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Balthazar-5

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119 reviews in total 
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6 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Exquisite comedy which deserves to be seen more often, 30 September 2009
10/10

While being a great enthusiast of French cinema, I hadn't heard of Francis Veber when I saw this magnificent comedy in 1989. Unfortunately his wonderful films were never released in the UK, until 'Le Dîner des Cons'. So I came to it fresh... and WOW. Here we have Nick Nolte in a perfect role as the tough former bank robber and Martin Short as the perfect nerdish but determined sidekick. The opening bank robbery sequence, that sets up the film is magnificent and hilarious. The sub-plot involving the little girl is sweet and moving - almost worthy of Chaplin. The loopy vet is amazing and one of his scenes had me crawling on the floor with laughter. I could start analysing the structure or the mise en scène, but such sophistry is irrelevant - just see it and laugh out loud like you will rarely have done so before. (Amazingly I haven't seen the original with Depardieu and Pierre Richard... why don't they release a subtitled version?????)

2 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Still seems that Woody is running on empty...., 17 December 2008
8/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Nothing that Woody Allen does in the rest of his career is going to alter that fact that he will be regarded as one of the greatest American directors of all time - one of a mere handful who have presented a unique world-view in their films.... However, our wonderful, wonderful Woody has seemed to be on a decline for some time... certainly since 'Deconstructing Harry' and perhaps before...

And yet every new Woody movie contains real insight into the human condition, it's just that he doesn't seem to be bothered to wrap them up in the near perfect packages that we saw in 'Manhattan', 'Hannah' and 'Crimes and Misdemeanors'.

Here we have a case in point. Love and responsibility is the subject - it is in all of Woody's best films. Vicky is conventional and reserved, Cristina is flighty and adventurous... But hey! Cupid can soon start turning things around...

It was one of the great disappointments of the latter half of Fellini's career that, for the most part - even just after 'Giulietta degli Spiriti' - he seemed to forget about the rigour of script-writing and narrative expression. It was as if her was saying 'people will come to see a Fellini film even if I don't bother my head too much.' It was the same with Godard - only for very different reasons. I wonder if, perhaps, Woody has got tired of all of the effort needed to hone his ideas into the near-perfect packages of earlier times. It could be that the title of his new film 'Whatever Works' - is a signal that the search for perfection has been replaced for the search for 'whatever works'.

As has been noted in an interesting thread on the board for this film, one of the main problems with this film is the narration. This is strange, as Woody can turn voice-over narration into pure gold (think of his poignant narration for 'Annie Hall'), perhaps, the real problem is that it isn't Woody who is narrating... it is some faceless narrator with a smug voice.

For me Woody is the comic Shakespeare of our age. I do so hope that he has a 'Winter's Tale' or a 'The Tempest' left in him... Regrettably this isn't it... even though it knocks spots off the awful 'Cassandra's Dream'.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Wizard of Oz for the unsubtle, 8 June 2008
6/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

As an undemanding way to spend a couple of hours, I have no objection to this film at all, and, yes, it has some fun dialogue and 'clever' moments.

But it is the need to put the word 'clever' in quotation marks that is the painful part. It has happened at least once before - in 'A Bug's Life', which must have had Kurosawa spinning in his grave. Here we have a film that shamelessly plagiarises a great film - 'The Wizard of Oz'.

No? Post-pubescent child is under threat and put upon. During a hazardous escapade he/she is injured and, in his/her mind taken away to a magical kingdom where he/she will need the help of some of its inhabitants (who bear an uncanny resemblance to persons in the real world). There he/she will have to overcome the evil machinations of a sorcerer/ess before realising that all he/she wants to do is to go home, ('I just want to go home/There's no place like home') where he/she will be a much wiser person.

Will the representatives of Frank Baum's estate, or MGM or whoever, please sue the insides out of these people. Pure and wonderful films/stories like 'The Wizard of Oz' should not be stolen and distorted to make crass rubbish such as this. It is an abomination.

Message to John Fusco (the 'writer')... if you are so unoriginal and incompetent that you have to steal the themes and structures of great films, find another job! I note in his biography that he dropped out of high school. It figures.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Enigmatic, beautiful Jungian fable - but a head-scratcher!, 24 April 2008
8/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Marco Ferreri, during this era, made several films that had highly ambiguous endings, where optimism and pessimism were both raised to great heights and made barely distinguishable one from another. Previously he has made 'Ciao Maschio' (Bye-Bye Monkey) which left Jane Fonda sitting on the beach with a new baby looking at the ruins of her life.

