Sunday, October 30, 2016

High Sierra

High Sierra: crime drama, USA, 1941; D: Raoul Walsh, S: Humphrey Bogart, Ida Lupino, Alan Curtis

Roy Earle has just been granted early release from prison, after serving his sentence for robbery. However, he is forced to once again return to crime, when gangster Mac, sick and bedridden, orders him to drive to High Sierra to oversee inexperienced, young thieves Red and Babe in order to rob a hotel, collaborating with a hotel clerk, Louis. to do so. While planning the heist, Roy falls in love with Velma, a girl he met through her father, and finds a doctor who performs a surgery to heal her club foot. However, when Roy proposes Velma, she rejects him. He falls in love with Marie, babe's dance-hall girl. After the robbery, Red and Babe die in a car crash. Mac dies from his sickness. Now all alone, and searched by the police, Roy sends Marie and her dog to drive far away, while he hides in the Sierra mountains. He resists arrest, and is killed.

One of the early films featuring Humphrey Bogart in a leading role, this is a rather standard crime film that meanders through three different and incompatible subplots, and simply lacks highlights to compensate for these omissions, before "The Maltese Falcon" and "Casablanca" would put his place into his rightful stardom and catapult him into timelessness. Even though it stems from the "golden age of Hollywood", this film does not give director Raoul Walsh a chance to rise to the occasion, due to several lacking elements: one of them is the unnecessary subplot involving Roy visiting Velma, a girl with a club foot, a love story that leads to a dead end. The second love story, the one involving Marie, is done much better and works, though the cute scenes involving the dog tend to turn cheesy at times. The sole robbery is executed strangely - Roy and his two associates do not even bother to put a mask to hide their faces, whereas Roy even takes a cup of water from a waiter, leaving his fingerprints there (!) and making the police job so much easier - which seems to be either sloppily written or to show how the three criminals are sloppy themselves. The dialogues are good, yet unmemorable, lacking those inspired lines the viewers are used for that era which set the high standards, yet it is overall a proportionally well made heist film.

Grade;++

Friday, October 28, 2016

Flash Gordon: The Greatest Adventure of All

Flash Gordon: The Greatest Adventure of All; animated fantasy, USA, 1982; D: Gwen Wetzler, S: Robert Ridgely, Diane Pershing, Bob Holt, Ted Cassidy, Vic Perrin, Melendy Britt

World War II. Flash Gordon meets journalist Dale in a plane, and saves her by parachuting out when the plane crashes due to meteor bombardment. They land in the laboratory of Dr. Zarkov, who brings them into his spaceship that flies into space - to a nearby orange planet that showed up in Earth's orbit, Mongo. They land there and meet a lion-man, Thun. All are arrested by the forces of dictator Ming, who controls the plant towards Earth in order to conquer it, and he also gave part of his advanced weapons to his Earth ally, Hitler. Flash manages to persuade the three different kingdoms to unite against Ming. He stops the wedding and battles Ming, but the latter turns out to be just a robot - the real Ming escaped in the meantime. Flash destroys Ming's laboratory, which stops Mongo from colliding into Earth.

This animated feature length adaptation of the famous "Flash Gordon" comic-book is one of the darker and more violent achievements from the Filmation animation studios, yet despite a rather simplistic storyline and formulaic dialogues without much chance for the film making audacity to truly rise to the occasion, it is a better version of the comic-book than Hodges' '80 eponymous live action adaptation. There are several grim moments (the sequence where mole men are captured by the roots and drawn into the ground; the giant lizard attacking Dale as soon as Flash and his crew land on Mongo with the spaceship), some of which are even surprisingly surreal (the subplot where it is implied that Hitler is Ming's servant on Earth, using the advanced weapons to establish his alien tyranny on Earth), yet the movie has just enough flair to transgress this camp into a rather satisfying piece of entertainment in the form of a typical good vs. evil fashion. The most expressionistic moment is the finale where planet Mongo is threatening to collide with the Earth, with a aesthetic scene of Earth seen on Mongo's sky, which reminds of animated TV show "Queen Millennia" released just a year earlier.

Grade;++

Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Lizzie McGuire Movie

The Lizzie McGuire Movie; comedy, USA / Italy, 2003; D: Jim Fall, S: Hilary Duff, Adam Lamberg, Yani Gellman, Jake Thomas, Alex Borstein

Teenager Lizzie McGuire just graduated from high school, and her class embarks on a school trip to Rome, Italy, accompanied by principal Angela Ungermeyer. There, Lizzie is mistaken for Italian teen-star, Isabella, and is approached by Paolo who wants Lizzie to play Isabella for their singing duet. Lizzie's friend Gordo is suspicious of Paolo's intentions, meets the real Isabella and finds out Paolo just wants to frame Isabella by having the public think she is playback singing. It turns out that Paolo is actually singing on playback, and thus Isabella's honor is saved thanks to Lizzie. She later kisses Gordo.

Disney's feature length movie adaptation of the popular TV show "Lizzie McGuire" is a real synonym for a 'guilty pleasure' - it is sweet as candy and highly enjoyable, even though it should not be. A simple kid's story, more sympathetic than truly funny, abundantly borrows from "Roman Holiday", whereas it would be welcomed if it had more directorial sharpness and a more convincing ending. However, right at the start the opening sequence featuring the song "The Tide Is High (Get The Feeling)" by the Atomic Kitten is simply irresistible, all the actors are fantastic while the youthful spirit abounds throughout. The whole sequence in which Lizzie is driving on a moped with Paolo through the streets of Rome with the song "Volare" by Domenico Modugno and Franco Migliacci is the best moment of the entire film, a thoroughbred example of pure film candy, whereas equally good are the surreal "side-comments" by Lizzie in the form of a cartoon in several short scenes (when an Italian words goes through her ears, she says: "Don't speak to me in Italian! I love it!"). It's such a pity that Paolo was turned into a bad guy, instead of a legitimate love interest of Lizzie's, and that the last third of the story is all empty walk, without any more inspiration, which reduces the film's enjoyment value, whereas several fans complained that the movie strayed too far away from the narrative of the TV show, changing the location to Italy, with no links to the original setting of the characters, yet at least at one point of the story you will think - too bad some classics are not as fun as this.

