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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"?
Like Father Like Son (1987)
An amusing and promising concept ruined by a poor execution...
"Like Father, Like Son" used to be one of my favorites for the time it lasted on a VHS tape, during eight little months when I was ten. I'm not even sure it does count as an alibi. But let me contextualize this: it was the early 90's, Kirk Cameron was still in my mind Mike Seaver, the epitome of coolness and every Saturday night comedy was still under the 80's influence starring any of John Candy, Dan Aykryod or Dudley Moore. The premise of Moore and Cameron playing father and son and switching bodies (or minds) was so amusing it almost made me love the film before watching it.
I realize that it takes more than a concept to make a movie, and I realize that the film might totally pass over a new generation who associates the name Kirk Cameron to some illuminated newborn bigot and might alas say "Dudley Who?" if you mention the name of the late actor. Some might even wonder what the hell is mother Camdell doing in this series and be shocked to see that the chubby Sam from the "Lord of the Ring" series used to be a clone of Marty McFly. But who am I kidding? The chances for the new generation to know about "Like Father, Like Son" are as low as Miley Cyrus playing the Easter bunny in the next Kirk Cameron movie. Rod Daniel's 1987 movie belong to the infamous league of forgotten 80's flicks that don't even benefit from a second watching.
Indeed, all the nostalgia in the world can't prevent the film from a severe bashing, but still, how could a film reuniting so many acting talents (the supporting roles are good) and with such an amusing concept could generate such a lame and predictable story. Reading the trivia section on IMDb would almost make you believe the director and the actors approached the roles seriously or with the right comedic instinct, but the outcome doesn't validate a word they say and prove the late Ebert right. For one thing, Ebert said that a film involving a brain-transference serum wouldn't have any plot because such a serum would be its own antidote. That's the essence of the idiot plot and I do feel like an idiot not to have thought about it. But even by assuming that the antidote would be a bit more complex to find (still why would the Uncle bring with him the serum and not the antidote?), the film had more infuriating flaws to deal with.
First, the film started well setting up both Dr. Jack and his son Chris Hammond as popular persons in their respective fields, an eminent surgeon promised to be elected head of staff and the cool kid who dates the prettiest girl and is the anchor leg in the next big relay race. The dialogues are convincing and the acting solid but once the switching occurs, the film all goes downhill. And I mean in an immediate way. Cameron was a normal teenager, not too wacky, not too weird, but from the minute Dudley Moore becomes embodies his son's role, he takes the most outrageous 180° turn and starts bawling like a little child. I could pass over the fact that he acted shocked while he could tell what happened (he had just tired the serum on the cat and the dog) but his crying was totally out of character. I was like "Chris wouldn't bawl like this" and that's only the tip of the iceberg.
None of the actors ever tried to capture the other's mimics, well, Cameron tried, for a while but just when he gets on school, he starts to act like a nerdy little geek with an awkward walk that had nothing to do with Dr. Chris Hammond confident stroll over the hospital walls. In fact, the whole body-switching thing was just the starter of a series of events where we can all powerlessly witness each part ruining the other's legacy. Dudley Moore plays Chris Hammond like a ten-year old boy and if Jack wanted to ruin his boy's reputation, he wouldn't have done better. Surely, even a teenager man in his 50's would understand the value of behavior in popularity. And it all escalates to a childish clowning during a boardroom meeting and a romantic dinner with the sexy Margaret Colin leading to a sofa in fire being thrown in a pool. And Chris leaving the concert because the music is too loud. Wow, over the top for Moore and underplayed for Cameron, how about playing the other side of the coin? There was a nice start when "Chris" in Moore's body realized he had a credit card and could drink, but wasn't he supposed to handle girls a way better, how does he turn so awkward when he meets Colin's character?
The film always goes to the obvious gimmick, the song montage, the car chase, the fainting during the delivery scene, painful-to-watch awkwardness while the premise could cover many good things. The remark of Ebert about the actors' accents not changing can even seem as nit-picky, how about that one? Why would that cat bark if he switches mind with the dog? Why would Chris' nemesis want another fight after the beating he gave him a day prior? Why would they turn the head of the hospital into some 'villain' when it was Jack who asked for it by playing weird?
So many questions but life is too precious to ever try to think of them, I won't cherish the film but the nice memory I had of i
while it lasted, and that ending that felt like a cherry on the cake at that time, but the cake was so under-cooked, the cherry miserably sinks inside it. A pity for such a promising concept, not to provide anything remotely amusing.
Les grandes vacances (1967)
Mildly amusing but it doesn't deliver what the score and the poster make you expect...
"The Exchange Student" won the Golden Ticket in 1967, it was the movie that attracted the highest number of viewers, it also marks the fourth time in a row that this feat is achieved by a De Funès comedy (forgive the pleonasm). Indeed, the last two years were his classic works with Gérard Oury: "The Sucker" and "The Great Stroll" (the most successful French movie of all time before being dethroned in 2008 by Dany Boon's "Welcome to the Ch'tis") and before them, Jean Girault first opus of the "Troops" series: "the Gendarme of St Tropez". Fourth time's a charm. It wouldn't happen in 1968 because you just can't beat Walt Disney "The Jungle Book" attracted 14 million people, twice more than any De Funès movie but still less than "The Great Stroll".
