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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!
This is not to say that all great comedies culminate at the ending, some romantic comedies have a rather conventional closing scene, other can be surprisingly emotional or bittersweet, but it's precisely on these memorable endings, regardless of their effects, that some classic comedies have a special spot in our heart and our memories.
So, which of these classic comedies has the most memorable ending?
After voting, you may discuss the list here
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?
Burn After Reading (2008)
Zany screwball paranoid thriller with faux suspense and real laughs...
Remember that quote from Bart Simpson about cartoons being just a bunch of hilarious moments with no messages at all?
Well, you can believe "Burn After Reading" says something about the incompetence of secret services, the growing paranoia of the post-9/11 era and how you could make a mountain of nonsense out of the smallest piece of randomness, it's tempting to see some hidden meanings behind the madly elaborate plot, but I'd rather take the 'Bart Simpson' option and see this as another proof that the Coen brothers don't need to conform to any specific style or narrative. In other words, they're just having fun.
And why shouldn't they? After "No Country for Old Men", they probably wanted to get back to their roots and make a screwball comedy à la "Raising Arizona" without the luxury of a heart-warming subplot, though Frances McDormand's obsession with her plastic surgery carries something poignant despite the ridiculous height her obsession reaches. The Coens had won a Best Picture Oscar with a movie that provided one of their most iconic characters, they couldn't possibly surpass themselves two years in a row, so before turning to more serious movies, they had to make "Burn After Reading". I read many critics trying to give it more meaningfulness than it has, but what these critics lack is obvious perspective, when you realize that they made after it their personal masterpiece, "A Serious Man", you see "Burn After Reading" as a relaxed step backwards before another big leap.
And relaxed seems like the fitting word, it is remarkable how the actors are having fun playing either against type or their usual type to over the top proportions, revealing so many weaknesses and insecurities you realize this is one of these rare instances where a film is only driven by losers, even "Fargo" had bad-ass state trooper Marge Gunderson played by Frances McDormand. Speaking of this great actress, we know she's never been a sex symbol or bound to pretty glamorous roles, so it's a credit even if they used a double- to her to set the tone right at the start when we see a doctor checking the flaws of every single part of her body, her floppy underarms, her belly but there's no voyeurism in that scene, nor is it played for cheap laughs. It is the most important scene of the film, because for all the hilarious gags it paves the way to, if the film ever had one pillar, one pattern, one unshakable element is Linda Litzke's desire to have a complete plastic surgery. Unrealistic? My wife wanted a nose surgery ever since I married her, now, she's done it so I could relate to Linda's obsession. Actually, I was surprised by the number of situations I could relate to.
The film opens with the firing of CIA analyst Osbourne Cox because of an alcoholism problem and the way the whole scene is played works perfectly. I giggled a little during the interactions between John Malkovich (Cox) and his officer (David Harshe) but then I laughed during the confrontation with his wife, a domineering nagging "stuck-up bitch" played by Tilda Swinton, accusing him of relying on her money. And I lost it when he said he was going to pull himself together and do some consulting or that he's always dreamed to be a writer. Anyone who's been unemployed know that "consulting" and "writing" are like the euphemism for being a job-less schmuck moving in circles and slippers in your home. Some fancy words to describe the obvious yes, Cox is a loser and his wife makes him even more of a loser, she is just so unbearable, you've got to wonder what Harry found in her.
Which takes us to Harry, George Clooney as a man married to a successful children book writer also a bored womanizer. At first, Clooney plays it like his usual Cary Grant of the 2000's but then he channels the performance of Tom Ewell in "The Seven-Year Itch , it's fun to see actors playing in or against their own tropes, Tilda Swinton being more stuck-up and pompous than usual or Clooney trying to convince us that he can be a loser too. But the gold medal of playing against type belongs to Brad Pitt, I wasn't fond of his Aldo Raine in" Inglourious Basterds" but "Burn After Reading" was the perfect platform for an over-the-top comedic performance, as a dim-witted gymnasium Dude who try to play a game too big for him, and endanger his life while a simple smack in his face almost ran him to tears. Pitt's performance is a highlight in a movie, you could tell he was still carried away by his zany persona in Tarantino's movie but it didn't fit.
