Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Wind

The Wind; silent drama, USA, 1928; D: Victor Sjöström, S: Lillian Gish, Lars Hanson, Montagu Love, Dorothy Cumming, Edward Earle

Late 19th century. Letty is a young girl who wants to escape from poverty, and thus travels from Virginia to Sweetwater, Texas, to be with her cousin, Beverly. On a train, she meets the ominous cattle owner Wirt. Upon arrival, Letty is picked up by Beverly's neighbors, Lige and Sourdough, but is shocked to find out the whole area is plagued by a neverending desert wind. Beverly's wife, Cora, is jealous of Letty and wants to get rid of her. Letty thus decides to marry Wirt, but finds out he is already married and just wants her as an affair. Letty then decides to marry Lige, but feels isolated in his desolate house in the desert. When a wounded Wirt is brought to Lige's house, he tries to assault Letty, who shoots him in self-defence and buries his corpse in the back yard. When Lige returns, she confesses his love for him and pronounces she is not afraid of the wind anymore.

Director Victor Sjostrom's excursion into American cinema paid off appropriately since "The Wind", an adaptation of the eponymous novel, was critically recognized and with time reached that desired status of a classic. An excellent little film that delivers a subtle psychological character study thanks mostly to aesthetically pleasant landscapes of the desert and the neverending wind that pounds the area, by which it gains a highly stylish tone: the hidden leitmotiv is the everlasting harshness of nature and time that slowly corrode the futile idealistic actions of individuals who try to survive or keep up their spirit in the cold world. Already the sole arrival of the heroine at her destination via train is directed in an interesting manner, showing a desert storm at night that makes her new future highly inhospitable, while she is picked up by two men on a carriage, who claim to be her cousin's nearest neighbors, located 15 miles away from him. Another highlight is the ultra-masterful performance by Lillian Gish: with her facial expressions and charismatic looks she manages to deliver a thoroughly convincing portrayal as Letty, who undergoes a change from an innocent girl to a depressive, isolated, broken woman, thereby confirming her status as one of the main stars from the silent film era. From some daring and unusual camera drives at that time (the sequence in which the camera follows Letty dancing through the hall) up to the expressionistic finale (the wind blows out the peak of the buried corpse, making the man's face visible in the sand; Wirt opens the door after the sandstorm, only for two feet of accumulated "sand avalanche" to enter the house), "The Wind" is a worthy contribution to cinema and an apex in Sjostrom's film career.

Grade:+++

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Ministry of Love

Ministarstvo ljubavi; satire / drama, Croatia / Czech Republic, 2016; D: Pavo Marinković, S: Stjepan Perić, Dražen Kühn, Ecija Ojdanić, Olga Pakalović, Ksenija Marinković, Bojan Navojec, Alma Prica, Hristina Popović

It is recession. It order to implement austerity measures and reduce budget deficits, the Croatian government decides to establish a new department that would spy on widows from the Croatian War and take away their pensions if it turns out they got remarried. The two officials assigned to this ungrateful task are Krešo and Josip, who use various ploys in Dalmatia in order to find out if widows are still single or not. Krešo falls in love with one of the widows, Dunja, but she leaves him after she finds out she lost her pension due to his report. Disgusted by this work, and after finding out his wife cheated on him, Krešo quits and applies for a job as a biologist.

"Ministry of Love" caused quite a hype when certain Croatian nationalists wanted to ban the film, yet it is overall a refreshing satire that spoofs several Croatian patriotic myths, in this case how the Croatian government is more preoccupied with austerity and budget deficits than the costly legacy of the Croatian War, in this case the financing of war widows. The concept is fictional, yet its sharp observations about the government exploitation of its citizens and its meddling into their private lives are still easily identifiable, which causes several chuckles in the first half (most notably in the ploys Krešo uses to find out if the widows have found new partners in the meantime, presenting himself as an insurance salesman offering great deals for couples or a gay representative inside the house of a lesbian couple). Except for making fun of imaginary patriotism, the film also gives a commentary on modern, 21st century trends, most noticeably in the appearance of "unethical jobs" and job alienation (Krešo is a biologist who has been sent to work in the department that is outside his preferences, and even begins to get ashamed of it). Unfortunately, director Pavo Marinkovic seems to run out of ideas and inspiration fairly quickly, settling for a good, yet standard film with several forced dramatic moments in the overlong second half, as well as too much empty walk to camouflage that not much is going on until the rather sudden end.

