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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!
So, if you had to pick one, which of these (overused?) little tricks would you use to make your film debut more memorable?
After voting, you may discuss the list here
After voting, you may discuss the list here
Now, how about exploring one of the most defining aspect of his cinematic legacy: quotability. Indeed, Al Pacino is probably one of the most quotable actors of his generation with so many sayings, shouts, warnings, shouts, yells and screams again and last but not least, speeches that forever enriched Pop-Culture.
So, even if you're not a fan of the actor, if you could pick just one, which is your favorite from these 35 Al Pacino's memorable quotes? (one that doesn't come from a speech or a monologue except if it's a conclusion that can be considered a classic quote in its own right?)
Keep your choice close, your vote closer and discuss the poll here
PS: 60% of the list still belongs to his two most legendary roles : 12 quotes from Michael Corleone and 9 from Tony Montana
To overcome Blue Monday and daily morosity in general, which of these cinematic happy-go-lucky optimists and half-full glasses philosophers would most help you to look at the bright side of life?
(the question and answer can be delivered by the same character in one single quote)
The exchange shouldn't exceed four sentences, otherwise we're not talking about quotes but about dialogue, so sorry for the Pulp Fiction (1994) fans but the iconic "What" sequence between Jules and Brett is ineligible for this poll.
Want to discuss it? -It's here my friend."
* 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"?
A soul-delivering experience...
"Fanny", the second chapter of Marcel Pagnol's 'Marseilles' trilogy, takes us right to the spot the first movie ended. There's no summary, no flashbacks, no flash forward either, it's just as if the director, Marc Allegret trusted the good memory of his audience, and I guess in these times, cinema was still such a new thing that an experience like the first "Marius" would have left unforgettable memories.
Marius (Pierre Fresnay), the idealistic and romantic son of colorful barkeeper César (the one and only Raimu), has just sailed to the seven seas, following both his lifelong dream and the guidance of his beloved Fanny (Orane Demazis). We left César delighted after hearing that his son and Fanny would marry, and give him grandchildren in the years to come. But "Fanny" starts with Marius' departure. And you can see the light of joy vanish from César's face, he welcomes the news like a knife in his heart and sinks into melancholy like an ice cube in a Pastis drink. The first act shows both César and Fanny trying to deal with Marius' absence, their deep and inconsolable sorrow makes Marius the most present character despite his absence.
But the worst is yet to come, Fanny is pregnant and Marius is the father. Her mother Honorine throws a tantrum and was about to disown her when she passed out, that's the kind of blow to their honor they don't need in the family. The situation seems unsolvable but there's a gateway: brave old Panisse (Henri Charpin) who's still maintaining his offer to marry Fanny. What I liked about the film is that you kind of secrecy to run in the narrative, but it doesn't, for one simple reason, this is a film with fully developed characters. Their personality are not reliant on the plot, they make the plot. Fanny is not a bad woman, when Panisse proposes her, she can't hide her pregnancy, because lying would be more dishonorable. And I loved Panisse's response, he's aware that their age gap will inspire a lot of gossipy talks, but he's always wanted to be a father, so his marriage with Fanny is benefiting for both, it's a win-win situation.
Any ounce of guilt or discomfort is dissipated; by marrying Fanny, Panisse keeps her honor and his self-esteem.. It is a marriage of convenience but Panisse makes good points, what's more, he's rich, so Fanny doesn't have much a choice, between a bastard and a rich heir. But here 's how the film teases your expectations again, just when you're wondering how they'll keep the secret, César does his best keeping Fanny's spirit up confident that Marius will come back, and does his best keeping Panisse away from her, dismissing his idea of marrying her. In a lesser movie, Fanny would have held the truth and César would have called her as a whore or a venal woman, but Fanny can't stand the insult and asks Panisse to reveal their secret. It takes a few minutes but César realizes they do have a point and waiting for Marius would bring dishonor for poor Fanny. But he also looks at the bright side of things, he'll still have a grandson and a heir, the name doesn't matter, he'd be twice wealthier.
There's a poignant scene where the older man of Panisse family thanks Fanny for the baby and at this point, there's no way you'd believe they did something wrong. It is a win-win indeed and a fragile equilibrium is reached until Marius comes back. And again, Fanny tells him the truth Panisse can let Fanny go back to Marius but he won't abandon his child and even César, César who had always put his son above any other man, who had a nasty quarrel with Panisse, defended him. What a climax! You have plenty of characters with desires and dreams colliding together, Marius' love for Fanny, Fanny's honor, Panisse needing a child, César for a grandson to play with, each one is right, but they can't all be satisfied, even Fanny can't abandon Panisse despite the fact that she loves Marius. It's pure Cornelian dilemmas and it works on a very emotional and realistic level, not resorting to the clichés or "idiot script" formula where it's more convenient to keep a mystery, the film doesn't care for mysteries, it cares about people who're so passionate, so involved that they end up knowing what the others were about to hide. Like life I guess, you can't have secrets for too long.
The film was directed by another director but the continuity with the first film is so well-done you'd think it was made by the same person. Well, the film is based on Marcel Pagnol's play and he's the real "director" and the actors are so into their characters that they make any directorial stunt unnecessary, it's a character-study, a story of people driven to the most extreme compromises by their morals, feelings and duties, to keep the appearances. The film ends with its bleak note, leaving us eager to look forward to a suitable conclusion, this time named "César" and directed by Marcel Pagnol himself.
Needless to say, I'm looking forward to discovering it
The ill-loved pop star who did things "his way"...
The untimely death of Claude François, at 39 was a real earthquake in the world of entertainment, but it was also welcomed with a satirical tone.
Indeed, a renowned French newspaper exploited the context of legislative elections and titled (literally) that the teen idol had just "volted", you get the pun, and the good taste. So, for a whole generation, Claude François aka Cloclo was a legend, for the media, he was a cultural phenomenon, a French Elvis, but he never got the respect of French 'intelligentsia', reducing him to a poor man's Elvis with sappy, syrupy songs and kitschy costumes and choreographies.
