Category Archives: movie

The Devil’s Carnival (Darren Lynn Bousman, 2012)

The Devil’s Carnival is a horror musical by Darren Lynn Bousman and Terrance Zdunich. The story is that every guilty soul (or some of them) has to become a part of the performance in the devil’s carnival, which is like circus, but deadly. In this particular instance, there are 3 such souls – a man who lost his child and committed suicide, a girl who left her bad-boy boyfriend and was shot for it, and another girl, a thief who stole too much and resisted arrest. Each of them is assigned a permanent member of the repertory company and should undergo the performance which also serves as a sort of trial. Naturally, every item on the programme includes a singing act.

It is kinda fun – but I like unconventional musicals, so I’m a little biased. I watched a similar work of the same duo – Repo! The Genetic Opera – some time before, and was impressed by it (although I’m not sure that my judgement from that time would live up to my today’s standards). Of course, some items of the performance are better than the others, but all in all it’s a pretty even and consistent spectacle. The verses are very good, as well as the singing.

As for the story, I’m not entirely convinced that the choice of characters was appropriate – for example, it’s not clear at all why the girl (who’s not a thief) was sentenced to hell. The same goes to the father-who-lost-his-child storyline – maybe it’s just that the context is insufficient, I dunno.

The execution is superb, though. All that makeup, all the scenery, the images of the hell dwellers, and, most of all, the Devil himself – are done exquisitely fine. I enjoyed all them quite a lot.

There is a sequel to this film subtitled ‘Alleluia!’ – as far as I understand, it serves as a direct continuation to the story. I will definitely watch it as well.

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White Night Melodies / Melodii beloy nochi (Sergey Solovyov, 1977)

Melodii beloy nochi is a drama about a soviet musician and conductor Ilya, who meets a japanese girl named Yuko when she comes to visit Leningrad (present-day Saint Petersburg). He shows her around, brings her to meet his family, and gradually they fall in love with each other. But Yuko is married – and though she doesn’t really love her husband, she cares about him and doesn’t want to hurt him. And so, torn between the sense of duty and love, she goes back to Kioto. A year goes by, and Ilya is now invited to record a concert in Japan, and Yuko is one of the musicians to participate in the event. They meet again, and barely forgotten feelings come to life again.

The layer of drama in this story is so thin (for it only includes the romantic entanglement between the two persons) it is almost a melodrama. It is all in all too simple to be interesting, and not strong enough to be enticing. Of course, the execution is decent – after all, Solovyov is a good director who know well what he’s doing, and all the actors are pretty great. Plus, the whole two-cultures-meeting thing adds some flavour – but it’s not enough. Solovyov’s own voice can be heard in certain moments, but it’s too faint yet to be convincing.

This is, perhaps, the second weakest work of the director after Egor Bulychov movie. It definitely has some great qualities, but their sum is insufficient to make it a good film.

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Broken Flowers (Jim Jarmusch, 2005)

Broken Flowers is an existential drama about a now elderly man named Don Johnston who once receives an unsigned letter notifying him that one of the flings he had twenty years ago resulted in birth of a son, and that son is now seeking to find him. Urged by his neighbour Winston, who fancies himself a private investigator, Don embarks on a journey to visit five of his ex-girlfriends each of whom could be the sender of the letter. He follows the route elaborated by Winston, barely able to apply his own will to anything happening to him. As he visits Laura, then Dora, then Carmen, then Penny, and, finally, the 5th girl who died several years prior, the empty shell of his life starts to imbue with brand new essence.

By composition this film is, on the one hand, a tribute to the anthology form Jarmusch loves so much – each of the Don’s visits is a separate semi-novella; on the other, all these semi-novellas are fused rather densely into a single story of unintentional self-search. By substance, it’s a tale of rebirth.

The story is really really subtle – maybe even a little too much, for the viewer has to be sensitive enough to catch all the nuances, which effectively makes this movie ‘not for everyone’.

The execution is pretty great, except, maybe, for Winston the neighbour, – I felt like the deal with the investigative spirit in him was a little too developed, and, therefore, had a tone of deliberateness. It was quite faint, though, not effecting the overall result very much.

The acting is amazing. Murray – great, as usual; and I loved all the women, but especially, perhaps, Tilda Swinton, whom I barely recognized.

All in all, this is definitely a very curious cinematic work, and one of the best Jarmusch’s films, although not the very best.

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Back to the Future (Robert Zemeckis, 1985)

Back to the Future is the legendary science fiction adventure about a high-school teenager Marty McFly and his friend, a maverick scientist Dr. Emmett Brown who invented the time machine. After initial testing proved to be successful, dr. Brown decided to go and visit a particular day in the past, some 30 years ago, when the idea of a time travelling concept first came to him. Because the machine required enormous amount of energy to work, he stole some nuclear fuel from Libyan terrorists, who hired him to make a bomb, and those terrorists showed up to settle accounts at the exact moment when he was going to commence into the journey, effectively making it impossible for him. Marty, however, jumped into the car and soon found himself wandering in the times when his parents didn’t even made acquaintance yet. Being not very cautious, he messed up that particular timeline, in the result of which a serious threat appeared for him to vanish from existence altogether. He applied colossal efforts to make things right, not without the help from that-period dr. Brown, and eventually managed to correct his own mistakes, learning along the way the story of his parents meeting each other.

