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A zany film with unbelievable characters
There's nothing wrong with the animation, art design or production values of this animated feature. Nothing wrong with the arc of the main story either (structurally or morally), or with the voice acting.
The reason I couldn't really get into it is that nobody acts like a real person; all the characters act like Hollywood stereotypes imagined by someone who doesn't actually have friends. It never feels like a single character in the film is actually real or has a soul, so it's hard to care about what's going on, aside from admiring it in the sense one might admire a roller coaster ride. A few days before I saw this, I watched the animated "A Christmas Carol" which came out the same year, and it is a great contrast; I could actually believe that the people in "Christmas Carol" were real and care about what happened to them, despite the ridiculous roller-coaster action sequences (which both films have).
The other thing which bugged me is that nobody in "Meatballs" has to work hard to make something they want happen; they just have to really want it and then suddenly they can easily do it. Inventor builds multi-million dollar lab and inventions effortlessly (the complete polar opposite of what actual work in science is like). Fat guy (near the end) suddenly becomes martial arts master just because he really, really wants to and the plot requires it.
It gives the wrong lesson about the value of work and discipline (namely, that one doesn't need them, that just to have a good idea is enough), but the primary fault is that it just made it hard for me to care about what was going on in the movie, particularly as none of the characters even felt relatable in the first place.
Panique au village (2009)
Much better than I was expecting
I just saw this at the WFAC. I must say that I wasn't expecting much out of this film. It's a good thing that I went to see it anyway, because it turned out to be one of the highlights of the festival. The closest equivalent to what "Sita Sings the Blues" was last year; though the two films are in many ways quite different, they share between them a wacky sense of humour and a refreshing inventiveness. The story of the film is insane and has to be seen to be believed. This is the kind of story that, as a kid, you wished existed somewhere. It starts out with a cowboy and an Indian accidentally ordering 50 million bricks for the birthday of their roommate, Horse, and goes from there to a visit with the Atlanteans, the centre of the earth, and giant robotic penguins.
The animation in the film is just as entertaining. I'm sure that some would call it crude, but the fact remains that it's very expressive and perfectly suited to this story and these characters. The French-language voice acting is also great.
The film has no great moral or lesson to teach us, but I think it is no less of an achievement to make something that's genuinely funny. The only thing I thought a bit strange was that it seems to go on for a little longer than it felt the natural ending point of the story should be.
This film is in the running for the animated feature Oscar this year, but probably won't be nominated; it's too low-profile and somehow I think that the animation style could offend some of the Academy professionals. But who cares about what the Academy folks think? If you want to watch something fun (even better if it's with friends), I'd highly recommend it.
Star Trek (2009)
A film of its era
This new Star Trek film uses a fast pace and dense cinematography to keep the viewer from realizing that there are several plot-holes that crop up throughout the story. The creators clearly hoped that by keeping things moving fast enough and constantly engaging the viewer's emotions, the viewer would not have the luxury of figuring out that the actual story doesn't work. In this, it is a product of the dominant film-making school of this era. Suitably, that is also one of the main themes driving the film: Emotion is good, as Spock's father tells Spock at the end. Unless the emotion belongs to someone who destroys planets out of revenge, of course. So the film is not very interesting, unfortunately, on the intellectual front, in contrast to the series.
But it does succeed on a number of other levels. The actors generally did a good job - I have few complaints there. I think that Chekov's Russian accent might have been a bit overdone.
Here are the flaws in the story that I noticed:
1) Two ships and a supernova get sucked into a black hole. One ship comes out in the past, the other comes out 25 years later. Where the enormous supernova goes is left unanswered. Somehow a black hole distinguishes the matter of the two ships from the matter of the supernova? One ship decides to wait 25 years for the other ship to come out; how its crew knows WHEN the other ship will come out or if it will come out at all is left unanswered.
2) The planet-drilling needles can be destroyed just by firing a few laser beams from a small ship, yet none of the planets under attack do anything about them except panic.
3) Kirk becomes captain after provoking Spock to an extreme emotional response, which disqualifies Spock from being captain. However, in the ensuing fight, and in his conduct before that, Kirk is shown to be far more emotional and violent. Yet he takes over the captain's chair, and nobody objects. After what had just happened, the whole crew and Spock had a very good reason to dislike him, yet they all become pals a short time later.
4) The monster chase on the ice planet strains all credibility. Just everything about it.
On the whole, it was an okay experience. It's not a badly-made film at all, but it aims at mainstream sensibilities. I always thought that the low budget of the Star Trek TV series forced it to be interesting from a story point of view. With a high-budget blockbuster movie, there is a shift of priorities towards eye candy and action. There is enough of the core spirit left for it to be called "Star Trek", but I'd rather watch the TV episodes.
Magia Russica (2004)
A good, poetic introduction to Russian animation
This documentary film is a good introduction to Russian animation for those who are not very familiar with it. It covers a number of the more famous films and artists while also spending a lot of time on Russian culture itself and on what was behind the films that they made. It is indeed poetic, and the films that are covered are excellent. Despite that, I did find some flaws in this film.
First of all, while the material and interviews are excellent, I felt that the film as a whole lacked a solid unifying theme, and so by the second half was beginning to feel stretched out. There feels just a bit too much randomness in the overall edit, as if the directors couldn't quite decide where to go and simply decided to put in their favourite footage without worrying too much about direction.
