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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!
* FF in the texts ** IMDb exists since 1990
(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?
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.
Which of these TV/movie stars who died in 1982 is your favorite?
The Tale of a Sad Clown Haunted by Ghosts of Past Greatness...
"Limelight" is perhaps Charlie Chaplin's most personal movie after "The Kid", and it is no surprise that the film is set in the early century in British poorer districts, for this setting is instrumental to Chaplin's revisiting the long way he had come ever since he left London's misery when the century was young and so was he.
And if we dared to extend that very logic, we'd see in the lucid resignation of Calvero, the acceptation that he is way past his prime, a feeling we have or will all be confronted to when the most of our life will be behind us. "Limelight" is a powerful movie about aging like the fans of Chaplin, Fellini or Allen would make in their later years. And it's a Chaplin in his sixties, who can finally take a look back at the old days and asks himself the painful question "Have I still got it?".
This question makes the context of the film an inevitable key of comprehension, in 1952, the last film made by Chaplin was "Monsieur Verdoux", a smart and clever dark comedy about a serial killer that probably took the audience and the critics off guard. Never mind the little peaks of verbal delights the film provided, it was a critical flop, to call a spade a spade. He whom success never deserted ever since he started trolling the Venice auto kids' race in 1914 to his grandiloquent speech in "The Great Dictator" in 1940, the man who became the most instantly recognizable face in the world and the most famous character through his "Little Tramp", had his first missed rendezvous thirty years after his debut.
And maybe failure is like some infantile diseases, the later they come, the more devastating they are. With "Monsieur Verdoux"'s ill reception, combined with other personal troubles, and political complications in the midst of the HUAC investigation, Chaplin's legendary aura faded enough to make him an undesirable person in the very land that made his fortune. Calvero only lost his touch with the public but he doesn't fool us, this is Chaplin as he could have turned out, a former clown who used to be a great sensation in the last century but who disappeared and drowned his last hopes and lost dreams in booze. But he's not your usual sad clown, he's quite resigned about himself. He drinks because the more sober, the more sombrero he gets.
Yet, the paradox of Calvero is that he meets a ballerina dancer in a worst medical condition and mental shape. Thereza just attempted suicide, and he saves her life, takes care of her, provides her medical support, food and water, and maybe more valuable assets: encouragement. Thereza, played by Claire Bloom, has lost faith about her talent after a disease and she's so lacking in confidence she can't even feel her legs. This is the magic of these two outcasts' reunion. One is resigned about the past, one is scared about the future, together their present gets more meaningfulness. One of the film's best scenes is when she's just about to dance but she's stricken by stage fright, he gives him a slap that feels around the world, and her career is launched.
The power of "Limelight" is that just when you fear the film becomes too sentimental, you get such similar "slaps". And it never falls in the trap of the love story either (one could foresee it given Chaplin's infamous attraction to younger women) but while Thereza is in love with Calvero, he knows this is not meant to happen. It's always about the show. The film is punctuated with many musical acts from Charlie Chaplin, some are imaginary and meet with laughs, they sometimes meet with silence, and naturally, there's this terrible moment when there's no laugh and it's much real. It is a flop, and the devastated face of Calvero at the time where he put his makeup out is just that moment every artist fears.
This is the heart of the film, the moment that reveals its cathartic nature, Chaplin exorcises his inner demons and makes a successful story out of failure, and within the story, Calvero's own failure indirectly fuels Thereza with self-confidence and energy. Calvero isn't a frustrated man and acknowledges the talent when he sees it. He leaves Thereza to her dancing and a blooming romance with Neville (a pianist played by Chaplin's son) because it's time to pass the torch. That's how life is done. But the film can't afford to be tragic because the comedy isn't prevalent either, so it finds the perfect note to conclude.
One of the film's great offerings, besides, Chaplin's autobiographical torments, is the cameo of another silent comedy giant Buster Keaton, in a role that finally compensates the "wax figure" joke from "Sunset Blvd.". Together, they play a funny and frenetic musical act that suck life out of Calvero. The film closes on his farewell to Theresa, the audience, he dies on stage like a soldier on the battlefield. He surrenders to self-destruction so his heart isn't destroyed by failure.. As he said "I hate the sight of blood, but I can't deny it's pumping on my veins" (and this quotes alone proves how a master screenwriter Chaplin was).
In fact, the film is a wonderful combination of talents from writing to acting, even the musical score is penetrating, and it won the Oscar twenty years after over "The Godfather" (ineligible because of some technicality). I wonder what reception the film would have gotten from the Academy, if it wasn't boycotted, 1952 was full of film centering on show-business: "The Bad and the Beautiful", "Moulin Rouge", 'Singin' in the Rain" and it was the circus-themed "The Greatest Show on Earth" that won the Best Picture Oscar. So, maybe a film about (and made by) the greatest showman on Earth would have generated the thunderous claps it deserved.
You Only Live Twice (1967)
1967 was a groundbreaking year, but not for the "James Bond" series...
"You Only Live Twice" is the only James Bond movie I ever recorded on VHS, and by the law of statistics, it was naturally the one I saw the most, but my connection with the film is only limited with these nostalgic trivia and if I have a soft spot for this 'Bond', I guess it is only because it grew on me "by default". Said differently, I wish I had recorded "Dr. No", "From Russia With Love" or "Goldfinger" which are far better than the last Connery's Bond of the 60's. But don't get me wrong, the film is far above average, and average by Connery's standard is still good enough.
First of all, let's give it the credit it deserves, in terms of special effects, it is quite impressive. You can tell that the series reached maturity judging by the art-settings and pyrotechnics. I read that some critics thought the idea of a spacecraft hi-jacking another one was ludicrous, but the scene showing the unidentified vessel literally swallowing a spacecraft had nothing to envy from a classic of the next year, "2001: A Space Odyssey". That opening scene was well-done, and it was followed by other promising moments: a tense reunion where US diplomats throw the ball back at their Soviet counterparts, and Bond having an intimate moment before being gunned down in his bed.
