Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Magical Maestro

Magical Maestro; animated comedy short; USA, 1952; D: Tex Avery, S: Daws Butler, Carlos Ramirez

A opera singer rejects a magician just minutes before his performance in the opera "The Barber of Seville". As a revenge, the magician disguises himself as the conductor and teases the singer by constantly transforming him in all kinds of inappropriate clothes, ranging from a Chinese, through a cowboy up to a child, while he is singing the opera in front of the audience. The singer eventually recognises the magician and puts him through all that what he did on the stage.

The best Tex Avery animated short, a small comic masterpiece, "Magical Maestro" is an insanely inspired 6 minute one-note story that also covertly "smuggled" an artistic piece of work, Rossini's opera "The Barber of Seville", into the mainstream medium and made it seem natural and fun - which is another reason to admire the comic timing and animation which had to be entirely synchronised-aligned towards those lyrics. Creating humor out of a simple use of a collision between elevated-serious delivery of the opera and sudden switching to the opposite absurd-silly transformations of the singer, Avery channelled his insane energy not on pointless grimaces but on a rare kind of genius silliness with style: the lines "A tisket a tasket, I lost my little basket" and "Oh my darling Clementine" will forever be howlingly funny for those viewers who saw it, with the Hawaii dance scene reaching a 'tour-de-force' level of quality, whereas unlike heavy handed cartoons like "South Park" or "Family Guy", here even the 'politically incorrect' jokes seem sophisticated.

Grade:++++

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Poltergeist

Poltergeist; horror, USA, 1982; D: Tobe Hooper, S: JoBeth Williams, Craig T. Nelson, Heather O'Rourke, Dominique Dunne

The Freelings lose their attribute of an average family when ghosts show up in their house and trap their daughter Carol in a TV set. When Freelings call parapsychologists, they discover that the cause of objects levitating and other freaky phenomena lies in the fact that the house was built on a cemetery. Mother and father, together with the crew, organize a huge rescue mission when they find a portal to another dimension and get Carol back to the real world. The house implodes while the Freelings move out to a motel.

Spectacular special effects, nominated for an Oscar, contributed to the rural horror "Poltergeist" that still seems creepy despite shortcomings in dramaturgy. Producer and screenwriter (and according to some, 'de facto' director in some scenes since he was more dominant than 'the jure' director Hooper) Steven Spielberg conjured up a story about a normal family in an isolated province, which gave him the chance to have an excellent build up of suspense when the ghosts suddenly start showing up in the house: just like "The Haunting", he knows that it's always the scariest when unknown forces hit in a large building that is far away from anywhere. However, he failed in creating a cohesive whole of the whole matter, even though some would argue that ghosts don't need to have a reason to suddenly attack and anguish an ordinary family. A few good scenes with style, like the camera following a heroine who is in front of a table, bends under it but when she stands up again she finds a whole bunch of chairs were set up on it in the meantime, have spark - a similar trick like that was later used in a scene in "The Sixth Sense" - whereas some examples of sophisticated suspense are exquisite (the tree attacking through the window; the scene where the kid looks under the bed is already a legend) yet they did not conceal the superficiality, i.e. the motivation of ghosts, nor were the characters fully developed, whereas some cheap shocks and examples of patchwork reduce the enjoyment value, though the movie still holds up well today.

Grade:++

Friday, 27 January 2012

The Happening

The Happening; mystery/ thriller, USA, 2008; D: M. Night Shyamalan, S: Mark Whalberg, Zooey Deschanel, Ashlyn Sanchez, John Leguizamo

An unknown force causes people in New York to commit mass suicide. This pattern of behaviour spreads across the US north east, which causes some to speculate that it might be a terrorist attack with an unknown gas. Elliot and Alma, a couple with a troubled marriage, find themselves in the rural area as one of the few survivors, travelling on foot with a little girl. They find refuge in the house of an old lady. The same way as it started, the force suddenly stopped. People speculate it was a defence mechanism of plants, who reacted to the increasingly unstable human pollution of the planet.

