Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Heaven Help Us


Heaven Help Us; tragicomedy, USA, 1985; D: Michael Dinner, S: Andrew McCarthy, Malcolm Danare, Kevin Dillon, John Heard, Donald Sutherland, Mary Stuart Masterson, Jennifer Dundas, Wallace Shawn, Yeardley Smith


Brooklyn, '65. The 16-year old Michael Dunn tries to adapt to his new school, the St. Basil's Catholic Boys School. He makes friends with the intellectual student Caesar, but is shocked by the monks'/ teachers' harsh attitude that demands discipline and loyalty, and every student who neglects that gets brutally, physically punished. The worst one is Constance, but the best one is the mild and reasonable Timothy. At the dance, the boys meet a few girls and the wild Rooney persuades Caesar to go on a double date in his father's car, but it ends in a disaster. Michael falls in love with Danni who runs a store with her sick dad, but she gets taken away by the social workers that were notified by the monks. He rebels against the school with his friends and even hits Constance in self defence, which causes the principal to loosen up the harsh rules.

If there was ever an excellent junction between a drama and a comedy, then this is a typical example: it's a matter of a shining film, that is precisely that despite a few vulgar scenes, black and white solutions and cliches because such a provocative and clever screenplay can hardly be bereaved from sympathies and quality, symbolically showing youth (students) and religion (Catholic school) that suppresses and oppresses them, meddling and manipulating there where it really shouldn't. Michael Dinner leads such a direction that we ourselves would hate the monks shown on film - in one humorous, but at the same time serious sequence, Brother Constance notices student Caesar chewing bubble gum in his class and forces him to put it on his nose and let it stay there the whole day (!), while he slams Roooney's head on the blackboard and makes him eat his homework in front of everyone - yet also shows the different side so that we can see that there are also reasonable monks present, like the cool Brother Timothy, so that the whole thing wouldn't be one sided. All that is in the end very amusing and fun, while the violence just gives the comical story a dose of reality and isn't anything terrible or without a reason, questioning secularism and violence in religions. It's a pity this cult independent jewel is rather forgotten today - the teenage students in the film are observed, meticulously portrayed and we completely understand them: Michael, who is played by Andrew McCarthy, leads also his private life, where his character is excellently described, from his relationship with his friends up to the touching compassion with his little sister who secretly sneaks in into his bed so that he can give her his blessings, and almost every little role is wonderfully created, especially Cathleen who fell in love with the smart Caesar and who is played lovely by Yeardley Smith.

Grade:+++

Big Fish


Big Fish; Fantasy comedy, USA, 2003; D: Tim Burton, S: Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, Billy Crudup, Jessica Lange, Alison Lohman, Steve Buscemi, Danny DeVito, Helena Bonham Carter

Will Bloom flies with his wife to the home of his old, terminally ill father Edward with whom he never had a good relationship. Namely, Edward always told him exaggerated stories about his life: how he saved his town from a giant, saw his own death in the eye of a witch, entered a very pleasant town, got hired in a circus run by Amos who could transform into a werewolf, fell in love with Sandra Templeton, went as a soldier voluntarily to Korea to steal secret plans, met Siamese women, bought a whole town to save it from ruins...Will is annoyed by all that stories because he always wanted to hear the truth about his dad's life. Still, when he visits him on his death bed in hospital, Will embraces his escapism and imagination and starts telling stories himself.

Tim Burton always tended to stimulate the surreal, dark and phantasmagorical side of the viewer's minds, and it's always an interesting thing to do since those territories are rarely challenged in big films, but in this and many of his films, he only succeeds in capturing quick attention while some deeper excursions into it's themes are absent and remain just a shallow sight to behold. "Big Fish" has Burton back in his good shape - he was even nominated for a BAFTA as best director - and even challenging him to change his style and create a moderate, slightly more 'normal' achievement in the touching story about the clash between a serious, realistic and uptight son and his frivolous, imaginative father who loves telling wacky, exaggerated stories in order to escape the harsh reality of the grey world, pushing the film towards a surprisingly ambitious territory where cheerful colors represent imagination and grey reality, yet already somewhere in the exposition where the protagonists tells how his mother gives birth to him and he slides as a baby some 20 yards through the hospital, does it dwell into silly cartoon mood. Truly, most of Edward's stories are nor particularly funny nor particularly emotional, just wacky as some Tex Avery cartoon, indulging Will's lamenting at it's triviality, but instead of a critical "boy who always cried wolf" approach, Burton rather shows that those lies are actually just a way of Edward's escape into an imaginary world and happiness, and the brilliant ending where Will finally embraces his sick dad's storytelling and tells him a wonderful story where they escape from the hospital, is truly something that has to be seen.

Grade:++

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Spanglish


Spanglish; Drama/ Comedy, USA, 2004; D: James L. Brooks, S: Paz Vega, Adam Sandler, Tea Leoni, Shelbie Bruce, Sarah Steele, Ian Hyland, Cloris Leachman

Little Cristina and her mother Flor leave their Mexican town and as illegal immigrants manage to settle down in Los Angeles in search for a better life. Flor finds two jobs, but decides to take care of her daughter more so she accepts only one job, as a housekeeper in the home of the wealthy Clasky family. Since Flor never learned English, it's hard for her to communicate, but the family is dysfunctional even without her: dad John is a prestigious cook who has a hard time with his nervous wife Deborah who always complains about something, including their children Bernice and Georgie. During the summer Flor accepts to move in the Clasky's mansion together with Cristina. John is then surprised when Deborah admits she had a secret affair with another man, so he takes Flor out on a diner and kisses her. Flor leaves together with Cristina in a bus.

James L. Brooks is one of the rare Hollywood humanists of his time and it's a pity his drama/ comedy "Spanglish" somehow simply didn't do justice to his style and caught him on wrong foot: at best, it's can be described as an interesting effort in futility. "Spanglish" has all the typical Brooks trademarks that made wonders in his previous achievements, especially the emphasis on character development and his sympathy for imperfect heroes who always do something wrong, and the unusual plot about a Spanish speaking immigrant woman who has to cope with an English speaking L. A. family also has potential, but only in the first half. With time, this gentle movie simply makes to many missed opportunities, chaotic decisions (when Deborah admits to John she had an affair some 30 minutes before the end of the film, it all comes completely out of the blue since it was never even hinted at during the whole story; the ending seems to be without a head or a tail...), too short or pointless scenes (what was the point of Deborah running after Flor after their children entered the school bus?) and vague coordination of dramatic structure that doesn't come together or points out what it wants to say. Only at moments does Brooks show his good old magic sensibility for human caprice and relationships, like in the scene where Deborah brought too small clothes for her daughter Bernice who is slightly overweight in order to "motivate" her to loose weight so that she can wear it, but actually makes her miserable, which saddens Flor who secretly at night sews those clothes and makes them larger, pleasantly surprising Bernice who finds out that it actually fits her. There are themes of problems with human communication present, and it's refreshing to see Adam Sandler in an intelligent role, yet, sadly, the film seems pale and only moderately poignant.

Grade:+

Gaslight


Gaslight; thriller-drama, USA, 1944; D: George Cukor, S: Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, Joesph Cotten, Dame May Whitty, Angela Lansbury, Barbara Everest

London. Young Paula left her house after she found her aunt killed and went to some Italian town to study singing. But that's interrupted when she meets the pianist Gregory who persuades her to marry him and move back to her house in London. But quickly Gregory turns out to be a tyrant and forbids Paula to leave out of the house, even convincing her she is mad. The awful situation is noticed by police officer Cameron who reveals and de-masks Gregory as a murderer who planned to steal the jewels from Paula's dead aunt.

Although it isn't especially famous, psychological thriller-drama "Gaslight", the second version of Patrick Hamilton's play with the same title, is a small masterpiece that gained considerable attention of the critics back in 1944 and even brought Ingrid Bergman an Oscar and a Golden Globe as best actress. Unlike many old black-and-white films who are famous but dated and stiff by today's standards, "Gaslight" even today seems fascinating and shocking because it convincingly shows a harassment of a woman, Paula (the weak), from a perfidious husband, Gregory (the strong). Especially intriguing is the fact that Gregory's methods of aggression are very subtle (he hides things from Paula and then claims she lost them since she is becoming mad; he doesn't let her leave the house) by which George Cukor's direction advances to a top form and even seems like a Hitchcock thriller, presenting Gregory as a type of man who does the most dishonest things and at the same time behaves as if he does the most honest ones, which gives the story an universal context about a two-faced tyrant.

