Stinky Price of Success... "Sweet Smell Success": an olfactory alliteration littered with the foulest aspects of greed and ambition, how far ego can go, how dignity doesn't amount to a hill of Heinz beans and how ethics are no match for the green rectangle's appeal.
This is a film made by a director whose named has faded into oblivion, Alexander McKendrick, it was poorly received by the audience but not the critics. As members of the Press, they could relate to the corners some unethical members of their professions cut... or were driven to. I'm no journalist but the film made me understand paparazzi, the pictures they take are just bargaining ships, nothing personal, only business.
And in the film, the principal currency of this business consists of articles that can make or break people just like Twitter comments undo careers today. As smears, they become weapons with the newspapers as crime settings... the muscle is Sidney Falco and the mastermind is J.J. Hunsecker, the shady press agent and the egomaniac press columnist and national icon. The two men are as thick as thieves and form an unforgettable Faustian duo, they don't like each other, but Falco allows Hunsecker to see how high he climbed his way up and Hunsecker is the Sherpa who can take him to the same Everest of power, watching New York City as microcosm of the very America he just conquered. "I love that dirty town" says Hunsecker... ignoring that he's part of that very dirt, a furoncle stuck to New York City's body pulsating to the rhythm of sex, drugs and jazz.
For the trivia, J.J. Hunsecker was named 35th villain in the AFI's Top 50 but Falco is the soulless soul of the story, only redeemed by the fact that he's not as bad as his mentor, which is not saying much. When we first meet him, his name isn't even painted on the door but taped on it, his office and room make one, he's to his profession what Lionel Hutz is to lawyers, a disgrace... but of the sympathetic type. Who can resist that smile? Tony Curtis wanted to prove he wasn't just a cutie pie and battled to get the role, I can't picture another actor as Sidney Falco (same judgment with the "bigger one"). I admit it, I appreciated his boundless ambition that kept him awake all the night on the lookout of any scoop, any tip to a scoop, any promise to a juicy reward. I liked his clean-cut image, his rapid fire repartee and his tactical genius combined with a total lack of scruples. As one of his employers told him "I wouldn't hire you if you weren't a liar"there are layers or liar.
One who plays in another league is definitely Hunsecker, based on sulfuric columnist Walter Winchell... actually, that contextualization is irrelevant, we don't remember "Citizen Kane" for being a merely disguised pamphlet against William Randolph Hearst, do we? But it's interesting how a film meant to denounce sordidness of its time spoke statements about the excesses of power modern audiences could easily identify, especially in our social media time. Hunsekcer wants to crush a decent jazz player because he disapproves his union with his sister and Burt Lancaster plays him in the kind of smooth performance that doesn't give you the heart to despise him, maybe it's the signature grin, the catchy lines such as "You're dead. Get buried" or the little truths behind cruel thoughts... or maybe the glasses, but when you see Hunsecker, you kind of understand Falco.
Hunsecker paved the way to all corrupt and charismatic executives such as Gordon Gekko or Buddy Ackerman and in his establishing scene, we're tempted to admire him. Seated at a fancy restaurant, the bespectacled muscular tycoon is verbally crucifying a manager and lecturing a senator when Falco joins him, earning himself an unforgiving description concluding with the film's most defining line "Match me, Sidney". The real pay-off of that moment isn't in Falco's refusal to light Hunsecker's cigarette, which of course is part of his "smiling street-urchin pal" act, but when later, both manage to break up the relationship and Hunsecker doesn't even have to ask Falco, the right-hand man complies as automatically as a living Zeppo. At that point, he's a match to Hunsecker, will it last?
Later, Hunsecker admits "I'd hate to take a bite out of you, you're a cookie full of arsenic". How many 50s movies feature such hateful but eloquent protagonists, some blamed the bland performances of the romantic pair but they were merely pawns, the story is about the chess-master and the game. And the game is played in a short period of two nights where we see Falco moving his pieces, going as far as framing an innocent man, lying, pimping a poor woman and blackmailing an editor in front of his wife, with such ardor that he's immediately taught a lesson of decency, but no one can checkmate Falco because the real adversary is himself, as Hunsecker points out, "you're prisoner of your own fears and ambitions". Little did he know that he was also prisoner of his own ego.
"Sweet Smell of Success" is a quotable masterpiece that feels as fresh as it was sixty years ago, proving that America didn't wait for the New Wave to reinvent itself and maybe that's why the film didn't meet with commercial success, it was ahead of its time... and forgive the hackneyed expression, severely underrated.
Though it's quite a poetic irony that the film didn't meet with success because it provides a rather stinky image of success. Nonetheless, the film is a noir classic, modern in every sense of the word and certainly the best performances of both Curtis and Lancaster. Success stinks in the film but the films has a cinematic fragrance for the ages.
Insanity Tiptoeing Over Haunting Stairs They say a film is as good as the villain, but sometimes, the villain might be too good for the film's own good. I don't think I've been as distraught and upset by a villain as I was by the manipulative expert Gregory Anton in George Cukor's "Gaslight", the most famous and best adaptation of Patrick Hamilton's play.
Indeed, enduring the psychological torture he applied to his love-seeking wife Paula, played by an emotionally versatile Ingrid Bergman, was such an infuriating experience that I left almost one decade between the first and the second viewing, and I literally tiptoed to the DVD to force myself to refresh my memory. After the first fifteen minutes, just when I thought I could stand it, I realized that any horror movie would have been more supportable... or am I overreacting?
I think there must have been some strong reaction toward that novelty of a plot where a person drove another one insane through mental manipulation to the point that "gas light" became part of common language... that's how impactful it was. Not many movies deal with that particular device, but this is how "Gaslight" was revolutionary and sophisticated in a twisted way, suiting the emerging noir genre.
The "gas light" effect referring to the dimming of the light that made Paula believe she was going crazy isn't effective on a narrative level because it's driven by a fact but rather by the seeds of doubt it sows on her mind. We know for a fact that a woman is being manipulated but only suspicion can heal her from her husband's cruel dominance.But she can't suspect him because she loves him in a way that echoes Stockholm Syndrome and he's a Machiavellian gourmet who knows exactly the amount of cruelty and suavity to apply.
Charles Boyer's with all these cunning eyes, that mouth always wary about not letting a word slip, and his faux-affable "French lover" manners, elevate his characters to summits of vileness and gaining extra altitude by a symmetric effect with Ingrid Bergman who brings an extraordinary level of pathos while maintaining a strange aura of dignity. This is a woman whose heart and mind are slowly shred to pieces but she's resigned to believe any word of her beloved husband because she can envision anything except such capability of vileness.
Why would the gaslight dim every night? Why would she hear noises the servant doesn't notice and why would Gregory be wrong if the second maid wasn't so arrogant and defiant? Even Angela Lansbury in her screen debut is perfect in the role of Nancy, the street smart and slightly slutty maid whose deadpan and snarky attitude is more affecting than any hint of false empathy or true detachment. This is a free-spirited woman yet manipulated by the way Gregory exploits every element of the environment and every possible situation.
So what we have is a conspiracy perfectly oiled where Cukor makes us witness the action while making us as powerless as Paula. We're like passive observers bound and gagged and undergoing the villain's sadism. In a way, if we consider anger as a brief madness, we're also being "gaslighted" by Cukor.
The mark of great films is to elicit strong responses; and watching "Gaslight" a second time reminded me of something I meant as a compliment after my initial viewing, I thought it was the most Hitchcockian non-Hitchcock film... and the presence of Dame May Whitty or Joseph Cotten play like interesting nods to "The Lady Vanishes" and "Shadow of a Doubt". In"Vanishes", the main protagonist was toyed with her own certitudes and lured into doubting her own sanity and "Shadow" is about a villain who's a close parent. "Gaslight" makes these two plot points converge beautifully but there is another Hitchcock classic it bears a kinship with: "Suspicion".
And I think I can now be more explicit about what bothered me with "Suspicion" and that makes "Gaslight" a superior movie. In "Suspicion", the husband's guilt was the central theme but worked as a double edged word, if he was guilty, then he left too many hints to be a believable villain, if he wasn't, it was anticlimactic. In "Gaslight", we know the villain from the start and we know he's good at hiding his vileness (the essence of 'gaslighting') and the frustration doesn't come from the act but the lack of suspicion, the point is the psychological struggle within a woman whose passion blinds her mind and endangers it, a woman who trades her self-esteem for the sake of the most harmful person she could ever meet.
"Gaslight" foreshadowed, no pun intended, the way film noir would dominate post-war cinema, at a time where many people were blinded by patriotism and driven to real madness by leaders who had contempt for them. "Gaslight" is also a marvel of film noir in its use of the nightmarish fog of London Victorian streets used as the perfect camouflage for a Jekyll/Hyde villain, and where d the walls of respectability of an ordinary house, hid the claustrophobic nightmare of a woman lost among so many useless items and trophies, being the most precious one of all... or the most disposable.
Boyer, Lansbury were all Oscar-nominated, but it was Bergman who won thee first of the three Oscars and deservedly so. In what could have been a one-note performance she explores every possible shade of fragility, doubt and panic, disbelief and resignation, whiplash moods orchestrated by her evil husband until her shining moment at the end, perhaps one of the most satisfying rants, where the whole scheme of Gregory backfires in the most delightful way.
But I still wonder why he wasn't listed in AFI's Top 50 villains, the film made the "thrills" list but who made the thrills?
Two Wheels and One Chain... Cécile de France was an established star in 2011, but by her own admittance, when she was proposed to star in the Dardenne brothers' next movie "The Kid With a Bike", she embraced the role with the nervousness of a debutante. That says a lot about the reputation of the Belgian siblings' cinema: new, original, fresh but maybe more vital and more indispensable than anything Hollywood would deem worth producing, their films is the oxygen suffocating artists and audiences are severely needing.
Forgive the alarmist talk but cinema has entrapped itself in so many patterns that even the rebellious artsy attitude is predictable. At the end, audience get what they expect, so do critics and festivals and the circle of life goes on with the same hypocrisy. But when you hear the Dardennes talk about their movies, they insist on their aversion toward clichés or cheap emotions (hear, hear Spielberg): they can use scores, a few familiar set-ups but they'll never indulge to "tricks": their stories are simple in their straightforward and not too fancy directing but through their characters, the brothers drilled soils of human complexity with an equipment as effective as the truth and a certain respect to our intelligence.
As the title implies, the film centers on a kid, and so does the first frame: Cyril (Thomas Doret) holds a phone, seeking someone desperately, an unseen adult tries to dissuade him, the case seems hopeless but the kid resists, entrapped in the frame but freed by his certitude. Whoever he tries to reach matters less than the attempt itself, the film begins as strongly as "Rosetta": with fierce determination and in many Dardennes film, determination is triggered by a specific event, death, unemployment... what can eat that poor kid? What can be at stakes?
Enthralled by our curiosity, we follow the camera following him, riding his bike, escaping from youth-farm educators until we find out he's looking for his father, but his father is as unreachable as if he was a figment of his imagination, maybe he is... no, little Cyril is too smart, street-smart actually, to be that kind of child. Even when he found out his father left the apartment he used to live in, he escapes from his pursuers by hiding in a medical center and grabbing the first woman he sees: Samantha (Cécile de France). We expect her to become an important player in his life but see how coincidental and un-cinematic the encounter is, in a sort of truthfulness to life where random moments can make a difference.
And the bike is the incarnation of that existential banality, an everyday object that contributes to every pivotal moment (a tribute to "Bicycle Thieves" maybe?). It is the bike that indirectly leads Cyril to Samantha and from Samantha to his father, a restaurant worker. It's interesting that the father is played by Jérémie Renier who was the son in the Dardennes' first success "The Promise" and the immature young father in "The Child", he could be the older version of that father actually, fatalistic and coward. In a poignant turn of event, Cyril's rebellious attitude fades away and he follows his father as if both were connected via an invisible wire, trying to help him, sweeping every "sorry" by "it's okay". The father asks Samantha to take care of Cyril as he needs to restart his life... meaning without him. And since she has no reason to cover him, she does the right thing by confronting him to his son and responsibilities.
The first act was about a boy struggling to find his father and ending in the pivotal and heartbreaking moment where he discovers the truth. Telling the rest of the film with as many details would spoil the experience so let's say the story will be about a kid in quest for anything that would make his childhood meaningful, that can cancel out the feeling of sheer abandon, and anyone to provide him, if not love, true guidance. So what we have is a kid whose parameters of life are as messed up as clearly set-up and this woman we know nothing about except that she's a hairdresser, she has a boyfriend but nothing else apart from the fact that she saw the kid being rejected by the only person he cared about. It doesn't take a heart like Mother Teresa's to sense an impending doom over Cyril's frail shoulders no matter how tough he acts. He's a kid but not a kidder, his resourcefulness might become a double-edged sword and it doesn't take long before his bike leads him (through a bicycle thief) to a gang. Cyril's reaction against the thief earns him respect and a nickname that was going to be the original title: pit-bull.
A recurring theme in the Dardennes' riveting portrait of the 2000s, we catch "pitbull" at a crossroad of his life, like Renier in "The Promise" where he could either follow his father's footsteps or redeem himself by helping an African migrant. But once again, the resolution matters less than the way it highlights the flaws or virtues of human beings; something in the way the choices made by Cyril reflect the depth of his wounds and of Samantha's heart. This is a kid who needs help and a woman who wants to help but there is a gap to fill because some wounds don't heal easily. The film isn't much about love but a process of trust, a gradual realization of life priorities and also how relative notions of good and evil are.
Had the film ended ten minutes earlier, it would have been good enough but the last minutes shed a new light over the inner workings of the human soul and how indispensable the presence of an adult is for a kid. Adult and responsible, the film is almost a metaphor of the cathartic effect the Dardennes' cinema can have on audiences constantly infantilized by mainstream corniness or artsy pompousness.
In the Name of the Son... Before reviewing the Dardennes brothers "The Son", I needed to check the trailer. The reason was simple: did they reveal why the character of Olivier (Olivier Gourmet) was so intrigued and focused on the kid? They didn't. And the trailer only shows a scene with his ex-wife asking if the boy is the "one" then bursting out of anger and fainting. The mysterious kid wants to help, Olivier shouts at him to stay away. The only bits of dialogue heard are "it's him" and "why do you do that?".
