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Sherlock: The Abominable Bride (2016)
The creative slump continues...
The first season of "Sherlock" was cutting edge television that eventually launched Benedict Cumberbatch to Hollywood superstardom and Martin Freeman into something along those lines, while confirming Steven Moffat's reputation of premier British television writer. However, "Sherlock" went out of steam rather quickly and after the lukewarm second season, the third one was a mess, but even this streak of five weak episodes couldn't prepare us for the trainwreck of the New Year special set in Victorian times.
Moffat and Gatiss penned a messy, confusing screenplay with the plot that never seems coherent and the narrative that never kicks into gear. This screenplay is lacking both creativity and storytelling momentum. It is a stagnant affair, that ultimately betrays not only the initial concept of this "Sherlock" reboot but Arthur Conan Doyle's stories as well.
Vreme leoparda (1985)
Raque Schefer theoretical approach
"Zdravko Velimirovic's O Tempo dos Leopardos is, on the contrary, an epic film, the only film of the corpus directly representing the Liberation Struggle in its quotidian and military operations. A fiction feature co-produced with Yugoslavia, this socialist realist film treats the Liberation Struggle in the form of a didactic coloured model. If Guerra states that 'we cannot make political films on the basis of political strategies or practices',46 in O Tempo there is an evident hiatus between the film's political content, its conventional form and its teleology. It poorly serves a cause - the mythification of the liberation struggle - not hesitating to have as protagonists Pedro, The Leopard (Santos Mulungo) and Ana (Ana Magaia), whose physical and moral characteristics are evidently inspired by Samora and Josina Machel. What is at stake here is not merely the Liberation Struggle, but rather primarily - and mostly - the so-called 'civil war', therefore, not a past tense, but a lived present and expectations of the future. Consequently, at a discursive level, there is no question of returning to the past; instead it turns towards the future, the radiant future of the represented liberated areas, which might extend to the entire territory, which becomes even more important in view of the temporal dislocation performed by the film's narration. Nevertheless, what is effectively prefigured are the historical events to come, the death of Machel, anticipated by Pedro's crucifixion, and the failure of Mozambique's political and cultural project.
Guerra states that 'aesthetics is always politics' and that 'we cannot separate politics from aesthetics'.47 The political implications contained within the aesthetics of Velimirovic's film seem to assert that FRELIMO's cultural project had by then attained their fixed rigid aesthetic forms. At least that is the impression that the film leaves regarding the horizon of expectation.48
The exotic representation of the landscape and cultural forms of expression do not differ essentially from the way colonial cinema depicted the colony. At the same time, on the ideological plane, it is important to note the insistence on national unity and the notion of mogambicanidade ('Mozambicanity'), which would result from a synthesis between tradition and modernity. The indirect punishment of traditional power structures that refused to support the Liberation cause is in this regard highly symptomatic. What is remarkable in the film is the way it represents the transformation of cultural forms of expression by the Liberation Struggle, for instance in the sequence showing the FRELIMO guerrilla fighters dancing while holding rifles. On the other hand, if in the three films analysed here there is a common reluctance to use archive images from the conflict, O Tempo shows archive footage from Liberation Struggle through a second-degree narration, from which it would appear demonstrable that the documentary images and the film shots belong to the same historical and ontological category. This is even more relevant since it occurs in a film teleolog-ically-oriented by consent, but which deliberately problematises the mechanisms of propaganda, as well as the process of heroisation it enacts.
Even though I feel this approach makes a lot of great points, Velimirovic's film is a pretty solid mainstream war feature. Bearing in mind that he worked with amateur actors with little or none previous acting experience, the characters work on most levels, and some of the colonisers bring more depth than one may imagine in such a feature. Velimirovic grinded his axe in Yugoslav WW2 films so his staging of action sequences is pretty competent. Nowadays seeing guys blasting AK-47s in Ex-Yugoslav films is quite common. However, seeing action sequences set in contemporary times when modern weaponry was actually quite rare in Yugoslav films (this film was made in 1985 and the events it depicts are set in 1971).
Thus, maybe Velimirovic's film doesn't have the sufficient gallery value as something by Godard or Godard-like. But then it can be played on any TV network without any shame. It is a lasting topical film about Mozambican struggle and anti-colonialism. It sure doesn't reach potency of Gillo Pontecorvo's Il battaglia del Algeri but it stands on its own.
The Numbers Station (2013)
A pretty awkward Hollywood debut for Barfoed
Kaspar Barfoed is the Danish director whose debut The Numbers Station is an actual rip-off of Daniel Espinosa's Safe House. While Espinosa is Swedish he also hails from the Danish film scene since he studied film school there so I guess the fact that he not only made the rip-off of a far superior film but also of a compatriot's Hollywood debut, makes Barfoed's entry into the English-speaking game quite humiliating. Truth be told, I am very surprised that Barfoes's debut is such a lukewarm concept since Kandidaten did well, got picked up for a remake and Barfoed himself was attached to a handful of projects.
The Numbers Station shares not only the plot with Safe House but also Liam Cunningham in a role of a seasoned professional spy. It only adds to this overwhelming feeling of deja vu.
The Numbers Station feels like an extended TV pilot. John Cusack and Malin Akerman seem to be fully focused on their roles but the screenplay is simply underdeveloped and even Barfoed's very decent direction cannot elevate this material.
Cusack's role of CIA hit-man has nothing to do with stuff that he delivered on this same subject in Grosse Point Blank or War Inc in particular. Obviously, this film is his step towards DTV productions, even if this film is upscale DTV.
