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Les herbes folles (2009)
bloody brilliant French version of a David Lynch film
WOW! What a film and it's shocking to see all the negative reviews here. This is a thinking man's movie, which complements 'The Seventh Seal' where that Ingmar Bergman classic is overt about death, this is more subtle and confounding. This is not a surface entertain us plot line; rather, it's subterfuge for the real intent. SPOILER ALERT! Rewatch this film and view the female dentist as Death. It explains the way the main character reacts the entire movie, especially to the police when they arrive to speak with him, what he says about his neighbor committing suicide. You'll notice throughout the film how the MC alternates between reaching out to embrace 'death' and angrily spurning 'death'. I did not clue in on this until the last two minutes of the movie when the wife asks 'death's dentist colleague if she wants to join them and she says, absolutely not! (You'll notice at the end, the MC kisses death, accepting his fate) That's when I knew and sure enough, the MC's soul soars into the heavens until the plane crashes and it is received back into the grave of wild grass or is the soul reincarnated as the little girl asks, if she becomes a cat in her next life? Yes, at the end, I can see the woman writing a novel and all this is in her imagination, but this plays like David Lynch's 'Mulholland Drive' with multiple interpretations. No one will be truly satisfied with one interpretation or another but it does make us think and for that, the director did his job.
The Girlfriend Experience (2009)
take a pass on this film experiment
This past week I caught Steven Soderberg's latest film experiment on DVD, 'The Girlfriend Experience'. I've been watching him long before he won the Oscar for Traffic. Rather, I watched his 'sex, lies and videotape' when it came out, basically initiating the modern independent film movement, which now hands out the Spirit Awards, the day prior to the Oscars.
But about this film shot on video for about $2 million? Well, everyone is allowed a misfire, even Soderberg. Everyone knows of him because of the 'Ocean's 11' films, and up to recently his producing buddy George Clooney who stole some Soderberg shots for his 'Confessions of a Dangerous Mind' film he directed.
But I digress yet again.
In the GFE film, the director takes a well known porn actress and places her in a contemporary film about a Manhattan-based call girl. There is nothing sexy about this movie, I can assure you, not even voyeuristic.
Rather, it's a plain jane approach to the life of a woman making her living sleeping with men, if that. She is actually more of an amateur psychiatrist. This is no modern remake of 'Belle Du Jour'. I think the more interesting angle would have been about her customers and why they procure her services. They seem to be a sad sack collective of characters.
But what kills this film is not the lack of nudity or even a coherent linear thread to the narrative, which mimics '81 Grams'. Rather, it's about her non-acting ability. Yes, you can give it up to a major Hollywood director taking a experimental chance, like Mike Figgis has countless times before. The medium does need to be stretched. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.
Soderberg did do this before, use amateur actors, in a film I did not see. But in GFE, Sasha Grey's inability to act or emote sympathy is what kills this story. Yes, she is a real-life porn star, not a thespian by training, but I think in this regard her notoriety is what marketed the film. Had the director used a conventional famous actress, there would have been none of the attention this film was given even in its limited release.
Don't get me wrong, I still think Soderberg is one of the greatest directors out there today. This is just not one of his better examples, that's all.
Abercrombie & Fitch vampires
Mind you I was FORCED to see this film, 'Twilight'. I had no desire to see teenage vampires, followed by the American female tween crowd like sports commentators on ESPN. But when I did see this much heralded film, it was worse than I had anticipated.
Anyway, basically, it's a retelling of the Romeo & Juliet story. This time Romeo is a 109-year- old-man lusting after a 17-year-old Juliet. I guess I was the only one offended that some old dude who became a vampire at 17 waits almost a century for his true love. Come on, seriously. This guy waited almost a 100 years to fall in love? Man, and I thought my dating career is a disaster.
But needless to say, I am not the audience this move was made for. I sat in on a weekday matinée and there were already enough younger girls skipping school to see this cinematic wreck.
Because I watch so many movies, I thought I would find something redeeming about this movie. The director is a woman who did the courageous movie, '13', which is a scary film for anyone who has a teenage daughter. This blows away 'Lolita' by miles in the power of a young girl's desires, like a young cobra snake, not knowing the power of its venom. With that said, the directing was malleable.
