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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!
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After voting, you might discuss the list here
After giving a frank vote, you might discuss the list here
Which of the 15 female villains from AFI's Top 50 is your favorite?
After voting your might discuss the list here
After voting, you might discuss the list here
After voting, you might discuss the list here
After voting, you might discuss the list here
After voting, you might discuss the list here
Indeed, as indispensable as the heroic figure is for a Best Picture, it can't do without a proper enemy to defeat, a memorable incarnation of the darkest sides of human nature to triumph over, or at least try ... although some of the following villains happen to be the main protagonists and often the first victims of their own vileness.
So, which of these villains from Best Picture Winners, do you think, is the least redeemable or the closest to your PERSONAL definition of the word 'monster'?
In other words, which one did you want to strangle with your own hands or scared you so much you didn't even dare to think about it?
After voting, you might discuss the list here
So, which of these heroes from a Best Picture winner would you say is the most inspiring?
After voting, you might discuss the list here
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?
"Mud" happens... but it can also create the most unexpected and inspiring bonds...
Racism, war, violence, female solidarity
however relevant these subjects are, they seem rather exhausted on a cinematic level especially when the Awards season starts.
Indeed, on the simple basis of its trailer, one would believe that "Mudbound" is simply Netflix making its "Color Purple", "Mississippi Burning" or "12 Years a Slave". Maybe. But there is something fresh and original in Dee Rees' adaptation of Hillary Jordan's novel and it's a considerable achievement that owes a lot to the writing, the directing and the unusual structure and patient pace of the film. Sure it is a companion to all the movies I mentioned but it has a sort of haunting quality, something that sticks to your mind and dwarfs a rather good film like "The Help".
What is "Mudbound" about? That's not an easy question to answer, a few negative critics pointed out the film's lack of focus because it's a multi-character story and there's no lead or supporting roles at first stance, just as they criticized the overuse of voice-over. I didn't mind the voice-over much, the story is so complex and multi-layered that I'd rather have a voice-over explaining things and make it my 'privilege' to pay or not pay attention to it. The lack of focus now is just a matter of half-empty or half-full glass. But here's a way to present the film in simpler terms. "Mudbound" is about two families, the McAllans (white) and the Jacksons (black) living in two neighboring farms in the Mississippi of the 40's.
Laura (Carey Mulligan) married Henry McAllan (Jason Clarke), less moved by love than a desire to escape from her "old maid" condition, and marital life made her feel relevant and important. Henry isn't the romantic type but no bad man either, and I was glad the movie didn't take one path I expected. No, it's not about that kind of abuse. The McAllans are a steady couple and the Jacksons form a united clan whose patriarch Hap (Rob Morgan) is the descendant of former slaves who worked on that same land, Hap's dreams is to own it in the future although he's not fooled by the worth of any act of property in that racist state. The Jacksons might strike as too 'virtuous' and taking very solemn poses but once you get drawn by the atmosphere and the hostility they constantly face, you realize that "disunion" couldn't be an option. Hap and his wife Florence (Oscar- worthy Mary J. Blige) can't afford the luxury of not being at least "happy together".
But the film doesn't venture yet in these unsafe territories; the tone is only set with the presence of Henry's father: Pappy McAllan, a bigoted racist played by Jonathan Banks and whom we suspect will act like a ticking bomb. Henry buys a farm and Laura follows him, circumstances of life will force Florence to work for the McAllans, but as long as these two families mind their own business, so to speak, nothing seem ready to create conflicts. Except for what sets up the second act of the film, the second World War. The merit of "Mudbound" is to paint notable differences at first until you realize that the two families have a lot more in common. This 'common denominator' is the core of "Mudbound": the bond between the two veterans of each family: Henry's brother Jamie (Garrett Hedlund) and Ronsel Jackson (Jason Mitchell). Here are two men who've seen hell in Europe, the things we expect and that are not overplayed, but they also lived the exhilaration of liberating countries and discovering a fraternity that transcends racial barriers.
"Mudbound" breaks a taboo seldom explored by the movies: the hypocritical treatment of Black soldiers. America takes pride for having liberated Europe but not to the point of questioning the internal "prisons", and this is the concealed wound the film tries to heal. Ronsel is the most complex of all the characters because he embraced his country's idealism and couldn't believe he wouldn't be rewarded for it. Jamie suffers from PTSD and finds in Ronsel the only man capable to understand him, "Mudbound" began like the stories of two women, Laura and Florence who were growing to understand each other, a sort of "Color Purple" of the 2010's, directed by a woman and with enough narrative to play like a feminist hymn, but no, this is a movie about two men, Ronsel and Jamie who grow to respect each other because they found in the mud of the battle-fight the universally human bond. You know what that movie truly reminded me of? "The Defiant Ones".
The image that immediately comes to mind from that Stanley Kramer's masterpiece of 1958 is Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier as two ex-convicts chained together and escaping from the police. They hate each other, they still carry some bits of racism but the first display of solidarity happens when they're stuck in a deep pool of mud and must climb their way to the ground. Mud isn't just about dirt or about ground but can be a powerful metaphor of something uniting two men, a metaphor for an even dirtier stuff, when "natural enemies" discover they're equally worthless when put in the same 'mud'... unless they try to overcome it. "Mudbound" carries this image but it's less about 'mud' than it is about a color-blind "bound". The mud is either literal in the film or represented by the trauma of war and also the suffering of women, while not the focus, "Mudbound" has a saying on that subject as well.
