Thursday, June 21, 2018

O Lamparina (1964)

A wandering family of peasants dress in cangaceiro clothes (cangaceiros were rural bandits of Northeastern Brazil in the 19th and early 20th century) and are mistaken for bandits. They join a gang of said outlaws, and after a while decide to turn them in to the police.

Poor comedy, cashing in on the Brazilian fad of cangaceiro movies which started with O Cangaceiro. People call it a parody of those movies, but it fits that category only in a very loose way. The film may be roughly divided into two parts. The first part is where cangaceiros feature more prominently; that is when the central comedian has an ampler room to display his histrionic abilities. The second part is set at a small village after the main character goes missing and is thought dead. I could not find much of interest in either part of the movie. The script is borderline moronic and the humor is mostly infantile. As a curiosity, the actress who plays the chief cangaceiro's wife is three days younger than the actor who plays his son, a reluctant cangaceiro who wants to go straight and marry the title character's daughter.

Rating: 19

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

O Puritano da Rua Augusta (1965)

Man becomes obsessed with a perceived lack of morals of the younger generation, and joins a group of fanatics. His young wife is annoyed by his behavior. So are his two sons and daughter, all from a previous marriage. 

Comedy which has an interesting first section and becomes progressively worse as it goes along. Best sequence of the film: the ciprianites, a group of fanatical moralistic preachers, are gathered at a public park and a guy on a bus teases them, to which they answer in chant. Another sequence which is worth watching, especially if you are a fan of Brazilian music, is a delightful number with young Elza Soares. But the film lacks a more consistent script, one with a minimally decent plot. It becomes repetitive after a while, and then the central character goes through a poorly explained change, and then the film really loses it, descending into an unbearable mess.

Rating: 31

Brilliantovaya ruka (1969)

English title: The Diamond Arm

A common guy goes out on a vacation trip and unwittingly becomes a bearer of smuggled jewels, which were placed on him under an arm cast after he suffers an accident. After he becomes aware of his misfortune, he makes contact with the police, who use him as an undercover agent to catch the smugglers.

Comedy of errors, with plenty of action and good actors. It is frequently said that much of its humor is lost in translation, so I am not confident I will be able to assess it reliably. On the other hand, there is not a lot I did not understand about the plot and the dialogue, what there was of them in the subtitles anyway. All that being said, I was not overly fond of this film. It qualifies as a passable time waster, with a few mild laughs every once in a while, and that is all.

Rating: 39

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Meu Japão Brasileiro (1964)

In an agricultural community in Brazil, the farmers, who are mostly of Japanese descent, are explored by a monopolistic middleman, who is also the local police chief. The owner of a boarding house tries to mobilize the community so as to start an agricultural cooperative which would set them free from the middleman.

*spoilers below*
There are interesting aspects to this film's plot. It starts out as a drama about poor landowners who are exploited by a greedy tradesman, who is the villain of the film. The fact that the latter is also a police chief makes the film also a denunciation of power abuse. Later in the film, the racial question goes to the forefront of the plot. The villain frames a Japanese man in a murder attempt so as to instill racial hatred in the non-Japanese people. And the villain's younger son marries a Japanese woman -- a further complication. So, the film is not completely without merit. On the other hand, it is not an exceedingly well made film, and the middle section flirts with farce in a way which is in complete dissonance with the gravity established in the beginning of the film. Also, there are a few plot points which are plainly absurd. The villain kidnaps the hero's wife and claims she was killed in a road accident. The motive for such behavior is obscure, to say the least. How he initially gets away with not showing the body is another implausibility. Then, after the hero finds his wife alive, his decision to hide her from view is also incomprehensible on any grounds other than plot convenience.

Rating: 31

Space Jam (1996)

Comedy which mixes animation with live-action. In the animation realm, a greedy carnival owner decides to kidnap some famous cartoon characters and turn them into carnival attractions. The cartoon characters talk their kidnappers into a contest the result of which will decide their fate. They choose basketball as the form of dispute, and then invite a great player, now retired, to play on their team.

