Sunday, May 27, 2018

The Death of Mr. Lazarescu

Moartea domnului Lăzărescu; drama, Romania, 2005; D: Christi Puiu, S: Ioan Fiscuteanu, Luminița Gheorghiu, Doru Ana, Sterian Șerban

One Saturday evening, Dante Lazarescu (62) calls the ambulance because he is suffering both from a headache and stomach pain. While he waits for the ambulance, he calls his neighbors to ask if they have any painkillers. The ambulance finally arrives and the nurse, Mioara, directs Lazarescu to a nearby hospital, yet it is too crowded there due to a recent bus crash, so he is sent to another hospital. In the other hospital, the doctor suspects Lazaerscu has stomach cancer, but he sends him to a third hospital for a CT scan. After the scan, Lazarescu and Mioara have to go to a fourth hospital for a surgery of a hematoma, even though he has dysarthria and thus cannot clearly speak anymore.

One of the most significant movies from the Romanian New Wave, this dark and depressive drama explores the uncomfortable situation of helplessness and frustration of people who have to rely on the sad state of the public health care system in Eastern Europe where there are not enough doctors, nor funds, while the patients are treated as things, not as humans. Similarly like "Umberto D.", "The Death of Mr. Lazarescu" also shows old age as an ever sinking state with no way of saving, yet the director Christi Puiu did not conjure up that much ingenuity or sense for a richer spectrum of a viewing experience than just the one presented at face value: the film is too simplistic and banal in its structure, with no clear strategy of where it is going, exacerbated further by a sudden open ending that leaves nothing resolved. At 153 minutes, it is also unnecessary overstretched: the first 50 minutes could have been easily cut altogether, since they waste too much time on pointless scenes of the two neighbors waiting at Lazarescu's home, waiting for the ambulance to show up, when in fact the entire story could have started right when the ambulance arrives. When 10 sentences are used in something that could have been said in only one, then that is problematic. A few cynical lines aside ("You called an ambulance on Saturday. Don't expect them to come here soon!"), Puiu maintains a rather serious tone, yet lacks highlights. The title protagonist traverses four hospitals, yet only the third one offered some truly interesting moments in the sequence where a doctor is inspecting Lazarescu and asks him to name the objects he is holding: when he points at the watch, Lazarescu says "time", and when he points at a pen, he says "writer". As an indictment of the entire distorted system, where the doctors are either impolite or uninterested for their patients, the movie works, yet it can only go so far before it exhausts the viewers concentration due to its 'one-note concept', because it also plays out as a more boring, literal version of "Dr. House", just without its spark and energy.

Grade:++

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Room

The Room; drama, USA, 2003; D: Tommy Wiseau, S: Tommy Wiseau, Juliette Danielle, Greg Sestero

San Francisco. Johnny is a successful banker who is engaged to Lisa. However, Lisa is bored with him and has an affair with Johnny's best friend, Mark. Her mother advises her to stay with the financially stable Johnny, but Lisa is not interested. During a party, a suspicious Johnny finally finds out Lisa is cheating on him with Mark. Johnny goes crazy, takes a gun and shoots himself.

Some films disappear during their premiere, but later resurface and establish a puzzling cult reputation that transcends their limited background. Tommy Wiseau's feature length debut film, "The Room", should be included among them, since its reputation actually exploded a decade after its premiere and advanced into an Internet meme. While some critics resorted to superlatives to describe its alleged errors and disastrous mistakes, many of those comments were in fact exaggerated: nothing in "The Room" is particularly bad, but, sadly, nothing is particularly good, either. Its biggest sin is that is simply a bland, boring soap opera, a typical "girlfriend cheats on boyfriend" run-of-the-mill fodder, and nothing else, where nothing much happens and all the dialogues are so ordinary and melodramatic, without any ingenuity or creativity. It is basically an average flick, nothing different than TV-dramas from the 80s. However, the movie is still a 'guilty pleasure': it has some aura of bizarreness that makes all these predictable ingredients at least fun to watch. Much of this stems from some surreal, unusual and downright demented scenes and character's action that don't make much sense.