This movie was, and still is, a remarkable success, for which there are several reasons. On the one hand, the story is amazingly consistent – internally consistent, that is, because the underlying concept of time travel is, unfortunately, complete bs. But the plot has certain logic to it (even though it only works within the framework of the film), the motivation of  the characters is understandable, and the ordeals they are going through are appealing to the audience and also captivating. The story is not overly complicated; it has a powerful emotional component that, however, is subtle enough not to make it into a melodrama, and, finally, it is executed with exquisite taste and sense of style on every level.

Because of this a number of huge blunders in the fabric of the film’s universe of discourse tend to go unnoticed or be forgiven. After all, does it really matter, that there is no reason for the consequences of Marty’s messing with the past to be so advantageous and modest in scale, if the film takes you on such a marvelous, magnificent journey that you basically forget everything around you?

I suppose, to some extent these things are important, but the main output here that the viewer’s perception is a complex thing, and that coherence of events is not always that important of a factor in the process of shaping it.

Back to the Future is a curious example of a cinematic work that is flawed on some levels, which still does not prevent it from being a real wonder.

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J. Edgar (Clint Eastwood, 2011)

J. Edgar is the biopic of John Edgar Hoover, the first director of FBI responsible for the first several decades of the bureau’s evolution. The story is told in part with Hoover’s own words (he wrote a memoir used as a framework for the movie), which, however, are perceived critically. Hoover’s professional activity, while occupying a lion’s share of the screen time, is presented through the prism of his remarkable personality and his messed up personal life. Clint Eastwood’s movie sheds light on his relationship with his dearest friends and colleagues – ms. Ellen Gandy and Clyde Tolson – as well as on the role his mother played in his development. It is also a great way to learn about how FBI came to be the organization it is today.

This is an excellent biographic work. In a little over 2 hours Eastwood managed to tell a complicated story of an extremely long and bright life, and did so in an amazingly comprehensible manner. The story seems to be thorough, moreover – it seems to be solid and honest, because flaws of Hoover’s character were given just as much attention as his accomplishments. The story is very well-constructed and produces an impression of a perfectly balanced one. The direction – that is, the overall ensemble, and the range of applied techniques and devices – is absolutely flawless.

Technical execution is nothing to complain about. Everyone engaged in the production did a wonderful job. The acting, in particular, is totally mind-boggling, especially the representation of the older versions of the heroes.

All in all, it’s an outstanding work of cinema, definitely one of Eastwood’s best. Highly recommended.

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1, 2, 3 Thieves / 1, 2, 3, voleurs (Gilles Mimouni, 2011)

1, 2, 3, voleurs is a french TV movie about a cash-in-transit guard who decided to steal 5 millions euro after his personal life reached a stalemate. Only unfortunately for him he selected the exact day when that cargo was targeted by a crew of professional criminals. So, after the deed he not only has to hide from the police, but also from people who harbor no warm feelings for him. He looks for a way to get away, also requesting help from his friends, who are watched by the police.

This is one of the cases when you feel that there’s definitely something wrong with the movie, but it’s hard to define what exactly. I gave it some thought, and I believe the problem is with the core of the story: on the one hand, it is not dramatic enough, and on the other – there some holes in its development (for example, why couldn’t he leave the city by car? did he really need that stupid passport?); and it all in all has this unpleasant flavour of optionality – after watching the film I don’t really see a single reason for anybody to do it.

There are no particularly great acting works (all of them are okay, but that’s it); the story, as was mentioned, lacks dramatic effect; the direction is fine, but not special – in other words, everything about this film is average.

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Charlie Wilson’s War (Mike Nichols, 2007)

Charlie Wilson’s War is a dramatic panegyric to the congressman Charlie Wilson, who played a key role in the US covert opposition to soviet aggression in Afghanistan in the 1980s. He was one of the first to realize the significance of the Afghan war, and to adequately appreciate the range of opportunities it presented. By way of shuttle diplomacy he managed to bring together such different parties as the Pakistani government, that of Saudi Arabia, democratic Senate and republican president’s administration of the US, as well as competent and relevant people in CIA; he was solely responsible for increasing the covert operations budget 20 times of the original size. His continuous efforts became one of the factors, the sum of which eventually brought down the soviet empire.

