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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!
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."
* FF in the texts ** IMDb exists since 1990
So, from these 12 justice-related films (as in 12 Jurors), ranked in order of IMDb ratings, which one do you plead guilty of liking the most?
Indeed, "MITM" broke many grounds, being one of the first family sitcoms to really set itself apart from the usual clichés and feature a totally unredeemable, dysfunctional family, and get rid (for the first time) of (what used be obligatory) a laugh-track, but I guess most people remember it for being the series that really revived Bryan Cranston's career. Well, if only for that, the series deserves a little tribute.
So, as the title says, were you a fan of "Malcolm in the Middle"?
So, which of these 10 trick to improve your indie film, would you pick? Remember, you have no pretension to make THE film, your masterpiece, or your personal story ... you just want it to be "memorable" enough to launch your career.
I Am Sam (2001)
Sorry but the real world ain't no Beatles' song...
And that's why we loved "The Beatles" because their songs were invitation to a better world, one different from our reality. But Jessie Nelson's "I Am Sam" approach the Beatles like a real Gospel of life.
This well-meaning drama is about the group's number-one fan: Sam, a Starbucks Coffee employee with the mind of a 7-year old child fighting for the custody of his daughter of the same age, needless to say that we're supposed to root for him. His lawyer played by a Michelle Pfeiffer, starts like your typical shallow, self-centered, publicity-seeking executive women who, learns in the process one thing or two about love. Love, that's the film's motto, the whole purpose of the film is to prove that one's ability to love is enough to raise a child.
I'm sorry but as a parent of a four-year old little girl, it's not true. The film mixes up two elements in a way that insults intelligence: loving and raising. One is a matter of the heart, it's something of universal value that transcends the barriers, but rising is a practical thing, requiring a decent amount of both mental and physical ability. It is such a painstaking occupation you can't deal with it alone, whether you're Sam, a blind woman or even two parents. But this movie wants to make us believe that love is the one and only requirement. The premise is fallacious from the start.
Critics pointed out that the film makes an effort to show a father capable of taking of her child despite his handicap. Actually, the film can't even afford to be manipulative, as it contradicts the very points it tries to make, some situations were so embarrassing that I started to question very early whether this film was serious or a joke? Starting with the birth, Lucy's mother doesn't even have a glimpse on her child and she leaves the hospital as if she had just thrown a used Kleenex on a trashcan. And Sam leaves the hospital with the baby in his arms!!!
People leave a hospital with a baby in a Moses' basket or in the mother's arms if they're going to a car or a cab. That sight of Sam with little Lucy in his arms, in the middle of a subway, exposing her to all the germs of the world and with no one being ever worried about it, it could look like a kidnapping after all, killed all the film's credibility. If the point was to show a capable father, well it's a fail. Later, he can't understand why his daughter is crying and needs the help of Annie, the benevolent next-door neighbor, to tell him that she needs to eat every two hours.
Didn't he know? Didn't he prepare her birth? Didn't he train from diaper-changing? Does this guy have any family? How much time did pass before Annie came? Before you ask too many questions, the film makes a convenient ellipse with the Beatles' music in the background (the musical leitmotif) Lucy grew up and turns out to be a bright little girl, played very well by Dakota Fanning. From this chronological leap, we've got to assume that nothing went wrong until she started to outsmart Sam, and refuses to learn anything to stay on his level.
You can tell the writers needed to make this as pivotal as possible; he's also arrested in a weird scene involving a prostitute, which raises a social worker's attention. Loretta Devine plays the 'bad guy' part while we're supposed to feel in comfort when Sam goes buy shoes to his little girl, with his friends also suffering from mental handicap, some played by actors. Not every girl has a mother but I know shopping and buying clothes is a girl or a woman thing. I refuse to believe that Sam doesn't know any woman who could go have a woman-to-woman moment with Lucy. Seeing little girl surrounded by a bunch of grown-up adults talking weird isn't heart-warming, it is downright creepy.
Or at least, that's what the directing applies, what's with all the weird camera short and hand-held directing (with some weird zooms), you can tell some parts want to make you 'aaw' well it's either embarrassing to watch or unintentionally funny. The performance of Sean Penn has been deemed as 'full retard' by "Tropic Thunder" and you can tell it's the kind of one-note approach that doesn't work in movies, especially he's not always in the same level of smartness, he's capable of detecting hidden messages beneath the Beatles songs, but sometimes, he can't even handle a client in his Starbucks shop. His level of mental retard fluctuates according to the requirements of the plot.
The whole experience of "I Am Sam" feels like someone tried to make a film in the same vein than "Philadelphia" with the subplot involving the lawyer. But even Michelle Pfeiffer can't save this and I thought she was too miscast, she's just too 'beautiful" for that face; they made an effort to make her so appealing to the camera it was distracting. As for the message, well, we're supposed to believe that Sam is capable, because of the Power of Love.
I'm sorry but I agreed with the prosecutor and in the one scene where he asked Annie a valid question about Sam's capability to raise Lucy when she'll reach puberty. Annie evades the answer and asks him if he would (as if the issue was gender) and instead of asking the question again, the prosecutor turns into a sort of villain who asks a sensitive question about Annie's personal background. She cries, she becomes the victim, and the question is left unanswered.
That's the film in a nutshell, too many good sentiments preventing the good questions to find answer while they're too obvious not to be seen.
Dorothy , Pinocchio, Alice and finally... Chihiro!
"Spirited Away" ventures in the realm of fantasy through the journey of Chihiro, a ten-year old girl, who's imprisoned in a world of spirits after her parents have been turned to pigs.
This premise suggests a mixture of two universal stories immortalized (but not created) by Disney: "Pinocchio" and "Alice in Wonderland". The parents turn into pigs because they ate in an unattended restaurant; the father mentions his credit card before swallowing a large spoonful of noodles like a pig, literally. Both adults are punished like the kids in Dream Island who acted like jackasses before the Coachman turned them into real ones. Chihiro was spared because she felt something was wrong and only wanted (a bit cowardly) to get back to the car.
