Wednesday, December 30, 2015
Unknown aliens open an inter-dimensional portal, the "Breach", in the Pacific Ocean, from which they send giant monsters, the 'kaiju', to attack and destroy coastal cities, from Seattle through Vladivostok to Hong Kong. People counter by creating giant robots themselves, which will fight them, but they must be piloted by two people with the same mental link. After his pilot Yancy is killed, his co-pilot Raleigh quits the programme, but returns when his superior, Pentecost, creates a plan to throw a nuclear bomb in the portal, in order to shut it down. Raleigh teams up with Japanese pilot Mako, and they pilot a new robot against the 'kaiju'. Though faced with a lot of troubles, they succeed, and shut down the portal.
Just like Gordon's "Robot Jox", Guillermo del Toro's "Pacific Rim" is also an American - and live action - movie adaptation of the Japanese 'mecha' genre, where giant robots are piloted by people in order to fight other giant robots or monsters. At first, it is appealing to watch such giants fight in the city or on the sea, yet the fights presented are monotone and banal, and thus after a while the viewers wish they get something more versatile to keep up the interest. Take away the inventive action, sophisticated style and psychological layers from "Evangelion", and you get "Pacific Rim". And take away the big budget special and visual effects from "Pacific Rim" and you get one of the many "Godzilla" B-movie sequels. The first battle in the film is already problematic because it plays out during night, on the sea, between two dark giants - a shark like 'kaiju' and a robot - which makes it difficult to distinguish what is going on. Others are better because they play out in the day or in they illuminated city, yet one can only go so far with a robot and a monster hitting each other with fists. One rare example of more inspiration is when the robot takes a giant ship and uses it as a club to hit the monster on the head. As such, the film is easily accessible, yet bland and overlong 2-hour 'wrestlemania' of the monsters, where the jokes are corny and the characters just one-dimensional, standard extras, with only Mako (brilliant Rinko Kikuchi) there to insert some life and wit into the conventional story.
Monday, December 28, 2015
Three episodes of the Trotter family set during Christmas. In the first, grandad fries the potatoes and undercookes the turkey, leaving Delboy and Rodney hungry, so they go out to a pub. There, they wait for too long to talk to two ladies, who go dancing with two other guys... Delboy falls in love with Heather, a single mother whose husband left her. Delboy puts a lot of effort into trying to play with her kid, while Rodney and grandad are suspicious. When her husband returns, Heather dumps Delboy who proposed her... Delboy and Rodney are shocked when their father returns to their home for Christmas after being absent for 18 years. Rodney, who was five when he left, tries to mend fences. He claims to have a hereditory blood disease, and tasks Delboy and Rodney to make a blood test. Dad causes a rift when he writes that Delboy's blood group is AB, instead of A, and insinuates that he is an illegitimate child. However, when it turns out that dad just robbed a hospital and wanted somewhere to hide, they throw him out.
The three Christmas specials of the mega popular "Only Fools and Horses" comedy series vary from episode to episode: the 1st one is not special at all, the last advanced into a small jewel whereas the middle episode situated its quality, accordingly, somewhere between those two. The only constant are the three enthusiastic performances by the reoccurring actors David Jason, Nicholas Lyndhurst and Lennard Pearce. The '81 instalment is set during Christmas, yet feels strangely out of place otherwise and gives the impression as if the holiday subplot was hastily added in the already written material: it has a few good jokes, a few corny ones, que end credits. The best joke is when grandad serves an undercooked, almost raw turkey on the table, and Rodney cannot resist but to express the snickering remark that the turkey is so underdone that "a kiss of life would revive it". Unfortunately, the remainder of the episode is wasted on the overstretched, contrived sequence where Rodney and Delboy are talking for way too long if they should approach two ladies in the pub, which is a weak second act. The 2nd special, "Diamonds are for Heather", shows signs of improvement, though it is still not as well written and versatile as one would hope for. Delboy's relationship with Heather could have provided for more potentials, though there is a delicious joke where the hero is so in love with her that he wrote the name "Del" and "Heather" on the windshield of his car, with Rodney remarking that he henceforth does not want to sit on the driver's seat with the "Heather" sign over him. The 3rd special, "Thicker than Water", is easily the best, featuring a great plot where dad returns into the lives of the Trotter family after 18 years on Christmas: you know it is going to be a great episode when Delboy reacts upon encountering him with: "We see Halley's comet more often than him!" Writer John Sullivan had several inspired lines in this one, and even gave a few touching moment which were not obtrusive.