My second "complaint" (though it probably would have little affect on someone unfamiliar with the subject) is that the material covered, while good, does not give an accurate impression of the sheer scope of ideas of Russian animation. It focuses almost entirely on the more popular works of the Soyuzmultfilm studio, though even there, it misses some very big things along the way. Aleksandr Tatarskiy (who directly taught nearly 60% of the Russians in animation today) and Pilot Studio (the first private Russian animation studio, which he founded), for example, are barely given any mention at all. Neither is mentioned any animation from other Soviet republics, some of which was very famous, nor what existed before Soyuzmultfilm's founding in 1936.
The focus of the film seems to be a relatively small, though mostly representative, selection of films from the Soyuzmultfilm studio, the atmosphere in which they were created, and what the people from that old school are doing today and think about where the art form is headed. One gets a sense that the directors are more akin to fans of Russian animation rather than researchers, so what emerges is a somewhat unfocused but sincere film about the films that they love best.
Having said that, there is a lot of interesting material in here. We are given tours of Garri Bardin's and Yuriy Norshteyn's studios (and see a very short segment of the unreleased "Overcoat"; Akaky Akakievich looking for fleas in his tattered coat).
I seem to have bought the last existing DVD copy of this film with English subtitles, so unless it is re-released, good luck finding it...
Le jour avant le lendemain (2008)
Sad and powerful
This is a film about what the Inuit lived like before the arrival of Europeans, and what happened after they arrived to one small community, through the eyes of the survivors. This is not some grand epic, but rather a slow and very intimate story which is filled with great sadness. At first, we hear that the story is being narrated from the point of view of one grandmother (Ningiuq) to her husband at some point in the future, which gives us a sense of comfort that everything will turn out well in the end.
Ningiuq is the main focus of the story, as well as her grandson Maniq. The first part of the film starts in a pre-contact Inuit village, and lets us meet all of its colourful characters. What struck me during this part of the film and what followed was how much I could relate with everyone. It is such a human film, much more so than most films nowadays.
***SPOILERS begin here***
One man tells of how his family met some people in strange boats far away from the village who met them and offered to trade metal needles (far sharper than anything the Inuit own) in return for sleeping with their women. The women wanted the needles...
In any case, winter is coming on, and provisions caught over the summer must be dried. Men from the Inuit village transport Ningiuq, her best friend Kutuujuk and her grandson Maniq over to an island where the three of them will dry the fish that the village has caught over the summer. Before he goes, Maniq's father hands him his harpoon and tells him that when he gets back, he will take him hunting for the first time. On the island, Kutuujuk gets ill and dies. Maniq becomes proficient with the harpoon and even catches his first seal. Ningiuq and Maniq wait for the boat to come, but fall is closing in. Finally, unable to wait any longer, they take their canoe and start the journey back themselves.
A horrible sight meets them back at the village. A European disease has broken out, and no-one is left alive. They decide to go back to the island where they stored some food, taking two puppies with them. Though their tent has broken down, they find a cave where they shelter through the long winter. Ningiuq sings songs and tells stories to Maniq, and Maniq dreams of making the two little pups his sled dogs. Ningiuq says that she knows of a beautiful place to the south where there are many people and children, but that the path there is long and very difficult. They are attacked by wolves, and Ningiuq is wounded. Towards the end, the film gets slower and slower, and Ningiuq begins repeating the same things to Maniq ("you're my grandson, you're so skilled, and I love you very much"). Finally, we see her talking to herself (but as if she were talking to her husband) and realize that her narration throughout the early part of the film was not from some comfortable happy ending, but from this desperate, lonely and not very hopeful situation.
Does the wonderful place in the south really exist? Will they ever get there? That's beyond the scope of this film, which is about the journey and not the destination.
***SPOILERS end here***
The acting and direction here are fantastic, and indeed it's one of those films that really gets you deep down. The music is a bit hit-and-miss, and I felt that the song which plays at the beginning and end ("Why Must We Die?") beats you over the head with the point a bit too much.
I think that most people will like the film, though. The one snag is that it is sometimes very slow, which is something that I've seen in all the Inuit films - the sense of pacing is just much slower in general than in the modern West. But at least it is slow and intimate rather than slow and aloof. I could not stand it if it were the latter.
One of the first examples of Soviet animation
This film is fairly well-known among historians of Russian animation for being one of the first to be made in the Soviet Union. Well, not exactly the first; there was one lost film released in 1923 and nine in total from 1924. But it was the "biggest" early animation project, running about 32 minutes. The film is in three acts of 10 minutes each. It starts with a description of how evil capitalists are hurting China, goes on to show an example of uprisings in the countryside and cities which are mercilessly crushed, and finally shows how communist ideas make an impact among the population, and how China finally recognizes the Soviet Union and begins trading with it. The final scene sums up the message of the film by telling its viewers to sympathize with the plight of the Chinese peasants and "stand by them".
Unlike American animation of that time, Soviet animation of the 1920s up until 1936 took its inspiration from avant-grade revolutionary posters (American animation was inspired by comics). The film's visual style is very dramatic (i.e. capitalists have enormous bellies, fat, jiggling cheeks, and even fangs). Symbolism is everywhere (near the end of the film, capitalism is represented by a huge black spider sitting on China). At the same time, the portrayal of the Chinese countryside in the middle of the film is rather naturalistic and peaceful. The film uses the "cutout animation" style; everything consists of moving pieces of paper. This method allows a far more interesting visual look than cel animation would have, at the expense of some mobility. However, the animators are very creative with how they use it.
