Sunday, 29 May 2011

REVIEW: The Hangover: Part II

Dir.: Todd Phillips
With: Ed Helms, Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis et al

Let us forget for a moment how lucrative sequels have become and think about the actual point of continuing an otherwise complete and successful film. Obviously, if a film was adapted from a novel and the novel has a second part, it makes absolute sense to do the same with the film – e.g. “The Godfather” and “The Lord of the Rings”. Sometimes, if a film does not have one clear conclusion and there are many unresolved issues, a sequel comes naturally – “The Matrix Reloaded” and “Before Sunset”. And there are also the times when the first movie seems completed but the characters become so universally adored and the film is considered to be so innovative that the creators end up scratching their heads and decide to extend the characters’ arcs into a new movie; and on certain precious occasions the results are extremely successful – “The Ghostbusters 2” and “Shrek 2”.

Alas, “The Hangover: Part II” is no such sequel. The whole film can be described by two words – déjà vu. It is unbelievably formulaic and self-referential. Todd Phillips and Co chose not to re-invent the wheel and stuck to the well-trodden path of the Vegas version. The lack of imagination involved in writing this film is simply astounding; in a way it reminds me of the third “Sex and the City” movie where the women were moved to Abu Dhabi with nothing concrete to run on. Similarly, here the wolfpack is transported to Bangkok with exactly the same tricks up their sleeve. The jokes involving ladyboys, ping-pong party tricks and tattoos are so generic that it feels like the writers could not even bother to think of something less obvious and more surprising.

At the same time, it was definitely a pleasure to see the great characters of Phil, Stu, Alan and Mr Chow back on the screen. In the first film I thought that Stu was the funniest one, this time, his teeth intact, he seemed pale in comparison to Alan and Mr Chow's inspired performances. There were a couple of good scenes like the painful awakening, the car chase and Alan’s flashback featuring little boys as the title characters. Everything else, including the photos in the end of the movie, seemed like a re-imagining of the first film. To be perfectly honest, this doesn’t really deserve to be called a sequel because it doesn’t add anything to the story; it should rather be called a remake with the original cast. I suppose, if you’ve never seen the first film, this version would appear shockingly hilarious to you. I did laugh every now and then, but ended up with a very unpleasant aftertaste, the kind you get when you watch your favourite band live only to find out that they really suck. Although, a few people in the audience did clap after the movie was over, so maybe I am just sour and have no sense of humour… Also, there was so much product placement in this film, it was becoming quite amusing; bags, phones, cars, alcohol – the cheerful labels were smiling and waving at me from the screen, more enthusiastically than the ill-fated wolfpack themselves. These are dark times we live in, ladies and gentlemen.

There was much speculation about a surprise cameo by an unexpected guest, Mel Gibson, Liam Neeson and Bill Clinton were cited as potential candidates. But even here “The Hangover: Part II” fails to surprise and sticks to its already known guest star – Mike Tyson, sorry for spoiling the surprise (NOT). Apparently, a third film is in the works. I guess this time the boys will go to Eastern Europe (I can’t think of anywhere else that has a dodgy reputation), because Alan will travel there to meet his mail-order bride before actually ordering her, they will get drunk on some home-made spirit, wake up in a barn in Albania, Stu will be sporting pierced tongue and nipples and they’ll have to remember where they left Mr Chow (he’d come along too, it doesn’t really matter why).

Friday, 27 May 2011

Best Character Introductions

As they say, no-one can change the first impression. Therefore, the moment when a title character first steps onto the screen is extremely important for the audience. Directors and scriptwriters approach this task in different ways. Sometimes, more often than not, the introduction is accompanied by a song that reflects the character’s state of mind. On other occasions, there is a narrator who tells us all there is to know about the character. More still, sometimes we are treated to a collage of clips from a person’s life. I’ve picked the ones that I remember well and the most famous ones. Enjoy!

Saturday Night Fever. Tony Manero/John Travolta

Well, you can tell by the way I use my walk, I’m a woman’s man, no time to talk.
(watch from 00:15-02:30)

The Mask. Tina Carlyle/Cameron Diaz

Damn gurl, u fine…

The Big Lebowski. Jesus Quintana/John Turturro

It is a truth universally acknowledged that NOBODY fucks with the Jesus.

