Monday, 30 April 2012

Christine

Christine; horror-drama, USA, 1983; D: John Carpenter, S: Keith Gordon, John Stockwell, Alexandra Paul, Robert Prosky, Harry Dean Stanton

Arnie Cunningham is a lonely and "nerdy" teenager who is shunned by everyone in high school except his only friend Dennis, a jock. This changes, however, when Arnie buys an old Plymouth Fury car called "Christine" for 250 $: he fixes it and suddenly gains enough self-esteem to gain a girlfriend, Leigh. The car is haunted, however, and kills all of Arnie's bullies by squashing or running over them. After "Christine" kills even Arnie, Dennis and Leigh manage to destroy it by running it over with a bulldozer.

One of John Carpenter's lesser films, "Christine" is a boring blend of high school drama about outsiders and a revenge horror flick featuring a cursed car, proving once again that Stephen King - whose eponymous novel provided the story - is one of the most popular horror authors of the 20th century, but not necessarily one of the best. The sole idea in which  even the unpopular Arnie can gain self-esteem and confidence when he becomes an extroverted personality thanks to the car is interesting (even giving a few observations about obsession that can consume someones whole life), but unfortunately poorly executed, with bland dialogues, stiff situations and lukewarm charge without spark. The story becomes more intense once the car starts killing people, but it takes too long until we get there, some three quarters of a film. Still, small crumbs of pleasure are the scene where the crushed "Christine" reassembles itself as well as the finale featuring a duel with a bulldozer, whereas Harry Dean Stanton has another opulent performance as the unorthodox police inspector.

Grade:+

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Death on the Nile

Death on the Nile; crime, UK, 1978; D: John Guillermin, S: Peter Ustinov, Mia Farrow, Simon MacCorkindale, Lois Chiles, David Niven, Janet Birkin, George Kennedy, Bette Davis, Maggie Smith, Angela Lansbury, Jon Finch, Jack Warden

The famous detective Hercule Poirot enjoys a relaxing yacht trip through the Nile. Among the passengers are the rich Linnet and her poor husband Simon, who dumped his ex-girlfriend Jackie for her. In a moment of jealousy, Jackie shoots Simon in the leg, but regrets it, so the passengers have to calm her down. The next morning, Linnet is found dead, shot in the head. Several people are suspect, including Linnet's shady lawyer, Mrs. van Schuyler who wanted to steal her jewels, the maid and the doctor who wanted to sue her for libel. However, Poirot finds out that Simon and Jackie actually committed the murder.

Considered to be one of the best Agatha Christie adaptations involving her famous detective Hercule Poirot, along with Lumet's "Murder on the Orient Express", John Guillermin's "Death on the Nile" is today a rather stiff achievement at moments, but still fresh and interesting enough to engage the viewers. One of the founders of the 'whodunit?' crime mystery concept, that remained influential for several decades, obviously influencing "Columbo" and "Monk", Christie's novels were rarely adapted just right, which is why she was reluctant in approving her rights to anyone, and while "Nile" is still far from a great Hitchockian crime thriller, since it lacks true suspense and a tighter style, Peter Ustinov is truly fine as the sharp Poirot, whereas the ensemble cast also gives it backbone, especially the surprisingly charming Mia Farrow, the always charismatic David Niven and Jack Warden. Some of the far fetched, contriving elements are predictable - for instance, who would even consider committing murder while the legendary Poirot is on board? - yet the revelation of the murderer in the finale once again proves to be delicious, since you never know if you were deliberately mislead during several scenes in the storyline. A modest, but good fun.

Grade:++

Saturday, 28 April 2012

The Exterminating Angel

El ángel exterminador; mystery/ surreal, Mexico, 1962; D: Luis Buñuel, S: Silvia Pinal, Enrique Rimbal, Claudio Brook, José Baviera

The rich Edmundo and his wife Lucia invite about 20 snobbish people from the upper class to their mansion for a party. Inexplicably, their servants suddenly start leaving the premises. Even more inexplicably, after midnight, the guests are somehow reluctant to leave the mansion, so they sleep over the night. The next morning, they find out they cannot "order" themselves to leave the room, making them trapped. After one guest plays the same piano piece before the whole bizarre affair started, they are "free" to leave outside. However, a few days later, many more people get "trapped" in a church while a military junta starts a crackdown on civilians outside.

Luis Bunuel's most famous film, the overhyped "The Exterminating Angel", nominated for the Golden Palm in Cannes, is still a challenging piece of surrealism that keeps puzzling the viewers and critics, whereas the director's own deliberate vagueness - when he basically refused to give any hints how to decipher the bizarre story - seems more like an attempt at forced mystification: it can be something meaningful, but it can be also something banal, like just a satire on agoraphobia. Similarly like "The Woman in the Dunes" and "In the Company of Wolves", "Angel" is also a film consisting entirely from pure symbolism, yet after the main tangle "sets in" the movie somehow drags and has a general lack of spirit, evident in lifeless dialogues.

Still, it is interesting to try to analyze it: in the opening act, Bunuel shows the upper class guests at the party as selfish, arrogant, spoiled brats - they laugh at and mock a poor butler who trips and drops the table in front of them; a woman is so bored she breaks the window by throwing a glass through it; two men discuss a woman who has cancer ("She will lose her hair in four months." - "Well, at least she has a nice skull."); a man is about to cheat on his wife, etc. There is not a sympathetic character in sight. And it seems Bunuel enjoys in taking revenge on them, by making the mansion a concentration camp for the bourgeoisie. It is implied, however, that the reason they cannot leave the house is not physical, but psychological - they became so dehumanized people of the upper class that they are "trapped" in that mindset, they cannot escape their mental prison until they drop all their inhibitions and facades, thereby showing their true nature. Some have seen it as a restructuring of the myth of Sisyphus, others even as an allegory of escaping Samsara (the mansion in the story), i.e. the continuous cycle of death and rebirth, to find Nirvana, whereas the finale seems to point that they are sheep, passive masses hidden behind their comfortable "four walls" unaware of the real world outside, the military junta oppressing ordinary people.