So the surprise must come from the film. And if I could encourage someone to watch the film without spoiling it, I would say this is a movie about an ordinary man, a carpentry teacher in rehab school, who seems obsessed by a kid who comes from a juvenile detention center. He peeps over him for the first ten minutes and then decides to take him for his courses, the man is divorced and his ex-wife announces her remarriage and pregnancy. He doesn't take it in all stride but his reaction shows a mix of anger and resignation that doesn't strike us as odd. The film deals with the interaction between Olivier and Francis, a teenager who looks lost and tacitly looking for help.
That's the situation, now, what do you make of a title like "The Son"? We've seen enough movies to anticipate that Francis is Olivier's hidden son. The Dardennes brothers are straight shooters and never use symbolical titles... or it's got to be about a father-and-son relationship, with a wound from the past and some potential catharsis from this relationship. Or is there something darker or more poignant in that "secret"? Viewers aren't given much time to endure the suspense as the revelation comes early adding suspense to drama like in a Cassavetes' film. And it works.
After the success of "The Promise" and "Rosetta" (Golden Palm winner), the Dardennes decided to dedicate their next feature film to their fetish actor Olivier Gourmet. Like Gérard Jugnot for French Cinema, this actor looks so exceptionally banal he can be believable in any movie exploiting the reality of Belgian society in general and humanity as a whole. I believed the man was a carpenter all his life, I believed every word from him and I couldn't believe he was capable to do anything harmful or bizarre if it wasn't uncalled for. And that impression is crucial to appreciate the film because we're put in a situation that will call for a confrontation, sooner or later, the mystery is all in the "when and how it will happen?".
As Gourmet said, you can play many expressions or feelings but "I don't know?". He was constantly asked to be neutral, not to let any obvious emotions slip because his psychological journey was tough enough and his interaction with (Morgan Marinne) so awkward that it didn't need to be overplayed. The angle taken by Gourmet shows how much an acting genius he is and how he truly deserved the award at Cannes Festival. Gourmet didn't play "I don't know", but played a man driven by contradictory forces, one driven by instinct and one pushing him back, revealing how rational and truly human he was. At parts, avidly stares at Morgan when he's not looking and get neutral when they make eye contact.
And you have the camera of the Dardennes brothers following the man through the school's narrow corridors, the kitchen, the offices, the car, and getting the two closer then further then closer again. We all know it will lead to a resolution, if not a solution, but again with the Dardennes, the journey matters more than the destination and the ending has every merit including the most important one: to be satisfactory, conclusive and believable. And it truly consecrates the talent of Gourmet as one of the greatest and most underrated actors of French-speaking Cinema and the perfect foil for the Dardennes, ever since their first collaboration in "The Premise" where he played a flawed father. Interestingly, that film was about a kid trying to get off his father's bad influence, while "The Son" leads to a reunion.
And I remember my initial reactions with the Dardennes, I naively thought they were only taking the camera and followed the actors like in a documentary. But "The Son" is full of master-shots and close-ups, many were shot multiple times at different paces to play safe as the Dardennes clearly didn't want to miss their first film where Gourmet as the lead (notice that the character was named Olivier in that sense so they could think of his own body while making it). Reciprocally, Gourmet couldn't ignore the Dardennes' camera either. It might look like cinema-vérité but the actors know where the camera is placed, Gourmet can make a gesture that shows good acting but that goes unnoticed by the camera and then the effect is lost. A Dardennes brother was the last movie I expected someone to point out the necessity to remember there's a camera behind.
I mentioned Cassavetes, his movies felt improvised but they were not, he let his own truth implode in front of the camera but never forgot it started with an eye watching you, even Bergman never forgot that pact with the camera. And that's the essence of the Dardennes' talent as well, they don't tell, they show, they use acting and interacting as the vehicle of their plot, everything is left to our attentive eyes, it's all in way we see them... and even the climactic resolution is all visual.
You can be a Nolan, a Spielberg or a Chazelle, but the minimalist talent the Dardennes showcases might be even more difficult to reach, because without budget, special effects and marketing, you can't take any chances, you only have the truth to hang on and that has no price.
M or the Mark of a Disillusioned Genius... M like Manichean? What can you say of a plot driven by criminals and where good people are rather inefficient for the most part and where the most despicable character earns our own sympathy. This is a movie using such stark black-and-white contrasts, noir in its soul and gray in its core.
M like Mob Mentality? Fritz Lang personal "J'accuse" against a system where accusers aren't all innocent.
M like Maturity? The film also consecrates German Expressionism as a peak of creativity and social relevance, a sequence in history where Berlin became, literally, the best area and arena of expression to an art that had reached its maturity.
Or M like Mörder, murderer in German, Maudit in French (doomed) and Masterpiece in the universal language of cinema.
M like Menace (and Music).
Children are singing an elimination game of ominous undertones, later we see little Elsie playing with the balloon, a shadowy silhouette appears, the face remains unrevealed while we hear the whistling of "In the Hall of Mountain King". Before the 'shark' theme in "Jaws" to the "Psycho" shrieking violins, the "Peer Gynt" tune became the first notable leitmotif meant to suggest an evil presence, the perfect device to put us in the victims' standpoint for the first act, as powerlessly as the poor mother calling Elsie while her balloon (the bait used by Hans Beckert) is drifting along the telephone wires.
The effects are then shown through the growing fame of the new 'Jack the Ripper' figure, the ensuing paranoia with any adult basically talking to a child is assaulted. The killer is a menace to an already crisis-stricken society, forcing the police department to triple the efforts: psychiatric cases are explored, handwriting analyzed and daily and nightly raids operated to make further pressure on the criminal world.
M for Methodic. For its second act, "M" iss the seminal police procedural.
While covering that angle with a documentary-like precision, Lang still seems dubious about the police's efficiency and provides an interesting twist by paralleling the work of the law with the outlaws'. In a long sequence where both sides brainstorm about the methods to use to find him, we swing back and forth from one world to another and the only indicator of the side of the law we're put in is the presence of uniform, last time I saw criminals acting like politicians in a masterpiece, it was in "The Godfather". One even points out insightfully that the killer must be a bourgeois, because it's the very standard of life that provides the level of idleness driving any easily corruptible mind to the most extreme corners.
M like the sign on the shoulder.
So in a famous sequence, criminals, helped by the street beggars find Hans Beckert quicker than the police force, he was betrayed by his trademark whistling and (irony) a little girl who noticed the infamous letter marked on his shoulder. The following chase takes maybe too much time for the film's own good. Not saying the film could do without the struggle to catch him but the court is such a high point of cinema's history that the previous part seems more forgettable.
And Peter Lorre with his round face, innocent eyes when he's cornered like a rat and utters his memorable speech, gives the performance of a lifetime, as a living symptom, a man incarnating the sickness of a society where bad people toy with justice and the worst of all acts as childishly as his victims, claiming innocence with such rabid eloquence he's almost convincing.
Beckert says he can't control his impulses, a little voice urges him to commit the irreparable acts and his body language is simply gut-wrenching when he simply can't put "words". His 'lawyer' makes a good point about the past of some accusers, whose Becket call hypocrites because they could choose to be honest, but the accusers retort that whether he's responsible or not, he's still a menace. Sure, whether their reasons are selfish or ethical is debatable but can we empathize with Beckert?
M like Modernity.
Looking at Twitter or Youtube or Facebook comments today, you can tell there's something ferocious and still on-going about mob mentality and a film like "M" could be deemed as feeble and liberal in the way it provides a tribune to a child molester, the worst possible crime.
M like Multilayered.
Yet there are some powerful truths hiding underneath the thriller, the truth about a society sick of its own contradictions, determined to impose standards of morality (white) and condemning true crimes (black) but indulgent toward activities that have no worse repercussion. That the film ends with black-clad mothers admitting their own responsibility is perhaps the most optimistic thing about "M", the sentence doesn't matter, what matters is the lesson behind... but did German learn the lesson?
Ironically, one could have seen the rise of the Nazi empire as the antidote, like Thea Von Sarbou who wrote the film and worked for the Nazi regime, other could also see it as its worst possible consecration like director Fritz Lang. That he didn't side with the criminals at the end emphasizes an intuitive comprehension of his world and allowed this film to be hailed as a true, intelligent, nightmarish and alas, premonitory masterpiece.. with M as the mark of a disillusioned genius.
M like Meditative? Mysterious? Mantic?
Interestingly, the French title is "M le Maudit", meaning the doomed one, as if Beckert was the living incarnation of a doomed society, as if there was indeed something rotten in the Weimar Republic and It wouldn't get any better after but could Fritz Lang anticipate it? Looking up his second masterpiece "M", I was wondering whether Lang reflected his own rejection of German society or cared enough to warn the audience against the impending doom of decadence.
Surely, the director behind "Metropolis" could only pinpoint with the accuracy of a soothsayer the limits of a civilization that might take its heritage for granted.
From pointless violence to violence with a point... Michael Winner's exploration of the criminal side of New York City is no news after movies like "Shaft", "Midnight Cowboy", "The French Connection" or "Mean Streets". Its novelty though is in the character of Paul Kersey, an ordinary man like the Yin to Harry Callahan's Yang. Both "Dirty Harry" and "Death Wish" are complementary because they speak the same statement about the "only answer to violence" except that Paul is more relatable and accessible than Harry.
He's an architect, a liberal, a former Conscience Objector, with a beautiful wife (Hope Lange) whose beauty doesn't grace the screen for too long, a married daughter and a steady job as an architect (and we do see him work, it's not just character-branding). The contrast between Paul's life and his environment is startling and the opening credits takes you from the idyllic beauty of Hawaii to the urban New City musically presented like the anteroom of Hell and it's all about how much time it'll take for Paul to realize it. Speaking of time, it's interesting the way a movie that basically codified the vigilante-trope is deprived of the plot-related clichés that wouldn't have ruined it in the first place. Some films can be predictably great, "Death Wish" is surprisingly good.
Being part of what can be called a "modern audience", I naturally expected a climactic and bloody confrontation between Paul and the punks who murdered his wife and raped his daughter. But as a "New Hollywood" fan, I feel guilty for such immature expectations as there was no reason for Kersey to bump into them during his one-man crusade against violence. That enough was a triumph of restrained writing, if not intelligent, and what makes "Death Wish" even more powerful is its lack of emotional juice even when it's called for, Paul's fight is personal but not taken personally. As he tells his son-in-law (Steven Keats represents our point of view): "I should groan and moan the rest of my life?".
We're so used to deal with widowers going all berserk about the loss of their dear one that a character like Paul can't fail to appeal, Charles Bronson said that he had a face chiseled in a rock, the same could be said about his heart. Here is a man who is no emotionless cold zombie but tackles his new assignment as something that "must be done" because there's no other way. The film only starts to sin when it turns to an addictive game, but that occurs so late that it doesn't even seem to be the film's point. Maybe the point lies in the way Paul contemplates his accomplishments and life philosophy before seeing them sacrificed at the altar of pointless violence then examines the world of violence with the daring curiosity of a child who gets his finger close to a flame, until he decides to dirty his hands... and then we go from 'pointless violence' to 'violence with a point'.
Many would argue that even crime has a "point", as wicked as it, muggers attack to get their fix of crack or heroine, to scare good citizens and have their share of thrills by shaking the establishment, the infamous rape sequence is a disturbing moment but even in the midst of the horror, you wonder whether they raped the girl or the class she was belonging to. The class aspect is integral to the film's message, when you have a job and a family, you have many assets to protect because you have the right to value them and to defend yourself.
This is how the issues of gun control intrude themselves in the questioning that leads to Paul Kersey's final decision. During a mission in Arizona, he meets a businessman (Stuart Margolin) who introduces him to his passion for guns. And when you expect a quick shortcut, the film takes its time to show us what will finally trigger Kersey's decision. He witnesses a Western representation and see the audience's lack of reaction as an illustration of citizens' powerlessness, later, he asks his son-in-law what has become with the pioneer spirit and the necessity to protect yourself. The film isn't exactly an incantation to gun in the sense that it establishes it as a survival move than a necessity.
And the film isn't the revenge crusade everyone will expect, it's a series of night strolls where Kersey makes himself an easy prey only to shoot to death any assaulter. He makes the headlines quick and become a legend, inspiring people to defend themselves and muggers to think twice and people to talk about him, even the Officer in charge of the investigation (Vincent Gardenia) reminded me of Jim Gordon's relationship with Batman. As for the public opinion, feelings are mixed: "Has criminality decreased?" "No, muggers will only attack old women" "Is he racist because he kills more Blacks and Latinos" "No, it's because they're proportionally more present". In fact, it's like the whole film anticipated Youtube, Facebook or maybe Twitter comments.
People just love straight shooters and maybe that's why a few liberal critics didn't totally approve the film. Ebert called it a quasi-fascist fantasy... maybe borrowing the line from Pauline Kael's "Dirty Harry" review and Vincent Canby accused the film of being a dangerous falsification of truth from New York outsiders. Speaking for myself, I think the film has at least the guts to question the question (so to speak) while dealing with a man who shoots first and "ask the questions later".
The problem, if problem is the right word, lies in the evolution of Kersey from a man who resents violence to a man who enjoys it, his last grin at the end is supposed to be a satisfactory moment or maybe it's a triumph of cynicism, if these thugs enjoy so much being criminals, why shouldn't he be enjoying himself?
The Gendarme of Saint-Troopette... Comedic series usually falter down after the third opus, when even the most forgiving audience can't overlook the enormity of a half-assed script and the lousiness of half-baked gags.
But every golden rule has an exception and "The Troops of St. Tropez" series is the perfect illustration that the antidote to these detestable screen symptoms has only only ingredient: star-power. Louis de Funès was a living audience-drainer. After the 1964 hit, the team could adapt to the craziest formulas, they were fishes out of water in New York City, they got married, they were set apart and reunited, they even fought Aliens and each time, the film never attracted less than four million viewers. Neither did "The Troops and the Troopettes" despite challenging every notion of bad taste and dated humor.
Maybe it was time for the series to end. Maybe the sight of a frail-looking De Funès was an indirect reminder of the living thunderbolt he used to be. Maybe watching him trying to hold his grimaces and gesticulations was like watching the Lemmon of "Grumpy Old Men" while reminiscing "Some Like it Hot". Maybe a seventh opus would have put a deathblow on his winning streak. But the actor died three months after the release, reputation unsoiled and legacy ensured by millions of viewers and trillions of laughs. His death was a sad time for French cinema but came at a good timing because the torch was being passed to a new breed of humor, screwball Pierre Richard under Veber's sophisticated direction or biting satire with the Splendid Troop. The days of glory were over and a crisis-stricken France generated a more mature audience craving for some social commentary behind the jokes.
