Tuesday, 12 October 2010

The Wind and the Lion


The Wind and the Lion; Adventure drama, USA/ Spain, 1975; D: John Milius, S: Sean Connery, Candice Bergen, Brian Keith, John Huston, Simon Harrison, Polly Gottesman

Tangier, Northern Africa, 1904. Raisuli, an outlaw and leader the Berbers, but also an honorable warrior, kidnaps American Eden Perdicaris and her two children, William and Jennifer, to ignite an uprising against the Sultan in order to get his people at least some form of independence and rid Morocco of colonialist powers. Since it is election year in the US, president Theodore Roosevelt makes it his priority to save those three American citizens and sends Marines to intervene. However, Eden slowly gains respect of Raisuli. After he is captured when he frees the Perdicaris family, she helps him get away.

The second film by director John Milius, based on true events, adventure drama "The Wind and the Lion" is a quality film that encompasses some often themes of the author, mostly about honor and loyalty in harsh times, even sending a small commentary about the colonialist exploitation of countries that yearned for independence. Some battles scenes and situations turned out lumpy and rather heavy handed (for instance, the unnecessary scene where the Perdicaris observe a cut off tongue), whereas the finale is unsatisfying, but marvelous desert landscapes, reminiscent of Lean's "Lawrence", and elegance make this a rather inspirational film (Mrs. Perdicaris changes her underwear while cowered by a blanket, in order to avoid the obtrusive looks of her Berber guards; after the US Marines takes over the Tangier palace and shoot all the guards, the Pasha takes the grapes from the hand of his shot servant before he falls down from his table). Also, at least one quote in the film is legendary - after they risked everything for their goal, and lost, and stayed alone at the beach, one adherent says: "We lost everything", and Connery's Raisuli answers him: "Is there not one thing in life worth losing everything for?" It's one of the two or three best lines of wisdom ever written by Milius.

Grade:++

Saturday, 9 October 2010

The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3


The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3; Animated fantasy comedy series, USA, 1990; D: John Grusd, S: Walker Boone, Tony Rosato, Harvey Atkin, Tracey Moore, Tara Strong, Michael Stark, Paulina Gillis

Plumber brothers from Brooklyn, Mario and Luigi, as well as their sidekick Toad, are using new super-powers to defend Princess Toadstool and the Mushroom kingdom from the evil Bowser Koopa and his kids; Kooky, Kootie Pie, Big Mouth, Cheatsie, Bully, Hip & Hop. They go through numerous adventures: Koopa transports the White House to the Mushroom sea, Kootie Pie orders the kidnapping of Milli Vanilli, the Princess goes on a vacation...

"The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3" is by far the best American animated Mario TV series, though it is still at times terribly schematic, bland and mild, which is why a good deal of its stories seems dated, whereas, as a contrast, it has the worst music of all the three TV series. The writers were given fixed parameters of what they have to write about, adjusted to the "Mario Bros. 3" video game attributes, which often resulted in neat, but predictable rides, yet some really talented writers managed to keep that track and still deliver a wild ride; out of 26 episodes, one could definitely establish excellence in 8 of them, which shined with inspirational writing. "Reptiles in the Rose Garden", written by Reed & Bruce Shelly, is amusing through its subversive plot where Koopa transports and sinks the White House into the Mushroom sea, all the while president George Bush Sr. is constantly talking on the phone and doesn't even notice anything. "Reign Storm", written by Ted Pederson and Steve Hayes, is a blast, particularly when it uses the "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" song on two occasions: first showing the Princess relaxing and enjoying surfing on Hawaii, and the second where she almost spectacularly "washes out" Koopa and her robot clone from the castle. "Mush-Rumors", writen by Lee Schneider, cleverly examines exaggerated rumors when a family from Kansas, on their journey to Wild Waldo's amusement park, accidentally lands in Mushroom kingdom and get kidnapped by the bad guys: the mother, and then the father, Norman, speak up to Koopa: "Are you Wild Waldo? Because this is no way to lead an amusement park!" - "I don't know who you are, but I'm reporting you to my travel agent!"

"True Colors", by Steve Fischer, has an honest anti-racist message without turning preachy. Rowby Goren wrote one of the worst episodes in the show, but should also be credited for penning one of the best, "Up, Up and a Koopa", which starts and ends with Luigi eating pancakes and features the smashing moment where Toad and the Princess cannot find magic wings in her basement, filled with useless stuff, so he tells her: "Frankly, Princess, I had no idea you were such a secret slob!" Contrary to the popular belief, the legendary "Kootie Pie Rocks", by Phil Harnage and Martha Moran, is an unbelievable episode that bursts with imagination; from the Milli Vanilli concert where the Princess finally acts like a fangirl, through Koopa's misstating Milli Vanilli as "Silly Willy" up to the finale where Rob Pilatus, back on the concert, announces: "The following song is dedicated to a real Princess". "7 Continents for 7 Koopas", by Perry Martin, is an untrammelled, fantastic fun: except for showing the Princess in a refreshingly strong and charming edition, the montage where Luigi, Mario and the Princess banish every Koopaling from the 7 continents in tune to the song "I'm a Hurricane" is a stroke of genius (especially sweet when Crocodile Dundee takes on Cheatsie and the way Luigi quickly eliminates Hip): it's so contagiously fun it fulfills the criteria on at least one count of a masterwork. Finally, "Super Koopa", by Doug Booth, is the last and the best episode, a one that represents all of the Mario US animated shows. Except for being wildly innovative in having Koopa switch the tables when he gets a device to get super-powers himself, it almost reaches virtuoso proportions at the finale where Mario and Luigi battle him with a whole array of super-powers.

