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Life is weird, I keep on writing over and over again about all the movies I watch, following the motto "I review what I rate and I rate what I see"... still, my intent is not to show off my cinematic knowledge (no more or no less impressive than any average movie lover), but to share some thoughts with people who share the same passion.
Isn't that, by the way, the true measure of a passion?
Now, why do I write movie reviews? since I'm not paid for it, since it's not even my central activity, why wasting energy for lengthy texts that a few dozen readers in the best case would read? Well, because I don't believe it's a waste of energy at all ... and actually, I also write about movies because I wish I could work in the movie business. Having graduated in screenwriting and directing, I hope my time will come. If not, this is the closest I can get to my dreams.
According to Woody Allen's ex-girlfriend in Play It Again, Sam (1972), he likes films because he's "one of life's great watchers". To which he retorts: "I'm a doer, I want to participate". Well, as much as I want to participate, to do something, it's not that being one of life's great watchers and share some vets about life through the experience movies and about movies through the experience of life.
I hope some reviews will be insightful for you, convincing enough to discover a film or just enjoyable, and I hope it will simply get you the opportunity to compare your tastes, your appreciations and your dislikes with a fellow movie lover. Please, forgive some language mistakes and take into consideration, I'm not from an English speaking country, I do my best to use the most proper language... but hey, we're only humans.
Have a good read!
To overcome Blue Monday and daily morosity in general, which of these cinematic happy-go-lucky optimists and half-full glasses philosophers would most help you to look at the bright side of life?
(the question and answer can be delivered by the same character in one single quote)
The exchange shouldn't exceed four sentences, otherwise we're not talking about quotes but about dialogue, so sorry for the Pulp Fiction (1994) fans but the iconic "What" sequence between Jules and Brett is ineligible for this poll.
Want to discuss it? -It's here my friend."
* FF in the texts ** IMDb exists since 1990
So, from these 12 justice-related films (as in 12 Jurors), ranked in order of IMDb ratings, which one do you plead guilty of liking the most?
Indeed, "MITM" broke many grounds, being one of the first family sitcoms to really set itself apart from the usual clichés and feature a totally unredeemable, dysfunctional family, and get rid (for the first time) of (what used be obligatory) a laugh-track, but I guess most people remember it for being the series that really revived Bryan Cranston's career. Well, if only for that, the series deserves a little tribute.
So, as the title says, were you a fan of "Malcolm in the Middle"?
So, which of these 10 trick to improve your indie film, would you pick? Remember, you have no pretension to make THE film, your masterpiece, or your personal story ... you just want it to be "memorable" enough to launch your career.
It's to this long forgotten period set after the Hanna-Barbera's Golden Age and before the Pokemons, that this poll pays tribute. Now, some of the series I had the privilege to grow up with, have already been adapted to movies, among them "TNMT", "Inspector Gadget", "The Smurfs" and "Transformers" and I concede that the results didn't always match our expectations.
But maybe this is because the producers didn't pay attention to the series with greater potential. Personnally, I've always wondered why I could never see Lawrence Fishburne playing 'Bullet-Proof' in a movie adaptation of "C.O.P.S" or how come an environmentalist cartoon like "Captain Planet" was never given a chance to enlighten the younger generations about the dangers that threaten our planet. Go figure why.
But here's the question: which of these (forgotten?) 80's/90's animated series would make the most awesome live-action adaptation?
PS: I'm fully aware that this poll might only please those who were born between the late 70's and late 80's (20% according to the last poll I suggested) but I suspect even those who were born before and after (re-runs exist, don't they?) will be familiar with some of these titles.
Le chat (1971)
The Cat of Wrath...
Never had silence been as eloquent as in the first act of "The Cat". Most of the exchanges consist on severe glares, desperate stares and a few thrown written notes, but there's a reason why nothing much is said, we don't need words to feel for the characters, nor to understand their opposite needs and motives.
So, the minimalism is less an artistic license from director Pierre Granier-Deferre than the authentic, true-to-life translation of marital boredom, carried by two actors who didn't need dialogues to shine: they had faces, and what faces! With the solid and sensitive presence of veteran actor Jean Gabin and blue-eyed Simone Signoret who, at 49, looked ten years older, the hardest part was over. Indeed, seeing these two living monuments, act, react and sometimes, interact, was a soul-haunting spectacle by itself. Yet, quoting Gabin, star-system was over: even his presence of Signoret's wouldn't have been enough to justify a film if there wasn't some reason-to-be.
And that's "The Cat"'s offering: a powerful statement about marriage or the effect time has on the life of a former typewriter and an acrobat who had a limp from a youth accident. A few bucolic flashbacks (contrasting with the bleak tone of the first act) show a then-youthful couple that made love on the grass after romantic motorcycle rides, to finally surrender, thirty years later, to routine. It seems that whatever gave a spice to their life has turned sour and the house that was once looking onto a charming neighborhood became the sole survivor of urban expansion, and soon-to-be destroyed by ominous bulldozers. The buildings' destruction is a leitmotif of powerful value; it is not the house but the marriages' foundations that are obviously at stakes.
In fact, the whole film is full of metaphorical symbolism, one that never feels forced as it is naturally inserted in the story, starting with the titular animal. The cat is an ordinary alley cat, not ugly but not exceptional either, and as soon as Julien Bouin finds it, it's literally love at first sight: the animal becomes his provider and repository of feelings, much to Lucienne's devastating jealousy. This is a woman abandoned by her husband, they live in the same house, share the same rooms, but they live in separate lives, the cat put the final nail in the coffin of their lost love, that glee in Julien's eyes with the cat on his knees is one she'll never get, and she can't resign herself.
In fact, she has nothing against the cat, she even likes it but the poor animal reflects the heart nuisance the marriages turned to, and will trigger the chain of events that will lead to the heartbreaking final act. The film is told in flashback and this is the right choice because it leaves most of the powerful moments near the end so that the cat doesn't steal the actors' thunder. It is just a cause but not an end: the core of the film is the tragedy of a relationship that is so fragile that any blow can make it collapse, but as the story moves forward, we feel that the bigger tragedy is that it never does. Maybe divorces or separations have become such common practices that we can't understand why the two never envisioned that option, it is even questioned in the film when Julien goes to his old mistress, a brothel manager, played by Annie Cordy.
