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|7 reviews in total|
This film remains one of the gems of Yugoslav cinema and one of the
most under-appreciated. It is a strange mix of horror and comedy,
hilarious, bizarre, unsettling and not for everyone's tastes.
The plot kicks off with the narrator explaining that Belgrade cannot yet claim to be a world metropolis. It is, as the calm female voice informs us, missing a vital ingredient: a master criminal! Petty hoodlums aside, Belgrade is about to get the king of criminals: a Strangler (and as the title suggests, not one but two).
The strangler is the overweight, middle-aged Pera Mitic (Tasko Nacic), still living with his mother and earning a meagre living by selling carnations. Tragically, at the time our story is set, carnations are out of fashion and Pera's flowers are often refused by women, sometimes rudely. To get his revenge, Pera begins strangling beautiful women - especially the ones with a dislike for carnations. The futile investigations of the Belgrade police force are led by the competent (but mentally fragile) inspector Ognjen Strahinjic (Nikola Simic). His prime suspect is a dissatisfied youth named Spiridon Kopicl (Srdjan Saper), whose rock band rides the controversy by releasing the hit single 'Come here baby, so I could strangle you'.
As the above paragraph suggests, the plot is utterly ridiculous. However, the movie (and especially the earnest voice-over) is played absolutely straight, giving this film a touch of comedy genius. Moreover, as the increasingly bizarre events unfold, the film takes on a distinctly unsettling path, with the conclusion being almost out and out horror. The laughs are still there, but they take on a slightly nervous quality.
Most of the actors are at the top of their game. Tasko Nacic is funny and at the same time disturbing as the monster-man-child, talking to his customers, his mother and his victims in the same plaintive, whiny voice. Srdjan Saper is not as effective, but adequate as the deeply confused, talented but quite stupid young man. Nikola Simic is absolutely hilarious as the put-upon inspector, growing increasingly more manic and unhinged during the course of the film, often acting far crazier than the supposed madmen he is supposed to be pursuing. Arguably, the standout is Rahela Ferari, who, as Pera's mother, essentially offers a glimpse at what Mrs. Bates might have been like in her livelier days.
This is also one of the only films I have ever seen where a voice-over narration is used effectively. Delivered in a deadly earnest, reporter style voice, the narration manages to add to the overall mood and also provides some of the funniest moments, including the excellent conclusion.
It is difficult to know who to recommend this film to, as I can think of nothing I can compare it with. Maybe if the Monty Python guys decided to remake Psycho the results might have been similar. Or maybe it was a product of its time and place and we will never see anything like it again. Watch it and find out.
The latest incarnation of the Mike Mignola's once underground, now
seemingly omnipresent and unstoppable, comic book masterpiece,
'Hellboy', now comes into the world of animation. The first of the
several planned animated films, 'The Sword of Storms' takes Hellboy and
drops him in a fantasy world of Japanese folklore.
The voice acting is excellent. Ron Perlman has now become the de facto voice of Hellboy, and if this ever becomes an animated series, his presence will be crucial for its success. More surprisingly, considering her usually rather flat and whiny voice, Selma Blair delivers a finely nuanced performance. The best of all however, is Doug Jones. Seemingly perennially cursed by his background as a mime, the man has been seen in several great films in recent years but never heard. He has a pleasant, deep-ish voice, which entirely suits Abe Sapien. David Hyde Pierce acquitted himself well in Hellboy but will not be missed in the sequel. Hopefully Mr Jones' fine performance here will encourage studio execs to leave him be as the voice of the Silver Surfer.
The character designs are deliberately different from Mignola's and in my opinion, that is a smart decision. Hellboy himself remains relatively faithful to the original concept, but shown in a more stylised form, reminiscent of Bruce Timm's drawings. For the most part, this works, apart from an occasional slip where Hellboy's face takes on an exaggerated facial expression, lapsing into caricature. Abe Sapien, Liz Sherman and a few of the supporting characters are more radically redesigned and remind of the current pseudo-manga style of 'The Batman' or 'Jackie Chan Adventures'. Personally, I am not a great fan of this particular approach, but I acknowledge it is popular and in context, effective. Mike Mignola's original drawing style is not completely ignored and is most clearly evoked in the design of Hellboy's various skeletal and monstrous opponents. There are also some attempts to emulate the comic's use of shadows (most notably in the "Heads" sequence).
There are however, some problems. The animation itself is very hit and miss, and apart from the already mentioned weird facial expressions, there are occasional strange and unnatural movements from the characters. Some scenes feature noticeably poorer animation quality than the overall film. They appear jerky and cheap and look as though they were completed in a rush.
