Monday, 27 June 2011

Dan Aykroyd Unplugged on UFOs


Dan Aykroyd Unplugged on UFOs; Documentary, USA, 2004; D: David Sereda, S: Dan Aykroyd, David Sereda

David Sereda interviews comedian and parapsychology fan Dan Aykroyd about his view on UFOs. Aykroyd talks about having once seen a UFO himself, about whether aliens are benevolent or malevolent, if their power source has a downside just like nuclear energy, why the government is not willing to admit the news to the public and how his UFO show was canceled whereas he saw a suspicious Man in Black on 42nd Street. Throughout, clips are played showing UFO tapes; the bizarre and ambiguous '87 Ronald Reagan speech in front of the General Assembly of the United Nations; and Gordon Cooper talking about his encounter with flying saucers.

Author David Serada once had a chat with Dan Aykroyd and was subsequently so fascinated by his views on UFOs that he decided to re-stage the whole event and film him with cameras. The result is an interesting documentary that will mostly please people inclined towards aliens, UFOs and social effect on the phenomenon (whether it is real or not), which is appropriate and adequate, just like Hercule Poirot will mostly please crime fans and Harry Potter will mostly please sorcery fans, whereas some footage presented is quite surprising, especially when Paul Hellyer, former Canadian Minister of defence, states on a conference that "UFOs are as real as airplanes in the sky", yet numerous video footage of flying saucers will also cause awe (most memorably the NASA infrared tape of a strange, glowing sphere passing by in the space, which has a radius of over a mile). Unfortunately, the presentation is bloated by including footage of confirmed fraud Billy Meier, as well as some off-topic conversations and omissions. All in all, "Unplugged" is an ostensive debate and offers (light) food for thought.

Grade:++

Columbo: Caution: Murder Can Be Hazardous to Your Health


Columbo: Caution: Murder Can Be Hazardous to Your Health; Crime, USA, 1991; Daryl Duke, S: Peter Falk, George Hamilton, Peter Haskell

Wade Anders is a popular host of a crime TV show. Budd, who was originally suppose to get the position of the host, finds out Wade made a porn when he was young and thus decides to blackmail him into leaving from the show. However, Wade observes Budd is an avid smoker so he secretly replaces his cigarette with one where he inserted drops of deadly nicotine sulfate. When Budd takes one, he dies in his home and Wade even mockingly prints a manuscript, titled "Escape to Death", and places it under his corpse. Inspector Columbo is brought on the case and realizes Wade has a strong alibi. Still, he nails him when he discovers scratches of Budd's dog on his car, indicating he was at his place.

Since it is dealing with murder through cigarettes, the 57th episode of "Columbo" was conveniently humorously titled "Murder Can Be Hazardous to Your Health" and despite following standard rules it turned into an engaging, fresh and clever little crime flick. Peter Falk is again charming as the title character who turns into a leech if he has to when questioning the suspects about every little detail, yet the real surprise is brilliant George Hamilton as the villain Wade: the sole sequence where he inventively puts drops of the deadly nicotine sulfate into a cigarette to eliminate his rival, returns it back into the box and lights other cigarettes to burn by themselves on an ashtray in order to have them as a spare, is truly clever piece of writing, both in concept and execution. Another novelty is that he isn't so hostile towards Columbo, but actually pretends to be helping him, which makes him not your run-of-the-mill bad guy. The ending is rather unconvincing - for such a detailed scheme, would Wade not have noticed such an obvious detail that incriminates him? - yet by that time the story already offered an intriguing crime.

Grade:++

Columbo: It's All in the Game



Columbo: It's All in the Game; Crime, USA, 1993; D: Vincent McEveety, S: Peter Falk, Faye Dunaway, Claudia Christian

Rich lady Lauren Staton and her daughter Lisa discover that they have the same lover - playboy Nick. Humiliated, they decide to eliminate him together. They shoot him, but cover him with an electric blanket to keep his corpse warm. Then, when Lauren stops by at his place and wakes up the janitor in the middle of the night, Lisa shoots and runs away so that it seems as if he was freshly killed by robbers in his home. When Inspector Columbo is brought on the case, he again figures something is not right. Lauren tries to seduce him to sabotage his investigation, but he still figures out what happened. However, he allows Lisa to get away with it since she was just aiding and abetting murder.


