Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Love and Death on Long Island


Love and Death on Long Island; tragicomedy, Canada/ UK, 1997; D: Richard Kwietniowski, S: John Hurt, Jason Priestley, Fiona Leoni, Sheila Hancock, Harvey Atkin
Giles De'Ath is a middle-aged writer living in London: his wife died and he doesn't intend to write anymore. At one instance, he accidentally locks himself out of his apartment, so he decides to go to the cinemas to watch a movie adaptation of some dramatic novel, but accidentally enters at the wrong time, just when the screening of the stupid teenage comedy "Hotpants College 2" starts. Just as he is about to leave, he spots a young actor named Ronnie Bostock on the screen and is fascinated. From there on, he dedicates his whole life to Ronnie: he sees all of his films, collects his photos and even holds a quiz about him. Thus, he decides to go to Long Island to meet him. There he meets Ronnie's girlfriend Audrey who leads him to him. He offers to write a script for him. But when he admits his love, Ronnie leaves him. Giles mysteriously disappears.

"Love and Death on Long Island" is a beautiful example of a simple story and an excellent execution. The respectful London writer, who in his mature age suddenly discovers his (gay) love towards a young actor, is spectacularly sustained played by the veteran John Hurt, but equally surprising is the performance by Jason Priestley, who here gave the role of a lifetime and managed to get rid of his reputation of the star of the TV teenage soap opera "Beverly Hills 90210" by variegating its content. This humorous drama slowly crystallizes its atmospheric touch of cult in the scene where the distinguished writer accidentally spots the young actor in a dumb movie in cinemas and decides to watch it until the end, where in the closing credits his name, "Ronnie Bostock", glows for him - from there on director Richard Kwietniowski describes his comical obsession and infatuation in a very shrill way.

Giles wisely says: "I found beauty where nobody looked", creating an interesting yin-yang relationship with the young Ronnie: while Giles is respectable, he is saddened that Ronnie is treated as a trash celebrity and wants to help him. It is so subtly absurd and stimulating because it is so touchingly surreal: it would be as if Orhan Pamuk would fall in love with Paris Hilton. Giles defends Ronnie where ever he can and even finds deeper layers in his silly films, contemplating how true art can even be deciphered in panned movies if one just rearranges some aspects of it. One of the most subtle jokes comes when he sends Ronnie a letter via fax that is so long that it cowers his whole room with paper. The open ending is brilliant, the movie is a small masterpiece and the authors craft the story about the discovery of hidden beauty in such a way that even her most quiet moments seem more captivating than numerous loud big budget action movies.

Grade:++++

Roger Ramjet


Roger Ramjet; Animated comedy series, USA, 1965; D: Fred Crippen, S: Gary Owens, Bob Arbogast, Dick Beals, Joan Gerber, David Ketchum, Gene Moss

Roger Ramjet is a hero who fights the bad guys with his Proton Energy Pills that give him the strength of 10,000 atomic bombs for 10 seconds. He is also the leader of the American Eagle Squadron consisting of four kids: Dee, Yank, Doodle and Dan. General G.I. Brassbottom gives him his assignments while his enemies include the Solenoid robots, Noodles Romanoff and his henchmen, Dr. Evilkisser. Luckily, the clumsy Ramjet is always there to save the world.

"Roger Ramjet" is one of the most insane parodies of the Cold War era, a wonderful and maximally simple animated cult show revolving around the clumsy hero from the title. A part of the viewers lamented about how it looks "too silly", but even though every episode lasts for only 4 minutes, the writers managed to "squeeze" just enough content in them to work whereas by using completely absurd stories, possessed caricature characters, distraught looks on their faces, wacky situations, over-the-top satire, gobsmacked ideas and crude animation (that even spells some lines on the screen) they crafted an absolutely hilarious experience, a howlingly funny show that's so much more comical than other "proper" children's shows like "Tom & Jerry" or "Looney Tunes".

A large part of its charm radiates from the writers' incomprehensible sense for the absurd presented in a "serious" way, which culminates in surreal jokes (in one episode, for instance, Roger uses the help of a talking horse to defeat the bad guys who invaded a ranch. The cowboys are all grateful for his help, but Roger says they should also thank their talking horse. "Talking horse...What talking horse?!", asks one of the cowboys. "Why that one over there!", responds Roger and points towards the horse. But just then the horse acts normally, refuses to talk and instead just howls. The cowboys then all seize the confused Roger and put him in a straight jacket, saying: "Crazy as a Jaybird!") and hysterical gags (Romanoff and his gang try to eliminate Roger all day, but he always has luck and narrowly manages to avoid the danger. The highlight is when they sneak behind his back and are about to shoot him with a canon that is only 4 yards away from him. "We can't miss at this distance!", says Romanoff. But just as they are about to shoot, an armoured truck comes from nowhere and parks right in front of the cannon, making it explode backwards). Maybe it is silly, but it's one of the funniest animated shows of its time.

Grade:++

Monday, September 29, 2008

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid


Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid; western / comedy, USA, 1969; D: George Roy Hill, S: Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Katharine Ross, Henry Jones, Jeff Corey, Sam Elliott, Cloris Leachman

The Wild West, early 1900's. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid are two outlaws who lead a gang. They rob trains and decide to pick on the Union Pacific wagon to steal the money of some Mr. Harriman. After a few robberies, Harriman hires a dozen expert assassins who start chasing Butch and Sundance. They follow them to a brothel and then through the night out in the wild. The two finally manage to escape by jumping from a cliff into a river. Figuring it became too dangerous, they and Sundance's girlfriend Etta go to Bolivia. After they rob banks, they get killed in an ambush.

Winner of several awards and prizes, "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" is one of the most absurd and crazy anti-westerns that ever graced the screen: bizarre, chaotic, restless, messy and totally wild, this is a movie that is not for everyone's taste, and it is one of the movies that you think you will not like in the first 20 minutes, but then get a hang of it and actually enjoy its rhythm. By deciding to show only the last days of the real outlaws from the title, screenwriter William Goldman crafted a story that at first look does not even seem to be fitting enough for a whole feature film - it just shows Butch and Sundance robbing a few trains, getting chased by bounty hunters, escaping to Bolivia, the end - yet its untypical approach is at times so contagious and fun it is hard to resist it. The 'buddy' chemistry between Paul Newman and Robert Redford is fantastic and shows that they should have made more movies together, while the whole film is filled with surreal jokes and lines ("I know robbing banks is hard, but it's better than trains! They don't move, for one. They stay put!"; after discovering Harriman hired bounty hunter to get them, Butch says: "If he would just pay me what he's spending to make me stop robbing him, I'd stop robbing him!"), without any care what some traditional movie lovers will say, this is one of the funniest westerns ever made, whereas the legendary song "Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head" is wonderfully melancholic and nostalgic, cleverly representing the end of an era that also signalled the end of the two title heroes.

Grade:+++

Road to Perdition


Road to Perdition; Crime drama, USA, 2002; D: Sam Mendes, S: Tom Hanks, Tyler Hoechlin, Paul Newman, Daniel Craig, Jude Law

Mike Sullivan works as an assassin working for the mobster John Rooney. That's why he keeps his job a secret in front of his family: his wife and kids Peter and Mike Jr. But Rooney's son Conner is jealous of Mike. One day Mike Jr. spots his father at work so Conner decides to use that as an excuse to get rid of him. He kills Mike's wife and Peter, and then hunts for him. Mike and Mike Jr. manage to escape, but are hunted by assassin Maguire. Mike eliminates Rooney and Conner, managing to bring Mike Jr. to town Perdition. But Mike is then killed by Maguire.

Excellent "Road to Perdition" is a real example of a thoroughbred modern noir film, a highly stylish elegy that is one of the rare underrated movies by Tom Hanks, here in an untypical role of a "bad guy". Director Sam Mendes shapes the "Road" much better than his sometimes stiff and pretentious first film by symbolically describing the increasingly more intimate approach of father Mike and his child Mike Jr. - in the first half, their relationship is distanced and Mike Jr. often sees his father from a hidden place (through a trunk or a hallway), but in the second they start becoming close and are more and more often in the same shot together. Some sequences are pure poetry (the sequence without sound where Mike shoots Ronny's bodyguards in the rain; the finale on the dreamy beach that offers salvation) while the cinematography offered fantastic noir images. Among others, the brilliant Paul Newman delivered his final movie performance for which he was nominated for his last Oscar, Golden Globe and a BAFTA as best supporting actor.

