Monday, 30 June 2014

Satantango

Satantango; drama/ experimental film, Hungary/ Germany/ Switzerland, 1994; D: Bella Tarr, S: Mihály Víg, Putyi Horváth, László Lugossy, Éva Almássy Albert, János Derzsi, Miklós Székely

A Hungarian village towards the collapse of the Eastern Bloc. The lives of the inhabitants are bleak, and it is raining almost every day. After having an affair with Mrs. Schmidt, Futaki overhears a conversation between her and Mr. Schmidt, who plans to take this year's earning and leave the village. Irimias and Petrina are summoned by a government officer and receive a secret assignment from him. Afterwards, they return to the village, where they cause surprise, since many thought Irimias was dead. Using the death of a little girl, Estike, as a pretext, he persuades the people to hand over all their money to him because he will lead them to a new place, into a better life. The inhabitants listen and move, but find themselves in another village where everything is the same. In the office, two officers read a report by Irimias about the people.

Bela Tarr's "Satantango" has quite a polarizing effect: some consider it one of the best movies from the 90s, while others denounce it as tedious and pointless. The truth is somewhere in between. The movie starts out with a great, 7-minute long scene shot in one take, in which a bunch of cows are running through a village. One marvels how Tarr managed to film such a long scene, but right after it, there is another 7-minute long scene. And another. And another... Until it turns out that the whole film is assembled almost exclusively from long takes, which, no matter how virtuoso they are, becomes repetitive and monotone after a while. Something is precious only when it is rare. By relaying too much on this overindulgence with long takes, Tarr placed only them as the highlight, on the expense of a (richer) use of movie language. The second problem is that these long takes do not tell some especially great story, either: "Satantango" is a 2-hour story trapped in a 7-hour movie, which is further aggravated by a vague ending without a real conclusion. It is not so exciting to watch the movie linger with such sequences where a drunk, overweight doctor is sitting in his house and drinking for 40 minutes, where the main highlight is when he trips and falls to the floor.

The best parts of the film are the three humorous moments that "twitch" the events from their 'grey' existence: one is the quietly hilarious dance in the tavern, where one character, Schmidt, is trying to balance a bun on his forehead, and walks from left to right, between the people dancing around him. The other is Irimias' report to two KGB-like officers, who are typically loyal to the regime, but stupid: Irimias describes the backward peasants in such a straightforward way that the two officers have to use various euphemisms while typing an official report to their superiors, which results in comical dialogues ("Instead of a 'fat sow', write 'big'". - "Overweight?" - "Okay" / "Hopeless stupidity, inarticulate moaning, desperate existence...?" - "OK, write this: his dwarfed understanding and his submissive attitude to authority make him a good candidate to accomplish the activity in question..."). The storyline is considered an allegory on the collapse of the (Soviet) Eastern Bloc, with a metaphysical touch: the main protagonist, Irimias, has a beard and an almost Christ like appearance (he shows up in the village after many though he was dead; he promises people salvation and a better place; he gathers followers). These are plus points, yet if there was ever a movie suited for a "fast forward" button, it was this one.

Grade;++

Saturday, 28 June 2014

The Independent

The Independent; mockumentary/ satire/ comedy, USA, 2000; D: Stephen Kessler, S: Jerry Stiller, Janeane Garofalo, Max Perlich, Billy Burke, Ron Howard, Roger Corman, Peter Bogdanovich, Larry Hankin, Ben Stiller, Ted Demme, Karen Black

Morty Fineman is a B-film director who went bankrupt after making hundreds of films over a span of three decades. His studio is located in a motel, whereas his loyal associates are his daughter Paloma and assistant Ivan. Seeing a chance to make a comeback, Morty accepts the invitation of a mass serial killer behind bars, who only wants to sell his right for a movie biography to him - yet only under the condition that it becomes a musical. When the killer is killed, Morty decides to quit the film business. However, a film festival in Nevada invites him to host his films, thereby giving him new popularity.