This is not the first time they try to fool the audience and the title is enough of a hint, so I doubt many then-viewers watched the opening sequences with concerns about their favorite Secret Agent's life. And speaking of the title, whatever rating I give to the film, there's one star owed to the magnificent score by Nancy Sinatra, there's something so hypnotic, sensual and strangely morose about this song that makes it unique in Bond's discography. But let's get back to the film, Bond is supposed to be dead. The film goes on the same joke and even features a funeral ceremony, where Bond's body is dropped to the sea, and this is where he's intercepted by a submarine and can be assigned his new mission.
Sometimes, I love the Bond films for their opening sequences only, the mission is never as interesting as the little debriefing from M and a flirting session with Moneypenny. In "You Only Live Twice", the mission isn't as interesting as the setting in Japan, Bond must find out which mysterious country or organization is trying to ignite a war between USA and Russia. This is where the film really takes off and while there are many good things to appreciate in this first part, it's the immersion in the Japanese culture that provides some of the best moments, especially the trap door sliding leading to the meeting with Mr. Tanaki and the following massage session in his house, oddly enough, one of my all-time favorite Bond scenes.
We all noticed Connery's athletic body and hairy chest in the previous films but it is quite uncommon that the physical attributes actually influence the dialogues. You can't tell if Ian Fleming wrote Bond with Connery's features, but it gave a realistic touch that the masseuses would indeed be fascinated by the hairy chest. Bond stops being a standard hero, but a character also defined by very specific physical attributes. I liked that part, and all the macho innuendo. Those were the days!
After that, Bond encrypts a document stolen from a crooked Japanese businessman named Osato, and meets with the beautiful secretary Helga Brandt. I don't remember much from the first time I saw the film (I was twelve) but I remember very well that I had watched enough Bond films to know exactly what was going to happen. Ever since "Goldfinger", I knew the Bond movies always featured three Bond girls, two had to die, and the last one was kept for the final kiss, so I already knew the poor Aki would kick the bucket and poor Brandt would die in a way or another. But this isn't the best vintage of Bond girls anyway and the film kind of loses its pace during its middle section.
To give you an idea, I remembered most of the film, but I had totally forgot about the helicopter chase, and I guess what it says is that many scenes could have belonged to any Bond film, which is the worst compliment you could give. Pussy Galore could only work in "Goldfinger", Red Grant was too serious to even work for Goldfinger but in "You Only Live Twice", the film needed to get straight to the final setting because that volcano headquarters was the highlight. But it's too short for the film's own good.
Indeed, the climactic sequence finally confronts Bond to his archenemy Ernst Stavro Blofeld, played by a scary Donald Pleasance, but nothing really emerges from this confrontation, except for a few chitchat, and many opportunities to eliminate Bond, except that, for some reasons, Blofeld's priorities were to dispose of his useless henchmen, making useless points before killing Bond when someone could rescue him. Since I mentioned Red Grant, I remember that he refused Bond's plea for a cigarette, Blofeld accepted. That he'd fall for a trick that didn't fool a henchman says a lot about how overrated this villain is. Or maybe he was just victim of this weird feeling of rush and urgency that couldn't exploit the climactic setting to its fullest.
"You Only Live Twice" isn't the freshest Bond, but at the very least, it's one of the Top 10 best of the series, marking the last Connery appearance, as he was afraid to be typecast and felt it was time to live twice
a second cinematic career.
Third-Hobbit, Third-Wizard, Third-Cinematic-Genius... makes one of the Greatest Cinematic "Thirds"...
I can't talk about the film as much as I want, I'm afraid I wouldn't get the name rights, the locations or the characters who weren't there from the start, I'm even afraid some events or scenes escaped my attention, but I know I love poetry, and the last twenty minutes reminded of these words from Du Bellay.
"Happy the man who, journeying far and wide As Jason or Ulysses did, can then Turn homeward, seasoned in the ways of men, And claim his own, and there in peace abide!"
This is one of the most famous verses of French Renaissance and I can't think of a movie that captures the innermost joy and relief of homecoming as the third and final installment of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy did. Even the title carries this regal glory and satisfyingly conclusive nature.
And through this "Return of the King", Aragorn, to name him, also ends the journey of Frodo, Sam, Gandalf, Gimli, Legolas, Gollum and so many names that, two years earlier, could only -no pun intended- ring a bell among Tolkien's readers. I know they were many of them as we're talking of the most outstanding work of fiction from the second half the 20th century, but I suspect Peter Jackson multiplied the number of fans by a two-digit number, with a cinematic wizardry of Gandalfian proportions. Extending my statement about Jackson in the first film's review, there's indeed more than a hobbit within the New Zealand director.
But for honesty's sake, and not to spoil my enthusiasm, I must confess I never read Tolkien's books, I've never been into medieval and Fantasy world anyway, although I know the story wasn't intended to venture in the realm of magic and fantasy alone. I enjoyed the first movie because it pushed me into a world daringly unique and imaginative, but so obsessed with its own reality that it almost confined to realism. More than the plot, I cared for the characters, because they seemed "to have a story before the story", they were not cardboard heroes or villains; they were archetypal but never at the expense of depth and obscurity.
Despite these strengths, I welcomed the second film with perplexity because the surprise was gone and the entertaining value was inevitably hanging on the set-ups from the first film and the expectation of the third, situations that were no-more or that were yet-to-come. Unlike its two predecessors, the final film is great on its own. Everything has been said about the visual imagery and on that level, with the magnificent shots, battle sequences and that defining image of Gandalf the Grey arriving at Minas Tirith, Jackson really pushed the envelope and broke new grounds in the field of special effects, CGI wouldn't be a curse word anymore. But all the sets of skills in the world wouldn't amount to anything without a story.