Grade:+++

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Match Point


Match Point; Crime drama, UK/ USA, 2005; D: Woody Allen, S: Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Emily Mortimer, Scarlett Johansson, Matthew Goode, Brian Cox, Penelope Wilton

London. Sleazy Irish opportunist Chris quits his career as a tennis player and works as a tennis coach in a noble club. There he meets the rich Tom and starts dating his insecure sister Chloe. Through her, he gets a job at her father's respectful company. But then he meets Tom's girlfriend, the blond Nola, an unsuccessful actress, and gets attracted to her. When Tom leaves Nola, Chris loses touch with her and marries Chloe. Some time later, Chris meets Nola again and starts a wild affair with her. When she gets pregnant, though, and threatens to jeopardize his rich life with Chloe, he organizes a fake burglary and kills her. The police don't have anything on him and Chloe gets his child.

"Match Point" marked Woody Allen's return to his good old shape, but, ironically, in a way and style that are completely different than his previous works. This is an unbelievably dissimilar film, a completely untypical Allen, a bitter crime drama without the director's trademark neurosis, complaints about life, philosophical babble, New York locations or even humor (only here and there a few exceptions occur, like when Chris and Tom exchange this cynical dialog: "My father found Christ when he lost his legs". - "Sorry to tell you this, but it doesn't seem like a fair trade to me") since it seems that the once great comedian lost his optimistic touch by encountering the unfair circumstances of life. His main antihero here, Chris, is a sleazy opportunist and social climber who manipulates every human possible, especially from the rich class, to gain their trust and secure himself a cushy life. That's why the finale is so shocking and authentic, because he had to choose between a poor woman he loves and a rich woman he doesn't love, and he actually chose the latter, which is so crushing. Yet, unlike his previous films, Allen here took a very direct, harsh approach that works better towards the mainstream audience than his previous "geeky" films that had to be deciphered and were appreciated mostly by the intellectual circles. It's maybe too long and too proper to be really gritty, but it seems so mature it's a treat, while Scarlett Johansson is great and was nominated for a Golden Globe as best supporting actress.

Grade:+++

The Fifth Element


The Fifth Element; Science-fiction action comedy, France, 1997; D: Luc Besson, S: Bruce Willis, Milla Jovovich, Gary Oldman, Ian Holm, Chris Tucker, Tom Lister, Jr., Luke Perry

On Egyptian soil, archaeologists discover ancient writings describing the arrival of a Great Evil every 5.000 years. An alien ship then lands and prepares the 5 elements needed to stop the catastrophe. 300 years later, in 2263, the Great Evil in the shape of a planetoid is heading towards the Earth to destroy it. By cloning the remains of the shot down Alien ship, scientist regenerate Leeloo, a woman who escapes and falls into the cab of the taxi driver Korben Dallas. Even though the evil Zorg cooperates with the Great Evil, Korben and Leeloo manage to find the 4 elements and the last one, love, thus saving the world.

French director Luc Besson gained his fame through his dark style, but in "Fifth Element" he proved that he can also make a very fun movie with many jokes on the expense of the typical "average guy saves the world" story. That French film shot with American actors cost 70 million $, becoming the most expensive European movie of it's time, yet it also became a huge success. It's an unusual techno flick with bizarre ideas that will split the viewers due to it's strange special effects, set designs and costumes which some will find surreal and others cheap and stupid; the shots are fast and chaotic, just like a picture card, yet it's undeniable that the action and the jokes are wonderful. It's too bad that the movie can't brag with anything new, since it just leans on the standard plotline, but it has enough funny moments, like the scene where one of Zorg's henchmen phones him and tells him he failed to get aboard the spaceliner to Fhloston because it's "impossible to get in" while the movie then mockingly cuts right to the scene where Priest Cornelius smuggles himself in or the scene where Zorg opens the box where the elements are supposed to be, smiles, closes it and says: "It's not there". All in all, it's a flawed film and Chris Tucker's performance is terrible, yet it has one of the greatest movie quotes ever: at the beginning, someone says: "Time isn't important, life is". An hour later, in the middle of the film, someone else then says: "Money isn't important, time is". If one just combines those two together, it's one of the most clever messages of the 90s, but many viewers didn't even notice it.

Grade:++

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Léon


Léon; Crime drama, USA/ France, 1994; D: Luc Besson, S: Jean Reno, Natalie Portman, Gary Oldman, Peter Appel, Danny Aiello, Ellen Greene

New York. Leon is a professional assassin who conducts murders for mobster Tony. Although he is well paid, Leon doesn't know how to read and lives a very lonely life. In a neighboring apartment there lives the 12-year old girl Mathilda whose family gets killed by the corrupt cop Stansfield because her father was hiding drugs. Leon hides Mathilda in his apartment and thus saves her life. She falls in love with him and brings happiness into his life. When he starts a battle against Stansfield's gang, he gets killed, but also manages to kill him. Mathilda plants his plant to the ground.

"I'm an adult, but I still need to grow up", says Mathilda in one scene. "And I'm grown up, but I still need to become an adult", replies Leon to her. That dialog neatly sums up the unusual relationship of two unequal protagonists who complete each other like Yin and Yang in this unusual, bitter-sweet crime story that seems to come as a fruit of some more humane derivation of Luc Besson's own "Nikita". "Leon" is one of only three excellent films of Luc Besson's short on-off directorial career in which he peaked into the heart of a lonely man who will start appreciating life thanks to the influence of one little girl (brilliant Natalie Portman in one of the best roles of her career). Many traditional viewers might be slightly surprised by the story's few pedophilia innuendo moments, like when Mathilda says she is in love with Leon and that she wants to kiss him or when she is dressed like Madonna and sings "Like a Virgin" in front of him, but they are all done subtly and with taste. A few pretentious, pathetic and forced moment don't reduce the impression of the movie as a whole, which roughly speaks about the values of life and love.

Grade:+++

Nikita


Nikita; Thriller, France/ Italy, 1990; D: Luc Besson, S: Anne Parillaud, Jean-Hugues Anglade, Tchéky Karyo, Marc Duret, Jean Reno

Nikita (19) is a nihilistic heroin addict who together with her friends robs a pharmacy in order to get some drugs. The police surrounds the building and kills everyone except Nikita. She is sentenced to a life in prison. After she gets some medicaments, she wakes up in one room where Bob, an agent of a secret service agency, and offers her two choices: death or work as a hired assassin. Nikita chooses the latter and after long training starts performing the assassins. But after she finds a boyfriend and love she gets sickened by violence and runs away from the agency.

Around director Luc Besson various conflicting opinions clashed with one another: for some, he was just an irritating, sloppy author full of mannerisms, while for the others he was an artist full of aesthetic touch and style. His 4th film, "Nikita", that gained a huge commercial success in France and was even nominated for a Golden Globe as best foreign language film, is definitely inferior to his later movie about an assassin, "Leon", due to the irritating performance by actress Anne Parillaud, but as a whole it's not a bad film. The story at first shows Nikita as a brutal antagonist without heart (she stabs the hand of a cop with a pen; puts a living mouse in the box of a computer expert...) but starts to change confronted with the job of a killer so that in the quiet and understated open ending she actually becomes a positive character who rejects violence and awakens her feelings. Besson's direction is sketchy, but he again has a wonderful visual style.

Grade:++

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Big Blue


Le Grand Bleu; Adventure drama, France/ USA, 1988; D: Luc Besson, S: Jean-Marc Barr, Jean Reno, Rosanna Arquette, Paul Shenar, Sergio Castellitto, Griffin Dunne

1960's. When they were kids, Jacques Mayol and Enzo Maiorco were contesting in free diving somewhere around the Greek coast. But Jacques' father died in sea during the diving. Sicily, 1988. Enzo still continues to enjoy diving without equipment, as well as Jacques, who met American reporter Johanna in South America who fell in love with him. Enzo challenges Jacques in a diving contest, who accepts and sets a new world record by diving 114 meters bellow the sea level. Enzo also falls in love with Johanna, but she becomes pregnant with Jacques. By trying to break the world record, Enzo dies from the water pressure. Jacques quickly loses his interest for life. One night he goes to the sea and swims together with a dolphin.

As some already mentioned, trying to describe "The Big Blue" and make it 'appealing' towards the wider audience would be an incredibly ungrateful assignment. The seemingly thin story about diving and nothing else doesn't seem attractive or interesting to the general viewer, but you have to hand it to Luc Besson - he managed to make it look attractive and interesting. For many, "Blue" will be just a too long and unexciting movie for sea fans, yet one only has to catch it's rhythm, from the hypnotic black and white exposition in which the camera "flies" above the sea up to small, neat details, like the one where Enzo Maiorco and Jacques Mayol (real life free divers (!) here played by Jean Reno and Jean-Marco Barr) spontaneously jump into the pool and sit on the bottom to find out who of them can stay longer under water without equipment, while Besson has an eye for beauty of the water, especially in the scene where Jacques is in his bed and dreams that the sea is falling from his ceiling to him. In it's essence, it actually a dreamy story about a hero who finds his real passion, diving, and the meaning of life in it, no matter how trivial it seems.