Stephen Kessler's "The Independent" is a satirical ode to losers and uses the B-film director Fineman - a sort of blend of Ed Wood, R. Meyer and Roger Corman - as an analogy for a wider context of the small surviving outside the mainstream system. It flip-flops between a mockumentary and a "normal" film narrative, yet one cannot quite shake away the feeling as if it could have been better suited as a short, since the later half of the film already exhausted a good deal of the burlesque jokes and instead reached for unnecessary dramatic moments of Fineman's relationship with his ex-wife and daughter Paloma, played here with a fantastic energy by Janeane Garofalo, who is a small jewel. Likewise, a fair share of jokes backfires, such as the insipid clips from Fineman's (fictional) video for painting or (fictional) film about a friendship between a boy and a whale, wherein the producers switched the whale with a police officer (Ben Stiller in a cringe worthy cameo). Despite its restrictions, "The Independent" has its moments, including cameos from real directors who comment on Fineman's films, such as Peter Bogdanovich or Roger Corman in person, whereas at least one joke brings down the house: it is a clip from Fineman's action flick "Bald Justice", where the bald bodyguards battle the villains with long hair, who have kidnapped the (bald) president. Right afterwards, Ron Howard - in a brave self-ironic move - takes away his hat, revealing his bald head, and then comments on the film, saying how he did not understand it when he was a kid (and had hair), but how it has "grown" on him as an adult (now that he is bald), in a scene that is comedy gold.

Grade;++

Monday, 23 June 2014

The Notebook

The Notebook; romantic drama, USA, 2004; D: Nick Cassavetes, S: Rachel McAdams, Ryan Gosling, James Garner, Gena Rowlands, James Marsden, Kevin Connolly

In a nursing home, an old man is reading a love story to an old woman: a long time ago, in the American South, a young lad named Noah fell completely in love with a girl, Allison. However, her rich parents were against her relationship with a poor boy who works in a lumber factory, and moved to New York. Noah wrote 365 letters to Allison, one each day, but Allison's mother intercepted them and hid them from her daughter. After World War II, Allison met a former officer, Lon, and got engaged to him. However, she drove one day back to the south, met Noah and revived their relationship. Back in present, the old woman realizes that the story the old man was reading to her was about them when they were young.

Even though some were not inclined towards it, "The Notebook" is a refreshingly honest and uncynical, pure straightforward romance that also sends a tragic message about transience in life. There is a neat plot twist that explains why an older man is reading to an older woman the love story about a young couple (even though the twist is, unfortunately, already revealed some half way into the film), but the main storyline is what keeps the film "ticking", anyway: Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling are phenomenal as the young couple madly in love, Noah and Allison, who have spark, chemistry and charm, evident already in the crazy manner he manages to "persuade" her to go on a date with her (he hangs from the Ferris wheel and threatens to throw himself on the floor if she does not say "yes". She accepts, but not without staying even, since she pulls his pants down while he is hanging). As with most love story, this one also revolves around an obstacle the couple has to overcome - here embodied in their class difference - whereby it falls prey to some melodramatic cliches (parents forbidding their daughter to see the guy she loves; Noah writes letters to Allison, which are confiscated by her mother - but Allison herself does not write a single letter to him), but to its credit, on the other hand it also neatly avoids some other ones, thus gathering plus points (when Noah's fling, Martha, shows up at his doorstep just as Allison returned, this could have lead to a typical further complications and running away "without wanting to hear an explanation". But instead, refreshingly, Martha is full of understanding, and so is Allison who invites her to enter the house). A very emotional film, with one major flaw - as the conclusion sets in, it should have ended right there, since the last five minutes after it are unnecessary.

Grade;++

Friday, 20 June 2014

Marriage Italian Style

Matrimonio all'italiana; drama / comedy, Italy, 1964; D: Vittorio De Sica, S: Sophia Loren, Marcello Mastroianni, Aldo Puglisi, Tecla Scarano

Naples. A sick woman, Filumena, is brought to her bed. Her former lover, Domenico, is summoned to her because she is, allegedly, on her deathbed. Domenico then remembers how they met in a brothel: during World War II, Filumena was a 17-year old prostitute and remembered Domenico years later. They had an affair, but he, a respected and wealthy pastry manager, was always reluctant to enter a marriage with an ex-prostitute. Back in present, Domenico accepts Filumena's last wish and marries her. However, as soon as they are married, it turns out Filumena was healthy all along and just tricked him into marrying her. She then also admits that she has three sons, and that one of them is his. Unable to find out which of the three is his, Domenico accepts all three of them.

