Sunday, 31 May 2009

Super Mario Bros. - The Unused 1991 Script

This post may be a little unorthodox. But these kind are the most interesting, anyway. As many video game fans know, back in '93 a "Super Mario Bros." movie adaptation was made based on the '93 script by Parker Bennett, Terry Runte and Ed Solomon, but it cheated the fans in such an epic manner that it seemed more like "The Crow" than "Super Mario". But very few video game fans know of the fact that there was one more, unused script for the film, written by Tom S. Parker and Jim Jennewein in 1991. Thanks to the website run by Ryan Hoss, smbmovie.com, people have been able to download the original script and actually read it - and no doubt about it, I was one among them. The original screenplay is so different from the '93 film that one can't even begin to compare them and wonder "What if?". Would the 1991 script have made a better film than we got in the end? That was the same thing I asked myself so I decided to make a special review of it to compare them back to back.


For one, this script is so much more true to the "Super Mario" world, blending fantasy and comedy, incorporating many characters from the game into the story, having the two heroes both have a moustache and overalls all the time, yet it has some 'rough' edges. For starters, the opening is almost identical to the film, except that the baby isn't actually an egg but a baby, and that it is carried by an old man, not by a woman. There is a slightly cynical, but good joke that gives this script opening a plus point over the film opening: namely, just as the old man managed to bring the baby safely to Brooklyn and run away, he is confronted by Koopa and his henchman. Koopa shouts in a very threatening manner: "Where is the baby, old man? Tell me or you will feel pain!", which scares the man so much that he dies from a heart attack. Koopa is then surprised and adds: "...I hope it wasn't something I said". The opening for Mario and Luigi starts off nicely, with Luigi messing up an apartment bathroom and Mario coming outside telling: "I leave you alone for 10 minutes and you make a 1 hour job into a 3 hour job!". But that's where the plus points for the script end for a while. Namely, for some reason, Mario comes across as a total jerk. He is always grumpy, has a grouch against his brother all the time and is a near total pessimist. The worst idea was having him owe some money to the mafia - that's pretty much the low point of the story. It's completely inappropriate. What's more, there is no sense of any comradeship between Mario and Luigi. Mario treats him like a third wheel in the majority of the story and it's wrong. So, the plus point for the opening Brooklyn segment goes to the film which was much more fun and good natured: despite some differences between Mario and Luigi, you could always feel their bound and mutual loyalty. Bob Hoskins' Mario was charming, and one could hardly imagine him to be such a grouch like in the script.

After the two heroes enter a pipe to save Hildy, the princess in the story and Luigi's love interest, they come to a new dimension, in a world where Koopa wants to crown himself as the new king. Interestingly, though, Koopa picks up Hildy in Brooklyn disguised as a human, but his fellow magician Beedleman transforms him back into a giant lizard. In a dialogue between Beedleman and Koopa, it is discovered that the giant reptile’s motivation for all this is because his “father allowed their land to be seized”, which is why he aims to marry the princess and become king, so that no one will dare to take anything from him again. The character of princess isn’t especially well written, but she has her moments, like when she says this to Koopa: “You’re not my type…You’re not even my species!” Many jokes backfire, though, like when a toadstool sprouts on Toad’s head, which he then eats, or the dumb idea that Hildy slowly transforms into a lizard when she eats Beedleman's magic chocolates that will make her love Koopa.

In a twist of faith, Mario, Luigi and Toad are sent by Wizard Woltan on a mission to go to the "cave of no return" and prove themselves to be the chosen ones who will get the land rid of Koopa. In one especially elaborated scene that many would have loved to see get made, a camp where Toadstoolian slave workers throw shovels full of dragon fruit, Mario, Luigi and Toad jump into a cart hooked to a rope and descend down the mountain. When the Hammer bros. follow them in another cart and slice the rope with their axe, there’s a neat chase where they continue racing on the road, but the Hammer’s cart gets crashed into a tree, while the trio’s cart gets crashed to a stump, from which a hag shows up and hides them from the Koopa’s henchmen, but gives Mario the “juiciest kiss in movie history”, as it says in the script, in exchange. Along their way they stumble rather arbitrarily on a dinosaur egg where Yoshi hatches and they enter the "pit of no return", get some magic items and continue to go to stop the wedding.

The script is somehow ambiguous. On one hand, it offers some very interesting moments, yet on the other hand it seems some of those moments were only half-explored (the special powers actually show up in the story, but only once when Luigi gets a leaf and gains the ability to fly in order to save Toad from falling into the pit, yet it all remains just on that. What a missed opportunity: imagine just if Mario and Luigi had gotten all the powers at their disposal?). The producers were probably worried that the whole budget might explode, which is why they abandoned this script. The '93 film had a 42.000.000 $ budget and I instantly remembered Jim Henson's '86 fantasy film "The Labyrinth" where the authors created a fascinating little world that bared such a resemblance to the Super Mario world that it was astonishing, down right to some Yoshi looking dinosaurs in some scenes. It's even more surprising that "Labyrinth's" budget was only 25.000.000 $, almost half of the "Mario's".

The '93 film had many things going against it, but at least it had two going for it: it was a 'guilty pleasure' and it was fun, which is why it got a 5/10 from me. This script is heavy handed, but as a whole it's better and would have probably made a 6/10 film, maybe even a 7/10 if it was directed the right way. If they ever decide to remake the Mario film, this 115 page script would be a good starting point.

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Meteor


Meteor; Disaster film, USA, 1979; D: Ronald Neame, S: Sean Connery, Natalie Wood, Karl Malden, Brian Keith, Martin Landau, Trevor Howard, Henry Fonda

Scientists observe how a comet hits a 5 mile wide asteroid, Orpheus, and catapults it from the asteroid belt directly towards Earth. Dr. Bradley is brought to his former boss Sherwood in order to plan how to prevent the catastrophe: the only opportunity is to use US spaceship 'Hercules' carrying nuclear missiles, originally aimed at the Soviet Union, to launch the missiles at the meteor. Soviet scientist Dubov and translator Tatiana arrive to New York to also use the Soviet spaceship's nuclear missiles to support the offensive. A small asteroid fragment falls on New York, but the missiles destroy it and save the Earth.

One of the last supplements to the long dated disaster film genre, "Meteor" is a sufficient achievement, one of those films that are so grey and uneventful that you don't remember anything about them a few weeks after you've seen them. Disregarding the plot holes - for instance, how can an asteroid from the asteroid belt arrive to Earth in only 6 days? - the story is poor with amplitude of events and displays just a standard, albeit correct story of the scientists saving the world from an asteroid, 19 years before "Armageddon" and "Deep Impact". The special effects vary: some shots of space are amazing, while others, like the one where a fragment of the meteor falls on the Alps and causes an avalanche that sweeps a local ski resort, seem naively dated. Bland, stiff and mechanical, "Meteor" is simply an overlong flick that never seems suspenseful, while the actors do their best but can't make anything special out of the ordinary screenplay - for instance, the scene where Sean Connery's Dr. Bradley talks with Natalie Wood's Soviet translator Tatiana and she tells him her long story about her life, is a drag. A few messages about Cold war and rival governments who become friends when they have to cooperate are neat, yet in the end "Meteor" is a boring, but solid film.