Grade;++

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Lincoln

Lincoln; drama, USA, 2012; D: Steven Spielberg, S: Daniel Day-Lewis, David Strathairn, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, Jared Harris, James Spader, Hal Holbrook, Tim Blake Nelson, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jackie Earle Haley

In 1865, as the American civil war is looming its end, American president Abraham Lincoln is preparing for an even worse battle in the Congress, as he intends to propose the Thirteenth Amendment to end slavery for the African-Americans, which is mostly met with huge scepticism, and it is not sure if enough congressmen will vote for the bill to pass. Thanks to a lot of patience, lobbying, persuasion and the support of Republican Thaddeus Stevens, the bill is passed with a margin majority of two votes. Several months later, Lincoln is assassinated in the theatre.

One of Steven Spielberg's lesser films, "Lincoln" is a too didactic, schematic presentation of the efforts to pass the 13th Amendment which ended slavery in the US, suitable more as a history lesson than as an actual film. The dry topic is simply not that cinematic, since it is obvious that important social issues alone cannot compensate all the time for lack of inspiration. The critics rightfully praised the performance by Daniel Day-Lewis with universal acclaim - even though it was tempting, he never resorted to melodramatic overacting, and instead gave a restrained, subtle and stoic performance, which thus seems all the more genuine, humble and natural - yet even his great performance of a mediocre written role has limits, obvious in some overlong stories Lincoln uses to speak in the film, which are ponderous and burdensome. The schemes and ploys used to persuade congressmen do manage to liven up a bit thanks to a few refreshing moments with humor - such as Thaddeus addressing George as a "moral carcass", more "reptile than human", yet that even he is equal in front of the law - but with so much empty walk and endless, dry speeches, was it necessary to prolong the film to a running time of 150 minutes? It is a very tough task to sit through such a static film, indeed. A formally well meant, technically perfect, yet sterile biopic - a cinematic equivalent of a PowerPoint presentation in the form of a movie.

Grade;++

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Great Train Robbery

The Great Train Robbery; silent western short, USA, 1903; D: Edwin S. Porter, S: Alfred C. Abadie, Broncho Billy Anderson, Justus D. Barnes

A couple of bandits tie up an operator at the telegraph office and force him to send the message to a train to stop at a water tank. There, the criminals board the train, kill the crew and stop the waggon. All the passengers are then robbed before the bandits escape with their horses. However, the people start a search and manage to find and kill the criminals in the woods.

One of the first examples of the western genre, "The Great Train Robbery" is the movie equivalent of the cave paintings in Lascaux: it has more of a symbolic (historical) value than a modern one that still speaks to the audience of today. Just like most of films from the early era of cinema, "Robbery" also displays rudimentary film techniques which were not still developed at that time: it is directed in static wide shots, with no cross-cutting to elaborate the characters' reactions in typical shot-reverse shot fashion that is known today, yet it still made a shy progress on two fronts, by encouraging a "trust" in the viewers to "fill in the gaps" between two different scenes (when the dancing people are interrupted, it is obvious they are informed about the robbery, and it all fits), and for including a highly unusual meta-film touch in the final scene, where the bandit shoots six times into the camera, at the audience. Director Edwin S. Porter can thus be credited with allowing the movie to expand its narrative scope, albeit still in a very simplistic manner compared to today.

Grade;++

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Fist of Legend

Jing Wu Yingxiong; martial arts film, Hong Kong / China, 1994; D: Gordon Chan, S: Jet Li, Chin Siu-ho, Yasuaki Kurata, Shinobu Nakayama

World War II. Parts of China are being annexed by Tokyo because it wants to create Greater Japan. Chinese martial arts student Chen Zhen leaves Japan in order to return to mainland China to continue studying in a Chinese martial arts school, Jingwu, and discovers that his master was poisoned by someone. Chen suspects a rivalling Japanese martial arts school that cooperates with general Fujita in order to close down and erase all Chinese martial arts teachings. However, Chen is in love with Mitsuko, a Japanese girl, and is disappointed that his own people are expelling him because of his relationship. In a giant fist battle, Chen manages to beat Fujita. He also kills Fujita in order to stop him from killing him. A Japanese ambassador manages to fake Chen's death to appease the Japanese army, while Chen escapes.

After "Once Upon a Time in China" film trilogy, "Fist of Legend" definitely consolidated Jet Li as a new star of martial arts on the film stage: his moves, speed and kicks are done with a lot of awe, even when they are slightly exaggerated and stray into "showing off", such as in the scene where the hero Chen is doing push-ups with one hand or breaking a stone with his hand. A loose remake of "Fist of Fury", director Gordon Chan uses the history backdrop as means of headlining the conflict between the Chinese and Japanese martial arts schools, with a few great fight sequences that are worthy of the original (in one scene, Chen stops his fist right in front of a rival's face), yet the story is still slightly flat and chaotic, where all the supporting characters are poorly developed - except maybe for Chen's love, Japanese girl Mitsuko, who loves him despite their different nationalities, which redeems her nation, and which somewhat alleviates some criticism that the Japanese side is presented exclusively negative. Unlike J. Chan, whose battles are choreographed as meticulous as a good ballet, and are thus highly stylistic and clean, Li's battles are more 'down-to-earth', unglamourous and gritty, with several brutal moments, equipped with blood and broken legs. "Fist of Legend" does not ever try overreach its simplistic ambition, and thus works fine as an exciting martial arts film with very good battles.

Grade;++

Friday, October 21, 2016

Inside Out

Inside Out; CGI animated fantasy comedy, USA, 2015; D: Pete Docter, S: Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Lewis Back, Bill Hader, Richard Kind, Mindy Kaling, Diane Lane, Kyle MacLachlan

Five different emotions - Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, Anger - often clash while trying to find some common ground in the mind and life of a 12-year old girl, Riley. When her parents move from Minnesota to San Francisco, Riley has trouble adjusting to her new environment and school. Due to a mistake, Joy and Sadness are ejected from her mind centre and land outside, in the subconscious, which causes imbalance in her behavior, since she can now only feel anger, disgust and fear. Joy and Sadness encounter Bing Bong, Riley's imaginary childhood friend in the form of a pink elephant, and manage to find their way back to the centre, thereby stopping Riley from fleeing to Minnesota and returning home.

