificial movie worlds of T. Burton, T. Gilliam or J. Švankmajer - the imagery alone is exquisite (in one scene, the soldiers spot Earth on the sky, and one comically adds: "...I can see France!"). "On the Comet" is a light fun, with rather thin character development (including the meagre love story between Hector and Angelica) as well as a unsatisfying ending, yet it has that innocent charm and crazy enthusiasm that simply melts you away. At around 37 minutes into the film, dinosaurs show up, and while they do not last for longer than 2 minutes, they feature several amusing moments, such as they just wag their tales when the army shoots cannons in front of them or start a comedy-stampede when they hear pots in a waggon led by horses. More impressive in its look and visual effects than in its characters or emotions, "On the Comet" is still a remarkable adventure film of pure class.

Grade;++

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Game of Thrones (Season 5)

Game of Thrones (Season 5); fantasy series, USA, 2015; D: Michael Slovis, Mark Mylod, Jeremy Podeswa, David Nutter, S: Kit Harington, Lena Headey, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Peter Dinklage, Emilia Clarke, Sophie Turner, Aidan Gillen, Natalie Dormer, Carice van Houten, John Bradley-West, Alfie Allen, Iwan Rheon, Iain Glen, Maisie Williams

The fight for the legacy of the Seven Kingdoms continues. Aften fleeing from King's Landing, Tyrion and Varys try to find Daenerys. Tyrion is kidnapped by exiled Jorah, who - ironically - brings him to Daenerys, who accepts him as her adviser. She is attacked by a rebellious gang in the Meereen arena, but escapes thanks to her dragon... On the north, in Winterfell, Ramsay marries Sansa Stark and rapes her in front of Theon. This causes Theon to rebel and help Sansa escape from the fortress. In the meantime, Stannis burns his daughter for the gods as a sacrifise to win in the battle against Winterfell, but Ramsay's army destroys his whole army... Jaime Lannister and Bronn go to Dorne to bring back Myrcella Baratheon, fearing she might get assassinated... Arya works as a apprentice in a temple of assassins in Braavos, with many faces, and kills criminal Meryn in a brothel... Jon Snow manages to unite the wildlings and the Night Watch before the army of Zombies annexes the north, but he is killed because they think he is a traitor.

Season 5 is a waste of time. It is here where the ratio between the viewers' invested time and the actual lack of a payoff or a point reach a breaking point, after which the meandering structure and endless piling up of so many useless subplots cause "Game of Thrones" to collapse on itself from its own weight. The worst season of the series, season 5 went way overboard with disgusting, primitive, vile violence without any sense for measure or subtlety in directing - there are explicit scenes here of a little girl getting burned alive on a bonfire, a man's head getting decapitated in a close up, a man's throat getting cut off with a detailed bloodshed, Ramsay raping Sansa and forcing Theon to watch the crime... - and while the previous seasons certainly had their fair share of violence as well, they at least had clever writing or some kind of a directorial style to compensate for it, but since the viewers are offered so little intellectually this time around, the authors cannot salvage the negative impression left on all this savagery and crap getting thrown at the screen. Season 5 simply lacks highlights, among others because it again resorts to endless filler instead of finally advancing the plot forward. What was the point, for instance, to again and again show that Ramsay is evil? It was established already in the previous season, and thus all his new misdeeds just seem like a repetitive repeat of the same thing. Also, it was done in a really banal way, in the vein of "make the viewers hate the villain, no matter how cheap or how blatant" - the scene in episode 4.5, where Roose tells Ramsay how he got him, namely that he raped a peasant girl under the tree where he hanged her husband, is such a trash that one wonders if it is a parody.