The movie that definitely marked a decline in the career of director and screenwriter M. Night Shyamalan, "The Happening" is a heavy handed and sometimes even ridiculous mystery thriller that did not repeat the impressive narrative of his previous achievements with the similar formula, the (overhyped) "Sixth Sense" or the (underhyped) "Signs" and "The Village". Unlike those aforementioned mystery movies that slowly built a sophisticated suspense and had a formula that worked - despite the lamentation of some critics, the plot twist at the end worked every time as Shyamalan's trademark, similarly like Hitchcock's frequent theme of a hero who is falsely accused and has to prove his innocence - "The Happening" is not even cheaply suspenseful simply because no suspense can be created out of the unconvincing ways that people suddenly commit mass suicide: Shyamalan seems as if he has no basic knowledge of biology or psychology at all when he directs humans taking their lives as if they are buying some ice cream (let alone when something is forcing them to do that), since there is no way that a guy would so calmly step into a lion's cage or a woman take a gun to shoot herself in such a bored manner after two guys used that same weapon do blow their heads off just a couple of seconds ago. Not even the ending can truly be considered a 'twist ending' since the story never truly lead viewers to a certain direction. It's a pity because the concept really had some things going for it, especially when they mention the sudden disappearence of bees or the pollution, since the whole movie is unconvincing and silly.

Grade:+

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

7 seX 7

7 seX 7; erotic drama-comedy, Croatia, 2011; D: Irena Škorić, S: Petra Težak, Ivan Đuričić, Ana Majhenić, Frano Mašković, Jelena Perčin, Sara Stanić

Seven erotic stories: a guy wants to fix the antenna on the roof of the building in order to watch "Emmanuelle" on TV, but his girlfriend wants to do it there...A photographer is so charmed by his model that he sleeps with her...A gay actor tests if his fellow gay friend is in love with him...Employees Marko and Hana accidentally meet in a music store and decide to have sex there. He loses his erection when he finds out that she is not of Czech origin, but she still manages to bring him into the right mood...Two women and a man try out a threesome...A girl cheats on her boyfriend just minutes before they have a date...In the forest, a guy tricks a girl into having sex with him under the pretext that a nonexistent tick will pass from her vagina on to his penis.

"All this effort just to watch some porn?" - "It's not porn, it's an erotic film." - "What's the difference?" - "In penetration." This snappy (self-referential) dialogue aimed at educating the audience in distinguishing a simple porn from a sophisticated erotic art film that also juggles with some more complicated themes in life neatly illustrates the playful nature of "7 seX 7", the first (moderately) erotic Croatian film directed by a woman that tried to imitate the tone from Pasolini's cheerful "Decameron". Consisting out of two great stories and five solid ones, which all culminate in sex (except for the gay one, where the two men just kiss), this rare example of an untrammelled depiction of sensuality in the otherwise conservative country is indeed uneven, yet refreshing and stylistically pleasant since director Irena Skoric filmed each segment in a single, 10 minute long take, which causes awe both for the mise-en-scene and the tight acting with no mistakes in dialogues, even though explicit sex is not shown, as already alluded in the aforementioned dialogue. Five stories are, unfortunately, just mediocre and/or unrealistic (women don't have such casual sex with strangers without condoms), with only two standing out, one of which is chronologically the first one on the roof, shot in black and white, which abounds with humor, shrillness and a clever heroine, Gloria (Petra Tezak) who talks with her boyfriend who is fixing the TV antenna ("What happened to the antenna?" - "That swan was here again." - "What swan?" - "The one that weighs as much as Pazin turkey!" - "Why don't you shoot him?" - "I can't, he is protected!" - "By what? A bulletproof west?" - "No, the law! The law protects him!"). The sixth story is also suggestive, yet the movie never really repeats the magic and sharpness of that perfect first story that told more about those two characters than any other episode.

Grade:++

Monday, 23 January 2012

Meet Dave

Meet Dave; science-fiction comedy, USA, 2008; D: Brian Robbins, S: Eddie Murphy, Elizabeth Banks, Gabrielle Union, Austyn Myers, Ed Helms

A small orb falls from space into the New York apartment of a boy, Josh. Three months later, a crew of miniature aliens from planet Nil land on Earth in an android in order to obtain the orb back, which will help them extract the salt from Earth's oceans and save the energy supply on their planet. After numerous misadventures, the android successfully passes as a human called Dave and meets Josh and his single mother Gina, but the crew decides not to ruin Earth's oceans. Instead, they make friends with Josh and Gina and return back to space in order to find another planet.