In this universe, you've got nothing for nothing, and any action has a price to pay or a reward, there's a sort of immanent justice governed by the God-like imagination of Miyazaki. The villainous Yubaba, a big-headed 'witch' who's actually the tenant of a traditional bathhouse, and the one who cursed Chihiro's parents, isn't as one-dimensional as the Coachman, she's a businesswoman who wants people to be brief and good at work. She's as capable as complimenting and rewarding as she is in the 'punishing' department. It all comes to a moment halfway through the film, when you see the parent's punishment as a severe yet understandable answer to greed and lack of humility.
But just because Chihiro didn't yield the temptation doesn't make her immune to the wrath of Yubaba. Chihiro wasn't too enthusiastic about the family moving to another town, she missed her friends and school, she's literally turned to the past, but she's also an obviously overprotected only child who can't get off her zone of comfort. After "Pinocchio", she's also a little Alice who doesn't dream about escapism but quite the opposite, and although she doesn't become a pig, her presence in that world has a meaning, Chihiro is a girl of the status quo, who embraces the present and only wishes to have her parents back and leave their parents alone, but she has a few demons to overcome, it's not about redeeming her parent's fault but about overcoming that poisoning status-quo.
Chihiro works as a slave for Yubaba, giving her name in exchange of safety, it's not exactly the name, but from what I gathered, a 'kenji', a sort of syllabus or part of her name that changes her identity to Sen. Actually, the literal meaning of the Japanese title is the "Disappearance of Sen and Chihiro" as if Chihiro was incarnating the loss of Japanese memory, like her parents did when they forgot about basic courtesy in the name of money or like these human ghosts in that masterful train sequence, probable metaphors of Japanese people alienated by the modern world. By becoming two persons at once, Chihiro embarks on a transitional state, in a quest she knows nothing about, and neither do we, until the end, when the film unveils the message, like "The Wizard of Oz" did with the unforgettable 'there's no place like home'.
Now, at that point of the review, I'll keep this simple and say that "Spirited Away" is also a visually rich experience full of Carrolian elements, such as animal-creatures and food with shape-changing power. It is populated by a vast gallery of characters, humans, toad-looking creatures, a boy named Haku who knows Chihiro's name but suffers from memory losses as well, there's a spider-like creature of a man working in the boiler rooms, helped by little living black creatures. I'm sure Miyazaki drained his imagination from Japanese folklore but he creates his worlds with an instinct in detail and a harmony in the drawings that would make any foreigner feel 'at home'? Some elements will certainly be lost in translation, but it's like Kurosawa's movies, the core of his films are universal.
The clear line that became the trademark of the anime elevates the animation to the level of a noble art, one that creates realities of his owns, or worlds that speak to our own perception of reality. And using his poetry and his delicate drawing, Miyazaki reprises the same themes than in "Mononeke" with a few variations, the former was about the battle between men and nature but this time, it's about the inner battle, the one that causes men to disrespect the environment, to forget about their identity, to embrace life like money-driven robots or faceless ghosts. And it's not much that the film is about this stuff but the way it is. The effect on environment is demonstrated through a wonderful sequence involving the washing of a putrid creature, and the lure of gain is conveyed by the "No Face" character who gets anything he wants in exchange of gold nuggets.
Things get easily out of control, until Chihiro refuses the gold nuggets because she didn't need them. All she wanted was to save her parents. As the movie progresses, you can fell the change going on, she's not the shy little girl who couldn't even climb down stairs, she became confident, mature and reveals what the film is, it is a wonderful coming-of-age story, it is a fairy tale, a modern Pinocchio and Alice in Wonderland, a Wizard of Oz, a tale about modernity set in a Japan setting, it is everything, it is both and new, traditional and innovative.
"Spirited Away" belongs to that breed movies that embrace weirdness with such majestic confidence we can't feel more deceived when we get back to our flat and boring reality, speaking for myself, after watching two "Miazaki" in a row, I feel instinctively bored just thinking of the usual animated movies.
The Defying Creation about Deified Creatures...
I saw "Princess Mononoke" twice the same weekend but I'm not sure I grasped half of what makes it such a great movie. Even 'great' is too vague a word; so many 'great' movies are not one-tenth the film "Princess Mononoke" in style, content and universal implications.
Even after two viewings, I can only provide a superficial overview on the story and a meager but enthusiastic review of what constitutes one of the best animated movies of the last decades. To think that the same year, Disney came up with "Hercules" gives you an idea of where the real magic of animation operated thanks to the most imaginative creator and most accomplished artist of his generation: Hayao Miyazaki. Indeed, imagination and artistry never got along so well since Walt Disney. Now, to the story.
Although set in medieval Japan, "Princess Mononoke" ventures between the realms of history and fantasy, in a universe where the spirits of a God-like Nature govern the lives of (precisely) all living creatures: animals, plants and even men, they all coexisted in harmony until the age of deforestation. The film opens when a wild demonically possessed creature attacks the village of Ashitaka. And the tone is set from the start: the monster looks like a giant boar recovered by a sort of tentacles looking like writhing snakes, the drawing dwarfs any CGI abomination. You might as well compare a Rembrandt with a 4-year old kid's painting.
The film was made in the late 1990's at the dawn of the CGI frenzy and when 3D animation would drive half the box-office grosses, but all the special effects of the world will never hold a candle to the power of hand-painting. "Princess Mononoke", the highest-grossing movie in Japan but soon-to-be dethroned by "Titanic", required a level of precision that couldn't do without traditional drawing. Miyazaki resorted to computer for a few hundred shots, only 1% of celluloid, but it says something about the man's pragmatism as he could also embrace technology to keep a fair balance between his stylish and narrative visions.