Sophia Loren received her second Golden Globe and Oscar nominations in the rather well done "Marriage Italian Style" that traverses between a drama and a comedy, yet that is not among her finest (or most popular) collaborations with film partner Marcello Mastroianni. Vittorio De Sica abandons his neorealism style to adopt to a more simple, accessible style, which does not mean that the film is without its merits: it starts out as a drama, only to turn into a comedy in a 'comic twist' some half way into the film, where Loren's character, Filumena, tricks her lover Domenico into marrying her by pretending to be terminally ill and bedridden - the sequence where he, after a hasty wedding, phones a woman, and Filumena suddenly pulls away the curtain behind him and is healthy, on her feet again, is comic gold. It would have been great if the film continued with such a high impression, but it did not. And it seems it did not even try to, figuring it was enough of effort. The second half of the storyline, where Filumena also discloses she secretly had three kids, is all right, but only moderately amusing and inspiring, while a greater point is left out as the closing credits start to roll. Overall, a light, occasionally fun little love film with a few comical dialogues ("You can only have a heart attack if you have a heart!") that offer a smooth viewing, yet without some truly fantastic moments that will make the viewers think "brilliant" as soon as they see it.

Grade;++

Queen of the Gypsies

Tabor ukhodit v nebo; drama, Russia, 1976; D: Emil Loteanu, S: Girgore Grigoriu, Svetlana Toma, Barasbi Mulayev, Ion Sandri Scurea

At the beginning of the 20th century, a gypsy waggon is travelling around the Tisza river. Horse thief Zobar is pursued by police officer who shoot and wound him while he was trying to steal another batch, but he is healed by a beautiful gypsy woman, Radda. When the wealthy Siladi asks Radda to marry him, she refuses, and he enables the police to raid the gypsy waggon in search for Zobar. Later, Zobar spends the night with Radda, but she leaves him alone by the river because she does not want to be bound by anything - instead, she chooses freedom. Zobar is caught and sentenced to death, but saved by his friends. He confesses his love to Radda, and then stabs and kills her. The others in the caravan then kill him.

"Queen of the Gypsies" is a welcomed attempt to show the culture, habits, customs and mindset of the often ignored Roma and Gypsy nations in Europe, yet, one should mention it right at the start, it never reaches the level of Kusturica. Director Emil Loteanu uses the travelling gypsy waggon as a pretext for great landscape images, equipped with the frequent scenes of horses on the meadow, the leitmotiv of the storyline, since they serve as a symbol for freedom - unconquered and wild. A few attempts at humor are refreshing, as well (at a market, a police officer asks a gypsy in a thick wool coat to take it off, since it is summer. The gypsy declines, saying he is "cold". As the coat is then taken off from him, the people discover he hid several stolen chickens under it). However, the storyline is comprised of half-characters whose actions and behavior make little to no sense, the 'down-to-earth' story is listless and rarely truly ignites, whereas the musical and dance numbers, though luckily reduced to a minimum, seem more like they came from Bollywood. The main love story between Zobar and Radda has a certain surreal charm to it, and as such it is a pity that it was so thinly developed, since the actress playing her, Svetlana Toma, really has potential. Unfortunately, this is all ruined by one of the dumbest endings ever that took the above mentioned theme of freedom in a completely misguided direction, thereby wrecking the film.

Grade;+

Monday, 16 June 2014

Cabiria

Cabiria; silent historical film, Italy, 1914; D: Giovanni Pastrone, S: Bartolomeo Pagano, Umberto Mozzato, Carolina Catena, Lidia Quaranta, Gina Marangoni, Italia Almirante Manzini

Roman-Punic Wars, 3rd Century BC. The eruption of Mount Etna volcano causes destruction of the city of Catania, which in turn separates Batto from his little daughter, Cabiria, who is found by Phoenician pirates and abducted to Carthage. Two Roman spies, Fulvius Axilla and his strong slave Maciste, find out that Cabiria, a Roman girl, is supposed to be sacrifised to the god Moloch in a temple. The two save her, but are separated while running away: Cabiria is hidden by Masinissa, the Numidian King, and Sophonisba; Maciste is captured and put into dungeon while Fulvius escapes by leaping into the sea from a cliff. 10 years later, Fulvius is again sent to Carthage and enters the city wall thanks to a human pyramid. He frees Maciste from the dungeon and they escape into the desert, only to be captured again by Cirtans. There they meet Cabiria again, who is called "Elissa" and is a slave of Sophonisba. As the Romans conquer the city of Cirta, Sophonisba poisons herself rather than to become a Roman triumph. Cabiria is saved from her prison and heads back home in a ship with Fulvius.