Annie Hall. Alvy Singer/Woody Allen

It is absolutely genius how in a couple of minutes we know everything there is to know about this guy.

The Graduate. Benjamin Braddock/Dustin Hoffman

On a little more sombre note.

A Fabulous Destiny of Amélie Poulin. Amélie Poulin/Audrey Tautou

Extraordinary cuteness.

Dr No. James Bond/Sean Connery

Sean Connery’s first appearance as 007.

Dead Poets Society. John Keating/Robin Williams

Ever since I watched this film, I’ve always wanted to do the same to my textbooks. This is the first time the boys meet Mr Keating.

Lawrence of Arabia. Ali/Omar Sharif

The best build-up ever!

Monday, 23 May 2011

Best Portrayals of the Devil

The Devil, Lucifer, the Prince of Darkness, Satan, and Antichrist - he has many names. He is also one of the most portrayed characters in popular culture. The enigmatic fallen angel had his rise as a literary character in Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’ and experienced a bit of a revival in the twentieth century in Bulgakov’s ‘Master and Margarita’. In film, however, he has only been properly portrayed in the last couple of decades. With all his flaws, the Devil must be one of the funnest characters to play for any actor. Here is a list of the most notable performances. Some may sound offensive or shocking to certain audiences, so if you are not a fan of the dirty joke, refrain from watching, or suck it up and don’t report me please.

The Devil’s Advocate. Al Pacino.

So charismatic that he saves the whole movie.

The Witches of Eastwick. Jack Nicholson.

If the punchline does not make you laugh out loud, then you are a square. Sorry, but you'll have to click on the link here.

Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus. Tom Waits.

The embodiment of temptation, he leaves you no chance at all.

Joan of Arc. Dustin Hoffman.

Probably the best thing in this mishap of a movie.

Deconstructing Harry. Billy Crystal.

Probably my favourite. Check out the random naked people in the background.

Bedazzled. Liz Hurley.

The only lady Devil in this selection. And the hottest one by far. Hats off.

Angel Heart. Robert de Niro.

This’ll put you off eating boiled eggs for a while. Click here.

Little Nicky. Harvey Keitel.

Shows just what a tough job it must be, running Hell.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Taxi Driver - 35th Anniversary and Re-release

Dir.: Martin Scorsese
With: Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster

Where to begin? “Taxi Driver” has a 98% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, was nominated for four Oscars, won the Palme d’Or in 1976 and is amongst the 100 AFI best films of all time. It is now on release at selected cinemas in the UK, which is a great chance to watch it again, or for the first time, on a big screen. It influenced a number of respected directors, firmly established De Niro on the acting Olympus, discovered Jodie Foster, spurned a huge amount of parodies and its ‘You talkin’ to me?’ scene is one of the most famous monologues in film history.

I remember watching it for the first time and how giddy it made me feel. Travis Bickle, the protagonist and the taxi driver of the film’s title, is the epitome of loneliness and isolation in a big city. He is the real enigma of the story. Nothing is told about his background, there are a few hints at his service at Vietnam and parents who live somewhere far away. His 12-hour shifts driving through neon-lit New York with all its dirt, sin and ugliness become a nightmarish backdrop for one man’s decent into delirium. Sometimes it is hard to tell where reality ends and dreaming begins – some of the scenes seem to be so fantastic and yet believable that they might as well exist in Travis’s mind.

His fruitless attempts at establishing some kind of connection with other human beings are very pitiful and tragically funny. It is no wonder that he ends up taking on a role of a crusader, someone outside the law and forever lonesome in his apparent heroism. The sense of responsibility he acquires for Iris, a twelve-year-old prostitute played by Jodie Foster, is incredibly moving and their scenes together remind me of a brother-sister relationship. At the same time Iris, with her childish body and clothes appears much older and wiser than Travis. He is in some ways more helpless than she is.