And it works. When Ashitaka defeats the monster, everything looks real and the injury resulting from the fight doesn't have the contrivance of a 'magical' plot device. Ashitaka's arm is infected by a mysterious curse that will ultimately cause his death although giving him temporary superpowers (like decapitating someone with his a simple arrow shot). The village's wise woman tells him he must be exiled for his own good, to save his arm with the help of the Gods of the forests. Then starts the heroic and epic journey of the young Prince.
From what I read, a few words were mistranslated, he's not actually a Prince and the girl who gives him the talisman isn't his sister, they're actually lovers. It doesn't undermine the comprehension of the story but it shows that the film is impregnated by Japanese culture and some idioms might be lost in translation. Even the title is misleading: Mononeke doesn't refer to the name of the Princess, but her status as a "possessed monster or outcast", this description, from human perspective, isn't objective but it reflects her status as someone between two worlds. Her real name is San and she was raised by the Goddess-wolf.
San is like a counterpart to Ashitaka, both human protagonists deeply related to the animal world, one by choice and one by fate. While San resents humans for their destructive actions and their effects on animals (we'll learn later that the boar-demon was cursed by a bullet lodged in his body), Ashitaka is a collateral damage of men's actions but he's incapable of hatred, and empathize with both animals' and men's pleas. As usual with Miyazaki, this is not your typical "good vs. evil" story. The closest character to a villain is Lady Eboshi, the chief of Irontown, and she cuts trees to make iron and build the fortress where many social outcasts, ex-brothel workers and lepers work in exchange of food and protection.
Eboshi has understandable motives and she's also a powerful woman respected by men and therefore, needing to assert her authority. Even the main antagonist, Jiko-bo, a sneaky monk, has a mission: taking the head of the Forest Spirit for the Emperor, he's like a government worker, so to speak. Ashitara is like the centerpiece of an arena where creatures struggle to find peace and harmony; even the Gods Animals are unequally pacific. The environmentalist statements aren't spoken at the expenses of realism. We do root for Nature and accept Miazaki's protection of environment but there's the idea of people defending their own interests, for their own survival. It's not realism, but lucidity.
But lucidity doesn't undermine the dazzling visuals: the forest looks majestic, the wolves have that furry amplitude that shows how determined they are, and the magic displayed whether to convey a sense of danger or beauty is hypnotically beautiful. But that's only the tip of the iceberg, there's more to see in the film. Even the romance between San and Ashirata is handled with a sense of maturity that respects the coherence of the plot and our intelligence.
"Princess Mononoke" surpasses everything Disney made in the last years before and everything Peter Jackson will make, CGI can look fine but you're always tempted to cheat with it, computer does the trick. There was a screen writing manual titled "Save the Cat!" and explaining how most movies, especially on the field of animation and fantasy / sci-fi journeys were based on the same structure. I dare anyone to find a usual pattern in "Princess Mononoke", this is a film that defies all the conventions and where every frame is original and surprising.
To put it simply, "Princess Mononoke" is a great animated film with a great story, can you ask for more?
Men in Black II (2002)
'Meh' in Black...
I just watched "Princess Mononoke" this weekend. What's that got to do with "Men in Black II"? Nothing, these movies don't play in the same league and shouldn't even be mentioned in the same sentence. But they have one thing in common: they both feature mysterious and fearsome creatures and the enjoyment of these two films is somewhat dependent on how believable they look. "MIIB" might be Sci-fi comedy but the Sci-fi label implies a minimum of suspension of disbelief. It's better to laugh at something that you took seriously in the first place.
Well, "MIIB" is a real step backward when compared to the original 1997 movie but there's never a single moment in the film where nothing didn't look like a CGI abomination, I don't think they even tried to make it believable. Tentacles are recurring physical assets when it comes to the bad aliens; but in the film, they look like what an intern in George Lucas Studios would have produced before being kicked out. Watching the tentacles on that God-boar demon in the opening of "Mononoke" was like admiring a Rembrandt painting in comparison.
But I wouldn't have cared much about the special effects if the film still had 'the' special effect, the 'secret element' that whispers to your mind "who cares? Just enjoy the goddamn thing". Here again, the film never tries to get off the shadow of the 1997 hit, there's not a single part of the story that doesn't rely on what happens in the first, but a good sequel is a movie you can enjoy without seeing the first, one that would work as a great film in its own right.
No chance with this one, to get the references, you need to see the first, if you enjoy the first, you won't love the second, you won't prefer it anyway. So, I'm asking: what's the point of making a sequel if you're not even embracing the possibility that it can be more popular than the first? If improving isn't part of the challenge, why bother? Actually, the plot (or lack of) shows how much determined they were to surpass the original.
The set-up involves another Earth-destruction menace, due to a sort of mysterious star or light a shape-changing Alien must get. The alien takes the form of a Victoria's Secret model and is played by Lara Flynn Boyle, the only gag that could have resulted from her sexiness is used in the start. After that, she's just a sexy villain (not very convincing though) and the two-headed sidekick played by Johnny Knoxville, plays the Vincent d'Onofrio part, but there's no gag that will feel original. The character of Stereo from "Space Goofs" was far more innovative.
How about Kay and Jay, the plot uses a few contrivances that makes the come-back of Jay necessary. Naturally, we learn that there's something called a deneuralyzer and good old Jeebs (Tony Shalhoub) is the one who can provide the service, two birds with the same stone, we'll get the head-splattering gag as an extra. That's what "MIIB" does, as if it followed the lazy section of "Sequel for Dummies", they use the same tricks with a few variations.
Of course, some parts are funny, of course, there's an element of enjoyment in watching good old Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones playing with the big guns again, to see Rip Torn, the worm guys and even Michael Jackson's cameo but the heart isn't in it, and speaking of hart, even the romantic subplot with Rosario Dawson felt forced and dull.
