Saturday, 30 July 2011

Jaws: The Revenge


Jaws: The Revenge; Disaster movie, USA, 1987; D: Joseph Sargent, S: Lorraine Gary, Lance Guest, Mario Van Peebles, Michael Caine

Amity Island. After her son Sean gets killed by a shark on Christmas Eve, Ellen Brody is shocked so her other son Michael, a sea biologist, decides to take her to the Bahamas to take her mind off depressive thoughts. She meets a charming pilot, Hoagie, and gets to spend more time with her granddaughter Thea. However, the big white shark follows them and attacks again. Ellen takes a ship to settle the score once and for all. With the help of Michael, Jake and Hoagie, she manages to kill the huge fish with the boat.

By title, concept and an occasional actor 3rd sequel to the "Jaws" franchise, "The Revenge" ended the movie series since it really did not have anything more to add to it, just like the previous two sequels. The original "Jaws" is a timeless hydrophobic classic that actually offered intelligent scare for the audience; "Jaws 2" is just a tiresome copy-paste sequel, though it ended up being a solid horror, while "Jaws 3" is the worst contribution, an entirely insane flick. Part IV is bland, stiff and empty, but watchable movie thanks mostly to the charming performance by veteran actor Michael Caine as Hoagie, the eccentric pilot, and an occasional good idea - such as the opening where the underwater shot dissolves into a shot of a fish on the frying pan - and humorous quotes (during a rehearsal for a Christmas song, the director shouts "Where the hell are the Three wise men?"; "Mental midget."). Actually, if it weren't for the shark, the love subplot involving Hoagie and Ellen Brody would actually have some potential for a good film on its own. The cheap scares and horror elements are trashy, boring and lukewarm, whereas the finale is patchwork, which is why it is good nobody insisted on a 5th movie since the story really didn't have any more sense - or need - to go on.

Grade:+

The Outlaw Josey Wales


The Outlaw Josey Wales; Western, USA, 1976; D: Clint Eastwood, S: Clint Eastwood, Chief Dan George, John Vernon, Bill McKinney, Sondra Locke

American Civil War. When Union soldiers kill his family during a raid, ordinary farmer Josey Wales joins to fight in the Confederate army, led by Fletcher. However, the Unionists led by Abraham Lincoln win so Fletcher and others decide to surrender - but the bitter Wales decides to fight on. He meets Indian Lone Watie and moves south, since bounty hunters led by Redlegs are following him. On his way, he also saves several people from slavery, among them a grandma and her daughter Laura. They settle at a small town where Wales kills a dozen bounty hunters. After meeting with Fletcher again, Wales rides towards south.

The 5th film directed by Clint Eastwood, "The Outlaw Josey Wales" was not remembered during the flow of the cinema history, yet critical acclaim assured it a certain promotion. "Wales" starts off as a Confederate 'wet dream' since the title anti-hero from the South decides to continue fighting against the Unionists even after the American Civil War is over (!), making the crucial mistake of projecting an individual crime of Unionists (who burned Wales' home and killed his family) as the universal face of the Union movement, since people from the North are all presented in negative light, in black and white solutions. Likewise, Eastwood again has troubles confining his ego - the first 10 movies where he appeared as the invincible hot-shot Chuck Norris who can never get shot and get every girl he wants were somehow more charming than the last 30 of them whereas it didn't help that he always had to - when he starred - put himself in the leading role of a movie he directed, never even considering a supporting role. Still, when the movie wonders away from the Civil War and presents new characters, it actually serves its purpose as an anti-war message where people can never escape from an "endless war". Chief Dan George is fantastic as the Indian sidekick ("The Unionists made me surrender! They even made my horse surrender! Now he is pulling a wagon to Kansas!") and humorous elements are refreshing, such as when Wales shoots the rope of the ferry on which bounty hunters were getting transported to him over the river. One can sense Eastwood's sure hand as the director through the elegant narration and a natural story flow that attracts attention thanks to its simplicity.
Grade:++

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Garfield


Garfield; Comedy, USA, 2004; D: Peter Hewitt, S: Bill Murray (voice), Breckin Meyer, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Stephen Tobolowsky

The lazy and fat cat Garfield is coiled Jon's pet. Garfield enjoys his life; he watches TV, bothers the neighbor's dog, makes friends with mice instead of catching them and steals Jon's food. However, recently Jon is bringing him to a veterinary often lately because he fell in love with doctor Liz. Jon gets a dog, Odie, who gets kicked on the street by Garfield. Odie then gets kidnapped by Happy Chapman, a TV host who wants to become a star thanks to him. Still, Garfield saves the dog while Jon and Liz fall in love.

