Édes Emma, drága Böbe: vázlatok, aktok

[Screenshot]Not, I’m afraid, Szabó’s best. His German vacation in the 80s did him good, but his return to de-Communized Hungary looks like it took a while to hit its stride, and was rather hampered by the rough shape of the nation itself. Hungary’s own troubles manifested in the low production values of this film; it’s grainy with poor sound quality (the illegible burned-in subtitles, on the other hand, I blame on the inadequacy of the US DVD authoring). On the directorial-weakness side, I’ve noted that Szabó has a gift for focusing on a single characteristic experience of a point in history, and in this occasion chose perhaps a rather too limited perspective. The focus of this film is so narrow that, aside from the focus on a change from Russian-language to English-language teaching, the major societal changes don’t come through at all, which is a pity. There’s also a great deal of gratuitous nudity; so much so that it’s alluded to in the title, even, and it doesn’t contribute anything at all,as far as I can tell, to the main themes of thin film.

For a strong impression about Hungary immediately after liberalization, I get the impression Moszkva tér (which I have yet to actually see) is a better story.

See also: IMDB.

Zwartboek

[Screenshot]I wouldn’t expect Verhoeven, based on what I know of his films, to turn to historical drama, but I guess I’m glad he did, because his direction showed the technical aptitude he developed in the ’90s and a somewhat meatier and more nuanced plot. It bears a striking resemblance to another film I’ve enjoyed recently, Musíme si Pomáhat, in exploring the themes of collaboration and the shades of gray in relationships between the conquerors and the conquered in Nazi territory. This story feels mostly very human, and caught up with banality-of-evil issues, stressing the whole day-job-Nazi persona, even in the upper echelons of the occupation. There’s a long-running mystery plot which seems to cheapen the whole story and detract somewhat from its focus, but that’s a minor quibble. Overall, this story is full of well-realized and very human characters, and the film’s sympathies are distributed in unusual and peculiarly sensitive ways. On production values and plot richness, I’d actually put this ahead of Musíme si Pomáhat, while it explores some of the same issues. It’s a bit busier and has enough characters to get distracting, but in other respects it’s a stronger and more engaging film.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

The Tick

[Screenshot]This is well-regarded as a faithful adaptation of Ben Edlund’s excellent comic book, but I found it oddly tedious — individual episodes felt rushed, and perhaps the line delivery was off, because I didn’t feel it packed the punch I thoguht the snappy dialogue in the comics had. There were animation difficulties as well: although in stills most of the characters look right, their motion feels blocky and cheap (I may have been spoiled by better, more recent animation), and lip movements match speech badly enough that I noticed (which I usually don’t). All in all, the adaptation felt somewhat half-hearted: either my memory of the comic books is unusually rose-tinted or they were a lot funnier and fresher than this series was. It’s possible that the better bits of the comic were unairable in broadcast for children.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

Crying Freeman, episodes 1 and 2

OK. So, earlier this month, The Dragon King’s Daughter (a fusion-Japanese restaurant in Louisville) put up some flyers advertising an anime night. That seemed like a good idea, maybe a chance to get to know some people who like anime who aren’t 4chan kiddies. It was kind of a quiet disaster: it was lightly attended, the second series of the evening had no subtitles, so it was impossible to tell what was going on except by context, and the third showing of the evening was, uh, Repo! The Genetic Opera, which gives you an idea of how well-focused they were with the whole endeavor. The first screening was of this godawful series.

“Mindlessly exploitative” is the choicest phrase to describe it. The storyline and characterization are thin — the first 20 minutes of the first episode suggest that it might develop into an interesting story with sympathetic characters, but they choose instead to go in directions which are motivationally incomprehensible: the idea that the reluctant assassin and his romantic witness will go rogue is a promising one, but making them go rogue back to the organization both of them have good cause to hate and resent? That’s retrograde development, and not terribly justifiable. Of cours,e then they stop developing as characters altogether, as the story devolves into a series of over-the-top ridiculous slugfests in which everyone loses their shirts. Occasionally they have sex too, so I’m left with the vague sensation that this largely-plotless, sex-and-violence-intensive number is consciously imitating an erotic thriller, which is a pretty low bar to set for yourself, artistically. And it can’t even really live up to these low expectations: the animation’s not terribly high-quality either, so this is really offering little to an animation buff beyond cheap, crass thrills — or humor, if you find over-the-top mindlessness funny.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia, Anime News Network.

Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed

[Screenshot]I’m an animation buff, and I’ve found the films from the early, expressionistic days of German cinema interesting, so this film sits at a nice intersection of interests. It’s also gorgeous, which helps. One interesting thing about early cinema is how it achieves its aims through imaginative use of the extremely limited technology of the time. This is not only an erly film, but an early animation, so it utilizes methods which have, in many ways, been rendered obsolete, but uses them extraordinarily effectively. The fundamental technology underlying this production is essentially shadow-puppetry: Lotte Reiniger cut out these astonishingly detailed articulated paper-and-cardboard figures, and filmed them in stop-motion. It’s of necessity a rather crude technique, which can only produce silhouettes, but when those silhouettes are as intricate as these are, and they’re laid on a background which suggests setting, the result can be surprisingly immersive. This is quite a cinematic tour de force, from a technical and aesthetic standpoint. As regards plot and suchike concerns, it’s considerably weaker: it’s a pretty straightforward Richard-Burton-Oriental fantasy, and since it’s a silent film, the reliance on title cards for plot advancement means there’s very little subtlety in the story’s construction. But as long as you don’t expect a narrative with terrific depth, this is an enjoyable watch, simply for the artistry in the image-production.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

Up

<img src="http://crochetgeek.net/reviews/movies/images/up.jpg" align="left" title="These human figures are a hell of a lot less grotesque than those in, say, Tin Toy.” alt=”[Screenshot]”>What can I say that others haven’t said already and better? I’m always unequal to evaluating truly popular art. Pixar always tries to make their films more than just a technology showcase; yes, their computer-animaiton technology is excellent, but their films wouldn’t be the fantastic successes they are if they didn’t invest a great deal of energy into making their works strong from a storytelling perspective as well. Up succeeds on these points: it’s heartwarming, empathic, occasionally melancholy, and frequently funny. The voice acting is excellent, and the expressions given to the characters are expressive if not superlative. The art is generally excellent but consciously cartoony — probably a good thing, since attempts at realistic human forms are actually grotesque, and the physics exhibited here is so ridiculous that it’s firmly in the realm of the cartoony anyways (which is not to trivialize it: there are valid, worthwhile, and mature themes to explore in the cartoon medium, and Up indeed does so). It’s not the very best Pixar film in my estimation (I’d still give that nod to WALL-E) but it’s an excellent addition to their oeuvre and development of their cinematic skills.

In a tangentially related point, Up features prominently in one of 2009’s most heartwrenching news stories.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

Állítsátok meg Terézanyut!

[Screenshot]This is a romantic comedy featuring Sándor Csányi (best known in America, to the extent he’s known at all, as Bulcsú from Kontroll), but in most other respects it doesn’t much resemble Csak szex és más semmi. It’s not actually as entertaining, for one. It seems to be cultivating a consciously imitative “Sex and the City” vibe, and that particular vein of humor may be tapped out. Also, it’s attempting to develop a theme which doesn’t seem to actually be present in the story: there’s a presumption running trough the story that Kata is self-sacrificing to her own detriment, and that she has to move past her compulsive altruism to be happy. And yet, with the exception of her hawklike hovering over her ex-junkie brother, we see no evidence of the story’s eponymous terézanyutszerűseg [*], which makes me wonder why it gets such prominent mention in the dialogue.

Short take: watch Csak szex… instead. It has more Csányi, better humor, and more consistent characterization and themes.

[*] Literally, ‘resemblance to Mother Theresa’. This may be a highly unidiomatic use of suffixes.

See also: IMDB.