Director and writer Wiseau is fascinating persona: nobody knows when he was born, or where, but he somehow came to the US, gained a fortune, and made this film about the characters he doesn't understand. It's almost as if Wiseau is a man from the year 3000 who travelled back in time to the 21st century: he cannot understand these people, his actions are of an complete outsider, so he just tries to pretend to direct them into a drama because all the other movies from that time had these features. And yet, he has such sheer enthusiasm that one simply cannot get angry at him. One instance of his inconsistencies is the sequence on the rooftop where Mark tells a sad story about a girl who slept with a dozen men, so one of the guys got jealous and beat her up so much that she landed in a hospital. Johnny's reaction? He just laughs and then continues with some irrelevant anecdote. The best moments are precisely those where the humor was intentional: when Michelle enters and spots a guy in the room, she tells him "XYZ" ("eXamine-Your-Zipper") or the scene where Michelle is "slapping" Lisa with a pillow in a loving way. It is difficult to pinpoint Wiseau. Just imagine Godard, W. Anderson, J. Coen and Q. Tarantino, just even more autistic. And then imagine them without their creative-expressionistic style. And then imagine them directing just an ordinary soap opera story, but with themselves in the leading role. This comes close to "The Room": if it is a cult film, then at least it shouldn't have been so placid.

Grade:+

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Get Carter

Get Carter; crime thriller, UK, 1971; D: Mike Hodges, S: Michael Caine, Ian Hendry, John Osborne, Tony Beckley, Dorothy White, Rosemarie Dunham, Britt Ekland

London. Hitman Jack Carter gets the permission of his boss, gangster Gerald, to travel to his hometown Newcastle for his brother's funeral, Frank. However, Carter decides to investigate since he suspects foul play: Frank namely died in a car accident due to drunk driving. Settling in a motel, Carter captures a man who was spying on him and forces him to give him a name of the assassin, but the trail leads nowhere. Frank's mistress Margaret also supposedly knows nothing. After landing in bed with a woman, Glenda, Carter accidentally spots a porn movie featuring Frank's teenage daughter, Doreen, who is forced to have sex with Albert and Margaret. Leading upon this trail, Carter kills Albert and finds out Eric was the one who killed Frank, since he wanted to persuade Frank to clash with gangster Kinnear. Carter catches and kills Eric near a coal mine, but is himself assassinated by Gerald's hitman, since Carter had an affair with Gerald's girlfriend, Anna.

Similarly like Melville's "The Samurai", Mike Hodges' "Get Carter" is also a raw, "clinical", cold, bitter, brutal and unglamorous minimalistic gangster film that has no association or sympathy with its main "hero", a hitman, here played brilliantly by veteran actor Michael Caine. The whole movie is all style over substance—its revenge story is rather standard; its dialogues are scarce are banal; its scale is confined to only one town—and its episodic structure is unusual—for instance, Carter aimlessly searches for the killer of his brother and discovers nothing all until 70 minutes (!) into the film—yet it has some rough energy that engages the viewers throughout. Kudos goes to Hodges who used the telephoto lens in an intreresting way in order to create a few remarkable, aesthetic shots and conjure up a feeling as if he is filming Carter secretly from a distance, but also to create a confusing, distorted effect of the hitman feeling 'out-of-place' in his own old hometown. The whole film seems modern even today, from its quick, naturalistic death sequences (Carter, for instance, just stabs a man, or throws him from a building, never lingering on violence longer than he has to) up to its several erotic moments (the highlight is probably Carter having "phone sex" with his mistress, Anna, to whom he says to take her bra off and touch her breasts), which caused quite a shock to some conservative movie-goers during that time. With the passage of time, Hodges proved right, since "Carter" achieved that status of both as a cult film and a classic, giving a synthesis of European art-films and American gangster films, whereas the plot twist at the end comes as a real surprise.

Grade:+++

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The Mummy - The Night of Counting the Years

Al-Mummia; drama, Egypt, 1969; D: Shadi Abdel Salam, S: Ahmed Marei, Ahmad Hegazi, Mohamed Nabih, Nadia Lutfi, Shafik Nour El Din

Egypt, 19th century. The Horbat tribe has been secretly stealing artifacts from a site of the tomb of Pharaohs from Ancient Egypt and selling them to Ayoub for the black market. One lad, Wanis, feels guilt for such desecration of the ancient past. When Ayoub arrives once again in his ship, Wanis takes the artifact away from him, so Ayoub's men beat him up, while the merchant threatens that he will not be buying anything from the Horbat tribe anymore and that they will starve from poverty. Uflinched by threats to keep quiet, Wanis approaches a ship of the authorities at night and contacts the Inspector. Upon hearing all of this, the Inspector's crew arrive to the cave where all the mummies and sarcophagus were kept, and transports them to their ship in order to get them to the museum.