But time did justice to his legacy and three decades after his death, like a good wine, his songs aged well and hit a sensitive chord in French nostalgia, showing that Cloclo was more than what his 'image' implied. He was a complex 'character' whose ambition and passion hid some deep insecurity, and these are the aspects unveiled by Florent Emilio-Siri's biography film. It is not a revolutionary movie, it features the usual montages, musical interludes and obligatory mental breakdowns, but it works because the film has a great character.
It was Gabin who said "when you've got a great role, talent just comes naturally". And how! Indeed, while not as colorful as Serge Gainsbourg, handsome as Johnny Halliday or international as Charles Aznavour, Claude François aka Cloclo was a real game-changer, being the real incarnation of popular music, pop highlighted. He was a man of extreme versatility, with an instinct for lyrics and acute business flair, so you can never really tell if his 'electrifying trances' during concerts were genuine or part of an act. A little bit of both, the talent of Cloclo was to exploit art for his image and vice versa. On that level, he was the most complete French artist of his time, "great" regardless of any personal bias toward his songs. He did things "his way".
And the film follows this very way from his childhood in Egypt to his first steps as a drummer to from the first hit "Belle, Belle, Belle" to his pivotal encounter with manager Paul Lederman then his lightning ascension over the French billboards, culminating with "As Usual" (better known as "My Way" across the Atlantic), finally his successful but brief surfing over the 'Disco' wave is cut abruptly by his untimely death in 1978, a freak accident, Cloclo known for his obsessive-compulsion disorders wanted to fix a light bulb while standing on his bathtub joined the gallery of celebrities dead in their bathroom. The film doesn't overplay the tragedy, all you see is a man on the top, smiling, he didn't see his death coming, but maybe death was part of a divine scheme.
That's the magic behind "My Way"'s straightforward approach, it shows and we can tell. Speaking for myself, decade-and-half career didn't have many secrets to me, but I enjoyed the film and the actors because Claude François was a larger-than-life figure, a complete singer and dancer, a showman, an entertainer, an editor, a businessman and while his initial successes were mostly relying on remake to American songs, he came up with one of the most reprised songs of all time. And yet no one would make the connection between Frank Sinatra and Claude François. Even Claude wouldn't dare to approach Ol' Blue Eyes in a hotel corridor. That scene was very poignant and revealing about the vulnerable nature of the singer: he was jealous, he didn't like his ducky voice, his height, his rivalry with Johnny Halliday and always tried to prove something.
A very powerful moment shows a devastated Claude drumming after the passing of his father just when he got his first big break, his father disapproved the career choice of his son and Claude didn't have time to earn his pride. I don't know how much of this scene is true but it works on the emotional prism of the film. Claude was known for his glittery extravagant suit, but 'likability' wasn't his strongest one, his career often shown at the expenses of his family ties and romantic relationships. His mother was a gambling-addicted Italian and Claude was a man of many women, sometimes intoxicated by his own power with the younger ones.
The one relationship that worked was his friendship with Paul Lederman, played by a scene-stealing Benoit Magimel, together, they'll always speak a clear language and identify the moments where they're going too soft and it was time for a little push, that's how he came up with his famous dancers known as the "Claudettes", he edited his magazine and became a phenomenon on the same level than the Beatles. That was Cloclo, it was an eternal quest for perfection, leading to countless rumors about hidden accounts, hidden children hidden homosexuality, but he's got always a trick under his sleeve. One of his greatest hits was the well-titled : the "ill-loved".
And that kind of sums up the angle taken by the film, it doesn't over-glorify him, he's not the perfect husband, lover and businessman, in his yacht when asked about the necessity to abandon his model agency, he literally says "I can't get rid of my girls' trap" so Claude did enjoy his success without moderation. And it's for this quest for constant perfection that lead to his untimely death, one that shocked millions of fans and inspired a satirtical reaction.
But if he was ill-loved but he was loved nonetheless and it's its death that was the ultimate intervention of fate to make him reach that iconic status, had he been alive, there wouldn't have been a legend Claude François and maybe not a biopic. He wanted to become a legend "his way" but sometime you got to follow the way of higher instances. It was tragic that "Cloclo" died but tragedy is sometimes the stuff dreams are made on.
You know the difference between Lucas and Abrams? One had a super vision, and the other a supervision...
There might be some moments of awesomeness but it's of the calculated type, designed by Disney executives who know you can't win two billion dollars with art-house stuff.
Of course, the premise helped: the seventh episode of the "Star Wars" saga, what's more with all the beloved characters we left thirty years ago: Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, Chewbacca and Princess Leia, what's more at the time the Internet reigns supreme, so I guess the first billion was a sure-win, but talk about teasing the audience with that "Chewie, we're home". I really expected to feel 'at home' in that film. Sure, I expected they would deconstruct the myth a little but not pulverize it "Death Star" wise.
A myth can be enriched and extended, but as long as you remain reasonably faithful to its emotional core. And "Star Wars" has always been driven by two universal themes: good vs. evil, and the process of learning, it's not about being a Jedi or using the Force, but overcoming your flaws, learning about patience, humility, courage and virtues leading, step by step, to the ultimate victory. And all that was wrapped up into a majestic space-opera setting served by special effects and a gallery of characters who became part of a canon that transcended the frontiers of Hollywood. "Star Wars" is part of our modern heritage.
And "The Force Awakens " cheats with that heritage, sure it has the package, but the sold product left me with a bitter taste. I'm sorry but you don't cheat with "Star Wars". Luke Skywalker's evolution, Leia and Han's relationship, not to mention Darth Vader's redemption spanned three movies, six years and a real genocide of Stormtroopers. The prequels, while not in the same league, featured similar evolution and at least its conclusion brought us an extraordinary feeling of completeness. So if you're going to start another trilogy, you better respect the spirit of the predecessors.
