Tuesday, February 22, 2022

We Are Not Angels 3: Rock 'n' Roll Strikes Back (2006)


Following his previous successes, Serbian director Srđan Dragojević found a calling to America. He then spent the next few years declining offers or being declined. By the time he finally returned to Serbia, having had any grand ideas about the U.S. film industry crushed, he decided to make a new passion project. The only problem was, as is always the case with such things, he needed money. And so he decided to make two cheap sequels to his most popular movie, and hope things panned out for the best (they did not)...


In the 70s, unpopular rock and roll musician Borko (aka Dorijan) decides to sell his soul to become a star. It works, but he is forced to sing only turbofolk, and his life that follows is full of drugs, sex, and general debauchery as he grows older and fatter. In the present, young Marko is an aspiring rock star. After a stage accident results in the two switching bodies, they must navigate each-other's lives, gradually learning both the negatives and positives that eluded them in their old lives...


We Are Not Angels 3: Rock 'n' Roll Strikes Back is an unnecessary sequel, and considered by many Serbs to be one of the country's worst films. Part of this is down to its general low quality, but also because it was seen as a further degradation of a cultural icon. I went into it with trepidation, fully expecting it to be bad, but ready to give it a fair chance. What did I think? Split down the middle. It's not that good, but it's not awful...for the most part.

It got on my good side with the hilariously silly idea that you can play your guitar backwards. I also got a kick out of a Communist making a deal with the Devil, under the logic that Heaven and Hell don't exist, therefore he won't go to Hell when he dies.


The film starts off with this plot, but then it feels like it loses interest and begins an all new one. The movie does eventually get back to Dorijan, and connect the two stories. This results in a body swap, and I was thinking "Oh no, not this again!", since I could see exactly what was coming, and Sara was far too sweet a girl to get propositioned by Dorijan. Thankfully the film doesn't get too awkward, even if it is pretty cliched here.

l enjoyed the film's last act a lot. All the vulgarity and awkwardness is over, and things get pretty sweet, now that everyone's stopped acting like pieces of shit. Some characters you may have written off as vapid or assholes get nice moments.


I think making the series a loose anthology with only the Angel and Devil recurring would have been a good idea. But having the first sequel still be about Nikola does put the kibosh on that, and make it all the weirder when we are suddenly on our own. It's the same issue the Halloween series faced when it tried going standalone.

The comedy here is very mixed, bordering on bad. As is the norm for Serbia in the 2000s, We Are Not Angels 3 is a vulgar film. There are some hits, and more than a few misses, with some of the worst scenes later on. They might get a laugh from some, although it did verge on the gross for me. To name a positive, there's a funny exchange in front of the school, when Marko tries professing his love for Sara...while in the body of a 50 year old, resulting in her launching into a series of put-downs.


While the first two Angels films were directed by Srđan Dragojević, he only serves as writer and producer here, with Petar Pašić taking the reins. He does a decent job for what this is. Visually this is a pretty ugly film. Admittedly this is deliberate, but doesn't really help matters. The whole film has a yellow tinge to it. There are some good shots though.


Comparing We Are Not Angels 2 to its predecessor was already night and day, as the first was shot on cameras from the 80s, giving it a classical feel, while the sequel looked straight out of the 2000s. This third entry is even more of a downgrade, shot on video and looking plain cheap. Now, this isn't a bad thing in it of itself. You get used to it fairly quickly, and overall I think the movie manages to show it's how you direct a film that matters most. It may look cheap and obviously computer generated in places, but it does its best with what it's got. It's only when compared to the previous entries that it suffers.


Music has always been an important element in this series, and giving it the main focus is a good idea. The important thing is for the music to be good. And is it? Ehhhh, it's halfway decent. It's not awful, but it's also no great shakes either, not like the rockin' tunes of Vampiri. The best is an amusing 'sad' ballad, followed by the family performance near the end. There's also a possible reference to Who's Laughing Over There. The film gives a less than flattering few of the music industry, in a facetious light, while also trying to say something about Serbia's culture [or lack thereof].


The acting here is decent. Nikola Pejaković is a reasonably fun lead. He does a great job at being disgusting to look at. In real life he looks totally normal, but here no expense is spared to make him look as unappealing as possible. So a victory or the opposite, depending on your point of view. Zlatko Rakonjac plays the more conventional lead, and does well.

