movies


It’s 50 years almost day-to-day since the Red Army and the armies of several “fraternal” states invaded the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic and put an end to the experiment of socialism with a human face that had been tried by Alexander Dubcek and the Czechoslovak Communist leadership. I do not know whether it is a coincidence or not, but the timing was excellent for the screening and viewing of l’s 1969 film ‘Skrivánci na niti’ (‘Larks on a String‘) as part of the Czech film festival in Israel, a film that could not meet with its audience for 20 years, as it was banned by the communist censorship until the fall of the regime.

 

source https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0064994

source https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0064994

 

For the audience in my native Romania who lived during communism, Mendel’s film will not only show themes and situations similar to those they lived, but its fate will remind the one of the film ‘Reconstituirea’ (‘Reconstitution’) made in the same period in Romania by Lucian Pintilie: The same attitude of protest and resistance, the same subtle symbolism, the same sympathetic approach to the characters, and ultimately a similar fate – the film was banned by censorship and kept ‘on the shelves’ for twenty years. The action in ‘Skrivánci na niti’ is placed in time in the early 1950s when the Communist dictatorship began to consolidate and ‘class enemies’ were sent to forced labor or prison for the guilt of having belonged to the ‘bourgeois classes’ or for the crime of trying to escape from the ‘socialist paradise’. The setting is symbolic – a plant where industrial waste is brought to be transformed into useful objects, and the people who robot are the human waste that needs to be re-educated to become the ‘new type of human beings’. Those who turn out to be non-educated disappear, arrested by the political police and forced into the car that will lead them to more severe prison or labor camps, the next stage of repression.

 

(video source intermedio)

 

Unlike Lucian Pintilie’s Romanian film, which was an exception, Jiri Mendel’s creation was part of a more developed cinema school, with creators like Milos Forman, Věra Chytilová or Mendel, who managed to create several remarkable films demonstrating that – within the limits of the communist censorship tolerance – making quality films was possible even behind the Iron Curtain. The look that Mendel throws back in those years of relative hope for Eastern Europe toward the beginning of the communist era is not characterized by anger or hatred. The characters of the period are presented in their humanity, even the prison guardians or the bureaucrats of the regime are surprised in situations that make them ridiculous rather than abject. Criticism is especially directed against the system, with all its power to oppress and is absurdity worthy of Kafka’s country. Visual power and acting are remarkable. Jiri Mendel’s film made half-century ago, has successfully passed the exam of time.

The laws of commercial success or failure are complicated. ‘47 Ronin‘ is a film that failed completely at the box office and is considered one of the biggest losers of the Universal Studios in the current decade, despite of belonging to a popular genre (fantasy action movie) and despite having as lead actor. I actually liked the film, and some of the reasons may be the same that let to its commercial disaster.

 

source https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1335975/

source https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1335975/

 

47 Ronin‘ is based on an 18th century historical event which took place in a Japan led by the shoguns who decided to close its gates and shores to foreigners and all but cut the ties with the external world. It’s a bloody story of revenge and sacrifice that raises issues of honor, tradition, and respect for authority very close to the essence of the Japanese soul. The story was taken over by oral and written literature and later by cinema, with a romantic intrigue of impossible love being added among other. The approach in telling the story and the perspective taken by the writer or film director tells a lot about the way tradition and the whole era of the shogunate are being perceived. I can understand that Japanese viewers may dislike the Hollywoodization of the story. Script writer and film director have taken the Japanese story into the territory of fantasy action movies. Feudal Japan is in their vision a land populated by spirits of the forest, dragons and witches. It’s pure entertainment, and this is the main angle this film needs to be judged from.

