Tuesday, 28 October 2008

The Truman Show


The Truman Show; science-fiction tragicomedy, USA, 1998; D: Peter Weir, S: Jim Carrey, Ed Harris, Laura Linney, Noah Emmerich, Natascha McElhone, Paul Giamatti, Holland Taylor, Brian Delate, Harry Shearer, Philip Baker Hall

24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 30 years in a lifetime: those are the dates for the ultimate and most popular documentary channel in the world: "The Truman Show". For over 10,909 days over 1.7 billion people around the world turn on their TV sets anytime they want to watch the life of insurance salesman Truman Burbank. The only catch - Truman is completely unaware of that. Slightly passively, the sympathetic Truman lives his ordinary life until he starts questioning his world. When he finally arrives at the end of his fake set, the author of the show, Christof, tries to stop him. But Truman exits anyway.

Here and there a movie shows up that contains such a sensationally original plot that it blows your mind. From the scenes where the viewers have photos of Truman instead of their own life up to the camera in a button, the screenwriter Andrew Niccol had an idea that's as genius as it is simple - what if a normal man would find out that his whole private life is just a TV show that was aired all around the world? Unbelievably brilliant for its time, predicting the arrival of voyeuristic reality shows like "Big Brother", "The Truman Show" quickly entered the anthology of big budget Hollywood experimental films, and despite its commercial success the critics suddenly looked at comedian Jim Carrey in a different light for embodying the innocent, sympathetic title character without privacy. It's a beautiful example how the authors crafted a magical mood (even though the original screenplay, set in New York, was better: in it, Christof, the author of the show, appeared more often in the first half, it was discovered that there were no cameras in the toilet and there was a fascinating "meeting" of actors of the show and Christof), also thanks to the emotional engagement by director Peter Weir who used unusual camera angles to create the feeling of thousands of secret cameras in that show.

Bizarre and close at the same time: it is simply remarkable how Truman's ordinary little life can have such an importance to the whole world. And it also speaks volumes about manipulation and classical conditioning used to instill a water phobia into Truman in order to permanently keep him on the island. Still, it is a pity that the first half, which just follows Truman's routines in life, becomes rather tiresome after a while, since the second half that shows how the crew operates the show is much more fascinating, but rather too sparse. And there will always be numerous thoughts about some unused opportunities, like what would happen if Truman became a criminal? Likewise, it is a shame that not much from Truman's intimacy was shown - like taking a bath or being intimate with his wife - since it's essential and logical for such a theme. Still, among the unforgettable esoteric scenes is also the one where due to technology the fake Sun rises in the middle of the night, the visual style is virtuoso set up, the writing is unique ("He has the world's most recognizable face. He can't just disappear."), the score is magical, Ed Harris is brilliant as the show's "creator" Christof - who is, fascinatingly, both evil (for deceiving and "imprisoning" Truman all his life) and good at the same time (for protecting his "star" from the "sick outside world", supplying him with friends, a dream job, family and not allowing bad things to happen) - the final dialogue between Truman and Christof is one of the great moments of the 90s, while the authors achieved a shining film.

Grade:+++

Loose Cannons


Loose Cannons; Crime comedy, USA, 1990; D: Bob Clark, S: Gene Hackman, Dan Aykroyd, Nancy Travis, Dom DeLuise, Ronny Cox

Old police veteran MacArthur Stern gets a new partner, Ellis, recently released maniac who has a numerous split personalities - Alf, Popeye, Captain Kirk...They get the assignment to resolve the murder connected with the only pornographic movie starring Adolf Hitler that is tracked by some Nazi agents. Stern and Ellis protect the overweight Gutterman. On their journey there are going to be a lot of corpses, but they will manage to save him.

"Loose Cannons" is a wacky comedy with dignified performances by Gene Hackman and his partner Dan Aykroyd - combined with the uneven Dom DeLuise - but suffers from a horribly confusing story where the main plot device is foolish (search for a porno movie staring Adolf Hitler), but the numerous events built around it are sometimes too serious, since some of the graphic murders could cause the viewers expecting a light comedy to get "burned". Of course, the overall impression is thus distorted, yet some of the critics who dismissed it as a catastrophe are rather exaggerating it. After all, despite the terrible execution, the movie doesn't contain vulgarity, some action sequences like shooting with both hands are reminiscent of "Desperado" while the getaway of the heroes in a van is childish and irresistible. It's remains a mystery why Hackman and Aykyrod agreed to star in this weak film, but they managed to somewhat improve it.

Grade:+

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Requiem for a Dream


Requiem for a Dream; Drama, USA, 2000; D: Darren Aronofsky, S: Jared Leto, Ellen Burstyn, Jennifer Connelly, Marlon Wayans

The old Sara is obsessed with television ever since her husband died. Her son Harry is addicted to heroin and constantly takes her TV set away to sell it and get the money for his drugs. Harry has a girlfriend, Marion, who is also an addict so they are both shocked when they hear that heroin can't be purchased on the market anymore, but from some mobster for a huge price. Sara gets informed that she will appear on a quiz so she takes diet pills - becoming herself addicted. She goes crazy and lands in a hospital, as well as Harry who injured his arm, while Marion becomes a prostitute.

After Sci-fi drama "Pi" about a magical number that can explain the Universe, director Darren Aronofsky once again proved he is gifted in establishing a vibrant visual style, but that he doesn't have the courage to deeper explore and use a story. The overhyped "Requiem for a Dream" has a fantastic visual style: in the opening moments, there's a split screen where Sara is on the left side observing Harry while Harry himself is on the right side of the screen. There are huge close ups of protagonists while they are running; fast forward scenes, wide angle shots and further split screens with Sara on the upper side on the shot and the pills on the lower side, that are "cut" in time - all there to emphasize the disgusting, surreal feeling of drug addicts. But on the other hand, it's disappointing that the characters are one dimensional and all just follow the cliches of drug addicts, without any shift to something original. What's the point? Aronofsky just vaguely implies that "drugs are bad", but that's it, while his "overdose" of tricks and visual innovations become a mess after a while and cause a headache thanks to his 'autistic direction'. Ellen Burstyn is very good in the role of Sara and was nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe.