Grade;++

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Your Name

Kimi no Na wa; animated fantasy romance, Japan, 2016; D: Makoto Shinkai, S: Ryunosuke Kamiki, Mone Kamishiraishi, Masami Nagasawa, Etsuko Ichihara



Teenage girl Mitsuha lives in Itomori, a desolate town around a lake, together with her little sister and grandmother. Mitsuha is bored and wishes she would have been born as a boy in the fancy Tokyo. One day, she notices that people around her are acting strange, telling her that she acted as if she was crazy the day before. The next morning, she wakes up inside the body of a teenage boy, Taki, in Tokyo, and realizes that he was in her body that particular day. She enjoys going to his school and touring Tokyo. The next day, Mitsuha is back in her own body. Taki and Mitsuha swap bodies from time to time, and then return back to normal. While in his body, Mitsuha arranges a date with a girl who works in a restaurant with Taki. This phenomenon suddenly stops and Taki goes to Itomori, only to find out that the city was destroyed when pieces of a comet fell on it 3 years ago, killing Mitsuha and 500 other people. When he is sent to Mitsuha's body once again, he helps evacuate the people from the city and thus save their lives. Back in their bodies, Taki and Mitsuha forget what happened and don't know eahc other's names. 5 years later, they meet in Tokyo and ask each other's name.

Makoto Shinkai's 5th feature length film, an unusual romantic restructuring of the "Freaky Friday" concept, "Your Name" beat all expectations when it became the highest grossing anime film of its time, surpassing even Miyazaki's "Spirited Away". Shinkai is a melancholic auteur who slowly established a distinctive style with time: there is no swearing in his movies, nor vulgarity or violence, whereas he displays a finesse in crafting a rich mood just through colors in animation, all centering around a love story set in a fantasy concept (in this case, what would happen if a guy and a girl would swap bodies for a few days). A tender, gentle and patient film, "Your Name" displays that 'good-old-school' style of anime thanks to excellent, opulent characters, who all contribute to the setting, while it also dwells on the relations between rural and urban areas, past and present as well as individuality and collective tradition. It is also refreshing to spot Shinkai's humor at times, most noticeably in the opening act that plays out almost as a comedy (Mitsuha is surprised that everyone around her keep telling her that she acted strangely yesterday, as if "she was not herself", until it is later shown how Taki's mind appeared in her body, touching her own breasts to see if this is not a dream).

Some neat stylistic touches are also great (Taki/Mitsuha raises his iPhone to make a photo of a cake, and as he lowers the mobile phone, it dissolves to an empty plate; the "jump cut" between Mitsuha on the left side and Taki on the right side of the same location on the edge of the crater, as they try to find each other even though they are "invisible" from each other's perspective). However, some small omissions are still there: the movie is too episodic at times, spending only around 60 seconds on some sequences instead of elaborating more on them (Taki's date was very superficially shown; instead of showing what Taki did while in Mitsuha's body, in order to make her stand out in school, the audiences are just told what happened), which seems as if the narrative suffers from ADHD at times, whereas the ending is somewhat contrived by randomly introducing how Mitsuha and Taki experienced "amnesia" and forgot each other's names (when they could have easily written each other's name on paper or on the mirror right from the start) since this finale of emotionally close people who pass by each other, yet forgot all their past, was thematically too similar to the ending in "Sailor Moon" season one. Still, "Your Name" is a refreshing and welcomed return of uncynical, genuine emotional anime without turning too sentimental, a story of two people linked by some destiny that defies rigid reality, thus again advancing into another Makoto Shinkai gem.

Grade;+++

Friday, January 12, 2018

Elle

Elle; psychological drama, France / Germany / Belgium, 2016; D: Paul Verhoeven, S: Isabelle Huppert, Laurent Lafitte, Christian Berkel, Anne Consigny, Virginie Efira

Paris around Christmas. Michele, a middle aged woman, is raped in her house by a burglar with a mask who then runs away. She has many suspects: since she works as a boss in a video game company, many employees hate her due to stress and time constraints. Michele also has other problems: her ex-husband, Richard, is seeing another woman; her old mother announces that she is getting married only to have a stroke and die in the hospital; her son, Vincent, has a baby with Josie, but Michele suspects Josie is only with him for the money. Finally, it is revealed that her neighbor, banker Patrick, raped her because he can only reach an orgasm through rape fantasies. He helps Michele from the car after she crashed into a tree. Michele decides not to see him anymore, but he assaults her again, until Vincent kills him with a ram.