Grade:++

War and Peace


War and Peace; Drama, USA/ Italy, 1956; D: King Vidor, S: Henry Fonda, Audrey Hepburn, Mel Ferrer, Vittorio Gassman

Russia, 1805. Coiled Pierre Bezukov is surprised when his father, the count who never married his mother, dies and leaves all his property to him. At the same time, Andrei Bolkonski leaves his wife and goes to Austerlitz to fight against the invading troops led by Napoleon Bonaparte. When he returns, his wife dies at childbirth. He is devastated. Later on, he is engaged to Natasha Rostova, but she goes crazy over the womanizer Anatole. Pierre and Sonya manage to bring some sense to her, but too late, since Andrei breaks the engagement. In 1812, Napoleon's army heads towards Moscow and the citizens are forced to evacuate. Andrei dies, Pierre gets captured by the French, but gets released and unites with Natasha.

The first US adaptation of the Tolstoy's legendary epic novel, "War and Peace", which encompassed a whole spectrum of human life in only one book, nominated for 3 Oscars and 4 Golden Globes, in director King Vidor's hands became shorter, more romantic and more "Hollywoodized" than it was necessary, whereas Henry Fonda may not be an ideal choice to play Pierre Bezukov, yet in the meandering between kitsch and art the latter still managed to outweigh the first. The 3,5 hour running time was executed fluently and ambitiously, whereas Audrey Hepburn is brilliant as Natasha, actually so influential that this version influenced the looks and settings of the twice as longer - and better - Russian adaptation of the novel by Bondarchuk, filmed a decade later.

Grade:+++

Friday, 8 October 2010

Sea of Love


Sea of Love; Romantic crime drama, USA, 1989; D: Harold Becker, S: Al Pacino, Ellen Barkin, John Goodman, Michael Rooker

Police detective Frank Keller gathers numerous criminals at a party and holds a speech where he tells them they are all under arrest. Then the police shows up and books them. Frank works successfully for 20 years now, but is rather depressive in private life because his wife left him. A series of murder shows up involving always the same pattern of men getting killed after going out an a date with an unknown woman, so Frank and his colleague Sherman start dating women who contact their adds. Frank meets blond Helen, a divorced mother of a girl, and starts a relationship with her despite the fact that she is suspicious. In the end, her ex-husband turns out as the killer, so Frank throws him from the balcony.

Gentle thriller "Sea of Love" is an excellent little film about loneliness of police officers in a big city. It pays out to see it for the great Al Pacino (nominated for a Golden Globe) and a caring eye for fine details: in one scene, the crime scene investigators are arguing over how many hours a man has been dead already; John Goodman's detective Sherman holds the glass from inside in order not to wipe out the suspects fingerprints whereas Pacino's Frank stops a police officer from putting his cigarette in the ashtray of the victim, arguing it is "forbidden to change anything on the scene of the crime". The well written screenplay by Richard Price ("Mad Dog and Glory") portrays wonderfully and meticulously the mentality of the police life, so much it's delicious to watch it, whereas the only serious complaint could be addressed towards the awfully banal plot twist which is unsatisfying. However, the majority of the film has inspiration, even towards the ending which became "accidentally legendary" when a passerby bumped into Pacino, but he just professionally kept on talking to Ellen Barkin on the street.

Grade:+++

Mephisto


Mephisto; drama, Hungary/ Germany/ Austria, 1981; D: István Szabó, S: Klaus Maria Brandauer, Krystyna Janda, Ildikó Bánsági, Rolf Hoppe, Karin Boyd

Germany, just a few months before the Nazi Totalitarianism took over the power. Hendrik Höfgen is a liberal actor who plays in a theater in Hamburg, has a relationship with the African-German Julietta even after he married Barbara but is unhappy with his life because he feels like a "provincial actor". He is happy when he gets an opportunity to star in a big theater in Berlin, but Barbara leaves the country after the Nazi party wins the election. He goes to Austria, but returns back to Berlin after an invitation by actress Lotte Lindenthal, who has a relationship with a Nazi general. Slowly, Hendrik becomes a member of the Nazi party, becomes director of the theater and plays the role of Mephisto.