Grade:+++

Subway


Subway; Crime drama, France, 1985; D: Luc Besson, S: Christopher Lambert, Isabelle Adjani, Jean Reno, Richard Bohringer, Michel Galabru

Small time crook Fred stole an important document from a safe of a politician and fell in love with his wife Helena. Running away from the police, Fred hides in a subway. There he meets unusual characters who live bellow the surface: the strong Bill, a drummer, a roller...Since he has a feeling Helena loves him too, Fred demands to see her instead of getting money for the document. He robs the bank guards and organizes a concert, but gets killed by the police.

For a cult movie of such an ambivalent, almost negative reputation, "Subway", Luc Besson second film, is a surprisingly good, hybrid romance that plays out bellow the surface, in a subway. Christopher Lambert is today rightfully considered an infamous artist, director Luc Besson unrightfully, but together they made Lambert's best and Besson's 3rd best movie of their careers, a humorous "underground" story full of elegance, wonderful visual style that reminds of some surreal anime's or a Godard picture. Many scenes are quite original (Jean Reno plays a drummer who beats with his drumsticks on the subway wall; after a failed hunt on the roller, the commissioner spots him in the same train when returning home) and soften the rather overstretched moments filled with mannerisms.

Grade:+++

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

An American Werewolf in London


An American Werewolf in London; horror comedy, USA / UK, 1981; D: John Landis, S: David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, Griffin Dunne, John Woodvine, Lila Kaye
American students David and Jack travel through a forest in England at night until they meet a Werewolf that attacks them. 3 weeks later David wakes up wounded in a London hospital, while Jack is dead. David constantly has nightmares until he meets the rotten ghost of Jack who tells him that he will turn into a Werewolf and advises him to commit suicide. David goes to the apartment of his beloved nurse Alex, but then truly transforms into a Werewolf and kills 6 people, running away from her. In a porn cinema he again transforms and is killed by the police.

This cult classic from the 80s surprises with its "impossible" syncretism of harsh, pure horror and "imploding", pure comedy full of almost childish jokes, all the while offering director John Landis in his top-notch oddball shape. The story is surprisingly clever and inventive: in the opening, David and Jack hitchhike on a truck among the lambs only to a few minutes later stumble upon a secluded pub, 'The Slaughtered Lamb', which already foreshadows their fate; all the songs throughout the film contain the word "moon" it in, the rhythm is achieved through fast editing that at the same time half-censors a few violent scenes while the imagination of the author is very interesting and gives the whole story a surreal touch. A sparkling black fun, especially for the cineasts. The make up won an Oscar and is even today scary and realistic, the jokes 'defy' any conventional rule (especially with a few satirical jabs at the English mentality, such as the scene where David unsuccessfully tries a polite police officer to arrest him, provoking him with such insults: "Shakespeare was French! Prince Charles is a faggot!") while the finale set in a porn cinema and the wacky sequence where a car crash catapults the drivers outside through the windshield is unbelievable and still unmatched in its genre. The only complaint could be aimed at the fact that David's cheerful personality and the Werewolf subtext simply don't blend in, but act just as something that doesn't need any logic, which can be forgiven since otherwise it would have turned out to be a fantasy drama. The ending is surprisingly tragic (but precisely because of that refreshing, avoiding a typical cliche 'happy ending') so a sequel filmmed 16 years later "improved" the story by giving it a happy ending, but also spoiled it at the same time by deducting all meta-movie gags and clever references.

Grade:+++

Léolo


Léolo; Grotesque, Canada/ France, 1992; D: Jean-Claude Lauzon, S: Maxime Collin, Ginette Reno, Roland Blouin, Julien Guiomar, Giuditta Del Vecchio

Montreal. Leo (12) lives alone in a narrow apartment with his weird family. He wrote a biography before he fell into a catatonic state and an old man reads it: Leo despised his father and grandfather who tried to drown him. Both his sisters are mentally retarded while his brother Fernard became a bodybuilder ever since he was beaten up by a bully. Leo tried to kill his grandfather but became sick from the world and fell into a catatonic state, rather unnoticed by everyone.

The second and last film by director Jean-Claude Lauzon (who died in a plane crash in '97) was this cruel anti-family grotesque that provokes in a rather unsophisticated way. "Leolo" undertakes a balancing act between genius and madness, but too often leans towards the latter, even though critics praised it and it was among others nominated for the Golden Palm in Cannes. But, should someone be considered a genius if he wrote and directed a scene where some boy has intercourse with a cat? Or where the overweight mother sits on the toiler in front of the little Leolo and thus teaches him how to defecate properly? Whether it's autobiographical or not, not everything in life should be considered worthy of getting transporting into a movie and even though the author wanted with paradigms of cruelty and tenderness to create a syntax of poetry, he fell into vile territory. Among his more plausible bizarrities is the scene where Leolo imagines how his mother became pregnant: by falling on a tomato that carried Italian sperm on it! Considering the ill starred atmosphere and music, the best part of this unusual film is the poetic ending where, it seems, Leolo's mind simply "gave up" on the entire world.

Grade:++

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Spaceballs


Spaceballs; science-fiction comedy, USA, 1987; D: Mel Brooks, S: Bill Pullman, Rick Moranis, John Candy, Daphne Zuniga, Mel Brooks, George Wyner, John Hurt

The evil commander Dark Helmet uses his spaceship to try to kidnap princess Vespa in order to force her father to give him the code of the protective layer of his planet Druidia, so that he can suck all the fresh air from it for their planet Spaceballs, ruled by President Skroob. But the sloppy Captain Lone Starr and his friend, half-man half-dog, Barf, use their space-van to save her and crash to a desert planet. There they meet magician Yogurt who learns Starr the power of the Schwartz. Just as the spaceship is about to suck the air from Druidia, Starr sets it's self-destruct mechanism and marries Vespa.

Mel Brooks' sense for humor started to decay somewhere in the 80s and thus it comes as no surprise that his parody "Spaceballs", that spoofs "Star Wars" repertoire, wasn't as satisfying as expected, but even in his best form Brooks' humor seemed crude and vile in numerous of his movies. He grasps for too much stupid ideas and heavy satire, which makes the film catastrophically unimaginative at times, yet despite the fact that many comedians were wasted (John Candy seems to just "walk through" the film), some were not, such as Rick Moranis, who on the other hand is in absolutely great shape and steals every scene as Dark Helmet, while some of the jokes are really funny, especially at the beginning when the opening crawl rolls in space until it states: "If you can read this, you don't need glasses" or when the long Spaceballs spaceship is passing hilariously long and slow through the screen for over a minute (!). The special effects are surprisingly amazing while some moments have that spoofing point (among others, John Hurt reprises his role at the end when an "Alien" exists from his stomach at a 'poor hygene' diner), yet they cannot hide the fact that the story is forced and an uneven, mixed bag, turning only into a solid (cult) 'guilty pleasure'.

Grade:+

The Dreamlife of Angels


La Vie rêvée des anges; Drama, France, 1998; D: Erick Zonca, S: Élodie Bouchez, Natacha Régnier, Grégoire Colin, Patrick Mercado, Jo Prestia

With a backpack on her back, Isa (21) travels through the Lille and sells self-made cards whenever she gets the chance. Her attempt to find a job at a textile factory falls short since she only makes bad shirts, yet she meets Marie who surprisingly allows her to sleep over at her place. They become friends and meets two disco bouncers, the fat Charlie and Fred. Marie starts a relationship with Charlie and he gives her 200 Franks. But she breaks up with him when she meets the spoiled, but rich Chris who flirts with her. Isa doesn't understand such a vertiginous behavior: Marie hates Chris, but then loves him, until he leaves her. The apartment is sold. Isa finds a job in some factory.

Erick Zonca shot his first feature length film, the passive-realistic drama about two outsider girls, rather late in his life, when he was 42 years old, but at least the raving compliments of critics and numerous prizes, among other the nomination for a Golden Palm and the best actress award for Elodie Bouchez and Natacha Regnier in Cannes, compensated for it. By it's quiet tone and lack of music, "Dreamlife" seems like some Dogma 95 movie, and it has continuity. But it's not quite a sparkling result, mostly due to the lack of "dreamy" touch and empty story. It's a rather depressive drama about the grey life of many people and it's a pity that the director didn't insert something special into it, even though he has a few excellent situations, because as a whole this touching movie seems mild and the plot develops only towards the end.

