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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!
This is not to say that all great comedies culminate at the ending, some romantic comedies have a rather conventional closing scene, other can be surprisingly emotional or bittersweet, but it's precisely on these memorable endings, regardless of their effects, that some classic comedies have a special spot in our heart and our memories.
So, which of these classic comedies has the most memorable ending?
After voting, you may discuss the list here
And from the early days of cinema, time has always been represented as a hostile or stressful element, the most emblematic image being Harold Lloyd dangling from a clock on the side of a building. If that iconic moment doesn't sum up the conflicting relationship we all have with time, I don't know what it does.
And while not always the main inspiration, Safety Last! (1923) paved the way to other memorable scenes featuring one or many characters in similar situations although not necessarily on the same life-threatening level, or just a habile juxtaposition of characters and a clock.
Which of these memorable movie moments is your favorite?
Try to find your answer in less than 20 seconds and then discuss the list here, hurry!
So, if you had to pick one, which of these (overused?) little tricks would you use to make your film debut more memorable?
After voting, you may discuss the list here
After voting, you may discuss the list here
Now, how about exploring one of the most defining aspect of his cinematic legacy: quotability. Indeed, Al Pacino is probably one of the most quotable actors of his generation with so many sayings, shouts, warnings, shouts, yells and screams again and last but not least, speeches that forever enriched Pop-Culture.
So, even if you're not a fan of the actor, if you could pick just one, which is your favorite from these 35 Al Pacino's memorable quotes? (one that doesn't come from a speech or a monologue except if it's a conclusion that can be considered a classic quote in its own right?)
Keep your choice close, your vote closer and discuss the poll here
PS: 60% of the list still belongs to his two most legendary roles : 12 quotes from Michael Corleone and 9 from Tony Montana
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."
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?
Hauru no ugoku shiro (2004)
However painful it is to write this, but this time, Miyazaki indulged to self grandiosity
I'm glad that Hayao Miyazaki reconsidered his decision to retire otherwise his 2004 "Howl's Moving Castle" would be his last movie I'd experience and well, you got it, it wasn't as pleasant as the previous ones. I watched it three times, as I used to because his movies tend to be rich content and form wise so the two aspects can distract one from another, but then checking some other users' comments, I stuck to my initial reaction: the animation is as great as you can expect from the master but it's one of these cases where, paraphrasing Emperor Joseph from "Amadeus", you can just sigh and say there are simply too many 'notes'.
Don't get me wrong, it's not a case of Emperor with no clothes, but with so many clothes you can't even recognize him anymore. But I had my reservations from the beginning because the title reminded me of "Castle in the Sky" and that film didn't leave me ecstatic either, an action-packed coming-of-age story, puppy romance with environmentalist and anti-war messages venturing in the realm of magic led to a real overdose of effects not easily 'digestible' by a younger audience. The film is still just a lighter version of "Howl's Moving Castle", a real 'fantasy' bouillabaisse and perhaps the unique instance where a point came I stopped to care about the film and was waiting for it to end.
Was it because Miyazaki was so intoxicated by the universal (and deserved) acclaim of "Chihiro's Travel" that he felt he could fly that close to the sun and get away with it, there was just something a tad pretentious in that late-minute eruption of fantasy and witchcraft. And yet it started so promisingly
I just loved the quiet beginning in that small European town, I figured the action took place during World War I, then it started with a meek and mousy milliner named Sophie who's saved from two bullying soldiers by a handsome flying 'angel' named Hauru (the titular Howl) and then you have your set-up for a typical Miyazaki journey, a young female candidate for a great coming-of-age story, flying, magic and war as the backdrop. Then the troubles begin: a cruel sorceress named the Witch of the Waste turns Sophie (for no apparent reason) into an old woman and not only we've had to say goodbye to the pleasant look of Sophie to (yet another) ugly looking grandmother. What's with Miyazaki and old women anyway?
Still, the real problem is that the personality of Sophie changes as well, in fact, it changes so radically that she becomes like another character. This might be the most disturbing thing about the film, all through her adventure; the changes in Sophie's looks and personality are so inconsistent that I had a hard time detecting the aspect of her personality that was meant to evolve. I initially thought being an old woman would help her to embrace life with more enthusiasm, but she seemed to have understood it very quickly and become your typical domineering lady as soon as she enters the castle (with the help of the turnip-face scarecrow). So what was Sophie's lesson to learn?
From the ending, we gather that "Howl's Moving Castle" was meant to end like a love story. I didn't read the original novel from Diana Wynne Jones (in fact, when I heard the name "Witch of the Waste and saw the scarecrow, I expected a 'Wizard of Oz' like journey) but even in the novel, I guess there was an arc to close, but here, Sophie falls in love with Howl or Hauru, why? She did save him in a way but since she spent most of her time as an old lady trying to break her spell, she acted more as a motherly figure helping an insecure kid, those were interesting twists on the usual characterization, but at the end it seems that there's a return to a basic narrative that didn't match the beginning.
I quite enjoyed the film say after the visit to the Queen and then, the overuse of magic and ominous malevolent spirits, then the chants and the chases and I just stared at the screen and thought "boy, that escalated quickly". The problem with magic is that it's a double-edged sword, basically when the main protagonist is victim of a curse, her 'love' interest is a wizard, the nemesis turned protagonist is a witch, and the wise queen an even crueler witch, and the castle is a magic spirit moved by a talking fire, well, there are so many possibilities there's no savor to unpredictability anymore, it becomes boring. The movie goes in too many directions and magic shortcuts itself in a chaotic extravaganza. Kiki's incapability to fly the broom was more intense than anything from "Howl's" climax.
