Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Cow and Chicken


Cow and Chicken; animated comedy series, USA, 1997; D: David Feiss, Robert Alvarez, S: Charlie Adler, Dee Bradley Baker, Candy Milo

An array of misadventures revolving around Cow and Chicken, children of Mom and Dad (whose faces are never shown since they only have legs), who often encounter the Red Guy, an incompetent nemesis: the school goes for a field trip to prison (!); Cow and Chicken decide to become sailors; Cow writes a screenplay for a play about "The Ugliest Weenie" or decides to assist a "king and queen of cheese"; Chicken finds a credit card and fakes a comet in the sky in order to scare the city...

An eccentric and extremely comical satire, "Cow and Chicken" by director and screenwriter David Feiss received critical acclaim after his short cartoon, "No Smoking", was picked by Cartoon Network and expanded into a TV show which even surpassed the pilot. TV shows mostly start to loose their freshness after running for a long while, yet that was avoided here since "Cow and Chicken" span only 52 episodes, just enough to end on a high note. The main attraction in this roundabout of insane jokes became undoubtedly the Red Guy (the devil in the pilot), but since the story is deprived of any deeper philosophical connotations, "Cow and Chicken" still remained a children's animation: this is one of the rare examples of a comedy that blends both the outrageously grotesque and childishly naive humor and gets away with it since it somehow almost always outweighs towards the latter, towards the harmless tone, whereas a huge portion of kudos should go to Charles Adler who provided a bravura triple dub by voicing Cow, Chicken and the Red Guy - I watched the show dubbed in a different language once, and it wasn't even 50 % as funny as the original, which really says a lot about his comic delivery.

Whether it's the dialogues (in a store, a clerk says: "Hallo, can you be *helped*?"), the creative sight gags making fun of the fact that Mom and Dad's faces are never shown (they push it to such an extent that in one episode Dad's legs are seen in the lower part of the screen while an inch-thin horizontal pole "hides" his nonexistent upper part), the demented character designs (often showing men with red lips) or simply insane-surreal situations (in one episode, the Red Guy is hired to teach Cow and Chicken how to play the piano: Chicken just pounds the keyboard with its beak while Cow pounds it with its utter, creating awful music. Since the Red Guy observes that they both have only three fingers, he concludes that the problem is resolved by simply removing a third of "needless" keyboards from the piano. Some time later, in order to show his "capacity" and their musical progress, he organizes a real concert which is attended by a huge crowd. But when the curtains go up, Cow and Chicken just simply continue pounding the partial keyboard on the piano, creating again awful music!), this is a howlingly funny show and a fantastic fun, if the "I Am Weasel" segment is excluded.

Grade:+++

Monday, 28 November 2011

For Your Eyes Only

For Your Eyes Only; action, UK, 1981; D: John Glen, S: Roger Moore, Carol Bouquet, Chaim Topol, Julian Glover

Somewhere in the south Adriatic sea, a British spy ship collided with a mine and sunk. It contains ATAC, a system that could order submarines to fire at their own cities. Timothy Havelock is killed by pilot Gonzales from a helicopter that was about to retrieve ATAC from the sea. His daughter Melina wants to take revenge on the people responsible for it. James Bond stumbles upon Gonzales, but the latter is killed by Melina. They both flee to the Italian peninsula, and then to a Greek town where they discover that the villain Kristatos wants to sell ATAC to the Soviets. In an ambush, Bond retrieves ATAC and destroys it, whereas Kristatos dies. For his vacation, Bond brings Melina with him.

With the action thriller "For Your Eyes Only", director John Glen managed to conjure up a truly good James Bond film and thus saved the movie series, whereas even Roger Moore's performance is much more dignified in this edition. Bond is basically a long spy soap opera, so Glen choose wisely when he decided to craft it as an unpretentious fun full of attractions. There are comical scenes, such as when a computer makes a phantom image of a villain with a nose as big a Pinocchio's or a burglar who wants to break into Bond's car despite the warning, so the vehicle explodes with him in self-defence. Even the action is top-notch: downhill car chases are equally as spectacular as the pursuit of Bond on skis. Despite the fact that the ending is slightly confusing and illogical, this 12th Bond film is a very polished and satisfactory edition.

