Monday, 30 July 2012

Evangelion: 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance

Evangerion Shin Gekijoban: Ha; animated science-fiction action drama, Japan, 2009; D: Masayuki, Kazuya Tsurumaki, Hideaki Anno, S: Megumi Ogata, Kotono Mitsuishi, Megumi Hayashibara, Yuriko Yamaguchi, Yuko Miyamura

2015. Mari is a girl who pilots the EVA unit-05 and destroys a skeleton shaped Angel to save an arctic outpost. Back in Japan, EVA pilot Shinji is surprised about the new addition to his team, Asuka, who pilots EVA unit-02. Together with Rei, Shinji and Asuka pilot the giant EVAs and save the Tokyo remnants from new Angel attacks. At the same time, their superiors Gendo and Kozo observe how SEELE is constructing a mysterious EVA unit on the moon, while Kaworu is standing on its fingers. After a giant Angel infiltrates NERV headquarters and sucks up Rei, Shinji enters his EVA and destroys it, rescuing Rei from it. Rei and Shinji thus create an unusual symbiosis with EVA, establishing a new entity of life.

Just when it seemed that nothing much could be added to the new tetralogy of "Evangelion" films anymore and many already signed off Hideaki Anno, the unpredictable director surprised many with the second anime film from the lot, "You Can (Not) Advance", which is a major improvement compared to the 1st part that was stiff and bleak. Unlike "You Are (Not) Alone" - which was basically just a copy-paste of the series - "Advance" deviates from the series considerably, adding up to 70 % of originality (strangely, though, the score from "Kare Kano" was 'recylced' in two sequences), which is precisely why its storyline is so unpredictable and engaging. Numerous scenes are just variations of the same thing from the original, yet several new takes on the story (Asuka having a hand puppet that has the word "Asuka" written over it; Gendo seeing Yui Ikari in Rei; the line about "perfectioning" human kind) justify the extraction of new elements of the saga. The only major 'false notes' are the dubious ideas that the oceans are red after the Second Impact (though that did enable an expressionistic image of a 'redish' Earth seen from space) and the awful choice of playing a cheerful song in the scene where EVA 01 attacks and eats another EVA. The character of Shinji and what he stands for - lonely and misunderstood outsider who somehow becomes indispensable to everyone - is again finely circled out, whereas it seems that there was a limited amount of character development, so the authors "stole" some from Asuka (who here turned out less fleshed out) and "attached" it to the new character, Mari, who enters the storyline in grand, comical fashion - parachuting herself into Shinji's face - yet in the end her role in the storyline is pretty scarce. Nonetheless, the gripping battles between giant robots and the philosophical-contemplative ending about transhumanism leave a strong impression, reviving interest in the third and fourth film, which is set for a 2015 (!) release.

Grade;+++

Friday, 27 July 2012

Slums of Beverly Hills

Slums of Beverly Hills; comedy, USA, 1998; D: Tamara Jenkins, S: Natasha Lyonne, Alan Arkin, Marisa Tomei, Eli Marienthal, David Krumholtz, Carl Reiner, Mena Suvari

Beverly Hills, 70s. Teenage girl Vivian is annoyed by her life: her 65-year old father Murray is divorced from his wife, broke and constantly forces the family to move from one apartment to another; her two brothers, Rickey and Ben, are backward - and her breasts are growing larger than she wants them to. When uncle Mickey pays Murray to babysit niece Rita, the family finally get enough money to move to an comfortable apartment. Vivian loses her virginity with a guy next door while Rita reveals she is pregnant. After an argument with Mickey, the family is again destined to move out.