And these dialogues with the mistress are integral to the comprehension of Julien's mysterious personality; he has such ugly words about his wife that the mistress doesn't understand why he doesn't leave her. Well, the answer is in the question, Julien can't prevent himself from talking about his wife, she's the center of his thoughts, as mean as they are, at least, they exist. Marriage seems like a plane in a storm, he's aboard and can do nothing about it. But Lucienne needs love and in one of the film's emotional outbursts, she says she wants a cat, too, to get her share of tenderness, and then she starts meowing hysterically, this is how desperate it is. Julien puts the final blow by commenting her awful looks when she's upset.
But does he fool us? All through the film, we suspect that his heart is not devoid of feelings, the passion has just been diluted in the disillusion of time and boredom and he can't find a proper way to express it, maybe he doesn't know it himself. The film doesn't really provide answers, it just shows a reality that couples can relate to, even I who's been married for five years contemplate a same sort of existential block sometimes, and being younger than the couple is scarier because I wonder if the film can't work like a warning. But then again, this is not just about marriage but the effect of times on relationships. Julien and Lucienne, as old as they are, used to have dreams, and weren't just blue-collar workers so that life would be ahead of them after retirement, they had interesting jobs and they had no kids. Future couldn't look gloomier.
They say marriage is an institution, well the film reminded me of this term coined in "The Shawshank Redemption" : being 'instutionalized', which means getting used to the very walls that used to scare us, because time has a double effect: it erodes relationships, but also build our resistance to their erosion, the tragedy of "The Cat" is that the effect is different from the husband to the wife, but the greatness of the film lies in the final minutes, and the way it toys with the sicknesses of the two leads, that can be both summarized as 'heart' conditions.
I'm not sure I'd feel ready to watch "The Cat" again, but I know there will come a time, if I grow old enough, where I'll think about it, again.
De Funès as the Art and the instrument of his Unique Talent...
A cocky and insolent accountant asks his rich boss, a prosperous real estate promoter, for a generous raise so he can marry a woman who happens to be the boss' daughter. That's for the starters, now, it gets tricky, if the boss says 'no', the accountant won't give him back a large sum of money he stole from the company. Well, he didn't steal it technically but he took it out of a technicality. This is crazy already but there's more to come. Little does the accountant know that the girl isn't even his boss' daughter, but he already started the wacky chain of events which, one imbroglio leading to another, made the boss' daughter reveal that she's in love with someone and pregnant. Does she tell the truth? We suspect it is since the happy father's name is "Oscar" but really, it hardly matters, truth is only a matter of perception and gags.
"Oscar", based on a long-time running play created by Claude Magnier, belongs to the tradition of French screwball comedy, which means, it doesn't have much of plot and anything that should happen must work as a set-up for laughs. How could the film have a plot anyway? The departure it takes is so complicatedly crazy that even the resolutions that come after are not to be taken for granted, some of them even pave the way to crazier and sometimes needlessly complicated situations and other misunderstandings. This is situation comedy elevated to cinematic format. I don't mean this as a criticism, but as a neutral term because this branch of humor fits this unity of location/ time/ story structure, though it doesn't have the edge or wit of other based-on- plays comedies such as "Santa Claus is a Bastard", "Dinner of Schmucks" or "The First Name".
Yet, this is one of the most successful plays in France with a running record of 13 years (and it was produced again in the 2000's) and the reason why it works so much is because it's not about the situation, but about the reaction of one man to all of them: Bertrand Barnier played by Louis de Funès. Once De Funès took the leading role, he never left it and ended up playing it 600 times, it was maybe the role of his lifetime, and people didn't go to see the play but De Funès play in it. De Funès has always been known for his eccentric tantrums, his mimics à la Donald Duck, his tics and his embodiment of this temporary madness called anger by Romans, well, given all the situations he comes through in "Oscar", the fans had their money's worth. The film is a never-ending series of shouting, grimacing. On that level, it can be seen as the consummate De Funès' movie.
Indeed, while the other actors do justice to their parts, honorable mention to Claude Rich as the son-in-law-to-be, Paul Preboist as the butler and the always delightful Claude Gensac as Barnier's wife, De Funès is the pillar of the film. It might sound as a compliment but it is also the film's Achilles' heel because if you're not a fan or if you get rapidly tired of noises and gesticulations, you'll find the experience a bit exhaustive. This is a significant difference between Molinaro and Oury, Oury made movies where De Funès was part of a duo so that the film could be enjoyable on many other levels. In "Oscar", it's a hit-or-miss, and even fans that love De Funès for sentimental reasons might find the film too noisy. Speaking for myself, I couldn't stand the crying noises of the spoiled little daughter, which were worse than nails on a chalkboard, even as an intended effect, it was horrible. Fortunately, they were not overused.
But there are also some great moments and the best is the one where after being insulted in the phone by a man who's supposedly pimply, De Funès goes into a long rant mocking his big nose and spots on his face, without any words, only body language, a plane flying over a face and bombarding it, a nose so big, it become an elastic object, he pulls it, he even mimics the struggle to pull it, he steps on it, it misses and hits his face, then he pulls it again and blows in it, until his face explodes. This is all done with an invisible form that becomes, in the hand of the master, a prop of his comedic genius, contributing to one of the funniest French comedy moments. At the end, he just lies down and there's a silent moment as if Molinaro gave a little time for the viewers, and for the actor, to catch their breath. This little touch works like a magnificent punch line.
De Funès improvised this moment during the play and each new day, each day inventing a new visual gag, and you could hear the roaring laughter in the audience. Maybe this is what lacks in "Oscar", as the result might feel a bit too stagy but this scene is the culmination of De Funès' talent, one that ended up affecting his health and causing a heart attack in 1975, forcing him to go for quieter roles, different from "Oscar". But "Oscar" is still the best illustration to what made De Funès so great, a unique talent that made Oury say he was like a violin player and the violin himself, De Funès translated the situations into laughs through his acting, but he was also, as a body and a face, the instrument of his own laughs.
To see "Oscar" is to understand what made De Funès one of the best comic actors ever, he could carry alone a whole movie.
Bombs and bullets can kill, but they never hurt as much as the truth...