Grade:++

Saturday, 25 October 2008

The Quiet Earth


The Quiet Earth; Science-fiction, New Zealand, 1985; D: Geoff Murphy, S: Bruno Lawrence, Alison Routledge, Pete Smith

Scientist Zac Hobson wakes up one morning in his bed and with a shock concludes that he maybe the only remaining human on the world. The streets and houses are empty so he figures it must have a connection with his laboratory that underwent a mysterious atomic experiment. Isolated, Zac calls any surviving soul through the radio. He steals food from the supermarket and keeps loosing his sanity from loneliness. Then one day Joanne shows up in front of his door, who also survived, and they become a couple. They also discover another survivor, the Maori Api, but also that the Sun could explode. The laboratory undergoes the experiment again, but it gets blown up by Zac after Api slept with Joanne. Zac wakes up on a planet from which a rising Saturn (?) can be seen.

What would happen if one person would find out that he or she remained the only human being on Earth? "Quiet Earth", a cult adaptation of Craig Harrison's novel with the same title, is a small jewel of New Zealand cinema and Sci-fi genre, elaborating that idea which, just like thematically similar esoteric films "The Truman Show" and "Groundhog Day", based it's plot on just one changed element from our everyday life. The main hero Zac at first can't believe what's going on so he walks the empty streets in his town and calls for any surviving human through the radio. Due to loneliness - which is the key motive of the story - he starts talking with himself, living in a "abandoned" fancy mansion, "stealing" food from a store, wearing a dress, walking naked and breaking hoses. He goes so far he even shoots at the statue of Jesus Christ! In portraying such an excruciating, powerful state of depression, the movie is excellent in the first half - but when he actually finds someone else alive, the girl Joanne, the atmosphere deflates itself a lot, mostly because the authors didn't find a way to be faithful to the original concept of just one person in the entire film. They movie couple ends up like Adam and Eve, while the third character, Api, really becomes the "third wheel" of the movie, together with a few annoying pseudo philosophical details at the end. The final scene where Zac is on a planet from which Saturn (?) can be seen over the horizon is mysterious, but also gives a few clever messages about absolute freedom and it's consequences.

Grade:++

Death of a President


Death of a President; Fictional documentary, UK, 2006; D: Gabriel Range, S: Neko Parham, Robert Mangiardi, Hend Ayoub, Becky Ann Baker, Patricia Buckley, George W. Bush, Dick Chenney

Chicago, 19 October 2007. US president George W. Bush goes to a hotel to hold a speech about the danger from the North Korea's regime, while the angry protesters are outside. Just as Bush exits and greets some of his fans, he is shot in the chest by an unknown person. He is transported to the hospital, but dies. Dick Cheney then steps in and becomes the new US president, using the assassination as a pretext for Patriot Act III. A Muslim Syrian is soon arrested, Zikri, and sentenced even though he claims to be innocent. When the police find new evidence, namely that Bush was actually killed by veteran Al Claybon because his son died in Iraq. Despite all this, Zikri remains in prison.

A dream movie for all those hard core George W. Bush haters, unusual fictional documentary "Death of a President" goes in a completely different direction: it's actually a politically neutral film that uses the fictional assassination of the 43rd president of the US as a pretext for some philosophical contemplation about civil rights, disobedience, political infiltration of the juridical system and scapegoats. Director Gabriel Range used a lot of neat tricks to give an impression that the archive footage is actually new while he has a good hand of crafting fictional events and their feel, like when the angry protesters are chanting: "How many children did you kill today, Bush?", alluding to the ongoing and increasingly unpopular war in Iraq. Even at those moments, Range keeps his neutral opinion, as if he is just observing people without any commentary. The actual assassination itself isn't that convincing since not much is shown, but even there does the author manage to fill some good details here and there, like the obvious that the market would plummet to a record low. Because of the fact that he "announced" the assassination of a current, still living president, the movie gathered quite a controversy and debate of it's intentions, even though it shouldn't be taken too seriously. But frankly, it seems the authors stopped half way, just when the story was starting to become intriguing - if they showed what would happen if the US actually attacked the Syrian government, the movie would have made a clear point.In the end, it's a original, daring and unusual film full of audacity, but without a clear point or a strategy, which together with it's slow pace and unexciting events brings it down.

Grade:++

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Good Soldier Švejk


Dobry vojak Švejk; Comedy, Czech Republic, 1957; D: Karel Steklý, S: Rudolf Hrusínský, Svatopluk Benes, Milos Kopecký, Josef Hlinomaz, Bozena Havlícková, Eva Svoboda

Prague, 1914'. The naive dog seller Švejk publicly predicts there is going to be war in Austria-Hungary after the assassination in Sarajevo, and thus gets arrested in a pub. He ends up in a mental asylum and then in the army after the World War I starts. He becomes an assistant to a military priest and then to Lieutenant Lukaš. When he steals the General's dog for Lukaš, they both end up in train heading towards the battle front. Švjek gets lost but finds the army again. He dresses up in a Russian uniform and gets arrested and then released. During bombardment, he just stands still.


With the comedy novel "Good Soldier Svejk", Jaroslav Hašek wrote one of the funniest pieces of literature in general, masterfully spoofing the politics of Austria-Hungary. This 3 hour adaptation from 1957 in uninspired direction by Karel Stekly doesn't even contain 10 % of humor from that jewel of comedy. Instead of simply copying the funniest jokes from the novel and bringing them on the screen (which would be slavery, but a faithful adaptation), director Stekly decided to "surprise" the fans with added, "original" jokes that are not to be found in the novel - for a good reason, because they are not that funny. The funniest parts of "Svejk" are not even in the film, like in the exposition of the novel where Mrs. Muller and Svejk talked about the assassination of Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo ("And so they killed our Ferdinand!" - "Which? Kokoschka or the one who works in the pharmacy? Either way, it's not a big loss." - "No, the son of the Emperor! They killed him in Sarajevo!" - "How can such a fine gentlemen allow that to happen to him?"). Sadly, many dialogues and scenes were changed in the movie, but Stekly is no Hašek. Only here and there does this movie version of Svejk manage to conjure up a few hilarious gags, like when he accidentally insults a bald man in the train, while his Lieutenant Lukaš reads on the baggage that the bald man is actually their General.