Grade:++

The Spy Who Loved Me

The Spy Who Loved Me; action, UK, 1977; D: Lewis Gilbert, S: Roger Moore, Barbara Bach, Curd Jürgens, Richard Kiel

British and Soviet ballistic-missile submarines mysteriously disappear in the sea, thus both governments decide to jump over their shadow and cooperate. The English call their agent 007, James Bond, who on his way down the mountain kills a Soviet agent - a close friend of Soviet agent Anya who now has to cooperate with Bond. In Egypt, they manage get a hold of a secret microfilm who indicates the way of the submarines, but are persecuted by Jaws, the villain with metal teeth. Bond and Anya discover Stromberg on a platform on the sea, who plans to destroy Moscow and New York. Bond kills him and diverts the fired rockets on submarines, causing them to self-destruct.

It is strange that Roger Moore once stated that "The Spy Who Loved Me" is his favorite James Bond film, since it is one of his weaker products and in reality his best Bond is "For Your Eyes Only." The opening is quite fun: a love couple lies on a bed, but just then the spy device rings - ironically, not the man, but the woman is the one who answers the call, whereby the story gives a neat satirical jab at a "female Bond" who also enjoys seducing. The opening credits are creative whereas one of the main bad guys is "Jaws", the giant with metal teeth. But the main story is boring, standard and naive (when the submarine crew spots that a giant platform is about to swallow them, why don't they simply dive?; "Jaws" destroys a van with agents with his bare hands (!)...) despite the chemistry in the British/Soviet joint cooperation between Bond and Anya and a good box office result. As a whole, the movie is unusually clumsy and anemic due to a too serious tone and wooden characters, which is why the initial fun spark already disappears some 60 minutes into this 2-hour movie.

Grade:+

Saturday, 26 November 2011

H-8


H-8...; drama, Croatia, 1958; D: Nikola Tanhofer, S: Boris Buzančić, Đurđa Ivezić, Antun Vrdoljak, Vanja Drach, Marija Kohn, Mia Oremović, Marijan Lovrić, Mira Nikolić, Fabijan Šovagović

On 14 April '57, a passenger bus was driving from Zagreb towards Belgrade. Among the passengers are piano student Alma Novak; reporter Boris; actor Krešo who lost his career since a doctor's treatment made his laryngitis even worse and thus has a grouch against Mr. Šestan just because he is also a doctor; a young mother with her baby; a middle-aged Swiss man who is jealous of his young wife just for talking with anyone; aging poet Nikola; a couple with a little girl with a nosebleed. At the same time, a truck from Slavonski Brod is driven by Rudolf. 147 km from Zagreb, at 8:34 pm, an unknown car driver with a license plate starting with H-8, wants to pass the bus even though the truck was heading towards him in the opposite direction. In order to avoid the car, the truck makes a sharp turn left and thus crashes into the bus. The car driver escapes.

One of the most critically acclaimed Croatian movies of the 20th century, based on a real event, road movie drama "H-8" is indeed a small classic, a cleverly conceptualized and executed story. The inventive opening already gives a small summary of the road accident for the viewers, determining the exact time (8:34 pm), location (147 km away from Zagreb) and causes of the crash between the truck and the bus: the story then "rewinds" and goes back to the start of the bus journey and the slow build-up of suspense results from the viewers knowing which passenger seats will be fatal (at the front, number 2, 3, 4 and 5) yet the uncertainty is heightened since the characters exchange their seats several times (a mother with a baby cannot close her window, so a soldier concedes his seat to her and thus resettles towards the "death row"), unknowingly "playing" with their fate, so the audience is always hoping their "favorite" will survive while the bad guy will die.

Director Nikola Tanhofer leads the moody story with a sure hand, yet at times the weakness of the writing is not entirely hidden since there is too much babble among the passengers which is at times "just there" to fill the story, instead of acting natural, like the slightly superior example of "Who's That Singing Over There?" where practically every line of the passengers on the bus was essential to the story or simply fun. Still, numerous lines reveal fine writing ("We were poor, we had only 7 dinars when we got married. For our honeymoon we went to the cinema" or "Doctors have it easy: their "successes" praise them, while their failures are buried!") whereas the 'fatalism' of the crash is a source of gripping storytelling towards the end when the inevitable is about to happen, which is why this is a quality achievement.

Grade:+++

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Who Framed Roger Rabbit?


