Friday, July 31, 2020

The Hanging Woman (1973)

In a quiet country town, mysterious things are afoot. People die suspiciously, townsfolk shut their doors out night, and anyone who goes out into the cemetery is considered a fool. When young man Serge Chekhov arrives, to hear the will of his recently deceased uncle, he discovers a household full of secrets, deadly to those who insist on uncovering them. From a hanged woman, to graverobbing, Chekhov has his hands full solving the mystery of what's going on here, while trying to evade suspicion from the local police. Who is guarding the secret of the living dead?...

Spain in the 1970s was a fertile area for Gothic horror, some more lurid that others. They faced some difficulties, whether it be money, censorship, or creative, but they persevered, and delivered us some real classics! And real stinkers too, but enough about The Witches Mountain! Today I'm looking at The Hanging Woman.

The film comes under a few alternate titles, some more misleading than others, from Orgy of the Dead, to Dracula: Terror of the Living Death. The Hanging Woman is a pretty appropriate title, especially as it's the shock that really opens the movie and draws you in.

The story s a good one. It's by no means perfect, and there are a couple of lulls. Plus, it's never boring, but it does take 50 minutes before the plot really gets started. Yes, I know that sounds crazy! Trust me though, he film does keep your attention during most of that.

The film hits a really good balance of luridness and tastefulness. There's plenty of smutty goodness on display here, from bare breasts, to hearts being removed, necrophilia, and more, but it all comes at a good enough clip that it never feels like the movie's just throwing as much crazy stuff at you at once to shock you just for the sake of it. It actually understates some of the creepier elements, which might disappoint some.

Where The Hanging Woman gets most interesting are its undead! Not sure if mentioning them is a spoiler, but hey, if it's good enough for the poster and most titles, I suppose I may as well. It handles them well! They appear just enough to build up suspense and mystery, and making for a great climax, but not appearing so little that you wonder what was even the point.

The hero of the film is Serge Chekhov, handsome and dashing young man from out of town. His character confused me a little. He's utterly milquetoast/unremarkable for the first 50 minutes, before suddenly swerving into serious asshole territory when he gets Doris to undress for him, to show how much she wants him to keep the house! The whole time watching that scene I wasn't sure if he was really being sleazy, or if it was just part of some plan. Still not sure, but I'll be generous and assume the latter. He also gets a bit psychotic when he makes sure Igor is really dead by stabbing his corpse. Dude, he tried to warn you, and kinda died to help you! Not cool!

Doris is a typical damsel in distress, whose dialogue often comprises of "Help me, I'm scared, don't leave me!" when trouble is afoot. She does show some smarts in the finale though, when she plays dead to avoid the zombies.

Nadia is a fun character. Witchy, conniving yet oddly sincere, very horny, and fun to watch. Kind of a shame what happens to her then! But oh well, the film does have a pretty small cast, so someone's gotta bite the dust. She's built up as a villain at first, before this turns out to be a misdirect. I kinda wish a little more was done with her, but we get enough.

Professor Leon is an interesting villain in that he's not motivated by creating an army of the dead and taking over the world. Quite the contrary, actually, given certain developments. And I dig the glimmer of humanity that ends up being his downfall too. He's quite a good villain despite only a scant time to be one. He monologues, and he schemes, not to mention getting killed by his own creations. That's to be expected.

There are a few cheesy moments in The Hanging Woman that may be intentional for all I know, such as Nadia looking into Chekov's room after a big struggle with Igor, and immediately writing it off as all his imagination. Another amusing moment is during the seance, where she's a real dope! And there's her unsuccessful romancing/seduction of Igor early on.

One issue is that there are some abandoned plot threads, such as the butler and his egotistical ramblings about being the king of the household, knowing all the secrets. All the other elements that never go anywhere (such as the sinister witch Nadia) are good red herrings, but he felt like a dropped [potato]. I was fully expecting him to have been the head of some satanic cult operating in the house.

The final act is tense and satisfying! One amusing moment is when the heroes are startled by a musty skeleton, and Chekhov immediately fills it with 5 rounds! I get shooting it once when first startled, but one would think you'd realise it's only a skeleton before the next four shots. It's a good thing he's in a movie, so his six-shooter still has another 9 shots left.

Following that, [Chekhov gets into more and more serious for trouble with the police] we get a really great reveal, even if the villain's identity was plainly obvious (for crying out loud, he was quite open about experimenting to resurrect the dead!), and Chekhov's way of writing is a tad crazy. There's also a really clever use of a knife with fingerprints, and a hilarious use of the term 'logical'.

The acting here is mixed. There aren't many great performances, but none terrible, at least that I could notice. I saw the dubbed version, which is pretty good for the most part, though very cheesy, and low-rent at times. My favourite performer was the booming police chief. The guy dubbing Chekhov gets very funny in his more over-the-top moments too, injecting some life and laughs to the proceedings.

Since he was busy with another film at the time, Spanish horror great Paul Naschy only features in a supporting role here, but it feels worth our time. Even if it's not a huge part, it doesn't feel like a walk-on role that's done in 5 seconds. He's brief but memorable, and appears consistently throughout.