Out of all the negatively received Eddie Murphy comedies, this is one of the rare ones that did not deserve such a harsh reputation: a blend of "Star Trek" and "Innerspace", "Meet Dave" is a refreshingly fun, imaginative, untrammelled and harmless family fun that gains 90 % of its charm thanks to the great performance of the comedian who once again showed that innocent humor suits him far better than dirty jokes. Never for a moment vulgar, never for a moment moronic, "Meet Dave" is at times contagiously fun, draining jokes from the classic "fish out of water"/"stranger in a strange land" concept, i.e. the contradiction between the hero's obvious unnatural reactions and the superficial reaction of the people around him that "overlook" them and still (forcefully) regard them as natural, whereas, unlike "Norbit", director Robbins this time builds a story not based on jokes "below the belt". The opening drags and it takes some good 30 minutes until the story takes off, whereas some ideas or subplots were underdeveloped, yet Murphy is simply indestructible in playing the title android with that hilariously naive-blank facial expression, which pays out in such funny scenes as the one where he "fights" with a green stuffed toy he mistook for an alien or when he has an entirely calm face during a roller coaster ride, while his miniature commander inside him has an entirely different face with panic written all over him: as someone already noted, if it makes you laugh, why fight it?

Grade:++

Saturday, 21 January 2012

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

Luftslottet som sprängdes; crime drama, Sweden, 2009; D: Daniel Alfredson, S: Noomi Rapace, Michael Nyqvist, Tehilla Blad, Lena Endre

Stockholm. Lisbeth recovered in the hospital after the previous incidents, but is indicted for attempted murder against her father, ex-Soviet spy Zalachenko who switched to work for the Swedish Security Police. This Security Police kills him in order to hush up the long suppressed affair where they covered him abusing his wife for decades, and in order to do so they also confined Lisbeth who stood up against the abuse by sending her to a mental asylum. Despite numerous staged attacks, with the help of reporter Mikael, Lisbeth is acquitted of all charges, released, while her ex-asylum keeper Teleborian is arrested for child pornography.

The final contribution to the 'Millenium' trilogy, part III is arguably the weakest of the three Swedish movie adaptation of Steig Larsson's popular novels, not managing to catch up the level of awe and suspense of the first two films, yet it still managed to give a satisfying conclusion to the story that more or less circled out the events by setting them in a bigger, thought-provoking context: Lisbeth turns out to be the victim of the cover-up by the Security Police, by which the author poses some big questions about his society where the rights of an individual can be squashed just to protect anyone who works for the national security of the Swedish nation. Noomi Rapace, despite less great material to work with in this film, still shines as the nonconforming wild girl Lisbeth, though, just like in the previous film, it is a pity that she avoids Mikael throughout the whole film, until the end when they finally meet, since it was shown they had some great chemistry in the first edition. The story of the trilogy is engaging, though not that deep or groundbreaking as some would like to put it, yet it gains definite plus points by allowing characters to develop from film to film, which is why the original film might actually seem  even better and multi-layered after the viewers see it again after seeing all three films and getting the bigger picture.

Grade:++

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Army of Darkness

Army of Darkness; horror comedy, USA, 1992; D: Sam Raimi, S: Bruce Campbell, Embeth Davidtz, Marcus Gilbert, Ian Abercrombie, Bridget Fonda

After the last events, Ash and his car land in the Middle ages where he gets caught by some knights and thrown into a well of demons, yet he survives thanks to his chainsaw which makes the inhabitants of the castle proclaim him as the "chosen one". In order to return back to the 20th century, he retrieves once again the book of the dead, but since he speaks the magic words wrong, an army of skeletons is unleashed that starts the siege of the castle in order to their book back. Thanks to his knowledge, Ash creates gunpowder, destroys the skeleton army and returns to the future thanks to a wiseman.

In the final part of the trilogy that spans a decade, Ash switched from a "man of chaos" into a "man of action" whereas the whole movie was so tamed down since a major studio - Universal - took over the production that some fans lamented that compared to the first two "Evil Dead" instalments part III looks like "Care Bears", yet "Army of Darkness" is the most accessible movie of the series and still abounds with original ideas and impressive style. Similarly like "Back to the Future III", "Army" took the original storyline into an entirely different direction by setting it in the Middle ages, yet its leap in style and gratuitous slapstick have sense if the viewers simply look at it as a standalone film, whereas the minute Ash uses his shotgun to blow up a sword of a knight and shoot a witch does the story become simply a pure fun.