 

(video source Movieclips Trailers)

 

I found the result more than satisfying in the limits of its genre. The film is spoken in English, but I guess it would have had no chances otherwise in the American cinema theaters. The majority of the acting team is composed of Japanese actors, some of them well-known in Hollywood and they all do a fine job: is the noble commander of the samurais revenging their murdered and dishonored master, represents the dark side oponent, gathers beauty and delicacy for the lead feminine role, while is best in the feminine role of a witch with transcending powers. In order to match the Caucasian physiognomy of the authors of the script had to invent a biography of a mixed race cavalier who did not appear in the original story. The role will not be remembered as a peak of his acting career, but he did not do less or worse than many other lead stars in action movies. Cinematography is beautiful, costumes are colorful and expressive, and the action scenes are well choreographed.  ‘47 Ronin‘ is a well made action movie which succeeds to be true to the essence of the story despite the liberties taken by the Hollywood adaptation of the story. It may lack authenticity, but purist can always find on youTube the Japanese film with the same name made in 1941. It is all spoken in Japanese (with subtitles) and it lasts longer than 3 and half hours.

 

(video source menatil)

 

What would you do or rather what would you not do to protect your kid if faced with the situation that she or he has done something very wrong? When do mistakes that everybody makes at the teen ages turn into something very different and very abhorrent? Is the line of demarcation between sanity and insanity, between being a normative person and a monster that clear? These are some of the questions one keeps asking while watching ‘We Monsters‘ (‘Wir Monsters’ in German) directed and co-written by . I knew nothing about this film maker, according to IMDB this is only his second full feature film, and it’s quite good.

 

source https://www.imdb.com/title/tt4074652/

source https://www.imdb.com/title/tt4074652/

 

It’s a thriller, and a good one, so I will avoid telling too much about the story. Two separated parents come together to help their daughter in a critical moment of her life. There are enough surprises and changes of perspective to keep the interest of viewers alert from start to end. There is also a quite serious collection of subterranean themes like responsibility, borders of parental love, teenage revolt and communication between generations. All these come together in a more than satisfactory manner.

 

(video source TIFF Trailers)

 

The film is supported by solid acting by the whole team of actors, but especially by in the role of the father and as the teenage daughter. A slightly higher dose of cinematographic effects would have turned this film into a horror movie, but film director  seems to have chosen to star within the limits of a realistic psychological thriller. I found it good as it is. The horror version can be left for the American remake.

 

 

The artistic path of the Japanese master  spreads over 35 years, from the latest period of silent cinema until 1962.  It’s the first time that I see ‘Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice‘ which belongs to the immediate post-war period in his career. Between 1947 and 1957 Ozu, back from the war and the army where he had spent seven years, made one film each year. A couple of them are considered among his masterpieces and among the best films ever made. It is not exactly the case with ’Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice‘ which has its flaws and shows signs of aging, but it’s still a remarkable movie from many points of view.

 

source https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0044982

source https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0044982

 

Ozu wrote the first script of the film in 1939 and tried to push it through the Japanese Army cinema unit he was working with, but could not adapt it to the requests of censorship in times of war. Released 13 years later it belongs to the series of movies in which the director catches the process of transition that the Japanese society, its people and its institutions went through during the years after the defeat of Japan and during the American occupation. The external landscape is much changed, normality of peaceful, even comfortable life seem to be back, we see no visible signs of the destruction brought by war, and there is only one scene in which the main hero meets with a former army comrade which does not look too traumatic, neither too different from similar scenes that would have been done in other countries after WWII. The changes are at the level of the basic components of the society. While at the work place the working methods and technology have embraced some Western characteristics, the hierarchy and the paternalistic approach continue to dominate the work relations. The family keeps the male-dominated structure, but under the surface there is a revolution under way in what concerns the role of women. Two generations are being presented in the story on screen. The elder one still tries to keep the appearances and cheats the old way. The younger one would not accept the old ways and traditions including the arrangements of marriages. The crisis of the family in the two generations under the pressure of changes around is the main topic of the film.

 

(video source SocraticTruths)

 

