Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Game of Thrones (Season 5)

Game of Thrones (Season 5); fantasy series, USA, 2015; D: Michael Slovis, Mark Mylod, Jeremy Podeswa, David Nutter, S: Kit Harington, Lena Headey, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Peter Dinklage, Emilia Clarke, Sophie Turner, Aidan Gillen, Natalie Dormer, Carice van Houten, John Bradley-West, Alfie Allen, Iwan Rheon, Iain Glen, Maisie Williams

The fight for the legacy of the Seven Kingdoms continues. Aften fleeing from King's Landing, Tyrion and Varys try to find Daenerys. Tyrion is kidnapped by exiled Jorah, who - ironically - brings him to Daenerys, who accepts him as her adviser. She is attacked by a rebellious gang in the Meereen arena, but escapes thanks to her dragon... On the north, in Winterfell, Ramsay marries Sansa Stark and rapes her in front of Theon. This causes Theon to rebel and help Sansa escape from the fortress. In the meantime, Stannis burns his daughter for the gods as a sacrifise to win in the battle against Winterfell, but Ramsay's army destroys his whole army... Jaime Lannister and Bronn go to Dorne to bring back Myrcella Baratheon, fearing she might get assassinated... Arya works as a apprentice in a temple of assassins in Braavos, with many faces, and kills criminal Meryn in a brothel... Jon Snow manages to unite the wildlings and the Night Watch before the army of Zombies annexes the north, but he is killed because they think he is a traitor.

Season 5 is a waste of time. It is here where the ratio between the viewers' invested time and the actual lack of a payoff or a point reach a breaking point, after which the meandering structure and endless piling up of so many useless subplots cause "Game of Thrones" to collapse on itself from its own weight. The worst season of the series, season 5 went way overboard with disgusting, primitive, vile violence without any sense for measure or subtlety in directing - there are explicit scenes here of a little girl getting burned alive on a bonfire, a man's head getting decapitated in a close up, a man's throat getting cut off with a detailed bloodshed, Ramsay raping Sansa and forcing Theon to watch the crime... - and while the previous seasons certainly had their fair share of violence as well, they at least had clever writing or some kind of a directorial style to compensate for it, but since the viewers are offered so little intellectually this time around, the authors cannot salvage the negative impression left on all this savagery and crap getting thrown at the screen. Season 5 simply lacks highlights, among others because it again resorts to endless filler instead of finally advancing the plot forward. What was the point, for instance, to again and again show that Ramsay is evil? It was established already in the previous season, and thus all his new misdeeds just seem like a repetitive repeat of the same thing. Also, it was done in a really banal way, in the vein of "make the viewers hate the villain, no matter how cheap or how blatant" - the scene in episode 4.5, where Roose tells Ramsay how he got him, namely that he raped a peasant girl under the tree where he hanged her husband, is such a trash that one wonders if it is a parody.

Written in a mediocre manner, where the characters are basically just saying out loud what is going on the screen or repeating what happened, which is very standard and dry, and thus season 5 disappoints wholeheartedly. There is no single great episode, all are either average of good at best, and even the final, "Mother's Mercy", is a mixed bag, except for one - the excellent episode 4.8, where the Zombies attack and annex the peninsula on the north, leading to an epic battle which Jon Snow witnesses, and which is done with such an eerie suspense and virtuoso inspiration that it is the only episode to justify its existence here. It clearly showed how all the tribes and clans are wasting their time fighting each other, and in the process don't see the bigger picture, the larger threat of supernatural (abstract) dimensions. The subplot where Brandon's group encountered a mythical tree with leaves in the middle of the snow was one of the most expressionistic images in the entire 4th season - only to not even be mentioned in this season at all, which is a betrayal: why start such an imaginative story just to drop it? Why does the temple in which Arya trains have pillars covered with faces on it? Does any of it make sense? Are there no criteria left for the authors? Season 5 turned into a Middle Ages soap opera. Just as Stannis sacrificed his daughter on the bonfire, which led to half of his army deserting from disgust, the same fate befell season 5 which was abandoned by many of its fans for having such poor judgement and ill-conceived ideas in this edition.

Grade;+

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Game of Thrones (Season 4)

Game of Thrones (Season 4); fantasy series, USA, 2014; D: Alex Graves, Michelle MacLaren, Alik Sakharov, Neil Marshall, S: Kit Harington, Lena Headey, Peter Dinklage, Emilia Clarke, Aidan Gillen, Charles Dance, Natalie Dormer, Stephen Dillane, Carice van Houten, Alfie Allen, Isaac Hempstead-Wright, Maisie Williams, Rose Leslie, John Bradley, Iwan Rheon, Sibel Kekilli

The fight for the legacy of the Seven Kingdoms continues. At King's Landing, Prince Oberyn and many other guests are summoned to attend the wedding of King Joffrey and Margaery Tyrell. However, King Joffrey is poisoned after drinking vine, and Cersei and Tywin Lannister put the blame on Tyrion. A show trial is set up, with even Shae giving false testimony against him. Trying to prove his innocence, Tyrion wants a combat, and Oberyn accepts to battle for him, but gets killed by Gregor. However, Jamie Lannister helps Tyrion escape before the execution - before he escapes, Tyrion kills Shae and Tywin... Daenerys and her army manage to conquer another city and release the slaves there, but her three dragons keep acting more and more erratic. It also turns out that her associate Jorah has been sending information about her to King's Landing... In the North, Brandon Stark and his associates finally manage to find the mysterious Heart Tree from his vision, where they meet an old man who disguised himself as the 3-eyed raven... When Brienne kills the "Hound", Arya Stark is left alone and boards a ship...Ramsay still tortures Theon Greyjoy... Jon Snow leads the successful defence of the Wall from the wildings, but his beloved Ygritte dies.