Grade:+

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Network


Network; Satire, USA, 1976; D: Sidney Lumet, S: William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Peter Finch, Robert Duvall, Wesley Addy, Beatrice Straight, Ned Beatty

The UBS news anchor Howard Beale is fired because of the low rating. When he hears that, he proclaims, on national live TV, that he will shoot himself on the air in one week. The TV management is shocked, but the new producer Diana is fascinated by the high ratings so she gives Howard his own TV show where he won't kill himself, but will actually insult everyone and lament about the injustice in the world. The show is a hit while Diana starts a relationship with the middle-aged producer Max. But when Howard starts criticizing an Arab conglomerate for buying UBS and urging the audience to protest, he crosses the line and Arthur Jensen, CEO of UBS, convinces him that he whole world is one big company. From there on, Howard changes and preaches how the individual is dead. In order to get rid of him and his low ratings, Diana hires a few revolutionaries to kill him on TV.

The 70s where probably the most daring decade of the 20th Century cinema. Even movies today that are considered great seem rather childish and soft compared to the sheer restless spirit of the 70s. That said, "Network" seems more like a great movie for today's than for the 70s standards. Frankly, it's a mixed bag. The screenplay by Paddy Chayefsky is undeniably one of the best screenplays of the modern cinema with some of the greatest (unknown) quotes ever, lines so beautifully and intelligently written that they seem like music to the movie buffs ears, but the execution by director Sidney Lumet is somehow dull and bleak. Namely, it seems the focus of the movie is entirely wrong: Faye Dunaway's character is boring, William Holden's character is boring, Robert Duvall's character is boring, the Mao Tse Tung revolutionaries subplot is completely useless - but whenever Peter Finch's character of the insane anchor Howard Beale is on the screen, the movie is so brilliant is brings down the house. If Howard was the main, instead of the supporting character, the movie would have been a masterwork, but this way it's hard to comprehend why Chayefsky was wasting time with the story by pushing the hollow relationship of producers Max and Diana in the foreground, which never seems right.

Still, some of the lines are among the most quotable ever because they ridicule the establishment with sheer satirical power. We are all used of having anchors tells us news on TV in a fancy suit and a mechanical posture, and thus is subtly funny when Howard is on TV without a tie, all sweaty and visibly insane, standing up from his chair at one point and ordering the viewers to lament about the unfair world by shouting: "I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!" The story is first and foremost a satire about the media and their negative impact on people, which is neatly summed up when Max says a genius observation about his relationship with TV producer Diana, the one how he "can't be sure if she is capable of any real feelings, because she learned them all from TV". The 4 minute cameo by Beatrice Straight as Max's wife definitely didn't deserve an Oscar for best supporting actress, but the 5 minute cameo by Ned Beatty, in the role of the UBS CEO Jensen, is so fantastic it almost matches Howard's antics when he explains him the true nature of the world: "There is no democracy! There is only IBM, and ITT, and AT&T, and DuPont, Dow, Union Carbide, and Exxon. Those are the nations of the world today!" It's a pity Finch's character was just a supporting character, and not a leading character, but he was so powerful in his role he actually won the award as best actor in a leading role from the Oscars, the Golden Globes and the BAFTA awards.

Grade:+++

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Beauty and the Beast


Beauty and the Beast; animated musical romance, USA, 1991; D: Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise, S: Paige O'Hara, Robby Benson, Jerry Orbach, Richard White, Angela Lansbury

In a small provincial town, there lives the beautiful, mildly eccentric girl named Belle who is unsuccessfully courted by the arrogant Gaston. One day, Belle's father disappears. She goes to look for him and finds him in a mysterious castle of a humanoid Beast that was casted under a spell by a witch. The Beast releases the father, but keeps Belle because only the love of a woman can break the spell and turn him back to a human, as well as his servants who were transformed into furniture. In order to nurse her sick father, Belle returns home. Gaston organizes an attack on the Beast, but dies. Belle admits that she loves the Beast and he transforms back into the prince again.

The makers of the Walt Disney studio insisted on their methods of applications of emotions and gestures on their characters in animation, and thus in 1991 their "Beauty and the Beast" was met with destiny all beautiful movies should experience: critical acclaim, commercial success and several awards. It is a fine film, yet not without a few banalities, sugary moments or a few overstretched subplots and musical scenes (for instance, when Gaston singes in the pub and breaks everything while fighting and shooting). Still, despite all of its standard Disney elements that do not bring anything new, it is hard to picture any other American animated film that has such shrillness, spirit and charm in the 90s as well as an excellent and strong heroine, Belle (wonderfully voiced by Paige O'Hara). In the opening act, she is all absorbed in her book, but has no difficulty to jump over a rope or dodge water falling from the roof. Thanks to the romantic calligraphy, even the most basic moments are impressive, from playing in the snow up to Belle reading "Romeo and Juliet" to the Beast and then wishes that he reads to her for once or when she does not look at him eating due to "politeness". Her anime physiognomy is so charming that when she smiles she almost overshadows Snow White: such euphony was lost by Disney a long time ago. Unfortunately, it is very good, but not great: the tender romantic build up between Belle and the Beast is very thin and takes up too little time, whereas too much time is wasted on inflicted 'off-topic' musical sequences' of the humanoid furniture jumping from the window into the pool and other mess that contaminates the emotional core.

Grade:+++

The Royal Tenenbaums


The Royal Tenenbaums; Tragicomedy, USA, 2001; D: Wes Anderson, S: Gene Hackman, Luke Wilson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Anjelica Huston, Danny Glover, Bill Murray, Kumar Pallana, Alec Baldwin (voice)

Royal Tenenbaum, once a gifted lawyer, left his wife Etheline and their three kids, Chas, Richie and the adopted Margot, whose plays he criticized on her birthday. Chas grew up to become a financial genius while Richie became an invincible tennis champion, yet one Royal left they started neglecting their talents. As a grown up, Margot still smokes secretly, while her husband, neurologist Raleigh St. Clair, is worried when she leaves him. Chas suffers from paranoia. Richie travels around the world in a ship and is in love with Margot. When Royal returns to his family, faking illness as an excuse, the whole family comes to their old home to reunite again.Royal finds a job and Richie and Margot start a relationship. Royal then dies.

