Monday, 31 December 2007

Scrooged


Scrooged; Fantasy comedy, USA, 1988; D: Richard Donner, S: Bill Murray, Karen Allen, David Johansen, John Glover, Alfre Woodard, Bob Goldthwait, Robert Mitchum, John Forsythe, Carol Kane, John Murray, Brian-Doyle Murray, Robert Goulet

With only half good heart does Frank Cross, the youngest executive of a TV station, plan to make a programme for Christmas. For Frank it's a time without emotions, thus he plans a new, live "Scrooge" version on TV filled with nudity and action. But before the start of the show, he gets visited by three spirits - the ghost of Christmas past, present and future - who all show him his sad childhood, egoistic present and even worse future. Even though their methods are unorthodox, they change him into a kind person and he reunites with his former love Claire.

"Scrooged" seems like if a few screenwriters have been so fed up with Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" and numerous TV adaptations of the Ebenezer Scrooge character, that they decided to turn the whole thing upside down and have a field day by creating a over-the-top grotesque out of it - the sole crazy exposition in which a TV spot shows a wild film called "The Night the Reindeer Died" in which some militants start a siege of Santa Claus' home on the North Pole and Lee Majors is there to help him, is worthy enough of a recommendation. It's almost a black comedy made with many technical creativity, unbelievable set design and great make up that, ironically, despite it's black humor still captivates the spirit of Christmas. Yes, the film has humor, but it's somewhat uneven in it's meandering between light and dark elements, some gags misfire or are forced, the ghost of Christmas present (Carol Kane) is a little bit irritating and Bill Murray is in great shape but some of his spontaneous improvisations seem misguided, thus some will definitely not like the film as a whole. Still, some scenes, like the one where the grown up Frank Cross starts to cry when he spots himself as a 4-year kid who got a chunk of meat from his dad for Christmas, is somehow strangely touching, and some hidden gags are wonderful, like the logo in his office: "Cross /kros/: A thing to stab people on to". Just like the forced, but honest 4 minute long moral monologue of the protagonist at the end, the movie is somehow shaky, yet inexplicably satisfying.

Grade:++

Robots


Robots; CGI animated comedy, USA, 2005; D: Chris Wedge, Carlos Saldanha, S: Ewan McGregor, Robin Williams, Stanley Tucci, Amanda Bynes, Mel Brooks, Drew Carey, Halle Berry, Dianne Wiest, Harland Williams, Greg Kinnear, Paul Giamatti, Jim Broadbent

In a world populated by robots, Rodney is a young robot who seeks to become an inventor. He leaves his parents - his caring mother and father the dishwasher robot - and heads for the Robot City to place his invention, a small robot which can help doing chores, to Bigweld, the "greatest robot in the world". But Bigweld has isolated himself, while his company is now run by the evil Ratchet who wants to maximize profit by ending the production of replacement parts and forcing everyone to buy the new 'upgrade' version. Rodney meets Fender, Piper, Lug, Crank and Diesel and stops Ratchet by motivating Bigweld to return to run his company once again.

CGI comedy "Robots" from Blue Sky Studios is an interesting film about the underdog trying to change the world, but one can't shake away the feeling that it's just a kid's cartoon that tried to copy too much from similar Pixar Studio films about characters set in alternate worlds. The animation is top notch, some visual ideas are neat and there are traces of subversion set sporadically, which gives the film a nice touch, but at moments it was obvious the authors tried too much to be 'hip' and 'cool', instead of simply giving their story substance and quality - as with many completely CGI films, this one also seems artificial instead of artistic, making only a handful of robot characters seem as if they have a soul, like the irresistibly charming Piper, voiced by Amanda Bynes. The film starts on a clever, almost satirical note - young robot parents "get" a robot baby by assembling it, and the father adds: "He has my mother's eyes and my father's nose. I knew it was a good idea to keep those spare parts". The baby eventually becomes a grown robot, Rodney, who head-on enters the big Robot City inhabited by numerous funny characters - in one scene he meets a shady robot trying to sell him some "fishy" merchandise, showing him his arm with numerous watches who all say: "Don't buy us. We are counter fit" - and many unfunny ones, especially the irritating red robot Fender who is in the long list of annoying hyperactive cartoon characters to have been probably inspired by "Looney Tunes". The authors go a little bit overboard with their too fast pace, placing even a couple of misguided jokes referenced by the modern culture (Fender "hits" the bad guys by dancing in tune to Britney Spears' song "...Baby One More Time"; Aunt Fanny has a gigantic butt which is bigger than her whole body...) and incorporating some lousy modern mannerisms from everyday life, but overall it's a fun, easily enjoyable flick.

Grade:++

Sunday, 30 December 2007

Coming to America


Coming to America; Comedy, USA, 1988; D: John Landis, S: Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, Shari Headley, John Amos, Paul Bates, Eriq La Salle, Madge Sinclair, James Earl Jones, Samuel L. Jackson

In the made up African country of Zamunda there lives the young prince Akeem who has became fed up with his spoiled life of luxury and numerous servants who clothe him, wash him and even "wipe his butt". Together with his servant Semmi, he leaves for Queens, New York and pretends to be a poor student in order to find a woman who will love him without his money. He gets employed in the 'McDowell' fast food restaurant and falls in love with Lisa, the daughter of the boss, even though she is already in a relationship. When the king of Zamunda comes to Queens, Lisa discovers the truth, but still decides to marry Akeem.

Eddie Murphy is undeniably a great comedian, but even his biggest fans will have to admit that he made only a handful of great films that actually back-up his talent. And the charming "fish-out-of-water" comedy "Coming to America" is one of them. Even though even that film has flaws, from unnecessary profanity that wrecks the mood, a few misguided crude humor gags or the tendency to indulge the masses, director John Landis still managed to craft an excellent comedy that in the second half actually becomes a touching, mature romance with wonderful rhythm, from the magical opening song "Mbube" from Ladysmith Black Mambazo up to such childish jokes that actually have a naive punchline like the one where the king of Zamunda enters a barbershop with an opulent clothing made out of an obviously real stuffed lion while the goofy Saul can't resist but to ask nonchalantly: "Oh, this material is great. What is it? Velvet?" There's even a neat inside gag where Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy make guest appearances and reprise their roles of Mortimer and Randolph, the two broke millionaires from the previous Landis film "Trading Places", which is a great idea of using the same characters in many movies. The ending is especially well made, Murphy is having a field day dressing up in three other characters besides the prince Akeem - musician Randy Watson, the old barber Clarence and his old White (!) companion Saul - and Arsenio Hall is also hilarious, which in the end make this film a pleasant surprise.

Grade:+++

Saturday, 29 December 2007

Animals Are Beautiful People


Animals Are Beautiful People; documentary, South Africa, 1974; D: Jamie Uys

"Some die while others live". Already in the first scenes of little insects as one of the few inhabitants of the Namib desert does the film show the wonders of nature. The antelopes are getting use to fewer rain drops every year. The birds in South Africa build gigantic nests some of which are over 100 years old. Some desert plants live only a few months. A mother duck acts as if it is injured to distract a hyena from her little ducklings. The ostriches dance and attack in case of danger, while a little boar finally reunites with it's lost family.

One of the most popular documentaries of its time, whose universal appeal surpassed its country of origin, "Animals Are Beautiful People" were especially critically acclaimed in its homeland South Africa while it was even awarded a Golden Globe as best documentary. Funny, cheerful, playful, suspenseful and touching, this documentary depicts various plant and animal life in Africa in an interesting way in order to show the miracles of nature - among them a fish which hides its breed in its own mouth from predators or a snake swallowing an egg - while director Jamie Uys abstains from his own ideas, except for the narrator, and lets the events unfold naturally, no matter what they are. Still, he made a few directorial interventions here and there, like the baboon sequence accompanied by Johannes Brahms' song "Hungarian Dance No. 5" or the blooming of the desert accompanied by Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker". It's also noticeable he was not all that objective, but actually manipulated the events at some moments: for instance, the seeds popping out of a plant were animated, not real, while the rain in one scene turns out to obviously be a water hose. Still, during his 4 years of shooting this film he made a rather too cute, but sweet and easily accessible achievement suitable for all ages that stands the test of time.

Grade:++

The Gods Must Be Crazy


The Gods Must Be Crazy; Comedy, South Africa/ Botswana, 1980; D: Jamie Uys, S: N!xau, Marius Weyers, Sandra Prinsloo, Louw Verwey, Michael Thys, Nic De Jager, Fanyana H. Sidumo

Kalahari desert, South Africa. Xi is a Bushman who lives happily with his tribe far away from any kind of civilisation. But one day an airplane drops an empty bottle of Coca-Cola which Xi considers to be a gift from the Gods. The Bushmen start using the bottle as a tool, but also engage in arguments over who will have it. Thus, Xi decides to dispose of the "evil" bottle at the end of the world. At the same time, journalist Meg Thompson travels in the jeep of the clumsy adventurer Andrew to a school in Botswana. There some militants take the children as hostages, but Andrew frees them with the help of Xi. The Bushman finds a cliff and throws the bottle in it.

