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Prokleta je Amerika (1992)
Balkan and Serbia from the worst perspective
This movie is another drama that is hard to stomach, even though it opens as a rather light movie about a cheese salesman who comes to the big town, Belgrade. He is befriended by a waiter/bar owner who picks him up and gives him a lift, played by the great Bogdan Diklic. Salesman, played very well by Enver Petrovci, is a rather naive and good-natured man who is divorced and has a daughter. He is therefore a rather lonely guy with not much to lose, something that in the end brings forth a violent and tragic ending. Diklic takes him to the bar which he owns and at first treats him well, introducing him to the local deadbeats who frequent the bar. They include a middle-aged cynical woman and some rather despicable men, including the old timer played by Predrag Lakovic.
Poor cheese salesman is soon made a target of several jokes, including a prank someone plays on him where two hookers act like they are interested in him, but the salesman is embarrassed by it all. He claims he doesn't know them, innocently, while even the bar owner Diklic tells him to "give them one on his tab". Diklic starts to join the harassing of Pantic (Petrovci) and in the end he goes totally berserk, claiming he ordered a lot more than he really did and demands him to pay for it. The gang also eats the entire pot of cheese that Pantic was supposed to sell at the market, leaving him without a way to earn money. In the end, he cannot take it any more and explodes violently.
This is a very dark and cruel film which shows what can happen to an unsuspecting man from the countryside in a big and mean city like Belgrade. The bar is like hell. It is frequented only by low-life losers and perverts, including two aging men who are accompanied by a whore. This movie also shows what peer pressure is and that even people who are not that bad inside can get drawn into bullying an innocent guy. Diklic's character is like a two-faced man. At first he helps Pantic and treats him like a friend and then he completely changes face and starts to treat him badly, like a drunken and unwelcome guest. This is Serbia at its grimmest and meanest. The lesson? Don't accept offers from people you don't know in a big city, unless it is only for a lift. Petrovci's character accepts more than that and in the end has to pay.
The movie is titled after a song which the two men with the prostitute start to sing and as the entire bar joins in, things escalate into a violent finale. It is called "Carrot, you don't grow fine".
This is a review concerning the segment "Sargarepo ti ne rastes lepo".
This Is England (2006)
The fight for England becomes the fight for one boy's soul
This movie is full of tragedy, yet also redemption. It is a story about one young boy who ends up in the wrong crowd. It is 1983 and Shaun is a 12-yearold boy whose father was killed a year ago in the Falklands War. Worth noting is the choice of year, as it was a time of major political and social upheaval in Britain. Miner strikes and dissatisfaction with Thatcher's regime. It is this dissatisfaction that also is shown here, albeit from a very extreme perspective of the skinhead leader Combo. Combo is a character full of contradictions, as he is both a racist and nationalist, and at the same time in denouncing the Falklands War as a rubbish Thatcher-invention, he is also talking the language of the common man, the oppressed man. Those who have been hurt by the war the most are people like him, people who had no grudge against Argentina but had to fight in that war, millions of miles away from home. While at the same time many so-called "respectable" and "politically correct" Englishmen and Britons supported that war and many still think it was right to fight it. This shows the yawning gap between the working class and the upper class. Working class is sick of having to take foreigners from third world countries "taking over" their neighbourhoods with their stores and restaurants and "taking their jobs", while the government does nothing and profits from the foreign "injection".
Shaun is a kind of objective figure here, who is never too much on either side, even though he accepts Combo as a sort of father figure or big brother figure. I think even the ones among us who hold some kind of grudge towards the immigrants, especially ones from afar, will feel sickened by the scene where Combo holds a knife against an Indian boy's throat, just because he and his friends played football on "his" court. Even if some of us have had negative experiences with for instance a Pakistani or Indian, watching this makes us pity that Indian boy. I know it made me feel like that and it took away any kind of grudge I might have felt towards their kind. Stephen Graham does a great job as Combo and the young Tom Turgoose also is very effective for a debutante and for his age. This is a film everyone should watch and learn from. It is a young boy's spiritual education, as Shaun finally realizes that his father didn't die fighting for the nationalist, racist England but for a united England. And everyone must accept that their society has changed.
Combo is one unhappy, tormented character. A guy who was obviously scarred early in life and cannot feel anything but anger, or can he? Despite always trying to look as cold and hard as possible, he harbours feelings for Lol, the girlfriend of his friend who then turns away from him because of his racism, after Combo returns from prison. After he gets rebuked by Lol for confessing his feelings for her, he gets more dangerous. He only wants to feel loved and to have a good life, but can't. He hangs out with losers for the most part. One exception is the mild-mannered Milky, the half-Jamaican. This all makes you wonder: is Combo really a racist? Or is it only anger and frustration that make him say and do racist things? This is a very strong character study and one of the few films I have seen to try and deconstruct what lies behind, or inside, an average racist and his mind.
I give this film a 9, because it is a very compelling and important film and a good lesson for any young man who may harbour some kind of animosity towards people of other race. Feeding on hatred and living on hatred will only make you miserable and end in tragedy, as it does for Combo. But one can hope that he is headed towards finding redemption as well, while Shaun found the right way to go.
Smokin' Aces (2006)
Poor and unoriginal
This movie looks "cool" and "smokin'" as its title says, but the first hint that it's not so good is the fact that non-actress Alicia Keys is one of the main stars. And she simply can't act. She does a terrible job, even though some may think she doesn't, but it's obvious, sometimes painfully obvious, that she can't act and is not a real actress. Like in the scene at the elevator, when she meets the three over the top Neo-Nazi characters. Her response is so lame and she delivers it totally unconvincingly, like she doesn't quite know what to do. And its a major mistake, casting a non-actress in a LEADING role, even in an action flick. Jeremy Piven being there doesn't do enough to save this film from being just another in a long line of unoriginal movies that are clearly a rip off of Guy Ritchie's classics like Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch. And one advice to the director: adding those running name titles to introduce each major character doesn't make a movie any better! Why? Because it's already been done, to death. You had it in Faculty, those two aforementioned Ritchie films and many others.