The effects in The Hanging Woman are pretty neat! There's a really good decapitation, with a convincing model head. Another impressive moment is the surprisingly detailed autopsy scene! It's clearly fake, zoomed in a lot to cover this up, but I still applaud the creativity. The zombies are well designed too, looking convincingly rotting, and at different stages too.

The ambiguously European setting is very good, with the spooky mansion, creepy graveyard, and sinister laboratory all giving a nice sense of atmosphere. The direction is good, and has a very nice use of shadows. Nothing is too bright or too dark. There are a couple of interesting scene transitions. The first is very good, but/though the second is a bit quick and confusing. Kudos for the thought though!

The music here is pretty minimal, but what's present is nice, from traditional spooky/tense tracks, to the deceptively childlike lullabies.

The Hanging Woman is a surprisingly fun watch! It's not the greatest horror flick out there, not even the greatest Spanish horror by a mile, but it's still got plenty to enjoy, and is well worth a watch...

Friday, July 24, 2020

The Marathon Family (1982)

In 1930s era Serbia, the Topalović family funeral home has ran like clockwork for over a hundred years. From father to son it's passed down, and upon the death of the 150 year old patriarch, the family wonder what will come next. Meanwhile, a gangster associate Billy the Python is furious about not being paid yet by the Topalović's, and vows revenge. ...

A film that's been recommended to my by Serbian friends for a while now is the lengthily titled Maratonci trče počasni krug, or Marathon Runners Do a Lap of Honour in English. Simply known as The Marathon Family, it's a wonderfully dark comedy, all about this crazy family of conniving, cheating, violent madmen.

This gets off to a great start, introducing us to its concept and characters in a really funny way. Who would expect 6 generations of men all running a business together? Naturally they're all at each-other's throats. From here on the movie continues showing us the players in this demented slice of Serbia.

The tone in Marathon Family is really well balanced. It's dark, but never ridiculously so. Black comedies always need some light and silliness to be black comedies. Without it they're not funny, just black, and potentially unpleasant. Here though there's always a = goofy, almost playful nature, and you never take what's going on too seriously. From absurdly elderly relatives, to grandpas throwing TNT at police, and testing a crematorium with dinner/lunch, it's not meant to be a grounded movie, revelling in its =, but at the same time never going too far into becoming farcical.

Another pitfall movies such as this face is the likeability of its characters. How enjoyable can a film be when you hate everyone in it? Thankfully this succeeds very well in its presentation of its cast. The leads all have their own unique flaws and idiosyncrasies, from the traditional grandfather, to the tradition-bucking Lucky, who's determined to get complete control over the funeral home, to the youngest son Mirko, who would otherwise be the most normal of the bunch (if a bit dim), if not for bad habits like spying on families to check the exact moment their relative dies. He ends up going off the deep end in a way that feels surprising but convincing, and perhaps inevitable!

The older members of the family aren't as rich as the younger ones, but are still entertaining in their own ways, and the maid/nurse is just as amusing. She's every bit as kooky and randy as some of these older grandpas, and is also perhaps the only truly nice character in the film.

On one hand, Billy the Python is a no-good gangster, and would probably be well rid of, but on the other hand, he's legitimately not a bad guy in his quarrels with the Topalović family! The dude just wants what he's owed, and that's it, but they've gotta make things difficult, causing things to spiral out of control.

Kristina is a great addition to the cast. She's hilarious, fickle, and beastly. An ill-fitting match for Mirko, which is obvious to everyone but the boy himself. An increasingly out-of-work theatre hall pianist, she's bitter at the talkies for tanking her career, getting such gems of dialogue as "I shit on your tone films!".

As the movie goes on she finds herself being seduced by the rogue Djenka, as well as gravitating towards him in equal measure, and more that I won't spoil. I also like how different she is from her father Billy. They're not just carbon copies of the other. On that note, I did find it a bit weird that she's his daughter, when she's 40, and only a couple of years shy of the other actor's age! Sister would be more convincing.

One complaint I kinda do have with the characters though is the sheer volume of them. There are 6 different members of this family. Since they're all kooky patriarchs of varying degrees of elderly, some either blend together a bit or aren't entirely necessary. But the actors all do fun jobs, and are = recognisable faces of Serbian cinema, so I    too harshly.

While I enjoyed the plot for the most part, there were a few personal hand-ups I had with it, though these lessened as the movie went on. There are a few long-ish stretches where the movie focuses onthis and that (such as Mirko's relationship with Kristina for example), and I found myself missing the family's antics, or vice versa. But these scenes are never bad or boring, and by the end I felt everything was all balanced well.

There are a few local things to note that foreigners might note, or on the opposite end of the spectrum, fail to pick up on. Firstly, there is a lot of swearing! Despite being from Eastern Europe, which was more traditionally conservative than the west, and despite being set in the 1930s, the language here is extremely colourful, in such a way as they've often talked. The Serbs have always been masters at the craft of vulgar insults, most often involving fucking, mothers, and =.

