"And Amélie, they come and go, the shadows and the distant sounds, but… More"And Amélie, they come and go, the shadows and the distant sounds, but Amélie don't be afraid, when the weight of angels weighs you down!" Elton John is the only way to go for a song reference in this case, because you know you're in for one seriously gay adventure when you look at a French name whose full title translates as "The Fabulous Destiny of Amélie Poulain". I'm more amazed by how we ignorant Americans went from that to simply "Amélie", although we must not be too ignorant, because this is an overlong title after all, and we kicked Jean-Pierre Jeunet out after "Alien Resurrection". In case you don't have a clue on how lame "Alien Resurrection" is, the director went from that to a French romantic-comedy with a title who translated into "The Fabulous Destiny of Amélie Poulain". Mind you, before "Alien Resurrection", he studied the aftermath of the apocalypse through "Delicatessen", and children being kidnapped for the sake of terrible scientific experiments in "The City of Lost Children", but at this point, I suppose it's safe to say that fluff, if not intentional comedy is where he should stay. I'd say so, because through this film, he did the impossible and made a French film that is actually very popular in the states, although he probably couldn't have done it without a superficial romantic comedy plot, or, you know, the gay community. Well, in all fairness, for a French film, this is plenty of fun, at least more so than "Alien Resurrection", which isn't to say that it doesn't have a tendency to get carried away.
Look, now, there is simply no discussing this film without touching upon how blasted eccentric (Un) it is, because even its story and characters are essentially nothing if not whimsical, often to the point of being fun, and just as often to the point of getting on your nerves as too improbable to take in the context of a film this fluffy. Perhaps the fluff would be easier to embrace if the scripted interpretation of an overly cheesy story wasn't itself overly cheesy, as well as unrealized with its level of maturity, jarring between a somewhat mature, sometimes even risky attitude as a comedy, and a juvenility that takes what sophistication there is to this eccentric (Deux) affair out. I guess that would be fine if the uneven humor wasn't also uneven in its hits, for there are more than a few fall-flat moments in which the comedy is overbearingly corny, due to its being so overwrought and, of course, eccentric (Trois), just like the style of the film. This might very well be a formulaic rom-com, but its style is so unique and so top-notch that this film feels as though it's doing the unlikely and freshening up a tired filmmaking style, yet Jean-Pierre Jeunet still manages to mess that up at times, for this film is so heavily reliant on a fabulous, but - you guessed it - eccentric (Quatre) style that it begins to lose a sense of substance, wearing you down, and having plenty of time to do so. Though simply about two hours long, this film is overlong, because from an overdrawn background development segment, to segment shifts in the an episodic narrative about an eccentric (Cinq) lead encountering eccentric (Six) misadventures on her way to help eccentric (Sept) people, many aspects go dragged out to the point of focal unevenness, with help from filler that gets to be near-monotonous, and decidedly aimless. Really, the film simply gives you plenty of time to think about how eccentric-I mean, huit-I mean, light it is, because as inspired as this film is, perhaps to the extent of being relatively outstanding for what it is in a lot of place, what it is remains a thin fluff piece, made all the more inconsequential by too much cheese, style and fat around the edges. The final product doesn't truly reward, but for what it is, it surprisingly comes close, on the back of solid fun and, of course, artistry.
Aesthetic value thrives in this very French fluff piece, and that is reflected pretty heavily even within experimental musician Yann Tiersen's outstanding score, which utilizes archived and new pieces by the artist which carry an old-fashioned flavor to tight, either tastefully minimal or complex compositions in order to craft a colorful score which is both gorgeous by its own right, and about as fitting for this whimsical affair as impressive technical value. The film doesn't play with effects too much, but when it does, although the effects are intentionally surrealistic, they're relatively well-rendered and very well-conceived, capturing the fantastic aspects of this eccentric (Neuf) world which is further brought to life by immersively creative art direction by Volker Schäfer that is made all the more attractive by absolutely captivating cinematography by Bruno Delbonnel. Man, if you see this film for no other reason, see it simply to see how astonishingly good-looking it is with its being a definitive showcase of the great Delbonnel's vibrantly lush emphasis on bright colors against dreamy backlighting, and stylish camera angles, as the visual style of this film is so refreshing that it succeeds about as much as anything at pleasing on an aesthetic level in this artistically, well, marvelous fluff piece. The technical value of the film is outstanding, but before it can allow the film to transcend certain shortcomings and come closer to rewarding than the usual fluff piece of its nature, Jean-Pierre Jeunet needs to know what he's doing as director, and sure enough, as overwrought as he gets with his style, immersive framing, flashy editing and memorably nifty visuals have to be seen in order to be believed as heights in consistently lively scene structuring that go a long, long way making this film, at the very least a great deal of fun. For this entertainment value, credit is due both to Jeunet and to Guillaume Laurant, whose writing, quite frankly, gets to be a mess at times, what with its being so overbearingly overlong, uneven, juvenile and, course, eccentric (Dix), but still succeeds in molding delightful set pieces and plenty of fun comedy, all backed by memorably eccentric (Onze) roles who are actually sold better by quite the colorful cast. Most everyone who receives an extended amount of spotlight steals it, with thorough charm that still can't hold a candle to that of the perfectly well-cast and impossibly adorable Audrey Tautou, whose distinct look and impeccable and immersed portrayal of a uniquely eccentric (Douze) young woman who is shy, yet unpredictably imaginative makes the titular lead role of Amélie Poulain effective as an offbeat audience avatar, and so memorable that she one will find it hard to deny that she is iconic. As a uniquely stylish and distinct fluff piece, I'm telling you, this film does so very much right, it's just that what it does wrong makes it impossible to disregard the inconsequentiality which secure the final product as a little underwhelming, but if you're seeking originality and fun out of a rom-com, you're looking in the right direction if you spot this eccentric (Treize) affair.
When the fantasy ends, the harsh reality that this is a rather inconsequential flick goes stressed by too much improbability, cheese, - much of which is uneven in style - overstylization and uneven, or at least aimless excess to storytelling, though not so much overbearingness that beautiful score work, nifty effects, immersive art direction, stellar cinematography, outstandingly stylish direction, and colorful writing and acting - particularly by an iconic Audrey Tautou - fail to secure "Amélie", or, for you eccentric (Quatorze) folk who like overlong titles, "Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain" as a thoroughly fun, if both underdone and overdone modern classic of a French fluff piece. ...Excentrique (Fifteen)!
