Thursday, July 29, 2021

Malá Mořská Víla-The Little Mermaid (1976)

The Little Mermaid lives a tranquil life under the sea with her family, but as her father searches for a suitable groom for her to rule with, she yearns for the world above. She falls for a human prince, and saves his life against her father's objections. Unable to resist the temptation any longer, she goes to see a witch to gain the ability to go to the surface. Her wish is granted, but at a terrible cost, and the little mermaid must gain the prince's love all without her voice...

Czechoslovakia was rich with fairytale content during the 70s. Partly because the Soviet censorship would probably come down hard least upon something as safe as a fantasy set in antiquity, and also because they're just damn good stories. I'm leaning more on the latter. Even today these movies  are fondly remembered, and often overplayed on the local television stations every year.

A few of the Czechoslovak fantasies I've seen each have their differences, but were definitely birds of a feather. Malá Mořská Víla however is a very different kind of tale. It's got a unique tone, and an ethereal presentation. It almost feels like an experimental film, due to the dreamlike atmosphere combined with the 'underwater' movements and the almost eerie music. This is delivered well, without the movie ever losing sight of the fact that it's a fairy tale.

Malá Mořská Víla is by far one of the most faithful adaptions of the Hans Christian Andersson tale. This fact will either make you pleased and/or curious, or it'll make you scared shitless. Yep, a lot of old fairy tales have gotten considerably lightened over the years, and The Little Mermaid is a prime example. The original story is considered quite dark and depressing! Malá Mořská Víla is never quite that bad, but it isn't all sunshine and rainbows. The events of the film seem almost inevitable, and reach a sombre conclusion.

The ending itself is the only real deviation from the source material, not because of anything it changes, but rather what it leaves out. All the air spirit stuff is absent, as is the 300 years of good deeds to earn a soul. The former I kinda wish was present in some way, because that would at least make the Little Mermaid's = mean something in the end. But then again it is a bit silly. And as for the latter element, I'm glad that's not included. The Little Mermaid is a dear sweetheart! Sure, she almost stabbed a couple of people to death, but besides that she's really a lovely person, so being forced to do 3 centuries worth of good deeds before she's allowed the 'privilege' of having a soul is a bit mean when she's already ascended!

The nameless little mermaid is a nice lead. Likeable, sweet, and graceful, with an enigmatic charm.
But where she lost me is when she gives up her voice to  This is a problem I have with all adaptions. It's one thing if each step she takes is =  but why would she give up one of her most important assets? She's doing all this to be with the Prince, and tell him she saved his life, and she won't even be able to say "Hi".

The prince is fairly likeable, though a bit of a dick for abandoning the mermaid for his new girlfriend. And so quickly too! It's all in the last 6 minutes! While he is a fairly nice guy, I didn't think much/highly of the prince's intelligence either, insisting sailing his boat through the most dangerous  because he heard a nice voice, presumably costing the lives of his entire crew.

The sea witch doesn't have a big role here, having only one scene. But she really makes it count. She's not evil per se, just not good, and she is played so matter-of-factly. She may be a violent witch, but at least she's honest, as can be seen in her hilarious line: "What can mermaids want from a witch? You want to be like humans. To have the prince you saved fall in love with you. It's a silly idea. But have it your own way, beautiful princess. This idea will bring your downfall. I'll make you a drink."

Malá Mořská Víla looks beautiful. The sets all look wonderful, as do the natural locations. The lighting is varied, with a blue palette for the sea world, a lush orange glow for the ocean above, and naturalistic tones for the world on land.   weather  the way the waves dash off the rocks is perfect. Another stylistic touch is that vaseline or something has been smeared over the camera lens for a lot of the underwater scenes. Thankfully the movie doesn't overuse this. There's nothing worse than a movie that deliberately obscures all its scenes just to appear stylish.

The costumes are all neat. They do look a bit goofy, but because everyone takes things so seriously and the story is so solemn, they make it work. It is clear that the budget probably didn't extend to fish tails, meaning none of these mer-people actually look the part, but the elaborate costumes and make-up [makes up] for that. The only drawback is a lot of the characters blend together. Not even age is a good indicator with how all-encompassing these outfits are.

The music is fantastical and otherworldly, with many evocative pieces. The songs the lead sings are great too, and are exactly what you could imagine a sailor going to his doom over.