Another element is the film's intro during the credits, featuring real assassination footage of Yugoslavian king Alexander I. This is a pretty gloomy prologue, and its inclusion is perhaps pretty tenuous. I suppose one could argue that it symbolically reflects the then-current turmoil and violence that swept the country and people, while others might think that message could be gotten across in other ways.

The actors all do spectacular jobs here. All are crazy and over-the-top, and often in different ways. The highlights are Bata Stojković as Lucky, Bogdan Diklić as Mirko, and Seka Sablić as the coldhearted Kristina. She won plenty of awards for her performance and it's not hard to see why.

Overall, The Marathon Family is a great example of classic Serbian comedy. While not for the faint-of-heart, and not as cuddly as other Serb films might be, it stands high as a = of its genre, and still cherished to this day...

Strangler vs. Strangler (1984)

In the streets of 1980s Belgrade, carnation-seller Pera is having trouble witt his wares. Everyone keeps refusing them, and throwing the flowers back in his face, and eventually the strain from them and his overbearing mother becomes too much, and he begins strangling those who criticise his flowers. he police are desperate to find his new killer before there are more victims, but matters are not helped when budding rock singer Spiridon takes the story of the strangler for a macabre hit song, glorifying the murderer's behaviour/the man's murderous behaviour. Gradually the idea becomes an obsession for Spiridon, and the clumsy Inspector Ognjen may have two stranglers to contend with!...

Strangler Versus Strangler is a bizarre example of Yugoslavian cinema It starts off like a pseudo-documentary about the culture and people of Belgrade (in no ways that'll improve the Serbian tourist industry!). The narrator tells us all about the setting, characters, and what's happening, always feeling like a welcome presence, and an arresting start to a = movie. As the story goes on, this approach gradually fades into the sidelines, though never totally gone.

The story itself is quite simple, but it's the execution which is special. This takes inspiration from a few sources, but only as a jumping off point. This is a wholly/totally unique film, with very little like it. The tone is a real plus to this movie. It's consistently funny, with the film never becoming too weird or too dark. It always strikes a good balance.

The characters in Strangler vs. Strangler are a distinctive and hilarious bunch, with plenty to them. The main = is the psychotic Pera, with his various issues and =, compelled to strangle 'rude' women who hate his carnations or don't dress in the proper feminine way. Also weird is would-be rock star Spiridon, who's the goofiest looking nerd you could imagine! He's either the last person you'd expect to be a rock star, or a perfect example of how pathetic some fame seekers can be, with his slovenly and = demeanour, rude attitude, and using tragedy as a selling point for his new music.

Almost an Inspector Clouseau level figure, Detective Ognjen is hilarious. He's an insanely dogged detective, who ends up going further in both those attributes as the movie goes on, and the search becomes more desperate. He's quite endearing with how far he goes in catching the killer, even if he is totally clumsy and just a little mad.  Radio jockey/reporter Sophia is alright, and is a decent presence to the film, even if she's a bit too stoic/unexpressive at times.

The narration here is one of the best parts. The woman is simultaneously serious and funny, espousing loopy bits of 'wisdom'. Other characters are fun too, like the briefly appearing undercover policeman Rodoljub, Pera's unhinged mother, the woman at the sweets shop, and Spiridon's = parents.

Where I felt Strangler Vs. Strangler began to decline was in the ending. It already had a nice climax, and while it didn't definitively resolve the status of Pera/the killer, he's still been stopped, and his latest victim saved. [A romance has bloomed (a strange and completely unexpected romance), the badly wounded Pera retreats into =, and the proud Inspector Proudly shows off his new trophy as = of his successes with battling/opposing this killer.] Then the epilogue starts, and it's sweet at first (then naughty, and not to mention weird!), but then the movie just keeps on going! It takes a bit of a turn for the depressing afterwards, and I was wishing the movie had've just ended when it was supposed to!

The acting here is perfect. The performers all look great in their parts, from Taško Načić as the demented serial killer,  Srđan Šaper as the unwashed greasy rocker, and the great Nikola Simić as the tenacious detective. They deliver lively performances all round.

The music is another high point for the movie. The instrumental tracks are great at building up a spooky atmosphere, other tracks fit with the more amusing scenes, and there's rarely a dull moment [musically]. The most notable piece in the film is of course Spiridon's song, and this is somewhere the movie might've had/ran into some trouble. It's gotta be a convincingly grungy and amateur quality song by this uncharismatic dweeb, but they've also gotta have it be good enough to be legitimately pleasing to the ear, so we understand why Belgrade likes it, and so we don't [feel the need to] tear our ears off when hearing it again and again. I found it quite a catchy tune! [I also get the best of both worlds, getting to sing along without coming across as creepy, because I don't know the words!]

There's a lot to like about Strangler Versus Strangler, and while I was disappointed with a few things about it, it's a great example of the weirder side to Yugoslavia. But don't let it deter you from going on holiday to Belgrade! You probably won't get strangled!...