Even Jean Girault (who died during the filming of "Troopettes") and De Funès felt the change of wind and made a different movie with "The Cabbage Soup", a film that showed the loneliness of isolated farmers and the effects of modernity in rural France. Looking up my "Cabbage Soup" review, I said it was the penultimate movie of the old-time partners and their ultimate classic if we forgive the final "Gendarmes" movie in 1982. I'm glad I didn't say "forget" or "dismiss" but I suspect I'll be in a minority if I say that the ultimate de Funès' movie wasn't the ultimate outrage many fans claim it to be... I concede that some parts can be outrageously bad but outrageously and uninterestingly are two separate words and in-between, there is a realm of enjoyment that prompted me to wear my 'devil's advocate' coat. Sure it is a turkey but I would say, a turkey... à l'orange!
Addressing the elitist section of movie fans, cinematic purists or the cohort of cinephiles drooling over anything stamped "Nouvelle Vague", I say, yes, your honor, "The Troops and the Troopettes" is a never-ending series of outdated jokes, over-the-top tantrums and cringe-worthy exploitations of women that make Benny Hill look like Monty Python, not to mention some unnecessary racist jokes... yet there wasn't one second in the film where I was bored, which I guess is a basic accomplishment for a comedy. The first "Troops" movies had their slowest moments and their share of lame gags but they were never as daring and bold as the last onzq... and I've got to admire a movie that pushes the level of bad taste up to eleven, if it doesn't make you laugh, it finds a way to impress you. What's more impressive is that the film manages to be driven by a plot, crazy-nun driving but driving nonetheless.
Four new recruits who all seemed to come up from Givenchy ads, and naturally catch the eye of our six gendarmes, one has a double effect because of her ethnicity as it seems that our old Frenchies aren't accustomed to the sight of an African woman. Now, ethnic gags were hit-or-miss with De Funès, it was a disaster in "The Tattoo" but hilarious in "The Mad Adventures of Rabbi Jacob". The references to Macumba's origins are so redundant it stops being funny but the film insists so much that it ends up ridiculing the Troops, not the woman, the film even uses the beginning of a racial slur as if it really highlighted some old colonial bigotry, it's not as subtle as in a Tarantino movie, but it's so outrageous it becomes inoffensive. We forgive them, they're just out-of-touch old guys, De Funès, Galabru, Jacques François, even the youngest ones (Guy Grosso and Michel Modo) can't hide their white hair and balding sideline while Patrick Préjean and Maurice Risch provides the 'young' touch... which isn't saying much.
What's more to forgive? Well, the plot is an improbable salad made of James-Bond like situations and stunts, improvised choreographies, cartoon gags, vaudeville hysteria with a Claude Gensac more excitable than ever and Grand Guignol histrionic mimics where it seems that Galabru waited for the final film to have the upper vocal timber on Cruchot. The whole thing is insane, indigestible, noisy but it has a few sweet and tender moments. And amidst that brouhaha, something happened I didn't expect, it opened my eye on the notion of "over-the-top" and made me accept that there comes a moment where comedy needs to stop being too subtle and just implode its ugly irreverent side to the face of the earth.
Interestingly, the very actors who dethroned De Funès would play in similar over-the-top movies in the 90s, but in 1982, they wanted their idol to star with them in their movie "Gramps is in the Resistance" but fate decided otherwise, Galabru played the "Gramps" part and the film was dedicated to his long-time partner. But one can't watch "Troopettes" with bitter eyes for the role that made him a star was the perfect swan song for Louis de Funès. In a way, the film is about a bunch of "gramps" who are resisting... the march of modernity through one last musical march across St Tropez.
The Woman Who Was Seen Too Much and the Man Who Didn't See Enough... When I first saw "Notorious", the last five minutes left me angry. I felt sorry for Alex Sebastian, perhaps the most sympathetic of all Hitchcock's villains, to the point I even questioned his vileness.
Indeed, he might be a former Nazi as far as the viewer is concerned (and with Hitchcock, he always is) but Sebastian never professes any pro-Nazi statement, never acts violently and unlike Captain Renault, Claude Rains for once plays a character whose heart is his most vulnerable spot, and it was enough to earn my sympathy... and the Academy's Oscar nomination. He's genuinely in love with Alicia Huberman unknowing that she's working for Devlin (Cary Grant) and the American government. And unlike his rival 'Dev', what Sebastian says does reflect how he feels and given how much time Grant and Bergman spend playing hide-and-seek with their feelings, that's good enough to appreciate Sebastian.
I'm not the Cary Grant type, I never got the Bergman-type either so maybe that's why I empathize with a diminutive gentlemanly mamma's boy who wants to gets a girl out of his league, there's just something so innately pathetic in Sebastian. Even his decision to kill Alicia was dictated by self-preservation... and his domineering mom (Leopoldine Konstantin). So when he was begging Devlin and was shut off from the car with Alicia harboring a triumphant smirk, knowing what fate was awaiting the poor man, I was so sad for him I couldn't cheer for the heroes.
I guess Hitchcock's efforts to build a triangular love leading up to that climactic confrontation worked just too well. And as strongly as I rooted for Rains, I did root for Ingrid Bergman who plays here perhaps her most fascinating character, a woman endowed with breathtaking beauty but forced by birth to live in a world of duality, smartly conveyed by Hitchcock's establishing shots.
When we first meet her, she's at her father's trial, a German scientist who betrayed USA and replied to the verdict with a rant his lawyer advised him to stop... Alicia didn't need such advice, remaining silent and dignified as a woman capable to hide her feelings. Off the record, she's a whole different character. We see her during a party, surrounded by friends, drinking, wearing a zebra-outfit and being courted by a crass rich man and observed by a fellow whose back is the only hint of presence, that and the impassible and impersonal tone of his voice.
The tone is set indeed: Alicia is a woman of contradictions constantly subjected to men's observations, and Dev is a straightforward man who can only express a few feelings based on what he sees, missing the unspoken so many times he's enwalling himself in the same trap. With the woman who was seen too much and the man who couldn't see enough, the characterization is perhaps the most achieved and mature of any of his films. Working in the same pitch than writer Ben Hecht, Hitchcock could make a great post-war thriller and a splendid romance whose most memorable moment remains that clever and unforgettable three-minute series of kisses, none of them exceeding three seconds, quoting Bergman herself, Hitchcock was an adorable (and quite truculent) genius.
And Bergman has always been perfect in duality roles, portraying women forced to wear masks of pretension, "Gaslight", "Casablanca", "Spellbound" are all stones paving the road to "Notorious". Her Alicia is a woman notoriously known as as a seductress but in love, she's a fragile and vulnerable creature, at first sight, she embodies the cynicism of many citizens after the war while expressing her idealism in front of a traitor. It's only when facing injustice, that her real and heroic self can blossom. She doesn't disguise her feelings for too long, her tragedy is that Dev isn't quite the same.
Grant is so stuck-up he almost 'gaslights' Alicia into a state of depression. His treatment made me as furious as the one Sebastian underwent but the two subplots created a fine mechanical irony: it's precisely for the obvious chemistry between Dev and Alicia, that Sebastian's suspicion is misguided. He's so insecure and so busy believing she still loves Dev that he never suspects she might be a spy, not that it changes anything for Alicia who turns out to be the prey of two men and a third one, behind the camera. "Notorious" is seldom mentioned as a masterpiece of voyeurism but it's the film with the most subtly voyeuristic moves where the attention is the most demanded from the audience.
"Notorious" also contains one of the most memorable trick shots from the master: the long zoom on the entrance hall leading to the infamous 'UNICA' key in Alicia's twisting hand, a simple key opening a wine cellar, we're in Hitchcock's comfort zone with his most cherished darling, the McGuffin. We never know exactly what the key opens, but when Sebastian holds Alicia's closed fists and kisses a hand, I held my breath. We know the stakes from the start, no mistake is allowed and Alicia is a triple heroine because unlike Devlin, she doesn't have any backup and she doesn't have any respect. I guess if it wasn't for Devlin's final chivalrous move, I would have hated his guts.
Now, should they have taken Sebastian with them or let him sign his own death warrant? He knew the poison hence the antidote, he could provide all the information they needed... instead, they just leave. And when Sebastian is asked to come and the door closes, we prefer not to know what happens next.
And if you think Hitch would sacrifice a memorable ending for the sake of plausibility, you haven't seen many Hitchcock movies.
The Rules of Engagement... Just when "A Streetcar Named Desire" made me think more caution would have prevented Blanche's descent into madness, Elia Kazan provided a perfect counter-example with "Splendor in the Grass", a passionate high-school movie about teenage love, but also a harrowing psychology study of the devastating effects of social and parental rules.
Indeed, for all its evocative title (it's a quote from Wordsworth' poetic ode to youth memories), the film can be summarized in one word: frustration... of the sexual type. This is not the least original theme for a movie directed in 1961 but is that surprising from Kazan? It's interesting that Natalie Wood starred in another story about forbidden love the same year, but here, the 'music' isn't quite the same, as the love isn't even forbidden in the first place despite something horribly unavoidable about its heartbreak.
Kazan's movies have always centered on characters with a devouring need, the strongest torment being to please someone. James Dean wanted his father to be proud of him in "East of Eden" but in a heartbreaking scene, he couldn't even reach him for a hug. Terry Malloy wanted to please his friends until he realized it was at the expenses of his self-esteem (remember how he called himself in that taxi). Blanche Dubois was sexually attracted to a brutish man while she more depended on kindness.
And these characters all found walls of misunderstanding that filled their hearts with guilt and resentment. Some triumphed over their demons, some didn't... but the main symptom was the fear of rejection, one would rather reject himself than being rejected. In "Splendor in the Grass" love is mutual and undeniable but it plays both the role of the driver and the obstacle, so guilt is self-inflicted despite the fact that the blame can be easily put on the parents or the gossips of 'good' people.
Would you see today two young adults being forbidden to express their love? It was still difficult in 1961 but the film is set in different times, at the dawn of the Great Depression, for the kind of depression that even money can't solve. The story is about Bud Stamper (Warren Bearry) and Wilma Dean Loomis "Deanie" (Natalie Wood) and starts with the peak of their love, no courting or flirting, these two youngsters love each other, they're in the car and are making out. Deanie can't go "further" but there's a hint we're not dealing with any predictable scenario.
Bud is angry, needs to take some fresh air before driving Deanie home. They know they have to wait, but we know they're in a hurry, look how violently Deanie throws her teddy-bear as if she was tired of being a child. The following scenes indicate that they might wait a little longer as we see both of them being treated as their parent's children, not as adults. Deanie's mother (Audrey Christie) is less concerned about being late than being spoiled, embodying the norm about good girls waiting for marriage, though her passionless description of sex doesn't make it a patience-rewarding achievement.
The idea that "men don't love like women" is also brought up differently by Bud's boorish (and nouveau riche) father played by scene-stealing Pat Hingle. He tells him to wait till he finishes Yale, which means four years, and tries to have good time with the other girls. Poor Bud couldn't even wait four days! The "there's two kinds of girls" idea have always been a darling for Martin Scorsese, and given Kazan's influence, I'm pretty sure "Splendor in the Grass" inspired his debut "I Call First" but the case of Bud is more heartbreaking because he doesn't even care about "bad girls".
From our perspective, the parents' misconceptions are wrong but the Oscar-winning screenplay from William Inge shows that even by the time's standards, these kids were victims. Bud idealizes Deanie too much to have physical contact with her, and she loves him too much to imagine sex with someone else, and in that magnificent moment where she literally begs him for sex, I could feel the passion killing her from inside. At the end, the two lovers could only resent each other as the sources of their frustrations.
But I don't think the film idealizes love, because there's no doubt the parents love their kids, though in a destructive way, it doesn't even put sex on a pedestal as it's mainly associated with debauchery or the slutty behavior of Bud's sister. What the film does is highlighting the hypocrisy of society and parents who regard sex as impure, ignoring its crucial importance in one's development. We have two parents who unknowingly crush the soul and spirit of their children in the name of some idealization, leading the most vulnerable one to a harrowing breakdown. Natalie Wood was rightfully Oscar-nominated for her spectacular performance.
Bud's confusion and existential dead-end could only count on the Karmatic effect of the 1929 crash ... which ironically, didn't have much impact on the Loomises for reasons that show the script's brilliance. And the certitude that the film was less about the kids than their parents is that the saving moment for both Bud and Deanie came from Deanie's father (Fred Stewart) and allowed the film to conclude on a bittersweet note, sweet underlined.
Now, I know I have a good film when it psychologically involves me and the performances of the two leads did justice to the legacy of Kazan who knew how to get the best acting. But there's a moment near the end where I was like "didn't the mother learn?" I was about to hate the film but the father made me applaud and repeat "bravo" several times.
That the best gesture came from a parent proved there was a light of hope after all.
A credit to Eddie Murphy's talent... As I was rediscovering Eddie Murphy's "Nutty Professor" saga, the movies grew on me in a way I didn't expect. And realizing that the Klump family should be the first role for the actor to be remembered. I say 'should' because there's no way it will ever beat Axel Folley. But I'm not sure the 'Beverly Hills Cop' movies aged as well as the Klumps, even the first opus didn't leave me quite ecstatic, Murphy was good but in a rather thin plot. But you can count on the Klumps to fatten even the thinner plot, the family was the juiciest and certainly the best role for Eddie Murphy... because it's to be used in a plural form.
Eddie Murphy has always been a versatile actor within his comedic range and his talent to embody multiple characters seemed to have reached a pinnacle with "Coming to America", but it wasn't until 1996 that he could transcend it by playing gag-guys who were not just one or two-scene wonders but fully developed characters with different personalities. It seems crazy but the suspension of disbelief does work, you know it's Eddie Murphy all right but there comes a point where you identify each member of the family and take them as separate persons.
He can be a boorish father with a good heart, a loving Big Mama, a depraved grandma and a boorish big brother yet be believable in each of these disguises. But as Sherman Klump, Murphy exudes such likability and tenderness that you're almost sorry this guy doesn't exist while his alter-ego is the original version. Buddy Love embodies his primal role as a true villain (like the original with Jerry Lewis) and whenever he shows up, loudly and annoyingly, there's something infuriating about him and you just want Klump to punch him in the face. In a smart self-loathing way, Murphy makes his usual self the bad guy.
