Thursday, 29 November 2012

The Twilight Saga: New Moon

The Twilight Saga: New Moon; horror romance, USA, 2009; D: Chris Weitz, S: Kristen Stewart, Taylor Lautner, Robert Pattinson, Ashley Greene, Nikki Reed, Billy Burke, Rachel Lefevre, Michael Sheen, Graham Greene

Thinking that their relationship will lead nowhere because he is a vampire, Edward departs from the city with his family, leaving the 18-year old Bella alone and depressed. Out of caprice, she starts seeking cheap thrills and hanging out with Jacob Black - but he turns out to be a werewolf. After a lot of misadventures, Edward and Bella reunite since he only left her to protect her. Bella agrees to become a vampire herself, but that will inevitably breach the peace pact between werewolves and vampires, since the latter promised not to bite any humans. Edward nontheless proposes her.

From today's stance, it is hard to figure out why the "Twilight" movie saga caused such a hype nor why did millions of teenagers fall for such a transparent story. While the first movie had at least some sense and charm, resulting from the romance of two outsiders, part II, "New Moon", is so thin that it could only make the viewers feel like in a "Twilight Zone". One wonders how so little content, so little story can be stretched out into a running time of 130 minutes when it could have served as a fine short movie: "New Moon" is a soap opera, a movie that is so empty that it has no meaningful dialogues, no events, no humor, no tangle - and even no suntan for the two protagonists, either. The most interesting part of the movie is that Edward departs, leaves Bella and is absent for almost an hour from the storyline, which causes a rather fine mood that explores Bella's depression from loneliness, as well as her reckless, almost suicidal thrill events through which she almost neurotically tries to cause Edward's intervention, his return so that he could save her. The always good Graham Greene almost steals the show here and there in his small role of Harry. But that is it, and it is too little to compensate for the uneventful rest of the movie, which quickly returns back into the standard ludicrous mode of a crazy rivalry between vampires and werewolves. Still, even though it has only one truly great scene, it deserves to be mentioned: while Bella sits in her living room, the camera circles around her three times, each time passing the window in front of her that each time shows different seasons outside, from leaves falling in October up to snow covering the exterior in December.

Grade;+

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Blue 9

Plavi 9; sports drama, Croatia, 1950; D: Krešimir Golik, S: Irena Kolesar, Jugoslav Nalis, Antun Nalis, Ljubomir Didić

"Dinamo" is a successful Croatian football club, but the fame of one of the popular players, under dress "Blue 9", Tonči Fabris, rose to his head. In order to get rid of the problematic and spoiled Fabris, the trainer finds a new one, a modest and unknown young player, Zdravko. Fabris finds out about this and tries to sabotage Zdravko's acceptance into the club. Both fall in love with Nena, a student at a shipyard and an excellent swimmer. Under Fabris' influence, she gets alienated from her friends and Zdravko, but when she finds out about Zdravko's sacrifice, she returns to him. In a football match, "Dinamo" wins three to one.

Sports comedy "Blue 9" starts almost as a promotional film for the Croatian football club "Dinamo", but then swings away to another, vague subplot revolving around potential swimmer Nena, which is far fetched and barely relevant to the title and the opening, placing "Dinamo" as a frame story, at best. Despite a fine black and white cinematography and some interesting settings - the moral message is suitable for the socialist Yugoslavia, since the spoiled football player Fabris who represents all the negative traits (selfish abandoning of the team spirit for decadence and his personal gains) is juxtaposed to the new, modest player Zdravko who represents all the positive sides (collective cooperation with the football team and willingness to sacrifice some of his personal goals for the greater good), while Nena is there to decide who is a better role model - yet the storyline is stale and lax, failing to ignite a flame that will catapult it into something more than a standard, though correct entertainment for the masses, making it one of the lesser works of director Krešo Golik, who later made far better and rounded up films ("I Have Two Mothers and Two Fathers"; "The Girl and the Oak", "He Who Sings Means No Harm").