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)

*sigh* Why does stop-motion have to be so costly and time-consuming? The world needs more Wallace and Gromit! It always has!

Eccentric inventor Wallace and his trusty dog Gromit are currently running the Anti-Pesto pest control service, helping catch mischievous rabbits and other critters on the eve of the great annual vegetable show. Faced with storage issues, especially after clearing the lovely Lady Tottingham's estate of bunnies, Wallace decides to test a new invention to change the rabbits' mind away from veggies. But when the town is attacked by a ferocious monster, slavering for prize marrows and pumpkins, et all, he realises he may have unwittingly created a monster...

Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit is a real treat! It makes the jump from lower-budgeted shorts to a big Hollywood movie really well, looking much better, while retaining all of the low-key British charm. Try as they might, the American machine could never strip this series of its English nature.

The story here is an entertaining and simple one, starting off with a bang, introducing the characters perfectly to young and old, and setting up events to come. The vibrant characters help build up this world we're in, and every little thing contributes to the movie feeling complete. Every piece is in place to make a whole, like a perfect jigsaw.

Something that sets this apart from the other Wallace and Gromit adventures is the scale, namely in that there are actually people here! I've always felt the three shorts had an almost eerie feel with how empty they are, with no humans besides Wallace, for the most part. The Were-Rabbit meanwhile not only has a cast, but quite a large one too. There are many distinctive characters with their own unique appearances and personalities, and they all appear consistently. Even comparitively minor ones still have something unique or interesting about them.

Wallace is   Gromit is his typical lovable self, never making a sound, yet his expressions speak louder than words. He has such life to him! He's nice here, exasperated at his master's eccentricities and refusal to diet, but always helpful, up for a car chase, and willing to sacrifice his prize marrow if it means saving the day!

The rest of the characters are fun. Totty is a nice love interest, very sugary sweet   Victor Quatermain is the film's true villain, and is one you love to hate. He's such a smug jackass, and is suitably wretched in every scene he's in, but in amusing ways. Without going into any spoiler details, the were-rabbit is great, providing many fun and creative moments throughout.

Curse of the Were-Rabbit is a very visual movie, not just because of the unique and gorgeous animation, but the level of detail. This is a fully crafted world, made from the ground up from plasticine. Every little thing is intentional and planned, and it looks

Then there are the visual gags. There are so many, it would take forever to count them, and noticing them all the first time is unlikely! It's always the sign of a great movie when it rewards multiple viewings with little details and jokes you didn't notice the first time. No surprise a movie absolutely packed to the gills like this would give us so much =.

Besides the visual flair and = the movie has, the quality of the stop motion itself is great. Characters move fluidly and have life to them, with the common touches of stop-motion (such as the jerky movement and visible thumbprints) adding a nice touch.

The acting here is great! Peter Sallis is once again the  as the = Wallace. Helena Bonham Carter is surprisingly normal here, delivering a fine performance. Ralph Fiennes is great as the blustering villain, and the remainder of the cast,from Peter Kay, to Nicholas Smith, Nick Park himself, and the rest.

The music here is all great stuff! We've got light and fluffy tunes,, funny ones, spooky tracks which really help the atmosphere when things switch from zany to tense, and more. The highlight is as expected the main theme, always unchanged throughout the series.

Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit is a standout film in many ways! It's a great expansion of Wallace and Gromit, and fits perfectly into the series. Even if there'd never been another = after this (which would still be a tragedy!), this would serve as a perfect grand finale. It nails everything it sets out to achieve, and is a perfect watch for anyone...

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Around the World in 80 Days (2004)

Over 100 years after his death, Jules Verne still stands as one of the grandfathers of science fiction, certainly the most prolific and entertaining! His influences are still felt today, and will be for a long time. His stories are so timeless, educational, and forward thinking. Both the science and social attitudes in his books are a marvel, especially for their time, and his worldwide popularity is a testament to his skill. Among his classics, such as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, From the Earth to the Moon, and Journey to the Centre of the Earth, etc, many have received film adaptions,  some more divergent than others. Today I'll be looking at one such entry, for Around the World in 80 Days...

Eccentric inventor Phileas Fogg is trying his best to help change the world, but is curtailed by the stuffy and restrictive Royal Academy of Science, headed by the = Lord Kelvin. After he makes a theoretical conjecture concerning a fugitive bank-robber, the guild challenged Fogg to prove it, and circumnavigate he globe in 80 days. Terrified at first, Fogg is reassured by his new assistant Passepartout, who has his own reasons for wanting to travel, and the two begin a grand journey that will take them beyond their wildest dreams...

When I saw the trailers for 2004's Around the World in 80 Days, I wasn't that enthused. Dunno why. Just half paying attention, and it seemed a bit silly, which naturally a young = like me was eager to be mature and =. However, a short while later, during the last day of school for that year, they played a movie-This one. Since there was only like 40 minutes left of the day, we only caught part of it, but I was hooked, and that very evening I rented it from the video store and watched the hell out of it!