Who Framed Roger Rabbit?; animated-live action fantasy crime comedy, USA, 1988; D: Robert Zemeckis, S: Bob Hoskins, Charles Fleischer (voice), Christopher Lloyd, Kathleen Turner (voice), Joanna Cassidy

Hollywood, '47. Cartoon characters, the "Toons", are alive and interact with humans. A washed up alcoholic private detective, Eddie Valiant, gets in the middle of a conspiracy after his photos revealing a fling between Mr. Acme and "Toon" Jessica Rabbit cause an outburst of jealousy by her husband Roger - the next day, Acme is found dead and the police suspects Roger killed him. However, Valiant believes Roger is innocent and helps him dismantle the plan of ominous Judge Doom who wants to buy off Toontown, destroy it and build a freeway stretching through it. It turns out Doom not only killed Acme, but is a "Toon" himself, yet dies by his own acid invention, "the dip", whereas Roger is acquitted of charges.

One of the most commercially successful collaborations between producer Spielberg and director Robert Zemeckis, unusual crime comedy "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" is dedicated almost as some sort of an "edgier" lesson to Disney's "Mary Poppins", whereas in it there is more chemistry between real and animated characters than there is between two real ones in many movies. The story actually manages to circumvent all copyright laws and encompass several cartoon characters from rival studios in one, which is why this is to date the only movie where Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny - from the rival Walt Disney and Warner Bros. studios - appear together on screen - though, truth be told, considering that, their scene actually should have contained a far better joke than the standard one we got. The combination of the live action and animated parts does indeed have inventive solutions, jokes (an animated car driving a real car) and dialogues ("I am not bad. I am just drawn that way" or "You almost got me a heart attack!" - "In order to have one, you must have a heart first!"), yet the disjointed blend between a film noir for grown ups and animated characters for kids still seems heavy handed at times, nonetheless. Christopher Lloyd (fantastic as the villain Doom who comically writes "Rabbit dip" on the chalkboard in the bar sequence) and Bob Hoskins (nominated for a Golden Globe) are consistent, the finale is virtuoso crafted, but some cartoon characters indeed tend to go "way out of line" with distorted grimaces and annoying antics, which seems forced. Instead of infantile characters from Looney Tunes and co., it would have been far more interesting to actually see a live action-animated interaction with animated characters for grown ups from the far East, like Seras Victoria, Spike Spiegel and Faye Valentine, Minako Aino, Usagi Tuskino and Haruka Tenouh, Kagome...Now, that would have been a blast.

Grade:++

Monday, 21 November 2011

The American


The American; thriller-drama, USA, 2010; D: Anton Corbijn, S: George Clooney, Violante Placido, Thekla Reuten, Paolo Bonacelli

Assassin Jack arrives to the small Italian town Castelvecchio for another assignment of his boss Pavel. One of his associates, Mathilde, wants him to build a tailor-made sniper rifle, so Jack goes on to assemble it from various devices. Upon meeting a priest and a kind prostitute, Clara, who falls in love with him, Jack starts to feel the effects of his long suppressed loneliness and the urge for love. He creates the rifle but tells Pavel he quits his job afterwards. After delivering the weapon, Pavel and Mathilde try to kill him, but Jack outsmarts them. Still, he succumbs to his wounds before he could start his love with Clara.

Even though it might seem sterile and pointless at first, contemplative minimalistic art thriller-drama "The American" actually subsequently turns out to be a quality made film with a precise purpose, where the long and empty scenes evoke existentialism of the tragic protagonist, assassin Jack (great George Clooney) who in the end gets so consumed by his profession that he can never relax, fearing that every passer-by might be his killer. By setting the story inside a small, rural Italian town where people still seem to have some traditional values, friendship, and some kind of joy of life, the authors set-up the stage for Jack "melting away" and wishing to blend in with them, creating very good character development: the scene where he and assassin woman Mathilde lie on the meadow for a "fake picnic" but then suddenly observe a butterfly gently landing on her, sums up perfectly the contradiction of two "ugly" antagonists suddenly getting puzzled by beauty. The movie is not original, nothing here was not already shown before, yet just like its forerunners, Melville's "The Samurai" and Furuhashi's "Samurai X: Reflection", it bravely shows the only possible conclusion for a hitman who cannot live happily ever after after what he has done, but will experience death himself, which is precisely why the ending is so intense.