This is an exercise on technique, and no more than that. The script is really unfunny, and the plot does not even make sense. I mean, what kidnapper would agree to a contest with his victims? Even the cartoon characters' design were ugly, to my taste. At any rate, this movie makes us think: what made the 50s so superior to the 90s? I don't know the answer to that. Nevertheless, perhaps more a symptom than a cause, in the 50s there were no "tributes" to art made half a century earlier.

Rating: 13

Monday, June 18, 2018

O Corintiano (1967)

The story is set in Brazil. A fanatical football fan is a nuisance to his family. Every social interaction in which he engages is tainted by his adherence to one football team. His authoritarian personality becomes too much for his son and daughter to withstand, and they decide to leave their parents' house.

Mostly unremarkable dramatic comedy, which was aimed at the central comedian's low-brow audience. It is not devoid of social observation and some basic storytelling skill. Perhaps I am inevitably less critical of it than a non-Brazilian viewer would be, since I am more familiar with the social context it depicts. The film works as a mild critique of bigotry and authoritarianism, but is miles away from being provocative or status quo defying.

Rating: 33

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Up (2009)

An elderly widower attaches a huge number of balloons to his house and flies away to a South American waterfall he and his late wife had vowed to visit. Unknowingly to him a boy scout was on the front porch when the house lifted off.

Overrated animated movie. It is all very pretty but they just didn't have a solid story to make a movie on. They clearly were forced to introduce some excitement into their material and in the process some very unreasonable character behavior was inserted. Also, all the visual beauty and all the action could not disguise the depressing undertones that pervade the plot (one commenter on IMDB has suggested that the title should be Down).

Rating: 40

Elephant Walk (1954)

Woman meets man, falls in love with him and marries him. He lives in Ceylon where he has a tea plantation. He brings her to live with him in Ceylon. His dead father is revered by him and by the community living there. This reverence, and the sort of behavior it entails, is a source of discomfort to the wife. She feels connected to one of his husband's employees, who falls in love with her. He is quitting the plantation and wants to take her with him.

This is a variation on Rebecca, and brings the story closer to the ultimate source of both stories, the folktale Bluebeard. Another very similar movie to Elephant Walk is The Naked Jungle, released in the same year. Very few people seem to have enjoyed Elephant Walk much, and I am no different from the majority here. The lavish production, partial location shooting, and interesting cast give the film a modicum of watchability, but it feels at once contrived and short on thrills, except for the final section, which comes too late to save the movie.

Rating: 47

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Wings (1927)

In 1917, the U.S.A. entered World War I. The film follows the exploits of two young men from the same town, Jack and David, who fought in the war as combat pilots. Mary, who loves Jack but is not loved back, also enlists as an ambulance driver. Jack and David love Sylvia, who loves Richard and doesn't join the war effort.

This is a mediocre movie in every aspect except the technical one. For me, an extra factor of interest was to see for the first time a performance by Clara Bow. She has extraordinary acting capabilities, but, alas, her character seems to be on the border of mental retardation. The actor who plays Jack -- a nice performance -- has a slight resemblance, in physiognomy and mannerisms, to Robert Downey, Jr. Jack's pal David, on the other hand, is played as a zombie. The last act is based on the same narrative concept as Oedipus Rex: someone frantically tries to correct some evil and that is exactly what brings it about. This is a depressingly pro-war movie, in the very opposite end of the ideological spectrum from All Quiet in the Western Front, released three years later. The most interesting thing about the film is its reception, especially among IMDB users. You will not find a single unkind word in them. It is not uncommon to find viewers who thought this is an anti-war movie.

Rating: 40

Sunday, June 10, 2018

The Bible: In the Beginning... (1966)

Partial rendering of the book of Genesis, comprising the Creation, Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah's Ark, the Tower of Babel, and the story of Abraham (including Sodom and Gomorrah).