Grade:+

Chaplin


Chaplin; Tragicomedy, UK/ USA/ France/ Italy, 1992; D: Richard Attenborough, S: Robert Downey Jr., Anthony Hopkins, Geraldine Chaplin, Paul Rhys, Moira Kelly, Kevin Kline, Marisa Tomei, Dan Aykroyd, Maria Pitillo, Penelope Ann Miller, Mila Jovovich, Diane Lane, James Woods, David Duchovny

The 80-year old Charlie Chaplin tells his life to his biographer George Hayden: he grew up in London and replaced his mother in theater when she suddenly lost her voice. His father died due to alcohol. As a youngster, he became an actor and was quickly hired by director Mack Sennett to star in films in the US. Yet he started a career of his own when he created the character of Tramp. Together with Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, he established United Artists. His comedies became classics while he had numerous affairs with women. J. Edgar Hoover accused him of sympathy for Communism and he had to flee to Switzerland in the 50s with his wife Oona O'Neill.

"Chaplin" is a proportionally honest, glimmering, simple and funny biography of one of the most famous comedians of the 20th Century. Director Richard Attenborough manages to queue many episodes from Chaplin's life in an interesting way, yet he doesn't avoid the feeling of incompleteness: the comedian's life was so vast that the story doesn't even begin to cover all his tragedies, motivations and events, but just scratches them superficially. As a consequence, around thirty characters show up in the film and are just forgotten a few minutes latter on: for instance, Dan Aykroyd's performance as Mack Sennett seems more like a cameo than a real supporting character. Numerous celebrities don't have any better treatment, either. Chaplin's childhood was probably the weakest part since it left out simply too many things for comfort, thus lacking some of crucial moments that defined Chaplin. Screenwriter William Goldman wanted to focus the film more on the protagonist's childhood, but was sadly ignored. That's why some critics praised the film, while others have dismissed it, one even describing it as a "stranded whale that doesn't know where to go". Still, as a whole, "Chaplin" is a fine homage, also to the time and feel of the US of the 20s and 30s. As ungrateful as the title role was, Robert Downey Jr. delivered a smashing performance, natural and competent, for which he was nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe, while he even won a BAFTA.

Grade:++

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Enemy at the Gates


Enemy at the Gates; war drama, USA / Germany / UK / Ireland, 2001; D: Jean-Jacques Annaud, S: Jude Law, Joseph Fiennes, Ed Harris, Rachel Weisz, Bob Hoskins, Ron Perlman, Eva Mattes

Stallingrad, World War II. Vassili Zaitsev, a young lad from the Urals, gets drafted into the Red Army with millions of others to defend the strategically important city from the Nazi invasion that aims to create Greater Germany. Accidentally, he proves to be a precise shooter, so his friend Danilov persuades Nikita Khrushchev to make a war hero out of him and use him in a propaganda in order to give the Soviets their moral back. Indeed, Vassili kills dozens of high ranking Nazis as a sniper, so the Major Erwin König is brought from Berlin to assassinate him. Danilov is killed by König, who is subsequently killed by Vassilov who afterwards reunites with his love Tanya.

"Enemy at the Gates" strikes all the best cues in the first third where it perfectly captures the moody situation of young Russians going to fight for Stallingrad during World War II: the high ranking officials are canvassing soldiers in their own lines by shooting anyone who is trying to desert; due to lack of arms and ammunition, one soldier gets a gun while the other one is following him and picking it up to continue fighting on his place if he gets shot; the town is in ruins and civilians are massively getting evacuated...In just a few precise shots, director Jean-Jacques Annaud sets up almost everything that is needed to capture the attention for the true story of Russian shooter Vassili Zaitsev (good Jude Law) - even though his duel with the fictional Nazi shooter Erwin König (excellent Ed Harris) isn't half as intense as the beginning of the story - while some details were quite neat (the map of the Eastern Front at the exposition which serves as a good orientation for the audience), especially the stand out small role of Bob Hoskins who is perfectly cast as Nikita Khrushchev.

However, the second half doesn't have that much to offer and fails to hold the concentration of the viewers to the fullest, losing some steam. Some commentators hailed the love scene between Vassili and Tanya (Weisz) as something extraordinary - but in reality it's completely ordinary, showing just the couple have intercourse in clothes in order to not wake up all the soldiers around them. Also, towards the end, one of the greatest movie quotes can be found here, the one where Danilov, a loyal Socialist, says the following contemplation about the World: "We tried so hard to create a society that was equal, where there'd be nothing to envy your neighbour. But there's always something to envy. A smile, a friendship, something you don't have and want to appropriate. In this world, even a Soviet one, there will always be rich and poor. Rich in gifts...poor in gifts. Rich in love... poor in love".

Grade:++

Monday, 25 May 2009

Phase IV


Phase IV; Science-fiction thriller, USA, 1974; D: Saul Bass, S: Michael Murphy, Nigel Davenport, Lynne Frederick

After a space anomaly, ants in Arizona desert start acting peculiarly: they exterminate every other life form and build mysterious sand towers. Doomed insignificant, only scientists James and Ernest are brought to study the phenomenon in a nearby laboratory set in a dome. After the ants even attack a farm and kill a horse and farmers, Kendra, the surviving girl, is brought to the laboratory. The ants infiltrate the laboratory and cut the wires, causing a short circuit, while they also build giant reflecting mirrors that send heat waves to them. Ernest is killed, but when James goes to exterminate the ant queen in a tunnel, he discovers that Kendra has been brainwashed by the insects. Together, they make up with the intelligent ants.

The only feature length film directed by title designer Saul Bass, "Phase IV" is a sly little cult science-fiction film that was undeservedly forgotten with time. Even though the main topic - humans vs. ants - sounds like a cheap horror film, Bass actually manages to make it plausible with ease due to wonderfully aesthetic images and very good shot composition. Even though some scenes ended up heavy handed - like the clumsily edited one where the ants attack a horse, yet nothing is seen but a horse going crazy and the farmer looking nervously - the reason why this film should be appreciated more lies in some unbelievable close up shots of the ants.

From the fast forward scene where tens of thousands of ants attack and decompose a spider, through the one where an ant goes under Kendra's pants up to the virtuoso sequence where ant after ant carries a toxic crumb in a tunnel, dies, then gets replaced by another ant until it is brought to the ant queen who creates a genetically modified species of ants who are resistant to the chemical, every moment of painstaking effort of the authors can be sensed. However, it seems Bass is better at directing ants than humans: the 'kammerspiel' of the three people trapped in the laboratory is good, yet there are too many illogical details and plot holes in it, especially why they wouldn't just run away from the ant-hive. It's hard to conclude if the film would have been more coherent if the producers hadn't deleted the surreal finale, which apparently showed the future on Earth where humans and intelligent ants live together, but the way it is, "Phase IV" is a truly clever, analytical and well made film whose slow gradation of suspense managed to hold the illusion of the story.

Grade:++

Sunday, 24 May 2009

20th Century Boys


20-seiki shônen: Honkaku kagaku bôken eiga; Mystery thriller adventure, Japan, 2008; D: Yukihiko Tsutsumi, S: Toshiaki Karasawa, Teruyuki Kagawa, Etsushi Toyokawa, Takako Tokiwa

Tokyo 2015: a manga artist is in prison and listens to a story of an inmate: 18 years ago, in '97, Kenji is a guy who works in a store, looks after Kanna, the baby of his sister who ran away, and dreams about his lost career as a rocker. When he was in elementary school, he wrote a "book of prophecies" as a joke, where he "predicted" that an evil organization would take over the world. To his surprise, now all those things really are happening exactly the way he wrote it, word for word: together with his 8 friends, Yukiji, Otcho, Yoshitsune and others, he discovers that an evil organization, F.D.P., led by a mysterious leader called "Friend", found his notebook and decided to realize it. Kenji stops a giant robot on New Years Eve, but it explodes with him.

