Sunday, 30 March 2008

Ghostbusters II


Ghostbusters II; fantasy comedy, USA, 1989; D: Ivan Reitman, S: Bill Murray, Sigourney Weaver, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Peter MacNicol, Ernie Hudson, Wilhelm von Homburg, Rick Moranis, Harris Yulin

5 years after the last paranormal events in New York, the Ghostbusters are out of work due to "shortage" of ghosts: Peter works as a host of a TV show called "The World of Psychic", Egon works in an institute while Ray and Winston entertain kids. But then a red slime, a materialisation of all the people's negative emotions, starts causing havoc and wakes up Vigo, an evil tyrant from the Carpathian mountains who wants to rule the world by taking the body of Dana's baby Oscar with the help of the clumsy Janos. The Ghostbusters are back fighting ghosts and manage to defeat Vigo by reviving the Statue of Liberty.

5 years was obviously too long for a sequel to appear, explaining why "Ghostbusters 2" were not as popular as the first film: only the crystal clear cinematography by Michael Chapman is an improvement compared to the original, but everything else is more or less just a recap, from the same plot formula that doesn't bring anything new into the film, the more mainstream oriented story, the routine finale with a silly idea involving the Statue of Liberty that undermines the film, up to less awe and successful action and humorous sequences, since there is a certain number of lame gags present that feel forced. Still, even though a large number of critics would like to present it as plainly repetitive, the movie surprisingly still has quite a substantial amount of good ideas: the scene where Peter asks Egon: "Hi, Egon. How's school? I bet those science chicks really dig that large cranium of yours?" and he flat out replies with: "I think they're more interested in my epididymis" shows that the writers still had some intelligent vibe when crafting such a sophisticated example of humor. It is neat to spot Ivan Reitman's little son, Jason, later on an acclaimed director, playing a spoiled kid picking on Ray in the exposition at the party; PETA members will for surely enjoy the moment where the animals of a fur coat of some rich lady suddenly come to life, much to her shock; while the small scene where the Titanic has "finally arrived" and the ghost passengers are exiting on the dock, is a legend. Even though it is a sequel, it is at moments contagiously fun, easily one of the better sequels made in the 80s, especially when compared to some made today.

Grade:++

Catwoman


Catwoman; Fantasy, USA, 2004; D: Pitof, S: Halle Berry, Benjamin Bratt, Sharon Stone, Lambert Wilson, Frances Conroy, Alex Borstein

Patience Phillips is a shy woman working a horribly boring job of design in a cosmetics company run by George and Laurel Hedare. One day, while trying to save a cat, she gets stuck on a ledge outside her window, but is saved by detective Lone, who invites her out to coffee. But when she accidentally hears a top secret report about the dangers of a new skin product, beau-line, the crew members decide to shut her up and kill her. But the cat she tried to save, a magic cat from Egypt, brings her back to life and she gets special abilities by a cat. She tries to stop beau-line, but Laurel kill George and frames Catwoman for the crime. Catwoman is arrested, but manages to escape and kill Laurel.

Damn those music spot editing techniques, cliches, pseudo cool dialogues, exaggerating ideas, grey mood, "in your face moments", sloppy writing and ludicrous directing that ruined this superhero film that could have actually been all right otherwise. Admitted, all those annoying ingredients can be also found in numerous other modern big budget films that were actually acclaimed and pretend to be ambitious, so that "Catwoman" at least has the decency to admit it's nothing more than a silly failure. The film has only two virtues: talented Halle Berry is once again charming in the leading role and at moments it's hard to not sympathize with her, from the good parts where she plays the shy Patience up to the bad moments where it's embarrassing to play Catwoman in that silly "cat" attitude, and here and there Alex Borstein manages to steal the show as her amusing friend Sally. Everything else is regrettable. The situations and ideas are so over-the-top that they become unintentionally comical, like the sequence where Patience plays basketball with Lone, jumping up on down on the wall while the kids are watching, and then slam dunks the ball falling "seductively" right on top of him: every second and every frame of that sequence are so poorly crafted that the authors decided to make probably 100 cuts in just one minute, since every other frame pushes out the last one and tries to forget it's faults. The finale is stupid, the dialogues are silly (Catwoman and Lone are on the ground while a loose electric cable is hanging besides them. Lone says: "Watch out, we might get grilled", upon which she says: "I always knew there was a spark between us.") and the execution is lame and can't be saved even by the solid normal scenes, resulting in a film made for the MySpace generation.

Grade:-

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Martin in the Clouds


Martin u oblacima, Comedy, Croatia, 1960; D: Branko Bauer, S: Boris Dvornik, Ljubica Jović, Joža Šeb, Antun Nalis, Josip Marotti, Ljerka Prekratić

Martin Barić is a law student who lives in the apartment of the archaeologist Solar. When Solar and his wife leave for a vacation to the Adriatic sea for 4 months and leaves the apartment alone, Martin starts getting ideas how to use that situation. But just as he is alone with his girlfriend Zorica, his friends storm into the apartment looking for a night to stay. He doesn't have a minute of privacy the following day: his uncle brings a rich Italian and his daughter Marcella to the apartment. Martin accepts that hesitatingly since his uncle ordered a new apartment for him from someone, but that man turns out to be a conman who runs away with their money. Still, he is arrested by the police while Solar forgives Martin when he comes back.

"Martin in the Clouds" is in some circles regarded as an excellent comedy and a classic of Croatian cinema, but as a whole it's hard to wrestle off the impression that it's just a good film and that time took a dose of quality from it. While some critics rather resort to lying and acclaim everything due to the respect towards the black and white film, the truth still remains that the story is at moments unfunny and tiresome, not managing the best in the rural surroundings. Still, some virtues remained: the famous Croatian actor Boris Dvornik is wonderfully embodying the clumsy hero in search for an apartment and some privacy with his girlfriend, while the better gags that stand out are very neat, like the scene when his friends storm in into his apartment and accidentally break the sink, apologizing with: "It can happen to anyone...", upon which Martin replies with: "No, not anyone, just me." Dvornik is in top notch shape when his Martin is ironizing the presence of his friends ("You can stay over night again, you haven't broken everything yet!") or when he is looking for the conman at the house number 16 - but discovers the street only has numbers 14 and 18.

Grade:++

My Left Foot


My Left Foot; Drama, Ireland/ UK, 1989; D: Jim Sheridan, S: Daniel Day-Lewis, Brenda Fricker, Ray McAnally, Fiona Shaw, Alison Whelan, Kirsten Sheridan, Declan Croghan, Eanna MacLiam, Cyril Cusack

Christy Brown arrives in a wheelchair to his ceremony where he presents his book "My Left Foot", his autobiography: he was born in Dublin in the 1930's with a cerebral palsy. Since he is mute and can only move his left foot, his brothers and father consider his retarded, up until the day when he takes a chalk from the floor and writes the word "mother" on the floor. Christy grew up lonely, with support coming only from his mother, but Dr. Cole learned him how to talk properly, while his paintings come to a gallery. He gets 800 Pounds for the book and gets married to Mary in '72.

Biographical drama "My Left Foot" is a gentle, touching and understandable ode to the hero in the wheelchair, Christy Brown. The first third of the film presents his difficult childhood, plagued by prejudice from the people - in one particularly memorable scene, a man attacks his father, shouting; "Now you won't produce anymore children!", alluding to the fact that Christy was actually his tenth (and unnecessary) child, but who hits him with his head ("A closed mouth won't catch any flies!") - and the anxious, painful way of describing the hero who is moving through the house by crawling. In his adult age he is played by the excellent Daniel Day-Lewis, and his caring mother by Brenda Fricker, who both won an Oscar and a BAFTA for their roles, and were also nominated for a Golden Globe. Of course, their performances are flawless, but the movie is at times heavily melodramatic and routine: handicapped people are automatically more interesting in movies because they are unusual and have a stronger will than the average people, yet that stayed rather underused. Some especially genius scenes are rare (for instance, when he ironically says to someone: "Go or I'll kick you in the butt!"), the pathetic touch is too often felt, while many supporting characters (Christy's siblings) remain pale, even though "Foot" is undoubtedly a very fine made film.

Grade:++

Friday, 28 March 2008

Riding Bean


Riding Bean; Animated action, Japan, 1989; D: Yasuo Hasegawa, S: Hideyuki Tanaka, Naoko Matsui, Megumi Hayashibara, Jun Hasumi

Two masked thieves rob a store, kill a cop and take a naked woman as a hostage for a few moments. Outside they hired the muscle-bound Bean "Road Buster" who takes them with his car to safety and gets a share of their money. The thieves take their masks off: they are woman Salma and the little girl Carrie. Bean lives peacefully in his apartment with his partner Rally Vincent and waits for new assignments. Salma disguises herself and sets them up with Chelsea, the kidnapped daughter of the mayor, thus making them targets for the police. Salma has a pedophile relationship with Carrie and also kidnapped the mayor so that she can get 2 million $ for him. Chelsea becomes friends with Bean and Rally. During a stakeout of the underground parking lot, Salma gets killed. The mayor is released while Bean, Rally and Carrie get away in the car.

