IMDb member since November 2004
    2016 Oscars
    2015 Oscars
    2014 Oscars
    2013 Oscars
    2012 Oscars
    2011 Oscars
    2010 Oscars
    2009 Oscars
    2005 Oscars
    Lifetime Total
    Lifetime Filmo
    Lifetime Plot
    Lifetime Trivia
    Lifetime Title
    Lifetime Image
    Top 250
    Top Reviewer
    Poll Maker
    Poll Taker
    IMDb Member
    18 years


Coogan's Bluff

After the "Dollars Trilogy" and before "Dirty Harry", Eastwood codifies the 'Cowboy Cop" trope...
"Coogan's Bluff" took me back to a time I wasn't born enough to live but that I am passionate enough a movie lover to feel as deeply connected to it as if I had been there in time, place and spirit.

That blessed time was the New Hollywood era, a certain bold but oddly poetic depiction of the sordid spectrum of our earthly lives and a certain nostalgic trip to the roots of America, the frontier spirit, not to mention the rise of the macho independent figure with both the gun and the heart at the right placed. I could feel all the texture of that bygone time popping from that opening credits guitar music. Contemplating Deputy Walt Coogan (a young post-Leone Clint Eastwood) driving his Jeep across a rocky desert, leaving all dust behind him, I knew I was in the right territory, a rural county in the middle of nowhere. And Clint Eastwood treating his freshly arrested Navajo prisoner like he gave no damn about cultural reconciliation felt like an inhalation from the suffocating smokes of political correctness Holywoke keeps feeding us today.

Why should Coogan care anyway? He's Eastwood. He's the Deputy maybe but he's got the Sherif's wife, she's the cheater and even then, the physicality of Eastwood is one hell of an attenuating circumstance. It's good old Clint at the pinacle of his young sexiness. He doesn't have to act, his talent lies in that look he gives or that naughty self-aware smile when a woman catches his eye, and way the man, makes it so effortless to appeal to viewers. Leone put him on the track and through "Coogan's Bluff", Eastwood proves that he certainly didn't bluff his way through stardom. Basically, he's the reason to watch the film, that and a certain time capsule value so typical of these late-60s early 70s films, but as the first of five collaborations with director Don Siegel (his second cinematic father) even the little imperfections and a certain plot predictability, can't cancel the significance of the film in Hollywood's new narrative.

The plot is simple: Coogan is assigned to travel to New York City to extradite a recently apprehended killer named Jimmy Ringerman (Don Stroud). What should have been a simple formality is blocked by red tape matters, Ringerman suffering an LSD overdose had his extradition postponed and only D. A and Supreme court can accelerate the process and Eastwood wouldn't find a collaborative fellow in Detective Lieutenant McElroy, Lee J. Cobb as the second great casting choice, transcending what would be an overused trope in ensuing cop movies: the obstructive superior officer. That Cobb doesn't make his McElroy too disagreeable is a credit to his ability to make a certain fatigue and exasperation so natural they become relatable and while the film can be seen as a first draft of "Dirty Harry", McElroy is actually the more comprehensive and patient superior officer Eastwood had to deal with.

We quickly get the idea of what the film is, the temporization of Ringerman's arrest is an excuse to have a fish-out-of-water story of a rugged no-nonsense stetson-wearing officer from Arizona discovering the New York City of "Midnight Cowboy". A man of Eastwood's stature wouldn't get unnoticed but the hat and the doesn't-give-a-damn attitude strangely enhances his sexiness, paving the way for so many cool, detached and stubborn antiheroes. And what's more, Eastwood is still young enough in the film not to pass as a John Wayne-like figure or a conservative bigot. He openly flirts with probation officer Julie Roth (Susan Clark) while not pretending to care about her psychological jargon and kicks a hooker's butt in a lousy motel after she tried to steal his wallet. There's something that echoes the cool attitude of Steve McQueen and reminds us of a time where men could act like manly pricks and no big deal was made of it.

The plot thickens when the eponymous bluff allows Coogan to take Ringerman (whose psychopathic unhinged manners looks like a foreshadowing of Scorpio) but he's knocked out at an ambush with the help of Ringerman's girlfriend Linny (Tisha Sterling) and a tavern owner named Pushie (David F. Doyle). Naturally, that puts him at odds again with McElroy, but it also make the case personal; and following Ringerman's track, from his mother (Betty Field) to a dinner supper with the officer, he tracks Linny to a nightclub for a documentary-like trip to psychedelic New York, leaving Coogan as cold as if he was in a religious seminary. This is less to show an old-fashioned macho dealing with the "degenerate" manners of post-modern society, but to highlight the way he sticks to his job, no matter what. And that's the essence of Eastwood characters, even outside the realm of law enforcement, they never cared for the impression they left, only the job that had to be done.

The conclusion of the film isn't even the highlight if we except the climactic motorcycle chase between Ringerman and Coogan, basically the closest to "Bullit" Eastwood could get. The point is that it's a breakthrough role for Eastwood's career set the template of "cowboy cop" movies and the scenes are only predictable in comparison with the better movies they inspired (including Eastwood's ones), but nothing compares to Eastwood's persona, the man with guts who abides by rules but knows how to transgress them, some butt slapping here and kissing there, some deadly threats and a few occasional wisecracks, and that look. There's a running gag with New Yorkers constantly mixing Tex and Arizona, showing much of the street city's ignorance but the point is in Eastwood's reaction, he doesn't give a damn.

That's Eastwood in a nutshell, he never dignifies the mundane, gets the job done, gets the woman and much more, he can show gratitude. That final "thank you"" to McElroy says it all, Eastwood characters can play tough or mean but in the end, they're all decent.

West Side Story

An okay and savorless remake that should urge everyone to go watch or rewatch the "real" one...
To be honest, "West Side Story" remade by Steven Spielberg was more an object of curiosity than the kind of cinematic-offer-you-cant-refuse. I could accept the premise since the Best Picture winner of 1961 was already an adaptation of the stage musical by Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein, itself an umpteenth retelling of Romeo and Juliet (which wasn't even a novelty). Such material is likely to be retouched, revisited and readapted to a modern audience. And, baby-boomer Steven who was enamored with the play decided to make his own version for a 2020s audience. He did that well but that's not saying much.

Now, it was Godard who said the best way to criticize a film is to make your own and Spielberg's remake seems to carry some criticism against the original, and while enjoying both versions isn't an impossibility, one should question whether the changes enhance the story or not. Well, first the film doesn't take as many liberties as I expected. All the catchy songs featured in the original (practically all of them) are there... yet a few minor changes speak volumes about the world's sad mindset.

I can already imagine screenwriter Tony Kushner torturing himself with right adjective rhyming with "any girl who's not me today" during the "I feel pretty" segment until Eureka-ing with "bright" and prompting Spielberg to switch the scene from morning to night. It sounded a bit off for the word 'gay' didn't have the same connotation in the late 50s when the film is supposed to take place, that Spielberg removes it shows that he's not as much a purist as his insistance to have the Sharks talk non-subtitled Spanish. Sorry but either you play the full authenticity card or you don't. Now let's get to the controversial lack of subtitles in theaters.

I saw it on Disney+ with subtitles but I can imagine the frustration in the theaters. If there's a point not to reveal the content of some exchanges, I understand, but depriving viewers from understanding in order to give a symbolic edge to the Puerto Ricans seems more of a guilt-trip move from a white director sucking up to the minority and it's utterly irrational. The Puerto -Rican chant might not have needed subtitles or some idioms like "guapa" or "vamos" etc, but following the same logic, wouldn't they sing "America, America" (or any songs for that matter) in Spanish then? Should we dismiss any film with foreign-speakers speaking English? Should we redub "Scarface"? How far should we push that zeal? How about suspension of disbelief, the essence of movie-making? Anyway, Spielberg's so-called respect to Spanish culture can hardly hide his desperate attempt to be 'relevant' and make the buzz through a little controversy. Not that it helped the film.

Some good points though, Rachel Ziegler was as good as Natalie Wood in her portrayal of the sweet and delicate (but strong-willed) Maria and while Ansel Egort as Tony didn't bring much magnetism, so was his predecessor Richard Beymer. But "WSS" is mainly a supporting cast film and the juiciest roles belong to Riff (Josh Andres a little less charming than Russ Tamblyn), Bernardo (David Alvarez reprising George Shakiris' role) and of course, Anita (Ariana DeBose taking the part of Rita Moreno). In fact, Anita is the central protagonist who displays the widest range of emotions, she has that big sister's supporting instinct with Maria, she's strong, naughty, saucy and sassy with men, using both her tongue, her moves and dress as deadly weapons.

And now, she belongs to these characters that won two Oscars by different actor like the Joker (Heath Ledger and Joaquin Phoenix). De Bose would succeed to Moreno, who has a small but touching role as the drugstore owner where Tony works. A nice touch. On the other hand, Alvarez doesn't have Shakiris' magnetism and never strikes as a gang leader.

Now, the film features a good deal deal of well-choreographed scenes and some brilliant camera-work from Spielberg, but they lacked the colors and the punch of the original. Seriously, the "America, America" song is one of the most iconic musicals moments of history and the fact that it was shot in dark intimacy brightened the beautiful girls' dresses and the interactions with the boys made it look a fun inside joke, but Spielberg treats it as a Disney ensemble song shot in broad daylight... as for the "Tonight" song, I was so turned on by Rita Moreno putting on her stockings and saying she would get her kicks (for her little private mix), that I couldn't forgive they made her whisper that line in a church. The joke relieved that moment from its hot sexual tension.

Speaking of DeBose , not saying she wasn't good, she nailed the part but her Oscar win seem to indicate a certain trajectory taken by the Oscars lately making the Best Supporting Actress the most predictable slot. It seems that all it takes is to have a female character a little more charismatic than the heroine, and that's it. De Bose seems to have fun being Anita, overplaying her accent and intonations and I wish there could be one silent scene that showcases her dramatic ability, there was such a moment, it lasted only three seconds.

Anyway, it's worth watching this version to realize how the original stood the test of time, this one is a bit weaker but to the degree that it remained faithful to the original I kind of appreciated it, to the degree it tried to insert some relevant issues (the tomboy girl seemed forced and gratuitous), I understood it, but to the degree that I like to rewatch masterpieces, I'll stick with the original. If anything, this film made me want to rewatch the original.


The Brotherhood of the Fatigued Pants ...
It was French comedian Coluche who once said "I take fun from areas where people work, while gynecologists do the opposite". Well, Pierre Dufour (Jean-Pierre Marielle) would certainly acquiesce, his work consists of examining the intimacy of female patients at high cadency, making him the least likely candidate for satisfying any needs going through that area. And so when we meet him, he's a man who's got professional burnout written all over his stern face and Bertrand Blier found quite a bizarre way to depict his escape from professional alienation.

It is a scene the expression "seeing is believing" exists for, Pierre's having an improvised meal on his office while one of his patients, a bourgeois lady laying on the stirrups keeps her legs spread so he has a clear view on a real-life representation of the "Origin of the World". The scene is awkwardly silent, Pierre picks a big baguette (no innuendo... I guess), some pâté and wine, and then the breaking point is reached at the first bite when his patient starts scratching her public hair (and I add an "l" to avoid problems). The next shot is stylistically perfect with the two legs in the foreground and the man slowly rising in-between, you don't make symbolic rebirth more explicit.

What follows is one of the most hilarious scenes of 70s cinema, a woman approaches Pierre and asks for "Gustave Flaubert street" "why are you asking?" he shouts. "None of your business" she says "then don't bust my balls! That's all I'm asking" Thinking she'll find an allied spirit in a passer-by played by Jean Rochefort, she gets the second round "Can"t you see he's had enough? You want the incident or what?" the two men leave the woman totally bewildered, their friendship instantly sealed by a mutual disdain for a demographic category they chose to label as ball-breakers. Why they say they've had enough might get over the heads of many viewers and I too had to check some trivia.

The film was released in 1976, the Year of the Woman in France, shortly after the legalization of abortion and the sexual liberation movement where women proclaimed ownership on their body and criticized patriarchy (before it became a trend). Visibly triggered, the two men decided that women can't have the cake and eat it so they ran away to a remote village in the countryside. There's a rampant misogyny that hasn't aged well and Bier himself admitted that the film was a big farce that went a little out of control but to his defense, there's something irreverential and libertarian matching the post-68 era and that middle-aged men were no less entitled to embrace.

In a way, "Calmos" is less an anti-feminist than a masculinist film, contradicting the idea that men are only driven by lust-driven appetites. If anything once they moved to a pastoral setting, Pierre and Albert rediscover the pleasures of good food and wine and befriend a truculent alcoholic priest played by Blier's father Bertrand. At that point, the two friends have reached a certain harmony although Albert played by Rochefort seems more uncertain.... I admire the two actors, Marielle is so grandiloquent and histrionic he takes the lion share of one-liners and makes Rochefort a little bland in comparison. I was also wary that the film would lose his breath but the two men's wives (Brigitte Fossey and Valérie Mairesse ) come back and blackmail the priest into convincing the fellows to go back to Paris.

The 'back to house' part isn't exactly the film's highlight and might strike as more blatantly misogynistic in the way it features every woman as a potential nympho. But then the duo escapes again into the open country followed by other men tired of having to fulfill marital duties to ungrateful creatures. Some could even see a sort of "Fight Club" brotherhood with men tired of asserting their masculinity. At some point one of the followers (Gérard Jugnot) complain that there's not much to do, he's told to get back to his wife if he wants order. Can't have it all. It quickly gets out of control when the men meet with a tank and the two heroes are captured by a squad of military Amazon women. It's an interesting form of female empowerment with a subversion of roles and an ahead-of-its-time depiction of a certain sensual female gaze. And basically at that point, you understand that this is not a film that you should question, you just follow the flot and see how weird it can get.

And so we get to the final chapter where Pierre and Albert are in a medical lab in Paris, fixed to their beds and with enormous erections, and women come for a two-minute of copulation. It's "A Clockwork Orange" crossed with Woody Allen's "Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex". At that point, you never know whether it's insulting to women to reduce them to sexual needs or men as phallic objects... one thing for sure, the film won't be aired any soon. Still, it has achieved a certain time-capsule significance through its reference to that period where the line between liberty and license had already been crossed, one that ironically desacralized the female body and made men less accountable for their actions, highlighting a certain hypocrisy of a movement that rejected the patriarcal machinery but not all the tools.

The film concludes on the kind of surreal note that bookends the opening, maybe a tribute to that Bukowski story of a man so small he was used by his woman as a dildo... as if it was shot by Terry Gilliam. I don't know if the film's message would really pass today but I admire the creativity of Bertrand Blier, Marielle's performance and the messy yet refreshing bizarreness of that piece of cinematic weirdness...