Grade:++++

Monday, October 29, 2007

The Village


The Village; Thriller, USA, 2004; D: M. Night Shyamalan, S: Bryce Dallas Howard, Joaquin Phoeinx, William Hurt, Adrien Brody, Brendan Gleeson, Sigourney Weaver, Cherry Jones, Judy Greer

A small village surrounded by a deep forest. A death date on a tombstone says it's 1897. The villagers never leave into the forest because it is inhabited by bizarre creatures called 'Those We Don't Speak Of' - if nobody crosses their limits, they won't attack them. But one youngster, Lucius, is rebellious and wants to go outside to the town to get medical supplies, but the village elders, headed by Edward Walker, refuse him to do so. Edward's blind daughter, Ivy, falls in love with Lucius, but he gets terminally wounded by Noah, a mentally disabled man. In order to get the medicine, Edwards tells her the secret: the creatures are fake, just costumes the elders wear to scare everyone. Ivy leaves the forest and gets to a modern day road where one ranger inhis car goes to his station and gives her the medicine.

Many critics bashed M. Night Shyamalan for his fourth film in his "plot twist" series, "The Village", but, quite frankly, it's as good as his previous ones, like "The Sixth Sense" or "Unbreakable", because he simply has some spark, some talent to pull thin, one note stories across and make them intrigue, which is already established in the exposition filled with many great little details of the 19th Century villagers, like the one where two girls sweep the floor with their brooms and jokingly turn around for 360 degrees or little boys who play "courage" games by daring each other who will stay longer in front of the forest where mysterious creatures called 'Those We Don't Speak Of' live. The whole film unravels like an elevated horror, like a scary story in front of the camp fire told just right, and Shyamalan makes even the most banal dialogues or situations seem interesting because he directs them virtuoso at moments and manages to awake the full attention of the viewers since he always tells everything from the subjective perspective of the characters. The film is great up until the point where it introduces his classic plot twist which, as in his previous films, simply don't work and disappoint, causing even some viewers to rethink and revalue the whole film and judge it poorer than it actually is, even though it's in a strange way actually valid and has some wacky sense. Truly, if it weren't introduced some 30 minutes before the end, maybe the film would have been so much better, but even as it is, it's a very interesting essay about a society that created an imaginary fear in order to control it's inhabitants, conservatism and man's everlasting tendency of autosuggestion to hide from the awful real world.

Grade:++

L/R: Licensed by Royalty


L/R: Licensed by Royalty; Animated action series, Japan, 2003; D: Itsuro Kawasaki, S: Hiroaki Hirata, Yuji Ueda, Megumi Toyoguchi, Mikako Takahashi, Fumiko Orikasa

Jack Hofner and Rowe Rikenbacker are two agents of 'Cloud 7', an organization working for the Royal family of a fictional kingdom of Ishtar. Together with their associate Clarie, they solve numerous cases: they regain famous Royal artifacts held by Dr. Floyd, rescue a double agent kidnapped by gangster Schwartz in his castle, fight to preserve to status of a satellite, save a diabetic stuck in a cable car...but one case turns their lives upside down: they escort the 14-year old Noelle, a candidate for the lost Princess of Ishtar, to Ivory island, and she turns out to really be the Princess. The media let the world believe her father was killed because wanted to topple the Royal family, but in reality he just discovered that the family and DTI, a notorious exploitative corporation that devastated Ivory, worked together in a secret agreement. Taylor, president of the DTI, orders Noelle assassinated during her speech, but Rowe and Jack trick him by creating a fake assassination and arrest him.

Unknown "Licensed by Royalty" definitely isn't one of the best contributions to the anime genre, but it's a fairly well made, decent, sometimes solid sometimes very good achievement equipped with great, albeit a little stiff animation. At first, it seems like an average action flick series handling the cliche theme of two agents, Rowe and Jack, resolving missions for some Royal family in a fictional kingdom called Ishtar, but during the course of it's 13 episodes the story slowly crystallizes a different plot and dares for something different, showing the corruption of the Royals and a mega corporation, placing the heroes in an unenvious situation where they have to decide if they should stay loyal to their evil bosses or the good citizens. But by presenting such an interesting main plot, the authors got lost in the beginning where they had too many filler episode revolving around trivial, throw away adventures of the two agents, and generally the story lacks charm, spark and that special anime touch: the characters don't come across as very interesting or fascinating and only in small little instances deliver some great little moment, like the humorous scene where a bunch of paparazzos are waiting in front of the mansion to take pictures of the princess candidate Noelle so Claire simply "takes care" of them by pressing a button that makes two statues of nude men 'urinating' waterfalls turn around and sprinkle them or the enchanting scene where one transvestite Mark, calling himself Marguerite, meets Rowe on the street and almost starts flirting with him by using sweet words, all the while the camera just zooms to a close up shot of a jealous Claire who's facial expression gets more and more annoyed by the minute. In their intend to turn this anime hip and cool, it ended up only quarter-hip and quarter-cool, due to a story that lacks deeper examination of the interesting subject, an underused key character of Noelle and a solid, but too mild finale, yet it's still interesting, even though this is one instance where an anime is just as popular as it deserves to be.

Grade:++

Sunday, October 28, 2007

All the President's Men


All the President's Men; drama / thriller, USA, 1976; D: Alan J. Pakula, S: Dustin Hoffman, Robert Redford, Jason Robards, Jack Warden, Martin Balsam, Hal Holbrook, Jane Alexander, Ned Beatty, Meredith Baxter

On June 17, '72 the police arrested 5 burglars in the Democratic National Committee's office Watergate. The men immediately got lawyers from someone and have ties with the CIA. Journalists Bernstein and Woodward from the 'Washington Post' are very interested in that scandal and think the burglars could have been hired by the Republicans to implant wiretapping device in the Democrats' headquarters. But that's hard to prove since the president, Richard Nixon, is Republican himself and many associates of the politicians don't want to talk to them. Bernstein and Woodward print the story based on indications, but quickly get solid evidence. The story proves to be true and Nixon resigns as the president.

Excellent drama "All the President's Men", which only die-hard Nixon fans will hate, shines with a very interesting charge of intrigue even though every educated person already in advance knows the outcome of the Watergate scandal whereas the story isn't especially suspenseful at all since the heroes were never in danger of their life. Still, the story, peeled of any kind of humor or action, is a classically made detective thriller of the intelligent kind that investigates the intrigues of the politicians extremely objectively and unbiased, simply following the facts of the event, Alan J. Pakula's directing is clinically sharp while the brilliant Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford are in great shape as the journalists Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward. Especially witty are their methods of investigation: in one scene, Bernstein "changes" his voice on the telephone and calls a secretary in order to make her move so that he is able to enter the office of her boss, while in another he keeps giving random assumptions over the phone of an associate and tells him to hang off if a statement if false, which he does.

Grade:+++

Diary of a Chambermaid


Le journal d'une femme de chambre; Drama, France/ Italy, 1964; D: Luis Buñuel, S: Jeanne Moreau, Georges Geret, Michel Piccoli, Daniel Ivernel, Françoise Lugagne, Muni

Normandy, '20s. Young Celestine, who left Paris, finds a job as a chambermaid in a mansion of the rich Monteil family. But that family is very dysfunctional: Mr. Monteil already slept with every maid, Mrs. Monteil is frigid, her father Raboul adores woman's shoes while their neighbors hate them. Among the servants is also Joseph, a gardener who wants to start a Fascist party and seduce Celestine. After all the troubles, she decides to quit, but changes her mind when she hears that someone killed Monteil's daughter Claire in the forest. She is convinced it was Joseph and helps the police to arrest him. She then quits and marries the neighbor, a former general, but the police releases Joseph.

In the European cinema, many directors (Chabrol, Godard, Pasolini) started massively spitting on the Bourgeoisie, that social class that gained undeserved wealth and poor sophistication, starting from the 60s. Among them was also cold surrealist Luis Bunuel who in his drama "Diary of a Chambermaid", one of his 'normal' but still racier achievements, went even so far to connect it with the creation of Fascism, adding at the same time more moderate satirical elements in the farcical story about a dysfunctional rich family full of strange relationships - for instance, Mrs. Monteil asks a priest for an advice due to her frigidity - that created a negative influence even on it's employees, the Proletariat, causing a aforethought gardener to heartlessly shoot a cute butterfly on a flower with a gun or even says a maid that she is a "sub-human". Even though Bunuel is not for everyone's taste due to his dead-cold bleak point-of-view and lack of interest for his characters, "Diary" is a skillfully shaped film with a realistic story and a bizarrely abstract ending that will please most of the audience.

Grade:+++

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Beauty of the Day


Belle de jour; Drama, France/ Italy, 1967; D: Luis Buñuel, S: Catherine Deneuve, Jean Sorel, Geneviève Page, Michel Piccoli, Pierre Clémenti, Françoise Fabian

Young Severine is married to the successful doctor Pierre who stopped exciting her in bed a long time ago. That's why she always has spicy erotic fantasies in which she gets humiliated by him. One day she accidentally hears how the prostitutes work which excites her while Pierre's friend Henri gives her the address to a secret brothel in town. After a lot of hesitation, Severine enters the apartment and gets hired by Madam Anais as a prostitute called "Beauty of the Day". She soon gets various customers: a Chinese, a professor, a company owner...but one day criminal Marcel falls in love with her and wounds her husband, but gets killed by the police. Pierre stays disabled.