The film handles the bodyswap by showing the characters by their minds rather than the bodies they're inhabiting (does that make sense?). This does alleviate some confusion, while also creating more.


Srđan Todorović and Uroš Đurić return as the Angel and Devil. They are fun, but more understated than in past entries (whether good or bad will depend). Besides them, another returning actor is Zoran Cvijanović, as a new character. He does a good job! It's a pretty small role, but where he impresses is in how different he is to older performances, and how much he captures the look of actors like Miki Manojlović at their scruffiest.

The remainder of the supporting cast are good, from the adorable and spunky Nada Macanković, to the plasicky but bubbly Seka Aleksić, and series veteran Vesna Trivalić. Other performances are pretty bad, and borderline weird (like the 40 year old high school bullies).


My opinion towards A3: Rock 'n' Roll Strikes Back is not as negative as some, but I don't have glowing praise for it either. My overall opinion is that it feels more like a bad episode of The Inbetweeners than a good episode of The Mighty Boosh, if that makes any sense at all. The moral here is, if you must make cash-in sequels, at least try to make them good!...

Saturday, February 19, 2022

A Soviet Rom-Com Double-Feature: The Most Charming and Attractive (1985) and Girls (1961)


The Most Charming and Attractive

Nadya is a proud worker, but feeling the pinch of life. In her 30s and with no partner to show for it, she is aided by a chance meeting with an old friend. The glamorous Susanna gives her pal some tips on how to improve herself, and how to make the men come to her instead of waiting for them. Will this advice pay off, or does true love lie elsewhere?...


The Most Charming and Attractive is a neat Soviet rom-com. It comes from the 80s, a time when things were starting to unravel and open up politically, but you'd never know it from this film, which is content to simply be a fun movie, no matter the times. The title translates as Samaya Obayatelnaya i Privlekatelnaya, which makes me wonder how those Russkies don't dislocate their tongues!


The story here is a mildly subversive one, showing the plight of unconventionally unattractive woman 'past their prime' trying to find love. The film also skewers a lot of romantic conventions, like the need of glitzy fashion and make-up to find happiness. The film's message is presented in a low-key way too. It doesn't just take potshots at cosmetic niceties. Instead it shows subtly how a good balance of things really is the way to go.


Nadya is a likeable protagonist, with plenty of personality. It's thankfully never too awkward seeing her attempts at pursuing the , and there are a few moments where she puts the guys in their place. Her character journey is a good one, and comes to a nice conclusion, if a little obvious.

The supporting cast is a great bunch. We've got a fairly small group of characters, and so we get to know them well. Susanna is a genuine and well-meaning friend, who doesn't see the flaws in her advice. While her husband, amusingly comfortable with being used as a guinea pig, soon becomes 


There are three main guys in the film. The main object of Nadya's misplaced affections is a real Casanova type, always with another woman, and using his limited language skills to impress those around him. He's cold and distant towards Nadya, and has no idea why she's so interested in him all of a sudden. Then there's a fellow who thinks of his marriage as more of a suggestion than binding. And lastly is a hapless bloke who whose attempts at courtship are helped by the friendly old lady at the office, but hindered by just about everything.

One of the most fun and interesting things about the film is the changing attitudes of the three men. Their opinions of Nadya to begin with range from mere indifference to outright annoyance. But her sudden attention leads the others to wonder why, and as they see her focusing on this guy, they think "Why not me? What does he have that I've got? I'm more than enough man for her!', and the psychology alone is enough to make this otherwise unassuming woman totally enthralling for the trio. Even the rogueish 'Don Juan' ends up being entranced in a way by Nadya, with her becoming unattainable for him being like the final clincher.


The cast all do great jobs. Irina Muravyova is a nice lead, looking believable as a plain normal person, while also having a natural charisma that makes her distinctive. Aleksandr Abdulov, Leonid Kuravlyov, and Mikhail Kokshenov all entertain for different reasons as their characters, never feeling identical in appearance or behaviour. Vladimir Nosik is nice as the true love interest, and Tatyana Vasileva is spunky, if fleeting in appearance in the latter half. Everyone else does well, and there were no bad performances.


Director Gerald Bezhanov has a great eye for visuals, and gets the most out of these settings. Even places that only appear once manage to look impressive.

The music is a highpoint here. It's a surprisingly unique and groovy soundtrack, especially for an older Russian movie! You expect them to all have very uniform sound, especially if they're a simple romantic comedy, but this sounded almost experimental.


