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Battleship Potemkin

We've discussed substandard wizardry in Underground, now let's discuss the other end of the spectrum. While the medium of film has no shortage of quality wizards, the one I'd point to as definitive is Sergei Eisenstein. If Kusturica is a gypsy wizard, with dreamcatchers and tarot cards, then Eisenstein is the kind of wizard that lives in an ivory tower and works obsessively on perfecting his craft. His most famous creation, Battleship Potemkin, is the perfect product of that personality. That is to say, it's a tech demo, but one that boasts tech that'll make you **** your pants.

You already know what I'm referring to: its montaging techniques. That's what it's famous for, in fact, it's what launched Russia (soviet union, whatever) into the spotlight of world cinema. For a tech demo to single-handedly earn a country the same reputation as Japan or Italy, it'd have to be nothing short of earth-shattering, and that's exactly what it is. Take a look at some pre-Potemkin films - Nosferatu, Sherlock Jr., Birth of a Nation - all great films in their own right, but whatever implicit message they wanted to convey was done in the same way you'd do in a book or a play. Potemkin communicated in a new way - through what I can best describe as complementing images. For example, everyone knows the Odessa steps sequence, in which the people face off against the military: there it contrasts the images of the ascending crowd running about and the descending army mowing them down at a mechanical rhythm. It's a show of oppression by the enemy, but it's more eloquent than anything cinema has ever had up to that point. I can't even begin to imagine what a big deal this was at its release. It must've been like working a hundred kilometres from home, and one day accidentally discovering you own a car.
True, it was intended as propaganda, but the same techniques would later become essential tools for great directors like Francis Ford Coppola and Vatroslav Mimica, so I'm not gonna complain.

Mind you, Potemkin has more to offer than just the Odessa steps sequence. That kind of technique is present in the whole film, and even besides that, it would've never been remembered this well if it wasn't for the amazing cinematography. Montage aside, all the individual images look amazing. Noone can deny Eisenstein was a visual genius, and his style fits this kind of film like a glove. The world is in constant motion. Something is always askew, or tumbling down, or flailing wildly. You don't get a moment of peace up until the end. I usually watch films slumped in my couch, but if it's by Eisenstein, I'll watch it sitting up like a jumpy merkat. It just has that effect on you. Of course, you can't not bring up the amazing score accompanying the visual chaos.

Battleship Potemkin is usually considered the best Russian film of all time, and I heavily disagree with that. Most important one, absolutely, but not the best. Good art, to me, comes from a mix of good technique and strong personality. As amazing as Potemkin's technique is, it still has the soul of a tech demo, and thus can't be as memorable as Come and See, The Return, or Stalker. I'm a neckbeard zoomer who considers Russians to be the most talented people on Earth, so I don't take the title of ''best russian film'' lightly, but I still respect Battleship Potemkin as I should. Because of that weird dynamic I have with it, I'm gonna do something I've never done before - not give it any rating. A 9 feels disrespectful, a 10 feels insincere. I'm gonna recommend you see it, more as a matter of literacy than pleasure, but that doesn't mean you won't enjoy it.

Edit: apparently it needs a rating to be approved. Here's a
based purely on subjective enjoyment

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Alright, first I'm gonna do a nostalgic classic and then I'll do The Good, the Bad and The Ugly as I promised
I'm the Yugoslav cinema guy. I dig through garbage. I look for gems.

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If there's ever a film I get to call ''nostalgic'', it's this one. I first saw it when I was so little my family was still using VHS tapes, it later became the first film to ever influence how I behaved irl, and when I found out it's by the same guy as Beavis and Butthead, you can only imagine what a ''bruh'' moment that was. While I don't think of it as highly as I used to, I still like it a lot. That often gives people the wrong impression of me - I know that Idiocracy has built up some bad connotations over the years, so let me clear it up right now that I mainly like this film because it's funny. In fact, for a film known as ''the comedy that became a documentary'', the actual satire is ironically the worst part about it. Not that it's bad, it has just aged poorly. It makes fun of the white trash pop culture of the early-to-mid 2000s - the age of Halo, Nu-metal, and George Bush - which just isn't a thing anymore.

Mind you, even if the satire doesn't resonate with you, Idiocracy is still enjoyable. Why? Because it goes in with the right additude. If those garbage serbian comedies have taught me anything, it's that if you approach comedy with an overly stuck-up additude, you don't stand a chance at ever being funny. Idiocracy passes that test with flying colours. All the jokes are delivered in the same way as in Beavis and Butthead. They don't feel like scripted jokes with setups and punchlines as much as just stupid people being stupid. Mike Judge knows how to make that sort of humour work, and you can't deny it.