55 million $ were appointed in 2008 for the simultaneous production of 3 films in a row for the adaptation of the manga "20th Century Boys" by Naoki Urasawa, making it the most expensive film production in Japan til date. The first movie, released in 2008, doesn't justify such an expense though (except maybe for the finale with the 60 foot tall robot/tank wrecking havoc through Tokyo's streets), and it's execution of the story doesn't even justify such hype either. The basic concept, admittedly, is really delicious and you enjoy crunching it down in your mind: what if you wrote, as a joke, a doomsday scenario as a kid, and when you grew up you discover that some organization is actually realizing it exactly the way you wrote it, word for word? The main protagonist Kenji finds himself in that situation, struck in awe that even the above mentioned robot shows up, yet the execution - which some say also follows the manga word for word, while others complain that some good parts are missing - is dry, lax and towards the end starts to drag. It's not so much the fact that the story is too complicated as much that it's too mechanical in it's stiff following of the manga. One of the rare instances of true inspiration is the humorous scene where the government mistakenly thinks that Kenji is a terrorist and is thus hunting him down, so he meets his old friend Otcho in Tokyo by disguising himself - as a pink bunny! The mystery as to who is hiding behind the evasive leader "Friend" also has some formally interesting points, yet it would have been so much better if it all wasn't so formally interesting, but genuinely, really interesting in this overlong 142 minute film.

Grade:++

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Elvira Madigan


Elvira Madigan; Romance, Sweden, 1967; D: Bo Widerberg, S: Pia Degermark, Thommy Berggren, Lennart Malmer

Danish countryside, 1889. Former tightrope star Elvira Madigan, whose name is actually Hedvig Jensen, enjoys in a romance with Swedish lieutenant Sixten Sparre. He deserted from the army and left his wife and kids just to be with Elvira. The young couple walks through the forest and arrives at a cottage where it settles, but they have to run because they were recognized. Sixten accidentally meets friend Kristoffer who begs him to return to the Swedish army, but he refuses. Since they don't have any money, Elvira finds a job for a performance, ut doesn't get anything because Sixten has a fight. Tired of hunger, they commit suicide with a gun.

Bo Widerberg, the director who criticized Bergman as a 'fake myth' and whose last film "All Things Fair" was nominated for an Oscar, crafted with "Elvira Madigan" a meditative, gentle biopic of the tragic title heroine. At first, the film starts out as an idyllic romance: Sixten gets stung by a bee in his butt, so Elvira (excellent Pia Degermark, who won the best actress award in Cannes) comforts him by jokingly "spanking" him. He shaves half of his beard but she constantly moves away the mirror so that he can't shave his other half, so he jokingly says: "Wanted: Sixten, a deserter from the army. Description: half a beard". However, the story quickly gains a bitter charge: the couple doesn't have any money, so they fight against hunger by eating berries from the forest, which isn't an alternative. Even though basically nothing is going on in the story, Widerberg surprisingly avoided boredom and retention of sense with his smooth calligraphy, while he didn't criticize the relationship between Elvira and Sixten (he left his wife for her) but enjoyed in the story, where he probably wanted to show the utopia of a simple couple in pure love that gets crushed by the outside world, creating an ostentative ballade.

Grade:+++

Cocoon


Cocoon; Science-fiction tragicomedy, USA, 1985; D: Ron Howard, S: Hume Cronyn, Wilford Brimley, Don Ameche, Brian Dennehy, Steve Guttenberg, Jack Gilford, Maureen Stapleton, Jessica Tandy

Flordia. Since the retirement home is a boring place, the three retired friends Arthur, Ben and Joe sneak to a closed estate to have a swim in a pool. When aliens disguised as people, led by Walter, hire a boat owner Jack and pick up cocoon's from the sea - in reality their friends who stayed behind on Earth after Atlantis sank - they place the cocoons in the pool, which actually gives the three seniors new vitality. Joe even wins the battle with cancer. When the seniors discover that Walter is an alien, he offers to take them with him to his planet where they could continue to live. They accept and are picked up by the alien spaceship.

"Cocoon" is a melancholic ode to enjoying life even at old age, and for a mainstream film the producers took a lot of courage when they chose to finance it since it touches the topic of lives of old people, one of the rarely talked topics in cinema. And that's one of the reasons why this isn't an average 'run-of-the-mill' feel-good flick, but actually contains a real, bitter-sweet tone. Director Ron Howard never mocks his characters, but always gives them dignity, even in such situations when young people are calling them "grandpa" or giving them signals that they are not enjoying their company, which says a few valuable messages about ageism. The story has a good flow, mostly gaining its virtues from humor, like in the scene where Arthur, Ben and Joe are suddenly feeling new vitality after they swam in the pool with the cocoons and jokingly say: "Maybe they put cocaine in the water", while all the actors did a good performance, especially Wildford Brimley - it is obvious that Don Ameche's Oscar for best supporting actor category was a 'career award', not the fact that he was really the best supporting actor in 1985, but his performance was more than solid. Too sentimental, towards the end almost chaotic, the film also suffers from the alien subplot which seems deformed at moments (their design where they glow is great, but haunting) that reduce its dimension.

Grade:++

Friday, 22 May 2009

Ghost World


Ghost World; Drama/ Comedy, USA/ UK/ Germany, 2001; D: Terry Zwigoff, S: Thora Birch, Steve Buscemi, Scarlett Johansson, Brad Renfro, Illeana Douglas, Bob Balaban, Teri Garr

An Indian musical is playing on television. Enid and Rebbecca, two rebellious teenage girls, graduate from high school but don't know what to do with their lives. Enid who lives alone with her father, is cynical and mocks everyone together with Rebbecca, sometimes even their own friend Josh who works at a local store. As a joke, Enid responds to a love ad written by the lonely Seymour, but later on feels sorry for him when he shows up for a fake date. She meets him. He is a polite collector of old records, but when really has a date, she becomes jealous. After Enid has a one-night stand with him, she runs away, but later shows up again and apologizes. Rebbecca finds a job and an apartment while Enid enters an unknown bus.

"Ghost World" handles the stimulative theme of smart and cynical teenagers, managing to execute it competently, though to a some degree one could complain that at moments it's directed in a clumsy way, with too much episodic characters without a point and a too sustained tone. Thora Birch delivers a top notch performance as Enid, the heroine with glasses who at some moment seems remarkably similar to the heroine from the legendary show "Daria" - there's even a scene where Enid makes a caricature during art class where she shows the teacher murdered (Jane and Daria also made something similar), says biting lines when she serves the drinks to her customers in a store ("Enjoy your chemicals"), jokes around when she and Rebbecca don't find Josh at his apartment so they leave a written message at his doorstep ("We wanted to sleep with you, but you weren't there") and so on and on, but the main stand out thing that makes this film so different from it is the main tangle where she responds to a personal love ad as a joke, but actually falls in love with the lonely guy who shows up, Seymour (excellent antipode Steve Buscemi, who won the New York Film Critics Circle Awards and was nominated for a Golden Globe as best supporting actor). The Enid-Seymour relationship is developed by Terry Zwigof refreshingly calm, almost sophisticated, with time that forces the viewers to explore them more emotionally than humorously. The two characters have some smashing chemistry - you have to get used to it, but it's amazing to watch them interact, to make even the most normal, ordinary moment somehow special. "Daria" was better, but as some sort of an alternative "Daria", "Ghost World" is in minority a strange, but in majority an amazing film about outsiders (with an especially amusing scene after the end credits, where Seymour actually wins in a "fight" with someone).