"Inside Out" is a movie that enchants you so much in its first 30 minutes that you wish you could love it more than it actually deserves compared to its disappointing last 60 minutes. A blend of "The Numskulls" and "Osmosis Jones", "Inside Out" features a shrill concept of five different emotions clashing with each other while trying to shape the mind - and behavior - inside the head of a 12-year old girl, Riley, and in the opening act, it features a few wildly creative moments, especially refreshing in the irresistibly optimistic (humanoid) emotion of Joy, voiced brilliantly by Amy Poehler. Unfortunately, the problem with the movie is that it simply 'gives up' from this concept after the first 30 minutes, and then strays off into a subplot where Joy and Sadness are accidentally catapulted out of the mind centre, land in the subconscious area and thus have to find their way back to the centre. If you hoped that this "coming back subplot" will not be the whole rest of the film, you are wrong - "Inside Out" spends basically the whole rest of the film just on Joy and Sadness wandering through obscure places in the subconscious, stumbling upon vague, pointless encounters (a pink elephant which is Riley's imaginary friend; a dumpster for forgotten memories; a giant clown...) which is basically just a camouflage for the fact that the writers didn't know where to go with this story, and thus resorted to 'filler' in the form of the abstract.

There is only one inspired moment that justifies this long absence of Joy and Sadness, and that is when the remaining three emotions panic and Disgust pushes Fear to the control panel and says: "There! You be Joy now!" Unfortunately, the rest is just one empty walk to stretch the story into a feature film. Likewise, the finale is highly contrived, trying to impose the notion that *all* emotions are necessary for a human mind, when Sadness proves that she is useful, too. However, they never justified her usefulness. Wouldn't a person without sadness actually be better off? And without anger as well? Wouldn't a life with constant happiness be better? This is where they goofed: had they made Sadness into a different emotion, Love, then it would have all made sense. Not this, though. Near the end, Riley encounters a boy who has a crush on her, but is in fear of telling her. She also fleetingly meets a teenage girl who pretends to be hip, to hide her insecurities. Somehow it is difficult to shake off the impression that these two subplots would have been far more interesting - and cohesive - to develop than just Joy and Sadness 'hopscotch' through the ludicrous realm. Overall, more of a standard amusing film than a one that gives a true insight into the human spirit.

Grade;++

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Hot Pursuit

Hot Pursuit; comedy, USA, 2015; D: Anne Fletcher, S: Reese Witherspoon, Sofia Vergara, Robert Kazinsky

Cooper is an over-the-top ambitious, tomboyish police officer in Texas. She gets a new assignment: to pick up Felipe Riva, and his wife, Daniella, to escort them to a secret testimony against criminal Cortez, and then enlist them to the witness protection programme. However, masked assassins kill Felipe in his home, and thus Cooper and Daniella have to flee in car, since several corrupt police officers work for Cortez and want to shoot them before testimony. After a lot of adventures, Daniella tries to shoot Cortez herself on a party, and in the chaos Cooper shoots Cortez in self-defence.

"Hot Pursuit" is a perfect example of a completely average film, on all fronts. Nothing in it stands out, except maybe the good looks of Sofia Vergara, yet that is irrelevant for the storyline in question, anyway. The action chase comedy subgenre, where two unlikely people have to cooperate in order to travel to a certain place in time, often risking their lives, was done a number of times, and one of the greatest examples, "Midnight Run", simply makes "Hot Pursuit" seem pale in comparison. This film unravels as if the authors made all the events up right on the spot, without any prior inspiration or a point, leaving the impression that any 12-year old could have written this silly, flat story. There is only one inspired joke in the entire film, and it involves a running gag of the news reporting the two runaways, Cooper and Daniella, uglier and uglier in each report, the longer this pursuit is taking, as if taking revenge against them - at first, they report that the authorities are looking for a "5'1 tall police officer accompanied by a 40-year old Latin-American woman", just to in the end report that they are searching for a "4'9 tall police officer and a 50-year old Latin-American woman". Naturally, that one good gag is too little to salvage it. Ironically, the outtakes during closing credits are funnier than anything in the whole film before that. "Hot Pursuit" is a movie equivalent of a glass of water - it is so ordinary, you don't remember it in a few days at all.

Grade;+

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Superman 2: The Richard Donner Cut

Superman 2: The Richard Donner Cut; fantasy, USA / UK, 1980 / 2006; D: Richard Donner, S: Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Terence Stamp, Gene Hackman, Sarah Douglas, Jackie Cooper

When Lois Lane discovers his true identity, Superman decides to relinquish his superpowers and become an ordinary human. However, he did that is a bad timing, since just then three super villains from Krypton - Zod, Ursa and Non - arrive in America and decide to take over the world. Gaining back his powers, Superman battles and defeats the villains.

There is little doubt that "Superman II" is an apex of comic-book adaptations and the best live action film featuring the eponymous iconic superhero, yet the question remains: which version? Namely, due to certain disagreements with Salkind producers, the original director of the 1st film, Richard Donner, was replaced with Richard Lester, who completed the film. 26 years after the premiere, Donner managed to reassemble his director's cut from scratch, which shed new perspective on "Superman II": for one, it seems that it wasn't Lester who diverted the storyline towards more comedy, but Donner himself, since there are several fresh and lively comic moments here. For other, just as Zod asks Luthor "Why would we need you? We already have what we want", so does the viewers pose the question: was it necessary to bring Lester into the project when Donner already completed 80% of the film?