Giovanni Pastrone's "Cabiria" is considered one of the classics of early cinema that made huge progress for movie as an art form: among them, critics commend it for being one of the first feature length films (with a running time of over two and half hours); one of the first films that used not one, but two parallel storylines; the first example of a film spectacle and a strong influence on other future films (apparently, it inspired D.W. Griffith to create the Babylon segment in his more famous "Intolerance"; or at the very least, it came two years before it). Even though "Cabiria" has its flaws that undermine and whiffle several layers (the title heroine, Cabiria, is actually a supporting character and is too often overshadowed by the two Romans who are searching for her; a couple of subplots, though opulent, lead nowhere and could have been easily cut to not distract from the main tangle, like Hannibal's crossing of the Alps that lacks its main highlight anyway, namely the charge towards Rome, and the siege of Syracuse; the overlong running time...) it still holds up surprisingly well and has inventive directing techniques for its time, which makes it even more agile than numerous stiff monumental films from the 50s and 60s.

The most astonishing feature is the dynamic camera that occasionally "drives" through the scenery, managing to avoid the static shots of the silent movie era typical at that time. Even more precious are other examples of a visual style, especially Sophonisba's dream sequence (she is shown sleeping in her bed, while the transparent images of her dream - a hand that reaches towards her and Moloch's temple - are screened above her, over a black wall). The set designs, though elaborate, do not stand out that much today as much as several expressionistic images that stay in your mind (the wide shot of people descending a hill while the eruption of Mount Etna is seen in the background; Maciste sitting near an unconscious Fulvius at the bottom of the image of the screen, while the smoke is seen at the upper side of the screen, in the background of the desert; a human pyramid/stairs at the walls). All these virtues lift "Cabiria" into an ambitious and quality achievement, helping us understand that, even though it is too overstretched for a masterwork, it has an enduring legacy that deserves respect, a legacy that is stronger than its weaknesses.

Grade;+++

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Pumzi

Pumzi; science-fiction drama/ short, Kenya/ South Africa, 2009; D: Wanuri Kahiu, S: Kudzani Moswela, Chantelle Burger

Some time after World War III, labelled the "water war", radioactivity has made the Earth's surface an uninhabitable desert. The remains of human civilization live in an underground base, where they are safe from radiation, and all the water is recycled. Asha works in a museum but starts doubting the authority of the council when they won't allow her to go outside and try to plant a seed that is sprouting. She secretly breaks out and starts a long, suicidal journey across the desert to find a place to plant the tree. She plants it and spends the last drops of water on it. It eventually grows out into a tree.

This 20 minute short and a rare example of science-fiction cinema from Africa, "Pumzi" is a bitter warning of where the global ecological pollution might lead us. Set in a dystopic future, it echoes Lucas' "THX 1138" and Stanton's (slightly more simplistic) "Wall-e": all the characters live in an underground base because the surface is uninhabitable and are shaved bald, though that actually has a point since everything in that society is adapted to recycle the extremely scarce water, from collecting urine to sweat, and hair would only collect sweat drops unnecessarily. The cinematography is sharp, the costumes and details are spot on (everyone in the basement has to create electricity manually, using special bicycle generators) whereas it is also refreshing that the lead protagonist is a woman. However, the story is a little bit too grey for a broader spectrum of a viewing experience. It rightfully took a dark and depressive approach, yet it stranded itself slightly by advocating its environmentalism too explicitly instead of more subtly, thereby succumbing a dimension of its enjoyment to it. Likewise, some parts suffer because the story was not developed enough (for instance, why is the council forbidding Asha from leaving the base?). The strongest part of the film is the haunting final image, which rightfully left a great deal of the audience wondering if there might be more interpretations to its conclusion (is the Earth's surface truly uninhabitable to life or is the council just keeping its inhabitants in an isolation?).

Grade;++

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Moscow, My Love

Moskva, lyubov moya; romantic drama, Japan/ Russia, 1974; D: Kenji Yoshida, Aleksandr Mitta, S: Komaki Kurihara, Oleg Vidov, Makoto Sato, Tatyana Golikova

Yuriko is a Japanese girl who goes to Moscow to study ballet. She is an excellent student, masters speaking Russian and meets other artists while living there, among them sculptor Wolodja, whom falls in love with her. Complicating matters is Yuriko's friend, Tetsuyo, who visits her in Moscow because he also discovered feelings for her. Unfortunately, Yuriko's mother was in Hiroshima during the Atomic bombing, and it is discovered that Yuriko herself inherited her disease. Yuriko tries to commit suicide in the sea, but Wolodja saves her. Still, her health deteriorates further and further, until she dies in the hospital.