Here it does because the film IS a joke, it's not meant to make a point but to make you laugh, there is some intelligence behind its seemingly pointlessness but there are two key characters in the film who act like a Greek chorus. The officer who fired Cox and his boss played by JK Simmons, their reactions to the current events are just pure bafflement, they're powerless and can only wait for ensuing development. They perfectly embody our position as viewers and while not tying the movie together, the ending provides the perfect punch-line, not that it doesn't end in a rather anticlimactic way, but it's a movie whose McGuffin is a CD that is given more value than it deserves, maybe a clever reference to the film's plot. Who cares of its meaning when it's played for gags? When even a simple picture of Putin hanging in the background make you laugh for no reason.
Once again, the only unshakable truth is that Linda wants her plastic surgery, and that's enough to drive a plot, and everyone crazy in the process, Americans, Russian and CIA included.
"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.
Saving Mr. Banks (2013)
In the Company of Disney (and the Shadow of Mary Poppins)
Walt Disney has become a brand-name invoking a world of perpetual enchantment and demonstrations of friendliness so over the top they can confine to a tyranny of smiles. That's a very cynical way to look at it but not too far-fetched. Still, as a father of a little girl and given how enamored she was with "Frozen" and how she seems to enjoy the old cartoons I show her on Youtube, I can't deny that Disney (the man or the company) always had a way with children and pardon the cliché, the inner child in all of us.
So it's quite fun to see the Walt Disney company producing a movie where all the archetypes of Disney would be disdained by a stuck-up British lady who's no one else but the writer of "Mary Poppins", P.L. Travers played by a delightful Emma Thompson. It's also fun to see the one receiving these critics being good old Disney himself, played by Tom Hanks. He doesn't try to imitate Disney but "Saving Mr. Banks" isn't intended to be a formal biopic about how the tycoon got the rights for what would become one of his most successful and iconic works.
The film plays on a more emotional level, it is about two visions, two convictions that should have made Mickey Mouse and Mary Poppins walk hand-in-hand to contribute to a masterpiece (the poster is a perfect summary of the film on that level)... only it took twenty years. It was a promise made to his daughters that Walt Disney couldn't allow himself to break, make a film out Travers' classic "Mary Poppins", but the woman, a stubborn Aussie, wouldn't have the glitter and the schmaltzy bliss of Disney tarnish the legacy of her book. She had a misconception, taking Disney for some modern-day Santa Claus but so did Disney by misunderstanding the woman and ignoring the sources of her inspiration, some tragic ones.
The film offers many flashbacks of Travers' childhood during which we witness the fallout of her family, from the descent into sickness and alcoholism of her father, to the attempted suicide of her mother and a nurse that took care of her family when she was seven. Just like John Lee Hancock's previous film "The Blind Side", the film seems very simple and straightforward until, you start to grasp a specific subtext. In "The Blind Side", there's a moment where we clearly question the motivations of the Tuohy Family, if it wasn't just about football, and then this question is answered. In "Mr Banks", we know Travers doesn't want any animation, any red color, but we quickly realize there's something else eating her.
She wants Mr. Banks shaven, to be a good man, she has an obsession with Mr. Banks even more than the children or maybe Mary Poppins, the flashbacks centering on her well-meaning but unlucky father played by Colin Farrell allows us to reassemble the pieces of the puzzle and understand what the purpose of Mary Poppins was. There's a pattern in the film consisting on all the friendliest moments (and Travers is quite devoid of immediate warmth) involves a father or one invoking father's memories. Nothing Oedipal about it, it's just speaks about people who accomplished major works by translating the burden of their childhood into something positive.
Of course, Disney's body of work is superior but there's no denial that Travers contributed to his most iconic creation, his first Best Picture nomination and a classic for all ages. We know "Mary Poppins" will be made anyway, and the efforts of the Sherman brothers or Disney executive will pay off, but the film is enjoyable on the simple level of these interactions and the so conflicting mentalities of Disney, a cheerful man but astute businessman and a woman who's taking her book very personally. It's only after she realizes how personal it is to Disney that she finally trusts him
and the rest is history.
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.
Hauru no ugoku shiro (2004)
However painful it is to write this, but this time, Miyazaki indulged to self grandiosity
I'm glad that Hayao Miyazaki reconsidered his decision to retire otherwise his 2004 "Howl's Moving Castle" would be his last movie I'd experience and well, you got it, it wasn't as pleasant as the previous ones. I watched it three times, as I used to because his movies tend to be rich content and form wise so the two aspects can distract one from another, but then checking some other users' comments, I stuck to my initial reaction: the animation is as great as you can expect from the master but it's one of these cases where, paraphrasing Emperor Joseph from "Amadeus", you can just sigh and say there are simply too many 'notes'.
