Friday, March 30, 2007

Three Colors: Blue


Trois Couleurs: Bleu; Drama, France/ Poland/ Switzerland, 1993; D: Krzysztof Kieslowski, S: Juliette Binoche, Benoît Régent, Florence Pernel, Charlte Very, Hélène Vincent

France. Julie is the only survivor of a car accident. Her husband and her daughter died. While recovering in hospital, she decides to commit suicide. After she returns to her home, she is confused and devastated, and eventually decides to simply forget her past and free herself from everything: she decides to sell her house, destroy her husband's unfinished musical composition and spend a passionate night with Olivier. She settles in a small apartment and starts living an empty life. But then she finds out that her husband had an affair with Sandrine, who is now expecting his child. Julie decides to give her her old house.

"Blue" is the first film from Krzysztof Kieslowski's trilogy "Three Colors" - that handles the themes of liberty, equality and fraternity - and also arguably the thinnest and weakest of them. The critically acclaimed trilogy was hailed for it's humane and minimalistic tone that succeeded in a synthesis of ambitious and interesting: the first film was hypnotic, the second satirical, and last one magical. "Blue" didn't quite clearly explain it's leitmotif of "liberty" and freedom, although it contains an interesting context about a heroine, Julie, that, after her family died in an accident, decides to simply "free" herself from everything; from the future and the past, from the memories and the rules, from her desires and her emotional limitations, and simply be without worries. In a way, she actually went a little bit down to the path of Buddhism. Julliete Binoche, the score and the film in the category of the best foreign language film were rightfully nominated for a Golden Globe. But not all of the situations work - one of the most banal ones is the one where Julie is doubting if she should get rid of a rat mother and it's little breed - and the minimalistic style is not for everyone's taste, but the film simply has to be seen because it's pure poetry. Kieslowski's quiet visual style is fantastic and creates a spectacle even out of the smallest bauble (a foil that flutters while it's jutting from the window of a speeding car, a feather peeping out of the pillow) creating an achievement that sharpens the senses and makes the viewer aware about the world around him, while the finale is wonderfully metaphysical.

Grade:+++

Three Colors: White


Trois couleurs: Blanc/ Trzy kolory: Biały; Tragicomedy, France/ Poland/ Switzerland, 1993; D: Krzysztof Kieslowski, S: Zbigniew Zamachowski, Janusz Gajos, Julie Delpy, Jerzy Stuhr

France. Karol, a Polish immigrant and a hairdresser, is shocked when a court approves his wife's Dominique request for a divorce. The reason: she didn't want to carry on with the marriage because he didn't have intercourse with her! Karol begs her for a second chance, but she throws him out of the house, even after they have sex. Karol looses his job and money, becoming a homeless man. On the street he meets Mikolaj, also a Polish immigrant, who helps him to return to Poland. There he settles in his brother's home and becomes rich by selling old estates to a company that wants to build a Supermarket. Karol arranges his own, false death. When Dominique shows up on his "funeral", he arranges that the police arrests her for his murder.

"Three Colors: White" is the second and the most amusing contribution from Krzysztof Kieslowski's trilogy "Three Colors". Unlike the other two films, which are dramas, this one could even pass as a comedy. Although at first the wacky parts seem chaotic, they later align themselves into a harmonic whole and leave an positive impression. The unusual story follows the clumsy Karol who is always accompanied by bad luck (his wife Dominique gets a divorce because he didn't have intercourse with her (!), he secretly hides in a bag that gets stolen in a flight from France to Poland), but which slowly with time transforms into good luck and he becomes rich, underlining Kislowski's hidden notion of "equality", the theme of this part of trilogy. At the same time, there is a possible hidden message where Karol's impotence and helplessness in France symbolizes the urge of Poland to become successful in Europe, but always fails. Considering the notion of "equality" once more, maybe it's the key to understanding the ending: at the beginning, the court in France decided in favor of Karol's French wife Dominique, according to the principle of equality, while in Poland the court decided in favor of Karol, by which he got his revenge. "White" is a little bit overrated, but in the end it's still excellent.

Grade:+++

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Three Colours: Red


Trois couleurs: Rouge; drama, France/ Poland/ Switzerland, 1994; D: Krzysztof Kieslowski, S: Irène Jacob, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Frédérique Feder, Jean-Pierre Lorit, Samuel Le Bihan, Marion Stalens

Switzerland. Valentine Dussaut is a 23 year old photo model with a good heart. Her boyfriend Michelle is temporarily in Britain, so their only contact is through the telephone. One day Valentine accidentally hits a dog and decides to take him with her. When she decides to return the dog to the owner, she is shocked to find out it's a cynical, old, retired judge who is intercepting telephone calls and conversations of his neighbors and doesn't believe in love. Although she doesn't approve that kind of behavior, Valentine can't help but to be somehow fascinated by him. The two of them become friends and soul mates. Valentine takes a ferry that sinks, but survives thanks to love.

"Three Colours: Red", the last film from Krzysztof Kieslowski's trilogy that symbolically handles the meaning of colors of the French flag/ three French revolutionary ideals (liberty, equality, fraternity), brought the author his only Oscar nominations - for best director and best screenplay. "Red" - that a lot of critics consider to be the best contribution of the trilogy - is, was and will be a supreme metaphysical, esoteric, lyrical and touching masterpiece, an unusual and fluid piece of art that defies any rules and norms in observing a spiritual "fraternity" of two different people that get along fine. Despite being an art film, "Red" is actually much more elegant, attractive and quirky than many other stiff art films because it possesses a magical musical score and a splendid visual style. The beautiful heroine Valentine is an excellent character - in one scene she tells her boyfriend Michelle, who is living abroad, over the telephone that she felt so lonely that she slept with his jacket in her bed the last night - but the one of the retired judge is also interesting, who cynically comments how strange it is that the justice once depended only on his will in court and on nothing else.

The two of them can't stand each other at first, but they slowly realize that they are fascinated by each other. They find out that they really love each other, in a perfect, but platonic way, although he is 40 years older than her, and wonder what could have been if they were born the same year. To make things even more interesting, Kieslowski added a little subplot of a young man, Auguste, who was betrayed by his girlfriend - that subplot looks as if it was retelling the event that the judge experienced when he was young and that made him cynical, except that it is told in the present time, in Valentine's neighborhood. Coincidence? Ironically, the judge indeed finally found the love of his life, Valentine, just in a different way than he expected. The story is quiet, a little episodic, and in the opening shots it didn't indicate to be anything special, but it slowly bloomed into a magical experience. Although the final point at the end isn't too clear - is love stronger than death? - it seems as if some invisible aura of magic illuminated the whole film.
Grade:++++

Monday, March 26, 2007

Pulp Fiction


Pulp Fiction; Crime/ Drama, USA, 1994; D: Quentin Tarantino, S: John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Willis, Uma Thurman, Ving Rhames, Tim Roth, Christopher Walken, Harvey Keitel, Eric Stoltz, Rosanna Arquette

Los Angeles. Small time crooks Pumkin and Honey Bunny decide to rob the diner in which they are eating...Hitmen Jules and Vincent head to an apartment to retrieve a mysterious briefcase for their boss Marsellus Wallace, that was stolen from a gang of youngsters. There they kill them...Vincent gets an unusual assignment; he has to take his boss' wife, Mia, out on a date. Together they dance in a 50s themed restaurant and win a grand prize. When they return to Mia's home, she falls in a coma due to a heroin overdose. Luckily, he is able to bring her to a friend's house and save her...Butch, an aging boxer, agrees to lose a match for Wallace in exchange for a large sum of money. But during the match he changes his mind and wins, running away with the money. Just as he is about to run away with his girlfriend, he notices he forgot his father's watch in his apartment. He goes to get it, finding Vincent in the apartment and killing him. He runs on Marsellus on the street and hides in a store. But there two gay sadomasochists capture both of them. As they go on to rape Marsellus, Butch manages to free himself and kill them. Marsellus is grateful and agrees to forget the boxing match incident...Back in the apartment, another youngster shows up and shoots at Jules and Vincent, but his bullets mysteriously miss them before they shoot him. Jules is convinced that was a miracle and decides to leave his job as a criminal. They go to a diner where Pumpkin and Honey Bunny want to rob Jules, but Jules stops them and recommends them to change.