Ansikte mot ansikte

Is the body the temple that honors the soul or the sarcophage that hides its mummified secrets...
No director came ever close to Ingmar Bergman when it came to a mystical and psychological approach of human condition. Bergmanian faces faced the impending doom of mortality whilst they shielded their soul from the cries and whispers of a devouring subconscious, pandering to puritan and suffocating bourgeois-like formalism. The existential dilemma relied on whether to rebel against God, society or yourself? And how can an individual voice ever make itself heard amidst the deafening silence of God and the internal vacarm that govern it.

From such heavy-handed interrogations, "Face to Face" is certainly a most ambitious project from Bergman, maybe too ambitious from the way he got carried away by an excess of symbolism. The film chronicles the emotional journey of a substitute psychiatrist named Jenny Isaakson (Liv Ullman), a wife and mother, alone during summer vacation (while her husband is at a Congress in Chicago and her 14-year old daughter in a riding camp). Jenny stays at her grandparents' house that revives some haunting memories and fuels rather disturbing nightmares, one consisting of a sinister one-eyed old woman (Tore Dyveke Segelcke).

Here you've got all types of troubles packed into the vulnerable soul of one woman; marital, psychological, existential, all sorts of relationship in fact, making ironic the way she was deemed by Erland Josephson (Dr. Tomas Jakobi) as "a miracle of mental health". If anything, the film invites us to contemplate that even behind the balanced posture of normal and well-spoken people, you might find an inclination to violent breakdowns. Beware the silent ones indeed and the 'suicide attempt' occurring in the film seems more plausible than if it was from someone vocal about it. All credit goes to Ullman who delivers the performance of a lifetime, similar to Gena Rowlands in "A Woman Under the Influence", a woman entrapped in her own inhibitions while tortured by devilish thoughts and painful memories.

So "Face to Face" is never as powerful and poignant as when it keeps a shadow of mystery for we can read in Liv Ullman's face the gentleness of a woman with delicate features but whose sad eyes keep yelling for help. Jenny never seems to act but her unhappiness is as plain as the crisped smiles and hesitations she puts on her attempt to reassure her entourage that "everything's all right". Her pampering grandmother (Alno Taube) can see that something's not right with her husband, a wife can tell, her own husband (Gunnar Björnstrand who sadly lost his prestance) is nearing death and has only a few words in this films but what words: "old age is hell". People can read in Jenny and even a neurotic patient Maria (Karl Sylwan) gazes at her, touches her eyes and front, and says in a very laconic way "Poor Jenny". That scene exudes "Persona" vibes where the observer becomes the object of uncompromising scrutiny.

Yet the mirror-like duality induced with Maria is barely explored by Bergman who was getting lucid about the futility of therapy, something echoed by Jenny's colleague who declared "I don't think we can cure one person, maybe one or two despite our efforts", the violence of the psychiatric methods are more or less perceived as an invasion of intimacy, a symbolical rape (so to speak) almost foreshadowed by Maria's bruised face. At some point Jenny says that she's somewhat happy because she's made herself safe and sound the illusion of stability and happiness are the closest to a placebo preventing toxic feelings or past traumas to emotionally cripple you. But the more you internalize anger, the more likely you turn your psyche into an emotional grenade. It's all a matter of when will the pin be pulled out?

After having dinner with Tomas, Jenny goes to his house, he starts a flirting approach that she cancels almost instantly, asking him "how you figured out overcoming the awkwardness of getting undressed". This awkward exchange is my favorite moment, reminding how great chemistry the two actors had in "Scenes from a Marriage", it's obvious they are lonely and disilussioned and found a channel of mutual appreciation but somehow Jenny can't let herself be conquered. Naturally, it's not the rebuttal to put in the equation but a subconscious parellel Jenny draws between her body intimacy and her intimate secrets, as if the body wasn't a temple of pleasure but a sarcophage where mummified torments were preserved.

The body and soul dichotomy is inexistant within Jenny as illustrated in the disturbing rape attempt scene. The man who assaults Jenny gives up, later she confesses that she somehow wanted to be aroused through a pain that would make her feel alive, but it was all "dry" and "tight" indeed. Jenny had reached a no-return point where the body and the soul made one and but the desecration of the body is still the lesser of two evils, making the suicide a most natural final step. Why would she choose to have a platonic relationship with Tomas might speak higher of her opinion about him, the less he tries to get inside her literally, the more inclined she is to open the sarcophage and reveal how the darkest secrets of her upbringing in one of the most intense breakdown scenes ever.

"Face to Face" is the study of a woman who has let her body and her mind slip into a semi-catatonic state of illusory normality, treasuring known horrors for the unknown might be the worse. Which takes me to the film's main problem: why not keep the unknown unseen? Bergman's punctuates the film with too many surreal sequences that generate more confusion than cohesion and don't add much to what Ullman's monologues or eyes can convey. For a film so sober and intellectually rich, so horrific and yet optimistic, it's a shame that Bergman got carried away by the subject. Both him and Ullman would be Oscar-nominated but it might be one of the rare times where the actress outperformed the director.


A little bit of "Hope and Glory", and "Roma" and... nothing special...
By no means "Belfast" Is a bad movie, au contraire it's a handsomely photographed tale of childhood "resisting-the-context" that tried to keep faithful to simple values such as family, honesty and childhood itself through the preservation of its treasured innocence, all that wrapped in the turbulent context of the rising 'Troubles' between Protestants and Catholics in 1969.

The perspective of a cute little plucky boy named Buddy (newcomer Jude Hill) prevents the film from any political statement and maintains a rather lighthearted tone punctuated here and there by a few dramatic moments. But not too dramatic for the film is obviously designed as a love-letter to director Kenneth Branagh's hometown, to cinema as well as many scenes pull a "Cinema Paradiso" and for a certain Irishness that prompted some citizens to leave, some to stay but no matter what to keep a certain loyalty to a spirit that forged the spiritual backbone of all the Irishmen in the world. Again, no political statement and even the religious shift is played on like a running-joke.

Again, by no means "Belfast" is a bad movie. Boy, do I feel like a broken record.

Still, I'm stuck in a reviewing dilemma. I saw the film twice and I can't tell you what scene stuck to my mind. Music-wise, I have the theme of "High Noon" and Van Morrison's overplayed songs clouding my memories. The scenes with the riots and the opening sequence were rather captivating but for all that, the film didn't leave the impact I thought I would have. I can't exactly pinpoint something to blame, I have just a feeling that Kenneth Branagh was so enthused by what seems to be a passion project that something came in the way of the making. The film seems more interested by the process of its making than the story behind. It's supposed to be a coming-of-age story but while not totally lackluster, there's a frustrating feeling of uneventfulness making you hope "this better goes somewhere".

But "Belfast" is merely a succession of little family vignettes designed to elicit the usual spectrum of emotions: smiles, laughs, sadness, thrills and "aww that's so cute" reactions. Like any film I guess? No. These scenes all put together never create a feeling of total consistency and as many reviewers pointed out, the editing awkwardly interrupts a scene before it could reach any momentum and the episodic structure is never overarched by the big picture. For such a well-shot film, it's disappointing to have such nice and likable characters never get beyond the requirements of their role... and it's also very telling that the film got two Oscar nominations for Best Supporting actors, Judi Dench and Ciaràn Hinds in the kind of roles that rarely get unnoticed, the wisecracking Granny and the cool Grandpa.

I liked their interactions with Buddy but they never had a moment where they could act beyond the limited range they were assigned to, some scenes seemed only designed to shoot photographs for a behind-the-scenes article. Why am I not surprised that these two would be the film's highlights? (especially Hinds, Dench plays the kind of roles she could perform in her sleep)... because I didn't care much for the parents. My reason is silly I know but I found them to be distractingly handsome, Ma is played by Caitrona Balfe and Pa by Jamie Dorman. Whenever they appeared together on the screen, I had a feeling of watching a commercial. God forbid I'd imply that Irish folks should look plain and normal but the casting felt a little too photogenic to give that touch of authenticity.

On that level, the cinematography is also problematic and I wonder if Branagh cared for authenticity at all. The film from beginning to end feels like an exercice in style with a director who got enough budget to pull an Orson Welles or Ingmar Bergman in every single shot. I agree that a close up on raindrops falling on tin cans can look great with well-contrasted black-and-white, but so does any low-rate filmmaking student. I believe Branagh had more to prove to viewers than a capability to handle a camera? But even in moments as tragic as a funeral, he indulges to a weird bottom view from the graveyard's POV, artsy till the end, Kenny.

And so Branagh emphasizes the "art" in artificial. It wasn't enough that the one sad death in the film was put in the most anticlimactic fashion and with a sense of aesthetics that cancelled the emotional impact, but it had to cut abruptly to a party coming out of nowhere, with the two handsome parents dancing and flirting together. So many set-ups without the pay-off, the school crush, the brother who serves no purpose at all ... At that point, Branagh alienated a good portion of viewers who wanted to enjoy the picture. I wanted to, but after two viewings, I can't recall anything special except some good one-liners from Grandpa and the bits about religions. I also have a moment where the father faces a life-and-death situation and just when I was taken by the action, there's the theme of "Do Not forsake Me, Oh my Darling" playing, I'm sorry but two good things put together don't make another good thing.

"Belfast" is one of these award baits that get forgotten pretty soon, but it isn't as good as much as it shows how desperately good it tries to be. It tries to be "Hope and Glory" (not a masterpiece but more enjoyable) and "Roma", but in the end, it's nothing special. I can't say it's bad, but that doesn't say much, some bad movies can be pretty entertaining. I'm even surprised I wrote so much about it. "Belfast" deserved better and when you think of a film like "The Wind that Shakes the Barley", you'd think Branagh is a fine Shakespearian actor, but he's no Kenneth Loach, and this is not "Kes".


An ersatz of "Intouchables"...
In 2011, "Intouchables", starring Omar Sy and François Cluzet, touched the hearts of 20 millions French viewers through the unlikely friendship between a street-smart guy of African background and a white paraplegic millionnaire. The film met with international acclaim and made former TV comedian Omar Sy a star. Despite its obvious formula, there was a genuine sincerity and comedy never felt forced. Driven by such a success, Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache made a similarly driven-by-good-sentiments comedy in 2014, but the formula doesn't work and the script feel more like a calculated effort to duplicate "Intouchables"

Samba Cissé, an Senegalese illegal immigrant, is the protagonist of a tale full of clichés and contrivances that severely undermine the message and create such an overdose of saccharine it's a miracle it remained reasonably watchable till the ending. Not a single character is capable to transcend overused tropes, starting wth Samba himself. Struggling to make ends meet and keep a low profile to avoid paper controls, he's got a nice smile and a sweet voice obviously meant to contrast with his athletic noticeability but never is his desperateness so great he can act beyond the obvious sanctification he's subjected to. The level of gentleness he conveys in some scenes confines to dim-wittedness, but that's not a reflection on Sy, the blame is on the script.

I actually liked the opening sequence: no words, just a fancy restaurant with a long shot panning over the kitchen where migrants are working, obviously not the same profile than the customers. The film has a fair documentary value as it highlights the situations of migrants, doing petty and ungrateful jobs such as cleaning skyscraper windows, recycling garbage, and maybe there's a statement that these people are doing the jobs 'good citizens' refuse to, dirtying their hands or risking their necks. It would have been nice to have a few counter-examples instead of just preaching that all illegal migrants are driven by the best intentions. The narrative plays it safe, it's polished to the level of artificial blandness, and only comedy can spice up the material, but that's not saying much..

I already had a bad feeling when we were introduced to the two social workers, Charlotte Gainsbourg plays Alice a post-burnout businesswoman with a nervous speech pattern and who can't open her bag without spilling pills and cachets all over the table. No depressed individual would expose these "details" but the script insists on exposing her as a neurotic. And what better conversation-starter with Samba? Her experienced colleague Manu (Izia Higelin) as her masculine nickname indicates, is the sharpshooter meant to highlight Alice's insecurity. When she sets off the metal detector, she shows a belly button ring. Then it beeps again a little lower. "you want a picture, sorry can't show this, can you let us come?" I couldn't believe a cop would let anyone get away with that attitude. But since Many is the comic relief, she's got to be Mrs. One-Liner.

Everyone in "Samba" is an archetype whose actions follow a pre-written status: the comic relief, the voice of reason etc. There's a running-gag about Manu warning Alice over keeping some distance from the migrants and not give her phone number. Of course, she does. When Manu asks Alice if she did, Alice's nervous "no, of course" was supposed to be a joke. Ha ha. And it doesn't help that both actresses overplay their roles and that the two end up falling in love with two migrants, conveying the absurd notion that an attraction to exotic individuals had a little bearing on their endeavor.

And so we get an embarrassing scene where she asks Samba to put on a shirt, peep over his torso and make him an object of interracial fantasy "Intoucbables" had almost flirted with such voyeurism when it made Driss a terrific dancer admired by little 'bourgeois' but it worked. However, they felt the need to add a striptease session with Tahar Rahim as Wilson -the other migrant who pretends to be Brazilian- in front of cheerful female office workers. I have less a problem with that scene than its pretentious gratuitousness, there could be a subtle point to make about a certain white female gaze on ethnic men, and the way it can be cleverly exploited by these very targets, but the film didn't aim that high.

Anyway, after a nice party meant to elicit our admiration toward social workers, Mrs. One-LIner finally falls in love with Wilson precisely because she has a crush on Latinos, not only the subplot never really pays off but it contradicts her character who's supposed to be so smart she wouldn't fall in such a trap, The attempts of a romantic comedy are forced and clunky and in fact the whole premise is ruined by Alice being in love with Samba while the two had better chemistry friendship-wise.

As I said, Sy was good, and I liked Isaka Sawadogo as his uncle Jonas. The thing is that his gentleness is needlessly emphasized so the closest to a bad action is when he ends up having an affair with the fiancée of a fellow Senegalese he met in the camps. Instead of bringing some trouble with the Law, it's all a McGuffin to make Samba stay in France. The preposterous ending was a copout because it prevented to raise the question: if he couldn't get his papers, couldn't he just marry Alice? The directors don't even dare to raise an important point about marriage-in-name.

That would have been an interesting dilemma because I could never see them together. In a scene where they have their first intimate moments, a plumbery incident makes her so hysterical I couldn't see him spending his life with her... And so I tried to see the film differently, imagining Samba as a manipulative fellow trying to marry Alice, get his papers and get the hell out. Not a good sign when a plot looks better from a cynical angle.

The Cat Concerto

The most perfectly-timed cartoon of all time...
Ever since "Steamboat Willie" revolutionary use of pre-recorded soundtrack, cartoons became a genre to be taken seriously. It's even more interesting that it coincided with the rise of the talkies for cartoons' reliance on music kept them loyal to the values of silent cinema where soundtracks, borrowed from jazz, folk or classical music, less to accompany than to complement the images. Many classical themes became popular standards thanks to Golden Age cartoons, Peer Gynt's 'Morning' theme, the 'William Tell Overture' finale for cavalry etc. And it's no coincidence that some of the best were directly related to music, think of "The Band Concert", first Mickey Mouse in color, Bugs Bunny's "What's Opera, Doc?" or the hilarious Tex Avery's "Magical Maestro".

