Saturday, November 26, 2022

Tiger Theory (2016)

Jan is a middle aged vet, trapped in an increasingly unbearable marriage. After the death of his father-in-law, who never had a moment's freedom in his life, and whose last wishes are being ignored, Jan has had enough. Afraid of ending up just like him, he takes drastic measures, faking dementia to get some time to himself. He invites his two boys into his confidence, and begins taking them out on regular trips, to get away from it all and enjoy life. But this soon earns the suspicion of the rest of the family, risking this new freedom...

Tiger Theory is a fairly recent Czech drama film, all about the life and struggles of its middle aged lead as he tries to find himself. The film is fairly lighthearted, with subject matter that has a bit of weight to it, but doesn't let things get too dramatic. There's good emotion here, and the story is presented well, even if it's fairly clear where things will go.

Also, I don't think Czechs got the memo that smoking kills. Come on, guys, it's 2016! Throw those things away!

The film has interesting themes about personal freedom. Jan is clearly in need of an escape, while it's not as clear cut with his kids. They're otherwise good couples, but whose lives are being spoiled by outside influence. When Erik finally gets some time to himself, it's through a lie, but it does make him realise how little freedom he normally has. It's not cool to take off on weekends without telling your wife where you're going, but when it exposes how controlling she's being, it's like it opens his eyes a bit.

Tiger Theory is a very character-driven film, and they're a good bunch to centre a story on. There was only one major issue. I was a little confused who was who, and what relation they were to each-other. Sons, daughters, children-in-law, grandkids, grandparents, etc (to say nothing of similar names).

Jan is a strong lead. Softly spoken, but determined. He's very easy to root for. Partway through he meets an chatty young photographer, and has instant rapport with. She's a nice girl, despite her somewhat flawed opinion on relationships, and even tries seducing Jan. He'd frankly be pretty justified in knocking boots with her, but to his credit, he doesn't. Even if he has every intention of divorcing his wife, who he has no love for left, it speaks well of him that he doesn't go banging the first nice chick he meets.

Son-in-law Erik is an ok guy, who tries making the best with his wife, until it becomes too much. He lashes out a couple of times, justifiably pissed off at being spied on. Though he gets a bit handsy in one scene near the end that felt out-of-keeping, and made me wanna belt him. Pepik's a pretty casual dude, who's satisfied with lounging around and training dogs. Though he gets one particular moment where he gets mad at his father. He was kind of a dick, really! All Jan wants to do is honour his father's last wishes, and Pepik gets pissed off.

The girls are on either end of the spectrum. Olinka is a nice enough lady in her own right, but her mind is being poisoned by her mother, who influences her to control everything Erik does. She has her bad moments, and some of them can be pretty jawdropping, like her justification for spying: "If you just told me where you were I wouldn't have to track you". Alena on the other hand is a much more down-to-earth girl. She values her husband more, has trust in him, and often clashes with the other girls for their line-crossing actions.

The closest thing the film has to a villain is definitely Olga, Jan's domineering wife. While Olinka is susceptible, she's still young, and can change. Olga on the other hand is set in her ways. She's a controlling, toxic person, who's blind to the harm she's spreading. She also has a bad position as a uni professor, where she's guilty of almost indoctrinating her students. She even uses her own personal tragedies as teaching tools (i.e. 'My father just died, which just goes to show all you students that you need to listen to me, or else you'll die prematurely') which feels really sleazy.

Tiger Theory excels in having really hateable characters, in such a relateable way. If a mad scientist is planning to blow up humanity, you cheer along , but when a regular person makes the kind of patronising or ignorant comment that could have been directed at you, it really riles you up. It honestly makes the film a tough watch in places, because it pisses you off so much. I do kinda wish it hadn't gone quite so far.