The Most Charming and Attractive is a great little film, a nice showcase of its country's cinema, and perfect for any Valentine's day...


Girls

Tosya is a bubbly young girl beginning work as the cook at a Siberian logging camp. She quickly makes friends and enemies, with both her roommates, and some of the guys. A particular rival is the cocky Ilya, who makes it his mission to prank the poor girl, namely with a bet that he can seduce her. His scheme eventually works a little too well, as he falls for her too, but when Tosya finds out the deception, chaos might be on the menu...


Girls is a marvellous film, full of comedy, romance, and a cast packed with memorable faces. It gets off to a quick start, and breezes right through before you know it.


The film has a perfect cosy winter wonderland feel. I am seriously impressed they were able to make the wastes of Siberia look this good! Whether foreign or domestic, fiction usually portrays this area as an unlivable hell on earth, where the strong suffer and the weak die, but Girls for a change shows it more even-handedly, as a regular place that happens to be a little cold, but everyone makes do just fine.


The story here is pretty cliched by modern standards, using plenty of old-fashioned tropes, but they all work well, and are never annoying, forced, or lazy.

The characters are a highlight here. Tosya is an adorable lead. Sweet, spunky, but also never naive, and will eagerly beat the crap out of anyone giving her guff. Her cutest moments include her dance with a friendly tall girl, and her cheering up of Mama Vera.


Fellow roommate Nadya has her own subplot, and one point of interest is the end. Namely, there isn't one-Sort of. Apparently it was filmed that Nadya decides to call it quits with her boyfriend, rather than to settle for a marriage of convenience. But this scene got cut during editing, and the actress who played Nadya was pissed! I do kinda agree with the decision to cut it though. It may be a marriage of convenience, but he's a good guy, he loves her, and she likes him, so it doesn't seem that bad, at least for a goofy movie like this.


Anfisa is a cold and bitchy girl, but she too gets some development and sympathetic moments (while still retaining enough bitchiness to feel consistent). Her rivalry with Tosya is a fun one, and her interactions with men are well written.

Despite the title, Girls does also pay focus on the boys too. Namely there's Ilya, whose romance with Tosya is the heart of the film. It's a nice story, with enough deceit and misunderstanding to be expected from an old rom-com, which leads to much drama, before resolving in a happy ending.

Where the film started to annoy me a little was in how long the 'on the outs' section was drawn out. It felt a little bit much. I also wasn't crazy about what Ilya does with the gold watch. C'mon, your friends all chipped in for that, mate!


Girls has a pretty large cast, and while I feel not all get as much attention as they could've, I did eventually get a feel for all of them, and none felt blank. Each served a purpose

The cast all do great jobs, getting across their characters and relationships well. A lot of them do blend together, but it's due to a strong script and performances that we eventually figure out who's who, more or less. Nadezhda Rumyantseva is a superb lead. She's extremely animated, and handles the personality and physical comedy of her character like a classic silent film star


The direction in Girls is great, with scenes both big and small shot really nicely. There's a great attention to detail too. Two favourite moments were how it showcases height differences, and the panning shot of all the boots, and Tosya's cute little shoes.


The setting is fantastic, and every bit of it is convincing. So much so that I was curious to read about the production. Apparently it was shot on a mix of location and sets, and some of them weren't really in winter, but warmer weather, and the actors had to deal with this while wearing heavy clothing. That does dampen the fun a little, but good on them for powering through so effectively!

The music is charming and wintery, the kind of tunes you could easily play during Christmastime to get the mood going. There's so much identity here, with a timeless feel that could suit any country (well, unless it's too bloody hot during Christmas, like down under!).


Girls is another classic of Russian romance, and if the world was more like these films, it'd be a lot more fun!...

Monday, February 14, 2022

Qirliq Istakan-The Crystal Glass (1999)


The Uyghur people have been through a lot lately. From being governed by the Russians, to being oppressed by the Chinese, they only had a brief respite of freedom in-between two equally untenable prisons. Things are at their worst now, and it's up to the rest of the world to help out. One way for people to do this is to figure out who they even are, for a start (and how to pronounce their name correctly!), and what better way to do this through movies! Despite the restrictions mainland China's cinema already has, especially towards other ethnic groups, the Uyghurs have managed to have a pretty respectable little movie scene going. On a zero budget scale, but still, it's more than some can manage, and it can give one hope. Does that mean the movies themselves are good? Let's see, with 1999's The Crystal Glass...