The 4th season of the popular alternate history series "Game of Thrones" made a few improvements compared to the flaws of the previous two seasons, notably by toning the cruelty a little bit down, yet the problems of the bigger picture in it still remain, especially the ones aimed at how long George R. R. Martin can overstretch all these storylines and add new ones until it all collapses on itself from excess or the viewers' oversaturation with whom of the characters wants to battle whom. This season still works, but the cracks are appearing, and either they will be addressed in the next seasons, or it will all go downhill from here. One of the disappointing elements is the resolution of Tyrion's love relationship with Shae, which does not serve him or her justice, whereas Tywin's end is too similar to Vincent Vega's end in "Pulp Fiction". However, episodes 4.1, 4.2, 4.6, 4.9 and 4.10 are all great, staying true to several completely unexpected plot twists and giving at least three evil characters their just judgement, evidently also featuring better writing of dialogues: in episode 4.1, for instance, there is a clever exchange (Allister: "You always know when a man is telling a lie. How did you acquire this magical power?" - Maester Aemon: "...I grew up in King's Landing...") whereas the writers had a field day in Oberyn's comical jabs aimed at Cersei ("Wearing the crown for so many years must have left your neck a bit crooked").

The tension on the wedding in episode 4.2 grows so steadily until it becomes almost palpable, whereas the episode ends in such a delicious and satisfying plot twist that it would be a sin to even mention it to those who haven't seen it, since it must not be spoiled. The critics rightfully praised the stand-out episode 4.9, that untypically focused only on one single storyline, the siege of Wall by the wildings, featuring a few spectacular moments (the defence releases a giant scythe that swings and simply decimates the besieging forces that were climbing on the giant wall) and suspenseful action sequences (the giant and the mammoth pulling the gates in order to open them). The trial sequence in episode 4.6 is also a highlight, especially when the accused, Tyrion, simply addresses the crowd and shouts: "I am on trial for being a dwarf my entire life!", whereas Cersei proves to be a far more complex character thanks to her defiance to Tywin who wants to force her into an arranged marriage (in one scene, she interrupts him in the middle of his stories where he once again got everything his way:"I’m not interested in hearing another one of your smug stories about the time you won. This isn’t going to be one of those times."). The most aesthetically pleasant and almost esoteric moment arrives when Brandon and his crew reach the mysterious Heart Tree that glows in the snow – it is a pity so little of its purpose is revealed in this season, but the sight of it is so magical it almost reminds of a paranormal event. The best moments arrive when some seemingly separate stories and characters encounter, unite and complete each other, yet parts of this "hyper-narrative" still remain questionable for spending so much of the viewers' time and do not always justify its existence.

Grade;+++

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Kekec

Kekec; adventure, Slovenia, 1951; D: Jože Gale, S: Matija Barl, Franc Presetnik, Frane Milčinski, Zdenka Logar

Somewhere in the Slovenian Alps, the 10-year old Kekec lives with his family in a small village, where rumors of a cruel man, Bedanec, spread. Desolate in his home in the forest, Bedanec keeps a 10-year orphan old girl, Mojca, captive, so that she can clean his home. When she begs to escape, the nearby old man, Kosobrin, gives her refuge in his home on a plateau that can only be reached through a secret cave passage. Bedanec captures Kekec and forces him to work in his home, and plots to re-capture Mojca from Kosobrin. When Bedanec finds the secret cave entrance, Kekec releases a dog. In the rush, Bedanec is found hanging from a cliff and agrees to leave the place if Kekec helps him climb back. Bedanec leave and Kekec returns to his village.

One of the most popular and beloved children's movies of Slovenian and Yugoslav cinema, this is a rather well made, though still by today's standards a little dated achievements. Set among the wonderful, idyllic locations of the Slovenian Alps, leaning towards the German Heimatfilm repertoire, directed in a straight-forward manner by Joze Gale, this is a film that still causes a few questions at its inconsistencies and ill-conceived plot points by modern viewers – for instance, having the "villain" Bedanec keep an abducted 10-year old girl, Mojca, captive in his home against her will, seems little suitable for a kids' movie, and also begs several bitter questions (why don't the people in the nearby village simply call the police? Is Bedanec a paedophile or does he simply seek some company for his solitude because he does not have kids of his own?). These questions and 'rough' edges clash badly with each other, yet if the viewers simply ignore them and enjoy "Kekec" as an old-fashioned film in which the title boy saves the day, it still has some charm, flair and grace, with a few humorous moments that manage to ignite the mood (a boy dresses up as a ghost to scare of Kekec's sister, Tinka; a peasant wishes all the best to Kekec's father, and even jokingly wishes that his "chicken may hatch him a cow").