"Mudbound" is a proof that Netflix is becoming a major contender in the years to come, I don't know whether the film will meet with Oscar recognition but there should be some love to the haunting cinematography, the screenplay and Mary J. Blige should be a lock if Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis won for what I believe are lesser movies.
13 Reasons Why (2017)
Captivating and relevant, but not in a flawless way
There are more than 13 reasons why "13 Reasons Why" was the phenomenon of 2017, and they're all good. One of them being that it didn't sensationalize the act suicide (no operatic music to emphasize its climactic aspect) and it raised awareness over the consequences of cyber-bullying. The emphasis is on bullying, although the series can be seen as a staple of Generation Z, what is denounced can be relevant to any generation.
As someone who was a teenager in the mid-90's, I was glad we didn't have cell phones social networks prevailed when I was leaving college. But I could relate to many of the issues raised in "13 Reasons Why", not to mention the high school pyramid of popularity. We all wished to be cool, handsome or confident as boys, but we couldn't all make it at the same level. One subtle message the show delivers is that it's not the end of the world if you're weak, ugly, or awkward. It's okay... but that's only in theory. Kids can be cruel, teenagers even more.
Teenage years are perhaps the make-it or break-it of one's life. I remember publicly kissing a girl made you 'untouchable', it was like "crossing a line". Some of us didn't kiss a girl until the late twenties, but we could tell that those who did it in high school were handling the world with more confidence. Same goes with physical stature, it's only at seventeen that I realized all my friends outgrew me so to speak, and I felt diminished, I felt angry toward life, I felt frustrated and jealous. I could tell guys were embracing their adulthood with confidence because they looked adult, I had to make more efforts to convince the world I was a man. And because I felt it as a cruel "curse" I thought it was natural to get cruel at myself. Suicide can only start with the death of self-esteem.
We all have our teenage stories we were all part of a category, victims, bullies, nobodies, sidekicks, butt kissers etc. etc. and "13 Reasons Why" chronicles the descent to hell of Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford) through a series of incidents caused by bad persons and the silence of good ones. Before taking the final step, she recorded 13 audio cassettes, revealing in each one, one reason of her death. It's through the perspective of the 11th recipient: Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette) that we listen to Hannah from beyond the grave, and her descent from a joyful girl with a life full of hope to a heart-breaking suicide. The series is a harrowing study on the devastating consequences of slut-shaming and how social media have made even worse the throes of adolescence.
There was a time where home could be at least a shelter of protection. Now, the Internet keeps a record of everything, and forever and an iPhone can become a weapon of soul-destruction. On that level, Hannah Baker's journey will be like pushing Murphy's Law to eleven; whatever could be wrong would go wrong. She was as an easy girl , insulted by a guy in front of his friends, witnessed the rape of her friend, have an intimate moment ruined by a peeping Tom basically, she will never have a break. But there's nothing that happens during these episodes that make you believe it was worth a suicide, until the ultimate outrage. The last episodes are pretty tough but they couldn't be more relevant, now that Hollywood has revealed how the line between physical intimidation and rape could be crossed. Yes, there's an attitude to question among the people of male persuasion.
And there's a peer pressure to question too. The series intelligently denounces the binary perception of good and bad, slut and prude that exists in the world of teens and that can lead someone to see his life as being either a 10 or a 0. That was perhaps the one moment where I felt I was into the soul of Hannah, when she was raped, I could see the light of life being extinguished in her eyes. When the next episode started with "I give life a second chance" I called BS not because I knew she was going to kill herself anyway but because I understood Hannah didn't want help, it was a kind of reverse narcissism and I mean nothing derogatory. Of course, she's the victim, but she's also the victim of herself, Clay liked her, loved her and she rejected him, she rejected another guy who didn't mean bad, she didn't denounce a former rape herself which might explain why she took her rape as a part of fatality, as far as she was 'concerned'.
The last straw was the visit to the counselor, perhaps the only moment where the script ventured into the realm of the "idiot plot" , defined by Roger Ebert as the moment that could solve everything given you say the right thing. "I want to kill myself. I was raped". Hannah could have said that if she truly wanted to give life a chance, she never spoke as she wanted to be 'understood' or she could at least make herself explicit instead of leaving the door and hanging her precious life on the decision of a counselor to come to her. I was angry because I thought Hannah should have given her life enough more value, the counselor cared for her, like Clay, like her parents, like that guy she met at the end.
Hannah's reasons are reasons, but they're not all legitimate, she had her share of wrong moves and there were no reasons to accuse Clay (which we were lead to believe), I thought the series made its point fairly well, so I'm not sure why it needed a second season centering on Hannah. Still, it's a must-see, especially for teenagers, a real slap in the face at time with a few head-scratching moments.
You've Got Mail (1998)
A tale of Lonely Hearts slipping through the Net
Kathleen Kelly runs a traditional bookstore where she tells stories to children. It's a place with warmth and soul
everything Joe Fox seems to lack, or at least the places he run.
Fox has the right name since he is a practical businessman running a chain of book mega-stores a la Starbucks Coffee. Both stores are located at the opposite sides of the same Manhattan street. They're business rivals and by an ironic twist of virtual fate, they're also nighttime regular chatters on America On Line aka AOL. She's Shopgirl, he's NY152, she's played by Meg Ryan and he's played by Tom Hanks. In fact, the film could have been titled "Sleepless at Manhattan" as well.
