Friday, April 25, 2014

Minireview: Kin-Dza-Dza! (1986)

Oddball Russian sci-fi that somehow, as it drags along, drags one along with it. While I have a feeling I missed a lot of jokes by being American, it still has internationally funny moments, and as an effort of world-building it's terrific, being a sort of steampunk Tatooine-esque dystopian wasteland. The second half incorporates unexpected moral choices that add depth to what would otherwise be merely a weird, minimalist social satire.

And for what it's worth, Stanislav Lyubshin's Uncle Vova is the Russian Harrison Ford. The guy is coolness personified. To extend the comparisons, Gedevan would be a weird Shia LaBeouf, and the alien musicians would be two long-lost members of a Monty Python-Coen Brothers mash-up.


4/5 stars.

Hannah Long

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Endeavour Season 2 - Neverland - Episode Review

My review of last week's episode: Sway

The season finale begins with Nunc Dimittis, the Canticle of Simeon (here's a good recording):

Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant
depart in peace
according to Thy Word,
for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation
which Thou hast prepared
before the face of all people.
To be a Light to light on the Gentiles
And to be the glory of Thy people Israel.
Glory be to the Father
And to the Son
And to the Holy Ghost,
As it was the beginning,
Is now and ever shall be,
World without end. Amen.

The music is intercut with scenes of D.I. Thursday who, like Morse at the very beginning of the season, is taking a medical exam. Resembling Simeon, Thursday feels the encroachment of age, and the advent of a younger generation. We’ve always known that, however enjoyable, the Thursday-Morse partnership couldn’t go on forever. From the first moments of Neverland, we feel that gentle shift begin.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Minireview - Casino Royale (2006)

A surprising and compelling addition to the Bond franchise, with one of the most epic opening fight scenes ever. Daniel Craig creates a role with confidence, toughness, and just enough vulnerability. The film examines the consequences of Bond's assassin lifestyle and the emptiness behind it all. For the man who has everything, by the end of the film he has surprisingly little.

Still, it manages to be a fun action movie, with a stellar villain in Mads Mikkelson, and a classy, clever female counterpart to Bond in Eva Green's Vesper Lynd.

4/5 stars

Hannah Long

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Endeavour Season 2 - Sway - Episode Review

My review of last week's episode: Nocturne

Endeavour is certainly hitting all the common detective series Trope episodes early on. Usually, it takes a few seasons before we have the Serial-Killer-With-A-Vendetta-For-Our-Hero episode, or the Meet-The-Family episode, or the Old Flame episode. Endeavour used all three in the first season. I initially thought this week's installment was a repeat of Fugue - a Serial Killer thriller, but it turns out the mystery itself is secondary to the emotional drama of an Old Flame.

Here's the thing though: for once, it's not Morse's old flame, it's Thursday's. This gives quite an unusual texture to the story, and once again focuses more on Morse's boss than the protagonist himself (I'm not complaining). Like Home, another Thursday-central episode, a pivotal theme is family. Sway focuses on marriage, love, and fidelity. (Spoilers ahead.)

The story itself comes second to the character drama. A serial killer is on the loose in Oxford (once again), strangling married women with a pair of fancy silk stockings. Morse tracks the stockings to a department store called Burridge’s, where a number of highly suspicious men stalk the stocking aisles. In the course of these investigations Morse meets an Italian woman named Luisa, who, the instant Thursday enters the room, collapses in a dead faint. This scene was probably a lot funnier than it should have been.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Endeavour Season 2 - Nocturne - Episode Review

My review of last week's episode: Trove

This week’s episode of Endeavour takes a Scooby-Doo twist, complete with a haunted mansion, creepy little girls, and a historical mystery. Most series have one or two murder-in-the-past episodes, practically all the Sherlock Holmes short stories have some link to history, with Poirot it’s Five Little Pigs and Elephants Can Remember, with Father Brown The Sign of the Broken Sword, with Morse The Wench is Dead.

Endeavour goes back to a massacre in the 1800s. Morse becomes involved while investigating a murder in a museum. Questioning witnesses leads him to a girls’ school, where a small band of students are staying for the summer holidays. Soon enough he sense foul play and delves into the place’s history, discovering the legend of Bloody Charlotte, the only survivor of the Victorian massacre, and possibly the culprit.