After a 10 year break, provocateur Paul Verhoeven returned in big style with this psychological dark crime drama that once again explores some uncomfortable, taboo topics about modern society: blasted by feminists and purists, but embraced by more open-mined critics, "Elle" works mostly thanks to a virtuoso performance by Isabelle Huppert who hereby decisively placed any problematic issues in the film "on the right side", creating an excellent character for which she was awarded with numerous prizes. The dark thriller elements, here presented through a daring-bizarre concept in which the main heroine, Michele, is attracted to a man (in one scene, she even masturbates in her room while observing him in the garden with binoculars) who is later revealed to be her rapist (!), but she actually finds out he can only reach an orgasm through these rapes, is understandably not for everyone, yet just like Chabrol and Hitchcock, Verhoeven also uses them for a broad picture of current times and thus gives a commentary on the 21st century society: the film is set around Christmas (!) but all the family relations are distorted or collapsing; work is not designed to be useful or helpful anymore, but just to earn money by appealing to the most primitive, hidden urges of the consumers (Michele's company designs a video game based only on violence); Michele's father was a mass murderer and thus she does not believe in any values, etc. Verhoeven's "excursion" into French cinema was appropriately recognized by critics, since the director stayed true to his naughty self who is bored with ordinary things in life, and thus scratches behind surface. Several dialogues are also well written ("Despite all our efforts and hard work, we still achieved success!"; Robert's exchange with Michele: "You cannot avoid me all night." - "Just watch me!"). The ending and resolution are somewhat weaker, lacking some overall point to circle out all these observations, yet the movie works just enough to intrigue.

Grade;++

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Mutiny on the Bounty

Mutiny on the Bounty; adventure drama, USA, 1935; D: Frank Lloyd, S: Clark Gable, Charles Laughton, Franchot Tone, Herbert Mundin, Eddie Quillan, Donald Crisp, Movita Castenada, Mamo Clark, Bill Bambridge

Portsmouth, England, 1787. Dozens of men are forcibly drafted into the Royal Navy, on board the ship Bounty which sets its course towards the Pacific Ocean for a planned two year voyage. However, the ship is commanded by captain Bligh, a tyrant who refuses to give crew enough food, and punishes anyone who complains by whipping. This is observed by lieutenant Fletcher Christian and midshipman Byam. The ship arrives at Tahiti where the crew meets the locals and their women, but also picks up breadfruit for their mission. On their way back, Bligh refuses to give water to his crew to have enough for the plants, which sparks a mutiny led by Fletcher who banishes Bligh and his loyal servants on a boat. Bligh, however, manages to reach land after 50 days on the sea. He returns to Tahiti, but Fletcher and the Bounty escape on another island. Byam and some other men are arrested and sent to a trial in England.

A somewhat historically inaccurate, but ambitious and quality adaptation of the famous mutiny on the Bounty, this film still holds up fairly well by offering some timeless themes about human integrity as well as the clash between common sense and blind obedience to the law. It managed to give a realistic depiction of the sailors who are trapped on the ship ruled by the infamous captain Bligh, who uses his authority as a prosthesis for his endless ego and low self-esteem: already in the opening shots, the crew is given a glimpse inside Bligh's character when he finds out that one accused man has died, yet still orders that his corpse must be whipped and punished, nonetheless. He also states: "A midshipman is the lowest form of animal life in the Royal Navy". Order details are presented during the course of the story, including low quality food for the crew (one sailor jokes that his "meat was mined in a rock quarry" while another one is so hungry that he even eats a bait from a hook intended to catch fish), and all contribute to a bigger picture of a multi-layered character study, involving not only Bligh, but also his officer, Fletcher, which makes it clear as to why he would rebel against his rule. Charles Laughton is excellent as the utterly unsympathetic Bligh, as is Clark Gable as the voice of his opposition. "Mutiny on the Bounty" is a very good film, but with time still failed to achieve that desired status of a classic: the middle-part of the film, playing out on Tahiti, offers a corny, cheesy love story that suits a soap opera more; the ending is somewhat unsatisfactory and incomplete whereas Frank Lloyd is not an auteur, but more of a standard director who is only as good as his script allows him to, yet fails to truly rise to the occasion on some other artistic fronts. "Bounty" is also mentioned in film lexicons for two interesting facts: it was awarded only one Oscar, the one for Best Picture, and thus remained the last film that won Best Picture without winning in any other category. Also, it formed a lucky streak for Clark Gable, who hereby became the only actor who starred in three Best Picture films in only one decade (the other two being "It Happened One Night" and "Gone With the Wind").