Don't expect much from this flat anime action film that reaches deeply for the primitive means in order to satisfy, it seems, only the primitive audience, and among others has a hero so strong that not even a direct car crash can't hurt him, while the story loves empty explosions and other loud events. This is apparently inspired by a story from "The Blues Bros.", but the Blues bros. are never shown and the only thing that reminds of that film is the finale with the car crashes that only then shows some style. It's a trivial, mean and cold "men's flick" OVA stripped from anything but dumbing action - it's level is the same as the "Teletubbies" - and it's a pity Bean's blond partner Rally Vincent isn't more charming or decisive since she seems only like an extra in this, no matter how good her voice actress Naoko Matsui is - Rally would appear later in the by far superior and more fun spin-off "Gunsmith Cats" as the heroine of the story.

Grade:+

Odds and Evens


Pari e dispari; Comedy, Italy, 1978; D: Sergio Corbucci, S: Bud Spencer, Terence Hill, Luciano Catenacci, Marisa Laurito, Kim McKay, Jerry Lester

Florida. Lieutenant Johnny works for the Office of Naval Intelligence. Since the mafia controls a whole line of casinos that cheat and rob numerous sailors at gambling, he gets the assignment to stop their double crossing system. Since Johnny doesn't have a clue about gambling, he decides to get help from his half brother Charlie, a corpulent truck driver who decided never to bet again. By teasing him, using tricks so that Charlie can pick him up as a passenger and then stealing his truck, he tries to get his attention. Finally, he persuades Charlie to help him in order to earn enough for the operation for their father, who pretends to be blind. Johnny and Charlie beat up the mafia crew in their casino yacht and give the money to the orphanage.

"Odds and Evens" is a very weak comedy and one of the reasons why Bud Spencer and Terence Hill films have such a negative reputation today, even though they made a few really fun films. The routine direction and tiresome writing of the vague story that isn't exactly clear undermine the solid chemistry between the two "Italian Laurel and Hardy" comedians, resulting in an obviously lame comedy. The exotic locations of this Italian production, this time centered in Florida, are neat, and some gags are amusing, like when Johnny (Hill) looks at the photo of a shaved, corpulent man (Spencer) and then uses a felt-tip pen to draw him a beard, recognizing him, or when he pretends he doesn't know how to play poker in front of the mobsters, yet they barely compensate for the exhausting, uninspiring plot and cheap goofiness (revolving mostly only about the slightly annoying Johnny teasing Charlie) whose only purpose is to finally arrive at the finale that culminates in the fist fights of the two stars and their opponents.

Grade:+

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles; fantasy comedy, USA, 1990; D: Steve Barron, S: Michelan Sisti, Josh Pais, David Forman, Leif Tilden, Judith Hoag, Elias Kotes, James Saito, Corey Feldman (voice)

New York. Donatello, Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael are four humanoid ninja turtles created by radioactive waste and trained by Splinter, a rat who also mutated. The city is ravaged by the criminal Foot gang led by the evil Shredder, who manages to kidnap Splinter. The wounded turtle heroes escape and hide at an isolated farm together with the reporter April O'Neil and the crazy Casey Jones. Once recovered, they return to the city, free Splinter and defeat Shredder.

Some movies are watched today exclusively because they awake nostalgia for some old times. Among them are also the live action film "Ninja Turtles" that have - despite their flaws and limitations - even been proclaimed by some critics as "the best possible movie about Teenage Turtles". Still, the film got an average grade of only 4.8 on the critics' site Rotten Tomatoes which is really too little. It is a sympathetic little (independent) cult flick that contains sufficient charm (for instance, in one scene some man is reading the headline of the "New York Post" that states: "Crime wave hits the town" while some kid is stealing a wallet from his jacket at the same time; the claustrophobia joke; Raphael exits the cinema displaying the title "Critters" and says: "Urgh. Where do they come up with this stuff?") and neatly uses the old method of slow revelation of the protagonists in the exposition (at first, the four Turtles are not directly shown, just their shadows) and one must praise the decision of the authors to remain faithful to the original they are adapting (obviously, Krang and his Technodrome are not shown because it would have been too expensive for the modest budget, but the costumes for the Turtles are simply amazing). Since the story is more aimed towards kids and youngsters, one can get irritated by the overstretched ending which ran out of ideas and inspiration, but the movie as a whole has just enough spirit and successful gags to offer a small pleasure that does not need to be analyzed too much.

Grade:++

Napoleon Dynamite


Napoleon Dynamite; Comedy, USA, 2004; D: Jared Hess, S: Jon Heder, Jon Gries, Efren Ramirez, Aaron Ruell, Diedrich Bader, Tina Majorino

The somewhat strange teenager Napoleon Dynamite lives with his grandmother and his 32-year old brother Kip. After the grandmother gets injured, Napoleon's uncle Rico shows up in order to watch after them, persuading Kip to help him sell various products. Napoleon is an outsider in high school, making friends with Pedro. In order to find a girlfriend for the school dance, Napoleon draws a picture of Trish in order to win her affections. She agrees, but dumps him on the dance, yet Deborah saves the thing by deciding to dance with him. Later on, Napoleon tries to help Pedro get elected as the class president and hooks up with Deborah.

Hated by some, hailed by others, this independent cult comedy is a (deliberately) strange experience, a plotless, pointless, shapeless, yet charming little film about teenage outsiders living in a province surrounded by sand dunes, whose potential sympathies depend a lot about the viewer's taste. Basically, the movie isn't about anything except random vignettes from teenage lives, yet it's shifted tone and surreal setting somehow give it a dose of irony, while Jon Heder is simply hilarious as the unusual title protagonist. The straightforward direction by Jared Hess never even once pretends to be anything more than a relaxed parody somewhere between trash and pulp, and in that it succeeds completely, while none of the gags are something extraordinary, but even their simple basis has appeal, like in the scene where Napoleon tests the (obviously) non-functional time machine shaped like a box that was bought by Kip from the Internet. It's not a film for everyone, but if you're in the mood for something surreal, then this unusual comedy is rather modestly amusing.

Grade:++

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Memoirs of an Invisible Man


Memoirs of an Invisible Man; fantasy thriller comedy, USA, 1992; D: John Carpenter, S: Chevy Chase, Daryl Hannah, Sam Neill, Michael McKean, Stephen Tobolowsky
San Francisco. Unknown, lonely stock analyst Nick Halloway meets the beautiful Alice and falls in love with her. The next day, while attending a conference in a laboratory, he falls asleep. But due to an accident, half of the building becomes invisible, and when he wakes up, he notices he became invisible himself! That's why one government official is chasing him with his crew, ignoring his boss, in order to use him as an agent. Nick hides at Alice's place and tells her about his trouble and she helps him. After the government man dies, the case is shut up and Nick, still invisible, and Alice go to live in the mountains.

"Memoirs of an Invisible Man", although not critically acclaimed, are the best film in which Chevy Chase starred in, in for him unusually serious edition. The open-ended conclusion is undoubtedly weak, but the whole story up to it leaves a high, inventive impression in exploring the theme of an invisible man - from the visual style, like when the smoke from the cigarette forms his invisible lungs or when the mirror shows just Alice's reflection, but then the camera turns around and shows her together with Nick, up to the symbolic story and motif of lonely, unnoticed people. Director John Carpenter rises to the occasion, showing his surprisingly good sixth sense for romance, humor and drama, the screenplay by Robert Collector, Dana Olsen and William Goldman is wonderfully structured, incorporating a political subtext and a great film noir narration of the protagonist that blends in with the Hitchcockian mood, some moments are outstanding (Nick threatening the operative Jenkins in his office, telling him that his soul is the only thing he has left) while the action is also interesting and well conceptualized, together with the aesthetic mood. Even though it will probably remain "invisible" in the cinema history and criticized by many for all the wrong reasons, "The Invisible Man" is a stylistically pleasant and very competently made mainstream film.

Grade:+++

In the Mouth of Madness


In the Mouth of Madness; Horror, USA, 1995; D: John Carpenter, S: Sam Neill, Julie Carmen, Jürgen Prochnow, David Warner, John Glover, Charlton Heston

In a mental asylum, John Trent is screaming and talking with a psychiatrist about how he came here: he was a private detective and, together with Linda, got the assignment to find Sutter Cane, the missing writer of a horror novel. But there were traces that the evil forces from the novel truly came to life: when John and Linda drove to the town Hobb's End, they discover it''s almost identical with the town from the book. Then monsters showed up and kidnapped Linda, while Cane showed up to John and gave him his newest novel, "In the Mouth of Madness" in which he is the main protagonist. John escaped, but simply couldn't get rid of the book that got published all by itself and caused violence throughout the world. John gets out of the asylum and watches a movie about his events, laughing at it.