Indeed, I was surprised by how moving the final act was. The last thirty minutes of "The Return of the King" provided some of the most emotional moments of the last twenty years, something whose resonance transcends the limits of the Fantasy genre. And that's an even greater achievement than special effects, Jackson had created characters who had their own special effect, built over the course of two movies, that equals the lengths of three actually, allowed us to get emotionally involved with them. I compared Gandalf with Obi-Wan in the first opus' review but he doesn't deserve any comparison, he's in a class of his own. The bravery of Aragorn, the relationship between Gimli and Legolas, the torment of Gollum and of course, the friendship between Sam and Frodo could finally culminate.
And in this glorious gallery, Sam is perhaps the unsung hero of the film because he suffered no fear or hesitation, he was Frodo's guardian angel with unshakable loyalty from beginning to end, and never let his ego trespass in his sense of duty. Of all the characters, this is the one I had a soft spot on, and from the ending, I have the feeling, this is what the long epilogue was trying to convey as without him, all the battles and desperate efforts would have lead to nowhere and forget about the ring, his smile and satisfaction in the end, is perhaps the true emotional reward. Indeed, the Ring was only a plot-driver, the film is about people, who overcome the adversity and come full circle with their own personalities, who seek for the peace of the world, for their own peace's sake.
And what a price for peace! What a magnificent journey coming to an end, and what a satisfying ending! The first two films ended with interrogation marks, with an urge to see more, there was excitement, but an excitement pending over the reception of the next opus, undermined by the uncertainty. This film closes the chapter and leaves with overwhelming emotions and inner satisfaction; it is a "The End" in the tradition of Hollywood epics. And this glorious finale redeems all the flaws or the little imprecision from the first, all the removed chapters or cut sections.
Speaking of Hollywood, the film is also known for being the third to get eleven Oscars (including Best Picture) with other classics like "Ben Hur" and "Titanic" I guess it is the reward of the whole trilogy, whose last opus was the apotheosis, something that proved that cinema had this unique capability to transport you into a world where imagination and reality made one. And Peter Jackson is one name to be chanted by the bards of the "Lord of the Rings" Pantheon, for he ensured the popularity of the saga, by translating it into a new language, a new medium. This was a Herculean task that the third hobbit, third wizard, third cinematic genius marvelously accomplished
for one of the best cinematic thirds ever.
Great comedy and the perfect antidote against ethnocentrism...
An Irish, a Jew and a Mexican enter a bar, the bartender says, "Is this some kind of joke?" (drumbeat)
Now, if you laughed at this, you'll probably enjoy "Serial Bad Weddings" whose basic premise is a like a big joke starting with an Arab, a Jew and a Chinese entering a Catholic family.
This is, in a nutshell, the most successful French movie of 2014 and I bet it will stand for decades as the ultimate movie about mixed marriages. No one can resist a good ethnic joke, and on that level, the film is an exhilarating opportunity to vent all our prejudices in a politically incorrect but democratic way.
And comedy was the only way the film could work. In 2006, one named "Bad Faith" dealt with a marriage between a Muslim and a Jewish girl. It was a serious film, with serious actors and no one remembers it. Indeed, in France, some subjects are too important to be given importance. "Serial Bad Weddings" doesn't commit such a mistake and deals with ethnic prejudices in such a lighthearted way it set everyone's hearts ready to receive the positive message about tolerance, the director, Philippe de Chauveron, is eager to deliver.
It starts with the Verneuils, an uptight and conservative Catholic couple: Claude (the inevitable Christian Clavier) and Marie (Chantal Lauby). They have four daughters; three of them married a Muslim, a Jewish and a Chinese. They're all French citizens, with decent jobs and easy-going personalities but with four different backgrounds around the same table, you multiply by four the odds of the 'word' too many. This 'tension' naturally accentuates the comedic effect of the gags, and the screenplay gets away with all its offensive material about circumcision, sneakiness of Chinese people, Arab quarters.
It works because, unlike the forgotten "Bad Faith", there's more cultural diversity, the film can be offensive to Arabs, but the Arab lawyer (Medi Sadoun) makes fun of the Chinese (Fréderic Chau), the film can be offensive to the Chinese, but the Chinese mocks the Jew, reminding him that China took over their traditional manufacturing business (a fact, the trilogy "Would I Lie To You?" dealt with in its third opus), and the film is immune to anti-Semitic allegations, because the Jewish character played by Ary Arbittan uses the Chinese as his personal punching ball (a clash with the Arab being another tactfully avoided stereotype). In terms of potential offensiveness, it's the "sprinkled sprinkler" story.
The film gracefully swings between all the traps such a risqué subject could have pulled, by providing both the poison and the antidote and then attracting a wider range of audience, including the French "WASP". One can even say the joke is on the Catholics, but then, the Arab reveals that he's got a problem with Moroccans (he's Algerian), the Jew with Ashkenazi, so to a certain extent, the prejudice of the parents is 'acceptable' in the sense that it is probably more related to the religion of the son-in-laws than their ethnicity. But this is where the film plays nicely with its own concept, just when Claude and Marie try to accommodate, enjoy their time with their son-in-laws and grandchildren, the last daughter decides to marry a Catholic man, named Charles. For the parents, it is too good to be true, they don't even mind that he's an actor, but there had to be a catch.
Charles (Noom Dyawara) is from Ivory Coast and the pivotal news of their marriage create four unexpected reactions. The African father, a tyrannical patriarch played by Pascal N' Zonzi, is disappointed in his son (prejudice is everywhere) and makes an effort to be as odious to the Verneuils as possible. Claude can't take it anymore, while Marie surrenders to the 'flavor of the time'. The in-laws know this will be the deathblow to the equilibrium they reached and even the sisters blame the little one for ruining their parents' life. Obviously, it was the mixed marriage too many.