The actors all do good jobs, and sell the atmosphere well. The lead is Miroslava Safránková   Her famous sister Libuse is also present, but in a surprisingly small role. I actually thought she was playing the little mermaid's sister, but nope, shes' the human princess. Aside from one scene early on, she really only appears in the last 10 minutes.

Malá Mořská Víla is a classic of Czech fantasy. It may not be the happiest movie, but it's worth watching all the same. There aren't many like it!...

Elusive Summer of 68 (1984)

Peter is a teenage boy growing up in 1960s Yugoslavia. Like all boys, he's keen to get to know girls better, and is always searching for his one true love. His father however is constantly disapproving of the messes Peter gets into along the way, and is determined to see the boy shape up into a good Marxist like his father. As the year stretches on, and student protests spread across the world, the whole family begins to show its dysfunctional side, and it seems Peter may find true love after all...

Elusive Summer of 68 is a Yugoslavian coming of age story that delivers everything you'd expect and more. It's a delightful movie, warm and sweet, with a cheeky side to it.

The film manages to blend comedy and drama together very well, with the more sombre moments never ruining the overall mood, or making things too depressing.

A big element of the film is in its time period, and all the tumultuous things that were to happen in the Eastern Bloc during 1968, from the student protests, to the Prague Spring, and ultimately the Soviet invasion. The way its handled is nice and informative. You get a sense of the context and the history without it being clumsily forced down your throat.

Peter is a good lead. He's a naughty boy who could probably do with a good spanking, but never comes across as a legitimate pest (the library scene excluded!). He's always good-hearted, and his mishaps and misfortunes are often amusing, and occasionally you do feel for him.

A big part of Elusice Summer is Peter's various romances, as he looks for the girl of his dreams. Each time he thinks he's found her however something goes wrong, like the girl not being interested, to the parents disapproving, to the girl being too interested! All the while sweet Czech girl Ruzenka watches forlornly in the distance. These dalliances are always funny to watch, and I appreciated the variety in them. The most surprising one was the baker's fiancee, and how much she reciprocates Peter's advances! What follows has got to be every boy's dream, and it is the sexiest and funniest scene in the entire film.

I liked that contrary to the previous failed =, this 'romance' didn't end due to =, but =. You understand why these two wouldn't work long term (she's way too easy, and slightly engaged), but = nice while it lasts. Its conclusion was sweet in a way, though I felt it was spoiled a little with the final coda. But I can't deny that it makes sense, and it is effectively dramatic.

The final romance is of course the =, with the Czech girl. I was a little bummed out by how long it took for her to make a reappearance, but I understand why. When she does return things are short but sweet, and the two share instant chemistry. I was weirded out by how quickly they bang though!

Their story together is great, and the ending is melancholy, partly due to the history of the time, and her departure. I do think it's effective on its own, but I coulda done without the depressing narration the film ends on! Come on, Peter, is it really so hard to get a train ride one country over?!

Family patriarch Vesa  He's a staunch Marxist, and unlike his father and son, has no time for ogling at women. Instead he much prefers reading his magazines on Communism, and giving lectures to people. He holds an emnity towards the protesters, claiming "They do not work, but they protest", and lines like this give him a good dimension, and show that while =, he =. Nor is his = shown to be all =, as it's implied he became a Communist to get a promotion, and his devotion to Tito is so [extreme] that all it takes is =  for him to agree with the students wholeheartedly.

Peter's sister Vladitza is interesting! She's instantly infatuated with the = student Tzile, and this creates a fascination with politics and current affairs. But this interest goes beyond simple influence, and becomes genuinely dear to her heart, and she feels like one of the smartest most insightful characters in the film.

The family's youngest son is adorable and hilarious with the various comments he makes. Innocent yet worldly, he knows exactly what's up!

The grandfather is likewise a great guy. He's so earnestly likeable! Honest and upfront, and never a hypocrite. He can't condemn Peter for his misbehaving running after girls, because he says he was just the same at his age. Also it's funny how for all of Vesa's political chumminess, he can't get the same kind of favours as his dad can with his gambling =.

Elusive Smmer really does have a packed cast, and just about everyone is memorable in some way. The [militant] older boy Tzile is amusing, and his story takes an interesting direction, but that's never really followed up on, and we never see a proper resolution with him. Whether or not it's necessary depends on the viewer I guess.