This moderately fun teenage comedy by writer and director Tamara Jenkins occasionally offers a few good laughs, yet in the end it could have been better made. The most was achieved from the sweet interaction between Vivian and Rita (both Natasha Lyonne and Marisa Tomei are in top notch shape) who have some hints of a close bond, mutual understanding between women, and to some extent Vivian's semi-charming relationship with her resigned father, but the story is filled with annoying characters who just burden it, from the imposing and slimy brothers up to the spineless neighbor guy who sells pot. As a whole, the movie is easily watchable and rather smooth, yet too much scenes end up heavy handed, spasmodic and 'rough' - for instance, in one entirely unnecessary moment, Vivian spots her father groping Rita - his niece! - for a second. Sometimes later, Vivian confronts Rita about that - but for some reason sees no need to interrogate her father, too. Not only is the scene awkward, it does not contribute to the film in any way because it deviates from the previous storyline completely. The weird ending did not help either. Still, this is one of the few films that actually tackle the theme of a young girl's relationship with her giant breasts - at least to about 30 % of the story - as well as her weird attitude, which is summed up in one hilarious moment in the washing machine sequence: while talking with Arenson, she says: "Are you staring at my breasts?" Before the puzzled guy can answer, she actually adds: "Here, take a look at them!" and actually lifts up her sweater to reveal her bra. And he just says: "OK."

Grade;+

Survival Island

Survival Island/ Three; adventure-thriller, USA, 2006; D: Stewart Raffill, S: Kelly Brook, Billy Zane, Juan Pablo Di Pace

A rich couple, Jack and Jennifer, board a yacht in order to cruise along the Caribbean. Among the board is waiter Manuel, whose angry ex-girlfriend uses voodoo to sink the ship. Only Manuel, Jennifer and Jack survive and find sanctuary on an isolated island, where they survive by eating lobsters and fish. However, Jack's jealousy causes an argument with Manuel, which even escalates into his death. Jennifer is saved by a ship and leaves her selfish Jack alone.

Praise and critical acclaim did not find their way to this patchwork between a syrupy 'Robinson Crusoe' and a cliched love triangle where arguments and escalating actions between two men happen without any reason or apparent cause for the viewers, yet among the obscure film buffs "Survival Island" is still remembered for three erotic topless scenes involving Kelly Brook, who is the only good ingredient that somehow got lost in this garbage. Dry dialogues, blatant events, tiresome 'survival' repertoire and conventional execution adorn this simplistic nonsense, which is definitely sunk by an insanely disastrous subplot where an angry ex-girlfriend uses voodoo and cuts the throat of a chicken in order to 'cast a spell' on one of the protagonists in order to strand him on an island. Except for Brook, nobody else managed to somehow enrich the flick, yet in its defence, there is hardly a great film in existence revolving around people stranded on an island, anyway.

Grade;-

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Something Wild

Something Wild; comedy/ drama/ crime, USA, 1986; D: Jonathan Demme, S: Jeff Daniels, Melanie Griffith, Ray Liotta, Jack Gilpin, Margaret Colin, Charles Napier

New York. Financial employee Charlie has a normal, but boring and unexciting life. Out of a kick, he decides not to pay his bill for a lunch, which catches the attention of a wild girl, Audrey, who drives him away to a motel where they get intimate. Driving further away to Virginia, she introduces him as her husband and goes to her high school reunion. Unfortunately, there she meets her criminal husband again, Ray, who takes her away. Charlies saves her, but Ray follows them to his home. In a clash, Charlie kills Ray. Some time later, he meets Audrey again.

"Something Wild" is a secret anthem to all the 'closeted rebels', a king among the films about a shy male protagonist encountering a wild girl who "steals" him away from his boring existence and stirs his routine up by bringing him to a wild adventure, showing him what he missed so far. Starting as a comedy, then switching to a romance, erotic episode, road movie, drama, crime and finally a thriller, this is indeed a wild ride - the transition from one mood to another is uneven, but Charlie and Audrey (excellent chemistry between Jeff Daniels and Melanie Griffith) are indeed one of the greatest couples that graced the screens of the 80s and complete each other perfectly: he needs someone who will bring 'spice' into his life, while she needs someone who will stabilize her. The legendary erotic sequence where Audrey handcuffs Charlie to bed and lets him talk over the phone to his boss while she has sex with him is already a cult classic about losing timidness, numerous cameos are a quiet delight (including John Sayles and John Waters) whereas Demme handles this mainstream idea almost as a relaxed art-film, but a big setback is the annoying character of Ray who is a 'third wheel' in the film - his crime "addition" takes up too much time from the story and wrecks it, not allowing it to return to its routes until the end. This is one of the rare films that decided to tour its two characters through every possible genre - except SF and fantasy - yet they are somehow so real and so unique that it seems as if their personalities are larger than any genre, which is why the viewers care about them even if they would suddenly find themselves on another planet.

