Freitag, 3. Dezember 2010

Treacherous "Safe Water"

Typically emotional and reverential Ken Burns biography, featuring the usual display of wonderful vintage pictures and discreet music and sound accompaniment, as well as professional line-readings and commentaries.

Twain's interesting life alone and all the anecdotal plentifulness of Burns's script guarantee three-and-a-half entertaining hours, but as a documentary about such a witty and sagacious writer, this feels too conventional and tame in style and presentation, hammering home some of its notions about Twain's inner conflicts too repetitively.

It's still quality work, though.

7 out of 10 failed business schemes

The Poetics of Comedy

Tati's later work grew more and more cleverly elaborate and, thus, less and less warmheartedly funny (though still ingenious) over the years, but with this early masterpiece he just hit the right vibe.

The tender shifts from slow, almost meditative build-up to subtle gags of sight and sound are a marvel, as well as the whole lovingly detailed, gently mocking ambiance of faux impressionist "savoir vivre", full of closely observed character vignettes and the ironies of life mirrored in the seemingly slightest incidents.

Tati managed to create something Chaplin had never been able of despite all his talents: He directed a deeply humane comedic poem, without resorting to ostensible sentimentality.

A true classic!

10 out of 10 folded canoes

Ink and Paint Turned into Flesh and Blood

This one's outstanding!!!

The sheer wealth of artistic and technical on- and off-screen talents involved in all, I mean ALL production departments is awe-inspiring. But what's truly astonishing is the love and care that went into filming this. A Big Studio(s) entertainment movie with a heart! It's as if all those cynical producers, screenplay supervisors etc. were enchanted by the whole charming enterprise themselves.

Seldom has a fantasy world been created more vividly. And the nostalgic impact seeing all your beloved old cartoon characters (and some amiable new ones) naturally interacting with each other and their human neighbours is simply mesmerizing. Watch the pic a second time to get all the funny one-liners and sight gags... and an umpteenth time for sheer pleasure.

Every movie-loving person will be hooked immediately, but cartoon buffs and film noir freaks should keep tranquilizers ready.

Were it not for the interminable and mildly dull showdown, which is a misstep, this would be a perfect masterpiece of light entertainment. But an imperfect masterpiece is more than enough.

9 out of 10 cigar-chomping Baby Hermans

Life's a Swamp

This good, if not great early Kurosawa is still rough around the edges and not free of obvious symbolism and narrative weaknesses. It all feels somewhat forced and not quite as fluent and natural as later works.

But, needless to say, there are always pleasures to be had from a movie made by this wonderful artist: Kurosawa favourites Shimura and Mifune (in his first teaming with Kurosawa) give their usual multi-layered performances, the mise-en-scène is superb, and a sound gimmick featuring guitar-playing is brilliantly used to enhance atmosphere.

In this instance, though, one cannot fully swallow the director's "life's a swamp but use your willpower and watch out for the silver lining"-attitude. He jumbled it this time. But glorious things would follow...

7 out of 10 buckets of immaculately white paint

A Flat Charade

Mamet's back again with his deceptive sleights of hand, rushing poor Val Kilmer from one precarious situation to the next as if trying to outdo "24".

But breathless pace, self-indulgently clever (or rather not so clever) dialogue and plenty of mechanical twists and turns can't hide the fact that this flat and unconvincing charade never generates a shred of emotional or intellectual resonance.

Watch those great 70s conspiracy thrillers instead. They were gripping and smart without being sophomoric.

3 out of 10 mean Al Bundys

Double Vision? No Vision at All!

This trashy Taiwanese-American cooperation tries to mix all stereotypes of U.S. police buddy-movies/serial-killer thrillers and Asian supernatural horror films into one brew... unfortunately, its taste is revolting.

Mind me, the technical aspects and even some of the otherwise typically hammy acting is okay, but the convoluted plot kills it all, particularly after confusing Taoist prophecies, silly modern killer monks and, most annoyingly, lofty melodramatics are introduced. And I won't even speak about the ridiculous finale.

I seldom cared less about a thriller's outcome.

2 out of 10 lethal air conditioners

Passion and Duty

So much could have gone wrong with this follow-up to Visconti's deeply flawed "Morte a Venezia": the treatment of Ludwig II's (dream-)life could have resulted in hokey mystification; Helmut Berger's impersonation could have been badly influenced by the actor's frequently mannered performances; re-casting Romy Schneider as Sissi could have been a mere folly; and stretching the running-time to four hours could have been the nail in the coffin.

But miraculously, it all works: Visconti's elegant and empathic direction finds the right biographical tone; Berger has never been better; Romy is simply dazzlingly charming and witty in her second, much more mature approach to the Sissi character; and (except for the bumpy last hour) there's not a single unwanted scene.

Plus, Trevor Howard's Richard Wagner is a real treat; the other supporting actors are uniformly excellent; Ludwig's dormant homosexuality is subtly handled; the soundtrack is a marvel and visually, it's Visconti's most impressive work.

9 out of 10 moonlit horse rides