There's a pitfall the film very easily could have fallen into, and I have seen a couple of people criticise it for this very reason. A movie about free-spirited men being crushed down by dominant shrew-ish women could have come off as sexist! Thankfully Tiger Theory does not, at least to me. It makes it clear enough that these particular women only act how they do because of poor upbringing, not innate 'feminine wiles'. There are plenty of positive female characters, and ones in-between. The men also aren't posturing alpha male jerks. There's even a bit of ambiguity. Pepik, in his grumpier moment, tells his dad "Women didn't take any freedom from you; you've never had any inside you.".

The final act is a little drawn out, and has a couple of developments I didn't like as much. What really confused me was the baby subplot. It's said that Pepik's sperm count is low, so he and his wife will have trouble conceiving. Near the end, they receive good news, which is instantly pooh-poohed by Olinka, who believes Alena has been sleeping around to get pregnant. It's so out-of-nowhere she suddenly believes so ill of her sister-in-law, who's given no indication of such behaviour. She coulda just got IVF. Or maybe they really were that lucky! His sperm count was sleepy, not dead!

The ending itself is nice. Jan has found true happiness, with minimal legal troubles for all of the stunts he pulled throughout the movie, he's got a good relationship with his younger family, and Olinka has come out right. The only one on the short end of the draw is Olga, who remains a bitter crone, whose words about divorced men never finding happiness are quickly proven wrong.

The score here is good. It does sound a little manipulative in places though. Like they picked exactly the right songs to provoke an easy emotional reaction. But it's not really something to complain too much about, considering it works. Also as a European film, it's inevitable that at least half the songs are in English for some reason. Helpful for us native speakers!

This is a good looking movie, with great shot composition, and nice lighting, both natural and artificial. The countryside is shown off very well, as are the small villages of the Czech Republic.

The cast in Tiger Theory all do a fine job. Jiří Bartoška is an effective lead, and carries the film well. He has a nice sense of calm and wisdom about him that encapsulates the movies themes. He also has such a tan I thought this was an Indian film based on the poster!

Tiger Theory is a nice film, and well worth a watch. While it could've had a little of this or that, it's otherwise a good time, and definitely preferable over a lot of other foreign 'Oscar bait' that pops up. This is an earnest picture, with plenty of heart...

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Ski Party (1965)

After a few years, the popularity of the Beach Party series was beginning to wane. Partly due to a horde of imitators, and also because AIP rushed out an 8 film franchise in barely over 3 years. In their slight defense, they did try and branch out a little, with differently themed entries like Ski Party...

Todd Armstrong and Craig Gamble are two male youths in search of women. Having zero luck with their dates back home, they join a trip to an alpine ski lodge. Still unsure how to understand women though, they disguise themselves as a pair of female British maidens. Shenanigans ensure, with rivals, love triangles, ski accidents, and more, making for a real fun time...

Ski Party is a winter-themed alternative to the Beach Party series. Not strictly related, but sharing the DNA of those films, not to mention the cast. As a time capsule of the 60s, it's fairly inoffensive, even if it's not the best example of the genre. It succeeds at the bare minimum. There's a thin plot, and it's fairly contrived. Why are Todd and Craig going all this way only to try charming the same two girls who already weren't interested?

The idea of horny guys trying to seduce women is a tale as old as time, and this hardly reinvents the wheel. It does capture the feeling of introverts trying to integrate themselves into a very public gathering.

What it also does is lightly copy Some Like it Hot, when the two leads dress up in women's clothing to figure out how the other half thinks. This is predictably cringey, and I could've done without it and the silly voices. They don't even attempt English accents, although let's not pretend Americans could tell the difference. One point I will give though is that at least the film acknowledges its source.

This isn't the funniest of movies, but it gets a chuckle every now and then. As with many of these films, Ski Party has a weird side in places. There's the bizarre car scene early on, as well as a recurring polar bear who dances and skis with everyone. I also got a laugh at the drive-in date early on, where the two girls are seated together, and Todd and Craig are stuck next to each-other. Who's taking who on a date here??