Here Ferreri is in less iconoclastic mood, but still the ironies pile up to a heart-stopping finale. What this film asks is the agonising question 'Do we, by educating children, remove from them that which makes them wonderful?' Of course, there is more than that, but, when push comes to shove, that is what the film is about.

There may be a more Jungian film, but I don't know of it. Here we have 'liberal' primary school teacher Roberto (Bengini) on a collision course with the 'authorities'. We have a bunch of, possibly autistic, children and we have the wondrous mother earth of Dominique Laffin (Isabella), who, as far as I am concerned was the greatest screen siren since Marilyn Monroe. (How sad that she died before the world recognised her beauty and talent.) As Roberto and Isabella coalesce, procreate and 'rescue' these damaged little souls, Ferreri asks some huge questions about existence, evolution and our place in the universe. In the final shot, as Roberto carries his loved but irreparably damaged charge into the unforgiving sea, we see this tragic drama through the eyes of a caged frog. There are few films that I think I can't really get my head around, but this is certainly one of them!

3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Heart-stoppingly wonderful, 21 April 2008
10/10

I first saw '42nd Street' at a film society viewing session when I was 18. At that age I was very cynical, but still this amazing work swept me off my feet. Now I am less cynical and I can see it to be one of the cinema's finest gems.

This is a film in which it is really difficult to trace who should get the credit. Based on a novel by a writer whose subsequent work was unremarkable to say the least, its two scenarists wrote little else of note. Lloyd Bacon was a perfectly competent director, but he made nothing to compare with this little wonder. And Busby Berkeley? Well, one can hardly credit him with anything much beyond the dance numbers.

But it doesn't really matter. The characters are magnificent. Julian Marsh is the very essence of an ageing director - tetchy, insecure. Peggy Sawyer is a fabulous 'everygirl' plucked from obscurity by a chance miscalculation. Billy Lawlor is the perfect 'juvenile' lead and 'Anytime' Annie is hilarious in her unbridled nastiness and duplicity. Then there are the money men - Abner Dillon - leering at the legs of the chorus girls 'They've got faces too, you know!' says Barry... And Jones and Barry - they have some wonderful lines... 'His interest is our principal!' Every one of the actors inhabiting those roles makes them into archetypes that have remained valid to this day.

And of course, Marsh's 'you got to come back a star' speech is one of the high-points of American cinema.

Perhaps the dance numbers in 'Dames' were better, but for me this is the finest of the early (pre-Astaire-Rogers) musicals. If you have ten musicals to take with you to a desert island, you'd be a fool not to include this one.

7 out of 14 people found the following review useful:
A very wonderful piece of visual expression, 21 April 2008
10/10

Godard made '2 ou 3 Choses...' more or less at the peak of his creativity. It was also made 'at the same time' as 'Made in USA'. The latter film is, for me, the beginning of the end of Godard as a major contributor to cinema, This, on the other hand, seems to be quite wonderful.

Godard had always been interested in 'prostitution', literally and metaphorically. Here he monumentalises his theme. Juliette Jeanson is a fabulous intensely feminine creation, magnificently played by Marina Vlady. Augmenting her housekeeping money by prostitution as a rather more down-market version of 'Belle de Jour', she muses about her life and its meaning.

This is a film in which it is not the 'plot' or the 'narrative' or even the dialogue that conveys meaning, it is the counterpoint between the images, the dialogue and the situation. This is massively enhanced by the director's use of his own voice as a kind of commentary. 'Shall I speak of Juliette or the leaves on the trees...' etc.

In a way, the film is also an essay on subjectivity and the way that people are treated as objects in certain aspects of capitalism. I hasten to add that I do not swallow Godard's uncritical Marxism, but there is quite enough in this film to make you think long and hard about modern society - today just as much as when it was made.

But the great thing about the film is that it is not just an intellectual exercise, less a piece of unthinking propaganda. It is a film with a heart and Juliette is one of the most lovable female characters in 60s French cinema.

The downside for the here and now is that, of all of the serious films of its era, this is arguably the one that least fits on a television. The Techniscope seems to be the widest image that the cinema allows and trim anything from the edges of Godard's images at your peril. So the trick is to see it in a cinema!

4 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Poetic meditation on mortality, 20 April 2008
10/10

Sometimes the market doesn't work. In theory, if a film-maker shows himself to be incredibly talented, some producer snaps him up and provides the resources to make a film that will in turn make a financial impact on the market etc., etc.

Here we have the most talented Irish director since Neil Jordan - without ANY question. He has made two short films that have made everything around them look flat. Both have won prizes, but still he hasn't had the opportunity to make something worthy of his immense talents.