Although some sections of the film are quite interesting to watch, it is not nearly as fun as the directors' earlier and shorter 1924 film "Interplanetary Revolution". There is less activity, and less humour (by design, this film was meant to be educational). However, I don't think that I can really judge the true quality of the film; the version of the film that I watched (Films by Jove) had a clean but very dark image, sometimes so dark that I couldn't see anything on the screen. Moreover, the music chosen to accompany this silent film seemed very inappropriate most of the time; the striking images and often-frantic activity on the screen demanded a similarly striking soundtrack. Instead, there was a Chinese string instrument and flute playing very slow and seemingly aimless music that did not correspond at all with the activity on the screen. All in all, it was difficult to get a picture of what the film was like when the reels were brand new and the music more fitting.
Anna and the Moods (2006)
When I saw this at a film festival recently (it was packaged along with some other films), I had no idea that Bjork did the voice of the main character. Besides that bit of star power (and I don't think it matters for an animated film, anyway), there's nothing special about the movie. Its message is simplistic and it is conveyed gracelessly, so it simply bored me (the whole film climaxes with the very deep observation that "kids grow up and become teenagers"). The characters are all clichés. The whole story is cliché. The humour is usually predictable and lacks subtlety. The animation and art design is more cheery than it is good; expect to see lots of exaggerated movements and "wacky" shapes but little soul. It is also just not structured very well; it starts off with the story of a boy living with a wild boar in the forest who somehow becomes a psychologist later in the film. The finished film would work just as well without this introduction, because it doesn't relate to anything that comes after; it just seems like a random unneeded back-story.
It is a generally harmless film (except maybe for the scene of Anna's parents "getting freaky") but I don't really think that there's any reason to see it; it's not that good and it doesn't offer anything new.
The Simpsons Movie (2007)
Movie-making by committee
Most of the jokes fell flat, as did most of the sentimental scenes. It was disjointed. But there were some nice action scenes, and it worked just enough to make me not sorry that I paid to see it on the big screen.
Those are my impressions in a nutshell. More words? OK...
There are really two big problems with The Simpsons Movie. The first, and more important one, is that it has no coherent, well-planned script. The creators apparently finished enough scenes which were eventually cut out to make a whole other film, and were removing and adding stuff until the last minute. This is a poor method of making sure that your film has a flow rather than simply a progression of events. Unfortunately, The Simpsons Movie's scenes often have no bridge between them, especially in the beginning, before the plot really gets going. One funny scene ends and another begins, and you get a weird sense that they could've switched their order around and no-one would've noticed. They're there more to show a joke than to fit into the bigger picture. Of course, this makes the plot not very coherent either. I really got the impression that any single 10-minute stretch of the movie could've been replaced with something completely different and still make as much sense as it did before.
The second problem is that the movie makes some attempt at developing the Simpsons' characters and actually having a sort of moral. It only half-works, because you don't really get a sense that the Simpsons are real. In order for the comedy to work (which is the main focus of the film), many of the characters act like caricatures. It is therefor hard to relate to them when the film suddenly turns around and says "nope, these folks are real, you're supposed to cry now". The TV show has a similar problem. And, to be fair, so do some very fine comedy films like "Hot Fuzz".
I should as well mention here that my theatre audience (Toronto, on a Tuesday a few weeks after the movie's premiere) was depressingly quiet, and there was only a bit of laughter. This seems to be one film which benefits greatly from being seen with an appreciative crowd. Unfortunately, after you take the appreciative crowd away, the film doesn't have enough merits to really be enjoyed by one person.
Oh, it's alright. As I mentioned before, there are some really impressive action scenes, and some jokes actually DO work. But I think it's closer to being an "ok" movie than to being a "good" one.
Smekh i gore u Bela morya (1987)
One of the funniest and most fulfilling films I've seen.
This film has an ingenious structure - it begins with an old Pomor seaman telling tales in a little fisherman's cabin to his few companions. The place is somewhere near Arkhangelsk, in the far north of Russia by the White Sea. The time is indeterminate - partly in the past, partly in the "present" (anachronistic touches abound). The tales which he tells were originally written down by folklorists and writers Boris Shergin and Stepan Pisakhov at the beginning of the 20th century.
This is some really well-written stuff. What's more, it is absolutely hilarious. Our narrator speaks in a colourful northern Russian dialect which is very difficult to translate well into another language. He describes ridiculous stories about the "daily lives" of the villagers living in Russia's far north. For example: the daily run of the "icebergers"; people who harvest icebergs. The penguins who come up north to make some money in the off-season. The bear who sneaks into their village to sell kvass.
As the evening grows late, the stories become a little more serious... and the last story of the night is incredibly moving, far more than what you would expect. By the time the film is over, it becomes clear that it is not simply a funny collection of tales, but a veritable masterpiece. Everything comes together to an extremely satisfying conclusion.
The animation in the film is on a tighter budget than a typical western feature film, but the skill level of the artists shines through. The character animation in particular is very good, and the background art is typical of Russian folk illustrations.
Overall, this is an excellent film. Watch it if you can find it anywhere!