I read that they had to rework the climax because of the World Trade Center attacks, which reminded me of a film that suffered from the same issue: "Die Hard 3" which had to end on a weak and predictable shootout because the original sequence involved a building explosion, and it was after the Oklahoma bombing. At least, the rest of the film was good, that "MIIB" couldn't even have a mind-blowing climax makes the whole experience inferior to the first on every level.
The only gag that works is the locker one, if the rest was half as good, the film would have been a good sequel, but about "MIIB", one could paraphrase the famous quote from the 1997 film and see that its merit is to make the original look good.
Café Society (2016)
Is that the end of Woody Allen?
Watching "Café Society" was such a depressing and frustrating experience I couldn't believe I "owed" it to Woody Allen. But on second thoughts, it makes sense because only a director of his caliber, one who accustomed us to thought-provoking and/or heart-warming gems of originality, could heighten our expectations so high they would literally smash into deception, breaking in thousand pieces of disbelief. That's how I felt when the film ended, it wasn't even bad, it was just a lame and lackluster attempt to explore all the usual shticks for a plot so vacuous it wasn't even "interestingly" bad.
The story? In a nutshell (and I mean a very small one), a young New Yorker named Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg) wants to work in Hollywood for his uncle, a rich and famous producer (that's for the pleonasm) named Phil Stern (Steve Carell). Phil has a mistress, his secretary Vonnie (Kristen Stewart), naturally, Bobby falls in love with her, the resulting triangle cannibalizes the first act until Vonnie picks Phil and we can't even tell if she chose him like she meant it. Never mind, a defeated Bobby goes back to his Big Apple of a hometown, and with the help of his gangster brother, he opens a restaurant, meets a young woman (Blake Lively), they marry and have a kid. Bobby meets Vonnie again, she's married, they share a romantic night in Central Park. Then they get back to their lives and the film ends with the two of them feeling alone.
I could mention that there's a criminal subplot supposed to spice the film a little, but you might as well throw a pinch of salt and pepper on Lake Ontario. One could say that it's not "what" happens but the way it happens. Sorry, but even the treatment couldn't have been worse if it was someone trying to imitate Allen. Each element of the story is a poor man's version of what he did before, and better. The real love letters to Hollywood and show business were "Broadway Danny Rose", "The Purple Rose to Cairo" and "Bullets Over Broadway". The bittersweet romance is an Allen staple ever since "Annie Hall" and "Manhattan", the Jewish family element has never been as endearing as in "Radio Days". There's not a single element that doesn't feel like we've seen it before.
But even then, it would have been acceptable if it these ersatz were half as good as their originals. Woody Allen has lost his touch on this one, so bad it hurts. Eisenberg tries desperately to make an impression of Allen in his early scenes, falling in a similar trap than Kenneth Branagh in "Celebrity"... why all the actors feel the need to impersonate Alvy Singer when they're in a Woody Allen film? Now, Kristen Stewart isn't bad but the role is rather unflattering, she just plays a secretary who goes from being an unpretentious free-spirited girl above the 'starlet' mentality, to a sophisticated socialite. In between, she's torn between the two men and you can tell she tries to get rid of that awkward 'puzzled' expression inherited from the 'Twilight' series.
You can tell that for youngsters Eisenberg and Stewart, working with Allen was a wet dream, but I wonder if they were really pleased to play such bland and dull roles. Even Steve Carell isn't given many scenes to shine, everything is handled in a casual, peaceful and matter-of-factly way. And if the romance is toned down and subdued, Allen insists on the ethnic element more than needed. Allen has always been a window to New York Jewish culture, but talk about overplaying it. If another director made the same film, let alone a Gentile, this would have been raised a big polemic and even accusations of stereotypical portrayals.
I always laugh at Allen's references to a nagging Jewish mother figure or his interaction with his rabbi, this is one of the defining elements of Allen's humor, just like self-derision is prevalent in Jewish humor, but in "Café Society", it is overused to the point of pointlessness. So, the producer is Jewish, the nephew works for his father, a Jeweler, named Marty, his mother is a version of Julie Kavner after she went in a dryer, overcooking food because of germ-phobia and uttering Yiddish expressions just in case we forgot. Even the prostitute in Hollywood, happens to be Jewish. I swear there are more ethnic references in "Café Society" than all of Woody Allen's movies combined. That critics would point it this characteristic in an Allen film can give you an idea of how serious it is.
We would have guessed Bobby's background without it be thrown to our faces every forty-seven seconds. If it was a religious film à la "A Serious Man" (the underrated masterpiece from the Coen Brothers) it would have made sense, but here, it was uncalled for. This insistence from Allen on elements of the background while the plot was devoid from the usual excitement and creativity left me puzzled. I didn't know if I had to be angry or sad, but I guess I'm worried. I felt like Allen lost his touch and could only rely his story on (another) nostalgic letter to Hollywood, New York and his Jewish roots. In fact, there's a well-meaning intent behind "Café Society", but I felt like an over-nostalgic, maybe melancholic (or mildly senile) Allen made it.
2016 wasn't the best year for homage to old Hollywood anyway, both "Café Society" and the Coens's "Hail Caesar" were forgettable movies but they say a lot about the evolution of filmmaking, forcing directors to be reminiscent of good old days, "La La Land" did better without turning it into a period movie. I hope that excess of nostalgia doesn't mean Woody Allen lost his touch with the present. I hope this is just a misstep and that he has one or two masterpieces under his sleeve.
Big Fish (2003)
Not Just the Facts, M'am...