But spirit or no spirit, I guess the real problem is that there was no call for a sequel after all. At the end of "Jedi", the Empire is annihilated and everyone can finally enjoy the peaceful time they've been waiting for through two generations. Luke was a full Jedi finally reconciled with his past, Han and Leia were in love and while I didn't like the Ewoks much, the celebration felt conclusive. If you decide that history is a series of new beginnings, that Luke will disappear because one Jedi has betrayed him and killed junior Jedis. That Han (who had some military high ranks) will be a smuggler again and Leia the General of Resistance after a new Galactic Empire has somewhat managed to reemerge from chaos then... what's the point?
If it ends well at the ninth movie, what prevents them from adding a new twist? Basically, any Jedi can surrender to the Dark Side, it's a never-ending story and there's a fine line between being a saga and a space soap opera any lousy script can cross at light speed. All good things must come to an end, think of the ending of the "Back to the Future" trilogy, we knew we'd miss Doc and Marty, but that's what re-runs are for.
I didn't say much about the film because everything has been said to that point, yes, it is a retread of the 'New Hope' material with the same story structure, J.J. Abrams, a man who knows his job and Kathleen Kennedy the producer, didn't take any risks, they played it safe, by the book: a conflict as the set-up, a secret mission, a young scavenger named Rey who'll discover she has 'special skills', a bad guy turning good, a good guy turning bad, weird-looking helpers or enemies, bombings, space chases, catchy names, and a gallery of interesting newcomers like Daisy Ridley and John Boyega, but all the good intentions of the world don't amount to much when a director lacks a vision.
The first trilogy had practical effects and a fresh story, The prequel trilogy had CGI but a fresh story nonetheless, this one has CGI and a recycled story oh yes, it has the original actors. Well I'm sorry but just because it hits the sentimental and nostalgic chord more than once, it can't escape from criticism. And my biggest problem with the film is that since it had nothing new to bring up, its most notable feat was to adapt the story to the mentalities of our era. It's literally "Frozen" meets "Star Wars", that's not a vision, that's a supervision of cringe-worthy politically correct implications.
Say what you want about the prequels, but I'd rather have genuine flaws than calculated awesomeness. In "Awakens", the plot of "New Hope", "Empire" and "Jedi" are compacted in a way that is insulting to Yoda's legacy and the long initiation of Luke Skywalker. I won't make a thesis about it, let's just say the heroine is perfect, independent and skilled, she's even capable to pilot the Falcon and when Solo holds her a gun, she dares to say "I can defend myself", which doesn't make sense at all even from "girl power" standards.
The film left me shaking my head, Abrams, Kennedy and Disney are damaging a legacy with so many "Star Wars" movies I've lost track, and I guess we'll have to accept that the franchise is ruled by a sort of corporate 'Dark Side' with a business-oriented and PC agenda, so blatant it's scary. And proof that it's PC bull crap, there's one controversial scene Abrams apologized about, the very fact that he apologized proved that the guy is really trying hard to widen the appeal of the film, that he missed that scene revealed his real mindset: he didn't want to hurt. Never apologize, Duke said, it's a sign of weakness.
Anyway, five for the ride, zero for the rest. The prequels weren't perfect, but there was a vision behind.
Point of No Return (1993)
Hans Zimmer's score and Bridget Fonda's performance make the film
Directed by Luc Besson, "La Femme Nikita" was an overwhelming action/romance/thriller and Pygmalion story that scored big in the French box-office and got an enthusiastic reception across the Atlantic. Indeed, Roger Ebert praised the powerful performance of Anne Parillaud and the bleak melancholy of the film while Gene Siskel loved the way the film approached violence in a sort of subterranean way, the film made it appealing and stylish but through a character who didn't enjoy killing, and that was the mark of great thriller, it's not about mindless and enjoyed violence, in the case of Nikita, it was a survival tool but also the key of an existential cage. So their comments comforted my thoughts, it was one of the best 90's French movies.
It was interesting to compare this to their reception of John Badham's remake "Point of No Return": Ebert was pleasantly surprised that a film which is a clear copy of the original (with a few changes here and there) managed to elevate itself above its 'remake' status and was more engaging and compelling than he expected. While not in the same vein of Anne Parillaud's vulnerable performance, Bridget Fonda did justice to the role, and the film managed to grab his interest and make him feel for the girl, whose code-name became Nina, in homage to Nina Simone, one of the film's touches of originality. Ebert loved the way the film distanced itself when it was possible (not at the key moments though), that she was sentenced to death after shooting a cop (in the original, she was just randomly 'killed') and overall, he liked it. Siskel didn't, he thought the attempts to capture the atmosphere of the first film was phony, and never hit an emotional chord like Besson's film did. So it was a split vote.
And I guess,that's the effect "Point of No Return" will have, it's a mixed bag. Either you like it or you don't, but it's not that simple. In case you didn't see "La Femme Nikita", you might enjoy the remake but then reconsider your appreciation after watching the '(objectively) superior original. And in my opinion, watching the original first is perhaps the best service you can do to the remake, because I don't think the remake ever tries to overshadow it, it has no other ambition to be an Americanized version of a French movie and it does a fair job at that, which is more than you can say about American remakes. Several French classics have been remade into Hollywood movies and more than often, they're never as successful or they're not as good. For one "Sorcerer" or "Birdcage", you get "The Man With One Red Shoe", "Pure Luck'", "The Dinner Game" and "Father's Day". But since Besson's material had an American quality of its own, remaking it mainly consisted on adapting an international looking story with an American cast.
And that's why it works, Bridget Fonda is no Anne Parillaud but as Nina, she exuded the same mix of sadness and commitment to her job that made the character so fascinating. And she was surrounded by a quality cast, Gabriel Byrne reprised Tcheky Karyo's mentor role as Bob, Miguel Ferrer is the boss who leaves no secret about his sentiment toward Nina, Anne Bancroft steals the show reprising the role of Jeanne Moreau (and yeah, there's something very fitting in Bancroft replacing the eternal French cougar) and Dermot Mulroney is a fair replacement for the boyfriend part, did I forget one? Oh yeah, Harvey Keitel while really intimidating as the Cleaner, can't be compared to Jean Reno, that's no comment on Keitel's acting, he'll be a far more efficient cleaner the next year as Mr. Wolf in Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction". It's not the 90's A-list star cast but they're all talented actors taking their roles seriously and I didn't really get Siskel's impression of phoniness. To each his own.