Yes, the film is visually pleasant but at some point but so are many Terry Gilliam's movies and they're not in the same league of greatness. At least, "Castle in the Sky" had the pirates and couldn't be a love story anyway, while "Howl's Moving Castle" seems to cut-and-paste all the usual elements of Miyazaki and provide a great entertainment without any 'ubstance', the ingredients are all there but making a film is also like making a good cake. Miyazaki did this film like the pastry cook who's just finished his cake, added some Chantilly cream, then some fruits, then some raspberry coulis, and then some walnuts individually, they all taste great but in the same recipe, they can only contribute to something indigestible.
While not a bad movie or a misfire, I think this is just Miyazaki being carried away at the most pivotal moment of the film and realizing at the last minute that it should have a proper ending. Definitely a case where the best was the enemy of the good.
Der Himmel über Berlin (1987)
Makes making great movies look easy
Make nothing happen and viewers will look at your film like in a mirror ... the more boring and insignificant, the more meaningful it will be ... it will show your true independence, your courageous stance toward cinematic conventions. No you won't undergo the tyranny of plot, the dictatorship of having to "tell a story", the screen says its truth and they'll be there to experience it, and to drop some positive labels such as: a true-to-life story, a character study, like-looking-in-a-mirror, slap-in-a-face with a haunting atmosphere carried by monochrome photography.
Nothing happens? You didn't get it? Never mind, some stuff is just beyond rational thinking and this is why Art Movies are for, conveying the kind of messages that demand many viewings to be fully gotten, and since you target a niche market, you'll find followers. The point is to explore abstraction and metaphysics , psychological and spiritual subjects, whose introspective content will justify the use of a dream-like atmosphere and a poetic screen writing, there is no answer to life, why should this film have one.
I won't go as far as saying that "Wings of Desire" is arty indie for dummies but seriously, I've tried. I really wanted to plug my mind into that profound and stylish contemplation of human existence or the sheer loneliness of the human soul, inspiring at the end all these smart-sounding fancy words that make you sound like you've grasped a parcel of the director's light but I couldn't.
I won't drop any director's names to tell you that I can handle intellectual movies, allow me just to say one thing about Ingmar Bergman, he's made movies that are as enigmatic and hypnotically bizarre-yet-intellectually-deep as Wim Wenders but one of his most notable trademarks is that his movies rarely lasted more than eighty or ninety minutes.
Roger Ebert said that a good movie is never too long and a bad one never too short, I won't call "Wings of Desire" a bad movie but its languorous pacing and the time it takes to get to the point is so slow that even if you want to stay glued to the screen, you can't. The first act struck me as the kind of sequences you'd watch when embedded in the hospital, in fact, it's the kind of movie you'd watch at an old age or at the verge of death, staring at the screen while being carried away by your own "vague à l'âme" as they say in French.
The film has Bruno Ganz, Peter Falk and the same cinematographer who worked in Cocteau's "Beauty and the Beast" but it also has a melancholic and moody take on life and you must probably be in the proper mood to 'enjoy' it, I tried seven years ago and I could barely finish it, I tried twice again, I just gave up. Maybe I'm not as much into this kind of film; maybe I've watched too many films to ever take seriously one that features so much existential voice-over and monochrome photography. The film tries too much to be that intellectual knockout, I tried to have some glimpses on the Bonus Features but even Wenders' interview bored the hell out of me.
Then I tried to get some insights from master Yoda himself, the great Roger Ebert and I found this little pearl where he's commenting on the acting of Solveig Dommarten, the deceased actress who played the trapeze artist. His comment reminded me of my instant dislike of Aurore Clément's performance in Wim Wenders' previous success "Paris, Texas", I found her so bad she was almost distracting, now here's a similar observation from Roger Ebert, albeit in more flattering terms:
"That may make it a "bad" scene in terms of the movie's narrow purposes, but does it have a life of its own? Yes, for the same reasons it's flawed. Movies are moments of time, and that is a moment I am happy to have."
I think that's the worst symptom of "great" movies, genuine flaws are perceived as 'moments of time', of 'genuineness', we're talking of the stuff that potentially ruin careers and I don't see why it should be minimized because it's a great director, when it's a bad one, we find the flaws, when it's a good one, we find the excuses.
And we do look for excuses because typically, these movies say less about the directors than the detractors, I'm quite aware that this film has an existential value, but I think I just walked off symbolically from the theater and embraced my own desire to fly over these contemplative issues. I'll try again, in seven years
56 Up (2012)
The "Up" series or perhaps the most noblest form of 'Reality Show'
And here we are, for the last chapter of Michael Apted's "Up" series. Fourteen lives I've been following from their childhood to the age of maturity. And seeing them getting older and wiser, contemplating their achievements, has always made me consider my own life hasn't anyone?
This is not a series about lives, but Life. And these persons were no laboratory rats though the initial purpose of the "Seven Up" short was to make a point on the British class system. Granada Productions' bias was even more obvious since they didn't select kids from middle classes (not many girls too). But the more the subjects grew on life and on us, the less these considerations mattered.
And for once, I won't be too analytical, I think maybe the key to this show's appeal is the likability of all the subjects. They are different, but they are all good and decent. And this struck the man I am belonging to their children's generation. Indeed, had "Up" been about Millennials, there might have been more "Neils" and less "Pauls" or "Andrews". Here, they had their share of ups and downs, separations, health issues, deaths but they always managed to look at the bright side of life. And maybe the program did play a part to that.
Indeed, in my "49 Up" review, I didn't take Suzie's reluctance to participate in '56' for granted, and I was right. And it was a pleasant surprise to see Nick sitting next to her. Together, they have grown a friendship due to their rural upbringing and agreed on many points about the limitating format of the program, that it only offered short glimpses on their lives but the merit was in the lessons and perspectives offered by the sums of all these experiences.