Grade:++

Monday, September 22, 2008

Agent Aika


Agent Aika; Animated science-fiction action comedy, Japan, 1998; D: Katsuhiko Nishijima, S: Rei Sakuma, Hiroko Konishi, Jurouta Kosugi, Atsuko Tanaka

In 2016 some disaster flooded Tokyo, so friends Aika and Rion earn a neat profit thanks to their submarine that searches for sunken treasures. While Rion wears glasses and has a temperament character, Aika is quiet and has a secret - thanks to an unusual bustierre she can gain super-powers. When they get the assignment to find Lagu, a substance that can change the Earth's climate, the get arrested by some commander called Hagel. He wants to wipe out humanity from the face of the Earth and hide in his spaceship, only to later on repopulate it himself with his crew that is composed exclusively out of women. In a dangerous mission, friends save Aika with a Jet, while Rion stays on the spaceship. When Aika returns, she saves her and destroys the spaceship with an explosion.

Animes have some criminal euphoria in them combined with an unusual blend between the cartoonish humor and adult story, which is one of the reason why many not familiar with such genre don't understand their style or don't know how to react. The characters often have some esoteric harmony to them, especially when the main protagonists are shrill heroines, with a few allusions to intercourse - or in "Agent Aika's" case, a lot of allusions thanks to all the "fan service" shots of underwear - which give it a special agility. As with many not so serious anime OVAs, "Aika" also lapses behind higher expectations, but after some time the viewers will not be bothered by it if they just adapt to it's light tone and numerous jokes, which shouldn't surprise because the anxiety of the future has been replaced with an cheerful and funny "girl saves the world" story. Rion, the temperament second main heroine with glasses, especially stands out as a symbol of a diligent woman in "embarrassing situations", like when she is locked up naked in a room and has to sneak out by squeezing out through the narrow ventilation shaft or in the golden, hilarious moment where she "exposes" Hagel by telling him that he wants to repopulate the destroyed world with his female crew just because "he is a man who only thinks about one thing".

Grade:++

My Stepmother Is an Alien


My Stepmother Is an Alien; Science-fiction comedy, USA, 1988; D: Richard Benjamin, S: Dan Aykroyd, Kim Basinger, Alyson Hannigan, Jon Lovitz

Steve Mills is an astronomer and a single father who lives with his daughter Jesse (13). One stormy night Steve sends a message from his observatory which reaches the Magellan cloud in just a few seconds. As a result, alien Celeste arrives from that galaxy in the shape of a blond woman. Her planet is in danger and the only way to save it is to repeat the signal from the observatory. Thus, Celeste marries Steve, but gets exposed by Jesse. Steve sends another signal but Celeste's bag decides to destroy Earth. Celeste prevents that and stays with Steve.

Canadian comedian Dan Aykroyd actually shot two masterworks in his career ("The Blues Bros.", "Driving Miss Daisy"), but as a whole, his movie opus oscillates too much so that he never quite reached the highlights of his colleagues, like Murray or Hanks. Among the misguided movies of the golden 80s in which he starred in is also "My Stepmother is an Alien" that is today remembered solely for the fact that Alyson Hannigan and Seth Green appeared in it together for the first time as kids, before becoming stars of the TV show "Buffy". Still, "Stepmother" isn't by far a bad film: for instance, the opening credits where yellow-blue "fogs" travel through space is fascinating whereas some of Celeste's improvisations in the world of humans are sympathetic (since she doesn't know what a kiss is she observes scenes from movies and imitates them with Steve. Thus, in one animated film a kissed puppet "spins" with its eyes and Celeste is hilarious as she tries to mimic it). But, alas, the majority of the story disappoints since it's neither funny nor smart, but just embarrassingly bizarre whereas the heavy end hopelessly tries to insert some suspense into it. Wilder wouldn't either never direct such a film or he would send it for "repair".

Grade:+

Sunday, September 21, 2008

What About Bob?


What About Bob?, comedy, USA, 1991; D: Frank Oz, S: Bill Murray, Richard Dreyfuss, Julie Hagerty, Charlie Korsmo, Kathryn Erbe

New York. Bob is abnormally multi-phobic; he is afraid to go out on the street, enter an elevator or touch something without a handkerchief, so he works his job inside his apartment. The only time he goes out is when he goes for psychotherapy, but his new therapist Dr. Leo Marvin left town for a summer vacation in New Hampshire - so Bob follows him. Leo is self righteous and neglects his family, but his wife and kids, Anna and Sigmund, start to like Bob and teach him something about life, helping him overcome his fears. Leo becomes so jealous he tries to kill Bob, but in the end accepts that he will marry his sister.

"What About Bob?" is a simple and relaxed work by director Frank Oz, who this time chose a politically correct, gentle humor revolving around a story about the upside down concept of the common practice of a psychotherapist entering the private life of a patient, with a few heart warming family moments without turning out preachy, but some of the jokes spoofing psychiatry are so hilarious it's hard not to enjoy its humor. The movie somehow seems close, charming and funny, mostly due to the performance by Bill Murray (in a special edition of a sympathetic stalker) whose character proves that he isn't just a cliche madman suffering from multiple phobias, just like Nicholson's in "As Good as it Gets", teaching psychotherapist Leo (also very comical Richard Dreyfuss) how precious his family moments are. Leo in the end turns more and more to a madman himself, which could split a part of the audience, yet as with his previous comedies, Oz once again crafts a quality, interesting and amusing comedy in every scene, full of humor and dignity, shot around the dreamy locations in Virginia on the Smith Mountain Lake. One of the funniest moments is when Bob is talking with Leo on the phone ("Hallo, Doctor? Hi, how are you? How's the brood?"); Leo, all in dirt, showing up to his surprise birthday party looking like a 'psycho psychiatrist' or some instances of subtle gags, like with Leo's obsession with Sigmund Freud (among others, his son is called Sigmund and his daughter Anna, the name of Freud's daughter).

Grade:++

Plastic Little


Plastic Little; Animated fantasy action, Japan, 1994; D: Satoshi Urushihara, Kinji Yoshimoto, S: Yuriko Sezaki, Hekiru Shiina, Kappei Yamaguchi

Sometime, somewhere: the dashing but cynical Tita wakes up in her bed, ready for a new day as captain of a spaceship that captures exotic creatures of some planet. One day, while shopping, she rescues a girl from the army. The girl is Elyse, the daughter of a scientist who was killed because he discovered a mighty weapon, which commander Guizel wants to use to gain control over the planet: Tita has compassion for her since she herself lost her father when she was little. Together they take a bath and become friends, running away from the military. Although it's now an "enemy" of the country, Tita's organization still manages to save Elyse and destroy the weapon.

Anime - those are esoteric animated achievements from Japan often containing characters with big eyes and unusual heads who, thanks to their unexplainable charm and unreachable movements and charisma, overshadow a lot of lympathic creations from other medias. Even 1 episode OVA "Plastic Little" would have problems if it wasn't conceptualized in Japan, because it contains a few violent-bloody scenes and swearing that would otherwise threaten it's sympathy, but this way, as an anime, that blends childish cartoon and adult story in one, the authors crafted an interesting science-fiction action melodrama with a happy ending, slightly too serious and crammed with too much "fan service" by Satoshi Urushihara, though, while again there were a few unusual moments added, this time by depicting the naked, half-spoiled Tita how she is taking a bath or when she wakes up lying wounded in a medicine bed with bare breasts, spots her colleague pilot Nichol sleeping by her side and wants to hit him because her first thought is that he is a pervert, but then changes her mind because she realizes that he was worried about her and monitored her the whole night.

Grade:++

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Day the Earth Stood Still


The Day the Earth Stood Still; Science-fiction drama, USA, 1951; D: Robert Wise, S: Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal, Billy Gray, Hugh Marlowe, Sam Jaffe

One day, a UFO lands in Washington, DC. An alien comes out in a spacesuit and a nervous army soldier shoots and wounds him. The alien is then transported to the local hospital while it's giant 8 foot tall robot remains to protect the spaceship. The alien takes off his suit and it turns out he looks like a normal man. After saying that his name Klaatu, he runs away from the hospital to bring an important message to humans. The army starts to search for him, but he finds a place at a boarding house presenting himself as "Mr. Carpenter", gaining the trust of the little Bobby and her mother Helen. While in a taxi, the army shoots Klaatu, but he is awakened by his robot and brings his message: the Earth must abandon it's hostility and live in peace.

Even though it was named 7th on Arthur C. Clarke's list of best SF films of all time, it's hard to wrestle off the impression that Robert Wise's classic "The Day the Earth Stood Still" is rather dated today, both in it's fake set design of the UFO and the robot and in it's naive approach towards problems, which was obviously shaped as a commentary on the Cold War, especially in the cheesy scene where Klaatu and Bobby exchange these lines: "In my world, there are no wars." - "Jeez, sounds like a good idea!" Still, the opening sequence where the UFO lands in Washington and people all over the world listen to the news is still quite eeary and legendary. The sole concept about an alien warning people against their aggressive actions that could bring the end to their race is fairly well conceived, but once he takes off his spacesuit and reveals that he looks just like an ordinary man the story takes one step back, and then a second one when it turns out the whole movie is just going to be revolving around Klaatu residing in a boarding house to observe humans. It seems the screenwriter's story got aimless and lost rather fast since Klaatu could have well told his message the minute he came out of the UFO, making all other events unnecessary, but he still makes one of the best comments ever on the hostile US-Soviet relationship when he says he doesn't want to interfere with their "childish quarrels".