Osman, Abdul, Rejep, and Tursun are four friends. All approaching middle age, and none really doing what they want in life. They are pretty recreational drinkers, and enjoy a good tipple during get-togethers. Things take a turn for the worse one night when a mystery man's arrival incenses them to go all out on the booze, with unintended side effects...

Qirliq Istakan is quite a neat film! It's a character driven piece, that strives to send a message about society, all while making its audience have a good laugh in the process. Alcoholism has been and still is a big issue in these parts of the world, and here we get a unique depiction of the topic.


While the film portrays drunkenness very well, where it kind of falters is its portrayal of post-drunkenness. It all gets a bit ridiculous and hard to buy. These fellas had way too much to drink, but the worst that'd happen is a bad hangover, yet one now has a permanent compulsion to dance when he hears random noises, and another is a gibbering lunatic, sitting upside down, with his eyes turned back-to-front. These are still amusing to watch, but make you scratch your head.


On the flipside, something I feel the movie really portrays well is the ugly side of drinking, without being preachy about it. It doesn't give a big sermon about why drinking a single drop will send you to hell and turn the blood in your veins to fire. We see the leads casually drinking, and it's seen in a normal light, and when they start drinking too much too quickly, it looks unattractive simply by showing us how much they're barrelling down, and how they're looking.


The characters are a fun bunch. It's Rejep and Tursun who bear the brunt of the alcohol. It's interesting how their repressed desires or lost careers come to the forefront after their bender. Of course like a dumbass I'd completely forgotten they were a poet and ex-dancer, respectively, but once it it sunk in, I appreciated the symbolism.

The other two leads have less to them, since they're the odd ones out, but Osman does serve as the film's narrator. He delivers the framing story to an editor, in quite an amusing scene. His unorthodox storytelling amuses the editor (and his humility impresses him), but it's clear he doesn't know when to stop, as he eventually rambles on so long the poor guy gives him a look of confusion, like 'What the heck did he just say??'.

Also of note is the mysterious guess who spurred on the film's drama by showing how tough he was, how much he could drink, and how great his life was. In stark contrast to how we see him at the end. I thought his character was interesting, and up to interpretation. I wondered if there was more to him, like he was a kind of cin (djinn), rather than a mere man.


Qirliq Istakan is a pretty lengthy comedy at 104 minutes, and while it never bored me or overstayed its welcome, I did wish it used its time better. A single scene might take 10 minutes, meaning a lot less actually happens than you might think. It's never bad, but I wish that extra time could've gone to exploring the leads' families and lives more. This is also quite a wordy film, and I was sometimes racing to finish the subtitles before they disappeared.

The cast here do fun jobs. While they may or may not be experienced actors, they give very natural performances, as if they could be anyone from off the street. This makes them feel very relateable.


The music here is neat, with the main track being a good one! It's repeated a little too much though, as if the composer only had enough time to focus on the one big track. I never got sick of it, but a few reprisals did try my patience, namely the one during Tursun's wedding dance, which I felt should've had an original track (like the one playing on the radio before being cut off!). There are also two songs to enjoy. One is a drinking anthem, while the other is a poetic ballad played during the end. Both are fun, with amusing and interesting lyrics, respectively.

The film is in the Uyghur language, which may sound a bit scary to a layman, but it's fairly intelligible with Turkish, so if you know that you'll be right here. The film is available to watch on youtube, with a neat translation by one Kurban Niyaz, so props to him, and many thanks for helping highlight his culture to the world.


Qirliq Istakan is quite an amusing and intriguing little film. It's cheap when compared to glossy Hollywood films, but even when stood next to them it still bears a pretty unique charm. And as far as zero budget foreign pictures go, it's a great example. A cheap or old camera means nothing when you've got a good script, and this has me excited for more films from these people!...

Saturday, February 5, 2022

Office Romance (1977)


Anatoly Yefremovich is a lowly office drone, unsatisfied with his current position. He wants to ask the firm's frumpy and mean boss for a promotion befitting his talents, but can't muster up the initiative. A friend suggests he try wooing Miss Kalugina, and butter her up. This attempt fails, leading to a drunk Anatoly to angrily chew her out. Fully expecting to be fired, if not killed, he sees the next day a much different Kalugina, and a romance soon forms between them. Though not without troubles...