After two masterworks - "Tootsie" and "Groundhog Day" - as well as critically acclaimed dramatic roles, comedian Bill Murray decided to take it easy for a while and picked a more relaxing, casual children's comedy based on the comic book with the same title about the fatest cat in the world. Even though the critics were proportionally too harsh towards the very solid "Garfield", it is still difficult to shake off the impression that the comic books were funnier and more subversive. The CGI depiction of Garfield is all right, though not too faithful towards the original design, whereas it wasn't really expected that a comic-book adaptation will be the new masterwork of cinemas anyway. The roles by Breckin Meyer and Jennifer Love Hewitt are thin and underwritten, the story unoriginal, though Garfield's charm can be sensed occasionally, like in the scene where the fat cat is pretending to eat a mouse but then just spits him out saying: "Blah! Have you tasted yourself lately?" or when he dances with Odie on two feet.

Grade:+

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Airplane!


Airplane!; comedy/ parody, USA, 1980; D: Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker, S: Robert Hays, Julie Hagerty, Leslie Nielsen, Peter Graves, Lloyd Bridges, Robert Stack, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

A smooth flight to Chicago comes to a rough dead end when all the pilots and half of passengers become sick from food poisoning after eating fish. Dr. Rumack quickly realizes that the only healthy person on board who is able to somewhat fly an airplane is the traumatized ex-pilot Ted Striker, afraid of flying, who is not in good relations with his ex-girlfriend, stewardess Elaine. Still, thanks to her motivation and the instructions from the airport by Kramer and McCroskey, Striker manages to land the airplane (semi)-safely.

There are 99 wrong ways of doing a parody movie and only one right way, and the debut film by the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker trio did it the right way: "Airplane!" is a grand spoof on mass of disaster films which inhabited the US cinemas in the 70s, a hilarious comedy of the absurd that almost reaches Monty Python's or Marx brothers' proportions of insanity, while at the same time discovering Leslie Nielsen as a comedian. It is walking on thin ice the whole time, especially during some too obscure gags, but thanks to a tight rhythm, focused tone and a contagiously fun touch, "Airplane!" is one of those comedies where even "dumb" jokes cause a good laugh. It is not stylistically sure as their "Top Secret!" and some complained when the screenplay was nominated for a BAFTA and the movie itself as best picture - musical or comedy at the Golden Globe ceremony, yet the wide range of jokes, varying from silly dialogues ("Captain, how soon can you land?" - "I can't tell". - "You can tell me. I'm a doctor." - "No. I mean I'm just not sure." - Well, can't you take a guess?" - "Well, not for another two hours". - "...You can't take a guess...for another two hours?"), through slapstick (the obnoxious dog harassing a courier at Kramer's home) to sight gags (the "Stayin' Alive" song starts playing on the jukebox, causing some man with a hat sleeping on it and a middle-aged woman to start dancing) simply all contribute to a good fun.

Grade:+++

Friday, 22 July 2011

Monty Python and the Holy Grail



Monty Python and the Holy Grail; comedy, UK, 1975; D: Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam; S: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Jones
England, Middle Ages. King Arthur and his servant arrive to a fortress and enter, but nobody recognizes them. Still, Arthur gathers a mass of Knights, from Lancelot to Bedevere. On a meadow, God appears before them and gives them an assignment: to find the Holly Grail. On their long journey, the meet a blood-thirsty rabbit and various wackos, until the police in the end arrests Arthur for murder.