And in "Tom and Jerry" canon we have "The Cat Concerto", certainly their most accomplished short and deserving winner of the 1946 Academy Award. The cartoon's exploitation of the iconic "Hungarian Rhapsody" by Franz Listz is an inspired choice: the piece that lasts for more than ten minutes -and condensed here in a six-minute format- starts with a rather dark and melancholic introduction: the lassan, then energy rises and the tune gets more playful through the friska, that middle section that makes us anticipate the climactic and jubilant 'fugue' part. The rhapsody was used in several cartoons from Merry Melodies "Rhapsody in Rivets" and Bugs Bunny's "Rhapsody Rabbit" to "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" with the unforgettable duet between Donald and Daffy but William Hanna and Joseph Barbera paid the greatest tribute.

And I can go on and on praising the animation quality, how Tom's fingers play the correct notes, how magnificently drawn is the piano and its inside mechanisms, but I'm afraid I wouldn't say anything special. Indeed, the iconic duo had reached its artistic peak and already won three Oscars. What I admire the most in the cartoon is the timing. It's not about the keys matching the music but the gags. Oddly enough, it's one of the things I even enjoyed as a child, I knew I wanted to get to the fugue but I had to go through the serious intro, then let the gags come at their own rhythm during the playful friska, to conclude on my favorite part: the fugue. Here's how the timing works:

  • The intro lasts 24 seconds and I just love the dramatic transition between the roaring MGM lion and the operatic music when the title card shows. Quite a way to set the tone.

  • From 00:24 to 01:39, we have the longest Tom and Jerry moment without a single gag -and I mean that in a good way- although Tom's overly dignified posture might bring a few chuckles but it's played rather straight. Tom salutes the audience, sits down, cleans his hand while players are tuning their instruments and then silence: he starts playing the first recognizable notes of the lassan. The absence of laughs has a point: we're invited to enjoy the music, to admire the animations from which gags would be a distraction. So the first gag only comes when Tom stops playing to dry his hands. His shirt moves off his tuxedo and he quickly readjusts it. Simple, brilliant and effective.

  • After that, it's almost another minute without a gag but I do love Tom's smirk at 1:52 addressing the audience, like saying "I'm good, aint'I"? After that we don't get full view on the keys. It might be a trick from the animators but it also prepares us for the next situation where we see the piano from behind and all the perfectly aligned hammers hitting the strings.

  • Finally at 2:05, we see Jerry whose sleep is musically interrupted. He's literally swept by the musical current and we get the second visual gag when he's literally rodeoing over an insisting hammer at 2:20. Jerry's time to shine.

  • At 2:40, he mockingly "conducts" the music with his finger then 10 seconds later, he runs under the keys making a musical wave that ironically matches the partition. Then, back to the music and notice that Tom's facial expression changes: he smiles more as if tormenting Jerry had boosted his confidence. But Jerry hasn't said his last word and so he'll start crashing Tom's party, one of the most brilliant gags is when he keeps hitting on one string until Tom knocks him out, for a priceless . Delayed fall at 3:20. Now, obviously there will come a time where we lose track of the gags but it's precisely because the tempo rises than so does the comedy, at the friska, playtime can start.

  • The first bit of true violence comes when Jerry slams the cover on Tom's fingers at 3:45, we get the infamous mousetrap at 4:20, then at 4:26, the first hint of the fugue is played as Tom tries to catch Jerry, preparing us to the finale.

  • At 4:50, like Donald in "The Band Concert", Jerry changes the piece to a pop song and mayhem ensues until the climactic moment where Tom has the upper hand, takes Jerry and puts him between the piano hammers that whack, hit, spank him from 5:30 to 6:00. Now, if that moment didn't seal the Oscar win, I don't know what it did. What a genius and magnificently animated way to use the piece's momentum... and then it's time to end on apotheosis.

  • From 6:26 to almost 7:00, Jerry plays over and over the iconic fugue, forcing Tom to follow the keys not once or twice but three times and loses for lack of endurance and the film couldn't have a better ending, we feel sorry for the exhausted Tom who messed his beautiful tuxedo, but when Jerry comes saluting the crowd with his own tuxedo, surely he shares some of the prestige with Tom, and surely many people in the theaters applauded what might be one of the greatest animated pieces of history.

Tang shan da xiong

Bruce Lee made "The Big Boss" a success and the film's success made him the Big Boss...
"Big Boss" isn't just a martial arts cult-classic, this is film where disposable bodies are literally buried into ice, where almost every good protagonist dies and even a child gets stabbed in the back, where the Big Bad gets his thorax perforated by the hero's fingers and dies choking in his own blood... this might be the film that made Bruce Lee a major star all over the world, but in its own right, it's also one hell of a crime drama filled with dramatic details that cemented its legendary reputation.

And I'm speaking from experience, having watched the film before even being a movie buff. It was summer '93, I was 11, I had seen a great deal of Jean-Claude Van Damme and karate movies by then but I had never seen a Bruce Lee film yet. A cousin of mine had brought an old French-dubbed VHS from René Chateau (check the iconic panther-logo on Youtube)... I was absorbed by the story because it was accessible plot-wise but I wasn't ready for the violence which really caught me off guard, in a positive way

Mind you, all the details to cherish weren't just about violence, I remembered Bruce Lee as Chao-an flirting with Chow Mei, trying not to make eye contact with her during a dull conversation, I remembered her playful smile. By the way actress Maria Yi was so jaw-dropping beautiful that the fact she caught the attention of the Big Boss' arrogant son (Laug Wi) feels less like an excuse to turn her into a damsel-in-distress than an inevitability. I remembered the introductions of the cousin ending with the more three-dimensional Ah Kun (Lee Quinn) who kept his shirt constantly open. I remembered the oath made by Chao-an to his mother to never get into a fight, symbolized by a jade amulet, any other actor could make such a detail corny, not Bruce Lee.

Something in my child's spirit was too naïve and optimistic to figure that the film would take such a dramatic turn, foreshadowed by the unexpected death of cousin Hsu Chien (James Tien) whom I figured would be like a partner in fights. It was a time where I hated nice characters to be killed but somehow with "Big Boss", I could appreciate the way it was essential for the narrative to push the hero into the point-of-no-return. And so before the final fight, I really wished Chao-an would kick the **** out of the bad guy. This is the whole emotional process, it's not about having a badass hero with badass fighting skills but to first establish that there's no honor, no beauty in violence but in a corrupt world, it can be necessary. We don't root for the fight but the motive behind.

This is why the fighting scenes don't feature Lee's trademark "kyai" or cocky stares (except at the end where it had a point), the film shows the hero as a man willing to help his cousins, his friends and even his hierarchy, presuming they had nothing to do with the disappearance of those who inadvertently discovered the drug trafficking for which the ice factory worked as a front. It's a coming to realization that the world is a nasty place and one unfortunate incident can trigger a macabre chain of events, even more ironic since it's two young men's refusal to be bribed that seals their death warrant.

As Chao-an finds himself entangled in a world of corruption, forced prostitution, alcohol, money, drugs and ultimately murders... he realizes that only violence can wash down everything at once. This is why before the iconic climax, we have a voice-over monologue explaining why the oath is to be broken. So when Chao-an throws the amulet in the river, I can only imagine the cheers in the dark theaters' audiences. That's why "Big Boss" works, it's a straightforward storytelling approach, no scene is wasted. The narrative is conventional but it's all in the details and Lee's presence. But let's also credit the villain Han Ying-chieh as Hsiao Mi, he brings an affability and smoothness that makes him even more intimidating. As a man who hasn't shown yet the extent of his lethal power, he's the perfect match to Chao-an and their final confrontation might come second best as Lee's greatest fight after the one with in the Coliseum. This is truly an actors' film, at a time where actors made a film.

And aware that the film would boost his career, Lee kept an attentive eye of the script, going at odds with director Lo Wei who wanted to add some comedy, including the cartoonish outlined hole after a man gets thrown in wall. Thankfully, these goofs are swept by the tragic turn of event when Lee discovers his cousins killed during their sleep, showing that Asian cinema didn't shy away from making violence ugly and the reaction of Chao-an when he sees the dead child (and later Ah-Kun) speaks volume about his emotional range.

I've never forgotten "Big Boss" and I remember that my father told me back then he skipped school with his friends to go see "Big Boss", he was among the teenagers who got into that craze and I was glad he, too, had a story with the film. And just hearing the score from the intro, I got a glimpse of how it would have felt back then in the 70s.

No movie fan can't ignore the film, and if flaws and imperfections are prevalent, it doesn't get one ounce of the film's legendary status. And the more I process it, the more I realize how well-chosen the title "Big Boss" was, obviously referring to the villain but it also consecrated Bruce Lee as the Big Boss of martial arts action film, to which this film is a precursor.

The Fabelmans

Young Steven Spielberg ...
Steven Spielberg belongs to the generation that crashed the studio system to write the best American cinematic chapter: the New Hollywood; and yet it was Spielberg's seminal blockbuster "Jaws" and following hit "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (along with a certain sci-fi epic from his buddy George) that would bring Hollywood to its roots of a mass-entertaining industry, to which Spielberg became a household name.

Spielberg set the bar so high in the late 70s that -as his other buddy Marty said- he could only take a few steps back and jump over it again like a modern-day Walt Disney. So he made Indiana Jones and commercially dethroned "Jaws" with "E. T." After that, he proved to be as comfortable with the conventional drama through "The Color Purple" and "Schindler's List" but in 1993, he proved once again his cinematic flair, introducing CGI to a new generation of viewers with the revolutionary "Jurassic Park".

I am not his greatest fan but I do admire Spielberg's capability to remain relevant. Ever since "Jaws", he knew how to make the difference, to impact the audience, to whisper something very personal about himself while delivering a universal message. Now, watching "The Fabelmans" his semi-autobiographical film co-written with Tony Kushner, I felt that Spielberg maybe dealt with too personal a subject to be able to appeal to a wider range of viewers. I gather that after the recent loss of his father and mother he finally decided to pay tribute to his origins, a dormant idea since 1999 but the film doesn't add much than what a one-hour documentary could have done.

Still, to its credit, the film is a wonderful exploration of the exhilarating feeling of being a filmmaker: telling stories, creating something that would make all eyes converge toward it, with a dual level of excitement, one collective: giving people something to enjoy and one more ego-satisfying. Like Scorsese or Lucas, Spielberg was a weakly teenager who couldn't possibly shine for athletic prowesses or seduction skills and take it from someone who used to be a bespectacled awkward teenager, creation was an ego catharsis. I loved art lessons because girls would compliment my drawing and I will forever cherish the day I showed my comics to my all-time crush or when I saw the glee in my colleagues' eyes directed toward my Youtube montages.

As a former outcast, I could relate to any scene with Gabriel LaBelle as Spielberg's alter-ego Sam Fabelman whenever he was shooting, editing and showing a movie. There's an interesting scene later where the school jock Logan (Sam Rechner) asks Sam why he made him look so god-like in the prom-film (pulling a Leni Riefenstahl while filming his volleyball moves)... I could understand why, bringing the viewers to admire and venerate Logan, Sammy brought them into admiring his ability to do so, who is the God, then? That moment touched upon the essence of film-making. Long story short, every single scene involving amateur films might be one of the best recent tributes to cinema as an art, showing the exhilaration and agony in the making. .. and the gratification in the showing.

From young Sammy's epiphany while watching "The Greatest Show on Earth" and desire to replicate the train derailing scene with his toys to the tricks he used to simulate gunshots during a Western recreation with his Boy Scout mates, to the way he learned to suspend the viewers' disbelief and touch them with a camera panning on "dead" soldiers (foreshadowing "Saving Private Ryan")... you have all the processes experimented then mastered one by one. I truly enjoyed these moments as they encapsulate the idea that everything starts with passion but hard work must follow. For that, "The Fabelmans" fulfill its purpose. I'm not too sure about the family part now.

Paul Dano is Burt Fabelman, an introverted workaholic computer engineer who admires his son's dedication and Mitzi, the mother and pianist is played by Michelle Williams, and what strikes if how supportive the family is. It all comes down to viewers being asked to care for the parent's relationship and Mitzi's infatuation with Burt's friend and co-worker Bennie (an unrecognizable beardless Seth Rogen) and the ensuing psychological troubles. All the 'dysfunctional' scenes give a bitter and humorless taste to the film, making it more of a vehicle for Oscar nominations than the tale of how young Steven made his bones.

Many directors told their stories, Fellini with "Amarcord" or Spike Lee with "Crooklyn", these movies had style. Spielberg never knows the angle to take, he desperately tries to make "Cinema Paradiso" while losing himself into over-dramatization, while the film could have the edge of Woody Allen's "Radio Days"'.. I wish there could be a scene in "The Fabelmans" as cheerful and memorable as "The South American Way" moment or just a voice-over narration. The film had a few moments like these, young Sammy playing with his sisters or the little morale-boosting exchange with Judd Hirsch as Uncle Boris, but quirkiness has never been Spielberg's strongest suit.

By making a poignant family drama, he derails an interesting coming-of-age story for stagnating formulaic stuff. Even the high school sequence is a cardboard cliché-ridden vignette of 60s. As ludicrous as is the idea that Sammy would be the only Jew, victim of antisemitism (making you wonder why the American fought against the Germans) in a geek-less school and whose love interest (Chole East) only served for a too forced and embarrasing converting scene.

This was a passion project for Spielberg but the passion is almost canceledby too much pathos. Now, take the final scene with the cameo of David Lynch, I absolutely loved it, straight to the point and memorable. I also loved the voluntary glitch with future Spielberg walking toward the horizon in CBS studios. Spielberg could have made something incredible out of his story but I'm afraid he took our patience for granted.

The Banshees of Inisherin

In the right universe, that should have swept the 2023 Oscars...
(And that will be my only Oscar-related comment for anger has already been used up in the Best Picture's review)

It was Schopenhauer who said that "compassion for animals is intimately associated with goodness of character". Now there is an Irish man, in the insular town of Inisherin, who does love animals. He cuddles his miniature donkey named Jenny and doesn't mind letting his horse or cows sneak into the house, much to his sister Siobhan's annoyance. Surely such a man can only be described as a good -albeit a bit simple- fellow. But who would could imagine a whole escalating conflict built upon something as trivial as being a nice guy?

Colin Farrell is the gentle Paidrac, a middle-aged shepherd rejuvenated by a little glee in his eyes as he's heading toward a house in the first scene. You'd think whoever he comes to visit is about to hear great news. No, he's just telling his friend Colm (Gleeson) to get ready for rhe pub. But Colm ignores him. Paidrac's reaction is less denial than certitude that Colm isn't in a good day, but when everyone asks him if he's got a problem with him, from his sister Siobhan (Kerry Cordon) to bartender Jonjo (Matt Short) Paidrac wonders if drunkenness didn't cloud his memories. At that particular moment, I was already invested in the film. I felt that a lifelong friendship in jeopardy had higher stakes than any conventional threat? I wanted to know what was eating Colm Doherty.