But I thought, this had to be a low budget movie - why? Because most of the scenes take place outside, in the forest. No need to pay extras for those scenes. Additionally, no need to hold back crowds as you film scenes.
But the thing that really got under my skin as a film lover is the lack of development of the screenplay. They spent so much time in the protracted, plodding relationship building between the two leads that I was wondering, where is the main conflict? There it is, in the last 10 compacted minutes of the film. Even the danger seemed manufactured. It was as if the producers thought: you know, how do we end this film? The film is based on a series of four books and this is the first one. Still, they really needed to spend more time on the conflict to make the inevitable sequels better than the initial production.
To compare, contrast it to the another vampire film based on a book, 'Interview With A Vampire', this conflict is too subtle, along with the whole notion of being a vampire. These are vampires as envisioned by Abercrombie & Fitch, afraid to bare fangs, get bloody, destroy. Apparently they have a pact with the Native American Indian werewolves to keep a peace between them. I am not making this up. Everyone is so bloody nice with great table manners that I was saying enough! Someone BE proud to be a vampire and do some damage.
Yes, I was rooting for the bad guys.
I guess to maintain an appropriate rating, no viscera was shown, as any other indication that these vampires were remotely dangerous other. The "vampire" family that is the hub of the film are SO damn nice, I was wondering if they weren't modeled after The Munsters 1960s t.v. series.
The father is the local doctor and looks so young, it would make a normal human wonder why such a young guy and wife adopt so many children who are almost the same age in appearance. They could be a traveling Manson brood, clad in J. Crew flannel apparel. And the father is a doctor, requiring him to touch people to examine him. No one ever notices this guy is cold as ice or has no heartbeat of his own?
It would be easy to slam this film but I did find the divorced mother character appealing - why? Not because she was out of the loop as a character but because she was traveling with her husband, a baseball player. Having the daughter live with her father as the mother wandered the country seemed the only original part of this story line.
This movie is for young girls waiting to meet their own "Edward", the cool misunderstood rebel obviously based on James Dean, to include the hair. But Edward is 109-years-old. He really needs to get over himself, just like me writing protracted musings about a film not made for me.
Did I tell you I was FORCED against my will to see this movie? Just needed to remind you.
c this only if u hate yourself
This movie was just pointless and more importantly - boring. The director had the goods he needed to make a great film. But when he actually narrated the beginning as to who worked on the film, "I'm like, are you serious?" I only saw this Israeli film because I wanted to see Ronit Elkabetz and she blew away the scenes she was in but overall, her appearance was much too brief. She is such an awesome actress, I re-watched 'Late Marriage'. Then her character's denouement in this film was the nail in the coffin for me. I fast forwarded through most of this cinematic wreck. I also recommend 'The Band's Visit' with again Ronit because this had to be an embarrassment to everyone who worked on this production.
Lagerfeld Confidential (2007)
interesting but could have been better
Karl Lagerfeld is such a fascinating individual that this film could have been better with more insight from those around him. Gaining an outside perspective allows one to fully understand the subject. Lagerfeld's personal philosophy and observations about life are so entertaining and mesmerizing. Fortunately, we do not witness a personal, intimate, sexual aspect and we really do not need to see that part of his life. It's really none of our business as voyeurs into his existence. He is an artist and those who purvey this fashion career need distance and patience. Lagerfeld has shown the practice of this artistry is a genuine lifelong obsession for the legends in their field.
Shadows and Fog (1991)
not Woody's best effort
Shadows and Fog is nothing more than a mash up of Fellini's familiar circus environs and 1920s German Expressionism with a bit of Kafka's nightmarish circular world in which nothing is ever evident other than the insane rules that must be obeyed, enforced by mob strength. I saw this Woody Allen movie when it first came out years ago and I don't remember my reaction. But I know more about movies now than I did then. The dark shadows masks the film set being made on indoor soundstages, not that it matters, but I could have seen this being made in Prague or Budapest. The fog does not allow a deep focus in the frame and the perfect lighting gives away the idea that this is a real world. That nebbish character that Woody always plays is in full effect with the witty comebacks and bon mot insights. That was about the only entertainment. This was not by far his best effort, even when he's channeling Robert Altman's overlapping dialogue.