Avner (Eric Bana) is a former bodyguard assigned to lead the killings of eleven men for their involvement in the Munich attacks. There's no contract because the mission doesn't "exist" which means that it will be taken care of, with Israel's 100% efficiency. And while it will profoundly affect the executioner, this is not a character study, unless you consider the psychological mindset of a whole country as a 'character'.
First, I had mixed feelings regarding "Munich", but they all converged toward a positive appreciation. If there is one thing "Munich" ever proves is that Spielberg, while flawed as any human being, is a man of peace, and while it became trendy to support war and attacks in the name of patriotism, it is even more admirable to question it in the same spirit. "Munich" would be attacked on both sides, but as Spielberg pointed out, being attacked doesn't mean "being contradicted".
The title refers to the hi-jacking of Israeli athletes by PLO members during the Olympic Games of 1972 and what a sneaky irony that it had to be in Germany, as if history wanted to repeat itself. The operation ended in tragedy, as eleven athletes died, to the world's shock. It was a time where Palestinians had already lost the 'communication battle'. Things would change in 1987 with the first Intifada, when kids throwing stones at Israeli tanks replaced hooded terrorists holding machine-guns, thus contributing to the first 'change of heart' in favor of the Palestinians.
But in 1972, Israel was the offended country. The film is based on George Jonas' book "Vengeance" chronicling the targeted assassinations against Palestinian dignitaries accused of having pulled some of the strings that lead to 'Black September': eleven men, for eleven athletes, an "eye for an eye" move Golda Meir took all responsibility for. She personally believed that there was no time for peace. Why wouldn't they put these men on trial like Eichmann, who did far worse? Eichmann was arrested at a time where Nazism was terminated, and the new evil from the Israeli perspective was the Arabs, as long as these influential people lived, Israeli would die.
What I admired in the film is that it doesn't only discuss the victims' actual responsibility in the Munich attacks but even the sheer value of their deaths, because each one brings more ruthless successors, perpetuating a never-ending cycle of violence. I expected the movie to open with the blood bath that triggered the whole chain of events, but this was ignoring what a master storyteller Spielberg is. He punctuates the film with elements of that fateful night as violent interludes reminding the viewers why Meir took that decision, the climax coinciding with the killings. But this is not manipulation, as one could accuse Spielberg of. The point is that violence is ugly and blind.
Spielberg depicts each assassination with a Hitchcockian attention for details, one of them involves a bomb trapped in a phone and the biggest suspense comes when a little girl is about to answer the phone instead of her father. But for all the thrills the film provides, what struck me is the way the targets, or at least the first ones, are depicted as 'harmless' people, even sympathetic: one is an Italian-speaking poet and had just finished to translate the Arabian Nights in Italian, he's an intellectual and his involvement in Munich events has been denied, another one is a doctor and a family man, when he's interviewed, he insists that many camps were bombarded by Israel (which means that there are already people who paid the price for Munich).
It seems crucial for Spielberg to shows shades of innocence in the victims or at least be indirectly vocal about the Palestinian pleas, and never without really discrediting them, and it actually pays off. When a Palestinian says that they use violence like Israel does, it also means killing innocents, it indirectly provides alibis for the target assassinations as the men killed are still less innocent than civilians. And when a PLO member discusses with Avner about the Nazi guilt, I felt this was the director of "Schindler's List" reminding the audience that no matter what they think about Jews and Arabs, it is a war for a land, not some extermination project.
Now, to say that Spielberg sided with Palestinians would be too much of a stretch, but the point the screenplay (the book was adapted by Eric Roth an Tony Kuschner) is that violence can't be the solution to the problems it causes. And even at the end, when most of the men are eliminated, there's no real satisfaction or overwhelming effect, it is just about a job that had to be "done", it could have been unfair, but there's a key scene where Avner's mother says that "Israel had to be 'taken' because no one would have given it anyway'. At least, both sides would agree on that.
Served by a great cast: Eric Bana, Geoffrey Rush, Daniel Craig and Mathieu Kassovitz "Munich" explores the dark corners one country could be driven into, in order to "make a point", and it is very fitting that there's a part played by Michael Lionsdale because he starred in my favorite political thriller "The Day of the Jackal", and "Munich" is perhaps the closest that come to that level of documentary-like gritty realism. I didn't need to wish De Gaulle's death to somewhat 'root' for the Jackal, so I guess even an Arab could be fascinated by the level of organization put to avenge eleven athletes.
Maybe admitting that there's a lot to learn from the 'other side' can be a first step toward a reconciliation, but one of the tragedies Arab people must deal with, is that there's no Spielberg's counterpart in the Arab world, to the point that it took a Spielberg film so people could hear their voices.
La grande vadrouille (1966)
French Comedy's Finest Hour...
The undeniability of "The Great Stroll" as the greatest French comedy has somewhat been shaken by the passing of half a century and a few trivia facts. The film held the record of the highest-grossing French movie for forty-two years before being dethroned by "Welcome to the Chti's" and "Intouchables". And since humor is a very fluctuating element of human perception, I suspect a larger portion of French population wouldn't call "The Great Stroll" the greatest French comedy of all time. But they couldn't be more wrong.
Indeed, "The Great Stroll" is to French Cinema what "Some Like it Hot" is to Hollywood, kids might laugh at Seth Rogen or Jonah Hill, their parents might miss the National Lampoon or Jim Carrey's movies, and their grandparents some Lewis and Martin or Abbott and Costello films, but Billy Wilder's classic is the one to reconcile all generations. That's "The Great Stroll" effect, there's something just timeless about this film, maybe because it is set in world war II, a page of History that still fascinates the younger generation, or because it reunites two immortal comedic icons, directed by a man who had a flair for good comedy, or just because it is one of these instances where you got the right cast with the right story and the right timing: it just can't fail even if it tried to.
And it sure didn't, 17 million viewers is still an honorable score by today's standards especially at a time where French population was one-fourth smaller and when there was no Internet, not even TV publicity to create the buzz. But "The Great Stroll" was beyond these needs, it was reliant on the popularity of two great comedians and only their talent ensured a positive word-of-mouth that and the success of their previous pairing in "The Sucker". No one knew how it was going to work, their acting styles were as opposite as their body frames but they completed each other as if they've been a duo for years. "The Sucker" met with success although Bourvil and De Funès were seldom on the same scene, but the test was conclusive and proved Oury that time had come for these two 'messieurs' to share the screen a little longer than that.