If you believe a lot of the = that gets thrown at this movie, you'd think it was the worst ever, an appalling piece of drivel that personally assaulted everyone in the movie theatre. I feel this attitude is totally ungrounded! Even if you don't like it, the movie's not offensively bad, it's just a harmless comedy. Either you like it or you don't. And yet some people pillory it like it's =! What are my thoughts? Well let's get into it...

Around the World in 80 Days is a thoroughly enjoyable watch. =, lighthearted,  and brisk yet epic. It uses its two hour length well, never feeling boring or dragging, but also having the necessary = that this kind of adventure needs.

movie is very quotable, with an abundance of great lines and moments.

An important area to discuss with this film is its faithfulness as an adaptation. Now I'd be lying if I said this was accurate to the book, but I adore it anyway. I'm cruel to bad adaptions too, so I'd normally be in a position to tear such a movie to shreds! Why I don't here is simple. It may not be accurate to the specific events or characters in the book, but it truly does get across the spirit of the source material, and that's what's important. Beyond that, I view this as a new story based on the book, and drawing inspiration form it, but not a direct retelling. that's the best way of looking at it, really.

Now let's come to the characters. Unlike his more robotic and mathematically obsessive original, this Phileas Fogg is more of an idealistic dreamer, and wacky inventor.   I actually felt he was a good analogue for Verne's own attitudes towards science and the world, and if you're gonna change a character for any reason, reflecting the author's = viewpoints is a good enough reason as any. Lastly, it's funny how the Fogg of the book wasn't established to be an inventor, but just about every adaption adds that element!

The biggest diversion from the book comes in the form of Jackie Chan, who naturally  Sure, the kung fu is all =, but his character does feel like a natural part of the story, and gets good = moments. The curse of any licensed = adaption starring Jackie Chan is that it would become a Jackie Chan film. That is true here, but the film strikes a good balance, and he doesn't hog the =. Even the stolen Buddha storyline is sensibly resolved three quarters in, leaving the true = focusing entirely on the race. Also softening the blow is that Passepartout was already the viewpoint character in the book,

Replacing Indian maiden Aouda is Frenchwoman Monique la Roche, and while fans of the book may miss the original character, Monique is a spunky heroine, and more than fits the bill!

Inspector Fix is very different to his book counterpart, but fits the same bill of the dogged policeman. Here he's a long-suffering comic relief figure, and while some might groan at the scenes where he appears, finding him too exaggerated or the comedy too slapstick, I always have fun when he's onscreen, and he handles the physical comedy well. One last thing to note, his portrayal here seems to me like a good punishment to the original Fix for his actions in the book! Or cruel. Depends on your opinion.

The acting here is great. Steve Coogan makes for a solid lead, and gets across the bumbling and clever sides of his character well, always amusing and likeable. Jackie Chan, in many ways the true hero, is his typical self, which is high praise! He's fun, lighthearted, and he also feels at home in the =. Cecile de France is confident and charming, sexy, and absolutely adorable, making a great =! She and Coogan share good chemistry And Jim Broadbent meanwhile is deliciously evil, with both a grand booming voice and = evil tones. Ewan Bremmer is funny too. Over-the-top, but effective, and can take a beating!

The rest of the cast all do a mixture of good jobs. Karen Mok is another great villain, with a juicy role. The guy playing the gang leader in China is goofy and hard to take seriously, but in a fun way. Sammo Hung also has a brief role, and gets some funny lines and nice martial arts. Lord Kelvin's entourage is funny too, especially in the end. Mark Addy shows up for an amusing role too! Thankfully all these actors and more are balanced well enough, appearing a few minutes at a time and that's it, rather than be a big muddled hodgepodge.

There's a sizeable amount of cameos and small appearances here, and they're very good! There's not a self-indulgent amount, and many of them work in various ways. For example, casting Owen and Luke Wilson as the Wright Bros. is a great casting choice, and they deliver a fun = in their short time. Rob Schneider on the other hand is apt to cause extreme consternation, although he's not that bad here, and the choice of role is at least perfectly fitting of his talents. Kathy Bates makes for a great Queen Victoria, looking perfect in the role and nailing the accent. John Cleese is a more obvious cameo, and it's ok, though he's barely there, and half his scenes are only in the trailer.

What really surprised me was Macy Grey! Yeah, she's in this movie! How?! I've seen this movie too many times to mention, and yet I only realised she was in it very recently. I thought back and tried to place her, wondering how they could fit in such a garish modern day pop star, big afro and all, in a period piece. As it turns out, she plays the sleeping French woman Passepartout rescues from a fire! What a surprise, right? It's a very reserved and low-key role, no big wink or nudge about who it is, and you could be easily forgiven for never noticing! Quite a pleasant surprise!

Making a surprising appearance is Arnold Schwarzenegger of all people, as a Turkish prince! Strange casting, but it's actually kinda genius in a way casting a German* as a Turk!   Funnily enough, when I first saw the movie I didn't even recognise it was him! I know, I know, how, you ask? Well he's playing a long-haired = prince in a period piece, so he did look familiar, but it just didn't occur to me he was The Terminator!