2.75/5 - Decent
"Naked, I just want to... stop that song reference right there. Yeah,… More"Naked, I just want to... stop that song reference right there. Yeah, forget Falco, although, honestly, I can't say that he's too much cheesier than reference that I don't mind going on in my head when I see this film's title: "You walk into the room, with your pencil in your hand; you see somebody naked, and you say, 'Who is that man?'". It's an at least more fitting reference, because this film can get a little weird at times, and on top of that, this film is a production by [u]Thin Man[/u] Films. Mike Leigh must be a Bob Dylan fan, which would make sense, because he seems to be about as passionate as Dylan is about talking about middle and working-class society in a slightly serious manner that's still kind of amusing, whether he intends for it to be or not. I'm really not sure if he's trying to be funny here, because as cheesy as the title sort of is, this film is a little toned down, comically speaking, for Leigh, as well it should be if it's going to have so much rape, as that's hardly a laughing matter. Now, if the lead were to suddenly turn into a werewolf and eat the woman or something, that would be a little more colorful, even though I can't say that I would be especially surprised. Well, maybe I would be a little surprised, because this film came out 11 years before "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban", but as crazy as David Thewlis has always looked, he's got to be some kind of creepy, supernatural creature in real life, which is where we get this, "Werewolves East of London" (Within the first ten minutes of the film, he really does "joke" about once being a werewolf), which is fair, but a bit of a challenge, often more so than at should be, at least as a character study.
A very modern black comedy about the British middle-class, this character piece thrives on problematic and obnoxious characters who are effectively drawn and well-portrayed, but just such tremendous jerks, or at least that's the case of David Thewlis' possibly manic-depressive Johnny lead. As for everyone else, you don't really find all that much time to determine if they're jerks or not, as the narrative is about the shenanigans of Johnny as he travels the grimy depths of London, - encountering colorful characters - which are rather episodic in their structure, and therefore at least about as uneven as the film's tone. This is supposed to be more serious and bleak than the usual Mike Leigh black comedy, but that just makes it all the more jarring when the film alternatives from pseudo-sophistication that sometimes comes down to philosophy and introspection, to fast-pace and rather grimy humor that is often low-brow, with enough wit to snap and snap, until it becomes overwrought. I don't even see how people as British as those portrayed in this film can consistently understand what in the world is being said in this exercise in frantic and vulgar improvisation, as the dialogue is so often so overbearing that you can't help but get worn down, even though this is supposed to be something of an intellectual affair. This film can't seem to figure out where exactly it's going, no matter how long it takes to get there, because by running just a pinch over 130 minutes, this film is way too blasted long to have only so much going on, yet still be so overwrought and uneven. Like I said, the film is rather challenging, and not entirely in a good way, for although it has plenty of effective humor and other aspects, when it gets carried away, it's rather aggravating, and decidedly exhausting. This film isn't for everyone, but for me, even though I'm not consistently impressed, I find plenty to commend through all of the grime, particularly when I find some taste.
Well, if nothing else encompasses some taste, it's Andrew Dickson's score, which is not very dynamic or memorable, but is still unique with its moderate brood and whimsy, whose distinction from the grime isn't so contradictory that it fails to add some color. Really, there is plenty of color in this film, it's just that it's typically very black, even within Mike Leigh's script, which features problematic characters and overwrought, often improvised-feeling dialogue, and doesn't really do much beyond that, but hits pretty hard when it finds highlights in dark humor and intriguing characterization, both of which are sometimes anchored by an unexpected, if slightly jarring incorporation of sophistication. The film is either exhaustingly low-brow - what with its overbearing attempts at wit in the midst of freneticism - or thoroughly intelligent as a grimy take on philosophy, sociology and existentialism, and such a formula makes for a sloppy, but interesting script to be brought to life by lively direction. Leigh's direction might also be lively to the point of being overbearing, but its style is pretty sharp, whether it be a visual style whose grit compliments a sense of bleakness that defines the blackness of this comedy-dramar (It's so British that you have to tack on that "r"), or airtight framing and scene structuring that proves to be rather immersive. The film is certainly pretty engaging with its aesthetic, no matter how much it wears you down, and considering that momentum never falls that much throughout an overdrawn and overblown course, entertainment value never truly abates, often anchored by some genuine charm that is itself anchored by plenty of genuine charisma within the cast. As I said earlier, the characterization of this grimy affair is problematic and obnoxious, but if nothing else sells the characters as worthy of your investment, it's the convincing performances found all across the board, especially within the show-stealing Katrin Cartlidge, and the enthralling David Thewlis, whose overwrought lead role is hard to get into, but made actually fairly compelling because of Thewlis' commitment, which sells a sense of dysfunction within the lead, particularly when dramatic material presents itself for Thewlis to do justice through heavy emotional layers. Thewlis and his peers, found both on and off of the screen, do a decent job of carrying this film beyond its shortcomings as an entertaining and sometimes thought-provoking challenge.
All in all, problematic characters are handled about as unevenly as the film's tone, which is predominantly obnoxiously abrasive to the point of wearing you down the more the film drags its feet along an overdrawn course that doesn't entirely pays off, but does manage to spare the tasteful scoring, generally intelligent writing, lively direction and powerful acting which make Mike Leigh's "Naked" an intriguing, or at least entertaining, if overwrought black comedy.
2.5/5 - Fair
A name doesn't get too much more British gangster than Dom, but… MoreA name doesn't get too much more British gangster than Dom, but Hemingway, well, I don't know where that's coming from. Don't go thinking that this is "Do[u]n[/u] Hemingway", because this is hardly about Ernest Hemingway's days as a mafia head, although it may be, because it has nothing to do with good ol' Ernie. It is about a seriously hardcore criminal who keeps getting in trouble, no matter how much they stick him in prison, so I was thinking that this was kind of like Bronson, in that it was about an impossibly British criminal using an American icon's name for an alias. Shoot, this Hemingway is an aggressive drunkard out to get his, and not caring what anyone else thinks, so maybe this really is about Ernest, although I would be that angry if I went from looking like Jude Law to looking like this. Mind you, Law is only about as rough-looking as they could make him, but I really wouldn't want to mess with him when he's like that, and I wouldn't mess with him when he's pretty, because he does have that sort of silent intensity that I'm sure would lead to a whooping. Here, the only big difference is that he's anything but quiet, because, wow, this film can get a little obnoxious at times. Well, it's still a good performance by Law, but the film itself, I don't know, it's not quite what I was hoping for out of this film, for reasons extending beyond the fact that I was kind of expecting Ernest Hemingway in the mafia.
While not quite as predictable as I feared, this film is pretty formulaic as a black-crime comedy about an ex-con seeking resolution for what he feels is due to him as a criminal, and it is made all the more conventional by boasting a very British style of storytelling, complete with overstylization. A somewhat toned down, yet nonetheless notable continuation of the Danny Boyle-inspired movement of hyper-stylization in British cinema, this film has a tendency to get a little carried away with its flashy editing and frantic pacing, which bloat style, often at the expense of substance which is lacking enough in concept. This is ultimately a rather inconsequential story concept that is entertaining, but not exactly rich, being light in magnitude, no matter how much it can get carried away as rather improbable. Of course, the grimy characterization gets carried away as much as anything in this black comedy, because even though the characters are memorably colorful and charismatically portrayed, it's hard to get invested in them, as they're all such dirtbags, including, if not especially the titular lead (He reportedly killed a cat, so he loses a ton of points from me for that). At the very least, the likability of the characters and, for that matter, the entertainment value of the film are shaken by sheer obnoxiousness, deriving from the humor's often being characterized by a noisy onslaught of obscenities which dilute the tastefulness of a wit whose constant frantic snap also wears you down, to the point of feel low-brow. More often than not, the film is a lot of fun with its fusion of wit and grime as a comedy, but all too often, it's kind of annoying, distancing you from a formulaic narrative with problematic characters and a questionable degree of weight. The film is almost forgettable, but even though it's rather underwhelming, for what it is, it sticks with you through all of its effective tastes, even in music.