This is a very nice looking picture. It's directed superbly, with many scenes looking like perfect snapshots. The environments are all nice too, from the old fashioned houses, to the schools, the beaches and campsite, etc. The film also portrays the aesthetic of the period well too, such as the snazzy mod fashion!

The acting here is great! Slavko Štimac may be the lead, and he does a fine job, but Bata Stojković is undoubtedly the MVP! He delivers a hilarious performance. Authoritative, bumbling], and =, he's a real hoot! Yugoslavia's/Serbia's other national treasure Mija Aleksić has a smaller role but no less funny and distinctive. He brings a lot of warmth and heart to the proceedings. Ivana Mihić is cute and spunky as the family daughter, and I really enjoyed her role. I wish I knew a girl like her when I was a teen! Sajna Vejnović is very pretty as the Czech love interest, and makes the most of her screentime. The rest of the cast all do well too, from the various girls, to the other characters who populate the film.

Elusive Summer of 68 is a great film to watch in its own right, as well as a perfect snapshot of a specific time period, in this certain country. It may not be perfect, but it's never a mean-spirited time, and it's sure to leave you laughing, and knowing more by the end...

Monday, July 26, 2021

Kosh ba Kosh (1993)

Mira is a young lady moving back to her home country of Tajikistan, after studying in Russia. She's soon met with a rude arrival when it transpires her desperately in debt father has gambled her away in a game. As the men squabble over her, young lift operator Daler takes her away to his home, and a romance blossoms between the two, despite outward conflict...

Kosh ba Kosh is a Tajik drama and film festival contender, coming from director Bakhtyar Khudojnazarov. It tells the dramatic story of love and strife in the crumbling post-Soviet nation

The movie gets off to a good start, though kinda heavy. Where I struggled to take the movie seriously though was that Mira's father could rack up such serious debts with a friendly game of dice on the street with some mates. It's not like he's gambling in a casino here! Ibrohim is just some random dude, not a mafioso don.

All the bickering over Mira's fate from these older men had me worried the film was gonna take a turn for the depressing. Thankfully this section of the film comes to a fairly swift end, as Daler 'wins' Mira on her request, and the midsection focuses on the two getting to know each-other. The tone is fairly light, despite the film always remaining a drama.

At times the movie tries pushing the idea that Mira is unwelcome in Tajikistan, and seen as a fancy rich girl with no place here. But pretty much the only one giving voice to this is Daler's friend, who's just worried his association with this girl is gonna cause trouble. So how much of this is truth and how much is just twaddle is ambiguous, since the locals we see interacting with Mira seem perfectly chummy.

The last act is where the movie began to really disappoint me. Mira begins acting needlessly mean to Daler, trying to find any excuse to break things off. I get why-She's doing it to save him trouble. But come on, he grew up on these mean streets, I'm sure he can deal with a few assholes not liking his up-market girlfriend! There's no need to yell at him, dump him, and bugger off back to Russia! Have a heart, girl!

Everyone continues acting like assholes to each-other, like when Mira storms out of Daler's flat and back to her father's, suddenly showing concern for the welfare of the man who sold her like property. Then in the very next scene she's yelling at her dad and saying she'll leave if he doesn't =. Make up your mind!

Everything seems to culminate in a final gambling match, where Daler attempts to settle the dispute with Ibrohim once and for all...Even though the old pervert admitted earlier to not wanting to =, telling Daler he can =. Nothing comes of this though and the match just cuts away. The movie potters along with random stuff, before finding the best excuse it can get to wrap things up. 5 minutes before the end we see Daler gambling again and it's suddenly revealed he's in debt. Mira is so pissed off at this that she immediately storms off and leaves. That's it. The End.

The characters are an alright bunch. Daler is nce enough, and likeable despite his early vices. The dramatic stuff by the end annoyed me a bit though. I got so sick of hearing the name Mira! On that note, she is a good girl in half her scenes. She makes the most of a crummy situation in a crummy area, and makes plenty of friends.

Her father meanwhile is a dickhead. This much is apparent from his actions at he beginning. Later on he gets angry that his daughter is disgracing him by dating a 'bum'. This is stunning in its hypocrisy, not only because he plays gambling matches with that 'bum', and is hardly a catch himself, but namely because he sold his daughter for a bet. And she's the disgrace, dude/mate?

