Friday, February 27, 2015
World War II. By signing the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact, Stalin became a Fascist collaborator and invaded Poland together with the Nazis. Tens of thousands of Polish soldiers and civilians are arrested by Soviet soldiers and deported to an unknown direction. The wife of one of them, Anna, and her daughter, Weronika, wait for any news about her husband, Andrzej. When the mass graves of Polish people who died in the Katyn massacre are discovered, first the Nazi, and after the war, the Bolshevik regime use it for their propaganda, blaming the other side for it. One of the survivors, Jerzy, informs Anna that Andrzej indeed was killed by the Soviets, together with 22,000 Polish citizens in April '40 who were executed.
Ever since "Man of Marble" and "Man of Iron" in the 70s and 80s, Polish director Andrzej Wajda risked a lot to speak up against the long suppressed history of Poland, but without any anger, in order to simply objectively tell the events, and it comes as no surprise that his last big film was "Katyn" about the Bolshevik-Nazi regime and the Katyn genocide, where his father was executed. Not only is it a brave film, but also a rare and honest one that refreshingly had the courage to break the last taboo, a one that everyone is familiar with, anyway, namely that the Soviets were Fascist collaborators. It also subversively implies how Moscow's plan for Greater Russia was fiendishly disguised as a fight for Socialism and social justice. There are several strong sequences here - for instance, the Polish commander speaks to his soldiers who are in Soviet captivity and tells them that he wants to "bring Poland back on the world map"; after the Katyn mass graves are discovered, the families of the victims are played as fools since the Soviets are telling them the crime was done by the Nazis, which culminates in a scene where a blond woman, who survived the Warsaw uprising, is threatened by a Soviet officer because she insists her father was killed in '40, and not in '41, which leads to this exchange: "Are you tired of life?" - "Major, the Germans tried that on me for five years. Don't think it will take you five minutes" - though some moments could have been done stronger and the film drags on slightly in the second half since it was very questionable to spend only the last 12 minutes to show the sole massacre, and not more earlier on. Still, when the crime is finally shown in the finale, it is shocking: Polish prisoners are taken one by one into a basement, where they walk into not knowing what to expect, until they reach the room with a wall in front - they know this is the end, and then a Soviet kills them with a shot in the head. The corpse is thrown out the window, on a truck full of them, while a team quickly splashed the blood away with a bucket of water. This is repeated indefinitely. The sadness of such a sequence, which shows the failure of human beings that something like that can happen, is unmatched, and the film is a vivid testament against those who want to forget history.
Thursday, February 26, 2015
On the Pacific Ocean, 1849, a lawyer, Ewing, brings back a black slave, Autua. When Autua saves his life from a greedy doctor who wanted to poison him, Ewing stops supporting slavery... England, early 20th century. Frobisher, a gay composer, reads Ewing's journal and is compelled to compose a song, "Cloud Atlas". However, his greedy employer Vyvyan wants to steal his song, and Frobisher thus shoots him. In the end, he commits suicide, leaving his lover Sixsmith alone... San Francisco, '73. Reporter Louisa reads Sixsmith's letters to Frobisher and hears "Cloud Atlas". She later manages to crack down a conspiracy of the oil lobby who wanted to stage a nuclear power plant incident to keep the US relying on oil... London, 2012. Publisher Cavendish reads the manuscript of Luisa's story. He is tricked into committing himself to a strict, oppressive nursing home. With the help of other seniors, he manages to escape... New Seoul, 2144. Clone Sonmi refuses to be a slave and starts feeling real emotions when she sees a film based on Cavendish' rebellion against the nursing home. She starts her own rebellion, but is executed... On an island in the far future, after a nuclear war, radiation is slowly killing the rest of humanity. They worship Sonmi as a goddess. Zachary, one of the tribe's people, helps Meronym find a station from which she sends a help signal to nearby colony planets. They leave Earth and start a colony on a new planet.