Ryan Reynolds is another reason I hate this movie, because Ryan Reynolds is the most overpaid, overrated and over-you name it in the movie industry. He simply sucks and is annoying. All this movie is made of is shootout scenes and some scenes that aim at being humorous in a rather bizarre way, like the scene with the karate boy. Vladimir Kulich, not a bad actor really, is doomed to be in second and third rate movies it seems...poor guy. And here he doesn't get more than one line even, which is totally unjust, given that he has a cool voice. Really poor and unoriginal flick, I won't even call it a film because it doesn't deserve it. Action scenes are rather well shot and that is the only treat here, along with miss Keys appearing in a short skirt. The cliché of the ending only underlines the fact that this is a turkey. 3 out of 10
This is one of the last movies that came out before the breakup of Yugoslavia and it is a perfect example of the kind of movies that we were best at: tragic melodramas. It is a powerful and riveting story of a woman whose husband is in prison for false testimony and who tries to make ends meet with her teenage daughter at her side. They move in a suburb of Belgrade which is known for its high crime rate and rather poor living conditions. Both mother and daughter are played marvelously by Mirjana Karanovic and Mirjana Jokovic, respectively. Also, the always fun to watch Srdjan Todorovic plays a local thief who is about the same age as Jokovic's character and whom he affectionately calls "Mala", meaning little one. He is ironically the only bright point of her life, even though he leads a very wild and unstable life and in his heels is constantly the local policeman nicknamed Ajkula (Shark) who is played by Ljubisa Samardzic. Srdjan's Misha lives with his good grandmother, who is aware of her grandson's criminal activities but still covers for him when he commits a robbery.
Danilo Lazovic plays a brutal womanizer who manages to seduce Mala's mother and promises to marry her and make life better for her and Mala. But Mala is not convinced by his pleasant facade and seeks company with Misha, much to her mother's chagrin. After Lazovic rapes Mala, everything spirals out of control. Will the belated arrival of her father finally save Mala from falling apart?
There are many colorful characters here and all are played well by the actors involved. The music by Goran Bregovic is nice and complements the film's melodramatic feeling. It is a story of tragedy but also revenge and redemption. A story about two women falling prey to a very vicious and promiscuous man but the ending gives hope that they can survive and recover from the damage he has given them, emotional when it comes to the mother and physical and psychological when it comes to the daughter. It is a very dramatic film that will leave you emotionally spent. I give it a 9.
A Place in the Sun (1951)
Quest for a better life ends in tragedy
I have seen negative reviews of this film which call its social commentary outdated. I don't agree. This story is an all-too familiar and common one to be outdated, along with its social commentary. The quest for a better life, the quest for acknowledgment and social climbing, establishing yourself from common and modest origins as a social "lion". Those things are never easy and can take a piece of one's soul. And this is in part what this film is about.
The hero or protagonist of this film is a young man who was raised in a religious home by his mother, George Eastman, played wonderfully by Montgomery Clift. Clift has always been one of my favorite actors and one of the few who possessed both great talent and great looks, really few. Despite being related to a wealthy family, he is not really treated as one of them, since they don't consider him their equal. He gets away from his mother and his home city Chicago to go to California where his uncle owns a factory. Despite being given a job by him, it's just an entry job and George is forbidden to socialize with any women who work there. He breaks the rules, unfortunately, and starts dating another poor girl, Alice, played by the excellent Shirley Winters. However, he soon finds himself promoted to a higher position in the factory and then meets a beautiful society girl Angela Vickers, played by Elizabeth Taylor at her most appealing. The two click instantly and fall in love and for the first time in his life, George is truly happy. No longer the outsider, he can now enjoy a rich social life with the cream of the crop. However, Alice finds out she is pregnant and threatens to ruin George's newfound idyll with Angela.
Lets note that Taylor's character is called Angela. I think she represents a sort of angel of George's, who wants to lead him to a better life. Alice is her exact opposite, a rather shabby and not too good looking poor girl who has nothing to offer George but her love. And he doesn't want it, for she only reminds him of his poor and difficult past. Angela is the bright future, the ray of sunshine he needs. His place in the sun is therefore by her side. Alice is the darkness and gloom, if he goes back to her he will never be happy again. And here we start to question George's character: does he really love Angela for herself only or also because of her wealth and social status? Well, this is indeed meant to be the moral dilemma here and as such it helps to make the film more compelling and powerful.
The ultimate tragic ending only makes it a film to be taken seriously as a drama, not just a melodrama. Its dramatic strength and the performances of its three stars is what really holds up A Place in the Sun and makes it a worthwhile experience to watch it. Its theme of quest for a better life, love, unwanted ties and ultimately tragedy is something that we can identify ourselves with even today. The message? The higher you climb, the harder you fall, perhaps. But I also like to look at it as just a tragic story of an unlucky man who tried to get himself a place under the sun and failed. It is also what I really like about it. There are no villains here, only victims.
The Comfort of Strangers (1990)
Perils of being a stranger
The title of this film expresses how it is to be a stranger. Sometimes it can be scary to be in a strange town or city, where you know nobody. Sometimes a friendly face is not to be trusted. This I believe is the real meaning and theme behind this film. There are many perils with being a stranger in a strange place. The couple played by Rupert Everett and Natasha Richardson are about to discover the worst of them.
This film by Paul Schrader was adapted from a novel written by Ian McEwen and written for the screen by no one else but the great Harold Pinter. It is then no surprise that it's such a powerful experience to watch it. Christopher Walken hadn't had so many famous villain parts before this but after this, it would become a trademark. He plays a deeply disturbed and obviously sexually repressed American from a wealthy family who lives in Venice with his fragile wife, played equally great by Helen Mirren. They are childless and live alone in a great mansion-like house. They try to make their life (read: sex life) more exciting by finding interesting tourists they can bring into their house and their bizarre world filled with troubled fantasies. Everett and Richardson make their choice. They are an unmarried couple who are obviously in love, but their relationship is not without problems. She is divorced and has children while he has never had children and is not sure if he fits in with her idea of a husband. To cut the long story short, they meet the odd couple while looking for a restaurant one night and at first they seem to bond with them, especially the fragile wife who confesses to them that she is sometimes afraid or at least wary of her husband and his sado-masochistic tendencies. They quickly decide this is not a good couple to be friends with and return back to their hotel, where they start making love like never before. But the sick couple will not be denied of their prey and eventually, things will escalate to a disturbing finale.