Numerous directors of horror trash should take a lesson or two from Raimi's approach here who still managed to make the mill run his way despite the fact that the producers inhibited him from too exotic directorial stunts. Obviously, there are many pointless scenes (Ash fighting with his midget clones, which is annoying) whereas Embeth Davidtz received a mild role, yet the final 25 minutes where Ash uses gunpowder to fight against the army of skeletons that besiege the castle really let's the fun loose - with the scene where the camera follows a catapulted flame from the castle falling down on the army almost seems as if it inspired a similar one with the falling rock in "The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King" - numerous references to other movies are plain clever (the magic words "Klaatu barada nikto", the fight with the skeleton that is a homage to "Jason and the Argonauts"...) whereas out of two available endings the happy one clearly lifts the movie up a notch.

Grade:++

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Evil Dead II

Evil Dead II; horror / grotesque / comedy, USA, 1987; D: Sam Raimi, S: Bruce Campbell, Sarah Berry, Danny Hicks
One night, Ash and his girlfriend Linda take a vacation to an isolated cabin in the woods, situated on a plateau. He finds a tape recorder of a professor who discovered the "book of the dead", but his recorded words accidentally summon an evil force that wakes up demons. Linda is killed while the professors daughter, Annie, as well as her associates Ed, Jake and Bobby gets trapped when they enter the cabin. One by one, the demons kill them. Ash survives despite his severed hand, puts a chainsaw as a "hook" and battles demons. Annie reads out the spell from the book and transports the whole house into year 1300, together with Ash.

After the hyped original, Sam Raimi directed this well anticipated sequel which is arguably the best contribution to the "Evil Dead" trilogy: while the first movie was too serious, and the third was too "tame", part 2 is "just right", an eerie independent cult classic that is unbelievable in blending hard horror with slapstick comedy, whereas it contains a fantastic visual style that enhances the experience thanks to unusual camera angles, close up shots or bizarre mise-en-scene. The first 30 minutes are gold, especially in the virtuoso directed scene in which the camera's POV (aka the "evil force") travels through the woods with incredible speed, enters the cabin, breaks the door on the hallway, exits through the other door, wonders again outside through the woods and "crashes" into Ash, suddenly lifting him up and catapulting him for dozens of yards through the air into a tree: truly, a tour-de-force sequence that will have viewers rewinding it several times. Some ideas were a tad too bizarre and the ending is stupid, yet Raimi gains plus points by setting the whole story only on one location (the cabin), inserting wacky-insane jokes (a moose head on the wall suddenly bursting into laughter; Ash saying "Groovy" as if from another world; a floating demon attacking Annie until Ash interrupts his "job" by whistling), casting Bruce Campbell and, unlike "Braindead", insisting on channelling the intensity of the mood not exclusively on scares or gore, but also on clever stylistic fun.

Grade:+++

Friday, 13 January 2012

The Girl Who Played with Fire

Flickan som lekte med elden; thriller, Sweden, 2009; D: Daniel Alfredson, S: Noomi Rapace, Michael Nyqvist, Lena Endre, Peter Andersson, Per Oscarsson

Stockholm. Riding on the wave of success, editor of the 'Millennium' magazine, Mikael Blomkvist, is about to publish a sensational article about human trafficking that links some high ranking clients who use their services. However, just as they mention the name "Zala" over the phone, his two reporters, Dag and Mia, are killed in their apartment. Bjurman, a lawyer who raped Lisbeth, is also killed. In all three cases, the weapon was a gun with Lisbeth's fingerprints. Mikael wants to prove her innocence, but she avoids contact with him. She finds out "Zala" is Zalachenko, her father, and that a huge blond giant, Niedermann, who wanted to kill her, is her half-brother. They shoot her, but she survives and attacks her father. Mikael shows up just in time to call the authorities. 

The second movie adaptation of Stieg Larsson's popular 'Millennium' trilogy, "The Girl Who Played With Fire" is an equally intriguing and quality achievement, just different on so many levels that it almost seems like a different kind of movie. One of its main plus points is the fact that it actually explores and extends relationships and situations from the first film, which gives it a more holistic approach: in this edition, Lisbeth Salander developed into a three-dimensional, fascinating character who isn't just your average 'punk girl' but a very complex personality that grows on you, equipped with a brilliant performance by Noomi Rapace (even better than in "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo") whereas the writers made the mill run her way also by "feeding" off from the impression of the first story. For example, while the rape performed by the lawyer seemed rather superficial in the first film (since his character was "detached" in the second part of the plot), here it gains a fully circled out impression in the scene where Lisbeth breaks into his apartment and threatens him if he removes her tattoo: it shows that the act and its consequences are here to stay in their lives. The main negative point to this film is that she and protagonist Mikael are this time separated (which is a pity since they made a great team) and only unite in the end, which is kind of underwhelming. Still, as a thriller, it is suspenseful until the last minute, rich with unusual characters (Terminator-style bad guy Niedermann), feminist undertones and bitter observations about the flawed Swedish society.