"The Great Stroll" didn't miss that opportunity and as soon as the two men are put together, it's the beginning of a great buddy-movie through France in the midst of the German Occupation. But Oury isn't in a rush, it takes almost half an hour before the two leads meet because the priority is to tell a story, gags will flood naturally. So we have three English paratroopers escaping from German anti-aircraft defense to find themselves flying over Paris, the commander, spotting a generous mustache orders everyone to leave the plane and meet in the Turkish bath, their code is "Tea for Two". The man lands on the famous Vincennes' Zoo, the two others cross the paths of municipal painter Augustin Bouvet (Bourvil) and hot-tempered opera conductor Stanislas Lefort (Louis de Funès).
Despite their initial reluctance, they help the British aviators and go to the rendezvous in the' hammam, which leads to the first classic scene when both men whistle "Tea for Two" making eyes with the one big mustached man wondering what on earth is going on. Finally, the historical encounter happens through a hilarious exchange of involuntary homoerotic subtext. Bourvil and De Funès stare at each other, with a weird glee on their eyes, and say : "are you?" "you are". At that moment, the story takes off, driven by the eternal contrast between the blue-collar simpleton and the pedant educated man. De Funès is so odious and bossy that poor Bourvil can't help but obey such orders as giving his shoe, his bike and his shoulders, his awkward walking with tight shoes and his pathetic protests became the most defining traits of his 'lovable loser' character.
"The Great Stroll" doesn't overstuff the film with gags but narrates a genuinely touching adventure of two Frenchmen who overcome their weaknesses and act with bravura and humanity. And what a lesson for today's advocates of political correctness that people who lived during the war, much more Oury, a Jewish director, had no problem ridiculing the Nazis and even showing them playing musical chairs in one of the film's most defining sequences. Indeed, this is a comedy that is not trying to make a political statement whatsoever; it has no other intent than making you laugh. But as a way to acknowledge the gravity of the context, there are two dramatic moments where each of the two men save one's life from a German patrol and gets a "thank you". Drama isn't gratuitous as it allows the bond between the two men to grow into friendship.
And on their own, each one gives his personal little touch, Bourvil is in love with the beautiful Marie Dubois and provides that bit of tenderness, while De Funès' struggle with his wig or the snoring of an overweight Nazi officer provides the slapstick. The film works on many levels, it has action, tenderness, screwball comedy and instinct. Indeed, the most memorable sequences was ad-libbed. Instead of falling on Bourvil's shoulders and then on the ground, De Funès simply stays on the shoulders and lets Bourvil carry him. It is not just the most defining moment of the film, but of French cinema, the two giants, writing a page of French cinema's history.
And "The Great Stroll" is carried by the two performances as confidently as Bourvil carried De Funès' on his shoulders, without letting him fall. Oury would write the "Delusion of Grandeur" with the two men in mind, but Bourvil's passing in 1970 deprived French cinema from what could have been a great trilogy. We'd have to 'content' ourselves with "The Great Stroll" which is simply French comedy's finest hour.
A Landmark of the Horror Genre...
The mark of great horror movies is to depict horror visually and tacitly, when the anticipation and the non-action make your heart pound more than any slashing. For all its abundance of hemoglobin, "Brian de Palma's "Carrie" is never as haunting and effective as when it deals with the brutality endured by its titular characters. For "Carrie" is a deep and emotionally involving portrait of a tormented creature, whose power is finally, fully expressed when she's the victim of the "one prank too many" at the moment that could have been the time of her life. Everyone knows the iconic picture of blood-soaked Sissy Spacek, but also her dazzling smile while holding flowers during her prom coronation, that's the duality of Carrie and the secret of her appeal.
Through his breakthrough best-selling novel, Stephen King painted, in bold red letters, a much fascinating portrait of a shy, insecure girl like we all knew in high-school, an easy target for more confident, popular and (although not a rule) prettier girls. This is clearly established in the first shot where, after having missed a ball during volleyball game, she gets insulted and hit by her schoolmates. Looking at Sissy Spacek's innocent look, I felt an instant empathy toward that poor creature. I was bullied in school, athletics weren't my strongest suit, and while I wasn't as shy as Carrie, I was certainly below the line of popularity, so I knew all too well what she was going through.
But Carrie is an even more excessive case, she doesn't even realize that she's having her first period during the following shower. That a girl so advanced in age didn't even anticipate her physiological changes is suspicious and worries Mrs. Collins, her comprehensive gym teacher who finds the right words and gesture to appease her panic attack. We start having a few glimpses of Carrie, when the principal misquotes her name; an ashtray starts shaking and then literally jumps when he shouts. A similar incident occurs when a kid teasing her falls from his bike, there's a sort of catch underneath Carrie's seemingly submissive personality. She's not your typical target. The film doesn't try to be a character study but works all the same.
At home, Carrie's mother confronts her, she's a bigoted Christian played by a convincingly scary Piper Laurie. At the very knowledge that her daughter has the curse, Margaret throws a tantrum on her and asks her to pray God for forgiveness. She's a scary woman but she reveals a lot about Carrie especially that behind every weak personality, there's a controlling and dominant parent believing in his/her good intentions. Carrie's soul is the soul of her mother's obsessions, but it had such a traumatic effect on Carrie that it shaped the two defining aspects of her personality: shyness and a 'power' revealing itself to be 'telekinesis. In King's oeuvre, power is always at the hands of vulnerable people and that's why King's books and adaptations are so successful.
But "Carrie" also benefits from Brian De Palma's directing, flashy when it's called for to emphasize the suddenness of the scary outbursts with the use of Bernard Herrman's violin score from "Psycho", but there is a fine balance between stylish moments and quieter ones. And on the basis of these moments where the teacher confronts the girls, when she helps Carrie to feel better and to take care of her face, for these touching interactions with Tommy, the prettiest guy in school, I liked "Carrie". This is not your typical 'all flash and no substance' horror movie, as no flashiness, no nudity, no extreme violence or sexuality ever feels gratuitous. Spacek makes Carrie so real the realism exceeds her fragile aura and affects the film, positively.