Funny drama "The Royal Tenenbaums" is considered a masterwork by some part of the critics, but it's visibly weaker and impartial than Wes Anderson's previous film, the wonderful coming-of-age film "Rushmore" which was less "polished", but more honest, emotional and understandable. Anderson's trademark became subtitles which are placed in some sequences in his films, and in "Rushmore" he made an unforgettable moment where he used them to present the 100 talents of Max Fischer in only 1 minute, whereas there are no extraordinary inventive moments here. The only similar moment in "Tenenbaums" is when Anderson presents all his actors in the film after the long childhood segment by placing the title "Cast (22 years later)" or when he shows all the escapades of Margot from her teenage hood up to her present state.

Here, he obviously shifted his author's vision to a different level, and thus some of the moments are rather too bizarre to have any sense and many ideas seem completely pointless (for instance, the fact that Margot lost a finger is completely unnecessary and has no function in the story at all, except in the amusing small scene where the movie shows her glove with 4 fingers), but his shot composition and choice of music, especially "Judy is a Punk", is once again fantastic. Here and there Bill Murray manages to steal a few scenes with his small cameo as the bearded neurologist, yet it's obvious Anderson wrote the better role for Gene Hackman who plays the perfect anti-grandpa Royal, who among others placed a fake headstone on his grave stating: "Died tragically rescuing his family from the remains of a destroyed sinking battleship". It's an unfocused, but impressive film with top-notch calligraphy and small details. Hackman won his 3rd Golden Globe, as best actor in a musical or comedy, while the screenplay was nominated for an Oscar and a BAFTA.

Grade:+++

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Beauty and the Beast


La Belle et la Bête; Fantasy, France, 1946; D: Jean Cocteau, S: Josette Day, Jean Marais, Mila Parély, Nane Germon, Michel Auclair

Belle is a young girl who has to do all the dirty work her home, while her lazy sisters don't care about her. One night, her father gets lost in the forest and stumbles upon a castle. When he picks up a rose, a humanoid Beast shows up and threatens to kill him unless one of his daughters wants to take his place. Father runs away back home and Belle takes his place. She is repulsed by the Beast's ugliness, but tolerates him in the castle. When she goes for a week to visit her father, she returns to find the Beast almost dead from depression. But her love transforms him into a human and they live happily ever after.

A classic movie adaptation of a classic fairytale, "Beauty and the Beast" symbolically tells one of the oldest stories ever told, the one about an ugly man trying to charm and gain the love of a beautiful woman, but it does so in a unobtrusive way, understandable even to the youngest audience. Director Jean Cocteau directs the film almost as a surreal fantasy using many bizarre ideas (a hand emerging from the table; moving statues; smoke coming from the Beast's fingers; Belle's sisters use onions to make it seem as if they are crying because of her) and camera tricks (reverse scenes) to craft and enhance the mystical mood, yet it's a pity he somewhat neglected the middle part of the film, the most crucial one, where the relationship between Belle and the Beast remained thin and only of symbolic emotional charge, leaving a rather cold impression. Still, Cocteau's playful nature goes so far that he even puts inventive touches in the opening credits, where the cast members are written on a blackboard, while the set-design and the original story build up give the movie almost an expressionistic touch.

Grade:+++

Hudson Hawk


Hudson Hawk; Action comedy, USA, 1991; D: Michael Lehmann, S: Bruce Willis, Andie MacDowell, Danny Aiello, Richard E. Grant, Sandra Bernhard, James Coburn, David Caruso

16th Century: Leonardo Da Vinci discovered a machine that can convert lead into gold. In 1991, burglar Hudson Hawk is finally released from jail and he immediately meets up with friend Tommy who again persuades him to steal. Hudson hesitates, but eventually agrees and gets involved into trouble when a retired CIA agent on one side and naughty Minerva and her lover Darwin on the other side pressure him to steal parts needed to construct Da Vinci's machine in order to rule the world. Hudson meets Anna who gives up her job as a nun because she fell in love with him. In the explosion of the machine, the bad guys die while Hudson and Anna fly away and save themselves, meeting up with Tommy who orders a cup of coffee.

Complicated-bizarre comedy of the adventure tone "Hudson Hawk" was torn apart by many grumpy critics and even proclaimed the "worst movie of the year", but it's still far above that black pit. Some compliments have to go to shrill director Michael Lehmann, but even he has problems coping with the messy story. Some of the best jokes are really funny: for instance, when Anna (Andie MacDowell), a nun, talks to the statue of Jesus Christ, and it really replies, glowing, because a hidden microphone is installed in it or when the pope takes his stick and kicks the TV set because he wants to watch "Mr. Ed Show". But, many characters are at the same time completely wasted and stiff, among them, unfortunately, even Sandra Bernhard - just because she looks "unusual", she got the role of the evil Minerva, the typical bad girl, but didn't get enough gags to back it up, while the ending is pure trash, filled with "casual" decapitated heads flying left and right as if it doesn't mean anything. It's a very uneven, but also very energetic and fun cult movie at moments.

Grade:+

Friday, 17 October 2008

A pornographic affair


Une liaison pornographique; Romantic erotic drama, France/ Switzerland/ Belgium/ Luxembourg, 1999; D: Frédéric Fonteyne, S: Nathalie Baye, Sergi López, Jacques Viala

She is middle aged and tells her psychiatrist about her "pornographic Affair" that occurred a year ago: in some porn magazine, she placed an add in which she invited a man/stranger for anonymous intercourse in hotel. He, a Spanish man, replies and fulfils all his erotic fantasies with her. Still, even though the couple wanted to stay distanced, it slowly started to develop an emotional attachment. She admits she fell in love with him which surprises him pleasantly. But in the end they admit they relationship doesn't have a future so they break up.

Gentle and warm, more romantic than erotic drama "A Pornographic Affair" is superior to "Intimacy" and "Romance", thematically similar movies released around the same time in France, while director Frederic Fonteyne confidently turns the "light" story into an ambitious movie. Even though "Affair" only has as much erotic moments as let's say "Police Academy 7" has humor, it's still more suited for the mature, adult audience with an open mind because their nameless two middle-aged protagonists, a woman and a man, openly talk about their passions. Interestingly, the movie never shows the couple in the room when they are performing their secret erotic fantasy, but it shows them in bed when they decide to "make love" for the first time. Even though it's flawed, it's a very competent movie and Nathalie Baye is great in the leading role. At the same time, it crafted one of the most moving moments in the history of the erotic genre, the scene where she admits that she fell in love with him, upon which he starts to cry.