The answer is all the more satisfying because it is totally anticlimactic, Colm is depressed by the prospect of dying in a remote and boring island without leaving any impact. By ignoring Paidrac he can at least gain time for his art and not spend two hours talking about an animal's waste. That's it. No betrayal, no women, no money, no territorial feud. Just the tale of a man who wants to be left alone. In any other situation, they could have stopped at that. Except that a harm had already been done in the condescending way Colm snubbed Paidrac. And somehow we can see that his inoffensiveness that earned him the 'nice lad' reputation backfired. He's the kind of guy who minded his own business, sought no quarrels and only wanted peace with his animals and pints with his best friend, if being nice can't even earn him a sense of social fulfillment, then the world is unveiling a rotten side he never suspected. A whole edifice of values is collapsing.

Truly, "The Banshees of Inisherin" is a meditation on cinema's boundless powers, that some directors-writers like Martin McDonagh are capable to provide a riveting drama out of something as dull as dullness itself, all the more dramatic because no mean-spiritedness is ever intended. At a time where movies tend to over-complexify already mazy plots, some do wonders with ingredients as rudimentary as a good story and a great cast. Farrell delivers his greatest performance as Padraic while Gleeson, reuniting with his "In Bruges" partner, is equally mesmerizing as the morose fiddle player.

And that's the "Banshees of Inisherin', a tale of fellows lost in time and land, one has time but so few friends to share with and one has so few time he gets selective in friendship. Meanwhile, Paidrac finds good company with his more sophisticated sister (who abhors the gossipy atmosphere and people's rude manners) and the local idiot Dominic (Barry Keoghan), the innocent son of corrupt policeman Peader (Gary Leadon) who who has a secret crush on Siobhan. Dominic embodies a tragic irony, the closest person to his wits can't envision any future with him and Paidrac who realized the ordeal of being nice threw himself in a psychological spiral whose collateral damage was the loss of Dominic's respect.

The meaningless feud finds some ironic echo through the prevalent 1923 Civil War at the backdrop, but to which Inisherin seems immune. That's how remote and plain it is, the closest to a deadly presence is carried by the ominous encounters with an old black-clad woman named Mrs. McCormick (Sheilla Flitton), a local witchlike Cassandra. Still, the Irish landscape, enhanced by Ben Davis' cinematography, has never looked as majestic (and I've been to Ireland). With breathtaking shots of sun setting over a Virgin Mary's statue or vertiginous aerial views of the Emerald palette, the land seems like one so beautiful men didn't dare spoil it with many houses for each acre. Too much land, too much time, and where men like Paidrac finds contentment, others like Colm literally suffocate. Still, the cinematography at least seems to side with Paidrac.

But Paidrac's soul purity is seriously compromised and follows a pattern of slow degenerescence, paralleled with Colm's oath of cutting his fingers if Paidrac keeps on bothering him. Farrell's performance is all about the resistance of a man to trap of cynicism, he knows how to switch from uncertain joy to hidden sadness and even when he acts tough and mean, there's something in his crispation that can tell you he's not enjoying what he's become. By the end of the film, he's no longer the jovial fellow he was, but his stares toward Colm express less contempt for what he did but for what he made him do.

In the other side, it's Gleeson who softens up, first he firmly manages to claim his need for solitude until he realizes that he went too far by trying to break the routine. He never overplays anger, he shows capability for warmth and he tries to reason with Paidrac. Both men are different and yet I recognized myself in both, the nice guy trying to get tough and making things worse, the man contemplating the passing years and the emptiness left behind. The ending has a rather bittersweet taste and the only consolation is that Paidrac still loves animals after all...

Tenue de soirée

Why can't men be women like the others?
"Tenue de Soirée" was a project that germinated after more than ten years of dormancy in Bertrand Blier's mind. His breakthrough "Les Valseuses" starring Gérard Depardieu, Patrick Deweare and Miou-Miou in a most peculiar 'menage à trois' broke several grounds of sexual representation in France and its commercial success encouraged him to make not a sequel but a companion piece with the same actors. Having noticed the naughty playfulness of buddies Gérard and Patrick, he asked them if they were game for a movie where they would be homosexuals. They were.

Unfortunately, Dewaere who had more than one demon to overcome left cinema in 1982 and so "Tenue de Soirée" feature two thirds of the trio, Yet the addition of Michel Blanc is a masterstroke of replacement for something in Dewaere's physicality would have made difficult to exude the sad vulnerability of Blanc. Indeed the diminutive bald mustachioed man, since his early success with the 'Splendid Troop"; got almost typecast as lovable nobodies for which his Jean-Claude Dusse was the flag bearer.

But if Blier could make sensitive souls out of killers like in "Buffet Froid" surely poor schmucks like Antoine would be treated with more respect. And so we're in a little old-fashioned party hall, a band starts playing and obviously Monique (Miou-Miou) was waiting for the music to be loud enough to cover quite an ego-crushing "reasons you suck" speech to her husband. She's tired of leaving a miserable life with a loser, she wants the fairy tale, a house and despises a man who can't be a provider... a submissive Antoine looks as he's twice grieving the relationship and a certain ideal of masculinity he will never belong to.

But then something happens, her nagging is cut short by a violent slap from Bob (Gérard Depardieu) who had eavesdropped the whole monologue. Today, such a scene would pass as misogynistic and earn a film torrents of protests against what seems to be endorsement of men's brutality ... but that would be a false trial. According to Blier, film that was a huge commercial success (with its infamous tag-line) didn't create much turmoil and met with a very warm welcome from the gay press in the 80s and no cries whatsoever from feminists. So why such a brutal moment was relevant in the film's context? Is Bob giving Monique a taste of her own medicine, reminding her the kind of action an alpha male is capable to?

I have another theory. Watching Antoine being castrated alive because he doesn't have the makings of a man's man, he doesn't just slap her but buys her silence with more money than she ever got from Antoine. I often fantasized of being rich enough to throw as many bills to my partner so she could stop whining, it's a totally infantile mindset but it's got a point: every man has a breaking point, it's possible that every woman's got a price where you can buy the right to be a prick if you're rich enough to fulfill her demands. I'm not inserting these thoughts on Blier but I'm positively surprised that a film could materialize in one scene an obsessive question.

And when Antoine retaliates and threatens to knife Bob, Bob shows his torso and dares him to act... before telling him to sit down and give him money as well. Bob isn't a troll, much less a macho, he's a quirky human being who took an instant liking on Antoine as a man, and as a woman behind the man. What does Bob do for a living? He's a professional burglar... Blier always had a fondness for marginals and outlaws...and I suspect it's because there's much more potential for betrayals and dirty tricks to spice up a plot. But again, Depardieu is the flamboyant, poetic and exuberant yin to Antoine's passive and sensitive yang. In fact, he's such a larger-than-life character that he encompasses both Antoine and Monique's needs.

Monique finds in Bob the role she wanted Antoine to play. Each man couldn't satisfy her alone alone but the two formed the right male ideal. But to keep Monique, Antoine must surrender to Bob's pleas and sacrifice his pride. It's my ass, he says, rightfully so... but you've got to love the totally unforced and almost smooth way Antoine finally lets thing go. In any clunky screenplay, like the horrendous "French Twist", Antoine would have immediately switched to bisexuality but Blier is a more nuanced filmmaker and his way with words proves again to be effective, even more through the maestria of Depardieu.

Bob delivers what might be one of most tender declarations. Wishing to turn Antoine's shame to happiness, asking him if he hasn't ever dreamed of snuggling up in a sturdy body. Antoine's moved reaction is the first awakening of his feminine side. Has Monique ever been that nice to him? And so Bob commits the greatest burglary of his life... one the film doesn't linger on but doesn't sugarcoat either. Unlike the "Birdcage", the film doesn't turn homosexuality into derision but into a a certain idea that life is so tough for men that their tragedy is that they can't be womanly enough to hide their fears or insecurities with a stronger figure. In one of the film's most inspired scenes, after a brief disappearance of Monique tired of being treated like a maid, it's Antoine's turn to be the nagging one, complaining to a Bob who doesn't take care of him.

Far ahead of its time, "Tenue de Soirée" is the study of a certain need for domination and affection that transcends the gender barriers, how roles can easily be switched if opportunity knocked, maybe all men secretly wishes that... there's something irreverential, disturbing, but so truthful that even the final scenes doesn't feel like a cheap shot at laughs, but a logical conclusion with three people who found some balance and three actors with terrific chemistry... paraphrasing its tagline, truly a freakin' film!

Lend a Paw

"Kindness to animals, my friend, will be rewarded in the end".
Directed in 1941, "Lend a Paw" has the heart-warming feel of a Christmas special with a white and cold winter as a backdrop and a chimney fire but without any Christmas tree in the background. It's a tale of acceptance, charity and fraternity that transcends the boundaries of animal species, in fact it's a tale of morality centering on Mickey's best friend: Pluto. I wonder by the way why it was not Pluto's face to appear on the title card because Mickey doesn't exactly play a pivotal role in the picture. Anyway is is a very special episode, starting with its dedication to the Tailwagger Foundation which -from what I read- is still around today.

It is also a special episode as the only Mickey Mouse picture that ever won an Oscar. I guess there had to be one. Walt Disney had already swept off all the Oscars during the 30s: the 80s generation might remember that VHS special featuring all the animated films that won an Oscar: "Flowers and Trees", "The Three Little Pigs", "Ferdinand the Bull". I remember it from a pre-school video session in 1988. I also remember a Disney Home Video about Disney's dogs (the one with the golden collar), unfindable on Youtube so I'm glad I still have the videocassette.

Giving honor where honor is due, the program started with Disney's number-one dog: Pluto, it featured clips from "The Moose Hunt", the first moment where Pluto stole Mickey's thunder by playing death, Pluto's finest hour when he saved Fifi the Peke from a fire and then came "Lend a Paw", which I remember was my first introduction to the word 'Oscar'. For an Oscar buff, that's a personal connection if there's ever one. And so I could enjoy a good chunk of the cartoon starting from the moment Pluto gets into the house, bringing an unexpected visitor in the form of a the cute little kitten he just rescued from a floating bag.

To be honest, as much as I enjoy the cartoon, it does lack a little sparkle of originality, it's very traditional in form and content, with a satisfying ending but even as a kid, it didn't impact me like what I consider one of the most haunting Pluto's cartoons: "Pluto's Judgment Day". However I think the presence of the devil and the angel are the reason to watch the cartoon for the way they embody the conflicting feelings of Pluto who's a good dog but not too enthusiastic about sharing the house with the little intruder. His first burst of jealousy, with his eyes turning so green the devil literally erupts from his head, isn't much about hatred but about sharing Mickey's love.

And I must say Pluto is a really special character, he's the only seminal Disney character who's not anthropomorphic so the challenge is to humanizing him without verbalizing his emotions. It's his limitations that make him quite an endearing character and unlike comic-books, you can't just put bubbles that express his thoughts, it's all in the expressiveness of his eyes, his smiles and his voicing by Pinto 'Goofy' Colvig. This is why Pluto is the perfect half of a duo, he let's the other do the talking so we can focus on his reactions. The irony this time is that the guys who talk to him are his own good and self alter-egos, the street-smart cocky devil (John Dehner) and the rhyme-talking well-meaning angel (John McLeish). Mickey is of course by Walt Disney.

The angel and devil is a good trope and works even better in animation as it's an eloquent illustration of one character's duality. But it works even better with Pluto who adopts the same posture with his 'angels' as if they were his master. The bad one is arrogant, calling him 'stupid' and slapping him right after he licked his face, "cut the sentiment", he says while the good one is a sort of Mickey counterpart. Of course, Pluto is more obedient to the one who tickles his temptation and inspires him to frame the kitten by putting him next to the bowl of third Mickey's pet, Cleo's twin sister Bianca, a plot that will backfire and get him thrown out of the house. Pluto's cries are heartbreaking and I like the touch of the devil blaming the fish for snitching on them. Then the cute kitten accidentally gets stuck in the well bucket confronting Pluto to a life-and-death situation.

The climax might be the best part of the film, with the angel finally getting the final word and Pluto risking his own life to save the kitten. And when Mickey got Pluto off the well, breaking the ice he was stuck in and hugged him, calling him "good old boy", I must say I was deeply moved. You could tell no animal would ever take Pluto's spot in Mickey's heart. And so it is a good short with good animation. I liked the opening rescuing sequence which I suspect might have inspired a few key scenes in "101 Dalmatians", I also liked the animation of Pluto's face, his naughty gaze after the first incident or his extreme possessiveness with his bed, as if he was Scrooge McDuck with a bag full of coins. And I liked the cute happy ending with the obligatory reconciliation and the final line: "Kindness to animals, my friend, will be rewarded in the end". Well it was sure rewarded by the Academy in a turbulent year where America was seeking comfort in traditional values.

The following year, America would join the war and it would be Donald Duck getting the statuette after Mickey, with the wackier but superior "Der Fuerher's Face" marking a last triumph for the Disney team before a certain cat-and-mouse duo would dominate the decade.

Meng long guo jiang

Today's actors disappear into roles, movies disappeared into Bruce Lee...
"The Way of the Dragon", directed, written and starring Bruce Lee could have as well been titled "The Way of Bruce" for the 1972 film is a testimony to one of the greatest movie icons of the 20th century and with Toshiro Mifune one of the most badass representatives of Asian masculinity. The appeal of Bruce Lee goes beyond his skills in martial arts, his perfect control of the body, his trademark "kiai" noises, it's a simple matter of on-screen presence, John Wayne had it, or Clint Eastwood, Sean Connery, Jean-Paul Belmondo and Bruce Lee. At a time where it became fashionable for actors to disappear into a role, let's celebrate those who had the movies disappearing into them.

Indeed, calling the film feeble or even corny would be like judging a wood picture frame instead of the painting itself. Bruce Lee's films didn't venture into complex plots or social relevance, they didn't aim at awards, they just gave a public what they needed: a model, a man's man who'd epitomize what we would all want to be: a protective figure, a powerful, an invincible one. The contrast between Lee's humility and affability and his super skills gave him the aura of aThird World superhero. Keep your Superman, we have Bruce Lee. And that's true. It's only fitting that in this particular film, the opponent is a worthy one, Chuck Norris as the mysterious Colt, perhaps the greatest casting of an opponent for what would be the greatest cinematic fight ever.

And I would say that the masterstroke of the film is not within that iconic climax but in the way it doesn't prepare to it.