The film isn't especially musical, but when music does come into play, it doesn't do much with Rolfe Kent's decent score, being primarily celebratory of an outstanding unoriginal soundtrack which features anything from good, old-fashioned, no-nonsense British rock, to the occasional nifty classical piece, and does a lot to liven up the aesthetic value of this film, further complimented by consistently handsome and sometimes surprisingly gorgeous cinematography by Giles Nuttgens. Visual style stands solid in this film, but the stylistic sharpness within the directorial efforts of Richard Shepard do not end there, for although the film is very often overstylized with its frantic flashiness, when Shepard's orchestration of the sound mixing, scene structuring and editing - supervised by Dana Congdon - snaps, the film crackles. Again, Shepard will reach obnoxious extremes, but he never ever hits bland lows, keeping entertainment value consistent, very often to the point of making sure that the film is a whole lot of fun, largely thanks to his stylish direction, and just as largely thanks to his snappy writing. Shepard's script succumbs to a number of conventions when it comes to modern British comedy, and among those tropes is a messiness to the juggling of exhausting wit and obnoxious, often simply uncalled-for low-brow touches, but when realization to Shepard's colorful writing is found, man, it's just about sparkling, with memorable characterization and heights in humor which range from charming to all-out hilarious. Intensely snappy and audacious, this film challenges your patience and tolerance, and if you're able to take it for what it is, while you should hardly expect anything outstanding, you're sure to enjoy yourself, as it is so much fun and so charm in so many ways, yet wouldn't be that to this extent if it wasn't for such a fittingly charming cast. As expected, if nothing else stands out in this film, it's a cast full of memorably charismatic performances of which, the most memorable of which being by Jumayn Hunter, Demián Bichir, Richard E. Grant and, of course, leading man Jude Law, who is so deeply transformative in his sparklingly charismatic and, in some ways, nuanced portrayal of a brutal and self-indulgent criminal who is hardly predictable - particularly when he finds a heart - that he proves to be rather outstanding, molding a lead who endears through all of his flaws as memorable and sometimes even sympathetic. Law is a little bit held back by his being handed little actual dramatic material, but he does firmly remind us of his under-explored talents and carries this film a long way, maybe not to where the final product can transcend its shortcomings and even border on rewarding, but certainly to where the patient are sure to be thoroughly entertained.
Bottom line, the film falls into formula and overstylization almost as obnoxious as unlikable character aspects and an exhaustingly frantic, often low-brow sense of humor, all behind a story of little depth to begin with, thus, this effort cannot transcend underwhelmingness, but on the backs of an excellent soundtrack, lovely cinematography, entertainingly stylish direction, colorful and often riotous writing, and across-the-board glowingly charming performances, - the most endearing of which being by Jude Law - "Dom Hemingway" stands as an inconsequential, but fun black comedy.
2.5/5 - Fair
Some might question how Mick Travis got to be successful enough to be… MoreSome might question how Mick Travis got to be successful enough to be a reporter, what with his questionable competence, but weird, news-worthy stuff seems to be following him everywhere, so he may as well make a career out of it, kind of like how Malcolm McDowell made a career out of playing Mick Travis. Seriously though, folks, the luck man is back, for the final time, and it only took him nearly ten years since "O Lucky Man!" to get to this point. Well, it does take just about ten years to watching, and films like "A Clockwork Orange", "Caligula" and most everything else that Malcolm McDowell was in during the '70s were more-or-less continuations of the "Mick Travis" saga, but Lindsay Anderson still took his time to wrap things up. Maybe he wanted to just leave it with "O Lucky Man", not really wanting to make the spin-off about the mad scientist in "O Lucky Man!", and Alan Price just had Anderson make another movie for him to score once he realized that leaving The Animals probably wasn't the most financially wise thing he could have done. No, Price had a respectable solo run (He isn't dead yet, just his career), but the most memorable thing he had going for him around the time he worked on this film was yet another cover of "The House of the Rising Sun", so it's not like he had much better to do. Yeah, maybe this wasn't the financially wise project for Price, because the funny thing about a slow black comedy that makes fun of society and agencies to support health is that they're not exactly marketable. That's a shame, because this film has some worthy things to say... or at least I think it does, because as decent as this film is, I can't tell what exactly is going on, partly because the film doesn't say much about who is involved.
Never even coming out to tell us whether this Mick Travis role who stands at the focus of all of this absurdity is a consistent character or simply a stock everyman who changes to fit the distinct aim of each installment in Lindsay Anderson's "Mick Travis Trilogy", this film saga of black satire has never really been characterization, so, although they're not among the biggest issues of the final product, developmental shortcomings distance you from the characters and their stories almost as much as the weirdness which no amount of flesh-out in the context of this narrative can completely compensate for. I don't suppose this film is quite as bizarre as the shamelessly bonkers "O Lucky Man!", but, make no bones about it, this film is maybe a little too weird at times, with many set pieces that are simply effectively satirical in their surrealism, and at least just as many set pieces that are way too over the top to even be embraced as thematic. It doesn't exactly help that the themes are convoluted, being worthy and adequately palpable about as often as not, but overwrought and excessive, to the point of convolution that is made all the worse by an excessive plot structure. Ever so shockingly, there's not really a whole lot of Mick Travis here, and that's because he's fighting with everyone else for the attention of the storytelling, whose focus is so uneven that it's unreal, spending way too much time with each story in this ensemble pieces, until a sense of overall progression in this layered narrative is more-or-less lost. Excess is ultimately the key problem here, because even though this is far from as overblown as, say, the three-hour-long "O Lucky Man!", there's simply too much going on, and to make a sense of aimlessness all the worse, pacing is slow, or at least feels like it, when backed by a trademark British dryness. Lindsay Anderson has come a fair distance since the perhaps artistically subdued "if...", to where, to one extent or another, this film is plenty of fun, but its cold spells, combined with a startlingly excessive narrative, ultimately prove to be exhausting more often than it probably should. The film is a bit of a challenge, but if you're able to embrace it for what it is, there is honestly plenty of entertainment value to take in, even within Anderson's both dry and colorful storytelling.