The second best John Carpenter film in the 1990's, right after "Memoirs of an Invisible Man", "In the Mouth of Madness" is an intelligent and philosophical horror that queues small but fine stylish details and procedures, and not disgust from excessive use of horror. The movie didn't do well at the box office and has a few disappointing moments, but it unravels just fine. It's intriguing when John Trent (Neill) draws crosses on his face to protect himself from Cane, as well as the scary story in which it seems he became just a character in Cane's book, whereas it's especially amusing how he tries to get rid of the novel by burning it, but it just keeps appearing all by itself again and again. It's a pity Carpenter didn't go a step further and turned it into a metafilm art-horror because there are still a few banal scenes and monsters that weren't used properly - for instance, John is in one scene chased by a bunch of monsters, but in the next they are gone and won't appear ever again. It seemed they are just designed for one time use, but this still remains a rather clever film.

Grade:++

Monday, 24 March 2008

They Live


They Live;f antasy / satire, USA, 1988; D: John Carpenter, S: Roddy Piper, Keith David, Meg Foster, George 'Buck' Flower, Peter Jason, Raymond St. Jacques, Susan Barnes
A homeless man is searching for a job in Los Angeles. He finds work at a construction site and meets Frank who takes him to a local shantytown. Accidentally, he discovers the local church is actually just a facade for a group who fights against social oppressors. After the police crackdown, he finds one of their special sunglasses and is shocked to find out they work as an X-ray device, showing the real world in black and white - where alien ghouls have secretly taken the identity of the people and rule the world through TV and industry. He meets Holly and persuades Frank to join him and the group. The two of them enter an underground hallway where they attack the local TV station that airs the alien signals. Holly kills Frank and him, but he manages to destroy the antenna, making everyone realize they are among them for the first time.

"They Live" wasn't a box office hit because the audience thought, considering it was directed by John Carpenter, that it was just another of his typical horror slasher films, but it wasn't at all - not by a long shot. It is one of the most surprising films of the 1980's, since one would have expected Carpenter to be the last person capable of making such a sharp social commentary and a biting satire on totalitarian society, equal even to George Orwell's "Nineteen Eighty-Four". From the exposition where the homeless hero is searching for any kind of job and hears numerous paroles about social injustice, exploitation of the poor people and injustice of the rich class, the story quietly sets up all of it's means necessary to start to the main plot tangle when he finds a special kind of sunglasses, puts them on - and realizes they work as an X-ray device, showing the real world humans can't see.

For instance, he spots an ordinary looking billboard for a computer add, but when he puts the glasses on he sees the real, subliminal message behind it: "Obey". He looks at a woman in a bikini and sees: "Marry and reproduce". And then he goes on and on through the town, discovering all sorts of hidden messages in adds and magazines; "Consume", "Conform", "No Independent thought"...the highlight is when he spots some dollar notes in a man's hand and sees: "This is your God". The fantastic thing about this amazing concept, based on Ray Nelson's short story "Eight O'Clock in the Morning", is that it actually has sense and seems timeless, mocking the human ignorance who was unable to notice how they are actually ruled by evil aliens who brainwashed them with propaganda, subversively creating an anti-establishment punch that is powerful, even though the story could have been more versatile, better made and different than the standard action finale. It's obvious Carpenter made a sly slap at yuppies, lobbyists and dictators who are "among us", but we cannot detect them. Rarely was there such an example of subersive cinema.

Grade:+++

Starman


Starman; Science-fiction drama, USA, 1984; D: John Carpenter, S: Jeff Bridges, Karen Allen, Charles Martin Smith, Richard Jaeckel, Robert Phalen, Tony Edwards, John Walter Davis

The Voyager probe arrives at some planet and starts playing it's recordings of greetings since it's found by aliens. A UFO crash lands on Earth. An alien comes out of it and, using the DNA from a lock of hair, takes the human shape of Scott, the deceased husband of Jenny, asking her to bring him to Arizona where he can go back home. Jenny is at first baffled, but still decides to help him, starting a long journey in their car, while the military is hunting them down. He leaves in a spaceship and she becomes pregnant by him.

John Carpenter directed the film brilliantly, retaining more on funny misadventures of the alien in human form - thus giving a lot of inevitable observations about our culture - and less about the philosophical questions about its alien world, for which he had a great support in the leading actor Jeff Bridges who delivered a wonderful job portraying a slightly "off" character, for which he was nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe as best actor: he acts calmly and always in control even though it is obvious he is out of place on Earth, saying childish lines about traffic lights ("When it's red, don't drive. Green, drive. Yellow, drive very fast.") and imitates the actions of the woman of his body, thus when she kisses a man in the mouth, he does the same; whereas there were also a few clever tricks inserted into the story, like the opening with the Voyager probe playing The Rolling Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" or when the author uses subtitles when the alien protagonists is using his incomprehensible language. It's one of Carpenter's most harmless, gentlest films, and even though a lot more could have been made out of the simple road movie concept, it's still a quality made, touching romantic variation of "E.T." - and the scene where Bridges touches a dead deer and brings it back to life is the most miraculous and enchanting moment in all of Carpenter's films.

Grade:++

Sunday, 23 March 2008

Sex, Lies, and Videotape


Sex, Lies, and Videotape; Drama, USA, 1989; D: Steven Soderbergh, S: Andie MacDowell, James Spader, Laura San Giacomo, Peter Gallagher, Ron Vawter, Steven Brill, Alexandra Root

Ann often talks with her psychiatrist about her problems. She is married to the successful lawyer John, but doesn't like intercourse. Actually, she never had an orgasm. He sister Cynthia, on the other hand, adores intercourse and has an affair with John. Graham, John's friend, moves in into the neighborhood and becomes Ann's friend, admitting he is impotent, but that he is excited by tapes of women who talk about their erotic experiences. Ann allows him to tape her and admits she doesn't like intercourse only because she wants to be different than Cynthia. Ann and Graham manage to become intimate together and start a relationship.

Even though at first sight it seems like some cheap porn, the movie that brought fame to Steven Soderbergh is everything but that: it's an extremely sophisticated, intelligent and subtle drama about frigidity and impotence revolving around only 4 characters, equipped with an almost metaphysical atmosphere. The cleverly written story manifested the metamorphosis of two people who can't enjoy in intercourse - Ann is frigid, Graham is impotent - until they meet and finally find that what's missing in their life in each other. Besides opulent dialogues ("It's not always great to be happy"; Ann is noticed by some funny guy in a bar who just happens to wear a shirt with the same color and jokingly flirts with her by saying: "You wear red, I wear red...a lot for this joint!") and meticulously measured execution of the introverted story, it's also interesting to note that this independent film contains almost no erotic at all, since it's more thought provocative than just provocative. The film won the Golden Palm in Cannes and was nominated for 2 BAFTA awards (screenplay, supporting actress Laura San Giacomo), 3 Golden Globes (screenplay, actress Andie MacDowell, supporting actress L. San Giacomo) and an Oscar (screenplay).

Grade:+++

Stargate


Stargate; Science-Fiction, USA, 1994; D: Roland Emmerich, S: James Spader, Kurt Russell, Alexis Cruz, Mili Avital, Jaye Davidson, Viveca Lindfors, John Diehl, Djimon Hounsou

Archaeologists discover a mysterious, giant stone ring in Egypt. Decades later, Egyptologist Daniel is offered to translate the hieroglyphs of the ring, helf in an Air Force installation. He manages to translate it and soon discovers the rings is actually a Stargate to another planet, which would prove that the pyramids were built by aliens. When the crew opens the portal, Daniel, Colonel Jack and a few other soldiers enter it and come to a desert planet. They meet a bunch of nomad people who worship them because they wear a Ra amulet. They quickly meet the real Ra, an alien dictator who took a form of a boy to prolong his life. Together with the people, the start an uprising and kill Ra and his spaceships. Daniel stays on the planet, while the soldiers return.

It's nice to find a big budget Hollywood film that tackles the subject of the paleocontact thesis of Erich von Däniken and gives a run for the money to all those who are not satisfied with the theories that the pyramids were built by people, even if the final result is rather mild and mainstream. The first third of the film is really fantastic, tickling the imagination of the viewers by showing how a mysterious stone ring was found in Egypt, which turns out to be a Stargate to another planet. When the protagonists enter the portal and arrive at an unknown desert planet, the story just picks up even more steam, but it quickly sizzles off into the typical mainstream standard in which the concept wasn't exploited enough - at times it seems Roland Emmerich and his partner Dean Devlin didn't know what to do with the story - while the dry finale turns into a cheap action spectacle. Still, the desert landscapes are great, Jaye Davidson is fantastic as the alien dictator Ra, the Cinematography by Karl Walter Lindenlaub is crystal clear and some attempts at thought provoking elements are neat, even though the story rarely grows out to be anything more than a light philosophical entertainment.