Grade:++

How Green Was My Valley


How Green Was My Valley; Drama, USA, 1941; D: John Ford, S: Roddy McDowall, Walter Pidgeon, Maureen O'Hara, Donald Crisp, Sara Allgood, Anna Lee

Wales. The 50-year old Huw Morgan is preparing to leave his hometown Cwm Rhondda and thus remembers his childhood: as a little boy, he grew up with his mother Beth, sister Angharad and his four brothers and father Gwylm who all worked in the local coal mine. Many events happened: when the wages plummeted the workers went to strike; Huw froze in winter and couldn't walk for months; brother Ivor got married to Bronwyn; Huw went to elementary school and was beaten by bullies. When Angharad got married to Mr. Evans she still loved preacher Gruffyd who decided to leave the town due to all the bad rumors. Just then an accident happened and Huw's father died in the mine.

"How Green Was My Valley" was never "officially" selected as a classic, but it's a very fine film full of nostalgia and love for the author's passion for his homeland in Wales, refusing to turn into a spectacle in favor of an intimate, small and personal little drama and coming-of-age story told from the perspective of the little Huw, played by the 12-year old Roddy McDowall. John Ford once again shows that he can direct, and really well, whether it's the work with actors or the framing of the shots or the capture of the beauty of the landscapes, which is one of the reasons why he won his third Oscar as best director in his career and why "Valley" also won a statue for best picture, even though, truth be said, there were better films released that year. Slightly overlong and "rough" in handling with a few backward features of the mentality of the people, "Valley" still feels fresh and vivid thanks to small, but great moments and details (Gwilym doesn't want to speak about strike at the table but one of his sons say: "I speak against injustice even without permission!"; teacher Jonas punishes little Huw by beating him so his two brothers enter the full classroom one day and teach him not beat little kids by "humorously" slapping him in front of the kids; preacher Gruffyd rebels against the people in town who accused him of having an affair with Angharad so he gives them all a verbal lesson in church by asking them: "Why do you go to church anyway? Just to disguise your hypocrisy?") which means that it can be easily watched without a problem even today.

Grade:+++

Friday, September 19, 2008

Z


Z; thriller, France/ Algeria, 1969; D: Costa Gavras, S: Yves Montand, François Périer, Jacques Perrin, Charles Denner, Jean-Lois Trintignant, Irene Papas
An unnamed country. The dictatorship plans to locate foreign nuclear weapons. Doctor Z is the leader of an opposition party that plans to bring peace and democracy to the country, but the government forbids them to find a building where they could hold their speech. When they finally find a location, the police passively lets troublemakers in until some Vago from his van hits Z on his head by a stick and runs away. Z dies. Vago gets arrested accidentally, but the police and the military sabotage the investigation so that he could be pronounced innocent. The investigator discovers that the murder was ordered by high ranking officials of the regime, so he accuses them. At the trial, they get released of all charges while all the witnesses get mysteriously murdered.

Although its title consists just out of one letter, political (art)-thriller "Z" is not at all an acronym of its possibilities; an excellent film with bravura directing by Costa Gavras who shaped the whole story as a sly allegory on the Greek military junta from '67 to '74, which is why the sole disclaimer is already ironical by stating: "Any resemblance to real events, to persons living or dead, is not accidental. It's DELIBERATE". It is a real film for adults since the plot does not have a real hero but is full of episodic characters (a doctor, a witness, a reporter...) and lives only from observations and intelligent contemplation, whereas it is also slightly overlong, but due to its extremely elaborated details it can be outstandingly presented as a study of injustice, corruption, greed for power and dictatorship: the scenes where the police just passively stands while a hooligan hits the leader of the opposition party, a doctor, and runs away to hide in the mob; the end when all witnesses who were to testify against the regime die from mysterious circumstances, etc. Even the reporter, the host of the news, disappears in the montage and gets replaced, crafting a fascinating style that gets everything right down to a T. "Z" is an extremely stylistic, vibrant, creative and electrifying achievement, superior to a huge majority of dry, stiff art-films, and has some genuine ingenuity of the author which makes it one of the best films of the 20th century, a small jewel.

Grade:+++

The China Syndrome


The China Syndrome; Drama, USA, 1979; D: James Bridges, S: Jane Fonda, Jack Lemmon, Michael Douglas, Scott Brady, Wilford Brimley

California. TV reporter Kimberly and her cameraman Richard go to the Ventana nuclear power plant to do a few routine reports on energy. Suddenly, there is an earthquake and the reactor staff members, led by Jack Godell, panic and barely manage to prevent a catastrophe by stopping a meltdown of the reactor core. Richard has the whole event on tape, but his producer doesn't want to air it on TV. Jack does some research and discovers the plant is unsafe since the company gave them fake water pump parts, yet the investors want to start it again because they don't want to waste millions of $ on examination. Jack locks himself up in the control room and does an interview with Kimberly, but a SWAT teams breaks in and shoots him.

For everyone who ever doubted that work inside a nuclear power plant could not be an interesting enough theme for a feature length film, "The China Syndrome" proves that it can: despite the fact that it at first seems that the story can't hold it's concept the whole time, thanks to a focused contemplation and absorbing direction it manages to keep it's level the whole time. It's not an anti-nuclear film, but a pro-safe nuclear power film, an engaging story with a strong social message about the flaws of nuclear energy and the greed of the people who run it but won't spend money until it goes defect. It's not really a thriller since it's poor with suspense, yet the sole sequence at the beginning where there's an emergency shutdown of the reactor (Jack tells them to turn off the loud alarm because "nobody can think at that noise"; Jack taps the glass cover on the gauge and the stuck needle "wakes up" and drops rapidly to indicate that the water level is actually far too low, and the core has almost been uncovered) is full of passionate details and rare insight into the work of those staff members and the system of their business. Maybe the ending is slightly melodramatic, maybe the film is too mild at moments, yet all the intentions were done right and were carefully knit into a harmonic whole. Jack Lemmon is great as the suspectful supervisor Jack Godell and was nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe, while he won a BAFTA - together with the leading actress Jane Fona - and the best actor prize at the Cannes festival.

Grade:+++

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Trainspotting


Trainspotting; drama, UK, 1996; D: Danny Boyle, S: Ewan McGregor, Ewan Bremner, Johnny Lee, Robert Carlyle, Kelly Macdonald

Scotland is in big depression. Mark himself doesn't have a clue why he is a heroine addict or why he hangs out with Spud, James Bond-fan Sick Boy and adult Begbie who thinks drugs are trash and acts like a violent maniac. When Marc decides to quit his addiction after his parents persuade him to do so, he realizes he can't do it. He meets a young girl and spends the night with her, but then hardly sees her while Spud ends up in prison. When Mark falls into a coma after an overdose, he gets hallucinations about his life, wakes up, becomes "clean" and finds a job. When his company involves him into a drug selling business, they earn 16.000 Pounds. Mark steals the money one night and leaves them thinking: "Maybe I found a family!"

Radical, megalomaniac drama that at times crosses all borders and limits, stepping into grotesque and back, surprisingly became the most commercial British film in 1995. "Trainspotting" is a cold film, but it's a bomb, a wild film full of twisted energy and almost dictatorial control that isn't enjoyed, but obediently embraced. In one of the first scenes the anti-hero, Mark, contemplates about all the things he needs to quit his drug addiction, which shows that he can also be sympathetic here and there, while the visualisation of his abstinence crisis and hallucinations is so palpable that it causes nausea. Still, director Danny Boyle and screenwriter John Hodge constantly keep up with the theme of a bored youth without perspective that hates everything in life, even the fact that "Scotland is still under England's command", while the excellent Robert Carlyle is also excellent and abstract as the violent Begbie. The adapted screenplay was nominated for an Oscar and won a BAFTA, crafting a masterpiece that's not for everyone, but will stir up everyone to do something, offering one of the most bizarre scenes of the 90s, the one in which Mark "dives" into a toilet bowl and swims through the water, searching for his drug, the only mean of his delusion.

Grade:++++

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Fight Club


Fight Club; Drama, USA, 1999; D: David Fincher, S: Edward Norton, Brad Pitt, Helena Bonham Carter, Meat Loaf, Zach Grenier

The main character is a young lad who suffers from insomnia and visits numerous support groups formed of people who survived a sickness. There he meets the healthy Marla who is also depressive. He also meets the secretive soap seller Tyler Durden who includes him into his anarchic "Fight Club" that offers men a possibility to fight each other and thus get rid of anxiety of civilisation and consumerism. One day the lad wakes up and Tyler is gone, while all the members just listen to him. He travels through towns until he finds out that Tyler doesn't exist, but is actually just his own split personality. He eradicates him and ends up with Marla, watching his plan still come true, namely the bombs destroying financial city block.