Grade:++

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Medea

Medea; drama/ tragedy, Italy/ France/ Germany, 1969; D: Pier Paolo Pasolini, S: Maria Callas, Giuseppe Gentile, Massimo Girotti

Chiron, a centaur - half man, half horse - raises the little Jason by teaching him about mythology. When Jason is grown up, Chiron is a normal man and talks in a more mature, realistic fashion. Due to his heritage, Jason has a right to take over the throne of Iolcos, but the king, Pelias, wants the Golden Fleece from the Colchis tribe in exchange. There, high priestess Medea abandons the Colchis culture, kills her brother and gives Jason and his Argonauts the Fleece, since she fell in love with him. Jason gives up on the throne and goes to live with Medea in Corinth. However, when Jason wants to leave her for Glauce, Medea takes revenge and kills her and Jason's children.

The only film featuring legendary opera singer Maria Callas, Pier Paolo Pasolini's adaptation of Euripides' tragedy Medea is another typically hermetic film for him that caused a lot of misunderstanding and puzzled reactions from the viewers and the critics, however, upon deciphering some of the hidden meanings in the story it turns out into a surprisingly intelligent and highly literate artistic work that also says something about the modern times. The director himself gave a great analysis in the book The Centaur's Dream: Interview with Jean Duflot. "Medea" starts out as a fantasy, showing how Chiron, a centaur (!), talks to the little Jason, teaching him about mythology and the esoteric. However, once Jason is a grown up, Chiron shows up as a normal man, and talks differently, almost as a realist, whereby the director shows the transformation of Jason from a child with a childish mind to an adult who does not need fairy tales anymore. This opening already gives a small hint what is intended: Pasolini uses the relationship between Jason and Medea just as a basis for encompassing the texts of Lucien Lévy-Bruhl, Mircea Eliade and James Frazer as well as their views on anthropology, ethnology and the history of religion - one of the main questions is: was the mythological thought form just a forerunner to the logical thought form or are they two separate perceptions of the world?

In blending those two extremes together, i.e. using the Medea story just as a case study for those philosophical thoughts, Pasolini showed a rare "inner" directing, metafilm skill: the arrival of Jason (Greek, i.e. Western culture) who comes in contact with the Golden Fleece and Medea (Colchis, i.e. a "Third World Country") is a culture clash, with the Greek (profane) civilisation being represented with a straight line (evident even in geometry of its locations, for example in Corinth, where the fortress is shaped like a fine cube) since it is developing in linear fashion, in a certain direction, while the Colchis tribe (sacral) is represented with circles (evident even in oval costumes and locations, their caves (Cappadocia) which have circular doors, windows and "roofs") since their rituals are always the same and offer no signs of direction. After a talkative 10-minute prologue, Pasolini takes a different approach from Euripides' vast text and shows the next 40 minutes of Colchis tribe - where they dismember a man and bury his flesh in the ground to assure a good harvest - almost without any dialogue, as some sort of a folklore documentary, which also blends in with the storyline since they are the opposite of rational Westerners and do not use words that much, since they cannot articulate everything. The heroine, who abandons her culture and goes on to live with Jason in Corinth, is an example of Third World cultures abandoning their traditions and accepting the modern 'popular culture' during the Globalization: congruently, the Xenophobic sentiment around her contributes to her tragic actions, whereas the final line ("Now nothing is possible anymore!") indicates the end of mythology. Despite 'rough poetry' and some 'unpolished' scenes, "Medea" is an interesting film with more food for thought than pure entertainment.

Grade:+++

Monday, 23 April 2012

Buying the Cow

Buying the Cow; comedy, USA, 2002; D: Walt Becker, S: Jerry O'Connell, Ryan Reynolds, Bridgette Wilson, Bill Bellamy, Jon Tenney, Scarlett Chorvat, Alyssa Milano

Los Angeles. David is in a relationship with Sarah for years now, but is still reluctant of proposing her since he has a hunch that his soulmate is still somewhere out there. In a diner, he spots a woman who awakens this feeling in him, but she drives away in her car. Sarah travels to New York for a job contract, whereas David's friends Jonesy and Mike try to persuade him to start dating again. Sarah finds a new love in NY whereas David meets the mysterious woman again, Katie, and falls for her.

A mishmash of "Singles", "How Sally Met Harry" and "There's Something About Mary" - just dumber, clumsier, stupider and more vulgar - "Buying the Cow" is an highly uneven comedy about relationships that was saved only and exclusively thanks to a few clever lines in the midst of all the garbage. The storyline suffers from too many cheap attempts at humor, distorted behavior presented as OK (David somehow seems to find it all right to place a personal add while he is still with Sarah), homophobia (disasterous joke involving Reynolds' character Mike accidentally thinking he slept with a man, so the first thing he does is to throw up - and to make it even worse, he then goes outside naked and stumbles upon a little kid like that) and numerous other heavy handed solutions. Even Alyssa Milano was not given a sufficently charming role since her 5 minute role as the stripper was wasted. Still, there are two great lines that say volumes about love and its perception: when David says that somewhere out there destiny might hold his dream woman, Mike says: "If it is inevitable, why rush it?" while Jonesy compares such way of thinking with the "search for Sasquatch".

Grade:+

The Descent

The Descent; adventure thriller/ horror, UK, 2005; D: Neil Marshall, S: Shauna Macdonald, Natalie Mendoza, Alex Reid

Six women - Juno, Sarah, Beth, Sam, Rebbecca and Holly - go camping in the nature. They descend into an unexplored pit, but once their entrance caves in, they start a search through the corridors to find a new exit. At one point, they encounter strange "cave people" who start attacking them. One by one they are killed, until only Sarah is left. She has a vision of exiting the cave, but it just remains at that.