Grade;++

The Emperor's New Clothes

Carevo novo ruho; fantasy, Croatia, 1961; D: Ante Babaja, S: Zlatko Madunić, Ana Karić, Stevo Vujatović, Aleksa Violetić, Ivo Kadić

In the kingdom of Puritania, one man is sentenced for having a dream of a naked woman, and the woman with him. However, they manage to survive by promising to create special new clothes for the spoiled king, Goradonozor "The Only One". The man and the woman do not create anything, but pretend that the clothes are not visible only to stupid and incompetent people. In order to avoid that category, every noble pretends that the king is not naked, while the only one who had to courage to say otherwise, the court jester, is executed.

The first feature length film directed by the acclaimed director Ante Babaja, and the first Croatian feature length film in color, "The Emperor's New Clothes" took the eponymous fairytale by Hans Christian Andersen and transformed it into a political allegory on totalitarianism and cult of personality, in which nobody dares to say anything against the king, no matter what stupidity he does, which gives it at least some greater meaning behind an endlessly overstretched story that would have suited a short film far better than a running time of 63 minutes. Its second unique feature is the highly unusual, experimental mise-en-scene with *no* backgrounds, placing the entire story - people and their furniture - inside only a monochromatic white surface, which gives it a stylistic touch. A few satirical touches are also stimulative (the court jester is put on trial for having a dream about the king's invisible clothes and "not waking up"; the line "you could almost sense the king's muscles under the clothes") though the forced symbolism and numerous useless plot points inserted just to fill in the gap between the main story somehow bother here and there.

Grade;++

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Anything Else

Anything Else; comedy, USA, 2003; D: Woody Allen, S: Jason Biggs, Christina Ricci, Woody Allen, Danny DeVito, Stockard Channing

New York. Jerry Falk is a young comedy writer who broke up with his girlfriend to be with Amanda, whom he met while she was also still in a relationship. A year later, Amanda is inexplicably distant towards him. Jerry meets a veteran Jewish writer, the cynical Dobel, and asks advice from him. After months of avoiding sex with him, Jerry finds out Amanda is having an affair, so he takes Dobel's advice and cuts all ties with his life - including refusing to renew his contract with agent Harvey - and goes to L.A.

In his 'slump phase' in the 2000s - before he would regain critical acclaim with his two films "Match Point" and "Vicky Christina Barcelona" - Woody Allen's relationship comedy "Anything Else" got the most unjustifiably bad reputation, amounting to only an average grade of 5.2/10 on the critic's site Roten-Tomatoes.com, when it is actually one of his better contributions from that decade, a pleasantly fresh and well written film. Taking notice from the frequent complaints of the critics that he is too old to play the leading love interest in his newer stories, Allen took the supporting role of the resigned mentor Dobel and gave the main spot to Jason Biggs, even adding some modern, untypical elements into his repertoire (Amanda as the type of girl who can only get aroused by having an affair) but always staying true to his style, fulfilling the expectations with a few brilliant comical lines ("Who cares about Dostoevsky when Amanda is sleeping with that guy?"; "I will send him a Christmas present, as soon as I learn how to make a letter-bomb.") and even giving a few examples of wisdom about life ("Since the beginning of time people have been frightened and unhappy, and they're scared of death, and they're scared of getting old, and there's always been priests around, and shamans, and now shrinks, to tell 'em, "Look, I know you're frightened, but I can help you. Of course, it is going to cost you a few bucks..." But they *can't* help you, Falk, because life is what it is"). The biggest problem is that the movie takes too long - almost 40 minutes - until it finally ignites, which leaves only the second half truly satisfying, and some of Allen's constant obsessions with Nazi jokes really are an overkill, yet the cast is fantastic - especially the always fine Christina Ricci and Danny DeVito - whereas Allen gives one of the most unbelievable performances in a rare sequences of rage where he snaps and goes on to take a revenge on a car, in an extroverted episode that we never thought he could be capable off.