And while De Palma paid a remarkable tribute to his master Hitchcock, there's a dimension of sweetness and romance that weren't known as Hitchcock's trademarks. So in its own right, this is great romance culminating at the prom. The dance sequence is nothing short but a masterpiece of filmmaking, a moment where Carrie still doesn't realize that this is happening, but Tommy finds the perfect words to reassure her. The camera turns around them and the pace accelerates until it gets vertiginous as if De Palma deliberately accentuated the dizziness of Carrie, as if she was intoxicated by her euphoria. It is just too good to be true, but as viewers, we want to believe it, and as long as it takes for Carrie to get on the stage, to smile, to see people smiling back, to receive the flowers, we savor every moment of that before it all gets downhill.
This is one of these instances where you almost wish there would be no movie, for Carrie's sake. This is how powerfully and patiently our empathy was built and how the climax, as brutal and blindly violent as it was (many victims weren't even laughing at Carrie) shows that sometimes, violence is out of control, it starts when an innocent life is brutalized but as a consequence, many other innocent lives can be swept out. In the case of Carrie, vengeance was a dish served immediately, all in a flashy red, one of the film's leitmotifs, and the climax is still now, a staple of modern horror movies and an indicator that the 70's were a terrific decade in every level.
And it also works on a slightly pervert level, as we all feel somewhat satisfied when some of the bullies get their comeuppance, no matter how extreme they are, then the fact that innocents die too reminds us that one should not cheer for violence and accept that bullies can be victims and victim can be bullies, although in the case of Carrie, a very extreme type. It seems reliant on voyeuristic and manipulative tricks but when you look closer, it's far beyond these clichés and respects the viewers' intelligence more than your usual horror flicks.
French Fried Vacation: Flawed Forever...
The third opus of the forever-flawed "French Fried Vacation" trilogy has a subtitle: it is "Friends Forever" well I suppose that doesn't include the audience. Am I funny? No, I just put myself on the film's level. It is not just bad but embarrassingly bad. It's the kind of movies that don't just make you notice how bad they are, but make you angry, because it ruined a legacy.
Now, whenever you'd have to say how great the first one in the African resort and the second in the mountains were great, you'd have to add that the third one was terrible. The same thing happened a few years ago with that dreadful "Visitors" sequel, the kind of experience where you leave the film thinking "Is there such a shortage of good writers that this is the best they could come up with?" And speaking of "Visitors", it is interesting because five years had passed till they made the sequel but given how spectacularly awful it was, you would have thought it was two decades.
"French Fried Vacation 3" was made 27 years after: on that level, it felt like an eternity, because you'd better believe only the cruel passing of time can make you go from fun, wit and modern relevance to plain mediocrity. It is sad, sad to see characters that defined the new face of French comedy being such hacks. They used to play relatively unlikable persons, but they did it with fun, warmth and a special ingredient that always earned our empathy, in the third, they're unlikable people played in an unlikable way. The same characters are here, they have money, problems but the heart isn't in it.
The handsome womanizer and goofy loser Popeye (Thierry Lhermitte) lost its touch with the ladies but being the tallest can pass as "good looks". The greatest blasphemy was when the ultimate loser Jean-Claude Dus (Michel Blanc) turns to a cheerful successful businessman specialized in wigs and the boyfriend of Gigi (Marie-Anne Chazel) who's just had breast implants. She's given so little plot substance that I reconsidered the breast thing as the perfect distraction from her dullness. Bernard and Nathalie, the couple of average Joes played by Gérard Jugnot and Josiane Balaso are the same: as dysfunctional as ever, but these times, they don't have youth as an excuse, they immediately get on our nerves. The same with divorced Jerome (Christian Clavier) wandering all through the film, Clavier is the most successful French comedian but he's not very comfortable as "one of six" anymore.
The rest of the cast are here: Martin Lamotte, Dominique Lavanant and Bruno Moynot, but you can take any ten minutes from the first two movies and they'll provide more genuine laughs than the whole of "Friends Forever". The film is a pointless series of "things happening for the sake of a gag". Worse, there's a degree of self-consciousness that makes it even more irritating. It's like they knew this was going to be a hit and the actors tried to make an artificial cult classic out of that certitude, by injecting some one-liners that feel totally artificial. Sometimes, you can almost hear a beat after a line, as if it's telling you that it's a joke, and it is supposed to make you laugh. Some lines are delivered with the sole intent of entering the half of fame of classic French quotes in the same vein that "I will conclude". But it lamentably fails.
The only thing the film got right is that it was going to be a commercial success, but what a splendid irony that one of the box-office champs of the last decade, garnering thrice more viewers than the first two put together was instantly disliked by everyone. It is a commercial success and a critical fail, people of all generations love "French Fried Vacation", whether they watched it in the theaters or grew up with and could recite them line by line, so they heightened their expectations when they saw that all the actors (even the director Patrice Leconte) were back on the road. If anything, the film worked because of the first two, but it didn't have the decency to return the compliment by respecting their "spirit". But could it really?
I said in previous reviews that the real trilogy ended with "Santa Claus is a Bastard", and one can even see a tetralogy with "Papy Fait de la Résistance". The Splendid Troop refreshed the air of French cinema in the 70's by making vulgar crass comedies with endearing and likable schmucks or losers, people the population could relate to. The torch was passed between the stage theater heritage of Bourvil and Fernandel and the aging Louis de Funès to the younger generation. Old school movies were getting lamer, a bit childish although not deprived of charm but the baby boomers gave French comedy a flavor that defined the 80's and 90's. And maybe what "Friends Forever" says is that they're now in the same position than those they dethroned, they lost their touch.
Each time defined a new 'vis comica'. And obviously, our favorite vacationers lost the touch with their era and didn't make enough an impact in that film. There were a few good scenes here and there but they never left an enduring impression, Bernard's son announces his homosexuality and then disappears, his father's reaction is hilarious until it turns into a ridiculous visual stroke. When a film must resort to slapstick and cheap gags involving dead dogs, big breasts, and botox lips exploding in a plane, you know this is not good.