*I know, I know, Austrian, same thing.

Where any adaption of this book must nail is the locations, and that's an area this film excels in.
The scenery here is often great, and =. What I especially appreciate is the colour for each country. England is more grey and muted, France is full of light pastels, India has lots of deep brown, orange, and green, and China has a natural earthiness too. China and France get plenty of time, while America gets the most variety with three little scenes rather than just one big one in the specific area. India is the only one that gets a bit left our, since that section is just there for a fight scene, but otherwise it's used well.

The fight choreography here is very good. No surprise when Jackie Chan and his mates are working in front of and behind the camera. There's solid fight scenes, great hits, creative moments (such as the fight in the art storeroom), and everything comes together well, including the classic Jackie humour.

The music is another high point, with nice regular tracks, great inspirational and epic tunes, etc, and a sweet ending song.

Overall, Around the World in 80 Days is a great watch! Whether it appeals to you isn't a 100% chance, but it's also hardly a 0.1 chance like is widely believed. It's great fun, might make you laugh, and lets you see the world from your couch at home, which is always a great feeling.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Sitting on the Moon (1936)

Struggling songwriter Danny West and his friend Mike help down-and-out actress Polly Blair, who's been blackballed by everyone in the industry after she pissed off the wrong boss. Danny writes a new song for her, finding the first inspiration in months, and he produces the hit number Sitting on the Moon, which instantly propels Polly to the stratosphere. Events conspire against Danny however when a woman he seemingly married while drunk comes knocking, putting a wedge in any potential relationship...

1936's Sitting on the Moon is a perfect example of the musical-comedies of the era. Funny, sweet, and full of [intrigue] and punching double-crossing record bosses on the nose!

In only 52 minutes, Sitting on the Moon delivers what modern movies take two friggin' hours to do! I'm not saying I wouldn't have liked this to be longer, since more time with these characters would be a treat, but when a movie's able to supply a beginning, middle, and end, with complete character arcs and music to boot, all in 52 minutes, you know you've got a real winner on your hands! Classical movies really managed time a lot better than newer stuff.

The story is a good one, with identifiable characters, who are always likeable, and never annoying. It's nice seeing them successfully make it to the bigtime, and their lows are suitably dramatic. Things come together well, building up to a great climax.

The 'drunk marriage' plotline is good, and opens the movie in a funny way, though it doesn't play a huge role. Its purpose is more in the impact it causes, and it's resolved entirely offscreen. There's good and bad to this. On one hand it's a little annoying that the heroes don't get to take care of business themselves, but the story is more about the = career than it is these crooks, so I understand why they don't get a part in the climax.

Danny is a fine lead, always honourable, with enough [naughty] behaviour to make him funny, but not enough to make him an asshole. He always comes across as a real good bloke, and you'd want this guy as a friend! Polly is the same. She's a nice girl, always humble, and will throw her own chances under the bus if it means someone else got a leg up.

Meanwhile, Mike and Mattie being fun comic relief, as well as helpful sidekicks.They're never useless, and always play an important part. The remainder of the cast is good, from = musicians, villainous record producers, and understanding landlords, as well as devious 'wives'.

The romance is a highlight, with it happening naturally to two people simply getting to know each-other over a period of time. And the movie also values their friendship just as much as their =, which you don't see often! Characters always just fall in love at the drop of a hat, and you don't really see them just hanging out and =.

I also like that after the big misunderstanding (or = marriage in this case) causes a rift, the reunion is spearheaded by Polly herself! Rather than be still hating ='s guts, time has passed and she recognises the state of things, so she seeks him out herself, while he's just trying to keep above water. Normally it's the guy who has to do all the work in =, so it's refreshing to see the girl be the one to realise everything all on her own.

What I like most about these characters is not only how much they understand and care for each-other, but how they stick together in a fix. Even though Polly's been blacklisted by every producer in the business, Danny steps up to give her a chance. And she does the same for him in the climax. Even though he's persona non grata, and her playing his song would mean the end of her career (if her asshole boss has his way anyway), she does it anyway without a second thought. It's inspiring!

There are good themes on display here, such as the aforementioned sticking together, but also of the perils of = in the music industry. The movie shows how conniving and underhanded bad] bosses could be, including the way they'd try and throw stars under the bus on the grounds of being 'temperamental', just because they had the 'nerve' to wanna sing a certain song or help out =. Thankfully the movie presents these problems with a happy solution, rather than just dwelling in the misery and presenting nothing.

The actors all do good jobs here. They're a nice mix of funny, romantic, and dramatic, balancing everything well.

The soundtrack to Sitting on the Moon is largely made up of the song Sitting on the Moon, who would have guessed! Despite only having the one song to bandy about for the most part, it works effectively and efficiently. It's a nice song,    Lost in my Dreams  melancholy but light. Thank God, you wouldn't want a dirge for the grand finale! There's other scoring and songs here, which are nice enough, even if not as prominently featured as the rest.