Sympathetic Inspector Columbo is basically just an extension and continuation to Agatha Christie's Hercule Poriot, but at the same time an independent and solid creation on his own, just like "Monk" was a continuation of Columbo and some future detective series will be a continuation of him: the puzzle "whodunit" concept is simply so good, viewers never get tired of it. The 62nd episode of "Columbo", "It's All in the Game", was written by Peter Falk himself and offered quite a fresh departure from the standard rules of the crime series since this time a killer is a woman who decides to seduce the Inspector in order to "sabotage" his investigation: clever and original. The wage: 3 Golden Globe nominations, for best Miniseries, best actor (Falk) and actress (Dunaway). As with most of "Columbo" episodes, the conclusion is somehow too neat, yet some clever details (water in the freezer of the victim's home, suggesting that electricity has been shut down for a certain time period) and elegant narration again manage to intrigue the viewers and keep them hooked until the end.

Grade:++

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Black Magic M-66


Black Magic M-66; Animated science-fiction action thriller, Japan, 1987; D: Masamune Shirow, Hiroyuki Kitaburo, S: Chisa Yokohama, Yoshiko Sakakibara, Ichiro Nagai

A top secret military plane crashes one night in the forest and thus its cargo is unleashed: two murderous female androids. The army is able to eliminate one of them in a combat, but the second one is programmed to kill the blond Feris, the granddaughter of a robot inventor. Freelance reporter Sybil discovers the story and goes on to save Feris in the city. The murderous android is chasing them through a building until it collapses in an explosion and de-activates it. Feris and Sybil are saved.

A rump anime version of "Terminator", shown from a female perspective (even the android in question is female!), "Black Magic M-66" is the first and only movie by manga writer Masamune Shirow ("Ghost in the Shell") and thus arguably remained his best achievement by default. Luckily, his numerous mangas were later adapted into anime shows by other directors. "M-66" is an extremely simplified 45 minute movie where the characters are just vessels to carry the story from one point to another, which is why numerous viewers complained about it, rightfully claiming that the whole thing should have been more versatile. However, it is corroborated by some very good action-chase sequences and mecha design, which luckily did not end up one-dimensional like the aforementioned features, and at least two situations (the door of the freezer and the elevator sequence) reach almost Hitchcock's intensity of suspense. Shirow was allegedly notorious for the studio due to his perfectionism since he drew more animation cells than scheduled, yet the finished result doesn't really seem revolutionary: every scene is tight and detailed, yet the character designs are not as as good as numerous other animes (who could, for instance, seriously claim that Sybil looks better than let's say Minako Aino or Yoko Littner?). The ending seems a little rushed, yet the sole setting on top of a collapsing building does have its moments.

Grade:++

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Empire Records


Empire Records; Comedy, USA, 1995; D: Allan Moyle, S: Johnny Whitworth, Liv Tyler, Rory Cochrane, Anthony LaPaglia, Renée Zellweger

In order to save the record store he works in, "Empire Records", from getting sold to the "Music Town" franchise, employee Lucas takes the money of his boss, Joe, goes to Atlantic City one night and gambles in order to triple the amount, but loses. The next morning, he has to take responsibility in front of Joe, much to the amusement of other employees, A.J., Gina, Deb, Berko and Corey. That day, the semi-famous singer Rex appears in the store to sign autographs and Corey wants to lose her virginity with him, but he disgusts her. She even gets into fight with Gina. A shoplifter, "Warren", is detained in the store. At evening, they organize a party and collect enough money to continue working the way they like.