The story is really well crafted and the characters also. It also helps that all four main actors are really capable in bringing them to life. Music by Angelo Badalamenti is excellent and adds more eeriness and suspense to the already eerie and suspenseful film. This is a character drama which is not for the faint-hearted, especially not the last half hour or so, where things really go bananas. It is a dark and disturbing film about a couple that got lost in a strange city and fell into a trap set by a very sick man. It is a rather unhappy film and just as it seems that things are turning the right way, it again spirals down and comes to a tragic end. It is almost like a Greek tragedy. The lesson? Never trust strangers, especially not smiling ones. The irony is that the villains here are strangers themselves, so the title I think refers to them, not the victims. Their comfort is doing what they do, playing with people.
Without Limits (1998)
Dramatic and emotional
I enjoyed watching this film mainly for two reasons: the performances of Crudup and Sutherland and the emotional and dramatic strength of it. It's a biopic of one of the greatest wasted talents of the American track athletic history: Steve Prefontaine. Prefontaine nearly won a medal at the 1972 Olympics but was edged out at the last lap and came in fourth instead. It is a movie about promise, disappointment and ultimately loss and tragedy.
Billy Crudup plays Prefontaine very convincingly, so much so that you forget you are watching an actor and not the man himself. This was made in the time when Crudup was just establishing himself as a new force and new star in Hollywood and this role certainly helped him establish himself as that. He is an exciting talent and very capable in expressing the emotions this part requires. Donald Sutherland of course plays his coach and the inventor of Nike shoes, Bill Bowerman. He also gives a great portrayal of the man who was the main mentor and trainer of Prefontaine, almost like a second father to him. Monica Potter plays Prefontaine's love interest and adds a love angle to the film, which makes it complete and more enjoyable to watch.
The beginning and the first half of this film is the most enjoyable part and also contains some humorous scenes, such as the one where Sutherland exposes one of Pre's college stable mates as "well endowed", to the man's embarrassment. Also, we see the rise of Steve's career on national level, which culminates in the race where he beats the legendary Frank Shorter. However, the triumph doesn't last as he takes part in the Munich Olympics and makes a great race, only to run out of gas in the last lap and get overtaken by three men. There is a brief scene afterwards where the winner, Finland's Lasse Viren, gives a brief look of sympathy and acknowledgment to the disappointed Prefontaine and this scene is one of the dramatic high points of the film. It expresses the feeling of competing at this level and how it is to lose and win: sometimes the line is very thin between winners and losers.
The direction is great and kudos to the director Robert Towne for doing such a great job on what was his only third directing job. He is otherwise known mostly as a screenwriter but this movie proved he definitely had something to offer as a director to. In the end, one can only think about how the 1976 Olympics and the history of long distance running would look had Steve not driven so fast that night.
Crying Freeman (1995)
Excellent Manga adaptation
This was Christophe Gans' first movie that he directed all by himself and as such a truly satisfying and impressive work. It was a rather unique film of its kind: a French-Canadian adaptation of a Japanese Manga comic. It was also rather unusual for the 90's, since comic-adaptations weren't as common as they are today. This was truly a rather unique and inspiring work.
The cast is not absolutely top notch but Mark Dacascos, Tcheky Karyo, Rae Dawn Chong and Mako are to be seen and all of them deliver. On the Japanese front we have Masaya Kato, who plays an ultra-deadly and vicious Yakuza boss Ryuji Hanada and does it well, and then-still beautiful Yoko Shimada as his wife, the seductive, calculating and just as deadly Lady Hanada. Julie Condra was previously a TV soap actress and this is by far the best movie she has ever starred in. Considering that, she gives a good performance as Dacascos' love interest. Byron Mann, then coming off a featured role in the stinker The Street Fighter, appears as Freeman's somewhat uneasy ally. This is also by far the best project he's ever been in and he does OK in his part.
There are quite many visually breathtaking scenes and the fighting scenes are well choreographed and well shot. The music and atmosphere are great. Even though Gans would perhaps outdo himself with his next project, Brotherhood of the Wolves, this was his first gem and a work to be taken seriously. In the heap of other mostly uninspired martial arts films with an Asian theme, this one clearly stood out as powerful and original in its time. There is both action, romance and sex scenes as well as an interesting plot to enjoy in here. As well as the performances of Dacascos, Karyo, Shimada and also Condra, who add depth to this film. I give it a clear 9.
Running on Empty (1988)
This is one of Sydney Lumet's few melodramatic movies, without a socio-political edge. And it's also one of his best and most emotional ones. He succeeds in capturing our attention fully with this tale of love, sacrifice and quest for redemption.
River Phoenix got his (sadly) only Oscar nomination for his part of the elder son of parents who were once political activists (played by the equally wonderful Judd Hirsch and Christine Lahti) who are now constantly on the run from the law after taking part in a political bombing. They are forced to change their identity and even appearance to an extent, quite often, so that the FBI wouldn't pick up their trail. Phoenix's Danny Pope is a classical pianist prodigy who is unable to really build on that talent because of his family's unstable life. To make matters more complicated, he falls for the daughter of a rich man called Lorna (played by the capable Martha Plimpton) and she returns his affections. In the meanwhile, his mother tries to convince her rather wealthy parents to take Danny into their safe and stable home and give him an opportunity to become a concert pianist.
It is a very emotional and melodramatic movie, but without Lumet at the helm, I think it would likely dissolve into just another sappy and boring love movie and the dramatic content would be neglected or pushed in the background where it would do no good. This way, both Hirsch and Lahti and Phoenix get their shining moments. Had the parents and their plight been pushed in the background as so often happens in teenager love-themed movies, then this movie wouldn't be as good. This way, it's a clear gem and an unforgettable movie for the sentimental souls among us. Even the less-sentimental will find something to enjoy here and be inspired by Danny's struggle to find happiness and his parents' struggle to provide this happiness for him and their other son. 9/10
Almost makes the cut
This disturbing drama-thriller is almost like a sequel to "Daisy Diamond", the Danish shocker from 2007. They both have Noomi Rapace in the leading role and she carries most of the film. She again plays an unstable single mother, but this time of a grown boy, not a baby girl. And the setting is kinda the same, the desolate and tall block apartment complex and the empty lane which she is constantly shown walking. They are meant to symbolize her own loneliness and alienation. And this is a hint to what ultimately is revealed as a great surprise in the end.