I cannot stress enough how worthwhile it would be to watch this film. It is one of those stories that will shock you, move you and will stay with you forever. The ending will leave you guessing whether any of the violence actually took place or whether it is all a product of Travis’s imagination. I’d recommend going to see it at night and taking a taxi home afterwards :)

Friday, 13 May 2011

Best Dream Sequences in Films

We all have them, we all forget them, we are all haunted by them. The dream world appears to be a constant feature of modern cinema, it allows the director to tell a story from inside the character's mind, give the movie a bit of a flare and, sometimes, the dreamscapes in films are pure works of art. Here are some of my favourite ones.

Dir.: Alfred Hitchcock

Is Dr. Edwardes a psychopath? A murderer? Ingrid Bergman, the psychiatrist, will tell by analysing his dream, designed by Salvador Dali.

The Big Lebowski
Dir.: The Coen Brothers.

Who knew that bowling could be so sexual? I love the German nihilists/castrators at the end.

The Science of Sleep
Dir.: Michel Gondry.

This wonderful and bizarre film deals directly with sleep, and it is no wonder that this particular sequence became a bit of a classic.

American Beauty
Dir.: Sam Mendes.

Seeing RED.

Dir.: Terry Gilliam

If you have not seen this film, please do as soon as possible. It is magical and beautiful and I want to live in it. There are plenty of unexpected cameos from a range of actors.

Coffee and Cigarettes
Dir.: Jim Jarmusch.

The most unexpected pairing in a movie – the Wu Tang Clan and B.M.

Dir.: Alfred Hitchcock

Technicolor at its wildest.

Dir.: Samuel Armstrong, Neil Ferguson

I don’t know what the Disney artists took when they drew this sequence, but it is my favourite part of the movie by far.

And last, but not least, Inception by Christopher Nolan.

Monday, 9 May 2011

REVIEW: Insidious

Dir.: James Wan
With: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne.

A movie a day keeps the demons at bay.

I am sat up in the middle of the night, scared to fall asleep in case I get lost in my dreams and get snatched by the man with fire on his face. Nah, I am only kidding. “Insidious” really was not that scary. Although, I have to admit there were a few moments when I was torn between two very powerful urges: to either close my eyes or continue ogling Patrick Wilson. Oh and if you, like me, do not know the meaning of the word insidious, here is the definition: beguiling but harmful, working or spreading in a hidden and usually injurious way.

James Wan, the creator of the original “Saw” movie decided to go back to his roots and make a horror film which is more psychological and less gory. We follow the life of a normal American family who move into a new house – a red herring right there. Their son has an accident and falls into a coma. Predictably, strange things start to happen. The first third of the film is very slow paced, and it plays out more like a family drama, with the parents trying to deal with the family tragedy. The unusual disturbances seem rather harmless at first. The story then spirals out into an unpleasant, jumpy and eerie mess. The good thing about “Insidious” is that it attempts to treat its subject with a straight face, making it a little more believable. The budget of the production was miniscule, which must have limited the use of any kind of outlandish contraptions and naff special effects.

I am sure that some people would find this film extremely terrifying. It tries to cover a lot of ground too – it is a haunted house movie, a ghoul story and a psychological thriller, with multiple references to “The Shining”, “The Exorcist”, “Paranormal Activity” and “Poltergeist”. I personally don’t normally get scared of horror films, unless they deal with murderous children – so, “The Omen” and the Spanish “The Orphanage” scare the bejesus out of me. The only film that I watched recently which made me actually lose sleep was Cronenberg’s “The Fly” from the 80s – it was mainly Jeff Goldblum’s uncannily convincing portrayal of a man’s deterioration into an insect with all the physicalities that come with it that terrorised my mind for a while.

By the way, I hope that someone has written a thesis on Sigmund Freud’s influence on horror films. “Insidious” is absolutely full of Freudian references. There is the whole dream dimension where suppressed urges manifest themselves, the importance of childhood memories in forming a person’s life and the inexplicable human terror of the uncanny – i.e. the inanimate objects that seem alive and animate objects that appear dead. Whoever wrote the script for this movie (Leigh Wannell) knows his stuff.

On a separate note – why are two very good actors like Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne stuck in second-rate films? Ms Byrne, after portraying a sexy slave-lady in “Troy” did not blossom into a Hollywood star and instead moved onto stuff like the terrible Nic Cage's “Knowing”. Patrick Wilson, who dabbled in musicals - “The Phantom of the Opera”, superhero flicks like “The Watchmen” and indie movies such as “Hard Candy” (where he was absolutely brilliant as a paedophile to Ellen Page’s teen avenger) does not seem to get any decent, leading roles that would make use of his good looks. I personally think that he has the bone structure of a Greek statue, so maybe someone should cast him as Apollo in some giant epic blockbuster.