Grade;++

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Supervixens

Supervixens; erotic crime, USA, 1975; D: Russ Meyer, S: Charles Pitt, Shari Eubank, Charles Napier, Uschi Digard, Deborah McGuire, Christy Hartburg

California. Clint works at a gas station, owned by a certain Martin Bormann, and is often annoyed by his spoiled girlfriend SuperAngel. During a heated argument, Harry, a police officer, mistakenly assumes Clint threatens her, so he knocks him unconscious. Harry wants to have sex with SuperAngel, but quickly learns that only Clint could handle her irritating behavior, so he kills her. Since he is the main suspect, Clint flees, but wherever he goes, busty women want to sleep with him, which makes him the target of revenge of their husbands or fathers. Finally, he meets Supervixen and falls in love with her. Harry finds them and wants to kill them, but dies by his own dynamite.

"Supervixens" - one of the last three films which showed the most of nudity directed by Russ Meyer, "the king of big breasts" who somehow found some of the most unbelievable women to ever grace the big screens - is a trashy and incoherent mess of a film that works far better as an erotic comedy than as a crime flick whose 'dumbed down' violence is again repulsive (and Charles Napier is awful as the bad guy, especially since his actions make little to no sense), as if he is both fascinated by these women but hates them at the same time (maybe because they are unobtainable?). When one watches the story, one really gets the feeling where "Tenchi Muyo" and "Golden Boy" got all their ideas of a 'poor guy' constantly 'harassed' by busty women, yet Meyer wastes it just by creating a wacky world of his own without any coherence, meaning or a point - the only exception is when he tries to add a little humor, such as the best episode, the one on the farm when he shows an ironic sequence of Clint working there while the farmer and his young wife are naked and chasing each other in the background. The story would have been better if it focused just on pure erotic adventures, maybe it could have even been a good love story, yet some viewers even today pardon Meyer for his bizarre escapades for the sheer fact that he rallied so many beautiful women in his films who almost seem as if they came from a male fantasy, especially Uschi Digard and Christy Hartburg.

Grade;+

A Holy Place

Sveto mesto; horror, Serbia, 1990; D: Đorđe Kadijević, S: Dragan Jovanović, Branka Pujić, Aleksandar Berček, Mira Banjac

Three young theologians spend the night at an isolated shack, but its owner, an old woman, turns out to be a witch who attacks one of them, Toma. Previously, he encountered a carriage carrying a woman, Katarina, but his two friends did not see her. A few days later, Toma is summoned to a village where he meets Katarina again - but she is dead, and her father wants him to spend three nights praying over her coffin in a locked up church. To Toma's surprise, Katarina wakes up from the dead the first two nights, yet he is able to repent her by drawing a circle around him. During the day, he hears that she was a witch and died while going to a church. The final night, Katarina kicks him unconscious - when the people find him sleeping in her coffin, they kill him.