"The Gods Must Be Crazy" became a movie phenomenon: except for a surprising success in cinemas all over the world, it also affirmed itself as the most famous film from South Africa and for some time even acted as it's trademark. The biggest acclaim goes to director Jamie Uys, the author of the documentary "Animals Are Beautiful People", who used the periphery, authentic and endemic sights of his country and truly, the exposition of the film is fascinatingly simple: at first, the map of South Africa is shown, then the elaborated landscapes of Kalahari, until finally the main protagonist is introduced, Bushman Xi, played by the real Bushman N!xau who's fee was payed out in 50 goats. The details with which the isolated tribe was shown captured some sort of an meditative touch: they don't have prisons, they don't know for the time, they gain water independently from plants while when Xi kills an antelope he apologizes to her because he was hungry. The main plot in which a bottle of Coca-Cola falls from the sky - in a neatly humorous way, "whistling" in the fall - is genius, and even innocently sends a message about human superstition without insulting anyone, but once the two subplots are introduced, one revolving around Andrew, a clumsy adventurer who took too many of low-brow humor mannerisms when he "accidentally" breaks things, and the second one revolving around revolutionary militants kidnapping children, the movie irreversibly looses it's innocent sophistication from the start. Still, even the character of Andrew has his moments (in one scene, just as he safely carried the journalist Meg over to the shore, they fall into the water) while the documentary flair even reminds a little bit of Herzog's "Stroszeck".

Grade:++

Thursday, 27 December 2007

Münchhausen


Münchhausen; fantasy comedy, Germany, 1943; D: Josef von Báky, S: Hans Albers, Hermann Speelmans, Walter Lieck, Ilse Warner, Brigitte Horney, Ferdinand Marian, Marina von Ditmar

20th Century. Baron Munchhausen tells the story of his life to a young and curious couple in his garden: at first he lived in Germany, but then left to Russia's territory in the 18th Century. In Saint Petersburg he met and seduced Catherine the Great who hired him as a servant. In the duel with the count Potemkyn he was wounded, so one doctor gave him the ability to stay as young as he wants to. In the Ottoman empire he was the slave of the Sultan but was freed when he won a bet in which a fast running man brought vine from Europe. Munchhausen also freed Isabelle and run away to Venice. Then he went to the Moon where his friend Christian died. After that he got married and settled down.

Critics who know only American films have a big hole in the cinema knowledge, especially if these "unknown" films are so good as Josef von Baky's "Münchhausen". Filmed on Goebbels' order to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Ufa film studio, this unbelievable fantasy classic doesn't have anything to do with the Nazi politics and is filled with brave, ontological scenes that let the power of imagination loose and enchant with verdant set design: the high speed scene of the fast running man who runs with extremely fast speed from Belgrade to Little Asia in only a couple of minutes is one of the first special effects of that kind in general, while the image of Münchhausen riding on a flying cannonball and "hitting" the castle is a real jewel. Such a shining experimental movie that breaks the rules of already seen conventions and isn't ashamed of naive touch (flower-people live on the Moon) was rarely made.

Grade:+++

It's a Wonderful Life


It's a Wonderful Life; fantasy drama, USA, 1946; D: Frank Capra, S: James Stewart, Donna Reed, Henry Travers, Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchell, Beulah Bondi, Ward Bond, Gloria Grahame


Angels in the shape of Galaxies observe the life of the kind George Bailey: as a young kid, he saved the life of his brother who fell into a lake, but remained deaf on one ear. When his father Peter died he had to take over his building and loan business in order to save the company, even though his own dream was to go to the city. He got married to Mary and they had four children, but was always in conflict with the evil tycoon Potter who wanted to buy the city and make it poor. When his uncle Billy looses 8,000 $ from the deposit, George loses hope in everything and thinks his whole life is a failure. He decides to commit suicide on Christmas by jumping off the bridge, but gets saved by angel Clarence who shows him how the world would look like without him. George changes his mind and his friends gather enough money for him.

Considered by many to be the ultimate Christmas film, "It's a Wonderful Life" is a quality made story of sacrifice, pain and joy at the end typical for those kind of optimistic films, even though it has a messy - or should we say experimental? - structure and unusual eccentricity. Already the exposition is strange since the camera pans above the Moon and shows two angels in the shape of Galaxies observing the life of the kind George Bailey (James Stewart in a role of a lifetime), while some destined tragedies seem pathetic and kitschy. Still, Capra cares for his characters by giving them a humane and humorous touch and has a clever style: the scene in which George and Mary fall into a pool during a ball but just continue to dance in the water causing everyone else to join them is equally fun as the one where the two of them ask themselves if they are "talking too much", while some third person yells: "Yes!" The fantasy part of the story comes very late in the story (some 100 minutes into the film!) and consists of the angel Clarence showing the hero who wanted to commit suicide on Christmas how the world would have looked like without him, which became one of the icons of movie history, getting imitated a thousand times and definitely catapulting the film into a classic. After all the bitter misadventures of the protagonist, the movie end with a catharsis, as a pleasant and skillful ode to love and life, even though some cynics might add that it is a too idealistic solution since it could have never happened in some Third World country, while others perceived it as subtly pessimistic since it shows that only a divine intervention could help the hero in the flawed society run by the rich.

Grade:+++

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Mystery Men


Mystery Men; Science-Fiction comedy, USA, 1999; D: Kinka Usher, S: Ben Stiller, Hank Azaria, William H. Macy, Janeane Garofalo, Geoffrey Rush, Greg Kinnear, Tom Waits, Paul Reubens, Claire Forlani, Lena Olin

Champion City. Some bad guys attack a senior party so a bunch of powerless 'superheroes' try to stop them, consisting of The Shoveler, Mr. Furious and The Blue Raja who throws forks - but without success. The bad guys get defeated by the real superhero, Captain Amazing, but since there is no more challenge for him in the city he decides to free the dangerous Casanova Frankenstein. But Amazing overestimated himself: Casanova captures him. That's why Furious, Raja and Shoveler decide to gather a real team of superheroes to beat Casanova: they get joined by The Spleen, The Bowler, a man who can become invisible only if you don't look at him and The Sphinx. When Amazing gets killed, they storm the castle with their truck. There Casanova dies by falling into his own device. The team call themselves "Mystery Men".

"Mystery Men" is a well meant ode to outsiders, but in the end it's just a chaos of comedy. The script seems to be written with only half the effort while not even it's gags are something special: it's at moments embarrassing to listen to them because they are banal and 'childish'. The three main protagonists who want to be superheroes but can't because their 'powers' are average (The Shoveler handles a shovel, Mr. Furious can get very angry, The Blue Raja throws fork) are all nice caricatures of people trying to live their dreams despite all the obstacles, and Ben Stiller is especially trying to do his best, the bad guy with the funny name - Casanova Frankenstein - is solid, while some candidates for the 'superheroes' are pretty comical, like 'Pencilhead' and his son or 'Premenstrual Avenger'. Janeane Garofalo is also pretty fun as The Bowler heroine, having a bowling ball with the skull of her father, as well as the character of The Invisible Boy who can only become invisible if people don't look at him. The film has it's moments, but as a whole it seems sloppy, amateurish, heavy handed and thin, gaining it's potential cult status more out of it's curiosity than out of it's virtues.

Grade:+

Jingle All the Way


Jingle All the Way; Comedy, USA, 1996; D: Brian Levant, S: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sinbad, Jake Lloyd, Rita Wilson, Phil Hartman, Robert Conrad, James Belushi

Howard is so busy with his job, he comes too late to attend his son Jamie's karate match. In order to make it up for him, he plans to buy him a Turbo Man action figure for Christmas. But he forgot that his wife Liz told him to buy it two weeks ago. Now, on Christmas eve, he runs from one store to another to find the toy, but it's always sold out in advance. During his search, he constantly bumps into mailman Myron who also wants the toy for his kid. Howard finally masks himself as a live action Turbo Man during a parade and gives Jamie the toy, but he gives it to Myron figuring his "own dad is Turbo Man".

Solid Christmas family comedy "Jingle All the Way" also presented the action star Arnold Schwarzenegger in a refreshing comic role, this time as a dad in the middle of a real war just to buy one toy for Christmas which is a rather neat fun with dynamic settings, but as a whole the movie is a lame comedy with only some 5-6 really good gags, mostly those cynical ones mocking shopping frenzy to the absurd, but those inspirational moments last for only a couple of seconds before the whole thing returns back to the mediocre waters. One of the best gags is set right at the first appearance of comedian Sinbad playing mailman Myron, when he and Howard are standing in a long queue, just when he goes on to give a hilarious rant about how "the toy cartels are exploiting parents by putting psycho garbage into the kid's minds", which gives the story a sharp spark of self-irony, or the over-the-top sequence where Howard is fighting against hundred of con-men disguised as Santa Claus. Still, during the course of the film, instead of turning into a satire about consumer society, the story actually gets sucked into the triviality and senselessness revolving around the toy, until regardless to the harmless tone and interpretation it becomes more a materialistic gimmick and less a spiritual family film.