Generally speaking, this is a pretty good film. For one thing, it shows beautifully how shuttle diplomacy actually works, and on a real-life example, too. The second and, probably, the most important thing that makes this movie really worthwhile is its finale, where it is clearly stipulated that notwithstanding all the enormous resources the americans contributed into the affair they still failed to foresee the consequences of their decisions, not to mention countervailing them. In addition, Sorkin and Nichols offer a solution for this problem, which is investing into the civil stuff, like building of hospitals and schools, – a rather important message for all the politicians with grand schemes on their minds. For the whole duration of the movie I was wondering whether this aspect would be addressed, and I find the fact that it indeed was quite refreshing. It is very important to be honest about your own faults, for it is the only way to improve one’s ways.

That being said, there is at least one thing the film presents falsely, which harms its credibility quite badly. The Soviet Union and, correspondingly, the Russians are shown in the story as agents of pure chaos, or even evil. I am least of all inclined to justify the actions of the soviet state, but the kind of downright demonization exercised by the creators of the film has very little to do with actual reality – it’s a propaganda, not a truthful account of events. This attempt at overcoloring the enemy is understandable but wrong; adjacent emotional manipulation (specifically, the american’s visit to the refugee camp) coupled with this exaggeration is the main reason this film is not perceived correctly by many people, including the majority of present-day Russians. Which is a huge omission for the director, because otherwise the film is rather feasible.

The execution is quite great – the film gives no reasons to question the professional level of the director, nor any of the members of his crew. The acting is wonderful, especially work of Tom Hanks and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

All in all, it’s a decent spectacle, although not without blunders.

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The Lovers / Les amants (Louis Malle, 1958)

Les amants is a drama about Jeanne Tournier, the wife of a provincial newspaper owner. She also had a lover in Paris whom she visited so often (making it seem like she’s visiting her girlfriend, who also lived in the capital) that her husband started to suspect something. He made her invite both her friends for a weekend. When she was returning home after delivering the invitation, her car broke down, and she got picked by a man who was driving by. The man delivered her home safe and sound, and was invited to stay the night. During the night everything changed.

This is a rather classical french drama, a little bit dry and self-centered, but quite interesting. The story seems to me somewhat odd – probably because the dynamics of the first half of the film did not suggest the subsequent development. And it’s not impossible, or illogical at that – just odd. Can’t really put my finger on it. Of course, that choice was morally questionable (for the heroine, that is), but that doesn’t really effect the quality of the story, – if anything, it may be adding some poignancy to it. I suppose, the weirdness I sense is about the director’s approach to telling the story: he simply doesn’t penetrate into the psychological depths of his heroes, and pretty much stays on the outside of things – and this is not how stories of this kind are usually told in modern cinema. So, ultimately, it’s more about the directorial style of Louis Malle, which is elusively different.

Plus, I didn’t really like that he used the voiceover so much – it was applied to transitions from one episode to another, and also to depictions of the main character’s feelings. This is not the most subtle technique on a good day, and here it only adds some standoffishness.

All in all, though, it’s a good film, and is probably worth watching. If nothing else, Jeanne Moreau was pretty great.

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Cop Car (Jon Watts, 2015)

Cop Car is a drama about two teenagers who ran away from home and in their wanderings stumbled upon an abandoned cop car. They took it for a ride, little did they know that there is a not entirely dead man in the trunk, and that the owner of the car really wants it back.

All the events of this story are tightly knit together with cause-effect relations making it perfectly balanced. There’s only a few story-driving characters, and all of them are not only three-dimensional, as any good character should be, they also act in wonderful accordance with their respective internal essences. The boys behave exactly like children would, given the circumstances, and make decisions and mistakes that correspond with their age and life experience. The adult heroes get tangled together in a deadly clash and drag the children, as well as some unrelated to the affair people, along with them. The current of events is relentless and unstoppable, which is precisely what makes it so insanely powerful. Everything is pierced with the beauty of imminence.

The execution is flawless. The plot is rather simple on the concept level, making the film straight as an arrow, and so the director and the cast put in the maximum effort in making sure that those few elements this whole thing consists of are done perfectly. That work is genuine, and the result is an uncompromising success.

I noticed no flaws here. Watching Cop Car was a pure delight.

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Mystery Train (Jim Jarmusch, 1989)

Mystery Train by Jim Jarmusch is a drama that consists of three separate stories, all taking place in Memphis, Tennessee at the same time. The first one tells about a couple of japanese tourists on their improvised tour of the american musical landmarks. They came to Memphis to see the recording studio where some of the great musicians used to work, as well as Graceland, which is related to Elvis Presley. They visited the studio first, then stayed in the local hotel, and went to Graceland the next morning, before departure. The second story is about an italian girl, who was transporting a coffin with her husband’s body, and got stuck in Memphis against her will. During her stay in the city she was coerced into buying a bunch of magazines she didn’t want, heard a miraculous story about Elvis from a guy who wanted some money from her, and then stayed in the same hotel for the night, sharing a room with a girl who didn’t have enough money to get her own. Her very talkative roommate was fleeing from her ex-boyfriend, a british guy with the hairstyle similar to Elvis’s. The third story is about several local men and that very british guy, who was extremely depressed, because he was just laid off and also got dumped. Two of his friends tried their best to make him feel better, but when the three of them went to a liquor store to buy some booze, the british guy pulled out a gun and shot the shop clerk. They drove around, trying to calm their nerves after what happened, and then spent the rest of the night in the same hotel featured in the previous novellas. The next morning the japanese tourists and the talkative girl left town on the same train.