Grade:+++

Intimacy


Intimacy; Erotic drama, France/ UK/ Germany/ Spain, 2001; D: Patrice Chéreau, S: Mark Rylance, Kerry Fox, Timothy Spall

Jay lives quite lonely. Ever since he got divorced from his wife he resides at an isolated apartment and rarely has the opportunity to see his two little kids, instead working almost every day in a shabby bar. But he organizes an original kind of entertainment: every Wednesday, an anonymous woman enters his apartment to have anonymous intercourse with him. After a few ‘encounters’, Jay becomes curious and starts following the woman. He discovers her name is Claire, that she is an actress in a theater and that she is married with Andy with whom she has a child. Jay admits everything to Andy who takes it calmly. But Claire decides to stay with Andy.

Winner of the Golden Lion in Berlin for best film, though illegitimately, “Intimacy” is a good and suggestively directed drama, one rare example of an intelligent porn. Director and author Patrice Chereau has a wooden and rather mild iconography, but is refined in shaping the story. At first, he satisfies the Eros of the audience: Jay has spontaneous intercourse with a woman who is a complete stranger to him since he neither knows her name nor does he even talk with her. It is explicitly shown how he puts a condom on his erect penis whereas he doesn't shout during orgasm, typical for the genre, but just moans. Their relationship becomes (intentionally) monotone and one-dimensional, so Jay decides to follow the woman and find out more about her, out of sheer curiosity, and that's where the movie really shines. The scene where he meets her in theater, how she acts in a play in front of the audience - as if she wasn't intimate with him just a while ago - suddenly gives the story a new, emotional context. Eros becomes thanatos and the average personality euphoria, wherein the movie cleverly breaks the cliche how bare intercourse doesn't evolve emotions. Kerry Fox is quite good in her role, yet the erotic scenes are rather rare while the emotional framework didn't manage to sparkle with full strength.

Grade:++

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Romance


Romance; Erotic drama, France/ Spain, 1999; D: Catherine Breillat, S: Caroline Ducey, Sagamore Stévenin, François Berléand, Rocco Siffredi

Marie works as a elementary school teacher. But privately she is frustrated with her love life because Paul, her husband, is almost never "active" in bed. Thirsty for some passion, she leaves one night in a bar and meets a stranger and a lover for a one night stand. She also spends a hot night with her older colleague Robert, who claims that beautiful women love ugly men, and with some passer by who offers her 100 Francs. When she becomes pregnant, she finally gets the attention from Paul she always wanted. She gives birth to a son but argues with Paul who dies.

At the end of the 20th Century, three ambitious erotic films showed up in France; "Intimacy", "A Pornographic Affair" and "Romance", but none of them managed to start a new Renaissance of the genre. The bizarre "Romance" is directed by a woman and speaks about a woman, but is actually the weakest of the three mentioned films, just a watchable flick. The exposition promises much since it subtly and quietly speaks about the erotic frustrations of the heroine Marie who even cries (!) because her husband doesn't want to have intercourse with her, while especially funny is the scene where he tells her that he wants her to become pregnant - and she cynically replies with: "How? With the Holly Spirit?" The first intercourse shows up some 25 minutes into the film and shows how a stranger has (anal?) intercourse with the heroine, but it's terribly anemic and not even barely erotic. Actually, there is not even a single decent depiction of intercourse in the entire film since it constantly prolonged the feeling of disgust - the most bizarre scenes are Marie's fantasies, like when she imagines she is a prostitute in a brothel whose lower part of the body is peaking through the wall so random men randomly "take her" - while the ending is a real hassle. Some deeper emotional portrait of the characters is not achieved, thus "Romance" is just a senseless art-film.

Grade:+

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Sullivan's Travels


Sullivan's Travels; Comedy/ Drama, USA, 1941; D: Preston Sturges, S: Joel McRea, Veronica Lake, Robert Warwick

John Sullivan is a famous Hollywood director who plans a new movie, drama "O Brother, Where Art Thou?". In order to meet poor people for the needs of the movie, he disguises himself as a bum and starts to explore the world. But, by luck, he constantly gets the easiest and most glamorous jobs and always ends up in Hollywood. Then he meets an unemployed actress who also disguises herself as a bum. At the end of her adventure, Sullivan decides to give all unemployed people 1.000 $, but gets robbed and arrested. He ends up as a convict on a farm, but then "admits" in the newspaper how he killed Sullivan (himself!) and thus the producers go to get him and bail him out.

"Sullivan's Travels" starts with a brilliant sequence: on a train, two men are fighting and then fall into the river and die while the title "The End" shows up on the screen. Then director Sullivan stands up from his seat and starts explaining his movie to the producers with these words: "You see the symbol? The message is that the capitalists and the working class destroy each other!" It immediately shows that Preston Sturges has a sly sense for satire, but as the movie progresses it also shows that he can quickly get lost in aimless writing. Namely, the wonderful absurdity of the story becomes marginalized in the second, weaker half, yet "Travels" are still a very good "old" classic in which the famous author inserts a lot of autobiographical elements and smoothly leads the plot. A few kitschy dialogues, convulsive situations, unfunny jokes and regression into drama in the last third are still minimal flaws compared to the main virtues. One of them is definitely the hilarious getaway scene where the hero escapes from a house while he is "observed" by a face of a man on a painting that constantly subtly "changes" it's expression. The other one is when he is angered that convicts are laughing at a silly Mickey Mouse cartoon, but then starts to laugh himself, wherein the author sends a message how even the most primitive form of entertainment is needed to ease the harsh lives of the viewers.

Grade:+++

Monday, 13 October 2008

The Great McGinty


The Great McGinty; Comedy, USA, 1940; D: Preston Sturges, S: Brian Donlevy, Muriel Angelus, Akim Tamiroff

In some banana republic, barkeeper Dan McGinty saves the life of a banker in some bar. In order to cheer him up, McGinty tells him about his life: he was once just an ordinary bum who one day got a job from a company - go to vote for the mayor during the election in order to get 2 $! But McGinty voted 37 times all over the town and earned quite a fortune and also seized the attention of the criminal Boss who hires him as a debt collector, and then even into a (corrupted) mayor. But McGinty got married to the moral Catherine and decided to become an honest governor. Because of that, he landed in jail but ran away and settled in some banana republic.