Even though it did not quite achieve a full spectre of greatness and awe, "Cloud Atlas" is one of those rare kind of films that dared to do something different and unique - a tendency not seen for almost a decade in the 21st century cinema after the conclusion of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy - and that is why more of such films deserve to be made. Its main theme - that an act of courage and humanity from an unknown person can somehow inspire the next generation of people to do the same, and they then the next generation as well, and so on, for centuries - is fantastic, beautiful and noble, but, unfortunately, it has two loose ends: in the first story, set in 1849, the character of Ewing does a good deed by helping a slave escape. In the second story, it is implied that his act inspired an English composer, Frobisher - who read his journal - to complete a song, "Cloud Atlas", over 80 years later. When the torch is passed on to the third story - when Louisa (played by Halle Berry with class) reads Frobisher's letters in San Francisco in '73 - this is where it gets a little bit stuck.
Had the movie (better) implied that Frobisher's song somehow inspired Luisa to investigate a nuclear power plant conspiracy, it would have been a great continuation. Sadly, it did not, and the connection for the 4th story is vague as well - in London of 2012, publisher Cavendish reads Luisa's manuscript, but it is not clear how, if at all, it inspired him to rebel against the oppressive, authoritarian conditions in a nursing home. The 5th story continues to play it forward, though, when a movie based on Cavendish's rebellion at the nursing home inspires a clone, Sonmi, in 2144 to rebel for a better world. The 6th story also completes it by having Sonmi be respected as a goddess. Had the connection in the 3rd and 4th story been stronger, the film would have been stronger and more cohesive as well. The choice of editing and the films overall length are questionable: the nonlinear narrative mixes up these six stories, intervening them back and forth, even though it would have been better to have them play one by one. Though, on the bright side, this way it is more dynamic and exciting. Several episodes could have been cut, as well (for instance, the 4th story could have started right from the scene when Cavendish is threatened by thugs to pay them out, since the opening with Tom Hanks playing a cocky author, Dermot, is pointless). The stylistic choices do have some great scenes (Cavendish writing at the start how the "nonlinear narrative" is contrived, but begs the viewers to bear with him, in an ironic jab; the camera moving around Luisa while her car falls down into the water) and plays with the characters from one story becoming "intruders" in the next (Sixsmith as a young lover in the 2nd story and as a older man in the 3rd one). Overall, a brave and ambitious experiment that deserves to be seen, but with a small complaint: for a movie about spirituality, it is oddly scarce with true emotions and inspiration.
Tuesday, February 24, 2015
Harry, a retired teacher, lives alone with his cat Tonto in a New York apartment. When he is evicted because the building is about to be torn down to make room for a parking lot, he finds a new home at his son, Burt. However, he cannot fit into his family life, and thus Harry takes a trip to his daughter Shirley in Chicago, taking Tonto with him. He meets numerous people along the way - teenager Ginger, salesman Wade, Indian Two Feathers... - and continues to Los Angeles since Shirley constantly argues with him. He meets his second son there, Eddie, but moves on because he is broke. When Tonto dies, Harry settles at a retirement home.
A wonderfully sincere and unassuming little comedy-drama, "Harry and Tonto" is one those 'slice-of-life' films done in the manner of Ashby and Capra that say a lot about humanity. The story is episodic and not always even, yet it has that freshness of sincere emotional melancholy-nostalgia whose intensity is rarely matched. Likewise, numerous humorous moments manage to ease the tone and prevent it from ever turning too melodramatic or pathetic - for instance, in one scene, a kid burglar has this exchange with Harry on the street: "Do you have any spare change?" - "Yes, but I cannot afford to spare any"; whereas Harry has a funny dialogue with Jacob: "When did you last time sleep with a woman?" - "Saturday night... (pause)...March... 1951..." Even though he was up against Pacino, Hoffman and Nicholson that year, Art Carney actually won the Oscar for best actor in this because his role was simply so genuine and honest it was irresisteble.