Suzie and Nick were critical but they were there all right, reckoning the cathartic value of the documentary as each 'time' snapshot of their lives allowed them to stop once in a while and examine their previous accomplishments like their own viewers, before becoming actors again. And for similar reasons, the other participants admitted a sense of commitment to the documentary not to mention, friendship with Apted. I could swear I hear them calling him "Michael" more than all the previous episodes put together. Even Jackie who had settled a few records in '49'. This "56" edition was as fascinating as the "49" because it really reflected a new attitude toward life, let alone the camera.
Was it a coincidence that separate participants revealed new elements about their lives at that particular episode? John regretted that he was constantly shown as a privileged child while his father died when he was 9, Andrew finally revealed that the "Financial Times" line was something his father told him to say. Like for Jackie in the previous episode, we realize that the documentary format can't reflect the deep and complex aspects of reality, but doesn't social life work on the same flawed way? At least, they're able to be vocal about a few misconceptions.
Another happy twist was Peter's return after 28 years, he left the show after a massive press backlash following harsh comments on Thatcher's policy. He's back with another wife, playing in a musical band, and satisfied to have created at least something of 'valuable' durability. This episode is really one surprise after another as if Apted himself was aware of the artificiality of narratives and deconstructed the very format that structured the show.
Charles isn't shown anymore (I read that he sued Apted forcing him to remove his footage, what an irony for a fellow documentary maker) and even the order of appearances has been altered. We don't see the three "lower class" girls together anymore, Neil appears at the start and he seems very active as a District Counsellor and a religious clerk, and it's only at the end that we meet Tony. I used to consider Neil the "soul" of the show, but what would the "Up" series be without Tony, the cab driver who's apparently more famous in Britain than Buzz Aldrin?
Collecting the memories of his youth again, I find it very ironic that Tony had to gain "The Knowledge" to become a cab driver. In fact, this could refer to all the participants, they all gained a form of knowledge, even Simon confessed that he was too lazy to study and kept on looking for excuses. Acknowledging that is a form of knowledge. There's nothing more humbling than the passing of time and what we take for wisdom is simply the capability to say "What do I know?".
I tried to play the Sorcerer's apprentice when Paul's wife said the show kept them together, I was thinking of Nick and Peter's wives and maybe something seemed already shaky in their marriage, as if you could adapt the Jesuit maxim of a "show me a kid until he's seven and I'll show you the man" for a marriage at seven months. I think the consensus is that you can't predict what will happen to someone, but maybe there's a core-personality that never changes, and that can take many directions driven by life circumstances, for better or worse.
And that's just the way it is. Finally, after watching the final opus (so far); I went on reading their bios on Wikipedia and I was saddened by the death of Lynn in 2013. But was it a surprise? Wasn't it a miracle that none of the died in 49 years? Now, should it go on to 70? 84?
They've became a part of my life and now, for the next two years, I'll be missing the show and that "at the end of the day" sequence with that thrilling score at the end. Paraphrasing the original narrator, this has been quite a glimpse! And an experience I shall never forget!
You've Got Mail (1998)
A tale of Lonely Hearts slipping through the Net
Kathleen Kelly runs a traditional bookstore where she tells stories to children. It's a place with warmth and soul everything Joe Fox seems to lack, or at least the places he run.
Fox has the right name since he is a practical businessman running a chain of book mega-stores a la Starbucks Coffee. Both stores are located at the opposite sides of the same Manhattan street. They're business rivals and by an ironic twist of virtual fate, they're also nighttime regular chatters on America On Line aka AOL. She's Shopgirl, he's NY152, she's played by Meg Ryan and he's played by Tom Hanks. In fact, the film could have been titled "Sleepless at Manhattan" as well.
Now, I have a hard time buying Tom Hanks as a despicable character, or even remotely unlikable, but that's the whole point of that savory little romantic comedy, signed (written and directed) by the late Nora Ephron, you only feel guilty when you hurt people you have deep connections with. And the irony is that Internet sometimes creates deeper connections with virtual people than the one who share your life. The eagerness to check the mails to see if you've got one is still relevant today and epitomizes what we call now: an emotional affair.
The film was clearly made on that cusp of the first Internet years (you know with that the awful tone when you dial on the net) and the social network hegemony we live in but it doesn't out-date it for all that. Yes, we're blasé because we know if Skype or iPhones existed, there would be no plot. But 1998 was the perfect moment to make this film, and now, it looks as a sweet reminder of how Internet used to work. It's to Ephron's credit to have exploited her witty sense of humor and sensitivity to explore a modern device most people her generation would feel estranged with.
The 'e-motional affair' might provide the timeless appeal the film needs as the rest is just a succession of plot points leading to the inevitable declaration of love. We know Joe and Kathleen will get rid of their respective life partners, a self-centered workaholic played by Greg Kinnear and Parker Posey as a pompous socialite who wouldn't even be admitted in the "Sex and the City" clique. But the film is never as good as when the two interact behind the screens, and seem to spend the whole day on social trivialities, only to check at night if they've got mail. That felt real although I wish the portrayal of their real-life partners didn't make it so obvious they had no future together. The film could have been a subtler comment on the way people look for complementary romances on line, not plain new relationships.
However, Ephron's approach to the Net is often spot-on. During the memorable chat part, there's a moment where Joe Fox is anticipating the right answer and he's just happy when he gets it, because it allows him to move forward in his courtship. OR when he tries to send the right words and wait a little before clicking on Enter. It shows that the Net was really a game-changer as far as social interactions went. In real life, you must be careful about what you say and you have no second chance. This is why they're natural born talkers behind screens but all their real-life encounters are disasters. This is why on-screen relationships seem to work better and provide the illusion that our real life sucks.