But as a way to counterbalance the unfair deal the African guy is given, even from the Verneuil's standpoint, a more specific focus is made on his marriage, (we actually never see the other families). The film then creates an interesting bond between the two fathers, and their complicity is like the one that put the son-in-laws together, based on prejudices but better to build a friendship on weaknesses than an enmity on pride. The film always manages to show that we can overcome the ethnic barriers, and maybe it was the perfect timing when so many politicians claim that France isn't a multicultural society. And the film proves it wrong but never at the expense of realism. Indeed, the in-laws drink alcohol, don't mind visiting the Church, and sing the Marseillaise with passion.
Some would say the daughters weren't given important roles, but they were the tolerant ones, they had no prejudice to overcome, this is why they were less interesting. I must admit I didn't really care for them. But did I care for the rest! This is a film that will certainly be remembered as the 2010's answer to another ecumenical classic "The Mad Adventures of Rabbi Jacob", a film about a Catholic bigot and an Arab revolutionary leader disguised as Rabbis. The kinship is so obvious that even the parents made a reference to the film and to Louis de Funès. Clavier plays a similar role in this film and proves again, what was already established in the 90's, he's the greatest French comical actor of his generation, and he puts such naturalness in the film, I almost suspected it wasn't a character part.
The French title literary means "Lord, What Did We Do Wrong?" well, whatever the parents did wrong, this film did nothing wrong and was blessed with a superb cast, and a screenplay as delightful, smart and irresistible as a good old ethnic joke.
Fanny och Alexander (1982)
Closing the Arc opened with "The Seventh Seal"... God has the final word... with Bergman's consent...
"Fanny and Alexander" starts with a lavish Christmas reunion of the same epic scale and narrative value as the wedding party in "The Godfather". It then proceeds to an untimely death that put all the family in shock. When mourning time is over, the widow resigns to find a stronger role model for her children, she marries a rigid bishop and then life flies over the darkest and toughest pages of the Family book, punctuated with strange supernatural encounters and deep metaphysical wanderings. Eventually, death shows up again, natural or not, and the movie concludes with another family reunion, celebrating two births, and through them, life with its share of joy, sadness, silences, cries, whispers and wild strawberries.
It is a credit to Ingmar Bergman's visionary practicality to make a film about a bourgeois family, spanning a relatively short lapse of time, yet containing a plot whose existential implications could cover countless pages of philosophical essays. Life and death, their meanings or meaninglessness, have never been as fully approached without ever exuding "intellectual" vibes. It is indeed extraordinary that such a film would also manage to tell an entertaining and captivating family drama's story. And no less extraordinary that the film, deprived from more than one-hour and half, would still manage to maintain its relevance and style (almost) intact and be such a universally praised masterpiece.
But who said Ingmar Bergman was an ordinary director?
This is the work of a lifetime and if Bergman really decided to make it his testimony film, he couldn't have found a better way to conclude his body of work. There's more than a story about children in "Fanny and Alexander", the title is rather misleading on that level, the film, set at the dawn of the 20th century, circa Bergman's childhood, shows the very world that shaped the tormented mind of the soon-to-be cinematic genius, a world of contradictions where lust is forbidden but temptation everywhere. There is this eternal presence of God, from the joyful Christmas celebration to the grim discipline of an overzealous Bishop; but the ultimate paradox of Bergman's movie is that it's less God's nonexistence than his silence that calls for doubt and anger. God is Bergman's most defining antagonist.
And in this lost battle, each one finds his way. Like "The Godfather", the central Family, the Ekdahls, is a fascinating mix of personalities: from a gentle matriarch who keeps on her respectable facade, to her sons, they all have a different approach to life. Gustav Adolf, a baker and hedonistic man, seizes the day and enjoys flirting and partying with maids, with the surprisingly progressive consent of his wife. Carl is the second son, a failed professor who's responsible for perhaps the most heart-wrenching loser's monologue I've ever seen in a film. He's disgusted by his failure and even the consolations' attempts of his well-meaning German wife are welcomed by hatred and disdain, this is a well-educated man who've lost his faith on life and goes through, it chained to the certitude of his own mediocrity.
The third son is Oscar, who manages a theatrical troop with his beautiful wife Emilie (Ewa Fröling), also an actress along with their children, Fanny and Alexander. The man is worn down by the weight of stress and after Christmas, he's victim of a fatal stroke. Alexander can't stand the sight of his father dying, he hides under a table and utters curse words during the funeral; this is a child desperately hanging on his childhood with a rather adult tenacity. But his greatest challenge comes when the existentially lost Emilie, chooses the austere yet handsome Bishop (Jan Malmsjö) as a husband, finding in this man the serene connection to reality she felt lacking in her life. Then starts the soul-wrestling relationship between the Bishop and Alexander, confronted to the tyranny of God's rules, and their punishments.
You could think Bergman, as a son of a rigid Lutherian, took his autobiographical revenge, but the Bishop is less a villain, than a tragic man, lost in the illusion of his own authority being endorsed by God. Indeed, from the chess game in "The Seventh Seal" to the agony in "Cries and Whispers", God is never as present as during painful moments and ironically, life is never as exhilarated as when Death is coming. But there's a different tone in this film, actually more serene, there's a sort of consensus regarding the whole illusion of life, no one is fooled. Even the dead ones aren't of any help. Only the grandmother's Jewish lover (Erland Josephson) has a foot in each world and connects mysticism and reality, as if they finally could reconcile, as if illusion was either the lesser of two evils or a survival game.
And this might be why the film, for all its complexity and dramatic undertones, solved its two crucial plot points with "lousy" Deus Ex Machina, what an ironic but so well-put nose thumbs to us, purist and cinematic rigorists. Maybe it is a way to show that God stopped to be an antagonist, and he would always have the final word, but finally, with Bergman's consent. And here's the genius closing the arc of his religious torments like "Scenes from a Marriage" did for the theme of infidelity. And on that level, the best advice I could give is: do yourself a favor and watch the full version just like for the "Marriage" masterpiece. Surely, one hundred extra minutes of Bergman's epitaph movie is an offer a fan wouldn't refuse.