This is a typical Scandinavian/North European picture which focuses on the plight of single mothers who have been victims of their husbands' rage and physical abuse. Anna (Rapace) moves in to a new place, the big apartment block, after she and her little son have been victimized by her husband. She feels alone and a little afraid in their apartment. She at first makes her son sleep in the same bed as her, but as he soon gets tired of it, she buys a baby call device and puts it next to his bed so she can sleep assured nothing will happen to him without her hearing it. One night she hears loud screams that sound like they are coming from a boy. She rushes to his son's room but founds him sound asleep and nobody is there. She then goes to the trade center nearby where she got the device and talks with the salesman about it. He tells her that her own baby call must have picked up the signal from another baby call that is somewhere near her. This only makes her more anxious to find out whose baby call that may be and which child that makes such hair-raising noise in the middle of night. In the meantime, the salesman (played by Kristofer Joner), a single man who is just as lonely as she, develops an affection for her and tries to get closer to her. But it gets even worse for Anna as she has problems sleeping and finds herself waking up at the oddest places and starts to hallucinate of a place which doesn't exist.
The acting is very good by the two main actors, Rapace and Joner, who are both very believable and effective in their roles. Joner looks his part and Rapace looks her part. There is very little satisfaction to find in this film except for the suspense and dramatic performances. And the way it ends doesn't do much to amend that. In other words, it is a very dark, haunting and bleak picture which is meant to capture life at its cruelest. Almost the whole movie is like one big constant nightmare and there are a few elements of Polanski's apartment trilogy there obviously. The mother-child vs evil father or evil male entity which persecutes them is a familiar motif in such films. And as such the movie doesn't really break any new ground. It is just a passable dark drama, something along the lines of Dark Water, but there is nothing supernatural about it. I give it a 6. 6+
Decko koji obecava (1981)
What it means to be really free
The protagonist of this film is called Slobodan, which means free. I think that represents the main theme of this film-what does it mean and take to become really free? He is a promising medical student who seemingly lives a perfect life: he's a good son, a good boyfriend who has a good girlfriend and a good future. Then one day, it all changes when he gives a lift to a Swiss adventure-seeker named Clavis. He has sex with her and she calls him "the promising boy", which is the title of the film. Of course, it turns his world upside down and after receiving a bad blow to his head from his angry girlfriend (with an oar, of all things), he loses his mind-or you might say finds it.
He goes on a search for his real self, which leads him to cutting his hair and going to bed with several women, including his girlfriend's mother. He clashes violently with his authoritative father who doesn't accept his radical behavior and is then left to manage by himself. He meets a group of musicians through a girl he bedded, Pit and VD. They are played by two real-life famous musicians, who were then members of one of the best new wave bands from Serbia and Yugoslavia.
Anyway, this movie represents the individual's breakaway from the society's constraints, symbolized in Slobodan's free and uninhibited sex life and his musician lifestyle and new haircut as well. He even writes a song with homosexual undertones, despite not being a homosexual. He is out to shock and rebel against everything that is considered normal and acceptable. Ergo, he is free from every sort of norm. This is what this film explores, does it really make you free to break every rule of the society or does it just make you feel like an outcast. In the end Slobodan returns to his previous life, after a motorbike accident where he again receives a blow to the head. His lost weekend is now over and he returns to his girlfriend and his parents. The freedom experiment has now ended. Or so he thinks...
The cast is really top notch here, with Aleksandar Bercek delivering perhaps his strongest role ever. Rade Markovic is also excellent as his father and Branislav Lecic also appears in one of his first movie roles as his karate instructor friend. Slobodan Aligrudic, Dusica Zegarac and Bata Zivojinovic also appear. The soundtrack is excellent and features songs from all the best new wave bands of that time, which is another treat this movie has to offer. I think it's a forgotten classic of the Yugoslav cinema and I give it a 10.
Could have been great
As Christopher Reeve said himself, this movie could have been really good but the bad editing ruined it. And I wholeheartedly agree. It was a pretty bold movie, even for the bold 80's: a tale of a Vatican priest who deals with the mafia, seduces a nun and takes up arms in the war, bloodying his hands. This was clearly still a taboo, any kind of negative portrayal of the Catholic church and the Vatican. But somewhere during its 2 hours this movie lost its boldness and became just another failed experiment with an interesting idea.
In the year 1982, Reeve was clearly looking to establish himself as a serious actor and it couldn't have been easy for a guy who so convincingly looks like a superhero and who came to prominence as THE superhero. He was in Deathtrap that same year and did well in that part. One might say that this role has something in common with that one, because he plays an opportunist who is morally unclean. This movie has a really top notch cast, with Jason Miller, Fernando Rey and Genevieve Bujold as the brightest part of it. Miller, though somewhat miscast in the role of the Sicilian mafioso, brings the dark intensity similar to the one in his role as Father Karass. Only difference is, here he has a mustache. Joe Cortese is also good in the part of Reeve's old friend who becomes his business partner and the link with Miller. Fernando Rey plays the part of cardinal Santoni, who represents the political side of Vatican, the ambitious and power-hungry priest who is willing to close an eye to illegal stuff in order to achieve his own goals.
Anyway, this movie is interesting to follow but sometimes it can't decide whether it wants to be a drama about corruption and moral or a love movie. Some scenes are well shot and gripping, like the scene where the nun played by Bujold discovers Reeve's true identity and occupation. It is the dramatic highpoint of the film. But the love story lasts too short to really give the movie the edge it needs, another angle. Christopher Reeve is one of the film's bright points because he really does make his character believable. He's a priest who tried to be both a priest and a man. I guess you can say that this is the ultimate theme of the film, how hard it is to be a priest and give up the good things in life in order to serve God.
I think it's a great shame that this film has been largely forgotten and scorned by the critics and by the audiences. For despite it's editorial flaws and despite the screenplay not holding up till the very end, it still can be an interesting watch and a spiritual lesson.
Mr. Wonderful (1993)
A fine early effort from Minghella
I was surprised after seeing this film and later finding out it was directed by none other than one of the best 90s and 00s directors, Anthony Minghella, now sadly long gone. Why surprised? Perhaps because it's an American film and a melodrama, but not of the spectacular kind like The English Patient or Cold Mountain. But one thing they all have in common, which also shines through in this one: Minghella's ability to express the emotions of its protagonists like few other directors. That is really his great legacy and contribution that he leaves behind to the film.