"Empire Records" didn't achieve a huge profit at the box office, but subsequently gained cult status because as long as there are at least 1 % of movie buffs with taste and an open mind, it will be impossible to forget movies like these by the sands of time. Maybe I'm not the right person to review it neutrally since I think that a movie about a rock 'n' roll bend or enthusiasts cannot be bad, yet it is difficult for the viewers to not get charmed at least in the fabulous opening sequence where Lucas decides to save his beloved record store, goes to Atlantic City, enters a casino and bets all the money he has, and when one girl asks him if he feels lucky he just says in cool "Blues Brothers" fashion: "I'm guided by a force far greater than luck!", rolls the dice and wins with ease.

"Empire Records" seems like some sort of a flawed version of Crowe's "Singles", as if someone decided to insert five or six bad sequences in that aforementioned masterwork of young generation in order to "test it": on one hand, the script by Carol Heikkinen and direction by Allan Moyle have some contagiously fun attitude and sense for the youthful spirit (in one humorous scene for instance, A. J. jokingly glues quarters to the ground; the sequence where fangirl Corey decides to seduce her idol, singer Rex, so she bashfully strips in underwear in his room, but then he just unzips his penis out and scares her away is a legend). But on the other hand, they unfortunately took the wrong turn in the second half when Corey and Gina broke out into a melodramatic argument, which wrecked the fine mood. Likewise, some moments were entirely senseless (the misguided "funeral" sequence). Still, the good ideas outweigh the lesser ones, the performances are fantastic (especially Renee Zellweger, Liv Tyler and Rory Cochrane) whereas the soundtrack is 'tour-de-force' ("Video Killed the Radio Star" by the Buggles, "How" by the Cranberries, "Tomorrow" by Mouth Music and numerous others, and the list would have for sure been even bigger hadn't it been for the budget constraints), which all contribute to that fine 'hangout mood'.

Grade:++

Monday, 20 June 2011

Witnesses


Svjedoci; War drama, Croatia, 2003; D: Vinko Brešan, S: Dražen Kühn, Leon Lučev, Alma Prica, Mirjana Karanović, Krešimir Mikić

A Croatian city near the front during the Croatian War of Independence. Croatian soldiers Vojo, Barić and Joško, kill a Serb civilian, Jovan, at his home. They hide in his neighbor's house, which is owned by a widow who lost her husband in war. When the police inspector Barbir shows up on the scene of the crime, the widow pretends she didn't hear anything. Her son, Krešo, returns from war where he lost his leg. His girlfriend, a reporter, investigates the whole case. However, there was a witness, Jovan's daughter, who was captured by Vojo and the others. Not having the heart to kill her, Barić commits suicide. When Krešo hears about this, he saves the girl and drives her away to safety with the reporter.

Based on Jurica Pavičić's novel "Clay Sheep", director Vinko Bresan made a brave, honest and sincere war drama that tackles the difficult theme of a war crime committed by his own nation. It is clear that Croatia was victim of Slobodan Milošević's plan of Greater Serbia, but one has to admit that even the Croatian side committed war crimes and movies like "Witnesses" and "Blacks" give the opportunity for the viewers to think about these with dignity. Bresan did not fall into the trap of portraying his characters as black and white - just like Kubrick's "The Killing" or Tarantino's "Jackie Brown", this movie shows the sole event four times, each time from a different perspective, which gives the characters subtler nuances and explore their context. However, the characters still ended up rather underdeveloped, especially the pale widow played by Mirjana Karanovic and the bleak inspector, with the female reporter and kind war veteran Kreso getting slightly more room to display their talent. The movie is definitely too long, grey and stiff at times, yet a few original details (Croatian soldiers fighting in front of the house while a dozen geese are walking near them) as well as a touching ending make this a positive viewing experience of a movie about tolerance.