A straight-forward adventure until the "horror twist" some 50 minutes into the film, Neil Marshall's "The Descent" gains a few plus points by trying to be a 'feminist horror', a refreshing departure from the genre, almost achieving an idyllic balance between the (almost) exclusive all-female cast who battle an (almost) exclusive all-male monster "cave-people" - the balance is disrupted by inserting Sarah's husband in an unnecessary opening and a female "cave woman" - yet other than that, the story is problematic in this pessimistic film. Marshall has a few ideas in how to twist the cliches, yet on other occasion he again fell pray to some of the more obvious examples in the genre (cheap scares instead of sophistication; dumbing violence; bland dialogue and thin character development), even though the corridors in the underground cave, where the women get trapped, provided for a (slightly broadened) 'kammerspiel' that slowly heightens the suspense. A more or less satisfying scary story, unfortunately again with a few primitive-backward ideas that bloated the movie as a whole.

Grade:++

Sunday, 22 April 2012

The Haunted House

La maison ensorcelée; silent horror-fantasy short, France, 1908; D: Segundo de Chomón

One night, two men and a woman hide from a storm in an abandoned house. However, strange things start happening there: an image of someone - probably the owner - appears on a painting on the wall, the chairs start disappearing, their table is served by itself and the house is eventually tipped. The image of the owner eventually takes the three people and transports them from their bed to the forest.

One of the unknown pioneers of the early cinema, Segundo de Chomon advanced the possibilities of film by using stop-motion tricks and a more dynamic camera, picking up something from Melies but also adding a lot of his own, which makes it more of an oddity that he is barely taught at film classes. Even though his 6 minute short "The Haunted House" is somewhere disputed because it is a French remake of Blackton's "The Haunted Hotel", which basically tells the same story, and sometimes carries even identical scenes (the ground-breaking stop-motion moment where a knife cuts food on the plate and a coffee is poured in a cup all by themselves) - it is still a prototype example of rudimentary horror, one of the first editions of the 'haunted house' genre. De Chomon has a good build up of mood (the opening establishes a creepy feeling when the three wanderers enter an abandoned house one rainy night, all in just two scenes), even though some moments today seem more amusing and comical than scary (the house tilting while the people are in bed; the transparent image of an unknown man appearing), yet in both cases they constitute a fine little cult classic that is easily watchable and engaging.

Grade:+++

Mr. Bean's Holiday

Mr. Bean's Holiday; comedy, UK/ France, 2007; D: Steve Bendelack, S: Rowan Atkinson, Max Baldry, Emma de Caunes, Willem Dafoe, Steve Pemberton

After winning a trip to Cannes and a video camera, Mr. Bean goes on a holiday to that destination. However, during his train ride, he accidentally separates Stepan, a little boy, from his dad, Emil Dachevsky, a jury member for the Cannes film festival. Due to the language barrier, Bean and Stepan have troubles coping in France. Still, they meet Sabine, an actress in a Carson Clay film, which is screened in Cannes. There they meet Emil again and reunite.

The second, and last film of the Mr. Bean movie series, assembled a decade after the first film, "Holiday" was not met with particular critical acclaim - critic Philip French even called the title hero a "sub-Hulot" - yet the basic formula behind the comedy - almost no dialogue, i.e. reducing the story to just relay on slapstick - still has some universal appeal because it reminds the audience of those good old black and white comedies from the era without sound, whereas Rowan Atkinson is again able to transmit his comic talent in this edition better than he was in "Johnny English". Congruently, the movie works best when it occasionally almost reaches Chaplinesque levels in the fabulous sequence where Mr. Bean is chasing after a chicken on a truck with a bike, accompanied by the great song "Crash" by Matt Willis, yet less so with numerous heavy handed moments or simply overstretched scenes. A small jewel here is Willem Dafoe in the role of a pompous-pretentious art film director: he almost steals the show when the first scene of his fictional film is screened at Cannes (by which the story actually adds a few satirical jabs at the festival): Dafoe's character Clay just palely stares into the camera, passing through a corridor on an escalator, while the titles say: "Carson Clay Presents...A Carson Clay Production...A Carson Clay Film...Carson Clay in...PlayBack Time", upon which the scene rewinds - it is arguably the best joke of the film.

Grade:++

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Leda: The Fantastic Adventure of Yohko

Genmu senki Leda; animated fantasy, Japan, 1985; D: Kunihiko Yuyama, S: Hiromi Tsuru, Kei Tomiyama, Chika Sakamoto

Teenage girl Yohko, a piano prodigy, has a crush on a boy but is too shy to tell him, so she writes a song instead. However, while playing it on her Walkman, the melody is so intense it opens a doorway to another dimension - Yohko lands in Ashtani, a parallel world, transforms into a warrior and teams up with a talking dog and a girl, Yoni, and - in tune to the legend of Leda - fights and wins over tyrant Zell who wants to conquer Earth by passing through the doorway. Returning back to Japan, Yohko finally has the courage to approach her crush.

Anime OVA film "Leda: The Fantastic Adventure of Yohko" starts (and ends) on a far more promising note than we eventually got from the main plot, in a dynamic, but slightly too bizarre patchwork reminiscent of "Alice in Wonderland" and "The Labyrinth" that lacks a real context, even though Helen McCarthy in her book 500 Essential Anime Movies actually goes on to compare it with a parable of first love and sexual awakening disguised as a fantasy. Maybe "Leda" can truly be compared with "The Company of Wolves" disguised as a simple super-hero/"magical-girl" story, but director Yuyama should have taken more effort into giving the viewers some more articulate clues and hints, instead of just simplifying it with the scheme girl arrives to a parallel world-defeats the (androgynous and blue) bad guy-returns back home. The enjoyment is further damped by a lack of good dialogue, wit and humor. The opening is fabulous, the heroine's music is truly a great melody, the animation ranges from good to very good, depending on a scene, whereas Yohko's crush in the opening act involving a boy from her school (whose face is shown only once, while in all other scenes it is hidden) has spark, even though it was only ignited the first 5 minutes of the story before she found herself in the parallel world, which is more bizarre than cohesive, except towards the end that offers an interesting thought about rejecting escapism and living in reality with courage.