Grade;+

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Withnail & I

Withnail & I; black tragicomedy; UK, 1987; D: Bruce Robinson, S: Richard E. Grant, Paul McGann, Richard Griffiths, Ralph Brown

London, autumn of '69. Two unemployed actors, the alcoholic Withnail and his unidentified friend, decide to take a "vacation" from their depressive lives so they take a trip to the countryside, to a secluded cottage of one of their's wealthy uncle, Monty. Once there, Withnail and his friend figure that the country side is not much of a holiday either since the cottage needs firewood and they food. They contact a poacher and treat themselves at Monty's expense when he visits them one day. Monty mistakenly thinks Withnail's friend is gay, but he talks him out of it. Back in London, Withnail's friend finally gets a job, the leading role in a play.

Bruce Robinson's feature length film debut, "Withnail & I" is a cult independent black (tragic) comedy that enjoys a high reputation - Roger Ebert listed it among his Great Movies, Total Film and The Independent ranked it as one of the greatest British comedies - yet despite a lot of good stuff in it, the movie as a whole is not particularly fun nor engaging, while alcoholic Withnail and his friend are not half as comical as Moore's alcoholic Arthur. What Robinson did right was to take the typical genre of a social drama - two unemployed people - but stubbornly refuse to display it as such, instead presenting it as a comedy that gains most through its comical dialogues ("I think the carrot is infinitely more fascinating than the geranium. The carrot has mystery. Flowers are essentially tarts, prostitutes for the bees"; the sequence where they first meet the farmer: "We've gone on holiday by mistake! We are in this cottage here, are you the farmer?" - "Stop saying that, Withnail! Of course he is the damn farmer!"; the unidentified friend eating coffee from a bowl of soup), but the major problem of the uneven storyline was still not appeased: the sole adventures of the two protagonists on a farm are simply not as good or charming or as fresh as they could have been. The grey London, which serves as the opening and closing frame of the story, is sadly not much different than the central part of the story set in the countryside, which hinted at far greater (comic-harmonius) potentials. However, due to the melancholic ending, which signalled the end of an era (the 60s) and highlighted the two protagonists' friendship, some retroactively remembered the whole movie fonder than it is, while Richard E. Grant is great as the grouchy Withnail.

Grade;++

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Help!

Help!; comedy, UK, 1965; D: Richard Lester, S: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, George Harrison, Leo McKern, Eleanor Bron

An Oriental cult wants to sacrifice a woman to goddess Kaili, but the high priest notices that she is not wearing the sacrificial ring. The sacrifice is thus put on hold as the cult travels to London because the ring was sent to Ring Starr. The cult uses several tricks to steal the ring, but to no avail. The four Beatles hide from the cult in a ski resort, Scotland Yard and then to Bahamas. One of the cult members, woman Ahme, secretly aids Ringo. Just as the cult captures Ringo and wants to sacrifice him instead, the ring falls off while the police arrest the thugs.

The second out of only four feature length films starring the legendary Beatles (documentaries excluding), after their 1st film "A Hard Day's Night" showed that the four guys are as fun on the field of big screens as they are on the field of music, "Help!" is one of their lesser achievements, a semi-comical James Bond spoof with a mess of a story that is all over the place, filled with, what can be safely said, irreverent humor. Director Richard Lester sends the Beatles into their own 'lord of the rings' adventure where an oriental cult wants to steal Ringo's ring, which leads to numerous jokes that border on making this practically a live action cartoon (for instance, in one attempt in a public toilet, Ringo wants to dry his hands, but the hand dryer turns out to be a vacuum cleaner that sucks his whole sleeve, but fails to steal the ring from his finger), great songs and exotic locations, from a ski resort up to Bahamas, yet the chaotic storyline, that did not clearly circle out the 'good vs. evil' concept, does tend to get exhausting at times, which is visible even on the four protagonists who start to lose interest in the last third of the movie. However, since it is almost impossible to make a bad film featuring at least one of the Beatles (whether it is George Harrison's auto-ironical cameo in "The Rutles" or John Lennon's "posthumous" appearance in "Forrest Gump"), then even "Help!" is still a surreal fun if the viewers can watch it with an open mind, and some jokes are quietly hilarious (the Beatles exiting a plane and, spoofing a paparazzo, start taking photos of themselves), just not as grand as their surreal masterwork "Yellow Submarine".