The virtual exchanges also highlight an important aspect of the Internet, it has revealed the inner loneliness of people, some who never realized they were alone until they could find a person to speak with. Internet offers something called anonymousness, allowing people to speak more openly about their personal troubles, their insecurities and doubts. That's everything we seek in the intimacy of the Internet, catharsis and somewhat of an escapism, escapism in emotions or on a more existential level. And just the opportunity to talk about the things we loved.
Whether Kathleen recommending to read "Pride and Prejudice" novel or Fox talking about "The Godfather", the Net becomes the area of free expression for our real selves, and this is how Hanks is never unlikable, he becomes himself behind the Net and there's an interesting twist in the way he talks Kathleen into doing things she wouldn't do usually but that end up being backfiring at him. This aspect of the story takes a subtle turn when he finally realizes who she is and maintains the virtual relationship. Then it gets more one-sided, making the ending questionable.
Indeed, should have Kathleen fallen in love with the man who ruined her business? Joe wasn't mean spirited enough not to deserve Kathleen and from what it seems, the bookstore was a bit more of a burden than a precious asset. Now, maybe I have not a problem with the ending except for the fact that it happens too late, how about seeing how two people behave on the Net and see them interact in real life as lovers. The film missed many good points about the Internet and the battle between reality and virtuality, that's why the ending seems a bit forced.
But the charm of the first exchanges and the acting save the film, it's perhaps one of the last performances where Meg Ryan still look like a sweetheart and Tom Hanks can have a lighthearted role after having played it so serious. The film is a nice time capsule of what was the Internet in the late 90's. Another nostalgic value to add, reminding us that 1998 will soon be 20.
Fantasia 2000 (1999)
This is the "masterpiece" Disney studios prepared while making real masterpieces
From Uncle Walt's own admittance, "Fantasia" was the kind of one-hit wonder that could only be elaborated, improved but never duplicated, I don't even think it could be improved. It wasn't a kind of something, but one of a kind. There can't be another "Fantasia" as much as there can't be another Mona Lisa or Eiffel Tower. I guess that Walt Disney meant the "concept" of "Fantasia" rather than the finished result. After all, there couldn't make a second "Bambi" but they could make "The Lion King".
So the concept can be duplicated indeed and for as long as animation is here to entertain children and adult, the temptation to combine music and drawings in a harmony of sounds, shapes and colors would be too great not to yield to it. I myself do a lot of editing and I can relate to the satisfaction in combining movements with music, I can relate to the struggle to find the right musical piece to match visual footage or the opposite. "Fantasia" plays in another league of course, but this is the common denominator between the professional wizards and the computer's sorcerer's apprentices, we use music as an imagination tool and animation as a choreography. Any work combining both is a potential "Fantasia" segment.
Inimitable maybe, but inevitable indeed.
But ever since its iconic predecessor, the sequel of "Fantasia" had been delayed for years and years. It was a dream from Walt Disney to make it a series, a franchise but the relative failure at the box-office put an end to this dreams. There would be no "Fantasia" sequel but the Disney Studios still provided between 1941 and 1950, two animated musical based on the same structure: "Melody Time" and "Make my Music". These films were made on the cusp of the first Golden Age and the Renaissance with "Cinderella" and were not lacking charm of their own. "Blame it on the Samba", "The Flight of the Bumblebee", "Casey at the Bat" and "Peter and the Wolf" were among the few shorts that emerged above the overall forgettable quality of these movies, at a time where Disney was looking for a second breath of creativity.
It is said that it was the success of home video release of "Fantasia" in the early 90's that convinced Roy E. Disney to make the sequel, it was the project of the decade, taking years and years within the 90's to collect and reassemble all the vignettes, initially, three clips from "Fantasia" were supposed to be kept but at the end, only "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" made it. "Fantasia 2000" tries to capture the same magic of the Creation of the World sequence with a ballet of flying whales, the abstract opening with Beethoven's Fifth Symphony is a reminiscent of Toccata E Fogue in D Minor from Johann Sebastian Bach and you can tell the Pink Flamingoes is a cute nod to the ballet of hippos and alligators, and it's the part I enjoyed the most, short, funny and whimsical.
And the film doesn't always keep itself under the first one's shadow, it features an interesting sketchy version of Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" paying a tribute to veteran caricaturist Harry Hirschfield and a second short involving a beloved Disney figure, a reconstitution of the Noah Ark episode with Donald Duck. But as visually energetic and beautiful as these shorts look, there's something that seems to fall flat ever since it starts, whether it's the knowledge that most of it is computer imagery or because it just takes itself too seriously for its own good. I mean, flying whales or animals entering the ark, wasn't that a bit too pompous? The 'Donald' part was like a rehash on the Lion King's opening and didn't have much to offer. The "Blame it on the Samba" segment in "Melody Music" was a better use of the iconic duck, instead of Edgar's "Pump and Circumstances".
And it is indeed "pompous in the circumstances", while not a disappointment, the film leaves a lot to be desired and doesn't 't succeed in capturing the magic of the first. It is also spoiled by the introductions from various celebrities (Steve Martin, Quincy Jones, Elizabeth Landsbury, Bette Midler ) giving it the odd flavor of a TV ceremony rather or one of these "Once Upon a Time " documentaries rather than a legitimate theatrical feature film. The film even misses the opportunity of a great finale and ends in a very anticlimactic and rushed fashion with ending credits popping up right after the end of the last clip. If you're going to play it like a show, the least you can do is to say us goodbye and wishing we've enjoyed it. It must have looked great in these IMAX theaters but the format was kind of cheap given the spectacular entertainment it was supposed to be.