And once you're in Klump territory, you know you're in there for laughs and good spirit... not so good spirit, you know you'll have to deal with a few poop jokes here and there, but it's weird how the sweetness cancels everything out and make you forgive the most shameful parts or the bits where the plot loses its way or goes too "fart" in the gross department. Take the character of Denise, played by Janet Jackson, as the plot goes on, she's given every possible and vulgar excuse to dump Sherman yet she stays, she forgives him.
I love how patient she is with the man she loves, I like the way she's the one making the first movie, and I liked that she played a different character, it was a nice touch in regard of Jada Pinkett Smith who turned out to simply be a friend. And Sherman is the kind of man to make friends and to attract girls with his kindness, if only he knew the potential he had and how great he was. A lesser film would have made "conquering her heart" the big issue while it's more about getting back the "brain" and even more about conquering your self-esteem.
Take the way Sherman Klump feels overshadowed by the loud and extraverted personality of Buddy Love. "The Klumps" takes the concept to the extreme by separating the two men and confronting one to another, this extraction didn't go without side effects, one dramatic: Buddy taking Sherman's intelligence and making us witness the slow process of his dumbing down and losing his number three asset (gentleness and honesty being the first) and a funnier one: Buddy's DNA mixed with a dog with funny consequences.
There was something of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in the original idea, we all live with an idealized perception of ourselves. I've always had height issues and blame my shyness and low self-esteem on what I regarded as a tragic case of 'arrested development'. The subsequent thought was "if only I were tall", I imagined myself more confident, more talkative, more mature etc. Maybe it's true, maybe I'm only projecting an idealization, maybe if I were another person, I would have hated myself, but how would I know?
The first film's lesson was about appreciating who you are and learning to live with yourself. This still applies in "The Klumps" with the added notion that you have to try to improve a little bit, if you can, to trust yourself. The film explores marital insecurities between the parents as the father lost his job and suffers from impotence, and the mother feels abandoned and hides behind her shining smile an emotional vulnerability. Grandma Klump supplies the best and raunchiest jokes while the relationship between Dean Richmond (Larry Miller) and Klump provide some of the funniest bits of dialogues.
Now, as a sequel? The inevitable question is: is it better than the first? I would say, it's as good, it carries as much depth and heart and fun as the first and works as a nice little continuation of the first, even more genuine since there was no third opus. This is one of Murphy's finest hours and I wish the film would be more recognized for its quality in terms of comedic acting, make-up and special effects. It's not just that the characters behave differently but they also look differently in a credible way, even the unexpected young version of Papa Klump.
Apparently, the film is worth less than a five on IMDb, well, I think it deserves a second chance, it's better than that, it's funny, gentle and provide some touching emotional moments. And Murphy isn't just good when it comes to scream, dance, laugh or shout, the climactic moment in the train station almost had me choking, that's a credit to Eddie Murphy's talent.
Powerful jazz drama, full of changes of 'tunes' and 'cymbalisms'... Miles Davis said "You can tell the history of jazz in four words: Louis Armstrong. Charlie Parker." I bet Armstrong is the one all jazz non-experts will immediately think of... and I'm no jazz expert.
I wish I was but I'm not... but what even my feeble ear could gather from Clint Eastwood's "Bird" is that Parker's music was jazz all right but something more... or let's just say something else. It doesn't exactly ring a bell but it reminds me of the kind of music we hear everyday, it's modern but jazzy enough to fly above today's modernity. The word "Bebop" wasn't used in the film, I got it from Wikipedia but I don't want to be technical in a field I don't master. I'll say with all humility that I liked the music, no matter the branding.
But it's one thing to make a movie about a musical genius and another to show you the psychological struggles of the artist. Oh, he wasn't misunderstood and his talent was acknowledged by his peers but the man, how to put it, took himself in a path of self-destruction that is hard to understand. The film doesn't imply that the drugs he took to ease the pain of his ulcers influence his style but they didn't impair his talent either, substance abuse was as much part of his legend as the cymbal thrown at his feet in that humiliating day where he couldn't adapt to the chords changes of tunes.
The flying cymbal is used as a poetic leitmotif symbolizing Bird's epiphany, the pivotal moment where he decided to work his way out, not to become the best, but to be able to adapt to every possible tune. I don't know what it means technically but I can tell it means a lot of work, in fact, the kind of work that is so overwhelming in content that it ends up opening new breeches of creativity. Parker would become so good he'd invent new forms of improvisations, new sounds that were pivotal in the evolution of jazz music.
And he was loved and admired by his peers, the audience and the woman who was his number one fan, Chan Parker. The relationship between Chan and Charlie is like nothing you've seen before, it's so complex and unpredictable that it can only be real, it's full of heart, passion, tragedy and the same dedication to music. She knew him from a friend, "is he cute?" she asked, "no, but you're gonna like him". I said I was no musical expert but sometimes, I could just tell how good Parker was from the eyes of Chan, he had won her from the start and the courting phase of their relationship was only a matter of 'how to put it'.
Chan was still frustrated that a man with such a capability of creativeness could be so lacking in basic interactions. But there's no doubt he's the man of her life, no matter how many conquests he had. And that's a key aspect of Parker's life, people 'forgave' him, drugs, women, coming late, not honoring his schedules, if anything, his talent was his one saving grace. And Dizzy Gillespie (Joe E. Wright), third major 'player' in the film, realizes Parker is destroying himself with drugs and lack of structure, but he also knows that jazz is the kind of music that needs these destructive souls, he knows Parker will die earlier, and will be a legend, but Bird's a martyr while he's a reformer, jazz needs both, constructors and "deconstructors", leaders and drifters, music needs rules and freedom.
And "Bird" is a fascinating non-linear immersion in the drifting of one of jazz' most blessed souls, from his spectacular debut to his slow downfall and the way he never ceases to attract crowds and fans, there's a wonderful sequence set in the Old South where he took a Jewish saxophonist Red Rodney (Michael Zelniker) and presented him as an albino, it's for touches like this or the jazz playing during the Jewish wedding that you realize how life isn't a matter of the number of years you lived but how they're lived. When Parker's own life ends, the coroner states his age at 64, he was thirty years too many, but many lives are longer yet with a lesser legacy.
I said that I didn't want to use data from websites for this review but one bit of information I found interesting is that there was no visual footage of the artist, so Eastwood had to use recordings and adapt them electronically to the movie so the sound we could hear would really come from Parker's old records (some borrowed from Chan Parker herself). That's how te film won the Oscar for Best Sound and it says a lot about the perfectionism that drove Eastwood, you know when he makes personal movies, he always hits the right chord, ever since "Play Misty for Me", Eastwood showed that he took music personally and the film ends with a fitting dedication to all the musicians in the world.
I shouldn't say musicians in the world, because sometimes musicians recreate the world through the movement of their fingers, lips or the infinite brain capacity to adapt, Parker was known to have an intellectual approach to the music and even without perceiving it, I could understand it... and admire it. "Bird" is a movie that can make you feel such abstractions and I think it has a lot to do with the powerhouse performances of both Forest Whitaker and Diane Venora, snubbed by the Oscars and I mean it.
"Bird" is a rather dark film, mostly set at a nighttime but there's a fire burning inside, and for all the sadness carried in Parker's eyes, we know that there's joy and lust for life devouring his heart. Time to end this review before I sound too corny, but watch "Bird" is a solid jazz drama and a fine tribute to one of the best...
Stone-age fun that won't leave you stone-faced... There's one thing the lyrics get right: The Flintstones are the modern stone age family, "modern" underlined.
Indeed, the iconic family from the town of Bedrock set all the standards of TV sitcoms decades before "The Simpsons". Fred Flintstone, originally a variation of Jackie Gleason in "The Honeymooners" became the staple of all TV everyday American fathers, big-sized, big-hearted but of average intelligence guys who drink beer, go bowling buddies and of course, make us laugh.
Speaking of big and jovial, remember that bus scene in "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" where Steve Martin who was playing a stuck-up and sinister businessman was asked to pick a song. His choice was rather uninspired as "Three Coins in the Fountain" only garnered awkward silences... until John Candy caught up by singing the "Flintstones" theme and the whole bus sang in unison, and you could even hear the iconic "Wilma!" at the end. That's how popular the show was to a whole generation of adults and kids in 1987... and I could have picked another example such as "The Simpsons" hilarious parody in the "Monorail" episode, if it wasn't for Fred, there would be no Homers.
Technically and visually, "The Flintstones" wasn't exactly a landmark of animation but it was a game-changer because as a cartoon with the appeal of a TV series and whose years of re-runs consolidated the legacy. People enjoyed the plots as well as the animation, maybe more. Personally, I've never been a fan of Hanna-Barbera 60s/70s cartoons but "The Flintstones" (and to a lesser degree, "The Jetsons") is one of the rare peaks of animation reached at a time where minimalist UPA and TV politics had killed off all the charm and visual quality inherited from the Golden Age. So in the early 90s, everyone had grown up with the TV program and would mostly associate prehistoric times with funny people dressed in cavemen's clothes, driving cars with their feet and having dinosaurs or animals as pets or household objects.
The cartoon's secret was to have all these elements used as peripheral gags or props to establish the environment while the episodes, as I remember ,were consistent enough to sustain a half-an-hour format and mature enough to attract adult audiences. I was often surprised by the show's length but I guess that's the reason why it was the last one aired on Cartoon Network before the torch was passed to TNT. That mix of cartoony elements and adult-related themes made it a fitting transition. And this is why I believe the movie adaptation does justice to the cartoon because the central character is the everyday man caught up in situations adults can relate to, bonding with friends, being promoted, handling a sexy secretary and spiteful mother-in-law etc.
Roger Ebert praised the visuals but criticized the plot, a Razzie-nominated screenplay with as many writers as extras in "Gandhi". Okay, it might not be the script of the year but I don't know what he exactly expected as a more kid-oriented family film. Surely dealing with aptitude tests, mechanization, adultery and adoption isn't exactly the themes children expect in an animated movie, but first of all, most fans were all grown-ups and secondly, the film contains so much slapstick and visual delights that I can't imagine kids yawning in the theater.
The balance doesn't always work and there are many overly dark and sexy moment t but Ebert's criticism echoed a similar complaint he had about "The Lion King" which was too dramatic for children and dealt with Shakespearian themes such as succession, tribalism and honor that might get over the heads of the little ones. But now, it's regarded as a classic, and given how many cartoons patronize children with their marketing-oriented themes, "The Flintstones" has aged unexpectedly well. Sure, we're all blasé about live-action remakes but it wasn't yet a trend in the 90s and CGI effects were still getting warm with "The Mask" or "Jurassic Park". For all its computer imagery, the film strikes for its great practical effects, a rock can look phony but never fake.
And there's John Goodman's performance carrying the film like a huge boulder and he's so good I can't believe he was snubbed by the Golden Globes. If Jim Carrey is nominated for "The Mask", there's no reason to overlook Goodman who doesn't impersonate a cartoon character but appropriate him so well that we can't separate between the two. He's over the top enough to remind us of Fred but human enough to fit a live-action format. Rick Moranis is perfect as Barney Rubble, his long-suffering friend, and Elizabeth Perkins does a goof job as Wilma. Kyle McLachlan and Halle Berry plays the villainous scheming duo and you can tell how much fun they had playing their roles, as Berry points it out, she was bad, but she was so good at it.
The real problem was the casting of Rosie O'Donnell and I feel almost guilty because apart from her look, her performance didn't ruin the film. The problem is that Betty Rubble's beauty is as much a defining trait as Fred's orange suit, Rosie O'Donnell isn't ugly but isn't exactly the first beauty to come to your mind. It was distracting and became one of the most notorious cases of miscasting. Another misfire was the unnecessary kidnapping of the children, till now, the scream of Little Pebbles in that wagon seems out of place. Apart from that, the film was good enough to garner more awards, it was overdue a special effects Oscar nomination or set-designs.
As for the critics who thought kids wouldn't actually understand or enjoy the plot, I guess the plot of the film itself teaches a good lesson to those who're too eager to underestimate one's lack of intelligence. The film is certainly not flawless, but it's entertaining, fun and aged better than expected. And who can resist to the sight of Liz Taylor forming a Konga line with a caveman and a pet-dinosaur?
It was... (yaaaaawn!)... good... On the surface, "Hereafter" is as much about the afterlife as "Ghost", "Flatliners" or "The Sixth Sense" but it's a Clint Eastwood movie so its approach to its central theme is less in the realm of supernatural spectacle than meditative contemplation. Yet for all its commendable pretension to be a meaningful existential drama, the film delivers less than the aforementioned movies... but it still got praises!
I actually read some positive critics, and I was surprised by Roger Ebert's reception ... surprised to a limit, because it was a few months before "The Tree of Life" came out and became one of his ultimate favorite movies, so my guess is that it takes one's soul approaching its own mortality (Ebert or Eastwood) to reach a capability to embrace the material. I'm questioning my mortality all right but maybe I'm young enough to miss the film's beauty or alive enough to spot some flaws.
"Hereafter" consists of three stories told separately. The first involves Cecile de France as Marie, a French survivor of the Tsunami that killed hundreds of thousands of people in 2004. The second story is about Marcus (Frankie/George McLaren), an English preteen who loses his twin brother and tries to "contact" him. And the third protagonist is George, Matt Damon as a medium who can see your dead relatives through simple hand contact. His psychic abilities resulting from a childhood's concussion have poisoned his life and made him reject the one thing making him special, like Chris Walken in "The Dead Zone".
To be fair, all these stories had strong potentials when taken separately, the problem is that they cancel each other.
Marie lived a near-death experience and while she can share her experience with friends or family members capable of empathy, we only see her handling her post-traumatic experience with her colleagues and her detached lover played by Thierry Neuvic. So naturally, she encounters misunderstanding and is awkwardly surprised about the hostility. The way I see it, either she's going through an emotional phase... and then shouldn't be surprised about the lack of enthusiasm from people whose relationships are strictly professional, or she believes in her story in a more opportunistic fashion.
Either ways, there's something rather confusing about her motivation. When she decides to write a book, it's handled as an end rather than a mean, she doesn't even talk with people who lived similar experiences, she only takes some notes from a doctor who worked at palliative care and just in time before the movie closes, she gets invited to the book fair. I get that the film is more interested in the 'living' matters and won't try to make a philosophical statement about her vision of the afterlife, but it wasn't really effective in turning Marie into some sort of whistleblower or heroic crusader.