Perhaps the toning down of a rather dull, almost abstractionist form of dryness to Lindsay Anderson's direction derives from Anderson's toning down on style altogether, which makes it harder to get past the simple British dryness that is still a little bland, but when Anderson does, in fact, pick up some momentum with moderate stylistic flare and a tight orchestration of colorfully written set pieces, entertainment value sparks. Like I said, once you get used to the film, more often than not, it's not simply entertaining, but a lot of fun, and for that, credit is due to Anderson, or at least Anderson's solid work with such colorful aspects as, say, the performances. Anderson and writer David Sherwin may have never been that good at fleshing out colorful characters as much more than supplements to surrealist thematic value, yet Anderson has always been good at getting lively performances out of people, and sure enough, from the underused Malcolm McDowell as one of everyone's favorite British everymen, to Leonard Rossiter, Graham Crowden, and most all other members of this immense cast, there is an electric amount of charm. If nothing else drives this film throughout its course, it's a solid cast full of charisma, but that's not the only thing which endears you to a story that, to be fair, was always going to do a decent job of holding your attention. The actual dramatic substance of this comedy is certainly thin, and if there is meat on the bones of this story concept, then it is typically convoluted excess that the film can hardly keep a coherent grip on, and yet, with plenty of lively layers, and such intriguing themes as the flaws of contemporary British medicine and society, and the dangers within trying to make a change, this story concept holds plenty of potential for color that is done a degree of justice by Anderson's direction, and a considerable deal of justice by the performances and, to a less consistent extent, the writing. David Sherwin's writing is a mess of convoluted focus and themes, all backed by a rather subdued pace, yet it does still carry plenty of color here, with interesting, if thin characters and set pieces, as well as many, many aspects of black humor whose occasionally disturbing audacity, wit and fluff range from pretty amusing to all-out hysterical. The film is a riot at times, and when it's not, it's adequately entertaining, and although that doesn't get this messy film too far, it does get you by, if you can go with this crazy affair, that is.
When it's time to check out, there's not much exposition to endear you to overly weird character in overly weird scenarios whose thematic value is about as convoluted as the focally uneven, overlong and occasionally dry directed narrative itself, thus, the final product falls as underwhelming, despite the lively highlights in colorful direction, charming acting, and often hilarious writing - all backed by an interesting, if overwrought story - that secure "Britannia Hospital" as a fairly entertaining, if challenging conclusion to Lindsay Anderson's classic black comedy trilogy.
2.5/5 - Fair
"If I go insane, please don't put your wires in my brain." I figured… More"If I go insane, please don't put your wires in my brain." I figured Pink Floyd was the way to go, because, wow, this film is about as weird a piece of '60s counterculture as psychedelic folk and rock, and Pink Floyd's "If" came out in 1970. That's right, people, this film is that old, and if that's not enough for you, it's Malcolm McDowell's film debut, which I should tell you that he's always been into pushing boundaries when it comes to portraying kids as the creeps they truly are. Mind you, not every creepy kid acts on a school shooting or anything like that, but the fact of the mater is that I'm wondering if the sequel to this film is really "O Luck Man!", or "A Clockwork Orange". It's an understandable misconception, because, come on, let's face it, Lindsay Anderson's "Mick Travis" trilogy has to be respected for having the audacity to admit that Malcolm McDowell played the same character throughout the height of his career. Shoot, in that case, you can forget the "trilogy" title, because as many films as McDowell has been involved in that are shockingly similar to this one, we're looking at a bona fide "Mick Travis" franchise here (I'm sure the spin-off TV show would make HBO cringe), and it all started with this. I suppose this is a fair way to kick off the saga, although the film does seem to have a little trouble figuring out what it's doing at times.
I'm not saying that this artistic endeavor gets to be a little uneven with its style, but even its occasional alternations from a colored palette to black-and-white proves to be jarring, about as much as the more recurrent issue of thematic storytelling's either getting too direct to be subtle, or often getting too subtle for more over-the-top plotting touches to feel effective as satire, or fit into the more grounded aspects of the narrative. This film does not expend depth for the sake of thematic value as much as it perhaps could have, what with the generally solid characterization and acting, but a sense of humanity remains rather shaken by a satirical placement of style over substance that isn't even particularly even. Even greater unevenness rests in focus, as the film bloats itself with some subplots and branches that feel either a tad inconsequential or rather overblown, due to storytelling's finding difficulty in prioritizing the degree to which it focuses on its layers. Really, the structure of this plot is all sorts of overblown, as it's predominantly reliant on filler and meandering material to slowly, but surely unravel a narrative that just ends up coming out to be a whole lot of nothing, punctuated by bite. That's fine, I suppose, as there is enough color to storytelling to keep entertainment value adequate throughout overlong and meandering plotting, but things really start going downhill when that entertainment value lapses under dry spells, of which there are many to bland things up, and sometimes simply bore. At the very least, the cold direction further thins down resonance that is always challenged in this generally well-crafted, yet thoroughly flawed artistic effort. The final product is rather underwhelming, but it is indeed pretty enjoyable, challenging your patience, then securing it enough for you to embrace, if nothing else, the ideas behind this project.
A satirical study on youth's non-conformity's evolving into savage resistance against harsh peers and a questionable education system, this black comedy's plot concept is problematically driven by meanderings, yet still intriguingly worthy and chillingly daring, as well as surprisingly original, at least in its interpretation. Lindsay Anderson's direction intentionally carries a sort of distinctly British and abstractionist chill to its atmosphere that feels pretty limp, and does a lot to hold back the final product's engagement value, and yet, there's still something inspired about the directorial efforts here, for although style is even uneven, when it bites, it livens things up a considerable deal, while moments of realization to more subdued storytelling all but resonates. There's a certain entertainment value throughout this nonetheless often bland film, as there's almost always something for Anderson to soak up with his thoughtful storytelling and subtly sharp style, whose sense of nuance is aided by Anderson's work with a solid cast of talents. There's a certain lack of humanity in this film which is often too intensely focused up its stylistic and thematic value, so there's not much material for the performers to work with, but whether it be distinguished veterans or then-up-and-coming and now-distinguished young talents, most everyone delivers on pretty thorough charisma, if not more human layering than what is offered in David Sherwin's script. If this film has nothing else, it has an artistic confidence that is very charming, and sometimes about as effective as it can be in a film so slow and thin in focus, particularly within a script that, as irony would have it, is about as notable as any strengths, just as it is as notable as any flaw. For every misstep, Sherwin turns in a highlight, whether it be within a wit that, when backed by a realization in tone for this black comedy, amuses, sometimes outstandingly, or within offbeat characterization and set pieces that combine with an already thematically harrowing plot in order to bring the final product a uniqueness which makes the value of this effort a little easier to embrace. What keeps the final product from falling as memorable is largely thought-provoking themes, although the thematic value is not the only thing which holds your attention throughout a bland, but ultimately well-stylized and biting satire.
In the end, an uneven style at least keeps consistent in dehumanizing this character study, while focal unevenness derives from a defining structural dragging that is made all the more challenging by the directorial dull spells which render the final product underwhelming, but through generally confident direction, charismatic performances, and clever writing which does an adequate deal of justice to unique and daring subject matter, Lindsay Anderson's "if..." stands as a reasonably engaging and sometimes engrossing black comedy, despite its misguided spots.