It seems as if „Pulp Fiction“ the movie and „Pulp Fiction“ the reputation are two entirely different notions. The reputation of this film is high, but there is also a lot of hate directed towards it in some circles, so much that one may think the movie is filled with non stop senseless violence from start to finish. But the real movie proves that it’s not, and that it’s remembered in a distorted way. The movie itself is actually pretty calm, static, and at some moments even noble and moral. The violence is present though, in only about 5 or 6 sequences, but it’s there and not for everyone’s taste. Quentin Tarantino obviously steals a lot from Godard, most notably in unconventional style and in absurd postmodern dialogues; in one scene near the start of the film, Jules and Vincent are driving in a car and talking about how a Quarter Ponder with Cheese is called "Royale with Cheese" in Paris. This dialogue is senseless. It doesn't have a point or a meaning. But it looks so real. Because, when you think about it, people in real life really talk a lot of nonsense and not every sentence is interesting or has a punchline. As silly as that dialogue is, it shows these are just two average guys with a strange job – they are killers. But Tarantino also steals a lot of heavy crime stuff and Noir atmosphere from Scorsese, Fueller, Peckinpah and a thousand other authors whose movies he observed. A lot of the little subplots are not original, actually, but he has a way of putting the characters in unbelievable, twisted situations. For instance, after he double crossed Marsellus, Butch goes back to get his father’s watch he forgot in his apartment, despite the big risk of getting caught. He enters his apartment and gets his watch, but just as he relaxes he spots a foreign gun and takes it. The minute he does, Jules comes out of the toilet – and Butch simply shoots him and gets out. Now that’s a scene! There is no big Hollywood showdown, no big words, he just eliminates him and that’s it. Later on, Butch is in his car and stops at the red traffic light. And the person who just accidentally crosses the street and stops is no other than – Marsellus. So Butch simply starts the car and hits Marsellus with it. It seems as if every movie clichee is abandoned for something unusual. But Tarantino makes a false step in one sequence and falls hard – it’s the one where Marsellus and Butch are caught by two sadomasochist who are about to rape them. This whole moment may be interpreted as an allegory foreshadowed by Christopher Walken’s character’s monologue about his torture back in the Vietnam War, but it’s also too sick and overtly trashy. Art should be able to get away with every theme, but there are simply some things that are not meant to be there in a real masterpiece. And the way that sequence was executed was unnecessary, as if every masochistic line was suppose to be overemphasised.

But, out of all the three intervened stories, there is a moral. One of the most clever morals are hidden in the last segment, in a form of a Divine intervention when a criminal shoots at Jules and Vincent but his bullets somehow miss them. Vincent ignores this – and gets killed by Butch later on – but Jules is convinced it was a sign from God and decides to quit his job as criminal. His words directed towards Pumpkin are fascinating and speak volumes; „There's a passage I got memorized. Ezekiel 25:17. The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of the darkness. For he is truly his brother's keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know I am the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon you. I been sayin' that shit for years. And if you ever heard it, it meant your ass. I never really questioned what it meant. I thought it was just a cold-blooded thing to say before you popped a cap in his ass. But I saw some shit this morning made me think twice. Now I'm thinking: it could mean you're the evil man. And I'm the righteous man. And Mr. 9mm here, he's the shepherd protecting my righteous ass in the valley of darkness. Or it could be you're the righteous man and I'm the shepherd and it's the world that's evil and selfish.“ That's one of those dialogues that deserve to be framed, because it shows something that isn't shown very often; a bad guy contemplating if his whole life was wrong. This is a very complicated, demanding, ambitious and unusual film, despite being cold and nearly emotionless because it contains a lot of wisdom. Obviously, a lot of people would have preferred a film that’s complicated, demanding, ambitious and unusual, but also warm and full of emotions, but that’s just a matter of taste. „Pulp Fiction“ is a little bit overrated – actually, Kieslowki’s masterpiece „Three Colours: Red“ from the same year is simply better – but it is still a piece of quality that will be remembered.

Grade:++++

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Slayers


Slayers; animated fantasy comedy series, Japan, 1995; D: Takashi Watanabe, S: Megumi Hayashibara, Yasunori Matsumoto, Masumi Suzuki

The 16 year old sorcerer girl Lina Inverse lives in a strange fantasy world of dungeons and dragons. She likes using her special powers to steal money from thieves and one day meets Gourry Gabriev, a blond and naive fighter. Together they travel from village to village and fight demons for cash. Their biggest enemy is the blind magician Rezo who plans to resurrect the evil demon Shabranigdo in order to regain his sight and rule the world. Although Zelgadis, a man covered with stone, was working for him, he joined Lina and Gourry. Rezo dies as the demon is awakened, but Lina manages to beat him. As Amelia joins their group, they have to fight Rezo's clone who continued with the plans to rule the world. But they manage to beat him too.

One of the most beloved animes of the 90s, "Slayers" is a comedy which is so sympathetic and cute that you almost start to delude yourself and imagining it is better than it actually is, ignoring its obvious flaws, among them even the fact that the story is not particularly funny. Actually, a lot of the jokes is too childish and mild - for instance, Lina slams into a tree and remains holding on to it, looking into the camera and saying "Koala". The potentially interesting duel between Gourry and a gay dragon that kidnapped sailors on the sea, was reduced just to the scene in which Gourry stabs him with his sword in the nose. Even the episode where Lina decided to get (falsely) married for money to a prince she could not stand could have turned out much, much funnier. Still, despite very little emotions present, the main protagonist, the quirky, dynamic heroine Lina, is extremely charming, and even the character of the justice obsessed Amelia is imaginative, while the unusual mix of satire, comedy, fantasy and sorcery has its virtues that are not even bitten by the average animation. Up until the intense finale, "Slayers" is a good anime, but the second season, "Slayers Next", is much better and gives a lot more reasons to become its fan.

Grade:++

In Praise of Love


Éloge de l'amour; Drama, France/ Switzerland, 2001; D: Jean-Luc Godard, S: Bruno Putzulu, Cecile Camp, Jean Davy

The director Edgar is planning to make a film about the history of love, opening an audition for a role of a young and a old couple. There he meets the girl Elle and is fascinated by her, being sure he met her somewhere before. After she dies he starts contemplating with his friends about life, philosophy and art. 2 years earlier: Edgar met an older couple that survived the holocaust and sold their story to an American film producer. The granddaughter of that couple was actually Elle.

The big Jean-Luc Godard estranged himself from his famous and praised films in his most fertile period in the '60s. "In Praise of Love" is an confusing and messy art drama with such an colloid, incomprehensible "story" that many viewers will not even figure out what's it about. The film has a few emotions and a clear stoyline shouldn't be essential for a quality film, but this drama seems as if it was directed by an autistic person. Godard decided to make a film about a director who plans to make a film about love but mostly his protagonist is just talking with his friends about everything in life - at one moment, he is talking about the value of a painting, in another about mankind ("Maybe it's not important if mankind can survive, but if that's justified"), then about the Kosovo War, then about the relativity of memories. These are all intriguing themes, but their passion is only visible on the characters in film, and never transmits on to the viewer. To make everything seem even stranger, every 5 minutes or so a text flashes on the screen saying; "For something. For love". Also, the first half of the film is filmed entirely in black and white. Unfortunately, "In Praise" is a pretentious movie about nothing that only a few will enjoy. Godard should have made a film that his protagonist planned, a film about the history of love - it seems 100 times more interesting than this result.

Grade:+

The Detective


Détective; Crime/ Drama, France/ Switzerland, 1985; D: Jean-Luc Godard, S: Larent Terzieff, Jean-Pierre Léaud, Nathalie Baye, Aurelle Doazan, Claude Brasseur, Alain Cuny, Julie Delpy

In one noble hotel the fates of different people are intervened; detectives Isidor, Aureille and William are with the help of cameras observing the guests because of a murder that was committed two years ago in their room. Isidor is dressing as a waiter and is in love with Aureille, but she is in a relationship with William. Jim Fox Warner, a manager, owes a fortune to a mafioso so he decides to bet on a boxer, but he is too preoccupied with his lover. Fox also owes a lot to Emile, who distanced himself from his wife. In a showdown, the mafia kills Fox and William. Aureille falls in love with Isidor.

After "Week End", Jean-Luc Godard temporarily retired from the big screen, working mostly on TV during the '70s. In '80s, he returned to film making, but with weaker calibre and sophistication. His crime drama "The Detective" is a confusing mess: despite it's genre, the movie doesn't have suspense at all (!) because the protagonists are only statically philosophising, creating a boring and inert mood. Actually, Godard was never able to create suspense in his films, even when he killed some of his characters, because he was never interested in reality but in surreal art jigsaw, and his characters mostly seemed like robots or puppets. It's hard to explain how the film and the director were nominated for a Golden Palm in Cannes for just offering a correct job, except for the fact that Godard wasn't nominated earlier when he was in better shape. There are a few nice scenes to be found, however: in one, the mobster's little daughter is reading the "Time" magazine with the headline; "Showdown with the mafia". A man is training the boxer by throwing tennis balls at him which he hits and catapults back. A man asks his colleague on the computer: "How many times have I said that I'm tired since my birth?", on which he replies: "23.500 times". A sympathetic nonsense, "The Detective" has a very big oscillation of rhythm, seeming just like an exercise, so his grade is only sufficient.