Written in a mediocre manner, where the characters are basically just saying out loud what is going on the screen or repeating what happened, which is very standard and dry, and thus season 5 disappoints wholeheartedly. There is no single great episode, all are either average of good at best, and even the final, "Mother's Mercy", is a mixed bag, except for one - the excellent episode 4.8, where the Zombies attack and annex the peninsula on the north, leading to an epic battle which Jon Snow witnesses, and which is done with such an eerie suspense and virtuoso inspiration that it is the only episode to justify its existence here. It clearly showed how all the tribes and clans are wasting their time fighting each other, and in the process don't see the bigger picture, the larger threat of supernatural (abstract) dimensions. The subplot where Brandon's group encountered a mythical tree with leaves in the middle of the snow was one of the most expressionistic images in the entire 4th season - only to not even be mentioned in this season at all, which is a betrayal: why start such an imaginative story just to drop it? Why does the temple in which Arya trains have pillars covered with faces on it? Does any of it make sense? Are there no criteria left for the authors? Season 5 turned into a Middle Ages soap opera. Just as Stannis sacrificed his daughter on the bonfire, which led to half of his army deserting from disgust, the same fate befell season 5 which was abandoned by many of its fans for having such poor judgement and ill-conceived ideas in this edition.

Grade;+

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Game of Thrones (Season 4)

Game of Thrones (Season 4); fantasy series, USA, 2014; D: Alex Graves, Michelle MacLaren, Alik Sakharov, Neil Marshall, S: Kit Harington, Lena Headey, Peter Dinklage, Emilia Clarke, Aidan Gillen, Charles Dance, Natalie Dormer, Stephen Dillane, Carice van Houten, Alfie Allen, Isaac Hempstead-Wright, Maisie Williams, Rose Leslie, John Bradley, Iwan Rheon, Sibel Kekilli

The fight for the legacy of the Seven Kingdoms continues. At King's Landing, Prince Oberyn and many other guests are summoned to attend the wedding of King Joffrey and Margaery Tyrell. However, King Joffrey is poisoned after drinking vine, and Cersei and Tywin Lannister put the blame on Tyrion. A show trial is set up, with even Shae giving false testimony against him. Trying to prove his innocence, Tyrion wants a combat, and Oberyn accepts to battle for him, but gets killed by Gregor. However, Jamie Lannister helps Tyrion escape before the execution - before he escapes, Tyrion kills Shae and Tywin... Daenerys and her army manage to conquer another city and release the slaves there, but her three dragons keep acting more and more erratic. It also turns out that her associate Jorah has been sending information about her to King's Landing... In the North, Brandon Stark and his associates finally manage to find the mysterious Heart Tree from his vision, where they meet an old man who disguised himself as the 3-eyed raven... When Brienne kills the "Hound", Arya Stark is left alone and boards a ship...Ramsay still tortures Theon Greyjoy... Jon Snow leads the successful defence of the Wall from the wildings, but his beloved Ygritte dies.

The 4th season of the popular alternate history series "Game of Thrones" made a few improvements compared to the flaws of the previous two seasons, notably by toning the cruelty a little bit down, yet the problems of the bigger picture in it still remain, especially the ones aimed at how long George R. R. Martin can overstretch all these storylines and add new ones until it all collapses on itself from excess or the viewers' oversaturation with whom of the characters wants to battle whom. This season still works, but the cracks are appearing, and either they will be addressed in the next seasons, or it will all go downhill from here. One of the disappointing elements is the resolution of Tyrion's love relationship with Shae, which does not serve him or her justice, whereas Tywin's end is too similar to Vincent Vega's end in "Pulp Fiction". However, episodes 4.1, 4.2, 4.6, 4.9 and 4.10 are all great, staying true to several completely unexpected plot twists and giving at least three evil characters their just judgement, evidently also featuring better writing of dialogues: in episode 4.1, for instance, there is a clever exchange (Allister: "You always know when a man is telling a lie. How did you acquire this magical power?" - Maester Aemon: "...I grew up in King's Landing...") whereas the writers had a field day in Oberyn's comical jabs aimed at Cersei ("Wearing the crown for so many years must have left your neck a bit crooked").