Grade:++

Saturday, 22 March 2008

Henry V


Henry V; drama, UK, 1989; D: Kenneth Branagh, S: Kenneth Branagh, Derek Jacobi, Paul Scofield, Michael Maloney, Brian Blessed, Richard Briers, Robbie Coltrane, Judi Dench, Ian Holm, Christian Bale, Emma Thompson

The young Henry V (1387-1422) becomes the king of England and raises the church tax, infuriating the Canterbury. He persuade Henry to attack the French territory and finish the long war against the king Charles V, whose son decided not to pay a big amount of money, jokingly sending balls to Henry. Henry removes the three counts who betrayed and cheated him and goes to fight the French. He conquers an important fortress, but Charles V threatens to kill him if he continues. The following day a big battle starts, but even though there are 5 times more French soldiers than the English, Henry still manages to win, thus Charles V gives him the crown and Catherine for his wife.

"Henry V" affirmed director Kenneth Branagh as a big admirer of William Shakespeare whose plays he will continue to adapt to the big screen ("Hamlet", "Much Ado About Nothing"). "Henry V" is considered to be Branagh's best film because it has a lot of qualities: instead of paying the taxes, the French heir jokingly sends the English king some tennis balls, making him comment that "thousands will weep more than laugh at that joke". A vertiginous friend recommends him: "When you become a king, don't hang thieves!", while the story is told by a narrator from the 20th Century in a modern coat who walks by the protagonists. Still, Branagh doesn't know how to intrigue - when he leads his monologues that last up to 5 minutes or theatrical lines, it's inevitable that boredom appears and the concentration of the viewer falls. Branagh was nominated for an Oscar for best actor and director, while the costume design won the award, and a BAFTA was awarded to Branagh as best director.

Grade:++

Body Double


Body Double; Thriller, USA, 1984; D: Brian De Palma, S: Craig Wasson, Gregg Henry, Deborah Shelton, Melanie Griffith, Guy Boyd, Dennis Franz

Los Angeles. Jake Scully is a struggling actor who is unable to play a part of a vampire in a cheap horror movie because he can't stand up from a coffin due to his claustrophobia. When he returns home he catches his wife having an affair and moves out. During a casting session, he meets Sam and accepts his offer to share an apartment high in the hills. Sam shows him a telescope with which he can observe a stripping woman in a neighboring mansion, Gloria. One night, Jake spots a killer in her house and runs to save her, but comes too late - she is murdered by a drilling machine. Some time later, Jake spots a porn with a blond actress, Holly, and reports to play a role in her new film. He tells her he is a porn producer and then finds out she was actually the woman stripping in Gloria's house. He finds Sam actually killed Gloria and confronts him. Sam is killed by his dog.

In the 1980's, Brian De Palma dropped his homages to Hitchcock and filmed an outright imitation of his thrillers with "Body Double", using variations of his acclaimed films "The Rear Window" and "Vertigo" - but the result was a cheap attempt at imitating and dropped into trash once too often. The film starts out promisingly, with De Palma's trademark absorbing style, but the story keeps stumbling more and more into illogical plot holes until it becomes downright unintentionally comical. For instance, the long sequence where Jake is following Gloria in a car through L.A., until he parks and follows her by foot through the mall - his "discretion" is so lame that it's silly to even assume she can't notice him, especially in the scene where she is trying out a new underwear in a shop, but forgot to close her changing cubicle allowing him to see everything through the window! The moment where he runs after the man who stole her purse, but suddenly brokenly stops in a hallway, while the camera zooms in and out of the exit so that his claustrophobia can look like Stewart's fear of heights from "Vertigo", is amateurish. Not to mention the sole murder sequence - the killer strangles Gloria, but she manages to knock him over and they fall on the bed. She gets up, and what does she do? Instead of running out of the house, she stays in the same room with the unconscious killer and tries to call the police - until he wakes up and kills her with a drilling machine! The plot twist at the end gives the film some justification, Melanie Griffith, nominated for a Golden Globe, is great, the haunting music is esoteric, some scenes are brilliantly directed (the frog perspective of the killer throwing soil down the grave he digged for the protagonist), but they can't save it from implausibility.

Grade:+

Friday, 21 March 2008

Citizen Kane


Citizen Kane; drama, USA, 1941; D: Orson Welles, S: Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Dorothy Comingore, Ruth Warrick, Everett Sloane, George Coulouris, Paul Stewart, William Alland, Agnes Moorehead

Enormous castle Xanadu, somewhere in Florida. Before it's owner, the old millionaire Charles Foster Kane, dies, he utters his last words: "Rosebud". The newsreel sums up Kane's life, but a reporter decides to investigate his rarely heard private life. He questions Kane's second wife, Susan, and his living friend Leland. He discovers Kane was born to a poor family and had to leave his beloved mother to live with Mr. Thatcher so that he can become wealthy. In New York, Kane took over the Enquirer newspaper and got married to Emily. But when he was a candidate for the president, his reputation was destroyed when his opponent revealed his relationship with singer Susan. The reporters fail to find out anything about "Rosebud". Some men throw his old things into the fire - among them his old sled named Rosebud.

It's probably unnecessary to point out that "Citizen Kane", the directorial debut of the then only 26 year old Orson Welles, is considered to be a masterpiece and even "the best film of all time" by some critics. Of course, there is no such thing as a film that will please absolutely everyone, and thus it is possible that one man's masterpiece can be an other man's bad film, which explains why numerous people do not understand "Kane's" reputation and question what is so special about its 2 hours of running time that distinguish it so much from thousands of others 2 hour films. Indeed, it is a very demanding and heavy film, and already the first 10 minutes of it are so complicated and crammed with numerous details and stylistic techniques that some will probably abandon it. But precisely the fact that the authors placed so many details and visual innovations on such a small scale shows why "Kane's" 2 hours are worth more 4 hours of some other films. Because of its hermetic nature and highly complicated style, only the New York Film Critics Circle Awards bravely awarded it as the best picture of 1941.

The film is really filled with an incredible visual style: deep focus, unusual camera angles; dissolution of scenes; a photo of the staff of the Chronicle newspaper becomes "alive" in next scene; a person starts a sentence and a cut goes to a different scene where another person finishes it; a hand darkens the whole lens of the camera...But despite all of those tricks, there lies a touching, humane, intimate story about the main hero, a rich man without childhood. The legendary sequence where his dying words are "Rosebud" just shows how he achieved great success, material prosperity, luxury, riches and power, but realized it all does not matter because he felt his life was empty - the only thing he cared about was his sled, a symbol of his lost childhood. Whether Kane is based on a real person is besides the point since its emphasis was to show how wealth alone will not fill the gaps in lives of celebrities. There is this great sequence that is rarely mentioned in reviews of this film, but is essential to demonstrate that theme: after his divorce, the old Kane realizes how nothing matters in his life. He starts wrecking everything in his room: furniture, statues, lamps, until he stops at the only thing that means something to him, a snow glass ball that reminds him of "Rosebud", and quietly leaves, passing by a set of mirrors that reflect his image within the image. "Kane" is a great film precisely because it combined substance and style into a marvelous match.

Grade:++++

Obsession


Ossessione; Drama, Italy, 1942; D: Luchino Visconti, S: Massimo Girotti, Clara Calamai, Juan De Landa, Dhia Cristiani, Elio Marcuzzo

Wandering tramp Gino is traveling in a truck. When he gets thrown out, he comes to an isolated restaurant where he gets a job by the owner, who is also a singer. There Gino falls in love with the owner's wife Giovanna. She constantly tells him how she loves him and hates her husband. Gino leaves the restaurant and meets and old friend in the train. He gives him a job but Gino once again meets Giovanna and her husband in the city. When the husband gets drunk, they use the chance and kill him, setting it up as an car accident. The police investigates the case and the couple becomes nervous in the restaurant. Due to bad conscience, Gino leaves her, but returns after he finds out she is pregnant. The car turns over and Giovanna dies in an accident.

"Obsession", the directorial debut of the famous Luchino Visconti, is an illegal adaptation of J.M. Cain's novel "The Postman Always Rings Twice" that shocked the audience back in 1942 with it's nihilism and realism. But despite an enormous pessimism, Visconti still has some kind of an unexplainable motherly care for his touching tragic heroes. The main protagonist is the jobless, homeless Gino, and the director immediately describes his counter partner, Giovanna, in the scene where he pays for his food in the restaurant, but she hides his money and tells the owner he didn't, in order to keep him close since he will have to repay his debt by doing numerous jobs around her place. That little detail sums pretty much everything there is to be said about her. This unusual film present a desperate Femme Fatale who wants to escape her life and thus says monologues like these: "You don't know how it is to be a young woman with an old husband. Every time he touches me with his greasy fingers I want to scream!" or "Gino, I'm pregnant. From now on my breasts will become larger every day". Not your typical 1940's lines, or even today. A virtuoso directed neorealist thriller-drama about obsession, lust and manipulation, where the romantic touch was actually wonderfully infiltrated into the dark story as a whole.