Grade:+

Friday, March 23, 2007

Arthur


Arthur; Comedy/ Drama, USA, 1981; D: Steve Gordon, S: Dudley Moore, Liza Minnelli, John Gielgud, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Jill Eikenberry

New York. Arthur Bach is a cheerful millionaire whose life consists of being drunk and hanging around with prostitutes. But behind that cheerful life he is hiding his lonely side and is searching for a woman to love. His older butler Hobson is ironically his only true friend. His aunt Martha promised him to keep his fortune, but under one condition; that he marries Susan, a daughter of the influential tycoon Burt Johnson, who has fallen in love with him. Although Arthur doesn't love Susan, he agrees to marry her. But one day he meets and is fascinated by Linda, a waitress that steals a tie for her dad because she is too poor to afford one, and falls in love with her. When Hobson dies Arthur starts thinking about his life and decides to cancel his wedding with Susan and be with Linda, even if he has to live a poor life. The wedding is canceled and Burt is furious, but Martha changes her mind and still let's Arthur keep his fortune.

"Arthur", winner of 4 Golden Globes and 2 Oscars, is a film with a lot of troubles and flaws, but at the same time it is also a film with a lot of reasons to forget those negative sides and enjoy its distinctive charm and a lot of lovable characters that's hard not to like. Some classic directors, like Bunuel and Pasolini, would have probably been horrified by its story that has sympathy for its bourgeois title hero, but at its chore this is a gentle, romantic, touching and humane humorous drama about the search for real life values, and without a lot of philosophy leaves a strong and serious attitude with unobtrusive messages. "Arthur" isn't laugh out loud funny, but it still contains a lot of amusing jokes. In one scene, Arthur and Linda are in a stable, where horses are kept behind doors with bars, and she mischievously says to one horse; "Don't worry, I talked to the warden, you'll be out in no time". In another, Arthur and the butler Hobson are talking about good old times; "Remember when I was a kid and we were playing hide and seek. I would hide so good you weren't able to find me all day!" - "Did you know I never even looked?" John Gielgud portrays the wise butler Hobson with a unique dignity and charm, undermining his character's strange friendship with his master Arthur who admires him more than his father. When Hobson is starting dying and leaving his life, Arthur finds a new friend in Linda and falls in love with her, but the forced happy ending is rather unrealistic. Christopher Cross' song "Best That You Can Do" is simply perfect, twice as better than the film itself, but it still helps pulling it to the better position in the viewer's opinion.

Grade:+++

2 or 3 Things I Know About Her


2 ou 3 choses que je sais d'elle; Drama, France, 1967; D: Jean-Luc Godard, S: Marina Vlady, Roger Montsoret, Anny Duperey, Joseph Gehard, Jean Narboni

Paris. The narrator is talking how the government is enlarging the city without any care about the quality of life of it's 8 million inhabitants. Juliette is a married woman. Her husband is a journalist writing about the Vietnam War and occasionally likes to philosophize about life. Their daughter is constantly crying while their son is talking about his dream in which two twins became the same person that's a symbol for Vietnam. Since Juliette doesn't have enough money to buy everything she wants, she gets a honorary job as a prostitute. While walking on the streets she is thinking; "The world is me, I'm the world". With her friends she meets a lot of strange clients, like the American who let's them walk with bags on their heads. At the evening she returns to her family.

Jean-Luc Godard once again proves to be one of the most stylishly inventive directors of all times with his unusual art-drama "Two Or Three Things I Know About Her"; in the opening shots the voice of the Narrator can be heard, yet not talking with normal voice, but whispering (!), criticizing the new buildings that are being built around Paris. Since in all other films the Narrator is talking with a normal sound of voice, this one is a funny addition that creates an interesting atmosphere. Later on, the main actress Marina Vlady shows up in once scene and the Narrator says; "This is actress Marina Vlady. She has a blue sweater and brown hair. Now she turned her head towards right, but that doesn't mean anything". Then the same actress is seen from a different camera angle and the voice continues; "This is Juliette. She lives here. She has a blue sweater and brown hair. Now she turned her head...". "2 or 3" gets a little tedious and overlong near the end, and despite it's qualities it would have deserved a grade less had it lasted even a minute longer. Godard is a very unusual director; his hermetic cinema language is incomprehensible for a lot of viewers. Some will argue that he is such an intellectual that his movies are too complex, too high to be understood by everyone. Others will argue that it's senseless to make films nobody gets. Since the anti capitalistic story about a woman who becomes a prostitute for money in order to buy things is non linear and without a climax, many will think it's irritating and unwatchable, but the author is cleverly symbolising the critique of consumerism that sucked in all her life.

Grade:+++

Band of Outsiders


Bande à part; Comedy, France, 1964; D: Jean-Luc Godard, S: Anna Karina, Sami Frey, Claude Brasseur, Lousia Colpeyn, Ernest Menzler

Paris. Franz and Arthur are two clumsy friends who are observing a wealthy house near the river. Mr Stoltz and his wife Victoria live in that house and have a bunch of money that Franz and Arthur would gladly steal. Or at least that's what they heard from the girl Odille who works there occasionally. Franz, Arthur and Odille are together attending an English class, boring themselves to death. Odille agrees to help them in the robbery and falls in love with the stupid Arthur, although Franz is actually in love with her. The first attempt at robbing the house backfires since the door with the money was locked. At the second attempt Franz finds only a very small amount of money, Vitoria dies from the shock while Arthur and his oncle, who suddenly showed up, shoot each other. Franz and Odille run away.

"Band of Outsiders" is an endemic example of simple, accessible comedy in the avant-garde opus of Jean-Luc Godard, the influential and extremely innovative director, but instead of hilarious humor the only thing present here is a mild mix of standard jokes. The story, surprisingly linear for Godard, is revolving around the two dimwitted wannabe criminals, Arthur and Franz, who plan to rob a house, and here and there a few nice jokes are added, like the one in the scene where Arthur gives Odille a letter during English class, in which he wrote; "To be or not to be near your breasts, that is the question". Of course, by following his most inventive period in the '60s, Godard is also treating the viewer with a few original tricks with directing; while Odille is reading Arthur's letter her heart beat can be heard, and when the trio agrees to not speak for a whole minute in the cafe the awkwardly long moment of silence is even intensified with the "mute" environment. But the funniest scene is when Arthur gets shot 6 times but still manages to walk towards his opponent. "Band" is semi famous - apparently Tarantino modeled Thurman's hair due in "Pulp Fiction" to make it look like Oddile's - but it's made a little bit like Allen's comedy "Take The Money and Run"; it's amusing but nothing more. If the unconventional inventiveness was the only thing important for making a good film, Godard would have been the best director of all times, but there are also other ingredients necessary, like a sense of warmth for the characters and a real story.

Grade:++

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Week End


Week-End; Satire, France/Italy, 1967; D: Jean-Luc Godard, S: Jean Yanne, Mireille Darc, Jean-Pierre Kalfon, Jean-Pierre Léaud, Yves Beneyton

Corinne is telling her husband Roland how she had an affair, but he is indifferent to that information. The young bourgeois couple then leaves with their car on a long road trip to inherit some money from her parents, but right from the start they scratch another car, causing it's owner to attack them with his gun. Later on, they get trapped in an endless traffic jam and pick up some Balsam who claims that he is God's son and that he will grant them any wish if they just bring him to London. When they throw him out, their car breaks down, causing them to continue their journey by foot. They meet Emily Bronte whom they put on fire, a man from the French revolution, a truck driver that gives them a lift. When they finally get to Corinne's mother, she announces she is going to change the will. They kill her and inherit the money, but a group of cannibals/revolutionists kill Roland, and Corinne joins them.

Jean-Luc Godard lost his patience with the bourgeois civilisation and crossed the deepest into the avant-garde territory with one of his most famous, but not one of his best films, "Week-End", a grotesque about the larpurlartism of life that describes itself in the opening titles; "A film lost in cosmos". "Week-End" is an anti film. In it, there are no rules. If Punk rock would be a film, it would be "Week-End". In it Godard is often deliberately numbing the audience with Dadaism and incorporating long scenes, the most famous one being the 8 minute long shot in which the camera is slowly passing by a long row of cars in a traffic jam, stopping occasionally at some vehicles, like the truck that was carrying a lama. This film without a story is sucking the couple Roland/ Corinne into a surreal, artificial, sometimes eclectic world; they pick up a man who claims to be God's son and to have special powers, pulling up a rabbit out of their trunk in their car. Later on they are even in the middle of a hilariously cynical situation in which they meet the novelist Emily Bronte in the forest, starting commenting with absurd dialogues ("What a stupid movie! Everyone is an idiot!" - "It's your fault for for accepting this role!"), even being so ignorant and annoyed to put her on fire. The end even contains a real scene of people killing a goose and a pig. "Week-End" is a wonderful joke to the audience, an inventive art-movie to the extreme that has to be seen just for that quality alone, contemplating the inevitable dead end of film, art and mankind as we know it, with direct leftist critique of the Western world and rules, without any emotions or humanity. The only problem is that the film thinks it's smarter than it actually is; in one scene, a title saying "A film found on a scrap heap" is flashed on the screen. Unfortunately, that's somewhat true.