Grade:++

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Infested

Infested/ Ticks; horror, USA, 1993; D: Tony Randel, S: Seth Green, Rosalind Allen, Ami Dolenz, Virginya Keehne

A couple of antisocial teenagers are brought with a bus to a forest, for camping, since the organizers Holly and Charles hope the nature will help them bring their life in balance. That is actually going to happen, yet in a very extreme way when the group encounters fist sized ticks that mutated from a nearby steroid factory. When a fire causes all the ticks to flock to the cabin, shy teenager Tyler saves the day by bringing the bus to the cabin in order to evacuate everyone.

After the big screens saw giant spiders, ants and wasps, horror specialist Tony Randel decided it is time to put fist sized ticks in the spotlight, yet his independent cult flick "Infested" - also known as "Ticks" - is just a sufficient movie, even though it is at least a 'guilty pleasure'. The opening shots announce at first a much better film than it eventually turned out to be, since Randel slowly creates a creepy mood thanks only to the camera slowly panning around a factory at night that drops chemicals on something unknown on the ground, whereas Seth Green is also refreshing as the shy teenager with glasses, Tyler, who meets other opulent characters in a forest camp, but the movie starts depleting its plus points inevitably when it starts to reach for cheap, slimy effects (i.e. a giant tick bursts out of a dead man's body, splitting it in half) which are aimed more towards disgust than elevated-sophisticated scare. The finale with the protagonists getting surrounded by ticks in the cabin turns into trash, which is further emphasized by the ending that does not circle out the human characters but instead just abruptly returns to ticks, yet an occasional touch of humor give the story solid charm.

Grade:+

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Fellini's Casanova

Il Casanova di Federico Fellini; drama, Italy, 1976; D: Federico Fellini, S: Donald Sutherland, Tina Aumont, Cicely Browne, Carmen Scarpitta, Clara Arganti

Venice, 18th century. After returning from another erotic adventure with a fake nun on an island, Casanova is arrested on his boat and sent to prison for heresy due to his involvement with alchemy. He escapes and travels through Europe, meeting numerous women - a giantess in a circus, prostitutes, even a mechanical doll shaped as a woman - until he ages and dies alone in the Czech city of Duchcov.

Federico Fellini's 16th film, "Casanova" was made in the second phase of his career, when the director abandoned logical storytelling a long time ago and went far into the spheres of abstract, so much that the majority of the viewers could not follow him anymore, yet even though it is obvious it is definitely not one of his best achievements - since some other directors would have made a much richer contribution to the life of the famous womanizer - it nonetheless won an Oscar and a BAFTA for best costumes (truly fantastic while helping to carry the surreal mood) whereas Fellini himself was nominated for an Oscar for the last time in his career, in the category of best adapted screenplay. For such a subject, it is strange that Fellini took so little care of the erotic touch (one could only think what Medem or Luna would have done with such a story) since all the sex scenes are situated somewhere between shyness and "carnivalizing" - for instance, how can it be that Donald Sutherland showed his naked butt in a throw-away scene in "National Lampoon's Animal House", yet always wears underwear as Casanova, even when sleeping with women? - which even makes that aspect of the movie surreal-unreal. However, despite its overlong running time and omissions, "Casanova" still has some scenes that are so bizarre they should be seen (the protagonist sleeping with a hunchback girl while another woman "wiggles" her breasts besides him) whereas it even adds a small feminist touch here and there (Casanova charms some women by telling them they are better than men, which was revolutionary back in those days when male sexism was so common; a giant woman in circus who is stronger than any man...).