The style of Ozu’s story telling and film making is present and easily identifiable. Camera barely moves if at all, and each scene is a composition with the characters moving in elaborate sets which are a pleasure to enjoy visually. Much of the action takes place in the home of the mid-upper class heroes couple, and Ozu has no equal in filming inside the house with camera placed lower than most other directors locate it, in order to create the feeling of intimacy and the perspective of the inhabitants of the Japanese houses. His selection of actors includes in the role of the apparently dull hard-working husband whose hidden secrets and deep humanity is gradually revealed and  as the wife (I liked less her interpretation). The ending is a combination of a great idea with the main reason why this film partly fails. On one side the idea of the family reconciliation through traditional food (rice) and tea is bright, and Ozu opens here a path in the Japanese and Far East cinema that will be followed and will reach exceptional achievements in the works of other film makers many years and even decades later. Unfortunately, this beautiful and sensible scene is followed by a badly scripted dialog in which the wife explains to her friends the reasons of the reconciliation. The conclusion seems both very conventional and unjustifiable submissive from the feminine perspective, and the way it is being told is also surprisingly bad cinema for a film by Ozu. Luckily there is one more final scene, showing the younger couple, which opens the gate for the future and the feeling that transformation is on its way and is nothing but unstoppable. Even the fix camera perspective is abandoned in this final sequence. The continuation however, belongs to another movie.

Sometimes, in the middle of the desert, one encounters a green, luxurious, exuberant oasis, full of life and beauty. This is exactly my feeling after having viewed ‘Victoria‘ in this summer cinematographic season which seems drier and duller and dummer than any other that I remember. After so many brainless action movies, and huge stars playing flat roles in boring comedies, here comes a film which is a wonderful combination of action and human feelings, of wonderful acting and cinematographic excellencies. Some of the reviews that I have read use the word ‘masterpiece’. This is far from being an exaggeration.

 

source https://www.imdb.com/title/tt4226388

source https://www.imdb.com/title/tt4226388

 

Victoria‘, co-written and director by who is better known as an actor, takes places in real-time, late at night and early in the morning, in Berlin, the German capital, in 2015. The feeling of reality is brightly transmitted to viewers by making the film with one shot, more than two hours of cinema filmed with hand-held camera, all the time close to the heroes of the film. Their lives change forever during these 140 minutes. It visibly took a huge effort to prepare the whole filming which takes us in different places, streets, shops, night clubs, building and roofs in Berlin. The result is spectacular.

 

 (video source Madman Films)

 

The heroes are a young Spanish girl, ex-musician, living in the cosmopolitan capital of Germany without speaking German who meets a group of fringe youth from East Berlin. As the action develops the characters will know each other, will fall in love, will get into trouble, and their destinies will change. Acting is also superb, with the Spanish actress in the lead role, and the German actors and Far from being just a gimmick, the technical achievement of this film is fully justified and fits well the story and the action. Berlin at the hours of deep night and uncertain dawn looks more interesting than I have ever seen it since ‘Der Himmel über Berlin‘. This is German cinema at its best.

I believe that I’m done with the summer movies for 2018. What a dry season! After having barely survived the 2h30min of the most recent ‘M:I6‘ I was hoping to spend a more pleasant time watching the constellation of talented actresses which show up in the cast of Ocean’s Eight. Each of , , , or on the poster would be a good reason for me to buy my cinema ticket and popcorn and watch any movie they star in. How does it happen that the gathering of them all in ‘‘ resulted in a rather mediocre production, which barely extracts a smile and does not thrill (action-wise) at any point in time?

 

source https://www.imdb.com/title/tt5164214/

source https://www.imdb.com/title/tt5164214/

 

I am afraid that I need to blame director and script co-author for this failure. Ross succeeded quite well when he wrote and directed films that were at the fringe of mainstream, and I include here The Hunger Games. With Ocean’s Eight he is riding the waves of mainstream Hollywood blockbusters, not only continuing a series with a well established formula but also a tradition of big studios hits based on the combination of very popular actors bringing to screen stories of elaborated burglaries in famous museums or postcard touristic destinations. The problem is that this version of the old story no passion, no thrill, no original ideas. Yes, the burglars team is all-women but this direction was not enough put in works either, and the result is much lesser than the amount of talent that is invested and the potential promised by the cast.

 

(video source Warner Bros. Pictures)

 

The girls try to do their best. leads the team and devices a plan that is unfortunately never clear or too interesting to viewers,    brings to screen her usual ‘I am much more than I look about’ feeling but we never get what this ‘much more’ is about,  is perfect in her beautiful-but-not-too-smart role,  and has the chance of the only role with more comic potential and a better background story. The action trails, we have seen the laser beams dances too many times to enjoy it, The Metropolitan Museum is under-used as a location, and while shorter by almost one hour Ocean’s Eight eventually seems to last as long as ‘M:I6.  The bad news are that this film may be the best entertainment that we get this this summer.