Grade;+++

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2; science-fiction action comedy, USA, 2017; D: James Gunn, S: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper (voice), Kurt Russell, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Elizabeth Debicki, Vin Diesel (voice), Sylvester Stallone, David Hasselhoff

Peter Quill and his alien team - Gamora, Drax, Racoon Rocket and a baby Groot plant - still work together, until they meet Peter's long lost father, Ego, who turns out to be an alien who created his own planet. On the planet, they meet Ego's associate, a naive girl called Mantis. However, it turns out that Ego killed Peter's mother and that he wants to kill all life across the Universe, in order to expand his own species. Peter and his team rebel and destroy his planet, but Peter's adoptive father, blue alien Yondu, dies while saving him in orbit. Gamora also makes up with her sister, Nebula.

While the first "Guardians of the Galaxy" film turned into a pleasant surprise, showing how big budget films can still end up being fun and relaxed, part II experienced a convalesce of all those typical 'sequel cliches', signalling that all of its virtues were rolled back towards the big studio executives mentality. Director and screenwriter James Gunn tries too hard to capture the feel of the 1st film, yet there is a nervousness this time around, a pressure that is felt in the story that seems convoluted and has too many cheap attempts at humor or appealing only towards tiresome action in the finale that is a CGI overkill. Worse still, all these charming characters seem only as pale shadows of their snappy personas from the 1st film: this is especially noticeable in Drax, who was the funniest of them all, but rarely does anything charming this time around and thus feels wasted and underused, except for his contagious trademark laugh here and there. A few good jokes show up, though, which manage to liven up the mood here and there: one of the best is an argument between Peter and raccoon Rocket while they are fighting over who will fly the spaceship ("I was genetically engineered to be a pilot!" - "You were genetically engineered to be a douchebag!") or when Peter finds out he can do whatever he wants on Ego's planet ("Well, get ready for a 800-foot statue of Pac-Man with Skeletor and Heather Locklear!"). Peter's subplot involving his father, alien Ego, seems to be a debate on the notion of a biological vs. adoptive father, and has a satisfying, fitting resolution. The supporting character of Mantis, a naive alien girl with antennas, is also charming. Unfortunately, this is not enough to camouflage that there isn't that much inspiration this time around, with too many side characters wrecking the already strained narrative, whereas the supporting role by Sylvester Stallone was unworthy to this presence: he was given only 30 seconds at the beginning and the end, without contributing much to the story.

Grade:+

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Star Wars: The Last Jedi; science-fiction action, USA, 2017; D: Rian Johnson, S: Mark Hamill, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Carrie Fisher, Benicio del Toro, Laura Dern, Kelly Marie Tran

The First Order, ruled by Leader Snoke, is encroaching the rebels who try to restore the Galactic Republic. In the meantime, Rey is on the island, trying to persuade Luke Skywalker to help the rebels, but he wants to die in isolation so that the Jedi will die with him, claiming their legacy is the one failure. Kylo Ren captures Rey and brings her to Snoke. But then Kylo double crosses the Emperor and kills him with a light saber. Kylo tries to persuade Rey to destroy the whole past, both the Jedi and the Empire, and start anew, but she refuses and returns to the rebels. In a First Order attack on the rebel base on a salt planet, Luke's hologram tricks Kylo into buying the rebels time to escape. Luke then disappears on the island. Rey, Leia and the remnants of the rebels flee in the Millennium Falcon.