Grade:++

Sunday, 19 June 2011

S1m0ne


S1m0ne; Science-fiction satire, USA, 2002; D: Andrew Niccol, S: Al Pacino, Rachel Roberts, Catherine Keener, Evan Rachel Wood, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Jason Schwartzman, Winona Ryder

Down-and-out director Viktor manages to complete his new film "Sunrise Sunset" - even though its main actress, Nicole, walked off the set - and affirm a new star, Simone. She is beautiful, talented and - not real. Simone is namely just a very realistic CGI programme which Viktor inherited from a late computer genius. Viktor thus has trouble conjuring up to the world that Simone is a real human being and makes new movies with her, with suspicious actors who never even get the chance to see her. When everyone starts ignoring him, Viktor declares that Simone died. He is arrested for her murder but his daughter saves him by renewing Simone.

Even though it has only a 1/4 effect of his magical "The Truman Show", Andrew Niccol's "S1m0ne" still manages to ignite some small sparks of the latter because he once again coped with an esoteric theme of infiltration of the almighty technology into the human intimacy that enabled the inapprehansible. It doesn't explore transhumanism as much as "Gattaca", yet it still manages to depict how humans have to adjust to new, challenging innovations. The main protagonist Viktor (Al Pacino in another excellent performance) pretends that his CGI "actress" Simone is actually a real person, which offers a few ideas with inspiration: for instance, all actors agree to shoot a movie with her, but without her ever visiting the set, because of her alleged motto that she "copes the best with people who are not there", even though the plausibility of such a concept has plot holes. Viktor also tries to explain to the producers that Simone doesn't need make up or a wardrobe whereas especially ironic is the sequence where her concert is presented as a 3D hologram on Taj Mahal and the pyramids. One genius tangle involves Viktor being virtually ignored by everyone and thus decides to humiliate Simone by making a movie where she rolls with pigs. However, not all potentials were exploited for such a stimulative concept, whereas some loose (and unconvincing) ends, lack of emotional engagement as well as clumsy characterization prevented the story to be lifted into something more than it could have been.

Grade:++

Saturday, 18 June 2011

City of God


Cidade de Deus; Crime drama, Brazil, 2002; D: Fernando Meirelles, Kátia Lund, S: Alexandre Rodrigues, Leandro Firmino, Phellipe Haagensen, Alice Braga

The "City of God", a suburb of Rio de Janeiro in the 60s. Rocket grows up together with boys Li'l Ze and Benny, who are predestined to crime already from the early age. Li'l Ze kills Rocket's brother and becomes a wealthy drug tycoon by the age of 18. Rocket loves Angelica, but she has a relationship with Benny who dies in a shoot-out. When Li'l Ze rapes a girl, her lover Ned declares war on him and joins the rival gang. Rocket becomes a reporter and makes photos of the gang wars where Li'l Ze is killed.


Even before "The City of God" was surprisingly nominated for 4 Oscars (including best director and screenplay), it already gained hype at the Cannes film festival where numerous critics were already impressed by the opening sequence where the camera is in "fast forward" style flying about the grown up Rocket until a cut brings it to him as a child. There were also detractors from the film, who attacked it for violent scenes, but to its credit, they are not presented in a sensationalistic or 'cool' way, but as ugly, dirty and unsettling, since the story is based on true events. Actually, almost every violent scene is disgusting and the viewers feel contempt towards the perpetrators, like when Li'l Ze, at the age of 10, shoots at innocent people and laugh like an idiot or towards a criminal who is robbing naked men in a brothel. Director Fernardo Meirelles decided to show injustice and draw attention towards the neglected slums of Rio de Janeiro by simply publicly showing all its details that are otherwise not shown in the West. "The City of God" is a strong and energetic film, yet it is just Brazil's version of "Goodfellas", done rather too fast, cold and without a soul.