The tension on the wedding in episode 4.2 grows so steadily until it becomes almost palpable, whereas the episode ends in such a delicious and satisfying plot twist that it would be a sin to even mention it to those who haven't seen it, since it must not be spoiled. The critics rightfully praised the stand-out episode 4.9, that untypically focused only on one single storyline, the siege of Wall by the wildings, featuring a few spectacular moments (the defence releases a giant scythe that swings and simply decimates the besieging forces that were climbing on the giant wall) and suspenseful action sequences (the giant and the mammoth pulling the gates in order to open them). The trial sequence in episode 4.6 is also a highlight, especially when the accused, Tyrion, simply addresses the crowd and shouts: "I am on trial for being a dwarf my entire life!", whereas Cersei proves to be a far more complex character thanks to her defiance to Tywin who wants to force her into an arranged marriage (in one scene, she interrupts him in the middle of his stories where he once again got everything his way:"I’m not interested in hearing another one of your smug stories about the time you won. This isn’t going to be one of those times."). The most aesthetically pleasant and almost esoteric moment arrives when Brandon and his crew reach the mysterious Heart Tree that glows in the snow – it is a pity so little of its purpose is revealed in this season, but the sight of it is so magical it almost reminds of a paranormal event. The best moments arrive when some seemingly separate stories and characters encounter, unite and complete each other, yet parts of this "hyper-narrative" still remain questionable for spending so much of the viewers' time and do not always justify its existence.

Grade;+++

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Kekec

Kekec; adventure, Slovenia, 1951; D: Jože Gale, S: Matija Barl, Franc Presetnik, Frane Milčinski, Zdenka Logar

Somewhere in the Slovenian Alps, the 10-year old Kekec lives with his family in a small village, where rumors of a cruel man, Bedanec, spread. Desolate in his home in the forest, Bedanec keeps a 10-year orphan old girl, Mojca, captive, so that she can clean his home. When she begs to escape, the nearby old man, Kosobrin, gives her refuge in his home on a plateau that can only be reached through a secret cave passage. Bedanec captures Kekec and forces him to work in his home, and plots to re-capture Mojca from Kosobrin. When Bedanec finds the secret cave entrance, Kekec releases a dog. In the rush, Bedanec is found hanging from a cliff and agrees to leave the place if Kekec helps him climb back. Bedanec leave and Kekec returns to his village.

One of the most popular and beloved children's movies of Slovenian and Yugoslav cinema, this is a rather well made, though still by today's standards a little dated achievements. Set among the wonderful, idyllic locations of the Slovenian Alps, leaning towards the German Heimatfilm repertoire, directed in a straight-forward manner by Joze Gale, this is a film that still causes a few questions at its inconsistencies and ill-conceived plot points by modern viewers – for instance, having the "villain" Bedanec keep an abducted 10-year old girl, Mojca, captive in his home against her will, seems little suitable for a kids' movie, and also begs several bitter questions (why don't the people in the nearby village simply call the police? Is Bedanec a paedophile or does he simply seek some company for his solitude because he does not have kids of his own?). These questions and 'rough' edges clash badly with each other, yet if the viewers simply ignore them and enjoy "Kekec" as an old-fashioned film in which the title boy saves the day, it still has some charm, flair and grace, with a few humorous moments that manage to ignite the mood (a boy dresses up as a ghost to scare of Kekec's sister, Tinka; a peasant wishes all the best to Kekec's father, and even jokingly wishes that his "chicken may hatch him a cow").

Grade;++

Monday, November 21, 2016

The Story of 90 Coins

Jiushi mei yingbi de gushi; romantic drama short, China, 2015; D: Michael Wong, S: Zhuang Zhiqi, Dongjun Han, Jose Acosta

Beijing. A guy, Wang, falls in love with a girl, Chen, and persuades her to give him 90 days to prove that he is worthy of marrying her. In order to do so, he puts every coin in a sealed envelope with notes of each day, until they reach 90 coins. Pursuing her career, Chen forgets about the box and accepts an invitation by a French businessman to go to Paris. However, she then stumbles upon the box with the coins and remembers all the wonderful days with Wang.

"The Story of 90 Coins" is an uncynical, refreshingly honest, emotional and innocent in presenting the simple love story, with the two lead actors giving very good performances, especially the charming Zhuang Zhiqi. Some of its best moments arrive swiftly, in the comical way, almost reminding of a romantic comedy at times, such as the snake sequence in the tent and the sequence where Wang anonymously plays a love song for Chen over the radio, but she says "Who's that? What a stupid guy". Also, the movie is filmed with remarkable technical level and expertise for a first film by director Michael Wong, from the crispy clear cinematography up to the editing and sound, with only minimal flaws here and there.