It seems the post-modern moral relativism and revisionism has reached even the "Star Wars" sequel trilogy, ruining it even there by suddenly presenting everything, even the classic good vs evil story as something relative and vague. Episode VIII, "The Last Jedi", seems almost as if it was directed by Red Letter Media. It is a cynical destruction of the entire "Star Wars" legacy. It is a disappointment because the main hero, Luke Skywalker, is a disappointment. "Puella Madoka Magica", for instance, was an intelligent deconstruction of the 'magical girl' genre, giving it refreshing new ideas. It tried something different, but with a point and measure. "The Last Jedi", on the other hand, is not so much a deconstruction of the saga, as much as it is spitting on it. When Rey finally encounters Luke Skywalker on the island and gives him her light saber, he just throws it away and refuses to help her or train her. Moreover, Luke claims that he wants to die in isolation, so that the "Jedi religion can die with him". Then he goes to some alien walrus, extracts green milk from its tits and drinks it. For some reason, he cannot even finish any dialogue with Rey without walking away in the middle of the conversation, and thus, ultimately, by the end of the day, they barely complete five sentences after walking for three miles in circles. When Rey finally wants to hear the reason as to why he is rejecting her, Luke says that "the legacy of the Jedi is failure" and that they were "romanticized and mythicized", just because a Jedi trained Darth Vader. This is a complete reverse of his character arc from the original trilogy.

Just as "The Force Awakens" was an unworthy ending to Han Solo, so much is this an unworthy ending to Luke Skywalker. He achieved all these Jedi powers only to in the end waste them. Worst of all, it makes no sense: even if Luke were to reject the Jedi, he would have surely reacted to Han's death and immediately went to help his sister, Leia, who is in danger. This incarnation shows Luke as a fake friend, a lost man without any purpose. Ultimately, one cannot shake away the impression that this "Star Wars" sequel trilogy took the wrong direction and that there could have been better ways to continue the saga, since the authors obviously did not have a grand strategy nor did they they carefully plan the storyline beforehand. For instance, Episode VII showed Rey's visions of her parents, only for Kylo to tell her that her parents were ordinary junkyard people. These and other strange turns of the story leave these narratives feeling inconsistent, since every new movie negates the previous one. Director and screenwriter Rian Johnson takes a lot of risks, which gives the movie a few surprises, and some of them result in a few good moments. There is a plot twist some 100 minutes into the film involving a villain that is so incredible and unbelievable that it is better than anything done in all of the prequel or sequel trilogies, and one cannot believe how the producers allowed Johnson to get away with such a delicious treat. Also, some ideas were clever, such the viewers finding out what would happen if a spaceship would deliberately crash into an Empire spaceship at the speed of light, or the humorous moment when Luke orders Rey to close her eyes and reach out in order to try to "sense the Force", only to tickle her hand with a stalk of grass. Unfortunately, when the concept of a story is bad, even these good moments cannot save it. Maybe this can be seen as a commentary on the destructive nature of nihilism, yet it contaminated the entire film. Imagine a sequel to "Ghostbusters" in which Peter Venkman claims that the Ghostbusters are frauds and that ghosts don't exist? Or a sequel to "Rocky" in which Stallone went to an island, and when one of his friends asks for help to train him, Rocky replies that boxing is for stupid people and that he is now a ballet dancer? Luke in "The Last Jedi" is very close to that misguided scenario. Because, if the main character does not care about anything, why should the viewers care?

Grade:+

Saturday, January 6, 2018

The Sopranos (Season 1)

The Sopranos; crime drama series, USA, 1999; D: John Patterson, Alan Taylor, Allen Coulter, Dan Attias, S: James Gandolfini, Edie Falco, Lorraine Bracco, Michael Imperioli, Dominic Chianese, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Robert Iler, Nancy Marchand, Jerry Adler

New Jersey. Tony Soprano is a mobster who is under great stress lately: his marriage with Carmela is on thin ice; he tries to hide his criminal job from his teenage kids, Meadow and Anthony; his senile mother, Livia, refuses to be sent to a retirement home; the main boss, Jackie, dies from cancer, leaving the new mob hierarchy under question. After suffering several panic attacks, Tony decides to go see a psychiatrist, Dr. Jennifer Melfi. He confesses his problems to her, but leaves out the fact that he is in the mafia. Back at home, Tony decides that the new boss should be his uncle, Junior. However, after several quarrels with him, and upon finding out he is seeing a psychiatrist, fearing Tony might have revealed mafia secrets, Junior decides to assassinate Tony. In turn, Tony prepares for a counter-attack with his men, Paulie and Christopher, but this is interrupted when the FBI arrests Junior and his gang.