Even though it is often cited by numerous local critics as one of the best movies of the Egyptian, and even wider Arab cinema in general, "The Mummy", sometimes also titled "The Night of Counting the Years", is a hermetic-grey art-film that lacks true highlights or ingenuity, thereby not managing to shake off the impression of an "only" good film. Director Shadi Abdel Salam crafts the film without a clear tangle, or even a classic three-act structure, and thus the viewers might feel confused at times, especially in the abrupt ending, yet he still offers a few symbolic messages through the allegorical plot of modern Egypt surviving by exploiting and selling its glorious ancient past, presented in the concept of grave diggers who sell priceless ancient artifacts for a cheap buck. Wanis, the protagonist, serves as the conscience of the tribe, trying to persuade them to find another way, realizing that the ones who destroy their own past probably have no future. Salam uses a few aesthetic images that are reminiscent of Antonioni's feeling of isolation and despair, just set in the Egyptian culture, and some of them are indeed opulent (the bird's-eye view of Wanis walking towards the wall; a sail "sticking" out from over the dune, indicating a ship behind in the Nile; the finale of dozens of people carrying the sarcophagi over the hills, passing through the natives observing them), just as are some of the existentialist dialogues ("Afraid of feelings and memory." - "What memory? Remembering weakens the will."- "What will? The will to forget what was truth for me yesterday?" / "Stranger, my pain is the whole life I've lived..."). Still, this minimalistic style left a lot of characters underdeveloped, since everyone except Wanis is just an extra, making this a 'one-note concept' that needed more versatility.

Grade:++

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Rocky 2

Rocky 2; sports drama, USA, 1979; D: Sylvester Stallone, S: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Carl Weathers, Burgess Meredith, Burt Young, Tony Burton

Even though he lost the boxing match against Apollo Creed by a single vote of the judges, Rocky Balboa cannot complain: the girl he loves, Adrian, accepted his marriage proposal, and with the money from the match, they bought a great new home. However, the money is quickly running out, as Rocky refuses to engage in boxing anymore since the match left him with an injured eye. He thus has to accept humiliating jobs, including the one of a janitor. Still, due to a mountain of hate mail from fans who think he was bribed to be too lenient towards Rocky, Apollo publicly challenges Rocky to a re-match, in order to show that he can knock out the Italian boxer. Rocky vehemently agrees, and is again trained by Mickey. Adrian gives birth. In the match, Rocky fights, and this time manages to win against Apollo.

Even though many were skeptical towards the prospect of a sequel, especially with him taking over on the front of a director, as well, Sylvester Stallone managed to prove himself when "Rocky II" turned into a surprisingly good film in which he succeeded to drain a few more moments of quality, before the film series would later sink into the sea of repetitiveness. The story is more or less a rehash of the 1st film, yet Stallone is still surprisingly effective when he plays his Rocky Balboa as a charming and humorous guy: upon being released from the hospital during winter, he walks Adrian into the Zoo and tries to propose her: "Adrian, I was wondering, like, what do you think you're doing for the next 40-50 years?" Adrian is perplexed and asks him to repeat the question, upon which he takes her earmuff off and asks her: "Will you marry me?" When she agrees, he joyfully cheers and even jokingly talks to the tiger in the cage ("Hey, we are getting married! Do they let you out during the weekends? I'll send you an invitation!"). After the wedding, Rocky and Adrian go to bed, and she says a loving sentence to him: "You'll never get tired of me?" These are probably the sweetest and most tender moments of the entire film series. Burgess Meredith is once again excellent in the dignified role of Rocky's mentor and trainer, Mickey, whose support goes way beyond the professional, and into the personal: there is a great little moment just before the boxing match, when he finds Rocky in the church and says a fantastic line ("If you wanna blow this thing, if you wanna blow it, then damn it, I'm gonna blow it with you. If you wanna stay here, I'll stay with ya."). The subplot involving Adrian falling into a coma is too melodramatic, whereas the narrative does feel slightly contrived into repeating a match with Apollo, yet the ending is electrifying and cathartic (especially when both Rocky and Apollo fall on the ground), making "Rocky 2" a rather worthy continuation of the original story.