Despite its high reputation, "A Holy Place" is an underdeveloped horror that gains some points for being exotically set in the Serbian rural landscape, but its finely established creepy mood in the first 10 minutes quickly loses its vibe and slowly starts to sink into a tiresome, boring story that does not manage to ignite it again. The concept of a young priest who has to pray over a dead woman for three nights, but she wakes up since she is a witch, really had potentials for great suspense, and thus it is unbelievable that director Đorđe Kadijević took a diametrically opposite - and wrong - approach: for one, each of the three nights occupy only three minutes of running time, which is too little compared to the whole story to keep it gripping. It would have been far better if the director made a 'kammerspiel' out of that, building a story only around the priest and the menacing woman. Secondly, the mood is further crumbed down since the priest exits the church and spends the days between his task out on the open, but does not tell anyone about his encounters for some reason. Thirdly, either keep a scary story in the unknown term or show something really dangerous, but since the worst thing the witch can do here is it to kick a guy in the crotch, one cannot but wonder what's the big deal that distinguishes her from anybody else. Kadijević focused too much on the uninteresting (priest talking with peasants during the day) instead of on the interesting, pushing the suspenseful main plot in the background, achieving a semi-satisfying, but easily watchable film.

Grade;+

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Welcome to the Space Show

Ucho sho e yokoso; animated science-fiction, Japan, 2010; D: Koji Masunari, S: Tomoyo Kurosawa, Honoka Ikezuka

During a summer vacation, five children - Natsuki, Amane, Kiyoshi, Noriko and Koji - find an injured white dog on a corn field, Pochi, who turns out to be a talking alien from planet Wan. As a reward, he takes them to the moon and then to another, alien planet for a vacation. However, the conditions for entering Earth have been aggravated, so Pochi has to circumvent it by bringing them on a journey through the galaxy to Wan, and then back. One of them, Amane, is kidnapped by Neppo, a host of the popular "Space Show", because he hopes to use her wasabi root to rule the Universe. Pochi stops him and returns the kids back to Earth.

"Galaxy Express 999" meets "Spirited Away" - Koji Masunari's weird anime science-fiction comedy adventure collected critical acclaim and is a moderately fun film that is rich with opulent colors and special effects, even though its story - especially chaotic towards the end - cannot follow the high level achieved on the field of animation. "Welcome to the Space Show" offers a good entertainment, but, as with several modern animes, its characters lack that immediate seal of uniqueness which makes some of them less distinguishable (for instance, Noriko seems more like a bland extra than a fully recognizable personality) and thus one cannot engage in their adventures to the fullest, whereas some of the designs of aliens is truly a bizarre patchwork (giant pink rodent, for instance). Considering that the story is more leaned towards a harmless, naive fun, it is a original space travel flick that seizes attention due to its style, whereas it also gives a small messages about everyone having to learn for themselves instead of someone giving everything to them.

Grade;++

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Moonrise Kingdom

Moonrise Kingdom; drama, USA, 2012; D: Wes Anderson, S: Kara Hayward, Jared Gilman, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Jason Schwartzman, Harvey Keitel

The (fictional) island of New Penzance, '65. The 12-year old orphan boy scout Sam falls in love with the 12-year old Suzy Bishop, a rebellious girl who feels outcast in her family. The two of them run away to live in the woods. Suzy's parents, Walt and Laura, want to find her, so a local police sheriff, Sharp, is sent looking for them. They find them, but Suzy runs away again because her mom had an affair with Sharp. During a storm, Sharp saves the kids and decides to adopt Sam so that he will not be deported to an orphanage.

Together with "Darjeling Limited", "Moonrise Kingdom" is the weakest Wes Anderson film, an achievement that gave us so little out of the acclaimed director compared to his previous three excellent films. While "Rushmore" and "The Royal Tenenbaums" worked as refreshingly unusual 'daft comedies' with an interwoven link with drama, whose 'eccentric' style was congruent with their intellectual-neurotic heroes who have troubles adjusting to the world they live in, Anderson did not truly capture their original humor in his later films (the sweet "Fantastic Mr. Fox" excluded) whereas his formulaic style started to get more and more autistic and his jokes more and more hermetic: just like Godard, he got stuck with the artificial stories and their artificial story flow, instead of developing them into full, alive emotions people can truly feel.