Grade:+++

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

In Cold Blood



In Cold Blood; Crime, USA, 1967; D: Richard Brooks, S: Robert Blake, Scott Wilson, John Forsythe

Two ex-convicts, Perry and Dick, take a long car drive to Kansas in order to rob Mr. Clutter, a farmer, because they heard a rumor from an inmate that he keeps 10.000 $ in his safe. At around 2 AM, they storm the house, tie up Mr. Clutter and his wife, son and daughter, but cannot find the safe anywhere. Even though he tells them he has no safe, they kill him and his family, extracting only 43 $ from them. Detective Alvin Dewey starts an investigation of the murder. Finally, Perry and Dick are caught after stealing a car, put on trial and sentenced to death.

Truman Capote wrote "In Cold Blood" not as a 'fictional crime novel', but as a 'factious' novel, almost a documentary depiction of the '59 murder of the Clutter family by Perry Smith and Dick Hickock after years of researching and interviews with the perpetrators themselves. Richard Brooks' adaptation of the latter is a sharp, dark and realistic crime movie, almost uncomfortably modern-actual even today because it did not try to 'polish up' the events. Back in those days, Brooks made a daring move not to show the sole murders at first, but just cut to the next day when Perry and Dick run away - instead, he decided to save the murders for the end, when the story jumps back in a flashback and shows how the Clutters were tied, abused and subsequently murdered in their home: it was an unusual choice then, but today is seems almost modern. Brooks doesn't censor Perry and Dick's dialogues - they openly speak about cheating on a wife up to how "nuns are sexy", with an occasionally clever observation about the society ("It's the national pasttime, baby, stealing and cheating. If they ever count every cheating wife and tax chiseler, the whole country would be behind prison walls!"; "There are two kinds of laws: one for the poor and one for the rich."), which is why the film seems authentic and unsettling. A minor complaint could be raised towards the rather overlong running time and a few tiresome and distracting flashbacks, though the authors wanted to give a three-dimensional portrait of the killers, showing even how they are victims of the society since they just wanted to get some money to pursue their goals. Brooks was nominated for an Oscar for best director and screenplay.

Grade:+++

Monday, 13 June 2011

Go for It


Nati con la camicia; comedy, Italy/ USA, 1983; D: E.B. Clucher, S: Bud Spencer, Terence Hill, David Huddleston, Faith Minton, Buffy Dee

After a misunderstanding with the police, who caught them driving a truck without any license, two clumsy guys, Rosco and Doug, enter a plane for Miami on the run by pretending to be Steinberg and Mason, whose names they only heard being spoken out on the loudspeaker. However, once in Miami, they find out Steinberg and Mason are CIA spies and thus have to take on their aliases, as well as their assignment: to spy on the dubious crime king K1. He captures them on his yacht and tells them about his plan: to bomb a space rocket in order to cause an explosion, rule the world and erase any knowledge of numbers. Rosco and Doug stop him and get praise from their boss.

The 14th Bud Spencer-Terence Hill film out of 17 in total, "Go for It" barely misses a good grade, yet it is still arguably the best comedy of the duo in their weakest phase, the 80s and 90s. By extending their repertoire to a James Bond spoof, director Enzo Barbani achieved a comedy just slightly better than similar, misguided attempts of the latter, like "Spy Hard", "Casino Royale" and "Johnny English", yet, despite some good ideas (a blind cook with a stick carrying a set of glasses through the hotel kitchen), "Go for It" needed at least two or three more good jokes to edge its way into a better grade, since the second half loses its inspiration and turns into an empty, standard plot on auto-pilot. Spencer and Hill still have chemistry, though. Despite a mild finale, the first half of the movie is truly fun, especially in one great joke at the start, when Hill and Spencer are caught on the highway by two police officers for driving a truck without a license: both of them raise their hands in the air, but suddenly Hill opens his mouth and raises his hands even further in the air, as high as possible. The two police officers, and even Spencer, look at him, puzzled. However, as a ventriloquist, Hill distorts his voice to make them believe as if two gangsters raised a gun behind the police officers' back, causing them now to drop their guns and raise their hands in the air themselves. Spencer cannot believe the trick worked, but decides to play along. At that moment, an older man and his wife pass by with their car, stop and look in awe as two truck drivers and two police officers are all holding their hands in the air, labeling them all as wackos. That sequence really brought back memories of some of the best Spencer-Hill comedies.