Sunday, December 27, 2015
London, 1891. Several bomb attacks were attempted, whereas Irene Idler is killed. Sherlock Holmes suspects that Professor Moriarty is behind all this, but needs evidence and a motive. After his friend, Dr. Watson, got married, he travels with Holmes to Paris, in order to meet an anarchist group, as well as a gypsy, Simza. After another bombing, the German industrialists Meinhard is killed: after his death, his weapons factory belongs to Moriarty. In a Swiss mountain town, a conference is to be held between several heads of states. Holmes meets Moriarty there, who plans to set of a World War in order for his weapons factories to yield a profit. Holmes pushes Moriarty and himself down a cliff. Watson presumes the detective is dead, but there are clues he might have survived.
By crafting, planning, ideas and execution, "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows" easily catapulted itself into one of those rare sequels that are superior than the original. Unlike the uneven 1st film, this time director Guy Ritchie rises to the occasion: the authors assemble an incredible pace which never lets down, but what is even more impressive is that their inspiration almost never lets down, either. The opening act, for instance, shows a sequence where Irene thinks she is safe when she talks to Moriarty while she is in a restaurant, full of people, yet the villain just gives the sign and every last guest exits the place, leaving them two alone. Equally clever is the sequence where Holmes is planning how to fight an assassin hiding on the ceiling, and imagines six different moves to disarm him. However, just as Holmes engages the assassin and makes the first move, the bad guy is already taken care off when the gypsy woman throws a knife into his chest. The train sequence - especially in the manner in which Holmes puts a fake bullet in the ammunition of his enemies - is arguably the highlight of the movie, and reached the level of a mini-bravura moment. There is a lot more humor and style this time around, whereas the sole story is an incredibly subversive allegory on the arms industry: Moriarty, who bought so many weapons factories, at one point even admits: "I created the supply. Now I need to create the demand." It is still a little bit unorthodox that Holmes never wears his trademark hat or suit, whereas Jude Law is still an odd choice for Dr. Watson, yet this time around the cast seems to have found their own way, and created surprisingly great performances.
Wednesday, December 23, 2015
Marie, a little girl, persuades her family to buy a little donkey for their farm. Marie and Jacques, the child of the land owner, give the donkey a name: Balthazar. As a grown donkey, Balthazar has to endure several difficult tasks: plowing, pulling a carriage... he escapes and returns to the farm, where Marie is grown up as well. Her relationship with Jacques is plagued by the feud of their fathers, since the land owner is suing her father. Balthazar becomes sick, but is taken in and nursed by the alcoholic Arnold. However, when he gets violent, Balthazar runs away, and finds refuge in a circus. Later, he is used by the criminal youngster Gerard for smuggling stolen goods, and Marie sleeps with Gerard in order to leave Balthazar alone. During smuggling at night, the police shoot and wound Balthazar, who dies the next morning on the meadow.
One of the most unusual movies from the 60s, Robert Bresson's "Au Hasard Balthazar" has not lost any of its freshness or authentic awe which instilled appreciation during its premiere. Unlike most other movies where the hero is a human, here the main protagonist is an animal, a donkey, which gives the storyline a genuine feel, since Balthazar is an outsider observing the human nature and behaviour, which seems all the more educative. Bresson chooses a raw, 'rough' style, which is at odds with many modern, loud movies, yet gives it advantage since he accumulated some basic, elementary emotions, which mirror the Christian motive of the seven deadly sins. Balthazar is a symbol for innocence, and for life in general: he came into this world, without understanding it, without choosing it, and just wants to live peacefully, but is always a victim of cruelty, harshness and misery. He does not react to this, but is just a silent observer, as a testament of human evil. Yet the close up of his eyes really makes it difficult to restrain tears.