The Cool School (2008)
for genuine art lover's with too much time on their hands only
You REALLY, REALLY have to be an art lover to like this documentary. I mean, I thought after the glacial pacing that maybe I would learn something new about art and I did. But not enough to slog through after the first 10 - 15 minutes. I just couldn't take it anymore. Yes, I agree these guys/gals made their artistic bones on the west coast and need to be recognized but they deserved a better presentation as a whole. Even the celebrity cameos felt limp. I was more interested in the brand of cigars they were smoking than in the subject they were discussing. I flipped back to view what I had recorded from the History Channel to finish my night.
Sex and the City (1998)
Carrie Bradshaw and the Gurls
Don't ask me how, but when the book came out years ago, I ended up reading it and I can tell you, this show is nothing like the novel. The Carrie character of the book is sad and tragic in a way as the years go by and her friends have settled down and she's alone. This Carrie in the show is far more appealing, I gotta tell you.
The male producer who made the show knew how to package and sell this concept. It's a brilliant turn of the book into show. It can be the basis while not be the final delivery. But I wonder, had the show been female driven behind the scenes from the beginning, what kind of show would it have been? Yes, a terrific director I like, Susan Seidelman did the initial episode and some others, but when it comes to t.v. shows, it's really a writer/producer driven medium.
I guess when you've watched thousands of movies over a course of a lifetime and attended film school to hone that craft, I guess I tend to be hyper critical about a show or a film, a bit more than the casual viewer. But to be honest, I had to get over myself to kick back with my MANLY Miller canned beer and enjoy the "girl" talk, so to speak.
I liked the way the women already knew each other. None of this, "Hey, this is Miranda, Charlotte, Samantha, blah, blah, blah." I did predict the meet cute on the street with Mr. Big but that's okay. This is show is about emotion, form not function. But you can tell the show was evolving from the git go. How? The first two episodes, there is a jazzy soundtrack background, dark recesses and shadows, to Carrie's narration of life and love in the big, bad city. It's as she is that lone, weary, cynical detective who has seen the worse of mankind on display as he hunts the unknown killer through false leads and switchbacks. They moved on from that scenario and made it more lighter, airy in the third episode. Even the sets opened up, not so claustrophobic. You'll also notice the camera really doesn't move that much. This is necessary to a female oriented show.
Also in these initial two episodes, Carrie is almost constantly narrating to the camera, breaking that fourth wall to the audience that I wrote about yesterday about Woody Allen's pioneering work. I am old enough to remember when SJP came out in her first t.v. show Square Pegs; I can almost swear she did the same thing in that show.
But by the sixth episode, Carrie is only speaking to the camera several times since the second episode, which is a good thing, as it takes you out of the show for being so self-conscious. The voice-over narration is a better device to move the story along. But I will give them an approving nod for trying this gimmick, as I've never known it to be done in a woman's show before.
By throwing in those first-person mockumentary style testimonials, I thought the producers were pitching in everything into one visual pot luck, trying to determine what would work and what wouldn't work in the long term. I had a feeling they used focus groups initially since the style did change up in the first season.
The best moments are those human moments that come across when Carrie makes those deft insightful observations, such as when the gay couple wanted to buy one of her eggs, and she felt she was now just an incubator, an egg farm so to speak. I was thinking the same thing; even better is when she reveals the female psyche that I have no clue about, giving me a bit of necessary illumination.
As the show expands, the female supporting characters are given their own room to breathe, which I like. It can't always be about Carrie, and the scenes cannot always be perfect, because life is imperfect.
Nitpicking details: Charlotte has sex with an Orthodox Jew? If he was a real Orthodox Jew, he would not even have been speaking with her. I think they threw this in because of visuals, the collision of religion and art.
After Carrie and Mr. Big meet on the street, when they meet again for the first time in a club and Samantha has her eyes on him, describing him as a young Donald Trump, it's as Carrie does not know him, never seen him before. This is a script continuity problem.