One of the most famous, normal - and best - movies from director Luis Bunuel, erotic drama "Beauty of the Day" surprised with an honest and subtle analysis of the job of the prostitution and frigidity, remaining an interesting, tricky film even today. It's truly not a small thing to make a film with a beautiful and poplar blond (Catherine Deneuve, here rightfully nominated for a BAFTA as best actress) and avoid comments of the critics about how she looks like a Barbie doll, but Bunuel's "Beauty of the Day" is so clever and masterful that it would function even if the main role was given to Paris Hilton. Even though some have characterized the film as controversial back in 1967, it actually doesn't tend to provoke or tantalize the audience, but just to honestly tell a taboo story about something that really happens to some in real life, namely about women who got married and later realized they are not excited by their husbands anymore, escaping in erotic daydreams - especially fascinating is the sequence where the intrigued Severine is afraid to enter the building where a secret brothel is situated and hesitates to enlist to work as a prostitute, but somehow can't resist her curiosity so she does, while a subject for themselves are her bizarre fantasies (her husband is throwing mud at her or releasing her from chains), and it's interesting that the story never directly shows a shot of two people having intercourse and stays damped.

Grade:+++

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie


Le charme discret de la bourgeoisie; Grotesque/ Satire, France/ Italy/ Spain, 1972; D: Luis Buñuel, S: Fernando Rey, Delphine Seyrig, Michel Piccoli, Paul Frankeur, Stéphane Audran, Bulle Ogier, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Milena Vukotić

Rafael, ambassador of Miranda, a Latin American country, lives in Paris. He is constantly bothered by some terrorist woman and is occasionally smuggling drugs. Together with his wife and friend Francois he goes to visit his friend Henry who invited him for diner. Since Henry explains them that they came a day too early, they all go to a restaurant, but don't get to eat anything because the owner died. Every day they try to eat together at diner but are constantly interrupted: once Henry runs away to have intercourse with his wife, then soldiers march in, or gangsters, or rubber food, or a play they star in...in the end, they all walk on a road.

Surreal farce "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie" has a deliberately senseless, episodic "story" revolving around constant interruptions of the six protagonists who never manage to eat their diner in peace, mirroring the absurdity of life, constant circumstances that serve as obstacles of our plans and dreams and the illogical reality that many people take as logical, but this time the director Luis Bunuel didn't completely manage the transition from a good into a great film which caused a little surprise that it won an Oscar (best foreign language film) and 2 BAFTAs (best actress Stephane Audran and screenplay), especially since his previous achievements had more sharpness. Despite flaws, like the anemic realization, the film still has a lot of things going for it, especially in ridiculing Bourgeoisie and creating satirical allusions: in one scene, a priests shows up in front of Henry's door because he wants to become a gardener. A soldier in a restaurant sits down by women and asks them if they had a happy childhood. The police is torturing a terrorist by giving him electroshocks in a piano from which even electrified cockroaches are running away from. A "nightmare" film full of "art for art's sake", but also full of symbolic messages and ideas.

Grade:++

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Phantom of Liberty


Le Fantôme de la liberté; Satire, France/ Italy, 1974; D: Luis Buñuel, S: Jean-Claude Brialy, Adriana Asti, Monica Vitti, Julien Bertheau, Adolfo Celi, Michel Piccoli, Milena Vukotić

Several random stories from life. 19th Century: Napoleon's soldiers invade Spanish territory and kill rebels. One soldiers becomes hungry and eats hosts...20th Century: Family Foucauld is shocked by normal pictures of towns which were given to their daughter by some stranger. That night Mr. Foucauld dreams about an ostrich and a rooster...Some woman arrives at an unusual hotel. There priests are playing cards and a young man sleeps with an old lady...Professor of a police school tells his students how cultural norms are relative...A man is searching for his daughter at school even though she is right in front of his nose...A shooter kills passerbys. On the trial, he gets sentenced to death and simply leaves like a free man...A police chief discovers the corpse of his sister. A commotion breaks out in a zoo.

"The Phantom of Liberty" is an eccentric and often hilarious essay from surreal author Luis Bunuel about human civilisation and the relativity of social conventions, as it is said by a professor in the fourth story of the film. There is no main character in the film because the main hero is actually the absurdity of human laws, and several stories seem unconnected at all, but excellent rhythm full of demanding tone and inspiration keep up the positive impression of the film as a whole. As the title already hints, one of the major themes is also freedom (most of the protagonists in the film don't know what to do with it), but in some episodes there is simply no point at all because the author just wanted to notoriously ridicule a culture that seems illogical to him. "Phantom" is filled with crazy scenes: soldiers hunt foxes with tanks; priests smoke cigarettes; a hotel manager wears pants with a hole for his butt; a rooster walks around in the room; a statue hits a soldier. Especially satirical and expressive is the world where the behaviour considering going to a toilet and eating in kitchen are switched: some guests simply sit on the toilet bowl and talk as if that's normal, but when they get hungry they embarrassingly go to the kitchen to eat and lock the door ("occupied"). The film is brilliant even though it's not for everyones taste because Bunuel has a weird and original approach at surreal cinema.

Grade:+++

That Obscure Object of Desire


Cet obscur objet du désir; Drama, France/ Spain, 1977; D: Luis Buñuel, S: Fernando Rey, Carole Bouquet, Ángela Molina, Julien Bertheau, Andre Weber, Milena Vukotić

Spain. Mathieu, an angry middle aged man, buys a train ticket for Paris while terrorists blow up someones car on the street. In the train, Mathieu stops a woman called Conchita from entering and splashes her with a bucket of water. He then explains the passengers in the train that Conchita was his girlfriend and a real parasite: he met her for the first time in France while she was a maid and fell in love with her, but she disappeared. He found her in a poor apartment with her mother and constantly gave her more and more money, but she disappeared again. He found her in a restaurant and renewed their relationship. But she constantly avoided having intercourse, and he later found out why: she had a younger lover. Mathieu found her in Spain and bought her an apartment. When she expelled him out, he left and slapt her. They meet again in Paris, make up and get blown up by terrorists.

"That Obscure Object of Desire", the last film from bizarre director Luis Bunuel, isn't an especially inspired achievement even though it was nominated for a Golden Globe as best foreign language film and for 2 Oscars as best foreign language film and screenplay, maybe due to the fact that the author was 77 years old when he made it and wasn't in full shape anymore. The story about a young woman parasite who constantly exploits and manipulates the old, rich gentleman Mathieu, like in the fact that she constantly avoids having intercourse with him, is an allegory about the absurdity of love, male-female relationships and two-faced women - maybe that's why Conchita was actually played by two actresses, Carole Bouquet and Angela Molina, and some scenes are excellent, like the one in the exposition where Mathieu asks for a bucket of water and prevents Conchita from entering his train by splashing her. Later on, the satirical ideas practically disappear (except for some exceptions, like when it is revealed that a terrorist was actually a priest, member of the group "Armed forces of Jesus") but with time the story becomes overstretched without limits and filled with empty walks that are just there to prolong the film. The final result is only a sufficient film with damped erotic touch and dark messages, just a shadow of Bunuel's earlier films.

Grade:+

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Jellyfish


Meduzot; Tragicomedy, Israel/ France, 2007; D: Shira Geffen, Etgar Keret, S: Sarah Adler, Noa Knoller, Gera Sandler, Tsipor Aizen, Nicole Leidman, Naama Nisim

Three stories in Tel Aviv. Batia is a young waitress who finds a mute girl in the sea. She brings her to a police station, but decides to keep her at her apartment. When she brings her at her job, the girl disappears and Batia is fired, but she becomes a friend with a woman who was also fired. Batia is hit by a truck, but manages to recover and remember her childhood...Michael and Keren have just got married, but she breaks her leg in the toilet so they are forced to cancel their honeymoon to the Caribbeans. They move to a shabby hotel where Michael meets a mysterious woman who plans to commit suicide...Joy, a Philippine babysitter, gets a job to take care of an old lady. The two of them become friends.

Husband-and-wife director team Shira Geffen and Etgar Keret delivered an interesting film debut with "Jellyfish", a bizarre achievement that mixes introverted drama and extroverted, quirky and surreal comical moments (a 5-year old girl that just emerges from the sea and Baita adopts her), for which they won the Golden Camera at the Cannes film festival. It's an unusual and refreshingly off-beat film with brilliant roles for the excellent Sarah Adler and Noa Knoller, at best when it introduces a few surreal lyrical moments, like when a police officer is talking with Batia about disappeared people, takes a paper file of a woman who disappeared in the sea and makes a ship out of it or when Batia reaches for her shoes on the street, than stands up and behind her there's a poster of her mother "shielding" her from the rain with her hands stretched out to resemble a roof, but out of three stories that try to imitate Altman, at least one is obsolete. By creating an interesting and humane film, Geffen and Keret managed to input some documentary fell to it and occasional sparse spark of magic. Even though it only lasts for 79 minutes, the film seems slightly too slow and overlong, and the structure has serious problems, but maybe it's a pity to criticize this truly fine film because it's really well made.