Daleko nebo (1982)
Yugoslav Top Gun made five years prior to Tony Scott's
'Daleko nebo' is a film by Stjepan Cikes who is mostly known for documentaries. Cikes was employed by Yugoslav Army Film Company and his field of work were aviation documentaries. Thus it comes as no surprise that he directed 'Daleko nebo' a film that can easily be described as 'Top Gun' before actual 'Top Gun'. This is a propaganda piece about a young MiG-21 pilot who experiences a traumatic flight and the tension triggers memories of his lifelong fascination with flight. Among other things this memories include clashes with his mother who tried to prevent him from entering Yugoslav Air Force School in Mostar since his father died as a Yugoslav Army pilot. Afterwards, in school he faces other pressures coming from the fact that his father is a legend among Yugoslav Army pilots. 'Daleko nebo' essentially threads the same path like 'Top Gun'. Both Maverick and the lead character in 'Daleko nebo' share a trauma of loss and thus join a long line of similar inspirational tales. Not unlike Maverick the young pilot in 'Daleko nebo' is an adrenaline junkie at his core and proves it by performing unwarranted parachute jumps and above all by trying to land a malfunctioning plane - a feat that cost his father dearly. Maverick's girl is a teacher a highly fetishistic position in such a male dominated environment while in 'Daleko nebo' the girl is a ballet dancer, quite a bit fetishist occupation in its own right. However, 'Daleko nebo' differs form 'top Gun' by its lack of jingoism. Unlike Maverick who is sent to dogfight with enemy aircraft, Yugoslav heron is sent to inspect an UFO that turns out to be a weather balloon. Eventually, even with all its fetishism it doesn't glamorize Air Force and it is hardly a film that managed to draw some new applicants for Military Academies. Unlike Hollywood, Yugoslav cinema had propagandist agendas that were so scrupulous that at certain point they became ineffective. Cikes on the other hand was a third-rate director and he definitely wasn't the right man for this job. In collaboration with DP Petar Lalovic he managed to capture some classy aerial shots. However, he used a lot of documentary footage and a lot of it matches quite poorly with the rest of the material. Mig-21 is an airplane that rarely starred in a film and Cikes isn't the one to put it on the map like Tony Scott did with F-14. Some details like very spooky astronaut-like suits worn by Mig-21 pilots get lost in Cikes's depiction. Score by Ksenija Zecević cannot exactly match Giorgio Moroder's hipness so the film is burdened by an ethnic-influenced score that really doesn't work out. 'Daleko nebo' is an ideal companion piece to Dejan Sorak's 'Najbolji' because both films were propaganda features about virtues of Yugoslav People's army. However, 'Najbolji' was actually made under exact influence of 'Top Gun' even if its plot is more reminiscent of 'Heartbreak Ridge'. In essence, Yugoslav cinema had quite a lot of success with war films but it fared rather poorly when it came to films about virtues of contemporary military cadre. Military service is an important part of Yugoslav collective memories since it was obligatory but when it comes to cinema, best films about it are those that are actually criticizing it.
Pogon B (1958)
"Pogon B" is a muscular Socialist version of a Howard Hawks film
"Pogon B" by Vojislav Nanovic is one of Yugoslav films made in the fifties that tackled the subject of industrialization and the accompanying social changes. "Pogon B" is just one of such titles - it is a companion piece to Jovan Zivanovic's "Zenica" and "Te noci" while Bulajic's "Uzavreli grad" is more of a psychological study of such social changes.
"Pogon B" is obviously derived from American B-pictures about macho professionals handling difficult and dangerous jobs. Some Howard Hawks works come to mind as an important influence.
Hawks' films were set in a capitalist environment while "Pogon B" is set in Socialist Yugoslavia. Thus it is very interesting to see how Nanovic shifts certain focal points of the story. In Hawks' films the main character is a pro facing extreme demands from the owner or maybe even the threat of losing the job if the work isn't done. In Nanovic's film, workers in an oil plant will merely be reassigned if their recent oil well fails to deliver crude. Thus, their passion for oil rigging is purely personal - it is not defined by any kind of economic pressure and there is no class struggle between the blue collar workers and their white collar CEOs. To the contrary, CEOs are treated as villains simply because they are too bureaucratic and laid back while workers bring an outstanding passion to the oil business.
Nanovic preserves Hawks' sense of strong homoerotic bonds among the male characters. Nanovic and Hawks start off with bromancing characters but the by the end of the film, each of one of the machos decides to move on to the next oil well instead of staying with his designated lady that he romanced during the course of the picture. Such homoerotic undertones are present in Zivanovic's "Te noci" that is quite similar to "Pogon B".
Of course, Hawks' characters are motivated by something more than money, they also bring personal initiative and passion to the job but in a completely different macro-economic climate. On one hand, Nanovic's film can be perceived as a direct critique of Socialist management but it can also be understood as glorification of such system since it is able to bring out creativity of an individual even in the toughest of jobs.
Nanovic is also under influence of Cluzot's "Wages of Fear" and he showcases that fascination in a very suspenseful sequence of oil rig fire.
"Pogon B" is a very solid and muscular Yugoslav film in hawksian tradition that happens to age very well.
Erogena zona (1981)
Overlooked little gem
"Erogena zona" by Dejan Karaklajic is a neat and multi-layered urban melodrama that beautifully depicts the tensions of post-Titoist Yugoslavia in the early 80s. It was released one year after Tito died and it is pretty obvious that you can see traces of consumerism and proto-capitalist tendencies in Yugoslav society that began in the 70s. At this time, Yugoslava, a lot like the characters of this film already drive BMWs, play tennis and dream of private ownership over companies. Still, there are economic behemoths of Tito's heyday like the poultry factory that employs the central character Moca, but even those companies act a lot like some sinister corporations from a 1970s movie with Robert Redford than 50s Yugoslav films that glorified industrialization.