Grade;++

Monday, 21 November 2016

The Story of 90 Coins

Jiushi mei yingbi de gushi; romantic drama short, China, 2015; D: Michael Wong, S: Zhuang Zhiqi, Dongjun Han, Jose Acosta

Beijing. A guy, Wang, falls in love with a girl, Chen, and persuades her to give him 90 days to prove that he is worthy of marrying her. In order to do so, he puts every coin in a sealed envelope with notes of each day, until they reach 90 coins. Pursuing her career, Chen forgets about the box and accepts an invitation by a French businessman to go to Paris. However, she then stumbles upon the box with the coins and remembers all the wonderful days with Wang.

"The Story of 90 Coins" is an uncynical, refreshingly honest, emotional and innocent in presenting the simple love story, with the two lead actors giving very good performances, especially the charming Zhuang Zhiqi. Some of its best moments arrive swiftly, in the comical way, almost reminding of a romantic comedy at times, such as the snake sequence in the tent and the sequence where Wang anonymously plays a love song for Chen over the radio, but she says "Who's that? What a stupid guy". Also, the movie is filmed with remarkable technical level and expertise for a first film by director Michael Wong, from the crispy clear cinematography up to the editing and sound, with only minimal flaws here and there.

However, there are 2 problems with the film. The sole concept is great - a guy persuades a girl to give him 90 days to prove that he is the right for her to marry him - but "90 Coins" is so fast in exchanging its vignettes that the viewers wish it simply slowed down and took more time to develop these episodes in the story. Take for instance that snake scene - how did the couple get there? What did they do afterwards? Did they stick around in the tent later on to simply enjoy the nature after that "incident"? Or the sequence where Wang carries Chen on his shoulders because she is sick - it is sweet, but how did he find out she is sick? Where did he pick her up (at her apartment, maybe, or on the street)? And how did she react when she got well? Did she thank him? While these moments are very sweet, they would have been even better if the viewers had a wider context in which they happen. Some of them are just too short to truly engage fully, though that it understandable due to budget constraints. The second problem is that the chronology of his plan is not displayed entirely linear and clear. Yes, a flashback is a legitimate director's choice. Yes, several days in that 90 days period are indeed shown. And yes, it is touching when she "stumbles" upon the box of coins she almost forgot in the room, which triggers her memory of these days. However, it would have been nice if the viewers got to see "Day 1" and "Day 2", to immediately get the impression that it started - and how it started. This chronology has a middle and an end, but not a beginning. It would have been great to see what he did on the 1st day to "kick off" his 90 day plan, and on the 2nd day. This would have set the tone for the film. Overall, this is still a sweet little first film, which announces that the director has a lot of potential for a feature that could elaborate the events further.

Grade;++

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Apollo 13

Apollo 13; drama, USA, 1995; D: Ron Howard, S: Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton, Kevin Bacon, Ed Harris, Kathleen Quinlan, Gary Sinise

In '70, NASA sends another manned mission to the Moon, named Apollo 13, but it quickly justifies the reputation of "13" as an unlucky number: namely, as soon as it is in space, its oxygen tanks suddenly explodes, thus leaving its three astronauts - Jim Lovell, Fred Haise and Jack Swigert - in peril. On Earth, the Houston command centre, led by Kranz, realizes that the astronauts cannot land on the Moon with such damage, and instead re-focus their efforts on bringing them back alive before they run out of power. Passing by the Moon, the craft uses its gravitational pull to catapult back to Earth, and thus, despite freezing temperatures due to a saving of heating power, the three astronauts manage to return safely home.

A biopic about a dangerous manned mission to the Moon that went terribly wrong, "Apollo 13" gives a proportionally rather well assembled chronicle of events, though it sometimes comes off less cinematic and more as a schematic 'PowerPoint' presentation of the event. The first half an hour serves as a bland intro, wasting too much time on Jim Lovell's family and dry preparations of the mission, yet once the craft launches into space, the movie lifts up as well, displaying a few suspenseful moments and bravely showing the unglamourous side of astronauts in space, which is not always as idealized as some like it to present. Several comical moments are refreshing (upon turning off the electricity in the navigation panel to save the power in the craft for later, and just letting it drift in space, Lovell's joking comments: "We just put Sir Isaac Newton in the driver's seat") whereas the most genius moment arrives in the NASA office, where engineers are given the assignment to somehow find a way to connect two filters using only spare parts which can be found in the Apollo 13, so that the astronauts can replicate it themselves on the craft before CO2 levels reach a critical point there. However, Ron Howard's direction and the screenplay by William Broyles, Jr. and Al Reinert are not always that inspired, since the movie is a tad overlong and overburdened with conventional dialogues, especially in the inter-cuts that focus on Lovell's wife and family on Earth, which tend to turn melodramatic and empty at times. The most was achieved from great actors, excellent Tom Hanks and Kevin Bacon, but also by veteran actor Ed Harris as the 'maverick' flight director Kranz who simply refuses to let the three astronauts perish in space, whereas one has to compliment the film crew for their painstaking effort by filming many space sequences in a reduced gravity aircraft, which realistically conveys a feeling of zero gravity among the three actors.