Granted, it's also important that you don't put too much focus on the message, but I've found another ''don't'' of satire that Idiocracy smartly abides by. When you make fun of something, in essence telling us not to be like it, don't try to suggest what we should be like. That's patronizing. Thinking back, it's the reason Birdman left such a bad taste in my mouth, when it suggested artists should be more like Marina Abramović. Likewise, if Idiocracy suggested we should all be vegans and drive hybrids, it wouldn't be as fondly remembered. I guarantee it.

I know I've been focusing more on what Idiocracy doesn't do rather than what it does do, but that's because it's such a simple, humble movie that it doesn't leave me with much to say. It's most notable for avoiding the trappings other satires fall into, but if you don't care about that, all I can tell you is if you like Mike Judge humour, you'll like Idiocracy. Simple as.

Plus, having Terry Crews play the president was a stroke of pure genius.

I still enjoy Idiocracy, and I'll argue the satire still plays well given the current political climate....

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The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The good, the Bad and the Ugly is one of the most enduring films ever made. More than 50 years since its release with no sequels, remakes and video games inbetween, it is still a film everyone and their dog knows about. But why? What did it do that made it click so well with people? That's what I intend to find out.

The most obvious point to make is the score by Ennio Morricone. There's no denying it, the score is amazing, as is the entire stylistic aspect of the film. The cinematography manges to stay fresh throughout without being distractingly flashy, and has an excellent sense of scale. No matter if you're in a bustling town or a heated battlefield, you always feel like you're there. The directing, too, is truly inspired (for the lack of a better word).

One, more specific, perk of GBU that you don't hear much about is its efficient writing. Its main trio is introduced quickly and elegantly in the first 20 or or minutes, giving you a general idea of who these characters are, how they go about their business, and what are their strengths and weaknesses. There is depth to the setting and characters, but it is achieved with minimal exposition. Hell, you can tell who these characters are just by looking at them. Clint Eastwood is the definitive ''lone badass gunslinger'', but Eli Wallach embodies the ''greasy loudmouth bandit'' just as well, as does Lee Van Cleef the ''stone cold hitman''. If brevity is the soul of wit, then The Good, the bad and the Ugly is a very, very witty movie.

If I had to explain the essence of this film in one word, it'd be ''clash''. You have Blondie, Tuco and Angel Eyes racing to get the buried gold, using the opportunities and avoiding the threats that come from the ongoing civil war. The goal, combatants and setting are all in place. The entertainment value is in watching the tides turn and the characters gain the upper hand over one another in ways that make sense for them, within the context of the setting. It's sort of like watching a boxing match between two very unorthodox fighters.
Needless to say, there's an emphasis on action over words. If the writing is concise and the goal is as simple as ''get $'', then why is it 3 hours long? Because, to put it simply, the characters go though a lot. The setting gives them a lot of ways to get screwed over, and screwed over they get.

Still, that doesn't answer my question. Many adventure films before and after it have had good directing and writing, and they haven't clicked nearly as well with everyone. With that in mind, I have found one thing GBU does better than any other film I've seen so far, and I don't think there's even a word for it. It's the fact that all the depth, both in the characters and the setting, is implicit. For example, Blondie seems like a very one-dimensional character, but the bits where he plays with a kitten or offers some whiskey to a dying soldier gets you thinking if he's really all he seems to be. The same goes for Angel Eyes and his position within the Union army, and the legless drunk veteran who implies the state regular society is in. Tuco is the most explicit character, but it makes sense for who he is. Anyway, that tinge of mystery makes a lot of difference. Every action carries a lot more weight when you know there's something deeper brewing beneath it, but can't put your finger on what that something is.


Nice review! I enjoyed reading your thoughts on the film. I think my favorite thing about The Good, The Bad and the Ugly is that it can feel simultaneously epic, yet intimate at the same time. With my most recent viewing, I noticed how, besides the three main characters, barely anyone else gets much screen time. Like, Angel Eyes' henchman in the Confederate Army gets a decent amount of screentime. However, the Union general from the bridge sequence, Tuco's brother, Bill Carson, and Bill Carson's wife (?) only get a couple scenes at the most. Hell, Angel Eyes gets somewhat limited screentime as well. In spite of this, however, it also feels quite expansive given how it's an incredibly vivid depiction of the Civil War, showing the philosophies of both sides quite thoroughly.

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South Park, Bigger, Longer and Uncut

Remember when South Park seemed like the coolest, freshest thing on television? I myself got into it around 2012, and what better time to get into South Park than when you're 13 years old? Keep in mind, this was before the likes of Rick and Morty existed, and I hadn't known about either Archer or Family Guy at that time, so the only thing I had to compare it to were the Simpsons. And even that was a stretch - South Park was like the perfect piece of entertainment, tailor-made for my teenage sensibilities. The episodes I first saw on television were the show's last real flashes of quality: Fatbeard, Poor and Stupid, Scrotie McBoogerballs, and so on. I would later catch up with its true greatest hits, and of course, the movie, on the internet.