Marcus' story had the most enthralling premise but some shadow of mystery would have fitted it better. Marcus can't talk to his deceased brother Jason "obviously" but we know there's one person who can help him so it's a matter of time before the two stories tie together. There's nothing wrong with predictability but there's something slightly disappointing when the viewer is one step ahead of the characters, when he knows where it's all heading to. We know Marcus will easily slip through his foster parents' attention, we know all the attempts to reach his brother will fail, and when they did, I was really cringing at how phony some mediums were... for a movie meant to feel real.
Now, regarding George, the film makes us believe in an afterlife or at least an existing frontier between life and death, which is well rendered in the opening sequences (although one can interpret them as hallucinatory visions). For all we know, maybe George only reads in people's minds. But there's no doubt that he's got a gift and he considers it a curse. Still, the film is unconsciously manipulative in the treatment of George when it's not the result of pure lazy screenwriting. For instance, everything we should learn about him is given to us on the nose by his brother at the most convenient time, but the reason we give credit to George's predicament is because it ruins a promising relationship with Melanie (Bryce Dallas Howard).
Seriously, what were the odds of having a love at first sight with a woman who had a troubled past, and involving a dead person at that? Why wouldn't George help a woman to talk to her deceased son if it can bring some comfort, especially since he accepted to help the kid? Everything seems driven by the evolving requirement of the plot but never leaves much to empathize with or simply understand, the script turns the universal theme of the afterlife or its intellectual or emotional quest to a McGuffin leading to a sappy sentimental conclusion.
There was room for some daring take on the subject, like Peter Weir's "Fearless", and God knows that Clint Eastwood is an expert when it comes to make meaningful and poignant movies but his stories have always dealt with active characters, who fulfilled some achievements. In "Hereafter", the areas of achievement are left unclear or unrevealed so that even the best scenes are drowned in a sort of existential bouillabaisse and one of rather bland taste.
If the film was a spectacular as its opening, as powerful as that moment where Melanie burst into tears, the ending could have been an emotional knockout. But the film deals with contrived coincidences, and each good scene is the result of a set-up made of lackluster uninspired moments so unworthy of Eastwood; even when it's slow, it's not Eastwood slow, it's so slow it made me mentally contemplate so many possible visions of an afterlife I almost reached the nirvana of boredom.
Kind of films that know what to deliver to audiences that know what to expect... "The Rookie" takes me back to the early 90s when thrillers and action pictures were all set aside for Sunday night, and from time to time, I was allowed to enjoy the movie with my Dad. Give me a few seconds to embrace the nostalgia...
And I remember when I saw good old Clint Eastwood in his car, watching carjackers loading a whole semi-trailer with their recent (and valuable) "purchases", I had but one certitude in mind: his partner would better have a last puff on his buddy's cigars because he'd spp, become another "dead on duty" statistic. He wasn't a few days from retirement but he was old, he was Black and well, as Roger Ebert pointed out, the film's title doesn't make you expect a "dazzling work of originality". But I didn't know Ebert at that time, only my classics.
So naturally, the man was shot from behind by the grand theft mastermind, a German (!?) mustached villain played by the late Raul Julia. Of course, it made the matter more personal for Nick Puvloski, a fine and shameless ersatz of Dirty Harry. Did I groan for such a lack of originality from the start? Well, I guess I just enjoyed the chase across the expressway and I knew the film would provide the shot of adrenalin we all expected for a Sunday Night. Of course, Nick doesn't get the villain, but he makes him lose the precious loot, creating another 'personal' grudge on the other side... and the next day, he's assigned a new partner, a young detective named David Ackerman.
The set-up was predictable and the rest of the story was swimming in familiar territories: a tense relationship between the old street-smart cop and the sensitive rookie played by Charlie Sheen, bargains with snitches, television kicked by the bad guy, the sexy villainess, and the spectacular stunts. I didn't see the film for years but my memory wasn't blurry at all, I still had enough scenes stuck in my mind to have this in the "memorable films" compartment. I remember Sonia Braga shooting David in the back with that "amateur" line (the ad made me expect he would die for real), I remember David again, getting smoke on his face from a condescending bartender and a few scenes later, returning the favor back with a slightly disproportionate retribution, the spectacularly explosive stunt... and I also liked the final touch at the end with the initial scene being Xeroxed almost line from line.
So when the film ended, we knew it wasn't a masterpiece but we didn't care, we had our share of fun and I gladly saw the re-run a few days later. I was aware of Clint Eastwood's reputation of course and I enjoyed his presence and his interactions with Sheen, but it was long before I became a movie buff, more familiar with his best work and capable to discern between such movies as "The Rookie" and other more valuable achievements. A few years after, on another Sunday night, "A Perfect World" was aired and I was capable to realize that this film played in another league. And we can say in totally objective terms that "The Rookie" doesn't reinvent the wheel, doesn't recreate the same chemistry that made the "Lethal Weapon" series and that it's one of Eastwood's lesser films... but even with that regard, the flaws are still enjoyable to say the least. Don't they call that a guilty pleasure?
I think it says it all. Watching it again, I knew I was supposed to cringe many times. I was surprised to see how wooden and emotionless Sheen played his character, does he have a cramp on his lips that prevents him from smiling from time to time? I was also surprised by Pepe Serna, the ill-fated Tony Montana's drug-deal partner in "Scarface", there was just something in his voice and accent that didn't quite match the lines he was supposed to shout. I was also surprised by how underused Julia and Braga were. These two Latin actors don't need many lines of dialogues to exude their talent (and Braga was an unforgettable femme fatale) but I wish there was some depth added to their relationship, that would have made that 'rape' scene less gratuitous at least. It was also fun to see these guys working for Puvloski and Storm (or Strom?) getting bullets in retribution, talk about insisting that crime doesn't pay. I was also disappointed by the way David's backstory didn't quite add up to his character... precisely because he doesn't even save Nick's ass.
The film had so many flaws I lost track... but my presumption is that Eastwood did it for the money in the way that you honor a command, I read that he had to make a movie for Warner Bros and maybe after two art-house films ("White Hunter, Black Heart" and "Bird") he decided to loosen up a bit and have fun. I'm fine with his idea of having fun and at least, you can tell he put quite a budget, judging by the impressive quality of the stunts work. But there's a reason the film didn't quite take off with the box-office although it was a mild success, it's not because it faced the competition of "Home Alone" because action pictures like "Total Recall" or "Die Hard 2" did better, so maybe it had to be a not so good word-of-mouth. But it was still good enough to deliver what was expected to an audience who knew what to expect.
It could be better given its talented director and its set of villains, it's unfortunate that they had to put so much effort on the hardest part and not tried to densify the story a little, but I'll end with the same nostalgic tone that opened this review, "The Rookie" wasn't a theater film but the perfect movie to rent in VHS for a fun Saturday afternoon.
The Battle Hymn of Dixie... With a Magnum .44, Clint Eastwood asked how lucky you felt, as Josey Wales, he doesn't even need to pull his pistols... but you'd better whistle Dixie once he's done asking.
And as usual, words are still less eloquent than the stares emerging from the shadows over his eyes or that nasty spitting habit that works like poetic punctuation marks in sentences written by the sole power of his death-pending silences. In fact, whether for tobacco juice, juicy one-liners or bullets, Eastwood sure knows how to deliver!
Yet "The Outlaw Josey Wales" is more than a crossover of 'Dirty Harry' and the 'Dollar' Trilogy but it couldn't work if Eastwood pretended to ignore the characters who made him a star. He actually plays with his trademark with brilliant self-awareness. For instance, the way he's got the sun in his back to make him look more menacing has often been a directing technique rather than a plot element. Wales mentions it as a necessity, in order to have an edge over the enemy.
Later, he rescues Grandma Sarah (Paula Trueman) and her granddaughter Laura Lee (Sondra Locke) from Comancheros. Lone Watie, his old Native companion played by the irresistible Chief Dan George can anticipate every single move,like a fan watching his favorite movie ... and when the talk is over, he warns the ladies that "hell's coming for breakfast". Wales can't be an artificial character because his tricks are survival keys. Someone who lost his family can't afford any deficit in anticipation anyway.
And our own anticipations are always toyed with for either comedic or dramatic purposes. The initial encounter with Lone Watie is funny in a touching way because the old Indian realized a white man has been sneaking up on him, which means he's been slipping. Later, he managed to take his revenge only to be surprised by a gun-cocking hello from Little Moonlight (Geraldine Keams). Chief Dan George is a real delight of Oscar-worthy talent. With bittersweet lucidity, he embodies the resignation of someone who doesn't see himself as a Native only, but a tired old man too civilized to fit in the world, but he tries.
But let's get back to the anticipation, another highlight from the movie (which is saying a lot) is the peace talk with the Comanche chief. "You be Ten Bears?" asks Wales. "I am Ten Bears" retorts the charismatic commander with perfect English, he's played by the unforgettable Will Sampson. The genius of this exchange lies on the set-up, everything seemed to "indicate" a coming bloodshed but a simple and straightforward man-to-man talk solves the situation. Yet if it wasn't for the "get ready" scene before, the "it shall be life' wouldn't have been as emotionally satisfying, unpredictability is the film's strongest suit especially when it's played for quiet drama moments instead of action.
And this is how, for all its kinship with the 'Dollar' trilogy, the film manages to reconcile the revisionist with the old-school vision and its gallery of colorful characters, bounty hunters, settlers, Natives, cavalry, bartenders, saloon girls and carpetbaggers. Even Wales, the lone wolf, gets along with his new companions. Chief Dan George and Paula Trueman can also talk about 'pale faces' and 'redskins' because there's no offense possible between them. The film shifts from the usual animosity between American and Natives to actually reveal an even worse hatred between Americans.
The opening is quite savage on that level. Wales, a peaceful Missouri peasant, witnesses the killing of his wife and son by a Union militia called Redlegs and lead by Captain Terril (Bill McKinney). The grief-stricken man vows revenge and joins the Confederate counterpart lead by Fletcher (John Vernon), and their band leads no-less merciless rides... economically displayed during the opening credits sequence. The real story commences at the end of the war, Wales grew a beard, looks meaner, and refuses to surrender in exchange of amnesty.
Once again, anticipation is everything and his instinct prevents him from being shot in an ambush from which young Jamie (Sam Bottoms) is the only one escapee. The Union soldiers executed their former enemies, hypocritically ignoring that war crimes were from both sides and the border states was the setting of fratricide murders... like a Civil War within the Civil War. Anyway, with a reward over his head, Wales , crosses the path of many bounty hunters who'd learn at their expenses that dying ain't such a way to make a living. And the more dead left to buzzard, the bigger the legend grows.
Still, the story is less about the chase than the new perspective it has to offer on the Civil War. It wasn't just a right cause against an archaic system or the "Battle Hymn of Republic" against "Dixie", but savagery dictated by the tragic randomness of borders and the cruel calculations of politicians who, unlike people, don't live together. And the way Natives and Whites get along in the film prove that in Eastwood's Western universe, there's no place anymore for binary thinking, a stance probably inherited from the revisionist wave, Sam Peckinpah, Sergio Leone or Arthur Penn who showed the human side of Natives in "Little Big Man", and did so with depth and humor.
In the post-Vietnam days, Westerns ironically stopped to be the exaltation of a nostalgic past but the echo of the political disillusion of a lost generation. In 1976, Western neo-classics were past their prime and Clint Eastwood was not an established director yet, but he found the right tone and the right story, as if only he could reconcile between the new and old school, make a humanistic story from material written by a KKK apologist, or a politically relevant drama out of a period film.
There was no pretension or trendy thinking, he just saw the potential of the character and he was right. The film found its public and gets better after each viewing.
Walt Disney, the Maestro of Animation... I'm no musical expert but I sure know about cartoons and I don't think there is one classic animated series that never used William Tell's "Overture". Walt Disney, Looney Tunes, Tex Avery, Tom and Jerry... and while we're at it, let's not forget the "Lone Ranger" intro and the infamous fast-motion orgy scene in a certain Kubrick movie.
I guess there's just something universally catchy to the ears about Rossini's music that its stature was bound to be enhanced by its abundant use in Pop Culture more than its roots in the world of classical music. The reason is simple, the music was perfect for animation because once you listen to it, a rich imagery flows over your mind. Many classical piece of music evoke ideas, emotions, abstractions, the Overture might be the most visually evocative.
Think about it, it starts with a sober and somber segment, then one of a pastoral serenity, after that you have the rhythmic segment, full of fury and intensity, then it concludes with the iconic march and its exhilarating finale. We see storms, horses, countryside, running, riding, sleeping, walking and It's like all the possible moods encapsulated in one piece of music. What else could surpass it as a standard of animation and inaugurate Mickey's first color appearance?
And the evolution of Mickey Mouse is integral to the film's significance. We all know the "started with a mouse" story but remember it took two or three cartoons before "Steamboat Willie" would use a pre-recorded soundtrack for the first time. Without that technological advance, cartoons would never have outlived the 'cute novelty' phase. In the following years, Disney made the Silly Symphony cartoons and created his most iconic characters (practically no one today lived a childhood devoid of Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy, Pluto et al.
The cartoons grew more and more sophisticated leading inevitably to 1933 and the first use of colors with "Flowers and Trees" and Oscar-winner "The Three Little Pigs". 1934 was the year that introduced Donald Duck in "The Wise Little Hen", in color too. But, it's not until 1935 that the iconic mouse would leave the monochrome world in his turn. But it called for a celebration and with the exception of Minnie and Pluto, the cartoon was graced by the presence of prestigious guest stars such as Clarabelle Cow, Horace Horsecollar, Goofy and Donald Duck in one of his first scene-stealing performances... and given how prominent Mickey was for once, that's saying a lot.
"The Band Concert"; simply said; is the greatest cartoon of all time, actually voted the third but there's no way "What's Opera Doc?" is better. "The Band Concert" has the characters, the visuals and the music, a holy trinity no decent cartoon couldn't rely on. And yes it happens to be a Mickey Mouse cartoon, where he's the star, not the foil to the supporting cast, he's leading the show and by all the Gods, he's determined to lead it till the end, no matter how many little annoyances disrupt it, a long sleeve, a bee, or that annoying "Turkey in the Straw" constantly played by a hotdog vendor named Donald Duck.
The short made such an impression on me that whenever I hear the beginning of the march, I can't help having "Turkey in the Straw" sneaking into the melody and spoiling it all (or does it?). I don't know if Disney wanted "Turkey" as a reminder of the first music used in "Steamboat Willie", but maybe after seven years, he could finally pretend to higher musical levels... yet there's something irresistible in the way that little folksy song battles against the "big piece" and admirable in the way Mickey Mouse resists and is determined to play the music till the end no matter how many flutes Donald can magically get out of his hat. In other words, the show must go on!