In the opening act, Balthazar cannot stand the laborious task of pulling a carriage and thus tips it, escapes from the owner - and returns to the farm he grew up in, where Marie, a young girl, protects him. On the opposite of Marie, there is the mean-spirited, arrogant Gerard, who beats Balthazar, almost as if he is jealous that Marie loves the donkey more than him. In one scene, Gerard ties a newspaper to Balthazar's tale and puts it on fire. He later searches after the donkey, and finds him standing, hiding his head in a bush. Marie tries to protect the poor animal, and is willing to even sleep with Gerard, just to appease him into leaving Balthazar alone. A couple of drawbacks can be identified, though: Bresson's trademark is to not have the actors act, but to artificially say their lines, which sometimes inhibits the overall impression; likewise, it seems there are a couple of inconsistencies regarding Marie's relationship to Balthazar (there are no scenes which show how she reacts after the donkey is rented/sold to other owners, and why she is so passive to his fate at times) whereas the subplot involving Arnold seems like a fifth wheel, thereby making the narrative thematically uneven. However, overall, "Balthazar" is still an exceptional achievement: it is inherently one of the most spiritual movies of all time - a one that contemplated that life and sprituality are not only constrained to humans - and influenced numerous later ones involving an innocent protagonist who stoically faces injustices, such as "Breaking the Waves" and "Forrest Gump".
Friday, December 18, 2015
Orson Welles performs a magic trick for kids at a train station. He then goes to Ibiza to make an interview with the famous art forger Elmyr de Hory, who replicated various paintings which were sold for huge sums. Other people give interviews, contemplating if it is impossible to differentiate between real art and a copy. Welles also shows clips from his career, and his infamous "War of the Worlds" radio transmission, which fooled people into believing that Martains were attacking. He also speaks about Howard Hughes and Pablo Picasso, who allegedly made paintings of Oja Kodar.
Orson Welles' 12th and penultimate feature length film, "F for Fake" is a deliberately deceiving mockumentary that merged its style with its theme, resulting in a peculiar alloy where the art forger Emlyr de Hory becomes just a catalyst for the author playing with the movie style, demonstrating how everything can be forged in a movie itself: in one instance, after de Hory signs himself with "Orson Welles" on his forged painting, Welles ironically comments with: "A faked Orson Welles signature on a real Elmyr de Hory forgery". Welles also goes way beyond this story, and includes scenes of a black-and-white footage of UFOs attacking, in order to show how he himself "forged" reality in his "War of the Worlds" radio transmission, and also at times changes even the grain or the aspect ratio of the cinematography, to show the artificiality of the media. He 'breaks the fourth wall' a little too much, though, in the end creating a too vague, Godard-like film essay with a 'stream-of-consciousness' mood, where too many segments - such as Oja Kodar's episode where she is posing for Picasso's painting - run away and seem to be directing themselves, without Welles. "Fake" is thus a self-referential art-film for acquired taste. It is not among the ranks of director's best achievements, but then again, it would be unfair to set the bar so high and expect a new "Citizen Kane" from Welles - as it would be with any other director, anyway.
Tuesday, December 15, 2015
Elsa, a little girl and Princess of Arendelle, has special powers with which she can create ice and snow. During one play, her powers accidentally wound her sister, Anna. Their parents thus wipe out Anna's memory of Elsa's powers, while Elsa has to keep away from her sister and always wear gloves that inhibit her powers. Years later, Elsa is crowned as the princess, but publicly reveals her powers and thus flees from the public who consider her a witch. Elsa creates her own ice castle and decides to live in isolation from the kingdom. However, he powers inadvertently caused an eternal winter, and thus Anna and Kristoff try to reach her to talk her to bring things back to normal, since other people want to kill her to bring back spring. In the end, Elsa learns how to control her powers.
One of the most popular CGI animated films of the 2010s, and a one that caused some critics to interpret it as a 2nd 'Disney Renaissance', "Frozen" is a film with two good moments - the great song "Let It Go", and the charming-comic encounter of Anna and a Prince (she is at the end of a boat, hanging from a dock, but a Prince falls on her when his horse - that was holding the boat with his leg - kneels to bow and tips the boat. The horse quickly brings the boat in balance, but this time Anna falls on him) - everything else is contrived. The film is imposing upon the viewers that Elsa should at one point be placed in the role of a villain only because she has powers that control the ice, and unfortunately, they built a whole story around this fake premise, even though it was obviously not well developed.