Ibrohim is a bit confusing. What he actually wants isn't quite clear, although he always comes off as a jerk. And lastly, Daler's various older friends throughout the city are nice enough, and provide a good = for Mira.

Worth mentioning are a few really weird and random scenes, like the whole bickering and undressing(?) under the mattress scene, or when Mira meets a weird topless dancing man.

While not a magical realist film like other entries in Khudojnazarov's filmography (Luna Papa comes to mind), Kosh ba Kosh still bears familiar themes, including a strong feminist message, which is apparent even in the dedication at the beginning. While I didn't think it landed as well as it could've, I still appreciate the thought.

An important element to bring up when discussing Kosh ba Kosh is the fact that the Tajik civil war broke out during filming! The sound of bullets can be heard in the distance, sirens are frequently wailing, and one scene is lit by tracer rounds off in the horizon. I naturally don't want this to overshadow the rest of the  which is why I'm only mentioning it here, but it's a little hard to overlook when scenes are constantly interrupted by gunfire. Not only does it break your concentration on the film every time, but you get worried for the wellbeing of the actors, especially when they're being loud, moving around rapidly and making a spectacle, or throwing things around. Especially when they're stuck in the lift, going one way-Where the shooting's coming from! Luckily no-one was killed.

Despite the war raging all around the production, Kosh ba Kosh/the film's portrayal of Tajikistan is multi-faceted. I like the honesty displayed here. The movie is always upfront about the situation, from the rundown streets, to poor economy, and increasing violence. But unlike a film like Cabaret Balkan, it takes/shows the good alongside the bad rather than showing a blanket negative portrayal. Life goes on for everyday people even when a country is doing poorly, and even when the city is in a state of warfare, and even when characters are given an opportunity to leave, they don't just go "Jamaica here we come!", but instead ask if leaving is the right thing to do.

Bakhtyar Khudojnazarov has shown himself to be a very capable director, and he handles the material extremely well. While the plot is fairly simple and down to earth, he still finds great opportunities for nice shots, close up and far away, and quite a few in one take. Interesting perspectives are used (not to mention occasionally confusing), and the film is never visually boring, even if the locations aren't the most exciting around.

The actors all do good jobs. Daler Madjidav is a decent and relateable enough lead, Radzhab Khuseynov does a little too well as the slimy Ibrohim, and the remainder of the cast are fine. The standout is Paulina Galvez, who delivers a great performance, really nailing moments of  hysterical = as she jumps between joy and sadness so = you almost can't tell the difference. She's dubbed into Russian, since she presumably didn't speak the language, but this doesn't affect her performance too much, as the most impressive moments are all without dialogue. Also, the fact that Galvez was even in somewhere like Tajikistan to shoot a movie shows she's a plus actress!

The score here isn't the best, and a lot of the movie seems to go by without much in the way of music, but what there is is nice enough.

Kosh ba Kosh is a bit of a bummer as far as films go, but it's at least not depressing, and it's definitely worth watching if you're interested in world cinema. I'm not really sure if this film shows much of the Tajik people's cultural identity, but it certainly shows a thing or two about their resilience...

Needle (1988)

Many countries have cinematic waves, and this is an interesting topic to delve into. These 'waves' are often described/named as such by outsiders, and sometimes they are confusing. For example, I've heard a bit about the Australian new wave recently, and maybe I just don't know enough about the local cinema, but all those movies in question? I never saw them as being part of any special experimental wave, they're just our normal movies! In other cases it is a valid descriptor, such as the Turkish movies that came after the Yeşilçam era ended, the rise in artistic Persian films after the Filmfarsi movement was forcible shuttered, and the Soviet wave during the Perestroika era, as Communism slowly crumbled.

Moro is a tough guy returning to his city, to meet his old girlfriend. Finding her behaviour suspicious, he soon discovers she is addicted to morphine, and decides to help her kick the addiction, and take the fight to the mobsters who got her hooked...

Needle is a weird film. It's a fairly simple story, with a good hook. Man wants to protect his girlfriend from evil pushers. The presentation is where things start feeling off-kilter.

Some scenes feel very prolonged, with nothing happening. I would just groan at the screen, wondering why I'm watching a man walking around aimlessly, or eating in real time. In another we see Moro get on an old ship just to get off it again. The movie's only 76 minutes too, so it's not like it's   Yet the plot is so thin that I guess they had to stretch it out as much as they could.