This edition shows a film that is practically the same as the 1980 edition, except for a few staggering differences. Among others, Donner's cut shines thanks to the appearance of Marlon Brando: the scene where he puts his arm on Superman's shoulders and brings his powers back is simply pure magic. The pace also seems to be slower, as Donner allows the editing to take more time to linger. However, his edition has two serious flaws in common sense: the first one is when Lois jumps out of the window of the Daily Planet, trying to lure Clark into revealing his identity as Superman and save her. However, Clark runs off superfast to the street, and uses his laser beam - in public - to open a roof on a building, which softens her fall. That nobody would notice a man in suit using laser beams, at broad daylight, in the middle of the rush hour in town, is just plain ridiculous. Lester's cut handled this situation with far more sense, without trampling on common sense and basic logic of the viewers. The other is the ending: here, Superman again uses his flying around Earth to cause the time to go backwards, and thus travels back in time, before Lois discovered his identity. However, this way, the villains are also revived and could again free themselves and attack Earth, whereas the sequence where Clark goes to "settle the score" with the trucker in the snack bar is a jarring continuity error: since the trucker never assaulted him and Lois now that Superman travelled back in time, it seems as if Clark beats up the trucker without any real reason, which makes no sense. Donner was there first - but Lester just gave a tiny bit more logic to the storyline, and his version is thus just a little bit better, among others thanks to more funny scenes, whose lack here is sensed.

Grade;+++

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Knack ...and How to Get It

The Knack... and How to Get It; comedy, UK, 1965; D: Richard Lester, S: Michael Crawford, Ray Brooks, Rita Cushingham, Donal Donnelly

London. Schoolteacher Colin is annoyed that his friend, Tolen, gets to sleep with so many girls, while he is always single. Colin thus asks Tolen to help him out find a girl, but Tolen agrees only on the condition that Colin rents his house for him and his friend, Tom, so that they could bring girls there. One day, a young girl, Nancy, arrives to London in search for the catholic school for girls, but Tolen quickly starts hitting on her and brings her out with his motorcycle to show her the city, while Colin and Tom run after him, fearing he will break Nancy's heart. In the park, Nancy teaches Tolen a lesson by shouting "rape", which causes him to panic. They all return to the house, while Colin and Nancy fall in love.

One of the first British films that spoke up about the life of the 'swinging sixties' as well as the increasing sexual revolution of that time, albeit in a very conservative manner (not a single intercourse scene is shown), "The Knack... and How to Get It" still seems equally as a quirky and witty today as it was back then, and even more harmless and benign than some remembered it. 'Sandwiched' between two films he directed with the Beatles, "A Hard Day's Night" and "Help!", director Richard Lester crafts "Knack" in very similar stylistic mode, playing with jump cuts, cinematic techniques (reverse flow of time in some shots) and spontaneous movements and gestures of the characters, reflecting their 'youth spirit', to such an extent that one could easily imagine Lennon, Harrison or Ringo playing the roles of the wacky three heroes, whereas all three films show a unique movement for the British cinema - they are all a comedy version of the French New Wave movement that was big during that time. The sequence where the heroes are pushing their bed on wheels through the streets of London, even stopping during a traffic jam, is a surreal sight, whereas the best joke is the sequence where Nancy decides to teach Tolen a lesson in the park, and thus - even though he didn't even touch her - shouts "Rape!", which causes a quietly hilarious series of jump cuts that show Tolen, Colin and Tom being further and further away in each of the three cuts, almost like a cartoon "backing off". Unfortunately, "Knack" looks a lot like "Six styles in search for a story": it is very chaotic, disorganized, without a plot or a conclusion, with episodic gags unraveling in a manner that the movie could theoretically end at any moment, anyway. A small gem here is Rita Cushingham as Nancy, who probably gave the role of a lifetime thanks to her irresistible charm and allure.

Grade;++

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Police Story 2

Police Story 2; action, Hong Kong / China, 1988; D: Jackie Chan, S: Jackie Chan, Maggie Cheung, Bill Tung, Lam Kwok-Hung, Charlie Cho

After the last adventure, Hong Kong Inspector Kevin Chan is punished by being demoted to a patrol officer for causing massive property damage. When gangster John Ko wants to take revenge on Kevin by threatening his girlfriend May, Kevin beats him up, for which he resigns from the police. However, a new threat overshadows this incident, and thus the police bring back Kevin for the job: an anonymous criminal ring blows up a shopping mall, and threatens to place further bombs if the owner, Fung, doesn't pay them 20 million $. The gangsters kidnap May and strap a bomb on Kevin in order to force him to get the money from the company. However, Kevin manages to free himself from the bomb in a tunnel, goes back to the store, frees May and beats up the criminals.

Released three years after the incredible success of "Police Story", this sequel offers equally as much as the original, and maybe even tops it on the field of humor since it included a few deliciously comical moments involving May (excellent Maggie Cheung). As with most movies of Jackie Chan, "Police Story 2" has the same formula: underwhelming storyline and dialogues, which are then compensated thanks to overwhelming battle stunts and action choreography, some of which are again executed with bravura. The sole storyline where some criminals are blackmailing managers with bombs if they don't get ransom money is nothing new, yet Chan manages to make the story seem engaging and to flow it smoothly, giving just enough to please the genre fans. The finale is arguably not as grand as the finale in the 1st film, yet all action sequences are simply great, anyway, showing Chan in often "impossible" stunts. However, luckily, the character of May manages to almost steal the show with her antics: one of the funniest sequences is the one where the angry May is screaming at Kevin, following him as he retreats into the police station, taking no consideration that they have entered the shower room where several naked officers are startled with her entrance into the room, all culminating in the moment where Kevin locks himself in the toilet - while May breaks the door of the toilet to the left, interrupting on a man sitting on the toilet seat, and climbs up to taunt Kevin from above. Another great moment is when three women police officers beat up a suspect in the interrogation room, playing "good cop-bad cop" to the extreme, much to Kevin's shock of their "feminine power". A few heavy handed or clumsy ideas bother (the villain is a deaf-mute person), yet overall this sequel rises to the occasion to deliver another quality film from Hong Kong cinema.

Grade;+++

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Ida

Ida; drama, Poland / Denmark / France / UK, 2013; D: Paweł Pawlikowski, S: Agata Trzebuchowska, Agata Kulesza, Joanna Kulig

Poland after World War II. In a convent, Catholic nun Anna is ordered to find her aunt Wanda by her superior. Anna obliges and meets Wanda, who tells her the secret: Anna's real name is Ida, and she is Jewish, her parents being killed during the Totalitarian regime of the Nazis. Anna and Wanda go on a journey to find the grave of Anna's parents. They finally meet Feliks, who admits that he took over the home of Anna's parents during WWII, and killed them, together with Wanda's son, but left Anna for adoption in the convent. He shows them the grave in the forest. Later, Wanda commits suicide by jumping through the window. Anna tries out alcohol, night life and sex, and later on returns dressed as a nun.