Indeed "The Way of the Dragon" starts in such a lighthearted tone you'd think it was made showcase Lee's comedic aptitudes. And he did have them. The opening in Roma's airpot is a little marvel of silent comedy. Based on his first arrival in America when he didn't speak English, Lee doesn't need to force the comedy, he brings it by himself. Why would he scare a kid eating an ice cream? Why would he behave so awkwardly with tourists or a waitress? Why would he order so many bowls of soup and then finish all of them? Does it matter as long as these scenes make you smile or laugh? Jackie Chan might have a natural goofiness that goes along with his fighting skills, Bruce, like Eastwood, is in such a total control of himself that he knows 'comedy' is no effect to despise. When he's later welcomed by Nora Miao, we expect some romantic undertones but I like the way their interactions are played. She's not impressed by him but neither is he and his 'blasé' reactions to the Roman monuments suggest that the way of the dragon can be unpredictable.

Even the bad guys are too goofy to be taken seriously at first, who are they after all? Some goons of a mob boss who threatens to ruin a Chinese restaurant owner to demolish his place and build some building? Naturally they'll realize that the newcomer has a way to negotiate, who needs papers and pencils when you have nunchakus? But even that scene is obviously played for laughs, the whole material is goofy, the acting from some performers is subpar but somehow it works within the plot and even the presence of the effeminate henchman is here to tell us that the film will not have the dramatic death toll of "Big Boss". Shot in a shoestring budget almost in clandestine conditions, it's a miracle the film could be completed and become one of the highest grossing Hong Kong films of all time. But to one who's familiar with the bizarre ways of cinema, the success is not too surprising.

It's all about Bruce Lee. Once he starts fighting, we even forget what the plot is about. We admire Bruce Lee's ability to kick ass the same way we love watching Clint Eastwood disposing of five baddies with two gunshots. The film has the resonance of a Western Spaghetti and Joseph Koo's haunting score could have as well been composed by Ennio Morricone and the final duel is as grand as operatic as the duel in "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly". In fact, it is the greatest fight ever filmed, the Roman Coliseum makes for a more iconic setting and the opponent(Chuck Norris, somehow more intimidating without his trademark beard) looks like the perfect match (well if anyone could win over Chuck Norris, it had to be Bruce, right?).

From beginning to end, everything is perfect in that climax, from the warm-up moment and all these muscle-cracking sides, to their first water-testing stares and to the presence of the little kitten as the unexpected observed, the fight is a moment of pure poetry. Two philosophies of fighting collidinf in the coliseum, the technician vs. The artist, the warrior vs. The poet... each one values the other's worth and fighting to death is an incredible waste but that scene transcends the film's narrative, they just cease to belong to the story and do what they do best, fight who might be their best opponent. And the scene proves that Lee isn't just about muscles and moves but his facial expressions and let's call it acting is perfect as it showcases menace, fearlessness but ultimately a total respect toward the adversary.

Bruce Lee became an idol at a time where my father was a teenager but we grew up watching his films in old VHS collections, the version I had didn't have some key scenes, one revealing a treacherous character, but I like the short version better because once the fight is over, there's nothing much to add, except to see Lee leaving the people he rescued, fading into screen, as a sad foreshadowing of his fate one year later... at least, we still have Chuck Norris.


A very well-done and inspirational family picture and quite an improvement on the original!
Finally a Best Picture winner that meets my expectations and believe me, I'm not putting the bar too high. Directed and written by Sian Heder, and based on the French 2014 "The Belier Family", "CODA" is a simple feel-good family movie but it's so honest in its approach to handicap, family issues and all the predicaments of adolescence that you can just embrace its message like a warm hug from your favorite uncle, and thank God Hollywood is still capable to produce such little gems.

The story is set in Gloucester, Massachusetts where seventeen-year-old Ruby Rossi (Emilia Jones) does her best to help her family in their fishing business while attending high school. She happens to be the only hearing member of the family; her parents, Frank (Troy Kotsur) and Jackie (Marlee Matlin), and older brother, Leo (Daniel Durant), are all deaf and played by real-life deaf people. This is not a about surfing on Hollywood's obsession with 'authenticity', this is just a heartfelt casting that implies there's no rewarding element of playing a deaf person, the performance are valued for their ability to communicate deep, selfish or conflicting feelings inhabiting flawed but well-meaning people. The deafness is hardly a detail in the film except when it comes to appreciate the wonderful performances, especially Kotsur who won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Let's also remember that Matlin was the first hard-hearing person to win for her brilliant performance in "Children of a Lesser God", to which "Children of Deaf Adults" works as a fine companion piece.

Having spent her whole life as the indispensable bridge of communication between her family and the world, Ruby never had time to envision the future. Neither reluctant nor enthusiastic, she just goes into the flow of life, until adolescence inspires her a crush on Miles (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), who sings up in a choir as an elective. And so she meets Mr. Bernardo "Mr. V" Villalobos (Eugenio Derbez), a music teacher can see the talent and even proposes to tutor her into achieving the dream of joining alma mater Berkelee College of Music and assigns her to sing a duet with Miles.

The other subplot involves fishermen who try making ends while new fees and sanctions are imposed by the local board. The ordeal prompts Frank to start his own company in order to sell his fish on his own, the catch is that it all relies on Ruby's indispensable assistance, which undermines her own dreams. The formula is simple but "CODA" doesn't linger on complex plots, it doesn't aim high but it hits what it aims and that's what counts.

"CODA" is more than a remake, it's "an improvement". I didn't like the original film where Ruby's role was played by singer Louane (from a family of farmers) because of idiotic narrative choices, I gave it a 6 because it had good elements but I was shocked by other moments that traded realism for the sake of cheap idiotic laughs or lousy drama effects. That's what I wrote in my review:

There's a subplot involving a love story with the other chorus soloist that of course must be spiced up with a conflict: and what do writers choose for that? Paula hitting puberty at the wrong time and her mother proudly harboring the "crime weapon". Which family would do such a humiliating thing? That was a major turn-off. Ma and Pa Bélier behave in a way that oscillates between dim-wittedness and abuse, weakening the conflict with their daughter. In fact, had the plot stuck to the parental conflict and the relationship with the teacher. It could have worked better. But Lartigau wanted to milk the dumb teenage film formula to the extreme and make most of Paula's troubles resulting from one simple thing: she doesn't tell the teacher that her parents are deaf.

Well, the CODA screenwriters have done their homework and filtered the bad stuff: the 'puberty' incident was replaced by the parents making loud love, which actually lead to an interesting conversation with Miles. The initial subplot that never had really paid off was better treated in the remake and revealed new depths about the brother who was just used for comedic relief and a cringe-worthy 'breast' scene in the original but as Frank, Durant plays a kid who can't stand watching her sister jeopardize her life for the family and not being trusted for his own capability to handle things. Also, Paula TELLS her teacher that her parents are deaf from the start, which makes sense. And Marlee Matlin wasn't embarrassed with a scene where she was forced to smile while a person was asking if she was deaf or not, the most insulting moment in the French film.

It's possible that my enjoyment of "CODA" was proportional to my disappointment with "Bélier" but that's the point, I'm glad the remake did justice to a story that deserved a better treatment. I loved everything about it; the little touches such as the chorus concert played in silent to allow viewers to 'enjoy' the music from people's reaction, also mother-and-daughter moments (lacking in the original) that brought more subtlety with question such as "did you wish I was deaf?" "I was afraid I wouldn't be a good mother" to which Ruby gives a hilarious but realistic answer "You're not a good mother for other reasons". That's how you earn laugh, not with a messed-up pants (!!!). Everyone was great in the film but I'm still partial to the performance of Kotsur whose naturalness, playfulness eyes and body language, felt like I was truly watching a real father. Truly a well-deserved Oscar.

I had a hunch that the remake would be better than the original and would bring more nuance, I'm glad I was right, and even gladder that the film also stuck to the few elements that worked in the original. If not one of the best Best Picture winners, it's certainly one of the Best Foreign Remakes ever.

The Whale

When reason is corrupted by overused emotionality to deliver a shallow and dangerous message about self-empathy...
Darren Aronofsky's film was adapted from a 2012 play by Samuel Hunter. It opens with an on-line literature teacher hiding behind a black screen while his students wonder why he hasn't repaired his camera yet. His voice is soothing and confident and it's a good way to introduce Charlie (Brendan Fraser), we appreciate his eloquence and self-confidence only to discover that this sound posture of mind belongs to an obese man literally stranded on his canopy, in a gloomy and dimly lit apartment.

We don't have time to contemplate Charlie's solitude and angst for the first ten minutes expose all the important plot points like a stripper flashes her assets. Charlie suffers a heart attack while watching gay porn and a young religious door-to-door missionary named Thomas (Ty Simpkins) (who came at the right moment) offers his help. Charlie doesn't want an ambulance and asks him to read what seems to be an essay about Herman Melville's "Moby Dick" (so we're reassured that the title had nothing to do with a fat-shaming slur). Then comes the the nurse, Liz (Hong Chau), who also tells Charlie that he needs medical assistance - which he refuses again- and then scolds Thomas for selling religion like some quack doctor as we learn that Charlie's lover (her brother and former God-fearing religious zealot) committed suicide after being rejected by the New Life Church.

The screenplay insists on setting the trauma before we'd try to figure it out by ourselves. Obviously, the anti-religion card had to be laid first; you'd think that disability are issues serious enough to carry a good drama, no, the plot had to suck up to Hollywood's new inclusive guidelines (sexuality, minority and tutti quanti...) and comply to the usual "anti-this" or "pro-that" narrative, making Thomas a contrived character whose arc comes to a closure after he tells Charlie that God rejected him because he chose flesh. Had it been for a female student that Charlie left his family, that could pass as bigotry, but the notion of "flesh" is deliberately kept ambiguous so the confusion between religion and homophobia is maintained. I'm not religious but I can see religious people being offended by "The Whale".

And I can see men (you know that power-hungry oppressing group) being offended by the film. All male characters are either weak or cowardly and being bossed around by women half their size. Hong Chau is good but her idea of a no nonsense woman consists of keeping the same stern look and worn-down posture and punctuating every sentence with a cigarette puff, like 90% of the characters played by Susan Sarandon. As for Sadie Sink, I found her character so aggressive and hostile toward her father that I had a visceral reaction against her... it's one thing to be the typical moody teenager but couldn't she at least see that her abandoning father had already gotten a 'karmic retribution'? She was even worsened by Charlie's needy attitude, so pathetic that he literally bribed her into loving him... which gets me to my main beef: what's exactly the idea behind this toxic father-and-daughter relationship? Instead of thinking it's not too late to take a new start, Charlie would rather eat himself to death and go with a placebo certainty that his daughter is the best thing he's done? Because she wrote an essay that truly dissected the mind of Herman Melville? Even if she was talented, isn't Charlie the most inclined to figure that intellect doesn't make for happiness and she might also get herself in a self-destructive spiral?

No, we viewers have to accept that she's at least being sincere by treating him like s**** while the kid who offered his help was a twisted bigot. Basically this is a man at the end of a long guilt trip concluding that the best way to encourage his daughter is to pump up her already toxic ego and telling her she's the best. As a teacher myself, this reminds me of the new pedagogical guidelines: instead of helping kids to structure their thoughts and develop their abilities to understand and embrace the world, no, just flatter their narcissism and consider the job done if they are able to articulate opinions based on raw, superficial emotions and accept them because, hey, at least they are being honest. But the film doesn't even have the guts to drink the very soup it sells since at the end, it goes full Hollywood-tearjerker-mode, Ellie sees the light (literally) and finally calls himself "Dad!" (I almost thought she would ask him to play catch!).

The whole story is about Charlie endorsing rejection that he inflicts on himself too... no attempt to fight it back, to put Ellie in her place instead of buying social peace, to have a serious talk with the mother (I actually liked Samantha Morton in the film). I credit Aronofsky for his nerve to expose the ugliest details of morbid obesity, to show it as both an effect and a cause, but ultimately it was only another superficial handicap story to bait the Oscars (and it worked). We do get a sense of how social alienation can drive a depressed man into suicidal extremes and something in Fraser's sweet vulnerable eyes earns our instant sympathy but its hymn for honesty is pure bull**** ; you don't praise students for having the guts to say that they're bound for dull averageness and in the same time, honor the spirit of an anti-social person who insults you because you're conditioned by years of self-pity. It's a cynical circle that only ends with mediocre but self-assertive people dominating or verbally bullying well-meaning but feeble individuals.

"The Whale" might have an emotional ending but I didn't shed a single tear, while I did in that scene where Eddie Murphy as "The Nutty Professor" was being roasted by Dave Chapelle.

Buffet Froid

A cold buffet that won't leave you cold...
Bertrand Blier's "Buffet Froid" is as strange as strange can get, and yet it contains a narrative fluidity that makes for an experience as worthwhile as if the film had followed strict narrative conventions. I suppose the casting of Gérard Depardieu, Jean Carmet and Bernard Blier (the director's father) were contributing factors, as well as the impeccable aesthetics.

Now, I don't think Blier intended to make his characters' actions realistic or plausible, but what he did was superimposing to our reality, a universe where the actions and even the dialogues (and God, were they savorous) of three opposite men: a lost boy, an assassin, and a veteran cop, carry a certain sanity, even wisdom. Blier wrote it in two weeks as if he was guided by a mystical state of grace, he himself couldn't rationalize his own material or make a similar film again. So the point is not to question what happens but extract the subtext from the context, underline the conscious in unconscious.

This is the kind of film where a killer casually talks with his victim lying in a subway gallery with the knife planted on his stomach, and advising him to take it back not to leave tracks. It's also the kind of film where a man introduces his wife's killer to a cop and all you hear after is a wine bottle cork pop. It's the kind of film where you hear a cop saying he would rather have guilty people outside prison so they don't contamine the innocent. This is not just exercise in style, Blier proves that you can find depth and coherence within the most obscure sayings and that subverting some truths of life can get you closer to truth itself. But I make this film sound philosophical, it is not.

Strangely enough, I quickly got the atmosphere, the film is built like a lucid dream, where nothing makes sense and does in the same time. If you ever dream of wandering in a deserted hall full of closed doors, if it comes to a point where you realize you're dreaming. You can knock at a door expecting to see your school sweetheart, and chances are that you will find her opening the door with a big smile. But our subconscious has its devilish ways to trick you, you might find a man who tells you that she left the house. This is "Buffet Froid", a trio of misfits acting in adequacy with their subconscious impulses but toying so much with subconsciousness it backfires at them.

As Alphonse Tram, Gerard Depardieu plays an unemployed deadbeat punk with urges to use his switchblade, he starts a casual talk with a nervous man (Michel Serrault) in the subway platform because he looks like an accountant. "I am an accountant' says the man, that's the logic of dreams, you'll get what you want because your actions depend on your perceptions, and we can't lie in dreams, just try. When Alphonse later warns his wife that she might get killed, it so happens that her path meets an assassin (Carmet), he has no name but he fancies strangling women because their cries remind him of the nature that vanished from the scenery. And this man somehow finds the way to Alphone who takes him to the Inspector Morvandieu (Blier).