Now, why should I always bring up these ponderous statistics when I review a De Funès movie, to be honest, it's because I don't feel much like reviewing this film and I'm just gaining space and time. But if there's a point I'm trying to make is that De Funès' bankable status had firmly been established, that it happened with two different directors, proved was definitely De Funès' talent that attracted the viewers. But 1967 marks a real turn, the top movies of 64, 65 and 66 were objectively the best and are still regarded as De Funès most defining and iconic works, "The Exchange Student" is a good movie that delivers a fair share of laughs but 'legendary' isn't a word I'd use to describe it.
The film has a nice little premise that allows De Funès not to rely much on his expected gimmicks, you know the over-the-top reactions, the grimaces and gesticulations, he's rather quite restrained and it pays off most of the times. It is also the first film where Claude Gensac plays his wife and the chemistry is obvious and would never lack in their next collaborations (she'll be his wife in the next 'Troops" opus the year after). It also features one of the most defining scores of the 60's as Raymond Lefèvre's tempo carries all the joy and exhilaration of this period, whether we're talking of the summer vacations' start of the sixties in France.
The set up is all well-made, De Funès is a tyrannical head of a prestigious boarding school with a rebellious son who got lousy marks in English so he sends him for an exchange program with an English student. The son wants to sails across the Seine so he sends one of his friends to take his place, meanwhile, the English girl comes and it's a matter of a few scenes before she has a love at first sight with De Funès' son and leaves the school. Worried about the negative publicity, he goes looking for them. The plot bears too much resemblance to his chase after his daughter in "The Troops in New York" or to the designer of his ship in the "Little Swimmer". After two classic road movies with De Funès, the concept starts to wear down a little, and watching De Funès harboring different disguises isn't the kind of roaring laughter material it used to be.
This is not to say that there's not much to enjoy in "The Exchange Student", the film is like a time capsule of an innocent France circa 1967, and it features a few interesting moments of clashes between French and British culture, at a time where France was overflown by the Beatle-mania and the rise of the mini-skirts. The interactions between De Funès and Ferdy Mayne, who plays the girl's father provide some of the film's best moments. But the film is more of a product of its era, a sort of illustration of the kind of movies they used to make, but it doesn't really stand on its own right as a must-see De Fune's movie, you can listen to the score on Youtube, watch a few clips, you wouldn't miss much.
It's so forgettable that I even wish it was a little worse so I could care about explaining while it's not good. But here's an example, there's a funny character in the movie, the housemaid, she desperately wants to show a sailor uniform to the British hosts, which in the context of the film, is a rather incriminating piece. De Funès closes the door on the uniform and she keeps pulling it, naturally, the funniest thing he can do is to open the door. But then, do we need to watch her being pushed down to the bed and lose consciousness, the sight of a door opening and hearing her losing her balance would have been enough, but subtlety has never been Girault's strongest suit. The bar brawl that occurs halfway through the film is another instance asking for our indulgence.
And the film is not even that bad, it just mild and innocent entertainment. Even Olivier de Funès, as the younger son, is being given the ungrateful role of the butt-kisser while he looked nothing like a snitch, he'd have better pairing with his father in the 70's but his presence also indicates that De Funès gained more nepotistic power and influence, but I wouldn't consider him accountant for the film's lack of entertainment, he's actually the best thing about the film, he made me wonder if I wouldn't enjoy a school session with him rather than all the sailing trips with boring, predictable youth.
Le gendarme à New York (1965)
As far as gags go, the movie is NOT rich...
"The Troops in New York" is the second opus of the "Gendarme" series that started a year prior in St Tropez and that had catapulted Louis de Funès to the top of the box- office, a place he'd never be dethroned from till his death in 1983. Indeed, even his "lesser" movies would garner at least two-million viewers. He's still in terms of theater's grosses the most successful French actor of all time and 1965 was another defining year of his profitability, proving that 1964 was no lucky strike.
He starred in three of the most successful movies, including two sequels: "The Sucker" with Bourvil, the sequel of the first "Fantomas" and then he wore the gendarme uniform playing his from-now-on forever iconic Maréchal des Logis Ludovic Cruchot in "The Troops in New York". Of course in terms of viewers and grosses, these films were successful, but success is all relative a notion and De Funès' success, while consistent on the commercial level, had its share of ups and downs as far as the critical reception went. "The Sucker" was a commercial and critical success, and there's a reason why it attracted twice more viewers than "The Troops in New York".
Louis de Funès is one of the best comedic actors of all time and the best of his generation, there is just one point where you can't take too much of his antics. "The Sucker" was based on the pairing between De Funès and Bourvil, the sneaky bourgeois sympathetic villain with an Aesopian arc and the lovable loser who proves to be not such an idiot after all. The balance was there, and it was fun to switch back and forth between these two schools of laughs, culminating with the iconic laugh-along ending. That was the stuff for cinematic memories. "The Sucker" wasn't consistently funny but at least, it could afford a plot, "The Troops in New York" took for granted the popularity of the previous film and built on it, let's say it wasn't on the level of the Empire State Building, not even the highest dune in St Tropez.
Sure, there are many moments to enjoy, a nice rib steak recipe à la Galabru, a few well-done over-the-top reactions by De Funès and a hilarious "do you speak English?" delivered to an American woman and naturally, the iconic "My Taylor is rich" that became a French pop-culture trope of basic English learning. The whole exchange about "who's got the most beautiful flowers" is another hilarious moment to count on. That scene is perhaps the highest spot of the movie but it occurs in the first ten minutes, not that laughs never ensue during the film but talk about a missed opportunity when you have six funny Frenchmen in the most American of all the cities and all you can come up is some "plot" about a missing daughter and a climax in a construction site outside New York.