2.5/5 - Fair
Don't get too cozy about the days of Caligula's being far, far behind… MoreDon't get too cozy about the days of Caligula's being far, far behind us, because if you go deep enough into Italy you're probably still going to find some sort of horrifying place of sexual depravity run by a high government. Well, jeez, do you think that fascism is bad, Pier Paolo Pasolini? If there is controversy surrounding the depravity of homosexuals, I don't think Pasolini helped with this film, because just when you think that Europeans have the classy gays, he goes off and does something like this. Shoot, if anything, this is a portrait on pansexual depravity, because they do pretty much everything in this film, which makes sense, because as you can see through "Salò, [u]or[/u] the 120 Days of Sodom", this film even has trouble deciding on which title to stick with, but the fact of the matter is that Pasolini had to have been a little messed up to come up with this. As a proud southern man, I am upset to say that I'm not surprised to find that a bunch of ignorant rednecks may have been responsible for this gay man's murder (They said it was because he was a "dirty communist", but you know that they were killing two birds with one car), although I am pretty surprised to find that the kind of rednecks who would do that were still sophisticated enough to visit Italy and know who the "artistic" Pasolini is. I like how Italy and France both had to team up in order to make this film come off as artistic, but if the two countries don't automatically make this film feel artsy, it's the fact that all of this sick stuff it going on, and yet the film is still boring. Shoot, forget simply being decent as a portrayal of indecency, because I think that this film might be as non-boring as it sort of is because it is so messed up, for there is plenty to challenge your attention, such as a lack of attention in characterization.
The film is driven by its characters, inasmuch as its driven by their struggles, because when it comes to depths to characterization, there's surprisingly little said to humanize the focuses of this character, and no matter how compelling the performances are, your investment in the leads goes loosened by shortcomings in written humanization, just like your investment in the disturbances. I get what this film is going for, and it's not as though it's tremendously pornographic in its portrayal of graphic sexual depravity and violence, but this drama really isn't too much more than an onslaught of overtly disturbing material that is either fairly effective or grotesquely gratuitous (The climax really is just too much). These disturbances are at least frustrating in their factoring into subtlety issues, because as a portrait on the corruptibility of men of power and their questionable leading systems, this brutal affair has a tendency to beat you over the head with its themes, through all of the disturbances, as well as some abrasive set pieces. The value of this drama is betrayed by subtlety issues, and it's already limited by natural shortcomings to this merely minimalist narrative about poor, trapped souls enduring the unspeakable whose limited dynamicity takes a lot of meat out of a drama that tries so hard to sink its teeth into you. Of course, when the film isn't biting too tightly, it's simply dragging, for although two hours isn't a sprawling runtime, writers Pier Paolo Pasolini and Sergio Citti get there partly through excessive material and filler, while Pasolini, as director, makes it all the more palpable with dry spells in direction that range from simply limp to all-out dull. This film is not as slow as I feared it would be, despite my knowledge of the brutality of the premise, but it's still a challenge the ones patience, just as its a challenge to your endurance, made all the more difficult by questionable depths to exposition and subtlety. The final product is underwhelming, but not exactly forgettable, not simply because its content is so unique and thought-provoking, but because when it's effective it really does do a fair deal of justice to worthy, if grimy ideas.
Not much goes on in this in underdeveloped, overtly disturbing and often unsubtle study on people of high power subjecting the innocent to degradation and torture, and in that sense, there are great natural shortcomings, but in truth, through all of the grime and pseudo-pornography is a study on the depravity and corruptibility of, not simply the powerful, but humanity itself that is important, and presented through a narrative that can at least be acknowledged for its sheer uniqueness. There may not be too much to this story, but it is original, and often genuine compelling, despite expository shortcomings, thanks to bona fide highlights in dramatic scripting by Pier Paolo Pasolini and Sergio Citti which molds some effective, if somewhat dehumanized characters, and is somewhat respectably unafraid to get disturbing. Sodomy, torture, dehumanization, famed excrement dining, and all sorts of other disturbing material is presented in full, brutal form throughout the film, and it's predominantly gratuitous, yet very often genuinely effective with its harrowing audacity, and with its thematic value, graced with some dramatic resonance by Pasolini's direction. Pasolini's storytelling is very often blandly dry, as well as overtly brutal, so it's not too much more tasteful than the lowlights in his and Citti's writing, but through anything from a noisy visual style to a gutsy attention to disturbing visuals, he establishes a biting sense of grit, and through moments of relative restraint, he brings the drama a surprising genuineness. No moment of resonance in this drama digs especially deep, but the fact of the matter is that there are some truly effective moments in this unnerving art drama, which could have been completely too grimy to be aesthetically effective, but has its moments of true impact. If nothing else anchors these occasions, it's the performances which bring more humanity to the characterization than the written exposition, for although the writing falls short, most every member in this cast - whether it be the portrayers of the depraved powerful, or the portrayers of the tortured, or the portrayers of those who accept, maybe even embrace horrifying realities - carries the charisma and dramatic layers needed to bring each role to life. The acting is as strong as any aspect of this film, but it's not the only thing worth commending in this drama, as there is enough realization to make this a fair, if, for multiple reasons, challenging drama.
When the days are done, underdevelopment dehumanizes the characters and makes all the more disconcerting the overtly disturbing happenings which limit subtlety, just as momentum is limited by natural shortcomings and some dulling pacing issues, until the final product finally collapses as underwhelming, even with the important subject matter, audacious scripting and direction, and strong performances which manage to secure "Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom" as a flawed and overwrought, but ultimately adequately effective portrait on the brutality of humans, particularly those of power.
2.5/5 - Fair
Man, Jerzy Michał Wołodyjowski is as Polish as a name can… MoreMan, Jerzy Michał Wołodyjowski is as Polish as a name can get. This film is so Polish that the main character and both writers are named Jerzy, and it's about Poland's involvement in a major war. It's kind of easy to forget about how Poland factored into the Ottoman Empire's invasions, but in case you're not already reminded by the fact that Poles have been involved in pretty much every war since Poland was established (I joke, but looking at how popular Polish names are in clichéd war movies, that might be about right), then this film will remind you, for a little over two-and-a-half hours. That would be a much bigger issue if it wasn't for the fact that this film kicked off the film series that featured the three-hour-long "With Fire and Sword" and, of course, the five-hour-long "The Deluge"... or concluded it, depending on how you want to look at it. For its adaptation to the screen, Henryk Sienkiewicz's classic trilogy about 17th century Polish conflicts begins the way it ended, and I mean that somewhat confusing statement literally, although that might be because Jerzy Hoffman just couldn't wait to get around to focusing on everyone's favorite character in this series. For those of you who wanted more of this Colonel Wołodyjowski who was so awesome in "With Fire and Sword" and "The Deluge", you must be reading the books, because you ought to get tired of him after two-and-a-half hours, and you've still got eight more hours to figure out where this reverse spin-off came from. I'm definitely kidding about that business about getting tired of all of this, because this is a pretty darn good series, though not all the way through, because as decent as this film is, for a number of reasons, it isn't the best way to begin... or, uh, end this saga.