"Big Fish" tells a story about a man who tells stories. I think we can do better. It's about an ordinary man telling extraordinary stories, thus being extraordinary by proxy. His name is Edward Bloom, a man who spent most of his life inventing tales about how he met his wife, how he proposed her, how he built his house etc. In fact, all the "who", the "what" and the "why" that cover the chapters of his life seem to drain their inspiration from tall tales and fantasy. It gives a man a certain charm, he's like an old grandfather whose rambling is easily forgiven, but the film presents him from the standpoint of his son Will (Billy Crudup) and he doesn't exactly share this view.
It's understandable because we've only met Edward (Albert Finney) for five minutes and he just told us a nice little story about a giant catfish he caught with his wedding ring, but the son heard it a thousands times, so much he can recite it, even tell it better than him. Will has had enough and can't stand the fact that his father would steal his thunder, the very day of his wedding, and to babble the same old story, over and over again. There starts a shift of three years, until he learns that Edward's at the verge of death, so he travels from France with his pregnant wife Josephine (Marion Cotillard), convinced that it's time to settle that old record. Will might not be likable but we kind of understand his troubles, it's not about the stories but what they hide.
Maybe Will hates his father's stories like people hated Ed Wood's films but Tim Burton, wizard of imagery and at times, storytelling, can turn any lousy premise into a beautiful and emotional experience. Maybe that's what Edward meant by sugarcoating or reinventing the things of the past. I'll make a chronological leap: near the end of the movie, Will hears the real story about his birth, and it's certainly less colorful and memorable than the way Edward Sr. described. it had the merit to be the truth. Will obviously loves his father but blames him for his incapability to make a distinction between what is true and what is not. Burton doesn't allow us to make the distinction either because the point is elsewhere, the frustration of the son is duly noted, but the trick is to lead him to reconsider his personal frustrations.
The movie, through regular flashbacks, enlightens us about the life and times of Edward Bloom, his younger self, played by Ewan McGregor. The story is obviously exaggerated, we don't really care because within the framework of the film, it's the only story we'll take for granted, especially since Will won't get many real "versions" apart from his birth. The film's premise is a real paradox, we know we don't follow Edward's story but his personal vision, from our perspective, it's "his" story because he's the storyteller.We're basically torn between the anger of the son who only wants to know what kind of a man his father was and our personal enjoyment that doesn't necessarily seek any truth, unless we would care for Will.
Obviously, Roger Ebert cared enough for Will so he was genuinely annoyed by the father and his wrestling with the truth, but Ebert must have been in a wrong day, because the point of the film is obviously to make us relate to Edward and accept our liberty to look at our lives with the narrative we chose. It's Burton's vision as it's Edward's, there are times though where Burton gets carried away by his usual tropes, the colorful suburban small town like in "Edward Scissorhands", the many encounters on which the hero's journey depends, a gentle giant, a circus ringmaster, Siamese twins, a witch, all played by endearing actors like Danny De Vito, Steve Buscemi,and Helena Bonham Carter, but there is something that remains oddly consistent: these lies have a purpose, they represent the way a man looks at his life, he manipulate the facts because he knows these facts will die with him, while stories will contribute to his own myth.
That's the key, that's the purpose of that ending where Will literally says "the hell with it", swallows his pride and 'take' his father to a last farewell ride. The emotionals raised at that moment has something that borrows from Spielberg's movies but it works because it finds the right touch, the son doesn't reinvent a story or make up an adventure from the scratch, he just takes his father to a last trip where he meets and says goodbye to all the people who populated his life and turns into that 'big fish" he always mentioned in that ring story. This is not the son 'understanding' his father, Edward will always be a mystery, but it's the son loving his father enough to at least be part of the last thing that defined him, and maybe understanding him a little.
As a son, and also as a father, I could strongly emotionally relate to the film, because like I always says, sometimes, it's not about love and respect but understanding. So, on the surface, "Big Fish" is a colorful and visually entertaining picaresque journey of a man who found his destiny the oddest way, who told stories about his life and made it his reason to be, but beneath the surface, it's a poignant father-and-son story where the outcome is two persons finally coming to terms.
The film doesn't overplay the emotions and the visual delights and there's a simplicity in the story you want to fully embrace as if the right attitude was from the wives played by Jessica Lange and Cotillard, let the old fool have his dreams, and be fool enough to enjoy them. Isn't that what Cinema, or life, or everything about, suspension of disbelief.
Safety Last! (1923)
Safety Last... But Not Least...
It's only near my mid-twenties that my interest in movies grew and boy, was I busy! It cost me many valuable social assets but that's another story, it was my existential choice to have an immersion into a whole century of artistic creations, which kind of oblige you to get to the basics first. So in the case of silent movies, Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton were the must- see, at the expenses of the third icon: Harold Lloyd.
I never really dedicated much thought or curiosity to Lloyd, I knew his reputation, his looks, the titles he was most celebrated for, and as if it was enough for my cultural knowledge, I knew his most iconic shot, the one where he , well, you know it. To think that one of my favorite movies is "Back to the Future" and it didn't even encourage me to give the film a shot. I saw that "part" with the clock on Youtube and that was enough. When I finished the film yesterday, I felt guilty, how could I ever miss such a gem of a film? I felt less guilty when I read Roger Ebert's review, he saw it for the first time in the early 2000's, almost twice my age, and he's a movie lover. So, there's a real shadow of mystery about "Safety Last!", a classic of the Golden Age, yet relatively unknown.
But let's get this straight: it is a Masterpiece. The film displays a comical instinct that, no matter what Ebert said, is on the same level than Keaton or Chaplin, especially when it comes to physical comedy. The silent era was a time of performers, they didn't rely on CGI and stuntmen were mostly use as advisers, it was Chaplin on this rope, with the monkeys, in "The Circus", Keaton playing with trunk on the cow catcher in "The General" and it was Lloyd dangling and climbing the facade of the building. The film leaves no mystery about his physical abilities, we see him getting on a train on march, jumping from a car, falling repeatedly, the stunt achieved by Lloyd have nothing to envy from his peers, he masters slapstick as well as Chaplin and Keaton.
