Friday, July 24, 2009

THIS BLOG HAS MOVED

New blog, which includes old posts, could be found here.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

I'll Sleep When I'm Dead (2003)

A Film Review

Copyright Dragan Antulov 2006

British filmmaker Michael Hodges in his 2003 film I'LL SLEEP WHEN I'M DEAD re-examines plots elements, situations and characters that he had used in his 1971 masterpiece GET CARTER. The protagonist of the film is Will Graham (played by Clive Owen), former boss of London underworld who few years earlier had what his friends and associates euphemistically call "breakdown". Graham has abandoned his career and now lives like a drifter in rural Britain supporting himself with all kinds of odd jobs. In the meantime, his younger brother Davey (played by Jonathan Rhys-Myers) became minor, but very popular drug dealer whose clientele consists of London's celebrities and aristocracy. Davey's good life is brutally interrupted with abduction and violent rape. When Will decides to visit his brother, he is greeted with the news about his mysterious suicide and even more baffling autopsy reports. Will quickly concludes what caused his brother's death and decides to avenge him, even if it means returning, at least temporarily, to the violent world he had left years ago.

What worked wonderfully in GET CARTER - slow place allowing characters and situations to develop to the smallest detail - fails Hodges in this film. This is mostly due to Trevor Preston's script that leaves many questions unanswered, which leads to confusing, un-cathartic and unsatisfying end. Some of the characters and subplots, including gang boss who wants Graham out, are redundant or underdeveloped. The main mystery of the film, on the other hand, is revealed too early, and Hodges succumbs to typecasting by having Malcolm McDowell as chief villain. Although watchable, I'LL SLEEP WHEN I'M DEAD is huge disappointment to all those who, based on author's reputation, expected another gangster genre classic.

RATING: 4/10 (+)

Monday, February 13, 2006

Pour la Plaisir (2004)

(EVERYBODY IS A KILLER) (2004)

A Film Review

Copyright Dragan Antulov 2005

Originality, which appears to be very scarce commodity among Hollywood comedy screenwriters, still could be found among European filmmakers. One of them is Belgian director Dominique Deruddere, whose 2004 comedy EVERYBODY IS A KILLER combines French farce with certain plot elements seemingly more suitable to classic westerns.

The film begins in a Ferrari driven by Dr. Vincent Moreau (played by Samuel Le Bihan), psychiatrist and film's narrator. Flashback introduces us to small northern French town where Dr. Moreau has established a practice. Citizens are mercilessly bullied by local sociopath Maurice Weckman (played by Harry Cleven), but nobody dares do anything about it. Local mechanic François (played by François Berleand), on the other hand, is more bothered with his beautiful wife Julie (played by Nadia Ferres) and her lack of passion in bed. He confides to Dr. Moreau, his most loyal client, and says that his wife has bizarre fetish on murderers. Dr. Moreau tells him to try adapting to Julie's fantasy and François does so by bragging about committing murder. At first this works wonders for their marriage, but his confession has coincided with Weckman meeting violent death. François immediately becomes murder suspect, but his arrest makes him the most popular man in town. As he struggles to prove innocence while his town creates personality cult around him, Dr. Moreau and Julie discover that they are attracted to each other.

Guy Zilberstein's script borrows elements from classic western THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE and skilfully combines them with murder mystery, social satire and black comedy. Qualities of the script are well-matched with the qualities of director who keeps the right pace of the film, right until the excellent surprise twist at the end. The film is relatively short, but the plot and characters are well-drawn.

The casting is also very good, most notably in the case of François Berleand, French character actor specialised in the roles of villains. In this film he is very effective and much more convincing pathetic middle-class husband. Casting against the type works well also in the case of Samuel Le Bihan, whom few people would imagine as psychiatrist. Nadia Farres, on the other hand, wasn't fortunate casting choice, mostly due to lack of chemistry with Le Bihan. Belgian actor Olivier Gourmet was also somewhat over the top in his role of police detective.

Despite that, POUR LA PLAISIR deserves recommendation as very entertaining and effective combination of rarely mixed film genres.

RATING: 7/10 (+++)

Saturday, February 11, 2006

The Island (2005)

A Film Review

Copyright Dragan Antulov 2005

At the end of 19th Century many scholars believed that the science found its limits and that there were few new discoveries to look forward to. These days, Hollywood producers appear to harbour similar sentiments towards science fiction. It seems that each new science fiction film is nothing more than repackaging of the older classics. One such example is THE ISLAND, 2005 film directed by Michael Bay.