You can't help but feel a bit cheated by the premise, the film is like a can of soda you kept on shaking and shaking but no one ever opens it and by the time someone does, you just have a little "pschiiit". Another remarkable example is when looking for his daughter, Cruchot meets the crazy driving nun in the middle of New York, she's just here to participate to some nun congress, (which is an amusing gag given the reason of the troops' presence in America) but she doesn't offer him a ride. Really? My guess is that they probably intended to make a car chase in New York but the big Apple isn't St Tropez (budget-wise) but still, what a wasted opportunity, very illustrative though as even the Troop has no more reason to be in New York than the nun since the main narrative was about Cruchot trying to find his daughter.
Genevieve Grad, as Nicole, always illuminates the screen, she's beautiful, pretty, witty and seems to be the only match to her patriarchal father, but she's not funny, and when you have four fine comedic actors like Christian Marin, Jean Lefebre, Guy Grosso and Michel Modo (who'd become the voice of Mr. Burns, and Seyrmour Skinner), you just don't lock them in a lousy hotel or hospital room to inflict us a scene where Nicole is courted by an Italian Carabiniere or some cat-and-mouse father-and-daughter game in a film that could have been a roller-coaster of laughs. This is why Oury's movies worked better De Funès, he never carried the movie alone, always another comedian to share the screen, Girault got six of them and could only use Galabru.
With Galabru playing the straight man, or let's say, chewing less of the scenery, the "Troops" series was promised to last and it did but its appeal is almost dependent on sentimental values while Oury's movies have aged better. They worked because Oury was a true admirer of De Funès and knew all the comedic talent of the world couldn't work without one element of straightness. Many Girault's movies would work better because they would star Claude Gensac as De Funès' wife or would feature a screen-partner. Of course, the "Troops" series, was a great blessing for De Funes, it allowed him to create his archetypal character the authoritarian figure, odious with the underlings wile kissing the butts of his superiors but even this shtick grows rapidly tiresome.
New York underwent a severe drought in the middle of the 60's and so does this film, the tailor might be rich, the flowers beautiful, but this is a beautiful film far from being rich in gags and laughs. I suspect if it wasn't for "The Sucker", maybe spectators might have grown tired of De Funès, he couldn't just be typecast as Cruchot.
The Breakfast Club (1985)
The coming-of-age classic where even the clichés and cornier elements contain shades of truth...
From Homer meeting Marge to the five high-school students' epiphany in "The Breakfast Club", it seems like only good things can happen during detention, it is probably true and now that I'm twice the age I was when I could live such opportunity, I can only mourn the incompleteness of my youth, desperately devoid of such heart- to-heart conversations that can make a difference over the course of one's life.
Yes, I wish I hadn't tried to avoid these situations like leper. See, I was the class brain and I could relate to the pressure endured by the character of Anthony Michael Hall, the obsession with marks, grade, the constant need to please the hierarchy whether in school or at home. And when I thought that maybe I could make a good comic-book drawer and live out of my passion, it was too late, I had lost all credibility in front of my papers, and I couldn't believe it myself. Only at the age of 35, I'm still recovering from unemployment, trying to reassemble the pieces of the puzzle and trying to achieve one tenth the dreams, or let's call them "the projects" I had.
Sorry I'm losing space for my own shenanigans, but retrospectively, thanks to "The Breakfast Club" 'or because of it, I realized that I didn't get the right advice and didn't enjoy the teenage years as it is supposed to be enjoyed. Of course, the movie doesn't imply that it is a time to be enjoyed, but most certainly to be cherished and embraced because this is exactly when you can figure out what kind of path you want to draw to your life. It's perhaps the most important moment in your life when you must learn to say "no". The five kids who get reunited in detention possess varying degree of strength and conviction, but the point of the film is that combining their forces together, they'll learn to say "no". I wish I could have the power to say "no".
And I still don't know whether I blame my parents or myself. This is quite well captured by John Hughes, this sort of in-between situation, the film doesn't necessarily put the blame on the parents but rather express in the youth' awkward way the resentment we have toward ourselves for not being capable to stand for our beliefs. That's what leaving childhood is about, stopping to behave like children and act according to your vision of things. Sure your parents "know better" but they know from their own experience, the point of life is to live your own experience. Besides, the film isn't entirely against the parents since it also questions the power of peer pressure and "friends". It's all about useless burdens that prevent you from being yourself, or trying to.
I don't like playing the labeling game although I'm aware this is what drove the writing but well, here it is there's Andrew the jock (Emilio Estevez), the wrestling champion who actually shares many similarities with the brain, Brian (Hall) both have parents pressuring them to be the best, to collect grades and points. Yet Andrew is handsome, good-looking capable to handle himself while Brian can't only perceive life under the prism of pleasing whoever provides the rating. He reminds me of Lisa Simpson's need to have a mark when the teachers were on strike. There's the pampered prom-queen, Claire (Molly Ringwald) she's rather open-minded, well- spoken but can't seem to get rid of her precious/prude image. Allison (Ally Sheedy), the other girl is the total opposite (Ally Sheedy) Gothic, making noises and acting as if she belonged to some institution.