But it is quite fitting that the film deals with plastic surgery, it feels like they really implanted what they thought would be good gags and funny jokes, but it really feels like botched surgery. It is a film of artificial and plastic ugliness
Lacked the Basic Element of a Thriller: Thrills!
As Hitchcock's reign was coming to an end, a new sub-genre popped out of nowhere to become the main provider of thrills for the decade to come. In 1970, "Airport", George Seaton's star- studded Best Picture nominee paved the runway to the disaster genre.
From the air to the fire, water to animals living in it, these cinematic instances where mother Nature took the bad role, seemed to fulfill a masochistic craving for mass destruction or their impending doom, and the closer to the audience the characters were, the more heart-pounding the experience was. By the end of the 70's, Lucas, Scott and Spielberg had already reshaped the thrillers, relocating the settings to space or more "exotic" locations, taking viewers back to the outmoded charm of 40's/50's B-movies. And in 1980, the final nail of the disaster's coffin was the spoof movie's "Airplane!": no one would ever take any disaster film seriously after that.
But at the dawn of the 70's, while America was caught between the polarizing effects of the Vietnam War and the disillusion of the economical crisis, escapism could only be conveyed by life-threatening situations with a fistful of survivors. Sometimes, there would be more... and on that level "Airport", as the starter, went pretty easy with the protagonists, but what it did and what it should be remembered for is to have defined a sub-genre, one that culminated with "Jaws" and ended with "The China Syndrome". These movies would all obey the same codes: a cast full of big names was the primal requirement and there would be as many stars as intertwining stories and subplots, all affected by a disaster that would either change or terminate their lives.
This mix of spectacular terror and mundane banality give these films a unique flavor: you could root for these people because they dealt with similar problems than yours, but because some of them would remind you of a few enemies, you wouldn't mind watching them falling to their death, being drown or crushed. Did I say masochistic? I guess there are some sadistic impulses. And when I started "Airport", I wanted these little guilty impulses of mine to be satisfied; there were a few characters that were made so unlikable I was already jumping at the idea of seeing them sucked out of a hole in the aircraft or having Karma backfiring at them in a way or another. But nothing happened.
As a matter of fact, nothing EVER happened, nothing thrilling that could fit in a ten-minute montage. The film is just an assemblage of marital arguments, characters expositions, and promising build-ups without any emotional reward whatsoever. I enjoyed the campiness of these people washing their dirty linen in public; it works on the "so bad it's good" level. Charlton Heston and Ava Gardner in "Earthquake" or that macho duel between McQueen and Newman in "Towering Inferno", were delightfully over the top, but they belonged to movies that could backup the hammy acting with great thrills. Not every film could aspire to be a powerful drama à la "Jaws" or "China Syndrome" but disaster movies were always great thrillers in their own right.
And I really expected "Airport", as the one that defined all these archetypes, to be slightly better than its predecessors. As far as acting went, I expected nothing but it was fun to see Burt Lancaster and Dean Martin approach their stories as if their lives depended on it, how overly macho George Kennedy did his 'chief mechanic' shtick and how nervous Van Helfin was and more ridiculous the fact that no one suspected him. But this is nothing compared to the female roles: Helen Hayes' old innocent lady's routine act, the compassionate mistresses played by Jean Seberg and Jacqueline Bisset, and the selfish pompous wife asking for a divorce and giving her husband a free pass for infidelity. These subplots made me wonder what statement about marriage the film wanted to deliver and why did they think we would care enough to see THAT occupying more room than the plane problem.
Halfway through the film, I had to check my watch, the plane hadn't even taken off and I spent more time trying to figure out what was going, especially with all these annoying split screens and phone calls. So there's a storm, snow everywhere, planes are blocked, people complain about pollution, the Captain cheat his wife, the manager spent too much time at work, a plane is blocking the runway, and a man wants to explode a bomb so his wife can get the life insurance. I'm pretty sure this could have been handled in less than one hour so we can get directly to the plane part. Once Helfin finally explodes -and off-screen for all that- it's all about landing the plane, and guess what? The plane lands but there's no suspense whatsoever injected in this, only a race against the clock.
To the film's defense, in a plane, it's either everyone dies or everyone survives, so the film was victim of its very premise and didn't convey this life-threatening Adrenalin effect. The only character that brings some deep humanity is Maureen Stapleton but she's so seldom seen in the film that it's not enough. Watching "Airport" under the scope of its influence made me realize how infinitely better the successors were and the day after, they aired "Die Hard 2" on TV, well, I know "Airport" tried to pass as realistic drama and "Die Hard 2" asks a bit too much on the suspension of disbelief department, but I'd take that airport-themed movie over "Airport" any time.
"Airport" is enjoyable to some degree, the campy acting and the whole old-fashioned treatment gives a sort of involuntary qualities, but what is unforgivable is that is fails to provide the basic element of a thriller: thrills!
The Lego Movie (2014)
Like the Title Song says...
Today, before watching an animated movie, the biggest question is "which element of newness can it ever provide to eyes that have enjoyed hundreds of Disney (and even DreamWorks) classics?"
Indeed, as time goes by and the audiences get more blasé, the probability for an animated film to meet with commercial success might be relatively high, but whether it would stand the test of time and become a classic is another story. Each of the three 'Shrek' sequels did pretty well in the box-office, but compared to the first opus, they're all pretty forgettable.
But this is an adjective I wouldn't use for "The Lego Movie" as it is a wonderfully crafted and smartly conceived animated comedy. It doesn't just bring enjoyment; it also possesses such a meticulous attention to little details that you wouldn't mind watching it again in case you missed something. Of course, the very premise of an animated movie made of Lego bricks is to challenge the eyes with as many details as one can spot in a simple blink, that's the essence of the Lego bricks, but the writers or creators didn't just take that high-concept for granted: the special effects are the vehicles to a solid plot and a story with a message that is positive without being dull or predictable.
There's a moment where all the protagonists meet in Cuckoo Cloud Land (or was it Cloud Cuckoo Land)? And although some of the characters in the background add nothing to the story, the multiple cameos they form is simply irresistible (they go from Simpsons characters to Ninja Turtles or movies and fairy tales icons) you really have to push the pause button if you want to spot each of them. This perfectionism has nothing to envy on Disney's and reward our expectations as we don't expect uncluttered landscapes from a Lego film. And while it starts with Lego Land and the ominous President Business' building, it also gets out of the urban zone of comfort and make us fly over the vast Western canyons or enjoy a trip on and under the sea, the occasion for many cool effects simulating waves, smokes or clouds.
