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Családi tüzfészek (1979)
Reconceptualizes what cinema can do
Családi tüzfészek (aka Family Nest) is an intimate portrayal of a family slowly disintegrating under various pressures in late 1970s communist Hungary. The plot of the film is deceptively simple, with the occasional momentous event--including one that's relatively shocking, but plot in a conventional sense is not the focus here.
What makes Family Nest so masterful is director writer/director Béla Tarr's skill at suggesting layers of emotion, commentary and meaning through cinematography and staging. For example, early in the film there is an extended scene of the family that is the film's focus eating dinner in their crowded apartment with some friends. Tarr has the camera crammed in a small room with the cast, necessitating that almost the entire scene is shot in close-ups. There are numerous conversations and an increasing amount of bickering occurring simultaneously. The viewer cannot escape a sense of claustrophobia and chaos. Later in the scene, Tarr trains his camera on the family's television, which is showing a news story about communism. There is irony between the ideological foundations necessary for communism and what we see occurring among just this one small group.
As the film progresses, Tarr treats us to many more ironies and juxtapositions, such as the overbearing father's distorted view of his sons versus their "true nature", a carnival versus addiction and sickness, and the futility of government housing policy versus the practical requirements for keeping a husband and wife together.
Some scenes--and especially the final two shots, last far longer than many viewers will be accustomed to, but through such unusual techniques, Tarr manages to "dig in" to emotional and dramatic spaces that could not otherwise be reached. Like much of his work, it suggests a reconceptualization of what cinema can do and how it can do it.
Cidade de Spice Girl Power
A rising feminist movement is a major theme of this Brazilian film about a hip-hop Spice Girls-style singing act trying to make it in the midst of the socio-economic problems of lower class Sao Paolo. That surprised me a bit, because I wouldn't have guessed that feminism was a new idea at this point in industrialized Brazil, but I guess I just do not know that much about Brazil.
At times, Antônia - O Filme seems like a spin-off, in a manner more typical of sitcom spinoffs minus the humor, of Cidade de Deus. It occurs in the same world, with the same kinds of problems, only this time from a young woman's perspective. The "spin-off" flavor is maybe explainable by the fact that some of Cidade de Deus' production team is behind Antônia - O Filme, too, and looking at the IMDb, I see that apparently there's a television show, "Antônia", based on these same characters and using these same actors.
Friendship is also a major theme, following these Brazilian Spice Girls--named The Antônias in the film--through serious roadblocks to philia as one by one, other things intrude on their lives and they have to quit the band.
From what I can discern, at least some of the Antônias have musical careers in real life, and they're certainly good singers. With the exception of an impromptu version of "Killing Me Softly with His Song", the music they perform in the film is somewhat vacuous to my tastes, and those scenes made me feel more like I was watching a film such as Stomp the Yard, but the grittier Cidade de Deus-flavored scenes were dominant and worthwhile if not completely novel.
Good, but far from perfect
First, let me say that I like this game--enough that I'll definitely buy a sequel to it, and I won't need to rent it to try it out first.
However, I'm a sucker for racing games. After Grand Theft Auto-type, large-world, free roam and mission games, racing games are definitely my favorite--I can't remember one I didn't enjoy. But if you're not as enamored with racing games, there are a number of flaws to note with Motorstorm:
* There are only seven tracks. You're going to play them over and over and over. There can be different paths to take within a track, and in theory, the different vehicles you have to use--as different as dirt bikes and big rigs--necessitate taking different paths, but in practice, you'll probably find that mastering a particular path on a particular track will allow you to win regardless of your vehicle, so at about the halfway point, gameplay becomes more "mechanical" as you keep going through the motions.
* To deal with the above problem and make the game a bit more challenging, three tactics are used, with all of them being less than satisfactory to annoying:
- The weather and time of day is varied. This is actually a nice feature; the problem is that it just isn't done enough.
- A regular feature of the game is that dust and mud appear on the "camera". For some races, they're harder because so much mud splashes on your camera that you're effectively blindfolded for a few moments.
- The AI racers become extremely annoying. They're designed just to make the game harder as it goes along. If you imagine their actions being real world behavior, it's more like you're racing against a cadre of institutionalized mental patients:
The AI will usually perform the same relative to you for each race. If you drive like a grandpa through a couple laps, it will too, and then as you drive like a bat out of hell, using boost all the time for the last lap, it will too.
You're going to wreck--and explode--your vehicle a lot. For most of the race, it's easy to regain your position. But on the last stretch of the last lap, that doesn't matter, and guess what? (See the following.)