The real catalysis of the communication process is the bad boy John Bender played by Judd Nelson, the guy is the authentic rebel and by teasing each one, gives enough rope to anyone to vent their anger, let the hearts talk and make the whole movie happen. His strong antagonism with the mean principal Vernon (Paul Gleason) escalates to a real personal hatred, which mirrors the problems he's got with his own abusive father. Granted it's not the most earthshaking revelation, but it seems interesting that the most confident of all the guys and the one who actually gets the "pretty girl" is the one with troubled parents. I don't know if Brian felt the way I did, but sometimes I wish I was more of a Nelson, you know tough guy toughened by life.
And you know why? Because you'll always have an excuse to behave like a thug, but never like a wimp. And girls hate wimps anyway. So for all the verbal abuse, Claire was victim of, she ended up giving him a tender hickey. And for all her attempts to pass as a weirdo, Ally surrendered to the call of femininity and after a makeup session with Claire, caught the eye of Andrew. And for all his gentleness and complicity with Ally, Brian was still a virgin at the end. You call them clichés? Not at all, the film highlight one important aspect of being a teen, a paradoxical need to conform to other norms than yours, all they need is a catalysis, some marijuana, some make up, anything, but while praising non-conformity, each one paradoxically conforms himself to another model.
The film isn't totally flawless, I don't care much about the actors looking too old for their parts since the message is more important than the messenger, I just wished the adults were portrayed in a more three-dimensional way and that the characters' arc didn't involve some clichés such as the ugly ducklings and girls love bad boys.
But even when it uses clichés, they're actually more truthful than pseudo messages about being yourself. The film works and when it doesn't, it still hit a chord of truth.
Le gendarme de Saint-Tropez (1964)
The film that made De Funès the "De Gaulle" of French cinema...
Said differently this is the film that launched the career of Louis de Funès in 1964. He was no newcomer and had already twenty years of experience collecting small roles on the screen and bigger ones on the stage, but fate was only waiting for the last scraps of hair to disappear on the top of his head so he could get on the top of the box office for almost two decades.
The movie would also span a series of sequels and become the most emblematic role of his career. See, there are many elements of history movie buffs will enjoy in this film so I'm afraid it doesn't leave much to say about the film itself, but the elements of context are vital because they help to understand the causes of one of the most successful careers of French cinema.
We are in the middle of the 60's, at the culmination of what they call the Glorious Thirties, France has become a major international player, intoxicated by the power of General De Gaulle, the Algerian war is over, and the baby boom generation is coming to age and can enjoy fun vacations. But as far as vacations were concerned, there was one place to be, and it was Saint Tropez. You don't know how big Saint Tropez was in the 60's? Are you kidding?
The place's story is almost as legendary as Las Vegas, it was a remote beach station in the Mediterranean South, that became cherished by the New Wave stars, one of its most memorable ambassadors was the loveliest mermaid: Brigitte Bardot. One of the running gags in the 1972 comedy "The Annuity" is that the film starts so early in time the name "Saint Tropez" never rings a bell and this is where the poor schmuck bought a little house, at a cheap price. To end on the trivia, the dubbing of "Sword in the Stone" had "Bermuda" replaced by "Saint Tropez".
So, the town was the Mecca of fun, vacation and amusement. And this where a screenwriter planning to make it a setting had come to the 'gendarme station after his camera was stolen, he was told to come after nap time, a joke worthy of an Astérix album that convinced him to make fun of them. The premise was in line with the city's popularity, all they needed was an actor.De Funes had made a few successes in 1963, the most notable one was "Pouic Pouic" but producers were rather reluctant, they only hired him in exchange of several cuts in the budget and hiring second-rate actors.
Michel Galabru would eavesdrop a conversation telling him that they were looking for such a cast and a few time later, he got the offer. His career was launched as well. And so was the team made, with Louis de Funès as iconic Ludovic Cruchot and Galabru as Adjutant Gerber. The masterstroke of the script, where De Funès was involved was to make Galabru, the superior.
So there's a very interesting opening in the Alps region where we see Cruchot operating with some cattle thief and then getting a letter of promotion. The opening is full of comical moments but it's the choice of black-and-white shooting that creates the exhilarating feeling when it jumps to color and to the catchy music of "Do You Saint Tropez", so typical of French youth passion for American music.
This transition is literally De Funès career in microcosm, from the black and white little roles to the thundering and joyful sixties. And his arrival at Saint Tropez with his daughter Nicole (Genevieve Gard, who sings the song) is actually one of the most pivotal moment of comedic and French popular cinema. It's not just about De Funès but popular cinema had just stolen the thunder from snobbish New Wave directors. And that feels good, too.
But there's more in casting De Funès as the newcomer and not the highest ranked, it allows him to plays what would become his most famous shtick: authoritarian and overzealous with the subordinates (look at me in the eyes, with the pointing fingers was his first catchphrase) and honey-mouthed with the superior. The interaction between the gendarmes are some of the film's greatest moments, and they work so well, you actually don't wait for a plot to spoil these moments.
And yet the plot involving the nudist camp is actually very well done and contribute to some of the film's best moments when Cruchot improvises himself a drill sergeant instructor and when for the first time, the catchy theme of the Gendarme march, also composed by Raymond Lefebvre is played, the tune echoes the iconic Colonel Bogey March and became a standards of French cinema.
Many elements from the movies would be used in the later sequels, the relationships between Gerber and Cruchot, their challenging authority moments, the crazy driving nun, the march, but they all carry a special charm for the simple reason than we're watching them for the first time and because this is De Funès finally being given his leading role and being at the top of his game. In the context of the film, it's fresh and original.