What you gotta understand about South Park is that you can divide its run into 4 parts:

-The humble beginnings, when the show struggled to find an identity besides ''the cartoon that swears''
-The golden age, when the show had perfected its shtick and ushered in some of its best episodes, the first of which being Osama Bin Laden has Farty Pants.
-The age of decline, when it seemed to be running out of steam, and started using politics and pop culture as a crutch. It kicked off around that Fishsticks episode.
-The disgrace you see today, which started with the introduction of PC Principal.

With that considered, where does the movie fall in? It was made in 1999, so that puts it firmly in the ''humble beginnings'' era, and it shows. Though it's the first time South Park was animated on a computer rather than by hand, the look is still very choppy and quaint. That's the best way I can describe it as a fan - quaint. Not just the look, but how Butters is just a background character, how it's about Stan building up the confidence to ask out Wendy, how Mr. Garrison is still using Mr. Hat, and most of all, how it's fully aware of its reputation as ''the cartoon that swears''. In fact, it's what drives the whole plot.

To my knowledge, this film is the first time South Park got full-on political. The story is that the boys learn to swear from a Terrance and Phillip movie, and it drives Kyle's mom into a frenzy which inadvertedly brings about a war between America and Canada. No doubt addressing whatever controversy the show might've stirred up, the message is clear-as-day anti-censorship stuff, but there's some cues within the music numbers that hint at a more complex opinion on Matt and Trey's part. For example, the opening song ''Mountain Town'' contains the verse ''Because movies teach us what our parents don't have time to say'', and Kyle's mom's number ''Blame Canada'' ends on the verse ''We must blame them and cause a fuss before somebody thinks of blaming us.''. It's very basic delivery, but this was before they really got into social commentary, and I appreciate how they just say what they mean upfront.

A lot of the humour is also very quaint, 20th century South Park. For the most part, that's a good thing. You gotta love how unapologetically dumb it is. When I was in 8th grade, that classroom swearing scene knocked me dead. On the other hand, some jokes can seem very basic by today's standards, e.g.
''What's the password?''
''Ok, you're in.''

The best parts of the film, both in terms of comedy and in general, are the music numbers. Matt and Trey are unironically great musicians. I listen to South Park music numbers like I listen to Primus. Big Gay Al's ''I'm Super'', the boys' ''What would Brian Boitano do?'' and Satan's ''Up There'' are super catchy and can be played over and over again, ''Blame Canada'' was a perfect way to introduce Sheila as a plot element, and you can only imagine how hard I laughed at ''Uncle Fucca'' and ''Kyle's mom is a bitch''.

The one area where I have to knock the film is in the story. Stan's romance with Wendy was pretty uninteresting, and until I started writing this review, I actually forgot Saddam Hussein was in the film. The conflict between Kyle's mom and Canada was pretty entertaining, but the other stories feel like placeholders. Completely forgettable.
You can argue that this kind of film doesn't need an amazing story, and I'd agree it's not 100% essential, but it is just a nice thing to have. I'd argue that, for example, Beavis and Butthead do America wouldn't be as good if the parts with Muddy and Dallas weren't so interesting.

So, to conclude, South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut isn't the greatest material South Park has to offer, but there's certainly something to like here, from its great music numbers to its dirty humour. I might be blinded by nostalgia, but I say if you can get into the mindset of a 13-year-old, you'll love it. If not, you'll just like it.

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Tomorrow is my 3rd anniversary of joining MoFo, so I'm gonna do a 5-film review series:
  1. Faust (1994), representing Czechia
  2. Control (2003), representing Hungary
  3. Sun in a net (1963), representing Slovakia
  4. Sexmission (1984), representing Poland
  5. An Event (1969), representing Croatia

I also wanted to do Austria, but then I thought...nah.

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Tramuzgan's Višegrad cinema fivesome spectacular: part 1 - Czechia


Fun fact about me: Czechia is my favourite foreign country. Prague is where my class went to excursion in our last year of high school, and to say I had a good time would be an understatement. Barring the excellent beer, cute girls, and friendly people, the city itself is just so inviting. Just wandering around aimlessly felt like an adventure, and how many cities get to say that? Of course, this was all in the summer of 2016, when Slavs were the hottest thing on the internet (remember Life of Boris?), so I would soon get into their entertainment industry. I can't say much about their music, but both Machinarium and Kingdom Come: Deliverance are some of my favourite vidya, but where Czechia would truly delight me is their cinema. While I did have trouble finding subtitles for a lot of them, those I did find them for were so fresh and memorable, they got me thinking if Czechs may be even more talented than Russians. In fact, the first film I ever reviewed for MoFo, Marketa Lazarova, was Czech. While I still believe that's their best film, finding another one to represent them in this review series was no trouble at all. After all, the words I used to describe their cinema is ''fresh and memorable'', and no director fits that bill better than Jan Švankmajer.
If you've never heard of him, he can best be described as a surrealist who blends live action with stop-motion and puppetry. It's really hard to give you a full picture of him in just a few words; he's so ''out there'' that conventional labels like ''animator'' don't do him justice. The same goes for the film we're talking about here: Faust is labeled on IMDb as ''animation, comedy, drama'', yet the only genre that came to mind when I watched it was horror. Let me explain...