Then there's the climax, which isn't weird, but does verge on the ridiculous, with several leaps of logic. And the ending itself drops everyone back onto the beach with barely a word. It's disappointing, really. This is supposed to be Ski party, but they couldn't even stay away from the original cash cow for a single movie. That shows a lack of confidence.

The characters are tolerable. Todd and Craig are fairly hapless heroes, and occasionally border on the annoying. I liked how athletic they were too (just goes to show even top athletes can struggle getting the girls if they don't have the magic touch!).

The girls meanwhile are alright, though are a bit silly. Do they like these boys or not? They keep insisting they're not interested, then act jealous at them hanging out with other women. Even they acknowledge this, and eventually come around, after typical romantic misunderstandings.

Smooth casanova Freddie is a thorn in the heroes' sides, but quickly falls for Craig's female disguise. 'She' naturally plays hard to get, and this only incenses Freddie further, who stops just short of being an ace-crazed lunatic! And lastly there's foreign gal Nita, who provides an idealistically sexy image of Sweden.

Despite its preoccupation with sex, Ski Party is every bit as innocent as all the other AIP 'teen' movies were. There's no swearing, no nudity (in fact there's an overdressed pillow fight).

The dialogue can get pretty funny.
From Freddie to his uninterested date: "I don't understand, why won't you let me kiss you?...I'm a nice clean-cut American boy with a C-plus average."
Then there's the questionable lesson from their teacher: "The male becomes the most romantic between the ages of 17 and 19, while the female doesn't reach her romantic peak until her 35th year"

Onto the cast. Frankie Avalon and Dwane Hickman are good leads, and share decent chemistry. They enjoyed working together, and this comes through onscreen. Deborah Walley and Yvonne Craig are serviceable, while Aron Kincaid amuses, and Bobbi Shaw is sexy. Annette Funicello has a small but funny cameo at the start, showing off a different side to her!

The direction here is pretty good. Of note is the conversation that spans multiple scenes, and how it's accomplished. We also get neat transitions, and occasionally cute fourth wall breaking. The location meanwhile is very pretty! The snowy grounds, the wintery trees, the huge mountains in the distance, etc. They really spared nothing with the visuals here.

The soundtrack here is alright. Half of it is pre-existing songs, making this not feel like much of a proper musical. The theme is decent, Lots Lots More is alright, I was a little annoyed by Painting the Town, We'll Never Change 'em is probably the best, and Gasser at the end just feels like a leftover Dick Dale and Del Tones song (probably because it is!). Of the most note is Lesly Gore's iconic track Sunshine, Lollipops, and Rainbows. The 'music video' this movie provides has probably been seen by far more than the film itself! And then there's James Brown of all people, with I Feel Good! Talk about a surprise, seeing such an A-list singer with such a well known classic in a random AIP movie!

Of note are the film's increasingly ludicrous poster taglines: "It's where the he's meet the she's on skis, and there's only one way to get warm."
"When 10,000 HE'S meet 10,000 SHE'S and they're all on SKIS, it's gonna present a problem, and the answer is a...SKI PARTY."
Then there's the incomprehensible: "When the Ski'nicks meet the Ski'chicks, it's called Snow-a-go-go with bikinis, yet!"...Yet what? I dig 60s slang, but what in God's name are they on about?!

Despite AIP's best efforts, Ski Party didn't lead to an influx of winter-themed follow-ups. I can understand why. The beach is right there, and easy to film at, as long as the sun's shining. But alpine mountains are more temperamental, you've gotta trek a lot more to even get there, you can only film in winter, etc.

The last thing to discuss is the tease that comes at the end. The credits advertise the next entry in the series-Cruise Party. This of course never happened. For one reason or another, the plan fell through, which is a bit of a shame. It would be a fun idea, and sounds like a proto-Love Boat. But then again we got 9 seasons (and 250 episodes) of The Love Boat, so I really don't think this film would've added much.

Ski Party isn't the best in the series, and it failed to achieve what it set out to do, but as it is it's really not awful. It's worth at least a single watch if you like this sort of thing. And at least there's Lesley Gore, which is worth a little attention...