Grade:+++

No More School


Schule; Comedy, Germany, 2000; D: Maro Petry, S: Daniel Brühl, Jasmin Schwiers, Axel Stein, Niels-Bruno Schmidt, Mina Tander

Somewhere in Germany, the teenage Markus wakes up and listens to the radio in shock: his girlfriend Sandra wrote him a love letter and called him "Schnubi" - when the radio anchor reads that aloud, Markus figures that nickname is going to follow him for a long time. He talks with Sandra in school who thinks the nickname is sweet. The school ends in 3 weeks, so Sascha films the last moments with his camera whereas Dirk gets answers for an exam from the unpopular Michael, so he brings him along with his friends for a party at a lake in return. There they all get drunk and flee from two cops. Markus in the end makes up with Sandra.

There's an unwritten rule regarding these kind of films: if you have to make a cheap teen-comedy for the masses, make sure to make it as hilarious as possible so that you can outrun at least some part of the critics. At the start of the film, there's a small surprise: the voice of the radio anchor is spoken by Arne Elsholtz, the famous dubber in many German films and TV shows. Though, he isn't seen in the film, and the same goes for charm of this unfunny and half-hearted comedy, "No More School", that becomes lax due to a slow rhythm. The interesting point is that there is practically no vulgarity here, yet the dramatic moments are fragile: the topics of rape and depression are blended together, and when towards the end the hero holds a pathetic speech on the school radio about how the students are going to be in the future, it becomes clear the story got stuck. Among slightly more funnies moments is the mysterious "whisperer" in the toilette and smoking under the water.

Grade:+

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Strange Invaders


Strange Invaders; Science-fiction satire, USA, 1983; D: Michael Laughlin, S: Paul Le Mat, Nancy Allen, Louise Fletcher, Diana Scarwid, Michael Lerner, Wallace Shawn

In the 50s, a spaceship lands in the US city of Centerville and the aliens take the identities of the inhabitants. In 1983, professor Bigelow goes to Centerville to find his ex wife there who apparently went to visit her relatives. First his dog disappears, then aliens show their real faces and chase his away. Terrified, Bigelow discovers that even his own wife is an alien, so he goes with a reporter again to the town to save his daughter. They manage and leave.

Bizarre, unusual sci-fi adventure "Strange Invaders" are an example of a open idolisation of the sci-fi films from the 50s and 60s who sent some hidden messages in the concept about aliens, except that they too after a certain amount of time also scud more and more into uncertainty. The basic plot is set up in a good way, not relaying only on special effects - if the make up is excluded - and some dry jokes, but as a whole this film isn't anything extraordinary. The aliens are only described as curious beings who, it seems, themselves don't know why they are waisting time by staying in a small US provincial city, and whom just come and go. The characters of the professor and the reporter, in calm interpretation by Paul Le Mat and Nancy Allen, are equal to the characterization of shoes who are just there to move and transport the plot from point A to point B. All up until the happy end, this is a inextricable, but undoubtedly solid cult film.

Grade:+

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

The Da Vinci Code


The Da Vinci Code; Mystery thriller, USA, 2006; D: Ron Howard, S: Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Ian McKellen, Paul Bettany, Jean Reno, Alfred Molina, Jürgen Prochnow

Curator Jacques Sauniere is killed in the Louvre in Paris by Silas. Later on, French police captain Fache summons US symbologist Robert Langdon to the crime scene because Jacques created cryptic clues before his death. Robert deciphers it but Sophie, a police officer, helps him get away since Fache thinks he is the murderer. On their way, Robert and Sophie discover the murder is connected to Priory the Sion and the search for the Holy Grail. They hide at Leigh's place and then go to London. After many complications, it is discovered that Leigh ordered the murder to find the keystone for the Grail. Robert actually discovers the truth: Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and had children, while Sophie is the last descendant of them.

The most hyped film of 2006, "The Da Vinci Code" in the long run ultimately fails to live up to the viewers' expectations: it has a stimulative, philosophical premise about religion, but it gets drowned in a silly action thriller. Ron Howard was hardly ever a real master director, and thus it comes as no surprise that he didn't manage to make a more artistic achievement out of the already criticized novel by Dan Brown which some critics have dismissed as a populists example of "fast food" literature. The exposition is the best, where professor Robert Langdon (good Tom Hanks) holds a lecture about symbols, among others revealing how the swastika sign is infamous in the West, but normal among the Indian religion of Jainism, showing how some things are not always what they seem. It goes hand in hand with the theme of the story where the modern Christian religion may be based on distortion of the church, namely that Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene may have been married and had children, pointing out to the gnostic Gospel of Philip.

Some of the philosophical dialogues between Robert and Leigh about that manage to ignite some spark, yet the majority of the elements in the film were handled too superficially, while some clues that supposedly "lead" to other clues and mysteries are so far fetched that not even children would take them seriously. For instance, before the wounded Jacques died at the beginning, he conveniently had just enough time to use his own blood and black light ink to write cryptic messages around the louvre, first on the floor, then leading to the wall on the other side, where Leonardo Da Vinci's "Mona Lisa" is placed, and then leading to other clues and so on and on. Wouldn't it have been so much more simpler if he just wrote what he wanted to say? When Robert arrives on the crime scene, he manages to look at his random sentences and conclude the anagram "Leonardo Da Vinci" out of it in just 15 seconds. And what if that wasn't an anagram at all? Equally over-the-top is the scene where Leigh manages to smuggle Robert and Sophie in his airplane to London, pass the police. How? It couldn't be more stupid: just 2 seconds before the police showed up, the two of them ran out of the arriving plane and managed to hide in a car that was conveniently parked there. Some of those silly moments almost seem like a parody. "The Da Vinci Code" is a 'guilty pleasure', yet even such a minimum of philosophical premise in a big budget film deserves modest praise.

Grade:+

Sunday, 17 May 2009

The MatchMaker


The MatchMaker; Romantic comedy, USA/ Ireland/ UK, 1997; D: Mark Joffe, S: Janeane Garofalo, David O'Hara, Milo O'Shea, Jay O. Sanders, Denis Leary

Grouchy Marcy is an insignificant assistant of Senator McGlory in Boston. In order for McGlory to gain support from Irish voters, she is appointed to go to Ireland and track his ancestors. She finds a place in a washed out hotel and figures that a matchmaking festival is under way. Former reporter Sean is also staying in the hotel. The local matchmaker, the old Dermot, tries to match Marcy and Sean, but she refuses. She discovers that there are no relatives of the Senator in the village, so McGlory himself arrives in order to at least make a promotional video there. Marcy returns to Boston but realizes she fell in love for Sean. He visits and kisses her.

"The MatchMaker" is a sympathetically-modest love comedy in which the main role is played by otherwise excellent supporting actress Janeane Garofalo. She often delivers better performances than the films she stars in, like the one of the FBI agent in "Clay Pigeons", but she was never world wide massively popular, and thus in this film it was somehow surprisingly achieved that she looks - as almost the only woman in a dominantly male Irish city - like a desirable beauty. Truth be said, the exposition is slightly banal: Marcy arrives late on the bus so the driver calls her "Miss Late" while a dog urinates on her bag. Still, the film gains steam with time, especially in her intriguing first encounter with Sean whom she at first considers a hillbilly when she spots him taking a bath in her bathroom. The rhythm of the story is slow and so it's good that here and there a few emotional scenes shows up. One of them is when Sean, carried away by the landscapes and nature, tries to kiss Marcy, but she doesn't want to, and the other one is when the old matchmaker dies in his house observing the photos of all the happy couples he brought together. If the authors affirmed the romance and the heroine with more focus and inspiration, the film could have been even better.