And as a fan, I'll conclude the review by saying that Begman is certainly the most original and compelling director, too unfairly associated with black and white intellectual movies while there was more than that, there was human condition with style à la Da Vinci and Shakespearean intensity, he's perhaps the greatest artist of Cinema, a cinematic God with God as a centerpiece.
My Fair Lady (1964)
It takes forever to go nowhere special...
George Cukor's "My Fair Lady" is as close to auteur cinema as "Baby Geniuses" to "The Godfather", nothing remotely ambitious on the field of philosophy, religion or any form of abstract thinking, but I'm still using a word (one I personally hate) to describe it: it is a pretentious film. As intellectually vacuous as it is, it is pretentious in the sense that it takes a sweet, enchanting story, made of charming and engaging characters, and drag on for almost three hours for a plot requiring one hour less. This is a case where a little less would have been a lot more.
"West Side Story" was longer but its fast-paced rhythm and the catchy songs actually drove the plot instead of slowing it down, "The Sound of Music" felt a tad long, but it had a rather dense plot, while "My Fair Lady"'s can be summed up into a spot-it with a marker. It is about linguist Professor Higgings meeting a vulgar flower girl named Eliza Doolitlle and after months of training, he turns her into a lady, in the process, he falls in love with her, although he refuses to admit it. But in the end, they get together, bada-beep, bada-boom. There are a few subplots but they are merely dressing, the piece of resistance is what everyone remembers.
Now, I'm not criticizing the conventional fairy-tale aspect of the story, but it was two-hour material, plain and simple. No, they had to stretch it to three hours, with the obligatory intermission. Obviously, they knew they had a Best Picture contender so it had to pretend to be as epic as "Lawrence of Arabia", "West Side Story" or "Tom Jones". So it takes like half an hour for the film to take off and basically, each significant moment is interrupted by a musical interlude, I liked the "With a Little Bit of Luck" song but what did it have to do with the story anyway? Apparently, we were supposed to enjoy it and that was enough a reason.
The film actually makes me question the appeal of musicals, why should people singing and dancing together be an entertaining sight? My guess is that it was the taste of the time, and people loved to enjoy in theaters what they could see on the stage, or maybe it was the star-system and Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison were the kind of offers one couldn't refuse. But I'd rather have that sirtaki in "Zorbas" or five minutes of "Dr. Strangelove" than any of these tiresome musical acts, at least these films had something to show, even "Mary Poppins" had animation, I'm afraid "My Fair Lady" had a rather thin plot with music used as fillers,
It is a difficult-to-review film because I'm not really even interested in reviewing it, it is even based on a lie, that Audrey Hepburn could be believable as a crass girl, it's like imagining Grace Kelly playing a prostitute, there's nothing such as limited range, but we know Hepburn can only "act" her way through a character like Eliza Doolittle and gets easier to handle once she becomes the classy woman she's always been, that ugly duckling thing couldn't fool anyone, and if she didn't overact, she way overdid her accent. Rex Harrison, as annoying as sexist as he was, was pretty convincing as Higgins but the whole relationship rang abominably false. It is supposed to be a love story but most of the time, these two keep snarling at each other, they couldn't even exchange one lousy kiss at the end, I know it's all about subtext, but still.
Still, this film worked and became one of the all-time box-office successes, an event by itself, one I would never get. And don't get me started with the Oscars. Granted the film won the Best Costume, Art Direction and all the categories you'd never remember the names, but Best Picture? Best Director? What makes Cukor's directing so exceptional? Is it more difficult to direct a film like this than "Strangelove"? The 60's used to reward cinematic excellence but art shouldn't be made at the expense of a story, and it's only justice that "Dr. Strangelove" is more celebrated today than "My Fair Lady". And if you want an excellent romance with Audrey Hepburn, take "Roman Holiday" or "Sabrina".
There's one thing I enjoyed though, it was the Bonus features and I was more interested to see Rex Harrison being natural and Audrey Hepburn as sweet as usual, I thought to myself, I don't know if younger actors would've been as good, but if the cast had played these parts as naturally, it could have been something. And then there was Jack Warner who, during a press conference, made a remarkable speech about old school Hollywood cinema and wished directors wouldn't try to copy European filmmakers, you could tell the disdain in his tone, well, he was right in foreshadowing the end of the studio system (and even in the interviews, the productions costs were a matter of discussions), these costly musicals almost bankrupted the studios, because for one "My Fair Lady", you had a few disasters.
The film marks with "The Sound of Music" the swan songs of an era , the time for better movies were to come, and it's extraordinary to believe that the film was only two years before "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" and three before "Bonnie and Clyde" and "The Graduate". Being a hardcore New Hollywood fan, a production like "My Fair Lady" could only make me feel cold, I'm not even sure this will be a review I'd love to read again once.... but I'll end with a piece of advice, you want to see it? Fine. Be sure you're doing something at the same time, otherwise, time will feel painfully long.
Shakespeare in Love (1998)
Romance and Genius...
"Shakespeare in Love" should have been cinema's ultimate homage to William Shakespeare, not through an umpteenth adaptation, or adaptation's adaptation, to one of his iconic plays, but by putting the iconic playwright within the framework of an original movie plot; original in the sense that it turns him into the subject of a real-life yet loosely fictionalized biopic, a romantic comedy and something of an educational film. We learn a lot throughout John Madden's film, about stage, art, business, royalty and naturally, the genius of Shakespeare, the man who was put in the top 10 of the most influential people of the last millennium, the most highly ranking artist, above Mozart and the Beatles.
I hate to use the word 'multi-layered' because it makes a movie sound like architectural work instead of than something being guided by genuine inspiration, but hey, if anything Madden's film proves is that even the greatest masterpieces were not made by a snap of a finger and were build upon many other factors than inspiration. Like "Romeo and Juliet", "Shakespeare in Love" is a multi-layered accomplishment, a work of art that can be enjoyed on many levels, confidently overlapping, but always with romance at the core. If the film's story isn't likely to leap over the centuries like "Romeo and Juliet", it doesn't matter; Will and Viola aren't supposed to steal Romeo and Juliet's thunder but to incarnate the seminal inspiration to the iconic couple. That's their power.