Andersen. Zhizn bez lyubvi (2006)
What an incredible film
This two-part film is fantastically-made, beautifully-acted, and has a wonderful musical score. But more than anything else, it is eye-opening and heart-breaking. The unbelievably difficult life that Andersen led is portrayed here in the form of long flashbacks; the film moves back and forth in time, more or less chronologically, between Andersen as a kid, as a teenager/young man, and as an adult/old man. Sometimes, Andersen's fairy tales take on a life of their own and seem to intrude into the real world. There are sequences where Andersen's shadow comes to life, where a prince comes to a princess in the form of a pig-keeper, and where Andersen himself is transported into the future. In that sense, it goes a tiny bit beyond being a biography. But as a biographical film, it is brilliant.
What is most impressive here is the acting - the actor portraying Andersen does a painfully, amazingly good job of portraying the "ugly duckling" that the real historical Andersen was. For those not acquainted with Andersen's biography, it may be a real eye-opener. A lot of the time, it is not an easy film to watch. But it is clear that the people working on it worked with the highest level of artistry. I think that it's an extremely fitting tribute to Andersen's legacy, and a very faithful retelling of Andersen's life story - not getting every single detail right, but exactly on the mark in the general feel.
The film is not for everyone, though - first of all, it's absolutely not a family film, strange as that may sound. There are some disturbing scenes and female nudity. Also, bullies (whether kids or adults) will think the film stupid and annoying, just as they thought Andersen when he was a child. If someone finds horrifying the thought of seeing a film about a very awkward, "ugly duckling" of a person, and laughs at weird people rather than sympathising with them, this film is not for them.
If you want to see a film which is true to the spirit of Andersen, however, you're in for an amazing delight. While it is often a sad film, it is also a very colourful one and a very good one.
A funny, well-crafted film
This is funny, well-crafted, computer-animated short film that'll give you a good laugh if you watch it. You can find it for free online (and legally) by searching for it at the "Portable Film Festival".
The fact I'm giving the film a 6 does not at all mean that I disliked it - as another user said, the film moves in a very deliberate way to a funny conclusion that you the viewer will probably not expect. It's definitely worth a look.
The thing is, that's all there is to it. The film sets its target low and does a great job of achieving it, but it's still a low target. I'm not sure that it has enough in it to deserve an Oscar nomination (especially when exemplary artistic masterpieces such as Aleksandr Petrov's "My Love" were left out of the list). It's a fine film that's worth watching, but it's still only based around a rather short, simple joke and doesn't aim for anything higher.
An Inconvenient Truth (2006)
A good film overall, but there are a few problems
I thought that this was on the whole a good film - I can imagine it being an EXCELLENT film for teachers to show to a class to explain global warming, actually. It explains the facts very well, explains away the objections that people have been hearing about from the media, and is also pretty funny at times. The film basically consists of a tour of Al Gore's climate change speeches around the world. It is, in essence, one long speech in various cities around the world (Al Gore says that he's given this presentation thousands of times), inter-cut with some various other footage. The film starts off with a few diagrams that many of you will probably have seen already, as well as a rather famous Futurama clip. In fact, if you're well-versed in your science, you'll probably already know much of what Al Gore talks about (though probably not quite all) - this film is really for the general public who doesn't quite know all of this, and also for those who might have heard something about global warming here and there but want to see exactly how all of the facts fit together.
As I said, a very good educational film. The problems come in the short but noticeable periods when the film tries to be a biography of Al Gore at the same time. Now, I don't know about you, but I was watching this to find out about global warming, not to find out what Al Gore thought about losing the 2000 election. I imagine that these are the bits that teachers will fast-forward over when they show this to their classes, since they don't really add anything to the film. I would have respected Al Gore a bit more if he hadn't tried to make this a film also (in a way) about himself. I guess it's to be expected, since he's a politician, but it's disappointing.
In closing, although it's not a perfect film, it's a pretty good one. It is THE film to watch if you want to find out about global warming (at least, I haven't heard of any better films out there). I don't really understand all of the "10" or "1" ratings on IMDb. It's not a "10" or "1" film. Even its biggest fans will have to admit that as a movie it could be a little tighter sometimes. I think it's good enough, but it's not perfect.
Pokhozhdeniya zubnogo vracha (1965)
A masterful, pro-elitist, Tatiesque film from Elem Klimov
This is story about a dentist with the talent of painlessly extracting teeth, and what happens to him as a result of being naturally good at his job. It is told with humour (much of it quite subtle, almost surreal, and in the background - imagine a street scene where everyone on the sidewalk on one side of the road walks in just one direction, and on the other side in the other), poignancy, and a frequent breaking of the 4th wall between the movie and the audience (think of what happens in Shakespeare's plays, and you'll be close). It also features some songs by Novella Matveyeva, a famous Russian singer-songwriter (her songs are sung by the leading actress).
Without revealing the details of the plot, I will just say this: this film is not very friendly to Communist ideology. One should not take that to mean, as some critics have, that it is simply a metaphor for Klimov's own experiences as a filmmaker, or that its criticism applies to Communism alone. To do that would be to miss the point. The film's final message (that society inevitably ostracizes those who are gifted) applies to all societies everywhere. It cannot be any other way - the gifted people in any society are, by definition, significantly outnumbered. In light of this, the film could be called a pro-elitist one.