The film features many inspired moments, where the action influences the music and vice versa. When Mickey gets ice cream in his neck, his movements turn the music he's conducting to "The Streets of Cairo", the kind of gag would be later used in classics like "Magical Maestro" but the symbiosis between characters and music has never been as wonderfully embodied as in this cartoon. Other sight gags include Horace trying to hit the bee with his cymbals and a hammer, and Goofy's clarinet delicately flirting with Clarabelle's flute, a tender and a quiet moment... before the storm.
And that cartoon wouldn't have been one tenth the legend it is today without its climax. "The "Storm" segments summons a hurricane that sucks everything out and forces the audience to leave, followed by the benches in another hilarious sight gag, Donald is deservedly knotted to trees while the orchestra determined to go on and on no matter what, continues playing, and what we've got is one of the greatest pieces of animation. In the beginning, the wind blown by the brass instrument made hats float in the air and turn for a moment, so you can imagine how the effect was amplified with the tornado.
The players turn around and come in contact with various objects flying over the head, including a shattered house but like the Titanic band they just go on and on. And to tell you who's the boss, even when Mickey stops conducting, the hurricane stops for a while before a finale that is still today one of my favorite Disney moments. And when you know that a conductor loved so much the film he wanted it to be projected again and invited Disney to Italy, you understand how good the short is.
Maybe he saw in Disney a fellow conductor, a Maestro who'd take his characters to the ultimate limit, and would never stop the show no matter the obstacles. I said in my "Fantasia" review that there was something of the Sorcere's Apprentice in Disney, i guess there's something of Disney in Mickey as a conductor in "The Band Concert".
When good adultery doesn't necessarily depend on bad marriage... When an Italian girl falls in love with an American GI, she doesn't exactly picture the America of her dreams as a farm in Iowa.
Yet Francesca has been a dedicated wife and mother for twenty years, as commitment meant something to those who bore the baby boom generation. But it didn't make their generation, nor any generation since the dawn of humanity, immune to a heated and passionate romance... especially when the mysterious stranger who knocks at your door is Clint Eastwood?
Screenwriter Richard LaGravenese credited the actor-director for giving him the right advice when it came to adapt Robert James Waller's best-seller "The Bridges of Madison County". When a book is that popular, no need for extra plot elements that might alienate your potential audience without drawing a new one. Eastwood's point was that the story of a four-day romance between a housewife from Iowa and a free-spirited photographer was speaking for itself already, all a script had to do was keeping the material mature, and well... romantic.
And Eastwood applied his own advice behind the camera. Not that he ever indulged to fancy directing or editing but he didn't let any artistic license deviate the story from the original romance. Indeed, "The Bridges of Madison County" is about two adults, not bad persons, surrendering to the impulsiveness of a moment, not out of foolishness but precisely because only people their age are aware that destiny can sneak at anytime, and that unpredictable episodes are to be seized, no matter how brief the encounter. Doesn't that ring a bell?
Eastwood intended to make an old-fashioned romance, it turned out to be the spiritual successor of David Lean's 1945 classic, the film LaGravenese saw after being advised to tone down his enthusiasm. And "Brief Encounter" was great because it ended with the right bittersweet tone. The husband understood that his wife was 'away' for awhile and wherever she went, he was glad she was back to him. It was the film's emotional peak, showing that marriage isn't an existential dead-end.
Adultery can say a lot about marriage and responsibility, and sacrificing one's passion might be the price to pay for a memory you'll treasure for the rest of your life. And like the train station in "Encounter", bridges play the role of the connecting place. Robert Kincaid came to Iowa to shoot one of these picturesque bridges that could belong to a Southern postcard or a Mark Twain illustration. The city dweller and globe trotter loves the breath of Iowa and the charm of the landscape but Francesca didn't really pay attention until she walked across the bridge, which felt like a first time, as if there was indeed something new in the air.
And Streep, like Eastwood, can say so much without speaking, the way she moves, walks and peeps into Robert say enough. And the way the romance slowly takes form is like a sparkle stirring up until it becomes a bonfire of emotions, and the performances of the two actors are integral to the romance's believability. Clint Eastwood plays it in a understated tone that hardly hides his vulnerability during some pivotal moments. When Francesca asks him for a tea, then a dinner, there's something in his "yes" that says "I'm glad you asked".
And then you have Meryl Streep, in her first Oscar-nominated performance after five years (the longest she ever waited). She doesn't play the frustrated housewife, she's not even shy or ugly by movie standards. In the opening dinner scene, you can read in her saddened expression how estranged she had become to her own family, but she later warns her husband not to smoke and gently pats his cheek, she's a touchstone in her family. And it was the right touch not to depict the husband (Jim Haynie) as an abusive or bad man, you can make 'good adultery' without relying on a 'bad marriage.' That's a truth of life.
Another truth, albeit less existential is that there's also a lot of smoking and drinking in the film, I guess a man always takes it as a good sign where a woman loosens up with him... but this isn't about sex, it's about creating the kind of atmosphere where Francesca and Robert can relax and be themselves. At one moment, Robert tells a funny story and it's less the story that matters but her body language, the spontaneous yet sensual way she lifts her legs, her childish excitement that makes her irresistible to the point of sexiness.
She gets even more beautiful as days and nights go by, reaching their pinnacle in the last night before the departure, unlike "Brief Encounter", they have their moment and it's shown with enough lighting to make it erotic. Then comes the bitter 'morning after', a powerful argument and a choice to be made. For all the talk about love and life, the film manages to say more in quieter moments such as Eastwood staring at Francesca under the rain. Earlier, he was that dashing man with long white hair and a vigorous torso shining under the sun, then he looked almost bald with the eyes of a kicked puppy.
And you have the climactic shot of Francesca's hand on the car's handle... will she decide to join his car or stay with his husband? The book was a wide success because of its polarizing dilemma. It's not about satisfying one audience in particular but making everyone understand either choice. As it's said in the film, "we're all the choices we've made" and there will always come a moment for regrets, apologies and forgiveness, even the husband has such a moment.
And although their 180° turn isn't as smooth and believable as the main story, Francesca's children embrace their lives with the spirit of that four-day but life-changing romance, one that says a lot about life, choices and commitment. After all, what good romance doesn't?
In a 'perfect world', the film would have swept awards... But the world isn't a perfect place and the only things ever swept by Clint Eastwood's follow-up to "Unforgiven" are these futile academic observations... the underrated masterpiece flies higher than that.
And I'm beginning to detect patterns within 'Eastwoodian' characters. Antihero is too formulaic a term to encapsulate the levels of human depth they usually reveal. To put it in less fancy words, there's the idea that doing something bad doesn't make you bad, while never doing anything wrong doesn't make you a saint either. Maybe it's all about trying to be better or make the world, a better, if not perfect, place.
And this is sweetly captured by the relationship between Butch, wonderfully played by Kevin Costner, and Philip (T.J. Lowther), a 8-year old boy, raised by a devout Jehovah's Witness mother. Philip will find more exhilaration and freedom as a hostage he never truly was than as a child he never truly was either. Butch offers Philip the kind of childhood he was deprived from... partly because of the very man who chases him, Texas Ranger Red Garnett, played by Clint Eastwood.
Once again, the veteran actor masters the art of silence that speaks volumes. And more powerfully than revelations or action, we know the man from his reactions toward his travelling companions, a young criminologist with a more modern approach (Laura Dern) and a detestable trigger-happy sharpshooter (Bradley Whitford). Red doesn't act much in this film, maybe because some actions he ended up regretting suddenly resurfaced. The wounds of the past are the point of convergence of these two narratives.
And it's noteworthy that the film is set in Texas in 1963 and often alludes to Kennedy's upcoming visit and the election year. This contextualization brings an odd feeling of impending doom, that the future's uncertainty can be more difficult to handle than the past's definitiveness. For instance, when Butch and his mentally unstable cellmate (Keith Szarabajka) escape from jail, a man is killed in the process. Eastwood keeps it off-screen, it's unlikely that Butch is the killer, but we don't need the empathy to work so early.
It's possible that Butch isn't the killing type but in Eastwood's universe, certainty is one luxury we can't afford. Sometimes, it takes a hostage taker to set you free or a criminal to straighten you out, but sometimes, you just can't tell. What we see though is that Phillip is a fatherless kid and Butch an adult whose abusive father made him took the wrong path. We can all agree that childhood can shape one man's future for better or worse. We can't change the past but maybe this capability to 'regret' is the box that contains the raw diamond of humanity.
But once again with Clint Eastwood, you can't tell what might happen. Child abuse is perhaps the one crime that Butch can't tolerate and in a heartbreaking scene where he finds out his host slaps his kid and treats him like dirt, a button was pushed and then he takes a decision that totally derails the journey. Screenwriter John Lee Hancock never paints a black and white morality, it portrays humanity as a world made of intricate interactions, where we owe a little bit of ourselves to persons of various degrees of goodness... a well-intentioned law enforcer affects a kid's life negatively, a criminal allows a boy to grow up nicely.
"A Perfect World" is one of these films that seem so simple yet so affecting, it follows a straightforward narrative, an escape, a chase but then a series of unpredictable steps, some comedic, some dramatic, turn the experience to something extraordinarily truthful to life. It reminded me of a film like "The Defiant Ones" where two fugitives depended on the kindness or the selfishness of people who crossed their paths and ultimately became better persons. "A Perfect World" is a good experience in the sense that the people in this film try to act for the better, to be better, or just preventing the worse.
It's interesting that the film started with Halloween. "Trick or treat?" ask the kids, as if they summarized in one simple sentence the idea that you either treat a kid well or end up regretting it. Philip wasn't mistreated by not being allowed to play with his friends, but Butch gave him a loophole to the world and allowed him to widen his scope and realize that the world didn't revolve around the austere teachings of his mother, and the belief in a perfect hereafter.
Now I won't spoil the film but the last line is perhaps the truest that could be ever said: "I don't know". Who knows anyway? Some persons just don't know and only act according to what they think is the right thing, like Red did with Butch, like Philip's mother, like several characters in Eastwood movies. Some of them actually know they do the wrong things and get their comeuppance or at least, an ultimate warning, maybe they're the closest to 'villains' in Eastwood's movies.
But "A Perfect World" is too deep for its own good, having been ignored by the awards, especially Kevin Costner who proves that when being given the perfect role, he can act his way out. It is certainly his most brilliant performance, elevating him to an almost-equal to Eastwood. I'm not kidding, these men love America and embody levels of goodness that transcend the ways of the law. Both are somewhat losers but like a poet like Huston would have painted them, which means that in a perfect world, they would be winners.
And if there's anything we learn from Clint Eastwood is that the world isn't perfect, but as his friend Morgan Freeman would say, quoting the writer, it's still worth fighting for... who knows? Eastwood might be the Hemingway of American Cinema, the last Mohican of a dying breed of artists.
Likable film about an admirable man, but the material was better suited for a documentary... "On January 15, 2009. More than 1.200 first responders and 7 ferry boats carrying 130 commuters rescued the passengers and crew of flight 1349.
The best of New York came together. It took them 24 minutes"
Surely an inspiring conclusion, but I admit my immediate reaction was "who are you kidding?". I'm not cynically negating the fact that the 155 passengers of the fateful flight were rescued by competent and dedicated New Yorkers, but it's Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger aka Sully who definitely saved them. And that's why he's got the lion-share of praises, that's why he got the film.
I worked in an airline company for more than three years, this film is about January 15, 2009 but I mostly remember June 1 of the same year. It was the day I started working and when -in a tragic irony- the Airbus flight from Rio to Paris crashed. My immersion into the flight world coincided with that event and for some metaphysical reason, I read every single article about that crash, which -according to the investigation- was tragic because avoidable. Basically, if it wasn't for the pilot letting the co-pilot in command, for the co-pilot taking the wrong indications, for several "if" factors, two hundreds of people wouldn't have perished in one of Airbus' deadliest accidents.
But "Sully" made me relativize all these computer-generated inquiries that end up pointing a posthumous accusation against the pilots. Indeed, it doesn't take a NTSB expert to know that accidents are the result of equations featuring many parameters among them human factor, there's never one sole cause of accident. This is why planes are still statistically the safest travelling ways, and this is why it doesn't say much about how stressful a flight plane is. This is why, on a personal note, I think my last hour is coming whenever turbulences start. This is why I take my chances with buses, boats and cars. Hell, this is why people still applaud the pilot when he lands.
Why should they? Isn't it part of their job? In the short documentary-feature about Sully, he reminds us that pilots have to fly well every time, it's a job that doesn't allow one hazardous move or uncertainty. I worked in the freight business where everything was processed and pre-planned from A to Z, freight isn't living people, but lives are always at stakes during a flight. That's why pilot is an ace job, when you have hundreds of lives depending on you every day, you can't afford a mistake... but as Sully also says this time in the film "everything is unprecedented until it happens for the first time".
Clint Eastwood shows us a man confronted to such situation with only 208 seconds to react. In what should have been a routine flight, birds are sucked into the two engines making both unusable, and the only solution is an emergency landing on the closest runway. The altitude is low, he can't reach an airport without flying over New York City and he's got less than a minute to make up his mind. Of course, there's not much suspense since we know he made the right choice by landing on the Hudson river. But suspense isn't Eastwood's concern, he doesn't care about the 208 seconds but the 24 minutes.
Indeed, after his "Invictus" and "American Sniper" and before the "15:17 to Paris" Eastwood seemed to have grown a cinematic fondness on real-life heroes. I guess it's a generational appreciation of men who were capable of taking the right decision at the right time and inspire the best out of the people. Mandela in "Invictus" took unpopular decisions that eventually united South-Africans. Chris Kyle might have been blinded by his patriotism but became an inspiration to his companions. Sully is made in the same Eastwoodian vein, he wouldn't call himself a hero, but don't ever tell him he made the wrong decision.
The problem with "Sully" though is that the film takes a situation of a few minutes and needlessly stretches it for the sake of cinematic viability. In a non-linear narrative, it switches back and forth between moments where he's hailed as a hero and where he's criticized by the NTSBC investigation. Moments where he seems to go through a PTSD phase and moments where he reminisces about his past. The investigation is perhaps the best part of the film and it makes everything else feel as "fillers", Laura Linney is not being given the most grateful role of her career as the long-suffering wife and the film could have done without Katie Couric calling Sully a fraud in an imagination sequence. Why would he be a fraud if he never pretended to be a hero?