After the so-called Black Wave of the 60s and 70s, Yugoslav cinema was flooded by characters who had no education and employment. The new generation of directors educated in Prague changed that climate by introducing a gallery of characters who had university degrees and yet found it it difficult to find their way in Yugoslav society, even if they were employed. "Erogena zona" so vividly depicts such contradictions. Karaklajic studied film in Belgrade and yet his screenplay was polished by Goran Markovic and Rajko Grlic who were both alumni of Prague Film School and it shows.
"Erogena zona" was Karaklajic's second feature film. His debut "Ljubavni zivot Budimira Trajkovica" was a huge commercial hit and allegedly it was one of Tito's favorite movies. "Erogena zona" however was deemed a failure and Karaklajic quite directing after it. It's a big loss because "Erogena zona" is underrated in many aspects including the masterful use of Milan Gutovic in the leading role. Gutovic became extremely popular later on in some populist comedies bit in this film he shows some classy action chops and excellent underplay.
"Erogena zona" is one of the Yugoslav films from the 80s that deserves to be rediscovered.
Besmrtna mladost (1948)
The true story of "Otpisani"
"Besmrtna mladost" is a story of urban youth resistance movement in Nazi-occupied Belgrade. Director Vojislav Nanovic was one of the key resistance members during the war so his debut is a pretty faithful account of operations that underwent in Serbian capital. Nanovic's film aged pretty well and if you bear in mind that it was made in 1948, only three years after the war when both the state and film industry were at the very beginning of rebuilding this feature is quite a feat. Nanovic's film is the first one to feature stories of urban guerrillas in Belgrade. Later on, these stories became very popular in a famous TV show "Otpisani" which swapped historical accuracy for intense comic book style action. "Otpisani" was a very successful franchise and it spawned two feature films. This is why Nanovic's work is less known but on the other hand today it stands as some kind of reminder how stuff that was exploited later on in "Otpisani" really looked like. In cinematic terms, one of the most important elements of Nanovic's film is the very setting. The film was shot only three years after the war so a lot of buildings still bore damages caused by both Nazi and Allied bombings. None of the following WW2 maintained such authentic setting. "Besmrtna mladost" for all the fans of Yugoslav partisan films and all the researchers on the subject.
Pre istine (1968)
"Pre istine" is one the finest Yugoslav films ever
"Pre istine" is a visually striking and angsty urban melodrama of two men who meet in swinging 60s Belgrade after a traumatic experience in WW2. They reconcile and realize that even though one of them was a patriot and the other one was a traitor during the war, their position switched because the traitor was rehabilitated while the patriot became a disgraced Party official on the run.
Kokan Rakonjac and DP Aleksandar Petkovic did an outstanding job when it comes to the visual concept of this film. Their use of low-angles and camera movements is outstanding and the approach to use of lenses is ahead of its time. Thus cinematography of this film really uses attractive urban locations to the fullest. With such charismatic leading men like Ljuba Tadic and Branko Plesa on screen, "Pre istine" is quite a feat, Sadly, Rakonjac died just a year after this film and managed only to shoot one more feature - "Zazdidani" - an unofficial sequel to "Pre istine".
In this phase of his career, Rakonjac was obviously in outstanding creative shape and the history of Yugoslav film could have been different had he lived.
Old-fashioned period melodrama
"Nevjera" is an old-fashioned love story set in 19th Century Dubrovnik. The love story is situated in the times of very intense class struggle in Dubrovnik with local aristocracy losing wealth and clinging only to their tainted titles, working class gearing up to ask for their rights and obscure characters leaving Dubrovnik for colonized continents and returning home rich.
Since this screen version of the famous Ivo Vojnovic stageplay "Ekvinocij" was made in the fifties in Communist Yugoslavia, obviously the class-struggle and anti-colonialism are emphasized.
However, the emotional core of the film is the love story of a poor carpenter and nobleman's daughter. Their forbidden inter-class romance is jeopardized when a rich old hustler comes back from America to look for a wife and picks nobleman's daughter while forcing her father to accept his proposal in exchange for write-off of his debts. Plot thickens when the poor carpenter finds out that the rich hustler is his father.
Vladimir Pogacic's direction is a bit dated by fifties' standards and "Nevjera" feels as if it belongs in the 1930s. However, on the emotional level, "Nevjera" works and stands as one of the purest examples of period melodrama in the history of Yugoslav cinema.
The Tournament (2009)
When I decided to check out "The Tournament" the expectations were moderate. Actually I expected it to be a pleasant DTV title with a couple of cool actors.
What I got instead was a thrilling actioner that surpasses most of the theatrical releases of the same genre. The action is hyperkinetic and violent, and Scott Mann has undisputed Hollywood potential.
The plot about the assassin tournament is clean and simple, a lot like "Taken" and when it comes to comparison between these two films, only advantage for "Taken" is Liam Neeson. "The Tournament" provides solid acting but it doen't have such a potent star. Actually, if we consider its budget, "The Tournament" is really outstanding in terms of casting because it combines available theatrical-feature actors like Kelly Hu, Liam Cunningham,, Robert Carlyle and Ving Rhames with top DTV names like Scott Adkins. Scott Adkins' potential was obvious ever since he first appeared in Isaac Florentine films and in "the Tournament" he is accompanied by Sebastien Foucan, the parkourist we remember from "Casino Royale".