It is very ironic that the sequel of "Fantasia", as intended so, was released, in 1999 at the end of Disney Renaissance with "Tarzan" and before the sorry trend of sequels to previous classics. I still don't know if we should consider "Fantasia 2000" as the worst movie of the Disney Renaissance or the best sequel made in that trend, but it wouldn't make the Top 10, not even Top 20 of the best Disney experiences on screen, it certainly looks great and some parts are magnificent-looking, but overall, the quality is very uneven.
Finding Dory (2016)
"Finding Nemo" was such a self-sufficient and satisfying masterpiece it was beyond the predictability of needing a sequel. But once again know-it-all executives chose the easy way, milking the success of a beloved animated movie and making an ersatz of a sequel . 13 years after. It's all about the numbers, right? Well here's a number: 10. 10 reasons why the film sucked.
1. Saccharine overdose, I expect many cutesy elements in a Disney Pixar movie, it first started with the babyish version of Dory, with those big eyes meant to make hearts melt and then she opened her mouth and I could have sworn the casting agents auditioned thousands of kids to find which one would have the cutest voice ever. Yes, she was adorable but it was like a doctor telling me to open my mouth and "say aaaaaaaw".
2. The action starts too quickly, a random school trip on mister Ray's back, a random Dory's intrusion, and a random flashback and pop goes the Dory. "Finding Dory" was trying to create an emotional connection between the opening scene and the adult Dory but it felt just too rushed, it's not like we've seen Dory longing for her lost parents before, she just happens to remember she had parents.
3. You don't base the plots on comic reliefs, there was a reason why the short-term memory loss was used for Dory, it was a defining character's trait but also a running gag, here it structures the plot and makes it dependent on Dory's flashes of memories coming at the most conveniently possible time, just when she's in a false track or a dead end, there's something that pushes her on the road again. The first movie was following a simple trajectory, and was dependent on a few encounters and obstacles, here it's all about hazardous contrivances and twists of luck.
4. The film is about Dory trying to find her parents, the title makes a little sense although it was the only possible one establishing a continuity with the first film. The problem is that the title basically establishes the story from Marlin and Nemo's perspective and they're secondary characters, in fact, they're as "pivotal" as Indiana Jones in "Raiders", we understand their presence but they're also here to show that the animators didn't believe Dory alone was capable to carry a whole movie. They were right, we needed the pairs of clown fishes as the straight ones, oh the irony!
5. Too much repetition, of course it's inevitable if your main character is suffering from short-term memory loss but how many times did she needed to mention it, how many times did we need to see an excited and happy Dory just going all tail ahead. She was a lovable buffoon in the first, hysterical in a good way, now she's hysterical in the worst possible way. Everything that made the first film genuinely funny became rapidly annoying here and don't get me started on the whale speak.
6. Caricatured characterization, try to say that quickly. It seems pretty obvious for Dory, but how about Marlin? Basically, he's learned nothing from the first film, and he's still acting like a paranoid over-protective sad sack, not only that, but he says perhaps the most terrible thing to Dory without immediately apologizing, following the idiot plot where anything can be solved if the right words are said.
7. Too much time spent above the water,. I don't mind a fish going from an ocean to a tank, but this trip was a bit far-fetched even for a movie that features a fish that can read. The problem is that the first Nemo started with a shocker, but if the very rules of that sequel applied in the first film, the Barracuda or the dentist's fish tank wouldn't have caused much trouble. In a universe where a fish can talk to a sea-lion, travel on a crazy seagull, or when an octopus can easily vanish from sight like a chameleon, any thing is possible. These are not the rules "Finding Nemo" was based on.
Which leads me to that infamous car chase, Fonzie jumped the sharks, Dory jumped the truck it's the same ruining effect. It's not enough that it's possibly the most overused climactic sequence in an action-packed movie, they had to indulge to it an a supposedly aquatic adventure. How about going for the emotional climax, how about actually making a good use of the aquatic park setting how about not making the damn thing.
8. Indeed, was that trip necessary? Have we ever felt that there something in Dory's arc waiting to be closed. It is usual for animated sequels to focus on a character's background or on the secondary character, it worked with Buzz Lightyear for "Toy Story 2" but that's because there was good material in it. "DreamWorks" also came up with great secondary stories in the "Shrek" or "Kung Fu Panda" series, but Dory is just another-character-looking-for-her-parents with memory losses as a twist. It's a rather thin premise if you asked me. And you can tell they're trying to fatten it with the usual "anything is possible" lesson.
9. What's with that musical schmaltz titled "Unforgettable" did they try to pull a "Skyfall" or what? The song was so James Bond-esque I expected to see a woman's silhouette swimming in the ocean. What a shameful Oscar-bait, the film didn't get any nominations and there's a good reason for that.
10. It wasn't that funny, yeah, yeah, Sigourney Weaver was funny the first time and then got overused, in the French version, they even dubbed it with a famous anchorwoman, which didn't make sense, once again the star system is killing the film I guess every country will have a famous national voice.
the first film was about "Finding Nemo", the second has no reason to exist, except for "Finding Money".
Ex Machina (2014)
Diabolicus Ex Machina...tion
Written and directed by Alex Garland, "Ex Machina" proves once again that science fiction genre is naturally prone to raise disturbing and thought-provoking questions about our mortality and how human intelligence can be the only possible key to triumph over it.
If you look at movies like "2001: A Space Odyssey", "Frankenstein", "Terminator 2" or "Blade Runner", you'll find as a common denominator a humanity trying to survive or challenge itself by playing God, and creating a very advanced technological device or an artificial intelligence that will inevitably backfire, that's the narrative of most sci-fi classics, it's always about technological hubris.