But I'm making this review obviously meant for users who saw the original, I think it's the best advice I can give, watch it first. You know why? Because one of the things I loved about Besson's film is that it was a great thriller as far as unpredictable things went, it was full of surprises, sometimes thrilling, sometimes funny, exciting and even emotional. These elements are all handled very well by Besson who was at his prime as young 30-ish director, John Badham doesn't take any risk and his directing isn't really transcending, but the film works nonetheless. So, if there's one surprise effect to be spoiled, better to be from the less stylish one. But it won't ruin the enjoyment of the second for all that, because I enjoyed anticipating the scenes and seeing how Fonda, Byrne or any other actor handled them, it was fun to see the film and superpose it with the original experience and look for the few differences between them.
And there were many differences, and perhaps the best one was the music, there were Nina Simone's songs used as a fine leitmotif, representing the only connection with Nina and her previous life, but then there's the score. The film is scored by Hans Zimmer and it's one of the most penetrative and emotional scores I've heard recently, it does enhance the character of Nina and adds to her tragic dimension, and it's used in very key moments where you're just about to label the film as action picture and all magically, the music gets in your ears, and you're literally transported. Well, maybe it's the one thing it got better than the first, and that's saying a lot since Eric Serra's score was great, too.
So, it might not be in the same league than the first but that's not saying much since we're talking of a masterpiece, yet it's a good American remake of a French film and that's saying a lot, since they generally suck.
Nikita is "la Femme"... and Besson is the Man!
When the film opens, Nikita is a frail young woman who's literally dragged to a robbery, everyone is excited, but she seems absent, hanging on the miserable hope to get her fix. When everything goes wrong (and that's an understatement) she is sitting on the ground, passively watching cops and punks kill and being killed. At that point, she seems like a victim but then she cold-bloodily shoots a cop who actually cared for her, then even for us, she's beyond any kind of redemption. Things go rather quickly: she's arrested, put on trial and sentenced for perpetuity.
But there's something in Anne Parillaud's performance (that won the French Oscar for Best Actress, the only award the film received) that turns Nikita into a genuinely enigmatic personality, we don't like her, there's not much question that she's a bad woman, but she's also a weird, infantile, grotesque, rude and excessively unpredictable person. The film doesn't suggest that she's victim of herself, but simply that there's a sort of vacuum in her life, her education or her mind that let criminal impulses fill it, she's bad but in an accidental sort of way. The film then ventures in "realistic fantasy" when she's put to sleep by injection and wakes up in a secret government organization specialized in recruiting new profiles for assignments to kill. What did they see in Nikita, we never know but the man in charge of her 'reeducation' is Bob, played by the great Tcheky Karyo and he's convinced that the girl has potential.
Luc Besson knows his craft, he expected that the whole first act would consist on showing the evolution of Nikita from that sorry-excuse-for-a-woman to a professional female killer, meaning in subtext, that she'll have to become a woman as well, it's a rebirth, a metamorphosis she'll owe to her new job, and what an irony that killing people will be the counterpart to being alive. This paradox will shape the second personality of Nikita, who'll never stop to be a tortured woman but in a different way, she's just starting to enjoy life but the catch of her redemption consists on cold-blooded murders. But Besson knows our disbelief won't be suspended for long if the change isn't believable, we could believe his Leon was such a pro because we didn't see his back-story or his training, for Nikita, the film will have to become a character-study, and I guess this is why Besson started with an action sequence and some unexpected outburst during the training part.
Nikita's unpredictability is the key to her appeal as an original character, until we know it's time to get over it, but it allows Besson to find the right balance between action and drama, and some moments like the interactions with Jeanne Moreau, teaching her how to smile, how to be a woman, is one of these emotional reliefs the story asks for. And it turns out that, because her life is still at stakes, because she's supposed to be dead and she's easily disposable, she becomes a real woman, feminine, pretty and gentle. And then, something interesting happens, there's a transfer from Nikita to the script in the unpredictability department, Nikita remains the same woman, vulnerable and melancholic and the excitement, the thrills come from Besson's hard-edged script. Yes, he is an expert of cinema "du look" as they say in France, and yes, he was one of these new talents with vision but he doesn't get enough credit for his screen writing. Her relationship with Pygmalion Bob is one of the aspects that elevate the film.
I will not reveal all the film but there's just one scene that works on a perfect tertiary tempo, and it's just fascinating. Nikita is invited to a restaurant with Bob to celebrate her 'graduation', her gift is wrapped in a box, she opens it and her smile vanishes: it's a gun. She must kill someone. First surprise. She has three minutes to do it after Bob leaves, no time to think. Second surprise. She's suppose to get off from a little window located in men's toilets, when she gets there, it's walled. Third surprise. Each time, we see nothing coming, we're literally put in her high-heel shoes and try to figure out how she'll get from that situation. The action sequences that go after are spectacular but traditional, yet it works because Besson makes his action sequences as a dressing, not as a meal, the film is a terrific thriller because of the set-ups rather than the outcomes, the anticipation rather than the action especially since Nikita isn't exactly the Leon-professional type, the film almost works on a Hitchcockian level.
And it could have worked alone with Nikita, Bob and the missions, but Besson adds a third dimension, a romance. Nikita falls in love with a gentle and smiling cashier played by Jean-Hugues Anglade, he's obviously not expecting such a beauty to approach him, but she does. Maybe because she's like him, she feels like an outcast, and she could tell he would love her, the organization reeducated her, but there was still a little void in her heart, and I just love how the film never tries to create artificial obstacles in their love, it's pure, passionate love, and it will overlap with the killing missions in the most creative and again, unexpected ways. That's exactly what I love about the film, it provides unexpected moments of thrills and emotions without being too original, it's a good thriller, romance and character-study.