Now, I have a hard time buying Tom Hanks as a despicable character, or even remotely unlikable, but that's the whole point of that savory little romantic comedy, signed (written and directed) by the late Nora Ephron, you only feel guilty when you hurt people you have deep connections with. And the irony is that Internet sometimes creates deeper connections with virtual people than the one who share your life. The eagerness to check the mails to see if you've got one is still relevant today and epitomizes what we call now: an emotional affair.
The film was clearly made on that cusp of the first Internet years (you know with that the awful tone when you dial on the net) and the social network hegemony we live in but it doesn't out-date it for all that. Yes, we're blasé because we know if Skype or iPhones existed, there would be no plot. But 1998 was the perfect moment to make this film, and now, it looks as a sweet reminder of how Internet used to work. It's to Ephron's credit to have exploited her witty sense of humor and sensitivity to explore a modern device most people her generation would feel estranged with.
The 'e-motional affair' might provide the timeless appeal the film needs as the rest is just a succession of plot points leading to the inevitable declaration of love. We know Joe and Kathleen will get rid of their respective life partners, a self-centered workaholic played by Greg Kinnear and Parker Posey as a pompous socialite who wouldn't even be admitted in the "Sex and the City" clique. But the film is never as good as when the two interact behind the screens, and seem to spend the whole day on social trivialities, only to check at night if they've got mail. That felt real although I wish the portrayal of their real-life partners didn't make it so obvious they had no future together. The film could have been a subtler comment on the way people look for complementary romances on line, not plain new relationships.
However, Ephron's approach to the Net is often spot-on. During the memorable chat part, there's a moment where Joe Fox is anticipating the right answer and he's just happy when he gets it, because it allows him to move forward in his courtship. OR when he tries to send the right words and wait a little before clicking on Enter. It shows that the Net was really a game-changer as far as social interactions went. In real life, you must be careful about what you say and you have no second chance. This is why they're natural born talkers behind screens but all their real-life encounters are disasters. This is why on-screen relationships seem to work better and provide the illusion that our real life sucks.
The virtual exchanges also highlight an important aspect of the Internet, it has revealed the inner loneliness of people, some who never realized they were alone until they could find a person to speak with. Internet offers something called anonymousness, allowing people to speak more openly about their personal troubles, their insecurities and doubts. That's everything we seek in the intimacy of the Internet, catharsis and somewhat of an escapism, escapism in emotions or on a more existential level. And just the opportunity to talk about the things we loved.
Whether Kathleen recommending to read "Pride and Prejudice" novel or Fox talking about "The Godfather", the Net becomes the area of free expression for our real selves, and this is how Hanks is never unlikable, he becomes himself behind the Net and there's an interesting twist in the way he talks Kathleen into doing things she wouldn't do usually but that end up being backfiring at him. This aspect of the story takes a subtle turn when he finally realizes who she is and maintains the virtual relationship. Then it gets more one-sided, making the ending questionable.
Indeed, should have Kathleen fallen in love with the man who ruined her business? Joe wasn't mean spirited enough not to deserve Kathleen and from what it seems, the bookstore was a bit more of a burden than a precious asset. Now, maybe I have not a problem with the ending except for the fact that it happens too late, how about seeing how two people behave on the Net and see them interact in real life as lovers. The film missed many good points about the Internet and the battle between reality and virtuality, that's why the ending seems a bit forced.
But the charm of the first exchanges and the acting save the film, it's perhaps one of the last performances where Meg Ryan still look like a sweetheart and Tom Hanks can have a lighthearted role after having played it so serious. The film is a nice time capsule of what was the Internet in the late 90's. Another nostalgic value to add, reminding us that 1998 will soon be 20.
49 Up (2005)
Finally at 49, more "Ups" and less 'downs'... the best episode is (fittingly) the 7th....
It all started with the thought-provoking "Seven Up", from a very socially loaded channel, and was meant to showcase the shift between children from upper and lower classes and how their future would be conditioned by their background. Like Apted pointed out in his wonderful chat with Roger Ebert, it's only after the "21" episode that it stopped being about politics, but something of a more existential level.
But each episode has its charm, a charm that depends on personal memories and age, whether a viewer is younger or older than these kids or guys will create a totally different experience, but no age will ever diminish its value, because we can all relate to any of their struggle or doubts or exhilaration as youngsters, their period of doubts and questioning as adults. And in my recent review, I complained that the format felt a bit repetitive but that was because the documentary was made for TV at a time where a few viewers had access to the previous episodes, the editing was indispensable and this is why I waited a little before watching "49".
But I couldn't wait for too long because I also love the real time travel the film provides and as a viewer told Apted, he could watch all the episodes in one day and it was like a metaphysical experience. I believe so and I understand why Ebert put it in his Top 10 movies of all time, it IS an experience, but now I feel like a broken record because I kept praising the documentary. I think this 7th episode is perhaps the best (which is appropriate, right?). I loved it because it was nicely conclusive about the subjects, without meaning it was the end of the journey, but they all seemed happy or at least contented.
As usual, it starts with the most contented of all, Tony. Tony is perhaps the best thing about the documentary, I used to say Nick because he was the eternal question mark and a sort of cliffhanger, but Tony defied the odds Apted admitted he thought he'd had the makings of a criminal, Tony's evolution proved him to never take anything for granted. Basically, Tony did everything, he was a jockey, at least he tried, his job as a cab driver allowed him to buy a house, he took acting courses, had small TV roles. And now, we see him leaving Britain for Spain, because, as he says, the East Side has totally changed, and became too ethnic for his own liking, as he admits it honestly, he feels like a traditionalist. Was I angry at him? No. Did I think it was racist? No.