Grade:++

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Simon of the Desert


Simón del desierto; Satire, Mexico, 1965; D: Luis Buñuel, S: Claudio Brook, Silvia Pinal, Enrique Álvarez Félix, Hortensia Santoveña, Antonio Bravo, Luis Aceves Castañeda

5th Century. Simeon Stylites, a Christian saint, has been living on the top of a pillar in the middle of a desert for 6 years in order to redeem humanity and gain God's wisdom with asceticism. A bunch of his followers present him with a new pillar, twice as tall than the previous one, and he accepts to swap places. People bring him food and water while he prays and even does miracles, like when he heals a man's two cut hands. He is tempered by the devil disguised as a blond girl and a priest. In order to fast even better, Simeon even decides to stand on one foot. But the girl brings him on a journey in an airplane directly into a big city, where he is bedazzled by a disco club full of teenagers.

Surreal champion director Luis Bunuel took the legend about the Christian saint Simeon Stylites who stood 37 years on the top of a pillar literally, filmed it in his unusual satire "Simon of the Desert" and used it as polygon to question the sense of any kind of ascetic extravaganzas and self-torture used to redeem humanity by God and to criticize the institution of organized religion. Since Bunuel didn't have enough funding, "Simeon" stayed only a 45-minute long short film that didn't live up to it's full expectations - the exposition, although containing a neat satirical gag where priests try to "indulge" Simeon by presenting him a new pillar, twice as tall then the one his is standing on top of, seems slightly forced, shaky, uneventful and unfunny, not exactly justifying why Bunuel chose to film exactly Simeon or what he wanted to say. Still, with time the story quickly picks up and becomes truly virtuoso directed at moments, especially in some aesthetic images like the one where a cloud sweeps by the pillar on which Simeon is standing or a view of him from the frog's perspective, equipped with dazzling sky in the background. Not to mention that the sly story is filled with great little black humored ideas: Simeon blesses an insect in his hand; the devil leaves defeated in the shape of a naked 70-year old lady (!) or appears as a young woman with a beard holding a sheep; Simeon advises a young lad he can't become a priest until he grows a beard; the airplane and transportation into a modern disco sequence near the end...all sharp and clever ideas that seem intelligent and create a Fellinieqsue atmosphere, creating an interesting film where one can only wonder how it could have looked like if it was a real feature length flick like Bunuel originally intended.

Grade:+++

Two Women


La Ciociara; Drama/ War, Italy/ France, 1960; D: Vittorio De Sica, S: Sophia Loren, Eleonora Brown, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Carlo Ninchi, Andrea Checchi, Puppella Maggio

Rome, World War II. Cesira and her 13-year old daughter Rosetta are surprised by allied bombings in a store. Cesira's rich husband, whom she never loved, died, so she has intercourse with the neighbor Giovanni. Together with her daughter, she leaves Rome first with a train, then by foot. The two of them eventually arrive at a village on a hill and meet the young Michele who hates Fascists and secretly gives American soldiers refuge. Michele falls in love with Cesira, but she isn't sure if she wants a relationship with him. The Nazis take Michele to lead them in a mountainous terrain and he never returns. Cesira and Rosetta head back to Rome, but get raped by African allied soldiers in a church. Cesira has an argument with Rosetta who wants to go to a dance, but they make up.

Winner of a Golden Globe as best foreign language film, an Oscar and an best actress award in Cannes for the brilliant Sophia Loren, war drama "Two Women" is an uncompromising achievement that displays the horrors of war not through scenes on the battlefield, but through situations in the everyday lives of normal people who feel it's consequences. Although some critics complained that director Vittorio De Sica didn't follow the rules of Italian neorealism, that complaint is irrelevant since they forgot that not every Italian film has to have the same style and the author created a slightly rigid, but highly realistic world concentrating on the emotional relationship between mother and daughter. The film is filled with uncanny moments: for instance, Cesira starts an affair with the neighbor Giovanni who admitted her husband described him details of her body, but there is also a lot of dark poetry and beauty, mostly to be found in the magical scene where Cesira and Michele (Jean-Paul Belmondo in a slightly underused role) lay down on the meadow to hide from shooting of an airplane and spot a ladybug in the grass. At best, "Two Women" are De Sica's sly turn towards Hollywood, yet are a refreshingly feminine and bitter document of life during a war, while a shocking sequence towards the finale, the one where Cesira and her daughter get raped in a church (!) by a bunch of African allied soldiers who saved them from Fascism, truly seems unbelievably bleak and courageous, symbolically showing how even in freedom nihilism can prevail.

Grade:+++

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Bicycle Thieves


Ladri di biciclette; Drama, Italy, 1948; D: Vittorio De Sica, S: Lamberto Maggiorani, Enzo Staiola, Lianella Carell, Gino Saltamerenda, Vittorio Antonucci, Elena Altieri

Italy after World War II. People are torn by poverty and high unemployment, but the poor Antonio actually manages to find a job gluing posters, but for in order to keep it he must have a bicycle. In order to buy him a bicycle, his wife Maria sells the sheets from their bed. The next day Antonio starts his job but already in the morning some guy steals his bicycle. In panic due to the awful situation, Antonio reports the theft to the police, but nobody is really interested in solving the case so he goes to search for the bicycle with his little son Bruno himself. When they finally find the thief, they can't do anything because he is protected by his neighbors. In the end, Antonio steals a bicycle himself, but gets stopped by the people.

Winner of a BAFTA and a Golden Globe as best foreign language film, and one honorary Oscar, "The Bicycle Thieves" is a representative example of Italian neorealism, a film movement where the authors portrayed the everyday life and problems of the small man, using real life people instead of actors, in this case Lamberto Maggiorani, a factory worker, as the main actor. "Thieves" are a gentle and deeply emotional classic that hasn't aged at all and that seems as if it was directed by the young Fellini since it shows a tragic story in an uplifting, poetic way. Despite a slightly heavy narration, the simple story about the unemployed Antonio who can't keep his job because someone stole his bicycle, contains a skillful iconography rich with fine details that capture the state of post war Italy with an almost documentary feel (hundreds of people in a queue are waiting for a bus at the station; Maria sells her sheets to buy her husband a bicycle; little Bruno is "stretching" the warm cheese in his meal), the natural mise-en-scene seems effortless, the positive humanity radiates with spirituality while the open ending, where a desperate Antonio becomes a thief himself, clearly suggests how a distraught society just creates the basis for criminals which it prosecutes.

Grade:+++

The Big Journey


Le Grand Voyage; Road movie, France/ Morocco, 2004; D: Ismaël Ferroukhi, S: Nicolas Cazalé, Mohamed Majd, Jacky Necressian, Kamel Belghazi, Ghina Ognianova

Reda, a French teenager of Moroccan roots, is persuaded by his old father to drive him in a car from France to Mecca in Saudi Arabia for his pilgrimage. Reda is reluctant because he has to study for his exams, but still complies. The 3.000 mile trip is bumpy: his father is stubborn and rushes him to just drive on and on, even though Reda wants to visit such towns like Milan and Venice. They sleep and eat in the car. Somewhere around Zagreb, they get lost because the father wanted to take a "shortcut" to Belgrade. They give some old lady a ride and spend the night in a Serbian hotel. Around Sofia, the father gets sick and has to be brought to hospital. On Turkish territory, they get robbed by Mustapha and drive discouraged to Damascus. Finally in Mecca, the father goes to a pilgrimage and dies.

In the long list of interesting unknown independent films, road movie "The Big Journey" stands out with it's unbelievable concept: it follows a father and a son who drive in a car from France to Mecca (!), subtly here and there portraying their relationship with little details and obstacles they have to prevail. The week long trip of the protagonists is enriched with many comical moments: the blue car has one shabby orange door; the father wants to pray when the car stops at an Italian custom; when they get lost on the road to Belgrade they meet an old lady who simply sits on their back sit and wants them to drive her; they meet a Serbian police officer who wants to see their documents; after they get robbed by Mustapha the father brings out his "emergency money" he hid inside his belt (!); they want to eat a sheep near Damascus but it runs away...First time director Ismaël Ferroukhi crafted a neat, simple and raw allegory about the relationship between the father and son that starts off cold but gradually becomes warm and full of understanding, showing a lot of sense for landscapes and respect for the 10 countries the two heroes pass by in their car, allowing room for improvisation and spontaneous moments. Even for non-Muslims, the journey and arrival to Mecca will seem like a journey revolving around spirituality, serving as a symbol for the ultimate goal in father's life, but the director also showed equal understanding for the slightly secular teenage son Reda, played very well by Nicolas Cazale. Even though it's slightly too thin and compact, "Journey" is a quality made film with enough spark to intrigue.