Few Russian films achieved greatness during the rigid Totalitarian Soviet regime, which handicapped a great deal of their creative control and made a lot of them feel as if every little scene is cautiously approved (to avoid the term "controlled"), yet there were still interesting achievements here and there. Among them is the joint Japanese-Russian production of the romantic drama "Moscow, My Love", a refreshingly relaxed, smooth and humble 'slice-of-life' story revolving around a Japanese girl studying ballet in the eponymous city. In certain areas, just like most Soviet films, it is a little bit dated by today (for instance, the relic decision that the Japanese dialogues are not subtitled, but atrociously "dubbed" by only one (!) male voice), and thus, congruently, the Japanese director Yoshida did a better job than his Russian counterpart Mitta, whereas the love triangle made an unnecessary turn into the 'terminal ilness' genre which turned out overtly melodramatic in the finale, yet it has honest, touching emotions and a good shot compositions thanks to the dynamic camera (one of the best is the almost three minute long shot, filmed in one take, where Wolodja and Yuriko enter a store and sit to order something to drink, while the camera is filming them from outside, while it is still raining). As much as Oleg Vidov is badly miscast for the leading male role, so much is Komaki Kurihara perfectly cast as the leading female role of Yuriko, because she truly has an enchanting screen presence: every gesture she makes is so genuine, charismatic and charming that she truly proves to be one of the most underrated actresses of her time, and the storyline owes 90% of charm to her.

Grade;++

Friday, 13 June 2014

The Talisman

Talisman; drama/ short, Mexico, 2012; D: J. Luis Rivera, S: Jorge Moreno, Sara Lara, Cata Garza, Jorge Martinez, David Loji

Jorge is a peddler at a market, but his business has been doing so bad lately that he cannot even afford to pay for his only employee. Since his cannot support his wife Mary nor his son Jorgille, who is unemployed, anymore, Jorge gets so desperate he enters a good luck charms shop and asks a witch for something to break his streak of bad luck. She sells him a talisman that will guarantee to solve his financial troubles, but demands blood from him. Indeed, the same evening, luck seemingly changes for Jorge: his son find a job at a plant. However, the next day, the son is killed in an accident - yet the life insurance policy enables Jorge and Mary to repay all their debts.

A modern retelling of W. W. Jacob's short story "The Monkey's Paw" - as well as the thematically similar "Faust" legend - "Talisman" is a sly and unassuming little film that dwells on our constant superstition and fears that there might be "something invisible" out there that prevents us from succeeding in life, yet that even a shortcut to success has its heavy toll. Director J. Luis Rivera handles the story in an elegant way, establishing in the opening shots not only Jorge's life as a peddler, but also his financial situation, social observations as well as the mood of the economic crisis of that era. The main tangle where Jorge buys a talisman, hoping it will somehow break his circle of misfortunes, is established already from the first scenes as an eerie "Catch 22" with a 'boomerang effect' (the suspicious shop; the dark cat as a symbol for bad luck; the woman demanding blood from Jorge in exchange for the good luck talisman), which will in the dark plot twist at the end aggravate his fate from a part area in life as much as it alleviates it from the financial part. Just like other films about the topic, "Talisman" contemplates about such philosophical terms as an unbreakable equal amount of happiness, almost a yin and yang balance, which can be summed up in a quote from "Puella Magica Madoka" ("Miracles aren't free. When you wish for hope, it creates an equivalent of despair. Happiness evens out and the world stays in balance."), as well as the fatality of destiny. Rivera showed a talent for a natural story flow that is simple and accessible, yet glues the viewers to the screen and grows on them, while the nice touches can be felt (the leitmotiv of the feather). The actors all round up the impression, led by very good Jorge Moreno and Sara Lara.