I’m not really sure why the movie is called Mystery Train. Perhaps, there’s some crappy elevated metaphor hiding somewhere inside; be that as it may, I don’t think it matters much. The film is not exactly the best Jarmusch work.

But it is curious in sense that it perfectly marks the director’s transition from one period to another. The first novella is just as tedious and meaningless as Jarmusch’s early works, such as Down By Law. The third novella is pretty great – there are interesting characters, deep context and abundance of events, which are mostly internal, but interesting nonetheless; in this respect it is very similar to his later movie Night on Earth, as well as shorts stories from Coffee and Cigarettes. The middle novella is something in between these two.

Because the novellas are arranged in this way, the film starts off pretty slow, but gets increasingly interesting. The last story pretty much makes the whole thing worthwhile; plus the arrangement of the parts itself brings some wider context into the mix, which should also account for something.

The execution doesn’t seem to be anything very special – it is mostly okay. The acting is fine.

All in all, the film is interesting, although not in the sense a traditional cinematic product can be interesting. It is probably the most curious from the point of view of a researcher such as myself. But, like I said, the last story is definitely worth watching, perhaps even with the first two skipped entirely.

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Drag Me to Hell (Sam Raimi, 2009)

Drag Me to Hell is a sort of horror about a bank manager Christine Brown, who rejected a load extension to an old gipsy lady because she wanted to look tough in the eyes of her boss and get a promotion. The old lady, who basically lost her house because of this, cast a curse on Christine – she incited a supernatural being called Lamia on her – and then she died. Seeking the avoid a terrible fate of spending eternity in hell Christine tried everything, and even sacrificed her own cat, until she found a medium who claimed to know a way out. When that didn’t work, and seeing that the curse was tied to the possession of a certain object, she found herself before a terrible choice – either perish, or subject somebody else to that fate.

This is a re-watch for me: there is a number of films that I have seen once and kinda liked, which made me include them in my collection, but now I have doubts as to their quality. Dram Me didn’t pass the test of time and would be removed entirely.

The story itself is rather primitive and shallow. There’s no real psychology and therefore no actual drama. As a horror it also doesn’t really work, because it’s not very scary – Raimi obviously confuses frightening and disgusting: there are a lot of unpleasant scenes with bodily fluids spilling all over, rotting flesh etc. The universe of discourse is eclectic and based on some variation of the christian worldview, not even trying to challenge it. (I consider it complete bullshit, so it’s a strong argument against.) The only thing that kind of work is the action component, and even that is mediocre, meaning there’s nothing original about it, although essentially it produces the desired effect on the viewer. The acting and other aspects of execution are okay, but nothing special.

All in all, this is a middling and uninteresting horror. Not worth the time.

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Skyfall (Sam Mendes, 2012)

Skyfall is the first of the two James Bond movies made by Sam Mendes with Daniel Craig as 007. The story revolves around the list of all the NATO undercover agents working in the field that has been stolen by a party that remains mysterious for some time. Bond gets hit during an attempt to recover the list from the hired thief, and takes some time off. He comes back after the perpetrator undertakes a blow at the MI6 head office in London. He joins the game, even though is currently unfit for duty. Notwithstanding certain weakness, he manages to find out that villain is an ex-agent gone rogue with a personal grudge with M, the head of the secret service. He is captured quite easily, but soon proves to be much more powerful and cunning than he led on, and so Bond and Co have to come up with an intricate plan to neutralize him. All these is accompanies by great deal of fighting, chasing, blowing stuff up, and then more fighting.

I have watched Spectre before this film, and liked it much less. What they do share is the director’s fascination and deep esteem towards the creation of Ian Fleming, and also overwhelming special effects, decent acting, and everything that is associated with the Bond movies, i.e. beautiful women and non-stop action. The difference is the story.

In Skyfall it is much less contrived: even though the infinite might of the villain here does raise questions, the overall outline – an abandoned favourite who went a bit crazy because of the torture and remembered it all against M, as she was the one to renounce him – is quite plausible. Moreover, it creates a nice large space for drama that cannot be definitively resolved as all of the participants (except, perhaps, 007) did regrettable things. The plot of the movie itself is simple, which is not unusual for the genre, but well-constructed and without any significant lapses.