I know that I am the only one to blame. Guilty pleasures are often punished and enjoying action movies now and than is one of those. I also should know that in the first week on screens it’s mostly the hardcore fans running to see the film and writing viewer comments on IMDB, so the current stellar grade does not really mean that ‘Mission: Impossible – Fallout‘ (8.5 right now) is a better film than ‘Citizen Kane’ (8.4). I took the risk of being among the early viewers and I was punished. The quality level of the installments of the M:I series is on a decreasing curve, and this is continuing with this latest issue in the series. My opinion, of course.

 

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt4912910

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt4912910

 

I am never judging an action movie with the same criteria as I am judging a drama, a comedy, or an art film. Yet, there are some elements that I look for in any film – a story that has logic and catches my interest, and characters that I care about. None of them is present in this film co-written and directed by whom trusted with writing and directing some of his latest movies. The story of the rogue terrorists threatening to blow up the planet or at least half of it is placed as many of the latest movies in the genre in an aseptic and non-politic environment with non-identifiable bad guys, so that nobody is bothered and the film can be sold in as many markets as possible. The heroes destroy half of Paris and a quarter of London killing scores of policemen and innocent by-standers with no consequences. The main hero has a couple of Ethan-girls to care about and one more who seems to care for him, but the characters seem to be frozen or maybe wearing some of those rubber masks that the heroes are experts in.

 

(video source Paramount Pictures)

 

Yes, there are good and well paced and choreographed action scenes, but their gathering of coincidences makes them non-credible. The 3D capabilities are well used, but there is nothing that we haven’t seen yet. Actually this M:I looks more like a 3D James Bond film, without the charm of Bond. There is a change of guard in managing Ethan Hunts activities, and seems to replace who probably had enough and decided to jump wagon. Frankly speaking, I am not sure that I want to see M:I7 after this disappointing M:I6. is 56 years now, and cannot pretend being 35 or 40 years old forever. He seems to enjoy the narcissistic exercises that the movies he plays in for the last ten years, but how long can these last. If I am not mistaken his last non-action role was in Valkyrie in 2008. On the other side, if he has fun and viewers have fun watching him, who am I to tell him what to do? I can only decide to not watch his next movies.

 

Cinema about cinema and its more and less famous heroes is one of the most popular themes, and the results are very mixed, from superb classics to dull failures that do not succeed to get close to the sparkling and shining personalities in the history of cinema that they deal with. To take just one example, Alfred Hitchcock was recently the hero of at least two movies that centered on his personality and the making of some of his famous films. One was good, the other average, but our image about the master of thriller was enriched by seeing these films. In the history of the German cinema (but not only) Fritz Lang is a huge personality. Director succeeded to make an interesting film about him, not a perfect one, but with many ideas and a combination of techniques that makes it worth watching and discussing. Most of his films are about the pre-Nazi and Nazi period in the history of Germany and he seems to be one of the film directors who approach directly and with no nostalgia those times.

 

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt5520618

source https://www.imdb.com/title/tt5520618

 

Despite its ‘generic’ title ‘Fritz Lang’ deals with a specific episode in the life and career of the famous film maker. Same as the hero in ‘s ‘The Artist‘, Fritz Lang, a film director who had built his name and fame in the mute film industry, was faced around 1930 with the disruptive emergence of sound in cinema. His preparation for the first spoken film which will be named ‘M‘ included taking inspiration from a real serial killer crime case. In the process his research turned into obsession and his way of life became influenced by the dark subjects that he was investigating. ‘s approach to Lang’s personality is not very sympathetic, to the point that it makes the viewer suspect at some point of the story that Lang himself may have been involved in the crimes.

 

(video source Belle-Epoque-Films)

 

The other very interesting aspect of ‘Fritz Lang’ (the movie) is the smart editing which combines scenes with actors, newsreels of the period, and scenes from ‘M‘. Fiction from the film and about the life of the film director merge together with documented history in flawless manner. Black and white filming also works perfectly. I liked the acting performances of as Lang and as the serial killer, they match the atmosphere of the period and the style of Lang’s movie. For most of the duration of the story the first chases the second and helps in his catching. When they get together in a dialog taking place in jail (a dialog which probably never happened in reality), they find a troubling number of similarities in their destinies. In a different twist of destiny the great director could have been a criminal. Or maybe he was one? This question remains open.