And trust Besson to always find a way to surprise you, every mission is memorable in a climactic or anti-climactic way, and just when it gets too routinely, he introduces one of this great supporting characters, Victor the Cleaner, played by Jean Reno, perhaps foreshadowing his performance as Léon. Victor is here for ten minutes but he makes the show but that's another story.
Not the emotional torrent I expected, should I apologize?
"Wall-E" elicited such a strong emotional response I feel almost guilty not to have been overwhelmed the way I expected.
Right now, it is still occupying the same spot it conquered on IMDb's Top 250, along with with "The Dark Knight" (although a bit lower). Those were the two cinematic events of the year and they seem to have stand the test of time and proved that they were more than timely phenomena. And yes, you can't help but praise the technological achievement "Wall-E" represents, and how complex it must have been to create such a unique character. But whether one character (or two) makes a movie is another matter.
Indeed, I have nothing against slow-pacing but "Finding Nemo" took you right into the relationship between Marlin and his son through a powerful five-minute opening sequence, "Wall-E" demands more patience and I'm fine with that but the more you wait, the more emotionally rewarding you expect the outcome to be. Well, "Wall-E" starts as a cute character and ends having a cute relationship; it's not exactly the most fascinating character's arc of Disney history. That's all right because there's a genuine likability in this character but he's too one-dimensional to carry an eighty-minute film, that's how I felt at least.
I guess I had the same reaction than with the movie "Up" (I saw both movies twice to make sure it wasn't just something I'd miss at first viewing). I liked the film, I can see why some moments garnered such universal critical acclaim, with "Wall-E", Pixar studios made quite a creation, cute as a button, with his mechanical 'body' language, the way he moves his binocular eyes, whizzes the name 'Eve' (that 'Eeee-vah' turned me on for some reason) and use his shovel arms, he manages to be both RD-D2 and Charlie Chaplin. And through Wall-E, Pixar have achieved something remarkable, another remarkable stunt, making a silent romance, made only of squeaking, buzzing and rolling and various object sounds.
They also made an environmentalist movie with a prophetic message about the future that awaits our Planet, Wall-E being the only robot to have developed sentience (thanks Wikipedia, I just learned a new word) and is capable to have feelings and reactions to his environment. Of course, you got to wonder how his feeling capability made him immortal and how he's supposed to be a 'he', do machines have gender or what? But these are the kind of contrivances we accept in the name of suspension of disbelief. The level of realism reached in the first act, believe it or not, makes the whole thing plausible. Because I would be believe Earth would end up like a human-less gigantic dump. Where the animals are is another question the film doesn't answer but there's a nice little character named Hal the cockroach who provides company to Wall-E, until Eve arrives and then the story takes off (for some reason, Hal doesn't seem to care about meeting a female cockroach, or is he the 'Omega' cockroach as well?)
But I'm digressing here, let's get back to the "Up" parallel. The sci-fi sequence felt like the zeppelin part in "Up", it came at a time where the movie needed an antagonist to advance the plot, and while there's nothing much to criticize about the part; it doesn't hit the same sensitive chord than the first act. What is the most memorable part in "Up"? Yes, the romantic montage. So it's like "Up" and "Wall-E" are great concept movies, but it's like they rely on that simple principle defined by Howard Hawks (it's been a while since I didn't quote him) which is that a good movie if made of three good scenes and no bad scenes. If you stretch the notion of scene to sequences, you have a winner in "Wall-E", the encounter with Eve, the kiss in space and any other scene involving the humans. But that there aren't many bad scenes doesn't mean there's something to enjoy apart from the three memorable moments.
This takes me to the initial point: does the character make the film? Is "Wall-E" so cute and adorable that we need to follow him for almost twenty minutes, it dragged on for so long that even when EVE came, I wasn't really enthusiastic, I was more like "God, we had the Wall-E alone, we'll have the Wall-E trying to make up with her". Maybe I expected too much but I had just watched "Finding Nemo" again and the film proved that you can mix up heart with action with great visuals without trying to pull a "2001" and make something mature, especially when the film ends with the cartoonish representation of obese humans living in a star-liner. I liked that twist but I was wondering if the characters really belonged to the same movies, the paradox of "Wall-E" is that the robots are given more realism, depth and substance than the humans.
So I'm wondering if "Wall-E" wasn't actually a short film material, and the whole plot with the vessel and the mission could have been used for another movie. Maybe not but then I can't really say I enjoyed every bit, not as I would expect from such a universally praised film. Just because it deals with environmentalist issues and sends a powerful message about the way we treat Earth doesn't make it superior to any Miyazaki movie for that matter. Yes, I admire the feat of the creation of "Wall-E", but I don't think he was able to carry the film with his frail shovel hands.
And believe me, it's not that I didn't care, when the film ended, I put on the DVD bonus features and the part with the sound recording and sound design had me literally glued to the screen, it's very telling when you enjoy the making of the film, more than the film itself.
Rocky V (1990)
Despite a few powerful moments, the lowest point of the "Rocky" franchise
In 1972, Stallone couldn't even be an extra in "The Godfather". In 1976, he wrote and starred in the year's Best Picture, classic underdog story and franchise starter "Rocky". And Roger Ebert saw in him a new Brando.
The 80's didn't exactly prove Ebert right but they consolidated his star-status. 1982 was his peak with the success of "Rocky III" and the release of "First Blood" that introduced another landmark of American cinema: John Rambo. The rest of the decade had its share of ups-and-downs making Sly actor and/or director a punching ball for the Razzies. His "Rocky IV", while the most successful sport-movie of all time wasn't exactly a critical success, even among the fans.
So 1990 wasn't exactly Sly's finest hour with his starlight fading in favor of rivals like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis. That convinced him to approach Rocky with the same angle. There's always a parallel between Rocky and Stallone's story and the idea of taking Rocky back to his roots, to simpler values like family and friends was actually good. The 80's were over, the iron curtain was open, and Gordon Gekko in jail. But from Stallone's own admittance, he made the film out of greed and rated it a zero. So maybe what lacked in "Rocky V" was a sincere approach to a material that looked good on the paper.