Grade:++

Lover Girl


Lover Girl; Tragicomedy, USA, 1997; D: Lisa Addario, Joe Syracuse, S: Tara Subkoff, Sandra Bernhard, Kristy Swanson, Loretta Devine

Jake (16) is a rebellious girl who was abandoned by her mother. Not having nowhere to go, she goes to the apartment of her sister Darlen, but she refuses to let her in. She thus stays alone in front of the apartment complex, until she spots prostitute Marci and starts to follow her to her work place, a "massage parlor". Through a coincidence, Marci lets her stay in her apartment while she also starts working as a prostitute. After a while, even Darlen gets employed there, but the boss throws Jake out after she discovers she is a minor. She is picked up on the road by Marci in a car.

Lightly ambitious independent film "Lover Girl" handled the subject of prostitution in an appropriate and sustained way, even a little bit too optimistic and "harmless" considering it placed it in the genre of comedy, whereas it avoided any moral deprecation. In the execution by the directorial duo Addario-Syracuse the story didn't manage to become a small classic of it genre, or to capture, let's say, "Topazu's" or "Klute's" harshness, mostly due to the - sustained tone. Namely, many scenes are honestly sympathetic and touching - like in the one where Marci overhears how Jake is uselessly calling her mother on the phone, when she gives her a present or when they sleep together in the same bed almost as daughter and surrogate-mother - yet the viewer is constantly aware that the film never dares to be consistent to the end: it's logical that the minor Jake is not shown in any nude scenes, yet less so that none of the girls are never shown like that either, nor that there is no depiction of intercourse in any scene. Alas, constructed out of ellipses, the story doesn't seem completely genuine while the narration of the heroine is superfluous. Marci was excellently played by the underrated Sandra Bernhard, a trademark actress of independent films.

Grade:++

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Peeping Tom


Peeping Tom; Thriller-drama, UK, 1960; D: Michael Powell, S: Karlheinz Böhm, Moira Shearer, Anna Massey, Maxine Audley

At first sight, Mike is an ordinary young lad. He is the landlord of a building, works as a cameraman in a film studio in the afternoon and as a photographer of erotic pictures in the evening. But he has strange urges. When he was a child, his father would scare him in the middle of the night and then film everything with his camera. Thus, Mike can excite himself only by looking at screaming women in fear, while he kills them with his knife and films them. His tenant Helen, who goes out on a date with him, doesn't know anything about those snuff films. When he kills an extra, the police follows his trace and surrounds his home. He kills himself with a knife, observing everything in the mirror.

Michael Powell directed many avant-garde films with his collaborative professional partner Pressburger, like "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp", yet "Peeping Tom" is his first sole directorial work, a daring portrait of perversion and sadism that almost seems as if it could have been made by Hitchcock. The film was a great polygon for a serious performance by Karlheinz Boehm (and a big departure from his kitsch serial "Sissi") whereas despite the aversion of the public during the premiere and controversies, the film has many fans even today, like Scorsese who named it as one of his favorite films that talk both about film making and the audience who watch these films. Despite some taboo breaking themes in the story, especially regarding snuff films and the implicit statement that protagonist Mike can only get sexually aroused by watching women dying on film, the sole psychology of the characters is rather thin which is why the thriller part functions much better. The opening sequence takes the form of the point-of-view of the camera worn by Mike who follows a prostitute to her apartment and then kills her there (though it is never explicitly shown). Still, Powell maintains the balance by mostly shaping the film as a straight-forward drama, not as a sensationalistic horror, also showing calm scenes of his love relationship with the curious Helen.

Grade:+++

A Matter of Life and Death


A Matter of Life and Death; Fantasy comedy, UK, 1946; D: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger, S: David Niven, Kim Hunter, Raymond Massey, Robert Coote

World War II. British pilot Peter talks with the radio operator June before his plane crashes and he jumps into the sea. His friend Bob dies and gets to Heaven where everything is black and white. Peter didn't have a parachute, but he survives and comes to England where he meets June. But Heaven demands that he dies as well, so it sends a French aristocrat to pick him up. But Peter refuses to die and when he tells his story to June she informs Dr. Frank to examine him. Frank concludes Peter's brain is damaged by the crash so he sends him to a hospital for an operation. But Frank dies and using his skills persuades the Other World to let Peter live with June.

This inventive tragicomedy by the Powell-Pressburger duo is still rather unknown, but it has an excellent quality. The directors are full of imaginative ideas whereas the special effects are in conformity with them, as well as with the normal romantic subplot. Already the sole opening is wonderfully satirical when it shows a "disclaimer" on the screen: "Any coincidence with real worlds in accidental" while in the amazing 2 minute long shot the camera is traveling through space until is arrives to Earth. David Niven is sympathetically portraying the protagonist, pilot Peter, while the authors cleverly build the surreal story around him, constantly playing with the two notions of whether he is really suppose to die and go to the Other World or if he is just imagining everything because of his brain injury (interestingly enough, the whole fantasy part of the story is filmed in black and white, and one scene is truly genius, the one where the camera zooms in on the flower of the French aristocrat, then color shows up when he is on Earth, and the camera then zooms out again). The finale in the form of a trial is naive and probably the film's biggest flaw, but even today some moments manage to impress with ease, like the trick where time is stopped, together with a ping-pong ball that "freezes" in the air.

Grade:+++

Friday, 15 May 2009

Sumomomo Momomo


Sumomomo Momomo; Animated comedy series, Japan, 2006; D: Nobuaki Nakanishi, S: Hiroki Takashi, Yuki Kano, Ui Miyazaki, Aya Hirano, Chihiro Suzuki

Koushi Inuzuka is an intelligent high school student who wants to study law and tends to despise violence and martial law. But one day, his father, a martial arts expert, reveals him that he engaged him when he was a little kid to Momoko, a sloppy looking but extremely strong martial arts girl, so that they will have “advisable” martial arts children. Koushi is horrified by the engagement and from there on spends his days trying to avoid the devoted Momoko. Additional complications show up when six rival martial arts families send various assassins to kill Koushi, but are always stopped by Momoko. One assassin, Iroha, also falls for him.

“Sumomomo Momomo” is one of those animes that surprise you with two things: the first surprise is how wonderfully simple it makes you like it in the first few episodes, and the second one is how it subsequently makes you unlike it after that the exactly same, simple way. It’s not so much that the story went on a wrong track starting from episode 5, as much as it’s the fact that it didn’t continue its own footsteps but went on to become a bland, empty and lax story that exhausts itself in the first few episodes and doesn’t even try to offer something to the viewers after it. That said, one just has to admit one thing, namely that episode 4 is a masterwork – it is written, conceptualized and executed in such a smashing manner that many romantic films would become jealous of its simplicity. The person who wrote that episode is a genius and it’s a pity the same formula was not applied for the whole anime. Episode 4 really is a small jewel, but we will come to that later. The remaining 22 episodes, from episode 5 onwards, revolving around the plot of a devoted clumsy girl Momoko who is in engaged to the indifferent Koushi, lose their steam and become silly – and that’s a shame. Silly can be found anywhere. Real humor can be found only in selected few geniuses.