This is already evident in the way the two 12-year old heroes meet: Sam meets Suzy behind the stage of a stage play, asks her about her arm in a band-aid and already they are in love. Can you believe such a relationship? Neither can the viewers. Sam and Suzy never seem more than pale robots while they say their unnatural lines (despite the fact that they are both outsiders), with only the charming Kara Hayward managing to slightly show her charismatic side. Anderson still saves the thin plot thanks to a few of his cohesive unusual touches, like Suzy's books which are all fictional with original covers, a few good jokes ("Lazy-eye"; the play "Noah's flood" is cancelled due to a flood) whereas Bill Murray gives the funniest moment of the film when he spots the two kids hiding, so he angrily lifts their whole tent over them - this almost echoes his best comic vibes from the 80s and 90s. Even though it is underused, the setting of a small, isolated island that is about to be hit by the strongest storm in decades has a fine mood, and there are some sparks that ignite here and there. The greatest one is when Sam and Suzy are sitting alone at the coast, at sunset. Their dialogues are artificial. But suddenly these artificial dialogues come to life when they have a tender, magical-melancholic episode of exchange ("I always wished I was an orphan. Most of my favorite characters are. I think their lives are more special"), which is so miraculous it will remain in your minds even after seeing dozens of movies with orphans.

Grade;++

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Taste the Waste

Taste the Waste; documentary, Germany, 2011; D: Valentin Thurn, S: Karin Fischer

A French grocery store has a policy of throwing away food six days before their expiration date. Japanese companies have special fish products that last only hours, after which they are removed from the market and thrown away. A farmer has to remove potatoes that are "too small" or "too big" in order to obey the EU food directives, which again means that a lot of his crops will be wasted. According to the documentary, about 90 million tons of food are wasted annually in the EU this way. However, some people try to mitigate this disaster: some companies crumble old breads in order to at least use them as fuel for their ovens; Yokohama gathers wasted food and uses it as food for animals whereas an Italian entrepreneur collects unused food and then makes meals which are freely distributed to people.

This is a documentary many viewers always wished someone would have made: Valentin Thurn's "Taste the Waste" tackles the "taboo" subject of all the unused food that is shamefully wasted and just thrown away, in a day and age when a billion people were starving worldwide. By filming the practises in Europe and Japan, it shows the rarely seen "behind the scenes" images of vegetables, fruit, bread and meat that were not sold and are thus thrown as garbage, with the expressions of the people who do such a dirty job revealing much more than a thousand words (in one memorable moment, a woman from Cameroon openly says that it is such a shame that she has to trash so many tomatoes when people in her homeland are hungry). As with most of documentaries about society, this one also helps raise the awareness by making people think about some issues they never really payed attention to, while even offering some examples of solution (food with a passed expiration date is used to feed the animals in Yokohama), whereas it is quite interesting how the authors sneakily criticize the dumbed down, rigid EU regulations (a German farmer is happy when people come to his field and take the "inappropriate" potatoes which are not allowed to be sold because they do not meet the criteria from the EU). The movie is a little bit overlong towards the end by presenting too many people who do not contribute that much to the theme, yet as a whole it is a film to think about.

Grade;++

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy; comedy, USA, 2004; D: Adam McKay, S: Will Ferrell, Christina Applegate, Paul Rudd, David Koechner, Steve Carell, Vince Vaughn, Fred Willard, Tim Robbins, Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Luke Wilson

San Diego in the 70s. Ron Burgundy is a popular news anchorman for Channel 4, selfishly exploiting his popularity to sleep with women and party all night with his friends Brick, Champ and Brian. However, the wave of emancipation hits him hard when his boss hires an independent woman, Veronica, as his co-anchor. His jealousy and dated views cause a clash between them, with Veronica framing him to say a nasty remark about San Diego thanks to the teleprompter: as a consequence, the boss fires Ron. Still, during the filming at a local zoo, Ron saves Veronica who fell into a cave with bears. The two make up and fall in love.