Taking Rocky back to the blue-collar streets of Philadelphia was only viable if there was a good story-line to justify it. Unfortunately, "Rocky V" while not a mediocre film never really fulfills its potential, despite many touching moments, it often gets lost in the realms of cheap predictable made-for-TV stuff. Stallone is wrong when he gives the film a 'zero', he's a good actor, passable director, great writer when he puts his heart in but not much of a critic. Some scenes in "V" belong to the best of the franchise and make it even better than "Rocky IV", which was build on a predictable 'death-followed-by-revenge' plot, the story-line of every 80's sports movie.
But I love the way "Rocky V" puts you in the Drago match' immediate aftermath, with Rocky shaking and trembling like a frail puppy, asking Adrian to take him home, you could tell he was tired of this 'nonsense'. But then the press conference back in America features so many cringe-worthy moments every hope in cinematic excellence had definitely vanished. I couldn't believe journalists would ask Rocky for a come-back the minute he set his feet on the American ground, I wanted him to pull a Tony Montana and shout "What was the Drago hit- a game of dominoes or something?". So many things belonged to the 'Idiot Script' formula, when you wait for one line to be said, but it doesn't come because you've got to wait for the most dramatic instant.
Rocky could tell the journalists that he was suffering from brain damage and the case was rested. The film even involves a subplot with the growing father-and-son relationship between Rocky as a mentor and Tommy "Machine" Gun, making his son Rocky Jr. jealous, but instead of talking to his father, Jr. becomes more and more rebellious until we get to the obligatory confrontation where they come to terms. And the moment where Rocky makes up with his son is conveniently the same where Tommy turns into a one-dimensional ungrateful villain, it's not exactly the kind of smooth transition we're getting used to. It took Rocky, Adrian and Paulie three, four movies to evolve, Rocky Jr. and Tommy one hour.
This is the same kind of flaw that undermined "Rocky IV", when characters start to behave according to a script rather than a realistic arc, just like Apollo when he was teasing and mocking a Russian giant who was obviously in better shape, as if his defeats with Rocky didn't humble him a bit. It's a shame that Stallone didn't rewrite the script, because Rocky Jr. and Tommy were interesting characters, and well played by the two deceased actors Sage Stallone and Tommy Morrison but it seems like the purpose of their presence was to highlight some need from Rocky to pass the torch, to be the Mickey of someone. Fair enough, but I hated the way relationships always worked on the kind of binary "On/Off" level that damaged the film's credibility.
But the biggest flaw of all was that poor man's Don King played by Richard Grant, he chewed the script every time he was in, and was like the most irritating presence, where was this guy in the previous Rocky? Who the hell was this Union Cane? They even went as far as calling him George Washington Duke while there's another Duke in the film, to add to the confusion. The film is set in 1985 but it is obvious we're in 1990, if new boxing figures were to come, if Rocky had to lose money and get poor again, and last but not least, if Robert 'Rocky' Jr. was supposed to be 14, then just set the film five years after the fourth, and at least, you'll gain a few points in credibility and not have one of the most inexplicable goofs ever.
The film, directed by the late John G. Avidsen featured some really powerful scenes, including a flashback with Mickey, allowing us to see Burgess Meredith one last time, a great confrontation between Rocky and Adrian, and an interesting ending showing how Tommy was more of a mislead guy than a villain but "Rocky V" tangles way too much between mediocrity and excellence. Well, let's call it uneven despite good intentions.
Or maybe we should be thankful it flopped, since it allowed Rocky to make his great "Rocky Balboa" which revitalized the franchise and allowed "Creed" and a second Oscar nomination to happen. In 1990, the franchise was over
but you know what Rocky says about things being over, right?
Pierrot le fou (1965)
Just because he's deliberately awkward doesn't mean Godard can escape from all the criticism
"I've never been able to appreciate any of his films, nor even understand them... I find his films affected, intellectual, self-obsessed and, as cinema, without interest and frankly dull... I've always thought that he made films for critics." That's Ingmar Bergman openly expressing his opinion about Jean-Luc Godard's movies, his 'contempt' to play on words.
For a novice, this statement might sound awkward from a director whose movies aren't exactly devoid of intellectual material, except that Bergman and Godard don't play in the same league, the oeuvre of Bergman is far more monumental and substantial. Bergman approached in cinematic terms and hypnotic cinematography the human condition with a constantly questioned involvement of God, a brainstorm that spanned four decades of cinematic creation. What Godard offered is a questioning of cinematic (and storytelling) conventions, which he's entitled to do after all, except that by doing so, he confines his movies into the very cinematic medium they're supposed to free themselves out. Godard strikes like the rebellious teenage son of cinema, trying so hard to be different that it actually conditions him.
That's Godard's paradox; the man who denounced the traditional cinema is perhaps the most cinematic of all directors, always indulging to a trick, a false connection, a disenchanted voice-over, a sudden change of color and many outbursts of spontaneity within the script, to prove that he exists, that he wouldn't let any cinematic requirement affect his work, that this movie we're watching is a movie, and he's the director. Many shots are creatively done and "Pierrot le Fou", for all its craziness, is a beautifully shot movie, in fact, Godard IS a talented film-maker and some scenes are absolutely mesmerizing, I especially love the little dance between Jean-Paul Belmondo and Anna Karina, it captures that idle casualness, that nonchalant free-spirited charm of youth in the 60's. But for one masterstroke like this, you have countless moments where you're just wondering "what the hell am I watching?".
I know Godard is being deliberately awkward, sometimes for the sake of a gag (the film can be labeled as a comedy to some degree) or because of the "forbidding is forbidden" philosophy. But just because you do something deliberately doesn't make it any immune to criticism, it's only fair to determine to which extent the freedom of the director affects the appreciation of the story. And that's a parameter you wouldn't ignore unless you're wrapped up in a huge ego. To Godard's defense, I don't know if he held himself in such high esteem or if the cohort of fans didn't simply build the colossal monument out of his "Breathless" making any movie he'd make a masterpiece. Well, in 1965, I guess French youth was in demand of newness, something that would echo their rebellious spirit, something post-modern, and yes, I concede that "Pierrot le Fou" is far more interesting than "The Sound of Music", but that doesn't say much.