Grade:++

Friday, 20 April 2012

Frankenstein

Frankenstein; silent horror short, USA, 1910; D: J. Searle Dawley, S: Augustus Phillips, Charles Ogle, Mary Fuller

Frankenstein, a young student, tries to decipher the mystery of life. Having found it, he uses alchemy to create a human - but it turns out to be a monster. Frankenstein and his fiancee are shocked by it. The monster sees itself in the mirror and disappears, leaving the image of Frankenstein behind.

The first film adaptation of Mary Shelley's novel "Frankenstein", this eponymous film by director Dawley was deemed lost for decades until it was re-discovered in the 50s and entered public domain. Just like most early films of the 20th century, this is also almost exclusively filmed in wide shots, without any close-ups, since the directors at that time had no frame of reference and did not yet know how to use the medium in any other than simplistic way. Clumsy and naive, with scenes where the monster shows up - just like that - more like an uninvited normal guest into Frankenstein's house than a real menace (the simplistic "Halloween" costume did not help either), the movie is inarticulate and was easily overshadowed 20 years later with Whale's more memorable cult contribution featuring Karloff, yet here some scenes do reveal small crumbs of more sophisticated approach at film (the creation of the monster, filmed with a "corpse" burning in reverse) and the scene where the monster looks at Frankenstein sleeping in his bed.

Grade:++

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

A Trip to the Moon

Le Voyage dans la lune; silent science-fiction short; France, 1902; D: Georges Méliès, S: Georges Méliès, Victor André, Bleuette Bernon

A couple of astronomers enter a space capsule which is catapulted from a cannon into the Moon. Once there, the astronomers enjoy watching Earth and sleep over the night. The next day, they encounter humanoid, crab like Moon people who arrest them. Fleeing back to their capsule, the astronomers return safely back to Earth, where the people celebrate them.

One of the most famous movies from the early days of cinema, Georges Melies' "A Trip to the Moon" is today more a curiosity taught at film classes than a genuinely well crafted achievement, still tagging along a decade before the first real great achievements of the 7th art form will appear with Griffith and Soviet cinema, who both advanced it by using a more dynamic editing as a useful tool. Just like most of films of the early 20th century, when cinema was still in children's shoes, "Moon" is a static story, a 13 minute film composed of only 16 takes in total, all filmed in wide shots, without any close-ups even when they were required (such as the clumsy first scene where the main astronomer is holding a lecture and draws the trip from Earth to the Moon on the blackboard, which is inconveniently placed at the far left side of the screen and barely seen) since back then directors and cinematographers still had no idea how to shape the new art form. However, Melies was one of the first directors who still experimented with the medium, for the first time showing that it can be used - in rudimentary form - to tell a story, thereby outgrowing the previously standard norms in showing the Moon landing and unusual landscapes on it (underground mushrooms and alien "Moon people"), which is why some consider this the first science-fiction film. By daringly showing an unusual story, thinking "outside the box", Melies shyly paved the way for future more imaginative mise-en-scene, and Bertolini's "Inferno" and Wiene's "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" took it from there.

Grade:++

Monday, 16 April 2012

Through a Glass Darkly

Såsom i en spegel; drama, Sweden, 1961; D: Ingmar Bergman, S: Harriet Andersson, Max von Sydow, Gunnar Björnstrand, Lars Passgaard

24 hours in the life of four people residing on a beach: Karin and her husband Martin visit her father, the mediocre writer David, and younger brother Minus. All of them are tormented by life: David questions God's existence and his own talent; the young Minus feels isolated and lonely since all the girls are avoiding him; Martin is anguished by Karin deteriorating mental health. At one point, she tells them about her visions of God who is talking to her through the wall. Eventually, she has a vision of God in the form of a spider and is brought to a hospital. Still, David manages to give Minus some optimism about life and faith.

Winner of an Oscar for best foreign language film and nominated for best screenplay, "Through a Glass Darkly" is another existentialist and serious-pessimistic Ingmar Bergman film where he gives a good impression of tormented people "living under their possibilities" despite material wealth, whereas the uncomfortable clash between their personalities is heightened by an almost 'kammerspiel' mood in a story reduced to only four protagonists. The first part of his unofficial trilogy about religion - the other two being "Winter Light" and "Silence" - "Glass" established the sea near the cold Swedish shore as Bergman's trademark exterior ambiance (its grey-cold appearance is symbolic for his character's despair and alienation) and pointed out to an unusual religious paradox: the protagonists are tormented by God's absence, but when Karin announces that she has visions of God talking to her, she is labelled mentally ill - in any way, religion in such form is doomed in Bergman's view. In an interesting structure of the dramaturgy, David and Minus are depressed already at the start of the story, while Karin is the only character who can be considered "happy", but towards the end David and Minus find some comfort, while Karin's state collapses. A quality, but grey-monolith drama too much burdened by babble that is only partially inspired ("The proof for God is love." - "A particular kind of love, I suppose?" - "Any kind of love. From the most sophisticated to the most primitive. From the most elevated to the most silly. Just as long it is love").