Viewers annoyed by too serious movie depictions of King Arthur will surely enjoy in the 2nd Monty Python film, "The Holly Grail": this hilarious grotesque is a grand spoof on sagas, legends, myths and theatrical cliches of knights, much more inspiring than Python's last film "The Meaning of Life". Those unfamiliar with the Pythons will need some time to "adjust" to their frequency, but once they get use to it the movie will turn out to be a blast: unlike numerous comedies that are just pretending to be funny, "The Holly Grail" is funny. It is a howlingly funny comedy of the absurd, achieving laughs through dialogues, movements, slapstick, exaggerated situations or simple directorial intervention. For instance, in one scene there is this golden dialogue: "Who is that guy?" - "The King!" - "How do you know?" - "He hasn't got shit all over him!" while another line gives a genius comment on Excalibur ("Oh, but you can't expect to wield supreme executive power just because some watery tart threw a sword at you!"). The scene where a boring historian is walking on a meadow and pretentiously giving a lecture about King Arthur until some knight passes by on a horse and sacks him is a riot; the sequence where the knights are dancing and jumping on the table while geese are flying above them is a comical 'tour-de-force' sight whereas even one simple movement, the where one knight constantly raises his visor up and down on his helmet just to say one word, slowly advances into a joke that will sooner or later cause the viewers to burst into laughter. A fantastic fun, despite an occasional empty, too abstract or bizarre scene.

Grade:+++

Monty Python's The Meaning of Life


Monty Python's The Meaning of Life; Black satire, UK, 1983; D: Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, S: Michael Palin, John Cleese, Terry Jones, Graham Chapman, Eric Idle

A collection of various stories, some of which do and some of which don't address the meaning of life: old employees start a rebellion in a building against their bosses and CEOs, eventually becoming pirates who rob concerns and multinational corporations...An unemployed Catholic is a father of hundred children...A teacher strips and demonstrates sex to his students in the classroom...Despite his protest, paramedics take the liver of a living man because he is an organ donor...Wherever there is a restaurant, a fat man is there to eat...A woman gives birth without pain...Soldiers go crazy during World War I.

The fourth and final Monty Python film (if their concert film "Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl" is excluded), "Monty Python's The Meaning of Life" is also their worst one, a superficial, sketchy and at times catastrophically unimaginative comedy that more often than not does not justify unbearably grotesque jokes and disgusting special effects, like a hacked man who falls apart. The Monty Python crew has a great sense of humor, which was demonstrated in their TV show and previous films, yet anyone who watched their "Flying Circus" knows that when they are funny, they are really funny - but when they are "off", they *really* are "off". Unfortunately, it seems "The Meaning of Life" caught them in their "off" phase since its charm and wit are microscopic. The most sympathetic sketch is the opening with the old employees starting a rebellion in their company, advancing to pirates who rob corporations. Another joke that manages to "break through" to a certain point is the sequence where John Cleese plays a teacher who strips with a woman in the classroom in order to demonstrate sex to his students, who are completely uninterested. The rest of the movie is bitter and violent, unsuitable for younger or sensitive audience. Unfortunately, "The Meaning of Life" is entirely meaningless, a mess where the Pythons went more overboard with excess and tasteless ideas (the fat man who throws up every 20 seconds in a restaurant) than humor and laughs. Whatever the meaning of life is, it has got to be something better than this.

Grade:+

Sunday, 17 July 2011

High Anxiety


High Anxiety; Comedy/ parody, USA, 1977; D: Mel Brooks, S: Mel Brooks, Cloris Leachman, Harvey Korman, Madeline Kahn, Howard Morris

Dr. Thorndyke, a psychiatrist suffering from fear of heights, is appointed as the new administrator of a mental asylum in Los Angeles after his predecessor died in mysterious circumstances. Upon arriving there, the suspicious behavior of nurse Diesel and Dr. Montague attract his attention. At a conference in San Francisco, he is contacted by Victoria Birsbane, whose father is still held in the asylum by Diesel and Montague even though he is completely normal. Diesel and Montague want to throw Mr. Brisbane from a tower to make it look like suicide, but Thorndyke saves him.