There's a moment in the film when discovering that his employer has created an advanced form of artificial intelligence (AI), young trainee Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) says "it's not the history of men, but the history of Gods". You can see his eyes shining with sparkles of admiration in front of the "idol". His name is Nathan, his face like a mug shot from of an ISIS suspect but Oscar Isaac delivers one of the finest and most credible performances of recent years as a self-centered genius so intelligent he's actually blasé about it.
Nathan lives in an estate so big it takes two hours to fly over it and a house confined in some unknown geographical area where he spends his time as if he was some big campus animal party but listen to him talking and you'll know he means business. He reinvents the role of the 'mad scientist', no nerdy looks, no manic mimics, no scientific jargon, he's actually the one who asks Caleb to stop talking as if he was in a seminar. The dynamics between Nathan and Caleb might be the best thing about the film, which is saying a lot.
Caleb is the chosen one, an engineer in Nathan's Blue Book company, a sort of combo of Facebook and Google that earned a big fortune through search engines, officiously using the same fraudulent methods than the competitors, which made it immune to any suing. Nathan hired Caleb for a week to proceed to a Turing Test with his late creation: Ava, a female robot whose artificial intelligence was made from billions of data gathered from cell phones and social networks.
Ava is played by Alicia Vikander and I will comment her performance by saying it's perhaps the closest full-skin version of Hal 9000. Caleb points out that knowing she's a robot might create a bias because in the test, you're not supposed to know. Nathan explains that if he didn't interact with her in face-to-face sessions, he would have the illusion of being with a human and the point is to spot hints of consciousness despite the certitude that she's an AI. That's exactly how Vikander's performance plays on an Oscar-winning level.
And the film works on three levels as well: first, it's a wonderful screenplay and you just enjoy the exchanges between Nathan and Caleb and the statements they speak about human various form of interactions and what spoken or body language can reveal about our intelligence and humanity. There's a wonderful dialogue about sex and how it's deeply connected with gender-awareness and whether it's true or not is besides the point, it makes you process personal thoughts while following the plot.
The second level is in the way these lines are delivered and what they say about the speakers, one is too cocky and arrogant, one is shy and insecure and this is pivotal for the test, it's human factor, and how it can affect one's notion about AI. The third element is that the plot is so smart, you're trying to outsmart it, to anticipate its moves like in a chess game. Nathan has all the makings of a villain, and Ava creating short cuts to avoid his surveillance to tell Caleb that he shouldn't trust Nathan were predictable moves.
But we're all smart enough to think it was too convenient that Nathan wouldn't do nothing about these inconveniences. And while I was busy trying to anticipate who from Nathan and Caleb would outsmart the other, I also enjoyed the interactions with Ava. She's obviously 'infatuated" with Caleb but when you look at Nathan's behavior and discover the extent of his egomania, there's no way to anticipate that Ava is the real one to fear. But at the end, you realize that everything made sense, the film is conceived in order to make you try to outsmart Nathan until we're all being outsmarted by Ava.
And it's fascinating because it's that precise level of intelligence that betrays her, her cruelty toward her own savior. It all comes down to Ava being either a robot or a psychopath. But it took me a second viewing to appreciate the ending a little more. At first, I thought it was a cheap attempt for spectacular gore betraying a serious lack of inspiration, but finally, it's the perfect twist because it shows the limits of the artificial intelligence; it can lead to manipulation and vileness, a vileness even scarier because not meant as evil, but as an automatic defensive move.
The point of the Turing test was to spot an action that wouldn't be deemed as automatic and in fact, it's the real flaw of the reasoning from both Nathan and Caleb. If the goal is to find an action that doesn't have a specific reason to be, an automatism, how about a non automatic action whose goal is to make humans believe it's not automatic, once you can think of simulation, the case was hopeless. An AI can pretend to be human if it meant its survival, conservation of instinct can be a better driver than love. There are Pollocks and there are hacks. Anyone can be manipulated.
I think the script is so intelligently manipulative, so multi-layered and so smart it's outsmarted by its own content.
49 Up (2005)
Finally at 49, more "Ups" and less 'downs'... the best episode is (fittingly) the 7th....
It all started with the thought-provoking "Seven Up", from a very socially loaded channel, and was meant to showcase the shift between children from upper and lower classes and how their future would be conditioned by their background. Like Apted pointed out in his wonderful chat with Roger Ebert, it's only after the "21" episode that it stopped being about politics, but something of a more existential level.
But each episode has its charm, a charm that depends on personal memories and age, whether a viewer is younger or older than these kids or guys will create a totally different experience, but no age will ever diminish its value, because we can all relate to any of their struggle or doubts or exhilaration as youngsters, their period of doubts and questioning as adults. And in my recent review, I complained that the format felt a bit repetitive but that was because the documentary was made for TV at a time where a few viewers had access to the previous episodes, the editing was indispensable and this is why I waited a little before watching "49".
But I couldn't wait for too long because I also love the real time travel the film provides and as a viewer told Apted, he could watch all the episodes in one day and it was like a metaphysical experience. I believe so and I understand why Ebert put it in his Top 10 movies of all time, it IS an experience, but now I feel like a broken record because I kept praising the documentary. I think this 7th episode is perhaps the best (which is appropriate, right?). I loved it because it was nicely conclusive about the subjects, without meaning it was the end of the journey, but they all seemed happy or at least contented.