Pawel Pawlikowski's 4th feature length film, "Ida" is an ambitious, minimalistic little film about the search for one's own identity and place in the world. Pawlikowski has a fine sense for captivating camera angles, compact storytelling, whereas the mood of old times of the 60s was nicely conjured up thanks to the aesthetic black and white cinematography. However, that cannot camouflage the notion that "Ida" is more suitable as a short film, since its running time of 78 minutes - although condensed - still seems to suffer from scenes of empty walk and overstretched tangles which do no contribute that much to the overall simple storyline. The author reduces the film to its bare bones, to its essence, but some of the elements could have benefited from more ingenuity and "color". For instance, Agata Trzebuchowska plays the nun heroine with a few energetic moves and gestures, and this could have been more exploited by having her do something more alive, more humorous, to truly come across as a real character. Some of that is found near the end, when she tries out alcohol and hanging around in night clubs, yet only in traces. Overall, "Ida" is a quality film, yet suffers from over-relying on social issues (the consequences of the Holocaust) instead of taking more care of the movie language and style, in order to offer a broader spectrum of a viewing experience, more than just a typical European art-drama.

Grade;++

Fantastic Four

Fantastic Four; fantasy, USA, 2015; D: Josh Trank, S: Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell, Toby Kebbell

When youngsters Reed and Ben manage to assemble a teleportation device, they are given a scholarship by Mr. Storm to research in his Baxter Foundation institute. Together with Sue and Johnny, they manage to create a stable teleportation device. One night, Reed, Johnny, Ben and Victor secretly use it to teleport themselves into another dimension to investigate it. However, Victor is captured by an unknown green matter, and fails to return back to Earth. The rest, together with Sue, transform and gain superpowers: Ben becomes a rocky humanoid, Sue can become invisible, Johnny can turn into fire and Reed into super elastic body. A year later, Victor returns and decides to destroy Earth because he was left in that dimension. However, the Fantastic Four stop him.

The third movie reboot attempt of the "Fantastic Four" was met with surprisingly uncalled for and exaggerated negative response - among others, it has an average rating of only 3.4/10 on Rotten Tometoes - even though it is a perfectly solid superhero film, not much different than the rest of the films of that subgenre released at that time. Director Josh Trank tried out a different approach, transforming it into a dark drama that focused more on psychological states of the characters, and thus some fans felt cheated - after all, the storyline gave them only one action sequence, set in the finale - yet Nolan did the same thing with "Batman Begins", and thus such a disproportionate reaction of the critics is baffling. Trank didn't do much wrong - the only misguided moment is when Doom uses his powers to cause the government agent's head to explode in his suit - yet he didn't do that much right, either, and that is the "Fantastic Four's" weak link: it simply lacks highlights. The whole movie takes 30 minutes until its storyline finally sets in, and that bland intro is not compensated by some especially fun, memorable or genius scenes later on. The characters and the storyline are insipid, uninspired, sterile and standard, without that much ingenuity or humor to 'twitch' them from that grey existence. What could be said of Sue except that she is from Kosovo? What could be said of Reed or any of his nonexistent personality? One of the few exceptions is the comical race sequence near the start (after the signal, the three cars start driving full speed - except Johnny's which suddenly breaks and stops already at the start), yet those are just small crumbs of delight. Unfortunately, the studio re-edited the film before the premiere, which can be sensed in the abrupt time ellipse half way into the film - how much of the original vision was lost by that move, remains unknown, yet it damaged the film considerably.

Grade;+

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Thing

The Thing; horror, USA / Canada, 2011; D: Matthijs van Heijningen Jr., S: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Joel Edgerton, Ulrich Thomson

A Norwegian research base discovers a frozen UFO beneath the ice sheet on Antarctica, and thus American paleontologist Kate and Adam are secretly summoned to help investigate the place, under the supervision of Dr. Sander. They discover an alien in ice and bring it to their base for studying, yet it frees itself and reveals to be an Arthropod-like creature that attacks and kills one crew member. The others react and kill it with a flamethrower in the exterior. However, upon microscoping the dead alien tissue, Kate discovers it is still active - and able to perfectly mimic and copy the cells it absorbs. One by one, the crew members are killed by the alien, and Kate is unsure who of the crew members might be the thing in disguise. In a showdown in the UFO, Kate manages to kill the alien with a bomb. She also toches Carter, suspecting he is the alien, as well.

Almost three decades after the premiere of arguably the scariest horror movie of the 80s, Carpenter's "The Thing", Dutch director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. delivered a worthy prequel with his eponymous film that offers enough surprises and strength to flatter the original. One of the improvements is the fact that the authors listened to the complaints aimed at the original, which had no female characters, and thus here gave the leading role to a heroine, Kate (very good Mary Elizabeth Winstead), which gave more color to the cast. The rest stays faithful to the original: it is a 'minimalistic thriller' set in only one location, highlighting the icy landscapes of Antarctica as an allegory for the deprivation of humanity when the heroes are being chased by a shape shifting alien, an evil without a face or form, which some have interpreted as a manifestation of the subconscious evil that stems from the human soul (nationalism, irredentism, greed...). However, some inconsistencies that plagued the 1st film, seem hard to shake off here as well: if the alien perfectly "takes over" and mimics a human, could that character even know he was "taken over"? And if it copies his or her emotions and intellect, does that influence the alien's consciousness as well? Does the alien feel the same feelings of the host? Also, why didn't the alien simply "absorb" one human character quietly, and refuse to transform into a monster so that nobody could know? All these questions are left rather vague and confusing, yet the movie works, regardless. One of the most unbelievable moments are again those involving the shape shifting formations of the alien - in one sequence, one character brings a wounded man inside the pool room, but his hand "comes off" and grabs his shoulder with his tentacles, revealing to be a part of the invasive alien organism - which hint at why the people still talk about "The Thing" today: unlike many other Sci-Fi films, where aliens are always presented humanoid, this one is truly "alien" and foreign to us, with a biology and anatomy completely contrary to any known organism on Earth.