Grade:+

Sunday, 12 June 2011

300


300; Action adventure, USA, 2006; D: Zack Snyder, S: Gerard Butler, Lena Headey, Dominic West, David Wenham

Sparta in 480 BC, during the Greco-Persian Wars. The seemingly unstoppable king Xerxes wants to create Greater Persia on the expense of the Greek territory, yet Spartan king Leonidas bravely decides to round up 300 of his best men and defend his home in a nearly suicidal mission for the battle of Thermopylae. Xerxes' army is numbered in tens of thousands, yet they are unable to break through Leonidas' phalanx formation in the narrow passage. Still, Xerxes manages to sway the deformed Ephialtes to join his kingdom and show him the back exit to surround and kill Leonidas unit. Still, upon hearing that news, Greeks massively go to fight for their homeland.

Despite a mixed critical reaction, everyone should universally hand it to author Frank Miller for one thing in this comic-book adaptation: "300" managed to make a gripping history lesson out of an event lost in the sands of time, actually so gripping that even teenagers went on to see the movie and perceive it as modern-actual, never for a second thinking it is from 480 BC. The "washed out/saturated" colors of the cinematography conjured up the feeling of a living graphing novel, which has some aesthetic and stylistic appeal, yet the 'rough' and cheap touches bloated the simplistic dramaturgy. The black and white depictions of enemies (ecstatic physiology) as well as pompous display of the story are a setback, yet despite splatter violence (decapitated heads) this is still one of the few rare examples of 'cool movies' that actually honestly speak about honor, loyalty and integrity and that is something that deserves praise. In one great example of Spartan courage, the Persian emissary spots the wall built out of dead Persian soldiers and warns the Greeks that many Persian "arrows will darken the Sun", upon which one Spartan says: "Then we will be fighting in the shade". When Leonidas departs from his wife forever, he doesn't say a word, but the narrator does: "Farewell, my love". Controversy was sparked by the depiction of Persians in the movie, some even interpreting it as a Western imagination of fighting against the modern day Iran, though philosopher Slavoj Žižek subversively observed how Persians "shoot arrows at distant enemies", which could be interpreted as "a modern army from one big country shooting at simple enemy soldiers with missiles from the other side of the world". In any event, a stimulative movie.

Grade:++

The Cat Returns


Neko no Ongaeshi; Animated fantasy, Japan, 2002; D: Hiroyuki Morita, S: Chizuru Ikewaki, Yoshihiko Hakamada, Tetsu Watanabe

Haru is a clumsy teenage girl who is often late for school. One day she saves a grey cat from getting run over by a truck on the street. She is surprised, however, to find out the cat can talk and is actually a prince of the evasive cat kingdom. In order to thank her for saving him, those cats "kidnap" Haru into their world and turn her into a cat, so that she can marry the prince. Baron and Muta, two unlikely cats, try to save her and bring her back home. When the prince hears about it, he announces that he is already engaged. Haru thus returns to her home as a human.

Just like almost every studio Ghibli movie, "The Cat Returns" is a wonderfully animated, gentle and fluent anime, yet it seems it tried too hard to imitate Miyazaki's "Spirited Away", just switching it into the world of cats. It seizes the sympathy of the viewers the minute the Usagi Tsukino-type of heroine Haru saves a grey cat carrying a present in her mouth by catapulting it away from the street and an incoming truck with her cricket bat, yet, sadly, looses that special connection with the audience fairly quickly when Haru gets transported into the cat kingdom where she is going to be (unwillingly and - unconvincingly) rewarded for her good deed by getting transformed into a cat and marrying one. The side character of Baron, who looks like a cat version of Tuxedo Mask, is charming, yet that whole second half of the movie consists just out of one failed attempt after another since it is too wacky and bizarre - the chase sequences can go just that far before they start to become tiresome. A neat example of entertainment, yet only the first third goes somewhere.