Grade;+++

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Miami Supercops

I poliziotti dell'8a strada; crime/ comedy, Italy, 1985; D: Bruno Corbucci, S: Terence Hill, Bud Spencer, C.B. Seay

Miami. Doug works as a police officer, while his friend Steve quit his job in order to be a helicopter pilot. One day, Garrett, a thief they caught seven years ago for robbing 20 million $, is released from prison, but soon found dead under mysterious circumstances. Another one of his former accomplice that helped rob the bank is also dead, which leaves the third - and unknown - mastermind of the robbery seemingly safe for good. Steve decides to return to the police to investigate the case. Using clues and Garrett's ex jail mate, Steve and Doug realize that the third accomplice, Ralph Duran, had a plastic surgery, changed his face and became a respected businessman, Robert Delman. Using a tape and evidence, they manage to lure him into a basement and arrest him.

The 16th out of 17 Bud Spencer-Terence Hill films in total, "Miami Supercops" did not fare even half as well at the box office as their previous collaborations, marking the longest time period until their next - and final - film showed up, "Troublemakers", released nine years after this one. Even though it plays out on the same location and has the two protagonists again playing cops, "Miami Supercops" is not a sequel to their much more popular comedy "Two Supercops". "Miami Supercops" is indeed not much of a comedy, but it fares better as a pure crime flick since it seems as if Spencer and Hill deliberately abandoned the comical territory (there are only two short trademark fist fights of theirs here, and even they are abrogated hastily) - maybe trying not to get typecast? - and went on to play a more serious pair of a storyline, which Spencer took way overboard with his "Extralarge" crime series. Even the finale, where there is a real duel in the basement with the heroes and the bad guys shooting at each other, takes a more sober approach. However, R. Chandler or E. Leonard it is not. It is a cozy, though standard mystery story that gets investigated by the duo, done in a relaxed fashion, yet without passion, spark or many memorable moments. Finding out who the bad guy is, is all right, yet it was not set up to be a true surprise or a payout for the viewers. The best job was done by the (occasionally) interesting camera work, such as the steadicam shot that follows Hill returning a crook from the street into the bus again.

Grade;+

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Dancing in the Rain

Ples v dežju; drama, Slovenia, 1961; D: Boštjan Hladnik, S: Duša Počkaj, Miha Baloh, Rado Nakrst, Ali Raner

Peter is a depressive alcoholic who works as a elementary school art teacher. He has affairs with a prostitute, Magda, while at the same time continuing his half-hearted relationship with the older woman, struggling theatre actress Maruša. They both live in old apartments and dream of better lives. Peter wants a younger, beautiful woman, Maruša wants to be famous, while Anton, her friend, dreams Maruša will love him someday and forget about Peter. After Peter points out again how old she is in a restaurant, Maruša commits suicide in her apartment. Peter realizes he loved her and walks down in the rain.

Considered to be the best film of Slovene cinema of the 20th century, "Dancing in the Rain" is one of the first modernist films in Yugoslav cinema: director Bostjan Hladnik studied various film techniques from Chabrol in Paris, and applied them here to such an extent that the film seems modern and timeless even today, despite its black and white cinematography. The story - two lovers who are depressed with their lives in the city - is conventional and bland, yet enriched with such a fresh, unconventional style, it gains momentum. The story follows the dreams of the two protagonists: in one brilliant sequence, Marusa finds herself on a meadow, 'Heidi' style, and is picked up by a peasant driving a carriage. He recognizes her because she is a famous actress. Marusa continues by foot and runs into the forest, falling on the grass from joy because someone acknowledged her acting talent. However, the sound of a knocking door is heard. She then turns around and spots a door - in the middle of the forest. There is a transition of a door inside a new scene, in an apartment, and Marusa awakens in her bed, realizing it was all just a dream.

The movie is filled with such meticulous daydreaming transitions, and they make it stand out from the rest of the films from that era. Peter's nightmare of running pass by men carrying cofins is also virtuoso crafted. "Rain" has an excellent mise-en-scene, an excellent visual style (very dynamic camera, vibrant shot compositions and camera angles) and excellent overall technical execution - except that it lacks a soul. It is as if Hladnik wanted to dazzle too much by doing "Look what I can do!", but alas, just like Godard, his storyline is artificial and without real pathos. Sometimes, too much directing techniques disrupt from the actual story, like here. It is a minor flaw, yet "Rain" never seems true. It does not have that 'inner directing' skill where you forget about how, why and what way this or that was filmmed, and are just glued to the screen naturally because the characters are the main attraction, not the director. Still, it is an excellent art-film, nonetheless.