Is it me or is everyone white on this show? And in NYC, of all places! The only notable minorities I saw in these first six episodes were the Sikh taxi driver and African-American date of Mr. Big's; both scenes were fleeting. I hope this Caucasian-only world opens up in later episodes.
Technical kudos: The restaurant scene in which Carrie, after being paid money for sex with the French architect is at the nightclub and her Italian party girl friend insists she join her fellow Eurotrash for a trip to Venice. The slimy Italian guy puts his hand on her ass and there is a medium head shot of her as Carrie is realizing her possible future: the camera focus pulls in while the background pulls out simultaneously. This camera maneuver was made famous by famed New Yorker director Marty Scorsese in Goodfellas. This was the perfect camera movement for this moment.
Carrie is walking down the street and after kissing her French architect beau goodnight, she lifts up into the sky literally, so joyful is her heart. This is a crane dolly shot, which is Spike Lee's signature camera move. It worked for me. Carrie was feeling lighter than air and this physical manifestation captured it perfectly.
Love and Death (1975)
the original Woody Allen film
I have seen Woody Allen's 'Love and Death' several times through the years and I kind of look at it as a standard bearer for Woody's films, a sort of litmus test: how funny is the movie compared to 'Love and Death'? Though I have seen almost his entire oeuvre, I think of this one as his break out film, the real Woody as filmmaker, while allowing us to see the true comic genius he is as a performer and filmmaker. Too bad the French appreciate him more than we do as an American audience, which is why they heaped awards and praise upon him through his life.
I think what gets by many people is that Woody can also be a serious artistic film director, as surely as any Europe produced in the latter twentieth century. Like any of those efforts, Woody uses the whole drama canvass and this is where he stands apart. Does he repeat himself sometimes through his movies? Sure, but how many times did Van Gogh or Picasso repeat themselves? Celluloid is the same as those other mediums.
But upon watching this movie again this week, it made me realize something I have not seen in the other reviews, the influence of the Marx brothers comedies on this film. The obvious zinging sounds, the casual verbal double entendre repartee, the put upon Napoleon double, it's all there. Another insight I picked up this time is that fourth wall breakdown, connection to the audience. While that was standard in early t.v. comedies such as the variety shows, in movies, Woody really pioneers that effort, mimicked to great effect in 'Ferris Buller's Day Off' and even not so great films such as 'Kuffs'.
The film is essentially a riff on Russian Literature, Russian music, Ingmar Bergman films, European philosophy, stream-of-consciousness self-awareness. Woody was self mocking Jewishness long before Sasha Baron Cohen and his Borat character arrived on the scene - the purists out there will state Jackie Mason actually pioneered this but not in film. Either way, if one were to begin watching Woody Allen films, this would be the start, where he finally perfected the comic template that would not change until he started channeling his inner Bergman.
Sidenote: I actually have seen Woody in person, up close, at the Parthenon in Athens, of all places. Regretfully, I never got to meet him but only spoke to his wife briefly.
what a little gem of a movie that needs to be discovered!
I watched this movie not knowing anything about it beforehand and what a gem of a little movie this film turned out to be. I mean, it was a discovery about the Jewish culture at that moment in Brazilian history where coups and secret police did their best to drive out communists, left leaning Jews and any other dissidents of the current military junta rule in 1970, the year of a World Cup championship.
This is basically a coming-of-age picture, about a boy who must learn to remember that his parents are "on vacation", along with any other adults who are fleeing sudden arrests.
But it's the interaction of the main character with the other kids of his age that it really takes off. You can just feel this kid growing up, learning, assimilating into a culture he never knew he was a part of and making new friends, while learning a religion he never knew that was his heritage.
The Brazilian World Cup championship is just more added background to a full and complete storyline. I only wish that more viewers will discover this film on DVD.
I have just seen another Brazilian film a few days ago, The City of Men and I could not keep up with ALL the characters or care about them in any meaningful way. In contrast, this movie shows that in the hands of the right screenwriter and director, that is not a problem in an ensemble cast. This movie makes you care.