Don't get me wrong, it's not a case of Emperor with no clothes, but with so many clothes you can't even recognize him anymore. But I had my reservations from the beginning because the title reminded me of "Castle in the Sky" and that film didn't leave me ecstatic either, an action-packed coming-of-age story, puppy romance with environmentalist and anti-war messages venturing in the realm of magic led to a real overdose of effects not easily 'digestible' by a younger audience. The film is still just a lighter version of "Howl's Moving Castle", a real 'fantasy' bouillabaisse and perhaps the unique instance where a point came I stopped to care about the film and was waiting for it to end.
Was it because Miyazaki was so intoxicated by the universal (and deserved) acclaim of "Chihiro's Travel" that he felt he could fly that close to the sun and get away with it, there was just something a tad pretentious in that late-minute eruption of fantasy and witchcraft. And yet it started so promisingly
I just loved the quiet beginning in that small European town, I figured the action took place during World War I, then it started with a meek and mousy milliner named Sophie who's saved from two bullying soldiers by a handsome flying 'angel' named Hauru (the titular Howl) and then you have your set-up for a typical Miyazaki journey, a young female candidate for a great coming-of-age story, flying, magic and war as the backdrop. Then the troubles begin: a cruel sorceress named the Witch of the Waste turns Sophie (for no apparent reason) into an old woman and not only we've had to say goodbye to the pleasant look of Sophie to (yet another) ugly looking grandmother. What's with Miyazaki and old women anyway?
Still, the real problem is that the personality of Sophie changes as well, in fact, it changes so radically that she becomes like another character. This might be the most disturbing thing about the film, all through her adventure; the changes in Sophie's looks and personality are so inconsistent that I had a hard time detecting the aspect of her personality that was meant to evolve. I initially thought being an old woman would help her to embrace life with more enthusiasm, but she seemed to have understood it very quickly and become your typical domineering lady as soon as she enters the castle (with the help of the turnip-face scarecrow). So what was Sophie's lesson to learn?
From the ending, we gather that "Howl's Moving Castle" was meant to end like a love story. I didn't read the original novel from Diana Wynne Jones (in fact, when I heard the name "Witch of the Waste and saw the scarecrow, I expected a 'Wizard of Oz' like journey) but even in the novel, I guess there was an arc to close, but here, Sophie falls in love with Howl or Hauru, why? She did save him in a way but since she spent most of her time as an old lady trying to break her spell, she acted more as a motherly figure helping an insecure kid, those were interesting twists on the usual characterization, but at the end it seems that there's a return to a basic narrative that didn't match the beginning.
I quite enjoyed the film say after the visit to the Queen and then, the overuse of magic and ominous malevolent spirits, then the chants and the chases and I just stared at the screen and thought "boy, that escalated quickly". The problem with magic is that it's a double-edged sword, basically when the main protagonist is victim of a curse, her 'love' interest is a wizard, the nemesis turned protagonist is a witch, and the wise queen an even crueler witch, and the castle is a magic spirit moved by a talking fire, well, there are so many possibilities there's no savor to unpredictability anymore, it becomes boring. The movie goes in too many directions and magic shortcuts itself in a chaotic extravaganza. Kiki's incapability to fly the broom was more intense than anything from "Howl's" climax.
Yes, the film is visually pleasant but at some point but so are many Terry Gilliam's movies and they're not in the same league of greatness. At least, "Castle in the Sky" had the pirates and couldn't be a love story anyway, while "Howl's Moving Castle" seems to cut-and-paste all the usual elements of Miyazaki and provide a great entertainment without any 'ubstance', the ingredients are all there but making a film is also like making a good cake. Miyazaki did this film like the pastry cook who's just finished his cake, added some Chantilly cream, then some fruits, then some raspberry coulis, and then some walnuts individually, they all taste great but in the same recipe, they can only contribute to something indigestible.
While not a bad movie or a misfire, I think this is just Miyazaki being carried away at the most pivotal moment of the film and realizing at the last minute that it should have a proper ending. Definitely a case where the best was the enemy of the good.