In my opinion, tonal unevenness has been something of a notable characteristic of this series which has, on plenty of occasions, broken tension with some forced and often flat comic relief, and certainly stands here, though not nearly as firmly as it stands in either of the superior successors. Perhaps the tonal shifts feel a little less jarring in this particular installment because some form of cheese within the melodramatics is as prominent as they ever get to be, because no matter how compelling, this plot hits plenty of superficialities, if not contrivances in its overly romantic conflicts amidst a somewhat overblown take on warfare. The sense of melodrama is exacerbated by a sense of dating that, quite frankly, is brought more to your attention because the film is so edgy as a '60s melodrama in so many areas, only to eventually succumb to cornball dialogue, questionable acting and superficial directorial subtlety issues which can at least be commended for trying to liven up direction. Very often, Jerzy Hoffman falls into dry spells as a storyteller who gets the film going a fair distance, but dries out enough places to dull things out once you realize just how prominent dialogue is over action in this minimalist epic. You at least have time to think about that, because even though this film is pretty decisively the shortest in these adaptations of Henryk Sienkiewicz's trilogy, it's still around two-and-a-half hours long or so, and with the aforementioned dry spells at your back, retarding momentum, you can't help but feel all of the meanderings which threaten a sense of consequence, and went on to threaten the reward value of this film's successors. There were plenty of subtle, but notable improvements in "The Deluge" and "With Fire and Swords" which made some very goo epics, but alas, with this film, Hoffman's touches were still too rusty to compensate for the tonal unevenness, cheese, dry spells and pacing problems which make the final product rather underwhelming. With that said, this film is still endearing, with plenty of criticize, and a good bit to praise, even in concept.
Seeing as how I have not read the source material, I honestly can't say if this story concept is as worthy as those of "With Fire and Sword" or "The Deluge", as its value is so heavily obscured by a questionable interpretation, but I can tell you that this is still a conceptually engrossing, if talkative epic which explores biting themes and clever plays on scale about as much as heights in Jerzy Hoffman's and Lutowski's script. This script is riddled with histrionics, inconsistencies in tone, and, of course, fat around the edges, and what it does right is rarely all that outstanding, yet there's still a respectable deal of wit to it, if not an edge that actually freshens things up with genuineness and inspiration. Although the film all too often succumbs to typical superficialities of the time, there are some elements in the script that is, in fact, edgy, and that helps in drawing intriguing characters and an immersive story, whose engagement value is brought to life by, if nothing else, technical value. Mind you, that technical value is a little limited, whether it be because of financial and creative limitations, or simply because this story offers a surprisingly limited degree of scope, but the art direction of this film still manages to nail the dynamic visuals of 17th century Poland, whose scale is particularly played up in the midst of some grand action sequences that might not be those of "The Deluge" or "With Sword and Fire", yet are nonetheless well worth waiting for. Like its successors, this film is pretty chatty, and also like its successors, it delivers when it comes time to really flaunt the consequentiality of this intimate, yet layered epic, and punctuate a tighter dramatic structure whose effectiveness can make or break the engagement value of the final product. Jerzy Hoffman, as director, drops the ball when it comes to living up to the dramatic possibilities of this drama, for his direction is much less edgy than his and Lutowski's writing, yet still manages to reduce a sense of cheese through all around dry spells in atmosphere which retard momentum, but only so much, as Hoffman tightens up many scenes enough to hold some entertainment value, until delivering on powerful dramatic visuals and what have you which resonate, occasionally more so that most of the more effective moments in the more consistently compelling successors. There's a lot of potential being lost here, but there's also a fair bit of potential being fulfilled, and although there's not enough balance here for the final product to truly reward, the final product gets you by as fairly engaging, with somewhat rewarding occasions.
In the end... or the beginning, a certain inconsistency in tone and consistency in melodrama, in addition to moments of bland directorial dryness and structural dragging, wear down on the film until it finally falls short of rewarding, despite an intriguing story's being done enough justice by highlights in scripting, art direction, and directorial storytelling to secure Jerzy Hoffman's "Colonel Wolodyjowski" as a decent, yet flawed epic.
2.75/5 - Decent
Man, this title is a power metal ballad just waiting to happen ("With… MoreMan, this title is a power metal ballad just waiting to happen ("With the fire and the sword we carry on!" I told you, DragonForce fans!), but it's not like the filmmakers even knew that when they started adapting Henryk Sienkiewicz's trilogy back in the '60s. That's right, people, it's been a long, long while, but Jerzy Hoffman finally completes this Polish history trilogy in the way that seems only nature: ...with the first installment. I'd say that I don't know if I'm more baffled by the fact that it took Hoffman this long to come out with the follow-up to the, by 1999, 25-year-old "The Deluge", or by the fact that Hoffman adapted this trilogy in reverse order, but make no mistake, the latter is more shocking because as long as it takes to see the final version of "The Deluge", you know that whatever was next in this saga was going to take, like, at least 20 years to make. They spent those last five years trying to come up with the money to make this, [u][b]the most expensive Polish film ever made[/u][/b]... which still cost about $8 million in USD. Hoffman eventually topped that with "Battle of Warsaw" with only $9 million, so in case you have any doubts that Poland is full of Jews, just look at their standard for film budgets to get an idea of how stingy they can be with their money. That's a terrible thing to joke about, because Poland has fought for a long, long, long time, with many, many, many people, to uphold their honor, and if nothing else drives you to respect that, it's the fact that those conflicts have made for some pretty good movies. This one is no exception, as it was ostensibly precious money pretty well-spent, and yet, like this film's budget, there are a few laze-outs in the film's storytelling.
This is something of an old-fashioned historical epic, and by that, I mean that storytelling sticks with a worthy formula, perhaps a little too tightly, hitting trope after trope, occasionally glaringly, until it's able to break the norm with some tonal shifts that would be much more refreshing if they were much more realized. With this installment in Jerzy Hoffman's adaptation of Henryk Sienkiewicz's classic trilogy, tone is as uneven as it's ever been, as there will be so much tension for so long, before it goes broken swiftly and surely, with comic relief that is made all the more aggravating by an often juvenile cheesiness and flatness that even has the nerve to get trite. Actually, the humor isn't the only thing plagued with certain cheese and flatness, because if nothing else smooths out the transition to lighthearted fluff, it's dramatic weight's always being suppressed by some degree of melodrama that, as a matter of fact, shouldn't be too glaring. Of course, you are given the opportunity to gain a grip on how limited dramatic genuineness is here when you take into account an uneven sense of consequence in this film which derives from a lot of talk and little action, throughout a questionable course, no less. I think it's safe to say that this series set quite the standard for dragging through the arguably superior, yet nonetheless five-hour-long "The Deluge", but at about three hours, this film's runtime still feels a little bloated, at least with all of the inconsistencies that convolute a sense of layering and momentum to this subject matter of great scale, and of an interpretation of only so much realization. Enough is realized to make a rewarding film out of a promising story concept, but this is still more of the same, arguably with a little more tonal and focal unevenness than usual. I can't promise that this film will reward everyone, but I feel that those who go endeared by this epic ought to be thoroughly compelled, even on an aesthetic level.