However, there are 2 problems with the film. The sole concept is great - a guy persuades a girl to give him 90 days to prove that he is the right for her to marry him - but "90 Coins" is so fast in exchanging its vignettes that the viewers wish it simply slowed down and took more time to develop these episodes in the story. Take for instance that snake scene - how did the couple get there? What did they do afterwards? Did they stick around in the tent later on to simply enjoy the nature after that "incident"? Or the sequence where Wang carries Chen on his shoulders because she is sick - it is sweet, but how did he find out she is sick? Where did he pick her up (at her apartment, maybe, or on the street)? And how did she react when she got well? Did she thank him? While these moments are very sweet, they would have been even better if the viewers had a wider context in which they happen. Some of them are just too short to truly engage fully, though that it understandable due to budget constraints. The second problem is that the chronology of his plan is not displayed entirely linear and clear. Yes, a flashback is a legitimate director's choice. Yes, several days in that 90 days period are indeed shown. And yes, it is touching when she "stumbles" upon the box of coins she almost forgot in the room, which triggers her memory of these days. However, it would have been nice if the viewers got to see "Day 1" and "Day 2", to immediately get the impression that it started - and how it started. This chronology has a middle and an end, but not a beginning. It would have been great to see what he did on the 1st day to "kick off" his 90 day plan, and on the 2nd day. This would have set the tone for the film. Overall, this is still a sweet little first film, which announces that the director has a lot of potential for a feature that could elaborate the events further.

Grade;++

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Apollo 13

Apollo 13; drama, USA, 1995; D: Ron Howard, S: Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton, Kevin Bacon, Ed Harris, Kathleen Quinlan, Gary Sinise

In '70, NASA sends another manned mission to the Moon, named Apollo 13, but it quickly justifies the reputation of "13" as an unlucky number: namely, as soon as it is in space, its oxygen tanks suddenly explodes, thus leaving its three astronauts - Jim Lovell, Fred Haise and Jack Swigert - in peril. On Earth, the Houston command centre, led by Kranz, realizes that the astronauts cannot land on the Moon with such damage, and instead re-focus their efforts on bringing them back alive before they run out of power. Passing by the Moon, the craft uses its gravitational pull to catapult back to Earth, and thus, despite freezing temperatures due to a saving of heating power, the three astronauts manage to return safely home.

A biopic about a dangerous manned mission to the Moon that went terribly wrong, "Apollo 13" gives a proportionally rather well assembled chronicle of events, though it sometimes comes off less cinematic and more as a schematic 'PowerPoint' presentation of the event. The first half an hour serves as a bland intro, wasting too much time on Jim Lovell's family and dry preparations of the mission, yet once the craft launches into space, the movie lifts up as well, displaying a few suspenseful moments and bravely showing the unglamourous side of astronauts in space, which is not always as idealized as some like it to present. Several comical moments are refreshing (upon turning off the electricity in the navigation panel to save the power in the craft for later, and just letting it drift in space, Lovell's joking comments: "We just put Sir Isaac Newton in the driver's seat") whereas the most genius moment arrives in the NASA office, where engineers are given the assignment to somehow find a way to connect two filters using only spare parts which can be found in the Apollo 13, so that the astronauts can replicate it themselves on the craft before CO2 levels reach a critical point there. However, Ron Howard's direction and the screenplay by William Broyles, Jr. and Al Reinert are not always that inspired, since the movie is a tad overlong and overburdened with conventional dialogues, especially in the inter-cuts that focus on Lovell's wife and family on Earth, which tend to turn melodramatic and empty at times. The most was achieved from great actors, excellent Tom Hanks and Kevin Bacon, but also by veteran actor Ed Harris as the 'maverick' flight director Kranz who simply refuses to let the three astronauts perish in space, whereas one has to compliment the film crew for their painstaking effort by filming many space sequences in a reduced gravity aircraft, which realistically conveys a feeling of zero gravity among the three actors.