The underlying theme gives it weight: throughout the film, Harry never gets what he wants from life. He is content with his apartment, but is evicted from it. He was married to Annie, but it is implied the true love of his life was Jessie, whom he visits in the retirement home. He moves to his son's home, but feels like a burden and thus moves to his daughter Shirley, but she cannot stand him, either. He meets a nice 16-year old, Ginger - which culminates in a sweet scene where they share a hotel room during their journey - but she leaves him, as well. The only constant that is "just right" in his life, his only complete happiness, the only thing he can truly always rely on, is his cat Tonto, no matter how banal it is. And this is the message: to find something significant even in the small things in life. Tonto will never be a complete replacement for a real friend, but he will never disappoint him, either. Director Paul Matursky almost achieved a perfect ending which would have been heart-breaking - but in the last three scenes abandoned it and did something else, though. Still, almost reaching a perfect ending is not a small thing, either.
Monday, February 23, 2015
On a subway, Cheryl is given two free tickets by a masked man for a horror film playing in an abandoned cinema. Curious, she takes her friend Kathy with her. The cinema is well attended and when the screening starts, it shows a film about teenagers finding zombies in a tomb. One woman cuts herself on the promotional mask and mutates into a zombie, attacking the audience. When the people want to get out, they find out all the exits are shut down. They stop the film, but the zombies just keep killing them. In the end, only Cheryl and a guy, George, manage to escape through a hole on the roof, and kill the masked man on it. However, zombies spread out around the city.
One of the few horror films that decided to give something new and fresh to one of the most worn out subgenres, the zombie flick, "Demons" has a great, inventive concept that - at least in the first half - gives a meaning to the recycling of the same old scheme. Written by Dario Argento, the concept makes for an experimental film: the audience goes to the cinema to watch a horror film - but the zombies on the screen appear among them in the cinema. The ironic metafilm jabs give the first half spark (in one scene, Kathy laments to her friend Cathy for bringing her to see a horror movie; a quote from Goya: "The sleep of reason produces monsters"; the screams of a woman behind the screen are identical to a woman on the screen in the movie, which culminates with the real woman ripping through the screen to finally awake the audience) and decipher a bigger picture of giving a 3D illusion of a horror movie and the tendency of some viewers to search for more and more exciting ways of film scares: the biggest joke was on the actual audience who went to see "Demons" in theatres, and it is no surprise that one film encyclopedia even named the the number 1 film to avoid watching in the cinemas. Unfortunately, this inventive play exhausts itself too soon when the audience turns off the horror film, and the rest of "Demons" is just about standard chase between them and the zombies in an empty cinema, which becomes too cheap and gory near the end (zombie fingers going through the flesh of the people; scalping, etc.). Unfortunately, this cheap and conventional second half is in the direct clash with the sophisticated and unconventional first one, and thus a fair share of disappointment is there.
Saturday, February 21, 2015
Fourchaume is an arrogant boss and director of a company for designs and manufacture of ships and yachts. When a champaigne bottle smashes a hole in his new ship, The Unsinkable, Fourchaume gets furious at its designer, Castagnier, and fires him after a lengthy humiliation. However, Fourchaume then finds out that Castagnier's yacht The Little Bather just won at a contest and now investors want to sign lucrative deals for mass production of it. In order to gain a huge profit, Fourchaume swallows his pride and goes on to a village to beg Castagnier to return to his company. After numerous misadventures, Fourchaume gets injured and Castagnier agrees to return out of pity.
Great comedian Louis de Funes was often far better than the films he starred in, and this comedy by Robert Dhery is one of the examples: a solid, easily watchable, but also easily forgettable flick with too little jokes that will sate a comedy fan. The story about an arrogant boss who fires an employee and then suffers a twist of faith when he has to beg him to return to his company has its moments, but not enough, and is terribly overstretched and contrived at times - especially the almost 10 minute long sequence in which de Funes' character cannot control a tractor which destroys a tree and scares and sprays animals at a farm, which drags without offering a truly great punchline. The best jokes come swiftly, when you least expect them (wheelchair that can spin by 360 degrees; a champagne bottle that causes a hole in a ship called The Unsinkable; the collapsing stage in the church) and are a welcomed surprise in the otherwise thin story. The ship and yacht world was not among the best choices for the film, yet it is an overall simple and accessible piece of entertainment - with several holes in it.