I kind of question being so quick to laud Krzesimir Dębski's score, as it's exploration is also a little uneven, whether it be because it's so often underused or because it's so often undercooked, yet I still sing the praises for the many beautiful highlights in musical artistry which Dębski utilizes to supplement a sense of importance and scope to this epic. Production designer Andrzej Halinski and costume designers Magdalena Biernawska-Teslawska and Pawel Grabarczyk further supplement that sense by surprisingly subtly, yet unsurprisingly surely restoring 17th century Poland and Ukraine with convincing sweep and an impressive technical proficiency which immerses, partly with the help of worthwhile action sequences. As I said earlier, action is limited in this mostly very talkative epic of a melodrama, but when it does come into play, you can see where a, for Poland, unprecedented budget went, through sweepingly dynamic staging and style which reflect heights in Jerzy Hoffman's lively directorial efforts. Yes, Hoffman has his shortcomings, and ultimately doesn't do as much as he probably should to compensate for his and Andrzej Krakowski's scripted shortcomings, but the final product wouldn't be so compelling if Hoffman didn't do so much right, whether it be working with the style with adequate color, or getting some charismatic performances out of a solid cast. If nothing else, Hoffman really surprises by sustaining a great deal of liveliness, getting over the storytelling slow spells of the predecessors in this series and ultimately making sure that momentum never falls so greatly as to lose entertainment value, even though he can't keep momentum smooth enough to really stress the depths of this story. With that said, through all of its melodrama and reliance on chit-chat and what have you, this subject matter is so promising that it should be hard to make this drama underwhelming, and sure enough, uneven and formulaic storytelling can't entirely obscure the importance and magnitude of this dramatization of the Khmelnytsky Uprising, especially when the inspiration really does spark. There is always something throughout this film to keep you engrossed, whether it be the entertainment value, or the technical proficiency, or enough of a sense of consequence and scope to allow this overambitious and sometimes somewhat lazy epic to transcend its shortcomings as genuinely rewarding to the patient.
Overall, conventions and histrionics keep consistent in storytelling which often hits inconsistencies in tone and a sense of consequentiality throughout its overlong course, until reward value is threatened, almost miraculously secured by the beautiful score work, immersive art direction, solid action and lively direction which do just enough justice to a grand story concept to make Jerzy Hoffman's "With Fire and Sword" an ultimately fairly engrossing conclusion to the nonlinear film adaptation of Henryk Sienkiewicz's saga.
3/5 - Good
Before the Iceman... cameth (I guess), John Frankenheimer saw the… MoreBefore the Iceman... cameth (I guess), John Frankenheimer saw the coming of the birdman! Lame jokes aside, this is pretty much the definitive representation of all those bird symbols arguably too many prison dramas have to work in, which is only fair, seeing as how Robert Stroud actually kind of looked like a bird. I can see why birds, if you will, "flocked" to him, because he wished he looked like Burt Lancaster, although I suppose we'll have to run with it, seeing as how this is supposed to be a largely fictionalized biopic of Stroud. You have to at least give this film credit for its taking realistic liberties, because I don't know how ill-mannered Stroud could be in real life if he looked like Burt Lancaster. Actually, I don't know how much realism you can put into the biopic of Harvey Birdman, but this still ought to be an interesting way to kick off this cartoon franchise. I can't believe that this film is actually older than "Birdman and the Galaxy Trio", but that barely counts, because this film was probably still running by the time the Hanna-Barbera cartoon in question launched, five years after the projectors started up. I can't even joke about that after starting this article with a reminder of "The Iceman Cometh", and at any rate, the film keeps you interested, no matter how long it very much is.
As long as this film is, some focal unevenness derives from storytelling's paying little mind to the extensive development of plot layers and supporting roles which jar in and out as major narrative aspects, no matter how much exposition meanders for two-and-a-half hours. This film may be a study on most of a man's adult life, but its scale in minimalist, yet its structure is excessive, thus, it's only a matter of time before storytelling becomes repetitious, almost monotonous, due to the final product's taking so much time to say only so much, and hardly anything new as a biopic. This is ultimately a rather formulaic biopic which hits a number of tropes, including those of the time, such as some surprisingly cheesy dialogue pieces and happenings whose fluffiness proves to be almost as detrimental to a sense of weight as fluffiness to the drama itself. The film is a loose biopic, and therefore with a lot of opportunities to take liberties which really do feel manufactured, in their dramatics, whose histrionic conflicts, thin characterization and sentimental approach make a melodramatic film that ambitiously struggles to compensate for some lack of depth. Being fictionalized, this biopic has an opportunity to draw rich, challenging character as a study on a somewhat evil man showcasing redeemable qualities, but subtlety issues both demonize antagonistic men of justice, and glorify protagonistic men of crime, to where the film really does feel manufactured as an allegory against capital punishment, and superficial as a potentially gripping prison drama which falls victim to sensibilities of the time. Now, this story is so strong that the limited inspiration that goes into this film proves to be enough to make a rewarding final product, yet whether it be because of '60s superficialities or simply because structure and dramatics aren't quite as realized as they ought to be, the reward value goes challenged. Of course, in the end, if you're able to embrace this sometimes misguided melodrama, you'd be hard-pressed to not be engrossed, largely because of the subject matter.
Robert Stroud, arguably one of the most notorious criminals in American history, underwent more than his fair share of struggles during a prison life that defied capital punishment and saw Stroud doing the improbable by mastering of and making important contributions in the field of ornithology without ever leaving a cell, - until an eventual transfer took away everything he held dear in his life - and it's mighty challenging to make subject matter of that type uninteresting. As irony would have it, novelist Thomas E. Gaddis and screenwriter Guy Trosper dilute the value of this narrative by trying too hard to humanize the lead and juice up the dramatics surrounding him through fictionalizations, and yet, there are still more than a few areas of manufacturing which feel believable enough to actually supplement the value of this story, which still can't quite reward without being, at the very least, well-built. Set predominantly in a prison cell of some sort, this sprawling character study is intimate alright, to be the point of a minimalism that threatens intrigue by making the draggy storytelling feel repetitious, and yet, at the same time, the claustrophobic setting of this drama augments engagement value in a lot of ways, partly because of Burnett Guffey's black-and-white, yet captivatingly shadow-heavy cinematography, and largely because of John Frankenheimer. Frankenheimer had a knack for doing a good bit with very little, at least after a while, but here, his intimate direction falls slave to '60s dramatic sensibilities, thus, you shouldn't go in expecting a film as surprisingly engrossing as, say, 1973's "The Iceman Cometh", and yet, Frankenheimer's thoughtfulness - which never gets too slow - is allowed to thrive enough to play quite the important role in securing the final product as decidedly rewarding. Like I said, Frankenheimer's talents rest largely in his doing plenty of little, and sure enough, there's not much to praise in this very flawed film, but I also noted that there is a high value to this story concept to be done justice by generally inspired direction, and consistently inspired acting. Although acting material is pretty limited, just about every member of this small cast delivers as more convincing than the characterization of their roles, yet it does ultimately come down to the great Burt Lancaster, who, with little emotive flare, continues to showcase then-innovative acting sensibilities by utilizing impeccable charisma and nuance to sell the gradual aging and development of good intentions of a criminal with much that benefited the world to offer. The film very rarely takes focus away from Lancaster, and Lancaster never fails to prove himself worthy of all of the attention by carrying the final product, though not alone, because event though this drama could have been more, what it ultimately is is a melodrama which immerses and compels enough to reward the patient.