Grade:++

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Breathless


À bout de souffle; Drama/ Crime, France, 1960; D: Jean-Luc Godard, S: Jean-Paul Belmondo, Jean Seberg, Daniel Boulanger, Jean-Pierre Melville, Henri-Jacques Huet

Paris. Michel is a small time crook who is having a hard time getting through life. After stealing a car, a policeman stops him for speeding. In panic, Michel shoots the cop and runs away. His only friend is Patricia, an American girl he is in love with, but she is rather cold towards him. Still, she is hiding him from the police in her apartment. Michel is also a big fan of Bogart, often impersonating him. In his get away he steals another car, but Patricia reports him to the police. He gets shot and killed. In his dying words, Michel says to Patricia; "You're disgusting". She just simply asks; "What does "Disgusting" mean"?

Some viewers always ask themselves; "From where do some famous and often used stylish ideas originate from"? For instance, the one in which the main hero is looking directly in the camera and "talking" with the viewer, that was seen in the TV show "Malcolm in the Middle" and films like "Kuffs", "Annie Hall", "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" and others. It originates right from the art drama "Breathless", the feature debut and the commercially most successful film from the unusual director Jean-Luc Godard who made a star out of Jean-Paul Belmondo; somewhere near the exposition, Michel, the main protagonist, is driving a car and breaking the fourth wall by looking directly into the camera and asking some questions. Not only that, the hand held camera and strange jump cuts in the same scene were also used here for the first time and caused a little sensation, although they are not that fascinating by today's standards. This very good film is still a little bit overrated, but thanks to the realistic script from François Truffaut the story is much more balanced from Godard's later films with over pronounced artificiality. In one scene Michel is looking at Patricia, asks her what she is doing, on which she replies: "I'm watching you". In another, he is jokingly putting his hands on her neck, saying; "I'm going to counting to three. If you don't smile until then, I'm going to strangle you". Godard's first film is an interesting homage to Paris, romance, original anti Hollywood film making and free spirit, attached with subtle Marxist messages, but as a whole it seems more like essential vegetable we have to eat, but don't quite enjoy.

Grade:+++

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Contempt


Le Mépris; Drama, France/ Italy, 1963; D: Jean-Luc Godard, S: Michel Piccoli, Brigitte Bardot, Jack Palance, Giorgia Moll, Fritz Lang

Paul and Camille, a young couple, are lying in their bed. Camille is naked and at one point asks her husband if he likes her body. They later go to a washed up movie studio where Jeremy Prokosch, an angry American producer, is nervous because he invested all his money in the film adaptation of Homer's "Odyssey", directed by Fritz Lang. The three of them attend the test screening of the dailies, but Jeremy is not satisfied with what he sees because he thinks the story looks too mystical. That's why he asks Paul to rewrite the script. Back at home, Paul enters into a huge fight with Camille, even loosing his patience and hitting her. As a consequence, she leaves him. In the end, Paul refuses to rewrite the script, while Camille and Jeremy start an affair and die in an car accident.

Ambitious art drama "Contempt" is Jean-Luc Godard's expression towards the contempt for the movie industry in Hollywood and the commercialism of art, at the same time mirroring his love for movies. As most of his works, "Contempt" is also unusual and extravagant, but it lacks a certain doze of charm and quirkiness. Two scenes stand out from he rest of the film with their sheer brilliance; the inventive opening shot, in which the voice of the narrator is reading the names of this films credits (actors, director, cinematographer...) instead of them being simply presented in titles on the screen, and the closing shot, which shows the sea and the beach, being also at the same time the first scene of the imaginary film "Odyssey". Curiously enough, the American producer is played by Jack Palance who speaks only in English the whole time, and the director Fritz Lang is played by Fritz Lang himself! Still, the two main protagonists are Paul and Camille, a married couple, and their involvement is often boring, monotone and tedious, since Godard was always more interested in style and inventiveness, and almost never in real characters with real emotions, not being adequate enough for a drama. By incorporating the subplot in which Camille is breaking up with Paul to start an affair with the American producer, Godard is probably symbolically talking about the people torn between deep, hermetic art and comercial, but poor fast food entertainment, giving a static and charged meta film essay, but a one that's not that strong enough to intrigue the viewer completely.

Grade:++

Cléo from 5 to 7


Cléo de 5 à 7; Drama, France, 1961; D: Agnes Varda, S: Corinne Marchand, Antoine Bourseiller, Dominique Davray, Dorothee Blank, Michel Legrand

Cléo, a young singer living in Paris, visits a fortune teller hoping to find out something about her future. Namely, it's 5 o'clock in the afternoon, and she is expecting her biopsy results from her doctor in two hours, fearing she may or may not have cancer. When the fortune teller predicts her death, Cléo leaves the building. In order to kill time until her results, she drinks a coffee with her maid Angele. Back at home, she is visited by her lover and then by her friends composers Bob and Plumitif, who try to cheer her up. As she starts singing a depressive song, she decides to quit and visit her friend Dorothee, who poses nude for sculptors. Although they talk about normal issues, Cléo is still nervous and thinking about her results. Finally, a taxi driver drops her of at the park, where she meets a soldier, Antoine. He accompanies her to the hospital. There the doctor announces that she indeed has cancer and that she should report to him for radiotherapy.

"Cléo from 5 to 7" is a film that demands endless patience, but it still unravels, surprisingly, much more intriguing and entertaining than one would expect. As if following Hitchcock's statement about how "There is no suspense in the shot, just in the anticipation of it", this whole film is based on casual, everyday anecdotes of the main heroine Cléo, that are all emotionally charged because they are pointing out and anticipating her biopsy result at the end, that will show if she has cancer or not. To make things even more unusual, in the finest manner of the "French New Wave", director Agnes Warda shaped this drama almost as a documentary by filming it almost in real time, following Cléo from 5 to 7 pm, for 2 hours, which is also almost the same running time of the film. Scene after scene, the film is shot almost in one gigantic sequence, following the nervous Cléo as she is walking through town trying to kill time - by shopping, drinking coffee, observing the people on the street, singing or talking with her friends - while the chapters are constantly showing up here and there on the screen, reminding the viewer how much time she has left, presenting "Chapter 1 - Cléo from 5:05 to 5:08", "Chapter 2 - Cléo from 5:08 to 5:013", "Chapter 3 - Cléo from 5:013 to 5:017" etc.

By coping with existentialism, the meaning of life and the fear of loss, Warda managed to create a quality made achievement filled with realism, finding beauty in the chaos of life and presenting it in quiet, understated manner, but at some scenes the film seems to drag and look repetitive. Surprisingly, the opening shots of the cards of the fortune teller are shot in color while the rest of the film is entirely in black and white, and here and there Warda likes to casually announce a few observations about human relationships, most noticeable in the scene in which Antoine is saying to Cléo how "woman don't love. They just want to be loved". "Cléo from 5 to 7" is not your average run-of-the-mill drama about sickness, but about the anticipation of the events that will change the life towards a worse state, making the protagonists realize that they should learn how to enjoy life and make the best of it - and the director of the film the best out of that theme.

Grade:+++

Friday, March 16, 2007

He Who Sings Means No Harm


Tko pjeva zlo ne misli; Comedy/ Drama, Croatia, 1970; D: Krešimir Golik, S: Mirjana Bohanec, Tomislav Zganec, Relja Bašić, Mia Oremović, Franjo Majetić

Zagreb after the World War II. The 6 year old Perica Šafranek is writing a diary hoping it will serve as a valuable testament in 1.000 years. His mother Ana is often singing and daydreaming while her husband Franjo is rather primitive and clumsy. The family lives in a elite Zagreb suburb surrounded by friendly neighbours. One day, as Perica, Ana and her sister Mina were taking a picnic in Samobor, they met Mr Fulir. The classy bachelor starts flirting with Ana, taking her picture and promising to visit her. At first, Franjo doesn't suspect anything strange as Fulir is visiting their apartment, hoping he will match him up with Mina. When he finally realizes Fulir is seducing his wife, he starts a fight with him and goes to a local prostitute to make her jealous. In the end, Ana and Franjo manage to make up, arranging a wedding with Fulir and Mina.