Friday, February 20, 2015
The King of Winter and his wife, Queen Spring, have a daughter, Snegurochka, who likes to play with birds and rabbits. However, Snegurochka is enchanted with the songs of shepherd Lel and decides to go to his village despite the objections of her father. In the spring, Snegurochka tries to meet Lel, but she is unable to feel love, and her presence complicates matters further because a man from the village, Mizguir, falls in love with her and abandons his fiance. Snegurochka begs her mother to give her the ability to love. She receives that emotion, but since she is made out of snow, that warm feeling causes her body to melt and disappear at the wedding with Mizguir, who commits suicide from grief.
One of the early examples of Russian feature length animation, "The Snow Maiden" is an appropriately opulent and elegant fairy tale, with a tragic ending that gives it weight. While the narrative handling of the story may seem contrived at times - since viewers unaware of the folk tale may at first be completely confused at first as to what these fantasy characters represent - in the end it gives a finely circled out film with a clear message and a point, as well as surprisingly humble, selfless ode to love. There are too many unecessary musical episodes (for instance, when four girls and four guys are holding hands and sing about threshing the millet with horses) which disrupt the storyline, and several moments seem odd, but there is just enough charm and spark to carry the film (the opening sequence where the birds are dancing in the snow; the king who tries to settle the dispute with Mizguir who abandoned his fiance for Snegurochka...). At 65 minutes, it is a fleeting, albeit honest animated film. The animation reaches rotoscopic outlines at times, and is reminiscent of earlier American animated films "Gulliver's Travels" and "Snow White", but it is still one step behind the first one, and two steps behind the latter one in overall conjuring up of magic, emotions and style of the classic animated genre.
Wednesday, February 18, 2015
After achieving sucess with his cult movies "El Topo" and "The Holy Mountain" at various art cinemas, in '74 Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsky was given a blank check to make whatever film he wanted to do next. He chose to adapt Frank Herbert's Sci-Fi classic "Dune", even though he never read the novel. Jodorowsky travelled through USA and France and managed to rally an unbelievable team of talents - Orson Welles, Pink Floyd, Salvador Dali, Moebius, H.R. Giger and Mick Jagger - and had a storyboard ready for filming. 15 million $ were allocated for the film, but it was still 5 million $ too short. Unfortunately, no film studio was willing to finance the film and thus "Dune" was never made, though Lynch made an abridged version a decade later.
Alejandro Jodorowsky's never completed film adaptation of "Dune" is one of most famous cinema genocides of the 20th century, a tragedy that from today's perspective only makes the viewers wonder why such a passionate project was abandoned. Though, not completely, since Lynch was allowed to direct "Dune" in '84, but not according to Jodorowsky's wishes - and very little to Herbert's wishes, as well. Frank Pavich's documentary about this case is thus a bullseye, and at least gives a small glimpse of storyboards and sketches of what this epic could have been: one of the most fascinating moments could have been the opening zoom from a Galaxy to the Dune planet, intended to be filmmed in one take (!), which would have smashed a cinema record in ambition. Truth be told, Jodorowsky may have been a tiny bit too bizarre and surreal of an artist for this film, and some sketches reveal this (the bizarre torture sequence of Leto who was suppose to be "cut off" into pieces; Jodorowsky's 12-year old son would have been too young to play the mature Paul Atreides...), but still, the story seems to have served as a more moderate influence about spirituality than his previous experimental films and could have been the "Star Wars" before "Star Wars". Had they made "Dune" in the 70s, it would have been a movie legend. Numerous people give interviews and reveal their take on this, which is compelling and gives the documentary weight - for instance, someone rightfully says that this is the only example till date that a movie project came so far without actually getting made - and Jodorowsky gives a few humorous comments as well. Overall, a very good chronology of events that speaks about the tremendous injustice done towards a dream, but a dream that was still strong enough to have influence on film even to this day.
Tuesday, February 17, 2015
The secret organization SPECTRE uses a US Air Force pilot to load two nuclear warheads during a NATO training mission and sink them in the sea. SPECTRE then retrieves the two warheads and blackmails governments, demanding billions of $ or else they will detonate the warheads anywhere they want. James Bond is sent to stop that scenario. He tracks down Largo, a member of SPECTRE, and - despite getting captured - manages to escape with his girlfriend Domino in Palmyra, the Middle East. The first warhead is discovered in Washington, while Bond and other agents stop and kill Largo before he can detonate the second one along the Arab oil coast.