At the same time, the direction is absolutely perfect; the special effects are astounding; the music is flawless; and the camerawork is mind-boggling. The acting is pretty great as well – even Craig, whom I don’t really like, because like all the action heroes he is somewhat simplistic, even he managed to produce some compelling, sincere moments. And Bardem was actually unbelievably awesome.

I liked this film much more than I anticipated. It combines amazing action with good enough drama against the background of impeccable execution, thus making it into much more than simple entertainment. This is definitely one of the best Bond films ever, and a work Mendes can truly be proud of.

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Logan (James Mangold, 2017)

Logan is a superhero drama set in the Marvel universe of discourse. Many years have passed since Logan aka Wolverine shined as a part of the X-men team. He is older now, his wounds do not heal as well as they used to, and he tries to stay invisible for the world, that hasn’t seen another mutant appear in a long time. He helps George, who is hiding, and is suffering from the brain deterioration, which can cause severe damage to everybody and everything around him if he wouldn’t take his medication. The two of them together with Caliban hide out in some deserted site, when a mexican woman shows up asking Logan for help. Turns out, the experiments on the military-adjusted mutations were not abandoned, but simply took a more concealed form; they, however, are to be shut down due to the development of brand new technology that allows the government to produce senseless soldiers with necessary abilities without going into trouble of actually rasing them. But the medical personnel that used to supervise the state of health of the new batch of subjects, had a different opinion on the matter, considering that the subjects are actually children, and shutting down means mortifying them. Now the three wrecks of superheroes need to deliver a girl named Laura, who is the ascendant of Logan, to a particular meeting spot near the border, from where she and a bunch of other children can escape to the safe zone.

There are two primary components to the story – drama and action – and both are of highest quality. The story plot is rather simple and also more or less predictable, but it’s not primitive, and the high level of plausibility (supermutations aside) makes it internally strong and quite powerful as to its impact on the viewer. The execution is very much professional; it is rather obvious, that people enjoyed working on this movie, and sincerely tried to do their best. The acting is amazing. The writing is flawless.

The film is filled with fights, chases and violence, none of which seems meaningless or unnecessary. All in all the film is extremely well-balanced – all the components are measured precisely and distributed evenly to create a harmonious, well-tuned composition.

So yes, this is a very worthy film. Fascinating mixture of action and drama – what’s not to like? Highly recommended.

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Closely Watched Trains / Ostre sledované vlaky (Jirí Menzel, 1966)

Ostre sledované vlaky is the first Jirí Menzel’s feature film based on the novel by Bohumil Hrabal. It tells a story of a young man named Milos Hrma, who only recently became a railroad dispatcher and started working on the station in his native town. The times were difficult – those were the final years of WWII, when Germany, that was occupying Czech republic at the time, already started to lose. Milos knew nothing about his profession, nor about life; and if he managed to learn the first in process, the second proved to be much harder to handle. He had an almost sure thing with a girl named Masha, but when the time came, he suddenly got paralyzed with fear, and, ashamed of his weakness, tried to take his own life. He was saved, and received a good advice from people who helped him, and followed it, and it was good. So when the opportunity arose to assist the resistance movement, he was confident and strong.

Like many later movies of the Menzel-Hrabal alliance, Trains seemed at first like a not-too-substantial collection of scenes from the lives of people, sometimes funny and sometimes sad, that eventually sum up into a comprehensive picture with a very particular quality of lightness and magnitude. But it felt this way only for a half a film or so; later, when the suicide attempt happened, the story took a more precise form, and later yet, when the theme of resistance emerged, the drama lifted to the heights of pure tragedy.

It was all the more impressive as it had an element of surprise to it. Which is why this film is probably one of the Menzel’s finest works.

The film is also of high quality – the execution in general, and the acting are really good. All in all, it was a strong experience, albeit subtle and elegant.

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Dream in the Red Tower / Son v krasnom tereme (Andrei Abols and Kirill Kotelnikov, 1989)

Son v krasnom tereme is a documentary about rock music, specifically – about russian rock, even more specifically – about the Sverdlovsk offshoot of the genre. Sverdlovsk (present-day Ekaterinburg, aka Yoburg) is the city in former Soviet Union, and now Russia, that has for a long time been a cultural center, the largest after Moscow and Saint-Petersburg. In the 1970s-1980s a number of prominent music bands emerged there, including Nautilus Pompilius, Chaif and Agata Kristi. The film tells about those and others (most of which are now completely forgotten) by showing pieces of interviews with various figures of the music industry – musicians themselves, journalists, producers etc. – interlacing them with video recordings of live performances and even some semblance of video clips.

The authors designate the boundaries of the work from the beginning acknowledging that the subject is way to complex and abundant to be adequately described in a single film. And so they limit themselves to a particular region and a particular period, and try to illustrate the different sides of the subject. And I believe that they actually succeeded with this work, because in the end a certain idea of the era and of  the people who lived and worked in that era appears before the eyes of the viewer, who also gets to submerge into the long-gone environment and listen to the actual musical pieces of the genre that would go back to that particular state. It is as much an anthropological work as it is musical one.