Grade:++

Monday, October 22, 2007

Star Trek: The Motion Picture


Star Trek: The Motion Picture; Science-Fiction, USA, 1979; D: Robert Wise, S: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Persis Khambatta, Stephen Collins, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols

23rd Century. A mysterious energy cloud has passed through the Klingon space and is heading right towards Earth. Admiral James Kirk is sent to the restored Enterprise ship to intercept it, replacing the angered Commander Willard Decker. Joined by Dr. McCoy and later on by Mr. Spock, they start the flight towards the cloud. The Enterprise enters the cloud and discovers it is controlled by a living machine, V'Ger, who takes control of one of the crew members, Ilia, claiming it will destroy Earth if it's creator doesn't respond. The crew discovers V'Ger is actually NASA's Voyager VI who was brought to life by a robot race. It sends him the data it wants, but it merges Ilia with Decker and dissolves. The crew leaves for new adventures.

The first "Star Trek" film wisely abandoned the campy feel of the famous TV show from the 60s and chose a serious, plausible and semi-tight plot enriched with opulent special effects and set-design, yet failed to transport the charm and fun of the original on the big screen, resulting in a boring and too dark film with pseudo-philosophical inter tones. Director Robert Wise inserted some virtues, but the film's biggest problem is it's chaotic structure and plot holes: the basic premise is that a mysterious energy cloud is heading towards Earth and that Admiral Kirk is rushed to the still unprepared Enterprise to intercept it because "the Enterprise is the only spaceship available". Now, that's really hard to believe - the whole Earth has only one spaceship ready and it doesn't even function properly? There is also one scene that really has no purpose at all - it's the one where two people can't get teleported to the ship because of a transport malfunction, causing them to get deformed and disappear. Kirk tried to prevent it, but failed, and there is even a voice that tells him that they "luckily died soon". But Kirk just says "Send my condolences to their family" and the movie just goes on.

The scene is problematic because it doesn't have any purpose in the story - it left a bitter taste by leaving Kirk look like a moron who killed two people by complete blunder and went into some "The Fly" shock territory without any reason at all. The two dead people are not even mentioned later in the film. Moving on, there are further problems to be found - the Enterprise is sent to intercept the cloud, but Kirk obviously doesn't have a clue what to do - he just rushes things without any strategy. Once the Enterprise gets into the cloud, he doesn't have a clue what to do next. Sadly, it seems the writer unwillingly tried to make Kirk look like a misguided leader more than create a meaningful story. On the upside, the story tried to abandon action sequences in space in favor of a slow, calm and almost meditative imagery, like in the fantastic scene where Mr. Spock travels in his space suit directly into the cloud, amazed by a replica of V'Ger's home planet and phantasmagorical colors, reminiscent of "A Space Odyssey". Sadly, Mr. Spock is really underused, even though he stayed an immortal figure of the 20th Century and the film helped Leonard Nimoy to get nominated as best supporting actor at the 1979 Saturn Awards. The ending also doesn't have any sense, even though it offers a neat plot twist at discovering V'Ger's identity, and too obviously tries to copy the "Odyssey", making "Star Trek" just a solid prototype film where the poster looks better that the film itself.

Grade:+

Rebecca


Rebecca; Drama, USA, 1940; D: Alfred Hitchcock, S: Joan Fontaine, Laurence Olivier, Judith Anderson, George Sanders, Nigel Bruce, Reginald Denny, Gladys Cooper

In Monte Carlo, widowed Maxim de Winter meets a shy and lonely girl who works for a rich lady. Maxim is so fascinated by the young girl that he marries her and she becomes the new Mrs. Winter. She leaves with him to his castle Manderley and figures and the housekeeper Danvers hates her. When the girl asks Danvers how Maxim's first wife, Rebecca, died, she gets the answer that the she died on a ship during a sea storm. In the castle, Rebecca's room stayed untouched. One day, the ship with Rebecca's dead body stands on the beach - causing Maxim to admit the girl that he hated Rebecca and accidentally killed her after an argument, but placed it to look as an accident. He then hears from the doctor she had cancer anyway. Denvers sets the castle on fire.

Critics who characterize "Rebecca" as a suspense thriller either don't know what they are talking about or they are still under the impression of Alfred Hitchcock's reputation as a "master of suspense", because the film is actually a gentle and calm drama with only slight touches of mystery and marriage tormented by guilt. "Rebecca" is an noteworthy adaptation of Daphne du Maurier's novel of the same name that was nominated for 11 Oscars and won two - for best cinematography and best picture, the only time a Hitchcock movie won that award, which is a pity since the academy should have awarded at least 5 more of his movies as best picture, but even a greater pity is the fact that the master himself never won the award as best director. Already in the exposition, "Rebecca" captivates with it's impressive and eerie opening where the camera travels through the dark forest until the castle, while the whole story is filled with lively, quirky characters, like the lady who extinguishes a cigar in a moisturizer cup, and just like in the book, the main heroine's name (played brilliantly by the timid Joan Fontaine) is never mentioned (!), but she is present, while Rebecca's name is constantly mentioned throughout the film, but she never shows up, Laurence Olivier is great as always, while Hitchcock has a small cameo some 120 minutes into the film as a passer-by by the phone booth. Even though "Rebecca" isn't one of Hitchcock's most famous films, with time it justifiably gained the status of a classic.

Grade:+++

On Golden Pond


On Golden Pond; Drama, USA, 1981; D: Mark Rydell, S: Henry Fonda, Katharine Hepburn, Doug McKeon, Jane Fonda, Dabney Coleman, William Lanteau

Every summer, Norman and his wife Ethel, an old, retired couple, spend some weeks in their cottage near a lake. Norman is suffering from heart disease and memory loss, and is still cold towards his daughter Chelsea who visits him on his 80th birthday. She also brings along her boyfriend, Bill, and his son, the 13-year old Billy. Chelsea and Bill head of for a vacation in Europe while Norman and Ethel stay to watch out after Billy. Still, the spoiled kid quickly starts to get along with Norman and the two enjoy fishing. Chelsea returns and announces she married Bill. She also reconciles with her dad. Norman has a heart attack, but survives and looks at the pond with Ethel.

"On the Golden Pond" is a soap opera with just enough good ingredients to make it work, especially thanks to the calm, sensitive story about people coping with the fact that they have become old and a lighter subplot about father-daughter relationship, but mostly thanks to the energetic performance by Henry Fonda in his last big screen role before his death, for which he won a Golden Globe and an Oscar as best actor, but more due to the latter than to the fact that he was really the best actor in 1981, even though that's still better than the slightly overrated Katherine Hepburn who thanks to this film won her fourth best actress Oscar, again unjustifiably. Henry Fonda plays the typical Oscar bait role, Norman, an old, cynical grouch who "likes to set the record straight to everyone else", and some of his lines are really funny, like in the scene where he hears that his daughter Chelsea is bringing her lover Bill, who is a dentist, with her, and comments with: "A dentist! He will be staring at our teeth all the time!" or when they are late for his 80th birthday and he shouts: "Where are they? I'm getting older by the minute!", but his real life daughter Jane Fonda and Dabney Coleman are equally as good and also have their fair share where they display their talent. Whenever "Pond" gets broadcasted on TV it really looks just like that - like a TV melodrama - and in the second half it looses a lot of it's wit for the sake of cliches, obvious in the moment where the boat with Billy and Norman has an accident and collides with a rock, which was just a plot device to bring some artificial danger into the story, but as a whole it's a really touching, calm and gentle film that has a lot of humane understanding towards the gap between the generations.

Grade:++

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Rocky Horror Picture Show


The Rocky Horror Picture Show; Musical comedy, USA, 1975; D: Jim Sharman, S: Barry Bostwick, Susan Sarandon, Tim Curry, Richard O'Brien, Patricia Quinn, Charles Gray, Meat Loaf

After they attend a wedding of their friends, young Brad Majors and Janet Weiss can't resist but not to get engaged themselves. Driving to visit Dr. Scott one rainy night, their car gets a flat tire so they are forced to walk to a nearby castle to ask for a phone call to contact help. They are quickly surprised by bizarre inhabitants in the catsle holding a party and meet transvestite Dr. Frank N. Furter who unveils them the secret of life and creates a blond man, Rocky, out of his laboratory. Eddie, ex-delivery boy, storms in with his motorcycle and gets killed by Frank. He then goes on to seduce both Janet and Brad. In the end, Riff Raff and Magneta kill Frank with a laser and release Janet, Brad and Dr. Scott, while the castle flies off into space.

To almost every musical, the most essential thing is the choice of songs and their quality in order for it to work, and "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" simply has a great supply of catchy songs, whether it is the opening "Science Fiction/Double Feature", the wonderfully hilarious "Dammit Janet", energetic "Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch-a Touch Me" or the evergreen "The Time Warp", all in order amazing displays of music that, as always, can't be described with words but just with loud volume that has to go directly into the viewer's ears. Already in the exposition, in which just a set of red lips in the black background are singing about various horror B-films up to the sequence where the nerdy Brad is walking with Janet through the graveyard, stopping in front of a giant heart sign and proposes her, does the "Picture Show" establish its incredibly wild, quirky, free and amusing tone, proving that it still deserves its cult reputation as today as in 1975, dwelling into bizarre costume and set-design to create an ecstatic mood filled with black humor, while Tim Curry is great as the main "bad guy" Frank N. Furter, a "transvestite from Transylvania". It seems not even dramatic actress Susan Sarandon seems to hesitate to show her comic side, and despite numerous flaws - the story is chopped up and doesn't have any sense, the characters are thin, the structure relays too much on musical energy - the film still works because it doesn't intend to be nothing but a very fun ride through some experimental territory whose genealogy and symbolism don't even need to be tracked down.