Grade:++

Sunday, 20 November 2011

The Big Knife


The Big Knife; drama, USA, 1955; D: Robert Aldrich, S: Jack Palance, Ida Lupino, Shelley Winters, Rod Steiger

Charles Castle is a successful actor. One day, he is visited by reporter and friend Patty who inquires when he is going to divorce from his wife Marion, but the latter chases her away from the mansion. Charles, upon Marion's suggestion, does not want to sign a 7 year contract for a studio since he would have to star in bad, cliched movies, but producer Stanley persuades him to sign it anyway, blackmailing him about his car crash accident. After a while, Charles' career starts diminishing while an actress, Dixie, also wants to blackmail him. When Smiley, Stanley's lawyer, suggests Charles to kill Dixie, he starts an argument and renews his relationship with Marion. Charles in the end takes his own life.

Hollywood gained quite a negative reputation in modern times, yet already in 1955, black drama "The Big Knife" made an anti-ode to 'the dream factory' by subtly creating an epitaph to movie art which was replaced by the urge for profit: in this version, a studio boss (excellent Rod Steiger) practically blackmails actor Charles (Palance) to sign a seven year contract for new bad movies since he holds him in his hand by concealing an unfortunate car accident from the public, whereas towards the end the law extension of the movie producers even considers murder to achieve their goal. By bravely showing a situation where a major industry can coax the state system in order to 'audit' circumstances towards their advantage, "Knife" crafted a story full of bitterness and pessimism, which is felt even in dialogues ("All roads lead towards disaster" or "You always do the worst towards people you love the most"), whereas the whole film is almost entirely placed in Charles' mansion, which gives a feeling of static touch. But at the same time the whole thing is also tiresome to watch whereas too much babble reduces the enjoyment value.

Grade:++

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Hellsing


Hellsing; animated horror series, Japan, 2001; D: Yasunori Urata, Umanosuke Iida, S: Joji Nakata, Fumiko Orikasa, Mika Doi, Akiko Hiramatsu

An older gentleman starts kissing a pale woman in his mansion. But he is interrupted by a certain Alucard, a mysterious man in red clothes, who shoots the woman with a silver bullet. The woman disappears because she was a vampire. Alucard himself is a vampire, but works for people in an organization called Hellsing, lead by Lady Integra Hellsing. After a police woman, Seras Victoria, is wounded while taken hostage by a priest ghoul, Alucard saves her by making a vampire out of her. Still confused, Seras now has to get use to sleep in a coffin and eliminate vampires for Hellsing, whether they are vampire brothers, authors of Internet snuff movies or the henchman called Incognito.

The brilliant character of police woman Seras Victoria (voiced by Fumiko Orikasa) completed the tone of the esoteric "Hellsing": this agile-stimulative fantasy-horror anime series manages to present the vampire theme sufficiently in only 13 episodes, but this time in the interesting Hanjian concept where an invincible vampire, dissident Alucard ("Dracula" spelled backwards), actually fights against vampires and is a collaborator with humans, personified in the ironic fact that his master Lady Integra is actually weaker than him. Already the first episode crystallized an eerie mood: among others, Alucard sees the sky in red whereas when his enemies tear his whole body to pieces in the shootout, he just rejuvenates again with ease due to his super-powers. That pilot episode is conventionally suspenseful, but still in the end contains a genius abstract scene that wondered off far into the spheres of anime shrillness: an overweight ghost of a man in a robe floats above the ground and comments the first episode ("No girls, no sex...What a pity!") but then Seras, drawn in comical-caricature manner, shows up and scorns him. The animation is slightly "wooden" at times whereas the original manga remains an untouched ideal (the main plot of the comic-book, revolving around Nazi vampires (!), was "amputated" away from this anime, which was later tried to be corrected with the more faithful "Hellsing Ultimate" OVA 5 years later), but as a whole, this is an unusually aesthetic series, whereas Seras is truly fascinating in scenes where she throws blood into the toilet because since does not want to drink it or fights in her police uniform.

Grade:+++

Monday, 14 November 2011

The Hound of Baskervilles


The Hound of Baskervilles; crime/ mystery, USA, 1939; D: Sidney Lanfield, S: Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce, Richard Greene, Wendy Barrie

19th century. After another member of the Baskervilles dies under mysteries circumstances, the last heir, Henry, is summoned to inherit their valuable estate in Devonshire. First he arrives to London, where Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson assume that someone wants to kill him too. Watson and Henry go to the Baskervilles mansion, where they meet the neighbors, Beryl and John Stapleton. After a while, Holmes shows up himself. It turns out that John wanted to kill Henry with a dog trained to attack, so that he can inherit the estate. Luckily, Holmes saves Henry and prevents his plan.