Grade;++

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Quit Staring at My Plate

Ne gledaj mi u pijat; drama, Croatia, 2016; D: Hana Jušić, S: Mia Petričević, Nikša Butijer, Arijana Čulina, Zlatko Burić, Marijana Mikulić

Šibenik. Marijana (24) works as a lab technician in a hospital and lives a depressive life in a small apartment which she shares with her poor income family: the unemployed brother Zoran, unemployed mother and macho father. When her father endures a stroke, he is left bed-ridden and Marijana now has to earn for the whole family alone, as well as feed and change diapers for her paralyzed father. Bullied at work and annoyed at home, she randomly takes a ride to have group sex with two unknown guys. After an argument, she decides to leave the apartment and move to Zagreb. In the last moment, she changes her mind and returns to her city.

Hana Jusic's feature length debut film, "Quit Staring at My Plate" is one of those calculative art-films with typical cliches for the art-film audience: a passive hero(ine) who suffers through her depressive life all the time, who doesn't do anything about it and then the movie ends without anything being resolved or changing. It has good shot composition, good technical and production values, good actors - yet it is just simply lifeless, sterile, dry, grey and monotone, one of those standard-depressive 'social drama' movies that amassed in Croatian cinema without any ingenuity or spirit. The dialogues are uninspired, since the movie is basically about nothing - random scenes show up which lead nowhere (Marijana is warned that people are getting fired at work, for instance, but that never really proves useful later on in the film) and the only moments that are memorable are the sequence where Marijana has to change diapers for the paralyzed father in bed and the (unrealistic) moment where she has group sex without condoms with two men she just met in a car. The film may be a realistic presentation at nihilistic empty existence in modern society, yet it still lacks highlights. It is basically a soap opera.

Grade;+

Monday, 14 November 2016

Jurassic World

Jurassic World; science-fiction adventure, USA, 2015; D: Colin Trevorrow, S: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Ty Simpkins, Nick Robinson, Vincent D'Onofrio, B. D. Wong, Irrfan Khan

Two decades after the incidents around the Jurassic Park, a new crew managed to bring order and establish it as a popular dinosaur Zoo on the island. Two teenagers, Zach and Grey, are sent to the park to visit their aunt Claire, who works as a manager there. She is also friends with Owen, one of the employees who is training four Velociraptors. However, a genetically modified hybrid dinosaur, Indominus, breaks free and thus alarm bells are sounded for the 22,000 visitors on the island. Several people are killed, but Claire releases the T. Rex and it manages to defeat the Indominus, thanks also to Owen's loyal Velociraptors. Zach and Grey are saved and evacuated with other guests from the island.

14 years after the last installement, against all predictions that it would be just a cheap rip-off of the franchise, reboot "Jurassic World" actually proved as a pleasant surprise, giving freshness and vitality after a long pause in the series, even surpassing the last two films, "Jurassic Park II" and "Jurassic Park III", by a nose. Director Colin Trevorrow crafts the film with stylistic elegance, whereas screenwriters Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver manage to construct it to be simply fun: numerous moments are amusing (a "giant" lizard leg proves to be just the leg of a small sparrow when the camera zooms out; the ironic comment of a chief technician upon hearing how new, simple names of hybrid dinosaurs are given: "Pepsi-saurus") or just plain clever (when the vicious Indominus gets out of the cage, Owen hides under a car and cuts a hose in order to pour gasoline over himself, whose smell thus repents the dinosaur), the necessary explanations as to what happened between the events of the last film were neatly interwoven into the story thanks to unobtrusive dialogues, the good characters are a pleasant company, the action and chase sequences are set up with a lot of spirit whereas the new main "villain" dinosaur Indominus manages to live up to the hype. The weakest link is the last third of the film, which slowly causes the story to lose its concentration and regress into standard, repetitive action, exacerbated by a rather vague ending, whereas a few 'boastful' moments stick up like a soar thumb, yet the movie manages to stand on its own, justifying its existence thanks to further exploration of the stimulative concept.

Grade;++

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Game of Thrones (Season 3)

Game of Thrones (season 3); fantasy series, USA, 2013; D: Daniel Minahan, Alex Graves, Alik Sakharov, Michelle MacLaren, S: Peter Dinklage, Richard Madden, Michelle Fairley, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Emilia Clarke, Kit Harington, Charles Dance, Alfie Allen, Oona Chaplin, Sibel Kekilli

The fight for the throne of the Seven Kingdoms continues. Davos is given pardon by Stannis, but he decides to free a lad whom witch Melisandre wanted to sacrifice in order to cause a spell which would help Stannis gain the throne... Daenerys, with the help of her three dragons and her advisers, manages to buy 8,000 slave soldiers, gives them freedom and thus gains their support to conquer Yunkai... After his rebellion was quashed, Theon Greyjoy is being tortured by Ramsay Snow. Theon's father, Balon, is indifferent, but Theon's sister Yara decides to send an army to rescue Theon... Lord Frey tricks his guests and lets the Lannister army kill Robb Stark, his lover Talisa and his mother Catelyn in ambush during the wedding... Sam and Gilly and her baby and fleeing south from the Zombies on the north... Tyrion is unhappy that he has to marry Sansa, even though he secretly loves Shae, in order for the Lannisters to keep their power.