The CGI animation of the dragon, which is suppose to represent Momoko’s strength of “dragon martial arts”, is crap, many subplots, like the one revolving around the jealous gym teacher who challenges Momoko or an assassin who is trained by the “tiger style” and is thus easily defeated by “cat’s flaws” (Koushi places empty water bottles in front of him and he is defeated because “cat’s can be banished by bottles in Japan”, even though that technique is unknown in the West) is lousy, while the absurd touch loses it’s sharpness. Among the plus points is the smooth animation and some voice actors, like Yu Miyazaki as Iroha. But the real virtues were only developed in that magical episode 4: besides the beautiful way the assassin Iroha falls in love with her target Koushi, the stand out moment that makes you want to knee down in front of it is the one where Momoko accidentally spots her beloved Koushi sleeping in his bed, while wearing two earphones that dictate laws from his study and are presumably there to teach him those in his sleep the whole night. But she can’t resist but to take the earphones off and try out an experiment: she cautiously whispers:”I like Momoko”. And truly, Koushi repeats “I like Momoko” in his sleep. She is jumping all around the room from joy and whispers this to him: “I will marry Momoko”. And he repeats that as well. Then she goes really close to his ear and whispers the following: “…I’ll mess you up really good”. But to her shock, the camera reveals that Koushi actually woke up during that last statement, which causes an explosive situation. If at least the whole anime was like that, instead of following the old scheme of drawing the audience with the pilot episode and then dropping the whole thing.

Grade:+

Downfall


Der Untergang; War drama, Germany/ Austria/ Italy, 2004; D: Oliver Hirschbiegel, S: Bruno Ganz, Alexandra Maria Lara, Juliane Köhler, Thomas Kretschmann, Christian Redl

Berlin during the final days of World War II. The young Traudl Junge, secretary of Adolf Hitler, observes the chaos. On 20th April '45, Hitler is celebrating his 56th birthday, but the party is crashed by the sounds of fighting with the Soviet Army only 12 kilometres away from the city. Heinrich Himmler and architect Albert Speer advise him to flee the city, but Hitler is determined to stay in his bunker, still thinking the Third Reich will win the war. After the ammunition starts running out, Hitler and Eva Braun decide to marry and commit suicide. Their bodies are then burned. The Soviet Army releases Traudl who manages to escape after the war ends.

The sequence where Bruno Ganz's performance of Adolf Hitler observing the map of Berlin and then having a nervous breakdown followed by angry shouting at his generals became such a famous viral video, used by numerous users to "sub" his lines in order to mock their advisories, either for some election campaign or a black joke, that it became tempting not to see the whole film from which it came from, Hirschbiegel's "Downfall". Even though it was nominated for an Oscar for best foreign language film and the fact that it was made by German authors, who again wanted to point out their detachment from that part of dark history of their ancestors, "Downfall" became quite controversial since some pointed out that the story showed a 'humanized' Hitler. The world is used to the fact that the dictator is always shown as some 'bogeyman', but here he was shown almost as a "normal" person who was wrong - Hirschbiegel seems to make a daring move, almost as if he shows that even the monster was a human being, whatever that says about human beings. Indeed, the opening is quite uneasy - during the job interview, young Traudl Junge is tested for the position of the Fuhrer's secretary, and instead of the monster showing up, Hitler shows up uncomfortably charming to her and the viewers, testing her typing speed, humorously adding to calm her down: "Don't worry, you can't make more spelling mistakes than me". If the scene really played out like that in reality, just like Junge wrote in her memoirs, the whole thing is even weirder.

Hirschbiegel shows the dark side, the dread of war and destruction, yet he also shows Hitler from the perspective of the people of Third Reich, who were really believing he was the good guy - the scene where Junge observes how Goebbels cries in front of her because Hitler won't listen to him anymore, is completely surreal: Goebbels is crying, actually having real emotions because he is worried for Hitler! It's insane. The authors went on a very slippery road there because they wanted to show the psychological insight of the people there, but the approach remains dubious non the less. Towards the end, they even made an emotional attachment for the dictator, and that was a wrong decision. Maybe they needed to show more from his private life, more from his childhood, to show why he had such an irrational hate towards some nations and practiced a blockade of other states, instead of showing only his last few days before his death. Because not showing the whole scope of a person who was responsible for deaths of tens of millions of people, but just his side, may seem little - one sided. Still, it's a fine film, grey, sterile, but also powerful, with a scary message that people can often not be aware they are serving the wrong side.

Grade:++

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Hitch


Hitch; Romantic comedy, USA, 2005; D: Andy Tennant, S: Will Smith, Eva Mendes, Kevin James, Julie Ann Emery

New York. Alex "Hitch" Hitchens is a "date doctor" who works anonymously and without any promotion, since all his clients recommend him to other people. He helps men who are in love with a "perfect" woman, but are insecure to do anything about it. His latest client, the overweight accountant Albert, manages to capture the heart of the rich celebrity Allegra. Yet, at the same time, Hitch himself has problems capturing the heart of Sara, a gossip columnist, who gets infuriated when she finds out that he is the "date doctor", since one of his clients just had a one night stand with her friend. Yet in the end they make up.

A surprisingly well made film about matchmaking, "Hitch" offers a refreshingly humane Will Smith in a sweet and lovable role of the title hero. Screenwriter Kevin Bisch seems to have a very high social intelligence when he wrote some of the situations in his screenplay which are very, very true to life, or at least he made some very insightful observations about male-female relationships. The first 30 minutes of the film are a blast: in the opening montage, the main protagonist narrates: "Basic Principles: no woman wakes up saying "God, I hope I don't get swept off my feet today!" Now, she might say "This is a really bad time for me," or something like "I just need some space," or my personal favorite "I'm really into my career right now." You believe that? Neither does she. You know why? 'Cause she's lying to you, that's why". The film is filled with such and other juicy lines that look as if they were written by a humorous Sophocles, especially when Hitch himself does some flirt stunts, like when he present himself as Sara's "boyfriend" to help her rid herself of some guy who is annoyingly hitting on her in a bar. Kevin James also has a solid role as Hitch's client, and his process of capturing the heart of a woman who doesn't care about him is, despite the fact that it's far fetched, insightful: actually, too many of Hitch's flirt tips are unconvincing. Predictably, though, the inspiration of the film starts to lose power in the middle, while the finale turns out almost terribly cliched and predictable. And then again, at least the whole film didn't turn out that way, but offered a few surprises and sparks here and there.

Grade:++

Iklimer - Seasons


Iklimer; Drama, Turkey, 2006; D: Nuri Bilge Ceylan, S: Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Ebru Ceylan, Nazan Kirilmiş, Mehmet Eryilmaz, Arif Asçi

The couple Isa and Bahar are in Kaş for a summer vacation. Suddenly, while on the beach, he tells her they should separate for a while. While driving on the motorcycle, she covers his eyes and they fall on the road and start to argue. Back in Istanbul, alone, Isa returns to his job as a lecture. Out of loneliness, he goes to his former girlfriend Serap and sleeps with her. Finally, he visits Bahar in a snowy town where she is filming a TV show. She rejects him, but eventually goes to his hotel room.