Even though he famously said he would never again play James Bond again after "Diamonds Are Forever", Sean Connery returned 12 years later in order to play the role one last time in this film. Evidently, "Never Say Never Again" is crammed with ironic jabs at this, from the title up to the final scene where Connery's Bond winks at the audience, but it is not among the best Bond films, since the authors treat it more as a franchize that enters the "clash of the Bonds" - Moore's "Octopussy" was released that same year - than as a true film with wider possibilities. There are some neat details about the ageing Bond getting ready for retirement since such a difficult physical job is a too big of a strain for him, but some deeper, emotional moments about transience are absent, and the storyline is just there to be flat. "Never..." has a fair share of 'rough' edges - for instance, the bizarre CGI sequence of Bond and his nemesis Largo playing a 3D video game; the clumsy moment where Bond is captured on Largo's ship but still manages to freely distract him and kiss his girlfriend... - and director Irvin Kershner is not quite in his top notch shape, even for the predictable Bond genre, yet the film is saved from mediocrity thanks to two comical characters (feminist villainess Fatima who is so full of herself that she even forces Bond to write down that sleeping with her was his "greatest rapture in life" and Rowan Atkinson in a small, but deliciously comical role as the clumsy agent Nigel) and several comical moments, no matter how cheesy some of them are (Bond's urine burning the bad guy's face, for instance).
Friday, February 13, 2015
In 2075, the young Tanabe joins the Space Debris Section, a space company whose job it is to collect junk and debris in Earth's orbit in order to prevent them from damaging spaceships. Tanabe is at first confused at the chaotic nature of the section, but soon finds friends with Hachimaki, Fee, Yuri and others. Together, they encounter several adventures. Tanabe and Hachimaki fall in love, but he quits in order to enlist for the Von Braun space programme intended to fly the first people to Jupiter. Hachimaki succeeds, but when the Space Defence Front, a terrorist organization that intends to stop people from expanding into space, attacks the Von Braun spaceship, Tanabe manages to escape to the Moon, but with heavy injuries due to lack of oxygen. Hachimaki meets her again, when she is in a wheelchair. She recovers and they become a couple, but he flies to Jupiter nonetheless.
"Planetes" is one of those "Catch-22" achievements: on one hand, it deserves to be seen and it has great moments; but on the other, it never reaches that great impression as a whole. This anime puts a lot of emphasis on realistic details that are otherwise absent from numerous films and shows set in space - for instance, astronauts have to wear diapers; there is no sound in space; older astronauts get leukaemia and cancer because they stayed in space, where the radiation is stronger, for decades; in excellent episode 7, a 12-year old girl grew like an adult because she was born on the Moon, which has only a 1/6 of Earth's gravity, which is a sly node to Clarke's novel "2001: A Space Odyssey" etc. - yet the setting of garbagemen in space is not particularly exciting or stimulative. The authors went for an unspectacular 'slice-of-life' mood where there is no real plot, just random vignettes, which is why almost every episode has two subplots, but the result is good, not great because the silly humor is too light, these small slices of life are bland and the space grandeur clashes with the unspectacular concept.
More so, the characters themselves are dry as well - the most was achieved from Yuri, who gives a great line in one episode to a kid, when he looks in the sky and comments how there is no real boundary between the Space and the Earth - but the two main heroes, the sloppy Hachimaki and the tomboyish Tanabe, rarely have spark. They start a relationship, but for some reason, it is hastily abrogated by a major subplot that starts all out of the blue in episode 19, but even that is abruptly interrupted and left unfinished, which gives "Planetes" a feel as if it was incomplete and narratively confusing itself. In the end, it seems as if the finale was meant to be a transition to a second season, but it never was, and that is a problem. However, "Planetes" has its moments, and one of them is when father tells Hachimaki why he decided to quit his space job and return to his wife: "Tsiolkovsky said that Earth is the cradle of humanity, but mankind cannot stay in the cradle forever. He was a genius, because that old man convinced the whole mankind that his dream is actually their dream. And they worked to achieve his dream, not theirs. That is why I am leaving back to Earth. Because I realized this wasn't my dream. My dream is to be back home."
