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Psycho II (1983)
Unexpectedly good
19 July 2006
I first saw this movie as a horror loving kid, and I loved it. But then, as a grownup, I was reluctant to watch it again since so many films I loved as a kid turned out to be junk, after all. Since I'm a big Meg Tilly fan, I kinda wanted to keep my good memories... so I watched it again, for the same reason (go figure).

Well, it was even better than I remembered. Anthony Perkins gives a truly moving performance, and it's an accomplishment in itself considering the fact that it's an 80's horror movie - not to mentioned the legacy of the first. But the actor proposed a completely convincing continuation of the character. And yes, Tilly is quite good; not at all your average damsel in distress. I wish she'd consider a comeback (she was the ultimate wicked step-mom in Body Snatchers).

All in all, a very nice surprise, and certainly no disgrace to the original.
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Diabolique (1996)
C'mon, camp-ers
18 July 2006
OK, so I just adore this little flop of a movie. The look, the acting (especialy Stone, Bates and Knight) and the screenplay all converge toward a distinctly campy second degree, sometimes close to comedy. Make it black comedy.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a big Clouzot fan; Le Corbeau is one of my all time favorite, and his original Diaboliques, based on Boileau and Narcejac short story, ranks prominently in my list, too. And frankly, I was quite ambivalent about it being remade. And then I heard of the casting (Stone/Adjani), which is a once in a lifetime kinda thing and the choice of giving direction to then newcomer Jeremiah Chechick, still fresh from his well received debut Benny and Joon.

So I told to myself, "Hey, could be worse". But I wasn't entirely convinced. Of course, I didn't know then that Don Roos had penned the laced in acid screenplay with the tongue firmly in cheek.

Stone's Nicole: "You're dead, this is heaven and I'm the Vigin Mary. Can you swallow?" This is one of my favorite line, ever. That Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolfe homage with Shirley Knight is also priceless.

To appreciate this movie, I think you must be a camp addict, or a gay, or both. One way or the other, the audience for this kind of sophisticated junk seems to be timid, or easily convinced to doubt of its own tastes. Maybe that's why Basic Instinct 2, a very similar outing, flopped. Too bad.
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Gorgeously photographed camp fest
17 July 2006
This one's for the camp afictionados crowd (and architecture students, perhaps). Highly funny in a black and/or double-entendre way. Mrs Stone delivers an expectedly fierce performance, while Morrissey maintains a quiet stubbornness on the other side.

I should mentioned that I just loved the black comedy Diabolique (advertising it as a thriller was a terrible idea, in my opinion, with a very broad use of the term "remake" ). Don Roos' script was full of juicy one-liners, gay humor and a definite predilection for form over content. And most of all, Stone went Lee Strasberg-ish (that self-parody ranks in her best outings, I think), improbably dressed in a film-noir-on-acid kinda way. The same applies here, except for the costumes, which are here closer to haute couture.

Like I mentioned in the summary, the movie is also extremely well photographed all around London and shows great locations, old and new (a voluntary contrast), with exquisite lighting.

The story, of course, is absolutely improbable, but I don't think the screenplay was a big issue here...

This is guilty pleasure in all its decadent splendor. I have a feel I'll watch this one again...
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Balasko's Hour
16 May 2006
The body of a young woman is found in the woods. It looks like a suicide, but Detective Michèle Varin thinks otherwise. Meanwhile, robbers terrorize the countryside... While the case is progressing , Varin soon finds herself dealing with demons of her own. Once again.

During the course of the seventies (and early eighties), France produced very interesting polars and noirs (Simenon was a big winner at this). I couldn't help but think of that period while watching "Cette femme-là". Although the setting is contemporary (somewhere in semi-rural France), the story would have fit perfectly in the above mentioned period... but it would have been a huge lost for moviegoers, since this one stars the uniquely gifted Josiane Balasko.