The viewers are thus left with a strange disparity of Elsa who did not want to turn the whole kingdom into ice on one hand, and Elsa who does not want to talk to her sister Anna to simply resolve this trivial problem on the other hand. We thus got yet another story built up entirely only on misunderstanding, whereas the jokes are nothing special - snowman Olaf is one of the lamest Disney comic sidekicks in a long while, with misguided jokes about him not being able to feel how he is decapitated and such stuff. Ironically, if the "Let It Go" song is ignored, which features a cool sequence of Elsa creating her own castle from ice, the only warm, good moments in the film involve spring, which is in minority: just like the ice-bound kingdom, the storyline is strangely cold, rigid and lax, with an overstretched segment where Anna and Kristoff wonder around the snow to find Elsa. A few refreshing feminist moments are welcomed (Anna is not saved by a Prince charming, in an unorthodox finale), yet they are sparse and cannot quite compensate for uninspired jokes and a confused narrative in search for a villain who isn't there. They broke some cliches, yet these novelties do not have the same effect as the classic ideas. As for the message of the film: it is that people should talk more with one another, to avoid misunderstanding. Somehow too little of a payoff for a reluctant adventure.
Saturday, December 12, 2015
A young intern, Dr. Schaefer, is found dead in the hospital bed, because he overslept there and the nurse mistakenly thought he was a patient, and gave him insulin iv infusion. To Dr. Herbert Bock, who is already suicidally depressed and estranged from his family, this is the last thing he needs right now, especially since dozens of people are protesting against eviction of a building which is suppose to be used for the expansion of the hospital. Herbert meets a woman, Barbara, who brought her ill father to the hospital, and starts a relationship with her, which returns his spirit in life. After another doctor dies, and a nurse, due to maltreatment, Herbert and Barbara find out that her father was actually the culprit, since he intended to punish doctors by having them pass through their own institution while sick. Barbara and her father flee to the south, while Herbert refuses to escape with them, instead choosing to stay in the hospital.
Arthur Hiller's satirical drama "The Hospital" is a cinematic 'pyrrhic victory': on one hand, it features several moments of brilliance, mostly through the admirable dialogues and a triumphant performance by George C. Scott, which cannot be denied, but on the other hand, it seems strangely vague and inexplicably unsatisfying, almost hollow in structure, as if it exhausted itself through its own over-ambitious tone. Screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky again demonstrated a sixth sense for delicious, inspired lines, some of which deserve to be placed on the Pantheon of best writing in cinema, but, alas, unlike his other Oscar winning scripts, "Marty" - that talked about lonely people who cannot find a partner - and "Network" - that talked about the effects of TV and mass media on the lives of the people - this storyline seems as if it does not know what it is about - there are some vague references to the main protagonist, a doctor, who feels how his life and his hospital are sick and unhealthy - yet it is strangely vague and without a clear point, forcing the viewers to be left with the impression that the authors did not direct the flow of the episodic narrative into a cohesive whole.
The movie starts off with an excellent-satirical intro: an old man is diagnosed with angina and sent to a hospital, but the narrator says: "It is axiomatic that nursing home doctors are always wrong. The intern who admitted the patient, however, accepted the diagnosis and prescribed morphine, a drug suitable for angina, but not at all suitable for emphysema, which is unfortunately what the old man had." The old man died after an hour, and the intern, Dr. Schaefer used his empty patient bed to have sex with his girlfriend that night. The story makes yet another cynical twist, when Dr. Schaefer is found dead in the bed the next morning, because the nurse thought he was a patient and gave him an overdose of insulin. What this great little intro assembles, the remained of the movie does not quite follow up, though: the main storyline, revolving around Dr. Herbert, is indecisive and chaotic, whereas his relationship with Barbara, a one-dimensional character, is unconvincing, especially considering the ending, whereas the protestors subplot seems like a fitfth wheel. Still, as already mentioned, some of the quotes from the movie are fantastic ("Are you impotent?" - "Intermittently." - "What does that mean?" - "I haven't tried for so long that I don't know anymore." / "Some post-graduate came here and performed an autopsy?" / "Some cockamany 25-year old acid-head is going to assure me about menopause right now!" / "I'd like to know what you have against me, doctor?" - "This is the 3rd time in two years that we had to patch-up your patients. The other two died. You are greedy, unfeeling, inept, indifferent, self-inflating and unconscionably profitable. Other than that, I have nothing against you. I am sure you play one heck of a game of golf. What else do you wanna know?")