Grade:++

Seclusion Near a Forest

Na samotě u lesa; comedy, Czech Republic, 1976; D: Jiří Menzel, S: Zdeněk Svěrák, Daniela Kolářová, Josef Kemr, Marie Hradilková

Fed up with the daily hassle in the urban Prague, Oldrich Lavička, his wife and their children Zuzana and Petr decide to buy a summerhouse in a rural place, for the weekends. They reach an agreement with the 70-year old owner of the house, Komárek, to rent the place while he is suppose to move away and live with his son. The Lavička family encounters the rural life: a goat eats their cakes, villagers all wonder how can they sleep for so long while they encounter a flea plague. In the end, however, Komárek decides to stay in the house.

Jiri Menzel's 6th feature length film is another good Czech comedy, "Seclusion Near a Forest", that gives an ironic commentary about the shift between the rural and urban life. Working with fine actors, surrounded by rural landscapes, Menzel crafted another comical contribution to his opus, and it seems he did not have any ambitions in rising the movie above anything more than it is, a simple, relaxed and fun story. The screenplay by Ladislav Smoljak and actor Sverak achieves the most of its humor thanks to observations and shrill dialogues (the old Komarek and Hruška exchange these lines while in a company at a table: "I always managed to beat you up!" - "Today you wouldn't." - "But in the past, I always managed to beat you up, you cannot deny that." - "Today you wouldn't anymore!" - "That's it, hands up!"; father, who cannot wait anymore until Komarek moves out of the prestigious house, tries to use "euphemism" to cover that feeling while talking with his daughter who is writing about it for school: "Mr. Komarek is good, but he is bothering us..." - "You cannot write that." - "All right, then I will write that Mr. Komarek is good because he will leave soon." - "You cannot write that either. How can you write that he is good because he will leave soon? Just write that he is good. That is true." - "But he is also bothering us, that is also true."), yet one must also point out the refreshingly relaxed tone of the storyline, besides which not much was needed to charm the viewers anyway.

Grade:++

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Romancing the Stone

Romancing the Stone; adventure comedy, USA, 1984; D: Robert Zemeckis, S: Kathleen Turner, Michael Douglas, Danny DeVito, Zack Norman

The lonely and unsightly New York adventure romance novel author Joan Wilder receives a map from Colombia, sent by the murdered husband of her sister Elaine. Joan is contacted by thugs Ira and Ralph who have kidnapped Elaine and want to exchange her for the map. Travelling to Colombia, Joan boards a wrong bus and hires the adventurer Jack as her guide. With his help, she finds the green jewel indicted on the map and manages to rescue Elaine.

There is no explanation that in 1984, the year where "Ghostbusters" and "Beverly Hills Cop" were up for the award, the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy went to a mess of a film, "Romancing the Stone", a clumsy patchwork assembled out of chunks of Indiana Jones: the story starts off nicely, foreshadowing how adventure novel author Joan Wilder will herself experience an adventure in person, but after 15 minutes it turns out that the movie simply has too little to show. Unlike "Crocodile Dundee", whose charm, humor and wit can still effect the viewers in a cohesive way, "Stone" lost almost all of its charm a long time ago. While the actors are fine, they struggle trying to persuade us into humor and emotions they don't believe themselves, whereas the screenplay - despite showing some good feminist details - fails while revolving around primitive, backward cliches or ideas (a 10 year old kid throws a net around Elaine's neck and thus kidnaps her in her car (!); the infamous sequence where a crocodile bites off the hand of one of the bad guys) or illogical situations (Ralph brings Joan and Jack back to his car. Then he suddenly runs away - on foot - when he spots the gangsters approaching with their vehicles over the horizon. Wouldn't it make far more sense if he simply decided to run away in his car?!). A disproportionate realization of the storyline, yet small crumbs of pleasure are Danny DeVito's comic performance as Ralph and some plot solutions (i.e. when Joan's fan in Colombia brings her and Jack for a sight seeing tour, they accidentally stumble upon the landmark on a hill indicated on the map showing the green jewel).

Grade:+

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Saturn 3

Saturn 3; science-fiction thriller, USA, 1980; D: Stanley Donen, S: Kirk Douglas, Farrah Fawcett, Harvey Keitel

In the future, a hydroponic station on Saturn's moon, led by lovers Adam and Alex, is visited by a stranger, astronaut Benson, who brings a new robot there, cyborg "Hector", who is suppose to accelerate their work revolving around creating new food sources for a starving Earth. However, inheriting some of his worst vice, "Hector" kills Benson and starts persecuting Adam and Alex, trapping them on the base since Saturn's eclipse blocks contact with the space station. By blowing himself up, Adam is able to destroy "Hector" while Alex goes to visit Earth.

Bizarre cult patchwork "Saturn 3" enjoyed its 15 minutes of fame in the 80s thanks to the popularity of Farah Fawcett who takes her clothes off in one short scene and because it was riding on the wave of sci-fi 'boom' after "Star Wars" and "Alien" which (thankfully) paved the way for numerous opportunities in financing such stories. Despite some interesting details (a space craft passing through stones of Saturn's ring), a fascinating design of the evil robot "Hector", especially his surreal small head, and good special effects ("eclipse" of Saturn on the station), the story abandons subtlety for pure trash, unfortunately, resulting in too many illogical plot holes or disjointed ideas (i.e. "Hector" presses a button that causes a huge mechanical claw to fall from the ceiling. Just in that moment, Benson suddenly jumps right onto the table where the claw falls over and traps him. Why he jumps on that table, right under the claw, is never explained; "Hector's" goals are completely obscure and we never know what he exactly wants with Adam and Axel...). Still, the sheer audacity of the authors, despite an uneven direction by Stanley Donen ("Singing in the Rain"), make this a 'guilty pleasure' whereas the suspense of the minimalistic-claustrophobic story in which the cyborg is chasing after the two protagonists through the corridors of the base has some moments of suspense, especially when they try to deceive "Hector's" sensors by letting smoke under him through a "sever", which is why it can be seen as an unusual forerunner to "The Terminator".