Fight scenes are marvelously staged, with great fight choreography, but also outstanding gunplay and vehicle stunts. When it comes to the sheer amount of action "The Tournament" gives you the most for bang for the buck. It is very hard to invent some new kinds of action set-pieces and choreographies but in a couple of scenes "Rhe Tournament" does that.
Also, you must bear in mind that action is very violent and gory. The sheer amount of gore is comparable to Neill Blomkamp's "District 9". Bloodletting is stylish and lavish and Scott Mann really has the guts (quite literally) to pull it off.
I am surprised that this film failed to get theatrical release. I mean, it's quite obvious that American distributors wouldn't release because none of the stars are a draw in the US but I guess it should've worked quite well internationally.
Writer Gary Young was lucky to move on into theatrical business with Matthew Vaughn production "Harry Brown". I hope Scott Mann will accomplish the same.
Krvavi put (1955)
Routine POW drama
'Krvavi put' would have been a routine POW drama if it wasn't for the fact that it is a Yugoslav co-production with Norway. Such a strange alliance was formed in 1955 in order to bring the story of Yugoslav POWs who were sent to labor camps in Norway during WW2 to the big screen. This film combines Yugoslav and Norwegian cast and characters use their own languages which adds to the realism of this story. Obviously it was very tough for Yugoslav POWs and Norwegian patriots to communicate but still they found a way to help each other and organize random escape plots. However, all that is gained from the presentation of the language barrier is lost in terms of plotting and visual style. This film doesn't benefit from its Norwegian crew, the sets look generic and could have been shot anywhere in Europe.
Also, the whole deeper meaning and conflict of people being relocated from their natural habitat in Balkans to Scandinavia, is lost due to the fact that most of the film is set indoors.
Thus, 'Krvavi put' is for WW2 completists only, and it won't taint the glory of Anthony Mann's 'Heroes of Telemark'.
Zone of the Dead (2009)
Old school zombie action!
Zone of the Dead is the first zombie actioner produced in Serbia. It belongs to a growing Serbian genre scene that has quite a few surprises up its sleeve and since 2002 produced some fine films like slasher TT Sindrom by Dejan Zecevic and youth oriented creature feature Sheitan's Warrior by Stevan Filipovic. Unlike typical European genre fare outside of Italian film industry, this feature is very orthodox in its approach to the genre substance. Maybe because Italians were involved as co-producers. The plot is very Carpenteresque and pits a group of police officers escorting a prisoner against the zombie infestation caused by an ecological disaster.
Zone of the Dead doesn't try to expand and bend the genre territory, it opts to be exploitation in the Italian sense and reminds of Italian exploitation films from the early 80s with Fred Williamson in charge. Only this time, Ken Foree, the sole zombie film icon, is in charge and headlines this production. It is refreshing to see such deadpan zombie concept, especially when genrebending projects like World War Z and Zombieland start piling up. This film is trying to play the zombie threat straight and to spice it up with gunfights and action and I guess audience of Resident Evil-series will find it useful to fill the gap between installments of that movie franchise.
The set-up echoes Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13 and the zombie action is along the lines of Lamberto Bava's Demons. It is very uncommon for Serbian cinema that the violence and zombie mayhem are handled quite well, and Zone of the Dead delivers the goods on the level of contemporary B-movie fare. Special kudos go to Miroslav Lakobrija, this film's makeup wiz who did a great job with all kinds of bloodletting and zombie prosthetics.
Ken Foree is quite solid in his first leading role in over 30 years and Kristina Klebe uses her opportunity to expand on the 'scream queen' reputation gained in Rob Z|zombie's Halloween remake. Up until now, a relative unknown Emilio Roso, who was cast as The Prisoner, creates a fine variation on Napoleon Wilson.
Directors Milan Konjevic and Milan Todorovic with their Serbian crew bring a lot of energy to the proceedings. Even though this film was made on a moderate budget it still delivers shootouts, chases, hordes of zombies, crashing cars and full on human vs zombies battle climax. Zombies in the film are both the slow ones invented by Romero and fast ones championed by Snyder so it is obvious the authors of the first Serbian zombie film wanted to cram all of the zombie traditions into one film. The only zombies missing are those who rose form the grave.
Zone of the Dead is a must for the genre fans, not just as a curio since it was made in Serbia, but also as a much needed shot of VHS era Italo influence exploitation that you may need in these ironic genrebending times. It is currently in Serbian cinemas. It is also about to hit Spanish and Italian cinemas in May while other territories will certainly get a DVD release in no time.
Insanely watchable POINT BREAK rip-off
If there is a single most outstanding thing about Hollywood film-making is the insane watchability of even the most wretched projects like UNDERCLASSMAN. If you try to dissect UNDERCLASSMAN then it is an unbearably derivative undercover cop flick which borrows heavily from BEVERLY HILLS COP politics, 21 JUMP STREET appeal and most apparently POINT BREAK's plot. Kathryn Bigelow POINT BREAK is one of the most potent undercover cop flicks in history. Even though it's mot some textbook example that you can derive from. Well, in UNDERCLASSMAN, a huge chunk of the structure and character chemistry was taken from POINT BREAK. The friendship between the young cop and the main suspect, the arrest of some other undercover DEA agent, the red herrings and the analysis of the timeline, it was all transplanted from POINT BREAK. I feel it would it would be right if Miramax paid some royalties to the people who made it.