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Eurotrip (2004)

2000s sex comedies are a real mixed bag. Many were dated on arrival, and went beyond cheesy and into downright embarrassing territory. But for all its faults, and certainly I'm by no means a fan, there were some highlights of the genre. One in particular is 2004's Eurotrip. The first thing I thought when I saw the title was "So is this a sequel/ripoff to Road Trip?". The answer is Neither, and it's just as good, perhaps even better than that film!...

Scott Thomas has just graduated high school, and is dumped on the same day. His only comfort is chatting with his German penpal 'Mike', until convinced by his friend Cooper that he's a perverted maniac, and drunkenly cuts off contact. Waking up in the morning, he realises Mieke is actually a girl's name, and this whole time a beautiful fraulein was seriously interested in least, until he called her a sick German freak. Now together with his friends, he impulsively decides to journey across Europe to reach her and win her over before it's too late...

Eurotrip says what it is right on the tin. It's a trip through the heart of Europe with a bunch of dumb Americans. To this end it succeeds perfectly.

The story is pretty good. It's also cheesy as hell, make no mistake. Like, why is Scotty suddenly in love with Mieke now that he knows he's been talking with a girl this whole time? And her reciprocating at the end is just as ludicrous (though the brief fake-out is hilarious). But these are the things we accept in rom-coms, so can't be held too harshly against it.

With a lot of the 'teen' sex comedies of this era (Christ, that makes it sound so long ago!), it's all just sex sex sex, with vulgarity and crude humour. Now Eurotrip certainly has vulgar and crude moments, sure. But you know what else it has? A robot mime fight! Variety is all I ask for, people! The jokes here are frequently winners, and are laugh-out-loud funny at times, with my highlights being the nightclub scene ("OH MY GOD!"), and the group's unexpected detour ("Dear sweet mother of God. We're in Eastern Europe!").

With any travel movie, it's gotta achieve that sense of wanderlust, and Eurotrip nails it. It was actually one of the things that really inspired me to want to travel! I already wanted to in the general sense, and naturally I'd read Jules Verne as a kid, but this was the big moment that actually made me wanna trek across Europe.

Another thing I like about the movie is how for all the distractions and detours, it doesn't actually take the group long to make progress, and to ultimately reach Berlin. So often in films you see it taking forever and it borders on the ridiculous. Like, come on, it's not that hard, guys!

The film has an exaggerated portrayal of the continent and its denizens, but it never comes across as offensive, and Europeans are let in on the joke, especially with how much the American leads are made fun of.

The characters in Eurotrip are a highlight. Half the jokes wouldn't work if they weren't as good as they are. Scott is your average guy, a bit predictable to his detriment, but he manages to break out. Cooper is your typical cocky asshole, led by his 'shortsword'. He has his genuinely friendly moments though, and is never overbearing. The twins Jamie and Jenny are amusing, being a nerdy travel buff, and a girl in search of fun, respectively. Mieke is ok in her small role, mainly appearing in dream sequences. The sex scene at the end feels a bit sudden though (though the confession booth bit is funny).

The film is full of memorable side characters, from Scotty's younger brother, to the robot mime, the creepy Italian on the train, and the suave French gentlemen Christoph, whose lecherousness is only exceeded by his honesty.

The cast in Eurotrip do well. Scott Mechlowicz is a good lead, and has talented robot skills. Jacob Pitts is cocky without being annoying. Michelle Trachtenberg and Travis Wester are fun in different ways. He and Trachtenberg deserve applause for one scene in particular, where they really go all out! Jessica Boehrs is nice enough as Mieke, and is a gorgeous presence. Special praise must go to Nial Iskhakov, who plays Scotty's younger brother. He's European! I was shocked to learn, because his American accent is bloody perfect! If you really listen to his accent, you can tell there is something a bit different about it, but damn, he sounds like a born and bred citizen!