Hailed as the best movie adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle's cult crime novel with the same title, Sidney Lanfield's "The Hound of Baskervilles" is a thoroughbred mystery-detective story with just two major flaws that undermine it - in the middle part of the film, the absence of the main hero Sherlock Holmes is too long whereas the ending is a real anti-climax that should have been handled better and/or should have shown what happened to the villain - yet the remaining part of the film works, especially since Basil Rathbone is great as the legendary logical detective. The story is compact and gains the most of its plus points thanks to a spooky mood that was achieved thanks to the expressionistic play with shadows and fog (definitely one of the most convincing examples of fog being put on film in the 20th century) surrounding the isolated mansion at night, stimulative moments (from the mansion, Dr. Watson and Henry discover that someone is giving light signals from the dark marsh forest, so they decide to go out and find its source) and a generally fine use of a straight-forward style that neatly blends it all together.

Grade:++

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Burn After Reading


Burn After Reading; black comedy, USA, 2008; D: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, S: George Clooney, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, Tilda Swinton, Brad Pitt, Richard Jenkins, David Rasche, J. K. Simmons

After his superior informs him that he is downgraded from his CIA position, Balkan analyst Osbourne Cox is so furious that he quits his job and decides to write memoirs with sensationalistic undertones. At the same time, his wife Katie is having an affair with Harry, a womanizing Treasury employee and US Marshal. After a careless lawyer loses Osbourne's CD with his memoirs, it is found in a gym by Linda and Chad who want to return it for 50.000 $, mistakenly thinking it is a highly classified CIA file. After Harry accidentally kills Chad in Osbourne's apartment and finds out his wife is also planning to divorce him, he decides to leave the US. Osbourne wanted to kill Ted for breaking into his apartment searching for more documents, but both were shot by CIA agents. Back at the CIA headquarters, Palmer and director are puzzled by the mess of the events in the report.

The 13th film by the Coen brothers, "Burn After Reading" is another edition to their 'misanthropic comedy' list, yet the directors and writers became so comfortably 'Hollywoodized' in the meantime that they lost their 'Coen touch' which adorned their fresh first phase of their career. A spoof of two major US institutions, the CIA and the body-beauty industry, "Burn" is as a whole a surprisingly circled out movie with a polished structure and cold calculation, yet the Coens do not manage to show their pure sense for comic timing, which is also undermined due to their bleak-negative perspective which belittles almost every character in the film. All actors are good, yet the movie "clicks" only when George Clooney and Brad Pitt (who once again showed that funny-relaxed roles suit him more than melodramatic ones) are on the screen, yet in all other examples it takes too much time to bring a point across or is simply not that funny. The chair with the dildo scene particularly seems as if the Coens lost their taste and sense for measure. Two great payoffs, though, come towards the end of the film: in one, Malkovich plays Osbourne, the kind of guy who is a wimp and suffers from a minority complex: you get the idea that he was only in the CIA to show off, but once he loses his job nobody perceives him as an authority. Towards the end, when he stumbles upon an even bigger wimp, Ted, who broke into his house to steal data from his PC, he finally enjoys the chance to "show his strength" and even says: "You're one of the morons I've been fighting my whole life. My whole life. But guess what... Today, I win." What follows is a hilarious scene of insanity. Secondly, the conclusion with the two CIA officials summing up all the events and commenting how crazy they were are simply a riot, with the underrated actor J. K. Simmons showing his full potentials.

Grade:++

Twilight

Twilight; romantic horror, USA, 2008; D: Catherine Hardwicke, S: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Billy Burke, Peter Facinelli, Elizabeth Reaser, Nikki Reed, Taylor Lautner

Bella is a teenage girl who moves away from her mother in Phoenix to live at her father's place, Forks, situated on the north-western part of the US. The weather there is cold, rainy and generally rarely sunny. Bella adjusts to er new high school and meets an unusual teenager, Edward Cullen, who saves her one day by stopping a van from hitting her. Puzzled by him and the legend of the city, she discovers that he is a vampire. They fall in love and Edaward meets her with his family. When a nomadic vampire, James, decides to hunt Bella "for sport", Edward saves her and goes to prom with her.