Grade;++

Saturday, 10 November 2012

The Artist

 
The Artist; silent drama, France, 2011; D: Michel Hazanvicius, S: Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell, Missi Pyle, Penelope Ann Miller, Malcolm MacDowell

George Valentine is a famous silent movie star. One evening, a fangirl, Peppy Miller, emerges from the masses and "humorously" crashes into him, seizing the attention of the newspapers. Upon George's intervention, she gets a small role of an extra in his next film. She quickly becomes a star, while producer Zimmer informs George that a revolution, sound movies, is approaching. George disregards it and invests all his money into directing a silent movie, which flops the same night that Peppy's new sound picture becomes a hit. As years pass, the stock market crash aggravates George's state, who bankrupts and tries to commit suicide. However, Peppy stops him and gives him a second chance as a dancer in a sound movie.

Even though several modern directors made "retro" silent films - Brooks with "Silent Movie", Kaurismaki with "Juha", Oshii with "Angel's Egg" - it was Michel Hazanvicius who directed a famous and internationally recognized modern pseudo-silent film, "The Artist", who collected several prestigious awards. It is a charming and (obviously) brave homage to the early Hollywood classics (even courageously filmmed in 4:3 ratio), extracting most of its power from the two great leading actors, Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo - contrary to the popular belief, even though it does not recquire for an actor to learn any lines, expressing emotions only through gestures in a silent movie is equally of a challenge. "The Artist" works the best during its humorus and inventive moments, such as George's foreshadowing nightmare where he (and the audience) suddenly hear the sound of objects he drops, and even a leaf makes a "crashing" sound when it reaches a floor, yet he is somehow mute, or the sequence where George descends the stairs while Peppy walks upstairs, signalling the directions of the careers from there on, but the second half is too conventional and melodramatic, exhausting itself with repetitive scenes of hero's anxiety. It also causes a solid inconsistency for the upcoming love plot - how could the viewers consider Peppy's feeling honest when she knew about George's plight/bankruptcy for years, but did not move a finger to help him all that time? Leaving the too simplistic resolution aside, "The Artist" works better when it is a comedy than when it is a (conventional) drama, yet it is an enjoyable experience that shows an honest ode to dreamy cinema, and is refreshingly emotional at it.

Grade;++

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Dreamscape

Dreamscape; science-fiction thriller, USA, 1984; D: Joseph Ruben, S: Dennis Quaid, Max von Sydow, David Patrick Kelly, Christopher Plummer, Kate Capshaw, Eddie Albert

Outsider Alex Gardener has psychic abilities and is thus drafted to a top secret project led by his former researcher, Dr. Novotny. In the laboratory, Alex is able to enter the dreams of another person, almost as a protector, which Dr. Novotny thinks will help people who suffer from nightmares but cannot remember what they were dreaming. However, Dr. Novotny is murdered and the project is "kidnapped" by secret government agent Blair who intends to kill the US president in his sleep, thanks to another psychic, Tommy. Still, Alex manages to enter into the president's nightmare, too, and kill Alex. He then also kills Blair and runs away.

Despite numerous flaws and omissions, Joseph Ruben's fantasy thriller "Dreamscape" is one of the few movies that managed to conjure up a good depiction of 'lucid dreaming': the cinematography is again "too neat" and "too clear" for those (movie) dream sequences, which are suppose to be unreal, but overall some clever tricks - fast motion of clouds in the background on the skyscraper sequence; fish eye lens; distorted proportions of the doors and walls; random things suddenly appearing - managed to give a satisfying illusion of it. Dennis Quaid and Max von Sydow deliver the best performances, while Christopher Plummer is slightly underused in the story as the main bad guy, even though his plan of using the dream entering project as a secret weapon is probably the most intriguing premise in the storyline, matched only by the project's initial purpose, of having the hero be some sort of a "counsellor" or "protector" in a nightmare. The 'de-tour' of the movie into a paranoia thriller was uneven and inconsistent, at least one scene is ethically questionable (having an underage kid take an axe and chop off the head of a 'cobra-man' to get rid of him in a nightmare) whereas the mood is mild, failing to exploit all the potentials, whereas some even attacked the misleading Indiana Jones style poster, yet "Dreamscape" does not go overboard with the premise, never breaking the (movie) rules it sets up itself for such a premise and never turning it into an excess, whereas some moments are fairly well conceived (the chase sequence on the horse racing track, not without irony).