Grade:+++

Thursday, 20 March 2008

The Little Mermaid


The Little Mermaid; animated romantic musical, USA, 1989; D: Ron Clements, John Musker, S: Jodi Benson, Samuel E. Wright, Christopher Daniel Barnes, Pat Carroll, Paddi Edwards, Buddy Hackett, Jason Marin, Nancy Cartwright

Ariel is a 16-year old mermaid, the youngest daughter of Triton, the god of sea. She misses a concert in which she should have sung because she went to collect human objects on a sunken ship. Crab Sebastian gets the assignment to observe her and is shocked when she saves the life of a human, Eric, who almost drowned, and falls in love with him. In order to become a human herself and seduce Eric, she makes a contract with witch Ursula and sells her voice. Ariel, now mute, tries to make Eric fall in love with her. Ursula, though, cheats and becomes the new ruler of the sea. But Eric kills her with a ship and marries Ariel.

No Disney girl was ever so deeply in love as it was Ariel in their animated version of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Mermaid". Most virtues of the film are drained precisely out of thoroughbred presented love story in which the strong and independent heroine sacrifices herself to gain the love of her life: so beautiful are the scenes in which she observes Eric from a long distance and sings how "something is happening now" and how he will "one day be part of her world", whereas her facial expressions are meticulously drawn by classic animation and perfectly conjure even her smallest gestures and emotions (her silent smile while the seagull is standing on her leg and does not know what is "different" about her or her reaction to Sebastian who wants to return back to the sea and report everything to her father). Despite childish humor and thin character development, her persistence is so enchanting that the first half of the story is excellent, but the second one inconsistently continues that concept: the increasingly intimate relationship between Ariel and Eric is disrupted hectically with fillers (too many unnecessary scenes such as the one where Sebastian is getting chased by a cook etc.) and by ellipses, while the rushed finale is even more chaotic than the one in "Aladdin". "Mermaid" is indeed an interesting Walt Disney movie that rejuvenated the studio while the legendary song, "Under the Sea", is perfect and deservedly won an Oscar and a Golden Globe, but due to the weaker second half it still does not reach the grasp of such masterworks of romantic animation, like "Maison Ikkoku".

Grade:+++

The Apple Game


Hra o jablko; romantic comedy, Czech Republic, 1976; D: Vera Chytilová, S: Dagmar Bláhová, Jiří Menzel, Evelyna Steimarová, Jirí Kodet, Jirí Lábus, Tereza Kucerova
Young Anna finds a job in a maternity hospital. She is a pretty clumsy nurse who can't even correctly connect the machines to the electricity, but one day she helps a woman deliver a baby. Anna falls in love with the Doctor John and starts a relationship with him, but he is rather cold towards her and cheats on her with a woman married to his colleague. When Anna becomes pregnant John finally starts to love her, but she leaves him.

After her probably most significant films, satire "Daisies" and drama "Fruit of Paradise", Czech director Vera Chytilova was forced to a 7 year pause by the pseudo-Communists, but she returned with this comedy entitled "The Apple Game". The exposition is typically avantgarde and grotesque for Chytilova: the camera records the branches of trees in wide angle lens, distorting them to look almost surreal. A music is heard in the background that suddenly stops, but the musician-narrator is heard saying: "Oh, on which page am I...Oh, yes" and then it starts playing again. In the maternity hospital the camera directly shoots a woman giving birth to a child, while milk is dripping from a mother's nipple: all pretty extreme and radical, but the story then quickly turns for 180 degrees and becomes very calm, gentle, touching, sweet and feminine. The main character of the clumsy nurse Anna (excellent Dagmar Blahova) who falls in love with the doctor John (Jiri Menzel, the famous Czech director) is opulent. The film is filled with neat moments: for instance, when John gets drunk and falls asleep in a bar, she drags him to a taxi and brings him to her bedroom - thus he is surprised when he wakes up in the morning in his underwear. In the other, Anna takes her clothes off in a meadow and remains topless, causing a slight surprise to John ("Aren't you ashamed?" - "But there is nobody here." - "And me?" - "You're a doctor!") and warming her bare breasts over the fire. The film is flawed, but very fun, irresistible and "Czech".

Grade:+++

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water


Fushigi no Umi no Nadia; Animated fantasy/ adventure series, Japan, 1990; D: Hideaki Anno, S: Yoshino Takamori, Noriko Hidaka, Yuko Mizutani, Akio Otsuka, Kumiko Takizawa, Kenyu Horiuchi

Paris, 19th Century. Teenage genius inventor Jean attends an invention exhibit and saves the mysterious Nadia and her grey cat from evil woman called Grandis and their two clumsy assistants Samson and Hanson. Jean immediately falls in love with Nadia and decides to bring her to Africa with his improvised plane, because she believes there is her home. But due to a malfunction, they fall into the Mediterranean sea and get into the submarine led by Captain Nemo. He releases them and they go to a mysterious island of the evil organisation New Atlantis that wants to use Nadia's magical blue rock to destroy the world. But their satellite destroys their won island, forcing Jean, Nadia and the orphan Marie to run back to Nemo's crew. In the end, Nautilus goes to space and destroys the spaceship of the evil organisation. Jean and Nadia get married.

Despite a few extraordinary and imaginative episodes, "Nadia - The Secret of Blue Water" isn't a completely satisfying anime because it's dominated by machines and plot devices, and not by the more wanted enchanting characters, humor, romance or, the most important of all, magic. "Nadia" indeed has all those above mentioned virtues, even interesting characters like the attractive red haired bad/good woman Grandis who is already now a legend, but they somehow seem uneven in the end. The Nautilus submarine is of European heritage, but the ideas that Nadia discovers that Nemo is her father, Jean's dream where he imagines he invented a new sun and placed it in the sky, an island that travels through the sea because it's a modern, camouflaged ship or that the people of Atlantis have survived and now plan to take over the world are, without doubt, by it's genius from Japan's mentality. Hideaki Anno is a brilliant director, and the pilot episode knocks you over with his talent, but his biggest flaw is the studio he works for, Gainax, that was so cheap at the budget that it even created a few mistakes in inserting gigantic filler episodes (Jean and Nadia ignore each other 90 % of the time which is a pity) that wreck the structure of the story with the infamous "Island episodes" and dumb, excessive chases from Europe to Africa, sometimes even falling into trash, like in the episode where Nadia discovers she is an alien! Out of 39 episodes there are too many of those that are unnecessary, but the ending is without doubt excellent (among others, the spaceship crashes with the Eiffel tower), hinting how Anno really has potentials, which were shown 5 years later in his masterwork "Shin Seiki Evangelion".

Grade:++

Gigi


Gigi; Musical, USA, 1958; D: Vincente Minnelli, S: Leslie Caron, Louis Jordan, Hermione Gingold, Maurice Chevalier, Eva Gabor, Jacques Bergerac, Isabel Jeans

Paris around 1900. Old Honore tells how he likes young girls, especially the naive Gigi. She lives in a small apartment with her grandmother, a former courtesan, and is educated by her aunt Alicia who teaches her that a lady must be polite in marriage, but that men are not faithful. Honore's grandchild is the rich Gaston who is bored in life and has a relationship with the older Liane, but leaves her after he catches her kissing an instructor. Gaston often sees Gigi and falls in love with her after taking her to sea. The grandmother refuses that Gaston should be Gigi's lover until he promises that he will take care of her in his house. After a long hesitation, Gigi accepts, but he leaves her on a fancy party. Still, he marries her in the end.

Humorous musical "Gigi" offers a pompous set-design, costumes and songs, it won 3 Golden Globes (best motion picture - musical or comedy, director, supporting actress Hermione Gingold) and even 9 Oscars (including best picture, director and screenplay) but with time it became dated and boring. It's not clear at all why Vincente Minnelli won an Oscar for best director because he crafted it completely conventional, making some movie buffs question what the academy means by "best director", but at least the movie's running time are reasonable 2 hours, unlike the overrated musical "My Fair Lady" that lasts for overlong 3 hours. It's still interesting to watch how authors transformed such a tricky subject revolving around courtesans into a cheerful and innocent song parade, filled with amusingly camouflaged "sympathies" towards lust (in the exposition, the old Honore looks into the camera and tells how he likes young girls) and occasional quirky dialogues between him and the sleepy Gaston ("They bore me!" - "But I know them longer than you, ever since childhood. How do you then think they bore me?" or "Isn't the Eiffel tower amazing?" - "How high was it yesterday?" - "1.000 feet." - "And how high will it be tomorrow?" - "1.000 feet." - "That's boring!"). It's amusing, for instance, when all the guests "freeze" when Gaston enters a restaurant, but the dancing sequences don't have any charm and fail to turn into something special. Also, Gigi ends up as a one-dimensional character while the camera is stiff. "Gigi" is a good light film, but today it's more than obvious that it was overshadowed by such classics like "Touch of Evil", "The Hidden Fortress" and "Vertigo", none of which were even nominated for best picture that year.

Grade:++

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Taxi Driver


Taxi Driver; Drama, USA, 1976; D: Martin Scorsese, S: Robert De Niro, Cybill Shepherd, Peter Boyle, Jodie Foster, Harvey Keitel, Albert Brooks, Leonard Harris

New York. Travis Bickle is a lonely and depressed man suffering from Antisocial personality disorder. Since he has insomnia, he finds a job as a taxi driver at night but has little contact with his fellow colleagues. He falls in love with the blond Betsy, who works for the presidential campaign for Senator Palantine, and they go out for a date, but when he takes her to watch a porn movie, she breaks every contact with him. Travis becomes more and more depressed, buys a gun and leads monologues in front of the mirror. When he meets the 12-year old Iris, who is forced to work as a prostitute, he decides to free her. He kills her pimps and frees her, becoming a hero.