No matter how well you're doing or how far ahead you think you are, on most races, AI racers will come out of nowhere on the last stretch of the last lap, overtaking you and/or wrecking you so you can't progress. You have to come in first on most races to keep unlocking more.
Motorstorm often seems more like smash-em-up derby than a race. AI cars can constantly explode all around you, but regardless of how much they do this, even if you drive through the track fast and clean, AI racers will be on your butt in certain sections, especially on the last stretch of the last lap.
With the AI so focused on smash-em-up derby, higher levels are primarily harder because the AI tries to knock your vehicle into rocks, off of cliffs, etc. It will do this as if its the AI "driver's" sole purpose--as if it couldn't care less if other vehicles are blowing past, and even if you almost come to a complete stop, the AI will match your speed just to knock you into a wall.
* The music becomes repetitive. Of course, with the amount of hours you'll put in to complete this game, that's probably inevitable, even with twenty-one songs, but at times, it seems like the same five songs keep playing over and over. On a game like this, we should be able to load our own music to listen to--shouldn't that be easy on the PS3?
* The load times can be agonizing. Like some others, this is the first game I've played on my PS3. When the first track for the first race was loading, I was worried that my PS3 crashed already. It didn't. That's just how the races load.
* There is no offline multiplayer mode. I don't care much about that feature, but many do. Multiplayer is online only.
So, are there no positives beyond this being a racing game? Of course there are:
* The graphics are beautiful. I don't know if this is going to be unusual for PS3 games, but in comparison, it has actually made normal DVDs on my big-screen HD television look less than stellar to me. If part of the goal was to get consumers to check out BluRay DVDs, the PS3 is doing its job.
* Even though there aren't enough tracks or enough variation on those tracks, those routes are extremely well done. They're a heck of a lot of fun to race on.
* The range of vehicles is great. There are a lot of choices, they look good, and they handle well, with some nice realistic touches.
* The smash-em-up derby approach can actually be fun. The graphics for the wrecks and explosions are fantastic--you'll find yourself wrecking just to watch it. BUT, one of two things should have been done to make this better: either have a smash-em-up derby contest that's a different mode--NOT a race, and/or award points during the races for wrecking other cars than your own. For example, if you cause five other cars to wreck during a race, you get a position bonus (if you need it) at the end, so that if you came in second during the race but caused five wrecks, you get boosted up to first instead (of course, this should apply to all racers), or if you came in third but caused ten wrecks, you get boosted to first, etc. Each time you get wrecked instead would subtract the bonus points from one of the wrecks you caused.
Boyle in the Sun
The more Danny Boyle films I see, the more he moves up my "worst directors" list. I didn't think Trainspotting was anything spectacular, I hated 28 Days Later, and I hated Sunshine. Of course, three films out of eight (not including his television work) isn't enough to put him at the top of the worst directors list, but it's enough to make me dread seeing any more of his films.
Sunshine seems like a low budget independent film. Most of it looks bad--the cinematography, most of the special effects, the stuff that we're supposed to think is in space and not models. The performances tend to come across as slightly above amateur. The dialogue is often ridiculous, insular and jargony. Boyle directs his cast (or lets them, at least) to act pretentiously serious and melodramatic. All of the above are actually problems with all of the Boyle films I've seen to date.
But the biggest problem is that Boyle simply does not know how to tell a story here. Too much is unexplained. Too much is just skipped. Too much is like a bad acid trip (with an emphasis on bad).
As sci-fi, Sunshine doesn't have much to do with real-world science. Now, as fiction, I don't think that it has to have much to do with real-world science. But if it's going to have fictional world science, it needs to give us some grounding on what the "rules" of the fictional world are. Otherwise we're just in the dark, and events are more or less random. Of course, you could take Sunshine as more of an impressionistic work commenting on things like science vs. religion or commenting on man's obsession with everything from sun worship to authority, control, collecting/hording, ideologies, etc., but the problem is that it's not very satisfactory on those more abstract levels, either, and it's also too loaded down with techie jargon and plot developments to work on that level.
Legend of the Mummy (1998)
What the hell?
Wow, this is a bad film. I think this may be the first flick with some passable production values (you can hear dialogue, they know how to do lighting, etc.) that I've scored a 1. Others have mentioned many of the problems, but some bear repeating as a forewarning:
* Every character seems to be in a separate story/different film. Maybe this was an experimental work wherein each actor was told to write their own Mummy story/script and act out (in whatever style of their choosing, no matter how incongruous) their self-penned part while others did the same.
* Despite the multitude of actor/writers, the film primarily works as a sleep aid. Not much happens. I was starting to wonder if this wasn't really a low-budget 1970s BBC attempt to make a "relatively" boring drama.