A spoof of dozen Hitchcock films, "High Anxiety" seems, just like most Mel Brooks comedies, as a rough patchwork, though still far less so then his last five films which had less good jokes to offer. Unlike "History of the World - Part 1" and "Blazing Saddles", Brooks here actually has a tight story, yet wonders between clever-inspiring and silly-embarrassing jokes, and depending on the mood, the viewers will either be swayed more towards the positive or the negative sides of the film. One of the most hilarious jokes is entirely abstract, a deliberate mishap when the camera zooms in to a dining room where the protagonists are eating, but actually approaches them so close that it breaks the glass on the window (!), upon which the protagonists just stop, turn and look into it for a minute, so the camera pulls back; and then they just continue talking as if nothing happened! That Brooks can make up an intelligent joke is also evident in the ironical sequence where Dr. Thorndyke is informed that his hotel room was canceled because a certain "Mr. MacGuffin called to make a reservation, but canceled it" whereas the spoof on "The Birds" is a riot. Unfortunately, it seems the author rather took the easy way and filled the movie too much with spasmodic, empty or overstretched jokes which rely too much on the shrill expressionistic performances to be pulled through, no matter how good an actress Cloris Leachman is.

Grade:+

Saturday, 16 July 2011

The Doors


The Doors; Drama, USA, 1991; D: Oliver Stone, S: Val Kilmer, Meg Ryan, Kyle MacLachlan, Frank Whaley, Kevin Dillon, Kathleen Quinlan, Billy Idol

A biography of Jim Morrison: after quiting the University of California, Los Angeles, because students booed his pretentious art film, he teams up with Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger and John Densmore to form a band, "The Doors". They write their first song, "Light My Fire", which advances into a hit when they perform in numerous clubs. As his fame grows, so does Morrison's ego and hermetic symbolism, who starts showing signs of insanity not only on stage due to excessive use of alcohol and drugs. He even shouts he is the "Lizard king". His girlfriend Pam finds him one day dead in a bathtub at the age of 27.

"The Doors" is a wild, rebellious, psychedelic and restless biopic about the lead singer of the eponymous rock 'n' roll band: director Oliver Stone tried to match his 'rough' directorial expression with the subject of the story, yet nobody could have expected a family friendly movie about Jim Morrison, anyway. The movie gained certain plus points for choosing a very good lead, Val Kilmer, which combined with the legendary song "Light My Fire" and a few genius moments - when one reporter asks him what he thinks about being labeled as a "Barbie Doll", Morrison replies with: "I guess it's a shortcut to thinking"; upon the instructions of a TV station to replace the word "higher" in their song with something more conservative, Ray decided to comply because "it is just a word", but Morrison is against it, saying: "Why don't you just call yourself Sydney or Irving? It's just a word, too" - managed to engage the viewers. However, the thing that makes them boil, in the wrong direction, is depiction of Morrison as an avant-garde artist who gets so lost with experimenting in Godard and Brecht fashion until he 'burns out' as a short-circuit. Some of these maniacal outbursts will test the patience of the audience and are thus not for everyone's taste.

Grade:++

Friday, 15 July 2011

Bram Stoker's Dracula


Bram Stoker's Dracula; horror-drama, USA, 1992; D: Francis Ford Coppola, S: Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, Keanu Reeves, Anthony Hopkins, Cary Elwes, Richard E. Grant, Tom Waits, Monica Bellucci
In 1453, the Ottoman Empire conquers Constantinople and storms Europe. Romanian count Vlad Tepes stops them, but the Ottoman soldiers sent his wife Elizabeth a fake message that he died in combat. Devastated, she committed suicide. When Vlad finds that out, he sells his soul to demons and becomes Dracula. In 1897, he traps real estate seller Jonathan in his castle and goes to London to meet his fiance Mina, who looks remarkably like Elizabeth. Jonathan calls Van Hellsing for help. Dracula dies in his castle, but Mina gains affection towards him.