The plot itself is not overly engaging. Although a story about cursed ancient lovers shows promise, it is severely underdeveloped, in favour of some nonsense about Thunder Gods and Dragons. The majority of the actual film shows Hellboy wandering around Wonderland (or something), fighting assorted monsters. Some of these action sequences are great fun but it all gets repetitive so that the overall effect is episodic and only occasionally compelling (I'm going to mention "Heads" again here that segment is excellent). The other half of the film deals with Abe and Liz, but they are not given much to do, and their action sequences are nowhere near as interesting as Hellboy's. There is some attempt to deal with Liz's distrust of her powers but it largely falls flat, especially compared to the comics and film. However, the fact that there is some characterisation at all, as well as the presence of some rather mature themes and some unflinching violence mark this as more than just a kids-only film. Hopefully, the creators are just hitting their stride, and some of the wrinkles will be ironed out by the next instalment.
I have found that many of my friends seem incapable of enjoying magic tricks. They have an overwhelming desire to guess how the trick is performed if they succeed, the trick is essentially ruined as no element of mystery remains. If they should however fail, they feel frustrated and cheated. It seems that the only way to truly enjoy magicians is if you let them fool you. In the last fifteen years a genre of films closely following the pattern of the best magic tricks has begun to emerge films that incorporate a shocking "twist" ending which often change the nature of everything that had gone on before. Arguably the best (and one of the first) was the excellent "Usual Suspects". The film's twist was largely unexpected (not just the nature of the surprise ending but also the fact that it even exists) and as consequence was an immense popular and critical success. After that, many films have taken up the strategy, with varying degrees of success. The trap that many of them fall into is that the twist ending overshadows everything else in the film. If the audiences know that a twist ending is coming they might overlook the film itself in trying to guess the ending. M. Night Shyamalan's "Unbreakable" suffered from the disease. Despite being possibly the most intelligent dissection of superheroes ever committed to film, a disproportional amount of attention and criticism were directed against the relatively weak surprise in the end, largely due to unreasonable expectation of following up or even outdoing "The Sixth Sense".
At least in one part of the reviews and responses, a similar response is shaping up for "The Prestige". This is deeply unjust. The film's point above all else is the characterisation of two obsessive characters: Angier and Borden, and that is accomplished brilliantly. And the ending might not that be that bad either.
As others have stated the film revolves around the conflict of two magicians of the XIX century, which starts after the death of Angier's (Hugh Jackman) wife for which Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) is partially responsible. From then on, the two engage in an escalating and destructive game, which largely revolves around the "Transported Man"- a trick they both perform. This cat and mouse game leads to some extraordinarily tense scenes that Christopher Nolan directs to perfection. Because the film relies heavily on trickery and misdirection, we are never clear where the events will take us. Furthermore, since there are no clearly defined heroes and villains, the expectations of each character's fate are further confounded.
The cast is phenomenal. First and foremost, Christian Bale gives an acting masterclass. His Alfred Borden is a deeply obsessed, cold and conflicted personality etched with remarkable clarity by Bale, especially considering the relatively constricting screenplay. His character is not inherently sympathetic but Bale is able to infuse it with enough charisma that he threatens to completely take over the viewers' sympathies. His scenes with Rebecca Hall (who plays Borden's wife) are especially effective Bale is equally believable as a loving husband and a man too obsessed with his magic to care for his wife.
Hugh Jackman does almost equally as well (although he can't quite match Bale's powerhouse performance). He has a more interesting role and a better-developed character arc. Angier starts off as a relatively positive figure, a light-hearted showman and a more obvious protagonist than the brooding Borden. The main plot of the film shows his growing obsession with Borden and his more increasing disregard for anything or anyone else. By the time the film pulls into the final third, his character has undergone a deep transformation into a much more sinister and unpleasant figure an almost out and out villain. Jackman more or less pulls it off and only seems out of his depth in a few scenes opposite Michael Caine where he, and anyone else, are reduced to scenery as Caine gives a deeply human and above all effortless performance.
The most curious of all however, is David Bowie. How he chooses to portray Nikola Tesla is inspired, fiercely original and unexpected. His Tesla functions perfectly in the context of the plot Bowie giving him just the right tone so that the Tesla of the film can be reconciled with the Tesla of reality. In addition, Bowie's performance is sufficiently layered to leave an open door for a more satisfying interpretation of the "surprise" ending.
The film, by the time it ends, gives an explanation of how both versions of "The Transported man" are performed. Borden's version is the film's central mystery and some viewers may feel cheated because the solution is relatively easy to guess (personally I was completely fooled up until the very end and as consequence was tremendously entertained).