The movie stars one of my favorite 80s actors, Matt Dillon as the Average Joe, Gus the electrician. He lives with the beautiful Mary Louise Parker, who plays Rita, an emergency room nurse. They are very much in love but one thing hinders their happiness together and Gus' financial situation: his ex-wife Leonora, played by Annabella Sciorra. Gus dreams of buying a bowling alley for himself and his pals, but due to the alimony payments he must provide to Leonora, the bank turns his request for a loan down. Therefore he tries to get her married by finding her a husband. This whole process triggers something that has been lying deep inside both Gus and Leonora-their love for each other.
This might seem like a schmaltzy, sappy love movie to some, but it is a carefully crafted melodrama. It explores the idea that love is sometimes too easily abandoned or given up on when other things come in the way, like money and career. At the same time, it shows how hard it is to make a choice between two women that you both love and care for. Gus may love Leonora more, but it doesn't mean he feels nothing for Rita. That part of the film is very sad but at least Gus does realize he was wrong to let Leonora go in the end and does something with it. As the other user pointed out, it doesn't seem very believable that he'd give up on such a seemingly perfect match as Rita for the more complex one such as Leonora, but hey, to each his own.
The supporting cast is really top notch, with William Hurt playing Leonora's college professor whom she dates. Gus' strong reaction when finding this out is the first hint of what's to come. Also seen here is Vincent D'Onofrio as the main candidate for Leonora's husband that almost makes the cut. Dan Hedaya, Luis Guzman and James Gandolfini are also in the supporting cast but don't make that much impact on the storyline. Dillon is great as always and makes his character very believable. He's a dreamer who has been sleeping too long. Parker also shines in her part as his ultimately unhappy love project and Sciorra is as always a delight to watch. This can be seen as a final step towards perfection for Minghella, like a graduation test. While it's not one of his best works, it certainly has a vital place in his repertoire.
Suspenseful and thought disturbing
This movie was one of the first I saw on big screen as a teenager. It was a pretty strong experience. Nicole Kidman plays a woman with angelic appearance but the heart and the nature of a demon. It is a film about sin and manipulation. Bill Pullman is once again playing the typical good guy and with his looks he just can't get avoid getting type-casted as such. Alec Baldwin is his counterpart, the maverick surgeon who has a god complex and is secretly sleeping with his friend Pullman's wife.
The movie opens as a rather straightforward drama about a married couple, Andy (Pullman) and Tracy (Kidman), who are happy together but childless. Both are well liked and respected in their community but nobody knows what lies beneath. Andy bumps into his high school friend, the surgeon Jed (Baldwin), who is short on money. Andy offers him to live in his house and rent the room at the third floor. One night, Tracy experiences strong pains in her abdomen and is taken to the hospital where an intoxicated Jed performs an emergency surgery on her. The worried Andy is told by his friend Jed that he found a fetus inside his wife, but that it was aborted due to a cyst that lay on her ovary. Andy is initially glad to hear of his wife being pregnant but then decides to consent to the removal of her other ovary as well. However, his wife is angry over him consenting to such a thing since it means she can never have children and leaves him. Tracy also sues Jed after finding out he had been drinking prior to the surgery. But soon thereafter, Andy learns that he is sterile and therefore could not have impregnated his wife. He starts searching for the true father of the unborn child and soon a disturbing truth is revealed, along with a lot more that lies under it all.
The story is well crafted and very suspenseful. The revelation of the child's father's identity and the motives behind Kidman's lawsuit and the divorce from her husband are truly surprising and pretty disturbing as well. All three main actors do a fine job and even though I have a feeling Pullman didn't get enough publicity for his role here (he is missing from the poster), his role is the most satisfactory as well as challenging. The wronged husband seeking revenge is a typical motif in such Gothic film-noirs but seldom has there been made a film with such a strong and suspenseful story. I give it a 7 and a half.
Wonder Boys (2000)
This 2000 Curtis Hanson film was the second best he made after L.A. Confidential and together with Bedroom Window. It is a story of two people of completely different background, a middle aged writing professor and his student and protégé. The professor, played by Michael Douglas in one of his strongest roles, is going thru a crisis and drinks a lot, after his younger wife has left him. He is also having problems finishing his second book. The young and bright but troubled protégé is played by Tobey Maguire. Then there is also Douglas' eccentric and flamboyant editor and friend played by the excellent Robert Downey Jr. A guy who is a swinger and according to Douglas "is gay, or thinks he is". Katie Holmes also appears as another of Douglas' students who is smitten with him but he rejects her advances.
There are also a few really amusing side characters, such as the man Douglas and Downey Jr. dub VERNON HARDAPPLE, who gives the movie a comical edge. The whole movie is somewhat of a dark comedy really, with scenes like the one where Maguire kills a dog who attacked Douglas and Douglas has to keep his body in the trunk of his car for a week or at the end where the manuscript for his latest book flies away. When he's asked by Downey Jr if he has a copy, he replies "I have an alternative ending of the second chapter".
This is what is so enjoyable with this movie: not only is it a character study drama but also a humorous oddball comedy with some exciting plot twists. In the end the roles are almost switched as Douglas the mentor starts to learn from Maguire the protégé and discovers that he has talent. This also helps him revitalize his own talent and get his life back on track. Frances McDormand also appears as Douglas' love interest who is also the chancellor of the university where he works and is pregnant with his child. Really enjoyable and trippy film, a semi-classic. Hanson once again hit bullseye with this.
One Eight Seven (1997)
Violence breeds violence
This movie offers good insight into the culture of violence that is prevalent in cities like Los Angeles, especially its eastern part. Samuel Jackson plays a teacher who survived a brutal stabbing in a NY school and moves to L.A. in order to start again in a new place, trying to get away from the traumatic memories connected to his old working place. But it turns out to be just the beginning of a new nightmare for him: he gets the worst class imaginable, where some of the students are real thugs and hoodlums. The worst of them are Benny Chacon (played by an unknown actor) and Cesar Sanchez, played by Clifton Collins Jr in one of his first major roles. After Chacon kills a graffiti artist for spoiling one of his "masterpieces", he goes on the run and is later found dead. Garfield (Jackson) is left to deal with Sanchez, who proves to be enough for him to handle.