"The Sopranos" is one of the most hyped, awarded and critically acclaimed TV series of its time, yet it is—at least in its 1st season—still a little bit overrated. The concept of a mafia member trying to juggle with the criminal activity and his family life has already been explored several times before, and thus the only two new ingredients added to this formula are the subplot where the leading character, Tony, goes to a see a psychiatrist (which was later on copied in the comedy film "Analyze This") and the interesting insight that a mafia boss, Junior, would be too ashamed to admit that he gives a woman oral sex, yet the rest of the storyline does not hold up that well. "The Sopranos" became the "new kids on the block", signalling a new era in which HBO decided to give cable TV cinematic proportions, allowing for nudity and violence, but also mature themes, seemingly without any censorship, which would pay out royally some 10-15 years later, when mainstream movies became stories for kids, and TV shows stories for grown ups. However, grown up or dark themes cannot carry a whole story alone, and there are thus shortcomings and omissions in the first season of "The Sopranos". It takes on too many unnecessary subplots and side characters, dwelling too long with empty walks instead of getting to the point faster. Maybe there are conclusions in later seasons, but this one still seems a notch bellow all the hype. The only three truly excellent episodes are 1.5 and the finale in 1.11 and 1.12. Episode 1.5 works marvelously precisely because it does not rely on later episodes or directors to "complete the picture", but sets up a clear point and a pay-off from start to finish by following Tony who brings his daughter, Meadows, on a trip to browse a college, only to find a "snitch" in a town and try to assassinate him without his daughter noticing anything.

An occasionally inspired dialogue graces the screen ("Have you heard of the Chinese Godfather? They made him an offer he could not understand!"; in episode 1.2, Martin Scorsese shows up at a party, and one of the fans shouts: "Kundun! I liked it..."; "Octavian became Augustus..." in episode 1.6; when Junior tells Mikey that Tony is seeing a psychiatrist, they have this exchange: "I knew it it!" - "No you didn't! I just told you!"; when a greedy gangster music producer listens to a bad musician performing in front of an audience in episode 1.10, he just comments: "I like any music that turns shit into green.") and they are welcomed. Likewise, some surreal images here and there give the season spice, such the pilot episode in which Tony, in his bathrobe, enters the swimming pool to feed ducks in it, or Christopher's dream sequence without a sound, except for his dialogue with Emile whom he killed, in episode 1.8. The actors are all great, especially James Gandolfini who delivered the role of a lifetime as a character who is both scary and likeable, depending on the situation, as well as Jamie-Lynn Sigler as his teenage daughter who sees through his ploys. Producer David Chase also seems to give a commentary on oligarchy, arguing how nobody can make a few steps in this world without going through a web of various interests of several groups, who all clash and try to dominate each other, building a system where fear and violence are the only forms of meritocracy, a one in which the upper class controls the lower class (the weak and the innocent). The 1st season of "The Sopranos" is something of a case study of the problem of some modern TV shows—there is a great climax in the finale, but the viewers have to sit through 10 hours of overlong, laborious set-up to finally get there, which is not for everyone, instead of either cutting the unnecessary details or making these early episode interesting already from the start.

Grade;++

Friday, January 5, 2018

Animal House

Animal House; comedy, USA, 1978; D: John Landis, S: Peter Riegert, Tim Matheson, John Belushi, Tom Hulce, John Vernon, Donald Sutherland, Stephen Furst, James Daughton, Verna Bloom, Karen Allen, Kevin Bacon

Faber University, '62. Freshmen Larry and Kent try to enter the Omega fraternity, but fail to become members because they are judged unworthy. They thus enter the Delta fraternity, instead. The Deltas are lead by the most unrepresentable students, including Otter, Boon, Hoover and Bluto, and thus their house is full of drunks, wackos and motorcycles. Dean Wormer hates the Deltas and just waits for a pretext to throw them out. Niedermeyer, from the Omegas, terrorizes the students, so Bluto scares his horse that drops dead. Professor Jennings sells drugs whereas Boon ends a relationship with a girl. Since the Deltas have bad grades, the Dean expels them, so they take revenge by creating chaos on a street parade and later on actually find good jobs.