So, as the title suggests, this film is based on the legend of Faust, the scholar who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for power and knowledge. It is based on the legend, but it is not an adaptation. Rather, it's an original story of a man who wanders into a theatre and goes on to play the role of the titular scholar. The film is split into two segments: the actual play, where the legend of Faust is being told straightforward, and the intermissions, where the protagonist wanders around the halls and break rooms, goes out for a drink, and whatever else actors do while on breaks. The way these two segments play off each other lets you know very early on that the theatre is controlled by actual demons. Your first hint is that the protagonist is the only real actor, while all the other characters are portrayed by puppets, who we find out during the intermission are alive. To give away the rest would be to spoil the film, so I'll just say the protagonist's arc mirrors that of Faust himself.

So, why do I think it's a horror film? Simply put, because it's disturbing. I don't mean because of the grotesque visuals, I mean because the story itself plays to our innate fears. You know E. Michael Jones, the catholic writer? He stated in Monsters from the Id that the point of horror movies is to point to fear and guilt that stems from immorality, hence the theme of playing god in Frankenstein, or the aggressively sexual imagery in Alien. I think that's a good way to distinguish a horror film from a thriller. Faust does that in a very basic, but nevertheless effective way. We see him give in to his base desires, eroding himself little by little, and we all know we're capable of doing the same. That's why we find it so discomforting.
Yet, you can't deny it has a sense of humour. A weird sense of humour, but a sense of humour nonetheless. A perfect example of a joke in Faust is in the first intermission, when the protagonist walks in on one of the puppets taking a dump, and it looks at him. You know it's a demon and it's scary, but you can't not laugh at it.

Still, if not for any of that, Faust is worth seeing just for the visual style. It's unique, it's grotesque, and it's so inventive. Any other film would have portrayed Mephistopholes as a generic demon puppet, or a guy in a scary costume - here he's a blob of clay who morphs into the protagonist's face when talking to him. A perfect replica which still moves in stop-motion.
Oh, and there's no dialogue outside the actual play. I didn't even notice that on my first viewing. That just fascinates me, that the film was so good it managed to distract me from something that big. Definitely a worthy representative of Czech cinema.

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Tramuzgan presents: the Višegrad five's cinematic extravaganza: part 2 - Hungary


When planning out this review series, there was one thing I had decided to avoid entirely: stereotypical eastern-european films. You know, those depressing, down-in-the-dumps dramas about war or authoritarian governments, starring either children or unenergetic 50-year-old men, and more often than not featuring visual metaphors for something in the Bible. Not that these can't be good, they're just not my thing, and I feel like I've seen all they have to offer. In that regard, Hungary was the most difficult country to represent. Look up a list - any list - of the best hungarian films. It's always communism this, the holocaust that, ad nauseam. Of course, due to the nature of this series, I'm 100% obliged to do Hungary, but how when it gives me absolutely nothing to work with? Or so I thought. Enter Control, the exact kind of film I was looking for.

The basic gist is that it takes place in the Budapest metro system, and follows a group of ticket inspectors doing... whatever. That's the thing with this movie - it doesn't have much of an overarching plot. It starts with a hooded man committing murder, so it might lead you to think it's gonna be a whodunnit story, but then it moves on to a bit about clique rivalry, then an action scene where they deal with some street punk, and then some comic relief scenes about trying to inspect all the weird passengers... the list goes on. It does try to give us some sort of a conventional third act in the last 20 minutes, but for the most part, the script is written with a decided kitchen sink approach. This may sound like a criticism, but it's not. I like how many different things Control does, firstly because it's all done with a lot of enthusiasm, but also because it's all tied together with a coherent setting, a great ensemble cast, and a distinct, impactful style.

Let's talk about the cast first. I can say with full confidence, if you'd like to make an ensemble comedy some day, Control is a must-watch. Even more so than It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. There's plenty of characters to keep up with, but you're introduced to them elegantly and organically, as if you're supposed to already know them. You never get that sense of ''oh, this is character A's introduction''. Their personalities are all simple enough to be easy to grasp, but notso much that they stop being believable. They also play off each other in fun ways, but one thing I have to point out is the casting choice. It's the Good, the Bad and the Ugly thing again, where each actor's face, physique and costume perfectly fits his character's personality. And I can't leave out the actors themselves, all of whom bring the kind of energy and chemistry that a film like this needs. Fantastic performances, all around, with the standout being the buzzcut bro with the Stipe Mesić eyebrows.
I've tried my hand at writing novels a few times, so I can tell, this is the kind of character writing you get when you know exactly, from the outset, who each character is and what he's like. It's just what I strive towards in my writing.