"He Who Sings Means No Harm" is a gentle, nostalgic, charmingly outdated story from the everyday life of everyday people in Zagreb. The director Krešimir Golik is shaping the film in form of a simple fairy tale with amusing details; in the exposition the viewer finds out the 6 year old boy Perica is writing a diary hoping it will be remembered in thousand years, while his neighbors are shown in funny fast motion shots reminiscent of the old silent comedies, from the chimney-sweeper up to the local prostitute in a improvised brothel, a black humored inside joke that stands out from the rest of the story. The main plot, revolving around the attempts of Mr Fulir to seduce the married Ana, is executed fluently but averagely, without many stand out, brilliant qualities, except for being nice. Also, despite being a comedy - with a few musical interventions here and there - the film offers very sparse humor with a mild punchline, relaying more on his atmosphere, although there are a few good jokes to be found, for instance in the scene in the bathing resort where Fulir is hiding from Ana's husband Franjo by placing newspapers on his head, or the one where the drunk Franjo is observing the moon and saying: "Look at the Mars! How big it is!" Filled with situations a lot of people can relate to, "He Who Sings Means No Harm" is a good comedy, but not the "best Croatian film of all time" like many Croatian critics like to claim. Because if it really is, the Croatian cinema would be in big trouble.

Grade:++

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Alphaville

Alphaville, une étrange aventure de Lemmy Caution; science-fiction art-film, France, 1965; D: Jean-Luc Godard, S: Eddie Constantine, Anna Karina, Akim Tamiroff, Howard Vernon

The Future. Detective Lemmy Caution arrives in Alphaville, a town in the middle of the Galaxy where logic is the law and every emotion is forbidden, and goes on to register in the hotel under the false name Ivan Johnson. Caution's secret assignment is to find the missing professor Von Braun. When he does, he discovers Von Braun is working as a scientist in developing deadly weapons for the computer Alpha 60 who is monitoring every inhabitant and planing to rule the Galaxy. Caution kills Von Braun and destroys Alpha 60. He also falls in love with Natasha.

"Alphaville" is one of the most interesting films from Jean-Luc Godard, a somehow fascinating experience. Basically, this is a Sci-Fi film without any special effects in which the futuristic town from the title doesn't distinguish itself in nothing from the Paris of the '60s; the cars, clothes and builings are totally normal fo the 20th century (a coincidence or a message? Because if it's a message, then it's point is that our future could turn to be the same as our past). There are two explanations for it's quality. Firstly, Eddie Constantine is very charismatic as detective Lemmy Caution, mimicking Bogart; one of the strangest situations plays out right at the start when he rejects the courting from a woman "seducer of the 2nd class" in his hotel, and when the hotel manager keeps urging him to change his mind, Caution beats him up and expels him with the help of his gun. Secondly, Godard reduced his occasionally unbearable philosophical babble to the minimum, creating a disciplined Sci-Fi crime film with an opulent mood in which he is cleverly "cheating" with futuristic looking buildings and the normal lamp representing the evil computer Alpha 60, an unusual dictator. A few of Cautions monologues are supreme ("Desire is just a consequence. It can't appear without love" or "My secret is something which never changes, day or night. The past represents its future. It advances in a straight line, yet it ends by coming full circle", alluding to love to puzzle and tease the logical Alpha 60) and the story's messages about a dystopian, totalitarian society whose citizens have forgotten how to feel emotions and were transformed into robots, is rather conclusive.

Grade:+++

Monday, March 12, 2007

A Woman is a Woman


Une femme est une femme; Comedy/ Musical, France, 1961; D: Jean-Luc Godard, S: Anna Karina, Jean-Claude Braily, Jean-Paul Belmondo

Paris. The young Angela is working as a striptease girl in a bar and is often dreaming about musicals because she loves to sing. She really wants to have a baby, but when she announces her wish to her lover Emile he rejects her by saying that he is still not ready to be a father. Soon the couple enters into a huge argument, forcing Angela to ask her friend Alfred Lubitsch for advice, who is in love with her. She also has a little crush on him, but in the end she decides to go back to Emile and spend the night with him.

It's true that always conventional movie stories start becoming boring after a while. But it's also true that the plain unconventionality without a story as a basis also starts to become boring. The big stylish innovator Jean-Luc Godard always insisted at shooting unconventional films, but today a solid number of them seem outdated, artificial and fake. Among them is his (musical) comedy "A Woman is a Woman" which is so abstract and artificial that a lot of viewers will develop a nostalgia for the classic, clear narration from the movies of Wilder, Capra, Ford and others. But "Woman" is also pretty entertaining when the viewer gets used to it; in the opening shots, while Angela is walking on the street, the music in the background constantly mischievously suddenly shows up, only to equally suddenly gets turned of. A great idea is a scene in which Alfred wants to see the film "Breathless", and a few funny scenes (Angela puts a giant pillow under her shirt to try to imagine how it feels to be pregnant) and dialogues ("I'll pose you a question. If you answer "No", then you owe me 20 $. If you answer "Yes", then I owe you 20 $." - "All right. Ask me". - "Can you borrow me 20 $?") are real jewels in this good, but hermetic and cold achievement.

Grade:++

Pierrot goes wild


Pierrot le fou; Satire, France, 1965; D: Jean-Luc Godard, S: Jean-Paul Belmondo, Anna Karina, Graziella Galvani

Ferdinand Griffon is married to a boring Italian woman and has a daughter. His life is average and boring, but one evening he visits a party with his wife where he meets the director Samuel Fueller, and also his ex girlfriend Marianne. He spends the night with her, but when he wakes up in an unknown apartment there's a corpse of a mobster on the floor. Namely, Marianne is a fugitive because she stole some money from the mafia. Ferdinand, whom she constantly calls Pierrot, decides to run away with her and hide at the beach. Since they don't have any money, they have to hunt for food. One day Marianne disappears and the mafia captures Ferdinand, but sets him loose. Ferdinand is lonely and writing a diary, but one day he again meets Marianne. During a shootout, she dies on an island, while he sets a dynamite set on his head on fire.

"This isn't a film!", screamed producer Dino De Laurentis when he first saw the screening of the wild farce "Pierrot goes wild", refusing to distribute the film in Italy. Still, that 10th film from the brilliantly inventive director Jean-Luc Godard gained cult status - in a way, it's basically a simple story about a young couple in love defying any rules, but just done on a higher level in artsy style, producing a metaphysical film beyond film itself that's without any logic and clear structure, filled with spontaneous references about the Algerian and the Vietnam War, causing a lot of viewer's to find it boring if they are not on his same wave level. The exposition is amazingly inventive; four rows of the letter A show up on the screen. Then a few rows of the letter B are added. Then other letters are added, from C, D, E, F...Up until the point where they assemble the opening credits saying; "Jean-Paul Belmondo and Anna Karina in a Jean-Luc Godard film". Godard thinks tradition and convention are anachronism so his heroes in this film suddenly start to sing like in a musical all out of the blue, while a lot of things remain (deliberately) vague. The special spark is given from the humorous scenes; Ferdinand counts from 1 to 137 while he is bowling. A mobster giant is putting the corpse of a dwarf mobster on the chair. Some madman on the beach is holding an endlessly long monologue in front of Ferdinand about his boring wife and her stupid song. Godard's films have almost everything; they are intelligent, smart, praised, ambitious, inventive...The only problem is that it's hard to enjoy them.