An early work of the director John Landis (excellent "The Blues Brothers" and "An American Werewolf in London"), this comedy about naughty University students beat all expectations when it became a smash hit and the 6th highest grossing movie of the decade, topping even the box office results of "Superman", "The Godfather" and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind". The humor here is broad and vulgar, but also frequently hilarious. In the opening act, freshman students Larry and Kent arrive at the house of the Delta fraternity and immediately witness their outrageous behavior when a puppet is thrown out the window, beer cans are constantly flying into the walls while motorcycles drive through the stairs. The Dean and his assistant have this exchange: "What is the worst fraternity on this campus?" - "That would be hard to say, Sir. They are each outstanding in their own way." When Larry is in bed with a girl, a small devil appears on his left shoulder, trying to talk him into using her, while on his right shoulder, an angel appears that tries to talk him out of it. And "National Lampoon" was probably the first movie that introduced one legendary joke that was copied a thousand times over the next decades: the one where someone hides an insult (*bullshit* and *eat me* in this case) inside a cough. Too bad all the characters are only of episodic nature, including the ostensibly leading role of Boon, which makes the story wonder all over the place in search for some focus or a lead to follow, ending up inevitably slightly chaotic and disorganized. Still, it has its moments for those who like 'slob comedies' where anything goes and there are surprises, and John Belushi is in good shape as the obnoxious Bluto, while the head writer was Harold Ramis, who would hereby start his movie career.

Grade:++

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Calvary

Kalvarija; drama / grotesque, Croatia, 1996; D: Zvonimir Maycug, S: Miran Javorović, Mato Pavelić, Vedrana Likan, Roswitha Mir, Dubravko Sidor

Under the pretext of writing an article about a village, a journalist travels from Zagreb to Desinić, to meet Slavko, his secret gay lover. Slavko lives in the Desinić castle, but earns his money by playing a harmonica. He is also in an unhappy marriage with his wife, yet they have two kids. The journalist sleeps with Slavko's daughter, claiming he loves her because he loves him, as well, much to Slavko's dismay. When the aunt catches Slavko and the journalist naked in bed, she dies from a heart attack. The journalist is engaged to the daughter, but her ex-fiance, a butcher, is jealous. The butcher stabs and kills someone in the journalist's bed, but neglects that he actually killed Slavko's son, Ivan, instead, under the blanket. The whole village blames the journalist and starts a hunt for him, armed with guns. Slavko wants to shoot the journalist, but stops when he finds out that his daughter is pregnant. The journalist and Slavko make up, while the mother manages to revive Ivan by praying to the cross.

Zvonimir Maycug's third film ultimately turned out to be his last one, since the distributors refused to distribute the movie in cinemas, which lead to the director's bankruptcy and a decision to never direct again. That's a pity, because even though "Calvary" is a weak achievement, it is nonetheless one of the most bizarre movies of all time, a one that blends a secret gay relationship, a ghost in the castle, a gluttonous woman eating as much as she can, J. Belushi and "Animal House" style as well as a "Rambo" like action finale in which the villagers even use a bazooka (!) to shoot at the journalist, causing a car and a hut to literally explode, which secured the film cult status: not since Takeuchi's "Wild Zero" was there ever such an insane "coming out" representation of a story that does not care about any rules, but just to serve its author's wishes. The levels of madness and trash are almost unbelievable to fathom, which is why this is a 'guilty pleasure' that abounds with unintentional humor.

One of the most demented sequences, with intentional humor, is when Slavko and the journalist are naked in bed, and the journalist jokingly announces: "I predict that your wife is going to enter this room soon and see us naked in bed, which will cause her to kill us with a chainsaw!" Ironically, just a few minutes later, someone indeed enters the bedroom, but it is the aunt, and she is carrying a knife, with the intent to truly kill them - but dies herself from a heart attack - with the nude journalist joking: "She died the way she always wished from God: by seeing male genitals!" The storyline just keeps listing unnecessary details and side characters, which do not play any role later on in the film. What was the purpose of the aunt praying to Veronika Desinić, and the latter's ghost to show up in a wedding dress, only for the ghost to not do nothing later on? What was the point of the overweight woman who eats in the tavern, if she does not play any role later on? What was the point of a woman who was infatuated with the journalist ("Will I get promoted?" - "Only over my naked body!") at the diner, if she does not play any role later on? Or the teddy bear sequence? It is curious how there is no billing during the closing credits, and thus Slavko is the only character with a name, while for all the others, it is unknown who plays whom among all these nameless characters. If there is one aspect on which "Calvary" works, it is a commentary on the religious bigotry, and through it fundamentalism and fanaticism of any shape, in this small community that refuses to accept people who are different. As ludicrous and exaggerated as all this is, there are some truths about this theme of intolerance. Likewise, the the locations are exquisite, since Slavko's family lives inside the Desinic castle. "Calvary" is a batty film that takes itself way too seriously, yet its enthusiasm and flaws are somehow strangely appealing.

Grade;+