Last time I had as much fun was with "Rango" and there's some kinship between the two films besides not being from Disney (or another 3D major studio), they have extremely appealing heroes. Rango had a certain edgy quality but Emmett (Christ Pratt) is simply too sweet for words. It's like the writers, instead of taking the wrong step and making the most possibly original character, went to the totally opposite trajectory, making an even more original one. This is a Lego-man who sees the half filled glass, who cheers at everything, because in Lego life, everything is built upon instructions, you can't do any wrong because that's an option life doesn't include. So nothing can upset him: the lousy one-joke sitcom, the overpriced coffee, his motto echoes the town's hymn "Everything is Awesome", a cheesy electronic pop hit that seems to come directly from the 90's.
But under this cheerful front, Lego Land lives with an impending doom of evil President Business (Will Ferrell) and according to Vitrivirus, a wizard with the voice of Morgan Freeman, a chosen one will save the town (quite a prophecy, isn't it?), it turns out to be Emmett, but he needs to believe it to succeed. The film takes one of the cheesiest clichés but makes it the soul of its message and making something original out of conventional stuff is a stunt I didn't think was possible. And the is the kind of masterstroke I won't dare to spoil but let's just say, there comes a moment where even the comedic inventiveness can't drive the plot, and the writers need an extra push and we make the one discovery that gives its full meaning to the Lego, the reason why anyone can enjoy it.
Speaking for myself, I stopped playing Lego when I got a new digit in my age but playing now with my daughter, I rediscover the appeal behind this simple but genius concept, interlocking brick one or another, creating more and more challenging forms, some with a meaning, others not, but avoiding dullness at all costs. There is something in Lego that is so boundlessly creative, that you can't help but feel the need to reinvent stories or scenarios within the limits of your mind's imagination. It's just as if the 3D animation existed before the screen version, and "The Lego Movie" was inevitable. And it is perhaps the only animation process where the temptation of portraying the 'player' was so strong, as if there was something subtly existential or deeply metaphysical in that quest for perfection. I had a foretaste after watching the Simpsons 'Lego' episode, there's indeed some great source of creativity behind these little bricks.
Nevertheless, this quest for perfection is integral to the film's appeal, so is the need to deconstruct things for the sake of imagination. There was something in that Cuckoo Land that reminded me of South Park's "Imagination Land", and this is what the film is about: the power of imagination, and that includes imagining yourself as a hero, and being able to build and to decompose as well. And not to make the film sounds too philosophical, it is also a terrific comedy with superb characters, including Elizabeth Banks as the bad-ass WyldStyle (the jokes about her names never get old), a 80's Spaceman and Unikitty, a hilarious mix of Hello Kitty and 'My Little Pony' style unicorns.
Honorable mention to the scene-stealing performance by Bruce Wayne aka Batman and a funny twist on the good cop/bad cop trope, well it's full of pop culture references, they're good but they're not even the best thing about the film.
Everything is awesome in that 'Lego' movie and I'm looking forward for the sequels.
Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
A Director Under the Influence...
"Silver Lining Playbook" got Oscar nominations in the four acting categories for the first time after three decades, succeeding Warren Beatty's "Reds", Hal Ashby's "Coming Home" and Sidney Lumet's "Network". As far as acting goes, this is nowhere near what these movies showcased, but I won't make a commentary on the acting, let's just check the film's summary. Just read it again and get back to this review.
I'll tag this review with the 'spoiler' mention anyway, but seriously, isn't the spoiler obvious from the start? If there's anything Woody Allen and romantic comedies have taught us, it is that anyone with an ex-wife will end up meeting a stranger hell, this is already given away in the summary. If we don't get that Patrick (Bradley Cooper) and Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) will be together, we haven't seen enough movies in our lives. That said, I have nothing against predictability as long as it is satisfyingly conducted and occasionally creates a few original situations. I found none in "Silver Lining Playbook", not that I didn't enjoy it to some degree, but the 'masterpiece' labeling and awards' nods sort of heightened my expectations.
I guess the mental troubles of many protagonists and the way it raised "awareness" about the obsessions that can damage people's lives, (such as anger problems, compulsive habits, gambling, sexual infidelities etc.) are so many positive elements that speak in favor of David O' Russell. But why are critics pretending that he "pioneered" something as if "Ordinary People", the heartbreaking chronicles about a family stricken by grief and trauma or a masterpiece like John Cassavetes "A Woman Under the Influence", never existed. That movie alone should put to shame any attempts of comparison. That Lawrence won an Oscar and not Rowlands is perhaps more maddening than any situation in "Playbook". Lawrence was good, but a few emotional outbursts don't equate the realistic embodiment of craziness, and neither does saying that you love sex with that "sultry mysteriousness" and shadowy eyes.
There is a sort of half-serious half-awkward vibes the directing constantly tries to exude and while it doesn't fail to provide some emotional depth, it just rings false during these moments meant to be crucial. Take the Halloween date: the writing is so cringe worthy it is painful. First of all, all through the film, Pat insists about a reconciliation with Nikki, "Nikki this, Nikki that...", so it is plain obvious that he won't be cured as long as he's obsessed with Nikki. It works to the point of annoying insistence, thrown at our face like the indicator that he's not cured yet. And while there's obvious chemistry with Tiffany, the date is ruined for the stupidest reason: he believes she's crazier than he is on the basis of the sexual experiences she revealed. I couldn't believe he would believe it. Her reaction was naturally anger but fake as it was induced by a fake situation.
And don't get me started on the ending, Pat finally got over Nikki and needed to tell her so, but couldn't have he avoided giving Tifanny the wrong impression? No, because we needed the obligatory romantic chase on the sidewalk. Best Picture contender? Gimme a break!