Grade:+

Tuesday, 25 December 2007

Interiors


Interiors; Drama, USA, 1978; D: Woody Allen, S: Mary Beth Hurt, Diane Keaton, Kristin Griffith, Geraldine Page, Richard Jordan, E. G. Marshall, Maureen Stapleton, Sam Waterston, Missy Hope

New York. The 63-year old Arthur announces he is separating from his wife Eve, which causes their three grown up daughters to fall into a crisis: Joey gives up her lecturing job and contemplates about abortion after finding out she is pregnant. Renata, a writer, enters a marital crisis when her husband, also a writer, regards himself as inferior compared to her. Flyn suddenly realizes her job as a TV actress leads to nowhere. Eve tries to commit suicide while Arthur returns with his new mistress, Pearl. When the two get married, Pearl runs of to the sea and drowns herself. The family mourns on the funeral.

In "Interiors", his most serious film without a single shred of humor, Woody Allen came the closest to making a drama in the finest manner of his idol Bergman, although he also succeeded in crafting a, for him, unusually strong, fierce and extroverted film, abandoning his long takes, but still remaining a static touch. Back in 1978, "Interiors" came as a hermetic surprise since Allen made a 180 degrees shift away from comedy and towards an absolutely serious divorce drama, so uncompromising and painfully bleak that it almost becomes "pessimistic to the point of negation", as states one of the characters in the film, but despite some flaws, like the fact that the intensity could have been stronger, he managed to direct it in a fine manner, delivering a quality film for the patient viewers - especially well in her role is Geraldine Page as the depressive Eve, who won a BAFTA as best supporting actress. To put it simple, it's an existentialist film about people who don't feel comfortable in the rift between their wishes and their reality they are living, thus the story is filled with 'dilemma' moments - Arthur announces he is going to get married again and Eve looses her patience, screams and throws some candles in the church on the floor; Eve tries to commit suicide with gas by blocking windows and the doors with the glue tape; Frederick tries to rape Flynn - all untypical situations from Allen, who wanted to get away from his style, and managed, even though many weren't ready for it.

Grade:+++

Mrs. Doubtfire


Mrs. Doubtfire; Comedy, USA, 1993; D: Chris Columbus, S: Robin Williams, Sally Field, Lisa Jakub, Matthew Lawrence, Mara Wilson, Pierce Brosnan, Harvey Fierstein, Polly Holliday

San Francisco. Daniel is an unemployed voice actor who is saddened when his wife Miranda divorces him and on the court he only gets to see his three children; Lydia, Chris and Natalie, only once a week. In order to spend more time with the kids, Daniel thinks of an unusual plan: his brother will use all his make up skill to mask him as a middle aged woman while he will introduce himself as Mrs. Doubtfire and get a job as a nanny in Miranda's house to watch after kids. And he succeeds. The kids get quite fond of Mrs. Doubtfire with time, but then they discover the truth. During a diner with Miranda's new lover, Stuart, everyone discovers Daniel's secret.

Popular "Mrs. Doubtfire" is a likeable transgender comedy in which director Chris Columbus sufficiently mixes family comedy with emotions, while Robin Williams delivered one of thr best performances of his career in his double role as Daniel and Mrs. Doubtfire - especially in 'her' amazing voice transformation, while despite the flatness of humor some of the gags still seem funny, like the one where Mrs. Doubtfire leans towards the stove not noticing his fake breasts were set on fire or when he looses his false teeth in the glass of champaign and (autoironically) adds: "Carpe dentum". Basically, most of the gags are based on the the man's misadventures in playing a woman's role, and the story is funny, but most of it's gags and male-female observations are directly borrowed from "Tootsie's" repertoire, and thus don't seem original. Williams as best actor and the film as best motion picture - musical or comedy both won a Golden Globe, but rather unjustifiably: with such an approach in which forced messages, pathetic touch, uneven subplot in which Pierce Brosnan's character was degraded into a bad guy and humiliated by Mrs. Doubtfire (there were such stupid lines like the one where 'she' says that his Mercedes "compensates for his genitals") and inappropriately grotesque gags towards the slightly annoying ending overshadow the first charming impression, thus it's obvious the Golden Globe for best comedy in 1993 should have went to the jewel of comedy, Ramis' "Groundhog Day".

Grade:++

Monday, 24 December 2007

The Little Match Girl


La petite marchande d'allumettes; Silent drama, France, 1928; D: Jean Renoir, S: Catherine Hessling, Manuel Raaby, Jean Storm, Amy Wells, Anny Xells

During the cold winter, Karen, a poor girl, is trying to sell matches on the street, but nobody wants to buy any. She observes a party of some wealthy people through the window and gets hit with snowballs from some kids. But a policeman shows up and chases them away, saving her. Not daring to go home since she didn't sell a single match, she stays on the street and falls into a dream world full of puppets in a castle. She meets a nice soldier, but then death appears and chases them on a horse through the clouds. Some time later, people find her frozen on the street.

Silent adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale of the same title, "The Little Match Girl" is a quality made 40-minute short film that appeals mostly thanks to Jean Renoir's skillful directing and the absolutely charming leading performance by his wife, Catherine Hessling, even though some complained that she is a grown woman, not a little girl, but that doesn't reduce her overall charisma and sympathetic gestures. The tragic story about a neglected, poor girl of whom nobody cared off didn't loose any of it's touching poetry in this version, even though it's obvious the movie isn't anything special by today's standards, even though it contains a few magical moments, like the one where some cruel kids were throwing snowballs on Karen but some policemen showed up and made them run away, saving her, or the phantasmagorical finale where she is riding a horse through the clouds together with a tin soldier and running away from Death in form of a man also riding a horse. It's a simple, straightforward film that never drags, has a humane message and shows lot of talents, while the fact that it didn't create anything outstanding out of the short story doesn't necessarily have to be considered a flaw since it a very fluent film overall.

Grade:++

Home Alone


Home Alone; Comedy, USA, 1990; D: Chris Columbus, S: Macaulay Culkin, Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern, Catherine O'Hara, John Heard, Robert Blossom, Angela Goethals, Devin Ratray, Hilary Wolf, John Candy

Chicago during Christmas. Kevin is an 8-year old boy living in a large family consisting of his 10 siblings, parents and uncle. One evening he has a fight with his brother Buzz and is sent to the third floor over the night as a punishment. The next morning, the family rushes to the airport to catch a flight to Paris, accidentally leaving Kevin behind at home. He manages to fight off two burglars who wanted to break into his house, Harry and Marv, while his family returns home with the next flight to Chicago.

"Home Alone" is a neat "family comedy without the family", as it slyly states in the poster tagline, that managed to become a hugely popular piece of work thanks to it's attractive mix of gentle comedy and slightly cruel satire about a family which forgot their own kid at home, thus turning into one of the easily more enjoyable flat Hollywood blockbusters. Macaulay Culkin isn't as cute as the authors thinks he is, but he still delivered a nice performance as the main protagonist, while the rather inappropriate black humor and morbid gags that appear towards the adventure finale where Kevin has to protect his home from two burglars, Harry and Marv, don't seem to fit - honestly, how could the writers imagine that a 8-year old kid with a machine gun in his hands can be something sweet? - but if one is to accept the whole over-the-top "violence" as a "Tom and Jerry" kind of cartoon, the thing is actually rather amusing, fun and dynamic, especially in such scenes like the one where Harry enters the house and a flamethrower burns his head, leaving only a small piece of hair on his new "bald spot". Not all the gags work, but the story is somehow strangely appealing for a silly mainstream comedy, while the small roles are nicely staged, especially the brilliant comedian John Candy in a small guest appearance as Gus, the Polka king who offers Kevin's mom the ride to Chicago.

Grade:++

Sunday, 23 December 2007

Lenny


Lenny; drama, USA, 1974; D: Bob Fosse, S: Dustin Hoffman, Valerie Perrine, Jan Miner, Stanley Beck, Frankie Man, Rashel Novikoff

Lenny Bruce was a lousy stand-up comedian somewhere in the 1950's. He met the wild striptease dancer Honey and married her, much to the dismay of his mother. When he accidentally swore at one of his performances, his boss ordered him to apologize, but he quit and took Honey with him. They had a car accident and landed in a hospital, where he met a nurse and had an affair with her. Continuing his stand-up routine at a poorly known striptease club, he got the offer to do his own act. Becasue of his swearing, satire towards the government and controversial views, he was arrested several times. He died in '66 from an overdoses.