This shows how violence, psychological violence itself, can make a non-violent individual get more violent and retort to violence in order to solve a problem. Jackson's Trevor Garfield is a traumatised veteran who gets pushed too far by the school bullies and starts bullying back, in his own way. At the same time, this film also lays the blame on the school itself, its principal's tolerance for the bullies' antics and lack of understanding or sympathy for Garfield's plight clearly underscores that. The gangbangers get their way more often than not and Garfield has to fight a lone battle, one which also changes his personality.
It is a pretty strong film which has a sort of sleepy film-noir quality, reminiscent of some older films. Samuel Jackson makes a very good performance, same as Collins Jr and the beautiful Kelly Rowan and John Heard make good supporting performances. Rowan's character seems to be the only one which is "clean" in all this mess. Her role is that of a moral guardian who questions Jackson's actions when he retaliates against the bullies. Other characters are all pretty much despicable, except for Rita, who is just a victim of her own environment. This is the gangland, where only law is the law of the strongest and the most intimidating. It shows how hard it is to fight against this law.
The War (1994)
Emotional roller-coaster of a film
This film really affected me emotionally since the first time I saw it. I began to wonder how come it didn't make more noise than it did in the box office. Movies like this are certainly not every day commodity in Hollywood. It is perhaps Kevin Costner's best role and the most serious one as well and came at the end of his golden era, which in itself is rather poignant when you think about it. It also stars now-internationally famous Elijah Wood and the less famous but equally capable Lexi Randall as his children. The movie is set sometime in the late 60's/early 70's in the South of course.
The War that the title refers to is not just the Vietnam War which Costner's character has just returned from but also, in his case, the war to win back your respectability and status. And that's really what this film is about-everyone's fighting for status and respectability. Wood's character faces a struggle in form of the nasty Lipnicki boys who bully and harass everyone who approaches "their" territory around the reservoir with the water tower. He fights to keep his right to go there against overwhelming odds. His sister Lidia befriends two black girls and is therefore seen as a pariah among other white girls in the school and has to fight for status and respect, while her black friend Elvadine does the same but against even worse odds. Costner is struggling to find a job after not being able to get back to his old one and this struggle makes him very frustrated. But he never retorts to violence, except when the equally nasty father of the Lipnicki boys physically threatens his son. Yet he takes pity at his motherless children and treats them kindly even after they hurl verbal abuse at him.
It is a really emotional, at times heartbreaking movie, especially since the ending is rather tragic. Lidia provides the narration which enhances the dramatic effect of the film. Costner's touching speech to his son against violence and fighting is also one of the film's highlights and underlines the pacifist message of the film. It's a shame this film wasn't seen by more souls, otherwise maybe the world would be at a better state than it is. This movie should be shown every month on TV if it was up to me. It is about finding out that fighting never solves anything, unless it is fighting against injustice and with words, not fists or guns.
At Close Range (1986)
Sins of the father
This is one of the most memorable films of the 80's that I have seen and I always look back at it with affection. I have first seen it back in late 80's, when it first was shown on TV in my country and today when I see it again it still feels the same. This movie is pretty flawless and still remains the best work of James Foley, a very underrated director. It stars 2 of my favorite actors, Christopher Walken and Sean Penn and both make very strong performances. This was Penn's first really strong and serious leading role since Bad Boys.
It is a dark movie and knowing that its based on a true story only adds to its gloom. Brad Jr has never known his father Brad Sr and lives a poor and unsatisfying life with his brother Tommy. It shows the absence of a father in their lives. Even though the boys have been raised well by their mother and grandmother, the absence of their father has left a rough edge in them. So when that father finally appears in their lives again, Brad Jr takes the opportunity to get out of his dead end existence and tries to build a relationship with his estranged father, hoping that it will lead him to a better life. He ignores the bad reputation Brad Sr enjoys in the county, but soon his father's sins become too much for him to handle and he realizes this love is unhealthy for him.
This movie has a really strong and engaging story working for it, as well as the strong acting. Also Chris Penn excels in his role as the bastard son Tommy and Mary Elizabeth Masterson, David Strathairn and R.D. Call make fine supporting roles, as well as Eileen Ryan. This is about not having anywhere to go, trapped between a honest but poor life without a father figure and a rich life with a father figure but a life of crime, murder and deceit. Brad tries to find that middle road desperately and after finding love it looks like he may succeed. But tragedy comes in his way, as it really did happen and does happen in real life. Sean Penn has since made many unforgettable performances but this is where he truly matured as actor. I think those who think this is a tragic love story ought to think again-it is a story about a father and son first and foremost and things that came between them finding each other.
Street Kings (2008)
Flawed but satisfying
This is a sort of Keanu Reeves' comeback flick. After The Matrix trilogy ended, he was in a number of unsatisfactory, mediocre works, such as "Constantine", "The Lake House" and "Thumbsucker". This role is rather strange to him, playing a down-on-his-luck detective, a loose cannon who lives from day to day. And considering that, he does a good job. Only problem is that, aside from Forrest Whitaker, there aren't any other equally capable actors here and some are quite annoying as well. Chris Evans, of The Fantastic Four fame, tries hard but fails as the serious and dedicated sidekick det. Diskant. Of other notable appearances there is the rapper The Game, who is at least authentic in his part.
I was rather surprised by this film. I must say I didn't expect much from it, but it turned out to be a rather satisfactory film-noir thriller. Reeves might not look his part but he acts it. It is also flawed because of the way everyone is either good or bad, nobody is in between. Reeves' character at first seems to be in between but later turns out to be a typical hero. What else can I say? A little, pleasant surprise and a movie that probably salvaged Keanu's career, at least for the time being, after a string of misfired efforts.
Pad Italije (1981)
Document of evil times
This 1981 Lordan Zafranovic directed film is the second part of the world war 2 trilogy started with the excellent "Okupacija u 26 slika" (1978) and the story picks up where the former left. Niko, played by Frano Lasic, the protagonist from the first film, also appears here in the first 20 minutes and thus provides the connection between the two films. The excellent Polish actor Daniel Olbrychski, known as the star of many Andrzej Wajda films, plays his friend and partisan comrade Davorin. The story is set on a small island in Dalmatia, the place where Niko has sought refuge with his now half-demented mother.