The message is something that some (the "Dilberts" of the world) will inherently understand and love the film for, and others will find repellent - the audience that I was watching it with did not seem to like this film as much as Klimov's earlier "Welcome, or No Trespassing", which was in essence more-or-less a harmless kids' film. "Adventures of a Dentist" is not a kids' film. It requires a certain amount of wisdom about how the world works to understand, and its humour is quite clearly aimed at a higher level (although it is by no means less funny).
In the end, the film gives those who are receptive something quite serious to think about. This is without a doubt one film that I will remember, both for its all-too-rare brand of humour and its very relevant message. It is only a shame that as far as I can tell, this film is not available anywhere on DVD. It was only released in less than 100 theatres in the USSR (some say just 25), so it is not nearly as well-known as it ought to be. Despite this, I hope that some of the interest in Klimov's more famous film "Come and See" will rub off on his other films, and somebody will put this out on DVD eventually.
I first decided that I had to see this film after seeing a few video clips of it at a website (if you want to find them - and trust me, it's worth it - go to a search engine and type in "Krysar clips"). The animation style was like nothing that I had ever seen before. If anything, it was like cubism in motion - more like the 1920 expressionistic horror film "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" (except in colour) than any traditional animation. Perspectives are skewed, characters are disfigured, and everything is made out of a material that you don't usually hear about in connection with animation - wood.
Having decided to watch it, I did a bit of searching and found that it was available on two different DVDs. First, there was a DVD available through some Japanese sites called "Labyrinth Of Darkness & Light" which featured most of Jiri Barta's work including Krysar (it came out to 118 minutes in total). Unfortunately, it cost 6000Yen, which is about $55USD - a little too expensive for me (EDIT: As of September 16, 2006, this DVD has been released in the US for a much cheaper price, and with English subtitles! This is definitely the version to get!). Second, there was another version of Krysar available by itself on a PAL R2 DVD for around 20 Euro on several French online stores. That's the one I bought - the PAL R2 thing wasn't an issue for me because I have a modded DVD player (they cost as little as $80 nowadays). This DVD also included a colourful 10-page booklet with an interview with Jiri Barta.
There were no English subtitles on my DVD, but this wasn't really problem because outside of the introduction all characters speak only gibberish in the film, a technique which works surprisingly well and also makes this film transcend language barriers.
Once I finally watched the film, I was simply amazed. Not only was the visual design simply sublime at all levels, but the music was memorable and appropriate, and the film worked really well as a story - the fears that I had about this film turning out to be just eye candy were completely allayed. There were many scenes in this movie which were genuinely powerful, a fair few which were amusing (in a grotesque way), and some which were quite beautiful. Even now as I write this, there are many scenes that I still remember vividly - the scene where the Hamelin city elite engage in debauchery, spilling wine and gnawing on meat bones; the scenes where the rats take complete control of the city at night; the scene in which a painting is created as the pied piper plays on his pipe; and many others.
If you're a fan of the unusual, and don't mind seeing something so completely different from Hollywood and Disney movies (which is not to say that there's nothing to appreciate in Hollywood/Disney movies), you really owe it to yourself to see this film. Watch the film clips that you can find on a Google search, and if you like what you see, just remember - there's a lot more of that in the full film, and those aren't even the best bits.
One thing that I DISLIKED though was that the "Krysar" DVD came without a chapter select, which in my opinion is inexcusable for a film that's nearly an hour long. Still, the image and sound quality were very good. I guess life can't be perfect. ;)
If you have any more questions about this film or the DVD, don't hesitate to send me a private message (you can do this by clicking on my name at the top of this review).
From Darkness (2002)
An excellent animation!
"From Darkness" is a beautiful 8-minute retelling of an Inuit legend about a fisherman who casts his line in haunted waters.
The style of the animation is similar to the style of 2-D Inuit drawings (the artists here are very good), and the slow pace and starkly white surroundings perfectly capture the rhythm of life in such a place (I've tried fishing on the ice in Nunavut, and it is every bit as lonely as the film makes it out to be). The music is also worth singling out - it is very, very good, and perfectly captures the atmosphere of the film.
If you're a lover of thought-provoking animation, you will probably love this movie. It can be found in its entirety here:
http://zed.cbc.ca/go?CONTENT_ID=7848&c=contentPage (Yes, this is a legal site)
P.S. There is some slight nudity in the film, but I think that such a beautiful film can be watched by anyone really.
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy wasn't one of my favourite books when I first read it; I was expecting an epic and instead got something a lot smaller in scale that seemed to progress randomly from event to event, letting the jokes carry the story. I remember thinking that Dauglas Adams had nothing on Terry Pratchett (creator of the Discworld book series). Since then, especially after reading the next book in the series (The Restaurant at the End of the Universe), my appreciation of HGG has grown quite a bit. The book has flaws of course, but if you just accept those as part of the creation it also has some astoundingly brilliant moments.
The reason I mention this is that the same could be said of the movie. It's certainly not perfect; it reduces some of the jokes in the book to one-liners (the basement joke is particularly disappointing), there are parts where it feels as if the characters are just randomly travelling from planet to planet, and the line delivery in some sections is a bit inaudible. Nevertheless, the movie definitely brings something new to the series - visual humour. Besides the excellent flash-animated Hitchhiker's Guide entries that are littered throughout the film, there are many moments in the movie where the book's humour is conveyed perfectly without any use of words whatsoever. This definitely makes the movie a worthy addition to the series, and is definitely something that they should pursue further if they plan to make a sequel. The final 30 minutes of the film are especially awesome, and redeemed any doubts that I might've had during the middle of the movie (much as Restaurant at the End of the Universe redeemed my doubts about the HGG book).