"The Great McGinty" is an interesting directorial debut by the famous Preston Sturges who even managed to win an Oscar for it for best screenplay, but because of the thinly exploited potentials of the story maybe it would have been more justified if the statue went to Chaplin's "Dictator". The film by the overhyped Sturges functions brilliantly as a political satire at the beginning, but somewhere around the middle, when it starts to focus and revolve around the marriage and the family life of the title hero, it crosses into a soap opera and becomes overstretched. The best parts of "McGinty" are precisely those when it's pure political satire (the joke where McGinty accepts a "job" of voting for a corrupted mayor for 2 $, but uses his brain and actually votes 37 times (!) around the city and surprises even his crooked boss with his genius; the scene where the Boss says: "Look at this place! These politicians were so honest their whole office started to fall apart!" is gold) and thus it's not clear why the story threw it out in the end and embraced the sappy marital segment.

Grade:++

The Lady Eve


The Lady Eve; Romantic comedy, USA, 1941; D: Preston Sturges, S: Barbara Stanwyck, Henry Fonda, Charles Coburn

Charles Pike is a coiled snake scientist who spent a year in the Amazon rain forest. But he is also the son of the very rich drinks manufacturer, which is the main reason why all the women in the ship heading towards the US are turning their heads towards him. But the only one who manages to seduce him is Jean, a professional con-artist who, together with her father, wants to rob him in poker. But when she really falls in love with him he rejects her because he discovered she is a con artist. Still, Jean doesn't give up and thus dresses up as Lady Eve and seduces Charles. After the wedding she tells him the truth.

On the critics' site Rotten-tomatoes.com "Lady Eve" got an incredibly high average grade of 8.7/10. Even though such a reputation is quite exaggerated, especially compared to Capra's ideologically similar masterwork "One Night", even romantic comedy "Lady Eve" is an impressive an hardly dated movie. The jokes that are served by the famous Preston Sturges are more neat and childish than they are funny, but posses a fine dose of sharpness, for instance, when Jean observes the unsuccessful attempts of ladies to seize the attention of the rich Charles in the reflection of her mirror or when Jean's father, a master cheater, uses a move of reaching for a giant handkerchief to disguise how he replaced his set of cards with the one full of aces. Even though the "disguise" plot in the last third seems terribly naive today, the sequence in which Charles breaks up with Jean is surprisingly touching and melancholic. The screenplay was nominated for an Oscar.

Grade:+++

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Armitage III


Armitage III; animated science-fiction series, Japan, 1994; D: Hiroyuki Ochi, S: Hiroko Kasahara, Yasunori Masutani, Nobutoshi Hayashi, Hirohiko Kakegawa, Megumi Ogata


The 22nd Century: Police officer Sylibus Ross arrives to Mars and immediately becomes a witness of a clash between the young agent Armitage and some criminals who leave a suitcase where the police find the corpse of the Country singer Kelly. But there's an even bigger shock: Kelly was an android. Ross quickly discovers that even Armitage is an android, a so called "Third", but still falls in love with her. The androids are attacked by racist Rene D'anclaude because female anroids can have babies, but Armitage throws him with his vehicle down the sever. Due to injuries, Ross gains new body parts and discovers that the government of Mars is lying to their people and secretly wants to destroy androids. Ross and Armitage spend the night together and start a battle with the soldiers. Months later Armitage is pregnant.

A masterful anime grown ups - whether it is in the OVA form or the slightly shorter film edition - "Armitage III" performs miracles with its minimalistic budget: thanks to director Hiroyuki Ochi's skills, the story about racism, xenophobia and understanding of different societies transported in the future seems authentic and honest, enough actually to act original even though it is just a recycling from many other movies handling the relationship between humans and androids, "true" and "artificial" emotions, especially "Blade Runner". Maybe it may seem obnoxious, but it is a clone that is just as good as the original. Just like "Runner", the main protagonist here is also troubled by the fact that he cannot distinguish androids from real humans, but even though he hates machines, he slowly starts accepting them and their nature, even physically since some of his body parts had to be replaced with mechanical parts after injuries.

The main highlight though is the heroine Armitage III who is a fascinating character: she is at first presented as a cheerful person and in the start tries to captures some sympathies from Ross (she strokes his back and says: "You have such sensual shoulders..."), but the authors didn't make her too sugary unlike most anime heroines and even gave her a serious subtext. The touching scene alone where she, an android, is angry at D'anclaude and cries these words in anger - "If you humans don't want us, why did you create us anyway?!" - perfectly sums up all her grief, sadness, despair and transports her uneasy feeling of existentialism to the viewers. The whole story plays out on Mars and used that chance to create a good description of it, from the church on that planet up to the new take on the old story where a police officer is transferred to another police precinct, which gives it some further independence, whereas the crystal clear cinematography and detailed animation are exquisite. Armitage is a lady and a tough person at the same time, one of the most fascinating anime characters of the 90s, whereas despite violence and the dark tone there is a slow, but steady all-encompassing emotional attachment growing from the "cold" androids that evolve feelings. A jewel of anime - and inherently the best film set on Mars of the 20th century.

Grade:+++

The Sting


The Sting; Crime comedy, USA, 1973; D: George Roy Hill, S: Robert Redford, Paul Newman, Robert Shaw, Charles Durning, Ray Walston, Eileen Brennan

1930's. Small time crook Johnny and his Black friend Luther use a trick to steal money from some gangster, but he actually works for the notorious mobster Doyle and wants revenge. Johnny pays 2.000 $ to policeman Sneider for protection, but the gangsters still kill Luther. Johnny now wants to revenge on them and thanks to the legendary Henry manages to round up a crew that organizes a bluff: Henry wins in a poker game with Doyle who starts to hate him and thus decides to destroy his (fake) horse racing club. Johnny "helps" him therein by presenting himself as employee Kelly who can find out when any given horse will win. Thus Doyle bets 500.000 $ on one horse, loses and even gets arrested by the police, while Henry and Johnny act as if they killed each other and run away.