Grade:++

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Loveless


Loveless; Animated fantasy drama series, Japan, 2005; D: Yuu Kou, S: Junko Minagawa, Katsuyuki Konishi, Kana Ueda, Mamiko Noto, Sanae Kobayashi

In the world of "Loveless", every person who still has "Neko" characteristics - cat's ears and a tail - is still a virgin. Only after intercourse do those ears and tail fall of. Aoyagi Ritsuka is a 12 year old boy who was just transported to another school. Although he is still mourning because his older brother Seimei was mysteriously killed, he manages to make friends with a girl, Hawatori Yuiko. One day he meets a 20 year old student Soubi who claims to have known his brother - and who adds that he loves him. From that day on, Soubi starts a strange relationship with Ritsuka, obeying his every command. Ritsuka is confused, but Soubi saves him from school pupils Midori and Ai, members of the mysterious organization "Seven Moons" who posses dark powers. Soon other pupils show up who also attack, forcing Soubi and Ritsuka to join forces. After a wild hallucination in which he saw all of his friends killed, Ritsuka asks Soubi if he would kill him if his brother was still alive and gave him that order. He replies that he would, but that he would then be dead too. The two of them

"Loveless" is an anime that could have been so much more than just a good, esoteric, but standard achievement that it is in the end. The story has one premise that's simply astounding; in this world, every person that has cat's ears and a tail is still a virgin - only after intercourse do those features fall of. Unfortunately, that premise is so underused here it's sad. If there was ever an anime that deserved a remake or that it's original idea gets used in another series, then it's this one. For example, the supporting character of Hitomi, a 23 year old school teacher who still has her ears - thus indicating that she is still a virgin - is very well done; she is a gentle, smart, shy, emotional person, and considering the whole setting and context of "Loveless", the notion of her finding her first love is almost forcing itself on the viewer. Unfortunately, that logical addition is never shown. The only thing shown is that Hitomi has a small crush on Soubi, but never decides to do something about it, thus keeping her ears. Among the minor supporting characters, lesbian teenage girls Yamato and Kouya are also very well done; in one particularly good scene, Yamato is observing Kouya in the train, touching her ears and saying; "You should get rid of those ears...". Considering the main plot revolving around Ritsuka and Soubi, "Loveless" does a good job presenting the tangle, posing a few interesting points about fate and creating a nice, stylish mood with a gay subtext that anticipates a climax - but that climax never shows up. Having only 12 episodes that were adapted from the much richer Manga, "Loveless" feels only like half a series that desperately needs a sequel. The animation is amazing, the music also, and the hermetic story does a fine job of subtly toying with sadistic and masochistic nature of Soubi, yet in the end almost nothing is resolved - a lot subplots are presented that are never explained, but if the series can't handle them then it shouldn't have even introduced them in the first place. In the end, "Loveless" isn't meaningless, but it also isn't flawless.

Grade:++

Seven Chances


Seven Chances; Silent comedy, USA, 1925; D: Buster Keaton, S: Buster Keaton, T. Roy Barnes, Snitz Edwards, Ruth Dwyer

Jimmy Shannon has been in an romantic relationship with Mary for a long time, but never had the time to tell her that he loves her. His job as a broker is extremely unsuccessful, making his business partner Billy stand on the edge of bankruptcy. But one day a lawyer shows up and announces wonderful news to Jimmy; his grandfather, who passed out, left him 7 million $ - but only under the condition that he gets married before his 27th birthday. Jimmy immediately proposes Mary but she ends the relationship thinking he is only interested in money, not in her. Billy convinces him to find a new bride. Soon, Jimmy is proposing every woman he meets, but unsuccessfully. Then Billy prints the news about the 7 million $ inheritance money in the newspaper and the whole church is soon full with brides. Jimmy rejects them all so they start chasing him. When he finds out Mary still likes him, he marries her.

Although it contains a lot of brilliant moments, the silent comedy of misunderstanding and critique of pragmatic/arranged marriage, "Seven Chances", leaves an impression of being vague and inconclusive. Like in, let's say "Go West", this Buster Keaton film also has an intriguing story that wasn't handled absolutely satisfying, but as a light comedy it's still good, superior to the remake "The Bachelor" from the 1990s. The funniest scene is the one in which Billy is persuading the hero Jimmy to propose every woman he meets; by following his idea, Jimmy spontaneously enters a restaurant, sits at a table opposite of some woman and asks her; "Will you marry me?", making every person in the building laugh out loud. Still, some of his attempts are banal (he stops a woman, but when he notices that she is black he gives up!) or simply just nice, making it hard to call them something special. Ironically, Keaton is in best shape when he is starring in a surreal action sequence that doesn't have anything to do with the story and recalls his best virtuous moments from better films like "The General", the one in which he is running down from a cliff, accidentally triggering an avalanche of rocks that start heading towards the hundreds of brides.

Grade:++

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Steamboat Bill Jr.


Steamboat Bill Jr.; silent comedy, USA, 1928; D: Charles Reisner, Buster Keaton, S: Buster Keaton, Ernest Torrence, Tom McGuire, Marion Byron

Mississippi. Two steamboats patrol the river whose owners can't stand each other; King, a rich man who is respected by everyone, and Canfield, a poor man who has only one friend. Since all citizens only want to get transported by King's steamboat, Canfield calls his son William to hep him with the job. But he hasn't seen his son since he was a kid, thus finding out William is a wimp, not a bruiser. Also, William is the Mary's lover, King's daughter. When King announces that only his steamboat is sure for transportation, Canfield starts a fight with him and lands in jail. Then a massive tornado hits the town and starts blowing cars and houses away. In the midst of the chaos, William saves King from drowning in the river and his father from jail, making them become friends.

"Steamboat Bill Jr." is a film with a small problem. But that small problem can influence the viewer's perception of the whole film. Namely, "Steamboat" contains a brilliant, absolutely smashing finale, a one that remained remembered as one of Buster Keaton's most known stunts. But up to that finale the whole film is nowhere nearly as good; it is overstretched, its gags drag and the rhythm is deferring. But if the viewer accepts that condition, that the ending is ten times better than the rest of the film, he will enjoy "Steamboat" with ease. This is a clever comedy, Keaton's last independently produced film, a simple and childish "Romeo and Juliet" story about the reconciliation of two competitive sides, and Keaton is in great form. But the most memorable parts are contained in the finale, the virtuoso directed tornado sequence; a strong wind starts blowing cars and houses away, while Keaton is defying it on the street. That spectacle lasts for about 6 minutes and among others contains the classic scene in which a wall falls on Keaton - who survives only thanks to the fact that he was standing under a window - or the one where Keaton is leaning for about 40 degrees in front of himself thanks to the strong storm. Despite being unbalanced and a little bit slow, "Steamboat" is still a very interesting film made with enough skill to remain undated.

Grade:+++

The General

The General; silent comedy, USA,1927; D: Buster Keaton, Clyde Bruckman, S: Buster Keaton, Marion Mack, Glen Cavender

American Civil War. Johnnie Gray is a young Confederate train engineer working on the train called "The General". When all the men in his town go to enlist to fight in the war, he is first in the line but is turned down because the army thinks he is more valuable as an engineer. But his girlfriend Annabelle Lee and her father think he didn't enlist in the army because he is a coward and break every contact with him. However, one day an Union spy steals "The General" and Annabelle with it. In order to save them both, Johnnie starts chasing them in another train, "Texas", equipped only with one cannon. The Union soldiers on the other hand are running away because they don't know Johnnie is alone in the train. When they realize he is alone they stop, causing Johnnie to hide in the woods. He hears about their secret plans of a forthcoming attack. He saves Annabelle and makes a getaway with her in the train. The Union soldiers follow them with another train but loose, and Johnnie even manages to capture one of their generals.

"The General" is one of the most virtuoso and respected silent comedies from Buster Keaton's career, the comedian with the stone face. This excellent movie is even by today's standards funny, original, quirky, suspenseful, emotional and practically an undated achievement. Basically, it is a very simple film; over 80 % of its story consists just out of a chase between two trains and its gags are childish, but as a whole "The General" works surprisingly well, is meticulously constructed and has irresistible situations; in one particularly inventive and stylish, Johnnie's train is pursuing the enemy train. He is on the aim of his own cannon in the latter waggon, but in the crucial moment the train makes a sharp curve and diverts just as the cannon fires, thus accidentally hitting the enemy train 300 feet away in front of him. In another, Johnnie is removing a beam from the railway in front of his ongoing train by simply throwing another beam at it. In another, the enemy is again pursuing Annabelle and Johnnie with the train, and just as they are about to touch their waggon, he disengages its clutch. This is a movie of sheer inspiration, a simple display of stunt choreography, but a one that is brilliant at doing just that. "The General" is a rare kind of cinema jewel; a one so neutral it is suitable for everyone - young and old - and yet it also at the same time sharp enough to be equally enjoyable for both. It owes that to one simple feature: despite all impossible stunts and action sequences, the main highlight is still Keaton himself, and his superior comedy, whose Johnnie is a stoic hero who never complains to save his beloved girl.

Grade:+++

Go West


Go West; Silent comedy, USA, 1925; D: Buster Keaton, S: Buster Keaton, Howard Truesdale, Kathleen Myers, Ray Thompson

An unemployed young man, Friendless, sells all his stuff for a dollar and a half and goes to the wild west by loading into a train wagon. He comes to a ranch near the desert and truly spontaneously finds a job as a cowboy. The owner of the ranch doesn't exactly appreciate him, but his daughter does. friendless has a lot of problems with his job; he is clumsy and isn't able to catch bulls, while his best friend becomes a cow named "Brown Eyes". When the owner is forced to sell his whole cattle due to financial problems, his rival steals the train wagon where he put them. But Friendless manages to rescue the cattle and sell it, making the owner thank him.