Sitting on the Moon is a lovely musical romance, and the perfect antidote to a cold rainy afternoon. It's got just enough of everything. Not sappy, enough to laugh at, great music, and a fine story! And all in a short package. What more could you want...

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Swing Time (1936)

John 'Lucky' Garnett is all set to be married when his conniving friends trick him into being late. The wedding is called off, until Lucky convinces his prospective father-in-law that he can make $25,000 dollars as a 'proof of concept'. A determined Lucky sets off to New York with his friend Pop to make the money, but comes across the feisty dance instructor Penny Caroll. Despite a rocky beginning, the two hit it off, and soon find themselves performing together on = stages, but face off against various difficulties, from a jealous composer, to money shortages, and the looming spectre of Lucky's engagement...

Swing Time is considered by many to be the crowning achievement by legendary song-and-dance pair Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, and it's easy to see why. It's funny, witty, a breezy watch despite its length, and is unsurpassed in the talent on display.

The story gets off to a nice start, introducing us to the lead and his dilemma in an effective enough way. It's a bit of a shame we never see Lucky's friends or = anymore, and I remember on my first viewing I  was expecting them and Margaret's family to play more of a role

The characters in Swing Time are great. They   Lucky is a sunny lead, with plenty of talents, but also a few faults, making him a well-rounded character. The movie does a good job at showing him being conflicted.  He doesn't wanna be with his old girlfriend anymore, but he also doesn't want to make advances towards  while he's still under obligation to Margaret.

Penny is just the right mix of feisty but sweet. She starts the movie pissed off at Lucky, and wanting to turn his guts to garnetts, but this doesn't last too long, and the romance between them happens very naturally. She's a lovely girl, and it's nice seeing both sides of her.


Lucky's friend Pop is a fun companion, always serving a purpose, and the same goes for Mabel, whose snark provides many amusing moments. The remainder of the cast is made up of scheming composers, gambling crooks, pissed off father-in-laws, and a slew of other entertaining folks (or maddening, depending on how much you wanna punch Ricardo Romero in the face).

The actors here are all marvellous. Fred Astaire is a hugely likeable lead, and has  the best smile! Ginger Rogers is likewise great, and =. The two share great chemistry, and you really believe them as a couple. Victor Moore and Helen Broderick are great comic relief, and always have a great presence. They have sincere chemistry too. The remainder of the cast is all good, from Bela Lugosi lookalike Georges Metaxa, to Eric Blore and Betty Furness.

The dancing in Swing Time is simply stunning! The two hoofers do phenomenal jobs, and all the hard work they put into these routines clearly paid off. They carry them out so effortlessly and flawlessly,

The music in Swing Time is also worthy of high praise. Containing tracks that have truly stood the test of time, from The Way You Look Tonight, to Bojangles of Harlem, and ultra catchy tunes like Pick Yourself Up, and A Fine Romance! They're also integrated well with the dancing, never overshadowed, and the = of the singing often complements the energetic dances greatly! Astaire has a =, while Ginger Rogers is very humourous in her parts.

The visuals are another high point. Scenes are framed very well, from small hotel rooms to big practice spaces, and the wide open outdoors. The = in some scenes especially impressed me, really making the movie feel real, and almost artistic, like an art deco portrait come to life.

The only real criticism I have is that the movie is so long and there are so few numbers that they feel a little unevenly spaced. If only the film had been a bit shorter. At nearly two hours it is a fairly sizable film, and it doesn't necessarily need to be, however it's never boring or overlong, and the talent involved keep it entertaining for all that time.

Swing Time is an absolutely fabulous movie! It's one of the greats from the 1930s, and


As for whether there should've even been a romance to begin with, I'm not sure. On one hand, Lucky starts the movie about to get married to another woman, so I think it'd actually be neat if he did still get married to her (after all, they got together for a reason, surely?), and Lucky and Penny would simply be friends. How often do we see men and women just being friends in movies? Not too often!
wish there were more scenes, in a good way,   friends  romance

Something eyebrow raising however, is of course the blackface! Yes, Fred Astaire donned blackface at one point, and in the most popular of his movies, too! However, this is actually not as bad as it sounds. The whole number/act is a tribute to actor/tapdancer extraordinaire Bill Robertson, who Astaire greatly admired, and wished to pay respect to. As for the make-up itself, Astaire just has brown make-up on, rather than shoe polish and bright red lips. There are articles on the internet by African-Americans who have their own reasons for justifying the scene, beyond the ones I've already listed. So basically, the sequence is...rather dated, to put it lightly, but not racist. Not at all, not when the intent was so =, and the people in question are fine with it. Black people aren't stupid after all, they know the difference between Al Jolson and Fred Astaire, compared to the offensive minstrels of the turn of the century.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Tango Argentino (1992)

Yugoslavian cinema has had a lot of varied chapters, and while I've only seen but a few, I've already run the gamut! From harmless family fare, to bizarre experimental films (and fun ones: big difference!), raunchy sex comedies, and depressing Oscar bait, there really is a stunning diversity. Today's film, Tango Argentino, is a great example of a few such genres in one...