Thursday, December 10, 2015
John Matrix is a former Delta Force specialist, who left his wild profession behind him and now only wants to enjoy his quiet life, together with his daughter Jenny. However, when all his former Delta Force members get assassinated, John becomes a target himself when former South American dictator Arius kidnaps Jenny and blackmails him to go to the country of Val Verde and assassinate the president, or else he will kill his daughter. John boards a plane to Val Verde, but secretly manages to get out before the take off, and then figures he only has 10 hours before Arius finds out he never arrived a this destination. He uses the time to meet a stewardess, Cindy, find weapons and trace Arius hideout on an island, where he shoots and kills everyone, saving Jenny.
Arnold Schwarzenegger's first action film after "Conan" and "The Terminator", "Commando" is a 'guilty pleasure'. Its storyline and characters are so reduced and simplified, it is almost banal, yet it has that '80s action flick charm' that carries it, and if the viewers are willing to simply relax and not take it seriously, it is just plain fun. The moment Schwarzenegger shows up, carrying a giant log on his shoulder, the viewers are well aware this will be a light, 'tongue-in-cheek' flick, and the rest of the film follows accordingly, except for the final 20 minutes when the action cliche overrun it, which is problematic considering they did not contain any humor (John has infinite ammunition; he can shoot practically a hundred people while nobody can shoot him; he always knows what to do). A typical product of Reagan's America, "Commando" features a tough and strong hero who fights the enemies of his countries and sometimes promotes traditional values, yet it is just plain pure entertainment, and features that good old crystal clear cinematography from the 80s and 90s, before the arrival of digital cameras. The viewers never find out much about John, except that he can fight, nor from the other characters, though Rae Dawn Chong and a young Alyssa Milano are small jewels as Cindy, John's unwilling assistant, and Jenny, his daughter.
Wednesday, December 9, 2015
Ancient Rome, around 64 AD. A Roman commander, Marcus Vinicius, returns after the campaign in Britain, and falls in love with a slave girl, Lygia, who was adopted by a Roman couple. However, Lygia is a Christian, and Marcus is frustrated by her religion. When he wants to take her by force, she disappears, and he spots her during a mass in the open, When emperor Nero burns Rome, Marcus runs to help Lygia and Christians from the fire. In order to find a scapegoat, Nero blames Christians for the fire, and has them arrested and killed in the area by lions, whereas Peter is crucified upside down. Marcus, now converted to Christianity, manages to save Lygia and turn the mob against Nero, who flees and commits suicide. Now married, Marcus and Lygia leave Rome.
Hollywood films about Ancient Rome around the time of early Christianity were a dime a dozen in the 50s, and a good deal of them feels stiff and dated by today's standards. Among those which fare a little better is Mervyn LeRoy's "Quo Vadis", the adaptation of eponymous Polish novel by Henryk Sienkiewicz, that managed to find a good balance despite its obvious pro-Christian bias and historical inaccuracies. The (Christian) characters are rather stiff, bland and rigid, since their religion was too forcefully imposed as something theatrically idealistic and perfect, including the main hero, Marcus, who undergoes a transition from a Roman commander to a Christian convert after falling in love with a Christian girl, and thus the majority of the wit (inadvertently) comes from the undisputable highlight of the film, emperor Nero, played by brilliant Peter Ustinov, since his comic antics and dialogues with his servant Petronius still feel fresh and alive today, including several great moments where he has a field day (one of the highlights is when Petronius cynically lies that Nero's awful verses are "worthy of Virgil, Ovid and Homer, but not fo Nero"; the scene where Nero is trying to squeeze a tear from his eyes to put them in a glass as "proof" that he mourned after Petronius).