Grade:++

Friday, 6 January 2012

My Favorite Year

My Favorite Year; comedy, USA, 1982; D: Richard Benjamin, S: Mark Linn-Baker, Peter O'Toole, Jessica Harper, Joseph Bologna, Bill Macy, Lainie Kazan

New York. Benjy Stone, actually Benjamin Steinberg, is a young, aspiring Jewish writer for a comedy TV show featuring Stan Kaiser. One day, their guest actor shows up, the famous movie star Alan Swann, but they are shocked to find out he is hopelessly drunk. Benjy risks his career when he insists on letting him perform tomorrow anyway, hoping he may keep him sober, which leads to numerous misadventures. When he finds out the show is broadcast live, Swann backs out, but changes his mind and gives a memorable performance.

A nostalgic comedy, "My Favorite Year" is an occasionally corny and 'staged' film, yet it exploits just enough charm to sustain its premise in the positive field thanks to the two main actors, Mark Linn-Baker as the clumsy Benjy and Peter O'Toole as the famous, but alcoholic actor Alan Swann, for which he was nominated for a Golden Globe and an Oscar. In having Benjy basically babysit the irresponsible Swann, the story neatly plays with the perception of "the idol" the reputation and "the idol" the reality, as a flawed human, in the end letting Benjy become Swann's voice of reason. The movie is filled with jokes, not even hesitating to include goofy ones, too, with some turning out more successful than the others (the hilarious scene where Benjy kneels down in front of K.C. in order to "propose" to live with him, inside a women's toilet (!), all the while a lady is lamenting about his "kitschy" words and flushing the water; the line "Before your father passed away and eventually died..."; the line "Some people are naturally funny, like all of the Marx brothers, except Zeppo.") yet despite some omissions and insecurely executed moments, the emotional side to Swann finally trying to live up to his reputation gives "My Favorite Year" certain weight, Lainie Kazan has a neat supporting role as Benjy's mother whereas the movie has one of the greatest posters of its time.

Grade:++

Thursday, 5 January 2012

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Män som hatar kvinnor; thriller, Sweden/ Denmark, 2009; D: Niels Arden Oplev, S: Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace, Sven-Bertil Taube, Peter Haber

Stockholm. After loosing a libel case following allegations that tycoon Wennerstrom was selling arms, reporter and editor of the 'Millennium' magazine Michael Blomkvist is so devastated that he accepts an offer by the 82-year old Henrik Vanger to find his grand-niece Harriet who disappeared 40 years ago. At the same time, Lisbeth Salander (24) is a rebellious computer hacker who takes revenge on a lawyer, her legal guardian, for raping her - she already took revenge on her stepfather by setting him on fire when she was a kid. She teams up with Michael and they discover that Harriet's brother Martin killed numerous Jewish girls since his father was a member of the Nazi party. He also finds out that Harriet is still alive and only escaped because she killed her father who raped her.

Winner of a BAFTA as best foreign language films, the first movie adaptation of Stieg Larsson's famous crime novel trilogy 'Millennium', "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" is a robust and strong thriller that plays out like an Agatha Christie type investigative mystery case delayed by 40 years and at the same time aligns itself towards an ode against rape. Some details may be a tad contrived in staying true to that message or are slightly roughly patched together, especially towards the finale (it features, for example, the classic cliche of a bad guy not killing his victim instantly, but waiting until it wakes up to tell him all about his previous crimes; the annoying "hero gets saved in the nick of time" stereotype...), yet as a whole the story works and its flow seems entirely natural, except for the rather pointless subplot involving the lawyer rapist - he is basically a one-dimensional bad guy, set-up so unconvincingly evil that he cannot be perceived in any other way than as a plot device to carry the film's message against rape. The already infamous sequence where the lawyer rapes Lisbeth (very good Noomi Rapace in punk clothes) is shocking but rather even and short, actually turning more horrifying after the sole event when the film shows its consequences (in one scene, Lisbeth's hands are shaking when she holds a cigarette after that incident). It's a stretch, yet it could be argued that it somehow fits into the big picture when Lisbeth teams up with Michael to investigate a whole series of rapes and crimes against women. With very good actors, fine cinematography, nice locations and an eye for detail, this film is never boring despite its running time of 150 minutes.

Grade:++

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Mirta Learns Statistics

Mirta uči statistiku; comedy short, Croatia, 1991; D: Goran Dukić, S: Nataša Dorčić, Sven Medvešek, Boris Miholjević, Ljubica Jović

Mirta is a law student who is annoyed by her father's obsession with statistics, whether it applies to burglary, car defects or mortgage. One day, she has a fantasy that she runs away from home with her boyfriend in a car. However, in that dream of hers, he commits suicide because he cannot find a job. Back in reality, Mirta uses his rants about the percentage of unemployed people as a useful advice to apply in real life.