Angier's version is also clearly explained and represents the films biggest weakness. The explanation offered is a major disappointment and it mars the tone of the film significantly. However, at second glance, there is another interpretation that the film seems curiously unwilling to completely deny. Apart from a single shot, which gives credence to the "official" explanation, the film chooses to be ambiguous. Every other scene that takes us behind the scenes of Angier's trick is either deliberately unclear or depicted in flashback. Considering how obsessive the Nolan brothers are about tying up loose ends, it is difficult to believe that the "alternative" explanation is accidental. As the film itself puts it: "Once you explain the trick, you are nothing." Is it possible they deliberately left it unexplained? After all, that's what a prestige is for.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It starts off relatively well - Claire and Norman have a seemingly ideal
marriage but then one day Strange Things begin to happen... And that's where
the first problem is. Strange Things indeed do happen - a LOT. Here are a
few (I probably missed out a couple): fans stop working, doors open by
themselves, pictures fall, computer turns itself on and sets solitaire high
scores (!), a dog will not go onto the pier (complete with the famous
`what's the matter, boy?' line from 1000s of horror films where dogs
generally have about three times the IQ of anyone else), a neighbour
probably murders his wife, bloodstains, bathtubs that fill by themselves and
last but not least an enormous number of creaky doors. Oh and did I mention
that Claire and Norman live in an isolated house (well, there is a couple
next door but they kinda disappear in the second half of the movie) very
close to a deep lake? Now don't get me wrong, I LIKE this kind of thing,
especially the Strange Things & Ominous Signs but you really CAN have too
much of a good thing. Take for instance the front door - it opens by itself
so often that in one scene Claire seems reluctant to use the keys and just
waits for some nice little poltergeist to open it for her. Oh and by the way
the doors are all amazingly creaky except the one that opens spontaneously -
I guess the ghost keeps that one oiled so it can open it silently while
no-one is looking.
Right. All of this happens ONLY when Claire is alone - preferably at night and if at all possible during a thunderstorm. She's often alone in the house because Norman is a geneticist, you see, and has to work in the lab a lot (the film takes great care to inform us that, apart from genetics, the lab also works on tranquillisers for mice - AND OTHER MAMMALS. No prizes for guessing on what other mammals it will be used in this film).
But the story really does not matter much in a horror film. What matters is the atmosphere. Is this film scary? Well... yes and no. There a lot of BAH! moments (when something suddenly appears on screen followed by a loud noise) and I do mean a lot - almost in every scene (the film actually opens with one)! That unfortunately is the problem - because these are so frequent we more or less get used to them and they lose their effect. So the first hour and a half are definitely NOT scary - they contain many Ominous Signs, many sudden loud noises, many, many plot holes and one very funny visual gag. But then, when the identity of the real murderer is revealed (in the unlikely case there is anybody in the audience who hasn't got it yet) things start to get better. What follows is the second scariest bathroom scene of all time, and one of the very few film moments that scared me so much I actually jumped out of my seat.
Magnolia takes three hours to describe some very unpleasant things that
happening to people which are either unpleasant or pathetic or both. This
does not make for a very entertaining three hours. The film starts off
with a prologue that shows several cases of unusual deaths that feature
incredible coincidences. After that the film introduces about a dozen
characters (probably more) and we follow their lives throughout that day.
The characters are grouped into about four seemingly unrelated stories. So
far so good. What I was hoping for after this is that all the characters
their stories will somehow come together at the end of the film perhaps
through some incredible coincidence - like those that were presented in
prologue. But, it seems that this is where my expectations of the film
too high. The stories do turn out to be connected although VERY loosely
through a set of most UNremarkable coincidences. Basically it feels like 3
or 4 scripts for short films artificially pasted together. It is true that
certain stories mirror one another showing similar fates with different
outcomes, therefore contrasting one another - but on the whole all of this
is quite unremarkable. The style of the film here resembles some of Robert
Altman's work only without the elegance and without the humour.
But the movie, just before the end, comes up with one stroke of originality. The EVENT happens. It is something quite unexpected and in sharp contrast with the realism of earlier events. The sequence showing the EVENT is powerful and visually and audibly compelling. But (and this is a big but) it is completely unrelated to everything that's been happening in the film and on the whole has very, very little effect on the fates of the characters in the movie (the EVENT kills one character but he had been dying anyway).
But the film's biggest problem is that it is about people that would get on your nerves terribly if you met them in real life. Most of them are b*****ds and those that are not are so pathetic you couldn't talk to them for five minutes without screaming. There are only two sympathetic characters in the film - the cop and the nurse. The moral of the film seems to be about forgiving and understanding - but by the time we get to that we had to sit through three hours of moaning and unpleasantness.