That's the key of the film, I have followed this kid from the start and I could get his point precisely because I followed his evolution and the way Britain evolved. Now, Tony thinks he's paid enough wages, lives in Spain and predicts a collapse of the economy for someone who never studied, he showcases a real astute thinking. It is even more troubling that John, one of the posh kids, agrees with him indirectly. His conservative views were in-character but I didn't mind because I was glad he was participating this time, for some reason, I've always regarded him as one of the show's most instantly recognizable faces, because he really knows how to occupy the screen, he's a snob but quite a scene stealer. He's still indecisive about politics, if he had half Tony's spirit, he'd have been Prime Minister.
Some others were less ambitious and are just enjoying the time they had with their family and spouses and it was a nice touch to show Paul and Simon reuniting after 28 years, they both have changed, less hair, more weight (who didn't?) but the eyes don't lie, they still have that sparkle and that smile. Suzie was there, too and smiling as usual, saddened by the fact that her children left the house empty. It is possible that we wouldn't see her in the next episode because she felt she came to a closure. I don't know if I would take her words too seriously, if there's one thing I've learned from "Up" is that you should never say never. But there was more in that episode than the usual vignettes on each others' lives, the tone has changed too.
I noticed how more confident they all speak to Apted, Apted is 15 years older than them, which doesn't mean much now. There is an extraordinary exchange with Jackie where she finally opened her feelings about a nasty question Apted asked in the "21" and how bad she felt about it, smelling some preconceived ideas about lower class girls, she held quite a grudge against him. It took almost three decades to settle that record and you can tell that some people need time to finally vent their feelings, well, time is the one luxury the documentary can afford. And I guess Apted might have regretted his bold question from the start, but he's supposed to evolve as well, he's the last subject of the documentary.
He also evolved in the making, the digital format allowing him to get more footage, but since he didn't want to fall in a trap of contextualization, he avoided asking timely questions because their lives spoke enough statements.. Tony mocked the posh kids at the age of seven, together would almost share the same views in 2005, that says a lot. As for the ones I didn't mention, Neil is still unmarried but is a more eloquent politician, he doesn't see Bruce anymore, Bruce has children, better late than never, Nick went through a divorce but remarried, it's all about ups and downs but the thrills of life is to find in the downs the sources of "Ups".
Beverly Hills Cop (1984)
Eddie Murphy at the top of his form... for a formulaic cop movie...
"Beverly Hill's Cop" has all the makings of a classic 80's movie, the charismatic persona of Eddie Murphy, an upbeat and catchy synthesizer's beat and a likability factor that tie up all these elements together, so its iconic status can't be denied regardless of whether you've actually enjoyed it or not. But that doesn't make it immune to fair criticism, is the film a classic? Yes. Is it funny? Now , that's tricky.
We're in 2017, and Martin Brest's film still holds up very well and is considered as one of the most defining comedies of the 80's. I wouldn't say it's one of the funniest and I always felt an affront to comedies that "Ghostbusters" and "Beverly Hill Cops" are listed in AFI's Top 100 Funniest Movies while the laugh-riot of the year "Top Secret!" has been overlooked. No offense to these two classics, but by Bill Murray's own admittance, Ramis' classic leaned toward Sci-fi and special effects at the expenses of comedy during the whole third act, and "Beverly Hills Cops" features a cold-blooded murder at point blank on the head, for Pete's sake. For a comedy, it's quite a heavy movie but there are reasons why "Beverly Hills Cops" is a classic,
The film features Eddie Murphy at the top of his game as a street-smart loudmouthed, foulmouthed Detroit cop, Axel Folley, who investigates (officiously, he's supposed to be in vacation) the murder of his friend, an ex-convict killed by his boss' right-hand man, played by a sinister Jonathan Banks, the bigger bad guy is an art deal but drug smuggler operating in Beverly Hills and played with the faux suaveness of a Bond bad- guy by Steven Berkoff. The comedic moments generally emerge comes from the situations when Folley, discovers the manners of Beverly Hills and the procedural of the Police Deparment. His constant arguments with Taggart (John Ashton) and Bogomil (Ronny Cox) are always entertaining, so is the way Billy Rosewood (Judge Reinhold) is always the only one to empathize with Folley, or find his jokes funny.
But to be honest, the film doesn't hold up to its reputation for one simple reason, it always gets to the obvious. The plot is rather formulaic and consists on a really mean bad guy, not even likable on a vile level, who's confronted by Folley at various circumstances and who could have been easily gotten away if he didn't decide to kidnap his friend at the end, the climax is a banal shootout and doesn't leave much to the imagination. You've got to wonder why it ended up being nominated for Best Original Screenplay, even a moment that could have been the inspiration for a hilarious monologue, when Eddie Murphy checks out at the hotel, turns into a "that's because I'm black" shtick. Just compare that moment to the magnificent hotel lobby room sequence in "This is Spinal Tap" and you'll find the line between good and lazy writing.
That's how the film felt, lazy, obvious and oblivious to its obviousness. I enjoyed it as far I enjoyed Eddie Murphy but if he can make a movie good, he can't carry a plot alone, this is why "Trading Places" and "Coming to America" were better, they had Dan Aykroyd, Don Ameche, Ralph Bellamy, Arsenio Hall, John Amos and James Earl Jones "Beverly Hills Cop" is the Eddie Murphy show combined with a banal cop flick, it gets slightly better when it evolves toward a triangular buddy movie, so much better that you can even feel some vibes of "Lethal Weapon", a film that doesn't have the pretension to be a comedy, but was as enjoyable and even lighthearted as "Beverly Hill Cop". But after "Lethal Weapon" and the great chemistry between Gibson and Glover, the "Beverly Hills Cop" sequels sucked by comparison.
Maybe the theme of the film contributed to its popularity, now that should have been nominated for an Oscar; not the screenplay. Again, Eddie Murphy is such a great presence I forgive everything but wish there was more part showcasing the differences between the Detroit and the Beverly Hills lifestyle, and more inspired bits than impersonating a homosexual or complaining of black, that felt like old stuff even by 80's standards. The film becomes better once you expect a cop movie, maybe that's how they should have label it.
But who'll believe in a dramatic Eddie Murphy anyway?
Paris, Texas (1984)
"Taxi Driver" and "The Searchers" in a curious European art-house mix...
At the dawn of the 80's, the monumental flop of Michael Cimino's "Heaven's Gate" put the final nail on the made-in-America auteur coffin, and one of the greatest and most inventive periods of Hollywood, the one that started with "Bonnie and Clyde" in 1967 and ended with "Raging Bull". Spielberg and Lucas had changed the game and 1984 was one of the peaks of the blockbusters' era with series' starter such as "Beverly Hills Cop", "Ghostbusters" or "Gremlins". Movies had to be as phenomenal as a Michael Jackson or a Madonna's clip and as far as pop culture went, there was a before and after 1984.
And if you look at the Best Picture nominees of the year, you'll recognize immediately the winner (and it's quite deserved) Milos Forman's "Amadeus" but the rest is relatively unknown no offense meant, but who remembers "Places of the Heart", "The Killing Fields", "A Soldier's Story" or "A Passage to India"? To make things worse, the best movie of the year was probably Sergio Leon's epitaph masterpiece "Once Upon a Time in America", what a title, but it had to be sacrificed at the altar of simplification-for-the-masses and be cut from 100 minutes and be victim of a disastrous editing, ruining forever the project of a lifetime.
It is a height of irony that at a time were the mass-entertainment status of Cinema provided some of its most popular movies but also prevented, a real masterpiece to sweep all the awards and it was a European Festival, Cannes, that had the decency to screen the film in its totality, Europe respected America more than it respected itself, so maybe it's understandable that Wim Wenders' "Paris, Texas", literally, a European ode to American culture that won the Golden Palm that year. It is not as great as the troubled, haunting, hypnotic and personal, Leone's movie but in the context of 1984, it makes sense. Even the title works like the bridge between two schools of film-making that couldn't have been more opposite yet seem to make a truce.
"Paris, Texas" is the story of a man with no past and a future, or a past and no future; wandering in Texan no man's lands with an empty look that speak a thousand words and a baseball cap so red it looks as impacting as a stain on a canvas. Speaking for myself, I thought the red cap was supposed to symbolize the "woman in red" he had in mind (in his head) literally, played by Nastassja Kinski, I won't spoil the rest of the film but I had to watch it twice to figure out what the symbolism was meant to define. And I liked the 'road movie' approach, the film turns into a sort of spiritual quest where a man tries to find the missing link between the present and a future to build out of painful memories.
The film is all about people trying to find connections, and I also empathize with the struggle of Dean Stockwell's character trying to reconnect with his estranged and mute brother, or his brother trying to reconnect with his son, wonderfully played by Hunter Carson. The film was powerfully conveying these attempts to make communication possible between people from different worlds, ages, memories. It overplayed it a little with Aurore Clément. Did she need to be French? Her thick accent and struggle to speak English make almost every line she said ring false, and I swear one of her "let me finish" lines sounded almost like Tommy Wiseau. She was distracting to say the least and a Razzie nomination wouldn't have surprised me.
Wenders was probably more fascinated by the sight of Texas than the Germany he grew up in and we can hardly blame it as movie lover, the Western setting that has always been a source of inspiration for the New Hollywood directors, "Bonnie and Clyde", "Badlands" or "The Last Picture Show" were indirect nods to the genre and Scorsese made more explicit references to John Ford's "The Searchers" in his breakthrough debut "I Call First". There's something cyclical in the way directors have all started to be fans and now it's Scorsese and John Ford who inspire one European filmmaker, deserts, baseball caps, motels prostitutes, all these archetypes and a protagonist named Travis, this is literally "The Searches" meeting "Taxi Driver" and ending not with an orgy of blood, but an orgy of color symbolized by Nastassja Kinski's sweater.
The two Travises were lost souls in a quest that involves the reconciliation between their failed actions and a future that could be less grim. I can't say I didn't enjoy the film's approach, I just think it moved on too slowly and never tried to subdue the whole philosophical aspect. The first act is great, so was the third, the film kind of loses its way in the middle. And I read that Sam Shepard who was the writer, struggled to find the proper ending, somewhat this made me regard the film in higher esteem but God, did they need to have Aurore Clément?
But with European art house films, you never know, any flaws might be deliberate. I loved the imagery, I loved Stanton, Stockwell and Kinski but maybe I could find something in "Bagdad Café" that was precisely missing in "Paris, Texas", but I understand its iconic status "Paris, Texas" doesn't celebrate America as much as it exhilarates the European fascination for America. Europe is basically returning the favor after its own cinema inspired so many great American classics during the New Hollywood period, from 1967 to 1980.
And it's only fitting that in a year where European cinema applauded "Paris, Texas", the American Best Picture winner would be made by a European director, celebrating a European icon "Mozart", 1984 was weird indeed.
Une heure de tranquillité (2014)
When Christian Clavier can't stand the "Visitors"...
The character of "Jacquouille" from "The Visitors" was both a blessing and a curse for Christian Clavier. It boosted his career catapulting him as the King of French comedy and the heir of Louis De Funes but also derailed it toward the kind of performances that always reminded of "The Visitors" as if each character was a variation of Jacquouille or was channeling his modern 'nouveau riche' counterpart Jacquard.
In "Do Not Disturb", Clavier is a centerpiece of a screwball vaudeville-like mayhem that involves many declarations, revelations, celebration and plumbing situations that chose the wrong possible time to unfold all in once. Just when Michel, an upper- class snob and fan of jazz found a rarity named "Me, Myself and I" from renowned artist Neil Youart, and cancel every possible appointment to offer himself one hour of quietness, he can't even get one tenth of it. This is the set-up of the comedy and let's face it, it's a situation we can all perfectly relate to and that could have inspired an endless chain of gags.
The problem is, as though as the set-up is promising, it also works as the film's pattern and you never got the feeling that it will try to take off above its premise. Things gets out of control and allows the film to be a little bit more than a zany comedy, and I can see how Patrice Leconte try to inject some 'commentary' on the relationships between neighbors and the poisoning selfishness of the world (as evidence by the self-centered record's title) but before raising intellectual brilliance, a movie has at least to provide required laughs. I wanted to laugh at Clavier's antics, at Carole Bouquet playing against type and emotionally vulnerable and neurotic spouse, at Portia de Rossi playing the Spanish maid, I wanted but most of the time, I felt myself starving for one little gag that wouldn't just rely on heavy accents, people yelling at each other or a house getting dirty or soaked.
The film was adapted from a successful play from by Florian Zeller and Simon Gray Michel was played by Fabrice Luchini. Now, here's where it gets tricky, Luchini and Clavier couldn't be more different actors, in their own separate ways, they're equally funny, but while Clavier can play the sarcastic type and overkill it, there's something more sophisticated and restrained in Luchini. One of the point of Antoine is that he's a snobbish and arrogant guy who doesn't realize how condescending he is, when he takes Neil Youart (a totally fictional artist) as the epitome of genius, he's literally calling anyone an ignorant, had Luchini played him, I suspect his subtext would have been more in the line of "you don't know what you're missing",
Luchini can pass as a victim but Clavier is too cynical and sarcastic to let us feel any sympathy for him, yet he's still the most sympathetic character. He's sympathetic because we know what he loves, and people only gravitate around him to make his existence impossible, it's like the film is telling us that this guy doesn't deserve to have a break, but the truth is, there's no character who's likable enough you'd rather see him than Antoine listening to his jazz. So the idea is actually good, the play was probably better but the film features a bunch of unlikable characters that made the experience rather unpleasing. The wife annoyed me, the mistress was ridiculous, the son should go easy on Valium pills, the twist on the Portuguese worker could have worked if he was used in more scenes and don't get me started on the neighbor.
There were many good things in the film but they never fulfilled their potential, French cinema has proved to work on closed doors locations ("The Dinner Game", "The First Name" were many successful plays' adaptations) but Leconte seems to have lost his way with this one, like he did with the third opus of the "French Fried Vacation" series, seems like his tandem with Clavier doesn't work as it used to. Clavier made a far more successful movie that same year "Lord, What Did We Do Wrong", and it worked because he formed a duo with Chantal Lauby and she was the 'emotional' one and both were surrounded by far more sympathetic characters. Clavier is a comedic genius, but he can't carry a movie alone.
42 Up (1998)
Of Fate, Faith, Fame and... Fortitude...
I must confess that "42 Up" felt a bit redundant
but it has nothing to do with the documentary itself, but rather the fact that I'm binge-watching the series, a concept that is totally estranged to the context when it was made, but that affects the "enjoyment" a little bit.
Michael Apted's epic documentary series spanned more than three decades by the times the sixth episode was made, for the targeted audience, each episode was as fresh as if it was the first, carrying just a few bits of déjà vu. The introductory montages were necessary for a time where there was no video, let alone Youtube, to remember where we left each person. This is why I'm taking a little break after the '42' episode, I need to "miss" them for at least one or two weeks before concluding the series.
But boy, I'm always glad when the show starts and as usual with good old Tony. Tony was the little guy who dreamed to become a jockey and had fulfilled his dream for a few months before becoming a bookie runner than a cab driver, he took his under-achieved goal with all stride, took acting classes, had a few roles, nothing to brag about, but nothing to be ashamed of either. Tony isn't a dreamer but a doer. And I'm amazed of the consistency of his high spirit.
However, I was startled and moved by the physical changes, he gained a few pounds and definitely had that forty-something look, in a way, he made me ready to observe similar changes in the others. Nicholas lost hair, Paul a little less and his goatee featured a white little crop at the bottom, Bruce became a bit chubbier, Jackie and Susan looked their age and Lynn a bit older, probably her health didn't help I'm sorry to venture into such superficial observations, but let's not pretend that this is an aspect we wouldn't care about. Haven't you noticed that after looking at old pictures, you look at yourself in the mirror?
The interest toward physical changes might confine to a form of voyeurism but it's one of natural inclination, we care about it as we care about any sign of a declining health, and just like many of them have lost their parents in the previous episodes, some are getting ill, like Jackie whose disease seems to be a tad worse than Lynn's. It is obvious that as the series advances, some will get sicker and eventually die, I didn't put much thought into that until this episode. Thankfully, 42 is still relatively young and the episode allows us to focus on happier fates like Bruce who has finally met love, Simon who divorced and found love again, but let's get to the most anticipated of all: Neil, almost the greatest miracle of the series.
Neil has always been the toughest nut to crack. For all I knew, when I 'left' him at 35, Neil could be as well alive or dead at 42, happy or miserable, but I was pleasantly surprised to learn that a friendship grew between him and Bruce, which allowed him to become politically active. Politics seemed to be tailor-made for Neil, as he was the kid who dreamed to be a bus driver, showing people what to look at. Ever since the show started, Neil has always been the one who shows us a different direction, not the marriage and the family, not success or money, something he didn't know exactly, but that we could figure out after hearing his insights about life, love, God and death, with Bruce's influence, he also started to get more involved in religion.
That bit doesn't contradict Neil's personality since he admitted a few episodes earlier that believing in God was necessary to survive in this world. The documentary pays off with the part dedicated to Neil, because he's always the interrogation mark, and he still is, I could see him becoming a writer, a teacher or even a drifter again, he's the soul of the "Up" series as unpredictable as life itself. But there's something else that gives an edge to this chapter when at the end, it gets back to the other protagonists, asking them two different questions. How they feel about social classes in Britain? And about their fame? As if Apted was aware of their mortality (he was 57 at the time), he seizes the opportunity to have a retrospective look at the documentary and make the subjects for once commentators of their own journey.
The social class bit is important because the 'characters' don't change much, we see the evolution of Britain and the population, the rise of immigration, technology, and it's interesting to hear these upper and working class people analyze happiness through their own background. What we gather is that social classes are less and less insurmountable barriers but they used to be quite tangible factors before, although not being obstacles to happiness. Now that everyone has access to the rest of the world, you can be aware of what you're missing and try to overcome your condition, the days of resignation are over. As for fame, these men and women became like British pupils instantly recognized, especially every seven years and incarnating a generation, a human snapshot of Britain in constant evolution.
If the show was made today, it would have featured more middle-class people, more women, certainly more ethnic or sexual minorities, like some marketing panel but you don't feel anything lacking in the series as we've been following them since they were 7 and they are literally part of our families. And from their respective journey, we have the opportunity to observe the evolution of British landscape, if not clear reflections, they're providential windows to their country, to the world, to life, to our own existences.
35 Up (1991)
I've been watching "Siskel & Ebert" reviews for years, but it's only one week ago that I discovered through their "35 Up" review Michael Apted's "Up" documentary series. I saw it from the start and got instantly hooked up.
This is one of the most fascinating and ambitious projects that ever used TV as a medium. A work for the ages. The moment is twice pivotal, because I'm back to the "35 Up", and because I happen to be 35. From now on, they'll be older than me and maybe the documentary will try to teach me lessons, rather than inspire me regrets.
Indeed, as I said before, the appeal of this program is that by being able to provide glimpses of the same lives every seven years, it allows us to detect some common denominators between the kids, the teens they became and the adult they were. At first, we try to guess who is going to be happy, to succeed, now, we try to find out why they did or didn't. Indirectly, it made me measure my own accomplishments or lack of. It always seems easy when you do it retrospectively and I admire them for playing the game till the end.
I was pleasantly surprised that John came back, he declined to be interviewed at the age of 28, stating that he was fully satisfied, which could pass as snobbery. But here he's back, at 35, revealing richer layers of his personality, starting with his Bulgarian background which encouraged him to take part to some Balkan-oriented charity events. I don't think he ever mentioned that his mother was Bulgarian in the other episodes. Peter and Simon declined to be interviewed, perhaps because they had no call for people's attention, which is understandable.
But the others are still there and I think Apted had found his pace and uses practically the same order as the other episodes. I expected Tony to be the first, he's still high- spirited, trying to fulfill all his dreams, being a cab driver, raising a family, taking acting courses etc.. Bruce has never gave up on his idealism and still teaches courses to immigrants children and goes visit Bangladesh to understand the background of his pupils, every word he delivers speaks a lot about his generous nature and profound altruism. I really liked Bruce.
And other couples are doing quite happily, Paul, Andrew, Nicholas and Suzie they're all stable and content with themselves. The film isn't always as 'dramatic' as the previous ones, but it features some very poignant moments, many involving deaths or health problems. Sadly, Lynn has been diagnosed with some brain condition and I guess the show was heading to that, sooner or later. Parents are getting old, some have left the world, and while we don't know when this will end, we know how it will. I got so accustomed to these people, they became family and I know the show will reach a point when one subject will die, if not Apted.
But let's just embrace the present, and appreciate that for all his emotional struggles, the most troubled subject Neil is alive. It's funny but reading my previous reviews, I never really gave much thoughts about Neil, I simply didn't see his troubles coming. His personality was positive and cheerful but something between the "14" and "21" episode must have totally derailed him. Neil lives in a remote Scottish country from welfare and trying to have a place in a rather modest community. As he says "I've got many things I want to do, but the question is how likely am I to do them?" This is a man intellectually advanced enough to diagnose his problems, not emotionally apt to solve them.
Neil is the eternal question mark and maybe he has somewhat found his status by being an unlikely spokesperson to all the misfits of the worlds. I was surprised by how slightly distracted I was at the middle of the documentary. I was waiting for "Neil" part but Apted kind of anticipated it and the way he constructs his documentary shows that he knows exactly it has to start with Tony who's like the little mascot, then Suzie. In the middle. At mid-point, there's John's comeback. And the documentary has got to end with Neil, it is almost indecent to go back to sights of suburban happiness after him.
But who's happy anyway? I like the comment from Jackie, the idea of being unhappy never occurs to her until the next seven years when Apted comes "nosing around", it was deep in a funny way. Sometimes, the simple question, "are you happy?" implies that you're not. And maybe the reason we want to see this documentary, one episode after another, is because we're not happy or let's just say: we're not as happy as we wished. But again, who is? I don't expect answers of course, I'm not even expecting drastic changes for the next episode, I only wish I will find Lynn in good health and Neil in a better state.
But it's incredible how things change in seven years. I said I'm 35, it's been coincidentally 7 years that I started reviewing movies on IMDb, and while I was reading the early ones and try to find hints about my character, I realized I could also be subject to my own introspection and have glimpses of the state of mind that lead to the very choices I ended up regretting. They were imperceptible then but now, they're as plain as the nose in the face.
So, we might lose hair, gain weight but there's always something in the mind, the heart and the eye that resist the passing of time and speak a core-truth about us, whatever it is, it's what the "Up" series is always digging in. And the hints are more interesting than the answers.
Deux jours, une nuit (2014)
The real hell of life is everyone has his reasons
"Two Days, One Night" takes place in a small Belgian town, but take it from someone who's been living in the North of France, the grass isn't greener out there and the sky is pretty gray too. This is a part of Europe that used to be the industrial heart and that is now plagued by unemployment and professional precariousness. Everyone tries to keep his job, work extra hours or under the table to make ends meet.
It is a real Darwinian system where one's ability to survive is guided by the will to work in the toughest conditions and to surrender to any liberal diktat, if it means being able to provide a shelter and a modest living for a family. It's not the happiest place or mindset of the world, but I know it enough to tell you that a vast majority earn money in non-declared activities or go as far as having large families for child benefits. As always, private decisions depend entirely on economical matters, and if money can't buy love or happiness, it it surely one tangible factor.
It is important to contextualize the film geographically because we've got to realize that a bonus of 1000 euros isn't something to take lightly. People live with one salary sometimes and the minimum wage isn't far from that amount of money, it means a lot when you live in poverty. Secondly, we've got to perceive Sandra, the protagonist and heroine-to-be of quite a harrowing journey as a person at the bottom of that Darwinian scale. She's a worker in a solar-panel factory, in a town with one of the highest unemployment rates, and she's just recovered from a depression, which makes her slightly more vulnerable than her co-workers if not already seen as a liability.
The film puts us immediately in Sandra's situations, she learns from a friend that a vote has been cast in the factory and in order to compensate for some financial losses, the workers agreed to have Sandra fired and earn a bonus of 1000 euros. Sandra's friend manages to convince their boss to cast the vote again on Monday, and if a majority throw away the prime, Sandra stays. Sandra has basically one weekend, two days, one night literally, to convince her co-workers to vote for her, which means renouncing to a large sum of money so she could keep her job. We don't have time to discuss the process, there's urgency and then one of the most gripping journey to the ends of the economical chain takes off.
The plot looks almost like a reality TV show with a frail woman being literally sacrificed at the altar of liberalism, with the bosses washing their hands of it. But the Dardennes brothers stay in "harmony" with the bleakness of the situation and don't try to make a crusader or some Messianic heroine out of Sandra, Sandra is at the edge of a nervous breakdown, many moments she's about to crack up, and in her first encounters, she's literally begging for a vote in her favor. She never sounds or feels like a heroine because, with maybe a few exceptions, none of the co-workers is portrayed as a villain or someone motivated by greed or selfishness. It's less the money they jeopardize than the prospects, children, house, plans and so on.
The movie reminded me of that wonderful quote from Jean Renoir's masterpiece "The Rules of the Game" (quite a fitting title), when Renoir's character Octave says: "The real hell of life is everyone has his reasons", and they do have reasons and good reasons. Some react in an aggressive way but generally speaking, violence has an interesting counter-effect in the film, some break down and realize that they've been acting wrongly, other asks questions like "who voted for you so far?" "who's ready to give up the prime?", and it's very telling about the gregarious instinct, even in order to make a decent or good action, they have to know where the others stand for, exactly like in "12 Angry Men" when the jurors only grasp the gravity of the situation when they start thinking as individuals, outside the group's zone of comfort.
And the film does work like "12 Angry Men" with the evolution of Sandra. In the beginning, she always revealed who voted for her but after a few encounters, she explains that the vote is secret. She gained more confidence and cared for the rules and was less begging for her future than asking people to reconsider the validity of their choices. Gradually, we see Sandra's overpowering her own insecurity, going through different stages, grief, anger, desperation, resignation, but with encouragements from her husband (Fabrizio Rognone) her faith in human nature increases and allows her to go further than she ever thought she could go. Marion Cotillard gives a magnificent, rightfully Oscar-nominated, performance like a French "Norma Rae".
This is a film directed in all simplicity, with long takes for the the different encounters, not for artistic license but to capture the urgency and intensity of the moment, and the suspense lying on the "final answer". And each encounter provides one layer of complexity in a rather complex subject, and leading up to a splendid finale. As the plot advanced (it's one hour and half but it felt like a sprint) I was wondering what could be the best ending? Getting the job? The fanfare triumph? The downer ending? The wonderful script finds the perfect conclusion, sad, happy, uplifting and insightful.
"Two Days, One Night" says more than any economical essay about the consequences of crisis and unemployment, through realistic portraits of lives being weakened and threatened by the economical game, and a film that makes you think of "12 Angry Men", "Norma Rae" or "The Rules of the Game" could never fail.