Excellent black and white biopic drama with bitter humor, "Lenny" is a powerful and controversial film that has implications that seem pragmatic today, from the right of free speech, the pressures of society and a revolutionary individual who the more he had trouble with the authorities, the more popular he became. Dressed in the typical "rise and fall" structure of these kind of films, nominated for 6 Oscars, 3 Golden Globes and winner of one BAFTA (best newcomer Valerie Perrine), "Lenny" is crafted in the brilliant 70s film making style that combines static mood with powerful dynamic energy, and director Bob Fosse didn't fall into the trap of showing sympathies towards the title protagonist: Lenny Bruce was vulgar, profane, rude, juvenile and impolite, but unlike other swearing delinquents he had something to say, while at some point of his career he acted less like a stand-up comedian and more like a philosopher. As he said himself in the film: "My sole economic success is based on violence, despair, disease and injustice. If by some miracle all of them would disappear, I would be unemployed. So I'm not a moralist". Even though the movie is rather overlong and slightly convoluted, it has merits while Dustin Hoffman is excellent as the main protagonist, in every kind of gags he spoke, from the nasty ones ("F*** you." Never understood that insult, because f***ing someone is actually really pleasant. If we're trying to be mean, we should say "unf*** you!") up to the childish ones ("How many asses sat on this chair? Nobody knows. But the lions and the tigers know. That's why every time Buck goes 'Wa! Wa!' with the chair, they go 'Blah, Blah'!").

Grade:+++

Touch


Touch; Drama/ Satire, USA, 1997; D: Paul Schrader, S: Skeet Ulrich, Bridget Fonda, Christopher Walken, Tom Arnold, Gina Gershon, Breckin Meyer, Janeane Garofalo, Lolita Davidovich

Evangelist Bill Hill goes to calm down the difficult situation in the house of the blind Virginia who is getting beaten up by her husband. Suddenly, the young Juvenal enters the house, puts a cloth on her and she suddenly gains her sight back. Concluding it must be a miracle, Bill decides to talk to Juvenal whom he considers a miracle maker, but the church doesn't allow him that. That's why Bill persuades his friend Lynn to get drunk in order to land into the rehabilitation center where Juvenal works and talk to him. Juvenal heals her and tells her his real name is Charlie and that he worked 7 years as a priest in the Amazon rain forest where miraculous healing of sick people started. They fall in love, which is not welcomed by religious fanatic August who wants Juvenal to have a "clean" image. When August tries to kill Lynn, Juvenal intervenes and throws him from the floor, breaking his bones. But he heals him in a TV show and runs away with Lynn.

Writer Elmore Leonard wrote his novel "Touch" as a harsh critique of religious fanaticism, exploitation and oppression, but director Paul Schrader, most famous for his screenplay for "Taxi Driver" adapted it into a rather stiff film. The final result is a mild, tame and ephemera junction between serious drama and satire, but which still contains a few sharp observations and thought provocative contemplations of Christianity: the young, innocent Juvenal is obviously a symbol for the modern Christ who can heal the sick, but the church absurdly forbids him that and rather has him hide his miraculous gift in order to act as an average person, while some gags aren't especially subtle, but still bring the point across, like the scene where a priest has dysentery and has to go to the toilet in the middle of the mass or when the protagonist asks Lynn is she is a Catholic upon which she flat out replies: "No, but I was once married to one...". To push the envelope even further, Schrader has Juvenal and Lynn land in bed, openly going against the religious dogma that intercourse without a marriage is a sin. However, the story doesn't at all have that magic or emotions that were sensed from the subject, thus it seems the whole film is ended like a dry myth that looks at everything in black and white and offers no explanations, even though it has a neat point hidden in the chaotic ending.

Grade:+

Saturday, 22 December 2007

The World of Henry Orient


The World of Henry Orient; Drama/ Comedy, USA, 1964; D: George Roy Hill, S: Merrie Spaeth, Tippy Walker, Peter Sellers, Angela Lansbury, Paula Prentiss, Tom Bosley, Phyllis Thaxter, Bibi Osterwald

New York. The 14-year old Marian attends an all girl school and meets the rebellious Valarie. The two girls become friends and have fun, accidentally stumbling upon the piano player Henry Orient just as he was kissing his mistress Stella, interrupting them. The next day, Valarie pretends to be sick as a joke and runs away from the angry mob, again stumbling into Henry. When Marian's mother invites Valarie to Henry's concert, she falls in love with him. The girls stalk him in his apartment, while he gets paranoid imagining they might be the spies of Stella's husband. When Valarie's mom discovers her diary of her love interest, she orders her to stop that. Valarie runs away from home and hides at Marian, but is disappointed when she finds out Henry has an affair with her mom. He leaves the city, the girls continue to be friends.

In "The World of Henry Orient" director George Roy Hill neatly transported Nora Johnson's novel into an energetic, simple, imaginative and fun film that was nominated for a Golden Palm in Cannes and with it's refreshingly realistic story about two teenage girls stalking a piano player he managed to influence a lot of coming-of-age films like "Ghost World". Peter Sellers is well cast as Henry, but the best roles were of course delivered by the charming Merrie Spaeth and Tippy Walker as the mischievous girls Marian and Valarie - especially great is the comical sequence before the start of the concert, where Marian accidentally looks down upon the floor, spots Val's legs and says: "Why didn't you tell me you shaved your legs?", while Erica, who is sitting next to them adds: "A little louder girls, some people in the balcony can't hear you!", but some of them even have a spark of magic, like the romantic moment after the concert where Marian spots Val lying on the floor, with Henry's record under her, flat out admitting in trans: "I'm in love with him!" Still, while the youthful spirit is captured neatly, the problem lies in the fact that Marian and Val never exchange a word with Henry, which is a real pity because it left a big hole in their character development - the only interaction between them is reduced to the girls stalking Henry and he reacting like a silly lunatic with paranoia. The theme of the story might be unrequited love, but it's still a pity they never meet. Besides that, the dated music seems as if came from a children's film and the stiff Panavision gives it a brand of a 60s movie, not managing to live it up.

Grade:++

Coldblooded


Coldblooded; Black comedy, USA, 1995; D: Wallace Wolodarsky, S: Jason Priestley, Peter Riegert, Kimberly Williams, Robert Loggia, Janeane Garofalo, Jay Kogen, Josh Charles, Doris Grau, Michael J. Fox

Cosmo is a secluded 24-year old lad who lives in the basement of a retirement home, noting the bets of people through the telephone. One day the gangster Gordon promotes him to a killer and partner of 'veteran' Steve. Cosmo hesitates is killing Lance who owes a lot of money, but that way he gets a better salary. On the Yoga class he meets Jasmin who is bothered by her aggressive boyfriend Randy. Jasmin breaks up with him and starts a relationship with Cosmo. To him that's unusual because the only contact he ever had with women was with the prostitute Honey. In order to break up with his job and live like a normal person, he kills Steve and Gordon.

The author of this black comedy is Wallace Wolodarsky, one of the regular "Simpson's" writers, but here he seems to have no sense of humor at all. Namely, despite the fact that "Coldblooded" is an independent film, a majority of misadventures in which the interesting protagonist Cosmo falls into are bloodlessly banal. In the exposition the mobster Gordon congratulates Cosmo because he was promoted into a hitman, but he just replies with: "No, thanks" having second thoughts for obvious reasons. The first encounter with his first victim is convulsively funny - "Allow me to break your nose.", says Cosmo and starts a conversation with him: "So you're the guy on the telephone bets". I imagined you with a moustache." says the victim, which is suppose to be a 'quirky' shift between the normal and the abnormal, but it just seems out of place. The best episode is the one including some guy played by Michael J. Fox who is asked from Cosmo for a love advice before he shoots him. In a small, rather inessential role Janeane Garofalo plays the prostitute Honey, yet her relationship with Cosmo is very underused. It's a mater of a solid film, but "Grosse Pointe Blank" is a much better contribution to the theme.

Grade:+

Friday, 21 December 2007

A Hard Day's Night


A Hard Day's Night; Comedy, UK, 1964; D: Richard Lester, S: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Wilfrid Brambell, Norman Rossington, Alison Seebohm

36 hours in the lives of the Beatles: they run away from a mass of fans and manage to take a train to London. There is also Paul McCartney's grandfather who is noble but likes to command everyone. Some passenger doesn't permit them to open the window so the Beatles search for fun and girls in the train. Finally in London, they get the assignment to participate a live broadcasting of their concert on TV so their manager begs them not to go anywhere but they go on to explore the city. Ringo befriends some kid and lands in the police station with Paul's grandfather. Paul, John and George get them out of there and they get back to the studio just in time.

1964 marked the first time the legendary Beatles appeared on film, the half-documentary comedy "A Hard Day's Night", released at the height of Beatlemania by the company "United Artists", which was nominated for an Oscar for best music and original screenplay. Director Richard Lester, who later on once again teamed up with the Beatles and filmed "Help!", shows their comic daily life in the style of French 'Nouvelle Vague' - at the beginning the quartet is running away from a mass of female fans, some of whom even fall on the floor from the sheer speed of the chase, even entering one car just to exit it and enter the next one. An amusing film in which the Beatles even say a few sarcastic dialogues ("He has a very high opinion about himself!"; after one arrogant gentleman says that he fought in war, they add: "And you're probably sorry you won, I bet") while the "story" contains an energetic youthful spirit that defies authority, John Lennon and Paul McCartney are wonderfully relaxed while the part of the grandfather is also neat (he accidentally showed up in an elevator in the middle of some medieval opera and interrupts the show) but as a whole the film also has occasionally a few unnecessary moments or episodic feel to it. But can you help it when the guys are so much fun?