The Newman-Redford-Roy Hill trio once again teamed up after their comedy hit "Butch Cassidy" and once again crafted a smash hit both with the audience and the critics, the smart double-crossing heist comedy "Sting" that surprisingly won 7 Oscars (including best picture and director) and one nomination for a Golden Globe (best screenplay). After the excellent music in the opening credits, the story attracts immediately with a brilliant trick of the small time protagonists Johnny and Luther: Luther acts as if he is injured on the street and thus gives some gangster who was passing by his money to hand it over for him, but then Johnny meddles in and shows the naive gangster how to hide the money by taking his wallet and placing it in a wrap and then under his pants - but when he "returns" his wrap and the happy gangster runs away, it turns out Johnny actually kept his wallet and returned him a fake wrap full of junk! The trick is genius and in the following charade revolving around a fake horse racing club the screenplay offered such multi layered and rare sharpness that it even sets up a whole string of fake characters and overshadows "Ocean's 11" with ease. But, alas, the story isn't so funny or brilliant as some claim it is, since it seems rather heavy handed at times and only based on one trick, which means that it's just a small notch weaker than "Cassidy".

Grade:++

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Missing


Missing; Drama, USA, 1982; D: Costa Gavras, S: Jack Lemmon, Sissy Spacek, Melanie Mayron, John Shea, Charles Cioffi

Chile, '73. Young American writer and idealist Charlie Horman is living with his wife Beth in Santiago. He is surprised when the bloody coup d'etat starts and the military executes Left-wing president Salvador Allende and replaces him with Right-wing Pinochet. Numerous Left-wing activists are arrested and Charlie disappears one day with them. His father, Ed Horman, a conservative from New York, flies to Santiago to find his son. He teams up with Beth and searches in hospitals and morgues. They question Terry who tells them Charlie discovered US military officials were backing up the coup. And because he knew too much, Charlie was executed. Angered, Ed sues the US embassy staff and even Henry Kissinger, but looses.

"Missing" is a quiet, sophisticated political drama that even today manages to stir up some rigid beliefs and send a subversive message. Director Costa-Gavras used the true event about the search for the missing US Leftist Charlie Horman as an inducement for his views about the secret agenda of the governments and their misleading characteristics, which resulted in a few excellent, sharp moments, like when Ed and Beth go to a morgue and inspect literally hundreds of half-naked corpses lying on the floor to see if their missing Charlie is among them, which later on rings painfully when the author accuses the US politicians of backing up the '73 Chile coup d'etat. But, in doing so, the story and the film itself are somehow mild, pale and sustained, as if they stopped just a step before really igniting the audience, which results in a half-hearted feeling not because the movie is weak, but because it could have easily been great but was somehow "too lazy" to pass the final step. It's probably Gavras most emotional American film, but the only two truly outstanding virtues in it are the brilliant Jack Lemmon, who made some of his best performances in his older age, in an untypical role for him, and the enchanting score by Vangelis which is, without exaggeration, one of the finest movie scores of the 20th Century. It seems that despite all the right moves something is missing in "Missing" since it's a quality film but not to that extent that it justifies that Gavras for it won the Golden Palm in Cannes and an Oscar and a BAFTA for best screenplay.

Grade:++

Anna Karenina


Anna Karenina; Drama, USA, 1935; D: Clarence Brown, S: Greta Garbo, Fredric March, Basil Rathbone, Freddie Bartholomew, Maureen O'Sullivan, May Robson

19th Century. After a big celebration, Count Vronsky goes to the railway station to pick up his mother. But Anna Karenina also exits the train and he instantly falls in love with her. She is the sister of his friend Stiva, but also the wife of Mr. Karenin. Kitty on the other hand is in love with Vronsky, but when she realizes her relationship has no future, she marries Levin. Anna and Vronsky start a secret affair, which angers her husband. She leaves him and her son Sergei and travels with Vronsky through Europe. Their love starts to become pale so she goes to visit Sergei on his birthday, which surprises him since he got the information she was dead. Vronsky goes to fight in the war so Anna throws herself under a train.

Quality drama "Anna Karennina" is an eloquent and compact adaptation of Leo Tolstoy's novel with the same title, reducing a 800 page book into a 90 minute film. Even though such a drastic reduction and lack of regressions may anger many literature lovers of the original (for instance, the love couple Kitty and Levin were not just vague episodic characters and some parts of the novel could have been a story for itself, like Nikolai on his deathbed) but as a whole the story works and manages to shorten the long story to the essential. Clarence Brown directs the film smoothly, with a few amusing scenes (like the scene where the soldiers constantly drink 3 glasses, childishly crawl under the table only to return and repeat the whole act again and again, while becoming increasingly drunk) whereas some dialogues are shrill ("The people are angry because I have two faces. But I need them in life!" - "But I thought you loved Mr. Karenin!" - "Only with my other face") and the romantic touch neat, while the main virtue is the performance of legendary Greta Garbo, who actually won a New York Film Critics Circle Award as best actress.

Grade:+++

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Mina Tannenbaum


Mina Tannenbaum; Drama, Netherlands/ France/ Belgium, 1993; D: Martine Dugowson, S: Romane Bohringer, Elsa Zylberstein, Nils Tavernier, Florence Thomassin

A TV crew is making a documentary about the deceased painter Mina Tannenbaum while all the people who knew her look into the camera and talk how she was a good person. Mina was born in the 1950's in Paris, on the same day as her future frind Ethel. Mina and Ethel met first time in '68 and ever since remained inseperable friends. As teenagers they unsucussefully seduced boys while Mina decided to study painting and art. She fell in love with a guy who studied with her, but he was already in a relationship. At 30, Mina had her own gallery while Ethel became a reporter. A car crash left Mina with a scar on her face and she argued with Ethel because she stole Jacques away from her, even though she didn't even look at him before. Due to loneliness, Mina committed suicide.

It's not a matter of a cheap soap opera, but a gentle, calm, wise drama with a mild touch of fantasy: "Mina Tannenbaum" (did Anderson maybe found his inspiration here for the title of his movie "The Royal Tenenbaums"?) is the feature length debut film of director Martine Dugowson who again collaborated with actresses Elsa Zylberstein and Romane Bohringer in her next film "Shadow Play". And it's not surprising, since the real star here is the splendid Bohringer who plays the shy title heroine from her teenage days with glasses up to her mature age when she entered a crisis. Despite the fact that the story is quite simple and straight forward, Dugowson inserted a few really pleasant surprises: the best scene is when Mina and Ethel meet on April 2 '68 as little kids, while the auras of two old men are observing them from the sky and saying: "See, didn't I tell you they would meet on April 2 '68?" - "No, you said it was May 2!". In another scene, while Mina and Ethel are arguing their souls exit their bodies and fight, while Mina even meets herself as a kid in one instance. Touching and inventive, this was one of the best movies of the year.