The film begins in a huge underground hich-tech facility, which is supposed to protect survivors from the effects of environment disaster that has ravaged the Earth. Inhabitants of this new world live comfortable lives, albeit under ever-present control of their mysterious and sinister handlers led by psychiatrist Doctor Merrick (played by Sean Bean). The only exciting thing is the Lottery, with winners earning the right to travel to the "Island", the only unpolluted place on Earth. Lottery is source of intense speculation among Lincoln Six Echo (played by Ewan McGregor) and his friends. His curiosity leads to discover the unimaginably cruel truth behind the Lottery - he and thousands of other people are nothing more than clones, bred and raised in order to provide their "originals" with compatible organs. When Lincoln and his love interest Jordan Two Delta (played by Scarlett Johansson) escape, they discover that the world is actually intact and that they might find shelter in Los Angeles. Merrick, in the meantime, hires former French commando Albert Laurent (played by Djimon Hounosou) to bring back fugitive clones.

THE ISLAND starts promisingly, which is a rarity for Michael Bay's opus. First half of the film, set in the seemingly utopian futuristic facility, might bring back memories of LOGAN'S RUN, THX 1138, COMA and other science fiction classics. Unfortunately, when the protagonists leave this setting, Bay sees this as an opportunity to transform potentially intelligent science fiction drama into just another series of chases, fights, shootouts and explosions that don't make any sense. The acting talents, just like the basic idea behind the script, are wasted. That includes Scarlett Johansson's assets, which can never be properly exploited in film rated PG-13. Needless to say, all the difficult ethical questions concerning the cloning or true nature of human identity are completely ignored.

Another annoying element of THE ISLAND is in Bay never failing to conform to unwritten "politically correct" laws of Hollywood screenwriting. Sean Bean's character starts as benevolent character, but has peculiar English accent. Djimon Hounosou starts as sinister villain, but happens to be black. It doesn't take genius to predict whether each of them will have their moral alignment altered before the film ends.

Due to intriguing premise and solid opening, THE ISLAND is watchable. But this failure to build anything valuable on the basis of genre legacy is going to be heart-breaking experience for all the fans of classic science fiction films.

RATING: 3/10 (+)

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Grand Theft Parsons (2003)

A Film Review

Copyright Dragan Antulov 2005

History of rock music is rich, and, sadly, some of this richness comes from many tragic tales of talented artists ending their lives prematurely. Among those sad stories few are as bizarre as the tale that inspired the plot of GRAND THEFT PARSONS, 2003 film directed by David Caffrey.

The film begins with Gram Parsons (played by Gabriel Macht), brilliant country and rock musician, fatally overdosing in September 1973. The news prompts Parsons' road manager and best friend Phil Kaufman (played by Johnny Knoxville) to act upon the pact he had made with the dead rock star and have his body cremated in Joshua Tree National Park. At the same time Parsons' father Stanley (played by Robert Forster) wants to have his son buried in Lousiana. Before that happens, Phil enlists the help of hippie hearse driver Larry Oster-Berg (played by Michael Shannon) and steals the coffin from LAX. As they drive towards Parsons' resting place in the desert, they are pursued not only by police and Parsons' father, but also by Parson's gold-digging ex-girlfriend Barbara (played by Christina Applegate) who desperately needs a proof of Parsons' death in order to claim his fortune.

GRAND THEFT PARSONS is shot with low budget and it shows through rather un-spectacular and over-used sets and locations. The filmmakers nevertheless made the decent job of recreating the period. The plot - although not particularly strong nor very funny, despite some truly bizarre situations - flows nicely. More importantly, characters look human and audience can sympathise with them. Johnny Knoxville is impressive in one of his first "real" roles. Michael Shannon and Robert Forster are also good in their roles, preventing the film to overdose on comedy or tragedy. Christina Applegate and her annoying character, on the other hand, is unnecessary addition to the film. Probably the biggest flaw of the film is failure to introduce Gram Parsons' music to the younger audiences. However, those who watch GRAND THEFT PARSONS might conclude that there are worse ways to pay respect to music legends.

RATING: 5/10 (++)

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Land of College Prophets (2005)


A Film Review

Copyright Dragan Antulov 2005

Lack of big stars or huge budgets is often a blessing in disguise for certain filmmakers, because they often compensate it with increased levels of ingenuity and creative freedom. Group of Connecticut filmmakers known as Hale Manor collective were aware of that and the result was LAND OF COLLEGE PROPHETS, film that wears its "B movie" credentials as a badge of honour.