Talented music video director Marcos Siega (Weezer, blink-182) who kicked off with PRETTY PERSUASION, got attached in order to infuse this flick with some life. He failed. So did the screen writing team of Wagner and Goldberg who wrote a great high school romcom THE GIRL NEXT DOOR and seemed capable of refreshing the genre. But even they place very few and far between flourishes in the script.
This is film is a failure for all concerned.
However, it is insanely watchable. I loathed it, noticed shameless rip-offs, felt ashamed of myself for renting it, but still, I kept watching it, up until the end credits. I must admit that. Siega and the writers made it slick enough to swallow. That is craft I can't deny. And that's about it.
The Alibi (2006)
This is how I imagine Frank Tashlin does neo-noir
THE ALIBI is a smooth, elegant, neo-noir expertly shot by guys who did pre-cog scenes in MINORITY REPORT. It is very reminiscent of Frank Tashlin's work. Tashlin was the Warner Bros. cartoonist who ended up doing vehicles for Jerry Lewis and Doris Day. While his cartoons were strongly influenced by live action cinema, his live action features had a distinctive cartoonish element.
Te same can be said for THE ALIBI which works as a very tightly knit yarn and feels as precise as a special effects sequence. This precision makes the film flow smoothly and the directors deliver Hollywood entertainment at its best.
The cast is top-notch and the attached talent is the major asset of this production.
The only major shortcoming of this feature is the complete absence of emotions and character depth. The only character fully developed is the main character and it is a shame because other characters are too flat so the story fails to emotionally resonate. The screenplay feels like the first draft and it seems that it was just a couple rewrites away from being fully developed.
This is why THE ALIBI is just a well made programmer while it seems that deep inside it possessed a much bigger potential.
Ljubav, navika, panika (2005)
Old School Socialist Sitcom
Serbian television shows used to dominate the 22-million-viewer market of the Former Yugoslavia. However, when Socialist Yugoslavia collapsed the 10-million Serbia failed to maintain the level of television entertainment.
Even Serbia's highest-priced writer Sinisa Pavic who dominated the Yugoslav box-office and TV ratings, with movies like TESNA KOZA and TV shows VRUC VETAR and BOLJI ZIVOT, failed to deliver in the Roaring Nineties.
Serbia's strongest private network Pink managed to rebound from this crisis with LJUBAV, NAVIKA, PANIKA conceded by director Slobodan Suljagic and writer Nebojsa Romcevic. Suljagic is an experienced Serbian television professional while Romcevic is a famous Serbian stage writer, whose previous attempt at sitcom named KAZNENI PROSTOR failed miserably.
However, in LJUBAV, NAVIKA, PANIKA he hit the spot with acidic and witty treatment of family life. His main characters are Vera and Mica, an elderly married couple who decide to divorce but then continue to live together since they cannot afford to live separately. They stay with two slutty teenage daughters Maja and Janja.
The chemistry between main players is great, Nikola Simic and Jelisaveta Sablic are experienced comedians who deliver their husband and wife routines with ease. Marija Karan and Mirka Vasiljevic on the other hand are young actresses, both sexy and funny at the same time and they are favs among the younger audiences.
Romcevic eventually delivered edgy humor and strong social attitude to the proceedings thus replicating the feel of Pavic's finest and most potent successes from the Eighties.
LJUBAV, NAVIKA, PANIKA is a huge success for Pink in terms of quality. I sure hope ratings will follow this achievement.
Decent 70's exploitation
Peter Graves is the iconic 70's agent material, and MISSLE X is one of his lesser features exploiting the MISSION IMPOSSIBLE persona. However, the non-Hollywood production atmosphere fills this one up with highly paid stars doing some exploitation work that you can't usually see under the major studio banner.
MISSILE X delivers violence, menace and a few neat Packinpah influenced shootouts in this noirish and yet very Bondian tale o stolen Soviet cruise missile being smuggled into Iran and put on wholesale.
The whole American male agent alternately versus and with Russian female agent fighting the villain played by Kurt Jurgens makes MISSILE X look like a THE SPY WHO LOVED ME rip-off. And that definition holds. However, this film is derivative that it simply cannot stand such singled out rip-off allegation.
Tehran is well used as a location and the mixture of Iranian luxury juxtaposed on very poor suburbs precisely explains why the revolution eventually took place there. This film, with its' unashamed Western jive and aim to exploit the Persian setting may as well be used as the epitome of Iranian revolution and the Shah's decadence.
Overall, MISSILE X is the ideal programmer for the 70's superagent fare hounds. It may as well be worth the search.
Timocka buna (1983)
One of the least interesting Zika Mitrovic films
TIMOCKA BUNA is one of the least relevant Zika Mitrovic films. It was made as a vehicle for Yugoslav superstar Ljubisa Samardzic. The funding was obtained through Samardzic's connections with local factories based on the territory where actual Timocka Buna (The Timok Rebellion) took place in the XIX century.
Film depicts the Timok rebellion, event when a part of Serbia arose against the monarchy, supported by the Radical Party, the strongest entity in Serbian Parliament at the time.
Sadly, this poignant event was filmed in Communism, thus authors weren't allowed to truly explore the political and historical background of the events.
The screenplay is flat. It lacks action and relies on self-explanatory sterile dialogue. Characters are one-dimensional, shaped after safely disinfected rules of educational programs.
Mitrovic's direction is as bland. The film is immobile, slow and clumsy, slightly under-budgeted and quite close to television standards. This is why TIMOCKA BUNA makes more sense on the smaller screen. Mitrovic tries to redeem this flop by a few crafty Western shots in the final minutes of the film but by then, all is already lost.
