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|26 reviews in total|
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Many Czechs love this movie, and by the comments on this site, I can
see that even some Americans do. I can't see why, though. To begin
with, "Román pro eny" is simply not funny. I can't think of one moment
which would even amuse me. Instead, I felt like groaning every time
there was any attempt at humor. Why was this ? Maybe because there is
no real timing. Maybe because the comic situations are presented in
such a smug and happy-go-lucky way that it's more like non-ridiculous
people deciding to force themselves to act ridiculous than a naturally
funny comedy. Maybe it's also because the actors are average dramatic
actors rather than comedians. Or most likely it's because the movie
derives much of its humor from people acting weird, like the mother
being an enthusiastic participant in the rituals of foreign cultures
because she dislikes her own people, the heroine's best friend
pretending to be like Uma Thurman in "Kill Bill" or the brain-damaged
grandmother constantly repeating the same question over and over again.
In the hands of a better director or screen writer, such situations
could be at least slightly funny. However, here, they just seem like
boring non-weird people's unimaginative idea of weirdness.
The movie does not work too well as a love story either. The scenes which are meant to be touching didn't touch me at all. This is probably because the characters are simply not likable. For example, Zuzana Kanocz's character is a young woman who takes everything with a light, whimsical attitude and does not seem to feel anything too deeply, except for when she is dumped (but not when she is the one doing the dumping), and Marek Vasut's character is an inherently unpleasant jerk who lacks the warmth or charisma (or even niceness)to be a good romantic lead. But then, if these two characters are both intended to be good looking, almost amoral and mostly unemotional, they are perfect for each other. There is also the problem of the movie being kitsch in the sense that the plot twists are at least moving as ideas (eg. the closing subway-related sequence) but their execution in the movie is clumsy and not moving at all. The pairing up of two minor, mildly unattractive characters at the end is not only equally ineffective but something that any intelligent viewer could predict. And let's not even go into Kanocz's more minor boyfriends. Those are strictly in the "let's make a character out of one or two qualities" mode. The sequence with the sky diver is particularly bad, as it feels just like a chewing gum commercial.
So why do people like this movie ? Probably because they identify with the characters, which is pretty scary.
I don´t understand how people can consider "The Hunt for Red October" to be a good movie. To be sure, Sean Connery is quite charismatic and likable as probably the least reptilian Russian communist to ever be portrayed in an American film and his talks about plans for living in the U.S. with another crew member are fun. And, the character of the classical music loving sonar/radar/whatnot specialist is at least superficially interesting. And of course, who wouldn´t like to look at melodramatic shots of huge, whale like submarines, relive some Cold War nostalgia, or hear some beautiful Russian classical music in the background ? People who consider explosions, gunshots and the suspense of waiting for them to be exciting in any form will also get a couple of brief scenes of that sort. Otherwise, though, this movie is extremely hard to follow. This is mainly because technojargon dialogue comes at the viewer so fast that he doesn´t even have time to think about what it means, because major plot twists seem to come out of nowhere rather than receive sufficient build up , giving the movie a fragmented feel that still doesn´t achieve the fast pace it aims for and also because when the characters constantly lie to each other, it is hard to tell what exactly is true at the point when it is most relevant. Amid this mess of so-called "intrigue" , there is then very little room for characterization. Most of the characters, including possible villains, just do their jobs with a straight face as if they were automatons and the viewer never receives any reason to care about what happens to them. Alec Baldwin´s character is especially wooden. He just seems to be a coldly analytical scientist type who knows all the answers which various government organizations don´t - and we never even quite know how he came to this knowledge. He just seems to know everything simply by being created according to every government agent cliche in the book . And the movie´s highly regarded suspense ? That just comes from the Russians and Americans not knowing what to expect from each other and that the conflict between them may lead to a military attack on the U.S. Granted, this keeps the movie watchable but again , if we don´t care about any of the characters in the movie , we don´t really care about their conflicts either. Furthermore, the movie is so devoid of eccentricity, weirdness or humor (attempts at which fall painfully flat) that it´s strictly left brain territory and just like any other mostly uninventive spy movie.