As usual, it starts with the most contented of all, Tony. Tony is perhaps the best thing about the documentary, I used to say Nick because he was the eternal question mark and a sort of cliffhanger, but Tony defied the odds Apted admitted he thought he'd had the makings of a criminal, Tony's evolution proved him to never take anything for granted. Basically, Tony did everything, he was a jockey, at least he tried, his job as a cab driver allowed him to buy a house, he took acting courses, had small TV roles. And now, we see him leaving Britain for Spain, because, as he says, the East Side has totally changed, and became too ethnic for his own liking, as he admits it honestly, he feels like a traditionalist. Was I angry at him? No. Did I think it was racist? No.
That's the key of the film, I have followed this kid from the start and I could get his point precisely because I followed his evolution and the way Britain evolved. Now, Tony thinks he's paid enough wages, lives in Spain and predicts a collapse of the economy for someone who never studied, he showcases a real astute thinking. It is even more troubling that John, one of the posh kids, agrees with him indirectly. His conservative views were in-character but I didn't mind because I was glad he was participating this time, for some reason, I've always regarded him as one of the show's most instantly recognizable faces, because he really knows how to occupy the screen, he's a snob but quite a scene stealer. He's still indecisive about politics, if he had half Tony's spirit, he'd have been Prime Minister.
Some others were less ambitious and are just enjoying the time they had with their family and spouses and it was a nice touch to show Paul and Simon reuniting after 28 years, they both have changed, less hair, more weight (who didn't?) but the eyes don't lie, they still have that sparkle and that smile. Suzie was there, too and smiling as usual, saddened by the fact that her children left the house empty. It is possible that we wouldn't see her in the next episode because she felt she came to a closure. I don't know if I would take her words too seriously, if there's one thing I've learned from "Up" is that you should never say never. But there was more in that episode than the usual vignettes on each others' lives, the tone has changed too.
I noticed how more confident they all speak to Apted, Apted is 15 years older than them, which doesn't mean much now. There is an extraordinary exchange with Jackie where she finally opened her feelings about a nasty question Apted asked in the "21" and how bad she felt about it, smelling some preconceived ideas about lower class girls, she held quite a grudge against him. It took almost three decades to settle that record and you can tell that some people need time to finally vent their feelings, well, time is the one luxury the documentary can afford. And I guess Apted might have regretted his bold question from the start, but he's supposed to evolve as well, he's the last subject of the documentary.
He also evolved in the making, the digital format allowing him to get more footage, but since he didn't want to fall in a trap of contextualization, he avoided asking timely questions because their lives spoke enough statements.. Tony mocked the posh kids at the age of seven, together would almost share the same views in 2005, that says a lot. As for the ones I didn't mention, Neil is still unmarried but is a more eloquent politician, he doesn't see Bruce anymore, Bruce has children, better late than never, Nick went through a divorce but remarried, it's all about ups and downs but the thrills of life is to find in the downs the sources
Beverly Hills Cop (1984)
Eddie Murphy at the top of his form... for a formulaic cop movie...
"Beverly Hill's Cop" has all the makings of a classic 80's movie, the charismatic persona of Eddie Murphy, an upbeat and catchy synthesizer's beat and a likability factor that tie up all these elements together, so its iconic status can't be denied regardless of whether you've actually enjoyed it or not. But that doesn't make it immune to fair criticism, is the film a classic? Yes. Is it funny? Now , that's tricky.
We're in 2017, and Martin Brest's film still holds up very well and is considered as one of the most defining comedies of the 80's. I wouldn't say it's one of the funniest and I always felt an affront to comedies that "Ghostbusters" and "Beverly Hill Cops" are listed in AFI's Top 100 Funniest Movies while the laugh-riot of the year "Top Secret!" has been overlooked. No offense to these two classics, but by Bill Murray's own admittance, Ramis' classic leaned toward Sci-fi and special effects at the expenses of comedy during the whole third act, and "Beverly Hills Cops" features a cold-blooded murder at point blank on the head, for Pete's sake. For a comedy, it's quite a heavy movie but there are reasons why "Beverly Hills Cops" is a classic,
The film features Eddie Murphy at the top of his game as a street-smart loudmouthed, foulmouthed Detroit cop, Axel Folley, who investigates (officiously, he's supposed to be in vacation) the murder of his friend, an ex-convict killed by his boss' right-hand man, played by a sinister Jonathan Banks, the bigger bad guy is an art deal but drug smuggler operating in Beverly Hills and played with the faux suaveness of a Bond bad- guy by Steven Berkoff. The comedic moments generally emerge comes from the situations when Folley, discovers the manners of Beverly Hills and the procedural of the Police Deparment. His constant arguments with Taggart (John Ashton) and Bogomil (Ronny Cox) are always entertaining, so is the way Billy Rosewood (Judge Reinhold) is always the only one to empathize with Folley, or find his jokes funny.
But to be honest, the film doesn't hold up to its reputation for one simple reason, it always gets to the obvious. The plot is rather formulaic and consists on a really mean bad guy, not even likable on a vile level, who's confronted by Folley at various circumstances and who could have been easily gotten away if he didn't decide to kidnap his friend at the end, the climax is a banal shootout and doesn't leave much to the imagination. You've got to wonder why it ended up being nominated for Best Original Screenplay, even a moment that could have been the inspiration for a hilarious monologue, when Eddie Murphy checks out at the hotel, turns into a "that's because I'm black" shtick. Just compare that moment to the magnificent hotel lobby room sequence in "This is Spinal Tap" and you'll find the line between good and lazy writing.