If you're at all into the 2000's, you'll love this movie. And you know they're a weak spot of mine, in fact, the first thing I've done on MoFo is a top 10 2000's film list (don't look it up). Control oozes that urban, gritty, fizzy, pulpy, street jacket-wearing, fluorescent-lit, grafitti-and-concrete style from every pore. It makes you wanna blast Powerman 5000 on your CD player while doing sick kick flips in hopes of impressing a hot emo girl.
Granted, it's also great on a technical level. The stylistic choices wouldn't matter so much if they weren't executed properly, but they are. Control is filmed with the same enthusiasm as it's written and performed with, and the resulting visuals are both fresh and striking. Not to mention they're backed by a killer soundtrack.

There's one film I've already reviewed I'd like to compare with this one: Rango. It and Control are very different, but they do share the trait of being someone's ''first work'', and all that implies. Rango was Gore Verbinski and ILM's first animated film, while Control is Nimrod Antal's first film in general, and that leads to a final result that points to a lack of experience, but a surplus of pure energy. A film someone made purely for his own amusement. Take, for example, all the running visual motifs: the escalator leading to the surface, the owl, or the girl in a teddy bear costume; in any other film you'd think these were metaphors, but here, it's like they just put them in because they thought it looked cool. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

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Grand film event of the Višegrad group brought to you by Tramuzgan: part 3 - Slovakia

The Sun in a Net

Usually I lead into my reviews with some interesting thought, but this time I won't. Not that I don't want to, it's that The Sun in a Net is the kind of film that, for reasons I'll explain in a bit, doesn't leave room for showmanship or intense emotion. Before I do, I should also point out that this will be the shortest review in the series, because this is a film that's best understood intuitively, not theoretically. That is to say not really ''understood'' at all, just experienced. You could point to Tarkovsky movies and say they're like that too, but they can be picked apart and theorized about, but the difference is that The Sun in a Net actively encourages you not to think too hard.

It's about a teenage couple in Bratislava who get separated during their summer jobs, and in turn each hook up with someone new. That's the elevator pitch, anyway. In truth, like with Kontroll, there is no central plot. The point of this film isn't to tell a story, it's to evoke the feeling of being a kid, discovering new things as life randomly throws them at you. That's why the rather random sequence of events that makes up the film works. Do you remember your first summer job, or even moving to college for that matter? Remember thinking ''whatever happens next, I'll welcome with open arms''? I guess I do because I'm a lot younger than most people on here, but this film nails that feeling down rather well. Upon writing this review I was surprised how much of the movie I'd forgotten, but was able to remember without booting it up again. It's the same as with your first summer job. The things you experience, exciting as they may be in the moment, will go down in memory as just random passing moments. That's why, as I said, The Sun in a Net encourages you not to think too hard. The burnt piece of glass they use to watch the eclipse is just a burnt piece of glass. The bar frequented by the old men of the village is just a bar. They are not metaphors for communism.

Of course, the visuals do a great job at bringing this mood across. The camera is always soaking in the environment. It might peer from the edge of the rooftop, or show the characters through their reflections in a lake, or close up on a fishing net, as if lost in thought, but there is always a sense of, let's call it, energetic indifference to it. It is backed by the constant sound of the radio and its bass guitar-heavy repertoire.

If there's one thought to end the review on, it's that I'm glad that this film exists. It's not that often you get one of these artsy films made more for 20-year-olds than anyone else. Be honest, if I told you this was an eastern-european plotless b&w movie about a teenage couple, what would you imagine? Would you expect to leave it feeling rejuvenated? Probably not. That's why, despite not being the best film of this type, it is one of the more unique, and therefore very worthy of preservation.

(though it's more of an 8,5 than an 8)

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Višegrad movie thing: part 4 - Poland


As we conclude the part of this series about the actual Višegrad group. we reach the global bulwark of sanity as well as the only country with a 100% weeaboo population - Poland. Finding a film to represent them was a tough call, as I wanted it to be more ''normal'' than Faust or Sun in a Net, but still unmistakably polish. So, while there was something to be said about The Saragossa Manuscripts, the film we'll be taking a look at is Sexmission - the spicy mix of sci-fi, erotica, social satire, post-apo, action-adventure, and good old-fashioned peepee humour.

Two guys volunteer for a human hibernation experiment, and wake up 50 years in the future in an underground society consisting exclusively of women. They find out they're the last two men on Earth, but are kept imprisoned and under constant surveillance. The subsequent plot is about the two trying to escape, all the while playing straight man to the unraveling, nonsensical world. If you're a fan of 80's comedy in the vein of Ghostbusters and Brazil, you'll like Sexmission. The style of humour is very much like those, based on misunderstandings, sarcasm, and a constant fool-and-straight man act. While its characters aren't as memorable as those, it does succeed at being funny. In fact, I'd say it's even funnier than Ghostbusters. It doesn't have as many chuckles, but it has more laugh-out-loud funny moments. That's owed partly to how it's way dirtier than the average sci-fi comedy. It's about two men in a world of women, after all, so expect lots of sex jokes. That, and titties. Lots and lots of titties. Poles love titties, that's why they watch so much anime.