TIMOCKA BUNA can be relevant for scholars who study XIX century history. It isn't truly historically relevant but it can at least depict how some of the historical figures actually looked like and dressed at the time.
Brat doktora Homera (1968)
One of the greatest Yugoslav films of all time!
BRAT DOKTORA HOMERA is a masterpiece made by one of the greatest Serbian directors of all time, Zivorad 'Zika' Mitrovic, who passed away this winter as 2005 was dawning.
BRAT DOKTORA HOMERA belongs to the wave of Yugoslav Westerns, films which were shaped along the aesthetic of Hollywood Western and based on events from WW/2. Mitrovic was often criticized for such approach, especially by the Communist hardliners who believed that such genre dogmatics make fun out of their revolutionary achievements. And yet, Mitrovic's unique craft remained undisputed so he ended up as one of the most respected State Directors of Tito's era.
BRAT DOKTORA HOMERA is a potent revenge tale set in 1945, in the turbulent region of Kosovo where tensions escalated in 1981 and caused the NATO bombing in 1999. Mitrovic's opus was Kosovo-obsessed. He adored its' beautiful and brutal landscape, reminiscent of John Ford's Monument Valley. He also realized the full potential of its' unresolved political and ethnic situation. By the end of 1945, Kosovo was split evenly between Serbs and Albanians. Hardliner Albanian renegades, who used to be allied with Nazis, kept raging on, long after Germany surrendered. Yugoslav authorities responded by unprecedented deployment of security forces who oppressed the whole region in order to respond to the renegade challenge. Inevitably, oppression led to excessive force and corruption. This war-torn world was an ideal setting for the Serbian brand of Westerns and Mitrovic fully utilized that potential.
At the same time, Kosovo itself contained a rich esotheric meaning. Since the medieval times, it remained the mythical cornerstone of Serbian culture and nationalgeist. Thus, just like Wild West, it is an ideal imaginary territory, quite potent setting for different genre experiments.
BRAT DOKTORA HOMERA is a story of Simon, the flamboyant son of the local judge who comes home after four years in a German P.O.W. camp. Upon arrival, he realizes that his old flame found consolation in his brother's arms and that his father was killed. Unlike his brother, Simon passionately investigates father's death and finds out that the well-known criminal who allegedly killed him actually was a patsy while the murderer is still at large. The chaotic atmosphere of gang-riddled Kosovo enables Simon to seek retribution.
Velimir Bata Zivojinovic, the greatest star of Yugoslav cinema, stars as Simon, delivering a rugged and involving performance along the lines of Oliver Reed or Lee Marvin. Mitrovic masterfully frames him and turns Simon into an engaging Western hero.
Even though Simon doesn't have the mythical proportions of Leone's Blondie, this character is absolutely synchronized with the bad-asses of his era.
Mitrovic's screen writing is tight and he manages to create a believable world for Simon to live in. The most important part of Mitrovic's crafty writing is the ability to turn huge melodramatic twists into plausible screen gestures.
Mitrovic's direction is as tight. He has an eye for cinematic elements. He uses the actors and locations up to the limit of their photogenic potential. Thanks to then young and prospective director of photography Branko Ivatovic, Mitrovic manages to utilize the colorful settings and add some beauty to the gritty affair he wrote. BRAT DOKTORA HOMERA was delivered thirteen years after John Sturgess' BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK and it has such resonant atmosphere. It was released same year as Sergio Leone's ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST which stood as the greatest Western achievement at that point. BRAT DOKTORA HOMERA lives through comparison with each of these titles even though Mitrovic's direction seems to be too muscular to take this title into the art-house crossover territory where both Leone and Sturgess wound up.
BRAT DOKTORA HOMERA is happy to remain the greatest Yugoslav Western and a confident programmer that keeps pleasantly surprising audience up to this day. This film also remains as a symbol of an era when Yugoslav films were able to stand any comparison with the elite Hollywood and European works, even in the world of action cinema.
Agents secrets (2004)
A masterful spy film!
As he reached the status of French cinema's »mandarin«, and by proving to be the undisputed commercial ruler of non-American cinema, Luc Besson retired form directing and began writing and producing a whole serial assembly of rather simple French programmers which were set to compete with mid-budget Hollywood efforts. Some of those films like »Taxi« or »Crimson rivers« (Rivieres pourpres) managed to score amazing box office. And yet, Besson's employees failed to deliver anything more than middle-of-the-road of half-baked products. However, each of those titles managed to either reach or surpass Hollywood products in certain set-pieces. Thus, Besson's productions cured European fear of Hollywood's technical supremacy.
The other line of French lust for Hollywood, unlike Besson's superficial clan, is represented by frontmen of the Newest Wave of French Cinema consisted of extremely talented and educated auteurs like Gaspar Noe, Christophe Gans, Jan Kounen and Olivier Assayas who use the rethorics of genre cinema in order to create brave and edgy body of work and blend of art-house.
The acting icons of the Newest Wave are Vincent Cassel and Monica Bellucci, the couple who defined four most important films in the last ten years of French film history Jan Kounen's »Dobermann«, Gilles Mimouni's »L'Appartement«, Christophe Gans' »Pacte de loups" and Gaspar Noe's »Irreversible«. The two of them star in »Agents secrets «, the film which tries to use the fourth method in order to tame the energy of commercial cinema.
The explorer of the Fourth Method is Frederic Schoendoerffer, a classicist among contemporaries, son of famous Pierre (Dien Bien Phu), whose body of work mostly includes documentaries and chronicles of French colonial presence in Indochine. Frederic gained attention by grim and very serious police procedural "Scenes de crimes". In his debut the absence of stars prevented it from being an important title in the Serial Killer Film Pantheon.