The 3rd season of the "Game of Thrones" series continues with all the elements of the previous seasons, including all the flaws and virtues that come with it: only episodes 3.3, 3.4 and 3.10 can be considered truly great, without reservations, while the quality of the others oscillates too much. The quality of the writing improved in this edition, with a few great quotes: in episode 3.3, after the funeral of the old Hoster Tully, Blackfish says this to Catelyn Stark: "Your father was a stubborn old ox. I was surprised when he died. Didn't think death had the patience." In 3.4, there is another gem of a quote, from Varys, who warns about Petyr Baelish: "He would see the realm burn if he could be the king of ashes." Unfortunately, the storyline overstretches itself in excess of too many subplots, making one wonder if the author lead its plot tangles to collapse from its own overambition. Likewise, it is highly questionable why there was so much violence and cruelty presented on the screen - it is understandable that they wanted to show how the barbarity of the (fictional) Middle ages looked like realistically, but did they not know of any kind of subtlety? The long and explicit torture sequence of Theon Greyjoy, for instance, has such a contempt for humanity, such a depravity and vile nature that the rest of the season never truly recovers after it.

One of the best moments surprisingly stems from a love story blossoming between Jon Snow and Ygritte - in one refreshing comic moment in 3.7, she jokes about being afraid of a spider in order to fall into his arms, in a wonderfully warm and cute scene - while Tyrion rises to the occasion in episode 3.8: even though he does not want to marry Sansa, and even though he is such a small individual who can be killed by the authoritarian King Joffrey in an instant, he proves incredible integrity and courage when he puts the King in his place after the latter wanted to 'bed' Sansa before him during the wedding: "Then you'll be f*** your own bride with a wooden cock!" You could hear a pin drop after that sequence. The author also has a sense for some historical ironies (for instance, Robb Snow won every battle he ever participated - yet lost everything when he died in an assassination attempt when he least expected it), while numerous critics praised the shocking finale in episode 3.8, as well as the strong cast of the entire series, with Emilia Clarke gaining momentum in each subsequent segment. The season follows about 10 stories parallely. However, only three of those get to a point in this season, while the other seven are still lingering, "stuck" somewhere in the middle of a developing process, leaving thus all the burden of a conclusion or some kind of resolution on the fourth (or some other) season.

Grade;++

Friday, 11 November 2016

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire; fantasy, UK / USA, 2005; D: Mike Newell, S: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Robbie Coltrane, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon, Brendan Gleeson, Jason Isaacs, Gary Oldman, Miranda Richardson, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Timothy Spall

At Hogwarts school of wizardy, Harry Potter and his class get a new teacher, Mr. Moody. The school will also host the Triwizard Tournament where three school will compete in a competition so dangerous that even might lead to a students' death. Even though he did not submit his name for the competition, Harry is chosen to participate. There are three tasks: they must get a golden egg from a dragon; they must swim underwater to save a mate; and finally to go through a hedge maze to get a cup. However, in the last challenge, Harry and Cederic are transported to a graveyard, where Pettigrew kills Cederic and performs a ritual summoning Vodemort and his henchmen. Harry manages to escape and return to safety. The real Mr. Moody was replaced by Voldemort's spy, but is exposed. Dumbeldorf warns Harry of dark times coming.

The 4th film in the long "Harry Potter" film series, "Goblet of Fire" proved once again to be strong at the box office, yet weak as a patchwork of a story that is all over the place. The biggest complaints should be aimed at director Mike Newell and screenwriter Steve Kloves who 'narrowed' the film down only to fans instead of also taking care to appeal to universal viewers, even those who are not fans of wizards and sorcery and thus do not care about overlong, empty subplots involving magic or schematic, standard dialogues which are reduced to basically only dryly explaining what is going on. Sadly, Harry Potter hardly interacts with his friends, Ron and Hermione, in this edition, and thus this leaves little character development. A little bit of spark and charm only occasionally manage to 'twitch' the movie from its grey routine, yet they are refreshingly welcomed, such as the humorous moment where Harry complains that he cannot speak to a girl alone to invite her to a dance, because the girls are always in a "herd", or the hero's confrontation with a blond lad who did a bet that Harry will not hold up 5 minutes in the tournament. Unfortunately, the film is filled with cliche repertoire (cheap "boo" scares; the constant grey-dark cinematography after which one yearns to watch a film with normal colors; unnecessary dark moments used just to keep the viewers' attention...), whereas the ritual performed to summon Voldemort at the end is disgusting and misguided. Only a moderately solid sequel in the franchise, overlong and devoid of joy or spirit.