Grade:+

Sisters

Sisters; thriller, USA, 1973; D: Brian De Palma, S: Margot Kidder, Jennifer Salt, William Finley, Lisle Wilson, Charles Durning

New York. Actress and model Danielle Breton goes on a date with her TV co-star Philip, where they are bothered by her ex-husband Emil. Danielle brings Philip to her apartment and they sleep over. The next morning, Danielle is not able to take her pill, goes crazy and stabs Philip to death. Her neighbor, reporter Grace, spots the murder through her window, but the police are not able to find the body since Emil helped to hide it in the couch. Grace finds out that Danielle had a Siamese twin, Dominique, who died after they were separated in a surgery and that Emil is actually her doctor in an asylum.

After several comedies, director Brian De Palma crafted his first thriller homage to Hitchcock, the uneven "Sisters" which are, despite his stylistic touches, a bumpy ride. Traversing from "Psycho" through "Rear Window" (a similar scene where Stewart's character there is petrified when he spots the alleged killer neighbor on one window entering his apartment while his friend is still searching for clues on the second window can be found here) up to "Spellbound" when the story lands in a mental asylum, De Palma creates a disjointed storyline where large chunks of it do not manage to connect into a harmonious whole: for instance, the first plot twist, some 40 minutes into the film, tries to lean on "Psycho", but the knife stabbing seems only trashy, especially since the score is awfully trippy. The only thing that saves it at that moment is De Palma's trademark split screen use, showing simultaneously on one side of the screen the apartment from the victims point of view and on the other side of the screen the neighbor's perspective observing the window. Margot Kidder, Jennifer Salt and especially the excellent Charles Durning deliver all fine performances, but similarly like De Palma's later Hitchcockian thrillers, like "Body Double", the director inserts too many bad ideas which all contribute to a distorted analogy of a suspenseful story.

Grade:++

Friday, 13 April 2012

Vampyr

Vampyr; mystery, Germany, 1932; D: Carl Theodor Dreyer, S: Julian West, Maurice Shutz, Rena Mandel

A young lad, Allan Gray, arrives to Courtempierre and spends the night there in a tavern. Awakened by an old man who entered into his room, Gray goes outside and observes shadows walking across the meadow. He arrives at a castle where the lord was killed, whereas one of his daughters, Leone, is sick because she is possessed by a vampire. The other daughter, Gisele, falls in love with Gray. Eliminating the vampire woman in her grave as well as her associate, the village doctor, Leone is cured and saved. 

Carl Theodor Dreyer's first sound film, fantasy mystery "Vampyr", suffered from occasional clumsy application of the sound into the story and received mixed reviews upon its release, since many critics felt a little bit cheated while watching this "horror without horror", basically an experimental art film, yet the film eventually advanced into a cult classic. Similarly like Murnau's "Nosferatu", even Dreyer here played with a (back then) experimental visual style, which gives the hermetic, dream-like Dracula story spark (a shadow on the field of a man digging earth filmed in reverse (!); the legendary sequence where Gray's "ghost" is observing his own body in a coffin, and later on his own POV is seen from the coffin - with a glass window - getting carried out from the building into the exterior; camera filter and special lighting were used to give certain scenes an eerie look). Dreyer himself allegedly said that he wanted to create "dream like state on film" which explains numerous abstract, illogical and subconscious moments, which is why "Vampyr" - together with Bunuel's "An Andalusian Dog" - made a massive influence on Lynch, Jodorowsky and surreal cinema in general. The pace of the film is problematic by today's standards - the middle part offers no visual attractions; has too many empty walks; the characters are deliberately underdeveloped; the ending is pointless - and is rather overrated as a whole, but still a very good piece of early brave cinema.

Grade:+++

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Purple Noon

Plein Soleil; crime, France/ Italy, 1960; D: René Clément, S: Alain Delon, Marie Laforêt, Maurice Ronet, Erno Crisa, Frank Latimore, Billy Kearns, Romy Schneider

The spoiled and rich American heir Philippe Greenleaf is enjoying himself with his lover Marge in Rome. Tom Ripley is sent to persuade him to "settle down" and return to San Francisco, but eventually decides to join his escapades. Philippe, however, is very annoying and even punishes Ripley once by leaving him alone on a boat tied to his yacht, on the blistering heat. Upon leaving Marge on the shore, Ripley stabs Philippe and throws his corpse via an anchor cable in the sea. Forging his signature and passport photo, Ripley takes Philippe's identity in another suburb. When one friend, Freddie, figures that out, Ripley kills him. Taking all of Philippe's fortune, Ripley "returns" back to his own identity and starts a relationship with Marge. However, Philippe's corpse is found.

One of the French movies from the 60s that somehow struck the right chord and found universal appeal worldwide, Rene Clement's adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's crime novel "The Talented Mr. Ripley" is a grand crime classic about identity theft and a far superior film than the eponymous US version made 30 years later. In playing Tom Ripley as a complete character, not as a beau, Alain Delon achieved one of his greatest roles. The first 20 minutes may seem rather ordinary and the viewers may need some time to "adjust" to the storyline, but once the yacht segment starts and Ripley eliminates the rich Philippe Greenleaf in order to take his identity, the sophisticated suspense slowly starts to build, engaging more and more. Especially clever from the film was to show how Ripley has to balance and switch from Philippe's identity - when he is in a hotel and takes money from the account of the dead Philippe - and then back to his own name in order to avoid his friends recognizing him, which gives the movie spark since you never know what is going to happen next or if he will make a false step. The long sequence where Ripley has to dispose of a second corpse - of a man who figured out he is an impostor - by carrying him down the stairs, "disguising" him as a drunk and then throwing him into the car at night was executed almost without dialogues and is one of the highlights of the film whereas many details are delicious (Ripley using a slide projector to screen a huge image of Philippe's signature on the wall, so that he can practise forging it) which all contribute to a crime story not even Agatha Christie would be ashamed of.