Calling these men corrupt or pervert wouldn't do justice to the film, for there are no rules, one reviewer pointed that he wouldn't play a game where rules aren't explained. I think it's a mistake to expect a set of rules for I don't think Blier wanted us to root for any of them. We're simply invited to walk through a collective reverie with three men who have in common a sense of isolation from the world. There's no crowds in the film, not even in the subway, The film is set in La Defense, a peripheral area of Paris going into an economical boom but an isolated concrete place where high skyscrapers became the urbanism cathedrals alienating people from each other.

The setting makes the context of the trio's actions much eerier, they are peripheral men living extra-muros from the norm. There's a magnificent travelling shot showing Alphone walkting through a long deserted sidewalk then we see him from the back entering a building, a vertical travelling shows how high it is and we notice one light only is lit, his apartment. Also notice also that the shot it cut right there so we don't see the other light, the one belonging to Morvandieu's house, a new resident, which makes two. These people are lonely, one felt relieved at the killing of his wife, one kills women and there's a reveal about the Inspector that might explain why he found himself at home with the killers.

The film isn't all dark, there's a dark humor touch turning these three into a sort of post-modern "Pieds Nickelés". As awkward as they are with other representatives of society, their bonding and solidarity works as a force despite the comical undertones. At one point, a witness gives them a contract, to kill someone, it so happens to be him. They don't kill him because they promised to (Alphonse wouldn't shoot a man he just had a toast with) but because he was about to alert people. The episode allows one woman to join the trio, the Widow (Genevieve Page) whose role is very hard to determine as if it betrayed a certain unease with the female element... but before you deem Blier as misogynistic, watch the film till the end.

"Buffet Froid" is hard to categorize? A crime picture? A fantasy? It has melancholy and humor, realism and surrealism served in the same cocktail, Blier (son) is an iconoclast pushing all the boundaries of a certain bourgeois morality wrapped in hypocrisy, fear and an inexplicable infatuation with opera music. The dish might be served 'cold' but cold, it won't leave you.

1492: Conquest of Paradise

It's not easy to be an explorer, much less to explore an explorer's mind.
In A&E list of the 100 most influential people of the millennium, Christopher Columbs was ranked in 6th position, after Johann Guttenberg, Isaac Newton, Martin Luther, Charles Darwin and William Shakespeare and before Karl Marx, Albert Einstein and Nicolaus Copernicus. A good company I'd say with such individuals whose peculiarity of mind-functioning reshaped the entire world.

One could argue though that the new Continent was bound to be discovered but history isn't about speculation but facts. It had to be Columbus, an Italian-born explorer inhabited by the certitude that another route to Asia was possible, one that would dodge the Turks and prevent an interminable African detour. Umbeknownst to him, the Land where his boat sailed on October 1492 belonged to another continent, one coined by a compatriot named Amerigo Vespucci, a less known historical figure but fate decided that there would be no 'Columbian' continent.

Scott's "1492: Conquest of Paradise" underlines the story in History, and while not flawless, his narrative draws a fascinating picture of an antihero (or antivillain?) deeply convinced that what prevented Europeans to sail West was anachronistic fears and superstitions. He guaranteed that Spain was 750-mile away from the World of Marco Polo and promised gold, glory and grandeur, but truly his aim was the 'future', a new world for a new civilization to build. He took quite a gamble as he wasn't even sure about the journey's length, but what he lacked in certainty he made it up with nerve and daringness. Spain had just reconquered its full territory under the dominance of Isabella and any wariness regarding new conquest was swept off by prospects of wealth and religious expansion.

If the film doesn't go as far as suggesting that Columbus was a noble-hearted person, he was at least a great marketing salesman. It wasn't about religion (or was it?) for the film shows him at odd with priest Antono de Marchena (Fernando Rey) and utterly shocked by the graphic spectacle of a heretic burnt to the bonfire (an image that shocked me as a kid)... but I presume Scott wanted to show a man inhabited by a devouring passion, and this is why the casting of Gérard Depardieu was a masterstroke. Indeed, even a three-hour epic wouldn't do justice to the complexity of a man like Columbus but one character can't be played by Depardieu without exuding the kind of fierce passion and sensitivity that can only alienate a man from a certain common sense. We're not embarking on the Pinta, the Nina or the Santa Maria but on the boat of Columbus' psyche, sailing across the tumultuous waves of conflicting ideals. As an Italian, he probably didn't care for Spanish grandeur, but he had a mercenary's zeal, a Napoleon charisma wrapped in a robust physique.

Physicality is inevitable when it comes to a role played by Depardieu. Lacking the cunning, diplomatic and emasculated manners of such figures as rival Gabriel Sánchez (Armand Assante), or the cautious pragmatism of churchman Arojaz (Kario Salem), he owes his success mostly to the trust of Queen Isabella (Sigourney Weaver) who can see that the fate of Spain is tied with the man. The fllm is as much about Columbus' geographical intuition than her solid instinct. The opening scene shows him peeling an orange while a boat disappears in the horizon to prove his son that the Earth is round (though it's common knowledge no one believed the Earth was flat at that point) and in way Isabella is able to peel the man's mind and see beyond his horizon. At the end, it's all about Columbus' enemies realizing his magnitude while savoring his failure. And failure is an understatement.

The film was based on newfound archives and parchments from Columbus' lifetime. Surprisingly, the historical voyage is rather short, we get some threats of mutiny and the sailors scolding him for playing God, but the hostility is swept off like mist by the sight of a luxurious island, certainly one of the film's best images. You can trust Ridley Scott when it comes to shoot natural settings and make them blend with the story, besides the magnificent reconstruction, there's a spectacular hurricane sequence that works as an ironic symbolism of the New Land expressing its wrath against the invaders or maybe Columbus' inner turmoil. But let's get back to the portrayal of Indians.

Columbus seems to respect them first, admiring their simplicity and osmosis with nature, he befriends the local chief Utapan (Bercelio Moya) and maintains a peaceful approach, enhanced by what seems to be their own fascination. But the second voyage is another matter, Columbus, assigned as Governor, brings more men and material and of course soldiers; and among them Michael Wincott as Adrián de Moxica. Wincott's villainy (very well-played) seems to work as a shield on Columbus' legacy (was he any better?) But it's to the film's credit that long before Columbus became a controversial figure, to have brought a stain in his legacy, explaining that America might have been built on discoveries but for what a deadly human price!

On that level the A&E list didn't ignore figures like Hitler or Stalin.

"1492" does question the moral entitlement and superiority complex of Europeans in a way that echoes Roland Joffe "The Mission". But where I find the "Mission "superior is in the interesting use of music, Vangelis score is just sublime and has become a musical staple, maybe the most remarkable aspect of the film, but somehow its triumphant and mystical vibrance seems to side with the conquistadors' confidence in acting for a great good.

On a more trivial note, the historical film is well-shot, served with good dialogues and performances, it's solid entertainment and remains watchable thanks to Scott's visual mastery and Depardieu's unique presence. As for the 'rest', well, there's a certain inevitability that a film about a man who made a difference by taking a shortcut, to take some with historical truth.

Everything Everywhere All at Once

I get the point, I don't get the treatment...
I'm happy for anyone on this planet (or Universe) who found depth, mystical salvation, soul liberation or just plain satisfaction from "Everything, Everywhere All at Once". As a detractor, I am in the minority (unless it's a silent majority?) but I won't address my category for there's no point in convincing 'myself'. My mind is broad enough to concede that the concept was innovative and even heartfelt... but Iet me tell the enlightened fans why I didn't like it.

It's not that I don't get "it" whatever "it" is, I have a problem with the stylistic treatment of a rather interesting idea. The exposition does a good job showing a Chinese immigrant lavatory-owner family struggling with financial and relationship crisis (doesn't everybody?) and as they try to fix a fiscal issue, Waymong, the husband (Key Huy Quan), tells his wife Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh) that she can connect herself to an alternate universe where she leads a different life. As a fan of "Butterfly Effect" time travels, alternate scenarios or parallel universes à la "Matrix", I was on the edge of my seat, ready to embark in one helluva ride.

The excitement didn't last.

The film gets quickly over-the-top with long choreographed fight scenes and characters acting weird before we would get used to their 'normal' selves. Jamie Lee Curtis starts as a colorful tax clerk but quickly turns into some Godzilla-Frankenstein-like creature making hard to take either part seriously. Evelyn is realistically reluctant to 'play the game' and manages to hold the viewers who need elements of empathy ... but once the stakes skyrocket to the level of universe destruction and many Sci-fi/Fantasy archetypes are thrown all over the place, I felt ejected to a live-action anime where anything can happen for the sake of visual shock.

Now, I love thought-challenging high-concept movies, but this one is simply overkilling it. I wouldn't recommend it to any seizure-prone individual for there's such an abundance of jump cuts and dizzying flashy images that I didn't get to my smartphone out of boredom but for relief. It might appeal to viewers accustomed with images popping all out of nowhere without any semblance of coherence. I won't deem the 'TikTok' generation but being fed with so much non sequitur flashiness might build a certain predisposition for embracing weirdness and reassembling a 5000 piece puzzle to get the 'deep' picture.

But maybe my idea of a 'multi-layered movie' is one that doesn't exceed three or four scenarios or subplots or where a certain linearity is maintained. Movies like "Inception", "Run Lola Run" or "Butterfly Effect" had a common thread nonetheless and even the awkward bits were properly overarched. Maybe there's a public who feels like no truth is sacred enough not to be deconstructed and that mayhem can be constructive. That's an interesting theory but I just don't think that narrative shouldn't be fluid, especially when everything else is.

I won't say the film has no depth but I wasn't put in a mood to dig into its creative soil and separate the good weird (talking rocks) from the bad (really, fingers as sausages?). I won't even say it's a cultural thing.

Indeed, ever since "Parasite", the Academy has been partial to Asian cinema with at least two or three major awards for an Asian production or artist. I'm no American, no Caucasian, and I applaud the way Asian visual mastery has conquered the field of entertainment (I just finished "Beef" and that statement also applies for TV productions). That said, I don't think the film should be the figurehead of a new form of entertainment that favors style at the expenses of basic storytelling and this comes from someone who loves Asian cinema. Kurosawa first toyed with narrative conventions and I would have loved to call this film a new "Rashomon".

Some also criticized the agenda. Well, I don't want to get into that turf because of the polemical undertones but let's not pretend the film is politically neutral... the advantage of having so many images popping out is that you can insert any 'Yvan eht Nioj' stuff in the process; when a troubled teen daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) hits security guards with a big dildo, turns a hunky mustachioed cop into Carmen Miranda or when a man gets spanked, BD-SM style, it doesn't take a Peterson or Shapiro mindset to find a certain stance against masculinity disguised as an ode for tolerance.

Now, I understand the film was a mainstream phenomenon that couldn't get unnoticed but so were many movies that didn't get a pass for the awards, despite their cult status. The Academy wanted to be in line with a certain hip mentality and award a foreign production... but why so many awards?

Reward editing or art-direction or even directing although it did a better job in misdirecting... but acting? The film doesn't challenge the notion of story but of roles. What's the point of rewarding a performance where one character can be so many at once, when you have countless vignettes, one for vulnerability, one for goofiness, one for badass fighting skills etc. Where is the merit of the actor compared to those who display versatility through one personality, character-development through one specific predicament?

There have been dual personalities or actors playing many characters at once, but the role-fluid button has been so pressed so hard I can't believe this film would forever be in the company of "Network" or "A Streetcar Named Desire" as three acting award winners.

Anyway, I could give a film 1 or 2 out of anger but I do understand the appeal. I tried to appreciate it, but I can't say it's superior or equal to most Best Picture winners, I'd give it a 5 for its technical inventiveness, daringness and catchy title... I won't call it one of the worst films ever but allow me one superlative: it's certainly one of the most frustrating.


Another case of series' writers getting 'high on their own supply'...
"Beef", created by Korean director Lee Sung Jin, encapsulates a certain malaise within the needy, insecure and gratitude-seeking millennial generation to which the two protagonists belong, Danny Cho (Steven Yeun) and Amy Lau (Amy Wong). It's a desperate need to overcome the dullness of being average, or conquer the delight of having the final word through childish acts of revenge or behind the shield of smartphone screens, modern props to our struggle for existential meaningfulness. Jin knows how our mentalities function and It's all fitting that I was convinced to start Netflix' new sensation "Beef" by a WhatsApp message from my brother: "I'm not used to binge but in two days I watched "Beef", it's really something",

The series, like the film "Marathon Man" opens with a road rage incident, between Danny and Amy, a down-on-his-luck contractor and Amy, an upper-class plant-business owner, he's poor, she's rich, he's childish, she's egotistical, both are overwhelmed by their past failures and their near-accident will trigger a series of acts of revenge, involving people from their own circles, and generating more disaster and mayhem. If the famous "Boy, that escalated quickly" mame ever had an overarching series, that would be the one. And if one series will swap next year's awards, that is the one.

I identified with the man-child Danny from the very start, a man victim of the 'Fredo' complex. Would I have reacted the same if someone honked at me and give me the finger? Well a few years ago, I had a near-accident with a biker who had such harsh words I followed him and shouted at him... For all I know he could have pulled a knife or spit on my windshield but frustration is one hell of a nerve fuel. Danny is frustrated, he doesn't contemplate suicide as failure but as the one last honorable option he can take, but clearly he's engaged in a path that would restore the trust of his family and the respect of his brother Paul (Young Mazino) whose hobbies consist of gaming, crypto money making and iron pumping. But Danny is also accident-prone, having ruined his family after the involvement of his shady but fun cousin Isaac (David Choe)

Amy is a pint-sized woman with a handsome sculptor of a husband named George (Joseph Lee) and a cute 5-year old girl named June (Rey Holt) they're about to make a profitable business deal with a wealthy and extravagant art collector named Jordan (Maria Bello). Amy isn't hard to dislike as much as he hard to relate to, even the disdain from the mother-in-law (Patti Yasutake) seem to be hold some ground The troubled history of the family, involving a gun and a safe, seem to indicate that unlike Danny, Amy is a woman who has some mental issues. And as much as I loved Wong's performance, I wasn't too sure about her fake smiles and eye language fooling any sensitive person around her, especially a couple therapist. Never mind, she's smart and while Danny can only think of peeing in a rug, she goes as far as flirting with Paul by stealing her's associate Mia's Instagram.

There's a shortage of likable or straight characters even among the recurring ones, George is a talentless hack who doesn't know much about life and take pride in fixing a plumbery problem, Mia (Mia Serafino), is jealous of Amy's confidence, Paul appears to be smart but does stupid things out of impulses. The normality of life is so sketchy that maybe the 'beef' between Danny and Amy gave a purpose to their lives. Maybe that's the series' point, we all commit questionable acts but even the shortest victory provide a delightful taste. Maybe Danny and Any are so desperate for such thrills that they become addicted to their own beefs, even if it means taking hazardous decisions.