Although I conceded it suffers from the usual De Funès syndrome where the second half is less interesting than the first. Still, this a real product of its time, it has De Funès, it has baby boomers, it has twist, it has St Tropez, and even a nod to Général De Gaulle at the end, it is one of the most emblematic movies of the 60's with one of the most emblematic actors, and for all the budget it took, it was the most successful movie of the year with more than 7 million viewers, not bad?
La soupe aux choux (1981)
Louis de Funès "Limelight", and ultimate delight at his career's twilight...
Can you ever think of a movie that combined sci-fi with folk/country culture? Don't try, there's only one, a little French treat titled: "The Cabbage Soup", the penultimate movie of old-time partners Jean Girault and Louis de Funès and certainly their ultimate classic if we forgive the final "Gendarmes" movie in 1982. Critics literally spat on this soup, but it aged like a good wine or did people learn to relate to the two grumpy old men, now that they grew more wisdom and less hair?
Because "The Cabbage Soup", albeit a sci-fi movie, is less about aliens than it is about soups. The film is set in a rural village that looks like a ghost town, victim of urban expansion, so blatant the mayor would trade its remain dignity for a touristic park to keep it alive. There's no park yet and in one of the last occupied spots two farmers still live: a well digger named Le Bombé (Jean Carmet) and a clog maker named Le Glaude, played by Louis de Funès. They're alone, their only fun consist of sharing some bread, wine, thoughts about life and death and even indulging to a few flatulent contest. Yes, you'll hear a lot of farting in this film.
I guess this isn't the film's finest moment, not it is the one we'd love to remember from actors De Funes and Carmet, but why should we deem it as 'genius' when Mel Brooks employ it? I won't try to over-analyze this moment, I don't enjoy it either but to the film's defense, it's not used gratuitously, it's the fart that literally "calls" the alien (what difference would have it makes if it were belches?), and in a way it established the farmers' regression to ennui-driven childishness. And paraphrasing 'Mel Brooks', I'll object against the vulgarity label, the film like "The Producers" rises above vulgarity.
Indeed, the bad odors are immediately covered by the delightful aroma coming of the cooking-pot, just like when you enter the kitchen and can tell your favorite meal is being prepared. The farmers live alone but still have enough ingredients to display the most heart-warming hospitality for everyone, including an alien. Even if he's dressed like a SM chick, and makes gobbling noises, like an acute internet used said "he's no less ridiculous than an Ewok". And how refreshing that for once that an Alien comes to Earth, he doesn't visit the White House (or the Elysium Palace), that's what a good French sci-fi film should have, not the 1979 wannabe American ersatz with the Gendarmes.
Yes, forget about these invasion tiresome plots, and imagine "Close Encounter with the Third Kinds" as guests for a Thanksgiving dinner and you'll have a clue about how heart-warming the film is. "The Cabbage Soup" deals with the relationship between friends, between a man and his memories, not to mention, his future. The catalysis to all these events will be a friendly alien played by the lovable rotund comical actor in his memorable debut: Jacques Villeret, the unforgettable François Pignon from "Dinner for Schmucks". It is only fitting that he could play with the then greatest comical actor.
And De Funès was already weakened by his heart condition and after "The Miser", his other co-adaptation with Jean Girault, his need to restrict his roles had uncontrollably brought more sadness and poignancy to his acting. I deplored his work didn't have taken that path earlier, there's something in Funes' contemplation of loneliness aging and declining health that echoes the tragedy of French farmers. If the promises of suicide made by Le Bombé play like a running gag, keep in mind farmers is the profession with the highest-rate of suicides in French, with cops, which De Funès also played ironically. De Funès never hid his admiration for his idol Chaplin, and while he never achieved the dream to make a silent masterpiece, this film is the closest to Chaplin's "Limelight".
It's De Funes "Limelight" as well as his twilight and one of a certain vision of France. There's a statement made in this film, about French roots and origins, symbolized by something as simple and heartfelt as a cabbage soup. Many moments can strike as outdated, childish or not too funny, but it's on the highest spots that this film hits a sensitive chord, one involving the resurrection of Glaude's deceased wife coming back at twenty and unable to resists to the call of the city. The attractively decadent town planning is even more powerfully rendered in a scene where the two farmers are like monkeys in cages visited by tourists who throw peanuts at them, a dying breed indeed.
One could ever draw a sad parallel with the evolution of French cinema. De Funès' time was over, but it needed a final hurrah. And I applaud Girault for having the guts to conclude the film in such a cheerful way. While it might strike as a sort of Deus Ex Machina, you can't just resist to the sight of three actors, all deceased by now, playing accordion and going aboard a flying saucer to a planet where death doesn't exist. I would love to imagine there's such a place where Funes, Carmet and Villeret (and Girault) are sharing a few jokes and enjoying themselves just no farts!
"The Cabbage Soup" is really one of a kind, but it does treat its material rather seriously, the composer himself, veteran Raymond Lefebvre wanted to make a music in the wave of electronic music and mix with a popular folk song, needless to say that the theme is one of the most popular of French cinema, a regular ringtone and one of the film's elements of endearing success.
There's a cheerfulness, a gentleness and a tender poignancy in "The Cabbage Soup" but ultimately you'll savor the film like the best meal with your friend, and a last supper with comical legend Louis de Funès.