Yet Ebert commented that that the two legends would always have a universal resonance while Lloyd wasn't a natural, he had to work. Well, he did and it worked. He turned his anonymous and bland looking face as an asset, he was an every-man, too boyish to be a leading figure, too bland to be funny without trying. That was the point, he had to try, he had to work, after many attempts, he finally found his 'toothbrush mustache', glasses and a straw hat. He created an instantly likable character, or if not likable, one whom the audience could project empathy and positive feelings on. He would be named 'The Boy' or 'Harold Lloyd'. In "Safety Last!" he's a man from a small town who goes to the city and works as a salesclerk in De Vore Department Store.
Not the most colorful job, he's no gold miner, no tramp, no train driver but even within the limited range of this situation, Lloyd finds a way to combine between slapstick and physical feats, just to avoid another reprimand from his self-important floor-walker and he has ten minutes to get to his place and clock in. Then the film provides a fantastic race against time that works like a foretaste to the climactic building climbing. The power of Lloyd is to make a film where every plot point is either an excuse for a gag or a stunt, sometimes both. It's like a situation comedy with a great timing based on misunderstanding and lies. He's not in a bad situation but he pretends he has some high rank, and naturally, she comes by to check and the whole second act consists on pretending to be the boss and ditching the encounters that might betray his act.
It all leads up the climax, that climbing of the 12-store-building, I often wondered what pushed this man to be in that situation, always assuming that he actually got off from a window. Not only he climbed the whole building store by store but each store offers a specific obstacle, he's showered by peanuts attracting pigeons, get a mouse in his pants, catching a rope that is not even tied and so on and so forth, it's an exhaustive experience, one we're forced to see but can't because we don't have the control and he doesn't even seem to have the control himself. Even when he manages to get on the top, he gets a weather vane hits him in the head and he starts moving like Goofy in "Clock Cleaners", I wouldn't be surprised if the film served like an inspiration, it is the pioneer of all these gravity-defying stunts actually.
For the trivia, "Safety Last!" was the only comedy to be listed in the American Film Institute's Top 100 Thrills, and it wasn't even listed in the Top 100 comedies, as shocking as it is (the list included many debatable comedies) it's like the chief emotion of the film is thrills and it is a credit to Harold Lloyd to have made a film capable to grab genuine laughs and where you would grave someone's arm, it is fun and agonizing in the same time. Still, the thrills involved in the film are only the tip of an iceberg. "Safety Last!" is fun before being a heart-pounding experience, and that's saying a lot. Buster Keaton's "General" didn't make in the Thrills but in the Laughs list, and that's how "Safety Last!" works, like a "General" but on the vertical side and with one of the most iconic images of the silent era.
That the AFI would overlook the comedy, that Ebert didn't see it until the 2000's, that I only discovered yesterday are just total mysteries.
The Immortalization of Jesse James by the Tragically Naive Robert Ford...
There's always a temptation to get over-analytical with the revisionist Western sub-genre. These moody movies, like "Shane", "McCabe & Mrs. Miller" or "Unforgiven", paint a portrait of the Old West at the twilight of its existence. Whether from Natives and homesteaders who, realize the march of progress is a roller-coaster ignoring the value of individual lives or outlaws and marshals discovering that they belong to a dying breed of men, the Old West shrunk like a Balzac pebble-leather, and with it, the frontier spirit.
The "end of an era" is the most prevalent element of modern Western and Andrew Dominik's "Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford", a film served by impeccable acting and hypnotic cinematography by Roger Deakins. There's a an obvious kinship between this title and "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance", we care less for the death, which awaits us all, than the way fate lures the primarily concerned to the deadly encounter. And the Jesse James we see, is played by a self-conscious but oddly poignant Brad Pitt, like a living ghost, a man floating above the dark shadow of fame and a magnetic aura. Ask anyone today about Jesse James, words 'outlaws', bank robberies will come to mind but also that nickname that earned his ticket to posterity: Robin Hood.
Yes, this is the Old West, quoting "Liberty Valance", "when legend becomes fact, print the legend". At the aftermath of the Civil War, people could find excuses to criminals, and Jesse James was always seen as a man faithful to the Confederate flag and who robbed Yankees banks to repair injustices. This is certainly a shortcut from reality, he certainly killed more innocent men than Robert Ford, but James is a legend nonetheless. You can tell it from the morbid attraction his death gathered, the quasi-mystification of his life or any item he ever approached. You can just tell it by the number of movies or books made about him, while Robert Ford, will always be associated to the word 'Coward', the Judas, the backstabber. But no one would want such a reputation, and certainly not Ford who only wanted to join the gang, along with his brothers and has his share of James' fame.
Robert Ford is certainly one of the most fascinating cinematic characters of the last two decades; he was certainly overlooked because 2007 saw the more iconic and larger-than-life Anton Chigurh from "No Country for Old Men". But Ford embodies this puzzling correlation between death and admiration; one that caused John Lennon to be killed by a fan. Ford is a man who knows the times of Old West legends is coming to an end and wants to make a name out of his, believing he's "destined for great things". But this is a man who's not the tenth James is, he's awkward, effeminate, full of shy mannerisms that immediately betray a sneaky side of his personality. One minute with Frank James (Sam Shepard) and the old man draws his gun, telling him to get out because he "gives him the willies". But it seems like his brother Jesse is more tolerant.
Indeed, Jesse James gives Bob a chance and starts a weird relationship whose culmination is the titular assassination. Bardem won the Oscar for "No Country" but he played a villain, albeit not one-dimensional. Casey Affleck (who got many awards nods, including the Oscar) plays something that is lower than the concept of the villain but more spectacular in terms of acting, he's the wimp, the well-meaning but ultimately weak man whose personal hubris conducts him to kill people who actually appreciated him, he's Jerry Lundegaard in "Fargo" or Fredo Corleone and it takes some super acting to play these awkward and highly contemptible people. Affleck even adds a dimension of troll-faced, double-crossing youth that makes him even more dangerous.