Der Himmel über Berlin (1987)
Makes making great movies look easy
Make nothing happen and viewers will look at your film like in a mirror ... the more boring and insignificant, the more meaningful it will be ... it will show your true independence, your courageous stance toward cinematic conventions. No you won't undergo the tyranny of plot, the dictatorship of having to "tell a story", the screen says its truth and they'll be there to experience it, and to drop some positive labels such as: a true-to-life story, a character study, like-looking-in-a-mirror, slap-in-a-face with a haunting atmosphere carried by monochrome photography.
Nothing happens? You didn't get it? Never mind, some stuff is just beyond rational thinking and this is why Art Movies are for, conveying the kind of messages that demand many viewings to be fully gotten, and since you target a niche market, you'll find followers. The point is to explore abstraction and metaphysics , psychological and spiritual subjects, whose introspective content will justify the use of a dream-like atmosphere and a poetic screen writing, there is no answer to life, why should this film have one.
I won't go as far as saying that "Wings of Desire" is arty indie for dummies but seriously, I've tried. I really wanted to plug my mind into that profound and stylish contemplation of human existence or the sheer loneliness of the human soul, inspiring at the end all these smart-sounding fancy words that make you sound like you've grasped a parcel of the director's light but I couldn't.
I won't drop any director's names to tell you that I can handle intellectual movies, allow me just to say one thing about Ingmar Bergman, he's made movies that are as enigmatic and hypnotically bizarre-yet-intellectually-deep as Wim Wenders but one of his most notable trademarks is that his movies rarely lasted more than eighty or ninety minutes.
Roger Ebert said that a good movie is never too long and a bad one never too short, I won't call "Wings of Desire" a bad movie but its languorous pacing and the time it takes to get to the point is so slow that even if you want to stay glued to the screen, you can't. The first act struck me as the kind of sequences you'd watch when embedded in the hospital, in fact, it's the kind of movie you'd watch at an old age or at the verge of death, staring at the screen while being carried away by your own "vague à l'âme" as they say in French.
The film has Bruno Ganz, Peter Falk and the same cinematographer who worked in Cocteau's "Beauty and the Beast" but it also has a melancholic and moody take on life and you must probably be in the proper mood to 'enjoy' it, I tried seven years ago and I could barely finish it, I tried twice again, I just gave up. Maybe I'm not as much into this kind of film; maybe I've watched too many films to ever take seriously one that features so much existential voice-over and monochrome photography. The film tries too much to be that intellectual knockout, I tried to have some glimpses on the Bonus Features but even Wenders' interview bored the hell out of me.
Then I tried to get some insights from master Yoda himself, the great Roger Ebert and I found this little pearl where he's commenting on the acting of Solveig Dommarten, the deceased actress who played the trapeze artist. His comment reminded me of my instant dislike of Aurore Clément's performance in Wim Wenders' previous success "Paris, Texas", I found her so bad she was almost distracting, now here's a similar observation from Roger Ebert, albeit in more flattering terms:
"That may make it a "bad" scene in terms of the movie's narrow purposes, but does it have a life of its own? Yes, for the same reasons it's flawed. Movies are moments of time, and that is a moment I am happy to have."
I think that's the worst symptom of "great" movies, genuine flaws are perceived as 'moments of time', of 'genuineness', we're talking of the stuff that potentially ruin careers and I don't see why it should be minimized because it's a great director, when it's a bad one, we find the flaws, when it's a good one, we find the excuses.
And we do look for excuses because typically, these movies say less about the directors than the detractors, I'm quite aware that this film has an existential value, but I think I just walked off symbolically from the theater and embraced my own desire to fly over these contemplative issues. I'll try again, in seven years
56 Up (2012)
The "Up" series or perhaps the most noblest form of 'Reality Show'
And here we are, for the last chapter of Michael Apted's "Up" series. Fourteen lives I've been following from their childhood to the age of maturity. And seeing them getting older and wiser, contemplating their achievements, has always made me consider my own life hasn't anyone?
This is not a series about lives, but Life. And these persons were no laboratory rats though the initial purpose of the "Seven Up" short was to make a point on the British class system. Granada Productions' bias was even more obvious since they didn't select kids from middle classes (not many girls too). But the more the subjects grew on life and on us, the less these considerations mattered.