Grade:+++

A Love Song for Bobby Long


A Love Song for Bobby Long; Drama, USA, 2004; D: Shainee Gabel, S: Scarlett Johansson, John Travolta, Gabriel Macht, Deborah Kara Unger, Dane Rhodes, Clayne Crawford

Florida. Pursy Will is an 18-year old girl who never finished high school, never found out who her father is and rarely kept contact with her mother Louisiana. When she hears her mother died and left her a house in New Orleans, she goes on to move there and out of her trailer. Although she is unpleasantly surprised that she has to share her new home with two men, Bobby Long, a retired English professor, and Lawson, a writer writing a book about him, they become friends and help her finish high school and apply for college. After finding out she alone is the new owner of the house, she gets angry and expels them. Still, she then finds out Bobby is actually her father and makes up with him. He dies from a disease.

Exclusively thanks to the performances of the three main actors, John Travolta - in a surprisingly slobby edition - Gabriel Macht and Scarlett Johansson - nominated for a Golden Globe as best actress - does the thin story in the film "A Love Song for Bobby Long" contain some charm and spark, but as a whole this independent drama missed too many opportunities and made too many schematic approaches to old dramaturgy cliches to stand out, even though it had an interesting concept that shows how sometimes the intellectual elite, such as writers and professors, tend to live unglamorous, almost castaway lives. A few good moments, like when Pursy finds out Lawson is writing a book about the seamy Bobby Long and can't resist but to imagine that and comment it with: "Chapter 1: I woke up, I got drunk, I passed out. Chapter 2: I woke up, I got drunk..." or when Bobby always quotes famous literature to bring a point across and uses it to criticize Lawson about his false love, upon which he replies with: "Do you always quote others because you don't have the courage to be yourself?" stir up the atmosphere, but the story still remains rather arbitrarily and anemic, where even the neat plot "twist" at the end doesn't help to lift up the general impression. "Bobby Long" really is a long film, without real substance, but here and there offers a few pleasant surprises and is a very solid achievement.

Grade:+

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring


Bom, yeoreum, gaeul, gyeoul....geurigo bom; drama, South Korea/ Germany, 2003; D: Kim Ki-duk, S: Su Oh-yeong, Kim Young-min, Seo Jae-kyeong, Kim Jong-ho, Kim Ki-duk, Ha Yeo-jin


An old Buddhist monk is living in an small isolated temple that floats in a lake in the middle of a forest. He teaches a young boy to become a monk. One day he spots the boy tying up animals to rocks and ties him up to a rock too, in order to see the error of his ways. As a teenager, the boy is surprised by a girl who comes to the temple to become healthy again, and they have intercourse. The old monk takes the girl back to the shore because "desire brings suffering". The boy leaves the master and returns years later as a criminal, disappointed his girlfriend cheated on him. He is arrested by police officers. The old monk dies and the boy returns as a grown man, adopting a little baby from a mother. The mother dies by drowning in the lake. The monk climbs up a hill with a stone tied to his body.

Kim Ki-duk's quiet, meditative film "Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter" about the everlasting circle of life and events is a magical ode to Buddhism. Extroverted films are not bad, but introverted movies like this are real cinema art. Actually, after watching movies for soul like this, movies full of spirituality, one really realizes how misguided all those shallow modern big budget films are. There is this one sequence near the start of the story that is really unbelievable: in it, the young boy plays at the lake and catches a fish, ties a rope attached to a stone to it's body and lets it back into the water, giggling at how it has difficulties swimming due to hard cargo. He then captures a frog and a snake, and ties them also to a stone, giggling again at how they have difficulties moving. But the old monks saw that and tied the boy to a heavy stone during the night. When the boy woke up, he too found out how it is to carry a heavy weight and realized what harm he has done. The monk tells him to find the animals and release them from the rope, and if one of them died, he will "carry a stone in his heart for the rest of his life". The boy quickly rushes back to the lake, full of remorse, and is saddened when he spots that the fish - died. It is one of the saddest allegorical moments of cinema - It's simply such an emotionally devastating moment that it breaks ones heart.

These were "just" animals, but that small moment symbolically mirrored how evil appears in the whole world, due to ignorance, boredom and egoistical aggression towards the weaker ones, and causes endless sufferings. It also raises some thought provoking questions - the little boy isn't directly guilty because he didn't know better as a child, but it was still his fault non the less. It's also interesting to note that the director crafted the whole structure of the story to mirror the four truths of Buddhism - life is suffering (the animals died or barely survived), suffering is caused by desire (as a teenager, the boy starts a passionate affair with a girl), end the desire, end the suffering (the boy leaves to follow the girl, but returns disappointed), end the desire by following the 8-fold path of Buddhism (the ending on the hill where the boy gets wisdom and "detaches" himself from the world). Ki-duk's direction is sometimes quite shaky and rough - for instance, the moment where the two investigators arrive in the temple to arrest the boy and shoot at a can in the water disrupts the fine calm mood with unnecessary bruteness. Or the moment when the old monk takes the girl away from the boy because he thinks "desire causes suffering", which is rather questionable since love should not be forbidden. Still, despite some heavy handed parts, the story unfolds smoothly and has real beauty and poetry (the scene where the grown up boy is carving the frozen waterfall in the winter), offering deep reflections about life and the right or wrong path it can take. Despite it's flaws, "Spring" is a rare kind of bird that shows a glimpse into the miraculous world of Buddhism.

Grade:+++

Blissfully Yours


Sud sanaeha; Drama, Thailand/ France, 2002; D: Apichatpong Weerasethakul, S: Jenjira Jansuda, Min Oo, Kanokporn Tongaram, Sa-gnad Chaiyapan, Kanitpat Premkij

Thailand. A doctor is examining a man, Min, who suffers from sensitive skin which is peeling off. He is accompanied by two women, Orn i Roong, who speak for him because he is an illegal Burmese immigrant and can't speak Thai properly. Min doesn't get the license for work, but Roong picks him up with her car from work and brings him to a nearby jungle, into the untouched nature. There they enjoy in a picnic, meditation and intercourse. They meet Orn who is with a lover and bath in a river.

"Blissfully Yours" from opulent Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul is an unusual film. Basically, it's a meditative, minimalistic film where there practically is no plot and which is composed from two parts - one, that plays out in the sterile city, and the other one that unfolds in the "liberating" nature deprived from any kind of stress or problems for the protagonists. Weerasethakul's confidence is fascinating - he isn't afraid of long takes that last for 3 minutes and don't show nothing except protagonists just standing in the nature - while the uneventfulness in the film reaches almost epic esoteric/ suggestive proportions, but some parts are simply boring. Some directorial interventions are welcomed - for instance, the opening credits roll some 45 minutes into the film (!), Roong's drawings appear on the screen - but the film still stays an exercise for patience in which the introverted mood is rarely broken by some extroverted scenes, like the one in which the troubled couple has intercourse in the tranquil forest. Simple "Blissfully Yours" is an individual experience: some may regard it as a boring film, while others will perceive it as a masterwork.

Grade:++

Friday, October 19, 2007

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs


Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs; animated adventure fantasy, USA, 1937; D: William Cottrell, Larry Morey, Perce Pearce, Wilfred Jackson, Ben Sharpsteen, S: Adriana Caselotti, Pinto Colvig, Roy Atwell, Luccile La Verne
In some unknown country, there lives a princess called Snow White. But her evil stepmother, a Queen, who lives with her in the castle, is jealous at her because her magic mirror said her Snow White is prettier than her. She orders her hunter to kill Snow White, but he lets her run away and she hides in a forest where she reaches a small house. At night, seven dwarfs show up; Doc, Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy, Bashful, Sneezy and Dopey, and they decide to give her shelter from the evil Queen. They sing for her and she cooks for them. But the Queen transforms into an old lady and poisons Snow White with an apple, but falls from a cliff when she was chased by the dwarfs. A young prince shows up and kisses Snow White, causing her to wake up.