Sorry, I keep straying away from “Insidious”; probably, because it failed to scare me, but I am just thick-skinned. Go watch it if you want to get a few jumps, have a few nervous giggles and spill your Coke everywhere like I did. 

PS. Having said all this, a couple of hours after I've written the review, I went to the bathroom, thinking I was home alone. Needless to say, I screamed my head off when I saw a figure lurking in a dark corner of the living room. (The figure then apologised many times and was quite offended by my violent reaction).

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Best Dances in Films

Let me present to you a few clips that encompass the funniest, most impressive and unexpected dance performances in film. I decided not to include any musicals or films about dancing and concentrate on “normal” movies where the characters suddenly bust a move. I hope this will make you smile!

1.     Scent of a Woman. Al Pacino & Gabrielle Anwar

The tango is by far the most popular dance used in films. It often works as a metaphor for a couple’s relationship. This example is from a wonderful film, where Al Pacino plays a blind ex-officer.

2.     The Mask of Zorro. Catherine Zeta-Jones & Antonio Banderas.

There is just too much hotness in this clip.

3.     Some Like it Hot. Jack Lemmon & Joe E.Brown

Whilst Tony Curtis is getting it on with Marylin Monroe, his best friend Jack Lemmon is reduced to keeping the yacht’s owner at bay throughout the night.

4.     Funny Face. Audrey Hepburn.

One of the most carefree dancing ever.

5.     Napoleon Dynamite. Jon Heder.

Revenge of the nerd.

6.     Airplane! Robert Hayes & Julie Hagerty.

A pastiche of many different films, this hilarious comedy never fails to make me laugh.

7.     The Addams Family. Raul Julia & Christopher Lloyd

A bit of Russian flavour.


House of Flying Daggers. Zhang Ziyi

Chinese perfection.


  Being John Malkovich.  John Malkovich.

Dance of despair and disillusionment


Last Tango in Paris. Marlon Brando & Maria Schneider.

The anti-tango of the anti-hero in this anti-romance.

Monday, 2 May 2011


Dir.: Wim Wenders

I find it very hard to explain what I felt exactly when watching this documentary. One word in particular seems to come to mind – beauty. “Pina” is essentially an homage to Pina Bausch, the famous German choreographer and founder of the Tanztheater Wuppertal who died in 2009. It is a series of performances by her dancers, both old and young, and their reminiscences.

As any person with a Russian upbringing I find that I am quite biased when it comes to ballet – there is only the Bolshoi troupe and everything else is amateurs’ games. Be that as it may, my knowledge of modern ballet is so miniscule that I have no idea of how to even begin describing what I saw during the film, using proper terminology. Personally, I find modern ballet a more democratic form of art that is much closer to performance art and is more forgiving to people’s physical imperfections. This unequivocal and unashamed approach to the human body is perhaps the most startling thing for me. The dancers’ bodies transform into metaphors, their expressions seem to transcend languages, cultures and backgrounds. Some of the performances in the film were comedic, others sad, but in general they were all full of very raw, human emotions like longing, love and passion. I loved the colourful frocks the female dancers were wearing and the unusual settings for some of the scenes – there is an undoubtful closeness to nature and the dancers often co-operate with the elements.

I also kept thinking of various paintings that, in one way or another, had a similar impact on me. For example, the very first dance in the film, Le Sacre du Printemps reminded me of the Rape of the Sabine Women by Jacques Louis David. Many other paintings by Caspar David Friedrich, Joan Miro, Alphonse Mucha, etc kept jumping at me. I think the reason for this is the link between the surreal aspect of visual art and modern ballet – both operate on the subconscious level, drawing on dream imagery and ultimately manifesting in personal associations like this. I thought of paintings because this is what I study everyday, someone else might think of books, music or films. All in all, this documentary was an incredible visual journey, devoid of words and full of expression. Aesthetically, this was one of the most beautiful things I have seen in a very long time.