The film is set in small town with a seemingly mundane community college whose students appear to spend very little time on educating themselves. Instead, they are more interested in preaching various bizarre religious and philosophical concepts on campus or brawling with each other at every conceivable opportunity. The prologue explains this as a tradition started with College Prophets, ancient secret society to whom two protagonists - Tommy (played by Thomas Edward Seymour) and Rye (played by Philip Guerette) - belong. Two of them are best friends and the toughest of all College Prophets, but their friendship comes to an end when Tommy discovers that his girlfriend Bellis (played by Tina Angelillo) sleeps with Rye. In the resulting brutal fight few drops of blood fall in the local well, ominously named The Well That Ate Children. This resurrects the ancient evil force that would poison town's water supply and make people go insane. Tommy and Rye are forced to settle their differences and fight the army of evil zombies led by their arch-enemy Third Reich Jones (played by Paul De Simone).

LAND OF COLLEGE PROPHETS is a surprisingly successful blend of horror, martial arts film parody. What makes it so effective is the contrast between the absurdity of situations and bizarre characters on one side and utmost seriousness with which they are presented on the other. Scenes depicting barroom brawls and similar kinds of immature behaviour are followed by literary and philosophical quotes, as well as the solemn narration by Thomas Edward Seymour.

The acting in the film is good, especially in the case of Run Russo as protagonists' Irish rival who later joins their cause. The cast also includes B-movie veteran Carmine Capoblanco as college professor and film reviewer Phil Hall in his screen debut.

But the most surprising quality of film is Seymour's musical soundtrack which enhances otherwise mundane atmosphere of the film and gives its scenes epic "larger than life" quality. This is best seen in the prologue that introduces characters in the style reminiscent of MORTAL KOMBAT.

The film's worst flaw, on the other hand, is its length. What looks refreshing and fascinating in the first hour is somewhat repetitive in the last twenty minutes. Authors are unable to maintain the quality of humour and some of the jokes in the film don't work.

Despite that, LAND OF COLLEGE PROPHETS is more than pleasant viewing experience that delivers all the best things associated with the phrase "B movie".

RATING: 6/10 (++)

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Grizzly Man (2005)

A Film Review

Copyright Dragan Antulov 2005

Inability of Hollywood to produce original stories has benefited the makers of documentaries. These days it is more likely that a viewer will experience huge outburst of emotions while watching documentary than by watching any average Hollywood drama. One of those true stories that seem to be beyond the grasp of Hollywood screenwriters is a subject of GRIZZLY MAN, 2005 documentary written and directed by legendary German filmmaker Werner Herzog.

The protagonist of this documentary is Timothy Treadwell (1957- 2003), failed Hollywood actor and former drug addict who reached fame as one of the world's greatest bear enthusiasts. Staring with 1990, he was spending every summer in Kaitami National Park in Alaska. There he became enchanted with local fauna, most notably brown bears. Gradually, he became self-appointed protector of bears from human encroachment and spent his last few summers recording his adventures with video camera. The footage was more than a hundred hours long, and small section of it makes the basis of Herzog's film. The rest is made of interviews with Treadwell's friends, acquaintances, Park officials, biologists, various experts and local coroner.

The story of GRIZZLY MAN is very unusual, to say the least. Those who never heard of Treadwell or Herzog might get an impression of BLAIR WITCH PROJECT parody rather than documentary. This illusion is broken only through Herzog's solemn and serious narration that puts surreal words and images into the real life context.

Some of the most surreal scenes feature Treadwell coming near the huge bears and expressing his love for them in high-pitched tone. Those, near-idyllic images, set in the area of enormous natural beauty, represent the sharp contrast to the extremely violent fight between two male bears over a female. Treadwell, who recorded the event, later visits the site, which now looks very much like an aftermath of tank battle, and describes it with the words more appropriate to kindergarten fight. When the audience compares those two images, they will come to conclusion Treadwell couldn't or didn't want to make.

Those familiar with Herzog's previous opus will probably understand why German filmmaker became attracted to Treadwell's story. Treadwell is in many ways similar to the protagonists of Herzog's classic films. As film goes by, Treadwell's recordings- in which he acts like a genuine star - reveal a man increasingly disconnected not only with civilisation he learned to despise, but also with reality. Herzog spells that out in his narration, while, in the same time, praises his ability of a filmmaker.

Like few films ever made in recent times, GRIZZLY MAN is able to make audience both laugh and cry. This film also allows audience to make its own mind about the unusual protagonist. Some may praise Treadwell as noble idealist who paid the ultimate price trying to fight for something he believed in. Others may see him as mentally disturbed exhibitionists, while some may look at him as a modern-day equivalent of Sacred Fool. In any case, Treadwell deserved to have film about him, just like this exceptionally powerful documentary deserves to be seen.

RATING: 9/10 (++++)