Monday, February 9, 2015
In the Middle ages, an orphan boy, Dastan, is adopted by the king of Persia because of his act of bravery. As a grown up, Dastan falls for his uncle's Nizam's treachery in order for the Persian army to invade the peaceful city of Alamut. When the king is killed, his two sons Garsiv and Tus are led to believe Dastan is the perpetrator. In order to prove his innocence, Dastan meets Alamu'ts princess Tamina and finds out Nizam invaded the city to get to her magic dagger that can enable a person to travel back in time. After a lot adventures, Tamina dies by falling into a pit, but Dastan uses the dagger's power to travel back in time and expose Nizam at the time of Alamut invasion. Nizam is killed, while Tamina is brought back to life.
The live action adaptation of the eponymous video game, "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" is a standard film with a standard 'good vs. bad' story involving a love story subplot - even though this has been done a thousand times already, a fresh tone could have been given thanks to a few inspired moments, but, alas, the film is overall humorless, bland, conventional, whereas not even the action sequences were choreographed in some clever of satisfying manner (with the exception of one at the beginning where Dastan is climbing up the walls of a fortress thanks to his army shooting arrows at the rocks above for him to grab onto). The technicalities - cinematography, editing, lighting, costumes, set designs - are all perfect, but when it comes down to what they are actually presenting, the essence, the story, it boils down to nothing particular. As a matter of fact, the only episode that causes a reaction among the viewers is the wonderful little comic character of ostrich loving merchant, played deliciously cynical by Alfred Molina. The main leads - Gyllenhaal, Arterton, Kingsley - are effective and give their best, but they cannot be better than the actually thin roles written in the solid, but unexciting and lukewarm script.
Saturday, February 7, 2015
High schooler Ferris Bueller pretends that he is sick in order to skip school for a day and spend it with his girlfriend Sloane and friend Cameron, using Cameron's dad's Ferrari as a transportation vehicle. While the school principal Rooney suspects that Ferris is bluffing his sickness and unsucessfully tries to break into his house, Ferris, Sloane and Cameron tour Chicago and go to a museum, a restaurant and a parade. When the car gets accidentally wrecked, Cameron finally gets self-esteem to stand up to his dad. Ferris returns safely home thanks to his sister Jeanie, while Rooney loses his wallet, car and shoe.
John Hughes' 4th film, "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" is quite overhyped and overrated, yet overall still a fun film with a few subtler and even emotional moments that carry the thin storyline. If we look at it as a film about Ferris who wants to spend the last day with his friends before they depart and possible never see each other again after high school graduation, it gets a more nostalgic dimension, especially since it can be viewed as an attempt to lighten up his depressed friend Cameron and show him to enjoy life and have a grand day out. However, their episodes are not always funny or memorable, whereas several scenes are far-fetched and have plot holes (for instance, it is hard to believe that in the restaurant scene the manager didn't simply ask for Ferris to present his ID or that Jeanie would not recognize and kick principal Rooney at her home, but would later address him by his name at the end) or cringe-worthy (the Charlie Sheen cameo), which overall makes the TV comedy show "Parker Lewis Can't Lose", the impersonator, better.
There is also a bizarre tendency of almost Totalitarian features involving Ferris, since *every* character in the film likes or adores him, and the only two characters who don't undergo a "treatment": sister Jeanie changes her mind all out of the blue and becomes his ally, while principal Rooney is punished as a scapegoat in a series of misadventures (he gets kicked, chased by a dog, loses his shoe in the mud...) which reach excessive and incorrect levels. Still, the film has funny moments, while one sequence is so beautiful and unexpected it is perfect, the one that plays out in the museum, where the three protagonists just silently observe paintings, almost as an ode to art, and ends with one of the most miraculous moments of the 80s, the one where Cameron looks at a girl on Georges Seurat's painting "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte", and the camera zooms in on his and her eye, almost as if they have a personal connection despite a century separating them.