I still admire a critic who openly says that he didn't like "Taxi Driver". Not that it isn't a very well made film, but it's simply not for everyone's taste due to its extremely depressive and unpleasant story and characters, rounded up by painfully bleak mood, whereas its status and reputation grew so strong that it's really hard to judge it independently as we would an unknown, forgotten film. Winner of the Golden Palm in Cannes, a New York Film Critics Circle Award for best actor (Robert De Niro) and a BAFTA for best supporting actress (Jodie Foster), "Taxi Driver" is a bizarre modern retelling of Ford's "The Searchers": the music and sharp camera angles create suspense and interest even there where it isn't any (the big close up of Travis' eyes; the water splashing on the cab's windshield; a big zoom on aspirin sizzling off in the glass...) while the main concept still remains intriguing and daring.

Namely, Scorsese and screenwriter Paul Schrader bravely tackled the theme of loneliness and isolation - Travis Bickle doesn't have any friends, can't find a girlfriend and suffers from antisocial personality disorder. In his off narration, he says how "every day is the same" and how he is "God's loneliest man", whereas the authors show how his alienation turns him more and more into a psychopath who wants to find some meaning in his life. When he dates Betsy, he adores Senator Palantine for whom she works for, but when she breaks up with him, he changes his mind for 180 degrees and even considers assassinating him. These elements are much more interesting than the overhyped, classic scene where Travis looks into his mirror and says: "You're talking to me?" That's why it's justified that this is a one-man-show and all other characters are just little episodes in his life. The middle part of the film is heavily overstretched and aimless, but some fans argued that it just stays faithful to the motif of the film that shows how Travis' whole life is a boring mess and how he aimlessly wonders through the world desperately searching for some goal. Albert Brooks has a neat little role as Betsy's comic partner Tom who tries to light up a match with only two finger, but Foster, who was barely 14 when she shot the film, really steals the show as the underage prostitute Iris who finally gives Travis a goal in his life, underlying how everything in life needs to get in order.

Grade:+++

A Place in the Sun


A Place in the Sun; Drama, USA, 1951; D: George Stevens, S: Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor, Shelley Winters, Anne Revere, Keefe Brasselle, Fred Clark, Raymond Burr

Poor George Eastman arrives at the factory of his uncle who promised him a job. There he gets a modest place as a worker who sorts packages. One night he meets Alice in cinema, who also works in the factory, and falls in love with her. The young couple is happy up until one day George doesn't meet the rich Angela and also falls in love with her. But just then Alice announces she is pregnant so he decides to kill her on a boat in the lake. He changes his mind, but Alice drowns in an accident and he lands in prison.

Winner of one Golden Globe (best motion picture - drama) and 6 Oscars (best director, screenplay, cinematography, costume design, editing, music), "A Place in the Sun" is a touching and convincing achievement that works up until the slightly banal finale that is clumsy in entering the crime genre. Still, despite an uneven ending, "Place" is still an excellent film that isn't especially famous or glamorous, whereas Montgomery Clift is great in the leading role of George, a man torn between two women, where the story obviously hints at polyandry and explores that theme. Some scene are directed cheerfully (when George gets employed in the factory where all the workers are women, one of them "enthusiastically" whistles at his appearance) while some are very poetic (George and Alice passionately hug and the camera moves away to the view from the window. Then, in a time cut, the night on the window gets "replaced" by day and shows how George exits the house) despite the obvious stiff rules in the tame 50s, and director Stevens shows a very sophisticated sense for understanding his characters.

Grade:+++

Monday, 17 March 2008

Rocky


Rocky; Drama, USA, 1976; D: John G. Avildsen, S: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, Burgess Meredith

Rocky, an Italian boxer, never achieved a great success in his career, even though he is very strong. He earns his money as a debt collector and falls in love with a very shy and clumsy pet store clerk Adrian. But Rocky's life will change when he is accidentally selected to fight the heavyweight champion Apollo Creed. After a long training overlooked by his old mentor, Rocky loses the match but ends up with Adrian.

Interesting and uplifting "underdog" boxer drama "Rocky" was once very popular, but today it's slightly dated, wherein it didn't even help the 3 won Oscars (best motion picture, director, editing) and one Golden Globe (best motion picture - drama). Actually, the fact that John G. Avildsen won the Oscar for best director while that same year Scorsese wasn't even nominated for "Taxi Driver", can only cause chuckles from movie buffs. Still, "Rocky" is one very good film with a calm and well thought out iconography of old school, and its reputation would be even greater hadn't it been followed by weak sequels. Sylvester Stallone, nominated for an Oscar as best actor and screenwriter, gave probably the greatest performance of his career as the tough/ gentle title hero, even though he has an awful accent, but the small star of the story is the enchanting Talia Shire as the shy Adrian. Indeed, the sole character of Rocky is much more sympathetic when he jokingly calls Adrian towards himself in bed in order to "protect her from dangerous insects" than when he drinks raw egg yolks in a beer mug, but the characters and the naively optimistic story were still set up in an intelligent and ambitious way.

Grade:++

Coming Apart


Coming Apart; Drama, USA, 1969; D: Milton Moses Ginsberg, S: Rip Torn, Sally Kirkland, Darlene Cotton, Phoebe Dorin, Robert Blankshine, Julie Garfield, Viveca Lindfors

New York. Joe Glazer is a psychiatrist who placed a hidden camera in one of his pictures in order to film his affairs in his apartment. He encounters numerous women: a masochist who wants him to burn cigarettes on her chest; a blond with her baby; a former client; some girls on a party; his former girlfriend. Ultimately, he feels more and more depressed, until he shows the camera to a girl. In slow motion, one girl wrecks his whole apartment.

Cult underground experimental black and white art-drama "Coming Apart" caused a real sensation back in 1969 due to it's free use of erotic, foul language and voyeurism, and it's ferocity still seems undated - but everything else in it does not. The whole film is shot through one angle of the protagonist Joe's hidden camera in his apartment, creating a documentary feel to it, hence the story consists only out of long takes that last up to 10 minutes, but the static tone and the poor insight into the soul of the characters ultimately lead to boredom. All of the women that visit Joe are interesting, but one note episodes, and it doesn't seem that realistic that he could seduce almost everyone of them. In one particularly grim scene, he strips and holds a naked girl, Joann, upside down, casually joking around with her, but when she takes his photo to make a picture, he suddenly looses his temper and wrecks the whole positive mood built between them by aggressively shouting to let it down - obviously, he likes to observe others, but can't tolerate when someone wants to capture him on a photo. The naked girl then nonchalantly dances and tries to save the situation why fooling around, and goes to "ride" his leg like a cowboy. It's a funny moment, but since we don't see the girl anymore, all of her charms go away with her. Bizarrely, even those fascinating voyeuristic insights into private lives become monotone after a while, until this overlong one-sided film becomes just a solid piece of pale cinema.

Grade:+

Sunday, 16 March 2008

All the Way, Boys


Più forte, ragazzi!; Comedy, Italy, 1973; D: Giuseppe Colizzi, S: Bud Spencer, Terence Hill, Reinhard Kolldehoff, Carlos Munoz, Ricardo Pizzuti, Cyril Cusack

Latin America. Plata and Salud are two con men pilots who purposely crash planes so that their boss - Salud's brother - can cash in on the insurance. One day their plane really suffers a malfunction and crashes in the jungle. After a long walk, they meet emerald searchers and make friends with the old Matto, not taking his story about his treasure seriously. They even start their own airline delivery for the poor people, until the rich and evil Mr. Ears violently destroys their business. Of course, as a consequence, Plata and Salud beat up him and his men. They take Matto to their home, but he dies and leaves them their treasure. Still, the corrupt police arrest them and they run away from the country, having earned nothing.

Out of 17 films that Bud Spencer and Terence Hill made together, "All the Way, Boys" is among the ones that seem closest to a good, decent fun, and not just a 'guilty pleasure'. Their strange raw charm and mainstream humor work the best in the funny exposition when their characters purposely crash a plane, then continuing with a whole bunch of well thought out gags - for instance, in one scene they just "borrow" a car from a rich lady to get to a big town, then randomly finding a police officer and giving him the keys to the vehicle, nonchalantly saying: "Here, we found this lost car some 100 miles away from here." But, the middle of the film is heavily overstretched, vague and forced, dragging occasionally since it contains too many filler scenes, some of which are grittier than your run-of-the-mill Spencer and Hill movie, up until it returns back in shape with the hilarious finale. A very solid film with the best gags getting played out somewhere in the finale: after they beat up all the bad guys, the two heroes can't figure out what to do with them. So they just send them in a canoe drifting down the river, but then constantly bring up some random "details" they forgot, like: "The river has more piranhas than water." - "Oh, I forgot that there's a big waterfall just down the stream!" - "And maybe I shouldn't have made those three holes in their canoe."