Grade:++

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The Tribe

Plemya; crime drama, Ukraine, 2014; D: Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy, S: Grigoriy Fesenko, Yana Novikov, Roza Babiy, Oleksandr Dsiadevych

Sergey, a deaf lad, is a new student at a boarding school for the deaf. He is quickly forced to integrate into a local gang, "The Tribe", and join other teenagers who rob people in a train or simply earn money by sending two girls as prostitutes to have sex with truck drivers. Sergey is assigned to be the next pimp of the two girls, but is attracted to one of them, Anna. They have sex. She gets an abortion. He assaults a teacher and robs his place, giving the money to Anna before forcing sex from her on her bed. When the two girls get passports to travel to a foreign country, Sergey tears Anna's passport, and thus the gang hits his head with a bottle. The next night, Sergey sneaks into the shared bedroom, takes two heavy closets, and crushes the heads of the four boys who were part of the gang.

An extremely raw and astringent film experience, this art-drama is a highly daring little film that decided to follow a logical thematic step and present the world of the deaf through a story without any dialogues or even subtitles, thereby demonstrating the world of the protagonists. A lot of kudos should be given to writer and director Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy who decided to go through this brave experimental approach and set up "The Tribe" almost as an silent film. The cinematography and  camera drives are very modern, especially in several long tracking shots of the main character, among them when the camera follows him descending from a hill, entering an apartment complex, knocking the professor unconscious and then going from room to room to try to find some money from his place. At least two sequences are very difficult to sit through: one is the agonizingly long, ugly and dark moment of Anna having an improvised abortion by an older lady, sitting on a bath tub, and the other is when the main character secretly enters the boarding school at night, then the bedroom of the two boy criminals, and then simply kills them by crushing one's head with a closet, and then the other one's head as well: nobody can hear anything, anyway, since they are all deaf. However, Slaboshpytskiy decided to craft the entire film in long takes (allegedly there are only 34 cuts in the entire film), yet this might have been a mistake: since there are no words and no subtitles, "The Tribe" should have relied more on telling the story visually, with more cross-cutting, details and close up shots to elaborate on the characters' feelings. A majority of the scenes are done in wide shots, and thus it is sometimes difficult to decipher what is going on in particular scene or to follow the story. For instance, when Sergey and Anna have sex, it comes as a surprise since there was practically no interaction between them. This would have worked if he relied on close-up shots and detailed gestures between them, of them interacting, but it seems rather "far-flung" in this edition. The director understood the sign language very well, but still did not quite fully understand the movie language in order to better present this story.

Grade:++

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Sholay

Sholay; action / adventure, India, 1975; D: Ramesh Sippy, S: Dharmendra, Amitabh Bachchan, Sanjeev Kumar, Amjad Khan, Hema Malini, Jaya Badhuri 


Gabbar is a notorious criminal whose gang descends from the hills to repeatedly attack a small village in the valley and force them to give them food. Thakur, a retired police officer, summons two small-time crooks, friends Veera and Jai, who are in their 20s, to hire them to capture Gabbar and end his reign of fear. Veera and Jai at first plan to rob the safe and flee, but change their mind when they see how villagers suffer from Gabbar's thugs. Moreover, they discover that Thakur once arrested Gabbar, but the criminal escaped from prison, killed Thakur's three children and his grandchild, and then cut both of Thakur's hands. In a battle around Gabbar's outpost in the hills, Jai is killed, but Veera manages to capture Gabbar. Thakur wants to kill Gabbar with his feet, but stops and hands him over to the police, instead. Veera leaves the village in a train, but falls in love with Basanti, a carriage girl.