Sadly, for all the reasons that can make "Shakespeare in Love", a great journey into love, passion and an immersion in the world and business of theater at the dawn of Queen Elizabeth's reign, the film is remembered as one of the worst Best Picture winners, the one that dared to steal "Saving Private Ryan"s golden statuette at the 1999 Oscars. Spielberg's war movie was an instant classic, a film that immediately topped all the 'Great Films' list, and to many users and even official websites, it is now an objective truth that "Shakespeare in Love" didn't deserve the Oscar. And instead of being a love story about a love story, the film had become a trigger to an enduring hate story with the Internet users. Hated and even loved for the wrong reasons, some would love it just because they hated "Saving Private Ryan" with passion, which doesn't say much about both films anyway. Now, where do I stand?
For me, "Shakespeare in Love" isn't just one of these conventional costume dramas with sword fights, antechambers' plotting and feather-writing, and this comes from someone who loved the Best Picture co-nominee "Elizabeth". The film carries a sort of self-referential wit, as if it was conscious on its own craziness, it starts with the working title of the classic pay "Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate's Daughter", it's funny but it feels real. I mean, did you know that Walt Disney intended to call Mickey, Mortimer Mouse? The process of the creation of the play and how it is shaped by the real life events in the film is the kind of delights I love to see in a film, true or not. The part where Ben Affleck's character suggests Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) to keep the title "Romeo and Juliet" had the same resonance than that moment in "The Social Network" when Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) tells Zuckerberg (Jess Eisenberg) to remove the "The" from "The Facebook" or when Zuckerberg says no one can't wear a sign indicating if he's single or engaged, hence coming with one of his most ingenuous ideas.
That's the ransom of success and worldwide popularity, you can find countless inspirations for Romeo and Juliet's key scenes and I love how the two stories drive each other until the ultimate culmination. I also love how it still manages to encapsulate the conventions of its time like the forced marriage with Lord Wessex (Colin Firth), some thrilling duels, a few balcony meetings, nurses, antechambers plotting, and even the cross-dressing that prevailed in the theater at the time, and that earned Gwyneth Paltrow her Oscar. Indeed, women couldn't play in a stage, which makes you realize why comedy was the strongest suit to embody the notion of love. And the film even manages to showcase some daring anachronisms, one of my favorite being the "psychiatrist" played by Anthony Sher. In this fascinating mess, you can't tell fiction from reality and you don't really care, for the film is fun from one bit of another, and is populated by a great gallery of British actors.
Now, the real issue, is "Did it deserve the Best Picture?" well, even if I didn't give it the Oscar, "Saving Private Ryan" wouldn't be my second vote, the irony of 1998 is that it featured two costume dramas and two war movies, "Life is Beautiful" has at least the merit to tackle a very thought-provoking idea and make an enchanting fable out of tragedy. Spielberg's film works on one level, which is the terrific realism of the war battles, but that's all, if you get deeper in the plot, you can easily spot some moments where it sinks into manipulative schmaltz, where you realize that this war is between good and evil guys, while it's true that there was an evil ideology ruling the side, you can't make a war movie and imply that every soldier deserved to die, this is too dangerously simplistic. So to all those who believe "Saving Private Ryan" was the better one, I want to say why? The answers will all focus on the battles, story-wise or acting-wise, the other movies didn't deserve less.
"Shakespeare in Love" had the merit to venture in many ideas, many genres, and be enjoyable on many levels. It didn't expect to compete against Spielberg's film, it might have benefited from Weinstein's lobbying, but to hate it on this sole basis isn't the stuff being passion for movies is made on, or constructive criticism.
The Man Who Would Be King (1975)
A Precursor of "Raiders of the Lost Ark" made by John Huston...
I challenge anyone to find me a movie where a European man insults and throws an Indian off a speeding train and even get a "thank you" in return. Is it too offensive? Nah, it is offensive in such a silly way that being offended would be silly, still, no director would dare to make such a move.
And this is how refreshing it is to discover such gems four decades after they graced the screen. The scene I just described isn't even the highlight of "The Man Who Would be King", John Huston's glorious adventure movie, but it serves to make my point, the film is is fun and politically incorrect, so old-fashioned it is actually ahead of our time. Maybe John Huston found a parcel of liberty in the 70's that could allow him to explore all the colonial clichés for a great mix of humor and escapism, and the result is just too enjoyable and entertaining to inspire a negative reaction.
And how could anyone snub a film that features the two most talented Englishmen of their generations, both associated to famous spy series (although movie lovers are more familiar with James Bond than Harry Palmer), both tall and strong guys, one blonde, one dark, and both with an instantly recognizable accent. Say what you want about Michael Caine and Sean Connery, but their chemistry is as believable and enjoyable as the way they complete each other, and have fun playing their respective roles. Peachy Carnehan (Caine) and Daniel Dravot (Connery) are two ex-Victorian soldiers, free masons, in quest for riches, hidden treasures, power and the pride from going further than the British Empire itself where the sun never set, but neither did the British foot in that remote country hidden behind the Afghan mountains: Kafiristan. Speaking Arabic and knowing that the term Kafir means pagan, it is very revealing of the place's hostility if no religion ever got there.
And this is where the two men decide to go, and they take a young correspondent in India, named Rudyard Kipling (played by an unrecognizable Christopher Plummer) as a witness. They make a pact: to never drink or touch women until they conquer Kafiristan. The young Kipling warns them that no man ever went to these Godless cities after Alexander the Great, to which Peachy replies: if a Greek did it, we can. Indiana Jones was an adventurer but he was mostly driven by necessities and intellectual quests, here, you have two obvious antiheroes, driven by pride, greed, selfishness and yes so utterly convinced that they are in the right path, that we follow them with the same enthusiastic fun. And we see them venturing in these exotic lands full of beggars, snake charmers, old smoking soothsayers, crowded markets and some hints of the British civilization, but there's always more to see. That's the motto of adventurers and that's the curse of Hustonian heroes.