The 4th film by actor and director Nuri Bilge Ceylan, nominated for a Golden Palm in Cannes, "Seasons" are a meditative, minimalistic drama about relationships filmed in the best manner of Antonioni, which means it demands some attention from the viewers. Elements for creating a real masterwork are evasive, yet they are all around us, around our life, and certain events, situations, movements and style of the characters in a film can somehow manage to capture the frequency of it and and transmit it to the screen. "Seasons" managed to capture some of them, to a certain extent, and not even it's slow style seems slow, but naturally elegant, yet it didn't contain it to such an extent that it would stimulate on all levels. The director's (autobiographical?) story is thin, yet some of his shot compositions are amazing, while some scenes draw praise, like the one where the camera only shows him in a close up watching a woman - who seems to be his girlfriend Bahar - going to swim in the distant sea, while he "talks" with from afar: "I think we should break up". Yet the camera then turns around and shows that Bahar is actually right by his right side, and really does hear all what he says. The 5 minute long sequence where Isa is "wrestling" with his female friend Serap until they have intercourse on the floor is unpleasantly sharp, but the most amazing ingredient is the finale where he and Bahar are in bed - nothing is shown, except the close ups of their heads, yet everything is said through those images, which are such a inspiration it's real poetry.

Grade:++

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Thunderbirds


Munje!; Comedy, Serbia, 2001; D: Radivoje Andrić, S: Boris Milivojević, Sergej Trifunić, Maja Mandžuka, Milica Vujović

Mare and Pop are two hip teenagers who payed a lot of money to the fishy Gojko who was suppose to help them bring their album out on the market, but ran away with the money. Mare and Pop meet the blond Kata on some party, Gojko's girlfriend, and become her friends. They drive in a car through Belgrade's dark streets at night and talk about life. They meet a shop lifter and bring him along, as well as some drugged cop, until they decide to get their money with force. Mare and Kata disguise themselves and rob Gojko, eventually becoming a couple in a disco.

Director Radivoje Andrić filmed his oddball comedy "Thunderbirds" with an obviously very limited budget (the pale cinematography really looks just like a home video camera) and in a blurred slang of the teenagers, yet their energy attracted over 600.000 viewers at the Serbian box office and became a real big movie hit. Heroes Mare and Pop seem like the Serbian version of Beavis and Butthead, yet they manage to get some style across: for instance, in one scene Pop takes the remote control and "turns off" the shouting of his mother; the heroes are running behind some buildings while some gentleman looks directly into the camera and says: "Out of this juveniles real intellectuals will emerge". The real highlight is a completely random appearance by Lee Davis, the friend of the director: in a driving car, the drugged friend of the hero suddenly starts talking nonsense: "Everyone is taking photos of us with their satellites! The FBI, the Vatican, the CIA!," until he puts his naked butt through the window, while an American Officer from some surveillance center is looking the sight on his monitor and just says: "Those crazy Serbs!" Yet, the rest of the story is bland and lax, while the two hip teenagers (plus the attractive Maja Mandzuka) simply can't hold a candle to the sheer spirit of some other, really hip youngsters from superior films, like "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure" or "Wayne's World".

Grade:++

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Cat's Eye


Cat's Eye; Horror, USA, 1985; D: Lewis Teague, S: James Woods, Robert Hays, Drew Barrymore

Three stories: magnificent smoker Morrison enlists in an Agency that should help him stop his addiction of cigarettes. But the owner of the Agency takes his assignment too seriously and threatens Morrison that he will torture his wife and daughter if he starts smoking again. Morrison tries hard, but still takes a cigarette in a car - immediately afterwards he witnesses how his wife is placed to dance on an electrified floor. He takes his task seriously and quits smoking...Norris, who has a huge debt, sleeps with the wife of the gangster Cressner who punishes him by forcing him to walk on the ledge of a tall building. Still, Norris makes it and kills him...A cat enters a house of a little girl who is afraid of a 5 inch troll in her bedroom, but her parents don't believe her. The troll shows up but the cat eliminates him.

Anthology of 3 horror stories by Stephen King that are loosely connected by a cat which appears in all of them, "Cat's Eye" is considered moderately successful. A few moments of irony are neat, like in the exposition where James Woods' character is watching "Deadzone" on television (evidently, also a King adaptation) or when the automobile "Christine" passes on the screen. The first story with Woods in a dilemma between a cigarette and his life is at moments excellent, but the remaining two deserve maybe just an average grade. Actually, only the last one contains fantasy elements (though the 5 inch troll isn't so terrifying), while the others are more or less just standard thrillers with occasional cheap horror repertoire, while it's also bothersome that the psychological side is avoided. Though, Woods' segment would have been a great little short.

Grade:++

Vampires


Vampires; Horror, USA, 1998; D: John Carpenter, S: James Woods, Daniel Baldwin, Thomas Ian Griffith, Sheryl Lee, Maximilian Schell

Jack Crow is a Vampire slayer who has a loyal crew and financial back-up by the Vatican. They find some Vampires in a house and throw them out in the Sun where they are killed by daylight, but their leader Valek managed to hide under ground. That night the whole crew is celebrating in a nearby bar, but Valek finds them and makes a massacre. Jack and his friend Tony manage to escape and bring prostitute Katrine, who was bitten by Valek, with them. They settle in a motel and get help from a priest.Jack hates Vampires because they obsessed his parent whom he had to kill. He is surprised that Valek intends to take a balck cross in order to walk at daylight. The priest betrays Jack, but he still kills Valek. Tony becomes a Vampire himself, but Jack let's him go.

John Carpenter gained the title of 'master of horror' in the 70s and 80s, but his creativity started to deflate itself with time and that's evident in "Vampires", a slasher flick that lacks style. Unlike some of his excellent films that had a wonderfully smooth straight-forward approach, "Vampires" can't brag that they are genius just because they are violent, but just banal. Sadly, despite some traces of director Hawks, this is simply cheap trash. The cynical James Woods is the only one who brings a dose of freshness in the story (in one scene, a prostitute approaches his body and tells him he needs to "search for happiness on different places") as well as cannon ideas that the Vatican is financing the Vampire slayers, as well as an unusual ending that says something about friendship between two people even when it's over. There's gore and violence here, yet the biggest omission is the fact that Jack's crew died already somewhere at the beginning of the film - together they could have made a paraphrase of "The Magnificent 7".

Grade:+

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Sex and Lucia


Lucía y el sexo; Erotic drama, Spain, 2001; D: Julio Medem, S: Paz Vega, Tristán Ulloa, Najwa Nimri, Daniel Freire, Elena Anaya

Madrid. Waitress Lucia is losing the will to continue her relationship with depressive writer Lorenzo. When he has an accident and falls in a come, she concludes he is a goner and thus loeaves for some island to think about her life in peace. She remembers how she met Lorenzo: she read his novel and started a passionate relationship with him. But a few years ago, he had a one night stand with Elena. She became pregnant and got a daughter, Luna. When he found out, he became depressive. He started an affair with Elaine, Luna's nanny. But Luna was killed by Elaine's dog. Back in present, Lucia meets Elena. Lorenzo wakes up from the coma and maikes up with Lucia and Elena.

When you just read the title, you immediately figure that erotic drama "Sex and Lucia" is, just like most films from the specialist for 'adult romance' Julio Medem, a film that's not quite intended for conservative and morally shy part of the audience, as much as for the ones who live their life in an extroverted way. But due to it's complictaed structure, it's not intended for simple porn lovers either, but for the ambitious viewers who are willing to train their brain cells. Hermetic, chopped up and dreamy story becomes a harmonic whole only towards the end and demands a lot of patience, whereas Medem himself loses the narrative thread here and there. One of the most refreshing aspects of the film is how it shows so much understanding for the love couple: extremely poetic is the sequence where Lorenzo and Elena have intercourse under the water surface, as well as the one where Lucia "starts" a striptease by disrobing her underpants under her dress in some cafe. And in one bizarre sequence Elaine is mastrubrating naked watching a porn on TV - in which her own mother in staring. Interestingly enough, from the moment of the death of the daughter, the story becomes comepltely asexual. Maybe some parts, like the above mentioned, are "rough", yet this is such a complex and dramatic erotic film that it expands the frontiers of it's genre.