Sexmission also works decently as an escape thriller. The effects are cheesy and camp, but do their job at convincing you of this claustrophobic underground society where you're always being watched. Escaping feels like a genuine challenge, and it has a decent sense of progression which keeps things exciting. And, for reasons I won't give away, it's best you go into this film knowing as little as possible.

The last thing I wanna bring up is how it handles its social commentary. It's a lot like Idiocracy, or a number of Bosnian films, i.e. based on gut feeling rather than theory. And that's a good thing, as it ensures you don't bite off more than you can chew. By that I mean it only goes so far as its gut takes it, and doesn't act like it has all the answers. Like Idiocracy is just Mike Judge expressing dissatisfaction with the dumbing down of pop culture, so is Sexmission expressing dissatisfaction with feminism. Not even feminism per se, moreso the idea that men and women are enemies, and how nonsensical it is. This film has no political or ideological allegiance other than common sense, and that's exactly the kind of satire I like.

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We're not in Višegrad but what the hell: part 5 - Croatia

An Event


A couple of months ago, I wrote a quasi-article on Vatroslav Mimica, the greatest Yugoslavian film director. I'm generally happy with how it turned out, but considering how my intention was to bring more attention to him, I really could've done a better job at describing his best films. That is, his two best films, ''Događaj (An Event)'' and ''Kaja, Ubit ću te (Kaya)'', which are about the same level of quality. And here I have a perfect opportunity to remedy that. For my review, I will pick Događaj, partly because it's more accessible of the two, but mostly because I just like it better.

First thing - why do I like it? On paper, it seems like the most generic film in the world - an allegory for ww2 about a boy being left without a guardian, taking place in some rural area? Yeah, but the execution makes it stand out immensely. Its artistic decisions and technical aptitude make sure it doesn't fall into the same trappings as these kinds of films usually do, and comes out feeling like a sincere retelling of someone's experience (both external and internal), rather than just misery porn. In that sense, I want to liken in to One Flew Over a Cuckoo's Nest, which is an allegory for communism. Miloš Forman wasn't the only person in the world to experience authoritarianism, just like Vatroslav Mimica wasn't the only person to fight in a war, yet their films hit the mark better than anyone else's. They were able to distill the experience right down to its emotional core, and transplant it to a story that can affect anyone, even if they don't care about the allegory. It appeals to your base instincts, and I know that sounds like something any idiot can do, but it's not. It takes extremely high emotional intelligence, as well as the people skills needed to make sure all the actors are on the same page as you. What do I mean by that? How does that emotional intelligence translate into practice? In two ways.

First, the film is stripped of all fluff. If its goal is to invoke the feeling of being a boy caught in a conflict way way bigger than himself, every element included within it should work to that goal, and that's exactly the case here. We have a story of a village boy and his grandfather going to sell their horse at a fair, and getting mugged on their way back. While the third act isn't as simple, it is still made with the same uncompromising vision. The characters are written as archetypes, with the grandfather representing the pre-war status quo, the hunter representing the madness of war (referred to by Mimica as ''irrational evil''), so on and so forth. The eccentric girl played by 10-year-old Marina Nemet definitely represents something, I'm not sure what to call it, but she is a fascinating character to watch, and fits this story perfectly. Mimica, hot off the heels of his modernist trilogy, had to retool his visual style to fit this more traditional narrative, and he pulled it off effortlessly. The flashy surrealness and strange visual language of Kaja, Ubit ću te is gone, but the strong colour scheme and anxious close-ups ensure this is still unmistakably a Vatroslav Mimica film. Though the influence from Kurosawa shows quite a bit (it is speculated if the fight in the mud was an homage to Rashomon, which Mimica himself stated is one of his favourite films), it resembles Kurosawa in the same sense that Kurosawa resembles John Ford, i.e. not too much and only in good ways.

Second, it has restraint. Those of you who saw my (now disowned) ex-yu movie list know this is the exact reason I liked Armin. Both the script writer and the actors knew what emptions they were supposed to invoke, but they also knew to keep them on a tight leash, trusting you to be smart enough to pick up on them. The blood and killing is given its due buildup, so it feels worth taking seriously. You don't shrug it off as just another bit of movie violence. All the actors are self-controlled and dignified, so you can buy them as living, breathing people, despite (or perhaps because of) them being archetypes. Fahro Konjhodžić, Mimica's son Sergio, and (uncharacteristically) Pavle Vuisić were all good, but Boris Dvornik deserves special mention. Dino's dad was put into a role completely opposite to his usual shtick of pretty-boys and womanizers, and was made into a terrifyingly believable volatile psycho. You see his face on that boat and you just know he's trouble. One of my favourite villains of all time.