Grade:++

Friday, 10 June 2011

The Wrestler


The Wrestler; Drama, USA, 2008; D: Darren Aronofsky, S: Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood

After a heart attack, the middle-aged wrestler Randy "The Ram" Robinson realizes he is not completely fit anymore to participate in such an extreme sport. He thus goes on to try to establish long broken ties with his daughter Stephanie, but arrives too late to meet her because he drugged himself at a party; he is in love with stripper Cassidy, but she doesn't want to have a relationship with customers; he tries to have an ordinary job in a store, but it doesn't suit him. Finally, he decides to have a re-match with his old "rival" Ayatollah, where he wins just before a new heart attack.

In "Barton Fink", the main protagonist is trying to write a script for a wrestler, intending to use him as a metaphor for the struggling lower class. It seems as if director Darren Aronofsky took over that idea and brought it to the big screen with "The Wrestler", describing it nicely as a story about a "performer coping with demanding art": in this edition, it squeezes drama through the main protagonist, Randy "The Ram", who is forced to return to wrestling despite his health problems because this is the only world where he gains some respect from people, where he is otherwise completely shunned from his bitter daughter up to his uncertain wannabe girlfriend, stripper Cassidy. Aronofsky improved his style from his previous movies since he abandoned his 'autistic direction' and went on for clear, normal storytelling, which manages to blend both tastes, for wide audience (wrestling milieu) and demanding viewers. However, it's still basically just a too simple example of writing, artificial story flow and standard dialogues enriched by two brilliant performances by Marisa Tomei and refreshingly sincere and fragile Mickey Rourke, who delivered a marvelous comeback role for which he won a Golden Globe and a BAFTA as best actor. The scene where Cassidy tells Randy that she regrets that she kissed him because it was "a mistake", and he tells her that it "certainly did not feel like a mistake", compensates for an occasionally less inspiring moment.

Grade:++

Monday, 6 June 2011

Eat Drink Man Woman


Yin Shi Nan Nu; Drama/ Comedy, Taiwan, 1994; D: Ang Lee, S: Lang Xiong, Wu Qianlian, Yang Guimei, Wang Yuwen, Tang Yugian

Taipei. The old master cook Zhu still works at a restaurant despite the fact that he lost his ability to taste. He is widowed and lives with his three grown up daughters: Jiazhen, Jiaqian and Jianing. Even though she is the eldest daughter, Jiazhen doesn't have a boyfriend, is a Christian and works as a teacher in a school. She scorns a student because he had a love letter, but she starts receiving love letters herself, she starts questioning her life. It turns out students were actually writting those letters, but she marries a volleyball player...Jianing works in a snack bar and starts a relationship with the guy who was dumped by her colleague. She gets pregnant and moves to his place...Jiaqian is bitter at her father because he persuaded her to study instead of helping him cook, and now works at an airline company. She stumbles upon a guy who allegedly broke Jiazhen's heart in college, but it turns out she just made that up. When Zhu announces that he will marry the former friend of her oldest daughter, Jiaqian stays to cook for him. She makes a delicious meal that brings his taste back.