The not-so subtle point of Eastwood is betrayed by that "best of New York" disclaimer. The film opens with a nightmarish vision of "what could have been" had Sully followed the instructions by the book instead of his precious instinct and it ends with a needlessly graphic recreation of September 11. Maybe the opening and ending elevate Sully as a heroic figure because he could inspire the best of New York like the terrorist attacks did, but by saving lives instead. An Egyptian taxi driver praises him for having restored his faith in humanity in a year that started with the crisis, Madoff and Middle-East wars. It wasn't just the perfect timing but the perfect time.
Now, I enjoy a good inspirational film like anyone but I can't say the film captivated me as "Invictus" did or elicited a reaction as strong as "American Sniper" (even though it was a negative one). The film struck me as a poor man's "Apollo 13" or a film Steven Spielberg could have made between two blockbusters. I liked it for its informative value but I enjoyed the real smiling Sully more than Hanks' grim all-serious performance... so maybe the story was better suited for a documentary?
Mystic Rider... "Pale Rider" is a Western with such an aura, such an attitude and such a stance over the Western myth that it's almost a miracle it could flirt with self-consciousness while never sinning by it. Clint Eastwood might be the only director still capable of such miracles.
The actor has always been a man of a few words, of stares that could speak more ominous statements than a Samuel L. Jackson's monologue. His ways of standing, looking, existing could exude more magnetism than the Magnificent Seven put together. But more than his natural blessings that made him a man women liked and men wanted to be like, Eastwood had an all-American attitude toward the frontier spirit. He who was made a star through Western (before Leone, there was 'Rawhide') he returned back the favor after the disastrous failure of "Heaven's Gate" seemed to have sealed the genre's fate.
It's like Eastwood and Westerns form a natural cycle, they both define one another, as if there was a true predestination in his name being an anagram of Old West Action.
Though "Pale Rider" isn't much about the Old West as it is about action, the film retells the story of George Stevens' "Shane" with miners replacing homesteaders and standing in the way of a powerful and influential industrialist named Coy LaHood (Richard Dysart) who believes he and progress make one. His attempt to buy 'tin pans' out and to threaten them through acts of intimidations almost destroys their spirit until a mysterious rider comes into the picture and prove that before being about action, Westerns are about 'states of mind'.
I mentioned Eastwood's natural aura because it's integral to the story's believability. Alan Ladd was good at Shane but he wasn't exactly threatening, he had to prove his worth at gun, at fist-fight and through a few one-liners such as "I like it to be my idea". Eastwood doesn't even need himself, only a silhouette appearing and then vanishing before you notice it, a weak lighting that can only reveal his piercing eyes or just being mentioned in a conversation. When young Megan (Perry Sidney) buries her dog, killed by LaHood's men, she has a prayer where she begs the Lord for help, her "please" has that childish resonance that indicates how hopeless they are. Eastwood intercut it with his arrival, it's not played for subtlety but to establish his mystical charisma.
The man, like Eastwood's seminal antihero, has no name, he is called the Preacher. He doesn't quote the Bible much but he saves the day in more than one occasion, without leaving mortal casualties... not yet anyway. He accepts to help the miners, but they didn't ask for help, just for him to stay as if his presence was healing their spirit already. But Eastwood counterbalances the sanctification with the idea of a pending doom. His entrance coincides with a 'Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse- recitation and he obviously fits the description of "Death". But as he said it himself: "God works in a mysterious way", you can't explain providence, but you just can tell that there's something providential about the man, even if he means Death.
And in the same vein of intelligence, it also means that there's something 'evil' about LaHood even if he means Progress. He knows "blood is a big expense" and tries to get the Preacher out through bargain and only resorts to violence in extreme cases, but for all his malevolence, he's got a business to run, and his interactions with this son (a youngish and thin Chris Penn) and his men aren't those of an evil mastermind briefing his troops. There even comes a point where the Preacher starts to negotiate with LaHood, and submit his offer to the miners. Intelligently enough, the Western is able to deconstruct a few tropes for the sake of three-dimensional characterization.
On a similar level, it also depicts Hull Barrett (Michael Moriarty) not as a Beta Male but as a decent human being, brave enough to defy LaHood's thugs, to support his family and to take care of Sarah, Megan's mother (Carrie Snodgress), even waiting that she makes up her mind to get married but as the Preacher said "it might be along wait". It might take longer as both daughter and mother are infatuated with the Preacher (can we blame them?). But while it's a sort of teen crush for Megan, for Sarah, it's like a nasty teasing from fate. She's been abandoned by a man she truly loved -as she tells Megan she's a child of love- and her feelings toward the Preacher are worryingly the same.
Maybe there's the idea that some things or some people are too grand to stay, their appeal is eternal but they're not meant for the common people though there is nobility in being a simple, decent and hard-working human being. The Preacher incarnates an idea of the Old West, a few words, but action, spirit, courage and determination... and a few resurgences of the past here and there.
The past is a lone rider throughout the story, it's the dog's death that trigger's Penny's desire for revenge, it's Sarah's past with men that forged her suspicion and made Hull her whipping boy, and there's something about the Preacher's past hinted through some wounds and lines of dialogues that takes its full meaning when his nemesis is brought up in town, Marshal Stockburn played by an equally intimidating John Russell.
The hints about the past mystify the film and let it venture in the realms of fantasy but without getting too far from the Western narrative. Eastwood's directing is confident enough and allows him to get away with contrivances... what can't be explained isn't forced fantasy, but meaningful mystery.
(Still, the greatest mystery of all is that it seems to have escaped everyone's attention that the film is a remake of "Shane", as there's no mention of "Shane" in Ebert's review or on Wikipedia.)
Some things only the 70's, Bloody Sam and the King of Cool can 'get away' with... I know Sam Peckinpah's "Getaway" is likely to generate calls for boycott or censorship because of the infamous scene where Steve McQueen slaps Ali McGraw not once but several times, even looking for hitting her face with a closed fist, but when you're aware of some backstories, you know the scene works.
I was astonished by how severe in a disappointingly shallow way the film was initially reviewed despite its commercial success (second after "The Godfather"). Roger Ebert, who loved "The Wild Bunch" and "The Ballad of Cable Hogue", seemed only concerned by the contrivances in the 'heist' and 'shootout' parts. Yet there's more in the film than robbing a bank, escaping with the sound of screeching sound tires and explosive shotguns, there's more than the usual standards of action movies, what the film got was sexual tension, so palpable you could cut through it.
"Doc" McCoy is a convict trying to get parole in the midst of a boring and alienating daily routine, improvising scale models in his cell, playing chess or working at a driving license plates' factory. The machinery, pondered by Quincy Jones' jazzy score, gets quickly on our nerves, working as a perfect metaphor of some deep psychological turmoil. Or is it sentimental?
While many criminals or antiheroes seem more telegenic as loners or women's men, Doc has a wife, not a girlfriend. This is a true relationship but one that wouldn't survive for too long if McCoy stays in jail. Heasks Carol to to tell Benyon (a Texan big shot with a nasty looking crew played by Ben Johnson) he would accept any offer. In an amusing ellipse, a sexily dressed Carol joins Benyon off-screen and the scene cuts to Doc's release, whatever happened in-between works like a ticking bomb, we know it.
The park scene is one of these quiet poetic moments not so rare with not-so-tough Peckinpah (like the picnic in "Alfredo Garcia"). As McCoy watches people sunbathing, swimming, and snuggling, he imagines he and Carol doing the same. Is he mirroring Sam's own perception of a talent wasted for violence? The way imaginary visions overlap with reality shows a real psychological struggle after four years of repressed emotionality... and sensuality, only McQueen could still look cool with a block, only Sam could be sentimental in a macho flick.
After the bucolic interlude, we get some awkward conversations, a few confidences and the ice seems broken the following morning when Doc is cooking breakfast. If you think the robbery or the chase will be the next main story, you'll be surprised, the other focus is also a romance albeit more "conventional" by Peckinpah standards.
Doc is assigned two partners for a robbery, a disposable one played by a youngish Bo Hopkins and one of the meanest looking mugs of the seventies, Al Lettieri who was born to play the "baddest guy", as good a match for Brando and Pacino in "The Godfather" as a nemesis for McQueen. His character Rudy is wounded after trying to double-cross Doc who was quicker at the draw... he finds a meek and recluse veterinarian named Harold, and in his slutty blonde wife Fran (Sally Struthers) an unexpected object of sensual attraction.
In a scene that wasn't played for subtlety, she sensually caresses his gun, telling him he doesn't need to point it at her... not that gun away. The parallels between the couples how and I loved how the beta one had a growing chemistry while at the same moment, Doc is slapping the hell out of Carol after he finds out how he got the ticket for freedom. She makes things worse when she almost loses the loot in the train station after being conned by another "Godfather" alumni. Unlike Richard, she wasn't so "bright" within the circumstances, but she had an attitude.
Sam makes us think, a woman like Fran gave her body for nothing, Carol sold her own for her husband's freedom and he's got the nerve to accuse her. Now is he bitter because his wife is a slut or because he couldn't get clean again by soiling the woman he loved the most?
The two relationships reach pivotal moments. Harold, the cuckold husband after one humiliation too many, hangs himself much to Fran and Rudy's indifference. Later, Doc and Carol finally reestablish their relationship. They decide to move forward and leave the past behind or where it belongs, in the most adequate place, a garbage dump. So we have a "good couple / bad couple" situation, but both on the wrong side from the law and the closest thing to a moral scope is marriage.
The climactic shootout is another instance where the maverick director proved his mastery of the action but after "The Wild Bunch" and "Straw Dogs", there's not much new stuff to praise, though I enjoyed the cameo of Dub Taylor, that hilarious punch Struthers got for not keeping her mouth shut. As sad as it was, I guess Rudy's death was the perfect revenge of Karma for what Fran did to her husband.
Karma-wise, it's also appropriate that the last helping hand comes from an old-fashioned cowboy played by Slim Pickens (another great cameo) who rants about the lack of morality and marital commitment while describing his wife as a pillar in his life, he gets a great retribution.
But I wasn't glad that the good couple could get away it with the money, but because they did it together, but maybe Ali McGraw should have learned a lesson from the film. She treated producers Robert Evans like Fran with Harold, she couldn't resist McQueen who revealed himself to be quite a "Rudy" with her.... and her career was derailed like Fran's life.
That fact of life made the sexual tension believable because the actors didn't play it, but it's crazy how truth can be stranger than fiction, bitchier too.
It's not about making people happy, but uniting them in happiness... FIFA World Cup just started providing its share of thrills, joys, and deceptions. While I was watching the Moroccan team yesterday, my right foot was uncontrollably trembling, my heart pounding at the national anthem and everyone was glued to the screen with the kind of frozen expression that that only Sports can draw on faces.
And tough memories resurfaced, twenty years ago, we had scored three goals against Scotland in one of "these games"; I was tying my shoes, everyone was getting ready to celebrate our qualification to the quarter finals in the street... but Brazil that had previously beat us with three goals against none, the World Champion and team of Ronaldo (bald Ronaldo, not Cristiano) lost against Norway in what should have been an open-and-shut case. A penalty kick at the last minute destroyed all hopes. My brother cried and I took off my shoes.
Twenty years later, history, cruelly again, decided to repeat itself, at the last minute, in the worst possible way, one of our players scored against the team, earning Iran the precious victory and filling our hearts with bitterness. See, one can also understand the power of Sport from defeat, sport unites and brings back positive energy for a brief but exhilarating period. It also creates extraordinary bonds between people who had nothing in common except quivering for the same colors. Sports mark a truce, awakening feelings whose negative counterparts are nourished by war and political conflicts the rest of the time.
Sport is essential to one country; it is essential to the world.
And as I watched Clint Eastwood's "Invictus" one day before the kick off, I felt like I could read in the mind of Nelson Mandela, played in all nuance and depth by Morgan Freeman. What an ironically fitting name for an African leader who was quite the opposite of a "free man" for ten thousand days of his life.
Indeed, some iconic artists achieved greatness and died in 27 years, for Mandela, it was the time spent in jail that allowed him to free his mind from hatred and resentment, to achieve his personal greatness through humility, forgiveness and humanity. The film starts at his release as he's cheerfully welcomed by black people while the whites expect the worst. "End Apartheid" was the slogan that the majority of today's population wouldn't remember, not even South Africans... but the miracle happened and Mandela, Madiba as he's respectfully and affectionately called, almost rhymed with Messiah.
"Can he run a country?" asks a militant newspaper, Mandela's bodyguard sees a hate campaign but Madiba lucidly says "it's a legitimate question", he's already approaching his role as a unifier not a divider. Coming to office, he invites the skeptical whites to stay unless they think there are irreconcilable differences, what he does is giving them a choice, a freedom, a gift only a man of his experience could value. He also hires white bodyguards and their interactions with the previous team plays like a great microcosm of the reconciliation built up throughout the film, with the power of Sports. Because "Invictus" isn't a biography film as much as it's a Sports film.
Mandela has great scopes of achievements... and failures as well, his prestige was a double-edged sword that can earn him hostility from the Afrikaners and when facing unemployment, poverty, and criminality, sports could be perceived as the least of the priorities. The genius of Mandela is to take sport damn seriously, he watches a rugby game and discovers that the Blacks support any team against the Springboks, he's booed by supporters who proudly brandish the old flag and concedes it's a constitutional right. But when he learns that the ANC is going to replace the team with a new name, new colors and hymn, he asks everyone to reconsider the vote, taking time to explain why they're wrong.
Mandela wasn't just that all-smiling icon; like Gandhi, he was a natural-born leader. Warned by his secretary about the risk of losing his power, he reminds her that a true leader should be guided by his principles, not fears, he knows reconciliation is impossible without the Springboks. As much as the Whites must forget, the Blacks must forgive. It's not political but human calculation (one of the film's great quotes).
Mandela then meets the team captain François Pinaar (Matt Damon) and the two men realize they speak the same language, François always wanted victory but after his pivotal encounter, he understands that the country, hosting the 1995 World Cup, needs the victory, sports don't just make people happy; it unites them in happiness. It was twice a miracle because because South Africa had to play against the iconic All-Blacks whose haka could scare enough to guarantee a victory.
"Invictus" isn't just an underdog movie, it chronicles every single effort that made a miracle possible, because the miracle-maker was a miracle by himself. Visiting his cell, François realizes that he could touches two facing walls by simply spreading his arms. Anyone can survive 27 years of jailing, but can any soul? Mandela was the Captain of his soul as he was master of his fate and overcame his demons.