Nikola is a young 12 year old saddled with adult responsibilities. While his parents work multiple jobs each to save for their dream home, and support their ailing daughter, Nikola also has a lot of duties, and this lifestyle has ingrained a very workmanlike personalty, always thinking of the best way to make the most. During his work he meets elderly singer Julio Popovic, and the two strike up a unique friendship, giving them both something to brighten their lives...

Tango Argentino is a really good drama. The story is an emotional one that  The tone is sad, but also happy. The first half introduces us to the lead character's unglamorous life, but things are never so dour that you lose hope or feel like drowning your sorrows with a keg of booze. Things pick up in the second half, and while things are never super happy, the tone remains consistent, as well as funny in places.

The characters are very well crafted here. Nikola is a great protagonist, mature and likeable. He's still a boy, but he says and thinks in such adult ways sometimes because of all these responsibilities that have been thrust upon him so unfairly. There are often times where he's more responsible than his parents! Onto them, they are a couple of prize assholes! They're not gonna win any awards for best parents of the year. The mother is somewhat inattentive and resigned, not actively bad but is sill fine leaving her son all these tough jobs. The father meanwhile is a lazy dope (and yet has four jobs!) and a loser, who can't keep it in his pants. He's rubbish at making excuses, keeping appointments, and smooth talking. What I like about the characterisation here though is that while these two aren't the best, they're not presented as one-dimensionally bad either. They come across as convincingly human as a result.

The oldies meanwhile are a fun bunch. Julio Popovic has the most attention, and he's a neat guy. Always lively and adventurous, he and Nikola strike up a good rapport. He also has good chemistry with his fellow senior citizens. The garrulous major is a fun presence, while the grouchy and closed-off Galic is hardly the picture of friendliness at first, but soon becomes a tight-knit member of the gang, getting a few emotional moments with Nikola.

The remainder of the cast is good (especially the friendly dog!), though some are a little underused. That leads into my only real complaint with Tango Argentino. Some characters or plot threads are dropped, and never addressed again. Nikola's sister, for example. We never see her again after her trip to the Bulgarian faith healer, and far be it to belittle or besmirch the proud name of Bulgarian faith healing, we can pretty much imagine how that went. But still, it's a pain she never shows up again. It'd be nice seeing her relationship with her brother further explored.

The popcorn machine plot thread is also never resolved. Frustratingly it kinda actually was, but the movie overextended that sorry. Instead of just ending it when he gets it, it has to drag it out, and ends things there on a not so happy note.

Lastly, there's not much in the way of a solid ending to the family plot. This is a little annoying, however it's not a huge deal, as the important stuff is all wrapped up to perfection. The emotional core of the film is Nikola's friendship with Julio, and the ending of the story in a way [reflects the ending of this =]. This is handled in a really nice way, and the beach trip is a sweet ending to the movie, and a great culmination to Nikola's character arc.

Tango Argentino has a few running themes throughout, from the relationship between the old and young, as well as the identical troubles they face, often needing guardians, or not being trusted as much as adults. We also see the greed, laziness, and other negative traits among many here, which both old and young have to bear the brunt of, often unable to fight back. But thankfully Nikola represents the future, so it's not all pessimistic.

The soundtrack here is a nice one. There are slow and melancholy tracks, and swanky tangos. The titular song is a very good one, partially reprised here and there, and has some instrumental rescorings which add a lot. Something a little strange is that a movie with such an interest in music really only has this one song, but I felt that said tune successfully permeated the entire film, and gives a nice atmosphere. Well, until the last 20 minutes anyway, when I felt the rising urge to remind the filmmakers that there are more songs out there. This is never an issue though.

The actors all do great jobs here. Nikola Žarković is a good lead, and his age is never once a problem. He successfully embodies his character's adult personaliy, while also retaining the emotional and whimsical spirit of a child. Famous Yugoslav singer Mija Aleksić is equally good as Julio, delivering a jovial performance, ill and on the way out maybe, but full of life and good cheer.  Miki Manojlović is a bit too successful in his performances as a greasy deadbeat, effective but a little unpleasant, while = does a good job too as the trying but failing mother. The rest of the cast are nice, from the snakelike dirtbags, to the remaining golden oldies.

Director Goran Paskaljević does a great job here. He shows the grime and dirt, with some good visual satire. Enough to send a message and make you laugh, but nothing in your face, or aggressively unsubtle. Everything works perfectly, and it never felt like he was making the country out to be worse than it was, but just showing things how they were, also showing good sides.

There are two things to note about Tango Argentino. The first is that filming wrapped up mere days before what can charitable be termed as a pretty bad time. Managing to film and complete the movie just before a war broke out is a pretty impressive feat! And lucky to boot. Another nice fact is that Aleksić, who had been long since out of work during his twilight years, started out the production in not that great condition, only working a few hours a day, but gradually improved to the point where his doctor's advice from then on was 'make more movies'!

Tango Argentino is a great character and country study, showing off an honest and unflinching but also happy and optimistic portrayal of life. It's for sure worth a watch...