Niko has problems with leaving his old happy-go-lucky way of life behind and must pay for it with his life when his girlfriend turns out to be Italian collaborator and they are both condemned to death by the communist party. It is never really clarified however if she really was a collaborator or just using the enamored Italian soldiers to get food for partisans. Here the movie first shows that its far from a propaganda movie as the harsh nature of the communist party condemns her to death and Niko with her for refusing to leave her. Davorin executes them with heavy heart and then falls into the same trap as Niko when he falls for the daughter of the town's and island's richest man, played by beautiful Ena Begovic, then just 20 and in her first film role.
The film shows how the occupants and tormentors of the local people change from Italians to Germans and Croatian Ustashas (fascists) and then finally to Chetniks including a bloodthirsty and grotesque trio of two Circassians and one Hungarian who meet them on their way at the island. This film is important because it explored all the evils of that war, firstly those of the occupants and fascists but also in a way the hidden evil that could sometimes occur amongst partisans themselves. In the end, Davorin's younger brother Lovre is sent as a commissar to pass judgment on Davorin and he condemns his brother to death on behalf of the party for setting a group of chetniks he had captured free. Davorin's goodness prevails here as the chetniks look pitiful and war-weary but soon thereafter reveal their true nature. Once again, with heavy heart, just like Davorin when he executed Niko in the beginning, Lovre must do his duty. Its a tragic film to say the least.
Besides the aforementioned actors, Miodrag Krivokapic appears as Davorin's ill-fated brother and fellow partisan Andrija, Mirjana Karanovic plays Andrija's wife and Bata Zivojinovic plays the father of Ena Begovic, the island's rich man. This is not the best part of the trilogy, but still a pivotal work.
Gluvi barut (1990)
The real partisan movie
This, the veteran Bosnian/Yugoslav director Bato Čengić's last true work, is a story that needed to be told: an alternative telling of the very important part of Bosnian and Yugoslav history, the world war 2 and its good guys, partisans. Gluvi Barut doesn't give as polished picture of the partisans as the earlier movies made in the glory days of Yugoslavia and its communist system but it is far from a judgmental film like for instance Četverored is. Its role was clear: Čengić wanted to make a film to remind the people what partisans really were, amidst a wave of increasingly liberal and anti-leftist films, mainly coming from Croatia.
The story's focal point is this difficult time of conversion from royalist to new communist/Marxist Yugoslavia during the world war 2. A mountain village in Bosnia has its own militia-like force which fights the Nazis, without directly being a part of Tito's partisan army. Their commander, a former officer of the royal Yugoslav army, played excellently by Branislav Lečić, is himself torn between the two sides and unsure which side to follow: whether to retain his allegiance to the old cause or to follow the new progressive Marxist line. Radekić is proud of his officer credentials but his partisan colleagues think little of it and treat them with disdain. After a partisan commissar gets murdered by two of the members of the peasant militia, the hard willed Spanac (Spaniard) is sent to find out what happened and to reinforce the discipline among the peasants. Mustafa Nadarević is also brilliant in this part. The relations between him and his unwilling subject Radekić are at first strained. Still, Radekić tries to make things better in a difficult situation and sympathizes the cause of the partisans, seeing that they do fight for the people. However, his fellow peasants are less willing to submit to the new yoke and denounce their national identity and religious traditions. This is what this film revolves around.
Another fine performance by Mira Furlan in the role of the widow peasant woman who is at first intimidated by Spaniard but later starts to develop genuine feelings for him, as she finds out he's a lonely and unhappy character. I think what's really good with this film is that at first the actions of the partisans are questioned, especially when Spanac executes some innocent peasants whom he suspected were involved in the murder of the commissar and were not willing to give up the real murderers. But as the film reaches its climax and we see Radekić make his decision to support the partisans and becomes one himself, we know that partisans are the better side here. Radekić is the only really flawless character here: he always thinks of the good of his people and doesn't join the partisan side until he carefully examines Spaniard and sees that he is true to his cause. Only then does he join partisans and then without any reservations. I find it heartwarming.
Gluvi Barut is about difficult times in difficult surroundings. The desolate mountain landscapes truly reflect the toughness of life and the rough nature of its inhabitants. Spaniard is like some alien who has arrived here to make things better, but to make them better he at first has to make them worse. That is the message the director wanted to give I guess: to get things done in such a climate you sometimes have to get rough. The supporting cast is really fine and consisting of some of former Yugoslavia's finest actors. This is the real partisan movie and a realer one has never been made.
Romeo Is Bleeding (1993)
Every time its May 1 or December 1, I think of this movie. It means something, it must be good to leave that kind of impression on me. When a movie sticks in your mind, even if its just one quote, for so long after you have seen it (and the last time I saw it was 3 or 4 years ago) it means it can't be bad. So thats one thing. Another thing is that it has absolutely top notch cast. Gary Oldman, Lena Olin, Michael Wincott, Juliette Lewis, Annabella Sciorra, Will Patton and James Cromwell-all serious and talented actors. And the story is very interesting too. I mean you have this so-flawed main character who is at the same time very human and even sympathetic in a way that he's lost, he can't really help all the mess he's got himself in. It is a very human character, no? And in the end he does the right thing, but is it too late? Seems so. This movie is just about that-how we sometimes don't wake up and see the light until we have lost everything that was dear to us.
What is the flaw with the movie? Maybe its that it didn't perhaps get everything it could from such an interesting storyline. I mean, corrupt cop who's in the mafia's pocket and cheats on his wife yet loves her, then gets caught in the dangerous game with a deadly Russian criminal who is a man eater at the same time...well, maybe not after all. Its a movie that succeeds in pulling it all together rather well and at the same time making us stay on the edge of our seat to see whats gonna happen next. Not many American modern movies have done that. I can mention one that came out the same year as this one, Carlito's Way. But that is a different story and genre really. That was a gangster film noir with a love story thrown in, this is both a film noir and a love story. Thats why the title is ROMEO is Bleeding.