One of the most overrated movies of the 90s, heavy satire "Fight Club" marked director David Fincher's return to his dark, dirty, grey style combined with a vague, but subversive message about one individual rebelling against his society and it's rules: the visual style is inventive in many scenes, like the one where the hero walks through the pages of an Ikea catalogue, but the running time is overlong while many moments are simply too narcissistic, sterile and overblown. The amazing plot twist at the end is brilliant and gives the whole film a new subtext which actually neatly fits in with the previous scenes while Edward Norton and Brad Pitt both give great performances. There are echoes of satire on consumerism, capitalism and anti-totalitarianism, especially when Tyler says his cynical line: "The media is constantly trying to convince us that we will all become millionaires, actors, rock stars. But we are slowly gaining conscience and getting sick of it!", yet all those messages seem chaotic, as if they were formulated by a mind suffering from some kind of autism. It's a provocative, good film with an unusual philosophy about how anarchy can be liberating, yet it can't hide the fact that at times is seems as if it consists just of aesthetically shot dry events.

Grade:++

The Ring Finger


L'annulaire; Drama, France/ Germany/ UK, 2005; D: Diane Bertrand, S: Olga Kurylenko, Marc Barbé, Stipe Erceg, Edith Scob

The young Iris works in a lemonade factory. One day her finger is injured when it got stuck on one bottle in the assembly line and she faints when she spots blood. She quits her job and finds a place to stay in a motel at the coast, where sailors work over night. She finds a new job as receptionist in a small laboratory for conservation of items. Her boss flirts with her and they start a relationship. He gives her shoes as a present and admits that previous girls quit their job. In order to finally see his laboratory, Iris decides to conservate herself.

Maybe it's not right to criticize the whole French cinema just for one film, but ever since the 80s the cinema of that country fell into a crisis by producing a lot of existential, but pretentious, sterile and empty movies, and "The Ring Finger" is one genuine example of it. It's story sounds like nonsense and at closer look it really is nonsense. Some movies have poor plots, but compensate with style, yet here director Diane Bertarnd directs the whole film without any strategy, which results in empty scenes of the protagonists just standing there and talking uninspiring lines. Actress Olga Kurylenko is pretty good in the leading role and the whole movie never irritates with something wrong which means that generally one can't complain about it except for the fact that the whole film is simply pointless, a bleak story without a head or a tail. Some could find some deeper meanings and symbols in the story, but except for the two erotic scenes in the middle, there is not much to see in the film.

Grade:+

Monday, September 15, 2008

What Is a Man Without a Mustache?


Što je muškarac bez brkova?; Romantic comedy, Croatia, 2005; D: Hrvoje Hribar, S: Leon Lučev, Zrinka Cvitešić, Ivo Gregurević, Jelena Lopatić, Bojan Navojec, Marija Škaričić, Ivica Vidović

Dalmatian Zagora. The young Tatjana becomes a widow when he husband dies in an accident working for some German construction company. Tatjana doesn't say a word for the next 13 months, until she finally tells the dashing priest Stipan that she fell in love with him. He is hesitant towards such an idea, but has feelings for her. At the same time, 'gastarbeiter' Marinko returns home with his teenage daughter Julija who falls in love with Stanislav, a Haiku poet. When Stipan's twin brother Ivica, a general, comes to town, Tatjana decides to sleep with him as 'compensation'. 13 months later, Stipan returns back from a mission in Africa, spots Tatjana with Ivica's baby and they become a couple.

The concept of a temperament woman falling in love with a Catholic priest sworn to Celibacy is a notion that really tickles the imagination - the only scene of this film that I saw during the previews in 2005 was the one where Tatjana summons the young priest Stipan for a confession and then slowly, melancholically admits that she fell in love with him, but that was enough to put a small smile on my face. Still, now that I saw the whole movie, from start to finish, it seems as if that small, tender magical moment got "drowned" in all the hectic, hasty and wacky details throughout. "What Is a Man Without a Mustache?" is director Hrvoje Hribar's adaptation of Ante Tomić's humorous novel of the same name, which proves that Croatian literature has potentials, and even though the movie is flawed, it's still a very solid piece of Croatian cinema with a couple of charming scenes. If the viewer can get pass the first 10 minutes, which annoy with irritating music, and forget the fact that the subplot involving 'gastarbeiter' Marinko and his teenage daughter Julija is rather unnecessary, one can find an amusing comedy here - the scenes where Julija (fantastic Jelena Lopatić) crouches in the nature to "take a leak", spots a bird and then all out of a blue the young Stanislav, who was sitting on a nearby branch all the time, tells her that bird is Carduelis Carduelis and jumps down to the floor to 'join' her in crouching is as funny as the one few moments later, where Julija, who was born on German soil, reaches between Stanisav's legs and tells "How beautiful is my homeland!". It's a chaotic film, but fun, while Zrinka Cvitesic is simply brilliant in the leading role as Tatjana.

Grade:++

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Open Range


Open Range; Western, USA, 2003; D: Kevin Costner, S: Kevin Costner, Robert Duvall, Annette Bening, Michael Gambon

19th century. Boss Spearman is an old cowboy and a free-range cattleman. Charlie, the huge Mose and the teenage Button work for him. One day Mose is attacked in a town by men working for the local tycoon Baxter who puts him in jail. Boss and Charlie pick Mose up and bring him to a nurse, Sue. When they take revenge on Baxter's men who were following them, they return to find Mose killed and Button wounded. They stay in town and start a showdown against Baxter, killing him. Charlie proposes Sue.

Kevin Costner's third movie as a director improved him on some aspects, but also worsened him on others. Unlike his previous films, here the love story is underplayed and thus doesn't fall into the cliche of him playing the irresistible charmer where every woman falls into his arms, whereas the mannerisms were eliminated in favor of a clear and calm mood filled with a few neat details (the way the 4 cattlemen have to sleep under an improvised tent while it's raining all around and on them; Charlie breaks the shotguns of Baxter's men by smashing them on a tree) and crystal clear cinematography with an eye for landscapes. But, alas, the whole movie is somehow unexciting and lax in it's presentation, while the final showdown is full of cliches, thus Costner wasn't quite able to repeat and capture the magic of his debut "Wolves", one of the most beautiful westerns of the 20th century.

Grade:++

To Kill a Mockingbird


To Kill a Mockingbird; drama, USA, 1962; D: Robert Mulligan, S: Mary Badham, Gregory Peck, Phillip Alford, John Megna, Brock Peters, Robert Duvall

Alabama, 1930's. The tomboy 6-year old girl Scout lives with her brother Jem and widowed father Atticus Finch in a small house. The kids and their friend Dill play around and are afraid of a local lonely man, Boo Radley, who is rumored to be insane and a released murderer. One day, Atticus is appointed to defend an African American man, Tom, who is suspected of raping a White woman, Maudie. Even though Atticus proves Tom is innocent since his muscles in his left hand were paralyzed since childhood and despite his testimony that Maudie actually flirted with him, Tom is sentenced to death. Maudie's angry father attacks Scout and Jem, but they are saved by Boo.

Winner of 3 Oscars (best actor Gregory Peck, screenplay, are direction) and 3 Golden Globes (best actor G. Peck, score, international understanding), Robert Mulligan's adaptation of Harper Lee's novel "To Kill a Mockingbird" is a slightly overrated and overhyped, but still very good drama about racism and childhood. The main plot involving Atticus Finsh's defense of an African American man accused of rape on trial is excellent, but it is presented as a subplot and slightly drowned by the "framing" plot revolving around Finch's kids Scout and Jem who can get annoying after a while, yet one can argue that they actually show the trial from children's eyes and mirror the consequences of the trial by racist insults aimed at them in elementary school and neighborhood. Even though Mulligan's direction and the structure are uneven since the flip-flopping between a coming-of-age and a trial story is not that harmonius, the 9-year old Mary Badham is truly excellent in her "unrecognized" leading role as the tomboy girl Scout, especially in the touching scene where her innocent words soften up an angry mob that wanted to storm the prison and kill the accused African American prisoner or in the comical moment where she is forced to wear a skirt for the first time in her life for school, which is why she hesitates to enter the kitchen and present herself to everyone.

Grade:+++

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Grapes of Wrath


The Grapes of Wrath; drama, USA, 1940; D: John Ford, S: Henry Fonda, Jane Darwell, John Carradine, Dorris Bowdon, Charley Grapewin

Oklahoma during the Great Depression. Tom Joad returns to his farm after spending 4 years in jail for homicide, but is shocked to find out his estate was evicted. He stumbles upon the ex-preacher Casy and meets up with his family who tell him that their farm has been took over by a company. Without anything, they start a long journey to California with a on old truck to find work there. On their way, grandpa and grandma die, while they are shocked that there is hardly work in California. They settle in a camp, but get out after it's put on fire. Then they find job at a peach farm, but when guards kill Casey, Tom kills one of them. The family goes to a camp run by the Department of Agriculture. There Tom decides to run away to join the movement for social justice.