Grade:+++

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Lovers of the Arctic Circle


Los amantes del círculo polar; Romantic drama, Spain/ France, 1998; D: Julio Medem, S: Kristel Díaz, Victor Hugo Oliviera, Najwa Nimri, Fele Martinez, Nancho Novo

Otto and Ana meet when they are 8 years old. Otto is sad because his father divorced his mother, while Ana is sad because her father died. Their parents start a relationship so they become stepbrother and stepsister, and are often driven to school by car. As teenagers, they secretly fall in love and Otto leaves his mother to be with Ana, her mother and father in the house. But when his mother dies, Otto becomes depressive and goes to Lapland under the Arctic Circle. Ana also accidentally goes to live there and meets him again, but gets ran over by a bus and dies.

Inspired romantic elegy "Lovers of the Arctic Circle" by Julio Medem - the director of demanding 'adult romance' - virtuoso blends static subtlety and extroverted scenes that grab attention. The exposition is shown from two perspectives - at first, the story shows the doubts of Otto who asks himself if Ana likes him, and then the doubts of Ana who wonders if Otto likes her. Their slow attraction that melts the barriers of their family was smoothly shown by Medem and their first intercourse was unconventionally affirmed - Ana gives Otto a family photo on which she secretly wrote that he should be brave and enter her room in the dark. He does by entering though the window, spots her naked and thus exits out of the room again. But then he goes back in, starts masturbating but then stops and hugs her sincerely in bed: thanks to Medem's calligraphy, that sequence avoided becoming cheap and instead turned out honestly true. He shows deep emotions, from the tragic one like in the scene where Otto finds his mother dead on the table that is surrounded by flies up the poetic, metaphysical ones, like the fast-forward shot in which the Sun is "traveling" through the horizon. Despite oscillation of rhythm and a few omissions, this is an extraordinary film.

Grade:+++

The Red Squirrel


La ardilla roja; Drama, Spain, 1993; D: Julio Medem, S: Emma Suárez, Nancho Novo, Maria Barranco

The lonely and unemployed Jota decides to commit suicide by jumping of a platform near the beach. But just at that moment a young girl on a motorcycle loses her control and has an accident. Jota helps her, but when he discovers she got amnesia from her injury, he decides to introduce himself - as her boyfriend. He picks her up from the hospital and brings her along for a motorcycle ride. They settle at the campsite "The Red Squirrel" and make friends with one family. Jota enjoys in romantic adventures with the girl whom he called Lisa, but he then discovers her name is Sophie and that she is running away from her abusive husband. When the husband finds her, she runs away. Jota finds her in a Zoo and she admits him that she never had amnesia in the first place.

Dreamy, twisted, slightly esoteric, somehow detached from any kind of settled genre and somehow understandable only to itself, romantic love drama "The Red Squirrel" is an unusual achievement. On one hand, the original story (a young lad finds a girl with amnesia and introduces himself as her boyfriend) seems magnificent. But on the other hand, it's hard to shake of the impression that the film as a whole could have had a more skillful execution. Julio Medem, a specialist for 'adult romance', enriched the film with inspirational visual style (a man who moves on the photo; a dream about the argument between Jota and Phyliss) and unobtrusive erotic, but as if he kept the relationship between Jota and Lisa deliberately mild. When Jota has intercourse with Lisa the first time, the viewers get the impression he already did it a hundred times, and not that the "sparks" are flying from the beauty of the first time.

Grade:++

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Children of Heaven


Bacheha-Ye aseman; Drama, Iran, 1997; D: Majid Majidi, S: Amir Farrokh Hashemian, Bahare Seddiqi, Mohammad Amir Naji, Nafise Jafar-Mohammadi

Teheran. Boy Ali (9) leaves the shoes of his sister Zahra near a store, but when he returns they are gone. Ali and Zahra thus decide not to tell anything to their parents since they are a very poor family and thus conceive and plan: she will wear his shoes during school in the morning and he will have them during school in the afternoon. Many problems occur since Zahra arrives home late often, either due to a test or because one shoe fall in a sewer, which causes Ali to be late too. He and father make a small fortune as gardeners in some rich man's garden while Zahra discovers the girl who has her shoes, but doesn't do anything. Ali wins in a race contest, but doesn't win hoped prize - new shoes - because it's reserved for the 3rd place.

Nominated for an Oscar for best foreign language film, "Children of Heaven" are a gentle, for an Iranian film typically honest and sincere, touching yet also bitter meditative minimalistic drama that implicitly gives a critique of social injustice and class difference. The direction by Majid Majidi is quite colloid and scanty, yet his vision of De Sica's "Bicycle Thief" has plenty of sheer virtues: it's interesting, for instance, how hard it is for Zahra to hide her brother's sneakers during physical excerssice in school since everyone is looking at the feet during jumping, and when she looses one shoe in a canal, it floats with incredible speed. Maybe the ending is slightly sarcastic where Ali is sad because he wasn't 3rd during the racing contest (which would bring him the award of new shoes) but 1st, yet except for that the whole story is so purely humane and honest that it doesn't contain a single shred of cynicism, as if the mentality of the heroes is somehow lost in some good old times when everything was all right. This film has a soul, and it's something that stands out so much that it almost becomes relevant for it's quality. It's a very good children's film for all ages that's never sentimental, where you could only criticize the fact that it didn't explore more the feelings of it's two protagonists.

Grade:+++

The Accused


The Accused; Drama, USA/ Canada, 1988; D: Jonathan Kaplan, S: Kelly McGillis, Jodie Foster, Bernie Coulson, Leo Rossi, Ann Hearn

The terrified Sarah runs out from a night club, goes to a police station and reports a rape. After the examination, lawyer Kathryn Murphy and the police go to the night club the next day and arrest three suspects. The trial though becomes complicated for Murphy when it is discovered that Sarah was drunk, drugged and that she seduced one of the perpetrators. The suspects go to prison, but get a mild sentence - which disappoints Sarah. When she meets one of the men who cheered during the rape, she slams into his van with her car. Murphy thus re-starts the trial, but this time she accuses the crowd who cheered during the rape. Witness Ken recognizes them and they land in prison.

Intriguing, brave social engagement drama "The Accused" gathered considerable attention since it was one of the first Hollywood films that talked about rape, but also inserted a subversive theme about an active (perpetrators) and passive rape (the people who cheer and don't help the victim), whereas the splendid Jodie Foster, in the role of the victim, was great and won an Oscar and a Golden Globe as best actress. Director Jonathan Kaplan chose an objective depiction of the story while the mood was crystallized already in the exposition: in it, the night club is at first shown during day, and then during night, until the shocked Sarah storms out, which is why the viewers at first can't be sure if the rape happened or not - that explicit, dark sequence was shown only at the end. The story queues details, from the one where Sarah is surprised when her boyfriend tells her he is annoyed by her moaning, up to the charged trial at the finale. As a message film, it's a proportionally skillful drama with high ambitions and realistic tone, but with a rather lukewarm, standard execution.

Grade:++