The 10th highest-grossing film of the 20th century and the highest-grossing animated film within the US when adjusted for inflation, by grossing 717 million $, one of the favorite movies of Eisenstein and Chaplin, shining animated fantasy "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" is the first feature length animated achievement from Walt Disney and still one of the best movies of all time, a deeply touching and psychologically subconscious fairy tale that contains some kind of irresistible charm which is not even destroyed by the naive touch. Maybe the relaxed tone was enhanced due to a loose queuing of jokes (the movie has 5 directors) but also fun musical sequences. The whole film is filled with elementary, universally appealing situations, like when the dwarfs encounter Snow White for the first time: they notice somebody entered their home and figure it must be a burglar, slowly walking towards their bedroom where she suddenly raises the sheets in sleep by stretching and causes them all to panic and quickly run outside. Or the scene where the Snow White is praying, wishing for Grumpy to accept her. And the moment where dwarfs are heading off to work and she kisses everyone on the head, even Grumpy who resisted because he pretended to be "indifferent", but then was somehow "softened" by her affection, is pure magic. Basically, the story has only 11 characters, yet it is so pleasant and full of harmony, and the relationship between Snow White and the seven dwarfs has many secret meanings: from the fact that she becomes their mother up to the fact that they become her protectors. There will always be people who prefer dark stories, but such superior innocence and love that smooths the soul, found in that humane masterpiece "Snow White", will always be stories where everyone will come back for comfort.

Grade:++++

Sleuth


Sleuth; Drama/ Crime, UK, 1972; D: Joseph L. Mankiewicz, S: Michael Caine, Laurence Olivier

Andrew Wyke, a rich writer of detective novels, invites the hairdresser Milo Tindle to his isolated castle. Milo arrives and Andrew announces he is aware he has an affair with his wife Marguerite. The two have trivial conversations until Andrew suggests him to break into his castle just for show and steal his jewels so he can collect the insurance money. Milo accepts and follows his instructions in breaking furniture, until Andrew draws a gun and shoots him...Two days later, Inspector Toppler enters into the castle and questions Andrew about Milo's disappearance. Andrew claims he just shot Milo with blank bullets to scare him, but Toppler doesn't believe him and arrests him. Then Toppler takes off his mask and reveals he is actually Milo. He then tells him he killed Thea and planted evidence in his castle. Andrew finds them, but discovers it was all just a game. He then shoots Milo with real bullets, but the police arrive at the castle.

"Sleuth" is one of only two films where the entire cast was nominated for an Oscar. How? Simple, it has only two actors - Michael Caine and Laurence Olivier, and both were nominated for an Oscar as best actor. Having only two actors appear in one castle throughout the film created a very interesting 'kammerspiel' and served as a nice farewell from famous director Jospeh L. Mankiewicz whom this was his last film. There are only two actors, but three roles in the story, and it would be a shame to spoil the method how the authors made that trick, but that's just a part of this cleverly conceptualized cat-and-mouse plot dwelling in the theme of revenge that has more than one surprise. This unusual film, based on a play by Anthony Shaffer, starts off deceivingly calm and normal, with Milo (Caine) visiting Andrew's (Olivier) castle and getting lost in a bush labyrinth in his garden. The two of them then continue to have trivial dialogues in the castle, like when Andrew mentions he is still a "Olympic sexual athlete". The plot thickens when Andrew persuades Milo to break into his home just for show, which is then followed by three plot twists. It's better not to go into detail with the story too much, since it's one of those films that need to be experienced personally and not explained, but it will definitely cause an impressive cinematic experience. At some moments, "Sleuth" is directed in a clumsy manner and seems too silly in the first 30 minutes (Milo searches for a disguise to break into the castle, discovers some woman's clothing and says: "I might do the whole thing in drag!"), but generally it's quite a brilliant thriller-drama with tight rhythm, compact structure and great actors. "Sleuth" is an excellent little film, almost with a cult reputation, that needs to be seen to show how little it takes to create an interesting story.

Grade:+++

Angel Heart


Angel Heart; Horror-thriller, USA, 1987; D: Alan Parker, S: Mickey Rourke, Robert De Niro, Lisa Bonet, Charlotte Rampling, Stocker Fontelieu, Brownie McGhee, Kathleen Wilhoite

New York, '55. Private detective Harry Angel, who can't remember his childhood, gets the assignment to track down a singer called Johnny. His customer is the bizarre Louis Cypher who is willing to pay 5.000 $ for that assignment. Angel discovers Johnny's doctor, but he is quickly found dead in bed. Angel's trip leads him to a small town where he meets a musician and a young woman, but the next day they too are found dead. According to rumors, a Black girl, Epiphany, is Johnny's daughter, and Angel spends a steamy night with her. The next day Louis shows up as Lucifer. Angel realizes he is actually Johnny, but that he couldn't remember it because he had amnesia, and that he sold his soul to the Devil for a career.

Terrifying and creepy thriller that starts as a film noir and ends as a horror in which the forces of evil triumph, "Angel Heart" caused a substantial scandal during it's premiere: the biggest controversy lied in the intercourse sequence between Mickey Rourke and Lisa Bonet (which was a big detachment from her role in the family friendly "The Cosby Show") in which at one point even blood starts leaking from the walls, but looking at it from today's perspective it doesn't seem that "shocking" anymore. The real flaws are one dimensional supporting characters, Bonet included, who don't create a real spark while the incorporation of such elements as Voodoo seem quite arbitrarily, contrived and useless. The final twist towards the end is genius, but frankly it has a few plot holes - for instance, why did Louis Cypher send the main protagonist, detective Angel, on a wild goose chase in the first place? In the bizarre list of Hollywood occult films revolving around Satan, for what ever reason, "Angel Heart" is among the better contributions, maybe even due to the fact that Robert De Niro delivered a "good" performance as the ultimate evil creature, in one scene grotesquely eating a egg that "serves as a symbol for the soul". There are also excellent details present, like when Angel notices that a document apparently written in ink in '43 is false because a ball-point pen wasn't invented back then or the powerful, eerie mood, which elevate the film's impression.

Grade:+++

Thursday, October 18, 2007

48 Hrs.


48 Hrs.; Action, USA, 1982; D: Walter Hill, S: Nick Nolte, Eddie Murphy, Annette O'Toole, James Remar, David Patrick Kelly

San Francisco. Gangster Ganz escapes from prison and takes the mistress of his former partner as a hostage to force him to hand over the money they once robbed from a bank. When Ganz kills two of his colleagues, police officer Jack bails the Black convict Reggie from prison for 48 hours to help him catch Ganz. Reggie babbles non-stop, but still helps him. The unusual duo manages to kill Ganz while Jack even saves the money from the bank to wait for Reggie until he gets released from prison.

Unusual achievement with elements of crime thriller and comedy, the first "buddy cop" film "48 Hours" is today a substantially dated film that was a huge hit back in 1982 due to the affirmation of the neat archetype of two different characters that have to work together and the dynamic performance from Eddie Murphy, who thanks to this film became a star and got his first Golden Globe nomination, as best new star. Actually, Murphy is the only excellent ingredient in the stiff and overtly brutal story that was directed by then famous Walter Hill rather mild and half-heartedly. Still, despite the flaws and the fact that it's isn't anything special, "48" has it's moments. Among them is the sequence where the Black Reggie, in order to win a bet, enters a racist bar and with the help of Jack's police badge starts acting as a tough and dangerous cop, searching the White guests in order to scare to owner and opt him to give him information about the bad guy Ganz.

Grade:++

Streets of Fire


Streets of Fire; Action adventure, USA, 1984; D: Walter Hill, S: Michael Pare, Amy Madigan, Diane Lane, Rick Moranis, Willem Dafoe, Deborah Van Valkenburgh, Bill Paxton

Richmond. Singer Ellen Aim is in the middle of a Rock' N' Roll concert, performing on stage in front of the audience. But suddenly an evil motorcycle gang head by Raven storms into the arena and kidnaps her. But Tom Cody arrives in town, a justice fighter, who settles into the apartment of his sister who persuades him to save Ellen. Tom, together with girl McCoy and Billy, Ellen's manager and lover, sets on to a rescue mission. They save Ellen, get rid of their car and continue their getaway in a bus of a Black music band. They return to Richmond, but Raven invites Tom to an direct duel. Tom wins and leaves with McCoy in a Cadillac, while Ellen continues singing.

With some movies you can only wonder at why they remained unknown and were never included into the status of a classic. "Streets of Fire" is one of those cult films. Besides the fact that it perfectly captured the esoteric spirit of the 80s, this achievement contains a hermetic charm and artificiality with class; from unbelievable exposition in which a motorcycle gang simply storms into a concert and kidnaps the main singer Ellen from the stage (!), through the sequence in which the defeated bad guy Raven looks at the superior fighter Tom and exchanges a line with him ("I finally meet a worthy rival." - "Then this is your lucky day") up to the scene where Tom simply "stops" a bus with his arm, this is a roller coaster of great ideas, amusingly generating "elevated" 50s dialogues. It's really a pity Michael Pare simply disappeared from the movies later on in his career, as well as director Walter Hill. This film shouldn't be so much fun. It's thin and it can be simply reduced to the old archetype of a hero saving the girl. But it has style and spirit. If one were to nominate the most underrated movies of the 80s, this one would definitely be in the top 5.