The last great film by Francis Ford Coppola - and his first excellent achievement 13 years after "Apocalypse Now" - elite horror "Dracula" is such a virtuoso directed film that the director should have received another Oscar nod (though he won a Saturn Award for best director and film), and determining what is more fascinating - imaginative camera angles, panorama or the set design solutions, all bordering expressionistic works of Murnau and Lang - is impossible. From the sole exposition after the fall of Constantinople in 1453 where count Vlad is fighting with the Ottoman soldiers (all shown just in shadowy silhouettes), the movie manifests brilliant visual style, yet the main (anti) hero is not presented as the typical black-and-white bad guy, but as a disappointed romantic. All actors did a great job, with Winona Ryder and Anthony Hopkins standing out the most. The story is filled with opulent-bizarre scenes: Vlad has a transcendent vision of Elizabeth's face on the sky; vampire women "emerge" from Jonathan's bed; a werewolf has intercourse with Lucy; Dracula takes Mina's tears and makes diamonds out of them - whereas the mood is wonderfully aesthetic and exciting, sharp and tight, scary but at the same time done with taste, which is why this is an very stimulative movie.

Grade:+++

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Columbo and the Murder of a Rock Star


Columbo and the Murder of a Rock Star; Crime, USA, 1991; D: Alan J. Levi, S: Peter Falk, Dabney Coleman, Cheryl Paris, Shera Danese, Julian Stone

Hugh Craighton, a rich lawyer who never lost a case, finds out his spouse, Marcy, a rock star, is cheating on him. He develops a fiendish plan: one day, he uses a hypodermic needle to insert a tranquillizer into a champagne bottle, knocking out her boyfriend, Neddy. Craighton then strangles her. When Neddy wakes up, he is shocked to find her dead and runs away. The police naturally assume he is the perpetrator and arrest him, but Lieutenant Columbo suspects that Craighton is behind it all. However, Craighton has a phenomenal alibi: a photo of him speeding in his car exactly during the time of murder. Still, Columbo dismantles it: someone else just wore a scanned photo of Craighton's face in that car.

The 58th episode of the "Columbo" series, "Murder of a Rock Star" is another charming and clever little contribution to the ever stimulating "whodunnit" puzzle crime plot: the "unnecessary" opening rock 'n' roll song "Closer Closer Your Lips to Mine", written exclusively for this occasion by Steve Dorff, is an "unnecessary" bonus musical highlight, Dabney Coleman is very good as the bad guy Craighton, a skillful lawyer who knows how to avoid getting arrested, the direction by Alan J. Levi is elegant whereas the story flows smoothly. Some far fetched details and plot holes are still there, yet this movie has probably the most delicious of all alibis that Columbo had to dismantle: the one where Craighton has a photo of himself speeding in his car dozens and dozens of miles away from his home during the exact time of murder. The way the famous detective figures out how he did it is one of the ontological, unforgettable highlights of this series.

Grade:++

Monday, 11 July 2011

Let the Right One In



Låt den rätte komma in; Drama/ horror, Sweden, 2008; D: Tomas Alfredson, S: Kåre Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson, Per Ragnar

Stockholm, winter. Oskar is a 12-year outsider child who is constantly bullied and mentally abused by Conny and his gang in school. Likewise, his parents are divorced. However, he makes friends with a strange girl his age, Eli. She is a vampire who was left without an apartment after her "friend" couldn't kill people anymore for her and committed suicide. Following Eli's advice, Oskar stands up for himself and hits Conny with a pole, damaging his ear. When Conny older brother, another bully, forces Oskar under water in a pool, Eli intervenes and kills him. Oskar is thus saved.

The famous song "Hello Goodbye" seems to be close to the "Let the Right One In" experience: it seems as if the director and screenwriter deliberately attached and unified some elements which usually do not go together. For instance, it is not quite clear why the story insisted that the main protagonists in a horror should be - kids. It is truly rare to find that feature, even Argento had to change his script for "Suspiria" and give his protagonists at least 18 years of age because it would have been unseen for to work with minors on such harsh materials. Another unusual feature in this Swedish vampire movie is that horror is actually affiliated with bullying and mental abuse in school, aka with humans, while the vampires are actually overshadowed. Still, this is the kind of film that only Sweden could have pulled off and could have never been made in the US: 12-year old kids swear, are shown naked and perform violence (the scene where Oskar finally strikes bully Conny is chilling). However, it looks more like the director just inserted those bizarre elements because he could, instead of them seeming to perfectly fit within the story for a reason. Some subplots don't go nowhere, either. As some sort of fantasy/escapism on bullying in school (where a vampire saves a tormented hero), the movie works the best. And at least one moment is simply virtuoso directed - the finale where a bully is holding Oskar under water in pool, but then the tip of someone's legs are seen passing above the surface and then something unbelievable happens. The devotion between two outsiders, played brilliantly by actors Hederbrant and Lina Leandersson, is the main source of power for this bizarre film.