Grade:+

Plan 9 from Outer Space


Plan 9 from Outer Space; Science-Fiction, USA, 1956; D: Edward D. Wood Jr., S: Gregory Walcott, Tor Johnson, Vampira, Mona McKinnon, Duke Moore, Carl Anthony, Dudley Manlove, John Breckinridge, Bela Lugosi

The narrator warns the viewer that he will discover the truth about UFOs. In an airplane, pilot Jeff spots a UFO and tells all about it to his wife Paula. The aliens, who look like people, are led by leader Eros and believe that the humans are too incompetent and that they could one day invent a Solar bomb that could destroy the Universe. Therefore they use electroshocks to wake up dead people from the graves that will scare the living to death. General Edwards speaks with Jeff and Paula while the corpse of Inspector Clay terrorizes people. Eros lets them into his UFO and they beat him and run away. His UFO explodes in the sky.

Among the anti-classics of cinema, cult C film "Plan 9 from Outer Space" has a distinguished role because it was once declared as "the worst film of all times" due to it's highly illogical and amateurish tone, but it's so fun that it's hard to throw it away, whereas there were hundreds of worse films made until today that don't make it look that bad anymore. It all starts with a monologue of the narrator Criswell and the tombstones with actors' names written on them (Burton paraphrased this surreal exposition almost scene for scene in his biography of the director, "Ed Wood") while the trashy plot is filled with absurd lines ("What in the world is that?" - "Nothing from this world!" / "He looked the roses planted by his wife...with her own hands!" / "The UFO attacked a town. A small town, indeed, but a town of people!" / "That's a strange story!" - "But a true one." - "That's why it's so strange!"). Director Edward D. Wood Jr. naively crafted the film, inserting a few scenes with the deceased Bela Lugosi while the rest of his role was filled by an actor who cowered his face the whole time, whereas the sequence of Inspector Clay's rise from the grave is howlingly funny, hilariously unintentionally comical, as is anyway the whole film. The main problem with the ridiculous Sci-Fi story is that Wood actually took it seriously, instead of taking a distance and turning it into a parody, something what the Monty Pythons would have done, because this could have only worked as a comedy.

Grade:+

Saturday, 15 March 2008

The Long Good Friday


The Long Good Friday; Crime, UK, 1980; D: John Mackenzie, S: Bob Hoskins, Helen Mirren, Dave King, Derek Thompson, Paul Freeman, Kevin McNally, P. H. Moriarty, Bryan Marshall, Eddie Constantine, Pierce Brosnan

London. Gangster Harold Shand controls a criminal empire built on every vice. For his next racket, he plans to buy up London dock yards and redevelop them for the '88 Olympics. Yet on Good Friday when Harold meets with an American Mafia chief Charlie to seal their financial partnership, somebody kills two of his right-hand men, Colin and Eric, attempts to murder his mother and blows up his favorite pub. His girlfriend Victoria tries to keep Charlie calm while Harold violently questions every gang in town, but doesn't find out nothing. Later on, he discovers his assistant Jeff sent Colin to a failed money deal with IRA, and kills him. He then kills the IRA member but Charlie notifies him that he doesn't feel safe investing. When Harold enters his limousine, two men kidnap him.

This masterful cult crime film neatly stayed faithful to the classic, old school Cagney gangster films from the 30s and 40s, only minimally modifying their formula for the 1980s, becoming influential and very realistic without exaggerated violence, music spot style or "in your face" moments. Calm and measured, John Mackenzie's direction at first encircles how gangster boss Harold investigates in order to find out who his "invisible enemy" who is bombing all his favorite places really is, crafting a few amazing moments that get under your skin: for instance, he and his men visit an informer and question him if he knows anything about Eric. "What's wrong with Eric?" he asks. "Well, let me put it this way - except that his brains are 50 yards away from his ass, he is all fine!", responds Harold. The neat scene where the camera looks outside the pub's window and spots Harold's limousine approaching, then cutting right to the driver's perspective inside it when an explosion destroys the pub, is effective, while the sequence where Harold's men let the suspicious gangsters hang upside down in the freezer like meat should be considered a classic. It's true that some nostalgic viewers over hype the film and make it sound "more dangerous" than it is, while the "open ending" isn't as great or as mysterious as its reputation, yet it still hits the right note despite a few flaws and the esoteric score is fantastic. Actor Bob Hoskins was nominated for a BAFTA.

Grade:+++

Revolutionary Girl Utena - The Movie


Shôjo kakumei Utena: Adolescence mokushiroku; Animated fantasy drama, Japan, 1999; D: Kunihiko Ikuhara, S: Tomoko Kawakami, Yuriko Fuchizaki, Yuka Imai, Takehito Koyasu, Takeshi Kusao, Chieko Honda, Aya Hisakawa, Kotono Mitsuishi

The futuristic school Ohtori gets a new student, Utena, a tomboy girl with short pink hair who wants to become like a prince who once comforted her while she was a little child. Arrogant Saionji, the "owner" of the girl Anthy, challenges her to a sword fencing duel. Utena wins and "gains" Anthy in whom she falls in love. She soon discovers that her prince is Touge and that Anthy wants to run away from her brother Akio. Utena transforms into a car that is driven by Anthy, and thus they escape to a different world together.

Unusual director Kunihiko Ikuhara ("Sailor Moon") enjoys a high reputation, but his famous anime series "Utena" is rather overrated: the surreal "story" was overstretched beyond any measure while the metaphors were irritating. "Utena - the Movie" is an even weaker achievement, closer to Fellini's "Eight and a Half" and Godard's numerous abstract films without a story, but it's still a good film. Ikuhara crams everything with the craziest symbols (when a grown man rapes the boy Touga in the garden suddenly little fairies in the form of girl Shiori are "born" from cabbages) and references to the manga and series (a cameo appearance by Nanami as a cow who fights with the mouse Chu-Chu) therefore leaving all interpretations to the viewers, especially the ones if Utena and Anthy are having a lesbian relationship or are maybe just one and the same person or if are they going through the illogical world of adolescence, but to many that will be all the same. In his audio commentary on the DVD Ikuhara even himself admitted he doesn't know anymore what all the symbols meant, and stated how many didn't want to make the mad ending.

Grade:++

Friday, 14 March 2008

Mission to Mars


Mission to Mars; Science-Fiction/ Adventure, USA, 2000; D: Brian De Palma, S: Gary Sinise, Don Cheadle, Connie Nielsen, Tim Robbins, Jerry O'Connell, Peter Outerbridge, Jill Teed, Armin Mueller-Stahl

A farewell party is underway for 4 astronauts who are about to go to Mars. But once there, they get swallowed by a sand storm. Months later a new space crew is sent to a rescuing mission, but once in the planet's orbit they start loosing their oxygen supply due to a malfunction on the spaceship. Commander Woody tries to fix it and catch the resupply module, but gets lost in space and commits suicide by taking his helmet off. With a capsule, co-Commander Jim and his crew manage to land on Mars and discover that astronaut Luke survived. They get to the giant Cydonia Mensae "Face" and meet a mute alien Martian who shows them a screening of how life on Earth came from Mars. Jim leaves with his spaceship into outer space.

After "Mission: Impossible", Brian De Palma once again eagerly strived for a new mission and thus directed "Mission to Mars", a "Hollywood assignment" he didn't want to make, yet even though most of the critics bashed it - it's average grade on Rotten-tomatoes.com is only 4.1 out of 10 - it's a surprisingly well made, quality film. Already the 3 minute long opening take is impressive, as well as some humorous dialogues (someone says to the astronauts: "When you land on Mars, we will finally be able to tell that there is no intelligent life there!"), the patient, old fashioned narration in space is impressive while the sequence where astronauts Woody and Terri dance in Zero-gravity in tune to the song "Dance the Night Away" is pure genius. This is a big budget film, but it's always refreshing to see an independent director like De Palma in such a imaginative genre, who crafted some really well made moments, while Tim Robbins once again delivered a great role. Still, the film's biggest flaw is it's uneven, impartial, sometimes even trashy screenplay that has a few fundamental problems: for instance, there's a big contradiction between the Martian aggression at the start and pacifism at the end: in the exposition, the Martian security system kills three astronauts that came close to the "Face", yet in the end, when the new astronauts enter it, the alien ends up completely harmless and can't wait to explain them some big secrets! Also, Gary Sinise's character is rather one dimensional, but as a whole this mission was really well executed.