When the sentence is completed, uneven, repetitiously overdrawn and formulaic storytelling mixes with either manufactured-feeling or superficial dramatics in order to threaten the final product's reward value, which is ultimately firmly secured by the subtle, but solid strengths of gripping subject matter, immersive visual style, tasteful direction and strong acting - especially by the captivatingly nuanced Burt Lancaster - which make John Frankenheimer's "Birdman of Alcatraz" an ultimately rewarding, loose portrait on the life and times of one of America's most notorious criminals and ornithologists.
3/5 - Good
"Familiar music, familiar sound does mute your thoughts for the… More"Familiar music, familiar sound does mute your thoughts for the underground!" I chose to reference Curtis Mayfield's "Underground", of all the, like, 201 songs with that title, because we're dealing with the guy who made "Arizona Dream", so this ought to be trippy enough for the king of psychedelic R&B to fit. Yup, Emir Kusturica's American vacation is done, so now he's back in Serbia, and his movies are even longer than ever. Hey, I dig "Arizona Dream" and all, but that was hard enough to keep up with when it was thirty minutes shorter than this film and not primarily in Serbian, although, from what this title is telling me, Kusturica might not be a creative as you might think when he comes home. Man, this is an almost embarrassingly generic title, so if you can find the miniseries cut of this, at least embrace it for being creative enough to come up with the title "Once Upon a Time There Was... One Country". Interestingly enough, that's still more creative than "Underground", as well it should be, because if Kusturica was going to make this film nearly two-and-a-half hours longer, then he was going to have to advertise that he was upping the creativity, because, again, this version that we all - as in, like, six people - are familiar with is a little too long as it is. Oh well, at least the film is entertaining, even though it tries your patience a bit too much to be even close to as rewarding as something like "Arizona Dream", no matter how hard it very much tries to stay busy.
I've dropped insinuations that this film can't quite justify its sprawling length, but this story is very layered, it's just that it finds a little difficulty in juggling all of those layers organically, jarring between segments and events, until it becomes difficulty to stay focused on a convoluted epic of such uneven focus. About as uneven in this hyper-comic drama is, of course, tone, for tension is often defused by frequent fluff which makes such potentially weighty aspects as disturbing happening and imagery too awkward to be either funny or impacting, while diluting a sense of consequence. There is some difficulty in gaining a grip on a sense of urgency or, for that matter, scope, as it ambitiously strives to be both grand and fluffy, and fumbles in the long run. With that said, the film rarely strays too far away from absurdity, shamelessly diving, not simply into some melodramatics, but into all-out silliness, which is threatening to humor's effectiveness, and very detrimental to a sense of depth, whose potentially rich characters come off as objects of satire, and whose potentially gripping conflicts are near-criminally underplayed. There's certainly a respectable enough deal of juice to this narrative for the final product to at least border on decent, but all of the intentional fluff plagues this epic with, of all things, natural shortcomings, which leaves the epic length of over 160 minutes, at the very least, to wear you down a bit. The film is very entertaining throughout its course, so my greatest fear of getting bored does not find itself realized, but even greater issues which I did not expect stand firm, dragging out and softening the bite of this potentially sweeping drama, until the final product falls as a little too fluffy and decidedly too messy to be completely rewarding. Nevertheless, the fact of the matter is that there's always something to hold your attention, even if it can't hold your investment, although if all else fails when it comes to narrative value, there's always aesthetic value to resort to.
This film is startlingly European, so, yeah, if it's got nothing else going for it, it's got good looks, anchored by cinematography by Vilko Filač which boasts a haze that falls near-perfectly between light and bleak in a manner that is very handsome, and compliments the appeal of art direction by Branimir Babic, Vlastimir Gavrik, Vladislav Lasic and Martin Martinec (Give me a second, because I just got a Serbian overload. ...Okay, ја сам добро-I mean, I'm good) that distinguishes this restoration of Yugoslavia's movement into modern history fairly grandly. The film certainly looks good, and on top of that, it subtly, but surely builds solid production value that does more justice to a potential sense of scope to storytelling so light that it makes it difficult to see just how worthy this epic's subject matter is. Of course, it is pretty hard to obscure the potential within this unevenly, inconsequentially and all around excessively told tale, because as a fictionalized account of two friends' struggles within themselves and among each other during Yugoslavia's important periods of change between the 1940s and the 1990s, this story concept is pretty intriguing, and it's not as though Emir Kusturica does a complete disservice to this story. With Duan Kovačević, Kusturica molds an overwrought script that stay focused in its progression and layering, and seems mostly occupied with fluff, rather than genuine bite, yet delivers on many a dynamic and lively set piece to keep monotony at bay, in addition to some highlights in colorful characterization. Most of all, Kovačević and Kusturica deliver on humor, which falls flat on more than a few occasions, particularly when it fails to gel with the dramatics which it attempts to satirize, but primarily ranges from chuckle-worthy to hilarious in its biting satire, witty dialogue, and, most of all, over-the-top slapstick, conceived well on paper, and brought to life by colorful direction. Kusturica, as director, was coming down from a high with "Arizona Dream" at this time, yet here, while he's not quite as overstylized, he's not nearly as controlled as he was in making alternations between delightfully quirky humor and powerful dramatic elements that were still not realized enough to make "Arizona Dream" all around outstanding, thus, this epic loses too much of a sense of scope and depth to truly reward, but it never loses entertainment value, thanks to consistently brisk pacing to direction, backed by often near-impeccably colorful work with style, humor, and charismatic performers that is sometimes resonant in its inspiration, particularly with, say, a powerful final act that still manages to stick a surreal landing. If there was more realization to the dramatic possibilities of this sprawling effort, then Kusturica would have rewarded, and even stood a chance of striking with a second strong surrealist dramedy in a row, but when it's all said and done, as questionable done as this epic is, there is enough entertainment value and effectiveness to keep you going, even if the final product does leave much to be desired.
All in all, unevenness in focus in an overblown narrative is matched by an uneven tone which defuses a sense of consequence almost as much as a surprisingly great attention towards silliness that wears down on you after a while throughout the sprawling course of this ultimately disappointing epic, which is still brought to the brink of rewarding by the handsome cinematography, distinguished art direction, intriguing subject matter, colorful, if not riotous writing, and colorful direction which make Emir Kusturica's lazily titled "Underground" a thoroughly entertaining and often engaging, if ultimately questionable epic of a dramedy that's heavy on the satirical comedy.
2.75/5 - Decent