Sometimes while watching all the recent comedies which all base their humor exclusively on stupidity and stupid characters, one might ask oneself if Judge's satire "Idiocracy" was actually eerily right in predicting the decay of intelligence as the culture of the future. McKay's "Anchorman" is one of those 'stupid comedies', relaying almost exclusively on low levels of humor when it could have used some examples of sophistication - that it does not necessarily have to be like that can be demonstrated with, for instance, Farrelly's "Kingpin" that was also a broad comedy with "wacky" jokes, but a one that actually showed its characters as real people, outsiders who actually even had touches of an emotional side. While at first "Anchorman" seems auto-ironic while juggling with Ron Burgundy's sexist cliches, such an attitude is repeated for so long until it starts to become irritating and just plain backward, whereas Will Ferell's comic timing is bipolar: at some moments, he is hilarious ("You are so wise, like a little Buddha wit fur...", he says, while listening to his dog bark) while at others he is just a hassle. The real scene stealers are Steve Carell in a small role as the dimwitted Brick and Vince Vaughn as the preposterous rival anchorman, whereas Christina Applegate has arguably never been better in a film, adding some weight to the thin story by representing a small feminist touch with Veronica. Despite several misguided ideas, a few jokes really are howlingly comical here and there (the "dialogue" between the dog and the bear towards the end being a highlight; "What's that smell? It smells like Bigfoot's dick!"; "Policia!"). The movie is a mess. But at least it is a funny mess.

Grade;+

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Dark Blue Almost Black

Azuloscurocasinegro; drama, Spain, 2006; D: Daniel Sánchez Arévalo, S: Quim Gutiérrez, Marta Etura, Raúl Arévalo, Héctor Colomé, Antonio de la Torr

Hapless Jorge nurses his father and is changing his diaper for seven years, ever since he had a stroke. Because of that, he abandoned his career and worked as a janitor. When Jorge visits him in jail, his brother Antonio asks him to impregnate his girlfriend Paula, also in jail, so that she can be moved away from violent inmates to the maternity board. Antonio cannot do it himself since he is infertile. Paula falls in love with Jorge, which further complicates his new relationship with neighbor Natalie. At the same time, Jorge's friend Sean confronts his father for using the service of Roberto, an erotic masseur, but himself gets attracted to him. Paula gets a daughter whereas Jorge finds a new, better job, leaving Antonio to take care of his father.

"Dark Blue Almost Black" is a solid drama that works the best in some small humorous moments, before it steadily and inevitably turns into a soap opera. In this film by writer and director Daniel Sanchez Arevalo, one subplot is more far fetched than another: if you believe that an erotic masseur would give his customers a hand job without putting curtains on his window so that everybody could see him or that a man would urge his brother to impregnate his girlfriend "for him" or that a woman in jail would want to get pregnant by just about anyone just to get moved to the maternity ward, you may find the story all right, while everyone else will just cringe at all the unconvincing plot points interwoven and glued together into a contrived whole. All the actors and their performances are fine, yet the conventional narrative has an artificial story flow, which contributes to the pale impression. Despite some virtues, "Dark" seems like a film that was made just because someone wanted to make a film for its own sake, not because he had a powerful moment of inspiration that guided him forward.

Grade;+

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

The Magic Christian

The Magic Christian; comedy, UK, 1969; D: Joseph McGrath, S: Peter Sellers, Ringo Starr, Isabel Jeans, Caroline Blakiston, Richard Attenborough, John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Laurence Harvey, Christopher Lee, Roman Polanski, Raquel Welch, Yul Brynner

London. The rich Guy Grand adopts a homeless man, Youngman, and introduces him as his "new son". The two watch TV and go hunting, until they decide to find a price for everyone to change his mind: they pay a police officer to eat their parking ticket; buy a Rembrandt painting; cause commotion at an audition; decide to make a boat race "more interesting" by paying a team to crash with a boat and rip it in half; boarding a ship 'The Magic Christian' which ends in chaos after Dracula shows up and the captain is revealed to be drunk; throwing money in a pool full of urine, blood and feces while watching people collect it. In the end, they bribe a park officer to sleep in the park.