»Agents secrets« is a thriller partly inspired by a recent incident when French secret service (DGSE), which belongs among the most discrete, sank the Greenpeace ship. That event caused a backlash and DGSE eventually abandoned some of its' operatives.
In »Agents secrets «, agents are ordered to sink the ship used by the notorious Easteuropean arms dealer. When the ship is sunk, agents consider mission accomplished. Suddenly, it transpires that they provoked CIA by this act and DGSE abandons them.
This exciting yarn is adult-oriented judging by robust pacing and character portraying. Unlike (as exceptional) "The Bourne Supremacy" which grabs the viewer, »Agents secrets « attempt to seduce you. Thus, if "Supremacy" is the model of what 007-franchise should have been, then Schoendoerffer's film threads in legacy of John Mackenzie's "The Fourth Protocol". On the other hand its' Hollywood counterpart is Tony Scott's "Spy Game", another fine film about the dynamics of espionage reality. All of these films were directed by Europeans even if some belong to A-List Hollywood milieu, meaning that Europeans, especially Brits, are the go-to guys when it comes to spy yarns.
»Agents secrets« is a fine espionage thriller that delivers efficient and disciplined roles of two authentic, and probably greatest contemporary French film stars. This film marks the return of adult-minded espionage film where espionage finally became a subject instead of being an excuse for action mayhem. Simply put, in »Agents secrets «, the device is also the goal, and this is why it stands out as a calm and articulated commercial film in the age of hysteria.
Zivojin Pavlovic's NEPRIJATELJ is a halfhearted attempt at Yugoslav recreation of Dostoyevsky's novel THE DOUBLE. Shot by Slovenian funds, where Pavlovic found federal refuge when prosecuted by Serbian authorities, NEPRIJATELJ tells a story of a Serbian print worker whose personality splits in half as he is tormented by tough social and romantic struggles.
In terms of storytelling, Pavlovic's film tends to get muddled and simply sloppy but his gritty realism keeps the proceedings involving. Grit is accomplished by pretty brave depiction of outcasts and underdogs in the underbelly of Socialist Belgrade.
In terms of style, Pavlovic often uses his typical single shot sequences, even though there are scenes where he frames and cuts conventionally, pretty much because of the storyline, it was tough to make many special effects shots where the leading man faces his doppelganger.
In terms of subject matter and details, NEPRIJATELJ definitely is vintage Pavlovic.
Thus, NEPRIJATELJ stands as a typical and yet unique Pavlovic film that represents him both in terms of landmark style and at his pretty experimental flirtations with conventional cinema.
Tajna dvorca I.B. (1951)
TAJNA DVORCA IB is a unique example of Titoist propaganda
TAJNA DVORCA IB is a wonderfully demented propaganda film, made in 1951, just as Tito's Yugoslav socialist regime decided to break away from Stalin's iron control. Katic's film is a ballet set in the fictitious castle where the Informburo of the International Communist Party sends out its' resolution denying Yugoslav independence. In the game of symbols, the Resolution is created in a freaky alchemist way and dispatched to people who deny it and throw it away.
TAJNA DVORCA IB presents current, daily propaganda shaped in a different way. Even though avantgarde used to be associated with revolutionary movements, soon after the victory, it was forgotten and propaganda got based on melodrama and visual displays of power and domination. But in Katic's film, it's avantgarde all over again. It's a film that combines socialist propaganda with American slapstick, German expressionism and Soviet ballet symbols.
Thus, even though it often seems silly, the main reason it aged so badly is the political expiry date. Katic's direction is pretty skillful and Fadil Hadzic's screenplay is actually very imaginative and precise. This film may as well be Yugoslav predecessor of Guy Maddin and his politicized avantgarde done these days.
TAJNA DVORCA IB was also one of the most thoroughly forbidden and overlooked films in the history of Yugoslav cinema. If you ever get an opportunity to really dig through Yugoslav film archives, ask for this film.
ELEKTRA is not as bad as they told you
Stephen Norrington's BLADE showcased a unique talent and this is why such realistic interpretation of a superhero comic book worked. Norrington managed to persuade us that Blade actually exists in our world and then he pumped up the viscera. In ELEKTRA Bowman does the same thing. At least initially. His Elektra lives in our world. he avoids redundant backstories. It's the action thriller version of our world. But it is our world. Where Bowman fails is amping up the action. His film was obviously underbudgeted and brutally underwritten. This is why ELEKTRA never fully develops into a blockbusting action thriller suggested by the source comic book material that basically rewrote the rules of both comic heroes and female action characters back in the eighties. Along with Ludlum it opened the door for NIKITA and LONG KISS GOODNIGHT. ELEKTRA failed and yet it may be an important film in hindsight. Bowman brought a unique television efficiency into the film. While struggling with a low budget, he managed to make a coherent and watchable picture just by putting all the television knowledge into the process. maybe he couldn't afford some fancy details on ELEKTRA but he sure knows how to stage a simple and efficient chase. Or a fistfight. Bowman is one of the frontmen of the new wave of TV directors who's storm the big pictures. Last season BBC superstar Paul Greengrass showed how to handle action big time. ELEKTRA had the potential to overcome Greengrass THE BOURNE SUPREMACY. She failed. But if you dig a decent B-flick, you may as well be pleasantly surprised by this flop.