One of the highest grossing and most popular Indian films of the 20th century, "Sholay" is a 'Hindi-Western' that manages to encompass some universal themes about humanity (friendship, honor, loyalty, problem of evil) and translate them into its own mentality. A blend of the "Seven Samurai" (except that there are only two protectors of the village here, and they are both young lads wearing modern 70s disco clothes and jeans) and "48 Hrs.", "Sholay" somehow manages to pull this bizarre syncretism through, but owes a lot of its influence to S. Leone's style since director Ramesh Sippy crafted a few surprisingly effective hypnotic-lingering-absorbing shots that give it weight, many of which are reminiscent of "Once Upon a Time in the West", whereas the score by R. D. Burman is great: while at first it may seem too simplistic, it grows on you with time. The main villain, Gabbar (excellent Amjad Khan) is a remarkably strong character, and even though he appears very late, over an hour into the film, almost every sequence he is in is great: he has a frightening presence, an embodiment of a survivalist, extreme authoritarianism and violent selfishness. One memorable sequence, which plays out in his open base on the hill, has him line up three of his henchmen as a punishment for failing an asignment, in front of his entire gang, and taking a pistol. He says: "Six bullets are not worthy for these three men!" and then shoots three shots in the sky. With three bullets left, he then plays roulette and decides to randomly aim and pull the trigger at the three henchmen from behind—yet all three triggers were empty. Gabbar then turns around and jokes that these three are "very lucky" and then everyone starts to laugh in relief—but then violently turns back and pulls the trigger three more times, this times discharging bullets and killing the three, anyway.

Even though it is a classic western and a 'good vs. evil' story, "Sholay" is puzzling to audiences of the West for also straying away from this genre and randomly traversing to different levels, including slapstick comedy, dance and a love story. One of the most bizarre comedy episodes is the segment where Veera and Jai are in a prison run by a warden who has a moustache and mannerisms of Hitler (!), but whose authority is often disrupted by clumsiness (a pigeon flying right in front of his face); Veera driving a bicycle by sitting on it backwards in order to impress girl Basanti whereas there are four pseudo-musical sequences present, one of which involves Gabbar forcing Basanti to dance for him on the canyon. While some have criticized it for being a "patchwork", "Sholay" is a film that shows how, even in the worst hardship and loss, life is never black-and-white, and always has some small moments of color and happiness hidden somewhere which should be included for a broader picture. The highlight is arguably the long sequence in which Takhur's all three grown up children are shot and killed near their house, while the suspense is heightened as the little grandchild spots Gabbar on a horse with a gun, slowly descending towards him from the hill, juxtaposed with a swing that is slowing down on swinging, and stops in tune to Gabbar final shot. The shot composition in that sequence is exquisite. "Sholay" is flawed: with a running time of three hours, it is overlong; some of its hectic camera zooms and camera drives are too shaky; some of its elements lean towards the exploitation genre, yet Sippy limns every character with a purpose, until the satisfying conclusion, creating a movie world that is its own and unique, regardless of all limitations. If all these ingredients worked in the 'Spaghetti-Westerns', there is no reason for them not to work even in India.

Grade:+++

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Code Geass (Season 1)

Code Geass; animated fantasy series, Japan, 2006; D: Goro Taniguchi, S: Jun Fukuyama, Takahiro Sakurai, Yukana Nogami, Junko Minagawa

In an alternate Universe, Japan is invaded and annexed by the Empire Britannia, and subsequently given a derogatory new name, "Area 11". Now second class citizens in their own homeland, the Japanese strive for resistance and independence. Lelouch, an exiled teenager of Britannian blood whose mother was killed and sister Nunally left in a wheelchair, swears to his friend Suzako that he will get rid of Britannia. One day, he gets caught up in an armed clash involving a military vehicle, and opens its tank only to find a mysterious green-haired girl inside, C.C. The girl gives him a magical power, known as the "Geass": he can order any person to do whatever he says, but it can be used only once per person, and he has to look that person directly with his right, red eye. Lelouch is surprised by this new power, puts a helmet on and builds up a new identity as Zero, who commands The Black Knights, a group of rebels who want an independent Japan. They use giant robots to fight Britannians. However, things get complicated after Suzako joins the Britannians ranks, thereby getting in direct conflict with Lelouch.