Grade:++

Carlito's Way


Carlito's Way; Crime drama, USA, 1993; D: Brian De Palma, S: Al Pacino, Penelope Ann Miller, Sean Penn, John Leguizamo, Ingrid Rogers, Luis Guzman, James Rebhorn, Viggo Mortensen

Carlito Brigante is shot at night and remembers his life: in '75, thanks to the skillful lawyer David Kleinfeld, he was released from jail after 5 years, even though he was suppose to stay there for 30. Back on freedom, he tries to avoid drugs and criminals, but when he goes as a backup with his cousin who went to carry out some suspicious job, but falls into a trap and gets killed. Carlito gathers 25.000 $ and buys half of a disco-club in order to rearrange it into a profitable business, also renewing his relationship with Gail. He often invites David to his club, even one time starting an argument with Benny, a young criminal, but avoids any kind of violence to not land in prison again. David persuades Carlito to pick up mobster Tony on his ship, but then kills him. The mobsters kill David, while Benny assassinates Carlito.

Despite a few occasional mannerisms, misogynistic touches and clumsy elements, Brian De Palma was still one of the most underrated directors of the 70s and 80s, an author who knew how to make a few masterful films, thus it's really surprising he was never nominated for an Oscar, a Golden Globe or a BAFTA, obviously because he rubbed some people the wrong way. In the 1990's, he got out of the shape a little bit, yet still continued with a few quality films, like "Carlito's Way" where he was once again united with actor Al Pacino after 10 years. It's a film with a lot of virtues, but alas, as a whole one can't exactly say the result is sparkling, depending upon how everyone looks at it. It ends up looking too much like a conventional, standard crime film without innovative energy, humor or charm, whereas many supporting "wise guy" characters end up looking irritating. Pacino is once again flawless in his role - in one scene, when his character Carlito gets released from jail, he cynically thanks the people who arrested him using illegal means to gather evidence, brilliantly underlying his personality - and the story has clever details, like when the gangsters deliberately wound Carlito at night, when there's the least amount of doctors working in the hospitals. Sean Penn is also brilliant and almost unrecognizable as the crazy lawyer David Kleinfeld, while the story neatly mixes messages about how people can't get away from their past, except that it's a little bit too predictable and tedious. The film was nominated for 2 Golden Globes - best supporting actor Sean Penn and supporting actress Penelope Ann Miller.

Grade:++

Thursday, 13 March 2008

The Untouchables


The Untouchables; Crime, USA, 1987; D: Brian De Palma, S: Kevin Costner, Robert De Niro, Andy Garcia, Sean Connery, Charles Martin Smith, Richard Bradford

Chicago, 1930's. The Prohibition is still enforced by the government, but gangster Al Capone is still making a fortune by smuggling and selling alcohol. Then the Prohibition agent Eliot Ness shows up and declares in the news that he will defeat and arrest Capone. But he immediately experiences a setback when he makes a raid in a bar yet doesn't find any alcohol - obviously, the corruption is present even in the police rows. But then he meets the old police officer Malone who advises him to use dirty methods. Together with two men, they foil every shipment meant to Capone. But then the gangsters kill Malone and Capone hires a bribed jury at his trial for tax evasion. Ness replaces the jury and puts Capone behind bars.

The producers risked a lot when they invested additional money in the excellent crime film "The Untouchables", based on Eliot Ness's autobiographical account of capturing Al Capone, but the movie was a huge box office hit in the end, Brian De Palma's most commercial one aside from "Mission: Impossible". "The Untouchables" are at moments really untouchable, an idealistically made crime film of old school in which four unknown policemen are fighting against the strong gangster, filled with tight, realistic details and minimalistic mannerisms from De Palma's side. Sean Connery didn't achieve some sort of an outstanding role as Malone (the neatest scene is when he shoots at a fugitive criminal because he can't run anymore), yet the voters still gave him an Oscar and a Golden Globe as best supporting actor because he didn't win an award before, but was a legend anyway. He was also nominated for a BAFTA. De Niro is slightly miscast as Capone, but De Palma enriches the story with long juicy Steadicam shots, while the best action sequence is the one at the stairs when the gangsters shoot at Ness who tries to catch a baby carriage, which is a great bow to Eisenstein's famous Odessa sequence from "Potemkin".

Grade:+++

Scarface


Scarface; Crime drama, USA, 1983; D: Brian De Palma, S: Al Pacino, Steven Bauer, Michelle Pfeiffer, Paul Shenar, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Robert Loggia, F. Murray Abraham, Harris Yulin, Miriam Colon

Florida, early 1980's. Cuban immigrant and criminal Tony Montana and his pal Manny manage to get to the American soil and get green cards by killing a troublesome Communist. At first they work as dish washers, but they quickly find a job in the criminal world by working for mobster Frank and his girlfriend Elvira. After making a deal with the Colombian drug dealer Sosa, Tony starts rising in the hierarchy and kills Frank, takes over his place and marries Elvira. But the greed starts destroying him: he is accused of tax evasion and refuses to kill some journalist for Sosa. As a revenge, Sosa's men kill him.

Nominated for 3 Golden Globes (best actor Al Pacino, supporting actor Steven Bauer, score), cult crime drama "Scarface" is one of Brian De Palma's 5 best films that is, despite it's long running time of 170 minutes, extremely dynamic, fascinating, gripping and multi-layered, displaying a story about an outsider, Tony, a Cuban immigrant, who tried to blend in into the new society and become someone, but didn't make it. The characters of Tony and Manny are all a bunch of primitive hillbillies (in one scene, Manny says: "I would like to produce my own brand of pants, so that all women would wear my name on their butts!") but with time they change, whereas it seems as if the story is creating a moral balance - in one sequence Tony's mother tells her son that he is a "real animal and gives Cubans a bad name". In the other, Tony is taking a bath in his gorgeous mansion, rich and successful, but alone, abandoned by Elvira and Manny due to arguments, as if the story is sending the message that all the material values and big luxury can't replace all the small moments of spirituality and friendship. Virtuoso told, raw tragedy with a few minor flaws, almost equal to Scorsese's "GoodfelIas".

Grade:+++

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Blow Out


Blow Out; Thriller, USA, 1981; D: Brian De Palma, S: John Travolta, Nancy Allen, John Lithgow, Dennis Franz, Peter Boyden, Curt May

Jack is a sound editor and technician for movies. His newest assignment is to record a convincing sound for a scream for some horror movie. While he was recording sounds at night in a park, he accidentally spots a car that falls into the river. Jack jumps into the water and manages to save the girl inside, Sally, a prostitute, but not the driver. When the police arrive, he realizes that the deceased is senator McRyan, and thus gets instructions to not go public about it. But on his tape, that recorded the sound of the accident, he hears a gun shot, quickly unraveling a conspiracy revolving around the assassination of the senator, who wanted to become president. Their killer kills Sally, but Jack kills him.

On the Charlie Rose show, Tarantino mentioned his 3 favorite films. Those were: "Rio Bravo", "Taxi Driver" and "Blow Out". In "Blow Out", director Brian De Palma made a homage to Antonioni's famous film "Blow-Up" and even achieved a better result than the original, but in the end Tarantino still exaggerated a little bit in it's reputation. De Palma's strong and absorbing style affirmed a bunch of genius scenes (the almost 5 minute long opening take, where the camera takes the point-of-view of the killer walking through a student campus, turns it to be just a trashy horror movie the hero, Jack, is observing) and visual innovations (split screen) that make the story intriguing, John Travolta is very good in the leading role, whereas the long sequence where he plays his tape of the car accident forwards and backwards numerous times in order to exactly find out and mark the frame where the shot was fired, is one of the most passionate examples of pure cinema energy. Still, the flaws ruined a potentially perfect result, and among them are illogical moments, Nancy Allen's irritating accent and banal ending.

Grade:+++

The Fury


The Fury; Fantasy thriller, USA, 1978; D: Brian De Palma, S: Kirk Douglas, Amy Irving, John Cassavetes, Andrew Stevens, Carrie Snodgress, Charles Durning, Fiona Lewis, Daryl Hannah

Somewhere on Israels' beach. Peter and his son Robin, who has special telekinetic powers, are swimming in the sea. Suddenly some terrorists attack and kidnap Robin. A year later, Peter has realized that Dr. Childress actually staged the event and kidnapped Robin in order to use his powers for murders for the secret service. At the same time, Gillian discovers she has special telekinetic powers herself and thus leaves to a special school. But she soon finds out she was tricked and captured. Peter, who is hunted by Childress' agents, frees Gillian who tells him where Robin is kept. Peter finds Robin brainwashed and evil, who attempts to kill him. They both die. Gillian uses her powers to massacre Childress.

Psychological drama "The Fury" contains an intriguing concept about telekinetic powers, but it would have been better if it wasn't so stiff, filled with mannerisms and shiftlessly made, thus in the end it contains at the same time ontological scenes (Gillian falls into trans and sees everything with Robin's eyes) and trashy ones, which was never a good sign. Especially well made is the exposition at Israel's beach, actors Kirk Douglas and Amy Irving are marvelous while an occasional philosophical note is very interesting. Still, for director Brain De Palma it's extremely tasteless to finish the film with the disgusting scene where Gillian uses her powers to bloodily blow up the body of the evil scientist: just another proof how only 10 seconds of misguided ideas can ruin the impression of the whole film. Some have thus rightfully concluded that the story should have concentrated itself more on drama, and less on thriller and horror elements.

Grade:++