Grade;++ 

Monday, October 10, 2016

The Wolf of Wall Street

The Wolf of Wall Street; drama, USA, 2013; D: Martin Scorsese, S: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Kyle Chandler, Jon Bernthal, Rob Reiner, Jon Favreau, Jean Dujardin, Joanna Lumley, Matthew McConaughey, Katarina Čas

A chronicle of life of Jordan Belfort. In '87, Jordan gets a job as a stockbroker on Wall Street, falling under the influence of Mark who tells him his job is to exploit the greed of buyers and persuade them to buy as many stocks as possible, and never sell them. However, the Black Monday crash leaves Jordan unepmoyed. He finds a job as a stockbroker on Long Island selling worthless "penny stocks" to middle class. However, he decides to sell to the upper class, founds his own company, "Stratton Oakmont" and uses a "pump and dump" scheme to get rich selling stocks. His partner becomes Donnie, while he marries blond Naomi. Jordan is investigated by the FBI for possible fraud, and thus deposits his money in a Swiss bank. He becomes a greedy slob, wasting money on drugs. He is finally arrested by the FBI, pleads guilty in '99 for stock market manipulation, snitches his co-workers and is sentenced to 3 years.

Martin Scorsese's 23rd feature length film, "The Wolf of Wall Street" is one of several films that tackled the topic of finances and the stock market in the early 21st century, offering once again the master director's energetic, dazzling, risky style, yet a one that seems to have become slightly routine and predictable by this time. Basically, "The Wolf of Wall Street" is Scorsese's "Goodfellas" set in the financial world, and the storyline seems to follow the "rise-and-fall-and regret" scheme of the '90 film too closely - just like Henry Hill narrates his own life, from his first entry into the shady business, through the decadence of his business partners, up to his decision to cooperate with the authorities to catch the mafia, so does Jordan Belfort parallel the same old scheme with his life, and this seems like a rehash of old stereotypes, with only a few new ingredients in the recipe. Still, the first third of the film is excellent, a highly electrifying experience that shows Scorsese's morality play that arrives only after a very long period of darkness: take for instance the sequence where Jordan is asking Naomi to marry him - he is not proposing, he is basically buying her. The fact that he dumped his wife for her, a supermodel, and she dumped her boyfriend just to be with a rich 'sugar daddy', already undermines their misguided relationship without any true heart or love. Another good example is the sequence that shows how all of Jordan's employees are selling stocks over the phone to clients according to the same script, even turning pages away, while the camera cuts to another employee to finish the previous one's sentence. For Scorsese, these people became some sort of "financial Goreshists": they have too much money, and yet they want even more, which leads to endless arrogance and egoism, until this world collapses from gluttony, decadence and greed. He of course showed a lot of sequences involving drugs and sex, to demonstrate the appeal of the life of the anti-hero. The sequence where Jordan is drugged and has to crawl to his car and to his home because he is almost immobilised from the substance, is a little bit too much, though, and tells its message in a too explicit, uneven manner. A good, though overlong film that tends to repeat itself in the last third.

Grade;++

Rio Lobo

Rio Lobo; western, USA, 1970; D: Howard Hawks, S: John Wayne, Jorge Rivero, Jennifer O'Neill, Christopher Mitchum

American Civil War. A gang of Confederate soldiers steals gold from a train robbery, yet Union Colonel McNally manages to capture two of them: Pierre and Tuscarora. He is very eager to find out the name of the traitor from his ranks who sold them the information about the train. McNally meets a woman, Shasta, who wants to report a murder of her friend in Rio Lobo. McNally, Pierre and Shasta travel to Rio Lobo, and find out the town became a criminal center, where Ketcham installed a corrupt Sheriff, Hendricks, and both use the same method: ransom. With it, they bully people into selling them land cheaply. When Tuscarora is falsly arrested, Hendricks wants to ransom Tuscarora's father, Phillips, into selling him the land for a quarter of the price. McNally captures Ketcham and wants to exchange him for Tuscarora. In a shootout, Ketcham, Hendricks and their gang are killed.

Howard Hawks' last film, "Rio Lobo" is a decent, easily watchable, yet overall pale western that offers only small crumbs of pleasure from the master director. The western genre, once at its height in the 40s, 50s and 60s in the 20th century, suddenly started to lose its energy in the 70s, as if both the audience lost interest in it - and the authors their inspiration for making them, evident also in this film. One of the main problems is a very chaotic story that takes on too long to get to a convoluted setting where John Wayne's McNally gets into the confrontation with the bad guy: the first half an hour, involving a train robbery, seem unnecessary and too schematic, and should have been simply cut. "Rio Lobo" does improve halfway, though, once when the character of Shasta shows up, offering a few good examples of comical dialogues of Hawks-ian calibre (Shasta mentions how she worked in a Saloon, where men would "never stop looking at her". When Pierre is subtly hitting on her, she suddenly kisses him. Surprised, he asks why she did that, and she says: "I know men. This is how it stops". In another golden moment, Pierre mentions how he is "half French, half Mexican", upon which McNally cannot resist but to ask: "So, which half was kneeling and which half was kissing her hand?"). Unfortunately, the majority of the film is highly erratic, with too many characters and a poorly established villain who rarely even appears in the film, making his presence rather meagre, whereas the good old mood of outsiders teaming up to fight against a villain in a siege was presented better in Hawk's previous instalments, "Rio Bravo" and "El Dorado". A solid film, yet it simply lacks highlights.

Grade;+

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Life and Passion of Jesus Christ

La vie et la passion de Jesus Christ; silent drama short, France, 1903; D: Lucien Nongouet, Ferdinand Zecca, S: Madame Moreau, Monsieur Moreau

A chronology of the life of Jesus Christ, according to the Bible. His birth is announced by an angel to Mary, who flees with Joseph to escape the murder from Herod. As a grown up, Jesus returns to Nazareth and starts preaching his teachings about love and God. He performs miracles, such as walking on water, healing the sick and reviving Lazarus from the dead. He is arrested by the Roman guards and sentenced to death on the cross. However, he is resurrected and appears before his followers.