Grade:++

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Lone Star


Lone Star; Drama, USA, 1996; D: John Sayles, S: Chris Cooper, Elizabeth Peña, Kris Kristofferson, Stephen Mendillo, Chris Cooper, Joe Morton, Matthew McCounaghey, Frances McDormand

After two men find a skeleton somewhere in Texas desert, it triggers the awakening of long suppressed secrets of a small town situated near the Mexican border. Namely, it is the skeleton of Wade, a highly corrupt, racist, brute Sheriff who mysteriously disappeared 40 years ago. The current Sheriff, Sam Deeds, thinks that his late father Buddy killed him. Buddy was respected, but Sam never forgave him for not allowing him a relationship with Hispanic girl Pilar. Finally, Sam discovers that Hollis actually shot Wade and that Pilar is Buddy's illegitimate daughter, though he decides to continue his relationship with her.

"Lone Star" starts off as "In the Heat of the Night", slowly transforms into a Hispanic version of "Sayonara" and ends with a plot twist that is reminiscent of the Akio-Anthy relationship in "Utena". John Sayles, who received his second Oscar nod in the category of best screenplay, is an intelligent author, though his tactic of acquiring more critical ground through shaky racist themes is limited: in some instances, the theme fits with the story, but on other instances it fits to a lesser extent. Sayles cleverly observes the problems of the American and Hispanic community in the story, even arguing that these problems did not arise up from their interactions in our present time, but a long time ago, centuries ago, from political decisions (Texas Annexation) and mistakes already established in the 19th Century: as such, they all just reflect the burden of history and were in advance set-up to carry it on their shoulders. Sayles has balance and measure, yet the film still seems dry and unexciting. One of the most inspiring moments shows up when the story goes to a flashback, to show a teenage Sam talking with teenage Pilar on the river; she says that she doesn't believe "that it is wrong for White people to fall in love with Hispanic people" and the camera, in one single take, turns towards left to show the grown up Sam saying: "I don't believe it, either." The movie needed more of such poetic solutions, because despite elegance, it could have engaged more.

Grade:++

Friday, 8 July 2011

The She-Butterfly


Leptirica; fantasy/ horror, Serbia, 1973; D: Đorđe Kadijević, S: Petar Božović, Mirjana Nikolić, Slobodan Petrović, Vasja Stanković

In a small village, already four millers were killed in mysterious ways in just one year. The pattern is always the same: they are found with bite marks on their neck. Strahinja is a young lad who wants to marry Radojka, but her father Živan is against the marriage. While taking over the role of the miller, Strahinja is attacked by a vampire, but survives. The villagers find the grave of Sava Savanović, allegedly a vampire, and nail it. However, a butterfly flies from the coffin and is captured by Živan. After running away with her, Strahinja discovers that Radojka became a vampire herself. He nails her and falls unconscious.

Kadijevic's "The She-Butterfly", also known as "The Moth", easily gained cult status as one of the few, refreshing vampire horror movies made outside the US. As such a rarity, it holds a strong reputation in the former Yugoslav countries, though, looking at it from today's perspective, it is not that scary anymore: in a nutshell, it has only three short horror sequences, two at the beginning and one towards the end, which are just there to give "back-up" for the middle 40 minutes of the film (out of its 63 minute running time in total) which are more humorous and casual; for instance, when the priest holds a cross when walking towards the mill and hero Strahinja exists completely covered with white flower, looking like a real ghost, even jokingly "coughing" dust. However, when those three scary moments show up, they really have some chilly mood, especially the already legendary one where the milestone stops and the vampire enters the mill to attack a sleeping miller. The ending seems confusing and "rough", yet Mirjana Nikolic is great as the main actress.