That's how the film felt, lazy, obvious and oblivious to its obviousness. I enjoyed it as far I enjoyed Eddie Murphy but if he can make a movie good, he can't carry a plot alone, this is why "Trading Places" and "Coming to America" were better, they had Dan Aykroyd, Don Ameche, Ralph Bellamy, Arsenio Hall, John Amos and James Earl Jones "Beverly Hills Cop" is the Eddie Murphy show combined with a banal cop flick, it gets slightly better when it evolves toward a triangular buddy movie, so much better that you can even feel some vibes of "Lethal Weapon", a film that doesn't have the pretension to be a comedy, but was as enjoyable and even lighthearted as "Beverly Hill Cop". But after "Lethal Weapon" and the great chemistry between Gibson and Glover, the "Beverly Hills Cop" sequels sucked by comparison.
Maybe the theme of the film contributed to its popularity, now that should have been nominated for an Oscar; not the screenplay. Again, Eddie Murphy is such a great presence I forgive everything but wish there was more part showcasing the differences between the Detroit and the Beverly Hills lifestyle, and more inspired bits than impersonating a homosexual or complaining of black, that felt like old stuff even by 80's standards. The film becomes better once you expect a cop movie, maybe that's how they should have label it.
But who'll believe in a dramatic Eddie Murphy anyway?
Paris, Texas (1984)
"Taxi Driver" and "The Searchers" in a curious European art-house mix...
At the dawn of the 80's, the monumental flop of Michael Cimino's "Heaven's Gate" put the final nail on the made-in-America auteur coffin, and one of the greatest and most inventive periods of Hollywood, the one that started with "Bonnie and Clyde" in 1967 and ended with "Raging Bull". Spielberg and Lucas had changed the game and 1984 was one of the peaks of the blockbusters' era with series' starter such as "Beverly Hills Cop", "Ghostbusters" or "Gremlins". Movies had to be as phenomenal as a Michael Jackson or a Madonna's clip and as far as pop culture went, there was a before and after 1984.
And if you look at the Best Picture nominees of the year, you'll recognize immediately the winner (and it's quite deserved) Milos Forman's "Amadeus" but the rest is relatively unknown no offense meant, but who remembers "Places of the Heart", "The Killing Fields", "A Soldier's Story" or "A Passage to India"? To make things worse, the best movie of the year was probably Sergio Leon's epitaph masterpiece "Once Upon a Time in America", what a title, but it had to be sacrificed at the altar of simplification-for-the-masses and be cut from 100 minutes and be victim of a disastrous editing, ruining forever the project of a lifetime.
It is a height of irony that at a time were the mass-entertainment status of Cinema provided some of its most popular movies but also prevented, a real masterpiece to sweep all the awards and it was a European Festival, Cannes, that had the decency to screen the film in its totality, Europe respected America more than it respected itself, so maybe it's understandable that Wim Wenders' "Paris, Texas", literally, a European ode to American culture that won the Golden Palm that year. It is not as great as the troubled, haunting, hypnotic and personal, Leone's movie but in the context of 1984, it makes sense. Even the title works like the bridge between two schools of film-making that couldn't have been more opposite yet seem to make a truce.
"Paris, Texas" is the story of a man with no past and a future, or a past and no future; wandering in Texan no man's lands with an empty look that speak a thousand words and a baseball cap so red it looks as impacting as a stain on a canvas. Speaking for myself, I thought the red cap was supposed to symbolize the "woman in red" he had in mind (in his head) literally, played by Nastassja Kinski, I won't spoil the rest of the film but I had to watch it twice to figure out what the symbolism was meant to define. And I liked the 'road movie' approach, the film turns into a sort of spiritual quest where a man tries to find the missing link between the present and a future to build out of painful memories.
The film is all about people trying to find connections, and I also empathize with the struggle of Dean Stockwell's character trying to reconnect with his estranged and mute brother, or his brother trying to reconnect with his son, wonderfully played by Hunter Carson. The film was powerfully conveying these attempts to make communication possible between people from different worlds, ages, memories. It overplayed it a little with Aurore Clément. Did she need to be French? Her thick accent and struggle to speak English make almost every line she said ring false, and I swear one of her "let me finish" lines sounded almost like Tommy Wiseau. She was distracting to say the least and a Razzie nomination wouldn't have surprised me.
Wenders was probably more fascinated by the sight of Texas than the Germany he grew up in and we can hardly blame it as movie lover, the Western setting that has always been a source of inspiration for the New Hollywood directors, "Bonnie and Clyde", "Badlands" or "The Last Picture Show" were indirect nods to the genre and Scorsese made more explicit references to John Ford's "The Searchers" in his breakthrough debut "I Call First". There's something cyclical in the way directors have all started to be fans and now it's Scorsese and John Ford who inspire one European filmmaker, deserts, baseball caps, motels prostitutes, all these archetypes and a protagonist named Travis, this is literally "The Searches" meeting "Taxi Driver" and ending not with an orgy of blood, but an orgy of color symbolized by Nastassja Kinski's sweater.
The two Travises were lost souls in a quest that involves the reconciliation between their failed actions and a future that could be less grim. I can't say I didn't enjoy the film's approach, I just think it moved on too slowly and never tried to subdue the whole philosophical aspect. The first act is great, so was the third, the film kind of loses its way in the middle. And I read that Sam Shepard who was the writer, struggled to find the proper ending, somewhat this made me regard the film in higher esteem but God, did they need to have Aurore Clément?
But with European art house films, you never know, any flaws might be deliberate. I loved the imagery, I loved Stanton, Stockwell and Kinski but maybe I could find something in "Bagdad Café" that was precisely missing in "Paris, Texas", but I understand its iconic status "Paris, Texas" doesn't celebrate America as much as it exhilarates the European fascination for America. Europe is basically returning the favor after its own cinema inspired so many great American classics during the New Hollywood period, from 1967 to 1980.
And it's only fitting that in a year where European cinema applauded "Paris, Texas", the American Best Picture winner would be made by a European director, celebrating a European icon "Mozart", 1984 was weird indeed.