Grade:+++

Sunday, 8 April 2012

The Changeling

The Changeling; mystery drama, Canada, 1980; D: Peter Medak, S: George C. Scott, Trish Van Devere, Melvyn Douglas, Jean Marsh

After his wife and daughter died when a truck accidentally smashed their car on a snowy road, composer John Russell wants to lead a secluded life, thus inhabiting an abandoned mansion in Seattle. However, he soon hears unexplainable sounds in the house. Researching, he discovers that a little boy in a wheelchair, Joseph Carmichael, was killed there and buried in another house, so that he could be switched by an another boy, who could take the post of the Senator and inherit his family's wealth.

Even though it eventually established quite a cult following in some circles (for instance, Scorsese once picked it as one of the 10 scariest movies he ever saw), forgotten "The Changeling" is far less a horror and much more a somber and sad mystery drama about suppressed secrets of the deceased that need to be resolved by the next generation. Using unusual camera shots, Peter Medak builds a quiet kind of 'haunted house' film, relaying especially on the excellent performance by George C. Scott to carry the story, resulting in a fine 'kammerspiel'. However, the opinions that "The Changeling" is "deliciously scary" are rather overhyped: as already said, the movie is for most part a drama, while Medak demonstrated the intensification of suspense only in four scenes (the seance sequence; the tape recording; the empty wheelchair that chases after a protagonist and to a slight extent the falling ball on the stairs), yet there is too much calmness between them to really ignite that spark. Melvyn Douglas, in one of his last roles before he would pass away a year later, shows again his tight professionalism as well as a sense to take a risky part when he plays the Senator. The ghost mystery and its resolution are rather predictable, some solutions are 'rough' (for instance, the opening part involving the death of the hero's wife and child do not have that almost any function in the story), yet as a whole, "The Changeling" is a quality made achievement, and it seems that some future movies borrowed a few ideas from it, like "The Sixth Sense"

Grade:++

Friday, 6 April 2012

The Goonies

The Goonies; adventure comedy, USA, 1985; D: Richard Donner, S: Sean Astin, Corey Feldman, Jonathan Ke Quan, Jeff Cohen, Josh Brolin, Kerri Green, Anne Ramsey, John Matuszak

Astoria, Oregon. "The Goonies", a group of four kids - Mikey, Clark "Mouth", Data and Chunk - decide to save their homes from being taken over by the expanding Country Club with the help of an old map, allegedly showing the treasure of pirate One-Eyed Willie. They find an underground passage in an abandoned restaurant, and are not only joined by Mikey's brother Brad and two teenage girls Andrea and Stephanie, but also chased by the criminal Fratelli family, led by their cruel mother. With the help of Sloth, the retarded but kind Fratelli member, "The Goonies" find the sunk ship and manage to ensure enough jewels to save their homes.

One of the cult fims from the 80s, "The Goonies" are one of the more disproportionate family films of that era - unevenly blending harmless fun with crude humor (scenes where the cruel 'Ma' Fratelli threatens to cut off the tongue of Clark "Mouth" with a knife or to put Chunk's fingers in a mixer) - that still have some charm, yet it is far more better to suit them as a 'guilty pleasure' than as a sophisticated comedy. The basic premise involving four kids trying to save their homes has a neat adventurous tone, yet it soon dissolves into an excessive mess, with the deformed Sloth becoming the low-point of dumb ideas replacing genuine inspiration, whereas producer (and originator of the story) Spielberg even borrows a few solutions from his Indiana Jones series. The four kids scream and yell too much and are generally not that sympathetic characters, except for "Data" and his crazy inventions - ironically, even though Chunk can get slightly annoying sometimes, he easily has some of the best moments in the entire film: the joke where he lies to such an extent that he even claimed that Michael Jackson "dropped by to his house to use a toilet" is quietly hilarious, as well as the scene where the Fratellis take away his ice cream, but he still tries to at least lick the spoon - who knows why, but it is somehow funny. The authors cram too much 'rough' jokes (for instance, a penis from a nude man's statue is accidentally broken away, so the kids try to put it back on, but end up putting it backwards) and lose any harmony in the process, in the end resulting in an accessible, easily watchable, but uneven film.

Grade:+

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

The Snowdrop Festival

Slavnosti sněženek; comedy, Czech Republic, 1984; D: Jiří Menzel, S: Rudolf Hrusínský, Jaromír Hanzlík, Josef Somr, Petr Cepek

Episodic misadventures of people living in an isolated Czech holiday village. One man is collecting anything that is a bargain, including only shoes for the left leg (cheaper than buying them in a pair) while another enjoys watching TV with a goat on his couch. When hunters of one association shoot a boar in a school, an argument explodes because the school lies on the territory of another association of hunters. The school teacher, however, manages to reach a compromise: divide the boar meat between the two hunter camps. However, during dinner, the hunters again start a quarrel.

"The Snowdrop Festival" is one of the 'lesser' comedies by famed Czech director Jiri Menzel, but still has enough charm and successful 'Czech' humor to offer a positive viewing experience. As in several of his films, even "Snowdrop" has troubles connecting all those episodic collages of people in a holiday village into a cohesive narrative - giving a plot summary is practically impossible - which in the end causes a rather chaotic feeling, depending on the viewers' inclinations towards those kind of films. The best episode is by far the one that almost advanced into the main plot, the one involving hunters chasing after a boar. At first, it is charming: a hunter shoots, and the boar lies on the floor - but then suddenly stands up again (obviously it just crouched from the sound of gunfire, not because it was hit), runs pass by two shocked women and starts running on the road. Even the sight where the boar enters the school is something to behold, but the movie turns bitter and repulsive when the hunters shoot it there, instead of conjuring up a better solution to the chase. Menzel starts to lose a tight grip of the storyline towards the overstretched ending, though fine actors, among them Rudolf Hrusinsky, and a wide range of wacky jokes (a woman gives a car key to a dog, who eats it (!), the dialogue: "I am for the potato! Potato for the pig, pig for me"...) manage to sustain a good grade.