'The Sound of People' is an extraordinary work. It takes a tiny moment in he life of a young man and expands it - using a kind of visual stream of consciousness that has happened elsewhere in the cinema (say the last minute or so of 'American Beauty', or the sensational last five minutes of 'The New World'). Yes, it is Malick-like in style and structure but not in content.

It is philosophical - a meditation on life and death and what separates the two - and yet it is also quite down to earth, as the ideas that it examines have probably occurred to many or most of the people who watch it. In a strange way, it is also literary. A visualisation of something that Joyce or Beckett might have written. But then again it is painterly - using the ever-changing patterns on the surface of a swimming pool to suggest what cannot be seen. But most of all it is cinematic - doing spectacularly and brilliantly what only the cinema can do - to see the world in a new light. One imagines Fitzmaurice repeating the famous words of D W Griffith - 'What, above all else, I am trying to do is to make you see.' And he does.

Message loud and clear to the film industry - DON'T LET THIS TALENT GO TO WASTE!!!

22 out of 131 people found the following review useful:
Egomania on film, 18 April 2008
2/10

This film demonstrates the depths to which the documentary medium has sunk. Documentaries should be about exposing emotional and/or socio-political truth through reality. In the same way that it was Welles' tragedy to make 'Citizen Kane' as his first film, it is the documentary genre's tragedy that it was effectively created through 'Nanook of the North'. For many years, documentarists tried to keep pace with Flaherty, or, like Dziga Vertov, create an albeit inferior alternative.

Eventually, they gave up and succumbed to the talking head as the purveyor of truth. The only thing talking heads purvey is words, and words are not the prime medium of expression in cinema.

'Billy the Kid' the film is as sad a case as Billy the Kid the person. The film relies on obsessive immediacy in the same way that Billy relies on obsessive subjectivity. There is not, as far as I can remember, one time in the film where anything is communicated by the placement of the camera or the arrangement of the content of the frame.

With Flaherty, it is completely the reverse, it is difficult to find images that are not primarily giving us truth through the placement of the camera. Of course Flaherty *arranged* his films, he scripted them and they were 'acted', not made 'on the hoof'. But there is more emotional, and ontological truth in every scene in Flaherty's work than in the whole of 'Billy the Kid' and a hundred nonentities like it.

The film doesn't even try to be visually expressive. It is television and it has the same relation to the art of the cinema as an average magazine article has to the art of literature.

17 out of 36 people found the following review useful:
Flawed socio-romantic drama, 18 April 2008
4/10

This film demonstrates how fragile film aesthetics are. Quite possibly as a novel, which takes time to read and allows us to accommodate shifts in our emotions, it could be fine. But here we have, essentially two conflicting stories that are jammed onto one another with destructive results.

One story is a tough, indeed brutal, issues movie dealing with justice, male dominance and humanist sentiments, the other is a touching romance about two vulnerable people trying to heal each other from their emotional scars. Neither of these is very original and the one, in my view, emotionally precludes the other. When we are steamed up about injustice, we cannot access the very fine-tuned emotions associated with love.

One of the greatest things about the film medium is its ability to twist time and integrate the past into the present. But here, that is the film's undoing. If the story had been told chronologically, we would at least have been able to get the nastiness out of the way and empathise with the romance, but the threat and extremely crude depictions of the 'horrors of the brothel' keep bursting back in, destroying any subtle emotions that have been generated.

Ulzhan (2007)
13 out of 15 people found the following review useful:
High steppe-ing, 17 April 2008
8/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I really like this film, but I find it frustrating because it reminds me of another film from over a decade ago - maybe several decades - and I cannot for the life of me remember what it is.

Schlöndorff is a film-maker whom I have never really admired, yet here he makes what really ought to be dross into a ethereal almost masterpiece. In a way, the film is in two discreet sections - first Charles leaves 'the world' behind. He leaves behind his car and vice (as in prostitutes, drugs) money - in the oilfields - and his identity (when he jettisons his papers). So he loses everything, then he sets out to discover everything. First the very beautiful and charming Ulzhan, then the crazy Shakuni played by David Bennent. Then the 'meaning of life', perhaps.

It is Shakuni's character who is driving me crazy. A man who sells words... I am sure there is another film with such a man - maybe a Godard film...

Anyway, the brilliant central section set in the steppes is absolutely magnificent - the bleak desert exteriors and the desolate abandoned settlements and gulag-style prisons look like something left over from Herzog's 'Fata Morgana'.

Why I like - nay love - this film is that it ought to be bleak and unforgiving and depressing, but there is such rich humanity in its characters, and such consistently expressive imagery and montage in its style that it is gently euphoric.


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