Following the end of broadcast of "Death Note", a giant void was left on Japanese television, which just cried for a successor to try to fill the shoes of that instant anime classic about a special power that changes the world. "Code Geass" was seen as the closest attempt at that time, following a similar concept in which a complex protagonist-antagonist gains a special ability in order to challenge the establishment and achieve his goal, in this case "Geass", the ability to command anyone whatever he tells him or her to do, though it can be used only once. This ingenious premise offered an interesting commentary on some historical figures who come out of nowhere yet inexplicably rise through the ranks, becoming leaders in some groups, but it did not fully exploit all the rich potentials of such a juicy set-up—at least not in the 1st season—though it still has its moments. The 1st episode establishes that awe, when Lelouch is cornered by a dozen Britannian soldiers who aim their guns at him, yet decides to test his "Geass" and thus just orders them to shoot themselves, instead—and is surprised when they actually comply and commit mass suicide.

However, unlike the highly intelligent approach of "Death Note" that never tries to appeal to the wide audience, "Code Geass" does not reach that high level of authority, neither in style nor in execution, among others due to some banal, cheap elements (the rebels pilot giant robots, though this "mecha" genre is utterly unnecessary for this kind of story and disrupts the storyline through its heavy-handed action sequences; an occasional "fan service" moment in the Academy; some silly scenes, such as the episode in which Lelouch chases after a cat that stole his helmet in the Academy; a giant robot rotating a giant pizza at the school festival in episode 21...), as well as too many characters, of which not all are that memorable. The highlights are always connected when the anime is focused on this special concept. For instance, in one episode near the beginning, the rebels are caught in a battle with the Britannian army, and Lelouch/Zero simply goes to the enemy command center, "Geass"-tells a guard to simply let him in (!) and then goes directly to the commander, whom he "Geass"-orders to tell the army to surrender (!), and then simply shoots him. Another great moment is when Lelouch/Zero is seen interacting with Britannian commander Darlton, in episode 22, and this comes full circle during the battle in episode 24, when commander Cornelia, in her robot, is just about to kill Zero in his robot, but is suddenly pierced by a giant spike—thrown by her own subordinate Dartlon, who is confused why he is doing this. The fact that Zero "Geassed" Dartlon off-screen in episode 22, to attack his own superior if Zero is about to lose, is simply an exquisite checkmate and gives this plot twist intensity and spark. More of such moments would have been welcomed, though, since too much time is spent on Lelouch's internal conflicts, which are never on the same intensity as when he is using his "Geass". Simply put, "Geass" is more important than Lelouch, and not the other way around, which is rather indicative.

Grade:++

Monday, April 2, 2018

Mayabazar

Mayabazar; fantasy, India, 1957; D: Kadiri Venkata Reddy, S: S. V. Ranga Rao, Savitri, Akkineni Nageswara Rao, N. T. Rama Rao, Gummadi Venkateswara Rao, Chilakalapudi Seeta Rama Anjaneyulu

Ancient India. Princess Sasirekha is in love with Abhimanyu, but their relationship is under trouble: uncle Shakuni from the Kaurava clan cheats in a game of dice, thereby tricking the Pandavas and stealing their fortune. This gives Shakuni the power to blackmail Balarama into giving his daughter Sasirekha to the Kauravas, specifically to Duryodhana's son Lakshmana Kumara. However, Krishna decides to subtly intervene to save the couple: he redirects a carriage driving Abhimanyu into a forest where he meets Ghatotkacha. Using his magical powers, Ghatotkacha takes Sasirekha out of Kauravas palace, and instead takes her exact form to cause mischief before the wedding. Pretending to be Sasirekha, Ghatotkacha eats all their food and scares off Kumara. By standing on a magical box, Shakuni tells the truth about his trechery, and thus Ghatotkacha banishes him and the Kauravas by tying him up in a carpet, while the real Sasirekha and Abhimanyu marry.