Grade:++

All or Nothing

All or Nothing; drama, UK/ France, 2002; D: Mike Leigh, S: Timothy Spall, Alison Garland, Lesley Manville, James Corden, Ruth Sheen, Marion Bailey, Paul Jesson, Sally Hawkins

London. Phil lives a normal, but boring life: he works as a taxi driver and feels that his wife Penny does not truly love him. Their two kids are overweight: son Rory is aggressive and refuses to look for a job while daughter Rachel works in a retirement home where and older employee tries to seduce her. Their neighbor Donna has sex with a hooligan who leaves her when she becomes pregnant. One day, Rory has a heart attack which unites the family again.

Drama "All or Nothing" can be described as a dignified failure. Unlike the excellent "Secrets & Lies", this time director Mike Leigh did not manage to engage the viewer since his direction is at times too passive to entirely cover the grey storyline. Still, the nomination for the Golden Palm in Cannes was not given as a blank check since "All or Nothing" has its fair share of quality and follows Leigh's unglamourous "sub-genre" of social drama, i.e. showing an authentic mood underlined by improvised performances of strong actors, who play the rarely shown bleak side of British middle class bordering on lower class, whereas a few moments are refreshing (Donna is constantly on a diet, so her mother jokingly asks her if she wants "two or three french fries for lunch"). The relationships between the characters were believable and palpable (except for the relationship involving Donna and an annoying hooligan), but were not developed to maximally exploit it, and a certain amount of criticism should be directed towards a few arbitrary dramatic tangles (i.e. the young Rory suffering a heart attack).

Grade:++

Monday, 2 April 2012

Happy-Go-Lucky

Happy Go Lucky; comedy/ drama, UK, 2008; D: Mike Leigh, S: Sally Hawkins, Eddie Marsan, Alexis Zegerman

Pauline "Poppy" is an untypically optimistic and childishly funny kindergarten teacher - and it seems a rare kind of a bird in the overall gloomy and pessimistic London. She shares a flat with her friend Zoe and often has a clash with people due to her carefree attitude, ranging from her pregnant sister Helen up to Scott, a grouchy car instructor.

After a long list of heavy dramas, Mike Liegh surprised a lot of film festivals with this untypically humorous film, a modern retelling of Eleanor H. Porter's "Pollyanna", obvious already in the heroine's similar name and attitude. "Happy-Go-Lucky" is a mixed bag: on one hand, such a refreshing theme involving a woman who is optimistic without boundaries should be praised in the sea of rigid movies where every protagonist is grumpy and pessimistic; but on the other hand, Poppy's cheerful nature is surprisingly inarticulate, disproportionate and uneven, which transmits onto the whole storyline experience. The biggest problem is that Poppy is simply too childish - instead of uplifting other cynical people, she just makes jokes about their behaviour. Instead of being positive, she is too often negative in a positive-optimistic way.

One of the few times where Leigh creates a perfect balance is when Poppy exits a store and finds her bicycle was stolen, but still maintains a smile on her face and says: "I didn't even have time to say goodbye!" or when she interacts with Tim, the social worker - the two of them create a perfect harmony (especially in the comical date where he jokes that only one of her eyes is beautiful) as opposed to other characters who seem to mismatch her, and thus it is a pity that the whole movie was not revolving about their love blossoming, instead of wasting its time on pointless episodes that do not connect in any way, such as the homeless man or the angry car instructor whose purpose was only reduced to a schematic clash between optimism and pessimism. Sally Hawkins won a Golden Globe and a New York Film critics Circle Award and is good in the role, yet it still seems that "Lucky" was not able to create a context or a believable 'magic of optimism', such as similar superior characters in superior films, like Truman Burbank, Chancey Gardiner, Gelsomina or Amelie.

Grade:++

Sunday, 1 April 2012

The Towering Inferno

The Towering Inferno; disaster movie, USA, 1974; D: John Guillermin, Irwin Allen, S: Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Fred Astaire, Richard Chamberlain, Susan Blakely, O.J. Simpson, Robert Vaughn, Robert Wagner 

San Francisco. During a party to commemorate the opening of the Glass Tower on the 130th floor, the thrift of the builder Duncan inevitably leads to poor electrical back-up and a fire on the 81st floor. Architect Roberts warned Duncan about this years ago. Over 200 guests get trapped on the 130th floor while O'Hallorhan, Battalion Chief of the fire department, tries to extinguish the fire and evacuate the people. When it gets out of control, Roberts and O'Hallorhan blow up a water tank above, and the water extinguishes the fire. Several people died in the catastrophe, but most of them are saved.

One of the most popular disaster films from the 70s, that even reached an Oscar nomination for best picture, "The Towering Inferno" is today a dated and standard edition of the genre that relied more on cheap scares and shocks than sophisticated suspense which suit those kind of films. For all the fine action and stunts throughout, it is simply not that exciting to have a disaster film story play out only in a static, lax location such as the tower in the movie, nor to have the running time get dragged to almost three hours when there is no backup for it - it is a monolith rock, unmoved and too big to go anywhere. Still, the storyline gives a few neat jabs at 'profit greed' manifested in the tycoon who wants to "keep everything under budget" and thus accidentally created a disaster for himself when there are no fire exists in the tower once the danger erupts, whereas the cast is top-notch, from Paul Newman and Steve McQueen (whose character, the Battalion Chief of the fire department, has a strong moment when he says: "When there's a fire, I outrank everyone") up to Fred Astaire in a surprisingly touching little role as an ageing "con-man", for which he won a Golden Globe and was nominated for an Oscar. Overall, a sufficient and easily watchable, but standard achievement. 

Grade:+