The fact that at the end, we still feel sorry for him says a lot about the beauty of the film. We understand that he meant "well", he wanted to be a new Pat Garrett, yet he didn't understand his world. He didn't foresee that reenacting 800 times the assassination would only make him an even more detestable public figure while he could have left the killing a mystery. There was no witness besides his brother Charley (Sam Rockwell) Ford could have claimed it was self-defense, people would have suspected him, he might even have been killed anyway, but how could he ever believe that he could earn a heroic reputation by explicitly killing someone in the back and taking pride from it, at that.
Ford became a living ghost in suspended sentence, waiting to be killed; his name would forever be associated with James, but not the way he intended. The film, while not forgiving the action of Ford, presents him like a tragic figure, victim of unfortunate illusions. And I have a feeling that he was also victim of James, the film insists on showing James as a man of fading health, growing paranoia and irrational behavior, being chased by all the Marshalls of the country would drive anyone insane. Many times, James take someone for "a ride" and we understand it's the euphemism mobsters use for "take care", the plot isn't always clear but it efficiently highlights the mindsets that inhabits the two main characters, the cast does justice to the film, Jeremy Renner and Rockwell especially, but it's all between Pitt and Affleck.
And I had the feeling Pitt chose the suicidal angle, he who always ride behind a man, lowered his guard with Ford, gave him a gun, taunted him, threatened his brother as if he was really asking for his death, it's like a hypnotic macabre dance lead by James who knew the last step before immortality was a legendary murder. Ford served him that on a silver platter.
One could even ask who really 'assassinated' the other?
The Bounty (1984)
The overdue rehabilitation of "Captain Bligh"...
Roger Donaldson's "Bounty" opens with the most sensational news: legendary rivals Captain William Blight and Master's Mate Fletcher Christian knew each other very well, in fact, they were close friends and it was Bligh's personal insistence to have Fletcher aboard the Bounty for their commercial mission to Tahiti. This is the third most famous retelling of the iconic mutiny, and right from the start, the tone is set.
And the film shakes up all the preconceived notions we inherited from the two predecessors, regarding the personalities of both Christian and Bligh, assuming (rightfully) that we're familiar with them. And like no viewing of "The Bounty" will get away without inspiring many déjà vu reactions, no review of "The Bounty" can ignore the 1935 Best Picture winner and the 1962 Best Picture nominee.
The first one featured Charles Laughton as a tyrannical master in command and Clark Gable a romantic figure and the second had Trevor Howard as a more three-dimensional but no less cruel Captain while Marlon Brando played a more enigmatic Christian, with the weirdest manners. The two films were far from being historically accurate but put together, they covered the principal aspects of the Bounty journey. Even the 1935 film with the most villainous Bligh, allowed the viewers to appreciate his heroic exploit of leading the 18 loyalists to the Island of Timor, stranding for almost two months over the Ocean with provisions for one week. And the 1962 Christian wasn't the dashing flamboyant hero portrayed by Gable. The 1984 goes even further in the depiction of Bligh as a rather misunderstood but well-meaning chief and Christian as a man who might be his own enemy.
It all comes down to Bligh being the lead of the story, played by a young-looking Anthony Hopkins, telling the story in flashback while being interrogated by a court composed of Edward Fox and Laurence Olivier. There are a few reaction shots on Hopkins where I suspected it was his genuine admiration for his mentor, and the sadness to see him weakened by age and sickness. The idea of Bligh being the lead contributes to the most essential mission Donaldson and screenwriter Robert Bolt assigned themselves, terminating mystification of the infamous mutiny.
The script, based on Richard Hough's book, is reliant on facts rather than artistic licenses. It's a case of cinematic maturity where no emotions are overplayed, with no comical reliefs, no outbursts of anger and no romantic speeches. The film is served by a real British dream-cast including Daniel Day-Lewis and Liam Neeson but the second pillar is of course, the then-rising star Mel Gibson. He doesn't speak a lot in the film, which draws an aura of constant interrogations we know nothing about them, except that they seem to have found an answer in Tahiti.
Gibson's Christian (what a prophetic role) is a man in total opposition with Bligh, despite their friendship. During their first exchange, he maliciously comments on the breadfruit mission as simple grocery job, Bligh didn't pick out the sarcasm; he saw the accomplishment beneath the work, being the successor of Cook, making a trip around the world. Bligh is a man of duty yet with dreams of prestige and he intends everybody to share his enthusiasm and passion, Christian is a man of passion who found in Tahiti's idle and simple life, the roots of his personal vision of happiness.
Their antagonism finally sparkles during the mutiny; Christian can't stand the reasonable obsession of his Master, his capability to repress his feelings. Mel Gibson's acting during that pivotal moment looks almost like an internal mutiny within the mutiny. Although Gibson is as handsome and passionate as Gable and Brando; "The Bounty" efficiently deconstructs his image, while recognizing the naval genius of Bligh. There wasn't much controversy in this Bligh, but as I pointed out in the previous films' reviews, the mutiny was justifiable without the tyranny, after all, Bligh had his loyal men and the mutiny wasn't the most unanimous operation. "Bounty" adopts the theory that the sailors were so used to the idle lifestyle of Tahiti that they couldn't accept another trip, especially since Bligh wanted to round the Cape Horn again, a nightmare for ships. The mutiny was bound to happen. This is the angle Donaldson chose.