Some of the ideas expressed by the people filmed seem rather odd by now, but others are pretty smart even by the changed standards – in that respect I should definitely distinguish Ilya Kormiltsev, the author of majority of songs of Nautilus. Particularly interesting was the story about the Butusov’s song I want to be with you – I’m not sure how realistic it is, but at least it’s impressive and powerful.

All in all, even though it’s not the most entertaining film in the world, it was educational and rather insightful.

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Who Framed Roger Rabbit (Robert Zemeckis, 1988)

Who Framed Roger Rabbit is a comedy action, a parody on private detective investigation stories that aptly combines traits of a traditional feature and animation, creating a special kind of augmented reality. The story is set in the universe, where the cartoon characters (toons) belong to the physical world same as common actors, although originate differently and are subject to their own set of laws. It tells about a human detective Eddie Valiant who unwillingly got tangled in the murder of Marvin Acme, the master of the Toontown. Valiant quickly finds out that Roger Rabbit, the primary suspect, is being set up, and that everything is tied to Acme’s will, in which he is supposed to bequeath his property to the collective ownership of the toons. Valiant, who has mixed feelings about all the toons due to the fact that his brother was killed by one of them, surmounts his prejudice and helps Roger, his wife Jessica, and other benign cartoons to get to the bottom of things.

Why, this is a beautiful work! As is characteristic to all the parodies, the story is a bit simplistic,  but it’s also warm and kind, and very well-constructed, which atones to the all its possible drawbacks. The combination of animation and feature is incredible as to the humor of it, and also – to the quality of execution. Considering it’s the end of the 1980s, I bet it wasn’t an easy thing to do, and yet Zemeckis and his crew handled it all perfectly. Even now, 30 years later, the film is a pure delight.

The acting is pretty good, and not just for the genre. The direction is quite perfect. In every its aspect this is certainly a superior work of art, and one of the best Zemeckis’s movies.

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Masterminds (Jared Hess, 2016)

Masterminds is a criminal comedy based on real events, when several not too smart people organized one of the biggest bank heists in history. David Ghantt, working as an employee of the armored car company, together with Kelly, an ex-employee of the same company, and several of her associates, pulled a very conceptually simple robbery, and almost got away with it.

Usually I do not care for stories about stupid people, but this particular case is somewhat different, because although the stupidity of the characters does ensures the outcome, it is not actually the primary force driving the plot forward. I found myself capable of sympathizing with the heroes (notwithstanding the fact that in their place I wouldn’t have committed so many mistakes), because on the one hand, some of them are really nice people, albeit rather simplistic, and on the other – the two main ones actually change over the course of the story, and that evolution is quite interesting to follow.

The script is well-constructed and very well-written. The humor is genuinely good and not at all speculative. The cast is really rich; most of the actors have some relation to SNL, and they are doing a really great job here. All in all the film is funny and rather uplifting; combined with truly professional execution, it results in a very enjoyable work of cinema.

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Twilight (Robert Benton, 1998)

Twilight is a neo-noir detective story about a rundown ex-police officer and ex-private investigator Harry Ross, tightly connected to the family of Jack and Catherine Ames, a movie tycoon and a renowned actress respectively. Jack, who is now dying of cancer, entrusts Harry, whom he considers first and foremost a friend, to deliver an envelope with money to a blackmailer. But this simple mission turns out to be filled with bullets and death – Harry barely escapes certain demise on several occasions. He starts digging, and eventually a dark secret from the past emerges to the surface.

Should the cast be any less rich, this would’ve been an ordinary detective story – James Hadley Chase, Raymond Chandler, Wilkie Collins and a couple of hundreds other authors wrote, perhaps, thousands just scarcely different from this one. A worn-out ex-cop, high establishment, dark past, mysterious killings, obscure relationships – these components pretty much repeat themselves over and over again in different combinations and with different relative weights, ultimately, however, resulting is a purely genre work that only has an entertaining purpose. But even as an entertainment it works for just one viewing.

But, like I said, what makes this film different from the rest of them is the cast. It’s full of truly brilliant actors, some of whom are of top rank, and others are just good. Of course, this doesn’t really change anything – this film is still as far from art as Mickey Spillane’s novels from real literature. But it does make that one viewing a necessary one, and rather enjoyable, too, for real professionals can squeeze something even out of an empty story, especially in such company.

In other words, I kinda enjoyed it, it you may as well, but there would probably never be a reason to watch this film for the second time.