Winner of an Oscar for best foreign language film and the best screenplay award at Cannes, Istvan Szabo's "Mephisto", a serious adaptation of the satirical opportunistic novel of the same title by Klaus Mann, is an overlong, but honest, straightforward and 'good old school' type of film-making carrying the Faustian theme of the main protagonist, actor Hendrik, who "sells his soul" and becomes a member of the Nazi party in order to assure his career success, with a genius ironic double twist being that he also plays Mephisto in the theater. Despite the competent directing, the movie wouldn't have been half as good without the main actor, brilliant Klaus Maria Brandauer playing the incredibly energetic actor Hendrik as a Kinski-like character - in one scene, he is exercising-dancing in tights together with his mistress Juliette, until they land in bed and he takes off her clothes as they both humorously scrabble and giggle; in another, he is trying to charm the influential actress Lindenthal. As they say goodbye, she walks away to her backyard, and he thinks: "If she at least turns around now, it would be success. If she waves, it's a triumph". And just a few steps before the door, she turns around and waves at him, making him smile. Even though the film's message is obvious, it still speaks cleverly about conformity and opportunism.

Grade:+++

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Shrek


Shrek; CGI animated fantasy comedy, USA, 2001; D: Andrew Adamson, Vicky Jenson, S: Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, John Lithgow, Vincent Cassel

Shrek is a green, grumpy ogre who doesn't like company and thus lives isolated in a swamp. People often attack him, but he easily manages to scare them away with his strength. When Lord Farquaad orders an expulsion of all fairytale creatures from his kingdom, from the Three Little Pigs up to Pinocchio, they find a shelter in Shrek's swamp. In order to have again, he and a talking Donkey go to Farquaad's castle who gives him the promise that the creatures will leave the swamp if he liberates princess Fiona from a dragon for him. Shrek and the Donkey oblige, but on their way back it turns out she turns into an ogre every night. She has an argument with Shrek and just as she is about to marry Farquaad, he gets eaten by the dragon and Shrek kisses her. She becomes and ogre and they fall in love.

Eccentric parody on a whole variety of fairy tales, with numerous "broad" but also intelligent and unassuming jokes, "Shrek" is another clever CGI animated achievement that does not lapse behind the CGI forerunners "Toy Story" and "Antz". The film starts off with harmonic music and a picture-book showing a captured princess - whose page gets ripped off by Shrek to use it as toilet paper, who then exits outside in tune to the excellent song "All Star" by Smash Mouth. The rhythm is continued wonderfully with numerous modern cynical commentaries that turn fairy tale clichees upside down - Geppetto sells Pinocchio for 5 shillings; Lord Farquaad is conducting "ethnic cleansing" of all fairy tale creatures from his kingdom whereas the gingerbread man spits sugar on the aforementioned bad guy. Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy also do a great job delivering their voices to the two protagonists, showing chemistry, especially when Shrek at first doesn't want to have him as a companion ("Does anyone here know the way to Lord Farquaad?" asks Shrek the crowd. When only the Donkey says: "I know, I know", the ogre says: "Does anyone else know besides him?"). Later on, somewhere around 55 minutes into the film, "Shrek" turns slightly more serious and makes a misstep of falling into the trap of kitschy fairy tale himself, which is his biggest flaw. However, it still manages to impress by showing the old cliche about an ugly guy, Shrek, who proves to be a nice person inside, in an overall satisfying manner. Today, "Shrek" is rightfully considered a small classic due to its wit and charm that work both for the children and grown ups.

Grade:+++

Shrek 2


Shrek 2; CGI animated fantasy comedy, USA, 2004; D: Andrew Adamson, Kelly Asbury, Conrad Vernon, S: Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, John Cleese, Antonio Banderas, Julie Andrews, Tom Waits

Shrek and princess Fiona, who herself became an ogre, enjoy in their honeymoon in a swamp. But one day the servants of the king and queen appear and inform Fiona that she must return to her country, "Fae Far Away". Shrek, Fiona and the talking Donkey arrive to the castle and shock the king and the queen who don't like ogres. The king is especially against the marriage because the evil Fairy Godmother forced him to promise Fiona's hand to her son. Since Shrek and the Donkey drank a magic potion and transformed into a human and a stallion, Fiona doesn't recognize them. Still, they save her from the evil Fairy and attend a party.

After the big success of the first film, the audience didn't have to wait too long for a sequel that was almost equally critically acclaimed. Despite a differently structured story, "Shrek 2" managed to manifest funny jokes, though both films have the same flaw: they lose all ideas in the last third, which is why the sequence of Shrek's rescue of Fiona from the arranged marriage towards the finale is also the most boring part of the film. Still, the exposition is appropriately opulent: Shrek and Fiona are romantically running through the meadow towards one another, until the camera slowly reveals angry villagers throwing pitchforks at them. For a romantic dinner, they have captured fairies glowing in bottles. The land "Far Far Away" is an obvious spoof of Hollywood whereas particularly humorous is the grand welcoming committee, where the king and the queen slowly realize their daughter turned into an ogre, yet still try to be polite. The most hilarious joke is the one where the protagonists are in a dungeon and trying to make Pinocchio tell a lie so that his nose would become longer: "Quick! Tell a lie!" - "What should I say?" - "Anything, but quick!" - "Say something crazy like"I'm wearing ladies' underwear!" - "I am wearing ladies' underwear." But his nose doesn't become longer. After a pause, they ask him: "Are you?" and his nose starts growing only after he replies with: "I most certainly am not!" Still, there is less sophistication in their spoofing of various film, which didn't sparkle in full light.

Grade:++