Lost in Submersion...
My first experience with Wes Anderson was "The Royal Tennebaums", I didn't finish it but I don't think I was watching it with the right person, let's just put it that way: my buddy and me were staring at the screen exactly like Wes Anderson's usual characters, which isn't a good thing. And I guess I wasn't in much a demand for sophisticated humor at that particular phase of my life. I still have to watch the film though.
My second experience was "Grand Budapest Hotel", I didn't like it the first time. I loved it the second. All it took was to understand Wes Anderson's personal approach to film-making and the way he took style rather as an end than a mean, somewhat reaching more genuine truths than conventional dramas or just making fabulously entertaining movies. I took it that it took a special gourmet taste to savor his films and the next two discoveries didn't break the streak of enjoyment.
So I loved "Fantastic Mr. Fox" and I loved "Moonrise Kingdom". And I kept waiting for the one movie where Bill Murray would finally have a leading role. The film was "The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou", whose poster looked like a very promising take on classic documentary "The World of Silence" with Commandant Cousteau (Zissou wears the same trademark red cap). I expected a lot of beautiful shots, a lot of laughs no matter the facial expression on Bill Murray's face, I expected a lot of good things. "Moonrise Kingdom" had alerted me that Anderson, like Harold Ramis and Sofia Coppola was the kind of privileged director who'd "understood" Bill Murray, but not at the expenses of our understanding.
Indeed, for some reason, and despite a terrific set-up, I had a déjà vu with this film. It felt like my first experience with "Tennenbaum" (and now, you know why I had to write with this lengthy introduction). Unless I was mislead about the film, I thought there would be something passionate about Zissou, or at least, in his Melvillian relationship with the jaguar-shark who ate (even chewed) his first mate Esteban. I know, Bill Murray, tongue-in-cheek, snarky, deadpan humor and so on No problem with that, but it seemed like there was no moment whatsoever where Zissou could actually be seen enjoying anything.
There were some outbursts of violence and emotions and I was waiting for genuine reactions like his fatherly anger when his supposed son gets punched in the face by a group of hijackers, but overall, the film played like a series of set-ups for hilarious situations with downer conclusions. It's a comedy drama but I wonder why Anderson ever invested in the comedic element since he never really bring much fun to the screen except for a few chuckles in the middle of some existential contemplation.
The film had them all, Bill Murray could have played the role of a lifetime just one year after his great performance in "Lost in Translation" but in Coppola's film, we could identify the roots of Bob's melancholy and his brief moments of happiness provided the little zest without which the film would have felt pretty bland. That "Zissou" story had like ten characters as "lost in translation" as Zissou himself, a malcontent wife played by Anjelica Huston, a frustrated and envious first mate played by Willem Dafoe, a number one fan of Zissou who believe he might be Zissou's son, and played by Owen Wilson.
There's also Cate Blanchett who's probably trying to break her 'Elizabeth" image and have a hip comedic role with a trendy director for a change. It would work better with Woody Allen's "Blue Jasmine". And Jeff Goldblum is a pedant, gay and condescending oceanographer named Hennessy, he's supposed to be Zissou's nemesis, he's more like an alter-ego in a film that becomes like an oddball contest, which is fine in a "Grand Budapest Hotel" kind of plot, but not quite this time.The film doesn't even trust the initial premise with the jaguar shark, it involves a series of hijacking, assaults, accidents, but we never really get a clear idea of where this is going anyway.
Don't get me wrong, "Life Aquatic" looks great, the script is full of one liners and the actors are all talented, but they don't seem to be really playing their roles as if the story mattered anyway, maybe Owen Wilson is the most emotionally engaging and so is Willem Defoe but the others were too estranged to us to let any specific feeling unfold. And for some reason, with the story of the eaten friend, and the possible father-and-son relationship, there's never a moment where Wes Anderson tries to get conventional a little for the sake of emotions. In fact, Anderson ever seems to despise emotions, a symptom that thankfully didn't affect "Moonrise Kingdom".
There's some interesting self-referential approach when Zissou considers the possibility of a relationship subplot in the film because he's got great chemistry with his son, but it's like Anderson was trying to keep this as fake as possible as a defensive move, as if he didn't want to surrender to some corny conventional-ism typical of Hollywood, by doing so, he might have deprived the film from what could have been the emotional core behind the laughs. Just because Murray isn't a man of emotions, doesn't make him emotionless.
Anyway, it all comes down to this: I think the story deserves a 6 for the wasted potential, but I can't get past how beautiful some shots look, so I'll give it a 7. Not that the rating matters anyway.
The Darjeeling Limited (2007)
Daring but Limited...
I have no doubts over Wes Anderson's good intentions when he concocted this story of three estranged brothers discovering each other during some peculiar trip across India. I figured it would be one of these cinematic occasions to enjoy a journey that would prove once again to be more important than the destination, and yes, to some degree, there's a nice element of evolution applied on the three Whitman brothers, played in order of heights by Adrian Brody (Peter), Owen Wilson (Francis) and Jason Schwartzman (Jack).
Now, don't ask me why it's the most vertically challenged fellow who always goes bare feet, it seemed rather pointless, which in Wes Anderson's language means somewhat relevant in the realm of weirdness he lets us venture in before the story can take off and go somewhere. And going somewhere it does without following a straight trajectory, once Peter, the last passenger of the Darjeeling Limited makes a fantastic jump over the train, overtaking a businessman played by Bill Murray, we're embarking in the most peculiar ride, made of many ups and downs and emotional twists and revelations.