Regarding other complaints that people have raised: the romance between Trillian and Arthur IS a touch overdone, but not by a lot. I felt that this was always a part of the original book in any case; here it's simply made a little more prevalent. My only suggestion to them for the next film would be to avoid a cheap Hollywood trick that they used this time around - showing them kissing in a rotating close-up shot. The romance is fine, but it should be made a little less "movie-like". The other complaint was that there is a section of the story regarding Zaphod's political rival that doesn't really go anywhere. I think that this is something that was planned to be completed in the sequel (a bit like Greebo talking about Jabba's bounty on Han Solo in Star Wars: A New Hope). And I certainly hope they do make a sequel!
A fabulous movie, on the whole, recommended from me! 9/10. This is one of those movies that I'd be happy to watch again (and I would too, if only theatre prices weren't so expensive)!
Beregis avtomobilya (1966)
An excellent movie
This is one of my favourite comedies, and it's a real shame that as I write this there is no version with English subtitles available. This is truly one of the funniest movies that I've ever seen, especially the hilarious narrated car chase sequence.
This is quite a well-known movie in Russia so it seems strange that there is no English version yet. We can only hope that RusCiCo or KINO will eventually release something.
The movie's humour is gentle, ironic, and just plain wacky at times, and the main character is easy to identify with, even if he is technically a criminal (though not a criminal at heart); there are no actual "bad people" in the movie, and there are some pretty funny situations when the protagonist reveals through his own honesty how the morals of other people can be much more crooked than his (for example, the guy who desperately needs a ride and isn't at all put off after being told that the guy he's asking for a ride is about to steal the car).
Highly recommended (if you can understand Russian).
The Sin of Harold Diddlebock (1947)
One of Harold's worst movies.
Anybody who watches this expecting an example of what made Harold Lloyd the most popular comedian of the 20s (no, it wasn't Chaplin) will be sorely disappointed, and may even think that his earlier films are not worth watching. The truth is, this "comeback film" is nowhere near the quality of his earlier silent films, and especially not "The Freshman", to which this is supposed to be a sequel.
***POSSIBLE SPOILER WARNING***
The problem with this film starts with the first 30 minutes; they are typical of a director whose style is completely inconsistent with Lloyd's trademark 1920s optimism. The first 30 minutes of this film (the footage from "The Freshman" excepted) are spent ridiculing in its entirety the philosophy that made Lloyd's previous films so fun to watch; his go-getter mentality, always making the best of a bad situation. The first part of this movie starts out slowly and depressingly, portraying Harold as a miserable loser who's been in the same job for 30 years who comes to work one day and gets fired.
Sound like comedy gold to you? Me neither. It's really not the type of thing that Harold's character is best suited to, and it was only through the faint hope that something better might lie ahead that I kept watching. Thankfully, the movie does get better after the bar scene, where Harold has the first drink of his life and metamorphosizes into something resembling his old character again (he bets on a horse-race against incredible odds and wins a whole load of money, which he promptly uses to buy a circus). From there on, there are a few very funny gags (the best of them having to do with a lion), although there are also too many hysterics on Harold's part for my taste; something that wasn't present in his earlier silent movies. The final scene of the movie pays homage to Harold Lloyd's climb up the side of a building in his 1923 "Safety Last".
***END OF SPOIILERS***
I'm pretty sure that the only reason that this film's reputation has gotten this high is that almost all of Harold's other films have been owned by his family and though well-preserved, withheld from public view (aside from a limited-release VHS run in the early 90s and regular showings on TCM for those who get it). This is truly a shame, because his earlier works, unlike THIS uneven piece of film-making, are truly great comedic masterpieces on a level with the best of Chaplin's and Keaton's films. I dare anyone who's watched "Safety Last", "The Freshman", "Why Worry?" or "The Kid Brother" to say otherwise.
Thankfully, The Harold Lloyd Trust has recently secured a DVD deal with New Line Cinema (27 of his films will be released on DVD in November 2005!) as well as a theatrical release deal with Sony (his films will play in New York City from April to May 2005, and there are also plans for Paris and other places). You can visit the official page of the Harold Lloyd Trust if you want to know more (haroldlloyd.com) Thankfully, Harold will be more visible soon than he has been in the last 50 years! I recommend that nobody buy this uneven movie but wait for his masterworks to come to a theater/store near you!
I've seen all four of Parajanov's well-known films (Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, The Color of a Pomegranate, The Legend of Suram Fortress, and this), and I have to say that this is one of my favorites.
Some people have said that this is a "minor" work, and that you can see evidence of a tight budget. I'd disagree with both of them. Perhaps it IS a minor work in that it is less serious than Parajanov's previous films, but it is tremendously fun to watch! The film whisks the viewer away to a fairy-tale world full of expansive landscapes and golden riches. The costumes and decorations are beautiful and the music is absolutely gorgeous (Parajanov hired a composer from the region to create the music for this film; the result is one of the best movie scores I have ever had the pleasure to listen to. It's folk music, yes, but it's folk music lifted to the realm of high art; the music almost makes this movie worth seeing just by itself).