But there's a limit to how long you can carry a premise without challenging credibility. Danny is clearly a cowardly man who sees how dangerous Amy so there's not much sense in the way he keeps titillating her fury. Halfway through the series, the revenge pingpong turns into a Murphy's-Law-Butterfly-Effect fantasy where every act has savage consequences. When the wrong people keep coming at the wrong moment, the escalation stops to be a plot element but a gimmick. And the more it escalates the less optimistic are the prospects but the series is obviously designed like a thrill ride with a spectacular climax and some quiet moments before the storm.

Still, the episodes trying to inject backstories infuriated me, and made me suspect the writers would be so carried away they would take the "Lost" way and the series almost 'lost' me with the 'strange lady' flashback or the talking crows. Seriously, did we need some dark memories of Amy to justify her attitude? Wasn't she such a strong character that the writers wanted to give her 'excuses'? Do we need surrealism after so many efforts to inject time-relevant realism? Some concepts are so good you can't extend them for too long before they become an exercise in stylishness, the backstory of Amy or Danny derailed the series from its linear trajectory and I don't care if it's meant for the next seasons.

In fact, I found something quite satisfying in the action-packed ninth episode where everything could finally implode and the series could end with Amy and Danny finding themselves in their cars and exchanging a 'what have we done?' look. If not a perfect ending, that would have brought some closure... but the writers felt it couldn't end that way, that Amy had to act despite common sense, and that the two enemies had to be together for a whole episode... and that we would have an umpteenth misunderstanding... as if the writers were intoxicated by their own need for escalations, as if they got high on their own supply.

Mouse Trouble

Tom desperately tries to catch Jerry but with Jerry, there's always a catch...
"Mouse Trouble" won an Oscar for Best Animated Short Film in 1944 and what strikes first is how remarkably simple the premise is. You have Tom, Jerry and a book titled "How to Catch a Mouse" (Random Mouse Editions, a joke that went over my head until I discovered Bennett Cerf in "What's My Line"). There's no plot whatsoever, just a successions of short vignettes, each one dedicated to a mouse-catching method, sometimes two, and as the plot advances, they get more spectacular and so does Tom's suffering.

Naturally, the book starts with the fundamentals: the mousetrap. But even a gag as predictable as a defective mousetrap delivers the first item of hilarity. It takes Jerry forever to get the piece of cheese off and get back to his hole. Tom can't put exactly his finger on what went wrong, but there's one little spot the puts his finger on... before letting his trademark scream (provided by William Hanna). This is the weakest gag, which says a lot.

Most of the tricks are aligned on the same 'hoist by your own petard' pattern: Tom uses a tactic that backfires at him, you might tell it's easy to make viewers laugh on it, but no, there's a sense of timing from Hanna and Barbera who knows how to stretch a scene long enough to make the outcome effective, there's a reason why some directors succeeded in cartoon comedy like Chuck Jones, too or Tex Avery and other failed like Harman and Ising. Take the 'curiosity' trap, Tom must pretend to laugh at something he's reading to lure Jerry into getting in the middle of the book so he can flatten him... why does the gag work? Because Tom's laughs are hilarious independently from the gag, Hanna's voice work is just sublime.

The whole cartoon by the way follows a jazz theme that you might have heard in "A Day at the Races" which gives the cartoon a tempo that fits with the theme, it worked as well with "Tee for Two" (the golf episode) or with the wartime music in "Yankee Doodle Mouse". Anyway, long gag short, Jerry gets in the book, Tom slams it, and when he gets Jerry, he's pretending to check something inside his fist, baiting Tom to one hell of a punch in his eye... had the gag ended there it would have barely been a remake of the mousetrap one, but then Jerry gets backed in a corner, there's a dramatic zoom on him catching his breath, prompting Tom to jump at him, encouraged by the book's advice: "A cornered mouse never fights". A discretion shot lets us guess that one of them took quite a beating. And since logic is a flexible notion in cartoons, it so happens to be Tom, whose smashed face pops up behind the wall to immortal a solemn and spooky "Don't You Believe It". I guess the generations of viewers didn't get that joke but I can tell I had to turn the volume down as a kid.

The merit of "Mouse Trouble" is to create an illusion of novelty even by recycling the same gags, just like "Yankee Doodle Mouse" where it was about something exploding at Tom. The snare trap gag is also an equivalent of the mousetrap, we already get the joke when Jerry switches the cheese for a bowl of cream, but even then, who can resist to the hilarious sight of Tom gets played by the tree like a swing ball, Hanna and Barbera were not comedy technicians they had the instinct, the visuals, the sound effects... and the scream. And so at that point, there's no point enumerating all the gags except by praising the work of the sound department, the sound of Jerry chewing and swallowing and then screaming into Tom's stethoscope or Tom's muffed screams where he gets on the bear trap and his head is stuck in the ceiling make up for the predictability of the gags.

Another worthy element is a certain continuity aspects that fit the linear narrative of the book, when a shotgun blast literally scalps Tom, he then wears a ridiculously red toupee for the whole show. It might be a detail but it kind of roots the cartoon into a semblance of reality, it doesn't get back to normal after each fail and in a way it prepares us for more dangerous situations. Which all leads to the surprise package part that had me laugh to tears and that shows how delightfully sadistic and savvy of a certain schadenfreude from the viewers the directors were. Jerry gets a package that hides Tom but instead of opening it, he pulls pins inside, one by one. Why wouldn't he just open it? Because that's the delight of cartoons, logic is flexible. It's ten times funnier to hear Tom groans and moans during Jerry's perforations and imagine the worst. It doesn't get better when Jerry saws the package in half, looks at the package and horrified, break the fourth wall with a "is there a doctor in the house?".

Last attempt with Tom, full of bandages (continuity again) and reading "Mice are Suckers for Dames". I didn't exactly know at 6 what that mouse surprise toy said but for some reason it turned me now, now, I know it's "Come up and see me some time". Would a mention of the ending make the cartoon a spoiler, I doubt that anyone reading this isn't familiar with the short and isn't convinced that it's truly a quintessential Tom and Jerry, it is violent, funny, simple; Jerry wins of course but Tom's failure is the marker of our sympathy, like Donald Duck for Disney, he's the eternal loser, a position that would be elevated to dramatic levels in "Blue Cats Blues" with the worst pain of all: a heartbreak, nothing compared to those damn pins in the package.

Come up and see "Mouse Trouble" anytime!

Steamboat Willie

It all started with a mouse, it all started with "Steamboat Willie"...
"Steamboat Willie" can be regarded as a major work of art of the 20th century, in the same vein than Picasso's "Ladies of Avignon" or Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring". These creations set a template of daringness and modernity that forever changed the face of creation.

And as far back as I can remember, I was familiar with the sight of Mickey Mouse peeling potatoes under the mockeries of a loud parrot. Such a moment is as engraved in my memory as it is in my father's or grandmother's... we grew up in Morocco where cartoons were called: "Mikiyat", which is derived from the name "Mickey". Any cartoon, whether featuring Felix the Cat, Bugs Bunny or Donald Duck would be referred to with the name of the one that started it all, good old Mickey.

There have been cartoons before, even two with Mickey ("Gallopin' Gaucho" and "Plane Crazy") but "Steamboat Willie" is the real starter for its revolutionary use of synchronized sound, the one detail that made a difference. It's not much the technical advance to praise here but rather Disney's artistic flair... after having lost rights on Oswald the Rabbit, he knew he had to come up with a creation he would make his own. And with the precious help of a better (and faster) drawer: Ub Iwerks, he concocted one of the most instantly recognizable figures of the 20th century, the one who'd be to animation what Charlie Chaplin was for cinema. A big round head, surmounted with two round ears, a little falsetto voice and a catchy name (Walt wanted 'Mortimer' but his wife Lillian gave the most pivotal piece of advice ever: call him 'Mickey')

And the magic was there.

Disney had already made his bones with animation so the real prowess was to synchronize the various sounds with the pictures and that took painstaking efforts, not to mention financial support and mortgaging his house and his brother Roy's. Quite a gamble but one that proved right as once the cartoon begins, the magic operates. I doubt viewers back had time to spot these details but one attentive modern eye will immediately notice how Mickey's whistling matches his lips movements and how the 'choo-choo' from the three chimneys are perfectly synchronized. But I make it sound like an engineering work, there's also something very endearing in Mickey's smile as he's steering the boat and hilarious in the chimney's gag.

In fifteen seconds, the set is tone and the gags -mostly visual- succeed to each other without the sound being relegated to a secondary element. In a "silent" film, Mickey sticking out his tongue at Peg Leg Pete would be as funny but hearing the raspberry sound makes the viewer feel this is really happening and I guess that's the key of Disney's creations: it's not just about funny anthropomorphic animals, but the situations involving them. We have a short about animals in human's situation surrounded by other animals playing their real roles, but once the sounds and the images create a semblance of normality, gags are twice more effective and memorable; to the point that the Simpsons parodied the whole scene in "Steamboat Itchy", a parody? No, a homage.

Notice that I use the word 'sound' for even in 1928, Disney didn't care much about making intelligible words, we never get the parrots' words or Pete's mumbling but we understand the feelings they convey... Disney keeps language at its most minimal, even Minnie Mouse, who cries for help is just uttering some gibberish nonsense. Whether it was deliberate for Disney not to embarrass with dialogues, it gave "Steamboat Willie" a mark of universality, as a cartoon that could be understood by anyone, anywhere. Disney was to cartoons what Chaplin was to sound as he himself didn't want to put dialogues in "City Lights" and the closest to human sounds was unintelligible squeaks.

And gags go after another, some naughtier such as the crane grabbing Minnie by her underwear and then readjusting her dress or Mickey giving a big mouthful of straw to a cow (the ancestor of Clarabelle) so she could be harnessed by the belly... but the centerpiece of the film, lasting for more than two minutes is of course the famous (or infamous?) "Turkey in the Straw" sequence after the cow ate the partition, and Mickey turns her tail like a music box crank. One could analyze the use of music as a humble parallel to Hollywood where Broadway musicals marked the first talkies' successes or to music being another universal language, but for once I will be critical by saying it was quite disturbing to see all these animals being mistreated especially that duck who kept moving his head with a smile until Mickey grabbed him by the throat, it was even more disturbing since we barely hear the quacks. And don't get me started on the mother pig.

It is animal cruelty at its worst, the height of irony from Disney, but the part also highlights a creative freedom where Mickey wasn't yet that sacralized staple of American culture, just that little fellow children could identify with and adults root for, naughty, smart, ingenuous... a relatable joker, a sympathetic underdog, the seminal Mickey at a time there was no Goofy and Donald. Once these two would come in the picture, Mickey's image would evolve and be polished into something more morally acceptable like Herge's Tintin whose first adventure in Congo showed him killing animals in a safari.

Back to 1928, when Hollywood was still struggling with the talkies, Disney seized it as the best opportunity for animation to rise and become as pivotal as movies. Invigorated by his successes, no less than nine years after, he would make the first animated feature with "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs", two years after, Mickey would command the universe in "Fantasia" and today, Mickey is still commanding our universe of entertainment.

It all started with a mouse, it all started with "Steamboat Willie".

Les ripoux

The three R-T of police life in France: RouTine, Red Tape and RealiTy...
French movie police detectives had already worked in pair before but they were professional partners; "Les Ripoux" is certainly the seminal cop buddy-movie. The 1984 classic inspired several movies that yet never truly captured the charm of Claude Zidi's film, not even the sequels. It's remarkable in its simplicity but its attention to the little details, the dialogues and the performance of Philippe Noiret bring that level of authenticity and credibility that could allow humor to blossom.

'Ripou' is a slang term for 'pourri' which means corrupt, but translating the title into "corrupt cops" would do the film a disservice for it wouldn't carry the practicality and somehow the tenderness of being a cop of the loose kind. There even seems to be an enjoyability of being a cop who knows so much about the real world not to care about pulling a Dirty Harry for each law infringement. It's not that the film dares show corruption as a 'normal' aspect of law enforcement but that it gives, without being too preachy, elements that explain if not justify, why a cop like René Boisrond, played by the unique Philippe Noiret, would elevate the bribe to a level of art, if not science, or let's say a lifestyle, much to his new partner's displeasure.

And before you think that he doesn't know much about the law, just watch the film.

The plot is rather classic by our standards, René is a veteran cop who loses his partner Pierrot (Pierre Frag); in an American film, the partner would be an old Black guy killed during duty but Pierrot had just been caught in flagrante delicto and couldn't possibly snitch on his friend René. There comes François Lesbuches, played by a young, clean-cut and handsome Thierry Lhermitte, he prepares a law degree and is the equivalent of a Serpico dressed like Elliott Ness. The casting is perfect for Noiret's droopy eyes carry the blasé nonchalance brought by years of experience and Lhermitte has that stern, ambitious look of the young rookie who acts by the book. If anything, he wants action, little does he know that inaction is the tacit law that prevails in his run down station. Lhermitte is good but Noiret outperforms him.

I presume that even audiences back then in 1984 could figure that the two wouldn't get along, that their conflict will reach a point where extreme measures would be taken and ultimately the student would surpass the master. But predictability isn't Zidi's concern as his script is more of an excuse for a wonderful immersion into the picturesque world of little cops dealing with little criminals, and confronted to the three "R-T"s: routine, red tape and ultimately... reality. As viewers, we're put in the nicely polished shoes of Lhermitte who's so green that he doesn't even understand the word 'ripou'. When he wants to arrest a petty thief, Boisrond tells him to let him go so he might eventually lead to a bigger fish, the logic doesn't work if you consider tha there'll always be a bigger fish to catch, which leads to François' conclusion that the police's job is to get as many clues and as few arrests as possible. Well, remember what Gittes said about his job at "Chinatown"?

But René has selfish reasons too, he loves horse racing and needs cash to bet on his horses, it so happens that corruption is more lucrative than honesty. What's interesting in the film is that René isn't just labeled as the corrupt guy, in a scene where he challenges François in a 'gun drawing' duel, he beats the kid with the supposedly quicker reflexes, the trick is to ballast your jacket with lead. That's the stuff they don't teach you at school. When François pinpoints a traffic offense during a patrol, in less than thirty seconds, René shows half a dozen of people disobeying the Code, referring to the very article they infringe (numbers included). René might break the law but he knows what he's breaking. The tension between the two cops reach its culmination when René releases François' first catch. He reads to a bewildered François a series of new guidelines warning against overzealous arrests and their negative effect on the district's reputation. François might be a cop but he's also a civil servant.

Ultimately, it's René's partner-in-life Simone, played by singer and night celebrity Régine, that brings the solution with a protégée of her Natasha (Grace de Capitani) The interactions between René and Regine are delightful, he's a cop, she's an ex-prostitute and together they walked the beat long enough to know about the ropes and understand that there's a sort of tacit connection between outlaws and law enforcers, they after all belong to the same world. François will bite the bait and kiss the girl but I wasn't too interested in the romance that the film doesn't insist much on. It doesn't take long for François to trade his flannel suit for a badass leather jacket and to enjoy the new way of the Police until he brings a job that can make René rich while René is trying not to be stewed by the 'beef-carrots' (slang for Bureau of Internal Affairs)

With its urban charm and streetwise humor, "Les Ripoux" can be regarded as a more lighthearted version of Claude Berri's "So Long, Stooge", an exploration of a cosmopolitan world where French lived through the DIY way and weren't too concerned by political correctness, reminding that sometimes the best cops weren't the nicest ones. A glimpse at French history during WW2 would actually make you root for those who disobeyed the law. It's also a time of characters actors such as Julien Giomar who plays the commissionner or Michel Crémades as the pickpocket. A time where it wasn't difficult to make a good film. In fact it's not, have a good story, great characters and a touch of authenticity.