Grade;+

Monday, 7 November 2016

Possession

Possession; horror drama, France / Germany, 1981; D: Andrzej Żuławski, S: Sam Neill, Isabelle Adjani, Heinz Bennent

Berlin during the Cold war. The city is divided through a wall between the West and the East, and a similar fate seems to befallen a rift in marriage that divided Mark from his beloved wife Anna. She doesn't want to see him anymore, and he suspects she is cheating on him with another man. He indeed finds a man, Heinrich, who has an affair with Anna, but quickly realizes she is absent even from him during long periods, so there must be a third person. Mark takes custody of their son, Bob, and hires two detectives to investigate Anna's secret lover. The detectives find a tentacle monster in Anna's apartment, and she kills them. Anna starts behaving erratically, cutting herself with a knife. Mark finally finds out Anna is having sex with the monster in the apartment. Mark is wounded in a shootout and dies on the stairs with Anna. A clone of Mark appears and knocks on the door of their home. Bob commits suicide by drowning in the bathtub.

One of the most bizarre movies from the 80s, the director's 2nd film in France after getting away from his Polish homeland, "Possession" features Andrzej Zulawski in his pretentious best, as opposed to his many later films which would feature him in his pretentious worst. Puzzling, messy, hermetic and challenging, this psychological drama is not for everyone's taste, proving to be an existential art-film that - just like Polanski - untypically blends with horror elements, thereby even exacerbating its representation of trauma: as film critic Visnja Vukasinovic observed, it may be that Zulawski decided to visualize the psychosis of the husband and wife divorcing in the form of the (infamous) torso-tentacle monster. This is a weird trip, but it has a fascinating visual style thanks to dynamic camera drives and wide-angle lens (the "circulating" camera in the sequence where Mark speaks to the four directors in the office; the long camera drive through Heinrich's apartment when Mark first meets him; the frog-perspective as Mark often walking towards a giant apartment complex...) whereas the two leading actors - Isabelle Adjani and Sam Neill - give energetic performances: Neill is simply indestructible in the scene where he is swinging in the rocking chair and announces to his wife: "I'm taking over!"

The interpretation of the hermetic symbolism managed to split the critics, just like Berlin wall split the city in the film. As the leitmotiv of the Berlin wall is featured prominently in several scenes, it may be that the whole film is one giant allegory on dictatorship of Communism: just like Germany was split between the West and the East during hat time, it seems that even Mark and Anna endure a schism, even literally when their two idealised clones show up. Could it be that the bloody monster in the dark apartment is a symbol for the dark secrets (and crimes) of Bolshevism which threaten to take possession of Anna's mind through their ideology? Does her manic outbursts in the Metro speak for her fight against this ideology? Is it a coincidence that it is revealed that Mark is some sort of secret agent who assassinates a man from the East in order to rescue Anna? There are several ways this story could be deciphered, yet it can also be interpreted without any political connotations, simply as a extreme allegory of negative emotions during a divorce, as well as the protagonists' crushing depression and despair due to the world that is indifferent to life, indifferent to evil that takes on many shapes and sizes throughout history. Anna even says: "Maybe goodness is just some kind of reflection upon evil". This is indeed a tricky film, featuring a demented tone that can go either way: it is not hard to figure out why some of Zulawski's later films collapsed due to it, yet here, they somehow manage to align into a functional whole.

Grade;+++

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Cool Runnings

Cool Runnings; comedy, USA, 1993; D: Jon Turteltaub, S: Leon Robinson, Doug E. Doug, Rawle D. Lewis, Malik Yoba, John Candy

Jamaica, '88. Derice wanted to qualify for a sprinter in order to represent his country at the Winter Olympics, but tripped and thus lost his opportunity. However, not wanting to give up, he manages to persuade a disgraced and exiled American there, coach Irv, who was previously awarded a golden medal, to train him as a bobsledder. The idea is ridiculed by everyone, yet Derice teams up with Sanka, Bevil and a man called Yul Brynner to form a first Jamaican bobsled team. In Calgary, they are shocked by the cold temperatures, yet manage to qualify, despite numerous obstacles. In the final round, their bob tips and crashes - yet they stand up and still lift it to finish the race, gaining respect for their spirit.

Loosely based on the true story of the first Jamaican bobsled team on the Winter Olympics, "Cool Runnings" still holds up today thanks to its honest ode to sincere outsiders whose sheer positive attitude and energy gets them into a state where they can never lose, regardless of the outcome. The simple story has been enriched thanks to playful editing (the comic dissolve from a tropic palm on the Jamaican airport to a snow covered pine tree on Calgary airport sums up everything about the trip of the heroes), wonderful characters, joyful gags (the four guys lose control of their improvised sled downhill - until they are stopped by ramming a police vehicle), a fast pace and elegant storytelling, all adding up to a very pleasant sports comedy: this is one of the most uplifting movies of the 90s. It was one of the last movies starring John Candy before his too early death a year later, and gave him one of his best roles featuring him in his finest hour: his role of coach Irv is both funny and realistic, and even gives some pathos to the quest of the four bobsledders, culminating in one of the greatest quotes of all time, when he explains that a person can always be worth something regardless of winning: "Derice, a gold medal is a wonderful thing. But if you're not enough without one, you'll never be enough with one." Slightly idealised near the end, this is still a fine film that got a lot of ingredients just right, and thus still proves to be popular among the audience.