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Express Train ‘Moscow-Russia’ / Skoryy ‘Moskva-Rossiya’ (Igor Voloshin, 2014)

Skoryy ‘Moskva-Rossiya’ is a road movie about two people from different worlds being brought together by the unusual circumstances in the result of which a spark of romance appears. One is a russian vlogger Manager Sereoga, who builds his popularity on doing dares. While being drunk, he concluded a contract with some germans to be in Vladivosok in 7 days to make a photo against the background of a meteor rain that is supposed to hit the region at that time, also with a tiger in the shot. If he fails to fulfill, he would lose all that he has. The second is an american actress of russian descent Mila, whose series of bad decisions brought her to the verge of oblivion, so her last chance is to do everything right with this film being shot in Vladivostok. An unfortunate incident prevents her from going by plane, and so Seryoga and Mila happen to travel in the same compartment of the train from Moscow to Vladivostok. The journey takes 7 days, over which period they get into various adventures together, learn to value each other, blah-blah-blah.

This film is a rather strange work of cinema. It starts off as an attempt to recount all the things Russia as a country can boast about (it also includes multiple inserts of YouTube videos as a stylistic device), but very quickly slides into validation of various stereotypes. As it turns out to be insufficient for maintaining a positive disposition the authors are aiming for, the mixture acquires some components that are either completely implausible (like the bit with Caucasian men, or another – with the tigress), or downright weird (like the episode with the witches). The overall evolution of the plot, being all predictable and nauseatingly romantic, only adds more reasons to perceive the work with suspicion.

To be fair, the execution all in all is quite professional – especially if we disregard certain blunders with the cast (Michael Madsen, for example doesn’t seem to bring any value to the work, and Spartak Kandaurov is plain not very good) and terrible choice of music. But Voloshin is an experienced director, so that’s no wonder at all. On the other hand, he is also known as the one who can produce a truly high-quality product, and if we are to remember that, this work is certainly a disappointment.

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Comet (Sam Esmail, 2014)

Comet is a tragedy about a relationship between two people, a boy and a girl. Simple as that in the core, the story is about exceptionally smart people, who still make fatal mistakes when dealing with things they consider to be extremely important for them.

This description may not seem like all that great and original, but the actual film really is. Every single component of its execution is impeccable.

The screenplay recounts the story that is simple yet very complicated. The dialogs are absolutely perfect. The film is structured in a way to mix episodes from different time periods, but it’s all rather easy to grasp, there is no confusion about anything in the story, provided, of course, that you don’t splinter your attention.

The cast is marvellous – both principal characters are amazingly consistent with the actors playing them. The acting is also wonderful.

Special effects and the sound add exactly the right amount of ingenuity and freshness to the mix.

This is, perhaps, one of the best movies I have ever seen in all my years of film-watching experience. Don’t want to oversell it, but the radiance of Sam Esmail’s genius is almost blinding.

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Nightingale the Robber / Solovey-Razboynik (Egor Baranov, 2012)

Solovey-Razboynik is an absurd comedy action about a criminal, a modern-day mix between Robin Hood and Joker, who enjoys committing crime for the fun of it, isn’t opposed to mass-murder, and also doesn’t care about / protects the common folk. The story tells several different versions of Solovey entering the path of crime and compiling his own gang (which consists of an ex-accountant, a huge guy with a huge hammer, and a lady, ex-opera-singer), and also about the struggle between that gang and the law enforcement.

The film is basically a motley collection of dissimilar components, the most obvious of which are: the uppish style that mimics the works of Tarantino and Guy Ritchie; influence of the russian classical literature, specifically of the works by Dostoevsky; complete absurdity of the story; senseless rampage with rivers of blood; implausible characters; Baranov’s low level of directorial experience; Okhlobystin’s exceptionally poorly written dialogs.

This last thing is probably the most poignant of them all. Utter lack of originality is somewhat compensated by the vividness of action, but the good-for-nothing dialogs are the constant reminder of the overall low quality of the movie, making it barely tolerable.

I’m acquainted with Egor Baranov personally, and I know for a fact that he is a very gifted director. Unfortunately, he chose to work for the money, not for the art, and from this particular work one would never suspect a dribble of talent in anybody who has anything to do with it, least of all in the director.

Sad.

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That Night in Varennes / La nuit de Varennes (Ettore Scola, 1982)

La nuit de Varennes is a period drama about the journey from Paris to Varennes undertaken in the year 1791 by the french writer Nicolas Edmé Restif de la Bretonne in company with Thomas Paine, Casanova, a number of high-placed figures, including a lady of the court, as well as several servants, in pursue of the king of France, who escaped with his family from the captivity to join the forces still loyal to him. The film consists mostly of various road capades, and of the conversations between the so different characters on the matters of love and politics.

Though this description might make it seem like the film is tedious, it’s actually fascinating. Being basically a road movie by structure, it feels refreshingly original due to the circumstances of the story, as well as the signs of the epoch. All the dialogs, which are not excessive at all, are well-written and offers a number of curious ideas and details. The characters are three-dimensional, deep and so very different; the chemistry between them is vivid and palpable. The composition of the story is wonderfully harmonious.