France société anonyme (1974)
Corneau's bad boy debut owes more to Godard then Tavernier
Alain Corneau became famous for his tight and realistic crime films and precise historical chronicles even though many of his features actually tackle other subjects. His debut, translated to English as 'France Inc.' is a Godardian excursion in the world of high-class drug dealers who coexist in the same universe as heads of state and legal businessmen. One day, the heads of France decide that it would be smart to legalize drugs and suddenly the whole drug trafficking world realizes that the entire dope business was an ideological agenda, and that when state starts controlling the dope business, you won't know what you're actually taking.
This plot seems more intriguing than it is presented in Corneau's film itself. The whole storyline is sacrificed to auteur's rude and openly critical spoof of the social environment. But as the lampooning of society goes, in Corneau's case, it also spoofs the film's narrative structure. So, while laughing at the world, Cornnau laughs at the typical grammar of realistic cinema dedicated to presenting that world. This option would be legitimate, had Corneau found the way to actually act and direct smarter then the old guys who invented the damn movie grammar. Sadly, he fails to be smarter then them, so in the end, he wind up as a barely competent debutant whose ironic discourse isn't supported by credibility.
This debut is thus pretty unique in Corneau's filmography and up until 2003. in his opus you could feel that he learned a few lessons about superiority in this one. If you liked this film, then Zulawski's 'L'Amour Braque' is a must-see for you. I guess even Corneau was aiming at such an effort!
Sniper 3 (2004)
Enjoyed the hell out of this sequel
SNIPER 3 is pretty exciting and well-crafted B-flick, shot by promising once-indie filmmaker PJ Pesce who wound up nailing great direct-to-video sequels. The theatrical feature SNIPER opened the nineties and now it seems it was directed by the guy who is way inferior to the ones credited on the sequels. First off it was Craig Buxley who turned SNIPER 2 into a well-made inventive low-budgeteer. Here comes Pesce who adds vintage eighties muscle into the typical Cannon MISSING IN ACTION Vietnam setting. Pesce knows his pulp and is proud to show it. Berenger is experienced and he can do such roles in his sleep while Byron Mann remains one of the greatest underused martial arts heroes after Invincible and BELLY OF THE BEAST.
SNIPER 3 is more than a worth rental.
When it comes to owning it, I recommend buying it when the price drops. A definite VHS pick if you stumble upon it on cable.
This script is a tight yarn with no extra ideas and no fat that needed amputation. It tries to deplore the FINAL DESTINATION spirit within the gimmickless profiler milieu. And it works.
The story focuses on the final exam, or shall I say temptation, for the squad of FBI profiler rookies. They are dispatched to the remote island, equipped with forensic labs and CrimeCity, U.S.A. shooting gallery. They are to profile the alleged puppeteer serial killer scenario.
Instead of some routine drill, they get to sustain live ammo as The Puppeteer whacks one by one in a highly conceptualized manner.
The acting is competent. Film lacks star quality due to authors' persistent focus on situations instead of characters. The characters are disguised as deep and well-drawn but actually each one is written as an archetype. Or stereotype to some.
Performances are efficient. Val Kilmer and Christian Slater are at their 'bad boy' best until they pull a DEEP BLUE SEA on us, while Johnny Lee Miller, LL Cool J and Patricia Velasquez keep the kettle boiling until the end.
MINDHUNTERS' greatest strengh is Renny Harlin's storytelling. He uses the script as the logical backbone so his set-pieces could add up to a meaningful entity.
Harlin is beyond slick in this picture. He is ultra-slick. This film is shot-by-shot some of the best cinematography seen in a genre picture for quite a while. The light is stylish while not too Marcus Nispelish e.g. not too revealing, and the sheer texture of image persists throughout even the most elaborate action scenes. Flashy photography inherited from ads and clips tends to fit the quick-cutting where extremely shot presentation of shots must deliver the message, while any longer shot lit the same reveals that actually there is nothing to see after second and a half. Well, DP Robert Krantz, whose next job is PRECINCT remake, found the right light formula in MINDHUNTERS.
Editing is precise. Harlin cuts movement lie no other and the grace of staging makes you flash back to Adrian Lyne and John Woo at their prime.
Renny Harlin actually is THE PUPPETEER in this picture and his guignol is a breakneck-paced entry in the tired serial-killer current.
Had New Line produced this film, it would be an 80-million smash by now.
Yet, it seems Dimension has no idea how to market it. It brings no Gothic hook to attract steady Dracula 2000 crowd. It has no stars to attract serious numbers of non-believers. And, frankly, Renny Harlin is not a household name, even if he is a top-notch director. I guess, that Dimension will sit on MINDHUNTERS for now waiting for something that could reanimate the career of involved stars.
MINDHUNTERS is not just another Dimenison production. it is also an Intermedia production. This company has a fascinating track record with John McTiernan's BASIC, Kathryn Bigelow's K-19, Martin Scorsese's latest two pictures, Oliver Stone's Alexander, even T-3. These guys know a great author when they see one and it seems that directors pay them back. Look at Intermedia's DARK BLUE by Ron Shelton!
Renny Harlin also pays them back and shows that he CAN DIRECT even in close-quarters claustrophobic environment. Also, he throws two homage sequences to his own CLIFFHANGER, DEEP BLUE SEA and LONG KISS GOODNIGHT and each of these scenes may as well rank among his best. So stay tuned when LL Cool J shoots the walls and uses bullet holes to free climb in a narrow corridor flooded by electrified water or during the final underwater shootout.
MINDHUNTERS is a brilliant thriller and a witty invitation to Renny's Evil Twin EXORCIST where Pazuzu tends to get visceral this summer. This guy is at the top of his film-making shape and he just needs one new shot from the studios to start banging in the blockbuster territory.