One of the first film adaptations of the life of Jesus Christ, "Life and Passion of the Christ" is an early example of cinema and should, congruently, be treated as such: it demonstrated rudimentary filmmaking, in a time when people where still unsure how to approach a film, when no rules were yet written - events are shot in one long, static take in wide angle, with no inter-titles for text-dialogue, and almost no inter-cutting to elaborate a sequence or to allow for close ups, ultimately making several episodes from Christ's life mundane and dry. Still, it has some enthusiastic charm, and some moments involving miracles are aesthetically pleasant or stylistically interesting (such as Jesus's configuration on the hill, achieved through a strong white illumination of his robe, or his ascension in front of his followers, with a stylistic "cloud circle" and yellow "rays" around him), which somewhat helps alleviate the dated feel of the film in the second, better half. As with most films from that time, there are no opening nor closing credits, whereas it was one of the groundbreaking films from that era thanks to its running time of 44 minutes, showing how the audience doesn't have only patience for short films.

Grade;++

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Gulliver's Travels Among the Lilliputians and the Giants

Le Voyage de Gulliver à Lilliput et chez les Géants; silent fantasy short, France, 1902; D: Georges Méliès, S: Georges Méliès

Gulliver finds himself in the land of Lilliput, where the people are all dwarves. He is at first tied with a rope, but then released and given a lunch at a table, He uses water to extinguish a fire on one of the houses. He then finds himself in the land of giants, where this time he is a dwarf compared to them.

"Gulliver's Travels" is another among the pleanty playful short films by French veteran of the early cinema, Georges Melies: its running time is only about 4 minutes, and it consists out of only five cuts. Seeing these dazzling tricks and special effects - used to conjure up an illusion of small people compared to Gulliver - in a time when they were not even properly defined during the early days of cinema, is remarkable and charming, demonstrating once again Melies' level of ingenuity as an illusionist, yet also once again his inadequacy in the narrative, obvious in the random (and erratic) shifts between the scenes, where it seems as if the connecting part between them - to show how Gulliver came from point A to point D - was lost.

Grade;++

The Golden Child

The Golden Child; fantasy action comedy, USA, 1986; D: Michael Ritchie, S: Eddie Murphy, Charlotte Lewis, J. L. Reate, Charles Dance

Los Angeles. Chandler Jarrell is a detective specialized in finding missing children. He gets a new assignment from a woman, a certain Kee Nang, who insists he is the "chosen one" and must save the golden child from the evil forces or else the world will be doomed. Reluctantly, Jarrell flies with Nang to Tibet to go through a dangerous ceremony and obtain a magic dagger. Back in the US, the dagger is stolen by Numspa, who wants to use it to kill the golden child whom he holds in captivity. Jarrell manages to free the golden child and defeat Numspa, who transformed into a winged demon.

It is unknown how much of Dennis Feldman's original script, "The Rose of Tibet", was changed when director Michael Ritchie took over and transformed it into a comedy, yet it certainly seems that such an approach drowned a large part of its poetry. Finally titled as "The Golden Child", the ultimate film pleased very few, since it is a patchwork of several strange, exotic and often incompatible directions and styles that clash with each other. It starts off nicely, with a mysterious kidnapping of the golden child in the mountains by unknown villains, but then "crash lands" by switching to the L.A. segment, which offers very little jokes that truly ignite. The most was achieved out of comedian Eddie Murphy, who manages to salvage some of the scenes thanks to his improvisational dialogues (one of the best ones is when he is passing through a corridor in the Tibet temple, spoofing the words of the wise man: "Only a man whose heart is pure can wield the knife, and only a man whose ass is narrow can get down these steps. And if mine's is such an ass, then I shall have it!"), though even he cannot correct all the bizarre, confusing elements in the film alone.

There are a few good moments here - the one minute scene where the walls collapse behind villain Numspa, and he is transported into the demon underworld, while the camera slowly zooms out, all in one take, is almost brilliant - but the finale is one of the most terrible examples of confused crafting of the 80s. For instance, Numspa is about to aim with his crossbow at Jarrell, and Nang does a long saldo to go all the way to Jarrell and save him by taking the arrow herself. Why didn't she simply run towards him? It would certainly be faster than doing a slow saldo all the way up to him. Why didn't she simply push Numspa away since she passed him? Why didn't Jarrell go after Numspa after that, since the villain just simply slowly walked away after that? And why didn't Numspa fire another round to hit Jarrell this time? The same goes for the finale: Numspa transforms into a winged demon and chases after Jarrell and the child in the car, until he stops their vehicle by crashing an utility pole and blocking the road. Jarrell and the child run by foot into a deserted tower of some sorts, battle the demon there - and then just return to the car, drive around the pole and continue!? Why didn't they drive around the pole in the first place? It is not a good sign when a movie has such an elision of common sense, which contaminates the entire storyline.

Grade;+

Monday, October 3, 2016

Stir Crazy

Stir Crazy; comedy, USA, 1980; D: Sidney Poitier, S: Gene Wilder, Richard Pryor, Georg Stanford Brown, JoBeth Williams

In order to escape from the cold, wintery New York, and largely unhappy with their lives, writer Harry and actor Skip decide to go south. They settle temporary in a small town and take jobs as birds dancing to promote a bank. However, two robbers take on their costumes and robb the bank - subsuequently, Skip and Harry are the prime suspects and are sentenced to jail. However, Skip is chosen by the Warden to participate in the upcoming rodeo competition, where inmates from two prisons compete in ridding a bull, and uses that to escape with Harry and a couple of other inmates. Skip and Harry meet up with their lawyer Meredith, who informs them that the real robbers were apprehended, and that they are free anyway.