Grade;+++

Stand by Me

Stand by Me; drama, USA, 1986; D: Rob Reiner, S: Wil Wheaton, River Pheonix, Corey Feldman, Jerry O'Connell, Kiefer Sutherland, John Cusack, Richard Dreyfuss

Writer Gordie Lachance remembers his childhood in a small town of Castle Rock in the 50s: as a 12-year old, together with his friends Chris, Teddy and Vern, he went on a trip for two days into the forest in order to find the corpse of a boy, Ray, in order to become famous. They got this info from Vern's older brother Billy, who is a member of a notorious gang led by Ace. On their trip, they had many misadventures, prevented Ace to displace the corpse, yet abandoned their initial plan voluntarily and instead reported the corpse to the public anonymously. As grown ups, they lost their friendship and became strangers.

"Stand by Me" is an unusual coming-of-age film: even though it has several 'rough' edges and dubious choices (11-year old boys swearing in some scenes), it is essentially a bitter-sweet tale about growing up in the form of a road movie that sends a tragic message how many events we find irritating when we were kids may later become a source of nostalgia when we grow up due to the loss of innocence. Ultimately, every time period, whether good or bad, will end someday, and there will never be a one like it again. Based on Stephen King's rare dramatic story, "Stand by Me" has many excellent dialogues ("I've been dating a Catholic girl for a whole month and she only allowed me to touch her breasts!" - "Such are the Catholics. If you want to get laid, find a Protestant!"), events (after crossing a swamp, one boy realizes in horror that a leach is in his underwear), fantastic landscapes and overall an emotional and honest narrative that 'grows' on the viewers. However, one part in the film disrupts the mood completely: the unnecessary, vile Gordie's story about throwing up during the pie eating contest, which seems so out of place that one may wonder if an editor from "Porky's II" placed it there by accident. If there was ever a sequence suited for a "deleted scene", it was this one. Because of that, one can apply the same conclusion for "Stand by Me" as with all of Rob Reiner's films from his golden phase: very good, but there is still something missing to be considered an all time classic.

Grade;+++

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

This is Spinal Tap

This is Spinal Tap; comedy/ mockumentary, USA, 1984; D: Rob Reiner, S: Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, Rob Reiner, Tony Hendra, David Kaff, R. J. Parnell, Bruno Kirby, Ed Begley, Jr., Fran Drescher, Patrick Macnee, Fred Willard, Billy Crystal, Dana Carvey, Anjelica Huston

Director Marty Di Bergi is making a documentary about an obscure British rock group, Spinal Tap. It consists out of two best friends, Nigel and David, as well as bassist Derek, keyboardist Viv and several new drummers, because each one died time and time again from mysterious circumstances. The camera follows their tour, their problems regarding a controversial cover art of their album, them becoming lost in a behind-the-stage tunnel, getting a too small replica of Stonehenge on stage... Nigel eventually leaves the band, but returns and enables them to continue.

The directorial debut film of Rob Reiner, comedy mockumentary "This is Spinal Tap" did not initially spark interest at the box office, yet its growing following with time managed to retroactively advance it into a status of a cult film. The movie wonders only between funny and simple, yet between those two frequencies it manages to mold enough of versatile events that cause a "reaction" among the viewers than many more complex films with a wider spectrum of themes. It never reaches the heights of its brilliant, purely fantastic forerunner, "The Rutles" - that evidently also had even better original songs - and has a fair share of jokes that backfire (for instance, the joke of the sexist image of the cover of their album is done to death in an overlong 4 minute sequence, even though the joke was never funny to begin with) as well as a few empty scenes, yet overall, "Spinal Tap" has more than enough quietly funny jokes to justify its existence, whether they arrive through dialogues ("On what day did God create Spinal Tap? And why couldn't he have rested that day?"; "Is this the end of Spinal Tap?" - "I don't think that the end can be assessed as of itself as being the end because what does the end feel like? It's like trying to extrapolate the end of the universe, you say, if the universe is infinite, then what does that mean? How fair is all the way, and then if it stops, what's stopping, and what's behind what's stopping it?") or observations (the by now classic scene where director Reiner speaks with the fictional Spinal Tap member Nigel, who explains him that he had create an amplifier with several volume knobs that go from 1 to 11, to get some extra loud sound, because "10 is not enough"). The most was achieved out of the two leads, great Michael McKean and Christopher Guest, who gave a spot on performance as David and Nigel, the two dimwitted rockers.

Grade;+++