Grade:+++

Cowboy Bebop

Cowboy Bebop; animated science-fiction series, Japan, 1998; D: Shinichiro Watanabe, S: Koichi Yamadera, Megumi Hayashibara, Unsho Ishizuka, Aoi Tada, Norio Wakamoto, Miki Nagasawa, Gara Takashima
The year is 2071. The Moon exploded and created a mysterious substance that enables people faster traveling through the Solar system. Spike, an ex-convict, and Jet, an ex-cop, are bounty hunters who capture renegades from Mercury to Pluto with their spaceship 'Bebop'. They soon get joined by wild lady Faye and later on by Ed, a little girl. There are many bad guys to capture: ecological terrorist who protect the creatures on Jupiter's moon, the killer of a company owner, drug dealers, crooks...When Spike finds his long lost love, Julia, he leaves 'Bebop'. She gets killed by Vicious' gang so he kills him and dies in the combat.

Extremely stylish "Cowboy Bebop", an elite example of anime class, is in some critic circles considered to be the best show in 1998, and that's justified since the authors manifested both a noir and a genius ode to sci-fi rush that ended as an extremely rich, ambitious contribution to that genre. The incredible imagination of the authors is astounding in some scenes, from a laser that drew a "smiley face" over the whole surface of South America (!) through a church on Venus and the explosion of the Moon whose sparks arrive to the meadow on the Earth up to a harbor on the satellite Ganymede from which the "sunrise" of the gigantic Jupiter can be seen. The animation is also top notch and gives the series a special plus in virtues, while besides the unionism of action (the shootout in the church) the characters are also special - the star is probably the cold blooded lady Faye, voiced by Megumi Hayashibara, who was drawn mischievously by the animators in a smooth yellow bikini like suit to underline her curves.

But it is a pity that between her and the main protagonist Spike there are almost no romantic feelings, thus that is the main flaw of this anime - a too cold approach towards the characters, even though there are many scenes that give them a little spark of light (especially touching and masterful is the episode where the tough Faye sees herself as a little teenage girl on the video, back then when she was a cheerful teenager). Indeed, one could complain about such darkness and pessimistic approach, but one could also say that it is somber and realistic since it shows that even in the future life is tough and offers no easy choices - however, precisely because the relationship between Spike and Faye is so understated, even the smallest touch between them is so intense and precious that it is more exciting than some love stories. Some also complained that the story is too much action based, too simplistic, infantile gimmick for grown ups with too many filler episodes - all those complains stand, yet director Watanabe's skill is really too powerful to be that easily dismissed. A shining anime, almost too rich with style, while the finale contains such tragedy, heartbreaking intensity and incomprehensible contemplation about life and death that it is easily one of the top 10 best anime endings ever, a masterpiece of such strong stuff that can cause the viewers to feel a lump in their throats.

Grade:++++

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Avanti!


Avanti!; romantic comedy, USA/ Italy, 1972; D: Billy Wilder, S: Jack Lemmon, Juliet Mills, Clive Revill, Edward Andrews, Gianfranco Barra, Franco Angrisano, Giselda Castrini

Wealthy Wendell leaves New York for Rome, Italy in an airplane after he gets the news that his father, president of the company he works in, died there in a car accident. On his journey he meets the blond Pamela who seems to know him. Arriving in the hotel, Wendell discovers from manager Carlo that his father died together with the woman he had an secret affair with. Even worse - Pamela is her daughter! After the corpses disappear, Wendell discovers them at some peasants who want money for their ruined vineyard. Still, he slowly falls for Pamela and realizes their relationship has many parallels with the one of their parents so they decide to see each other.

One of Billy Wilder's last films surprisingly wasn't noticed at all even though it's a very ostentative romantic comedy in the best Wilderean style. Jack Lemmon often knew to be coiled in his career, but here he is in top notch shape as Wendell, while despite a certain eccentric tone the gags are as a whole typically touching and clever for the famous director, which can already be noticed in the exposition: at the airport, a 'dwarf' plane lands in front of a giant plane, from which the main protagonist exists to enter the second one. The dialogues are often sublime, especially between Wendell and the hotel manager Carlo, from their first encounter ("I apologize your father died in the car accident." - "Why do you have to apologize for that?" - "Because it happened right here in Italy!" - "But he was a careless driver." - "No, it was a bad curve!") up to the realization his father had an affair ("That bastard! At his age of 67! How could he?!" - "I would be proud if my father..." - "Shut up! And you Pamela! Your mother should be ashamed of herself!"). The parallels of Wendell's and Pamela's relationship with the one of their parents are slightly overstretched, the story is slightly too long, but the ending wraps up everything nicely and sends a nostalgic message about transience. Out of 6 Golden Globe nominations, only Lemmon managed to win the award as best actor in a motion picture - musical or comedy.

Grade:+++

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes


The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes; Crime comedy, UK, 1970; D: Billy Wilder, S: Robert Stephens, Colin Blakely, Genevieve Page, Christopher Lee, Tamara Toumanova, Clive Revill, Irene Handl

50 years after the death of Dr. Watson, the police opens his suitcase and discovers new documents about the life of famous detective Sherlock Holmes: in the 19th Century, the detective got the offer to be the father of the child of a Russian ballet dancer, but refused. He soon got a new, real assignment from the a woman who introduced herself as Gabrielle and persuaded him to search for her missing husband Emile. Holmes, Gabrielle and Watson follow the trace up to Scotland where they discover the monster of Loch Ness is actually a disguised submarine in which Emile died while Gabrielle is actually a German spy. She gets returned to her homeland, but dies somewhere on Japan's territory, much to the pity of Holmes.

After the 1960's, it seems the critics and the public ignored virtually every new film Billy Wilder made, even his very personal achievement, humorous crime drama "The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes". Today that unusual movie is slightly rehabilitated and attracts with it's endless charm and elegantly crafted, smooth structure, turning easily as one of the top 10 best film contributions about the famous fictional detective. Although, even though Wilder wrote the script with his collaborator I. A. L. Diamond, the story still lacks humor which the duo later corrected in their excellent comedy "Avanti!". The best parts of this cult film are the ones that are rich with observational humor (at the beginning, Sherlock Holmes criticises Watson for constantly idealising and exaggerating his appearance in the newspaper: he described him as a 6'4 tall man even though he is barely 6'1 while the massive acclaim of his violin playing skills caused that he can't save himself from offers playing at the concerts!), while the sole story about the disappearance of a husband which revolves around dwarfs, the monster of Loch Ness and spies is absurd enough. Not to mention that one joke is simply gold: after Holmes lied to the countess that he is in gay relationship with Watson, he leaves the party. But Watson, who doesn't know anything about that, stays enthusiastically dancing with the girls - but alas, as the rumor spreads, the girls all get slowly replaced by a bunch of all gay male ballet dancers, much to the Watson's wonderment. It still remains an enormous sin that the producers cut the film from 3 to 2 hours, thus forever loosing the missing footage - with such an interesting concept, even those 3 hours would be fascinating and would have probably added more virtue to the picture.

Grade:++

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

The Fortune Cookie


The Fortune Cookie; Comedy, USA, 1966; D: Billy Wilder, S: Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Ron Rich, Judy West, Cliff Osmond, Lurene Tuttle

Harry is a TV cameraman who gets accidentally injured by the Black football player 'Boom Boom' Jackson during the game. Harry gets a light concussion, but is otherwise all right, yet his brother-in-law, lawyer Willie, decides to demand 1 million $ from the insurance company in order to get 200.000 $ in the settlement. In order to do so, he persuades Harry to act a heavily paralyzed victim in the wheelchair. While Willie is arguing with the insurance, Jackson is tormented by guilt and takes care of Harry, who is also visited by his ex-wife Sandy. Inspector Purkey on the other hand is filming the apartment in order to reveal the fraud. Harry gets annoyed by all the dishonesty and eventually proves he is healthy, comforting Jackson.

After two unbalanced comedy films, Billy Wilder once again managed to prove he is a full-blooded master of comedy with "The Fortune Cookie", not as much with hilarious humor as with genius idea - it's a strange paradox, but most hilarious comedies are trashy, wild and madly anarchic, something Wilder is simply too intelligent to make. The film marked the first time Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon worked together and showed they have great chemistry, creating probably the best film about insurance fraud and establishing a secret ode to justice. Matthau, who won an Oscar and was nominated for a Golden Globe as best supporting actor, plays the sly, greedy lawyer Willie brilliantly - in one especially well written sequence, he decides to 'enrich' Harry's injuries by including a one on his spine already damaged in his childhood ("Nobody will know the difference between an old injury and a new one"), and even goes so far to suggest him to play a paralyzed man upon which Harry protests: "I won't even lift a finger to help you!" Willie just replies with: "That's the spirit! Don't even lift you finger!" Among other Wilder trademark gags is the clever one that shows how Harry actually cares about his ex-wife even though he pretends he can't stand her ("She read just one book in her entire life! For 6 months she was stuck on page 19!") while the ending involving the camera spy Purkey is brilliant. Despite a few strenuous moments and a few lame gags, "The Fortune Cookie" is a real classic that shows how comedies should be made, but sadly many directors forgot the recipe.