The film is pretty packed with memorable supporting/one-off characters, like Fred Armisen, Lucy Lawless, and Kristin Kreuk, among others. Of interest to European fans is the short roles of Miroslav Táborský, and Rade Šerbedžija. And the best of all has gotta be the surprise appearance by Matt Damon at the beginning. It's hilarious, and ranks as one of his best movie appearances!

The soundtrack here is pretty fun! We've got a mix, with updated rocky covers that reflect the film's cosmopolitan nature, like a cover of My Generation in French, and a German David Hasselhoff track. Then of course there's the film's most memorable song-Scotty Doesn't Know! First played at a party early on, it's an instantly catchy tune with hilarious lyrics, and recurs a few times throughout, to great effect.

An interesting fact about Eurotrip is where it was filmed. The Czech Republic! While it may jokingly portray Eastern Europe as a nightmarish hellhole, it's actually where the majority of filming took place, with a bit of effects trickery to photoshop in some famous landmarks. It's a pretty seamless effect, and for a movie based on travelling to many countries, that's no mean feat!

Eurotrip may be lowbrow, but it's still a great time. And if you're particularly into that, you'll love it even more! This is a real gem from a period of cinema I otherwise find pretty dull, and it's definitely recommended for some goofy continental fun...

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Suspiria (1977)

After making a name for himself with Giallo films, including the genre-defining Deep Red, Dario Argento began work on supernatural horror Suspiria, together with his partner Daria Nicolodi. It would become his other grand opus, and one of Italian horror's most memorable experiences...

Suzy Banyon is a young ballet dancer enrolling in the illustrious German Tanz Academy. Things get off to an immediately odd start when she sees a student muttering incomprehensibly before running away. News soon comes that she has been brutally murdered. Suzy gets used to the school, but slowly feels weaker and weaker. Her roommate gets suspicious, and begins her own investigation. When she too is killed, Suzy must work to save herself, and uncover the truth that lies beneath...

Suspiria is a fantastic supernatural horror, and gained instant recognition upon its release, both for its gorgeous imagery, and shocking violence. Managing to get itself censored or banned in a few places, it's now widely available in all of its uncut glory, as it nears 50 years of terror.

The plot to Suspiria is light, and feels like a classic fairy tale for an adult audience. Young girls, evil old witches, and untimely death. The most famous scene is the shocking beginning, that leaves you hooked and possibly squirming in your chair.

I like how the mystery unfolds, through the realisation of simple yet important details. As for the negatives, it feels like we're on the periphery of the story the entire time. Suzy is the protagonist, yet has no idea what's going on till the end. I guess that's the trouble with a story where every character who discovers the truth immediately dies. The film's a bit rudderless, with a protagonist who is unable to learn, or else she'd die!

The film makes absolutely no effort to delve into the world and mythology of these witches, or the Three Mothers. They just happen to be the cause of spooky events, and are in the shadows until the last 20 minutes. For a standalone film this isn't an issue, though when you take Suspiria into account as part of a greater trilogy, it is a disappointment. I guess you could see it as one entry to set up the atmosphere of the world, and the second for the story, but still, that's a lot of the overall trilogy wasted.

A neat fact is that Suspiria was originally meant to be about younger kids, which would fit even more with the fairy tale motif. But understandable concerns grew over children being involved in such violent setpieces. Granted, one of the victims is a teacher, and Pat could've always been older, but still. I am glad the characters were aged up.

Suspiria is well-known for its almost surreal nature. Illogical is another, less-generous word that comes up. When you really think about it, there are quite a few things that don't make much sense. How did a magical school get a maggot infestation? How did they even infiltrate Mater Suspiriorum's secret room? And why is the directress casually sleeping in a tent with all the other students? And what kind of dance schools keep rooms full of barb wire? Lots of little illogicalities you might wonder about, and they may not have satisfactory answers, but they're nothing that truly hurts the film.