A magnificent masterpiece, winner of 2 Oscars (best director John Ford, supporting actress Jane Darwell), "The Grapes of Wrath" are an exceptional adaptation of John Steinbeck's novel with the same title and a classic in the history of cinema. Thanks to Ford's supremely effective directing that's sensitive, strong, authentic and gripping even today the story became a virtuoso crafted essay about the consequences of Great Depression, a one so intimate and close to heart that almost every viewer can identify himself or herself with the characters and feel uneasy about their pessimistic fate. Filled with realistic, dirty details about the incredible poverty of that time that makes even some places in California look like a Third World country and a sly socialist subtext at the end, "Grapes" are a truly powerful and moving picture, whether it talks about the poor economic themes (in one scene, a bulldozer enters the Joad estate and Muley threatens to shoot, but then he recognizes the driver. He asks him why he is doing this and the driver tells him: "For 3 $ a day. If you shoot me, they will hire another one to do it!") or portrays the mentality of the characters (after the prayer for the supper, grandma complains how grandpa took a bite before they finished, and he tells her: "Why don't you just close your eyes during the grace!").

Henry Fonda is great in the leading role, while such a simple blend of wisdom and observation is rare today, which gave a highlight in one beautiful, humble and honest sequence that is unforgettable: during their long trip, the family stops at a diner, and grandfather and his two grandchildren enter the place and ask if they can buy a loaf of bread for 10 cents. The owner, seeing how poor they are, gives them the bread, even though its price is 15 cents. When grandfather asks about candy for his grandchildren ("Those are one candy for a cent?"), the saleslady gives two to them ("No, it's two candies for a cent"), even though their price is actually 5 cents per candy. During the whole time, customers were watching what is happening. After grandfather and the kids exit from the diner, all the customers pack their stuff and each of them leaves some money at the cash desk, thereby thanking the owners for their humanity and compensating their loss of selling food twofold. That moment is one of those rare examples of something pure, some essence of life being shown on film, which works even without any gimmicks of effects.

Grade:++++

Coneheads


Coneheads; Science-fiction comedy, USA, 1993; D: Steve Barron, S: Dan Aykroyd, Jane Curtin, Michelle Burke, Michael McKean, David Spade, Chris Farley, Sinbad, Phil Hartman, Jon Lovitz, Adam Sandler

When an alien spacecraft from planet Remulak is shot down over New Jersey, two of it's alien passengers, Beldar and Prymaat, get stuck on Earth and decide to blend in with the American society. Even though their characteristically pointy heads stand out substantially, they manage to find work, fake IDs and a home, eventually changing their last name to Conehead. With time, they get a daughter who grows into a normal teenager and finds a boyfriend. When the Remulakians return to pick them up, they decide to stay on Earth.

The bizarre alien family 'Coneheads' entertained the TV audience in the popular show "Saturday Night Live", and thus the movie adaptation of them turned out to be one unconventional and interesting achievement, full of completely different takes on the stereotype family life in the US, with a few neat satirical jabs at 'alien' immigrants. But, despite the fact that it was helmed by it's creator Dan Aykroyd, the attempt at parody wasn't half as successful as it was expected - many characteristics of the three alien protagonists are more bizarre than they are funny, while the bottom was achieved with the finale that stopped being funny and meddled itself too much with their planet. The biggest virtues are a confident attitude done with much more taste than one could expect so that basically almost every viewer could identify herself or himself with the 'egghead' aliens, as well as a few good jokes, like when Beldar chews a condom because he mistakes it for bubblegum or when he invites his daughter's boyfriend Ronnie to "have a 55 word conversation" with him.

Grade:++

Friday, September 12, 2008

Jurassic Park


Jurassic Park; science-fiction adventure, USA, 1993; D: Steven Spielberg, S: Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough, Joseph Mazzello, Ariana Richards, Samuel L. Jackson

Paleontologists Alan Grant and Ellie and chaos theorist Ian Malcolm are invited by millionaire John Hammond to fly off to a Pacific island where they will experience a sneak preview of his new amusement park, 'Jurassic Park'. Soon, they are amazed to find out Hammond's crew managed to clone living dinosaurs who live there in some sort of a zoo. But a rival company hired programmer Nedry to shut down the park's security system and steal the dinosaur embryos. Combined with a storm, the dinosaurs break loose and start chasing the visitors. Still, Alan and his friends manage to escape from the island.

Whatever monster Steven Spielberg decided to put on the big screen, he always managed to 'decipher' it and make it fit into a great movie, and thus "Jurassic Park" is one of the few movies of the 20th century where dinosaurs on celluloid did not turn out to be trash, but art. One of the most multilayered and accessible Sci-Fi movies of the 90s also became one of the most commercial ones, which prompted some critics to lament how it is just a simple, mainstream crowd-pleaser, but if the audience wants to watch dinosaurs on big screens, what's so wrong in indulging them if the movie is of such quality? The scenes alone where the human protagonists enter the Jurassic park - and we the audience with them - and encounter a Brachiosaurus walking through the meadow or a Tyrannosaurus rex while their cars stopped driving on the road, are of such awe and magic that they send shivers down the spine. By adapting Michael Crichton's novel, it all could have went wrong, but it didn't: a very clever idea about the cloning of dinosaurs, slightly instructional and contemplative towards the abuses of genetic manipulation with an excellent combination of humor and masterful conjuring up of characters and locations. Thanks to a few delicious details (a fisheye view of the Brachiosaurus in one scene), Spielberg reached even the ideal of "King Kong". Maybe it all dissolves into repetitive action towards the end, but it always maintains its authority, so that it isn't just superior towards other monster movies compared to its special effects, which set standards back in the 1993 and have been rarely matched since.

Grade:+++

Singin' in the Rain


Singin' in the Rain; Comedy/ Musical, USA, 1952; D: Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly, S: Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Donald O'Connor, Jean Hagen

Hollywood, late 1920's. The world premiere of the silent movie "The Royal Rascal" is under way and even star Don Lockwood drops by to tell the audience how his friend Cosmo Brown helped him act and how he started his movie career as a stuntman. Running away from his fans, Don falls into the car of a girl named Kathy and falls in love with her. At the cinemas, the first talking movie becomes a huge hit so the producers order Don to also make one. But the main actress, blond Lina, has such a high-pitch voice that the audience is rolling on the floor from laughter during the premiere of the film. The producers thus pull the film to transform it from a drama to a musical, while Don persuades Kathy to dub Lina's voice. Lina presents her voice as her own, but Don discovers Kathy's potentials and they make a movie together, "Singin' in the Rain".

Shining comedy-musical with great 9 dance sequences in total won a Golden Globe for best actor in a musical or comedy Donald O'Connor and was nominated for 2 Oscars (music, excellent supporting actress Jean Hagen who plays the hilarious blond Lina with an absurdly high-pitch voice) and for a BAFTA (best film), whereas some even consider it the best musical of the 20th century. "Singin in the Rain" astounds with unusually funny moments: for instance, O'Connor dances with a flabby doll and knocks himself on the door so he makes grimaces to "straighten" his face; Don and Lina verbally insult each other while they are acting to be hugging and cuddling for their silent movie; during the shooting of the sound movie, Lina constantly turns her head left-right in front of the microphone, so only her every second word is heard. Especially funny is the sneak preview of that film where the sound has been delayed, so Lina speaks with her voice, and then with the voice of a man. One could complain about the first 15 minutes which are rather laxly and a few wooden character, but otherwise this nostalgic metafilm musical comedy about the beginning of the sound era in Hollywood is done just right and is still a wonderful story, especially in the legendary sequence where the protagonist is singing in the rain.

Grade:+++

Thursday, September 11, 2008

InuYasha (Season 1-3)


InuYasha; Animated romantic fantasy series, Japan, 2000; D: Masashi Ikeda, Naoya Aoki, S: Satsuki Yukino, Kappei Yamaguchi, Kumiko Watanabe, Houko Kowashima

Kagome is a normal teenage high school girl who lives with her little brother in the temple of her grandpa. One day she discovers a magical portal in her well that brings her to the medieval Japan. There she finds the half-demon half-human Inuyasha who morns after his love Kikyo who hated him before her death. But Kagome is the reincarnation of Kikyo's soul and discovers that the couple was set in feud by the jealous demon Naraku. Kagome and Inuyasha are joined by Shippou, monk Miroku who has a black hole on his palm and warrior Sango and head off to find the magical jewel, as well as Naraku.