The movie's themes are sometimes interesting, even if I didn't feel there was a lot of substance overall. And I appreciate its message, especially for the time. As much as I dislike the movie for its faults, I still applaud the making of such a film during the Soviet era.

The ending comes at complete random. There's no last battle, and no real reason for this event to happen. It just occurs for the movie to have a dramatic ending. It's a shame, because the ending itself is really cool! Impracticably badass, and maybe a downer, but awesome nonetheless, yet it's spoiled a bit by the sheer randomness of it all.

The film has a few surrealist touches. Weird sound effects litter the film, along with omniscient radio noise.  One egregious example is when a fight is interrupted by distorted old TV footage, then it just cuts to the next scene, with no resolution, and in the next scene all these goons are suddenly working for Moro. It's also weird how the final confrontation has random Italian chatter blaring away in the soundtrack.

Another touch I found amusing were the title cards saying things like 'The next day' or 'Later that evening'. It's such an old fashioned film element (by no means bad) to be found in such a punky new-wave film.

The midsection of the film is set in the dried Aral sea, which at this point in time had been drained by the Russians. It makes for a mesmerising and almost beautiful locale in its alien nature and desolation. Though my my main thought as I saw it was "Fucking Soviet cunts".

The characters are mixed. The hero is of course Moro. At first he came off as a bit of a poser, trying to look cooler than he is. An early example of his personality is when he discovers Dina's addiction, and subtly confronts her about it. He does this by going to her workplace and asking who that guy is who visited her. "Is he fucking you?" he says with a smirk. She ignores him and he repeats it. She begins to storm off, until he takes her arm, there's a pause, and they share a tender glance, and he says..."Is he fucking you?". Geez, man, what's the matter with you?

As the movie progresses he does improve. One thing I liked is that for as much of a standoffish anti-establishment punk Moro is, he has a firm anti-drug stance. This ironically makes him quite a good role model! Sure, he may beat up those who owe him money, and flip off transit guards, but at least he'll do the right thing in the broad strokes!

Dina on the other hand isn't very likeable. You do feel for her being stuck in this situation, even if she should really have known better. But her attitude throughout is often frosty, and rarely sympathetic.

Spartak is a weak thug who owes Moro money, which leads to his downfall. He's managed to get himself a nice position commanding a few men in the gang, until his image is so thoroughly broken by Moro that he finds himself abandoned. This leads to a bizarre scene where he gives a satirical Soviet style speech to an empty playground, before running around and screaming like a little boy.

The main villain appears fleetingly, and we never get all that much of an insight into him as a person or how he operates, besides a bit at the end. The remainder of the villains are just random thugs, who rarely do anything distinctive.

The acting in Needle is pretty good, from what I could tell. At first Viktor Tsoi's acting seemed exactly what you would expect from a singer, but I felt his performance improved as the film went on. For someone with such a 'cool' reputation, he's surprisingly goofy with some of his expressions, which almost makes him hard to take seriously! But then again perhaps it shows humanity. I've read some reviews describe his attempts to come off like Bruce Lee as pompous and weak, but I'd disagree. I feel he cuts quite a good action figure!

The direction here is wonderful. Scenes are arranged with a real flair to them, there's great iconography and symmetry with many scenes, and the way the movie begins and ends in full circle is done perfectly.

Lastly there is the music. The soundtrack to Needle is comprised of some Kino songs, beginning with A Star Called the Sun, which perfectly sets the mood. Another plays at random during the middle, without much attention. Then there is Blood Type at the end, which not only fits perfectly with the action onscreen, it accentuates it perfectly! This is the perfect song you want to defiantly stroll off to.

I wouldn't recommend Needle as a film. It's a bit boring really. It's got a lot of good qualities inside, but nothing really came together to make a great film for me. But if nothing else I do suggest skimming through to check out the visuals, and watch the intro and ending!

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Grave Robbers (1990)

I know a fair bit about Mexican cinema (mainly horror, naturally), and could talk your ear off about the films of Abel Salazar and his family, Rene Cardona (both of them), all of the classics, the b-movies of the 50s and 60s, and of course the Santo films, not to mention the other luchadores. Then of course there's Guillermo del Toro's early output, and the modern classics. But it turns out there was a pretty hefty blind spot in my knowledge! Back in the late 80s and early 90s there was a mini golden age of slasher outings  ...