Silent comedy "Go West" is not one of those films that are sufficient for Buster Keaton's talent. Namely, unlike his great classics like "Sherlock Jr." or "The General", Keaton here isn't able to create an iteration of magnificent humor due to childish, pale gags and underwritten, too simple story, making him rather inappropriate in the role of a cowboy. Some scenes, like the one in which Keaton is climbing on a donkey with a help of a ladder or the one where he shaves the legs of a cow in order to spare her from being branded, are cute and cause sympathy for his character, but are not anything brilliant. Only the finale is truly genius; namely, Keaton is trying to lead a mass of bulls through the city, but they won't budge and the police is getting closer. So he decides to dress into something red, a costume of the devil (!), in order to make the bulls follow him. But not only do they starts following him, but at one point they start chasing him like crazy, forcing him to run for his life.

Grade:++

Friday, March 9, 2007

¡Three Amigos!


¡Three Amigos!; Western comedy, USA, 1986; D: John Landis, S: Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, Martin Short, Patrice Camhi, Alfonso Arau, Tony Plana, Joe Mantegna, Jon Lovitz

The Mexican village Santo Poco is terrorized by outlaw El Guapo, so one of it's inhabitants, Carmen, decides to hire the 'Three Amigos', actors she mistaken for real heroes when she saw one of their heroic films on the screen. She sends an incomplete telegram to them in Hollywood and they accept since they were fired by the studio, thinking it will only be a show. When El Guapo and his gang turn out to be a real outlaws, they run away, but decide to storm his were abouts anyway in order to be real heroes. They save Carmen and return to the village, where every inhabitant makes and wears their costume, scaring the outlaws away.

"Three Amigos" are a mild parody of the far better classic "The Magnificent Seven" in which the authors made even better character development of the seven protagonists there than the authors did out of the three protagonists here, resulting in a solid, harmless fun, yet thanks to director John Landis, who had the most creative phase in the 1980's, it still managed to surprise here and there with a few clever touches. It's a routine comedy without much effort put into it, but the first third is really good thanks to the irony that mocks the cheesy and naive mentality of the title protagonists who live the same way they act in their idealistic movies. One of the best gags comes up right after the three outlaws were confused by the show of the Three Amigos, running away to their boss El Guapo to lament about what they saw, making one of them complain: "They even called us scum-sucking pigs! Us!" Since the three of them look at each other, all one uglier than the other, dirty and like they haven't washed for months, that scene has some hilarious, but subtle comic timing. Even later on a few good gags show up - like when the Amigos swing on ropes into El Guapo's hideout, but Dusty slams through the window of a building and falls right into a closet that shuts right behind him, while Ned gets stuck with his shoes on a hanging pinata - yet there is a weak chemistry between the three of them, Chevy Chase seems rather absent while the story is trivialized with silly subplots, like the singing bush.

Grade:+

Kippour


Kippour; drama, Israel/ France, 1999; D: Amos Gitai, S: Liron Levo, Tomer Russo, Uri Klauzner, Yoram Hattab

On 6th October '73 Israel is celebrating Yom Kippour. The young Weinraub has intercourse with a girl who is wheeling in painting colors. He then gets mobilized together with his friend Ruso because Syria and Egypt have attacked their country in order to conquer Sinai and the Golan heights. Weinraub and Ruso are driving in an old car, heading to the Golan heights, in order to join their army unit. On their way they pick up an army doctor. In the base they get the assignment to transport the wounded with a helicopter to the hospital. Weinraub has nightmares and doesn't know who is leading in war. When their helicopter gets hit by a rocket they get wounded. Ruso remains in the hospital, Weinraub returns home. Israel wins the war.

Autobiographical war drama "Kippour" is an inspired art film directed by Amos Gitai in a very static, philosophical and demanding way. In the opening shots the main hero Weinraub is walking through the empty and quiet streets of a town. In the next scene, in a huge close up, his arm "dives" into a multicolored layer of colors for painting when a female hand shows up and starts stroking his. As the camera moves slowly away it reveals him and his girlfriend how they are hugging and having intercourse, all splodgy from different rainbow colors; that 3 minutes long, ultra disciplined scene in virtuous, containing a true poetic beauty that has a magical feel to it. Later the story establishes itself as an antonym for the antiwar genre; the enemy (Syria and Egypt) is never shown, while the unpatriotic soldiers are constantly complaining ("I don't want to go into a tank. I have to share that narrow space with four men and I don't have no place to piss!"). The static, extremely long shots of medical help deliberately undermine the action side of the story, turning her one from extroverted into introverted, while the whole atmosphere is very suggestive, making the film note worthy, although he contains some overlong and repetitive moments.

Grade:+++

Lemon Popsicle


Eskimo Limon; Comedy, Israel, 1977; D: Boaz Davidson, S: Yiftach Katzur, Zachi Noy, Jonathan Segal, Anat Atzmon, Ophelia Shtruhl

Israel, 1950s. Benny, Momo and the over weight Johnny are three teenagers in search for a girlfriend. They meet two girls and take them to the cinema, without Johnny. But since they don't have tickets they get expelled. Benny is often arguing with his parents and gets drunk at a party because the girl he loves already has a boyfriend. Selling ice cream he notices that Stella, a middle aged woman, is seducing him. She even invites him, Momo and Benny in her apartment to become intimate, but then her husband shows up and gets rid of them. The three hapless boys hire a prostitute to loose their virginity, but since they didn't use a condom they get genital parasites. Momo rejects his girlfriend when she gets pregnant and Benny pay for her abortion. But she returns to Momo.

Coming of age Comedy "Lemon Popsicle" was once one of the most famous and most successful films from Israel, being even nominated for a Golden Globe in the category for the best foreign language film, but today it doesn't have many fans left. Stiff directing (passive camera movements, fake looking situations...) and pale actors are annoying the viewers more than they are entertaining them, and the only great thing the authors did was the choice of music. Conservative viewers shouldn't be offended too much for only a couple of shy erotic sequences where nothing much was shown, but many will be confused by the nonsensical moment in which the three teenage heroes are in the apartment of the older woman Stella who suddenly starts stripping and seducing them, while they are sitting on the couch an looking in dismay, in such an embarrassing manner that one may wonder if it was all a bad hallucination. The actors were obviously embarrassed filming this sequence, since the screenwriter didn't adequately elaborate the situation or make it look meaningful or coherent. One of the better jokes is the one where Benny pierces the bicycle tire of a girl he likes, in order to take her for a ride in his own bicycle, or when the curious three teenagers have intercourse with a prostitute without a condom, just to get parasites the following days. "Lemon Popsicle" is a solid, nostalgic chronic of teenager life, with a very serious ending, but too clumsy too be anything more.

Grade:+

Lemon Popsicle VI


Harimu ogen/ Lemon Popsicle VI; Erotic comedy, Israel/ Germany/ Italy, 1985; D: Dan Wolman, S: Zachi Noy, Yiftach Katzur, Petra Kogelnik

Bobby went to America while Benny and the over weight Johnny stayed in Tel Aviv to seduce girls on the beach. When Bobby returns he gets employed with his friends as a sailor on a yacht that's heading towards Venice. Johnny is annoyed by the sergeant who wants him to marry his daughter, while Benny falls in love with Dana,the daughter of the captain, but she has a relationship with some bully. Some baron is smuggling pearls in Johnny's shoes but he looses them in Venice. Dana in the end chooses Benny.

The 6th part of the shunned "Lemon Popsicle" series is rather clumsy, boring, tasteless, unemotional and overstretched achievement without substance, although he has good music (the one in part 5 was even better) and a few nonchalantly amusing jokes. A few of the solid humor appears in the exposition; a bra equipped with electric shocks for self defence, a postcard containing a woman whose dress can be removed, a parrot warning his owner whenever his daughter is about to have intercourse with someone, the scene in which Benny in a speeding car tears a girls dress. But the majority of the plot is cheap trash - this time it's unraveling on the yacht - and the erotic touch is sustained. In one of the totally confusing scenes the heroes are in a screening room watching how they kissed with Stella (the scene from the first film) although nobody filmmed them back then! As the critics have noticed, the "Lemon Popsicle" series became weaker and weaker with every new sequel, forcing writers to desperately fill the story with nonsense in order to artificially keep it going. Maybe they should have written something new and creative instead of just doing the same old thing again and again.


Grade:-

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Theorem


Teorema; Drama, Italy, 1968; D: Pier Paolo Pasolini, S: Silvana Mangano, Massimo Girotti, Terence Stamp, Anne Wiazemsky, Laura Betti

Milan, Italy. A journalists is asking random people on the street what they think about the bourgeoisie. An industry complex is empty. Lucia and Paolo are a rich middle aged couple that lives in an opulent villa with daughter Odetta, son Pietro and the maid Emilia. Via telegraph they get informed that an unknown young man is going to visit them. The stranger shows up and wakes up the urges in the family; in the following day he has intercourse with the son, maid, daughter, Lucia and Paolo himself. Although they beg him to stay, he disappears as mysterious as he appeared. The family then falls into deep crisis and changes. The maid returns to her home town and starts levitating over a house, creating a religious event. The daughter falls in coma, the son becomes an artist, Lucia starts searching for random affairs. Paolo is spotted at a train station completely naked, before he shows up in the middle of desert.