One of the most hyped and famed movies of the decade, the originator of the "Twilight" saga, this first movie adaptation of the series of novels by Stephenie Meyer is an interesting attempt to blend the "impossible" romance with horror, yet as a whole seems like patchwork: the romantic segment is surprisingly good, moody and even slightly stimulative, yet the horror segment is chaotic and 'anemic'. The reason for why teenage girls went so crazy about kind vampire Edward lies probably in the fact that he represents a triple manifestation of male attraction in one: a forbidden 'naughty guy', a prince charming and strong protector of the heroine. Robert Pattinson is solid in the role, appropriately wearing pale make-up to emphasize his origin, yet it is not quite clear why Bella is so pale too. "Twilight" achieves the most when it attempts to create that 'slice-of-life' mood presented from the teenage female perspective, reminiscent of the narrower writing skills of the classic series "Sailor Moon" and others, such as when Bella also hangs out with Native Americans, feels as an outsider in high school or simply goes to buy a dress with her friends for prom night, whereas her romance with Edward fits in into the concept, equipped with a few neat scenes, such as when he climbs up a tree, carrying her on his back to impress her. However, the story does indeed tend to "show off" and "ham it up" excessively, which is why the horror parts indeed seem unintentionally comical at times (especially the basketball sequence). The finale is entirely illogical: why would James all out of blue suddenly decide to hunt Bella "for sport"? The cause of the confrontation was not well thought out whereas the movie needed more wit and is indeed weaker than its forerunner "Let the Right One In", yet it does have some bizarre charm.

Grade:+

Friday, 11 November 2011

The Sunshine Boys

The Sunshine Boys; tragicomedy, USA, 1975; D: Herbert Ross, S: Walter Matthau, Richard Benjamin, George Burns, Lee Meredith, Carol Arthur, F. Murray Abraham

New York. Clark (73) is an old comedian who has not worked with his ex-partner Lewis for 11 years. Clark's nephew Ben is trying to find him a job, but to no avail: in an audition for a commercial, he has troubles remembering his lines. Ben tries to persuade Clark to attend a TV reunion with Lewis since the studio is willing to pay 10,000 $ for them, but Clark is opposed to it - Lewis often spat while talking and poked his chest. Still, Lewis arrives to Clark's apartment. They start an argument over an old sketch so Lewis decides to do the performance, but not talk to him. During the shooting, Clark gets a heart attack and lands in hospital. Lewis visits and comforts him.

This movie adaptation of Neil Simon's play "The Sunshine Boys" received a very good reception: it was critically acclaimed and won 3 Golden Globes (best motion picture - musical or comedy, actor in a musical or comedy - Walter Matthau, supporting actor Richard Benjamin) and one Oscar for the excellent performance by comedian George Burns who prior to this this has not appeared in a film for 36 years. The movie abounds with humor, wit and inspired dialogues, yet is clumsy in the melodramatic dramaturgy which often tends to be sappy-pathetic: Matthau stars as the bald, aging comedian Clark who is senile (he does not distinguish the whistling of the teapot from the telephone ringing) and thus a fair share of misunderstanding tends to be more tragic than comical whereas Burns shows up only some 40 minutes into the film. Still, Simon's fabulous dialogues and quotes are indestructible: "Will you star with him again? Can we discuss this?" - "No, I am busy!" - "Busy with what?" - "With not discussing." / "Is your father dead or alive?" - "Both." - "What do you mean, both?" - "He was alive, and now he is dead." / "Your father laughed the only time in his life in 1932." / "I haven't seen Lewis in 11 years. I haven't spoken to him in 12 years." Despite the fact that the tragic tone somehow undermines the jokes, some of them are simply fantastic nonetheless whereas the chemistry between Burns and Matthau is great.

Grade:++

Thursday, 10 November 2011

The U.S. vs. John Lennon


The U.S. vs. John Lennon; documentary, USA, 2006; D: David Leaf, John Scheinfeld, S: John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Richard Nixon, J. Edgar Hoover, Ron Kovic, Tariq Ali, Bobby Seale, Gore Vidal, Noam Chomsky

The documentary explores the awakening of political and activist consciousness within ex-Beatles member John Lennon during his stay in New York at the time of the Vietnam War. Rebellious since his childhood, Lennon and his love Yoko Ono made the public stunt of staying in bed in Amsterdam as long as the war is still waging; he wrote the songs "Give Peace a Chance" and "Imagine" where he advocated peace as well as give public anti-war speeches and support the Black Panthers. In a transparent attempt, the government tried to deport him from the US. Still, Lennon won the case and the war ended in '73.