Grade;++

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Quit Staring at My Plate

Ne gledaj mi u pijat; drama, Croatia, 2016; D: Hana Jušić, S: Mia Petričević, Nikša Butijer, Arijana Čulina, Zlatko Burić, Marijana Mikulić

Šibenik. Marijana (24) works as a lab technician in a hospital and lives a depressive life in a small apartment which she shares with her poor income family: the unemployed brother Zoran, unemployed mother and macho father. When her father endures a stroke, he is left bed-ridden and Marijana now has to earn for the whole family alone, as well as feed and change diapers for her paralyzed father. Bullied at work and annoyed at home, she randomly takes a ride to have group sex with two unknown guys. After an argument, she decides to leave the apartment and move to Zagreb. In the last moment, she changes her mind and returns to her city.

Hana Jusic's feature length debut film, "Quit Staring at My Plate" is one of those calculative art-films with typical cliches for the art-film audience: a passive hero(ine) who suffers through her depressive life all the time, who doesn't do anything about it and then the movie ends without anything being resolved or changing. It has good shot composition, good technical and production values, good actors - yet it is just simply lifeless, sterile, dry, grey and monotone, one of those standard-depressive 'social drama' movies that amassed in Croatian cinema without any ingenuity or spirit. The dialogues are uninspired, since the movie is basically about nothing - random scenes show up which lead nowhere (Marijana is warned that people are getting fired at work, for instance, but that never really proves useful later on in the film) and the only moments that are memorable are the sequence where Marijana has to change diapers for the paralyzed father in bed and the (unrealistic) moment where she has group sex without condoms with two men she just met in a car. The film may be a realistic presentation at nihilistic empty existence in modern society, yet it still lacks highlights. It is basically a soap opera.

Grade;+

Monday, November 14, 2016

Jurassic World

Jurassic World; science-fiction adventure, USA, 2015; D: Colin Trevorrow, S: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Ty Simpkins, Nick Robinson, Vincent D'Onofrio, B. D. Wong, Irrfan Khan

Two decades after the incidents around the Jurassic Park, a new crew managed to bring order and establish it as a popular dinosaur Zoo on the island. Two teenagers, Zach and Grey, are sent to the park to visit their aunt Claire, who works as a manager there. She is also friends with Owen, one of the employees who is training four Velociraptors. However, a genetically modified hybrid dinosaur, Indominus, breaks free and thus alarm bells are sounded for the 22,000 visitors on the island. Several people are killed, but Claire releases the T. Rex and it manages to defeat the Indominus, thanks also to Owen's loyal Velociraptors. Zach and Grey are saved and evacuated with other guests from the island.

14 years after the last installement, against all predictions that it would be just a cheap rip-off of the franchise, reboot "Jurassic World" actually proved as a pleasant surprise, giving freshness and vitality after a long pause in the series, even surpassing the last two films, "Jurassic Park II" and "Jurassic Park III", by a nose. Director Colin Trevorrow crafts the film with stylistic elegance, whereas screenwriters Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver manage to construct it to be simply fun: numerous moments are amusing (a "giant" lizard leg proves to be just the leg of a small sparrow when the camera zooms out; the ironic comment of a chief technician upon hearing how new, simple names of hybrid dinosaurs are given: "Pepsi-saurus") or just plain clever (when the vicious Indominus gets out of the cage, Owen hides under a car and cuts a hose in order to pour gasoline over himself, whose smell thus repents the dinosaur), the necessary explanations as to what happened between the events of the last film were neatly interwoven into the story thanks to unobtrusive dialogues, the good characters are a pleasant company, the action and chase sequences are set up with a lot of spirit whereas the new main "villain" dinosaur Indominus manages to live up to the hype. The weakest link is the last third of the film, which slowly causes the story to lose its concentration and regress into standard, repetitive action, exacerbated by a rather vague ending, whereas a few 'boastful' moments stick up like a soar thumb, yet the movie manages to stand on its own, justifying its existence thanks to further exploration of the stimulative concept.