Gary Oldman makes one of his strongest performances and the same can perhaps be said for Olin, who is very convincing and menacing in her part as the deadly seductress whose only aim is to devour everything in her path. The ending leaves us in doubt to what really happened, there is no typical Hollywood ending and thats good. It again mirrors how things really go in life as Jack is left on his own waiting anxiously for his wife but nobody, not even he, knows if he will ever see her again. And thats art imitating life.
What is the formula behind making the perfect gangster movie? It has to be long, short gangster movies seldom work. There has to be a wide variety of characters, movies like "The Hoodlum" were dull because there were only a few main characters there. Here even the minor characters are well developed, enough to catch your eye. And last, it has to show some violence but in moderate quantities. There is some violence here, most notably in the "Billy Batts scene", but it never overflows, "Casino" had far more violent scenes than this film. If there is no violence whatsoever, then the movie can't be an effective gangster/mafia movie.
But what is perhaps most appealing with this film is that, in contrast to movies like The Godfather trilogy, Scarface and Casino, this movie is based 100% on real events and characters. Only a few names are altered, the rest is all authentic.Robert De Niro again delivers, even though I think he has been somewhat miscast as Jimmy (Burke) Conway. Jimmy the Gent was Irish-American and even though DeNiro is part Irish himself, he doesn't look like a typical Irish-American. Burke was also a tall and imposing man, unlike DeNiro and he always chomped on a cigar. Doesn't help that DeNiro also has that unmistakable Italian-American drawl: "Wats da madda wit u?"
Pesci is just incredible and a delight to watch, despite playing a very unsympathetic character. Liotta fits his part perfectly as well and what I liked here is that they show his corruption by the mob world that embraced him in the beginning. If he had been shown as just some innocent naive sweet guy, it wouldn't look authentic, would it? Several scenes have since become classics, deservedly so. The "Shinebox scene" aka Billy Batts scene is perhaps the most unforgettable, but also the "Funny Guy scene". Elizabeth Bracco, even though not my favorite actress, offers a strong supporting role as mrs. Henry Hill, the headstrong and hot tempered Karen. Paul Sorvino is also marvelous in his somewhat restricted but pivotal part as Henry's close friend and first mentor Paulie Cicero. Frank Sivero from "Godfather II" is a welcome sight and his character is like a counterpart to Pesci's, a silent and unintentionally humorous sidekick.
Scorsese scored big with this big screen adaptation of one of the most intriguing real-life mafia stories. This remains one of his crowning achievements.
The Adjustment Bureau (2011)
Candidate for movie of the year
The Adjustment Bureau is a breath of fresh air for me. Watching it was quite a different experience then watching usual today's movies. It works well both as a melodrama and as a pro sci-fi complex drama. Damon and Blunt are both very good in their roles and good old Terence Stamp delivers another pretty memorable role.
The Adjustment Bureau are a sort of guardian angels of this world, except they are not really angels but more like otherworldly beings that direct and shape everything that's going on in the world. They decide a man's destiny, at least destiny of important men. And women. David Norris is one of these men and he is an ambitious but depressed young politician who is looking to find himself again after getting lost in the maze of his political career after 8 years. He's also still coping with the loss of his parents and brother. A chance meeting with Elise, a beautiful and spirited ballet dancer, makes his dream come true. He feels something again. But the Bureau will not allow this to happen to him, in order to make him continue with his career. And her with hers.
This film is about love, love that can't be destroyed. Elise is the only thing that is not programmed in David's life, the only thing that really makes his life worth living. And no matter what steps the Bureau make to prevent them from meeting again, they always do. Because they are bound together, meant to be. This film really touched something in me and I think everybody feels something when they watch it, they feel hope and they feel what love is about. Love can sometimes be the only escape out of a difficult and painful situation in life and it can guide us back into light.
Wonderful film with 2 very important talents Hollywood has today. Emily Blunt shows again why her career has taken off like it has. She has charm, delicate beauty, talent and above all believability. She's 100% authentic in her part and so is Damon. Terence Stamp is perfect in his role that represents FATE, the one we try to get away from. At least in this movie we succeed.
A Kiss Before Dying (1991)
Running on empty
I don't know what to make out of this movie. I guess its one of those movies that were MEANT to be good, but just didn't turn out to be that. What are the reasons? Well, lets see...the probably biggest reason was wrong casting of the leading lady. Sean Toung must be the most passive and expressionless actress ever, so instead of feeling sympathy for her, we only feel annoyed by her presence. Second problem is the plot: its too thin. Matt Dillon's character, tho a villain, is at first not introduced as a typical "peerless" killer type, but then as the film progresses he becomes just that. He murders both Dorrie's old boyfriend and her friend in a professional manner, without breaking a sweat. It all looks just too smooth for a guy thats not a professional killer. Also the way he just appears at the end, where he suddenly becomes DEUS EX MACHINA a'la John Ryder, it just looks unconvincing for some reason.
This movie's theme is ambition, the thirst or hunger that, if big enough, can make a man possessed with it do anything. Even murder. But its at character study that this movie again fails. Despite losing her brother, sister and mother, Ellen remains on bad terms with her only remaining family member, her father. This is kinda strange, no? Even when he accepts Jonathan/Jay, she shuns his company and criticizes her fiancée/husband for spending too much time with him. Jonathan/Jay on other hand, is a sweet and nice guy who, when he's not killing, helps out Ellen in her work with drug addicts and he even helps a beaten up woman junkie/prostitute to a hospital. Ahem...this REALLY clashes with the image of a guy who kills to fulfill his ambitions, no? So what is he, a sort of Jekyll/Hyde character?? There are also just too few engaging characters in this movie and aside from Thor, Ellen's dad, there aren't ANY other major characters here, Ellen's friend from the social center being a poor candidate. Unfortunately, Max Von Sydow in the role of Thor Carlsson is not given enough time or space to really flourish in his deadpan role.
So, this film just fell too short of achieving its goals because it simply had too little going for it. Even Matt Dillon, the only bright spot here, feels wasted in such a poorly conceived and unrealistic role. The plot, however thin, is the only thing that will keep you watching it and thats only because you wanna see how it ends. Although you deep down inside already know how: the wretched sister gets her revenge and gets the killer. This is a movie that wanted to show us the ugly, dark side of ambition...well, it certainly showed us that, but in a less satisfactory way than I hoped for. I give it a weak 5.