And for once, I won't be too analytical, I think maybe the key to this show's appeal is the likability of all the subjects. They are different, but they are all good and decent. And this struck the man I am belonging to their children's generation. Indeed, had "Up" been about Millennials, there might have been more "Neils" and less "Pauls" or "Andrews". Here, they had their share of ups and downs, separations, health issues, deaths but they always managed to look at the bright side of life. And maybe the program did play a part to that.
Indeed, in my "49 Up" review, I didn't take Suzie's reluctance to participate in '56' for granted, and I was right. And it was a pleasant surprise to see Nick sitting next to her. Together, they have grown a friendship due to their rural upbringing and agreed on many points about the limitating format of the program, that it only offered short glimpses on their lives but the merit was in the lessons and perspectives offered by the sums of all these experiences.
Suzie and Nick were critical but they were there all right, reckoning the cathartic value of the documentary as each 'time' snapshot of their lives allowed them to stop once in a while and examine their previous accomplishments like their own viewers, before becoming actors again. And for similar reasons, the other participants admitted a sense of commitment to the documentary not to mention, friendship with Apted. I could swear I hear them calling him "Michael" more than all the previous episodes put together. Even Jackie who had settled a few records in '49'. This "56" edition was as fascinating as the "49" because it really reflected a new attitude toward life, let alone the camera.
Was it a coincidence that separate participants revealed new elements about their lives at that particular episode? John regretted that he was constantly shown as a privileged child while his father died when he was 9, Andrew finally revealed that the "Financial Times" line was something his father told him to say. Like for Jackie in the previous episode, we realize that the documentary format can't reflect the deep and complex aspects of reality, but doesn't social life work on the same flawed way? At least, they're able to be vocal about a few misconceptions.
Another happy twist was Peter's return after 28 years, he left the show after a massive press backlash following harsh comments on Thatcher's policy. He's back with another wife, playing in a musical band, and satisfied to have created at least something of 'valuable' durability. This episode is really one surprise after another as if Apted himself was aware of the artificiality of narratives and deconstructed the very format that structured the show.
Charles isn't shown anymore (I read that he sued Apted forcing him to remove his footage, what an irony for a fellow documentary maker) and even the order of appearances has been altered. We don't see the three "lower class" girls together anymore, Neil appears at the start and he seems very active as a District Counsellor and a religious clerk, and it's only at the end that we meet Tony. I used to consider Neil the "soul" of the show, but what would the "Up" series be without Tony, the cab driver who's apparently more famous in Britain than Buzz Aldrin?
Collecting the memories of his youth again, I find it very ironic that Tony had to gain "The Knowledge" to become a cab driver. In fact, this could refer to all the participants, they all gained a form of knowledge, even Simon confessed that he was too lazy to study and kept on looking for excuses. Acknowledging that is a form of knowledge. There's nothing more humbling than the passing of time and what we take for wisdom is simply the capability to say "What do I know?".
I tried to play the Sorcerer's apprentice when Paul's wife said the show kept them together, I was thinking of Nick and Peter's wives and maybe something seemed already shaky in their marriage, as if you could adapt the Jesuit maxim of a "show me a kid until he's seven and I'll show you the man" for a marriage at seven months. I think the consensus is that you can't predict what will happen to someone, but maybe there's a core-personality that never changes, and that can take many directions driven by life circumstances, for better or worse.
And that's just the way it is. Finally, after watching the final opus (so far); I went on reading their bios on Wikipedia and I was saddened by the death of Lynn in 2013. But was it a surprise? Wasn't it a miracle that none of the died in 49 years? Now, should it go on to 70? 84?
They've became a part of my life and now, for the next two years, I'll be missing the show and that "at the end of the day" sequence with that thrilling score at the end. Paraphrasing the original narrator, this has been quite a glimpse! And an experience I shall never forget!
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.
Fantasia 2000 (1999)
This is the "masterpiece" Disney studios prepared while making real masterpieces
From Uncle Walt's own admittance, "Fantasia" was the kind of one-hit wonder that could only be elaborated, improved but never duplicated, I don't even think it could be improved. It wasn't a kind of something, but one of a kind. There can't be another "Fantasia" as much as there can't be another Mona Lisa or Eiffel Tower. I guess that Walt Disney meant the "concept" of "Fantasia" rather than the finished result. After all, there couldn't make a second "Bambi" but they could make "The Lion King".