Grade;++

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Captain Mikula, the Kid

Kapetan Mikula Mali; war drama, Croatia, 1974; D: Obrad Gluščević, S: Tonči Vidan, Petar Prličko, Joško Pažanin

World War II. Due to Fascist offensives, Captain Mikula is often transporting civilian refugees to safe islands from Dalmatian coast in his ship. During one such trip, Mikula gets a secret assignment from a partisan to get in contact with an English parachuter who wants to get to the Vis island to get in touch with Tito. However, Mikula's grandchild, Mikula little, and two boys, his friends, secretly came along in his boat. When Mikula gets arrested by the Nazis, Mikula the Kid manages to get him released by tricking the Nazis into thinking he will tell them where the Englishman is. In a daring mission, Mikula the kid manages to detach a ship from the Nazi navy and return to the coast. Mikula the grandfather gets killed by the Nazis, but Mikula the kid and the two boys manage to transport civilians and the Englishman to the Vis island.

Even though it was one of the most popular partisan movies of its time, and spanned an eponymous TV show, "Captain Mikula, the Kid" did not age well by today's standards: it is a sympathetic little movie, yet overstretched itself way beyond its prime, featuring too much empty walk and lax tone that starts losing the viewers patience towards the second half. Director Obrad Gluscevic took up a bizarre decision to have a "kids war movie", which is an oddity, even featuring a scene where one of the kids holds a gun, yet, thankfully, refused to go overboard and to show children actually shooting and killing someone, which somewhat alleviates this controversial decision and keeps it in rather good taste. Still, "Captain" lacks highlights - the kids don't do anything except get in contact with the English parachuter and detach a boat from the enemy navy, which is too little the keep the viewers attention during the weaker parts which are basically just 'filler', and thus a little more ingenuity would have been welcomed. Still, it is an overall solid and easily watchable, unassuming film, managing to work as stable entertainment.

Grade;+

Friday, 4 November 2016

Game of Thrones (Season 2)

Game of Thrones (Season 2); fantasy series, USA, 2012; D: Alan Taylor, David Petrarca, David Nutter, Alik Sakharov, S: Peter Dinklage, Lena Headey, Kit Harington, Emilia Clarke, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Aidan Gillen, Charles Dance, Maisie Williams, Jack Gleeson, Sibel Kekilli

The fight for throne still continues. The 17-year old King Joffrey Baratheon alienates people and his servants more and more with his spoiled and sadistic nature, including killing babies suspected to be former king's Robert Baratheon's bastard children, yet his uncle Tyrion Lannister has no choice but to help him defend the city of King's Landing when Stannis Baratheon - allied with dark forces of witch Melisandre - starts a siege of the city with his navy in order to claim the throne. The city is saved, yet Tyrion is badly wounded and recieves no credit for his defence... Robb Stark advances south against the Lannisters, but his plans are threatened when his aid, Theon Greyjoy, rebels and takes over the rule of Winterfell on the north himself... Daenerys Targayen and her allies manage to save themselves from the desert when they reach the city of Qarth. Her three dragons are stolen by local Xaro, but she manages to get them back... Jon Snow is captured on the north by Ygritte and her wildlings. Also, the Zombies awaken from the snow and start marching south.

The 2nd season of the famed "Game of Thrones" series continues with all the complex takes on the effects of the unspeakable brutality and decadence stemming from the greed for absolute power for the throne, a primitvism reminiscent of the worst days of Bolshevism or Byzantine Empire, yet it is still a notch weaker than the 1st season. Only episodes 2.1, 2.6 and 2.9 are truly excellent, while the rest is good, yet heavily overstretched: by following a dozen parallel stories, encompassing almost a hundred characters, the story bloated and exhausted itself into excess, not knowing when to stop. The dialogues in the 1st season were better written, since here a lot of lines end up formulaic and in empty walk. Episode 2.1 gives a worthy viewing experience - one clever moment is when Daenerys and her allies are lost in the middle of the desert, exhausted, and are not sure which way to go. She then simply takes three horsemen and sends them in three different directions - north, south, east - and orders them to return if they find any populated place, thereby eliminating wrong directions her caravan could take. Another gem is found in episode 2.6: a girl, Arya, works in the office of Lord Tywin Lannister. Unbeknownst to him, she is actually the sister of Robb Stark, who is battling Lannisters of the front. One day, she takes a document detailing plans to attack Robb, hoping to help her brother, and runs away from the office, but is caught by Tywin's servant Lorch outside. Just as Tywin's door open, and Lorch is at the doorstop to report what he found, the latter falls dead - Arya sent assassin Jaqen to intercept and kill Lorch, and thereby saved herself from being revealed just in time.