Grade:++

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

The Unbearable Lightness of Being


The Unbearable Lightness of Being; Erotic drama, USA, 1988; D: Philip Kaufman, S: Daniel Day-Lewis, Juliette Binoche, Lena Olin, Derek de Lint, Erland Josephson, Stellan Skarsgård

Prague, '68. As good a brain surgeon he is, Tomas is more interested in seducing women, like Sabina, his long term mistress. When he travels to a small town to perform a surgery, he meets the insecure waitress Tereza. Though he returns back to Prague, Tereza visits him at home and sleeps over at his place. The two eventually get married, but he occasionally keeps having affairs with Sabina. When the Soviets start the invasion of Czechoslovakia, all three of them flee to Geneva. Since she cannot find a job and feels like she is a burden, Tereza returns back to Prague. Tomas follows and they are reunited. Due to a conflict with the regime, he loses his job and goes to work on a farm. They die in a road accident.

Ever since "The Invasion of the Body Snatchers" and "The Wanderers" from the late 70s, director Philip Kaufman had a roll of non-stop remarkable and noticeable films, with "The Right Stuff" arguably becoming his magnum opus and "Henry & June" ending the streak. Nominated for 2 Oscars (best screenplay, cinematography), two Golden Globes (best motion picture - drama, supporting actress Lena Olin) and winner of a BAFTA (best screenplay), his adaptation of Milan Kundera's novel "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" is an quality existential erotic political drama that is stylistically and aesthetically pleasant. Though the story meanders rather vaguely at moments from one point to another, and the running time is overlong and sometimes tiresome, "Lightness" attracts attention with a meticulous mood, crystal clear cinematography, at least three brilliant performances (Day-Lewis, Olin and especially the fabulous Juliette Binoche), very good conjuring up of the "European" feel of the '68 era of Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, some contemplative messages of the ever unpleasantly "fragile" human existence and some great ideas (the clever comparison of Soviet regime with Oedipus Rex - they stayed in power after discovering about the misdeeds that they "unknowingly" did, while the latter punished himself; Sabina, in her underwear, crouches above a mirror for Tomas; Tomas and his friends jokingly look at "sinister" Soviet emissaries at a table and speculate if "you can tell on their faces if they are scoundrels"). The perspective on a traumatic history of his own nation does not contain author's own bitterness or taunting. Instead of it, through irony he achieves an informal tone which gives the story of a painful experience of a whole nation bigger credibility.

Grade:++

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Il Postino


Il Postino; Drama, Italy, 1994; D: Michael Radford, S: Massimo Troisi, Philippe Noiret, Maria Grazia Cucinotta

A small Italian island. Mario is hassled by his father so he finds a job as a postman. He uses that position to visit Pablo Neruda, the exiled poet and communist, when he brings him post. Slowly, they become friends. Mario falls in love with a waitress, Beatrice, so Pablo gives him advice in how to charm her with poetry. The two get married and Pablo returns back to his homeland. Years later, he returns to visit Beatrice again. She has a son, Pablino. Mario, however, died during a communist protest.

Nominated for 5 Oscars (including Best Picture, best director and best actor Massimo Troisi, who allegedly died just one day after filming was completed) and winner of 2 BAFTA awards (best foreign film, music), "The Postman" is a gentle, calm and nostalgic dedication to simple life as well as poetry and art in general. British director Michael Radford copes well with the Italian mentality, allowing story to flow nicely, whereas the humorous touches, as sparse as they are, give it charm (like when poet Pablo Neruda asks protagonist Mario to list some beauties of his island, and he flat out says: "Beatrice Russo!", the woman he is in love with). Some critics complained that the original erotic touch of the novel was toned down for this edition, reducing it basically just to one scene (when Beatrice rolls a table-football ball from her cleavage up to her neck and in to her mouth to "tickle" Mario's imagination), yet the way it is, the tone works well regardless. However, "Il Postino" is still slightly overrated: it is schematic and unconvincing instead of being natural and enchanting. The made up Neruda subplot is neat, yet it was not completely exploited, or better said, it tickles more the imagination of the viewers than it tickled the imagination of the writers. As nice as Mario is, it is somehow hard to believe that he gets Beatrice's affection in such a fast way, with just comparing her smile with a butterfly.

Grade:++