I recently rented "Canterbury Tales" because I started reading the Chaucer book and also because I liked Pasolini´s final film "Salo". However, I was very much disappointed with the results. To be sure, the film begins strongly as the first tale presented (about a young woman cheating on her elderly, temporarily blind husband) has an enjoyable sense of playfulness and brilliant camera work (especially the ambiguous, naturalistic shots of sloppy facial expressions, which are usually always a strong point for Pasolini). Even the 2 tales that followed had their merits. The story of the tax collectors played like an interesting poetic riddle and the tale of the Charlie Chaplin style "reveler" was fun in how it combined Chaplinesque innocence with things like gambling and group sex. However, after this, my appreciation of the film soon went down as the stories that followed lacked virtually anything that could be called likable. It was mostly just wooden, superficial characters hysterically shouting at each other so cartoonishly that even a seven year old would complain about bad acting while watching it and lots of cheap bodily function jokes that were done better hundreds of times elsewhere. And it also has plenty of completely unerotic sex scenes that belong in 70s Italian gross out soft porn rather than in any movie that´s meant to be taken seriously. And the infamous hell scene at the end feels like bad children´s television (e.g. "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians") with its cheap looking paper costumes and sloppy claymation. While scholars or people who lived in Italy during the 60s and 70s could probably spot intellectual criticisms of society´s hypocrisy in the movie, they really do not save it much - especially not from completely butchering the intelligence, humanity and depth of Chaucer´s original work. In any case, "Canterbury Tales" shows that no matter how artistic you make your visuals, if your movie lacks plot and characterization, they will be badly missed.
After first reading about "Salo" on the internet, I thought that it would be like my worst nightmare coming to life on film with innocent teenagers being defenseless against the worst tortures imaginable. Plotwise, that is obviously still the case but what keeps the film watchable is that most of the film is presented from the point of view of the Nazi torturers while the teenage victims are left undercharacterized. The Nazis, though all behaving similarly and hence being somewhat undercharacterized themselves, may very well rank as some of filmdom´s greatest villains simply due to their arrogance, which is pushed to extremely absurd limits. Indeed, most of what they do is relax in the highest state of luxury with no worry as to what will happen next while casually discussing various philosophies and cracking dirty jokes. However, when they feel the hankering to enjoy the luxury of having innocent victims completely at their mercy, they just go off to see their teenage prisoners and in a state of complete calm, regardless of the victims´ hysterical protests, force them to do whatever they want them to do just by being firm, which is usually some kind of sexual activity or feces eating (an activity the Nazis themselves surprisingly enjoy, taking the traditional metaphor of evil being connected with feces to its most literal level) . All this is actually quite funny because what is happening is so weird that it seems almost cartoonish. The horror increases a bit at the end as extreme acts of violence like the burning of and cutting off of limbs are finally more blatantly forced on the teenagers than any of the previous orders. But by this point, the viewer is so lost in "Salo"´s hallucinatory atmosphere that such acts do not even hit him or her as much as they are supposed to. One might even find his or her feelings of sadism being disturbingly appealed to. The teenage victims, who in an American movie would most likely utilize plenty of pathos and fire in their protests and probably even defeat the Nazis at the end through a "prison riot", are here rather resigned to their fate , only rebelling against them through a couple of smartmouthed remarks and secretly disobeying their orders, constantly just hoping that some stroke of fate will save them if they just play along. Though some lose their lives rather than stay prisoners any longer and although one girl keeps crying to another girl that she "just can´t take it anymore", the basic attitude is so submissive that the victims don´t even complain much but just look tired, confused and submissive. The most obvious metaphor then is that if one does not rebel against fascism or dictatorships, they will keep wronging and injuring him or her with increasing severity. In such a scenario, dying on one´s feet is better than living on one´s knees. However, if you are a ruler in such a system , you will probably have a superficially grand old time at the cost of renouncing your humanity and most of the things it should naturally abhor. Otherwise, with its grossout soft porn and lack of strong plot, "Salo" is hardly a great movie but the above features definitely make it unique, fascinating and thought provoking.
After seeing "Leaving Las Vegas" for the second time, I truly have mixed
feelings about it. Initially, I thought that Cage never acted convincingly
drunk in it and that if he really drank that much, he´d be dead in the
film´ first 20 minutes most likely from inevitably crashing his car due to
drinking extremely large amounts of vodka in it. However, later I learned
that the most extreme alcoholics develop such a high immunity to alcohol´s
effects that alcohol makes them act relatively normal more than anything
else. When under the influence then, Cage´s character acts calm but also
unfocused, silly , crazy, and irresponsible. When he has too little alcohol
in him, he gets worse shakes than anyone kicking a harder drug. Whether all
this is accurate, I really don´t know now. His relationship with the
Elisabeth Shue character can be touching at times, especially in the scene
when she lets him stay in her apartment and he gets a truly grateful smile
on his face as a result. However, the movie would have actually benefitted
from an extra hour or at least more touching moments because the
relationship is presented as too quick and choppy for the viewer to fully
sense it´s importance (even though the Shue character says how important it
is to her at least three times to hammer this point home). However, the
most striking thing about the relationship is that we get the sense that the
two characters could really change their dead end lives around if they made
the effort, even though the process would be very hard. However, as things
rarely change for the better unless we actively want them to, we witness
these two characters helplessly watch their lives fall apart because their
attitude towards their lives is one of surrender.