Indeed, isn't it the height of irony that the post-modern masterpiece is now stuck to its era and became the true embodiment of the "Nouvelle Vague"? To be honest, I've never been a fan of the New Wave in the first place, I thought the movies that predated its beginning like "Bob le Flambeur", "Elevator to the Gallows", "400 Blows" were more interesting than the revolution itself, but when you look retrospectively, the New Wave was only the occasion for self-absorbed directors to prove how 'different' and modern they were. Time did justice to the French popular cinema of the 50's and 60's, and people would rather watch "The Sicilian Clan", "The Wages of Fear" or any gangster flick with Gabin and Ventura than these pseudo-intellectual, flashy movies. "Pierrot le Fou" exemplifies how hard creativity could damage credibility, it's Godard at its most intrusive, and it's a shame because the story had elements to grab the viewers.
It's one of these romances on the lams with Ferdinand, a man struck in typical bourgeois ennui takes the control of his life, and escapes from his condition with Anna Karina, Belmondo has fun playing Ferdinand aka Pierrot, a role that allowed him to make a fool of himself, but Godard want to steal the actors' thunder instead of letting the two of them run the show, he uses them as puppets to the very statements he wants to make, or non-statement. I maintain that the New Wave's greatest achievement was to inspire the New Hollywood generation and when you look at "Bonnie and Clyde", "Badlands" or even "Sugarland Express", you can measure the differences between French and American cinema, one school is entrapped in its obsession with originality, another is busy telling the stories, one rejects the classics, another explores them and makes something fresh of it. Finally, one feels like cinema, one gets so experimental it's boring.
And believe me, I gave it a third chance, I put it with the commentary on, with Godard's number-one fan talking, maybe he'd tell me things I couldn't see but he actually confirmed my suspicion, in every shot, it was "Godard did", "Godard defied", "Godard changed". Godard is the real star of the film, "Pierrot le Fou" proves that he's an iconoclast, twisted and certainly talented director, he just forgot that the essence of a movie is to plunge you in a world, tell you a story and make you forget it's movie, except if the self-referential aspect is central to the plot. No way, with Godard, he epitomized what's wrong with the New Wave, self-awareness, self-obsession confining to intellectual masturbation, self-selfism I want to say.
The film isn't boring for all that and possesses a few moments of moment of genuine tenderness and creativity, but Godard, once again, is being his worst enemy and destroys the very edifice he's building, for one scene that works, you have five or six leaving you scratching your head or wondering if you won't going to watch "Predator" instead.
Kurenai no buta (1992)
When Pigs Fly, There's Coolness in the Air...
First of all, what a premise! Seriously, any screenwriter could have written the strangest and most compelling story about a man with a pig's head but Miyazaki turns him into a World War I veteran, an ace seaplane pilot and freelance bounty hunter who "happens to be a pig". Not only that, but his head doesn't even make people turn theirs, while it's not the least noticeable trait and it inspires a few practical jokes here and there, "Porco Rosso" is no excuse for pig jokes, it's a legitimate story and another fine realization from the master of animation, in his favorite setting: sky (and water since the film deals with hydroplanes) and characters behaving in a realistic, touching and occasionally, funny way.
"Porco Rosso" isn't even a character study, it's a lighthearted adventure movie with a share of actions and romance, set in the Adriatic Sea circa 1929-1930 when Italy was soon to be undertaken by the fascist regime and many ex-pilots were trying to find good conversions, some in piracy, some in Hollywood, some in between. Marco (our titular Porco) is specialized in bounty hunting, and he's quite good at it, he makes enough money to enjoy agreeable moments of idleness with a good wine, a pack of cigarettes and a nice song, "bon vivant" like any Italian mano. So, when the film starts, he's inhabited with such an aura of coolness the mystery of his appearance is almost secondary. What's more everyone is accustomed to his face and he's such a fully developed character that his condition ceases to be a flaw, it even gives him a weird charm or edge over the other men, especially with the lovely Gina, a singer and restaurant owner.
The relationship between Marco and Gina provides the first hints about Marco's past. After a successful mission, he goes to a restaurant and you can tell there's some history between them. Gina had just lost her third husband, a pilot and friend of Marco, and somewhat she seems to have very strong feelings toward him. Their dialogues resonate almost like something you would hear in a Humphrey Bogart movie, that's how cool Marco is, and how mature he is, from animation's standards. See, I made an experience, I closed my eyes a few seconds and I could swear I was listening to a real movie. Marco is a pig by face but perhaps the least cartoonish animated character I ever saw, which reinforces the credibility of the movie and the relationships between Porco and Gina, and later, Fio, his mechanic's teenage granddaughter and engineer with a love for planes that echoes Miyazaki's own passion.
Fio is the typical Miyazaki girl except that she's a supporting player, like Mononeke, Nausicaa, and Kiki, she embodies the power, courage and free-spirited nerve of girls and women who had to show that their spirit was bigger than their arms to earn men's respect. Ever since I saw a big warrior being reduced to stunned silence in "Princess Mononoke" by one of the female villagers, I knew there was something 'different' in Miyazaki's approach to the female persuasion (no pun intended) and a similar scene happens when little Fio manages to talk the big pirates out of killing Marco in exchange of a deal. And when you look at the film's big picture, you realize that female characters steal the show. During the hostage scene, little girls are excited by being kidnapped by pirates and you almost feel sorry for the bad guys, Gina is enamored with Marco but not to the point of hiding her resentment, and it's old women who repair Marco's damaged plane. It's better than feminism because all these female protagonists don't try to act "like men".
And why should they anyway? In "Porco Rosso", men are like children, players who're so busy making war they're incapable to act reasonably, if Marco can't see that Gina is in love with him, Curtis, the main antagonist is a buffoon who asks every pretty girl for marriage, and that goes for Fio too, and the pirates are never as dangerous as they seem and even the climactic fight turns into a big joke without making them look ridiculous. Maybe it's the one little problem with the film, it doesn't really involve you in situations where you feel one's life is threatened, Marco plays it cool and the bad guys aren't so bad. Maybe the central point of the film is his identity and how he can go back to normal, Fio even wonders if it works like fairy-tale. The question is so thrilling that Miyazaki for all his realistic approach, leave us wondering all through the film.