Hundreds of years ago, a satanic executioner attempted to spawn the son of Satan through a virgin woman, before being captured. As he is put to death he swears unholy vengeance on his persecutors, and intends to return. = modern day, in the Mexican countryside, a band of teens go on a graverobbing expedition, to find gold and other historical artifacts. They unearth an old crypt, containing a mysterious body with an axe in. They remove the weapon, and the body immediately comes to life, intent on continuing his mission and bringing the Devil into the world of man...

Grave Robbers, or Ladrones de Tumbas, is a fun 80s style slasher! By this time the genre had all but died out, and only films like Scream or I Know What You Did Last Summer would =. But Mexico seems to have stayed a decade behind, and thank goodness for it, because the 80s were a much better time for horror! This film is simple, in all the best ways. The story is always clear, and it tells it in an engaging way. Even though you may guess what happens next, Grave Robbers always entertains, and keeps you on your toes with a few unpredictable treats.

This is a fairly standard slasher, but despite keeping all the familiar genre trappings, it's surprisingly unique. Nothing major, but in an era when just about every slasher film was a ripoff of either Halloween or Friday the 13th, I appreciate the originality here.

The first act sets up the story and cast, and it's near the half hour mark when the killings begin. As the movie goes on, the killer's attacks grow more supernatural in nature, from a bizarre death involving an arm bursting out someone's stomach, to being eaten by a wall hand, and various telekinetic attacks, there's a nice variety that makes up for the killer's otherwise slavish devotion to his axe.

The climax is the best part of the film! The promise of the plot summary starts coming true, as the villain finally kicks his plan into gear, and the heroes have gotta stop him before it's too late. It's enjoyable, and I appreciate that there is a happy ending. I don't mind seeing innumerable people getting sliced up, just so long as there's not a downer ending!

The characters are a pretty good bunch. Despite being graverobbing rats (why these teens just casually raid tombs is anyone's guess), the main gang aren't unlikeable, save for Manolo, who's a bit of a prat. Then there's The sheriff, his musclebound deputy Raoul, and daughter Olivia.

While the cast aren't bad, I feel the movie could've done a better job establishing them. For about half the runtime I was under the impression that the main group were Olivia's friends, and that she was the girl who ran off with her boyfriend and didn't partake in the grave robbing. That'd make sense, they're the heroes, so the others face karmic punishment, but they survive. Except those two are actually completely different people. Turns out Olivia has nothing to do with them, and is on a random camping trip with some girlfriends.

The sheriff is a reasonable authority figure. When he drags these kids in he probably doesn't really think they're the murderers, but he figures they know something. And when he sees the crazy shit going on, he immediately concludes that it's the supernatural! He treks down into the crypt, finds a sacred book, and brings it to the local priest to translate, ultimately saving the day! This is why more authority figures in film should believe in magic more openly, they'd be a lot more effective! He seems all set up to sacrifice himself, ala A Nightmare on Elm Street 3, but thankfully he makes it out ok!

The body count here is fairly generous. The main characters don't start biting the dust till over an hour in. Until then it's various minor characters who get axed. I felt a little bad for some of the victims. Imagine that, you're just going on a camp with your girlfriends when suddenly you're all butchered by a satanic monster, all because some assholes robbed his tomb! Where's the justice I tell ya? I felt most sorry for Raoul. He was a cool customer, so I would've really liked if he and his girlfriend could've gone off into the sunset together! Instead the main graverobbers get off scot free while he pushes up daisies!

This leads into my biggest problem with the film-Who dies and who doesn't. There's that aforementioned issue I had, with the two nobler teens who randomly die, and of course Raoul, but my main point of contention is with Manolo! After spurring the events of the movie into motion, and trying to duck away from his responsibility, he eventually helps save the day, and seems to be killed...only to show up again at the end in the most random way imagineable! How? Where? Why? And he gets the girl too. 12 people are dead, including all of his friends, and the blonde warned him this very thing would happen like half a dozen times!