I know there might be some suspicion of me shilling some random Croatian movie nobody's ever heard of, you might assume I'm doing it out of corny patriotism, but I would never do that. Sure, that's the reason I know of it, but when I review something I need to look at it with a critical eye, so when I say An Event is a masterpiece, you can be sure I really mean it. An amazing example of allegories, and an amazing example of archetype-based storytelling. It's not every day you see a film that cuts to the meat of things so profoundly.

Just discovered this thread. Your reviews are very honest, unpretentious, and make interesting points. I especially like that you wrote that Idiocracy's satire works because it's telling one what not to be like, rather than what to be. I agree.

Not to mention you have good taste.

Tramuzgan's Avatar
Di je Karlo?


This is a watch I've been putting off for a long time. I've originally planned it around late 2019, when Scorsese dumped on Marvel movies and people misunderstood it as an attack on superheroes rather than on Disney (or WB, for that matter). Obviously, superhero movies aren't inherently rotten, but has there ever been a superhero movie that you could call ''great cinema''? I'm not in the position to give a definite answer because I haven't seen that many of them, but I'd be glad if there was. So I took the most obvious course of action: Scorsese said he doesn't like these marvel movies because ''they're everything that films of Wes Anderson and co. aren't'', and considering Wes Anderson is just what Tim Burton used to be, that lead me to watch Batman.

Let me clarify one thing right out the gate: this isn't a ''serious movie'', nor does it need to be. Nowadays with all the downloads and streaming, cinema has become one big buffet where there's room for everything, including live-action cartoons. If it does its own thing and does it well, it's always welcome.

So then, what is Batman's ''thing''? What do people most remember it for? Like most Tim Burton movies, it's the aesthetic. Which is weird because it's completely unlike his other films. It has more in common with german expressionist films than it does with Beetlejuice. Gotham is portrayed as a dense, opulent ant colony of a city, just like Metropolis. The richly decorated architecture, crowds dressed in a mix of 30's and 80's fashion, and the tasteful use of smoke make it delightful to look at. The main duo, Batman and Joker, also look like something straight out of an old-school horror movie. I can't help but draw a comparison between this and the more practical, but less expressive Chris Nolan versions. I've always felt like superheroes are better suited for the Tim Burtons and Sam Raimis - directors not aiming for visual realism - and it shows. Whoever did the smile makeup for Jack Nicholson should be given a medal.

I'm more split on the story. There were things I liked: the structure, first of all, feels exactly like something you'd see in an auteur-driven action movie. The three main action scenes play out in the order of Batman vs. Jack Napier, Bruce Wayne vs.Joker, and then it finally comes to Batman vs. Joker. It uses its characters as chess pieces, which is something I'm always for. It's the reason I loved The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and An Event, but Batman uses the alter egos of the characters to put its own twist on the formula. On top of that, I love Jack Nicholson's Joker. He's everything the character should be - as slick and playful as he is insane. He's a villain who does what he does for the lulz. And you can tell Jack had the time of his life portraying him - he effortlessly goes from funny to intimidating with the same flavour of bat**** insanity. That's the third thing I have to point out: this is one of the funniest non-comedies I've ever seen. It uses humour sparingly, but it all comes naturally. There's never that ''pause for the joke'' feeling you get in something like Endgame.

What I don't like about the story is the characterisation of everyone other than Joker. Actually, ''don't like'' isn't accurate, it's more that I'm disappointed by it. Batman, Joker, and their alter-egos form the main chess pieces, while Gotham forms the chess board, and there was potential for a real interesting dynamic between them. Bruce Wayne is shown as socially awkward, and it only makes sense that a guy who grew up with no parents and spends his nights running around in a scary costume would be a bit of a weirdo, but it wasn't taken as far as it should've been. There was potential for an interesting hero, whose crime-fighting aptitude came at a price of his social aptitude, and as such love or friendship. That would've also made the love story with Vicki Vale a way bigger deal. As it is, it feels like something that was put in because Hollywood demanded it. I will say casting Michael Keaton as Bruce was a step in the right direction, as his weird eyebrows and choppy speech pattern give off the vibe I wanted to see. Gotham, likewise, could've been written as a town that has gotten to big and fat for its own good, one you could buy someone would destroy just for the hell of it, but it's only shown near the end, where the Joker's parade throws around big fistfuls of cash and nobody finds it suspicious.

As it stands, you know what Batman feels like? A precursor to the animated series. And I don't mean that as an insult, the animated series is amazing, but it's hard not to be bothered by some of the missed potential here. But what you get in the end is still good entertainment, and it has a unique style that may strike a chord with you, so it's a definite recommendation.