So the concept can be duplicated indeed and for as long as animation is here to entertain children and adult, the temptation to combine music and drawings in a harmony of sounds, shapes and colors would be too great not to yield to it. I myself do a lot of editing and I can relate to the satisfaction in combining movements with music, I can relate to the struggle to find the right musical piece to match visual footage or the opposite. "Fantasia" plays in another league of course, but this is the common denominator between the professional wizards and the computer's sorcerer's apprentices, we use music as an imagination tool and animation as a choreography. Any work combining both is a potential "Fantasia" segment.
Inimitable maybe, but inevitable indeed.
But ever since its iconic predecessor, the sequel of "Fantasia" had been delayed for years and years. It was a dream from Walt Disney to make it a series, a franchise but the relative failure at the box-office put an end to this dreams. There would be no "Fantasia" sequel but the Disney Studios still provided between 1941 and 1950, two animated musical based on the same structure: "Melody Time" and "Make my Music". These films were made on the cusp of the first Golden Age and the Renaissance with "Cinderella" and were not lacking charm of their own. "Blame it on the Samba", "The Flight of the Bumblebee", "Casey at the Bat" and "Peter and the Wolf" were among the few shorts that emerged above the overall forgettable quality of these movies, at a time where Disney was looking for a second breath of creativity.
It is said that it was the success of home video release of "Fantasia" in the early 90's that convinced Roy E. Disney to make the sequel, it was the project of the decade, taking years and years within the 90's to collect and reassemble all the vignettes, initially, three clips from "Fantasia" were supposed to be kept but at the end, only "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" made it. "Fantasia 2000" tries to capture the same magic of the Creation of the World sequence with a ballet of flying whales, the abstract opening with Beethoven's Fifth Symphony is a reminiscent of Toccata E Fogue in D Minor from Johann Sebastian Bach and you can tell the Pink Flamingoes is a cute nod to the ballet of hippos and alligators, and it's the part I enjoyed the most, short, funny and whimsical.
And the film doesn't always keep itself under the first one's shadow, it features an interesting sketchy version of Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" paying a tribute to veteran caricaturist Harry Hirschfield and a second short involving a beloved Disney figure, a reconstitution of the Noah Ark episode with Donald Duck. But as visually energetic and beautiful as these shorts look, there's something that seems to fall flat ever since it starts, whether it's the knowledge that most of it is computer imagery or because it just takes itself too seriously for its own good. I mean, flying whales or animals entering the ark, wasn't that a bit too pompous? The 'Donald' part was like a rehash on the Lion King's opening and didn't have much to offer. The "Blame it on the Samba" segment in "Melody Music" was a better use of the iconic duck, instead of Edgar's "Pump and Circumstances".
And it is indeed "pompous in the circumstances", while not a disappointment, the film leaves a lot to be desired and doesn't 't succeed in capturing the magic of the first. It is also spoiled by the introductions from various celebrities (Steve Martin, Quincy Jones, Elizabeth Landsbury, Bette Midler ) giving it the odd flavor of a TV ceremony rather or one of these "Once Upon a Time " documentaries rather than a legitimate theatrical feature film. The film even misses the opportunity of a great finale and ends in a very anticlimactic and rushed fashion with ending credits popping up right after the end of the last clip. If you're going to play it like a show, the least you can do is to say us goodbye and wishing we've enjoyed it. It must have looked great in these IMAX theaters but the format was kind of cheap given the spectacular entertainment it was supposed to be.
It is very ironic that the sequel of "Fantasia", as intended so, was released, in 1999 at the end of Disney Renaissance with "Tarzan" and before the sorry trend of sequels to previous classics. I still don't know if we should consider "Fantasia 2000" as the worst movie of the Disney Renaissance or the best sequel made in that trend, but it wouldn't make the Top 10, not even Top 20 of the best Disney experiences on screen, it certainly looks great and some parts are magnificent-looking, but overall, the quality is very uneven.
Finding Dory (2016)
"Finding Nemo" was such a self-sufficient and satisfying masterpiece it was beyond the predictability of needing a sequel. But once again know-it-all executives chose the easy way, milking the success of a beloved animated movie and making an ersatz of a sequel . 13 years after. It's all about the numbers, right? Well here's a number: 10. 10 reasons why the film sucked.