Arguably imperfect at parts, yet mostly successful as an adaptation. According to Wikipedia, Variety wrote that it had "skill, taste and reverence". This is, I think, correct for about 90% of the film. Here and there, one perhaps might notice a little awkwardness in the dialogue which certainly stemmed from the difficulty of the adaptation task at hand. And it is equally certain that irreverence was not what they were aiming for, but whenever a dramatization occurs it is inevitable that a certain amount of ambivalence or downright critique will find its way into the work, and that is not a bad thing. Thus, the dictatorial nature of the monotheistic cult surfaces in the dialogue on occasion. Noah was portrayed with daft mannerisms, which was also an interesting authorial touch. The musical score was one of the most attractive features of the film. Now, if I am allowed to, I would like to wander off the review itself to insert a musing of mine. The name "Babel" is phonetically identical to the word "babble", and the most surprising thing for me is that both words' respective meanings are closely related too. Apparently there is no evidence that this is more than a coincidence.

Rating: 64

Saturday, June 09, 2018

Paradise, Hawaiian Style (1966)

A pilot who has just lost his job as an airline pilot returns to his homeland and invites his long-time friend to be his partner in a new venture, namely, a helicopter charter company. However, his womanizing tendencies jeopardize the future of their business.

It is a mere trifle, but the dialogue has some wit to it, and the landscapes are gorgeous. It is mostly a sex comedy (and musical), with the sex confined mostly in the suggestive dialogue and in the semi-clad women, in order to secure a G rating. The central idea of the plot seems to be that entrepreneurship demands a low aversion to risk, and a certain amount of irresponsibility. Thus, there is a paradox in capitalism by which the very thing that makes it possible is the one that makes it doomed. But I am not Karl Marx, so I will stop right here.

Rating: 31

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

My Cousin Rachel (1952)

Philip is an English man who lost both his parents when he was a child and was raised by his benevolent cousin. The latter, while living abroad, falls in love with Rachel, a young widow, and marries her. His health deteriorates and he eventually dies. His letters to Philip threw suspicion on Rachel. She comes to visit Philip and the latter, who had vowed to avenge his cousin, gradually begins to have second thoughts on his feelings about her.

Contrived melodrama which becomes exceedingly silly as the plot unfolds. The central theme is the interference of love on suspicion, and vice-versa. There is a bit of psychological insight in making Philip hasteful to condemn and then equally hasteful to trust. Unfortunately, there are very implausible turns taken by the plot which dim the interest considerably. All in all, a watchable yet minor film.

Rating: 45

Monday, June 04, 2018

What a Way to Go! (1964)

A woman goes through a succession of marriages which end with her husbands' deaths. She begins to think she is jinxed.

*spoilers below*

This is a highly sophisticated production which somehow falls short of greatness. The sense of humor is a little stiff, and that may have had a detrimental effect on my enjoyment of it. Nevertheless, it still is a respectable spectacle, and one with a nicely thought out script encapsulating an interesting thesis. That thesis says that people are predestined to a certain station in life, and any attempt to change it is bound to fail, and possibly even lead to one's death. Curiously enough, there is one character who never strays from that truth -- namely, the female protagonist. However, her happiness is delayed due to her difficulty in finding her right male match. The film examines the cases of five men -- besides, of course, the aforementioned female protagonist. The cases examined are: two store owners, a painter, a business tycoon, and a sing-and-dance performer. She marries them all, and all but one die. Three of them die because they follow an illusory way out of the mediocrity which in fact was their natural state. One of them -- the tycoon -- does the inverse: he settles for a mediocre life which was impossible for him. The last one, although born into wealth, is not really deserving of it, and only finds happiness when circumstances strip him of his wealth. As I said, the film is not particularly funny, and, as critic Nathan Rabin noticed, seems to make fun of itself when it features a parody of Hollywood's extravagant productions. There are several different parodies throughout the movie, one for each unsuccessful marriage, and aiming at a specific movie genre. Critic Michael Barrett has a funny joke about this film's director: "The latter part of his career was mostly spent on Charles Bronson movies. What a way to go." I could not help but laugh, even though I, being an ardent Bronson fan, could not disagree more. The links to the reviews I cited are below:

Nathan Rabin's review

Michael Barrett's review

As a final caveat, I would like to remark that the film is very well made, and, although I am never really sure about a director's actual contribution to the end result of a movie, I can say for sure that this director did not goof up in any way.