François spreads the good word to the team, and like an apostle to a saint (but the film doesn't over-sanctify them) meetings are arranged with young Black kids from the poorer areas. And for once, they forget about soccer and learn about rugby not just from Chester, the only Black player.
The team also they learn the hymn "Schosholoza", that haunting melody that reminded me of that magical World Cup in Africa in 2014. The team had to win, and they won, the rest was history. Mandela understood the magic of Sports and used it as a political tool but a human miracle.
Maybe Morocco should watch this film before their next game against Portgual... after all, it ain't over until the referee blows his whistle.
The country saw the flag, Eastwood shows us the men... In his review of "Letters from Iwo Jima", Roger Ebert recalled the line from "Patton"'s iconic monologue, you don't win a war by dying for your country but by making "the other poor dumb bastard die for his country", maybe that's why the Americans won the war after all, they fought to death. Japanese, while honorably, fought to their death, too.
And "Flags of Our Fathers", first opus of Clint Eastwood's "Iwo Jima" duology also reminded me of a quote from the same monologue: "an army is a team - it lives, eats, sleeps, fights as a team. This individuality stuff is a bunch of crap." And as far as exemplifying the team spirit within the army, the famous picture of the flag-raising over Mount Suribashi is quite an eloquent illustration.
It is indeed one of the most iconic, parodied and probably misundestood pictures of all time, taken at face value and wrongly translated as the epitome of victory while the battle, one of the toughest and deadliest of WW2, was still going on and half of the soldiers in the picture would eventually die. Interestingly, we never see their faces and for a few of them their bodies, but that's what makes it such a great symbol of anonymous heroism carried by a group, not individuals.
In other words, it shouldn't have mattered who raised the flag, and I guess it didn't, what mattered is that it was the American flag and that sight was enough to awaken the Americans from lassitude and convince them to buy bonds. So the American government couldn't rely on a simple photograph, and needed the three survivors to play the game as ambassadors from that moment that stopped belonging to them, but to history, transiting though with politics.
Clint Eastwood's adaptations of James Bradley's novel, takes us, in a fascinating introspection into the various perceptions of heroism depending on the perspectives. Even in Eastwood movies I disliked like "Unforgiven" and "American Sniper", I respected morally ambiguous characters for some values they carried and that I could relate to. Here I expected a new "Saving Private Ryan", but Spielberg is "only" the producer, Eastwood isn't the preacher type (not always anyway) and the flag isn't the end, but the beginning.
And for the survivors, the beginning of an odd journey. Harlon Block (Benjamin Walker) and Sergeant Michael Strank (Barry Pepper) were all dead and as soon as the survivors were identified, they're taken for a long ride across America to encourage cheerful crowds to buy war bonds. The film unveil many aspects of their lives and how it affected their reactions. The father of the novel's author, Pharmacist "Doc" Bradley (Ryan Phillippe) is good-hearted and altruistic, he comforted his dying comrades and takes his new assignment as a way to comfort the spirits of people. Rene Gagnon (Jesse Bradford) sort of enjoys his new fame and the attention it brings (so does his girlfriend) but insists that he was just lucky, as they all say, the real heroes didn't come back.
The most tragic character and the soul of the film is Ira Hayes (Adam Beach in a performance that should have earned him a few nods), his experience doesn't differ from the rest of the soldiers except that he's of Native background, an outcast status that pushed him to keep a low profile which was perfect for the army body. Being propelled in the main front, not to fight but to pose as a clean-cut hero could only make things worse to him, especially when he's still victim of racist paternalism or plain segregation. Hayes' tragedy is that he's not concerned by politics but politics were concerned by him.
The film is punctuated with many war flashbacks that show the incredible gap between the atrocities in the island and the whole backstage show, the most infamous episode is Ralph "Iggy" Ignatowky (Jamie Bell) whose death is only alluded but a glimpse on a Wikipedia page will tell you that some soldiers' blood drop more significantly than other on the sand of Iwo Jima. Violence reached such a paroxysm that there was no possible way for the soldiers to recover unless they decided to keep quiet about it, about the details anyway. And yet the three survivors had to talk, talk and talk.
They were even forced to replicate the deed over a mountain made of carton during a big exhibition in a stadium with the typical American fireworks, cheerleaders and all that jazz their supervisor prepared. The pseudo-flag-raising intercut with scenes of extreme violence, showing the deaths of the other soldiers, create a difficult mood whiplash but it's crucial in the understanding of another sad aspect about war, you must pretend.. These guys must act as heroes because the war needed them to be heroes, even the picture while speaking a thousand words, didn't say that it was the second flag raising, causing one of the soldiers to be misidentified, although his mother could, even from behind.
The film reveals many secrets about the iconic shot, a lucky one from a photographical perspective and it also reminded me of Jean Gabin's speech in "The President", addressing a parliament member parliament too young to have fought in WW1, he said "you talk about millions but as a guy in the trenches, I can only remember a dozen of deaths, scope differs whether you're in or out the front", indeed.
For the politician, it's about the big picture. For soldiers, it's just about kill and not to be killed, and protecting or saving your buddies. The tragedy is more intimate and it follows the 'privileged' ones for the rest of their lives... that's heroic enough to me. And the picture reminded of this adage: when a man points to the moon, the fool sees his finger. The government looked at for the American flag, but Eastwood is pointing to the guys who raised it.
Blame it on the ending... "Suspicion" marks the first of four memorable collaborations between Alfred Hitchcock and Cary Grant, and the second and final one with Joan Fontaine in a performance that earned her the Oscar for Best Actress, the only acting Oscar in a Hitchcock film. And it's quite deserved as Fontaine's facial expressions never fall in melodramatic caricature and powerfully capture the psychological premise of the title.
And what a premise! How can a woman live with a husband who might be a killer, who might kill her? The film is an immersion into one character's fearful psyche, an arm-wrestling battle between doubt and love translated to the screen into bits of genius genius... until the ending causes the whole edifice patiently built up to collapse in the most infuriatingly anti-climactic way.
But the film wasn't flawless to begin with. If "Rebecca" could quickly set the tone with the haunting shadows of Manderley, the dreamy voice-over and stay relatively faithful to its Gothic spirit, the first act of "Suspicion" feels more rushed out as if it was impatient to get to the point by using the most artificial tricks to make Grant and Fontaine's character fall in love.
It started well with a conversation in the dark revealing that we're in a tunnel, hence in a train. Cary Grant is Johnnie Aysgarth, a smooth-talking playboy travelling in first class without money, and whose rude manners and obnoxiousness with the ticket inspector shouldn't please the type of woman his travelling companion is. Now everyone describes Lina as dowdy but there's no way a face as delicate and beautiful as Fontaine's could earn her the nickname of 'monkey face', even from Cary Grant, and even with the glasses, I couldn't buy it.
Fontaine does a great job at looking shy or reserved like in "Rebecca", but "Suspicion" insists so much on her dullness it undermines its credibility. Olivia de Havilland was as beautiful as her sister but her Oscar-winning performance in "The Heiress" was the perfect embodiment of the shy spinster that falls in love with the first opportunistic wolf-in-sheep-disguise. In "Suspicion", we only take it at face value when Lina overhears a conversation between her parents (Cedric Hardwicke and May Whitty) about her desperate case and then literally throws herself in Johnnie's arms. End of first act.
There's something interesting in Lina's character though in the way she only seems to exist for Johnnie, in a good mood, the "Blue Danube" is played like a leitmotif, a reference to the magical waltz that sealed their union much to her parents' reluctance. She's literally diluted herself in that love as a gratitude that's quite true to life. Indeed, there's always one person in a couple that drags the other, one making more concessions, one more forgiving, no matter which side you take, the romantic balance will be either positive or negative, never neutral.
Truffaut lauded the film for its consistency, the fact that it stayed focused on Lina's mind and the evolution of her husband's perception and yes, the film's quite good at it. At first, Johnnie strikes as a little boy, whose reliance on Lina's money is so casually admitted that there couldn't be any greed or malice behind it. Then he turns out to be a greedy opportunist, selling two valuable chairs Lina's father gave as a honeymoon gift. As the film progresses, his persona gets more intriguing. For each suspicious action, there's an element that lowers the guard. One of his friends Beaky (Nigel Bruce) has a slip of tongue, revealing a few lies of his buddy, but he minimizes it with humor. Johnnie is a compulsive liar in the best case.
But Johnnie's behavior can also reveal darker sides like the effective moment when he abruptly tells Lina not to interfere with his business and later, when he asks a famous writer many questions about the undetectable poisons. This is one of my favorite trademarks from Hitchcock, the casual discussion about the perfect crime, which you know will always pay off and Grant's acting is delightfully ambivalent. Then the 'suspicion' culminates with the classic 'glass of milk' moment, where he climbs up the stair with a white glowing figure emerging from the dark. A simple practical effect (a light bulb in a glass of milk) and Hitchcock plunged us into Lina's mind, will she drink it or not? At that point, "Suspicion" had the makings of a great film, because Grant played his part perfectly, he could be what he was suspected to be... or not.
Then came the ending.
While Hitchcock wanted Johnnie to be the killer, and Lina to drink the glass of milk after incriminating him with a posthumous letter he would send to his mother-in-law, he was vetoed by the studios... because Cary Grant could never be cast as a murderer. It's for reasons like this that I cherish actors like Bogart, Cagney or Brando who could fit in any roles. I'm pretty sure Grant wouldn't have minded being a bad guy, he resented Hitchcock for having favored Fontaine all through the film and not getting an Academy nod, but if his role was closer to Charles Boyer in "Gaslight", things might have been different. He should have blamed it on studio politics rather than Hitchcock, the harm is done.
And the problem with Hitchcock movies is that they always benefit from a second viewing... as long as they ask for a second viewing, once you finish "Suspicion", everything is so perfectly wrapped up that you don't feel the urge to watch it again. Hitchcock knew it was only his second movie and had to make compromises, his pragmatism would pay off later as he would benefit from more creative freedom, once his reputation firmly established in Hollywood.
Still, all it needed to be a masterpiece was just one final shot on a smiling Grant, an enigmatic grin just to conclude on ambiguous note, that would have fit a film with such a title.
Is family a dream-killer or quite the opposite? As the father of a little girl, I shouldn't mind that the world of animation became a platform designed to preach "girl power"... but channeling my inner child, I was waiting for one Disney movie to be about a boy... it's silly I know, but maturity isn't kids' strongest suit.
So I had an instant liking on "Coco"... and the boy inside cheered, little did I know that the adult outside would weep. Damn great films, just when you think you've seen them all, there comes a little gem of imagination that catches you off guard and grab you by the heart and plunge you in a universe that look magnificent on screen yet the magnificence is nothing compared to the inner beauty of the story.
"Coco" starts with your "typical" Disney family, but you've got to love how atypical they are from Disney standards, yet typical in an archetypical way. The Riveras, four generations of proud shoemakers and perhaps the only Mexican people to have banished music from their life... because the previous matriarch of the family was abandoned by her husband to pursue his career as a singer (the backstory-sequence is colorfully rendered in the beginning). The singer died, Music became a taboo and a golden rule was to never mention his name, ever. His last connection with the world of the living is Mama Coco, the great-grandmother of Miguel.
Miguel is also your "typical" rebellious kid, his dream is to become a musician, he loves music and his idol is the great Ernesto de la Cruz, a crooner-idol who died too soon in a freak accident. "Seize your moment" is the legend's motto, a hymn to every dreamer who wants to be a doer. And even if the phrasing conveys some opportunistic undertones, we want to embrace it, because well, isn't that the most valuable lesson to teach kids? (especially when you have every member of a family leagued against a child, wasting his talent).
But this isn't exactly what the writers of "Coco" had in mind... sure, the Riveiras strike as quite annoying dream-killers, sure, music is important but it's less an end than a mean, a mean to reconcile the present with the past, to resurrect memories that have been buried in a ground of misunderstanding and bitterness. The magic of "Coco" is to translate matters of life, family and death into fantasy elements and dazzling visuals, just like "Inside Out" did with life and family period.
"Don't forget me, I'll always be there" says a dying character while pointing his index on his beloved one's heart, it's a common cliché but it's the only relief one could take with him to the 'long road". And "Coco" turns it into a simple but heartbreaking song, "Remember me" and it says a lot about our deepest needs in lif... whether you believe in it or not, after watching "Coco", you just want to believe in an afterlife that allows to live as long as you're being remembered... aren't we all in the same boat after all?
Maybe not. Maybe fame is the ultimate the antidote against oblivion. Maybe that's why many people dream of posterity... yet "Coco" doesn't say that posterity doesn't matter, it just says that it doesn't matter the way you think it does. And it simply gives a meaning to the idea of being part of a family in case some of us have forgotten. We don't choose our families, but they're part of our DNA, it's there from the start and no matter how far we go, we can never forget where we started especially when we want to move forward. Remember Mufasa's words to Simba about forgetting himself.
Miguel sees his future in music, and his journey takes him to the Land of the Dead, where dead people are much alive, hanging on the memories of their families and their celebration during the 'Day of the Dead', the only occasion for them to visit the real world in a night where their pictures are surrounded with personal items, candles and flower petals. Ever since Disney's seminal "Dance of Skeletons", there seems to be a mix of fascination and revulsion with the world of the dead Disney. But it's only fitting that a universe that killed so many characters could provide us a light of hope and allow the dead to show up once in a while like in "The Lion King".
Maybe it's a clever way to tell kids that death isn't final, the real death one when we're forgotten, maybe the reasons humans live long enough to see their grandchildren grow is to being remembered for a much longer time. The adventure in the world of the Dead with Hector, all the dead Riveras and de la Cruz is an adventure like only Disney animators at the top of their game can provide, but the film reminded me of many other life-changing classics that made me think.
"It's a Wonderful Life" made me wish more people could forgive themselves for so-called failures, "Back to the Future" warned me that a simple choice can lead to failure and there was no coming back. "Coco" filled my mind with similar thoughts, so many people die without coming to terms, living apart while they have so much to share and so many grandchildren don't realize what a blessing having grandparents still alive because we're blinded by ego or by dreams.
This is how the film spoke to me, we all wish to accomplish big things but sometimes, instead of seizing the moments, we make the "wise" choice... in a world that cherishes dreamers, starting with Disney... so we spend our life blaming ourselves for these choices. "Coco" made me feel like Dorothy ended up saying "There's no place like home", the film moved me and made me feel a little better with my choices... and that was something I didn't see co-coming.