1. Saccharine overdose, I expect many cutesy elements in a Disney Pixar movie, it first started with the babyish version of Dory, with those big eyes meant to make hearts melt and then she opened her mouth and I could have sworn the casting agents auditioned thousands of kids to find which one would have the cutest voice ever. Yes, she was adorable but it was like a doctor telling me to open my mouth and "say aaaaaaaw".
2. The action starts too quickly, a random school trip on mister Ray's back, a random Dory's intrusion, and a random flashback and pop goes the Dory. "Finding Dory" was trying to create an emotional connection between the opening scene and the adult Dory but it felt just too rushed, it's not like we've seen Dory longing for her lost parents before, she just happens to remember she had parents.
3. You don't base the plots on comic reliefs, there was a reason why the short-term memory loss was used for Dory, it was a defining character's trait but also a running gag, here it structures the plot and makes it dependent on Dory's flashes of memories coming at the most conveniently possible time, just when she's in a false track or a dead end, there's something that pushes her on the road again. The first movie was following a simple trajectory, and was dependent on a few encounters and obstacles, here it's all about hazardous contrivances and twists of luck.
4. The film is about Dory trying to find her parents, the title makes a little sense although it was the only possible one establishing a continuity with the first film. The problem is that the title basically establishes the story from Marlin and Nemo's perspective and they're secondary characters, in fact, they're as "pivotal" as Indiana Jones in "Raiders", we understand their presence but they're also here to show that the animators didn't believe Dory alone was capable to carry a whole movie. They were right, we needed the pairs of clown fishes as the straight ones, oh the irony!
5. Too much repetition, of course it's inevitable if your main character is suffering from short-term memory loss but how many times did she needed to mention it, how many times did we need to see an excited and happy Dory just going all tail ahead. She was a lovable buffoon in the first, hysterical in a good way, now she's hysterical in the worst possible way. Everything that made the first film genuinely funny became rapidly annoying here and don't get me started on the whale speak.
6. Caricatured characterization, try to say that quickly. It seems pretty obvious for Dory, but how about Marlin? Basically, he's learned nothing from the first film, and he's still acting like a paranoid over-protective sad sack, not only that, but he says perhaps the most terrible thing to Dory without immediately apologizing, following the idiot plot where anything can be solved if the right words are said.
7. Too much time spent above the water,. I don't mind a fish going from an ocean to a tank, but this trip was a bit far-fetched even for a movie that features a fish that can read. The problem is that the first Nemo started with a shocker, but if the very rules of that sequel applied in the first film, the Barracuda or the dentist's fish tank wouldn't have caused much trouble. In a universe where a fish can talk to a sea-lion, travel on a crazy seagull, or when an octopus can easily vanish from sight like a chameleon, any thing is possible. These are not the rules "Finding Nemo" was based on.
Which leads me to that infamous car chase, Fonzie jumped the sharks, Dory jumped the truck it's the same ruining effect. It's not enough that it's possibly the most overused climactic sequence in an action-packed movie, they had to indulge to it an a supposedly aquatic adventure. How about going for the emotional climax, how about actually making a good use of the aquatic park setting how about not making the damn thing.
8. Indeed, was that trip necessary? Have we ever felt that there something in Dory's arc waiting to be closed. It is usual for animated sequels to focus on a character's background or on the secondary character, it worked with Buzz Lightyear for "Toy Story 2" but that's because there was good material in it. "DreamWorks" also came up with great secondary stories in the "Shrek" or "Kung Fu Panda" series, but Dory is just another-character-looking-for-her-parents with memory losses as a twist. It's a rather thin premise if you asked me. And you can tell they're trying to fatten it with the usual "anything is possible" lesson.
9. What's with that musical schmaltz titled "Unforgettable" did they try to pull a "Skyfall" or what? The song was so James Bond-esque I expected to see a woman's silhouette swimming in the ocean. What a shameful Oscar-bait, the film didn't get any nominations and there's a good reason for that.
10. It wasn't that funny, yeah, yeah, Sigourney Weaver was funny the first time and then got overused, in the French version, they even dubbed it with a famous anchorwoman, which didn't make sense, once again the star system is killing the film I guess every country will have a famous national voice.
the first film was about "Finding Nemo", the second has no reason to exist, except for "Finding Money".