I also have similarly mixed feelings about the film´s overall style and atmosphere. On one hand, presentations of seedy urban blight can be artistically pleasing. Las Vegas is presented as sublimely in its bleakness as for example, the cities in "Taxi Driver" and "Heavy Traffic". However, "Leaving Las Vegas" is obviously specifically calculated to shock the viewer. Seriously, is it really necessary to watch Shue take a number one or to hear her describe deviant sexual practices to know that the characters live rough ? Also, is pessimism really realistic or do tragedies resonate more in a world that is neither good nor bad ? It actually seems the "LLV" loses much of its shock value by saying that whatever bad or sickening things happen, it is normal to expect them. Still, who´s to say that such a view is 100 % wrong ? This movie is definitely food for thought.
"The Elephant Man", rather than being all around great, is actually a mixture of good and bad. The good is that , well, first of all, the cinematography is nothing less than amazing, feeling like a series of cutting edge paintings. For example, all the dark passage ways utilized really do seem scary and mysterious, the extended shot of the pipework is art at its finest, and the dream sequences are some of the most disturbing ever committed to film. Otherwise, the film has all around excellent acting (Hopkins as Dr. Treves is especially memorable, presenting the character as a gentle but realistic hero with self conscious doubts about his own virtues) and no punches are pulled in presenting the deformed main character being abused or making others feel uneasy. Indeed, in most of the scenes where Merrick tries to interact with people in a normal way, you can just sense how awkward the "normal" characters feel in spite of trying to act like his deformity does not matter. And when he gets bullied, he REALLY gets bullied (you´ll probably cheer when Dr. Treves gives the abusive hospital worker a serious a-kicking in return). Otherwise, though, the problem with the movie is that Merrick is not really a well fleshed out character (no pun intended). The basic recipe for him is "take a deformed person and make him stereotypically innocent and slightly socially retarded to show how isolated he was". John Hurt conveys this quality well under a heavy makeup job but that´s pretty much the beginning and end of the character. Also, David Lynch, being David Lynch, usually focuses on getting the most violent shock value, absurdity, surrealist weirdness, or odd awkwardness out of most scenes. Plus, 1940s style melodrama and "Eraserhead" style surrealism, as good as they are on their own terms, are uncomfortably combined here. Hence, it sometimes even feels as if Lynch is making fun of the screenplay. All in all, though, it´s worth a look if you want to see something different.
There are things you can hold against "Moscow on the Hudson". It is quiet and episodic rather than exciting in any way. Vladimir, the Russian main character is completely different from any Russian I ever actually met (although it can work since all individuals are different). Convinced Marxists will hate its all too truthful criticism of communism. The 2 sex scenes break up the movie´s otherwise family friendly tone. However, in spite of these details, which can be both pluses and minuses depending on one´s point of view, "Moscow on the Hudson" is a great movie - possibly even the best movie ever made about the immigrant experience. ( I should know because I was an immigrant to the U.S. myself.) It is perhaps even mislabled as a comedy since its dramatic aspects outweigh its comedic ones. Its essential point seems to be that if you have a positive attitude, you can actually connect with the strange people in a strange land. However, its other major point is that no matter how well you adapt, the home where your roots are is still your home and you will miss it no matter how awful life there was. And if you are like Vladimir, you will also have to deal with an unstable mix of odd jobs, friends who never stay in one place too long, your new country´s street scum, arrogant morons from your motherland, and a significant other who will not fully commit to you. However, Vladimir realizes that this is not too high a price to pay for freedom to speak your mind, travel, and really shop around at Bloomingdale´s. He also winds up appreciating America´s wealth of many different cultures and ethnic backgrounds, although the makers of this film were good enough to not bang the viewer over the head with this point. Rather, they present it as irreverently and matter of factly as Jim Jarmusch does in his best work. This all amounts to a movie that is very human (or humane) in a gentle way and rather realistic in its depiction of the less extreme varieties of human nature. Its low key approach is much better for expressing its points than the loads of melodrama which these kinds of movies usually have. The jazz music soundtrack is great too. Basically, if you´re sick of movies which are overblown and commercial, then you will especially appreciate this little gem.