"Theorem" - a movie about a mysterious stranger who enters a home of a rich bourgeois family and turns their lives upside down because of his uniqueness - seems like an early, raw version of Ashby's film "Being There". It's an confusing, abstract, but undoubtedly ambitious psychological drama that offers some sort of critique of the empty life of the rich society. It's main problem is the lack of psychology due to empty, faceless characters. Although working with subconscious details (every 10 or so minutes a random shot of a desert is shown, acting as a leitmotif of the empty life), the director Pier Paolo Pasolini overstretched the film too much and didn't underline the highlights, but his rhythm is good; while for some the demanding atmosphere can be enriched with inventiveness, humor and original style, for him, in this case, it was just an excuse for empty scenes of people walking around their rooms and being quiet. It's not irritating, but he could have made more out of it. Maybe the mysterious stranger is a symbol for love that enters into cold lives of the bourgeoisie, and when he disappears the family members realize there is something more in life than just money and consumerism, some ideal, some perfection, making them change and fall into abstinence crisis. The best moments are surreal, like the maid who is seen levitating over her home while the people proclaim her to be a saint. Still, like "Big Brother" showed, real life is indeed sometimes close to dadaism.


Grade:++

Oedipus Rex


Edipo re; Drama, Italy/Morocco, 1967; D: Pier Paolo Pasolini, S: Franco Citti, Silvana Mangano, Alida Valli, Carmelo Bene, Julian Beck, Luciano Bartoli

Italy,1967. A soldier is getting jealous at his baby son, fearing his wife is showing more affections towards him. He sleeps with his wife and then goes on to his sons room, catching his legs...Ancient Greece. A shepard finds an abandoned baby in the wilderness and brings it to Corinth, where the king Polybus and queen Merope raise it like their own child and name it Oedipus. As a grown man, Oedipus heard from the Oracle at Delphi that he is going to kill his father and marry his mother. Fearing that may come true, Oedipus decides to leave and live as far away as possible from Polybus and Merope - not knowing they are actually his adoptive parents. In rage, he comes to a road and kills king Laius who was riding a chariot. He came to Thebes where he killed the demonic Sphinx and was crowned king of the city. And he married the queen, Jocasta. When a plague hit the town, his servants found out it's a curse because someone killed king Laius. Soon, Oedipus finds out he was actually Laius' son, and that Jocasta is his mother. She commits suicide and he becomes mad...Back in Italy in the '60s, Oedipus is still mad, playing a flute.

"Oedipus Rex" is not one the best films Pier Paolo Pasolini ever made, but it offers a lot of food for thought non the less. Like in most of his films, Pasolini uses a lot of unprofessional actors that give the story an authentic touch; they don't know how to act, they are just the way they are - clumsy, strange, insecure - and his point is that it would be a lie if they would play something that they are not. Even Franco Citti, the main actor, acts rather casualy, like a real person. The movie actually starts in the modern day Italy, where a man is jealous at his baby son because his wife is giving him all her attention. This prologue, where he sleeps with her in slow agony thinking at his son as a "competition", is truly provocative considering the film was made in 1967. But it also has a point since the story cuts right into the Ancient Greece where another, similar story happened, where Oedipus was abandoned by his father; in those two stories Pasolini once again proves his thesis about the non existence of history and repeating situations through every human period. The exotic Morocco is a weird substitute for Ancient Greece, but it manages to capture the esoteric mood and lyrical touch the author wanted. By adapting Sophocles play about Oedipus Pasolini created a daring minimalistic story about the agony of sexuality and perversion, innocence and ignorance, fate and damnation, adding a lot of Freudian touches throughout. The whole film is a little bit overstretched, and some situations, like the one where Oedipus kills king Laius just because he asked him to let his chariot pass, seem fake, but all in all "Oedipus Rex" remains an interesting film not many have heard of.

Grade:+++

The Hawks and the Sparrows


Uccellacci e uccellini; fantasy / comedy / drama, Italy, 1966; D: Pier Paolo Pasolini, S: Totò, Ninetto Davioli, Femi Benussi, Rossana Di Rocco, Renato Capogna
Totò and his clumsy son Ninetto are walking on a road. They come to a restaurant where Ninetto joins a few guys dancing outside. Totò spots a crowd of curious people observing a house where an incident happened, while Ninetto talks with a girl dressed as an angel. They continue their journey and meet a talking crow. The crow starts following them and tells a fable; in the story Toto and Ninetto are two monks who were given a special assignment by St. Francis of Assisi to convert hawks and sparrows to Christianity. They succeed, but the hawks attack the sparrows. Back to the real world, Toto and Ninetto continue their journey and go to collect a debt in a poor house. When the crow starts asking further philosophical questions, the two of them get annoyed and eat it.

"The Hawks and the Sparrows" are probably the best film Pier Paolo Pasolini ever made, a fable so weird and so strange that it's even unusual for the weird and strange work of the eccentric filmmaker. This shining movie addresses some serious issues about religion, the meaning of life and the unnoticed intelligence, but the whole tone of the film is so funny and so indestructibly hilarious at times that it seems as if Pasolini was making a cheerful light comedy, with the help of unusual camera angles, dialogues, quirky situations and the directing treatment. From the opening shot of the moon, in which a Narrator is singing the crew members names (!), it's obvious that this isn't a usual fantasy film, and when Toto and his son Ninetto show up walking on the road and talking about her mother's false teeth that she is hiding from grandpa the humorous touch establishes itself and doesn't defer.

Toto and Ninetto are symbols for two average people who are not aware of anything, walking on a long road of life without a goal or an end, while the talking crow represents a left wing intellectual who gets ignored. The whole story is one gigantic, dreamy, felliniesque fable about the urge for communication with the different opinions, and considering Pasolini is a devoted Marxist it's not surprising if there are some subliminal messages about socialism and communism. One of the most hilarious sequences in the entire film is the one in which Toto and Ninetto are playing monks trying to convert sparrows to Christianity; in order to communicate with them, they starts jumping up and down mimicking sparrows, while the birds are shown walking on a building, all the while the subtitles are showing their imaginary dialogues. In this film Pasolini succeeded in showing the deepest, most serious and contemplative messages in the most innocent, childish and funny way, an ability only few can accomplish. Even if the viewers don't get the story, they will certainly get the jokes, which means that this is one of those rare 1 % of "fool-proof" movies in the cinema that work whatever way you look at them.

Grade:++++

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Mystic River


Mystic River; Crime/Drama, USA, 2003; D: Clint Eastwood, S: Sean Penn, Kevin Bacon, Tim Robbins, Laurence Fishburne, Marcia Gay Harden, Laura Linney

Boston. Dave, Jimmy and Sean were good friends since childhood. While he was a boy, Dave was once kidnapped by child abusers in a car was molested by them, but he managed to get away. Some 30 years later Jimmy is celebrating his younger daughter's firm, only to discover his older daughter Katie has been murdered. Sean, now a police inspector, is worried because the main suspect is Dave, who had bloody hands that night. After a lot of thinking and depression, Jimmy kills Dave because he is convinced he is the murderer. But just then Sean discovers that Katie was killed by two brothers of her boyfriend Brendan, and that Dave actually killed some pedophile who was in his car.

2003 obviously wasn't such a good movie year when a good, but standard drama "Mystic River" won so many awards. This minimalistic drama appeals with a gentle, calm atmosphere, but it can be simply described as - good, but nothing more. Sean Penn and the surprisingly good Kevin Bacon offer excellent roles, although they are sometimes overacting them, and Tim Robbins is also memorable, while a lot of scenes seem realistic (the elaborated scene in which Penn's character Jimmy is leaving the church and following a curious crowd that surrounded a murder site, only to discover his daughter is actually the victim). That's it. Other aspects of the film, like the story or direction, don't have the agility and seem old fashioned, making them more suitable for critics from the kinder garden. The pedophile subplot theme is actually pretty fascinating, but so underused. When Jimmy's wife starts talking her pretentious and wooden monologues ("For your daughters, you're the king...") after he killed his friend mistakenly thinking he is the murderer, the viewer gets the impression the movie turned into a soap opera. "Mystic River" is a good old fashioned film, but there a thousands of equally good films like it, but only a few true masterworks that transcend every convention and norm.

Grade:++