The effects in Grave Robbers are neat! There's plentiful gore, and it's all crafted well. It does look a little fake at times, but I don't mind. They clearly put their effort into making the effects a visual treat, so while it's not 100% convincing, it always delivers the goods. The real highlight of the film is the make-up for the villain, which is spectacular! It would honestly look at home in a big-budget film from America!

Onto the acting. Fernando Almada is good as the defacto action lead. Telenovela star Erika Buenfil does a fine job as psychic teen Rebecca, while Ernesto Laguardia is believable as punk Manolo. The spectacularly named Tony Bravo lives up to [his name], and is sorely underused. The rest of the cast all do good jobs, with no bad performances.

The score here is pretty neat! The movie opens with an orchestral/choral piece that really builds up the atmosphere, and sounds creepy without being in-your-face about it.  Throughout the movie we get pretty standard slasher movie tracks and stingers, and the film ends with a neat tune! It's like the 80s meets a fantasy melody, with old and new instruments combined.

Overall, Grave Robbers really impressed me. It's not the kind of movie to rock the world or anything, but it's so good at what it intends to deliver that I really enjoyed it. If you're curious about Mexican horror cinema, this is a great place to start. Basic in the best ways, and lots of fun...

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Rush Hour 1 (1998) and 2 (2001)

Hong Kong policeman Inspector Lee has all but crushed the vast criminal organisation Juntao, but its enigmatic leader has managed to escape, and some months later kidnaps the daughter of the Chinese Consul Han in revenge. With the incident happening on American soil, the FBI try and take full responsibility of the investigation, ignoring Han's wishes for his friend Lee to be brought over, and in an effort to keep Lee out of their investigation, they employ the immature LAPD detective James Carter to 'babysit' him until everything blows over. This quickly fails, and the two clashing detectives soon find themselves on the trail to rescuing the girl...

Its somewhat non-indicative (but perfectly memorable) title aside, Rush Hour is an entertaining crime-comedy. While its quite mature plot could run the risk of being too serious for a humorous film, it manages to find a good balance, with the dramatic elements serving the story well and informing the character motivations. The comedy rarely intrudes on the serious moments, so the tone doesn't feel all over the place.

The story gets off to a great start, introducing everything and everyone effectively, as well as the personalities of the two main characters. They couldn't be more different, and because of this share great chemistry, and carry the film perfectly as it moves along from one comedy or action setpiece to the next

Some examples of the great moments on display here are Lee's failed attempts at fitting in at a black club, the Hollywood chase, Lee learning American procedure, and the whole final encounter. On that note, it's my personal theory that all the artifacts at that gala were all imitations made for the event, otherwise it's an anthropological tragedy! Still, it makes for funny action antics!

The villains here are neat. The Juntao organisation's lieutenant Sang gets the most screentime, being the face of the organisation, if not the man behind the curtain. As for the ultimate villain, the reveal might not be the most shocking in the wold, but it's effective, and the character does well in both guises.

The supporting cast are equally good. Soo Yung is adorable and hilarious! It's a shame we never see her from her kidnapping to the climax. Her father is likeable, and a good friend, getting across plenty of emotions. The FBI agents are amusing and officious assholes, without being in-your-face about it. And lastly, Carter's associates (from fellow cops to criminal associates) are an entertaining bunch. And they all serve a purpose for the story, too. no scene or character feels unnecessary.

The action here is great! There's plenty of martial arts, gunfights, and other kinds of action, including Jackie's trademark fighting style of using every random object around him as a weapon (to which I saw at certain scenes, Owwww!!). Chris Tucker gets his chances to shine too, more from his character's lack of fighting talent. He's a competent opponent, just hopelessly outmatched against kung fu artists, especially dozens of them. It's hilarious seeing him trying but failing to deal with them. And I very much appreciate that he's the one to fight and defeat Sang.

The score in Rush Hour is a nice one! There are good action beats, a nice Oriental meets western crime mix, and some decent hip hop. Considering my feelings towards that genre, it's always good when I can watch a film containing hip hop without wanting to wear earplugs, so this gets credit from me!

Chris Tucker is one of those divisive actors where some might find his manic, loud, high-pitched performance endearing or obnoxious. As for me I find him plenty of fun! Maybe it wouldn't work for every actor out there, but it does for him. He is thankfully never annoying, even if you do want to slap his character around on occasion. Jackie Chan is charming, adorable as well as super talented, getting to show off his moves very well. Tzi Ma gives a good performance as Consul Han, and Julia Hsu is lovely as Soo-Yung, despite her limited screentime. Everyone else, from Elizabeth Peña, to Chris Penn, Ken Leung, and Tom Wilkinson, etc.