Grade:+++

Rosemary's Baby


Rosemary's Baby; Horror, USA, 1968; D: Roman Polanski, S: Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon, Sidney Blackmer, Maurice Evans, Ralph Bellamy, Charles Grodin

Rosemary Woodhouse and her husband, actor Guy, move to New York and find an apartment that has a bad reputation since it's tenants died in it recently. One tenant one day commits suicide by jumping of the window. They meet their neighbors, an elderly couple, Minnie and Roman. They send Rosemary some sort of mousse, making her nauseous. That night she has a dream that she is raped by a demon and the next morning finds out she is pregnant. Guy claims having had intercourse with her while she was sleeping, but she doubts it. Suddenly Minnie and Roman are very helpful around her pregnancy and persuade her to visit their gynecologist. Rosemary discovers the two of them practice black magic so she tries to escape, but they find her and she gives birth to Satan's child. Guy was promised success if he complies. Rosemary is shocked, but still decides to raise the baby.

The first big American hit from director Roman Polanski, "Rosemary's Baby" is a psychological horror movie that refuses to use special effects, masks, monsters or cheap elements of thrill, but at the same time the whole movie enjoys an infamous reputation due to the demonic premise of the story. Filmed without music, the film has a deceivingly calm atmosphere of routine, and thus isn't as suspenseful as it is disturbing, and quite frankly it's a little bit overrated. The main flaw is that the mythological story seems more like a monologue than a dialogue - Rosemary didn't exactly use her intelligence to fight against intrigues of her dubious "friends" who practice black magic or to trick them, acting more like a passive body. Heck, why couldn't she just have made an abortion? All supporting characters are one dimensional, stiff and slightly vague - it's understandable the screenplay was nominated for a Golden Globe and an Oscar, but puzzling that Ruth Gordon actually won those awards as best supporting actress, since she doesn't stand out particularly. The cleverness of the story lies in the fact that it's so ambiguous - it may be that Rosemary is carrying Satan's child, and then again, it might just be that she has hallucinations due to mood disorders during the pregnancy. If the first is the cause, it just shows how evil can come and present itself as something nice, noticeable in the old couple Minnie and Roman who pretend to be nice and helpful during her pregnancy, but actually seem to have some of their own secret agendas. Since even Rosemary's husband Guy decided to help them for success, it also shows how some people are willing to sacrifice others for their personal goals. The heroine's nightmare, in which she has a surreal dream that she is raped by a monster, is disturbing, while it is clever the camera never shows how the baby looks like, just showing the cradle, but the ending ended there where the real story could have started in the first place.

Grade:++

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Big Trouble in Little China


Big Trouble in Little China; Action/ Fantasy, USA, 1986; D: John Carpenter, S: Kurt Russell, Dennis Dun, Kim Cattrall, James Hong, Victor Wong, Kate Burton

Truck driver Jack Burton gives his friend Wang a lift to the airport, where he awaits his girlfriend Miao Yin, but she gets kidnapped by some thugs. Jack and Wang follow them in the truck to Chinatown, where they witness a confrontation between two gangs and appearance of a ghost sorcerer, Lo Pan. They loose the truck but meet the blond Gracie. Wang gradually reveals Jack that Lo Pan is an evil sorcerer who was defeated by Qin Shi Huang, but wants to marry and sacrifice Miao, a green eyed girl, to break the curse, gain a physical body and rule the world. The three of them and a street gang enter Lo Pan's hideout and kill him, saving the girl. Jack leaves without getting Gracie, but back in his truck there is still one monster left.

"Big Trouble in Little China" is a big budget film with little to no spirit. Even though it is directed by the legendary John Carpenter and subsequently gained cult status despite it's commercial failure, that fantasy action comedy is forced, rushed, unconvincing, silly, contrived and not particularly funny - just take the scene somewhere near the beginning where Jack (a very good Kurt Russell) wins a bet from his friend Wang who double dares him and bets he can splice a bottle with his knife in half. Jack agrees, but takes Wang's prepared bottle away and instead places his own one, from which he just drank. Wang brandishes and hits the bottle, making it bounce right into Jack's face who is luckily fast enough to catch it. What's so funny about that? Well, that's just it - nothing much. The whole film has only some 5-6 good jokes spread over 100 minutes of running time, and some 50 more that just backfire. The action unravel neatly on the screen, but just a few of them cause any reaction from the audience, while spectacle and great special effects can't hide the lack of inspiration. There's all kind of unbelievable moments, from a floating monster head that sees everything that the bad guy Lo Pan sees up to evil magicians that rip the roof of a brothel, but only a hand full of good moments prevail. The last 20 minutes are the only ones that deserve to be seen - there's this amusing moment where Jack enters the bad guy's hideouts with his gang and spontaneously raises his machine gun up and fires above him, randomly hitting the ceiling which collapses and falls on his head, knocking him unconscious. If at least the whole film was as fun as that moment, it could have really been great.

Grade:+

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre


The Treasure of the Sierra Madre; adventure/ drama, USA, 1948; D: John Huston, S: Humphrey Bogart, Tim Holt, Walter Huston, Bruce Bennett, Barton MacLane, Alfonso Bedoya

In some Mexican town, two young adventurers, Fred C. Dobbs and Bob Curtin, are due to monetary troubles forced to team up with the old man Howard and head up to the mountain Sierra Madre in the hot desert in order to dig and search for gold. Despite an attack by some renegades, the three of them manages to find a substantial amount of gold and set to go home. But, on their way Howard heals a sick boy in a village and it's inhabitants invite him for a visit. Leaving his share of gold at Dobbs and Curtin, the two of them start arguing until greed causes them to see each other as the enemy. Dobbs shoots Curtin, but gets killed by some bandits. The gold is gone and Howard returns to his village.

A magnificent masterpiece, "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" is one of the best movies of the 20th Century, a thoroughbred adventure film that shows how little it takes to make a great film - just three people and some gold that corrupts them. Undated, still incredibly fresh, simple, straight forward and indescribably interesting, the film is build on fantastically convincing dialogues and masterfully portrayed characters - rarely was the theme of greed executed so powerfully and intense that it gives an everlasting quality to a film. John Huston directed the simple plot in a virtuoso way, giving interesting insights - Curtin and Dobbs are practically friends at the beginning of the film, with Curtin even saving his life in the gold mine, but once the greed strikes them because both are afraid the other one will steal the other's gold, they completely change and become enemies - Dobbs even waits for him to finally fall asleep, after nights of monitoring, so he can gain the upper hand. The greatest role was achieved with Walter Huston's character of Howard, who has an endless supply of wisdom and inspired dialogues. Not to mention the classic line from Gold Hat: "Badges!? We ain't got no badges. We don't need no badges! I don't have to show you any stinking badges!" Back in 1948, it was really unusual to give Humphrey Bogart the role of the shady Dobbs, but looking at it today, the casting seems perfect. It was equally unorthodox to have a story without a villain, since that was the intention: to show how even the hero can become a bad guy if he allows selfishness to take him over.

Grade:++++

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Maltese Falcon


The Maltese Falcon; crime, USA, 1941; D: John Huston, S: Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, Gladys George, Barton MacLane, Sydney Greenstreet, Ward Bond

Sam Spade is a private detective in San Francisco. One day Mrs. O'Shaugnessy enters his office and gives him the assignment to spy on some Thursby who allegedly kidnapped her daughter. Sam sends his associate Miles on the case, but he and Thursby are soon discovered dead. Since the police suspects him, Sam goes on to search for Mrs. O'Shaugnessy and discovers that she doesn't have a sister and that Thursby was her lover. Some Joel Cairo enters Sam's office the next day and tells him he is in search for the valuable the Maltese falcon, a valuable golden statue, and that his boss Kasper is looking for the same thing. Mrs. O'Shaugnessy discovers the statue, but Cairo and Kasper discover it's a fake and leave. Sam sends her to jail because she killed Miles.

"The Maltese Falcon" is one of those films that are so acclaimed that critics don't even want to dare to complain about anything, but get set already in advance to praise it before they see it. But "Falcon", John Huston's first film and for some the first film noir in general, is a truly fine classic that hit the nerve of the cinema and became a model for later film noirs. It's an old fashioned film that impresses with a clear author's calligraphy, calm mood and class, but it has a slightly too complicated, inextricable story that constantly leads on the false trail and resolves the mystery only towards the end. The figure of private detective Sam Spade, brilliantly embodied by Humphrey Bogart, quickly became an icon and is truly amusing when coping with problematic situations. For instance, when a police officer accuses him of murder of Thursby, Sam replies with: "Really? Please, remind me, how did I kill him...?" There are many other juicy lines and dialogues that make Sam such an unpredictable and witty character ("You'll get slapped and like it!"; "Stop me when you can!"), and thus it comes as no surprise that it easily helped catapult Bogart into stardom. If there would be one complaint, except for the tame tone that might bother a part of modern audience, then it would be the incoherent ending with the false Maltese falcon, but not the brave decision for a tragic (love) ending and that legendary line: "The stuff that dreams are made of".

Grade:+++