Yet, for a reasonable amount of time, no moment manages to be as exhilarating as the slow-motion jump. All we do is sharing a minuscule cabin with three men who haven't seen each other since their father's funeral a year prior, and behave as if the two others were rather non-existent entities. All the "why", the "what", the "how of their weird behavior, are getting their answers as the trip moves forward, but the more we go deeper in the characters, the more limited the empathizing process gets, because it all relies on the degree of sympathy, which isn't their strongest suit.
Peter is an insecure father-to-be who left his seven-month pregnant wife and Jack is no more confident writer who checks whenever he can the messages on his girlfriend's answering machine (there's a sort of prologue establishing the source of the novel he wrote, and starring Natalie Portman in a hotel in Paris, let's say that apart from displaying her beautiful nude body, the short film won't keep your eyes glues to the screen). And then there's Owen Wilson as Francis, the most directive of the three, the leader whose face keeps bandaged all through the film, because of a motorcycle accident.
The first part of the film shows these three personalities interacting and trying to fit within the mini-mayhem caused by the other brothers' intrusion. These boys are rich kids, as evidenced by their Luis Vuitton baggage and kind of epitomize the image of the settlers whose bags are carried by escorting servers. They're obviously self- centered and obsessed by their petty little needs they're incapable to empathize one to another. Retrospectively, the most instantly unlikable happens to be the more emotionally involved in the process of making up for the past.
The problem is that the film never really fulfills its potential, there's a terrific story of brotherly love that could have had the same power than "Moonrise Kingdom" yet this time Wes Anderson's little quirks distract from the story rather than drive it. Or am I just struggling to see why a young stewardess would immediately accept to be banged by a sad nerdy looking loser like Schwartzman. She didn't know he was a writer anyway, but in India? In a public place? That was the point where my "geek escapism" alarm was activated. I was afraid the film would carry more of Wes Anderson's self- obsessions, the height of irony when the story is supposed to be an existential journey.
I felt like Anderson was so eager to depict a certain colorful vision of India, so rooted in his psyche that the journey became a vehicle for his own fantasies rather than the real brothers' story. It's as if Anderson quirks derailed the Darjeeling train. That's why I couldn't buy the contrived way they had to be thrown off the train, no matter how necessary for the plot it was. And that the second part dealt with a more dramatic episode left me rather dissatisfied for two reasons. A: I thought this was Anderson trying to tone down the quirkiness of the beginning but maybe it was too late. B: the brothers act too bizarrely to be finally taken seriously.
But let's just say I decided to take them seriously once the flashback with the funeral started, and let's just say that the second act could have taken more time and would have made a better film. Now, I won't spoil the third act and only say it' harbors an element of the family that seems to give a rational explanation to the brothers' personality. It works in the sense that it wraps us all the previous weirdness with a rather serene and reasonable vision of the present. It doesn't work because at no point it justifies to have provided us that first act full of weird and reprehensible behavior, there had to be at least one "good guy" to hook ourselves on, one touchstone of normality, even Anderson-style.
The film wasn't bad, it was visually stylish and quite entertaining, but I kept wondering why Anderson would indulge to such childish moments in a film with such a powerful second act. And reading many reviews, it seems that many Indian users didn't really take it as a love letter to their country, so either they or Anderson miss the point, I think it's fair assumption that Wes overestimated the effect of style over substance in that specific case and just flew too close to the sun.
Or maybe it was a hidden love letter to Paris, but since when does a concluding song makes a nod to a prologue many viewers might not have seen, or might not see again. Speaking for myself, I might give the film a little chance but I'm not sure about the "Hotel Chevalier" segment.
Tintin et les oranges bleues (1964)
Doesn't even deserve to be compared to the first one...
There's a moment in the film where Cuthbert Calculus is mesmerized by the sight of a beautiful blue orange glowing in the darkness of an improvised laboratory. Then his companion of misfortune and distinguished colleague of scientific persuasion, Professor Zalamea lets him taste the orange, Calculus immediately spits it. These blue oranges look great but they're just impossible to swallow. Fittingly enough, the same can be said about the second opus of Tintin's live-action adventures: "The Blue Oranges", a film cruelly underwritten that can't be saved from mediocrity despite the efforts of Jean-Pierre Talbot, the only good thing about the film (along with Calculus).
The film started well, the bit with the real fake TV program set the tone and gave the blue orange a sort of "realistic" dimension contextualizing them with the issue of hunger in the world, but it doesn't take too long before you know you'll have to tone down your "quality" I order to enjoy it, and even then, there's not much to enjoy. It's a real pity that "Tintin and the Blue Oranges" never really hold up to the coolness of its intriguing title. The film was made three years after the first one but I can see why it didn't do better at the box-office, the first didn't benefit from an elaborate plot but it had a strong set-up and a strong bond between Tintin and Haddock. In "Orange", Talbot's performance is somewhat ruined by the overacting of Jean Bouise as Captain Haddock, a shame because the chemistry with George Wilson made the first film.
Jean Bouise is a good actor but while George Wilson's overacting was never at the expenses of the story, Bouise plays his Haddock as if he thought the captain was a previous commedia del arte actor, amplifying every syllabus, gesticulating for any reason, and using any moment as an excuse for some loud baritone tantrums. His performance could have worked if the film was meant as a comedy but not when the other actors play their roles seriously. Felix Fernandex is a fine copy of Cuthbert Calculus but Bouise makes Calculus more endurable. Again, this is less a comment on Bouise's talent as the man was notorious for playing dark and brooding characters but let's just say he didn't take the right angle.