Shrill style, pointless story: Goran Dukic's short student film "Mirta Learns Statistics" (rightfully) gained critical acclaim thanks to its upbeat-playful nature filled with numerous comical scenes, ideas or solutions (while Mirta and her boyfriend leave the town in a car, they cynically shout: "Goodbye, lizards! Goodbye, dirtbags!" while people on the streets wave at them cheerfully; throughout the film, unusual, "off" clips show up, such as a man on a tree, a man by the river and seven people looking down from the roof. At the end, as the boyfriend holds a rant about statistics, he mentions the current suicide rates and actually gives those clips a context when he says that "one youngster hanged himself" (man on tree), "five drowned themselves" (man by the river), "seven jumped from the roof" (seven people on the roof) etc.) that walks somewhere between "Amelie" and "Bonnie and Clyde" whereas the main actress is contagiously fun. However, the blend between a fantasy world and a young couple of rebels does not have a point nor a conclusion, obvious in the witty but ultimately pointless scenes involving the father obsessed with statistics, which is why the movie still seems more like a stylistic exercise than a truly thought out, intact story.

Grade:++

Planet of Dinosaurs

Planet of Dinosaurs; science-fiction adventure, USA, 1977; D: James K. Shea, S: Max Thayer, Chuck Pennington, Charlotte Speer, Derna Wylde, Pamela Bottaro

A spaceship suddenly malfunctions and explodes in outer space. A group of nine astronauts manages to land on a nearby planet in an escape shuttle. However, they find out the planet is inhabited by dinosaurs, some of which are meat-eaters and attack them. Several members of the team die, but they manage to kill their main enemy, the Tyrannosaurus Rex, and start their own civilization on the planet.

Stiff acting, a trippy synthesizer score, funky 70s clothes and a syrupy mood adorn the low budget science-fiction extravaganza "Planet of Dinosaurs", a cult movie that has hundreds of flaws but at least two virtues: it is refreshingly direct and it is still a 'guilty pleasure'. As with most movies featuring dinosaurs, even this version of 'Robinson Crusoe' on a different planet eventually has the giant lizards turning more interesting than the bland human characters which are so underdeveloped that the viewers barely distinguish them (i.e., the only thing we find out about Jim is that he is 'tough' and from Chuck is that he never wears a shirt), yet since almost the entire budget was spent of the stop-motion effects, they still hold up well today, especially the T. Rex towards the end. The ending is terrible, the trashy ingredients are overemphasised, yet a couple of scenes are so bizarre they have to be seen, among them when Nyla accidentally stumbles upon a giant spider, as big as a dog, but just as it climbs on her stomach, she simply slaps it, catapulting it far away and thus eliminating it.

Grade:+

The Expendables

The Expendables; action, USA, 2010; D: Sylvester Stallone, S: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Eric Roberts, Giselle Itié, Dolph Lundgren, Charisma Carpenter, Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger

Barney Ross, leader of a group of mercenaries, accepts an offer to eliminate Garza, a dictator of the island of Vilena. However, it turns out that his contractor is just a front for the CIA, since Garza is basically just a puppet for Monroe, a former CIA operative who now raises drugs on the island. Ross abandons the assignment, but returns to save Sandra, Garza's daughter. In a showdown, Ross' team destroys Garza's mansion.

A variation of the second part of the hyped movie "The Dirty Dozen", "The Expendables" are a cheap action exploitation film with not enough "juice" to satisfy fans of the genre - by comparison, "Saving Private Ryan" had three in one: character development, artistic weight and amazing action sequences - and its status is further undermined by occasional splatter violence. The movie gained fame thanks to Stallone's idea to gather the 'holly trinity' of action movies from the 80s and 90s for the first time on one place - himself, Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger - yet the last two show up only for three minutes, which means that "The Expendables" are still only Stallone's vehicle, without them joining him on a mission (though Schwarzenegger has a fantastic, deliciously auto-ironic cameo), supported by new action stars like Statham and Li. Except for that humorous cameo and a touching monologue by Mickey Rourke, this is basically a standard, though solid action film that needed more wit and spirit in order to develop into something more than it eventually turned out to be.

Grade:+