"Be honest. You enjoy my company, don't you?" asks Kagome Inuyasha at one certain point while he is carrying her bicycle up the hill. For some unexplainable reason that conventional monologue is special. "Inuyasha" sounds like a stiff and stereotype anime, but the first sight is deceiving. It's not just an anime, but an anime and a half! The first 3 seasons of "Inuyasha" are a shining anime, a triumph of classic narration and gentle romance, especially since its author is Rumiko Takahashi. The story, besides allegories on racism, friendship and lost love, is filled with shrill situations and excellent characters, virtuoso mixing humor and emotions. One of the marathon running gags is the one that the teenage Kagome constantly travels back and forth between the medieval and modern Japan, so her grandpa has to make up random excuses for her absence in school (rheum, diarrhea...) which start going on her nerves. Thus, one cute guy in class asks her out for recovering but she turns towards her three friends and laconically asks: "...Is he hitting on to me?"

Another great moment is when Inuyasha is exhausted by poisons and admits to Kagome that he lied when he told her she is ugly, and when he later on almost kisses her she starts stuttering in her mind: "W-w-what was that...?" But one of the most poetic moments in the whole show, and one of the most beautiful moments in the history of the 21st century anime, is the one where Sesshomaru, the bad guy, was exhausted in the woods. Rin, a little orphan girl, saw him and wanted to help him. She went to her village to get him some food but the cruel villager's beat her up. She still managed to get Sesshmoaru some food but he declined. Yet he asked her where she got those bruises and she was happy he noticed her effort. Later on Rin was killed in the forest and Sesshomaru accidentally found her dead body. After a little thinking, he took his magic sword and, despite being evil, brought her back to life. That moment is something that you should see before you die: it's not just beautiful, it's unexpectedly beautiful. Truth be told, the authors don't cope well with slightly tiresome action sequences involving demons while the story is heavily overstretched and is left with an unfinished end, yet whenever there's a moment involving romance and drama, they are walking on air. Even the biggest misanthropes will have a difficult time resisting such beautiful achievements.

Grade:+++

Paradise Now


Paradise Now; Drama, Palestine/ France/ Germany/ Netherlands/ Israel, 2005, 2005; D: Hany Abu-Assad, S: Kais Nashif, Ali Suliman, Lubna Azabal, Hiam Abbas

Nablus. Two young Palestinian lads Said and Khaled have lost their job as auto mechanics and generally feel their lives are empty and pointless. So they join a extremist Palestinian organization to perform a suicide attack, hoping to send a message against Israel's occupation. Said also has contact with the French born girl Suha. When the two guys are about to cross the border to Israel, a helicopter shows up and they flee back to Nablus, separating from each other. Still, they reunite and continue with their plan, despite the protests of Suha. Once in Tel Aviv, Khaled changes his mind and returns home, while Said continues and enters a bus.

"Paradise Now" is one of the films that take a different approach towards a difficult subject, a one that's far beyond the cliches the mainstream cinema expects it to be. Director Hany Abu-Assad decides to show only the perspective of the two Palestinian disillusioned youngsters who decide to become suicide bombers, presenting them in a way that's so shockingly humane and full of understanding that it feels as if a brick hits you in the head: ultimately, some have found that take on the long Israeli-Palestinian conflict honest, while others have denounced it as controversial and misleading. Surprisingly, despite some really harsh words towards the Israelis - among others, Said tells how his father was killed by them, how "Israel can't be both the suppressor and the victim at the same time" or how one sly leader of the extremist suicide group talks how "there is no freedom without resistance" - the story is never pro-terrorism since it ends with an open ending that let's the viewers decide if the suicide attack happened or not, whereas it also shows how the two protagonists doubt if this is the right way and hesitate to kill Jews. There is also a lot of philosophical contemplation going on, especially between the girl Suha, who represents the pacifist view and wants to resolve the conflict with a "moral war", and Said who represents the hard-line approach and wants to use violence to resolve it. The movie is so much better directed than most movies coming from that area. Whether some will approve it or not, the movie is there. And it has an artistic touch that makes it really good, despite all, which is why it even won a Golden Globe as best foreign language film.

Grade:+++

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Birth of a Nation


The Birth of a Nation; Silent drama, USA, 1915; D. W. Griffith, S: Henry B. Walthall, Lillian Gish, Mae Marsh, Miriam Cooper, Ralph Lewis, Mary Alden

Two American families, the Northern Stonemans, and the Southern Camerons, live in peace. But when the Civil War (1861-1865) erupts, they become enemies. The Southern General Lee tries to free a train with food, but loses from General Grant from the North. Ben Cameron, whose two younger brothers died in the war, gets sentenced to death in a hospital, but Abraham Lincoln gives him abolition. After Lincoln is killed by John W. Booth in a theater, the politic towards the South becomes harsh, while mulatto Silas Lynch turns Black people into a privileged race in South Carolina. After Flora Cameron jumps from the cliff and dies by running away from the Black Gus, her fiance Ben organizes the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan kills Gus and Lnych and brings order in the town, after which Stonemans and Camerons unite again.

The old saying goes: "A picture tells a thousand words". Here, 600 pictures tell one thing, and 400 pictures another. The first 600 tell that director D. W. Griffith is a master of the silent movie era and a skillful reconstructor of history pieces, but the last third of this film displays an ideology - White supremacy - that's so wrong, so misguided, so racist and naive that one could question oneself if he was aware of what he was filming. Monumental epic "The Birth of a Nation", shot as an ode to the post Civil War America, is a very ambitious work with a running time of 190 minutes (!), making it the first 3 hour film in the history of cinema: despite its complicated story, the movie enjoys a reputation of a classic not because of its questionable ideology, but for its revolutionary role in developing the movie techniques. Even though a large part of the modern audience might not understand it, it doesn't mean that "Nation" is a bad film - "Iliad" and "Odyssey" are also hard to read today, but that doesn't mean they are not significant for literature.

At a budget of a record 110.000 $ for that time, the movie's awe is visible: the long queue of scenes of the war between the North and the South (burning houses, shooting) that last for almost 30 minutes, whereas Griffith advanced the movie style by using fade outs, fade ins, big close ups and especially the parallel montage of two events at the finale - today, numerous movies use inter cut scenes of different events that go back and forth, but back in 1915, when movies were extremely straight forward and only had the "aim and shoot" camera technique, the audience was thrilled to see such a new kind of climax. There is even a little bit humor present here, mostly revolving around the African American characters: an older lady kicks a gentlemen from the North in his butt, while a politician puts his bare feet on the table in the senate, upon which his colleague warns him about the law that tells that people must be shod there. Griffith crafted scenes full of mood (Ben is seen walking in the distance through the forest; at the end he has a vision of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem), but not even today is it clear why the Ku Klux Klan is so idealised. The African Americans are all shown as barbarians that oppress the White race, and the Klan as a noble organization that keeps everything in order, which is a pointless nonsense. At any rate, it's a great film despite itself that shows how history changes and how the respectable organizations of today can become infamous in the future.

Grade:+++

Grease


Grease; Musical comedy, USA, 1978; D: Randal Kleiser, S: John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John, Stockard Channing, Jeff Conaway

California, 1950's. The young lad Danny meets Sandy on the beach, but she tells him she must return to her Australian homeland. Danny returns to his high school for his final year, hanging out with the vain guys from the group "T-Birds". But Sandy enlists in the school anyway, disappointed by the fact that Danny is such a cold macho. He apologizes to her and they start a relationship. At the same time, Sandy's friend Rizzo starts a relationship with a guy from "T-Birds" and is relieved when her supposed pregnancy turns out to be a false alarm. At the end, the school is out and all students start to dance.

"Grease", a dynamic teenage movie full of iteration in fun, grossed 181 million $ at the US box office, becoming the 4th most commercial movie in the 1970's and the most commercial musical of the 20th century. The love subplot is rather clumsily set up, yet "Grease" has enough unusual touches to lift itself up from the label of conventional musicals - the shrill touch is already felt in the animated opening titles in which Travolta's cartoon version puts grease on his messy hair, Newton-John's wakes up in her bedroom full of deers whereas Channing's dresses in a sweater with a 'too high' collar. Many jokes are somehow stupid (it's never clear why Danny suddenly speaks with Sandy in such a mocking manner, like when she asks him: "Danny, you changed!" and he tells her: "Maybe I have a double. Put a search-add for him in the newspapers", just to make himself look 'cool' in front of his gang), some are brave (3 guys show their naked butts in front of the cameras on the school dance so the principal tells the unknown perpetrators to surrender since she sent the photos to experts in Washington anyway) whereas many songs and dances are excellent, as well as all the actors who portray nervous teenagers in the 1950's. Despite flaws and a nonexistent story, this is still a movie full of life and agility.

Grade:++