But it's not as if the story deserved the best acting anyway, so maybe he's the one reason to watch the film after all. The film is a series of setups and comical premise that always fall flat, the Thompson gags are pretty lame even by the days' standards. And when a young Spanish kid meets Tintin and says "Tintin and Milou", you've got to wonder how come he knows them since the film is set in a universe where Tintin isn't a comic book character. There are a few interesting moments, the encounter with the Castafiore and the interactions between Professors Calculus and the Spanish professors provide a few interesting moments but the film doesn't even swim in the same waters than Golden Fleece.
Don't get me started on the climax, the whole plot leads to some evil emir and the intervention of a bunch of kids save the day and we're supposed to be laughing. I won't even mention the fact that being Moroccan, I could spot the accent of the guys who were supposed to be from the Arab Peninsula. Anyway, there's a sort of naivety in the film that could have been excusable if the plot wasn't so thin and if the first film was if the same caliber, but overall, comparing the two on the sole basis that they're live-action adaptation of Tintin would be unfair, these are apples and oranges, and not blue one.
Talbot and Wilson are too likable not to like this film...
Don't judge the book by the cover, for all its B-movie look, this is A-entertainment.
"Tintin and the Mystery of the Golden Fleece" is a product of its era: released in 1961, it carries the old-fashioned allure of 50's adventurous pictures and let's say the more sophisticated tone of the 60's, yet not devoid of the same obsolescent charm that makes a James Bond girl "innocent" by our modern day's standards. The film has the thrills, the fun and the escapism magnificently rendered by the Turkish countryside, with the exotic little tune to enhance the feeling that we're enjoying a nice little vacation with Tintin and Captain Haddock.
Because that's what it's all about, it's a Tintin adventure and yet the enjoyment doesn't only depend on the appeal of the comic-books, in its own right, this is a good movie.
Now, some history Tintin had already come to maturity in the early 60's but the big screen has always been a hit-or-miss, it was probably a credit to Herge's uniqueness of style and his trademark clear line to have created a world so naturally proficient in thrills and so emotionally engaging that even the camera of the 60's couldn't capture. Yes, even Steven Spielberg could only make a CGI version of the "Unicorn", perhaps one of the less 'cinematic' of all Tintin's books. That's how difficult the transition from book to screen is, and maybe the safest and wisest choice was to have an original story and compensate the 'newness' of the material with actors who'd look like shoot- outs of the original characters.
The originality of the story is the first masterstroke, it's an interesting whodunit set in Turkey and centering on a mysterious ship named "Golden Fleece" that Haddock inherited from a long-time friend. And despite the little predictable plot elements such as the evil businessman who seems to have a personal reason to buy the ship, the sneaky tourist guide, the colorful encounters, a talking parrot, a black cook, the story works not to mention that it also features two nice cameos from Charles Vanel and Dario Moreno. And we forgive the flaw because there's a sort of realism in the relationship between good old Tintin and Captain Haddock, both played by Jean- Pierre Talbot and George Wilson. Tintin leads the action with the impatience and curiosity of youth and Haddock is the eternal follower.
And that's it, the characters are alive again.
Herge said it himself, Tintin was some kind of a joke, he needed the blandest and most neutral looking hero, so he made a round, two dots for the eyes, and no hair color (meaning he was blonde) then just to give him a little edge with the little tuft. A legend was born, a perfect hero who was courageous, brave and embodied youth's thirst of adventure but with a sense of righteousness. The challenge to turn Tintin into a real character was twice, finding someone who'd match the facial features and making the hero heroic without being unrealistic. Needless to say that Talbot did a great job, but as he stated himself, he didn't have to try, he channeled Tintin naturally and you can tell when you see him that he was born to be Tintin.
Talbot was approached for his his physical abilities, he was such a complete athlete, he provided almost all the stunts (with a few exceptions) and you can see in his eyes during the fight scenes how focused he is, it's very interesting that his skills look less fake than many other actors who'd play James Bond. But if he's no Sean Connery, Talbot makes his Tintin believable and appealing and the cute Belgian accent reminds us where Tintin came from. Talbot didn't have to play Tintin, he happened to be like Tintin and that was the film's greatest blessing. He admitted later that Tintin was a good influence on his life, and always try to adopt a righteous approach in general and in his job, as a teacher.
Naturally, the film would have worked only half if Haddock didn't have a great actor to play Captain Haddock and it was George Wilson (from the French Academy), the father of actor Lambert, who played the iconic seaman. He chews the script enough to match the Captain's histrionic tantrums but in the quieter moments when he contemplates the death of his friend, gazing at his picture, there's a sort of poignancy that makes you forget you're watching a Tintin movie, it becomes the story of two friends caught in an adventure. There are also Thompson and Thompson and Calculus but really, this is a Tintin and Haddock (and Snowy) picture.
The film is far from being flawless but these supposedly flaws hold up quite well, and have aged better than many superior movies, there's nothing calculated in this film, it's innocent, non-cynical and ultimately, fun to watch, it's not an equivalent to Tintin comic but, it does justice to the legacy of the legendary Belgian reporter. And the two actors are too likable not to like this film.