The siege of King's Landing in 2.9 also rises to the occasion - the trick that a small ship with explosive liquid is sent in the middle of the navy, and then ignited into exploding between them, is clever - and benefits from aesthetic location of Dubrovnik, the 'pearl of the Adriatic'. A nice little twist is found in episode 2.10, as well: when he is outnumbered and faced with an ultimatum to surrender at Winterfell, Theon gives an epic, heroic speech to his 20 soldiers, triumphantly chanting how they should die in battle and how people will remember their glory - but is then knocked unconscious by one of the soldiers in exchange for the outside forces to pardon them. Definitely one of the rarest and hilarious examples of humor in the series. Unfortunately, the events between those highlights are questionable, wasting too much time on overlong subplots which (at least in this season) lead nowhere. Also, the storyline suffers from some unnecessary nudity and too savage violence. Universal acclaim should be given to the cast, though, with Peter Dinklage giving an excellent performance as Tyrion Lannister, who stoically refuses to be labelled only as a dwarf, as well as genius Sibel Kekilli as his love Shae, whereas Charles Dance is also fantastic in his quietly brilliant role as king Joffrey's grandfather, Tywin Lannister. Season 2 is somewhat like zapping through ten different channels on TV every five minutes, non-stop: each of them is interesting, but when there are simply too many of them, you cannot dedicate yourself truly to any of them.

Grade;++

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Ezra

Ezra; war drama, Nigeria / France / Belgium, 2007; D: Newton I. Aduaka, S: Mamoudu Turay Kamara, Mariame N'Diaye, Mamusu Kallon, Mereveille Lukeba

Sierra Leone during the civil war. While in school, the 7-year old Ezra and all other children are kidnapped by a rebel paramilitary group, who train them as child soldiers. A decade later, teenager Ezra has returned to normal life, but is brought to the national reconciliation tribunal set up by the UN. His mute sister, Onitcha, accuses Ezra of killing their parents during a raid on their village. The three judges want to what happened, but Ezra cannot remember. He recalls how he was trained by the Blood Brotherhood paramilitary, how their commandant Rufus uses civilians as slaves to dig up diamonds to finance their unit and how he met Mariam. While trying to escape in a bus, they were ambushed by paramilitaries and Ezra's pregnant girlfriend, Mariam, died. Ezra only knows that he was given a drug during the raid on his village, which caused hallucinations and thus he is unsure himself if he killed his parents.

One of the first movies of African cinema to tackle the difficult topic of war in Sierra Leone and child soldiers was met with appropriate respect and claim, giving a bitter, tragic, yet also somber and wise take of the bigger picture. The actors are all great, whereas director Newton I. Eduaka gives them room to develop, though it is obvious that the social issue theme was stronger than his actual film style, delivering a competent, though standard war drama, with little true cinematic ingenuity. Already the opening where paramilitaries kidnap children from school in order to train them as child soldiers is chilling and disturbing, though the movie finds a right measure to avoid turning too explicit at times: the real horrors manifest afterwards, in the form of trauma that inhibits Ezra from leading a normal life at least as an adult, when he could not as a kid. "Ezra" also hints at the root cause of all this mess, the remnants of colonialism, giving a humble "Game of Thrones" bigger picture in the closing credits that say how in African countries "weapons come in, while diamonds and oil come out". The relationship between Ezra and his mute sister could have been developed better, as well as his love relationship with Mariam, yet the movie has just enough intelligence to carry this dark story the right way.

Grade;++

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Stalag 17

Stalag 17; war drama, USA, 1953; D: Billy Wilder, S: William Holden, Robert Strauss, Harvey Lembeck, Otto Preminger, Don Taylor, Peter Graves

World War II. Hundreds of American soldiers are being kept in a Nazi prisoner-of-war camp along the Danube river. Two inmates try to escape one night, but are caught by the guards at the fence and shot. This just raises the suspicion of the prisoners that there must be a snitch among them who always tells their plans beforehand to camp's commandant von Scherbach. Sefton, who amassed cigarettes from smuggling, becomes the scapegoat, since everyone thinks he always gets so much as a reward. However, Sefton manages to prove he is innocent and find the real snitch - Price, a German American, who communicated with a knot on the cord of the light, hiding messages in a chess figure for von Scherbach. Sefton manages to escape with Lt. Dunbar.

"Stalag 17" is one of only two World War II films directed by Billy Wilder, who here uncharacteristically abandoned his usual milieu and decided to deliver a genre film: the story probably could have not stayed immune to director's "funny bone" and thus some sequences almost spillover into a comedy - for instance, when the prisoners get mail, one of them reads how his wife informed him that she "found a baby on her doorstep" when he was away and decided to adopt it, informing him to "not be surprised" when he comes back; the ironic opening narration where the narrator laments how war movies are always made about submarine patrols and guerrillas, but never about POWs - whereas some have complained that Wilder portrayed the Nazi soldiers and commandants of the camp as too benign, thereby losing their menace - when one American camp prisoner says "Sprechen Sie Deutsch? Droppen Sie Dead!" to von Scherbach, the commandant just laughs approvingly, without any hard feelings - though his sharpness and finesse are displayed throughout the story, especially in the darker second half, delivering the pessimistic messages in a subtle way. The sequence where the camp commandant orders the individual who smeared his trousers by throwing a rock into a puddle in front of him to make a step forward, and then, one by one, the entire prison camp population makes a step forward, was delivered seven years before a very similar one in "Spartacus", whereas William Holden delivered a dominant, authoritative performance as Sefton, who is caught between both sides. As always, Wilder managed to make surprisingly positive and optimistic movie about such a depressive and pessimistic topic, which holds up even today.

Grade;+++