Grade:+++

The Mask


The Mask; Fantasy comedy, USA, 1994; D: Chuck Russell, S: Jim Carrey, Peter Reigert, Cameron Diaz, Peter Greene, Richard Jeni, Orestes Matacena, Amy Yasbeck

Edge City. Stanley Ipkiss is a nice guy who gets trampled by everyone. One day, while working in his bank, he meets the blond Tina who wants to open an account, but in reality just spies for her gangster boss Dorian who plans a big robbery. That evening he finds a mysterious wooden mask in the sea, puts it on and transforms into the Mask, a green faced super hero who can do almost everything. He robs the bank and has a wild night with Tina at a club. Even though he likes his new wild personality, Stanley decides to get rid of it. He gets arrested, but escapes from jail and manages to save Tina from Dorian. She and Stanley start a relationship.

Even though it's slightly forgotten today, Chuck Russell's "The Mask", loosely deriving it's plot from the variation of Carl Jung and his theory about the persona that is the mask presented by each individual to society and may or may not conceal the real personality, is still a surprisingly fresh and amusing light fantasy comedy with a neatly, refreshingly sustained performance by Jim Carrey and charming Cameron Diaz, who never looked more attractive, while the basic concept about a "zero who becomes the hero" is something almost anyone can identify with. True, some may ask themselves what the point of all the madness in the story was, but the film gains most of it's wacky charm through over-the-top cartoon humor of the Mask character who can do virtually anything, especially amusing in such funny scenes as the one where he stumbles upon a gang of street thugs whose leader asks him what time it is, and he flat out replies with: "2 seconds before I hunk your nose and put underpants on your head", which he does, or the scenes where he howls and turns his head into a wolf while observing the singing performance of Tina in a night club. Even though it's not especially hilarious and the fact that the too serious subplot about the gangster Dorian is completely out of place in the story, "The Mask" is still a rather fun comedy with an energetic hero, no matter how much he is just a copy of Genie from Disney's "Aladdin" and the Wolf from Tex Avery's "Red Hot Riding Hood".

Grade:++

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Kiss Me, Stupid


Kiss Me, Stupid; Comedy, USA, 1964; D: Billy Wilder, S: Ray Walston, Kim Novak, Dean Martin, Felicia Farr Cliff Osmond, Skip Ward, Barbara Pepper

Dino is a famous playboy singer who is only interested in women. On his way to Hollywood, he stops with his car in a small provincial town, Climax. There he gets recognized by auto mechanic Barney and his friend Orville who want to sell him their songs in order to achieve a great music career. Orville takes Dino to his home, but fearing his Casanova mentality he sets up a fight with his wife Zelda in order to remove her to a "safe place". Instead of her, he hires the prostitute Polly to play his wife, letting Dino seduce her in order for him to buy his song. Dino really lands with Polly in bed, but Orville suddenlly changes his mind and throws him out of his house. Accidentally, Dino meets Zelda and thinks she is a prostitute. She then persuades him to buy a song. That way Orville still becomes famous.

"The doctor forbid me to drink alcohol. That's why I now freeze my drinks and eat them like an ice cream", says the character of Dino in the exposition of the film on stage, causing the whole audience to laugh - except one waiter who doesn't get the joke. Unfortunately, a large part of the audience will also feel just like him because there isn't much to get in the incoherent structure of one of Billy Wilder's lesser films, "Kiss Me, Stupid". Back in 1964, some critics were completely wrong to attack the film as 'immoral', but their critiques weren't without a reason since many felt cheated because Dean Martin was announced as the main protagonist in the film - even though he is only a supporting character. And a bad guy on top of that, the sleazy playboy Dino. In reality, the main protagonist is the smutty Orville, a fanatic musician who even wears a photo shot of Beethoven on his shirt and is terribly jealous (in once scene he calls the dentist and asks him if his wife is with him. The dentists, stoned from laughing gas, asks him with laughter: "Who is there?", upon he replies with: "Her husband!"). Peter Seller's heart attack prevented him to play Orville which is a shame since the comedian could have added a better spark to the role than Ray Walston - it's obvious that the part was originally meant for a big comic star, and while Walston does his best, he is simply not gifted enough as a comedian. But the main problem is the film's ridiculous plot tangle in which Orville chases away his wife in order to hire a prostitute to play her, 'just in case' that Dino plans to seduce her, since it's simply too chaotic to work, bringing out Wilder's worst flaws.

Grade:++

Irma la Douce


Irma la Douce; comedy, USA, 1963; D: Billy Wilder, S: Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Lou Jacobi, Bruce Yarnell, Herschel Bernardi, Hope Holiday, Joan Shawlee, Tura Satana

Equipped with green socks, 'Sweet' Irma works like a prostitute in Paris. In order to squeeze more money out of her customers, she tells them how she grew up in an orphanage. But then a new police officer arrives, Nestor, who without compromise arrests all prostitutes in his block, but also his own boss who just 'happened to be there', thus loosing his job. When he once again meets Irma, he starts a fight with her pimp and frees her. She falls in love with him and allows him to stay at her place. But Nestor is jealous at her men and gets an unusual idea: he masks himself as Lord X with a beard and pays her 500 Franks for harmless conversation just so that she doesn't have to work. After she falls in love with Lord X, he decides to get rid of the fictional character and escapes a police arrest. On the wedding Irma gives birth to a daughter, while Lord X happens to pass by.

Billy Wilder once again teamed up with Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine and managed to craft a funny, but not entirely balanced prostitute comedy "Irma la Douce". The exposition is excellent: in it, the 'tough' cop Nestor wants to arrest all the prostitutes and thus turns the fire alarm on, upon which the hotel manager asks him: "Where's the fire?", whereas he takes a match and inflames his newspaper. Equally amusing is the naughty-sweet scene where Irma starts to take her clothes off while he quickly turns his head away in embarrassment. There are also many other trademark Wilder gags, but once the story takes a wrong turn it looses it's intensity, and that wrong turn is the stupid idea that Nestor disguises himself as some Lord X in order to visit Irma and give her enough money so she wouldn't have to visit other men, by which the film transforms into a discursively made masquerade that takes away to much time away from the real plot. Many critics don't even name that plot tangle in their reviews since it's hard to explain and too ridiculous, contrived and sugary. It would have definitely been better if Wilder had revolved the story around the brave subject of prostitute Irma and her marriage with Nestor which would have made more sense, but MacLaine is excellent in the leading role for which she was nominated for an Oscar, a BAFTA and won a Golden Globe.

Grade:++

Monday, 17 December 2007

One, Two, Three


One, Two, Three; comedy, USA, 1961; D: Billy Wilder, S: James Cagney, Horst Buchholz, Pamela Tiffin, Arlene Francis, Howard St. John, Hanns Lothar, Leon Askin, Liselotte Pulver

C. R. MacNamara is the American representative of Coca-Cola in West Berlin. After failure on the market in the Middle East and South America, he plans to expand the Coca-Cola sale on Communist countries. But his boss sends him his 17-year old daughter Scarlett to watch on her. 2 months later MacNamara finds out Scarlett got - married! And on top of that with the German Otto - a Communist! In order to save himself from the anger of his boss, he transforms Otto into a perfect American Capitalist. The boss is pleased and promotes him back to work in the US.

Billy Wilder continued his long streak of inspirational phase and filmed political farce "One, Two, Three" in which he unpretentiously, subtly ridiculed both the Communists and the Capitalists, as well as the "Iron Curtain". James Cagney is in top-notch shape playing a comedian for a change, C. R. MacNamara, who is the representative of the Coca-Cola industry in West Berlin and has a map of the world in his office with dots that mark the "conquering" of that beverage (where only the Communist countries are empty). The main plot tangle of the story will prove to be a real firework of gags, quite possibly even the funniest comedy Wilder ever made: namely, Scarlett, the daughter of his boss, secretly got married to a East German, Otto, a devoted communist who plans to bring her to Moscow. In one of the highlights of the film, MacNamara goes to Otto's motorcycle and puts a balloon with a sign "Russians go home!" on it onto his exhaust pipe, and the gas inhales it and makes it visible just as the blissful young lad enters the Eastern Berlin, thus getting immediately arrested. Even better is the whole sequence where MacNamara has to transform him into a full blood Capitalist to please his boss: a great example of multi-layered, intelligent comedy, something that many physical grimace comedians would have drastically needed. Wilder achieves the maximum out of the simple concept, either through inspired dialogues ("When he turns 18, he can make up his mind if he wants to be a capitalist or a rich communist.") through subtle jokes on brute-nationalism as the core of any dictatorship (East Germans wearing banners of Khrushchev, saying: "Nikita über alles"; Schlemmer's comment: "Hotel Potemkin? Oh, I know where that is! It was formerly known as Hotel Göring, and before that as Hotel Bismarck!") or just plain sight gags that summon up everything better than a thousand words (such as MacNamara's car fleeing from three Soviet officials, whose USSR cars is slowly falling apart in the chase, symbolic for the state of its origin), even in the end symbolically predicting that Eastern Germany would become capitalist-democratic.