However, to end on a good note, the characters (annoying though they may be) are quite convincingly portrayed by an excellent ensemble cast. Most of them are well established character actors who give fine performances seemingly effortlessly. The standout, somewhat surprisingly, is Cruise who gives by far and away his best performance to date as a self-centred, misogynous seduction instructor. Also excellent are Julianne Moore and Phillip Seymour Hoffman - whom I hope we will see more of in the future.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
An excellent courtroom drama with a unique twist. Instead of following the
trial itself, the viewer has a unique chance to observe the events behind
the closed doors of a jury room. The film begins with the end of the trial.
The jurors retire to deliberate the case. A preliminary vote is taken and
the result is 11:1 in favour of the guilty verdict. Eleven jurors have
raised their hands to convict a young man of killing his father. Only Juror
#8 has doubts. At first even he does not truly believe the young man to be
innocent but notes (rightfully) that the case for the defence might have
been presented in a more convincing manner and that the boy might be given
the benefit of a doubt. Since the boy is to be executed if found guilty his
life is now in the hands of the jury and juror #8 reasons that the least
they could do is talk about the case a bit. As time goes on some of the
jurors change their minds and find that there is perhaps enough reasonable
doubt not to convict the young man after all. But not everyone is easy to
Although the plot of the film is excellent and it is fascinating to see what little things can influence which way a verdict goes, where this film really succeeds is in presenting the characters of the 12 jurors. The character of each of the jurors emerges through a wonderful mix of perfect casting, excellent dialogue and near-flawless acting.
Juror #1 - a simple man who clearly does not understand the full complexity of the task that lies before him but is trying to do everything not to let anyone else find this out. He appears at ease only once during the film - when he talks about football. He has the misfortune to be selected foreman of the jury - a task he clearly does not relish.
Juror #2 - a small, quite man, clearly unaccustomed to giving his own opinion much less to expecting his views to be of any importance. Apparently he finds solace in his job - he is an accountant.
Juror #3 - probably the most complex personality in the film. Starts off like a pleasant self-made successful businessman, he analyses the case impartially, explains his arguments well and is reasonably self assured. As time goes on he becomes more and more passionate and seems to be somehow personally involved with the case. He also starts to show some signs of slight mental instability. Wonderfully played by Lee J. Cobb - this is the character you remember after the film is over.
Juror #4 - self assured, slightly arrogant stockbroker. Obviously considers himself more intelligent than anyone else in the room, he approaches the case with cool heartless logic but (as one of the jurors says - "this is not an exact science") he does not take into account the feelings, the passions, the characters of the people involved in the case. He is conspicuous by the fact that he is the only juror that does not take his jacket off (it is a very hot day).
Juror #5 - here is a man under great emotional stress. He comes from the same social background as the accused boy - with who he almost unwillingly seems to identify with. Paradoxically this appears one of the main reasons for him voting guilty - he does not want compassion to influence him - so ironically it does.
Juror #6 - a simple man, quite readily admitting that everyone in the room is better qualified than he is to make decisions and offer explanations. But he really wants to see justice done and it worries him that he might make a mistake.
Juror #7 - the only one that really has no opinion on this case. Literally throughout the film his thoughts are never on the case - he talks of baseball, of the heat, of fixing the fan but the only reason he has for voting this way or that is to speed things up a bit so he might be out of the jury room as soon as possible. Not an evil man he just has no sense of morality whatsoever - he can tell right from wrong but does not seem to think it's worth the bother.
Juror #8- a caring man, has put more thought into the case than any of the other jurors. He tries to do his best even in the face of seemingly impossible odds.
Juror #9 - a wise old man with his great life experience has quite a unique way of looking at the case.
Juror #10 - the most horrifying character in the film. Votes guilty and does not even try to hide the fact that he does so only because of the boy's social background. The tragedy comes from the fact that his own social position is only a cut above the boy's - which makes him all the more eager to accentuate the difference.
Juror #11 - an immigrant watchmaker, careful methodical man, well mannered and soft spoken. respects the right of people to have different opinion to his - and is willing to look at both sides of the problem. Loses his temper only once - horrified by the complete indifference of juror #7.
Juror #12 - a young business type - perhaps he has his own opinions - but is careful to hide them. What he has learnt out of life seems to be that intelligence is equal with agreeing with what the majority of people think.
The film succeeds in doing something very rare today - developing an intelligent plot while also developing 12 believable, memorable and distinct characters.
Because of that gimmick with Curtis, Mitchum, Sinatra and Lancaster people
seem to regard this film as a sort of spot-the-star contest. But it is
more than that. Excellent acting (especially Douglas in what must be his
best role since Paths of Glory), superb music (Jerry Goldsmith) and
brilliant direction of John Huston more than make up for occasional lapses
in the story.
The story is quite simple, but the less said the better. The 'list' in question is a list of 10 names of people from all over the UK, who seem to have nothing in common except...well just see the movie.
And spotting the stars is quite fun too.