Grade;++

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Game of Thrones (Season 3)

Game of Thrones (season 3); fantasy series, USA, 2013; D: Daniel Minahan, Alex Graves, Alik Sakharov, Michelle MacLaren, S: Peter Dinklage, Richard Madden, Michelle Fairley, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Emilia Clarke, Kit Harington, Charles Dance, Alfie Allen, Oona Chaplin, Sibel Kekilli

The fight for the throne of the Seven Kingdoms continues. Davos is given pardon by Stannis, but he decides to free a lad whom witch Melisandre wanted to sacrifice in order to cause a spell which would help Stannis gain the throne... Daenerys, with the help of her three dragons and her advisers, manages to buy 8,000 slave soldiers, gives them freedom and thus gains their support to conquer Yunkai... After his rebellion was quashed, Theon Greyjoy is being tortured by Ramsay Snow. Theon's father, Balon, is indifferent, but Theon's sister Yara decides to send an army to rescue Theon... Lord Frey tricks his guests and lets the Lannister army kill Robb Stark, his lover Talisa and his mother Catelyn in ambush during the wedding... Sam and Gilly and her baby and fleeing south from the Zombies on the north... Tyrion is unhappy that he has to marry Sansa, even though he secretly loves Shae, in order for the Lannisters to keep their power.

The 3rd season of the "Game of Thrones" series continues with all the elements of the previous seasons, including all the flaws and virtues that come with it: only episodes 3.3, 3.4 and 3.10 can be considered truly great, without reservations, while the quality of the others oscillates too much. The quality of the writing improved in this edition, with a few great quotes: in episode 3.3, after the funeral of the old Hoster Tully, Blackfish says this to Catelyn Stark: "Your father was a stubborn old ox. I was surprised when he died. Didn't think death had the patience." In 3.4, there is another gem of a quote, from Varys, who warns about Petyr Baelish: "He would see the realm burn if he could be the king of ashes." Unfortunately, the storyline overstretches itself in excess of too many subplots, making one wonder if the author lead its plot tangles to collapse from its own overambition. Likewise, it is highly questionable why there was so much violence and cruelty presented on the screen - it is understandable that they wanted to show how the barbarity of the (fictional) Middle ages looked like realistically, but did they not know of any kind of subtlety? The long and explicit torture sequence of Theon Greyjoy, for instance, has such a contempt for humanity, such a depravity and vile nature that the rest of the season never truly recovers after it.

One of the best moments surprisingly stems from a love story blossoming between Jon Snow and Ygritte - in one refreshing comic moment in 3.7, she jokes about being afraid of a spider in order to fall into his arms, in a wonderfully warm and cute scene - while Tyrion rises to the occasion in episode 3.8: even though he does not want to marry Sansa, and even though he is such a small individual who can be killed by the authoritarian King Joffrey in an instant, he proves incredible integrity and courage when he puts the King in his place after the latter wanted to 'bed' Sansa before him during the wedding: "Then you'll be f*** your own bride with a wooden cock!" You could hear a pin drop after that sequence. The author also has a sense for some historical ironies (for instance, Robb Snow won every battle he ever participated - yet lost everything when he died in an assassination attempt when he least expected it), while numerous critics praised the shocking finale in episode 3.8, as well as the strong cast of the entire series, with Emilia Clarke gaining momentum in each subsequent segment. The season follows about 10 stories parallely. However, only three of those get to a point in this season, while the other seven are still lingering, "stuck" somewhere in the middle of a developing process, leaving thus all the burden of a conclusion or some kind of resolution on the fourth (or some other) season.

Grade;++

Friday, November 11, 2016

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire; fantasy, UK / USA, 2005; D: Mike Newell, S: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Robbie Coltrane, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon, Brendan Gleeson, Jason Isaacs, Gary Oldman, Miranda Richardson, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Timothy Spall

At Hogwarts school of wizardy, Harry Potter and his class get a new teacher, Mr. Moody. The school will also host the Triwizard Tournament where three school will compete in a competition so dangerous that even might lead to a students' death. Even though he did not submit his name for the competition, Harry is chosen to participate. There are three tasks: they must get a golden egg from a dragon; they must swim underwater to save a mate; and finally to go through a hedge maze to get a cup. However, in the last challenge, Harry and Cederic are transported to a graveyard, where Pettigrew kills Cederic and performs a ritual summoning Vodemort and his henchmen. Harry manages to escape and return to safety. The real Mr. Moody was replaced by Voldemort's spy, but is exposed. Dumbeldorf warns Harry of dark times coming.