Since John Lennon is one of the most opulent personalities of the 20th century, almost any movie trying to put anything from his life on the screen already has the potential to be interesting, and this documentary by the directorial duo Leaf-Scheinfeld gives a quality retrospect of his his political activism burning inside his blood during the wild 70s and the Vietnam War. Back then, Lennon was almost some sort of a forerunner to Michael Moore: he was a showbiz celebrity who used his status to promote liberal-pacifist messages to the masses, deliberately attacking the government in office. The realization of the movie is standard, yet the energetic guest speakers (from Tariq Ali up to Gore Vidal), frequent use of the protagonist's songs and the extensive use of rare-obscure archive footage of a "daft" Lennon back in those days (especially in the humorous publicity stunts where he and Ono would cover their whole bodies with a sheet during an interview in Vienna or stay laying in bed in a room in Amsterdam as long as the war is waging!) give it charm and wit that lack in the "present" chunks of the movie.

Grade:++

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Jamaica Inn


Jamaica Inn; crime, UK, 1939; D: Alfred Hitchcock, S: Charles Laughton, Maureen O'Hara, Robert Newton, Leslie Banks

England, 19th century. A gang of thieves is notorious for igniting a light above cliffs at a coast during stormy nights in order to attract ships who mistake it for a lighthouse, who then crash at the shore where the gang robs the passengers. Mary arrives to the infamous Jamaica Inn tavern and finds out that Joss, her aunt's husband, is the leader of that gang. She saves a man from hanging, James, who turns out to be a spy working for the police. It also turns out that the local judge Humphrey is actually the covert chief of the gang. Humphrey kidnaps Mary, but when James and the police surround his ship, he commits suicide.

Alfred Hitchcock's last film shot in the UK before he moved to the US to pursue his Hollywood career - where he untypically made some of his best films and actually managed to make the mill run his way in the tough studio conditions - "Jamaica Inn" is one of his rightfully forgotten films, a patchwork that does not know what direction it should take and in the end gets lost, just like his earlier films "Juno and Paycocok" and "Rich and Strange". A large part of the blame should go to Charles Laughton who is a very good actor, but - since he also took the role of the producer - egoistically subordinated the whole story to his character, the bad guy Humphrey who actually turned into a leading role, and thus hammed it up too much, mistakenly thinking that he knows better what is good for the film than director Hitchcock. The black and white cinematography, with some moody shots of the shore and stormy nights, is charming whereas the first half actually works as a crime story, yet towards the end the movie crammed too many illogical situations, plot holes and inconsistencies (in one of the many goofs, Mary is supposed to be guarded by the gang during the luring of the ship towards the coast, but then her guard just makes a few steps forward and she just conveniently runs away without anybody noticing!) while it was probably a mistake for Laughton to insist that his character gets revealed as the bad guy so early in the story, since it took away a dimension of awe later on.

Grade:+

Sunday, 6 November 2011

My Life in Pink


Ma vie en rose; drama, France/ Belgium, 1997; D: Alain Berliner, S: Georges Du Fresne, Michèle Laroque, Jean-Philippe Écoffey, Hélène Vincent

Hanna and her husband Pierre move to a quiet suburb where their first neighbors are Pierre's boss and his family. Hanna has three sons and a daughter. During a welcoming party, the guests are disturbed when Hanna's youngest son Ludovic shows up in a pink dress. Ludovic even starts saying that he considers himself a girl and shows interest for "female shows", which is why only his grandmother has understanding for him. When Ludovic has a fake wedding with the son of Pierre's boss, the parents send him to a psychiatrist. He starts feeling shame whereas the school kids make him an outcast. The family moves to a new town. At first they are angry at him, but gradually accept him.


Winner of the Golden Globe for the best foreign language film, Alain Berliner's feature length debut film "My Life in Pink" is a gentle essay about the different views between kids and grown ups: even though the plot revolves around a boy, Ludovic, who considers himself a girl, this is not entirely a movie with a gay-transgender theme, but also (and maybe even to a larger extent) a story about the search for one's identity and freedom, despite intolerance. The best scenes are those done with measure, taste and even little humor, such as the one where Ludovic secretly takes the place of the sleeping Snow White during a school play, thus forcing the boy he likes and who plays the prince to kiss him or the imaginative-surreal scene where the TV character Pam exists the TV set and flies away. As a whole, the movie is indeed slightly uneven - maybe it was not the best decision choose a little kid for such a delicate story, but a grown up - sometimes heavy handed and stylistically unsure, yet Berliner truly seems to love his story and crafts strong characters, some of which establish an intact character development thanks to only one scene, such as when Ludovic's mother takes revenge on the racist boss by simply kissing him in front of his wife, thus causing a thorough marital feud.