 

 

 

Snatched should have been an event. , the beautiful, smart and daring comic star of my younger days is back on the big screens after 15 years of absence. She’s starring in an action comedy, she pairs with , a very en-vogue stand-up comedian and big screen actress from the young generation, writer and director  is at the helm, Goldie’s looks in her 70s would be the envy of most women in their 40s, so all premises are in place for a sparkling return. Yet, the film is just OK. What doesn’t work?

 

source https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2334871/

source https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2334871/

 

The poster says that the movie was released on Mother’s Day in the US, and this is probably were the source of it’s problems are. It tries to be both screenable and watchable on Mother’s day, but also include the sex jokes we expect from the stand-up star, to be sexy and thrilling without showing too much sex or blood. In other words, there are more hints about the movie wanting to be daring than any content that is really funny or surprising.

 

(video source 20th Century Fox)

 

I found the  couple to work pretty well on screen in their mother and daughter roles. Maybe there is no spectacular chemistry between them, but both are great professionals and beautiful ladies, each in her own style. The film fails mainly because of the script. Colonial jokes about South America and family comedy mixed with profanities are not enough. With some more comic or emotional chutzpah this could have been a memorable movie. Maybe and her colleagues were too respectful for . I hope that there will be a ‘next film’ for her, and I hope that she will encourage her future collaborators to dare more.

 

 

The usual introduction and disclaimer applies. When I chose to go to a comics-inspired movie I expect a different type of experience than the one that I expect when I go do a Shakespeare-inspired film or an European art production. Yet, there are good films and bad films and I have seen all of them in all genres. Within the limits of its genre I did not find ‘Black Panther‘ directed by to be a very good film and it’s difficult to me to understand the enthusiastic reception given to it by some of the film critics that I otherwise agree with most of the time. It’s not a bad film either. It’s just average.

 

source https://www.newstatesman.com/culture/film/2018/02/afrofuturist-superhero-movie-black-panther-breaks-new-ground-more-ways-one

source https://www.newstatesman.com/culture/film/2018/02/afrofuturist-superhero-movie-black-panther-breaks-new-ground-more-ways-one

 

The idea could actually work as most of the ideas of comics-based characters. A meteorite hit Earth million of years ago bringing with it a precious metal, vibranium, stronger than anything we know plus some curative properties. Vibranium is something like the reverse of kryptonite which was annihilating the powers of Superman, with the difference that while the Black Panther superhero can use it and become superhero by drinking it in liquor form, his whole nation of Wakanda can enjoy its power and build an advanced underground civilization in a secluded area of Africa, with one of the poorest countries on Earth as a cover above the ground. If you did not hear about Wakanda you should not worry, you probably did not hear about many of the – say – 20 poorest nations on Earth members of the UN. The adventures of young king T’Challa who ascended to the throne and is confronted with many internal and external threats and enemies as well as with the dilemma whether to continue the isolationist policies of his father and ancestors (‘Wakanda first’ :-) ) or open and share his technology with the rest of the planet and especially with the oppressed categories on it are the essence of the story. The rest is CGI and 3D effects.

 

(video source Marvel Entertainment)

 

It is visible that film director made a serious effort to add a layer of serious items to the basic comics story. Allusions to current events in the US and rest of the world like racial inequities, war as a mean of settling conflicts and isolationism are more than transparent. The treatment they get in the film is pretty conventional and there are no surprises or dilemmas, there are more questions than answers. Characters are quite well differentiated but their depth does not exceed the two dimensions of the comics heroes – we pretty much know from start what they will be doing and how they will react to various challenges. Good acting by a few well known and other lesser known actors could not add too much, not even the fantastic or . Computer graphics are spectacular but they lack innovation, I found them to be at the middle of the road between ‘Star Wars’ and ‘The Jungle Book’ (the animated version). One atop the other, it’s reasonable entertainment for kids of all ages (and I include myself in this category) but it’s not up to the buzz.

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