Of course, the film isn't totally a fairy tale, although it has an enchanting quality about it, but it especially works as a love letter to aviation and Italian legends that inspired Miyazaki to the point of naming his studio after an an Italian engine. And there's the humanistic side, the film has more to say about the futility of war, from the perspective of a man whose curse was caused by that very futility, in an episode I won't spoil but that reflects the tragedy with the kind of poetry only Miyazaki can express. Women are entrapped in this world, forced to resort to nostalgia like Gina who keep singing "Le Temps Des Cerises" and Fio who almost jeopardizes her future by marrying someone she doesn't like, out of love for her pilot.
Porco Rosso, if not the most 'iconic' Miyazaki film strikes for its simplicity, its matter-of-fact way and its lead character, by many aspects, it's a minor Miyazaki film, but what does 'minor' mean when the other movies are all classic masterpieces.
Tchao pantin (1983)
French Mean Streets...
Coluche's acting in "Tchao Pantin", or "So Long, Stooge" was so pivotal in the film's success that the title became a well-known trope defining a comedian's dramatic breakthrough. Coluche became an actor's school-case firmly establishing what his stand-up routines made attentive eyes suspect: he was more than a clown. And as pump attendant Lambert, he let his proletarian roots and street-smart humanity operate as naturally and poignantly as if he'd played these roles for twenty years. He was only 39 but could look ten years older with these eyes that always seem at loss and a heart that whatever used to drive it probably stopped to exist. What an irony for a man who literally 'fuel' people to be trapped in such a desperately static life.
Lambert is a total mystery but not in the way 'mystery' can be used to trick viewers, the directing of Claude Berri doesn't care for effects or twists, that's why saying the revelations that come near the end were predictable is missing the film's point. The story couldn't have been more linear and straightforward; whether it's a deliberate stylistic approach or not, Berri cares more for his characters who have all in common a sort of entrapment in a condition whose gravity isn't valued until violence raises its ugly head. It's a bit like staggering down the same disreputable and dangerous street every night to go home knowing that one night, you'll have pushed your luck one time too many. Nothing can come good from these dark and deserted streets sublimated by Bruno Nyutten's cinematography, as inky and shadowy as Gordon Willis' closed-doors shot in "The Godfather".
Indeed, in this masterpiece of sobriety, it's literally to the French hearts of darkness that we're plunged, in a journey that never surrenders to cheap emotions, you'll never see a tear running on Coluche's cheek or his brief friendship with Bensoussan starting with predictable antagonism, sometimes the best about human relationships is as hazardous as casual as the worst and maybe this is where the poignancy lies. Many things happen but we never take then for bad luck, they seem to be dictated by a Karma, a sort of immanent presence that decided the likes of Bensoussan, a small-time drug-trafficker, are the kind of natural outcasts who won't find their place no matter how hard they try. As the half-Arab, half-Jewish thug, Anconina gives one of his greatest performances, he's a man lacking the social skills because he obviously lacked something in his life, whatever it was, he found a parcel of it in Lambert's empathy.
Their interaction builds the whole first act and the dialogue is powerful without trying, when they talk, you can hear the hidden messages, the performances make you grasp the unspoken truths about their lives and it's so subtly done that you know the journey won't end with a happy ending. The rest of the cast involves a worn-down cop played by droopy-eyed Philippe Léotard and a punk prostitute played by Agnes Soral, needless to say that these characters aren't archetypes in the strictest sense of the word. Bensoussan sees Lola as the pretty blonde and the perfect trophy girlfriend, to bang and brag about it the day after, while Bauer first strikes as a little pebble in the shoe until he reveals, like Lola, more complexity. Society makes archetypes, not movies, and this is what "So Long, Stooge" is about, going into the depths of natural misfits in the crisis-stricken France of the early 80's.
Because "So Long, Stooge" is also a powerful time capsule of the dark and shady France, sung by Renaud or drawn by comic-book artist Frank Margerin, it's a universe made of black leather jackets, motorbikes and guns, without the romantic and rebellious spirit of the 50's, more of the disillusioned post-Oil crisis days we'd find in Kassovitz "Hatred". But even as a product of its era, the film resists the test of time because it's a vivid, lucid and poignant friendship story and an unforgettable descent into the soul of a man whose greatest revelation doesn't involve his past, but just the fact that, despite the shocking factor, he's just a nice guy. To a certain degree, Lambert is perhaps the closest French character to Travis Bickle and he's certainly not a pale copy, Coluche would win the French Oscar for his performance.
Sadly enough, he wouldn't have time to prove his value again as he'd die in a tragic motorbike accident in 1986, giving an eerie dimension to one of the most tragic moments in the film. Coluche like Bourvil didn't have time to be a late bloomer on the field of drama and left one of the most memorable performances of French cinema. And yes, it was so good "Tchao Pantin" isn't just used to describe the turning point of comedians but also their Holy Grail, their hidden desperation to be taken seriously at least once, Jean Dujardin, José Garcia or Franck Dubosc all wait for their "Tchao Pantin". Well, in 1983, Yannick Noah was the last French tennis player to win Roland Garros and Coluche the last comedian to have transitioned successfully to drama. Maybe today's cinema tends to overplay emotion, to emphasize the sleaziest aspects of the story such as gore and sex, while "So Long, Stooge" has its share of graphic moments, it's only in the peaceful and serene moments that we can measure what a tragic loss for cinema Coluche was.
And you can see in "So Long, Stooge" a rebirth of a grittier and more realistic form of filmmaking that had also one merit, to take Franch cinema out of that 'New Wave' rut and start to reflect its time and tell compelling stories that don't just rely on existential torments, but on actions, too, paving the way to the new generation: from Luc Besson to jean-Jacques Beineix. Definitely one of French cinema's most relevant movies.