Grade;++

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Insomnia

Insomnia; thriller-drama, Norway, 1997; D: Erik Skjoldbjærg, S: Stellan Skarsgård, Sverre Anker Ousdal, Maria Bonnevie, Bjørn Floberg

Police officer Jonas Engström travels to a small town at the utter north of Norway in order to investigate the murder of a teenage girl, Tanja, whose hair was washed by her murderer. Since the town is way above the Arctic Circle, there is a constant Midnight Sun during the winter and Jonas has trouble falling asleep. In the fog, he accidentally shoots and kills his colleague. He covers it up and blames Jon, Tanja's murderer. But since Jon knows about the cover up, he blackmails Jonas into putting the blame on Tanja's boyfriend. In a chase, Jon falls and drowns, thus nobody finds out about Jonas' misconduct.

Erik Skjolbjaerg's unusual thriller exploited the rarely used Norwegian phenomenon of the Midnight Sun, equipped with a pale cinematography in order to enhance the bleak mood and the unique setting above the Arctic Circle, yet it does turn slightly anaemic itself with time, which is why the finale is almost anti-climatic. The most interesting part is the subplot where the killer blackmails the police officer Jonas (excellent Stellan Skarsgard) into planting evidence to shift the blame on someone else (an elaborate sequence where Jonas shoots a dog, then retrieves a bullet from his corpse and plants it for the investigation), and some even found parallels with Dostoevsky's "Crime and Punishment", yet due to cold psychology the characters were left without soul. Some events were left incomplete, such as the unusual episode where Jonas strokes the legs of a student girl, which makes it seem as if a part of their personalities is missing from the picture. Nonetheless, the director made a quality, strong and clever little film that gained fame even outside the Norwegian cinema, leading even to an eponymous US remake, which, surprisingly, in an unusual twist, turned out just a little better and more circled out than the original.

Grade;++

Friday, 2 November 2012

Kentucky Fried Movie

Kentucky Fried Movie; parody, USA, 1977, D: John Landis, S: Evan C. Kim, Bong Soo Han, Ingrid Wang, Jerry Zucker, Uschi Digard, Nancy Steen, Henry Gibson, Bill Bixby, George Lazenby, Donald Sutherland

Several clips from TV: an energy expert talks about a new method of oil extraction, namely from the teenager's acne...a gorilla goes crazy during a talk show...a man goes to a see a movie in cinema equipped with 'Feel-A-Round', which means that the usher will re-create and channel everything on screen towards him...in a movie, "A Fistful of Yen", martial arts expert Lou goes to fight against the evil Dr. Klahn and his henchmen...a trailer announces a new disaster movie...an educational video shows what the life would look like without zinc oxide...a guy and a girl get intimate in their home, but the TV news announcer can see them and just pretends to read the news while watching them.

A rudimentary forerunner to the parody genre, the first writing effort of the comic trio consisting of Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams and David Zucker, "Kentucky Fried Movie" is a highly uneven achievement encompassing some twenty (TV) sketches that vary from tasteless garbage to actually more sophisticated satire, which is why the movie had a bipolar reception. The first five segments are the worst, and it isn't well into the sixth one, 'Feel-A-Round', until the comic spark really ignites, despite director John Landis' efforts, whereas even though it is somewhere considered to be the ultimate Bruce Lee parody, the longest segment, a half hour martial arts spoof, "A Fistful of Yen", is only able to cause a few chuckles at best and is easily overshadowed by the equally shaky, but ten times funnier comedy "Kung Pow: Enter the Fist". The best jokes were surprisingly saved for the last 30 minutes, which are the comic highlight of the movie. The segment where Henry Gibson calls for donations for his association, "United Appeal for the Dead", which has such members as a mom and dad who still have the corpse of their dead boy Johnny ("Three years ago, our Johnny died. We though there was no hope, but the United Appeal showed us that despite his handicap, Johnny could still be a useful member of our family.") is a hilarious grotesque, as well as "Willer Time" and "Zinc Oxide" educational video. And the last joke is naughty, but the best: in it, a guy and a girl start cuddling on the couch while a news anchor is reading news on TV. But all of a sudden, as much as they could see him, he also sees them, and starts pretending to speak 'monotone' news and secretly observing them while they are nude, whereas Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker appear also on TV as his technicians, equally curious about the couple.

Grade;++