Food is to "Eat Drink Man Woman" what guns are to Tarantino's movies and instruments are to musicians - catalysts that intensify a theme and make it a passionate work. In his 3rd movie, nominated for a BAFTA, a Golden Globe and an Oscar for best foreign language film, director Ang Lee achieved a masterful delicatesse, a great movie about everyday family problems that is so simple and yet so engaging - once you give it a chance and watch only 5 minutes of it, you instantly get hooked and want to see it to the end. Even though this is suppose to be a drama, "Eat Drink Man Woman" contains wonderfully optimistic emotions, elegance and sweet humor: for instance, when Jiazhen, who works as a teacher, throws a lost volleyball down from her class on a storey down to a volleyball player, the team jokingly cheers: "Look, she is throwing a bouquet!"; during a test, a student is hidding cheat-notes in his shoe; Jianqian doesn't want to sleep with the guy who supposedly broke Jiazhen's heart in college, but then she finds out from him that they were never a couple in the first place! Out of the three daughters, Jianqian and Jianzhen are fully developed characters, with only Jianing turning out slightly less so, yet the three intervened stories from their lives, and the fourth revolving around their father, are so tight and strong that this doesn't deter from the whole, combining themes of love, passion, food, family and slice-of-life. Even though this is a Taiwanese movie, it is universally appealing - it doesn't matter if you watch it from Vancouver, Johannesburg or Kyoto, you will get it from every perspective you take it.

Grade:+++

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Honey, I Shrunk the Kids


Honey, I Shrunk the Kids; Fantasy comedy, USA, 1989; D: Joe Johnston, S: Amy O'Neill, Robert Oliveri, Thomas Brown, Rick Moranis

Professor Wayne Szalinski is a clumsy inventor who works on a shrinking machine. His wife Diana left him whereas his neighbors, the Thompsons, mock him. But Thompson's son accidentally throws a ball into Wayne's house, which activates the machine that shrinks him, his brother as well as Wayne's kids Amy and Nick. Now smaller than half an inch, they get swept away by Wayne who unknowingly throws them into trash, but later on figures his machine shrunk the kids, so he starts searching for them in the yard. The four kids manage to get back home where Wayne finds them, returns them back to their size and makes up with the Thompsons.

The Disney studio produced Joe Johnston's feature length debut film, "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids", a good and imaginative fantasy adventure comedy that eventually turned into a box office hit. After an unnecessary cartoon intro, the biggest burden is the one dimensional, undeveloped portrait of the 4 kids who get to explore "the insect perspective", which is why somehow the real star is the supporting role of the comical Rick Moranis. Not all possibilities were exploited, but the story is filled with unusual camera angles and "miniature" action sequences. One of the best moments is when the kids are flying through the yard on the back of a bee (too bad it wasn't shot in one take, but in standard montage), the encounter with an ant or when the boy is looking at the "distant" house from a flower. The special effects are especially well done and were nominated for an Oscar.

Grade:++

It's the Rage


It's the Rage; Drama, USA, 1999; D: James D. Stern, S: Jeff Daniels, David Schwimmer, Andre Braugher, Robert Forster, Joan Allen, Josh Brolin, Anna Paquin, Giovanni Ribisi, Gary Sinise, January Jones

In the middle of the night, Helen is woken up by gun shots. She finds out that her husband Warren killed his business partner Justin whom he mistakenly took for a burglar. She leaves him and finds a job at the mad computer tycoon Morgan whose company is slowly going bankrupt. Lawyer Tim is defending Warren and is having an affair with the absent-minded blond Annabel who steals and threatens. Tim's gay lover Chris doesn't like that. Tim accidentally kills the nervous Annabel while her brother kills a video store clerk because he suspected he was the perpetrator. Due to jealousy, Chris kills Tim. The rich Morgan goes broke, but manages to gain money again. Warren lands in prison, Helen leaves the country.

Unusual drama "All that Rage" knits a collage of stories mirroring the fate of 10 characters which are united by one common feature - possessing a gun, which ends in tragedy for them. The opening shots are quite impressive, with the opening credits getting spelled out while letters from the newspapers are placed in the background, with a few humorous moments such as a drawn gun on a dollar bill. Director James D. Stern has style which keeps the storyline alive and ticking despite some tiresome subplots. David Schwimmer has an unusual but role as the gay lover, while Anna Paquin, on the other hand, received the worst role, the one of the irritating, mentally unstable Annabel, though she still gives it her best. Most of the characters never meet, yet the theme of violence in society has some poignant moments.

Grade:++