Grade:+++

Saturday, 5 November 2011

The Haunting


The Haunting; horror, UK, 1963; D: Robert Wise, S: Julie Harris, Richard Johnson, Claire Bloom, Russ Tamblyn

A remote English mansion has the reputation of a haunted house and in its 90 years of existence several of its owners either died from mysterious circumstances or committed suicide. When Dr. Markaway, a parapsychology enthusiast, is given the opportunity to investigate it, he invites three other guests: Theodora, Luke and the outsider Eleanor. The latter hears strange knocks on the door of her room during the night. When a fifth lady shows up, she disappears. Feeling she is disoriented, Dr. Markaway sends Eleanor home, but she loses herself and crashes with her car into a tree, dying. It turns out that the missing lady accidentally caused the accident when she showed up on the road.

"The Haunting" was not one of the first 'haunted house' movies, yet its distinctive creepy tone helped to cement the aforementioned setting as a genre for itself. Using some brilliant camera tricks (wide angle or fish eye lenses; "rotation" of the camera around an object which creates the feeling of dizziness; camera climbing up spiral stairs) combined with the spooky location assured a moody 'kammerspiel' for "The Haunting" which is why some consider it as a small classic of psychological horror. The characters are also well rounded up, especially the outsider Eleanor who arrives to the mansion since she simply hates her life with her mean sister, yet the story is inconsistent. For instance, during their first night in the mysterious mansion, Eleanor and Theodora are shocked when they hear strange, undeniably paranormal knocking sounds on the door of their bedroom. A short while later, Dr. Markaway and Luke arrive from the hallway but claim they did not hear anything outside, upon which Eleanor and Theodora burst in laughter, joking that someone "knocked on their door with a cannon". That is an entirely illogical reaction for the two women: they just experienced a genuine paranormal fright and yet joke at it as if it was not such a big deal? Likewise, the story again resorts to double explanation, i.e. the ending can be interpreted both ways: that ghosts indeed exist or that Eleanor was just crazy, which is slightly contrived. Still, it is a good psychological horror and the sequence with the spiral stairs and the image of a woman emerging from the trap door is an anthology of suspense.

Grade:++

Friday, 4 November 2011

Julius Caesar



Julius Caesar; drama, USA, 1953; D: Joseph L. Mankiewicz, S: James Mason, John Gielgud, Marlon Brando, Louis Calhern, Edmond O'Brien, Greer Garson, Deborah Kerr

Rome, 44 BC. After another triumph, Julius Caesar returns to the city and reaches the peak of his power when the Roman Senate proclaims him as the lifelong dictator. Nonetheless, numerous senators see this as the end of freedom in their state. In order to save democracy, Cassius and Casca decide to kill him and even persuade Caesar's adoptive son Brutus to help them. Despite a bad feeling of his wife Calpurnia, Caesar goes to the Senate, where he is killed. Marc Antony seizes power and persecutes the conspirators. Left alone and isolated, Cassius and Brutus commit suicide.

This is an interesting example of how not every movie from the 50s is automatically a classic: despite an ambitious setting, Joseph L. Mankiewicz's adaptation of the play "Julius Caesar" is today a stiff, schematic and dated achievement, one of those dry monumental movies where the basic themes are strong (struggle between being loyal to a friend who "lost his way" or being loyal to your principles and integrity) yet are diluted and therefore difficult for the modern audience to identify with, whereas Shakespeare's artificial and overlong dialogues and monologues also tend to seem more forced than poetic. At times they indeed reach a high level of sophistication ("Cowards die many times before their deaths; The valiant never taste of death but once!" or "Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more...as he was fortunate, I rejoice at it, as he was valiant, I honor him, but as he was ambitious, I slew him!") and this movie adaptation is indeed intelligent and demanding, yet as a whole "Caesar" simply does not manage to engage the viewers to the fullest. The maximum was achieved from great actors, James Mason, John Gielgud and especially Marlon Brando as Marc Antony, who was so electrifying during the big speech sequence that the Academy Awards actually nominated him for an Oscar as best actor in a leading role - when he was actually a supporting character! - and won his third BAFTA in his third consecutive year, after "A Streetcar Named Desire" and "Viva Zapata!"

Grade:++