As for evidence of a tight budget... who knows? Perhaps the magnificent illusion is standing on thin ice sometimes, but the ice never breaks, which is the important thing; you never SEE that Parajanov was working under a tight budget, although sometimes you get the impression that you maybe WOULD see if the camera zoomed out just a little bit. He does use a lot of paintings to illustrate some events, but in my opinion this only adds to the film's extremely rich atmosphere.
Without giving too much away, I'll say that the film has a story based on an old Eastern legend, and it progresses in episodes, much like "Legend of Suram Fortress". It is one of the peculiarities of Parajanov's style that his films do not depend on the credibility of the story or the characters (although the actors in this film are quite good); this is a fantastical fairy tale, and we understand when watching the film that fairy tales have their own sense of logic.
Although "Color of a Pomegranate" remains at the top of my list of favorite films by Parajanov, "Ashik Kerib" is a delightful movie and probably the best one to start with for new-comers to this director. Watching it is in truth more like watching a musical, ballet or folk-dance than watching a film. There is a lot of excellently choreographed dancing in the film, along with excellent artwork and excellent music. If you have an interest in any of those fields, you will probably love this film.
Now as for where to get it... there are currently 2 DVDs available on the market: a KINO 2-in-1-DVD featuring Ashik Kerib and Legend of Suram Fortress and a RusCiCo DVD featuring just Ashik Kerib. I advise that you get the RusCiCo DVD despite the fact that it's only slightly less expensive than the 2-in-1 KINO DVD, because the video quality on the KINO DVD is quite bad. If you want to see HOW bad, go to a website called "DVDBeaver.com" and see their DVD comparison of the two versions of Ashik Kerib; whereas RusCiCo's version is sharp with bright colours, KINO's version is blurry with muddy colours and unremovable green subtitles.
This is unfortunately the only Parajanov movie that is currently available in a decent DVD release; "Color of a Pomegranate" is only available in a KINO DVD with transfer as bad as in "Ashik Kerib"'s, and "Legend of Suram Fortress" is available in the blurry KINO 2-in-1 DVD, as well as in a RusCiCo DVD with sharp image quality but an unremovable Russian voice-over (not dubbing; it's basically one Russian voice translating what the people are saying while the audio in the background becomes quieter). "Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors" is not available on DVD at all, to the best of my knowledge.
If you liked this movie, I'd also recommend "The Adventures of Prince Achmed" (the world's first animated film, made in 1926 using only shadow puppets and tinted backgrounds and based on tales from Arabian Nights) and perhaps "The City of Lost Children" (a 1995 French film that creates its own dark fairy-tale universe).
A rare director, an excellent film!
Von Stroheim is one of those rare directors who can make a long movie be engaging throughout its whole length (I think modern directors-in-training should see this movie). The way that the characters are portrayed in the movie feels astoundingly true-to-life, and the on-location shots really create a sense of authenticity.
I only wish that the full movie had been preserved; I saw the 2h10min version, and the editing does sometimes feel uneven, as if huge chunks of the story have been left out. This could have been counted as one of the 20th century greatest movies, were it not for the idiot who edited the film. This is really a movie that should have been longer, but what is here already is absolutely amazing, definitely worth watching for everybody. The other gift that the director has is making the audience almost forget that they're watching a silent film; it seems completely unlimited by the lack of speech, and in fact makes it seem somewhat unnecessary.
Speaking of sound, the score to this film is fantastic; it perfectly complements the mood of each scene. My only slight complaint would be that the movie's beautiful main melody gets a slight bit tiresome by the end because it is repeated in so many variations.
Overall, I give this movie 9/10, although I'm positive that had I seen Stroheim's original version it would have become one of my favourite movies. Perhaps the next best thing is the newly restored 3-hour version that is available on DVD. I'll have to watch it some time...
Enemy at the Gates (2001)
Not very realistic, but well-made
That the director of this movie knows how to handle his craft is visible from the very first scene, where the soldiers arrive in Stalingrad and all of the explosions & grand vistas are perfectly choreographed. There are many other such scenes in the movie as well, personal as well as grand.
The trouble with this movie, for me at least, is that none of it feels very real; it feels exactly like a Hollywood war movie, a film for people who love action movies. This isn't simply because all of the "Russians" speak in English (I have to give them props for at least not attempting to do a bad Russian accent), but because none of the characters really seem "real". All of them are, in true Hollywood fashion, larger-than-life; they say and do things that you don't think actual people would do in those situations. Frankly, I think that the best acting is when you do not realize that the characters are acting. In this film, I definitely realized it; this film's purpose is primarily to entertain, not to show the truth. This is fine for some types of movies but not, I think, for a war movie; this film glamorizes the war, makes every person a hero, and shows us more of an aristocrat's view of the war than a soldier's. And of course, there is a love story as well. ;)
This movie has practically nothing in common with the philosophy of Russian war movies (which are generally much more honest); it's really a Hollywood interpretation of the war in Stalingrad by people who were not there, and there are times when they really misinterpret the situation. Khruchev, the future Soviet leader who oversaw the defence of Stalingrad, is portrayed in this film as a dangerous drunk; in one scene he actually gives somebody a gun; "perhaps you'd like to avoid the red tape"! Somehow, this doesn't seem very likely from the leader who later revealed Stalin's crimes in front of the whole country after his death, freed thousands of political prisoners, and took steps towards more openness and freedom of speech. This portrayal of Khruchev is a relic of American Cold War propaganda, and it reminded me that I have to watch this film with a grain of salt.