*Actors are sometimes attacked by nothing. Maybe they were told that effects shots would be added later. That didn't happen. So most of these scenes are amusingly ridiculous.
* The various scenes of the simultaneous separate stories seem to be edited by throwing a hundred randomly selected pieces of film in the air and putting them together however they landed.
* It's not clear how many mummies are supposed to be involved in the story. There seem to be a few different ones . . . you never get to see most of them very well though. It's a mystery who most of them are, where they came from, and what they're trying to do.
* Because there are twenty different sketchy stories occurring at the same time, the film makes less and less sense as it progresses. Like another viewer, I got to a point where I started looking for more interesting things to do--like brushing my teeth--without caring if I hit pause or not . . . the movie wasn't going to make sense no matter what I did. There's a strong "everything including the kitchen sink" approach evident. I primarily entertained myself from the halfway mark by making fun of the film and writing/reciting my own dialogue, MST3K-style. For example, when they decide they all need to go downstairs for some ceremony, I'd add, "Now, we all need to do the hokey pokey." It made just as much sense as the actual dialogue.
Can be worthwhile if you know what to expect and know your tastes
Captivity is strongly in the tradition of films like the Cube series, the Saw series and the Hostel series--so subtract at least one point if you care about "originality". It also strains plausibility/believability almost to the point of occasionally seeming very close to a spoof of those kinds of films, so you need to subtract at least one more point if you care about actual world verisimilitude. And of course, the comparisons should suggest that this is a torture film. It can get pretty graphic and brutal at that, so that will have some bearing on whether you enjoy Captivity or not.
I normally don't care about originality so much, but Captivity received a slight reduction from me on that end because it fairly transparently seems like a "cash in on the trend" film. Derivativeness when it is sincere inspiration, unwitting influence or sheer coincidence are fine with me. But here, it seems more like the producers said, "Hey, these films are hot right now; what can we do in the same vein, but a bit different, and that's also more extreme in some ways so we get kids talking about it like the latest thrill ride?" Of course, I could be wrong about those intentions, but I have to go by what it seems like to me.
I also normally don't care about plausibility so much, but I found myself somewhat lamenting that they didn't just go ahead and make the absurdist spoof film instead, as they're so often closer than a cigar. Surely the time is ripe for a spoof of the genre.
On the other hand, for what it is, Captivity does its job fairly well. Elisha Cuthbert is certainly pleasant to look at, which is smart, because she's on screen about 90 percent of the time. And although the ending may be a bit predictable once you get close to it--a door must be left open for sequels just in case the box office receipts are good, it also offers enough pleasantly twisted possibilities that I'm hoping a (probably low budget, direct-to-video) sequel is made despite the paltry financial showing Captivity actually had. So, as long as you do not expect an unprecedented work of genius, you like this genre, and you have a healthy taste for cheese and tackiness, Captivity is worth watching.
The Wind in the Willows (1996)
Slightly uneven but very enjoyable
It may take some adjusting to be able to appreciate this version of Wind in the Willows. Although now distributed by Disney on home video, the quick pacing and wild abandon of Disney's 1949 version, which was half of the film The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, is not to be found here. Neither will you find the over-the-top absurdism of "Monty Python's Flying Circus" (1969), despite the presence of four Pythoners, including The Wind in the Willows' screenwriter, director and star, Terry Jones.
On the other hand, wild abandon and Pythonesque absurdism are not completely absent, but this is usually a much more mild, subtle and deliberately-paced affair which more closely follows Kenneth Grahame's original book--except for the plot developments towards the end. Jones has made sure to retain much of the book's symbolism of ideas and phenomena such as class stratification, plus he adds some of his own with more fascistic weasels. But at the same time, he also manages to produce something family and kid-friendly.
Although filled with humor, The Wind in the Willows is rarely--and rarely tries to be--laugh-out-loud funny, even though it occasionally reaches the comedic heights of Python (for example, during the courtroom scene, which features a great cameo from John Cleese). But most of the Python crew have spent the majority of their careers in an attempt to avoid being pigeonholed in that particular style--while most Python fans have experienced years of at least slight frustration at the subsequent void. Jones strikes a nice balance here, and ends up producing a very enjoyable, slightly fantastic, slightly silly romp with its own dramatic sensibilities.
The Wizard of Oz (1991)
The (Cute) CliffsNotes Version
Too many people will probably dismiss this as a cheap knock-off, a quick cash-in. Heck, the production company is "American Film Investment Corporation", which only supports those notions. Who is going to say, "Hey, American Film Investment Corporation, I bet this is some great art"? AFIC was also known as "Golden Films", but the credits here announce AFIC in bold letters instead.