I mentioned Indiana Jones but indeed, "The Man Who Would be King" is such a brazenly entertaining and nicely nasty film that it would make you wonder why is it that "Raiders of the Lost Ark" is perceived as the one that resurrected the adventure genre. We have heart-pounding fight sequences, exotic locations that go from snowy mountains, road-stopping glaciers, from rocky deserts to inhabited oasis waiting for the civilization to "bring order". It has larger-than-life characters and meek, funny sidekicks like Saeed Jaffrey. The humor is sometimes racist and colonialist but it is done in such a free-spirited and comical way that it is obvious the joke is on the leads and this is typical of John Huston's movies, to distract us from the heroes' flaw by confronting them to worse people. And the two con-men are put in a place where a series of misunderstandings will allow them to be seen as Gods or kings, and just when you think you've seen all, the movie provides a completely new story in Kafiristan.
And this is where lies, my only "problem" with the film, if problem is the word, I am Moroccan, so I can't be fooled by the shooting locations, the locals look nothing Indian or Afghans but pure Moroccan natives, but it's in the language that my suspension of disbelief was challenged, the people don't speak in Arabic but in Moroccan dialect, so I was pleasantly surprised to realize I could understand the people of Kafiristan. This doesn't really ruin the enjoyment and I appreciate the underrated performance of Moroccan then-star Larbi Doghmi (he'd also have a small but memorable role in "The Black Stallion") as Ootah, he manages to steal the show, and when you have Caine and Connery, that means a lot. The population also does justice to the film, I didn't spot any smiling extras and some old men were into the role, so the whole thing works overall. But it was a little bit distracting.
Huston wanted this project to star Bogart and Gable, but Bogart died, then it was Gable with Caine and Gable died, but this film couldn't have had a better pairing, the two Englishmen have a sort of Pythonesque detachment while still being into their characters, and somewhat this film is like a strange and bizarre masterpiece, so anachronistic that it manages to be beyond its temporality. It feels like an older film but the cynical tone is more modern than you'd think, and even the titles, gives away one of Huston's most cherished characters: people who lose, but never without trying, these cocky bastards are full of themselves, but what a price to pay for failure rather than a life of writing behind the desk.
There's a discussion near a glacier where the two men prepare for their death and wonder whether they'd trade their lives for another, the answer is obvious and the laughs that follow are irresistible. This is a quintessential Hustonian moment.
The Fisher King (1991)
One of a Kind...
"The Fisher King" is an ambitious movie that ventures in so many territories and genres I can't believed it worked. Its power seems accidental, but I can't deny it, the film moved me. I didn't love all of it, but what I loved were moments of pure emotional brilliance I had so rarely encountered I couldn't let my judgment being clouded by (what I take as) Terry Gilliam's artistic licenses.
It starts with Jack, a successful Howard Stern-like DJ played by Jeff Bridges, who involuntarily inspires an auditor to commit a shooting-spree in a yuppie restaurant of New York City. At the eve of a promising TV career, he just sees the foundations of his life: limo, 20-years younger girlfriend, some upper-class building in Manhattan, everything, falling apart. Three years later, he works in a sleazy video store owned by Anne Mercedes Ruehl as a sexy, down-to-earth woman in her forties, who loves Jack as sincerely as he hates his life.
Jack's hopes seem all in stand-by, but the disillusion becomes too heavy a burden, and any vision of happiness too muddy, to believe in a destiny of greatness like Walt Disney or Hitler. At that point of the film, it is very poignant to see Bridges playing such an anti-Dude character, and it reveals something essential about him, all the arrogance he displayed before was just a front, he cared for people, only not enough to admit it. Naturally, something's got to stop him from jumping over the bridge and Robin Williams' exuberant entrance is supposed to be that moment where the film "comes alive".
Only, this is where it almost lost the sensitive appeal it built, by getting frantically weird and surreal. It is temporary but you don't know it at the first viewing and Robin Williams' spectacular introduction doesn't prepare you for how great he is. He's a bizarre and loud fellow, and even the fight sequence between the bums and the thugs borrow from two overused tropes: the eccentric bums and Williams' own eccentricity. Thankfully, his character is given more substance later. Jack learns that Parry was a teacher, and that he lost his wife in the infamous shooting. Bingo, Jack's got a reason to live.
Jack can hardly stand Parry's antics (and that's imperative so we can also feel connected to Jack, therefore to a sense of reality), but Jack wants to help him. For that, he plays the matchmaker between him and Lydia, a meek and mousy office worker played by Amanda Plummer. Parry ceases to be a walking cliché, he's not entrapped in his past, he's got goals and room for love. And the whole journey is a fascinating mix between realism and fantasy, with everything happening in the name of love. When it comes to love the 'Fantasy' works in a beautiful and poetic way, like the subway station turning into a ballroom but the film could have done without the more sinister material.
Indeed, the screenplay is filled with moments of brilliance in the writing and they all involve the realistic parts, like a powerful stargazing moment where Parry tells the story of the Fisher King and we understand that he's foreshadowing Jack's redemption. Parry is a man who believes in the old-school form of love while Jack tells him that you don't need to earn a woman in the 20th century, still, he's cynical but not enough to be totally unlikable. In fact, it's through Anne's eyes that we can measure how likable he is, and through his detachment and the cat-and-mouse game he plays with her heart, we know he's got something to learn too, from (what seems to be) Parry's journey.