Or I must have a problem with O' Russell but while I can see the well-meaning intent behind each of his movies, they always leave me cold. I would moderate this feeling with "Silver Lining Playbook" because here and there, there were some moments where my empathy rose toward some characters, and that includes Jennifer Lawrence and Jacki Weaver, who played the mother, but most of the time, I was wondering why this movie is elevated on a pedestal of "eye-opening masterpiece about mental disorders affecting a suburban family", while in the best case, it's got the appeal of made-for-TV afternoon dramas, only with a star-studded cast. De Niro is one of my favorite actors, but even an A-lister like him can't redeem the directing, all through the first act, I was wondering why David O' Russell was over-stuffing his scenes with hand-held camera moments.
Sure, it is to accentuate the whole confusion and mental chaos but I could only feel noise and dizziness. There was no build-up to make even this confusion emotionally affecting. It comes at such early points of the film that you don't even know who's crazy or who's not, so the emotional mess is an effect rather than a plot-driver. The second altercation between Cooper and De Niro works better, because we know them and their back-stories, well enough to share their pain. But these moments of strong emotional resonance aren't enough to compensate for the relative emptiness and predictability of the story and the preposterous plot points such a random bet supposed to solve all the family problems and a dance contest that was obviously injected to provide some visual escapism for the film's climax.
Otherwise, there was nothing that felt genuinely and powerfully realistic in that film. Awkward doesn't equal realistic except when it's handled by a director who doesn't try to imitate other directors. Whenever I see O' Russell, I got vibes from his 'masters' and after Scorsese in "American Hustle", here it is Cassavetes, but speaking of him, just go watch Rowlands' performance in "A Woman Under the Influence" and tell me that "Playbook" is as powerful. De Niro's crying was effective but it didn't break my heart as Donald Sutherland did in the climactic confrontation or the last ten seconds of "Ordinary People" and he didn't even get an Oscar nod for that.
Sorry for all thel titles' dropping, but if I can use this review to give publicity to real masterpieces that powerfully dealt with family trauma and troubles; it will all be worth it.
TV, car chases, kidnappings... 1961 marks Walt Disney's entrance in Modernity...
t wasn't called Disney Renaissance for nothing: in 1989, "The Little Mermaid" was the first animated Disney to feature a princess in thirty years, the last one being "Sleeping Beauty". With that in mind, the first Disney animated feature to be released after "Sleeping Beauty" was a starter in its own right, it opened an era of uneven productions that can be assimilated to dark ages. Although perceived as classics they never inspire the same glee in the eye than the likes of "Snow White" or "Pinocchio" or "Mermaid" and "Lion King". But "One Hundred and One Dalmatians" has aged better than most of its contemporary, maybe enough to compete with the legitimate masterpieces.
Now, do kids really care about these technicalities? Speaking for myself, this film is one of my earliest memories, and by that I mean very early. I had vague and foggy visions of the meeting of Pongo and Perdita (and their masters Roger and Anita) in the park, I never forgot the face of Cruella De Vil who was the first villainess I could put a name on, and as a kid who was a bit cowardly, I used to hide behind a table during the TV scene. I simply hated that startling moment where the villainous cowboy's face occupied the whole screen and scared the hell out of Patch, and me in the process (quite a "mise en abime"). I avoided watching, and later renting, the film maybe because of that moment, but the film didn't avoid me for all that.
Indeed, one of the first books I started to read at the age of 5 was based on the film and at the same time, I used to watch the Disney Channel program and to those who remember, the intro started with the iconic picture of the polka-dotted canine family staring at the TV. This is just the stuff your nostalgia is made on, you can't control it. And for all these reasons, I simply can't formulate a critic against the film without feeling like I'm betraying my inner child. But I'll let the adult speak a little bit: after Christmas, I bought my daughter four Disney classics and I couldn't resist to the temptation. I had to see the Dalmatians, three decades after the first complete viewing. Enough with the princesses, "Frozen" and 'let-it-go!' message, how about a family- friendly film about a dog family.
After all these dragon fights and dazzling magic tricks from "Sleeping Beauty", there's a sort of cozy and relaxing little charm "Dalmatians", conveyed by that opening scene where Pongo tries to find the perfect girl for his master and culminating in the park. The next scene is a revolution; TV in a Disney film. This is an acknowledgment of the role the little screen played on Disney's expansion, and what a wonderfully crafted moment with these puppies staring at their dog hero while we stare at them. TV would even play a part to the story as the two thugs Horace and Jasper will delay their mission because they want to watch "What's My Crime?" on TV. As a big fan of the "What's My Line" channel on Youtube, I was surprised to find a parody of the program on a Disney film.
But then I remembered that even the great Walt Disney came to the show and promoted the opening of Disney World (or Land). Disney was a pioneer in the sense that he could anticipate the tastes of people but he could also disconcert the expectations and make a film like "One Hundred and One Dalmatians", a family oriented film in the purest sense of the world, perhaps the only Disney with a united family not affected by death, and a great message about it. Even that powerful doggy SOS where, one howl to another, dogs communicate in order to find the puppies find some strong echoes in our era affected by sad kidnapping stories. "One Hundred and One Dalmatians" marks an unexpected entrance from Walt Disney in modernity.
Of course, it had a few undesirable effects such as the constant recycling of images (I spotted that the image of Roger lighting his pipe was reused three or four times) but this is not as blatant as the case of "Sword in the Stone" or "The Aristocats" and there's obviously an element in the drawing of these little dogs (and the big ones, too) that is admirable. The sketchy drawing and seemingly static background never bothered me anyway because they fit the very kind of stories Disney would start to tell. And the way Cruella De Vil looks is integral to her appeal, she indeed looks like a devil, a monster, but she might be the most 'human' of all Disney villains, maybe the character modern audience can most relate too, she's crazy, obsessive, narcissistic, but she's a woman who backs up her words with actions, she embodies the darkest side of the 'woman-power' and contributes to one of the most thrilling climactic sequences from Disney. Can you believe that after a dragon fight, the next Disney featured a car chase, and one that holds up pretty well by today's standards.
So, it doesn't come as a surprise that she was listed among the Top 50 Greatest Villains from the American Film the Top 50 villains in the American Film Insitute's List among the Evil Queen and the Man from "Bambi", not a bad company. So for the villain, the positive message about family (maybe the only Disney where it's a central theme) and the whole 'great escape' plot, "One Hundred and One Dalmatians", if not the best, is perhaps one of the most endearing Disney feature.
(And I just noticed this is the 100th review this film got, next reviewer will be happy)