The 4th film in the long "Harry Potter" film series, "Goblet of Fire" proved once again to be strong at the box office, yet weak as a patchwork of a story that is all over the place. The biggest complaints should be aimed at director Mike Newell and screenwriter Steve Kloves who 'narrowed' the film down only to fans instead of also taking care to appeal to universal viewers, even those who are not fans of wizards and sorcery and thus do not care about overlong, empty subplots involving magic or schematic, standard dialogues which are reduced to basically only dryly explaining what is going on. Sadly, Harry Potter hardly interacts with his friends, Ron and Hermione, in this edition, and thus this leaves little character development. A little bit of spark and charm only occasionally manage to 'twitch' the movie from its grey routine, yet they are refreshingly welcomed, such as the humorous moment where Harry complains that he cannot speak to a girl alone to invite her to a dance, because the girls are always in a "herd", or the hero's confrontation with a blond lad who did a bet that Harry will not hold up 5 minutes in the tournament. Unfortunately, the film is filled with cliche repertoire (cheap "boo" scares; the constant grey-dark cinematography after which one yearns to watch a film with normal colors; unnecessary dark moments used just to keep the viewers' attention...), whereas the ritual performed to summon Voldemort at the end is disgusting and misguided. Only a moderately solid sequel in the franchise, overlong and devoid of joy or spirit.

Grade;+

Monday, November 7, 2016

Possession

Possession; horror drama, France / Germany, 1981; D: Andrzej Żuławski, S: Sam Neill, Isabelle Adjani, Heinz Bennent

Berlin during the Cold war. The city is divided through a wall between the West and the East, and a similar fate seems to befallen a rift in marriage that divided Mark from his beloved wife Anna. She doesn't want to see him anymore, and he suspects she is cheating on him with another man. He indeed finds a man, Heinrich, who has an affair with Anna, but quickly realizes she is absent even from him during long periods, so there must be a third person. Mark takes custody of their son, Bob, and hires two detectives to investigate Anna's secret lover. The detectives find a tentacle monster in Anna's apartment, and she kills them. Anna starts behaving erratically, cutting herself with a knife. Mark finally finds out Anna is having sex with the monster in the apartment. Mark is wounded in a shootout and dies on the stairs with Anna. A clone of Mark appears and knocks on the door of their home. Bob commits suicide by drowning in the bathtub.

One of the most bizarre movies from the 80s, the director's 2nd film in France after getting away from his Polish homeland, "Possession" features Andrzej Zulawski in his pretentious best, as opposed to his many later films which would feature him in his pretentious worst. Puzzling, messy, hermetic and challenging, this psychological drama is not for everyone's taste, proving to be an existential art-film that - just like Polanski - untypically blends with horror elements, thereby even exacerbating its representation of trauma: as film critic Visnja Vukasinovic observed, it may be that Zulawski decided to visualize the psychosis of the husband and wife divorcing in the form of the (infamous) torso-tentacle monster. This is a weird trip, but it has a fascinating visual style thanks to dynamic camera drives and wide-angle lens (the "circulating" camera in the sequence where Mark speaks to the four directors in the office; the long camera drive through Heinrich's apartment when Mark first meets him; the frog-perspective as Mark often walking towards a giant apartment complex...) whereas the two leading actors - Isabelle Adjani and Sam Neill - give energetic performances: Neill is simply indestructible in the scene where he is swinging in the rocking chair and announces to his wife: "I'm taking over!"

The interpretation of the hermetic symbolism managed to split the critics, just like Berlin wall split the city in the film. As the leitmotiv of the Berlin wall is featured prominently in several scenes, it may be that the whole film is one giant allegory on dictatorship of Communism: just like Germany was split between the West and the East during hat time, it seems that even Mark and Anna endure a schism, even literally when their two idealised clones show up. Could it be that the bloody monster in the dark apartment is a symbol for the dark secrets (and crimes) of Bolshevism which threaten to take possession of Anna's mind through their ideology? Does her manic outbursts in the Metro speak for her fight against this ideology? Is it a coincidence that it is revealed that Mark is some sort of secret agent who assassinates a man from the East in order to rescue Anna? There are several ways this story could be deciphered, yet it can also be interpreted without any political connotations, simply as a extreme allegory of negative emotions during a divorce, as well as the protagonists' crushing depression and despair due to the world that is indifferent to life, indifferent to evil that takes on many shapes and sizes throughout history. Anna even says: "Maybe goodness is just some kind of reflection upon evil". This is indeed a tricky film, featuring a demented tone that can go either way: it is not hard to figure out why some of Zulawski's later films collapsed due to it, yet here, they somehow manage to align into a functional whole.