Ms Balasko is usually known as a comic, farcical actress. She's behind the very successful "Gazon maudit", as writer-director-star. But here is an altogether different actress, one of dept and substance. Her work in this picture, as a low-profile yet effective police-detective, is all nuances and carefully modulated expressions. Like Charlotte Rampling's character in "Sous le sable", Balasko's is one of interiority. Literally. She has build for herself an almost alternate life, an inner life, and much of the movie takes place there. That choice of narration makes for a complex storytelling, a storytelling that choose to have the murder-mystery part taking the backseat while the ambiguity of the reality vs phantasm is played full blast.

It takes quite a load of talent to pull off such a stunt, and director Guillaume Nicloux acquits himself quite nicely with a richly textured approach. But the real stand-out here is Balasko who, while speaking very few words, delivers a powerhouse performance. In less talented hands, this character could have been downright repellent, but here, one actually feels for that somewhat embittered woman. Somber, but ô so rewarding.
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Swimming Pool (2003)
On the art of mesmerizing
16 May 2006
François Ozon is one of France's most interesting filmmaker of what I'm tempted to call the Second New Wave. It's not so much that a new style is born, but more of a new cohort of extremely gifted movie makers, such as Anne Fontaine, Jacques Audiard, Agnès Jaoui, Cédric Kahn and of course Ozon. Each is in its 30's or 40's, each started out as a (sceen)writer, and, most importantly, each is pursuing a coherent auteur line; each is exploring its own themes, movies after movies.

For me, Ozon and Fontaine follow very similar paths, that is, when Ozon goes for the "serious" entertainment, such as See the Sea, 5X2, Sous le sable and Swimming Pool. This last movie is, like most of the young director's movies, flawlessly executed, at least from a formal standpoint. What makes it fascinating, well for me that is, is the overt "mise en abîme" device used via Charlotte(The Goddess)Rampling's character. She's a writer. She's stuck. She must get away. She does. And so do we.

What follows, depending on your taste and sensibility, is a slightly twisted tale of repressed eroticism, daydreaming dangers and, mostly, creative process gone awry... or is it?

Like Sous le sable, Ozon doesn't seem so much interested with an air-tight screenplay as he is with suggested impressions and brilliantly build atmospheres of almost abstract dread.

One can call it cold manipulation, self-satisfied film-making... I call it wit, talent and vision. All these new filmmakers go for the craft, but a craft serving as canvas for sometimes very personal storytelling. These guys here are more interested in lies, dreams and unexpected twists, twists that are always relevant considering the characters involved. And even then, one doesn't feel too far from real life. A gorgeously twisted real life, that is.

Since movies are after all about escapism, at some degree at least, I kind of like that attitude. Lie to me baby, but make it beautiful.
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120 min vs 95 min... what a waste.
3 May 2006
Mortelle Randonnée is arguably one of France's best noir ever. And one of Isabelle Adjani's brightest hour. You unfortunately have to understand french to fully appreciate Michel Audiard's brilliant, darkly humorous dialogs (and especially Serreault's monologues). Claude Miller's direction is at once classy and precise (very similar to his work on L'Accompagnatrice), while Pierre Lhomme's cinematography is lush when needed, gritty when necessary (mainly during the last third). I read a few bad reviews here and there and I must add, and I know I'm not the first, that the States version, not only the recent DVD but also the TV version and the old VHS, well, has always been the truncated, 95 min. cut. Now, the movie showed everywhere else in the world runs 120 min. sharp. Think about it: it doesn't only mean that almost quarter of the movie is absent, it also means that the editing, fatally, is different, so is the rhythm, the feel, the movie altogether. I saw the DVD and frankly, while the transfer's OK, it doesn't make much of an impression, but then again, think that almost half an hour's gone. I never understood that thing with American distributors and foreign films, as if American moviegoers needed shorter, tighter movies so it won't be too much of a shock. That's ridiculous. Any moviegoer, American or whatever, that goes to the theater and buys a ticket for an Adjani/Serreault movie is obviously not looking for The Rock or Paul Walker. Well, that's what I think anyway. The rating, of course, applies to the official 120 min. version. If you have a chance to see it, don't miss it. A real gem.
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