Office Romance is a delightfully funny romantic-comedy from Russia. The story is a great one, with many typical ideas and elements, presented in a very entertaining way. The setup is similar to The Proposal (the Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds film). Obviously different in just about every way, but it shares the idea of a 'lowly' office worker coming to realise his 'evil boss from hell' isn't so so heartless as he thinks. It's a favourite trope of mine!

While it came from Soviet Russia in the midst of the Cold War, Office Romance shows just how similar stories can be. East and West may have their vast differences, but when it comes to rom-coms they are all alike, in the best ways. The film is a good window into everyday life at the time. There are a few amusing Russian-isms though, like their insistence on saying first and middle names at all times (and they're so long too!). This may confuse some viewers, but that's the worst of it.


The dialogue is great, with lots of funny moments, witty lines, and great scenarios. I liked how the pair's interactions would mirror each-other. There is all your expected drama here too, complete with a third act break-up. The ending is enjoyable and satisfying, though a little abrupt.

The subplot is mixed. It's sadder and more serious, with Olya making a complete fool of herself. It did bum me out a little, but its inclusion is good. Having a subplot is nice to break things up, as well as give focus to other characters. Poor Olya would have nothing else to do outside of this storyline.


Anatoly Yefremovich Novoseltsev (Tolya) is a good lead. He's a likeable fellow, very meek and quiet, but can raise hell if you get him drunk or angry enough. Him being a single father makes him sympathetic, and his wife having left him is also interesting. It feels less cloying than if she had tragically died (not to criticise that trope, but we do see it a lot more).

Ludmila Prokofievna Kalugina is likewise great. She's believably mean, and earns the reputation her employees bestow upon her. But she also has a hidden sensitive side, which Tolya sees when she breaks down in tears in front of him as he tries to apologise. They have a big heart-to-heart, and we get a great insight to her character. She's fleshed out very well, and is extremely relateable.

Together they make a great couple. Their personalities mix and clash well, and the duo share great chemistry, both in the angry and romantic scenes.


Olya (Olga Petrovna) is likeable enough by herself, and it's nice that Tolya's best friend is female! Where she falters as a character is her unrequited love for Yuri. All of a sudden she is desperate and pathetic. In a believably written way, though she's not fun to watch.

Yuri (Grigoryevich Samokhvalov) is the resident asshole of the film. Surprisingly though he's never treated that badly. He's a bit of a braggart, but is happily married, never strings Olya on and is always firmly [dismissive] with her affections. Although intending to release her letters was a poor move, and his actions towards Tolya at the climax are bad.

The rest of the office staff are an amusing bunch, from the chatty and helpful secretary Vera, to the do-gooder work activist Shura, who's always the head of a new committee, and raising money for every local cause under the sun. She's a fun presence, and has a small part to play in the main story, although she never really gets an ending (unless you consider being banished to spend her time actually working an ending).

The cast do a great job. Andrey Myagkov and Alisa Freindlich are fantastic leads. They are also very natural. They look like real people, and not like young airbrushed models. I especially dig Alisa's short hairstyle, which she rocks! Oleg Basilashvili is not overstated as the slightly smug Yuri. Svetlana Nemolyayeva delivers a more tragic performance, to an effective degree. On the flip side, Lya Akhedzhakova and Lyudmila Ivanova are great comedic actors.


The music here is neat, with a fun main theme. Also present are musical interludes, which are nice (if a bit melancholy at times), and do a nice job at showing the passing of time.

With all these good qualities, does Office Romance have any flaws? For the most part, no, but there is one element that's bound to get on some people's nerves-The runtime! This film is 157 minutes. Not an hour and 57 minutes, but 157! Dam near 3 hours! It's a good movie, it's never boring, and always commands your attention, but it really didn't need to be that long. The film waffles on a bit with some scenes, and you can easily see which scenes could be trimmed or cut altogether. They wouldn't even change the script! This same script could fit in a much shorter film.


Office Romance is still widely beloved as one of Russia's greatest movies, and for good reason. It got a modernised remake in 2011, and how well it fares depends on who you ask. Predictably everyone in it looks like a young supermodel, in stark contrast wit the original, but, it's only 87 minutes! From 2 and a half hours to not only 90, but 87! Now that's what I call an improvement. Maybe I'll watch it someday, and it may even be halfway decent. But its gargantuan length aside, I have no doubt the original will still be the best...