But it would be a mistake to dismiss this so easily. Because although this version of Wizard of Oz isn't some overlooked masterpiece, it's very well done for a budget, abbreviated, animated version of the story, which should provide enjoyment for huge fans of either The Wizard of Oz or animation in general.
The animation style is closest to traditional American Saturday morning cartoon fare. That might turn some people off, but it's the style of programs like Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! (1969), The Jetsons (1962) and The Flintstones (1960), and I absolutely love all of those (especially Scooby-Doo), partially because of the animation, even though that style was determined more because of budget restrictions than for any artistic reason.
A great job was done in finding voice actors who closely resemble the actors from the famous 1939 version of The Wizard of Oz. It may seem initially odd that this decision was made, but it wasn't a bad idea, as this AFIC version is obviously akin to a CliffsNotes rendition of the 1939 film--although it has some significant commonalities with the original book that will please purists.
While no one should substitute this for the 1939 film (and I don't think it's a good idea to do that with kids, either), I found myself far more enamored with it than I expected--you might too if you're not too much of a sourpuss.
Meet the Robinsons (2007)
Beautifully crazed, frantic and surreal with a good message
I've mentioned this many times, but first it's important to remember that I'm biased. I don't think there's an animated Disney film that I've given less than a 10 out of 10. Heck, I give a large percentage of their live action fare a 10 out of 10, and almost never give any of their films lower than a 7 out of 10. I don't do this just because they're Disney and I'm issuing a vote to keep me in an extended, fantastical childhood (I need no assistance in maintaining an element of that, thank you); I do it because I really enjoy their work that much.
It's easy to see how many people might not care for Meet the Robinsons. It has far more in common stylistically with recent Disney films like Chicken Little (2005) and Lilo & Stitch (2002) than it does with the "classic" Disney films (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), Cinderella (1950), etc.), or even their "second golden age" (The Lion King (1994), Beauty and the Beast (1991), etc.)--although it's worthwhile to note that some characteristics are not that far removed from Alice in Wonderland (1951) or even Pinocchio (1940), and you'll find things reminiscent of many other films--from Toy Story (1995) to Robots (2005) to Looney Tunes cartoons. It has an unusual, surrealistic flow, and it often seems like there's nowhere the animators won't go for a bit of weirdness.
But especially this latter fact is part of the charm to me. Meet the Robinsons may be adapted from the gorgeously drawn children's book, William Joyce's A Day with Wilbur Robinson (1993), but it seems just as inspired by Edward Lear's "Nonsense" books, which were some of my first favorites as a kid.
Visually, Meet the Robinsons is just as beautiful as Joyce's work. And beneath all the wonderfully frantic surrealism, which is loaded with quick, funny pop culture references, there's a great message here about creativity, experimentation, mindful experience and the necessity and acceptance of failure and rejection.
Children of the Condo
Children of the Corn (CotC) scripts may have never been literary masterpieces, but for some reason, CotC 6 and 7 have scripts that seem like very early drafts--or even as if they were only partially complete and the directors decided to just wing it for the rest of the film. It's a shame because both films otherwise had the potential to be quite good.
For CotC7, a relatively oblique path was chosen (probably to the chagrin of those predisposed to purism)--it's more or less a "haunted house" film. This was promising to me, as by the time you get around to the seventh entry in a series, a change of pace is refreshing, and haunted house (really, haunted anything) films are probably my favorite horror subgenre.
For the first 45 minutes or so, CotC7 was satisfying to me. In fact, for the first 10 or 15 minutes, it seemed reminiscent of the more recent 1408 (2007), which I loved. It had a good setting, a good premise, good atmosphere, creepy scenes, a bit of eye candy, and even a bit of odd humor.
But right about the halfway mark, it starts to unravel. Mysterious characters (many supernatural) are never explained, and they keep growing in number. A couple scenes featured supernatural characters that don't cohere with the rest of the film--for example, one has a zombie or adult burn victim. The film starts getting choppy, and it begins to feel more like a series of pointless and disconnected "scary" set-pieces.
Worse, there was a stable of interesting human characters who were never explored enough--we're just teased with them and then they're usually quickly dispatched with relatively generic horror film deaths. And the crux of the story--Jamie's (Claudette Mink) missing grandmother--remains murky through the end. The biggest tragedy is that the ball was dropped. With just a bit more work on the script--another two or three drafts, maybe--this could have been one of the better entries of this uneven series.