Wednesday, February 4, 2015
Sick and tired of the Arab-israeli conflict, superhuman IDF agent Zohan decides to fake his own death and escape to the USA, where he plans to follow his dream of becoming a hairdresser. He stays at the home of Michael and his mother Gail, and then finds a job at the hairdresser saloon run by the Palestinian girl Dalia. Zohan actually falls in love with her. When the Arab extremist Fatoush, his arch enemy, finds out he is still alive and wants to continue the fight, Zohan refuses and thus causes the Arab-Jewish community in the block to unite and prevent a tycoon from building a new mall on their spot.
One of those movies that give the adjective "American comedy" a bad name, "You Don't Mess with Zohan" is awful. With the screenwriting process, screenwriters usually have ten bad ideas and one good idea per day, but are wise enough not to write the bad ones down, instead just using one good idea that day. With this film, it seems the screenwriters did the reverse and wrote all the bad ideas that popped into their heads, with only an ocassional good joke here and there. The result is a film filled with stupid, juvenile, silly buffonery that is so bizarre you cannot believe it and think the joke may lie with a lost bet or a screenwriter or something. In one scene, Zohan and Fatoush are in the sea and decide to have a duel to find out who is tougher: Fatoush takes a piranha from the sea and let's it bite his neck to show how strong he is, but Zohan takes the piranha and puts it into his own pants. There are numerous other stupid attempts at humor: a misguided "Rocky" parody where Fatoush is training by hatching two chicks from two eggs in a glass and then drinking them (!); Zohan doing push ups and "floating" to clap his hands for a very long time; a football where a cat is used as a ball... This would have been a clear bad film, if it weren't for one little saving grace: it is one of the rare examples of tackling the Arab-Israeli conflict as a comedy, and has a surprisingly noble and pacifist message where the Israeli Zohan and Palestinian girl Dalia meet in New York and fall in love. Their love story is almost the sweetest thing, and deserved for a better treatment than all the crap thrown at the screen surrounding them.
Monday, February 2, 2015
Not willing to only stay remembered for his superhero blockbuster franchise "Birdman" from the 90s, middle aged actor Riggan Thomson is keen to finally prove he can also be an accomplished dramatic actor with a Broadway adaptation of Raymond Carver's short story "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love". Not only is he starring in the play, but also directing it and financing his last penny for it. It is plagued by numerous problems - his girlfriend Laura announces she is pregnant; daughter Sam is distanced from him; method actor Mike is terribly arrogant... - but he manages to deliver the play and earn rave reviews by shooting his nose off in the final act.
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's first foray into the satire genre is a genuine surprise: "Birdman" is a virtuoso directed parable where the problems behind the stage of a play are a synecdoche for the trials and tribulations of creating any kind of art in general, whereas it also gives a grand homage to Michael Keaton, who hereby gives a bravura performance that also symbolically sums up his entire career. Inarritu takes the hard way and directs the film with incredible long takes - there are less than 30 cuts in the entire film - which gives the storyline passion and instills admiration for it, and also triggers a more demanding tone: you just have to admire these actors more when they talk for up to 15 minutes without making a mistake, and it isn't just a technicality, since it is congruent with the realistic feel of theatre, where the focus is also on actors and raw, pure story.
The opening scene, where Riggan exits his dressing room, walks down the stairs and to the stage, talks to the actors and then returns to the dressing room on the first floor, is amazing and done in one take, but the story also offers numerous clever dialogues that say a lot about actors and life in general or are just plain funny ("You confuse love with admiration"; "You don't get a hard on my stage unless I tell you so!"; "Let me tell you something, you spiteful nobody piece of shit!" - "Nobody? My hard-on has already 50,000 views on Youtube" - "50,000 views? A cat playing with a dildo has more than that!"; "You risk nothing of yourself! Well, I'm an actor and this play has cost me everything!") and delves into selfreferential fantasy elements reminiscent of Fellini's "8 1/2" when Riggan has hallucinations of the Birdman superhero, from whose clutches he intends to finally get rid off, "fly away" from that typecasting and finally be free to do what he wants. The opening and ending may offer a little too much of the allegorical, which may seem tedious at a few moments, but other than that, "Birdman" is a fresh and alive film that finally gave fresh blood into the modern movie genre.