Anarchic comedy-grotesque "The Magic Christian" seems almost like a forerunner to the "Monty Python" films, just with less successful jokes. Probably trying to put his friendship with Beatles member Ringo Starr on celluloid, Peter Sellers teamed up with him in a weird, absurdist set of jokes barely passing for a feature length film, an episodic flick without a story that is easily watchable and occasionally fun, yet not very memorable or articulated in what it wanted to say or be. Sellers and Starr are charming, another Beatle, Paul McCartney, wrote a fine song for the film ("Come and Get It") whereas it is almost unbelievable to see a whole list of famous celebrities appearing in cameo roles throughout, no matter how stupid they are written (Raquel Welch's or Yul Brynner's for instance), yet for such a film without a plot (with a vague "critique" of obsession with money) funny jokes are the only product it can rely on, whereas here too many of them seem just plain bizarre or hermetic. However, four jokes really do ignite and are howlingly funny, especially the gag involving a puma "disguised" as a dog for a dog show or the quietly hilarious sequence involving John Cleese as the art house director who displays a perfectly understated comic timing when Sellers' Grand buys a "French Rembrandt" and then proceeds to cut out the nose from the painting. Considering that both future "Python" members Cleese and Chapman are credited as writers of the film, this can be considered as an exercise for their future, more rounded up efforts with TV shows and movies.

Grade;+

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Lifeboat

Lifeboat; war drama, USA, 1944; D: Alfred Hitchcock, S: John Hodiak, Tallulah Bankhead, Hume Cronyn, Mary Anderson, Walter Slezak

The Atlantic ocean, World War II. A British ship is sunk by a German U-boat, which was also destroyed. A dozen people find sanctuary on a lifeboat, including Constance, Kovac, Stanley and Alice. A woman is saved, but not her baby. During the night, she jumped into the sea and disappeared. The crew rescues also Willy, the German captain of the U-boat, which causes a rift between those who think he should be thrown out and those who want to keep him as a POW. Heading towards the nearest German supply boat before they run out of fresh water, Willy kills Smith, whose leg was amputated. The crew then kills Willy. Before they reach the German supply ship, a British ship shows up and sinks it.

Out of only five Oscar nods that were allowed during his lifetime for best director, "Lifeboat" - together with "Spellbound" - is arguably one of the films which did not show Hitchock's mastery in the fullest. He crafted an experimental story that is set exclusively on one lifeboat and succeeds in sustaining the viewers interest until the end, despite numerous potential shortcomings that could have, but did not turn towards the monotone, thanks to a tight drama and 'kammerspiel', yet the movie is surprisingly poor with suspense and is instead just a straighforward 'Robinson Crusoe' survival drama, which is why Hitchcock's similar future 'minimalist thrillers' "Rope" and "Rear Window" proved to stand the test of time far better. The famous director always tried to avoid World War II topics for their 'too obvious suspense' and political films, especially since policies change with time, and even though "Lifeboat" managed to circumvent those two, it is interesting to point out that it is burdened on two fronts for its role of the German captain among the crew - in the past, it was attacked for "humanizing a Nazi", while today, it is objected for stepping into black and white World War II 'propaganda' since it shows not only him, but also another German towards the end, as all the same, rotten people (coincidentally, a third representative, kind American German Smith, says he changed his name from "Schmitz", which is also quite clumsy - alluding that only an Americanized German is a "good German"). Overall, it is a quality drama with a few fine details (the amputation of Smith's leg is not shown - just how someone throws away his right shoe) and camera angles, whereas Hitchcock was especially inventive for smuggling his cameo in such an isolated location in the scene where a protagonist is reading a newspaper showing the famous director in a fat and "thin" photo as an add for imaginary diet product "Reduco".

Grade;++