Tramuzgan's Avatar
Di je Karlo?
Avengers: Infinity War

I just noticed I haven't done a single negative review since Birdman. As weird as that looks on paper, there's a reason for that: the way I do reviews, films that'd make for an interesting negative review are hard to come by. Usually when I see a film I don't like, I just sort it in my mind as ''trash'' and don't think about it any further, so I'm unable to write anything interesting about it. The only time I think about a film that left a negative impression is when it's more disappointing than bad, aka when there's flashes of quality that make the blunders more apparent. For example, The Avengers 2012 was for years one of my most hated films, but I'd much rather talk about its (relatively) promising little brother Infinity War.

I don't think I need to explain what it's about. Everyone and their dog knows who Thanos is, what Infinity Stones are, and how it ends. What I will explain instead is the context surrounding it. 2018 was a great year for me personally, I could go on forever as to why, but for the sake of this review I'll say it's when I was really into cape****. And in hindsight, I can see why: it's the carefree nature of the whole genre that won me over. With how great the year was going, feeling like a boss that can conquer anything with a cocky smirk on his face was just something I could relate to. So that's exactly what I expect from these big superhero movies: light-hearted, carefree escapist entertainment.

But why look for it in Infinity War of all movies? Even after being thoroughly disappointed by The Avengers 2012, being aware of the MCU's infamy, and in 2018, when the soy boy meme brought Marvel movies more ridicule than ever?

I'd chalk it up to the youtubers I was following at the time saying it was a pleasant surprise. Ralph Sepe, Lyle McDouchebag, Dishonoured Wolf, and Adum from YMS all agreed on that. So, is it? Yes and no. There are both good and bad things about Infinity War, and the good can be summed up as ''it avoids some of the trappings of Marvel movies'' while the bad are ''it doesn't avoid enough of them''.

The first thing you'll notice and the main reason why IW left an impression as a pleasant surprise is how it can take itself halfway seriously. Not in a pretentious way, but in a way that presents Thanos' forces as a real danger. The opening scene on Thor's spaceship is way darker in tone than usual, establishing a confident, competent, and determined rogues gallery. The fact that one of the main characters gets his ass handed to him almost immediately tells you this villain is a cut above the others. The rest of the plot is, as you know, just ''stop Thanos'', and for the first 30 minutes or so it flows rather nicely. The stakes with the infinity stones are set up quickly, and we transition organically into a fight with two of Thanos' henchmen. It's here we see another one of Infinity War's strengths. There's some good fight scenes that make good use of its big cast of characters with varied superpowers, and this is one of them. They are held up by surprisingly good CG, cinematography, and colour choice. If it wasn't for Doctor Strange and its reality-bending madness, I'd say this is the best-looking Marvel movie.
The thing that surprised me the most is that this is the first, and probably last, Marvel movie where I unironically liked one of the characters. I am talking, of course, about Squidward. That henchman with telekinesis. His zealous worship of Thanos, sleazy voice and demeanour, and confidence are a joy to watch. Especially the way he likes to kick his enemies while they're down proves you can be funny while staying in character and not devolving into retarded quips, a lesson which the MCU desperately needs to learn. One of my favourite things about Lord of the Rings, the golden standard for mainstream fantasy epics, is how everyone is completely in character, despite the inherent silliness of these fantasy concepts, it sticks to them like it believes in them fully, and as a result we do too. Squidward succeeds there, but sadly, further comparisons to Lord of the Rings aren't favourable.

Ironically, the exact thing that made me like Squidward is what made me hate everyone else. Thanos and Doctor Strange are fine, but the Guardians, Tony Stark and spider-man are way too quippy and annoying. Never mind that the quips aren't funny, but can you imagine Gandalf running his mouth with non-stop sarcastic remarks and self-referential jokes? What about Jack Nicholson's Joker, or Tobey Maguire's Spidey? That kind of dialogue makes it impossible to get immersed into the story, on top of being annoying. This wasn't a thing in the early MCU; take a look at the original Iron Man. Tony's a quipping douchebag, but still in character. I blame internet culture for that. We've way overindulged in sarcasm and irony. It's time to stop.
Another thing similar to Lord of the Rings is that it tries to follow multiple plots which branch and intertwine, but while LotR had great pacing, IW screws it up with both forced unfunny banter, and forced fight scenes. You can tell there are some fights which are just put in because Disney assumes the audience has ADD and is unable to follow a simple plot without big explosions happening every 20 minutes. The way some of them are framed just insults me, how it makes such a big event of a character like Captain America just being there. I feel like scenes like that are why the MCU got on so many people's bad side. It makes it look like we're not here for entertaining stories or charismatic actors, but to see peepeeman fight poopooman.
And even if the pacing was perfect, it still wouldn't be able to go past ''solid entertainment''. The characters are all too paper-thin and boring for any entertaining drama to take place. Compare Star Lord to Aragorn and you'll see why Scorsese called these movies ''theme park rides''.

I'd make some final statement, but I've said all I need to. I wanted to like Infinity war, but I don't. That's it.