Grade:+++

The Apartment


Apartment; tragicomedy, USA, 1960; D: Billy Wilder, S: Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Fred MacMurray, Ray Walston, Jack Kruschen, David Lewis, Hope Holiday, Joan Shawlee

"On November 1st, 1959', the population of New York was 8.042.783. If you laid all these people end to end, figuring an average height of 5 feet 6 and a half inches, they would reach from Times Square to the outskirts of Karachi, Pakistan". Insurance clerk C. C. Baxter loves statistic data, but often feels just like a wheel in a machine. Still, he developed a good method for success in his career: he gives his bosses the keys of his apartment in order for them have a place where they can cheat their wives and have affairs, promoting him as a favor. Baxter loves the lift girl Fran, but is saddened when he finds out she sees his boss Sheldrake in his apartment. He even saves her from suicide. On New Year's eve, he quits his job and starts a relationship with her.

Masterpiece of classic, good old school film making, Billy Wilder's "The Apartment" combines drama with comedy and romance virtually flawlessly, gives both a subtle critique of Capitalistic deficiency and social relationships at the same time, is wonderfully simple, accessible and it even won 5 Oscars, 3 Golden Globes and 3 BAFTAs justifiably, even though looking at it today, one movie buff could complain that it would have been better if Hitchcock had won the best director award that year for his equally brilliant "Psycho". Jack Lemmon is once again slightly coiled as the main protagonist C. C. Baxter while the jokes are not particularly hilarious, not by a long shot, yet it's still an amazingly touching, humane and moderately funny story that questions the system of values since it's protagonist gets promoted just for giving his superiors a place where they can have an affair in peace, and even today one must get stunned by such a concept - what a story! Wilder's direction doesn't have any kind of mumbo-jumbo tricks, gimmicks, bombastic style or distracting "in-your-face" moments since all of his scenes that cause astonishment are so simple - in one scene, Baxter is alone in a pub and doesn't even notice how some interested woman is "hitting" him with the paper wrappers by blowing through the straw, or just take the scene where he spots the almost dead Fran who tried to commit suicide in his apartment: moving over to the bedroom door, he opens it, tosses the clothes toward the bed inside not even looking at it, then freezes in a delayed reaction to turn back and spot her lying there unconscious - with such pure style one can almost conclude all those fast MTV like modern techniques just reduced the quality of cinema, instead of developing it.

Grade:++++

Sunday, 16 December 2007

On the Silver Globe


Na srebrnym globie; science-fiction drama, Poland, 1977 / 1987; D: Andrzej Żuławski, S: Andrzej Seweryn, Jerzy Trela, Grazyna Dylag, Waldemar Kownacki, Iwona Bielska, Jerzy Gralek, Elzbieta Karkoszka


A native of an unknown planet rides a horse through the winter landscape. He arrives in a castle where he reports to the human astronauts, who are worshiped, that something crashed from the sky...A group of astronauts crash lands on some planet. One of them, Tomasz, dies from his injuries, but the other three, including one woman, Marta, manage to survive and build an improvised cottage near the sea. During the years, Marta gives birth to numerous children who start to worship the last living astronaut, called the 'Old Man'...A few hundred years later, astronaut Marek lands near the tribe of the astronaut children who proclaim him their messiah. He leads them to fight the Szerns, humanoid creatures with wings living on the other side of the sea. After they get disappointed, the tribe members crucify Marek, just when the other astronaut Joszek arrives.

Andrzej Zulawski's cult Sci-Fi "On the Silver Globe" has a fascinating history that is even more interesting than the film itself: 80 % of the film was already finished back in 1977 when the Polish government suddenly stopped further shooting and forbid the director and the crew to finish it, until 10 years later he finally managed to complete it, even though the gaps between the missing scenes were filled with his off narration of the events. Still, that all didn't help in fixing it's real flaws, while the surreal "narration fillers" spoken in the background of out-of-place scenes of a beach, a bunch of people passing by the escalator and Polish buildings actually seem like a virtue since it's the only place of some kind of stable and tranquil charge in the midst of all the unbearable, non-stop madness. The story itself is brilliantly provocative, a hybrid mix between the thesis of Erich von Däniken in the human variation and a "Robinson Crusoe" space opera, filmed entirely without any special effects - the first third is the best since it is shot entirely like "The Blair Witch Project", as a shaky camera recording of the 4 astronauts who crash landed on some Earth-like planet and started to build their own tribe. Their exotic space suits and two land rovers traveling through the desert landscape create a bizarre mood, up until the point where they reach a forest by the sea and build a primitive home. Instead of a linear plot, the characters just speak random philosophical babble almost all of the time, like "The world is lost in our contemplation" or "You cannot think if you don't believe", which start to get annoying after a while.

The second part of the film starts on a different note, some time later when a new astronaut, Marek, lands on the planet and the astronauts' wild and superstitious children who formed a tribe proclaim him their new messiah. It's obvious Zulawski sends an atheistic message and the critique of fundamentalism and rigid laws, while his visual style consisting of unusual camera angles and bizarre shots is impressive, twisting the SF cliches in favor of ambitious tone. But it seems he is more interested in his new main protagonist Marek shouting almost of all the time or acting like a Kinski maniac and sending pretentiousness that crushes everything than to create some kind of a measure or control of the chaos that's going on around him, which results in heavy mannerism. Many scenes are totally wild - Marek speaks with the alien creature Szern that looks like a humanoid with dark wings and is chained to his cave; "infidel's" hang pierced on 30 foot tall spikes with their intestine hanging down; the rituals of the tribe - and while they have a sense at some point of the film, they start to drag during the course of the 157 minutes of running time. It's a fascinating and rare film with wild energy, yet it could have been crafted better.

Grade:+

I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK


Ssaibogeujiman Gwaenchanh; Comedy, South Korea, 2006; D: Chan-wook Park, S: Su-jeong Lim, Rain, Hie-jin Choi, Byeong-ok Kim, Yong-nyeo Lee, Dal-su Oh

Young-goon is a woman who one day cuts her wrist and puts electric wires in it during work on the assembly line. She is namely convinced to be a cyborg and thus gets placed into a mental institution. There are many other patients in the asylum: a man who walks backwards, a girl who looks in the mirror imagining she sings somewhere in the Alps, a wannabe policeman and also the schizophrenic Il-soon who becomes her friend. Since Young-goon refuses to eat, thinking food will destroy her 'circuits', she gets put under electric shock. Still, Il-soon convinces her to eat. The two of them wait on a hill for thunder with an antenna.

After his acclaimed 'Vengeance' trilogy, director Chan-wook Park choose a more optimistic project, shifted 'romantic' comedy "I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK" that disappointed many. It's an unusual, but sweet little film that amusingly plays with the audiences' perception since it refuses to determine if the heroine Young-goon is a real cyborg or just crazy, especially in some elaborated sequences like the one where she imagines she shoots the whole doctor staff in the mental asylum with bullets coming from her robot fingers, until in the very next scene that all turns out to just be a daydream of hers, and in the first half it's rather charmingly funny, even adding a subtle critique of modern society, since she went crazy during one of her monotone assembly line jobs, combined with the message that unusual people need unusual approaches in their life in order to fit in. There are neat moments like the one where she talks with a lamp, asking her: "How long have you known you are a lamp?", but the sweetest situation is the one where Il-soon 'indulges' her fixation of being a cyborg by drawing a door on her back and pretending to install a device that can transform food into energy, in order to finally persuade her to eat. Still, the second half of the film is extremely overstretched and boring, loosing a lot of it's energy, while the surreal daydream fantasies are mostly pointless. It's a brave film, but it doesn't reward as much as some other brave films.

Grade:+

Saturday, 15 December 2007

Made in Israel


Made in Israel; Thriller comedy, Israel, 2001; D: Ari Folman, S: Menashe Noy, Jenya Dodina, Jürgen Holtz, Sasson Gabai, Igor Mirkurbanov, Dror Keren, Tzahi Grad, Joe El Dror, Lior Glazer

Egon Schultz, an 82-year old last living Nazi in the world, gets handed over to the Israeli authorities in the Golan heights. At the same time, the rich Hoffman is afraid the government might free Schultz due to bureaucracy and engages Russian assassin Vitali to capture the Nazi and bring him to some hill. Vitali and his girlfriend Dodo pick up the troubadour Eddie in their car and go on to search for Schultz. They also discover Hoffman also hired two other assassins, Perach and Tiktak, who wound Vitali. When Schultz begs the police to let him take a bath in the lake of Galilee, Perach and Tiktak panic and kidnap him, while Vitali shoots all of the police officers. He also later on shoots Perach and Tiktak, but gets stuck in a mine field. Dodo and Eddie free Schultz.