Grade:+++

The Verdict


The Verdict; Drama, USA, 1982; D: Sidney Lumet, S: Paul Newman, Jack Warden, Charlotte Rampling, James Mason, Milo O'Shea

Frank Galvin is a washed up middle aged lawyer who randomly attends funerals to give people his visit card. His friend Mickey gives him a new case: 4 years ago, Deborah Ann Kay landed in coma after two doctors gave her wrong anesthetics and her sister now wants to sue the hospital to settle and get some money in order to leave the town with her husband. But Frank surprisingly refuses the 210.000 $ offer and decides to go to court. When the trial starts, everything goes wrong: his key witness can't be found and his girlfriend Laura turns out to be spying for the rival lawyer, Ed Concannon . But, by pure luck, Frank finds the nurse who wrote Deborah's chart and who accuses the doctor of changing the time the patient last ate from 1 hour to 9. The jury rules in favor of Frank.

"The Verdict" is a quality trial drama that manages to once again escape from the trap of a boring bureaucratic essay and find actual suspense and intrigue that effect the viewers who observe the events in the courtroom. The first half is slightly slow and many scenes seem sloppy and placed there without a clear order, yet once the actual trial starts in the second half it really ignites and offers some substantial stuff. There are a few neat ideas thrown in here and there, like when the sloppy anti-hero plays a pinball machine to symbolize how he always plays with his fate like in a game, and despite the fact that the story is somehow too dry and too proper to really catch the vibe of greatness of a higher frequency, the direction by Sidney Lumet is extremely competent, the moral of the story isn't easy and thus applies to the adult audience since it displays a case of an evil committed where there is no real bad guys since it was an accident while Paul Newman's performance is once again fantastic, for which he was nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe, whereas Jack Warden's performance is equally as good as as his amusing "sidekick".

Grade:++

Saturday, 4 October 2008

The Real Ghostbusters


The Real Ghostbusters; Animated fantasy comedy series, USA, 1986-1991; D: Art Vittello, Richard Raynis, Masakazu Higuchi, Will Meugniot, S: Dave Collier, Lorenzo Music, Frank Walker, Maurice LaMarche, Arsenio Hall

Peter, Winston, Egon and Ray are Ghostbusters, a group of ghost exterminators in New York. Ironically, green ghost Slimer helps them in their job in their building, where secretary Jeannine also works. The ghosts appear everywhere; in the sewer, apartments, woods and even in Transylvania. Among them are also the Bogeyman, the ghost of Sherlock Holmes, Dracula, the Marshmallow man, a cat that makes the wishes come true etc.

2 years after the hit comedy "Ghostbusters", the animated series with the same title was made for which many expected to be only a show for kids, but were dead wrong: not only does the series have a very claustrophobic, dark tone (it's the only "children's" TV show that borrowed from the literature by H.P. Lovecraft and managed to get away with it) but it's also more imaginative than the original film itself. The authors are full of irony, and thus some of their ideas, like the one that the whole Eiffel Tower is actually a giant ghost trap, are genius. The Ghostbusters go through various adventures: they do a job in a space station at zero gravity; go to Transylvania; get a car with a drawn Samurai sword in Tokyo whereas especially brilliant is the episode where they decide to sue a studio for making a movie about them ("Aykroyd, Murray, Ramis...I don't like this list of actors!", says one of them slyly), that even shows the live action opening scene from that film.

Even the sight gags are clever, like in the episode "No One Comes to Lupusville" where Ray is seen sleeping in his bed with a stuffed toy of the Stay Puft Marshmellow Man (!) and a tombstone clearly says "CASIO". The writers had inspiration and all did a great job in the first 3 seasons, which is why it is difficult to pin down the best, but J. Michael Straczynski and David Gerrold would clearly be among the most imaginative. Frankly, "The Real Ghostbusters" are funny and hold up better than many 80s cartoons thanks to their "analytical" humor that plays with borderline situations ("How fast can a ghost fly?"), but it's a pity that the characters don't evolve and that the last two seasons become so routine they lost any kind of sense: one has to especially pan the growing tendency to push Slimer, who was transformed from a supporting character into basically the main protagonist, in the foreground, since this way the story lost a lot of its sharpness and tumbled down to silly-childish area. But aside from that, the characters were not dumbed down for kids, except maybe for the ghost Slimer that actually became more popular here than in the movie, turning into a cult show.

Grade:+++

12:01


12:01; Science-fiction thriller, USA, 1993; D: Jack Sholder, S: Jonathan Silverman, Helen Slater, Nicolas Surovy, Robin Bartlett, Jeremy Piven, Constance Marie, Martin Landau

The story follows one day in the life of a certain Barry Thomas: he wakes up at 7:35, gets a phone call from his mother, comes late to work due to traffic, gets snubbed by his boss, spots the beautiful Lisa who doesn't even notice him and who later on gets killed, and then returns back home. But to his surprise, the following day all the events gets repeated just like yesterday, while he is the only one to notice it. And the next day and the next day. With a little effort, Barry discovers that the time got "stuck" accidentally by Dr. Moxley with his time machine, so he tries to stop him and save Lisa's life. He succeeds and destroys the machine.

"12:01" is a TV movie with a small budget, but high quality. The money actually even isn't an issue here since director Jack Sholder skilfully evokes one A-film in every aspect. The irresistible idea - based on Richard Lupoff's short story and short movie also called "12:01" - served as a pump for unfailing events and actions, while actor Jonathan Silverman starts many sparkling cynical and ironical moments, giving the movie a refreshing dose of humor. It's a matter of a really good and masterfully made work, but the clumsy ending is quite weaker than the whole and the explanation for the day repeating itself again and again is rather cheap and unnecessary. To their disadvantage, the plot wise identical movie "Groundhog day" showed up that year and already played in the cinemas for 5 months before it, where Murray's adventures where just a small notch better, maybe because they weren't so complicated and bloody.

Grade:+++