It's certainly an exciting movie, but for an authentic view of Russia's side of WW2, you'd have to look elsewhere. I HEAVILY recommend Elem Klimov's masterpiece "Come and See", which is perhaps one of the most honest and brutal war films you'll ever see. As likely as not, you'll never want to watch another Hollywood war film again! Another good choice is Tarkovsky's "My Name is Ivan". (seriously, check those films out, they're both amazing!)
Our Hospitality (1923)
Not one of his better efforts.
I frankly don't think that this film is that good. Granted there are a few great sequences, among them the train sequence, the chase at the end and the joke about the traffic. The rest of the film, though, was incredibly stretched and weary. Even in the train sequence, Keaton repeats the same joke twice; the one about his tall hat not being able to fit on his head because of the low roof (whereupon he dons his famous porkpie hat).
The whole thing simply feels dated; it doesn't have the incredible pace of later Keatons (like Sherlock Jr.) and it doesn't have the great editing of Charlie Chaplin's or Harold Lloyd's films of the same year (Harold Lloyd released both his most famous feature film "Safety Last!" and arguably his funniest, "Why Worry?", in 1923 - if you like silent comedy those are some of the best). I've always found that out of the three great comics of the silent era (Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd), Keaton always had the most trouble telling a story coherently through his medium; I always find myself struggling more to find out what exactly is going on on the screen, who's called what and who's angry at who, etc.
This film gets a 6.5/10 from me; it's really not the brilliance that I was expecting from Keaton... more like a historical curiosity.
P.S. I should as well mention here that the version of Our Hospitality that I saw had a terrible musical score that distracted from the movie and did not complement any of the action (except at the very end). It's the one on the VHS double feature with Our Hospitality/Sherlock jr (Kino Video). If I had seen this movie with a better score, I probably would have enjoyed it more than I had.
Osenniy marafon (1979)
A sad comedy
This film takes a while to get going, but once it does it's a pretty good film. I strongly recommend it to those who'd like to see how ordinary people lived in the USSR in the early 80s.
The film takes place in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), which is Russia's second largest city after Moscow. The cinematographer is this film is a very good one, and there are a lot of great compositional shots... I'd say that the cinematography in this film seems more western than a lot of other Russian films. The editing work and script, by contrast, is not always so good, especially in the beginning of the film (for the first 1/2 hour I didn't even know who the main character was!). The actors are all very believable though, and by the end of the film I pretty much understood everything that I was so confused about at first.
This film isn't a traditional comedy; it's more of a sad morality tale told with some humour to keep it from becoming depressing. If you liked "Moscow Does not Believe in Tears", you may like this movie as well. Interesting to note is that the director was female (EDIT: Sorry folks, he's male. I assumed that the director was Russian, in which case a last name ending with "a" would signify a female).
Overall, I'd give it a 7/10. Westerners may want to watch this if they want to see a "typical" Soviet movie from the last half of the century. Most critics only notice the more "avant garde" movies of Soviet cinema like "Andrei Rublev" or "Battleship Potemkin", and that becomes people's impression of what Russian movies are like. This is for those who want to see a simple movie about a man's life that can be pretty much universal anywhere; there is no over-the-top patriotism or strangeness in this film and it's a good film regardless.
BTW, the Russian voices are better than the English voice-overs.
For Heaven's Sake (1926)
Not bad, but not excellent either.
Harold Lloyd, the most popular comedian in the 20s (no, it wasn't Chaplin) made a lot of great silent films in the 20s, and many of his fans say that he never really made a bad film. That may be true, but frankly, this film is not one of his best. It "fails" (it's still not too bad of a film, though) because despite the occasional brilliant comedic scenes, the characters are completely cookie-cutter and unrealistic. This film stars Harold Lloyd as a filthy rich millionaire who "accidentally" establishes a missionary in a poor part of town and somehow falls in love with the daughter of the priest (this process is never really explored; they just "fall in love"; that's it). The rest of the film deals with attempts to convert the "rough life" of the town to Christianity, and to successfully marry the leading girl despite protests by Harold's other rich friends. A lot of fluff, really, tied together with some good comedy.
It seems like it was made specifically for "church-going parents" as a morally-correct film. It doesn't succeed, though, because it's really more of a collection of gags with not a whole lot of story.
I suggest you see Harold's "Why Worry?" (a much better film which has him take the role of a millionaire) or "Safety Last" instead.
La passion de Jeanne d'Arc (1928)
I'm not even religious...
and yet I still loved this movie. The music, the camera movements and compositions, and the acting are all simply amazing.
It'll be enjoyed more by those people who firmly believe that Joan was in fact sent by God, but there's enough here for the rest of us as well. It is a good movie regardless of what you believe because it draws you into its own world, and keeps you shackled there until the end.
If you're the type of person who notices little details in movies, that's definitely a bonus, because there are a lot of visual metaphors (ex. there is a shadow of a window on the floor that looks like a cross. One of the priests steps over it covers it with his shadow). Also, the use of close-ups means that we really notice every single tiny detail of the (mostly) excellent dramatic performances.