Overall, Rush Hour is a harmless good time. Fun, silly in all the best ways, with plenty of laughs and fun action... 

Rush Hour 2

Detective James Carter is on vacation with his friend Inspector Lee in Hong Kong, but is far from enjoying himself since Lee keeps taking on new cases. This eventually culminates in him investigating the death of two U.S. translators, who turn out to be undercover customs agents. Lee suspects the Triad gang leader Ricky Tan of being involved, but he's seemingly killed by his villainous lieutenant Hu Li, and Lee is thrown off the case by furious U.S. federal agents. Despite this, he and Carter find more clues and travel back to America to uncover the truth behind the conspiracy...

Rush Hour 2 is a prime example of a sequel done right. Not feeling like a mere retread of the first movie, it expands on it, furthers the characters, their backstories and personal journeys, and tells an interesting enough story to stand on its own. Each section of the film is memorable in their own ways, and the dialogue is endlessly quotable. From the nightclub karaoke, to the massage parlour antics, and more, there's always something hilarious going on.

The action in Rush Hour 2 is a lot more enjoyable than the first. I guess it's because 1 had more shootouts, and comedy sparring between Lee and Carter. There were hand-to-hand fights, and kung fu, but in comparison 2 has them in spades. There are many great setpieces, both in choreography, and in direction/visualisation from the building framework climb, to the parlour brawl, and the battle at the casino (bomb search included).

The leads are once again a wonderful pair, with great chemistry! Lee has a well-rounded connection with the story, and the lion's share of serious bits. Carter, meanwhile, gets more flippant moments, but isn't a helpless lump (well, most of the time, anyway), and he's once again the one who gets to take on the tough martial arts lieutenant, which I appreciate! It's like when Johnny Cage took on Goro in Mortal Kombat. Comic relief characters getting the chance to shine as genuinely skilled and competent despite themselves is something I appreciate.

I wouldn't say it's obvious who the main villain is, but it is the dramatically best choice, since such an important character wouldn't stay gone despite being an important element of the hero's past. It's just a shame they disappeared for such a large chunk of the movie. As for Steven Reign, he's ok but likewise vanishes for over a third, and we don't really know anything about him or his motives. Hu Li is the antagonist who gets the most screentime, and it's well deserved, because she is great! Sadistic, tough, and absolutely crazy!

Isabella is a good supporting character but is perhaps not used to her full potential (also, when she tells Carter and Lee that they're officially working for the US secret service, then later asks if they can for real this time always confuses me. I was at a loss in thinking how what they were previously doing was just a distraction). That's not to say I wanted her gone, because she is a great addition to the cast. We just could've done with a bit more of her, is all. The mystery of who she's working for is handled well. Her romance with Lee feels forced in the sense that they don't share many scenes together, or any signs of falling for each-other, but the characters do at least have chemistry, so it's not unbelievable that they'd end up together.

Rush Hour 2 is often hilarious, sometimes from character actions, or by pratfalls, wordplay, or 'I can't believe he just said that!' moments. Some might feel they come across as 'ironic racism' moments, but I disagree. As in the first movie, the bloopers are absolutely hilarious! My favourite by far is definitely the final one, alongside Don Cheadle's bit ("His name is Lee, goddammit!").

One little problem is that there's a bit of tonal disconnect between Lee and Carter's scenes when the former thinks the latter dead. Lee's scenes are sombre and dramatic, while Carter's are light and funny, and there are times where I'm still grinning from one of those and the movie suddenly cuts to a much more dramatic scene. It's hard to judge, as these scenes are all really well done.

There's also a weird time discrepancy in the climax, with Reign taking simply forever to unlock a safe and the other villain just as long to reach said room. Neither also seem to notice the casino literally exploding under them, which I guess makes sense given they're like 20 stories up, but then again explosions do tend to be quite loud, so... In any case, it's a good sign when the biggest complaints to be had are about things this relatively minor.

Rush Hour 2 is my favourite in the duology (*cough*), and both movies come recommended from me! They are modern classics, are a great diversion for a rainy day, and a perfect showcase for Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker...