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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!
And from the early days of cinema, time has always been represented as a hostile or stressful element, the most emblematic image being Harold Lloyd dangling from a clock on the side of a building. If that iconic moment doesn't sum up the conflicting relationship we all have with time, I don't know what it does.
And while not always the main inspiration, Safety Last! (1923) paved the way to other memorable scenes featuring one or many characters in similar situations although not necessarily on the same life-threatening level, or just a habile juxtaposition of characters and a clock.
Which of these memorable movie moments is your favorite?
Try to find your answer in less than 20 seconds and then discuss the list here, hurry!
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."
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"?
The Longest Daycare (2012)
To the Simpsons' haters, here's a "pacifier"...
I generally don't indulge to Top Ten lists, but it won't take much time to see the film, so there's no need to make a thesis about it. The short is brilliant and here's why you should give it a try. Lesser said, the better. Ten Reasons to Watch "The Longest Daycare":
1/ It's about Maggie Simpson. I think we can count the Maggie Simpson-related episodes with two hands, she's the least represented and developed character, which also makes her the freshest and most original to some extent. We just can't get enough of Maggie, anything that puts her under the spotlight is welcome.
2/ Short cartoon is the right format. While she's a member of the most iconic TV family, she can't carry over her frail little shoulders the weight of a long narrative, but four minutes are perfect to tell a poignant and whimsical story with a proper beginning, middle act and ending. As they say, brevity is the soul of wit.
3/ It is silent, which is also fitting for her character, who only speak in non-canon episodes of for the sake of some inspired gags. Here, we speak her non-existent language, made of raises shoulders, jump scares, running, toddling and frowned eyebrows. We see the world through the perspective of a little baby with all the joys, fears and thrills induced by her small size. The silent format also allows the film to exude some Golden Age vibes (the opening screen shot is similar to Donald Duck's cardboard) and work like something Chaplin would have endorsed, I mean it.
4/ There's a heart in the story from its positive attitude toward animals and a brain through its sharp comment on human methods (especially to detect intelligence in children), both mix perfectly with comedy, the drama works on an emotional level, the comedy on an intellectual one. As they always do.
5/ The film has a bad-ass villain and consecrates Baby Gerald's finest hour, needless to say that the final word belongs to Maggie and she's as heroic as Gerald was naughty.
6/ There's a clever Checkov Gun's in the film and without spoiling it, I'll say the story makes good use of one of Maggie Simpson's trademarks and it's not the one you think, and it's one you don't see coming, say no more and don't try to anticipate, let the story unfold.
7/ The animation is top notch without being too sophisticated, but it also shows that the Simpsons universe is so rich and multi-layered it can work on every format, feature film, TV episode, an episode of a TV episode. If the series ever stopped, I can't see what would prevent them to get back to their roots.
8/ The ending. A short is generally as good as its ending and this one doesn't disappoint.
9/ The run-time again, at four minutes, it's pretty short even for a short but at least it doesn't try to add new material or stuff up the story for the sake of it, we get right to the point, the middle-act leads to a great culmination, and with an emotionally rewarding ending, and a wonderful "A-ha" moment one's not ready to forget.
10/ It was nominated for an Oscar, that should tell you how at least worthy of your attention it should be.
That's all, folks, enjoy your short. Unlike Maggie with her pacifier, it doesn't suck! More seriously, I know this review is preaching a choir, but I wish someone who's not a fan of the series will read this, because the merit of this little gem is that it doesn't depend on any appreciation of the show, it's a standalone little masterpiece.
La marche (2013)
Too Naïve or not Honest Enough Either Ways, it's a Flop!
Nabil Ben Yadir's "The March" was supposed to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of the historical march that raised the voice of the second generation of North-African immigrants who. Amidst a wave of racist crimes, suspicious police blunders and a climate of economical crisis that mainly struck Arab and African populations, the marchers demanded equal rights as French citizens and fairer treatment for their foreign parents
But despite Jamel 'De-Buzz' vocal marketing and buffoonish gesticulations in the film, despite another 'blessing' but curse in disguise from then French President Hollande, the silence in the theaters was more deafening and insightful than all the media hubbub it generated. The film was one of the most notable flops of the year, alimenting countless polemics and satisfying those who believed Arabs' integration failed, with the exception of a minority that accepted the "Republican rules", and distanced themselves from the patriarchal and religious burden of their roots.
"The March" didn't even try to treat this material to anticipate the critics, too busy to be a poor man's "Gandhi" or "Milk", while it could have been like Spike Lee's "Get on the Bus". The film would have been a triumph if it had considered the march, as a retrospective failure. Its very flop speak more words than the poor schmucks who went to see it. The film didn't fail to draw an audience it didn't have any. Assimilated Arabs wouldn't care about community pride, the others won't care about a march that ignores the religious shifts, worse, one praised by the government that ostracized them.
As if it wasn't enough, the film also was dismissed by the real actors who constantly denounced the movement's retrieval by the Socialist Party, accusing SOS Racism to be a left-wing puppet devoid of any 'Arab' weight. Most marchers became persona non grata or incognita, but the film avoided these 'embarrassing' inconveniences by choosing the easy way and being a mere fictionalization, apart from Olivier Gourmet who plays the priest of Minguette who initiated the march.
Fictionalization allows the cast to be a series of archetypes, the bad boy with a golden heart, the loudmouth with a scarf on her head yet insists that the march isn't religious, the fat boy bullied because his feet smell, there's also a lesbian whose presence is a cheap attempt to show that the film isn't zeroing in one community. The acting is good but the script is so paved with preachy lecturing, constantly referring to Gandhi or Martin Luther King that there's nothing unfolding on a human level, it's all about political and social claims and how they are justified by the course of events. And just when you can have a taste of complex cultural duplicity (with the lesbian or the 'white' member of the march), the film gets political again.
And French are getting a pretty rough deal. It seems like they are only capable of a binary conception of Arabs, which mirrors the director's over-simplification of complex matters. There are many acts of racism in this film, pigs' heads hanging with a 'Bon Appétit' sign, a rape attempt and finally, the swastika carved on a girl's back. Now, I had a problem with this one. Such things can happen and have happened but in the film, it creates a disturbing parallel between what the Arabs were getting through and the Jews' persecution, and it's not just inaccurate, it's counter-productive.
The film is entitled to play that game, but then it should play it fair. How come they don't go a hospital? Why don't they file a complaint? Why is there no investigation from the police guys who were tailing them? Not only it makes France look like Berlin in the early 30's, but the swastika incident is used as a sort of character-establishing moment, the group's epiphany, "this time it's personal!" It is treated in a cinematically amateur way that shows how desperate Ben Yadir is to make an impact at the expenses of realism. And that parallel backfires that Nazi specter is what ruined the Arab's image.
Indeed, the presence of Palestinian scarfs in the march alerted the establishment about the rise of a new form of anti-Semitism driven by anti-Israel sentiment. It is very known that the Socialist party have been close to pro-Israel associations, it doesn't take to be a conspiracy freak to establish that, these are non-denied facts. Until the 90's, Arabs and Blacks were still victim of stigmatization due to urban suburbs violence but September 11 deepened the shift and made new pariahs out of the Arabs. The scarf polemic, 'Charlie Hebdo' polemics didn't help.
Now, a film like "The Godfather" was praised for having the guts to seal the failure of the American Dream and established a new notion of tribal pride, of ethnic-centered values, although rooted in debatable practices. "The March" is a film that praises a Republican Dream that obviously failed, it seems to be in total denial and ignorance of the real diagnosis. Had it acknowledged that failure, had it enhanced the pride and the curse of being Arab or Muslims à la Coppola, it could have found the real answers to the problem. Or maybe it could have at least drawn more viewers to the theaters.
Arabs or Muslims are not immigrants like Polish or Italians were, ignoring religion was the biggest mistake. Maybe we're living a clash, not of civilizations, but universalized views, one liberal (USA), one driven by Human Rights (France and Europe) and one by Islam, and they're all colliding right now. The film could really deal with these problems in a more transparent way, instead of seeing everything under the prism of racist/non racist, good/bad, and going for the cheap effect, using Debbouze as a pathetic and pointless comic relief.
Either Ben Yadir couldn't embrace the reality of the march' failure or didn't want to, too much naivety or not enough honesty killed the film.
A decade-defining rom-com with wit, warmth... and panache!
Steve Martin is C.D. Bales a man who's popular in the small town where he lives and operates as a fireman chief. He's charismatic, gentle, smart, social, but his Achilles' heel is a big, nose. C.D Bales is nothing but the 80's counterpart of Cyrano de Bergerac and I never noticed the similar acronyms until now. God, I feel so "Christian" now!
A film like Fred Shilepsi's "Roxanne" doesn't just rewrite the universal tale of 'Cyrano de Bergerac', it speaks a powerful statement about the way humor can be the best vehicle to either hide or convey the saddest feelings. It's a cliché but when handled with such tactful intelligence and gentleness, it's a moving experience. As Umberto Eco said: "Two clichés make us laugh. A hundred clichés move us.".
And that's a way to look at Steve Martin, each of his witty comebacks, his deadpan remarks and demonstrations of gentlemanly sense of humor is one step forward toward the reveal of a deeper and more insecure heart, reaching the paroxysm of its vulnerability when he first meet the eyes of Roxanne, a beautiful newcomer, an astronomer with the face of an angel that intimidates him so much he pretends (too much to be believed) not to care. She's played by Daryl Hannah who proves how accidental her Razzie for "Wall Street" was that same year, she wasn't just as emotionally involved as she was in Roxanne.
As for Steve Martin, it's one of his best performances: while he makes us smile, the deeper we feel his resentment. It is an interesting coincidence that the same year, he had played in another comedic gem "Planes, Trains and Automobiles", in "Roxanne", it's like witnessing the jovial warmth of John Candy and the cynical lucidity of Steve Martin in that film, colliding in the character of C.D, aka Charlie. That Charlie doesn't have any sword or white plume, but he would have made Edmond Rostand proud, I'm pretty sure about that. And you know why? Because he's got the most important accessory: panache!
And I just love how the film is still a homage to the iconic play, no matter how powerful a defense mechanism humor can be, the use of the force can be the only option but never at the expenses of style. In one of Charlie's first confrontations and character- establishing moments, he doesn't handle a whole army but two cocky tennis players who had one word too many, and I never noticed how rackets could be interesting substitutes for swords. The second confrontation is the obligatory 'nose tirade' which involves a challenge consisting of coming up with twenty funny insults better than plain "big nose". It's one of the film's highlight, and each joke is funnier than the precedent, which says a lot about the twentieth.
But there's always a fine balance between laughs and warmth, and all the jerks in the film are only foils to Charlie's inner sweetness. Actually, the town is made of good people, goofy sometimes, but genuinely good. Shelley Duvall plays her best friend and she irradiates the screen and makes you forget one second she was that long- suffering face-distorted mother in "The Shining". She has also great chemistry with Roxanne who's not insensitive to Charlie, but whose eyes are (naturally) focused on another newcomer, a recruit in the fire department played by Rick Rossovich, the 'Christian'. And Rossovich makes the usually thankless role work; he's tall, athletic, smiling and nice but immediately destabilized by Roxanne, becoming childish, even nerdish.
The mix-ups ensues and during the scene until Charlie realizes Roxanne is in love with a 'handsome' man and I just love the way it's played out. He hides his anger, he puts some distance yet his sympathy wins him and he's ready to help that poor schmuck of Chris and becomes his ghost writer. Now, "Cyrano de Bergerac" has always been about two key moments: the nose tirade and the balcony scene. Let's just say that the balcony scene is another close to perfect retelling of that romantic moment, starting with perfectly timed comedy with Chris wearing an ear-flap beanie to conceal headphones and naturally, he can't avoid the interference with some police calls.
"Roxanne" is a romantic comedy, which means that unlike the real "Cyrano", it has to try to find its way toward a happy ending, and everyone is so nice and sweet that the film manages to achieve this without the need of an antagonist or some life- threatening situation. The mix-up was build out of a misunderstanding but actually, it involves people who were sincere about their feelings and came up to the realization that the road between two harts is never a straight line, and is sometimes paved by patches of awkwardness, and sometimes, your friends are here to guide you toward the right choice. It's all in the way these people come to the realization and finally make the right choice, for the film to conclude with the right note.
1987 was quite a year for Steve Martin, and I love how the ending of "Roxanne" echoes "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" where many pieces of a puzzle are reassembled and then the epiphany hits the character. "Roxanne" wasn't based on an original screenplay but Martin confirmed the universal tone of the story and made us realize that we all have a part of Cyrano or Charlie or Dumbo inside us. We don't want to be laughed at for some flaws we tend to defensively emphasize.
And laughs can be a good way to shield our emotions, but sometimes, the shield works too well and becomes an obstacle between hearts. The whole irony of Cyrano is that the man was actually his biggest rival, and the toughest challenge to overcome. But at least, there'll always be this version of Cyrano where all's well that ends well.
"It's not easy to be a son"...
... said Michael Corleone to Fredo. I guess it's no easier to be a father. Right now, I'm contending with the two statuses and each one has its share of joys and pains and frustrations driven in what-ifs thoughts either conjugated in the past or the future.
"The Meyerowitz Stories" could be any families' stories. Three estranged siblings, Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller and Elizabeth Marvel reunited when their father is victim of a cerebral accident. The father, brilliantly played by Dustin Hoffman, is a sculptor whose art, while not totally unnoticed, is still undiscovered by the public eye.
Harvey is the kind of man who'd cast a big shadow on everyone, let alone his children as even his oddest or wrongest statements sound like intuitive gospel. The film was written AND directed by Noah Baumbach (a Wes Anderson collaborator) and his greatest merit is to let us discover fascinating characters while nothing much happens (until the "big thing" does).
The writing of the build-up lets a few expository dialogues slip (sometimes in a dangerously convenient way) but the acting is so competent that you felt riveted by the simple exchanges going on. Of course, there's some déjà-vu feelings, mainly the eccentric, intellectual, Jewish, artistic upper class of New York, but just when you try to spot some Woody Allen or Coen Brother or Wes Anderson patterns, the film finds a captivating way to reinvent himself and go for another direction. It's as unpredictable as life, if I might be allowed one cliché.
And each sibling represents a direction. Danny (Sandler), the older, was promised to an artistic career but we find him unemployed and divorced. There are many shades of regrets in his life but he never really blames his Dad, perhaps because of his symmetrical situation. And from his father-and-daughter piano duet, we discover about Eliza (Grace Van Patten) that she's an artistic genius (she enters a film school) and among many other things, that she has Daddy's hands and toes. That part struck a sensitive chord because I can say the same about my daughter. I don't know if she's a genius, but she inherited my passion for drawing and (unfortunately) my chubby fingers.
There's also Matthew (Stiller), brother from another marriage, successful business-wise, yet not so happy on the marriage department. Only till the third act that we get to know the sister a little more, and there's a clever twist about her seemingly awkwardness. The film is actually edited like a series of little portraits and if there's a moment where you feel this is going nowhere, just let it go, there's an emotional culmination that makes all the awkwardness worth it. The film deals with highly intellectual people but ironically, its message is more about emotions.
I guess what it says is that parental love can be a road to hell paved with good intentions, dreams of success that can kill the real dreams. There's a sense of Freudian inevitability that time will come for saying such things as "I love you", "forgive me" or "I forgive you", and one of the many truths exuding from the film is that someone's death invites you to come to terms, but not just with the dying one. I have a dying grandmother right now, should I expect her death to finally make her children embrace and realize the time they wasted?
Death is still the real trigger of emotions, and the hospital part is particularly moving, even more because it does it with a good dose of comedy. When a doctor leaves your beloved one in his misery and mentions his next vacation to China, it's typically the kind of situation where one says: "I wouldn't laugh if it wasn't so sad!" That's sums up how good a "dramedy" it is. Adam Sandler delivered a great performance, not sure the Oscar nomination will happen, Stiller has many juicy scenes, but if one was to be nominated, my bet is on the anchor of the family... and eternal enigma: Dustin Hoffman. Who knows? This might be his eight nomination after 20 years.
Now, the film isn't perfect but I would point out its flaws like this: there are moments that feel genuinely true, people talk without listening to each other, people say the most awkward things but they do have a meaning in their respective context, and in these small moments where Sandler was interacting with a woman he liked, the body language was so convincing dialogue was superfluous. It's these little moments that enhanced the film, and some great lines, I kept nodding when Sandler said "I wish I could have a good reason to be angry at Dad" but Harvey did nothing wrong, just little things accumulating same for the film.
It could have done without these too abrupt cuts, also Danny's severe disapproval of Eliza's drinking but open-mindedness over the sexual content of her films. Her films were creative but were they that good? Was it supposed to show that a girl could only break through by daring to show her boobs? Couldn't have she done something that actually echoed her life, her being a Meyerowitz. I get it that her success was a way to show that someone got the right combo (genes and education) but apart from the middle sister, the female characters weren't as substantial to the film's quality. Even Emma Thompson's was rather tertiary, and I almost didn't recognize her.
The last act drags a bit too long, and things could have been tied up together more quickly. Indeed, when there's such a powerful climax, you don't need fifteen more minutes (just like the title didn't need that slightly pretentious parenthesis). Apart from that, it was great to see Hoffman as Stiller's dad again and Sandler proving that he's definitely not an actor to be underestimated
with the right role.
The Straight Story (1999)
Lynch plays straight... Farnsworth IS Straight...
No twist, no sudden reveal, no fancy film-making, as evidenced by the title, "The Straight Story" is a simple and straightforward story about a man named Alvin Straight, who went through a five-week journey across the Midwest, from Iowa to Mississippi to settle some record with his dying brother. It is also one of the sweetest and most heart-warming movies from, of all the directors, David Lynch. As if he embraced the name of the main character, Lynch plays it 'straight' and doesn't indulge to his usual trademarks, there are a few bits of weirdness here and there but they all feel genuine and true to life.
Alvin Straight is a man in his 70's, his health has been declining, bad hips, bad vision, bad habits, but he's one of these stubborn men who don't like being told what to do. He's quite lucid about his condition and knows his living days are numbered but this is not an existentially stationary film, it doesn't contemplate the passing of time. Like the best existential movies, this one is combined with a road trip, the inevitable parallel between the road and the path we're invited to take in order to discover more about the protagonist then about ourselves, each encounter is the opportunity to learn something. And even in the film, people are curious about Alvin, how couldn't they? When you meet a man in his 70's determined to visit his brother the hard way, riding a lawn mower, you want to have a few words with him.
There's a campfire sequence with a young hitchhiker during which he presents one of the most touching metaphors about the value of family, I won't spoil it but the film finds a touching way to show that the message has been heard. Then he meets a group of cocky youngsters and one of them has a very bold question: "what's the worst thing about being old". That answer I will spoil because it's all in the speechless reaction it inspires: "remembering when you were young". I could feel Alvin was giving the cocky bastard a taste of his own medicine without hurting him, it's not much the memories of being young than simple and straight memories. Our past is what makes the present difficult and the older we are, the heavier the burden is. And as the story progresses, Alvin's relief grows.
The longer chapter of this glorious odyssey involves a trip in a small town where Alvin shares a few memories with another World War II veteran and then you realize these people were not called the greatest generation for nothing, the greatness isn't a comment on their human value but the level of crap they had to deal with before supposedly getting back to the real world. These are guys who had jobs, lead a routine life while trying to hide back their trauma under some habits, such as alcohol or smoking, never mind, these things backfired at them and in Alvin's situation, he can only meditate on what's left from his life and translate it into something good and valuable. The trip culminates with an advice given to two brothers that ends with the perfect quotation "a brother's a brother".
In that scene, there's a moment when he says "am I charged for something good or something new", which means that he's supposed to pay for quality rather than newness and that's exactly what Alvin's presence is about. But at that point I should say that's what the presence of Richard Farnsworth is about. The actor, remembered for his performance as the sheriff in "Misery" was a former stunt-man and entered the acting business quite late, a late-bloomer as we say, but he managed to garner a lot of attention and Oscar nomination, this performance as well. I think he didn't play an old man, he was himself, which all the positive things and negative if we count the declining health. It is known that the actor was battling cancer and unfortunately, he put an end to his life before the misery (no pun intended) would get worse, but as far as epitaph performance go, there couldn't have been a better one, it felt so real.
Whenever he smiles, he cries, he acts or reacts, I see a man with a past as rich and emotional as life can be, and as I hope my life will be, and when health gets declining, you try to keep the spirits in a good mood and never let anyone stop you. "The Straight Story" takes a long time to take off, there are many pauses and incident but no matter what, the man keeps on going, he doesn't even let himself go in a house, he calls it stubbornness, it's more than that, this man carries some guilt and he tries to atone for it, it's about faith, it's about dignity. We never know what exactly he did until the end where he's about to say something, and let's just say that the conclusion is just perfect.
This is a film to embrace with all the feelings it has to feature, joy, sadness and melancholy and a few installments of oddity that belongs to Lynch, but it also a movie that invite us to appreciate life and nature. There are a lot of great shots in the film, the camera is like caressing the vast landscapes, the wheat fields, the green acres but even a storm is enjoyable, for some reason, like Alvin, like Farnsworth, we embrace the value of these things as perceived by Alvin.
That's the power of "The Straight Story".
Le mari de la coiffeuse (1990)
The Eternal Sunshine of the Fantasizing Mind...
"The Hairdresser's Husband" is made with such sincerity it is the only way to respond to it, so I'll start with a confession.
I knew and dated many girls in my life and a few relationships reached the intimate level nothing original or to brag about so far. But among this gallery of female players in the scenery of my life, some of them fully satisfied personal fantasies. Let's say that I loved them on the basis of my personal idealization of the female body or personality.
Fantasy-wise, they were just perfect but in each case, I gave the relationship up, surrendering to wisdom (I thought) and that became my motto "one cannot build his life on a fantasy". Was I true to myself or was I calling the grapes sour because I didn't have the guts to go as far the depths of my psyche were driving me to? I don't know. I'm just having a "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" marathon and as incongruous as the mention of "The Hairdresser's Husband" would feel among these titles, it's not that different. The film, directed by Patrice Leconte, is also about a man who surrenders to passions and goes as far as he can in order to fulfill his fantasy. And he builds a happy life on it.
The man is Antoine, and he's played by Jean Rochefort who has just left the world a few days ago, and ever since his first sensual experience with a female hairdresser, he knew what he was born to do: marry one. Talk about a ludicrous premise! Yet there's never a moment where we have contempt for his choice, this is a film made with sincerity indeed. And yes, sexual tension is never as palpable as when you're a child because it is a time where you can't put words in what happens to your mind. When the eyes of Antoine cross this magnificent, round and voluptuous figure of a woman bosom, the epiphany hits him, nothing will ever be more sensual and perfect that this experience, so that will define his life.
And his determination pays off when, as an adult, he goes to the hairdresser's shop, whose new owner is the beautiful Mathilde (Anna Galiena), she's alone and he immediately asks her to marry him, she doesn't answer. Two weeks later, she says 'yes'. The film doesn't tell us what she finds in him, why she accepted the marriage, because it has more serious things to deal with: passion, love and sensuality. It is possible that the beautiful hairdresser felt desired by Antoine, and Jean Rochefort's performance is a masterpiece of subtlety, you can see his magnificent blue eyes drawing Anna Galiena's body just by staring at her, it's not just love, it's completeness, possession, perfection. And Galiena does more than acting, she acts as a presence, candidly existing through her husband's idealization, and the 'less' she does, the more we idealize her, too.
Where do they live? Probably in some Southern town where it's always sunny, a sun that almost sanctifies the beauty of Anna Galiena, an eternal virgin inspiring a passion that never fades. A few customers come, some are the occasions of a few chit-chat, some marital arguments, a kid doesn't want to have his hair cut but Antoine entertains him with some crazy oriental dance, and then you have the splendid sequence were Galiena washes a man's hair and since his eyes are closed because of the soap, Antoine can caress her legs and lay his head on her behind. This is a masterpiece of sensuality, something that doesn't rely on twerking and humping or explicit sex. The tag-line says it better, it's sexier than a dozen "Basic Instinct".
That's how the whole experience feels like; a magnificent dream in a heaven-like improbable place that reassembled all the fantasy, it's a sexual reverie that says a great truth about men, subconscious isn't just about shameful stuff. Lust can be delicious. At one point, Antoine says he doesn't need friends or family (and it's true they seem to be self-sufficient) he was dedicated to an idea, an ideal, a fantasy for some, a heaven for another. And the directing of Patrice Leconte embraces the film's poetry with such boldness it reminded of a "Field of Dreams", another movie that reached some level of perfection.
The film made Ebert and Siskel's Top 10 lists of 1992 and if you watch them talking about it, you can see a sparkle in their eyes, they conclude the show with some innocent smiles inspiring Siskel's comment: "we're like little boys". It's true this film reveals the little boy inside of us, it's even a leitmotif as it starts with a boy dancing to oriental music. When Rochefort engages in these dances, he doesn't fool any audience, he can't dance, but it's the little boy inside him who's dancing, clueless and careless about what we thing. The little boy who wanted to be a hairdresser and became one, when Maria says "yes", it's not Rochefort smiling but his younger counterpart.
The man seems entrapped in his fantasy but he's probably freer than any other man, he's the happiest person in the whole film. I won't spoil the ending, but maybe the message is that we shall never underestimate the power of the child inside us even when it comes to adult matters. 'The Hairdresser's Husband" is about a man who found inner happiness by sticking to some twisted vision inherited from childhood. That he lived happily by that makes the question about its validity pointless. In other words, we don't want to be hairdresser's husbands, but wouldn't we love to be happy? Fully satisfied? And confident that we've made the right choice?
I don't regret my marital choices but I would lie if I said I never thought of any of my "fantasy" adventures
and some are still 'obsessing me'.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)
What's Eating Dr. Jekyll?
The genius of Robert Louis Stevenson's is to have immortalized in "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" the internal battle of the forces of good and evil. The story was meant to become a myth by providing a metaphor as classic as the good and bad angel whispering conflicting advice.
And Hollywood didn't wait for the talkies to tackle the subject, John Barrymore played the iconic figure in a 1920 classic. But it's the 1931 version, directed by Rouben Mamoulian but most often referred to as the "Fredric March" version; that became the staple. While it's only fair to identify the movie from the character playing the lead because this is the real aspect of the story on which depends the film's realism (one man but two opposite personalities), the directing of Mamoulian contributed to the film's overall impact and not just on the photography and special effects' department.
But a few words about Fredric March: his performance as Jekyll/Hyde earned him one of the earliest Oscars in history, establishing a long love story between the Academy and 'split' performances. But March is astonishing, he doesn't play different personalities but polar opposites that make you believe they're generated by one psyche. When March is Jekyll, you can sense some passion boiling inside his soul, whether when he's haranguing his students with his theories or courting his fiancée (Rose Hobart), he's like letting off the passion, a passion that comes from a tree we suspect it provides more rotten fruits.
And Jekyll's speech allows him to verbally express what his performance hints at, he believes we all have guilty thoughts and impulses, and maybe we're never as good as we're capable to resist the bad temptations, in the fight between good vs. evil, we are what we choose to be. There are several religious undertones, many people practice religion by focusing on the commandments and all "thou shall not " Even in Islamic culture, a bad action is associated to a whisper from the devil. Jekyll is convinced to be able to separate between the two parts of one personality as you do with chemical products, I other words: he's playing God and displays one defining facet of his personality: hubris. And Hyde has nothing to do with it.
Jekyll is strong minded and so brave he resists the temptation by yielding to it and drink his own potion. 1931 was the year of "Frankenstein", "Dracula" and there was no reason for "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" to be a visual disappointment and it wasn't. In the first mirror scene when Jekyll turns into Hyde, I expected some transition shots, but it was so smoothly done I really felt he was changing. Animation can get away with it, but Malmounian came up with one of the most impressive special effects I've seen in an early movie and he kept the secret. But the focus isn't just on the transition, the face also makes a statement about the nature of Hyde.
The face develops a more tanned aspect and becomes hairier, more simian looking with huge teeth and large nostrils, which is not about the bestiality of Hyde but his Neanderthal look, he's not a beast but he's our ancestor, a man freed of the conveniences of good society and capable to express his lust and violence the hard way. He contradicts all these pompous Victorian men stuck in the hypocrisy of rigorous etiquette and reveal indirectly Jekyll's own impulses. When he desperately tries to convince his father-in-law to be (Halliwell Hobbes) to marry his daughter, in fact, he secretly wants to kick the old man's ass and go 'consume' his relationship. That's what's eating him. That's how I felt it anyway from March' performance.
But how about a woman who literally gave herself to Jekyll? I'm speaking naturally of Ivy Pearson, the real heart of the film, played with emotional density by Myriam Hopkins. She falls in love with Jekyll after he rescued her from some brutish thugs and when she can see that he's attracted, she tempts him. Jekyll embraces her, kisses her but then pulls himself together and leaves her. Was it because of the providential intrusion of Pr. Lanyon (Holmes Helbert) or because he had to wait for Muriel for months? Whatever the reason is, there's name for the bitterness in Jekyll's mind: frustration. Jekyll can handle it but Hyde wouldn't have none of it. In a story all based on a metaphor, even the conflicting forces are symbolized through one character and they fantastically collide over the course of the film.
Now, the directing deserves a mention. Yes, special effects do justice to the story and exude that Gothic atmosphere from Victorian or Dickensian London and the distorted ominous shadows in the fogs but Malmounian does more. Afire with the thrills of the story, he uses split screens many times to remind us the leitmotif of duplicity, some boiling water illustrates Jekyll's impulses and what can you say about the sight of Hopkins making her ankle swing and the image slowly fading out but still transposed with the face of March, playing like a ticking bomb. Fritz Lang couldn't have done it better.
And 1931 wasn't just the peak of expressionist cinema, it was the pre-Code period, which is perhaps why this version is so superior to the remake. Myriam Hopkins personifies the sexual temptation Jekyll is describing and once he becomes Hyde, he gets at her as if she was the incarnation of this temptation, forgetting that it was Jekyll's goodness that attracted her. As if the duplicity wasn't just in the actions but the reactions, quite a comment on society's hypocrisy.
Indeed, the story holds up very well today, as for the ending, well, we know hell is paved by the good intentions, Jekyll's were excellent, but hubris
no one plays God and gets away with it.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941)
Undermined by the Code, Enhanced by Bergman...
An adaptation of "Robert Louis Stevenson's classic "Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" wasn't particularly necessary after the 1931 version, but just as the Fredric March version brought new elements over the 1920 silent classic with John Barrymore, there could have been something fresh to make out of the 'old' material. The subject would have been even more relevant in the worldwide context of 1941. Unfortunately, the film only retreads the same formula and fails to pass as a superior version, mostly because of the prevailing Hays Code. Don't get me wrong, it is a good film in its own right and it's served by solid acting and confident directing, but the good parts were either as good in the 1931 version or better.
Although he looks more middle-aged than "young", Spencer Tracy delivers a fine performance as Dr. Jekyll, he's an ambitious, stubborn man who doesn't hesitate to confront a suspicious and unfriendly crowd when exposing some politically incorrect ideas about the natural duplicity of the human soul. And while he's a great Jekyll, Tracy can't explore the evil richness of Hyde as March was allowed to. I don't think it's a comment on his acting abilities since Tracy is the epitome of versatility, but something must have been too limiting in that directing from Fleming.
Mamoulian who did the 1931 film was a Russian so he could inject some bold creativity and he did but Fleming was too conventional, if we except the one scene where I thought I was watching a Hitchcock movie. There's perhaps one stroke of genius that elevates the film slightly above its predecessor. During the transformation scene, a hallucination shows Jekyll whipping two horses whose faces are slowly transposed to the two women: Lana Turner who plays Beatrix, the eye-candy society lady and Ingrid Bergman who plays hell-for-soul prostitute Ivy Pearson. Apart from that one blow at the Code, the film might have been too 'good' for its own good.
Tracy could then only venture his character in the realm of emotional volatility rather than that bestial lust that made March so domineering. In the dinner scene, there's a lady referring to that new chap named Oscar Wilde. I don't think that was incongruous, among Wilde's famous quotations: "the best way to resist temptation is to yield to it.". The Jekyll/Hyde story has always been built on two chapters: Jekyll resisting the temptation and Hyde's dark indulgences. But there's nothing in that Jekyll that seems ever exposed to the temptations, even when he first meets Ivy, Tracy plays it like a father figure and Bergman's heart is broken. We see love more than lust.
And it doesn't get better with Hyde, the 1931 one had the face of a prehistoric man, incarnating our hidden impulses, Hyde here is evil all right but the very point of Hyde is to be more than a villain, here he looks like some bum escaped from an asylum, a rabid dog ready to bite out of despair, but not like some individual driven by something repressed for years. Maybe it's Lana Turner as Beatrix who failed to inspire Tracy (too voluptuous and sweet) but in the 1931 film, you could feel the sexual tension between Rose Hobart and March, and a similar tension between Jekyll and Ivy (played by Myriam Hopkins).
I guess, the code is to be blamed, because while it does expose battle between the forces of good and evil in human soul, the line that Jekyll has to cross is never drawn in clear terms. There were even moments where it was hard to tell if he was Jekyll turning into Hyde or the opposite, and even harder to believe his friend and colleague and best friend Lanyon (Ian Hunter) didn't know it was Jekyll. Still, for all these flaws, the film has one asset and not the least, her name is Ingrid Bergman. I read that it was her performance in "Intermezzo" that won her the part for "Casablanca", I'm pretty confident that this film achieved to convince the producers, she was good on an Oscar level, proving to have some gift when it came to play long suffering women.
There was something in her performance as the poor ill-fated Ivy that almost stole the thunder of Jekyll and Hyde and avoided her typecast as 'nice women', she embodied the trauma of women who're pleasant enough to appeal to respectable men but can only attract sleazy thugs like Hyde. She was a real tragic character and indirectly the redeeming factor of the film. I didn't feel scared by Hyde as much as I felt sorry for Ivy. And the way she went from childish joy to sheer terror when the shadow of Hyde begun to creep was perhaps the most painful to watch moment. Yes she was that good.
And she was so good that according to Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy wanted Bergman to play the dual role and I thought that was an interest twist on the story, how about the duplicity of women as well as men. Lana Turner didn't add nothing to the film (without ruining it though) so it's sad that Fleming didn't follow that advice, who knows, maybe the film's reputation would have been enhanced? It's still worth to watch for the atmosphere, the performances of the two leads but this is one movie where the context is crucial to understand where it succeeded, and where it failed. Fortunately, there's still the 1931 version, and it is the definite one.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920)
For its first spectacular movie debut, a very interesting take on Dr. Jekyll's personality...
The "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" DVD I took from the library featured both the 1931 and 1941 version. To be honest, after finishing the two films, I didn't feel the need to watch any other version. Not that I thought the 1941 version broke any particular ground, but I said in my review that it was enhanced by the performance of Ingrid Bergman while undermined by the Hays Code. It was good but the 1931 version was the definite one as far as I was concerned.
But I'm a movie trivia buff and checking on the list of memorable screen-characters nominated for the American Film Institute's Top 100 Heroes and Villains, I saw that both Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde were nominated. But it was Fredric March' Hyde vs. John Barrymore's Jekyll, so there had to be something pretty heroic about Jekyll to deserve that spot and I wanted to make up my own mind. And given how slightly disappointed I was by the 1941 film, I thought maybe the 1920 version explored some realms omitted by the 1931, maybe that the rise of the talkies didn't permit or made obsolete.
I knew I could easily find it on Youtube, so I watched it and I'm glad I did. It is perhaps one of the earliest classics of the horror genre (two years before "Nosferatu") and while made by a rather unknown director named Robertson but it features a very recognizable face from Golden Age buffs: John Barrymore, who's probably to American movies what Jean Marais was to French Cinema. By that I mean he probably possesses one of the best-looking male profiles I saw recently, of course, he's more than a pretty face. John Barrymore embodies through his performance as Jekyll the torment of a good man, Jekyll is a figure supposed to represent the uptight Victorian man, but it's not as a symbol as we feel sorry for him.
In an era where men were supposed to hide their feelings and impulses, and maintain their facade of respectability while indulging to the darker calls of human soul, Jekyll is an abnormally decent man. He's presented as a 'philanthropist' by nature, because he's a doctor in medicine, but it's not just about his chosen professional path. This is a man who's innately good, who maintains an old repair shop at his own expenses to treat the poor people. He's a good man and not even devoured by ambition, one would think Mr. Carew already had the perfect son-in-law but the man couldn't believe a man was so good as he looked, his cynicism set up the story and backfired at him.
So it's during a banal dinner conversation that the father-in-law raises the idea of the battling between good and bad self, the metaphor used is left or right hand, just because he doesn't use one for writing or eating, doesn't mean he can't ever use it. The man also encourages the young chap to live his young age, and stop dedicating him time to the others, he quotes Oscar Wilde: "the best way to resist a temptation is yield to it". This plants in Jekyll's mind the idea of separating the two parts of the human soul, letting a man fulfill his worst desires while leaving the soul untouched. Quite fascinating to have a Jekyll about someone being ashamed from being 'too good'.
But the merit of this "good" Jekyll is that he's about to become a real contrasting personality to his Mr. Hyde alter ego. Edward Hyde is basically as hideous and menacing as Jekyll looked good and romantic, and Hyde's face keeps on going more and more bestial looking until the final scene where he's a real monster of a man. The duplicity is powerfully suggested and makes the figure of Jekyll a real tragic one. In both the 1931 and 1941 version, the tragic figure was Ivy Pearson, the 'bad company' woman, but this one gives more latitude and substance to the figure of Jekyll, maybe to show that a man can be victim of his impulses or victims of his own attempts to resist them.
The film's power totally lies on John Barrymore's performance and the other characters are eye candy but only valuable players at his periphery, Nina Naldi (said to be the female Valentino) plays the woman of exotic charm and Martha Mansfield (who died tragically as a freak accident) is the obligatory female woman but the real arc belongs to Barrymore. It is also worth noticing that, being a silent film, the film provides more ominous sights of Victorian London, perhaps because they didn't need to "stage" it in 1920 and the texts are more impacting than all the speeches from the other films.
Again like many old silent movies, the looks or sounds depend on the versions, I watched one without the sepia tones and with the organ music, but I don't think they were integral to the film's enjoyment. I still consider the 1931 one to be the best, but this one comes closer.
Cyrano de Bergerac (1950)
The man who could never keep a low profile (literally)...
Michael Gordon's "Cyrano de Bergerac" was a pleasant experience as long as it was carried by the flamboyant eloquence and thunderous voice of actor Jose Ferrer, which means a good portion of the film. But Edmond Rostand's iconic play isn't just the tale of a poet and a fighter, it is also an iconic romance, the story of a magnificent love triangle, where the looks of a man, and the wits of another create the perfect suitor for the heart of Roxane who's not a bland heroine either.
But Jose Ferrer, who won the Oscar for that role (and it was the only nomination) was good, too good, so good he made any role thankless. Young but witless Christian (William Prince) and the beautiful Roxane (Mala Powers) are unfortunately no match for Ferrer who owns the show whenever he appears. It's all natural when it comes to Cyrano who is a larger-than-life character (let alone the scenery) but the irony of the story lies on the way Cyrano must keep a low profile, to allow the romance between Roxanne and Christian to blossom.
Cyrano provides the good lines to Christian and consoles himself by the way she's truly conquered by the power of her love, it's as if she still loved a part of her doomed cousin. This is love by proxy, but the power is left intact and you can tell from the emotional involvement of Cyrano that he's accept his fate as half a doom, half a blessing. But Jose Ferrer is such a presence that the film's level of excitement inevitable fades where he's not there. His "nose" is so big it overshadows any other flaws. And reality joined fiction at the Oscar ceremony.
Ferrer wasn't even present at the ceremony but his voice was enough, you could tell it was Cyrano winning, and it's only fair that the other iconic performance of Cyrano de Bergerac, by Gérard Depardieu, won a similar award. Cyrano de Bergerac is just a daydream of any actor but not any actor can pull such powerful, over-the-top yet exhilarating performances. Ferrer does a magnificent job but even his performance can't make up for the rather, bland theatrical look, more apparent at the beginning, but the blurry black and white cinematography gives it the look of the TV movies we watched in little side.
The sword fights choreographs are actually very convincing and you could really hear the crossing of irons, but there are moments though that betrayed some low budget aspect and it doesn't really help to enhance the enjoyment of the story. One could think that the French version, considered now as the classic one did the film a disservice, in fact, it didn't, one could watch it with more forgiving eyes.
And it's a fair adaptation of Rostand's play but it needed a bigger budget and maybe a French version after all. The last line about the "panache" has been translated by "white plum", and I humbly believed it was a mistake, Cyrano has always been about a sword, a big nose, and a panache. But not in the meaning of a whit