And as right as he was, as subtle and realistic and accurate as "The Bounty" was, it flopped at the box-office. Despite its critical acclaim, the score from Vangelis was ignored, and the film didn't get any nominations. The film doesn't even have the same reputation than the 1935 and 1962, which seems to highlight the limits of an excess in realism. Is it possible that the story was too famous people didn't want to see another 'Bounty' mutiny, is it possible that people wanted a colorful villain and not a character study.
Something was obviously missing that didn't allow the film to take off. But speaking for myself, I enjoyed it a lot, it is a terrific complement to the other two, and a necessary one to have a more global and objective vision of the facts. Sure, some parts are reminiscent of the previous films, like the Cape Horn storm or the arrival in Tahiti, but the performance of Hopkins could carry the film even if it lasted for four hours, and the part with the longboat alone could have made a terrific story.
I said the film assumed that we saw the first two, this is why it could have worked better had it focused on the parts that weren't well covered by them, if it dealt with the Pitcairn expedition like it did with the trip to Timor, or the portrayal of Tahitians (more subtle than their depiction as all-smiling garland-carrying natives). Maybe "The Bounty" had more to show than it actually did, but at least, it gave Bligh the break he deserved since half a century.
Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)
Charles Laughton steals the show...
To put it simply, Frank Lloyd's "Mutiny on the Bounty" has the word 'classic' stamped in every inch of celluloid. In 1935, it was the kind of escapist entertainment no viewer would refuse, no critic would dare to minimize, it set the tones of swash buckling adventures, by MGM and other studios but a few of them to raise above. You would indeed expect a film from 1935 to have aged a little, it aged even by the standards of 1962 when Lewis Milestone directed the remake, but the two films haven't aged the same and there are many aspects where 1935 Best Picture winner is actually superior.
But before unveiling the strength and flaws of the first movie made about one of the most famous mutinies in history (if not the most), let's just examine what makes the story so cinematically appealing. Beyond the usual archetypes of the costume dramas and adventurous overseas journeys, with their share of brutish seamen, romantic heroes and insular paradises whose female natives welcome visitors with garland of flowers and tempting hips, there's on the field of storytelling' a clear and captivating antagonism. There are basically two images instantly associated with the Bounty: Tahiti and its Christopher-Columbus like mission involving a mysterious breadfruit and the rivalry between Captain Bligh and "Mister Christian!" (shouted with Laughton's fiery voice).
One who had a mild interest in the story knows that it's not black-and-white, Bligh was an authoritarian, by the book, ruler who never accepted his orders to be discussed, and Christian was an idealistic young officer who didn't approve Bligh's overuse of flogging as means of punishment. But who in 1935 asked for complexity and cared to discuss the flogging (a myth according to history), those were the glorious days where the casting had to includes a comic relief played by Herbert Mundin, and a wise drunkard played by Dudlee Dinges, from their very introduction, you know there won't be much room for subtlety. There will have to be reasons to justify these big and angry close-ups on the sailors, to see Christian boiling from inside and making the mutiny not just inevitable, but believable and acceptable.
The 1935 film then takes an angle that couldn't have been less ambiguous: Bligh is the villain (he was the nineteenth entry in the American Film Institute's Top 50) and Christian is the romantic hero. Charles Laughton is obviously having fun adding an extra-sinister dimension to his Bligh, with these bushy eyebrows and sneaky look, he can only appear accidentally sympathetic when Gable, more dashing and handsome than ever, gets too perfect for our cynical modern taste. This is one of the paradoxes of the movie, it insists so much on making Bligh evil that it actually does a disservice to everyone else, heroes included.
It all comes down to Bligh being a sadistic monster, flogging a dead man or keelhauling one to his death and showing not a bit or sympathy toward any of his subordinates. Meanwhile, Christian and Bryam (Franchet Tone) are the noble carriers of the flag of justice, they're young (actually, Bligh wasn't that old), they're handsome, and since they're right from the start, they don't provide the same kind of genuine excitement when they're on screen. Worse, they inherited from the most cringe-worthy romantic interludes ever, with girls who've been probably cast for their ability to maintain a dazed enamored smile for more than five minutes not to mention the Chief whose phony accent doesn't fool anyone.
The Tahitian parts makes the mutiny believable, after having lived five months in paradise (the Hays Code prevents any mention of fooling around) the men have to undergo an even more angry and severe Bligh. But the writers again try too hard, Bligh, instead of maintaining his men in good spirit, cut their ration of water (because the plants needed more), he accuses Christian of stealing and many other provocation. The mutiny could just had been a case of sailors who wanted to get back to their island because the taste of idleness was just too good to endure Bligh more months. Bligh had to be made a bag guy in a way that felt too forced for believability, but then, just when I thought the film was slipping, something happened a little detail was explored, one that even the 1962 version overlooked.
When you look at the real story of the Bounty, there's this magnificent subplot about Bligh leading 18 men on an overcrowded ship (seven meters long) to the island of Timor (3600 miles away), an exploit even by today's standards. That episode says a lot about Bligh's determination, leadership and sailing abilities. Laughton is given his one redeeming moment, as the man who beats the sea itself. It is a credit to the writers to have allowed this to be shown. And when the story cuts to Fletcher and Bryam and their mundane little Tahitian life, the excitement is gone again, and Gable never seems to be in danger anyway, we're somewhat glad for him, but retrospectively, we never pinpoint a moment where his life was in any danger. At least, Blight had that moment.
So, when the film makes a villain out of him again in the final trial, I was perplex, sure it looked like a good ending, with all the message about how to manage people, but anyone who'd read the story of the Bounty know whatever happened to the mutineers after that, proved him right. It doesn't make Bligh right of course but it did call for other more subtle portrayals. 1935 was only the start, and quite a good one, with all the deliberate flaws and accidental bits of genius.
On a side note, it's also the film that convinced the Academy to add the Best Supporting Actor category; the one Franchet Tone's nomination belonged to. There can't be a movie with three leading actors, although technically, they were.