Even though their pairing was very popular, all of the four Gene Wilder-Richard Pryor films were weak and overhyped, the reason for that lying in forced humor that too often appealed only to the cheapest taste of the audiences. Their 2nd film, published four years after "The Silver Streak", "Stir Crazy" is by far their most commercial undertaking - it was the 3rd highest grossing film at the US box office that year, grossing over a 100 million $, thereby acquiring 35% of the success of "The Empire Strikes Back", for comparison - yet the reason for such a popularity is rather surprising, and seems more like an accident than a result of some especially funny jokes. It is surprising that "Stir Crazy" was directed by an artist with class and respect, Sidney Poitier, since the movie in question has no class, taste or respect for itself: all of the jokes seem random, thin, improvised on the spot, instead of being prepared or written with inspiration beforehand. One spasmodic joke at the beginning illustrates that low level (Skip wants to make up two people fighting in a bar, and thinks his nice words are working, not realising one guy is nice only because the other one is holding his testicles with pincers) - the viewers hope that the film will offer some better jokes once Wilder and Pryor land in prison, yet its level pretty much stays the same throughout and never truly improves or ignites. Lame, contrived gags are spread throughout the prison segment (Skip panicking when being sent to the cell; Skip pretending to be talking to his mother's ghost in front of the Warden...) and their "punchline rate" is rather low, ultimately leaving an easily watchable, though forgettable spectrum of the movie experience.

Grade;+

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Farewell, My Lovely

Farewell, My Lovely; crime drama, USA, 1975; D: Dick Richards, S: Robert Mitchum, Jack O'Halloran, John Ireland, Charlotte Rampling, Anthony Zerbe, Harry Dean Stanton, Sylvia Miles

Los Angeles. Private detective Philip Marlowe is hired by the giant Moose, an ex-convict, to find his girlfriend Velma from whom he hasn't heard from for seven years. He also gets another assignment from Marriott, who wants him to deliver ransom money in exchange for his stolen necklace. When Marriott gets killed during the exchange, Marlowe becomes the main suspect. He is also shot at several times, and suspects it is a warning to stop investigating. Marlowe finds out that Velma lives a luxurious life under the name of Helen, married a judge and is the owner of the necklace. She betrayed Moose a long time ago in exchange for a large reward, and now cooperates with gangster Brunette. In a yacht, Velma shoots Moose, while Marlowe shoots her and contacts the police.

The third film adaptation of Raymond Chandler's detective novel "Farewell, My Lovely", Dick Richards' 1975 film is a 'film noir light', without much sense for the genre's mood or style, offering the famous character of Philip Marlowe in a rather placid edition, though a strong connection to his golden movie phase achieved with "The Big Sleep" was established thanks to a sovereign, charismatic performance by the always competent Robert Mitchum, who reminded of the classic age of Hollywood. The story tends to overcomplicate, yet the main storyline is basically simple - a man, Moose, wants to find the woman he loves, but she doesn't want to be found because she betrayed him and never liked him in the first place - and thus dwells on several themes about the human relationships and money that causes them to feign something they are not. The film is heavy handed and 'rough' on several instances, rushing to the conclusion without much time to truly help those supporting characters shine, yet Marlowe is once again deliciously 'cool' and cynical at times: for instance, after a black man was murdered in a pub, Marlowe waits for Detective Nulty and the police to finally show up on the scene, and greets him with the following words: "35 minutes. That's not bad for a killing. Lucky it wasn't something serious." In another instance, he persuades Nulty to throw out his assistant from the office, commenting: "Don't steal the doorknobs!"

Grade;++

Saturday, October 1, 2016

The Search

The Search; war / drama, France / Georgia, 2014; D: Michel Hazanavicius, S: Abdul Khalim Mamutsiev, Bérénice Bejo, Maksim Emelyanov, Zukhra Duishvili, Annette Bening

In '99, war criminal Vladimir Putin orders the invasion of the newly independent Chechnya in order to create Greater Russia. Among the casualties is a Chechen married couple - witnessing their execution from the house, their child, the 10-year old Hadji, takes his baby brother and decides to flee into the unknown. He lands in a refugee centre in Ingushetia, where he is adopted by Carole, a French human rights worker for the EU. Hadji is at first mute from trauma, but finally manages to speak thanks to Carole's golden heart. He is reunited with his sister... A young Russian lad, Kolia, is drafted after being caught with drugs, and sent to the Russian army for a military drill. Finally, he is sent to Chechnya to the battlefront - and films how Hadji's family was shot.

For a contemporary and actual remake of Zinnemann's '48 Holocaust drama "The Search", director Michel Hazanavicius took on a "worthy" successor in his eponymous 2014 film, Goreshist Russia in the Second Chechen War. It is a refreshing and welcomed, rare topic that gives voice to the often ignored war: Chechens lost at least 8.5% of its entire population in both Chechen wars in the 90s and 00s, thereby proportionally suffering almost three time worse mortality rates than the Bosniaks during the Bosnian genocide, and the Chechen war marked Moscow's sixth genocide, making Kremlin the most genocidal regime in the last 300 years. "The Search" plays out as some sort of "Short Cuts" set in Chechnya, consisting out of two stories, yet they are uneven. The story that revolves around the military training of a young lad from Perm, Kolia, works as some sort of an "Come and See" in reverse, going full circle, thanks to gruesome, chilling details and effective scenes of the military drill: the most clever messages are hidden in small details, such as the older cadets bullying young cadets (during lunch, one of them pushes a lad's lunch plate to the the edge of the table) up to the colonel kicking a lying Kolia in his office with his shoes, while the camera switches to the photo of the Russian president of that time, slyly implying the inherent brute nature from top to bottom of the hierarchy, and the fermentation of a culture of hate in the army, necessary to sustain Goreshist territorial nationalism. Unfortunately, the story revolving around a homeless Chechen boy is a lot weaker: Hazanavicius does not rise to the occasion there, and instead just gives a standard, "bare" drama since the relationship between Hadji and the French woman, Carole, who adopted him, has no inspiration and thus feels like a 'stranded whale'. Their relationship is just there, without any sense for enchanting emotions, details or spark that would engage the viewers, resulting in a very flat, thin, didactic refugee storyline. "The Search" is thus an uneven combination of two stories, yet it is an ambitious and refreshingly honest, humane film that contemplates how kindness and humanity can heal many wounds - and how lack of it can cause them all.

Grade;++