But Gilliam seems to believe that a subplot involving the quest for a Holy Grail might be the key. Why? The question could be "why not?", it took one crazy lunatic to change Jack's life, it's only fair that the meeting of Parry restores some order. But the film could have worked as well had it focused on the four characters and without any 'interludes'. I will not have enough words to describe how powerful the Oscar-winning performance of Mercedes Ruehl is, she's the only character who feels real, Jack is real but so self-centered he's disconnected to reality, even the way he helps Parry is driven by his selfish desire to be redeemed. Lydia is real but only see her through the idealized vision of Parry, and she becomes interesting when she talks to Anne.
Yep, for all the hallucinations, the crazy dance number of the late Michael Jeter and that 'Holy Grail' sequence, it's these little touches like a woman-to-woman discussion and small tender exchanges, that the film work. And Mercedes Ruehl is part of many of them. Maybe Terry Gilliam can get away with all the fantasy sequences, maybe because all these characters have a power that makes us care for them, they need love, and need to be loved. Maybe. Only Jack seems to be the blind one and without spoiling the film, it's his very persistence that makes the two last scene so rewarding, something that borrows to the charm of such gems as "City lights".
I don't know if the film inspired Gilliam but I can't believe it didn't, even unconsciously. "City Lights" was also about a Tramp who saved a man from suicide and at the end someone could finally see, it is also Chaplin who proved that you can make a film about poverty and inject some fantasy, like the dream sequence in "The Kid", it wasn't the best part of the film, but it didn't ruin it.
So maybe there's something Chaplinesque in that 90's tale, it is bizarre mix of genres and messages, but that within its creative chaos, manages to create a real fireworks of emotions
that beautifully implode at the end. "The Fisher King" is really one of a kind.
Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973)
A Movie of Contagious Melancholy...
Sam Peckinpah's final western "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid" borders so many time on cinematic greatness that it's a real shame it never hits that chord of genius like "The Wild Bunch" or "The Ballad of Cable Hogue". It is a melancholic, moody, atmospheric Western with a constant sense of impending doom over the protagonists, we know it's a matter of time before fate finally strikes the Kid when he'll push his luck one time too many, but the question is: to which extent do we care enough to wish it happens as late as possible. Sometimes, I felt like betraying my own love for Peckinpah's movies by asking myself; "when will that be over"?
I liked Kris Kristofferson's performance but I associate Billy the Kid with Emilio Estevez so much that I didn't care enough for this one, I can't figure why, maybe because he didn't seem to care much about himself as well. Ironically, the only one who seemed to care about him was the instrument of his death, I say 'instrument' because there's obviousness on Garrett's reluctance to kill his friend, but as the holder of the sheriff's badge, he must fulfill his duty. There's no getting away from it, and I guess this is the core of the story, it's about people killing each other because they stand on opposite sides of the law, men who, in other circumstances, (some that might have happened) would've been friends, would've played Poker together or shared a family meal.
That would make life sound too arbitrary and meaningless, like ignoring what kind of people the outlaws and the lawmen were, but it seems to be the point. Indeed, in "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid", the line drawn between these two worlds is so thin and imperceptible that we don't really make a difference. Politicians and bounty hunters also play theses buffer roles, but you can tell Peckinpah hold neither of them with sympathy. So it's all a succession of arrests, gunfights and escapes, but they feel oddly random, lacking this precision from Sam's previous works, and as a Bloody Sam fan, I wondered if it was intentional, for the film is never as interesting when they halt fire, when you have a taste on their feelings, when it stops being about killing.
Reading the trivia, I learned that the film was infamous for constant internal battles, including Sam's alcoholism and the interference of MGM executives who assigned six editors to work on the finished film, a cutting of forty minutes that resulted with the film's ill-reception and Sam's disowning his own creation. I saw the longer version and I suspect there were more to see about these characters in order to avoid this vacuous or unfinished feeling. A film populated with such fine performances and cameos can't be anything other than a fascinating experience, its misfire can only be accidental. And if Sam's hart wasn't in it, it sure wasn't the case for the actors, starting with James Coburn.
Coburn plays a man of serene force, who says a lot without saying much, without that exaggerated devotion to duty and with an extraordinary inclination for sorrow and resignation, he's got a genuine fondness for his pal, but the call of duty has one merit, it's clear, fair and square and makes decision easier to make, although pulling the trigger is another story. The film isn't short of ironies; one of them is that Garrett is never stingy on bullets, except when it comes to the most ruthless killer of them all. It's like some outlaws' blood pumping in his veins, and killing Billy is killing a part of himself. This is how much he cares.
On the other hand, Billy, is a guy who moves forward, and doesn't let circumstances dictate his path, he and Pat complete each other, and it is only just that one of them would finally have the upper hand, the more reasonable one. Garrett wants to grow as old as America and knows the Old West's days are numbered. This is not a novelty in Peckinpah's movies to play like an Epitaph to the Western genre, but while the end of an era was glorious and operatic in "The Wild Bunch", ironic and whimsical in "The Ballad of Cable Hogue", it is incongruously melancholic in this film, and we'll never know whether this choice of tone was deliberate.
But one can't deny that this film offers some great bits that are among Peckinpah's best, one of the highlights of the film doesn't ironically feature the two leads, but two classic Western icons, Slim Pickens and Katy Jurado, Pickens has been shot under the ribs and we know what that means. He stands still but he knows he's watching his last sunset, he knows and she knows. He is in disbelief, she's resigned but in tears. This is the film in a nutshell, things that must happen, we don't believe they do, but we know they will. I don't know if it's the eyes of Pickens, the tears of Jurado or Bob Dylan's "Knock on the Heaven's Door", but the magic of this one moment has the power to almost redeem the movie.
I didn't much care for Dylan's presence, pretty understated given how much publicity he was given, but his contribution to the scores gives this film a strange modern lecture, it stops being a Western but a sort of character study, a "No Country for Old Men" with a friendlier bond between the two leads, and with this time, a country that can't allow a youth that wouldn't play their games. There's a lot to appreciate in "Pat Garret and the Billy the Kid" from our standpoint so maybe the best compliment this film can be given is that it aged quite well.