Heavenly Puss

Tom's subconscious guilt inspiring him the worst possible nightmare...
As soon as the lion stops roaring there's something soaring... in that beautiful melody announcing it will not be a classic "Tom and Jerry" - although a classic it certainly is.

The music accompanying the title-card is so beautiful it could have fitted a Hollywood romantic drama. "Heavenly Puss" was directed in 1949 when the design and animation had reached maturity and the finely detailed backgrounds were a credit to Joseph Barbera and William Hannah's then-perfectionism. And the short holds a special place in my memories, because -simply said- as a kid it scared the hell out of me.

I was the impressionable type and one of my earliest animated traumas dates back to Disney's "Pluto's Judgment Day", Pluto put on trial for his persecution of cats, surrounded by a judge, a prosecutor and jurors of the same species than his victims. The cartoon haunted me for its hellish and nightmarish atmosphere. "Heavenly Puss" follows the same pattern only with roles reversed for it is the cat who has to answer for his actions. And to make its very point, the cartoon opens with Tom peacefully sleeping near the fire and Jerry sneaking his way to the kitchen, not noticing Tom's devilish smirk while the casual music gets ominous, not the usual jazzy stuff. And when Tom stops Jerry from eating a cookie with a knife, we feel that this time, he means business.

We get so used of violence conducted by such props as cherry bombs, baseball bats or anvils but Tom's laughs or reactions and the episodic structures always downplayed it and insisted on the long-term indestructible nature of our favorite foes. This time Tom doesn't seem like bullying but attempting to murder Jerry who escapes by stairs, Tom grabs the stair rug and pulls it until he brings a piano that slides to his direction, Jerry escapes, but Tom is brutally flattened on the wall. A normal outcome by cartoons standards... but suddenly he gets his shape back and lays dead. Then a light illuminates his body. The soul leaves the body and takes an escalator to heaven. That second act is full of breathtaking imagery, partially borrowed from Pressburger and Powell's "A Matter of Life and Death".

The blue sky switches to shades of pink as to indicate a new beginning... I can just imagine the wonder in the eyes that watched that in a theater, whatever film they saw after couldn't have been as impacting. Tom walking on a platform of clouds, finds a train gate for the Heavenly Express, and allow me to say that the sight of these shadowy deceased cats slowly walking to the train before the Conductor (Daws Butler) says "Name Butch" made an impression I can't describe, it really showed a vision that I associated to death. The Conductor welcomes Butch who had one fight too many with a dog, a fat cat who went through a steamroller, another nod to Pluto's cartoon. Last but not least, there's a heartbreaking sight of three little kittens in a wet bag... a children's cartoon aims the innocent ones but doesn't sugarcoat some realities of innocence being murdered. As the Conductor said "what some people won't do".

Tom tries to get the clandestine way (he could see he was in trouble), but the Conductor notices him, examining his record, tells him that he can't get to heaven, even cats have standards. Tom's chance is to ask Jerry to sign a certificate of forgiveness and if he doesn't, well, all dogs don't go to heaven, and Spike (Billy Bletcher) makes quite a convincing devil, Tom's wide-eyed expression at that glimpse on hell says it all. He knows the stakes and he's got only one hour. Third act. Back to Earth with the ominous clock ticking like a Damocles sword, Tom tries to find all sorts of way to convince Jerry, bribing him with cheese and a delicious cake and even trying to sign in his place before the conductor "uh, uh" him. The suspense reaches a Hitchcockian limit until Jerry tears down the paper and Tom snaps. As he's about to hit Jerry with a fire poker, Evil Spike encourages him to finish him, Tom's reaction is heartbreaking in its desperateness. At that point, he realizes the meaning of his actions. At that point, he does feel sorry.

There comes a heart-pounding (or breaking) climax orchestrated by a nervous tempo where Tom literally pantomimes what awaits him if Jerry doesn't sign, the moment he begs Jerry to sign is some powerful storytelling. When the pen doesn't work, you can almost feel your heart stop. Now, let me tell you that as a kid, I turned to the volume down not to hear the "All aboard" as something in the echo and the tone made it unbearable to my ears... I can also see my mother bumping into the end of the cartoon and being glued to the screen ... her shocked reaction when the stairway disappeared and the trap door opened under Tom's feet so he can wave us goodbye. And as a kid I was more scared by the dramatic fall into the pit than the cauldron moment that immediately faded to the "all a nightmare" realization, just like Pluto with good old harmless fire.

Such a dark cartoon had to end with a relief and a little smile, Tom hugging a shrugging Jerry. We know the next short will have them as enemies again but it would be for fun for Tom finally knew his limits. In seven minutes, a wide range of emotions and themes were contained in "Heavenly Puss", a short about morals, accountability, responsibility and ultimately, redemption. ... "Heavenly Puss" is heavenly animation and storytelling and one of the best "Tom and Jerry".

The Bells of St. Mary's

Sister Acts...
"Michael, would you love me more if I were a nun?" Or if I was Ingrid Bergman?"

Finally, I have closed one of the many loops of my "Godfather" fandom by watching the last film Michael Corleone saw before his innocence would come at a twilight upon reading the news of his father's assassination. Well, at least he had a nice little time before. Anyway, I'm glad I could finally watch Leo McCarey's "The Bells of St Mary's", follow-up to his hit Best Picture winner, "Going My Way", and as far as sentimentalism goes, this one goes almost the same way. Bing Crosby reprises his role as the charming blue-eyed priest and his trademark straw hat Father Chuck O'Malley, assigned in St. Mary's, to work at an advisory capacity and see whether the parish and its inner-city school, should be condemned and nuns and kids to be transferred to more modern places.

I confess I didn't care much for most of the film, as it shares the same syrupy sentimentalism than its predecessor and demands a great deal of patience to get through the cutesy stuff, the filler-songs, kids being kids etc. Don't call me cynical, I enjoyed "It's a Wonderful Life" or "Miracle on 34th Street" but these films had a few statements to make along with the optimistic messages they aimed to deliver. "Bells" has no particular message and can only be regarded as a series of little vignettes of a life in a parish, a few school issues and some conflicting views between a priest and a Sister Superior in how to handle bullying, promotions and the hope to convince an old businessman to donate a new modern building. These plot points are presented in a sort of autopilot mode while the real delight resides in the interactions between Crosby, as casually subversive and nonchalantly gentle as ever and Ingrid Bergman who is absolutely outstanding as the Sister Superior Mary Benedict.

I must admit that I had the wrong idea about the film, figuring it would confront the nice priest to a cold and icy nun, that Bergman would bring a sort of Svenska personality in her performance and be the one whose heart was meant to melt. I was surprised by how subdued he was while Bergman had so much warmth to offer. In fact I realize how much delicate and appealing she was in that Hollywood Golden Age, barely 30 in the film, still carrying that innocence from her Maria in "For Whom the Bell Tolls", the idealism of Ilsa from "Casablanca" and the humility of Paula from "Gaslight", as Sister Benedict she's a woman who embraces her role with so much passion she's willing to understand the unorthodox priest . She never resorts to conflict and is rather good sport when it comes to conflicts, in fact, just disagreements. There are too many smiles not to distract us from the lightheartedness of the story.

If it wasn't for Bergman, if any other actress had played that role, I doubt it could have worked as well. Her presence alone elevates the film to the nobility of cinema as a motion picture where human factor overshadows the intellect. The film aims the heart but miss the mark but it's Bergman's performance that readjusts it, let me elaborate by evoking what doesn't quite work in the film: the subplot involving the bullied kid and the way she solves it by teaching him how to box contributed to a very inspired vignette but how about Patsy (Joan Caroll) as the girl from a broken marriage and her constant bad grades? Caroll is convincing as the little protégée and underachiever but while she inspires an interesting dilemma about the validity of grades and the meaning of promotions, the ending is a little too-far fetched to be satisfying. It doesn't help that it's strongly implied her mother (Ruth Donnely) was forced into prostitution after her husband (William Gargan) left her and that the former could go back and be absolved from his sins that easily.

One resolution anyone could see coming was with the financial subplot, the film establishes Horace Bogardus a cranky old businessman who doesn't like kids and refuses to donate his building, he's more eager to buy them out. Granted he wasn't Clarence the Angel from "It's a Wonderful Life" but he was the gentle gardener in "Mrs. Miniver" and there's something in Travers that can't strike as a scrooge-like figure. From the moment he pops up, there's no feel of high stakes at any point and it's interesting that O'Malley resorts to a little trick with the doctor (Rhys Williams) to convince Bogardus to do his good action ..., and preventing 300 people to get a job in the process, a technicality that the film doesn't cover, for only the bells of St Mary's are allowed to ring.

Finally, there's the final reveal of Benedict's lung condition, which forces O'Malley to transfer her to a drier place for non parochial activities, the doctor advises him not to tell the reason so it wouldn't break her spirit, but was I the only one who thought that the remedy was worse than the disease and not telling her would break her even harder... naturally that comment was swept off by that ending and the magical power of a relieved youthful smile from Ingrid Bergman but the many logics put in McCarey's screenplays are debatable, if not plain insane.

But who cares for intellectual sanity when a film is meant as a harmless innocent fun, in a way a precursor of "Sister Act", with two cast members who've got nothing to prove, surrounded by many likable character actors, among which the irresistible Una O'Connor. There are many narrative sins in the film but the miracle of cinema is that sometimes these petty considerations, when you have a face like Ingrid Bergman, as an old partner would say, don't amount to a hill of beans.

Baby Doll

The Swan Song of the South...
What a film and ... what a gal!

As the titular "Baby Doll"; Carroll Baker inhabits the voluptuous body of hers while the very soul of a woman child sneaks inside like a burglar. Her performance would almost get unnoticed in an era that consecrated sulfurous femme-fatales or faux-ingenues à la Marylin Monroe but Baker deserved her Oscar-nomination as that vaguely innocent doll whose hobby consisted on playing a delightfully pervert 'hot-or-cold' game with her body and an even more rigged version with her heart. Is she capable of loving, she whose feature are only liable to attract the worst of the masculine persuasion?

Indeed, if Baby Doll's establishing moment shows her sleeping in a crib while sucking her thumb, notice how director Elia Kazan doesn't leave time to scan her for the camera switches to her simping husband, Archie Lee (Karl Malden) peeping over her like the wolf trying to get into the sheep's house. The big bear is weakened by his own lust over a wife whom he can't consummate the marriage until she reaches her twentieth birthday, a matter of days sure but isn't the humiliation already sealed by such a contract? Notice also that Baby Doll angrily threatens to leave their ramshackle Mississippian house, already being emptied of its furniture, a foretaste for Archie's final downfall. The former cotton gin owner was ruined by a competitive rival named Vaccaro, a Sicilian played by Eli Wallach in his (superb) film debut. Archie's ultimate edge is that he's a Southerner in a place hostile to foreigners.

Neither Baby Doll, nor Archie, elicit sympathy, she has the excuse of immaturity but Archie doesn't strike as a man we're supposed to hate either for he keeps getting karmic retributions from the way Baby Doll turns him into a local joke and a subject of laughs for his previous workers, Black people who can grief over their lost jobs through daily enjoyments of the old boss being bossed around by a girl half his size, and naturally, half his age. Consumed by frustration, Archie commits arson again Vaccaro's cotton gin, aware that the Southern omerta will cover for him but forgetting that Sicilians aren't estranged to a concept named vendetta, an eye for an eye, a cotton gin for a girl.

There is something so puzzling and yet strangely absorbing in that love triangle between despicable characters and its unorthodox treatment by Kazan, invigorated by the turbulent characterizations of Tennessee Williams' play, turning "Baby Doll" into an extravagant spectacle of transgression where the only redeemable soul is perhaps the submissive servant Aunt Rose (Mildred Dunnock), the antithesis of Baby Doll, old, bony, accepting her fate with the resignation of a woman who does the best thing she can do: take care of a house, a garden and cook. Nominated for her performance, she incarnates that crumbling spirit of the South, loyal to bygone traditions and obedient to trinity formed by a sexual attraction, a ruined entrepreneur and a malicious stranger.

The triangle resonated to me as a sort of human rock-scissors-paper game (yes, there's a playful dimension in the film, from the heroine's very nickname) where each character has a power and a weakness.

Archie Lee is the rock who can only indulge to violence but his bark is worse than his bite, he's literally enveloped by the unpredictability of Baby Doll, the paper. That very 'affidavit' paper she's coerced to sign by Vaccaro to accuse her husband of arson. Vaccaro is the scissors, he can be broken by the rock as a foreigner (an advantage exploited at the end of the film) but he's here to cut into the couple, to be the marriage wrecker at the risk of wrecking his soul... in fact, he might even be attracted to her. In one of the most infamous scenes, he and Baby Dill are sitting in a swing that suggest something more intimates... and well, all the heaters and the off-screen trivia in the world couldn't prevent the film from a ban from the Catholic Church. The material is indeed quite hardcore for its time.

The triangular game finally implodes in one of the silliest but avant garde sequences ever filmed in doors, a mayhem orchestrated with depraved jazz music and more-or-less genuine screams, chases à la Benny Hill and door slamming everywhere like in a Tex Avery cartoon where the house threatens to collapse in one jump too many. Vaccaro drives Baby Doll into the upper corner of the house to get her signature and once she surrenders and he's about to leave, somehow the girl is ready to play a second round and make him surrender, did she want to hit her husband where it hurt the most? Did she felt for Vaccaro? Or having realized that she was ignorant (she can't be a typist or a cashier because she's illiterate) she might as well take her own share of the gamble. Archie Lee is rather powerless, embodying a crisis of masculinity in the old South so that he can only rely on local solidarity, that's what's left, that and the gentleness of such souls as Aunt Rose or the blues of an old Black woman in a bar.

This is a swan song of a South that can't face any future, Baby Doll doesn't want to grow up, Archie wants to stay young, Vaccaro wants revenge, they're all blocked in a mental state as dilapidated as their house... and that the last scene shows two persons getting back into it, doesn't leave much for optimism. It is Tenneessee Williams alright, but Kazan outdid himself in such a way I wished the film had as vivid a reputation as Stanley Kubrick's "Lolita". It is a mix of "Streetcar Named Desire" with "Lolita" with some aspects of "Money Pit", a tale of poignant absurdity when the strings of greed, lust and power animate puppets who've got nothing to lose.

See all reviews