One of the most popular and beloved Indian films of the 20th century, filmed in both a Telugu and Tamil version, "Mayabazar" feels a little dated and stiff by today's standards, thereby losing a part of its initial charm. With a running time of three hours, the movie is definitely overstretched, and it takes too long until it finally sets up its first act, yet the basic story is actually simple—a couple is in love, but feindish people want to trick the girl's family into giving her to them—whereas once the hilarious genie-like Ghatotkacha shows up (brilliant S. V. Ranga Rao), some 60 minutes into the film, and decides to advance into a patron of the couple and help them out, the whole story rises up a level higher thanks to humor that was inserted into it. The special and visual effects seem modest and scarce compared to modern movies, yet the viewers should still commend the authors for the effort of trying them out, since part of them turned out solid (the "path of fire" that goes through the forest to encompass the carriage; Abhimanyu shoots an arrow and it hits and stops a club in the mid air that Ghatotkatcha threw at him from a hill...) whereas at least one idea achieved cult status in India: a magical box whose lid can be opened to display a screen from the inside, and show images of a given person, which is today jokingly referred to as the "first example of a laptop". The highlight is the last quarter of the film, in which Ghatotkacha changes his shape into Princess Sasirekha (!) in order to cause mischief as her double and stop the forced-arranged wedding: some wonderful comical moments include (the fake) Sasirekha suddenly revealing hairy feet, singing in a deep, crispy male voice, causing all the maids around to look at "her", until "she" coughs and corrects it back to "her" feminine voice; Kumara taking the veil down to see "Sasirekha's" face, but "she" just makes a grimace with her eyes and sticks out her tongue; "Sasirekha" turning her face into a tiger to scare Kumara off or squeezing his hand in a handshake. The actress playing her, Savitri, is amazing, especially in this "mischievous" segment. "Mayabazar" sometimes feels rushed, naive and it takes very long until it gets to the good parts, yet its sincere messages about true love and assistance still ring true today.

Grade:++

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Psycho-Pass: The Movie

Psycho-Pass: The Movie; animated science-fiction thriller, Japan, 2015; D: Katsuyuki Motohiro, Naoyoshi Shiotani, S: Kana Hanazawa, Tomokazu Seki, Hiroshi Kamiya

Tokyo, 22nd century. It's been four years since the death of criminal Shogo Makishima. The Sibyl system is still operating in Japan. Its police officer, Akane, is sent on a mission outside the country, to South East Asia Union (SEAUn), to find Kogami, her colleague who disappeared. She arrives to SEAUn's capital, atol Shambala Float, which aims to become the first importer of Sibyl system outside Japan in order to ends its bloody civil war and bring stability. The war is waged between the dictator Han and his commander Wong on one side and the rebels who want democracy. Akane encounters Kogami who joined the rebels and finds out SEAUn's army all have critical, criminal Psycho-Pass levels, but are concealed because they are useful to the system. In the ensuing fight, Wong is killed. Akane finds out that Han has been killed and replaced with a robot-clone by Sibyl in order to export its system throughout the world. Kogami escapes while Akane returns to Tokyo.

The movie spin-off of the critically recognized anime series "Psycho-Pass" is a proportionally well made achievement that changed the setting from Tokyo to a (fictional) foreign country, yet still stayed faithful to its theme of "techno-Totalitarianism", as well as all the intelligent, ambitious and subtle ingredients that go with it, already established in the series. A small minus is that it builds up a fast pace without much explanation, and thus viewers unfamiliar with the show will be utterly lost as to what it happening and who is after whom. Another perplexing thing is that the story is rather grey and schematic at times, with only some occasional "lively" moments that 'twitch' it from this bleak-monochromatic atmosphere: one of the best is the sweet "stolen" scene in the opening act in which Akane punches air with her fists while talking with Ginoza about catching Kogami ("Punch him for me." - "No need for that. I'll bring him here, so you can punch him... yourself!"). As with the series, the storyline presents a futuristic world in which technology paved a whole new set of possibilities for convenience (one scene shows a girl looking at herself in the mirror, while her futuristic dress changes colors until she finds the one she likes), but also the possibilities for dictatorship through dangerous infiltration of technology into the private lives of people. It may also be a sly allegory on the Syrian Civil War (in the fictional state of SEAUn, engulfed in a civil war, dictator Han is using the "Poisoning-the-well" and demonization arguments by labeling every rebel automatically as a "terrorist", which is mirrored when mercenary Desmond cynically says that "violence has been privatized" and that the "state now has a monopoly on violence") and on corruption and dishonesty in general (Kogami jokes by posing the question what would happen in the Psycho-Pass criminal levels would be used to scan dictator Han, as well). A somewhat stilted and too serious, though undeniably clever and ambitious film adaptation of the series.

Grade:++