Rating: 51

Saturday, June 02, 2018

GoldenEye (1995)

A Russian base in Siberia is attacked and two satellite weapons are "stolen" (meaning the software that controls them is). An MI-6 agent is assigned to investigate the event, and he finds out that a rogue Russian general is one of the persons behind the attack and theft.

The formula still shows some vigor (though some critics at the time decreed its exhaustion). The film is comprised of well-done action set-pieces. The screenplay tries to add a little self-consciousness to its proceedings by inserting the concept of sexism into them. The erotic bits are over-the-top savage at their best and ridiculously mellow at their worst. The political background has not found echo in real events past or future: the Soviet backlash has only existed in the fantasies of screenwriters. Not a particularly remarkable movie, except for one sequence where the protagonist freefalls into boarding a plane.

Rating: 51

Friday, June 01, 2018

Jurassic Park: The Lost World (1997)

Preferred (and quite absurd) wording of the title: The Lost Word: Jurassic Park

Dinosaurs resulting from a genetic engineering experiment are living freely on a Pacific island. The company responsible for said experiment is intent on using the dinosaurs for financial profit on a park in San Diego. The former head of the company tries to avoid this by sending his own group of men there. After some dinosaurs destroy much of the equipment brought on the island, the rival teams unite for their survival.

While the title and basic premise directly evoke Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World, the plot is closer to King Kong. There is a more curious parallel, however, with Schindler's List, of which this film is a cinematic anagram, or distorted mirror image, of sorts. Whereas Schindler's List, released on the same year as the first Jurassic Park, was a defense of greed over fanaticism, in Jurassic Park: The Lost World the good guys are its science fanatics fighting irresponsible capitalists whose greed is a threat not only to science but to humankind as a whole. There is a structural correspondence between the two films, with the Nazi Party being replaced by a paleontologist sponsored by a repentant capitalist, Schindler being replaced by a new CEO who wants to milk the dinosaurs for their entertainment value, Göth being replaced by a big-game hunter who wants a Tyrannosaurus Rex among his trophies, Jews being replaced by dinosaurs, and Itzhak Stern of the Jewish Council being replaced by a chaos mathematician. As is recurrent in this filmmaker's work, persecution sets the tone, with carefully elaborated sequences devised for maximizing the tension. Also present is an identification and even empathy with what is, in many ways, alien, another persistent theme in his oeuvre. An analysis of this -- I think I can call it -- ideology, is certainly a task worth taking. It is an ideology from which I am personally quite distant, and for which I could muster an intrigued interest at best.

Rating: 43

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

11 minut (2015)

English title: 11 Minutes

Several characters' lives are depicted during the same 11-second period. The longest-lasting plotline is that of an actress who goes to an audition with a director, and his jealous husband who follows her. Others include a hot dog vendor, a couple in a hotel room, a thief, a sketch artist, a motorcycle courier, a young woman with a dog, some nuns, a woman in labor, a team of paramedics, and maybe others I forget.

It has a type of film structure which was somewhat in fashion in the nineties and early aughts, that of multiples plots which intersect. Critics correctly pointed out the structural similarity with a related genre, that of the fatal synchronicity -- of the Fatal Destination franchise. Here, however, it's not done in a thriller style. There is no steadily mounting tension; instead, there is an ominous feel which derives from the stories themselves and is accentuated by a celestial phenomenon which goes unexplained. It is not a particularly remarkable movie, but I found the situations and dialogue mildly interesting. I still do not fathom why a character who is described by reviewers as a window cleaner uses a blowtorch to perform his job.

Rating: 50