Ustinov's performance was so effective that Nero widely stayed remembered as a madman and arsonist for decades after the film, even though historical records show the opposite, that he probably did not start the fire of Rome, and used his own guards to help the wounded. Several details manage to lift up the film from its predictable, standard construction (one of them is a slave who is shaving Marcus' back with a sickle in the bath scene) and the stunts in the arena are impressive and dangerous, since they displayed lions interacting with real people and a man holding a bull by his horns. Also, a couple of famous actors have a cameo of only a couple of seconds (Bud Spencer, Sophia Loren, Elizabeth Taylor). "Quo Vadis" seems rather pompous today, yet still managed to ensure a rather universal message of little people surviving during the times of troubles thanks to their sprituality and devotion.
Sunday, December 6, 2015
The opening disclaimer says: "Warning: the film you are about to see is shocking and repulsive beyond belief. If older people with heart conditions are watching or persons under psychiatric care, make them sit close so they won't miss anything. Do not allow children of an impressionable age to leave the room". Two people on the beach of the Mondo world chant that nations should finally drop the bomb on them... People attend the church of actor Jack Lord... Dan Aykroyd announces that he is a mutant and shows his synadctyly on his toes... Passer-bys are asked if they think capital punishment should be implemented on elephants... Spies observes the footage of a secret weapon: women wearing a bra that shoots lasers... Sid Vicious cannot sing a song due to copyright... A skeleton of a cat is eaten by rats, and left with flesh and fur... People on an island worship lava lamps.
Two great jokes: in the first, a swimming instructor drops cats in slow motion in the middle of the pool, and then watches them swim back to the shore. The second is a howlingly funny satire on religion, observing people attending the church to worship the Lord - Jack Lord - and erupt in mass hysteria when the hair of the painting of the actor moves and combs itself, causing a woman to drop her crotches only to fall on the ground while attempting to walk towards him. Unfortunately, the rest is far bellow that level, and features too much nonsense, trash and insanity instead of inspired humor. Set as a collection of sketches imitating Monty Python, "Mr. Mike's Mondo Video" is a mess, a chaotic exercise in the absurd that loses a sense for a good gag in the second half - the only exception is a one minute cameo by Bill Murray as a passer-by who is interviewed if he thinks deaf people should talk with their hands while driving. While it is sympathetic to watch these characters pretend to be 'radical' and 'shocking', when mostly they are just benign, it does not quite reach the cohesive mood of elevated comic-dadaism of the Marx brothers: too many scenes miss any point, and it seems it takes on forever for the last 20 minutes to finally end, even though the running time of the entire film is only 71 minutes. As a short film, taken the right jokes, it would have worked, but in this edition, it is exhaustingly overstretched, and there is too much space between the good parts.
Thursday, December 3, 2015
Hungary towards the end of the 19th century. Peasants start a rebellion against the government exploatation, ranging from too low wheat prices up to a 16-hour work day. They strike and walk around the meadow, protesting and chanting for a socialist revolution, while the government officials keep mounting officers who keep telling them to stop. The officers surround the villagers, and shoot them. However, one woman takes a pistol and shoots all the officers afterwards.
One of the most famous films by director Miklos Jacso, "Red Psalm" is a very strained and artificial film essay, and the viewer's impressions will be the same, accordingly. The entire film is directed in only 28 cuts, playing out on the meadow where the peasants dance and protests against injustice, but since it is also partly a propaganda film, it is deliberately set as unreal, almost like a Godard picture - except without the all the dazzling film innovations - and the viewers never identify with the endless array of nameless characters who come and go, without anyone of them taking on the lead role, whereas the long takes are not that impressive as some would make you want to believe. One example is the scene where topless girls carry a pigeon in their hands, the camera pans towards the left, an officer shoots at them, and then the camera returns back to show a girl raising her hand covered in blood: since she makes no expression on her face, not even a smallest hint at pain, but just continues walking like a robot, as if nothing happened, it all seems contrived. A few moments of inspiration manage to "twitch" the film from its mechanical mood, such as the semi-comical socialist version of Our Father prayer ("Our Father, whom you will be in form of a president, hallowed be your name. Socialism, your kingdom come, at us, and on the world. People, let there be your will, give us our daily tax reduction on bread...") or the radical scene where the socialist peasants lock up a priest and put the church on fire. "Red Psalm" has a few strong moments, but seems dated today, since more emphasis was put on the propaganda than on art, characters or storyline.