The characters are a weak link. Suzy is a strong protagonist, but spends much of the movie drugged, and only comes into her own in the final act. Her roommate Sara picks up the slack, and is a good co-star. We briefly get to know Pat and her (somewhat overreacting) friend before their deaths. We also get short but rewarding scenes with a couple of experts near the end.

We have an abundance villains here. Miss Tanner, Madame Blanc, and the reclusive Helena Markos (aka coven leader Mater Suspiriorum). None of these characters get any exploration, and don't do much oscreen. The worst is Markos, who only has one scene, barring an earlier cameo as a snoring silhouette. It would've been better I feel if she'd been combined with Blanc or Tanner, so the film's true villain could have been a presence throughout, instead of a loud sleeper.

An interesting, and entirely underused character is fellow student Olga, who is clearly the bitchy one. You might expect her to be a constant presence, bullying the leads, or to turn out to be part of the coven. Instead the actress must have broken her ankle or something, because she vanishes 20 minutes in and is never seen again. Her personality is pretty interesting to think about. She's a forceful and mean girl, yet a word from the madames is enough to get her to play ball. It makes you think how much she's part of the coven. The lack of screetime actually helps paint a mysterious picture.

There is also the suspicious kid Albert (The dog clearly knows something's up with him, and tries to take action), who also disappears, the creepy butler, and a hunky male student. He seems nice enough, but the film has no romance. Quite a relief, really, since the film stands well without one. Perhaps that's a holdover from the characters originally being children.

Who the killer even is in an interesting mystery. Obviously it's the coven orchestrating the murders, but they are committed by an unseen figure. All we get a glimpse of are some cat-like eyes, and a hairy arm, making you wonder. Is it an actual character in the film? A monster? A psychic manifestation of evil?

The direction in Suspiria is superb, with the camera capturing many great angles and images. The lighting and colour go hand in hand to creating the film's unique atmosphere. The frames are awash in red, green, blue, and other rich colours. It does get a bit silly when you really think about it, like why does this taxi have a multicolour light? But that's easily overlooked when it turns out this good.

The set design is great too, and plays into the visuals. We have the academy's ornate front, the white and flowery head office, the almost surgical 'camp-out', and more. The set for the school was modelled after a real place, but Argento used a facade here. Naturally, since the board may object to the front of their school getting blown apart for a movie.

The effects in Suspiria are another high point, making for a masterwork in gore. The blood is bright red like paint, and it manages to convince in every scene, if a little rubbery in places.

My only complaint with the deaths is that they're not as evenly spaced out as they could've been, with only three death scenes over the course of 98 minutes. Thankfully any good horror movie can keep its audience entertained even if there's only a small body count.

The cast is great. Jessica Harper is an effective lead, and gets across personality, even if she is asleep a lot. Stefania Cassini does well as the supporting heroine, while Alida Valli and Joan Bennett are nicely bitchy as the villains. Playing Helena Markos (aka Mater Suspiriorum) was an old prostitute found on the streets of Rome. Vocally it was Daria Nicolodi who did the performance, to goofy effect. Hats off to the lady herself though, a non-actress at age 90 to be caked in prosthetics just for one scene! Udo Kier has a small but nice role, though sadly dubbed in the English version.Then again this straight-laced character may have been hard to take seriously if he spoke in Udo's distinct voice.

The score by Goblin is one of Suspiria's highlights. The music-box main theme is soft and eerie, fitting the tone perfectly. It's such a classic tune that it's found life outside/beyond the movie, and is often used in ballet or ice skating performances, even making an appearance at an Olympic game! Kudos to that team!

On the other side of the spectrum is the loud and chaotic 'death' theme, which keeps building in intensity as it goes. We also get assorted electronic twangs and buzzes. The most notable being the zweep zwoop rescoring of the main theme over the end credits. Whether these fit with the fairytale vibe the film's got going for it is up for debate. I think some of it works, though the ending theme is a bit much.

All these years later, Suspiria is perhaps Dario Argento's best film, and is still a unique entry into the genre. Well worth watching for any horror fans...