Needless to say, this means the house is haunted, and quite a few heart-thumping sequences ensue. Honestly, Morse and Thursday (while showing their usually quality) take backseat to the small, earnest drama in the school, and the excellent performances from the young actresses. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Endeavour Season 2 - Trove - Episode Review

My review of last season's finale: Home

Endeavour Morse has always been the Doctor Who of detectives—a dynamic main character who draws us through plots of varying degrees of ridiculousness. If you can’t laugh at the inherent absurdity, it simply will not work. This episode is particularly tangled, with three wildly different threads turning out to be connected. I think.

Shaun Evans and Roger Allam return for a second series of this popular (and excellent) prequel to Inspector Morse, starring respectively as D.C. Endeavour Morse and his mentor-cum-sidekick, the lovingly decent Inspector Thursday. Overall, the episode is a welcome return to the homicidal society of Oxford (I immediately smiled to hear the closing theme song), though, as I said, weak in plotting.

The ritual montage of suspects and clues punctuate the opening credits, intercut with scenes of Morse taking a medical exam. He’s back on the job after a four-month hiatus due to the injury he sustained during last year’s season finale (which, incidentally, explains John Thaw’s slight limp.) The transition is somewhat rocky, as Thursday and Morse find it difficult to slip back into the easy banter of earlier days (though they still have the same incipient chemistry). Thursday is worried by Morse’s increased reliance on drink and is trying his best to curb the young man’s habit.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Ordet (1955) - Review

Ordet – The Word

I’m not inclined towards hyperbole, but I seriously think this little-known Danish drama has had an effect on me that is completely unique in my entire history of film-going. It’s a mixture of the dark, bizarre, confusing, inspirational, and sublime. I’ve never seen anything like it.

So now we’re clear on that, I’ll describe the plot itself. Carl Theodor Dreyer adapted the screenplay from a (much wordier) play, and the influence can be felt in the few locations and small cast, but it is the stronger for the narrow scope.

Picture a bleak, windblown farm in 1920s Germany. Here live the Borgen family, ruled by a pious, disillusioned patriarch. Most of his disappointment stems from the fact that his second son, Johannes, whom he was grooming to be a spiritual revolutionary (presumably the next Martin Luther), went mad. Now Johannes wanders the moors, wailing ancient prophecies into the wind.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Noah - Movie Review

Should you see this film? Should you not see it? I think the only thing I can positively say is: Don’t see it with your grandmother.

Darren Aronofsky ruffled feathers by proclaiming his new movie Noah the “least Biblical Biblical film ever made.” This is true, if your definition of “Biblical” is “stars Charlton Heston and has an anti-Communist agenda,” as The Ten Commandments did (it’s notable they both have subplots which didn’t occur in the Bible). Noah breaks numerous Bible movie conventions, and though its iconoclastic bent can be over the top, it effectively utilizes this alienating tactic to shock the audience into seeing the story with new eyes.

First thing to go is the traditional flamboyant Middle-Eastern attire, replaced by dull tunics of animal skin right out of either the Paleolithic era or a modern dystopia. I incline towards the latter, because the film lacks a real dimension of age. The world doesn’t seem young (should it?)—but rather old and decrepit and empty. It’s a bad sign when the majority of the striking visual shots can be contained in a film’s trailer.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Princess Mononoke - Movie Review

Today, the middle ages are nearly synonymous with superstition and bigotry. Decrying witch trials and corrupt priesthoods, we hook our ideological thumbs through our progressive suspenders and sit back, having successfully shifted the focus from the death toll of the 20th Century. But I tend to think medieval times get a hard rap. G.K. Chesterton said that modern man expects to find in the middle ages “a pessimism that is not there, a fatalism that is not there, a love of the barbaric that is not there, a contempt for reason that is not there.” What they do find is a respect for the spiritual completely absent in modern life.

And that’s my favorite part of Hayao Miyazaki’s 1997 film, Princess Mononoke. It combines simple visual beauty (on a level only mocked by flashy CGI) with incredibly creative fantasy. The first third of the film is spent, mostly, in world-building, establishing an alternate reality that gave the impression of spilling off the edges of the map. I would never have predicted it, but this anime world reminds me of nothing so much as Tolkien’s Middle Earth in its intriguing depth.

It’s important to note that while it's anime, it’s not Pok√©mon. Miyazaki is a serious filmmaker, and to all intents and purposes, it’s a thoughtful, adult movie touching on much deeper themes than your average Hollywood flick. Fantastic creatures and verdant landscapes rear upon our sight, yet still their loveliness possesses the ability to surprise (a quality lacking, for instance, in Peter Jackson’s latest, post-card perfect vistas—his first trilogy felt less faultless, and more real.)