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!

Oğlan Bizim Kız Bizim (2016)

In Istanbul a radio contest is being held, and if the first two listeners can phone in with the answer in time, they win an all-expenses paid vacation to Antalya. The winners are mechanic Barış, and perky girl Zeynep. She is eager to invite her boyfriend to come along, but no sooner than she asks is she unceremoniously dumped. She decides to take her mind off everything with this trip, her friend Berna tagging along. Barış and his friend Emrah immediately butt heads with the two women, and they begin a petty feud, threatening to derail the holiday fun...

Oğlan Bizim Kız Bizim is an enjoyable Turkish rom-com. It's a little on the long side at nearly 2 hours, but for a good reason as it's in many ways a film of two halves. In any case it's never boring or drawn out, and will be over before you know it, which is always a good sign. Except when you're enjoying it so much you never want it to end! But that's how it goes.

The film's first half is more focused on comedy, with the duos and their escalating war of pranks. This wraps up by the halfway point and the tensions thaw, after which we see their friendships grow, and  begin to fall in love, leading to the more romantic second half,

Where the movie falters is in how these two halves come together. The answer is, they don't. We go from a raucous comedy to a heartfelt romance with little warning. I felt it was like two different movies stitched together. The comedy between the warring duos and the romance section could both fit well together despite this, but maybe the writer was afraid they would jar, so simply stopped trying to write the first, instead of letting the two halves naturally coalesce.

Oğlan Bizim Kız Bizim is pretty exaggerated in some parts, which is par for the course being a Turkish film. For the most part these are all in good ways. Sometimes it does get a little overdone, but usually the exaggerations are amusing, and not taken too badly.

The characters here are good, and the film choosing a small cast to focus on improves it. Barış is a likeable lead, funloving but also charming. Zeynep is spunky and acerbic at times, but sweet overall. The film's division both hinders and helps the romance, depending on your point of view. Because the first half isn't a romance at all, it makes it all the more noticeable when these two fall head over heels so quickly...But then again, I am happy that the majority of the film was the leads just as enemies/friends before they fall in love. It means their romantic interactions can have a strong foundation.

Emrah is an amusing comic character, as is Zeynep's sidekick Berna. The problem with these two is that they completely disappear for no reason! Halfway through the movie the girls suddenly get a call from work, and Berna has to go back. This isn't important, and was totally unnecessary. All it serves to do is boot out one of the quartet, which weakens the film. As for Emrah, he's still at the resort, but he just vanishes from the action for reasons the writer doesn't even bother explaining. I also found it weird that he gets a girlfriend in the form of a random blonde lady he meets, who has practically no dialogue, when I thought for sure he and Berna would end up being a thing/an item.

If the movie can be considered to have a villain, it'd be Zeynep's scheming ex Tolga, who's suitably slimy, and tries making trouble in the last act. The tricks Barış and Zeynep use to make him jealous are great. I was a little annoyed at her for still pining for Tolga as late as she does though, and for falling into his trap. Thankfully she realises almost entirely on her own that he is full of it, despite needing a little help from Emrah.

The actors all do nicely. Some scenes certainly can be overdone. Whether they're annoying or not depends on the scene, but overall I thought they did well, especially with the romantic stuff later on. Aras Aydın and Melis Babadağ are good leads, while Emrah Şahan and Bala Atabek do well as the supporting comic relief. I especially liked Atabek, who wasn't bad the last time I saw her, but was playing a very annoying/unlikeable character, whereas she was nicer and less crazy here.

The film is directed very well, with cool shots of both the actors, and the locales. Antalya and its natural and manmade wonders really shine here, and look lovely by moonlight. The music is fun too, like a mix of old and new, with funk electronic(?) Anatolian beats. Add in some archive music, and you've got a fairly enjoyable score.

Oğlan Bizim Kız Bizim is a fun time to be had. If you're an aficionado of all things Turkish, this is one to check out. It's sure to not disappoint...