I saw "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" when I was still in my early teens and didn´t like it much then. I thought it was like an action movie but without the comforting elements usually associated with action movies like moral clarity and extremely spectacular fight scenes. However, recently, I saw it again on video and liked it for this exact same reason and more. The movie begins with a credit sequence of gun shots, grainy photos from the movie, and great music by Ennio Morricone that already tells you to expect a trip that´s exciting and fun. Then it rushes straight into a set of fight scenes which introduce the three main characters very dramatically (complete with titles to let you know which adjective in the title each character represents). Each of these characters is a morally flawed person who makes a living off of death. The "Bad" Angel Eyes makes his living as a soldier and a mercenary. The "Good" Blondie makes his living by making a travesty of hangings by always freeing the convicted men he turns in for reward money just before the rope should kill them. His "goodness" is only relative. The "Ugly" Tuco basically makes his living any way he can and his list of crimes is absurdly varied (ranging from all kinds of violence to statutory rape). He is a true opportunist without overriding morals but not entirely without a conscience. Played by Eli Wallach, Tuco actually steals the show from his 2 more famous costars because while they are almost superhuman in their skills, he is strikingly human in all his flaws. All three of these men, on individual terms, eventually come to know of a fortune buried in a graveyard and constantly keep fighting each other for knowledge of its exact location since each man only knows a different hint of where it is hidden and not the whole story. While such a plot does not seem too great, Sergio Leone choreographs every scene (violent or otherwise)to make it as suspenseful and expertly made as possible. The film also gets a lot of its entertainment value from Tarantinoishly holding nothing sacred. The three heroes scheme against other characters with a joyfully effortless malevolence, and not even the American Civil War is held sacred as the men try to manipulate the "senseless" conflict full of hopelessly drunken soldiers to make their quest for the treasure easier. The result of all this is that although "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" is more than 3 hours long, there is never a dull moment, making it seem about an hour or so shorter than it actually is. What´s most important, though, is that it is a thinking person´s action movie which unpretentiously demonstrates the absurdity of real life and helps us to laugh at it. If there is such a thing as a perfect western, this is the one. 10 stars out of 10 !
The problem with all of Spike Lee´s movies is that he never seems sure whether he is making a comedy or a drama. The common pattern is that you feel as if you are watching a profane sitcom only to have the illusion shattered by some scene shocking brutality. "Bamboozled" is no exception to this pattern. In fact, the rift between comedy and drama is so great here that it feels like a comedy that was literally made in hell. This time, the laughs are derived from pop culture references and stupid offensive black stereotypes. The plot concerns a TV exec (Damon Wayans) who develops an "Amos and Andy" style TV comedy show as an attempt to spite his arrogant jerk of a boss (the reliably annoying Michael Rappaport) only to have it turn it to a hit and most of the jokes, as can be expected, come from this show within the show. On a superficial level, the jokes are funny but the sheer dehumanization they represent is not. Therefore, they pretty much amount to something like laughing at mentally retarded people who do not know how to act properly. There is also a pretty funny comedy club scene in which the exec´s father performs a comedy routine in the style of "Def Comedy Jam". Unfortunately, those are the only funny parts of the whole movie . While Wayans´ "Uncle Tom" style character is probably intended to elicit laughs, he is so exaggerated and badly played by Wayans that he plays like nothing but Steve Urkel from "Family Matters" all grown up and utterly pathetic. Rappaport´s character is somewhat more convincing but all in all, he is nothing but a flat cliche of a dunderheaded white guy. As a comedy, then, the movie is nothing much. As a drama, it disturbingly evokes the dehumanization of dumb cheerful blackface stereotypes which black people were forced to conform to in the first half of the 20th century. However, this is evoked more by authentic blackface footage rather than the uniformly one dimensional cast of characters. Just about anything that happens to them left me feeling cold (although there´s a pretty depressing death scene late in the movie). All in all, Spike Lee would have done better if he directed a documentary about blackface rather than this mess which calls itself a "satyre". Nevertheless, kudos go to Lee for creating fake commercials for the movie which justly put down the stupidity of the products and images which black people support.
"Ratboy" is not a good movie by any means. The freakish protagonist (despite the movie´s theme song) lacks personality. In fact, he´s disgusting in every way. The script is incredibly lame without being funny. As can be expected of a Sondra Locke movie, it is just as bland as her cutesy modern cowboy farces with Clint Eastwood. The plot is all over the place. In spite of all these flaws, though, the film is so unique that it´s fascinating. It pretty much gives the message that monsters do not necessarily have to have a hidden beauty and are best left alone. The plot concerns a reporter named Nicky (Locke) finding a rat-human hybrid named Eugene and adopting him while seeing him as nothing more than a news story that would dramatically improve her career. Her human associates don´t treat him much better. In spite of this, Eugene falls in love with Nicky (which is never particularly sad or funny). She does not love him back but is torn between exploiting him and feeling sorry for him. There are some crime related subplots too and Christopher Hewitt from "Mr. Belvedere" makes some appearances playing (surprise) a snooty British guy. This plot keeps the viewer interested if nothing else but only because it is so weird that anyone would wonder what will happen next. Basically, what´s great about the movie is that people with good sense would never have made it but Locke and company went ahead and made it anyway ! Therefore, "Ratboy" is every bit as punk as the Sex Pistols´ first album. Its audacity is remarkable.
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