Grade;+++

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Cool Runnings

Cool Runnings; comedy, USA, 1993; D: Jon Turteltaub, S: Leon Robinson, Doug E. Doug, Rawle D. Lewis, Malik Yoba, John Candy

Jamaica, '88. Derice wanted to qualify for a sprinter in order to represent his country at the Winter Olympics, but tripped and thus lost his opportunity. However, not wanting to give up, he manages to persuade a disgraced and exiled American there, coach Irv, who was previously awarded a golden medal, to train him as a bobsledder. The idea is ridiculed by everyone, yet Derice teams up with Sanka, Bevil and a man called Yul Brynner to form a first Jamaican bobsled team. In Calgary, they are shocked by the cold temperatures, yet manage to qualify, despite numerous obstacles. In the final round, their bob tips and crashes - yet they stand up and still lift it to finish the race, gaining respect for their spirit.

Loosely based on the true story of the first Jamaican bobsled team on the Winter Olympics, "Cool Runnings" still holds up today thanks to its honest ode to sincere outsiders whose sheer positive attitude and energy gets them into a state where they can never lose, regardless of the outcome. The simple story has been enriched thanks to playful editing (the comic dissolve from a tropic palm on the Jamaican airport to a snow covered pine tree on Calgary airport sums up everything about the trip of the heroes), wonderful characters, joyful gags (the four guys lose control of their improvised sled downhill - until they are stopped by ramming a police vehicle), a fast pace and elegant storytelling, all adding up to a very pleasant sports comedy: this is one of the most uplifting movies of the 90s. It was one of the last movies starring John Candy before his too early death a year later, and gave him one of his best roles featuring him in his finest hour: his role of coach Irv is both funny and realistic, and even gives some pathos to the quest of the four bobsledders, culminating in one of the greatest quotes of all time, when he explains that a person can always be worth something regardless of winning: "Derice, a gold medal is a wonderful thing. But if you're not enough without one, you'll never be enough with one." Slightly idealised near the end, this is still a fine film that got a lot of ingredients just right, and thus still proves to be popular among the audience.

Grade;++

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Captain Mikula, the Kid

Kapetan Mikula Mali; war drama, Croatia, 1974; D: Obrad Gluščević, S: Tonči Vidan, Petar Prličko, Joško Pažanin

World War II. Due to Fascist offensives, Captain Mikula is often transporting civilian refugees to safe islands from Dalmatian coast in his ship. During one such trip, Mikula gets a secret assignment from a partisan to get in contact with an English parachuter who wants to get to the Vis island to get in touch with Tito. However, Mikula's grandchild, Mikula little, and two boys, his friends, secretly came along in his boat. When Mikula gets arrested by the Nazis, Mikula the Kid manages to get him released by tricking the Nazis into thinking he will tell them where the Englishman is. In a daring mission, Mikula the kid manages to detach a ship from the Nazi navy and return to the coast. Mikula the grandfather gets killed by the Nazis, but Mikula the kid and the two boys manage to transport civilians and the Englishman to the Vis island.

Even though it was one of the most popular partisan movies of its time, and spanned an eponymous TV show, "Captain Mikula, the Kid" did not age well by today's standards: it is a sympathetic little movie, yet overstretched itself way beyond its prime, featuring too much empty walk and lax tone that starts losing the viewers patience towards the second half. Director Obrad Gluscevic took up a bizarre decision to have a "kids war movie", which is an oddity, even featuring a scene where one of the kids holds a gun, yet, thankfully, refused to go overboard and to show children actually shooting and killing someone, which somewhat alleviates this controversial decision and keeps it in rather good taste. Still, "Captain" lacks highlights - the kids don't do anything except get in contact with the English parachuter and detach a boat from the enemy navy, which is too little the keep the viewers attention during the weaker parts which are basically just 'filler', and thus a little more ingenuity would have been welcomed. Still, it is an overall solid and easily watchable, unassuming film, managing to work as stable entertainment.

Grade;+