Amusing film "Made in Israel" meanders somewhere between comedy of absurd and bitter drama, Tarantino and Jarmusch, "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" and "Snatch", while maintaining the original tone in it's unusual story about a wild goose chase after the oldest living Nazi in the world in Israel mostly thanks to the skill of director Ari Folman, even though there are some discrepancies present that carry a certain degree of a flawed touch that will not satisfy some viewers. The opening shots set up a great mood for the film - filmed in slow motion, a figure emerges from a thick fog, turning out to be the 82-year old Nazi Schultz getting handed over to the Israeli police, accompanied with mad sounds of sirens and owls - namely a surreal tone enriched with beautiful landscapes cowered with snow and wide angle camera lens that intensifies the impression, contemplating about the sense for right and wrong. Already in the next scene there is the next punchline since it seems Folman has a cynical sense for humor - namely, the Russian assassin Vitali is summoned to some hotel room where he meets the rich Hoffman who is angry that the Israeli government might let Schultz go due to lack of evidence, stating how he wonders how after the Holocaust "in the last 50 years some Jew didn't take a machine gun and gun down 200 Germans somewhere in Frankfurt or Munich", then even adding a new dimension of black humor when he summons his little daughter, who was playing some video game in which she shot someone, and asks her: "How many Nazis have you killed today?" and she says: "228". There is a lack of a tighter message or sense in the film, but it's very finely made and actress Jenya Dodina is simply irresistibly cute as the Russian female assassin Doda.

Grade:++

People Will Talk


People Will Talk; Drama/ Comedy, USA, 1951; D: Joseph L. Mankiewicz, S: Cary Grant, Jeanne Crain, Finlay Currie, Hume Cronyn, Walter Slezak, Sidney Blackmer, Katherine Locke

Doctor Noah Praetorius works in a clinic he opened himself. His methods are rather unconventional because they cheer up patients so his jealous colleague Elwell, professor on the school of medicine, hires a detective to research his mysterious past. Noah meets the young Deborah who is unhappy because she is pregnant with a young man who died. After she tries to commit suicide, Noah proposes her and meets her father. But Elwell accuses him in front of a board of review of curing people as a charlatan in his youth. He doesn't succeed and Noah's friend Shunderson, suspect of murder, adds that Elwell is a small man.

Although unknown, "People Will Talk" is an ostentative comedy full of sophisticated grotesque and quirky dialogues, all revolving around a (then) tricky subject, both of the McCarthy era and the "shame" of single pregnant women. The first half is the best since it manages to keep the souls of the characters despite the bizarre situations - in one of those, Dr. Noah looks at a dead corpse of a woman he is supposed to dissect in front of the students on the table, but then starts talking how "this isn't just a bunch of tissue, but a being that once loved". Then Deborah falls unconscious so Noah wakes her up and asks her how does she feel, upon which she says: "Stupid". Especially bizarre is the character of the grey Mr. Shunderson who follows Noah in almost every scene but never says a word! In one of the funny moments, Noah can't enter the yard of a farm due to an angry Collie dog ironically called "Beelzebub", up until Shunderson looks at the animal for so long until it stops barking and leaves. It's a pity the tiresome second half looses a lot of it's steam in only portraying Noah's "mysterious" past, and looses it's original tone, thus finishing rather unevenly.

Grade:++

5 Fingers


5 Fingers; Thriller, USA, 1952; D: Joseph L. Mankiewicz, S: James Mason, Michael Rennie, Danielle Darrieux, Walter Hampden, Oskar Karlweis, Herbert Berghof

Ankara, World War II. Von Papen is a German ambassador who accidentally meets Staviska, the Polish countess in exile. His assistant Moyzisch discovers spy Diello in his house who sells him secret British documents for 20.000 Pounds. Diello is namely the butler of the British ambassador and thus easily steals documents from his safe. He gives all the money to the countess with whom he plans to escape to live in South America. But one day she flees with the money so Diello steals the plans for operation Overlord and hands it over to the Germans, but they don't trust him and consider him a British spy. In South America, Diello realizes his whole money Germans payed him was counterfeit.

"5 Fingers" start rather unusually: in '50 a member of the Parliament asks his superior, holding a (real!) spy book "5 Fingers" and asks: "Is this true?", upon which he answers him with yes and then lets the film go back in regression to go on to tell the whole story revolving around 'Operation Cicero'. It's a matter of a cold, calculated but suspenseful and intriguing spy thriller of Hitchcock's caliber who was even nominated for an Oscar for best director and screenplay, while it won the Golden Globe for the latter category. It's interesting to note that director Mankiewicz doesn't portray the main (anti)hero, spy Diello as a bad guy or a traitor but as a neutral character who did everything to manage in life, whereas the character of the countess is truly one dimensional and blurry on the other hand, since she betrays him and gets removed from the story even though she always acted like she loved him, but she was added by Hollywood producers subsequently in the film anyway. "5 Fingers" isn't exactly a classic - it's doesn't stand out from it's time - but the suspenseful finale in which the Nazis protect the hero from the British is especially well made.

Grade:++

Friday, 14 December 2007

Lucas


Lucas; Drama, USA, 1986; D: David Seltzer, S: Corey Haim, Kerri Green, Charlie Sheen, Winona Ryder, Courtney Thorne-Smith, Jeremy Piven

Lucas is an intelligent 14-year kid and social outcast who wears glasses, listens to classical music and is interested for locusts. Many school kids don't tolerate him and ignore or tease him, but Lucas tries to live with that and falls in love with the older teenage girl Maggie. But she adores the football player Cappie, Lucas' friend. Since he can't get angry at him, Lucas joins the football team where he gets mocked. When he looses in a game and ends in hospital, Maggie discovers he lives with a father alcoholic. His friends give him the team medal for efford.

Many teenage themed movies simply and superficially show their young heroes as attractive, happy, fun, carefree and idyllic. But the director David Seltzer cleverly and soberly decided to take a different approach and present a more demanding and complex teenage hero, one of those those kind of films ignored showing back in those days. Lucas is an outsider, a kid who is lonely and has difficulties interacting with his classmates, and such a picture of a "sad childhood" was something many authors would have ignored, but not here. Quite frankly, Lucas is a rather fascinating character: when he gets teased he manages to cope with that and even find a sense of humor in his situation, which could have influenced many other films, and Corey Haim is great in the title role. One of the best cliche twists is the football game near the finale - in any other given big studio film, the protagonist would have gained respect from the audience with the tiresome "hero wins the game in the last minute" cliche, but not here - actually, the resolution is rather painful. Still, the execution is slightly mediocre and sometimes enters into very cheap, pathetic scenes, especially in the ones where the kids bully Lucas, thus despite the happy ending "Lucas" isn't recommendable to children with the similar sensitivity.

Grade:++

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Hero


Hero; Satire, USA, 1992; D: Stephen Frears, S: Dustin Hoffman, Andy Garcia, Geena Davis, Chevy Chase, Joan Cusack, Kevin J. O'Connor, Maury Chaykin, Stephen Tobolowsky, Tom Arnold, Cady Huffman

Bad luck Bernie Laplante lost his job, his ex wife doesn't let him see his son and now he is on court for robbery. When in front of his nose a plane crashes, something stimulates him to save over 50 passengers, but he is still indifferent and leaves without telling his name. When reporter Gale finds his shoe, a false hero shows up, the poor John, thus the media makes a star out of him. Now suddenly Bernie isn't indifferent anymore, but Gale doesn't believe his story. When John wants to jump off the building Bernie advises him to keep on lying and just give him the part of the money he earns, thus leaving everything is status quo.

Stephen Frears' "Hero" is a well conceptualized story on the verge of Sturges' similar "Hail the Conquering Hero", but it's realization falls into indifference and uneven mood. The screenplay didn't pull all the right strings which caused the character Bernie, played by Dustin Hoffman, to slowly get lost in the background somewhere half way into the film, while the supporting characters took over his main word. That way, despite all the clever sharpness and cynicism, this isn't as satisfying as some other satires with a similar premise about a false hero taking over all the credit. Ironically, Bernie's character in the story wasn't interested in glory or the truth up until the point where the offered award wasn't given to John, who is, in a nice twist of cliches, otherwise a surprisingly honest and kind person, but the feeling of overall helplessness and mean spirited fate with time starts to become rather irritating, which in the end causes the film to turn rather unpleasant. It's a little known fact that comedian Chevy Chase actually delivered a very fine, but uncredited role as Deke, Channel 4 News Director with glasses, but Hoffman and always charming Geena Davis are also not to be dismissed.

Grade:++