The era is depicted at the highest level of authenticity. The overall execution is flawless. The acting is absolutely perfect.

This film is undoubtedly one of the Scola’s best works. Highly recommended.

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Catfish (Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman, 2010)

Catfish is a documentary that started as a story about little girl named Abby who draws really well from photographs. She once drew a picture from Yaniv Schulman’s photo published in the magazine, sent it to him, and that’s how they got acquainted. As things went on, Yaniv got involved with Abby’s mother Angela, as well as her older half-sister Megan, who was a dancer and a musician, and with whom Yaniv managed to fall in love without even meeting her once. Later he noticed that Meg’s songs are actually somebody else’s covers rather than the originals she claimed them to be; he started looking into that, and the story of misguiding self-representation unfolded before him, and before the audience of the film, in all its beauty.

I can’t help but compare this movie with a later documentary I watched recently called Tickle. Both of them have a mystery in the core, and both are constructed as an investigation, but Catfish deals with much lesser stakes, and that creates most of the difference. In Tickle there were human lives actually ruined; here all we have is relatively harmless deceit with no damage, be that physical, financial, or psychological, actually done to anyone. Correspondingly, I find Catfish lacking contrast – not that it’s a bad thing: the reality has a million manifestations, so why not this kind also; it’s just, I personally crave for deeper tragedies, more intense action that is provided here.

As for the execution, it’s okay. I didn’t really like all the computer-like special effects, probably because they are of low graphic quality, and it just looks lame; but also the style in general seemed to me a little excessive, with all the inter-titles and reading the correspondence aloud. Be that as it may, the film is quite watchable, and interesting to follow, too, even though emotionally manipulative at times.

As far as I understand, the Schulman brothers and Henry Joost made a TV show out of this movie, and it keeps running to this day, having survived for 7 seasons. I think it’s remarkable: the guys managed to find a source of living in something seemingly so insignificant – I, for one, would’ve never thought to work in that direction. But I don’t think their show is all that interesting. Basing on the wiki description, it’s more or less the same thing as the movie, only with different characters.

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Wake Wood (David Keating, 2009)

Wake Wood is a horror about a family of 3 – Patrick, Louise and their daughter Alice – who moved into the town of Wakewood. Soon after that Alice gets killed by a rabid dog, and approximately a year after, her grieving parents stumble upon a weird cult, the leader of which promises to bring her back. It can only be for 3 days, just for them to say their goodbyes properly, and then she has to return. And so the comply with the conditions, and Alice indeed comes back from the other side, but then something goes wrong.

Unfortunately, this is crap. I mean, the idea in the basis of the story in all its banality could actually provide some interesting developments, some deep drama for the audience to enjoy, but there’s nothing of the sort here. It’s a primitive slasher constructed around one thing only – the contrast between the innocence of a child’s face and gruesome cruelty of the action. And it’s not enough for a good horror, let alone a good story.

While the script is not exactly good, the only really bad thing here is the direction. The guy is a total hack – with no sense of harmony, no idea of composition, or how to work with the actors, or where the alarming music is applicable in the narrative. The film is a bogus piece of shit, notwithstanding even rather decent cast. Complete waste of time.

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Ghosts of Mississippi (Rob Reiner, 1996)

Ghosts of Mississippi is a story about the trial of the african-american activist’s murderer based on real event. Medgar Evers was shot in the back in front of his house in 1963; his murderer Byron De La Beckwith, a member of different racist organizations, such as the White Knights of KKK, was tried twice in the 1960s, but wasn’t convicted. In the late 1980s, more than 25 years after the event, the  case gets re-opened again through the effort of assistant district attorney Bobby DeLaughter and the widow of the deceased Myrlie Evers. They have to overcome various difficulties, such as disappearance of the original evidence, and reluctance of the surviving witnesses to come forward, but eventually they triumph.

I’m only disclosing the finale (which was supposed to be surprising, I guess) because the movie is not worth watching. One would think that a good director (and Reiner is a good director) would do any job right, but apparently he’s not that good. Notwithstanding the decent execution and rather amazing cast, the film is complete shit for 2 reasons.

The main one is that the script is poorly written. It is commonplace, full of banalities and mediocre humor. Seems like it was written by a hack, who tried hard to copy the best examples of similar work, and did so diligently, but without a hint of talent.

All the screenplay’s defects are further aggravated by complete lack of interests from the side of director. It is rather obvious that he took up this work not because he really really wanted to, not because he felt like he can’t go on without doing it, but simply because he wanted to have a politically correct work in his directorial portfolio. Consequently, the acting of even great artists feels like the work of complete amateurs; and one cannot look at the work of lesser ones without a grimace of distaste.

And the saddest thing about all this is that it was in fact a real story – there was a civil right leader, who was brutally killed by a racist, consequently convicted, – and this story would only be remembered now through this pretentious and weak movie. I cannot think of a bigger insult to the memory of a man.

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